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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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Sunday, 12 June 2005

Topic: For policy wonks...

But Wait! There's more!

In these pages there has been much, perhaps too much, on that Downing Street memo, revealed May 1 by the Times of London (UK, not London, Ontario). As early as July 2002 we were "fixing" the intelligence to support the predetermined policy – we had decided to go to war in Iraq and remove that government and occupy that country, even though we said we weren't set on doing that at all.

Yeah, yeah. So?

Sunday morning, June 12, we get two more memos. Yep, two. Even worse.

Bob Patterson emailed me about the first Saturday evening, but I was busy assembling the weekly online magazine and couldn't respond.

Okay, now that Just Above Sunset has been put to bed, as they say in the newspaper world, what is going on here?

The Times of London got their hot little hands on another memo, actually a briefing paper, prepared for Prime Minister Blair in July 2002 – saying Blair had, in April, agreed to join in with us in a war to take over Iraq, so, as the memo suggests, it might be wise to figure out some way to make it legal, somehow. Geez.

Someone is leaking to the Times - and no doubt has an agenda. A British Deep Throat who has a grudge?

The Times says, among other things, this -
The briefing paper, for participants at a meeting of Blair's inner circle on July 23, 2002, said that since regime change was illegal it was "necessary to create the conditions" which would make it legal.

... "US plans assume, as a minimum, the use of British bases in Cyprus and Diego Garcia," the briefing paper warned. This meant that issues of legality "would arise virtually whatever option ministers choose with regard to UK participation".

... The document said the only way the allies could justify military action was to place Saddam Hussein in a position where he ignored or rejected a United Nations ultimatum ordering him to co-operate with the weapons inspectors. But it warned this would be difficult.
Difficult? Yep. He kept letting the inspectors have more and more access.

Yes, yes – we all know Bush said, on July 14, 2003, with the Secretary General of the UN standing beside him, in the Rose Garden, "we gave him [Saddam Hussein] a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in." What? As Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, said back them - "Technically, he's obviously wrong, UN inspectors did obviously go in and then leave shortly before the bombing started. On the other hand, he was probably thinking of that time before the UN resolution when Iraq actually was refusing to allow the inspectors in, at least unconditionally."

Maybe. Now it seems it was part of a general approach worked out with the Brits a year earlier. You just have to make this seem legal, somehow. The "conditions" on the inspectors made the war perfectly legal. Given we knew, or a fact, that there were WMD there – tons of stuff as we "proved" - any restrictions or conditions Iraq wanted to discuss were exactly the same as not letting anyone from anywhere see anything at all. Same difference.

Whatever. No one cares.

As for the other memo, that's from the Washington Post, and it's also from the summer of 2002. Same deal. Different document.

But this one speaks not to motive, but to competence -
A briefing paper prepared for British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his top advisers eight months before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq concluded that the U.S. military was not preparing adequately for what the British memo predicted would be a "protracted and costly" postwar occupation of that country.

The eight-page memo, written in advance of a July 23, 2002, Downing Street meeting on Iraq, provides new insights into how senior British officials saw a Bush administration decision to go to war as inevitable, and realized more clearly than their American counterparts the potential for the post-invasion instability that continues to plague Iraq.

In its introduction, the memo "Iraq: Conditions for Military Action" notes that U.S. "military planning for action against Iraq is proceeding apace," but adds that "little thought" has been given to, among other things, "the aftermath and how to shape it."

… Saying that "we need to be sure that the outcome of the military action would match our objective," the memo's authors point out, "A post-war occupation of Iraq could lead to a protracted and costly nation-building exercise." The authors add, "As already made clear, the U.S. military plans are virtually silent on this point. Washington could look to us to share a disproportionate share of the burden."
The US military plans are virtually silent on this point…. No kidding. Well, we're working on it now.

Whatever. No one cares. We'll get it fixed.

Over at the Washington Monthly Kevin Drum explains -
One of the reasons the previous Downing Street Memo hasn't gotten much traction — and the reason these new memos will probably get limited attention as well — is that I don't think anyone really finds any of this a surprise. After all, previous evidence has already made it clear that George Bush was intent on war against Iraq almost immediately following 9/11. It was the first thing on Donald Rumsfeld's mind on 9/11 itself, and Dick Clarke has testified that hours later Bush himself was more eager to go after Iraq than Afghanistan — although the Iraq plan was subsequently delayed due to pressure from both Tony Blair as well as more levelheaded Bush staffers. Even so, by early 2002, with Osama bin Laden still on the loose, intelligence assets and special forces were already being moved out of Afghanistan and into the Iraqi theater.

