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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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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

Wednesday, 6 September 2006
Cartoons: Hollywood to the Rescue
Topic: Reality-Based Woes
Cartoons: Hollywood to the Rescue
There are those who are experts in cartoons. There's Pixar Animation Studios, based up in Emeryville, now a division of the Walt Disney Company, down here in Burbank. On January 24, 2006, Disney agreed to buy Pixar for well over seven billion dollars in an all-stock transaction. The acquisition was completed on May 5, 2006 - Pixar is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Disney. The old-style cartoons, actually drawn, frame by frame, by humans, are pretty much dead. It's all computer-generated now. Bambi and Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, and Fantasia, are curiosities now - much like silent films. Hardly anyone alive now remembers when silent films were just fine. Things change.

But cartoons aren't dead. Disney knows that. They didn't shell out those billions of dollars for nothing. Kids like cartoons, so do adults - from The Yellow Submarine to Who Framed Roger Rabbit? to South Park, not to mention The Simpsons. The impossible is made visual and funny, with a little life lesson, and some tears along with the jokes. Cartoons are a real trip, as they say.

Disney had lost its preeminence in the field, and they simply bought it back. And they could afford it. They are a massive conglomerate, producing live-action films, and with their theme parks, and with their subsidiary ESPN and their cable channels and radio stations. And they have ABC. Disney acquired Capital Cities/ABC in 1996. They have a major television network of their very own.

But they still do cartoons. Disney's ABC is about to air the new "documentary" on 9/11 - more than four hours long, spanning two evenings, offered without commercials. It cost them thirty million to produce, and this is, one assumes, Disney's commemorative gift on the anniversary of that day. But it's not the same old stuff. The folks they hired to make this thing have a point of view - an attitude - and the premise here seems to be that no one in the Bush administration at any point at any time in the whole thing did anything wrong, and there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and Saddam himself might have planned the 9/11 attacks. And all those people died that one day because of just one guy - Bill Clinton. He didn't do his job and Bush got stuck with the results. Perhaps this view is a bit biased. It is creating a firestorm.

You can find a complete script review here, with snippets like this -
Clarke tells O'Neill that Clinton won't give the order to get bin Laden in this climate, with Republicans calling for his impeachment. O'Neill says that Clinton wants bin Laden dead - but not if he has to order it. "It's pathetic," he declares.

Back in Afghanistan, the operatives plan for the snatch job anyway, hoping for approval once it's clear they have their man. One night, they call Langley - they are ready to get bin Laden, he is nearby. "Do we have clearance?" they ask. Berger says he doesn't have authority, he would have to check, they're not all on "the same page."

A CIA official tells Berger the president has approved snatches in the past. Berger wonders about the quality of the intelligence. The CIA woman says it's never 100%. With that, Berger punts and asks Tenet if HE wants to offer a recommendation to the president. Tenet asks: Why does the buck always stop with me, like with the Waco disaster?

At that point, Berger simply hangs up - and the operatives abroad pack up and leave. Massoud asks if they are "all cowards in Washington." Again there is an immediate cut to Clinton, parsing sexual terms in his taped testimony on the Lewinsky case - and then a clip of him hugging Monica.

A little later in the film, the U.S. embassy in Nairobi is attacked, with many deaths. A CIA agent in tears yells at Tenet, saying he should have ordered the killing of bin Laden when they had the chance. O'Neill to Clarke: "Clinton has to do SOMETHING."
You get the idea. Every cartoon needs a villain.

All the right wing "pundits" got a pre-release copy. No one else has seen it. ABC refused to provide a copy to Clinton, or Madeline Albright or Sandy Burger - the villain and his crew - or to any mainstream columnist. In the House, John Conyers, John Dingell, Jane Harman, and Louise Slaughter wrote the president of Disney asking what's up with this (their letter is here).

The New York Times covers the controversy here, noting this television event was being criticized as biased and inaccurate by terrorism experts and a member of the September 11 Commission. ABC was advertising the program as a "historic broadcast" that uses the commission's report on the 2001 attacks as its "primary foundation."

A number of commissioners and those who were there at the time find that ludicrous -
In particular, some critics - including Richard A. Clarke, the former counterterrorism czar - questioned a scene that depicts several American military officers on the ground in Afghanistan. In it, the officers, working with leaders of the Northern Alliance, the Afghan rebel group, move in to capture Osama bin Laden, only to allow him to escape after the mission is canceled by Clinton officials in Washington.

In a posting on, and in a phone interview, Mr. Clarke said no military personnel or CIA agents were ever in position to capture Mr. bin Laden in Afghanistan, nor did the leader of the Northern Alliance get that near to his camp.

"It didn't happen," Mr. Clarke said. "There were no troops in Afghanistan about to snatch bin Laden. There were no CIA personnel about to snatch bin Laden. It's utterly invented."

Mr. Clarke, an on-air consultant to ABC News, said he was particularly shocked by a scene in which it seemed Clinton officials simply hung up the phone on an agent awaiting orders in the field. "It's 180 degrees from what happened," he said. "So, yeah, I think you would have to describe that as deeply flawed."

ABC then issued a statement saying that the miniseries was "a dramatization, not a documentary, drawn from a variety of sources, including the 9/11 commission report, other published materials and from personal interviews." And they said they plan to run a disclaimer with the broadcast, reminding viewers that the movie was not really a documentary. But then they are planning to send out teaching materials to schools so this can be shown in classrooms, for discussion.

It is a bit confusing, and there's confused Richard Ben-Veniste, a member of the original commission who saw part of the miniseries last week - "As we were watching, we were trying to think how they could have misinterpreted the 9/11 commission's finding the way that they had. They gave the impression that Clinton had not given the green light to an operation that had been cleared by the CIA to kill bin Laden."

The commission concluded Clinton had. Oh well.

But this is cool -

Mr. Ben-Veniste said he did, however, approve of the casting. "I like Harvey Keitel," he said of the actor who plays John O'Neil, the onetime FBI counterterrorism expert who died in the attacks. "I liked him in 'Mean Streets.' I'm a fan."
That's nice.

Dean Barnett, one the writers at the hyper-pro-Bush Hugh Hewitt blog, is, unlike all the others on the right who got their advance copies, having second thoughts about this whole thing. The short version of what he says comes down to, yes, Clinton was evil, the most evil president ever, but making up stuff may not be the way we want to go here.

Digby on the left side offers this -
The reason this matters so much, and why Democrats are so apoplectic at the way ABC has handled this material, is that popular culture has a way of inculcating certain concepts into people's minds, especially young minds, far more effectively than talking head programs or earnest debates among political bloggers and columnists. This is the kind of thing that could taint the debate for generations if it takes hold.

