Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: September 2006

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Who's in Denial, Bush or Woodward?

The gray is simply getting overwhelming. Before going to bed last night (though not necessarily before going to sleep as I was writing), I posted about how we have to do everything we can to deliver one or both houses of Congress to a deeply flawed and morally compromised Democratic party.

And now we're getting the return of Bob Woodward. You may remember Woodward for such activities as helping to expose the Watergate cover-up and bringing about Richard Nixon’s resignation (for which he was justly seen by some as a hero). More recently, in the books Bush at War and Plan of Attack, he's been a mostly lapdog extolling the virtues and determination of the resolute Bush administration. But he's popping up this time apparently to repair his reputation and ride to our rescue all over again. State of Denial: Bush at War III, Part III is out today (moved up from Monday after The New York Times circumvented the sales embargo), and he's telling us now that maybe his two previous books on the Bushies' war plans didn't quite tell the whole story. This time around, he's telling us that maybe the administration's war planners didn't quite know what they were doing, that they were offered wise counsel and not only didn't recognize it but actively spurned it.

It's not quite clear what's happened since Woodward's last outing. He's famous for his access, of course, but according to the hype, he has less access this time around than he did before. The Prez himself did not talk to him for this book, and neither did Cheney. Are they so powerful and charismatic that their mere presence was enough to convince Woodward that everything was peachy? Is he just sticking his finger in the wind and supplying the public what it wants? When Bush's numbers were high, Woodward praised him; now that those numbers are down, Woodward dumps on him. Is it a coincidence or . . . something more?

In this morning's New York Times, Michiko Kakutani makes the same point in her book review.
In Bob Woodward's highly anticipated new book, "State of Denial," President Bush emerges as a passive, impatient, sophomoric and intellectually incurious leader, presiding over a grossly dysfunctional war cabinet and given to an almost religious certainty that makes him disinclined to rethink or re-evaluate decisions he has made about the war. It's a portrait that stands in stark contrast to the laudatory one Mr. Woodward drew in "Bush at War," his 2002 book, which depicted the president — in terms that the White House press office itself has purveyed — as a judicious, resolute leader, blessed with the "vision thing" his father was accused of lacking and firmly in control of the ship of state.

As this new book's title indicates, Mr. Woodward now sees Mr. Bush as a president who lives in a state of willful denial about the worsening situation in Iraq, a president who insists he won't withdraw troops, even "if Laura and Barney are the only ones who support me." (Barney is Mr. Bush's Scottish terrier.)

Later in the review, Kakutani points out more Bushie misbehavior.

Were the war in Iraq not a real war that has resulted in more than 2,700 American military casualties and more than 56,000 Iraqi civilian deaths, the picture of the Bush administration that emerges from this book might resemble a farce. It's like something out of "The Daily Show" or a "Saturday Night Live" sketch, with Freudian Bush family dramas and high-school-like rivalries between cabinet members who refuse to look at one another at meetings being played out on the world stage.
There's the president, who once said, "I don’t have the foggiest idea about what I think about international, foreign policy," deciding that he's going to remake the Middle East and alter the course of American foreign policy. There's his father, former President George Herbert Walker Bush (who went to war against the same country a decade ago), worrying about the wisdom of another war but reluctant to offer his opinions to his son because he believes in the principle of "let him be himself." There's the president's national security adviser whining to him that the defense secretary won't return her phone calls. And there's the president and Karl Rove, his chief political adviser, trading fart jokes.

Are these the same people that Woodward has been writing about for the past several years? Apparently so, but it's not clear quite why his opinion on them has changed. Is Woodward overcoming his own period of denial? Kakutani points out a couple of previous works to which Woodward seems to be in debt: a 2004 Ron Suskind piece in The New York Times Magazine and Thomas E. Ricks's Fiasco. Has Woodward’s own reporting fallen behind others who have already staked out this territory? I suppose Woodward might feel that it's inappropriate to step up and explain himself, but that's exactly what we need. He's on the record reporting both sides of these events, often in contradictory terms. Which is correct? Why has his thinking changed?

Apart from the editorial content and Woodward's opinions (Kakutani tells us that, contrary to his usual style, Woodward does insert himself and some of his personal reactions into the narrative), the writer does give us some new info. The New York Times detailed some of what they found in a preview copy yesterday, and Woodward provides his own preview in tomorrow's Washington Post. He'll also be featured in an interview with Mike Wallace tomorrow night on 60 Minutes.

Will any of this change the dynamic of the war or the election? Will the substance of this report be helped or hindered by the fact that former Bush cheerleader Woodward is the messenger?

So What's Next?

The House and Senate bills on the treatment of detainees are still leaving quite a hangover a couple of days later. Some of the bill's implications are obvious, but it may take a while for all of them to sink in. So the question naturally arises, What are we going to do about it? What do we do next.

The answer I've got this evening isn't entirely satisfying, but I truly believe that it's the only option we have. We have to support as many Democrats as we can between now and November 7 so that they win back one or both houses of Congress. Yes, the Democrats didn't put up enough of an opposition to the detainee bills. The vast majority of them didn't come out against it until the day of the vote. Senate Democrats couldn't even keep their caucus in June to uphold a filibuster against the bill. If the question is asked, no, they haven't particularly done anything to earn our support. On that count, they come up with a big, fat zero. Unfortunately, that's not the only factor we have to consider. Not supporting Democrats only results in Repubs holding on to the power they've got at this moment and abusing it even further. The party of Lincoln has proven that they're willing to do anything to consolidate and hold their power, and neither common sense or the Constitution will stand in their way. That has to end. We're down to two choices: support the Democrats and get the Republicans out of power or sit back, do nothing, and allow the Republicans to run roughshod over what we once considered to be inalienable rights.

I've been reading some other blogs, some of which have expressed similar sentiments, and there are a few people in the comments who seem to want some sort of third option. Sure, to get it on the record, I'm all for a better third option than these two. Unfortunately, at least as far as I've seen, no one has any suggestion of what that third option should be. All we can do in support of a third option, apparently, is to sit and wait for it to fall from the sky. While we're waiting, however, holding our support from the Dems because they're not worthy (and they're not, no question), we're functionally choosing choice number two, that of letting the Repubs have their way with our country. We've seen what they'll do, and it just keeps getting worse. In the House, 34 Democrats supported the bill. Illinois's Melissa Bean was one of them. She's finishing her first term, and she's in a tough race for re-election. I've seen some writers comments at other blogs declaring that they can no longer support her. It would serve her right--absolutely--to lose her seat over this issue. But the problem with that comes when we want somebody other than Repubs to be in control of the House. We need to vote for somebody else, and right now the Democrats are the only ones in town who fit that bill. Express your displeasure at Melissa Bean. Next time around, mount an insurgent primary campaign against her. I don't care what happens to her personally, but we need the seat she's holding to stay Democratic. That goes for every seat we hold and every seat we might possibly pick up.

For more on this idea, check out Glenn Greenwald and The Mahablog. I'm up way too late after a busy week to come up with a smart little tag here. Deal.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Terrorists 1, Freedom 0

It's been a busy couple of days up on Capitol Hill. Yesterday the House, and today the Senate, have voted to pretty much allow the Prez to arrest whoever he wants for whatever reason he wants (as long as he calls them "unlawful enemy combatants"), and he never has to answer for it. He can also treat them however he wants, just as long as he doesn't do anything that he himself would consider torture (and remember, he's "The Decider," so he gets to say what's torture and what's not). Along the way, the Senate voted down an amendment to protect habeas corpus, which is the right of the accused to answer charges against them. Perhaps the Repubs feel that, like the Geneva Convention, the writ of habeas corpus is quaint. And, truth to tell, it is getting a bit long in the tooth. One of its earliest written manifestations was as part of the Magna Carta, which rebellious English barons forced on King John to place limits on his power in 1215, but it had already been well established by that time. It also showed up among the grievances of an upstart group of colonists some 230 years ago. They felt so strongly about it that they put the Great Writ into Article One of the Constitution when they wrote it a few years ago. But, through the great wisdom of the U.S. Congress, it doesn't seem quite so important any more. Arlen Specter, believe it or not, provided one of the best descriptions of the day in arguing for his habeas corpus amendment. He said the bill would "take our civilization back 900 years." Of course, when his amendment was voted down and habeas corpus bit the dust, like a good lemming he added his "aye" to taking our civilization back 900 years. I can only presume that he, like the rest of his Repub colleagues, didn't think through the implications of Hillary getting the Democratic nomination in '08, winning the general election, and having all these new powers at her disposal to put to use as she sees fit.

