“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Friday, June 06, 2003

A couple of years ago, in Los Angeles, LI had breakfast with a man who was full to the gills of injuries Israel had received from Yassar Arafat. LI, not as knowledgeable about this subject, was full, at least to the butt, with the ills Israeli had inflicted on Palestinians. The conversation proceeded down the usual dead end, although we didn�t end up throwing the usual acrimonious phrases at each other. It was breakfast, and it was L.A., for God�s sake.


We've thought about this argument since then. Since Bush made his Middle Eastern tour, the newspapers have been dutifully filled with analyses of the chances, this time, that the roadmap to peace will get us somewhere. And readers, I would guess, except for those most passionately involved in the issues, have drifted off. In the reign of good King Jimmy Carter, this was a new and vibrant thing. Since, it has become one of the ornaments of American presidencies � each one of them has to have their brand new plan for peace in the Middle East. Each one, of course, fails.

It is easy to say peace, and there is no peace. Jeremiah is still right, but since God is dead, I demand another explanation (Or was that Isaiah?) In our humble opinion, the main issue isn�t the settlements. It isn�t the violence. It is the very framework from which each side works. Unlike India, or France, or China, Israel and Palestine both base themselves on an ideal of ethnic purity � but unlike Japan, which can get away with that, they are not on an island out in the Pacific. The ideal has a necessary evolutionary function, but both sides have passed beyond that point. Only when that framework is loosened will there really be two states. There�s a name for this ad hoc loosening of the rituals of ethnic identity: cosmopolitanism.

In an article provocatively entitled, Citizens of Nowhere in Particular, published a few years ago in National Identities, a scholar from UVA, Sophia Rosenfeld, examined how the cosmopolitan image declined in the latter half of the Enlightenment era. Here is how she puts the problem:

Despite the internationalism of the great literary figures of the age, from Hume
to Voltaire, and their much vaunted universalist philosophical orientation, the political
stance associated with explicit cosmopolitanism seems to have come under increasing
suspicion as the Old Regime in Europe drew to a close. In 1762 the Dictionnaire de
l�Acade�mie franc�aise defined the cosmopolitan as �someone who adopts no country
[patrie] � and is not a good citizen.� That same year, from a very different vantage
point, Rousseau noted in his Social Contract that a cosmopolitan was, in fact, someone
who �pretended to love the whole world in order to have the right to love no one.�

The reason for the emergence of such attitudes lies most obviously in the growing
power of the concept of the nation, an idea just beginning to take on its modern
meaning at this same moment. In the late eighteenth century, the nation and one�s
fellow nationals were already on their way to forming a critical focus for individual
political loyalties. Since then it has nearly become an article of faith that the nation
alone provides the framework in which the political identity and, consequently, political
engagement and participation associated with citizenship becomes possible for private
persons and, eventually, the masses. For only the nation seems to supply the rootedness
and emotional centering, along with the guarantee of rights, that the identity of
�citizen�, with all its potential for sacrifice, requires.

Rousseau, of course, is at the center of this moment, with that most powerful of the inventions in the realm of the sentiments, �love.� And of course the series of personal contradictions that immediately pop up: who, after all, was more rootless than Rousseau? A sometimes citizen of Geneva who spent his intellectual years in France, wrote the constitution of Corsica, and fought, in his last years, the multiple humiliations inflicted upon him by every royal or republican power with which he came in contact. Romanticism might be defined as Rousseau�s dream of the anti-Rousseau � the man whose social conditions allowed him to live.

Rosenfeld asks, sensibly, why we still accept Rousseau�s idea that the cosmopolitan is the opposite of the citizen:

�But has geographical rootedness always been the only truly viable foundation for
political activism? And must this necessarily remain the case even as the particularistic
humanism associated with national interests comes under increasing criticism in the
contemporary world? Perhaps the time has come to reconsider the history and potentiality
of transnational identity and transnational concerns as alternative (though closely
related) contexts for the development of political engagement. Or, to put it slightly
differently, perhaps it is time to look again at the relationship of universalism to both
localism and nationalism in the emergence of the modern understanding of the citizen
as commentator on and participant in the business of rule.�

