Just Above Sunset
January 29, 2006 - Maybe honesty isn't actually the best policy...

Home | Question Time | Something Is Up | Connecting Dots | Stay Away | Overload | Our Man in Paris | WLJ Weekly | Book Wrangler | Cobras | The Edge of the Pacific | The Surreal Beach | On Location | Botanicals | Quotes

You'd think on a day when no major news breaks - Tuesday, January 24th - things would calm down. Here at the edge of the Hollywood Hills, just about when Laurel Canyon meets the Sunset Strip at the Laugh Factory and the big Virgin store (they sell music and video, not big virgins), things did calm down - after two days of howling Santa Ana winds blasting down the canyon and rolling trash cans down the streets, that all stopped. Calm, hard sunshine, and near eighty - and the pool guys are everywhere scooping the debris out of the pale chorine water all over the neighborhood. Back to normal.

And the trusty Los Angeles Times landed with a thump at the door, on time - so feed the cat, pour some coffee, see what's up. Well, what was up was the usual doom and gloom, some local, some national, some international, but one just knew what was going to raise some eyebrows was that appeared at the bottom of the opinion page, this from Joel Stein –


I don't support our troops. This is a particularly difficult opinion to have, especially if you are the kind of person who likes to put bumper stickers on his car. Supporting the troops is a position that even Calvin is unwilling to urinate on.

I'm sure I'd like the troops. They seem gutsy, young and up for anything. If you're wandering into a recruiter's office and signing up for eight years of unknown danger, I want to hang with you in Vegas.

And I've got no problem with other people - the ones who were for the Iraq war - supporting the troops. If you think invading Iraq was a good idea, then by all means, support away. Load up on those patriotic magnets and bracelets and other trinkets the Chinese are making money off of.


This is going to be trouble. Bill O'Reilly already hates the paper, and the Times did get rid of Michael Kinsey as opinion editor, and dump the lefty columnist Robert Sheerer - and they run Jonah Goldberg's columns all the time now, saying the left is foolish when it isn't stupidly alarmist and everything is fine now. And then they run this Stein thing.

Well, Stein argues he's just not for this war, and says that "being against the war and saying you support the troops is one of the wussiest positions the pacifists have ever taken - and they're wussy by definition." He wants none of that - because "blindly" lending support to our soldiers will keep them overseas longer "by giving soft acquiescence to the hawks who sent them there - and who might one day want to send them somewhere else."

Well, he's consistent, even if the tone is badly managed - the thing full of some sort of snide humor –


... those little yellow ribbons aren't really for the troops. They need body armor, shorter stays and a USO show by the cast of "Laguna Beach."

The real purpose of those ribbons is to ease some of the guilt we feel for voting to send them to war and then making absolutely no sacrifices other than enduring two Wolf Blitzer shows a day. Though there should be a ribbon for that.

I understand the guilt. We know we're sending recruits to do our dirty work, and we want to seem grateful.

After we've decided that we made a mistake, we don't want to blame the soldiers who were ordered to fight. Or even our representatives, who were deceived by false intelligence. And certainly not ourselves, who failed to object to a war we barely understood.


All true, but the tone is all wrong, and tone here is defined as the writer's attitude toward his subject matter. And that's not working for him, as in this –


But blaming the president is a little too easy. The truth is that people who pull triggers are ultimately responsible, whether they're following orders or not. An army of people making individual moral choices may be inefficient, but an army of people ignoring their morality is horrifying. An army of people ignoring their morality, by the way, is also Jack Abramoff's pet name for the House of Representatives.


Why that last line? It's Hollywood thing, and this is a bad Bill Maher. Stein undercuts his argument with junk wit. As he says, he's not advocating that we spit on returning veterans like they did after the Vietnam War, "but we shouldn't be celebrating people for doing something we don't think was a good idea." He suggests instead of parades for veterans we give them what they need actually need - hospitals, pensions, mental health "and a safe, immediate return."

It's just too bad about the jokes, as he does make some sense.

