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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Monday, 5 December 2005

Topic: The Economy

The Business of Business

Odd business news, Monday, December 5, 2005 -

This tidbit from the Washington Post, on what happens when you make a major corporation angry -
Hours after New Orleans officials announced Tuesday that they would deploy a city-owned, wireless Internet network in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, regional phone giant BellSouth Corp. withdrew an offer to donate one of its damaged buildings that would have housed new police headquarters, city officials said yesterday.

According to the officials, the head of BellSouth's Louisiana operations, Bill Oliver, angrily rescinded the offer of the building in a conversation with New Orleans homeland security director Terry Ebbert, who oversees the roughly 1,650-member police force.

City officials said BellSouth was upset about the plan to bring high-speed Internet access for free to homes and businesses to help stimulate resettlement and relocation to the devastated city.
Around the country, large telephone companies have aggressively lobbied against localities launching their own Internet networks, arguing that they amount to taxpayer-funded competition. Some states have laws prohibiting them.
There are a number of points of interest here.

Several cities have done what New Orleans is trying to do here, create a public utility actually, like the street maintenance folks filling potholes or a city-run electrical grid providing the juice to light the place, or some other such service, like a police force. Some things for the general good have, in the past, been seen as something everyone should chip in on and let the government do. On the national level one thinks of the interstate highway system, the armed forces, and on the state level roads and bridges and public schools, and prisons.

Now the current crew in power have long held that far more of such stuff should be privatized - as in home schooling is better than kids going to school in schoolrooms, and if they must go to schoolrooms, unregulated market-based private schools are better than synchronized and standards-qualified public schools (distribute vouchers for them and let the public school system wither and die, as Bill Bennett wanted when he was Education Secretary). So now we have private utilities, and for-profit prison systems here and there, and the armed services have contracted out a whole lot of what they used to do to private "security firms" - and the range of what is for everyone and should be a public thing and provided by the government, local, state or national, has gotten narrower and narrower.

Here there is an implicit question with a new technology. You can create a city-wide array of wireless "hot spots" that allow anyone with a computer and the right chip inside to access "the grid" and surf the web and send and receive email - and you can call it a public utility, like roads and bridges, something everyone can use - and pay for setting it up and maintaining it with public funds.

Or you can say that model is not the one to follow - let the private service providers complete, set up incompatible grids, charge what they think will attract costumers and earn them a healthy profit, and see what happens as market forces determine what is available at what price and what level of service and reliability.

Is this something the "invisible hand" of profit-driven economics will create and sustain at maximum efficiency, or is this something that should be just one of those basic things that's better shared? An analogy, perhaps not that close, is to think about whether a privately developed system of tolls roads is better than a network of public taxpayer funded highways. There's no tax burden with the former, there are no pesky tolls with the latter.

Of course, private "pay for use" systems exclude those with low income in one way or another. But that may be the idea - they chose to be poor and live off the dole and be parasites on those with the proper work ethic and positive attitude, so maybe making everything "pay for use" will be one more incentive for them to show some personal responsibility and all that.

Should a wireless grid of "hot spots" be a public utility? It's all how you look at it. It's a matter of where you draw the line between "this is free-market stuff" and "this is something basic everyone uses or could use." That line moves around a lot.

The second point of interest as to do with what the public relations folks at BellSouth were thinking. Yeah, we could give you this damaged building we don't want for your new police headquarters, seeing as how the whole city was pretty much wiped out. But you want to define a wireless network is a utility? Screw you. And screw your police force. We'll leave that building empty, and let it eventually collapse, and your police force can go pound sand for all we care.

This seems unwise. But then again, every Republican in the country is standing up and cheering.

A third point of interest is what ever happened to the massive national effort to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast? We really do have a short attention span.

On another front, where ideology meets the free-market, one sees here that "Focus on the Family," James Dobson's group out in Colorado Springs, has dumped Wells Fargo Bank. Wells Fargo will handle their funds no longer. This is to protest the bank's "ongoing efforts to advance the radical homosexual agenda." It seems that part of the bank's regular corporate charity program is to match employee contributions to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. And the bank gave money to the Human Rights Campaign. And there was that gay festival held in the empty parking lot at a Wells Fargo branch in San Francisco. Enough is enough. All the accounts have been moved to the First National Bank of Omaha - a "family-friendly institution."

Wells Fargo Bank pretty much shrugged -
Chris Hammond a vice president of business development for Wells Fargo, said the bank agreed to match contributions to a media campaign fund for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation...

"We simply made a grant to one of many nonprofits Wells Fargo supports in the San Francisco Bay Area," Hammond said. He said he told Focus officials that the bank contributes to many charities, "including nonprofit agencies Focus on the Family believes in."

