Thursday, December 7, 2006

Gates, Group, Obama and Cheney

What a day it was.  I have been a little off my blogging game of late largely because I’m somewhat in limbo.  I’m in Chapel Hill but still not out of New York, settled and unsettled at the same time.  But who could experience yesterday without hitting the keys?

Robert Gates won nearly unanimous approval as the new Defense Secretary late in the afternoon with only two dissenting votes, both of them Republicans.  That may or may not be a message to the President.  In the case of Rick Santorum, until he was defeated some weeks ago a key member of the Senate leadership, perhaps it was a “thank you for all your help” farewell note.  Gate’s approval was assured from the moment he answered that fateful question from incoming Chairman Carl Levin.  No, we’re not winning in Iraq.  If I hadn’t heard it – I watched the entire hearing (except of course the classified session which even C-Span couldn’t invade) – I would never have believed it.  Gates practiced the unusual in Washington even for John McCain, straight talk.  That was new for all of us and perhaps for him as well.  I don’t remember such open candor during his days before and at the CIA.  But as everyone pointed out, he had nothing to lose.  He didn’t seek the job and truth be told Bush needs him at this point not the other way around.  As the Senators saw it, both during the soft ball questioning on Tuesday and yesterday in their “debate” and vote, so do we all.  It was a rare bi-partisan moment; take note.

When I turned on the news early in that same day around 6:30 AM, I saw that Group finally coming out from their undisclosed location and they too were candid.  It was quickly noted that nothing they said or suggested was actually new, much of it had been bandied about here and there during the three long and agonizing years since “shock and awe”.  But Jim Baker reminded us, it would be new for the President who, recent change in language notwithstanding, has remained steadfastly wedded to staying the deadly course.  Speaking of language isn’t it emblematic of this Administration to send out Dan Bartlett their communications director to engage the press in the aftermath of this important report rather that their national security advisor.  Perhaps they were trying to duck the really substantive questions that Steve Hadley might have had to field, but more likely it’s just the way they do things.  Spin it right and perhaps people will forget it.

The press of course had their own ideas of whom to talk to and while it would have been unimaginable just a short time ago, beyond the usual suspects, Barack Obama was at the top of the list.  It’s hard to get through a political talk show these days without hearing Obama’s name and we’re also beginning to see the usual treatment coming to the surface.  That means speaking skeptically about the Illinois Senator which is to be expected.  But it also reminds one that pundits in Washington often talk without doing their homework.  One such fellow (who I heretofore respected greatly) suggested the other day that yes Obama was getting a lot of attention but of course we don’t know where he stands on most issues.  Hello, “The Audacity of Hope” number one best seller.  He obviously missed that one.  It was much like a comment I heard across the table at Thanksgiving where another guest a seemingly bright and thoughtful young Episcopal Priest told me in conversation that she did not agree with Sam Harris, another best selling author (in this case writing on religion, her field of expertise) whom I happened to mention.  Turns out, she hasn’t read either of his books.  Much like that pundit, it was hard to take her comment seriously.  Any way, Obama’s book (which by coincidence I finally finished yesterday) is one that I would I commend to his and your attention.  While by no means the last word, Obama lets you know exactly where he stands on a broad range of domestic and international issues.  He also does it in beautiful lucid and elegant prose.  I don’t know how many Shakespeare’s he read recently, but clearly a page or two of literature has passed before his eyes over the years.  I can’t imagine President Obama pointing to a prime minister standing next to him at a press conference and referring to him as the right “guy” for the job.

Finally there is Mary Cheney.  She made news yesterday or at least her news surfaced in the press.  You could almost hear the hands ringing with glee as another tabloid special seemed ready for prime time.  It appears that Mary is pregnant and that this spring she and her partner Heather Poe are going to be parents.  Now you know that Dick Cheney is not one of my favorite people.  Arguably the most powerful Vice President in our history, I feel he is also among the most destructive political figures of my lifetime.  If we are in a mess in Iraq, Dick Cheney is largely, though clearly not solely, to blame.  The man is secretive, disdainful of anyone who disagrees with him, a dissembler of the truth and a principal practitioner of ugly national and international divisiveness.  That said, in this instance he did something noble.  His office issued a simple statement “the vice president and Mrs. Cheney are looking forward with eager anticipation to the arrival of their sixth grandchild”.  Perhaps he is wrong on many things, but when it comes to real family values, tires hitting the road, it would appear that he gets it.  That doesn’t make me like his public persona or actions any better, but on a human level, I tip my hat.  “Eagar anticipation”, “grandparents” words of ownership, love and responsibility.  That’s where things really are or should be.  Perhaps, as Barak Obama suggests, there is hope.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Dim Light at the Tunnel's End

There was an audible sigh of relief as the returns came in this last Tuesday and perhaps one can even say of tempered joy when two days later the one time Presidential aspirant George Allen conceded the Senate’s leadership to the Democrats.  While the new Speaker and Majority leader to be, rallied the faithful in victory mode, most of us knew that what we were witnessing remained more a hope than a done deal.  As the pink slipped Donald Rumsfeld said, the war in Iraq is complicated, apparently an insight that came to him only after being forced to stand half smiling next to the President and his named successor, a bone fide Poppy Bush retainer.

Are we feeling better?  Yes for sure.  Was this election enough to turn the tide not merely in Iraq but on a host of domestic and international problems?  I wish a yes came easily in that regard; it does not.  Just as Rumsfeld acknowledged the complexity the war, Bush pointed to what was in fact an accumulation of very narrow victories born out of a country still deeply divided many of whose citizens are so turned off that even when they do vote (still a paltry 40%) they often do so holding their noses or at the very least without enthusiasm.  This was basically a vote against – anyone but – not yet a vote for; an expression of hope rather than of any real conviction that the new gang in town would get us back on track.  One of those critical power turning wins was in Missouri which is known as the “show me state”.  I can think of no more apt metaphor for where we are the morning after. 

Many of us have been complaining for years now that the Bush Administration and its finally discredited Defense Secretary had no plan for the morning after taking Baghdad.  They still don’t seem to have one and both we and the Iraqis (indeed the world) are suffering the consequences.  I sure hope Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have concrete plans (which they say they do) for this morning after this election both internationally and domestically.  Of course, where we really are at this juncture has to be put into context.  The Congress, albeit theoretically a co-equal with the Executive, is no such thing.  As Orwell said, “all pigs are equal but some pigs are more equal than others.”  The power of the Executive, while suffering its own ups and downs, has essentially been growing systematically over the years and no more so than under this Administration.  President George W is a far cry from the founding father George W not merely in substance but in philosophy.  If you have any doubt about the power of the Presidency just look at what use Bush made of it despite losing the popular vote and having to be imposed on us by the Supreme Court.  In the days following most Americans thought whoever emerged from that nightmare of vote counting couldn’t do much (harm) given the questionable mandate.  Some of us at least hoped that were the case.  Were we all wrong!  Presidents, all on their own can do a great deal, good and bad.  Congresses, even with a substantial majority in place is much more confined.  It may be able to prevent but can’t really initiate, certainly not in the same way as the President.

