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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Wednesday, 13 September 2006
Religion: Sleepers Awake!
Topic: God and US
Religion: Sleepers Awake!
Everyone knows Bach's "Sleepers Awake" - even if you didn't know that's what you were hearing. You can go here and click on the little button and have it play in the background while you consider the following.

The was a bit of a buzz on Wednesday, September 13, due to this item in the Washington Post, on the fifth page of the "A" section, because it wasn't that important - Bush Tells Group He Sees a 'Third Awakening'.

Whatever is he talking about? He's talking about how it seems to him that America, the most openly and fervently religious nation on earth, is primed to get really into it now -
President Bush said yesterday that he senses a "Third Awakening" of religious devotion in the United States that has coincided with the nation's struggle with international terrorists, a war that he depicted as "a confrontation between good and evil."

Bush told a group of conservative journalists that he notices more open expressions of faith among people he meets during his travels, and he suggested that might signal a broader revival similar to other religious movements in history. Bush noted that some of Abraham Lincoln's strongest supporters were religious people "who saw life in terms of good and evil" and who believed that slavery was evil. Many of his own supporters, he said, see the current conflict in similar terms.

"A lot of people in America see this as a confrontation between good and evil, including me," Bush said during a 1 1/2 -hour Oval Office conversation on cultural changes and a battle with terrorists that he sees lasting decades. "There was a stark change between the culture of the '50s and the '60s - boom - and I think there's change happening here," he added. "It seems to me that there's a Third Awakening."
The Post reminds us that the First Great Awakening refers to a wave of "Christian fervor" in the American colonies from about 1730 to 1760 - the Second Great Awakening is generally believed to have occurred from 1800 to 1830. And there was a third already. The president's math is a bit fuzzy. He's not one for detail. We're also told that Bush aides, including Karl Rove, have read Robert William Fogel's "The Fourth Great Awakening and the Future of Egalitarianism" (on sale at Amazon here if you're into such things). Note, Rove denies he enlisted three clergymen to exorcise Hillary Rodham Clinton's left-wing spirit when he moved into her West Wing office in 2001, no matter what that new book says.

Should we be troubled by such religious fervor in the White House?

The Post says no -
Bush has been careful discussing the battle with terrorists in religious terms since he had to apologize for using the word "crusade" in 2001. He often stresses that the war is not against Islam but against those who corrupt it. In his comments yesterday, aides said Bush was not casting the war as a religious struggle but was describing American cultural changes in a time of war.

"He's drawing a parallel in terms of a resurgence, in dangerous times, of people going back to their religion," said one aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the session was not open to other journalists. "This is not 'God is on our side' or anything like that."

That's good to know, even if you don't really believe it.

And anyway, there's no official transcript of any of this. The Post is reporting on highlights of the private meeting reported in the National Review by Rich Lowry here.

Lowry swoons -

He exudes an easy self-confidence. When he mispronounces a word or comes out with some malapropism, he asks what the correct expression is or makes fun of himself. He often slips self-deprecating lines or amusing comments into his answers. A woman whose job it is to sit off to the side unobtrusively and record the session for posterity with a large mike - and who must be very accustomed to listening to him talk - can't help breaking into a smile at regular intervals.

Bush's confidence goes well beyond comfort in his own skin. He exhibits a sincere, passionate, and uncompromising conviction in his principles. He is arguably losing a war in Iraq that could destroy his hopes for the Middle East and sink his party's hope in the midterm elections. But there's no wobble in Bush. If anything, the opposite.

... Where critics see the radical attacks on the forces of moderation and liberty - in Iraq, Lebanon, and elsewhere - as evidence of the looming failure of Bush's long-term strategy, the president sees them as confirmation of the essential rightness of his vision: "The ideological struggle is being manifested as radicals attack young democracies. The attack of Hezbollah is destabilizing for Lebanon. That's where much of the focus has been. But it also destabilized the emergence of a Palestinian democracy. And it should be - it's noteworthy that extremists and radicals flocked to Iraq to stop the emergence of a democracy. And it's just - people say, well, all these problems are overwhelming. No, all these problems help remind us what the task is."
No one much knows what that really is any longer, but the president does. He doesn't waver, from whatever.

For a typical leftie reaction, the opposite of Lowry, but from a self-described Christian, see this -
First off, I don't need to get my Christianity lessons from my president.

Second, he sure as hell isn't the messiah, predicting the future of Christianity and implying he's one of its leaders, and for him to speak that way is downright scary. It's scary from a foreign policy perspective, from my perspective as a Christian, and my perspective as an American.

Third, it is completely inappropriate to talk about the war on terror being linked to some alleged Christian revival in America. I thought the war was on terror, not on other religions. Not to mention, is Bush somehow implying that we will win the war on terror by spreading Christianity? Is this a crusade now? It's one thing to talk about the origins (at least part of the origins) of the current terror battle being in radical Islam, it's quite another to say that somehow Christianity is also involved in this battle. We are not fighting the war on terror on behalf of Christianity.

… It's really time for more Republicans and/or conservatives to start speaking up. This man is your president. He's quickly moving from incompetent to delusional, all the while endangering our entire nation.
That may be an overreaction. He just said people seem to be getting a lot more religious, that they see things now in terms of unambiguous black and white - pure good and pure evil - and that how he sees the world and the wars we're in, so he's glad everyone is getting fundamentalist religion and coming around to his view. He finds it interesting. Okay, maybe it's not an overreaction.

And former Clinton aide, Bruce Reed, here is amused by the numbering problem - "As if stagnant incomes and a sputtering foreign policy weren't giving Republicans enough troubles this fall, President Bush revealed yesterday that under his watch, one of America's great awakenings has gone missing. First the Bush White House lost track of Osama bin Laden. Now they've lost count of America's religious revivals."

Here's the Reed count -
The First Great Awakening took place in the mid-1700s, during the heyday of Jonathan Edwards, of fire-and-brimstone (not Two Americas) fame.

The Second Great Awakening, led by New Englanders like Harriet Beecher Stowe's father Lyman Beecher, helped fuel the abolition movement. Bush alluded to that awakening yesterday, suggesting that his base was a lot like Lincoln's - Abraham, not Chafee. Just as many of Lincoln's strongest supporters were deeply religious people "who saw life in terms of good and evil" and slavery as evil, Bush said his strongest supporters feel the same way toward terrorism. The Mormon Church also emerged during this period, but went on to become part of Bush's base, not Lincoln's.

The Third Great Awakening, in the late 19th Century, helped fuel the social reforms of the Progressive Era, and emboldened reformers of all stripes, such as William Jennings Bryan, Carrie Nation, and Mary Baker Eddy. Bush did not claim any of them as his base.
And the Robert Fogel book mentioned above covers the forth - the rise of evangelical Christianity since the 1960s and the emergence of the Christian right. And Fogel has a handy chart, if you're keeping count.

Reed's assessment -
Bush is like an evangelical Dr. Evil, the villain in the "Austin Powers" movies who was cryogenically frozen in the 1960s, thaws out three decades later, and tries to shock the world by demanding "one million dollars!"

Which Great Awakening is the president rubbing out? Does he discount the First, which helped put "endowed by their Creator" in our Declaration of Independence and "In God We Trust" on our coins? Does he refuse to recognize the Third, which led to Prohibition as well as William Jennings's Bryan's last stand for creationism?

Or course it doesn't matter. The president is just pleased that the nation is turning away from complexity and more and more folks are with him, thinking in terms of absolutes, and resisting anyone who says things are more complex than simple good and evil. He's a happy camper. It's a winner in the November elections.

The question is, of course, is he reading the nation right?

That depends.

USA Today reported on a new study, written and analyzed by sociologists from Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion, in Waco and conducted by the Gallup folks.

Baylor's Christopher Bader, "you learn more about people's moral and political behavior if you know their image of God than almost any other measure. It turns out to be more powerful a predictor of social and political views than the usual markers of church attendance or belief in the Bible."

So forget who's an evangelical, who's a tweedy New England Episcopalian, and who's New Age. It's the image of God you buy into - and there are four available -

1.) The Authoritarian God (31.4% of Americans overall, 43.3% in the South) is angry at humanity's sins and engaged in every creature's life and world affairs. He is ready to throw the thunderbolt of judgment down on "the unfaithful or ungodly," Bader says. Those who envision God this way "are religiously and politically conservative people, more often black Protestants and white evangelicals," Bader says. "(They) want an active, Christian-values-based government with federal funding for faith-based social services and prayer in the schools." They're also the most inclined to say God favors the USA in world affairs (32.1% vs. 18.6% overall).

2.) The Benevolent God (23% overall, 28.7% in the Midwest) still sets absolute standards for mankind in the Bible. More than half (54.8%) want the government to advocate Christian values. But this group, which draws more from mainline Protestants, Catholics and Jews, sees primarily a forgiving God, more like the father who embraces his repentant prodigal son in the Bible, Froese says. They're inclined (68.1%) to say caring for the sick and needy ranks highest on the list of what it means to be a good person. This is the group in which the Rev. Jeremy Johnston, executive pastor and communications director for his father's 5,000-member Southern Baptist congregation in Overland Park, Kan., places himself. "God is in control of everything. He's grieved by the sin of the world, by any created person who doesn't follow him. But I see (a) God ... who loves us, who sees us for who we really are. We serve a God of the second, third, fourth and fifth chance," Johnston says.

3.) The Critical God (16% overall, 21.3% in the East) has his judgmental eye on the world, but he's not going to intervene, either to punish or to comfort. "This group is more paradoxical," Bader says. "They have very traditional beliefs, picturing God as the classic bearded old man on high. Yet they're less inclined to go to church or affiliate seriously with religious groups. They are less inclined to see God as active in the world. Their politics are definitely not liberal, but they're not quite conservative, either." Those who picture a critical God are significantly less likely to draw absolute moral lines on hot-button issues such as abortion, gay marriage or embryonic stem cell research. For example, 57% overall say gay marriage is always wrong compared with 80.6% for those who see an authoritarian God, and 65.8% for those who see God as benevolent. For those who believe in a critical God, it was 54.7%.

