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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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Sunday, 1 October 2006
What They Are Saying
Topic: Couldn't be so...
What They Are Saying
It seems a shame not to open the week with what looks like a train wreck, even if it's just a political one. But this item will be brief as the flu, or the bad cold, or whatever it is, is worsening. So let's just see what the buzz opening the week is.

First up is Digby - it seems there's no rhyme or reason to how one chooses a pseudonym - over a Hullabaloo (on the other hand the site name makes some sense) with this list -
  • A new book by the official court scribe describes an administration so inept, unorganized and incoherent that if most people were aware of the details, the president's fear campaign would blow back hard against him. If the terrorists really are coming to kill us in our beds any day now, then we are in deep shit with these guys in charge.
  • We have more news this week-end that Karl Rove and the white house were actively and personally involved in all the Jack Abramoff congressional corruption scandals which feature ripping off taxpayers of many millions of dollars.
  • It turns out that Bush fired Colin Powell.
  • The intelligence community agree that the invasion of Iraq super-charged the extremist jihadist movement and is fuelling terrorism far more quickly and broadly than we would have had to deal with otherwise.
  • We have officially sanctioned torture and the repeal of habeas corpus - at the least competent president in history's discretion.
That's some list of Republican scandals, enough to bring them down, maybe. And Digby notes that "if we lived in a nation that wasn't completely dysfunctional," the unlisted scandal - the Republican congressman from Florida resigning after the mildly salacious emails and then the rather sick instant messages to a sixteen-year-old male page were revealed - wouldn't be at the top of the list of scandals that have been revealed in the last week in September. But that's the top scandal.

As Digby phrases it - "Lord Almighty, it looks like we got us a gen-you-wine Republican sex scandal. And it's a doozy, isn't it? Maybe people will notice that something is seriously rotten under GOP rule now."

Or maybe not, as this is the assessment we're offered -
… it looks like Mark Foley's raunchy emails are going to be the scandal that may just bring it home for November. They made their puritanical, moralizing bed, now their going to have to roll around in the muck and the mire they made it with. Let's let 'er rip.

First of all, Mark Foley is clearly one exceptionally screwed up dude. A semi-closeted gay Republican whose signature issue is online sex predators and missing kids sending sexually explicit IM's to congressional pages is one of the most blatant act of self-immolation I've ever seen.

But that's not the real scandal, is it? While I'm sure the religious right will make the same charges about "gayness" they always do when their institutional leaders turn out to be hypocrites and chickenhawks (in all senses of the word), Foley's unsavory habit of hitting on teenagers who worked at the capital and the GOP leadership's truly disgusting propensity to cover it up at all costs is the issue.
Of course, Sunday, October 1, George Will mentioned "Elmer Gantry" on the ABC political show This Week, and the idea here is that the book "perfectly describes "the modern Republican moralists who've been kicking us in the teeth with their alleged family values for the past couple of decades." And that has to do with this famous line from the book - "He had, in fact, got everything from the church and Sunday School, except, perhaps, any longing whatever for decency and kindness and reason."

Digby -
The politicians of the modern Republican Party are a bunch of Elmer Gantry's who sold a lot of Americans a bill of goods for a long, long time. I don't know if their supporters are ready to hear it, but I have to believe that if the leadership of the GOP congress allowing one of their own to sexually prey on sixteen-year-old male pages doesn't wake them up, nothing will. I am not sanguine.

No, there's no reason to be sanguine. Somehow this will be all Bill Clinton's fault. Watch for that.

Actually, that is underway - Brit Hume on Fox News -

It is very serious misbehavior on the part of Congressman Foley, whether it stems from arrogance or just weakness of the human flesh is another question. It's probably worth noting that there's a difference between the two parties on these issues. Inappropriate behavior towards subordinates didn't cost Gerry Studds his Democratic seat in Massachusetts, nor Barney Frank his. Nor did inappropriate behavior toward a subordinate even cost Bill Clinton his standing within the Democratic Party, even though indirectly he was impeached for it. Mark Foley found out about this, was found out to have done this, and he's out of office and in total disgrace in his party.
Republicans will take care of this because they are the "values" people - but Democrats still like Bill Clinton, because they have no values. And that proves… something, but it's a bit unclear.

But they aren't exactly taking care of this. They're doing the finger-point at each other. When the whole thing blew up and the man resigned, Majority Leader John Boehner - the man who replaced the indicted Tom DeLay - said he had told the Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, about the problem last year and Hastert, who long ago was a high school boys' wrestling coach, had said he'd take care of it. Hastert did the no-you-didn't and Boehner did the yes-I-did. They talked and Friday night, September 29, Boehner called the Washington Post and told them to change their coverage - maybe he hadn't told Hastert. He didn't really remember. Right - and there's a handy timeline here of all they events, and the many players. It's not pretty. Hume should study it.

Next up - Greg Saunders at the site This Modern World, run by the political cartoonist Tom Tomorrow (great pseudonym) with The Scandal That Dare Not Speak Its Name -
By now, you probably know about Rep Mark Foley stepping down after being revealed to be a sexual predator. Foley wasn't just caught sending creepy emails to underage boy(s), but some sexually explicit IMs. [ABC News has them in full here] You've also probably heard last night's revelation that some members of the House leadership were aware of the emails (at least) for almost a year and did nothing about it. But unless you've been glued to your computer all day, you may have missed all of the twists and turns the scandal has taken today. It's every man for himself as the GOP leadership is pointing fingers at each other.
And so it is, and Josh Marshall (real name) over at Talking Points Memo, who have been covering all the twists and turnd in great detail, sums it up with this -
I've been at this blog racket for almost six years. And usually you've got to really pore over the details to find the inconsistencies and contradictions. So I'm not sure I've ever seen this big a train wreck where leaders at the highest eschelons of power repeatedly fib, contradict each other and change their stories so quickly. It's mendacity as performance art; you can see the story unravel in real time.

… These fibs and turnabouts amount to a whole far larger than the sum of its parts. Even the most cynical politicians carefully vet their stories to assure that they cannot easily be contradicted by other credible personages. When you see Majority Leaders and Speakers and Committee chairs calling each other liars in public you know that the underlying story is very bad, that the system of coordination and hierarchy has broken down and that each player believes he's in a fight for his life.
Saunders -
As well they should be. Their careers are probably over at a minimum. There may be legal liability as well. And depending on how deep the cover-up goes, this could very well bring down the entire GOP with them. People who vote on "moral values" probably aren't going to like the fact that their party leaders have been covering up for a guy who asked an underage boy to "get a ruler and measure it for me." This is a milder form of the same sickness that brought down Cardinal Bernard Law and it'll bring down any Republican who sat on this information as well. As it should.
But it won't, even if now the FBI is involved. And Hastert called for that, but then there's this - the FBI is supposed to investigate ABC's sources and see if they can find any Democratic Party or liberal interest group involvement in the IM leaks.

It's just too bizarre. And the other items on the original list are for more important in the great scheme of things (assuming there is one). But it could be a tipping point. Seeming small events do sometimes cause large events to occur - Sarajevo, 1914.

On the right, John Miller at The Corner, the blog of the arch-conservative National Review, with this -
The news that House Republican leaders may have known about disgraced former congressman Mark Foley's behavior as early as several months ago is dynamite.

... If House Republican leaders really did avert their gaze from a problem they knew about, however, Foley could become the new Jack Abramoff. Except that whereas the details of Abramoff's were always a bit complicated for the public to follow closely, the accusations now leveled at Foley are much simpler and more appalling. Foley is on the verge of becoming the poster child of a party that is concerned about little more than preserving its power.
One the left (or mildly left), Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly, with this -
I think he's right. Even my eyes glaze over a bit when I try to remember everything that was going on with Jack Abramoff or even Duke Cunningham. But Foley? That's easy. He was preying on teenage pages, and the Republican leadership looked the other way and allowed it to continue for nearly a year. It doesn't get much easier than that.

This scandal may not expose systemic corruption the way the Abramoff scandal did, but it has plenty of legs. It involves sex, it involves cover-ups, it involves powerful players turning on each other to protect their own skins, and it involves lots of documentary evidence. Unlike the Abramoff scandal, this one is going to get covered in People magazine and the National Inquirer. It may finally be the GOP's Waterloo.
We shall see. When you don't have real political discourse on policy issues - oppose what's in place and you're somewhere between intellectually and morally confused (Rumsfeld) or a traitor (Ann Coulter) - posturing about illicit sex will do. People love to talk about that. It's a "real" issue for a change. Is that cynical? Wake up.

As for the other matters, Bob Woodward sat down with Mike Wallace on the Sunday, October 1, broadcast of CBS's 60 Minutes to discuss his new book, State of Denial. The transcript and streaming video are here - the Bush administration is so convinced that what they're doing in Iraq is right that they refuse to acknowledge the reality on the ground, and they refuse to level with the American people. Yawn.

