Monday, September 25, 2006

Jesus Cramp

So there's this new documentary out chronicling the goings-on at what is little more than an American madrassa:

You've never seen this in a movie before—young children speaking in tongues and rolling on the floor, apparently under the power of the Holy Spirit. And what is more, they're dressed in camouflage, to represent their identity as soldiers in God's army. They're asking God to fill the U.S. Supreme Court with "righteous judges." They're protesting abortion. They're shouting prayers for President Bush while they lay hands on a cardboard cut-out of his likeness. And—don't tell Al Gore—but they're being taught that global warming isn't a problem at all.

Jesus Camp is not a drama or a comedy. It's a documentary, made by award-winning filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, who follow the experiences of three young children—Levi, Tory, and Rachael—as they attend the "Kids on Fire" summer camp in Devil's Lake, North Dakota. The camp, directed by Becky Fischer, encourages children to embrace Christianity through programs of intense instruction and charismatic worship.

Some Christian media personalities are speaking out against the movie, but for differing reasons. A few accuse the filmmakers of trying to discredit Fischer and her camp, and they rush to the defense of the film's subjects, saying that their methods of worship and education are to be celebrated. Others are criticizing the film by saying that this documentary footage severely misrepresents Christianity, and that it has been framed to draw viewers into viewing Christians as lunatics.

The fact that this thing is in a place called Devil's Lake just makes the stupid-ade that much sweeter. The important thing to keep in mind is that Becky Fischer herself has already said that she thinks the film was a fair representation of what she's trying to do, which is turn perfectly good kids into drooling morons.

Look, like most of these little exercises in fetishism, this movie and this camp are not about faith. This is not a camp about spirituality, or godliness, or any sort of contemplative pursuit in seeking the inner godhead. This is a place of politics, of cheap indoctrination and rote nonsense. "Laying hands" on a cardboard Bush is not "religious", it's stupid. It's like me thinking that if I'd had a cardboard cutout of Eddie Van Halen when I was eighteen, I'd have known how to play Hot For Teacher without ever having to practice.

And rolling around on the floor babbling nonsensical syllables (aka "speaking in tongues") is the sort of behavior that used to get you locked away for your own good, but with these charismatic/pentecostal goofballs, it's more of a snake-free method of showing the congregation how freaky you can get, which in the Benny Hinn stadium shows can actually turn into a rather entertaining breakdancing-for-morons sort of competition. Nothing like watching Florida Panhandle yahoos "throw down" and try to out-do each other in the hillbilly-Aramaic spelling bee.

What sort of teenagers and adults are these kids going to turn out to be, after having crazy shit like this pounded into their heads? What the fuck is wrong with their parents, or Becky Fischer for that matter? The only other "God's Army" one regularly hears about is the one in Uganda that massacres villages and kidnaps the children to use as either sex slaves or soldiers.

It's ironic that this sort of "warriors fer Christ" lunacy thrives in precisely the regions of the country that have by far the least to worry about from religious extremism and terrorism, at least from Islamic terrorists. The Christian ones, I wouldn't be so sure about. Wait till these poor kids grow up, soundly pummeled into raptured stupidity. They will either figure out their parents' bamboozlement and wrack their imaginations for the most caustic way to rebel, or worse they'll get deeper into it, and either lash out at some unsuspecting brown immigrant, snap and kill their families, or find a like sect of goofballs to escalate a Jesusier-than-thou pissing contest with.

For people who claim to be looking forward to the end of the world, they sure do seem to be overstaying their welcome.

Bad Dog

The transcript doesn't quite do the video justice.

CLINTON: No, no. I authorized the CIA to get groups together to try to kill [bin Laden].

The CIA, which was run by George Tenet, that President Bush gave the Medal of Freedom to, he said, He did a good job setting up all these counterterrorism things.

The country never had a comprehensive anti-terror operation until I came there.

Now, if you want to criticize me for one thing, you can criticize me for this: After the Cole, I had battle plans drawn to go into Afghanistan, overthrow the Taliban, and launch a full-scale attack search for bin Laden.

But we needed basing rights in Uzbekistan, which we got after 9/11.

The CIA and the FBI refused to certify that bin Laden was responsible while I was there. They refused to certify. So that meant I would’ve had to send a few hundred Special Forces in in helicopters and refuel at night.

Even the 9/11 Commission didn’t do that. Now, the 9/11 Commission was a political document, too. All I’m asking is, anybody who wants to say I didn’t do enough, you read Richard Clarke’s book.

WALLACE: Do you think you did enough, sir?

CLINTON: No, because I didn’t get him.


CLINTON: But at least I tried. That’s the difference in me and some, including all the right-wingers who are attacking me now. They ridiculed me for trying. They had eight months to try. They did not try. I tried.

So I tried and failed. When I failed, I left a comprehensive anti-terror strategy and the best guy in the country, Dick Clarke, who got demoted.

So you did Fox’s bidding on this show. You did your nice little conservative hit job on me. What I want to know is…

WALLACE: Well, wait a minute, sir.

CLINTON: No, wait. No, no…

WALLACE: I want to ask a question. You don’t think that’s a legitimate question?

CLINTON: It was a perfectly legitimate question, but I want to know how many people in the Bush administration you asked this question of.

I want to know how many people in the Bush administration you asked, Why didn’t you do anything about the Cole?

I want to know how many you asked, Why did you fire Dick Clarke?

I want to know how many people you asked…

Obviously, Clinton knew what he was getting into, giving an interview to Faux News. He knew he would get sandbagged in the interview, and he's clearly still pissed about the stupid ABC Path to 9/11 crapumentary, as he well should be. So he simply got the drop on them, beat them at their own game. Pretty damned sweet, really. Bush could never put anything nearly so comprehensive together ahead of time, just because of the ability required to extemporize for starters.

Compare and contrast Clenis' evisceration of that simpering little shit Chrissie Wallace with Bush's recent bouts with the three network sock puppets. The only one that challenged Himself enough to get him pissy was Matt Lauer, and Bush started crowding Lauer as he launched into the millionth refrain of Let's All Drink From The Glorious Cup Of Freedomocracy™. No one's buying that tune anymore, except the people who emotionally invested in it way too much.

Perhaps the most entertaining aspect of all this is the reaction of the usual gastropods on the right. You can set your watch by them.

Can anyone say, "the buck stops here?"

downtownlad, how many people were killed in a terrorist attack just before Clinton had to make that huge ex-Presidential response to Chris Wallace? Tu quoque is really, really unattractive as an attempt at argument, don't you think?

I've said before that in 1992 I perceived Clinton as a coward in most all (probably all) the important areas. He also appears to embody most of the worst of (my) Boomer Generation proclivities. For instance, love me for who I am not what I do.

The worst part is that we'll undoubtedly have to put up with similar stuff from Clinton for the next 30 years or so and we may even (shudder) begin to long for the good old days when Jimmy Clinton [sic] was the worst example of an ex-Pres.

This is borderline retarded, in terms of cognitive skills and reading comprehension. Clinton readily admitted that he "tried and failed" to kill bin Laden. And I distinctly recall that when he did so, when he launched missiles into Sudan and Afghanistan, the Serious Thinkers were thumbing their dicks, talking about the tail wagging the dog and how Clinton's tie was a signal to Monica.

I too found Clinton's incessant triangulations exasperating over the years, but one would think that these douchebags might at least be intellectually responsible enough to admit that Clinton found ways to give them what they wanted. Welfare reform and fiscal responsibility, and not one of these gutless cocksuckers has ever had the balls to just say, "Well, he did do that, anyway." No, it's cheap shots at how he looks (as if Ann Althouse was Heidi Fucking Klum or something) -- the guy is 60 years old and not all that far past a life-threatening heart problem and surgery.

I can only imagine what sort of ex-preznit Junior will be; no doubt a rainmaker for the scum-sucking defense-contractor class. Once a grifter, always a grifter. I honestly can't imagine him just doing something purely altruistic. But you know, let's shit on Jimmy Carter, an 80-year-old man who still goes all out to help low-income families and homeless people. What a terrible example he sets. Fuck these people.

Clinton is painfully self-aware and tiresomely self-conscious of his legacy, and he may indeed be trying to burnish it a little here. But so what? This is bigger than his legacy, and he knows that too. By walking into the poodles' den, pimp-slapping Wallace and showing these putrid little ankle-biters for what they really are, Clinton performed two very valuable services.

One, he set the record straight. Disney's piece o' crap and the attendant publicity generated a lot of needless inflammatory bullshit, and we all know it. This administration was never going to -- will never -- bother to correct such things, or even illuminate them with the free flow of archived information. They have plenty to hide, and they've made sure that we won't be able to know the truth till long after they're shoveling shit in hell. So it was an opportunity for Clinton not only to rebut the lies that had been festering in the public discourse, but to flesh out the whole story, and acknowledge that when it comes to playing the blame game, it's a big gameboard with a lot of players.

