The Bush Rules

December 27, 2008

One of the most amazing aspects of the Bush Bust-Out is that the con-men running the show have made no bones about their contempt for the people they’re fleecing — i.e., us. Of course Cheney and Bush sneer at poll numbers showing the majority of Americans living outside of insane asylums can’t wait to see them gone. They’ve never been about anything but padding their pockets, expanding their power and opening up the public coffers to looting by their cronies. As far as Bush is concerned, his only “accountability moment” came in 2004, when he managed to scam his way back into the job his daddy’s buddies appointed him to. Every time he spoke in public after that, there should have been subtitles reading, You had your chance and you blew it, now don’t come bitching to me.

I’ve already suggested that Barack Obama should simply give his spending intiatives names like the Blowing Up Dark-skinned People in the Desert Act, or the Kick Muslim Ass Act, or the Feed Hungry Millionaires Act because everybody knows wars and tax cuts never have to be paid for. And if Republicans try to block him in Congress, or if his currently stellar poll numbers should drop, Obama should simply get up there and say, “In the words of my predecessor, I had my accountability moment in November 2008. You got a problem with that, go cry to Sean Hannity.”

The Bush admninistration has set the bar so low that a new basement has to be dug to give it clearance. Even if Obama does nothing but keep the Pentagon from getting hit by another airliner, or keep another natural disaster from wiping out an American city, he will have been a roaring success — by Bush rules.

The Delusion-Driven Life

December 22, 2008

I was all set to dismiss this Newsweek article about arts and culture in the Bush era — and Joshua Alston’s argument that the revamped Battlestar Galactica should be considered the defining Bush-era television show — as a typical year-end stem-winder, but it’s generated some surprisingly interesting discussions about which bit of pop culture should get the Bush crown.

Scott McLemee and Matt Yglesias agree with Alston that BSG is the signature Bush-era show, and there’s no question that the series has rung some brilliant changes on the scenario of a society faced with the threat of an enemy that can blend in with its potential victims, then strike with genocidal force at the the worst possible moment.

Some of McLemee’s commenters raise interesting points about the likely impact of the Bush Bunch’s favorite what-if scenario — what if the only way to keep a nuclear bomb from going off was to torture a suspected terrorist? — not only on Mel Gibson’s sado-theological tract The Passion of the Christ, but on the rise of torture-porn movies like Hostel and the Saw franchise. The Bushies and Jigsaw share a penchant for using pieties and moralism as a muffler for sadism, along with the delusion that arbitrarily imprisoning people and subjecting them to appalling torture is a means to a higher end, a sure-fire way to reveal greater truths, and even an avenue for self-improvement. (Amanda, the franchise’s second-string villain, becomes Jigsaw’s assistant because she thinks her torment at his hands actually turned her life around.) If “I am not a crook” sums up the Nixon adminstration, maybe “I want to play a little game” should do the same for Bush.

Personally, I think The Wire should be considered the defining Bush-era show. Not because it’s a brilliant critique of the war on drugs — that farce was rolling long before Dubya toddled into the world stage, and will continue to grind up lives and laws for decades to come. Not because it’s a dauntingly ambitious, multi-leveled study of an entire city — again, the forces it examines so closely were at work before Bush arrived. Not even because the second season shows a major drug investigation thrown off the rails because a key villain is valued by the FBI as an anti-terrorist asset — stories that deal with the complicated morality of undercover operations go back to Prince of the City and even further.

The Wire is the perfect Bush-era show because it depicts law enforcement fighting a real problem — rampant, socially corrosive drug abuse — in deluded ways that ensure the problem not only persists, but intensifies. As clever and resourceful as McNulty and company may be, they are basically stupid in that they fail to grasp the fact that no matter how many “big fish” they manage to catch, they are never going to drain the ocean those fish swim through, and their efforts will only act to encourage the growth of more predatory species. The destruction of Avon Barksdale and the defeat of Stringer Bell’s plans to become a respectable businessman doesn’t do anything to halt the flow of drugs; it simply clears the way for the even more monstrous Marlo Stansfield. Because the efforts of the narcos constantly disrupt street-level organizing and raise the stakes, the worst fates are reserved for the players who allow stirrings of decency to color their judgment: D’Angelo Barksdale, Stringer Bell, even Proposition Joe and his desire to do business as quietly as possible. The only significant improvement in the lives of Baltimore residents comes in the show’s third season when Bunny Colvin, one of the police brass, takes it upon himself to establish “free zones” for drug dealing in the vacant areas of the city, and his ideas baffle the crooks as much as the cops. (”We grind and you try to stop us,” one of the corner boys complains. “Why you wanna go and fuck with the rules?”) Ironically, when word of the free zones gets out, the city’s corrupt incumbent mayor sees the benefits and loses valuable time trying to figure out how to present them in a positiive, politically palatable manner.  His weaselly challenger also recognizes that Colvin has pointed the way out of the endless, no-win drug war, but knows he can ride to power by whipping up public outrage against the “rogue cop” and his “legalization of drugs.” Everyone gets to talk tough and claim a victory in the war on crime, but at the end of the day the residents are once again cowering behind locked doors as the drug trade grinds on.

