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September 28, 2006

"A profound betrayal"

Glenn Greenwald, again:

[E]ven with the extreme range of abuses the Bush presidency has brought, this is undeniably something different, and worse, by magnitude, not merely by degree.

There is a profound and fundamental difference between an Executive engaging in shadowy acts of lawlessness and abuses of power on the one hand, and, on the other, having the American people, through their Congress, endorse, embrace and legalize that behavior out in the open, with barely a peep of real protest. Our laws reflect our values and beliefs. And our laws are about to explicitly codify one of the most dangerous and defining powers of tyranny -- one of the very powers this country was founded in order to prevent.

One could cite an infinite number of sources to demonstrate what a profound betrayal this bill is of the fundamental promises of the American system of government. [And he does. pk]

In one sense, these observations are compelling because they define the core of what our country is supposed to be. But in another sense, they don't matter, because our Government is controlled by people and their followers who literally don't understand and, worse, simply do not believe in the defining values and principles of America. They know that this bill is a seizure of the most un-American powers imaginable, but their allegiance is to the acquisition of unlimited power and nothing else.

It was taken as an article of faith by Beltway Democrats that Americans want to relinquish these protections and radically change our system of government in the name of terrorism, so no political figures of national significance really tried to convince them they ought not to. We'll never really know whether Americans really wanted to do this or not because the debate was never engaged. It was ceded.

And as a result, we are now about to vest in the President the power to order anyone -- U.S. citizen, resident alien or foreign national -- detained indefinitely in a military prison regardless of where they are -- U.S. soil or outside of the country. American detainees are either cut off from any meaningful judicial review and everyone else is cut off completely. They can be subject to torture with no recourse, and all of this happens on the unchecked say-so of the administration. Really, what could be more significant than this?

Posted by pk at 11:08 AM

September 27, 2006

"The president's power to imprison people forever"

Glen Greenwald, Salon, Sept. 26:

The administration is obviously aware of the transparent, and really quite pitiful, election-based fear that is consuming Democrats and rendering them unwilling to impede (or even object to) the administration's seizure of more and more unchecked power in the name of fighting terrorism. As a result of this abdication by the Democrats, the Washington Post reports, the administration spent the weekend expanding even further the already-extraordinary torture and detention powers vested in it by the McCain-Warner-Graham "compromise." To illustrate just how profoundly dangerous these powers are, it is worthwhile to review a specific, current case of an actual detainee in the administration's custody.

Bilal Hussein is an Associated Press photographer and Iraqi citizen who has been imprisoned by the U.S. military in Iraq for more than five months, with no charges of any kind. Prior to that, he was repeatedly accused by right-wing blogs of being in cahoots with Iraqi insurgents based on the content of his photojournalism -- accusations often based on allegations that proved to be completely fabricated and fictitious. The U.S. military now claims that Hussein has been lending "support" to the Iraqi insurgents, whereas Hussein maintains that his only association with them is to report on their activities as a journalist. But Hussein has no ability to contest the accusations against him or prove his innocence because the military is simply detaining him indefinitely and refusing even to charge him.

Under the military commission legislation blessed by our Guardians of Liberty in the Senate -- such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham -- the U.S. military could move Hussein to Guantánamo tomorrow and keep him there for the rest of his life, and he would have absolutely no recourse of any kind. It does not need to bring him before a military commission (the military only has to do that if it wants to execute someone) and as long as it doesn't, he is blocked from seeking an order from a U.S. federal court to release him on the ground that he is completely innocent. As part of his permanent imprisonment, the military could even subject him to torture and he would have no legal recourse whatsoever to contest his detention or his treatment. As Johns Hopkins professor Hilary Bok points out, even the use of the most extreme torture techniques that are criminalized will be immune from any real challenge, since only the government (rather than detainees) will be able to enforce such prohibitions.

Put another way, this bill would give the Bush administration the power to imprison people for their entire lives, literally, without so much as charging them with any wrongdoing or giving them any forum in which to contest the accusations against them. It thus vests in the administration the singularly most tyrannical power that exists -- namely, the power unilaterally to decree someone guilty of a crime and to condemn the accused to eternal imprisonment without having even to charge him with a crime, let alone defend the validity of those accusations. Just to look at one ramification, does one even need to debate whether this newly vested power of indefinite imprisonment would affect the willingness of foreign journalists to report on the activities of the Bush administration? Do Americans really want our government to have this power?

The changes that the administration reportedly secured over the weekend for this "compromise" legislation make an already dangerous bill much worse. Specifically, the changes expand the definition of who can be declared an "enemy combatant" (and therefore permanently detained and tortured) from someone who has "engaged in hostilities against the United States" (meaning actually participated in war on a battlefield) to someone who has merely "purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States."