Maybe even more important is that Clinton took it upon himself to set the tone and terms for Democrats to start confronting this shit. He understands more than anyone else in his party that, once you get past red-state/blue-state tropes, people are voting with their guts, and the Republicans' mastery of visceral imagery has been winning for them. This does not mean adopting the inchoate fabulism that occupies the scream-radio shows, or the pathetic, mindless ranting of the used-up skanks peddling unreadable, plagiarized books. But it does recognize that informed, channeled anger can be quite useful and productive; it can illuminate and inspire, and it can slap down the yapping mutts that needed a good swift kick in the ass long ago.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Comma Karma

It is no longer debatable -- this man is vile.

BLITZER: Let's move on and talk a little bit about Iraq. Because this is a huge, huge issue, as you know, for the American public, a lot of concern that perhaps they are on the verge of a civil war, if not already a civil war…. We see these horrible bodies showing up, tortured, mutilation. The Shia and the Sunni, the Iranians apparently having a negative role. Of course, al Qaeda in Iraq is still operating.

BUSH: Yes, you see — you see it on TV, and that's the power of an enemy that is willing to kill innocent people. But there's also an unbelievable will and resiliency by the Iraqi people…. Admittedly, it seems like a decade ago. I like to tell people when the final history is written on Iraq, it will look like just a comma because there is — my point is, there's a strong will for democracy. (emphasis added)

Bush himself will be nothing but a smudge on this nation's history when all is said and done, despite his tiresome Churchillian pretensions. In the meantime, I sure as fuck don't see anyone from the Bush dynasty signing up to become a punctuation mark in his misbegotten footnote.

How many more people have to die for this man's abject stupidity?

Values Pimps

I don't know if this guy is the same ClownHall commenter called "Coach" whom I recently referred to as a "closet case", but it wouldn't surprise me:

Zachary Daubenmire, recently hired to teach special education at Licking Heights High School, was out on bond Thursday after admitting to downloading video of young girls having sex with adult men onto a family computer.


His father, Dave Daubenmire, says what happened with his son could happen to any family.

The elder Daubenmire is well known locally for being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union for conducting prayers with players before football games at London High School. He is also a longtime Christian leader who has worked to teach others about the dangers of pornography.

"Licking Heights". Jesus H. Christ, they're just begging for it, aren't they? Who names these towns, Larry Flynt?

And no, Coach Dave, it couldn't happen to "any family". It does not happen to most families. One would think that, considering Coach Dave's anti-porn focus, this event might serve him pause to contemplate things, but one would most likely be wrong. It's always the most repressed ones that end up involved in weird shit like this. Score another one for the sainted world of Bobo and Dobson.

At least teh kid wasn't watching SpongeBob SquarePants or Will & Grace. Mighta turned him queer.

Top Ten Other David Broder Complaints

10. Damn kids won't get off his lawn.

9. WaPo commissary refusing to add creamed corn to the menu just for him.

8. Woodward always got more action back in the day.

7. McCain won't let him on the "Straight Talk Express" anymore after how he nuked the shitter last time. To be fair, they had just stopped at an Applebee's. Those Riblets™ go right through ya.

6. Suggestion to include redefinition of torture as "Clay Aiken covering Celine Dion songs" was vetoed by confirmed bachelor Huckleberry Graham.

5. Nothing in DC that a good tornado or cornfield couldn't fix. Whatever happened to good ol' moxie n' gumption?

4. Milbank keeps refilling Broder's "hidden" bottle of Cutty with milk of magnesia.

3. Potty-mouthed bloggers think they're soooo fucking smart. Well, if they can't see how eminently even-handed Broder's sensible midwestern moderation is, how smart could they really be? QED, coastal elites!

2. Froomkin's Drakkar Noir making allergies act up.

1. They don't make fiery independents like ol' Joe Lieberman no more. They're just a bunch of extremists like that know-it-all asshole Kerry.

(Photo of Bush hugging and kissing somebody who knows anything unavailable.)

[update 2:10PM PDT: Forgot about the other "independent" who embraced Mister Man]

Yep, you can really feel the maverickness emanating. Independents unite!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Stoned Age

So we have ourselves a new foreign policy kerfuffle, a "contriversy" if you will (and you might). Seems that Good Buddy Numero Uno Pervez Musharraf thinks he got the arm put on him in the wake of 9/11, courtesy of cock-headed State Department toady and recently-admitted Plame fink Richard Armitage. That's awful convenient, doncha think?

Bush met at the White House with Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who assured the U.S. president of his desire to root out the Taliban and other extremists. The visit came amid controversy over Musharraf's claims in a forthcoming memoir that the Bush administration threatened to bomb Pakistan "to the Stone Age" if it failed to cooperate with the United States against al-Qaeda and the Taliban after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

As much as I've written about the perfidious nature of Pakistan's overall behavior in this regard, I actually do believe that Musharraf himself is doing his level best to help us where he can. The problem is that he presides over a fractious, virulently anti-Western citizenry and worse, an army and intel service infested with Muslim extremists.

(And yes, don't think I disregard our own homegrown extremist elements in the military, the General Boykin loons, the wingnuts forcibly converting everyone at the Air Force Academy, etc. It's gotta stop, on both sides. But right now we're talking diplomatic triage, and our kooks at least haven't tried to assassinate their leader for not being responsive enough to their theology. Musharraf has narrowly survived two assassination attempts so far.)

And for the record, I don't think there's anything terribly controversial -- or even wrong -- about strongarming Pakistan to get them on the right side of this. They shouldn't have been enabling the Taliban scum in the first place, and they're goddamned lucky they were given a second chance, because they were up to their eyeballs in this. So frankly, that part of the equation doesn't bother me in the slightest. I would have expected us to lean on them. Thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster that that's all it came to.

White House aides said a chunk of yesterday's hour-long meeting was devoted to Musharraf explaining to Bush the recent pact he reached with Islamic militants in Pakistan's border region. The pact requires foreign militants to leave the tribal area of North Waziristan or take up a peaceable life, and it forbids imposing draconian religious edicts. But it has been greeted skeptically by many human rights activists and regional experts as a concession to Islamic extremists that will be impossible to enforce.

Appearing with Bush at an East Room news conference after their session, Musharraf said he assured the U.S. president that the pact was intended to rein in extremist violence. "There will be no al-Qaeda activity in our tribal [area] or across the border in Afghanistan," Musharraf said. "There will be no Taliban activity. . . . There will be no Talibanization."

Bush said he was satisfied with those assurances. "When the president looks me in the eye and says the tribal deal is intended to reject the Talibanization of the people, and that there won't be a Taliban and won't be al-Qaeda, I believe him," he said.

Oh God, not another "he looked me in the eye and told me he loved me" moment. You'd think he'd have learned about that sort of fruity touchy-feely rhetoric after getting jilted by Pooty-Poot. But let's meet Mister Man halfway -- again, I can give Musharraf the benefit of the doubt and believe that he intends to resolve the issues in the tribal areas, but there are more reasons to doubt his ability to succeed than to mistake good intentions for even a partial success.

Now here's an interesting detail, which is inexplicably not fleshed out, even though it took two (2) professionally trained journamalists to slap this officially-sanctioned meeting recap together.

In the "60 Minutes" interview, Musharraf said that Armitage made the threat to Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed, Pakistan's intelligence chief, the day after the Sept. 11 attacks by al-Qaeda. Pakistan was one of only three nations that maintained diplomatic relations with the Taliban government in Afghanistan, and al-Qaeda members were known to move freely in the mountainous border area between the two countries.

As was publicly reported shortly after their meeting, Armitage told Mahmood that Pakistan would have to choose sides between the Taliban and the United States, which wanted it to cut all ties with the Afghans and cooperate with planned retaliation for the attacks. Armitage described it yesterday as "a very straightforward conversation" held in his State Department office. "I told him that for Americans this was black or white, that Pakistan was either with us fully or not. It wasn't a matter of being able to negotiate it."

That's all the article has to say about Mahmood Ahmad's role in all this. It's an unacceptable and glaring omission of Ahmad's activities [link via Rigorous Intuition]. The entire timeline is well-sourced and damning, but here are a couple of choice excerpts:

October 12, 1999: General Musharraf Takes Control of Pakistan; Ousted ISI Leader Has Curious Finances

Gen. Pervez Musharraf becomes leader of Pakistan in a coup. One major reason for the coup is the ISI felt the previous ruler had to go “out of fear that he might buckle to American pressure and reverse Pakistan’s policy [of supporting] the Taliban.” [New York Times, 12/8/2001] Shortly thereafter Musharraf replaces the leader of the ISI, Brig Imtiaz, because of his close ties to the previous leader. Imtiaz is arrested and convicted of “having assets disproportionate to his known sources of income.” It comes out that he was keeping tens of millions of dollars earned from heroin smuggling in a Deutsche Bank account. This is interesting because insider trading just prior to 9/11 will later connect to a branch of Deutsche Bank recently run by “Buzzy” Krongard, now executive director of the CIA. [Financial Times, 8/10/2001] The new director of the ISI is Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed, a close ally of Musharraf who is instrumental in the success of the coup. [Guardian, 10/9/2001]

So we have pre-existing fundamentalist ties between the Taliban and the leaders of the coup that installed Musharraf, especially one Mahmood Ahmad, who is practically Patient Zero for this bout of diplomatic Ebola. That seems pretty interesting. If I were a professional journamalist, I would probably want to do some digging and connect some dots, provide even a minimum of background as to what sort of character Ahmad is.