I'm disgusted with the Democrats on this. Sure, all but 12 (12!!) Democratic senators voted against it, but where were they last week when the "rebel Republicans" were looking to make a deal with the Prez? Where were they even after the deal had been struck and was slowly being slowly eroded away by the White House? Where were they before this morning when they started to appear on the Senate floor and deliver impressive oratorical feats even as it was too late to actually affect the outcome? (Truth be told, though, the statements were quite powerful in rhetoric if not results. Don has a rundown at Article 19 with links to specific posts from Atrios. He doesn't have everything, though, so if you click through to Atrios, scroll around to find comments from Bill Clinton and a transcript of Obama.)

After I heard the news today, I went looking for something I'd heard about shortly after September 11. Back in 1998, John Miller, a reporter for ABC News who's now assistant director of public affairs at the FBI, went to Afghanistan to interview Osama bin Laden. It turned out to be the last interview he's given to a Western outlet. In it, he took credit for the downfall of the Soviet Union and explained how that had emboldened his followers to take on the United States. Now, there's no way bin Laden and others like him can defeat us militarily, so they have to depend on us reacting in fear and turning against our most basic principles. The Prez often says that terrorists hate us because of our freedom, but if that's correct, the appropriate response is not to start limiting our own freedoms.

There's various commentary around the Web if, like me, you can't quite bring the matter to rest in your mind. Molly Ivins, as usual, writes quite elegantly about the whole thing and has a simple request: "I’d like those supporting this evil bill to spare me one affliction: Do not, please, pretend to be shocked by the consequences of this legislation. And do not pretend to be shocked when the world begins comparing us to the Nazis." Nat Hentoff, long-time writer on the Bill of Rights, considered the implications we're currently facing down in a column from Tuesday. And Glenn Greenwald seethed as he live-blogged the Senate vote.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Sometimes I Wish I Were a Bigger Football Fan

It doesn't happen very often, but every now and again, I miss something because I don't follow football more closely. On Monday, it happened again. No, of course I knew the Superdome was opening for the first time since Katrina. I had mixed feelings about that--you can't deny that a big, dynamic display of progress is a very good thing, but I wonder if the spectacle is so huge that those of us in other parts of the country can simply file New Orleans away as "back to normal" even though great swaths of the city remain in ruins.

But I'm not writing to ruminate about the double-edged sword of Monday Night Football. Before the game, U2 teamed with Green Day, and one of the covers they performed was a song from Skids, one of the great lost bands of the second wave of punk. Skids featured Richard Jobson as frontman and Stuart Adamson on guitar, and they did three powerful albums together at the end of the '70s. The albums seem to come in and out of availability on CD, but they're worth keeping an eye out for. All three are worth getting, but they get progressively better, so start with The Absolute Game, and if you like that, move back in time to Days in Europa, and finally pick up Scared to Dance (or you can get a compilation, which gives you tasty bites from each album). One thing to watch out for, though, is an ill-conceived folk album called Joy that Jobson put out under the Skids name after Adamson left to form Big Country.

Nowadays, Richard Jobson writes and directs films. Stuart Adamson, sadly, took his own life about five years ago.

The Skids song that U2 and Green Day played was the undeniably appropriate "The Saints Are Coming," a single from the first album, Scared to Dance. They also recorded a studio version that you can get at Rhapsody, where it's on sale as charity single for Music Rising, an organization started by The Edge to help replace musical instruments lost in the Gulf hurricanes.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Journalistic Isolationism

Attaturk (via AMERICAblog, where I saw it) had this yesterday, and you may well have seen it yourself before now. But this week's Newsweek cover story is on photographer Annie Leibovitz--if you live in the USA. Sure, she's had an illustrious career and is probably the best-known living photographer, at least in pop entertainment circles. You might even want to read the story here. But if you live almost anywhere else than the USA, you won't get Annie on your cover. No, you'll get a scary-looking turban-wearing man holding a rocket launcher above the headline "Losing Afghanistan." Take a look at the magazine's international page, and you'll see the covers for the European, Asian, and Latin American editions all have the same startling layout. (Perhaps some of our Canadian friends can let us know which edition was distributed there.) I, for one, am just as happy, though. How would we be able to lull ourselves into a false sense of security of our newsmagazines insisted on promoting actual news?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Condi--Still Not Reality Based

The Clinton/Chris Wallace smackdown continues to resonate. This morning, FOX News's tag-team partner New York Post allowed Condi Rice to have some room to rebut the former President's contention that the current Prez and his pals did nothing to address the bin Laden threat before September 11. In typical Post understated form, they headlined it, "Rice Boils Over Bubba."

"The notion somehow for eight months the Bush administration sat there and didn't do that is just flatly false - and I think the 9/11 commission understood that," Rice said during a wide-ranging meeting with Post editors and reporters.

"What we did in the eight months was at least as aggressive as what the Clinton administration did in the preceding years," Rice added.

The secretary of state also sharply disputed Clinton's claim that he "left a comprehensive anti-terror strategy" for the incoming Bush team during the presidential transition in 2001.

"We were not left a comprehensive strategy to fight al Qaeda," Rice responded during the hourlong session.

Unfortunately, when you back up your claims with something that people can check, well . . . people will check. And look, someone did. Think Progress has a couple of fact-checking posts, one debunking her assertion that the 9/11 commission report reveals that the Bushies did as much against bin Laden as had Clinton, and another examining the comprehensive anti-terror strategy the Clinton administration left behind for the Bushies. I'm sure the Post will be correcting its story at any moment, now.

Virginia Pain

What's going on in the Virginia senate race. The campaign of incumbent Senator George Allen seems to be in meltdown. Wasn't he supposed to be the next president of the United States at one point? I keep meaning to write about it, but then there's some new bombshell that drops, and I'm back playing catch up again. I'm sure everyone's heard about the whole macaca thing (and if you haven't, you can catch up on it at Wikipedia). What we didn't realize was that the Allen brain trust's response to that was going to set the standard for the rest of campaign. Their story shifted all over the place--there were any number of reasons Allen said what he said (unless it was all meaningless), but whatever the reason, it certainly wasn't a racial slur.

About a week ago, the story broke that Allen's mother was Jewish. In a very awkward response when asked about it at a debate, Allen criticized the questioner for "making aspersions about people because of their religious beliefs." It turns out that his mother is part of an influential Italian Jewish family, so how is it "making aspersions" to point that out? Maybe the fact that he'd refused to respond to the initial report of his mother's background for a month tells us all that we need to know. The next day, he issued a statement confirming his mother's heritage and admitted that he'd never known about it. Apparently when he was growing up, his mother would always rebuff questions about her past. Allen knew that his grandfather had been imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, but it appears that he honestly never knew why. That seems an important detail about which to lack curiosity, but to each his own, I guess.

This whole thing seems odd enough, but there was a new bombshell on Sunday night. Salon published a story in which teammates on Allen's college football team remember him using the N-word. Duh! If you've followed his career at all, you know that in the past he's been enamored with the Confederate flag (he even wore it on his lapel in high school), he displayed a hangman's noose in his office, and as Virginia governor, he declared a Confederate History and Heritage month and forgot all about mentioning slavery. How can we possibly be surprised that, at one time in his life, at least, he used the N-word. Allen denies it, of course, at least as an opening parry. But tonight on Hardball, political analyst Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics and also a former college classmate of Allen, confirmed that Allen used the slur.

I'm not sure how this is going to play, to be completely honest. You have to know that Allen's core followers in Virginia aren't going to have a problem with this. Many of them probably use the term themselves. But will it turn off enough moderates who, even in a Red State like Virginia, he needs to pull out a victory? My question now is whether the Allen campaign will fold completely as a result of this, or will he still make a race of it?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Attending to the Details

I've been slow getting to Frank Rich today, and it's somewhat fitting, because his column this week, "Stuff Happens Again in Baghdad," is also slow getting started. In the first few paragraphs, he's setting up his context by rehashing the debacle of the looting that was allowed in Baghdad's Iraq Museum. There's no excuse for the Americans turning a blind eye to the activity, especially in view of the Prez's statement to Iraqis that they were "the heirs of a great civilization that contributes to all humanity." Rich quotes a former Reagan Pentagon official who said, "America lost most of its prestige and respect in that episode." Unfortunately, that sounds very believable. But all this background is put to good use in describing the current status of the Iraq Museum.

