Friday, August 11, 2006

The Bush Administration: a study in failure, waste, and needless death

The GOP elephant labored mightily and delivered a flea! Terror, Iraq, and, most recently, efforts by the Bush administration to goad Israel into attacking Syria have all been miserable failures. [See: Israeli officials say Bush was "nuts" for egging on their government to attack Syria] Bush, meanwhile, says that it's a mistake to believe that there is no terrorist threat to the US. But, as to be expected, Bush misstates the terrorist threat and expects Americans to draw the wrong conclusions about it.

Bush's remarks and the events that compelled them must be placed in context. An AP-Ipsos poll this week paints the picture: Bush's overall approval rating drops to 33 percent, declining in nearly every issue but most significantly —the lost war in Iraq and his ham-fisted foreign policy. Bush lost ground even in the GOP friendly South where some 19 percent of those who supported Bush in 2004 now say they will vote Democratic.

It is not surprising that Bush will try to milk a foiled terrorist plot for all it's worth. But the old 911 magic may be gone forever. It was in those days, as you may recall, that Bush boasted: "Lucky me! I just won the trifecta". 911 propelled Bush to the heights of public approval amid promises that he would smoke out Bin Laden and bring him to justice, that he would treat the nations who nurture terrorism as terrorists themselves. In fact, he's done none of those things. And given the fraudulent nature of his war against Iraq, it is probably a good thing. [See: the FBI has recently stated that there was never hard evidence that Bin Laden had anything to do with the events of 911 anyway; Google search: NO HARD EVIDENCE]

Let's look at the cold, hard facts.

Iraq had nothing to do with 911

There is no evidence that Saddam ever participated or encouraged terrorist attacks on America in any way at any time. When the "terrorist" card didn't play, Bush played his trump —the spector of mushroom clouds over US cities. Saddam, Bushies said, had WMD! But, as long as there is a Fox Network, working assiduously to keep alive the big lie, it is necessary to repeat: Bush's assertions that Iraq had WMD was a bald faced lie.

Terrorism has been worse under GOP regimes since 1980

It was not too long ago that the GOP would poll higher than Democrats on the issue of "terrorism". The confidence was misplaced. Terrorism, in fact, grew worse over the two years Ronald Reagan waged his great "war on terrorism". The number of terrorist attacks on US interests increased significantly over a period of about two years, a pattern repeating under Bush. [See: Total Acts of Terrorism in the U.S. 1980-98, America's Response to Terrorism, The Brookings Institute (Based on FBI Statistics)]

There are two possible explanations. One, Reagan's war —not well thought out —was simply impotent and ineffective. It may even have been counter-productive, a rallying cry to legitimate critics of US imperialism as well as terrorists. The GOP loves to pretend to be fighting terrorism; but, in fact, GOP policies may be the cause of it. Such policies, of course, endanger American lives and, indeed, anyone who happens to get in the way. International terrorist attacks against the US declined under Clinton!

Bush's "War on Terrorism" is a miserable failure

The attack and invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with the "war on terrorism". There was never any evidence to support the Bush conclusion that the US was killing terrorists in Iraq, but real terrorists might have said with credibility that they were killing Americans in Iraq. Because Bush is a liar, Iraq —temporarily knocked off the front pages —remains the scene of chaos, civil war, brutality, and, most of all, meaningless and needless death. What Richard Nixon said of Viet Nam must be said of Iraq:
Never has so much military and economic and diplomatic power been used so ineffectively, and if after all of this time, and all of this sacrifice, and all of this support, there is still no end in sight, then I say the time has come for the American people to turn to new leadership not tied to the mistakes and policies of the past.

—Richard Nixon [as quoted by Buzzflash]

Bush isolated the US at the very moment in its history when it most needed the good will of the world. Cold War "liberals" were "internationalists" who sought to involve the United States positively in world affairs. But for a period of some 30 years, we have withdrawn, perhaps succumbing to Viet Nam syndrome. Clinton's good points aside, our current situation must surely be traced to the fact that the US has not had competent, "internationalist" leadership since Jimmy Carter managed to broker the Camp David Accords. The security of the world absolutely depends upon the US strengthening its ties with Europe, working throughout the Middle East as a truly honest broker, eschewing the temptation to prop up unpopular, puppet regimes with CIA skullduggery, death squads, and coups d'etat!

