Saturday, November 12, 2005
Then I realized that he was talking about himself, and I knew he was telling the God's honest truth. I'm sure Congressional Democrats had access to the same level of intelligence information as the president, because none of them were relevant to the decision-making process! Remember that Dick Cheney sent the president on a wild goose chase to keep him out of the way while Uncle Dick and the boys did crisis management. I actually have the general guide prepared for the president:
and a copy of his most recent presidential briefing dossier:
In his little hissy fit, President Otis from Mayberry gave us this juicy tidbit:
"When I made the decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power, Congress approved it with strong bipartisan support." Then after pathetically dredging up John Kerry, he adds that more than a hundred Democrats in the House and the Senate, who had access to the same intelligence, voted to support removing Saddam Hussein from power.
George, you seem to be the one re-writing history. You meant to say "disarm" Saddam Hussein, didn't you? Not remove him from power, but "disarm" him?
Here is what Congress voted for:
"The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to
(1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and
(2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions regarding Iraq."
I don't see a Subsection 3, stating that "The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to effect regime change in Iraq" or Subsection 4, "The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to get the United States into one massive Mesopotamian clusterf**k that will screw several generations of pooches."
Just in case you've forgotten, George, in your Lone Star-induced haze, you and your team of neocon warbots wanted to remove Hussein from power to bring forth some apocalyptic re-engineering of the Middle East and to show off your manhood to your poppy, but you told us you wanted to DISARM him, remember?
No, you probably don't.
OK, are you back with me? Great read, No? He really nails "Idiot America" doesn't he?
Well, yes and no.
I have read that the current president NEVER reads more than a one or two page precis/summary on any topic, never engages in actual discussion on any issue - and he is unapologetic about it. He knows what he knows, and he doesn't need lots of extraneous information (such as policy discussions) getting in the way of his decision-making.
We are told that our nation's president is merely a reflection of those who voted for him. If this is true, then Idiot America knows what it knows because it relies on easily digestible, sound-bite-driven images and synopses that reinforce a predisposed belief system. This belief system is grounded in the notion that minorities are, by and large, responsible for America's problems. Idiot America *knows* that minorities commit the overwhelming majority of violent crime, and that the prison population is black and brown (the truth be damned), and that these people represent the biggest drain on the American economy, with all those awful welfare and medicaid payments (even though census data says otherwise). They know that Barbara Bush meant no harm when she spoke of how nicely the poor were doing in the Astrodome. They know that it was the poor black and brown people's fault that they didn't heed the warnings and leave New Orleans - because Bill O'Reilly said so! Now they are aghast at the notion of spending a couple hundred billion dollars to rebuild New Orleans and the gulfcoast.
They **still** believe that Iraq was connected to the 9-11 attacks.
Esquire is not on Idiot America's subscription list, but Reader's Digest and TV Guide are.
And that is the fatal flaw. Pierce spends tens of thousands of key strokes to form 6,511 words. That is about 6,000 words too many. Real, thoughtful analysis takes time, and effort, and research, and so does reading that analysis.
Idiot America doesn't read.
Absolutely brilliant and terrifying.
Greetings from Idiot America
by Charles Pierce
Nov 01 '05
There is some undeniable art—you might even say design—in the way southern Ohio rolls itself into northern Kentucky. The hills build gently under you as you leave the interstate. The roads narrow beneath a cool and thickening canopy as they wind through the leafy outer precincts of Hebron—a small Kentucky town named, as it happens, for the place near Jerusalem where the Bible tells us that David was anointed the king of the Israelites. This resulted in great literature and no little bloodshed, which is the case with a great deal of Scripture.
At the top of the hill, just past the Idlewild Concrete plant, there is an unfinished wall with an unfinished gate in the middle of it. Happy, smiling people are trickling in through the gate this fine morning, one minivan at a time. They park in whatever shade they can find, which is not much. It's hot as hell this morning.
They are almost uniformly white and almost uniformly bubbly. Their cars come from Kentucky and Tennessee and Ohio and Illinois and as far away as New Brunswick, Canada. There are elderly couples in shorts, suburban families piling out of the minivans, the children all Wrinkle-Resistant and Stain-Released. There is a clutch of Mennonite women in traditional dress—small bonnets and long skirts. All of them wander off, chattering and waving and stopping every few steps for pictures, toward a low-slung building that seems from the outside to be the most finished part of the complex.
Outside, several of them stop to be interviewed by a video crew. They have come from Indiana, one woman says, two toddlers toddling at her feet, because they have been home-schooling their children and they have given them this adventure as a kind of field trip. The whole group then bustles into the lobby of the building, where they are greeted by the long neck of a huge, herbivorous dinosaur. The kids run past that and around a corner, where stands another, smaller dinosaur.
Which is wearing a saddle.
It is an English saddle, hornless and battered. Apparently, this was a dinosaur used for dressage competitions and stakes races. Any working dinosaur accustomed to the rigors of ranch work and herding other dinosaurs along the dusty trail almost certainly would wear a sturdy western saddle.
This is very much a show dinosaur.
The dinosaurs are the first things you see when you enter the Creation Museum, which is very much a work in progress and the dream child of an Australian named Ken Ham. Ham is the founder of Answers in Genesis, an organization of which the museum one day will be the headquarters. The people here today are on a special tour. They have paid $149 to become "charter members" of the museum.
"Dinosaurs," Ham laughs as he poses for pictures with his visitors, "always get the kids interested."
AIG is dedicated to the proposition that the biblical story of the creation of the world is inerrant in every word. Which means, in this interpretation and among other things, that dinosaurs coexisted with man (hence the saddles), that there were dinosaurs in Eden, and that Noah, who certainly had enough on his hands, had to load two brachiosaurs onto the Ark along with his wife, his sons, and their wives, to say nothing of green ally-gators and long-necked geese and humpty-backed camels and all the rest.
(Faced with the obvious question of how to keep a three-hundred-by-thirty-by-fifty-cubit ark from sinking under the weight of dinosaur couples, Ham's literature argues that the dinosaurs on the Ark were young ones, and thus did not weigh as much as they might have.)
"We," Ham exclaims to the assembled, "are taking the dinosaurs back from the evolutionists!" And everybody cheers.
Ham then goes on to celebrate the great victory won in Oklahoma, where, in the first week of June, Tulsa park officials announced a decision (later reversed) to put up a display at the city zoo based on Genesis so as to eliminate the "discrimination" long inflicted upon sensitive Christians by a statue of the Hindu god Ganesh that decorated the elephant exhibit.
This is a serious crowd. They gather in the auditorium and they listen intently, and they take copious notes as Ham draws a straight line from Adam's fall to our godless public schools, from Darwin to gay marriage. He talks about the triumph over Ganesh, and everybody cheers again.
Ultimately, the heart of the museum will be a long walkway down which patrons will be able to journey through the entire creation story. This, too, is still in the earliest stages of construction. Today, for example, one young artist is working on a scale model of the moment when Adam names all the creatures. Adam is in the delicate process of naming the saber-toothed tiger while, behind him, already named, a woolly mammoth seems to be on the verge of taking a nap.
Elsewhere in the museum, another Adam figure is full-size, if unpainted, and waiting to be installed. This Adam is recliningpeacefully; eventually, if the plans stay true, he will be placed in a
pool under a waterfall. As the figure depicts a prelapsarian Adam, he is completely naked. He also has no penis.
