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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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Saturday, 25 February 2006
System Test

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This is a test positing.

Saturday, February 25, 2006 11:39 AM - Rebuilt Index
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12:15 PM - down again...

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Posted by Alan at 07:49 PST | Post Comment | View Comments (2) | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 25 February 2006 13:41 PST home

Friday, 24 February 2006
End of the Week: The Other Form of Marxism
Topic: Couldn't be so...

End of the Week: The Other Form of Marxism

There are fewer entries here this week, partly because there was a holiday in there somewhere, and technical difficulties have forced a redesign of the parent site, Just Above Sunset. Creating the new design and creating a site exclusively for the photography - Just Above Sunset Photography - takes time. And a day was lost to covering an historic event down in Long Beach.

But the week's news was interesting in all that it stirred up. So here are some thoughts.

As noted in the other items, any lingering discussion of the Vice President shooting his hunting partner in the face, and the fellow apologizing for causing the Vice president any anguish, was subsumed by the two major stories that had the nation buzzing - the administration approving a company owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates to run operations at six of our key ports, and, mid-week, what seemed like the start of a civil war in Iraq. It's beyond the cartoons now.

The only lingering news regarding the Vice President's accident was this item - "Secret Service agents guarding Vice President Dick Cheney when he shot Texas lawyer Harry Whittington on a hunting outing two weeks ago say Cheney was 'clearly inebriated' at the time of the shooting."

It seems the Secret Service guys judged that more than a few in the hunting party exhibiting "visible signs" of impairment - slurred speech and erratic actions and that sort of thing. Now we move into the realm of felony - but of course, the item appeared in Capitol Hill Blue. They're excitable folks over there. They may not exactly make things up, and they do often get the general sense of what's going on just about right (as discussed here last August). It's the specifics that seem unlikely. Some of the agents are now gone? Others have asked to be reassigned? Maybe it's all true. And note they vigorously defend themselves here. But it doesn't matter now. Other events have overwhelmed the news cycle.

What events?

Michael O'Hare gives a wide overview here, arguing that life is imitating art in a way, but the art involved has more to do with maybe the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges and W. C. Fields, and more recently The Daily Show. "Art" is being used loosely here of course, to cover slapstick and satire.

One does think of Duck Soup (1933) -
Rufus T. Firefly: I'd be unworthy of the high trust that's been placed in me if I didn't do everything in my power to keep our beloved Freedonia in peace with the world. I'd be only too happy to meet with Ambassador Trentino, and offer him on behalf of my country the right hand of good fellowship. And I feel sure he will accept this gesture in the spirit of which it is offered. But suppose he doesn't. A fine thing that'll be. I hold out my hand and he refuses to accept. That'll add a lot to my prestige, won't it? Me, the head of a country, snubbed by a foreign ambassador. Who does he think he is, that he can come here, and make a sap of me in front of all my people? Think of it - I hold out my hand and that hyena refuses to accept. Why, the cheap ball-pushing swine, he'll never get away with it I tell you, he'll never get away with it.
That Marx Brother film also contains the famous line - "Well, who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?" (Lots of other quotes from the film here.)

Michael O'Hare may be onto something -
Having survived a history of 9/11, letting Osama slip away in Afghanistan, taking that wretched country from the Taliban to World Heroin Central, breaking the army in the wrong war against the wrong enemy, putting an important source of petroleum and one of the most secular and educated Arab countries into near-medieval chaos, drowning New Orleans by neglect and insisting he had his hand on the wheel right through it, rendering us impotent as Iran and North Korea nuke up, humiliating Americans for a generation with Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, and putting the US economy in the hands of foreign creditors, Bush appears to have finally trashed his reputation as curator of national security by tying a decision he had nothing to do with and that almost certainly has no real security implications at all, (the ports) around his own neck.

And on the domestic side, we Californians are paralyzed in dealing with Mr. Morales because (i) killing bad people is good and just, but (ii) not if it hurts them, and (iii) doctors, who have a legal monopoly on being sure people don't hurt, (iv) restrict their practice to keeping people alive (v) unless they are good people who want to die, in savage, brutish places like Oregon or Britain.

Tell me there's no god of irony; tell me Ludicrosia, the muse of farcic history, is a mythic creature. Right.
There's a muse for farce, this Ludicrosia? She spoke to Feydeau? Well, maybe not, but all this is happening. Yes, out here in California, we did try to execute another fellow, and like the first two this year, there was no reprieve from our Austrian governor, Arnold Shwarzenegger, the fellow with the Nazi father. Thumbs down. That's why we love him.

But it didn't happen - the doctors (anesthesiologists) who were to handle the drip lines to make the whole thing more humane (make sure he's out cold before you open the line with the lethal stuff) walked out. They said doctors shouldn't participate in killing people - maybe unless they asked (assisted suicide) or they weren't actually people yet (first term abortion). The state medical association backed them up.

And we were trying to do this humanely - if the state is going to kill one of its errant citizens of course you should do it humanely. That way it's not cruel and unusual, or at least it's not cruel. Well, it's not cruel looking at it from one side. Morales probably does not share that view. Yep, Marx brothers stuff, and not much different than Doctor Guillotine long ago arguing his new device was so quick and final it was really much more human than that hanging or firing squad stuff - and don't even mention drawing and quartering. Where are the Marx Brothers when you need them?

And what about this "wrong war against the wrong enemy?" On Wednesday, February 22nd, the sectarian civil war there has begun in earnest, as Sunni guys dressed in official-looking commando uniforms managed to blow up the Shiite al-Askari shrine in Samarra, the one with the big gold dome. This is a big deal, with the holy graves and all - kind of like mad Lutherans blowing up Saint Peters in Rome, instead of nailing things to doors.

So the Shiite al-Askari shrine in Samarra is rubble now. What did they do about it?

Well, immediately there was this - seventy-five Sunni mosques attacked, two burned to the ground and three Sunni clergymen assassinated. There were predictable demonstations in Shiite Iran, and in Pakistan and Beruit. A later Rueters report adds an Iraq update, with one hundred eighty-four Sunni mosques damaged and ten clerics killed and fifteen abducted, if you're keeping score. The Muslim Clerics Association is accusing the Shiite religious leaders of making things worse by calling for protests.

Okay, the Prophet Mohammed didn't do any of what we in the west call a "succession planning." Every serious organization has a succession plan. Not in this case - and even if the Shiites say Ali was the successor because, after all, he married the Prophet Mohammed's daughter, Fatima, the more fundamentalist Sunnis don't buy that at all. It may seem like farce to some in the west, but it's a serous rift there, as two branches of Islam have developed a lot of layers of meaning, custom and faith based on which you believe. Of course western religion has had wars over parallel splits. Heck, how many died on the banks of the Boyne in Northern Ireland in 1690 and have died in that dispute since? Better Orange than Catholic? You'd die for that? A lot of layers of meaning, custom and faith, based on which you believe, leads to chaos.

What to do now in Iraq? That's obvious - just like a prison riot, do a lock down. There will be a curfew in the core Sunni Arab areas, including Baghdad, to prevent worshippers from rioting afer the Friday prayers ceremony. And it looks that that will extend through Saturday, at least. No one is going anywhere. Baghdad Sealed Off to Stem Violence. And the shutdown means no going out to scare up some food. And you already don't have power most of the day. Are they glad we came and got rid of the bad man? The alternative is not so nice either.

What does our ambassador say? Well, he says this -
"What we've seen in the past two days, the attack has had a major impact here, getting everyone's attention that Iraq is in danger," Mr. Khalilzad said in a conference call with reporters.

The country's leaders, he added, "must come together, they must compromise with each other to bring the people of Iraq together and save this country."