The right howled mercilessly at Oliver Stone's depictions of JFK and Nixon, claiming that he was rewriting history. He was, and he used very clever techniques to do it - particularly the odd, dreamlike optical montages that feel like memories. But the key is that these films were about events that happened long in the past - they were re-writing history, not writing the first draft while the immediate events were still being debated. Certainly, nobody sent out high school study guides saying they were based on fact or claimed they were based on The Warren Commission Report or Nixon's memoirs. Stone never claimed that he was depicting a factual account but rather always said that he was providing an "alternate history."

"Path to 9/11" is using the sophisticated techniques (if not the talent) of Stone's "alternate history" style to create an alternate reality in real time.

… If this nonsense is allowed to stick, we will be battling these inaccurate demagogic, phantoms for another 50 years - and I don't think the country will survive it. These new right-wingers make the red-baiters of the 50's look like Gandhi. In order for the Republicans to maintain power as often and as much as possible, they must find a way to blame the Democrats for terrorism and ensure that neither party can ever stray from the most hard line they can possibly maintain. It's the same formula that killed over 50,000 Americans in Vietnam and it's going to do far worse this time out if we let it happen again.
But it's too late. Disney is determined.

And who knows what they're up to? They're losing thirty million here, on this freebie. And the Walt Disney Company a few years ago blocked its Miramax division from distributing the documentary by Michael Moore that grossed two hundred million, Fahrenheit 9/11. Then they sold Miramax. One wonders about their agenda.

Note this -
Disney/ABC cancelled the reality show featuring a gay couple, "Welcome To The Neighborhood," ten days before it was to air when James Dobson and the religious right threatened to withdraw their support for the conservative classic "Narnia."

Disney refused to allow its subsidiary Miramax, which specialized in controversial fare, to distribute "Fahrenheit 9/11" allegedly because they felt it was too political.

They made a deal with Mel Gibson, beloved on the religious right for his film "The Passion," to produce a film about the Holocaust even though they knew at the time he held extremely controversial views about the Holocaust and Judaism. They only cancelled the project when he was caught by the police drunkenly saying "all the wars in the world are caused by the Jews."

Now they have produced a blatantly rightwing work of fiction which they are saying is based on the official 9/11 Commission report and they are giving it away without any advertising. They sent out hundreds of screening copies but failed to send any to the Clinton administration officials who are trashed in the film or to liberal columnists….

There's a pattern here folks and it isn't a pattern that shows ABC knuckling under to liberals. There is a huge amount of money at stake in all these decisions, but for some reason Disney seems to be more than willing to throw it away when it benefits the right wing: already produced films and TV shows are either cancelled or allowed to be distributed by others, while hugely expensive, controversial rightwing mini-series' are broadcast with no advertising and allowed to be downloaded for free by I-tunes.

Isn't that something that Disney shareholders should be just a little bit concerned about? If ABC is protecting its "Narnia" franchise, at some point you have to look at whether the price they are paying is too high. If they have thrown this kind of money away to appease the GOP for business reasons then their shareholders have just been taken to the cleaners. The old K Street Project is dead and when Democrats take congress this fall they aren't going to be happy. They are on to it.

If Disney/ABC is giving away free air time for conservative projects and denying distribution to programs that don't favor the Republican Party, then perhaps somebody needs to look at whether this stuff is legal. There are laws regulating corporate giving to campaigns. By not showing advertising it seems to me that it's not impossible to make a case that this latest is a free gift to the Republican Party just weeks before an important election.
Oh heck, when you own your own network you can do anything you'd like. Ask Rupert Murdoch. But if I were a shareholder, I'd begin to wonder what's up here.

And of course, a friend just said he will no longer take his kids to Disneyworld or Disneyland. He sees no point in funding the Cult of Bush. But then his kids will study this in the classroom.

Hollywood does matter, it seems.

Posted by Alan at 21:52 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 7 September 2006 07:31 PDT home

Wednesday, 23 August 2006
Waking Up
Topic: Reality-Based Woes
Waking Up
You read it here first, from infrequent contributor Rick the "News Guy in Atlanta" (he's called that because he's one of the guys who got CNN up and running back in the early eighties, knows all the key players there, and his wife is still there, a key executive). See November 7, 2004 - Listen up! There IS no War on Terror! - where after some prefatory matters and before reactions from others, he says this (and remember it was election time) -
Okay, I'm confused and need some help. Is it just me, or has anyone else in this country noticed that there is no "War on Terror"?

Polls show Americans trust Bush more than Kerry on the issue of protecting the country from terrorism. Really! (They obviously ignore the fact that Kerry has actually killed someone face-to-face, while the closest Bush got to doing that was when he giggled it up as some born-again Christian woman was on the way to one of his Texas execution chambers.)

But other than that, when you think about it, what has Bush done in this so-called "War on Terror"?

He attacked Afghanistan? Big deal! Hell, if 9/11 had happened on Calvin Coolidge's watch, he'd have invaded Afghanistan during a break in one of his famous afternoon naps!

Bush invaded Iraq? Okay, if you insist on considering Iraq part of the "War on Terror," then you must admit to it being one hugely-botched battle at best, with terrorists now operating out of that country and doing things Saddam Hussein would never have allowed them to do. But in fact, Iraq, as has now been demonstrated, originally had nothing to do with the war on terror anyway, although probably now it does. Which leaves us with Afghanistan, where the Taliban still lives, and as Osama bin Laden possibly does, too.

(Okay, looking on the bright side, isn't it nice that Saddam was removed from power? Yes, but considering the subsequent blowback, celebrating Saddam's being gone is like calling the glass ten-percent full instead of ninety-percent empty. One can understand some Iraqis being happy about this, but it has certainly not made the world safer.)

Is this war just a metaphor, like the "War on Poverty"? Apparently Bush doesn't think so, charging that anyone (i.e., Kerry) who thinks this war is just a metaphor is not fit to be president. (Lots of Bush's fellow Republicans have called it a metaphor, but that's okay, they're not candidates for the job.)

Can this war be won? Apparently Bush doesn't think it can be, not in the classic sense (although he had to later clarify that argument by inserting some flip-floppy ambiguity into it.)

Is it a law-enforcement matter? Bush says no, that's just "September 10th thinking," the sort of thing his opponent is guilty of. (You know, it seems this business of hunting down this war is like Twenty Questions, with no end in sight.)

But in truth, if it's not a metaphor; and it can't really be won in the usual sense; and it's not a law-enforcement thing; and if even Tommy Franks has told people Afghanistan is really more of a man-hunt than a war - and as has been pointed out before, shortly after our invading Afghanistan, there were more American soldiers in Salt Lake City, protecting the Winter Olympics, than there were fighting our so-called war in Afghanistan - then where is this war everyone's talking about?

Even Bush and his people admit that this "war" has produced absolutely no actual "war prisoners" as such that fall under Geneva Convention protections. Shouldn't that alone tell us something?