This would seem to be a departure from Scripture inconsistent with the biblical literalism of the rest of the museum. If you're willing to stretch Job's description of a "behemoth" to include baby brachiosaurs on Noah's Ark, as Ham does in his lectures, then surely, since we are depicting him before the fall, Adam should be out there waving unashamedly in the paradisaical breezes. For that matter, what is Eve doing there, across the room, with her hair falling just so to cover her breasts and midsection, as though she's doing a nude scene from some 1950s Swedish art-house film?
After all, Genesis 2:25 clearly says that at this point in their lives, "And the man and his wife were both naked, and they were not ashamed." If Adam courageously sat there unencumbered while he was naming saber-toothed tigers, then why, six thousand years later, should he be depicted as a eunuch in some family-values Eden? And if these people can take away what Scripture says was rightfully his, then why can't Charles Darwin and the accumulated science of the past 150-odd years take away all the rest of it?
These are impolite questions. Nobody asks them here by the cool pond tucked into a gentle hillside. Increasingly, nobody asks them outside the gates, either. It is impolite to wonder why our parents sent us all to college, and why generations of immigrants sweated and bled so their children could be educated, if it wasn't so that we would all one day feel confident enough to look at a museum filled with dinosaurs rigged to run six furlongs at Belmont and make the not unreasonable point that it is all batshit crazy and that anyone who believes this righteous hooey should be kept away from sharp objects and his own money.
Dinosaurs with saddles?
Dinosaurs on Noah's Ark?
Welcome to your new Eden.
Welcome to Idiot America.
LET'S TAKE A TOUR, shall we? For the sake of time, we'll just cover the last year or so. A federally funded abstinence program suggests that HIV can be transmitted through tears. An Alabama legislator proposes a bill to ban all books by gay authors. The Texas House passes a bill banning suggestive cheerleading. And nobody laughs at any of it, or even points out that, in the latter case, having Texas ban suggestive cheerleading is like having Nebraska ban corn. James Dobson, a prominent conservative Christian spokesman, compares the Supreme Court to the Ku Klux Klan. Pat Robertson, another prominent conservative preacher, says that federal judges are a more serious threat to the country than is Al Qaeda and, apparently taking his text from the Book of Gambino, later sermonizes that the United States should get with it and snuff the democratically elected president of Venezuela.
The Congress of the United States intervenes to extend into a televised spectacle the prolonged death of a woman in Florida. The majority leader of the Senate, a physician, pronounces a diagnosis based on heavily edited videotape. The majority leader of the House of Representatives argues against cutting-edge research into the use of human stem cells by saying that "an embryo is a person. . . . We were all at one time embryos ourselves. So was Abraham. So was Muhammad. So was Jesus of Nazareth." Nobody laughs at him or points out that the same could be said of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, or whoever invented the baby-back rib.
And, finally, in August, the cover of Time —for almost a century the dyspeptic voice of the American establishment—clears its throat, hems and haws and hacks like a headmaster gagging on his sherry, and asks, quite seriously: "Does God have a place in science class?"
Fights over evolution—and its faddish new camouflage, intelligent design, a pseudoscience that posits without proof or method that science is inadequate to explain existence and that supernatural causes must be considered—roil up school districts across the country. The president of the United States announces that he believes ID ought to be taught in the public schools on an equal footing with the theory of evolution. And in Dover, Pennsylvania, during one of these many controversies, a pastor named Ray Mummert delivers the line that both ends our tour and, in every real sense, sums it up:
"We've been attacked," he says, "by the intelligent, educated segment of the culture."
And there it is.
Idiot America is not the place where people say silly things. It's not the place where people believe in silly things. It is not the place where people go to profit from the fact that people believe in silly things. Idiot America is not even those people who believe that Adam named the dinosaurs. Those people pay attention. They take notes. They take the time and the considerable mental effort to construct a worldview that is round and complete.
The rise of Idiot America is essentially a war on expertise. It's not so much antimodernism or the distrust of intellectual elites that Richard Hofstadter deftly teased out of the national DNA forty years ago. Both of those things are part of it. However, the rise of Idiot America today represents—for profit mainly, but also, and more cynically, for political advantage and in the pursuit of power—the breakdown of a consensus that the pursuit of knowledge is a good. It also represents the ascendancy of the notion that the people whom we should trust the least are the people who best know what they're talking about. In the new media age, everybody is a historian, or a preacher, or a scientist, or a sage. And if everyone is an expert, then nobody is, and the worst thing you can be in a society where everybody is an expert is, well, an actual expert.
In the place of expertise, we have elevated the Gut, and the Gut is a moron, as anyone who has ever tossed a golf club, punched a wall, or kicked an errant lawn mower knows. We occasionally dress up the Gut by calling it "common sense." The president's former advisor on medical ethics regularly refers to the "yuck factor." The Gut is common. It is democratic. It is the roiling repository of dark and ancient fears. Worst of all, the Gut is faith-based.
It's a dishonest phrase for a dishonest time, "faith-based," a cheap huckster's phony term of art. It sounds like an additive, an
artificial flavoring to make crude biases taste of bread and wine. It's a word for people without the courage to say they are religious, and it is beloved not only by politicians too cowardly to debate something as substantial as faith but also by Idiot America, which is too lazy to do it.
After all, faith is about the heart and soul and about transcendence. Anything calling itself faith-based is admitting that it is secular and profane. In the way that it relies on the Gut to determine its science, its politics, and even the way it sends its people to war, Idiot America is not a country of faith; it's a faith-based country, fashioning itself in the world, which is not the place where faith is best fashioned.
Hofstadter saw this one coming. "Intellect is pitted against feeling," he wrote, "on the ground that it is somehow inconsistent with warm emotion. It is pitted against character, because it is widely believed that intellect stands for mere cleverness, which transmutes easily into the sly or the diabolical."
The Gut is the basis for the Great Premises of Idiot America. We hold these truths to be self-evident:
1) Any theory is valid if it sells books, soaks up ratings, or otherwise moves units.
2) Anything can be true if somebody says it on television.
3) Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is determined by how fervently they believe it.
How does it work? This is how it works. On August 21, a newspaper account of the "intelligent design" movement contained this remarkable sentence: "They have mounted a politically savvy challenge to evolution as the bedrock of modern biology, propelling a fringe academic movement onto the front pages and putting Darwin's defenders firmly on the defensive."
A "politically savvy challenge to evolution" is as self-evidently ridiculous as an agriculturally savvy challenge to euclidean geometry would be. It makes as much sense as conducting a Gallup poll on gravity or running someone for president on the Alchemy Party ticket. It doesn't matter what percentage of people believe they ought to be able to flap their arms and fly, none of them can. It doesn't matter how many votes your candidate got, he's not going to turn lead into gold. The sentence is so arrantly foolish that the only real news in it is where it appeared.
On the front page.
Of The New York Times .
Within three days, there was a panel on the subject on Larry King Live , in which Larry asked the following question:
"All right, hold on. Dr. Forrest, your concept of how can you out-and-out turn down creationism, since if evolution is true, why are there still monkeys?"
And why do so many of them host television programs, Larry?
This is how Idiot America engages the great issues of the day. It decides, en masse, with a thousand keystrokes and clicks of the remote control, that because there are two sides to every question, they both must be right, or at least not wrong. And the poor biologist's words carry no more weight than the thunderations of some turkey-neck preacher out of the Church of Christ's Own Parking Facility in DeLand, Florida. Less weight, in fact, because our scientist is an "expert" and, therefore, an "elitist." Nobody buys his books. Nobody puts him on cable. He's brilliant, surely, but his Gut's the same as ours. He just ignores it, poor fool.