Bush's Political Survival Depends on Terror Threats

By William Greider, Posted August 14, 2006.

The president is trying for the third time to make terrorism his big campaign issue -- are Americans going to finally snap out of it?

An evil symbiosis does exist between Muslim terrorists and American politicians, but it is not the one Republicans describe. The jihadists need George W. Bush to sustain their cause. His bloody crusade in the Middle East bolsters their accusation that America is out to destroy Islam. The president has unwittingly made himself the lead recruiter of willing young martyrs.

More to the point, it is equally true that Bush desperately needs the terrorists. They are his last frail hope for political survival. They divert public attention, at least momentarily, from his disastrous war in Iraq and his shameful abuses of the Constitution. The "news" of terror -- whether real or fantasized -- reduces American politics to its most primitive impulses, the realm of fear-and-smear where George Bush is at his best.

So, once again in the run-up to a national election, we are visited with alarming news. A monstrous plot, red alert, high drama playing on all channels and extreme measures taken to tighten security.

The White House men wear grave faces, but they cannot hide their delight. It's another chance for Bush to protect us from those aliens with funny names, another opportunity to accuse Democrats of aiding and abetting the enemy.

This has worked twice before. It could work again this fall unless gullible Americans snap out of it. Wake up, folks, and recognize how stupid and wimpish you look. I wrote the following two years ago during a similar episode of red alerts: "Bush's 'war on terrorism' is a political slogan -- not a coherent strategy for national defense -- and it succeeds brillantly only as politics. For everything else, it is quite illogical." ...

Here's an update from CNN:

Chertoff: No sign plotters targeted U.S.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- "Current evidence" does not show the people involved in an alleged plot to blow up airplanes planned to conduct any operations in the United States, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Sunday.

"The current evidence does not show any plotting occurring inside the United States or any plan to conduct operations within the United States," Chertoff told CNN's "Late Edition."

Chertoff's remarks came three days after police in England arrested about two dozen people allegedly involved in a plot to use liquid explosives to blow up as many as 10 passenger planes during flights from the United Kingdom to the United States.

That prompted an immediate ban on liquids and gels in carry-on luggage in the UK and U.S. that resulted in widespread flight cancellations and delays. (Watch why checking in bags may not keep planes safe -- 1:58)

On Sunday, the Transportation Security Administration exempted small doses of liquid medications, glucose gel for diabetics, solid lipstick and baby food from the list of items passengers are not allowed to take onto planes. All aerosols are prohibited.

The TSA also said it will require all passengers to remove their shoes for X-ray screening.

"These tweaks are aimed at making a smoother process at the checkpoint," TSA Assistant Secretary Kip Hawley said in a news release.

Asked about suggestions that some of the alleged plotters had telephoned people in the United States, Chertoff said, "As of now -- and of course it's subject to change -- we do not see any plotting inside the United States or any indication of operational activity by these plotters inside the United States."

Chertoff described the alleged plot as "sophisticated," but said officials have not determined whether it was the work of the al Qaeda terrorist organization responsible for the September 11 terrorist attacks....

Does this mean that Bush's "War on Islamic Fascists" is over? What a turn around! Just a few days ago the MSM hypervented —wailing that hundreds of thousands of Americans might have died in another nefarious Al Qaeda plot. Now, it appears that the great "Satan" was not even in Al Qaeda's cross hairs. Dare we hope that the MSM will eventually admit that the term Islamo-fascism is a stupid, sophomoric non-word that Repuglicans just made up?

Mine is not the only "Existentialist" blog on the net. Here's a good precis of the origins of Existentialism in Descartes' cogito as well as a good take Camus:

Killing Arabs: Bush, Camus and the Politics Of The Absurd

Oh. My. God. Bush has been reading Camus:
Bush puts down his summer reading -- including Albert Camus' "The Stranger," and two books on Civil War President Abraham Lincoln -- in favor of presidential briefing books.
I find this particularly disgusting because L’Etranger (The Stranger) is my favourite Camus book.