4.) The Distant God (24.4% overall, 30.3% in the West) is "no bearded old man in the sky raining down his opinions on us," Bader says. Followers of this God see a cosmic force that launched the world, then left it spinning on its own. This has strongest appeal for Catholics, mainline Protestants and Jews. It's also strong among "moral relativists," those least likely to say any moral choice is always wrong, and among those who don't attend church, Bader says. Only 3.8% of this group say embryonic stem cell research is always wrong, compared with 38.5% of those who see an authoritarian God, 22.7% for those who see God as benevolent and 13.2% who see God as critical but disengaged.
Some of us prefer the Randy Newman version -
Man means nothing, he means less to me
Than the lowliest cactus flower
Or the humblest Yucca tree
He chases round this desert
'Cause he thinks that's where I'll be
That's why I love mankind

I recoil in horror from the foulness of thee
From the squalor and the filth and the misery
How we laugh up here in heaven at the prayers you offer me
That's why I love mankind

I burn down your cities - how blind you must be
I take from you your children and you say how blessed are we
You all must be crazy to put your faith in me
That's why I love mankind
You really need me
That's why I love mankind
That must be option five.

And for some immediately applicable cynicism see this on the Baylor survey -
All fascinating stuff - but what has me really interested is the studies findings that four in ten say there were once "ancient advanced civilizations" such as Atlantis and about one in three Americans say they belong to denominations that theologians consider evangelical. Those two groups must be about equivalent in numbers, right?

What an untapped constituency! Atlanteans! Just as dumb as uber-rightwing Evangelists. (In some weird cases the two are even the same thing.) You could tell them anything and they would believe it.

Given that I now expect Karl Rove and George Bush to claim that the "Third Awakening" will be that of believers in Atlantis and that al Qaeda and the Islamofascists in our midst were collectively responsible for the fabled continent's destruction, I'm here to pre-emptively put the record straight.

Dick Cheney and his Illuminati friends sank Atlantis. They did it to stop the Atlantean's Tesla-style technology supplanting their eventual plans for an oil hegemony.

Ok, sorry - I can't keep a straight face anymore. The trouble is, there are people out there who actually believe something like that… The difference is, accusations of moonbattery from the uber-right aside, the left doesn't give its wacked-out extremists as much of a voice as the Right does. The Right's equivalent of the Atlanteans (you know, people who believe the Earth is only 4,000 years old and Darwin was a Satanist plant) are people with direct access to the White House and somehow I just don't see a Dem presidential candidate inviting the Atlanteans, Illuminati-nuts and Draconian-theorists to run a campaign contribution drive.
But what if they're right? What if God chose George Bush as his agent in earth? That would argue for the Randy Newman view.

Of course, what's happening may be only incidentally related to religion, as Christopher Hayes argues here -
On September 11, 2001, George W. Bush wrote the following impression in his diary: "The Pearl Harbor of the 21st century took place today." He wasn't alone in this assessment. In the days after the attacks, editorialists, pundits and citizens reached with impressive unanimity for this single historical precedent. The Sept. 12 New York Times alone contained 13 articles mentioning Pearl Harbor.

Five years after 9/11 we are still living with the legacy of this hastily drawn analogy. Whatever the natural similarities between December 7, 1941, and September 11, 2001, the association of the two has led us to convert - first in rhetoric, later in fact - a battle against a small band of clever, murderous fundamentalists into a worldwide war of epic scale.

… How did we get here?

The best place to look for the answer is not in the days after the attacks, but in the years before. Examining the cultural mood of the late '90s allows us to separate the natural reaction to a national trauma from any underlying predispositions. During that period, the country was in the grip of a strange, prolonged obsession with World War II and the generation that had fought it.

The pining for the glory days of the Good War has now been largely forgotten, but to sift through the cultural detritus of that era is to discover a deep longing for the kind of epic struggle the War on Terror would later provide. The standard view of 9/11 is that it "changed everything." But in its rhetoric and symbolism, the WWII nostalgia laid the conceptual groundwork for what was to come - the strange brew of nationalism, militarism and maudlin sentimentality that constitutes post-9/11 culture.
Then see Digby at Hullabaloo with Pimping the Greatest Generation -
I don't think younger people can understand the depth of the generation gap between the baby boomers and their parents, the Greatest Generation. It was a chasm and it turned families inside out for many years. But by the 90's our parents were starting to get very old and for many of us, the fetishizing of the Greatest Generation was a form of generational rapprochement.

For conservative baby boomers, however, it had much more resonance. Vietnam was their war, of course, the most lethal, meaningful hot war of the Cold War, but they had largely avoided it like most of their age group, even as they extolled the warrior virtues and supported the policy. (This led to cognitive dissonance that never left them.) They also sat out or opposed the successful, defining social movements of their generation - civil rights and women's rights - and were looking back at a life made up of nothing more than petty culture war resentment. By the time they came into power even the Cold War was over - resolved by the last presidents of the Greatest Generation. It looked as if the conservative baby boomers were going to be left without any meaningful legacy at all. You could feel their emptiness.

Karl Rove and other rightwing operatives saw a way to feed that gaping void with WWII kitch while furthering their long standing narrative. As Hayes also makes clear in his article, the entire Greatest Generation campaign was partially designed to further the conservative culture war by evoking that epic generation gap and portraying the WWII parents as the proper role models.
Hayes -
Even before 9/11, Karl Rove understood this all too well. In his essay "Operation Enduring Analogy: World War II, the War on Terror and the Uses of Historical Memory," David Hoogland Noon, a history professor at the University of Alaska, Southeast, writes that even in his first campaign George W. Bush "consistently referenced World War II not simply to justify his own policy aims, but more importantly as a cultural project as well as an ongoing gesture of self-making," positioning himself as "an heir to the reputed greatest generation of American leaders."

"In the world of our fathers, we have seen how America should conduct itself," Bush said in a 1999 speech at the Citadel. Now, the moment had come "to show that a new generation can renew America's purpose." Throughout both his campaigns, Bush would go out of his way to criticize the dominant ethos of "If it feels good, do it," instead calling for a "culture in which each of us understands we're responsible for the decisions we make."

Bush's allusions to the Greatest Generation were so persistent that the press came to see him - a Boomer child of privilege known for his youthful carousing - as a kind of throwback. Reporting on Bush's first inaugural address, Newsweek's Evan Thomas wrote that "Bush wants the White House to recover some of its dignity, to rise above baby-boomer self-indulgence and aspire to the order and self-discipline prized by the Greatest Generation."
Digby -
Yes, the press veritably quivered with excitement that the "grown-ups" were back in charge. The absurdity of it all was staggering, of course - the boomer man-child who never had a real job and drank himself into oblivion until he was 40 representing the Greatest Generation - but there it was. When 9/11 hit shortly after he took office it was a seamless transition. (They even put him in a flight suit and tried to pass him off as a heroic WWII pilot.) This yearning for "grown-ups" to take charge is a conservative boomer psychological condition. They and the political class are the only ones who are still fixated on the 1960's; the rest of us moved on sometime back.

One big problem for the Republicans is that a majority in this country now are too young to give a damn about any of this. Rove might be able to tap in to the yearning of middle aged right-wingers to be involved in an epic struggle that competes with their parents' greater accomplishments, but the young conservatives who are required to sustain this endless war don't have the same psychic needs. They didn't grow up in the shadow of a generation who fought and won two existential battles; their boomer parents either failed to rise to the occasion (in opposition or battle) when they had the chance or rejected the whole war fetish all together. These young conservatives' idea of glory is winning a fast paced video game. If 9/11 had even had a modicum of the same sense of threat as Pearl Harbor, we would have seen a similar rush on the recruiting centers and we didn't. In fact, the strongest youthful supporters of the war, the College Republicans, commonly say things like this: "The people opposed to the war aren't putting their asses on the line," Bray boomed from beside the bar. Then why isn't he putting his ass on the line? "I'm not putting my ass on the line because I had the opportunity to go to the number-one business school in the country," he declared, his voice rising in defensive anger, "and I wasn't going to pass that up."

That's quite a stirring call to arms isn't it?

This rhetoric of epic struggle that rivals WWII and The Cold War serves the simple political purpose of rallying the conservative base so that the Republicans can maintain power. It is guided by the deep psychological need for conservative baby boomers to find some meaning in their pathetic lives and a cynical attempt to co-opt some sunny, simple vision of the Greatest Generation - who would be the last people to claim the depression and the wars of their lifetimes were either sunny or simple. The younger conservative generation sees it as a cynical political game, which it is.

The entire campaign is built on a Disneyfied version of WWII and boomer childhood nightmare cartoons of The Cold War. They are trying to squeeze all the bogeymen of the 20th century into Osama bin Laden's turban in the hope that they can cop a little bit of that Hollywood heroism themselves. (After all, their hero Ronald Reagan didn't actually fight in any real war either - he just remembered the movies he was in and thought he had.) It is deeply, deeply unserious.
So maybe the moral absolutism here has less to do with religion than with this Not the Greatest Generation feeling of inadequacy and meaninglessness and all that. Or maybe it's both. Either way it's is deeply, deeply unserious.

For a hint of where that can lead see Dahlia Lithwick here on the current dispute with the White House insisting congress authorize the CIA be allowed to us "enhanced interrogation" techniques - waterboarding and freezing and that sort of thing - saying the Geneva Conventions' Common Article Three about ''outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment" must be rewritten, for us, to forbid treatment that "shocks the conscience." The White House says that wording is more precise and useful, legally. It's a game - and also deeply, deeply unserious. You want to codify torture? Just do it. Don't dick around with this moralistic crap. Just say God wants you to do it, or that it worked just fine in World War II.

And call it the Fifth Awakening if you'd like.



So just why do humans have religion? For a discussion of that see Kim Sterelny in The American Scientist here, where he reviews Daniel C. Dennett's book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon.

