Monday, September 25, 2006

Chris Wallace: Owned

Both sides will claim victory: Clinton bitch- slapped Chris Wallace versus Fox News made Clinton lose his cool. If you haven't seen the unedited video, it's worth a peek. If you've seen clips, there's value in seeing the entire segment in order to appreciate the wind up and the pitch by the interviewer. Also, to truly appreciate Clinton's answer, listen to what he says rather than merely focusing on his demeanor or his socks.

Wallace begins his “question”, which is really just a smirky gotcha, with a laundry list of every bomb that has gone off since 1993, including WTC attacks, Somalia Blackhawk Down episode, US embassy attacks in Africa, OBL's war declaration and finally the USS Cole, before asking if Clinton did enough to catch Osama bin Laden. Wallace prefaced the question with the canard that “viewers want to know” and referenced the latest book The Looming Tower.

Clinton showed justified indignation when responding:

  1. The WTC attacks in 1993 and the US embassy bombings were done before OBL and al Qaeda were on the radar of our clandestine services.

  2. Somalia ws not recognized as having anything to do with Osama bin Laden, but rather Muhammad Aidid.

  3. The CIA and FBI did not recognize al Qaeda as the responsible party in the African bombings until much later.

  4. USS Cole was attacked in October 2000 and the investigation wasn't completed until early 2001 when inspectors determined that al Qaeda, and not Hamas, was responsible.

So, the long preface to Wallace's question was 95% bullshit that had nothing to do with the resolve of the previous administration to get bin Laden. Fox news is so used to interviewees dreamily going along with the canard that they are surprised when somebody is intellectually honest enough to dissect the issues and put them into temporal context.

The USS Cole is the seminal issue. The official report came out in early 2001 that Osama bin Laden was responsible and reports littered the intelligence estimates that OBL was “determined to attack within the US” during the summer of 2001. Richard Clarke, in his book Against All Enemies, is the only high ranking official to come clean on the handling of this information and gives a first-hand account of why and when action could have been taken. The facts can only be fleshed out by people who were actually there. Clarke maintains that the Bush administration disbanded the OBL unit and began to pull back the human intelligence and signal intelligence resources dedicated to al Qaeda surveillance.

The myth that Clarke is a partisan Bush-basher was also addressed by Clinton, who pointed out that Clarke served Reagan, George H.W. Bush and then Clinton before being demoted by George W. Bush when the anti-terror priorities changed in early 2001. Clarke is a dedicated government bureaucrat who has served the US in various capacities under several administrations. Why read books by journalists when there's one out there written by the former head of the OBL unit of the National Security Administration?

Was Clarke just covering his ass by coming out early with his account after the tragedy of 9/11? That would hold water if the 9/11 Commission hadn't corroborated many of the facts asserted by Clarke. If the 9/11 Commission Report can't be read in its entirety, then at least read Chapter 8, entitled “The System was Blinking Red”, which is a must read for any responsible citizen. Anyone who can read that chapter and not flesh out that Bush, with his 4 week vacation in August and his priority of getting big tax cuts for the wealthy, dropped the ball on OBL, needs to re-evaluate their reading comprehension skills.

I think Clinton's surmise of Chris Wallace was perfect and I was heartened that someone finally called out Fox News for their partisan bias. Clinton asked why nobody from the Bush administration was ever asked about the USS Cole, and Wallace tried to hedge that “a lot of questions were asked”, but Clinton rightfully pressed him: “but not that one.” Indeed, so why was it asked of Clinton, because of Wallace's intellectual curiosity? The investigation, completed in 2001, clearly has been ignored by our government and media.

Wallace is trying to frame the coming election with "Clinton missed bin Laden, so Democrats cannot be trusted in the War on Terrah (TM)", and Clinton nipped that crap in the bud. I saw it as a controlled, calculated response that Clinton the politician planned long ago. And, as the kids say, Wallace got owned. I realize that Bush and Fox apologists won't see it that way, but who cares? Anybody so deficient to have voted for Bush is probably also too cataleptic to squeeze the remote hard enough to change the cable station over to Olbermann.