October 7, 2001: ISI Director Replaced at US Urging; Role in Funding 9/11 Plot Is One Explanation

ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed is replaced in the face of US pressure after links are discovered between him, Saeed Sheikh, and the funding of the 9/11 attacks. Mahmood instructed Saeed to transfer $100,000 into hijacker Mohamed Atta’s bank account prior to 9/11. This is according to Indian intelligence, which claims the FBI has privately confirmed the story. [Press Trust of India, 10/8/2001; Times of India, 10/9/2001; India Today, 10/15/2001; Daily Excelsior (Jammu), 10/18/2001] The story is not widely reported in Western countries, though it makes the Wall Street Journal. [Australian, 10/10/2001; Agence France-Presse, 10/10/2001; Wall Street Journal, 10/10/2001] It is reported in Pakistan as well. [Dawn (Karachi), 10/8/2001] The Northern Alliance also repeats the claim in late October. [Federal News Service, 10/31/2001] In Western countries, the usual explanation is that Mahmood is fired for being too close to the Taliban. [London Times, 10/9/2001; Guardian, 10/9/2001] The Times of India reports that Indian intelligence helped the FBI discover the link, and says, “A direct link between the ISI and the WTC attack could have enormous repercussions. The US cannot but suspect whether or not there were other senior Pakistani Army commanders who were in the know of things. Evidence of a larger conspiracy could shake US confidence in Pakistan’s ability to participate in the anti-terrorism coalition.” [Times of India, 10/9/2001] There is evidence some ISI officers may have known of a plan to destroy the WTC as early as July 1999. Two other ISI leaders, Lt. Gen. Mohammed Aziz Khan and Lt. Gen. Muzaffar Usmani, are sidelined on the same day as Mahmood. [Fox News, 10/8/2001] Saeed had been working under Khan. The firings are said to have purged the ISI of its fundamentalists. However, according to one diplomat, “To remove the top two or three doesn’t matter at all. The philosophy remains. ... [The ISI is] a parallel government of its own. If you go through the officer list, almost all of the ISI regulars would say, of the Taliban, ‘They are my boys.’” [New Yorker, 10/29/2001] It is believed Mahmood has been living under virtual house arrest in Pakistan (which would seem to imply more than just a difference of opinion over the Taliban), but no charges have been brought against him, and there is no evidence the US has asked to question him. [Asia Times, 1/5/2002] He also has refused to speak to reporters since being fired [Associated Press, 2/21/2002] , and outside India and Pakistan, the story has only been mentioned infrequently in the media since. [Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 2/24/2002; London Times, 4/21/2002] He will reemerge as a businessman in 2003, but still will not speak to the media (see July 2003).

So, since the Washington Post apparently does not see fit to flesh out exactly who Mahmood Ahmad is and what he represents in this ongoing saga, we vituperative, foul-mouthed bloggers will have to it for them. Again. Can't wait for the next round of stoic midwestern harrumphing from Dean Wormer about the failure of "extremists" on "both sides", and how the "resurgent" "independents" will set things aright. Give me a fucking break.

Oh, and if you're wondering just how poor ol' Mahmood ended up, well, you'll be plenty happy to know that he landed on his feet with a little help from his friends, and a little selective blindness from us.

July 2003: Fired ISI Director Resurfaces as Businessman

Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed, who lost his position as ISI Director one month after 9/11 (see October 7, 2001), resurfaces in Pakistan as the head of a subsidiary of a prominent business consortium. The New Yorker notes that it is “a position that require[s] government backing.” Ahmed was considered close to the Taliban, and according to some media accounts, ordered money to hijacker Mohamed Atta. He still apparently has not given any media interviews or been interviewed by US intelligence since his firing. [New Yorker, 7/28/2003]

As they say, oil's well that ends well.

I think it would be interesting if for once, the media did their fucking jobs and made a small effort to inform the American people about the decisions and policies being made in their names with their money. I think Americans would be interested to know the backstory behind Musharraf's not-terribly-outrageous claim, that it was conveyed from a recently-disgraced lackey who has longstanding ties to South Asian intel agencies, through a Pakistani intel director who breakfasted with two of our intel bigwigs at the very moment the World Trade Center towers came crashing down, and who was quietly fired just three weeks later, only to resurface two years later in a euphemistically- titled government sinecure. I think if the American people were informed of those facts as often as they hear about celebrities diddling each other and (gasp!) having children, fergodsake, they might be able to process just how much their own government, and by association the supposedly free press, is withholding from them.

Then again, maybe that's what the media's job really is to begin with, at this point, to conceal, rather than reveal. That explains a lot.

Broder Patrol

It's as if David Broder is on a mission these days to make sure everyone understands that he's a blithering idiot. Mission accomplished.

The revolt of several Republican senators against President Bush's insistence on a free hand in treating terrorist detainees signaled the emergence of an independent force in elections and government.


The senators involved -- John McCain, Lindsey Graham and John Warner -- were also instrumental in forming the "Gang of 14," the bipartisan bloc that seized control of the Senate last year and wrote the compromise that prevented a drastic change in the filibuster rule that otherwise would have triggered a bitter partisan divide.

These are not ordinary men. McCain, from Arizona, is probably the leading candidate for the 2008 presidential nomination. Graham, from South Carolina, is the star among the younger Republican senators. Warner, from Virginia, embodies the essence of traditional Reagan conservatism: patriotism, support for the military, civility.

They were joined in their opposition to Bush's call for extraordinary interrogation techniques by Colin Powell, the former secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who is still, despite the controversies over his role in Iraq policy, one of the most admired Americans.

Yep, and they just rolled over after a week of shameless kabuki, to not only allow Bush to interpret Article 3 pretty much however he pleases (you know, when he's not edimufyin' hisself readin' L'Etranger), but to provide him retroactive cover for what's already happened. Because, though it's rarely mentioned, there are dozens of people who have been literally disappeared, to be battered and broken in some dungeon, left to die, off the books, anonymously, without recourse or due process, perhaps completely innocent, which we know has already happened many times.

But that's not the most obnoxious part of Broder's stale chunder. It's his reflexive journamalistic instink that tells him that if he angers both "sides", that he's doing his job. So he lobs this scud o' stupid:

It is a standard this administration has flagrantly rejected. Bush was elected twice, over Democrats Al Gore and John Kerry, whose know-it-all arrogance rankled Midwesterners such as myself. The country thought Bush was a pleasant, down-to-earth guy who would not rock the boat. Instead, swayed by some inner impulse or the influence of Dick Cheney, he has proved to be lawless and reckless. He started a war he cannot finish, drove the government into debt and repeatedly defied the Constitution.

Now, however, you can see the independence party forming -- on both sides of the aisle. They are mobilizing to resist not only Bush but also the extremist elements in American society -- the vituperative, foul-mouthed bloggers on the left and the doctrinaire religious extremists on the right who would convert their faith into a whipping post for their opponents.

For one, Broder's equivalence between the "foul-mouthed" bloggerses and the religious fanatics is cheap and false. There are plenty of vituperative, foul-mouthed bloggers on the right; that they haven't yet mau-maued a Linc Chafee or a Chuck Hagel is irrelevant. They're there in numbers, and like the lefties, right or wrong, they're doing something they believe in. But make no mistake, they are every bit as intemperate and extremist in their commentary as anyone on the left side of the blogosphere.

So by Broder's weak calculus, they pretty much cancel each other out, and only a complete fool -- or Broder -- would stipulate that there is anything remotely close to a countervailing force on the left to the political juggernaut of fanatic religious PACs on the right. It's not even close; it's not even worth debating.

Now, I don't know who it was that decided that a bunch of tornado-dodging, football-and-corn-worshipping flatlanders were supposed to be the ultimate repository of American Wisdom, but ferchrissakes, at least have the balls to admit when your gut fucked you over. At least have the honesty to fess up and acknowledge that the traits you want in a drinking buddy aren't necessarily the same traits you want in the most powerful job on the entire planet, and as such, maybe you should ask your interviewee tougher questions than "Would I like to have a beer with you?".

So stick it up your ass sideways, O Dean of all that is civil and even-handed. This is what your moderation and fake objectivity got you -- a petulant moron running the show, dragging this country into the moral pit of torture and murder, of preventive war based on false premises, of future war being agitated for even as we speak. This is what happens when you beltway weasels jerk each others' chains and decide that it would just be bad form to point out the obvious, ugly truth of the matter.

Watching the HBO documentary on Barry Goldwater the other day, I was struck by how, despite Goldwater's reactionary crankism in foreign policy matters, he was a true conservative on pretty much everything else. Even much of his more notorious blustering was of the spirit of "American exceptionalism", which is expected of every politician, as is demonstrated by Nancy Pelosi and Charlie Rangel falling all over themselves to offer criticisms of Hugo Chàvez' UN buffoonery. Anyway, the point is that Goldwater, a true conservative, would have to run as an interventionist Democrat at this point, because the Republican Party has been taken over by Christian Coalition nutjobs and faux-populist windbags of the Pat Buchanan/Newt Gingrich stripe. (And it says everything about the state of the corporate media that, mere minutes after Chàvez tirade, MSNBC cupcake Norah O'Donnell turned to none other than Pat Buchanan for what is supposed to be sensible commentary. Mobutu Sese Seko probably could have gotten a cushy gig as a "commentator" or "consultant" in this environment.)

