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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, 23 May 2006
Participatory Democracy: Start With a False Premise
Topic: Backgrounder

Participatory Democracy: Start With a False Premise

The false premise in question, these days, seems to be that anyone other than "the decider" get a say in things. May 14, 2006, in Tautology and Royalty, there was an extensive survey of the speciousness of the idea that when it comes to decisions about what we do as a nation has much to do with laws the congress enacts, the courts that rule on the application of those laws, what we vote for and public opinion in general. The executive branch says what the president decides is what counts, telling us that we've all really misunderstood the constitution all these years. He alone has the final say.

Thus the now famous signing statements -
Dec. 30, 2005: US interrogators cannot torture prisoners or otherwise subject them to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

Bush's signing statement: The president, as commander in chief, can waive the torture ban if he decides that harsh interrogation techniques will assist in preventing terrorist attacks.

Dec. 30: When requested, scientific information ''prepared by government researchers and scientists shall be transmitted [to Congress] uncensored and without delay."

Bush's signing statement: The president can tell researchers to withhold any information from Congress if he decides its disclosure could impair foreign relations, national security, or the workings of the executive branch.

Dec. 23, 2004: Forbids US troops in Colombia from participating in any combat against rebels, except in cases of self-defense. Caps the number of US troops allowed in Colombia at 800.

Bush's signing statement: Only the president, as commander in chief, can place restrictions on the use of US armed forces, so the executive branch will construe the law ''as advisory in nature."
And on it goes. The Attorney General on national television suggests locking up journalists who report what they're told (video here) - and, yes, they do report what seems to be quite illegal and troubling, but much of it is, after all, classified. You don't reveal what's classified.

The amount of classified information, much of it previously available, has probably tripled now, but then, you have to trust them that it all should now be classified, as they have our best interests in mind (our safety) and say no one should question their good intentions. What other motive for shutting down access to even the most innocuous information could they have? They're not evil, power-mad people, just making sure we're all safe. If you think differently you must be one of those tin-foil hate conspiracy nuts. Everyone knows they're just doing their best to keep us safe.

That telephone business? The president himself said in a speech in Buffalo last year that no one's phone would be tapped without a FISA warrant. Then they said the FISA law really didn't apply if you thought about things carefully, then told us they only checked in on al Qaeda calls to and from the United States without warrants. If you're not al Qaeda no one is checking. So relax. Then they said, well, they did track other purely domestic calls without warrants, but they were all "terrorism related" somehow, but they couldn't explain how they knew as that was classified. Then there was no denial that they've collected most all phone records of everyone for the last four years and they've got banks of computers scanning them all for suspicious patterns. Just about all phone calls are included. And there is no oversight of any of that, and certainly no warrants. But no one is listening in on any particular call, unless the algorithm makes the big computers beep and gurgle, so what's the problem? Well, it's one "not quite what we said" after another. You can see why the Attorney General might want to lock up journalists. They undermine the trust we should have that this is all just fine.

In that tautology and royalty item there was, in the middle of all the little details, this - the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility said that it couldn't investigate the role Justice Department lawyers played in the NSA's warrantless spying program because the Bush administration refused to give investigators the necessary security clearances. The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility just up and quit the effort. What would be the point?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006, it happened again, but this time it was the FCC -
WASHINGTON, May 23 (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Communications Commission will not pursue complaints about a spy agency's access to millions of telephone records because it cannot obtain classified material, the FCC's chairman said in a letter released on Tuesday.

Rep. Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, had asked communications regulators to investigate a newspaper report that AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications and BellSouth Corp. gave access to and turned over call records to help the National Security Agency fight terrorists.

"The classified nature of the NSA's activities makes us unable to investigate the alleged violations," FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said in the May 22 letter to Markey.
The FCC Chairman, Kevin Martin, used to be one of the Bush-Cheney campaign lawyers (think Florida recount, 2000), before he got this plum appointment. He says members of the FCC "take very seriously our charge to faithfully implement the nation's laws, including our authority to investigate potential violations of the Communications Act." But what can you do? The decider got his advice and classified it all at such a high level that even his own FCC just has to trust him. This is curious.

A logical reaction here - "So if the NSA won't allow the Justice Department to investigate, and the FCC won't even try, where does that leave us? Who polices the police?"

It seems to be a matter of trust, doesn't it? It's not just congress and the courts who must back off. The administration's own subordinate agencies have to back off.

The White House runs a tight ship. The circle of those who know and those who decide is very small indeed, just a few people. The idea seems to be that we chose this way of doing business in the last election (and maybe the one before it), so if you have a problem with any of it, in 2008 you get a chance to try something else, if more than half of the nation agrees with you and you can trick the new electronic voting machines into recording the vote you cast. Until then? Back off.

But people do persist in thinking they have some say in any of this, as is this from Kevin Drum in the Washington Monthly - a challenge to those who seem to have problems with the warrantless telephone scans. It's a bit of a thought experiment -
The NSA spying program raises plenty of sensitive issues, but at least one of them hasn't received the close scrutiny it deserves: it's fundamentally a system for identifying criminals by statistical analysis. Americans need to come to grips with whether they approve of this.

Take a different, but equally incendiary example. Suppose that we could semi-reliably create a statistical portrait of child molesters: their age, geographical location, gender, and calling and buying patterns. Suppose they tend to rent certain kinds of videos, make phone calls to certain kinds of chat lines, and call up other known child molesters.

Needless to say, the FBI could track these patterns using the same methods as the NSA and then exploit the results to create lists of "possible child molesters." And it might work. But would we be OK with the FBI tapping someone's phone just because they fit a statistical profile? Or staking out their house? Or investigating their friends?

And if we can do it for suspected terrorists and child molesters, how about tax evaders and unlicensed gun owners? Can we tap their phones too because they're the "kind of person" who might be breaking the law? Should a court grant a search warrant based on a statistical pattern rather than a showing of specific fact?

And if not, why not? After all, if you're not doing anything wrong, why would you object to being investigated? And if the statistical patterns just happen to target lots of wealthy Republicans or rural white gun collectors - well, that's how the cookie crumbles. If that's what the profiling turns up, then that's what the profiling turns up.

Any problems with that?
Well, the meta-problem is in this - "Americans need to come to grips with whether they approve of this." What Americans approve or disapprove doesn't really matter much, does it? If they disapprove, what are they going to do about it? There's not a thing possible now.

But say that was not so (or say that were not so, if you're one of those hopeful people who prefer the subjunctive mode). Grant the premise is that identifying criminals by statistical analysis is possible. Then what? Take care of them? How? As in Spielberg's silly Tom Cruise film Minority Report, is there something fundamentally wrong in the state removing people, one way or another, for crimes they are likely to commit, or statistically almost certain to commit, without having committed any crime? The blurb from the film - "In the future, criminals are caught before the crimes they commit, but one of the officers in the special unit is accused of one such crime and sets out to prove his innocence."

