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Consider:

"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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Friday, 10 June 2005

Topic: Political Theory

Impeachment: Fantasy of the Week (or of the Weak)

In case you missed it, on May 31 in the Boston Globe Ralph Nader argued that the Downing Street memo provides the grounds for the impeachment of the president. That would be Bush.
It is time for Congress to investigate the illegal Iraq war as we move toward the third year of the endless quagmire that many security experts believe jeopardizes US safety by recruiting and training more terrorists. A Resolution of Impeachment would be a first step. Based on the mountains of fabrications, deceptions, and lies, it is time to debate the ''I" word.
Didn't Ralph Nader run for president telling everyone there wasn't one bit of difference between Bush and Gore, between the two parties, and only he provided a real alternative? Ah, one supposes he'd be calling for the impeachment of President Gore had things in Ohio worked out differently. But that doesn't seem likely – Gore didn't have the issues with his father that Bush has with his.

In any event, in that last week there has been more and more talk about impeachment. Economist Brad DeLong routinely ends many of his posts with "Impeach Bush. Impeach Cheney." (He worked in the Clinton administration and may have hard feelings.)

But this is, really, idle chatter, or venting.

Tim Grieve over at SALON.COM in the "War Room" section has this comment -
? Whatever the strength of the case for impeaching George W. Bush, it ain't gonna happen. But that doesn't mean that it shouldn't happen, and it doesn't mean that Democrats - or any Americans, for that matter - shouldn't be making the case.

So let's hear it, once again, for [Representative] John Conyers. The gentleman from Michigan isn't calling for Bush's impeachment yet, but he's asking the right questions and vowing to go wherever the answers might lead. Last month, Conyers wrote a letter to Bush, asking him to answer the charges raised in the not-so-famous Downing Street memo. So far, more than 160,000 Americans have signed on to the letter. And so far, Bush hasn't responded.

? Conyers describes the next steps: "Well, the next thing that needs to be done is that we need to talk with some of the people in London in the Prime Minister?s top echelons of government and others around there in London about this whole subject matter," he says. "We need to not be pulling this off the Internet, reading it from newspaper reports. We need to do some face time with the people that are connected with it or know about it, or can add to our understanding of it. And then also inevitably we?re going to have to have hearings. There will need to be hearings in which this matter is talked about before the Judiciary Committee, and . . . we have witnesses of all persuasions to help shed some light on this. This is a critical part of the democratic process in a constitutional democracy."
As for the press generally ignoring this as not really newsworthy?
Conyers says that's not good enough: "You can?t be silent about something that?s from the British intelligence notes," he says. "You can?t say we refuse to talk about it, or it has no credibility, when everybody that was involved in it, from what we can tell, are all perfectly silent and are acquiescing by their silence in the accuracy of what?s being reported."

Between the blogs and his own investigation, Conyers seems confident that the truth - about the memo, about the war and the lies that led up to it - will eventually come out and sink in. "Things are going to turn, and we think that it?s a matter of such seriousness. ? This is not just picking on the President or playing petty partisan politics. This is a matter of profound truth. We?ve lost thousands of lives, and we stand to lose many more yet in a war that the President refuses to tell the Congress what his plans are for getting out of Iraq. He wouldn?t tell us he was going into Iraq, and now he won?t tell us how he plans to get out of Iraq. Something?s wrong here, and we?re going to get to the bottom of it no matter how much of our time and energy it takes."
You have to admire his high-mindedness. And something may be really wrong here ? Big Time, as Dick Cheney would say. But Conyers may be living on another planet.

What if the press is absolutely correct in generally ignoring this issue up until this week? On this planet, the one the press covers, the Downing Street memo isn't an issue ? nor is impeachment.

Over at Whiskey Bar Billmon offers this -
The truth (which the political establishment and corporate media understand but can't admit, at least not in so many words) is that the overwhelming majority of the American people probably don't give a flying fuck whether the war was started under false pretenses, or in violation of international law - or even that impeachable offenses may have been committed under U.S. law. All they know is that Saddam was a bad guy (right out of central casting, in fact) and that we're always the good guys, which means the United States had every right to invade Iraq and overthrow its government. It's strictly movie logic, and movie morality, but for most Americans that may be enough - at least as long as the movie ends the way such movies are supposed to end, with the triumph of the "good guys."

I know this is going to sound harsh, but my sense is that American popular opinion about the invasion of Iraq is roughly the same as German popular opinion about the invasion of Russia (which was also sold as a cakewalk, all the way up to the battle of Stalingrad) - most people are just sorry it didn't work out.

But, hey, that's the grim pessimist in me talking. Somebody out there must care, or the corporate media wouldn't even be bothering to debate its coverage of the Downing Street Memo. People may not mind that invasion was unnecessary and illegal, but they do mind the mess it has turned into. And that's a start.
That seems about right. And Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, our frequent contributor, adds this about no one really caring if this war was started under false pretenses, or in violation of international law. ?
I think this observation is correct.

Still, the older I get, the more I realize that democracy - still, in my book, the best way to govern a country - doesn't work very well if the people are not urged to favor doing the right thing. So maybe the job of the Democrats should not be to pander to voters by appealing to their most selfish angels, but instead to argue that our country should do the right thing, not only overseas but at home.

Impeachable offenses?

For the life of me, I can't find any. Not that I like him or what he's done - and this is assuming we're talking about George W. Bush here - what has he done that's vaguely impeachable?

Billmon says ? "People may not mind that invasion was unnecessary and illegal, but they do mind the mess it has turned into. And that's a start."

True, but in my opinion, maybe a start off in the wrong direction, assuming the caprice of the American voter may soon be to just pack up and get out.