Goldwater, whatever his faults, had enough sense to see the Falwell types for what they were -- strutting little fascists for Christ, who have debased the meaning of "conservative" (and "Christian", for that matter) quite thoroughly. The current Republican Party is not "conservative", it is nakedly authoritarian. By definition, this means that, despite Broder's puling excesses, they do not have even a modest amount of "decent respect" for what the people want. Diebold and James Dobson will tell them what they want, and fake mavericks like McCain and Huckleberry Graham will do whatever their master tells them to. So spare us all the "civility and decency" chat, Dave. These neocon/theocon culture warrior assholes instigated all this with a full fourteen years now of patently indecent, vituperative conduct.

And now that Iraq is said to be under even more torture than under Saddam, and in the early stages of civil war, even the Bushies aren't bothering with the "liberation" tropes. Now it's just "it takes time". Oh, really? Because we were insultingly told, as if we all stupid, traitorous ninnies, that this would be a cakewalk that would pay for itself. My, the days of civility and decent respect. Those nasssty bloggerses sure fucked all that up.

This is an administration that has gone out of its way repeatedly to thwart scrutiny and avoid accountability. They literally feel that they do not owe their putative bosses, the citizens of the United States of America, an explanation about anything. Ever. They have lied, obfuscated, and dissembled about pretty much everything. They have treated their opponents and even their allies with sneering contempt, and have been anything but serious and civil and decent.

So when punk-ass bitches like Dave Broder hop their high horses to scold some bloggers and blindly defend the indefensible, there's nothing I as a lowly, uncivil blogger can say that the dark master himself can't say better. Hit it, Dick!

The question of where the President gets the notions known to the nation as "I'm the decider" and within the White House as "the unitary executive theory" leads pretty fast to the blackout zone that is the Vice President and his office. It was the Vice President who took the early offensive on the contention that whatever the decider decides to do is by definition legal. "We believe, Jim, that we have all the legal authority we need," the Vice President told Jim Lehrer on PBS after it was reported that the National Security Agency was conducting warrantless wiretapping in violation of existing statutes. It was the Vice President who pioneered the tactic of not only declaring such apparently illegal activities legal but recasting them as points of pride, commands to enter attack mode, unflinching defenses of the American people by a president whose role as commander in chief authorizes him to go any extra undisclosed mile he chooses to go on their behalf.

If that's not contempt for the Constitution and settled law, and the people who live under those things, I don't know what is. I think that is far more indecent and uncivil than a couple of strings of expletives from anonymous ranters on the internets, but I guess I just don't have the innate godlike midwestern wisdom to prioritize properly.

Cheney did not take the lesson he might have taken from being in the White House at the time Saigon fell, which was that an administration can be overtaken by events that defeat the ameliorative power of adroit detail management. He took a more narrow lesson, the one that had to do with the inability of a White House to pursue victory if Congress "tied its hands." "It's interesting that [Cheney] became a member of Congress," former congressman Tom Downey said to Todd Purdum, "because I think he always thought we were a massive inconvenience to governing." Bruce Fein, who served in the Meese Justice Department during the Reagan administration, told Jane Mayer of The New Yorker that Cheney's absence of enthusiasm for checks and balances long predated any argument that this was a "wartime presidency" and so had special powers.

Exactly. None of this is coincidental, or even circumstantial, as it's been portrayed. The revivification of the "unitary executive" principle is opportunistic, enabled by the PTSD this nation experienced in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, where a shell-shocked populace rallied around people it assumed it could trust.

Well, it's been made abundantly clear that they can't be trusted to be competent in their jobs or accountable to us. Most people are seeing that, but the leverage belongs to the minority in the appropriate opinion-mongering jobs. People like David Broder, whose job as point man is to belabor the small stuff and studiously ignore the obvious. He fancies himself a serious commentator, but he's really just a rented scrivener to the lowlifes who fester in power, dragging this country through a downward spiral of needless embarrassment and unnecessary conflict.

The thing about being the big dog, whether we like it or acknowledge it or not, is that all eyes are on us. I don't think the other 95% of the people inhabiting this planet see what Dean Broder sees. I don't think anyone outside of the professional parasite class sees what he sees.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Untied States

Per usual, Billmon has an excellent post which neatly encapsulates the current shape of things. There's one part in particular that touches on a subject which I have been mulling over now and then for some time:

If neocolonialism's day is done, the nation state itself -- that other great 19th century European political export -- also appears to be living on borrowed time in many parts of the periphery. Unfortunately for the Cheneyites and the U.S. Army, this zone now includes both Iraq and Afghanistan. If they're not very careful, it could easily swallow the rest of the most important oil-bearing region on the planet.

The nation-state construct has already begun the process of practical devolution, as an ancillary effect of globalization. This doesn't necessarily condemn the concept of globalization (it has its "good" and "bad" features, which of course largely depends on whether or not you're reaping the benefits of comparative advantage), it's just a point of fact that it has enabled multinational corporations to transcend boundaries, creating something of a class of transnational (or perhaps more correctly, stateless in a practical sense) merchant princes.

The requisite nationalist totems and hagiographies are retained to keep the peons in line, but as far as the regulation of capital flow and economic policy is concerned, it's a different story. Vertical integration and explicit corporate underwriting of virtually the entire political process, from funding political campaigns to writing law, has effectively placed even nominal control of policy at some distance from the citizens -- who, after all, are supposed to be the repository of power in a democracy, no?

And since well before the Treaty of Westphalia, there have always been restive breakaway provinces. The advent of technology and communications has necessitated a new term for them, microstates. (Microstates used to refer to miniscule toy countries such as Liechtenstein and Andorra, but is more and more used to describe rebellious enclaves like Transdniester and South Ossetia.)

This trend has been accelerated over the past decade by two disconnected, yet associated, events/paradigms -- the 9/11 attacks and subsequent responses, and the collapse of the Soviet Union and subsequent Russian entrenchment in Chechnya. What the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks inadvertently demonstrated, to a limited degree, was that a relatively small cadre of driven individuals could affect much larger forces than themselves with sheer leverage. Since they are not politically but rather ideologically motivated, the specific al Qaeda movement has to seek a host state in which to hide, survive, and recruit. They are not equipped to establish the basics of even a subsistence economic and social structure; all they can do is find a host organism to attempt to mutate by force and connivance, as they did in Afghanistan.

Where Chechnya comes in is that many of these potential microstates are on the frontiers of Russia, or are parts of former Soviet republics. (Transdniester, for example, is a province of Moldova, Europe's poorest country.) Emboldened in part by the stubborn Chechen resistance, inflamed by the Russians' brutal campaigns there, and bound by ethnicity or religion, substates like Abkhazia and South Ossetia have begun to organize more political modes of resistance.

All "power to the people" homilies aside, this could very easily turn into a disastrous paradigm for the established nation-states to deal with. It would not be terribly unlike herding cats, blindfolded (the herder, not the cats). As the smart guys at Coming Anarchy point out, without the political and economic know-how to complement the quasi-statist imperative, you are really looking at a small entity without the proper resources and weight to thrive. That is a recipe for a failed state, and indeed, Russia may have its own reasons for being rather sanguine about such a trend in its sphere.

But what Russia may perceive as pliant proxy neighbors is not so much a return to the buffer-state paradigm of the Warsaw Pact, but rather a ring of fractious, failed enclaves, ripe for exploitation by nefarious parasitic cell-oriented terrorist groups, bankrolled by organized crime staples such as drug smuggling and human trafficking. The Russians were already hopelessly inept at securing their missiles and nuclear materials from their Central Asian states upon disingtegration of the Soviet Union, so there's not much reason to trust that they will be proactive in evaluating the "microstate" problem from anything other than their historical defensive posture.

Where this ties in with the specific region Billmon refers to, our adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, is that the future in both countries militates strongly in that direction. Iraq is headed toward full-on civil war, and ultimately partition, with Iran influencing the Shi'a south (which at least prevents a full slide into microstate chaos in the short term), and a resurgent al Qaeda vying with indigenous Sunni tribes for control of the western desert provinces, from which they will have a much more centralized location from which to organize and plot. Perhaps Turkish and/or Iranian Kurds become emboldened by the Iraqi Kurdish state and attempt to breakaway with states of their own.

Afghanistan and even Pakistan fare little better in this regard. Afghanistan is splintering away, back into regional and ethnic warlordism. Suicide bombings are occurring with alarming regularity; this may be a precursor of yet another civil war to come. Several provinces of Pakistan (the notorious "tribal regions") are chronically rebellious, and Musharraf has a scarily tenuous hold on power there to begin with. Considering that Pakistan is a nuclear power with a virulently anti-American populace and an army and intel service at least tacitly sympathetic to the Taliban, it is an infinitely more delicate and dangerous situation that Iraq or Iran.

