Sunday, Sept. 16, 2001
Friday. It was quite a spectacle. The President of the United States, dressed like an ordinary fellow. He's standing on a pile of rubble, addressing the crowd through a bullhorn, his arm around a grizzled old rescue worker. "I can hear you," he told the crowd. "The rest of the world hears you," his voice now rising in excitement, "and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!" One would not be surprised at all if, at this point, he were to suddenly rip off a Mission Impossible mask to reveal that he was, in fact, Macho Man Randy Savage. The crowd grasped the spirit immediately, broke out into a hearty chant of "U.S.A! U.S.A!"
Nothing rallies the public like a war, so we now have a War On Terrorism, and the public, as witnessed by that grotesque Bush photo op on Friday, seems far too eager to swallow it, hook, line, and sinker. "We're at war," Bush told the press Saturday. "There has been an act of war declared upon America by terrorists, and we will respond accordingly." His approval rating, previously around 50%, has now risen to over 80%.
Beyond the thoughtless cheers of a wounded nation rallying behind its government, a few people are starting to catch on to what's happening with the Bush administration, though fewer still have seemed to grasp the full implications as of yet. It began earlier in the week when the "President" declared that this would now be the "focus of my administration." What was the focus of his administration before? He was an unelected lame-duck space-filler, overseeing a rapidly fading economy, quietly marking time in the White House until the next election, when he would be quietly replaced. He's grasped this "issue" like a drowning man after drift-wood, and hopes to ride it into a presidential legacy.
From the point of view of the administration, this war, like the War On Drugs, has the advantage of being completely unwinnable. No one seriously believes terrorism can be militarily eliminated. Indeed, every precedent of history has shown that such efforts only breed further terrorism--precedents which should serve as a warning. Bush, to rally the public, has taken a page from his despicable father in immediately reducing a complex situation to the level of a brainless Rambo movie: "My administration has a job to do. ... We will rid the world of evil doers.''
With only a single vote against the measure, Congress, on Friday, resolved that:
"The president is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons."
So, in the matter of ridding the world of evil-doers, the "President" is now operating under an open-ended congressional approval; functioning, essentially, as a dictator. Congress, swept up in the hysteria of the past week (and, one suspects, utterly cowed by his popularity), has rubber-stamped every measure the White House put before them this week, usually by unanimous or near-unanimous vote. The open-ended "use of force" resolution passed with only a single dissenting vote in either house. When the "President" asked for $20 million in disaster relief, Congress voted for $40 million.
The administration, obviously pleased with the new approval ratings, plans to milk this situation for all it's worth. Vice President Cheney told MEET THE PRESS this morning "It's important that people understand that this is a long-term proposition... This is going to be the kind of work that will probably take years... This is going to be a struggle the United States is going to be involved in for the foreseeable future.''
"Terrorism," it seems, will now take the place of the long-dead Soviet menace as the pretext for maintaining and extending the Cold War military economy. Bush was seeking $18 billion in additional funds to the Defense Department prior to the attacks--this request will now grow exponentially.
As with the War On Drugs, it seems our civil liberties are to be destroyed in the name of combatting terrorism. The AP reports today:
"On Thursday, the Senate passed a measure that would broaden court-ordered wiretapping to include terrorism cases and computer crimes; on Sunday, Attorney General John Ashcroft said the administration would ask Congress this week for increased authority to use wiretaps to seek out and prosecute suspected terrorists."
To put this in context, wiretapping by the federal government is already at an all-time high, the Clinton Justice Department having increased its use far above that of any prior administration. This is the legacy Ashcroft now seeks to greatly expand upon. And that isn't all. "We need additional tools to stop the kind of tragedy that happened," says Ashcroft "We need, for instance, to elevate the penalties for those who would harbor or assist terrorists to at least the same level as the penalties for those who would harbor or assist those who have been involved in espionage,'' he told Fox News Sunday. The administration is also seeking greater authority to detain foreigners. "We do believe that people involved in the terrorist attack with connections to terrorist groups may be present in the United States,'' says Justice's Mindy Tucker. "We believe that that is a significant enough threat to warrant quick action on Congress' part.'' Look for these requests to quickly grow into a laundry list as this week progresses.
Monday, Sept. 17, 2001
The AP reports today that:
"The Federal Bureau of Investigation has, since last Tuesday's suicide bombings, opened 40 hate crime investigations into reported attacks on Arab-Americans, including two killings possibly motivated by anti-Arab sentiment, said FBI Director Robert Mueller."
