Daily Archives: July 27, 2004

What’s Good About Kerry? Plenty

Adam, of A violently executed blog lays out a compelling case for Kerry in a compact post packed with detail and, as always, no-holds-barred commentary.

Yeah, yeah, I know, Faux News says he’s a “flip-flopper” and that he’s “out of the mainstream”.Shall we take a look at a few of his “out of the mainstream” ideas?
(1) Rebuilding international alliances – seems pretty logical. If we’re fighting a war on terror worldwide, it’d only make sense to work with other governments to fight it effectively, right?
(2) Modernize the military – Whoa! Give our troops the best training and tools we can to allow them to fight effectively? Seriously whackaloon, it isn’t.
(3) Use diplomacy, trade, money, moral pressure and the military to accomplish our goals – another plain idea, that seemed to work well for all the other American presidents except the current.
(4) Develop an energy policy geared towards lessening or removing our dependence on foreign oil – This one’s so mainstream it made me yawn. I mean, I’ve heard this from everyone from the mailman to the bagger at my grocery store.
(5) Cutting middle-class taxes – if you think this is out of the mainstream, you need to go see a shrink.

There’s a lot more, just as pungent. Go read it.

Rush to Judgment

In a tele-conference (he’s vacationing at his pretend ‘ranch’ again) with Washington, Junior pushed his gang to prepare the ground for swift implementation of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations.

CRAWFORD, Texas — President Bush tried to seize the initiative on intelligence reform Monday, meeting with aides and urging them to accelerate their review of proposals issued by the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks.The president, who is keeping out of sight at his Texas ranch during the Democratic National Convention, used a video link to take part in the meeting at the White House that included Vice President Dick Cheney, Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr., acting CIA Director John McLaughlin, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and national security advisor Condoleezza Rice.

Cheney joined the call from Jackson, Wyo., where he was campaigning.

“The president has asked the group to fast-track their review and the implementation of the recommendations,” White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan told reporters during a briefing in Crawford. “To the extent that there are some recommendations that could be acted on sooner rather than later, the president could certainly act within days on some, obviously longer on others.”

Buchan said the president has been reading the commission’s 567-page report and expects to be in daily contact about it with Card, who is heading the White House review.

Cheney said that he was halfway through reading the report, calling it “engrossing.”

“I don’t agree with absolutely everything in it,” he said without elaborating.

No kidding.

This is not a particularly surprising development. Besides its being an election year (a really lousy time to be rushing through changes as sweeping as the ones the 9/11C recommends) when no one wants to perceived as ‘foot-dragging’ by asking uncomfortable questions or, god forbid, counseling prudence in the face of (yet another) potential terrorist attack, the 9/11C’s suggestions would concentrate even more power in the hands of the executive by removing the last vestiges of independence from the IC.

Investigative reporter Robert Dreyfuss, in a post called ‘Five Things Wrong With The 9/11 Report (Thing One)’ on his blog, The Dreyfuss Report at TomPaine, lays out the two most divisive and disruptive changes.

First, the commission proposes the creation of a National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). It would have two functions: intelligence and operations. Of its intelligence function, the commission says: “The NCTC should lead strategic analysis, pooling all-source intelligence, foreign and domestic, about transnational terrorist organizations of global reach.” Operationally, “The NCTC should perform joint planning. The plans would assign operational responsibilities to lead agencies, such as State, the CIA, the FBI, Defense and its combatant commands, Homeland Security, and other agencies.” According to the commission, the head of the NCTC “must have the right to concur in the choices of personnel to lead the operating entities of departments and agencies focused on counterterrorism, specifically to include the head of the Counterterrorist Center, the head of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, the commanders of the Defense Department’s Special Operations Command and Northern Command, and the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism.”