It was refreshing to see someone call out Wallace for his intellectual dishonesty, even if the reality set in afterward that Fox News remains unfazed when their website published this picture:

...and Fox has higher ratings than any other cable news outlet. Is that a respectful “fair and balanced” way to portray a former President by a responsible news outlet?

I've said this before: history will be extremely harsh to George W. Bush, and by proxy his personal media outlet, Fox News. Unnecessary wars which lead to accelerating terror will be the legacy of our current president and the press outlets have enabled such repetitive miscalculation. The next generations will pay for all the boondoggles initiated under the current leadership.

I have compassion for citizens who voted for Bush, especially in the last election when it was clear to every informed citizen that Bush is an idiot who has mismanaged our government. I have compassion for these citizens who feel that the mere act of voting fulfills their responsibility, not giving heed to the consequences of a poorly cast ballot.

Mostly, I have compassion for our nation, which is at the mercy of its collective delusional fears that are skillfully stoked by political operatives, like Wallace, whose cynical misinformation permeates our society. Our higher senses have been dulled by the constant drone of partisan derision, so much so that we fail to recognize the subtleties of targeted questions on pseudo-news shows. We have become a nation of hair-trigger limbic systems reacting only at gut level and mistaking it for responsibly informed citizenship.

Whither Orwell?

Friday, September 08, 2006

Rush Limbaugh: Brave Slayer of Straw Men

I admit that I am undecided on the choice of Katie Couric as Dan Rather’s replacement on the CBS Evening News. I probably watch the network evening news 2 or 3 times per week on average and also listen to other news sources and Sunday morning pundit shows, as well as read various news periodicals on-line.

My fear is that Katie Couric will function as a soft news source with a cute smile and no gravitas. The verdict is still out. One item that is interesting, however, is the “Free Speech” segment where sundry mouthpieces are given a few minutes to voice their opinions. This week the topic is “The War on Terror” in observance of the looming 5 year anniversary of 9-11 and tonight’s guest was Rush Limbaugh, the tireless drug-addicted self-promoter with “intelligence on loan from God.” On the off chance that my radio tuner has accidentally fallen on his AM afternoon screech-fest, I am always impressed with his ability to whine on and on about some irksome non-issue and make absolutely no sense.

So I was interested to see what Rush would do with a few minutes of a legitimate news show like CBS. Not that his audience on radio is any smaller, but certainly network news carries a bit more cache, so what would Rush have to say with his 3 minutes (transcript) of air?

My friends, it's time to face a hard cold fact: Militant Islam wants to kill us just because we're alive and don't believe as they do. And they have been killing us for decades. It is time to stop pretending these are mere episodic events and face the reality that our way of life is in grave danger. Now, this threat is not just go away because we choose to ignore it.”

While I may not give “militant Islam” so much credit as to threaten our “way of life”, I would agree that ignoring it is not a viable option. But then, who exactly is advocating ignoring Islamists who threaten us? Do the militants want to kill us really because we’re “alive” and don’t “believe as they do”? Or could our support of despotic regimes such as the Saudis and other illiberal governments foment hatred among the burgeoning underclass within the Arab and Asian world? Can we pursue a dialog about justice throughout the Muslim world at the same time we pursue our security? Is our “addiction to oil”, as President Bush finally realizes, part of the equation?

Some say we try diplomacy. Yeah, well tell me, how do we negotiate with people whose starting point is our death? Ask them to wait for 10 years, before they kill us? When Good negotiates with Evil, Evil will always win. And peace follows victory, not words issued by diplomats.”

Rush develops his straw man further with the famous “some say” who want to “try diplomacy.” This “some say” bullshit may work with presidential town hall meetings of Stepford Republicans, but sorry, it won’t fly on CBS News. Who the hell are the “some” who want to negotiate? And with whom? Is the President’s leniency on Pakistan as they harbor Osama bin Laden part of the “diplomacy” that Rush finds so abhorrent? Did Reagan’s negotiations with Iran over arms and hostages in the 1980’s weaken our hand now as they pursue nuclear capabilities?

