Belaboring the Obvious

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Republican Election Transparency....

Lessee.... The Mittster has boundless energy and limitless reserves... according to one of his sons.

Then, of a sudden, Willard Mitt is overcome by a cold, and decided early this week to lay low in Utah.

Now, TBogg thought that these two stories juxtaposed was a sign of incipient bullshittery, but he didn't have this latest news at the time. Now, had the Mittster just wandered off into the heartland, in search of more campaign funds, and then streaked back to Utah, then, my goodness, someone might have figured out that he was there to attend the tri-yearly Council for National Policy (CNP) meeting and make his promises to the powers that be, so that they might anoint him and fund him. But, the CNP has some queer notions about secrecy--no press, no advance announcements, no reporters anywhere, anytime. Except, this time, someone dished about both Cheney and Romney attending.

This is nothing accidental. Bush also met with the CNP, during his first campaign, and the group's fetish for secrecy held. There was, supposedly, a videotape of Bush's speech to the group, but neither his campaign, the CNP nor the White House has released it or a transcript.

The CNP is a mélange of right-wing wackos, crackpot billionaires and religious extremists, and without its approval, life gets tougher for a Republican (no Democrats need apply), if only because of the intertwining of the power of the religious right voting bloc and the serious money available to the immorally afflicted. There's no question that CNP meetings are much more than a salon for demented dominionists and the morally handicapped--the several hundred attendees have serious media access through proxies, even more serious political clout and very, very serious money. That's why they don't want anyone on the outside to know what they're doing, when they meet, or what they decide among themselves.

The CNP can't make a candidate all by itself, but there's likely no question that it can unmake a contender--without making a noticeable ripple in the electoral pond. And, that's probably why the Mittster faked a cold--so that he could address the CNP without attracting the sort of notice which would not amuse them.

Wonder if Mitt is wondering if the advance notice of his appearance has already doomed him?

If, a couple of weeks from now, Mitt is broke and is looking as if he'd be willing to sacrifice the lives of two or three of the older of his sons for the Presidency, we can, probably, safely say that it didn't go well....

Friday, September 28, 2007

A Confederacy of Dunces....

From what I read and hear, a number of the front-runners for the Dem presidential nomination sort of waffled on the issue of getting troops out of Iraq.

They even said, well, maybe, uh, sort of, maybe, we might not be able to get them out even by the end of our first term, not by 2013.

Okay, Dem dorks. There was a change in both houses of Congress in the 2006 election because the public is plain fucking fed up with this misbegotten war. They voted for a change in leadership with the expectation that Dems would stop the war, one way or another.

Now, morons, guess what you did? You just told the entire American voting public and the rest of the world that George W. Lying Through His Teeth Bush is right.

And, you told us that you are feckless. worthless. corporate-ass-kissing. shits.

It's really embarrassin' trying to promote Democrats these days. Truly, it is.

What benefit is it to us that the Dems will drive this country into the ground a little more slowly than the Republicans?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Looking from the outside in at the legal system....

Where I am, jury duty's a sonofabitch... It goes on for three months. One is tied to the phone every day for three months--every work day, one has to call in during the evening to see if one has to report as part of a pool for jury duty the next day. It's wearing and tiresome, especially for those with regular jobs.

It used to be worse--the period was six months, and one had no recourse to be excused if one had just served. When I first got down here in 1991, there was a woman in the office I worked that had served six months on call, and was called for another six months four months later.

That made jury duty an onerous thing, rather than something people were eager with which to help. It's still awful, but, not quite so bad as it once was.

What helps make the system worse than it should be is the tendency of prosecutors to press cases that didn't deserve serious adjudication, or could have been resolved prior to trial. I ran into that a few times in this session.

It's quite possible that this tendency is due to several factors. The first is that, in my state, the prisons are run by private corporations, and keeping the prison population high increases their profits. The second may be due to the law `n order crowd run amok. The last might be the tendency of judges to defer to prosecutors in procedural matters.

It's said that one should be advised that the making of law is much like the making of sausage--you really don't want to watch the process--but, I can guarantee that watching the exercise of the law in the courts, as a juror, is worse. First, one has the fate and future of people's lives in one's hands, quite literally, and not a few of one's fellow jurors are not of a mind to take that task seriously.