As the New York Times summarizes here -
In Bob Woodward's highly anticipated new book, "State of Denial," President Bush emerges as a passive, impatient, sophomoric and intellectually incurious leader, presiding over a grossly dysfunctional war cabinet and given to an almost religious certainty that makes him disinclined to rethink or re-evaluate decisions he has made about the war. It's a portrait that stands in stark contrast to the laudatory one Mr. Woodward drew in "Bush at War," his 2002 book, which depicted the president - in terms that the White House press office itself has purveyed - as a judicious, resolute leader, blessed with the "vision thing" his father was accused of lacking and firmly in control of the ship of state.
But where's the sex?

On the other hand, the book is bad news for the White House - particularly because it reveals a July 10, 2001 meeting where George Tenet and his counterterrorism chief Cofer Black call for a meeting with then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. They think al Qaeda is going to attack soon. She blows them off. See Peter Rundlet, a Counsel to the 9/11 Commission, here, saying the Commission was never told about this meeting. And he concludes - "At a minimum, the withholding of information about this meeting is an outrage. Very possibly, someone committed a crime. And worst of all, they failed to stop the plot." They didn't think it was important.

It's getting interesting. And Bush fired Colin Powell, he didn't resign willingly? What's that about?

That's the new book about him, written with him, part of which was released here. He's not happy, he knows he was used and abused, and the details in this one are as devastating as anything in the Woodward book. More will follow on that as its publication date nears.

There's only one countermove to all this coming down - a war with Iran a week before the election. That's to only thing that will divert the public's attention.

But consider what Matthew Yglesias says here -
I would have thought this was simply obvious, but a few people at dinner thought it might be useful to make the point plainly. The Bush administration is considering airstrikes against Iran. Some people think the decision has already been made to do it. Most people think this isn't totally clear, but some folks inside the government want strikes and may win the fight. The options being seriously considered all involve, basically, launching a surprise attack. This means, among other things, a war without any serious basis in domestic or international law. No UN resolution, no congressional resolution, just an order from the President to the relevant military assets. There'll be vague gestures in the direction of this or that - the crew that's argued the 9/11 Resolution repealed FISA and the 4th Amendment will argue that it authorized just about anything - but basically they'll just be making shit up which isn't at the end of the day, a novel situation for them to be in.

The War Powers Act states that "The constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, are exercised only pursuant to (1) a declaration of war, (2) specific statutory authorization, or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces." Meaning, in other words, that simply launching an attack on Iran would be illegal. Dick Cheney has, however, argued for decades that the War Powers Act is unconstitutional, so this isn't going to stop them. You'll be able to file an after-the-fact lawsuit, if you like, but that's not going to have much practical impact.
But at least you won't have sex on your mind.

Posted by Alan at 23:14 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 2 October 2006 08:50 PDT home

Hot Off the Virtual Press
Topic: Announcements
Hot Off the Virtual Press
The commentary here may be sparse for a bit.  Your editor has the flu. But 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 40 for the week of October 1, 2006.Click here to go there...

This week there are five extended essays on current events - in detail and in depth and explained below - three columns from Ric Erickson, Our Man in Paris (two with photos) - and seventeen pages of startling Southern California photography, which would be more architecture from Hollywood's Golden Age, the Route 66 car show and its madness, the Sunset Strip and much better botanical shots - there's a lot here.

And there are the weekly diversions - quotes on what to do about the facts, and the weekly dose of the weird from our friend in Texas.

Direct links to specific pages -

Extended Observations on Current Events ______________________________

Intelligence - Reality Takes a Holiday - Do the facts really show what they seem to show? People disagree.

Paying Attention - Short Term, Long Term - What's news and what's not, depending on your attention span…

Watching the Barometer - Political storms on the horizon…

The Big Day - Some might argue that Thursday, September 28, 2006, was a defining day in American history, and you don't get those too often. This may have been one.

Truthiness - A Dialog on the Facts of the Matter - What readers are saying about what you can believe and why…

The International Desk ______________________________

Our Man in Paris is Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis. This week offers three columns from that city.

The first is In the Old Country - the news from Paris in the manner of the 'Letter from Paris' the late Janet Flanner used to write for the New Yorker. Ric is just back in Paris after a month in New York, oddly enough. Over here we're all arguing about the war - and just what is the reality of the situation. There? He explains.

The second concerns music - A True Beatles Story - and more, Coltrane, and that Varda woman.

The third - All the Moaning, All the Woe - the Auto Salon - covers the Mondial de l'Auto - the international automobile show underway there now, and he snapped shots of some very odd cars.

Southern California Photography ______________________________

Hollywood Architecture - The North Harper Avenue Historic District Amazing Machines - Things to Do On a Sunday Afternoon in Hollywood, like dropping by the Second Annual Route 66 Highway of Dreams Charity Car Show Sunset Strip Images
Botanicals - Extreme Roses

Diversions ______________________________

Quotes for the Week: The Problem with the Facts
Weird, Bizarre and Unusual: Even More from Our Friend in Texas

Posted by Alan at 19:14 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 1 October 2006 19:16 PDT home

Friday, 29 September 2006
A Dialog on the Facts of the Matter
Topic: Reality-Based Woes
A Dialog on the Facts of the Matter

It all started when Reality Takes a Holiday was first posted on the web log, Monday, September 25 - the first of a few posts discussing the leaks about the long-delayed National Intelligence Estimate ("Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States") that was all over the news. But the item was mostly about who controls what we think of as reality, ranging into a discussion of what the retired generals were saying about Rumsfeld and all that. There seems to be a great deal of difference as to what the basic facts are in these matters. And the public gets whipsawed back and forth.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said this - "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts." Well, some say he said that, but who knows? Still, that's the issue now. We've stopped arguing about our opinions. Now we are about who has the facts right. In fact (no irony intended), there's a political website edited by Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at UCLA, called Same Facts, and that has the Moynihan quote right up there in the masthead. The mission there seems to be to get the basic facts straight in the ongoing national dialog, but it's an uphill battle. We live in the age of spin, what Stephen Colbert has coined "truthiness" - the quality by which a person claims to know something intuitively, instinctively, or "from the gut" without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or actual facts. You see, Colbert sought to critique the tendency to rely upon "truthiness" and its use as an appeal to emotion and tool of rhetoric in contemporary socio-political discourse. He particularly applied it to President Bush's modus operandi in nominating Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court and in deciding to invade Iraq as well as the rationale behind Wikipedia.

But of course that definition itself is from Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia anyone can edit, on the presumption that one can build a really amazing body of facts about everything if everyone joins in. But that hasn't worked out that very well, even if folks really do want to know what's what in this world. People pop things into Wikipedia that just aren't facts, but seem plausible. Someone says this or that is a fact, but everyone has an agenda, or they might be confused, or they might be flat-out wrong.

So, given that National Intelligence Estimate, is it a fact that the Iraq war has had the opposite effect of its stated purpose, and of the rationale now presented to us for "staying the course" - the idea of changing nothing and simply fighting on? All sixteen of our national intelligence agencies say so - the war has created a whole lot more terrorists (something about dismantling and then occupying a Middle East country for four years, for reasons that all turned out to be false, making the locals, and others, angry), and created a practical terrorist training ground where there was none before, where all sorts of better and better roadside bombs can be perfected and all that.

But the president says this is not so - "You do not create terrorism by fighting terrorism." His gut tells him so - everyone else is naïve, and buying into the enemy's propaganda (which doesn't say much about his own CIA and all).

See Michael O'Hare at Same Facts -
If you fight floods by constraining the river with levees, you create floods.

If you fight infection with shotgun dispersion of antibiotics, you create more, worse, infections by resistant bugs.

If you fight forest fires by putting out every fire, you create really big fires.

If you fight crime in poor minority neighborhoods by sending white cops in to break heads, you create crime.

If you fight misbehavior in children by beating them with a belt, you create misbehavior.

If you fight AIDS by attacking the CIA for inventing it, you get more AIDS.

If you fight impiety and unbelief by berating the congregation for being so small, you create more impiety.

I think the president may be mistaken.
But he says he's not mistaken at all. The intelligence agencies all have their so-called "facts," but he is appealing to what's under those facts - the gut feeling that this is a war, and you fight wars by, well, fighting.

What should you believe? What are the facts here?

In September 2001 we were attacked by an organization of fundamentalist religious madmen, if you will, who had been given refuge in Afghanistan. Three thousand people died. Everyone called it an act of war, and it was just like Pearl Harbor, or worse. So we went to war, and we're still at war, and you win wars by fighting. That's what the president knows, viscerally - in his viscera of course, and that would be his gut.

But then note Richard Reeves here -
Actually, 9/11 was mass murder, and it should have been treated as mainly a challenge for the police and intelligence services. Interpreting the 9/11 attacks as an act of war demanding military reprisal has only helped up the ante of violence throughout the world.

