Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Humpty Dumpty

How far broken is Iraq? I read all the various proposals to "solve" the problem, and my immediate reaction is, "Humpty Dumpty took a great fall; all the king's horses and all the king's men could not put him back together again".

Obviously there are limits to the broken egg analogy. A country--or a geographical region, if you will--is not a limited entity. There will be people, resources there. Culture, history, crime, poetry...the full extent of human effort and emotion. But it remains: what was there was smashed.

Whatever the future, the fate of Iraq was sealed in the very early days of the war. When the national library was looted and burned, when the national museum was looted and burned, when Donald Rumsfield said, "stuff happens", and equated anarchy with freedom, it was clear that no good would come of this. When the head of an intensely hierarchical, regimented organization cannot distinguish between freedom and anarchy, it is clear that the our leaders have slipped their moorings and drifted off into psychological waters whose divorce from reality knows know depth. When the inmates are in charge...

I don't know how broken Iraq is. I do know that any thoughts that it is "fixable" are hubris. It has become a cliche that there are no good choices but...there are no good choices. Given the folks who are in charge, I think that our government will continue to make the worst choices. It is the end of the world as we know it.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Shut up and sing!

On the day my home town newspaper (The Washington Post) came out in favor of that dispicable dictator Pinochet (and really, what does a terrorist murder on Washington's Embassy Row, 3,000 + murdered Chileans--they were all leftist anyway---and 20,000+ tortured citizens matter when there is MONEY to be made?) Nick and I saw an early show of Shut Up and Sing, the Dixie Chicks concert tour documentary. It was painful to revisit early 2003. The nation was living in some mass hallucination. One of the previews was a documentary of the Jim Jones People's Temple mass suicide, and while wild horses could not drag me to see that depressing film, 2003 sure seemed in retrospect a period when the great bulk of the nation was drinking the poisoned Kool-Aid.

The key moment was the first one. As the movie showed, up to a million people were on the streets of London protesting the soon to take place war. The Hammersmith theater where the concert took place was a wonderfully intimate venue. A young woman deep inside the pop music bubble could never expect her words to stir up the storm of protest that followed.

That's why the film's look back was so depressing. I could not believe then, I can not believe now, that the Bush administration's mendacity was accepted with such alacrity, and that those who didn't accept it would be greeted with such universal derision. Natalie Maines doesn't come across as a deep thinker (although she does come across as someone with integrity and no shortage of self-confidence and ability to think for herself). She was just some ordinary person who said, the emperor has no clothes, and got bashed for it.

There's a bit of sentimental mush in the movie (a bit heavy on the motherhood side) but the film is great on the hippie aesthetic of the LA recording sessions, honest about the money-making corporate side of the business, ditto honest about the Chicks ambitiousness.

Bonus item was Oregon Republican Gordon Smith waxing sanctimonious about how the "Hollywood" personalities shouldn't be surprised when there is a business consequence for expressing an honest opinion. Smith has lately been shedding aligator tears about the immorality of the war. Hope this clip gets played a lot when he's running for reelection trying to explain why he was for the war before he was against it.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Worse ahead in Iraq?

For several months I've worried that we could be in a much more danger in Iraq than has been acknowledged in the media. Actually, longer--when Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army fought pitched battles with US forces in Najaf in the April 2004 . I was, I believe, Juan Cole who observed at the time that American supply lines were dangerously exposed. More recently, retired CIA operative Patrick Lang has maintained that supply lines remains exposed. I am no military expert, and while I was trying to figure out under what circumstances this potential disaster could be realized, Juan Cole's Informed Comment pointed to William Lind's warning about the most likely scenario: Iranian reaction to an American attack.