By April it was clear to the British that war was inevitable, and in July they were discussing a strategy to use the UN as a cassus belli. In September Bush went to the UN as planned, and White House chief of staff Andy Card explained the timing with his famous statement that "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August." Two months later, Saddam Hussein allowed UN inspectors into the country, thus ruining the hoped for legal justification, and three months after that the inspectors still had uncovered no serious violations. Nonetheless, war commenced in March 2003.

Was the Iraq war a foregone conclusion by early 2002? Of course it was. These new memos provide further evidence of that, but I'm not sure there's anyone who really doubted it in the first place.
If you go to the Drum item he links to all the evidence.

Note: "Saddam Hussein allowed UN inspectors into the country, thus ruining the hoped for legal justification, and three months after that the inspectors still had uncovered no serious violations. Nonetheless, war commenced in March 2003."

It was all pretty obvious. And it doesn't matter.

Atrios disagrees -
Look, this is just bullshit. There are two sets of people here. One consists of inside the beltways types and assorted news junkies and the other consists of The Amerkin Public. The former knew the Iraq war was a foregone conclusion by early 2002, but didn't bother to tell the Amerkin Public. They still haven't. I knew the dance with the UN was bullshit and I tried to point it out, but my blog is not all-powerful. The American press did not bother to tell people. And, now, they still don't want to bother to tell people.

This isn't about attacking Drum, I've fallen into this trap before myself. Everyone should've known this in 2002. But, they didn't.

It's just like Russert calling the Downing Street Memo the "famous" Downing Street Memo? Famous to whom? To all the fuckers who didn't give a shit enough in 2002 to tell us what was obvious to anyone who was paying attention.
Maybe. But perhaps everyone, paying attention or not, knew we were going to take out Iraq and its leader, and just liked the idea – thinking knocking a few heads and killing a few foreigners would fell pretty good just about then.

How about this from "Adventus"?
… it isn't that people "didn't know." Frankly, they didn't care. They were all too willing to buy the line that Iraq was a threat, and behind 9/11, because it gave them something to use the military against. Armies are tools, at least in America. In Switzerland the army is a purely defensive proposition, but in America, we have to trot it out once in a while to be sure we can still scare people. Or just to throw our weight around.

It's not that people didn't "know." They didn't care. A military excursion, in the words of one Vietnam era general, presents the opportunity for a "pleasant outing for the troops." Americans like that idea.

When it turns into a bloody bog and men are dying by the hundreds, then we don't like it anymore. Twain wrote about it. The Civil War was all about that. Korea and Vietnam were more of the same. Why should the invasion of Iraq be any different?

The frightening truth is, Bush is the nation's Id. This is why the people continually respond to him, rather than get disgusted with him. But the Id can only sustain a response for so long, before the ego, and finally the superego, are disgusted and reassert control. In the Roman Empire, they called Bush's position that of "dictator." It was a special office created solely to consolidate all Roman military power under one person, who could rule without check and act for the defense of the Empire. But once the threat had receded, the dictator's office was dissolved, and power returned to the Senate. The concept is simple: when there is a serious threat, you need decisive action. Once the threat is gone, the need for action returns to more consultative hands. We may be heading in that direction again, but make no mistake: the American people will always appoint a "dictator" when they feel threatened, or just feel the need to be "dictator" to the world, themselves.
Oh, that's way too deep.

I'll not think about it. I need to grab the Nikon and walk four blocks down the street and check out this -

Hilton Grand Marshal in Gay Pride Parade
WEST HOLLYWOOD (CNS) — Paris Hilton will be the grand marshal in today's gay pride parade in West Hollywood, where about 300,000 are expected to line Santa Monica Boulevard as 35th annual event steps off.

Though some questioned the selection of Hilton, known for her heterosexual exploits, to represent gays, the 24 year-old model and reality TV star appeared enthusiastic last night when she made a brief appearance at the two- day Los Angeles Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual & Transgender Pride Festival.

"I love the gay community, I love you guys, I love your style," she gushed to the gregarious crowd. "You're hot, you're sexy."

