Politics postsSaturday August 23, 2008
Why you can't take toothpaste on an airplane
The first chapter of Ron Suskind’s The Way of the World juxtaposes a day in the life of Pres. Bush with Usman Khosa, a Pakistani immigrant living in D.C. and working at Barnes Richardson, an international consulting firm.
The day is July 27, 2006, when, in a move calculated to win some iota of support from African-Americans for the upcoming mid-term elections, Pres. Bush signs the Voting Rights Act reauthorization a year early in a ceremony on the White House lawn. It’s also the day Khosa is taken into custody by the Secret Service for fiddling with his iPod while waiting for a car to pass through the White House gates. He’s dragged into an interrogation room inside the White House, made to give up the names of friends and acquaintances, then let go with warnings. His friends and acquaintances will all be checked out. So will he. “We know everything about you and where to find you,” one Secret Service agent tells him. His crime? Fiddling with his iPod while Pakistani.
But the bigger issue, in the first two chapters, involves the backstory to the British government’s capture of a major terror cell in the suburbs of London, which was plotting to hijack airplanes and head for the U.S. East Coast. “The second wave,” Bush and Cheney had been warning us about.
MI-6 was cautious. Suskind writes: “The Brits, after their experience in Northern Ireland, were starting to believe that the key was to treat this not as a titanic ideological struggle, but rather as a law enforcement issue. This required being patient enough to get the actual evidence —usually once a plot had matured — with which to build a viable case in open court.”
Bush? Not so open. Not so cautious. Suskind implies that when Tony Blair refused to speed up arrests to suit Bush’s timetable — that is, the August before midterms — Bush nodded to Cheney, who dispatched the fourth-ranking CIA officer to Pakistan to alert the authorities there to Rashid Rauf, the Pakistani contact for the terror cell. Once Rauf was arrested, the terror cell panicked, and the Brits, who were apoplectic that their carefully constructed strategy had been knocked over, had no choice but to round them up... before they had enough evidence to put them away forever. And The White House got to say how they had been right all along “about everything.”
Suskind gets us into the heads of both Bush and Cheney, which is a little odd, you wonder which sources could possibly get us there. But these early chapters make you realize both a) how real the terrorist threat is, and b) how politically motivated and short-sighted the Bush administration response has been. It’s a scary world, but all the scarier for who we elected to protect us.
“Bush II” by William Shakespeare
Ron Suskind’s book, The Way of the World, received some (but not nearly enough) attention recently for the revelation that the Bush administration knew, as early as January 2003, via “a top-drawer intelligence-gathering mission,” that there were no WMDs in Iraq and thus no reason to go to war with Saddam Hussein in March 2003.
That’s not the main reason I bought his book, though. I bought it because Ron Suskind is the guy who wrote the 2004 New York Times Magazine article that, through a smug Bush aide, introduced the phrase “the reality-based community” to the world. I remember how the article stunned me. I remember how it made me better aware of what we were up against. That certain Republicans were willing to overthrow centuries of rational thinking to keep winning elections. The money quote:
The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” ... “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
Gotta be Rove, right?
I’ve only read the prologue of The Way of the World but I’m already glad I bought it. In the first pages Suskind gives a better reading of the presidential failures of George W. Bush than I’ve read anywhere else. And I’ve read a lot about the presidential failures of George W. Bush.
Bush came to power, Suskind says, relying on his gut, his instinct. “What he does,” Suskind writes, “is size up people, swiftly — he trusts his eyes, his ears, his touch — and acts… Once he landed in the Oval Office, however, he discovered that every relationship is altered, corrupted by the gravitational incongruities between the leader of the free world and everyone else.”
Other presidents have fought against this corruption, this alteration. Ford arranged Oval Office arguments between top aides. Nixon ordered subordinates to tell him something their superiors didn’t want him to hear. There was good old-fashioned eavesdropping and wire-tapping and polling. But W. continued to rely on his instinct, making him, to Suskind, a tragic figure worthy of Shakespeare: “A man who trusts only what he can touch placed in a realm where nothing he touches is authentic.” Or more brusquely: “...you can’t run the world on instinct from inside a bubble.”
Cyclist “doored,” ticketed
While doing research for my day job, which just had this nice (or, to be precise, extremely factual) write-up in The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, I came across this article in Ismthus, the alt-weekly of Madison, Wisconsin.
It seems that recently a Madison cyclist got “doored” (biking along, car door opens, splat), went to the hospital with multiple contusions and a fractured vertebra, and was then given a $10 ticket for violating — to quote the article — “a little-known state law that requires bicyclists passing a parked or standing vehicle to allow ‘a minimum of three feet’ between themselves and the car.”
