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The Decline of American Integrity, by Tarri Hall

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) demanded recently that US Atty General Alberto Gonzales explain why Canadian computer engineer Maher Arar is still on the US's No Fly/Terrorist Watch List. Mr. Arar was siezed in New York in 2002 as he transferred planes. He had a Canadian passport and is, in fact, a Canadian citizen. Instead of returning Mr. Arar to Canada, the US shipped him to Syria where he was imprisoned for over a year and tortured. Canada began an inquiry into Mr. Arar's case that was concluded in 2006 with a determination that Mr. Arar had no links to any terrorist organization. Last weekend, Canada's Prime Minister Harper apologized to Mr. Arar and proffered a $11.5M settlement for pain and suffering, and legal fees.

Canada has viewed the US's file on Arar, whose imprisonment was due to erroneous information provided by Canada's RCMP and compounded by US policy. Canada has said there is no new information in the file and, thus, no basis for the allegations. This past week, Canada demanded that the US drop Arar from that watchlist and an apology be issued. It has also taken measures to ensure this doesn't happen to another Canadian citizen. And it has asked the US government, repeatedly, to remove Mr. Arar from its no fly list. In response, US Ambassador David Wilkins demanded that Canada quit butting into US affairs and Mr. Gonzales has stated that Mr. Arar will remain on the watch list. Despite repeated attempts by both Sen. Leahy and the Candian government the US remains unmoved in its position toward Mr. Arar. Obviously, the last thing in the world the US government wants is to apologize for detaining an innocent citizen from another country. The financial liability alone would be staggaring, not to mention the credibility issues that plague the Administration. Still, this is a remarkably open and shut case of grevious wrong and violation of civil liberties.

It's a very strange world when the name of an engineer is a household word - and a Canadian engineer, at that. Have you ever met an engineer? In high school, we didn't date these guys. They were nerds, geeks, guys who lamented the cost of pencils and used both sides of the paper before we knew that was important. They knew the stars, built weird mechanical things and watched Lost in Space. These are the guys that looked like Bill Gates before anyone knew what Bill Gates would look like. Most of them are dedicated to problem solving, math, balance, and, frankly, they're fairly introverted and like a quiet homelife. I know I'm generalizing but one has to wonder why the US is so determined to keep Mr. Arar on a watch list when everyone else in the free world seems to kow he isn't a security risk?

The Arar case reminds me of another engineer, a black engineer in Texas, who was arrested for armed robbery and given a life sentence in the 1980's ... Lenell Jeter. He proved that he was hours away at the time of the robbery but the local police hid information from the court because they had settled on a suspect. Mr. Jeter served over a year of a life sentence before he was released when malfeasence was proved in the handling of his arrest and prosecution of his case. I remember thinking during his trial that even to the most narrow-minded there couldn't be a conviction. And later, after the conviction, it seemed impossible that the conviction would hold on appeal.

This week, somehow, I believed that Sen. Leahy's demands would help correct a grevious wrong perpetuated by the paranoia of the Bush Administration. But once again I underestimated the determination of an unlawful authority to hide the abuses of any and all aspects of the power it has assumed. This Administration has consistently, willfully perpetuated wrongs and is proud of the crueler aspects of its personality.

It's odd that the right-wing persona of the US has remained so consistent in the 20 years since Mr. Jeter's case to now ... right and wrong are irrelevant when stacked against the fears, prejudices and financial goals of Americans. The will of the powerful is all that matters. The constitution is a by-word, and receives only the barest lip-service for minorities. [Note: Mr. Gonzales himself is going to be put in an interesting position if that 700 mile fence goes up between the US and Mexico.] The US has become an enemy of democracy even as she attacks countries and people in the name of freedom. Speaking for the Administration, Gamey Cheney calls into question the patriotism of anyone who questions the Iraq war. On another front, the religious right, a super power in the Republican Party, is gleeful at the thought of hundreds upon hundreds of thoughts consigned to eternal torment for such sins as stem cells, abortion, equal-rights, homosexuality. They even called the bombing of 9/11 the "wrath of God" visited on America for its sins. Does the religious right in America look much different than the religious fanatics of the middle East who visit the same damnation on the infidels in America? Finally, that financial base of the Republican Party keeps getting richer and richer. Exxon sits on $30B in cash while Ford and GM, the companies that helped make Exxon rich by building those gas friendly cars have laid off thousands of workers. Are you aware that you pay subsidies to these oil companies?

Up and down the scale, from any aspect, the Republican Party looks like the club arm of the far right used to pull money from every corner of the empire, limit the power of the legislative branch and states rights, and trample on individual freedoms and liberty. All in the name of god and security.

And this time, a Canadian computer engineer has become its unfortunate victim. Does it bother Americans when Canadians question the US' continued discrimination against an innocent Canadian citizen? Nope. George Bush demands that his black hole prisons outside the US be allowed to remain to get useful information from terrorist suspects. Places where US citizens know suspects are tortured. Where many of those suspects, no doubt, have no more information than Mr. Arar.

The US needs to look in a very large mirror and have a serious reality check. They have become the personification of their own worst fears.

Israel and the U.S.: What I Believe, Bobbie Christian

Israel’s bombardment of Lebanon has not occurred because Hezbollah captured 2 Israeli soldiers (who were in Lebanon when captured) it was only the excuse to instigate a plan which had already been planned, by the Israeli Zionists, the US Neo-Cons and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The combined agenda is to instigate World War III, a Judeo-Christian/Islamic war, with the goal being for US/Israel Empire to conquer all Middle Eastern nation states in order to obtain their oil. The ‘excuse’ being flaunted by the USA and Israel is that it’s a ‘war on terrorism’ but the reality is that both countries and their lackeys, including Blair, know that the war in Iraq, the bombardment of Lebanon and Gaza is designed to increase terrorist attacks as independent nation states attempt to save their countries from the US/Israeli war machine which wishes to conquer them. The plan is to increase the conflict by drawing in Syria and Iran, which will give the USA an excuse to attack Syria and Iran and eventually, all oil-rich Mid-East nations.