Unlike in the case of the Vietnam War - in which I found myself mocking all those who argued that maybe we shouldn't have gotten in there in the first place, but should "now stay there and win it" - I do not think we should have gone into Iraq in the way we did, but since we invaded and took away their government (bad as that government may have been), we now have a responsibility to stay long enough to help the Iraqis set up a new one.

If, on the other hand, Bush had taken us in there to kick out one group of shitheads, and then pulled out without regard to what new gang of shitheads would take the place over, I think he would deserve to be doubly damned.

Billmon also says ? "It's strictly movie logic, and movie morality, but for most Americans that may be enough - at least as long as the movie ends the way such movies are supposed to end, with the triumph of the 'good guys.'"

One more observation, and then I promise to shut up for a while about "irony," which I tend to see everywhere: Why do all these conservatives who despise Hollywood for being so liberal seem to see all their adventures in such cinematic terms?

I guess it's true, that if you hate something enough, you become it - which is as good an explanation as any for all those old Trotskyites of yesteryear becoming the neoconservatives of today.
That's an interesting argument that Rick opens with. The US should do the right thing, not just do whatever and then attempt to cover up the whatever with bumbling attempts at public relations, and when that doesn't work, attacks on the press for being unpatriotic.

As for impeachment, our friend Dick up in Rochester (too near Canada?) points out this ?
Something that came out in Clinton's circus was the really basic concept that an "impeachable offense" is pretty much what Congress says it is. Could be farting. Could be lying to the country. Could be not doing something.
Some of do remember that long discussion of just what are "high crimes and misdemeanors." I believe it all came down to the Republicans arguing Clinton lied under oath, with the intent to deceive. Didn't matter what he really did ? he lied on purpose under oath.

As for the impeachment proceedings against Nixon, things were clearer then. From our Wall Street Attorney, who studied constitutional law under Peter Rodino, who chaired the House committee charged with the impeachment proceedings back them -
The common theme in the two impeachments of the twentieth century is that both were based upon the invocation of executive privilege without merit.

Executive privilege can only be used in matters of national security. I believe that the USSC case on point is United States v Richard M. Nixon. (The exact citation unavailable on the commute back to New Jersey.)

Nixon invoked executive privilege claiming that to turn over the recordings made in his office to Rodino and his committee would somehow compromise national security. Clinton mistakenly invoked executive privilege based on the belief that his personal life was a matter of national security.

The difference between these two scenarios is that in the first instance Nixon had indeed, in authorizing and thus participating in several criminal acts including the break-in at the Watergate, engaged in high crimes and misdemeanors. Thus the use of executive privilege was used to cover-up certain high crimes and misdemeanors.

In Clinton's case, no law was broken until he used executive privilege and lied under oath to cover-up an affair he had with Monica Lewinsky.

In other words Nixon's use of executive privilege was yet another pattern or practice of criminal behavior - while Clinton had committed no impeachable offense until the cover-up itself.

The above was my basic argument to Rodino while in law school. He said he didn't like it, because he couldn't disagree with it!
Well, Bush may have lied, or not ? and intentionally misled the Congress, and taken the country into war on false pretenses ? or not. But he wasn't under oath, testifying to a court. That's the "get out of jail free" card, isn't it? It may have been his best judgment that the war was a fine idea ? and you don't consider a judgment call a crime. It's just a decision. There are no underlying crimes, as there were with Nixon.

And late in 1999 almost half the voters, and a bit more that half of the Supreme Court, decided Bush's judgment was what we would rely on in this sorry world. A mistake to give him that power? Maybe so, and maybe not. We have elections every four years.

As for what constitutional scholars have to say, one could glance through this -

The I-word
Ralph Nader says the Downing Street memo is grounds to debate the impeachment of the president. Four constitutional scholars weigh the issue.
Mark Tushnet, Jack Rakove, Michael J. Gerhardt and Cass Sunstein ? SALON.COM - June 9, 2005

Some excerpts ?

Mark Tushnet, Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Constitutional Law, Georgetown University Law Center
? I know something about the Constitution, not much about intelligence operations. So, I don't want to engage the factual claims about the meaning of the Downing Street memo. Let's assume that the memo accurately reports the facts and that a reasonable person could conclude that Bush administration officials lied so that they could lead the nation into a war with Iraq. Would those facts justify impeaching them?

On its face, that question is laughable - because the answer is so obviously yes. If we could ask any of the leaders of the movement to get the Constitution adopted, "Could a president be impeached for lying to the American people in order to get their support for a foreign war?" he would say, "Of course. That's exactly what the impeachment provision is all about."

Impeachment was designed as a mechanism for removing from office a person who had demonstrated the kind of political irresponsibility that seriously threatened the nation's political institutions --and whose continuation in office was so dangerous that waiting until the next election couldn't be tolerated. Why would anyone think that the kinds of misrepresentations Nader and DeLong believe the administration made shouldn't trigger the impeachment provision?

Mostly because we've been misled by our contemporary understanding of the words the Constitution uses to describe the preconditions for impeachment, having forgotten what those words meant when the Constitution was adopted. The Constitution says that the president and other civil officers, like the vice president and secretary of defense, can be impeached for treason, bribery or "other high crimes and misdemeanors."
Tushnet goes on to explain that today we think that these provisions refer only to criminal behavior. Wrong.

As he explains, to the writers of the constitution impeachment provisions referred to behavior that amounted to extraordinarily serious political misconduct - selling out the country to a foreign nation (treason), selling out the national interest for private gain (bribery), and similar political misconduct. He says "lying to the American people to gain support for a foreign adventure that they wouldn't otherwise endorse isn't even a close case." No problem. Do it.

But he mentions complications ? "? impeachment should be reserved for situations in which two conditions are met - unfitness as demonstrated by serious political misconduct, and a need to replace the president so urgent that we can't put up with waiting until the next election."