The majorities in 2006, most especially in the Senate, are very thin and the Democrats are further challenged by their truly large tent compounded by a notorious lack of discipline.  Of course neither attribute has to be bad.  In fact, one might argue that the electorate has begun to question the advantages of lock-step single ideology governance.  That’s what we’ve had over the last six years and look where it has gotten us.  Still, to have any impact, the new majority will have to be pro-active which means putting themselves on the line.  In the past few days, I’ve heard various pundits suggest that the much awaited Baker-Hamilton study group may provide cover to both the President (permitting him to change course with honor) and the new Congressional majority (saving them from having to author a plan of action).  Perhaps so, but that is hardly good news.  The last thing we need is new leadership already looking for cover.  Americans, including and perhaps most especially those who reliably vote for them, know that Democrats oppose current policy.  What we want to know is what those who have been given our support will do about it.  Nobody expects an instant fix, but we do demand at least a dim light at the end of the tunnel.

In 2004 we were told that values dominated the day.  In fact, while scoring higher than any other single issue, value inspired voters represented a tiny minority in the 20 percentile range.  The value thing was no more than hyped spin mouthed by partisan voices and willingly transmitted by an largely uncritical (and in this case lazy) press.  The value story made good news.  This time around, corruption was more frequently sighted than anything else, and given the history of the past two years that’s hardly surprising.  But what is talked up most in the post mortems is that Americans are looking for consensus, for middle ground not for polarized ideologies and dispute.  That may well be true and perhaps only by working from the middle can anything be accomplished in these next two years.  It is also a disturbing idea.  The truth is that there is nothing wrong with strong divergent ideas.  George Bush and the Republicans have taken The United States to a place with which many of us disagree and moving ahead may require a radical departure from current policy and orientation.  The problem is not whether there is a Left or a Right but whether the conversation about widely different points of view can be conducted with mutual respect and a modicum of humility.  That is what has been missing of late and that’s what we must bring back to the national discourse if we are to escape the present morass – if the light we see is more than a dim, albeit hopeful, mirage.

Sunday, November 5, 2006

The Closet of Hypocricy

It seems that it’s not only the deeply religious Jack Abramoff who hardly ever visited the White House now we learn that the Evangelical leader Rev. Ted Haggard was rarely seen or heard from there either.  How quickly good friends are forgotten at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  Haggard may not be a household name, but in addition (until yesterday) to leading one of the nation’s largest and most influential megachurches, he also headed (until this past week) the 30 million member National Association of Evangelicals.  Haggard, whose church is just down the street, was also deeply involved in the controversy about the heavy handed mix of church with state at the Air Force Academy.  He is also a neighbor and ally of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and of Washington’s Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council.  Perkins you will remember did a lot of sanctimonious gay bashing during the Foley episode, but that was in another news cycle.

In all of this, one can’t help but to be reminded of the king of all gay gay-bashers, J. Edgar Hoover.  The word hypocrisy comes to mind then and now.  Haggard was a leading member of the chorus of Evangelical leaders who characterize what they like to call “the gay life” as if it isn’t a real life for a considerable percentage of the human population, as sinful.  He was also a vocal opponent of same sex marriage (which percipitated his outing).  It appears that, despite early denials (doesn’t that sound like a politician) what he does and what he says may be very different.  It is the kind of societal double standard that has been so devastating to the gay community and which to this day keeps many members of our so-called welcoming society locked in painful closets.  If Bill Clinton’s claim not to have inhaled failed to pass the credibility test, what do you think about Haggard’s claim of buying methamphetamines but just throwing them away.  Ah, the good old tooth fairy is alive and well in Colorado. 

All of this can be viewed as just another symptom of the unraveling of the faith-based moralistic Bush Administration, so closely allied with the Religious Right and specifically with the Evangelicals of the Haggard, Dobson and Perkins ilk.  But in a more rudimentary sense it stands as another reminder of the negative and oft insincere role that religion is playing in our times.  On the domestic front, people like this, aided and abetted by those now in control of the Republican Party, want to get into both our bedrooms and our doctor’s offices/operating rooms not to mention inject their medieval teachings into our public schools.  Globally, they leave behind a trail of blood which is far more polluting and devastating than some of the worst ecological disasters.  And just as Democrats and liberals have stood on the sidelines watching but expressing what is at best muted criticism, mainstream religion, with very few exceptions, either says nothing or changes the subject altogether.  Karl Rove would be proud of both of them, and no doubt is at the very least grateful for their help of silence, or as the Religious Right might put it, abstinence.

It is this state of affairs that has driven Sam Harris to write an even more biting follow up to his “End of Faith” indictment of religion, the recently published slim volume “Letter to a Christian Nation”.  Harris in his first book and even more pointedly here castigates religion past and present for both its violent and hypocritical acts, not to mention unproven contentions the like of which we accept nowhere else in our lives.  He argues that, far from being deprived of a moral compass, non-believers and avowed atheists are just as likely to possess a strong moral compass as are those who profess being followers of a God.  Harris doesn’t have much hope for religion of any kind or stripe, perhaps even less than was evident in his larger and more comprehensive volume.  I certainly haven’t come to that ultimate conclusion, but my own exploration of this subject (hopefully resulting in a book) is leading me down a similarly critical and disheartening path.  The real question ahead of us is whether the Haggards of this world are giving religion a bad name or if the underlying nature of religion is merely the bad apple on which they feast?  Whatever the case, chalk this one up for the bad guys.  Take that to the voting booth on Tuesday.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Into the Stretch

We’re into the home stretch and the Administration is out there doing its usual pre-election thing.  The President, speaking to friendly audiences in Texas and Georgia, is insisting this election is about taxes and terror.  Meanwhile, the Iraq war is bleeding the country’s financial resources and Osama bin Laden remains not merely on the loose but it would seem no longer seriously hunted.  One wonders how long it would have taken the public to realistically assess our progress in Iraq had the war not been waged on borrowed funds and, aside from the looming deficits that will impact on the next generation, no visible sacrifice.  Higher taxes to cover the cost, not to mention a draft that touches all rather than a tiny fraction of American households might have put things in a different light.  The question isn’t only whether the public would have soured earlier, but given the potential of real and widespread sacrifice whether they would have signed on in the first place.