I'm hoping that Dick Cheney's "full speed ahead" in Iraq comment was sheer pre-election bluster. I take Rumsfield's resignation as a semi-coup by the professional military to try to impress some reality upon a delusional civilian leadership. The signs, however, don't look good. The in-coming Secretary of Defense has a reputation of tailoring intelligence to support the Reagan administration's preconceived notion. If he's been put in charge to carry out Dick Chaney's irrational fantasies and make sure the trains run on James Baker time, nothing really has changed. Augustus Ceasar lost a legion in Germany, and we could lose an army in Iraq. Who will the Republicans blame?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Empty Suits

I know it's the sex that is giving the Mark Foley scandal sizzle. But it's the substance that is giving it staying power.

I've been seeing this picture all over the internet: I took this version from John McQuaid's Huffington Post blog. He looks at it and sees symbols (well, of course I do, too). But the message this picture, and the whole mess that this sex scandal has become, sends the American people is that the folks in charge are clueless.

The first serious criticism of the Bush administration came in an article by Run Suskind in Esquire "quoting John DiIulio, former Bush director of the White House Office Of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, saying that politics, not policy run the Bush White House, that speeches come first and policy is hastily and sketchily constructed later, that Bush is kept on the short leash of far right preconceptions of the world that often don't jibe with reality, and that fear of Karl Rove prevents staffers from providing him with news from the real world that might contradict his extreme, conservative vision.

In DiIulio's words, 'there is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: complete lack of a policy apparatus.'"

The one thing to add is that this is not just the modus operandi of President Bush; it is the modus operandi of the entire Republican Party at this point. Nor is this a new thing. If you paid attention to the Clinton Impeachment trial, the astonishing thing was the way the Republicans served up their conspiracy theories as if they were factual, and then were left high and dry when it turns out Vernon Jordan wasn't in Little Rock cutting a deal with a judge but on a plane over the Atlantic on his way to Europe. And what made it truly astonishing was: the Republicans apparently never even considered the need to check their facts.

Thus all the weird and delicious dust the wingnutteria is serving up right now: blame the gay activists, blame the Democrats, blame the pages, blame the press, just please, in the age of accountability, don't blame us.

What this huge imbroglio shows is that while the Republicans think an awful lot (and frightfully well) about getting elected, they simply are completely lacking in any thing that would resemble a political philosophy, much less a governing philosophy and totally without the ability to engage in critical thinking.

What this huge imbroglio shows is that there are no more adults left in the Republican Party. What coherence the party had was built around Tom Delay and his ability to enforce discipline. He made the Republican party a disciplined parliamentary party that came into its own when it could mark in lockstep with its executive leader. I'm sure the political history professors will be having a field day studying what he did for as long as we have political history professors. Maybe the past six years have resembled the gilded age of the 1870s, but was that Republican party really so disciplined or just corrupt? Could a single figure in that era enforce his will the way Delay could--across not just the party apparatus in Congress, but across the web of lobbying shops and think tanks.

What this huge imbroglio most clearly shows is that with Delay gone, there's no one to enforce discipline. The only role the current house leadership has ever had was to keep the money flowing and keep the apparatus greased to do Delay's bidding. Now, its every man for himself.

The sad thing is that no policy (other than putting oneself up to the highest bidder) is worse than bad policy. Just as with the parliamentary party falling off a cliff, the fiscal pressures are also going to drive the country over a cliff. Bad things will happen in a hurry. They believe their policies only produce good things, so they will continue their policy to prove reality wrong. Exhibit A: Iraq.

It is a big and fabulously prosperous country, with many strengths which I hope means I am wrong. But I believe that six years of Republican rule has fundamentally weakened the country, that far worse disasters than a middle-aged man exchanging ribald talk with a teenager lurk in our near future, and that if these folks remain in charge, we are finished as a world power. I look at Baghdad and keep thinking: if these people have their way, that's what they'll make of Washington.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Hoisted on their own petard

The Foley thing goes from bad to worse. Apparently the GOP Cardinals had a pretty good sense 5 years ago about the guy's predilections. The MSM's coverage has a lot of helpful graphics showing the 5 congressmen who were informed about the "creepy" e-mail. I can understand why the kid's parents didn't want to make a big fuss about this--they were Republicans who had seen how the party machine could turn John Kerry's Viet Nam service into a liability. Imagine what those powerful people could have done to their son. These are scary people. Read Autumn of the Patriarch if you want to understand what world we're dealing with here. I had an employee who had been abused by one of Cardinal Law's priests. His parents had gone to the church's authorities and had been told, get out of our face. And we still haven't heard about actual sex as opposed to the internet variety.