While it would seem to centralize decision-making and promote co-ordination in theory, the practical ramifications of an all-powerful anti-terrorism brigade are frightening. As envisioned by the 9/11C, the NCTC would have the power to direct US intel resources in any direction it wanted since it would have control of the IC purse-strings. This raises the specter of turning the whole IC into a giant version of Doug Feith’s OSP/C-TEG operations with raw intel stovepiped straight to the top if it serves an admin’s political objectives and buried deep in the catacombs if it doesn’t. Worse, it would put intel objectives at the mercy of political ops who want to score points.

Then the commission would couple this all-powerful new entity with the creation of a National Intelligence Director. The NID would be an intelligence czar, overseeing both foreign and domestic intelligence collection and analysis. “The National Intelligence Director must be able to directly oversee intelligence collection inside the United States.” The NID would also have authority to “approve and submit nominations to the president of the individuals who would lead the CIA, DIA, FBI Intelligence Office, NSA, NGA, NRO, [parts of] Homeland Security and other national intelligence capabilities.” And the NID would control their budgets. The NID would also oversee covert operations. And: “The head of the NCTC would report to the national intelligence director.”

The creation of the NID would all but eliminate the differences between the CIA and the FBI, mashing them together under one all-purpose Director, shifting the focus of the agencies almost completely and making them political arms of the President, pesonally.

In tandem, the NCTC and the NID would create an intelligence power of truly awesome scope. Because terrorism is essentially a political crime, as the ACLU reminds us constantly, counterterrorist investigations always involve politics, dissidents and rebels. It’s not like investigating crimes, or like intelligence on war-making capabilities of nations. Just as the Patriot Act knocked down the “wall” between the CIA and the FBI, making it far easier to conduct domestic spying operations against American citizens not suspected of a crime, the NCTC-NID combination would concentrate the power to carry out domestic spying in all-powerful nexus, located (where?) in the White House. The NID would report directly to the president, or to the “POTUS,” in the pompous wiring diagram in the commission report. Says the report: “The intelligence entity inside the NCTC .. would sit there alongside the operations management unit, … with both making up the NCTC, in the Executive Office of the President.”

This is nothing less than the operations diagram setting out America’s first Secret Police, and, either accidentally or deliberately, is copied from the operational charts of the old Soviet system where the NKVD and the KGB were simply different aspects of the same function–protecting the State from dissidents and political troublemakers–under the overall control of a single department directly responsible to the Premier. This was, as those of you old enough will remember, a very effective mechanism for strangling free speech and controlling the political activities of the Russian people.

It is on the one hand ironic and on the other frightening that the 9/11C has looked to the Soviets for a model. One wonders what they’re trying to tell us.

Fahrenheit 9/11: A Holy Mess

As I said to someone recently, Michael Moore has never been a real documentary film-maker; he is a satirist who uses the documentary style as the tool of his trade. There is a vast difference between the two, and Fahrenheit 9/11 demonstrates just how wide that yawning gap is.

A good documentary builds its case from the inside out, like the construction of a house–showing us the foundations of its subject and then what was built on top of them–or from the outside in, like peeling an onion–showing us what’s on top and then slowly removing layer after layer to reveal what the surface was hiding. Moore’s film does neither. Fahrenheit 9/11 is structured like one of those grab-bags you get at a carnival: it’s got a little bit of everything in it that happened to be lying around loose when it got put together.

There is no attempt here to make any sense of what happened on 9/11 or of what it led to. This isn’t a documentary, it’s a polemic designed to pick out the most startling images and/or facts it can find and then throw them all in the same bag. The only thing that holds it together is that it all has something to do with 9/11 or Iraq. It doesn’t make clear the connection between them and it doesn’t show how one led to the other in any substantive way, in fact it barely gets around to suggesting that there is a connection.