Mr. Khalilzad's comments are the most explicit acknowledgment so far by an American official of the instability of the situation, and the fragility of the entire American enterprise here. The killings and assaults across Iraq that began Wednesday have amounted to the worst sectarian violence since the American invasion.

... In the deadliest assault, 47 people returning from a protest were pulled off buses south of Baghdad on Wednesday and shot in the head, an Interior Ministry official said Thursday. Three journalists from Al Arabiya, the Arab satellite network, were abducted and killed Wednesday in Samarra, near the ruined shrine. Seven American soldiers were also killed Wednesday in unrelated attacks involving roadside bombs.

Political and religious leaders, including President Jalal Talabani and Moktada al-Sadr, the Shiite cleric whose followers are believed to be involved in much of the anti-Sunni violence, called for restraint.
We lost seven more guys. Unrelated. We've become like the Brits in Northern Ireland, trying to keep the two side from killing each other, and getting picked off by both. Unrelated. Sure.

The political writer Digby here reminds us that Thomas Friedman, the widely-respected and thoughtful columnist for the New York Times once said that it's not every day you get to see a political experiment in action. Friedman was always big on kicking some butt to "show our strength" - and it really didn't matter if Iraq was the wrong butt as we had to show we wouldn't be pushed around - and then was big on the grand experiment to plant a Jeffersonian democracy smack in the middle of that region to shake things up.

And now? The Marx Brothers in action - without the laughs and with a lot of dead people. And our guys get to keep the peace, and wonder, if they shoot, which side they other side will think we're taking. Keeping a lid on all this will be tricky. Maybe it's impossible.

Some of us saw Tony Blankley of the Washington Times on MSNBC's Hardball say to Chris Matthews maybe we should take sides and become the enforcement arms of the Shiites and Kurds, and destroy the local Sunnis. Yeah, the new Shiite government is shaping up to be a theocracy aligned with Iran, but maybe that's the best we can do. They might not be that unfriendly to us. Or so Blankley thinks.

Note this - screen shots of Fox News with the graphic saying a civil war in Iraq may be a blessing in disguise ("All-Out Civil War in Iraq: Could it be a Good Thing?"). And here, a screenshot and transcript of Terry Jeffery, the editor of pro-Bush Human Events on CNN saying this all proves Bush's grand plan is working - the idea being that what happened this week in Iraq is all so awful that the sensible people in Iraq will join together to form a sectarian state that has nothing to do with religion. He's channeling Rufus T. Firefly. He saw Duck Soup too many times and confused it with real life.

And on the edge of it all. Friday, February 24, 2006 Attack Fails at Huge Saudi Oil Site and Oil Prices Up After Attack in Saudi Arabia. That site? Twenty percent of the world's oil passes through there. It's not every day you get to see a political experiment in action.

And back here the business with Dubai World Ports only got more absurd. Do we allow a corporation - actually pretty good at doing what they do but owned by the government of United Arab Emirates - to run operations at six key American ports? The nation is in an uproars on this - at least most politicians and those who think about policy, and good number of ordinary folks who don't want to get blown up and hear the United Arab Emirates is where some Arabs live, and that composite government has been playing both sides. Lou Dobbs on CNN is on a tear, with guests (Joe Klein, Friday) saying if we don't do this the Arab world we hate us, and Dobbs shooting back "like they don't hate us now after all we've done?" It's all over. No point in citing everyone saying things.

Thursday the White House had Karl Rove tell us the president understands folks are upset and the president might think about delaying this (here), and that was the same day Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England was telling a senate committee "the terrorists will win" if we don't immediate do this deal (here) - "The terrorists want our nation to become distrustful. They want us to become paranoid and isolationist, and my view is we cannot allow this to happen. It needs to be just the opposite." And he said opposing this deal was giving aid and comfort to our enemies, so even the Republicans who have questions are now being called traitors. Welcome aboard, guys.

If congress passes anything to stop this, will the president veto it? He says he will. But he says that all the time and never vetoes anything (see The Emperor Has No Vetoes for a discussion of this "the boy who cried wolf" veto business).

But he will veto this -
The Bush administration said Friday it won't reconsider its approval for a United Arab Emirates company to take over significant operations at six U.S. ports. The former head of the Sept. 11 commission said the deal "never should have happened."

Opponents, including the agency that runs New York and New Jersey ports, took their case to court, while the company, Dubai Ports World, stepped up efforts to change the minds of congressional critics.

The president's national security adviser said the White House would keep trying to persuade lawmakers - there's more time since the company offered to delay its takeover - but the administration wouldn't reconsider its approval.

"There are questions raised in the Congress, and what this delay allows is for those questions to be addressed on the Hill," Stephen Hadley said. "There's nothing to reopen."

Thomas Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey who led the bipartisan probe of the Sept. 11 attacks, said the deal was a big mistake because of past connections between the 2001 hijackers and the UAE.
So the president might delay implementation, but it's going to happen, no matter what. Dubai World Ports put their implementation on hold (here), to wait this out (and give the administration some breathing room), and New York and New Jersey are taking the feds to court.

Great. But none of it matters.

Congress and its laws? The courts? Piffle. The man decided.

And he says there's nothing to worry about. Trust him, not these other folks. He is the one who protects us from the bad guys. Everyone knows that.

As Tim Grieve puts it here - "The Bush administration can stand by and let all sorts of things happen - the gutting of Iraqi museums, the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, genocide in Darfur, Sudan - but it can't handle the notion that someone else might be playing the terrorism trump card."

Or maybe it's this, from Lou Dobb's show on CNN earlier in the week (video here or here and transcript) -
DOBBS: President Bush's family and members of the Bush administration have long-standing business connections with the United Arab Emirates, and those connections are raising new concerns and questions tonight in some quarters about why the president is defying his very own party leadership and his party in defending the Dubai port deal.

CHRISTINE ROMANS: The oil-rich United Arab Emirates is a major investor in The Carlyle Group, the private equity investment firm where President Bush's father once served as senior adviser and is a who's who of former high-level government officials. Just last year, Dubai International Capital, a government-backed buyout firm, invested in an $8 billion Carlyle fund.

Another family connection, the president's brother, Neil Bush, has reportedly received funding for his educational software company from the UAE investors. A call to his company was not returned.

Then there is the cabinet connection. Treasury Secretary John Snow was chairman of railroad company CSX. After he left the company for the White House, CSX sold its international port operations to Dubai Ports World for more than a billion dollars.

In Connecticut today, Snow told reporters he had no knowledge of that CSX sale. "I learned of this transaction probably the same way members of the Senate did, by reading about it in the newspapers."

Another administration connection, President Bush chose a Dubai Ports World executive to head the U.S. Maritime Administration. David Sanborn, the former director of Dubai Ports' European and Latin American operations, he was tapped just last month to lead the agency that oversees U.S. port operations.
Ah. Just business. These folks have done business with these people, and thus they trust them. Should we?

This seems to be some kind of turning point. Folks are wondering if they should. The warning signs are going up at the conservative National Review, where you would find this late Friday afternoon from John Podhoretz -
Rasmussen has a new poll up in which - hold on now - Democrats in Congress are outpolling President Bush on national security. By a margin of 43 to 41 percent, Americans say they trust Congressional Democrats more than Bush when it comes to protecting our national security. And by a margin of 64-17 percent, they oppose the sale of the ports to Dubai.

The deal is dead. It won't survive after a 45-day extension or a 450-day extension. Congressional Republicans have no choice but to be extremely aggressive and nasty toward the president and the White House, because they will be properly terrified of looking like Bush's lapdogs on a hugely unpopular matter that goes to the heart of the Republican party's political advantage in the United States.

If the White House doesn't handle this well in the next three days, the political consequences could be catastrophic.
And putting more bluntly, Rich Lowry adds - "Emergency, indeed: if Bush loses his edge on national security, he has nothing left."

