Like many of the people on the right side of this battle, I’m taking a few days to decompress after weeks and months of eating, drinking and sleeping politics. There are doughtier souls out there who haven’t so much as paused in their efforts. Bev Harris of BlackBoxVoting.org, for example, is making a very strong case for the view that massive voting fraud took place through the medium of electronic voting, and she’s pursuing a Freedom of Information Act request that will probably turn out to be the largest every filed. Bev was on this story from the start, pushing it hard while the big time press pursued swamp-gas wraiths like the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. The fight will continue: it has to, what with the pimp-slapped press crowning Bush with laurels for what was a very narrow victory, and Grover Norquist all but begging for somebody to knock him on his ass.

But right now I’m finding nourishment in the classics. Early favorites like John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row and The Pastures of Heaven. The Icelandic sagas: particularly Egil’s Saga, for its sardonic humor and Egil’s starkly beautiful lament for the death of his son; and Laxdaela Saga for its captivating women — Unn the Deep-Minded, building her ship in a grove of trees, and Gudrun, one of the most fearsome women in all literature. Shakespeare, naturally: Henry V and the St. Crispin’s Day speech are a great morale booster. Maybe George W. Bush’s supporters see him as young Hal, transforming himself from a tavern lout to a warrior king, with Fallujah as his Agincourt. The comparison only works if you picture Hal staying home to loot the treasury alongside the priests, while his undermanned forces endure daily poundings from the French. (Besides, who would be Falstaff? Ralph Reed?) I see Dubya as closer to Richard III, though even that comparison falls apart. After all, the hunchbacked villain was not afraid to do his own dirty work.

For me, the worst thing about election night — worse even than the outcome — was the prolonged exposure to the empty suits of cable news. Switching between Chris Matthews and Wolf Blitzer, I was reminded of a sequence in A Passage to India, E.M. Forster’s novel about the uuneasy coexistence of Brits and Indians in the city of Chandrapore. Just today I looked it up, and it’s even more appropriate than I remembered.

About midway through the book, an idle remark from one of the British guests leads the hapless Dr. Aziz to organize a hugely expensive expedition to a curious geological formation called the Marabar Caves. There they encounter — well, I’m not sure if this is Forster’s invention, but he describes it brilliantly:

“There are some exquisite echoes in India; there is the whisper round the dome of Bijapur; there are the long, solid sentences that voyage through the air at Mandu, and return unbroken to their creator. The echo in a Marabar cave is not like these, it is entirely devoid of distinction. Whatever is said, the same monotonous noise replies, and quivers up and down the walls until it is absorbed into the roof. ‘Boum’ is the sound as far as the human alphabet can express it, or ‘bou-oum,’ or ‘ou-boum’ — utterly dull. Hope, politeness, the blowing of a nose, the squeak of a boot — all produce ‘boum.’ Even the striking of a match starts a little worm coiling, which is too small to complete a circle, but is eternally watchful. And if several people talk at once, an overlapping howling noise begins, echoes generate echoes, and the cave is stuffed with a snake composed of small snakes, which writhe independently.”

Mrs. Moore, a British matron out to see some of the real India, endures a trek through one of the tunnels and emerges shaken:

“The crush and the smells she could forget, but the echo began in some indescribable way to undermine her hold on life. Coming at a moment when she chanced to be fatigued, it had managed to murmur, ‘Pathos, piety, courage — they exist, but are identical, and so is filth. Everything exists, nothing has value.’ If one had spoken vileness in that place, or quoted lofty poetry, the comment would have been the same — ‘ou-boum.’ If one had spoken with tongues and pleaded for all the unhappiness and misunderstanding in the world, past, present, and to come, for all the misery men must undergo whatever their opinion and position, and however much they dodge or bluff — it would amount to the same . . . suddenly, at the edge of her mind, Religion appeared, poor little talkative Christianity, and she knew that all its divine words from ‘Let there be Light’ to ‘It is finished’ only amounted to ‘boum.’”

If that doesn’t describe the wholesale cheapening effect of corporate media, then nothing does. The endless blizzard of data-noise and infotainment, the perverted notion of “balance” that allows a paid Republican courtier like Tucker Carlson to dispute the credibility of Paul Krugman, an economist whose name ranks on many short lists for a Nobel Prize. Where a genuine war hero like John Kerry is considered a ditherer while Bush pretends to be a fighter jockey; where TV reporters bend the knee to power while robotic pundits prattle about the liberal media. A war Bush lied us into, then manipulated to boost his election prospects, is about to devour more American and Iraqi lives, and yet the most important thing now is to see if Jessica Simpson breaks up with her husband. There were terrible, urgent issues at stake in this election, but the glittering Marabar Cave of our media turned it all into one dull “boum.” What I need to do this weekend, above all else, is to get that awful sound out of my head.