When viewing Israel’s purposeful bombing of Lebanese infrastructure and killing of civilians in a planned genocide, one wonders how the children of the Holocaust could engage in the same racism and genocide which was perpetrated on them sixty years ago. Since Israel was founded after the war, Israel developed a victim stance. They have instilled it into their citizens and brainwashed their children with this belief and have also instilled this belief on the international community. While the Holocaust was indeed barbarous and both Israelis and the world needed to be aware of the barbarism, this survival strategy has turned Israel into a country which believes it now has to be totally racist, has to believe that it is threatened by ‘enemies’ and has the right to attack their neighbours and to commit atrocities and war crimes. They have made their neighbours into enemies and the Zionists have used this belief to further their hidden agenda, invasion, occupation and annexation of their neighboring countries.

The USA didn’t have enemies in the Middle East for many years, even after the formation of Israel. The British were the ones who had imperial ambitions in the Middle East and were supporting the development of Israel as a nation by annexing land from Palestine. These ambitions and support of Israel’s annexation of Arab lands hastened the fall of the British Empire. Israel started courting the USA, the emerging super power.

Gradually Israelis in the USA formed, then strengthened their lobbies and positions in the federal government with AIPAC, using their victim stance to silence any politicians who dared to question their developing power in the federal government and the Neo-Con movement with visions of a global American Empire, reinforced with military force. This plan, as outlined in NPAC, was developed and many of the authors of this strategy paper were Israeli-Americans. This plan included invasion of Iraq and other mid-east nations in order to secure their source of oil.... The attack on the World Trade Centre allowed the Israelis and American Neo-Cons to put their NPAC plans into action. The Israeli bombardment of Lebanon is the next step, to be followed by invasion in Iran and Syria, ad infinitum.

Israel, through AIPAC, is dictating U.S. policy and Congress.... Democrats are supporting this because Israel has effectively brainwashed the USA into believing that if they dare to speak out, they would be labeled anti-Semitic and lose the Jewish vote. Unfortunately the rest of the world is supporting the atrocities in Gaza and Lebanon for the same reason, the fear of being called anti-Semitic and losing the Jewish vote in their countries. When some of the international community call for immediate ceasefire in Lebanon, aghast at the atrocities and purposeful genocide, they end up backing down and allowing further atrocities to occur. This is also occurring in Israel itself, where those Israelis who try to speak out against the atrocities are silenced. This strategy was also used effectively in the USA for two years after the 9/11 attack, where those who tried to speak out were called anti-American.

When Bush demanded that nations either be ‘with us or against us’ Australian PM John Howard began spouting the White House propaganda verbatim, including trying to silence Australians who spoke out against the Iraq invasion by calling them anti-American. Soon he will be calling those who speak out against the Israeli invasion in Lebanon and Gaza ‘anti-Semitic.’ Yet, it is important that Australians speak out....

If the USA and Israel stopped trying to invade and annex other nations and instead helped those nations to develop, anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism would abate instead of increase, as would terrorism. Unfortunately, the Bush administration won’t accept that, since the Republicans want American and world attention to be diverted from the Bush administration’s record of waste, fraud, abuse and corruption. It is imperative that the international community and its citizens speak loudly and clearly to stop this disaster in the making.

WMD History Rewrite, by Ivan Carter

The following is an email sent March 30 to reporter Dana Milbank and Ombudsman Deborah Howell of the Washington Post. It addresses the WMD intelligence issue in the few months prior to military engagement with Iraq, the two presidential candidates respective positions during that time, and the media's coverage of the issue.

Despite rigorous disagreement with Ms. Howell's own assessment of how to best achieve "balance," to her credit she did respond "This is a very thoughtful letter and I will share it where it counts..."  What, will become of that remains to be seen. 


Dear Mr. Milbank:

Your still timely article, "Seldom-Discussed Elephant Moves Into Public's View," from last year, noted that a group -- you called them "wingnuts" -- offered a $1,000 reward to any reporter who got the President to answer a specific question about the Downing Street memo.

As you note, the President (who didn't really answer the question) responded; "My conversations with the Prime Minister was, how can we do this peacefully."

But what did the "this" refer to?  Disarmament -- the stated purpose of the war?  Or the removal of Hussein -- the implied purpose during the election campaign?

Much of the media didn't seem to have a problem with the Administration's ambiguity on this.  Why?

The main question raised above has still not been examined: Whatever the "this," was that the President referred to as our goal, what was the plan to achieve it, in the President's words, "peacefully"?

Also, why did that plan fail?

These questions were all also largely ignored by the media. Why?

Because the administration intended all along to go into Iraq, and so ["needed"?] to be unclear about it?  If that is the answer, what does this have to do with the role of the media, and the issues raised above?

Especially given that; a) this was potentially the most important policy choice of the administration; b) it was the defining issue of the election, and, most importantly, c) the Administration ran its campaign for reelection based upon the theme of trust, candor, and forthrightness (as the President himself put it almost every day, "at least you know that I mean what I say") -- and upon the theme that their opponent, in marked contrast, did not.

Why is this still extremely relevant today?  It is not because of the Bush campaign's characterizations of both Bush and Kerry during that same election, but the media's role regarding these characterizations, relative to the facts, and the reasons why.