Expanding the definition in that way would authorize, as Kate Martin of the Center for National Security Studies points out, the administration's "seizure and indefinite detention of people far from the battlefield." The administration would be able to abduct anyone, anywhere in the world, whom George W. Bush secretly decrees has "supported" hostilities against the United States. And then they could imprison any such persons at Guantánamo -- even torture them -- forever, without ever having to prove anything to any tribunal or commission. (The Post story also asserts that the newly worded legislation "does not rule out the possibility of designating a U.S. citizen as an unlawful combatant," although the Supreme Court ruled [in the 2004 case of Hamdi v. Rumsfeld] that there are constitutional limits on the government's ability to detain U.S. citizens without due process.)

The tyrannical nature of these powers is not merely theoretical. The Bush administration has already imprisoned two American citizens -- Jose Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi -- and held them in solitary confinement in a military prison while claiming the power to do so indefinitely and without ever having to bring charges. And now, it is about to obtain (with the acquiescence, if not outright support, of Senate Democrats) the express statutory power to detain people permanently (while subjecting them, for good measure, to torture) without providing any venue to contest the validity of their detention. And as Democrats sit meekly by, the detention authority the administration is about to obtain continues -- literally each day -- to expand, and now includes some of the most dangerous and unchecked powers a government can have.

There are two reasons, both supported by our quaking fear of the omnipotent terrorist threat, why these measures are being politely discussed rather than angrily dismissed. The first is because we don't care about the presumption of innocence for anyone suspected of terrorism; the second is because there's a popular denial of the humanity of the potentially innocent people in question. There's no other reason we're able to even consider suspending habeas corpus, denying due process, and defying the moral injunction against torture. And to think we're being led into it by the ideologues who drape their think tanks and foundations with names like Liberty and Freedom and Heritage and Christian.

Those laws aren't there to protect black-hearted terrorists with scimitars and dripping fangs. They're there to protect innocent people. But what if we don't consider those innocents to be people? Americans who never knew Natalee Holloway or Laci Peterson or Terri Schiavo will weep real and copious tears for them because "they're just like me." But someone like Bilal Hussein or Maher Arar, victims not of rare and random violence or misfortune but of systematic government actions? Not so much. They're foreign, you see. We may not actively hate them or wish bad things upon them but...eh, stuff happens.

But dehumanization doesn't stop at the border. Look at the way the extremists on the right talk about liberals and "the left." We're treasonous, immoral goons; when they're not laughing at our fool-headed clowning, they're reviling us as libertine traitors who hate this country. Always our "rage" and "hatred" are underscored--we are not alarmed citizens or political opponents seeking to better our nation: we are irrational enemies of America and freedom. There's no such thing as an "innocent liberal." The less sense it makes--why would we seek the destruction of the place where we live?--the more irrational it proves we are, and the less entitled we are to the protections the Constitution once guaranteed.

Who is it, really, that hates our freedom? The Republicans, with the spineless Democrats' acquiescence, are seeking to win another election by throwing red meat to the mob. They are cowards peddling fear, and if they succeed, it will eventually be the mob that rules.

UPDATE: I thought I might be being a tad hyperbolic with that fear-talk about liberals being next and stuff....

But inserted at the very end [of the summary of the National Intelligence Estimate on "Trends in Global Terrorism"] is this one overlooked, though seemingly quite important, passage that identifies other terrorist threats:

"Anti-U.S. and anti-globalization sentiment is on the rise and fueling other radical ideologies. This could prompt some leftist, nationalist, or separatist groups to adopt terrorist methods to attack US interests. The radicalization process is occurring more quickly, more widely, and more anonymously in the Internet age, raising the likelihood of surprise attacks by unknown groups whose members and supporters may be difficult to pinpoint." It continues: "We judge that groups of all stripes will increasingly use the Internet to communicate, propagandize, recruit, train and obtain logistical and financial support."

There have been scattered reports [2nd link mine--pk] over the last several years that the Bush administration's anti-terrorism programs have targeted domestic political groups solely because such groups espouse views contrary to the administration's. That this claim about "leftist" terrorist groups made it into the NIE summary is particularly significant in light of the torture and detention bill that is likely soon to be enacted into law. That bill defines "enemy combatant" very broadly (and the definition may be even broader by the time it is enacted) and could easily encompass domestic groups perceived by the administration to be supporting a "terrorist agenda."

Similarly, the administration has claimed previously that it eavesdrops on the conversations of Americans only where there is reasonable grounds (as judged by the administration) to believe that one of the parties is affiliated with a terrorist group. Does that include "leftist" groups that use the Internet to organize? This NIE finding gives rise to this critical question: Are "leftist" groups one of the principal targets on the anti-terrorism agenda of the Bush administration, and if so, aren't the implications rather disturbing?