A bank statement on its Web site said, "We direct our giving to areas that we believe are important to the future of our nation's vitality and success: community development, education and human services."
Dobson may be close with Bush and the administration, but Well Fargo Bank does business in San Francisco and West Hollywood and such places. They do their charities, left and right, to come off as good folks, and narrowing their "focus" is clearly not in their business interest. Dobson can fume. Taking sides here is just bad business.

Note also here Dobson tells the Rocky Mountain News that "gay and lesbian activist groups have picked off all the big companies in the United States."

It seems "the big companies in the United States" see no profit in antagonizing blocks of prospective customers. The idea is to make money, or keep in the black somehow - and joining Dobson's crusade to eliminate the threat of mincing queens overrunning America and making us all listen to the soundtrack to "Cats" while our pure children are forced to watch SpongeBob SquarePants is a loser. The world is a competitive place - you just don't choose sides and narrow your market.

There is the exception of course - the Ford Motor Company has informed gay media outlets that they will no longer place any advertising for their Jaguar and Land Rover lines in those nasty, godless pages. This may or may not be so. You have to take the word of the American Family Association. They say they are calling off their plan to boycott Ford. Their president Donald Wildmon - "They've heard our concerns; they are acting on our concerns."

Maybe. Ford Plans To Axe Factories And Jobs In Bid To Restore Fortunes - closing eight major plants in North America (one in Canada, one in Mexico, the rest here), and some small ones, laying off thousands. One suspects they're just cutting back on their advertising budget, generally. Believe this was the result of pressure from "the truly godly" when each new Ford Focus has picture of James Dobson or the "Focus on the Family" logo on the hood.

As noted here, the American Family Association was all over the Lowe's chain of home improvement stores for advertising Christmas trees as "holiday trees." And they are calling for a boycott of Target to punish it for an effort to "ban Christmas." And there's this Ford thing. Whatever.

The American Family Association wants these businesses to drive away Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim and agonist or atheist customers. Dobson wants Wells Fargo to drive away homosexual customers and "focus on the family." (Gay folks don't have family - they just hang out together - and work on their plans to corrupt our youth and destroy the country.)

Yeah, yeah - but turning away customers with cash in hand seems really dumb. BellSouth doesn't want to lose customers with the City of New Orleans defining one of their products, wireless services, to be a public, shared utility. And no one wants to play along with Dobson and Wildmon and lose customers who are sinners, or haven't found Jesus yet.

Making a buck is getting harder all the time. That fact trumps all the rest.

Posted by Alan at 21:17 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 5 December 2005 21:37 PST home

Sunday, 4 December 2005

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Sunday Funnies in Six Panels: Now Don't Get All Excited

The Sunday past, December 4th, was supposed to be a day off. Just Above Sunset had been put to bed, as they say in the news business when all the edits are complete, the pages composed and the presses are running. In this web world that means the Earthlink host servers in Atlanta got the new pages, had done all the compiling and re-indexed all thirteen hundred pages - there are almost three years of archived words and images - and linked the domain name to the new issue. So it didn't seem fair that lots of news stories broke Sunday. The Steelers were on television. But they lost to Cincinnati, the team with those odd helmets.

What's this with big news on Sunday?


A friend in upstate New York sent this, an item discussing a new General Accounting Office (GAO) report on the voting irregularities in the 2004 presidential election, particularly in Ohio.

Yes, the new electronic voting machines leave no paper trail so they cannot be audited, they're easily hacked, lots of votes went missing, the results matched no survey data and seemed anomalous, and the machines were developed and operated by corporations owned by friends of the president, and some programmers testified to some shady stuff - but the headline "GAO Confirms - 2004 Election Was Stolen!" was not quite right.

No crime has been alleged, and no one has been charged with anything. There was only means, method, opportunity and motive. Specific "acts" have not been alleged. That something is probable doesn't establish a crime has been committed. More is needed, and it's not yet there.

And what are you going to do? Toss Bush out? It's a little late for that. You go to war with the president you have, not the president you want.

That's not to say nothing should be done. You can fix the voting stuff, somehow. But reversing the election? Remember, liberals (are they "progressives" now?) are the ones who like gun control. The other side is well armed. You don't want trouble.


And email the say day brought a copy of a November 25th letter to the editor of the Fairbanks Daily-Miner (no link available, but we're talking Alaska here). The letter was written by Douglas Yates, a reader who has been discussed in the pages previously, here (June 2004) and here (January 2005) - a Marine Corps veteran and a writer, and photographer, living in Ester, Alaska.

