Saturday, September 09, 2006

9/11 +5

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Tomorrow is the 5th anniversary of the day. The day that changed all of us, and our country, in ways we could barely have imagined. The day that nineteen young Muslim men, armed with box cutters and a dreadful, ironclad sense of their own righteousness, cold-bloodedly slaughtered the flight crews of four airliners, took control, and turned the planes into enormous missiles, loaded with explosive fuel.

Almost 3,000 people died; more certainly would have if the passengers of one plane hadn't sacrificed themselves to stop it.

We've come a long way since that day. But in what direction?

After my initial shock, despair, and outrage over the brutality of the attacks, I saw things that, as I wrote at the time, made me glad I live in this country. One was the moment when I heard that the hospitals were jammed with people trying to donate their blood to help the injured.

Then there were the moments when I was proud to be a member of the human race. One such moment was when I saw a picture of the flags flying at half-staff over the Kremlin. That expression of sympathy and solidarity from a country that had been our sworn enemy for decades brought tears to my eyes. Maybe, I thought, just maybe, we can all pull together, across the country and across the world, and beat this thing.

For a while there, we stood united. When the vote came up to authorize an attack against the al Qaida terrorists and their Taliban allies in Afghanistan, it passed the House 420-1 and the Senate 98-0. And our allies stood with us. France. Germany. Canada. Even the Russians, who had every reason to want to have nothing to do with Afghanistan ever again, provided intelligence and logistical support. And the Taliban fell. When it did, I cheered as loudly as anyone. You can look it up.

Then things started going off the track. The so-called "neoconservatives" in the Bush Cabinet had been agitating for a fight with Iraq since before 9/11. They hoped to implement their grandiose and arrogant theory that we could reshape the Middle Eastern countries into Western-style democracies, at gunpoint if necessary. After all, the theory went, democracies don't make war on each other or foster terrorism.

The PR machine cranked up. Saddam Hussein, we were assured, was making nasty gases, germs, and nukes to hand over to the terrorists. Bush and his cronies never failed to mention Iraq and 9/11 in the same sentence until people actually began to believe that Saddam was behind the attacks. (The Bushistas would deny any direct connection if you ever cornered them; unfortunately, very few news outlets actually had the spine to do that.)

Those who dared to question either the wisdom of invading Iraq or the plans to do so with a relatively light force were shouted down or branded as traitors. Our allies who'd helped us in one invasion but didn't back this one were suddenly weak, craven, "cheese-eating surrender monkeys."

Suddenly, all the unity we'd had was thrown aside in the rush to war with Iraq.

And, as we know, that war didn't work out as planned. The American military accomplished its first mission brilliantly, rolling over Iraqi resistance and taking Baghdad. But the only thing close to WMDs they ever found were a few old and corroded artillery shells. Those who had called for a larger occupying force turned out to be right as the country descended into a frenzy of looting.

Islamic militias began picking off American soldiers a few at a time. Terrorist recruiting went up. U.S. military recruiting went down. Iran and North Korea got bolder in their own nuclear ambitions, knowing we were tied up in Iraq.

Across the Middle East, the neoconservative article of faith that democracy would spell the end of terror proved to be a mirage. When given a choice, the Palestinians put Hamas in power, while the Lebanese gave seats in Parliament to Hezbollah. Elections in Iraq have done nothing to stop the upward spiral of violence there.

Faced with these failures, Bush and Company continue to retreat into fantasy, blaming ill-defined enemies that seem to exist only in their heads. Presidential adviser Karl Rove revised history by falsely claiming that "liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers." This, despite the near unanimous support in Congress for the attack on Afghanistan.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld railed against "some people" who would "appease terrorists," comparing them to the weak British governments of the '30s who knuckled under to Hitler. These vicious and hateful statements (and those who parrot them in the pages of this paper and elsewhere) delivered a brutal and cynical slap in the face to those of us who backed our government in the days after 9/11 and during the Afghan war.

For a brief time after Sept. 11, 2001, something beautiful arose out of those ashes. We had unity. We had the majority of the world on our side. And then George Dubbya Bush and his cronies frittered it all away.

So this is a doubly sad day for me.

I'm sure the responses to this column will include the inevitable accusations of partisanship, and a lot of indignation that I'm not "honoring the dead" of 9/11 because I "hate Bush."

But I didn't always hate this President. At one point, I actually had hope that this incredibly unqualified, shallow-thinking, arrogantly ignorant man might actually do as so many have done, exceed his own limitations, and rise to the crisis.

He failed. He failed us all. And in doing so, George W. Bush did more to dishonor the dead of 9/11 than any small-town newspaper columnist could ever dream of doing.

Pic of the Day

Rumsfeld Planned to Fail

Iraq post-war plan muzzled: FORT EUSTIS -- Months before the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld forbade military strategists from developing plans for securing a post-war Iraq, the retiring commander of the Army Transportation Corps said Thursday.

In fact, said Brig. Gen. Mark Scheid, Rumsfeld said 'he would fire the next person' who talked about the need for a post-war plan.


"The secretary of defense continued to push on us ... that everything we write in our plan has to be the idea that we are going to go in, we're going to take out the regime, and then we're going to leave," Scheid said. "We won't stay."

Scheid said the planners continued to try "to write what was called Phase 4," or the piece of the plan that included post-invasion operations like occupation.

Even if the troops didn't stay, "at least we have to plan for it," Scheid said.

"I remember the secretary of defense saying that he would fire the next person that said that," Scheid said. "We would not do planning for Phase 4 operations, which would require all those additional troops that people talk about today.

"He said we will not do that because the American public will not back us if they think we are going over there for a long war."

