Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Outrage Fatigue Seems To Be Settling In As Chronic Condition



Mortgaged to the House of Saud
Robert Scheer

August 9, 2005

THE ONLY EVIDENCE you need that President Bush is losing the "war on terror" is this: On Sunday, the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia said that relations with the United States "couldn't be better."

Tell that to the parents of those who have died in two wars defending this corrupt spawning ground of violent extremism. Never mind the ugly facts: We are deeply entwined with Saudi Arabia even though it shares none of our values and supports our enemies.

Yet on Friday, Bush's father and Vice President Dick Cheney made another in a long line of obsequious American pilgrimages to Riyadh to assure the Saudis that we continue to be grateful for the punishment they dish out.

"The relationship has tremendously improved with the United States," Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal told a news conference in Riyadh. "With the government, of course, it is very harmonious, as it ever was. Whether it has returned to the same level as it was before in terms of public opinion [in both countries], that is debatable."

Well, score one for public opinion. It makes sense to distrust the mercenary and distasteful alliance between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. We protect the repressive kingdom that spawned Osama bin Laden, and most of the 9/11 hijackers, in exchange for the Saudis keeping our fecklessly oil-addicted country lubricated.

Yes, it has stuck deep in the craw of many of us Americans that after 9/11, Washington squandered global goodwill and a huge percentage of our resources invading a country that had nothing to do with Al Qaeda, while continuing to pander to this dysfunctional dynasty. After all, Saudi Arabia is believed to have paid Bin Laden's murderous gang millions in protection money in the years before 9/11, and it lavishly funds extremist religious schools throughout the region that preach and teach anti-Western jihad.

"Al Qaeda found fertile fundraising ground in the kingdom," noted the 9/11 commission report in one of its many careful understatements. The fact is, without Saudi Arabia, there would be no Al Qaeda today.

Our president loves to use the word "evil" in his speeches, yet throughout his life he and his family have had deep personal, political and financial ties with a country that represents everything the American Revolution stood against: tyranny, religious intolerance, corrupt royalty and popular ignorance. This is a country where women aren't allowed to drive and those who show "too much skin" can be beaten in the street by officially sanctioned mobs of fanatics. A medieval land where newspapers routinely publish the most outlandish anti-Semitic rants. A place where executions are held in public, torture is the norm in prison and the most extreme and expansionist version of Islam is the state religion.

It's hard to see how Saddam Hussein's brutal and secular Iraq was worse than the brutal theocracy run by the House of Saud. Yet one nation we raze and the other we fete. Is it any wonder that much of the world sees the United States as the planet's biggest hypocrite?

As insider books by former White House terrorism advisor Richard Clarke, journalist Bob Woodward and others have recounted, punishing Saudi Arabia in any way for its long ideological and financial support of terrorism was not even on the table in the days after 9/11. Instead, within hours of the planes hitting the towers, the powerful neoconservatives in the White House rushed to use the tragedy as an excuse for a long-dreamed invasion of Iraq.

Meanwhile, after two wars to make the Middle East safe for the Saudis, wars that cost hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars and thousands of American lives, the price of oil is soaring — up 42% from just a year ago. Good thing we just passed a pork-laden energy bill that will do little to nothing to ease our crushing — and rising — dependence on imported oil. Federal officials project that by 2025, the U.S. will have to import 68% of its oil to meet demand, up from 58% today.

There are those who argue that the best rationale for invading Iraq was to ease our dependence on Saudi Arabia's massive oil fields, which might allow for a more rational or moral relationship. Yet the dark irony is that with Iraq in chaos and its oil flow limited by insurgent attacks and a bungled reconstruction, Saudi Arabia is now more important to the United States than ever.

It's scary, but these gaping contradictions don't seem to trouble our president a whit.

