"Ain't Gonna Study War No More"

My Photo
Location: Brooklyn, New York, United States

Right-To-Life Party, Christian, Anti-War, Pro-Life, Bible Fundamentalist, Egalitarian, Libertarian Left

Friday, September 09, 2005

It's Accountability Time

"If anything, Hurricane Katrina has stripped away the many layers of deceit, deception and misinformation that have been peddled to the American people by the White House, Congress and the mainstream media regarding the true state of our national security. With the dead still uncounted in New Orleans and the Gulf States, Americans are coming to grips with the fact that the Bush administration, Congress and the Department of Homeland Security have been asleep at the wheel when it comes to protecting the citizens of the United States from the true threats facing us as a nation."

The power and fury of Hurricane Katrina has momentarily pushed to the side the fourth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. However, to fully understand the ramifications of Hurricane Katrina, and the failings on the part of our government to protect us from harm, we must not forget that before Katrina there was an event we were told “forever changed the world we live in.”

September 11, 2001 represented not only a dark day for New York City and its citizens, but all of America and indeed the world. In retrospect, the gravest damage inflicted by that act of terrorism wasn't the human suffering and material loss, but rather the serious assault on the very soul of the United States by those who used the horrific events of 9/11 for political purpose.

This “assault” came in the form of actions on the part of the Bush administration, a cowed Congress, and a compliant media that worked hand in glove to spin the events of September 11, 2001 into a storm of hype and fear that exploited an already traumatized people. This conditioned them to accept at face value any characterization of events, no matter how far removed from fact, as well as any remedy put forward as a solution, no matter what the cost to fundamental notions of liberty and justice as set forth by the Constitution.

From the smoke and ashes of 9/11 came legislation in the form of the so-called “Patriot Act,” which represented a frontal assault by its conservative drafters on the very Constitution that defined a United States of America worth dying for. Congress voted unanimously to enact this legislation without even bothering to read it, since to vote against the Patriot Act was to open oneself to charges of being unpatriotic.

Congress went further, legislating into existence a new bureaucracy, the Department of Homeland Security, which at its best provided Americans with a nonsensical color-coded system for mandating national levels of fear, and at its worst created the illusion not only of an ever-present terrorist threat, but also the notion that the federal government, in its role as “Big Brother,” was there to protect us from all evil.

For nearly four years America proceeded down this path of self-induced ignorance and bliss, reassured by our Republican president and Republican-controlled Congress, as well as a compliant media. We were repeatedly told that a threat to our security loomed on the horizon, a threat so grave we as a people needed to cede our liberties to a benevolent federal authority that guaranteed the security of a nation we now called our “homeland.”

The newly erected Department of Homeland Security absorbed the various departments and agencies that had previously performed specialized tasks, such as border security, customs, and emergency response, under a single monolithic entity to serve as a guarantor of our collective protection.

Billions of dollars were spent in the name of “homeland security.” But under the Bush administration, homeland security really meant the domestic defense against terrorism, and even in this case the emphasis was placed on pre-emptive law enforcement (i.e., implementing the provisions of the Patriot Act) rather than actual response to an act of terror (i.e., providing aid and comfort to the victims of an attack).

Little heed was given to real threats to the collective security of our nation, such as tornadoes, earthquakes, wildfires, hurricanes and floods, and the impact these would have on the infrastructure and integrity of the nation. These real threats were never given a color-coded system for the purpose of hyping them to the American people; they were instead pushed into the background by a White House and Congress addicted to the legislative and electoral simplicity of fear of the unknown -- terrorism.

If anything, Hurricane Katrina has stripped away the many layers of deceit, deception and misinformation that have been peddled to the American people by the White House, Congress and the mainstream media regarding the true state of our national security. With the dead still uncounted in New Orleans and the Gulf States, Americans are coming to grips with the fact that the Bush administration, Congress and the Department of Homeland Security have been asleep at the wheel when it comes to protecting the citizens of the United States from the true threats facing us as a nation.

For the first time in a long time, the mainstream media broke ranks with the spin doctors in Washington D.C., the all too real face of human disaster compelling them to sort fact from myth, truth from hype. Finally, when the American people turn on their television sets, they are watching and listening to reporters and commentators who seem shocked and alarmed by the callous attitude and cavalier behavior of those entrusted by the American people to lead and protect them.

With this newfound clarity of vision, the mainstream media is starting to focus not just on the appalling lack of response from the government, but also for the first time on what is transpiring in Iraq. The post-9/11 period of journalistic sleepwalking allowed the Bush administration to get away with outright fabrication of intelligence information used to create a case for war based on weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that had long ago disappeared from Iraq. During this period, no one in the mainstream media had the integrity or courage to stand up and ask for any proof the Bush administration could provide to back up its unsubstantiated allegations about Iraqi WMD. More than two years have passed, and the media still refers to the WMD lie as an "intelligence failure," instead of the massive fraud it really was, and is.