It's symbolic of the anarchy throughout Iraq's capital that the museum's entrances are now sealed with concrete to keep out new hordes of killers and thieves. But the violence, which seems to spiral with each declaration of a new security crackdown, is old news. More revealing is the other half of the museum's current plight: it is now in the hands of Iraq's version of the Taliban. That sad denouement is another symbol, standing for our defeat in the larger war of ideas.

The museum changed hands in August, when Donny George, its longtime administrator and the chairman of Iraq's official antiquities board, fled the country fearing for his life and for the treasures in his care, both at the museum and the country's many archaeological sites. Mr. George is a Christian and had good reason to fear. The new government minister placed in charge of the museum, a dentist, is an acolyte of the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, whose goal is to make Iraq a fundamentalist theocracy. To Mr. Sadr and his followers, the museum's legendary pre-Islam antiquities, harking back to the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, are infidels' idols to be sacked.

You couldn't ask for a better metaphor for our entire Iraqi policy. Radical Muslims are consolidating power, but we've got bigger fish to fry. Like in Afghanistan, where the Taliban and, presumably, al-Queda are making a comeback, we've got more important matters that need our attention. Iran's looking awfully frisky, lately.

(And once again, thanks to donkey o.d. for making Rich available in full.)

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Previous Prez--UPDATED

Bill Clinton's been making the rounds a fair amount lately. Sure, he's been stumping for a few Democrats in the run up to the election, but he's also building the Clinton Global Initiative to focus philanthropy to better address the world's problems. Joe Conason wrote about it yesterday in Salon, and according to The New York Times, he raised $7.3 billion in pledged donations. Clinton's eager to talk about this anywhere he can, so he even taped an interview with FOX News Sunday. As you might imagine, that didn't go as smoothly as he may have hoped. Chris Wallace asked him about bin Laden (because his fans demanded it, he insists), and Clinton took on the whole right-wing media machine. Think Progress got their hands on a rough transcript, and it looks like he made his point fairly effectively.

We'll have to see what happens in the morning, though. FOX claims they're going to run the interview in complete and unedited form, but (also from Think Progress), earlier today, they were hyping it on their Website as "Clinton Gets Crazed" (the headline was changed to "Strong Reaction" when I checked it while writing this post). Maybe it'll be an "eye of the beholder" thing. Wallace was on FOX News today promoting the interview, and (according to a transcript at Raw Story, he suggested that the question had caught Clinton off guard: "And I've got to say, Brian... you know, you figure he would be prepared to deal with that. He went off. He just... he started talking." Talking in response to a question--that is unusual. Here's more from Wallace: "It wasn't baiting. It wasn't, I think, even antagonistic. And he just seemed set off." We can all see for ourselves soon.

UPDATE--The video is up in a couple of places: Crooks and Liars has the first part of the interview, and Think Progress has a more abbreviated version. Clinton comes across to me as full of righteous anger, and many in the left blogosphere are giddy. I think it speaks for itself, and that may be reflected in the fact that it seems it's taken the right until mid-Sunday afternoon to get their talking points in order. I kept checking Technorati and Google Blog Search, and although there were a few brave wingers willing to go on the record, it's only in the last hour or two that they've come out en masse with terms such as meltdown and unhinged. It may be telling, though, that in my (completely unscientific) review, left bloggers seem much more eager to link to the actual video than right bloggers do.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Isn't It a Bit Early for the Best Comics of the Year?

Although it's theoretically not released for another couple of weeks, The Best American Comics 2006, edited by Harvey Pekar, has been making the rounds, and I saw a copy for sale today. As pretty much everybody's expected, it's a nice-looking book with some great comics. Crumb, Jaime Hernandez, Chris Ware, Joe Sacco, Alison Bechdel, and a host of other cartoonists are featured inside. Read Pekar's Introduction, in which he explains the choices he made over what to include.

One thing I noticed, though, is that this claims to be the best American comics of 2006, but it's only September. Pekar clearly has chosen these some time ago, so that makes it even less timely. A quick look at the copyright page revealed mostly 2005 copyrights with a sprinkling of 2004. Nary a 2006 copyright for any of the reprinted material. I haven't really looked that closely at the various other installments in Houghton Mifflin's annual Best American series, and I don't know how closely they align to the year they claim to represent. This is the first comics collection in the series, so maybe we should simply accept it as The Best American Comics of the Last Couple of Years. That quibble aside, even if you've read a handful of these comics already, this collection is well worth your time to support.

A Compromise in Name Only

I'm very dispirited by the recent "compromise" reached by the White House and Republican "rebels" in the Senate. I had a brief hope that former POW John McCain, former JAG officer Lindsey Graham, and former Secretary of the Army John Warner might actually hold their ground against torture, but I can hardly say I'm surprised that the Prez won. He doesn't get to say that he's reinterpreting the Geneva Convention, but he pretty much got his way on everything else. Dan Froomkin's online Washington Post column from Friday is a good place to start for a round-up.

Pay no attention to the news stories suggesting that the White House caved in yesterday.

On the central issue of whether the CIA should continue using interrogation methods on suspected terrorists that many say constitute torture, the White House got its way, winning agreement from the "maverick" Republican senators who had refused to go along with an overt undoing of the Geneva Conventions.

The "compromise"? The Republican senators essentially agreed to look the other way.

Once again (see Monday's column) there was so much disingenuousness flying through the airwaves that straight news reporting simply wasn't up to the task of conveying the real meaning of the day.

He points to the Post editorial that, this time at least, gets it right.

But the senators who have fought to rein in the administration's excesses -- led by Sens. McCain, Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and John W. Warner (R-Va.) -- failed to break Mr. Bush's commitment to "alternative" methods that virtually every senior officer of the U.S. military regards as unreliable, counterproductive and dangerous for Americans who may be captured by hostile governments.

Mr. Bush wanted Congress to formally approve these practices and to declare them consistent with the Geneva Conventions. It will not. But it will not stop him either, if the legislation is passed in the form agreed on yesterday.

And where were the Democrats? NOWHERE!! They might not have any legislative power to be in a position to influence the "compromise," but it's not like they don't have a dog in the fight. Are they indifferent to torture? Then why didn't they at least establish a presence on the issue? I hate to suggest it's because they're useless, but it's looking more and more likely. Glenn Greenwald explains better than I can in Salon.

News accounts of the "compromise agreement" reached by political leaders on the torture issue barely even mention Democrats at all. It is as though we do still have a two-party system, but the two political parties are the White House and congressional Republicans. Democrats are like some quirky little third party relegated to an afterthought and quoted almost as an act of charity.

But nobody did that to the Democrats. They consciously absented themselves from our political dialogue because they were afraid to take any position, and opted instead to anoint John McCain as their proxy. We literally don't even know the views of the Democrats on these interrogation issues because they haven't told us what those views are. Isn't that just unfathomable?

. . .

And then one realizes that indulging the desire to see the timid, meek, frightened, principle-less Beltway Democrats get what they deserve (still more defeat) is something that our country simply cannot afford if it is to have any hope of avoiding passing the point of no return, where both our national security and our national character are fundamentally degraded in a way that is irreversible.

The "opposition party" is literally missing, silent, mute and invisible. And yet the only hope for reversing or at least halting any of this is to have that same Democratic Party actually somehow win an election and provide some desperately needed gridlock and balance and investigative processes to find out what our government has been doing. That is about as bleak of a picture as one can imagine.

For even more well-deserved venom on the issue, you can't beat Charles P. (Charlie, if you're a fan of Wait Wait . . . Don't Tell Me!) Pierce at Tapped.

You worthless passel of cowards. They're laughing at you. You know that, right?

The national Democratic Party is no longer worth the cement needed to sink it to the bottom of the sea.

. . .

This was as tactically idiotic as it was morally blind. On the subject of what kind of a nation we are, and to what extent we will live up to the best of our ideals, the Democratic Party was as mute and neutral as a stone. Human rights no longer have a viable political constituency in the United States of America.