Yates always sends interesting things, and this letter is about military recruiting. The letter is relevant here, as is the title - "Treasonous War"

Opening -
Unlike most in the Bush administration, I served in the U.S. military. During my tour, I was stationed at Marine Corps headquarters, Washington, D.C. While near the corridors of power, I came to value the historic trust that exists between our civilian and military leadership.

For a democratic trust to be nourished and sustained, it cannot be blind or naive. We don't raise children to be cannon fodder. We don't attack countries on a pretext.

In America, it's essential that civilian leaders be held accountable for military conduct. When mistakes happen, they must be exposed and corrected. That's the essence of integrity. Yet, lately, some people target Heather Koponen's opinions about military recruiters, suggesting such concern is un-American and damages morale.

Consider these facts: Army recruiters in Denver conspired with a high school student to forge a graduation diploma, falsified blood tests with a de-tox kit, and routinely threatened others with arrest for canceling appointments.

According to the Army, these are not isolated incidents. Last year, 325 recruiter fraud cases were prosecuted, hundreds more received reprimands. Most were issues of ethical conduct (lies, inflated promises, distortions about military benefits); one involved forcing laxatives on prospects to meet weight limits.

... Further narrowing local dialogue, this newspaper's fawning posture toward Bush's military adventure in Iraq ignores facts on the ground. See for unfiltered reportage.

As Bush's wagon loses its wheels, the folly of this personal war (Bush families hold significant commercial interests in the region) will shame us all. Misled with lies from the civilian leadership, the U.S. military has been thrown into a meat grinder. There's no denying it; our troops are being abused, ridden hard and put up wet.

While many jarheads and GIs may find the truth painful, there's nothing noble about being deceived. When a nation's trust has been used in the service of a lie, it's more than a mistake. It's called treason.
So Murtha is not the only ex-Marine who sees a problem here. (Correction - there are no former Marines - "Once a Marine, Always A Marine.") Honor and honesty, and doing the right thing, means something to these guys.

Treason? Hard words. But you don't mess with the Marines. Bush's vague service in the Texas Air National Guard in Vietnam War years has mightily impressed the folks at Fox News and the National Review - and Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin - as Kerry was seen as an effete coward for his combat tours on the rivers in Vietnam (remember the flowered band-aids worn by folks at the Republican convention, mocking Kerry's Purple Heart and all that). Some of the guys in uniform, or now with uniforms in the closet, aren't as impressed. Paul Hackett still stands by his calling Bush and his crew chickenhawks, and remember Murtha's outburst at Cheney - "I like guys who got five deferments and (have) never been there and send people to war, and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done."

It's funny you don't hear the obvious reply from the president and vice president - "Yeah, you may think you know a lot about war because you fought ion one - but we STARTED one."

Don't expect a military coup to keep Bush in power after 2008 - there are too many honorable men who know something smells here.

But that was just the email. The regular news was full of odd, smelly stuff.


Dana Priest in the Washington Post had another one of those Sunday scoops she does so well. Two or three weeks ago she broke the story of our chain of secret prisons, those "black sites" around the world where we use "enhanced interrogation techniques" on people we have snatched without authority all over the world and have "disappeared" - those non-persons who are not charged and have no rights to challenge anything about this or will ever speak to anyone on the outside ever again. Well, this week Dana Priest has a follow up to that story of how our government is keeping us safe by refusing to play by any babyish rules. She reveals we're doing this badly.

That would be here -

Wrongful Imprisonment: Anatomy of a CIA Mistake
German Citizen Released After Months in 'Rendition'
Dana Priest - Sunday, December 4, 2005 - Page A01

The long and short of it is we grabbed a German citizen in Macedonia, we imprisoned him and beat him up and all that, held him for five months of that sort of thing, and realized he was a nobody. We decided to release him - what was the point of keeping him? But we told the German government no matter what the guy said, they should keep quiet and not reveal we goofed on this one. We didn't need any legal crap, so they needed to lie and maintain our cover. We don't do such things - no kidnapping, no secret prisons, no harsh treatment. Not us. We asked them to back us on this. Deny everything.

The opening is this -
In May 2004, the White House dispatched the U.S. ambassador in Germany to pay an unusual visit to that country's interior minister. Ambassador Daniel R. Coats carried instructions from the State Department transmitted via the CIA's Berlin station because they were too sensitive and highly classified for regular diplomatic channels, according to several people with knowledge of the conversation.

Coats informed the German minister that the CIA had wrongfully imprisoned one of its citizens, Khaled Masri, for five months, and would soon release him, the sources said. There was also a request: that the German government not disclose what it had been told even if Masri went public. The U.S. officials feared exposure of a covert action program designed to capture terrorism suspects abroad and transfer them among countries, and possible legal challenges to the CIA from Masri and others with similar allegations.
Okay, there may be three thousand folks we've grabbed and disappeared. It seems two or three dozen may have been goofs - like the guy who turned out to be a college professor who gave a bad grade to someone who later joined al Qaeda.