I’m feeling much better now, thanks for asking. Several hours of watching cable news shows left me unmoored and adrift. I went to sleep depressed, woke up saddened, felt myself galvanized by the potential for investigation of voter fraud and intimidation, only to see it all go up in a puff of smoke when Kerry threw in the towel.

I still wish Kerry had decided to stick it out and let the lawyers do their thing in Ohio. In his concession speech, Kerry made noises about how the election should be decided by the voters, not by a court decision. Exactly right, except that when your opponents are the Republicans, court decisions are necessary to make sure the voters get heard in the first place.

The Democratic Party has too many gentleman losers. It’s one of the subtle cues that tell the rest of the world the Democrats have internalized the GOP message that liberals aren’t Real Americans. The wingers will fight to their last drop of heart’s blood to enshrine anti-gay discrimination in state constitutions and cosset billionaires with tax cuts. The Democrats will fight for social justice and sensible government, but only up to a point. After that they start to worry about looking undignified or unsuitable for appearances on “Meet the Press.” When John Kerry talks about the need to unify Americans, he surely knows that the Bush claque and the Republican ayatollahs have made it their mission to rend American society into however many pieces are needed to secure political advantage. The pundits are calling him a class act now. But just wait for a few months, when Kerry is back in the Senate and ready to criticize some new outrage promulgated by the wingers. Those pundit brownie points will evaporate in an instant: Tim Russert will call him divisive, Rush Limbaugh will trot out all his old Frenchman jokes and Charles Krauthammer will tell his FauxNews cronies that Kerry has clearly gone insane, just like that poor bitter Al Gore.

Read the blogs linked to the left. There’s a lot of fruitful dicussion and reflection going on about where to take this slow-building progressive renaissance. A little under half the electorate agrees with us. America has not morphed into a land of snake handlers and Bible thumpers. Meanwhile, I sustain myself with the grim amusement that comes from realizing that sometimes the best way to punish a man is to give him what he wants the most. Bush is going into his second term with no more room for making excuses. Iraq gets worse every day, the economy continuesd to sputter and the war on terror still doesn’t seem to have caused any discomfort to Osama bin Laden. There’s nothing as smug and hateful as a winger who thinks he’s on top, and if this missive from Diamond Bill Bennett is any indication, the culture wars are about to be ramnped up pretty seriously. I suspect there will be a lot of pigeons coming home to roost in the next four years, and it’s only right that Bush be in office to reap the whirlwind he sowed with his own hands.

The Wages of Fear (10/25/04)

December 29, 2006

Just when you think the news from Iraq can’t get any worse, it gets blood-freezingly sinister.

It’s hard to say which story is creepier: the news that several hundred tons of high explosives are now missing from an Iraqi military installation left unguarded during the American invasion, or the discovery of the bodies of 50 newly trained Iraqi soldiers, all forced to lie down in rows and then shot, execution-style.

The mass-murder of the soldiers is a blow to the very quick of any hopes of creating a plausible civil society in Iraq. The soldiers, returning home on leave, were ambushed by killers with complete inside knowledge of their movements. It sent a clear, unmistakable message both to any Iraqis willing to work with Americans, and to the U.S.-led occupation force: You are not safe.

The implications of the Al Qaqaa story are, if anything, even worse. Hundreds of tons of extremely high-grade explosives were essentially left out in the open for anyone who cared to pick them up. The explosives are the sort used to trigger sophisticated nuclear weapons. The Times story offers this particularly spooky graf:

“To see the bunkers that make up the vast Qaqaa complex today, it is hard to recall that just two years ago it was part of Saddam Hussein’s secret military complex. The bunkers are so large that they are reminiscent of pyramids, though with rounded edges and the tops chopped off. Several are blackened and eviscerated as a result of American bombing. Smokestacks rise in the distance. Today, Al Qaqaa has become a no-man’s land that is generally avoided even by the Marines in charge of north Babil Province. Headless bodies are found there. An ammunition dump has been looted, and on Sunday an Iraqi employee of The New York Times who made a furtive visit to the site saw looters tearing out metal fixtures. Bare pipes within the darkened interior of one of the buildings were a tangled mess, zigzagging along charred walls. Someone fired a shot, probably to frighten the visitors off. “It’s like Mars on Earth,” said Maj. Dan Whisnant, an intelligence officer for the Second Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment. “It would take probably 10 battalions 10 years to clear that out.”