It took a brave stance by a bereaved mother of a slain soldier outside the vacation home of President Bush to awaken the media to the harsh realities of the ongoing occupation of Iraq, and the absolute inadequacies of the system of government put in place by the United States. (Hopefully, reporters will soon stop speaking about the "Purple Finger Revolution" of January 2005 as reality, instead speaking of a U.S.-manipulated event that was neither free nor democratic).

As American service members continue to fight and die for a country that cannot even produce a viable constitution, perhaps the post-Katrina mainstream media will start accurately reporting on the realities of occupied Iraq with the same clarity and purpose they now grant to the coverage of the hurricane and its aftermath.

Hurricane Katrina may end up posing a great threat to the hold on power enjoyed by the Republican Party today. The 2006 mid-term elections are but a year away, and already the Republicans in Washington are scrambling to limit the political damage caused by the dual blows of Katrina and Iraq.

The American people and a newly enabled media must keep in place the very data filters that now provide so much clarity regarding the duplicity of the Bush administration and the Republican-controlled Congress, so as to prevent any bait and switch gambit that might be sprung in order to divert the attention of the nation away from the absolute requirement of electoral accountability.

At the end of the day we, the people, are in control of the people and bureaucracy we empower to govern us. The mechanism of our control is the process of free and democratic elections. No matter what the pundits and politicians say, 9/11 did not change this reality. In 2006 the American people will have the opportunity to express their will on the national stage.

Each and every one of us must ask ourselves whether are we happy with the people we have currently empowered to represent us. If the answer is no, then we must make sure that in the coming year we do everything in our power to identify those who have failed us, Republican and Democrat alike, and replace them with those who represent the will of the people, and not the will of special interests. If we fail to act, and America is once again struck by a calamity, whether it be an act of God here at home, or an act of illegitimate aggression abroad, we will have only ourselves to blame.

Scott Ritter
09/09/05 "AlterNet"

Scott Ritter was U.N. chief weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991-1998 and author of "Iraq Confidential: The Untold Story of America's Intelligence Conspiracy," to be published by I.B. Tauris (London) in October 2005.

© 2005 Independent Media Institute.

Let the Dead Teach the Living

An edict has come down from the federal government banning press photographers from taking any pictures of the dead as they lay waiting for removal. Echoes of the ban on photographs of American soldiers in flag-draped caskets returned from Iraq are present, as are echoes of a ban on the new photos taken from within Abu Ghraib. Perhaps, it is thought, that if the American people cannot see death, they will come to believe it does not exist.

They have turned a gigantic warehouse into a makeshift morgue in the Louisiana town of St. Gabriel. Doctors and forensic specialists wait there for the bodies to come in, bodies with no identification, bodies that have spent days submerged in water, bodies gnawed by dogs and rats and 'gators. The doctors have posted a hand-lettered sign on the wall: "Mortui Vivis Praecipant." It means, "Let the dead teach the living."

There's a stiffened body under a tarp on Union Street in downtown New Orleans that has been there for days. Others float helplessly down streets and in canals. More than 100 people died in a warehouse down by the docks. They had been waiting for a rescue that never came. Thirty people died in a flooded-out nursing home outside the city, left there by the staff to wait for a rescue that, again, never came. By every indication, there are thousands of other bodies awaiting discovery, people who lost their lives in exactly this fashion. FEMA has ordered 25,000 body bags.

An edict has come down from the federal government banning press photographers from taking any pictures of the dead as they lay waiting for removal. Echoes of the ban on photographs of American soldiers in flag-draped caskets returned from Iraq are present, as are echoes of a ban on the new photos taken from within Abu Ghraib. Perhaps, it is thought, that if the American people cannot see death, they will come to believe it does not exist.

Four people have died already from water-borne disease. Vibrio vulnificus, a bacterium naturally found in salt water, killed one person plucked from the city who was then taken to Texas, and killed three people removed to Mississippi. The bacterium is a close cousin to cholera. Tests on the standing water in New Orleans have found more than 100 different chemicals present, including pesticides and solvents. Lead is also present in dangerous levels. The waters contain at least ten times the amount of acceptable bacterial strains found in sewage. The phrase "at least ten times" must be used, because the tests themselves are unable to register anything higher than that. The bacteria, in other words, pegged the needle.