Like any smart academic confronting an arbitrary, but emotionally defended, binary, she goes back to see how it was historically constructed � how these opposites found each other (it should be noted that deconstruction is the opposite of marriage counseling � in deconstruction, the divorce comes before the marriage, in marriage counseling, it comes after). Why did the Voltarian gesture of adhering to humanity gave way to the Rousseauian accusation of the emotional nullity of such a stance? A nullity, we are to understand, that is a facet of selfishness. A purely intellectual concern with a people we can�t communicate with, and whose ways we don�t know, must be the terminus of a flight from real caring � from authenticity. This theme is common to both Dickens and Heidegger. It is the common wisdom of modernity, reinforced by a thousand satirical portraits. Hell, it is the wisdom of the Pixies � there�s a beautifully acidic Pixies song that goes; �she�s a real left-winger/cause she�s been down south/held peasants in her arms�� that I always loved, because it described the bad faith endemic among a certain kind of politically active student current in the 80s.

(To be continued)

Bollettino

As usual, the LA Times is way ahead of the East Coast in describing hostilities in J-Lo Bremer's 'post-hostile" Iraq. The story, by Michael Slackman, is full of information -- that magic missing ingredient in most of the stories about Iraq! As LI has pointed out like a maniac, we live in a situation in which major newspapers -- the USA Today, the NYT, the Wash Post -- can't seem to agree on how many American casualties have occured in the last week. This is a little astonishing, and says something about the shadow of amnesia that has so quickly fallen over what is happening in Iraq. The LAT says that "about 40" American deaths, from accidents and hostile fire, have occured since Bush's infamous declaration that hostilities are at an end. That compares with 100 deaths while hostilities were going on.


LI also points you, today, to a nice little piece about Ollie North's drug trafficking record. Apparently -- ah, the bizarro aspects of the All American heart! -- North had been hired to give a guest lecture at a major Salvation Army event. The Salvation Army? The author of the piece, Celerino Castillo 3rd, a former DEA agent, and others naturally protested. The Salvation Army is not the Salvation Death Squad was the burden of their song -- justly. Castillo is releasing info that has been reclassified, conveniently enough, by the Bush administration -- information on that slander on America's name, the contra -coke connection.

LI posted a little astonished reaction to Mark Bowden's book on Pablo Escobar a couple of days ago. One of the truly egregiously stupid bits in the book was the implication that the Sandinistas were in it with Escobar, channeling that cocaine into sweet little American noses. As anybody who remembers that period knows, that is a laughably grotesque mistatement of the lay of the land. Bowden's "pro-democracy" Contras were financed, in part, through drug deals. As any drug dealer from the time knew, it definitely helped having the CIA helping squash your indictment. That's the simple fact. Here's a graf from Castillo's piece:


"Several years ago, the extreme right arm of the Christian Coalition selected to support Oliver North for U.S. Senate. Their support backfired and North became one of two Republicans who lost the elections that year. During North�s campaign, I traveled to Virginia, went out to the �grassroots� communities and educated them on who Oliver North really was. I went as far as challenging North for a debate. Of course, he refused. My first question would had been: Why did you campaign to obtain the release of Honduran army general Jose Bueso-Rosa from a federal prison, after his arrest for smuggling 763 pounds of cocaine and for murder? Bueso-Rosa�s partner in the venture was international arms dealer Felix Latchinian, who in turn was an ex-business partner of CIA agent (Cubano) Felix Rodriguez. During the 70s and 80s, Felix Rodriguez was tied to several terrorist organizations who terrorize both the United States and Latin America. Felix Rodriguez, also known as Max Gomez, was in charge of the Contra�s supply network in El Salvador, which was also involved in drug trafficking. If this sounds complicated just remember that all this drug trafficking was paid for with your taxpayer dollars."

From the Wilderness, a group ardently pursuing the Contra-Coke connection, cites the CIA report that was issued, with minimum fanfare, on the same day the House voted to impeach Clinton -- a great day to release a report that basically confirms the paranoid lefty belief in the CIA's complicity in drug-running.