This is a science fiction scenario - Spielberg's film is based on a short story by Phillip K. Dick, and Asimov was in the very same territory in his Foundation trilogy. What do the folks at the White House read these days? They took that stuff seriously?

Well, the president himself turned to the author of Jurassic Park once, as noted here - "Fred Barnes recalls a visit to the White House last year by Michael Crichton, whose 2004 best-selling novel, 'State of Fear,' suggests that global warming is an unproven theory and an overstated threat."

The president may not be much of a reader, but he does read interesting stuff.

Grant the premise though, and ask yourself if you'd vote to change hundreds of years of legal precedent - the law only comes for you for what you do, not what you might do - because statistical analysis has become really good now. What's wrong with preventing a crime like a murder, as in the movie, or terrorist attack, as with the NSA pattern analysis of those billion or more phone records? You say there was no crime? The statistics say it's pretty much certain there would have been a crime.

Of course you see the real issue - who wrote the algorithms that drive the statistical analyses? Were they competent? Were they biased in any way, or careless, or unstable, or high on Twinkies, or jumpy from too much caffeine? Who cross-checked their work? Was the testing thorough at the code level and systems level? What about quality control and all the security stuff from version control to access control? Those of us who spent too many years in the systems industry may be more wary than the president and the president's men. But then, none of us is "the decider."

Drum follows up here saying that it may be too late to worry about all that, as he notes this from Noah Shachtman in Defense Tech -
The template, officials say, was created from a secret database of phone call records collected by the spy agency. It has been used since 9/11 to identify calling patterns that indicate possible terrorist activity. Among the patterns examined: flurries of calls to U.S. numbers placed immediately after the domestic caller received a call from Pakistan or Afghanistan.
Science fiction becomes science fact, or possible fact. No one is checking on flurries of calls to domestic numbers from Jakarta or Addis Ababa, or Munich? Who developed this template? He or she doesn't know narrowly fixing the geography masses things up, or at least opens big holes? Effective systems don't "think small." Any coder knows what you design will not account for what you don't expect, and the trick is, always, do your best not to limit yourself, on purpose, by your assumptions about what the users will do, or what data are churned out in the results. It can get tricky. Something you don't expect always bites you in the ass.

And Drum also digs up a quote from First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams, here, on the real problem, or the overarching one. Abrams advises the feds -
We basically said if you want to engage in data mining, which we said was a very good way to gather information to fight terrorism, you should go to the FISA court to get permission. You should go to the court established by Congress and get an OK from the court to do so, and if - if you didn't think that was the right way to do it, you ought to go to Congress and get them to give you more authority to go to that court and get permission.
Yeah, but they said the FISA court, and any law like that, doesn't matter.

The news from Germany, the same day, was that they went the other way, with this from Germany's highest court -
In a decision made public today, the justices stated that foreign policy tensions or a collective threat level such as after the attacks of 9/11/01 do not suffice to permit the dragnet/grid/screen [i.e. data mining] searches... The justices found that officials [seeking to do data-mining] must have put forward concrete grounds to believe there will be foreseeable attacks in Germany.
No, no, no - the Germans gave us the fascist police state, perfected in the former East Germany. What's this role-reversal crap, with us sifting though everybody's everything, looking to get the goods on someone - we don't know who, but we'll get them before they do bad things? The irony is just sad.

Drum's thoughts -
The Bush administration can't keep this out of the courts forever, and if they continue to refuse to ask Congress to modify the law, there's a good chance the entire program will get tossed out eventually.

... Computer-based searches might very well be an effective way of tracking down terrorists. They might also be an effective way of tracking down lots of other criminals. But if that's the case, Congress and the courts need to set down clear guidelines and clear oversight for how it can - and can't - be used. The executive branch can't be allowed to decide unilaterally what's legal and what isn't.

The implications of this stuff are pretty far reaching. The American public and its representatives need to stop hiding from it and decide exactly how far they want it to go.
Like that matters now?

Posted by Alan at 23:18 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 24 May 2006 07:59 PDT home

Monday, 22 May 2006
Key Players: Who's Your Daddy?
Topic: Couldn't be so...

Key Players: Who's Your Daddy?

The heads-up came via Wonkette here -
US News and World Report having searched far and wide, has found you a new enemy. They heard your cries - Scooter Libby's been caught, Karl Rove's proved to be useless at anything besides barely winning presidential elections, Dick Cheney's been too ridiculous to take seriously ever since he shot a guy in the face, Rice is too diplomatic, Gonzales not as creepy as Ashcroft, and George W. Bush is still George W. Bush. So who to hate? Who to insist is the sinister power behind the throne? Who's the devious, secretive mastermind? Apparently, it's David Addington. You know David Addington, right? Cheney's lawyer? Has a beard? Took Scooter's job?

Well, he's responsible for just about everything. Seriously. Torture, the Niger thing, Plamegate, he's all over the place. Totes evil. Nine damn pages of evil!
But, but, but... this not a new bad guy, if he is that. A scan of what has appeared in these pages finds six items that refer to David Addington and how he works.

Back in February here (see section three), we find he was central, as Newsweek had reported, in the resignation of the administration's deputy attorney general, a fellow named John Comey, and another assistant attorney general - they thought he was asking them to do what was clearly illegal and they just wouldn't do it. Newsweek at the time called it a palace revolt, and from here in Hollywood it looked like it would make a great movie -
The bad guys are really bad. The evil mastermind is Vice President Cheney (think Professor James Moriarty as played by Sidney Greenstreet, without the charm). His "muscle" - the enforcer - is his former counsel, David Addington, the fellow who is now his chief of staff, having been given Scooter Libby's job when Scooter was indicted on multiple felonies - short-tempered, nasty and smart as a whip. You don't mess with this Addington guy. Lurking in the background is John Yoo, the administration legal advisor, scribbling away at legal opinions late at night, giggling manically - ah, we can justify torture as long as the pain only simulates organ failure, and if you think real hard, the constitution does imply the president can break any law he wants! Think an Asian Peter Lorre.
And Newsweek had said this -
The chief opponent of the rebels, though by no means the only one, was an equally obscure, but immensely powerful, lawyer-bureaucrat. Intense, workaholic (even by insane White House standards), David Addington, formerly counsel, now chief of staff to the vice president, is a righteous, ascetic public servant.

... He is hardly anonymous inside the government, however. Presidential appointees quail before his volcanic temper, backed by assiduous preparation and acid sarcasm.