Of course on the same day Senator Rick Santorum said this at a political rally –


And yet we have brave men and women who are willing to step forward because they know what's at stake. They're willing to sacrifice their lives for this great country. What I'm asking all of you tonight is not to put on a uniform. Put on a bumper sticker. Is it that much to ask? Is it that much to ask to step up and serve your country?


Huh? That's serving your country? "The real purpose of those ribbons is to ease some of the guilt we feel for voting to send them to war and then making absolutely no sacrifices..."  (The kicker is the bumper stickers we not the "Support The Troops" things, but "Reelect Santorum" banners.)

Stein is onto something.

Reaction? Over at Red State - Hating the Troops: One Lefty Says What Most Others Probably Really Think.

Did Stein say he hates the troops? Well, he said he rather they were not doing what they're doing, and suggests we owe them some stuff that will cost real money - hospitals, pensions and all that. He'd love to hang out with these guys in Vegas. Hate? It's not that simple, but you can find hundreds of items like the one at Red State.

The Fox News crew will fume. The Times will say something about printing all side of the issues of the day. And those on the left should try to get past the jokes here - you cannot have it both ways. The troops are not victims. They signed up knowing what they were going to be doing. If you do not approve what they are doing - implementing our new unique form of foreign policy - prophylactic war where we wish to make us safe and respected - then it seems odd to laud those who signed up to implement that policy. Let's be logical.

These military guys are good at what they do - and brave and honorable and wicked smart (the ones I know) and all the rest. But you can disagree with them. (In these pages see Disagreeing Sensibly on that matter.) That's still allowed, for now.

Well, Joel Stein stirred up a hornet's nest, but no more that the Washington Times did in its magazine, "Insight." The Washington Times is, of course, owned by Reverend Moon of the Unification Church, and is considered by many to be the voice of the Republicans now in power (the editorial page is managed by Tony Blankley), so what's with this?

Impeachment Hearings: The White House Prepares For The Worst


The Bush administration is bracing for impeachment hearings in Congress.

"A coalition in Congress is being formed to support impeachment," an administration source said.

Sources said a prelude to the impeachment process could begin with hearings by the Senate Judiciary Committee in February. They said the hearings would focus on the secret electronic surveillance program and whether Mr. Bush violated the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Administration sources said the charges are expected to include false reports to Congress as well as Mr. Bush's authorization of the National Security Agency to engage in electronic surveillance inside the United States without a court warrant. This included the monitoring of overseas telephone calls and e-mail traffic to and from people living in the United States without requisite permission from a secret court...


What? This is very odd, but you prepare for all contingencies (save post-war occupation of foreign lands and hurricanes).

The items ends with "unnamed administration sources" saying the White House will defend itself relying on the image of a hero who saves his people, and must sometimes do so by doing what he shouldn't, for the greater good, or some such thing. Folks will understand this.

Well, this is the kind of a story that livens up a slow news day, but it seems too contrived (as in completely untrue). It smacks of an attempt to float some ideas and see how folks react - run that last idea (the noble hero reluctantly doing what he must) up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes. No one saluted, one way or the other. But it was a nice try. The story was probably cooked up in the office of Karl Rove, to see how folks would react. They didn't.

They didn't because what was going on in the real world with the NSA spying thing was getting downright Byzantine, or Baroque, or whatever word you'd like - complex, convoluted?

There's a little summary here (Kevin Drum, Washington Monthly) but it comes down to this.

First the administration does really acknowledge that the NSA program violates the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), even as it was amended it 1995 to make things looser. But the first argument is that this isn't really breaking the law - the Attorney General says that the Authorization for Use of Military Force passed just after the 9/11 business gave the president the authority to disregard that law. Congress says no, it didn't. The administration says, yes, it did. Then, Monday, General Michael Hayden of the NSA said that the reason they had to bypass FISA was because it required a showing of "probable cause" that the target of a wiretap request was a foreign power - and that standard was just too tricky to meet. Then Tuesday there was this - in 2002, Republican congressman Mike DeWine introduced an amendment to FISA that would have retained probable cause as the standard for US citizens, but allowed "reasonable suspicion" to be used as a standard for anyone else - and the White House argued that wasn't really necessary and the congress could pass it anyway. That died in committee.