This is a great country, in no small part because it is the best country ever devised in which to be a public crank. Never has a nation so dedicated itself to the proposition that not only should its people hold nutty ideas but they should cultivate them, treasure them, shine them up, and put them right there on the mantelpiece. This is still the best country ever in which to peddle complete public lunacy. The right to do so is there in our founding documents.
After all, the Founders were men of the Enlightenment, fashioning a country out of new ideas—or out of old ones that they excavated from centuries of religious internment. Historian Charles Freeman points out that in Europe, "Christian thought . . . often gave irrationality the status of a universal 'truth' to the exclusion of those truths to be found through reason. So the uneducated was preferred to the educated, and the miracle to the operation of natural laws."
In America, the Founders were trying to get away from all that, to raise a nation of educated people. In pledging their faith to intellectual experimentation, however, the Founders set freedom free. They devised the best country ever in which to be completely around the bend. It's just that making a respectable living out of it used to be harder work.
THEY CALL IT THE INFINITE CORRIDOR, which is the kind of joke you tell when your day job is to throw science as far ahead as you can and hope that the rest of us can move fast enough to catch up. It is a series of connecting hallways that run north through the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The hallways are lined with cramped offices, their doors mottled thickly with old tape and yellowing handbills. The Infinite Corridor is not a straight line. It has branches and tributaries. It has backwaters and eddies. You can get lost there.
One of the offices belongs to Professor Kip Hodges, a young and energetic North Carolinian who studies how mountain ranges develop and grow. Suffice it to say that Hodges's data do not correspond to the six-thousand-year-old earth of the creationists, whereupon dinosaurs and naked folks doth gambol together.
Hodges is recently returned from Nepal, where he rescued his research from encroaching Maoist rebels, who were not interested in the least in how the Himalayas became the Himalayas. They were interested in land, in guns, in power, and in other things of the Gut. Moreover, part of Hodges's duties at MIT has been to mentor incoming freshmen about making careers in science for themselves.
"Scientists are always portrayed in the literature as being above the fray intellectually," Hodges says. "I guess to a certain extent that's our fault, because scientists don't do a good enough job communicating with people who are nonscientists—that it's not a matter of brainiacs doing one thing and nonbrainiacs doing another."
Americans of a certain age grew up with science the way an earlier generation grew up with baseball and even earlier ones grew up with politics and religion. America cured diseases. It put men on the moon. It thought its way ahead in the cold war and stayed there.
"My earliest memory," Hodges recalls, "is watching John Glenn go up. It was a time that, if you were involved in science or engineering—particularly science, at that time—people greatly respected you if you said you were going into those fields. And nowadays, it's like there's no value placed by society on a lot of the observations that are made by people in science.
"It's more than a general dumbing down of America—the lack of self-motivated thinking: clear, creative thinking. It's like you're happy for other people to think for you. If you should be worried about, say, global warming, well, somebody in Washington will tell me whether or not I should be worried about global warming. So it's like this abdication of intellectual responsibility—that America now is getting to the point that more and more people would just love to let somebody else think for them."
The country was founded by people who were fundamentally curious; Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, to name only the most obvious examples, were inveterate tinkerers. (Before dispatching Lewis and Clark into the Louisiana Territory, Jefferson insisted that the pair categorize as many new plant and animal species as they found. Considering they were also mapping everything from Missouri to Oregon, this must have been a considerable pain in the canoe.) Further, they assumed that their posterity would feel much the same as they did; in 1815, appealing to Congress to fund the building of a national university, James Madison called for the development of "a nursery of enlightened preceptors."
It is a long way from that to the moment on February 18, 2004, when sixty-two scientists, including a clutch of Nobel laureates, released a report accusing the incumbent administration of manipulating science for political ends. It is a long way from Jefferson's observatory and Franklin's kite to George W. Bush, in an interview in 2005, suggesting that intelligent design be taught alongside the theory of evolution in the nation's science classes. "Both sides ought to be properly taught," said the president, "so people can understand what the debate is about."
The "debate," of course, is nothing of the sort, because two sides are required for a debate. Nevertheless, the very notion of it is a measure of how scientific discourse, and the way the country educates itself, has slipped through lassitude and inattention across the border into Idiot America—where fact is merely that which enough people believe, and truth is measured only by how fervently they believe it.
If we have abdicated our birthright to scientific progress, we have done so by moving the debate into the realm of political and cultural argument, where we all feel more confident, because it is there that the Gut rules. Held to this standard, any scientific theory is rendered mere opinion. Scientific fact is no more immutable than a polling sample. This is how there's a "debate" over the very existence of global warming, even though the preponderance of fact among those who actually have studied the phenomenon renders the "debate" quite silly. The debate is about making people feel better about driving SUVs. The debate is less about climatology than it is about guiltlessly topping off your tank and voting in tax incentives for oil companies.
The rest of the world looks on in cockeyed wonder. The America of Franklin and Edison, of Fulton and Ford, of the Manhattan project and the Apollo program, the America of which Einstein wanted to be a part, seems to be enveloping itself in a curious fog behind which it's tying itself in knots over evolution, for pity's sake, and over the relative humanity of blastocysts versus the victims of Parkinson's disease.
"Even in the developing world, where I spend lots of time doing my work," Hodges says, "if you tell them that you're from MIT and you tell them that you do science, it's a big deal. If I go to India and tell them I'm from MIT, it's a big deal. In Thailand, it's a big deal. If I go to Iowa, they could give a rat's ass. And that's a weird thing, that we're moving in that direction as a nation."
Hence, Bush was not talking about science—not in any real sense, anyway. Intelligent design is a theological construct, a faith-based attempt to gussy up creationism in a lab coat. Its fundamental tenets cannot be experimentally verified—or, most important, falsified. That it enjoys a certain public cachet is irrelevant; a higher percentage of Americans believes that a government conspiracy killed John F. Kennedy than believes in intelligent design, but there is no great effort abroad in the land to include that conspiracy theory in sixth-grade history texts. Bush wasn't talking about science. He was talking about the political utility of putting saddles on the dinosaurs and breaking Ganesh's theological monopoly over the elephant paddock.
"The reason the creationists have been so effective is that they have put a premium on communication skills," explains Hodges. "It matters to them that they can talk to the guy in the bar, and it's important to them, and they are hugely effective at it."
It is the ultimate standard of Idiot America. How does it play to Joe Six-Pack in the bar? At the end of August 2004, the Zogby people discovered that 57 percent of undecided voters would rather have a beer with George Bush than with John Kerry. Now, how many people with whom you've spent time drinking beer would you trust with the nuclear launch codes? Not only is this not a question for a nation of serious citizens, it's not even a question for a nation of serious drunkards.
If even scientific discussion is going to be dragged into politics, then the discussion there at least ought to exist on a fairly sophisticated level. Again, the Founders thought it should. They considered self-government a science that required an informed and educated and enlightened populace to make all the delicate mechanisms run. Instead, today we have the Kabuki politics and marionette debates best exemplified by cable television. Instead, the discussion of everything ends up in the bar.
(It wasn't always this way. Theodore Roosevelt is reckoned to be the manliest of our manly-man presidents. He also was a lifelong science dweeb, cataloging songbirds, of all things. Of course, he shot them first, so maybe that makes all the difference.)