As noted in the magazine, Kim Sterelny divides his time between Victoria University in Wellington, where he holds a Personal Chair in Philosophy, and the Research School of Social Sciences at Australian National University in Canberra, where he is a professor of philosophy. He is the author of Thought in a Hostile World: The Evolution of Human Cognition (Blackwell, 2003), The Evolution of Agency and Other Essays (Cambridge University Press, 2001) and The Representational Theory of Mind (Blackwell, 1991) - so this is heavy going, but it is interesting.

Try these nuggets -
… secular theories of religion are corrosive. Religious commitment cannot both be the result of natural selection for (for example) enhanced social cohesion and be a response to something that is actually divine. A cohesion-and-cooperation model of religion just says that believers would believe, whether or not there was a divine world to which to respond. If a secular theory of the origin of religious belief is true, such belief is not contingent on the existence of traces of the divine in our world. So although a secular and evolutionary model of religion might be (in a strict sense) neutral on the existence of divine agency, it cannot be neutral on the rationality of religious conviction.

I think this is true of all secular models of religious conviction, even the "economic model," the one that most aspires to neutrality. According to this model, which Dennett discusses in a chapter titled "The Invention of Team Spirit," religious belief is an instance of ordinary economic behavior. People join religious communities and sacrifice time, money and freedom to secure concrete rewards: immortality-despite-death, guaranteed bliss, supernatural intervention on their behalf and the like. These things are not available elsewhere; you can't just purchase them online. No wonder that the suppliers of such services stay in business. The trouble, of course, is ensuring delivery.

… Dennett has based his case in part on work of cognitive anthropologists Atran and Boyer, who in effect have argued that religion is a spandrel - a side effect of certain other cognitive adaptations. The simplest hypothesis is Atran's idea that religion is a consequence of our tendency to anthropomorphize, to project intentionality onto the world. We treat people as intentional agents - creatures that act as they do because of their thoughts and preferences. That regarding people this way is an adaptation is almost uncontroversial. As Dennett himself has persuasively argued in many of his works, it is often adaptive to treat other systems as intentional agents, especially when they are well-designed, well-functioning systems. But we habitually overuse this productive heuristic. It is harmless to talk to your cat, and it may well be productive for a hunter to conceive of his prey as actively planning to avoid or escape his attentions. But it is not adaptive to shout at and kick the step for being in the way after you have stubbed your toe on it. Likewise, we get no capacity to intervene in or predict the weather by thinking of storms as produced by divine agents. To the contrary, we get a false sense of control, which imposes a double tax: the price of the sacrifices we make, and the risks we expose ourselves to by embracing the illusion.

… The best-known adaptationist ideas about religion link it to the striking fact that people must cooperate to survive. Generating resources jointly is an ancient feature of human lifeways, and we are adapted to and for cooperative social worlds. Wilson, Joseph Bulbulia and others have argued that religious belief is one of those adaptations. A community that believes in an immensely powerful and knowledgeable enforcer gets the benefits of its norms being followed without paying the costs of policing them. Dennett does not discount this hypothesis completely, but he is more inclined to endorse less obvious proposals that link religious belief to psychic benefits.

One such argument is that religion facilitates placebo effects: Perhaps the belief that you are the object of divine concern has real and crucial health benefits, particularly in a premodern world. Another is Boyer's hypothesis that religious belief simplifies choice-making in an informationally complex world.

… Dennett has long been involved in synergistic interaction with Richard Dawkins, so it is no surprise that Dawkins's memetic view of religion plays a role in Dennett's theory. Religion thrives, according to Dawkins, because its tenets and customs - its "memes" - like so many DNA or RNA-based genes, are structured to ensure that they are passed from one generation to the next (the Shaker practice of celibacy not withstanding).

Here Dennett's theory is nuanced. He points out that today's organized religions are reflective, self-conscious systems, which include not just beliefs about the supernatural but also rather strict ideas about how these beliefs are to be interpreted, warranted and fit together. Early religions may have a more or less direct biological explanation of the kind we have been discussing. But modern religions depend on massive investment in the mechanisms of cultural transmission. They cannot exist without the apparatus of holy books, seminaries, catechisms, theologians. So here a theory of cultural inheritance and cultural evolution comes into its own. Biases in preservation and transmission will be central to the explanation of the success and failure of modern religions. In contrast to Dawkins, though, Dennett does not assume that the dynamics of religious memes are virulently pathological. For him, this is an open empirical question.
But there is that bit about religious belief simplifying choice-making in an informationally complex world. It just doesn't make the choices any better.

Posted by Alan at 21:49 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 13 September 2006 21:57 PDT home

Tuesday, 12 September 2006
A Fine Mess
Topic: Couldn't be so...
A Fine Mess

Now What?

The president gave his September 11 speech - and as Bruce Reed says, there was nothing new there. It was "more or less the same speech he has given on many prime-time occasions before. With Michael Gerson's departure to become a syndicated columnist, the quality of Bush's imagery has slipped. Last night, he looked forward to the day 'when the people of the Middle East leave the desert of despotism for the fertile gardens of liberty' - which sounded more like ad copy for a Dubai desalination plant."

This was variations on a theme. After wanting to get him dead or alive, then saying he didn't really think about him much any longer, the president promised to find Osama Bin Laden and bring him to justice - one day after the Washington Post reported that our search party "has not received a credible lead in more than two years" and the trail in this particular manhunt has gone "stone cold" (item here). As Reed notes - "Most Americans have heard that speech so many times, they wouldn't be surprised if it bored Bin Laden." One assumes the ratings were low.

He kind of did the "epic struggle" thing - this war will go on for generations, and Iraq is just part of it, but a vital part, even if Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 and all that. He gave that up - only Rice and Cheney now say there was a connection. Obviously the hard thing here is to sell the idea that, yes, Iraq didn't have those WMD, and, yes, had nothing to do with 9/11, there was no connection to al Qaeda at all, but the war there really was a fine idea. It's important in some large conceptual sense, or something. The rationales explaining why we had to do this, and why we keep going on, get more and more abstract - tethered to the real world of actual events be the thinnest of strings. It's fascinating to watch, in a morbid, "end of the world" sort of way.

The president's supporters in the House and Senate, up for reelection in November, were no doubt dismayed by this speech, these odd seventeen minutes. Two thirds of the country thinks the war is stupid, and over half think it has nothing to do with whatever "war on terror" we're in, and may be making things worse. They don't want an endless war in Iraq, followed by a succession of more wars. Folks want some sort of resolution. The idea was, however, that there will be no resolution any time soon, maybe not for many decades. Heck, there's Iran next, and Syria, and North Korea - and maybe Cuba or Venezuela as things are going now. When you're running to keep your seat, and your constituents are fed up, piggybacking on this sort of message is impossible.

It was whining, really - we did do the right thing, we did, we did. No one really understands - the country, the world, everyone is fed up with this - but we did do the right thing, we did, we did. Try selling that in Iowa.

But there were suggestions for how to resolve things in Iraq.

Reed mentions the Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson has left the White House. The Washington Post announced they've picked him up as a columnist - something about adding another conservative voice to their pages, as conservatives are so outnumbered and underrepresented in America. Right.

And to give this beleaguered minority a further voice, Tuesday, September 12, the Post published a column by the editors of our nation's two biggest conservative magazines, Rich Lowry and Bill Kristol, of the National Review and Weekly Standard respectively. That's here, and they claim the have they real secret of how we can "win" quickly and easily in Iraq.

Yes, things are a mess right now - they admit it - but the solution is stunningly obvious -

The bottom line is this: More U.S. troops in Iraq would improve our chances of winning a decisive battle at a decisive moment. This means the ability to succeed in Iraq is, to some significant degree, within our control. The president should therefore order a substantial surge in overall troop levels in Iraq, with the additional forces focused on securing Baghdad.

... Administration spokesmen have jettisoned talk of "staying the course" in Iraq in favor of "adapting to win." If those words are to have meaning, the administration can't simply stay the course on current troop levels. We need to adapt to win the battle of Baghdad. We need substantially more troops in Iraq. Sending them would be a courageous act of presidential leadership appropriate to the crisis we face.
The immediate reaction from Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly is here -
I swear, I almost think we should go ahead and agree to let them do this. If it would settle the question once and for all, I think I would.

But it wouldn't, of course. If it didn't work, they'd just write another column blaming the failure on something else. Lack of willpower, maybe. Or the French.

In any case, it's telling that they use the word "surge" and decline to provide an estimate of just how many more troops they think we need. A few thousand? Fifty thousand? Where are they going to come from? And do they really think that a surge would do the job? If they had the courage of their convictions, they'd provide a number, tell us what was needed to get the additional troops (pull them out of Korea? call up more reserves? extend tours of duty? institute a draft?), and admit candidly that these troops would need to be in country for at least several years. But they don't.

On the other hand, they're right about one thing: staying the course is the most irresponsible plan possible. There are arguments for withdrawing and there are arguments for sending more troops, but there's really no plausible argument for doing what Bush is doing. Staying the course is just another name for killing thousands more American soldiers for no reason.
But that's what we'll do. There really are no more troops. Such a courageous act of presidential leadership is not possible. We have what we have. There may be no way out.

But there is the bracing effect of really actually sending in many more theoretical troops. National Review editor Rich Lowry wants a massive escalation - and later on Fox News he reinforces the argument, claiming that if President Bush were to say, "we're going to send two more divisions into the city [Baghdad] and lock it down and secure it… people would actually react favorably to that." The video and transcript of that is here. Lowry seems to think all the polls have got it all wrong about the American people. We really do want thing this to "go big." We all long for it. One supposes this has something to do with who he hangs out with.

The note that accompanies the transcript is this -
First, there is no indication from public polling that there is any US support for increasing troop levels in Iraq. A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found that only 17 percent of Americans supported increasing force levels, while 53 percent favored decreasing them.

Second, the argument wrongly suggests that violence in Iraq is constricted to Baghdad. In fact, as the senior Marine intelligence officer in charge of Western Iraq reported, the political and economic security situation there is - like Baghdad - rapidly destabilizing.

