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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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Wednesday, 11 October 2006
A Day Off
Topic: Photos
A Day Off
No commentary this day. A visitor from Pittsburgh needed to see the beach, so it was off to Santa Monica for the day. This is not where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers meet to form the Ohio, not at all. And it looked like this -

The beach at Santa Monica



















Lens flair, a very odd kite, the Pacific, the sand, and a trash can -

Kite over the water at the Santa Monica pier




















All American values, all in one place, under the pier -

Hot dog stand under the Santa Monica pier













That odd kite - rotating cylinders - with the Santa Monica range way out there…

Kite over the mountains at the Santa Monica pier

Posted by Alan at 23:05 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Tuesday, 10 October 2006
Heroes and Villains - It's Somebody Else's Fault
Topic: Perspective
Heroes and Villains - It's Somebody Else's Fault
Mutual Recrimination Day - Tuesday, October 10, 2006 - and it's either the start of a new national holiday, or a continuation of how things work, given human nature.

But now we could have greetings cards - "You know, _________ was not my fault at all, but really the fault of _________." You just fill in the blanks and drop it in the mail. Cards purchased by Republicans would have the second blank already filled in, with Bill Clinton's name. Cards for purchased by Democrats would have, in that space, George Bush or Dick Cheney. The graphics present a problem, of course. What best conveys "You're a fool and have it all wrong?" A smirking Garfield-the-Cat, for the Democrats who send a card? Jesus sitting on a rock, head in hands, weeping, for Republican posters? Einstein shrugging in disgust, for the Libertarians? Ralph Nader grinning, for the anarchists to send? Hallmark can work out the details.

But this particular Tuesday it wasn't greeting cards. Someone was to blame for North Korea testing their first nuclear weapon, especially after the president had vowed for several years he'd never let that happen. North Korea was a charter member of the Axis of Evil, and those three nations were top priority. The test may have been a fake or a failure, but that was hardly the point, as David Sanger of the New York Times points out -
North Korea may be a starving, friendless, authoritarian nation of 23 million people, but its apparently successful explosion of a small nuclear device in the mountains above the town of Kilju marks a defiant bid for survival and respect. For Washington and its allies, it marks a failure of nearly two decades of atomic diplomacy.

North Korea is more than just another nation joining the nuclear club. It has never developed a weapons system it did not ultimately sell on the world market, and it has periodically threatened to sell its nuclear technology. So the end of ambiguity about its nuclear capacity foreshadows a very different era, in which the concern may be not where a nation's warheads are aimed, but in whose hands its weapons and know-how end up.
Yep, it's a mess. So it was time for finger-pointing, and not with greeting cards.

You can click here (Crooks and Liars, the database of record) for a video clip of Republican Senator John McCain publicly declaring the whole business was Bill Clinton's fault (in Windows Media Player or QuickTime format). The man was weak.

Or you can get the gist from Reuters -
"I would remind Senator (Hillary) Clinton and other critics of the Bush administration policies that the framework agreement of the Clinton administration was a failure," McCain said in a statement, referring to a 1994 deal under which North Korea agreed to halt work on a plutonium-based nuclear facility, partly in exchange for free fuel oil deliveries.

"The Koreans received millions of dollars in energy assistance ... and what did the Koreans do? They secretly enriched uranium," McCain said.

"We had a carrots-and-no-sticks policy that only encouraged bad behavior. When one carrot didn't work, we offered another."
We should have hit them with a really big stick back in the late nineties - carpet bombing or something nuclear of our own. Yeah, they would have wiped out several hundred thousand of the folks in South Korea and tens of thousands of our guys stationed there - but they wouldn't have the bomb now. Actually he just says Clinton should have spent a couple hundred billion or two on an anti-missile system, so Bush wouldn't have to be futzing around with one now that doesn't even work yet. The man was just weak, and stupid.

Of course, not shopping for any greeting card, Hillary Clinton shoots back -
A missile shield alone cannot protect us from the Bush-Cheney Administration's incompetence in their approach to Iraq, Iran and North Korea, and it is unfortunate that Republicans such as John McCain continue to blindly defend their failed policies for partisan gain rather than exercise true leadership. Five years after 9/11, President Bush has allowed the "Axis of Evil" to spin out of control. Our Iraq policy is a failure. Iran is going nuclear and North Korea is testing nuclear weapons. President Bush's foreign policy failures have made America less safe, not more so, and it is time for a new direction.
So THERE, you fool.

There must be an election coming up.

But there's more -
Both Bill and Hillary Clinton are firing back at criticism of how the former president handled North Korea.

Republican Senator John McCain had some tough words for Senator Hillary Clinton's criticism of the Bush administration's policies. McCain said "her husband's administration" came up with a framework agreement that was a "failure."

But the William J. Clinton Foundation calls it an "unfortunate" attempt to "rewrite history to score political points." Their statement says under Clinton's watch, the North Koreans never conducted a nuclear weapons test.

His wife's spokesman says this is no time to "play politics of the most dangerous kind" with the North. He also blames the Bush White House for doing nothing to stop the North.
So the logic is that they never had a bomb on Clinton's watch, and on Bush's watch they do. Who's the bigger fool, as if it matters now?

And then there's this curious exchange on CNN's Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer goading Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice -
RICE: We have been through bilateral talks with the North Koreans in the 1994 Agreed Framework, it didn't hold. They…

BLITZER: That was a mistake the Clinton administration…

RICE: No. I will not blame anyone for trying. I just know that the 1994 agreement, of course, didn't hold. The North Koreans cheated.

BLITZER: Is there any evidence that what the Clinton administration did helped North Korea build these bombs?

RICE: Oh, I think North Korea has been persistent and has been consistent in pursuing this nuclear weapons program for decades. Now, it is going to have to be fought. And the international community is speaking with one voice very loudly, because the North Koreans crossed an important line when they proclaimed that they had conducted a nuclear test.
Oops - she didn't get the White House memo about Mutual Recrimination Day. Karl Rove will have to spank her (no, get that image out of your mind right now, pervert).

And it went on -
North Korea's claimed nuclear test Sunday capped six years of failure by the Bush administration, a U.S. think tank said Tuesday.

"By virtually every measure, Bush's North Korea policy has been a failure," the Center for American Progress, a think tank headed by President Bill Clinton's former chief of staff John Podesta said Tuesday.

When the current president took office, "North Korea had produced enough plutonium under President George H.W. Bush for 1-2 nuclear weapons. Today, the country possesses material for 4-13 nuclear weapons. If North Korea unloads another batch of fuel, it may have enough nuclear material for 8 to 17 nuclear bombs by 2008," the CAP said in a statement.

Sunday's test was simply the culmination of the "Bush administration's haphazard diplomacy in Northeast Asia over the past six years," said the CAP's Joseph Cirincione, an expert on non-proliferation issues.

Cirincione said that the Bush administration had failed to produce a strong and consistent policy on North Korea because of an "internal argument about whether to negotiate with the country or try to plot its collapse."

The CAP said the current president and his team "ramped up the rhetoric" about North Korea and included it in an "axis of evil" with Iraq and Iran in the president's 2002 State of the Union address. However, "When North Korea responded by expelling international inspectors and unsealing its nuclear facilities, the Bush administration had no effective response," the CAP said.
Well, they did call them more names. That's something.

Anne Gearan of the Associated Press tries to detangle all this here (emphases added) -
North Korea's apparent nuclear weapons test may bear out the warnings of Bush administration hard-liners that the reclusive regime can never be trusted, but it also forces an examination of whether the silent treatment those same hard-liners have given North Korea for years has backfired.

Convinced that the Clinton administration got conned when it offered carrots to the North Koreans, the Bush administration has offered mostly sticks. The White House has firmly withheld the biggest carrot of all - direct, one-on-one talks between Washington and Pyongyang.

The United States is the power North Korea most fears and is the foil for the propaganda that helps keep the communist regime afloat. The North says it needs nuclear weapons, and missiles to deliver them, to counter U.S. aggression. The United States is also the nation the North would most like to talk to, for both the prestige that direct talks could bring the regime and the security promises the talks might produce.

One interpretation of this week's test holds that it is North Korea's latest and most alarming attempt to get Washington's attention. But the United States has insisted on talking to North Korea only with four other nations at the table, including China and South Korea, the two countries that Pyongyang relies on most for its economic survival. That, the U.S. argues, makes it harder for the North to walk away from negotiations. "The United States tried direct dialogue with the North Koreans in the '90s, and that resulted in the North Koreans signing onto agreements that they then didn't keep," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said during an interview Tuesday on CNN.
Okay, the idea is North Korea wants to set up a confrontation with the United States and direct talks would be foolish - that gives them what they want. Se we insisted on talks "only in the awkward company of four other nations" - they get no chance to play the heroic David to our mean and stupid Goliath. South Korea, Japan, China and Russia are sitting there, so that's not possible. Well, it's a theory.

Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, our top negotiator for North Korea - "The North Koreans would like to make this about the United States, and I prefer that the Chinese and the South Koreans and the Japanese are saying the same thing to the North Koreans today that we are saying."

Fine, but North Korea just won't attend any six-way talks now, and haven't for a year or more, and they just worked on the bomb instead. So much for that theory. Six years ago Secretary of State Madeleine Albright became the first ranking US official to meet with Kim Jong Il. And what was going on then?

In any event, the AP item reviews all the events since then - Colin Powell saying we'd continue the Clinton face-to-face approach, as that held great promise, the South Koreans cheering, then Powell being publicly rebuked by the president and having to eat his words. He was humiliated and the South Korean government embarrassed, and voters changed things there. Cool.

And now Colin Powell gets his revenge, sort of. Heather Wilson, from New Mexico, a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee and a retired Air Force officer, comes out and says this - "I feel strongly that there is nothing wrong with straight, tough talk with countries that are not our friends. I think that there is an argument that says doing this in a bilateral way sends a much stronger message."

So Powell sighs and old-fashioned one-on-one diplomacy - even with Iran and Syria - is being urged by all sorts of folks, even James Baker, Bush's father's man and head of the Iraq Study Group. The AP notes - "Drawing a bright line against engagement with bad guys has the value of purity. But it also leaves little room to negotiate - there is no fallback position and any shifting of position, as US. did earlier this year on Iran, risks being painted as capitulation."

Yep. You get painted into a corner - but you are pure, of course.

And there's the damned logic of the facts, as Josh Marshall points out here -
The bomb that went off yesterday was made with plutonium, the same stuff that was off-limits from 1994-2002. In all likelihood some of the same stuff that was on ice from 1994-2002.

To the best of my knowledge, no one thinks the North Koreans are close to having enough uranium to make a nuclear weapon that way. And it's not even completely they were ever trying to enrich uranium.

So Clinton strikes deal to keep plutonium out of the North Koreans' hands. The deal keeps the plutonium out of reach for the last six years of Clinton's term and the first two of Bush's. Bush pulls out of the deal. Four years later a plutonium bomb explodes.

Clinton's fault, right?

There's certainly an argument to be made that you don't make agreements with parties you don't trust, like the North Koreans. And perhaps President Bush would have had some leg to stand on if he'd pulled out of the Agreed Framework and replaced it with something better - either force or a better agreement. But he didn't. He just did nothing for four years. Now we have plutonium, probably uranium and actual bombs. And according to McCain, it's all Bill Clinton's fault.
But what about purity? Doesn't that count for something? About thirty percent of the electorate still thinks so.

And then there's this final kick in the teeth, from Iran, of the original Axis of Evil -
Iran on Tuesday distanced its own nuclear dispute from the North Korean crisis, reiterating its claim that it opposes nuclear weapons.