Dick Cheney is out there doing his thing as well.  The man who spoke with such certainty about an Al Qaeda-Iraq connection and the existence of WMDs long after both were discredited theories, now tells us that the current escalation of violence – more than 100 US service personnel killed in October – is just part of an insidious insurgent plot to influence our election.  Aside from the acknowledgement of our military leaders that things have been deteriorating for many months, the fact is that Iraq has now become the primary issue for a majority of voters is not because of calculated asaults timed precisely for our election but because Cheney and his colleagues have made such a terrible mess of things from the run up to a terribly misguided war right through this bloody month.  To this moment the Administration rejects any talk of strategic change, which might admit a mistake, and will consider only the possibility of altering tactics, something to which I’m not sure the Vice President has even given his nod.

Finally, and classically, Don Rumsfeld has weighed in as only he can.  He still of course talks about the messiness of war – “things happen” remains his attitude even three years after he first pontificated as such over the disastrous looting that set the stage for a country out of control – anyone’s control ours or the now sitting democratically elected Iraqi government.  But Rumsfeld has taken concrete action in face of adversity.  Responding to the disaster under his watch, he has set in motion a major new public relations effort aimed at the 24/7 news community.  As the Secretary sees it, what we really need is some focus on the good news out of Iraq or at the very least, one would have to assume, better management of the bad news that is at this point impossible to hide.

So we prepare to go to the polls.  All the trends seem to be in favor of change.  We’re cautioned however, that while this Congressional election may indeed have been nationalized, Tip’s law that “all politics is local” remains the norm, and a tough hurtle to overcome even in these extraordinary times.  More pointedly, I think of Yogi, “it ain’t over till it’s over” which gives me pause.  In the end I don’t see this so much as a test of the Administration as one of the American voting public.  Have they at long last had enough?  It will also be a major test for the Democrats not so much before November 7 but after should they win either or both Houses.  The question then is whether they will actually function as leaders or evidence the maladies of post traumatic stress brought on by years of being beaten in one election after another either by the Republicans superior numbers (albeit often at the margin) or superior tactics aided so importantly early on by the Supreme Court.  That, by the way, was not an example of judicial activism if that’s what you wondered.  Activist judges are only those who rule against conservative ideology.  In any event, post the hoped for victory, just saying no won’t do any more.  The vague and often glibly pronounced criticism will have to be replaced by concrete alternative proposals and a readiness to talk to the “bad guys”.  I don’t mean the Iranians, North Koreans and other usual suspects though that is long over due, but the Republicans.  I also don’t mean talk at, but talk to and with.  The problems we face today are enormous and another two years of vicious bickering, sometimes for its own sake, simply won’t cut it, nor can we afford it.  We need solutions to urgent problems and waiting out Bush’s last two years on some kind of virtual side lines isn’t a luxury the country can afford nor is it what we at this point can only hope the voters will have signed on for.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Obama Fuss

Barack Obama has made it to prime time.  Magazine covers, television interviews and the subject of countless columns including most of the Op-Ed voices at the New York Times.  We’ve heard all the pros and cons, the urging to run, the reservations including this morning’s slow down and wait message from Bob Herbert.  I for one cast my vote for an Obama candidacy in a post last May when voicing concerns about both John the Savior McCain and Hilary the Inevitable Clinton.  Because so much has been written and said these last two weeks, I am a little reluctant to join the chorus, but perhaps a word from an ordinary voter not a professional pundit can justify yet another Obama piece.

It’s interesting that we are suddenly faced with so much Presidential talk just two weeks before such a critical mid-term Congressional election.  To be sure much is being said about the potential for a Democratic takeover of the House and Senate.  The country does seem at long last to be mad as hell and unready to take it any more.  One wonders what took it so long, but to carry the cliché, “better late…”  We’re focused on the Presidency for one simple reason, that’s where the power lies and that’s the only place where a change of direction can take place.  Six years ago when, as John Kerry might put it, Al Gore first won and then lost the election, conventional wisdom had it that an appointed President in a split country would lack the power to do much harm.  So much for conventional wisdom, as we find ourselves, in retrospect, arguably the most damaged country on the globe.  Of course our discomfort pales in comparison to what is being faced by the citizenry on the streets in Iraq or in the nightmare that is Darfur, but not relative to where we could or should be.  That damage, that dramatic turnaround of events symbolized by a record surplus turned into a record deficit both actually and metaphorically can in the final analysis be laid at only one doorstep, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  We’re focused on ’08 in ’06 for good reason.

And why Barack Obama?  I think it all boils down, certainly for many Democrats but perhaps for some Republicans as well, to one simple fact.  We’re tired of holding our noses and voting for the last man standing chosen from a field of the uninspiring, the less or the just barely acceptable.  We simply want to be excited about our candidate, to be counting the hours till Election Day when we can pull the lever for our standard bearer.  Al Gore wasn’t Bill Clinton and John Kerry wasn’t, yes you guessed it, Bill Clinton.  Just look at the field today, in both parties.  Is there anyone out there about whom a majority of Americans, much less a broad spectrum of party loyalists can get excited?  Sure Senators have a poor record of success in winning the presidency, Jack Kennedy being the exception.  Hello, the relatively inexperienced Jack Kennedy had charisma, that something special that made your heart beat a little faster.  I encountered him first on my college campus in the presence of, among others, the Chief Justice of the United States Earl Warren and no one could take their eyes off him.  Don’t tell me emotions don’t count.  Clinton, who is our reigning political superstar, may be a policy wonk and he may be able, unlike Bush, to put not only two but thousands of words together coherently and elegantly, but ultimately it’s emotion, his aura, that carries the day.

Leadership is not about clever (and misleading) slogans, but about getting people to follow both little people like you and me and world leaders, all at the same time.  Barack Obama may be untested in the regard, but at least he shows the potential.  He holds out the possibility that we can rekindle the fire within and with it restore not superficial flag waving but real pride in being Americans.  That’s a heavy hurtle to put on someone’s plate, perhaps it’s asking too much, but if not now, when?  This country is moving ever so closely to the historic tipping point that has plagued virtually all of the world’s great empires, the one that leads ever so certainly to decline and then destruction.  The Republican National Committee is running a commercial showing Osama and company, a ticking clock in the background.  It’s likened to the famous Daisy commercial run against Goldwater in 1964.  Hopefully the Democrats will counter with the simple but powerful question, “why is Osama still around on your watch” – done hold your breath.  The fact is, the GOP ad is accurate, not the face of Osama, but the ticking.  People are getting excited about Barak Obama because, realistic or not, they hope he might be able to stop it.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Loan Officer as Peacemaker

The Nobel Committee’s selection of Muhammad Yunus as this year’s outstanding peacemaker may, despite his unquestioned good works and that of his Grameen Bank, have surprised a lot of people.  The banker as peacemaker?  Yes indeed this banker is a peacemaker as are the others like him around the world who are engaged in similar work.  It may seem simplistic to distill the world’s greatest impediments to peace down to two prime causes, but I would suggest that “mine is the only way” religion and rampant poverty are compelling candidates.  All too often the two converge.  Perhaps some suicide bombers including those who flew planes into the Trade Center and Pentagon come from the well educated and middle class, but that oft quoted fact is misleading.  Militant movements require countless foot soldiers and the upwardly mobile bombers are the exception not the rule.