The fifth season, which focuses on the decline of newspapers in general and the Baltimore Sun in particular, is generally considered the weakest, but in fact it brings all of the show’s concerns together in subtly interesting ways. Because HBO would not commission a full run of episodes, the show’s creators didn’t have time to develop their plotlines and characters properly, so the central conceit — a detective cooks up a fake serial killer in order to get funding restored for real police work — seems cynical and forced. I’d have preferred a storyline that grew out of what came before, maybe even one that played off Bunny Colvin’s brainstorm. But the fifth season jolts us with the realization that while the dramas of the first four seasons have been played out, it’s all been lost on the city’s newspaper, where the lives of the homeless are only of interest when the managing editor thinks there’s “a Dickensian angle” and drug-war propaganda goes unchallenged. And when the serial killer story ius snown to be a fraud, the whole thing is kept quiet because careers — and, it turns out, a Pulitzer Prize — stand to benefit from the story’s continued existence.

Fighting a real problem with fantasy, delusion and self-serving political manipulation. Those are the defining qualities of the Bush administration’s war on terror, and The Wire has them down cold.

A Really Big Shoe

December 16, 2008

Having just read George W. Bush’s latest flip of the bird to America and the rest of the world on his bloody fiasco in Iraq, I now find myself wishing Muntander al-Zaidi’s aim had been just a little better.

But rather than mourn lost opportunities, let’s let that Iraqi journalist point the way to a proper sendoff for the Boy Emperor on Jan. 20. On that blessed Tuesday, let us all hang shoes from our roofs, porches and front doors. Maybe even dangle little Bush Push-Off shoes from our car antennae. Let the word go forth across the nation and around the world: Jan. 20, 2009 will be A Really Big Shoe, and I don’t just mean that in the Ed Sullivan sense.

We will mark the day by eating Sole Food: fillet of sole, shoe-fly pie — feel free to write in with your own suggestions. In fact, if you like you can e-mail images of your observance of the Really Big Shoe to The Opinion Mill and we’ll post them as possible.

Musical selections will also be appreciated. I’m starting my song list with “Glad to See You Go” by The Ramones, “Hit the Road, Jack,” by Ray Charles, and “The Time Has Come to Say Sayonara” from the M*A*S*H soundtrack.

Mean-spirited, you say? Just remember: the man who lied us into a ruinous war, trashed the economy, packed the judiciary with religious flakes, opened up the public coffers to looting by his cronies, and turned American into a torture-loving Third World nation is leaving office free of worries about impeachment, prosecution or even the loss of his pension. He isn’t even going to be tarred and feathered, or ridden out of D.C. on a rail. And he’s smirking about it the way Joe Mantegna smirked at Lindsay Crouse at the end of House of Games: “You must admit, we did have our fun.”

So let’s have ours. Good laughs are g0ng to be hard to come by as the damage from the Bush yearrs continues to spread.

A Uniter, Not a Divider

December 15, 2008

For the first and probably only time in his eight misbegotten years in office, Bush has brought the world together. It’s downright inspiring to see an issue on which the Saudis, the British and the French can agree.

Of course you’ve seen the video of the shoe-throwing incident. All I can say is that Bush has the reflexes of a guilty man. He ducked like he’d been expecting something like that for years.

The man whose limo was egged during his first inaugural ceremony now prepares to leave office with people throwing shoes at him. I can’t say I approve of the actions, but neither can I say they were unfitting.

The Final Fantasy

December 9, 2008

Leave it to Peggy Noonan, the magic dolphin lady herself, to articulate the last and most comforting lie to be cherished by conservatives as their nasty little boy prepares to toddle out of the White House:  “At least Bush kept us safe.”