In 'October of '02, in a speech from Cincinnati, Ohio, the President told the nation that if the [Iraq] resolution was approved, we would use military action, "only if it proves necessary," and, that "approving this resolution does not mean that military action is either imminent or unavoidable."  That view had changed by March of '03, when the administration not only began military action, but then ran a campaign accusing their opponent of flip flopping on the issue by disagreeing with the timing and planning of it.

Much of the media also went along with this characterization, as well. But how was this possible? If military action was not imminent and unavoidable in October of '02, when we thought Iraq had WMD's and we expected the backing and authority of the United Nations, how was it nevertheless so imminent and unavoidable in March of '03 that Kerry was a "flip flopper" to still have believed the same thing?

Military action wasn't more unavoidable. It was less unavoidable. But not only was this never really addressed, again, much of the media also parroted these Bush campaign characterizations of Kerry.

Obviously, Kerry wasn't a flip flopper -- unless Kerry specifically knew that the "vote for me because at least you know that I mean what I say"President, on this most critical of issues, did not mean what he said.  And unless Kerry voted for the resolution to remove Hussein from power, carte blanche, and not to rid Iraq of WMD's.

But did he? Why would he have? The President himself repeatedly told the nation that the "war" was about WMD's.

But more importantly, here is what Kerry stated in his speech to the Senate in support of the resolution authorizing the use of force;  "in order to force inspections, you need the [legitimate] threat of force."

He also stated; "Let me be clear, the vote I will give to the President is for one reason and one reason only: To disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, if we cannot accomplish that objective through new, tough weapons inspections in joint concert with our allies."

Consider the following critical facts, all grossly underreported:

(1) As of the vote on the resolution, there had been no viable weapons inspections in Iraq for several years.  (2) Largely because of this, our assumptions about Iraq WMD's were made in the absence of sufficient data (most if not all of the intelligence reports regarding the state of Iraq's WMD's repeatedly emphasized this central point -- I know this because I read them).  (3) After the resolution vote, inspectors went back into Iraq.  (4) By mid March of '03 they had discovered that our assumptions may have been incorrect;  (5) they reported that they were finding scant evidence to support them; and, (6) they called for more time before acting.

Why were these facts almost never addressed, despite their relevance to a topic that dominated the election coverage?

This issue of flip flopping on Iraq dominated 2004, so this bears repeating here one more time;  Kerry, before the full Senate, just before the resolution vote; "Let me be clear,  the vote I will give the President is for one reason and for one reason only, to disarm Iraq of WMD's if we cannot accomplish that" through weapons inspections.

Subsequently, those same weapons inspections suggested that Iraq may not have had WMD, and thus to wait before engaging. (It's a message that three out of the four remaining permanent members of the security council heard, so it wasn't that garbled.  And again, even if it was, and even if much of the country was unaware of these things at the time, Congress and the Administration do not get their intelligence data from the news.)

Yet, according to the illogical logic of his opponents, playing upon the ease, in a largely sound bite world, with which the issue could be misconstrued, Kerry "flip flopped."  The same opponents, ironically, who again, ran their campaign on the platform of "at least you know we mean what we say."

Yet the media, far from correcting this fallacy, assisted in it.

In your piece, "My Bias for Mainstream News" (March 20, '05) you even point out (ironically, yet very tellingly), that your newspaper was cited by the Republican National Committee for supporting this very same characterization of Kerry regarding his initial "support" for military action in Iraq.

Why did much of the mainstream media, and your newspaper in particular -- a newspaper that much of the country likes to believe is "liberally biased"-- support such a misleading, and election changing mischaracterization?

Could the answer be found in the question itself? That is, could it be that the misperception that your newspaper (rather than the facts themselves) is biased against the far right, has affected the way that it presents and analyzes the news?

Real balance, as opposed to perceived balance, are two very different things.  In order to "support" a central right wing republican contention, and therefore, to at least appear "balanced," to the [currently dominate with the party] right wing of the republican party, in this instance, you had to ignore the facts.

While you might argue (and I would wholeheartedly disagree) that this is the case only "in this instance," it is the one instance that you chose to highlight in your sweeping editorial arguing in support of the objectivity of mainstream news.

It was also an instance which dominated election coverage, and changed the course of our nation's history.

Public perception on consistency and wishy-washiness changed the outcome of the election.  There were dozens of separate election altering factors.  Yet while many democrats may like to believe or argue otherwise (but they got a lot of things wrong in 2004, didn't they), this perception of Kerry had more to do with losing half of the middle core of voters than many of the other issues put together.  The election was about trust, and the voters did not trust or like Kerry because of his perceived wishy-washiness, many times more than the charisma issue.

This perception largely emanated from the almost always dominant Iraq issue. Yet the most critical, basic points necessary to make an informed evaluation were routinely omitted from the analysis, leaving the debates
grossly skewed, and voters, extremely misinformed

Again, why?

I suggest that the mainstream media has been affected by a highly orchestrated, persistent, creative and often rhetorically brilliant campaign against it by the right wing of the republican party -- who truly believe that it is the media's coverage, rather than the facts, that are [sometimes biased] against them. So affected, that, without a strong democratic message to counteract this, it joined in the defining campaign mischaracterizations of Kerry as a flip flopper (on Iraq, on gay marriage, on No child Left Behind, on the Patriot Act, on what type of orange juice he had for breakfast the other morning).

The larger problem, however, goes far beyond the election coverage....