Third, escalation is the wrong remedy to the problem because it fails to understand the root cause of the problem. Increasing troop levels feeds the perception that the US is in Iraq to stay, thereby fueling the insurgency. Moreover, the numerous increases in troop levels throughout the occupation have not improved security on the ground.
But that doesn't seem to matter. We are a warrior nation, really. That's an interesting contention, given the facts, in this case the many, many polls. These neoconservatives seem to think that they really understand America. As with the president, everyone else is wrong. There's a bigger truth. The facts are biased, or something.

Glenn Greenwald here -
One of the most depressing aspects of the Iraq debate is to watch the self-styled "experts" who advocated this war, such as National Review Editor (and Sean Hannity substitute) Rich Lowry, thrashing around, constantly grasping for new excuses as to why their war is failing, desperate to embrace any explanation at all other than the only true one sitting right in front of their faces - that the invasion was a bad idea from the beginning, that it was premised on false assumptions, that war advocates were wrong about everything they predicted would happen, and the ongoing occupation has produced incalculable disaster along with virtually no good.

... To Lowry, we're always on the cusp of winning. It's always - as he announced today - the "crucial moment." The "decisive battle at a decisive moment." Everything is always going really swell in Iraq. And all we need for it to get even better, to get to the finish line, is some more Churchillian "stirring rhetoric about the need for victory and for stalwartness in the face of setbacks." Anyone serious can see that that's all we need.

... as always with Iraq and terrorism debates, being endlessly wrong is a sign of profound seriousness, and cheering on wars - no matter how misguided and misinformed the cheering is - renders one a serious foreign policy expert who recognizes the serious threats we face in these very serious times. That's why, when the Washington Post wants to find someone to counsel us on its Op-Ed page as to what to do in Iraq, it turns to two of the Wrongest People in America.

If we had determined our Iraq policy over the last three years by picking proposals out of a hat, we would have been way more right than we were by listening to Bill Kristol and Rich Lowry. But they favor wars and more wars and put on a grave, serious face when they talk about The Terrorists, so they are Serious Foreign Policy Experts and need to be listened to.
Yeah, but who's listening?

Matthew Yglesias here runs down how these two have said such things for years and sums it up this way -
I was going to call this the hawkery of fools, but really knaves is more like it. The wars are all going to be easy before we launch them, and the folks raising piddling questions should be dismissed. When the wars don't work out, it's always because we've been insufficiently warlike. When the wars produce broader strategic problems, we need more wars. And, of course, more troops. Always more troops.
Neither has ever served - that makes the call easier.

All this would be just silliness, but that these two, particularly Kristol, speak for the neoconservative movement. Think of them as the voice of Dick Cheney, the power behind the throne, our boy-king's Richelieu. Something may be up. The critics cited above are mocking these two for what they wrote in the Post, but after the November elections something may have to be done. This is not going well.

So this may be dead wrong -
Both Kristol and Lowry see the writing on the wall. The war in Iraq is a failure and the American public isn't going to tolerate a never-ending engagement. They are betting, probably correctly, that the situation will disintegrate further and they want to be able to distance themselves from that failure. But calling for redeployment or withdrawal is anathema to their followers and they don't want to be known as sell-outs. On the other hand, being on record as supporting Bush's doomed policy (one that really includes no plan) is also not appetizing. So, instead, they pimp a hawkish position that their readers will lap up and they can then lay future claim to the line that if we would've just kicked a lil' more ass, it would not have turned out the way it did. By then, they hope the viability issue of their proposal has long spiraled down the memory hole. And they do this knowing all the while that there is no chance that their proposal will be followed.
Maybe so, but maybe not. After November all bets are off.

Why think that? Well, there is this, the video and transcript of Michael Ware of CNN, on Tuesday, September 12, reporting that US commanders in Iraq have privately expressed the need for an increase of three times the number of troops currently serving in Iraq. Officially, the military continues to say that "we have an appropriate level of force to do what we have to do within the confines of our mission." Off the record (to protect careers) the word is different.

Where we get another 280,000 troops is a good question. But that may not be what's going on. As noted here, the military is clearly letting reporters now know - for their future books - that Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are responsible for the inevitable loss of what is supposed to be "the central front in the "War on Terror." It's another sort of career maneuvering.

This all has to do with the Sunni-dominated Anbar province of Iraq - a fifth of the country, west of Baghdad, bordering on Syria and Lebanon. The word is it's gone. That came Monday the 11th in the Washington Post, here, from their Pentagon reporter Thomas Ricks, author of the new best-seller Fiasco. He based his reporting on several accounts of a classified intelligence report by Colonel Peter Devlin -chief intelligence officer there - "Prospects for securing that country's western Anbar province are dim. There is almost nothing the U.S. military can do to improve the political and social situation there..." It's the talk of the Pentagon at the moment.

CNN reporter Michael Ware, again, on the show Situation Room, the same day added this -
Wolf, it's absolutely nightmarish and "The Washington Post" story is an old one. US military intelligence has been saying this about Ramadi for a year and a half. I've been going out there since 2003. I've watched the steady decline.

Quite frankly, America is not committed to the fight. It is known - it is a stated fact that this is the headquarters of al Qaeda in Iraq, yet American commanders privately off camera will tell you that we only have a third of the troops there that are needed to even begin to make a dent in al Qaeda.
The next day the New York Times' Michael Gordon here carried the story forward - "The political and security situation in western Iraq is grim and will continue to deteriorate unless the region receives a major infusion of aid and a division is sent to reinforce the American troops operating there, according to the senior Marine intelligence officer in Iraq."

Will that happen? We have 16,000 troops there, but Gordon adds this -
Since the intelligence assessment was prepared in August, however, no reinforcements have been sent. To the contrary, the strain on the American troops in Anbar has increased. An American Stryker unit, which was under the overall Marine command, has been sent from Rawa to Baghdad to help with the operation there. Also, military police who had been earmarked for training the Iraq police in Anbar have also been sent to Baghdad. The Marines have sought to make up the shortfall by using existing troops.

The Iraqi Army has deployed two divisions in the region with a combined authorized strength of some 19,000. But the Iraqi military is under strength. The two Iraqi divisions in Anbar together are some 5,000 troops short of that level, while hundreds more are absent without leave.
The place belongs to al Qaeda and Gordon notes the Devlin report "describes Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia as an 'integral part of the social fabric' of Anbar. The organization, which is predominantly made up of fighters who are native Iraqis, is flush with cash, much of it earned from black market or criminal activity."

Now what? There seem to be no answers. Keep on keeping on is what we are given. It may be all we can do, and chunks of Iraq fall away.

But this war in Iraq is keeping us safer, as in this - Al Qaeda Will Nuke US in Late September - "A Pakistani journalist says that his sources in al Qaeda and the Taliban are claiming that nuclear material has already been smuggled across the Mexican border into the U.S. and that an operation bigger than 9/11 will be carried out during Ramadan - which begins later this month."

Don't worry. The source is not the best. So what are we doing in Iraq?

But we can't just leave, or so Lawrence Kaplan at The New Republic explains here -
The truth is that, as the war takes a sectarian turn, the Americans have become more buffer and lifeline than belligerent. Earlier this year at his home near the Syrian border, Abdullah Al Yawar, a Sunni sheik in Nineveh province, warned me that "if the Americans leave, there will be rivers of blood." Hundreds of miles to the east in Baghdad, Sheikh Humam Hamoudi, one of Iraq's most powerful Shia, echoed the fear of his Sunni counterpart: Without the Americans, he said, Baghdad will become another Beirut.

... Withdrawal advocates who wear the position on their sleeves as if it were a badge of heightened moral awareness seem to forget that, as theologian Kenneth Himes wrote in Foreign Policy, "The moral imperative during the occupation is Iraqi well-being, not American interests." Having invoked just-war tradition to oppose the war's cause, they completely disregard its relevance to the war's conduct - namely, the obligation to repair what the United States has smashed.
He says it's just like Vietnam -
Then, as now, responsibility for the war's outcome lay squarely with its architects. But the war's aftermath also bloodied the hands of critics who insisted on walking away without condition and regardless of consequence. The genocide that followed in Cambodia and the spectacle of Vietnam's reeducation camps will not be repeated in Iraq. But ask any American officer there and he will tell you that, absent US forces, Iraq's ditches will fill rapidly as the death toll multiplies tenfold.
Kevin Drum comments here -
There is, at this point, not much question that an American withdrawal from Iraq would lead to massive bloodshed, a Shiite theocracy, and considerably enhanced influence for Iran in the Middle East. It would be a debacle almost without parallel.

And yet, like most other critics, Kaplan offers no better answer. In fact, he gives the game away with a comparison to Vietnam (something that's apparently OK for conservatives).

But this is exactly the problem, isn't it? We stayed in force in Vietnam for nearly a decade, and we still couldn't accomplish our goals. Should we have stayed another decade?

Anyone who advocates withdrawal needs to understand just what the consequences would be. But, as Kaplan admits, responsibility nonetheless lies squarely with the war's architects. In Iraq, if anything, we are having even less success than we did in Vietnam, and there's hardly even a colorable argument left that we have any hope of turning this around. Withdrawing may be an appalling and grisly option, but would it be better to kill a few hundred thousand more people and then leave? Those like Kaplan who oppose withdrawal have a question of their own to face up to.
There are no good answers.

From out here in Hollywood one thinks of Laurel and Hardy - Oliver Hardy's catchphrase is often misquoted as "Well, there's another fine mess you've gotten me into." The actual quote is "Well, here's another nice mess you've gotten me into." Another Fine Mess was the title of one of their short films from the thirties. Not that that helps very much. This is not funny.

On a cheerier note there's this -
Nonlethal weapons such as high-power microwave devices should be used on American citizens in crowd-control situations before being used on the battlefield, the Air Force secretary said Tuesday.

The object is basically public relations. Domestic use would make it easier to avoid questions from others about possible safety considerations, said Secretary Michael Wynne.

"If we're not willing to use it here against our fellow citizens, then we should not be willing to use it in a wartime situation," said Wynne. "(Because) if I hit somebody with a nonlethal weapon and they claim that it injured them in a way that was not intended, I think that I would be vilified in the world press."
The fun never ends.