The urgency is the problem. Since the president's party has more than firm control of both the Senate and the House there really is no way to claim urgency. Both houses of congress see no need to replace Bush. Bottom line? "If you want to impeach the president, you're going to have to win elections. And, of course, if you can do that, you might not have to impeach the president anyway."

Jack Rakove, Coe Professor of History and American Studies, Stanford University
? Why would anyone even bother to make this argument? One would have to suspend oodles -- nay, caboodles -- of disbelief to imagine a scenario under which impeachment proceedings could even begin, much less make any headway in a Republican House. And even with impeachment, how could a two-thirds vote for conviction in the Senate possibly be mustered (or maybe the word is really "mustarded")?

But let's suspend our disbelief for a moment. Politically unrealistic as Nader has repeatedly demonstrated himself to be, an abstract case could be made for uttering the I-word with the current administration in mind. For one thing, the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998 set the bar for "high crimes and misdemeanors" so low that any subsequent president could legitimately worry about this generally moribund provision of our Constitution being deployed against him whenever an opposition party controlling Congress found it convenient to do so.

For another, a decision to initiate a war that depended on the calculated misrepresentation of information on the scale alleged against this administration plausibly falls within the unspecified category of "high crimes and misdemeanors" that the framers of the Constitution belatedly added to their original list, limited to treason and bribery. The fact that this original deception was accompanied by a wholesale failure to plan for the occupation presumably compounds the case for impeachment.
But again, the problem is we elected who we elected.
Simply put, Americans know as much now about the defects in the administration's case for war as we did when we voted in November. True, some details have been added here and there. Additional months of insurgency and countless bombings have repeatedly confirmed how poorly our highest leaders planned for the aftermath of an initial battlefield victory. But the nation had as much information last fall as it needed to make an informed judgment about the rationale for war and the conduct of the occupation. And the challenger, John Kerry, certainly did the best he could to place these issues at the heart of his campaign. Even if large numbers of Bush supporters proved incapable of absorbing this information, their votes do not count any the less for having been cast in self-imposed ignorance.
Ah, we bought the product and it's no time now for buyer's remorse.
The great irony here is that the election system has generally worked much better than the framers envisioned, usually producing decisive and unchallengeable results. The Y2K election that installed George W. Bush in the presidency is, of course, one of a handful of notable exceptions to this rule. The last election, however, was not. An informed electorate made its choice, and for better or worse, we are stuck with the consequences.
So be it.

Michael J. Gerhardt, Professor of Law and Director of the Center on Legislative Studies, University of North Carolina Law School
? Those urging an impeachment inquiry against Bush undoubtedly consider the Downing Street memo akin to the Watergate tapes, which established President Nixon's direct involvement in obstructing justice. But any analogy to Watergate does not hold. Nor does it square with what we know about the impeachment process from the Constitution, its structure, and prior presidential impeachment attempts, including those against Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton.

First, impeachment requires proof of treason, bribery "or other high crimes or misdemeanors." "High crimes or misdemeanors" refer to breaches of the public trust and offenses against the state. While there was substantial disagreement about whether Clinton's misconduct formally qualified as an offense for which he could be properly impeached and removed from office, the case for Nixon's impeachment and removal is widely viewed as paradigmatic. His misconduct was bad, so bad that he resigned from office when it became clear that a majority of the House and at least two-thirds of the Senate were prepared, as required by the Constitution, to make it a basis for removing him from office.

? The Downing Street memo tells us nothing we did not know before its publication, and it has hardly mobilized the requisite support in the House for impeaching and in the Senate for convicting the president for misleading the nation into war.

Yet the framers never suggested impeachment and removal were appropriate to address political leaders' mistaken judgments. Indeed, the Senate's acquittal of President Andrew Johnson, by the slimmest of margins, has been understood as signifying the Senate's judgment that a president may not be removed for mistaken policy or constitutional judgments. If presidents could be removed for their mistakes, we would have a very different kind of government than the one we do have.

? The Downing Street memo does not establish Bush's bad faith. He has repeatedly denied misleading the American people. More importantly, the president's reelection was based in part on the American people's rejecting the charge that he had misled the country in the run-up to the Iraq invasion.

? The case for impeaching Bush cannot be made. Manipulating the impeachment process to undo electoral outcomes with which one disagrees is not the American way. The American way is putting your case before the American people as best you can, and accepting the results as graciously as possible.
He didn't act in bad faith. And he may be inarticulate, dim-witted, mean-spirited if not sadistic, and have little if any judgment, but Bush is the man we chose. Or close enough.

Cass Sunstein, Karl N. Llewellyn Distinguished Service Professor of Jurisprudence, Law School and Department of Political Science, University of Chicago
It is clear that those who impeached Clinton were really motivated by their obsessive disapproval of him and his presidency. At a minimum, they hoped to damage him politically, so as to weaken his presidency and the next Democratic nominee as well. They succeeded beyond their hopes. Without the impeachment, it's a good bet that Vice President Gore would have been elected in 2000.

But Democrats shouldn't return the favor. Let's suppose that Bush did mislead the country. For the last year and more, it has been argued, plausibly, that the White House "hyped" the war effort by exaggerating its information about the actual threat from Saddam Hussein. Of course this is a legitimate and quite serious political complaint. And because the complaint involves official behavior, it is at least in the general domain of the impeachable (as Clinton's misconduct was not). Nonetheless, exaggerating a foreign threat, even intentionally, is hardly a legitimate basis for impeachment.

Little is added by the Downing Street memo.

? Is the president of the United States to be impeachable because Britain's foreign secretary believed, in 2002, that Saddam was less capable of using weapons of mass destruction than Libya, North Korea or Iran? Is the president impeachable because of an interpretation of his motivations by the chief of a British intelligence agency?