Look, I have ideas of war in my head. Take WWII; now that was a proper war! So was WWI and the Civil War and the War of 1812 and the War for Independence! Real wars you can see and smell, and run to join up with, or maybe run away from. Korea and Vietnam were called "police actions," but whatever you called them, they walked and talked like wars to me.

So if anyone tries to tell you that this is a war unlike others and it isn't between nations and that it doesn't take place in any one chunk of geography, but is in fact taking place in the slums of Hamburg and the jungles of Indonesia, and hundreds of other secret places where these vermin try to hide, and that it won't end with someone signing a peace treaty, and may not /ever/ end in the conventional sense, and is not fought only by soldiers with guns but also by prosecutors with subpoenas ... you see where this is going?

Tell them what they're describing is only "metaphorically" a war, but is really mostly just a law-enforcement issue that, like crime itself, will probably never end -- and certainly not the sort of thing to allow a president to lay claim to being a "wartime president". I'm sure future historians will someday compare the mass hysteria rampant in early 21st century America, as it fought its imaginary war, to the Salem witch burnings and communist-hunts during the McCarthy era.

It seems like such a classic case of emperor-wearing-no-clothes, and it seems that nobody wants to bring this up, so let me do it now:

I need everyone's undivided attention! Listen up! There IS no War on Terror!

I repeat: There IS no War on Terror! None! We have all been conned!

Anyone? Please feel free to convince me otherwise.
Well, it took two years, but the London "liquid bomb" plot that was foiled - as in "Rats! Foiled again!" - seems to be not a victory in the war on terror by the only means we say works (send in the smart bombs), but a matter of law enforcement. Kerry was right. Even hyper-conservative George Will says so here - he notes in a candidates' debate in South Carolina (January 29, 2004), Kerry said that although the war on terror will be "occasionally military," it is "primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation that requires cooperation around the world," and so it seems to be so. Oops. We must have misjudged the man. Will is miffed with Bush these days.

It took enough time for people to start coming around, didn't it?

And now people are saying all sorts of things, like John Mueller in the oh-so-serious journal Foreign Affairs (published by The Council on Foreign Relations) with this -
Summary: Despite all the ominous warnings of wily terrorists and imminent attacks, there has been neither a successful strike nor a close call in the United States since 9/11. The reasonable - but rarely heard - explanation is that there are no terrorists within the United States, and few have the means or the inclination to strike from abroad.
He's not exactly saying the whole thing is a hoax, but wonders how much we should worry about it. Is the threat posed by al Qaeda terrorists equivalent to that of fascists back in the thirties? Well, no -
Although it remains heretical to say so, the evidence so far suggests that fears of the omnipotent terrorist - reminiscent of those inspired by images of the 20-foot-tall Japanese after Pearl Harbor or the 20-foot-tall Communists at various points in the Cold War (particularly after Sputnik) - may have been overblown, the threat presented within the United States by al Qaeda greatly exaggerated. The massive and expensive homeland security apparatus erected since 9/11 may be persecuting some, spying on many, inconveniencing most, and taxing all to defend the United States against an enemy that scarcely exists.
And he has evidence, and reasons from it. But it is quite long and no one will have the patience to read it. And it is heretical to say such things - everyone knows the bad guys want to kill us all, and are working on that tirelessly. They don't actually seem to be, but never mind.

In lieu of that some might want to read Ronald Bailey's Don't Be Terrorized, where there's a statistical look at things - you're more likely to die of a car accident, drowning, fire, or murder, than be a victim of terrorism. But of course it doesn't feel that way. Terrorism hysteria is the order of the day, even if you read careful analysis like this from David Weigel, about the triumph of us busting up the terror plot in Miami in June, which wasn't much of a plot, and the forces in play to make us believe it was something, when the guys were pretty much hapless jerks.

Something is up. As Rick said, it seems like such a classic case of emperor-wearing-no-clothes, and nobody wanted to bring it up - but the war on terror is a farce, and the threat hardly existential. It's a problem. You solve it.

But now that Iran wants to discuss its nuclear program, but won't stop research as a precondition to the talks, we all no war is coming. The Chinese and Russians say cool, let's have the talks. We say no. No talks unless and until they stop all research and promise not resume it, ever - then we'll talk about things. We have to stop them, and the sole condition for talking is clear. So if the world won't agree to sanctions, you know what's coming next. We know what will happen if they continue.

But a House committee on Wednesday, August 23, said we don't -
Noting "significant gaps in our knowledge and understanding of the various areas of concern about Iran," the House Intelligence Committee staff report questioned whether the United States could even effectively engage in talks with Tehran on ways to diffuse tensions.
In the Republican-controlled House we have a Republican-controlled committee saying it's not just that we don't really know anything about their nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons programs, we don't even know enough to talk to them intelligently.

It may be safe to assume even the pro-Bush folks are wising up. No one wants to get hung out to dry again. The White House, in response, says that they are "taking steps" to do better. Somehow that's not reassuring.

But there are the bad guys, now being called the "Islamofascists" in the pro-Bush media - which Matthew Yglesias here says he can "only understand as a sign of increasing desperation" - and the president himself has adopted the "slightly-less-absurd" formulation "Islamic fascists." It just isn't helpful.

There's a lot of talk about Spencer Ackerman here making a basic pragmatic argument - Muslims everywhere really don't appreciate this terminology at all. Not even in Detroit, or especially in Detroit, with its large Muslim, and pro-American, population. It just pisses them off.

Yglesias notes too it's worth calling attention to the function of this rhetoric -
"Fascist," in this context, just roughly means "bad." Add in the "Islamic" and what you come to is the conclusion that we're in a war and that the enemy in this war is Muslims who subscribe to bad ideologies. This has the consequence of taking a set of institutionally and ideologically distinct actors - Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah, Iraq, Iran, Syria, al-Qaeda, the Mahdi Army, Iraqi insurgents, etc. - and treating them as a single phenomenon. To do so would be a serious mistake. And to call it a mistake is not to deny the obvious fact that these are groups that are to some degree interrelated. There's some ideological overlap. Some of these groups are allied with each other at the moment. Some have been allied in the past. Some might ally in the future.

Nevertheless, they are different things. And the essence of sound strategy has long been to look at potentially hostile actors and try to divide them. To decide what your top priority is and focus on it. The "Islamofascism" rhetoric is part of a continuing campaign to do the reverse.
But it does keep the hysteria up. They're all alike. They all want to kill us. And we have to stay in Iraq because there sure are a lot of them there, and if we leave they'll just come here, or whatever.