... Addington and a small band of like-minded lawyers set about providing that cover - a legal argument that the power of the president in time of war was virtually untrammeled. One of Addington's first jobs had been to draft a presidential order establishing military commissions to try unlawful combatants - terrorists caught on the global battlefield. The normal "interagency process" - getting agreement from lawyers at Defense, State, the intelligence agencies and so forth - proved glacial, as usual. So Addington, working with fellow conservative Deputy White House Counsel Timothy Flanigan, came up with a solution: cut virtually everyone else out.
That's a role an actor could really sink his teeth into. And US News and World Report is just getting around to him?

And two weeks ago in the New York Times there was this -
In the weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, Vice President Dick Cheney and his top legal adviser argued that the National Security Agency should intercept purely domestic telephone calls and e-mail messages without warrants in the hunt for terrorists, according to two senior intelligence officials.

But N.S.A. lawyers, trained in the agency's strict rules against domestic spying and reluctant to approve any eavesdropping without warrants, insisted that it should be limited to communications into and out of the country, said the officials, who were granted anonymity to discuss the debate inside the Bush administration late in 2001.
And this -
If people suspected of links to Al Qaeda made calls inside the United States, the vice president and Mr. Addington thought eavesdropping without warrants "could be done and should be done," one of them said. He added: "That's not what the N.S.A. lawyers think."
All that was discussed in these pages here, so this is not news. You just have to pay attention.

Wikipedia has a brief profile of Addington here with links to five or six major news items on the guy. The only detail of the entry that jumps out, for those of us who spent endless days in the warm and sleepy classrooms of the would-be Harvard of the South, is that this fellow is an honors graduate of the law school at Duke University. Who else got their law degree there? Richard Nixon. Angela Davis. Something odd goes on down there, in addition to the antics of the lacrosse team this year. The place creates some strange people, or nurtures them so they become all that they maybe shouldn't be. That's probably true of the rest of us from the other graduate programs of course.

In any event, the US News and World Report item that's all the buzz is a bit of filling in the corners, as the Hobbits say. It's by Chitra Ragavan and called Cheney's Guy, with the subhead - "He's barely known outside Washington's corridors of power, but David Addington is the most powerful man you've never heard of. Here's why."

The "why" has a lot to do with the presidential signing statements, those legal memoranda "in which the president and his lawyers take legislation sent over by Congress and put their stamp on it by saying what they believe the measure does and doesn't allow." Much has been said on that. Bush has signed seven hundred fifty, while former presidents made do with two or three a year. Addington seems to be the man who is behind that way of doing business.

And as for the president's authorization of, as Ragavan lists, military tribunals for terrorism suspects, secret detentions and aggressive interrogations of "unlawful enemy combatants," and warrantless electronic surveillance of terrorism suspects on US soil, including American citizens? Addington's idea, pretty much, as in "much of the criticism that has been directed at these measures has focused on Vice President Dick Cheney. In fact, however, it is a largely anonymous government lawyer, who now serves as Cheney's chief of staff, who has served as the ramrod driving the Bush administration's most secretive and controversial counterterrorism measures through the bureaucracy."

It goes like this -
Name one significant action taken by the Bush White House after 9/11, and chances are better than even that Addington had a role in it. So ubiquitous is he that one Justice Department lawyer calls Addington "Adam Smith's invisible hand" in national security matters. The White House assertion - later proved false - that Saddam Hussein tried to buy nuclear precursors from Niger to advance a banned weapons program? Addington helped vet that. The effort to discredit a former ambassador who publicly dismissed the Niger claim as baseless, by disclosing the name of his wife, a covert CIA officer? Addington was right in the middle of that, too, though he has not been accused of wrongdoing.
He's been busy.

And here's the core -
Addington began his government career 25 years ago, after graduating summa cum laude from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and with honors from the Duke University Law School. He started out as an assistant general counsel at the CIA and soon moved to Capitol Hill and served as the minority's counsel and chief counsel on the House intelligence and foreign affairs committees. There, he began his long association with Cheney, then a Wyoming congressman and member of the intelligence panel. Addington and Cheney - who served as President Gerald Ford's chief of staff - shared the same grim worldview: Watergate, Vietnam, and later, the Iran-contra scandal during President Reagan's second term had all dangerously eroded the powers of the presidency. "Addington believes that through sloppy lawyering as much as through politics," says former National Security Council deputy legal adviser Bryan Cunningham, "the executive branch has acquiesced to encroachment of its constitutional authority by Congress."

When Cheney became ranking Republican on the House select committee investigating the Iran-contra scandal, Addington helped write the strongly worded minority report that said the law barring aid to the Nicaraguan contras was unconstitutional because it improperly impinged on the president's power. The argument would become the cornerstone of the Bush administration's post-9/11 policies.

... Addington is a strong adherent of the so-called unitary executive theory, which is cited frequently and prominently in many of Bush's legislative signing statements. The theory holds that the president is solely in charge of the executive branch and that Congress, therefore, can't tell him how to carry out his executive functions, whom to pick for what jobs, or through whom he must report to Congress. Executive power, separation of power, a tight chain of command, and protecting the unitary executive - those became the guide stars of Addington's legal universe.
It seems the constitutional law classes at Duke aren't much like the ones that the late Peter Rodino taught at Seton Hall.

There's a lot too on political infighting, as in castrating the JAG guys at the Pentagon, but that's a bit arcane. It came down to the business with military tribunals and detainee treatment policies. They thought the rules should be followed. They lost.

What to of Addington himself? There's this -
According to critics, the reason Addington is such an effective bureaucratic infighter is that he's an intellectual bully. "David can be less than civilized," one official says. "He can be extremely unpleasant." Others say it's because Addington is a superb lawyer and a skilled debater who arms himself with a mind-numbing command of the facts and the law. Still others attribute Addington's power to the outsize influence of Cheney. "Addington does a very good job," says a former justice official who has observed him, "of harnessing the power of the vice president."

But it's a subtle kind of harnessing. Addington, according to current and former colleagues, rarely if ever invokes Cheney's name. An administration official says that it's sometimes unclear whether Addington is even consulting the vice president. But Cheney is always the elephant in the room. "People perceive that this is the real power center," says attorney Scott Horton, who has written two major studies on interrogation of terrorism suspects for the New York City Bar Association, "and if you cross them, they will destroy you."
But only Cheney carries a shotgun.

There's also a long section on Cheney refusing to release documents relating to that energy task force that he headed way back when. Addington fought that one all the way to the Supreme Court, and won.

And as for the post 9/11 business, there's this -
In the months after the attacks, the White House made three crucial decisions: to keep Congress out of the loop on major policy decisions like the creation of military commissions, to interpret laws as narrowly as possible, and to confine decision making to a small, trusted circle. "They've been so reluctant to seek out different views," says one former official. "It's not just Addington. It's how this administration works. It's a very narrow, tight group."