And these are Bush guys. This is a political mess. And it had to come.

See this from Michael Hirsh in Newsweek - "How then did we arrive at this day, with anti-American Islamist governments rising in the Mideast, bin Laden sneering at us, Qaeda lieutenants escaping from prison, Iran brazenly enriching uranium, and America as hated and mistrusted as it ever has been? The answer, in a word, is incompetence."

Kevin Drum in the Washington Monthly adds this -
Yes, there's been incompetence to spare, but there's also been considered policy at work, policy that deliberately marginalized our allies, tackled fake threats at the expense of real ones, made preemptive war our default preference, and criminally misjudged the actual nature of the conflict we're in. Even if it had been executed well, it still would have been disastrous.

But sure: incompetent too. The damage that George Bush has done to the United States is going to be with us for a very long time.
The ports deal seems to have just brought up the underlying problem.

See William Greider in The Nation here -
So why is the fearmonger-in-chief being so casual about this Dubai business? Because at some level of consciousness even George Bush knows the inflated fears are bogus. So do a lot of the politicians merrily throwing spears at him. He taught them how to play this game, invented the tactics and reorganized political competition as a demagogic dance of hysterical absurdities, endless opportunities to waste public money. Very few dare to challenge the mindset.
The politics of fear just hit the wall. It turned out to be a farce, and, like that Marx Brothers movie, a demagogic dance of hysterical absurdities, with endless opportunities to waste public money, and an this case, to do deals with your friends and thumb your nose at everyone.

And the president spent the end of the week in Indiana and Ohio, raising more than one and a half million for congressmen he needs to keep their seats, and saying things like this - "I wish I wasn't talking about war. No president ever says, 'Gosh, I hope there's war.' For those of you who are young here, I want you to know what I'm leading to is how to keep the peace and do my job that you expect me to do, which is to prevent the enemy from attacking again."


But it seems that the final credits are rolling and the lights are coming up.

Ah, but we will remember some hysterical absurdities with fondness thinking back on it all. Major General Geoffrey Miller was in charge of Guantánamo from 2002 to 2004, when he was then assigned to make Abu Ghraib in Baghdad work the same way. Late in the week disclosed a bit more of what was going on in the Muller years at Guantánamo, as reported here (Knight-Ridder) -
Military interrogators posing as FBI agents at the U.S. detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, wrapped terrorism suspects in an Israeli flag and forced them to watch homosexual pornography under strobe lights during interrogation sessions that lasted as long as 18 hours, according to one of a batch of FBI memos released Thursday.
Absurd, and hysterical is the other sense of the word. But did it work? That depends -
Military interrogators "are adamant that their interrogation strategies are the best ones to use despite a lack of evidence of their success," [an e-mail] said.

The same e-mail complained that the military officer overseeing interrogations, a lieutenant colonel whose name was blocked out, "blatantly misled the Pentagon into believing that the (FBI's behavioral-analysis team) had endorsed the (military's) aggressive and controversial interrogation plan" during a teleconference with Pentagon officials.
Got it? No evidence it works. So keep doing it. It might, one day. Or not. And the FBI behavioral-analysis guys wanted this crap stopped, and Miller's guys got on the line and told the Pentagon the FBI said they were doing just the right thing.


You want absurd? It's not A Passage to India - it's another farce.

First - Bush Prepares For India Trip, Says India Is Responsible Nuclear Nation. Yep, he's going for a visit. Complex stuff. Fast rising economy there, as the have all those industries doing what American workers used to do, but a great market for American goods - maybe they'll buy our stuff with their new riches. That'd take off some of the political heat back here regarding outsourcing. And they could be a buffer if China gets uppity. They have nuclear weapons, but have never signed onto the non-proliferation treaty, and are in conflict with our flakey war on terror ally Pakistan, and they have nukes there too. Tricky. And the may be the world's largest democracy, but were way friendly with the Soviets in the Cold War days. The idea is to make 'em happy. Then they'll help us with China and terror, and buy our stuff.

What to do? Offer them advanced nuclear technology. But of course make them promise to use it only on civilian stuff. But the offer upset all the national security worriers back here, thus the statements that these Indian folks were responsible.

It didn't matter. Late Friday they told us to stick our advanced nuclear technology where the sun don't shine (story here) - seems they don't give a hoot about our economic and political issues with China, and the don't like George treating them like children he can bribe and fool. It seems they want to be treated as adults, and not like American voters or American congressmen or senators.

Of course this didn't help - "The United States apologized and granted a visa on Friday to the Indian-born president of a world science body after he said he was refused entry on charges of hiding information that could be used for chemical weapons."

What? Professor Goverdhan Mehta, 62, an internationally recognized organic chemist, president of the Paris-based International Council for Science (ICSU) had been invited to a conference by the University of Florida. Some low-level staffer decided he was a terrorist and blew him off. He didn't make it. Ah well, it's not just Cat Stevens. This happens to world-famous scientists all the time. They complain. We look childish and foolish. Maybe we should have Dubai World Ports do the screening.

Of course it might be this - "George W Bush's protocol handlers have notified South Block that the American President's deep belief in his born-again faith precludes his visiting Mahatma Gandhi's Samadhi at New Delhi's Raj Ghat - during his forthcoming visit to India."

Nice move. What? They aren't Methodists over there? What's wrong with them?

It should be an interesting trip. He'll need to turn on some real Texas charm. Maybe he'll take along our new Minister of Propaganda, Karen Hughes. She can do her "I'm a mother so I understand" routine that she tried out in the Middle East.

No? It is a Marx brother film.

Ah well, as for wanting to be treated as adults, and not like American voters or American congressmen or senators, you cannot beat this -
Remember Total Information Awareness? The Bush administration does.

Congress thought it killed off the controversial data-mining project in 2003. "Total Information Awareness is no more," Sen. Ron Wyden declared then. "The lights are out."

The lights may have gone out at the Defense Department's Information Awareness Office, but it now seems that the Bush administration simply turned them back on elsewhere. Following up where Newsweek left off earlier this month, the National Journal is reporting that the administration is still pursuing some of the most important components of TIA under the black umbrella of the National Security Agency - the same agency tasked with the Bush administration's warrantless spying work.

The National Journal says the administration and its contractors have hidden the continued existence of TIA components by changing some of their names. An e-mail message from one contractor suggests that a big component of the project, previously known as the "Information Awareness Prototype System," now goes by the name "Basketball" instead, the National Journal says. "TIA has been terminated and should be referenced in that fashion," an employee of the contractor warned his colleagues. Similarly, the National Journal says, a project once known as "Genoa II" was renamed "Topsail" when it moved from the Defense Department to the NSA's Advanced Research and Development shop.

As the National Journal notes, Wyden asked FBI Director Robert Mueller and intelligence czar John Negroponte earlier this month whether TIA operations had been moved rather than shut down. They said they didn't know, but Gen. Michael Hayden - the former NSA director and point man for the administration's warrantless spying defense - was a little more circumspect. "I'd like to answer in closed session," he said.
Change the name and no one will notice. This is the gimmick in more than a few vaudeville routines, and happens in many a farce. That works.

And on it goes. Anyone could find five or ten such farce stories a day (six more here were dumped as citing more would just be piling on). So what?

Maybe the "so what" is that all these items, while not that bad in and of themselves, start to build a growing sense - in those not previously fed up with this combination of incompetence, blind pride and dim-wittedness - that something is amiss. And maybe something should be done. Maybe the middle will move. The port deal pushed any number of people over the edge. It's no fun living in a farce. You could die.

Posted by Alan at 21:13 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 25 February 2006 07:36 PST home

Thursday, 23 February 2006
Times Change: The Old Queen Mary Meets the New Queen Mary
Topic: Photos

Times Change: The Old Queen Mary Meets the New Queen Mary

Thursday is photography day. Commentary resumes tomorrow.