… "I just don't know what anybody was thinking of. My jaw dropped when I heard it," Dan Berkowitz, a member of the West Hollywood Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board, told the West Hollywood Independent. "I'm sure she is a very nice girl and her mother is a very nice woman, but what they have to do with gay pride in West Hollywood or anywhere else is utterly beyond me."

Rodney Scott, board president of Christopher Street West, a Los Angeles- based volunteer group which organizes the festival, told the Independent that Paris Hilton would soon show her support and help raise awareness on gay and lesbian issues, such as same-sex marriage and adoptions.

"Paris has the opportunity to touch and communicate to a generation of people that I, as a 40 year-old man, won't be able to talk to," Scott told the Independent. "She has a fan base and audience base. When she talks about issues pertaining to our community, I believe it will have significant impact."

"If she was a lesbian, I think a lot of people would be happy," a woman at the festival yesterday said. Today's parade is expected to draw about 300,000 people. It begins on Santa Monica Boulevard at Crescent Heights Boulevard and goes to La Peer Drive.
Santa Monica Boulevard at Crescent Heights Boulevard down the hill three blocks, and right one block. I can do that.

As for the war and how we got there? What is there to do now?

I'll go for a walk.

Posted by Alan at 10:00 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 12 June 2005 10:16 PDT home


Topic: Announcements

Second Site: "But Wait! There's More!"

The new edition of Just Above Sunset, the weekly parent site to this web log, was posted just before midnight last night, Pacific Time. This is Volume 3, Number 24 - for the week of June 12, 2005

Can George Bush be impeached? In the in-depth feature this week find out, and note carefully what one of our own contributors has to say, an attorney who studied constitutional law under Peter Rodino, the man who chaired the impeachment committee in the Nixon case. Other current event topics touch on the fellows rewriting history - Nixon was a hero and anyone who says otherwise is a bad Jew, or something - and on the nationwide discussion of class, and on the medical marijuana ruling, and on how the press is doing, and on much more, including Bush and Rimbaud (see Language Notes). These are extended versions of what first appeared here.

In addition we have two "on the scene" reports, a media event and a report from Erotica LA. And Bob Patterson is back, channeling Raymond Chandler in one column and asking rather interesting questions in the other.

Features? Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, reports the sad story of a big change in Paris, with photos. There's a bit too about the book controversy - which are the most dangerous books of the last century? And in honor of the birthday of William Butler Yeats, the quotes are from him.

Extensive photo sections this week - for those of you elsewhere, surreal beach shots, and even more of them in a new photo album you can call up separately.

Check it out….

Current Events ________________

Revising the Past: Where Have All the Good Men (from Newark) Gone?
Chasing the Zeitgeist: "Are there no prisons, are there no poor houses?"
Jurisprudence: Gonzales v. Raich, case no. 03-1454
Press Notes: A Shift in the Wind?
Language Notes: Worlds Apart
Who We Are: Decline and Fall
Short Shot: Dispatches from Cincinnati

Speculation ________________

Clueless: The Evidence Mounts, and There's Nothing You Can Do With It
Impeachment: Fantasy of the Week (or of the Weak)

Reporting from the Scene ________________

Erotica LA: Freedom of speech is so American!
Sporting LA: "If you make the headline big enough…"
Click here to go directly there: < >

Bob Patterson ________________

Book Wrangler: Gumshoes - The Search For The Next Great Mystery
WLJ Weekly: from the desk of the World's Laziest Journalist - "Wet the ropes!"

Features ________________

Our Man in Paris: Taps for Samaritaine (with new photos from Paris)
Mind Games: Dangerous Books and Mission Statements
Quotes: William Butler Yeats - born June 13, 1865

Beach Photography ________________

At the Edge: Surf and Sand and More
Color Studies: Long Late Light, and a Pink Church Reconceptualized
Botanicals: Rose Avenue in Venice Beach
Public Art: Claus Oldenburg, Frank Gehry and Jonathan Borofsky

And the link to the new photo album is in the left column on this page.

Ah, California….



Posted by Alan at 08:39 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 12 June 2005 08:40 PDT home

Saturday, 11 June 2005

Topic: World View

Language Notes: Worlds Apart

Last weekend, with Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, there was much on Dominique de Villepin (as I call him, the French anti – John Bolton) in Fallout from the French Kiss of Death and two other items. One suspects this wasn't widely read, even with Ric's amusing editorial cartoon from Paris. No one much on this side of the world, and particularly out here in Hollywood, really follows French politics, except for the few local French expatriates. And the circulation of the online magazine is small – edging up to 12,000 unique logons a month, with maybe a tenth of those from Western Europe. Ah, well. It is fun to write about such things, even if the readers are few and far between.

