A late but welcome reassessment from Conor Friedersdorf: Breaking Bad as an analogy for post-9/11 America. “The world dealt us an unfair blow, and we used it as an excuse to break bad…We became inured to the selfishness of our actions. We slid predictably down the slope upon which we stepped, and the farther we go the uglier it gets. We haven’t hit bottom yet or anything close to it.”
Thanks to info provided by Edward Snowden, the WaPo builds on their earlier Top Secret America coverage with a first-ever detailed summary of the “Black Budget.” “The document describes a constellation of spy agencies that track millions of individual surveillance targets and carry out operations that include hundreds of lethal strikes.”
Among the revelations here: “Spending by the CIA has surged past that of every other spy agency, with $14.7 billion in requested funding for 2013. The figure vastly exceeds outside estimates and is nearly 50 percent above that of the National Security Agency, which…has long been considered the behemoth of the community…The CIA’s dominant position will likely stun outside experts.”
Also of note: This multi-billion-dollar, post-9/11 technological terror we’ve constructed “remain[s] unable to provide critical information to the president on a range of national security threats..A chart outlining efforts to address key questions on biological and chemical weapons is particularly bleak…The intelligence community seems particularly daunted by the emergence of ‘home grown’ terrorists who plan attacks in the United States without direct support or instruction from abroad.”
In other words, what we have here is a resource-swallowing, clandestine intelligence-industrial bureaucracy that’s nonetheless incapable of actually doing what it’s ostensibly being funded to do. You can see why they’d want to keep this sort of thing secret.
Update: “Since 2007, we’ve known how much the total Black Budget is (before that, with some years excepted, we didn’t even know that), but not how much is spent on specific things. Now we know that too.” Eleven budget charts to help make sense of it all.
I will say this: Since last week we watched Democrats — Democrats — chant USA, call out Mitt Romney for being insufficiently for the troops, and all but roll the severed head of Osama Bin Laden out on stage, perhaps it’s time to regain a little perspective.
9/11 was a horrible crime that demanded justice. It was also an event, it has now become clear, that could have and should have been prevented by the Dubya administration using traditional, pre-9/11 intelligence methods. Since that dark day, nine people have died in our indefinite detention prison camp at GitMo. The only person being prosecuted for the Dubya-era torture regime is the whistleblower. And we’re now set to unleash a wave of SKYNET-like drones over our own territory in the name of keeping us safe.
It’s long past time to stop compounding the tragedy of what happened in New York and Washington eleven years ago by shredding the constitution in response. It’s time to get back to being America again.
It was a terrible day ten years ago, to be sure. But, I’m with Paul Krugman and The Onion. The horrors of that day can’t justifiy away torture, wars-of-choice, or any of the other ugly facets of the the low, dishonest decade that has followed.
Sigh. In the WP, Dana Priest and William Arkin attempt to survey the breadth and depth of our post-9/11 intelligence complex, and the results are troubling, to say, the least. Basically, nobody, not even the SecDef, has any clue how big some of these programs are, or what the armies of private contractors are up to half the time. “After nine years of unprecedented spending and growth, the result is that the system put in place to keep the United States safe is so massive that its effectiveness is impossible to determine…’Because it lacks a synchronizing process, it inevitably results in message dissonance, reduced effectiveness and waste,” Vines said. “We consequently can’t effectively assess whether it is making us more safe.’” If you have to ask…
For a good overview of the Post‘s laudable coverage, check out this worthwhile post from Wired‘s Danger Room and Glenn Greenwald’s pithy summation of the problem. “This world is so vast, secretive and well-funded that it’s very difficult to imagine how it could ever be brought under control…[Meanwhile] The Drudge and Politico sewers still rule our world — ‘fights over nothing’ — and happily distract us from Top Secret America, what it does and what it takes.” But, hey, what’s Sarah Palin been up to?
I’m way behind on my movies (although I made some headway today — more soon) and still haven’t caught United 93 yet…Nevertheless, the trailer for Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center is now online. Hm. This looks exploitative as all-git-out, and, while Conan and Nixon will always get him points, Stone has lost major cred with me after Any Given Sunday and the atrocious Alexander. I’ll probably miss it.
