Belaboring the Obvious

Thursday, January 25, 2007

If I only had a [brain, heart, courage]...

... I might be able to stand up to Dick Cheney's silly shit. But, since Wolf Blitzer has none of those, he lets Shooter piss on him from a great height....

It's okay with the entire Cheney administration that James Dobson shits on Mary Cheney at every opportunity for purely political purposes, but, if the U-boat commander mentions that, Darth Cheney gets in a snit. And Wolfie pisses his pants for even bringing up the subject.

So much for the Fascist News Network.

Monday, January 22, 2007


... right-wing style. It's an odd thing. Membership in one of the right wing's welfare make-work institutes garners an individual the title of "intellectual." And yet, when the output of that individual bears no relationship to the actual intellectual pursuit of ideas, using accepted conventions of logic and thought processes identifiable to most people as sensible, the moniker "intellectual" never seems to be challenged. Because some Scaife-funded monstrosity of a "think tank" deems someone ideologically correct, the mainstream news outlets persist in the employment of that label (or its equivalent, "institute fellow"), even when it is profoundly unwarranted.

Case in point: Dinesh D'Souza's latest shit-stirring concoction, The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11.

Its premise, simply put, is to blame all non-neo-con influences for the attacks of 9/11. It doesn't matter that the neo-cons were in charge on 9/11. It doesn't matter that the neo-cons were obsessed with their goal of overthrowing Saddam Hussein in a quest for military and economic dominance of the entire Middle East and ignored every warning to keep their ears to the ground for sounds of bin Laden coming. Any number of other outright fraudulent or disingenuous assertions populate the book.

It doesn't matter that the premise depends heavily upon blaming the very same free market forces otherwise extolled by the right wing, by asserting that non-neo-con cultural products have corrupted both the US and Muslim communities world-wide. Yeah, sounds pretty fucking flaky, but that's D'Souza's line of thought--Sayyid Qutb was right.

For those not in the know, Qutb was a prominent force in the growth of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. His belief--based upon his experiences while studying education at the Colorado State College of Education in Greeley, Colorado in the late `40s--was that American society was decadent, its aims corrupt, and that Muslims would inevitably be corrupted by any Western influence, however benign (and, certainly, not all Western influence was benign, not by a long shot).

One of Qutb's complaints about American society, as he saw it in microcosm in then-little Greeley, was that Americans spent too much time on lawn care. It may be that Americans do, and might be a bit too competitive about it, but Qutb likely didn't know enough about American history to understand that suburban life was a very new post-war phenomenon, and that such interest in lawns not only reflected pride in home ownership unavailable to many prior to and during WWII, but was also likely an atavistic impulse originating in what had been, only decades before, a profoundly agrarian society.

Such is typical of Qutb's complaints about the United States. Upon his return to Egypt, he published them in an article, "The America I Have Seen," in Al-Risala, in 1951. Of that article, Rolf Potts says:

As travel reportage, "The America I Have Seen" doesn't exactly provide the reader with a vicarious window into living in the United States. Structured as a series of short, thematic arguments, Qutb's essay primarily attempts to prove that America--despite its great wealth and scientific genius--suffers from a corrosive moral and spiritual primitiveness. This thesis might have carried some rhetorical weight had Qutb backed it up with evidence from his own experiences, but--oddly--the Egyptian traveler didn't have many direct encounters worth sharing. Of the fifty-four brief sections in "The America I Have Seen," only eight allude to specific real-life observations; the other sections consist of broad generalizations and secondhand anecdotes. Perhaps his most memorable direct recollection is described as follows:

"In summary, anything that requires a touch of elegance is not for the American, even haircuts! For there was not one instance in which I had a haircut when I did not return home to even with my own hands what the barber had wrought, and fix what the barber had ruined with his awful taste."

Qutb's exasperation with American barbers humanizes him in an unexpected way: In spite of his relentless didacticism, we realize that our skeptical Egyptian exchange student was really just a querulous sojourner in an unfamiliar land, compulsively judging everything he saw through the rosy, idealized lens of his home culture.