In light of this, "President" Bush today did maybe the classiest thing he's ever done in his entire life--it's certainly the only presidential thing he's done during his administration. He went to the Islamic Center in Washington D.C. and made the following remarks:
[Text of Bush's Remarks]
Thank you all very much for your hospitality. We've just had a wide-ranging discussions on the matter at hand. Like the good folks standing with me, the American people were appalled and outraged at last Tuesday's attacks. And so were Muslims all across the world. Both Americans and Muslim friends and citizens, tax-paying citizens, and Muslims in nations were just appalled and could not believe what we saw on our TV screens.
These acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith. And it's important for my fellow Americans to understand that.
The English translation is not as eloquent as the original Arabic, but let me quote from the Koran, itself: In the long run, evil in the extreme will be the end of those who do evil. For that they rejected the signs of Allah and held them up to ridicule.
The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don't represent peace. They represent evil and war.
When we think of Islam we think of a faith that brings comfort to a billion people around the world. Billions of people find comfort and solace and peace. And that's made brothers and sisters out of every race -- out of every race.
America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country. Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms and dads. And they need to be treated with respect. In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect.
Women who cover their heads in this country must feel comfortable going outside their homes. Moms who wear cover must be not intimidated in America. That's not the America I know. That's not the America I value.
I've been told that some fear to leave; some don't want to go shopping for their families; some don't want to go about their ordinary daily routines because, by wearing cover, they're afraid they'll be intimidated. That should not and that will not stand in America.
Those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger don't represent the best of America, they represent the worst of humankind, and they should be ashamed of that kind of behavior.
This is a great country. It's a great country because we share the same values of respect and dignity and human worth. And it is my honor to be meeting with leaders who feel just the same way I do. They're outraged, they're sad. They love America just as much as I do.
I want to thank you all for giving me a chance to come by. And may God bless us all.
Unfortunately, those aren't Bush's only remarks. Following in his father's footsteps, he has persisted in reducing the very complex question of how next to proceed to the level of a professional wrestling match. Some examples:
"My administration has a job to do. ... We will rid the world of evil doers.''
"This is a new kind of, a new kind of evil. ... And the American people are beginning to understand. This crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while.''
[A "crusade"; just about the worst imagery he could conjure up, under the circumstances]
Today, before his trip to the Islamic Center, he went to the Pentagon:
"The United States military is ready to defend freedom at any cost."
Reporter: Do you want bin Laden dead?
Bush: I want justice. There's an old poster out West that says, 'Wanted: Dead or Alive.'
"...the employee who is getting ready to serve the country is an essential part of winning the--of defeating terrorism, evil-doers so emboldened that they feel like they could attack the great bastion of freedom."
"The focus right now is on Osama bin Laden, no question about it. He's the prime suspect, and his organization. But there are other terrorists in the world. There are people who hate freedom. This is a fight for freedom. This is a fight to say to the freedom-loving people of the world: we will not allow ourselves to be terrorized by somebody who thinks they can hit and hide in some cave somewhere."
Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2001
The Washington Post reports today that:
"A coalition of public interest groups from across the political spectrum has formed to try to stop congress and the Bush administration from rushing to enact counterterrorism measures before considering their effect on Americans' privacy and civil rights."
For now, the group is calling itself In Defense of Freedom, and they'll certainly have their work cut out for them in the coming weeks and months. Thursday, in a last-minute move which, so far, has been largely hidden from the public by the corporate press, the Senate included a provision in an unrelated spending bill making it easier for federal agents to gain access to private email. This outrage was apparently the impetus for the formation of In Defense of Freedom.
As expected, the assault on civil liberties began in earnest this week. Attorney General John Ashcroft, hoping to capitalize on the present rubber-stamp attitude of congress with regard to the administration, has asked the House and Senate to pass an "emergency" anti-terrorism package by the end of this week. The package, still not complete, is to include "roving wiretap" authority (allowing the feds to use a wiretap authorization issued in one jurisdiction across all other jurisdictional boundries), and, according to the Baltimore Sun today, Ashcroft "wants Congress to eliminate the statute of limitations on terrorist crimes, increase penalties for people convicted of aiding or harboring terrorists and allow the government to prosecute under money laundering laws people accused of giving financial aid to terrorist groups." Ashcroft also said his proposal will include as-of-yet-unspecificed changes to immigration law.
The Sun offers an ominous comment by Rep. David Dreir (R-CA):
"Any legislation that the attorney general sends up we will look at very carefully and move as quickly as possible. I'm convinced that there would be an overwhelming level of support for responsible ways in which we can ensure that these terrorists are brought to justice."