"As reported by Associated Press, the report, "portrays the spy agency as reluctant to inform Congress or law enforcement of suspected drug activity by Nicaraguan Contra forces." The AP story continued to say that, "In classified briefings on Capitol Hill, CIA officials typically acknowledged only one major case of narcotics involvement by an anti-Sandinista group - the so called ADREN [sic] 15th of September group, which was disbanded in 1982. But the newly declassified report links to drug allegations 58 other individuals belonging to various Contra groups."A telling passage of the CIA report itself states that "In six cases CIA knowledge of allegations or information indicating that organizations or individuals had been involved in drug trafficking did not deter their use by CIA. In at least two of those cases, CIA did not act to verify drug trafficking allegations or information even when it had the opportunity to do so."In an apparent confirmation of Gary Webb's Dark Alliance series The New York Times, in a brief story, picked out a paragraph from the report which acknowledged that Contra leaders in California and the Bay area specifically planned to deal drugs to raise money for the Contras."

The From the Wilderness people are trippy with info. Here they are howling at Ollie North's scent again:

"In another section [of the CIA report] on major trafficker Moises Nunez, who was being investigated for shipment of hundreds of kilos of cocaine through firms named Frigorificos de Puntarenas and Ocean Hunter (also NHAO contractors), the CIA lays out North yet again. They describe how cocaine was reportedly received at air strips owned by John Hull in Costa Rica and taken to ships owned by these two firms. The CIA report then states, "On March 25, 1987, CIA questioned Nunez about narcotics trafficking allegations against him."Nunez revealed that since 1985, he had engaged in a clandestine relationship with the National Security Council (NSC). Nunez refused to elaborate on the nature of these actions, but indicated it was difficult to answer questions relating to his involvement in narcotics trafficking because of the specific tasks he had performed at the direction of the NSC (emphasis mine). Nunez refused to identify the NSC officials with whom he had been involved."

Oliver North was the point man at NSC for all Contra support activities."

Oh, and one more irony, just for those who collect them. The name of Ollie North's inhouse death squad assistance bureau, at the NSC, was: The Nicaraguan Humanitarian Assistance Office.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

Bollettino

LI is frankly indifferent to the fall of Howell Raines. We are interested, however, in the space it takes up. Since we are living in a shift in cultural power to the right -- which is reflected in the gradual erosion of the great establishment liberal papers, which are either turning hawkish -- the WashPost -- or are finding organizational problems used as fulcrums to create press coverage that leans to the right -- the NYT - we are interested in criticism that is happening outside the box. As James Wolcott, in a surprisingly toothy article in Vanity Fair puts it, the press is entirely down on both knees before the Bush P.R. machine. Wollcott is not coy about the implication of fellatio, which is still the primo image of servitude in this culture, for reasons we aren't going to explore right now. Anyway, we think it is odd, to say the least, that the press scandals du jour are about the misdeeds of some minor hacks, since really, Blair's mendacity about the sniper didn't 'do' anything, and Rick Bragg's prose extravaganzas about the swampy inlets of Dixie did even less -- but Miller's reports on Iraq, which simply channeled the standard pap from Chalabi, did a lot. John Power at the LA Weekly delivers left view of the sitch:

"This fixation [on the Times] comes as no real surprise; The New York Times occupies a privileged place in our ruling elite�s psyche. It is the establishment organ, the paper that must be reckoned with by anyone interested in wielding power (or even in distributing an indie movie). For those on the right, The Times is a perpetual bugbear and indispensable target � its pre-eminence lets them feel beleaguered even when they are running things. To them, The Times� recent tailspin is sheer jouissance, the giddy B-side of Fox News� orgasmic ascent. They�ll be breathing hard about it for months.

"Not so the establishment liberals, who have long treated the paper as a beacon of enlightenment. Indeed, it wasn�t so long ago that KCRW used to read Times stories aloud on the air (God, that was embarrassing), like dispatches to a primitive local culture. If you believe Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, The Times is the liberals� catnip, so you can imagine the head-clutching agony that greeted the sobering discovery that its reporters could be every bit as reliable as, oh, Geraldo Rivera."

Powers makes the point that the NYT is boring, arrogant, and reliably voices elitist positions -- whether these come out as left or right is secondary.