Former NSA Director Odom Dissects Iraq Blunders
by Michael Hammerschleg

Former National Security Agency Director Lt. General William Odom dissected the strategic folly of the Iraq invasion and Bush Administration policies in a major policy speech at Brown University for the Watson Institute- America’s Strategic Paralysis . "The Iraq War may turn out to be the greatest strategic disaster in American history. In a mere 18 months we went from unprecedented levels of support after being one of the most hated countries…Turkey used to be  one of strongest pro-US regimes, now we’re so unpopular, there’s a movie playing there- Metal Storm, about a war between US and Turkey. In addition to producing faulty intel and ties to Al Qaida, Bush made preposterous claim that toppling Saddam would open the way for liberal democracy in a very short time... Misunderstanding the character of American power, he dismissed the allies as a nuisance and failed to get the UN Security Council’s sanction…  We must reinforce international law, not reject and ridicule it.”


Odom, now a Yale professor and Hudson Institute senior fellow, was director of the sprawling NSA (which monitors all communications) from 1985-88 under Reagan, and previously was Zbigniew Brzezinski’s assistant under Carter. His latest 2004 book is  America’s Inadvertent Empire.


Even if the invasion had gone well, Odom says it wouldn’t have mattered: “The invasion wasn’t in our interests, it was in Iran’s interest, Al Qaida’s interest. Seeing America invade must have made Iranian leaders ecstatic. Iran’s hostility to Saddam was hard to exaggerate.. Iraq is now open to Al Qaida, which it never was before- it’s easier for terrorists to kill Americans there than in the US..  Neither our leaders or the mainstream media recognize the perversity of key US policies now begetting outcomes they were designed to prevent… 3 years later the US is bogged down in Iraq, pretending a Constitution has been put in place, while the civil war rages, Iran meddles, and Al Qaida swells its ranks with new recruits..  We have lost our capacity to lead and are in a state of crisis- diplomatic and military.”


Odom believes in an immediate phased withdrawal. “There isn’t anything we can do by staying there longer that will make this come out better. Every day we stay in, it gets worse and the price gets higher.” 


He decried the “sophomoric and silly” titled war on terrorism. “Terrorism cannot be defeated because it’s not an enemy, it’s a tactic. A war against Al Qaida is sensible and supportable, but a war against a tactic is ludicrous and hurtful… a propaganda ploy to swindle others into supporting one’s own terrorism ... and encourages prejudices against Muslims everywhere. What if we said, ‘Catholic Christian IRA hitmen’? ”


“The hypocrisy is deeper than this. By any measure the US has long used terrorism. In ‘78-79 the Senate was trying to pass a law against international terrorism- in every version they produced, the lawyers said the US would be in violation.”


The fixation on spreading democracy was wrongheaded. “Holding elections is easy, creating stable constitutional orders is difficult. Only 8-9 of 50 new democracies created since the 40’s have a constitutional system. Voting only ratifies the constitutional deal that has been agreed to by elites- people or groups with enough power- that is guns and money, to violate the rules with impunity… Voting does not cause a breakthrough… One group will win out and take them off the path to a liberal breakthrough .. Spreading illiberal democracy without Constitutionalism is a very bad idea, if we care about civil liberties. We are getting that lesson again in Hamas.”


Odom called for a “great reduction in US oil consumption” and pilloried our “energy policy of no energy policy. As long as large sums of money roll into the coffers of a few Middle East states, a lot of it will leak into the hands of radical political activists. A “$2-3 a gallon tax could fund massive R+D programs for alternative fuels and generate a strong demand for greater fuel efficiency … Getting serious about nuclear power could also lessen our oil dependency.”


“No government that believes radical terrorist groups in Middle East are serious threat to us would do any less on energy policy.”


Withdrawing our troops from Europe and NE Asia was also dangerous, he said. “Large US land forces in Europe and East Asia have been important in keeping the peace among our allies… allowing businessmen to lower transaction costs… and account for unparalleled economic growth.”  President Clinton reduced the Army by about half, but Bush’s deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan “will leave the US unprepared to meet any other significant military contingency… leaving only one brigade in Germany and one in Italy, and eroding troop levels in Korea and Japan.”  Rumsfeld’s plans threaten to “hollow out NATO, ensuring the failure of military transformations of its new members.”


The adult crowd was wowed by the extraordinary density of strategic wisdom and expertise in the hour lecture and Q+A. Asked about the current NSA spying controversy, Odom said, “Well he just invited you to invite me to commit a felony. 18 US Code798 says ‘to disclose anything about how signal intelligence is done is a felony.’ ”  “Oh come on, Bill,” joshed a professor to a round of laughter. “After 9-11 Congress was willing to do anything. It’s inconceivable to me that they would not have cooperated to find a legal way to do this (warrantless spying).”


Most radically, Odom sees the US obsession with non-proliferation of nukes as damaging. “It dictated the invasion of Iraq, and now inspires calls for invading Iran. At the same time we ignore Israeli nukes, we embrace Pakistan and India, in spite of their nukes. This policy is not only perverse, but downright absurd. We will have more proliferation and we better get used to it.


A reporter’s question about the benefits of an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities provoked a fervent response. “I think we could have a rapprochement with Iran. You do that and you put it off for another 20 years. You want to be at war with all the Muslims forever?” Regarding a nuclear terrorist attack on a US city, “It’s gonna be bad. But they won’t kill us with one nuke. We can track a nuke back to the country where it came from (at least the fissile material, if there is a recorded elemental signature). These people know that! If we deterred the Soviet Union, think we can’t deter these pipsqueaks? We’re talking ourselves into hysteria. Now we have the incentives so structured that we cause proliferation.. If we bomb, good God man, that tells everyone in the world, get a nuke. We won’t bomb you if you have a nuke.”