Grab your wallets, folks. It's gonna' be a bumpy ride.
Also from the Sun today:
"In 1999, state and federal authorities obtained 2,236 wiretap orders to investigate both domestic crimes and threats to national security. That number was up from 1,309 orders in 1989 and 752 orders in 1979."
That's right; wiretap surveillance has more than tripled in two decades, and apparently the Bush administration has decided this isn't enough.
Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2001
The Bush administration announced the latest step in its largescale military mobilization, now hopefully dubbed "Operation Infinite Justice." Today, it's the deployment of dozens of fighter and bomber aircraft to the Persian Gulf. It looks as though the President is planning a major air campaign against something, though he's done absolutely nothing to suggest what it could be. Perhaps that will happen tomorrow, when he will address a joint session of congress.
The airline industry, which has announced tens of thousands of layoffs in the last three days, has now gone to Washington D.C. pleading poverty and looking for a public bailout. The request, thus far, is for $5 billion in direct handouts and $12.5 billion in immediate loan guarantees, allegedly to avoid bankruptcy. Delta chairman Leo Mullin went even further, asking congress to limit the industries' legal liability for any lawsuits that may arise from last week's incidents. The Presiden has already agreed to request the $5 billion from congress, but he's being coy about whether he'll go for the rest.
Yesterday, the odious creature who presently stalks our capitol under the title of "Attorney General" circulated a draft of some of the changes in law he proposes congress implement in the aftermath of last week's bloody deeds. Apparently, he fancies himself some sort of appointed dictator, for he suggests he should be given the power to arrest, without warrant, and then indefinitely detain aliens--even legal aliens--suspected of being "terrorists." He also wants to be able to deport them without presenting any evidence that they have, in fact, done anything to be deserving of such a fate. This is only the latest in a growing list of proposals by the creature intended to hack away at the tree of liberty; one only hopes our congress will deny him the axe.
--the Spirit of '76
Thursday, Sept. 20, 2001
Friday, Sept. 21, 2001
Well, we have a war, but we don't know who it's against. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said this week that 35,500 members of the reserve and National Guard are to be called up to fight it. Hundreds of fighter and bomber aircraft have already been routed to the gulf, along with two more aircraft carriers, a missile cruiser and a destroyer. This is in addition to the not insignificant force already present in the region, and we still have no clear enemy on which to use all this firepower.
The President's speechwriters did nothing to clarify the matter last night.
"Americans are asking, 'Who attacked our country?' The evidence we have gathered all points to a collection of loosely affiliated terrorist organizations known as al Qaeda... This group and its leader, a person named Osama bin Laden, are linked to many other organizations in different countries, including the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. There are thousands of these terrorists in more than 60 countries."
This is a widely scattered enemy, and not subject to the kind of massive assault for which the present deployments seem intended. This is true, even within Afghanistan. The so-called "terrorist training camps" are nothing more than tents in the middle of nowhere, and, says the New York Times Wednesday, have been abandoned since the attack last week. "If you took every terrorist in Afghanistan, you could not make a light brigade," said Gen. Anthony Zinni, former head of U.S. Central Command in Tampa. Bush himself belittled the idea of dealing with the problem with cruise missiles: "What's the sense of sending $2-million missiles to hit a $10 tent that's empty?" A good question, Mr. President. Why, then, are you dispatching so many of those missiles to the region?
The President's speechwriters offered a possible answer last night, trying to concoct a pretext for an attack on Afghanistan:
"By aiding and abetting murder, the Taliban regime is committing murder. And tonight the United States of America makes the following demands on the Taliban. Deliver to United States authorities all of the leaders of Al Quaeda who hide in your land. Release all foreign nationals, including American citizens you have unjustly imprisoned. Protect foreign journalists, diplomats and aid workers in your country. Close immediately and permanently every terrorist training camp in Afghanistan. And hand over every terrorist and every person and their support structure to appropriate authorities. Give the United States full access to terrorist training camps, so we can make sure they are no longer operating.
"These demands are not open to negotiation or discussion. The Taliban must act and act immediately. They will hand over the terrorists or they will share in their fate."