In other words, declaring "War on Terror" was a mistake. A big one. Hurt and angry, we overreacted to 9/11. Leaving aside, for the moment, the invasion of Iraq, which history, in 2031 or 2131, is likely to judge as one of the stupidest presidential decisions of all time, we would have been wiser to treat 9/11 as a crime rather than an attack.
So it is a "fact" that those attacks were an act of war, or were they a crime, mass murder of the worst sort? It depends on how you see things. We may have started with the wrong "fact" - although seeing things as "war" was more than understandable at the time.

Reeves -
I did not think at the time that declaring undeclared war in 2001 was a mistake. That day in September, I was just another guy trying to get into Manhattan to find my family. It was impossible. If someone had asked me then, as I sat in fifty-mile-long line of stopped cars, I might have been for using nuclear weapons to retaliate. But the history of the past five years has persuaded me that we should have concentrated our power and money, whatever it took, to find the people who did it and treat them as common criminals of the worst kind.

Instead, we fell into a well-laid trap: We declared war on Islam. We did exactly what the terrorists wanted. Osama bin Laden and his ilk were dedicated to re-starting the Crusades, hoping to provoke a running war between the evangelical modernity of the West and the more zealous faith of many, millions, of Muslims. And they did it, helped by our righteous anger.

I don't just mean that we are losing in Iraq. Personally, I don't think it matters whether we leave that sad country today or in ten years. We have been defeated there by our own arrogance and ignorance.
But we do have this war, so that's moot. Now what? And what is the public to believe?

Staring with the presumption, perhaps foolish, that we are not spectators in all this but actually actors - we vote and elect people to do for us what we think they should - we have here a prescription for paralysis. No one can agree on the basic facts of the matter at hand, so what can you really do about anything?

The Dialog

Okay, the facts are in dispute and people - left and right - feel both angry and powerless.

And in reaction to the "Reality Takes A Holiday" item, one reader sent this comment along -
I found myself mentally composing an Op Ed piece about citizen impotence, and realized I didn't know enough about the two concepts that kept ringing around in my head: impeachment and no-confidence motions. Since I am at my desk at work, and supposed to be working, I resorted to Wikipedia to get a quick glimpse at their definitions.

Regarding no-confidence, I got a single sentence that confirmed what I suspected: "In presidential systems, the legislature may occasionally pass motions of no confidence, as was done against United States Secretary of State Dean Acheson in the 1950s, but these motions are of symbolic effect only."

Then, I continued in Wikipedia to impeachment, and was struck by the last sentence excerpted and copied here -
In the constitutions of several countries, impeachment is the first of two stages in a specific process for a legislative body to remove a government official without that official's agreement.

Impeachment occurs rarely enough for many in a country to misunderstand its nature. A typical misconception is to confuse it with involuntary removal from office; in fact it is only the legal statement of charges, paralleling an indictment in criminal law. An official who is impeached faces a second legislative vote (whether by the same body or another), which determines conviction, or failure to convict, on the charges embodied by the impeachment. Most constitutions require a supermajority to convict. George W. Bush must be impeached per a decree from God.
Of course, being Wikipedia, someone could edit it out soon, but as of ten minutes ago, it was there.

It's gone now, but Wikipedia is like that. People mess with the facts. They add their own "facts." That's one of the dangers of relying on Wikipedia.

But that was worth sharing with the Just Above Sunset community - the online salon, as it were - the small email forum where a lots of ideas get batted about.

Of course one friend from Canada had to chime in - "Dangers? Looks spot-on to me!"

Then there was this from our high school student in New Jersey - "At school when ever we do research papers the teacher always warns us against Wikipedia. Anyone could add information to that site. It's kind of depressing so many people rely on a source made up of information from totally unreliable sources."

Another reader -

Condi and Karl do the writing.

But then I just came across an editorial - "Insulting Bush Helps Our Enemies" - and I think to myself, Gosh, am I to blame for endangering America? Over my first cup of coffee, it strikes me that if the headline's true, well then his handlers "shudda taut about it" before they PUT HIM in HARM's WAY!

Now we're the guilty ones... hah!
To which Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, adds this -
"Insulting Bush Helps Our Enemies"

I do not believe that news headlines should take political sides, even though I do happen to agree with both assertions found in this headline:

(a) Yes, Bush certainly is insulting, and
(b) Yes, he certainly does help our enemies.
Then from the New Jersey high school -
I agree that headlines ought to not take political stances, but I think it is unrealistic to expect a newspaper to be totally neutral because everyone has their own opinion. Also headlines that display a strong opinion are more likely to sell then those that are neutral due to the fact that those which are displaying an opinion usually have more exciting headlines.
Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, to central New Jersey -
I should mention I was being at least partly tongue-in-cheek when I said that I don't think headlines should take sides; I am ashamed to confess that I was mostly just using that line to set up the joke.

True, people have opinions, but I tend to be more trusting of news outlets that don't. The argument that objectivity, being impossible, should not even be strived for is usually put forth these days by "truth relativists," most of them cynical conservatives who don't believe in anything they hear anyway.

And the "whatever sells" argument, which has become all the rage in recent years when "serving the public interest" has taken a back seat to "enhancing shareholder value," doesn't work for someone like me who started in the news business forty years ago, back when informing the public was more important than "beating the street."

In fact, I'm not so rigid as to deny a newspaper the right to decide however it wants to tell its readers what's going on in the world, or even how to sell itself, but I will say that I certainly wouldn't buy, nor do I subscribe to, any newspaper that would sink so low as to try to get me to agree with it by the way it reports the news.

Not that I believe there ought to be a law against subjective news reportage; I just don't personally find it credible, and I try whenever possible to avoid wasting my time by reading or listening to it.
From the New Jersey high school -
I should try being less cynical when looking at news sources. One day in my IPLE class (Institute for Political and Legal Education) we talked about how the media and other news sources affect people and how its role has changed over time - it was pretty interesting.
Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta -
You're probably not really cynical per se. Maybe skeptical? I think of skepticism as cynicism's non-sociopathic cousin. Witness your healthy skepticism of Wikipedia. I myself went in a month or so back and edited their article on CNN, correcting what they said were the network's original bureaus. I was right, of course - I was there in 1980, helping to get them up and feeding video to Atlanta - but still can't help being suspicious of a medium that anyone out here can edit, almost with impunity.

Yep, news sources certainly have changed since this "new media" wave hit our shores. I like the quote I heard recently from an editor at (I think it was) the Sacramento Bee, who said something to the effect that, "Sure, we're still the gatekeepers, but apparently somebody went and knocked down the walls, and everyone's running right around us."
That prompted a question from New Jersey - "I'm trying to figure out what caused the change in the media - was it sudden or gradual - and why did it happen?"

At this point the high-respected professor of marketing from a highly respected graduate school of business in upstate New York laid it all out -
Why the change in media?

Follow the money!

Public ownership of media corporations and a general financially-based cynicism that grew in the 1990's especially, as too many Wall Streeters became heroes of the Quarterly earnings machinery, resulted in a distortion where corporations began to believe (or operate as if they believed) that earnings was the Mission of a corporation - which it ISN'T. This from a business school prof, mind you. Profit SHOULD be a Strategic Measure of success and NOT the purpose of the firm. The Purpose of a firm USED to be seen as fulfilling a consumer (aka social) need. IF a business doesn't fulfill a need it doesn't profit, and thus doesn't survive. So profits should be a metric or indicator but not a PURPOSE.

MBA students - and we've trained too many with too little context for Liberal Arts Decision Making - have been led to believe that maximizing profits in the short run is equivalent to maximizing profit in the long run. But privately held companies, that don't NEED to pay out larger and larger profits every three months, are inclined NOT take cash out of the system in excessive amounts. When the key decision-maker is also the primary beneficiary (stockholder, stakeholder) then appropriate short-term sacrifices are made when long-term gains require serious investment. Quarterly payouts take a backseat to smart long-term maneuvering in the marketplace, and to even greater profits in the long run.

The fallacy - in my humble opinion - of where the financial logic breaks down is in financial modeling. The models themselves (Capital Asset Pricing Model, Derivatives models, etc) are elegant and SHOULD actually fulfill the short term long term promise. HOWEVER - and here you can blame the accountants - LOL - the models DON'T work perfectly in reality because people (those accountants) CAN'T PREDICT THE FUTURE ACCURATELY. If people could foresee the future and put in highly accurate future data, then the financial models would indeed work perfectly and Wall Street would be vindicated. But we don't know the future. And the human condition within businesses means that we will ALWAYS forecast to the rosy scenario - we don't tell our boss the dirty downside - we forecast in ways that exaggerate the upside - for how else would we SELL OUR PROJECTS to decision makers? If we could foresee the unforeseen consequences of our current actions (which invariably are more costly than we can estimate BEFORE those new problems arise) we'd have perfect financial scenarios and short run would actually equal long-run best interests. (See the work of Peter Senge for interesting concepts about unforeseen consequences!)