Anybody who has had the misfortune of running into a NYT man at a conference will have had a taste of what it must be like to be a peasant running into a Marquis at an inn. Arrogance is too mild a word. And we have to agree that the Times, since 9/11 at least, has not been the same. It has been boring. It has been incurious, to say the least, about the mounting list of the administration's lies and spin. It's coverage of the corporate scandals never scratched the surface -- try as some excellent reporters in the business section did to connect the dots. It's coverage of Iraq has been lackluster, riddled with error, and is now in full amnesia stage -- support the troops, but put the casualty counts near the real estate ads. Long ago Joan Didion pointed out that the NYT is not nearly as good as the LAT. We agree. Here's Power's view:

"Anxious to defend their profession�s honor, media columnists have spent weeks moralizing about Blair and Bragg�s dishonesty without ever grappling with the underlying reality that Michael Wolff first pointed out in New York magazine. The print world increasingly cares less about accurate reporting and more about vivid prose. Reporters� careers rise or fall on what Wolff calls their �tradecraft,� the ability to sweeten reality with style-conscious writing, even if that sometimes means pushing a bit beyond the literal facts to a kind of more artistic �truth.� (Think of all those stage-directed White House conversations in Bob Woodward�s books.) In their different ways, the run-amok Blair and vainglorious Bragg just pushed too far."

Actually, we wish this were the truth. But we think that the problem is very different. That "tradecraft" has become so cliche-bound that it is as unlikely a medium in which to broadcast the "truth" as a set of plumber's helpers would be with which to play Beethoven's nineth. The media has generated a whole subculture of experts whose job is to be quoted in the media. Thus, about Iraq, you were much more likely to hear what the 'Arab street' was thinking from a reporter who couldn't speak arabic, quoting a general who couldn't speak Arabic, quoting a think tank honcho who couldn't speak arabic. The astonishng thinness of context of the discourse about Iraq, leading up to, into, through, and passed the War is amazing.

The press in this country has always been opportunistically oppositional. Now, however, as they clot together in behemoth corporations like so many cholesterol molecules around a fat man's heart, they have become simply opportunistic. And being run, for the most part, by illiterate CEOs, they are eager to participate in the systematic looting of the American population's narrative intelligence -- its ability to read, to follow complex stories, to develop a rich sensibility about causes and psychology and fate and tragedy, etc., etc. The level of storytelling intelligence has been steadily lessened in this country, even as the amount of text, and the numbers passing through college, explode. Newspapers, which developed as the enlightenment develped the story sense -- for every newspaper, with its columns of different stories, its material organization, requires a reader who has, at least in a historical sense, passed the Tristam Shandy threshhold of narrative understanding -- have no interest in seeding future readers. They believe that appealing to younger readers means dumbing down the story-lines -- which is about arrogance. As anyone knows, kids develop, or don't, the ability to narrate as they get older. If they are stuck in an environment in which that narrative ability is contextually retarded, they will respond with less ability. That's why education has traditionally been about older people teaching younger people. It is now about older people exploiting younger people for money. And that is disgusting.

Luckily while the narrative sense might atrophy, the tacit knowledge that one is being robbed is still operative -- hence, the great turn-off with regard to the press. Dumbness is not fate -- but it will be selected, in the market, if the level of the market's taste is debauched.














http://www.laweekly.com/ink/03/29/on-powers.php






Bollettino

Casualty report:

- Assailants opened fire with a rocket-propelled grenade Thursday, killing one American soldier and wounding five, the U.S. military said. It was the latest attack in a tense city where resistance against American occupation has been vocal and sometimes violent. -- AP

Forgery

Here's a story from the forgery front. It comes from Dennis Dutton from the usually more high brow Aesthetics-online site:


"The murder of Eric Hebborn on January 11th brought to a close one of the most illustrious careers of any twentieth-century forger. His body was found on a street in Rome, the city where he had lived since the 1970s, with his skull broken, probably by a hammer blow from behind. Only a few weeks before, he had published his second book, Il Manuale del Falsario (The Faker�s Handbook), a set of complete instructions on how to forge and market fake drawings and paintings from the European tradition."

Hebborn, Dutton reports, was an English eccentric on the grand, decadent scale. They always somehow drift to Italy -- the Aleister Crowleys, the Baron Corvos. Dutton was a working class boy. He was seduced, early, into the pleasures of fraud:


"While still a student, he went to work for a picture restorer named George Aczel. Restoration, it developed, meant much more that cleaning and retouching, and soon young Eric was painting large areas of old works, cleverly extending cracking into newly painted surfaces, and even �improving� old paintings by augmenting them. An insignificant landscape became, with the addition of a balloon in its grey sky, an important (and expensive) painting recording the early history of aviation. As Hebborn says, �a cat added to the foreground guaranteed the sale of the dullest landscape� Popular signatures came and unpopular signatures went� Poppies bloomed in dun-coloured fields.�

Count on a murderer for a purple style, Nabokov's Humbert says in Lolita. Dutton remarks that Hebborn's art, under the disguise of more expensive signatures, was authenticated by such experts as his Highness's official art historian and Communist spy, Anthony Blunt, and by Sir John Pope Hennessy, a big name in art collecting circles.