I can't wait until next week, when there will undoubtedly be another pressing issue of national issue for them to turn their backs on.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Bring Comics to a Library Near You

Todd Allen has noticed something at the Chicago Public Library. If you take a look at their catalog, you'll find a few comic book collections, but they're mixed in with Dilbert and Garfield anthologies, and a good number of them are manga or by the fine-arts-approved creators such as Chris Ware, art spiegelman, or Charles Burns. I read and enjoy many of the more "respectable" comics, but sometimes I want to spend some time with the good, old-fashioned mainstream comics. Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and the X-Men each have more than a handful, but after that it gets to be pretty slim pickings. Daredevil, Green Lantern, Teen Titans, Captain America, even the Incredible Hulk: I couldn't find more than half a dozen titles for any of them, and a couple only had one. The T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents? Don't even think about it (although, oddly, they do have The T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Companion).

Well, all that's too bad, you might be thinking, but what do you expect me to do about it? Thanks for asking! Todd has a great idea that will let all of us read the comics we want to read and send a message to the Chicago Public Library system at the same time. If you've got a Chicago library card, borrow the comics you want to read on interlibrary loan. If enough of us order enough comics, pretty soon they're going to start noticing that we want to see more comics and graphic novels in the library, and they might just find room in their budget to buy a few more. Todd's already doing it, and he told me that in the past couple of days he went to the library to pick up a collection of Joe Kubert's Tarzan from St. Louis and a collection of Enemy Ace from Portland. I'm going to come up with a wishlist and pay them a visit over the weekend. If you're in Chicago, think of a few things you'd like to read and order them yourself. Be part of the groundswell. The more titles we ask for, the more we'll be noticed. When anything comes in, drop back by and tell us what the library went out of its way to get for you.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Continuing the Obama Conversation

Don raises an interesting point in comments to my Obama post from the other night. He was reading some different sources than I was when he posted about electoral momentum yesterday at Article 19, and they weren’t so complimentary about our man Barack. SusanG from Daily Kos critiqued his Harkin steak fry address, and Matt Stoller at MyDD quoted the Sun-Times’s Lynn Sweet on Obama’s new book (here’s her original column from Friday’s paper). Although Democrats could certainly use some constructive criticism, Obama's starting to get complaints about the way he's offering it. I think Don's got a point that Obama's rhetoric plays into the hands of Repubs and could have the effect of undermining Dems coming up to the November elections. Could this be the beginning of an Obama backlash?

For some more Obama reading, check out what appears to be his campaign Website (it’s identified as "paid for by Obama 2010, Inc."). And expect the coverage to ramp up even further in the coming weeks as his new book, The Audacity of Hope, approaches its release date in October.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Be Careful What You Catch

It's the new TV fall season, so every returning series is putting its best foot forward for its season premiere. One of the oddest shows on TV was back last week and will have another new episode on Friday night. To Catch a Predator, a sort of subseries of Dateline NBC returns with more caught predators. This show is amazing to me. If you haven't seen it, the whole point is to expose sexual predators on the Internet who focus on kids. They have volunteers from a vigilante group called Perverted Justice who act as kids online and entice (entrap?) potential predators to meet them. At the appointed meeting place, the men (I think they've always been men so far) are greeted by NBC reporter Chris Hansen, who proceeds to shame them on national TV.

My first reaction is that Dateline must've secured releases from these people to show and identify them on TV. What could they possibly be offering these people to get away with calling them pedophiles on national TV. A little bit of googling, though, has persuaded me that since Dateline is a news show they maintain that they don't need no stinkin' releases. But is To Catch a Predator a news show? It gets huge ratings, and you know people aren't tuning in to become more informed about online pedophiles. They're there for the spectacle of seeing someone's life ruined before their very eyes, to see their humiliation when they realize the vast amount of trouble they're in. The show's appeal is an entertainment appeal, not a journalistic one. Hansen and the show were used to pretty good comic relief in Conan O'Brien's Emmy opening a few weeks ago. I don't know if perhaps NBC waits for each of these predators to be convicted before they air the show (although somehow I doubt it), but either way, they're playing with fire.

I'm not the only one who finds this the least bit odd. Brian Montopoli wondered about some of the ethical questions this raises earlier this year in CBS News's Public Eye blog, and Radar Online had a story on the connection between NBC and Perverted Justice. This show may run its course as viewers get their fill and move on to something else, but it has the potential of getting more and more sensational and, as a result, more and more popular.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Obama and the Future of the Democratic Party

There's been another uptick in Obama-mania (unless it's really Obama-nia), as we're reminded that there's another presidential election in a couple of years and that Barack himself might actually run. Last week, Illinois state comptroller Dan Hynes, one of Obama's opponents two years ago in the Senate primary, came out in support of an Obama candidacy (although I haven't heard anyone who's quite sure what might've brought that on). A couple of weeks ago, he was in the midst of a triumphant visit to Kenya experiencing a reception which, according to Newsweek, was "more befitting a messiah than a junior senator bearing nothing more than opinions and good cheer." And over the weekend in Iowa, Obama made the big splash at Senator Tom Harkin's annual steak fry. Salon had an article yesterday talking up that appearance. And just for good measure, the Sun-Times released a poll of Illinois voters yesterday in which 63 percent believed he should run for president. The twist there is that a quarter thought he should run this time, and 38 percent felt he should wait.

Put me firmly with the 38 percent. I'm already on the record as wanting him to hold off for the present. I won't spend much time reiterating my arguments, but two years ago he was a member of the Illinois state senate with a failed Congressional primary campaign behind him. I won't deny that he's an attractive candidate, but the reaction he's been getting ever since he gave the keynote address at the last Democratic convention depresses me to some degree. It just underscores the vacuum that is the present-day Democratic party when the first guy with charisma who wanders by becomes a potential front-runner for the presidential nomination. We need to give Obama a bit of time to mature, to grow into the role. I realize that this doesn't leave us with a lot of options, but Democrats have to start developing more depth. The subtext for these midterm elections is not that the Democrats have any good ideas but that the ideas promulgated by the Prez and his party are so bankrupt that we have to do something else no matter what it is. The Dems have tried this tack in previous campaigns, but the electorate hasn't yet been fed up enough to accept the alternative no matter what. The uncertainty that I'm sensing about whether or not the Dems will pull off what they need to this time around is based on whether voters will follow them blindly (and even if they follow the Dems enough to put them in control of either or both houses, the voters will not stay in line for very long afterward). Do the Democrats have a future? Only if they come up with policies, only if they come up with ideas, that can inspire people on the ground that there's something worth following. One charismatic guy--even if he wins an election--ain't gonna be enough if there's nothing to back him up.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Making Up for One's Forebears

Here's something from about a month ago that I missed at the time. In fact, I wouldn't even know about now if it hadn't happened to come up in conversation this month. It's a various obvious cliche, but the line goes that writers write. I guess, because they wouldn't be writers otherwise. Runners run, singers sing, and drivers drive (but for some reason, doctors don't doct). It's kind of the definition of the word. I bring that up because most writers of any note have written far more material than whatever it is that's made their reputation. There are a lot more words--some of them even in print--than the ones with which we're familiar.

Such is the case with L. Frank Baum. He'd written for quite a while before he hit with the Wizard of Oz series. In the 1890s, just after South Dakota had been admitted into the Union, he published a weekly newspaper in Aberdeen, where he lived with his family. A couple of editorials he wrote there have received a certain amount of notoriety. The Indian wars of the West were coming to an end, essentially because of the near genocide of the Native cultures, all of which was a very hot topic at the time. In what could probably most generously be termed "racial euthanasia," Baum called for genocide. On the occasion of Sitting Bull's assassination, the writer noted Sitting Bull's nobility but argued that he was the last to hold such qualities. European settlers had done such damage to the native peoples that they had no choice but to finish the job. Two weeks later was the Wounded Knee massacre. In response to that tragedy, Baum again addressed the subject and criticized the army for not finishing the job. I'm not going to quote the editorials, but feel free to read them yourself.

But of course, those editorials are more than 125 years old at this point. They didn't suddenly come to light a month ago. The event in the news that I missed was a story of reconciliation. Some time ago, Baum's great-great grandson came across the editorials himself. In August, with some of his relatives and friends, he traveled in South Dakota among the Lakota and offered apologies for the words of his ancestor. Listen to a report on the situation from NPR. We'd all do well to learn a lesson from Baum's descendents and acknowledge and take some sort of responsibility for the errors of those who came before.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Lies Keep on Coming

This has been a much busier weekend than I was prepared to have, and I've neglected a couple of subjects that I've meant to write about in at least a little bit of depth. Unfortunately, that neglect will last a little bit longer, as I still don't have the time to spend.

