Sunday, September 25, 2005

America's Bipartisan Failure of Leadership

The thin gruel which passes for public morality these days isn’t the fault of mammon-worshiping Republicans alone (though you might get that impression from this blog.)  Liberals and democrats have contributed amply to this decline (witness the shameful collaboration of so-called liberals such as Thomas Friedman on the Iraq war.)  The Democratic party has shrunk to its current sorry state in part because of its unwillingness to stand up for its convictions, or to even have any worth standing up for.  Where has the Democratic party been for all these years while government has steadily turned its back on the poor, abandoned the environment, and cheer-led one war after another?  The disappearance of leftist and socialist populism has fueled the rise of radical right-wing populism, which has poisoned contemporary discourse with its recognizable strains of paranoia, xenophobia, anti-intellectualism, and unabashed militarism.  While Democrats were busy triangulating, Republicans first seized and then consolidated their grip on the nation’s institutions of power.  In the meantime, there has been no one guarding the shop.  With neither party apparently responsive to the needs of ordinary individuals, most Americans have fulfilled Timothy Leary’s prophecy and simply turned on, tuned in, and dropped out.  Hence the “culture wars,” which are really artificial distractions from the work of dismantling and looting the country which is taking place behind the scenes.  The question for Democrats at this point is whether they will respond like a late-arriving burglar, looking to grab the last chandelier before the lights go out, or whether they will at long last offer Americans a reason to withhold our cynicism and favor democracy with at least the respect we lend the Oscars.

Friday, September 23, 2005

The Ruse of Privatization

I've read a number of articles in recent days about how a philosophy of "small government" - allegedly the property of either the federal government or that of the Gulf Coast states - is to blame for the disastrous aftermath of the hurricane. Although there may be some truth to this response, overall I believe that it distorts the facts and the real reasons for the tragedy. First, there is no way to reconcile the philosophy of small government with that of the Bush administration. Under President Bush, federal spending has increased to record levels; Bush has never in his Presidency vetoed a single bill, signing some of the most egregious pork barrel bills to ever pass through Congress; Bush has aggressively promoted expansions of federal programs, most notably the Medicare prescription drug benefit; in January of 2004, in the middle of the Iraq war, Bush threw his support behind a multi-billion dollar plan to launch a manned mission to Mars. Whatever else government has been under George W. Bush, it hasn't been small. From what little I know of the government of Louisiana, it isn't particularly small either, and it wasn't smallness alone which led to the failure to adequately secure the city. Rather, it was a complete lack of efficiency, transparency, and accountability. Money was spent in the wrong places, at the wrong times, for the wrong reasons. Priorities were out of order. Special interests were served first. Calling this debacle small government is a misnomer. It is bad government.
The entire phenomenon of so-called "privatization" which has become the familiar hallmark of the Bush era needs to be re-examined. It's been commonly assumed that privatization means what fiscal conservatives say it means: a reduction in the size of federal budgets, overall decreases in federal spending, the populist empowering of the private sector ("it's your money.") As far as I can tell, there is no evidence that this is actually the case. Under conservative rule, government has continued to grow at a more than healthy rate. What's changed is how government operates and who it serves. Under the Bush administration, government has become steadily less transparent, less accountable, and alarmingly inefficient. Cronyism and loyalty has replaced competence as the guiding principle of job appointments; the burden of social welfare has been drastically shifted onto the middle and lower classes; the refusal of the federal government to pay its share has placed an unprecedented burden on state and local governments. The overall result is the precise opposite of what the traditional conservatives claimed would happen under privatization: the federal government is hemorraging cash at an unsustainable rate. How is this possible? The answer is that privatization is something completely different than what it has claimed to be. Far from a reduction in the power and scope of government, privatization is actually a radical expansion of it. Imagine, for a moment, what a future might look like under the successful prosecution of Bush's conservative revolution. The liberal-democratic model of government would be entirely subsumed by the rise of the new capitalist super-state. This state would write and enforce its own laws, dictate public policy, control the flow of information, and allocate natural resources on a global scale. Its authority would be practically synonymous with the global economy itself. Survival outside of its orbit would be practically impossible. This exercise in science-fiction reveals that George W. Bush is presiding over not a reduction in the size or capacity of a traditional democratic government but rather the renovation and expansion of a vast politico-corporate bureaucracy, a new social class. While the outward form of the liberal state may remain intact, the public functions it has traditionally served are being actively transferred to these new authorities. Again, I cannot emphasize strongly enough that the power of government in this country is not on the wane. Rather, the power of democratic government is on the wane. Its usurper threatens to establish a hegemony not seen in North America since the forces of King George III were evicted - indeed, of much the same bearing and disposition.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Hurricane Katrina: 9/11's Delayed Reaction