There's an old saying that "failure to plan is the same as planning to fail. "

Donald Rumsfeld planned to fail.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Poor Katie Couric

You just know everyone's going to give her a hard time in her new post as anchor of the venerable CBS Evening News. She's going to have to fight to be taken seriously. And, of course, it's entirely because of her gender because, you know, sexism is always to blame.

The fact that her first newscast as anchor climaxed with a breathless report on the first photographs of TomKat's new little hellspawn
has nothing at all to do with it. Nuh-uh.

Jesus Christ on a raft. David Brinkley and Edward R. Murrow are spinning in their graves like power plant turbines.

Monday, September 04, 2006

New Flash Fiction From Your Humble Interlocutor

Flashing In the Gutters: The Hundred by J. D. Rhoades

Well, Hell

'Crocodile Hunter' Steve Irwin Killed:

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) -- Steve Irwin, the hugely popular Australian television personality and environmentalist known as the 'Crocodile Hunter,' was killed Monday by a stingray during a diving expedition, Australian media said. He was 44.

Irwin was filming an underwater documentary on the Great Barrier Reef in northeastern Queensland state when the accident occurred, Sydney's The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported on its Web site.

A rescue helicopter was sent from the nearby city of Cairns, and paramedics from it confirmed the diver's death.

'The probable cause of death is stingray strike to the chest,' Hamil said.

There's a quote I've read, attributed to Mark Twain: "Find something you love and do it till it kills you; otherwise something you don't love will."

Looks like he died doing something he loved.

There are worse ways to go.

R.I.P., ya crazy bastard.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

There's Something About Kathy

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Politics has always had its moments of high drama and low comedy, with surprises, disasters, and reversals of fortune to keep things interesting. But the recent meltdown of Florida Representative Katherine Harris' run for the Senate has become truly entertaining.

You may remember Harris from the 2000 election, where she apparently didn't see any conflict of interest with serving as George Dubbya Bush's state campaign co-chair while at the same time serving as secretary of state, whose office was responsible for counting the votes.

Frankly, I expected her to be rewarded for her services by receiving a nice ambassadorship to the Bahamas or someplace like that. Instead she ran for the U.S. House, winning in 2002 and 2004.

But when she decided to make a run for the Senate seat held by Democrat Bill Nelson, however, Republican leaders such as Florida Gov. Jeb Bush expressed doubts about her viability in a statewide race.

Jeb may not have been far off the mark. Harris kicked off the campaign with a bizarre interview on Fox News' Hannity and Colmes, during which whatever she said was obscured by her truly creepy flirting with co-host Alan Colmes, a man who, when seen head-on, looks like something you'd buy for your aquarium.

Combine that with her disconcerting habit of standing slightly sideways to the camera and arching her back so as to thrust her not-inconsiderable chest into bold relief, and you have one of the great media train wrecks of all time. (Reports that Pamela Anderson called afterwards and suggested that Rep. Harris dial it back a little could not be confirmed.)

After that, things went from bad to worse. One of her major contributors, defense contractor MZM Inc., turned out to be the major player in the bribery scandal that led to the resignation and imprisonment of California Republican Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham.

In the midst of those revelations, Harris' campaign finance director and treasurer resigned. They were followed in April by more than a half-dozen other staffers, including her campaign manager. Another mass walkout occurred in June when staffers discovered that Harris had received a federal grand jury subpoena over the MZM matter and had kept it from the staff.

Yet another wave of resignations occurred in July, when another campaign manager and several other staffers quit, citing Harris' "tantrums" and "erratic behavior." "The more that we put her out there," one anonymous staffer complained, "the more she shot herself in the foot."

It got so bad that, when Harris held a rally on Aug. 18 in which she promised appearances by nine high-profile Florida Republicans, not a single one showed up. One, in fact, even told the press that he didn't understand why Harris had included him in a list of her supporters, because he'd endorsed a Republican opponent who entered the race in July. Harris was forced to speak to the "crowd" (if you can call 40 people a crowd) all by herself.

We'll let The Orlando Sentinel describe what happened next: "Harris spoke in an airplane hangar that seemed to highlight the modest size of the crowd. She said a last-minute location change -- required because a tree fell on the hangar where the event was supposed to be held -- kept crowd numbers down. Airport officials, however, said no hangar had been damaged by a tree and that the rally was in the hangar that had been originally booked."

That kind of desperation, like an unpopular high-school girl feverishly trying to explain why no one showed up for her sweet-16 party ("the invitations must have gotten lost in the mail!") is almost enough to make you feel sorry for poor Kathy.

Almost, but not quite. Especially after Rep. Harris pulled out one of Karl Rove's well-worn tricks: When all else is failing, pander to the Religious Right. Harris gave an interview with a religious journal, The Florida Baptist Witness, in which she called the idea of separation of church and state a "lie," then dropped this bombshell: "If you're not electing Christians, then in essence, you are going to legislate sin."

Apparently, Rep. Harris forgot for a moment how many Jewish people there are in Florida. Some of them, it seems, took offense to this "Christians only" stance. Go figure. Harris responded to their criticism by sending out a press release that pointed out that, hey, one of her staff members is a Jew. Too bad Mel Gibson couldn't have thought of that. If Mel had just come out and said, "Hey, Jews are all right, I have some working for me," I'll bet his whole controversy would have blown right over.

It didn't seem all that long ago when the Republican Party was riding high, crowing about "permanent majorities." And indeed, for a while there, they looked darn near unstoppable.

But from Virginia senatorial candidate George Allen's gaffe where he referred to his opponent's campaign staffer (an American citizen of Indian descent) as "Macaca" and sneered "Welcome to America," to Harris' disastrous campaign in Florida, the Republicans are looking more and more like the Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight.

What will Wacky Kathy do next? Stay tuned.