Thursday, February 23, 2006 - the historic first meeting of "two of the world's great ocean liners." The recently launched Queen Mary 2, the new giantess, sailed into Long Beach Harbor, up beside the original Queen Mary, permanently docked out here. The old Queen Mary is in financial trouble - its operating company is owned by a business that filed for bankruptcy last March and owes the city millions in back rent. The hotel and museum are still open, for now. The Queen Mary 2 is part of Carnival Cruise Lines, as they bought the Cunard Line, and the Queen Mary name, in 1998. They operate Cunard as a two-ship subsidiary. Times change.

Thousands of people turned out to see these two together - the roads were jammed and the skies filled with news helicopters and there were skydivers and such things. An unusual event, and a good photo-op, of course.

You will find a new photo album of the event here, thirty-five shots, mostly at high shutter speed with the telephoto lens.

The Los Angeles Times write-up of the event is here and there's more background form the Times here. In 1936 the first-class cabin round trip in the Queen Mary from New York to England and back cost $536. The Queen Mary 2 is charging from $7,749 to $79,349, per person, double occupancy, for its thirty-six day South America cruise from Los Angeles.

Here are a few shots from the album. More will appear in high-resolution in the next issue of Just Above Sunset. And here you will find the Just Above Sunset page of aerial views of Long Beach and the Queen Mary from August 2005.

The new Queen Mary 2 with mixed shipping -

You have to love the flourishes –

Posted by Alan at 22:53 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Wednesday, 22 February 2006
Second Thoughts: Hard A-Port, Point Ho!
Topic: Reality-Based Woes

Second Thoughts: Hard A-Port, Point Ho!

Wednesday, February 22nd, the day after the news broke that the government was allowing port operations at six major US ports to be managed by a state-owned company from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, with its history of connections to the Taliban and al Qaeda and of trafficking in nuclear bits and pieces going to bad folks who shouldn't have them, more odd details emerged. As reported here (and all over) - "President Bush was unaware of the pending sale of shipping operations at six major U.S. seaports to a state-owned business in the United Arab Emirates until the deal already had been approved by his administration, the White House said Wednesday."

What? He didn't know?

So it wasn't only the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and all the Republican congressmen and senators who "carried the water" for the president, defending all he does (the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court excepted), who didn't know. Even the president had just found out what the Treasury Secretary John Snow's committee on foreign investments approved, a committee formed in the seventies with the purpose to encourage such investments, chaired by the former head of the transportation firm CSX that was sold to state-owned company from Dubai for a few billion after he left.

What does that make the president - uninformed but defiant anyway?

That late news led to comments like this - "Ok Congress didn't know, Bush didn't know, the Joint Chiefs didn't know, Rumsfeld didn't know. Who the hell is running our government? This is a total lack of oversight or a major lie. The GOP congressional hearings on this subject should get really interesting."

Our friend the high-powered Wall Street attorney, commented, while stuck in traffic at the Holland Tunnel waiting to get out city, that this was an odd thing - one supposed virtue of the man as he ran for president was that he would run the country like a business. Bush had an MBA and would be the first real CEO president, running the national like a finely-tuned prosperous corporation (don't think about Arbusto Oil or the Texas Rangers). Cheney would be his COO, the operations officer implementing the "vision" of the chief executive officer. But this? Our friend, whose expertise is corporate contract law, muttered that in most large corporations the staff comes up with ideas, concepts, plans - and the CEO considers them all and approves what seems best and matches his vision. Our friend sees here stuff is just done, and the staff tells the CEO what's happening after they've launched whatever it is into action. This takes trusting your staff to a new level. On the other hand, in the ongoing Enron trial this seems to be one line of defense that Key Lay, another Texas CEO, is using - the senior staff was acting without authority and he himself did nothing wrong. His only fault was trusting them too much, and how can you punish someone for trusting others?

But its seems there's lots that the president just doesn't know. Maybe too much, as noted here -
Most recently, he was unaware of Jack Abramoff until his indictment.

He was unaware that mikes were still on after ushering press out of the room to speak to lawmakers.

He was unaware of the fact that Harriet Miers would displease many in his own party.

He was unaware last year that his own FEMA director no longer worked for him.

He was unaware of the danger of Katrina. He was unaware of the problem until the next day. Soon, the administration was claiming that nobody could have predicted the leveling of an American city by levee damage.

Despite one notable Presidential Daily Briefing to the contrary, he was unaware of any specific threat to the nation by Al Qaeda before 9/11. Soon, the administration would claim that only unaware Republicans could deal with homeland security competently.

He was unaware, of course, of any pressing need to stop reading My Pet Goat immediately after hearing the news that the United States was under attack.

He was even unaware that he was a polarizing figure in the country as late as 2004.
There's a pattern?

This is a somewhat detached management style - hold the "big vision" and articulate it in undemanding terms like a simple-minded third grader, appoint contributors and key friends to critical positions, let them do what they will without judging what's really a good thing to do, and defend them even if what they've done is bone-headed. It's hard to think of successful corporation that uses that model, other than Enron before the bankruptcy.

So we have this port thing with everyone hopping mad, and those congressional hearings looming next month, as Senator Norm Coleman is disconcerted -
"I have grave concerns both about the sale of major U.S. ports to a United Arab Emirates company, Dubai Ports World, and the process by which that sale was approved," Coleman said in a prepared statement. "The sale must be held up so Congress can fully review its national security implications."

Coleman, a Minnesota Republican, held a hearing on port security last year before the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which he chairs. That hearing focused on Government Accountability Office reports that found flaws in two Customs and Border Protection programs.

Coleman said he would request all documents related to the sale of the ports. He added in an interview that he would support legislation to block the deal until Congress has a chance to review it.
He's not the only one upset, as in this letter to the president (PDF format) from Republican congresswoman Sue Myrick of North Carolina in regard to the "sale" of the ports - "...just say NO - HELL NO!" It's one sentence long and she released it to the press.

Well, any number of commentators who belong to the Cult of Bush - it may look wrong and actually be illegal, but if Bush does it you have to trust him as his motives are pure and he never wavers - are pointing to this Wall Street Journal editorial here - "So far, none of the critics have provided any evidence that the Administration hasn't done its due diligence. The deal has been blessed by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a multi-agency panel that includes representatives from the departments of Treasury, Defense and Homeland Security."

Bush trusted them, so we should?

Wouldn't normal practice be for this committee to recommend this and ask the CEO to approve? It seems, however, that everyone in the organization knows this CEO doesn't like detail. You wouldn't want to make him angry by troubling him with minor stuff. But then, if anyone on the committee had a sense that this could be political dynamite, they might have given him a heads-up, just so he knew they'd be some work ahead to calm the waters.

There are some odd management dynamics at play here. He doesn't tell them what to do and they don't tell him what they've done. Then he blusters and says this is all fine and dares those who are surprised to defy him. The word "dysfunctional" comes to mind here, in an organizational sense.

Do you suppose anyone told him his war seems to have, on Wednesday, February 22nd, finally failed - the sectarian civil war there has begun in earnest, as Sunni guys dressed in official-looking commando uniforms managed to blow up the Shiite al-Askari shrine in Samarra, the one with the big gold dome. This is a big deal, with the holy graves and all - kind of like mad Lutherans blowing up Saint Peters in Rome, instead of nailing things to doors.

Briefly this from Dan Murphy of the Christian Science Monitor -
As citizens deserted the streets of Baghdad in the wake of the attack, many said they feared this could be a seminal moment in Iraq's low-intensity civil war.