The catastrophe of 9/11 was recognized immediately as a wake-up call to America: an opportunity to repent of a national frivolousness which had been steadily eroding democratic values for a very long time (I remember reading woeful mea culpas about how the summer of 2001 had been dominated by the media obsession with Gary Condit and Chandra Levy.) Unfortunately, George W. Bush was the President on September 11th, 2001, and he masterfully subverted this mood into a militant nostalgia reminiscent of fascism, declared himself the reincarnation of Winston Churchill, and identified liberalism (and its supposed corollary, homosexuality) as the enemy in our midst which needed to be expunged. In fact the real culprit was the malignant capitalist state of which he was the hierarch (and liberal America's passive accommodation of it - the combination of which might be labeled "post-modernism,") but that was soon lost in debates over fictionalized weapons of mass destruction and imaginary Saddamist plots against America. (My favorite of these will always be the killer robots Saddam was said to be preparing to attack us. A perfect touch!) Now, four years later, the democratic revolution staved off by the Bush administration four years ago may actually take place, courtesy of the latest disaster to befall these United States. It appears that in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Americans are waking up. Reality, the declared enemy of the Bush administration, is setting in. Worried about fraying race relations? The rising cost of energy? Unmanageable health care costs? Frightening budget deficits? Caring for an aging population? The disintegrating state of government services for the poor, elderly, and infirm? Manufacturing and service jobs heading overseas? Global warming, ocean and river pollution, shrinking wetlands, toxic waste dumps? The endangered American town? Terrorism? American GI's getting blown to smithereens by an invisible enemy in Iraq? More unfunded wars and natural disasters on the horizon? Where $200 billion is going to come from to rebuild three states from scratch? Pick your poison. The feeling is that of waking up and realizing that there is nobody behind the wheel, and that soothing voice you've been hearing from the front seat is a recording. I started off this post a little more optimistically than what I ended up writing - the hope that in the wake of the hurricane, the lessons of 9/11 might finally be learned - and there is hope, but it's hope shrouded in darkness. Most Americans long ago accepted the Reaganesque notion that government should be left to manage its own affairs, but that's the truth that's now crashing down around us. The long-awaited revival of democracy is no longer a luxury, but an imperative. It's the only way forward to forgiveness and renewal on the other side.

Good News From the Culture Wars

Some great news today courtesy of the Bible Literacy Project of Fairfax, Virginia, which has spent the past five years developing an Interfaith, non-partisan, well-researched textbook for teaching biblical literacy to high school students. The project was the result of cooperation from across denominational and religious boundaries, including "prominent evangelical, mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Jewish and secular experts" (AP.) I for one can't praise such an achievement highly enough. The lack of a standarized curriculum for religious education in high schools has seriously contributed to the decline of civic values. Please do not mistake me and think that for a moment I'm arguing in favor of right-wing populist shibboleths such as the Pledge of Allegiance or prayer in schools. Such rites are merely codes for discrimination. They do nothing to enlarge student's cultural or intellectual or spiritual horizons, they communicate nothing but partisanship and jingoism. I despise the modern conservative goal of replacing public education with religiously-inspired superstition. What I'm arguing for is simply the civic corollary to my conviction that religion and science must ultimately inspire each other. It is a fact that the twin tasks of civic (cultural, practical) and religious education have historically belonged together, and with good reason. To receive from respected authorities the most precious wisdom which any civilization has to offer is, without remainder, to experience the broadening of one's spiritual horizons, which is to say that education is a deeply spiritual process, and its outcome is strikingly similar to what St. Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Without this foundation, education can only justify itself through the contradictory logic of instrumentalism, an argument which renders the liberal arts and especially the spiritual arts a backwater. If education exists only as a subsidiary of the market-state, then literacy itself is dispensable, an archaism in the greater cosmos of the profit motive. Thus, while it may seem counter-intuitive, instrumentalization is eroding the very notion of a public space which is the essence of democracy. The willingness to act for purposes greater than oneself can only result from a knowledge of what I might call "sacred truth," and many of those truths are vested in religious traditions.
It's in this context that the achievement of the Bible Literacy Project deserves to be celebrated. In an era in which popular culture has nearly prevailed over cultural literacy; in which demagoguery has outflanked democracy; and in which political horizons have shrunk to such an alarming degree that violent radicalism seems like a rational choice to many, this is a triumph of moderation, respect, and mutual collaboration. This is the hard work of cultural renewal which will yield fruit for future generations. When education truly models the values that it professes, then we can all breathe the air of a better world: less jaded, less cynical, less crude; more open, more hopeful, more just. As American Jewish Congress attorney Marc Stern, an adviser on the effort, said "this book is proof that the despair is premature, that it is possible to acknowledge and respect deep religious differences and yet still find common ground." That's good news for us all.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Even an Act of God Isn't Going to Change George W. Bush

