erik lundegaard

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Thursday August 28, 2008

"We're Amazingly Incompetent or We Lied"

Related to the post below, here's a quote I read over lunch from Ron Suskind's The Way of the World. The speaker is an FBI man and a conservative Republican. He's talking to the author in June 2007:

"People don't realize in America how little underlying credibility the United States now has in the world, espcially on this matter of WMD, which, of course, has been driving everything. We went to war—the most important thing a country does—based on WMD, and we were wrong. That means either we're amazingly incompetent or we lied. Take your pick. Now, I think we lied, most people do, because no one could be that incompetent. But until we come clean—and here we are years later and we don't even care enough as a country to figure out what really happened—we're sunk."

Pages 169-70. We get to the lying later.

Posted at 01:31 PM on Aug 28, 2008 in category Politics
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The Power of Our Example

I’ve been an Obama supporter from the get-go — from the day I heard him speak at a Minnesota DFL (Democratic-Farm-Labor) Party gathering in April 2006. Listening to him I thought what most other people have thought whenever they heard him speak: “You know, this guy could be president.”

But, I admit, I’ve been blown away by both Bill and Hillary Clinton at the DNC this week. Listening to her, I thought, “If she’d been this good during the campaign, she might’ve been the nominee.” Listening to him, I thought, “I’d vote for him again in a second.”

Her speech was good, but this bit put her over the top:
    This is the story of America. Of women and men who defy the odds and never give up. How do we give this country back to them?
    By following the example of a brave New Yorker, a woman who risked her life to shepherd slaves along the Underground Railroad. And on that path to freedom, Harriett Tubman had one piece of advice.
    If you hear the dogs, keep going.
    If you see the torches in the woods, keep going.
    If they're shouting after you, keep going.
    Don't ever stop. Keep going.
    If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.
    Even in the darkest of moments, ordinary Americans have found the faith to keep going.
The electricity that infused the convention center at that moment was overwhelming. I could feel it through the TV set and into my home in Seattle. I got shivers. My friend, Jim, another Obama supporter, called it “Obamaesque.”

Bill, meanwhile, did what every good writer, and every good lawyer, does: He boiled his case down to the specifics and presented them with charm. But, from all that, this was the line. Whoever came up with it deserves a raise:
Barack Obama knows that America cannot be strong abroad unless we are strong at home. People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power.
That’s it, isn’t it? The U.S. has spent most of its history, from “Shining City on a Hill” through the Marshall Plan and the Peace Corps, relying on the power of our example. There’s a lot of grime beneath that myth but it’s a myth worth adhering to. We do what we do; if others follow, that’s up to them. Since 9/11 we've acted the opposite, and those seven years have shown us the limits of our power. We’re exhausted, deeply entrenched, trapped. We’ve made more enemies than ever before. The more we use the example of our power, the more we have to use it. And the world’s a big place.

The power of our example? That’s an unlimited power source.
Posted at 11:45 AM on Aug 28, 2008 in category Politics
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Saturday 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.
Posted at 10:20 AM on Aug 23, 2008 in category Politics, Books, Culture
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Friday August 22, 2008

"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.”

Posted at 10:38 AM on Aug 22, 2008 in category Politics, Books
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Thursday August 14, 2008

"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?

ECONOMIC ISSUES
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!

DOMESTIC ISSUES
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.

SOCIAL ISSUES
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.

DEFENSE ISSUES
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?)

REPUBLICAN PARTY
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.

Posted at 08:33 AM on Aug 14, 2008 in category Politics
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