What I do have time for, though, is our regular Sunday visit with Frank Rich. He's focusing on the misinformation emanating from the Bush White House (and the ABC network) lately. His title this week is "The Longer the War, the Larger the Lies," and that appears to be true. I'm short on analysis this week, but that means we can take a bit more time with quotes.

Rarely has a television network presented a more perfectly matched double feature. President Bush's 9/11 address on Monday night interrupted ABC's "Path to 9/11" so seamlessly that a single network disclaimer served them both: "For dramatic and narrative purposes, the movie contains fictionalized scenes, composite and representative characters and dialogue, as well as time compression."

No kidding: "The Path to 9/11" was false from the opening scene, when it put Mohamed Atta both in the wrong airport (Boston instead of Portland, Me.) and on the wrong airline (American instead of USAirways). It took Mr. Bush but a few paragraphs to warm up to his first fictionalization for dramatic purposes: his renewed pledge that "we would not distinguish between the terrorists and those who harbor or support them." Only days earlier the White House sat idly by while our ally Pakistan surrendered to Islamic militants in its northwest frontier, signing a "truce" and releasing Al Qaeda prisoners. Not only will Pakistan continue to harbor terrorists, Osama bin Laden probably among them, but it will do so without a peep from Mr. Bush.

. . .

Even the billing of his appearance was fiction. "It's not going to be a political speech," Tony Snow announced, knowing full well that the 17-minute text was largely Cuisinarted scraps from other recent political speeches, including those at campaign fund-raisers. Moldy canards of yore (Saddam "was a clear threat") were interspersed with promising newcomers: Iraq will be "a strong ally in the war on terror." As is often the case, the president was technically truthful. Iraq will be a strong ally in the war on terror -- just not necessarily our ally. As Mr. Bush spoke, the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, was leaving for Iran to jolly up Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

. . .

Rather than tune this bluster out, as the country now does, let's try a thought experiment. Let's pretend everything Mr. Bush said is actually true and then hold him to his word. If the safety of America really depends on the outcome of the battle in the streets of Baghdad, then our safety is in grave peril because we are losing that battle.

. . .

"Even the most sanguine optimist cannot yet conclude we are winning," John Lehman, the former Reagan Navy secretary, wrote of the Iraq war last month. So what do we do next? Given that the current course is a fiasco, and that the White House demonizes any plan or timetable for eventual withdrawal as "cut and run," there's only one immediate alternative: add more manpower, and fast. Last week two conservative war supporters, William Kristol and Rich Lowry, called for exactly that -- "substantially more troops." These pundits at least have the courage of Mr. Bush's convictions. Shouldn't Republicans in Congress as well?

After all, if what the president says is true about the stakes in Baghdad, it's tantamount to treason if Bill Frist, Rick Santorum and John Boehner fail to rally their party's Congressional majority to stave off defeat there. We can't emulate our fathers and grandfathers and whip today's Nazis and Communists with 145,000 troops. Roosevelt and Truman would have regarded those troop levels as defeatism.

Go read Rich's entire argument (this week courtesy of ratboy's anvil) for full elucidation.

Baghdad: Iraq's Latest Gated Community

In bringing the best of American democracy to our new pals in Iraq, the U.S. military is introducing the concept of keeping the riffraff out. According to The Washington Post, they

have begun a massive effort to seal off Baghdad with a ring of reinforced checkpoints, berms, trenches, barriers and fences in an attempt to clamp down on insurgents.

The report points out that this is not a new strategy in Iraq, as similar efforts to control the flow of traffic have already been put into place in Fallujah and Samarra, but it fails to comment on their effectiveness. Some of our older readers may remember other international efforts to keep people in or out of a city--a certain wall in Berlin leaps quickly to mind.

But walled cities are nothing new. Forts in the American West included more than just military personnel: Merchants and tradespeople lived in safety within their walls. And medieval fortresses used the same concept in their outer walls. Fans of the feudal system may also be familiar with the idea of moats surrounding and protecting a castle or other settlement. You never knew what kind of people might be wandering around and attempting to enter a fortress city, but as long as you knew who was inside your walls, you could keep yourself safe.

But this raises one of the problems with the new boundary system in Baghdad. The military does not know who is inside and who is outside. As the Post points out,

some analysts also say that the United States has never taken what many of them contend is an essential first step: conducting a thorough census, then issuing identity cards and requiring all people to carry them at all times.

When soldiers stop someone at the checkpoints, they're often not going to be able to answer a vital question: Do these people belong here or not? I imagine that if I were in charge of letting people through at a checkpoint (or not) that I'd find that kind of information helpful.

And there are more problems.

It is unclear whether the planned complex of berms, trenches and checkpoints will be effective in Baghdad, a megalopolis of 81 square miles that includes vast stretches of farmland and open terrain. Insurgents and members of private militias might still be able to avoid the checkpoints, and even if they don't, U.S. and Iraqi forces still face the problem of identifying them.

Of course, it's easy for me to sit behind my computer and snipe from the sidelines. War planners should take heart. The wall was very successful for a good couple of decades in Berlin.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Premature Technology--UPDATED

In a Saturday morning editorial in The Washington Post, Bruce Schneier raises an issue that should be getting more attention than it has been. His title lays his point right out on the table: "The ID Chip You Don't Want in Your Passport." The United States, along with Canada and a number of other countries, are updating their passports to take advantage of new technology. They're putting radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips in there. I suppose that might speed up your trip through customs--the customs inspector can simply read the electronic information rather than having to page through the passport itself, find your relevant information, and then read it. Unfortunately, if the customs agent can read it, so can anybody else with a nearby reader. The radio part of that name means the chip can be read at a distance. The passport office claims that the new passports will have some sort of shielding that will protect the chip unless the passport is open and the information will be encrypted, but that may not be enough. Schneier gives us a suggestion of what that can mean.

Your passport information might be read without your knowledge or consent by a government trying to track your movements, a criminal trying to steal your identity or someone just curious about your citizenship.

. . .

The shielding does no good when the passport is open. Travel abroad and you'll notice how often you have to show your passport: at hotels, banks, Internet cafes. Anyone intent on harvesting passport data could set up a reader at one of those places. And although the State Department insists that the chip can be read only by a reader that is inches away, the chips have been read from many feet away.

The other security mechanisms are also vulnerable, and several security researchers have already discovered flaws. One found that he could identify individual chips via unique characteristics of the radio transmissions. Another successfully cloned a chip. The State Department called this a "meaningless stunt," pointing out that the researcher could not read or change the data. But the researcher spent only two weeks trying; the security of your passport has to be strong enough to last 10 years.

This is perhaps the greatest risk. The security mechanisms on your passport chip have to last the lifetime of your passport. It is as ridiculous to think that passport security will remain secure for that long as it would be to think that you won't see another security update for Microsoft Windows in that time.

Once the chips start getting placed into new passports, we'll have no choice but to use them. Starting in January, passports will be necessary to go between the United States and Canada by air or sea (we've got until January 2008 before they're necessary for crossing the border by car), so even more people will need them. If you're considering getting or renewing your passport anytime in the near future, do it soon, before the new policies go into effect. Put off getting a passport chip for as long as you possibly can.

UPDATE--Here are a couple more links that might be helpful. You can visit the U.S. Passport site for more information, and this is their site for the electronic passport. If you want to renew, do it quickly and check to see where your new passport will come from. The Colorado office started issuing them a month ago.

Molly on Ann

As promised, here's Molly Ivins's column on Ann Richards from earlier today. I'm not going to quote any of it here, but it's a nice remembrance, and you should do yourself a favor and go read it.

Friday, September 15, 2006

It's All an Illusion

This morning sees the first morning that Chicago's Lake Shore Drive sports new, finished ornamentation. There's a big S-curve at Oak Street, at the top end of the Magnificent Mile, and drivers generally drive through it at higher speeds than necessary. But Chicago Streets and Sanitation has a plan that will change all that! All this week, lane by lane, they've been painting stripes on the roadway to fool drivers into thinking they're driving faster than they actually are. The result, they hope, is that drivers will worry about their speed and slow down all by themselves. This technique has apparently been used to good effect in other parts of the world, but this will be the first time Chicago tries it.

