Monday, June 28, 2004

Pink Slip Suggestions

Why does Donald Rumsfeld still have a job?

The Bush administration's release last week of the many memos and legal opinions concerning what constitutes "torture" and whether or not the President is bound by anti-torture statutes, provided further evidence of what had already been leaking out to the press in a steady drip of information: that the administration was actively pushing the envelope of legal interrogation techniques by narrowly construing the definition of "torture," preparing legal defenses for the interrogators if and when such techniques were considered torture, and arguing that the President was beyond the reach of the Geneva Conventions and other treaties and statutes by virtue of his role as Commander in Chief. Regarding Rumsfeld, the Washington Post had the following observations:

"The documents confirm that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld approved a number of harsh interrogation techniques for use in Guantanamo in December 2002, including hooding, requiring nudity, placing prisoners in stress positions and using dogs. After military lawyers objected that these violated international law, Mr. Rumsfeld suspended their use a month later. But all these techniques, as well as the restricted practices now approved for Guantanamo, appeared in an interrogation policy issued for Iraq by command of Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez in September 2003. Nearly word for word, the harsh methods detailed in memos signed by Mr. Rumsfeld -- which even administration lawyers considered violations of the Geneva Conventions -- were then distributed to interrogators at Abu Ghraib. The procedures in turn could be read to cover much of what is seen in the photographs that have scandalized the world."

Why does White House counsel Alberto Gonzalez still have a job?

Alberto Gonzalez is the legal architect of many of the most controversial aspects of the Bush administration's radical departure from the Geneva Conventions and other statutory prohibitions on torture. It was Gonzalez who declared, among other things, that the Geneva Conventions don't apply to the president. Once the public became appraised of the content of Gonzalez's extreme opinions, his own administration had to renounce them, as they did in a public fashion last week. But even still last Tuesday, amidst the news that the administration was discarding the earlier legal rationale, Mr. Gonzales reiterated one of the most controversial aspects of the legal reasoning: that the administration considers torture to be "a specific intent to inflict severe physical or mental harm or suffering." As the Washington Post accurately stated "That narrow definition, according to the administration's previous reasoning, would allow the infliction of pain short of death or organ failure, and even this would be acceptable if the pain were not the interrogator's primary purpose." That is a legally disgraceful opinion, and seems to run counter to the public refutation of the controversial legal opinions that the administration made last week. If Bush is serious about making a break from the administration's prior legal analysis on torture, maybe he should consider firing one of its chief proponents.

Why does Disney CEO Michael Eisner still have a job?

The embattled CEO of Disney has managed to chase away so many top executive with his heavy handed and confrontational managing style, that there was a recent shareholder/board revolt that resulted in him being stripped of his title of Chairman of the Board (he retained his CEO role). In what was his most disastrous business blunder, Eisner could not convince the enormously successful Pixar (Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc.) to remain in a working relationship with Disney. Eisner went as far as to belittle Pixar's contributions to the company in negotiations, and his refusal to share profits with Pixar in a fashion that was agreeable to their CEO, Steve Jobs led to the parting of ways. In a bit of irony, now Disney has lost its market edge in of all things, animation.

The most recent Eisner stumble involved Disney's refusal to release Michael Moore's documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, citing the movie's controversial content and possible impact Disney's association with such a title would have. Apparently, the company that brought you Kill Bill Volumes 1 & 2 decided that they didn't want to be linked to political criticism. Ultra-violence is acceptable for the mousekateers, but not the critique of the President. I suppose Disney considers political protest outside the scope of what are "American values."

Well, the bad news for Eisner is that the movie is already a record breaking box office success. According to the New York Times, Fahrenheit 9/11 became the highest-grossing documentary of all time in just its first weekend in release, taking in $21.8 million. Fahrenheit 9/11 beat out two popular comedies, White Chicks and Dodgeball, despite the fact that it was released on one third the number of screens.

In a somewhat surprising development, the movie is doing particularly well in Republican areas, a trend that runs counter to prior predictions. "We sold out in Fayetteville, home of Fort Bragg," in North Carolina, Mr. Moore said on Sunday. "We sold out in Army-base towns. We set house records in some of these places. We set single-day records in a number of theaters. We got standing ovations in Greensboro, N.C.

"The biggest news to me this morning is this is a red-state movie," he said, referring to the state whose residents voted for George W. Bush in the 2000 election. "Republican states are embracing the movie, and it's sold out in Republican strongholds all over the country."

The Weinstein brothers, who bought the distribution rights from Disney, are laughing all the way to the bank. Harvey Weinstein initially predicted that the film would gross an unprecedented $50 million, but that number now appears like a gross underestimation ($21.8 million in the first weekend alone). Will this latest business miscue which will cost Disney millions cost Eisner his job? It should.

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