This is a very convoluted way to say that in the 1990's greed took over America in ways that had been held in check in earlier times. We've always had greed but it hasn't been this institutionalized since... the 1880's maybe, before modern labor law was enacted to protect the worker. Here I might rely on others with deeper historical resources. But I'll guess industrial revolution was the last instance of unchecked greed at level equivalent to today. Needless to say, as money becomes king, content (in media in this case) takes back seat, and we get publishers who as a rule forsake balanced journalism in the name of increasing market share among greedy readers - more interested in shock value than newsworthiness of their news. I mean look at the OJ phenomenon and everything that has come since.

Greed has replaced human sensitivity as a social dynamic - and we can then begin to argue that the style of media itself continues to reinforce cynical world views. It's a vicious cycle. There's an interesting corollary in Wal-Mart playing upon our collective greed to support its lower price - always lower price - strategy (which often is NOT the case - they aren't ALWAYS the lowest retail price in town for all goods they sell, but they OWN that position in your head - the Power of Advertising!) And the way they can continually meet your demand for lower prices is to pay workers relative wages that are unsustainable - the old joke that as more and more people work for Wal-Mart, more and more can't afford to shop anywhere else, and at some point can't even to afford to shop at Wal-Mart. No joke. It's THEIR cost model! Where do all the profits go, you ask? To every investment fund that owns Wal-Mart stock. Venture a guess at how many Wal-Mart employees are invested in stocks! Does Wal-Mart have a retirement fund for employees? It doesn't have adequate health care coverage!

So we lose the middle class in America - day by day. The middle class that automation (and Henry Ford) built. The suburbs, the public school systems, the telephone and highway infrastructures of America - ALL affordable because of a huge middle class with disposable income - extra wealth beyond the bare necessities, and able to pay taxes. America's secret as a success story IS the middle class. The life and freedoms and luxuries we enjoy in the US are all here on the backs of the middle class. And it's going away - and going away by design as more and more money gets pushed upwards to fewer and fewer of the haves. It's not your grandfather's America anymore. Or your father's. Or your father's media. Or your father's politics.

Is it too late? Like global warming, is there a tipping point beyond which we're moving where the sins of our constant (quarterly) consumption can no longer be rectified even if we try? I trust not. I trust we're in a deep pendulum swing. And your generation will have grown up in this world of constant change - indeed accelerating change - with skills and attributes that will allow you collectively to snatch us from this path to some new direction - and with new sense of destiny and accomplishment.

And if not - well then we hand the baton to China. We've a run for a couple hundred years. Next...

Here's to picking up the challenge. All you need is a dream... and the determination not to let 'em get you down (Didn't Bono write a song like that? Kinda). You'll be in good company. I've got a daughter determined to contribute in a better way. Here's to pendulum swings!
Now THERE'S a dose of reality.

Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta -
With the possible exception of that stuff on financial modeling (which I didn't understand), I by and large agree with this take.

It's not that newspapers make a better profit margin than they did thirty years ago or so. In fact, I think margins for the owners have always been good and haven't changed much. What has changed are the owners themselves, along with new attitudes of what must be done to maintain those profits. Newspapers used to be largely owned by families and closely held companies controlled by those families, but I'm pretty sure they've mostly been taken over public corporations.

Please, nobody stop me from telling this story if they've already heard me say it, but when I went to work for Ted Turner in 1980, he owned about 87% of his company; by the time I left in 1985, he had given up voting control to his major backers, Time-Warner and TCI, and it was downhill for CNN ever since. Unlike in the days when that crazy drunken sailor was making all the decisions, huge mutual funds and pension funds now call the shots, and the reason I know these people care less about CNN showing us the world as they do about showing shareholders the money is this: All of my own money is in mutual funds, and if my fund doesn't perform, I find another one.

So it's the schmoe-on-the-street like me who really doesn't care about the way companies do business as much as how much money they can get out of whatever it is the companies do. In fact, corporate ownership has become at least one area where I think too much democracy can be a bad thing.
The marketing man -
That's very interesting twist of the screw! Irony into which to sink your teeth! And a solid argument against privatizing social security!
Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta -
Hmm. Maybe so, although probably not the best one I can think of.

To me, to "privatize" a "public" program means to "abolish" it. Do we really want to do that, we should ask ourselves (but often don't)? No, wait, someone suggests, we're not really "abolishing" the program, we're just "personalizing" it, giving Americans the chance to realizing a higher return on it! It's part of the "ownership society" thing, in which we do for ourselves instead of expecting government to do for us!

But the problem with what I'm sure Bush and his minion think of as an innovative and neat idea is that it takes both the "social" and the "security" out of "Social Security," which citizens seemed to sense, and which I hope is why the effort died.
Our high-school friend really started something here (and had better not tell his teachers). On the other hand, in his next paper he can quote the unpublished observations of a noted marketing expert, and one of the founders of CNN. Things have changed for this generation.

And the topics here didn't really drift. We're all just trying to get the facts straight. That's what we're supposed to do - be informed citizens.

If only it weren't so tricky.



On media and following the money, the local story out here is the Los Angeles Times, as the AP, on Friday, September 29, explains here -
Barely three months after the demise of Knight Ridder Inc., the same pressures that forced the storied newspaper publisher out of existence are shaking the foundations of another media empire.

But as Tribune Co. considers a potentially drastic makeover amid impatience on Wall Street, declining circulation and other issues, the third-largest U.S. newspaper company isn't necessarily facing a wholesale dismantlement or sell-off within the next few months.

The pressure on Tribune to act is intense, though. Tribune signaled a week ago its intent to make big changes, and CEO Dennis FitzSimons says all options are on the table.

While an outright sale of the company, as happened with Knight Ridder, may not be likely, several partial breakup scenarios are starting to emerge, ones the company will have to consider before investors force action.

The Los Angeles Times and other prize jewels all will be studied for what selling them would do to the company's stock, tax bills and future, even though FitzSimons insists the Times isn't for sale.

Tribune underscored its commitment to a significant overhaul on Thursday, saying it has hired Merrill Lynch and Citigroup as financial advisers and retained Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom as legal counsel for its independent board committee reviewing strategic options.
But out here, ever since the Tribune folks took over the Los Angeles Times. they been on the cost cutting thing - whole swaths of folks are gone, and the current editors are standing up to the parent company. They just don't want to fire any more reporters to improve the bottom line. What's the point? And the founders of the paper, the Chandler family, holding the biggest block of Tribune stock, doesn't want the newspaper turned into an empty shell. The Chandlers sold Times-Mirror, the parent company of the Los Angeles Times, to Tribune in 2000 and have three board seats.

The situation -
The Chicago Tribune last week cited unidentified sources as saying the company's preferred solution is to spin off many of its two dozen TV stations, sell several smaller papers among its eleven dailies and take the rest of the company private in a leveraged buyout.

That outcome, however, hinges on lots of buyers stepping forward with big checks at a time when the newspaper industry is under siege from Internet competition for its readers and advertising dollars. Other questions also hang over local television stations.

Tribune insisted until recently that such marquee assets as the Cubs or its Tribune Tower headquarters building were untouchable, as were businesses in its three major markets of Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. But many think that has changed as the stock continues to languish.

So far, the only reported inquiries into Tribune properties to have surfaced publicly in the last week are for smaller Tribune papers: The Morning Call in Allentown, Pa. and three Connecticut dailies - The Hartford Court, the Advocate of Stamford and the Greenwich Time.

Billionaire Ron Burkle, business leader Eli Broad and Hollywood mogul David Geffen have voiced interest in the Los Angeles Times, but no formal offer is said to have been made. A spokeswoman for Geffen's office declined comment and Burkle and Broad did not return phone calls.
It's not like the paper is worthless. These guys will take a steady twenty percent return and the chance to do the Citizen Kane thing. Or is that Ted Turner? In any event, there'd be no corporate owners demanding double-digit year-to-year growth. You'd just being putting out a reasonably good newspaper, respected around the world, and making reasonable money, no matter what the Chicago Cubs lose or how things are going in Allentown or Hartford.

We'll see how this plays out.

Posted by Alan at 22:07 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 29 September 2006 22:31 PDT home

Thursday, 28 September 2006
The Big Day
Topic: The Law
The Big Day
Some might argue that Thursday, September 28, 2006, was a defining day in American history, and you don't get those too often.

Daniel Froomkin at the Washington Post was working on that idea here -
Today's Senate vote on President Bush's detainee legislation, after House approval yesterday, marks a defining moment for this nation.

How far from our historic and Constitutional values are we willing to stray? How mercilessly are we willing to treat those we suspect to be our enemies? How much raw, unchecked power are we willing to hand over to the executive?

The legislation before the Senate today would ban torture, but let Bush define it; would allow the president to imprison indefinitely anyone he decides falls under a wide-ranging new definition of unlawful combatant; would suspend the Great Writ of habeas corpus; would immunize retroactively those who may have engaged in torture. And that's just for starters.

It's a red-letter day for the country. It's also a telling day for our political system.

The people have lost confidence in their president. Despite that small recent uptick in the polls, Bush remains deeply unpopular with the American public, mistrusted by a majority, widely considered out of touch with the nation's real priorities.

But he's still got Congress wrapped around his little finger.