Posted by Alan at 22:28 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 13 September 2006 06:55 PDT home

Monday, 11 September 2006
September 11 - Five Years On
Topic: Perspective
September 11 - Five Years On
It's been five years.

The high-powered Wall Street Attorney who sometimes contributes to these pages (see here and here), called from Manhattan on September 11. His office is thirty-four floors above the hole where the World Trade Center once stood. He said it was crazy there that day - the ceremonies and the media jammed the streets. He got in early, just after six in the morning, and left early - he called from the car, stuck in traffic at the Holland Tunnel. He was angry. But it wasn't the traffic.

It's what has happened, and what had not happened, in the last five years. He lost friends on that day. Now, when he has a spare moment from securities law, he does pro bono work for one of the businesses in the long-gone buildings, struggling to get going again. You want to fix things. But there's that hole in the ground.

And there's the state of the nation these days - he studied constitutional law under Peter Rodino, the Watergate guy, so such things bother him. There's some odd constitutional stuff going down these days, of course. How the law is supposed to work, and who is really supposed to follow it, is changing in ways that just don't make sense, and seem to be very dangerous.

When I was visiting there more than a year ago and taking photographs (album here), he asked me why I wasn't photographing the World Trade Center site. Well, it was hard to get a good angle on anything. Framing was difficult. I told him I finally figured out that it was really hard to take a series of shots documenting the absence of objects. What do you shoot? How can you draw the viewer's eye to what's not there? The few shots I took were crap. Look, there's nothing there?

There's still nothing there. Years before, sitting in the courtyard at the foot of the south tower, you could hurt your neck looking up, trying to get a sense of one hundred ten stories of pure mass. The towers defeated the eye. They still do now, just in a different way.

Too, by then the site had been appropriated. You half expected to find signs rimming the sixteen acre ruins saying keep out, unless you're a registered Republican, a born-again evangelical, or a NASCAR fan. The city may have voted nine to one against George Bush in the last presidential election, but that part of the city was and is his. The Republicans claimed it when they had their presidential nominating convention in Manhattan the year before. Democrats, progressives, skeptics and lefties - and those of us who had visited France regularly and actually liked it - were not welcome. And if you're from Hollywood? Horrors!

Fine. Lower Manhattan elsewhere was a trip. The Lower East Side and mid-town - the Village, Times Square to Grand Central, Bryant Park and the library - felt like home. You fell into the rhythm of things and got loose. You were in the intense center of your country - things were getting done and you were a small part of the essential bustle. Los Angeles and Hollywood suddenly seemed like hick towns at the edge of nowhere. Manhattan is not intimidating. It wakes you up.

Still, some of us feel no small anger about that hole in the ground, for all sorts of reasons.

So, for our friend in Manhattan, and for those of us stuck elsewhere but feel we should be there, here's an array of comments that get at the issues. We're not alone.

Greg Saunders -
To me it's impossible to separate 9/11 from Hurricane Katrina. For four years we'd been promised that the leadership of George Bush and the Republican Party could keep us safe, yet the aftermath of a natural disaster showed us that the federal government can't even protect us from a threat they have a week to prepare for. How could we expect them to respond to a dirty bomb attack, on electromagnetic pulse, a nuclear bomb smuggled in a shipping container, another anthrax attack, a few trucks filled with fertilizer explosives surrounding a sports arena, or more airliners hijacked with terrorists using ceramic or plastic blades and crashing them into chemical plants, the New York Stock Exchange, or the Capitol building during the State of the Union? These are the scenarios that keep me up at night and, al Qaeda's motives aside, there are still plenty of crazy people out there who'd love to kill as many Americans as possible.

So, where does that leave us? Well, the presidential administration we're stuck with for the next two years is a deadly combination of arrogance, stubbornness, and being-wrong-about-everything-ness. But it is an election year (which you may have guessed from the President's suddenly sparked interest in Osama Bin Laden), so there's still an opportunity to change course. Who's holding the President's feet to the fire to ensure that Russia's missing nuclear weapons are tracked down? Or that shipping containers entering the United States are searched? Or that people entering this country aren't here under falsified documents? Or that the FBI and CIA are sharing information? Or that our intelligence agencies have enough people to translate the mountain of data they're receiving?

Right now the Legislative branch is controlled by people who have bent over backwards to protect the President, despite his string of failures. They excused his stonewalling of the 9/11 Commission, dragged their feet on investigating Iraq's many scandals (torture, WMD's, no-bid-contracts), ignored his extra-constitutional dalliances (imperial presidency, signing statements), and they've made the extraordinary choice of working to change the laws that the President has been willfully breaking rather than insist that he follow the laws like the rest of us. That's your Republican Party in action.

So on this fifth anniversary of the worst day of my life, I'm tired of watching the country be crippled by its grief and fear. We're in danger, things aren't getting better, and we need to keep asking the same goddamn questions until we get answers. Who's keeping us safe? Well, I know who isn't.
Digby at Hullabaloo with this -
I knew that our government and media would react to this event in exactly the way bin Laden hoped and that we would do to ourselves what the Islamic extremists could only dream of doing: turn the country into a permanent state of faux crisis - and enable the authoritarian right wing of this country, which was unfortunately in power at the time, to pursue a doomed military empire, create a powerful imperial presidency and build the American style police state they had longed for, for decades. I knew that they would run with this "opportunity" and run with it they did.

It became a cliché and then a joke when people would say "the terrorists have won" but there is little doubt in my mind that they have achieved much of what they set out to do. Rather than being the object of sympathy and solidarity we were in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, the world now sees the United States as the terrorists do - a rogue superpower, untrustworthy and unpredictable. The irrational invasion of Iraq cemented an image in the minds of Muslims and others that the US intends to steal valuable mid-east resources and wants a permanent presence in the region in order to subjugate its people.

The next generation of Americans is going to be left with a crippling economic burden from the twin effects of runaway spending on Iraq and an insane fiscal policy. Our society is being trained to believe we live in a perpetually fearful state of suspended animation, waiting for the ax to fall and increasingly sure that we must be willing to allow the government to do anything to maintain our precarious safety. (As long as we can keep shopping, of course.)

… Good work Osama. If you wanted to create terror, you seem to have succeeded. Or someone has on your behalf. There are those who seem intent upon wallowing in this "fear," immersing themselves in it, rubbing it all over them and everybody else. And there's no question why they want to do that. After all, terror doesn't just benefit al Qaeda, does it?
Then he points to this -
The conservative Center for Security Policy will begin airing a new television commercial criticizing those who might oppose [Bush's proposed legislation on show trials for terror detainees].

Some in Congress think "that if we retreat our terrorist enemies will leave us alone," says the ad that will run in Ohio, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont and New York. "They say we should close Guantanamo, where captured foes are kept from waging war against us. ... They seem to think we'll be safer if we cut and run."

With menacing music in the background, the commercial ends with an admonition: "Vote as if your life depended on it. Because it does."
To which Digby says -
And the Democrats, a day late and a dollar short when it comes to national security, have no choice but to feed into that sense of existential fear by nattering on about failed homeland security and accusing the president of feeble leadership because he hasn't caught Osama bin Laden, thus reinforcing the notion that we are under siege. Not that they have any choice really. To do otherwise would be, as Tom Kean said yesterday on This Week, "heresy."

… The problem is that this country simply cannot take an endless ginned-up "war" designed to benefit the Republican Party and Islamic terrorists and neither can the rest of the world. We have big problems to face and we need allies and cooperation to deal with them. Right now we are actively making things worse by allowing our government to pursue terrorism policies that create more of it.

This week the administration is planning to force the congress to rubber stamp its heretofore illegal torture and detention regime. They are going to use some of the 9/11 families to demagogue this legislation as the only proper response to the WTC attacks and they are going to try to trap Democratic politicians into voting for it or risk being "Clelanded" in the coming campaign.

… This torture and detention regime is making our country less safe and less free by creating more terrorists and degrading the US Constitution, but rather than dismantling it the Republicans are going to institutionalize it. It is only the latest of many such foolish actions our government undertook since 9/11. The question is whether we will continue to allow them to do Osama bin Laden's dirty work or if people of good sense will be able to resist their irrational warmongering and confront terrorists intelligently instead of giving them exactly what they want.

I'm not a big fan of Islamic fundamentalists myself. Like most fundamentalist religious fanatics, they are delusional, repressive, authoritarian tyrants and I have no desire for them to succeed in any way. I'm a liberal, after all. I'd really like to see the US government stop empowering them.

The fact that it is doing so makes me angry, I admit. On this day, of all days, especially.
Bill Montgomery -
If you had told me, five years ago, that on the fifth anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in history Ground Zero would still be nothing but an enormous hole in the ground, I wouldn't have believed you - just as I wouldn't have believed that a major American city could be thoroughly trashed by a Category 4 hurricane and then left to molder in the mud for a year while various federal, state and local bureaucrats and hack politicians tried to make up their minds what to do.

I would have said that while those kinds of things can and do happen in Third World kleptocracies or decaying Stalinist police states, they're simply not possible in the richest and most powerful nation in history. Even if the voters could somehow be bamboozled into accepting such incompetence, the wealthy elites and corporate technocrats who own and operate the world's only remaining superpower would never stand for it. You can learn a lot about a country in five years.

What I've learned (from 9/11, the corporate scandals, the fiasco in Iraq, Katrina, the Cheney Administration's insane economic and environmental policies and the relentless dumbing down of the corporate media - plus the repeated electoral triumphs of the Rovian brand of "reality management") is that the United States is moving down the curve of imperial decay at an amazingly rapid clip. If anything, the speed of our descent appears to be accelerating.