“With today’s agreement, we can now move forward with rebuilding the World Trade Center.” After months of wrangling, developer Larry Silverstein and the Port Authority strike a deal on the planned “Freedom Tower” at the WTC site. Said Pataki: ““This is the last stumbling block to putting shovels in the ground.” Construction on the 1776-foot Freedom Tower is set to be completed by 2012.
The new trailer for United 93 is now online. This idea of this film feels really unnecessary and verges on exploitative…but, as I said with the teaser, Paul Greengrass is a pretty darned good director, so I’m still curious to see what he makes of it.
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.” That flaming liberal Dwight Eisenhower’s somber farewell address to the nation is the historical and thematic anchor for Eugene Jarecki’s documentary Why We Fight, a sobering disquisition on American militarism and foreign policy since 9/11. In essence, Why We Fight is the movie Fahrenheit 9/11 should have been. Like F911, this film preaches to the choir, but it also makes a more substantive critique of Dubya diplomacy and the 9/11-Iraq switcheroo, with much less of the grandstanding that marred Moore’s earlier documentary (and drove right-wing audiences berzerk.)
Sadly, the basic tale here is all-too-familiar by now. Ensconced in Dubya’s administration from the word go, the right-wing think-tank crowd (Wolfowitz, Perle, Kristol, etc.) used the tragedy of 9/11 as a pretext to enact all their neocon fantasies (spelled out in this 2000 Project for a New American Century report), beginning in Iraq. Taken into consideration with Cheney the Military-Contractor-in-Chief doling out fat deals to his Halliburton-KBR cronies from the Vice-President’s office, and members of Congress meekly signing off on every military funding bill that comes down the pike (partly because, as the film points out, weapons systems such as the B-1 or F-22 have a part built in every state), it seems uncomfortably clear that President Eisenhower’s grim vision has come to pass.
To help him rake this muck, Jarecki shrewdly gives face-time not only to learned critics of recent foreign-policy — CIA vet Chalmers Johnson, Gore Vidal (looking unwell) — but also to the neocons themselves. Richard Perle is here, saying (as always) insufferably self-serving things, and Bill Kristol glows like a kid in a candy store when he gets to talk up his role in fostering Dubya diplomacy. (Karen Kwiatkowski, a career military woman who watched the neocon coup unfold within the corridors of the Pentagon, also delivers some keen insights.) And, when discussing the corruption that festers in the heart of our Capitol, Jarecki brings out not only Charles Lewis of the Center for Public Integrity but that flickering mirage of independent-minded Republicanism, John McCain. (In fact, Jarecki encapsulates the frustrating problem with McCain in one small moment: Right after admitting to the camera that Cheney’s no-bid KBR deals “look bad”, the Senator happens to get a call from the Vice-President. In his speak-of-the-devil grimace of bemused worry, you can see him mentally falling into line behind the administration, as always.)
To be sure, Why We Fight has some problems. There’s a central tension in the film between the argument that Team Dubya is a corrupt administration of historical proportions and the notion that every president since Kennedy has been party to an increasingly corrupt system, and it’s never really resolved satisfactorily here. Jarecki wants you to think that this documentary is about the rise of the Imperial Presidency across five decades, but, some lip service to Tonkin notwithstanding, the argument here is grounded almost totally in the Age of Dubya. (I don’t think it’s a bad thing, necessarily, but it is the case.) And, sometimes the critique seems a little scattershot — Jarecki seems to fault the Pentagon both for KBR’s no-bid contracts and, when we see Lockheed and McDonnell-Douglas salesmen going head-to-head, for bidding on contracts. (Still, his larger point is valid — As Chalmers Johnson puts it, “When war becomes that profitable, you’re going to see more of it.“)
Also, the film loses focus at times and meanders along tangents — such as the remembrances of two Stealth Fighter pilots on the First Shot Fired in the Iraq war, or the glum story of an army recruit in Manhattan looking to turn his life around. This latter tale, along with the story of Wilton Sekzer, a retired Vietnam Vet and NYPD sergeant who lost his son on 9/11 and wants somebody to pay, are handled with more grace and less showmanship than similar vignettes in Michael Moore’s film, but they’re in the same ballpark. (As an aside, I was also somewhat irked by shots of NASA thrown in with the many images of missile tests and ordnance factories. Ok, both involve rockets, research, and billions of dollars, but space exploration and war are different enough goals that such a comparison merits more unpacking.)