"The war could really be on now,'' says Abu Hassan, a Shiite street peddler who declined to give his full name. "This is something greater and more symbolic than attacks on people. This is a strike at who we are."

... "This could be a tipping point,'' says Juan Cole, a historian of Shiite Islam at the University of Michigan. "At some point, the Shiite street is going to be so fed up that they're not going to listen any more to calls for restraint."
What happens next? Some bullet points from the BBC here -
• In Baghdad, a Sunni mosque in Baladiya district is raked with gunfire, while black-clad militiamen of the Shia Mehdi Army demonstrate in Sadr City; six Sunnis die in violence

• In Basra, gunmen attack Sunni mosques and exchange fire with guards at an office of the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party

• Businesses shut down in Najaf and about 1,000 march through the streets, waving flags and shouting slogans
Markets, shops and stalls close in Diwaniya, AP says. A Mehdi Army militiaman is killed in clashes after gunmen from the faction attack Sunni houses, Reuters news agency reports

• About 3,000 people demonstrate in the Shia city of Kut, chanting anti-American and anti-Israeli slogans and burning US and Israeli flags, AP says.
And a detail in the Washington Post account here notes Iran is saying that American and Israeli forces are to blame for the bombing. And this melds with the cartoon wars, as there are reports that some nut cases are saying the Danes were behind the bombing of the Shiite al-Askari shrine in Samarra. Great.

The UN - and we have little use for them - is trying to get the various Shiite and Sunni leaders to stop right now and talk with each other - the news story is here and quotes our CEO president - "Violence will only contribute to what the terrorists sought to achieve."

Who knows what that means? The layers of irony are deep. What was that war about? He's on a "just say no to violence" kick now? The man can be confusing.

But it seems someone told him his war wasn't going well.

It's like this. Set some "transformative event" in motion and you never know what you're going to get. Call it "extreme delegation" - don't consider all possible consequences, discard the worst-case scenarios, disregard what's in the risks-assumptions tables, blow off the resource allocation analyses, do no if-then planning. And develop a cost-benefit decision matrix based on simple-minded idealism, not on real costs and realistic outcomes, but on what you wish were so. Delegate (give them their disassembled nation) and hope for the best.

Many of us know the basic management tools. Project planning is a pain in the ass. But you do it. You have to. What made these guys exempt from reality?

Ah well, the final insult is that Bill O'Reilly of Fox News, of all people, is now saying get us out Iraq as soon as possible. No kidding. See this. Three months ago he was calling those advocating immediate withdrawal from Iraq "pinheads" and compared them to Hitler appeasers. Now he's ticked.

Lyndon Johnson lost Walter Cronkite of CBS, and muttered to himself that it was all over. Vietnam was lost. And it was, even if it took years to wind down. George Bush has lost Bill O'Reilly of Fox News. What is he muttering to himself?

But O'Reilly is, if nothing else, mercurial, and may change his mind again. Who knows? The fifty-five percent of the country who now think the war is pointless may not flip back so easily, and even if our ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, has said we'll stop all aid if this gets any worse (here) - and we all see where this is going. Who wants to go there? "The volatility of the political process was exacerbated Monday by suggestions from Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador to Iraq, that the United States might decrease financial help to a government that excluded some sects and ethnic groups." We don't have a dog in this hunt.

Of course we removed the tyrant who held things together with terror, mass murder, and the brutal exclusion of the majority Shiites. We just laid the groundwork for a civil war based on religious fanaticism (as an outside sees it). Do we want to take sides regarding who is right about the true son of the Prophet Mohammed? Maybe we really should have built those risks-assumptions tables. Say, what did happen to Yugoslavia after Tito was gone?

But the port thing may be a red-herring, not a big deal, just a chance for lots of politicians to do a lot of posturing. Who really cares about protecting our country from the bad guys? Ah, it seems it isn't Bush. Yes, it is! No, he's giving away the ports to our enemies! No, he isn't!


Kevin Drum in the Washington Monthly untangles things quite a bit here, first addressing the issue that Dubai Ports World (DPW) isn't a private company, it's a state-owned company. Yeah, so?

Drum points to this in the Financial Times explaining state-owned companies already operate terminals here - China Shipping at the Port of Los Angeles and APL (owned by Singapore's state-owned NOL) in Oakland. From the Financial Times - "The US container port industry would be unworkable without companies controlled by foreign governments." And Drum notes "DPW and Singapore's state-owned PSA are the third and fourth largest port operators in the world, and China's Hutchison Ports already refuses to invest in the US. If all of these firms are shut out of the country, we lose access to some of the best and most efficient port operators in the world."

Oh. That.

And Drum adds, "encouraging the xenophobic jingoism that's driving this controversy is a little too much for me. Unless there are serious substantive reasons to oppose this deal, I'm not willing to jump on the bandwagon solely because it's an opportunity for some righteous Bush bashing."

You might want to check out his quotes from five different port operators who wonder what all the fuss is about. The problem is that this is just the nature of the shipping business.

Dock workers themselves would continue to be American union members, and port security would continue to be provided by the Coast Guard and Customs.
In the end, there's nothing left to this controversy except the raw question of whether the government of the United Arab Emirates is sympathetic to international terrorism and therefore likely to implement policies that would make it easier for al-Qaeda to infiltrate ports in the US - something most analysts seem to think is pretty far-fetched. God knows I wouldn't mind some congressional oversight on this question, especially if it prompted some serious action on actual port security, but if turns out that the UAE is really untrustworthy then I'd like to find someplace else for the Navy to park their ships too. The port of Dubai is the busiest port of call for the United States Navy outside the continental United States.

In the absence of serious evidence of untrustworthiness, though, I'd prefer to walk the liberal internationalism walk instead of jumping ship for short term political gain. I've said before that engaging seriously with the Arab world is the best way of fighting terrorism, and I meant it. This is a chance to do exactly that.

... But the whole thing feeds on a mindless anti-Arab jingoism that's genuinely dangerous, and that's why I'm not joining the fun unless I hear some really good reasons for doing so. As liberals, we're either serious about engaging with the Muslim world in a sensible, non-hysterical way or we're not. Which is it?
Well, logic sometimes works wonders. This seems to be more a chance for politicians to "make a statement" on how very, very, very seriously they take our security. It's a politically useful controversy.

Of course, you might, if you're really into realty and logic, read this, Daniel Engber in the "Explainer" series, well, explaining what a "port operator" does - gets cargo containers off of ships and puts them onto trucks or trains and does the paperwork to get incoming shipments through customs, and uses its computer system to help connect the goods with potential recipients, under tight specific contracts with the local government (the public port authority) that approves and monitors the operator's security plan. It's kind of boring, but the link to the computerized yard management system "to help each trucker connect with his payload" might interest some systems folks.

No one is "selling the ports" and giving the bad guys control of our lives.

So the controversy may resolve to how this was handled, not the deal, which may be safe.

And that means it's a management issue.

How is our CEO running things? He works for us, and we need to decide if he's running the joint effectively, or if he's the one running it at all.

There's this from Andrew Sullivan -
I'm subscriber to the screw-up view of history, so I doubt if there's some Rovian double-bluff here. What's undeniable is that this administration has, for some time, been remarkably obtuse, flat-footed and incompetent, even by its own extremely low standards. It doesn't take a genius to see a headline like "Port To Be Run By 9/11 Country" will do great damage. But no one saw it coming; the Congress wasn't adequately briefed; the middle class was not prepared. It's also clear that whatever leverage this president had over his own party, it has all but evaporated these past couple of months. They're not afraid of him; and pretty soon, a whole bunch will be running against him. This incident, Bush's rash and stupid veto threat, and the blithe way in which much of the GOP is now ignoring or scorning him, is a sign of how much oomph is left in this administration. Not much.
And there are the diplomatic issues.

