Just Above Sunset
October 2, 2005 - Apocalypse (Local Version)

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Thursday was supposed to be a slow news day. After all, the day before, house majority leader Tome DeLay had been indicted for criminal conspiracy and had to step down and was all over the talk shows blustering and saying he'd be back because it was all nonsense and a plot by the Democrats to "get him" - he'd done nothing wrong at all. That was enough political turmoil for the week, and out here Thursday was a good day to relax and glance at what everyone was saying about what it all meant. What else could happen?

By early afternoon in was in the high nineties, the humidity was zero and the visibility, at least to the east outside the office window, unlimited. No smog. You need a temperature inversion for that - a pool of hot air way up, where it shouldn't be, as the higher you go the cooler it gets. When it doesn't? The "inversion" - hot air where it shouldn't be - traps the smog in our basin here. But it was way too hot for that. Clear as a bell - across the hills you could see every detail of the blindingly white Griffith Park Observatory, and behind it, Mount Baldy looming over Claremont and Upland, and behind that Mount Baldy, looming over San Bernardino, sixty miles away.

The only problem was the smell of smoke in the air. The fires out west, where Los Angeles County blends into Ventura County, had burned seventeen thousand acres and were nowhere near being stopped. As they grew, new fires broke out north of Burbank and out east in the Angeles National Forest. The whole of western Los Angeles was put on alert - dangerous air, close your windows, crank up the air-conditioning, lay low - that sort of thing. There was a line of smoke from the Burbank fire drifting over the observatory by six in the evening. Of course, this was all over the local news - continuous coverage with Lawrence Welk's son, Larry, yammering away, providing helicopter coverage. (Why didn't he follow in his father's footsteps and keep the band going?) Well, we had the second wettest winter in history last year and the brush grew very nicely. Now all the new chaparral - creosote plants and other scrub - gives us the fifty-foot flames in all the major canyons and minor arroyos. All of Los Angeles is filled with smoke.

There wasn't much on the political front.

Arnold Shwarzenegger, the governor out here, vetoed the bill the legislature passed legalizing gay marriage, just like he said he would. Whatever. He's in trouble, with approval numbers in the low thirties - far lower than the thirty-nine percent of the folks out here who still support Bush and each and every thing he does. Shwarzenegger needs to "feed his base some red meat" or something. But the argument is over, and has been for a long time. Anyone under forty just doesn't see what the problem is. Everyone has gay friends and doesn't get all riled up about allowing gay marriage. What's the problem? Shwarzenegger is riding the wave of the past. Everyone else has moved on.

Thursday Jon Roberts was confirmed as the next Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The vote in the senate was fifty-five Republicans voting yes, twenty-two Democrats voting no and twenty-two yes. So? Everyone knew he would be confirmed. He was sworn in and made a nice speech. This is not news. When I walked by the television mid-morning I noticed MSNBC was carrying the vote, senator by senator, live from the floor. The sound was off and I was watering the plants on the balcony, heavily of course, and there seemed no point in listening in.

What else? Late in the afternoon the New York Times reporter, Judy Miller, in jail for refusing to reveal her sources - this grand jury investigating the outing of Valerie Plame wants to know who told her what, or what she told them, or something - was freed from that jail. Her source, Vice President Cheney's Chief of Staff, that "Scooter" Libby fellow, spoke with her and, it seems, released her from any confidentiality agreement. She testifies to the grand jury Friday. She may be part of the crime, setting it all up - or not. As mentioned previously, John Bolton, a man who hated Valerie Plame's husband, Joe Wilson, had visited her in jail, taking time from his duties as our new insult-everyone ambassador to the UN. It's very, very confusing, and mysterious. Clarity by the weekend? Probably not.

What else?


Something covered in the pages in late July here actually was resolved. From the Reuters wire this


A federal judge on Thursday ordered the Defense Department to release 74 photos and three videos depicting prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib, some of which may have already been published worldwide.

Judge Alvin Hellerstein of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan ordered the Defense Department to release photos provided by Sgt. Joseph Darby, some of which were leaked more than a year ago and set off the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal.

The Defense Department had sought to suppress their release, saying publication of new images could incite more violence in Iraq.

... The written ruling came in response to a Freedom of Information Act suit filed in 2003 by civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, over treatment of U.S.-held detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.

The judge had ordered the release of the photos in June, but the Department of Defense appealed the decision, warning the judge in oral arguments that releasing the pictures could incite more violence among insurgents in Iraq.

But in a strongly worded ruling on Thursday, the judge noted that "the terrorists in Iraq do not need pretexts for their barbarism" and that America "does not surrender to blackmail and fear of blackmail is not a legally sufficient argument."


Blackmail?  What?

