Just Above Sunset
October 9, 2005 - Looking Behind the News

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Thursday, October 6th brought turmoil of course:

The Big Speech

Midmorning the president gave his long-awaited speech in which he was going to explain everything about the war in Iraq - Bush turns up rhetoric in the antiterror fight (International Herald Tribune / NY Times) - but everyone got to write their own headline:

- Bush lashes out at 'Islamo-fascism' (Daily Times, Pakistan)
- Bush begs for support to fight 'evil radicals' waging war on ... (Times Online, UK)
- A Mess of George Bush's Own Making (The Nation)
- Bush: Militants Seek to Establish Empire (Guardian Unlimited, UK)
- Bush rejects Iraq critics, sees more sacrifice (Washington Post)

… and this assessment - Say What? - Bush's speech was a sad, demoralizing spectacle (Fred Kaplan at SLATE.COM).

Take your pick. The speech seemed to be a halftime pep talk, a "we can win this thing" exhortation - but the coach didn't diagram any new plays or suggest different coverage patterns on defense, and he certainly didn't change the lineup at all. He didn't mention the score. He may not know the score. In fact, Kaplan tells us that military analyst William Arkin reports in his Washington Post blog, "Early Warning," that just last month the Defense Department issued an RFP to outside contractors to devise "a system of metrics to accurately assess US progress in the War on Terrorism, identify critical issues hindering progress, and develop and track action plans to resolve the issues identified." Yes, this far along it's odd that just now they're issuing a "request for proposal" for someone to come up with some kind of idea on how to keep score in this game.

You can say, "We're winning this thing - just hang on and try harder," but you just have to trust the coach on that. They're going to get some bids on a scoreboard and game clock and install it later? That seems to be the case. Oh well.

The central point of this address was that we can't give up now or swarthy madmen will take over the world and kill us all.

Bush: "We will never back down, never give in, and never accept anything less than complete victory." (One thinks of Tim Allen playing Jason Nesmith, who plays Commander Peter Quincy Taggart, in the 1999 film Galaxy Quest - an underrated and deeply ironic spoof on much of our culture - spouting the line "Never Give Up, Never Surrender!" - each time with more and more disconnect from any kind of reality. There it's comic.)

The speech got buried in other news. Just as well.

We're All Going to Die!

Late afternoon? The mayor of New York was on television telling everyone there were specific plans by someone or other to bomb the city subways and he was flooding the stations with cops and for the next few days please report anything suspicious, but ride the subways anyway as they were safe, really. (Bloomberg Cites 'Specific Threat' to NY Subways) He said the FBI had shared with city officials a "specific threat" to the New York subway system, and asked the public to be vigilant. No one could verify the source of the treat, and no one could corroborate the threat - but it was specific. Watch those suspicious briefcases and baby carriages.

Perhaps he could have done the jump in security without all the fanfare, and caught the bad guys off guard. Ah well. It's always good to scare people and let the bad guys know what you're up to. Sacred folks vote Republican. And of course the bad guys will now know to wait until things cool down. Like they have a timetable?

The Noose Tightens

Also late in the afternoon? That prosecutor investigating who in the White House had the bright idea of revealing the name of an undercover CIA agent to get back at her husband for embarrassing the president when he exposed a bit of fibbing about Saddam trying to build nuclear weapons, Patrick Fitzgerald, "invited" Karl Rove back to chat with the grand jury, although the New York Times uses a different verb - Rove Summoned to Testify Again in CIA Leak Investigation.

Something is up. Before accepting the "invitation," this Fitzgerald fellow sent some correspondence to Rove's legal team making clear that "there was no guarantee he wouldn't be indicted at a later point."

So? Note this from Lawrence O'Donnell, the idea Fitzgerald is trying to get a few witnesses to "flip" and become prosecution witnesses. He's going after bigger fish?


Prosecutors prefer pre-indictment plea-bargaining to post-indictment because they have more to offer you, like not being indicted at all or downgrading your status to unindicted co-conspirator. And pre-indictment plea-bargaining can greatly enrich the indictments that the prosecutor then obtains. If, for example, Fitzgerald has a weak case against, say, Scooter Libby, imagine how much Rove's cooperation might strengthen that case.

If no one RSVPs to Fitzgerald's invitations, look for indictments as early as next week. If anyone does sit down with Fitzgerald, he will probably have to move to extend the grand jury, which now has only thirteen working days left in its term.