I realize that the winger time sense is quite elastic, which is why they’re blaming Barack Obama — whose presidency hasn’t started yet — for a recession that began when Larry Kudlow was still squealing about a “Bush boom.” But anyone willing to look at a calendar can seen that it wasn’t Bill Clinton who was in the White House when the World Trade Center fell and the Pentagon shook. It wasn’t Clinton who laughed off the clear warning that al-Qaeda was ready to strike within the U.S. It wasn’t Clinton who sat like a doe-eyed child in that elementary school classroom while the worst terrorist attack in our history was carried out, and it wasn’t Clinton who let the mastermind of that attack get off scot-free.

I realize the conservatives insist on grading Bush along a pretty shallow curve, but in a sane world where wingers didn’t dominate punditry and Bush wasn’t being fellated around the clock by FoxNoise,  9/11 would have been grounds for impeachment, not celebration.  So the sentry allowed 9/11 to happen, but nothing of equal horror has happened since so we’ll just let that little mistake slide? Not on your life.

Magic thinking is the default mode of modern conservatism, so it’s hardly surprising that Bush’s supporters are constructing a Tolkien-style fantasy in which Dubya was the last king of Gondor and Obama will be the inept steward under whose watch all kinds of bad things will happen, until another great white daddy can be found to reclaim the throne. And if he carries the reforged Sword of Milton, maybe the magic marketplace fairies will come back, too.


Some of these eeeeevil Christmas cards are fun in a rather Tim Burtony kind of way. And I’m sure each of us knows at least one creationst-fundie type who would appreciate getting one of these.

The Fort Dix pizza jihadi case is shaping up to be the biggest fiasco yet in the government’s ongoing series of “war on terror” show trials:

One of the men on trial for allegedly planning to attack soldiers on Fort Dix spoke with police, then an FBI agent, about his concerns that a man had asked him for a map of the Army installation.

It will be up to the jury to try to sort out whether Serdar Tatar was genuinely concerned, as his lawyer contends — or engaged in a game of “spy vs. spy,” trying to smoke out an informant, as the government says.

On Wednesday, the 20th day of the trial, jurors heard from the police officer.

The five accused men, all in their 20s at the time they were arrested in May 2007, are foreign-born Muslims who lived for years in the comfortable Philadelphia suburb of Cherry Hill. No attack was carried out.

They’re charged with conspiracy to kill military personnel, attempted murder and weapons offenses and, if convicted, could face life in prison.

Prosecutors say the plot is one of the most frightening examples of homegrown terrorism. Defense lawyers, though, deny the men were seriously planning anything and note that a key government witness, Mahmoud Omar, was being paid $1,500 a week to be an informant.

On Wednesday, prosecutors called Philadelphia Police Sgt. Sean Dandridge to testify.

He told jurors that while working a beat in North Philadelphia in 2006, he stopped at a local conveneience store every day to buy coffee. Over time, he got to know Tatar, who was the store’s assistant manager.

Tatar, a high school dropout born in Turkey and a newlywed, told Dandridge that he wanted to be a police officer. He said he had taken — and failed — entry exams for the departments in Oakland, Calif., and Temple University.

Tatar invited the officer to go shooting with his friends and showed him video he took on his cell phone of the men firing weapons at a range in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania.

When Dandridge stopped by on Nov. 15, 2008, he said, Tatar said he had something important to tell him — something involving a national security matter.

“This gentleman had approached him for a map of Fort Dix,” Dandridge testified.

The map, Dandridge said, was at Tatar’s father’s pizza shop in Cookstown, just a few miles from Fort Dix. The man who asked for it was Omar, who turned out to be an FBI informant.

Dandridge was concerned enough that he called the FBI from the office at the back of the convenience store, and he and the clerk kept talking about the incident over the next few weeks.

A Philadelphia police detective assigned to an FBI anti-terrorism task force met with Dandridge Dec. 6, 2008 to discuss the matter and interviewed Tatar the next day.

“Tatar indicated that Omar suggested doing something bad to the base,” said James Rycek, the task force officer, “some kind of terrorism-related act.”

This comes a few days after Omar, an Egyptian national with a long list of his own legal problems — along with, shall we say, a vested interest in gaining a quarter-million in FBI booty — was forced to admit under oath that he never saw any of the alleged plotters conducting strategy sessions.

I think this pizza came with extra anchovies, ’cause the story’s been fishy from the moment it hit the press. How appropriate that the collapse of this bogus prosecution should be on track to coincide with the end of the Bush administration, that corrupt clown-show run by a president who went fishing after receiving warnings of an impending terrorist attack, who has exploited the horror of 9/11for political advantage and and who has allowed the man who planned the destruction of the World Trade Center to walk around free as a bird.