The abject poverty and unspeakably low standard of subsistence (one can’t call it living) found across Africa, the Middle East, Asia and even South America is well known to be a breeding ground for unrest, and most importantly for manipulation by charismatic demagogues who today are often extreme religious fundamentalists of one stripe or another.  These are people so desperate and so turned off by the status quo that any attention is welcome, certainly if it carries with it the promise of a better life (even if in the world to come).  Conversely, it you can change the lot of the desperate by giving them a helping hand and enough economic aid, in Grameen’s case a few dollars in seed (often literally) money, the dynamics can also be altered.  The idea that providing seed for a garden can feed a family for years while a donation of food is merely a short term fix is not a romantic cliché but a practical reality.  The latter, no matter how well intentioned, is tantamount to crisis management and the former to a potentially permanent solution which is precisely what Yunus opted for.  His micro loans to the impoverished of Bangladesh have literally turned around lives.  That many of the recipients were women whose societal status was changed in the process is an added bonus, but focusing on this bit of social engineering really misses the point.

No one can say for sure that those whose lives have been turned around by the small loans made by Grameen and other micro lenders across the globe will never join the ranks of the destructive.  At the same time, it is probably not a stretch to suggest that the potential of such an end is far less likely than it might have been without this creative intervention.  It would also be naïve to think that most of the recipients of micro loans will end up as have the very small number of moderately successful entrepreneurs that got their start from his helping hand.  But if the borrowers as a whole can just get on the road to self sustaining family life, a big step will have been taken toward peace.

It won’t come as a surprise to anyone who reads these posts that I don’t put much stock in military force to answer the world’s problems whether in Iraq, the Holy Land or anywhere else.  Fighting just tends to breed fighting to wit the emerging arms race that is demanding our attention these days.  Of course, military action may sometimes be unavoidable, but like that donation of food rather than seedlings, it remains a response to immediate crisis never a mechanism for long term solutions.  On the other hand, economic development may well be, especially of the micro kind.  The problem with so many efforts at lifting societies through economic development is that donating governments and agencies want to do grand things.  If we build something big it is thought, if we can infuse large capital pools into an underdeveloped place, the lives of the many can be impacted.  At least that is the promise but, without discounting the importance of doing those big projects as well, such development relies essentially on trickle down (yes Voodoo) economics.  So often it results at best in the emergence of yet another, but relatively small localized middle class and all too often accompanied by a truly tiny elite class of new super rich.  Sadly this kind of high profile development, which routinely holds out the promise of more jobs than it really creates not to mention what turns out to be the most ephemeral ripple effect, simply has not solved the problem.  Rather than eradicating or even putting a dent into global or localized poverty, at times it has actually exasperated the growing disparity between those who have and those who remain without.

The underlying message of the Nobel Committee is that peace takes a lot of work and, while the task seems daunting, ultimately it has to be addressed at the individual level.  This is a painstaking and prolonged process.  Peace has to be made by small and deceivingly unimpressive acts one person at a time.  The most hopeful message that they have conveyed in honoring Muhammad Yunus is that it can be done.  The best take for us on their selection of the loan officer and peacemaker is that it must be done if we are to address and then overcome the most pressing challenges of interacting peacefully in this incredible but shrinking planet.

Thursday, October 5, 2006

Better to Stay and Die?

If the 2006 campaign returns to what remains upper most in the minds of Americans, the war in Iraq, expect to hear that catch phrase “cut and run” a lot over the next weeks.  I hope Democrats won’t permit themselves to be “Swift Boated” this time around.  To that end, I’d suggest that they counter by defining the present course, which amounts to no more than “stay and die”.  Stay and die is exactly what President Bush is asking our troops to do and that is exactly what is happening to them in an escalating manner.  Three years out and the casualties mount every single day.  43 Americans died in July, 65 in August and 74 in September, one of the worst months of the war.  More than 20 lost their lives in the last few days and October has hardly begun.  The Minnesota GOP state chairman who used the “cut and run” slogan yesterday in an interview pointed out that, while the battle deaths were tragic, fewer Americans have died in three years of war than on September 11.  Leaving aside the dubious connection of that attack and Iraq, I wonder how he squares the 20,000 American casualties, some of whom are physically maimed for life.  How about the war related suicides or the wide spread post traumatic syndrome that plagues not merely the former combatants but their entire families. 

Stay and die to what end?  Have we improved the quality of life for Iraqis or the stability of the region?  Have we lessoned the ranks of Al Qaeda or diminished sectarian hatred?  Looking at the news every day we see a country that, despite our “good work”, seems to be spiraling more and more out of control.  Can we look our young service personnel in the eye and really tell them why they are risking their lives by just walking down the road?  Can we square their deaths or injuries with their families?  Of course we can’t, certainly not with a straight face.  That GOP Chairman says we’re fighting there so we don’t have to fight here.  Does he have any basis for such a supposition?  Even if he does, what are the moral implications of such an idea?  Are lives lost there any less valuable than lives which might be lost here?  Has our military action, our bravado and flexing of muscle made us safer or states like Iran and North Korea less belligerent, less dangerous?  We all know that quite the opposite is the case.

So what if we do cut and run rather than stay to die?  Will the world think any less of us than it does already?  Will we be any less feared?  Will Iraq be any worse off?  Let’s get real, the bloom is off that rose thanks, in large measure, to this misadventure.  The truth is that one day we will have to leave and whenever that day comes it won’t be an exit of victory no matter what Henry Kissinger (thought we were done with him) or George Bush may claim.  The Russians lost in Afghanistan (which we may be headed for as well) and we will have lost in Iraq much as we did by intervening in Viet Nam’s civil war in the 1960s/70s.  Ah, we really learn from history, don’t we?

It doesn’t matter what you thought before they say.  For or against our invasion and occupation of Iraq, we are there now and it’s a shared reality and problem.  Agreed.  That doesn’t mean that we must come to it with the same solution.  Having to bear that awful responsibility is enough – my country did that and, absent renouncing my citizenship, I have to own up to it.  That acceptance of burden also, it would seem, gives me equal, if not more, right to find a way out.