Today's vote will show more clearly than ever before that, when push comes to shove, the Republicans who control Congress are in lock step behind the president, and the Democrats - who could block him, if they chose to do so - are too afraid to put up a real fight.

The kind of emotionless, he-said-she-said news coverage, lacking analysis and obsessed with incremental developments and political posturing - in short, much of modern political journalism - just doesn't do this story justice.
Was it that big?

There was this item - "A $75 million project to build the largest police academy in Iraq has been so grossly mismanaged" and "so poorly constructed that feces and urine rained from the ceilings in student barracks." Don't you just love symbolism? Everyone was saying the was "the" key project in Iraq - the cornerstone of the new post-war Iraq, which will obviously become a placid place where no one si killing each other and the well-liked police are directing traffic and investigating petty crimes. It seemed that turned to… well, you see. The contactor involved was the giant international firm Parsons, based out here in Pasadena - they oversaw the project t. They've received a billion dollars in federal contracts for work in Iraq. Their record? They were the folks who managed the "Big Dig" construction project in Boston (see this), and apart from people dying and having to closed the tunnels under Boston Harbor for retrofitting, that went well too. The last time anyone looked, their tall headquarters building a block north of Old Town in Pasadena is still standing, but they didn't build that. Their executives may be good friends with key people in the administration - but you just don't hand the now less-than-happy Iraqi citizens a symbol like the policy academy from hell. This was a potent story. It got buried.

And so did this - Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani said, "The idea of trying to cast blame on President Clinton [for 9/11] is just wrong for many, many reasons, not the least of which is I don't think he deserves it." What? What about the emotionless, he-said-she-said news coverage, lacking analysis and obsessed with incremental developments and political posturing - in short, much of modern political journalism? Shouldn't they report a major Republican figure just doesn't want to play in that sandbox? This also was a potent story. It got buried.

So did this - "Most of the 9 million uninsured children in the US live in homes where at least one parent works full time - in more than one-quarter of the cases, there are two working parents." The healthcare crisis is not "news" - it's not sexy or scary. The implications are huge, but they are, after all, implications.

And as for our upcoming war with Iran, one sees here that seventy percent of Americans oppose the use of US ground troops in Iran. Only nine percent favor even airstrikes on selected targets in Iran, while forty-five percent said we should increase our diplomatic efforts with allies and work something out. Karl Rove has some work to do. Dick Cheney is muttering under his breath again. But this item got sidetracked.

Out of the UK we see this - a report from the UK Ministry of Defense says the Iraq war has acted as a "recruiting sergeant" for Islamic extremists, and describes the west as being "in a fix." There's a consensus building. The same newspaper also reported this - "Scientists have uncovered evidence that levels of the greenhouse gas methane will rise sharply in the next few years, warming the planet faster than previously expected." No one has time for the British papers, or the British.

And no one had time for cultural notes - John E. Jones III, the district judge who "struck down a Dover, Penn., school board's decision to teach intelligent design in public schools said he was stunned by the reaction, which included death threats and a week of protection from federal marshals." Death threats? Federal protection? Those who love Jesus have been kicking things up a notch. Armed Christian evangelicals willing to take out those who stand in the way of His Word is a bit of an escalation. But then, no one shot him. So it's not news.

Nor was it news when the UN weighed in here - "New explosive devices are now used in Afghanistan within a month of their first appearing in Iraq," concludes a new United Nations report on Iraq, which "echoe[s] many of the dire predictions in an American assessment." Yeah? So what? We're fighting them there so we don't have to fight them here, or something. And fighting them there, and also over there, and over there, and look, over there now too. When the final "there" becomes "here" we'll deal with it then, and use another explanation of what's going on. It's not news yet.

Nope, the only news was the vote in the senate.

The night before, our friend, the high-powered Wall Street attorney, called as he was waiting to get into the Holland tunnel well after midnight. He'd been silent recently - in Montreal on business, and that night he was late at work catching up after the flight back. We reviewed current events and he asked why the Democrats are doing what seemed like nothing on the "big vote" on this torture/habeas corpus bill passed by the House and to be passed with no problem at all by the Senate.

There was no answer for that, but the obvious thing was to review the summary of the stakes involved, as the New York Times had noted a few hours earlier here -
Enemy Combatants: A dangerously broad definition of "illegal enemy combatant" in the bill could subject legal residents of the United States, as well as foreign citizens living in their own countries, to summary arrest and indefinite detention with no hope of appeal. The president could give the power to apply this label to anyone he wanted.

The Geneva Conventions: The bill would repudiate a half-century of international precedent by allowing Mr. Bush to decide on his own what abusive interrogation methods he considered permissible. And his decision could stay secret - there's no requirement that this list be published.

Habeas Corpus: Detainees in US military prisons would lose the basic right to challenge their imprisonment. These cases do not clog the courts, nor coddle terrorists. They simply give wrongly imprisoned people a chance to prove their innocence.

Judicial Review: The courts would have no power to review any aspect of this new system, except verdicts by military tribunals. The bill would limit appeals and bar legal actions based on the Geneva Conventions, directly or indirectly. All Mr. Bush would have to do to lock anyone up forever is to declare him an illegal combatant and not have a trial.

Coerced Evidence: Coerced evidence would be permissible if a judge considered it reliable - already a contradiction in terms - and relevant. Coercion is defined in a way that exempts anything done before the passage of the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act, and anything else Mr. Bush chooses.

Secret Evidence: American standards of justice prohibit evidence and testimony that is kept secret from the defendant, whether the accused is a corporate executive or a mass murderer. But the bill as redrafted by Mr. Cheney seems to weaken protections against such evidence.

Offenses: The definition of torture is unacceptably narrow, a virtual reprise of the deeply cynical memos the administration produced after 9/11. Rape and sexual assault are defined in a retrograde way that covers only forced or coerced activity, and not other forms of nonconsensual sex. The bill would effectively eliminate the idea of rape as torture.
So why wouldn't the opposition party oppose this? There was not enough time to fix all this, especially since the few Republicans who call themselves moderates have been whipped into line, and the Democratic leadership in the Senate seemed to have decided not oppose this at all. The Democrats may have agreed to let this one slide by - the cost of appearing weak on terror before the election is far too high.

That was unfortunate, but understandable, or maybe not, as Richard Einhorn explains here -
Yes, the NY Times gets it. But it's not telling the whole truth.

The truth is that the United States government is presently holding, torturing, and even murdering countless numbers of people who have no chance in hell of obtaining a lawyer, let alone anything resembling a trial. The government is doing this under the direct orders of George W. Bush. There is no law, no bill, and no legislature who can stop him. If Congress were to pass a law unequivocally banning torture and send it to him, he'd use it for toilet paper. If the Supreme Court were to rule against Bush in the harshest and bluntest language, he'd yawn.

The truth is that there is a rogue presidency and there has been, since January, 2001 (earlier, if you count the stolen election). Certainly, everyone in Washington knows it, but no one dares to admit it. The bill legalizing torture merely enables congress to pretend they still have some influence over an executive that from day one was governing, not as if they had a mandate, but as if Bush were a dictator. If, for some miracle, the bill didn't pass, every congress-critter knows Bush would keep on torturing.

Better to vote to pass and preserve the appearance of a working American government, the thinking goes. For the very thought that the US government is seriously broken - that the Executive is beyond the control of anyone and everyone in the world - is such a truly awesome and terrifying thought that it can never be publicly acknowledged. If ever it is, if the American crisis gets outed and Congress and the Supremes openly assert that the executive has run completely amok and is beyond control, the world consequences are staggering. It is the stuff of doomsday novels.

And this brings up the dilemma of a post Nov. 7 world. Apparently, one if not both houses of Congress may be controlled by Democrats. Now what? You think Bush is gonna get impeached? Put on trial for war crimes? Forget it. You think they're gonna repeal the pro-torture law they're about to pass? You can almost certainly forget that, too. Remember: it is crucial to maintain the illusion that Congress still has some say, as it was in November of 2002 about the Bush/Iraq war.

If, for some reason, Congress does decide to move against Bush in some substantive way, there will be hell to pay. Those of us who well remember Watergate remember that while it was genuinely thrilling to have Nixon caught, disgraced, and removed, it was also a time of extreme tension. Would Nixon tough the impeachment trial out, causing the country incalculable harm? It looked for quite a long time that he would. About Bush, there is no doubt.

Since the day after the 2000 election, Bush and his goons have been playing chicken with the very structure of the United States Government, double-daring anyone to try and stop them. If Congress does try - and I'm not talking little things like wrecking Social Security, that'll happen and a dictator can afford to let things like that wait a while, I'm talking atomic bang bang and thumbscrews - he will force the private Constitutional crisis into the open. And there is no guarantee that Bush will lose.

And that is the truth. The Congress has been given an awful choice: Vote to approve torture and the suspension of habeas or show the world that yes, you really do have no genuine power to check Bush.