No, that's in there -
Unlike the military's prison for terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba - where 180 prisoners have been freed after a review of their cases - there is no tribunal or judge to check the evidence against those picked up by the CIA. The same bureaucracy that decides to capture and transfer a suspect for interrogation - a process called "rendition" - is also responsible for policing itself for errors.

The CIA inspector general is investigating a growing number of what it calls "erroneous renditions," according to several former and current intelligence officials. One official said about three dozen names fall in that category; others believe it is fewer. The list includes several people whose identities were offered by al Qaeda figures during CIA interrogations, officials said. One turned out to be an innocent college professor who had given the al Qaeda member a bad grade, one official said.

"They picked up the wrong people, who had no information. In many, many cases there was only some vague association" with terrorism, one CIA officer said.
Ad they say, close enough for government work.

This isn't going to make Condoleezza Rice's upcoming European trip with its exercise in Dominatrix Diplomacy any easier. If she's going to tell European leaders they'd better back us on this, and get their press and public and uppity legislatures and commissions to back off, it would be nice to be able to say at least we do this stuff well.

The odd thing here is, of course, how Dana Priest got these two scoops. Someone at the CIA doesn't much care for what we're doing - some stuffy traditionalist, no doubt - and is trying to stop it. Shades of Deep Throat meeting the young Bob Woodward in the parking structure late at night, to put an end to the Nixon crew's nastiness. Seems like old times.

Someone wants their country back, the one with values, and the country that was the good guy in the story? Too late - September 11 changed everything.

Hey, they've been telling us all! Like we weren't told?

So much for the Washington Post.


Kevin Drum points out here that the New York Times tells us that security at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan is so bad that genuinely dangerous al-Qaeda members held there can pick the locks on their cells and sneak out through the fence. That's here, but it's more depressing than intriguing.

We grab the wrong people while the actual bad guys pull a Houdini?

Who's running the shop? There's a management problem here.

Like most management problems, someone needs to be promoted to a position where they cannot screw up. But that might not be wise here.


The local paper, the Los Angeles Times, that arrives with a thud on the doorstep Sunday morning - USC dismantles UCLA, Texas wins big, and they will meet over the hills in Pasadena for the national championship - no one can figure out which schools will totally collapse in the next big quake (the study done was incompetent) - and this -
BAGHDAD - Private security contractors have been involved in scores of shootings in Iraq, but none have been prosecuted despite findings in at least one fatal case that the men had not followed proper procedures, according to interviews and documents obtained by The Times.

Instead, security contractors suspected of reckless behavior are sent home, sometimes with the knowledge of U.S. officials, raising questions about accountability and stirring fierce resentment among Iraqis.

Thousands of the heavily armed private guards are in Iraq, under contract with the U.S. government and private companies. The conduct of such security personnel has been one of the most controversial issues in the reconstruction of Iraq. Last week, a British newspaper publicized a so-called trophy video that appears to show private contractors in Iraq firing at civilian vehicles as an Elvis song plays in the background.

The contractors function in a legal gray area. Under an order issued by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority that administered Iraq until June 2004, contractors suspected of wrongdoing are to be prosecuted in their home countries. The contractors have immunity from Iraqi courts and have so far not faced American prosecution, giving little recourse to Iraqis seeking justice for wrongful shootings.
As Drum comments, this confirms last week's Telegraph story that private contractors are shooting "scores" of Iraqis just for the hell of it and pretty much doing it with impunity.

Well, that was discussed in these pages here, with lots of links to the sources. It's not our problem. The Aegis folks are a UK outfit, so we say it's the UK's job to deal with it. As noted previously, the UK folks are saying Aegis was under contract to us, so its OUR problem. The Iraqis have no say. We set it up so the contractors are immune from their fledgling, work-in-progress legal system.

There's not much more to say.

But there is this from Digby over at Hullabaloo -
Has anyone bothered to ask whether withdrawal of the military would mean withdrawal of contractors? Somehow, I doubt it. Our private army that answers to no one but its owners so it doesn't have to deal with all these messy old fashioned "laws" and "regulations" is going to be in Iraq for a long, long time.

I have little doubt that Rummy and Cheney have realized that it's a little more expensive since you have to pay the soldiers more than a hundred grand a year, but they're worth it. They're not hung up on all this honor and tradition crap. They know how to get the job done...
Hadn't thought of that. Yipes!


That professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Michigan, the one who knows all the players and knows all the languages, Juan Cole, explains on the same day how Bush has created a theocracy in Iraq.


