Pasley Blog Archive 1-1-03 to 3-31-03





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Home Truths from Unlikely Sources 03/21/03 11pm

Given the inability of the Democrats and the mainstream "liberal" media to offer the Bush imperium any significant criticism as a foreign capital is leveled -- I notice the Times dutifully refers to "Allied" troops and "coalition" forces as though the whole world was supporting us -- we will have to take what critical journalism we can get, even it if comes from really unlikely sources, such as comic book writers and conservative pundits.

The pundit is Paul Craig Roberts, a veteran or current denizen of numerous conservative think-tanks and the Wall Street Journal editorial page. Writing in The Washington Times, the Moonie-funded conservative alternative to the Washington Post, remember, Roberts manages to compare the Shrubbers to both the Nazis and the Commies, and declares it not unreasonable that Bush might be tried as a war criminal himself someday. This is stuff that would most of us liberals a visit from the FBI, at least. The column ends thusly:

Mr. Bush and his advisers have forgotten that the power of an American president is temporary and relative. The U.S. is supposed to be the world's leader. For the Bush administration to pursue a policy that sets the U.S. government at odds with the world is to invite comparisons with recklessness that we have not seen in international politics since Nikita Khrushchev tried to install nuclear missiles in Cuba. Is Saddam Hussein worth this much grief? 

On to the comic book writer. Interviewed about his forthcoming book of anti-propaganda propaganda posters, Micah Ian Wright, a former Army Ranger and current author of the military-themed "sequential art" series Stormwatch: Team Achilles(and others), explains why he supports the troops but opposes the war they have been ordered to fight and the politicians who have given the orders: 

"There's a big difference between the President and America," Wright said."I support America. Long-term, this President is doing so much damage to America's interests overseas, our environment, our economy and to our government's budget that I consider it unconscionable not to speak out against him. It is a fallacy that to speak out against the President is Un-American... especially when I see him provoking wars with Third World Nations in order to silence the critics of his domestic failures. 

Wright also reveals that it was his actual military experience that cured him of his former hawkish conservatism (a problem from which so many members of the current administration do not suffer):

"I used to be a big-time Conservative... so what happened? I had what alcoholics call 'a moment of clarity' as I gazed out over Panama City burning to the ground during Christmas 1989. See, the US Army had just burned it to the ground. As I watched 80,000 people flee as we burned their homes to cinders, I resolved to learn about what had led me there and how to avoid that type of situation in the future." 

I have attempted to reproduce a few of Wright's scary/hilarious doctored propaganda posters here.

Accidental Critical Journalism? 03/21/03 1am

Change one word in a Times quotation used below and it could be talking about some entirely other country's leadership: ". . . their attitude has seemed redolent of an authoritarian cabal in denial, incapable of grasping reality, either about their external enemies or the mood of less powerful [citizens], because of years of listening only to echoes of themselves."

Media's Early IraqWar® Coverage Leaves Murrow Reputation Safely Unchallenged 03/21/03 12:30am

I know it must be stressful up there in the target zone, and probably a little slow, but I do wish the New York Times man in Baghdad (John F. Burns) would leave off the attempts at "literary journalism" evident in tonight's report. The piece is full of heavy-handed scene setting and polemical digressions that come close to depicting the American attack as the thunderbolts coming down to smite some foolish mortals who dared to challenge him. This is obviously meant to recall classic WWII journalism, but I think Edward R. Murrow and the boys are safe. They showed considerably more commitment to actual information and occasional shows of genuine emotion than the cheap rhetorical stylings of modern political journalism, which are chiefly designed to make individual figures look good or bad without substantively denouncing or praising them.

For instance, three paragraphs are spent critiquing Saddam's speaking style, including his use of "what looked like a large, grade- school exercise pad." This was apparently to convey the tiny bit of speculative pseudo-news that the first U.S. attacks must really have Mean Mr. Mustache quaking in his jackboots. Honestly, now that people are dying, what useful purpose is served by writing snide little stylistic pen portraits of the enemy's leader as if he were a "stumbling" American presidential candidate?

(Alternatively, Burns may have trying to make his own little contribution to the new war's first inane media controversy, over whether the first missile strike had killed Saddam, as if our "eerie" high-tech weaponry was so bitchin' it could lock in one guy's DNA patterns all the way from Fiji. Rummy seems to actually take seriously the idea that you can win a war with one missile to the head. The media for its part sounded a pack of little kids in the back seat: "Is he dead yet, Daddy? Is he dead yet?" I do pine for the days of yore, two or three years ago in the previous century, when the attempted assassination of a foreign dictator was a still shameful secret.)

But back to Burns, trying hard to project himself back to Berlin, 1945, or a bad screenplay about it at any rate: 

A second wave of air attacks tonight against the strategic heart of the capital had all the eeriness and sudden, devastating power of modern high-technology warfare....

The city's streets were virtually deserted apart from clusters of security men posted outside government buildings and the compounds of Saddam Hussein and his associates, many of them seated on plastic chairs and rickety bedframes, armed only with Kalashnikov rifles and the unenthused, lethargic, resigned look of men who knew that standing guard outside buildings likely to be struck by American air attacks placed them at mortal risk....

Here I omit some poetic material about the "waning moon," fluffy clouds and cool breezes. Burns then gets all biblical on Saddam's sorry a**, mixing in a smattering of architectural criticism:

Just as tensions began to ease, a huge blast erupted on the southern bank of the Tigris, the great waterway that flows through Baghdad to the Persian Gulf. Under Mr. Hussein, wide areas of Baghdad along the river have been bulldozed for palaces, monuments and imperial-style government buildings appropriate, so Mr. Hussein evidently believes, for the capital of a leader whose hagiography likens him to Nebuchadnezzar and Saladin and other giants of ancient Mesopotamia.. . .

The smoke was so dense that it enveloped a huge, brooding building built like an ancient tomb, with vast slab sides leaning inward, that is said to be the office and home of Tariq Aziz, the No. 4 man in Mr. Hussein's hierarchy.

Burns's greatest scorn seems reserved for any Iraqis who have not gracefully acquiesced to the coming conquest, or show any inclination to resist it. He seems almost angry at the "smug self-assurance" of some of them. When, oh when, will foreigners learn modesty? I will conclude with the reporter almost clucking  

To outsiders familiar with the armageddon bearing down on the Iraqi leadership, their attitude has seemed redolent of an authoritarian cabal in denial, incapable of grasping reality, either about their external enemies or the mood of less powerful Iraqis, because of years of listening only to echoes of themselves.