Prediction: at least three high level Bush Administration personnel indicted and possibly one or more very high level unindicted co-conspirators.


Well, maybe. There are thousands of people speculating in the press and on the web, and on radio and television. No one knows. The testimony was to be Friday morning and wasn't. Criminal defense attorney Jeralyn Merritt says this, but no one knows. She's best here, explaining everything you want to know about how grand juries work and what a "target letter" is - with samples and everything.

But as mentioned earlier, the news stories are about transitory events. There are issues that lie underneath. And even if my staff columnist detests the idea those be explored, here goes.

In October 9, 2005 - Wednesdays with the Church Lady, about the nomination of Harriet Miers to the open Supreme Court seat, the idea was you see the opposing forces lining up - shall well have "a dispassionate rejection of the politicization of the law," or shall we embrace complete politicization of the law, to save America from the fags and sluts and the ungodly and all that?

This is pretty basic stuff having to do with, really, people's tolerance for others not accepting "the accepted" and looking at issues with an open mind - or really, an issue with whether having an "open mind" was of any intrinsic value at all, or it is just best to accept God's will. Which sort of person do you want sitting on the bench?

This is a conflict as old as the myth of "the fall" being caused by eating the fruit of "the Tree of Knowledge." (Yes, some say that is not "a myth" but literally happened.) The original sin though, was thinking itself. Bad stuff.

That played out in an odd way this week. The fight on the right, about Harriet going to the court, pitted the evangelicals against the "intellectuals." It was almost a faith versus reason drama, harking back to the Enlightenment. We're still arguing? Seems so, as in this:

Gods vs. Geeks
GOP evangelicals fight intellectuals over Harriet Miers.
John Dickerson - Posted Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2005, at 4:49 PM PT - SLATE.COM

The conflict:


The debate within the Republican Party over Harriet Miers has quickly devolved into a simple question: Is the nominee qualified because of her religious faith, or unqualified by her lack of intellectual heft? On the one side, James Dobson, Miers' fellow parishioners at Valley View Christian Church, and President Bush speak for her heart. On the other, George Will and William Kristol and others who swooned for John Roberts decry her unimpressive legal mind.

In this battle, the White House has clearly sided with the churchgoing masses against the Republican Party's own whiny Beltway intellectuals. The Bushies have always mistrusted their own bow-tied secularists, but the rift has never before been so public. "This is classic elitism," says a senior administration official of the GOP opposition to the Miers nomination.


A classic faith versus reason problem. And Dickerson says there always been this split on the right - "an uncomfortable mix between, on the one hand, right-wing intellectuals, including the neoconservatives whose backing for the Iraq invasion has been so important, and, on the other, the evangelicals who turned out in such numbers to vote for a man who boasted that he was one of them."

But Dickerson reminds us that when Bush was a candidate in 1999, and asked who his favorite philosopher was, said "Christ, because he changed my heart. ... When you turn your heart and your life over to Christ, when you accept Christ as the Savior, it changes your heart and changes your life."

The Republican bow-tied secularists let that slide. Bad move. Now they know what it means. Harriet may no next to nothing of constitutional law, and never was a judge, but she has that faith.

And now these secular intellectuals are making trouble? Also a bad move –


... there's nothing that will make Bush fight harder for his nominee than an attack by the intellectuals - even if they are from his own party. Those who put others down as second-rate minds with weak credentials get relegated to that class of snobs he first learned to hate at Yale, when he walked through their Vietnam protests in his leather bomber jacket. Those who lack skill in what Will called "constitutional reasoning" are already pressing the president's anti-intellectual buttons. Bush loves the idea, say aides, that Miers strikes a blow for real-world simplicity.


Intellectuals, snobs, thinkers. Who needs them? The man in charge sees calling someone "simple minded" as a compliment.

And he sends his attack dog to take care of the problem, as in this from Tim Grieve, Thursday, October 6th –


Appearing on CNN today, White House advisor and former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie tried to explain what he meant when he suggested yesterday that critics of the Harriet Miers nomination are elitists and sexists. But even for a master of spin like Gillespie, the triple reverse is tough move to execute.

Step one: Gillespie insists that, when he complained of a "whiff of elitism" in criticism of the Miers nomination, he wasn't referring to the concerns of "conservative allies" - despite the fact that conservatives ranging from George Will to Ann Coulter have, in fact, argued that Miers isn't qualified to serve on the Supreme Court.