As the drumbeat of devastating terrorist attacks in Baghdad, London and elsewhere continue, Bush prattles on — five times in a speech last Wednesday — about his pyrrhic victories in the "war on terror." This is a sorry rhetorical device that disguises the fact that the forces of Islamic fanaticism in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the world are stronger than ever.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Deep Thoughts


Karl Rove's Diary
John Kenney
John Kenney's work has appeared in the New York Times and the New Yorker. He just completed his first novel.

August 7, 2005

Why a mezzanine? What does that even mean? Why not just "second floor?"

Who is the man in the mirror? Where did the little boy go? Who is the fish-belly-white man with the protruding stomach and hairless calves, naked as the day he was born? I'll tell you who he is; he's the most powerful man in the world. I'm chuckling. I'm chuckling and watching my belly move.

McCain said something against Arabs. He didn't, of course, but I can make it seem like he did. Yes. I can see it. Something about "towel heads" or "carpet riders." Bedouins. Bedouins. How fun. He'll have to squirm. He'll lose his temper. That little vein on the side of his head will throb. Why do I take such joy in this? Why am I almost instantly brought back to torturing frogs as a youth? Thank God we are not evolved from amphibians and that we simply appeared, fully formed, on the third day (or was it the fourth?)

What is power? Machiavelli suggested that power corrupts. To quote GWB, "Duh!" And yet, in those moments before the three glasses of chardonnay take hold and the nightmares come, I am comforted by the belief that I have helped as many people as I have hurt. OK, maybe it's closer to 30-70.

The dream again. Water (sex?). A bridge. Rickety, dilapidated. I must cross it. Fear. I drop to my hands and knees, cross slowly, looking down into black, roiling water far below. Only, in my hand, the CIA NOC list of the real names of every covert agent in the field. A man appears suddenly. "Give me the list," he says, "or don't if you don't want to. No big." What can I do? I want to put up a struggle. But instead I say, "Sure thing." Then I say, "Also, if you want, I can provide hard copies in a nice binder. Just let me know." Awoke in a sweat, breathing heavily. Clipping my toenails was the only thing that could comfort me (as usual. Did mother clip my toenails? Ask).

Karl Rove. Stove, mauve, tov. A Jewish word. Interesting. Am I Jewish? Maybe. But maybe not. Tequila is my friend. I have no pants on. I stand atop the prow on a great metaphorical ship, arms spread, a breeze through the tiny colorless hairs of my armpits, and shout the words "I love you Captain Kangaroo!" It's very late. Why do I cry suddenly? Bring me lamb chops. "Fava beans and a nice Chianti … Hello Clarice." Why did everyone think Lecter was so crazy?

I only stand behind the president if you look at the photos left to right.

Oh, David Gray, you moody British musician! What happened to you?! Are you the Morrissey of your generation? "Please forgive me if I aaaaaaact a little strange, for I know not what I do ... " Your music touches me.

Sometimes I am a senior in high school and I am the quarterback, and it is Saturday night and I am in a convertible with my arm around my date, Maureen Dowd. We make out. She's totally into me. People say, "Hey Karl, she's a tomata." What great fun. We wink and nod and I am tall. The crowd roars as I hurl the ball down the field, into the waiting arms of a speedy colored boy.

Does Canada need to be its own country? I think not.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Route to Democracy

Fifteen hours is a tremendous barrier. It is the obstacle preventing one village from attaining the assistance of another and surviving a drought. It is the reason a trip to the hospital, or receiving an education, aren’t realistic options. Fifteen hours is what stands in the way of commerce between two provinces. It prevents communication between neighbors only 80 kilometers apart. Fifteen hours is the reason for isolation. Before Task Force Pacemaker began work, the drive between Kandahar and Tarin-Kowt took fifteen hours. Upon completion of the road it will take only three. The end of geographical isolation will be a new beginning for hundreds of thousands of people in Afghanistan.