Update, 10/2/06

The Washington Post this a.m. confirms that the pages were not reporting Foley's advances because of fear of retribution:

"That's part of your concern about coming forward," Loraditch [who runs the U.S. House Page Alumni Association's Internet message board] said. "You take down a Congress member, and you can't end up trying to do something later."

Two additional thoughts: If it is true that incoming pages were warned to watch out for Foley five years ago, Foley must have done something before that that raised concerns. What did he do? When we know what the Republicans knew about Foley in 1999 and 2000, then we'll have a better sense of how bad this is for the Republicans. And I continue to believe that where there's smoke, there's fire: Foley's clearly trolling for young flesh in these IMs. Are we to believe that in 12 years in Washington, he didn't succeed once?

Saturday, September 30, 2006

This can't be the way they planned to start the fall campaign

My morning news and blog reading was been dominated by the twin sensations of the new Bob Woodward book and the story of Florida Congressman Mark Foley resigning over his more than avid interest in communicating with young male pages via the Internet. Of the two, the Woodward is the meatier, the Foley the juicer.

Politically, this has to dismay the G.O.P. Combined, the two stories drive a stake in the heart of the fall strategy, which depends on banging the war-on-terror drums while getting the Pharisees all worked up over family values. (Haven't we done this before?). The Woodward excerpts published so far make Cheney look like a micromanaging buffoon and Bush an obstinate block of wood. And of course its hard to appear holier-than-thou when everyone is pointing out that your point man on cracking down on sexual predators is himself a sexual predator.

I'm betting that the juicier story consumes more media oxygen. (AMERICAblog seems the most obsessive in prying up the rocks and seeing what vermin squirm out.) First, it has the smell of a story where not all the shoes have dropped. Any man as avid in pursuit of young boys as Foley seems to have been must have caught at least one. (I'm recalling Nicholas Von Hoffman's biography of Roy Cohn which documented the aging right-winger's many conquests.) After dipping into a bit of the IM transcripts, I'd be astonished if at least one steam room grope doesn't come to light. And of course, pack journalism has taken over.

It also seems to be playing into the Democrats "culture of corruption" narrative and the classic Washington "its not the crime, it's the cover-up" narrative. Already the newspapers are publishing stories with Republicans pointing fingers at each other. It's clear that Foley's tastes were an open secret on the Hill. Specific charges got buried. The Republicans have a choice of being perceived as dishonest or incompetent. (Haven't we been here before?)

I'll conjecture that the Republicans will try to pass this off as just your usual Washington sex scandal, a la Bill and Monica. I don't think the psycho-sexual dynamics play that way. Leave aside that Foley is the stalker (and Monica was the one pursuing Bill). Leave aside (for the moment) the child predator part. The Clinton/Monica story played into a larger narrative that the American public was already familiar with. Bill, we all knew, was a man of large appetite. His pleasure in life was one of the characteristics that won him the presidency. An afternoon romp with Monica was tacky and tawdry and undignified and all that other stuff that the polite Washington crowd claims to be distressed about, but it didn't contradict the man's basic persona.

When the Starr report was being published and impeachment was in full swing, I developed the crazy English teacher explanation for why Clinton's popularity numbers kept rising. The crazy English teacher has read T.S. Elliot's The Wasteland (notes included) and knows that it is the king's job to be potent. When the king isn't potent, the crops dry up and the kids go hungry. Yeah, I know this is premodern mumbo jumbo but that doesn't mean that it doesn't capture some sense of how our kings are supposed to act. The more the Republicans railed against Clinton, the more they reminded the public that he had a working schlong. We don't elect eunuchs president.