The Borg in Baghdad

Why doesn't the Times print a special Iraq edition and do a banner headline bearing the B-movie old alien invader slogan, "RESISTANCE IS FUTILE"? Actually the Star Trek: TNG villains the Borg, a expansionist cybernetic hive-mind kind of race, added an even more appropriate tagline: "Resistance is futile! You will be assimilated!" It is hard to say whether Rummy is being fitted for his shiny silver spaceman costume or his Borg implants. On the other hand, this does give me an idea for a new strategy: Beam a powerful TV signal at Baghdad that overwhelm all local programming and carry only Star Trek reruns featuring the Borg. Of course, on the show, the Borg always failed, but maybe if we edited out the last ten minutes of each episode!

[I see that Slate already used the "resistance is futile" line after the president's speech Monday. Oh well, if the shoe fits, I say wear it again.]

Great Powers Gone on the Comeback Trail? 3/19/03 1am

One of my many nightmare scenarios for the years ahead, in the wake of this new unilateralist, might-gives-US- the-right foreign policy, is that other countries who thought they had outgrown the need for large military establishments and great power politics may get worried enough about what the U.S. might do to rethink disarmament. In particular, there are some ex-great powers on the European continent (and would-be powers elsewhere) who may conclude that new military build-ups are now in order if they don't want to have a Shrubbian world order forced upon them.

Almost the moment I thought that this morning, I ran across the following quote in the Times European reaction story:    

Europe's divide, said Prime Minister Costas Simitis of Greece, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, illustrates "the need for European countries to finally decide to adopt a common foreign and defense policy" if the Union is to be "effective in any international intervention."

Simitis doesn't say as much, but I have to believe a "common defense policy" would necessarily involve some effort to use Europe's aggregated and perhaps augmented military capacities to restore some sort of balance of power. It's horrifying to think that we would be the cause for the renewal of the kind of great power politics that U.S. leaders have always worked against in the past.  But there's a lot of horror out there, these days, isn't there?

Destruction Eve Reflections 3/18/03 7am

I should say random reflections since it's hard to read the news for more than a few minutes without some other rant boiling up: 

  • A recent Paul Krugman column noted that the Shrubbers' big problem, diplomatically, is that they seem to think that the transparent, mendacious tactics with which they have so easily buffaloed the U.S. media and the Democrats are going to work on the rest of the world. So they make whatever assertions happen to serve their goals and simply repeat them when challenged and ignore any contradictory information that comes to light. They try to shame their opponents into silence by questioning their patriotism or manhood and throwing in some talk-radio ready bluster. It ain't workin', but still they keep it up. So in tonight's umpteenth and apparently not yet final effort to brace the country for war, Bush told the following bald lie regarding the allies who questioned the U.S. at the the United Nations: " 'These governments share our assessment of the danger, but not our resolve to meet it,' Mr. Bush said," according to the Times report. No, those governments are waiting for U.S. to produce evidence of any imminent threat whatsoever, which we never did despite the best efforts of Tony Blair's clipping service. Bush might be able to roll Tom Daschle and CNN with that sort of thing, but somehow I think the French and the Germans and 80% of the rest of the world are unlikely to impressed by more "steely" hoo-hah clipped out of World War II for Dummies
  • Speaking of World War II and leaving aside the (bitter) levity for a second, I highly recommend a column by Norman Solomon posted at Working for Change. Solomon quotes poignantly from Justice Robert Jackson's remarks at the conference that organized the Nuremberg war crimes trials after World War II. I say "poignant" because, given the chickenhawks' love of simulated World War II rhetoric, Jackson's words are a reminder that present U.S. policy represents a contradiction of everything that WWII was fought to achieve:"We must make clear to the Germans that the wrong for which their fallen leaders are on trial is not that they lost the war, but that they started it . . . no grievances or policies will justify resort to aggressive war. It is utterly renounced and condemned as an instrument of policy."
  • This is what Shrub and Co. do not get. It is not a matter of what a bad man Saddam is, or what he might do 10 years from now. It is a matter of what the U.S. has stood for in the past century, which is a world ruled by law, not power, or as they said in early American politics, "principles, not men." One of those principles, embedded in the laws of every modern civilized society that I know of, including Texas, is that no person or state gets to deal out violence and punishment unless a crime has been committed or there is an immediately clear and present danger that one is about to be. Even in the cases where defensive violence is used legitimately, that is only true if conforms to the appropriate legal standards and procedures. Individual persons, and individual leaders, don't simply get to decide whether those standards have been met, without restraint or accountability. Proving this point was one of the reasons that Nuremberg trials were held. The Bush position seems to be that our present status as the world's only remaining superpower places us above any law other than the presidential will, a position that violates the most basic precepts of American republicanism. And we are not talking precepts that Bush would have had to read books without pictures to learn about it. I'm pretty sure I first learned it watching the Super Friends. (OK, maybe it was an actual comic book, but still.) 
  • On a related point: In the moronic political-historical thought of our infotainment-addled times, it seems to be held that we fought World War II simply because Hitler was one of the "bad guys." This he surely was, but in ways that were more dangerous and political than the decades of movie Nazis on whom current WWII-derived rhetoric seems to be based. (I'm thinking Raiders of the Lost Ark and Casablanca rather than Schindler's List or The Wannsee Conference.) Besides being cruel, nasty, hateful, and murderous, the Nazi regime was aggressive and lawless, conducting itself completely outside even the low legal and ethical and moral standards of great power politics. Appeasement really was appeasement in 1938 because Hitler had already annexed Austria and Neville Chamberlain's agreement allowed him to do the same to Czechoslovakia. Thereafter Hitler went right on with threats and demands against Germany's neighbors and finally started attacking them. The war and the later trials were about bringing Germany back within the law, so to speak, something that could never be done by a show of power alone. Moreover, the American position had always been, since the time of Washington and Jefferson, that European-style power politics was not our way. Hence our advocacy of new international institutions, like the U.N. and the Nuremberg tribunals, that aimed to make the world system even more law- and democratic procedure-bound than the system Hitler had smashed. 
  • Saddam may have posed a smaller Hitler-style threat when he invaded Kuwait 12 years ago, but if the Bush administration has proven anything, it is that such a case is much harder to make about a country that has been bottled up by economic sanctions and military surveillance for over a decade.

