Saturday, June 22, 2002

A clarification

Regular readers will remember that this space has referenced a book by two French intelligence analysts, "Bin Laden: the Forbidden Truth," on numerous occasions. The book alleges that the Bush Administration was negotiating a pipeline deal with the Taliban during the summer of 2001, and that the State Department actually stymied FBI investigations into al Qaeda.

Now, there's a story on the front page of the Times this morning about a different French conspiracy-theory book called "The Horrifying Fraud," in which it is alleged that Sept. 11 was actually masterminded by the U.S. government.

I just want to be clear: that is not the book to which I have been referring. Though, unfortunately, I suspect that the two will become confused in the public mind, defeating any attempt to draw attention to the very plausible allegations of the former.

Shopping and squandering

Several Bay Area readers brought me up to speed on the "Open For Business" posters--turns out they're the brainchild of San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown. Here's the link.

The post on this earlier in the week inspired reader Paula Simone to forward a reminder of the Squander Bug, a WWII-era British propaganda character. (I actually have a reprint of the poster below, from the Imperial War Museum in London, tucked away in the back of some closet somewhere, but I'd completely forgotten about it).

In case you can't read the dialogue, the woman in the first panel says to her friend, "I'm doing a bit of shopping this afternoon." The Squander Bug says, "This is where I come in."

In the second panel, as she walks into a department store, the Squander Bug says excitedly, "Spend it here--prices are fantastic."

In the third panel, she walks out carrying a shopping bag, looking remorseful as she mutters, "I don't suppose it's worth half the money." The Squander Bug replies, "Ta Ta for now!"

In the final panel, the Squander Bug concludes gleefully, "And it doesn't help the war a bit."

Now, I understand, of course, that conditions were rather different during the London Blitz, that resources were scarce and rationing was in effect and an entirely different set of priorities were in order. But I still think the contrast between these two pieces of wartime propaganda is striking.


Friday, June 21, 2002

From the mailbag

I am a military veteran. I spent six years in the US Navy, much of that time on submarines. I have the utmost respect for the job that others in the military do for you, me, and every other citizen. However, I do not believe that they have any business getting involved in the legal affairs of non-US military personnel, and they certainly have no part to play in the trial of an American citizen (i.e., Mr. Padilla/Al-Muhajir).

Ten years ago, when I was but a boy, I raised my hand and swore to "protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and bear true faith and allegiance to the same." I believed those words then, and I still believe them now. Obviously, the Bush Administration, especially the Justice Department, is violating the consitutionally-protected rights (certainly those guaranteed under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments) of Mr. Padilla. However, what has been missed is that nearly all current US military personnel, as well as veterans, are strangely silent on this matter. I/we/they swore to defend this document, with my/our/their lives if necessary, yet little has been said by military veterans concerning this gross affront to the Constitution (I excuse current military personnel from the responsibility of overt criticism of the government, since such criticism is punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.). I feel that we should be reminded that not all enemies of the Constitution are from other societies--the drafters of the oath I swore were wise enough to realize this fact.

Well, here is the voice of one veteran, who served honorably and was discharged as such, raised in protest against the audacity of our current government and its near-total disregard for our precious, precious liberties. What are they doing to my beloved Constitution?

I love America. I believe in the potential of America. Mr. Bush and Mr. Ashcroft can often be heard saying the same things. However, if, as Mr. Bush is so fond of saying, the terrorists of the world hate us because of our free and open system, then why is Mr. Bush so hell-bent on changing our system into one that someone from, say, Iraq would find more amenable?

Friday roundup

New additions to the Minority Report cliche watch include Clarence Page in the Chicago Tribune, Jim Pinkerton in the Los Angeles Times, and Reason magazine. I'll get links up later, just wanted to mention that I'd seen these.

* * *

Last week's cartoon on the topic of global warming inspired the usual spate of email from self-proclaimed experts on the topic--and you really have to love the complete and utter lack of self-awareness it takes to parrot Rush Limbaugh as you accuse the scientists of having a political agenda.

One of the panels in that cartoon referenced rising sea levels, inspiring one woman to inform me that "Antarctica melting will result in only a 10ft difference in the height of the sea level, and no one should be living that close anyway."

Well, that's an interesting, um, perspective. Here's another, from a Bob Herbert column last week.

There is not even agreement among scientists on the amount of warming necessary to begin the destruction. But what is clear is that if the ice sheet were to disintegrate, the consequences would be profound. So you don't want to play around with this. You want to make sure it doesn't happen.

"We know," said Dr. Oppenheimer, "that if the ice sheet were destroyed, sea levels would rise about five meters, which would be catastrophic for coastal regions. That would submerge much of Manhattan below Greenwich Village, for instance. It would drown the southern third of Florida, an area inhabited by about four million people."