A talking point that has gained renewed currency in the run-up to the midterm elections is the disposition of Osama bin Laden. Bush has already botched his attempt to finesse the question, babbling about Pakistani sovereignty last week and trying to shift gears into tough-guy mode with Leslie Blitzer today, much to Musharraf's chagrin.

Let's not put too fine a point on it -- capturing bin Laden would most likely require at least a small-scale tactical incursion into a heavily defensed tribal region. It would probably require bombing sorties to soften up resistance, and would certainly incur casualties on the ground. Even if successful, it probably wouldn't matter a lick to Pakistani citizens whether we executed such a mission or if Musharraf did it himself. It is not unrealistic at all to speculate that the civilian response in a country of 140 million could be catastrophic. The main point is that while capturing bin Laden is certainly important, it may also cause more problems than it would solve, and there's no indication that this administration has thought those ramifications through.

Risk management has clearly never been this administration's strong suit, and Bush's tone-deaf provocations do nothing to help the situation. They were on the right track in late 2001/early 2002, when the idea was to "drain the swamp" of Afghanistan and Pakistan's frontier provinces, where these gangsters (and that's really all they are; there's no point in upgrading them with more exotic appellations) hide and thrive. But now the swamp is refilling, and the mosquitoes are back, and we're tied down chasing shadows through Baghdad while the rest of Iraq spins out of control.

So our actions and reactions have done much to fuel the necessary conditions for accelerating the microstate scenario which, if we're not careful (and maybe even if we are) could turn into multiple Talibans and al Qaedas festering in multiple failed states. And of course, much of this "end of the nation-state/rise of the microstate" theory is speculative in nature, but certainly not unreasonably so, and we would do well to start paying attention to the situation sooner rather than later. Because of the momentum involved, these things take time to happen, but they also take time to undo.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Devil You Know

If nothing else, Hugo Chàvez at least has a gift for the theatrical, you have to give him that.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chàvez took his verbal battle with the United States to the floor of the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday, calling President Bush "the devil."

The impassioned speech by the leftist leader came a day after Bush and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sparred over Tehran's disputed nuclear program but managed to avoid a personal encounter.

"The devil came here yesterday," Chavez said, referring to Bush's address on Tuesday and making the sign of the cross. "He came here talking as if he were the owner of the world."

Standing at the podium, Chavez quipped that a day after Bush's appearance: "In this very spot it smells like sulfur still."

Chavez held up a book by American leftist writer Noam Chomsky "Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance" and recommended it to everyone in the General Assembly.

The leftist leader, who has joined Iran and Cuba in opposing U.S. influence, accused Washington of "domination, exploitation and pillage of peoples of the world."

Note the continued use of the word "leftist", with its usual connotations; indeed, Chàvez is referred to as "the leftist leader" (as opposed to, say, the elected president of Venezuela) twice in just a few sentences. This is deliberate and effective, despite its subtlety and obvious laziness.

Describing the U.N. as an "important world stage" on which leaders represent their citizens, State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey, said such personal attacks were "disappointing."

"And I'll leave it to the Venezuelan people to determine whether President Chavez represented them and presented them in a way they would have liked to have seen," he said.

Well, of course he has. They put him there for the explicit purpose of sticking it to The Man. And let's face it -- there's a tangible level of symbiosis here. For a guy like Chàvez, a self-styled populist, there's simply no downside to tweaking the nose of an unpopular American leader who once tried unsuccessfully to depose him. And for Bush, whose raisin det-ree (as they say in Texan) is chasing boogeymen hither and yon, they just don't come much boogier than the Castro-worshipping enabler of the unwashed masses, a guy who refuses to play corporate ball. Hence Ahmadinejad is the current incarnation of Hitler; hence Chàvez is a loose cannon residing comfortably at the top of John Bolton's shit list, along with human decency and Grecian Formula for mustaches.

The bottom line is that Good, for whomever pronounces themselves as such, needs to identify Evil in order to define itself and persist in its aims.

What makes this even more complicated is that now so-called democracy Egypt wants in on the nuke game as well. For energy purposes, of course. Future president-for-life Gamal Mubarak spake thusly:

“The whole world — I don’t want to say all, but many developing countries — have proposed and started to execute the issue of alternative energy,” he said. “It is time for Egypt to put forth, and the party will put forth, this proposal for discussion about its future energy policies, the issue of alternative energy, including nuclear energy, as one of the alternatives.”

He also said in a clear reference to the White House: “We do not accept visions from abroad that try to dissolve the Arab identity and the joint Arab efforts within the framework of the so-called Greater Middle East Initiative.”

Uh-oh, that wasn't in the script. And as if that weren't enough (and by God, don't you think it oughta be?), the Mubaraks have also been taking steps to roll back the Freedomocracy™ which Dear Leader proclaimed is the birthright of all men.

When President Bush called for promoting democracy in the Middle East, he looked to Egypt as a leader in that effort. But with all the chaos in the region, and with the United States in need of strong allies, the administration has backed off on pressing for democracy here.

Instead, it has witnessed the country reversing earlier gains, arresting political opposition figures, beating street demonstrators, locking up bloggers, blocking creation of new political parties and postponing local elections by two years.

Of course, the current American regime may want to take pointers from the Egyptian thugocracy before taking pains to downplay its relationship with them. But basically we're shelling out $2bn/year for the Mubaraks to pass along the most populous country in the region as a family heirloom, and announce that they want to join the nuke club as well. The nuclear wannabes have seen quite clearly that NPT non-signatories such as Israel and India get treated very well in negotiations, while signatories who are making at least token efforts (such as Iran) to comply get pushed around and threatened with war. If we wanted to further demotivate compliance, it'd be hard to come up with a more effective way.

Which brings us back to that wild and crazy guy, Hugo Chàvez. Considering that Brazil and Argentina already have their own nascent nuke programs underway, it's only a matter of time before Chàvez follows suit and either buys his way into the Mercosur Nuke Club, or uses his comical rhetoric to convince them to band together to stick it to Whitey one more time. This is just the start, and considering Chàvez' power to destabilize oil markets to at least some extent if need be, we may simply have neither the diplomatic skills nor the cojones to stare him down.

Does It Come In Two-Ply?

Proving that the inventory of suckers never runs low, jurist Richard Posner has a thoughtful little tome out to sort of wean us from the idea that established law has precedence and utility in this stupefied country:

In addition to being a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Judge Posner is a prolific author, a lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School and an intellectual leader of a school of jurisprudence that has pioneered the use of economics to analyze legal issues. He is known for his willfully provocative opinions — he once co-wrote an article recommending the private sales of babies — and the positions he takes in this volume will not only fuel his own controversial reputation but also underscore just how negotiable constitutional rights have become in the eyes of administration proponents, who argue that the dangers of terrorism trump civil liberties.

To be sure, Posner is and always has been more of a provocateur than an outright thinker, his noisome emanations seemingly calibrated to amuse, disgust, and embolden simultaneously. That he manages to do so without the usual lead-smelting heat of a Nancy Grace does not necessarily impute more light to his arguments. But for those who wish to utilize and wallow in the bumptious, idiotic bravado of a Rush Limbaugh, without all the unnecessary oxycontin-viagra-Dominican-sex-tourism jokes that accompany it, Posner's their guy, which proves that even supposedly educated people will buy nonsense if you dress it up prettily enough.

The very language Judge Posner uses in this shrilly titled volume conveys his impatience with constitutional rights, while signaling his determination to deliver a polemical battle cry, not a work of carefully reasoned scholarship. He writes about lawyers’ “rights fetishes,” complains about judges’ “thralldom to precedent” and declares that the absence of an Official Secrets Act — which could be used to punish journalists for publishing leaked classified material — reflects “a national culture of nosiness, and of distrust of government bordering on paranoia.”

Yes yes, silly "rights", and the use of "precedent". Words mean what people like Posner need them to mean when they are needed, neither more nor less. That always works out well.

And it's telling that Posner shows his disdain for "a national culture of nosiness", when he himself is explicitly recommending that such a culture be institutionalized. It's one of the more perplexing aspects of the snooping doctrinaires, who are almost always simultaneously proponents of all manner of free-market magicks. They have immense contempt for the bureaucratic pinheads who get in the way of the laissez-faire capitalist and the pelf to which he is entitled, but hitch the selfsame bureaucracy to spy on its own citizens, et voilà! It's a carefully layered Cake O' Freedom 'n' Security™!

That's why it's so important for the likes of Posner to separate empirical fact from accepted precedent, because what it boils down to is that it's just morally wrong for The Man™ to keep the little guy down -- except when Posner and Abu Gonzales and the rest of the Chimpco gang think it's okey-doke. Then it becomes an absolute imperative.

He argues that “it would be odd if the framers of the Constitution had cared more about every provision of the Bill of Rights than about national and personal survival.” And he concludes that “the importance of demonstrating resolve at the outset of a grim struggle explains and to a degree justifies the excesses of repression that so often accompany our entry into war, including the war against Al Qaeda.”