Amen 3/17/03 11pm

Our household sentiments exactly, expressed by an Indiana woman interviewed in the Times speech reaction story

Glenda Breeden, 52, a Unitarian minister's wife from rural Spencer who said the idea of the United States as the aggressor had upended her worldview. She said she could barely play with her young grandson lately without thinking, "Look what the U.S. government is planning to do."

Ms. Breeden, who said she grew up in a fundamentalist Christian home, was scornful of President Bush's push for war. 'I try to imagine him standing face to face with Jesus, with the traditional Jesus that a lot of Christians believe in,' she said. 'I just can't imagine Jesus saying, `Go for it, George."'

Democracy and Diplomacy, Shrub-Style 03/17/03 1am

A New York Times story on Bush's so-called diplomacy in the Azores contains the following revealing passage, pretty well summarizing our present regime's er, attentuated notions of democracy and collective decision-making:

"So when Mr. Bush decided to call today's last-minute summit meeting here, he invited only those who agreed with him."

"'We didn't want another debating session,' a senior national security aide to Mr. Bush said. 'That's not what this was about. It was about setting a deadline, an end to the debate.'"

The contempt for "debating sessions" of any kind, meaning any sort of political discussion where the outcome is in doubt and might not produce the desired results, shines through clearly. Or perhaps I should have written, re-produce the desired results, since all the administration has ever been after is a UN ratification of their previous decision, regardless of how evanescent the justifications and evidence offered to support it.

The formulation used above of what the Azores meeting was "about," in addition to displaying the Shrubbers' amazingly dismissive attitude towards even its little band of international supporters, is also redolent of the attitude that won out during the 2000 election crisis. We were all supposed to want an "endgame" not matter how terrible or illegitimate the ending or the process used to arrive at it happened to be. This profoundly illiberal (in the classical sense), amoral, and antidemocratic position is not the one that America has always represented, or claimed to represent. Now it seems we no longer even bother to make the claim, quite literally trusting that our might will make our actions look right in the end.

Leveling Baghdad In Order to Save It  3/15/03 1am

The New York Times had an article Friday -- the second one this week to display some terminal confusion over just who the liberals might be in the current U.S. political spectrum* -- that seems (unintentionally) designed to prove the conservative charge that liberal intellectuals are soft-headed, gullible, and ineffectual. Highlighting various members of the "intellectual left" (defined largely as the Harvard faculty plus some New York Review of Books writers and a couple of former Clinton officials) who have come out in favor of IraqWar™, the piece has these establishment figures waxing idealistic and "tough-minded" by turns. It also lets them preen over how bravely the intellectuals in question have bucked their p.c. friends and Cantabridgian orthodoxy. Yuh-huh.

Some of the intellectual leftists seem to be under the delusion that enraging the Arab world is going to help protect Israel, but most of the pro-war feelings seems to stem from the undeniable facts that Saddam "really is awful" and the leader of "a fascist regime." They are attracted to idea of using American military power to right wrongs and spread their liberal democratic ideals. Doubtless the democratic domino theory sounds good, too.

How many times are liberal intellectuals going to fall for this sort of hollow idealistic claptrap? When are they going to learn that the politicians are never, ever to going to follow through on their global do-gooding rhetoric once U.S. economic interests are secured and victory can declared?

 John Dewey, Walter Lippmann and others fell for Wilsonian idealism during World War I, and even lent their names and talents to wartime propaganda. What did they get for their trouble? The first Red Scare followed by a decade of reactionary "normalcy" at home, renewed imperialism abroad, and a harsh, Nazi-spawning peace in Europe. (The current mess that is the Middle East owes much to the mess the British made "nation-building" in the ruins of the Ottoman Empire.) After World War II, plenty of liberals signed on to the excesses of Cold War anticommunism, including the Third World manipulations that led to Vietnam, in the name of their democratic ideals. Let's face it, American and modern British colonialism has almost always been justified in terms of spreading democracy and getting rid of bad guys. 

CONFUSING ASIDE DEPT.:

For a multimedia example of "idealistic," get-the-bad-guys imperialism in the classic Anglo-American mode, check out the schlock classic Khartoum, in which Charlton Heston hams it up as the doughty British imperialist Charles "Chinese" Gordon struggling to protect the colonials and "good" Sudanese in the city from a murderous, mumbling Muslim fanatic played . . . Sir Lawrence Olivier! (Sadly, the late Sir Larry will not be available to play Osama bin Laden when they finally get around to making 9/11 films.) And the film was doubtless toned down from the way the press reported that incident when it actually happened.

Now back to the lefthawks. As badly burned as their forebears got by genuinely idealistic-sounding, plausible fellows like Woodrow Wilson and John F. Kennedy, these modern Deweys and Lippmanns have no excuse to be trusting in the patently implausible George W. Bush. Leaving aside his family's long record of using liberal rhetoric about education, poverty, and racial equality to mask harshly conservative or cynically pro-corporate policies -- lip service is the "compassion" in compassionate conservatism -- Shrub sneered at the liberal internationalists' most cherished ideals right until the day after the twin towers went down and even today, he only slings the democracy-building stuff on alternate days as his handlers rummage through their grab bag of IraqWar™ goals and justifications. "Regime change" itself, which seems to be the overriding goal for the lefthawks, has been on and off the list at different times, and you can be sure that Saddam himself will become less important to Bush if the military campaign does not quickly succeed in killing or driving him off. (Osama bin Laden became a forgotten man once it became apparent that we were not going to find him any time soon.) Moreover, as much as the lefthawks might like to think of postwar Iraq being run by democracy-building Washingtons, Jeffersons, Madisons and Adamses, the reality is much more likely to be Saddam's old bureaucracy with the top layer removed.

The lefthawks seem to be genuinely concerned for the Iraqi people. But it's hard to see this war as very helpful to the Iraqi people when one reads that U.S. war plans call for the M.A.D.-like tactic of delivering "such a shock on the system that the Iraqi regime would have to assume early on the end was inevitable." This would be accomplished by "unleashing 3,000 precision-guided bombs and missiles in the first 48 hours of a short air campaign." Seems like the real shocks would be to the system of Iraqis without fortified palaces and bunkers to protect them, which means everybody but the people we most want to get.