Saying we won and leaving isn’t credible and won’t cut it.  What we can say, is that we made a costly mistake, perhaps even with good (if misguided) intentions.  We can’t undo what is done, we can’t bring back the casualties of war (ours and many others), but we can change course in the hopes of ending hostilities or at least changing their dimension and focus.  Perhaps, as the proponents of staying suggest, that’s a pipe dream and our exit will make things even worse.  Looking at the record, where things were before we brought “shock and awe” to Iraq and where they are today three years later, that case will be hard to make much less prove.  Will our dream of a unified democratic Iraq prevail if we leave?  Perhaps not, and if not it may remind us that “our” dream is not necessarily “their” dream.

Bring it on you wordsmiths of ill repute.  Keep on repeating your cut and run.  I embrace it as an alternative to letting more human beings stay and die.  I can live with humiliation but not with their unjustified sacrifice, with victims of a misguided self defeating policy.  Perhaps I’m a dreamer, but the world may just be a better place after we bring the troops home, after we cut and run.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Bob's Eureka Moment

You have to hand it to Bob Woodward; he really knows how to promote a book.  Even Tom Friedman must be jealous.  Days before publication the press near and far is hyping his message and for the second time in two weeks Mike Wallace is interrupting his “retirement” to conduct a 60 Minutes interview.  Of course most of us, including myself, have not read Woodward’s latest sure fire best seller, but the word is out that the fabled “investigative” reporter has discovered an astounding fact.  The war in Iraq is not going well, and the folks who gave it to us are either in denial or have not been leveling with the American people.  Now that’s real news.  The only problem is that lesser lights (including this very dim bulb) with lesser or absolutely no access “discovered” and have been talking or writing about this astounding information for a very long time.  Frank Rich’s new book and weekly columns are just one of many examples.  So what is new about Bob Woodward’s revelations?

It’s not the intimate details among them that Laura tried to do a Nancy on Donald Rumsfeld, though obviously with much less success.  Nancy’s intervention caused a cabinet shakeup.  The behind the scenes tidbits only corroborate what we have all known.  The real news is Woodward himself.  As suggested in my last posting, the Washington Post star reporter, akin to a moth, is attracted to the light of power.  He likes access and will flatter to keep the lines open.  So the message of his first two “insightful” from the inside studies of the Bush Administration was that they had it and he wanted to remain on the guest list.  In State of Denial, the opposite is the case.  Translation: Bush is over.  He and his crowd are finished, kaput, yesterday’s news.  I’m not suggesting that they can’t (and won’t) do considerable damage during their next two years exiting the scene which would be naïve, but being abandoned by power’s ultimate friend Bob Woodward is a real story, real news.

Meanwhile back on the ground things get worse by the day and the press sadly, like Woodward, is either still not doing its job or now being prevented by conditions from doing so.  As to the first, on September 21 Manfred Nowak, the U.N. special investigator reported that, ”torture in Iraq may be worse now than it was under Saddam Hussein, with militias, terrorist groups and government forces disregarding rules on the humane treatment of prisoners.”  In short, if you add in the lack of security things are not merely worse for Iraqis, they are far worse than under the evil one.  Aside from an AP wire report, a brief BBC story and a mention (not expanded upon) in the day’s headlines on The News Hour, that horrific bit of news seems to have fallen into a black hole.  I could find no mention of it in the next morning’s Times and indeed a Google search will show you that it got virtually no play anywhere else.  Torture isn’t news any more?  Wow!  As to not being able to cover the story, many months back one of the vocal non-combatant Administration war proponents complained that negative news was coming out of Iraq because reporters were pontificating from hotel rooms instead of reporting from the ground.  It was precisely at that time when an unprecedented number of them were actually being killed while reporting to us from the battlefield.  Now that flack’s contention has actually come to pass as many reporters in Iraq including CBS’s new, youthful and impressive chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan reported last night.  A courageous journalist who willingly dons flack jacket and helmet, she reports that it’s simply not possible to go out any more.  Oh, we’re making great progress and I’m so relieved that Bob Woodward has caught on.

A personal note. 

It has been eighteen years to the day since my father Joachim Prinz died.  He lived through Nazi Germany in 1930s Berlin, the challenges of McCarthy, the Civil Rights struggle, Viet Nam and so much more in the succeeding years here in the United States.  He was consistently early in speaking out against evils and in pointing out governmental missteps both moral and political, never one to latch on to conventional wisdom or yesterday’s obvious truths.  I miss him (and those like him in that generation) particularly in times like these when we so desperately need his voice to break through the silence.  Even more, after all this time, I miss him on a personal level.  At the same time, there is something in me that is grateful he doesn’t have to bear witness to the world in which we find ourselves, to our great slide backwards into what so often seems at root medieval masked, and not very well, by the accoutrements of technological advance.  That feeling, that acknowledgement of what has become of us, truly makes me sad.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Rich: Unmasking the Live Picture Show

In 2000, the same year George Bush was elevated to the Presidency, Random House published Ghost Light, Frank Rich’s memoir of his early years.  It was during his childhood, nurtured and facilitated by his mother and step-father Joel, that Rich developed a life-long interest in and passion for the theater.  Ultimately it led him to what, thanks to notable predecessors like Brooks Atkinson, had become the principal aisle seat of power on Broadway, chief drama critic for The New York Times.  So synonymous had Rich become with the theater after 13 years of writing, that many of his readers were no doubt surprised when he changed seats and turned his attention to broader matters, first in a regular Sunday column in the arts section and ultimately reaching an even broader audience on the paper’s op ed page.  In fact, the transition was seamless because his attention far from being averted from his first love had merely been turned to another piece of theater played out on what has been called (no more aptly than in the last six years) the “world stage”.  Ghost Light refers to a light left on when the theater goes dark, supposedly to ward off ghosts that might inhabit the unlit place.  I like to think of it more like the Eternal Light that burns in a darkened synagogue to symbolize an ever present God.  The theater endures.  Perhaps there is one significant difference between the Broadway and world stages, because where Frank Rich now occupies an aisle seat, no ghost light is needed.  The stage lights never really get turned off; the play is unending even when it presents itself as some cheap rerun of the past.