The Foley thing doesn't play that way. To the public in general, he has no persona; to the extent that he has a persona, it is diametrically at odds with his real self. I suppose there's a way to spin a relationship between a 16 year old boy and 52 year old man into some sort of Greek mentor thing, but the items that have surfaced so far don't have much educational uplift. He's chatting about DC weather, not Being and Nothingness. In short, he looks like pure predator, Internet version. The GOP/Religious Right complex has spent so much energy vilifying homosexuals as just the sort of person Foley is turning out to be, it's hard to see how they can spin their way out of this. For the most delicious take on Foley, check out Jesus' General ("Foley's gift to guys like us").

The Woodward book doesn't have the same tabloid appeal as the Foley story. John Dickerson at Slate points out that Woodward has behind him a huge publicity machine that guarantees the story will be in the public arena for a long time. True, but the daily headlines out of Iraq will give keep this book relevant. By the way, what's up with that "curfew" in Baghdad, the first time that pedestrian traffic has been shut down. Somebody was planning to drive a car bomb into the barriers around the Green Zone? Yeah. As Woodward says, things are worse than they seem.

I love the way Woodward talks about the gems uncovered when you "replow" old ground. Hah! This book is all the stuff he left out of books 1 & 2--until it was politically convenient. It is hard to imagine a more cynical operation than The Washington Post. The editorial page to this day continues to be dominated by the Meg Greenfield School of Journalistic Nihilism, perfectly enunciated in the late (and too much lamented) Post editorial page editor's novel Washington. The only reason Charles Krauthammer and George Will are published in the Post is because they were part of Greenfield's little right-wing cabel--celebrated in the pages of the Post itself in an obituary column by Krauthammer. [Without the hypothetical conditional ("If wishes were horses, beggars would fly") the collected works of Charles Krauthammer would shrink to a few pages extolling his own virtues. See: the column for his deceased brother which CK turned into an occasion for remarking how great a person he had become because of said decease brother. Pet peeve: I digress. ]

Bottom line: the GOP had planned to bolt out of the starting gate trumpeting their strength in the war on terror. Instead, they have to devote their energy to scraping off the macaca of a sexual predator and a hopelessly misconceived and mishandled war. Every time Bush reminds the American public that he intends to stay in Iraq until he proves that Viet Nam could have been won, he bolsters the fortunes of the Democrats. There are too many names at the Viet Nam Memorial; how even more dead American boys and girls, men and women, will lead to success, Bush can't quite say.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Friday, 9-29

In a predictable life, Nick and I went shopping this morning at Whole Foods--our Friday AM chore. Of course, our first order of business was checking the progress of the Metropole going up across the street. After months watching the excavation and then the foundation, the construction is in that galloping phase, where a floor (or more) is added a week. Last week, the building had reached street level; this week, one floor and counting. (Apropos of watching buildings being erected: the final quarter I taught English at Georgia Tech, Coca-Cola was building a skyscraper across the street. Try keeping engineering students attention when there's 30 stories of construction going on outside the window.)

Whole Foods was nearly devoid of drama. At the fish counter, we waited while a woman was very deliberate (and time consuming) about her purchase. Finally, she selected her filet, it was weighed, wrapped and handed over to her. She promptly opened her purse and put it inside. The lady fishmonger watched, incredulous. I think the staff was keeping an eye on that woman from then on.

If it is 12:30, I must be at studio cycling. Quiet today: neither Ennis was in the work out room, and only one Jack. The Sidekick-Looking-for-a-Kick adopted a spinning regular (obviously not a regular today since he was out in the weight room). The Sidekick is a sweet looking kid, friendly, somehow just a little too eager in a puppy way to have a buddy. No doubt I over interpret.