So how's it working? I likely won't be on that part of the Drive until some time over the weekend (if then), but perhaps someone reading this had to take this route to go to work this morning. If anybody's driven through, let us know. Did it feel like you were driving too fast? Did you feel a need to break more frequently than you did in the past? Were the other drivers driving differently? We need to know!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Governor Ann Richards, 1933-2006

Former Texas Governor Ann Richards died yesterday from cancer. She was a remarkable woman, as is obvious if she climbed to the top of the heap in Texas politics. She was quick witted, and what are probably her two biggest lines came in her keynote address to the 1988 Democratic Convention:

"Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels."

"Poor George, he can't help it — he was born with a silver foot in his mouth."

Unfortunately, her political career came to an end when she ran for reelection to the governor's office but became the first in a long line of Democrats to misunderstimate George W. Bush. There are remembrances for her around the Web, but you can read some from The Houston Chronicle here and here (a number of other Texas papers are subscription only). Her good friend Molly Ivins is certain to weigh in before too long, and I'll provide a link when she does. Via houstonist, Capitol Annex has a round up of reaction from Texas blogs.

If you're near Austin, Texas, Richards will be lying in state in the Capitol rotunda over the weekend. The funeral will take place on Monday.

The Company They Keep

This is a far later night than I was at all prepared for (special thanks to Jim for making it less late than it would otherwise have been). I knew it was going to be late, but I had no expectation that it would be this late. Still, I promised myself that I'd post at least once during any waking day, and I haven't got anything up yet, so here you go. I wanted to touch once more on The Path to 9/11 before it got too far away from us.

Not everyone was upset over ABC's flirtation with truthiness in the 9/11 miniseries. The Reverend Lou Sheldon, head of the Traditional Values Coalition (traditional apparently defined as circa 1812), blasted ABC's decision to "edit" the show in response to complaints by Clinton administration officials. A TVC statement quoted at the ABC News website accused the network of reworking some of the mini-series as a result of caving to a "tantrum by former President Bill Clinton because it portrayed him unfavorably." It accused the "liberal" ABC executives of going "weak in the knees when Mr. Clinton shrieks." Unfortunately, the author of this statement seemed to think that Clinton had a lock on ABC News, which had nothing to do with the mini-series that came out of ABC Entertainment. TVC Executive Director, Andrea Lafferty, claimed "that the docudrama was factual. Lawyers from ABC vetted all of this thoroughly (which makes even more remarkable the fact that it was riddled with inaccuracies). In closing, she said, "ABC's lack of spine is what is 'despicable,' not this factual program."

In other developments concerning this "factual program," (via AMERICAblog) American Airlines is considering pulling its ads from ABC or even undertaking legal action in response to the mini's portrayal of American letting Mohammed Atta get on its flight from Logan Airport in Boston despite having reservations. That incident never happened, although one similar to it occurred with USAir in Portland, Maine. It will be interesting to see what other unexpected ramifications this mini-series will have.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Before We Move on to Something Else

There are a couple of other points I want to mention before the September 11 anniversary moves too far behind us.

Think Progress provides a detailed timeline of the issues that have arisen from the September 11 attacks. There are five concepts they track:

– The steady increase in international terrorism and the growth of al Qaeda
– The campaign to block and obstruct the work of the 9/11 Commission, and the failure to carry out the commission’s recommendations
– The failure to stabilize and rebuild Afghanistan
– The downgrading of the hunt for Osama bin Laden
– The steady decline of America’s image abroad

Every item comes with its very own cited (and linked> news report. It's probably worth a browse, but it will undoubtedly make a place for itself as an invaluable resource in the months and years to come.

Yesterday in his post at AMERICAblog on the anniversary, AJ quoted Patrick Henry at some length, and I'm going to do the same. We all know the phrase that came at the end of this speech--"Give me liberty, or give me death"--but I'm not sure if I've ever read the full speech before. Henry was addressing a problem very different in its details than what we're facing, and some of the words can easily be misconstrued when taken from their context. But the basic issues are the same, and they're just as vital to us as they were to Patrick Henry. Here's a good chunk of it.

No man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism, as well as abilities, of the very worthy gentlemen who have just addressed the House. But different men often see the same subject in different lights; and, therefore, I hope it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen if, entertaining as I do opinions of a character very opposite to theirs, I shall speak forth my sentiments freely and without reserve. This is no time for ceremony. The question before the House is one of awful moment to this country. For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfill the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country. Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offense, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the Majesty of Heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.

Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.

Read the rest, if you're so inclined.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Last Chance to See Busting Out!

Busting Out '06: Toying with the Tyranny of Time is down to its last two performances. Windy City Times liked it. If you're in Chicago, come see if you will, too (and if you're not in Chicago--well, you could always fly in). The two final performances will be Tuesday and Wednesday evenings at 7:30. Take a look at the poster above (if you can actually focus on the words) for details. Drop me an e-mail if you'd like to make a reservation. You can read my previous post on the show or visit Stockyards Theatre Project. I hope we'll see you there!

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Anniversary

Everybody's remembering today, even more than we've remembered on this date for the first four anniversaries. You can't help but note the date, but it seems to me that it carries more weight than before. Five years is starting to be a long time, and perhaps the anniversary is heavier this time because we're realizing that we're not dealing with the events of September 11, 2001, as fully as we should have. Certainly we don't need to shrug off our feelings and move on to something else, but we need to learn what there is to learn, absorb it into our being and way of life, and start moving forward again.

The September 11 attacks have often been compared to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the United States into World War II. But on the fifth anniversary of that event, December 7, 1946, the U.S. and its Allies had already won World War II more than a year earlier. Tojo had been captured and would be hung a little more than two years later. Hitler had died of a self-inflicted gunshot as Soviet forces advanced on Berlin more than 18 months earlier. Mussolini had been killed by partisans in Italy a bit before that. Americans (along with their European allies) had risen to and addressed the challenge of Pearl Harbor.

In contrast to that, most of the challenges from September 11 are still where they were five years ago. Osama bin Laden, who the Prez declared was "wanted dead or alive," is still waiting for American justice. The Washington Post reported yesterday that U.S. forces have had no credible leads toward finding the terrorist in more than two years. Instead, we're mired in a no-win situation in Iraq that continues to deteriorate even further. Saddam was a bad guy, no question, but he wasn't the bad guy we needed to get at that moment. In fact, the various threats that we were told he presented as a pretext for going to war never quite seemed to pan out--we've put a huge effort into a war that's been completely beside the point.

Even more than a misguided war, however, we haven't been able to face down the tactics used by terrorists. They bring about sudden, unexpected violence to scare their targets into some sort of submission. Although we can't always stop them from attacking, we don't have to cave in to their fear. And yet that's exactly what we've been doing. The Bush administration has also been ruling through fear. The terrorists frighten us, and the Bushies use them as boogie men to keep the fear alive. Terrorists might be under your bed! Better vote for the Republicans. Terrorists might blow up your workplace! Better vote for the Republicans. Terrorists are going to kill you if you don't watch out! Better vote for the Republicans.

This anniversary feels so burdensome because we're getting terror and fear from both sides. Until we own up to our own fear, face it down, and move forward with our lives and our country, we'll be stuck here. When I was in New York a couple of weeks ago, I was very surprised at how little had been rebuilt at Ground Zero. I understand that there have been controversies about the memorial at the World Trade Center site, and I agree that something shouldn't be thrown up for its own sake, but the area around the site should be rebuilding. It's all a part of the inertia we're experiencing. We should never forget the events that will always be associated with this date. But we have to absorb them and keep them with us, we have to absorb the lessons they teach, and we have to move forward.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

All the Things We've Lost

In his column this morning, Frank Rich commemorates the fifth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attack by taking a look back at the nation's reaction in the immediate wake of the disaster and musing over how that's disappeared into the ether. He titles it with a question, "Whatever Happened to the America of 9/12?" Unfortunately, we all really know the answer to that. The country drew together in the aftermath of the attack in a way I've never seen in my lifetime and suspect I won't see again. We wanted to address the problem together, we were united in purpose, but it didn't take long before the Prez proved he was a divider, not a uniter. In the meat of his column, Rich provides the details.