And yet Moore clearly had more on his mind than a simple polemic. One of the longest and most connected sections of the film deals with the business relationship between the bin Laden family and the Bushes, including the relatively minor conspiracy around getting them out of the country after 9/11 so that potential investigations wouldn’t inconvenience them in any way. Compared to some of the other issues Moore raises–the oil imperative, the Halliburton-Cheney conspiracy, the Israeli Army-derived tactics against the civilians of Iraq practiced by our military, and most importantly perhaps in this context, the power of the Saudi Royal Family to influence the decisions of the Bush Administration–the ‘planes’ incident tends to pale into insignificance, yet he spends more time on it than on all those other issues combined.

Worse, he never finishes what he starts. The connection between the bin Ladens and the Saudi Royals is never made; he doesn’t detail any of the disturbing proof of the Saudi govt’s support for terrorists, including Al Qaeda; he shows that Iraqi oil was clearly a large part of the motivation for the Second Gulf War and brings the Afghanistan pipeline into the equation for what may be the first time, but he doesn’t connect those dots to the larger strategy the neocons have had for the Middle East since the late 80’s. Where is PNAC? Where is Richard Perle? Where, for god’s-sake, is Israel? No genuine documentary would ever have left out such key parts of the puzzle that is 9/11.

He follows a similar pattern throughout the film, lingering over insubstantial or less substantial aspects of the 9/11 fall-out while rushing through or brushing past far more lethal topics, a tack no self-respecting documentarian would take after his first student effort had been roundly criticized. How else would you explain that Paul Wolfowitz–a chief architect of the neocon strategy that led straight to Iraq–makes his only appearance combing his hair with his own spit? or that John Ashcroft’s only appearance involves a singular, not to say peculiar, instance when he sings a song–badly; there is nothing as sad as listening to somebody who thinks he can sing and can’t, unless it’s listening to somebody who thinks he’s funny and isn’t–of his own composition about an eagle soaring, soaring, soaring… OK already, I get it, John: eagles soar. Got anything else to say? Not in this film, he doesn’t, and that’s a problem.

Part political invective, part satire, part self-righteous polemic, Fahrenheit 9/11 stands or falls on the strength of its images and its ability to ridicule public figures who deserve it, and on that score it’s much more successful. Nobody who sees it is ever going to forget the image of the President of the US sitting in that second-grade classroom, immobile, for almost ten minutes after he’s been told that a second plane has hit the WTC, his face a mass of confusion and doubt. Moore speculates on what he might have been thinking, but if you look at his face it’s pretty clear that what’s running through his mind is one simple question: ‘What should I do?’ It’s equally and shockingly clear that he doesn’t know the answer.

The footage from Iraq is as stunning and as uncomfortable as anything from Titicut Follies. Iraqi children mutilated by American bombs, what the BA and the Pentagon would call ‘collateral damage’, are juxtaposed with Donald Rumsfeld cheerfully and with great pride and firmness explaining that such things could never happen because of the precision of our technology and the ‘great care’ we take to avoid them. Moore unceremoniously rips away the fantasy that the iraq war–that all modern war–is somehow cleaner and more humane than it used to be. It isn’t. War is still hell and the innocent are still its worst victims and anybody who doesn’t understand that should never be allowed to occupy a position in which they have the responsibility of either starting one or maintaining one.

But the most moving and devasting section of the film doesn’t come from Iraq but from Flint, Michigan. Anybody who can watch Lila Lipscomb trying to come to terms with the death of her son without his heart imploding in his chest is walking around dead and doesn’t know it. Anybody who can listen to her husband’s soft yet deeply angry question–‘And for what? For what?’–without questioning the motives of the leaders who sent his son to his death is either a robot or an alien pod-person, not a human being. You might still decide that Lila’s overwhelming grief is part of the price we must pay for a greater good, but if you don’t at least ask the question and re-examine the supposed reasons, everything from your toes up is no more than petrified wood masquerading as living tissue.

For in the end, Moore’s film isn’t trying to make or prove any particular case. It is aimed toward only one goal–taking you to that moment with Lila and her husband after having put into your head and your hands just enough information to make you question the govt’s quasi-justifications for this couple’s enormous sacrifice. For that achievement alone, it should be honored.