Second, it's quite disturbing to note how easily one's contemporaries will bend to the desires of a prosecutor. There's lots of research into that, I'm sure, but, it's all the more obvious to me, living in a profoundly conservative locale, how that happens. Conservatives tend to defer to authority, and that's never more apparent than in jury deliberations. One of the best examples, for me, came with a jury I was on recently. The defense depended upon an exception to law, and the question of guilty or not guilty depended upon that exception. The onus, as explained in the jury instructions, was on the state to prove that such exception did not occur.

The crux of the biscuit--and the defendant's freedom and future--depended upon the state offering evidence that the exception was disproved. It did not provide any evidence to that end. And yet, at first, the majority of the jurors took, as fact, a characterization of the defendant's testimony which was merely an assertion by the prosecutor, which was not evidence. It took a couple of hours to explain that difference to them between evidence and an assertion by the prosecutor. In the end, all of the jurors siding with the prosecution's view conceded that no actual evidence refuting the exception was presented by the prosecution. It even required some defense of the individual's rights against those of the state, as described in the Bill of Rights, to convince a few jurors that the state wasn't entitled to the benefit of the doubt, which was a real shocker to me.

The next minor horror in the trials on which I sat was the tendency of prosecutors to play fast and loose with discovery rules. In the most recent, an audio recording made by the arresting officer at the time of arrest was given to the defense attorney--in court--about ten minutes before he was to present his defense, and there was no equipment in the courtroom to play that back, if he found on lunch break, that it might have helped his defense. In an earlier trial, the defense attorney was given a transcript of the statement made by his client to the police the day before the case came to trial. That seems to me to be something which should have been provided to a defense attorney first, not last.

I saw a prosecutor watch as his witness, the prime mover in a crime who was given a plea deal, perjure herself--blatantly--to secure his case against a minor figure in the crime. That one left me with a sour taste, all around, if only because there was evidence not secured by the state which the defense attorney did not, either, because, apparently, the cost would be too high for the expert evaluation of the evidence.

It's all pretty crummy. But, I can't escape the feeling that the general population--because of the political influences of the past twenty-five years or so--is happy to defer to authority more and more, and that the state has come to depend upon that in its prosecutions. Some of that may be due to the increasing privatization of the correctional system, and the need to keep the prison population high. After all, the U.S. has more people in jail than does China, even though its population is more than five times ours. Some of it, certainly, is political. Repressive laws and limitations on defendants' rights are, ultimately, politically motivated.

But, this time around at jury duty, I have to wonder, more than I used to, why a system originally designed to protect the individual against the government now seems so stacked against the individual and is operating in the state's favor. Maybe, it's been that way all along, and I never noticed. Or, maybe, the situation has gotten worse because of the primacy of the authoritarians in the entire system.

But, when a majority of a jury is influenced by a prosecutor's remarks, rather than the evidence itself presented at trial, the common people--from which jurors are selected--can no longer tell the difference between prosecutorial assertion and actual evidence. If that's the case, we're all in trouble. The state can prosecute any of us without fear, overall, of either failure or retribution.

I can't remember the source of the quote, but, when repressive law is instituted, resistance is required. That should include repressive mechanisms of law. And, that resistance should begin in the deliberation rooms of juries.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Mr. Gone...

... is gone.

Joe Zawinul, the keyboardist for Miles Davis, and the co-founder of Weather Report (along with Wayne Shorter), died last week at the age of 75, of cancer.

I can't delineate his every move in the jazz world. I mostly knew of his work through Weather Report. I remember, as a grad student at WMU in Michigan, being happy for the signal from WKAR in the late-night hours, when jazz reigned there, and became entranced by Weather Report and Zawinul's shifts from Rhodes piano to piano to synthesizer.

In jazz, from the time of late 1940s bebop onward, the sax players have dominated, perhaps because the instruments have mimicked the range of human voices, and because bebop was so much dependent upon vocal phrasing... it was a kind of singing that not everyone did.

But, there were still keyboardists. Zawinul, I think, took off when electronic keyboard instruments were finally able to bend and shape notes in ways that an ordinary piano could not, but which the saxophonist could with relative ease.

Zawinul, I think, throughout his career, wanted that saxophonist's voice, even though he'd committed to keyboards. It might have been why, when he wanted a group of his own, he gravitated toward Wayne Shorter as a partner.