It is, of course, television that has allowed Idiot America to run riot within the modern politics and all forms of public discourse. It is not that there is less information on television than there once was. (That there is less news is another question entirely.) In fact, there is so much information that fact is now defined as something that so many people believe that television notices it, and truth is measured by how fervently they believe it.
"You don't need to be credible on television," explains Keith Olbermann, the erudite host of his own show on MSNBC. "You don't need to be authoritative. You don't need to be informed. You don't need to be honest. All these things that we used to associate with what we do are no longer factors.
"There is an entire network [the Fox News Channel] that bills itself as news that is devoted to reinforcing people's fears and saying to them, 'This is what you should be scared of, and here's whose fault it is,' " Olbermann says. "And that's what they get—two or three million frustrated paranoids who sit in front of the TV and go, 'Damn right, it's those liberals' fault.' Or, 'It's those—what's the word for it?— college graduates ' fault.' "
The reply, of course, is that Fox regularly buries Olbermann and the rest of the MSNBC lineup in breaking off a segment of a smidgen of a piece of the television audience. Truth is what moves the needle. Fact is what sells.
Idiot America is a bad place for crazy notions. Its indolent tolerance of them causes the classic American crank to drift slowly and dangerously into the mainstream, wherein the crank loses all of his charm and the country loses another piece of its mind. The best thing about American crackpots used to be that they would stand proudly aloof from a country that, by their peculiar lights, had gone mad. Not today. Today, they all have book deals, TV shows, and cases pending in federal court.
Once, it was very hard to get into the public square and very easy to fall out of it. One ill-timed word, even a whiff of public scandal, and all the hard work you did in the grange hall on all those winter nights was for nothing. No longer. You can be Bill Bennett, gambling with both fists, but if your books still sell, you can continue to scold the nation about its sins. You can be Bill O'Reilly, calling up subordinates to proposition them both luridly and comically—loofahs? falafels?—and if more people tune in to watch you than tune in to watch some other blowhard, you can keep your job lecturing America about the dangers of its secular culture. Just don't be boring. And keep the ratings up. Idiot America wants to be entertained.
Because scientific expertise was dragged into political discussion, and because political discussion is hopelessly corrupt, the distrust of scientific expertise is now as general as the distrust of politicians is. Everyone is an expert, so nobody is. For example, Sean Hannity's knowledge of, say, stem-cell research is measured precisely by his ratings book. His views on the subject are more well known than those of the people doing the actual research.
The credibility of Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania on the subject of the cultural anthropology of the American family ought to be, well, minimal. He spent the summer promoting a book in which he propounded theories on the subject that were progressively loopier. "For some parents," he writes, "the purported need to provide things for their children simply provides a convenient rationalization for pursuing a gratifying career outside the home." He goes on later to compare a woman's right to choose an abortion unfavorably with the institution of slavery. Nevertheless, he's welcome in the mainstream, at least until either he's defeated for reelection or his book doesn't sell.
"Somewhere along the line, we stopped rewarding intelligence with success and stopped equating intelligence with success," Olbermann says. We're all in the bar now, where everybody's an expert, where the Gut makes everyone so very sure. All opinions are of equal worth. No voice is more authoritative than any others; some are just louder. Of course, the problem in the bar is that sooner or later, for reasons that nobody will remember in the clear light of the next morning, some noisy *chocolate* picks a fight. And it becomes clear that the rise of Idiot America has consequences.
ON THE MORNING of September 11, 2001, nobody in the American government knew more than Richard Clarke did on the subject of a shadowy terrorist network called Al Qaeda. He had watched it grow. He had watched it strike—in New York and in Africa and in the harbor in Yemen. That morning, in the Situation Room in the White House, Clarke watched the buildings burn and fall, and he recognized the organization's signature as well as he'd recognize his own. Instead, in the ensuing days a lot of people around him—people who didn't know enough about Al Qaeda to throw to a cat—wanted to talk about Iraq. What they believed trumped what Clarke knew, over and over again. He left the government.
"In the 1970s and 1980s, when the key issue became arms control, the traditional diplomats couldn't do the negotiating because that negotiating involved science and engineering," Clarke recalls. "Interagency decision papers were models of analysis, where assumptions were laid out and tested.
"That's the world I grew up in. [The approach] still applied to issues, even terrorism. Then these people come in, and they already have the answers, how to spin it, how to get the rest of the world on board. I thought, Wait a minute. That isn't analysis. It's the important issues where we really need analysis. "In the area of terrorism, there is a huge potential for emotional reaction. The one thing I told my team [on September 11]—they were mad and they were crying, the whole range of emotions—was that we didn't have time for emotion that day."
Nothing that the administration of George W. Bush has done has been inconsistent with the forces that twice elected it. The subtle, humming engine of its success—against John Kerry, surely, but most vividly against poor, cerebral Al Gore—was a celebration of instinct over intellect, a triumph of the Gut. No campaigns in history employed the saloon question with such devastating success or saw so clearly the path through the deliberate inexpertise of the national debate. No politician in recent times has played to the Gut so deftly.
So it ought not shock anyone when the government suddenly found itself at odds with empirical science. It ought not shock anyone in the manner in which it would go to war. Remember the beginning, when it was purely the Gut—a bone-deep call for righteous revenge for which Afghanistan was not sufficient response. In Iraq, there would be towering stacks of chemical bombs, a limitless smorgasbord of deadly bacteria, vast lagoons of exotic poisons. There would be candy and flowers greeting our troops. The war would take six months, a year, tops. Mission Accomplished. Major combat operations are over.
"Part of the problem was that people didn't want the analytic process because they'd be shown up," Richard Clarke says. "Their assumptions would be counterfactual. One of the real areas of expertise, for example, was failed-state reconstruction. How to go into failed states and maintain security and get the economy going and defang ethnic hatred. They threw it all out.
"They ignored the experts on the Middle East. They ignored the experts who said it was the wrong target. So you ignore the experts and you go in anyway, and then you ignore all the experts on how to handle the postconflict."
One of those experts was David Phillips, a senior advisor on what was called the Future of Iraq program for the State Department. Phillips was ignored. His program was ignored. Earlier, Phillips had helped reconstruct the Balkans after the region spent a decade tearing itself apart with genocidal lunacy. Phillips knew what he knew. He just didn't believe what they believed.
"You can just as easily have a faith-based, or ideologically driven, policy," he says today. "You start with the presumption that you already know the conclusion prior to asking the question. When information surfaces that contradicts your firmly entrenched views, you dismantle the institution that brought you the information."
There was going to be candy and flowers, remember? The war was going to pay for itself. Believe.
"We went in blindfolded, and we believed our own propaganda," Phillips says. "We were going to get out in ninety days, spend $1.9 billion in the short term, and Iraqi oil would pay for the rest. Now we're deep in the hole, and people are asking questions about how we got there.
"It's delusional, allowing delusion to be the basis of policy making. Once you've told the big lie, you have to substantiate it with a sequence of lies that's repeated. You can't fix a policy if you don't admit it's broken."
Two thousand American lives later, remember the beginning. One commentator quite plainly made the case that every few years or so, the United States should "throw a small nation up against the wall" to prove that it means business. And Idiot America, which is all of us, cheered.
*chocolate* right. Gimme another. And see what the superpowers in the back room will have.
AUGUST 19, 2005, was a beautiful day in Idiot America.
In Washington, William Frist, a Harvard-trained physician and the majority leader of the United States Senate, endorsed the teaching of intelligent design in the country's public schools. "I think today a pluralistic society," Frist explained, "should have access to a broad range of fact, of science, including faith."