The item is long and detailed with lots of odd names and odd players, but ends with this -
An Iraq dominated by religious Shiites who had often lived in exile in Iran for decades is inevitably an Iraq with warm relations with Tehran. The U.S., bogged down in a military quagmire in the Sunni Arab regions, cannot afford to provoke massive demonstrations and uprisings in the Shiite areas of Iraq by attacking Iran. Bush has inadvertently strengthened Iran, giving it a new, religious Shiite ally in the Gulf region. The traditional Sunni powers in the region, such as the kings of Saudi Arabia and Jordan, are alarmed and annoyed that Bush has created a new "Shiite crescent." Far from weakening or overthrowing the ayatollahs, Bush has ensconced and strengthened them. Indeed, by chasing after imaginary weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, he may have lost any real opportunity to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon should it decide to do so.

The real winners of the Iraq war are the Shiites.
And then there's Nir Rosen in The Atlantic with this -
What about the goal of creating a secular democracy in Iraq that respects the rights of women and non-Muslims?

Give it up. It's not going to happen. Apart from the Kurds, who revel in their secularism, Iraqis overwhelmingly seek a Muslim state. Although Iraq may have been officially secular during the 1970s and 1980s, Saddam encouraged Islamism during the 1990s, and the difficulties of the past decades have strengthened the resurgence of Islam. In the absence of any other social institutions, the mosques and the clergy assumed the dominant role in Iraq following the invasion. Even Baathist resistance leaders told me they have returned to Islam to atone for their sins under Saddam. Most Shiites, too, follow one cleric or another. Ayatollah al-Sistani - supposedly a moderate - wants Islam to be the source of law. The invasion of Iraq has led to a theocracy, which can only grow more hostile to America as long as U.S. soldiers are present.
Okay then, we went there to disarm Saddam. Nothing there. We really went there because he had ties to al Qaeda. Nothing there. We really went there to fight them there so we wouldn't have to fight them here. Madrid, Casablanca, Bali, London - but yes, not here. We really, really went there do build a secular, free-market, tolerant and pluralistic democracy that would transform the region as all nations in area would see what a fine thing that was and all change into secular, free-market, tolerant and pluralistic democracies. It seems we'll have to settle for a theocracy, allied with a nuclear armed Iran, that Saudi Arabia and Jordan, our long-time allies, will see as a real threat they will have to deal with.

Close enough?

Who says Sunday is a slow news day?

Posted by Alan at 23:05 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 4 December 2005 23:23 PST home

Topic: Announcements

Accept No Substitutes - Go to the Source

The new issue of Just Above Sunset - Volume 3, Number 49 for the week of Sunday, December 4, 2005 - is now available. This is the weekly magazine-format parent site to this daily web log, and there you will find extended versions of items that first appeared here along with wealth of new material.

This week? The national dialog - on what we do, why we do it and who we really are - gets stranger each week and in this issue you will find detail of just how odd it has become. What seem like hot items, news stories that effect us all, gain traction or sink in the noise of the next issue. Do the Iraqis want us there or not, and what are our efforts doing not just to them, but also to us? And what's with their local death squads? Did we encourage what we now must stop? And the big issue hangs above it all - are we leaving there one day, or soon, or not, and who is deciding and who is spinning the issues, and why? The president spoke on this, and no one changed his or her position. Underneath it all, basically, we scorn each other. And we defend ourselves against all sorts of charges, and our government pushes back and perhaps makes things worse. And the religious-minded, some of them, want some radical changes in what we say is real. Oh my!

Well, "Our Man in London," Mick McCahill, sends word from there about chilly times over there too. "Our Man in Paris," Ric Erickson, documents the end of the November madness there and the enthralling season where it seems not much happened - and offers a page of photos of that.

Bob Patterson is back, donning his tin-foil conspiracy hat in his role as the World's Laziest Journalist, but as the Book Wrangler gives solid advice to writers.

Southern California photography this week - The Santa Monica Pier - in eight nested pages of a foggy morning there, and a link to a fifty-eight shot photo album. Of course there are the usual botanical photographs that readers demand (but they're fun to shoot).

As a change of pace, the quotes this week are on language and thought - the basic stuff, said in very odd ways.

Direct links to specific pages -

Current Events ______________________

Lining Up the Week: What's Hot News, What's Not
What Cannot Be Said: Done Deal - We're Out of There
Death Squads: Just Like Old Times - Leaving No Fingerprints
The Plan: The President Explains Everything, and Other Things Happen
Basics: Under the News
Hard Rice: Dominatrix Diplomacy
Three Details: Tying Up Loose Ends
Religion: The Devil in the Details

The International Desk ______________________

Our Man in London: Power Out
Our Man in Paris: Goodbye November

Bob Patterson ______________________

WLJ Weekly: from the desk of the World's Laziest Journalist - Was "The Blond Ghost" in Dealey Plaza?
Book Wrangler: What Is A Fact Checker Supposed To Do With A Parable?