While analysts abroad speculated that Tehran could be emboldened by North Korea's defiance, comments from officials and the media put the emphasis on the different paths taken by the two countries. Tehran, they stressed, remained committed to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

… Tehran insists its nuclear experiments are designed for the production of energy but western governments suspect the Islamic Republic is intent on developing nuclear weapons. The US and European governments are now seeking to raise the pressure on Iran through gradual sanctions at the UN Security Council. But in the Iranian press on Tuesday some commentators warned that undue US pressure on North Korea had backfired.

Jam-e Jam, a conservative daily, blamed Washington's "unilateral, expansionist military policies" for the collapse of the six-party talks over Pyongyang's atomic programme.

The reformist paper Etemad-e Melli said the "west should have known intimidation and threats would be not only inefficient but would also push a country's resources towards an end with little benefit for its people."
Ouch. That hurts.

But at least the war in Iraq is going well, or not as badly as folks say, or you have to look a the long-term big picture and see that even if it's tough now it really is a fine war, or something.

Except there's this -
Mr. Bush clearly faces constraints as he seeks to address the public concerns about Iraq that have shrouded this midterm election: 83 percent of respondents thought that Mr. Bush was either hiding something or mostly lying when he discussed how the war in Iraq was going.
Eighty-three percent? Yipes. This requires a massive PR blitz.

And there's staunchly pro-war Ralph Peters in the New York Post saying things like this -
If Iraq's leaders stop squabbling and lead, and if Iraq's soldiers and police fight resolutely for their constitutional state, we should be willing to stay "as long as it takes." But if they continue to wallow in ethnic and religious partisanship while doing as little as possible for their own country, we need to leave and let them face the consequences.

Give them one more year. And that's it.

... Make no mistake: Were our nation directly threatened, our ground forces would surge to respond powerfully and effectively. But as far as Iraq goes, they've given their best. They're willing to die for our country. But we should never ask them to give their lives to postpone a political embarrassment.

... Iraq is not yet lost, but it's harder every day to be optimistic. It's still too soon to give up - we must have the fortitude to weather very dark days. But we also need the guts to recognize when it's time to cut our losses. In Iraq, the verdict must come in 2007.
Well, aside from the fact a whole lot of our guys have died in the last three years to postpone a political embarrassment (think about it), Kevin Drum suggests here we may have a different strain of conservatism that's also soured on the war -
These guys basically think the Iraqis haven't shown much gratitude for the favor we did by invading them, and if that's the way they feel then the hell with them. I've heard this more than once from distinctly non-elite conservative acquaintances.

So what does it mean? George Bush says he's going to stay in Iraq even if Laura and Barney are the only ones left supporting him, and that may be exactly where he finds himself before long. Liberals of even the hawkish variety abandoned him long ago, and both the center-right and the isolationist right are now following right behind. When James Baker III makes it official with whatever he recommends after the election, it's just going to be Laura, Barney, and Bill Kristol left baying at the moon, and not much of anyone else.
The festivities of National Mutual Recrimination Day were in full swing.

And it was hard on that day to not see something was wrong, whoever you sent the card to, as in this -
Iraqi police found 60 bodies dumped across Baghdad in the 24 hours until Tuesday morning, the apparent victims of sectarian death squads blamed for escalating violence that threatens to pitch the country into civil war. A bomb placed under a car outside a bakery in the mostly Sunni southern Baghdad district of Doura exploded at midday, reducing the shop to rubble and killing 10 people, many who had been queuing outside to buy bread, police said.
And there was this -
A U.S. ammunition dump on the southeastern edge of Baghdad caught fire late Tuesday, setting off at least a half-dozen thunderous explosions and several smaller ones that rattled windows across the city.

Despite the size of the blasts, no casualties were reported, Spc. Jennifer Fulk, a U.S. military spokeswoman, said early Wednesday. There was no information yet on the cause of the fire, Fulk said.

An insurgent group called Al Fataheen Army took credit for the damage in a posting on an Islamic forum used by various insurgent groups in Iraq.

The group said it had attacked the base with several missiles at 11:55 p.m., but that timing cast suspicion on the claim. The explosions, which could be felt throughout the city, had begun about an hour earlier.

The same group claimed responsibility for attacking U.S. camps in northern Iraq on Sunday.

… An unknown number of troops from the 4th Infantry Division based at Fort Hood, Texas, were at Forward Operating Base Falcon when the base's ammo dump began to explode.

A military statement said the fire began at about 10:40 p.m. and ignited tank and artillery shells and small arms ammunition.

The fire, clouds of smoke and flashes from the ammunition detonating could be seen for miles.
And there was this -
A barrage of about 20 blasts rocked districts across Baghdad on Tuesday night, police and witnesses said.

Reuters reporters counted more than 10 explosions in the space of a few minutes.

The blasts began around 11 pm.

Police and witnesses reported explosions in the mainly Sunni areas of Doura, Sulaikh and Amiriya and Sadr City, a stronghold of radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al Sadr.

… Flares were fired into the night sky in the area of the Green Zone, the heavily fortified compound in central Baghdad that houses the Iraqi government and the US embassy.

Earlier, police said they had found 110 bodies over two days in a city in the grip of a vicious sectarian war. Security officials said they had gathered the bodies of 60 murder victims from the city's streets on Monday and 50 more on Tuesday, and the United States military confirmed the deaths of two more of its own soldiers.

… As night fell, a suicide car bomb killed two Iraqi soldiers in northern Baghdad and an improvised explosive device killed two police in the south.
Some recriminations for getting us into this, and for almost four years of things on the ground getting worse by the hour, might be in order. Do you have to trust your president that things just aren't this bad? Or do you send the card?

Maybe it's just the press. They report the bad news. They're ruining things.

See Jane Arraf, NBC's Baghdad correspondent, here -
Some readers and viewers think we journalists are exaggerating about the situation in Iraq. I can almost understand that because who would want to believe that things are this bad? Particularly when so many people here started out with such good intentions.

I'm more puzzled by comments that the violence isn't any worse than any American city. Really? In which American city do 60 bullet-riddled bodies turn up on a given day? In which city do the headless bodies of ordinary citizens turn up every single day? In which city would it not be news if neighborhood school children were blown up? In which neighborhood would you look the other way if gunmen came into restaurants and shot dead the customers?

… Day-to-day life here for Iraqis is so far removed from the comfortable existence we live in the United States that it is almost literally unimaginable.

It's almost impossible to describe what it feels like being stalled in traffic, your heart pounding, wondering if the vehicle in front of you is one of the three or four car bombs that will go off that day. Or seeing your husband show up at the door covered in blood after he was kidnapped and beaten.

I don't know a single family here that hasn't had a relative, neighbor or friend die violently. In places where there's been all-out fighting going on, I've interviewed parents who buried their dead child in the yard because it was too dangerous to go to the morgue.

Imagine the worst day you've ever had in your life, add a regular dose of terror and you'll begin to get an idea of what it's like every day for a lot of people here.
Any recriminations in order?

And what about this, from a Baghdad blog, on the sectarian murder of a family friend -
When my father returned from his work today and heard the news, he immediately went to the balcony and sat all by himself, saying nothing, looking at the sky, I was afraid to look at him, and I experienced a cold shudder of sadness and molten anger.

I do not know Tariq al-Hashimi personally or his family relatives, but I know my father, and I know the sort of people he hangs out with. In the place where I come from, a religious person meant a guy who knew his rights from his wrongs, a person you could trust, a person who could never lie or steal; my father never scolded me for my guitar-playing or forced me to wear certain things ever, and he has the sign of praying (a patch of changed skin on the forehead that results of much praying when the forehead touches the ground) on his face. The people who he hung out with were good, honest people, people you could really love, people of virtue. NOT the extremist, life-hating, vengeful caricatures Muslims have been cornered into, nor are they the pro-Baathist dictator scum Sunnis in Iraq have often been shoe-horned as.

Whenever I would go into a mosque and sit down after prayer I would feel the peace engulfing me, a calamity and understanding that becalms one outside the cyclone of life outside, the constant searching for meaning and answers ... the tough-guy posturing and the struggle for bread.

But now these people are exterminated, exploited and destroyed in this meaningless Wahabi vs Rafidhi war.
Any recriminations in order? Or does this kid just not understand what Secretary Rice called the birth-pangs of a new Middle East?

Okay, let's not think about it. Let's think about the recent sex scandal in the House. The leadership knew about the predator and did nothing? Oh my. These guys are the "values" people. What up with that?

Tucker Carlson and Chris Matthews discuss that on MSNBC here (Crooks and Liars, the database of record) - in Windows Media Player or QuickTime format -
CARLSON: It goes deeper than that though. The deep truth is that the elites in the Republican Party have pure contempt for the evangelicals who put their party in power. Everybody in…

MATTHEWS: How do you know that? How do you know that?

CARLSON: Because I know them. Because I grew up with them. Because I live with them. They live on my street. Because I live in Washington, and I know that everybody in our world has contempt for the evangelicals. And the evangelicals know that, and they're beginning to learn that their own leaders sort of look askance at them and don't share their values.

MATTHEWS: So this gay marriage issue and other issues related to the gay lifestyle are simply tools to get elected?

CARLSON: That's exactly right. It's pandering to the base in the most cynical way, and the base is beginning to figure it out.
Major recriminations coming. As they say on the battlefield - INCOMING!

On the other hand, Cliff Kincaid, of Accuracy in Media, has a different thought. The "values people" - Hastert, DeLay, Cunningham - are just fine. But they've been had - "House leaders permitted homosexuals to infiltrate and manipulate the party apparatus while they publicly postured as friends of family values and traditional marriage. The facade is now in ruins."

Ah, those sneaky gay guys with the show tunes and all - they corrupted the good guys. The evangelical Family Research Council says the same thing here - a gay Republican cabal is secretly blocking the religious right agenda on Capitol Hill. They got to Hastert, poor fellow.

Hastert got the message and had a private prayer meeting - one on one with one of the godly, and evangelical preacher who Josh Marshall points out here was once caught faking his own leper colony for fun and profit - the same guy who "takes credit for getting Charles Taylor to step down as Liberian dictator and other international hat tricks."

What can you say to that? "You know, _________ was not my fault at all, but really the fault of _________." How do you even begin to fill in the blanks?

The November election will be about filling in all the blanks in all these items.

Posted by Alan at 22:45 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 11 October 2006 07:59 PDT home

Monday, 9 October 2006
Starting the Week Off With a Bang
Topic: Couldn't be so...
Starting the Week Off With a Bang
Monday, October 9, dawned calmly out here in Los Angeles. There was no real sunrise - the dark and low marine layer of dense clouds just got progressively brighter, or at least less dark (the sun didn't come out until mid-afternoon). Sounds were muted all morning in the neighborhood. But the morning paper arrived with a thump at the doorstep and the face-up headline was alarming, and the news on the radio too, and a quick browse through the major news and commentary sites on the web showed more of the same - North Korea had tested a nuclear weapon, important people were saying Iraq was lost and Afghanistan had six months before it was lost too, a key presidential advisor was going to recommend we dramatically charge course on such things, the House page scandal was growing and not settling down, and new polls were showing the government was going to change drastically in the November elections. And war with Iran was surely coming. Other than that it was a quiet morning.

How did Thomas Hardy put it? The glebe cow drooled. You might know the Thomas Hardy poem where the explosions wake the dead in the church graveyard and they think it must be Judgment Day. God sets them straight -
No, it's gunnery practice out at sea.
Just as before you went below;
The world is as it used to be:

All nations striving strong to make
Red war yet redder. Mad as hatters
They do no more for Christés sake
Than you who are helpless in such matters.