Nevertheless, Why We Fight is well worth-seeing, and hopefully, this film will make it out to the multiplexes. If nothing else, it’ll do this country good to ponder anew both a president’s warning about the “disastrous rise of misplaced power,” and a vice-president’s assurance that we’ll be “greeted as liberators.”
By way of LMG, an online exhibit on the response in comics to 9/11, featured on an intriguing site in its own right: The Authentic History Center: Primary Sources from American Popular Culture.
The teaser for Flight 93, first of the 9/11 movies out of the box, is online. Normally, I wouldn’t be interested in this project, but the presence of Paul Greengrass (Bloody Sunday, The Bourne Supremacy, the aborted Watchmen) at the helm is an X-factor. (Expect lots of shakicam.)
In all honesty, be it due to exposure to Deadwood, Grand Theft Auto, or the school bus, I found most iterations of the joke less transgressive than they were just repetitive. While some comedians bomb with the joke (Taylor Negron, Lisa Lampanelli, David Brenner, and Emo Phillips, to whom the years have not been kind), others seem to have never heard it (Chris Rock, Eddie Izzard), and still others hedge their bets (Paul Reiser, Drew Carey), I’d say up to 85% or so of the tellers just seem content to swim around in the same sex-and-defecating pool like demented eighth graders afflicted with the giggles. Sick-and-twisted-funny, sure, but not over and over again (which is why the movie wisely begins throwing in a mime version, two magic versions, and other more idiosyncratic iterations after awhile.)
Still, some comedians do shine with the material. George Carlin and Bill Maher in particular offer sound insights into the joke’s past and present. (As Maher and Lewis Black note, the Aristocrats stand in increasing danger of being overtaken by Reality TV.) Martin Mull, Carrie Fisher, “Christopher Walken,” and Sarah Silverman deserves points for telling roundabout or slightly off-kilter versions of the same sordid story. And Bob Saget gets a gold star for performing a bizarre career self-immolation and running with easily one of the most inventive and disgusting versions of the joke…no more America’s Funniest Home Videos, for him, I’d wager. (Jason Alexander’s isn’t bad, either.)
Much is made of a cathartic public telling of the joke by Gilbert Gottfried soon after 9/11, but, frankly, it doesn’t come across. In fact, in a way that version belies the problem I had with most tellings of the joke. By avoiding the 9/11 tragedy to focus on ungodly shagging and bodily fluids, Gottfried wasn’t being transgressive — he was playing it safe (and, to his credit, uniting the comic world with a joke they all shared, which was more likely his intention.) Still, Jeffrey Ross’ riposte to Rob Schneider that night — “Hasn’t there been enough bombing in this city?” — seems closer to the anarchic, tasteless, subversive, and shocking spirit the Aristocrats needs to be anything more than an endless litany of fart jokes. Different strokes for different folks, I know. But, given that I was watching the film while the Aristocrats in office bumbled their way through the tragedy of errors that was Katrina, I just found myself thinking that, in today’s dark times, the strictly vulgarian canoodling of most versions of the joke seemed, well, quaint, out-dated, and devoid of edge…in some ways, even tame, or as tame as a joke involved incest, bestiality, and sodomy can be. (For their part, the masterminds behind The Onion are, I think, the only comedians to broach politics in the film.)
Not to miss the forest for the trees, though, I wasn’t really brooding on this during the film so much as laughing at every third or fourth version of the joke…which, if you think about it, isn’t all that bad a hit rate. So, check out The Aristocrats on cable if you don’t mind the dirty-talk…but, please, don’t try this at home.
“Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers…I don’t know about you, but moderation and restraint is not what I felt when I watched the twin towers crumble to the ground.” No, Karl, you felt confusion and stark abject terror…or is there some other reason why our Fearless Leader spent that fateful day (post-Pet Goat, of course) AWOL in the skies over Louisiana and Nebraska, leaving Mayor Giuliani to rally the nation?