Life was good for Hebborn for a while. He had a fellow forger as a lover, he had the ready, it was Rome in the sixties and seventies. We particularly like Dutton's account of all that:


His loves included a relationship with Graham [the fellow forger] that lasted for some years, until Graham became �sexually tired of me, and was constantly looking about for a change�even girls.� After that, he seems to have settled down with Edgar, and though he spent a night in Sir Anthony Blunt�s bed, nothing happened due to due to the drunken condition of both. �Brewer�s droop,� Hebborn calls it.

Humpty Dumpty always has his fall. Hebborn, of course, revenged himself on the art world by revealing his bad seed, and fingering paintings that probably aren't forgeries. While a hammer blow is certainly not the gentlest way to depart this mortal coil, Hebborn does not seem to have had an unhappy life, much as he was the occassion for it in others.

James Fuentes story of a more up to the minute forgery -- the forgery of Jean Michel Basquiat paintings, no less -- is much sadder. It comes from Blow Up, an on-line mag.

"Alfredo Martinez convinced art collector, Leo Malca, to purchase two paintings by Jean Michel Basquiat in the late winter of 2002 for a bargain price of $38,500. The pieces belonged to Tom Warren, a staff photographer at Sotheby�s and the forthcoming yearbook of New York�s cultural elite, The New York School. The work in question had appeared that December in an exhibition Martinez co-curated with me entitled, �Welcome to the Playground of the Fearless.� Alfredo took charge of returning the pieces to Warren, but before doing so, made his own versions. After returning Warren�s paintings, he mentioned that there was interest in the work from collectors who saw the show. He said he wanted to make copies of the certificates of authenticity before shopping the work around. Tom handed over the certificates, which Alfredo went on to forge as well. He then returned falsified certificates to Tom and sold fake paintings � with real certificates � to Malca. "

Martinez, like Hebborn, was a determined outsider to the art world. This is not your highness's grandmother's art world -- this is the disco art world that Warhol invented, and the devil has kept going ever since. This is Martinez's art career:

"Alfredo Martinez�s art career began in 1994 when his work was shown at the Pat Hearn Gallery. The show was �Skater Angels,� curated by David Greenberg and Diego Cortez. He went on to participate in the seminal �Bong Show� at Alleged Gallery, where artists such as Tom Sachs and Mike Kelly made elaborate bongs as sculpture. He reached the height of legitimacy after participating in two group shows � �Agent Artist� in 1994 and �Generation Z� in 1999 � at P.S.1, an affiliate of the Museum of Modern Art. In the summer of 1999, famed art critic Roberta Smith reviewed an exhibition he curated, �Ne'er Do Wells,� for The New York Times. That same year, a dot-com millionaire by the name of Joshua Harris financed an indoor firing range designed by Alfredo for a millennial project entitled �Quiet.� Alfredo personally sound-proofed it and had it staffed with ex-Navy Seals. He literally shot his way through the new millennium with high powered, automatic weapons.

These were noteworthy achievements for someone who never graduated high school. In a community where an MFA may not even get you up to bat, Alfredo managed to go pretty far in the art world with no formal education. In this regard, he was a true folk artist � an elitist term synonymous with �outsider,� a derelict. The NY Post once described Alfredo as, �a hulking 300 pound gun-toting Puerto Rican madman.� Manhattan District Attorney, Andrew De Vore, described him as �homeless.� I consider Alfredo what I consider every good artist to be: a magician."

The heights of legitimacy. LI wonders what it looks like from such peaks.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Bollettino

LI recommends a story in the Nation, today, about the unbelievable attempt... well, unbelievable is a strong word ... disgusting attempt ... well, disgusting needs a little gas poured on it, and a lit match tossed towards it, to become the right word... the predictably Bushian attempt (ah, that's it) to allocate money to the drug czar's office for any kind of advertising he's see's fit to put on. The bill would allow advertising, funded by the Federal Government, to attack candidates who advocate legalizing drugs.