That this is not the judgment-hour
For some of them's a blessed thing,
For if it were they'd have to scour
Hell's floor for so much threatening….

Ha, ha. It will be warmer when
I blow the trumpet (if indeed
I ever do; for you are men,
And rest eternal sorely need).
But there is no rest.

North Korea

North Korea announced Sunday night that it had detonated a nuclear device, making it the eighth country to conduct such a test. That was the big news. President George Bush then called for an "immediate response" (here) and was pushing South Korea, China, and Russia to consider sanctions. Later in the day the UN security Council vote thirteen to nothing to condemn the test, but the sanctions will have to be worked out.

This was some news, with this twist, Glenn Kessler reporting that senior members of the Bush administration, were really not all that shocked and appalled at North Korea's nuclear test. They'd been eagerly looking forward to it -
A number of senior U.S. officials have said privately that they would welcome a North Korean test, regarding it as a clarifying event that would forever end the debate within the Bush administration about whether to solve the problem through diplomacy or through tough actions designed to destabilize North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's grip on power.

... "This fundamentally changes the landscape now," one U.S. official said last night.
Yep, now no one can bitch about how they hate face-to-face diplomacy and don't do it. That's all moot now, isn't it?

Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly is not impressed -
Let's recap: The Bush/Cheney administration took a bad situation with Iraq and made it even worse. They've taken a bad situation with Iran and made it even worse (see here, here and here). They've taken a bad situation with North Korea and made it even worse (see Fred Kaplan here). At every step along the way, they've deliberately taken actions that cut off any possibility of solving our geopolitical problems with anything other than military force.

Once is a singular event. Twice might be a coincidence. But three times? That's a policy. Encouraging these "clarifying events" appears to be the main goal of the Bush administration. This is not the way to make America safer.
Ah, but it is a plan, for something or other.

Josh Marshall is more blunt -
For the US this is a strategic failure of the first order.

The origins of the failure are ones anyone familiar with the last six years in this country will readily recognize: chest-thumping followed by failure followed by cover-up and denial. The same story as Iraq. Even the same story as Foley.

North Korea's nuclear program has been a problem for US presidents going back to Reagan, and the conflict between North and South has been a key issue for US presidents going back to Truman. As recently as 1994, the US came far closer to war with North Korea than most Americans realize.

President Clinton eventually concluded a complicated and multipart agreement in which the North Koreans would suspend their production of plutonium in exchange for fuel oil, help building light water nuclear reactors (the kind that don't help making bombs) and a vague promise of diplomatic normalization.

President Bush came to office believing that Clinton's policy amounted to appeasement. Force and strength were the way to deal with North Korea, not a mix of force, diplomacy and aide. And with that premise, President Bush went about scuttling the 1994 agreement, using evidence that the North Koreans were pursuing uranium enrichment (another path to the bomb) as the final straw.

Remember the guiding policy of the early Bush years: Clinton did it=Bad, Bush=Not whatever Clinton did.

All diplomatic niceties aside, President Bush's idea was that the North Koreans would respond better to threats than Clinton's mix of carrots and sticks.

Then in the winter of 2002-3, as the US was preparing to invade Iraq, the North called Bush's bluff. And the president folded. Abjectly, utterly, even hilariously if the consequences weren't so grave and vast.

Threats are a potent force if you're willing to follow through on them. But he wasn't. The plutonium production plant, which had been shuttered since 1994, got unshuttered. And the bomb that exploded tonight was, if I understand this correctly, almost certainly the product of that plutonium uncorked almost four years ago.

So the President talked a good game, the North Koreans called his bluff and he folded. And since then, for all intents and purposes, and all the atmospherics to the contrary, he and his administration have done essentially nothing.

Indeed, from the moment of the initial cave, the White House began acting as though North Korea was already a nuclear power (something that was then not at all clear) to obscure the fact that the White House had chosen to twiddle its thumbs and look the other way as North Korea became a nuclear power. Like in Bush in Iraq and Hastert and Foley, the problem was left to smolder in cover-up and denial. Until now.

Hawks and Bush sycophants will claim that North Korea is an outlaw regime. And no one should romanticize or ignore the fact that it is one of the most repressive regimes in the world with a history of belligerence, terrorist bombing, missile proliferation and a lot else. They'll also claim that the North Koreans were breaking the spirit if not the letter of the 1994 agreement by pursuing a covert uranium enrichment program. And that's probably true too.

But facts are stubborn things.

The bomb-grade plutonium that was on ice from 1994 to 2002 is now actual bombs. Try as you might it is difficult to imagine a policy - any policy - which would have yielded a worse result than the one we will face Monday morning.

Talking tough is great if you can make it stick and back it up; it is always and necessarily cleaner and less compromising than sitting down and dealing with bad actors. Talking tough and then folding your cards doesn't just show weakness - it invites contempt. And that is what we have here.

The Bush-Cheney policy on North Korea was always what Fareed Zakaria once aptly called "a policy of cheap rhetoric and cheap shots." It failed. And after it failed President Bush couldn't come to grips with that failure and change course. He bounced irresolutely between the Powell and Cheney lines and basically ignored the whole problem hoping either that the problem would go away, that China would solve it for us and most of all that no one would notice.

Do you notice now?
Yeah, and it's a hell of a way to start the week.

So why didn't we do face-to-face talks with North Korea before it came to this? Donald Gregg, National Security Advisor for the first President Bush, George H. W. Bush, explains -
Why won't the Bush administration talk bilaterally and substantively with NK, as the Brits (and eventually the US) did with Libya? Because the Bush administration sees diplomacy as something to be engaged in with another country as a reward for that country's good behavior. They seem not to see diplomacy as a tool to be used with antagonistic countries or parties, that might bring about an improvement in the behavior of such entities, and a resolution to the issues that trouble us. Thus we do not talk to Iran, Syria, Hezbollah or North Korea. We only talk to our friends - a huge mistake.
That first president's Secretary of State had said just about the same thing just before the North Korean test -
"I believe in talking to your enemies," he said in an interview on the ABC News program "This Week," noting that he made 15 trips to Damascus, the Syrian capital, while serving Mr. Bush's father as secretary of state.

"It's got to be hard-nosed, it's got to be determined," Mr. Baker said. "You don't give away anything, but in my view, it's not appeasement to talk to your enemies."
But the son seems to have something to prove to the father, the man so many labeled as a wimp. You cannot be like Clinton or the old man. So here we are.

And by the way, the conservatives like to say turnaround in Libya was a result of the invasion of Iraq and George Bush's hardnosed foreign policy. Nope, it was old-fashioned negotiation, but we like our myths.

And too that Monday odd facts kept popping up, like this (BBC) - "The size of the bomb is uncertain. South Korean reports put it as low as 550 tons of destructive power but Russia said it was between five and 15 kilotons." And this (LA Times) - "One intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said U.S. intelligence agencies detected an explosive event in North Korea with a force of less than a kiloton. Historically, the types of devices used in initial nuclear tests have yielded several kilotons of force."

Kevin Drum here -
There's something peculiar here. A geology professor at Yale, Jeffrey Park, emails to tell me that the updated Richter magnitude for the North Korea event is 3.5, which he calls "mighty small for a crude nuke." And that's true: it suggests a very small yield. But the odd thing is that it's actually harder to build a 1 kiloton weapon than a 5 or 10 kiloton weapon, and it's unlikely North Korea has the expertise to do this.

Was this a failed test? A 10 kiloton nuke that fizzled? Not a nuke at all? (The North Koreans seemed unusually insistent that there was absolutely no release of radiation.) Or what?

I should add that Jeff, who's an old high school friend of mine, stresses that "My skepticism is not to be taken as a conclusion that North Korea is bluffing. A reliable detection of bomb-generated radionuclides would prove that they were not."

… I agree. There just seem to be several oddly suspicious things about the North Korean announcement.
Josh Marshall here -
No one seems willing to come out and say it yet. But it's really starting to look like that North Korean nuclear test didn't work. An unnamed intel official tells the Times that "We have assessed that the explosion in North Korea was a sub-kiloton explosion." I don't want to wade very far in at all on the technical details of evaluating this blast. I can't imagine a topic more distant from any expertise I have. But that would be really, really small for a nuclear blast.

Is it possible that the North Korean nuclear test was as big a failure as President Bush's nuclear policy?

… From what I can tell, the foreign press is entertaining the thought that this might have been a failed test more than the US press. The French Defense Minister has already said the meager yield suggests the test may have failed.
Ah, but the French are always messing with our heads. They told us the Iraq war was stupid, so what do they know?

Then there's Jane's Defense Weekly, a go-to source on such matters with this - if the initial reports of a .55 kT (half a kiloton) blast are correct "it would suggest that the test had been a 'pre- or post-detonation' event (ie a failure), as it had been anticipated that North Korea's first nuclear test would have a significantly higher yield."

One of Josh Marshall's readers puts it this way -
So the Bush approach to NK is all blustery talk and very little delivery department. The NK approach to weapons research is very little bang for all the bluff.

Do these two deserve each other or what?

In Karl's grand quest to dumb down expectations, we are left with two miserable failures hell bent on World War III. The only thing saving the planet is the only thing they succeed at - being incompetent.

Maybe Mark Foley should mediate a measuring of State Wangs to settle which fool is the victor.
Ouch! That last dig hurts.

And even conservative John Derbyshire at the National Review's "The Corner" says here, failure or not, it may be time for an updated foreign-policy doctrine to address the oncoming wave of nuclear proliferation - "The George W. Bush doctrine died in the alleys and groves of Iraq, and nobody else is likely to volunteer for the job of world nuke cop."

And at "The Carpetbagger Report" the folks there are just working on the spin that is sure to come - all this is Bill Clinton's fault. They offer a reminder - "When Bush took office, Colin Powell endorsed a continuation of the Clinton administration policy, but was quickly overruled (and rebuked) by the White House. Bush ended negotiations, scraped the Agreed Framework, called Kim Jung Il names, and gave up on having any kind of coherent policy whatsoever."

Actually, the definitive history of all that was covered by Fred Kaplan in the Washington Monthly in 2004 here, and he now offers North Korea Tested an Atom Bomb; Now What?, with the subhead, "Four potential scenarios - all bad."

That's cheery.

The setting -
The "international community" has a chance to behave as if the term were more than a polite or ironic euphemism. If there's a single national leader in the world who likes this new development, he hasn't said so. The U.N. Security Council quickly voted 13-0 to condemn the nuclear test. Several nonmembers have joined in the criticism. Now all we need is a next step - action.

This is nothing to shrug off. The combination of Kim Jong-il and a nuclear arsenal is a nightmare. It doesn't mean he's going to fire A-bombs at the United States or, for that matter, at South Korea or Japan. Kim may be a monster, but he's not suicidal; his top priority is the survival of his regime, and he must know that a nuclear attack would be followed by obliterating retaliation.

But what nuclear weapons do provide is cover for lesser sorts of aggression. The "club" of nuclear nations is a sort of mafia. The bomb provides protection, and thus a certain swagger, whether the other club members like it or not.

… Kim Jong-il - like his father, Kim Il-Sung, before him - has kept his tiny, impoverished country afloat all these decades precisely by stirring up trouble and provoking confrontation (to justify his totalitarian rule), then playing his bigger neighbors off one another (to keep the tensions from spinning out of control and into his borders). His quest for nukes was propelled by a desire for the ultimate protection, mainly against an American attack. But now that he has them, he can be expected to play his games of chicken more feistily - and with still more opportunities for miscalculation.
The possibilities -
First, Kim Jong-il could churn out more bombs and sell at least some of them to the highest bidders. North Korea is dreadfully short of resources; his scheme to counterfeit American money has run into roadblocks; nukes might be his new cash cow. During the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, President Bush rallied domestic support by invoking the image of Saddam Hussein selling A-bombs to al-Qaida. It was a highly improbable scenario; even if Saddam had been building A-bombs, he would almost certainly have kept them under tight control. Kim, on the other hand, is a guerrilla-anarchist; he maintains his power not by trying to shape, or seek greater influence in, the international system but rather by throwing the system into a shambles. He's much less likely to have qualms about trading bombs for hard currency, regardless of the customer.