This week what is mentioned below is about far larger implications. It is about what we used to call different mindsets – really, about language and its uses. Our president, this Bush fellow, has not much use for language – as you see in the Bushisms that appear in these pages now and then. "It's in our country's interests to find those who would do harm to us and get them out of harm's way." - George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., April 28, 2005

You get the idea.

That is why it might be wise, or something, to consider this –

When Rimbaud meets Rambo
The new French Prime Minister's grandiose poetic style won't cut much ice with the White House action men
Ben MacIntyre – The Times of London (UK) - June 04, 2005

Who is this Rimbaud person? Doesn't matter. Read this and you'll get the general idea.

The sort of guys that run our government? – "At a NATO summit in Prague, Donald Rumsfeld was once forced to sit though a performance of modern dance and poetry. Asked for his reaction afterwards, he shrugged: 'I'm from Chicago.'"

On the other side? - "For George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld words are blunt instruments, used to convey meaning, not feeling. Actions speak louder. The President of France, by contrast, rocked by the rejection of the EU constitution, has attempted to shore up his Government by appointing a poet as his Prime Minister, a patrician intellectual in the French romantic mould, a true believer in the transcendental and redemptive power of words."

The appointment of Dominique de Villepin was intended to send the message that French exceptionalism is alive and well? That's what I was said in these pages here last weekend.

It's a cultural war.

So what does MacIntyre have to add?
"A SINGLE VERSE by Rimbaud," writes Dominique de Villepin, the new French Prime Minister, "shines like a powder trail on a day's horizon. It sets it ablaze all at once, explodes all limits, draws the eyes to other heavens." Here is a rather different observation, uttered by George Bush Sr in 1998, that might stand as a motto for his dynasty: "I can't do poetry."
Of course not.

As for the poetic language of Dominique de Villepin -
He speaks in a grandiloquent style that delights French audiences, but baffles most English-speakers. His high-flown rhetoric before the United Nations in the build-up to the Iraq war ("We are the guardians of an ideal") marked him as the political and cultural antithesis to the US, and his appointment is intended to send the message that French exceptionalism is alive and well.
And on the divide?
… poetry does not stir the soul of President Bush, unless you count the Bible and George Jones singing A Good Year for the Roses.

To the Anglo-Saxon mind there is something dodgy, even dangerous, in the man who rules the world by day and writes verses by night. As W.H. Auden wrote: "All poets adore explosions, thunderstorms, tornados, conflagrations, ruins, scenes of spectacular carnage. The poetic imagination is not at all a desirable quality in a statesman." Indeed, the precedents are not happy ones, for there is a peculiar link between frustrated poetic ambition and tyranny: Hitler, Goebbels, Stalin, Castro, Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh all wrote poetry. Radovan Karadzic, fugitive former leader of the Bosnian Serbs, once won the Russian Writers' Union Mikhail Sholokhov Prize for his poems. On the whole, you do not want a poet at the helm.
No, someone inarticulate is, perhaps, safer.

And the conclusion is this – that the appointment of Dominique de Villepin "is certain to increase the accusations of pretentiousness from the American side, and philistinism from the French. The chasm has never been wider, or more in need of a bridge. America's public image could benefit from a sense of imaginative wonder, a little more Rimbaud and a lot less Rambo."

I don't think that is the public image we want to project. In fact, this appeared June 7 and explains a lot.

Bush urged: 'Never apologize' to Muslims
Administration officials reportedly inspired by classic John Wayne movie
Some members of the Bush administration have taken a cue from a classic John Wayne Western and are advising their boss to take the film's advice – "Never apologize" – when dealing with Muslims, reports geopolitical analyst Jack Wheeler.

In a column on his intelligence website, To the Point, Wheeler explains Wayne's "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon," made in 1948, though lesser known than many of the star's films, includes what's been called one of the top 100 movie quotes of all time.

Wayne's character, Capt. Nathan Brittles, who is facing an Indian attack, advises a junior officer: "Never apologize, son. It's a sign of weakness."