Posted by pk at 8:07 AM

September 22, 2006

Truth is stranger than friction

"You might think that the enormous gulf between Bush's perceptions and reality on such a life-and-death topic would be, well, newsworthy":

BLITZER: I'll read to you what Kofi Annan said on Monday. He said, "If current patterns of alienation and violence persist much further, there is a grave danger the Iraqi state will break down, possibly in the midst of a full-scale civil war." Is this what the American people bought into?

BUSH: You know, it's interesting you quoted Kofi. I'd rather quote the people on the ground who are very close to the situation, and who live it day by day, our ambassador [Zalmay Khalizad] or General [George] Casey [the top U.S. military official in Iraq]. I ask this question all the time, tell me what it's like there, and this notion that we're in civil war is just not true according to them. These are the people that live the issue. . . .

The Iraqi government and the Iraqi military is committed to keeping this country together. And so therefore, I reject the notion that this country is in civil war based upon experts, not based upon people who are speculating. . . .

That's how I learn it. I can't learn it--I can't--frankly, can't learn it from your newscasts. What I have got to learn it from is people who are there on the ground.

"Blitzer let the issue drop. The reality check only came several hours later, as Soleded O'Brien was talking to CNN Iraq correspondent Michael Ware":

O'BRIEN: You heard what the president had to say, which is, essentially, the good news that out there is not getting reported. Have you found that to be true on the ground where you have been?

WARE: Oh, look, really, nothing could be further from the truth. I mean, the fact that, when President Bush talks about those living on the ground, and he cites General Casey and Ambassador Khalilzad, I mean, these are men who could not be more divorced from the Iraqi reality. They very much live within a bubble, be it physically within the Green Zone or be it within the bubble of heavy U.S. protection. And this is true even for their advisers and for the commanders and the American soldiers. I mean, they never take the uniform off. The Iraqi people can never talk to them unless through a filter.

It's very different than living amongst them. And when people say not enough good news stories are being told, you ask an Iraqi family what it is that they're experiencing when their street--the bodies of their neighbors are showing up on their streets. Their kids can't go to school, for fear of crossing sectarian lines. And the kidnapping and killings are just going on around them.

There is no reality outside the cave shadows of American politics. Whoever tells the more compelling narrative holds the floor, and the wags and handicappers in the press cock an eyebrow and say, "Well played, Mr Rove!" Maybe they, too, dread being held accountable for their culpability when and if there's a return of honesty and responsible oversight.

All the media's lapses notwithstanding, the truth is there in plain view for anyone willing to see it. It comes down to the voters deciding, against all the political and procedural odds stacked in Bush and the Republicans' favor, that it's time for them to go; that they rise above this fog of propaganda and argument and judge things for themselves. To those still in need of convincing, the howls of the left are merely the ravings of rage-addled zealots whose hatred for Bush was somehow encoded in our DNA, and not the product of observation and reasoned analysis over the past six years.

Even the most simple statement of fact is now so contrary to administration statements that, in order for the unconvinced to believe what you say is true, they must first be convinced that Bush Is A Liar. And here we come up against the conundrum of the Big Lie. Its audacity is its greatest advantage. The right's dishonest narrative is so effective because it's so difficult to baby-walk even innocent believers backwards to its points of origin. I know: I've tried, with decent, well-meaning people. There are too many layers of things that people must be convinced are not so, and at any step, their wall may go up. In fact, even if they hear and accept everything you say, they may still remain fundamentally unchanged, because their identification is still so strong as an opponent of what you say and all the nasty people they've heard saying it. What you say may be true, but they're too invested in the conflict to just let it go.

I go dumb for long stretches here because what is there to say about Iraq that was not true in November of '02 or March of '03? What is there that was true then that hasn't grown more stark and deadly serious every month since then: the lies that took us there, the historical factors that always stood in the way of success, the blatant and seemingly willful incompetence that guaranteed failure? How have the bombings in Madrid and London, the reliable reappearances of bin Laden, even the administration's own shameless hyping of overblown and hypothetical terrorist threats FAILED TO CONVINCE PEOPLE that we are not, on Bush's terms, "winning the war on terror"?