The second possible consequence of a nuclear North Korea is the unleashing of a serious regional arms race. The Japanese have long had the technical know-how and the stash of plutonium to build atomic (or possibly even hydrogen) bombs. They've foresworn that route because of moral qualms stemming from their own militarism in World War II. They also cite their security arrangement with the United States. But it's an open question how long these 60-year-old qualms would endure in the face of a clear and present danger. Just last month, a Japanese think tank run by former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone published a study calling on the nation to "consider the nuclear option." North Korea's nuclear test can only fuel these temptations.

If Japan goes nuclear, the Chinese might decide that it's in their security interests to resume nuclear testing. China's moves could incite India to accelerate its nuclear program, which would almost certainly compel Pakistan to match that effort. The South Koreans, meanwhile, might feel they need their own bomb to deter any crazy ideas from their northern neighbor, which could push the cycle into still higher gear.

Third, it's a fair bet that the Iranians will be closely watching the coming weeks' events. If the world lets tiny, miscreant, destitute North Korea - the freaking Hermit Kingdom - get away with testing a nuke, then who will stop the oil-rich, leverage-loaded, modern-day Persian Empire from treading the same road?
Great, and then there's the possibility of sanctions not working, then escalation and war -
A plan of economic pressure or sanctions depends crucially on cooperation from China. Without Chinese food, fuel, and other forms of aid, Kim Jong-il's regime would soon crumble. And that's the problem: The Chinese don't want the regime to crumble, for their own security reasons. It's a delicate matter to punish Kim just enough to affect his actions but not enough to trigger his downfall. The question is whether pressure from other countries - or the Chinese leaders' own anger at Kim's defiance of their warnings not to test - will lead them to walk this line and decide whether such a balancing act is possible.

It may well be that, back in 2003, the Chinese took the lead in creating a diplomatic forum to solve the North Korean nuclear crisis because they thought the Bush administration was about to order a military strike. They relaxed their sense of urgency once they realized a strike wasn't imminent after all. (This theory is held not only by White House hawks but also by many outside specialists who have pushed for direct negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang.)

It is therefore conceivable that, in light of Sunday's test, some White House officials are proposing, once again, to send signals of impending military action against North Korea - if just to unnerve Beijing into going along with sanctions. The danger, of course, is that such stratagems can spiral out of control: signals can be misread, threats can escalate to gunshots.
There's no good in any of this. As Kaplan says - "So, here we are. The two major powers in this confrontation are led by blunderers; the provocateur is a chronic miscalculator. It doesn't look good."

So the week began.

Iraq - Gone

So long ago Lyndon Johnson watched Walter Cronkite on CBS News say the obvious about the Vietnam War, and was said to have muttered, "When we lose Cronkite we've lost the war." And he gave up, and walked away from another term in office. He'd had it. He knew.

Fareed Zakaria, the international editor and big gun at Newsweek, is supposed to be fulfilling the Walter Cronkite now, or some folks wish it were so.

Zakaria over the weekend wrote this -
It is time to call an end to the tests, the six-month trials, the waiting and watching, and to recognize that the Iraqi government has failed. It is also time to face the terrible reality that America's mission in Iraq has substantially failed.

More waiting is unlikely to turn things around, nor will more troops.

… Nor will new American policies help. The reason that the Democrats seem to lack good, concrete suggestions on Iraq is that the Bush administration has actually been pursuing more-sensible policies for more than a year now, trying vainly to reverse many of its errors. But what might well have worked in 2003 is too little, too late in 2006.
And here's the wishful thinking from Kevin Drum -
This is a big deal. It's one thing to express retrospective misgivings about Iraq (as Peter Beinart has done) or to criticize the conduct of the war (as Tom Friedman has done), but it's quite another to finally admit that there's little more we can do and that we should come home. That's a difficult public step for someone who's a charter member of the conservative establishment, a man who supported the war and has been vocal ever since about the importance of getting Iraq right.

It's also nice to see Zakaria acknowledge the fact that it's understandable that Democrats don't have much of a positive agenda for Iraq. It's arguable whether the Iraq experiment could have worked under any circumstances, but it's undeniable that after three years of miscues there simply aren't any credible options left. You can't criticize Democrats for being unable to solve a problem that's no longer solvable.

Zakaria is a smart guy, but he's also a person who's good at putting his finger to the wind - and then getting credit for leading the way when he anticipates an imminent shift. That may be what's happening here. Sometimes all it takes is for one person to say something publicly in order to get everyone else to finally admit their own unspoken doubts. This may be the column that breaks the dam and makes withdrawal respectable among the center-right establishment.
And the widely-read Andrew Sullivan here -
I go back a long way with Fareed Zakaria and respect him enormously. He's a center-right realist, and he thinks the war is essentially over in Iraq and we have lost. I'm not there yet and willing to give the military one last try, if Rumsfeld is fired and a serious new plan for regaining control is unveiled. But if Fareed is giving in, you know it's beyond serious.

Maybe it is, but both discount Mister Fix-It.

That would be James A. Baker III.

Barry Schweid, the AP Diplomatic Writer, explains here -

James A. Baker III, the former secretary of state with a long-standing reputation of service to Republican presidents and the Bush family in particular, has joined a list of prominent Republicans raising questions about the administration's Iraq policy.

Co-chairman of a bipartisan commission studying what to do next in the war torn country, Baker said his panel is preparing to recommend that President Bush consider options other than his "stay-the-course" strategy in Iraq.

"Our commission believes that there are alternatives between the stated alternatives, the ones that are out there in the political debate, of stay the course and cut and run," the former secretary of state said.

Partisan critics of Democratic proposals to consider drawing down U.S. troops in Iraq at times call that kind of talk a "cut and run" strategy.
But they're going to reframe that. It's time for the administration to consider other alternatives in Iraq. You just call it something else.

Of course it's tricky -
Agreeing in part with Bush, Baker said "if we picked up and left right now" Iraq would be plunged into "the biggest civil war you've ever seen," with Turkey, Iran, Syria and other neighboring countries getting involved. But he made it clear that the commission would advise changes in U.S. strategy, nevertheless.

"We're going to come up, hopefully, with some recommendations that the Congress and the president and the country can look at," he said.
Of course the week before Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, the Republican dude from Virginia, returned from a trip to Iraq and said the war there was "drifting sideways" - if Iraqis do not make progress in three months to reduce ethnic fighting and bolster reconstruction efforts, congress would have to make "bold decisions." And Bush's first secretary of state, Colin Powell had said this - "Stay the course isn't a good enough answer, because to stay the course you have to have a finish line." Other Republicans are jumping on board, or jumping overboard if you want to look at it that way - Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and congressman Christopher Shays of Connecticut.

Well, Baker was a close adviser to Bush's father - White House chief of staff and then secretary of state - and helped the son with the Florida recount during the election of 2000. He fixed that. Why not this?

But Baker also said Sunday he would like "to take this thing out of politics" by delaying the release of any recommendations until after the elections, and possibly even until a new Congress takes office in January. The young American soldiers who will die in that intervening period are sort of collateral damage. But it will give the Republicans a small edge in the upcoming election. Of course their families will think it was worth it.

Some of the recommendations have, though, already leaked -
The Baker commission has grown increasingly interested in the idea of splitting the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish regions of Iraq as the only alternative to what Baker calls "cutting and running" or "staying the course" ...

His group will not advise "partition", but is believed to favor a division of the country that will devolve power and security to the regions, leaving a skeletal national government in Baghdad in charge of foreign affairs, border protection and the distribution of oil revenue.

The Iraqi government will be encouraged to hold a constitutional conference paving the way for greater devolution. Iran and Syria will be urged to back a regional settlement that could be brokered at an international conference.
So much for a new Iraq.

Michael Young at "Reason" says this -
Several ideas come to mind. First, far from being an alternative to "cutting and running", the plan seems an effort to prepare the ground for precisely that. How? Once the Kurds and the Shiites fully take in hand their security, the rationale goes, and they will do so once they have "states" to protect, then the U.S. can cut back its troop levels radically and pull out, or more likely withdraw to safe areas, probably to Kurdistan. But Washington's effective control over broad Iraqi policy would be largely over.

Second, the plan, whatever the denials that it is partition, is partition if it turns out as the article suggests. Nothing suggests a majority of Iraqis want partition, quite the contrary, or that this plan will resolve anything. In fact, it may lead to a new Yugoslavia-type situation, where communities fight over mixed areas. This time Baker won't be able to say "we have no dog in this fight" as he did when Yugoslavia collapsed. Historically, partitions have been terribly traumatic, whether in India, Korea, Vietnam, Cyprus, Palestine, and elsewhere, and it will very probably be the same in Iraq.

Third, is it really up to the U.S., after it screwed up postwar normalization in Iraq, to compound this with a plan that would only be perceived by Iraqis as a further effort to break them apart? Almost certainly this plan would be depicted by Iraqis and most Arabs as an effort to break up the Middle East into statelets to ensure that Israel remains strong, whatever the truth of that claim. At this stage, with everything that has gone on in the country, it seems far preferable to let the Iraqis decide their own future. The U.S. owes them patience and time to arrive at a solution by themselves.
Yep, the whole thing might make Iraqis feel as if they've been jerked around but good. This is not pretty. But Baker can fix anything. And he's being astonishingly blunt.

John Dickerson here wonders about that -
Baker is nothing if not a strategic thinker and a forward planner. He understands that two months from now, when the Study Group's plans are unveiled, he wants to look independent of the administration. Creating some distance from Bush now makes that more plausible. To sell the Study Group plan, he needs to be Jim Baker, truth-teller, not Jim Baker, political hack who helped Bush grab the election in Florida.

Coming so close to the election, Baker's comments were not politically helpful. But they may help Bush in the long run if the President is serious about staying in Iraq through the long, ugly slog ahead. If the core of the president's policies is going to survive after Election Day, he's going to need a new salesman. Bush has lost the country on Iraq, and he has lost his ability to convince the country that he's got a plan for victory. Baker may be just the man for the job of helping him win people over.

Utilizing Baker as an insider with the appearance of independence also presents Bush with an opportunity to change course. The president doesn't have to say he's following the Study Group's recommendations. He can claim the ideas were already under consideration - his approach when he yielded to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security after members of both parties had been calling for such a thing, In this case, the leader of the thoughtful and sober Study Group would serve to sprinkle legitimacy on a redirection of policy that Bush will inevitably take credit for.

Baker may also give some cover to Republicans running for re-election who are too timid to speak up. I'm not criticizing the president, but the Baker plan sounds intriguing, said the congressman as he backpedaled out of the room. This is essentially what John Warner did last week as he worried aloud about chaos in Iraq and pointed to the Baker plan as a possible solution if the situation doesn't change in two or three months. The Study Group plan, as Baker sketched it, would keep troops in Iraq for at least a year and might encourage administration officials to enter direct talks with countries like Iran and Syria. Baker has also talked about other options like increasing U.S. troop levels after the election, according to one source.

… There's a final benefit for Bush in Baker's plan. Woodward's title State of Denial renews the critique that the president is isolated from reality and criticism. If Bush ultimately accepts the findings of a Study Group led by James Baker, he won't be the boy in the bubble anymore.
Yeah, that's a winner. Right.