I saw Weather Report live only once, in the unlikely venue of a small concert hall in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1977. It was a wonderful show, full of fat licks and smoke machines and Zawinul in his knitted skullcap ably managing three keyboards at once. My only remorse about it was that I'd found seats four or five rows from the stage, close enough so that Jaco Pastorius could see me laughing at his sneaking in rock 'n roll licks into his bass lines. He kept looking at me as if I was laughing at him, not with him, and I wish I could have told him, no, bro, you're providing the fun, rather than being the fool yourself.

So, when Pastorius died after being attacked outside a bar in Florida--after a long slide down the chute toward mental illness--I was still reminded of the role that Joe Zawinul had in making him a jazz icon.

Joe was attracted to and attracted musical geniuses. Because he was one.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Random Observations....

If the past few days are any indication, Fred Thompson is going to spend the entire campaign with hot biscuits in one pocket, red-eye gravy in the other, and both cheeks full of Red Man. That will be defined in the press as "traditional values," wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

Troglodyte of the Week: John Boehner (pronounced bo-ner) thinks 30,000 dead and wounded soldiers and over a half-trillion dollars is a small price, considering the value added to Iraq. Now, this means one of two things. Either he's got brain damage from all that ultraviolet in the tanning booth, or, he's an amoral thug with oil company stock (in the latter case, yeah, sure, the oil companies are getting a great deal--their own private army with the costs--human and financial--being paid by Average Americans). In every obscene Republican remark, there's probably a grain of truth. In this case, that grain is that American multinationals are getting one helluva deal.

Umm, at best, the "Dirty Harry" movies were supposed to be cathartic, not instructive. Tom Sowell, a Senior Fellow at the Right-Wing Institute of Hooverisms and Conservative Blather writes in National Review online that the answer to high-speed car chases (in which the police are as likely to injure themselves as they are others) is to use sniper fire on the speeders from police helicopters:

When there is a police helicopter overhead, a shot straight down would have little chance of hitting some innocent bystander. Maybe the speeder is just someone out joy-riding but that does not make a reckless driver any less dangerous.

Even Dirty Harry Callahan had his limits. In "Magnum Force," even he sets limits in asking Hal Holbrook's character, "where does it end up--executing people for jaywalking?"

This is what happens when Conservatives With Too Much Money For Their Own Good pay Conservatives With Too Much Time On Their Hands For Their Own Good to sit around and think shit up. (h/t Clif at Sadly, No!)

Let's hope that the accelerator on Mr. Sowell's Lexus irretrievably sticks one day in the fully depressed position, the key breaks off in the ignition in the "on" position, the batteries in his cell phone explode and his brake lights fail when he's in front of a police cruiser... preferably simultaneously....

Re: Bush Address: He's still insane. The greater problem is that he's finally making me crazy, too (and, I only listened to him on the radio). Anyone who has a simple fix for missing hanks of hair, please advise. No superglue recipes.

The Gumps of August....

Remember back to those thrilling days of yesteryear... as in the first of this past August.

Dems caved to the Bushies on the Protect America Act in a bait-and-switch that was transparent, on the lame basis that, based on what they were told by DNI Michael McConnell, they didn't want to be held responsible if the country were attacked by terrorists during their month-long August recess.

Well, it's now apparent that they got punked. The key to understanding this is McConnell's recent verbal-only modification of his statements to Holy Joe Lieberman about the need for the PAA:

MCCONNELL: [The new FISA law] was passed, as you well know, and we’re very pleased with that. And we’re better prepared now to continue our mission; specifically Germany, significant contributions. It allowed us to see and understand all the connections with –

LIEBERMAN: The newly adopted law facilitated that during August?

MCCONNELL: Yes, sir, it did.

(h/t emptywheel @ The Next Hurrah)

Now, then. McConnell has called Lieberman and said, in effect, "oops."

From this, it's more than a little obvious that the investigation in Germany--aided by the U.S.--not only preceded the change in FISA law, but, as well, that the bad guys had been identified well before August, and that this German investigation was the hook used by the Bushies to threaten Dems into passing the administration's preferred version of the PAA, telling Dem leaders in Congress about the threat, in very general terms, but, carefully avoiding any information which might lead Dems in Congress to conclude that the German investigation was at an advanced stage (in fact, arrests were made the first week of September, by an intelligence service which usually makes sure that every umlaut is in place before acting) and that U.S. intelligence was already assisting and was being kept up-to-date by German intelligence.