It's breathtakingly bold politics to willfully shove the truth to the opposing side and then slander it as rhetoric, talking points, moonbattery. And what do you know, it works! Everything's possible at that point. If one side has to be lying for a conflict to be sustained, then anyone can be lying. The elevation of narrative (however dishonest yet compelling and flattering) over facts (which conveniently grow more and more difficult to confront) in the political conversation has trapped us all. It has forced us all through the looking glass. It confounds me, really, what the polticians, pundits, and bloggers of the right--and I'm talking about the supposedly reasonable ones, not the outright shit-eaters--think they will have won in the end. To them, it seems, there are no ends, only the consistently profitable means, and the more they stoke the fires of conflict and controversy--which the promotion of lies cannot fail to do--the more attention and ratings there are to be garnered, playing upon the people's easy preconceptions, biases, and desire not to be bothered. They've built a giant edifice of lies whose very existence legitimizes it. Reputations, careers, networks, whole government agencies--how can all of this be built on deception? The strength of that audacity attracts and seduces even innocent supporters, who don't just buy those lies, they invest in them. As the consequences of failure and exposure increase, so does their resolve. They don't want to look like liars, much less chumps, much less admit defeat to the corrupt or comically inept opponents they've seen vilified for so long....

Right-wing Republican control of America is a bubble, and one day it will burst. It's an old story. The only questions are how violent the explosion will be; whether there will be anything left of our government or political system; and whether that will be a good thing or a bad thing.

That's a nice sharp point to end on, but there is another possibility: That the voters are still willing and able to go to the polls, privately recant, and let the air out slowly.

Posted by pk at 11:18 AM

September 18, 2006

Executive of all he surveys

Glenn Greenwald:

Just look at the things we're debating--whether the U.S. Government can abduct and indefinitely imprison U.S. citizens without charges; whether we can use torture to interrogate people; whether our Government can eavesdrop on our private conversations without warrants; whether we can create secret prisons and keep people there out of sight and beyond the reach of any law or oversight; and whether the President can simply disregard long-standing constitutional limitations and duly enacted Congressional laws because he has deemed that doing so is necessary to "protect" us.

These haven't been open questions for decades if not centuries. They've been settled as intrinsic values that define our country. Yet nothing is settled or resolved any longer. Everything--even the most extremist and authoritarian policies and things which were long considered taboo--are now openly entertained, justifiable and routinely justified.

Posted by pk at 8:37 AM

September 11, 2006

September 11th was a Tuesday

-----Original Message-----

From: Kitchel, Phil

Sent: Monday, September 17, 2001 7:51 PM

Subject: welcome to normal

My apologies, but I'm sending a blanket reply, given the number of inquiries in my mailbox this morning. I was in the office Thursday, but the e-mail was down, and I didn't come in on Friday. [This gets really long. I should've just sent a quick "Hi! We're OK!", but I've had a lot on my mind.]

Cindy and I are fine, as are nearly all of our closest friends here. Unfortunately, our landlord, neighbor, and friend Scott is gone. He and his wife, Kelly, and their two kids live in our four-story building, and he was on the 100th floor of the north tower. It's unspeakably tragic. In the ironic way of these stories, they had just finished renovating the second floor to be their bedrooms (they'd been living on the first floor and sleeping in the finished basement). After five-six years, they finally had a two-story house with a basement and a back yard--basically a city-living fantasy--and nothing to do but enjoy it and raise their kids. Last Sunday I finally told Kelly we were moving, and in the course of our conversation I said, "You guys have it made now," and she said, "We're DONE! We're NEVER LEAVING!" In addition to the cloud we're all under now, there's a much darker one over our home here and our upcoming departure.

I was in my underwear, brushing my teeth, when the local NPR anchor said there was smoke coming from the north tower at the World Trade Center. He didn't know anything else, and said he'd keep us posted. We live on Park Slope in Brooklyn, and our roof has a panorama of the harbor and Manhattan, about two miles away. Remembering a couple weeks ago when some bonehead got his parachute stuck on the Statue of Liberty's torch--I had still been at home and could've gone up and seen it if I'd known--I thought "I'm not missing this!" and ran to pull on shorts and a t-shirt. I grabbed binoculars, the camera, and the radio and headed up. By this time they were saying a "small plane" had hit it; I figured it was some guy in a Cessna who got his throttle stuck or something.

It was an absolutely clear morning. As I climbed onto the roof, I saw a lot more smoke than I'd expected. The north tower looked like a giant chimney. I was looking at the east face of the towers, and I could see what looked like a hole, which I assumed was THE hole. I learned later that the plane had impacted the north face, and I was looking at the "exit" hole, but it looked about right for a small prop plane. But there was a LOT of smoke, and as I looked through the binoculars I could see the orange of the fires inside. The air around it was a cloud of shimmering paper, everything brilliantly shining in the sun. It was silent. I took some pictures. The radio had a guy on the phone with a view of the whole thing looking south from his office or apartment, describing what he saw and had seen.