But there is the problem of redefining "cut and run" and all that. The problem is the volume setting on that has been rising, with the president hammering that "the Democratic party is the party of cut and run." He's saying it again and again, and it must be driving Baker crazy.

Dickerson again on that here -
The cut-and-run phrase is an effective political weapon. It's pithy and plays on the public perception that Democrats are weak on issues of national security. The Democrats also can't agree about what to do in Iraq, so they can't fight back effectively.

It is also a very dumb phrase. It diminishes the debate by suggesting all options are crystal clear. It poisons the dialogue by angering those reasonable Democrats in Congress who are searching for a middle ground and by freezing those Republicans who want to offer constructive criticism but can't for fear they'll be accused of wanting to cut and run. As one Republican congressman put it recently: "Reality has been suspended for a moment. Republicans cannot speak out publicly on this issue right now."

… the most important reason the president shouldn't use any formulation of the "cut and run" language is that withdrawing from Iraq is part of his strategy.

… [But] That's the whole point of the "cut and run" attack - to label all talk of withdrawal as weak appeasement. Democratic Sen. Carl Levin's proposal for a series of benchmark tests that would lead to withdrawal is not that different from administration policy in Iraq. But no Republican dares admit that in an election year, so they dish out a little more "cut and run" to lump all Democrats together. If Bush is successful, voters will find Levin indistinguishable from Rep. John Murtha who has called for a faster withdrawal and whose claim that "we've failed" in Iraq is politically not palatable for most Americans. In the hands of administration officials, withdrawal is a useful tool. Used by others, it is a tragic disaster.

… The sloppy political talk of "cut and run" limits Bush's options because he can't really ever make good on his threat to leave Iraq if he thinks its leaders aren't making the tough choices. Democrats would be well within their rights to call that cutting and running. Having used the term so recklessly to define all gradations of withdrawal, Bush invites opponents to use it just as recklessly to define his decision to start bringing troops home. Insurgents would find comfort in that debate and think they'd won. Jihadists will find any pretext and think they've prevailed even in the moment of their incineration, but the president and others dishing out the accusations of "cut and run" shouldn't be helping them.
But Baker will fix it all.

As for Afghanistan, see this - "The top NATO commander in Afghanistan warned Sunday that if the lives of Afghans don't improve within the next six months, a majority of them could switch their allegiance to the Taliban."

Have we lost both wars?

How It's All Playing in Peoria

The polling as of late Monday, October 9 -


New York Times - CBS here - 34%
ABC - Washington Post here - 39%
Gallup here - 37% (down from 44% last month)


See Survey USA here -

He should resign from congress: 45%
He should resign his leadership post but can stay in congress: 25%
He should stay in congress and should remain Speaker of the House: 26%


Republicans Stand To Benefit from Nuclear Test 'Fear Factor' - "Dennis Hastert, the Republican speaker in Congress, and John Boehner, the Republican majority leader, released statements soon after the North Korean nuclear test announcement. With only a month left to go for mid-term elections, Republicans see the nuclear test issue could bring back their dwindling popularity."

People will be frightened. That helps.


Just a heads-up -
The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Eisenhower and its accompanying strike force of cruiser, destroyer and attack submarine slipped their moorings and headed off for the Persian Gulf region on Oct. 2…

The Eisenhower strike force… is scheduled to arrive in the vicinity of Iran around October 21, at the same time as a second flotilla of minesweepers and other ships.

This build-up of naval power around the coast of Iran, according to some military sources, is in preparation for an air attack on Iran that would target not just Iran's nuclear enrichment facilities, but its entire military command and control system.

While such an attack could be expected to unleash a wave of military violence all over Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and elsewhere against American forces and interests and against oil wells, pipelines and loading facilities, as well as a mining of the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, with a resulting skyrocketing of global oil prices, the real goal of this new war by the U.S. would be ensuring Republican control of the House and Senate.

It seems increasingly clear that the Republican Party is going to lose its grip on the House of Representatives, and that it may even lose control of the Senate, barring some dramatic October Surprise by the president. So far, the surprises have been working against Republicans, with the Foley sex scandal, the evidence that Abramoff's bribery reached right into the inner sanctum of the White House, and the deteriorating U.S. position in Iraq.

With the number of House seats reportedly "in play" now rising from 15 to 30 and now 50, President Bush is looking at the possibility of a blow out Nov. 7 that could see him facing a Democratic Congress bent on revenge for five six years of systematic abuse.

… This means that the worse things look for Republican chances in November, the greater the likelihood that a desperate President Bush will order a disastrous attack on Iran - one that would have the country enter into a third, even worse, war even as it is currently busy losing two others.
It's a plan. And it wasn't a good Monday.

Posted by Alan at 22:51 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 10 October 2006 08:25 PDT home

Sunday, 8 October 2006
The Economics of Information - The Dialog Continues
Topic: The Media
The Economics of Information - The Dialog Continues
In the new issue of Just Above Sunset, the magazine-format parent to this web log, you'll find a media column - Truth Telling and Its Difficulties. This is a discussion of those difficulties involving key readers, one of the founders of CNN and the man who teaches marketing to graduate students at a noted business school in upstate New York. And that is appropriate, as the difficulties seem to arise from the tension between the traditional obligation of a news organization to objectively inform Americans of what was going on in their world, and the reality that almost all news organizations are commercial enterprises - they are supposed to turn a profit, and that may inhibit some sorts of "informing" and falsely exaggerate others. You don't want to make your advertisers uncomfortable, after all. And you want to show you have a larger and more affluent audience than your competitors - so you do your best to please them and hang onto them.

So who better to discuss this than Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta - one of the guys who started CNN back in the early eighties, and whose wife is an executive there now - and a marketing expert who explains marketing concepts to graduate students?

The triggers there were the amazing commentary by Keith Olbermann on MSNBC on Thursday, October 5, that created quite a buzz, and the same day the parent company of the Los Angeles Times firing its publisher, who refused to continue the massive staff cuts there, saying getting rid of journalists might raise the profit margins but it would ruin the newspaper. The parent corporation, the Tribune Company, brought in their own cost-cutter from Chicago - Davis Hiller, a Harvard-trained lawyer and MBA, who, without any journalistic background, had been publisher of the Chicago Tribune.

The Olbermann item was a clear "the emperor has no clothes" rant, pointing out the obvious - the president is, on a number of matters, simply lying, and additionally, slandering anyone who disagrees with him. It was "what he said" versus the clear facts, but no one seemed to have the courage to just lay it all out. Perhaps Olbermann could do that because MSNBC has such a small market share - the risk of offending and having the advertising dollars flee just didn't matter that much. MSNBC is such a tiny part of NBC-Universal that losing a sponsor or two for a minor one-hour news show hardly matters to that entertainment giant.

As for the Los Angeles Times, a newspaper, of course, generates revenue through the sale of print advertising and subscriptions, and now online services. Think of it as a cash delivery system. That's its purpose, to deliver profit. The content before, after and around the advertising is of somewhat secondary importance - it's just the "hook" that gets people to buy the thing or subscribe. It only needs to be "good enough." The journalists here thus mistakenly thought they were more important than they actually were. At least that seems to be how the parent corporation sees things. There's talk of a mass exodus of those with experience and reputations and the big awards, and the new Tribune guy says he's fine with that. His job is to increase revenues, and if the paper becomes fluff - well, fluff sells. The decision has been made. It may just turn into a fat Penny Saver, with cool display ads, a fine comics section and celebrity gossip. Heck, the circulation will probably go up.

But the discussion didn't end there, as Michael O'Hare in Same Facts, then posted The Wayward Press - and just what is this "Baumol's cost disease" mentioned there?

What Michael O'Hare said -
The resignation of the LA Times' publisher in a spat with the paper's new owner, Tribune Corporation, over how profitable a newspaper should be and to what degree that profit should be attained by cutting its news staff, is probably too bad for the paper at the moment, but it's a symptom of a very big problem for everyone. Everyone, because even people who don't care to read the paper have to experience the government that a news-poor world entails.

The traditional business model of a paper newspaper, in which readers' attention is sold to advertisers by placing the ads next to news on a physical page, is broken. One fracture is a very broad withdrawal of public attention from anything that takes very long or much effort to engage with, from music to books and news; another is the IT-driven transformation of text from a product that can be denied to anyone who doesn't payfor a physical object to a practically non-excludible public good. Still another is a phenomenon not fully understood, which is the much greater difficulty advertisements have drawing attention on a computer screen than on a paper page, evidenced by the flashing ads that now pop up screaming for attention over content on newspaper web pages. And we may also be seeing an example of "Baumol's cost disease", the steady increase of the relative cost of products like expert, competent, writing (music performance, in his example) that can't take advantage of productivity improvements through technology.

There have always been lousy newspapers and only a few good ones; many of the former are no great loss except for local issues. But the LA Times is a great newspaper, well written and probing, with a wonderful tradition of "print it once and print it all" that has generated long, interesting, expensive stories that can help you understand a complicated issue or situation in one sitting. The usual recipes for providing cultural capital in the face of market failure, like government provision, are non-starters in this case: no-one wants Villaraigosa in this business, nor even a California State Department of Public Information, at least not as a newspaper. Some sort of very mechanistic public subsidy program might help keep 'papers' alive, but it won't make anyone read them.

This is not a problem that will be solved by twiddling some media outlet ownership legislation, nor by any other quick fix, and not solving it is simply not OK, as the last few years of public sector disasters indicate. I have no cheerful summary, nor clever policy recommendation to offer. We're in a lot of trouble here, and without a map.
Well, that's cheery. And Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, works on it -
I actually remember reading this James Surowiecki New Yorker piece (he writes an occasional column in "Talk of the Town" called "The Financial Page") a few years ago. It's sort of not totally clear to a civilian like me, but I think I get the general idea. Here's a clip:
Generally, productivity growth is a boon, but it creates problems for non-productive enterprises like classical music, education, and car repair: to keep luring talent, they have to increase wages, or else people eventually migrate to businesses that pay better. Instead of becoming nurses or mechanics, they become telecom engineers or machinists. That's why teachers are getting paid a lot more than they were twenty years ago. (The average salary for an associate college professor has risen almost seventy per cent since the early eighties, and that's if you adjust for inflation.) To pay those wages, schools and hospitals have to raise prices. The result is that in industries where productivity is flat costs and prices keep going up. Economists call this phenomenon "Baumol's cost disease," after William Baumol, the NYU economist who first made the diagnosis, using the Mozart analogy, in the sixties. As anyone with kids knows, cost disease is alive and well. A recent study by the economists Jack Triplett and Barry Bosworth demonstrates that among the service businesses that have been least productive in recent years you'll find education, insurance, health care, and entertainment. These are the ones that have seen steep price hikes.
The full column is here.
And the marketing expert in upstate New York confirms -
Rick's got it encapsulated.

To me the defining characteristics of "Cost Disease" are two fold -

1) it's service based, and 2) the service itself is the consumable.

The net result is costs always rise over time (with the natural "cost of capital" plus inflation over time) because the service is not subject to productivity gains we typically associate with technology, processes and systems efficiencies. The business that is trapped with Cost Disease is primarily salary-dependent.

Today a baseball game still takes eighteen players plus managers and still takes time duration of nine innings - same as in 1909.

If we are consuming the ball game and the activity of the 18+, then costs for staging the game can ONLY rise over decades. Hence changes in arbitration and trade rules, salaries and the emergence of "the Steinbrenner" not to mention evolution of advertising and sponsorship revenues to keep the game in stride with our economy one hundred years later.