The day's drama came at dusk. My cell rang: Brian had parked his car illegally and it had been towed. I arrived home to a scene not without tension. Brian distressed and searching for his car. Nick once-more nonplussed that Brian had gotten another unnecessary ticket. In between stirring the polenta and frying the pork chops, my efforts at mediation failed. Brian snuck out of the house to retrieve his car. I was not happy to call him to dinner and discover he was gone.

Still, the chops were not bad (fried in a cold pan and served with a sauce of red onion, red pepper, smokey mustard and sage); a little kefalotiri cheese punched up the polenta nicely, and the 365 brand Chianti was more than adequate for a Friday night dinner. I groomed the dog as Nick cleaned dishes, Brain repossessed his car and grudgingly ate his dinner (and sipped a little of the Chianti) and peace descended upon the valley.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Vale Res Publica

Mark today on your calendars, citizens. By the time the dust has settled, our elected Federal officials will have voted to end our Constitutional democracy and enter into a government based on the principle of military power vested in the commander-in-chief.

The blogs I read are all in high dudgeon over the soon-to-be passed detainee treatment bill. Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing at the Washington Post provides a good compilation; Slate links to the NY Times editorial as what the Times should have published as news analysis on its front page. Nearly everyone refers to a LA Times op-ed by Bruce Ackerman. If Ackerman's assessment is correct, that's it for the constitution:

"This dangerous compromise not only authorizes the president to seize and hold terrorists who have fought against our troops "during an armed conflict," it also allows him to seize anybody who has "purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States." This grants the president enormous power over citizens and legal residents. They can be designated as enemy combatants if they have contributed money to a Middle Eastern charity, and they can be held indefinitely in a military prison."

Ackerman goes on to note that this is not an idle speculation, since one American citizen (Jose Padilla) has been held under precisely these powers.

Am I the only one who feels like I've joined Alice down the rabbit hole and ended up in some alternative universe? How did we get here? Why are so few people alarmed?

Of course, the short answer is 9/11. I've been arguing (around the kitchen table) since 9/12 that the attack called not for "war" but that much derided police action. I'll even surrender the point that action against the Taliban was called for. But the "war"metaphor has been a pernicious one. It has enabled this very evil government to whip up emotions that are simply not justified by the facts, i.e., that actual threat. The most pernicious result of this metaphor is that it seems to have become accepted as a basic assumption by the news media and the public at large. If the general public weren't buying into this metaphor, then all the monstrous actions that have flowed from it would have met far more resistance.

Why does the American public stand for this kind of invasion into their rights? My keystone here was a TV report on searches on the NY Subway system in which one commuter said he had no problem with it; if you were innocent, you had nothing to worry about.

This has it exactly backward. The huge assumption of power by the Bush administration is worrisome only to those who are innocent. Terrorist will know they need to be wary of law enforcement agents. It is only the innocent who will be unable to demonstrate their innocence due to the changes enacted today. Guilty until proven innocent is now the new standard of jurisprudence in America.

The same people who think that they are safe from the cold hand of government repression are those who have contempt for the pointy-headed bureaucrats. I have no explanation for their belief that government bureaucrats only interested in drawing a salary can suddenly become fonts of wisdom separating the innocent from the guilty when it comes to terrorism.

What next? Start from the premise that critics of torture are correct when they say that it is not a useful means of interrogation and that the administration knows from experience this truth. So the purpose of this vast expansion of government power was never to fight terrorism. Instead, it is a 2-fer: a club to beat the Democrats as in the 2002 campaign and a means of consolidating political power.

Whatever happens in the next election, the Bush-Cheney administration will be in power for two plus years. Anyone who thinks that it will become competent or be anything other than a vehicle for funneling tax dollars to party contributors. Which means that they will need a means to deal with anyone who attempts to confront them with reality.

The measures passed this week then will serve as a gauge of the administrations desperation. When they are used to silence--disappear?--journalists who provide "material support for terrorists" by printing the contents of National Intelligence Estimates or the frank assessments of military officers in the field, we'll finally be taking the full measure of this wicked and profoundly unAmerican regime. And of course, by then it will be too late.