A humble, devout man might interpret certain events - such as 9/11, or Hurricane Katrina - as warnings from God to get his act together. Since time immemorial, that's how religious people have interpreted disasters, with mixed results. President Bush, on the other hand, is a classic narcissist who always interprets disaster as confirming all of his prejudices. It is always disaster for someone else, because they deserved it, and vindication for him - further affirmation of the infallibility of his calling. (This is why the logic of Dr. Strangelove fits Bush so perfectly: if the nukes were to start falling, he would be on the phone with Karl Rove working damage control and trying to find a way to give the rich a tax break.) So it should come as no surprise that Bush is trying to use the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to push his kooky agenda - the same agenda which landed the Gulf Coast in its current predicament, only worse. I believe the definition of insanity is when no argument and no evidence could possibly convince a person otherwise. After three of the worst disasters in this nation's history (9/11, Iraq, Katrina) I think it's safe to say that nothing in heaven or on earth could get Bush to change his mind about anything.

My Friend Katrina Evacuates Her Name

My friend Katrina has reluctantly decided to abandon her name, she told me the other day. "For a long time I held out hope that my name was salvageable," she said. "After all, no name has ever been completely destroyed by a storm before. I thought I could wait it out, but eventually it just got to be too much." Since the storm struck, my friend Katrina has been pounded by relentless media references to her name and a torrent of disapproval from strangers. "Everything I've put into my name has simply been washed away," Katrina stated. "There's nothing left to come back to." Katrina isn't looking forward to the post-Katrina era. "I never liked any of the nicknames for my name: Kat, Kit, Kitty," she reported. "I guess I'm going to have to pick one of them. Eventually I'll rebuild somewhere, but Katrina as I knew her is gone forever."

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Operation "Able Danger"

I've just read the disturbing news that a Pentagon employee is claiming to have destroyed key documents pertaining to the identification of Mohammed Atta as a terrorist back in 1999 at the orders of his supervisor. Apparently the documents were the result of a secret Clinton-era intelligence operation known as "Able Danger" - whose existence was so secret that 9/11 Commissioner Slade Gordon has stated "It just didn't happen." Does anyone know anything more about this operation or the circumstances under which the employee was ordered to destroy the documents? I won't prejudge the facts, but on the surface this seems like fuel for the fire for those who have claimed that the federal government had detailed knowledge of the movements of the hijackers. Recall, for instance, 9/11 widow Kristen Breitweiser's account of the exchange between herself and senior FBI agents, in which she questioned how the FBI managed to identify the very flight school in Florida at which some of the hijackers had trained within hours of the attack, and received the sarcastic retort, "We got lucky." I will keep a close eye on this story as it develops and welcome any new information anyone can provide.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Negotiating with al-Qaeda?

In an Op-Ed in today's Boston Globe, Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou, associate director of the Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research at Harvard, puts forth the notion that the United States should supplement its military campaign against al-Qaeda with a complementary strategy of direct negotiations and if necessary, concessions. I believe that there's a lot of merit to this idea, especially the paradigm shift that the U.S. should treat al-Qaeda as an organized militia with a specific political and military agenda rather than as a gang of blood-thirsty apocalyptic fanatics. Certainly this would help most Americans to come to a better understanding of the otherwise baffling war on terror (perhaps one of the main reasons why the Bush administration hasn't tried it.) However, I'm not as optimistic as Mohamedou that such negotiations would actually lead to a cease-fire with al-Qaeda, at least not in any initial phase. I take from Juan Cole, Professor of History at the University of Michigan (and one of the best informed and most insightful commentators on the war on terror) that al-Qaeda's goal is to overthrow all of what it considers the pro-Western puppet regimes in the Middle East. What bin Laden hopes will emerge, according to Cole, is some kind of Islamist super-state, preferably nuclear armed, with the capability of launching direct strikes against Israel and western targets, radically reducing the regional accommodation of the state of Israel and forcing western governments to withdraw their forces. Al-Qaeda thus envisions a reversal of what it perceives as a century of Muslim accommodation and humiliation at the hands of the imperialist west, and a renaissance of Islamic power.

Clearly, these goals cannot be reconciled with those of the United States. There is no possibility of a U.S. withdrawal from Muslim lands, nor will the U.S. withdraw its support for Israel. If negotations ever become possible, it will be as a result of U.S. victories in the war on terror forcing al-Qaeda to scale back its plans. The way things stand now, however, it doesn't seem as if al-Qaeda has any reason to negotiate. Bin Laden's grand vision of an Islamist neo-caliphate is halfway to realization, thanks to the folly of U.S. policy in Iraq, which could very well result in a new regional politics dominated by Iran.