That may be nonsense, but it is important nonsense. See the Washington Post here interviewing an anonymous "top GOP strategist" - most likely Karl Rove -
The strategist, who is involved in GOP efforts to capitalize on the issue of national security, said one of the big challenges in the months ahead will be "making sure the terrorism issue sticks to Iraq." With some GOP candidates distancing themselves from Bush's Iraq policy, the strategist said, it has been difficult marrying the issues of terrorism and Iraq. This is disturbing to top GOP officials because support for the war is low, and dropping, and Iraq is a bigger issue in many of the campaigns than the less-defined effort against terrorism, the strategist said.
But it's just not sticking, as shown in the New York Times poll here -
Americans increasingly see the war in Iraq as distinct from the fight against terrorism, and nearly half believe President Bush has focused too much on Iraq to the exclusion of other threats, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. The poll found that 51 percent of those surveyed saw no link between the war in Iraq and the broader anti-terror effort, a jump of 10 percentage points since June.
And there's the CNN USA Today poll here -
Most Americans, according to the poll, seem to have separate opinions about the war in Iraq and terrorism, with more than half (52 percent) saying the war in Iraq is a distraction from the U.S. efforts against terrorists who want to attack targets inside the United States.

A smaller percentage, 44 percent, said the war in Iraq "is an essential part" of U.S. efforts against terrorists who want to attack targets inside the United States.
People are catching up to Rick in Atlanta, even the "security moms" as the Post noted here, providing much fodder for the political talk shows -
Married mothers said in interviews here that they remain concerned about national security and the ability of Democrats to keep them safe from terrorist strikes. But surveys indicate Republicans are not benefiting from this phenomenon as they have before.

... Jean Thomas, a married mother of one, said she still feels a pang of fear every time she boards an airplane for work travel around the Midwest. "Terrorism," she said, "is the biggest concern on a daily basis." But she said she is "pretty frustrated with politics driving decisions" in Washington. That is why she said she is strongly considering abandoning her support of Republicans to vote for the Democrats challenging Rep. Deborah Pryce and Sen. Mike DeWine on Nov. 7.

… Jo Ann Smith, a divorced mother in Upper Arlington, said she voted for Pryce last time but certainly will not this fall because of the war issue alone. "I am just totally disgusted with this war," Smith said. "I understand terrorism and the threat, but I am sick of hearing about it." Smith said she will vote for Democrats across the board, mostly because she considers Republicans the "worst of two evils."

… Marylee McCallister, a mother of three who was a Republican for 42 years until this April …. voted for Bush because she believed his warnings that the Democratic nominee, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), would weaken the nation. "I was dumb," she said. "Now, granted, they came here and rammed bombs into us, but I am afraid we have gotten into something full scale which perhaps did not have to be."
This comment at Firedoglake sums it up nicely -
The themes are clear - like the rest of us, these Bush voters feel like terrorism has been used as a political sledgehammer, and they know that Dubya is in way over his head in Iraq. But they also know that September 11th wasn't just a movie, and they're personally frightened of it happening again.

They should have listened to Rick in Atlanta. The policy was wrong say what you will about specific tactics, or on a larger scale, general strategies - some have been boneheaded and some have been fine - at the highest level is policy. That was the problem. The policy - we will fight terror with war, regime change and occupation - made things worse.

And the fourth part of that policy was disdain for diplomacy and alliances (listening to advice).

See John Judis here on the history and track record of "conservatives' odd aversion to diplomacy and liberals' tragic failure to adequately resist it."

As Matthew Yglesias, again, notes here -

The upshot is that, specific issues and countries aside, the whole assumption that there's anything to be gained by either de facto or de jure denying diplomatic recognition to other countries is wrong. Having ambassadors in each others' countries and regular talks between officials about matters of common concern is just what countries that aren't actively at war with each other do. The idea that talking to Syria - not necessarily agreeing with Syria about anything, but just talking so as to explore the possibility of agreement or at least understand what we're disagreeing about - would meaningfully set back the cause of Middle Eastern democracy is daft.
Daft? No one uses that word much these days. But it fits.

Ah, they called Howard Dean daft. When he said, more than a year ago, that the war is Iraq was worse than pointless, it was counterproductive, even most Democrats ran away from him. You just don’t say things like that. And now more than half the country agrees with him. That's very odd.

Watch him on MSNBC and CNN here (full video clips) wher he comments on what he sees now, and most folks agree.

On George Allen - "I served with George Allen when he was Governor. I don't think he belongs in public service. There are Republicans who are capable and smart, thoughtful people, and he's not one of them. "

On Joe Lieberman - "Ned Lamont is a Democrat. But Joe is the past and I think we need a new direction in this country and it's not just the Lieberman Lamont race. It's all over the country. People are looking for a new direction for the country. "

On John McCain - "You know how everybody leaves the ship once it heads in the wrong direction. McCain was a huge booster of the war until now I guess things are getting hot in the kitchen, so he decided to get out. "

On the Bush press conference August 21 - "You don't make a permanent commitment to a failed policy."

On Hurricane Katrina -
I think Katrina - the response to Katrina was effectively the end to the President's presidency in the sense that people all of a sudden saw the small man behind the curtain.

People in America and throughout the rest of the world for a long time have believed that Americans can fix anything - that we're better organized and better managed - managed better than anybody, and that if something really awful happens, call on the Americans.

And for the first time in our lifetime and in the world's lifetime, since World War II - since before World War II - we suddenly saw an American president just descend into failure.

And I don't think he's ever recovered from that.
On Iraq and Vietnam and Bush and Nixon (CNN with Wolf Blitzer) -
DEAN: This is exactly what was going on in Vietnam. And the president and the vice president are saying exactly what Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew said again and again and again. It resulted in 25,000 more Americans being killed in Vietnam, and the result was the same as it would have been had we left earlier.

This is wishful thinking on the part of the president. They never thought this out.

I can remember the secretary of defense saying the whole world would be paid for by Iraqi oil. The vice president was saying we'd be greeted as liberators.

These folks are fundamentally out of touch with what's going on in Iraq and they're fundamentally out of touch with the needs of the American people. And we need a new direction in this country, Wolf, and we're going to have a new direction after November.

BLITZER: But as you know, a lot of Democrats, especially Democratic senators, are also saying the U.S. should try to finish the job and not set an artificial deadline for getting out.

DEAN: Finishing the job? The job was finished. We went in there to get rid of Saddam Hussein. We got rid of him. Then we decided we were going to occupy the country, and then we decided that we would try to mitigate a civil war, which we're now in.

The problem is the job, as far as the president keeps defining it, is a moving target. He doesn't know what the job is. He doesn't know what the end point is.

The idea that we're going to have a democracy that looks like America was a ridiculous right wing neo-con idea from the beginning.

They're out of touch.

Most of them have never served in the army and the ones that have rarely served abroad defending the country.
On where this leads -
The country fundamentally wants a different direction. The Republicans are just going to give us more of the same.