I was sitting, looking through the binoculars and listening, when suddenly another airplane came incongruously into my field of vision. It was clearly a commercial jetliner; it was as long as the tower was wide. It just appeared where it had no business being, and I had this instant of feeling annoyed, like, "What's that doing there? That's too close! Get away from there, you stupid, persistent thing!" Then it disappeared, and there was a tremendous, silent explosion, a huge orange and black ball that engulfed the building and swept upward. I watched it go up, then thought, "Oh, shit, I didn't watch where the plane went!" The eyewitness on the radio started shouting, "OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD," and describing what I'd just seen, but he was to the north and said, "No, there's no plane, just a fireball coming out of the east side." I said, "NO, there was ANOTHER PLANE! ANOTHER PLANE crashed into the OTHER TOWER!" All in the same instant I realized that I had just watched a large, commercial jet crash into the World Trade Center, 15 minutes after a plane crashed into the other tower, that this meant both crashes were intentional, that this was a terrorist attack, that the plane I'd seen must have been hijacked and was probably full of passengers, that I was now looking at two burning towers, the second one worse than the first, and I was alone on my roof in New York City in the midst of an aerial assault. I was on my feet, looking around me in the sky, pacing back and forth, talking to myself, talking back to the radio. There was nothing in the sky. There was no sound except the radio. There were people walking normally down the block. I didn't know what to do. I took some more pictures. I replayed what I'd seen: the shining jet, the vicious, violent intention of it. I looked through the binoculars again. I thought I could see people falling. I couldn't tell if it was people or debris. I thought I'd better go call my wife. I paced and looked some more. I didn't want anything else to happen, but I didn't want to miss anything.

I went back downstairs. I tried to call Cindy. She didn't answer. I heard somebody sobbing in the back yard. I thought it might be Kelly. I turned on the TV. I called my friend Amy. A plane crashed into the Pentagon. Amy's husband Dan had just left for work. She went to stop him. I called Cindy and got her. The story was flying around her office. I told her what I saw. We decided I shouldn't go to work. I told her to stay there. (She works at 54th and 3rd, uptown on the east side.) I told her it wouldn't be all bad to stay there all night. Amy called back. She stopped Dan at the subway, but he went to work anyway. (He works downtown, across from City Hall, a few blocks from the World Trade Center.) We were looking at our TVs, the sound down on mine, up on hers. A plane crashed in Pennsylvania. There was a truck bomb at the Capitol. There was video from downtown, but I couldn't tell what I was seeing. A woman was screaming, "OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD," on Amy's TV and I said, "What's going on?" and she said, "The tower collapsed." I said "collapsed" the same way you'd say "bullshit," but the smoke was going down, not up, spreading and then rising again out of the canyons of downtown. Then on another channel, a shot of one tower. I was flabbergasted. It hadn't occurred to me that that could happen at all. We hung up and I took the phone, camera, binoculars, radio, and water bottle (finally, someone actually using his cargo shorts) back up to the roof. I was like a goddamn Boy Scout, but now there was nothing to see. The smoke and dust from the collapsed tower now completely obscured the west side from view. There was the front line of eastside skyscrapers, and a wall of smoke rising over it and blowing east over the harbor into Brooklyn. Somebody was now blasting Bob Marley's "Exodus" into the courtyard. I didn't like the way it made me feel. The radio said the other tower had now collapsed. My upstairs neighbor, Richard, and his roommate climbed onto the roof. I'd heard Kelly earlier, shouting to Richard that she was going to get the kids from school. I didn't know where Scott worked, and I didn't want to ask, but I did, and Richard said, "He's there." I said, "Oh, Jesus."

The rest of the day probably didn't play out much differently from the rest of yours. Cindy and our friend David walked down Manhattan to Chinatown before they found a train that was running, then they rode back into Brooklyn. We got the rest of our news from TV; there was nothing more to witness from the roof except an absence. Our hopes of news about Scott went up and down. Cindy and I didn't know what floor or building he was in, and didn't want to ask. At first I thought there was no chance, but as more people reported making it down from high up in each one, we thought maybe there was a good chance. Then too much time went by and it was obvious there wasn't. Although there are now lots of relatives, neighbors, and friends gathered downstairs, and it often sounds like a party or a family reunion, the funereal atmosphere is inescapable. It seems impossible that in less than a month we're just going to drive away from all this. I feel guilty that that month can't pass quickly enough for me, and I feel sorry that I'm leaving when the city needs all the support it can get. And it's disturbing that none of us can drive away from it at all.

I don't have that feeling I had in Indiana when the Challenger blew up, or the Gulf War, or Oklahoma City, when I was surrounded by people the majority of whom had likely felt no more personal impact from those things than I had--and yet, everywhere, yellow ribbons, flags, Lee Greenwood singing "Proud To Be An American." All these people taking it so personally seemed shallow, contrived, superficial. #1 song, #1 movie, #1 national tragedy.