In the long run Mohamedou may prove to be right. But real negotiations between al-Qaeda and the United States are at the moment so implausible, it's almost not worth talking about.

Joker Escapes Again

The Joker has escaped again, CIA director Porter Goss announced at a press conference on Tuesday. "We had him totally cornered on a catwalk in the Axis Chemical Factory, when all of a sudden he disappeared in a cloud of laughing gas," Goss reported. "By the time we came to our senses, he was long gone." Goss denied that any lapses in judgment had led to the failed operation. "You guys in the media don't know what we're going through up here. I've been on the phone 24/7 with Police Commissioner Gordon trying to solve this case. Rest assured, the government is doing everything it can to capture this killer," he stated. Earlier, President Bush defended his administration's actions. "No one in my government will rest until the Joker has been safely returned to Arkham Asylum where he belongs," he promised. "Then we will all sleep safely knowing that a sworn enemy of America has been brought to justice." The Joker is the prime suspect in a string of slayings, robberies, and public mayhem which has terrorized Gotham City for more than fifty years.

Monday, September 12, 2005

The Question of Evil

One of the questions people inevitably ask in the wake of a horrendous natural disaster such as Hurricane Katrina is how a good God could allow such things to happen. The genre of theological reasoning which attempts to answer such questions is called theodicy. In recent years theologians have had great success in attacking the classical form of the "argument from evil," which states that the existence of evil is incompatible with the existence of an all-powerful, good God. Theologians have successfully demonstrated that much of the evil in the world is the result of free will, and established the possibility that free will may ultimately be a greater good than all of the evil it causes. As the debate stands today, the question is not so much whether a good God might permit some evil, but rather why does God permit so much of it? And why does it always seem to happen to the wrong people? Further, what about natural disasters, which are beyond the control of human beings? Why doesn't God, for instance, whisk everyone out of the way when a hurricane is about to strike? Or why don't angels sound audible alarms from heaven? The argument from anti-theists is that the amounts and kinds of evil we actually find in the world make the existence of an all-powerful, good God seem implausible.
I believe that a successful response to this argument must hinge on a defense of the kind of world God created. We might start with G.K. Chesterton's rejoinder, what about the problem of pleasure? Why, the corpulent man of letters wondered, is life so enjoyable? If the non-theist can imagine a world which is far better than this one, the theist can easily imagine one which is much worse! If we begin to examine the world to learn what about it is so enjoyable, we will find there is a paradox to pleasure: it is often dangerous. If we take God to have "made" waterfalls, then God is also responsible for the possibility of being crushed by them. The same goes for the beauty of mountains, which are beautiful in part because they are high enough to fall to your death from. Lions and tigers would not be as glorious if they lacked the spirit and capability of devouring their prey (a lion fed manna by angels would be a disappointment.) What is this sense of intrigue and delight which is both thrilling and dangerous? I believe that it is close to the spirit of science itself. Adventure, discovery, and transformation, require a universe with enough heft, enough density and complexity, to make the journey worthwhile. Not only that but in that process there is always a sense of risk - a self-giving, self-sacrificing willingness to take chances in order to take that next step. For every "something more," there's a "something less," or at least the possibility of it, a natural ebb and flow which is close to the flesh and bone of science itself.
Would we give up the awesome power of hurricanes if we could know for sure that no one would ever be killed or injured by one? What else would we be prepared to give up - how child-proofed would we want God to make the universe - if it meant guaranteeing everyone's safety and security? Or isn't it the case that there's something to love in this creation, some gut response to the sheer power and beauty and even love we find in nature, even when it kills us?

More Responses to the Worst of the Worst

ts said...
extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
don't you think jacoby has a point about neutral organizations such as the red cross?
2:41 PM

weazoe said...
Did you actually read the articles? The Herald's investigation was based on an internal Unicef report, from which it quotes at length. In addition, the investigation cites first-hand reports from German and Iraqi journalists, and quotes human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and the Red Cross as saying that they are aware of and extremely concerned about the problem of child detainees. This is what the report says about the Red Cross:
Between January and May this year the Red Cross registered a total of 107 juveniles in detention during 19 visits to six coalition prisons. The aid organisation’s Rana Sidani said they had no complete information about the ages of those detained, or how they had been treated. The deteriorating security situation has prevented the Red Cross visiting all detention centres.
By the way at least one fact in this story has been widely reported on in the blogosphere and the mainstream media: the rape of a sixteen year old boy. You can read about it at cbsnews here and the washington post here.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