He agreed that a catastrophic 10 year civil war like Lebanon was “a pretty realistic view”.  “Iran has told the Shiites, ‘don’t fight, do what the Americans tell you- the electoral process will put you in power, meanwhile we’re arming you and building up your militias. The Sunni insurgency is trying to provoke the civil war while we’re still there so they’re not left to face these militias after we’ve leave.” The Kurds “will get as much autonomy as they can and back out of the system. An independent Kurdistan is likely, but the two factions of Peshmerga might fight. Al Qaida can’t operate up there, so that will be a stable little island.” But Kurdish independence “won’t please Iran, Syria, or Turkey- a NATO ally.”


The victory of the numerically dominant Shiites (4 to 1) isn’t assured. “Odds look better for the Shiites right now. But the organizational capacity of the Baathists remain sufficient to be a serious contender. How much confidence and capability are these Iranian trained Shiite militias developing? They could fragment among themselves. The clerics may or may not be good organizers of the troops and police. The Baathist Party was modeled after the Soviet system- their ability to implement and impose and compel is pretty impressive. Syria is a pretty stable regime; Iraq was a stable regime.” The civil war could spread the Shiite-Sunni conflict among Arabs in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, maybe Bahrain.


Iraq “will have some sort of dictatorship- either a highly disciplined party or military organization. We just don’t have fragmented societies with such deep sectarian and ethnic divisions that are also nice stable liberal systems. Look at Canada with just two ethnic groups, that teeters occasionally. Where is Saddam when you need him?”


On escaping Iraq: “Once it became obvious I was getting out, I would go to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Syria, Turkey, and Iran and say, ‘I invite you to this meeting to handle stabilization issues as I get out.’ I would have a secret chamber with Iran and say, ‘You hate the Taliban, we hate the Taliban; you want to sell oil, we need to buy oil; your alliance with Russia is very unnatural; if you want to discuss the West Bank- I’ll talk about it but won’t give anything away.’


‘Oh, and by the way, I’m taking the nuclear issue off the table. You want nukes, have them. You live in a bad neighborhood.’ There’s no single diplomatic move that would so revolutionize our position up there.”


In North Korea Odom “anticipates a collapse. That regime is very much like the Soviet regime, they do not transform, they degenerate. When the leadership loses capacity or will to blood or terrorize the population, it collapses.” He sees a sudden reunification of the Koreas, followed by tensions with ancient overseer Japan. “Those 2 countries don’t like each other.” 

The Koreans say, ‘The Americans are crazy.’- just look at the public opinion polls and attitude of the South Korean government. Kim Jong Il knows just what to do to get the US to spin up in the air 3 times and bribe him on the way down. I see us on autopilot on a self-destructive path. China’s slowly replacing us. They’re becoming the peacemaker- they’re the ones who use their hegemony to settle things constructively.”


Odom sees ominous parallels with Vietnam. “How did we get in the (Vietnam) war? Phony intelligence over the Tonkin Gulf affair. Once we got in, it was not legitimate to go back and talk about strategic purpose, we were only allowed to talk about how we were doing- the tactics. We would not go back and ask whether  this was in our interests. I see the pattern so clearly here.  We have Iraqization- if they stand up, we’ll stand down. Training troops is not the problem. Political consolidation, not military consolidation, is the issue. Unless troops know to whom they should be loyal, they’ll fight some days, not others (and maybe against the wrong side).”


“If they (military power) get ahead of political consolidation, we know what happens then- a military coup.”


“This was imminently foreseeable by my poly sci colleagues who did not stand up and speak out loudly enough at the absurdity of spreading democracy when we’re really talking about Constitutionalism. Creating Constitutions- we don’t know how to do that! (at least not for 220 years) We are essentially paralyzed and can’t do much in the world cause we are bogged down in Iraq.”


“The declinists wake us up, so that we avoid decline; but the endists urge us to celebrate as we drift towards disaster. Those who urged us to invade Iraq are endists; I’m a declinist…. but only to revive my strategic optimism.” --posted April 23, 2006



Michael Hammerschlag's commentary and articles ( have appeared in Seattle Times, Providence. Journal, Columbia Journalism Review, Hawaii Advertiser, Capital Times, MediaChannel; and Moscow News, Tribune, Times,  and Guardian. He spent 2 years in Russia from 1991-94, while the Empire collapsed and multiple wars raged in the Islamic southern republics.

What to Do When the Emperor Has No Clothes
by Garrison Keillor

These are troubling times for all of us who love this country, as surely we all do, even the satirists. You may poke fun at your mother, but if she is belittled by others it burns your bacon. A blowhard French journalist writes a book about America that is full of arrogant stupidity, and you want to let the air out of him and mail him home flat. And then you read the paper and realize the country is led by a man who isn't paying attention, and you hope that somebody will poke him. Or put a sign on his desk that says, "Try much harder."

Do we need to impeach him to bring some focus to this man's life? The Feb. 27 issue of The New Yorker carries an article by Jane Mayer about a loyal conservative Republican and U.S. Navy lawyer, Albert Mora, and his resistance to the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. From within the Pentagon bureaucracy, he did battle against Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and John Yoo, who then was at the Justice Department, and shadowy figures taking orders from Vice President Dick "Gunner" Cheney, arguing America had ratified the Geneva Convention that forbids cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners, and so it has the force of law. They seemed to be arguing that President Bush has the right to order prisoners to be tortured.

One such prisoner, Mohamed al-Qahtani, was held naked in isolation under bright lights for months, threatened by dogs, subjected to unbearable noise volumes and otherwise abused, so that he begged to be allowed to kill himself. When the Senate approved the Torture Convention in 1994, it defined torture as an act "specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering."

Is the law a law or is it a piece of toast?