Frank Rich has his own and unmistakable style, something I think of as Rich-speak or probably more accurately Rich-write.  It is deceivingly easy going and conversational which serves him well in delivering a profound, often searing message.  Rather than dipping into what so often comes of as pretentious references to classic literature (look at how much I have read), his columns are full of allusions to theater and pop culture which makes them all the more accessible, not to mention appropriate to his subject matter.  Even the title of his present book (the subject of this writing), The Greatest Story Ever Sold is a not so subtle, and appropriate, homage to George Stevens’ cinematic epic.  That its star Charlton Heston morphed from Hollywood leading man into right wing Republican activist and NRA flack, as Rich would call him, only reinforces the link.  Rich-write is dotted with words like flack, bloviator, blogisphere and, my very favorite, mediathon (which I think he coined).  He uses them not to be sensational but to unmask the real role or motives of those described.  Mediathon, for example, characterizes the single focused (usually on the unimportant or beside-the-point) theater that 24/7 and to a lesser extent network broadcast “news” has become and to which other media, even his own newspaper, are not immune.

There is something else that characterizes Rich’s writing both on Sundays and in this book.  To use an appropriate reference point in describing it, Frank Rich much like Sgt. Joe Friday, is obsessed with the facts.  His contentions, even when rightly read as opinion, are always backed up by chapter and verse.  This book is heavily end noted and includes 76 pages of time lines following the narrative.  That attention to facts, more than anything else is what makes his weekly writing so compelling and this book so illuminating and disturbing at the same time.  The Greatest Story Ever Sold is full of solid information, but if you’re looking for some headline grabbing revelation, you’ll be sorely disappointed.  In fact, any news junkie is unlikely to come across a single piece information she had not known before and Rich is careful to give full credit to those who uncovered it or who, by their testimony, brought into the public domain.  What this book does is put it all together into a cohesive narrative and it is the whole rather than any single fact or event that makes it so stunning.

From the start, the Bush people have systematically and more overtly than any of their predecessors, used the “live picture show” as a, and perhaps the. primary tool of governance.  They have taken the cliché “a picture is worth a thousand words” to new and heretofore unimagined heights.  Their carefully concocted images often use the very military that they so brazenly have put in harms way as unwitting backdrop scenery for dissembling speech making.  Supported by the picture, they don’t merely mislead they consistently ignore settled fact in promoting self serving policy to this day.  Rich takes our hand and leads us through the maze of make believe from the air craft carrier to the fast changing slogans and taglines and the unending appearances before friendly or captive audiences.  Script and control are the order of the day and we are given front row seats not merely to watch the show but, with him as a guide, to see beyond its unmistakable fiction.  We know that their reality lies in a largely fabricated docudrama, albeit all too real including its very lethal consequences.

There is no doubt that Frank Rich is no friend of the Bush Administration, but he is no less critical of its fellow travelers who have willingly facilitated making the sale.  Those include the hapless loyal opposition with an emphasis on “loyal”, the suppliant and thus enabling press both broadcast and print (including again his own Times) and perhaps most of all us – you and me, the willing and gullible public.  They put on the show and together we all sang in the chorus.  But for worse and in this case for better, the American public tires easily and, as Rich contends in his second section it has slowly but surely suffered buyer’s remorse.  The painted scenery and oft repeated melodies aren’t playing that well any more and an administration that has placed such an emphasis on faith, if the polls are correct, can count only on a diminishing number of believers.  The slide began as the body count, now working its way toward 3,000, grew and as the suicide bombs were proliferating.  Its coda came with Katrina which even more than the now transparent lack of planning for the day after in Iraq, lay to rest any pretence of Federal preparedness.  Gerry Ford was probably unfairly characterized by Lyndon Johnson, but these guys really can’t chew gum and walk at the same time.

While having his suspicions about how history will judge George Bush’s Presidency, Rich knows that in such matters the jury is still out.  What really motivated Bush and his partners in deception the Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld and neo-con cabal presented on stage by producer-director Karl Rove may always be a mystery.  Perhaps it was some underlying philosophical belief, perhaps pure greed and politics but whatever the case it was sham and whatever price Bush may pay in the history books will pale in comparison to what the country has paid.  It is we who have picked up the tab expressed in dollars and perhaps more so in reputation for what has been a very unsavory meal.

Frank Rich was not the first New York Times columnist to write a childhood memoir.  Back in 1983 Russell Baker gave us Growing Up recounting his and it remains one of my favorites.  Baker was blessed with an ever critical mother and nothing he could do was enough for her. When it became clear that he had established himself, albeit not necessarily to her liking, she grudgingly told her son that perhaps “something will come of you” after all.  In recounting that, Baker was obviously letting us know that something indeed had become of him.  Frank Rich is not given to such claims.  Unlike some of his colleagues like Bob Woodward who seems to vastly prefer publicized access to the high and mighty to the unidentified sources in dark garages that made his reputation(and is taken to task for it in this book), or even some of Rich’s own op ed colleagues, the personal pronoun I doesn’t creep easily into his vocabulary.  Rich’s mom, a central character in Ghost Light, loved the theater and most assuredly relished their shared interest and, I would think, his accomplishments.  Not having known her, that’s only an assumption.  What I am confident about is that any regular reader of his Sunday columns or of this important book knows that something indeed has also come of Frank Rich.  The quality of that something is nowhere better expressed than in his touching tribute to his family and most of all to his wife in the acknowledgements found at the end of the book.

Sunday, September 17, 2006


The Pope can invoke as many “I didn’t mean its” as he wants but no one believes that this most articulate and scholarly man did not understand the import and meaning of what he was saying last week in Germany.  Having delivered more than a few speeches in my day, I know that, while one can easily go astray extemporaneously, quotes are always intentional.  So Benedict’s disclaimer is simply not credible.  Nor is the idea that this was the misstep of a neophyte Pontiff.  After all, this particular Pope was not plucked out of obscurity, a surprise candidate like John Paul had been in an earlier conclave.  He was a Vatican man through and through and among those closest to his predecessor.  There is little question that he advised John Paul on what pronouncements to make and it would not be surprising to learn that he helped him draft some of his later papal speeches.  So he knows well what the Papacy is and what is expected from the leader of 1 Billion Catholics around the world – a constituency far greater than any of the world’s political leaders from whom we expect so much.

“Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”  “These (words)”, professed the Pope today, “were in fact a quotation from a Medieval text which do not in any way express my personal thought.”  Right.  Well why incorporate them in a talk, why most especially in this highly charged environment?  The fact is that the Pope has done a great disservice to the dialogue between the world’s faiths and, while it may be presumptuous for a non-Catholic to say so, to his own.  In a sense, joining our own President who talks of a war of ideologies, he has only underscored and reminded us of the very negative role that religion is playing as a root cause of multiple conflicts across the globe.  In an environment of “my way or no way” Pope Benedict presents himself with these comments, as in the flow rather than a calming force one might hope him to be.  If he had made similar comments about Jewish tradition, I would feel no less incensed than are Muslims all over the world.