James K. Glassman here -
"Dubai - I don't have to tell you - is an Arab nation. Yes, two of the 9/11 hijackers were citizens of the UAE, but, then again, as Ivan Eland of the Independent Institute notes, Richard Reid, the attempted "shoe bomber," was a British citizen, and Jose Padilla, among others, is an American citizen (as was Timothy McVeigh). The UAE has been a staunch ally in the war on terror, training security forces in Iraq and helping to cut off the flow of money to al Qaeda.

Isn't this precisely what the United States preaches? Don't we want places like Dubai to fight terror and to grow, to invest, to buy, to trade, to adopt Western commercial practices, to expose themselves to the rest of the world and thus become tolerant and moderate?"
In the conservative National Review there's this -
It is understandable that American politicians would want to seek clarifications, safeguards, and accountability on the DP World deal in honor of all those who were mercilessly murdered on that tragic September morning. But the best way to honor their memories is to use the Dubai deal as a model to build effective bridges to the Arab and Muslim world - as we did in Pakistan, Iraq, and Afghanistan - instead of erecting barriers that reveal America's paranoia and fear about some Islamist doomsday scenario no one can predict, all the while alienating the very people we need to help raise up the Muslim world's disaffected so they are not so desperate to tear us down.
And one of Andrew Sullivan's readers, when Sullivan pointed to that, give us this -
I'm shocked you find that article from the National Review folks persuasive in any way. Sure, they talk about using the Dubai Port deal as a "model to build effective bridges to the Arab and Muslim world" ... but come on ... that must be the biggest joke I've ever read. If they truly believed building bridges to the Muslim and Arab world was important they wouldn't be so gung-ho and supportive of this administrations policies of torture, degradation and abuse of Muslim and Arab citizens. In fact, I'm shocked that you of all people didn't call them on it. Any effective bridges that are going to be built between America and Muslim world are going to start with our policies in Iraq ... not with some billion dollar company owned by UAE.
Ah, the idea is to show good will it might be nice to stop with the other stuff and not worry about how to sell this port deal to the posturing politicians and the panicked masses.

But that other stuff isn't going to stop. And the civil war is on in Iraq, and our CEO is out of the loop.

Perhaps the Board of Directors should form a search committee for a new CEO or something.

Posted by Alan at 22:45 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 22 February 2006 22:54 PST home

Tuesday, 21 February 2006
Disconnected Thinking: Any Port in a Storm
Topic: Couldn't be so...

Disconnected Thinking: Any Port in a Storm

Actually, this is getting pathological in some odd way. The business with the Vice President and how he handled the hunting accident was odd enough. Newsweek picked up on that weirdness with a long and new cover story here (the magazine cover shows him in hunting gear with his shotgun with big yellow letters - "Cheney's Secret World") -
Dick Cheney has never been your normal politician. He has never seemed as eager to please, as needy for votes and approval and headlines as, say, Bill Clinton. Cheney can seem taciturn, self-contained, a little gloomy; in recent years, his manner has been not just unwelcoming but stand-offish. This is not to say, however, that he is entirely modest and self-effacing, or that he does not crave power as much as or more than any office-seeker. This, after all, is a man who, in conducting a search for George W. Bush's vice president, picked himself. Indeed, since 9/11, Cheney has struck a pose more familiar to readers of Greek tragedies than the daily Hotline. At times, he appears to be the lonely leader, brooding in his tent, knowing that doom may be inevitable, but that the battle must be fought, and that glory can be eternal.

... What happened to the genial, gently amusing Dick Cheney of the 2000 vice presidential debate? After he and Al Gore's running mate, Sen. Joe Lieberman, exchanged good-humored quips, more than a few voters wondered why the tickets couldn't be flipped - allowing a couple of affable, common-sensical Washington hands to run for president instead of Bush and Gore, who at times seemed like the wounded sons of great political dynasties, groaning under the burden of expectation. Cheney, the conservative that moderates once seemed to like, has strangely iced over in recent years. Even his old friends sometimes wonder if he has not grown angrier, more suspicious, even paranoid. Last fall, Brent Scowcroft, national-security adviser in the George H. W. Bush administration, caused a stir by telling The New Yorker magazine, "I consider Cheney a good friend - I've known him for thirty years. But Dick Cheney I don't know anymore."
The misunderstood hero of a Greek tragedy brooding in his tent? Washington as the dusty plains of Troy? Oh my. But think about Achilles' inner torment as he sits inside his tent brooding, refusing to join the fight raging outside over a grudge with his king, Agamemnon. It's something like that - think of Cheney staying away for almost a week last fall as people died in the flooded streets of New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast. He was fishing in Wyoming or Montana or some such place. Let the king deal with the mess - let him drown in the anger of the masses stirred up by the likes of Anderson Cooper. Then he finally flies down to New Orleans to make a speech or two for the king, grudgingly - and some wag in the audience shouts at him to go fuck himself, just as Cheney had hissed at the senator from Maine on the Senate floor. It's not exactly Homer, but it will do.

This was very odd. But now the king himself on this fine Tuesday was doing that Greek hubris thing, big time, as Cheney is wont to say. Tuesday, February 21st, as folks got back to work after the long President's Day weekend, the president dug in his heels and had not just the usual critics berating him, but his own party wondering just what he was thinking when he approved a company controlled by the United Arab Emirates, specifically Dubai, to run the major commercial operations at ports in Baltimore, Miami, New Jersey, New Orleans, New York and Philadelphia. And then, as the protests were swelling and seemed unanimous, the president said if the Republican-controlled congress tried to stop this with any sort of legislation he'd use his veto for the very first time, even if it seemed (as it does) there are enough hypothetical votes to override this hypothetical veto. What's up with that? And it seemed as Tuesday drew to a close, the only one outside the administration's inner circle who had no problem with this was ex-president Jimmy "Killer Rabbit" Carter. And that just drove the wingnuts - the Rush Limbaugh "dittoheads" and Bill O'Reilly fans and the rest - up the wall. Jimmy Carter? The ironies were compounding exponentially.

Just what is going on? Like we need mad Homeric characters running things now?

To be fair, this is a business matter. Commercial operations at those six ports had been run just fine by a British company, Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation - and they were just purchased by Dubai Ports World, a state-owned business in the United Arab Emirates. Such things happen. And renewing the contract was reviewed by Treasury Department's Committee on Foreign Investment in the US - eleven folks from various agencies meeting in closed session. They decided there was no problem, even though the CEO of Dubai Ports World reports directly to the Crown Prince of Dubai (and seems to be some sort of prince himself). This is not a private company.

In addition? Just some notes -
- The UAE was one of three countries in the world to recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan.

- The UAE has been a key transfer point for illegal shipments of nuclear components to Iran, North Korea and Lybia.

- According to the FBI, money was transferred to the 9/11 hijackers through the UAE banking system.

- After 9/11, the Treasury Department reported that the UAE was not cooperating in efforts to track down Osama Bin Laden's bank accounts.
But they're our allies now of course, where we offload troops and supplies and stage operations. Things change.

Snow's committee said there were no security issues now. The Homeland Security head, Chertoff, was all over the talk shows saying that too, and you can believe him - he may have screwed up things with the response to Hurricane Katrina, but he said he'd do better next time, and he did finally force out Michael Brown from his post as head of FEMA.

One can be sure these wouldn't endanger us.

But then there were these notes in a New York paper -
The Dubai firm that won Bush administration backing to run six U.S. ports has at least two ties to the White House.

One is Treasury Secretary John Snow, whose department heads the federal panel that signed off on the $6.8 billion sale of an English company to government-owned Dubai Ports World - giving it control of Manhattan's cruise ship terminal and Newark's container port.

Snow was chairman of the CSX rail firm that sold its own international port operations to DP World for $1.15 billion in 2004, the year after Snow left for President Bush's cabinet.