Of course, all of Congress should vote against the bill anyway. But they won't. And to themselves, they will justify the vote as saying they made a hard choice but made the best one they could for their country.

Me, well... I've gone on record numerous times about how much I dread radicalism and serious national crises (which are two reasons Bush scares the hell out of me). The prospect of an open Constitutional confrontation, Bush vs. the Congress plus the Supremes... Jesus Christ. Perhaps I should understand the Congress had no real choice?

Absolutely not. The time truly is long overdue where there simply is no choice but to say "enough." It should have been enough over the stolen election, or the neglect that led to 9/11, or Schiavo, or the filibuster. But voting to permit the US government to sidestep Geneva? To suspend habeas? What the fuck is Congress thinking, for crissakes?

… There's no question about it. Any person in Congress who votes for this - listening, Hillary? - will never get my vote again. Ever, not even for dogcatcher, let alone president. If there is going to be a public Constitutional crisis over Bush's rogue presidency - and there will be sooner or later, guaranteed - bring it on now.
But the votes weren't there to stop this. And who is Richard Einhorn anyway? He's the modern classical composer - studied composition and electronic music with Jack Beeson, Vladimir Ussachevsky, and Mario Davidovsky at Columbia. He's most famous for "Voices of Light" - written for and inspired by the old French silent film "The Passion of Joan of Arc" (Carl Theodor Dreyer - 1928). Saw it once - very strange. Believed lost until a complete print was found in a mental institution in Oslo in the fifties, it pops up cable television now and then. And there's also Einhorn's "Freud and Dora: A Case of Hysteria" - an opera in two acts, and "My Many Colored Days" - the Doctor Seuss thing for orchestra and narrator on the program of children's concerts here and there. Maybe he has no right to speak. He's only a citizen, just like the rest of us.

And the bill passed, as the New York Times reported here -
The Senate approved legislation this evening governing the interrogation and trials of terror suspects, establishing far-reaching new rules in the definition of who may be held and how they should be treated.

The vote, 65-to-34, came after more than 10 hours of often impassioned debate touching on the Constitution, the horrors of Sept. 11 and the nation's role in the world, but it was also underscored by a measure of politics as Congress prepares to break for the final month of campaigning before closely fought midterm elections.
So now we have the rules for the military commissions that will allow us to prosecute high-level terrorists, including that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the big mastermind, they say. It's just all the other stuff that's a problem.

But this is almost identical to the bill passed by the House of Representatives the day before by a vote of 253 to 168 - no need for much conference committee work and it gets signed into law by the weekend.

Senator Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia - "Our prior concept of war has been completely altered, as we learned so tragically on September 11th, 2001, and we must address threats in a different way." So we need to change the foundations of the American legal system, even if this might come back to haunt future lawmakers as one of the greatest mistakes in history. It's just necessary.

And twelve Democrats agree - they crossed party lines to support the legislation, while one odd Republican, Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, opposed it.

Some amendments were proposed, and got voted down on party lines - a habeas corpus provision (the accused can say they're not guilty), one that would have established a sunset on the legislation to allow Congress to reconsider it in five years, one that would have required the Central Intelligence Agency to submit to Congressional oversight, and one that would have required the State Department to inform other nations of what interrogation techniques it considers illegal for use on American troops (that would have forced the administration to say publicly what techniques it considers out of bounds). None of that stuff was going to happen.

Senator Levin of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, argued that the habeas corpus provision "is as legally abusive of the rights guaranteed in the Constitution as the actions at Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo and secret prisons were physically abusive of detainees." Atlas shrugged. Even some Republicans who voted for the bill said they expected the Supreme Court to strike down the legislation because of the "no habeas corpus" provision - the Supreme Court would send the legislation right back to Congress, so what the heck. Senator Gordon Smith, Republican, Oregon - "We should have done it right, because we're going to have to do it again."

So it wasn't a big deal?

That's not what Glenn Greenwald said in Congress Gives Bush the Right to Torture and Detain People Forever -
Following in the footsteps of the House, the Senate this afternoon approved the bill which vests in the President the power of indefinite, unreviewable detention (even of US citizens) and which also legalizes various torture techniques. It is not hyperbole to say that his is one of the most tyrannical and dangerous bills to be enacted in our nation's history.

… The Democrats lacked the votes for a filibuster and therefore did not attempt one. Twelve (out of 44) Senate Democrats voted in favor of this bill, while only one Republican (Chafee) voted against it. The dishonorable list of Democrats voting for the bill: Carper (Del.), Johnson (S.D.), Landrieu (La.), Lautenberg (N.J.), Lieberman (Conn.), Menendez (N.J), Nelson (Fla.), Nelson (Neb.), Pryor (Ark.), Rockefeller (W. Va.), Salazar (Co.), Stabenow (Mich).

One can look at the Democrats' conduct here in one of two ways. On the one hand, it is true that the Democrats disappeared from the debate until today, all but hiding behind John McCain in the futile hope that he would remain steadfast in his opposition to the White House. When McCain predictably capitulated and agreed to a bill that gave the Bush administration virtually everything it wanted, the Democrats, by their own doing, had very few options. Once the Democrats designated McCain as the Noble and Wise Torture Expert who spoke on their behalf, it became very difficult for them to oppose the "compromise" bill after McCain announced that he was blessing it. Democrats painted themselves into this corner by failing forcefully to advocate their own position against torture and indefinite detention.

Nonetheless, it is simply a fact that every Republican in the House and the Senate (with one sole exception in each) voted in favor of this tyrannical bill, while Democrats overwhelmingly opposed it (in the House, 160 Democrats voted "no," while 34 voted "yes"). With those facts assembled, it is fair to say that the Republicans are the party of torture, indefinite and unreviewable detention powers, and limitless presidential power, even over US citizens on US soil. By contrast, Democrats have largely opposed these tyrannical, un-American and truly dangerous measures. Even if Democrats didn't oppose them as vociferously as they could have and should have - and that is plainly the case - this is still a meaningful and, at this point in our country's history, a critically important contrast.
And earlier he had said this -
Issues of torture to the side (a grotesque qualification, I know), we are legalizing tyranny in the United States. Period. Primary responsibility for this fact lies with the authoritarian Bush administration and its sickeningly submissive loyalists in Congress. That is true enough. But there is no point in trying to obscure the fact that it's happening with the cowardly collusion of the Senate Democratic leadership, which quite likely could have stopped this travesty via filibuster if it chose to (it certainly could have tried).

... There is a profound and fundamental difference between an Executive engaging in shadowy acts of lawlessness and abuses of power on the one hand, and, on the other, having the American people, through their Congress, endorse, embrace and legalize that behavior out in the open, with barely a peep of real protest. Our laws reflect our values and beliefs. And our laws are about to explicitly codify one of the most dangerous and defining powers of tyranny - one of the very powers this country was founded in order to prevent.

One could cite an infinite number of sources to demonstrate what a profound betrayal this bill is of the fundamental promises of the American system of government. As Justice Jackson wrote in his concurring opinion in Brown v. Allen, 344 US 443, 533 (1953):
Executive imprisonment has been considered oppressive and lawless since John, at Runnymede, pledged that no free man should be imprisoned, dispossessed, outlawed, or exiled save by the judgment of his peers or by the law of the land. The judges of England developed the writ of habeas corpus largely to preserve these immunities from executive restraint.
Thomas Jefferson, in his letter to Thomas Paine, 1789. ME 7:408, Papers 15:269, said: "I consider [trial by jury] as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution." And Patrick Henry warned us well in advance about Government officials who would seek to claim the right to imprison people without a trial:
Is the relinquishment of the trial by jury and the liberty of the press necessary for your liberty? Will the abandonment of your most sacred rights tend to the security of your liberty? Liberty, the greatest of all earthly blessings--give us that precious jewel, and you may take everything else! ...Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel.
In one sense, these observations are compelling because they define the core of what our country is supposed to be. But in another sense, they don't matter, because our Government is controlled by people and their followers who literally don't understand and, worse, simply do not believe in the defining values and principles of America. They know that this bill is a seizure of the most un-American powers imaginable, but their allegiance is to the acquisition of unlimited power and nothing else.

It was taken as an article of faith by Beltway Democrats that Americans want to relinquish these protections and radically change our system of government in the name of terrorism, so no political figures of national significance really tried to convince them they ought not to. We'll never really know whether Americans really wanted to do this or not because the debate was never engaged. It was ceded.

And as a result, we are now about to vest in the President the power to order anyone - US citizen, resident alien or foreign national - detained indefinitely in a military prison regardless of where they are - US soil or outside of the country. American detainees are cut off from any meaningful judicial review and everyone else is cut off completely. They can be subject to torture with no recourse, and all of this happens on the unchecked say-so of the administration. Really, what could be more significant than this?

... During the debate on his amendment, Arlen Specter said that the bill sends us back 900 years because it denies habeas corpus protections. Then he voted for it.
And so it goes. John, at Runnymede and Thomas Jefferson are so pre-9/11.