Benedict of course professes deep respect for Islam, “some of his best friends…”  But such expressions of tolerance can seem hollow when the leader of a competing religious ideology calls your revered founder a proponent of evil.  The fact is that, rightly or wrongly, religion is earning itself a bad name in our time when the most terrible things are being done “in the name of God”.  Perhaps it is unfair to paint religion as a whole with that brush, but in the eyes of many it is a perception that is becoming increasingly hard to deny.  Religious leaders will be quick to point out, and probably rightly so, that all the trouble is coming from the extreme.  Perhaps it can be attributed to a bad seed, but that doesn’t change the reality that it’s a religious seed even if gone awry.  Is it any wonder that only a tiny fraction of Catholics in the Pope’s homeland attend Mass with any regularity as is the case throughout Europe (including Italy where the Vatican is seated) and in the United States?  And Catholics are not alone in this regard.  Pews stand empty at Sabbath services in both Protestant churches and in synagogues.  What are we to think when in word and deed people who profess faith do such terrible things or, in this case, invoke such intolerant ideas?

The world is in deep trouble and with it so is religion.  Colin Powell suggested the other day that the United States was in danger of losing its moral edge when it comes to combating terrorism.  Religion is not helped when its leaders by inference suggest superiority and a “my way is the only valid way”.  Perhaps he didn’t mean it, but Genie is out of the box.  What may be even worse is the charade of hiding behind a quote, attributing its sentiments to someone long dead and disingenuously pretending to disown it.  Sadly, in this atmosphere none of us, whatever our religion or lack of it, will be the better for it.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Wrong Question

Are we safer?  That’s the question you’ll be hearing a lot as we move into the height of this election cycle and indeed the one many of us are asking ourselves on this day.  But it’s the wrong question.  It isn’t that safety is not important to us individually or collectively.  Of course it is.  It is the context in which we ask it, at least if we’re honest with ourselves.  In a very profound way, are we safer as posed is a metaphor for what may continue to be our most challenging problem.  Despite going through two world wars, Korea, Viet Nam and now Iraq, despite being founders of the United Nations and NATO among others, and despite being leaders of international commerce, we remain an isolationist nation.  It isn’t that we don’t venture out, don’t interact but that in the end we are intensely self-focused.  Individually, despite our acts of kindness, philanthropy and community, most of us are “islands unto ourselves”.  All the more so are we a nation unto our self.

Are WE safer, is the question most of us ask.  It’s also the one people in power like best because, at least at this point, no one can say for sure whether we are safer or not.  With all the talk of how things have changed in the past five years, functionally it is a veneer of change as deep as today’s broadcast news, especially the 24/7 type.  It is the change of a docudrama, not the one being so widely publicized on ABC, but the one that plays out each and every day on CNN, Fox and the Networks.  News with a theatrical set and a theme song.  The fact is that business goes on as usual in our bubble of a world whether in New York or around the country.  There may be a hole in the ground downtown, but edifices are rising everywhere else in this bustling city.  Cantor Fitzgerald has gotten off the mat and is once again coining money much as it did in the old days.  People are pushing their way through on Times Square, in the subways and everywhere else in town.  School buses reappeared at their appointed hour as classes resumed for the fall.  Things will never be the same.  Fat chance.

The question we should ask is not whether we are safer but if the world is safer?  That isn’t hard to answer.  It’s definitely not.  Nearly three thousand ordinary citizens died in America five years ago but probably 100 times that number of innocents lost their lives since around the world in the intervening period, often victims of the bombs and bullets we’ve unleashed in the name of our own security protection.  We’re fighting there so we don’t have to fight here, a super-me statement if there ever was one.  Along with the now highly promoted slogans of “9/11” and “ground zero” is that of THE families.  Again, just as we are legitimately concerned about safety should our hearts always go out to the families of those who lost loved ones.  As someone who has officiated at many funerals quite early in my own life, I know how devastating the death of a single human being can be to a family, a wound that often never heals.  But, aside from occasional clips of wailing women in black garments, we pay little or no attention to those other families, certainly not what we pay to THE families.  When they are not our own, they recede into statistical nothingness.  These days, that’s not a very safe place.

The truth is that I was trying to avoid remembrance on this day not because I feel either safe or satisfied, but because I am appalled by how this sad anniversary is exploited for both commercial and political ends.  Few, if any, media are innocent in that regard and the shameless abuse is non-partisan.  In fact, leveraging September 11 for their own purpose and aggrandizement seems to be one of the few things upon which all politicians right, left and center can agree.  The weather in New York of this 2006 day is virtually a carbon copy of 2001 and by happenstance (I run every other day) I was in precisely the same place circling the Jacqueline Onasis Kennedy Reservoir in that same hour.  That’s were I heard the news five years ago and that’s were I was thinking today about our safety.

Things are pretty much the same all around America as they are vastly different in so many areas around the world.  The only visible hint of dislocation that be found here is not around that “hole in the ground” in lower Manhattan as Mayor Ray Nagin put it, but in his city of New Orleans.  That town, as I noted in an earlier post, remains physically and psychologically scarred.  But there is another piece of unpleasantness that is finally getting some attention.  The residual effects of environmental pollution in and around the site of the fallen towers.  People are getting really sick, some have died prematurely already and others are sure follow.  There is a kind of symmetry between Katrina and this resident or responder malady.  Both may have been the result of forces beyond control, but both unmasked an catastrophic lack of preparedness.  We knew Katrina was coming (years before it actually came) and failed to adequately protect the safety of those in its way, and we knew the dangers of environmental pollution.  Most of us have seen people in protective suits ridding buildings of exposed asbestos, and have become painfully aware of industrial smog.  For a city whose Mayors have devoted themselves to removing cigarette smoke from public places in the name of safety not to have insisted on protecting the lungs of those caught in or brought to lower Manhattan for cleanup in the aftermath of the attack is unconscionable.  EPA Director Whitman is being held to the fire, but certainly some of the bloom should be coming off Rudy whom many of us have long recognized for what and who he is, combover or not.  These people all must be held accountable.

The sad truth is, we are not safer wherever we make our home.  It’s a dangerous street out here and there.  With all our bombs and all our rhetoric, the “evil ones” have cast aside even the pretence of speaking to us from caves.  Their smart sets now evoke the comfort of the study five full years after we were taken into battle with bravado and promises.  Are we safer?  I don’t think so.  Perhaps the right question is, are they safer?  I leave it to you to answer that one.

Monday, September 4, 2006

Change the Subject: Forget It!

George Bush rushed uncomfortably through two days of Katrina remembrance last week.  Who could blame his discomfort as he went from one photo op to another with rolled up shirt sleeves as if to say “I’m working on it”.  Stiff upper lip notwithstanding, he knows that, because of his administration’s ineptness, the Gulf Coast remains in disrepair and a wounded New Orleans has been transformed into The Big Uneasy.  Katrina didn’t merely destroy that remarkable city, it was Bush’s Waterloo and he can’t make it go away. 