The other connection is David Sanborn, who runs DP World's European and Latin American operations and who was tapped by Bush last month to head the U.S. Maritime Administration.
They've worked with and for Dubai Ports World, so they must know something. Yes, it looks mighty suspicious, but you have to trust you government., it seems.

And since forty percent of or military supplies bound for Iraq and Afghanistan move through these ports the guys at the Pentagon must be okay with this. Not exactly, as noted here - "In a press briefing today, Secretary Rumsfeld revealed that he was not consulted about the decision to transfer operations of six key U.S. ports to the United Arab Emirates, a country with troubling ties to international terrorism." It goes on to note the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top military leader, General Pace, was a tad puzzled. No one asked him. So the civilian leader of the military and his unformed counterpart were somewhat surprised.

The congress was more surprised - Frist to Offer Bill Halting U.S. Port Deal. Yes, the Republican leader of the Senate, the good Doctor Bill "Diagnose at a Distance" Frist (MD), wants a bill to stop this, maybe not entirely, but long enough for a bit more consideration.

There are too those pesky Republican governors -
The Republican governors of New York and Maryland on Monday joined the growing chorus of criticism of an Arab company's takeover of operations at six major American ports. Both raised the threat of legal action to void contracts at ports in New York City and Baltimore.

"I have directed the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to explore all legal options that may be available to them in regards to this transaction," Gov. George E. Pataki of New York said in a statement.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. of Maryland told reporters that he had "a lot of discretion" and was considering his options, including voiding the contract.
But then who will run the ports? The British company exited the business.

And here you'll find some transcription from what was said on the air, as with Suzanne Malveaux, the CNN White House reporter, reporting on the President's public statements -
He would veto any legislation to hold up this deal and warned that the United States was sending mixed signals by going after a company from the Middle East when they said nothing when a British company was in charge. He goes on to say that it is the lawmakers - members of Congress - that have to step up and explain why a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard. He also took issue with a reporter's question aboard the plane saying what is the - kind of the politics of all of this - and he says that this is not a political issue.

Clearly, Tony, we've all been waiting to see what the President was going to do, what he would say, and how he was going to come out on this issue. He has spoken very strongly aboard Air Force One essentially saying he would veto any legislation that would put that deal on hold.
And there's Ed Henry reporting house leader Dennis Hastert had issued a "strongly worded" letter encouraging the President to back away from the port deal.
Even as the President is now declaring that he wants this port deal to go through and that he would veto any legislation the Congress passes to try to block the deal, CNN has also just learned that the Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, a key Republican ally of the President, of course, has just fired off a letter to the President saying he should halt the port deal. He's saying he should also "conduct a more thorough review of the matter before it goes forward." Hastert is also warning that he might introduce legislation if the President does not follow through on that.

This letter almost directly mirrors... what Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist sent to the President earlier today. A prepared statement - not a letter - a prepared statement telling the President - complaining - that there had been very little Congressional consultation in this whole process. Also complaining about the potential security ramifications of having this Dubai company actually take over the operations of US ports. Senator Frist had also basically said it's time to halt this deal otherwise he will introduce legislation. This is coming after rank and file Republicans all up and down the East Coast of the United States, in port cities from New York to Florida, today and in recent days calling for the deal to be halted.

And finally, Republican senator Susan Collins today, Chair of the Homeland Security Committee, she's saying she'll introduce a resolution of disapproval of this whole port deal. That's another problem and headache for this White House.

And finally, Senator Chuck Grassley, key Republican - Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee - just within the last hour put out a statement blasting this entire deal. You see the President digging in, but Republicans on Capitol Hill really pushing back hard. This is a tremendous political headache for the White House.
So it would seem. So why do it?

Well, there may be reason to do it. And Dubai Ports World may be the only good alternative. The question is, then, why handle it this way? Why no heads-up to key people and no consultation? After all the business staring with "oops no WMD" through the "we'll do better next time and we really did our best" Hurricane Katrina business, though "yeah, the vice president shot someone in the face but it's no big deal" silliness, this is not the time to say "trust us" one more time.

There's also a transcription from the CNN Crossfire show, where the curmudgeon Jack Cafferty plays off the host stultifying but earnest host Wolf Blitzer with the question of the day (where viewers send email) -
Wolf, this may be the straw that finally breaks the camel's back, this deal to sell control of six US ports to a company controlled by the United Arab Emirates. There are now actually Senators and Congressmen and Governors and Mayors telling the White House "you're not gonna do this." And it's about time. No one has said "no" to this administration on anything that matters in a very long time. Well this matters. It matters a lot. If this deal is allowed to go through, we deserve whatever we get. A country with ties to terrorists will have a presence at six critical doorways to our country. And if anyone thinks that the terrorists, in time, won't figure out how to exploit that, then we're all done. Nothing's happened yet, mind you, but if our elected representatives don't do everything in their power to stop this thing, each of us should vow to work tirelessly to see that they are removed from public office. We're at a crossroads - which way will we choose?

Here's the question: What should be done to stop a deal that would allow an Arab company to run US Ports?
Later in the show, the second question -
It doesn't matter if I'm convinced. There's 300 million people in this country that have a vote in this and it matters whether they're convinced. Based on the emails I'm reading this afternoon, they're a long way from being convinced.

When President Bush threatened to veto he said "I want those who are questioning this to step up explain why all of a sudden a middle eastern company is held to a different standard than a Great British company."

How about these:

- The United Arab Emirates, which owns the company that would be operating these ports, served as both an operational and financial base for several of the 9/11 hijackers who murdered 3,000 innocent people in this country on 9/11.
- Want some more? The United Arab Emirates served as a transfer point for shipments of smuggled nuclear components that were sent to Iran, North Korea and Libya by a Pakistani scientist.
- Great Britain, on the other hand, has been an ally of the United States against people like terrorists and dictators for more than 200 years.

Here's the question: Should a company from the United Arab Emirates be held to a different standard than a company from Britain when it comes to controlling US ports?
You can watch the streaming video of this here, and imagine the responses.

Is it possible the president, or more precisely, his advisors, thought this would be just fine with folks? The Republican House, the Republican Senate, the Republican Governors up in arms? And only Jimmy Carter siding with the administration?

What could be the reason this was handled this way, setting aside psychopathology (narcissism of the "I can do anything" sort)?

The president, or more precisely, his advisors, could have assumed that, given the polling by issue, in the basement on everything from the economy to Iraq, still rates the president fairly highly on his commitment to fighting terrorism. A big chunk of the public is just fine with secret warrantless wiretaps on all citizens, as the world is full of evil people out to kill us all and they've done nothing wrong. Like the Congresswoman from Cincinnati, Jean Schmidt, they feel it would be just fine to suspend the constitution - these are far more dangerous times than when the Soviets had thousands of nukes aimed at us, ready to launch. These guys have box-cutters! And the oceans don't protect us any more. (Yes, the Soviet ICBM warheads would be stopped by the vastness of the oceans, of course, and in the War of 1812 the British could not cross the Atlantic and burn the White House to the ground, even if the history books say that happened. Whatever.) The idea seemed to be that "national security" was the one remaining area where the president got a free ride - he didn't have to explain anything to anyone. He could do what he wanted. People trusted him, not those "weak on terror" Democrats.

Guess not. You learn some lessons the hard way. He just threw away his trump card.

And there's this - Mr. President, Stop Port Sale Now Or Lose Congress. Is he trying to do that?

Of course the president has his rejoinder -
I want those who are questioning it to step up and explain why all of a sudden a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard than a Great British [sic] company. I'm trying to conduct foreign policy now by saying to people of the world, we'll treat you fairly. And after careful scrutiny, we believe this deal is a legitimate deal that will not jeopardize the security of the country, and at the same time, send that signal that we're willing to treat people fairly.
"Great British?" The man has a way with words.