This is unique.

"The ads, mostly on television, have stirred controversy since Walters took over and began running strident drugs-equal-terrorism spots that declare that personal use of marijuana supports terrorism. The House Government Reform Committee tabled action on HR 2086 after negotiations broke down over how far ONDCP could use its social marketing muscle to influence elections. The two parties will attempt some sort of compromise when the matter is considered during the first week in June, but it's hard to see how the Republicans' goal of allowing Walters sole discretion to use the ads to "oppose any attempt to legalize" drugs can be squared with Democrats' opposition to even more overt White House electioneering than in the past. The media campaign cost taxpayers $930 million during its first five years; Republicans seek to boost its five-year funding through fiscal year 2008 to $1.02 billion. (Actual total media time and space will be closer to $2 billion since, by statute, ONDCP makes its ad buys at fifty cents on the dollar.)

"By Walters's lights, even allowing dying cancer or AIDS patients some pot to alleviate their pain is de facto legalization. Until drug reform lobbyists sounded the alarm and Democrats dug in their heels, starting this fall he could have used the ads to urge voters to reject initiatives permitting medical marijuana or mandating treatment rather than jail for nonviolent drug addicts. The ads might also have been used against such candidates as Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank and Texas Republican Ron Paul, who have introduced legislation banning federal prosecution of pot-using patients in states that have legalized medical cannabis. Said Steve Fox, director of government relations at the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), "It's now clear that this media campaign is about politics, not prevention." And, tossing aside seventy years of broadcasting law by exempting ONDCP from the requirement to identify itself as the ad sponsor, the proposed bill would shred the principle that viewers are entitled to know who's attempting to persuade them."

To cure that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, you will probably have to light up a joint.

We received a nice email from our fave reader, T. in New York City, yesterday. He wrote about our piece on supporting our boys (until the Commander in Chief says we can forget them):

"The Occupation.....yes, well, you are right, The War is over and The Peace is nowhere to be found...now is a time where casualties are not exactly casualties and where troops (those who deserve our support, unconditionally, as we are told) are cops; cops who have minimal training, as such, and are totally without an Oval Office-sanctioned ideological structure to lean on.... to borrow a riff from good old goddamned Baudrillard: The War Is Not Taking Place."

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Bollettino

Casualty count today:

"U.S. Soldier Killed in Central Iraq

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Filed at 7:38 a.m. ET

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- A U.S. soldier was shot and killed while on patrol in central Iraq early Tuesday, the military said.

The shooting took place near the town of Balad, about 55 miles north of the capital, said Maj. William Thurmond, a spokesman for the U.S. Army's V Corps."

It is, of course, almost impossible to find this story in today's papers. Just as it seems almost impossible to come up with a casualty count for the last week, with U.S.A. today putting the number at ten killed, and other outlets ranging from 4 to 6. What is interesting is that the same people who, during the war, were adamant about 'supporting the troops" seem quite intent on forgetting them now. Which is just as we suspected. Support the troops until the Commander in Chief grandly ends the war, then ignore their deaths in the non-war that follows. Cute, eh?

Mark Bowden, however, is our subject today.

We were quite pleased that Canada is beginning to loosen up the law on owning pot. We were quite displeased that Canada is strengthening the penalties on selling pot. The drug problem is not just about individual consumption -- it is about the market. As long as the market is officially illegal, drug use can't be regulated, except with the most draconian of all instruments -- the local cops. If one wants to talk about the decay of democratic institutions, you have to start with the drug wars.

There was a little story in the NYTimes magazine by James Traub that made fun of that analogy, so common among academics and artists, between Bush and Hitler. There are obvious reasons to think that analogy is far fetched, and ridiculous. However, Traub's point gets dented when he comes to the "specialness" of 9/11:

"Much of the left seems to feel that the greatest threat to emerge from 9/11 is an untrammeled Bush administration -- as if the destruction of the twin towers was the functional equivalent of the Reichstag fire, as I have heard one of my friends say. And yet even the most devout civil libertarians recognize that the terrorist threat compels rethinking. Norman Siegel, the former head of the New York Civil Liberties Union and a famous First Amendment purist, says, ''The security interests are real, they're legitimate and you have to balance freedom and security in a different way post-9/11.'' Siegel says that he has been hard put to explain to skeptical audiences that the Patriot Act, for all its problems, does not preclude traditional forms of peaceful protest."