The problem, as the Times outlines it, is that there really isn't anything in Afghanistan to attack. It's an extremely poor country without much in the way of infrastructure. They can't be bombed back to the Stone Age--they're already virtually in the Stone Age. The President's speechwriters spent some time, last night, on the hardships endured by those under the dictatorial rule of the Taliban:
"Afghanistan's people have been brutalized, many are starving and many have fled. Women are not allowed to attend school. You can be jailed for owning a television. Religion can be practiced only as their leaders dictate. A man can be jailed in Afghanistan if his beard is not long enough."
Attacks on such targets as the nation's power grid, communication lines, and food supply can only make things worse for the people of Afghanistan, who are, as the President's speechwriters concede, victims of the Taliban themselves.
What does all this suggest? That the concerns expressed in Left Hook! over the last week and a half--that a War On Terrorism, modeled on the War On Drugs, was being crafted by the administration to serve as a replacement for the Cold War--are well founded. It seems increasingly likely that the large mobilization is nothing more than a show designed to mollify public anger and create a pretext for, among other things, a significant expansion of military spending. The completely unwinnable nature of this "war," like that of the War On Drugs, makes it much more reliable, in this regard, than the Soviet menace, as it precludes any sort of "victory." The administration--and this "war" will not end with the Bush administration--can simply say it is "making progress," and congress will be hard-pressed to refuse it "the tools it needs" to "get the job done." [*]
The words of Bush's speechwriters bear out this analysis. Here they are, laying out the "goal" of this "war":
"Our war on terror begins with Al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated."
How will it be fought?
"We will direct every resource at our command--every means of diplomacy, every tool of intelligence, every instrument of law enforcement, every financial influence, and every necessary weapon of war--to the destruction and to the defeat of the global terror network.
"Now, this war will not be like the war against Iraq a decade ago, with a decisive liberation of territory and a swift conclusion. It will not look like the air war above Kosovo two years ago, where no ground troops were used and not a single American was lost in combat.
"Our response involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes. Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes visible on TV and covert operations secret even in success. We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place until there is no refuge or no rest. And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation in every region now has a decision to make: Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime."
Notice this utterly unsubtle implication about how those in congress who may dissent from the proposed course are to be regarded:
"...ladies and gentlemen of the Congress, I thank you... for what you have already done and for what we will do together. Tonight we face new and sudden national challenges. We will come together to improve air safety, to dramatically expand the number of air marshals on domestic flights and take new measures to prevent hijacking. We will come together to promote stability and keep our airlines flying with direct assistance during this emergency. We will come together to give law enforcement the additional tools it needs to track down terror here at home. We will come together to strengthen our intelligence capabilities to know the plans of terrorists before they act and to find them before they strike. We will come together to take active steps that strengthen America's economy and put our people back to work."
The War On Terrorism comes with its own ideology: "Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists." This, directed by the speechwriters at "every nation in every region," has its domestic equivalent, as well; as with the Cold War, dissenters will have to overcome the patina of seditionists to make their case.
This prospect is made even more frightening by the administration's dismal practice of dismissing the very complex questions raised by a complex situation in favor of portraying the whole matter as nothing more than a professional wrestling match. The speechwriters:
"Americans are asking 'Why do they hate us?' They hate what they see right here in this chamber: a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other."
The terrorists, in this scenario, are merely motiveless animals who do evil because they are evil. In truth, Osama bin Laden and his followers care nothing about how the U.S. handles its internal politics. Their concerns, as they've made quite clear over the years, are with how the U.S. government conducts policies outside of its borders--specifically, how it conducts them in their home countries. Logic would dictate that understanding their motive is a crucial element in preventing acts of terror in the future, but the administration won't even concede they have one, with the consequence that the policies which generate an Osama bin Laden continue unquestioned.
Taken as a whole, this is certainly no way to run a railroad. Or perhaps it is...
Pay attention, friends of liberty; we're now faced with a growing snowball called the War On Terrorism. Let's try to keep it from becoming an avalanche.
[*] Among those tools will be greatly expanded domestic police powers, with the attendant loss of civil liberties--something the administration has pursued since the attack. Ominously, the president's speechwriters last night announced the creation of a new federal bureacracy--the Office of Homeland Security--which is to be a cabinet-level department whose responsibilities are, at best, only vaguely hinted at.
India and Pakistan are paying dearly for their acquiescence to the U.S.; both are experiencing widespread anti-government demonstrations and violent rioting by pro-bin Laden reactionaries. Both governments are nuclear powers, and if either should fall, the fanatics would have those weapons in their hands.
"[Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld said the administration was reconsidering
the name initially given to the military deployment, 'Operation Infinite
Justice,'' because in the Islamic faith only Allah can provide infinite
--from the AP yesterday
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