An international effort, the road connecting Tarin-kowt and Kandahar, or theTK road, is a project involving the support of the United Nations, Indian contractors, and United States Army troop labor. Construction of the road has spanned fourteen months, 117 kilometers, two adjustments to election dates, and two different Army Engineer rotations. Road construction began during Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) 5 with the 528th Engineer Battalion, out of Louisiana. They competed 46.5 kilometers of road between July of 2004 and February of 2005. When TF Pacemaker took over construction during OEF 6, they were told that the estimated completion date for the TK road was early spring of 2006. Since assuming the mission in April of 2005, Task Force Pacemaker has demonstrated a need for speed and focus on the objective.

Road construction in theater involves route planning, surveying, job site security, sustaining the flow of material and water, and continual maintenance of heavy engineer equipment. It is best described as an endurance sport; not for the faint of heart or the easily distracted. Traditionally progress is made a few hundred meters at a time, using the same methods and techniques every day. Efficient use of equipment crew rotations, establishing and working from Forward Operating Bases (FOBs), using material along the route, and relying on soldiers to adopt roles outside of their military occupational specialties are some of the techniques which TF Pacemaker has used to streamline the process. The soldiers don’t view this road as just another project, and perhaps that’s why they’ve been able to sustain such a furious pace. TF Commander, LTC Paul Paolozzi explains that the attitude of his troops stems from partially from their understanding of the mission’s importance. “It’s inspiring to be a part of the long-term success of this nation… I can’t think of a more permanent and significant impact than making a road to connect people.” No matter the source of their motivation, by mid-September, TF Pacemaker will have completed a remarkable 70 kilometers of road work directly through some of the toughest terrain Afghanistan has to offer.

To finalize the exact path, surveyors and a security team are sent ahead of construction to determine which parts of the terrain best accommodate the road. The climate and terrain of Afghanistan (thick dust, deep waddis, and harsh weather) have presented many challenges. Often, designs which looked good on paper, involve moving mountains on the ground. It is critical to establish the projected route prior to entering any towns. Soldiers must be able to articulate their intentions to the surrounding locals, in particular the village elder, before barging through. There are often different factions within a town and the path of the road has been adjusted by mere feet to accommodate the wishes of local farmers. 1LT Brian Meister, the earth moving platoon leader of C/864th lists civilians on the job site as the single biggest security challenge in the south. “They are everywhere and impossible to keep entirely off. The enemy is not easily identified, so anyone driving a pickup through the job site could pose a potential risk.” 1LT Patrick Sullivan, the earth moving platoon leader in A/864th has experienced the same type of concerns on the northern effort.

While we were standing on the hill, looking down at the proposed route, an audience began to form. The children came out first, and then the men of the village... as the crowd grew larger… I began to get just a little nervous. I told the captain who has been in the country for about a year; he quickly turned around and began shaking hands with the crowd, so I followed… It was an event that I will never forget. There are some bad people in the area, but for the most part, the population is tired of the last twenty years of war and corruption. They were just happy to see the guys who were building them a road.

Road work is divided into three basic teams of heavy equipment operators. The first team clears and grubs the area with dozers, taking off the top layers of soil and pushing through hills or small plants. The dozers are followed by a grader, which levels off the area. The next team raises the sub-base with material harvested from the borrow pit, an area determined to have the best material for use on the road. Dump trucks and scrapers are used to put between 8 and 12 inches of material on top of the cleared path. Graders then go over the path again to even out the road and start putting on the crown, a slope off the center of the road for drainage. Finally comes the finishing team. A water truck is used to wet the soil so that the rollers can compact the material in a series of lifts. Once complete, the soil dries and hardens into a road. In order to reach their deadlines each day, all of these teams must work together at a steady rate. As A/864th commander, CPT Chad Suitonu puts it, “It’s not a question of if we will meet our goals; it’s a matter of how.”