Well, his idea was withholding the stuff would be wrong as we were over there fighting for freedom, even freedom of information and that sort of thing: "Indeed, the freedoms we champion are as important to our success in Iraq and Afghanistan as the guns and missiles with which out troops are armed. As President Bush said, we fight to spread freedom so the freedoms of Americans will be made more secure."

Yeah, throw the man's words back in his face. Use logic. Maybe this judge doesn't realize now he faces the wrath of Rove and O'Reilly. On the other hand he gave the government twenty days to appeal before releasing the material. Don't expect anyone will ever see the photos and videotape. The appeal process could take years.

Andrew Sullivan here provides a link to the ruling - Southern District of New York, before Judge Hellerstein, case number is 04 cv. 4151 - but you really have to dig to get there. Sullivan says the most interesting parts is the judge's decision to order the CIA to release documents from the Justice Department on how to interpret the traditional ban on torture. Expect resistance to that. We don't even tell our own soldiers how to interpret the so-called ban and whether or not the Geneva Conventions apply at any given time and place. That way we can have them do all sorts of things, and when something embarrassing comes out, we can slam them for not following the rules we didn't ever explain. Those of us who have worked in large corporations know that trick. It's called "effective management." Always the employee's fault.

By the way, here is Sullivan in his high horse:


I don't think most Americans are aware of what really went on at Abu Ghraib, and the depth and extent of the brutality. The reason is that the administration did everything it could to prevent the full record being made public; and its fawning acolytes in the right-wing media did all they could to portray what happened as "frat-house" hazing by "bad apples." That was patently untrue then; and is patently untrue now. Now, a judge, after months of government delays, has bravely upheld the release of the remainder. His argument? "My task is not to defer to our worst fears, but to interpret and apply the law, in this case, the Freedom of Information Act, which advances values important to our society, transparency and accountability in government." Maybe now, we will begin to get accountability for what has been done and is being done in our name in Iraq, with regard to abuse of detainees and violation of the Geneva Conventions. I repeat: Rumsfeld must resign.


Rumsfeld must resign? Or what - you'll hold your breath until you turn blue? Rumsfeld must resign? That's not the real world.

What's the real world? Hard to tell these days. We had all those stories from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, of the looting and rapes and murders, and all the shifty black folks bringing their shiftless ways to nice clean communities. Better they be in the Astrodome or tent cities. Think about what happened in New Orleans! These were NOT the kind of folks you'd want living next door. You've seen all the stories.

It seems they weren't true. Oops. No more murders than usual, no rapes anyone could document, and most folks were pretty civil. Or so says the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Los Angeles Times, and a little late to the game, the New York Times. (See here, here and here, respectively.) This looks more and more like latent paranoia about the savage black hoards coming to get us all - a Nat Turner kind of thing.

The Columbia Journalism Review disagrees


Our suspicion is that something subtler than racism - but nearly as insidious - was at work. That would be the media's knee-jerk lunging for drama and sensation at the expense of more measured, and more verifiable, accounts.

To take just one example, consider Fox News, which declared an "alert" just before Alan Colmes' description of "robberies, rapes, carjackings, riots and murder. Violent gangs are roaming the streets at night, hidden by the cover of darkness."


Well, perhaps we're dealing with sensationalism and not racism, but one doubts that when you consider what William Bennett said this week on Morning in America, his radio show.

There's something in the air.

Bennett? That's William J. "Bill" Bennett, born in Brooklyn, BA in philosophy from Williams, PhD from the University of Texas, Harvard law degree - co-director of "Empower America," the "Washington Fellow" out here at the Claremont Institute - and chairman of "Americans for Victory over Terrorism." He was Reagan's chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities (1981-1985) and Secretary of Education (1985-1988), and our "drug czar" (1989-1990). He's written sixteen books, but is most famous for The Book of Virtues and The Children's Book of Virtues. His latest is called Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism. He's a moral man. Yeah, there was that scandal with his compulsive gambling, but the right forgave him.

So what did he say this week? See this transcript (September 28) –


But I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could - if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down.


The next evening you could see him on Fox News telling Sean Hannity this was no big deal. It was sociology or something.

Here's Tim Grieve's summary:


A caller to Bennett's radio show suggested that the Social Security system would have money to spare if the nation hadn't aborted so many wage earners over the years. In the course of raising questions about that theory, Bennett said you can't make too many assumptions about the kind of adults aborted fetuses might grow up to be.

There is "just too much that you don't know," Bennett said. "But I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could - if that were your sole purpose - you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down."


Ah, maybe it would. Them black folk are like that.

Is this an isolated bit of nonsense? Maybe not.

There's this in the Wall Street Journal from Charles Murray.