For those not familiar with the name, Albert Camus was a famous French-Algerian writer whose work is synonymous with the concept of absurdity.
”At any street corner the feeling of absurdity can strike any man in the face.” - Camus
Along with Jean-Paul Sartre and other intellectuals, Camus developed a school of thought known as Existentialism. Adherents simply refused to believe anything that could not be universally proven to be true. And what can be proven to be true, other than the simple fact that we exist? As Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” All else is conjecture.

Stripped to such bare bones, even the basic concept of life itself becomes absurd. Most of us find such a stark reality unpalatable. We lean on various psychological props – religion, wealth, fantasy - to help us ignore this core dilemma of existence. But Camus and his fellow Existentialists bravely embraced such absurdity as the foundation for an ultimately life-affirming philosophy.
“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” - Camus
For a telling recent example of the absurd, nothing can match the Bush administration's Weapons of Mass Destruction ruse. Bush sent a team of men scouring the desert sands of Iraq for more than a year, searching in vain for Saddam’s “elusive” WMDs. And yet at least some of the senior figures in the Bush administration knew those WMDs did not exist – because they themselves had set up a secretive Office Of Special Plans to help fabricate the WMD ruse. As a metaphor for man’s life on earth, Camus cited the eternal task of Sisyphus: repeatedly pushing a rock to the top of a mountain, only to watch it roll down the other side. The mission of Charles Deulfer’s Iraq Survey Group was no less absurd.
”The only real progress lies in learning to be wrong all alone.“ – Camus
To fully appreciate Camus, it is important to distinguish between absurdity and similar concepts such as irony and ridiculousness. For example, it is ridiculous that an intellectual lightweight like George W. Bush ever became President of the USA. ...

Bush Out

Why Conservatives Hate America

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Bush's America: trapped between fun house mirrors

I wanted to write an article pulling together some of the ideas expressed on the previous roundtable: All the bad news has come true. Thanks to all those contributing, it turned out to have been an unvarnished examination of what America was, is, or might have been. I wanted to find a common a thread, the relationship of one idea to another.

I instinctively pulled a couple of books off the shelf: among them Jack London, Hemingway, and the Constitution by E.L. Doctorow, a well-thumbed book by my favorite novelist. I also ran across some notes that I had taken about Matthew Arnold, a British philosopher of the Aesthetic Movement. Arnold said that America’s riches, power and energy had not made it, in any way, interesting. He went on to point out that it is not by military power that a nation becomes interesting. It is, rather, its capacity to create beauty. The consensus on this forum seems to have been this: rather than creating beauty, we have foisted upon this continent an ugly carbuncle that is very nearly unlivable and increasingly despoiled.

Doctorow was reading Arnold at about the same time that he put Abbe Hoffman in his book: The Book of Daniel (1971). It was a book that dealt with an issue that just will not go away: "the generally sacrificial role" played by the American left throughout our history. Or –as one of Doctorow’s characters in The Book of Daniel put it:

You want to know what was wrong with the old American Communists? They were into the system. They wore ties. They held down jobs. They put people up for President. They thought politics is something you do at a meeting. When they got busted they called it tyranny. They were Russian tit suckers. Russia! Who's free in Russia? All the Russians want is steel up everyone's ass. Where's the revolution in Russia?... The American Communist Party set the Left back fifty years. I think they worked for the FBI. That's the only explanation. They were conspiratorial. They were invented by J. Edgar Hoover. They were his greatest invention.

–Yippie, The Book of Daniel, E.L. Doctorow

Hoffman himself is remembered for his great banana hoax –his declaration that bananas inserted rectally produced an incredible high! Hoffman, reportedly, had hoped Pentagon war mongers would give it a try. For all we know, they tried it and liked it. It explains a lot and may become the source of a handy epithet when banana loving sodomites plunge us into World War III.

Clearly –the creation of our hideous society was not achieved overnight under Bush’s dubious and ineffective stewardship. The Military/Industrial complex warned of by Ike was already in control of the national budget –squandering it then as now in a foreign quagmire. From that, every other ill follows.