It is a continuous challenge to keep up the flow of water and material for compaction. TF Pacemaker has relied on what they could harvest along the way, setting up borrow pits as they move down the route and asking local towns to share their wells. The standard for road construction is twelve inches of the best available fill material on the existing grade of the road. Attaining 95% compaction of that material is what makes a road a road. Finding the right material is so critical to achieving compaction that earthmovers have hauled over five kilometers in order to continue use of particularly good fill. Earthmoving platoon leaders are primarily responsible for scouting out these potential dig sites. 1LT Sullivan compares finding the best material to digging for gold. It is either buried somewhere, or covered with something, and you can never be sure what you’ll find until you dig. The soldiers do their best to identify areas with shale along the hillside. After they’ve identified a potential site, they send a dig team to check it out. “The stuff we’ve found so far that has worked best is a red shale, it’s also been black…it’s a good material, “said 1LT Sullivan, of the material being used in the north,” It compacts very well, breaks up nicely; there’s not big chucks after you roll it. It gives you a real nice, compacted, firm sub-base.”

1LT Brian Meister, the earthmoving platoon leader in C/864th faces the same challenge from the south. “Finding good material involves identifying what soils provide optimal properties for constructing a road that is both durable and smooth, “he says. Once the crews find a material they think they can use, they send it out to be tested, which takes about three days. Testing is done by Lewis Berger Group, an Indian contracting company that has become one of TF Pacemaker’s greatest allies. “Working with LBG has been great,” says CPT Stan Wiechnik, the commander of C/926th,”They have built roads in third world countries with similar geography and technical restrictions. They have been a great asset to me to determine the best method of construction and the best materials to use.” LBG weighs the mass of material and compares it to material compacted to 100%. Once they gain approval, the earth movers can scrape off the topsoil in that location and open up a new pit; ideally close to the construction site. Finding resources along the route just ahead of where the road crews are currently working takes both luck and timing. TF Pacemaker’s ability to consistently plan ahead and find that balance contributes to their steady speed towards completion.

The leadership at Pacemaker is all about efficiency. With a few key pieces of equipment driving the construction effort, maintenance is critical; conducting regular checks and services on the vehicles are an essential part of the work cycle. The Animals have supplemented their earthmoving platoon with soldiers from headquarters and the vertical platoons in order to have enough manpower to support two crew rotations. The first team shows up at 0015 Zulu to begin preventative maintenance checks and services (PMCS) of the equipment. They receive a safety brief at 0040z and roll out the gate by 0100z to begin work on the road. They operate for five and a half hours, from 0130z to 0700z. From 0700z-0715z the operators of both teams conduct a fifteen minute shift change; discussing any problems with the equipment and what remains to be completed that day. When the first team returns, they eat lunch and do another half hour of maintenance. Team two’s work day starts at 0500z, when they pull maintenance on any downed equipment. They receive their safety brief at 0630z, eat lunch, and head to the job site to conduct a shift change with team one. Team two works until 1430z. This rotation schedule allows the Animals to get thirteen hours of work on the road each day, and pull the necessary maintenance, without driving the equipment operators into the ground. As CPT Suitonu tells me, “A soldier can’t sit on a dozer twelve hours a day; seven hours is okay though.”

TF Pacemaker began work on both ends of the road with A/864th and C/926th in the North, C/864th in the south, and the support of HSC/864th in both areas. It soon became apparent that to maximize time spent working on the road, they would have to minimize travel time to the job site. The Task Force would need to work from another start point; FOB Pacemaker. 1LT Sara Cullen, executive officer of the Animals, explains that,” The mission here is to provide a forward operating base between FOB Tiger and FOB Ripley so that we can work from the middle towards completion of the road… right now each location is commuting over an hour…” Prior to occupation of Pacemaker, soldiers were spending 90 minutes each way just getting to the job site, leaving precious few hours of actual work on the road. Since the unit’s jump to the FOB, their production rate has nearly doubled. The same increase in efficiency is soon expected from the engineers at FOB Kodiak, a new forward operating base to be occupied by C/864th.