Charles Murray? He was the fellow who published that 1994 book, The Bell Curve, demonstrating that black people just had lower IQ's than normal people. He said it was a statistical fact. Thursday, September 29, he says you see such things in New Orleans.

A summary from Ezra Klein, as this is behind the subscription wall and some of us don't pay big bucks to the Journal for access:


Penned by Charles Murray, he of The Bell Curve fame, it argues that what we're seeing post-Katrina isn't poverty but a once-again visible "underclass," a sort of shadow society of unsocialized black men with no appetite for work, no capacity to hold jobs, and no ability to be helped through conventional methods. They are, quite literally, savages, unable to function in the world the rest of us inhabit. They are, as he puts it, the "looters and the thugs," not to mention the "inert women doing nothing to help themselves or their children." And government attempts to craft helpful policy will fail because, after all, it doesn't matter if you give a gorilla a college loan, it's still a gorilla.

I've no idea where Murray got the idea that the New Orleans evacuees lacked jobs rather than cars and social skills rather than transportation - from deep within his own prejudices, I'd guess. And where he got the concept that these men and women are somehow incapable of holding jobs and unwilling to send their children to school - that's all similarly obscure. The absence of autos affects the social and the unsocialized alike; the folks you see on buses are often en route to jobs they hold, contra Murray, perfectly well.

But if his argument is flawed, its aim is clear. All those stories of urban anarchy were, to Murray, accurate, everyday manifestations of the Black people we'd hidden from sight. The normal explanation, that their assumed bad behavior was a reaction to extraordinary circumstance - that was the wrong part. This had nothing to do with Katrina; it was part and parcel of an inferior race, an incorrigible culture.


Maybe Klein misunderstood him. Probably not.

There's more than thick smoke in the air. This is getting ugly.

Well, Tom DeLay is out of the picture. That's something. The house Republicans, under Dennis Hastert, the former high-school boys' wresting coach, replaced him with Roy Blunt, a representative from Missouri, the "Show Me" state.  Just some facts:


... according to the Associated Press, Rep. Roy Blunt's Political Action Committee (PAC), Rely on Your Beliefs Fund, has paid roughly $88,000 in fees since 2003 to J.W. Ellis Co., a consulting firm run by Jim Ellis. Mr. Ellis, a long time ally of Rep. DeLay, has been indicted along with Rep. DeLay for conspiracy to violate Texas campaign finance laws. It is unclear what services Mr. Ellis performed for Rep. Blunt, who listed Mr. Ellis as a "consultant."

... In 2003, Rep. Blunt divorced his wife of 31 years to marry Philip Morris (now Altria) lobbyist Abigail Perlman. Before it was known publicly that Rep. Blunt and Ms. Perlman were dating ? and only hours after Rep. Blunt assumed the role of Majority Whip ? he tried to secretly insert a provision into Homeland Security legislation that would have benefited Philip Morris, at the expense of competitors.

In addition, Rep. Blunt's son Andrew lobbies on behalf of Philip Morris, a major client he picked up only four years out of law school. Notably, Altria is Rep. Blunt's largest campaign contributor, having donated more than $270,000 to political committees tied to him.

... In 2003, Rep. Blunt helped his lobbyist son Andrew by inserting a provision into the $79 billion emergency appropriation for the war in Iraq to benefit U.S. shippers like United Parcel Service, Inc. and FedEx Corp. The provision required that military cargo be carried only by companies with no more than 25% foreign ownership. UPS and FedEx were seeking to block the expansion of a foreign-owned rival's U.S. operations. Andrew Blunt lobbies on behalf of UPS in Missouri, and UPS and FedEx have contributed at least $58,000 to Rep. Blunt since 2001.

... Rep. Blunt and his staff have close connections to uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is the subject of criminal and congressional probes. In June 2003, Mr. Abramoff persuaded then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay to organize a letter, co-signed by Speaker Hastert, then-Whip Roy Blunt, and Deputy Whip Eric Cantor, that endorsed a view of gambling law benefitting Mr. Abramoff's tribal client, the Louisiana Coushatta, by blocking gambling competition by another tribe. Mr. Abramoff has donated $8,500 to Rep. Blunt's leadership PAC, Rely on Your Beliefs.

... Rep. Blunt attended a luncheon in Seoul in January 2002, that was paid for by the Korea-U.S. Exchange Council (KORUSEC), a registered foreign agent. House Rules provide that a Member, officer or employee may not accept travel expenses from a foreign agent.


Well, better than Tom DeLay, right?

Apocalypse in Los Angeles, Thursday, September 29, at ten in the evening, the smoke so thick in Hollywood you can hardly breathe.


As for the rest of the country?  Same thing.



And at Sunset, the smoke from the Burbank fire looked like this from the balcony -

Burbank Fire from Hollywood Balcony 9-29-05


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...

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