* * *
Oh, and did you happen to catch this one in the NY Times last weekend?

To live in Alaska when the average temperature has risen about seven degrees over the last 30 years means learning to cope with a landscape that can sink, catch fire or break apart in the turn of a season.

In the village of Shishmaref, on the Chukchi Sea just south of the Arctic Circle, it means high water eating away so many houses and buildings that people will vote next month on moving the entire village inland.

In Barrow, the northernmost city in North America, it means coping with mosquitoes in a place where they once were nonexistent, and rescuing hunters trapped on breakaway ice at a time of year when such things once were unheard of.

From Fairbanks to the north, where wildfires have been burning off and on since mid-May, it means living with hydraulic jacks to keep houses from slouching and buckling on foundations that used to be frozen all year. Permafrost, they say, is no longer permanent

* * *

We report, you decide.

* * *

On the fraying civil liberties front, you probably saw this one yesterday:

Prisoners declared enemy combatants do not have the right to a lawyer and the American judiciary cannot second-guess the military’s classification of such detainees, the Justice Department argued yesterday in a brief to an appeals court.

That's just what we need. Military decisions affecting American citizens which cannot be "second guessed" by the civilian judiciary.

Jesus Christ on a crutch.

* * *

Finally, for now, I'm going to turn it over to reader Jennifer Marino, who makes a point that has also been bothering me lately....

Please, someone has to point out that WE'RE NOT AT WAR. Only Congress declares war. The executive branch can't just claim we're at war and then institute war powers, which is what this amounts to. So much of what's gone on lately has been, disturbingly, justified under the claim we're at war, an assertion that's gone unchallenged. I mean, if the War on Poverty had claimed the martial rules, the Rockefeller family would all have been detained indefinitely as enemy combatants.

And of course, it's been acknowledged from the start that the model for this "war" on terror is the war on drugs. And as this space has previously noted, we all know what an unqualified success that one's been.

* * *

Have a good weekend, everybody. I'm outta here.


Tuesday, June 18, 2002

The developing cliche

First, there's today's Boondocks, though I'm really only including this one for completion's sake--I like MacGruder's work.

And then there's this opening paragraph from US News & World Report:

In Minority Report, Steven Spielberg's new sci-fi thriller set in the year 2054, Tom Cruise plays a cop who heads a special "precrime" unit that nabs murderers long before they commit their crimes. Perhaps, the future is now: Attorney General John Ashcroft last week announced the capture of a onetime Chicago hood to prevent a crime he might have committed in the future–building a radioactive "dirty bomb" to detonate on American soil.

I think we've stumbled into a fun new game here. If you see "Minority Report" used as a political metaphor in any column, article, or cartoon, send me a link, and I'll keep a running tally.

I'm still confident that Maureen Dowd will not let us down. I'm guessing it'll be the big Sunday column.

Update: MSNBC throws its hat in the ring (via Slate, so it's kind of a twofer).

Our far flung correspondents

From a reader in Denver:

I am writing because it has only recently occured to me that you may not have seen some of the signs showing up in storefronts in Denver. I have seen these signs since shortly after the 9/11 attacks, and although I think that they are intended to comfort me, I find them instead to be quite unnerving. The sign depicts an American flag with two shopping-bag handles affixed to the top. The caption below reads "America: Open For Business".

While I realize that the nature of this placard is supposed to be along the lines of "they can destroy our buildings but they have not won!", I think that it also points to some of the more disturbing aspects of our national recovery. Most obviously it enforces the attitude of "it's okay that I don't remotely know what the government is doing, but they have told me that the best way to support america is to keep shopping, so i'm going to do just that". In this sense it is a case of government encouraging business to encourage consumption, which means that everyone wins except the consumer (and some poor bastards on the receiving end of a bombing).

The other thing that really bothers me about this signage is that it blatently (albeit unintentionally) condenses the greatest problem with this country, that it is constantly up for sale to the highest bidder, that the flag is nothing more than a metaphorical shopping bag to carry around dangerous self-interest while looking fashionable and respectable. The stars and stripes are here nothing more than a logo, which rises in popularity, goes out of style, and can only hope for some kind of cheap retro resurrection.

Anyhow, in case these posters for banality have enjoyed a limited run in the Denver metro area, I would be glad to procure one for you (like I said, they should be out of style any day now). I would be equally glad to investigate the origin of them (they are everywhere). I would also be just as happy to let this sit as a rambling diatribe to an edgy cartoonist who, no matter how nakedly he presents the truth, will never be listened to by the political powers. Its like complaining about the monarchy to the court jester.