Balancing freedom and security pre-9/11 and post 9/11 are the same acts. In fact, that whole sentence is such a radical misunderstanding of what freedom is that we can only recommend Traub for a position in Ashcroft's Justice Department. If we have rights only in a world free from arbitrary acts of violence -- then we will never have our rights. This language was first tried out in the eighties, about drugs. Traub's middle class complacency relies on the fact that he will never be picked up by the FBI as a terrorist suspect, just as the previous complacency about getting rid of 'narco-terrorists' allowed the good bourgeois to snort his cocaine in peace, confident in the assurance that the nearly 2 million and counting persons overflowing the jails would not soon include him or his kids in their number. His kids, if they were picked up, would enjoy the sympathy of the court. If they were white and middle class, they would have an excellent chance of getting rehab. If they were black, they would have an excellent chance of being flushed down the sewer of the juvenile detention system. Freedom, and equality before the law, are intertwined. You can't have one without the other. There is no balancing act.

Which gets me to Mark Bowden. Picking up his book, Killing Pablo, on Pablo Escobar, I expected a good real crime story. Alas, whispers of fascism are rife within the book. The description of the Contras as a pro-democracy group, early on, set the stage. But it is Bowden's gung-ho attitude towards America's 'special forces" in Colombia that is especially frightening. He describes, for instance, a unit hunting Escobar that is composed of a veteran of the Phoenix program, a veteran of American intelligence efforts to overthrow Allende, and then produces these sentences, which really would be appropriate in Weimar: "Counterinsurgency had always flirted with extralegality, whether in the Congo, El Salvador, or Nicaragua. The death squads were horrible, but nothing equaled them for striking fear into the hearts and minds of would-be Marxists."

This is the writer who is reporting in the New Yorker on Iraq.
Traub is right -- we are not in a situation analogous to Germany's. We are in a situation analogous to the dirtiest periods of the Cold War. The repeated lies, the spurious justifications for arbitrary detention, the bigotry, the controls on speech which erode our civil rights, the crony capitalism that shuffles money between the Pentagon and selected defense contractors, and finally, an atmosphere in which a major reporter can float the idea that death squads are efficient instruments of US policy and become a star for the premier liberal weekly -- it is this atmosphere that should wake up the artist, the academic, and the Rotarian. The hour is late, and in D.C., they are always doing something else.

Monday, June 02, 2003

Bollettino

A young man goes to India before he knows much of his own country; but he cherishes in his breast, as I hope every man will, a just and laudable partiality for the laws, liberties, rights, and institutions of his own nation. We all do this; and God forbid we should not prefer our own to every other country in the world! but if we go to India with an idea of the mean, degraded state of the people that we are to govern, and especially if we go with these. impressions at an immature age, we know, that, according to the ordinary course of human nature, we shall not treat persons well whom we have learnt to despise. We know that people whom we suppose to have neither laws or rights will not be treated by us as a people who have laws and rights. -- Edmund Burke, Speech on the Impeachment of Warren Hastings.

Casualty report for today, the 28th day after the end of the War:

Two Iraqi men were killed and two U.S. servicemen injured in an exchange of gunfire at a mosque in Baghdad, witnesses and soldiers said.But the U.S. Central Command said Monday it could not confirm that the incident took place or that there were casualties.

This weekend the belligerent establishment moved to put down these petty complaints about the Weapons of Auto-Disappearance. The two horse trailers that the NYT's Judith Miller was only able to look at with opera glasses, and while performing a position prescribed by the Kama Sutra for relieving bunions, have suddenly become exhibit A, according to our always valiant president, travelling in that enemy territory known as Europe. Indeed, we have faced many threats as a great people, but we have never faced a threat like this: two trailers that might, at any time, given the right equipment, and some bug spray, and some bacteria, and a teaspoon of sugar, and a couple of big iron pots, and a strainer, and the eye of newt, and the blood of a dog killed under a full moon with St. John's wart -- that might, we said, produce such weapons as would shake us all in our beds. Not perhaps within forty five minutes, as Tony Blair told us, but certainly within forty five years, more or less.