It's that attitude that some employees of the Pentagon, State Department and White House are urging President Bush to take when dealing with charges of Quran desecration and other allegations from radical Muslims. They've even sent a DVD copy of the film to the commander in chief. …
And they didn't send a copy of "Total Eclipse" (1995) - the story of Rimbaud's life in Paris with Leonardo DiCaprio as Rimbaud, David Threwlis as Verlaine and the French actress Romane Bohringer as Mathilde Maute, Verlaine's wife. The director was Agnieszka Holland, not John Ford.

A little more Rimbaud and a lot less Rambo? Not likely. Not likely at all.

Posted by Alan at 13:17 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 11 June 2005 13:26 PDT home

Friday, 10 June 2005

Topic: The Economy

Chasing the Zeitgeist: "Are there no prisons, are there no poor houses?"

The May 22 issue of Just Above Sunset was hard to assemble. The zeitgeist ("the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate" or, if you will, the spirit or "ghost" of the times, if that's what the German means) kept running away. Monday of the week I thought that week’s topic discussed everywhere would be the New York Times stirring up issues of class, but on Tuesday the Newsweek Koran story broke, and Wednesday everyone was talking about George Galloway blowing everyone away in the Senate hearing, on Thursday the talk was all of the responsibilities of the press and possible censorship, and Friday Laura Bush landed in the Middle East as probably the only person we could send there now without too much problem, and even then she had some trouble. As I said before, you can chase the zeitgeist all you want. It’s a slippery devil.

That week you could read A Touch of Class - a riff on the Times series and data tables Class in America: Shadowy Lines That Still Divide (May 15, with tables and interactive graphics here) – and by the way, in the Components of Class online thing I score in the 87th percentile (pretty classy).

In the item, Orwell came up. Lots of references came up. But a good deal of the discussion had to do with class mobility – not much of that these days – and why most of the heartland, or whatever we are now calling the fly-over part of America, those on the lower side of the economy, persist in supporting the current folks in power, who cut taxes for the rich and cut programs for those in the middle, and lower.

The whole discussion was buried by other issues that week, but in the last line there was the claim the issue would be back.

It's back.

Samantha Henig in the Columbia Journalism Review on June 5 notes that three major newspapers "decided within months, and even days, of one another to publish a major series exploring class in America."

The besides the New York Times?

- The Los Angeles Times "New Deal" series was last October (here).

- The Wall Street Journal published own "Moving Up: Challenges to the American Dream" on May 13 (here but you have to be a paid subscriber to read it). That seems to be the first installment of a series that will continue.

Henig's breakdown?
The Wall Street Journal led off its Friday the 13th sneak attack on the New York Times (newspapers love to play these Beat ya! games) with a headline (that left no doubt as to the series' premise: "As Rich-Poor Gap Widens in the U.S., Class Mobility Stalls, Those in Bottom Rung Enjoy Better Odds in Europe."

The piece, by David Wessel, effectively dismantled the idea of the American Dream with evidence that social mobility in the United States is no longer what it's cracked up to be. In fact, even "class-bound Europe" might offer more of an opportunity to scale the ranks than America. Although most Americans still cling to the idea that "their country remains a land of unbounded opportunity," as Wessel put it, leading economists and sociologists recently have accepted that not only does it matter who your daddy is, but it matters more now than it did thirty years ago.

? Two days later, the New York Times anteed up with a long, rather windy introduction to its own class series, an essay that was striking, among other things, for its lack of actual reporting. It, too, included the obligatory Benjamin Franklin reference, as well as quotes from Becker and Solon.

Once it was done clearing its throat for the entire length of its opener, the Times in subsequent parts of its series served up an avalanche of detailed, if largely anecdotal, reporting. But in the process it essentially abandoned the sort of critical analysis of class in America over the past few decades that the Journal and, earlier, the Los Angeles Times, had attempted. Instead, the Times set out to look at how class affects individuals. Not individuals in the aggregate, but rather a few very specific individuals: "a lawyer who rose out of an impoverished Kentucky hollow; an unemployed metal worker in Spokane, Wash., regretting his decision to skip college; a multimillionaire in Nantucket, Mass., musing over the cachet of his 200-foot yacht." Each day brought a new topic - health, marriage, religion, education, immigration, corporate nomads - with a new set of stories to illustrate how conceptions of class color each of those topics.
Much of the rest is a lengthy discussion of these techniques ? and worth a close reading if you are interested in how the press should or should not report ? but at least the topic is in the air again, or part of the zeitgeist.