Wiretap surveillance of Americans without a warrant? Great. Go for it. How about turning over American ports to a country more closely tied to Sept. 11, 2001, than Saddam Hussein was? Fine by me. No problem. And what about the war in Iraq? Hey, you're doing a heck of a job. No need to tweak a thing. And your blue button-down shirt--it's you.

But torture is something else. Most people agree with this, and in a democracy that puts the torturers in a delicate position. They must make sure to destroy their e-mails and have subordinates who will take the fall. Because it is impossible to keep torture secret. It goes against the American grain and it eats at the conscience of even the most disciplined, and in the end the truth will come out. It is coming out now.

Our adventure in Iraq, at a cost of billions, has brought that country to the verge of civil war while earning us more enemies than ever before. And tax money earmarked for security is being dumped into pork-barrel projects anywhere somebody wants their own SWAT team. Detonation of a nuclear bomb within our borders--pick any big city--is a real possibility, as much so now as five years ago. Meanwhile, many Democrats have conceded the very subject of security and positioned themselves as Guardians of Our Forests and Benefactors of Waifs and Owls, neglecting the most basic job of government, which is to defend this country. The peaceful lagoon that is the White House is designed for the comfort of a vulnerable man. Perfectly understandable, but not what is needed now. The U.S. Constitution provides a simple, ultimate way to hold him to account for war crimes and the failure to attend to the country's defense. Impeach him and let the Senate hear the evidence. --posted March 3, 2006

Garrison Keillor is an author and the radio host of "A Prairie Home Companion."

© 2006 Chicago Tribune

Hillary Clinton vs. John Wayne:
Metaphors and Icons in a Divided Nation
© Charles D. Hayes

If you’ve ever watched a western or a war movie staring John Wayne and felt a touch of pride in being an American, then you are aware of the power of icons. And if you’ve ever heard a deafening clap of thunder and felt the force of a lightning bolt striking so close by that you feared for your life, then you can appreciate the enormous amount of energy that is dissipated in an electrical storm. Indeed, it’s because lightning carries both positive and negative properties that the lightning rod serves as an effective metaphor in the context of public opinion.

As an icon, John Wayne is hard to surpass when it comes to the patriarchal aspirations of mainstream America.  And as a lightning rod, Hillary Clinton may represent the mother of all metaphors when it comes to illuminating societal angst. Icons are distinctive because they negate the need to think; they are used politically to stir feelings. Metaphors, on the other hand, help us to learn; they are tools of language used for the sake of comparison. I think it’s safe to say that currently most people relate to Hillary Clinton as a lightning rod and to John Wayne as an icon, but I hope my granddaughter lives to see the day when most people can distinguish between icons, metaphors, and reality.

One of the biggest breakthroughs in my own learning I attribute to comprehending the significance of metaphor. Notice that in saying “biggest” breakthrough I’ve made the assumption that big is good.  Our ability to communicate derives from metaphor and analogy.  In general up is thought to be better than down, warm better than cold, we associate seeing with understanding and most of us in the Western world perceive of life as a journey of some sort. Our ability to understand anything and everything rests on a labyrinth of muddled metaphors that we have internalized without noticing that we have done so. In short, a metaphor is primarily a way to make sense of one thing from having understood another.

Icons fill in the gaps of our respective worldviews by causing us to relate or react in a certain way when we encounter them. The trouble with icons is that for many people they become more important than what they are supposed to represent. For example, national flags have a way of trumping ideas. The trouble with metaphors is that sometimes we take them too seriously. A metaphor becomes an icon when people care deeply about it; when it is a reflection of the meaning they find in the world. But one nation’s sacred signs and symbols are often just adjectives for their neighboring countries.

A lightning rod as a metaphor has the capacity to gather public indifference into an electrically supercharged storm of contempt, while the appearance of an icon invites awe and respect. Hence, for many mainstream Americans, images of John Wayne bring forth feelings of patriotism, but when they see Hillary Clinton, they hear thunder. Why?

It’s my observation that nothing reveals the negative properties of societal angst better than the unstable and antagonistic expanse between intellectualism and anti-intellectualism. The fuel that feeds public anxiety and misplaced hatred and bigotry is something I’ve come to regard as mainstream indifference—a psychological wasteland where thoughtless people are bound together by a yoke of stupidity that’s wholly accepted as plain old common sense. The social realm is anti-intellectual to the bone, feeding upon a disdain for eloquence in literature, the arts, and all serious endeavors that require cerebral verve. Such thinking frequently manifests as seething hatred, complete with public demonstrations of contempt for “others,” when actually, a lack of curiosity is the real culprit. This is what I call mainstream indifference, and I submit that indifference of this kind is a byproduct of egoism—a form of narcissism so extreme as to drive from conscious reality everything but self-centered actions that leave little room for focusing on anything else.

Furthermore, upon closer inspection, this frame of mind can be seen to contain an unacknowledged undercurrent of self-loathing.  It’s a kind of disdain for oneself for one’s own laziness. The person knows at some deep level that the indifference and laziness are contemptible but nevertheless makes no effort to change.

Here we come face-to-face with the great unspoken denial of American culture—an inconsistency so glaring, so blatant and so ubiquitous that for the most part it goes unnoticed. I’m referring to a tacit contempt for the compassionate ethos of Christianity that pervades our culture. What most Americans have been raised to admire (brotherly love and meekness notwithstanding) are bold acts of violence that are decisively un-Christian. Values don’t just fall out of the sky. We don’t find them in books, and we aren’t given them by others. We learn to value by valuing—specifically by acknowledging what we admire. When we admire something in the company of others, we are bound together by the experience.