? At the very worst, Bush was committed, early on and for multiple reasons, to using force to remove a brutal dictator from office, and he hyped and distorted the evidence to convince the American public of the need for imminent military action. (In my own view, by the way, Bush believed in good faith that Saddam posed a genuine threat to American security, partly because of Saddam's willingness to support terror, partly because of Saddam's own military goals.)

Compare the behavior of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in World War II, who secretly and unlawfully transferred arms - including more than 20,000 airplanes - to England. Roosevelt deceived both Congress and the American public about what he was doing. It would have been preposterous to claim that Roosevelt thereby committed an impeachable offense.

So too for Bush. In any four-year period, the nation's leader is highly likely to deceive the public on a serious matter at least once --sometimes inadvertently, sometimes for legitimate reasons, sometimes for illegitimate ones. Of course presidents should not exaggerate evidence, and it's perfectly proper to ask whether Bush got us into war under false pretenses. But there isn't anything close to a sufficient basis for impeachment.

It's obvious that the call for impeachment of Bush is impractical; it's simply a nonstarter, a publicity stunt, reality-free television. But it's also an irresponsible and even nutty idea in principle - the lunatic left imitating the lunatic right. Can we talk about something else instead?
Yeah, that really is a good idea.

Posted by Alan at 16:28 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 10 June 2005 16:51 PDT home

Thursday, 9 June 2005

Topic: Photos

Late Afternoon Light and the Strangeness of Southern California

A day away from current events – working with new photographs – and you will find forty-three of them at Late Afternoon Light and the Strangeness of Southern California in a new album.

These are from the odder places at the beach, from Wednesday, June 8, almost all after 5:30 in the afternoon, when the light starts to get long. Venice Beach and inland from Venice Beach. It can be strange out here.

A selection of these in higher resolution with more detail will appear in Just Above Sunset, the parent site to this web log, on Sunday. These in this album were snapped on the way to the media softball game Bob Patterson insisted we cover, and we did, here. Newspaper and magazine writers, even for the major publications, don't do softball well, but Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, got an invitation and, since Montparnasse in Paris is a long way from Venice Beach, we covered the event for him. The photos are amusing.

But the really odd stuff?

Jonathon Borofsky's "Ballerina Clown" (1989) - the Renaissance Building at Rose and Main


































Giant Binoculars 1985-1991, Claus Oldenburg ? Giant binocular shape incorporated into the Chiat/Day Building - architect Frank Gehry ? and the interior of the binoculars forms a conference room. Main Street, Venice (five shots in the ablum)

























Malibu as seen from Venice Beach










Looking the other way? Sailboats...


Posted by Alan at 18:27 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 9 June 2005 18:35 PDT home

Wednesday, 8 June 2005

Topic: The Media

"If you make the headline big enough…"

Charles Foster Kane's famous journalism advice comes to mind when a columnist is assigned to write up a report about a Los Angeles softball game for a colleague in Paris, when the event turns out to be less than insignificant. If we dash off a story and post it, then it will be a part of the continuing unfolding saga of the growth of Internet journalism, just because it appears.

It all started a few days previously when one of the Paris based Just Above Sunset correspondents, Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, received an e-mail invitation to participate in a softball game being held by mediabistro.com in Venice California. He, in turn, forwarded the information to the Los Angeles office, so that either or both of the LA based JAS staff members could act as Ric's proxy at the event for industry insiders.

Journalists are more prone to act as observers than as participants, so the writer and photographer considered the event more of an assignment than an opportunity to display softball talent. Perhaps that personality trait among those who toil as journalists also explains why many of the folks who expressed an interest in the event failed to show up at the listed start time.

After some confusion as to which of the baseball fields was the one for this particular group was resolved, a MediaBistro representative began to get waivers signed and encourage some warm up batting practice and tossing the ball around the infield.

Covering the event as if it were a legitimate story was an absurd prospect, so while the JAS lensman snapped some images, the writer chatted with members of the slowly growing group. A columnist for the Los Angeles Times, a fellow with a New York Times baseball shirt, and a young man who had covered the recent Big Lebowski event in Downey for Giant magazine were among the dozen or so folks who showed up.

Drinks at a location in Santa Monica were an added incentive and perhaps if the JAS news team had not been under intense deadline pressure (yeah, right!) and stayed longer, there would be a much longer and more detailed roster of the various folks who shared their story with the inquiring Internet writer.

Dividing the ten participants into two competing teams seemed to be a logistics challenge of insurmountable proportions. The temperature was falling and a wind was sending the audience scurrying for their jackets, when the JAS photographer, who also happens to be the publication's beloved editor and publisher, noted that the hour was getting late and that he wanted to get back to our respective cubicles so that the story could be pumped out and the back shop could have ample time to prepare it without going into overtime pay.

Recent Just Above Sunset assignments have included a ride in a restored B-17 (photos here, here and here), a tour of a top notch auto museum (photos here), and a walking tour of the Venice (California) canals (see this and this), but a seasoned journalism veteran knows that not every assignment can be one that will get mentioned in the writer's autobiography, so we followed our leader's signal and wrapped it up and headed for the computer.

In the old days when many journalists were part scalawags, we would have spiced up the report by adding fictional embellishments (everyone who missed the event will be hoping that some world famous media mogul in the LA area didn't show up and hand out assignments like candy) but in the current atmosphere of scrupulously factual reporting, the editor will not sanction any such disingenuous creative endeavors.

Our Paris based colleague will be glad to know that in a week where the Hollywood press covered the premieres of Batman and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, no stars turned up at the Venice ballpark and no opportunities to string the story to Time or Le Monde were missed.

The constant patrolling of Los Angeles, by the JAS news team, searching for fascinating and amusing facets of life in Hollywood, will continue.