New Show About Black President Marketed Like Science Fiction

The new television drama, "He's the Chief," is a wild-eyed, fantastical journey through a dream-like, futuristic landscape, according to press releases. The premise of the show? A black man becomes President. "This show will boggle your mind," said studio executive Walt Evans. "It's going to be like the X-Files, only even more unbelievable. When you first get a glimpse of the President sitting in the Oval Office - and he's black! - you're going to know you're in an alternative universe." Some critics have questioned whether the show's premise is just too fantastical for audiences to accept. "It reminds me of that Max Headroom show back in the '80's," said Variety reviewer Bernie Wallace. "Critics loved it because it was so challenging and innovative, but audiences couldn't get their heads around the concept. Science fiction doesn't usually reach a wide audience." Some viewers were already looking forward to the premier, however. "I think it's going to be one of those cult things, like Twin Peaks," said Melodie Fairchild of Seattle. "I mean, it might be a little weird, but you have to hand it to these guys. A black President? Sometimes the craziest ideas make the best shows."

We'll Meet Again Someday

The news that the Pentagon is revising the Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations to openly declare the possibility of launching a first strike against terrorists or states suspected of harboring them doesn't exactly come as a surprise, since the Bush Administration has been seeking funding for bunker busting nuclear warheads for three years now and had already hinted that it has a pre-emptive nuclear policy in place. And also since the character played by Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove, who rides a warhead bareback to its destination, is a perfectly eerie prophecy of George W. himself. So, the Bush administration has one last gift it wants to give to the world before 2008: a nuclear holocaust. We sort of knew that already. Nevertheless, it's not good news for those of us who plan to be inhabiting the planet for any of the next several decades. How exactly does one launch a pinpoint strike against a terrorist hideout? We can't capture bin Laden because supposedly we don't know where he is. Then what good are nuclear weapons against them? And does it really make sense to think that this policy would actually deter al-Qaeda from launching a WMD attack? I would think, if anything, it would encourage them to do so. The Bush administration has the worst record of any Presidency since the end of World War II on containing nuclear weapons in part because it has repudiated the successful containment strategies of its predecessors, including international non-proliferation and test ban agreements. What the Bush administration doesn't understand is that by rejecting the non-proliferation framework of the Cold War it has effectively promoted nuclear lawlessness, leaving states such as North Korea and Iran with no reasonable choice but to pursue nuclear weapons. These states, whose interests inevitably conflict with ours, have no other deterrent in light of the Bush administration's stated intention to topple their governments through any available means, including nuclear weapons. The Bush administration's nuclear policy is as unwise as it is immoral. It's a foolish government that gives its enemies no choice but to prepare to meet force with force.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Statisticians Inversely Correlate Lindsay Lohan, Houston

Statisticians have discovered a remarkable inverse correlation between the collective weight of the city of Houston and that of Lindsay Lohan, researchers announced yesterday. "It's amazing," stated population analyst and celebrity guru Richard Sanchez. "Over the past two years, the ratio has never varied. As Houston has gotten fatter, Lohan has gotten skinnier. According to our latest calculations, Lohan now weighs about as much as an average Houstonian's butt-cheek." Concerned mathematicians were quick to draw the obvious conclusion. "If the city of Houston can't get its weight down, Lindsay is doomed," announced demographer Barbara Ellsworth. "She's already on the brink. A few more pounds on the part of the average Houstonian and Lindsay is just going to disappear." As of Friday researchers were desperately trying to get the word out on the street. "Please, Houstonians," Ellsworth pleaded. "The next time you go to grab that double-cheeseburger, think twice. Do you really want to be the fat-ass who killed Lindsay Lohan?"

Friday, September 09, 2005

What Happens Now? The End of an Ideology

After 9/11, I woke up in a Bizarro-world where George W. Bush was the most powerful man on earth and whatever he happened to think on that day passed for absolute truth. Ever since, I've had the nagging feeling of having stumbled into the wrong reality - that somewhere in another dimension, Al Gore is President and everything is just the way it used to be. Well, history carries with it its own ironies, reversals, and concealed symmetries. It appears now that as the winds of Hurricane Katrina bore down on New Orleans, we may have been blown back into the "regular" world, the very one we departed from when the planes struck the World Trade Center.

What I mean is that although the catastrophe of 9/11 impacted America in ways that we still don't fully understand, one of the most significant and unexpected consequences was a sudden shift in the national and global balance of power, a dangerous and unfortunate accident which just happened to benefit an extraordinarily fanatical and corrupt regime. In effect the hijacked airliners struck a bulls-eye in the heart of the American democratic tradition, catalyzing an authoritarianism which might otherwise have simply lain dormant. 9/11 created a different America that had always been a possibility but had never yet become actualized. That was 9/11. That was one catastrophe, and its consequences.