We want a new direction in the economy, we want a new direction in health care, we want a new direction in foreign policy, we want a new direction in Iraq, we want a new direction for gas prices. We need a new direction. You can't get that by voting for Republicans.
So now he's become mainstream? Who'd have guessed? Well, Rick in Atlanta might have guessed.

On the other hand, counterbalancing this is an analysis by Scott Winship here on the data that show substantial numbers of people in America basically have no idea what they're talking about when it comes to politics, and that the deeply ignorant are also much more persuadable than the well-informed.

There are further comments here on The Mushy Middle -
My favorite term for undecided voters often gets a lot of complaints. But I think it's important to understand that "centrist voters" - which conform to some Beltway Pundit view of centrism - and "swing voters" are almost entirely different animals. Centrist voters who conform to the rough Washington Post editorial board center-right position do exist, but most of what we think of as "swing voters" are either completely clueless or they're more in the Ross Perot/Pat Buchanan/Reform Party mold (not mutually exclusive categories) for which there is no clear party.

You reach clueless voters by leading, not pandering, because their cluelessness makes them somewhat difficult to pander to.

And, no, saying people are clueless about politics is not necessarily insulting them. I pay attention to politics. A lot of people don't. They may be smart about many things but not so smart about politics.
And there's an extended discussion here -
Certainly, the Republicans, for whatever reason, seem to better understand heuristics and are willing to demagogue wherever necessary. These last few years have taught us nothing if they haven't taught us how far you can go even when you make no sense whatsoever.

But the fact remains that this is not good for the country. We simply cannot adequately govern ourselves if a large number of us are dumb as posts and vote for reasons that make no sense.
Ah but things are changing. To modify Abraham Lincoln's famous dictum - you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can only fool thirty-eight percent of the people all that time. And you can't fool Rick in Atlanta.

Posted by Alan at 22:01 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 24 August 2006 07:17 PDT home

Wednesday, 16 August 2006
The Dog Days: Everything Turns Sour in the Heat
Topic: Reality-Based Woes
The Dog Days: Everything Turns Sour in the Heat
It's August, the dog days of summer, so not the time to be too serious (or is that Sirius?) In case you don't remember, in the summer, Sirius, the "dog star," rises and sets with the sun. During late July Sirius is in conjunction with the sun, and early astronomers believed that its heat added to the heat of the sun, creating a stretch of hot and just nasty, uncomfortable weather. They named this period of time, from twenty days before the conjunction to twenty days after, the "dog days" - after the Dog Star. There are a few more days to go.

But here we see that August is the Worst Month Ever - August has failed us. The contention - "August sucks. Need proof? Look around you. Liquids are being banned from airliners. Californians are dropping dead from heat. Princeton professor Bernard Lewis has predicted the apocalypse for August 22. What's not to hate?"

Princeton professor Bernard Lewis predicted what? There's a discussion of that here. His thoughts appeared on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. We all could die. That editorial page under Paul Gigot has gotten pretty strange. The news - the reporting - is first rate. The editorial page is just wacky. The word on the street is that the current owners, Dow Jones, will be selling the paper to Rupert Murdoch, who will no doubt turn it into the print version of Fox News - fair and balanced and all that. The reporters will all probably move on, sensing what they'll have to do. Ah well, the apocalypse will shift from the opinion page to the news pages. That's for next August, perhaps. In any event, Princeton professor Bernard Lewis seems to have spent too much time in the August sun this year. It got to him. (For a dissenting view, scroll down to the footnote at the end of the column.)

As for August, conceptually if you will, in 2001 David Plotz said it's just a crappy month. His evidence - "August is when the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, when Anne Frank was arrested, when the first income tax was collected, when Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe died. Wings and Jefferson Airplane were formed in August. The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour debuted in August. (No August, no Sonny and Cher!)"

That's a thought. No Sonny and Cher. And his idea was to cut August - to ten days only. That would be quite enough - "Purists will insist that we shouldn't tinker with the months, that August should be left alone because it has done workmanlike service for 2,000 years. That's nonsense."

So let's just say it's September. The "worst month ever" writer is on board with that - "Recent history has only made the need for August reform more urgent. August 2003 saw the New York blackouts. August 2004 took Rick James from us. Then, August 2005 did its worst with Hurricane Katrina. It may be too late to salvage 2006. But there is still time to prevent an August 2007 from ever happening."

Rick James aside - he used to be pretty dangerous behind you, glassy eyed in his big black SUV a half inch off your rear bumper coming down twisty Laurel Canyon Boulevard into Hollywood - August seems to be an awful month. Maybe it is time to change the calendar.

The president, of course, is having a bad August, as noted in this item in the New York Times (August 15, Thom Shanker and Mark Mazzetti, with Jim Rutenberg).

It seems on Monday the 14th the president had a long lunch at the Pentagon with his "war cabinet" and selected outside experts (there's an effort to get him outside the bubble). It was private but the Times reporters talked to people who were there, and found out what went on. They said the president made it clear he was "concerned" about the lack of progress in Iraq and really, really frustrated that the new Iraqi government, although he refused to criticize the new prime minister we've got there, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. He did ask each of the outside academic experts for their assessment of the prime minister's effectiveness, but didn't say what he thought.

But the thing that really caught people's attention was that he was really disappointed with the Iraqi people - those ungrateful and strange folks had not shown the appropriate public support for the American mission. After all we had done for them he just didn't understand what their problem was. It made no sense to him -
More generally, the participants said, the president expressed frustration that Iraqis had not come to appreciate the sacrifices the United States had made in Iraq, and was puzzled as to how a recent anti-American rally in support of Hezbollah in Baghdad could draw such a large crowd. "I do think he was frustrated about why 10,000 Shiites would go into the streets and demonstrate against the United States," said another person who attended.
Well, it's pretty clear he doesn't understand his own foreign policy, or doesn't attend to the details of what we've done and who we've aligned with, or maybe never knew because he leaves that sort of thing to his subordinates - but he's trying to get a handle in this, on why things are not as they're really supposed to be, or what he's been told they are. It's a start.

Others aren't so kind. On MSNBC, Joe Scarborough, the former Republican congressman from Florida and now host of Scarborough Country, the same day as the Times piece ran a twelve-minute segment - "Is Bush an Idiot?" Those words were on the screen the whole time (video of it all here and transcript here).

Now that was odd. That idea had moved from the lefties - or at least from Linda Ronstadt and the Dixie Chicks - to the center-right (and Joe is a bit right of center). The concept can now actually be discussed on national television, and Lawrence O'Donnell and John Fund discussed it with Joe. Even Bush-backer Fund admitted the man really does sound like an idiot - but then it may be just that he has a language problem that makes him incapable of articulating his thoughts. The other two weren't buying that.