The physical symptoms - a lost war, a derelict city, a Potemkin memorial hastily erected in a vacant lot - aren't nearly as alarming as the moral and intellectual paralysis that seems to have taken hold of the system. The old feedback mechanisms are broken or in deep disrepair, leaving America with an opposition party that doesn't know how (or what) to oppose, a military run by uniformed yes men, intelligence czars who couldn't find their way through a garden gate with a GPS locator, TV networks that don't even pretend to cover the news unless there's a missing white woman or a suspected child rapist involved, and talk radio hosts who think nuking Mecca is the solution to all our problems in the Middle East. We've got think tanks that can't think, security agencies that can't secure and accounting firms that can't count (except when their clients ask them to make 2+2=5). Our churches are either annexes to shopping malls, halfway homes for pederasts, or GOP precinct headquarters in disguise. Our economy is based on asset bubbles, defense contracts and an open-ended line of credit from the People's Bank of China, and we still can't push the poverty rate down or the median wage up.

I could happily go on, but I imagine you get my point. It's hard to think of a major American institution, tradition or cultural value that has not, at some point over the past five years, been shown to be a.) totally out of touch, b.) criminally negligent, c.) hopelessly corrupt, d.) insanely hypocritical or e.) all of the above.

It's getting hard to see how these trends can be reversed.

… The jihadis in Afghanistan didn't really take down the Soviet empire - they just delivered a very hard punch to a giant that was already falling. Looking at the state of America five years after 9/11, it no longer seems completely implausible that the same thing might one day be said of us.

This is not, I know, the most inspiring way to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the event that essentially kicked off the new American century - which at this point seems unlikely to last even a decade. If you want the standard patriotic rhetoric (hallowed ground, blessings of democracy, forward strategy for freedom, etc.) you'll have no trouble finding it elsewhere. There's no shortage of the stuff today ( is a good place to start). But I personally don't think the record of the past half decade (or the current condition of Ground Zero) really justifies that kind of self-serving, self-justifying pablum.

Do you?
Kevin Drum in the Washington Monthly here -
My biggest disappointment of the past five years - the biggest by a very long way - has been the way that George Bush transformed 9/11 from an opportunity to bring the country together into a cynical and partisan cudgel useful primarily for winning a few more votes in national elections.

Compare and contrast: FDR was surely one of the most partisan presidents of the 20th century, but after Pearl Harbor he announced that "Dr. New Deal has been replaced by Dr. Win the War." And he made good on that. World War II was largely a bipartisan war and FDR largely governed as a bipartisan commander-in-chief.

And Bush? Within a few months of 9/11 Karl Rove was telling party members what a great issue terrorism would be for Republicans. Andy Card was busily working on the marketing campaign for Iraq, timed for maximum impact on the midterm elections in 2002. Joe Lieberman's DHS bill was hijacked and deliberately loaded with anti-union features in order to draw Democratic complaints and hand Bush a campaign issue. The UN resolution on WMD inspections in Iraq was kept on fire until literally the day after the midterms, at which point the version acceptable to the rest of the world was suddenly agreeable to Bush as well. Democrats who supported Bush on the war were treated to the same scorched-earth campaigning as everyone else. Bipartisanship bought them nothing.

What else? Bush never engaged with Democrats in any way. Bill Clinton and Al Gore were both hawkish Dems who could have been co-opted early if Bush had had any intention of treating the war seriously. He didn't even try. He continued pushing divisive domestic issues like tax cuts and culture war amendments. ("Dr. Tax Cuts has been replaced by Dr. Win the War" would have been more appropriate.) He showed little interest in funding anti-proliferation efforts or working with serious Democratic proposals to improve domestic security at ports and chemical plants. The national security rhetoric from Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the rest of the administration was relentlessly inflammatory and divisive.

I think this is a complaint that most conservatives don't accept - even conservatives who have soured on Bush over the past couple of years. But believe me: on the Democratic side of the aisle, Bush's intensely and gratuitously partisan approach to 9/11 and the war on terror is keenly felt. Sunday's Republican Party photo-op at Ground Zero was just more of the same.
And to cap it off for our Manhattan friend, broadcasting from in front of the sixteen-acre hole in lower Manhattan, Monday, September 11, 2006, Keith Olbermann on MSNBC has the final word. The video of his eight minute comment is here (Windows Media Player) or here (QuickTime).

If you don't have a fast connection to watch, the transcript is here -
And lastly tonight a Special Comment on why we are here.

Half a lifetime ago, I worked in this now-empty space.

And for 40 days after the attacks, I worked here again, trying to make sense of what happened, and was yet to happen, as a reporter.

And all the time, I knew that the very air I breathed contained the remains of thousands of people, including four of my friends, two in the planes and - as I discovered from those "missing posters" seared still into my soul - two more in the Towers.

And I knew too, that this was the pyre for hundreds of New York policemen and firemen, of whom my family can claim half a dozen or more, as our ancestors.

I belabor this to emphasize that, for me… this was, and is, and always shall be, personal.

And anyone who claims that I and others like me are "soft" - or have "forgotten" the lessons of what happened here - is at best a grasping, opportunistic, dilettante - and at worst, an idiot - whether he is a commentator, or a Vice President, or a President.

However. Of all the things those of us who were here five years ago could have forecast - of all the nightmares that unfolded before our eyes, and the others that unfolded only in our minds… none of us could have predicted… this.

Five years later this space… is still empty.

Five years later there is no Memorial to the dead.

Five years later there is no building rising to show with proud defiance that we would not have our America wrung from us, by cowards and criminals.

Five years later this country's wound is still open.

Five years later this country's mass grave is still unmarked.

Five years later… this is still… just a background for a photo-op.

It is beyond shameful.

At the dedication of the Gettysburg Memorial - barely four months after the last soldier staggered from another Pennsylvania field, Mr. Lincoln said "we can not dedicate - we can not consecrate - we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract."

Lincoln used those words to immortalize their sacrifice.

Today our leaders could use those same words to rationalize their reprehensible inaction. "We cannot dedicate - we cannot consecrate - we cannot hallow - this ground." So we won't.

Instead they bicker and buck-pass. They thwart private efforts, and jostle to claim credit for initiatives that go nowhere. They spend the money on irrelevant wars, and elaborate self-congratulations, and buying off columnists to write how good a job they're doing - instead of doing any job at all.

Five years later, Mr. Bush… we are still fighting the terrorists on these streets. And look carefully, sir - on these 16 empty acres, the terrorists are clearly, still winning.

And, in a crime against every victim here and every patriotic sentiment you mouthed but did not enact, you have done nothing about it.

And there is something worse still than this vast gaping hole in this city, and in the fabric of our nation.

There is, its symbolism - of the promise unfulfilled - the urgent oath, reduced to lazy execution.

The only positive on 9/11 and the days and weeks that so slowly and painfully followed it was the unanimous humanity, here, and throughout the country. The government, the President in particular, was given every possible measure of support.

Those who did not belong to his party - tabled that.

Those who doubted the mechanics of his election - ignored that.

Those who wondered of his qualifications - forgot that.

History teaches us that nearly unanimous support of a government cannot be taken away from that government by its critics.

It can only be squandered by those who use it not to heal a nation's wounds, but to take political advantage.

Terrorists did not come and steal our newly-regained sense of being American first, and political, fiftieth. Nor did the Democrats. Nor did the media. Nor did the people.

The President - and those around him - did that.

They promised bi-partisanship, and then showed that to them, "bi-partisanship" meant that their party would rule and the rest would have to follow, or be branded, with ever-escalating hysteria, as morally or intellectually confused; as appeasers; as those who, in the Vice President's words yesterday, "validate the strategy of the terrorists."

They promised protection, and then showed that to them "protection" meant going to war against a despot whose hand they had once shaken - a despot who we now learn from our own Senate Intelligence Committee, hated Al-Qaeda as much as we did.

The polite phrase for how so many of us were duped into supporting a war, on the false premise that it had "something to do" with 9/11, is "lying by implication."

The impolite phrase is "impeachable offense."

Not once in now five years has this President ever offered to assume responsibility for the failures that led to this empty space… and to this, the current, curdled, version of our beloved country.

Still, there is a last snapping flame from a final candle of respect and fairness: even his most virulent critics have never suggested he alone bears the full brunt of the blame for 9/11.

Half the time, in fact, this President has been so gently treated, that he has seemed not even to be the man most responsible - for anything - in his own administration.

Yet what is happening this very night?

A mini-series, created, influenced - possibly financed by - the most radical and cold of domestic political Machiavellis, continues to be televised into our homes.

The documented truths of the last fifteen years are replaced by bald-faced lies; the talking points of the current regime parroted; the whole sorry story blurred, by spin, to make the party out of office seem vacillating and impotent, and the party in office, seem like the only option.

How dare you, Mr. President, after taking cynical advantage of the unanimity and love, and transmuting it into fraudulent war and needless death… after monstrously transforming it into fear and suspicion and turning that fear into the campaign slogan of three elections… how dare you or those around you… ever "spin" 9/11.

Just as the terrorists have succeeded - are still succeeding - as long as there is no memorial and no construction here at Ground Zero.

So too have they succeeded, and are still succeeding - as long as this government uses 9/11 as a wedge to pit Americans against Americans.

This is an odd point to cite a television program, especially one from March of 1960. But as Disney's continuing sell-out of the truth (and this country) suggests, even television programs can be powerful things.

And long ago, a series called "The Twilight Zone" broadcast a riveting episode entitled "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street."

In brief: a meteor sparks rumors of an invasion by extra-terrestrials disguised as humans. The electricity goes out. A neighbor pleads for calm.

Suddenly his car - and only his car - starts. Someone suggests he must be the alien. Then another man's lights go on.

As charges and suspicion and panic overtake the street, guns are inevitably produced.

An "alien" is shot - but he turns out to be just another neighbor, returning from going for help.

The camera pulls back to a near-by hill, where two extra-terrestrials are seen, manipulating a small device that can jam electricity. The veteran tells his novice that there's no need to actually attack, that you just turn off a few of the human machines and then, "they pick the most dangerous enemy they can find, and it's themselves."

And then, in perhaps his finest piece of writing, Rod Serling sums it up with words of remarkable prescience, given where we find ourselves tonight.

"The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices - to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all its own - for the children, and the children yet unborn."

When those who dissent are told time and time again - as we will be, if not tonight by the President, then tomorrow by his portable public chorus - that he is preserving our freedom, but that if we use any of it, we are somehow un-American…

When we are scolded, that if we merely question, we have "forgotten the lessons of 9/11"… look into this empty space behind me and the bi-partisanship upon which this administration also did not build, and tell me:

Who has left this hole in the ground?