The lamest lefthawk complaint is their dissatisfaction "with what they see as a lack of nuance among the antiwar protesters." And we all know that "nuance" is the key to getting things done in American politics! If these people really are representative of the American left, the longtime debility of the American left suddenly becomes very easy to explain: an excess of nuance, to paraphrase David Donald.

*A Times puff piece on the Weekly Standard earlier this week actually referred to the New Republic as a liberal publication. Only in the mind of the Weekly Standard. This was last true back when I worked there during the late Reagan administration, and it was just barely true then. In fact, there had recently been much office turmoil over an editorial decision to support the contras, and things just went further and further right from there.

Leaden Oldies 3/12/03 11pm

Lots of once-dated cultural artifacts are becoming relevant again. I don't think the Pentagon chickenhawks or the Weekly Standard are actually using the phrase "white man's burden" but their messianic plans to bring the Middle East democracy and Kentucky Fried Chicken by military conquest seem damn close.

While Kipling may not yet be a hot read for wannabe U.S. viceroys, openly anyway, the "domino theory" is back, only now as something we're trying to cause rather than stop. See, once we flatten Baghdad, the populations of other Muslim countries and rogue states will be clamoring for some of that ordnance themselves. Riiiiight.

Of course, it was always obvious that your real hard-core Cold Warriors (as the chickenhawks once were) rather admired the raw power, vaulting ambitions, and unsleeping, ruthless aggressiveness that they imputed to the Communist powers right up until almost the day the Soviet Union collapsed. Having declared a victory that they never envisioned, the old Cold Warriors are trying to live out the dreams of world domination that were once their nightmares about the other side.

I recently came across another newly relevant oldie in my high school/college record collection, unearthed from the basement in order to show our music-loving little boys what that strange flat device (a "turntable") on top of the stereo did. In one of my aged record boxes was the old Randy Newman album Sail Away. Leading off side 2 was a number I had long forgotten, "Political Science," which aside from some (I hope) dated references to American use of what our more enlightened era calls WMDs, now sounds as contemporary as it must have back in 1969. (Let the record show that I have no first-hand knowledge of this, having only discovered this song back in the "nuclear freeze" 80s. I was 5 years old and a captive audience for my mother's Dionne Warwick tapes in 1969.) Anyway, here are the lyrics, courtesy of Sing365.com:

No one likes us-I don't know why
We may not be perfect, but heaven knows we try
But all around, even our old friends put us down
Let's drop the big one and see what happens

We give them money-but are they grateful?
No, they're spiteful and they're hateful
They don't respect us-so let's surprise them
We'll drop the big one and pulverize them

Asia's crowded and Europe's too old
Africa is far too hot
And Canada's too cold
And South America stole our name
Let's drop the big one
There'll be no one left to blame us

We'll save Australia
Don't wanna hurt no kangaroo
We'll build an All American amusement park there
They got surfin', too

Boom goes London and boom Paree
More room for you and more room for me
And every city the whole world round
Will just be another American town
Oh, how peaceful it will be
We'll set everybody free
You'll wear a Japanese kimono
And there'll be Italian shoes for me

They all hate us anyhow
So let's drop the big one now
Let's drop the big one now.

I especially like the line about "Europe's too old." Perhaps Newman can re-release this under the title "Rummy's Theme." "A Song for Donald"?

 

The Security Myth  3/10/03 10am CST

Thomas Friedman, a writer who is much more sympathetic with U.S. military action in the Middle East than myself, has a good column today corroborating something I wrote in the serious part of my Manchurian Candidate post below. Referring to last week's spacey press conference, Friedman writes,

"One line he uttered captured all the things that are troubling me about his approach. It was when he said: 'When it comes to our security, we really don't need anybody's permission.'

"The first thing that bothered me was the phrase, 'When it comes to our security . . .' Fact: The invasion of Iraq today is not vital to American security. Saddam Hussein has neither the intention nor the capability to threaten America, and is easily deterrable if he did.

"This is not a war of necessity. That was Afghanistan. Iraq is a war of choice."

One might add that the nightmare scenario cited by Bush and Ron Ziegler, Jr. of Saddam giving away one of his hypothetical WMDs to terrorists to use against U.S., only becomes plausible once we have seen to it that he has absolutely no hope left other than taking revenge. So, talking about our desire to see him dead for the past year has probably increased that risk. Even so, I am only going to start worrying about Saddam nuking the U.S. if it turns out that his scientists have invented teleportation along with their other breakthroughs.

Ron, I mean, Ari used the WMDs-to-terrorists scenario as the explanation for Bush's refusal to engage with the many pleas against the war that are coming to him from religious leaders. The mainline Protestant denominations can't even get a meeting.

That Darn Liberal Media Strikes Again 3/10/03 1am

The New York Times has certainly not made Bush look very good lately in other ways, but their news reporting remains amazingly obtuse and bounded by Washington spin and the terms of the presidential agenda. Evidently the Democrats currently stumping Iowa are discovering that, contrary to the impression the national media strives to give, lots of middle Americans are very upset about the coming war and the damage being done to the postwar international system and the image of the United States. Yet instead of focusing on  that, the story dwells on the "antiwar political minefield" faced by Democratic candidates who (gulp!) actually go along with what the voters are telling them, in a narrative laced with unexamined, conservative-friendly political shibboleths. 

There's a reference to the alleged difficulty of opposing FDR during World War II, a difficulty that loads of Republicans and racist southern Democrats just did not suffer. The idea that war demands an end to political debate was yet unknown in the 1940s, when people still believed in democratic processes. Then there's the alleged harm to the troops that supposedly comes from principled opposition to a war, even before troops are in the field. This is rooted in the mythological conservative interpretation of the U.S. defeat in Vietnam, the one that holds the military could have won that war if the media, the politicians, and the antiwar movement had not stabbed them in the back. It often seems as if a servicemen couldn't set foot in an airport between 1965 and 1975 without being drenched in hippie saliva. (Check out The Spitting Image for an effort to find even one documented case of Vietnam veterans being dissed in this manner.) 