Step two: Gillespie says that people who question Miers' qualifications for a seat on the court seem to believe that Supreme Court justices have to have attended "Harvard Law School or practiced law in Boston or New York." Add Yale and Washington to that list, and there's probably some truth to the charge: Some of us do have this crazy notion that a Supreme Court nominee should have a record of extraordinary academic achievement or at least a demonstrated history of grappling with the questions of federal and constitutional law that come before the court. Even George W. Bush, shares that view - or at least he used to. It was the president, after all, who not so long ago was said to be "particularly impressed" with John G. Roberts' "impeccable credentials" from Harvard College and Harvard Law School and the fact that he'd argued dozens of cases before the Supreme Court.

Step three: Gillespie claims that, when he said there was a "whiff of sexism" about the early opposition to Miers' nomination, he didn't mean that people doubted Miers' abilities because she's a woman. No, what he meant was, people don't understand what the president's "staff secretary" does. "I saw an analysis that said, well, it's - it's - the president shouldn't elevate his former staff secretary to the Supreme Court, as though the staff secretary of the president of the United States is someone who goes and gets coffee," Gillespie explains. "The staff secretary of the president of the United States is someone who is responsible for the flow of information to the president as he makes decisions on the critical issues facing our country today. It is a critically important position. And I - I - I got the impression from reading these there was a sense that - that, because there was a woman in the staff secretary's job, it is - that - that, somehow, that meant she was responsible for getting coffee. And it was demeaning. I thought - I felt that was - there was some - that smacked of sexism to me. That's a different argument than - than - than the discussion I had with the conservative - our conservative allies yesterday."


Amusing. But what was that conversation? And Ann Coulter is unhappy with this?

Ann Coulter really is unhappy with this, as she says here - "Being on the Supreme Court isn't like winning a 'Best Employee of the Month' award. It's a real job."



I eagerly await the announcement of President Bush's real nominee to the Supreme Court. If the president meant Harriet Miers seriously, I have to assume Bush wants to go back to Crawford and let Dick Cheney run the country.

Unfortunately for Bush, he could nominate his Scottish terrier Barney, and some conservatives would rush to defend him, claiming to be in possession of secret information convincing them that the pooch is a true conservative and listing Barney's many virtues - loyalty, courage, never jumps on the furniture ...


Snobbish elitism:


Harriet Miers went to Southern Methodist University Law School, which is not ranked at all by the serious law school reports and ranked No. 52 by US News and World Report. Her greatest legal accomplishment is being the first woman commissioner of the Texas Lottery.

I know conservatives have been trained to hate people who went to elite universities, and generally that's a good rule of thumb. But not when it comes to the Supreme Court.




However nice, helpful, prompt and tidy she is, Harriet Miers isn't qualified to play a Supreme Court justice on "The West Wing," let alone to be a real one. Both Republicans and Democrats should be alarmed that Bush seems to believe his power to appoint judges is absolute. This is what "advice and consent" means.


You might click on the link and read all of it. The middle is brutal.

On the left, Duncan "Atrios" Black here


Lots of discussion in wingnuttia about whether or not it's "elitist" to oppose Miers. These discussions seem to confuse different kinds of elitism. There's one kind of elitism which dares to suggest that smart qualified people should get the kinds of jobs that require smart qualified people. This seems to be perfectly reasonable.

The other type of elitism is the one which focuses on pedigrees and certificates. One must come from the right family and go to the right school. No less than Ann Coulter has been down on Brownie Miers for her lack of appropriate law school pedigree. This kind of elitism is incredibly rampant among the, you know, elites of all political persuasions - whether liberal academics or faux heartland populist conservatives - and goes way beyond the normal kind of network cronyism that elite institutions can help foster.

Having gone to a humble state school for my undergraduate degree and then to an Ivy League school for graduate school, I was continually surprised by the degree of snob elitism I confronted. I won't deny that going to a top school provides some signal of your abilities, but one certainly doesn't have to have gone to an Ivy League school or one of the "honorary Ivies" to be a smart, educated, qualified, capable person. And, having taught plenty of undergraduates at an Ivy League institution I can say that a degree from one is no guarantee of supergenius abilities either.