At any rate, I’m sensing a pattern here…Soon after a GOP rep invokes 9/11 to flog a flag-burning amendment, White House strategist Karl Rove wallows in 9/11 and liberal-bashing before a GOP crowd here in NYC. Phew, talk about a Hail Mary. That dated soft-on-terror swill isn’t going to get lame duck Dubya’s domestic agenda off the ground, Karl. So you’d best start scroungin’ through that bottomless bag of dirty tricks for a different silver bullet. This outrageous claptrap is sad, pathetic, and demeaning…even coming from a right rotten bastard like Rove. Update: The Dems respond, and the White House digs in.
Here’s an oldie-but-goodie from the GOP…by a margin of 286-130, the House pass another variation on the anti-flag-burning amendment. “‘Ask the men and women who stood on top of the (World) Trade Center,’ said Rep. Randy (Duke) Cunningham, R-Calif. ‘Ask them and they will tell you: pass this amendment.’” Yes, I’m sure the victims of that day were calling their loved ones by cellphone during those horrible moments to voice their support for a freakin’ flag-burning amendment. Have you no shame, Mr. Cunningham?
“‘Everyone was standing in line with their silver bullets to make us more secure after Sept. 11,’ said Randall J. Larsen, a retired Air Force colonel and former government adviser on scientific issues. ‘We bought a lot of stuff off the shelf that wasn’t effective.’” Yep, unfortunately we purchased billions of dollars of defective garbage in the post-9/11 rush to defend the homeland, a mistake that will cost several billion more to rectify. “After 9/11, we had to show how committed we were by spending hugely greater amounts of money than ever before, as rapidly as possible,” said Representative Christopher Cox, a California Republican who is the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. “That brought us what we might expect, which is some expensive mistakes.”
In a boon for conspiracy theorists the world over, Rumsfeld refers to the 9/11 Pennsylvania plane as “shot down.” Said Rummy during one of his usual rambling Two Minutes Fear-type screeds, “I think all of us have a sense if we imagine the kind of world we would face if the people who bombed the mess hall in Mosul, or the people who did the bombing in Spain, or the people who attacked the United States in New York, shot down the plane over Pennsylvania and attacked the Pentagon, the people who cut off peoples’ heads on television to intimidate, to frighten — indeed the word ‘terrorized’ is just that.” Freudian slip or slip of the tongue? Either way, it was a bonehead mistake.
After a long and tortuous road, including some last-minute GOP balking, Dubya signed the intelligence bill into law today. “The new law, which grew out of last summer’s report of the national commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, brings together the 15 separate intelligence agencies into a single command structure, legislates creation of a National Counter Terrorism Center, increases border security and establishes a civil liberties board to serve as a check on excesses in the war on terrorism.” Sounds good…now let’s get that bastard Buttle.
“I become irritated or disgusted only when anyone attempts to enlist these now voiceless dead for their own purposes. Respectful silence would be a far better response.” So writes Slate‘s gone-to-seed Dubya apologist Christopher Hitchens about the 1000 dead soldiers in Iraq. Would that the victims of 9/11 three years ago today were given the same courtesy. R.I.P. [0, 1, 2]
While the Senate (led by Senators Lieberman, McCain, Bayh, and Specter) has crafted a bipartisan security bill that encompasses all of the 9/11 commission’s suggestions, Tom DeLay and the House GOP are, as per usual, off the reservation. “DeLay said the House will rely largely on its own expertise and insights, adding that ‘we have plenty of experts on our committees.’” Well, what was the point of having a commission, then? And, I don’t care how big the roaches are in Sugarland, Texas, Tom. Your “expertise” as a bug exterminator just isn’t going to cut it.
“When Alexis de Tocqueville visited the United States in the 1830s, he was struck by Americans’ conviction that ‘they are the only religious, enlightened, and free people,’ and ‘form a species apart from the rest of the human race.’ Yet American independence was proclaimed by men anxious to demonstrate ‘a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.’…[I]t is our task to insist that the study of [American] history should transcend boundaries rather than reinforcing or reproducing them.” Eric Foner, in a wide-ranging 2003 essay recently posted on HNN, contemplates the direction of American history after 9/11.