The Alpha Company Animals built FOB Pacemaker from the moon dust up. A big part of their mission included accounting for force protection in an area new to US Military forces. The First Sergeant of A/864, 1SG Martin Pullman, describes their first few days saying, “We didn’t know if there was enemy in the area, so we had to assume that there was. We had to balance between setting up force protection and pulling security … using over watch positions allowed us to put the maximum amount of effort on building the FOB itself.” In less than two weeks, they were fully operational. Recently, FOB Pacemaker has served another function; supporting combat arms operations in the area. A small but steady flow of Special Forces and Infantrymen have benefited from Pacemaker hospitality, enjoying a meal, shower, or place to rest between missions. Though they don’t have much, Animal soldiers don’t mind sharing and generally agree that it’s nice to have our comrades in arms in the area.

In addition to security on the FOBs, soldiers must maintain security on the job site. This is challenging for a road project because construction requires troops to go directly against many of the fundamentals of defense. They work in the same spot, headed in the same direction, using the same equipment rotations day after day. There is nothing covert about the Scraper, a 33,000 lb piece of equipment. Since they can be seen from kilometers away, the Pacemakers adopt a fierce posture. Engineer soldiers man the vehicle mounted crew served weapons at both ends of the construction site. They halt vehicle traffic and search the personnel before allowing passage around the construction site. A roving security vehicle is used to patrol the surrounding areas, and observe the area from different positions. An interpreter and a female soldier are always included in the security detail, available to assist with communication or searching local national females. These measures have resulted in 100% success rate; not a single Pacemaker soldier has been attacked while working on the road.

Continued development is essential to peace building in Afghanistan. The road between Tarin-Kowt and Kandahar will provide developmental access to rural areas which never existed before. As 1LT Sullivan puts it, “This road is not just an engineering feat; it is a show of political force.” The five month reduction in project duration by Task Force Pacemaker becomes five months gained by the new government towards progress. The fifteen hours of travel cut down to three are hours gained by Afghan citizens towards opportunity. Every cut of the TK road is another blow to the primary weapons of the Taliban, isolation and hardship. When Pacemaker soldiers watch the ribbon cutting on September 15th, every soldier can exhale with relief, joy, and pride in a job well done.

About The Author

1LT Laura Walker was an Army Engineer officer currently serving in Kandahar, Afghanistan. She graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in May of 2003, with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science. In February of 2004, 1LT Walker deployed to Iraq with the 555th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade. In March of 2005, she deployed to Afghanistan with B/864th Combat Engineer Battalion (Heavy), where she completed her fifteen months as a platoon leader.

September 2005 Updated Information:

U.S. Army 1st Lt. Laura Walker, Task Force Pacemaker, was killed in action on 18 August 2005 in Delak, Aghanistan. She proudly wore the 4th Infantry Division combat patch on her right shoulder, a distinction she shared with both of her grandfathers from their service with the Division in both World War II and Vietnam. Her awards and decorations include: the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal (1OLC), Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Combat Action Badge, and Air Assault Badge

Please visit: http://www.west-point.org/users/usma2003/60262/ for a Memorial site that honors Laura M. Walker.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Top 10 Reasons Why Paul Wolfowitz Would Make a Good World Bank President

By John Cavanagh

1. He would follow in the great tradition of World Bank president Robert McNamara, who also helped kill tens of thousands of people in a poor country most Americans couldn’t find on a map before getting the job.

2. It helps to be a good liar when you run an institution with employees who earn over $100,000 a year to pretend to help billions of people who live on less than $1 a day.

3. With all his experience helping U.S. companies grab Iraq ’s oil profits, he's got just the right experience for doling out lucrative World Bank contracts to U.S. businesses.

4. After predecessor James Wolfensohn blew millions of dollars on "consultations" with citizen groups to give the appearance of openness, Wolfowitz's tough-guy style is just what’s needed to rid the World Bank of those irritating activists.