Of course, allow the minimum three feet and you’re in the entire lane and you’ll hear it from the cars behind you. I just got into a rather acidic back-and-forth with an acquaintance who, responding to my earlier post about cyclists vs. motorists, made this exact point. He said he was sick of cyclists taking up lanes and slowing traffic. I said traffic slows traffic: the reason why cars go slowly, most of the time, is because there are too many cars. I also said that, in downtown Seattle anyway, cars slow me up. It’s not even close. I zip, they clog. Then he made the argument — so odd for a lawyer — that cars own the road and cyclists should just bike on the sidewalk where they belong. Nice. And illegal.
But the article and the back-and-forth do clarify the larger issue. Sidewalks are built for pedestrians. Roads are built for cars. Nothing is built for cyclists. Occasionally you get the bike lane, which, as I’ve said, is yours until someone bigger wants it, and it often just ends after a few blocks. Complain, and you’re made to feel like Oliver Twist: “MORE? You want MORE? That painted bike lane that ran two blocks ain’t good enough for the likes a’ you, is it? You wif your fancy ways.”
The solution, for me, lies in creating more roads specifically for bikes, and I would do it on existing roads, possibly with a concrete barrier between bikes and cars. Let’s face it: The safer you make it, the more people will use it. The more they use it, the fitter they’ll be, and the less oil they’ll burn, and the less pollution they’ll create. All of which are good things. The other side? Gas, pollution, fat. Bad things.
It’s not even an argument. You burn fat (and become stronger) or burn gas (and make the country weaker).
Let’s get on this. Because this shit in Madison? That’s gotta stop.
“Dear Fellow Republican”
The Republican National Committee sent me a census the other day addressed to a “fellow Republican.”
I know. I assume they sent it to as many people as possible. Maybe they even want people to fulminate against the enclosed “Republican Party Census Document” and its leading questions. It’s not a census, after all, but a push poll, so the goal is to get the words repeated, to get them out there, so they can reside in the brains of unsuspecting passersby.
Here’s my version. Has the same basic gist with half the calories:
HOMELAND SECURITY ISSUES
1. Should Republicans do everything in their power to make you so scared of the world that you’re willing to give up your most basic rights?
2. Do you support the use of force against any country chickenhawk Republicans say shit about? Shit to include: WMDs, smoking guns, underage gymnasts.
3. Should guffawing Republicans continue to make you scared of Mexicans? And Negroes? And the Irish?
1. Should greedy Republicans continue to use the phrase “massive tax hikes” when referring to taxes on the wealthiest of the wealthy (i.e., Republicans)?
2. President Bush’s idiotic tax cuts for rich bastards (known as the “Idiotic Tax Cuts for Rich Bastards” law) is set to expire. Should we make it permanent? Should we put in the Constitution? Should we make it the 11th Commandment?
3. Shouldn’t we balance the budget already? And by “we” I mean “your great great grand-children.” Ha!
1. Are you still scared of Mexicans? Good!
2. Do you still hate trial lawyers? Yes!
3. Red tape? The other side likes it! You and I know better. Here’s a beer.
1. Homos? The worst!
2. What if we implied the other guys wanted to serve partial-birth aborted fetuses in government-run school lunch programs? Would it make you rent Soylent Green again?
3. You know what those other guys want to do? Ban God. But look at this muscle. Me stop them.
1. Hey, isn’t that a Mexican right outside your house? Vote now!
2. The United Nations? Losers!
3. The seeds of democracy? Yum!
4. Yes or no: All countries not the U.S. are alike. (Answer: Who gives a shit?)
1. Look at this penis. Should we pass a law that says it's the best one ever?
2. I can run faster than you. Yes, I can. I already ran around the world, you just didn’t see me.
3. Would you join the Republican National Committee by making a contribution today? Like, a zillion dollars. OK, $35. OK, Other.
4. Look at this muscle. No, wait. No, look from this side.
The questionnaire includes a business reply envelope with the following printed on the outside: “By using your own first class stamp to return this envelope, you will be helping us save much needed funds.”
So if you get one of these, do what I did. Mail it back. Without the stamp. Empty.
Reagan v. Founding Fathers
Another good observation from Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth About the American Voter:
As John Patrick Diggins, a Reagan biographer, astutely observes, the Founding Fathers believed that “The people are the problem and the government the solution” while Reagan convinced us that the people are virtuous and that government's the problem. “It worked,” Diggins notes. “Reagan never lost an election.”