My thesis and the many articulate comments that followed had been simply this: American cities have become a Fritz Lang nightmare –hideous, grotesque, almost unlivable manifestations of what we are and what we have become. What we –perpetrators of atrocities in far flung corners of the world –have become is something I no longer recognize. Nor want to.
The point of culture is to make a rational being ever more rational.

—Matthew Arnold

But, sadly, America may not have a culture, rather, we have a feedback loop called pop culture — a false image of phony values celebrated "virtually" not in real space —but in cyberspace. By Arnold’s standard, this grand experiment has been a miserable failure. No one has lately accused America of becoming ever more rational. We are, rather, trapped between fun house mirrors and expected to embrace it all as if it were real.

The Existentialist Cowboy

Monday, August 07, 2006

All the bad news has come true

How did we get here? I don't know —but I have some theories, some hunches, some "off-the-wall" insights. First of all: what is meant by the term here when there is defined as being something somewhere between Thomas Jefferson's near utopian vision of agrarian Democracy and Alexander Hamilton's dreams of an industrialized north? Roughly, Hamilton's dreams have ended in the American version of Fritz Lang's Metropolis found inside Manhattan, Houston, Chicago et al. Jefferson's vision, however, is all but dead and Democracy, like the Constitution under Bush, is quaint. From an IMD review of Fritz Lang's classic: Metropolis:
In the future, the society of Metropolis is divided in two social classes: the workers, who live in the underground below the machines level, and the dominant classes that lives in the surface. The workers are controlled by their leader Maria (Brigitte Helm), who wants to find a mediator between the upper class lords and the workers, since she believes that a heart would be necessary between brains and muscles. Maria meets Freder Fredersen (Gustav Fröhlich), the son of the Lord of Metropolis Johhan Fredersen (Alfred Abel), in a meeting of the workers, and they fall in love for each other. Meanwhile, Johhan decides that the workers are no longer necessary for Metropolis, and uses a robot pretending to be Maria to promote a revolution of the working class and eliminate them. —Claudio Carvalho, Brazil
Ironically, while Hamilton's dreams of industrialization must surely exceed Hamilton's expectations, it is there, I suspect, that in the midst of Bush's assaults upon the rule of law, due process, and presumptions of innocence, that Democracy seems most alive. It is no accident that Bushco pulled off a most un-democratic coup d'etat in Florida. Go figure!

Presently, democracy is like fireflies' flight —winking, blinking, and sometimes disappearing altogether in the darkness. Here and there are easily confused in darkness. But it is possible to outline some characteristics of here. As a nation we have never been more crowded and at the same time more isolated. Even as demographers predict votes with house to house accuracy, the broader picture of ourselves is hidden in plain sight. That is: we are divided along many lines the most pernicious being wealth, on the one hand, and the lack of it on the other. In the past, this dramatic division might have precipitated violent revolution —but not in America where the extremely wealthy have literally hidden themselves away inside ever smaller concentric rings of gated communities —security inside security inside security. This must surely be the domain of dull conversation, duller wit, and misplaced super-materialism.

The rest of us are reduced to being mere consuming machines inside a bigger machine which requires of us our total obeisance. There is no room for Abraham Maslow's "self-actualized" individual in this unfeeling super-structure of corporate bureaucracies and machine designed skyscrapers. Maslow is remembered for having created the human potential movement, for having ranked human needs from the most basic — air, water, food, sex, security, stability —to the more complex: acceptance and love. At the very top: the self-actualizing needs i.e., the need to fulfill oneself, presumably upon criteria of our choosing, our making. But, in fact, we labor not in Maslow's vision of truly free individuals, but in the dark canyons of Metropolis. The only function left us is to create the wealth that trickles up to an un-elected, neo-fascist priesthood. All the bad news has come true!

How do those who cower behind concentric rings of super security rationalize the existence of their regressive, recursive society? Among super sized fries we are sold a myth: that by acquiring the latest gewgaw, we, too, can become truly self realized! We can buy hip; we can buy cool; we can buy self-realization! It comes in a bottle, a pill, an SUV. And it's cheap: your soul!

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