We have not forgotten, Mr. President.

You have.

May this country forgive you.
The guy thinks he's Edward R. Murrow. Well, someone has to be these days. He'll do.

So maybe all this will help our attorney friend feel he's not so alone. And, after all, he should be proud that, on his mother's side of the family, he is related to Rod Serling.

Posted by Alan at 22:08 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 11 September 2006 22:28 PDT home

Sunday, 10 September 2006
Stuck on Stupid - No One Seems to Know Much
Topic: Reality-Based Woes
Stuck on Stupid - No One Seems to Know Much
Slavoj Zizek is the international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities. That would be these people from the University of London, and in the September 11 issue of The Guardian (UK), Zizek has some interesting thoughts on the 9/11 anniversary.

The idea is rather startling. It's that five years on we're still stuck on the big lesson we learned when the Berlin Wall fell. All this talk about how 9/11 changed everything is silly. Those who claim that, to justify whatever they wish to do - change the rules for just about anything - don't realize they're stuck on something that just isn't so any longer.

The core of the argument is here -
What, then, is the historical meaning of 9/11? Twelve years earlier, on November 9, 1989, the Berlin wall fell. The collapse of communism was perceived as the collapse of political utopias. Today, we live in a post-utopian period of pragmatic administration, since we have learned the hard lesson of how noble political utopias can end in totalitarian terror. But this collapse of utopias was followed by 10 years of the big utopia of global capitalist liberal democracy. November 9 thus announced the "happy 90s", the Francis Fukuyama dream of the "end of history", the belief that liberal democracy had, in principle, won, that the search was over, that the advent of a global, liberal community was around the corner, that the obstacles to this Hollywood happy ending are merely local pockets of resistance where the leaders have not yet grasped that their time is over.

September 11 is the symbol of the end of this utopia, a return to real history. A new era is here with new walls everywhere, between Israel and Palestine, around the EU, on the US-Mexico and Spain-Morocco borders. It is an era with new forms of apartheid and legalized torture. As President Bush said after September 11, America is in a state of war. But the problem is that the US is not in a state of war. For the large majority, daily life goes on and war remains the business of state agencies. The distinction between the state of war and peace is blurred. We are entering a time in which a state of peace itself can be at the same time a state of emergency.

When Bush celebrated the thirst for freedom in post-communist countries as a "fire in the minds of men", the unintended irony was that he used a phrase from Dostoevsky's The Possessed, where it designates the ruthless activity of radical anarchists who burned a village: "The fire is in the minds of men, not on the roofs of houses." What Bush didn't grasp is that on September 11, five years ago, New Yorkers saw and smelled the smoke from this fire.
So it seems we're stuck on this idea of "the big utopia of global capitalist liberal democracy" - what the Republicans say was Ronald Reagan's gift to the world. Our system works, and it's the best, and everyone should adopt it. The attacks five years ago were a resounding "no" to that, but are being used to say we should all think real hard about the lessons of November 9, 1989, in spite of the dead of 201 in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. Things have changed since 1989, dramatically, but that seems too hard to grasp. So who are the reactionaries here, clinging to what may no longer be significant, say "no, no, no" to what's really going on?

But it is a given these days - an axiom, like in mathematics but here accepted as true as the base of working out any geopolitical proof - that our system works, and it's the best, and everyone should adopt it. You cannot find a politician in the United States, from the far left to the far right, who does not build his or her position on this "indisputable" given. All else that follows is detail - the best way to follow up on what was demonstrated decisively in 1989 - no matter what happened five years ago.

Looking at things a new way, when events warrant reconsideration, is not something anyone likes to do. Who has time to question the really basic assumptions? And who thinks about such things at all?

These high-level and abstract sorts of things just elicit yawns, or derision. Where we're going, what we do, and who leads us, doesn't concern most people. They don't make decisions on who they will vote for, or whether they will vote at all, in that realm. And smart politicians know that. That's why you see things like this - In a Pivotal Year, GOP Plans to Get Personal - Millions to Go to Digging Up Dirt on Democrats - "The National Republican Congressional Committee, which this year dispatched a half-dozen operatives to comb through tax, court and other records looking for damaging information on Democratic candidates, plans to spend more than 90 percent of its $50 million-plus advertising budget on what officials described as negative ads."

People respond to the juicy stuff the opposition digs up. It works. It's not "deep thinking," but it will do just fine.

Reacting to that news item, Bill Montgomery says this -
I think it was P.T. Barnum who said that nobody ever went broke underestimating (or in Shrub's case, misunderestimating) the intelligence of the American people. That's not entirely fair: Americans can be very smart, even brilliant, about some things, particularly if those things involve gadgets and especially if those gadgets can be used to make money or kill people. We're a positivist wet dream - the most relentlessly practical people since the Romans. But our culture and economic incentives all tend to channel our intellectual energies away from subjects that have no immediate utilitarian value. And for most Americans, most of the time, that means away from politics and current affairs, which only rarely have any direct impact on or relevance to our daily lives.

… All this helps create the sea of political ignorance and apathy on which Rovian admirals (and their less competent Democratic opponents) launch their attack vessels, armed with sales techniques borrowed from the advertising industry and the social psychology departments of the major research universities.
It's not at all about thinking about things but more a crude sort of marketing, as in this, which was allegedly written by an anonymous Madison Avenue executive -
Understand that you are dealing with a target audience that doesn't care enough, or simply refuses to devote the time to learn the real facts regarding the real issues. Instead, their perception has BECOME the facts!

… Do not try to change this reality. Work with it. The perception you create IS the reality! Take heart! If they perceive something despite obvious evidence to the contrary, you will be able to make them perceive any number of things!
That sounds like a line from an early sixties Hollywood comedy about the advertising industry - something Rock Hudson or Tony Randall would say (with Doris Day in the background looking shocked). Maybe it is. But it is disturbingly close to something that has been quoted in these pages any number of times, that an anonymous White House official, before the 2004 elections telling Ron Suskind this -
We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. While you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out.
Yep, these guys create their own reality, to which Montgomery says this -
There are many things you can call that point of view and the style of politics it supports. Democracy isn't one of them. If perception really is everything, and managing mass perceptions is the be-all and end-all of the political process, then Spengler was right - what we call "democracy" is really just a disguise for plutocracy.

Or worse. If all that matters is the science of perceptual manipulation, then the technicians pushing the media buttons can make the machine work for anybody - capitalists, Christian theocrats, little green men from Mars. It doesn't matter what ideological brand of soap you're selling, as long as you control the means of mass communication.

… But if perception management actually was all that mattered - if the Rovians really could "create their own reality" - they wouldn't be gearing up for the biggest negative campaign in the history of off-year congressional elections. They wouldn't have to, since media consumers would be cheerfully confident that the war in Iraq is being won, that the Cheney tax cuts are delivering prosperity for all, and that the GOP is a model of modern public administration.
So folks really are paying attention? They're certainly not reading Spengler's The Decline of the West. No one does.

Montgomery argues the Republicans are going negative - using ninety percent of their media budget - because reality still actually matters -
Voters are influenced not just by the chaotic scenes from Iraq they see on TV or the steady drip of US casualties they read about in the obituary sections of their local newspapers, but also by their own finances, their job prospects, the price of gas, the value of their homes, etc. These perceptions aren't so easy to manipulate with propaganda trickery - unlike claims of "victory" in an invisible war against terrorism or 30-second spots about the personal or political foibles of a little-known Democratic congressional candidate.

What's worse (from a Rovian point of view), the American people may still be capable of learning from reality, despite their distaste for anything that smells like a political debate.
The evidence of that is from the recent Pew Research polling, with results like this, on our current approach to the world - threaten the pesky, then go for regime change, with invasion and occupation and setting up a government we want -
An increasing number of Americans see nonmilitary approaches - such as decreasing US dependence on Middle East oil and avoiding involvement with the problems of other countries - as effective in this regard. Fully two-thirds (67%) say that decreasing America's dependence on oil from the Middle East is a very important step in preventing terrorism - the highest percentage for any option tested.
Not war? What this - pragmatism? Montgomery calls it "a pretty impressive outbreak of popular common sense?" And it's so dangerous the administration is doing all that Hitler and "Islamofascist" stuff. Common sense is the enemy too.

So it's showdown time -
The Rovian propaganda-based reality versus the rest of the world's reality-based reality, with the voters as the judges and the corporate media elites as the referees-on-the-take. The last few rounds should be bloody, and most likely downright vicious, in the Mike Tyson, bite-off-your-opponent's-ear sense of the word.

… Personally, I tend to believe it will take a rather massive eruption of reality - and probably a catastrophic one - to produce fundamental political change in America, of the kind that might allow a progressive left-wing movement to smash the Rovian machine, break the political stranglehold of private wealth and bring the corporations, including the corporate media, back under some kind of check and balance.

… Call me a wild-eyed radical, but I'm hoping for a 1932, or at least a 1980 in reverse, not a 1994 in reverse - although we all could certainly do without a repeat of the Great Depression or the stagflationary '70s.

We're obviously not looking at a realignment election yet. We're probably not even close (although I wouldn't put money on that proposition.) But it's getting hard to see how an economic and/or foreign policy train wreck can be avoided, one that will eventually force large numbers of voters to fundamentally reassess their existing political loyalties.

… I still believe (call it an article of faith) that a majority of the voters will eventually figure out they've been had - sold not just a bill of goods but a counterfeit reality, one that is crumbling in front of their eyes. When that happens, they're going to be enraged, in a way that makes this year's discontent look like the passing tantrum of a grumpy two-year old. We can only pray they'll be angry at the right people.
That last warning is important. The Disney-ABC 9/11 movie seems to have a clear subtext - sure, 9/11 was awful, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq a god-awful mess now, but that's all because of Bill Clinton. When that's the official position of one of the largest media organizations in the world, and a major television network, and soon ABC News itself no doubt - based on evidence they, frankly, just made up on the spot - then all bets are off. Heck, everyone knows it's all the fault of someone else - John Lennon. That miniseries is no doubt in production in Burbank right now.