It makes for good baby-boomer psychodrama to lavish unconditional love on war now to redeem themselves for the sins of youth, but really bad history and policy. I hope that at least one of the Democratic candidates had the sense to make the very easy distinction between condemning the U.S. military, which the current antiwar movement is always careful not to do, and opposing the directives that U.S. politicians give to our military.  If they do, I probably won't read about it in a national newspaper. Those are likely to be much more concerned, as this story is, with how candidates are strategizing about their political problems as White House-centric Washington has defined them.

George, Why Don't You Pass the Time by Playing a Little Solitaire? 3/9/03 9pm

Shrub's press conference the other day left me seriously wondering whether Angela Lansbury or the guy who played Wo Fat on Hawaii Five-O aren't lurking around the White House somewhere. Ostensibly appearing to reassure the American people and the world that the greatest military power on Earth is in good, determined, reasonable hands, Bush spoke in such a sleepy, robotic monotone that several  commentators were led to wonder whether his "serenity" (as ever-protective newspaper writers describe it) was the kind that came out of a medicine bottle. Maureen Dowd, back to her full-out anti-Bushism of 1992, headlined her most recent piece "Xanax Cowboy."

Watching it, I had to agree, but now my thoughts are running more in a Manchurian Candidate direction. The standard approach to Bush has followed the scholarly trend of re-interpreting presidents thought by contemporary critics to be thick, senile, disconnected or mere figureheads as expert managers in reality, "hidden-hand" presidents or genius delegators. This follows the usual impulse of scholars and pundits to buck the conventional wisdom and find rational patterns in the course, but I think it also betrays a deep-seated need to believe that the emperor is fully clothed no matter how naked he may look. For people who care about politics, the alternative is a little too frightening to face.

Anyhow, the "hidden-hand gambit" might work for Eisenhower, Reagan, or George Washington (see the Farewell Address chapter in Ellis's Founding Brothers), but listening to Bush reel off the entire shifting kaleidoscope of justifications for war and war aims that have been used in the past year, in a single press conference, suggested a man who has no idea what he was saying. The two justifications he kept circling back to were the two most often disavowed by his own administration, viz. the linkage of Saddam and the war to 9/11 and the need to "not leave the American people at the mercy of the Iraqi dictator and his weapons."  That is, the "weapons of mass destruction" that Saddam might have in 5 or 10 or 15 years in the unlikely event Iraq is left completely alone, and the threat he has never posed to U.S. even when we were actually fighting him a decade ago. Even now, I would have to say that Iraq has been remarkably unthreatening (in contrast to say, North Korea) despite the fact that American officials have been publicly wishing for Saddam's death for months and massing armies on the borders.

(The idea that America is currently "at the mercy of the Iraqi dictator" gets doubly weird when you consider Bush's claim that he does not need to budget any money for fighting Saddam unless a war actually starts, a war that he also claims might no start.)

It seems to me that either we admit that Shrub is living down to his worst caricatures as a man so rigid, incurious, and script-bound that he is literally incapable of taking in new information and adjusting his plans accordingly, that he will say anything and everything to justify his preset agenda, or we entertain some more exotic explanation for his behavior. Mind control seems as good an option as any. Maybe it's a French plot to put the U.S. in such a bad light that the rest of the world will turn to French leadership. Now that's diabolical. Come to think of it, in the Manchurian Candidate it was the Russians using North Korea and China as their pawns. Bush has managed to put the Russians back in play as world leaders, too, able to high-mindedly criticize us and win points with the Third World in a way they haven't been able to do for decades. And Bush seems strangely uninterested in challenging the Axis of Evil's most bellicose and closest-to-nukular member . . . North Korea. Hmmm.

Just When You Thought It Might Be Safe to Read the Newspaper for a Few Minutes 02/20/03 11pm

Just when I get myself adjusted to a new level of anachronistic unreality, I make the mistake of checking the New York Times website. In something like 8 minutes tonight, I ran into the following blasts from the past -- say the 1890s or 1920s -- that are actually our world's present and future:

  • Far from working to build prosperity, democracy, and tolerance in Afghanistan, the Bush administration budgeted no money for aid to the Afghans.
  • The glorious redemption and reconstruction of Iraq is going to be paid for by Iraq itself, from its oil revenues. Presumably the U.S. would presumably have to simply divert the money to its own treasury, turning a formerly sovereign nation into the equivalent of Tennessee Ernie Ford at the company store. Look at the bright side: the future radical Muslim insurgents of Iraq can be murderously upset about Bush's tax cuts as well as his war on their national independence and culture.
  • And the Kurds can join in because, Holy Ottoman Empire, Batman, the Shrubbers are planning to partition their new conquest,"partition" being Old Imperialist dialect for carving up the place among the allies. According to Paul Krugman, the Kurdish section of Iraq might be given to the Kurds' good good friends the Turks in return for Turkish permission to invade from their territory.

    Another Times story seems to contradict this a little, describing U.S."unease" about Turkish plans for the Kurds. However, this is just the spin that the administration would put out if they really were thinking of selling out the Kurds because of"military necessity" or some such. Also, be not reassured by the WWI-esque scenario that this story sketches of Turkey and every other country or proto-country in the region seizing the opportunity of a U.S.-Iraq to pursue their own agendas. Turkey has promised to put twice as many troops into Iraq as we do.

  • On the Pacific front, we've got troops heading out to put down a rebellion in the Phillipines. And they're not going as advisors, folks; it's a nice little side order war to go with our putative main course in Iraq. Watch your step on that escalator! Be sure to check out the helpful sidebar box on U.S.-Phillipine relations. We just missed the centennial of

    "1899 War erupts between American forces and a Philippine independence movement" and

    "1901 American forces claim victory over independence seekers, though armed conflict rages for a dozen years. A lengthy period of direct rule by the United States begins."

  • The last one's only a throwback to 2000: The latest big strategy to obtain the U.N. fig leaf for IraqWar™ is to beg and buy off 9 of 15 votes, and then dare the French to oppose the will of the majority with its veto. We all know how strongly Shrub feels about the will of the majority! Who would dare oppose that? Oh, right.