“Only in an election year ruled by fiction could a sissy who used Daddy’s connections to escape Vietnam turn an actual war hero into a girlie-man.” A more irate-than-usual Frank Rich examines how Dubya’s minions have kept him a leg up in today’s testosterone-fueled election cycle, despite the fact that “nearly anyone is more manly than a president who didn’t have the guts to visit with the 9/11 commission unaccompanied by a chaperone.”
Well, with talk of deregulation, privatizing Social Security, tax code “simplification”, anti-gay and pro-life rhetoric, “Hollywood value” and “activist judge” hectoring…all punctuated by that off-putting and consistently out-of-place chimp smirk, you can’t say Dubya didn’t warn us about his plans for a ultra-conservative second term last night. (And for a man who was heroic enough to stop circling Nebraska and venture down to Ground Zero three long days after 9/11, he seemed amazingly ready to bolt-and-run at the sign of one measly protestor.)
Not much was said about Dubya’s first four years in office, of course, aside from 9/11 (9/11, 9/11) and the usual conflation of Al Qaeda and Saddam. But, really, what can he say? Deficits through the roof, the worst jobs record since Herbert Hoover, 1000 men and women dead in a needless diversion of a war…His administration has been an embarrassment of historic proportions. And it is time for him to go. (Dubya video via I’m Just Sayin’.)
I often run cold on Will Saletan, but I thought his summary of last night’s GOP speeches was dead on. On the subtext of John McCain’s remarks: “Forget the tax cuts. Forget the outsourcing. Forget the dividend tax breaks and the estate tax repeal. Pay no attention to the hand in your pocket. Close your eyes and think of America.” On Giuliani’s fib-filled suck-up to Dubya: “[T]he most important characteristic of a great speaker — contrary to the view of my colleagues who are raving about Giuliani’s speech — is being honest. Bush wasn’t right, and Giuliani isn’t honest, and no amount of bullheadedness can make up for that.”
Whatsmore, Saletan has kept his current streak going with today’s piece on the problem with Dubya’s so-called courage: “Pardon me for asking, but where exactly is the heroism in this story? Where, indeed, is the heroism in anything Bush has done before 9/11 or since?…This is Bush’s heroism? Showing up three days later, ‘remaining in the area,’ and enduring a hug?”
“Clinton says in 1999 to General Hugh Shelton, ‘You know, it would scare the s**t out of al-Qaeda if suddenly a bunch of black ninjas rappelled out of a helicopter into the middle of their camp,’ 189.” N+1 indexes the 9/11 Commission Report, so you can get straight to the good parts.
If you’ve been keeping up with pretty much any lefty blog since 2000 (including this one), the central and most powerful allegations made here — that Dubya and the Neocons played bait-and-switch on the American people in Iraq and used 9/11 as a pretext for all kinds of terrible legislation, while doing pathetically little to minimize the actual threat of terrorism — will not come as a surprise. Still, when the data is laid out before you here like ducks in a row, from the Florida fiasco in 2000 through to the recent stonewalling of the 9/11 commission a few weeks ago, the continued pattern of incompetence and mendacity that has characterized this administration becomes unmistakably clear. As the story unfolds, Moore offers plenty of intriguing footage — Bush’s 7 minutes of Pet Goat superfluousness may perhaps be overemphasized by now, but it’s still out-and-out eerie. Equally damning is footage of Dubya at the ranch a month prior to 9/11, in which he has absolutely no clue what his agenda is for the day and, whatsmore, doesn’t seem to much care (particularly when contrasted with his obvious enthusiasm for armadillos exhibited a few scenes later.)
But while there are plenty of blows landed, I ultimately thought that Fahrenheit 9/11 would have been much more impressive if it had focused more closely on the facts and avoided the more obvious attempts at sentiment. For example, instead of examining in detail the clear civil liberties transgressions occurring at the Gitmo Gulag and elsewhere under the Patriot Act, or noting the discrepancies in its enforcement (no gun checks?) under Attorney General-cum-balladeer John Ashcroft, Moore spends too much time interviewing an aging weightlifter and various Fresno peace activists — all of whom have run afoul of goofy anti-terrorist inquiries — for laughs. Similarly, instead of talking about Dubya’s spiking of the Nunn-Lugar act or his continued cutting of First Responder funding, the film dinks around Western Oregon with two underfunded deputies – as a result, I thought the larger point about Bush’s failure to protect the homeland was lost.