Guest Photography ______________________

Noël: Oh to be Rich and in Paris at Christmas

Southern California Photography ______________________

On Location: The Santa Monica Pier
Botanicals: December in Santa Monica

Quotes for the week of December 4, 2005 - On Language and Thought
Links and Recommendations: New Photo Album - On Location Again

Posted by Alan at 10:24 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Saturday, 3 December 2005

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Three Details: Tying Up Loose Ends

One: Is it real or is it...?

As mentioned elsewhere, last Wednesday the Los Angeles Times reported the US military is secretly paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories written by US information officers. The whole item is here - these stories "are presented in the Iraqi press as unbiased news accounts written and reported by independent journalists."

The military funnels the stories through a Washington-based defense contractor - and those employees or subcontractors sometimes pose as freelance reporters or advertising executives. The Times quoted a senior Pentagon official - "Here we are trying to create the principles of democracy in Iraq. Every speech we give in that country is about democracy. And we're breaking all the first principles of democracy when we're doing it."

Think Armstrong Williams. Or this week, Arnold Shwarzenegger – see Judge Rebukes Schwarzenegger Administration for Use of Fake 'Video News Releases' on Nurse, Worker Issues and Gov.'s Fake News Videos Ruled Illegal. Well, California news stations need material, and real reporting is expensive.

And note here that CNN busted FEMA and their "Recovery Channel" in New Orleans. More fake news stories. You're government faking you out, with your money.

On the issue of us spending millions planting fake news stories in the Iraqi press, the left was saying we shouldn't be subverting a newly-born free press with propaganda disguised as news, that we bribe people to print as if it's real reporting, while on the right one hears the idea that of course we should just that - we need to get our message out and this is war. It all depends on your point of view.

The White House said it was "concerned" and the senate, led by Warner of Virginia, a major Republican, held quick hearings. And late Friday, the Pentagon, said, after the news cycle was closed for the week, "Yeah, we did that." The idea was that we wanted the truth out there. We hired this Lincoln Group to help out.

The truth? See this -
In July, one storyboard written by military personnel titled "Children Murdered at the Hands of Terrorists" was recast by Lincoln Group as an opinion column written by an Iraqi citizen. It was published July 19 in Baghdad's Al Sabah newspaper, documents show.

"Have we all given up?" the op-ed piece reads. "What kind of man am I if I tolerate the massacre of our children? What kind of human am I if I condone the slaughter of innocents? What kind of Muslim am I if I stand in silence as immoral cowards kill our children in the name of God and the prophet Muhammad?"

Documents show that Al Sabah was paid more than $1,500 to publish the piece.
Jayson Blair got fired from the New York Times, and brought down his editor with him, for less.

Lawrence DiRita, special assistant to Rumsfeld, acknowledged that our troops or Lincoln Group employees might have acted improperly. "I'm willing to believe that there were some transgressions along the way, and that's what we're trying to figure out."

Two: Christmas, the Silly Season

As mentioned elsewhere, this decade's answer to the fifty's Joseph McCarthy, Bill O'Reilly of Fox News, published the first draft of his blacklist - but it was just media operations he considers "guttersnipes" and "smear merchants" - the New York Daily News, the St. Petersburg Times and MSNBC - purveyors of "defamation and false information supplied by far left Web sites." No individuals yet.

And note here O'Reilly warns America about the vast conspiracy to get rid of Christmas:

"There's a very secret plan. And it's a plan that nobody's going to tell you, 'Well, we want to diminish Christian philosophy in the U.S.A. because we want X, Y, and Z.' They'll never ever say that. But I'm kind of surprised they went after Christmas because it's such an emotional issue."

It's the ACLU and the secular Jews like George Soros, of course. Damn those Jews! They hate Christmas.

Best response here -
Personally I have no problem with government sponsorship of Christmas displays, as long as the authorities comply with equivalent requests from any other religionist.

We have to devise a proper display for agnostic/atheist position. Maybe a statue of George Carlin.

Instead of the Ten Commandments, something like the following: "The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness." - Vladimir Nabokov
Not bad.

Three: Buchanan Loses

There was a lot of criticism of the president this week, and here Richard Reeves asks the question, "Is George Bush the worst president ever?"

Oh my. Reeves says this all started with Kennedy, who was considered a historian because of his book "Profiles in Courage" (even if her didn't really write it). Kennedy used to receive requests to rate the presidents. Yeah, yeah - you start with Lincoln then Washington, or reverse it, and move down. When Kennedy actually became president he stopped answering these requests.

