Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Welcome to Crawford, Texas

Eight Years Later

"We will reopen Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House." - the 2000 Republican platform

But they never did. Eight years later, the barricades remain. It was a phony issue, of course - just another stick with which to beat Bill Clinton, who closed the road at the insistence of the Secret Service. In an interview with PBS a month after Sept. 11, 2001, Vice President Dick Cheney stated the obvious: "Pennsylvania Avenue ought to stay closed because, as a fact, if somebody were to detonate a truck bomb in front of the White House, it would probably level the White House, and that is unacceptable."

Sept. 11 is the excuse for many of the Bush Administration's failures and disappointments. It is also the basis for the one great claim made on George W. Bush's behalf: At least he has protected us from terrorism. In the seven years since that day, there has not been another foreign-terrorist attack on the American homeland. The trouble is that there were no foreign-terrorist attacks on the American homeland in the seven years before 9/11 either. The risk of another terrorist attack didn't increase on 9/11 - only our awareness of the risk. The Bush Administration took office mocking the concern that someone might blow up the White House but soon enough was echoing that concern. (See pictures of the White House.)

The platform on which Bush entered the presidency eight years ago comes from a lost world, in which even the party out of power saw an America of unthreatened prosperity and security. "Yesterday's wildest dreams are today's realities, and there is no limit on the promise of tomorrow," the GOP said. The biggest foreign policy challenge America faced in 2000, according to this party document, was to avoid misusing our enormous power. "Earlier generations defended America through great trials," the platform declared. Then it quoted the Republican nominee, Bush, on the importance of showing the "modesty of true strength. The humility of real greatness." Even enthusiasts of Bush's foreign policy would not describe it as displaying the humility of true greatness. More like the pugnacity of lost greatness. All that talk of one superpower - us - bestriding a "unipolar" world seems as dated as Seinfeld reruns.

The measure of Bush's failure as President is not his broken promises or unmet goals. All politicians break their promises, and none achieve the goals of their soaring rhetoric. But Bush stands out for abandoning the promises and goals that got him elected, taking up the opposite ones and then failing to keep or meet those.


Puff The Magic Dragon Incensed, Looks to Fry "Barack The Magic Negro" Singer

I\'m calling you out limbaugh...Honah Lee-Puff the Magic Dragon held a news conference today to denounce the musical massacre of the beloved children's song "Puff The Magic Dragon" by conservative musician Paul Shanklin and the subsequent distribution of the mutilated song by RNC leadership hopeful Chip Saltsman and talkshow host Rush Limbaugh. Shanklin had already incensed the black community and most of America with his rendition of "Barack the Magic Negro", a song which was distributed to all Republican National Convention members by Saltsman and played on Limbaugh's show.

When questioned about the song, Puff's anger was palitable "This song is about Puff the Magic Dragon living by the sea, not about a guy who has a few too many gin tonics, a microphone, and a notion that crooning his dumb-ass white guy opinion on the complicated topic of politics and race relations makes for good political humor".


Rush the Magic Limbaugh

George Orwell: Forgiving and Championing Bad Art

Orwell's essays remind us that better than our best intentions is our inescapable nature, our shared ordinariness, which will always have the potential to redeem us all if only we will embrace it.

by Rob Horning

cover art

It's a shame that the word Orwellian now signifies totalitarian surveillance and remodeling reality with lies. Judging by the persona George Orwell establishes in his essays, of which Harcourt has recently issued two new collections, Orwellian could easily have come to mean a bluff impatience with pretentiousness, or the tendency to evoke the ordinary person's point of view as a defense of one's own tenacious positions, or the no-nonsense voice he achieves by preferring to risk overstatement rather than waste words.

The two new volumes are a welcome and long overdue overhaul of the earlier A Collection of Essays, which now seems skimpy and inadequate in comparison. By including more of his shorter efforts, reviews and occasional journalistic pieces, editor George Packer, a New Yorker staff writer, gives a more complete picture of Orwell's preoccupations while making palpable the pressures he wrote under. Not only was he sickly - he was wounded in the throat during his Spanish Civil War stint and long struggled with tuberculosis, which would kill him at age 47 - but he was entirely engrossed by the Second World War from its origins to its aftermath.


Literary Recluse Salinger Turns 90

New material from Catcher in the Rye author may appear posthumously

by David Usborne in New York

[Salinger in 1951, the year catcher in the rye was published]There are apparently no plans for J.D. Salinger, the literary leviathan whose truncated canon most famously includes The Catcher in the Rye, to appear tonight or any time soon on Larry King Live or any of the other television chat shows celebrities usually frequent on the urging of their agents.

This may seem like a missed opportunity. Published in 1951, Catcher, with Holden Caulfield as its adolescent and restless protagonist adrift in Manhattan, is still a hot seller and Salinger certainly qualifies as a superstar. More to the point today is his birthday; he is turning 90.