"Democracy is a Beautiful Thing" -- But Better Seen Than Heard 02/18/03 10pm

Shrub seems to have been left unscripted for a minutes today (Tuesday) and inadvertently gave us some real insight into his notions of democracy, or lack of same. Faced with heavy public opposition throughout Western Europe and the largest anti-war protests since the Vietnam War, Bush dismissed the determined political expression of millions as having no more weight -- and probably less -- than a"focus group." This is just how the stunted our leader's political imagination is: he can't tell the difference between corporate market research conducted in a climate-controlled meeting room (with snacks and restrooms) and genuine popular politics practiced in the dead of winter, in the streets, with no comforts and at some risk of arrest in many places. But we knew this already, right? Most politicians who got into the office the way he did would have proceeded with a bit of humility or caution or some other sign of awareness that his accession was a very near thing, that at least 50% of the electorate did not want him there.

I quote from the short Associated Press report that appeared on the New York Times web site this morning:

President Bush declared on Tuesday that he wouldn't be deterred by global protests against war with Iraq. . . .

Despite heavy opposition at the United Nations and protests around the world, the Bush administration appeared ready to push ahead this week for a new Security Council resolution that could open the way for war.

Bush said that the size of the protests against a possible U.S.-led war against Iraq was irrelevant.

"Size of protest, it's like deciding, 'Well I'm going to decide policy based up on a focus group.' The role of a leader is to decide policy based upon the security -- in this case -- security of the people."

Millions of people around the world took to the streets over the weekend to protest such a war.

"Democracy is a beautiful thing, and that people are allowed to express their opinion," Bush said.

This is the sort of democracy that say, an 18th-century British monarch might have been able to endorse: Let the people say what they want, then I'll do what I want. On second thought, some 18th-century British monarchs sometime actually paid attention when people took to the streets against their policies. Popular protests -- obviously different popular protests -- influenced both the enactment and the repeal of the Stamp Act, if memory serves.

Be sure to enlarge the picture that Agence France-Presse has Bush grimacing in front of. Seems to be Teddy Roosevelt in Rough Rider regalia. The Shrubbers may have done that intentionally, but if they really want that comparison made, all I can say is . . . as if! On the other hand, if Shrub wants to lead the invasion of Baghdad, personally, on horseback, I might reconsider.

The Retreat of Time 02/03/03

Present times seem to be a good lesson in the truth that history not only hasn't ended, but moves backwards sometimes as well as forwards. The Justice Department has launched in discrimination investigation in the case of a Texas Tech scientist who announced he would not write letters of recommendation for science and medicine students who did not accept the theory of evolution. His reasoning was pretty sound:" creationist" students would be substituting their religious beliefs for scientific knowledge in a way the professor believed interfered with their ability to practice science or medicine effectively. At any rate, he was not announcing that such students would be drummed out of grad school, just that he wouldn't recommend them. Nor was he announcing that members of a certain ethnic or social group would be barred. (Of course, today's biblical literalists have long confused themselves with a ethnic group.) Just that he personally could not recommend that people who have chosen not to believe in science should get to become scientists.

One would have thought that, in a country where the wealthy have the"right" to spend as much they want to buy elections, that professors and anyone else would have the right to decide who they recommend for jobs, graduate school, etc. Apparently not. Perhaps the Justice Department should send out some required text to be used in recommending Christian conservatives for whatever they want to do and save us all some time.

Pablo Picasso,

Turning to another accepted theory now regarded by some as a matter of mere opinion, I see that the United Nations has elected not to embarrass the United States with any suggestion that war is awful or that bombs blow people and animals up. Apparently, a reproduction of Pablo Picasso's great anti-war painting Guernica (see above) hangs outside the U.N. Security Council chamber. I did not know this, but it seems like a nice idea to have a reminder of the human costs of modern weapons there in a place where decisions about war and peace are made. We helped start the U.N. in the name of world peace after all.

Now, with the U.S. fixing to pull a Guernica on Baghdad any day, the U.N. (under pressure?), has covered Picasso's masterpiece with a curtain, lest any war-mongering U.S. official be embarrassed or ironized by being filmed or photographed standing in sight of it. Gee, it would be so tasteless -- and old-fashioned -- to accidentally bring up the horrors of war during a press conference about war!

Stars and Bears 01/21/03 11am

In case there was any doubt the historical cluelessness of what are called"Southern heritage groups," make sure you read down to the middle of today's New York Times story on the renewal of Georgia's Confederate flag controversy:

Charles Lunceford of the Heritage Preservation Association said his group was fully behind [new Georgia governor Sonny] Perdue — and mobilizing against potential enemies.

"Any politician who decides to go against Southern heritage is a target," Mr. Lunceford said."People chose to move to this area. When they move to the South, they abandon where they came from. Would it be right for me to move to California and demand that they take the bear off their flag?"

I just about fell off my chair when I got to this. Aside from virtually quoting the stereotypical Southern sheriff of liberal Hollywood films ("You not from around heah, ah yah, boi-ah?"), the notion of Californians working themselves into a lather over insults to the flag bear is quite the knee slapper. It's another example of the solipsistic southern conservative assumption that, deep down, everybody else is just as self-centered, bigoted, and ruthless as they are, no matter how liberal and altruistic they may claim to be.

White self-pity truly is the force that launched a thousand idiotic comparisons like the one where conservative Christians confuse themselves with southern blacks under Jim Crow or the old classic where southern slaveholders confused themselves with slaves because someone wanted them to pay a tax.

Lunceford's comment does point up an source of the Confederate flag controversies that had I not really considered: Rural resentment of the more worldly, modern, and increasingly dominant suburban populations of their own sprawling cities. Lunceford's quite wrong to think of these people as godless blue-bellied Yankees -- New South suburbanites are the backbone of the present Republican party and politicized Christian conservatism -- but such people are much more likely to be embarrassed by the open nostalgia for slavery and segregation that animates the Confederate flag wavers.

I realize that not all whites who revere the Confederate flag, maybe not even most of them, consciously hold those views, but that is really only possible through a willed suppression of well-known facts about the purposes of the southern rebellion and the modern political history of the Confederate flag.

Read It and Weep, Historians -- and no I'm not talking about Bellesiles! 01/08/03 11pm

Every historian should read this brilliant bit of historical punditry from Counterpunch, Alexander Cockburn's webzine. It's written by a defense analyst who writes under the name Dr. Werther. He spanks George Will for the latest effort to puff Saddam's Iraq into one of history's great scourges, while turning out a powerful indictment of the way our callow, ignorant, overreaching political leaders abuse and cheapen historical knowledge, abetted by a a callow, ignorant, overreaching media establishment and a frightened, undereducated public. The case in point is the overuse of the Hitler/Chamberlain/appeasement analogy. I will post a long excerpt here, but please read the whole thing:

One hardly knows where to begin. Mr. Will evidently means to suggest Iraq and Weimar Germany are equivalent threats by stating that the two countries are roughly the same size. By this measure, Chad or Outer Mongolia must have frightening military potential. Concrete comparison, rather than emotional suggestibility, yields the following data.