That faith is not fact, nor should it be, and that faith is not science, nor should it be, seems to have eluded Doctor Senator Frist. It doesn't matter. He was talking to the people who believe that faith is both those things, because Bill Frist wants to be president of the United States, and because he believes those people will vote for him specifically because he talks this rot, and Idiot America will take it as an actor merely reciting his lines and let it go at that. Nonsense is a no-lose proposition.
On the same day, across town, a top aide to former secretary of state Colin Powell told CNN that Powell's pivotal presentation to the United Nations in which he described Iraq's vast array of deadly weapons was a farrago of stovepiped intelligence, wishful thinking, and utter bullshit.
"It was the lowest point in my life," the aide said.
That it has proven to be an even lower point for almost two thousand American families, and God alone knows how many Iraqis, seems to have eluded this fellow. It doesn't matter. Neither Frist with his pandering nor this apparatchik with the tender conscience—nor Colin Powell, for all that—will pay a substantial price for any of it because the two stories lasted one day, and, after all, it was a beautiful day in Idiot America.
Idiot America is a collaborative effort, the result of millions of decisions made and not made. It's the development of a collective Gut at the expense of a collective mind. It's what results when politicians make ridiculous statements and not merely do we abandon the right to punish them for it at the polls, but we also become too timid to punish them with ridicule on a daily basis, because the polls say they're popular anyway. It's what results when leaders are not held to account for mistakes that end up killing people.
And that's why August became a seminal month in Idiot America.
In its final week, a great American city drowned and then turned irrevocably into a Hieronymus Bosch painting in real time and on television, and with complete impunity, the president of the United States wandered the landscape and talked like a blithering nitwit.
First, he compared the violence surrounding the writing of an impromptu theocratic constitution in Baghdad to the events surrounding the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. Undaunted, he later compared the war he'd launched in Iraq to World War II. And then he compared himself to Franklin Roosevelt. One more public appearance and we might have learned that Custer was killed by Hezbollah.
Finally, we saw the apotheosis of the end of expertise, when New Orleans was virtually obliterated as a functional habitat for human beings, and the country discovered that the primary responsibility for dealing with the calamity lay with a man who'd been dismissed as an incompetent from his previous job as the director of a luxury-show-horse organization.
And the president went on television and said that nobody could have anticipated the collapse of the unfortunate city's levees. In God's sweet name, engineers anticipated it. Politicians anticipated it. The poor *chocolate* in the Ninth Ward certainly anticipated it. Hell, four generations of folksingers anticipated it.
And the people who hated him went crazy and the people who loved him defended him. But where were the people who heard this incredible, staggeringly stupid bafflegab, uttered with conscious forethought, and realized that whatever they thought of the man, the president had gotten behind a series of podiums and done everything but drop his drawers and dance the hootchie-koo? They were out there, lost in Idiot America, where it was still a beautiful day. Idiot America took it as a bad actor merely bungling his lines. Nonsense is a no-lose proposition. For Idiot America is a place where people choose to live. It is a place that is built consciously and deliberately, one choice at a time, made or (most often) unmade. A place where we're all like that statue of Adam now, reclining in a peaceful garden of our own creation, brainless and dickless, and falling down on the job of naming the monsters for what they are, dozing away in an Eden that, every day, looks less and less like paradise.
Wow. Not something I expected from "Esquire."
Kudos to them. I'm e-mailing this to my professors.
- AricRe: "Esquire" Lays the Smackdown on Creationism
Post by Stouthorn on Oct 25, 2005, 1:08pm
Esquire is a great magazine. Read it more often: there's tons of articles on politics, science, current events...it's, like, Maxim for intelligent people. Anyway...
Is it bad that the Larry king quote made me feel physically ill? It's exactly what the author is talking about, encapsulated into one quote. Larry King clearly doesn't have the faintest notion what he's talking about, but he speaks with authority as if his question will stump the scientist. It tires me.
Also, somewhat unrelated, but this is on the website for the Creation Museum:
One set of bones, two interpretations. How can two paleontologists, digging the same dinosaur fossil in the field, reach opposite conclusions?
The answer: starting points. Fossils don’t come with labels. We must begin with assumptions! But which is correct?
No. Just...no. It's not true, and it portrays science as just as faith-based as religion. It's not based on assumptions. I scientist is not supposed to have assumptions, and is expected to check those that he does.
A fossil DOES have labels, you just have to know where to look. Carbon dating, for example.
Friday, November 11, 2005
1. Marked by a lack of responsibility: irresponsible accusations.
2. Lacking a sense of responsibility; unreliable or untrustworthy.
3. Law. Not mentally or financially fit to assume responsibility.
4. Not liable to be called to account by a higher authority.
1. One who has no sense of responsibility.
2. Law. One who is mentally or financially unfit to assume responsibility for one's actions.
3. One who is unlikely to be called to account by a higher authority.
1. An image formed out of the pictures of soliders who died for your irresponsible lies.
I dunno - could it be that you're a liar?
(Note: I don't know if Bush said "mislead" instead of "misled" there, or if the 'journalist' just doesn't know grammar.)
Thus, in March, 2003, Bush, in perhaps the greatest strategic blunder in U.S. history, invaded an Arab nation that had not attacked us, did not want war with us, and did not threaten us—to strip it of weapons we now know it did not have.
Result: Shia and Kurds have been liberated from Saddam, but Iran has a new ally in southern Iraq, Osama has a new base camp in the Sunni Triangle, the Arab and Islamic world have been radicalized against the United States, and copy-cat killers of Al Qaida have been targeting our remaining allies in Europe and the Middle East: Spain, Britain, Egypt and Jordan. And, lest we forget, 2055 Americans are dead and Walter Reed is filling up.
True to the neoconservative creed, Bush launched a global crusade for democracy that is now bringing ever closer to power Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Syria, and Shia fundamentalists in Baghdad and Basra.
Democratic imperialism is still imperialism. To Arab and Islamic peoples, whether the Crusaders come in the name of God or in the name of democracy, they are still Crusaders.
Thursday, November 10, 2005
From the Desk of God
To: Pat Robertson
I want to make sure I heard you correctly. Did you really say that because of the outcome of a local school board election involving "Intelligent Design" that "if there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city?" If so, we have clear violations of a stack of commandments, and it's time to talk about a plea. (Before we go there, I have a question for you. Why is it every time you interrupt me, oh I'm sorry, "pray," that you look like the "before" picture in a laxative ad?)
Here's the best offer I can make, because you're going to be spending some serious hell time. I can offer you 2500 years of fire, brimstone and
or a millenium of watching Pauly Shore movies and gettin' crazy with
Your call, get back to me.
What this doofus apparently fails to notice is that he's carrying a banner for more oil, more oil, more oil. Well, when these companies are likely members of said Chamber (searched their site to find a membership roster and struck out), all he's doing is carrying their weight.
More importantly, he's missing the entire crux of the argument: WE DON'T NEED MORE OIL, STUPID, WE NEED LESS OIL AND GAS BECAUSE THEY'RE A LIMITED RESOURCE THAT SOMEDAY WE'RE GOING TO RUN OUT OF AND THEN WE'RE GOING TO BE SCREWED.
Geez, forest for the trees here, people.