That core group consisted of Bush's counsel and now attorney general, Alberto Gonzales; his deputies, Timothy Flanigan and David Leitch; the Pentagon's influential general counsel, William Haynes; and a young attorney named John Yoo, who worked in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel.

Whether or not he became the de facto leader of the group, as some administration officials say, Addington's involvement made for a formidable team. "You put Addington, Yoo, and Gonzales in a room, and there was a race to see who was tougher than the rest and how expansive they could be with respect to presidential power," says a former Justice Department official. "If you suggested anything less, you were considered a wimp."
So we get the "no wimps here" crowd doing their thing - deciding how wide the war should be, what to do with anyone detained, even American citizens, how to handle congress and the court, bypassing this law or that treaty, precisely defining what is not really torture but just aggressive questioning that only simulates death or major organ failure (the famous Bybee memo). Addington has his hand in it all.

The items ends with this -
Even his toughest critics in the administration say Addington believes utterly that he is acting in good faith. "He thinks he's on the side of the angels," says a former Justice Department official. "And that's what makes it so scary."
And so it is, but it's not news, just all the scattered detail collected and arranged in a well-written nine pages, and now you don't have to read the whole thing. But you could.

Or you could read Francis Wilkinson's cover story for the June issue of American Prospect, available on the web Monday, May 22nd here, arguing the "no wimps here" crowd in the White House has met its natural limit -
"Terrorist attacks are not caused by the use of strength; they are invited by the perception of weakness."

President George W. Bush has made that statement many times. So has Vice President Dick Cheney. And Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Multiple principals endlessly repeating themselves -- that's the mark of a premium White House talking point. Or in this case, a kind of gospel - poll-tested, market-driven, swing-voter-approved, and sanctioned by Kardinal Rove himself.

Like its religious counterpart, political liturgy does not reward literal interpretation. The "weakness" that invites our destruction is not a measurable, structural weakness of nations. It is more insidious than that. It is the weakness of men. Certain men of uncertain will. Unmanly men. Men who lack the grit and determination to command other men to expend their grit and determination in battle. Girly men. Men who snuggle before the domestic hearth of the Mommy Party. Men who fuss and fret over Mother Nature (when what she really needs is a good drilling). Men who wish to restrain the natural urges of natural men, to smother initiative and stifle competition beneath the suffocating pleats and ruffles of the Nanny State. Men who are effete. Men who cut and run. Men without guns or guts or glory. Men whose weakness abases and undermines the rugged individualism and frontier can-do that made the United States Numero Uno.

We have met the enemy. And he adores Judy Garland.
Yeah, yeah. So we've been told.

This item is also long but has some choice nuggets of snark -
No matter what ideological hue he projects, whether conservatism, corporatism, idealistic imperialism, or his studied tracings of Ronald Reagan's rugged sentimentalism, Bush has made manliness the centerpiece of his persona and his politics. Bush's flight-deck performance aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln - "Mission Accomplished" - long ago became Esperanto for "hubris." But as psychologist Stephen J. Ducat noted in his provocative book on masculine anxiety, The Wimp Factor, the event began as a ballsy celebration, first and foremost, of Bush's manhood. Observing the President's flight suit, which expressly accentuated his crotch, G. Gordon Liddy, the right's uncensored id, noted: "It makes the best of his manly characteristic."

We are in our sixth year of government by gonads. Through conscious, concerted, disciplined, and relentless effort, Bush and his party have succeeded in cowing critics and defeating Democrats by advancing images of, and insinuations about, manliness in the public sphere. In the Republican political schemata, this is a man's world. Men have made it dangerous. And only men - real Republican men - can make it safe again.
Government by gonads. Clever. Too bad it's true.

As in this -
For three straight elections, from 2000 through 2004, Republicans have outmanned the Democrats. Al Gore was dismissed as a hectoring schoolmarm, John Kerry as a flaky croissant, a kept man, a tin soldier. In between, Bush made no bones about the price of Democratic pusillanimity: Under its brief Democratic majority, he said, the U.S. Senate was simply "not interested in the security of the American people." And with another Election Day approaching, and their party depleted of both issues and credibility, the Republicans will no doubt seek to emasculate the opposition once again.
Of course they will. That's what they do. But not this time? Maybe -
... the testosterone is no longer flowing like $75 crude. Multiple mission failures have exposed Republican talking points as so much bluster. To underscore the farce, the gods of metaphor illustrated the tragic potential of power placed in irresponsible hands; after his beer-and-hunting nightmare in Texas, Vice-President Bottom awoke with an ass's head on his shoulders.

Now, rising out of the broken-back shamble of Republican machismo, is a veritable platoon of Democratic men. They have exceptionally macho profiles and an appetite for power. They are politically diverse but united in their contempt for the bully in the pulpit. They are fed up with schoolyard put-downs. They are disgusted by incompetence and callousness. And they are running for Congress.
The rest is a survey of all the vets running for office as Democrats. Attacking them all isn't going to work. There are more than fifty of them. Oops.

But then, the man at the top may not be able to resist trying to attack them all -
When Bush parades to a podium, his arms cantilevered to the side to make room for imaginary mass and muscle, he looks like a freshman swimming upstream against the hormonal currents of a high-school hallway. It's not enough for Bush to impress upon you the fact that he is leader of the world's sole superpower. He also wants you to think he can beat you up.

However, Bush is also a complicated case. Eager to telegraph his masculinity through walk and talk and posture, he nonetheless appears personally unthreatened by women, blacks, and gays, an immunity that distinguishes him from his culturally reactive, ever-anxious political base. He allowed himself to be tutored by a younger black woman - not in the domestic rigmarole of the welfare state but in the manly crucible of foreign affairs, where presidencies are made or broken. (He then let it be known he had been tutored by her and eventually named her secretary of state.) Of equal note, Bush's forays into homophobia are cynically electoral, not emotionally authentic; as soon as the polls close, the antigay claptrap is put in storage until it's needed to rouse the base next season. The biennial denigration of a few million Americans is nothing personal - just the price of power.

Much has been made of Bush's Oedipal drama over Iraq. But the father's legacy is evident everywhere - certainly in W's equation of masculine aggression with political survival. Before he became leader of the free world, Bush Sr. was a sports star, a war hero, a successful wildcatter in the rough and tumble drilling fields of west Texas. Yet he was tarred as a "wimp," depicted in political cartoons as an old biddy or, in Doonesbury, as so light in his loafers that he constituted no more than an asterisk.