Even if the explosives aren’t used for nukes, which would require a great deal of sophisticated engineering, they constitute a virtually limitless supply for insurgents looking to make U.S. soldiers miserable. Whenever a car bombs wipes out another building or convoy, the families of the fallen can thank Bushco once again for combining incompetence and ideological pipe dreams in planning the invasion.

Most shockingly of all, the administration has known about all this for roughly a year. The Bushies have been trying to keep the information under wraps until the election is safely past. Makes you wonder what else they trying to squash, doesn’t it?

Ron Suskind, whose book The Price of Loyalty was the opening salvo in the nonstop torrent of tomes about Bush, has a summation of Bush’s character and the way it colors his administration in the New York Times.

While some of the points Suskind makes are,if anything, old hat — the way his religious faith has mixed with his love of certainty to harden into something unshakeably dense, for example. But there’s a passage that perfectly conveys the bottomless arrogance of the Bush gang: “In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn’t like about Bush’s former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House’s displeasure , and then he told me something that at the time I didn’t fully comprehend — but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

“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.’ I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ‘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.’

“Who besides guys like me are part of the reality-based community? Many of the other elected officials in Washington, it would seem. A group of Democratic and Republican members of Congress were called in to discuss Iraq sometime before the October 2002 vote authorizing Bush to move forward. A Republican senator recently told Time Magazine that the president walked in and said: ‘Look, I want your vote. I’m not going to debate it with you.’ When one of the senators began to ask a question, Bush snapped, ‘Look, I’m not going to debate it with you.’

“The 9/11 commission did not directly address the question of whether Bush exerted influence over the intelligence community about the existence of weapons of mass destruction. That question will be investigated after the election, but if no tangible evidence of undue pressure is found, few officials or alumni of the administration whom I spoke to are likely to be surprised. ‘If you operate in a certain way — by saying this is how I want to justify what I’ve already decided to do, and I don’t care how you pull it off — you guarantee that you’ll get faulty, one-sided information,’ Paul O’Neill, who was asked to resign his post of treasury secretary in December 2002, said when we had dinner a few weeks ago. ‘You don’t have to issue an edict, or twist arms, or be overt.’”

I love that: Bush people speaking disdainfully of “the reality-based community.” Which we can take to mean that Bushco represents “the unreality based-community,” which certainly describes the planners of the Iraq quagmire. I guess the soldiers who’ve mutinied in Iraq figured out that they are the mercy of “history’s actors,” and decided to do some acting of their own.

We hold these truths to be self-evident:

That the values of American civilization — the free flow and contest of ideas, openness to all races and ethnicities, the recognition that a 21st century technological civilization cannot be run like an 18th century village, that government must serve as a countervailing force to unchecked corporate profit-chasing — are currently the domain of liberalism.

That conservatism has degraded and undermined its honorable intellectual heritage through its own actions in the last two decades, and needs a nice long stretch in the wilderness to clean up its act.

That the average illegal immigrant has more courage, resourcefulness and appreciation of American values than Michelle Malkin.

That anybody who argues that George W. Bush and his cronies can lay claim seriously to any kind of positive role in defending this country against terrorists is nothing more than a Republican hack.

That Zell Miller and Clueless Joe Lieberman should stop trying to kid everybody and just join the Republican Party already.

That the right side won the Civil War, and Trent Lott (among many others) should come to grips with that fact and get on with their lives.

That capitalism is a fine thing, but that entirely too many people confuse it with corporatism and cronyism.

That America does many things superbly, but Canada takes first-place honors for beer and health care.

That we will not overlook the misdeeds of Democrats and liberals, but that right now the Republicans and their media drones offer a freakin’ target-rich environment.

That, in the words of our last elected president, this Supreme Court cannot be allowed to choose the next president, and this president cannot be allowed to choose the next Supreme Court.

That there is no god but (watch this space).

That religion and spirituality are, paradoxically, best served by a society in which secular values are dominant, and that therefore Bill O’Reilly should put a sock in it.

That Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Cal Thomas and others of their noisome ilk share with Osama bin Laden the unshakable belief that the United States did something to deserve Sept. 11.

That all three networks should have their licenses yanked for failing to serve the interests of the public that owns the airwaves they use to reap enormous profits.

That at a time when corporate-dominated news outlets are unqualified to report on anything more complicated than the travails of the Olsen twins — and entirely too willing to spout Republican talking points in place of analysis — a documentarian like Michael Moore is a necessary evil. And not all that evil, either, when you come right down to it.

That an elected president will be a nice change of pace after the last four years.

Let the grinding begin.

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