Now almost exactly four years later, Hurricane Katrina has struck the United States with equal force, and its repercussions may be exactly the opposite of the previous disaster. In a "post-Katrina" America, it's the Bush administration which looks and sounds hollow and out of touch, with none of its ploys and feints working anymore. The hurricane and its aftermath has galvanized the very populace which has been most complacent in the gradual erosion of freedom and rationality from the character of American public life. The obligation of citizenship, so basic to any civilization, has resurfaced as a legitimate moral concern. The dry bones of democracy are threatening resurrection.

All of this comes at an enormous cost. The suffering of the hurricane and flood victims is just the beginning of the staggering debt we have accumulated through our moral complacency. It includes the suffering of tens of thousands of Iraqis sent to their deaths by American tax-payers, environmental destruction on a global scale, cultural annihilation from Baghdad to Darfur to New Orleans, and everywhere the burden of poverty: violence, crime, neglect, discrimination. This debt is simply the price of admission to our new sobriety, which must become a genuine accounting for our myriad failures as stewards of this time and place, and a realistic assessment of what is now possible and necessary given the damage that's been done.

What I'm saying is that our work is just getting started. We all bear our part in the catastrophe which has been this American way of life, of which the Bush administration has simply been the worst excess, and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina its most visible consequence. Cleaning up after that disaster - that's the task that lies ahead.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Responses to The Worst of the Worst

Isabella di Pesto wrote:

James Carroll had a wonderful column in the Globe the other day. He's my favorite writer there.
I used to write to Jacoby regularly to point out his inaccuracies and contradictions. I don't anymore.
I'm sending this post around in an email to everyone in my address book.
But I'm not sure Americans can cope with this disaster as well as the one in the Gulf Coast.
Words fail me.

I responded:

I agree with you that James Carroll is a wonderful writer. I didn't mean to impugn him in my post because out of the entire media he has probably been the most reliable, insightful, and sanest throughout the Bush years. When I spoke to him, it was after a talk he had given in Cambridge, and I told him about the Mackay article. I think that he didn't take me seriously because he thought I was some kind of conspiracy theorist, some crazy guy who had shown up at this talk, which is funny because that's what I felt like. What had happened to me was that in finally losing all faith in the media, I had turned myself into an outsider. I was by definition discredited by the circular logic so perfectly stated by Jacoby in his email to me: what I was saying must not be true because the media had not reported it, and the media would not listen to me because I was discredited. Being trapped by this argument made me feel more and more like a conspiracy theorist, but it was the feeling that society was going insane and not me. This must be what it feels like, I concluded, to try and retain one's bearings in a society which is lurching towards tyranny - almost impossible.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Bush In Plain Sight

On Friday the Washington Times voiced a complaint against the President for his many failures in light of the disaster in the Gulf Coast, stating, "We expected to see, many hours ago, the President we saw standing atop the ruins of the World Trade Center, rallying a dazed country to action." The recollection of the President's visit to Ground Zero on September 14th, 2001, strikes me as a little off. Bush basically shouted some inarticulate words about revenge, and that was that. This was not exactly the Gettysburg Address. To conservatives who may finally be opening their eyes to the general lack of character and basic adequacy of this most powerful politician in recent history, I welcome you to reality the way the rest of us have been experiencing it lo these past five years. To me, the Bush whose lack of foresight, disconnectedness, excruciating insensitivity, unserious intellect, and inability to grasp the real nature of a crisis and respond to it, is the same Bush who spent 9/11 fleeing in Air Force One and taking orders from Dick Cheney, who ginned up a phony war based on conned intelligence, who has failed to lead the nation or even offer comfort during that war and the hardships it has imposed on all of us. It's the same guy. I don't know what Bush was thinking by joking to flood victims about his misspent youth in New Orleans, any more than I know what he was thinking when he said that Saddam Hussein was planning to attack America with unmanned aerial drones. For that matter, I don't know what he was thinking back in 1972 when he got drunk, urinated on a parked car, and yelled obscenities at police officers. What can I say? I've never voted for him, for just that reason. To those who did, I can only say that George W. Bush, as far as I can tell, has never changed. He's the same guy you voted for last November. The exact same guy. I promise.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The War Against, You Name It