This is a painfully common elision by proponents of the snoop state, that al Qaeda is nothing less than an existential threat to this country, and as such, not only must we be willing and able to subvert our most basic values, but we must do it in the cause of "demonstrating resolve", in the absence of practical utility. It makes sense, coming from an administration where the mere kabuki of tough-guy feints count for more than actually doing something. We could have "demonstrated resolve" by truly committing to the rebuilding of Afghanistan before siphoning off money to blow the lid off of Saddam Hussein's Piping-Hot Kettle O' Death. We could have demonstrated resolve by listening and understanding what the hell we were getting into, instead of lashing out like a drunken sophomore whose girlfriend just dumped him.

Sorry Pos, but I'm not about to surrender my rights to a claque of incompetent plate-spinners, just to "demonstrate resolve" against a bunch of incontinent cave-dwellers half a world away. We faced a truly existential threat for forty-plus years in the Soviet Union. Perhaps you heard of them. Every instance during the Cold War where excess was demanded and granted (proxy wars around the world, internal spying on civil rights leaders) death and destruction were sowed and reaped, and citizens' rights were eroded. Meanwhile there are already plenty of official mechanisms in place to facilitate truly useful sigint observation.

What neither Posner nor the other proponents care to admit is that what the Bushies really are after is control of oversight. They want to absolve themselves from accountability when they screw up, as such excesses inevitably do, somewhere down the line.

Like here.

A government commission on Monday exonerated a Canadian computer engineer of any ties to terrorism and issued a scathing report that faulted both Canada and the United States for his deportation four years ago to Syria, where he was imprisoned and tortured.

The report on the engineer, Maher Arar, said American officials had apparently acted on inaccurate information from Canadian investigators and then misled Canadian authorities before sending Arar to Syria.

See, Syria is next on our hit list, except when they cooperate with our extraordinary rendition efforts. (I can hear the naysayers now, "But Clenis did extraordinary renditions tooooo!!1!1!" Indeed he did, and he was wrong as well. That's part of the point -- that once you grant superpowers, they're not so easy to ungrant, and eventually your ideological foes get them.)

The Syrian-born Arar was seized on Sept. 26, 2002, after he landed at Kennedy airport in New York on his way home from a holiday in Tunisia. On Oct. 8, he was flown to Jordan and taken overland to Syria, where he says he was held for 10 months in a tiny cell and beaten repeatedly with a metal cable. He was freed in October 2003, after Syrian officials concluded that he had no connection to terrorism and returned him to Canada.

Arar's case attracted considerable attention in Canada, where critics viewed it as an example of the excesses of the campaign against terror that followed the Sept. 11 attacks. The practice of rendition, in which suspected terrorists are detained and transported to another country for interrogation, has caused an outcry from human rights organizations. They have called it "outsourcing torture," because suspects often have been taken to countries where brutal treatment of prisoners is routine.

Posner, like Bush, is at least putting his balls out there and staking his claim. The issue is whether we ask ourselves the right questions, like where it stops, and who oversees it, and what safe measures are taken to preserve accountability. And most of all, after all the incompetence, after all the demonstrable carelessness and corruption and mal-fee-ance, why the hell should we hand our rights over to a bunch of thugs who can't even get out of their own way?

Jew's Clues

It is hardly newsworthy that macaca-baiter George Felix Allen has just discovered that his maternal grandfather (from whom Felix got his despised middle name, no less) was a Jewish resistance fighter in Nazi-occupied North Africa. Though on the scale of things difficult to believe, it ranks right up there with the notion that he coincidentally made up a word to refer to a dark-skinned harasser that just happens to be identical to a francophone racial slur.

Things coincidental and not, the timing of Felix' iteration of his roots is odd, to say the least.

In a statement released by his campaign yesterday, Allen said he was proud to have recently discovered that his grandfather, an anti-Nazi resistance fighter in North Africa, was part of a well-known Jewish family.

"I was raised as a Christian and my mother was raised as a Christian," Allen, 54, said. "And I embrace and take great pride in every aspect of my diverse heritage, including my Lumbroso family line's Jewish heritage, which I learned about from a recent magazine article and my mother confirmed."

Allen's religious background has not been a campaign issue. But when the reporter asked Allen about it Monday, the exchange triggered a flood of critical commentary on Internet blogs yesterday, demanding that Allen clarify his ancestry.

The Jewish weekly newspaper the Forward recently explored Allen's possible Jewish roots and his connection to the Lumbrosos, a prominent Jewish family that settled in Italy in the 15th century. Allen's campaign spokesman did not return calls seeking confirmation, according to that article.

I don't think it's necessary or relevant that Allen "clarify his ancestry", just for the record. I really couldn't possibly care less. But after watching him flail for answers to the "macaca" question on Press the Meat last Sunday, this sure seems like a tenuous straw to grasp for, considering Felix' record and who he's chosen to stand with up to now.

What this really is is a cheap tactic to portray Jim Webb as an anti-Semite, because of Webb's characterizations of primary opponent Harris Miller (who is Jewish) as a money-grubbing lobbyist. But Miller's name is not recognizably Jewish, and "money-grubbing lobbyist" is about as redundant a phrase as one could imagine. It's right up there with "that asshole Cheney".

Felix also claims that he "abhors bigotry", and seems to be reaching into the well for some sort of exculpatory evidence for that. Good luck with that. People who truly abhor bigotry recognize the confederate flag for exactly what it is, understand the significance of nooses and their connotation to lynching, and know lowlife racist groups like the CCC for who and what they are. Felix' habits and actions speak for themselves; his cheap claims at youthful ignorance and rebelliousness notwithstanding. I was a rebellious youth as well, but it never would have occurred to me to get a confederate flag to express myself as such, unless I needed something to mop up cow shit with and then light on fire.

I think this little gambit will backfire on Felix, as well it should. Let's face facts and see things for what they are -- Felix has cultivated this redneck yahoo persona because, sadly, there is still a sizable contingent of southern mossbacks that reacts positively to the symbols and code phrases of their Lost Cause. There are not two sides to this issue for them any more than there are for sane people, paradoxically enough. Webb's genuine Virginia pedigree may actually sway these people from an increasing perception that Felix is exactly the sort of person these yahoos really hate -- a transplanted Los Angeles Jew, a fake redneck who wears cowboy boots where there are no cowboys, a person who persists in hiding his identity until he thinks it's tactically convenient to bring it up. Whether out of shame, fear, or just plain indifference, it matters not.

There's really nowhere left for Felix to run, though it would be more helpful and constructive if perhaps it were pointed out that what Felix really is is a dumber, less politically and intellectually astute Dubya. Yes, sadly, it is eminently possible, and right now it is in the incarnation of George Felix Allen, a destructive dim-bulb who grew up physically terrorizing his younger siblings and inciting post-Watts-riot racial enmity at his high school just a few miles away.

Allen's Jewishness, and his alternate distancing and defensiveness about it are tangential to the argument, though illustrative of the man's mentality in general. He's not utilizing his "newfound" lineage as some sort of mode to greater understanding or a richer experience in knowing life and the world; it's just something he can use to lamely try to paint his opponent as a noxious Jew-baiter, because no one's buying the "I just made up the word macaca" bullshit.

Then again, Virginia once nearly sent Oliver North to the Senate, so I suppose anything's possible. Short of leaked photos showing Felix balls deep in a macaca's ass, he's still got a chance, though as this latest episode shows, his flailing has taken on the distinct whiff of desperation.

Road Rage Culture

The other day, in my 9/11 post, I made the rather mundane contention that there is at least a significant level of correlation, if not outright causation, between the continued dumbing down of American culture -- indeed, a nearly pornographic, snuff-film dumbassification -- and how intellectually equipped the majority of us might be to handle future challenges.

This Jon Carroll column prompts me to expand on that a bit more.

The idea I'm promoting today is "conservation of outrage." In these troubled times, outrage is a limited commodity. There are only so many hours in the day. Outrage is also physically fatiguing, and people who overindulge are likely to stop altogether for weeks or months. And yet outrage is necessary, because it gives us the strength to fight back.

So we need triage. We need risk assessment. We need to remember that just because the herd is running some place doesn't mean that we have to run that way too. Even if it's our herd.

There was, for instance, the recent "9/11" movie that appeared on ABC. It was apparently riddled with errors, mostly having to do with the Clinton administration (lazy and bad) and the current administration (tough and committed). I say "apparently" because I didn't watch it. Did you watch it? Some people did, but not nearly as many people as watched professional football.

It is of course scandalous that docudramas should contain errors, because ... wait, no it isn't. They're fictionalized accounts of real events. Therefore they contain fiction. Plus, it's five years later: Hasn't everyone already made up their minds about what happened on 9/11, and who did it, and why? Do you suppose a lot of people care about the precise role of, forgodsakes, Sandy Berger?

I am all for the notion of choosing our battles in a more focused manner. I do not think that pointing out the inherent political bent and lies by omission and commission was an exercise in futility. The whole selling point of the thing was its supposed veracity, that it had been based on the official 9/11 Commission Report and had been vetted as historically accurate by none other than Tom Kean, who apparently sold his soul for thirty pieces of silver and some choice Mouse swag.