Weimar Germany, despite the Versailles sanctions, comprised the second-largest industrial base on earth. In certain critical fields, such as chemistry, physics, and metallurgy, it led the world. By the early-twentieth century standards of industrial development--the production of coal, steel, or industrial chemicals--Germany was either first in the world or second behind the United States. No other country had as many Nobel Prize-winning scientists as Germany.

A summary indication of Iraq's military/industrial potential may be gleaned from the following passage:". . . Iraq's real gross domestic product (GDP)-that is, its GDP adjusted for inflation-fell by 75 percent from 1991 to 1999. In the late 1990s the country's real GDP was estimated at about what it was in the 1940s, [emphasis added] prior to the oil boom and the modernization of the country. As a result, per capita income and the people's calorie intake plunged from the levels of relatively better-off Third World countries to those of the desperately poor Fourth World states, such as Rwanda, Haiti, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Somalia." (2)

So the economic indicators of this alleged hegemon on the Euphrates are more nearly those of such basket cases as Rwanda than those of Weimar Germany or the Soviet menace.

Mr. Will refers in his column to the clandestine training methods of the Reichswehr as a basis for its subsequent expansion into the Wehrmacht. But what does the German Army of that time, almost universally acknowledged as the most professional officer and NCO corps in the world, have to do with a demoralized, robotic, and inept Iraqi officer corps leading a brutalized, unwilling conscript rabble? Does their lamentable performance in Desert Storm somehow evoke Operation Barbarossa or the Wehrmacht's conquest of France and the Low Countries?

Likewise Weimar Germany's relative strength vis-a-vis its potential adversaries compared with Iraq's current situation. As stated, Germany was the second largest industrial base in the world. The United States, its only industrial better in the 1920s, might as well have been on the moon for all that it was able to affect the contemporary balance of power in Europe. Post-Versailles America had an army that was well below the first rank, and behind such martial midgets as Sweden or Romania.

By contrast, today the United States alone comprises close to 50 percent of world military spending. Its putative rival Iraq spends about a tenth on the military compared to what it did a decade ago. Its remaining weapons are largely obsolete 1970s vintage Soviet bloc hardware (without spare parts or contractor support), and its delivery means of purported weapons of mass destruction are roughly a dozen SCUDs, themselves a derivative of 60-year old V-2 technology.

It is also hard to conceive of the history of the 1920s as being one where the Entente powers would have been able to designate half of Germany a no-fly zone and bomb German military installations at will. The Entente also lacked orbiting satellites, multi-billion dollar signals intelligence interception capabilities, and other technical means that the United States now routinely employs against Iraq. If the implication is that these technologies, developed to surveille the eight million square miles of the Soviet Union, are inadequate to handle Iraq, one can only conclude the U.S. taxpayer has been duped.

It is not surprising that crackpot analogies like Mr. Will's have gained traction in the United States anno 2002. A recent National Geographic survey found that in the dumbed-down post-literate age"only about one in seven--13 percent--of Americans between the age of 18 and 24, the prime age for military warriors, could find Iraq" on a world map. (3) The adage says that in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king. Accordingly, a half-educated discourse on the Weimar Republic by a kennel-fed establishment literatus like George Will sounds like real erudition to people who can barely find Canada on a map.

Newswatch 01/06/03 10 am

As we begin the first full work week of 2003, let's take stock of where we are, as seen in today's news reports in the Times and the Buzzflash World Media Watch.

It seems that the White House is"finalizing plans" for administering a"democratic Iraq" after they oust Saddam. Yes, some people seem to think it's time to start picking out office space, even though the the last guys we ousted, Omar and Osama, are reputed to be not only alive, but kick-starting a new campaign against the U.S. troops in Afghanistan, while their Axis of Evil pals in North Korea, you know, the rogue nation with the actually operating nuclear facility, go on high alert. Nevertheless, this new piece of American real estate is apparently going to be really cheaply acquired, since Shrub seems to think we can afford another 300 billion dollar giveaway to his friends and neighbors in the trust fund set by completely eliminating the federal tax on dividends. This is interesting given the fact that Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz asked Turkey in December for"permission to deploy up to 80,000 US troops in eastern Anatolia" and keep them there as long as 5 years! Are we getting a group discount, using frequent flyer miles, or what?

Meanwhile here in the Homeland, we can all feel knowing that even conservative publications are starting to admit that the terror war is a political sham: Terror alerts manufactured? FBI agents say White House scripting 'hysterics' for political effect :

"Intelligence pros say the White House is manufacturing terrorist alerts to keep the issue alive in the minds of voters and to keep President Bush's approval ratings high, Capitol Hill Blue reports."

"The Thursday report said that the administration is engaging in 'hysterics' in issuing numerous terror alerts that have little to no basis in fact."

"'Unfortunately, we haven't made a lot of progress against al-Qaida or the war on terrorism,' one FBI agent familiar with terrorism operations told CHB. 'We've been spinning our wheels for several weeks now.'"Other sources within the bureau and the Central Intelligence Agency said the administration is pressuring intelligence agencies to develop 'something, anything' to support an array of non-specific terrorism alerts issued by the White House and the Department of Homeland Security.

"Most of the time, we have little to go on, only unconfirmed snippets of information," a second FBI agent, who also was not named in the report, said."Most alerts are issued without any concrete data to back up the assumptions."

Upper Class Twit of the Year Sweepstakes

01/06/03 3pm

The latest economic proposal to crawl from the Shrubs is billed as a"stimulus" measure, but I think they mean a stimulus to bigger Republican campaign contributions. Somehow the prospect of tax-free stock dividends, even if you are in the small segment of the population lucky enough to have been personally paid a dividend in recent memory, doesn't seem likely to get many people out of their chairs and out to the mall with renewed consumer confidence.