It is a milestone that fans of the writer will have to celebrate without him, because, over the years, he has come almost as famous for his aversion to publicity as he has for his literary achievements. We will simply have to assume that today Salinger will remain indoors in the house in Cornish, New Hampshire, which has been his home and hiding place since 1953.

That Salinger, a sometime Buddhist and Christian Scientist, has reached such an age is of no small moment for scholars of his life. It is youth, after all, that has most excited the author. "I always write about very young people," he told Harper's Magazine in 1946. Among them was Caulfield.

In life and love, Salinger has tended towards younger souls also. He was 36 when he married his second wife, Claire Douglas, when she was an undergraduate student. He was later to have an affair with Joyce Maynard, whom he also met when she was studying. (She was 18, he was 53.) Since the late 1980s, he has been married to Colleen O'Neill, a former nurse 40 years his junior.

The advancing years of Salinger, who has not given an interview in three decades, has had a tantalizing effect on his circle of fans. What has he been doing all this time? Has he been writing as so many people hope and is it his intention to allow some or all of his output to be published after his death?

From time to time, flotsam about the private life of Salinger has come to light. In the 1990s, he was troubled by the release of two memoirs, one by Ms Maynard and another by Margaret Salinger, one of two children he had had with Ms Douglas. The other, a son named Mark, was later to denounce his sister's book, saying that it bore no relation to his memory of growing up in the Salinger household.

Ms Maynard caused further offense by selling off at auction letters that she had received from Salinger. They were bought, however, by a Silicon Valley millionaire, Peter Norton. Himself something of a recluse, Mr Norton said he had purchased them simply to return them to their author.


"What happens in war happens"

In 2004, photographs of abuses at Abu Ghraib shocked the world. Seven people were charged, but the face of the scandal will always be Lynndie England, the 21-year-old private grinning at the camera. Emma Brockes meets her

Lynndie englandThe road to Fort Ashby, West Virginia, runs through Mineral County, an area of freezing grey farmland and barrack-style bungalows, where the sign outside the bar - "Hunters welcome" - has an unnerving effect on the passing non-hunter. In Cindy's coffee shop, customers speculate on the whereabouts of a lost cow and tell a weird Republican joke about the noise a chicken makes when its head is cut off: "Barack-Obama!, Barack-Obama!" Lynndie England has lived in Fort Ashby since she was two, but when she appears, suddenly, in the car park, her outline is crooked with self-consciousness. She grew her hair for a while, but people recognised her anyway, so she cut it short again.

The last time journalists came to Fort Ashby in any number, they upset residents by portraying it as "a giant trailer park". There are two bars, two banks, a fire station, a school and a bookshop - the woman who runs the latter says, "I've no sympathy for what she did, but people behave differently in war than they do in their chairs at home, watching it on TV."

It is almost two years since England returned home after serving half of a three-year sentence for maltreating prisoners at Abu Ghraib. In mid-December, a report by the Senate armed services committee concluded that, contrary to the US government's assertion that a few "bad apples" were to blame for abuses at the prison, responsibility ultimately lay with Bush officials, including the defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, for policies that "conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees". (A spokesman for Rumsfeld rejected the findings as "unfounded allegations against those who have served our nation".

Whatever the official findings, the face of the scandal will always be that of the then 21-year-old Private Lynndie England. She wasn't the only woman soldier in the photographs - Sabrina Harman and Megan Ambuhl were both court martialled for their roles - but England was the most arresting looking, like a 14-year-old boy who shouldn't have been there in the first place. Her legal defence, that she was unduly influenced by Specialist Charles Graner, the father of her child and the only soldier still serving time for abuses at Abu Ghraib, was compounded outside the courtroom by assumptions about her background; that she came from a place where people didn't know better.

England is now 26 and spends her days looking for a job, caring for her son and trying to avoid running into people she went to high school with. In the frigid air outside the coffee shop, she talks to her lawyer, Roy, and looks away when I approach. Roy is a Gulf war veteran and assistant county prosecutor who, since her release, has acted as England's chaperone and press agent. Roy suggests we drive in convoy to the bar where hunters are welcome and where the interview will proceed.

After her release, England moved back in with her parents. Her sister, Jessie, lives with her family in the trailer opposite. England and her four-year-old son, Carter, sleep in a single bed customised from the bunk beds she and Jessie slept on when growing up.

"Everybody always wants to know about the trailers," Roy says. Although it's midday, the windows in the bar are shuttered and in a couple of hours the patrons will be drunk enough to come over to England and start offering their opinions. Roy shrugs: "For the most part, it's just low-income housing."

"Well, you know what?" England says. "In New York - I've never been to New York, but I've heard people say - there's apartments there where people pay $1,500 a month for something smaller than a trailer. We only pay $200. And they look down on us. It's like, you're stupid."