Regular readers of this blog are familiar with my low opinion of the right-to-life movement, due especially to its disgusting habit of enforcing its anti-woman ideology rather than even attempting to reduce the number of abortions which take place annually. Apparently nothing is going to change anytime soon. Last week the FDA announced that it is indefinitely delaying the decision over whether the morning-after pill can be sold over the counter, offering up the flimsy excuse that the pill would fall into the hands of horny 16 year olds who would use it for the nefarious purpose of screwing in the restrooms [pardon the paraphrase.] This excuse makes no sense because for one thing, pharmacies can solve the problem with a simple ID check and for another, everybody knows that teenagers never use contraception anyway. (Who would have thought that getting teens to take responsibility for their sexual lives could even be possible, let alone undesirable?) The means by which the FDA arrived at its decision is even weirder: it came as a fiat from the commissioner, apparently without the consensus or approval of the rest of the agency. Now FDA Assistant Commissioner Susan Wood has resigned in protest, and with good reason. This is a piece of such rank hypocrisy that it could only be the work of the religious right. There's not space here to wonder again why the Bush administration continues to wage its war on science. I had hoped, however, that a supposedly "pro-life" administration (whatever that means) might at least show a grain of interest in a tool which could cut the estimated 3 million unintended pregnancies which occur every year in half. No such luck. Given a choice between making real progress on abortion, and controlling female bodies like chattle, well there's no choice at all.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Black People Coming Out of Woodwork

Black people are coming out of the woodwork, local and national media reported this week in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. "What the - black people? Living in America?" stated Utah resident and white person Shane McConnell when confronted with the unexpected news. "Didn't they all leave this country - like after the Civil War or something? I had no idea there were any of them still hanging around." Other residents of all-white communities recalled seeing black people in movies and on stage, but never in real life. "I knew that Bill Cosby, Eddie Murphy, all of those guys were black and living somewhere in America," said life-long Kansas resident Janet Murphy. "But I was damn surprised to turn on my tv and see that all the people they kept saying were drowning and all that were black. I just thought to myself, where on earth did you people come from?" Media personalities were quick to capitalize on the new phenomena. "I need you to get me a black person for tomorrow's broadcast, pronto," Katie Couric was heard ordering to her staff. "I'll be damned if Diane Sawyer is going to be the first journalist to interview a black person live on national tv."

Massive Terror Attack on New Orleans Postponed Indefinitely

Would-be suicide bombers, explosives operatives, and other terrorist foot-soldiers were disappointed this week to learn that the planned attack on New Orleans has been postponed indefinitely. "I couldn't believe it when I got the news," said a bitterly disappointed Yusuf Al-Hassad, a Yemeni radical who had been training with al-Qaeda in eastern Afghanistan. "This mission has been in the works for a year now. We had our gear ready to go and everything. I even made a suicide video," he said with obvious frustration. "Yes, now we are all out of work," his colleague and artillery expert Mohammed Al-Sadr agreed. "What am I supposed to tell my wife? Sorry, New Orleans has already been destroyed? I'm going to be hanging around the house for the next six months now." Long lines could be seen outside of Osama bin Laden's headquarters as terrorists received the news and started looking for work. "It's getting so that a suicide bomber can't even find decent work anymore," al-Hassad said as he leafed through an unemployment brochure. "George Bush has done more damage to America than we ever could."

The Worst of the Worst

I first read this story on child torture by American forces, and this one, last year when it was published in the free daily paper the Boston Metro. It was never reprinted or mentioned in any other American paper. Last summer I started to believe that I was going crazy because I could not believe that such a shocking and profoundly significant story could simply be ignored by the entire American media. I spoke in person about the story to Boston Globe columnist James Carroll, and never heard or read anything more from him. In fact, my confusion led to the following bizarre interchange between myself and Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby:

Dear Mr. Jacoby,
You have frequently written about how Saddam Hussein's infamous atrocities justified the U.S. invasion of Iraq, citing as most egregious the imprisonment and torture of children as an interrogation technique.  This is certainly the sickest thing I can think of in the modern world.  Now it appears it is being practiced by the United States, as reported in this Scottish newspaper and oddly, nowhere else.  You have consistently denounced any comparisons between the actions of the U.S. in Iraq and what Saddam did there.  Is this still a defensible position?  Surely there is no way to spin, no way to rationalize, this kind of atrocity.  If it's true, it's on par with the My Lai massacre and the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans in WWII as examples of Americans acting no differently than the dictators we opposed.  Those who have sanctioned it should be removed from power as soon as possible, prosecuted, and sentenced to prison.  It is not a matter of partisanship but a matter of conscience for every American whose political will goes to support this war. wrote:

I'd like to know if the Red Cross or any other neutral organization has confirmed this
report. The media would certainly be all over it if it were deemed

Jeff Jacoby
Op-Ed columnist
The Boston Globe

Finally, in an attempt to save my sanity, I contacted the reporter Neil Mackay myself, and asked him if he would try to "prove" that he existed, a la Snuffalapagus. He told me that was well aware that the American media had frozen out anything it didn't want to hear, and that he had long since given up trying to "prove" anything. So there the story rested, until now. Recently I've read the rumors about the as yet unseen photos from Abu Ghraib, and apparently they will finally confirm the story that Neil Mackay broke over a year ago. And the media will pretend like this was the first time anyone ever heard of it.