But some Americans, sadly, are not interested in victory. And yet they want us to believe that their behavior is Patriotic. Well, it's not. When the critics are more interested in punishing this country over a few incidents at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay than they are in defeating those who want to kill us; when they seek to destroy a foreign surveillance program which is designed to identify those who want to kill us and how they intend to do it; when they want to grant those who want to kill us, U.S. constitutional rights, I don't call that patriotic.”

Again, the straw men “some” Americans are 1) “not interested” in victory, 2) “more interested” in criticizing America and 3) seeking to “destroy” our clandestine services? Who? How? What I have been hearing the last few years is intelligent argument from the loyal opposition in response to illegal surveillance programs and criminal torture of prisoners, a discussion that acts to strengthen our position versus illiberal enemies by demonstrating our resolve for justice and against tyranny, even when the perpetrators are our own. "Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither."--- Ben Franklin. That means you, Rush.

“Patriotism is rallying behind the country, regardless of party affiliation, to defeat Islamo-Fascism. Patriotism is supporting our troops on the battlefield, not undermining the mission and morale. But let there be no doubt about this. America will prevail. We're the same country that survived a bloody Civil War, defeated the Nazis and the Soviets. Each generation has a responsibility to the next. Our generation will not disappoint.”

Rush Limbaugh, the “patriot” who avoided military service during the cold war, a time when our way of life was truly in jeopardy, is lecturing about patriotism: and on national television no less. No wonder, Dick Cheney chooses Rush’s show to present major policy announcements, where chickenhawks feel comfortable. Rush, the pathetic self-loathing addict, then lectures about “responsibility.” Ha! I had to look at the clock because I thought maybe this was Letterman’s comedy show, but no it’s still Couric.

I realize that Rush’s polemic will have no substantive effect on the national debate. Fearful warmongers will gobble this up as further evidence that we should forsake our Constitution as soon as we feel threatened by a bunch of thugs. More rational folks will dismiss Rush as “just another infotainer” who should not be taken seriously. Is such divisiveness on such important issues really entertaining?

I appreciate that Katie Couric is interested in giving voice to various opinions, but such undeveloped lines of unreason as Rush’s screed may serve only to dissociate the viewers from reality. There may be some valid arguments in favor of torture and surveillance, and against the tyrannical oppressors in the world, but Rush’s nitwitted idea of “patriotism” as blind “support for our troops” with no room for democratic debate 4 years into a military misadventure is ridiculous.

If Couric’s point was to show us Rush is an idiot, then she’s already a success. Now tell us some news, Katie.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Mass Confusion causes chaos in my brain

Apparently Donald Rumsfeld says I'm confused. I can't decide whether my confusion is moral or intellectual. Sometimes I think it's moral confusion, but then other times I'm convinced it's really intellectual confusion. Whoa, I just had a horrific thought: Could I be both? Maybe I'm just generally confused. Yeah, that must be it. I wish somebody could help me out.

Recently I had a discussion at work with a group of younger folks, all college-educated with at least associates degrees, about the poll which showed that 30% of American adults did not know what year the 9/11 attacks on the WTC occurred. I was heartened that 100% of the six people in the room dutifully chirped in near-unison “2001”, although one admitted she only knew it because she had been married six weeks prior to the fateful date. Our discussion then traversed a couple generations and the other date that lives in infamy: December 7th. The group did not fare as well with only one person even getting the correct decade, but stating “1945.” Another twenty-something thought it had something to do with men walking on the moon, and two thought it marked the end of World War II. The one dissenter simply exclaimed, “I'm not a history person.”

Which brings us to the discussion at hand. With most polemics, whether political or otherwise, two or more sides develop arguments in support of their theses and discussion usually progresses until some conclusion is made. Sometimes common ground is established, but often, in political arguments especially, the various sides must agree to disagree. Over a longer period of time, as heat gives way to light, one side will be determined to be more correct than the others. Galileo was correct that the earth orbited the sun, and the Roman Catholic dogma was incorrect in their view of contention of the opposite. Former Republican advisor Brent Scowcroft was more correct in his trepidation about entering the Iraq war, while Donald Rumsfeld was incorrect in his supposition that the Iraq war would be a “cakewalk. It took the church 400 years to acknowledge it's mistake, let's hope Rummy doesn't take as long.