So who was the worst? Buchanan -
Poor James Buchanan, the 15th president, is generally considered the worst president in history. Ironically, the Pennsylvania Democrat, elected in 1856, was one of the most qualified of the 43 men who have served in the highest office. A lawyer, a self-made man, Buchanan served with some distinction in the House, served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and secretary of state under President James K. Polk. He had a great deal to do with the United States becoming a continental nation - "Manifest Destiny," war with Mexico, and all that. He was also ambassador to Great Britain and was offered a seat on the Supreme Court three separate times.

But he was a confused, indecisive president, who may have made the Civil War inevitable by trying to appease or negotiate with the South. His most recent biographer, Jean Clark, writing for the prestigious American Presidents Series, concluded this year that his actions probably constituted treason. It also did not help that his administration was as corrupt as any in history, and he was widely believed to be homosexual.

Whatever his sexual preferences, his real failures were in refusing to move after South Carolina announced secession from the Union and attacked Fort Sumter, and in supporting both the legality of the pro-slavery constitution of Kansas and the Supreme Court ruling in the Dred Scott class declaring that escaped slaves were not people but property.
Yep, he left a lot for Lincoln to clean up.

But then Reeve says he's talked with "three significant historians" in the past few months "who would not say it in public," but who think this Bush guy is giving Buchanan a run for his money.

Data? From the History News Network at George Mason University - four hundred and fifteen, about a third of those contacted, answered, so the sample is "informal" as the statisticians say - 338 said they believed Bush was failing and 77 said he was succeeding. Fifty said they thought he was the worst president ever.

Here's the problem as Reeve summarizes it -

? He has taken the country into an unwinnable war and alienated friend and foe alike in the process;
? He is bankrupting the country with a combination of aggressive military spending and reduced taxation of the rich;
? He has deliberately and dangerously attacked separation of church and state;
? He has repeatedly "misled," the American people on affairs domestic and foreign;
? He has proved to be incompetent in affairs domestic (New Orleans) and foreign (Iraq and the battle against al-Qaida);
? He has sacrificed American employment (including the toleration of pension and benefit elimination) to increase overall productivity;
? He is ignorantly hostile to science and technological progress;
? He has tolerated or ignored one of the republic's oldest problems, corporate cheating in supplying the military in wartime.

Other than that, he's doing fine.


In these pages on October 30th here, in the section "The Italian Connection," you'd find a discussion and many links to the idea that maybe the source document showing Saddam Hussein's guys were trying to buy yellowcake uranium in Niger wasn't just a crude forgery, but part of some sort of conspiracy by the Italians, or somebody, maybe some of Cheney's guys, to make this war more "sellable" to the world public, or at least to the frightened American public.

No, no. Couldn't be.

A week ago the FBI was starting to back off their blanket exoneration of the Italian government for any role in this. But Saturday's Los Angeles Times reports that the FBI has decided to 'reopen' the inquiry into the forged documents. That's here.

Probably nothing - but you never know.

Posted by Alan at 17:06 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Friday, 2 December 2005

Topic: World View

Hard Rice: Dominatrix Diplomacy

Well, we're doing a good job ticking off everyone around the world.

Our new UN ambassador - a recess appointment because the senate had a bit of trouble confirming a fellow who often said the organization was totally useless, we should pull out and let it die, and the place should be leveled - seems now to be coordinating his work at the UN with James Dobson, head of the Christian evangelical "Focus on the Family" group (see this for details). Of course - it is a problem that some of those countries at the UN aren't even Christian folk, like normal people. What should we do? James knows.

Bolton too has already ticked off the Brits, big time, by threatening to shut down all UN spending, which the Brits see as somewhat bonkers, and they were willing to disagree with our King George on the matter.

But it's important we get our way, isn't it? We cannot be seen as wimps. And what kind of religion do they have over there, anyway? The pope wasn't good enough for them so they came up with that Catholicism-lite Anglican stuff. Screw 'em.

But Bolton cannot offend everyone on his own. His boss, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, is joining in the fun.

Reuters has a late Friday afternoon scoop here (Friday, December 2nd, 3:30 PM Eastern), on how we plan to respond to the allegations we hold prisoners in secret in Eastern Europe - incommunicado and in violation of local and EU laws - and seem to have transported these "detainees" through small airports (and some large ones) to our "black sites" where we practice "enhanced interrogation" (seems like torture but we say it isn't).