But then, I have to feel like I'm doing SOMETHING, don't I? Either that or go out and spend!

Fair and balanced

A lot of people are having the predictable leftie-bashing fun with that statement of conscience, and being the open-minded sort I am, I thought I should give it a more careful reading, see if it is, in fact, just the work of silly whining America-haters, deserving of nothing but our contemptuous dismissal.

So, gosh, let's look at a few excerpts:

We believe that peoples and nations have the right to determine their own destiny, free from military coercion by great powers. We believe that all persons detained or prosecuted by the US government should have the same rights of due process. We believe that questioning, criticism, and dissent must be valued and protected. We understand that such rights and values are always contested and must be fought for...

In our name, the Bush administration, with near unanimity from Congress, not only attacked Afghanistan but arrogated to itself and its allies the right to rain down military force anywhere and anytime. ..The government now openly prepares to wage all-out war on Iraq - a country which has no connection to the horror of September 11. What kind of world will this become if the US government has a blank check to drop commandos, assassins, and bombs wherever it wants?

In our name, within the US, the government has created two classes of people: those to whom the basic rights of the US legal system are at least promised, and those who now seem to have no rights at all. The government rounded up over 1,000 immigrants and detained them in secret and indefinitely. Hundreds have been deported and hundreds of others still languish today in prison. This smacks of the infamous concentration camps for Japanese-Americans in the second world war. For the first time in decades, immigration procedures single out certain nationalities for unequal treatment...

We must take the highest officers of the land seriously when they talk of a war that will last a generation and when they speak of a new domestic order. We are confronting a new openly imperial policy towards the world and a domestic policy that manufactures and manipulates fear to curtail rights.

So. Human rights good, unchecked governmental power bad.

I can't say I have a problem with that.

Sure, maybe it goes overboard in places. "Dissident artists, intellectuals, and professors find their views distorted, attacked, and suppressed." Mmm--distorted, certainly. Suppressed, maybe. Bill Maher did lose his show--but television is its own world, and his ratings were never spectacular to begin with. I was interviewed by the BBC on this topic last week, and I think I may not have given them what they were looking for, because all I could say was that, sure, I've gotten a lot of nasty email, but that's not really the worst price anyone has ever paid for speaking their mind.

But then there's this:

The so-called Patriot Act - along with a host of similar measures on the state level - gives police sweeping new powers of search and seizure, supervised if at all, by secret proceedings before secret courts.

In our name, the executive has steadily usurped the roles and functions of the other branches of government. Military tribunals with lax rules of evidence and no right to appeal to the regular courts are put in place by executive order. Groups are declared "terrorist" at the stroke of a presidential pen.

Since there's nothing there that can be contested factually, I genuinely don't know how any American--let alone any civil libertarian--can read that and chuckle and say, oh those wacky leftists! What will they start whining about next?

(Parenthetical note to my conservative friends, most of whom probably live nowhere near my home, the primary target of Sept. 11 and still the most likely city to be destroyed by a suitcase bomb at any moment--yes, I have heard about the war on terror. I'm just not eager to trade in every last vestige of my freedom for the illusion of security, and frankly, living where I do, my money is where my mouth is.)

I guess it depends on whether you are the sort of person who spends your time worrying about what powerless lefties are talking about--or the sort of person who is somewhat more troubled to see the President of the United States dismantle our Founding Fathers' carefully constructed system of checks and balances and Constitutional rights in one of the most naked power grabs this nation has ever seen.

In other words, as American citizens are stripped of their Constitutional protections and the President grants himself theauthority to wage war at his sole whim and discretion--are you too busy surfing the blogs for clever denunciations of Noam Chomsky to pay attention?

In which case, you might want to think about those priorities a bit. In the long run, a President who declares the Constitution null and void is going to have a bit more of an impact on your life than some obscure left-wing writer whose politics annoy you. Trust me on this.


Monday, June 17, 2002

The Department of Pre-Banality

Several of you have written in over the past day or two to suggest a cartoon drawing parallels between the film Minority Report--which features a Department of Pre-Crime, or something like that, forecasting criminal activity and arresting suspects before they actually commit the crime--and the Bush Administration's arrest of Jose Padilla and/or policy of Strategic Pre-Intervention, or whatever name it is they're using to justify their itchy trigger fingers.

And don't get me wrong, it's a damn good parallel. It occurred to me as soon as I saw the trailer for the movie last week, when I finally wasted the obligatory couple of hours on the latest awful installment of the Star Wars saga.

The problem for me is, it's too good. Too obvious. I hate it when I read the paper and realize I've done the same cartoon as a hundred other cartoonists, and I suspect that's what would happen with this one.