Turning away from what's just "not reality" doesn't necessarily mean you turn to anything else more real. People are funny that way.

And the spin goes on to work on all sorts of realities. See Andrew Sullivan in the Times of London here on that speech Bush gave the week before, saying he was pulling the bad guys from our secret overseas prisons and think they should be tried in a special kind of court where they cannot defend themselves or hear the evidence against them (the Bush speech was cover in these pages here). The president also said we learned a lot from these bad guys because we sort of maybe tortured it out of them. So he wants the odd trials approved by congress, and the "techniques" used on these guys approved too.

Sullivan -
Without describing them, Bush's speech essentially said that without these interrogation techniques thousands of Americans would have been murdered, and so they have to be retained as options by the CIA. Wouldn't this violate the Geneva conventions and American law, as the Supreme Court found? Under any rational interpretation, yes. But Bush has asserted that these techniques are not "torture" as he defines it and if Congress goes along with this, such techniques become legal with the president's signature.

The push for passage in the months before the election is intense. Last Thursday Bill Frist, the Republican leader of the Senate, even threatened to bypass a committee of three resistant, constitutionalist Republican senators (John McCain, John Warner and Lindsey Graham) to get the measure to the Senate floor and force the Democrats to "side with the terrorists".

The rationale is clear. In the week of the fifth anniversary of 9/11 the president wants to change the debate from Iraq, from Iran, from the past and position himself once again as the indispensable protector. It's territory he knows and feels secure on: goading the opposition as appeasers and terror lovers.

But Bush had one more ace to play. Here's the critical quote from the speech: "We're now approaching the five-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks - and the families of those murdered that day have waited patiently for justice. They should have to wait no longer. So I'm announcing today that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, and 11 other terrorists in CIA custody have been transferred to Guantanamo Bay … As soon as Congress acts to authorize the military commissions I have proposed, the men our intelligence officials believe orchestrated the deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans can face justice."

So any congressional resistance to Bush's war crimes and military tribunal bill will be depicted as delaying justice for the perpetrators of 9/11. The choice in the November elections will be described as being between breaching the Geneva conventions or backing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

… It is, of course, a phony choice. In reality the detention policies pursued by Bush have made prosecution of many of the 9/11 perpetrators much more difficult.

Evidence procured by torture cannot be permitted in a trial without destroying centuries of Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence. Moreover, most American military lawyers believe the long-established procedures under the code of military justice are far preferable to the kangaroo courts devised by Bush.

As for the torture techniques, the army deputy chief of staff for intelligence testified last week that "no good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that". Who are we to believe? The president or the army? It's also clear Bush's policy is a PR disaster. The trial of monsters like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed could be a great propaganda weapon for the West. But only if the trials are seen to be fair and open and in line with Anglo-American justice. If the trials violate the Geneva conventions then the PR victory goes to Al-Qaeda.

Surely the president knows this. The most generous interpretation is that he believes that torture has worked in getting intelligence from suspected terrorists; and that interrogation techniques perfected by Stalin's secret police are not violations of the Geneva conventions. He may simply have persuaded himself that he hasn't authorized what he has plainly authorized. I'm not sure what level of psychological denial this amounts to; but it is unnerving in a president of the most powerful country on earth.

The more realistic interpretation is more depressing. It is that Bush knows exactly what he's doing, believes torture works, wants to cement it in law and simultaneously wants to declare the US is still in compliance with Geneva. Squaring this circle requires that his semantic distinction between "coercive interrogation techniques" and "torture" will become conventional wisdom.

For good measure, he must also see this as a political gamble. He has seen the polls - and they are grim for the Republicans. The only way to turn this around is a striking initiative - and returning to the prosecution of the 9/11 criminals is about as good as it gets.

The stakes are high. If the Democrats gain the House or Senate in November, congressional investigations into the torture policy could begin, and no one knows where that might lead. So Bush's war crimes bill is designed to do two things: recast the campaign as one in which only the Republicans are serious about terrorism, and pass legislation that can retroactively protect Bush officials from any future war crime prosecutions.

In the next two months the president is fighting for what remains of his political life. This much we now know: he is not going down without a struggle.
Ah, but will reality win?

Then there's this -
Next week, I'm informed via troubled White House sources, will see the full unveiling of Karl Rove's fall election strategy. He's intending to line up 9/11 families to accuse McCain, Warner and Graham of delaying justice for the perpetrators of that atrocity, because they want to uphold the ancient judicial traditions of the US military and abide by the Constitution. He will use the families as an argument for legalizing torture, setting up kangaroo courts for military prisoners, and giving war crime impunity for his own aides and cronies. This is his "Hail Mary" move for November; it's brutally exploitative of 9/11; it's pure partisanship; and it's designed to enable an untrammeled executive. Decent Republicans, Independents and Democrats must do all they can to expose and resist this latest descent into political thuggery. If you need proof that this administration's first priority is not a humane and effective counter-terror strategy, but a brutal, exploitative path to retaining power at any price, you just got it.
That's Sullivan too. He must hate America. And he's afraid of clever marketing.

And there's this from Sunday, September 10 -
Vice President Cheney said today that the ongoing national debate over the war in Iraq is emboldening adversaries to believe they can undermine the resolve of the American people to complete the U.S. mission in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"They can't beat us in a stand-up fight, they never have, but they're absolutely convinced they can break our will [and that] the American people don't have the stomach for the fight, " Cheney said on NBC's Meet the Press.

The vice president said US allies in Afghanistan and Iraq "have doubts" America will finish the job there. "And those doubts are encouraged, obviously, when they see the kind of debate that we've had in the United States," Cheney said. "Suggestions, for example, that we should withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq simply feed into that whole notion, validates the strategy of the terrorists."
Enough of talking about reality and trying, in fits and starts, to use common sense. People just need to shut the hell up. What the government does is not open for discussion. We cannot afford that sort of thing any longer.

And people know nothing, it seems.

But people have a way of figuring things out, one way or another, as in this, an open letter to George W. Bush from Bill Clinton's penis -
Well, George, I gotta say - even though I only have one eye, I should have seen this coming. I mean, I'd heard in various executive washrooms that you and your people harbored a massive grudge against me for being so irresistible, but to invade a sovereign nation, empty America's coffers, destroy the United States' reputation in the world, and make this planet much less safe because you wanted to show that yours is, at least metaphorically, bigger, wider, more powerful? That's just sick, man. What the hell is wrong with you? Tell me, when you were a kid, did that wire monkey that passes for your mama point at you "down there" and laugh because you were even less endowed than your sister, Doro? Did all those hours with your childhood imaginary friend blasting all those defenseless frogs to smithereens anesthetize you to the CIA torture rooms you reluctantly admitted really do exist? See, I want to understand why you spend so much time trying to prove your manhood to your dad and anyone marginally more popular than you are.

And now because your little Iraq adventure failed to make you BMOC in the Middle East (or anywhere else, for that matter), I hear that some of your right-wing, Bible-humping fans have scripted a "docudrama" blaming my boy for letting 9/11 happen, despite the fact that according to every Gregorian calendar I'm aware of, September 11, 2001 was officially on your watch. The HELL? It's Bill's fault that you didn't sit up and take notice when Harriet Miers handed you that Aug. 6 PDB because you were too busy trying to peer down her Dress Barn "cowboy style" blouse? I know, it was her smoky, kohl-lined eyes that distracted you from capturing Osama bin Laden in Tora Bora when you had the chance? Jeez, man, it's always anyone else's fault but yours, eh? Oh, and by the way, I hear this "docudrama" is so loosely based on the official 9/11 Commission Report that it might as well have been plagiarized from "Mildred Pierce." Whatever you're holding over Gloved Mouse, Inc. and its subsidiaries to guarantee they air this potentially libelous piece of revisionist crap must be something tasty, indeed.

Face it, George: you're already going down in history as the worst President this country's ever had. You really need to get a grip on something other than that fun-sized roll of Life Savers in your pocket.

Your nemesis, Li'l Bill
It's a true about what's happened as anything else. Figuring out what's really going on isn't that very hard.

Posted by Alan at 22:43 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 11 September 2006 06:44 PDT home

Hot Off the Virtual Press
Topic: Announcements
Hot Off the Virtual Press
The new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly magazine-format site that is parent to this daily web log, is now online. This is Volume 4, Number 37 for the week of September 10, 2006.Click here to go there...

Commentary will resume here tomorrow, or sooner.

As for this week's issue, I was out of town for a few days so this issue has only four of the usual long commentaries on current events, but they do dive deep into the issues. They are explained below. On the other hand, there are ten pages of photographs, and you may find some of them rather amazing. Some of that is the subject matter, and some of it technical - I may have actually figured out the Nikon D70. There's a deep array of nature shots, which is a something new. But there is Hollywood too, and there are fantastic cars, and the botanical close-ups get better.

And there are the weekly diversions - quotes on the nature of history, as that Disney-ABC 9/11 movie seems to be the big issue of the day, and the weekly dose of the weird from our friend in Texas.

Direct links to specific pages -

Extended Observations on Current Events ______________________________

The Case for Pessimism - The new book the philosopher wrote about the history and utility of pessimism bumped up against current events…
Cartoons - Hollywood to the Rescue (notes on the ABC-Disney 9/11 movie)
The Last Challenge - The question is just what sort of people we are, really.
The Basics - Odd News and the Long View - As the September 11 anniversary approaches we find that everything we were told was not so.

Southern California Photography ______________________________

Heavenly Pond - An exercise in nature photography -
High on Sunset - Some very strange images -
Hollywood Walls - Looking closely at things -
Faded Stars - Old Hollywood
Car Crazy - We love our cars out here -

- 1949 Super Sport
- Flaming Fenders
- Oddities
Botanicals - Brightness
One Shot - Perspective - The Vanishing Point

Diversions ______________________________

Quotes for the Week: History and Truth and All That
Weird, Bizarre and Unusual

Posted by Alan at 19:40 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

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