This time, such displays, at least locally, feel entirely appropriate. I was here. I saw it happen from the roof of my house. My neighbor Scott is dead. Two buildings I looked at all the time, that I used to orient myself on the street, are gone. I'm sad and scared. My city has changed. I basically didn't go to work for four days, and the subways still aren't right. The newly returned sound of constant air traffic overhead seriously creeps me out. Almost half of the men in the firehouse two blocks away were killed. My neighborhood feels weird. So I put candles in my windows. I wanted to be a part of the community; I wanted the community to know I was part of it.

But now, although my house won't feel "normal" again, the rest of the city is starting to. Downtown won't function normally for months, and it will never be the same, but that was basically someplace I might go walk around once every couple of months. For me, the local crisis is starting to pass, and I'm focusing more on the one we're all in together, and I do feel like I'm outside the national mood. I'm not feeling particularly left-wing--I don't think my landlord deserved to die in some sort of comeuppance for American arrogance. And of course I'm not feeling right-wing--I'm not ready to believe war is the answer.

Basically, I'm scared. I'm scared like I used to be when I was a kid and I learned that there were unstoppable, irrational forces in the world--killer bees, nuclear annihilation--that would kill us, ME, and there was nothing that my dad or the president could do about it. I hear people talking about capture and punishment and war, and it doesn't make me feel less scared. It's not a cowardly fear, or that I don't have the stomach for killing or dying. It's the fear that nothing can be done, or that what will be done won't do any good. I cannot figure out how you punish people who are not afraid to die. I cannot figure out how you settle things with people who just want YOU to die. If there is no room for compromise, is our goal then to be what their goal is? Extermination? Genocide? Even if that were possible, and it isn't, resorting to it would forfeit everything we have wrung our hands and claimed to represent this week. Aren't we supposed to be morally as well as militarily superior? There's no army to defeat, there's no government to unseat. There's just this zealous ideal that, I am positive, can NEVER be defeated. It is not that kind of enemy. Attempts to kill it will only strengthen it. It can only be discredited from within.

I hear people saying that they attacked us because we're a "beacon of freedom." Come on. (It wasn't because God is angry about gays, abortion, and Internet porn, either. Just whose side are Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson on?) What the hell does that mean? They attacked us because they're poor and hungry and living in dirt, and our global corporate hegemony has been stomping all over what little they have that's sacred in order to make the world safe for Big Oil, Hollywood, and hamburgers. We do the same thing right here! However, nothing we've done justifies what happened on September 11. More than five thousand innocent people were killed by a few dozen men armed with BOX CUTTERS. More than died at Antietam. More than Pearl Harbor, D-Day, and the Titanic put together. It staggers the imagination. It was an act of pure evil. But I believe evil is madness, and those men weren't insane. Those men believed WE are evil. Why? America isn't EVIL. We're just sort of hamfisted and greedy. People like that have already crossed the line, and I don't suppose there's a way to get all of them back to our side of it. A careful use of force is probably necessary, but it has to be combined with a generous helping hand--like the one we offered Japan after World War II--or this "war" will never end.

A land war in Afghanistan--or wherever it is that we think bombing or invading will stop men in Florida or Texas or Minnesota from whatever mischief they already have planned--will not prevent more events like last Tuesday's, and it will not get at the root cause. If we caught and executed bin Laden by the end of the week and simply returned to the status quo, we would create something much worse: an immortal hero. Leaders like him don't spring out of a vacuum--grievances have to be deep and profound for that kind of zeal to take hold. However, the vast majority of the Islamic world does not want this kind of war. They may not like us, they may not agree with us, but they would rather find a way to live with us. We have to take positive actions to prevent people who do not yet but could be convinced to follow him from wanting to. We have to remove the conditions that produce unquenchable hatred. We need to try to understand what actions of ours caused that hatred, and create conditions by which that brand of extremism is marginalized in the culture from which he sprang. We won't do this by bombing mud huts and creating more martyrs and misery. We do it by showing that there are benefits to a cooperative existence--and then we have to make those benefits tangible in a way that they have not been.

The point is that we were not their enemy, and I'm afraid that what we are planning will make it seem even more like we are, and plunge us deeper into this morass, and perhaps win them even more converts. The most chilling thing about this conflict is that there is something very fundamental and basic about it. It isn't over land or oil or money or even ideology, and it can't be won--by either side--with indiscriminate use of violence and weapons. If we are more advanced and more powerful, then we need to be the first to recognize that. We need to very carefully help those nations whose margins these people hover upon to root them out and deflate them. Bitterness, bigotry, and xenophobia are the common enemies, and they can only be defeated from WITHIN our respective cultures. Assholes in Wyoming or Indiana or Times Square harassing and assaulting and vandalizing property and persons of the supposed "enemy" are just as misguided, and just as sure to perpetuate this kind of unspeakable violence. We need to stamp out American bigotry as surely as those people need to stamp out Islamic fundamentalism. Believing that that's possible is the only thing that makes me feel any better. It's certainly no more impossible than the alternative, nor are the sacrifices any greater.