If the father was too wimpy to master the arena, what of the son? Cheerleader, draft evader, oil business failure, he fell short of the father on nearly every masculine measure. For George W. Bush, no amount of aggression or masculine posing could be too much. To prevail in a brutal world of men like Karl Rove, W. was going to have to be one hell of a hard-ass.

The father's demise surely shaped the son's rise. But the raw material was there to be molded. Bush's college yearbook contains a photograph of him playing rugby. His left arm is wrapped around the neck of an opposing player, who is carrying the ball. His right hand is in a fist and appears to be sucker-punching his opponent in the face. The caption reads: "George Bush delivers illegal, but gratifying right hook to opposing ball carrier." A portrait of the cheap-shot artist as a young man.
Yep. The photo is here (bottom of the page). That's what we've had.

So Wilkinson is cheering on war vets running as Democrats, and invoking FDR -
Go get 'em boys. I hope every one of those guys - even those in races that are positively unwinnable - wrestles his Republican opponent to the ground and roars, asserting his Democratic manhood. We need the catharsis.

But after having wallowed in our fear these last five years, maybe what we need next are leaders who will raise us above it. The one man who taught us better than any other to conquer fear was no Governor Terminator. His muscles were unimpressive. He had no physical swagger to him at all. His military experience was a desk job. He wore no cowboy gear. He smoked cigarettes not like a Marlboro Man but filtered through a slender, feminine holder that could have been a prop from the Follies Bergere. He didn't promise to protect us. He made us believe we could protect ourselves - from the violence of fascism and the vicissitudes of capitalism alike. And he handed us the tools to do the job. We built the better part of the American century on the back of an aristocratic, polio-addled cripple. Now that was a man.
But he'd be swift-boated today. Ann Coulter would laugh at him. But maybe times are changing. Addington and Cheney and all the rest who never saw the inside of a uniform, sitting around laughing at wimps, many of whom served, could be replaced one day by those who know real wimps when the see them, sitting around laughing at "wimps." No more draft-dodging former college cheerleaders? That's a thought.


On a related note, one suspects that David Addington has a hand in the sudden in the sudden explosion of successful efforts to stop all kinds of embarrassing legal actions by invoking the "state secrets" ploy, as Henry Lanman explains here (Monday, May 22, SLATE.COM).

Lanman, a New York attorney, opens with what was discussed in these pages last week, and his summary is better -
Last Thursday, a federal court in Virginia threw out a lawsuit against the government that had been brought by a German citizen named Khalid el-Masri. El-Masri alleged that the government had violated U.S. law when - as part if its "extraordinary rendition" program - it authorized his abduction, drugging, confinement, and torture. His captors allegedly shuttled him on clandestine flights to and from places like Kabul, Baghdad, and Skopje, Macedonia, during the five months of his detention. He was released only when the government realized it had kidnapped the wrong man. El-Masri has substantial evidence to back up his story, and German prosecutors have verified much of it. And, while the government has not confirmed that it took el-Masri as part of its extraordinary rendition program, it has not shied away from admitting the program exists; it has in fact trumpeted it as an effective tool in the "war on terror." So why then was el-Masri's lawsuit thrown out? Because the judge accepted the government's claim that any alleged activities relating to el-Masri were "state secrets."

Never heard of the "state secrets" privilege? You're not alone. But the Bush administration sure has. Before Sept. 11, this obscure privilege was invoked only rarely. Since then, the administration has dramatically increased its use. According to the Washington Post, the Reporters' Committee for Freedom of the Press reported that while the government asserted the privilege approximately 55 times in total between 1954 (the privilege was first recognized in 1953) and 2001, it's asserted it 23 times in the four years after Sept. 11. For an administration as obsessed with secrecy as this one is, the privilege is simply proving to be too powerful a tool to pass up.

There is nothing inherently objectionable about the state secrets privilege. It recognizes the reasonable proposition that even simple lawsuits against the government - tort suits, breach of contract claims - can sometimes involve issues that would be genuinely harmful to national security if they saw the light of day. Say, for instance, that a janitor in Los Alamos, N.M., tripped over a box of uranium lying in the hallway in 1943. It would hardly do to have the evidence used in the subsequent slip-and-fall case scuttle the entire Manhattan Project. So, tough though it is on individual plaintiffs, the courts have historically deferred to government claims that some evidence in certain litigation must be shielded as "state secrets."

Traditionally, this privilege was most often used to prevent plaintiffs from getting a hold of very specific, sensitive evidence in an ongoing lawsuit; it was seldom invoked to dismiss entire cases.

Maybe that hypothetical Los Alamos plaintiff couldn't have discovered exactly what was in the box that he tripped over. But, generally speaking, if the lawsuit could have proceeded without his knowing the contents of that box, it would.
Now thing have changed. The idea is not to exclude evidence, it's to dismiss the whole suit. And it seems to be working. Addington. The full discussion, with precedents, is worth a read.

The most interesting case is this -
Take, for instance, Hepting v. AT&T, which arises out of the NSA's warrantless wiretap program. It's a class-action suit, brought on behalf AT&T's customers who claim that the company violated various laws when it allegedly gave the NSA access to its facilities and databases. As part of their case, the plaintiffs have submitted 140 pages of technical documents that, they say, lay out how AT&T's collaboration with the NSA works. The government doesn't claim that these documents are classified. Yet when the New York Times - which also has copies of these documents - showed them to telecommunications and computer security experts, these experts concluded that the documents themselves demonstrate that "AT&T had an agreement with the federal government to systematically gather information flowing on the Internet through the company's network." And, of course, the president himself has acknowledged the existence of the warrantless surveillance program.

That makes it awfully hard to understand how the core claims in this case - basically that the program exists and that AT&T participates in it - are so top-secret that, as the administration has claimed in its papers, the whole case must be dismissed before it gets started. Of course, it's not unimaginable that real state secrets could arise in this lawsuit, but if they did, there's no reason to think they couldn't be handled the same way such issues have been in the past - as discrete evidentiary matters. However, even this level of skepticism from the judiciary may be too much to ask; the court hearing el-Masri's case just rejected essentially the same argument.

Despite the burgeoning use of this privilege and the way it's been used to gut entire cases, the most disturbing aspect of the Bush administration's expansion of the state secrets privilege may well be this: More and more, it is invoked not in response to run-of-the-mill government negligence cases but in response to allegations of criminal conduct on the part of the government. These are not slip-and-fall cases. They are challenges to the administration's broad new theories of unchecked executive power. By using the state secrets privilege to shut down whole lawsuits that would examine government actions before the cases even get under way, the administration avoids having to give a legal account of its behavior. And if this tactic persists - if the administration continues to broadly assert this privilege and courts continue to accept it - the administration will have succeeded in creating an insurmountable immunity that can be invoked against pretty much any legal claim that the "war on terror" violates the law. The standard and winning response to any plaintiff who asserted such charges would be, quite simply, that it's a secret.
Addington. Nixon's Duke Law School. But then, people can fight back, as in this, news that broke after Lanman had written his piece -
An online news outlet published papers Monday that it said document AT&T's alleged role in a government effort to spy on Internet traffic.