But even as we celebrate this resilience, it too comes at a price. The companion American trait to resilience is forgetfulness. What we've forgotten too quickly is the outpouring of affection and unity that swelled against all odds in the wake of Al Qaeda's act of mass murder. If you were in New York then, you saw it in the streets, and not just at ground zero, where countless thousands of good Samaritans joined the official responders and caregivers to help, at the cost of their own health. You saw it as New Yorkers of every kind gathered around the spontaneous shrines to the fallen and the missing at police and fire stations, at churches and in parks, to lend solace or a hand. This good feeling quickly spread to Capitol Hill, to red states where New York had once been Sodom incarnate and to the world, the third world included, where America was a nearly uniform object of sympathy and grief.

At the National Cathedral prayer service on Sept. 14, 2001, President Bush found just the apt phrase to describe this phenomenon: "Today we feel what Franklin Roosevelt called 'the warm courage of national unity.' This is the unity of every faith and every background. It has joined together political parties in both houses of Congress." What's more, he added, "this unity against terror is now extending across the world."

The destruction of that unity, both in this nation and in the world, is as much a cause for mourning on the fifth anniversary as the attack itself. As we can't forget the dead of 9/11, we can't forget how the only good thing that came out of that horror, that unity, was smothered in its cradle.

When F.D.R. used the phrase "the warm courage of national unity," it was at his first inaugural, in 1933, as the country reeled from the Great Depression. It is deeply moving to read that speech today. In its most famous line, Roosevelt asserted his "firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance." Another passage is worth recalling, too: "We now realize as we have never realized before our interdependence on each other; that we cannot merely take but we must give as well; that if we are to go forward, we must move as a trained and loyal army willing to sacrifice for the good of a common discipline, because without such discipline no progress is made, no leadership becomes effective."

What followed under Roosevelt's leadership is one of history's most salutary stories. Americans responded to his twin entreaties — to renounce fear and to sacrifice for the common good — with a force that turned back economic calamity and ultimately an axis of brutal enemies abroad. What followed Mr. Bush's speech at the National Cathedral, we know all too well, is another story.

On the very next day after that convocation, Mr. Bush was asked at a press conference "how much of a sacrifice" ordinary Americans would "be expected to make in their daily lives, in their daily routines." His answer: "Our hope, of course, is that they make no sacrifice whatsoever." He, too, wanted to move on — to "see life return to normal in America," as he put it — but toward partisan goals stealthily tailored to his political allies rather than the nearly 90 percent of the country that, according to polls, was rallying around him.

This selfish agenda was there from the very start. As we now know from many firsthand accounts, a cadre from Mr. Bush's war cabinet was already busily hyping nonexistent links between Iraq and the Qaeda attacks. The presidential press secretary, Ari Fleischer, condemned Bill Maher's irreverent comic response to 9/11 by reminding "all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do." Fear itself — the fear that "paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance," as F.D.R. had it — was already being wielded as a weapon against Americans by their own government.

Rich has more, as he always does, but that's the gist. The Bushies continue to use the 9/11 attacks for their own purposes, and the rest of us continue to be drawn along the path they're setting. Thanks to donkey o.d. for the column this week.

Path to 9/11 Linkfest

We're coming up to the airing of the first part of the error-ridden miniseries The Path to 9/11 on Disney/ABC. Apparently it's already aired in New Zealand (and just for good measure, Madeleine Albright's name is misspelled).

The complaints and protests have continued. Bill Clinton (through his lawyer), Albright, and Sandy Berger have each sent letters protesting ABC's broadcast. So has the Democratic leadership of the Senate and a group of historians led by Arthur Schlesinger. Meanwhile, over at The Huffington Post, Bruce Kluger argues that, for all the misinformation about the Clinton administration, the miniseries does the Bushies no favors, either. He offers a litany of their failings that will also be on display. But Chicago Sun-Times TV critic Doug Elfman might provide the best reason not to watch: It's bo-ring. Some of his review is worth pulling out.

I once sat in a car forever waiting for my mom to come out of a grocery store. I thought that was the definition of "interminable." I had no idea "The Path to 9/11" was in my future.
. . .

This is the most anticlimactic, tension-free movie in the history of terrorist TV.

Matt Stoller has an interesting speculation about what happens after Disney insists on keeping The Path to 9/11 on the air. John Aravosis has some suggestions about what steps those of us unhappy with the program should start to take on September 12.

In comments to a post I wrote on the topic on Thursday, Jason Fliegel passed along a post from Glenn Greenwald summarizing some of the conservative reaction when CBS planned to broadcast a Ronald Reagan mini that they felt didn't demonstrate the proper amount of fealty to the former president. One quote from Bill O'Reilly was particularly interesting. He felt that green-lighting the Reagan movie "would be like CBS commissioning a movie about the Clintons written by Rush Limbaugh and starring Dennis Miller and Ann Coulter. Do you think that would ever happen?" Max Blumenthal, also at the Huffington Post, doesn't describe exactly that happening, but close enough.

In fact, "The Path to 9/11" is produced and promoted by a well-honed propaganda operation consisting of a network of little-known right-wingers working from within Hollywood to counter its supposedly liberal bias. This is the network within the ABC network. Its godfather is far right activist David Horowitz, who has worked for more than a decade to establish a right-wing presence in Hollywood and to discredit mainstream film and TV production. On this project, he is working with a secretive evangelical religious right group founded by The Path to 9/11's director David Cunningham that proclaims its goal to "transform Hollywood" in line with its messianic vision.

Before The Path to 9/11 entered the production stage, Disney/ABC contracted David Cunningham as the film's director. Cunningham is no ordinary Hollywood journeyman. He is in fact the son of Loren Cunningham, founder of the right-wing evangelical group Youth With A Mission (YWAM). The young Cunningham helped found an auxiliary of his father's group called The Film Institute (TFI), which, according to its mission statement, is "dedicated to a Godly transformation and revolution TO and THROUGH the Film and Televisionindustry." As part of TFI's long-term strategy, Cunningham helped place interns from Youth With A Mission's in film industry jobs "so that they can begin to impact and transform Hollywood from the inside out," according to a YWAM report.

Last June, Cunningham's TFI announced it was producing its first film, mysteriously titled "Untitled History Project." "TFI's first project is a doozy," a newsletter to YWAM members read. "Simply being referred to as: The Untitled History Project, it is already being called the television event of the decade and not one second has been put to film yet. Talk about great expectations!"
. . .

Early on, Cunningham had recruited a young Iranian-American screenwriter named Cyrus Nowrasteh to write the script of his secretive "Untitled" film. Not only is Nowrasteh an outspoken conservative, he is also a fervent member of the emerging network of right-wing people burrowing into the film industry with ulterior sectarian political and religious agendas, like Cunningham.

Nowrasteh's conservatism was on display when he appeared as a featured speaker at the Liberty Film Festival (LFF), an annual event founded in 2004 to premier and promote conservative-themed films supposedly too "politically incorrect" to gain acceptance at mainstream film festivals. This June, while The Path to 9/11 was being filmed, LFF founders Govindini Murty and Jason Apuzzo -- both friends of Nowrasteh -- announced they were "partnering" with right-wing activist David Horowitz. Indeed, the 2006 LFF is listed as "A Program of the David Horowitz Freedom Center."

Blumenthal has quite a few more details, so take a look at the whole thing if you're interested.

As for me, I'm going to take a pass on the mini. Why encourage ABC or Disney by rubbernecking the disaster. Instead, I'm on my way out to enjoy a very pleasant dinner.

UPDATED--to add a couple of links I inexplicably left out.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

I Wish I Lived in Jim DeMint's World

Last week, the Democrats tried to have a vote on a sense of the Senate resolution expressing no confidence in Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and advising his removal from that post. It was put forward as an amendment to a defense appropriations bill, and Senator Ted Stevens ultimately sidestepped it with a parliamentary maneuver so Repub senators didn't have to go on record one way or another just a couple of months before the elections. However, there was some debate on the issue before they were able to set it aside, and Jim DeMint, senator from South Carolina, gave us this little pearl of wisdom:

But since 9/11, this President took action. And with the support of this Congress, he along with his staff has changed Afghanistan. Afghanistan is no longer the staging area for terrorism. And a signal has been sent to any country that does it.

Afghanistan is now a democracy. Women can vote and go to school. Iraq no longer has control of their arsenal of chemical weapons. Iraq is moving toward a democracy, admittedly with many difficulties.

But if our Democratic colleagues had their way, Iraq would become the new staging area for terrorists.