But what was said, not how it was said, was more interesting ? and the local paper out here led the way -
? months before the New York Times and Wall Street Journal were exploring class, the Los Angeles Times was drawing some conclusions of its own - and timely ones, at that. Starting its series in the heat of election fever, the Times drew connections between the isolated rags-to-riches or riches-to-rags tales, the academic research showing stagnated social mobility, and the political implications of the two.

The first article of its series, by Peter G. Gosselin, published on October 10, 2004, called attention to a deliberate move by government leaders that began 25 years ago to rely upon and even subsidize the free market, while cutting back on government regulation and reining in social programs. The resulting economic makeover, Gosselin says, "has come at a large and largely unnoticed price: a measurable increase in the risks that Americans must bear as they provide for their families, pay for their houses, save for their retirements and grab for the good life." He questioned President Bush's campaign assertions at the time that "people are better off relying on themselves, rather than on business or government, in case of trouble" by providing both anecdotal and analytical evidence to the contrary.

Instead of just presenting individual anecdotes and relying on pathos to keep people reading, leaving the question of "but how do we fix this?" dangling unsaid, the Los Angeles Times dared not only to ask, but also to answer. ?
Why so many people less financially secure than ever before "even as the nation, by many measures, has grown far more prosperous." It was because of "a deliberate shifting of economic risks from the broad shoulders of business and government to the backs of working families."

So? Stop doing that.

In fact, the Los Angeles Times came back on May 15, the same day that the New York Times published its extensive overview of class, with an article (a special in the business section) examining the current administration policies - Bush's recommendations for Social Security, and the recent court ruling which permits "United Airlines' parent to dump its pensions on the federal government," thereby leaving "workers and their families bearing big new risks." It wasn't pretty. In other words, something is up.

Friday, June 10, in the New York Times, Paul Krugman in Losing Our Country decides to explain just what's up ? as each major newspaper on each coast is now working the issue.

Krugman?
? The middle-class society I grew up in no longer exists.

Working families have seen little if any progress over the past 30 years. Adjusted for inflation, the income of the median family doubled between 1947 and 1973. But it rose only 22 percent from 1973 to 2003, and much of that gain was the result of wives' entering the paid labor force or working longer hours, not rising wages.

Meanwhile, economic security is a thing of the past: year-to-year fluctuations in the incomes of working families are far larger than they were a generation ago. All it takes is a bit of bad luck in employment or health to plunge a family that seems solidly middle-class into poverty.

But the wealthy have done very well indeed. Since 1973 the average income of the top 1 percent of Americans has doubled, and the income of the top 0.1 percent has tripled.

Why is this happening? I'll have more to say on that another day, but for now let me just point out that middle-class America didn't emerge by accident.
So, as they said out here in Los Angeles, this is deliberate?

Well, yes (and the emphases are mine) -
Since 1980 in particular, U.S. government policies have consistently favored the wealthy at the expense of working families - and under the current administration, that favoritism has become extreme and relentless. From tax cuts that favor the rich to bankruptcy "reform" that punishes the unlucky, almost every domestic policy seems intended to accelerate our march back to the robber baron era.

It's not a pretty picture - which is why right-wing partisans try so hard to discredit anyone who tries to explain to the public what's going on.

These partisans rely in part on obfuscation: shaping, slicing and selectively presenting data in an attempt to mislead. For example, it's a plain fact that the Bush tax cuts heavily favor the rich, especially those who derive most of their income from inherited wealth. Yet this year's Economic Report of the President, in a bravura demonstration of how to lie with statistics, claimed that the cuts "increased the overall progressivity of the federal tax system."

The partisans also rely in part on scare tactics, insisting that any attempt to limit inequality would undermine economic incentives and reduce all of us to shared misery. That claim ignores the fact of U.S. economic success after World War II. It also ignores the lesson we should have learned from recent corporate scandals: sometimes the prospect of great wealth for those who succeed provides an incentive not for high performance, but for fraud.

Above all, the partisans engage in name-calling. To suggest that sustaining programs like Social Security, which protects working Americans from economic risk, should have priority over tax cuts for the rich is to practice "class warfare." To show concern over the growing inequality is to engage in the "politics of envy."

But the real reasons to worry about the explosion of inequality since the 1970's have nothing to do with envy. The fact is that working families aren't sharing in the economy's growth, and face growing economic insecurity. And there's good reason to believe that a society in which most people can reasonably be considered middle class is a better society - and more likely to be a functioning democracy - than one in which there are great extremes of wealth and poverty.