I'm not going to paint myself into a corner here--it may be too irresistable not to use, particularly if it becomes a common cultural metaphor. So it may still show up in the cartoon, in one way or another. I just...think about these things, maybe too much.

But I will lay odds that even if it doesn't become the cartoon cliche of the summer, the movie will be fodder for a prolonged and painfully banal Maureen Dowd column within the next week and a half.

And I would truly cringe if I found myself, however inadvertently, following in Maureen's footsteps. I hope you understand.

This just in: conservative Christians collaborating with the Axis of Evil

Another one from August:

Conservative U.S. Christian organizations have joined forces with Islamic governments to halt the expansion of sexual and political protections and rights for gays, women and children at United Nations conferences.

The new alliance, which coalesced during the past year, has received a major boost from the Bush administration, which appointed antiabortion activists to key positions on U.S. delegations to U.N. conferences on global economic and social policy...

"We look at them as allies, not necessarily as friends," said Austin Ruse, founder and president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, a New York-based organization that promotes conservative values at U.N. social conferences. "We have realized that without countries like Sudan, abortion would have been recognized as a universal human right in a U.N. document."

The alliance of conservative Islamic states and Christian organizations has placed the Bush administration in the awkward position of siding with some of its most reviled adversaries -- including Iraq and Iran -- in a cultural skirmish against its closest European allies, which broadly support expanding sexual and political rights.

U.S. and Iranian officials even huddled during coffee breaks at the U.N. summit on children in New York last month, according to U.N. diplomats.

Complete story here.

Oh boy! It's Monday!

Okay, some random notes for the morning and then I've got to press my nose to the grindstone. Is that the right expression? As I look at it, it only evokes ludicrous images of a pre-industrial society of hard working people with extremely muscular noses. That's a hypothetical question, by the way. No need to respond. Really.

So, in Sunday's New York Times, we learn, in an almost offhand manner, that the war in Afghanistan was pretty much a complete failure, at least as judged by the administration's own purported goals.

Classified investigations of the Qaeda threat now under way at the F.B.I.
and C.I.A. have concluded that the war in Afghanistan failed to diminish the
threat to the United States, the officials said. Instead, the war might have
complicated counterterrorism efforts by dispersing potential attackers
across a wider geographic area.

Will the pro-war mob take a step back, grow reflective, think to themselves, hmmm--they were not entirely honest with us. Perhaps we should not be so trusting...?

Nah. New wars are always--as either Shaw or Dr. Johnson famously said of second marriages--the triumph of optimism over experience. It's Charlie Brown running up to the football, imagining that this time it won't be pulled away. This time I'm sure they're telling the truth! we think to ourselves, and someone, somewhere pays the price of our naivite in the coin of carnage and blood.

And speaking of that wonderful American spirit of clear-eyed optimism unaffected by experience or knowledge, you've probably seen this by now, just the latest in a long, long series of revelations of ways in which the FBI and CIA have abused their authority over the years. You'd think this one might be worth contemplating as well, as these agencies are given sweeping new powers and leeway. But, you know the refrain by now: That was several years ago! That could never happen now!

Sure. And monkeys are going to fly out of my butt, to quote those eminent fin-de-siecle philosophers, Wayne and Garth. Or, as Santayana put it with somewhat more subtlety, he who forgets the past is condemned to repeat it.

Years down the road, there will, of course, be revelations of abuses, dirty tricks, careers and lives destroyed. But the thing is, nice middle class white people are unlikely to be on the receiving end of any of this, so it will be quite easy for most of you to turn your heads and look away, to deny that any of it is happening. And once again, our ideals as a nation, the depth of our commitment to our principles, will have been tested, and found lacking.

"In times of war, laws are silent," as Rehnquist himself points out in this link (forwarded by my pal Wil).

I know, I know. A lot of you are sitting out there thinking, Sheesh! What an alarmist! And to be honest, I hope you are right. I hope I'm so far off base that it embarasses me to re-read these words a decade from now. But there is this small problem of the past as prologue, of learning from the examples of history rather than somehow believing that the world is created anew each day, and there are no lessons to be drawn from anything that has gone before. I know that when I wake up in the morning and there are storm clouds in the sky, I should probably take an umbrella with me when I go out. I know that the hot water in my shower comes out scalding, and if I do not mix in the appropriate amount of cold water, I will get burned. I know that if I don't take my dog for a run in the park in the morning, he will be a distraction for the rest of the day.

And I know that zealously conservative law-'n-order administrations will trample the rights of dissidents and the powerless like Godzilla taking a mid-day stroll through downtown Tokyo--particularly if no one speaks out, or if those who do are simply dismissed as whining Chomskyites, crazy alarmists, no need to pay attention to them.

Because this time, we can trust the government. This time it's different.



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