So when you have a major media conglomerate sinking $40 mil of its own money -- and recall that production on this turd started just months after Disney refused to distribute Fahrenheit 9/11 precisely because of the political content of that movie -- into what can most charitably be characterized as reckless historical revisionism of a very recent politically-charged event that has literally changed the direction of human history, it is incredibly irresponsible to even allow the fig leaf of "docudrama" to enter the picture.

Perhaps more people watched football because even if they ignored the pitched battles on both sides of the fence, they at least intuited that football had more reality to it than Path to 9/11. Hell, professional wrestling is more real.

So not only do I think that this crappy crockumentary was a worthwhile windmill to tilt at, I suggest that if there weren't what seems to be an unwritten contract between the networks not to embarrass each other, we'd know more. We'd understand that maybe Disney has conflicts of interest, that their enormous amusement park in Florida (perhaps you've heard of it) can be directly affected by whether Jeb Bush (perhaps you've heard of him; his older brother is the figurehead of the American federal government) views them favorably or not. They have always cultivated relationships with people who can legislatively make or cost them money. It's never been a secret; they're just usually a tad more circumspect about it. The project had more upside in the tide of '04 triumphalism.

The only difference between this government and the Sun King's palace at Versailles is the costumery and the powdered wigs -- excepting, as always, Dennis Hastert. That Disney chose to dance with those that brung them is not terribly earth-shattering, nor, sadly, is the fact that the "responsible" media saw fit to chase their own tail and play up the sensationalism of the story. Again, this may just be professional courtesy; with one network owned by The Cult Of The Mouse, and the other two by defense contractors, they all have vested interests in looking past each others' cemeteries.

Still, Carroll's essential point is correct -- we have become so steeped, so conditioned and predisposed to dyspeptic ignorance, that the whole dynamic has been rendered counterproductive. Focused anger can be quite revelatory and productive; a bunch of scattershot boobs diluting a more practical message with their "Free Mumia" and "No to Veal" signs, not so much.

Carroll touches on another example that alerts me to the meta-implications, and thus the main point here.

So the headline is "Television Producers Exploit Hot-Button Topics." That may be outrageous, but it's not unusual. I mean, Nancy Grace killed a woman last week -- that might be worth a letter of concern. (OK, she didn't kill anyone; she may have just driven someone to suicide. But she got a decent ratings spike.)

Grace's victim, if you haven't heard, was a 21-year-old single mother named Melinda Duckett. Duckett was accused -- and, let's be honest, appears thus far to be guilty as hell -- of the disappearance and likely murder of her two-year-old son, Trenton. Duckett apparently had a bad breakup with her boyfriend, compounded by emotional problems. This may have precipitated an emotional collapse where she concocted a scheme to make it appear that her son was kidnapped, apparently at random, while she was watching a movie with friends.

The alibi didn't really hold water, and Duckett naïvely agreed to allow herself to be grilled by Grace, who took her usual glee at skewering the weak defenses of a confused young woman. The kicker is that mere hours after Grace's interrogation, Duckett went home, sat in a closet, took her grandfather's shotgun, and blew her brains out.

Not only has Grace refused to admit any wrongdoing in the matter, she doesn't even seem to care. Apparently any complicity she may have in driving Melinda Duckett to kill herself is mitigated by the preponderance of evidence that indicates that Duckett probably killed her son and faked his kidnapping.

The first meta-issue here is obvious: Grace, supposedly a lawyer, should know better, that especially in a highly-charged case like this, it is tremendously counterproductive (again, that word) to be harassing the prime suspect on her stupid teevee show. There is something called due process, letting the law enforcement professionals do their job, take care of the investigative process, nail (as we say in the semi-informed lingo) the perp.

There was nothing to be had by baiting Duckett on national TV, even a crappy basic cable net like Headline News. No matter what Grace may insist otherwise, she adds nothing to the legal discussion of the case at hand. She has merely clogged the wheels of justice with blood now, however inadvertently. The only way Grace will ever face any consequences for any of this is if Trenton Duckett suddenly turns up alive and well.

Which brings me to the other meta-issue in this case, which taps into the still larger meta-issue of the commodification of outrage, and how we have gladly played into it. Why, exactly, does Nancy Grace have a show on the (at this point) euphemistically named "Headline News Network"? Why does radio loon Glenn Beck also have a show on that network? One might as well ask why supposed fellow "news" network MSNBC lards its late-night programming with profiles of maximum-security prisons, without ever mentioning that some of them are actually staffed by private corporations, thus diluting the principles of accountability, even to incarcerated felons. (Not to mention that Wackenhut also provides security services for nuclear power plants, so chances are that there's at least some crossover between them and General Electric at some point.)

So not only has the line of what is "news" been hopelessly blurred, perhaps irretrievably, but we have allowed the providers of News Product™ to continue to define it as they see fit, with nary a peep. Talk-show screamers like Grace and Beck simply have no place on a network that truly cares about responsible, legitimate news programming. They're simply the electronic equivalents of circus geeks, and now that image of a decapitated chicken hanging from the ravenous bloody maw of Nancy Grace is perhaps a bit more literal if one superimposes Melinda Duckett's head -- or what was left of it -- in Grace's piehole.

I'm not sure if it's an indication of what we've become that enough people continue to watch this shit to keep it on the air, or if technology and niche marketing are simply enabling humans to indulge their basest impulses. But it's disturbing enough that a teeth-gnashing anger pimp like Grace is on the air in the first place; that the Melinda Duckett "controversy" actually caused a spike in the ratings is abysmal.

I honestly cannot think of a single -- not one -- actual news network. Even charitably defining such a media entity as one that dedicates at least twelve hours per day to actual serious original news programming, there simply isn't one. The closest you get are the regurgitated "headline" shows, which just package the day's events in a half-hour box, and recycle them all day, with occasional updates of actual breaking news.

Even these half-hour segments are put together more or less like a traditional network newscast -- some "hard-hitting" headline story, surface gloss about a serious, complex world event; a health care or finance story meant to scare the shit out of you, so that you can lay awake nights praying to whatever sky fairy you prefer that the masters of the universe don't decide to outsource your job to Bangalore; feel-good kitten-in-a-tree story to wrap things up with at least a frisson of human decency.

At the end of the day though, precious little of that is useful news. Everything else is peppered with "personality" shows not-too-cleverly disguised as actual news shows. When Anderson Cooper and Paula Zahn are the stars, above the facts they read from a teleprompter, there is a systemic problem.

And the most recent egregious example of the circus mentality behind the news is the accession of Katie Couric to the chair once held by Walter Cronkite. That, in and of itself, would bear scrutiny in a serious nation -- Cronkite was and is a serious, learned man, who brooked no nonsense, and carefully considered his opinion before offering it. Despite his status in the news industry of that era as a "star", Cronkite understood that such a paradigm was unconscionable to true journalism. This is anathema in modern American culture, where opinions are merely currency, the more outrageous, the higher the value.

As Matt Taibbi points out, in a media environment practically brimming with truly important, momentous stories that can and will affect all of our lives, the "big scoop" little Katie brought with her to occupy the great man's chair was a bunch of Vanity Fair photos of the world's most famous infant (other than the preznit).

What a joke American journalism is. Our entire Army is on its knees before a few thousand gun-toting religious fanatics in the Arabian desert, and here's our government, taking food out of the mouths of foster kids and single moms to go binge-shopping with our tax money in the Sharper Image catalog of the industrial world. And what's on TV? Fucking Suri Cruise? Are you kidding me?

It's not Suri Cruise's fault that Couric is conditioned by decades of morning-show nonsense, and it's not even TomKat's fault that they've been made to feel like they have to do stupid stunts like this to preserve their sanity from baying hounds of paparazzi. At the end of the day, it may not even be the paparazzi's fault. They do what they do because inexplicably there's a market for it. Maybe it's our fault for letting it get this far, for letting it sink so low. Maybe we're the problem, for allowing this sort of corporate conditioning to go on, for giving up books and thought for video games and bright shiny objects.

And the conditioning continues, as I said before, in the heartless nihilism and induced backstabbing that's part and parcel of "game shows" and "entertainment", and the increasingly blurred line between those things and "news". Balanced with something else, that's one thing, but it appears more and more that people are not getting back to their Proust after Fear Factor is over. They're turning to whatever drug is handy, whether it's caffeine, alcohol, illegal drugs, porn, or canned rage. It's a toxic feedback loop, and it's starting to literally affect our collective decision-making process. We can either start regaining some semblance of balance in our culture, or we can continue amusing ourselves to death.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Torture Never Stops

Knives and spikes, and guns and the likes of every tool of pain.
And a sinister midget, with a bucket and a mop, where the blood goes down the drain....
And it stinks so bad, his bones been chokin', and weepin' greenish drops.
In the night of the iron sausage, where the torture never stops. -- Frank Zappa

There will come a point in time, not too distant in the future I believe, when we will look back at Bush's righteous petulance over the peons daring to question his divinely-gifted wisdom, and perhaps mark a turning point when the idea of the American government torturing prisoners and spying on its citizens lost some of the Jack Bauer bad-boy frisson. The transcript doesn't quite give the full flavor of the seething anger and emanating from the (literally) bully pulpit, as an increasingly impotent unitary executive starts to feel all that accumulated power slipping, and he squirms under the questioning of David Gregory, of all people:

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

Mr. President, critics of your proposed bill on interrogation rules say there's another important test. These critics include John McCain, who you've mentioned several times this morning.