Even more so, I was shocked at how much having a graduate degree from an Ivy versus a non-Ivy seemed to impress even people who should know better. Especially at the advanced degree level the quality of any individual department within an institution is often entirely almost entirely uncorrelated with that institution's broader reputation as an undergraduate institution. Not all graduate departments in Ivy League schools are any good, let alone among the best.


And at the highest-traffic left-side blog, Daily Kos, Markos Moulitsas Zniga (Kos), adds this


People like Ann Coulter have bashed Miers on her academic credentials - her JD from the decidedly non-Ivy Southern Methodist University law school.

Like Duncan, I attended a "humble state school" for my undergraduate studies. And while I didn't go to an Ivy League law school, Boston University School of Law is a top-20 law school in the nation. Same concept. And a big "whoop de doo" to that shit.

Concerns about Miers' academic credentials should have nothing to do with the school she attended. I attended a better law school, but I have no doubt Miers has a better understanding of the law than I do (I skipped many a class for more interesting fare - like working as a legislative aide to a Massachusetts state senator and organizing in Latino communities). There is more to legal understanding than the school's name on your JD diploma.

I'd be more interested in whether she excelled as a student. Where did she fit in terms of class rank? Did she serve on law review? What kind of extracurricular activities did she engage in? Or was she an average "C" student and party animal in the mold of the target of her affections, Bush Jr.?

That, to me, is the salient academic question. Not anything to do with the school she attended. Because while Miers is without a doubt politically brilliant - breaking the law firm glass ceiling and weaseling inside the Bush inner circle are proof of that - the Supreme Court requires a somewhat different skill set. That is, the ability to critically ponder complex legal issues and concepts.


Interesting. The big political story of the week has, beneath it, the whole issue of the mind. Is using it, cultivating it, challenging it, cramming it full of complex ideas at a top university - is all of that a thing, or does that destroy your faith and make you somehow a bad person who has turned his or her back on God, not submitting to His will?

Funny, the same question is being asked in the Dover trial, arguing the inadequacies of evolution and geology in science - arguing science itself, that stuff of the mind, is inadequate and dangerously subversive.

Something is in the air. The end of the Enlightenment? Well, it had a good run since the eighteenth century.

But it's over. In these pages, way back on June 29, 2003, that was noted here in a discussion of this: "President Bush said to all of us: 'I'm driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, "George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan." And I did, and then God would tell me, "George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq ..." And I did. And now, again, I feel God's words coming to me, "Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East." And by God I'm gonna do it.'"

No one noticed? The Brits finally did. "President George W. Bush told Palestinian ministers that God had told him to invade Afghanistan and Iraq - and create a Palestinian State, a new BBC series reveals."

One of the many web comments here, Thursday, October 06, 2005 –


Imaginary Friends

Seriously, if you substituted the phrase "my next door neighbor's cat" for the word "God," in the following, the guy would be declared batshit and locked away:

"President Bush said to all of us: 'I'm driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, "George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan." And I did, and then God would tell me, "George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq ..." And I did. And now, again, I feel God's words coming to me, "Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East." And by God I'm gonna do it.'"

The link to the complete article is here.

I mean, at some point things move from hyperbole to reality. My life and future, my wife's life and future, my daughter's life and future, lie in the hands of a unintelligent dry drunk (who is possibly drinking again) who has an inbred sense of feudal entitlement and the temperament of a petulant four year old AND who thinks a mythological bearded white man in the sky talks to him? Holy fucking fuck.


Indeed. No one noticed before? It takes this odd nomination to bring this all to the surface?

One really ought to think about the what's "under" the transitory news stories. Faith (and trust) versus reason (and inquiry), the apple that tasted so good and got us kicked out of Eden, Galileo and the Catholic Church, Voltaire mocking religion and being denounced, Darwin and Huxley all the way to the Scopes trial, to Dover in Pennsylvania this month, to the president listening to supernatural voices, to the defense of know-little want-to-know-less nominees for the Supreme Court. This all had not been resolved, and may never be resolved. It's just one long argument, over and over.



BA - Denison University, Granville, Ohio - a place with famous alumni like Senator Richard Lugar of Illinois, Michael Eisner who ran Disney for decades, the actor Hal Holbrook who was so good as Mark Twain, John Davidson (don't ask), and Steve Carell, star of a recent movie about a forty-year-old virgin and "The Daily Show." This is a mixed bag.

MA and PhD work - Duke University, Durham, North Carolina - "The Harvard of the South." Whatever.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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