5. Unlike former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, another one of the four leading candidates, at least Wolfowitz hasn't failed at running a Fortune 500 company.

6. Unlike the Treasury Department’s John Taylor, another leading candidate, at least Wolfowitz doesn't want to get rid of the institution he would head.

7. While earning a University of Chicago Ph.D. , he was exposed to the tenets of market fundamentalism that have reigned at the World Bank for decades.

8. He has experience in constructing echo chambers where only the advice he wants to hear is spoken.

9. He knows some efficient private contractors who build echo chambers for only a few hundred billion dollars (cost plus, of course).

10. He can develop a pre-emptive poverty doctrine where the World Bank could invade countries that fail to make themselves safe for U.S. business, modeled on the U.S. pre-emptive war doctrine he helped craft.

John Cavanagh is the director of Institute for Policy Studies. For more information about contenders for the World Bank’s presidency, visit http://www.worldbankpresident.org

(from:Institute for Policy Studies)

Can We Stop the Coming Fascism?

Absolutely Chilling Analysis By Justin Raimondo

"The neoconservative movement represents the quintessence of fascism, as expressed by some of its intellectual spokesmen, such as Christopher Hitchens, who infamously hailed the Afghan war as having succeeded in "bombing a country back out of the Stone Age." This belief in the purifying power of violence – its magical, transformative quality – is the real emotional axis of evil that motivates the War Party. This is especially true when it comes to those thuggish ex-leftists of Hitchens' ilk who found shelter in the neoconservatives' many mansions when the roof fell in on their old Marxist digs. Neocon ideologue Stephen Schwartz defends a regime notorious for torturing dissidents, shutting out all political opposition, and arresting thousands on account of their political and religious convictions – in Uzbekistan. How far are such people from rationalizing the same sort of regime in the U.S.?"

"The legal, ideological, and political elements that go into the making of a genuinely fascist regime in America are already in place: all that is required is some catalytic event, one that needn't even be on the scale of 9/11, but still dramatic enough to give real impetus to the creation of a police state in this country."

"The legal foundation is already to be found in the arguments made by the president's lawyers in asserting their "right" to commit torture and other war crimes, under the "constitutional" aegis of the chief executive's wartime powers. In time of war, the president's lawyers argue, our commander-in-chief has the power to immunize himself and his underlings against legal prosecution: they transcend the law, and are put beyond the judgement of the people's representatives by presidential edict. Theoretically, according to the militarist interpretation of the Constitution, there is no power the president may not assume in wartime, because his decisions are "unreviewable." On account of military necessity, according to this doctrine, we have to admit the possibility that the Constitution might itself be suspended and martial law declared the minute war touches American soil." READ MORE

Monday, February 28, 2005

Why the Right Hates Social Programs

The elimination of social programs has been a basic tenet of the Right-wing's approach to government for decades; at least since the New Deal. The Left, finding this position morally reprehensible, has sought various models to explain the Right's thinking, in a way that doesn't demonize them. Currently, the model of choice is the one developed by linguist George Lakoff in "Moral Politics". He creates two metaphors for understanding how the Right and the Left view the world. The Strict Father Model for the right, and the Nurturant Family Model for the left. According to Lakoff, the Strict Father Model prizes, among other attributes, moral toughness and self reliance. From this perspective social programs give to those, who are not morally strong and self-reliant, things that they have not earned and, hence, don't deserve. And for them, this is morally wrong. In essence, then, what Lakoff is trying to do is to show that the members of the Right-wing are not the selfish, insensitive, opportunistic hypocrites (that they might appear to be at first glance), but are just folks with a different worldview and moral system.