The ethos of the rugged individualist, who shoots first and slugs the other’s cheek instead of turning his own, is antithetical to the teaching of Christianity. Yet this is the kind of person who becomes lionized among the populace. This contradiction turns out not to be much of a worry, however, since an apparent hallmark of Christianity is to preach one thing but do another.  As we’ve all seen in everyday practice, loving one’s neighbor actually means loving only those who follow the same beliefs and hold the same values as one’s own. Indeed, what is forgiveness if not a method for getting closer to what a person really wants and truly values without guilt for one’s own indiscretions?

It should come as no surprise that nothing reveals American values better than American cinema, especially westerns. In his erudite book, Cowboy Metaphysics, Peter A. French shows in vivid detail how the western genre is made up of factions split apart by opposing worldviews and by radically different ideas about death. Recall those muttering but scarcely audible mobs of people in the typical western, the townsfolk who are helpless to act in the face of oppression, but who are dependent upon the silent hard-hearted stranger who, without blinking, will leave their oppressor face-down in the mud, chest full of lead, and the air filled with gun smoke.

Of the passivity of the townspeople French writes, “You can be exceptional and flawed and therefore doomed, or you can be average and weak and scrape by. Those are the only options. The homesteaders and the independent miners (and in some Westerns, the townspeople) are chorus.” This gets us to an even deeper reason for the self-contempt I’ve mentioned, and it’s not flattering: the muttering crowd of townspeople, those who are obviously too submissive to do the un-Christian deed that needs to be done, don’t really count. These folks aren’t heroes—they don’t get speaking parts—and it’s hard to be proud of yourself if you’re considered one of them. But when you rally around the hero, identify with him and shun and ridicule those who appear to hold different values, a self can be redeemed, if only marginally, and indifference will see you through until a challenge arises or a lightning rod is brought to bear.

The chorus is large. Millions of people in America are neither gunfighters nor heroes. Moreover, many do nothing, whatsoever, that might be considered a citizen’s duty. They don’t vote; they know nothing of history, nothing of politics, nothing about the nuts and bolts issues their country faces, and yet they believe they know everything there is to know about Hillary.  And so it goes for all of those who do not read newspapers, magazines or books, those who do not seek out an in-depth study of anything, ever, but who know with religious certainty the righteousness of their own indignation over matters about which, for all practical purposes, they know absolutely nothing.  People hate Hillary Clinton but don’t really know why. They just hate her. She represents something they don’t understand and can’t articulate—not only that, but they are often proud of the fact that they can’t explain it.

They can’t explain their reaction because it’s a reflex—a very old one.  Many of our frontier traditions in America derive from herding cultures of previous centuries. In depicting the Old West, our filmmakers have glorified these conventions as larger than life, and mainstream Americans have internalized them, resulting in something just short of a red-state sensibility. Sheep herdsmen during Biblical times had a lot in common with cowboys: lose your herd and your honor is lost along with your livestock.  Moreover, in periods of social unrest, herdsman societies were win-lose cultures, where status was everything. The use of violence to protect one’s sense of honor has carried over to become the driving force in the western movie genre.

Western movies typically pit a feminine, East Coast, Christian worldview against the quiet and stoic stranger who’s willing to risk everything, even eternal nonexistence, often for the want of nothing more than a little self-respect, or in other words, honor.  In his last movie, The Shootist, John Wayne explains the code of the West to his co-star Ron Howard: “I won’t be wronged, I won’t be insulted, I won’t be laid a hand on. I don’t do these things to other people; I require the same from them.” This succinct characterization sums up the unspoken premise of honor in nearly all western movies—it’s the archetype for the Hollywood version of macho. Perhaps because I grew up with this mental picture of honor myself I still find it suitable for a civil society.

Unfortunately, in modern society, treating other people with respect is not where the macho ethos stops. A simplified but exaggerated form of today’s paternalistic and testosterone-driven ethos fuels the swagger that George W. Bush adopts when he spouts, “Bring it on.” The same unconscious impetus prompts him to walk with hands extended from the side, as if he imagines himself a gunfighter.  And it’s the same attitude that induced him to try to appoint a buffoon like Bernard Kerik as head of Homeland Security in 2004.

Deeper still in the psyche of those charmed by the philosophy portrayed on the silver screen is the notion that action or a fast gun nearly always triumphs over the better argument. Intellect and articulation are to be shunned; worse, they are feminine virtues. Those perceived as being too good with words are not to be trusted. And thus it’s not surprising that so many American males hate Bill Clinton for no better reason than he has a remarkable ability to sound as if he knows what he’s taking about. Even though George W. Bush can barely speak above a kindergarten level in a public forum, his supporters see him not as a man of words, but as a man of action. It is indeed ironic that Bill Clinton was one of the most articulate presidents in American history, and many people hate him for it. George W. Bush is one of the most inarticulate presidents in history, and yet he is forgiven this indiscretion because a man’s man is perceived to exist behind his simple facade. Bush acted after 9/11, even if it meant attacking a country that was not involved. His supporters can forgive this mistake more easily than if he had not acted at all. The townspeople often forgive the heroic stranger for a few moments of recklessness; it’s just the way of the West.

Now you might be thinking, “Wait a minute. We aren’t herding anything these days, and cowboys are long gone except for the drug-store type.”  You’re right. Even westerns are out of style. But westerns carry a powerful legacy about men being men and staying that way. The culture of the quiet man of few words comes through loud and clear to the present day. For example, one of the high points of the Harrison Ford movie Witness occurs when Ford, who plays a cop in hiding, disguises himself as an Amish farmer. When some local punks make fun of a group of Amish men for their willingness to turn the other cheek, Ford thrashes them, breaking the nose of one of the culprits. The satisfaction felt by the audience is palpable, and we are made to think that even the Amish are secretly happy these punks got what was coming to them.