August is an awful time. Add this television discussion to the list.

As for what the Times reported about that ninety minute lunch meeting, they did say the president appeared "serious and engaged" - and there was "lengthy discussion" of the political, ethnic, religious and security "challenges" in Iraq. So maybe he's not an idiot, but they all said he "showed no signs of veering from the administration's policies." As they stand up, we stand down, so it's very simple. And there's no civil war there either.

And one participant - Carole A. O'Leary, a professor at American University who does work in Iraq on a State Department grant - said the president insisted that "the Shia-led government needs to clearly and publicly express the same appreciation for United States efforts and sacrifices as they do in private." They need to be publicly thankful, damn it. They say nice things to me face-to-face. Why won't they say those things to everyone else?

The answer is pretty obvious - you don't insult the man with the big club and short temper to his face. You make nice, no matter what you really think. Small talk is not diplomacy, or policy. He doesn't get it. He's a simple man. Complicity confounds him. And it's just not fair.

Actually, that's more dangerous to us all than deciding he's an idiot. People are fond of Forrest Gump simplicity, and they embrace it (Tom Hanks was so charming) - but they laugh at idiots. Being "a simple man" inoculates him. We'll accept the lovable scamp who understands very little but triumphs, but not the moron who screws everything up and ruins things. The trouble is that more and more he looks less like the former, and more like that latter. Remember August gave us Sonny and Cher.

The Pentagon lunch meeting - private but with careful leaks - was to help keep the latter view (moron) from gaining too very much traction. You see, folks, he really is thoughtful.

But even here there had to be damage control, the White House flatly denying that the president is frustrated with Iraqis and with their prime minister - and, by the way, Iraq has not slipped into civil war. Not at all -
"We don't expect him to be an overnight success in dealing with all these problems - nobody can be. But the president certainly supports Prime Minister Maliki," countered White House spokesman Tony Snow.

"You've got a government that is brand new," Snow told reporters. "This is a guy who has a series of challenges before him with his government, and the president is impressed not only by his determination to get the job done, but the fact is that he is working aggressively to do these things."

Bush believes that "when you're facing a situation, you don't sit around and get frustrated. You figure out how to get the job done," said Snow. "The president is somebody who's intensely practical about these things."
The short form - he's just a simple, practical man who wants to fix problems - and, by the way, Americans "don't see are the operations ongoing, the apprehensions of terrorists, the seizure of weapons caches, all of which are going on on a daily basis."

So things are fine. And no one is reporting that. It's just August madness, perhaps. People think too much. It's bad for them, and for everyone.

People are certainly thinking too much about last week's airline bombing plot - the big August story (so far).

First there was NBC News with this, reporting that the timing of both the arrests and the announcement of the plot was a subject of real clash between the British and the Americans -
A senior British official knowledgeable about the case said British police were planning to continue to run surveillance for at least another week to try to obtain more evidence, while American officials pressured them to arrest the suspects sooner.

... The British official said the Americans also argued over the timing of the arrest of suspected ringleader Rashid Rauf in Pakistan, warning that if he was not taken into custody immediately, the U.S. would "render" him or pressure the Pakistani government to arrest him.
Ned Lamont has just defeated the White House's favorite Democrat, Senator Joe Lieberman, in the Connecticut primary - and it was a Eugene McCarthy moment. The population was turning on the war government, just like back in 1968 - something had to be done. A victory was necessary. Lieberman had been, for the last year or more, saying all the other Democrats were fools and idiots - Iraq was a great success and any who disagreed with the president was doing great harm to the country and aiding our enemies. And the voters tossed him out. On top of that, at the time Hezbollah was just not folding in southern Lebanon and this particular demonstration project to remake the Middle East looked like a bust. A "big scare" and "we got the bad guys (and the Democrats didn't)" was necessary, immediately.

The threat was interesting too - arrest the ringleader or we'll kidnap him and no one will ever hear from him, or of him, again, and you'll be without anything - or we'll have the Pakistanis arrest him and you'll look like fools and wimps. This was hardball.

And now no one is saying anything about the plot. There are a lot of hard feelings, one would assume.

And then there was the plot itself. James Galbraith in The Nation has been thinking about that, and has some thoughtful observations -
No bombs have been found. No chemicals. No equipment. No labs. No testing ground.

... Apparently, not one ticket had been purchased by the detainees.

... [And] you need something else. It's a document called a passport. Apparently, some of the detainees don't have them.

... Finally, confessions. Twenty-four suspects have been arrested [and] they will have a chance to make an uncoerced statement of their intentions in open court. By then the authorities will have found the labs, testing grounds, airline tickets and passports. Credible witnesses too will have emerged. By then the young zealots will have no expectation of acquittal or mercy, and nothing to lose. We may therefore confidently expect them to face the judges and declare exactly what their motives and intentions were.

If they do that, I'll eat my hat.
There may be no case. That extra week would have been helpful. Damn you, Ned Lamont! And the Connecticut voters just messed everything up - or something like that.

And then there's Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, with this -
Many of those arrested had been under surveillance for over a year.

... Nothing from that surveillance had indicated the need for early arrests. Then an interrogation in Pakistan revealed the details of this amazing plot to blow up multiple planes - which, rather extraordinarily, had not turned up in a year of surveillance.

... We then have the extraordinary question of Bush and Blair discussing the possible arrests over the weekend. Why? I think the answer to that is plain. Both in desperate domestic political trouble, they longed for "Another 9/11". The intelligence from Pakistan, however dodgy, gave them a new 9/11 they could sell to the media. The media has bought, wholesale, all the rubbish they have been shoveled.

And then of course there's this - the Guardian (UK), reporting that the testimony of Rashid Rauf, the British citizen who was picked up in Pakistan, is suspect since it came only after he had been "broken" under torture.

It's inadmissible. For centuries British law - all western law in fact - say you cannot use such evidence. You just cannot tell whether his testimony real - factual in any way - or if he just telling his interrogators whatever he thought they wanted to hear to stop the pain. (The administration is working hard to make us the first country in modern times to allow torture confessions to be admissible as factual evidence in legal procedures - juts like in the days of the Spanish Inquisition.)

Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly looks at all this and concludes -

As little a year or two ago I would have rolled my eyes at the idea that even the timing of the arrests was politically motivated, let alone the possibility that the plot itself was being exaggerated. But today? I don't know. I can only quote Teresa Nielsen Hayden yet again: "I deeply resent the way this administration makes me feel like a nutbar conspiracy theorist."

Beyond that I'll just say this: there better not turn out to be even a shred of evidence that any part of this was exaggerated or timed or hyped for any reason that's not related with absolute certainty to the requirements of the police and counterterrorist community. Bush and Blair better be purer than Caesar's wife on this one.
We'll see.