- Bob Patterson ? Venice, California - Wednesday, June 08, 2005

__

Journalists? Do you know these people?





















































Posted by Alan at 22:02 PDT | Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 8 June 2005 22:11 PDT home


Topic: The Media

A Shift in the Wind? - How is the press doing these days?

Seymour Hersh in the current New Yorker in Watergate Days notes way back in "those days" Woodward and Bernstein "were operating in a democracy in which they were accountable to a Constitution and to a citizenry that held its leaders to a high standard of morality and integrity. That is the legacy of Watergate."

So how is the press doing these days? Does this "legacy of Watergate" live on?

Well, someone finally asked Bush about the Downing Street memo – at Tuesday's Press conference. And Bush publicly said: "The facts were not being fixed, in any shape or form at all." As you recall, the memo was the British government's notes on how to deal with what was happening in Washington in July of 2003 and contained the line - "Bush wanted to remove Saddam, though military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." At the time, we were saying we didn't want war, that we were working on a diplomatic resolution. Ah, the Brits misunderstood.

But at least someone finally asked, on June 7 – even if memo was made public on the first day in May. A bit of a gap – but there was the runaway bride and Michael Jackson to deal with.

Paul McLeary in the Columbia Journalism Review provides a review of the delay in Downing Street Memo - a Slow Fire Shows Flickers of Life -
Given the number of fluff pieces running in major newspapers and on television news, it's exasperating to watch a story that might actually be important (and there aren't many) slowly wind its way aimlessly through the media, never quite building up the head of steam necessary to burst onto front pages.

? coverage of the memo in the American media had been almost non-existent, as opposed to the British media, which was battering Tony Blair about the head with it pretty handily in the run-up to elections there.

Since then, coverage of the memo and the questions about the cooking of intelligence it raises have stayed off the front pages, despite the fact that liberal bloggers have been throwing fits on a daily basis over the lack of major media coverage.

But now something seems to have changed, however slightly, in the story of the story.
What changed? Tim Russert, interviewed Republican National Committee chief Ken Mehlman on "Meet the Press." (Discussed previously here.) And on Sunday, the new public editor of the New York Times, Byron Calame, made reference to the paper's lack of coverage of the issue. And McLeary notes that starting Tuesday -
? we've seen a relative explosion of coverage of the memo, with the New York Times and Washington Post throwing their hat into the ring. The Times ran a piece looking at Tony Blair's visit to Washington, noting that yesterday's meeting between Bush and Blair would be their first since "the disclosure last month of a memo written by a foreign policy aide to Mr. Blair in 2002 that reported ... that the White House was fixing its 'intelligence and facts' about the threat from Saddam Hussein 'around the policy' of removing him from power through military action."

Not exactly in-depth coverage, but it captures the essence of the memo well enough, and we'll take what we can get.
It will do. And if you got to McLeary's item you'll find kinks to new coverage all over the place. Not a Watergate flood of stories, but it will do.

And the jury is still considering whether Michael Jackson is or is not a pervert, so it's something to report. Filler? One newsreader's filler is another's top story.

Eric Alterman over at MSNBC notes other stirrings of a press reporting what a hunkered-down administration doesn't want reported. His list?

Bush's Unofficial Official Secrets Act: How the Justice Department Has Pushed to Criminalize The Disclosure of Non-Security Related Government Information - this is John Dean in Find Law explaining the new rules that keep information from citizens. Stuff that should be kept secret? Not exactly. Yes, that is the same John Dean from Watergate days, Nixon's personal attorney who blew the whistle (or one of the whistles) ? and he's now out here in Los Angeles doing the same sort of thing.

And the Washington Post still breaks stories ?

Details on Boeing Deal Sought
Senators Raise Questions About White House Involvement
Mike Allen - Wednesday, June 8, 2005; Page A19
Senators urged the Pentagon's inspector general yesterday to release more information about the involvement of White House officials and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in an aborted $30 billion air-tanker deal that exposed gaping holes in the government's controls on large purchases. ?
Yeah, the White House is bailing out Boeing ? whose new tanker design doesn't even meet specs - while bitching about European subsidies to Airbus. The senators ask ? and the Post has dug up embarrassing memos. Not exactly Watergate stuff, but something. Page A19 may be appropriate.

And the Post is also on this ?

New Worlds To Censor
Adam Thierer - Tuesday, June 7, 2005; Page A23
A troubling shift is underway in how lawmakers censor media in this country. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), chairmen of the Senate and House commerce committees, as well as Kevin Martin, the new head of the Federal Communications Commission, are proposing to broaden federal broadcast "indecency" regulations to cover cable and satellite television. And a separate measure recently introduced in the Senate would regulate "excessively violent" programming, not just in broadcasting but on cable and satellite service as well.
Oh, not a big issue outside the blogs ? but these guys like to shut things down. Limiting what folks can watch, or listen to, even if they pay for it, seems to part of a hard Jones these Republican right guys have. The Post is troubled. The impulse to shut down disturbing things is hard to resist, when you can.

And in USA TODAY of all places you'll find a long item on the tradition of low-level grunts being punished for military policies implemented by higher-ups who get promoted. It used to be such articles were the standard stuff of the left, and such contentions denounced as treason by the hard right. It the whole "a few bad apples" business. But when USA TODAY starts up with such stuff? Oh my!

And the New York Times offers a bit of its own investigative reporting ?

Bush Aide Softened Greenhouse Gas Links to Global Warming
Andrew C. Revkin - June 8, 2005
A White House official who once led the oil industry's fight against limits on greenhouse gases has repeatedly edited government climate reports in ways that play down links between such emissions and global warming, according to internal documents.

In handwritten notes on drafts of several reports issued in 2002 and 2003, the official, Philip A. Cooney, removed or adjusted descriptions of climate research that government scientists and their supervisors, including some senior Bush administration officials, had already approved. In many cases, the changes appeared in the final reports. ?
Yeah, so what else is new? But they dug it up.