So, the Bushies went, "boogah, boogah!," yet again, and the Dems fell for it.

Sure, some of this relates to the inevitable ability of an administration in a national security state to selectively present the compartmented information it has to obtain its ends. But, it also points to the Dems' apparent inability to think skeptically about anything the Bushies do, especially when the subtexts are terrorism and the Bushies' attempts--often successful--to seize yet more power for the Executive.

Troops and Taxes

It's anticipated that Bush will tell the country tonight, more than a little triumphantly, that the "surge" is working so well that we might be able to reduce the number of soldiers in Iraq by "next summer."

It occurs to me that this is the same sort ruse, oppositely employed, as is used by Republicans to deter talk of raising taxes on the fatcats.

In this case, raise the number of soldiers (the unpopular action), then promise "a reduction" later, which, at best, would only bring the number in country back to existing levels.

In the case of taxes, the President repeatedly reduces taxes on the wealthiest individuals (the unpopular action) and then, when threatened with having those taxes returned to previous levels on that segment of society to redress that unpopular action, Bush says he won't tolerate an "increase" in taxes.

It's apparent that in these rhetorical scams, Bush depends upon two things--that institutional memory fails, and that all of the people can be fooled all of the time.

Bush may succeed in these aims with the aid of a helpful press, but it's doubtful he's fooling anyone with this sort of rhetorical legerdemain. They're the sort of logical contortions that only an idiot like Bush thinks no one notices.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Nonsense Presidency

Sometimes, it's hard to keep up with it all. I recently ran across Bush's phrase, "commissioned by history," and my reaction upon reading it was that it was the dumbest thing I'd ever heard.

Turns out, after a little looking around, that it's not new, but is one of his favorites, with a rhetorical rap sheet going back to his 2000 campaign.

Maybe the larger question is how such drivel is so unremarkable these days that the press never thinks to parse such idiocy. How, exactly, does "history" undertake such commissioning? Is there some sort of panel of events that makes the award? Or is it a no-bid, cost-plus contract issued, as to Halliburton, from out of thin air?

Certainly, it has an implicit intent--especially when it is tied to another of Bush's stock phrases, "Our nation is chosen by God"--the design of which is to bolster the always factually-challenged notion of American exceptionalism, a sense of entitlement which began rhetorically with John Winthop's "city on a hill" and which has been embellished upon or expropriated by almost every President since the beginning of the Republic.

But, rhetorically, "commissioned by history" is pure, unadulterated mush, as has been so much of the speechwriting in the last tortuous seven years of the Bush administration.

Sure, Bush is, extemporaneously, an artful bumbler (except when the subject is of interest to him, or war or cruelty, and his role in it), in futherance of some Madison Avenue conceit of his that it fosters in the audience a belief in his innate populist goodness, as if he were the Junior Samples of Pennsylvania Avenue. The speechwriting, however, is something else--and one suspects that while Bush may leave the grammatical tidiness to others, he himself approves of and kibbitzes for the worst of the rhetorical trash littering his prepared speeches, the slogans. One further wonders what manner of detritus Bush's speechwriters convinced Bush not to include.

There have been, of late, attempts by former Bush speechwriters to redistribute credit for that work, including polite pissing matches between David Frum, Michael Gerson and, most recently, a not-so-polite pissing on Gerson by Matthew Scully in the Atlantic Monthly.

Truly, though, it's mystifying why there's any rush to claim credit for a body of work that will be remembered for its mendacity, rhetorical hollowness and absurdity. The prime example, of course, is the "Axis of Evil." Bush's speechwriters are still trying to make that one part of their personal credentials, although it has all the intrinsic clarity of mud. That it tries to weld Bush's Manichean world view to Cheney's agenda doesn't make the welds clean and strong, nor does it manage to hide its origins in Reagan's equally vacuous "Evil Empire" nor its rhetorical dependence upon the "Axis" of WWII, to which Iran and Iraq (at the time, avowed enemies who fought a ten-year war against each other) and North Korea have no geopolitical or military semblance. More nonsense.