But everyone knows this Middle Eastern company is not the same as the departed British company. Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation (P&O) was a private firm, and the new owners are a foreign government, only recently friendly to us, and some have doubts about that. But he does have a point. Opposing this could be seen in the Middle East as an indication Americans don't trust Arabs of any sort, or Muslims in general, be they Arab, Persian or Kurds or Turkman or whatever.

But this wasn't initially presented as a diplomatic effort to say "we trust you" to the Arab world. This argument is presented as an afterthought. He's saying if you oppose this you're racist and undiplomatic. And that's a bit rich. We launched an elective war that has that whole region in chaos, and Iran itching for nukes, and budding anti-American government forming in the nation we invaded and occupy.

Oppose this port thing and they'll suddenly think we're the bad guys? It's a little late for that. People here, and there, aren't stupid.

Is this just arrogance, or the miscalculation of an administration so isolated from what people now think that they're in some alternative universe? Stir up mindless fear for four years and then say that, by the way, the good folks from the government of Dubai will handle operations at our key ports - and they think folks won't run into the streets tearing their hair and rending their garments? That's not exactly what's happening, but the mid-term elections are soon and its hard for any congressman or senator up for reelection to ask voters to turn on a dime, and after having been carefully conditioned for four years to fear "the other" and be willing to give up privacy and that constitutional stuff, say, well, if George Bush says this is a good thing it must be. The conditioning worked too well. Oops.

Maybe it's just a power thing - no need to tell the Pentagon or consult with congress. They don't matter anymore. We have a "unified executive" in time of war, or something like war but not declared.

You can see what could happen. Congress passes a law firmly saying "no" to this, then the president vetoes it, then the congress overrides the veto, then the president signs it into law, saying he wanted the "no" all along, then he attaches a signing statement saying he will follow the law but reserves the right to ignore it if it has anything to do with the war on terror, as he has his "plenary powers" as commander-in-chief and no one can interfere with his war-waging decisions. No congress, no court. Kind of like the McCain amendment banning torture. Fine idea. Talk to the hand.

But even his stanch supporters are having trouble with this one. The nomination of the frumpy and dim-witted Harriet Myers to the Supreme Court has them up in arms. That was a joke - nominating an unqualified friend. The pro-life big-business evangelic right waited all those long years for her? After maybe twelve hours of if-GWB-says-she's-wonderful-maybe-she-might-be tolerance, they turned. She was excoriated and the nomination withdrawn.

This is worse. Now John Podhoretz at the National Review is saying this about the port deal - "It's possible that this event is George Bush's Bitburg."

Bitburg? You remember Bitburg. President Ronald Reagan laying a wreath on the tomb of the Nazi SS death squad soldiers, letting the Germans know that we were morally amnesic even if they weren't, or something. The SS weren't that bad? Who knows what he was thinking? He got a little fuzzy there toward the end. But what were his advisors thinking? Someone planned that. Bad idea.

People aren't stupid. That. Harriet Myers. This.

Achilles pouts in his tent. King Agamemnon is mad. The dust blows across the plains of Troy and the war continues. Homer is a giggle - the Iliad is first rate.

We do this all again.

Notes on things people notice -

Back on February 8th in They're Laughing at Us there's a section marked "It's Your Fault If You Took Us Seriously" -
As you recall, in the most recent State of the Union address, among other things, the president said we were "addicted to oil" and that had to end. Reduce the importation of oil from the Middle East by seventy percent in the coming decades! Switch to ethanol made from cellulose - from woodchips and magic switchgrass! Pull out all the stops! To the research labs!

The Saudis weren't happy and within twelve hours the Secretary of Energy was saying, well, the president was speaking metaphorically, and the switch away from oil was only offered as "an example" - as the president only meant to say reusable sources of energy were generally a pretty thing.

So how metaphorically was he speaking?

Everyone seems to be noting this - the National Renewable Energy Laboratory - the Department of Energy's "primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research" - is downsizing. Budget problems. They're laying off thirty-two people, eight of them research staff. The budget has been cut again.

He was speaking metaphorically.

And no one was supposed to notice this detail. But with hungry reporters and pesky bloggers on the net, things get noticed.

And Tuesday, February 21st, there's this, a small Associated Press item noted in the Washington Post. Bush visited the lab - the National Renewable Energy Laboratory - and before he arrived those thirty-two people had been rehired. Someone found the funding late last week. Bush said, well, sometimes dreadful things happen in the appropriating process. But it was unintentional. The administration really meant to fully fund the lab. Stuff happens.

In the same post there was a section marked "Employment Opportunity" - the feds had a job posting for an "Assistant Civil Liberties Protection Officer." - for "the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) in ensuring that the protection of civil liberties and privacy is appropriately incorporated in the policies and procedures developed for and implemented by the ODNI and the elements of the intelligence community (IC) within the National Intelligence Program, and in performing other statutory and assigned duties." You see, the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 created the position of civil liberties protection officer within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The president signed the act into law in December 2004, but he didn't name anyone to fill that post until December 2005. The job application closes on the 28th, so hurry, or don't/

Why note? Tuesday, February 21st the Los Angeles Times reports this - the group was formed but no one ever met.

Who lead this phantom board? Ah -
The board chairwoman is Carol E. Dinkins, a Houston lawyer who was a Justice Department official in the Reagan administration. A longtime friend of the Bush family, she was the treasurer of George W. Bush's first campaign for governor of Texas, in 1994, and co-chair of Lawyers for Bush-Cheney, which recruited Republican lawyers to handle legal battles after the November 2004 election.

Dinkins, a longtime partner in the Houston law firm of Vinson & Elkins, where Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales once was a partner, has specialized in defending oil and gas companies in environmental lawsuits.
Yep, they're laughing at us.

Then there's this - a sergeant major just home from Iraq is denied entrance to a George Bush rally and threatened with arrest because he's brought a couple of his students with him - and one of the students has a John Kerry sticker on his wallet. They scare his wife, then ask him over and over if he supports the president. He won't answer. They want to cuff him, and he asks them if they really want to do that to a guy who led troop in battle in Iraq. They back off, but toss the students out. Now he's running for congress as a Democrat. Why would that be?

Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, in an email noted this from the New York Times -
Mr. Bush expanded on his defense of the program in Tampa, Fla., on Friday, saying he believed that he had to take extraordinary steps in a time of war.

"Unfortunately, we're having this discussion," he said of the debate over wiretapping. "It's too bad, because guess who listens to the discussion: the enemy."

He added: "The enemy is adjusting..."
Ric comments -
The enemy is the only one listening? Adjusting? He means who? Them? Us? Both? 'We' equal 'enemy?'

It's not cute, this attempt to blame us - for his mistakes.

Unfortunately we are having this discussion, because of one man - GW Bush. He should have thought about the 'enemy' before he set out on this course of warrantless searches.

Does the 'enemy' get satisfaction from the discussion? Probably. GW Bush can thank himself for it. He can take all the credit.
Yep, people aren't stupid. Ric's right.

And they might notice this - a mad dash by the government to classify tens of thousands of documents, moist of them previously published and available to all. Need a secret government and to make the past disappear. This kind of bugs the historians. But then, history is what one says it is. It's a bit Soviet, isn't it? Well, everything changed after 9/11 of course. And too there's this - career diplomats bailing from the State Department as political appointees are brought in to keep them in line and make them think right. File the wrong set of facts from a foreign capital and your career is gone. You may have the facts right, but they aren't welcome. A Soviet view of facts, but it keeps people focused on... something.

And so it goes.

Posted by Alan at 23:18 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 21 February 2006 23:40 PST home

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