And that test is this: If a CIA officer, paramilitary or special operations soldier from the United States were captured in Iran or North Korea and they were roughed up and those governments said, "Well, they were interrogated in accordance with our interpretation of the Geneva Conventions," and then they were put on trial and they were convicted based on secret evidence that they were not able to see, how would you react to that as commander in chief?

BUSH: My reaction is, is that if the nations such as those you name adopted the standards within the Detainee Detention Act, the world would be better. That's my reaction.

We're trying to clarify law. We're trying to set high standards, not ambiguous standards.

And let me just repeat: We can debate this issue all we want, but the practical matter is, if our professionals don't have clear standards in the law, the program is not going to go forward.

You cannot ask a young intelligence officer to violate the law. And they're not going to. They -- let me finish please -- they will not violate the law.

You can ask this question all you want, but the bottom line is -- and the American people have got to understand this -- that this program won't go forward if there's vague standards applied like those in Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention. It's just not going to go forward.

You can't ask a young professional on the front line of protecting this country to violate law.

Now, I know they say they're not going to prosecute them. Think about that, you know. "Go ahead and violate it, we won't prosecute you." These people aren't going to do that.

Now, we can justify anything you want and bring up this example or that example. I'm just telling you the bottom line. And that's why this debate is important and it's a vital debate.

Now, perhaps, some in Congress don't think the program is important. That's fine. I don't know if they do or don't.

I think it's vital and I have the obligation to make sure that our professionals who I would ask to go conduct interrogations to find out what might be happening or who might be coming to this country -- I got to give them the tools they need, and that is clear law.

QUESTION: This is an important point, and I think it...

BUSH: The point I just made is the most important point, and that is the program is not going forward.

You can give a hypothetical about North Korea or any other country. The point is that the program is not going to go forward if our professionals do not have clarity in the law.

And the best way to provide clarity in the law is to make sure the Detainee Treatment Act is the crux of the law. That's how we define Common Article 3. And it sets a good standard for the countries that you just talked about.

Next man?

QUESTION: But wait a second. I think this is an important point.

BUSH: I know you think it's an important point.

QUESTION: But, sir, with respect, if other countries interpret the Geneva Conventions as they see fit, as they see fit, you're saying that you'd be OK with that?

BUSH: I am saying that I would hope that they would adopt the same standards we adopt; and that by clarifying Article 3 we make it stronger, we make it clearer, we make it definite.

And I will tell you again, you can ask every hypothetical you want, but the American people have got to know the facts.

And the bottom line is simple: If Congress passes a law that does not clarify the rules -- if they do not do that, the program's not going forward.

QUESTION: This will not endanger U.S. troops in your...

BUSH: Next man?

QUESTION: This will not endanger...

BUSH: David, next man please. Thank you.

Took you a long time to unravel, and it took you a long time to ask your question.

Actually, the bottom line here is that this is all just a bunch of ex post facto ass-covering for what's been going on for several years, and Bush can't handle that some of his heretofore favorite sock puppets are at least appearing to stray off the reservation.

This is actually an interesting dilemma, for a hardwired skeptic such as myself. On the one hand, it smells like a group head-fake to convince fence-sitters down the homestretch that Republicans are just as squeamish about torture as you are, but gosh, there's just no other possible options available in the universe, and we don't need no stinking FISA oversight on our wiretaps either. On the other hand, Bush has been getting pummeled for the last year straight, and even in good times, he'd always rather throw a minion under the bus than take a political hit himself. You wanna talk about character, that's very clearly his character.

So I guess I'm cautiously "optimistic" about this, that there's a slightly better chance that McCain et al are sincere in their public dissent, than that they're all in cahoots to set Junior up for some magnanimous October gesture where he takes the idea and assumes ownership of it.

And hey, kudos to the Democrats for sitting back and allowing the renegade Republicans take the lead on this issue. Way to step up on issues of principle.

Bush has made Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the reputed operations planner of the 9/11 attacks, his central argument in being able to utilize extreme coercive efforts. But as Jeff Wells points out, there's a story behind that as well [emphases in original, and there are many more links in this excerpt and throughout Jeff's post, so check it out]:

There remains the mystery of his arrest, which even today can only be called an alleged arrest, not least because he was confidently reported killed in a shootout on 9/11's first anniversary. ("Now it has emerged that Kuwaiti national Khalid Shaikh Mohammed did indeed perish in the raid," said Asia Times.)

A witness present in the house when Khalid was said to have finally been seized was adament that "the only people in the house were my brother, his wife and their kids.... I have absolutely no idea why the police came here." For The Guardian, Isobel Hilton wrote that in Pakistan, the story of his arrest "appears to be almost entirely fictional." And there's the famous photo of Khalid, fat and unshaven against a wall of peeling paint. But according to The Sunday Times a "thorough search of the house shows there is no such wall."

To allay doubts of Khalid's capture, Pakistan's ISI held a first-ever press briefing and screened a laughable eight minutes of footage purportedly taken during the raid. "Broken doors, blood-stained walls and wrists in handcuffs were all shown but curiously, no face shots...not even the well publicized 'arrest' photo of Mohammed that has been widely circulated and questioned. When one CNN reporter, Tom Minter asked why, the ISI said the tape had been edited but that the actual footage did record his face but had been edited out for the presentation." Pakistani intelligence had its own good reasons to attempt deception as, like 9/11 paymaster Omar Saeed Sheikh, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was not only an al Qaeda commander but also an ISI operative. Which is why both men wanted Daniel Pearl dead.

If Khalid actually is in custody, he has remained out-of-sight from all but his CIA minders. The Kean Commission relied heavily upon Khalid's account of 9/11 to construct their own story - he's mentioned in 272 paragraphs of the report - but no commission representative was permitted to meet him or take his testimony: there is no corroboration that the account given was actually his own. The commission supplied questions to his captors, and his captors returned transcripts of interrogations that allegedly contained Khalid's answers. Its claim of authenticity rests solely upon the goodwill of the Agency.

Remember all the intel info we kept hearing in the aftermath of 9/11, how interagency squabbles, a lack of agents and contacts in the field, and an abundance of leads yet a serious shortage of qualified analysis to sort them all led to the massive failure of our $40+bn/year intelligence apparatus? Well, it seems another part of the puzzle is that we were relying on the ISI for some of our intel as well, and they have been playing both sides the whole time. They were enabling the Taliban to gain prominence in Afghanistan, and are still probably at least aware of bin Laden's whereabouts, and it was criminally underreported in the American media that ISI General Mahmoud Ahmad, who was later found to have wired $100K to Mohammed Atta, breakfasted with Porter Goss (you know, the guy who later appointed DCI to clean house) and Bob Graham on the morning of September 11, 2001.

And as Jeff mentions, the account of Khalid's arrest was rife with suspicious inconsistencies.

I'm sure this sounds like Conspiracy Guy boilerplate, but too bad. The immense secrecy and lack of oversight this administration has deliberately and systematically engendered just fuels the fires of reasonable speculation.

The fact is, Bush is the one that keeps bringing up Khalid as of late. And I humbly suggest a very simple way to put an end as to whether this reasonable speculation is just unfair conspiracy-mongering, or if there's more to it. The next time Bush brings him up -- and he will, he's Pavlovian in his utter predictability -- just ask him, "So where's Khalid now?". It can't be any huge state secret if he's warming a cot at Gitmo, waiting for his military tribunal and charges that may never come. But who knows, he may also have been beaten with a flashlight and chained to a ceiling in some dank Afghan dungeon, left to die like a dog and used as some sort of cheap intel totem. It's not like it hasn't happened before, and it's not like these people ever voluntarily admit that they might be wrong about something.

Too-clever-by-half false equivalencies just won't fly anymore. This is not about whether the Nazis or Imperial Japan openly flouted the Geneva Conventions. One expects such behavior from the brutal regimes that brought us concentration camps and Unit 731. The fact is that it's never been about them, but about us, and all the cheap elisions won't change that. I understand the impulse, but even if one were to give in to such things, at this point, knowing what we know about the people running this country, how could we ever trust such enormous power to them without any oversight whatsoever. There's no reason for them to insist on evading FISA, yet they do. And despite their protests and vague allusions to the utility of torturing prisoners who still have never even been charged, all the academic data militates otherwise. It doesn't work, and it brings us slowly, inexorably down to the level of the people we keep insisting we're better than.

And the more Bush flails and froths at being challenged, the more clear it becomes that he should not be trusted with much of anything, but especially not life-or-death powers with no oversight and no accountability. It would be something if the self-proclaimed Party O' Personal Responsibility would grow a pair and address that question at long last. Because this is really the last best chance for a heretofore shamelessly complaisant Congress to reassert itself, and reiterate proper separation of powers. Overall, this is really just another attempt to establish a unitary executive branch, a president with practically monarchic powers, and it's long past time for the people's representatives, the legislative branch, to get off their knees and start fighting back.