In contrast to August 29, the President is undoubtedly looking forward to September 9 which, cloaked in hyperbolic rhetoric ever since (what Dick Cheney darkly calls the “Post 9/11 world”), is seen even by many critics as his best moment.  It was the tragedy of that day that transformed a seemingly rudderless and rapidly declining presidency into one of unimaginable possibilities, or so we naively thought.  Americans were united in a way that was probably most akin to where they were in the days following Roosevelt’s historic “Day of Infamy” speech more than 60 years earlier.  Citizens, politicians of all stripe and foreign states stood as one ready to respond.  As we were soon to learn he blew all that the day he dissed all but the “Coalition of the Willing” and marched into Iraq.  In retrospect, it’s clear that the Administration’s seeming drift on September 10, 2001 was more a perception than a reality.  It had big plans, and in fact the terrorist attack was more of a distraction than something to be seriously confronted.  Afghanistan was to be handled with dispatch as the trinity of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld set out on their pre-determined activist agenda, one that even some of their supporters have come to believe was wrong headed.

In a perverse way, September 9th and terrorism has now come to be Bush’s closest ally and friend, certainly his seemingly reliable crutch.  Iraq and Katrina, regardless of the spin, are dual failures linked in a profound way by the same two problems.  The first is short sighted or limited planning, the kind that assumes a neat straight line from point A to B with no provision for the unexpected.  If any gaming was done in preparation for either, it appears to have had few if any “what ifs” built in.  The second is the Administration’s inability to execute.  Despite being led by the first president with an MBA and filled with high profile (overpaid) business executives, it seems incapable of managing a real world task of any complexity.  In contrast, where results are harder to measure, Bush even now claims some support (certainly relative to everything else) for his so-called “war on terrorism”, and he doesn’t intend to let go of that perception.  Terrorism has been his saving grace and refuge, and he savors every moment of it.  He and his handlers have tried to keep the public similarly focused.

The only fly in that ointment is that at the moment the country’s attention has shifted away from terrorism and instead is increasingly focused on the Administration’s demonstrable failures.  The President’s approval ratings have been in free fall, and whatever marginal bumps have come his way since Katrina have been few and short lived.  Katrina has become a metaphor for everything that is going wrong at home while Iraq stands for a failed policy abroad.  Katrina, because of its principal victims, reminds us that we have a growing underclass left more behind with every passing day.  Iraq, whose casualties grow by the hour looks more like a Viet Nam redux reminding us of the limits not the extent of our power, a view reinforced by the now close to 2650 American fatalities, more than 10,000 wounded and still counting.  The New York Times reported the other day that civilian deaths there are up 50% since the new Iraqi government took office, an astounding 120 each day, in most cases Sunnis and Shiites killing each other, reflecting an age old enmity.  So the President and his surrogates have spent the last weeks ignoring that historic reality by refocusing our country on the Administration’s most reliable ally, terrorism and Iraq’s centrality in the war against it.

After holding that single topic (staying the course) press conference the week before, Bush granted an on-the-ground interview to NBC’s super anchor Brian Williams during his commemorative visit to the Gulf Coast.  Sure he talked briefly about the event at hand, but his major focus was again on getting across his take on Iraq, its connection to terrorism and what, as a result, was really at stake there.  He surely couldn’t blame Katrina on Osama and company, so he quickly changed the subject.  And his argument was perhaps more vigorous and blatant than ever before.  It took misinformation by innuendo to new heights.  Gone are the WMDs and more than pro-forma talk of regime change and even democracy, Iraq is the central battle ground in the war on terrorism.  No of course Saddam didn’t order 9/11 but...the ever present impression left hanging of a connection, dots to be filled in by a gullible public.  Stand in New Orleans and change the subject.  Expect him to stand in New York next week and connect 9/11 to Iraq.  Hammer home your perceived strong suit including attributing all the significant disruption on the ground there to terrorists – long gone are the Baathists or dead-enders.  Where is Sgt. Joe Friday when we need him to demand the President give us “just the facts” not spin? 

With this urgency to change the subject, a new argument has emerged, supported by an astounding analogy.  The struggle against terrorism is a struggle against an ideology.  First characterized obliquely as fascism, it has now morphed overtly into today’s Nazism.  Those who oppose the war or the policy are modern day Chamberlain appeasers.  Forget the fact that that those who tried to prevent American intervention in the 1930s were isolationists while today’s critics of Iraq are largely internationalists who, among everything else were appalled when this Administration adopted a go-it-ourselves attitude that continues to this day to undermine the UN and ignore historic allies except when they might be useful in the moment.  The problem with the new rhetoric is that once again it manifests the kind of shoot from the hip talk that has characterized George Bush and company from the start – “Bring them on” and this is a “Crusade”. 

We’re told this is a battle between ideologies?  Well, it is fair to ask what ideologies are those.  Terrorism isn’t an ideology; it is a battle tactic of people who have an ideology.  Therefore, we have to look at the ideology of those using terror: in this case extreme Islamists.  Equating followers of Islam, however far out they may be, with the Nazis is not only historically inaccurate it is highly, and potentially dangerously, inflammatory.  However opposed many Moslems, perhaps even most, may be to terrorism or those who carry it out, the broad brush strokes are getting uncomfortably close and that suggests closing ranks.  Nothing brings Jews together more than loose anti-Semitic talk and the same holds true for followers of Islam.  Coming from the most overtly religious (Christian) president in modern times, it is not a great leap for Moslems around the world and even here at home to see this as a war between his religion and theirs, not against a specific battle tactic.

This Administration prides itself on spin and the ability to manipulate perceptions with language and slogans, with staying on the day’s message.  But language can be as dangerous as it is powerful.  This latest coordinated verbal offensive constitutes mindless propaganda that, if not quickly corrected, can have unintended consequences.  I understand why they want to change the subject, why they see themselves suddenly fighting for their own political survival, but equating Islam with National Socialism goes beyond the pale.  It is crude, historically inaccurate and, while doing great damage to the discourse, it also won’t work.  August, we remember Katrina.  September, we’ll pay lip service to 9/11 but most of us will be thinking about Iraq.  We’ll be thinking about those nine additional servicemen whose pictures were shown on the News Hour tonight and with the exception of one 46 year old timer ranged in age from 18 o 23.  A sectarian civil war is brewing there, once again acknowledged by the Pentagon, and talk of terrorism won’t change that reality or our recognition where we really are and who brought us here.  You can’t really change that subject.