The internal company documents and other materials were assembled by Mark Klein, a former AT&T technician. Klein also gave internal AT&T documents earlier this year to privacy advocate Electronic Frontier Foundation, which sued the telecommunications giant challenging the Bush administration's secretive domestic surveillance program.

It wasn't clear whether the documents published Monday by Wired News were the same as those at the heart of the lawsuit against AT&T. Wired News acknowledged it could not be sure, because the federal judge presiding over the case has sealed the records.

But Wired News said the AT&T documents "appear to be excerpted from material that was later filed in the lawsuit under seal."

The papers are a blend of corporate blueprints and Klein's own interpretation of them. They seem to provide a detailed account of how AT&T used "splitters" to tap into gigantic fiber-optic lines that carry Internet traffic.
What follows is a bit on splitters and routers and switches and hubs - geek stuff - but more basically it seems someone doesn't want to accept the "daddy state" where you're supposed to shut up and let the real men do things to protect you. Addington may very well have proposed using the "state secrets" thing as much as possible. It just doesn't work when the cat's out of the bag. The battles over "shut up, you're not supposed to know" are just beginning. Some think we live in an open democracy. This should be fun.

Posted by Alan at 22:33 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 22 May 2006 22:51 PDT home

Sunday, 21 May 2006
Hot of the Virtual Press
Topic: Announcements

Hot of the Virtual Press

Click here to go there...
The new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly magazine-format site that is parent to this daily web log, is now online. This is Volume 4, Number 21 for the week of May 21, 2006.

This week, four extended commentaries on where we are now, the first on the raging immigration debate. The second is on the trouble with finding context for the news, with putting things in perspective. That can get quite wild. The third? We seem to be living in a new America, and the array of evidence for that is extensive and a tad distressing. Finally, if you were a master marketing consultant how would you advise the White House as the polls reach new lows with each survey, and everyone, left and right, seems to have a problem with how things are going? The consultant discussed here has some wild ideas.

There are two items from the International Desk - Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, returns with some night photography of the now customary Friday night madness, those thousands of rollerblade folks in the city streets. And there are notes on the Eurovision Song Contest, as there are each year in these pages, but this year there's news NBC is planning an American version of this cheesy thing. By the way, the Goth band from Finland won this year, those guys in the latex Klingon outfits.

In the Hollywood section there's a visit to the famous Hollywood studio no tourist ever sees. It's one of those places where the real work of film and television has been done since 1919, and if you're not in the industry cannot get in. And there are two Ferraris for you consideration, in local context, with photographs.

Southern California Photography this week includes our default Giverny out here. The Orangerie museum in the Paris Tuileries gardens has just reopened with the Monet water lilies, and here you'll find our real life version at the lotus pools at Will Rogers Memorial Park on Sunset Boulevard in Beverly Hills, at the north end of Rodeo Drive. It'll do. And there are new nature photos - egrets and more at the shore, in detail. And the botanicals are here again for those who insist, many from a hidden park in the mountains north of Malibu.

Our friend from Texas brings us more of the weird of course, and the quotes this week will get you thinking in new ways about the whole current immigration debate.

Direct links to specific pages -

Extended Observations on Current Events ______________________

Reframing: Pleasing Everyone, Pleasing No One
Context: Spinning Spinoza and Evil Albinos
Notes on the New America
Marketing: What George Bush Could Learn from the Consultant from France

The International Desk ______________________

Our Man in Paris: Friday Night Photographs - La rando du vendredi à Paris...
Pop Culture: A New European Import

Hollywood Matters ______________________

The Old Days: Pink, Blue, Green, Red
The Green Gumball
Wretched Excess: Another Ferrari in Malibu

Southern California Photography ______________________

Impressionism: Hollywood Nymphéas
Egrets in Context
Other Birds
Botanicals: Two Contrasting Settings

Quotes for the week of May 14, 2006 - We Are a Land of Immigrants

Posted by Alan at 15:05 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Saturday, 20 May 2006
On the Road Again
Topic: Photos

On the Road Again

No commentary today. Heading south, down San Diego way, for family matters, a birthday party - but will be traveling in the Mini Cooper, not as shown here.

Boat leaving Marina del Rey on a foggy windless morning (Thursday, May 18, 2006)

Posted by Alan at 07:36 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Friday, 19 May 2006
Marketing: What George Bush Could Learn from the Consultant from France
Topic: Backgrounder

Marketing: What George Bush Could Learn from the Consultant from France

You know you're in trouble when you see headlines like this one from Knight-Ridder, Friday, May 19, 2006 - Americans don't like President Bush personally much anymore, either. Ouch.

This was the "get out of jail free" card, so to speak, or maybe speaking quite literally. Some days earlier, the president's key advisor and some say political genius, Karl Rove, relieved of his duties as policy advisor and now solely dedicated to political strategy, had famously said of the president's low approval ratings - "People like him. They respect him. He's somebody they feel a connection with. But they're just sour right now on the war. And that's the way it's going to be. And we will fight our way through."

Many looked at the poll numbers and didn't exactly see what "Bush's Brain" saw. And that's what this Knight-Ridden item is about. You look at the poll numbers and, to change the metaphor from Monopoly to poker, this "ace in the hole," his basic likeability that will bring people around, looks more like a three of clubs. Rove, to be clear, said he was using data from private internal Republican polling, and all the other polls didn't matter. He had the real facts (think of the WMD argument here of course). The Republican National Committee wouldn't release a copy of the poll in question (the UN inspectors finding nothing were wrong too, as we had better intelligence - the real facts we couldn't share with anyone). The spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee says it's all in how you ask the questions. Amusing.

Knight-Ridder opens with this -
It's not just the way he's doing his job. Americans apparently don't like President Bush personally much anymore, either.

A drop in his personal popularity, as measured by several public polls, has shadowed the decline in Bush's job-approval ratings and weakened his political armor when he and his party need it most.

Losing that political protection - dubbed "Teflon" when Ronald Reagan had it - is costing Bush what the late political scientist Richard Neustadt called the "leeway" to survive hard times and maintain his grip on the nation's agenda. Without it, Bush is a more tempting target for political enemies. And members of his party in Congress are less inclined to stand with him.
And the quotes from political scientists are there, like this one - "When he loses likeability, the president loses the benefit of the doubt. That makes it much harder for him to steer." And they review data from six major polls. The consensus - "The president's public perception problem is not only about his dismal job performance, but also his striking lack of personal favorability," as one expert puts it.