Even the conservative John Cole is upset - "Sometimes I wake up and read the papers and just want to scream."

Ah. Good. His reaction? ? "Do they think this is a school project, and all they have to do is fool the teacher and climate change won't be an issue? I don't want junk science or unfounded claims going forward, either, but it is becoming pretty clear to me that faith-based governance simply means that anything you don't like or anything that might require a change in your policy position should be ignored or labeled 'junk science.'"

Maybe the press is doing its job.

Hey, even in Albany, New York the press is doing its job, as Steve Lovelady notes here -
Our attention has been called to a substantive Albany Times-Union piece by reporter Brendan Lyons, in which retired FBI agent Paul Daly reveals that, in a sense, Deep Throat was a clandestine group of four baritones -- not just W. Mark Felt, but also three of his deputies: Richard Long, chief of the FBI's white-collar crimes section during Watergate; Robert G. Kunkel, agent-in-charge of the Washington field office, which led the Watergate investigation; and Charles Bates, who was assistant director of the FBI's criminal investigative division.

The four saw themselves, the Times-Union notes, not as disgruntled mavericks, but as a clandestine group in a high-stakes fight to the death with a White House that was itself trying desperately to rein in the FBI's Watergate investigation. The four met regularly to compare notes and to decide what new tidbits to feed out to the public -- with Bob Woodward and the Washington Post selected as their weapon of choice -- so as to illustrate just how deep the rot ran.

Looked at this way, the enterprise takes on a new light, one neither noble nor venal. What it was, was office politics at a very high level, employed by powerful bureaucrats intent upon preserving not just their ongoing investigation but also their agency's very independence.

? Kudos to Lyons and the Times-Union for a nuanced piece of reporting that goes well beyond just rehashing everyone's favorite movie. And for finding a local source who puts a new perspective on one of the biggest national stories of the past half-century.
Yep ? and cool on two levels. Felt wasn't alone ? there were more like him, whatever their motivations, and even in Albany you get good reporting. Of course Steve Lovelady adds that Harry Rosenfeld, editor-at-large and columnist for the Times-Union, was city editor of the Washington Post in the early 1970's and was in charge of its day-to-day Watergate coverage. Not only the legacy lives on, so do the players.

So what is the administration to do if the press does its job?

Here's an idea.

Torture's Part of the Territory
Naomi Klein, Los Angeles Times, June 7, 2005

She sets the scene -
Brace yourself for a flood of gruesome new torture snapshots. Last week, a federal judge ordered the Defense Department to release dozens of additional photographs and videotapes depicting prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib.

The photographs will elicit what has become a predictable response: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld will claim to be shocked and will assure us that action is already being taken to prevent such abuses from happening again. But imagine, for a moment, if events followed a different script. Imagine if Rumsfeld responded like Col. Mathieu in "Battle of Algiers," Gillo Pontecorvo's famed 1965 film about the National Liberation Front's attempt to liberate Algeria from French colonial rule. In one of the film's key scenes, Mathieu finds himself in a situation familiar to top officials in the Bush administration: He is being grilled by a room filled with journalists about allegations that French paratroopers are torturing Algerian prisoners.

Based on real-life French commander Gen. Jacques Massus, Mathieu neither denies the abuse nor claims that those responsible will be punished. Instead, he flips the tables on the scandalized reporters, most of whom work for newspapers that overwhelmingly support France's continued occupation of Algeria. Torture "isn't the problem," he says calmly. "The problem is the FLN wants to throw us out of Algeria and we want to stay?. It's my turn to ask a question. Should France stay in Algeria? If your answer is still yes, then you must accept all the consequences."

His point, as relevant in Iraq today as it was in Algeria in 1957, is that there is no nice, humanitarian way to occupy a nation against the will of its people. Those who support such an occupation don't have the right to morally separate themselves from the brutality it requires. ?
Her suggestion? Well, you could tell it like it is.
When the next batch of photographs from Abu Ghraib appear, many Americans will be morally outraged, and rightly so. But perhaps some brave official will take a lesson from Col. Mathieu and dare to turn the tables: Should the United States stay in Iraq? If your answer is still yes, then you must accept all the consequences.
Now there's an idea. Don't do the whole "a few bad apples" tap dance. Just say, "Yeah, well, this is what we're doing, and if you have a problem with it write your damned congressman, or vote in an election now and then."

Oh, we'll get the tap dance.

And we will too get the old "the press is evil" number as Tom Tomorrow, the political cartoonist with the funny pseudonym, explains here -
? one of the major debate strategies of the right is to find any inconsistency in a story and use it to discredit the entire story. Given the inherent fallibility of human beings, this is a pretty easy task - there's always going to be some detail that somebody got wrong, some mistaken detail in an otherwise true story. Or, at the very least, there will be an inexact turn of phrase or metaphor (a word like "gulag", say) which can be seized upon to channel attention away from the issue itself.
Go read his example of the current debate over how many "detainees" in our chain of hold-'em-without-charges facilities died under our very focused questioning. Was it two, thirty-seven, one hundred? Is the press accurate? The number one hundred is floating around.
? but since the Army itself "only" officially acknowledges 37 deaths, then, well, clearly the entire thing is just 'nother fiction promulgated by the Lying Liberal Media. And the righties can go back to pretending that the worst allegation of abuse anyone anywhere has made was about Korans in toilets. Oh, and that one night at Abu Ghraib when everyone took those photos, but the guilty have been punished and we've put all that behind us now. Next subject please.
Heck, it works. Or it has worked so far.

But maybe there is a change in the air.