Indeed, biographers have implied that Qutb's experience in the United States is what convinced him to reject Western values, but "The America I Have Seen" is clearly the memoir of a man who traveled to America seeking evidence for conclusions he'd drawn before he ever left Egypt. Never deviating from the Muslim fundamentalist assumptions he set forth in Social Justice in Islam (written before he visited the U.S. and published in 1949), Qutb's travel essay reflects the stereotyped sentiment--commonly encouraged by the Egyptian prejudices of his day--that America's material culture was morally inferior to the spiritual civilization of the Arab world. In fact, were one to strip the political cloaking from his essay, it's apparent that Qutb's experience of America was characterized by an oddly familiar combination of superficial experiences, paranoid conjectures, and passive culture shock.

What Potts does not mention is that Qutb's beliefs hardened after being jailed by Nasser for his political activities, in large part because of the torture he endured there (including being smeared with animal scents and then locked in a room with two German shepherds trained to attack on scent--Qutb had a heart attack during that particular incident). It was after that incarceration that Qutb began to believe that, in his estimation, Muslims made impure by Western ideas were fair targets for violent attack because even they did not know the extent to which they had been corrupted. When his countrymen tortured him, his response was to call for the extermination of not only those in the West, but his countrymen, as well. It was that call to violence which eventually caused Nasser to try him for treason and have him executed in 1966. In the meantime, his writings, smuggled out of prison, would have tremendous impact on a new generation of Muslim fundamentalists determined to eradicate "impurity" from Muslim life, among them, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who, when tangentially implicated in the assassination of Anwar Sadat, would also be tortured in prison after trial.

The ramifications of that seem to have been lost entirely on the neo-con armchair intellectuals averring that torture is necessary to protect the United States.

But, from the culture shock of an Egyptian exchange student in 1948, D'Souza is able to find common complaint with him about the decadent and destructive activities of all those not neo-conservative. For all those not neo-conservative and not D'Souza, the fundamentalist nature of that cultural alignment with Qutb is obvious. It's simply another way of saying that only the fundamentalists in society have a firm grasp of "The Truth," and, by virtue of that grasp, are the only segment of society entitled to lead, entitled to define what is "acceptable" in the culture and entitled to be the moral arbiters of daily life. All others are, of necessity, part of the problem.

This certitude is what connects all fundamentalists, whether they be D'Souza, Osama bin Laden and his spiritual advisor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, or the Pat Robertsons, James Dobsons and Jerry Falwells of American society, contradictions be damned.

And contradictions there are. When Sayyid Qutb condemned American life, he did so on the basis of preconceptions which had little to do with a newly-established post-WWII way of life. Now, almost sixty years later, the suburbia that became a fixture in America is, if Chris Hedges is right, in decline--not necessarily because of its inherent flaws, but, rather because of the economic uncertainties and social disruptions brought on by the very free-market forces espoused, in religiously fundamentalist terms, by the same neo-cons who find comfort in Qutb's cultural condemnations:

There has been, along with the creation of an American oligarchy, a steady Weimarization of the American working class. The top one percent of American households have more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined. This figure alone should terrify all who care about our democracy. As Plutarch reminded us "an imbalance between the rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics."

The stories believers such as Learned told me of their lives before they found Christ were heart breaking. These chronicles were about terrible pain, severe financial difficulties, struggles with addictions or childhood sexual or physical abuse, profound alienation and often thoughts about suicide. They were chronicles without hope. The real world, the world of facts and dispassionate intellectual inquiry, the world where all events, news and information were not filtered through this comforting ideological prism, the world where they were left out to dry, abandoned by a government hostage to corporations and willing to tolerate obscene corporate profits, betrayed them.

They hated this world. And they willingly walked out on this world for the mythical world offered by these radical preachers, a world of magic, a world where God had a divine plan for them and intervened on a daily basis to protect them and perform miracles in their lives. The rage many expressed to me towards those who challenge this belief system, to those of us who do not accept that everything in the world came into being during a single week 6,000 years ago because it says so in the Bible, was a rage born of fear, the fear of being plunged back into a reality-based world where these magical props would no longer exist, where they would once again be adrift, abandoned and alone.