A windfall tax on oil profits is not the way forward
By Thomas Donohue
Published: November 9 2005 20:19 Last updated: November 9 2005 20:19
Two months ago, the first of three hurricanes blew through the Gulf coast, causing widespread devastation. In many cases, people’s lives remain uprooted, businesses and workers are still disrupted and few know when life will return to normal.
Now another type of wind is blowing; the ill wind of political rhetoric. Buildings and homes are safe this time, but the US economy’s strength and resilience will be put to the test.
The problem: big oil had big profits last quarter. Despite hurricane damage to drilling platforms, pipelines and refineries, the oil industry made money and certain Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill are calling for a windfall profits tax, price controls, tariffs and other mandates.
It will not matter to some that oil industry profits are big because the industry is big, or that their rate of return is far less than other industries, such as banking, real estate or computers. The oil industry is guilty of making money. The global forces driving the economics of its marketplace are largely outside its control. The price for the raw commodity that it turns into gasoline, chemicals and heating fuels has gone up. A barrel of oil that cost $10 six years ago costs almost $60 today. The demand for oil has risen as the economies of developing countries such as China and India have grown.
Supporters of a windfall profits tax want to direct the oil industry and force investment in refinery expansions and exploration. Many of these same people have opposed such expansion activities for the past two decades. No new refineries have been built in a generation and none are likely to be built if Nimby (not-in-my-backyard) and Nope (not-on-planet-earth) persist in running our permit process.
Higher profits will drive capital toward new investments, but only if we allow more exploration where the oil can be found. There are 635,000bn cubic feet of natural gas and 102bn barrels of oil in the US that industry cannot produce because of federal access restrictions. Who do we blame? Industry for not drilling where there is no oil or the government for prohibiting drilling where the oil is?
The global forces driving the world’s economies are not going to be turned aside by new tax codes, investment directives or other restrictions, but consumers and shareholders could be at significant risk. The last time Congress tried a windfall profits tax – which was the last time oil industry profits rose precipitously – US domestic oil production fell 3-6 per cent, which caused oil imports to rise 8-16 per cent, resulting in a loss of 1.6bn barrels of US production.
Profits that could have been used some 20 years ago to improve the energy infrastructure, expand refinery capacity and increase domestic production were instead diverted to some unknown government programmes that today no one can identify.
Congress should consider the economic lesson taught by the last windfall profits tax: the more you tax something, the less you will get of it. While imposing a windfall profits tax might be emotionally satisfying in the short term to the consumer hard hit by higher prices at the pump, it will only lead to more pain down the road.
The tax will discourage investment in production, which will lead to less supply and higher prices. Consumers who own stock in oil companies either directly or indirectly through pension or retirement accounts also stand to lose. A windfall profits tax would decrease the value of oil company stock and could force oil companies to slash dividend payments. Tens of millions of investors and retirees depend on that income.
The US is the world’s biggest consumer of oil and we are at the mercy of the global supply market. If Congress wants to help consumers at home, tapping our domestic sources of oil would be a good way to do it.
Lifting the moratorium prohibiting exploration on our outer continental shelf would provide a 15-year supply of gasoline for 116m cars and heating oil for 47m homes. Allowing access to part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would provide the US with about 900,000 to 1m barrels of oil a day for the next 30 years, cutting oil imports from the Persian Gulf region by 40 per cent.
We need to have abundant and affordable energy supplies to keep our economy healthy and our jobs secure. The way forward is not by new taxes on profits, government mandates or investment directed by politicians. The way forward is to let the free market work and let business make prudent decisions about those investments that are in the best interest of their stockholders and customers.
ONE NIGHT ONLY!!!
Chicago Tribune Writer Mark Silva on his
You won't want to miss the hilarity as Mark tells us that Tuesday's elections showed an erosion in "the moderate voters the GOP has worked hard to attract" and you will howl when he gives you knee-slappers like the Democrats are "a party still struggling with framing a coherent message" that can distinguish them "from a well-defined Republican Party." Great stuff, Mark!
I gotta tell you, there is nothing like faith-based initiatives, force-feeding a dead woman, teaching intelligent design in schools and stem cell research bans to reach out to moderates, and heck, don't let runaway deficits, government intrusiveness and our 37th different rationale for war get in the way of that "well-defined" GOP!
Don't miss Mark, only 50 cents a copy with a two-drink minimum!
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
Fox News Analyst
Job Requirements: Experience with major New York City newspaper preferred. Credibility not required. Must be willing to distort and color the news to fit a political agenda and to promote a particular ideology. Willingness to loofah Bill O'Reilly a plus.
He pushed his trolley round and stared at the barrier. It looked very solid. He started to walk towards it. People jostled him on their way to platforms nine and ten. Harry walked more quickly ... leaning forward on his trolley, he broke into a heavy run. The barrier was coming nearer and nearer-he wouldn't be able to stop-the cart was out of control-he was a foot away-he closed his eyes ready for the crash-It didn't come... he kept on running... he opened his eyes.
The sign overhead said "Hogwarts' Secret Torture Prison Express." He boarded a large train, where he was immediately stripped naked, had electrodes attached to his Harry and his Potters and was leashed and stacked in a human pyramid.
Joshua Holland The Gadflyer
Let me repeat something I wrote over at Alternet on Friday, but more succinctly.
Two of the defense elite's leading revolving-door corporations, the Carlyle Group and Halliburton, paid bribes to Saddam Hussein's government to do business with Iraq, according to the final report of the Volcker Committee investigating the Oil-for-Food program. That means that many of the leading policy-makers who guided both the first and second Gulf Wars -- and the sanctions regime that came in between the two -- have profited - directly or indirectly - from bribing the "Butcher of Baghdad," Saddam Hussein, to do business in violation of the sanctions we imposed.
The first Gulf War - another war launched using false pretenses --was lead by George HW Bush. His Secretary of Defense was Dick Cheney, his Secretary of State was James Baker and his Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was Colin Powell. Our leading ally in the war - and our partner in the subsequent sanctions -- was Great Britain under John Major.
Bush 41, Baker and Colin Powell all are currently on the Board of the Carlyle Group or sat on it during the sanctions. John Major is on the Board, as was George Bush 43 --architect, along with Cheney and Powell, of the second Gulf War -- prior to running for Governor of Texas. Cheney ran Halliburton, which was represented by James Bakers' firm, Baker Botts.
When the Clinton administration came to power, they continued Bush's Iraq policy. Madeleine Albright was Clinton's Ambassador to the UN and later his Secretary of State, and William Perry was Clinton's Secretary of Defense between 1994-1997, when the Oil-for-food program was set up. Albright famously said of the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children under the sanctions regime, "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price -- we think the price is worth it." Perry joined Carlyle's board after leaving the Pentagon. Albright's daughter, Alice Albright, sits on its board as well.
And all that just scratches the surface. It's what I dug up in an hour of research looking only for big, household names. I haven't seen this reported by any mainstream media outlets. Various Google searches didn't turn up any stories on it either.
I sent e-mails to all the big lefty blogs, but none of them picked it up. I even sent an e-mail to ThinkProgress's Judd Legum saying, "Why not help out a brother with the Left-wing echo chamber?" No luck.
Now, I want you to imagine for a second that I was Matt Drudge, and I reported the same thing during Clinton's presidency, during a war Clinton had started. It'd be everywhere.
Maybe I'm missing something. Maybe I'm not sophisticated enough to get why this isn't an interesting peek at our foreign policy. Perhaps it wasn't picked up because I'm not a 'brand-name' writer, or perhaps it's because I'm not alleging that any of these people actually dropped a bag of cash into Saddam's hands.