Reversing the rise in inequality and economic insecurity won't be easy: the middle-class society we have lost emerged only after the country was shaken by depression and war. But we can make a start by calling attention to the politicians who systematically make things worse in catering to their contributors. Never mind that straw man, the politics of envy. Let's try to do something about the politics of greed.
That's one angry Yale economist. But not far off the mark. As mentioned before, I have heard the same arguments from my conservative friends ? opposition to these ever-increasing tax cuts for the extremely wealthy is "class warfare" and just plain envy of those who did something with their lives, or inherited vast sums from someone in the family who once did something with their lives. Why should they support lazy people with no sense of personal responsibility. And so on and so forth?

Why?

Bob Herbert explained four days earlier in the New York Times - and cited the Los Angeles Times of all things - in The Mobility Myth -
The war that nobody talks about - the overwhelmingly one-sided class war - is being waged all across America.

Guess who's winning.

A recent front-page article in The Los Angeles Times showed that teenagers are faring poorly in a tight job market because of the fierce competition they're getting from older workers and immigrants for entry-level positions.

On the same day, in the business section, the paper reported that the chief executives at California's largest 100 companies took home a collective $1.1 billion in 2004, an increase of nearly 20 percent over the previous year. The paper contrasted that with the 2.9 percent raise that the average California worker saw last year.

The gap between the rich and everybody else in this country is fast becoming an unbridgeable chasm.?
And what do we have here ? is the right correct in sensing a vast left-wing anti-free-enterprise and union-loving media conspiracy? Are the poor revolting against their betters? (If so, they would have to account for the Wall Street Journal exploring the same topic ? but perhaps one can assume the Journal, as America's business newspaper, is worried that we might be facing a new and sudden scarcity of consumers with ready cash to buy this and that, and thus something really, really bad for corporations.)

A conspiracy? You might think so when Herbert says things like this -
?. The bottom line is that it's becoming increasingly difficult for working Americans to move up in class. The rich are freezing nearly everybody else in place, and sprinting off with the nation's bounty.

Economic mobility in the United States - the extent to which individuals and families move from one social class to another - is no higher than in Britain or France, and lower than in some Scandinavian countries. Maybe we should be studying the Scandinavian dream.

As far as the Bush administration is concerned, the gap between the rich and the rest of us is not growing fast enough.

? Many in the middle class are mortgaged to the hilt, maxed out on credit cards and fearful to the point of trembling that all they've worked for might vanish in a downsized minute.

The privileged classes, with the Bush administration's iron cloak of protection, avoid their fair share of taxes, are reluctant to pay an honest dollar for an honest day's work (the federal minimum wage is still a scandalous $5.15 an hour), refuse to fight in their nation's wars, and laugh all the way to their yachts.

The American dream was about expanding opportunities and widely shared prosperity. Now we have older people and college grads replacing people near the bottom in jobs that offer low pay, no pensions, no health insurance and no vacations.

A fellow named Mark McClellan, who was bounced out of a management position when Kaiser Aluminum closed down in Spokane, Wash., told The Times in the "Class Matters" series: "I may look middle class. But I'm not. My boat is sinking fast."
Yeah, so? "Are there no prisons, are there no poor houses?"

But the fellow who said that in the Dickens novel is not presented as the good guy for saying those words. (You could look it up.)

Times have changed since then. Actually, much said on the right, and by the administration, now sounds just like that ? and now such questions are accepted as simply urging people to accept personal responsibility, or suffer the consequences. Life is risk. Deal with it. And don't ask anyone to join you in sharing life's risks ? Americans believe in taking care of themselves.

A brief aside ? my conservative friend, as we shared a second or maybe third bottle of Tuscan wine, declared insurance, the whole design of shared risk pools for home and auto and healthcare and whatever, was just immoral. I think the idea was that every individual should be responsible for paying for what happens in life ? auto accidents, major and even catastrophic health problems and that sort of thing. If you don't have the money yourself to take care of such things, then that's your problem and no one else's, as otherwise you're just a parasite on the successful folks. Really? Ah, maybe it was the wine.

In any event, there is something afoot here with all this press.

Been chasing the zeitgeist. Finally caught something.

Posted by Alan at 20:35 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 10 June 2005 20:53 PDT home


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

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