Her attempts to find a job have so far been unsuccessful. Most of the fast-food joints in the area won't employ felons, and when she goes for an administrative job, she makes it to the second interview before word gets back that the staff would feel uncomfortable working with her.


Molten Lead

JUST AFTER MIDNIGHT, Aljazeera's Arabic channel was reporting on events in Gaza. Suddenly the camera was pointing upwards towards the dark sky. The screen was pitch black. Nothing could be seen, but there was a sound to be heard: the noise of airplanes, a frightening, a terrifying droning.

It was impossible not to think about the tens of thousands of Gazan children who were hearing that sound at that moment, cringing with fright, paralyzed by fear, waiting for the bombs to fall.

"ISRAEL MUST defend itself against the rockets that are terrorizing our Southern towns," the Israeli spokesmen explained. "Palestinians must respond to the killing of their fighters inside the Gaza Strip," the Hamas spokesmen declared.

As a matter of fact, the cease-fire did not collapse, because there was no real cease-fire to start with. The main requirement for any cease-fire in the Gaza Strip must be the opening of the border crossings. There can be no life in Gaza without a steady flow of supplies. But the crossings were not opened, except for a few hours now and again. The blockade on land, on sea and in the air against a million and a half human beings is an act of war, as much as any dropping of bombs or launching of rockets. It paralyzes life in the Gaza Strip: eliminating most sources of employment, pushing hundreds of thousands to the brink of starvation, stopping most hospitals from functioning, disrupting the supply of electricity and water.

Those who decided to close the crossings - under whatever pretext - knew that there is no real cease-fire under these conditions.

That is the main thing. Then there came the small provocations which were designed to get Hamas to react. After several months, in which hardly any Qassam rockets were launched, an army unit was sent into the Strip "in order to destroy a tunnel that came close to the border fence". From a purely military point of view, it would have made more sense to lay an ambush on our side of the fence. But the aim was to find a pretext for the termination of the cease-fire, in a way that made it plausible to put the blame on the Palestinians. And indeed, after several such small actions, in which Hamas fighters were killed, Hamas retaliated with a massive launch of rockets, and - lo and behold - the cease-fire was at an end. Everybody blamed Hamas.

WHAT WAS THE AIM? Tzipi Livni announced it openly: to liquidate Hamas rule in Gaza. The Qassams served only as a pretext.

Liquidate Hamas rule? That sounds like a chapter out of "The March of Folly". After all, it is no secret that it was the Israeli government which set up Hamas to start with. When I once asked a former Shin-Bet chief, Yaakov Peri, about it, he answered enigmatically: "We did not create it, but we did not hinder its creation."


Giving Viagra to Afghan warlords

Is Free-Market Fundamentalism Immoral?

Governments save banks, some of the managers of which save themselves with comfortable golden parachutes. American households that have lost their homes weren't so lucky. And they'll keep on paying taxes. To save the banks. Where is morality in this system?

by Laurent Pinsolle, Marianne2

The original caption for this Dorothea Lange Depression-era photo was "Slept in a bed all my life long, till now - sleeping on the ground." Laurent Pinsolle sees insult added to injury when families that have lost homes and/or jobs have to pay for the bailout of the very banks that put them in that situation.
(Photo: Dorothea Lange / Farm Security Administration)

Many authors, critical of neoliberalism [free-market fundamentalism], maintain that the neoliberal economic system is amoral since it is based on individual profit and selfishness only. One may wonder whether the current economic crisis does not demonstrate that this system is even completely immoral.

"Privatization of Profits, Socialization of Losses"

That's how the ultra-neoliberal free market newspaper The Economist summarized government intervention in the fall. And how can one not be shocked finally by the fact that bank bosses are dismissed with golden parachutes worth several tens of millions of dollars, that their banks are rescued at a cost of tens of billions of dollars, while several million American households have lost their homes or their employment, sometimes even both?

On the one hand, the most powerful can make mistakes: Bosses leave with enough to assure their descendants' living over several generations and the businesses are rescued by the authorities. On the other hand, households undergo a double punishment: the loss of their homes and the taxes they'll have to pay to save the banks that expropriated them!

Many authors like Robert Reich have described capitalism as immoral since it is directed solely by the quest for profit. But what's happening in the United States goes farther than that. To push modest households to become homeowners, banks conceived particularly dangerous loans, with reduced monthly payments in their initial months and variable rates, that represented veritable financial time bombs.


After Layoffs, Couples Wrestle With Role Reversal

By Adrienne Gibbs

Layoffs in male-dominated sectors are forcing some traditional couples into role reversals. One woman, now the primary earner, says there's been friction, but now he's taken over in the kitchen and she ignores dirty dishes in the sink.

A stay-at-home dad plays with his daughter.