But from where I'm sitting, this is no way to run an echo-chamber.
Be Careful what you Vote For - there Will be Another Election Someday
So this week there were two big votes, one in Kansas and one in Pennsylvania, about the teaching of "Intelligent Design" in high school biology classes. The vote in Kansas was a 10 person school board that wanted to redefine the word "science" to allow for religion, and the vote in Pennsylvania was a local election to see who would be on the school board. In Kansas, the vote was 6-4 to include ID in classes, the vote being led by the chair of the board, who is a conservative Christian who complained that science wasn't compatible with what he read in the Bible. In Pennsylvania, the voters ousted all 8 Republican members of the board that had supported including a statement about ID in class, and replaced them with 8 Democrats who opposed the statement.
1) All you ever need to know about ID is that Chimpy McNero believes it should be taught in science classes.
2) Quick review - a scientific theory cannot be proven. It can only be disproven. The word "unproven" in the phrase "an unproven theory" plays much the same role as the word "wet" in the phrase "wet water" or the word "dumbass" in the phrase "a dumbass Republican".
3) The statement being read to students in Penn classrooms mentioned something about "inexplicable" gaps in the theory of evolution. Another exercise in definitions here, people - just because something has not yet been explained does not make it inexplicable. Early civilizations didn't understand why some rocks stuck to other rocks, but that didn't mean that we couldn't someday explain magnetism.
4) Why do people insist that religion must be something taught in a science class, as if God were something that were explainable and comprehendable? Isn't faith, by definition, belief in that which can not be seen? And isn't science, by definition, the study of what we can observe in the natural world? I know plenty of deeply religious scientists who teach classes on evolution. They have no problem going into a class 5 days a week and discussing how natural processes affect living beings, and then going to (in some cases very fundamental) churches on Sunday and worshipping their God. To them, the actions are completely sensible when paired together, but they understand the distinction between a faith in a God, and a book which was written by the hands of men, usually with some political objective in mind, that has been translated countless times in thousands of years.
The press reported that "Republican House and Senate leaders on Tuesday asked for an investigation into who leaked information to the Washington Post about CIA-run secret prisons."
What is interesting that they only care about who LEAKED the information. The question of WHETHER we're running clandestine "Torture `R' Us" facilities around the world is no big deal!
I have made light of the administration's bizarre "pro-torture" stance, but very simply and very seriously, the United States CANNOT be on record as endorsing torture. This is a basic question of credibility before the world. If we embrace such barbarism, we lose any right to object when our enemies act (or react) in a similar fashion. This is the same point that lies at the heart of compliance with international law in general. When a nation has a tradition of compliance, it has standing to object to violations by other countries. When a country gives international law little weight or respect, its claims against others reek of hypocrisy and are far from persuasive.
Here is a depressing thought. Even if the House and Senate were somehow moved to impeach and convict, here is the order of succession:
Vice President Dick Cheney
Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert
President pro tempore of the Senate Ted Stevens
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of the Treasury John Snow
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales
Secretary of the Interior Gale A. Norton
Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns
Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez (ineligible, born in
Secretary of Labor (ineligible, Elaine Chao not native born)
Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Alphonso Jackson
Secretary of Transportation Norm Mineta
Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman
Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson
Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff
Well, first of all, George, let's see what "polite" means, shall we?
POLITE: Marked by or showing consideration for others, tact, and observance of accepted social usage.
How are we doing on that one? Not so hot, huh?
I also do not necessarily expect "polite." I expect competence, honesty, accountability, leadership and vision. Polite doesn't cut it.
By James Carroll
November 7, 2005
THE INDICTMENT of the vice president's chief of staff for perjury and obstruction of justice is an occasion to consider just how damaging the long public career of Richard Cheney has been to the United States. He began as a political scientist devoted to caring for the elbow of Donald Rumsfeld. As a congressman, Rumsfeld had reliably voted against programs to help the nation's poor, so (as I recalled in reading James Mann's ''Rise of the Vulcans") it was with more than usual cynicism that Richard Nixon appointed him head of the Office of Economic Opportunity, the antipoverty agency. Rumsfeld named Cheney as his deputy, and the two set out to gut the program-- the beginning of the Republican rollback of the Great Society, what we saw in New Orleans this fall.
When Rumsfeld became Gerald Ford's White House chief of staff, he again tapped Cheney as his deputy. Now they set out to destroy detente, the fragile new relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union. Dismissing detente as moral relativism, Cheney so believed in Cold War bipolarity that when it began to melt in the late 1980s, he tried to refreeze it. As George H.W. Bush's secretary of defense, Cheney was key to America's refusal to accommodate the hopeful new spirit of the age. Violence was in retreat, with peace breaking out across the globe, from the Philippines to South Africa, Ireland, the Middle East, and Central America. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Cheney forged America's response -- which was, little over a month later, to wage an illegal war against Panama.
As Mikhail Gorbachev presided over the nonviolent dismantling of the Soviet Union, Cheney warned Bush not to trust it. When the justification for the huge military machine over which Cheney presided disappeared, he leapt on the next casus belli -- Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. Hussein, a former ally, was now Hitler.
Against Cheney's own uniformed advisers (notably including Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell), he forged Washington's choice of violence over diplomacy. The first Gulf War, remembered by Americans as justified, was in fact an unnecessary affirmation of military might as the ground of international order, just as an historic alternative was opening up. US responses in that period, mainly shaped by Cheney, stand in stark contrast to Gorbachev's, who, refusing to call on military might even to save the Soviet Union, was ordering his soldiers back to their barracks. The unsentimental Cheney, eschewing human rights rhetoric, was explicit in defining America's Gulf War interest as all about oil. (The oil industry having made Cheney rich.) Cheney's initiatives, more than any other's, defined the insult to the Arab world that spawned Al Qaeda.
With all of this as prelude, it seems as tragic as it was inevitable that Cheney was behind the wheel again when the next fork in the road appeared before the nation. When the World Trade Center towers were hit in New York, it was Cheney who told a shaken President Bush to flee. The true nature of their relationship (Cheney, not Bush, having shaped the national security team; Cheney, not Bush, having appointed himself as vice president) showed itself for a moment.
The 9/11 Commission found that, from the White House situation room, Cheney warned the president that a ''specific threat" had targeted Air Force One, prompting Bush to spend the day hiding in the bunker at Offut Air Force Base in Nebraska. There was no specific threat. In Bush's absence, Cheney, implying an authorizing telephone call from the president, took command of the nation's response to the crisis. There was no authorizing telephone call. The 9/11 Commission declined to make an issue of Cheney's usurpation of powers, but the record shows it.
At world-shaping moments across a generation, Cheney reacted with an instinctive, This is war! He helped turn the War on Poverty into a war on the poor. He helped keep the Cold War going longer than it had to, and when it ended (because of initiatives taken by the other side), Cheney refused to believe it. To keep the US war machine up and running, he found a new justification just in time. With Gulf War I, Cheney ignited Osama bin Laden's burning purpose. Responding to 9/11, Cheney fulfilled bin Laden's purpose by joining him in the war-of-civilizations. Iraq, therefore (including the prewar deceit for which Scooter Libby takes the fall), is simply the last link in the chain of disaster which is the public career of Richard Cheney.