Drum has all the links if you want to look it all up, but adds this –


Congress refused to pass DeWine's amendment. This makes it plain that Congress did not intend for AUMF to loosen the restrictions of FISA.

So this leaves only the argument that the president's inherent constitutional powers give him the authority to order wiretaps of U.S. citizens even when Congress has passed laws forbidding it. There is, as near as I can tell, no case law that supports this view.

It's worth noting, by the way, that the administration has been adamant that calls are only monitored if one end of the call is outside the United States. But why not also monitor calls within the United States? Last month General Hayden said simply that "that's where we've decided to draw that balance between security and liberty" - in this case "we" meaning the president and the NSA.

This rather strongly implies that George Bush believes there's nothing stopping him from ordering 100% domestic wiretapping if he feels like it, and nothing Congress can do about it if he does.

So much for Article I Section 8.


Too complicated?  It's power thing.

The current crew at 1600 Pennsylvania is saying we've had the constitution wrong all this time - if the president says he must do something the law says he shouldn't, he can, as it's his job, as we're at war, to use his own judgment as to what's best, no matter what the law says.

No president ever claimed this in the first two hundred thirty years, but either they were not so bold and decisive, or everything changed after 9/11 and this is far more serious than what Lincoln faced, or FDR with the Nazis, or all the presidents who had to deal with the Soviets having all those nuclear missiles aimed at out cities for more than fifty years, ready to drop in. These new guys hijack airplanes and blow up subways! This is serious now!

Juan Cole, the Middle East expert at the University of Michigan, of course, has his doubts, as in his list Top Ten Mistakes of the Bush Administration in Reacting to Al-Qaeda


Al-Qaeda is a small terrorist network that has spawned a few copy-cats and wannabes. Its breakthrough was to recruit some high-powered engineers in Hamburg, which it immediately used up. Most al-Qaeda recruits are marginal people, people like Zacarias Moussawi and Richard Reid, who would be mere cranks if they hadn't been manipulated into trying something dangerous. Muhammad al-Amir (a.k.a Atta) and Ziad Jarrah were highly competent scientists, who could figure the kinetic energy of a jet plane loaded with fuel. There don't seem to be significant numbers of such people in the organization. They are left mostly with cranks, petty thieves, drug smugglers, bored bank tellers, shopkeepers, and so forth, persons who could pull off a bombing of trains in Madrid or London, but who could not for the life of them do a really big operation.

The Bush administration and the American Right generally has refused to acknowledge what we now know. Al-Qaeda is dangerous. All small terrorist groups can do damage. But it is not an epochal threat to the United States or its allies of the sort the Soviet Union was (and that threat was consistently exaggerated, as well).


Oh.  Well, we were misinformed.  Is it really a Muslim version of the radical seventies groups like the Baader Meinhoff gang or the Japanese Red Army, and only a few hundred really committed members? Where there only a few thousand close sympathizers, "who had passed through the Afghanistan training camps or otherwise been inducted into the world view." But, but...

Well, we did what we did –


... the United States invaded a major Muslim country, occupied it militarily, tortured its citizens, killed tens of thousands, tinkered with the economy - did all those things that Muslim nationalists had feared and warned against, and there hasn't even been much of a reaction from the Muslim world. Only a few thousand volunteers went to fight. Most people just seem worried that the US will destabilize their region and leave a lot of trouble behind them. People are used to seeing Great Powers do as they will. A Syrian official before the war told a journalist friend of mine that people in the Middle East had been seeing these sorts of invasions since Napoleon took Egypt in 1798. "Well," he shrugged, "usually they leave behind a few good things when they finally leave."


They may think we're crazy.

And as for the ten mistakes, they're obvious, and you can read them all.