And about that -
Personal favorability can encompass many things in the minds of voters: character, respect, warmth, kinship, even whether a voter would want to have a beer with a politician. Or in the case of the teetotaling Bush, a soda.

Bush has lost ground on most of those measures.

Gallup, for example, found drops in the number of people who think that Bush is honest and trustworthy, that he shares their values and that he cares about people like them.
Does it matter? The idea is, of course, the "personal popularity can swing elections and affect governing." Al Gore was seen as wooden. He lost. And yes, former California Governor Gray Davis was cool and standoffish politician, and was "recalled" as Arnold Schwarzenegger was white hot (in many senses). Reagan survived the Iran-Contra mess with his bumbling doofus who means well routine - he just didn't seem the kind of guy that did bad things, at least on purpose. Or the Alzheimer's was starting to kick in, so you just couldn't be mad at him.

Bush doesn't have the Teflon that Ronald Reagan had. The persona presented in this case - the happy-go-lucky frat boy who laughs at people with degrees and ideas, who don't like to think or those who do, and who just trusts his instincts - isn't providing the same sort of protection when things go bad, or you and your folks screw up. Reagan's gentle fool bit works better than the scornful frat-boy thing.

What to do? This calls for a consultant!

But who would that be? It could be the chairman of Archetype Discoveries Worldwide.

To explain, this consultant, as noted in April 2004 in these pages here, was helping John Kerry is his attempt to dodge the jibes of Rush Limbaugh and the rest in his presidential run. Pretend you don't speak French and stop seeming intelligent and worldly.

The details were explained by Joshua Kurlantzick in the New Yorker in this -
A couple of weeks ago, the Washington Post reported that G. Clotaire Rapaille, a French anthropologist known for identifying the subconscious associations that people from various cultures make in the "reptilian" part of their brains, had offered to become the Senator's Gallic Naomi Wolf, devising ways for him to rid his speaking style of French influences.

Suddenly, Kerry appeared to develop linguistic amnesia. "During a press conference, I asked Kerry a question, on Iraq," de Chalvron recalled. "He didn't answer. In front of the American journalists, he didn't want to take a question that was not in English." Loïck Berrou, the United States bureau chief for de Chalvron's competitor, TF1, has been having similar problems. Berrou chatted in French with Kerry on a commercial flight last year; the Senator reminisced about his family's country house in Saint-Briac-sur-Mer, a village in Brittany, where Kerry's cousin is the mayor. "We've pushed hard to get an interview with him, and no answer," Berrou says.

Family members have apparently been put on a leash as well. Kerry's wife, Berrou says, "speaks with us in French with no problem, and her press attaché has to pull her by the shirt to get her away from us."
So the worldliness and language skills just disappeared.

Could G. Clotaire Rapaille help George Bush?

Of course the president, in this case, is already quite good at playing dumb, and more than clumsy with the one language he happens to know (except for a smattering of slang Tex-Mex Spanish words and phrases). The problem is almost the reverse of Kerry's.

For a review of the way Rapaille might approach this Bush problem, see this from October 2004, a discussion of how we are seen by the French, and how we hate them truly. Rapaille comes up there, in this from Elisabeth Eaves in SLATE.COM -
America is a shark. Full of religious zealots. Who are deeply divided against themselves.

These are just a few descriptions of the United States gleaned from just-released French books devoted to deciphering and explaining the other red, white, and blue. Parisian editors are dining out on a new subgenre that includes tirades, serious academic tomes, election-timed quickies by celebrity journalists, and even a novel, Frenchy, about a Parisian living in Texas when the United States invaded Iraq.
Eaves cites Clotaire Rapaille, this French-born marketing consultant based here in the States who specializes in selling across cultures, the one who advised the Danish Lego people that Americans do not read instructions and told French cheese-makers that Americans prefer their cheese "scientifically dead." Back then, Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, had a great deal to say about all this, as did the marketing professor at the famous business school in upstate New York who often adds comments (he knew and had worked with Rapaille and thought Rapaille was almost always spot-on).

Could Rapaille solve this "missing Teflon" problem and make Bush "likeable" now? It's an interesting question. "Selling across cultures" may actually be the real challenge. Can one devise a way to make the squinting and stubborn and not at all curious George likeable again, in the context of the issues at hand these days?

That would be cool, if you could pull it off. You just need the codes that unlock the NASCAR fan in every Boston liberal, and unlock the openness and generosity of spirit in the Minutemen loading their rifles and heading for the border to knock off a few Mexicans sneaking in.

And wouldn't you know, G. Clotaire Rapaille has a new book to be released in June, conveniently titled The Culture Code - "In The Culture Code, internationally revered cultural anthropologist and marketing expert Clotaire Rapaille reveals for the first time the techniques he has used to improve profitability and practices for dozens of Fortune 100 companies. His groundbreaking revelations shed light not just on business but on the way every human being acts and lives around the world."

The site, from Random House Broadway Books, had all the details, a few excerpts, and links to all the press and media on this fellow.

But is he the man for the job?

Laura Miller in the May 20 issue of SALON.COM interviews him here - "In America, seduction is dishonest" - and the opening indicated this guy is not the sort of guy Bush would like -
Clotaire Rapaille is a controversial, often outrageous figure, an anthropologist turned marketing guru and Frenchman turned American. From his flamboyant appearance (he swans around in a cravat and black velvet frock coat, drives a Rolls-Royce, plays polo and lives in a restored industrialist's mansion in Tuxedo Park, N.Y.) to his sweeping pronouncements on the "archetypes" underlying various national cultures, he tends to elicit either rapt attention or dismissive scorn. Academics write him off as both irrational and behind the times, rival market researchers accuse him of being simplistic and a shameless self-promoter - but an impressive roster of Fortune 100 companies have engaged his services and come back for more again and again.

Rapaille's method involves a three-stage focus group process, one that starts with the rational aspect of the participant's experience - the "cortex" as Rapaille calls it - then moves on to a more creative, storytelling portion targeted at the "limbic brain." The final stage, during which the participants are encouraged to lie on comfy cushions and dig down to their earliest memories of "cars" or "coffee" or even "seduction," is the only one that really counts for Rapaille. These sessions allow him to tap into what he calls the "lizard brain," a center of primal impulses, needs and memories that he calls "imprints." When it comes to decision-making, we may offer excuses from the cortex ("I want a car with great safety features"), but what really motivates us are the primitive emotions of the lizard brain ("I want a car that makes me feel free and strong").
This is no Karl Rove, who may himself have a lizard brain, but doesn't do focus groups. Rove plans attacks.