My thesis may seem like a gross oversimplification, but a befuddled internalization of an ancient flock protection ethos, combined with a patriarchal, religious fundamentalism and Hollywood’s American West underlies what most of the men with pickups, gun racks, and Confederate flags attached to their antennas define as what it means to be a man. It’s a significant part of what paints the states they live in red.

Don’t get me wrong. I liked John Wayne and most of the movies that he starred in. But long ago my quest for objective knowledge made me painfully aware that, by and large, we celebrate a West that never was. I was more than a little disappointed to learn that John Wayne hated horses, and that he avoided active service during World War II to advance his film career. But the truth is that anyone who makes a serious effort to learn more about the world cannot help but be amazed that nothing upon close examination is as it appears, and there is no better example than the fantasy of the American West as depicted in movies. Growing up in Texas in the 1940s and ’50s, I knew the propensity for violence where I lived was very different from that in other parts of the country. It was easy to see. Those loud, gesture-rich arguments frequently depicted in media, and considered routine by residents of large northeastern cities, would result in immediate fisticuffs in the South, no doubt about it. There was no shouting or finger pointing in Texas, unless of course you were prepared to fight to back it up.

Regardless of the rhetoric about what Hillary is supposedly up to, she is likewise perceived as a threat to the patriarchal family. She is the archetypal Easterner; she speaks in complete sentences and is married to someone who speaks so well it makes him slick. If we translate the Easterner values from the 1950s westerns into today’s terms, we encounter individuals who try their best to find the better argument, people who give the notion of brotherly love something more than lip service, people who are unafraid of criticizing their own government, people who in fact believe that it is their civic duty to hold their leaders’ feet to the fire. In other words, I am describing the metaphorical  nemesis of the rugged individualist in western cinema: liberals. And this is why so many men, and some women, bristle simply at the mention of Hillary’s name. They know essentially nothing about her, and yet they believe that she is a threat to everything they care about. Among herdsmen, and in patriarchal societies in general, men are owners of the flock or the herd and all that goes with it, women and children included. This stuff comes right out of the Bible. It’s what George Lakoff characterizes as “the strict father morality” in his book Moral Politics.

The family in red-state America is a metaphor for male dominance; that’s what they think God intended. So, if you still have some doubts about my lighting rod metaphor, spend some time paying particular attention to the language used to describe Hillary Clinton by those who hate her passionately. Notice that the words they use to frame their arguments presuppose a protectiveness of their flock culture by speaking directly about a strict father morality and that they abhor a feminine point of view regardless of the subject. Even in matters where a woman would be thought virtuous, such as preserving a marriage despite infidelity, Hillary was ridiculed for standing by her man. The lesson for those of us who disagree with the strict father view of morality is that to engage conservatives in debate using their language to frame the issue is as futile as throwing stones at stones.

If Hillary Clinton were president of the United States, I don’t profess to know what kind of leader she would be. But I don’t think she would lie to us to get us into a war so that her legacy would have the potential to remind us of John Wayne.  I don’t think she would turn over the welfare of American workers to big business. I don’t think she would consider it business as usual that more that 45 million Americans are without health insurance. Moreover, I think she would go full steam ahead for stem-cell research. I don’t think she would support laws that make it impossible for the average citizen to seek legal redress in the courts.  I don’t think she would undermine social security under the guise of reform. I don’t think she would champion the idea of democracy while presiding over one of the most undemocratic administrations in American history. Nor would she opt for being the most secretive administration since World War II. I don’t think she would implement a foreign policy that would cause America to be seen as a self-absorbed bully. I don’t think she would go along with undoing years of environmental protection, giving the petrochemical industry license to do as it wishes. I don’t think she would deny the scientific evidence for global warming. I don’t think she would let the oil industry write the rules for our energy policy. I don’t think she would argue that Intelligent Design should be taught alongside evolution. I don’t think she would confuse the boundaries of church and state. And I don’t think that millions of people would cringe with embarrassment every time she spoke in public. I don’t think her impromptu remarks to the press would incite a jihad, as was the case when Bush spoke of a “crusade.”  And finally, if Hillary is elected president, millions of people will continue to hate her, they will still wince when they hear her name, but, unlike the case of President Bush, I don’t think a significant number of her detractors or supporters around the world will really and truly believe, at a gut level, that she is egregiously incompetent.

All of this speculation reflects my own wishful thinking, of course. But the truth of the matter is that for any woman to be elected president of the United States, she will have to be seen by a significant portion of the population as more decisive than thoughtful and more hawkish on all matters of defense than most men are, just to be seen as remotely qualified.  She will have to be viewed as an iron-skirted Margaret Thatcher before most red-state people will consider her to be a viable candidate. All you have to do to verify this for yourself is to watch Geena Davis in Commander in Chief and witness the great lengths the show’s writers go to in making this point clear.

Respect, honor, toughness, and a willingness to act decisively are very important aspects of leadership. But when an immature and adolescent worldview results in a ready, fire, aim, war policy for the sake of appearing presidential in the eyes of a constituency of indifferent townspeople inspired by Hollywood heroics, it amounts to a slap in the face of reason and a stain on American history.

I don’t believe that maturity as a nation is possible until such time as it is commonplace for average citizens to achieve a level of objective thought that enables them to deconstruct the metaphors and icons that shape the everyday reality of popular culture. Metaphors and icons are wonderful tools of expression, but if we can’t see through them, then it is more accurate to say that instead of having ideas, our ideas have us. Being a prisoner to an ideology makes us vulnerable to anyone and everyone with a political agenda who know full well which lightning rods will get our attention and which icons will cause us to stop thinking. --posted Feb. 18, 2006


The views expressed are the writer's own and do not necessarily reflect those of Bush Watch.