However, what has distinguished the public pronouncements of this President, through his rhetoric, is a profound tendency to lie with impunity, and to conceal the truth by cloaking his intentions in language opposite to those intentions. Irony, as a rhetorical device, came into common usage in the Roman Senate, and depends upon the same sort of rhetorical trick--using words to convey the opposite of their literal meaning--but, the Bushies have no ironic intent in their slogans (although the RNC may get some chuckles out of them).

Their slogans are explicitly deceitful. Their literal meaning is designed to obscure the actual intent of what is being promoted. "Clear Skies" sounds good, but it promoted legislation designed to cripple the Clean Air Act. "Healthy Forests" would make clear-cutting possible. "Ownership Society" would have money managed under government control as part of the common weal transferred to private investment companies. "Operation Iraqi Freedom" was not an act of liberation, but, rather, a complicated and bloody attempt to wrest the assets of a resource-wealthy nation from it and distribute them among a select group of giant U.S. multinational corporations. The USA Patriot Act didn't encourage anything remotely resembling patriotism--it drastically diminished the rights of individual citizens and increased the power of an Executive Branch operating in tyrannical fashion.

What historians will likely remember is that Bush and his administration spent eight years propagandizing the public, and that much of their propagandizing was not to promote otherwise reasonable goals, but to make their actual intentions invisible to that public.

Part and parcel to this program is the considerable increase in secrecy employed by Bush--and his co-conspirator, Cheney--thus preventing the comparison of rhetoric to fact. In those instances where such a comparison has been possible, the rhetoric has been shown to have no basis in fact.

Is it any wonder that Gen. Petraeus and the Bush administration, in just the last couple of days, chose to hide under the rubric of national security the very methodology and metrics employed in determining whether or not the "surge" has been successful? If the GAO report is any indication, the facts, once again, are in diametrical opposition to the rhetoric.

"The surge is working." Another deceitful slogan. Another rhetorical sleight-of-hand. More nonsense.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

How Many Hearts and Minds...

... have we been winning, lately?

Oh, yeah, the rest of the world loves our movies (particularly our excesses in those, the trashy ones), our music, maybe even our outrageous personalities, the Paris Hiltons, the latest American Idol winners, the Britney Spears (oh, ye of little talent, no brains and excellent public relations management).

But, does the rest of the world think much of us? The polls suggest not. Now fifty-three months after the invasion of Iraq, the Iraqis, whom we were told would embrace us as liberators, hate us all the more. They have become inured to little or no electricity, fetid water, when it runs, and sewage in the streets. We busted their electrical system, destroyed their water treatment and sewage plants, in a desperate attempt to get them pissed enough at Saddam Hussein that they would destroy him and his regime without our help. Didn't quite work out that way. Instead, the Iraqis, quite accurately, placed the blame for their misery on us. We managed to make their lives even more miserable than they were under Saddam and the sanctions.

Now, we're being presented with yet another dog and pony show by the military, telling us Bush's "surge" is working. All the evidence suggests otherwise. Iraqi civilian deaths are as high or higher than ever. Month by month, last year to this year, death counts of American military are higher than last year. The number of displaced Iraqis looking to escape the fighting is roughly double over the number of those last year. Reconstruction projects are crumbling before they can be used.

But, idiot boy king says about Iraq to the Australians, on a state visit there this week, "we're kicking ass."

Who in gawd's name was he talking about? The American corporations cleaning up U.S. taxpayers' cash? They're certainly kicking somebody's ass, and it's probably ours.

Otherwise, we're suffering Vietnam Syndrome all over again. Petraeus is Westmoreland
manqué, except with a lot fewer soldiers at his disposal. What is wrong with these bozos?

Did they think it would all be different because there's no jungle in Iraq? It might be that simple. No trees. Desert. Not like Vietnam.

But, just like Vietnam, when you smash in doors, arrest every one of the men in the village, burn the rest of the place, occasionally rape and murder the remainder, you don't win friends and influence people.

One day, the military will figure that out. One day, they'll put honor above orders and walk away from the stupid ideas fostered by the idiots in the White House, drop their weapons and hitch the first truck out of there, en masse. Maybe not now, but, one day.

There are going to be a lot of people destroyed by this clusterfuck of a war, and not all of them will be Iraqis. With luck, they'll come to blame Bush and Cheney and Rice and that political whore, Powell, for what has happened in Iraq, instead of themselves. With luck.

Until then, we're going to have to live with what they bring home with them, and so are they. And, it ain't going to be pleasant.