Note eight through ten –


8. Counterterrorism requires friendly allies and close cooperation. The Bush administration alienated France, Germany and Spain, along with many Middle Eastern nations that had long waged struggles of their own against terrorist groups. Bush is widely despised and has left America isolated in the world. Virtually all the publics of all major nations hate US policy. One poll showed that in secular Turkey where Muslim extremism is widely reviled and Bin Laden is generally disliked, the public preferred Bin Laden to Bush. Bush is widely seen as more dangerous than al-Qaeda. This image is bad for US counterterrorism efforts.

9. Bush transported detainees to torture sites in Eastern Europe. Under European Union laws, both torture and involvement in torture are illegal, and European officials can be tried for these crimes. How many European counterterrorism officials will want to work closely with the Americans if, for all they know, this association could end in jail time? Indeed, in Washington it is said that a lot of our best CIA officers are leaving, afraid that they are being ordered to do things that are illegal, and for which they could be tried once another administration comes to power in Washington.

10. Bush's failure to capture Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri allows them to continue to grandstand, to continue to frighten the public, to continue to affect financial markets, and to continue to plot. Al-Zawahiri almost certainly plotted the 7/7 London subway bombings himself, and gloated about it when he issued Muhammad Siddique Khan's suicide statement. Misplaced Bush priorities are getting our allies hit. The CIA is reduced to firing predators at villages because our counterterrorism efforts have been starved for funds by the Iraq quagmire. If al-Qaeda does pull off another American operation, it may well give Bush and Cheney an opportunity to destroy the US constitution altogether, finally giving Bin Laden his long-sought revenge on Americans for the way he believes they have forced Palestinians and other Muslims to live under lawless foreign domination or local tyranny.


Other than that, this went surprisingly well.

A reaction from Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis (an email to Hollywood) –


What's the verdict?

The current US administration is the most incompetent, cruel, corrupt, bungling, lying, deceitful group ever assembled to manage the affairs of the United States of America.

The Swiss investigator Marty, on contract with the Council of Europe, suspects that the United States may have kidnapped a hundred terror suspects and freighted them around Europe before delivering them to CIA-controlled secret contract prisons, for interrogation and torture. What's wrong with this is that kidnapping, torture and secret imprisonment are... illegal. If it has happened, is happening, it is illegal. Nobody in Europe needs to get the opinion of the US Attorney General about this. GW Bush's opinion does not count.

Of the terrorism suspects locked up in Europe awaiting trials, to be found innocent or guilty, possibly more have been convicted than those in similar situations in the United States. For all his noise and swagger, GW Bush is not giving Americans any value for their money, fair or otherwise.


Well, some would disagree.

But no agreement will be reached, and there's a reason why - see Benedict Carey in the New York Times with this - A Shocker: Partisan Thought Is Unconscious.

People don't think things through - "Using MRI scanners, neuroscientists have now tracked what happens in the politically partisan brain when it tries to digest damning facts about favored candidates or criticisms of them. The process is almost entirely emotional and unconscious, the researchers report, and there are flares of activity in the brain's pleasure centers when unwelcome information is being rejected."

Drew Westen, a psychologist at Emory is lead author of the study, and he'll present it next Saturday at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology meeting out in Palm Springs. His comment? "It is possible to override these biases, but you have to engage in ruthless self reflection, to say, 'All right, I know what I want to believe, but I have to be honest.' It speaks to the character of the discourse that this quality is rarely talked about in politics."

Oh. No need to drive three hours out to Palm Springs to learn more. Got it.

What about Markos Moulitsas Zúniga (aka "Kos," of the most widely-read site on the left)?  Is this honest? –


Let's not forget that ultimately, Osama's vision for the Arab world is far more akin to the Right's vision of America. ... On homosexuality, on militarism, on women's rights, on religion in school, on capital punishment, on free speech, on curtailment of civil liberties, and on a million different other issues Islamic fundamentalists don't share many disagreements with the ideologues running our country. The reason we hate Islamic fundamentalists is pretty much the same reason we're fighting to take back this country from the Republicans. They are two peas from the same pod, and diametrically opposed to everything we liberals stand for.


Well, it's a start.


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

This issue updated and published on...

Paris readers add nine hours....