So we have to revise the very reason we went into Iraq, which now turns out to be to get rid of a mass killer. Alas, we got rid of the mass killer years after his last mass kill -- and we sorta might have uh helped him the years of his mass killing youth, but better now than never.Jim Hoagland, who is a middle of the road slice of bacon writing for the Washington Post, puts it like this:

"Three weeks before the war began, a representative Time/CNN poll reported that 83 percent of their sample said "the most compelling reason to disarm Hussein is that he has wantonly killed his own citizens." "Saddam's cruelty" was the top reason for action, followed by 72 percent who felt that a war "would help eliminate weapons of mass destruction."

There was a mosaic of valid reasons for removing Hussein, and most Americans understood and approved of that mosaic. Feigning shock on behalf of "duped" citizens who were fairly clear-eyed about what they were getting into takes some doing.Nor did war opponents Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder base their decisions about whether Iraq possessed programs to produce biological, chemical or nuclear weapons on Secretary of State Colin Powell's powerful presentation at the United Nations. Nor was there ever any significant disagreement within the CIA over the intelligence on weapons programs. Controversy was over terrorist links."

Well, isn't that interesting. We thought controversy had to do with a little thing called pre-emption, and pre-emption, as we remembered it, had to do with imminent threats. Which is why the clear eyed populace had many curious ideas before the War:


"Polling data show that right after Sept. 11, 2001, when Americans were asked open-ended questions about who was behind the attacks, only 3 percent mentioned Iraq or Hussein. But by January of this year, attitudes had been transformed. In a Knight Ridder poll, 44 percent of Americans reported that either "most" or "some" of the Sept. 11 hijackers were Iraqi citizens." A New York Times/CBS poll in August, 2002 showed that 62% of Americans thought Saddam had WMD and was targeting the US with them.

Etc. Imagine a poll which asked, given the absense of significant links between Saddam and al Qaeda, and given the lack of any real current Iraqi possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction, should we invade the place? The Hoagland mural would start to flake off in big bits.

The Independent -- naturally, a British paper -- had a big summary, Sunday, of the WMD controversy. Just another episode in the amazing Blair escape artists hour. However, the bigger question is: who cares? The invasion isn't going to be reversed any time soon. The real problem with using big lies as the basis of a major foreign policy decision is that we, Americans and Iraqis, have to live with that decision. This means that America has not only a moral obligation to pay for reconstructing Iraq, but that it is a necessary cost in securing home sweet home. I don't know what the polls say, but I suspect that the Bush administration still believes its own dope about paying for the reconstruction out of Iraqi oil revenues. That is, of course, a pipe dream. As the fool said in King Lear, nothing comes of nothing. If we decided to "implement" democracy in Iraq -- and we have -- we have to face up to the costs. Those costs will be about fifty billion dollars over the course of the next year. But as it becomes more apparent that the clear eyed populace was talked into the deal, it will also be more likely that the clear eyed populace will balk at paying for Bush's Folly.

Walter Mead, who supported the invasion, and wrote a pre-conflict sci fi op ed piece in the Washington Post about the cost of the sanctions in human life, now writes in the LA Times about the triumph the U.S. is experiencing in the rest of the world, as Chirac "frantically" phones the White House and Russia edges towards the U.S. position on Iran. Oh really? Mead obviously reads different papers than LI. But the scariest part of Mead's piece consists of these grafs:

"... But what if things come unglued in Iraq? What if law and order don't return, and the present low level of violence starts to rise and become better organized? What if the body count among U.S. forces continues to increase? Won't American public opinion demand a speedy retreat? And wouldn't a retreat that left Iraq still undemocratic undercut the U.S. further? The short answer is that if Iraqi violence continues to rise, at some point the administration would go to Plan B: Find a general, turn the place over to him and go home. If this happens, it would be a tragedy not only for Iraqis but for the democratic aspirations of the whole Middle East. For Bush, it might not be so bad."

We think Mead is naive in thinking this is a plausible scenario. For Bush, this would be a disaster. The repercussions of getting 160 some thousand American troops out, while trying to 'turn the place" -- which, mind you, officially has no military -- over to a general would be something like the Titanic times ten. Not to mention the spread of chaos throughout the region.

No, we are stuck there. If that is not accepted by the American populace now, in their clear eyed trance, it will become evident over the summer. And if Americans start dying in more than the ones and twos that are reported in less than headline style in the newspapers, the extent of our committment will become all too clear.