That statement is so unbelievable in so many ways that it's difficult to pull out each of the inaccuracies. The world that DeMint lives in seems quite different from ours, but it sure seems like a wonderful place. Afghanistan is a fully functioning democracy. Iraqi chemical weapons were found and dismantled. There are no terrorists in Iraq. I'll bet the sun never stops shining and there's free ice cream for all.

By the way, in his column last week (which I discussed here), Frank Rich talked about the photo of Rumsfeld affably shaking hands with Saddam Hussein back in the '80s. It turns out that the documents, photos and video surrounding that visit have become the most-downloaded file from George Washington University's National Security Archive. (Download it yourself, if you want to.) According to The Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire, the Rumsfeld/Saddam material has surpassed the previous most-downloaded file, which featured the historic meeting of Richard Nixon meeting Elvis Presley in the Oval Office.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Just Another Unconscionable Action--No Surprises Here

It hardly comes as a surprise that the air at Ground Zero shortly after September 11 was full of dust and particles that could cause havoc with the lungs of workers. What would you expect from collapsed buildings, destroyed airplanes with all the burning fuel? Why would you ever expect that to be a clean environment?

In case anyone was still wondering, Mount Sinai Medical Center released a report on Tuesday that showed about 7,000 of 10,000 patients treated from Ground Zero had respiratory ailments caused by their exposure to the contaminated air. That's correct, right in at 70 percent. But it was an extremely dangerous environment full of hazardous materials. Who would expect anything different?

Well, it also comes as no surprise that, despite all that, the EPA under the Bush administration would claim that there's no problem. A week after the attacks, there was EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman, announcing that everything was fine and dandy.

"We are very encouraged that the results from our monitoring of air quality and drinking water conditions in both New York and near the Pentagon show that the public in these areas is not being exposed to excessive levels of asbestos or other harmful substances," Whitman said. "Given the scope of the tragedy from last week, I am glad to reassure the people of New York and Washington, D.C. that their air is safe to breath and their water is safe to drink," she added.

Should we be surprised that Whitman and the Bushies knew that the air was, in fact, not safe? No, I guess not. The White House wanted the official EPA reports rewritten to downplay, ignore, or deny the existence of hazardous materials in the air around Ground Zero.

Surely Whitman feels bad about the 70 percent among the heroic workers at Ground Zero, many of them volunteers, whose health has been damaged by the incomplete information. But no, apparently not. (Surprised? Me, neither.) In fact, it wasn't really her fault--or he fault of the federal government at all. It was the city of New York--that's who should've protected its citizens. In an interview to air Sunday on 60 Minutes, she says:

We did everything we could to protect people from that environment and we did it in the best way that we could, which was to communicate with those people who had the responsibility for enforcing. We didn't have the authority to do that enforcement, but we communicated (the need to wear respirators) to the people who did. (In) no uncertain terms (city officials were warned of the danger). EPA was very firm in what it communicated and it did communicate up and down the line.

Yes, it's all somebody else's fault. No surprise there in the least.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Spinning History

I'm behind on this--it's a fast-moving story, so this is my attempt to catch up. I started writing about it last night, but there are a lot of strands. I hoped to get to it earlier today, but . . . oh, well. If you frequent some other blogs, you're probably up to speed on this, but if you don't, here you go.

For the fifth anniversary of September 11, ABC is planning to present a "docudrama" that basically invents a new history of the U.S. relationship with al Queda. It's called The Path to 9/11, and the network (which is owned by Disney, let's not forget) sent some preview copies to right-wing bloggers (though none to left-wing ones, for some reason), and word slipped out that the Clinton administration is portrayed as doing irresponsible things that they never did, while the Bushies are portrayed as rising to the unexpected challenge as best they could. Now, while I certainly prefer the Clinton administration more than the Bush one, I certainly saw its faults at the time and in retrospect. Clinton administration officials should be called to task for anything they failed to do to prevent the rise of al Queda and September 11. I'm all for investigating and assigning responsibility wherever appropriate. Let the chips fall where they may--responsibility should be assigned to anyone and everyone who deserves it. But--and maybe it's just me--I'm all for giving them a pass for sins that are completely fabricated by conservative filmmakers.

The filmmakers are claiming that they're adapting the report of the 9/11 Commission, but they're not only including things not in the 9/11 Commission report, that they're using that report as their "plumb line," but in some instances, they're contradicting it. They claim that Clinton aide Sandy Berger was on the phone with a crack CIA team that had bin Laden surrounded and, instead of giving them the "kill order" they wanted, he hung up the phone. That's not in the 9/11 report. In fact, the writer and producer of the miniseries, Cyrus Nowrasteh (who Rush Limbaugh identifies as a friend), has admitted that the scene was actually an ad lib by actor Kevin Dunn. So it doesn't matter what the facts are--good drama is good drama.

The producers have so far denied viewing copies to Berger, Madeleine Albright, and Bill Clinton (but remember, they've been sharing them with right-wing bloggers). Scholastic was distributing "teaching guides" to high school teachers, but since I started to write last night, they've pulled out. (According to TPM Muckraker, they're "replacing them with materials stressing critical thinking and media literacy."

I'm barely scratching the surface of this issue, but each time I start writing about one aspect, I get distracted by another. But there's plenty to read in other places about the film. Howie Kurtz wrote about it in The Washington Post this morning, as did The New York Times this morning and Friday morning (in which they misstate what the 9/11 Commission report says--Alessandra Stanley claims it said Clinton was distracted by the Monica Lewinsky scandal when, in fact, in fact, it said exactly the opposite). Both Think Progress and AMERICAblog are keeping up with the latest developments (and the latter also includes a delightful image of Mohammed Atta wearing Mickey Mouse ears). Editor & Publisher has a report on the copy of the film it saw, but ABC/Disney claim that they're still editing the film, so we can't take that as gospel.

There are a couple of organized protests you can join. Stu Shea sent me a notice from ActforChange about their e-mail campaign, and Think Progress is sponsoring its own campaign. If you participate in either of these e-mail protests, be sure to change up the text of the e-mail provided. Its too easy for ABC/Disney to write off identical e-mails. Do something to make the text your own.

There are a number of ironies concerning the casting of this miniseries, but perhaps the most unfortunate is that Madeleine Albright will be played by Shirley Douglas. In case you don't know, that's Kiefer Sutherland's mother. Now, we all know that if Madeleine Albright had sent Kiefer after bin Ladin in 1995 or so, we wouldn't even be having this conversation.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Evil Stalks the Land

Via The Beat yesterday, school kids in Britain have voted Harry Potter's Lord Voldemort as the worst literary villain of all time. The BigBadRead poll (sponsored by Harry's publisher Bloomsbury) recorded more than 16,500 votes from a list of 40 villains. Some of the villains are odd choices: I'm not sure I'd put Zaphod Beeblebrox from HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in that category, and although I've only seen the movie and haven't read the book, Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights always seemed more tragic than villainous. But you can make up your own mind. Here's the Top 20:

1. Lord Voldemort--Harry Potter series--J.K. Rowling
2. Sauron--The Lord of the Rings trilogy--J.R.R. Tolkien
3. Mrs Coulter--His Dark Materials sequence--Philip Pullman
4. Lex Luthor--Superman graphic novels--DC Comics
5. The Joker--Batman graphic novels--DC Comics
6. Count Olaf--A Series of Unfortunate Events--Lemony Snicket
7. The Other Mother--Coraline--Neil Gaiman
8. The White Witch--The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe--C.S. Lewis
9. Dracula--Dracula--Bram Stoker
10. Artemis Fowl--Artemis Fowl--Eoin Colfer
11. Magneto--X-Men comics--Marvel Comics
12. Professor Moriarty--Sherlock Holmes--Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
13. Zaphod Beeblebrox--HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy--Douglas Adams
14. Captain Hook--Peter Pan--J.M. Barrie
15. Napoleon the Pig--Animal Farm--George Orwell
16. Heathcliff--Wuthering Heights--Emily Bronte
17. Miss Trunchbull--Matilda--Roald Dahl
18. Cruella de Vil--101 Dalmations--Dodie Smith
19. The Wicked Witch of the West--The Wonderful Wizard of Oz--L. Frank Baum
20. The Grinch--How the Grinch Stole Christmas--Dr. Seuss

It's odd that both Lex Luthor and the Joker are said to come from graphic novels but that Magento Magneto comes from comics. But I have to say I learned something today. She came in at number 3, but I never knew that Coulter was Ann's married name.