Of course the organization Bill O'Reilly often says is plainly a terrorist group out to destroy America, the ACLU, has its views -
The American Civil Liberties Union expressed distress as the Senate adopted S.3930, the Military Commissions Act of 2006. That bill is identical to legislation adopted by the House yesterday and removes important checks on the president by: failing to protect due process, eliminating habeas corpus for many detainees, undermining enforcement of the Geneva Conventions, and giving a "get out of jail free card" to senior officials who authorized or ordered illegal torture and abuse.

"This legislation gives the president new unchecked powers to detain, abuse, and try people at Guantanamo Bay and other government facilities around the world," said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "Unfortunately for America, the Senate chose not to deliberate today. Instead, it joined the House and President Bush in jamming through a hastily written bill before running home to try to campaign."

Senators rejected several amendments that would have corrected shortcomings in the legislation. The bill gives the president license to weaken enforcement of the basic protections in Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. As passed, the president would have new power to decide much of the scope of authorized conduct and the severity of punishment, giving him unparalleled power to unilaterally determine whether the government can carry out cruelty and abuse.

Additionally, the bill undermines the American value of due process by permitting convictions based on evidence literally beaten out of a witness or obtained through other abuse by either our government or other countries. Government officials who authorized or ordered illegal acts of torture and abuse would receive retroactive immunity for many of these acts, providing a "get out of jail free" card that is backdated nine years.

In the closest vote today, the Senate rejected by a 51-48 vote an amendment by Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to preserve minimal protections of the courts in their historical and constitutional role as a check on the executive branch, through habeas corpus.

"Nothing could be less American than a government that can indefinitely hold people in secret torture cells, take away their protections against horrific and cruel abuse, put them on trial based on evidence they cannot see, sentence them to death based on testimony literally beaten out of witnesses, and then slam shut the courthouse door for any habeas petition," said Christopher Anders, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. "But that's exactly what Congress just approved."
Well, there is an election coming up. The judgment is that this is just what people want. And maybe they do.

This you have Dennis Hastert after the earlier the earlier House vote saying this -
"Democrat Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and 159 of her Democrat colleagues voted today in favor of more rights for terrorists," Hastert said in a statement. "So the same terrorists who plan to harm innocent Americans and their freedom worldwide would be coddled, if we followed the Democrat plan."
And you get statements from legal experts on the left like this -
The "Democratic plan" is simply to expect the government to obey existing laws rather than brushing them aside with a quick legislative assist, but what is truly offensive and disingenuous about Hastert's attack is the assumption that Democrats want to "coddle terrorists" rather than "protect the innocent." It is astonishing that the GOP, so long distrustful of the ability of government to make decisions wisely, is now populated with members who are certain that the executive branch will never err in taking custody of a suspected terrorist. The rights that protect against a wrongful conviction - freedom from tortured confessions and a ban against the inherently unreliable evidence that coercion produces, confrontation of witnesses, discovery of evidence, judicial review and more - can be safely withheld because of ... presidential infallibility?

… Those who oppose the president's "terrorism" bills recognize that law enforcement agencies - from the smallest police department to Homeland Security and the CIA - don't get it right every time. … Why are Hastert and his ilk so convinced that it is unnecessary to provide terrorism detainees with basic procedural protections that can save the falsely accused from a lifetime of indefinite detention?

It is monstrous that the GOP uses respect for our nation's founding principles as an object of political ridicule and scorn. But it has been monstrous for Republicans to work tirelessly to imprison so many for so long while attacking Democrats for being "soft on crime." And just as it has been frustrating to watch Democrats capitulate on crime (it was Bill Clinton, after all, who signed legislation that severely limited the scope of federal habeas corpus review), it is sad to see Democrats who are unwilling to protect our constitutional values today.

Harry Reid, on the Ed Schultz show today, said there just weren't enough votes to sustain a filibuster. Why not? Why would anyone in the legislative branch tolerate an executive power grab of this dimension? Democrats had the power to stop this arrogant betrayal of the Constitution. Why didn't they exercise that power? Because they didn't want to seem soft on terrorism? What kind of politician are you if you can't explain the difference between "coddling terrorists" and "protecting the innocent from an incompetent branch of government"?
The answer is clear - you're the kind of politician who wants to stay in office, and maybe fight another day, or not.

But those Democrats who played it safe are just suckers, as the election campaign started in earnest a few hours after the senate vote with here -
President Bush suggested Thursday that Democrats don't have the stomach to fight the war on terror, battling back in the election-season clamor over administration intelligence showing terrorism spreading.

"Five years after 9/11, the worst attack on the American homeland in our history, Democrats offer nothing but criticism and obstruction and endless second-guessing," Bush said at a Republican fundraiser.

"The party of FDR and the party of Harry Truman has become the party of cut and run," Bush told a convention-center audience of over 2,000 people. The event put $2.5 million in the campaign accounts of Alabama Gov. Bob Riley and the state GOP.
The Democrats fought back - Karen Finney, spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee - "On his watch, five years after 9/11, he not only has failed to capture Osama bin Laden, but as the National Intelligence Estimate indicates, his failed policies have made America less safe and spawned terrorism, not decreased it. Democrats will be tough and smart, and will actually fight the terrorists, not leave them to plan future attacks."

Who believes that now? On Thursday the president accused the Democrats of "cherrypicking" pieces of that National Intelligence Estimate "for partisan political gain" with the express purpose "to mislead the American people and justify their policy of withdrawal from Iraq." And as for the new rules - "We must give our professionals the tools they need to protect the American people in this war on terror…" And he's the decider on that.

He won, and he knows it. And he's not going to give any credit to the dozen or so Democrats who said "please don't hit me again." That's not how things work.

Some Democrats got it. Hillary Clinton, of all people, gave a rip-roaring speech on the senate floor, as did Harry Reid -
I strongly believe this legislation is unconstitutional. It will almost certainly be struck down by the Supreme Court. And when that happens, we'll be back here several years from now debating how to bring terrorists to justice.

The families of the 9/11 victims and the nation have been waiting five years for the perpetrators of these attacks to be brought to justice. They should not have to wait longer. We should get this right now - and we are not doing so by passing this bill. The National security policies of this administration and Republican Congress may have been tough, but they haven't been smart. The American people are paying a price for their mistakes.

History will judge our actions here today. I am convinced that future generations will view passage of this bill as a grave error. I wish to be recorded as one who voted against taking this step.
Not that it did any good.

The odd thing is that whether the legislation is shot down by the Supreme Court or not, this one day, because of what was decided by the majority of our elected officials, changed the country. We have become something we were not before, and there may be no going back.

Posted by Alan at 22:00 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 28 September 2006 22:27 PDT home

Wednesday, 27 September 2006
Watching the Barometer
Topic: Election Notes
Watching the Barometer
A note on the political weather - when the barometer starts dropping fast there's a storm coming. There's an area of extreme low pressure out there somewhere, sucking everything in and swirling into trouble. Get the dog and two cats in the house, shove the lawn furniture in the garage and go room to room and shut the windows. You're not going anywhere.

It was something like that the week everyone was talking about the National Intelligence Estimate from April, a finding that the Iraq war is making things worse and that caused a great deal of tap-dancing at the White House. They've been saying the opposite and sitting on the report since April - all sixteen intelligence agencies agree they're wrong. And then Wednesday, September 27, the House passed the compromise bill on detainees in this effort and sent it along to the Senate for those folks to vote on in two more days, before everyone goes home to campaign for the November elections. That stirred things up.

The question is whether the president should be given the legal authority to interpret the Geneva Conventions and define, on his own at any given time, what is and is not torture, no matter what anyone else thinks or what any previously enacted law or agreed to international law stipulates, and be given the right to declare anyone anywhere, even a US citizen, an "enemy combatant" who can be locked up forever without charges and with no right to argue a mistake has been made, on the president's decision alone. And should any decision on such matters back to 1997 be exempt from legal review - no matter what has been done no charges can be filed in any venue? That's part of it. That was the year of the War Crimes act that made any breech of the Geneva Conventions a felony.

It's an interesting bill. Part of it is, of course, a challenge to patriotism. Do you trust the president? Has he, in your mind, ever made a bad decision? And even if you think he has, are you willing to say to the world, in these perilous times, that the man has messed up on the job, thereby emboldening our enemies as they'll then think we're in disarray. Give him the power. Part of it too is a test of whether you're serious about keeping America safe. Are you so rule-bound and living in the abstract that you're not willing do say that torture is actually a very good thing that will save lives? And then, do you think those who the president on his own decides are terrorists deserve to be treated like everyone else, and allowed to defend themselves and argue a mistake has been made? Yeah, yeah, the guy who used to be his Secretary of Education did say the National Teachers Association, the union, was a terrorist organization, and all unions really were nothing more than terrorist organizations, but he's gone now. The president would be more careful and thoughtful. And there are real bad guys in this case. Do they deserve fair treatment? That's part of it. And part of it is, of course, a bit of geopolitical strategy. Shouldn't we say to the world, and particularly to the bad guys, that if anyone thinks they can get the best of us by assuming we'll play be the rules we've always claimed are so very important, they're in for a nasty surprise? Shouldn't we showing them we're willing to do anything we feel we must, no matter what they thought our country stood for, and they're in trouble if they assume otherwise?