Well, actually, they are the selfish, insensitive, opportunistic hypocrites they appear to be. Simply, the reason the Right-wing wants to get rid of social programs is that these programs raise the cost of labor. If one can make the equivalent of $5.00 an hour being on welfare and getting food stamps, business would have to offer $5.50 or $6.00 an hour to find workers. If there were no social safety net, there would be no reason wages couldn't eventually be lowered to be more competative with those of underdeveloped nations. If you whittle away all the rhetoric and come to the core goals of Right-wing ideology, the maintenence of a plentiful supply of cheap labor is at the center.

I recommend "Regulating The Poor; The Functions of Public Welfare", by Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward, for a history of the right's has attempted to achieve the goal of cheap labor, and especially the gains they made during the Reagan and Bush years.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Does Mr. Bush Know What the Word “Democracy” Means?

Once the administration decided, retroactively, that the bringing of democracy to the people of Iraq was the real reason for its invasion and occupation of that country, the word “democracy” has found it way more and more frequently into Mr. Bush’s utterances. But even as he uses it to underscore every bellicose malapropos, one can’t help but wonder if he knows what the term means.

The answer, of course, is that the word “democracy”, (along with assorted other terms and phrases such as “values”, “morals”, “healthy forests”, “clear skies”, and “evil”), has been co-opted by the radical right and given a meaning far from its original. Robert Parry offers us a disturbing peek into what that meaning might be, and what is at stake for all Americans:

“When conservatives talk of George W. Bush’s “transformational” role in American politics, they are referring to a fundamental change they seek in the U.S. system of government in which the Republican Party will dominate for years to come and power will not really be up for grabs in general elections.

Under this vision of a “managed-democracy,” elections will still be held but a variety of techniques will ensure that no Democrat has a reasonable chance to win. Most important will be the use of sophisticated propaganda and smear tactics amplified through a vast conservative media infrastructure, aided and abetted by a compliant mainstream press.”


The Press is Still Afraid To Question Mr. Bush On The Big Issues

"If one accepts George W. Bush’s lecture to the Russians that democracy requires a free press unafraid to criticize national leaders, then what kind of political system exists in the United States where the news media seems so scared of Bush that it shies away from mentioning the president’s autocratic tendencies?"


The Everyday Nuts and Bolts Of Propaganda

Propaganda is one of the tools used by the Bush administration* to manage the perceptions of the American people. An integral aspect of propaganda is the choice of words or labels. Take the following two terms used to describe the people actively working against the US presence in Iraq:

insurgency, n. an insurrection against an existing government, usually one’s won, by a group not recognized as having the status of a belligerent.

resistance, n. an underground organization composed of groups of private individuals working as an opposition force in a conquered country to overthrow the occupying power, usually by acts of sabotage, guerrilla warfare, etc.: the resistance during the German occupation in World War II.

The term resistance is the more correct because we are, in fact, an occupying power. But the Bush administration has ordered the media to use the term insurgency because it paints as legitimate the current government in Iraq. Hence, with each usage we are left with the frame: What's wrong with those people over there, why are they trying to destroy everything? Don't they know we are only there to help their government in helping them? And the American public becomes a bit more disconnected from reality.

*Republicans' two-decade-old "perception management" strategy [which] became official policy during Ronald Reagan's first term. On Jan. 14, 1983, President Reagan formally initiated the strategy by signing classified National Security Decision Directive 77. At the time, the White House worried that a repeat of Vietnam-type anti-war sentiment might constrain U.S. foreign policy in Central America and elsewhere. Also known as “public diplomacy,” the project had a more overt side that sought to build support for U.S. policy abroad, but it also had a less-visible domestic component that targeted the American people and the press. Robert Parry Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Is America Still a Democracy?

In his inaugural address yesterday, President Bush pledged to spread democracy throughout the world. In this context it is fair to ask: Is America still a democracy? The Italian philosopher Paolo Flores D'Arcais has an essay in the German paper "Die Zeit" which examines this question: Is America Still a Democracy?
"There are other minimum standards for a democracy, that the United States no longer fulfills. Not too long ago it seemed that the United States was the promised land for freedom of the press, and that the public would not tolerate a government that lied to them. But what about George W. Bush? He is allowed to disseminate untruth with impunity. He lied about the reasons for going to war in Iraq, a war that has killed nearly 1,400 American soldiers and tens of thousands of non-combatant Iraqi citizens. But Bush won a triumphant re-election. His lies no longer cause a moral outrage. Puritanical America is a distant memory. Jesuitism without Jesuits has prevailed.