But the skeptic (one who thinks too much) who caused the greatest buzz was Andrew Sullivan with this -
So far, no one has been charged in the alleged terror plot to blow up several airplanes across the Atlantic. No evidence has been produced supporting the contention that such a plot was indeed imminent. Forgive me if my skepticism just ratcheted up a little notch. Under a law that the Tories helped weaken, the suspects can be held without charges for up to 28 days. Those days are ticking by. Remember: the British authorities had all these people under surveillance; they did not want to act last week; there was no imminent threat of anything but a possible "dummy-run [and] Bush and Blair discussed whether to throw Britain's airports into chaos over the weekend before the crackdown occurred.

He also quotes from the Craig Murray item, noting that Murray "was Tony Blair's ambassador to Uzbekistan whose internal memo complaining about evidence procured by out-sourced torture created a flap a while back."

And he selects this -

None of the alleged terrorists had made a bomb. None had bought a plane ticket. Many did not even have passports, which given the efficiency of the UK Passport Agency would mean they couldn't be a plane bomber for quite some time.

In the absence of bombs and airline tickets, and in many cases passports, it could be pretty difficult to convince a jury beyond reasonable doubt that individuals intended to go through with suicide bombings, whatever rash stuff they may have bragged in internet chat rooms.

What is more, many of those arrested had been under surveillance for over a year - like thousands of other British Muslims. And not just Muslims. Like me. Nothing from that surveillance had indicated the need for early arrests.

Then an interrogation in Pakistan revealed the details of this amazing plot to blow up multiple planes - which, rather extraordinarily, had not turned up in a year of surveillance. Of course, the interrogators of the Pakistani dictator have their ways of making people sing like canaries. As I witnessed in Uzbekistan, you can get the most extraordinary information this way. Trouble is it always tends to give the interrogators all they might want, and more, in a desperate effort to stop or avert torture. What it doesn't give is the truth.

… We then have the extraordinary question of Bush and Blair discussing the possible arrests over the weekend. Why?
Sullivan adds this -
I'd be interested in the number of plotters who had passports. How could they even stage a dummy-run with no passports? And what bomb-making materials did they actually have? These seem like legitimate questions to me; the British authorities have produced no evidence so far. If the only evidence they have was from torturing someone in Pakistan, then they have nothing that can stand up in anything like a court. I wonder if this story is going to get more interesting. I wonder if Lieberman's defeat, the resilience of Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the emergence of a Hezbollah-style government in Iraq had any bearing on the decision by Bush and Blair to pre-empt the British police and order this alleged plot disabled. I wish I didn't find these questions popping into my head. But the alternative is to trust the Bush administration.

Been there. Done that. Learned my lesson.
Yep, he was one of those "all for the war and those who aren't for the war are traitors" types way back when. Fool me once, shame on me - fool me twice, shame on you. (See the president's version of that here.)

So people really are thinking too much. And that makes things fall apart, and it makes the main thing fall apart, as Josh Marshall notes here (emphases added) -
Everybody and their brother - at least anyone who has any sense and isn't on the payroll of the GOP - has been saying for years that our occupation of Iraq has nothing to do with fighting radical Islamists who want to commit mass casualty terrorist attacks in the US and around the world.

'Nothing' is a very big word. Clearly, there is a relationship. Indeed, I think there's a pretty solid argument to be made that our invasion and occupation of Iraq has expanded the pool of terrorist recruits. And in other indirect ways with Iraq and international terrorism, we are all blind men touching different parts of the same elephant. But on the basic ground of 'Is fighting in Iraq helping reduce the threat of terrorism at home?' the answer is clearly 'No'.

And yet, I wonder if this recent terror scare out of London may have actually driven that point home in a new and more resonant way.

Living in a major American city, I take it for granted that my wife and I live under a certain general threat of major terrorist attacks. In that sense I'm not really different from everyone else in the country to this or that degree. Back in late 2001, when I was living in DC and we were in the midst of the Anthrax scare and various reports of sleeper cells in the United States, I remember having moments where I hoped the FBI and CIA were doing everything imaginable to shut these guys down, whatever the constitution might say.

Now, here's the point I want to focus in on. I want to make a basic distinction between the things we might think or feel impulsively when in the grip of fear and things we really think ought to be done. I never thought we should be torturing people or rounding people up. What I am saying is that I remember the atmosphere of those days just after 9/11 and the primal gut instincts that made part of me wish those things were happening.

It now seems that even this London bomb plot may not be all it's cracked up to be. But it did give me a moment of that gut level fear. And in that moment, as much as I've thought what I've thought about Iraq, I'm not sure I ever felt as clearly how completely beside the point Iraq is from the real threat we face of deracinated Islamic radicals (in the Muslim world and sprinkled about the West) trying to perpetrate mass terror attacks.

It hit me like a sort of epiphany even though it was a realization of something I and countless others have been saying for years.

I'm curious to know whether anyone else experienced something similar and even more whether anyone else's mind (about Iraq) actually may have been changed.

Is there anyone in the country who can say honestly, in their heart of hearts, that when that moment of fear hit them after the recent reports out of London, they said to themselves, "God, I'm glad we're in Iraq"?


Nope. No one.

T. S. Eliot had is wrong. April is not the cruelest month. It's August. And it's not just the death of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis, or the birth of the Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were a long time ago. This year it's something new - the old tricks are not working. There was that "idiot" thing right there on television, being openly discussed, and the big coup - stopping the bomb threat, if that's what it was - had the opposite effect on far too many people. They weren't grateful at all. Yep, the president just won't understand that, but you can't jerk people around forever.

August is a problem, again.



Regarding the "end of the world" item by Bernard Lewis in the Wall Street Journal, Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, adds a corrective -

Despite the impression left by the gawkers at Gawker, Bernard Lewis is not some nutbag but instead a well-respected Islam expert. Shortly after 9/11, I really enjoyed reading his "Crisis of Islam" - although, since it was an audiobook and I listened to while jogging, it was really a case of Lewis doing the reading while I just listened. He really knows his history and tells it well, although after a while you get the feeling that, in the clash of civilizations, he's definitely rooting for the West.

It's worth noting that, in his WSJ piece, Lewis doesn't say August 22 will be "the apocalyptic ending of Israel and if necessary of the world," only that the Iranian president may have had this in mind when he picked that date as when he will be "giving his final answer to the U.S. about nuclear development."

If it happens, remember that you saw it here first; if it doesn't, then just forget we mentioned it.
So noted.