Posted by Alan at 15:34 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 8 June 2005 15:48 PDT home

Tuesday, 7 June 2005

Topic: Selling the War

Clueless –

Some of us old folks remember the when we were young we played a board game named "Clue." Is that still around? Are board games still around? The game was a murder-mystery thing, and you got to say things like "it was it Colonel Mustard in the conservatory with the candlestick." Then you found out you were wrong. There was a movie based on the game - a bit of fluff, although maybe the last time Leslie Ann Warren ever looked sexy.

Anyway, that’s the gimmick of this summary of how we got to where we are in this Iraq business -

President Bush, With the Candlestick...
Robert Parry, Consortium News, June 7, 2005

The contention: "The clues are falling into place, pointing to the incontrovertible judgment that George W. Bush willfully misled the United States into invading Iraq, in part, by eliminating the possibility of the peaceful solution that he pretended to want."

Yeah. So?

Well, sometimes pulling all the clues together in one place helps solve some mysteries. So the following might be useful in that sort of way.

And what should we consider?

Clue One:
The latest piece of the puzzle was reported by Charles J. Hanley of the Associated Press in an article on June 4 describing how Bush’s Undersecretary of State John Bolton orchestrated the ouster of global arms control official Jose Bustani in early 2002 because Bustani’s Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons [OPCW] was making progress toward getting arms inspectors back into Iraq. If Bustani had succeeded in gaining Iraq’s compliance with international inspection demands, Bush would have been denied his chief rationale for war, even before U.S. military divisions were deployed to the Persian Gulf. Bustani had made himself an obstacle to war, so he had to go.
The Hanley item is here - and the whole thing was Bolton’s employment for a bit. We said Bustani had to go because he was corrupt – some of us remember that. Some of us were puzzled at the time. And Hanley notes that if Bustani’s Iraq plan had worked out in 2002, "Bustani’s inspectors would have found nothing, because Iraq’s chemical weapons were destroyed in the early 1990s. That would have undercut the U.S. rationale for war." Ah, a back-story.

Clue Two: The Downing Street memo – discussed in the press in the UK and a bit on this side of the pond. Covered in these pages many times, bit mainly here on 8 May and here on 29 May. Enough said.

Clues Three and Four: War Hysteria and Blind Journalists
In November 2002, Hussein let UN inspectors back into Iraq where they searched dozens of sites ? including some suggested by U.S. intelligence ? but found no WMD. The Bush administration reacted to the negative WMD findings by instigating war hysteria inside the United States. The UN inspectors were ridiculed as incompetent; Bush?s domestic critics were called traitors; European allies urging patience were denounced as the "axis of weasels"; French wine was poured into gutters; and "French fries" were renamed "Freedom fries" in flag-waving diners across America.

As Bush?s followers were lusting for war in March 2003, however, UN inspectors were citing good cooperation from the Iraqis as the search for WMD continued. The inspectors? greater obstacle soon became Bush?s insistence on an invasion.

? Despite the UN inspectors? negative WMD findings and Bush?s failure to win a war resolution from the UN Security Council, Bush launched the invasion on March 19, 2003. After three weeks of fighting, U.S.-led forces toppled Hussein?s government and Bush?s popularity ratings soared.
Yep. We remember that. But then things went sour and there were no WMD and so on ? and the explaining got even stranger. As discussed before here, on July 14, 2003 Bush said this about Hussein, "we gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn?t let them in. And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power."

What? He wouldn?t let them in? He did. Oh well.

Parry reminds us too that on Jan. 27, 2004, Bush said, "We went to the United Nations, of course, and got an overwhelming resolution ? 1441 ? unanimous resolution, that said to Saddam, you must disclose and destroy your weapons programs, which obviously meant the world felt he had such programs. He chose defiance. It was his choice to make, and he did not let us in."

But, but, but?.

Journalists played along. Bush got the facts wrong -to put it bluntly either he lied or he was on another planet - but it was unpatriotic to point that out, or something ?
? ABC?s veteran newsman Ted Koppel fell for the administration?s spin, using it to explain why he ? Koppel ? thought the invasion was justified. "It did not make logical sense that Saddam Hussein, whose armies had been defeated once before by the United States and the Coalition, would be prepared to lose control over his country if all he had to do was say, ?All right, UN, come on in, check it out," Koppel said in a July 2004 interview with Amy Goodman, host of "Democracy Now."

As Koppel obviously was aware, Hussein had told the UN to "come on in, check it out," but even prominent journalists were ready to put on blinders.

Not even disclosures by administration insiders seemed to matter. When former Treasury Secretary Paul O?Neill and ex-counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke described Bush?s early obsession with invading Iraq, Bush?s defenders fended off the accounts by questioning the motives of the witnesses. O?Neill and Clarke must be bitter or jealous or delusional or simply liars, the Bush defenders said.
Ah, those were the days! Now its only Fox News and a few others.

Clue Five: The Presidential Debates

What?s to say? "I went there [the United Nations] hoping that once and for all the free world would act in concert to get Saddam Hussein to listen to our demands. They [the Security Council] passed a resolution that said disclose, disarm or face serious consequences. I believe when an international body speaks, it must mean what it says. But Saddam Hussein had no intention of disarming. Why should he? He had 16 other resolutions and nothing took place. As a matter of fact, my opponent talks about inspectors. The facts are that he [Hussein] was systematically deceiving the inspectors. That wasn?t going to work. That?s kind of a pre-Sept. 10 mentality, the hope that somehow resolutions and failed inspections would make this world a more peaceful place." How could Kerry respond?

Back to the game of "Clue" ? Parry?s conceit -
Observing the behavior of the national news media over the past three years has been like watching incompetent players in the mystery game "Clue" as they visit all the rooms and ask about all the suspects and weapons, but still insist on guessing at combinations that are transparently incorrect.