But then, they guy may have some good idea, beyond anything Rove imagines -
Q: You describe America as an adolescent culture, and that idea is not unfamiliar to many of us. What does it mean to you?

A: You have a series of elements and when you look at them all together, they tell you the same thing. For example, we never look at instructions. We never plan. The Iraq war is an example of that. We always want the short-term, quick fix. This is a stereotype, of course, but it's really true in the sense that we have the repetition of this pattern again and again. We are very uncomfortable with sex and have no sex education with our children, just some anatomical education. We have a hard time with our children because how can adolescents raise adolescents? I don't want to know what I'm going to do when I grow up even if I'm 75 because I don't want to grow up. I want to have fun, to be rich and famous now, to play. Now, I choose to be American because I'd rather be part of an adolescent culture than a senile culture.

Q: You feel that France is a senile culture?

A: Oh yes, they're almost committing suicide right now. They're destroying themselves.
The choices are death or perpetual and pointless adolescence? That can't be so.

And note this on doing things right -
Q: You say that a Frenchman says, "I think," while an American says, "I do." How do you reconcile this immediate gratification impulsiveness with the famous American industriousness?

A: For an American, if you think too much something is wrong with you. Yet there is this ability to do things, and that's because we learn by making mistakes. I did a lot of research about quality, comparing Americans with the Japanese. Americans don't want to do it right the first time the way the Japanese do. I don't mean consciously, but if I do it right the first time, then what do I do next? What do I learn? In this attitude, there is a lot of wisdom.
Of course that's all rather general, but it does get more politically specific -
Q: What about partisan politics in America? It seems particularly bitter at the moment.

A: Politics in America has a different code than in Germany, England or France. The Democrats and the Republicans say the same thing. After a while, they just say, for example, "We have to protect the border or deal with immigration and we just have different ideas about how to do that." The main goal is the same. In other parts of the world, you have different parties with completely different goals.

Q: So what do you think the divide in America is about? Because people feel it very strongly.

A: I think we have two parts of the brain fighting it out. The blue people are supposed to be thinkers. But the majority of America, the people who drive a pickup truck with a six-pack in the back and a gun, they see themselves as the ones who are doing and making this country, not just sitting there thinking. They shoot first and ask questions later. The key notion for me is that the blue people think too much, and because they think too much they can't agree on anything.

Q: President Bush seems to be working that kind of shoot-first, no-nonsense code, but the failure of his policies has made him very unpopular all the same. It seems like the ideal opportunity for the Democrats to step in and regain some ground, but hardly anyone seems to have much faith that they can pull it off. What do you think of their chances?

A: Here's one issue: Don't tell people, "Drive a smaller car." That goes against American culture. Say, "I'm going to do everything to make us energy independent." Independence is so American. We don't want to be dependent on all these crazy guys in the outside world. We want to be independent. And then we have to do whatever we have to do to become independent. A theme like that is very powerful, and Thomas Friedman wrote several articles about it but nobody is really listening to him.

We need a cultural leader, not just someone who says I can push a button and send atomic bombs to you. Someone who is proud to be an American and can present an image of America to the world. Not to impose our culture to the world, but we want you to understand it and we want to understand yours and respect each other. George W. Bush has not done that.

Q: But doesn't he embody a lot of codes of American culture?

A: In some ways, yes, he is the cowboy and so on. But my position is that Bush never won an election. I'm not going into the controversy - it's that the other guys lost. Kerry lost, Bush didn't win. Kerry should have won, that was so clear to me, but he did everything wrong. He didn't represent all the American culture and so we are left with President Bush.
And on it goes, with the idea of a can-do spirit as part of the American code, but then you have to go on and actually get things done. Talk is cheap.

And there's this on the rise of Christian fundamentalism -
Religion in America is Disney World. We're not really serious about it the way the Muslims are. We just want some rituals, we have so many different brands of religion. We like the stories about it and talking about what they say and don't say. It's little stories for children. When in Kansas they try to stop the teaching of evolution, it's like at Disney World. If you are in the Mickey Mouse costume, the rule is that you never take off your mask. You're not supposed to show in public that there is a real guy under the mask. That's religion in America; let the people keep their illusions. Don't show the reality.

Now, because we are adolescent, we like to take things to extremes: extreme sports, extreme everything. Moderation is boring - eating in moderation? No way. So we apply that to religion, too, religious extremism.
That's about it - Pat Robertson as giggling adolescent, high on the God idea, while everyone else grew up. Right. It's an interesting observation, but what do you do with it? The man fits in with the culture - he's rich and famous. And he tells the White House what's acceptable to his crowd of similar kids.

So what do you do if Karl Rove is indicted and the White House calls you in as consultant when Rove has to leave? Bush has the "if you think too much something is wrong with you" thing down cold. And telling Bush to curb the impulse to impose our culture to the world and tell everyone we want them to understand our culture and want to understand and respect theirs? Yes, Bush has not done that. And he won't - his whole foreign policy, developed in the late eighties by the neoconservatives with their Project for a New American Century, in firmly in place. There's nothing else, and he can't throw everyone out. As for being inspiring, switching from "be very afraid and be very angry" to "let's work with everyone and get some things done to make things better" is an impossible transition. The president is notorious stubborn, and the raw material for the new approach may just not be there.

It doesn't matter. They won't be hiring this French-born wild man. Things are set for the next nine hundred ninety days, with or without Karl Rove.

Go read the rest of the interview. The stuff on sex and drinking and love is cool.

For example, this is good -
I always say if you want to understand a culture, look at what the people do at 5 o'clock. In England, they drink some kind of hot water with an herb in it: tea time. In Spain, they kill a bull. The Americans have the happy hour, they get drunk. The French have cinq a sept, a very special thing, it's sexual. Men and women, who are married but not to each other, after work they go to a hotel and have sex. It's seen as experiencing pleasure with somebody else. For the French, life is about the refinement of pleasure. I'm not saying it's right or wrong, but the cultures do provide very different reference systems.
And this -
American women are uncomfortable with being too sexy. You have to be sexy, but not too sexy. It is very, very difficult. I joke that if I come back one day as a woman, I don't want to be an American woman. It's too difficult.

In America, seduction is dishonest. In America, we say, "What you see is what you get," whereas in French culture it doesn't matter what you have, it's what you do with it.

... Beauty is an art. Red is red and blue is blue. It is not the color of the paint that makes the painting. Americans think a woman should be what she is and not have any intentions behind that. In French culture, the only thing that is sexy is the intentions.
You don't want this guy anywhere NEAR the White House.

Posted by Alan at 23:05 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 19 May 2006 23:10 PDT home

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