The New York Times and other major newspapers have admitted that they allowed themselves to be used as mouthpieces for the administration. But is that really meaningful? In reality, the value of newspapers has diminished greatly as purveyors of the product "information". The vast majority of Americans get their information from television, where information is `embedded' in the interests of the administration. Furthermore the brutal competition in the media markets leads to censorship, manipulation and blatant lies at the television stations. It is becoming extremely rare that they respect what Hannah Arendt called " the modest truths contained in facts". Once that respect is gone, democracy is endangered.

Even more disturbing is the creeping normality of torture, the theoretical groundwork of which was prepared in the first Bush administration. The conservative journal Commentary printed a piece in July/August 2004 by the legal scholar Andrew McCarthy where the `Unthinkable' concession to torture was not only made thinkable, but was considered necessary. "There are difficult circumstances that call for measures that are illegal under US and international law."

Now that the critical journalism has been weakened by television, there is only one institution that stands as a counterweight to the administration: the Judiciary. But can it still play the role that the founding fathers intended?

Let's consider the `Bible' of democracy - The Federalist Papers . James Madison wrote:" The concentration of the power of the executive, legislative and judiciary in one hand is the clear sign of tyranny." And none other than Thomas Jefferson wrote in his autobiography:" Good government is realized through a distribution of power, not a concentration." And Alexis de Tocqueville writes in Democracy in America: "What I find most disturbing in America is not the prevailing freedom, but the weak protection against tyranny, for in many states the judges are elected by the voters. I'm not saying that Americans make frequent use of tyranny, but rather there is little security from tyranny."

Even though political scientists are reluctant to admit the truth: In liberal democracies the political right is often democratic against its will. And it often uses the democratic process to its own tactical advantage. But as soon as democracy begins to be taken seriously and the privileges are called into question, then populism rears its head and even God is recruited to the cause. In short, the more true democracy begins to take root, the faster the interests of the establishment are mobilized. It feels threatens, and therefore itself threatens the foundations of democracy: from the independent judiciary to the critical free press. It seeks to undermine the secular nature of the state as well as the integrity of the voting process.
On all points he finds serious inconsistencies with the reality in the United States. Thereby, he says, the US is endangered to divert from the constitution based democracy. What he further sees developing:
When the demons of populism are "called to arms" the weapon of choice is often a war. Every populist movement requires an enemy in order the exorcise the liberal logic of the system and transform internal opponents into `traitors'. War closes the antidemocratic circle of populism and glorifies its components: the community is heralded as `one big family' (or even company) with the father at the head. Populism instills the logic of obedience. Dissent - the basis for democratic coexistence - is criminalized and conformism is the great virtue.

This conformism is now spreading throughout rural America. It is dangerous because its moral values have totalitarian features and minority groups are becoming marginalized, if not demonized. The individual is pressured into obedience; he must not stand out from the `herd'. It is precisely his self-knowledge as an individual that is so suspect to the majority. And here it should be stated: those who degrade a nation into a huge `army' and believe they can prevail by relying on the slogan "God is on our side", they have subverted the ideals of the Founding Fathers and transformed the spirit of the constitution into its opposite.

So more often than not the states that we call democracies are actually democracies in decline. And it's not just a bad dream to think that nations - East and West - are almost imperceptibly moving in the direction of a new political model: capitalism without democracy. China and Russia - each in its own way - are quite openly heading down this path. The America of the fundamentalists and the oil magnate Bush (not to mention little Italy, with it Berlusconi regime) are following in a less overt way."

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