Hope this hits the ball on the nose (a four-bagger?) for the "civilians" in the audience.

(The one parenthetical economic reference above to "Cost of Capital" refers to the very basic notion that as long as we charge interest to lend money, then the gains in the economy - the value we add by making products and services available - have to exceed that cost of borrowing in order to repay our debt - the fuel of the economy - PLUS make a profit so producers can eat! Hence - over the long run - and despite recessions - the value of the economy [and the stock market where food is dispensed to the owners of the production tools] WILL ALWAYS RISE over time! Hence the critical nature of the Cost of Borrowing or what economists refer to as the "Cost of Capital"!)

That may be too much.
Maybe so, and maybe not, as Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, notes -
I have to admit, I still don't get it.

Not that I don't believe in "cost disease," I just don't think it applies to purely "services" exclusively, as if there's a logical and understandable reason that prices go up on everything else. Why would "technological productivity advances" make prices go up? If anything, it should make them come down! You would think, especially with markets always growing as populations grow, everything might be a little cheaper, since there are more and more of us everyday to take advantage of those famous "economies of scale."

But no, it doesn't seem to happen that way. One of the mysteries that's always nagged me - and I suspect whoever comes up with the definitive answer to this will win a Nobel prize in Economics - is, why is it that a good-size metropolis of today can support only one or two daily newspapers, while that same city, in the mid-nineteenth century and with maybe half the population, had maybe five or six dailies?

Here's my guess as to why prices go up, in those industries that rely on service as well as those that don't: Prices go up because we all want more money.

And by "we all," I mean not only the salaried middle manager who would be absolutely shocked to go ten years without a raise, and the unionized employee who has yearly raises built into his contract, but also the owners who demand 7% higher profits next year than those of this year. We all want more money, whether we're the cellist in the quartet playing Mozart the exact same way we've been doing it for ten years, or the baseball player who gets roughly the same number of hits this year as three years ago, or the newspaper reporter who covers about the same number of stories this year as last, using about the same number of words. Behind every hunk of plastic and metal and edible morsel that we buy, there are scores of human beings, and all of them want a raise.

(By the way, if a "raise" is understood to mean "more money," what's the word for "less money"? There is no one word for that, simply because it hardly ever happens. The best we can come up with is "reduction in salary." I suspect the reason we tolerate three words for this instead of one is because the phrase is so seldom used, not very much total breath is wasted in saying it.)

To sum up: Prices go up because we all want more money, and where else are we going to get it but from one another?

But to relate back to the original topic - and I wish I could remember where I'd seen this recently (was it something the market man said in these exhanges, or maybe something I saw in the New York Times Book Review a week or so back?) - that it used to be recognized by all concerned that businessmen ran businesses with service to the community in mind, that every business had a public function to fulfill, and that no business had, at its sole purpose, to make money. Somewhere along the line, that changed, and businesses were taken over by people who either never fully understood this little tidbit of history, or just didn't care.

And so I conclude that the job of a newspaper is news. If the job of a newspaper were to make money, they'd call it a moneypaper, but hardly anybody would read it.
And it loops back to Keith Olbermann, oddly enough.

David Bauder of the Associated Press (a "television writer") on Sunday, October 8, covers the Olbermann business here -
Keith Olbermann's tipping point came on a tarmac in Los Angeles six weeks ago. While waiting for his plane to take off he read an account of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's speech before the American Legion equating Iraq War opponents to pre-World War II appeasers.

The next night, on Aug. 30, Olbermann ended his MSNBC "Countdown" show with a blistering retort, questioning both the interpretation of history and Rumsfeld's very understanding of what it means to be an American.

It was the first of now five extraordinarily harsh anti-Bush commentaries that have made Olbermann the latest media point-person in the nation's political divide.

"As a critic of the administration, I will be damned if you can get away with calling me the equivalent of a Nazi appeaser," Olbermann told The Associated Press. "No one has the right to say that about any free-speaking American in this country."

Since that first commentary, Olbermann's nightly audience has increased 69 percent, according to Nielsen Media Research. This past Monday 834,000 people tuned in, virtually double his season average and more than CNN competitors Paula Zahn and Nancy Grace. Cable kingpin and Olbermann nemesis Bill O'Reilly (two million viewers that night) stands in his way.
So the folks who follow the news business - the business side of it - recognize something is up here.

A nugget on corporate ownership of the news - "As dangerous as it can sometimes be for news, it is also our great protector," Olbermann said. "Because as long as you make them money, they don't care. This is not Rupert Murdoch. And even Rupert Murdoch puts 'Family Guy' on the air and 'The Simpsons,' that regularly criticize Fox News. There is some safety in the corporate structure that we probably could never have anticipated."

And this - "The purpose of this is to get people to think and supply the marketplace of ideas with something at every fruit stand, something of every variety," he said. "As an industry, only half the fruit stand has been open the last four years."

And there's this bit of marketing/programming/scheduling history -
Liberal activist Jeff Cohen is thrilled for Olbermann's success, but admits that it's bittersweet.

Cohen was a producer for Phil Donahue's failed talk show. Less than four years ago Donahue's show imploded primarily because MSNBC and its corporate owners were afraid to have a show seen as liberal or anti-Bush at a time those opinions were less popular, he said.

In his new book "Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media," Cohen alleges that NBC News forced Donahue to book more conservatives than liberals and eventually wanted one of the nation's best-known liberal media figures to imitate O'Reilly.

Same time as Olbermann, same channel.

That Olbermann has been permitted to do what he's doing is evidence that "the political zeitgeist has changed dramatically in four years, and especially (at) MSNBC," Cohen said.

While it's true a different political atmosphere has helped Olbermann, NBC News senior vice president Phil Griffin disputed Cohen's interpretation that politics doomed Donahue. While MSNBC could be faulted for giving up on Donahue too fast, the show never caught its rhythm and was extremely expensive, he said.

"People try to ascribe motives to us, that somehow we're trying to keep liberals off the air and it's all about ideology," Griffin said. "If you get ratings, there's no issue."
Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, knows Griffin and adds this -
What gives me an ironic giggle as I read this is that, when I was working at CNN in Atlanta and Keith Olbermann was a sports reporter in CNN's New York bureau, Phil Griffin - who is now Keith's boss - was working for CNN Sports in Atlanta as, I think, a "VJ" (or "video journalist," an entry level job) or maybe a junior producer. He's a good guy, and I also agree with what he says here.

And yes, I do agree with what Olbermann says about the Nielsens - that they can, in some cases, protect dissent - and maybe I even agree with that thing he says about the fruit stand. But the problem with hiding behind the money is that there's no guarantee it will always be there, working on your side. In truth, I'm not so sure it doesn't tend to the favor conservatives, the evidence being that conservative radio talkers (e.g., Rush Limbaugh) never lack listeners, while the other side (e.g., Air America) goes begging. Political broadcasting seems to appeal most to angry conservatives, not non-confrontational liberals.

So if we're looking to greed to save the country from itself, we're definitely looking for salvation in all the wrong places. The best thing is to get behind a good strong principle, fight for it, then stick with it to the end.
Olbermann can lay out the truth, because there no real demand for it - he can get behind a good strong principle, fight for it, then stick with it to the end.  So what? And the Tribune folks can turn the Los Angeles Times into a Hollywood gossip rag. There's always a demand for that. So that's how it is.



Michael Kinsley, the former opinion editor for the Los Angeles Times (he was fired last year) says it's time to forget the Times. He has a suggestion. How About a National Tribune?

That goes something like this -
National-quality journalists who work for the L.A. Times, attracted by good salaries and great editors (first, John Carroll and now Dean Baquet), endure the frustration of not being read by the people they write about. If money keeps getting tighter and the paper's ambitions keep getting narrower, they will leave if they can, or won't come to work in L.A. in the first place. Then The Times will be an adequate provincial paper like the Chicago Tribune, and the tension of being prettier than the boss' daughter will be resolved.

… Journalists know how to stage a great hissy fit. And I'm not sure a fit was really called for in the initial staff reductions. On the editorial page (I can reveal, from the safety of hindsight) we initially had 15 people producing 21 editorials a week! So now cries that Tribune Co. has moved from cutting fat to cutting bone ring a bit hollow.

The other issue that ignited flames of self-righteousness in my colleagues was any attempt to integrate The Times into the Tribune chain, or to achieve economies of scale by sharing costs. This sensitivity seems especially shortsighted - first, because logic was completely on Tribune's side. (Why should one company be paying four or five reporters to cover the same one-person beat?) And second, because in any merger or pseudo-merger of Tribune papers, the Los Angeles Times would clearly come out on top.

In fact, there may be no better way to preserve The Times' role as a major newspaper (if that is of any interest to its owners). These days, on the one hand, thanks to the Internet, any newspaper can be a national newspaper. On the other hand, near universal availability of the New York Times print edition makes the traditional role of a regional paper like the Los Angeles Times superfluous.

But now imagine the Tribune chain as a single newspaper with separate editions in each of its cities. Call it the National Tribune. Or the papers could keep their separate identities, but carry a "Tribune" insert or wraparound with national and international news. This paper would start out with towering dominance in two of the nation's top three markets (Los Angeles and Chicago) and a solid position, via Newsday, in the largest (New York). It would even have a toehold in Washington (thanks to the Baltimore Sun). All this, and Orlando too.

Like the British papers, this new national paper could go after a demographic slice of the market instead of a geographical one. It could aim for the currently unoccupied sweet spot between USA Today and the New York Times, or it could take on the New York Times directly.

I assumed that Tribune Co. must have had something like this in mind when it paid a premium for the Times-Mirror papers. But apparently it had something else in mind, or nothing at all.

… Los Angeles is the capital of the increasingly dominant infotainment-media-celebrity complex. Broaden your scope to California generally and you can throw in high technology as well. The L.A. Times should be the diary of this capital. Often it is.

… I miss the Los Angeles Times. My very first day on the job, I attended the Page 1 meeting in the newsroom. There was a story about a transient who allegedly had broken into the home of a 91-year-old Hollywood screenwriter - author of "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" and later a blacklisted victim of the Red Scare - cut off his head, climbed over the back fence (head in hand), stabbed a neighbor to death, and was ultimately arrested at Paramount Studios, where guards recognized him from police photos shown on a TV they weren't supposed to be watching on the job.

What a story! But it didn't make the front page. It ran in the Metro section. I asked Carroll, "Gosh, who do you have to decapitate to make Page 1 around here?" Now we know.

Well, you can cover that, and people will read it. But that was covered in the pages here, Tuesday, 15 June 2004, in Embrace the Zeitgeist, with a picture and everything. And this is hardly the Los Angeles Times.

If the New York Times covers the capital of the economic world, and the Washington Post covers the capital of the political world, that leaves what? This?

Posted by Alan at 20:57 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 9 October 2006 08:02 PDT home

Friday, 6 October 2006
Truth Telling and Its Difficulties
Topic: The Media
Truth Telling and Its Difficulties
If you are not reading this using slow dial-up, go here and watch this video - video (Windows Media Player) or video (QuickTime). This is the commentary delivered on MSNBC by Keith Olbermann, Thursday, October 6 - where he does a pretty good job of channeling Edward R. Murrow in his glory days. It seems Olbermann took the movie seriously, and he signs off with the movie's title - "Good Night, and Good Luck." That was Murrow's signature.

Many think this is a must-see. It's an amazing callout - even if cynical and careful news folks may scoff. But calling bullshit what it is helps now and then. Television should do more of it. CNN maybe shouldn't, but this is refreshing. But then, maybe Olbermann here tries to hard. Maybe it's just pretentious - a cheap imitation of a long-dead honest man. Take a look.