As the film moves overseas, the problems with F911 become more evident. Regarding the war in Afghanistan, Moore talks about a proposed UNOCAL pipeline to the exclusion of virtually anything else, which I think invites charges of shrillness (Exhibit A: The Bonanza riff) and blurs one of the most serious charges against this administration – that it gave up a chance to catch Osama Bin Laden in order to play regime change in Iraq. Speaking of Baghdad, I think Moore would have done better to talk more about missing WMD and lies to the UN and spent less time with Lila Lipscomb, the mother of a deceased US soldier. This last section of the film is undeniably powerful, but it also feels extremely manipulative, particularly as it’s hard to envision very many situations where a mother’s grief wouldn’t be harrowing to behold. (The same goes for the grisly scenes of charred bodies and horrifically wounded Iraqi children.)
Still, what do I know? Perhaps Fahrenheit 9/11 needs these human touches to get its point across to a larger audience, a goal which it so far seems to be accomplishing with great aplomb. The fact is, Michael Moore can undoubtedly be a blowhard with grating populist pretensions, but if we had any semblance of a functioning national media these days, Fahrenheit 9/11 would have been a non-event. In the absence of anything like an independently critical television press, and given the existence of such a well-oiled, well-funded right-wing propaganda machine these days, perhaps somebody out there had to co-opt conservative talk-radio techniques to get the message out. I’m more of a “destroy the ring” than a “use the ring” kinda guy, but, as I said, what do I know? I could write in this space a hundred times over and still never reach an infinitesimal fraction of the people who will see this film and be newly angered by the idiotic and unethical behavior of this administration.
In short, if a picture is worth a 1000 words, this film is worth 10,000 blogs – by stringing so many of the Bush-bashing beads together in such entertaining and moving fashion, Fahrenheit 9/11 should bring the heart of the anti-Dubya critique right to the Heartland. I just wish it had covered its flank a little better by sticking to the cold, hard facts about the national embarrassment of historic proportions that is George W. Bush, rather than indulging every so often in cheap laughs and reflexive sentiment.
Dubya jumps in the polls after Reagan’s photo-op funeral, and decides to celebrate by lying about Iraq and 9/11 all over again. C’mon, y’all Republican moralists out there…Where’s the outrage? Clinton was impeached for far less, and we already know the Baptists won’t put up much of a fuss.
The 9/11 commission concludes that Iraq had nothing to do with Al Qaeda and the planning of the September 11 attacks. Wow, are you serious? Who knew?
Dubya and Cheney work on getting their stories straight for tomorrow’s joint appearance before the 9/11 committee. If the press machinery worked in this country, there is no way on God’s Green Earth Bush would be allowed to bring along his compadre for help on this one, or that the two of them would be able to testify without any recorded transcription, particularly when you consider how President Clinton was treated during his Lewinsky testimony. Absolutely pathetic.
Clandestine oil deals with the Saudis, secret (and quite probably) illegal misappropriation of anti-terrorism funds, Bob Woodward’s confirmation that Richard Clarke was right despite the Bushies’ smear machine…no matter how you cut it, the news coming out of the White House these days looks grimmer and grimmer. Now Dubya is actually running on the Patriot Act, of all things, and yet his poll numbers are rising?! I’m going to chalk up this latest bounce to sheer GOP cash flow (a funding discrepancy soon to change) and the post-primary press lull for Kerry. But, still, I find it hard to believe that anybody of an independent disposition can look at what’s going on in Washington these days and in good conscience vote for Dubya. This joker can’t handle the 9/11 commission without Cheney by his side, and he can’t even face the national press without begging to see the questions in advance. Why on Earth would anyone think this fool should stay in office? Inept and corrupt, Bush is easily the worst president America has seen since Warren G. Harding. In fact, he’s probably worse. Where’s the outrage?
Dubya and his cronies have coasted on the “soft bigotry of low expectations” long enough…let’s vote out these guys, already.