I Liked this Movie the First Time I Saw It...

Remember that movie The Day After Tomorrow? The disaster flick about global warming? A lot of conservatives pooh-poohed its pop-environmentalist message, using the film's Hollywood effects and cheesy storyline to pour scorn on the science of global warming. Well, Jake Gyllenhaal aside, that movie looks pretty prophetic now. From frightening weather conditions, to massive flooding, to enormous refugee camps, this may be the new face of global warming. In fact, the whole post-Katrina situation has that eerie feeling of science fiction suddenly becoming reality. Isn't this exactly the scenario that global warming Cassandras have been warning about for years? Which begs the question, will New Orleans be the last American city to end up under water? Or is this a sign of things to come?

Jake Gyllenhaal: Laughing Prophet of Doom?

Friday, September 02, 2005

Katrina Reveals The Ugly Truth About the Bush Era

If the rest of the world didn't know already that the United States in the Bush era is a land of shocking economic disparities, inflamed racial tensions, and increasing poverty for a neglected minority of its citizens, it does now. The sight of masses of black refugees, many of them children and elders, dying while the Bush administration twiddled its thumbs can now be added to the canon of heart-rending and deeply disturbing images produced during the Bush Era, including Ground Zero, the invasion of Baghdad, the assassination of Saddam Hussein's sons, and the iconic torture photos of Abu Ghraib. What Hurricane Katrina has laid bare is the soul of a nation in a deep spiritual crisis, foundering for lack of any kind of leadership. It's a feeling which has become sadly familiar and promises only to become more so as the nation's problems worsen. The looting which occurred in the wake of Katrina is only a symptom of these problems. It is the sign of a people who have become totally disenfranchised from the political process. The distance between their lives and those who ostensibly govern them is immeasurable. They have no recourse, no voice, in Bush's America. That's what Bush has been working assiduously to take away for these past five years - from the gutting of the nation's social infrastructure through war and tax cuts, to vindictive federal "reforms" such as the bankruptcy and litigation acts. Over and over, Bush has proved that he does not even begin to understand such people. His government simply does not represent them. His mindset is entirely shaped by privilege, which produces his characteristic insecurity and defensiveness. America is rotting under Bush's leadership. The voices from across the social spectrum are growing more angry, more frustrated, and more demanding. If nothing changes - if the media refuses to hold the government accountable, if Congress refuses to regulate business and represent the people, if the government refuses to begin addressing the most grievous of its abuses - then there's more where that came from. This has been Bush's summer of discontent, but the worst is yet to come.

Life in New Orleans Pretty Much Like It Always Is

This past week in New Orleans, many hundreds, mostly minorities, died or suffered due to inadequate health care, lack of shelter, malnutrition, dehydration, and gross neglect. This came amidst reports that well-off police officers and restauranteurs were waiting out the chaos in luxury hotels. "Actually, that's pretty much how things work here," said one of the cops as he relaxed in a four star hotel lobby sipping champagne. "It's good to know that even with the hurricane and all, some things about New Orleans never change."

Looting in Washington Continues Unabated

The federal government continued to be ransacked by looters Friday night as authorities were unable to restore control. "The situation is worsening," said a desperate populace over-run by the violent thugs. "Remember that nine billion dollars stolen in Iraq? That's nothing compared to what's going on now." Some of the looters could be seen exiting the Capitol building, where they had grabbed valuable public assets such as pension funds, slush funds, transportation, defense, and health care dollars, and the United States Social Security system. The filthy savages could also be seen plundering the financial district, leaving with fistfuls of money stolen from gas, oil, and electricity-buying taxpayers.

One of the violent looters

Bush Assures Public New Orleans Safe to Swim In

George W. Bush assured a public grown increasingly anxious over the recent flooding in New Orleans that the city is safe to swim in. "Now I know there's a lot of people saying that they don't feel safe swimming in New Orleans. They say they've seen sharks and alligators in that water, and they're afraid to go near it. They say there's decaying corpses floating around. I want them to know they have nothing to be afraid of. New Orleans is a safe, enjoyable place to take your family swimming." To back his words up, Bush took a brief swim down 17th Street, proclaiming the water "refreshing."