The danger of this theology of despair is that it says that nothing in the world is worth saving. It rejoices in cataclysmic destruction. It welcomes the frightening advance of global warming, the spiraling wars and violence in the Middle East and the poverty and neglect that have blighted American urban and rural landscapes as encouraging signs that the end of the world is close at hand.

Believers, of course, clinging to this magical belief, which is a bizarre form of spiritual Darwinism, will be raptured upwards while the rest of us will be tormented with horrors by a warrior Christ and finally extinguished. This obsession with apocalyptic violence is an obsession with revenge. It is what the world, and we who still believe it is worth saving, deserve.

Those who lead the movement give their followers a moral license to direct this rage and yearning for violence against all those who refuse to submit to the movement, from liberals, to "secular humanists," to "nominal Christians," to intellectuals, to gays and lesbians, to Muslims. These radicals, from James Dobson to Pat Robertson, call for a theocratic state that will, if it comes to pass, bear within it many of the traits of classical fascism.

That movement, D'Souza persists, is secular, as well, but one wonders when his attacks on the culture find so much common cause with religious fundamentalists of both foreign and domestic stripes. As Katha Pollitt relates in a review in The Nation, "The Enemy at Home is not just slimy and nasty and silly, it's deeply confused. After all, who is urging Americans to combine with foreign powers against their fellow citizens? Not Bill Moyers. Who is saying we must adopt the mores of an alien culture or be destroyed? It's Dinesh D'Souza--surrender monkey."

Ultimately, D'Souza only proves that the right's comfortable associations with corporate media mask the intellectual poverty within the covers of his books. The media have helped him promote undiluted drivel by ascribing to him the appellation, "intellectual." That his grammar is generally correct and properly Dartmouth Republican in tone is no indication of intellectual rigor--indeed, it is designed to obscure the paucity of original thought in his writings and the sometimes downright absurdity of the conclusions he draws when depending only upon his fundamentalist conceits. When Stephen Colbert pried open D'Souza recently, he found the root of D'Souza's, and, indeed, all neo-conservatives' complaints:

COLBERT: But is all the responsibility Carter and Clinton’s? Doesn’t some of it lie at FDR’s doorstep? Doesn’t things like Social Security and Medicare and LBJ’s Great Society, doesn’t some of that send the wrong message to our enemies, that America cares about domestic issues and not just about foreign policy?

D’SOUZA: Indirectly, yes, here’s why.

COLBERT: I can’t wait. Can I guess? We never got to see him standing up, and, therefore, America doesn’t stand up for its principles?

D’SOUZA: No, FDR gave away Eastern Europe through Yalta, and then the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, the Muslims had to fight back and that’s where bin Laden got his start.
[emphasis added]

Ah, if only we could return to the days of the Gilded Age and the White Fleet, all would be well with the world.

Intellectual? Only if that term now also encompasses those who embrace an absence of ideas and the abject failure to employ ideas as useful tools. Like many on the right today whose prominence has depended upon a reductive and simplistic idée fixe inherited from their previous generation, D'Souza is a caricature of an intellectual, a cartoon character. Maybe, a character from the Simpsons.

(image by HamJava)

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Courting the Bully....

I suppose the Washington press corps thinks that they have to maintain a humane relationship with the President, because of the institution, and that's why there are White House Correspondents Association dinners. But, I wonder how this chumminess grew into the sort of sycophantic exhibition it has lately become--until Stephen Colbert's surgical filleting of both press and President last year.

Now that dependable and inoffensive Rich Little is the headliner of the WHCA's upcoming event, there's a sense, from that choice, that the WHCA has chosen to head off any controversy this year. This particular bunch of reporters has, fairly consistently, sucked up to this bad, bad President for too long, and this is one more indication of the extent to which White House reporters have been sucked into the vortex of the Beltway Effect. The Bushies have--almost from the start--bent the press over its knee and spanked it, told it to be good or no access. The press, ever since, has been quite willing to be polite to maintain that prized access. It started with the press' docile acceptance of Bush's preppy, and sometimes snotty, nicknaming of the members of the White House press, and it hasn't let up since.

In much earlier days, a press treated that way would have been sharpening its long knives for such a White House.