Posted by pk at 7:13 PM

September 8, 2006

Lies, lying, liars

Joe Conason, Salon, Sept. 8, 2006:

Suspicions of bad faith about the production of "The Path to 9/11" have less to do with the alleged personal bias of Cyrus Nowrasteh, the conservative writer responsible for the script, and more to do with what he chose to invent on-screen--and what he and the producers chose to omit.

Nowrasteh's most egregious fictionalizing occurs in Act 4, which depicts a supposed strike on bin Laden's Afghan redoubt that is called off at the last second by Sandy Berger, Clinton's national security advisor, who says, "I don't have that authority." Under cover of night, a CIA agent known only as "Kirk" leads a Special Forces team into the remote mountain compound where the al-Qaida chief is hiding. "The package is ready!" cries Kirk over the satellite phone, but Berger aborts the operation because he doesn't want to take responsibility.

That incident simply never occurred. As Clarke himself would have told Nowrasteh, no CIA officer ever tracked bin Laden to his hideout. Neither did Ahmed Shah Massoud, the Northern Alliance leader who is shown guiding the aborted operation. The handsome, charismatic Massoud, later assassinated by al-Qaida agents, asks Kirk angrily, "Are there any men left in Washington, or are they all cowards?" That sort of rhetoric is frequently uttered by actors portraying characters such as Massoud and O'Neill, who are no longer around to dispute the script.

Had Nowrasteh consulted the 9/11 Commission report, not only would he have found no evidence to support his exciting imaginary assault on the bin Laden compound, but he would also have learned that the underlying assumptions were completely wrong. The report states explicitly, as Clarke and other senior officials have affirmed, that Clinton and Berger ordered the CIA and the military to use any force necessary to get bin Laden.

The movie shows former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright--who is played as a fussy, irritable Margaret Dumont-style matron--thwarting a missile strike against bin Laden's desert camp by warning his Pakistani friends in advance. That never happened, either.

And in its most blatant appeal to right-wing pathology, the movie repeatedly suggests that Clinton was either distracted or prodded by the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the ensuing impeachment, taking action or deferring action for political reasons. Clarke has repeatedly denied that considerations of that kind influenced policy on any occasion.

If the producers of "The Path to 9/11" unfairly indict the Clinton administration with fabricated scenes and notions, they go out of their way to exonerate the Bush White House by ignoring certain damning facts--and creating substitutes that make the president look better. The movie shows a smarmy, condescending Condoleezza Rice demoting Clarke in January 2001 when she takes over as national security advisor. Clarke tries to warn her that "something spectacular" is going to happen on American soil, and she assures him that "we're on it," which they assuredly were not.

Indeed, the script downplays the neglect of terrorism as a primary threat by the incoming Bush team--and never mentions the counterterrorism task force, chaired by Vice President Dick Cheney, that never met for nine months before 9/11. The famous Aug. 6 presidential daily briefing, which warned the vacationing Bush that al-Qaida intended to strike here, is given due attention. The movie then shows Rice telling her associates that "as a result of the Aug. 6 PDB, the president wants to take real action" against al-Qaida. But the 9/11 Commission report's section on the PDB clearly states that the August warning was not followed up on by Rice:

"We found no indication of any further discussion before September 11 among the President and his top advisers of the possibility of a threat of an Al Qaeda attack in the United States." No action was contemplated before 9/11 and the movie's attempt to claim otherwise is another distortion.

Tell Walt Disney president Robert Iger that you hold his company responsible. I did:

Mr. Iger,

Recent comparisons have shown that the ABC docudrama "The Path to 9/11" simply does not adhere to the historical record as presented in the bipartisan 9/11 Commission's report, which is purported to be the film's source.

ABC should not take revelations of the inaccuracy of this film lightly. The production's fallibility would be regretful enough even if ABC hadn't sent hundreds of advance copies to various right-wing outlets, while declaring it unavailable for preview to those public figures whose reputations it inaccurately impugns.

In order to avoid the inescapable conclusion that partisan concerns have trumped its commitment to truth and accuracy, ABC would be well-advised to cancel this film's broadcast. Such clear evidence of biased programming will permantly ruin the legacy of thoughtful, honest journalism established by ABC News legends like Peter Jennings and Ted Koppel.

I respectfully ask that ABC withdraw "The Path to 9/11" from consideration for broadcast.