Even the Times, which generally treats Wall Street as a treasured local industry, seems skeptical of a plan whose only real goal is bumping up stock prices:"Many economists said they were dubious about the impact on either business investment or consumer spending. The proposal would give shareholders more money, but probably not until they submitted their taxes in 2004. And corporations would not save any tax money." Business lobbyists didn't even want this, though they will naturally find it in them to support Pal Georgie!

Note just how narrowly self-serving the Shrub oligarchy actually is. They don't really support business as a whole: they support Texas-style businesses, energy and defense, with some mining and logging thrown in for western pals like the Dick. He doesn't really even the SUV-driving, McMansion-dwelling suburbanites who vote for him. Most of them make their money from wages and stand suffer from confiscatory payroll taxes, crippled public services, and corporate retrenchment like the rest of us. Instead, Shrub is all about people who actually live off inheritances and stocks, silver-spoon slackers and Ivy legacies like himself. This is the itsy-bitsy stratum that actually has something to fear from the"death tax" and something significant to gain from elimination of the dividend tax.

Take Us Home, Randi Rhodes 01/03/03 12 Noon

There's an interesting interview on Buzzflash with Randi Rhodes, a liberal talk-radio host out of West Palm Beach, Florida, who may be the only hope the left has for a major presence in that wingnut-dominated medium. Unfortunately, she seems to have little hope of being nationally syndicated, at least by the conglomerate (Clear Channel) that owns her station. (You can listen over the Internet between 3 and 7pm Eastern.) Conservative pressure has played a role in this, with fellow Clear Channel property Rush Limbaugh threatening to bolt if Rhodes was syndicated.

Even more important in keeping Rhodes local is the unproven"truth," deeply believed in the broadcast news industry, that only conservative shows can attract large audiences. I find this curious given the fact that one of television's top-rated dramas features a fantasy Democratic president, and that any number of recent movies with liberal themes (Traffic, Erin Brockovich, Three Kings)have done good box office. The biggest film of 2002, Spider-Man, shared with its comic book source a strongly liberal message about selfless public service and the responsibilities of the strong to the weak:"With great power comes great responsibility."*

As Rhodes points out, the wingnut pundits and media personalities actually don't have gigantic mass audiences. She crushes them all in her home market, and the lowest rated network entertainment shows far outpace any of the conservative-ridden cable news channels and shout shows. What they do have is corporate sponsors (often in the form of vague ads for products viewers can't buy) who underwrite the proliferation of conservative media personalities and the dissemination of their works. Check out the gigantic list of conservative columnists on TownHall.com and ask yourself how likely it is that there were all called into action by market demand. Conservatives may love the idea that they dominate the commercial media because the people love them so much, but as with most near-monopolies, the reality is that competing products are simply prevented from ever reaching the market.

*The political liberalism of the superhero motif in modern American culture is admittedly debatable point that I am going to write more about soon. Fascism, racism, narcissism, and nihilism are all isms that have been applied by scholars to the superhero much more often, but I think they're wrong.

Another Blogging New Year's Resolution Down the Tubes: Bush v. Education01/02/03 2:40PM CST

While far too entranced with Washington"players" to be liberal or even ideological, the company-town newspaper aspect of the Washington Post still makes it an invaluable read for anyone concerned with public policy who can't afford expensive specialized publications like Congressional Quarterly and National Journal. For instance, while I knew the"No Child Left Untested" education law was fraudulent and destructive, I never knew how much so until reading a Post story today.

It seems that the standards are written so rigidly that the vast majority of all public schools everywhere, especially in the Shrub-loving South, are likely to be rated"low performing" within a couple of years. The major problem is the law's requirement that each school show constant improvement in every ethnic and demographic sub-category, no matter how many or how few such students a school may happen to serve. What this means is that a school may get publicly shamed because one or two severely disabled children happen to live in that neighborhood, or because one of the two Latino families came down with the flu the week of the tests.

Or a even just a plain fluke! As the story puts it,"Accountability experts say that requirement, coupled with the year-to-year deviations that typically occur in standardized test results, means that schools would often be deemed low-performing for what amounts to statistical -- rather than educational -- reasons."

And this is no mere p.r. matter, though that is bad enough given what an effective job conservatives and the media have done trashing the image of public education and over-publicizing test scores as though they were college basketball rankings."Low-performing schools" are to be subjected to a number of federally unfunded punishments:

"Under the federal law, schools deemed failing for two consecutive years must facilitate student transfers to better schools -- even those filled to capacity -- and use public money to provide private tutors for students. If a school continues to be labeled failing, it must have its principal and teachers replaced or be reopened as a charter school."

Governors, especially Republican governors, are howling about the new law because most of their states have already implemented accountability regimes of their own, the basis for claims that governors (like Shrub himself in 2000) have made for revolutionizing moribund public school systems in places like Texas, Louisiana, and North Carolina. They foresee in the new law not only the desecration of their accomplishments, but potentially disastrous new costs and forced reallocations coming at a time of state and local fiscal meltdown, something else Shrub has helped cause but won't do anything to help solve.

While it's no surprise to find Shrub hawking reality-challenged policies, the motive question arises as it has so often has with this administration. Are the Shrubbers really compassionate conservatives who share Democratic/democratic goals like education and opportunity for all but favor tougher, (supposedly) less statist methods, or are they far-right ideologues seeking a return to the plutocratic politics and Social Darwinist economics of the late 19th century, if not something new and worse?

Here's a thought on motive from the Post story:"'At best, I think the law is an unwarranted intrusion into state and local control of schools,' said Bill Weinberg, who quit the Kentucky Board of Education in November in protest of the federal law. 'At worst, it is a cynical attempt by the Bush administration to build in failure and use that as an argument for vouchers.'" Considering what the law actually does, set up impossible standards with which to condemn public education and then force privatization on the"failing" schools and students, the cynical assault on public education thesis looks pretty strong, as does the following implication. Many of Bush's seemingly wishful or nonsensical policies make perfect sense if we see them as a part of a semi-covert, long-range campaign to undo most of what 20th century governance accomplished.

Another Blogging New Year's Resolution 01/01/03 12am

Between grading, shopping, socializing, travel, and what can only be news fatigue, I have (obviously) absented myself from HNN for the past few weeks. For many, this is probably a good thing. The resolution mentioned in the title is to get this space going again, in a more feasible style than what I was doing last fall. This is to say, short cryptic remarks and quotations as opposed to long rants and essays that I just don't have time to write, no matter how much fun it is!


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