Or see Dan Froomkin in a special to here -
The traditional media has been slow to come to grips with the American public's distrust and dislike of President Bush - sentiments clearly reflected in opinion polls dating back well over a year.

Almost alone among the network newscasters, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann is channeling that sensibility. Channeling it - and amplifying it.

In fact, the increasingly shrill Olbermann is fast becoming the Howard Beale of the anti-Bush era: He's mad as hell, and he's not going to take it anymore.

His newscast-ending "special comment" yesterday was a doozy.

At issue: The sorts of rhetorical excesses in Bush's campaign speeches recently handled (with kid gloves) by such mainstream journalists as McClatchy's Ron Hutcheson and The Washington Post's Peter Baker - and on which I've been harping for ages, most recently in my "Bush's Imaginary Foes" column. [Click on the Froomkin link for links to those.]

What apparently set off Olbermann in particular was when Bush recently described a vote against his warrantless wiretapping plan as being the same as saying "we don't think we ought to be listening to the conversations of terrorists" - and when Bush said of the Democratic leadership: "It sounds like they think the best way to protect the American people is - wait until we're attacked again."

Here's Olbermann yesterday: "The president doesn't just hear what he wants. He hears things that only he can hear.

"It defies belief that this president and his administration could continue to find new unexplored political gutters into which they could wallow. Yet they do.

"It is startling enough that such things could be said out loud by any president of this nation. Rhetorically, it is about an inch short of Mr. Bush accusing Democratic leaders, Democrats, the majority of Americans who disagree with his policies, of treason…

"No Democrat, sir, has ever said anything approaching the suggestion that the best means of self-defense is to 'wait until we're attacked again.'

"No critic, no commentator, no reluctant Republican in the Senate has ever said anything that any responsible person could even have exaggerated into the slander you spoke in Nevada on Monday night, nor the slander you spoke in California on Tuesday, nor the slander you spoke in Arizona on Wednesday … nor whatever is next …

"But tonight the stark question we must face is - why?

"Why has the ferocity of your venom against the Democrats now exceeded the ferocity of your venom against the terrorists?

"Why have you chosen to go down in history as the president who made things up?"
Powerful stuff, and the whole thing is appended below.

The reaction from the Just Above Sunset virtual salon - the small email discussion group that stretches from Hollywood to Paris - led to the underlying issues.

From the high-powered Wall Street attorney -
Actually this has become Olbermann's sign off and (since memory does not stretch back to Murrow's time for the majority of Americans) he presently owns it.

It should be further noted that his cadence and delivery are fairly faithful to that of Murrow's. It may be a cheap trick, but I suspect it is more passionate than that. It is a tribute to a man of impeccable honesty and integrity.
So there was a mixture of, perhaps, cheap theatricality, but an underlying passion for cutting through the crap.

From the internist in Boston - "I liked it too."

From Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta -
I like what he said, too, and I like that he said it, but I do wish he could have done it in less than 11 minutes and 10 seconds. Also, I sort of like how he said it, although sometimes he seemed to climb way too high up on the horse. But I do admire his guts for being one of the only people saying these things. Unfortunately, his words won't inflict the thunderous damage Murrow was capable of, especially in this day and age when anyone with an opinion is just dismissed as someone with an opinion.

What I wish is that one of the networks would take the points Olbermann makes and do a half-hour special that looks honestly at the facts - on whether the Constitution is under attack, and also on whether any Democrat in elected office has ever said any of the things that Bush claims they have. The fact that no news outlet is doing this is proof to me that none of them understand the function of a free press in a free society.
From the marketing professor at the business school in upstate New York, taking a break from his graduate students -
I WISH a credible Democrat - WORTHY of national leadership - would stand up and proclaim the emperor's no clothes for what they truly are! THAT's what we REALLY await!

But yes Rick, I agree the mainstream media have totally caved on responsible journalism issues.

Did people see the September 11 Koppel special on the Discovery Channel, where he's Programming Director now, his counter-programming the night ABC aired its 911 movie debacle? HE took on dilution of citizen's rights to privacy in the name of the witch-hunt on terror with a documentary followed by town meeting forum with respectable stage guests. MUCH better TV than ABC was offering that night!

THEN on night two of the ABC movie - you recall - ABC allowed themselves to be "movie interrupted" by Bush's speech at 9:00 (movie part deux ran 8-11). Charlie Gibson even stepped in - middle of the fiction - to segue to Bush live in the oval. I was never so disappointed in a seemingly credible news figure!

But he came out of the entertainment division to sit at his desk! My fault for putting trust in a likeable morning show guy with a Princeton education!

Smoke still burns here... see what you touch off with this Murrow piece?

I DID put Clooney's movie into my permanent home collection and forced my nineteen-year-old daughter to watch it!
Well, the issue seems to be truth-telling. So what is the function of a free press in a free society?

As for Olbermann - he was speaking on the least-watched of the three cable news networks. They'll try anything. But if one day they actually get a real audience, they'll also become a cash cow, and the parent corporation - NBC-Universal out here (the Canadian family, the Seagram folks, and the French, Vivendi, are out) - will want to milk that cow for all it's worth, and play it safe, and will shut him up.

There are trends. The same day Olbermann had been so bold the Tribune folks fired the publisher of the Los Angeles Times, as noted here. The message - the newspaper exists to generate money, and more each year, and while award winning journalism is nice, it's kind of beside the point -
Jeff Johnson, the publisher of The Los Angeles Times, was fired today after refusing last month to go along with cutbacks at his paper ordered by The Tribune Company.

The company asked Dean Baquet, the paper's editor, who had also resisted the cuts, to stay at The Los Angeles Times, and he has agreed to do so. Colleagues said he saw an opportunity to start fresh with a new publisher and to make his case for why the staff should not be cut back as much as Tribune has proposed. But one colleague noted that Mr. Baquet still retained the option to leave.

David D. Hiller, publisher of The Chicago Tribune, has been named as a replacement for Mr. Johnson.

Scott Smith, president of Tribune Publishing, based in Chicago, flew to Los Angeles and fired Mr. Johnson this morning.

"Jeff and I agreed that this change is best at this time because Tribune and Times executives need to be aligned on how to shape our future," Mr. Smith said in a statement.

In a memo to the staff this morning, Janet Clayton, an editor, wrote: "Sorry to tell you that we are told that Jeff Johnson is out as publisher of The Los Angeles Times."

Mr. Baquet and Mr. Johnson last month said publicly in the pages of their newspaper that they would not draw up a budget plan for cuts that Tribune, based in Chicago, had ordered. They included increasing the paper's profits by 7 percent, or about $17 million.
A newspaper, of course, generates revenue through the sale of print advertising and subscriptions, and now online services. Think of it as a cash delivery system. That's its purpose, to deliver profit. The content before, after and around the advertising is of somewhat secondary importance - it's just the "hook" that gets people buy the thing or subscribe. It only needs to be "good enough." The journalists thus mistakenly thought they were more important than they actually were. At least that seems to be how the parent corporation sees things.

This was mentioned last week in the item Truthiness, where the rumors were that the Tribune folks were going to sell of the Times and their other newspapers and go private. Billionaire Ron Burkle, business leader Eli Broad and Hollywood mogul David Geffen were each interested, and the cost cutting thing was at the core - whole swaths of folks are gone, and the current editors were standing up to the parent company. They just didn'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, didn'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. But it seems the shoe dropped.

The marketing professor at the business school in upstate New York put it nicely - "There had been wind of privatizing the Times again, but alas - money-speak wins once again. Send in a new body from corporate!"

That's about it. But didn't Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, say that no news outlet now seems to understand the function of a free press in a free society? If it is not what the Tribune folks claim, to make money for the shareholders, what is the function of a free press in a free society? Perhaps he should write a piece on that.

Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, who was one of the guys who started CNN back in the eighties and whose wife is an executive there now, thinks not -
I'm not sure that what I would say deserves a whole column. It seems so obvious to me that I have a hard time finding the words without repeating myself, or at least saying what I've said over and over, here and elsewhere:

When I started my career in journalism (1968), television news didn't make money, but that was actually a good thing. The business was still coasting along on the fumes exhaled only decades earlier by the founders of broadcasting in our country (namely William Paley and David Sarnoff), who all but proclaimed that nobody should begrudge our making millions from use of the public radio frequencies, just as long as we never let the commercial dollar overwhelm what everyone saw as a "public trust" - objectively informing Americans of what was going on in their world.

That all changed years later with their descendants realized that they actually could (and, therefore, should) make money off of news after all. I think you're right about MSNBC, that things might be different if those people were actually making huge bucks, since too much money seems to be the thing that sullies everything else. But maybe CNN shouldn't do this, you think? I disagree. For one thing, doing the right thing for once might cause such a public fuss that more people might actually tune in to see what's going on.

The Los Angeles Times situation is a good case in point - except that, unlike the Paley-Sarnoff case, it doesn't involve publicly-granted broadcast licenses. The problem with that newspaper is not that it doesn't make money - as was discussed in exchanges last week, newspapers have always made money. It's my understanding (from the public radio show "Market Place" last night) that the Times has been averaging a healthy 25% profit; the problem is that the Tribune is used to its papers turning closer to 35%.

Also, like so many other companies these days, Tribune stockholders are not expecting a 7% increase in actual profits just this year, but for every year hereafter. The local Times management has argued that doing this hurts the quality of its news coverage and does not serve the community; the bosses at Tribune say "either take orders, or take off."

I think the people and leaders of Los Angeles should kick up a stink and complain that we don't need some Chicago outfit coming here to set up a money-printing machine at the community's expense, and then send all the money back to Chicago. I wish the locals would start a boycott of the paper until Tribune stops being so greedy and starts taking the local needs more seriously. It might not work but it might just focus America's attention on how it is losing its soul.

I know it's not a good idea that they pull the paper's business license, but maybe someone else out there, someone with a good conscience and a willingness to survive on profit margins as "low" as 25% - after all, don't most successful businesses aim for about 10% - anyway, I wish someone would start a new paper out there and hire away all the good folks from the out-of-town rag.

But to reiterate my original point up top, the real bottom line is that there is a job to be done in informing citizens about how their leadership is threatening the Constitution, and it's a job that nobody seems to be doing.

Well, there's no money in it.

And there is no point in linking to all the items out here on the Los Angeles Times thing - there are far too many - but it looks like most of the top folks will be quitting, going to other papers and magazines. There's talk of a mass exodus of those with experience and reputations and the big awards, and the new Tribune guy says he's fine with that. His job is to increase revenues, and if the paper becomes fluff - well, fluff sells. The decision has been made. It may just turn into a fat Penny Saver, with cool display ads, a fine comics section and celebrity gossip. Heck, the circulation will probably go up.

Where do we go to find some source that provides information on what our leadership is doing - information that hasn't been neutered or hidden or sanitized or slanted, if it's there at all, by those watching the profit margin and making sure it's growing? There's Olbermann with his tiny audience, scheduled against Bill O'Reilly on Fox News, and no much else - just corporate news subsidiaries trying to make enough of a margin so the parent organization doesn't pull the plug entirely.

It's like it's London in 1727 again - the year of Swift's Gulliver's Travels, Gay's Beggar's Opera and Pope's Essay on Man. You have to turn to the satirists to get a sense of what's really going on, and that may be a shame.

Of course, some of it is rather good, as in this, a video clip from Jon Stewart's Daily Show on Comedy Central.

It gets down to the basics. What exactly is the president's job? This is a devastating string of clips of the president explaining, without much comment, except for some logical questions as to what does the man mean when he says his job is to explain to the people what his job is, and "my job is to do my job." It's laugh out loud funny, and really depressing.