Facts are facts and with time disputatious arguments will often be resolved. The Iraq war issue is not a question of right vs. left, or liberal vs. conservative. It is a question of correct vs. incorrect, and our current government has been incorrect. Period. Now Mr. Rumsfeld is telling me that I am confused, a confusion apparently shared by several retired generals, various Republican advisors, historians, pundits of the right and left, UN weapons inspectors, the Duelfer Report on Iraqi weapons caches, and 60% of the American people. That's a lot of confusion, whether it's moral, intellectual, or otherwise.

Being called “confused” by someone as bat-shit crazy as Don Rumsfeld is like being called “drunk” by Farrah Fawcett, or being labeled “glib” by Tom Cruise. Other than triggering a giggle, being insulted by Rummy hardly gives me pause.

Comedy aside, Mr. Rumsfeld's tactic of dismissing all dissent as “confused”, is not only insincere, but anathema to our form of government. A contemporary of George Orwell once said that “all governments are oligarchies” and the issues are whether they are competent, incompetent, benevolent or evil. The purpose of the statement was to recommend his friend Orwell as Britain's “chief oligarch” at the start of WW II because he was an intellectual stalwart as well as a “secular saint.” Whatever your opinion of Bush's and Rumsfeld's sanctity, not many people can argue that they are overflowing with competence.

For Rummy to intimate that his critics are somehow deficient in lucidity is an affront to honest discourse necessary to solve the immense problem of Iraq. He has so fucked this up that he cannot figure out a solution. I feel his pain. We all make mistakes, and unfortunately the mistakes made in Iraq have metastasized into mushrooming problems with our budget, our allies and our national unity. No matter how wacky these “five morons” , as one Reagan official called them, in charge of our foreign policy may be, I have little doubt that they are devastated by every injured or killed American soldier and Iraqi civilian, and each “setback” in the spiraling descent into civil war. I may not agree with this administration's view of Iraq, but I cannot fathom that they are so evil that they would be indifferent to the suffering caused by their incompetence.

Why does Rumsfeld engage in such sophomoric propaganda as comparing his critics to “Nazi appeasers” and calling them “confused”? You'll have to ask him, but my guess is that he is trying to stop the deafening cacophony of critique that is only becoming more shrill with each passing day, each Baghdad car-bomb, each inane remark, each brave soldier laid to rest in Arlington.

Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies states that as a discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison to Nazism or Hitler approaches one. A corollary points out that once that analogy is made, the argument ceases, and whomever brought up the comparison to Nazism automatically loses. Does Rummy lose merely by comparing his opponents to Nazi sympathizers? No, he loses the argument because he is wrong.

Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice have been wrong for quite some time. They have been wrong so many times and in so many ways, that the only tactic that remains is to just plead with their critics to please stop criticizing. In my view, Rummy's latest tirades are heartfelt appeals to get his critics to cease and desist.

Will this tactic work to quell the dissent? Unlikely. But then, Rumsfeld thinks I'm confused, so I doubt he cares what I think.

Unfortunately for our oligarchs, and us by proxy, the increasing volume of dissent is coming from all quarters. Rich Lowery of the National Review, Quin Hillyer of the American Spectator, columnist George Will and the iconic William F. Buckley, all venerable conservatives and once-Bushophiles, have renounced current Iraqi policy. For Rumsfeld to call me confused is one thing, but for such an erudite group of right-wing ideologues to also stumble onto the exact same flavor of dementia strains credulity. Perhaps we should all be picking out matching Neville Chamberlain bowlers and umbrellas next week.