Posted by Alan at 22:22 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 17 August 2006 18:35 PDT home

Saturday, 12 August 2006
Talking Points: There's No Fighting the Spin
Topic: Reality-Based Woes
Talking Points: There's No Fighting the Spin
It's been some days since all those British fellows were arrested for their plot to blow ten US-bound airplanes out of the sky. As mentioned elsewhere, the spin from the administration is that this shows that we ought to be at war and occupying Muslim countries, to force them to have some sort of democracy. If we prevail we'll all be safe, as such young men will then participate in the political process and feel no need to commit mass murder. They can run for office instead, or work for the politician of their choice. And they'll be angry no more. Or so goes the theory, for which there is little proof. How could there be? The projects in Iraq and Afghanistan aren't exactly going swimmingly. Proof of the theory will come much later, if ever. It's an if-then conditional argument, and getting the "if" set up - the free, open and secular democracies where there are gentlemanly debates and compromises worked out in some sort of congress or parliament by elected and sensible officials - is a real bitch of a job. But it should all work out that way.

And that's the line from the White House and "Zell" Lieberman. Anyone who doesn't support the global war on terror - remaking the Middle East by regime change and occupation - is missing the point. These guys with the liquid explosives and black hearts would not exist in the new world they envision. They'd be pussycats, or at least political operatives who want power and influence, and really don't feel any need to kill anyone.

So the logic goes this way - if you think these preemptive wars we're waging are doing more harm than good, then you're really supporting the angry young British Muslim men with the bombs. You're encouraging mass murder. You must hate America, and hate democracy.

Yes, it's a stretch, but that the spin. It requires that you trust the general theory is sound, without evidence, which cannot be provided at the moment.

Some buy it, but it may be that more and more people are finding it somewhere between, on one end, a little too abstract, and on the other, rather loony. To deal with those folks the theory will be repeated again and again, and reported in the media endlessly. Just keep saying it and people will become exhausted and indifferent and decide it's true. Why fight it? Yeah, whatever, George.

But there's a cool subset of this - the contention that the British arrests prove that we need programs like the illegal wiretapping and further prove that the press has been irresponsible by reporting about such illegal secret programs. That too is being repeated endlessly on the right - see Glenn Greenwald here for all the citations. If we and the Brits hadn't broken the silly laws thousands would be dead again. So there>!

The problem is it's just not true. As reported here in the Washington Post (and elsewhere), all the wire taps and looking into banking transactions were done here using FISA warrants and, in the UK, using warrants signed off by the Home Secretary. They followed the law and still got the job done.

Even Bill O'Reilly on Fox News admitted that - he just added that the warrants used in this case really didn't prove anything. We still need to cede the president the right to violate any laws he chooses. That's the only way to keep America safe, and we all love America, don't we? So this was just a bad example, or something. It still proved the point, sort of. You just never know - bypassing the warrants might have been good too, even better.

So the British and the Americans followed the laws of their respective countries that require warrants - and the terrorist plot using telephones and bank transfers was foiled. And also note this was long after it was "revealed" in the traitorous press that our government was tracking communications and financial transactions. The second part of the argument - that the press undermined our war on the bad guys by reporting there were such programs - is similarly odd. The facts show otherwise. Not that this matters very much. That argument lives on too.

All this is very odd. The facts undermine the arguments here, but if you think about it, the facts don't matter. The larger theory must be true.

One wonders how long this sort of reasoning can go - on using legal means supports the president's absolute need to use illegal methods to stop terrorist attacks - but then the American people seem to want to live in an authoritarian state. Or many of them do. Oh well.

In any event, this was big victory for the Bush administration, or so the spin goes.

But there's this from "tristero" (actually a composer whose works are performed by orchestras worldwide, Richard Einhorn) -
… as I see it, without a doubt the most bizarre aspect of the 9/11 attacks were not that they were imagined and plotted but that they actually happened. Even assuming an incompetent CIA and FBI, there were many, many signs that summer and fall that something was up (start with the 9/11 commission report and work your way through Pretext to War, The One Percent Doctrine, and a slew of other books). But for some strange reason all those signs were missed ignored, failed to rise to the higher echelons. Of course, I would be the last person to suggest that George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld were unspeakably, unforgivably, negligent by ignoring the clear warnings of the Clinton administration on Al Qaeda - complaining about all the attention being focused on "just one man;" snickering, "Okay, you've covered your ass" when folks from CIA came to brief them.

Actually, I confess it. I just lied to you. I was one of the first to suggest that the Bush administration, through its utter incompetence, bears a heavy responsibility for the carnage of 9/11. I was saying so a few hours after the attacks to my friends from Finland who called to make sure that we were okay.

If nothing else, the exposure of the latest potential atrocity simply highlights how incompetent the Bushites were. No, they didn't "let it happen" and it certainly wasn't a black op to boost Bush in the polls. It's just that, well, Richard Clarke had been pushed aside, John O'Neill had quit in disgust to manage WTC security, Robert Mueller was the new kid on the block, and John Ashcroft was proofreading an arrangement of "When the Eagle Soars" for seven kazoos and musical saw. Meanwhile, many others were simply ignored and let the obsessive, paranoid and quite essential monitoring of bin Laden's activities drop.

That failure to pay attention to reality is a hallmark of the Bush administration.
That is not the official spin. It's just looking at the facts. But this is not repeated endlessly.

Something else repeated endlessly regarding the war and Joe Lieberman in particular, here from David Broder, is this this -
The people backing Lamont are nothing if not sincere. But their breed of Democrats - many of them wealthy, educated, extremely liberal - often pick candidates who are rejected by the broader public. Many of the older Lamont supporters went straight from Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern in the 1960s and '70s to Howard Dean in 2004. They helped Joe Duffey challenge Senator Tom Dodd in Connecticut for the 1970 Democratic nomination on the Vietnam War issue, only to lose to Republican Lowell Weicker in November.
Jonathan Schwarz here comments -
Apparently there's some kind of batsignal for the US punditocracy that tells them all what to write each week. This week their orders are to inform us that the Democrats had better watch out for those far-left elitists like Ned Lamont, who will with their extreme anti-war positions lead them to defeat just like George McGovern did.

… This might make you wonder certain things - like, was opposition to Vietnam the "wealthy, educated" position? I know it's fun to listen to stories from Uncle Dave B, and extremely boring to look at reality. But let's give reality a shot just this once.
So he displays all the polling from 1971 - and the man has his facts wrong. The wealthy, educated, extremely liberal were not there. The grade school-educated were always the most dovish, the college-educated the most hawkish. But then, conventional wisdom is conventional wisdom. The facts be damned.

As for the polls Schwarz lays out on this generation's issues, he sees this - "Weirdly, as you see, more education doesn't necessarily push you either way on Iraq. It seems to make you more ambivalent - while those with less education are both the most dovish and the most hawkish, with little ambivalence."

So that spin from Broder and the rest is fine, it's just not based on the facts. And it is believed by all.

What to make of all this? There's no fighting the spin. Give in. You'll be more comfortable.

Posted by Alan at 18:01 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

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