Yeah, Swift was like that too.

Click on the link and take a look, and then note what Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, says -

Assuming the conservatives are right in thinking that government should be operated more like a business, and then we hire somebody and for the next six years he spends more time telling you what he thinks his job is than he does actually doing his job, shouldn't we have the right to fire him? You know, give him a parachute and a script about his "wanting to spend more time with his family," then just gently shove him off the plane?

I mean, I've worked with dudes like this. They bring him in like he's the golden boy who's going to save the company, then he screws up everything he gets involved in, then gabs us all to death at the water cooler! No one has the nerve to tell him the real score, but that doesn't matter because he's not listening anyway. There's an old saying that "time wounds all heels," but you know that truism won't kick in until after we've all totally lost our sanity, because this loser has two years left on his contract! Can't management just offer him an early buy-out so we can get a head-start with his inevitable replacement?

Or maybe, to put it in showbiz terms, we should have just subcontracted the presidency out to one of the TV networks, so if he didn't grab the ratings, they could have cancelled him after 13 weeks.
Of course that's not how things work.

And as for the Los Angeles Times changing, see this - the guy they brought in from the parent company is buddies with Ken Starr, Chief Justice Roberts and worked for Reagan, devising the current conservative agenda. More than money is speaking. And he has a new toy.

John Amato and Mark Groubert - "Last night David Hiller, from the Chicago Tribune came into town to replace Jeffrey Johnson and Times Editor Dean Baquet because they 'publicly opposed a corporate demand for a stringent cost-cutting plan last month.' In other words they were fired. Johnson would not bow down to the right wing Chicago Tribune."

The Chicago Tribune is right wing? No one pays attention out here.

They seem suspicious of this from the front page story in the Times -
His background has been varied, including a stint as law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, two years at the Reagan Justice Department (where his colleagues included current Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani …
Yeah, the man worked with the new Chief Justice and for Reagan's Department of Justice back in the eighties. And he co-wrote the famous Reese Memorandum that put laid out Ronald Reagan's most conservative agenda, like immigration proposals that were rejected - the internment of illegal immigrants after Carter left office. And he worked with Ken Starr on getting Bill Clinton good. But that was a long time ago. He's here to make this paper make a lot more money. This will not turn into the west coast version of Reverend Moon's Washington Times. It won't sell. This isn't Chicago. We'll get Paris Hilton stories, box-office returns, and guacamole recipes.

And some of us will watch Keith Olbermann and Jon Stewart.



What started this whole conversation -
A Special Comment About Lying
Keith Olbermann on the Difference Between Terrorists and Critics
SPECIAL COMMENT by Keith Olbermann, Anchor, 'Countdown' MSNBC

While the leadership in Congress has self-destructed over the revelations of an unmatched, and unrelieved, march through a cesspool ...

While the leadership inside the White House has self-destructed over the revelations of a book with a glowing red cover ...

The president of the United States - unbowed, undeterred and unconnected to reality - has continued his extraordinary trek through our country rooting out the enemies of freedom: the Democrats.

Yesterday at a fundraiser for an Arizona congressman, Mr. Bush claimed, quote, "177 of the opposition party said, 'You know, we don't think we ought to be listening to the conversations of terrorists.'"

The hell they did.

One hundred seventy-seven Democrats opposed the president's seizure of another part of the Constitution.

Not even the White House press office could actually name a single Democrat who had ever said the government shouldn't be listening to the conversations of terrorists.

President Bush hears what he wants.

Tuesday, at another fundraiser in California, he had said, "Democrats take a law enforcement approach to terrorism. That means America will wait until we're attacked again before we respond."

Mr. Bush fabricated that, too.

And evidently he has begun to fancy himself as a mind reader.

"If you listen closely to some of the leaders of the Democratic Party," the president said at another fundraiser Monday in Nevada, "it sounds like they think the best way to protect the American people is — wait until we're attacked again."

The president doesn't just hear what he wants.

He hears things that only he can hear.

It defies belief that this president and his administration could continue to find new unexplored political gutters into which they could wallow.

Yet they do.

It is startling enough that such things could be said out loud by any president of this nation.

Rhetorically, it is about an inch short of Mr. Bush accusing Democratic leaders, Democrats, the majority of Americans who disagree with his policies of treason.

But it is the context that truly makes the head spin.

Just 25 days ago, on the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, this same man spoke to this nation and insisted, "We must put aside our differences and work together to meet the test that history has given us." Mr. Bush, this is a test you have already failed.

If your commitment to "put aside differences and work together" is replaced in the span of just three weeks by claiming your political opponents prefer to wait to see this country attacked again, and by spewing fabrications about what they've said, then the questions your critics need to be asking are no longer about your policies.

They are, instead, solemn and even terrible questions, about your fitness to fulfill the responsibilities of your office.

No Democrat, sir, has ever said anything approaching the suggestion that the best means of self-defense is to "wait until we're attacked again."

No critic, no commentator, no reluctant Republican in the Senate has ever said anything that any responsible person could even have exaggerated into the slander you spoke in Nevada on Monday night, nor the slander you spoke in California on Tuesday, nor the slander you spoke in Arizona on Wednesday ... nor whatever is next.

You have dishonored your party, sir; you have dishonored your supporters; you have dishonored yourself.

But tonight the stark question we must face is - why?

Why has the ferocity of your venom against the Democrats now exceeded the ferocity of your venom against the terrorists?

Why have you chosen to go down in history as the president who made things up?

In less than one month you have gone from a flawed call to unity to this clarion call to hatred of Americans, by Americans.

If this is not simply the most shameless example of the rhetoric of political hackery, then it would have to be the cry of a leader crumbling under the weight of his own lies.

We have, of course, survived all manner of political hackery, of every shape, size and party. We will have to suffer it, for as long as the Republic stands.

But the premise of a president who comes across as a compulsive liar is nothing less than terrifying.

A president who since 9/11 will not listen, is not listening - and thanks to Bob Woodward's most recent account - evidently has never listened.

A president who since 9/11 so hates or fears other Americans that he accuses them of advocating deliberate inaction in the face of the enemy.

A president who since 9/11 has savaged the very freedoms he claims to be protecting from attack - attack by terrorists, or by Democrats, or by both - it is now impossible to find a consistent thread of logic as to who Mr. Bush believes the enemy is.

But if we know one thing for certain about Mr. Bush, it is this: This president - in his bullying of the Senate last month and in his slandering of the Democrats this month — has shown us that he believes whoever the enemies are, they are hiding themselves inside a dangerous cloak called the Constitution of the United States of America.

How often do we find priceless truth in the unlikeliest of places?

I tonight quote not Jefferson nor Voltaire, but Cigar Aficionado Magazine.

On Sept. 11th, 2003, the editor of that publication interviewed General Tommy Franks, at that point, just retired from his post as commander-in-chief of U.S. Central Command - of Cent-Com.

And amid his quaint defenses of the then-nagging absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, or the continuing freedom of Osama bin Laden, General Franks said some of the most profound words of this generation.

He spoke of "the worst thing that can happen" to this country:

First, quoting, a "massive casualty-producing event somewhere in the Western World - it may be in the United States of America."

Then, the general continued, "the Western World, the free world, loses what it cherishes most, and that is freedom and liberty we've seen for a couple of hundred years, in this grand experiment that we call democracy."

It was this super-patriotic warrior's fear that we would lose that most cherished liberty, because of another attack, one - again quoting General Franks - "that causes our population to question our own Constitution and to begin to militarize our country in order to avoid a repeat of another mass-casualty-producing event. Which, in fact, then begins to potentially unravel the fabric of our Constitution."

And here we are, the fabric of our Constitution being unraveled, anyway.

Habeus corpus neutered; the rights of self-defense now as malleable and impermanent as clay; a president stifling all critics by every means available and, when he runs out of those, by simply lying about what they said or felt.

And all this, even without the dreaded attack.

General Franks, like all of us, loves this country, and believes not just in its values, but in its continuity.

He has been trained to look for threats to that continuity from without.

He has, perhaps been as naïve as the rest of us, in failing to keep close enough vigil on the threats to that continuity from within.

Secretary of State Rice first cannot remember urgent cautionary meetings with counterterrorism officials before 9/11. Then within hours of this lie, her spokesman confirms the meetings in question. Then she dismisses those meetings as nothing new — yet insists she wanted the same cautions expressed to Secretaries Ashcroft and Rumsfeld.

Mr. Rumsfeld, meantime, has been unable to accept the most logical and simple influence of the most noble and neutral of advisers. He and his employer insist they rely on the "generals in the field." But dozens of those generals have now come forward to say how their words, their experiences, have been ignored.

And, of course, inherent in the Pentagon's war-making functions is the regulation of presidential war lust.

Enacting that regulation should include everything up to symbolically wrestling the Chief Executive to the floor.

Yet - and it is Pentagon transcripts that now tell us this - evidently Mr. Rumsfeld's strongest check on Mr. Bush's ambitions, was to get somebody to excise the phrase "Mission Accomplished" out of the infamous Air Force Carrier speech of May 1st, 2003, even while the same empty words hung on a banner over the President's shoulder.

And the vice president is a chilling figure, still unable, it seems, to accept the conclusions of his own party's leaders in the Senate, that the foundations of his public position, are made out of sand.

There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

But he still says so.

There was no link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaida.

But he still says so.

And thus, gripping firmly these figments of his own imagination, Mr. Cheney lives on, in defiance, and spreads - around him and before him - darkness, like some contagion of fear.

They are never wrong, and they never regret - admirable in a French torch singer, cataclysmic in an American leader.

Thus, the sickening attempt to blame the Foley scandal on the negligence of others or "the Clinton era" - even though the Foley scandal began before the Lewinsky scandal.

Thus, last month's enraged attacks on this administration's predecessors, about Osama bin Laden—a projection of their own negligence in the immediate months before 9/11.

Thus, the terrifying attempt to hamstring the fundament of our freedom - the Constitution - a triumph for al Qaida, for which the terrorists could not hope to achieve with a hundred 9/11's.

And thus, worst of all perhaps, these newest lies by President Bush about Democrats choosing to await another attack and not listen to the conversations of terrorists.

It is the terror and the guilt within your own heart, Mr. Bush, that you redirect at others who simply wish for you to temper your certainty with counsel.

It is the failure and the incompetence within your own memory, Mr. Bush, that leads you to demonize those who might merely quote to you the pleadings of Oliver Cromwell: "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken."

It is not the Democrats whose inaction in the face of the enemy you fear, Sir.

It is your own - before 9/11 - and (and you alone know this), perhaps afterwards.

Mr. President, these new lies go to the heart of what it is that you truly wish to preserve.

It is not our freedom, nor our country - your actions against the Constitution give irrefutable proof of that.

You want to preserve a political party's power. And obviously you'll sell this country out, to do it.

These are lies about the Democrats - piled atop lies about Iraq - which were piled atop lies about your preparations for al Qaeda.

To you, perhaps, they feel like the weight of a million centuries - as crushing, as immovable.

They are not.

If you add more lies to them, you cannot free yourself, and us, from them.

But if you stop - if you stop fabricating quotes, and building straw-men, and inspiring those around you to do the same - you may yet liberate yourself and this nation.

Please, sir, do not throw this country's principles away because your lies have made it such that you can no longer differentiate between the terrorists and the critics.

Copyright © 2006 MSNBC Interactive

A star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the northeast corner of Hollywood and Vine (Bob Hope Square) -

Edward R. Murrow's star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the northeast corner of Hollywood and Vine (Bob Hope Square)

Posted by Alan at 20:48 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 7 October 2006 06:38 PDT home

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