Indeed, the major U.S. news outlets appeared to have been so cowed by the Bush White House that they only grudgingly reported on the Downing Street Memo last month ? and then only after the leaked document had become a cause celebre in Great Britain and on the Internet.

So far, there?s also been next to no bounce on the AP?s reporting about the real motive behind Bustani?s ouster in April 2002. That story would seem to be the final clue ? if one were needed ? to prove that Bush has consistently lied about how and why the United States went to war in Iraq.

At this point, a trickier question might be why the mainstream U.S. news media has performed so badly for so long.

To some extent, the news media?s reluctance to solve the Mystery of Bush?s Iraq War Lies may be explained by a well-founded fear of retaliation from Bush?s powerful defense apparatus ? from the Wall Street Journal?s editorial page to the screamers on Fox News and right-wing talk radio.
Oh, more press bashing. They we just reporting what Bush was saying. It is not their job to say what he is saying does not match any known facts. That?s our job, or something.

But Parry suggests another motive, other than fear of retaliation - a fear of the logical consequence that would follow a conclusion that Bush willfully deceived the American people into this war. He says if that conclusion were to be accepted as true, it would force mainstream editors into a tough decision about whether they should join the supposedly fringe position advocating Bush?s impeachment.

Impeachment? He says that?s the only logical remedy for "a leader who so grievously violated the public trust and sent so many American soldiers to unnecessary deaths."

Oh, really?

Well, out the mainstream you get this -
The Downing Street Minutes are deserving, in the words of constitutional lawyer John Bonifaz, of an official "Resolution of Inquiry directing the House Judiciary Committee to launch a formal investigation into whether sufficient grounds exist for the House of Representatives to exercise its constitutional power to impeach George W. Bush, President of the United States."

Bonifaz, who two years ago took the Bush Administration to court on behalf of a coalition of US soldiers, parents of soldiers and twelve Members of Congress (including John Conyers Jr., Dennis Kucinich, Jesse Jackson Jr., Jim McDermott, Jose Serrano, Sheila Jackson Lee) to challenge the constitutionality of the Iraq war, adds:

"The question must now be asked, with the release of the Downing Street Memo, whether the President has committed impeachable offenses. Is it a High Crime to engage in a conspiracy to deceive and mislead the United States Congress and the American people about the basis for taking the nation into a war? Is it a High Crime to manipulate intelligence so as to allege falsely a national security threat posed to the United States as a means of trying to justify a war against another nation based on 'preemptive' purposes? Is it a High Crime to commit a felony via the submission of an official report to the United States Congress falsifying the reasons for launching military action?"

As in previous investigations of "High Crimes and Misdemeanors," such a "Resolution of Inquiry is the appropriate first step in launching this investigation." ?
John Bonifaz? Not a household name.

Also note that on the June 5 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, moderator Tim Russert questioned Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman about the Downing Street memo, and Russert was told the "findings" of this Downing Street Memo "have been totally discredited by everyone who's looked at it," including the 9-11 Commission and the Senate. Not true unless time sometimes runs backward and there's an alternative universe (details here) - but what are you going to do? Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair Tuesday afternoon publicly said: "The facts were not being fixed, in any shape or form at all."

Who are you going to trust?

And here's a useful list of Bush saying we didn't want to go to war at all. You can read the memo or trust what they said, side by side outside the White House.

After the Downing Street Memo: The Case for Impeachment Builds.

No. Impeachment is a non-starter.

Keith Olbermann over at MSNBC on "Countdown" explains why -
Last Wednesday, Senator John Kerry told the editorial board of the newspaper in New Bedford, Massachusetts, the "Standard-Times," that he was amazed at the lack of American media coverage of the so-called "Downing Street Memo" - notes of a July, 2002 British cabinet meeting that suggested the U.S. was making all the evidence fit a pre-planned invasion of Iraq.

The words of the Democrats' 2004 standard-bearer?: "When I go back (to Washington) on Monday, I am going to raise the issue. I think (the memo) is a stunning, unbelievably simple and understandable statement of the truth..."

Now, let's play Blogosphere-Telephone with that statement.

By Saturday, those quotes, and the original New Bedford story, had been transmuted by a series of foreign and conservative websites into an article that included the line: "Failed presidential candidate Kerry advised that he will begin the presentation of his case for President Bush's impeachment to Congress, on Monday."
Kerry never said that but it was all over the web - Kerry was going to call for the impeachment of President Bush! Olbermann reports getting lots from the right - "You're covering up Kerry's traitorous comment!" ? and lots from the left ? "Corporate lapdog! Why didn't you cover this? Do your job!"

Yeah, well, Olbermann called Kerry's office -
The Senator's office told "Countdown" last night that he never said anything about impeachment and asked our reporter where he'd read that line. The answer was: the websites of NewsMax and Al-Jazeera.

The story originated - on Al-Jazeera.

The New Bedford newspaper story, exactly 746 words long, literally does not include the words impeach, or impeachment.

If this detail is still relevant in these super-heated political times, the story is not true. But at places as disparate as Al-Jazeera and NewsMax, they wanted it to be.
Well, you can't always get what you want.

NewsMax, of course, is the conservative news service funded by Richard Mellon Scaife (Mellon Bank was founded in Pittsburgh by his family), and mentioned in this commentary from May 26, 2003 ? the first item in the first issue of Just Above Sunset. Those guys have their agenda. So does Al-Jazeera.

So all the "clues" lead up to impeachment. And Kerry won't go there, but for good reason.

Why? With the president's party in firm control both houses of congress and most of the judiciary, well, what's the point? You'd ruin yourself, and achieve nothing.

Fight the battles where you, maybe, could win. Winning a game of "Clue" is winning nothing.

Posted by Alan at 19:32 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 8 June 2005 09:08 PDT home

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