For a month we've been refusing to deny or confirm media reports about whether we do this or not. The European public and various parliaments don't seem to want to participate in potential human rights violations, and some don't like their own laws being violated. One EU commissioner, Franco Frattini, said Monday he would propose the suspension of voting rights for any nation found to have hosted a secret detention center. Spain has been upset about us using their airports for stops on the way to oblivion and pain for those we think may be bad guys, or may know something about bad guys, or may know someone who knows something about bad guys. And Friday, December 2nd, the French figured out we've been using their airports - one on the coast and Orly - as refueling stops for the flights of those we are "disappearing." There's a bit of grumbling.

The Rice solution, if Reuters's sources are good, is that we're going to tell the effete fussbudget European wimps to just "back off." Rice is going to remind these "allies" they themselves have been cooperating in our anti-terror operations - and they should simply "do more to win over their publics."

In short, yeah, we do this, and the message will be clear to the leaders of the European nations - it's your jobs, not ours, to explain to your people that all this is just fine. It's necessary. And you know it.

This is said to be what Rice and the administration decided was the best way "to deflect criticism directed at the United States." In short, it's not our problem - it's yours.

A little detail from Reuters -
"It's very clear they want European governments to stop pushing on this," said a European diplomat, who had contact with U.S. officials over the handling of the scandals. "They were stuck on the defensive for weeks, but suddenly the line has toughened up incredibly," the diplomat said.

Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern said Rice told him in Washington she expected allies to trust that America does not allow rights abuses - a sign she will avoid giving Europe a detailed response on U.S. intelligence work.

And she refused to give Ahern a personal assurance Ireland has not been used for secret prisoner transfers, saying he had already heard that denial from the U.S. ambassador, a senior State Department official said.
That seems to be a clear "fuck you" to the Irish - we're doing this and there's nothing you can do about it, so tell your people we're the good guys, no matter what you think.

Ah, diplomacy!

And Reuters understands Rice will deliver just about the same message in private meetings with officials in Germany and at the EU headquarters in Brussels. This "in your face" trip starts Monday - and, to top it off, this excursion includes a stop in Romania. Romania denies the accusations it hosts a secret prison, but the evidence is pretty clear they do. Rice is sending a message here.

Will this work? Ahern said he accepts our word on matters from here on out. The Irish are no dummies - you don't mess with the bully.

"Germany, whose foreign minister also pressed Rice this week during a visit, said it would wait patiently for a US response."

Yeah, but the new chancellor, Merkle, will fall in line. The we-think-for-ourselves former chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, is gone. The new Iron Lady wants to be one the side of the Big Dog. She's no dummy.

The whole thing is a bit of theater - Rice will say, in public, that "Washington does not violate allies' sovereignty or break international law," and she will say in her speeches that there's no issue - all governments "are cooperating in a fight against militants who have bombed commuters in Madrid and London." There's nothing to see here, folks - move on. Behind the scenes she'll crack the whip (note the boots) - telling these folks to get in line and get their press and public under control.

And within an hour of the Reuters story, Associated Press ran this on the wire - White House Defends Human Rights Record.

Listen up -
The White House said Friday that the United States is the world leader on human rights, despite outrage in Europe over reports of secret CIA prisons where terrorism detainees may have been mistreated.

The administration has refused to address the question of whether it operated secret sites that may be illegal under European law, citing the constraints of classified information. Secret prisons and many harsh methods of interrogation would be illegal on U.S. soil.

"The president had made it very clear that we do not torture, he would never condone torture or authorize the use of torture," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said. "If someone doesn't abide by our laws, they're held accountable. That's the difference between us and others."
We do this stuff, but prosecute the low-level people actually involved in the physical act, so we're clean. In fact, that makes us good guys.

Well, that one way of looking at it.
"When it comes to human rights, there is no greater leader than the United States of America, and we show that by holding people accountable when they break the law or violate human rights, and we show that by supporting the advance of freedom and democracy and supporting those in countries that are having their human rights denied or violated, like North Korea," McClellan said.

"We show that by liberating people in Afghanistan and Iraq - some 50 million people. No one has done more when it comes to human rights than the United States of America. I think the American people understand."
Yeah, yeah - we do understand, sort of.

AP notes that Europe may be harder to persuade. The European Union's justice commissioner said that secret prisons would violate European law. That's something we need to work around.

And we see that these European lawmakers accused European Union countries Thursday of "failing to address allegations about CIA prisons and flights across the continent."

This should be interesting.

Sarah Ludford, a British member of the European Parliament's civil liberties committee -
I am not at all reassured that there is sufficient determination by (member states) to get to the bottom of this and establish the truth.

The allegations are now beyond speculation. We now have sufficient evidence involving CIA flights. We need to know who was on those flights, where they went.
Sarah and Condoleezza need to talk. Condi will set her straight, and make her shut up.

We will get our way. Maybe. And maybe not.

Posted by Alan at 18:50 PST | Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 2 December 2005 18:56 PST home

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