All of it, all the parts, is positioning for the storm - shoving the lawn furniture in the garage and going room to room and shutting the windows. The storm is the upcoming elections, where the president's party could lose the House and Senate and we get a Republican Katrina, with the bloated bodies of the Republican dead floating in the toxic water and rotting in the streets, metaphorically speaking of course. It's timeto take a stand, and make the other side look foolish.

The problem really is, of course, what now to do in Iraq. The polls show well more than half of us now think Iraq has and had nothing to do with the War on Terror and think we should get out. But we can't. That's not a good alternative. And staying is making things worse. It's a problem.

So the Republicans are in trouble. The definitive word is the war has made things worse, and made us less safe. It's time to look strong, if nothing else. This preventative war was the mother of all bad decisions.

And that led to the curious column from David Ignatius's in the Wednesday, September 27th Washington Post, where he said this -
Many Democrats act as if that's the end of the discussion: A mismanaged occupation has created a breeding ground for terrorists, so we should withdraw and let the Iraqis sort out the mess.... But with a few notable exceptions, the Democrats are mostly ducking the hard question of what to do next.... Unfortunately, as bad as things are, they could get considerably worse.

... The Democrats understandably want to treat Iraq as George Bush's war and wash their hands of it. But the damage of Iraq can be mitigated only if it again becomes the nation's war - with the whole country invested in finding a way out of the morass that doesn't leave us permanently in greater peril. If the Democrats could lead that kind of debate about security, they would become the nation's governing party.
What? The Democrats become the janitorial service, cleaning up after the frat party? Why?

Kevin Drum has a good response here -
I agree that allowing Iraq to spiral into civil war would be a disaster, but it's telling that Ignatius doesn't propose any solutions himself aside from a vague allusion to the possibility of federalism and partitioning - an idea that's been floating around liberal foreign policy circles for the past couple of years but has gone nowhere because it has no traction either among Republicans or among Iraqis themselves.

Look: A "debate" is fine, but only if there's something to debate. Should we privatize Social Security? Let's debate. Should we debate about how to fix Iraq? We could, but only if there were some plausible solutions to argue about. Unfortunately, there aren't. We don't have enough troops in Iraq to keep order and the troops we do have aren't trained properly anyway. Nobody appears to have any serious desire to change that. Politically, the sectarian split in Iraq is embedded deeply in their history and culture and is mostly beyond our ability to affect, especially after three years of mismanagement. Globally, we have virtually no influence left with either local power brokers like Iran or with our European allies.

Various luminaries in the liberal foreign policy community have been proposing Iraq policies right and left for over three years now. First, that perhaps we should have kept our focus on Afghanistan and stayed out of Iraq altogether. Then, once we were there, liberal thinkers suggested more troops, dialogue with Iran, a multilateral council to accelerate regional investment in Iraq's progress, a variety of counterinsurgency strategies, a variety of partition plans, more serious engagement in Israeli-Palestinian talks (Tony Blair practically begged for this), and on and on. Every single one of these suggestions was ignored.

Would they have made any difference? Who knows? But to blame Democrats now for not being aggressive enough in trying to trisect this angle is like blaming Gerald Ford for losing Vietnam. George Bush fought this war precisely the way he wanted, with precisely the troops he wanted, and with every single penny he asked for. He has kept Don Rumsfeld in charge despite abundant evidence that he doesn't know how to win a war like this. He has mocked liberals and the media at every turn when they suggested we might need a different approach. The result has been a disaster with no evident solution left.

It's one thing to ask for "debate," but it's quite another to ask for a pony that doesn't exist anymore and to blame Democrats when they're unable to produce yet another one after three years of trying. That makes no sense.
No, it doesn't, but it's an election year.

But the real key here is that there really is no way out. You might be realistic.

One way of looking at this - no possible alternatives - is to conclude the war is lost. Not the War on Terror - that's so vague and without any possible way to assess what victory would look like, or defeat - so that's just bullshit posturing, but it's not lost. Iraq is. And, if so, then you see the dust-up with Bill Clinton on Fox News - where they tried to sandbag him, asking him why he caused 9/11 and he actually fought back - is just the first of many fifties flashbacks. Think of the whole McCarthy thing back then and one of the things that kicked it off - Who Lost China? Here we go again. That's the big storm, the bigger one that comes after the November 7th hurricane. We spent half a trillion dollars (so far), lost almost three thousand troops, damned near wrecked the Army, threw away the good will of any nation that would be our ally, and stirred up a world of new terrorism - to, at best, establish a Shi'a theocracy (if they ever get organized) aligned with our enemy Iran, if things work out well and nothing else at all goes wrong? This will be some storm.

And here Matthew Yglesias shows us how silly the first squalls seem to be -
… what's the deal with "Some extreme war critics are so angry at Bush they seem almost eager for America to lose, to prove a political point." That's a serious charge. Does Ignatius have evidence for it? No. Does he cite any examples? No. Does he name any names? No. I find it extremely frustrating that you're allowed to toss off this kind of liberal-bashing without providing any backing.

This matters not because I doubt Ignatius could find someone or other who "seems" like he's "eager" for America to lose. It matters because "extreme war critic" is such a vague phrase. For years, perfectly mainstream war critics - Howard Dean, Tony Zinni, Richard Clarke, Dick Durbin, Zbigniew Brzezinski - were portrayed as "extreme" and they still are on Mondays, Wednesdays, and alternate Saturdays. On the other hand, when I was in college there were these members of the Spartacist Youth League (or something) who would sit on the corner calling for the violent overthrow of the US government ranting and raving about North Korea's inalienable right to nuclear weapons and the need to unify the peninsula under Pyongyang's beneficent rule. No doubt those "extreme war critics" really do want to see America lose. But is Ignatius talking about crazy people who shout on street corners - in which case his observation is silly - or is he talking about meaningful participants in American politics, in which case it's false? Well, I think, he's talking about the former, but talking as if he's talking about the latter.
And the Post item was just the first squall. This is going to get nasty.

And here's a sudden fall in the barometer, as it were - the Post just reviewing new data. Wednesday, September 27, 2006, three different polling firms say that by a wide margin Iraqis want American troops to leave -
In Baghdad, for example, nearly three-quarters of residents polled said they would feel safer if US and other foreign forces left Iraq, with 65 percent of those asked favoring an immediate pullout, according to State Department polling results obtained by The Washington Post.

... Another new poll, scheduled to be released on Wednesday by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, found that 71 percent of Iraqis questioned want the Iraqi government to ask foreign forces to depart within a year.

... The director of another Iraqi polling firm, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared being killed, said public opinion surveys he conducted last month showed that 80 percent of Iraqis who were questioned favored an immediate withdrawal.

The numbers - 65, 71, 80 percent - are rather dismal. To be fair, one of the polls suggests that Sunnis are a little less likely than Shiites to want us to cut out. Of course - we cut out and they're a bit outnumbered. But the poll our own State Department did said there's a stronger desire for our withdrawal in mixed areas than in the predominantly Shiite areas. The sentiment here is kind of universal. So how do you stay the course and "win" when three-quarters of the population wants you to leave?

The mercury is dropping in the barometer. On the other hand, at least the House passed a ban on our building permanent bases there. See this, with Joe Biden saying, "I have no illusions that this provision will somehow dramatically change the dynamic of events on the ground in Iraq, but this is a message that needs to be proclaimed loudly and regularly and with the stamp of the Congress."

No one in the slums of Baghdad cares any longer. Too little, too late.

Ah, but we never learn. Check out this -

In another indication that some in the Bush administration are pushing for a more confrontational policy toward Iran, a Pentagon unit has drafted a report charging that US international broadcasts into Iran aren't tough enough on the Islamic regime.

... It accuses the Voice of America's Persian TV service and Radio Farda, a US government Farsi-language broadcast, of taking a soft line toward Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's regime and not giving adequate time to government critics.

... Three US government officials identified the author of the report as Ladan Archin, a civilian Iran specialist who works for Rumsfeld.

... She works in a recently established Pentagon unit known as the Iran directorate.
Yes, there was Cheney's Iraq Study Group in the White House before we went to Baghdad - with Scooter Libby and honorary member Judith Miller of the New York Times - working on the public case for war, and the Office of Special Plans at the Pentagon gathering the "real" proof of WMD stuff and the ties to al Qaeda because the CIA and all the rest were useless. This time the White House group is led by Cheney's daughter (not the gay one), and the Pentagon arm seems to be getting organized and active - Rumsfeld found them office space. Here we go again. Maybe this time they'll get it all right.

They're not paying attention to the weather. Storm warnings. How did Dylan put it? "You don't have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing."

Maybe they like storms.

Posted by Alan at 23:23 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 28 September 2006 09:52 PDT home

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