(WOMENSENEWS)--Until last summer, Denalee Bell had always considered her Internet and Web site marketing hobby as a side hustle that helped the family living in the prosperous suburban town of Eagle, Idaho, live a little better.

But last summer, as the real estate market headed into the serious doldrums, Bell's contractor husband ran out of houses to build.

Now Bell, who used to "pick and choose her clients and the projects," is less finicky about project selection and she has upgraded to an additional full-time employee. Market Conversion, Bell's company, is not quite replacing her husband's salary as a custom home builder, but it's coming close, she says.

In short order, Bell morphed from homemaker mother of two boys--9 and 16--into the mother who works nearly 24-7 and barely has time to cook or attend church on Sunday, let alone take her kids to sporting events.

Along the way, her husband--who has taken over caring for the kids full time and helping his wife's business when needed--has commandeered the kitchen, preparing almost all of the family's dinners while also doing time-consuming housework such as grocery shopping. He's pushing the 16-year-old to help more around the house and he's also become quite adept at keeping the house clean, Bell says.

Primary female breadwinners have been steadily rising since the 1960s, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2007 more than 4 million families looked to mom as the main breadwinner, double the number in 1990

Dear Uncle Sam...

At Capitol, slavery's story turns full circle

Historians hope significance comes to light as Obama takes office

By Michael Kranish
WASHINGTON - When Barack Obama takes the oath of office at the US Capitol, the first African-American to become president will be standing amid stonework laid by slaves more than two centuries ago. He will appear before a crowd massed on the Mall, where slaves were once held in pens, ready for auction. He will end his inauguration route at the White House, where the foundations were laid by slaves, and where eight presidents held blacks as their human property.
At nearly every turn of Obama's march to history, the thread that deeply intertwines the founding of the nation with its great stain, slavery, will be evident. Yet for all the attention on Obama's racial breakthrough, the full story of slavery in the nation's capital remains beneath the surface.

While the Lincoln Memorial on the far end of the Mall draws attention to the fight to end slavery, there is no memorial at the spot near the Capitol where slaves were once kept and sold in a three-story building called the Yellow House.

"Many people come down to the National Mall and never realize that they are walking on the site of the slave markets," said Jesse J. Holland, author of the recent book, "Black Men Built the Capitol." Now, with Obama's inauguration, historians are hoping that the role of slaves in the history of building Washington will become more widely recognized.


Watergate and the Future: News for 2009

by Russ Baker

In this guest column, award-winning investigative reporter Russ Baker gives some background on his new book which, in part, explores former President George H.W. Bush's CIA ties and his little known connections to the Watergate scandal.

One of the fastest ways to raise eyebrows in politically savvy company is to suggest that Richard Nixon was not the villain of Watergate. Everyone knows that Nixon himself set loose the Watergate burglars and then oversaw the attempted cover-up that followed. We know this because the most famous journalists of the last fifty years - Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein - made their careers on that story. I thought I knew it too.

Then I began the research that led to my new book, Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty, The Powerful Forces That Put it in the White House, and What Their Influence Means for America. I had no intention, when I started, of re-opening the Watergate inquiries. But the trail led there, as I sought to answer a question that somehow has escaped careful attention. Why did Richard Nixon repeatedly promote George H.W. Bush (Bush Sr., or Poppy, as he is known) for important political posts despite both his apparent lack of qualifications and Nixon's own privately-expressed doubts about Bush's mettle? Why, even when Nixon became so wary of so many of his appointees that he fired cabinet members en masse, did he continue to be solicitous of Bush Sr.?

Nixon named the obscure Poppy to be UN ambassador in 1970 and then chairman of the national Republican Party in 1972. Even earlier, in 1968, Nixon actually put Bush Sr. on his list of vice presidential running mate prospects - this not long after Poppy was first elected to the House of Representatives. Similarly, Nixon's replacement, Gerald Ford, sent Poppy off as envoy to China and later made him CIA director, though by most accounts he was an odd choice for both of these sensitive jobs.

In short, in the Nixon era, Poppy Bush was the man who always seemed to be around, yet also managed to stay out of the main story. Digging way back, I came upon evidence that Nixon felt beholden to the Bush family and to the interests it represented. The reason: Bush Sr.'s father, Senator Prescott Bush, grandfather of George W. Bush, apparently helped launch Nixon's political career in 1946 as a way of destroying his first opponent, liberal congressman Jerry Voorhis, an outspoken critic of the excesses of bankers and financiers. Given the current Wall Street disasters, and the role of Prescott's grandson in enabling them, this revelation has obvious contemporary relevance.

Once I understood this special Nixon-Bush relationship, which is basically missing from all major Nixon biographies, I began to ask what exactly Poppy had been doing during the Watergate years. This led to the discovery that the Watergate break-in was almost certainly just one of a series of illegal acts that were engineered by people around Nixon, but not by Nixon himself.


He kept us safe

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