Phil Kitchel

LATER... Or I guess you could say it like this:

Frankly, that ABC and Disney would consider airing a program that could be construed as right-wing political propaganda on such a grave and important event involving the security of our nation is a discredit both to the Disney brand and to the legacy of honesty built at ABC by honorable individuals from David Brinkley to Peter Jennings. Furthermore, that Disney would seek to use Scholastic to promote this misguided programming to American children as a substitute for factual information is a disgrace.

Brinkley probably is a better name to drop than Koppel. And that other stuff's pretty good, too--"discredit," "disgrace"...wish I could have worked those in. But I didn't want Mr. Iger to think I was a CRAZY LEFT-WING MOONBAT WITH GOOGLY EYES AND FLIPPERS FOR ARMS.

The Scholastic angle, which I meant to work in before, has almost bugged me more than anything else about this whole thing. First you school the kids in alternative histories, then you get them some snappy little uniforms.... Thankfully, like a lot of other aspects of ABC's drunkenly deceptive lurch through recent history that are starting to slide downhill, Scholastic has now backed away.

So it's been a fun toboggan ride for a short news week. For a minute I wondered whether this wasn't just another teacup tsunami for the lefty blogosphere to hot-flash over, but I decided, no: facts matter, history matters. Edward R. Murrow's grave-flipping could already power turbines sufficient to light a small city, and traditional and once-authoritative outlets of information were long ago sucked into the maw of corporate politics. But the day the "free press" starts producing propaganda as blatant and clumsy as this, while we either stuff ourselves with hash brownies and wait for the lights to go twirly, or admire the imaginary garments that we either see, pretend to see, or pray to see on our various Emperors...is a...well, that's a really bad day.

It's funny, actually, that it was one bad day that gave them the chance and the balls to try it.

Posted by pk at 7:14 AM

September 7, 2006

Happy birthday, PuddingTime!

Well, what do you know: "On This Day" reminds me again that it's PuddingTime's anniversary--the fourth now.

What I said last year pretty much holds: If I'm the editor in chief, Michael Hall is the publisher, so four cheers to him as well. I've been funneling some of my obsessions through this medium for over three of those years, gradually and unofficially assuming responsibility for the content while Mike pursued experiments in more conducive formats, which has now led him here, even as he continued to provide the technical and design support without which I'd just be a guy with opinions and mad typing skillz. To me, this is still Mike's establishment; I just pour the drinks. Thanks for the outlet, dude.

Once again, readers, I appreciate your attention and your indulgence. I hope you occasionally find it worth your time, and will continue to stop by.


Posted by pk at 1:38 PM

Demand ABC Correct Their 9/11 Film

Or maybe just shitcan the damn thing:

ABC is planning to air a two-part mini-series entitled The Path to 9/11 this Sunday and Monday.

In spite of its claim to be based on the 9/11 Commission Report, the film reportedly includes numerous inaccuracies and lays the blame for the September 11 tragedy on the Clinton Administration. One scene reportedly depicts a senior Clinton Administration official calling off the capture or killing of Osama bin Laden. This depiction of events has been refuted by former Bush Administration anti-terrorism chief, Richard Clarke.

It also has been reported that the film blames the intelligence breakdowns on bureaucratic obstacles allegedly created by the Clinton Administration, even though Republican 9/11 Commissioner Slade Gordon has previously refuted that claim.

Because of my concerns that false and inflammatory information would be widely disseminated to the American public, I, along with Representatives John Dingell, Jane Harman and Louise Slaughter, asked ABC to correct the film before airing it. To view a copy of our letter, click here.

The more people the network hears from, the more likely they are to correct the errors in the film. But we do not have much time. Contact them now to let them know they should not politicize this tragic event in our nation's history.

Thank you again for your commitment to a stronger democracy.


John Conyers, Jr.

It's kind of a watershed, really--not some backwater propaganda hacks or a shoo-fly cable channel but one of the fabled Big Three, an erstwhile Voice of America owned by Walt Damn Disney, siding against the People, the Republic, a fair reading of History, and even the profit imperative in a lead-pipe foist for the oli-gar-chy: 1. government by the few, 2. a government in which a small group exercises control esp. for corrupt and selfish purposes.

They're not even bothering to cover their tracks or unstick the toilet paper from their shoe: "Hey, Johnny Armchair, here's a throat-full of revisionist, partisan lies! Why not wash it down with an ice-cold Lite Beer from Miller? Say--you know who seems like a good guy to have a beer with...?"

I don't think I've watched ABC regularly in 20 years, so that's no loss. Giving up the Happy Meals will be tough on my boys, but that's probably for the best anyway. I guess what we're really gonna miss is the Pixar films. And our unsullied memories of Dumbo, Pinocchio, and that cute little mouse--what was his name?

Posted by pk at 12:16 PM