What's missing, mostly, is even remnants of an adversarial press. From attending Bush's barbecues to cutesy--and apparently genuine--laughter at Bush's deeply warped jokes ("nope, no WMDs there..."), there's a sense of the unreal about the relationship of the press and this particular occupant of the Oval Office.

What we have is one of the worst presidents in history, a bumbling, lying ideologue whose only talents seem to be for destruction and waste and rancor of the most partisan kind, and the press treats him like its favorite uncle, and its members behave as if they are his courtiers. Sure, there are exceptions--Helen Thomas, for one, and occasionally, David Gregory (whose aggressive questioning in the gaggle often isn't mirrored in his on-air reporting during NBC's Nightly News).

This reversion to safer comedic territory, despite the protestations otherwise, is yet another indication that DC's worst disease--clubbiness--is still epidemic. In the meantime, the country has undergone massive failures of government and a level of corruption that is literally unprecedented in modern times. The Republican Congress behaved like an organized crime syndicate, and the Washington press corps seemingly didn't notice--most of the better reporting on Congressional scandal came from newspapers in the hinterlands, such as the San Diego Union-Tribune on the Duke Cunningham bribery case, for example. It's as if the Washington press corps, too busy seeking invitations to the best parties with the best cocktail weenies, forgot its job.

It took a long, long time for the public to come around to the truth about the origins of the Iraq war--much longer than it should have taken if the press had been diligent about informing that public. Simply passing on, credulously, what the White House utters about anything is not informing the public--it's acting as the propaganda arm for an administration.

The first sign that the press was once again taking its job seriously--in a time of dire need for it to do so--would be for the WHCA to cancel its little hail-fellow-well-met get-togethers with this President for the duration. The second would be to reduce the breathless coverage of every White House pronouncement and put those freed-up reporters on the investigation of this President's many wrongdoings.

Rich Little, indeed.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Something Happened Last Night....

Every time Bush gives a prime-time speech, the media clowns do their best to find some tidbit in it that is either uplifting or imbued with even the shading of truth.

They usually come up pretty much empty-handed.

But, they do a great job of trying to invest Bush's speechwriters' words with some sort of meaning which doesn't exist in the original.

It's been almost four years, and "victory," despite plan after plan to achieve it, has never been satisfactorily defined. It wasn't last night, either.

Bush can say this is the "new way forward," but that is, after nearly four years of carnage, starting to sound like the Politburo's announcement of a new, new, new improved Five-Year Plan.

Even the saber-rattling in the directions of Iran and Syria isn't new news (remember the Axis of Evil announced in 2002?). The Bush-Cheney lust for Iran's oil is no more or less apparent now than it has been all along. The only thing that's interfered with attempted regime change there is the ongoing difficulty with, ahem, regime change in Iraq. And, um, in Afghanistan.

But, the one thing most of the pundits have seized upon is the mere mention of mistakes, as if Bush were admitting one or two. Did Dear Leader actually do that? Nope. The salient line was: "Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me."

Ah, the passive voice is modern American politics' wax of choice when turd-polishing, and Bush--more than any other modern president--thinks that spit-shining a nice fat brown one is as good as the truth. As The Rude Pundit puts it, this isn't an admission of error, it's the Decider-In-Chief's job description. In case All the President's Pundits have forgotten over the past six years, when someone admits a mistake, they will say, "I made a mistake," or something pretty damned close to that. In Bush's case, nothing less than, "Y'know, I really fucked up with this stupid war and it's time to let Iraqis be Iraqis" will satisfy the hard-core disbelievers. He's done so much weaseling around the truth that even "I screwed up" will end up sounding insincere coming from him, not that anyone should hold their breath waiting for him to utter something as plain and straightforward as that.

Just like Bush's forlorn, misbegotten war, this latest exercise in monotonal meretriciousness is, quite literally, even more of the same. More death, more failure, more attempts to justify the unjustifiable, and an evasion of the simple truth equal to the attempt to broaden the war. Fred Barnes can deceive himself and a few straggling others into believing this performance and so-called plan were Lincolnesque in character. If it was an indication of Bush's intentions for the region (and Chuck Hagel thinks it might be), it would more precisely be Nixonian, Johnsonian.