There is something more problematic about Rummy's calling his critics morally and intellectually confused. Not only is he incorrect, although I'll leave others to list the reasons, but more damning is that such rhetoric shows that Rumsfeld is simply not seriously pursuing solutions to Iraq. Just as alcoholics must eventually admit that a problem exists, Rumsfeld, Bush, Cheney and Rice, if they are ever serious about resolving the quagmire and impending civil war, must admit that we have entered the dark night of our national soul. How many New Jersey living rooms will Elton John park his Lincoln in before he signs up for rehab?

You could fill volumes with what I don't know about foreign policy and warmongering, but I do have an informal acquaintance with decision-making. Rumsfeld taking time out of his busy day to comment on my moral and intellectual hygiene is laughable. You have a war to fight for chrissake. The only analogy I can countenance is an obstetrician encountering a woman in her 36th hour of labor, blood gushing from her womb and fetal heart tones becoming fainter; the nurses near panic as the mother's vital signs become thready, and Dr. Rumsfeld turns to the distraught father to conjecture about his alleged moral and intellectual deficiencies. Doctor, are you going to deliver the baby, or just whine about everybody else's moral and intellectual state?

We all suffer as a result of the incompetence of our oligarchs, but doubtless some suffer more than others. As a middle-class, middle-aged, mid-level professional living in a middle-sized town in the middle of the Midwest, the redundancies that secure my well-being are multi-layered. I have no children, nieces or nephews who are military-aged. Bush's first order of business in 2001 was to give me a fat tax cut. My house and Nissan are all but paid off. For me to engage in ad hominem attacks on our incompetent oligarchs would be pointless.

My dissent is not pointless even if it may be of little consequence. I wouldn't have voted for Bush, Rumsfeld, or any of these knuckleheads, for music director for a school for the deaf. Bush's incompetence was obvious from the first time he stepped out of Ken Lay's jet during the Iowa caucuses in February 2000. Cheney's been wrong since the 1970's Nixon years ands when he voted in support of apartheid in South Africa in 1986 and on nearly every issue since. Rumsfeld, whether he's shaking hands with Saddam, underestimating our enemies or nattering on about my mental state, he's clearly a senile curmudgeon desperately in need of collecting his Social Security check. And Condescenda Rice... what can I say? She's one of the few public figures that makes George W. Bush look intelligent; I guess that's her role in this harlequinade. Neither seem to know the difference between strategy and tactics, unless the mission is to have your name on a supertanker.

Former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough broached a recent dialog about whether Bush was “an idiot” and noting that while other presidents have been called stupid, he says "I think George Bush is in a league by himself. I don't think he has the intellectual depth of these other people...George Bush's lack of gravitas is hurting America at home and embarrassing us abroad.” No kidding.

Leaders sometimes have to admit that they are wrong. Don't admit it to me, but at least admit it to yourself. When the Secretary of Defense makes an appeal for support by calling critics “confused” and likening them to “Nazi appeasers”, I know one thing: he has not admitted that his policy is wrong, he has not taken the first step. Instead of running around like his hair on fire, spewing delusional invectives about my cognitive state, he should be quietly and competently formulating a plan to get us the hell out of the Iraq quagmire. A plan is not a constant re-iteration of some vacuous platitude such as the president does when was asked if he has a plan for Iraq: "The strategy is to help the Iraqi people achieve their objectives and their dreams, which is a democratic society. That's the strategy." (Bush, last week.) A plan may contain a mission statement, but more importantly has a few bullet points on strategy and tactics, and addresses several contingencies. You know, a plan. Rumsfeld's “morally and/or intellectually confused” critics seem to be the only ones with plans. And that is downright scary.

I'm sure the young scrub tech referenced earlier who doesn't know Pearl Harbor from Pearl Jam certainly isn't losing sleep over Rummy's burgeoning senility or my electronic rant. She's got kids to raise and a mortgage to pay. We would all be well-served if she informed herself more about what is being done in her name and the name of her country. Somebody voted these guys into office, but the entire world is suffering the consequences. As another contemporary of Orwell once said, we have a moral obligation to be intelligent. If they were still alive, I'm sure Rumsfeld would declare Orwell and his pals certifiably confused.