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
I had a party! Some close friends, a great dinner, too much wine, and the anticipation that America would actually wake up from its torpid self-imposed nightmare. The night began with so much promise, and by the end, I remember just looking around in disbelief at what had happened. I have never experienced such a blunt, painful, empty feeling as I did when the realization sunk in, that no matter how many shenanigans took place, tens of millions of Americans thought this man was fit to lead us again.
America and I are kind of dating again. You know, we go out for coffee, we talk on the phone, we know a lot of the same people, so America and I always seem to end up at the same parties. We've been hanging out, but you know, she hurt me, she hurt me terribly. I'm still feeling my way through this and I'm not sure if this thing is serious, if we can patch things up after what she did to me. I'll decide for sure this time next year.
By Daniel Benjamin in Slate.
It has become a cliché to say that Dick Cheney is the most powerful vice president in American history. Nonetheless, here is a prediction: When the historians really get digging into the paper entrails of the Bush administration—or possibly when Scooter Libby goes on trial—those who have intoned that phrase will still be astonished at the extent to which the Office of Vice President Dick Cheney was the center of power inside the White House—and at the grip it had on foreign and defense policy.
With a national security staff that numbered 14 last year (Al Gore usually had four or five), Cheney's office has a finger in every pie. Several of the State Department's top diplomats, including Eric Edelman, now undersecretary of defense for policy, and Victoria Nuland, now ambassador to NATO, are alums of Cheney's office. According to David L. Phillips' Losing Iraq: Inside the Postwar Reconstruction Fiasco, the dominant figure in some of the key interagency deliberations on postwar Iraq was not the State Department official who chaired them but Samantha Ravich, a Cheney aide who left the government and has since returned to OVP*. In addition, Cheney has remarkable influence over his onetime boss, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Writing in Slate, Tim Naftali was surprised by the news in the New York Times that Cheney's office was calling the tune on how the United States treats terrorist detainees. At least as interesting was the mention in the same story that the Office of the Vice President (or OVP) had hammered out the compromise in last year's intelligence reform bill that "made clear that the new national intelligence director could not interfere in the military chain of command." Eighty percent of the nation's intelligence budget is spent within the Pentagon. So, that compromise leaves a large question mark over whether John Negroponte or his successors will have anything like the power the 9/11 commission had anticipated when it proposed sweeping intelligence reform.
Cheney's connection with intelligence and, particularly, Pentagon intelligence is not exactly new. The transmission lines for many of the bogus claims in 2002 and 2003 about the purported ties between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida ran from the civilian Office of the Secretary of Defense through Cheney's office. Although the Libby indictment might lead some to believe that OVP was running an apolitical enforcement operation, it was doing much more than that. Cheney's team was producing the basic justification for going to war.
News accounts have placed the origin of much of the bad intelligence in the Office of Special Plans, which was run by Abram Shulsky, a graduate-school pal of former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. In fact, the bad intel came largely out of something called the Counterterrorism Evaluation Group, which reported to Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith. This group consisted of just two people: Michael Maloof, a controversial former aide to Richard Perle whose security clearances were eventually suspended, and David Wurmser, a longtime neoconservative advocate of toppling Saddam Hussein. (Since late 2003, Wurmser has worked in OVP.)
The information CTEG put together was treated differently than other intelligence. Unlike other reports, CTEG's conclusions about Iraq's training of jihadists in the use of explosives and weapons of mass destruction were never distributed to the many different agencies in the intelligence community. Although CTEG analysts met once with Director George Tenet and other CIA officials, they changed no minds at the agency on the issue of Saddam and al-Qaida, and their work was never "coordinated" or cleared by the various agencies that weigh in on intelligence publications. Top officers in military intelligence who saw the report refused to concur with it.
Nonetheless, CTEG's findings were the basis for briefings in the White House and on Capitol Hill. Some of CTEG's material was leaked to the Weekly Standard, where it was published. In that form, the Feith "annex" achieved some renown as a classic in the genre of cherry-picked intelligence.
Dick Cheney was CTEG's patron. He had the group present its material at OVP and the National Security Council. He made frequent public remarks, drawing on CTEG conclusions, alleging an al-Qaida/Saddam connection. (Even after the 9/11 commission delivered its verdict that there was no collaborative relationship between the two sides, Cheney announced that the evidence of the Bin Laden-Baghdad ties was "overwhelming.") John Hannah, a Cheney aide who became the vice president's national security adviser after Libby's resignation, recycled some of the material into a draft of the speech Secretary of State Colin Powell was to give at the United Nations in February 2003—a draft that Powell threw out, calling it "bullshit."
The wide airing of CTEG material clearly irked George Tenet, who declared at one point when pressed by congressmen in 2003 that he would "talk to" Cheney about some of the claims he was making. Whatever passed between them, Cheney was not deterred. In January 2004, he told a reporter for the Rocky Mountain News that the Standard article was the "best source of information" on Saddam's ties to al-Qaida. In June 2004, Cheney was still claiming that 9/11 conspirator Mohammed Atta met an Iraqi agent in Prague.
Much is still to be learned about how intelligence was used and abused in CTEG and OVP. But one story gives a hint of what the historians may find: When I interviewed him several months ago, Powell's former chief of staff Larry Wilkerson recounted the story of a meeting in the White House situation room during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq when policymakers met with top intelligence officials from a number of agencies. After the intelligence officials made their presentations, Douglas Feith "leapt to his feet, pointed to a certain National Intelligence Officer and declared 'You people don't know what you're talking about.' "
Feith had worked for Cheney—together with Scooter Libby—when he was secretary of defense in the administration of George H.W. Bush and, according to former administration sources, was even closer to Rumsfeld than Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was. After that outburst, Feith held up a piece of paper and read aloud an account of al-Qaida's ties with Iraq in the early 1990s. Then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, a man well-known and well-liked in Washington for his gentlemanly manners, looked on, aghast at the scene. Wilkerson told me that after the end of the meeting, he got a copy of the paper and determined it was a newspaper clipping that had been retyped in the vice president's office to be presented as "intelligence."
Browbeating intelligence officials, disregard for the National Security Council's traditional leadership of the interagency process—this kind of behavior, plenty of Bush administration officials privately attest, was typical as the Cheney-Rumsfeld axis that took the country to war. "Who knows," Larry Wilkerson wondered to me, "how many other people they intimidated."
In Panama City, Panama yesterday, The Chimpanzee-in-Chief defended U.S. interrogation practices and called the treatment of terrorism suspects lawful. "We do not torture," Bush declared in response to reports of secret CIA prisons in foreign countries and at Gitmo.
In published reports he is quoted as saying:
We're working with Congress to make sure that as we go forward, we make it
possible, more possible, to do our job. There's an enemy that lurks and plots
and plans and wants to hurt America again. And so, you bet we will aggressively
pursue them. But we will do so under the law.
At the same time that the Chimpster is spinning, his boss Lucifer Cheney is lobbying Congress to allow the CIA to be exempted from anti-torture legislation that is sure to pass Congress.
What is wrong with this picture? If out of one side of your mouth, you're telling the world that we don't torture prisoners, while out of the other say that we need loopholes that make torture legal, aren't you really telling everybody that we DO torture prisoners and that making it illegal would hinder our intelligence-gathering capabilities? Aren't you really telling the rest of the world that the "end" (stopping al-Quaeda) justifies the "means" (thumbing our nose at international law)? And what of our righteous indignation over the treatment of those kidnapped by the insurgents and their agents? How does a picture of Lynndie England riding herd jibe with our pledge that we don't condone or practice the very barbarism that we attribute to the "evil doers?"