But, something important did happen last night, although it went mostly unreported. While this was always Bush's war, from the moment God or good meds or one of The Voices whispered in his ear to "smite Saddam," he could always fall back on the AUMF and the cooperation of Congress. He had others propping him up who had to share the blame. Now, as of last night, he owns this war, all by his lonesome. By ignoring the sentiments of the majority public, willfully downplaying the ire implicit in the November election results, along with failing to acknowledge the growing unhappiness in Congress with a lack of results and hundreds of billions gone down a rathole in the sand, Bush's determination to expand a failing enterprise is his bill of sale. He wanted it, he screwed it up and now, finally, it's all his.

Bush is now the proud owner of this busted jalopy of a war. I hope he and that Dick guy ridin' shotgun with him enjoy the ride, while it lasts....

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A War Not Worth Winning....

History is replete with dumb, ridiculous wars. Try on the Boer War for size. Or World War One, which still stands as a grotesque monument to the idiocy of both politicians and the military. Saddam Hussein's little jaunt into Iran, which lasted nearly a decade, started for aims that were miniscule compared to the carnage, accomplished nothing, and killed over a million people on both sides, and led to the debt that prompted him, just a couple of years later, to invade yet another country. The Falklands War, which Margaret Thatcher used to prop up her sagging administration and a sagging British Empire. Hell, even Honduras and El Salvador went to war with each other in 1969 over a soccer match. No point in even getting started on the twenty-year ideological clusterfuck that was war in Vietnam.

So, why is Bush now trying to escalate a war that has been entirely of his own making, that he's already mismanaged into a chaotic, destructive mess? Because, that's what stupid people do. Hey, he bamboozled the country into going along with him in the first place, right? It'll work again, right?


The latest USA Today/Gallup poll shows Americans opposed to increased troop levels by a 61%-36% margin. Not many undecideds/don't knows left in that. And, in the same poll, only 26% think Bush has done a good job with Iraq.

And the fifth-graders in the White House PR operation (which probably has as many planners as the Pentagon has for war) are still arguing amongst themselves if Bush should give his Wednesday speech in the Oval Office or the White House Map Room, because the Map Room looks all cool and military, with the World War II-era maps on the walls and such.

In more than casual ways, Bush's entire six years in office have been an attempt to manage the news for political purposes rather than to actually govern. When the PR message has fallen flat, Bush has tried to shoot from the hip, as Reagan often did, and has almost always missed his target. Call it administration by advertising. Bush has sought to sell the public a novelty product--himself--with the worst sort of hucksterism.

After September 11th, 2001, people were buying. Now, they're not, but that won't change the way Bush and the White House do marketing. They're still convinced the product is viable, even though its shelf life has long expired.

Bush and his war are cheap plastic crap, a glow-in-the-dark plastic Jesus in cowboy boots stuck to the dashboard of the nation, made carelessly and thoughtlessly, and marketed with a vengeance for maximum profit. There's little left to squeeze out of this boondoggle. It got him his second term, but that's all.

Buyer's remorse has set in. Bush and his very own personal war are starting to look, after years in the remorseless sun, faded and tired, and, well, tacky and stupid.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Because We Are Men...

... and not beasts, we can decide what is best for ourselves. We can make decisions to make war, or peace, at our choice.

Because we are men, we can decide to share our thoughts, our wisdom, our discoveries, or we can horde our knowledge and use it for the advantage of profit of the few.

Because we are men, sentient beings, we can foster the artificial divisions among, such as religion, or we can reject them.

Because we are men, with desires beyond the utterly material, we can share our art, our music, our literature, or we can use those things to divide us.

Because we are men, we can break the bones of the "others" we can devise to divide us, or we can heal each other.

Because we are men, we can do anything we desire. We can destroy each other, or we can leave each other alone, or we can cooperate with each other.

Perhaps, after we ruin each other for profit, or a particular notion of god, or some ideology borne of divided and mistaken loyalty, or a desire for power, we'll see the idiocy of such single-mindedness. But, probably not. We aren't that smart.

There is nothing at issue but the choices we make. Nothing.