A first-hand account from a professional psychologist named Anne Gervasi is making the rounds. Gervasi traveled to New Orleans to volunteer her time in rescue and rehabilitation efforts in Reunion Arena and the Civic Center. "I am no infection guru," reported Gervasi, "but as soon as I heard on day one that people with no water were forced to drink water with bloated bodies, feces, and rats in it, the thought of cholera, typhoid, and delayed disease immediately occurred to me. What if the fears of disease are correct? People are fanning out throughout America. Where is the CDC?"

"The trauma they are experiencing," continued Gervasi, "is so profound that we have no cultural term or machinery set up for it. The dead and nameless bodies by the thousands rotting in the water, arriving dead on the buses with them, or dying next to them in the shelters, are a huge festering wound that no one dares mention. This is a true Diaspora the likes of which we haven't seen since Reconstruction. The immediate needs that are being addressed ignore the greater traumas yet to be spoken. No governmental system can survive the number of wounded and disillusioned people that we are going to see sprouting up all over America. Something far greater and more organized has to be done."

Professor, author and columnist Walter Brasch has compiled some numbers that deserve to be included in any discussion of what has taken place. George W. Bush inherited from his predecessor a $230 billion budget surplus and a balanced budget. In the five years since, the surplus has become a $7.9 trillion deficit, which increases at a rate of about $1.7 billion per day. The occupation of Iraq costs somewhere between $4 billion and $5 billion per month, increasing the deficit exponentially. A meticulously-reconstructed Federal Emergency Management Agency was downsized and budget-slashed by this administration as part of its "small-government" quest, and run by an appointee whose experience in disaster management came from representing the owners of Arabian horses.

Mortui Vivis Praecipant. What have the dead taught the living in the last two weeks? We have learned that priorities matter. We have learned that the conservative small-government model is a recipe for catastrophe. We have learned that government is sure to absolutely fail its citizens when it is run by people who hate government. We have learned that massive budget cuts and agency downsizing are not theoretical or political exercises. Before Katrina, we were learning that an irresponsible and unnecessary war in Iraq was making us less safe at home. After Katrina, we have learned exactly how unsafe we are as four years of tough talk about defending the nation has been exposed by the wind and the rain. We have learned that leadership matters, and that the absence of leadership is deadly.

We have been hearing from Bush and his friends that now is not a time for the "Blame Game," as if an assessment of responsibility is nothing more than another political football to be punted down the field. A New York Times editorial from Wednesday stated, "This is not a game. It is critical to know what 'things went wrong,' as Mr. Bush put it. But we also need to know which officials failed - not to humiliate them, but to replace them with competent people ... disasters like this are not a city or a state issue. They concern the entire nation and demand a national response - certainly a better one than the White House comments that 'tremendous progress' had been made in Louisiana."

Never fear, however, for George W. Bush has said he will personally investigate the failures that led to this calamity. This is a comforting thought. Perhaps he will appoint Henry Kissinger, whom Bush first chose to head the investigation into 9/11 way back when, to lead the way.

This has only just begun. The impact of hundreds of thousands of displaced people, who need jobs and homes and whose children need schooling, will slowly but surely begin to be felt. The psychological scars from the experience will begin to tell upon them. "We are more vulnerable now than before 9/11 because faith in the system is gone," reported Anne Gervasi from New Orleans. "No system can sustain itself as a viable entity when the citizenry are the walking wounded. Victims implode a system from within and expose its decay. This is the beginning of the end unless we can get a drastic change of philosophy and restore the government to a system 'by the people for the people.' Right now nobody down here believes we have that."

What have the dead taught the living? Responsible and effective government matters. At this moment, we have neither. We are, simply put, on our own.

William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Thursday 08 September 2005

William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.

Hiding Bodies Won't Hide the Truth

Cadavers Have A Way Ff Raising Questions.

When people see them, they wonder, how did they get dead?

When a lot of people see a lot of dead bodies, politicians begin thinking of damage control.

Echoing a Defense Department policy banning the photographing of flag-draped coffins of American troops, representatives from the much-maligned Federal Emergency Management Agency said on Tuesday that it didn't want journalists to accompany rescue boats as they went out to search for storm victims, because "the recovery of the victims is being treated with dignity and the utmost respect." An agency spokeswoman told Reuters, "We have requested that no photographs of the deceased be made by the media."

Whatever the objective, those pesky questions about accountability are not going away. And a full-scale political storm over the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina continued to rage around the White House this week, despite the best efforts of the president's supporters to deflect criticism by tagging it as partisan--even though many of the critics are themselves Republicans.

"There were two disasters last week: first, the natural disaster, and second, the man-made disaster, the disaster made by mistakes made by FEMA," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters this week.

And her Senate counterpart, Harry Reid (D-Nev.) raised the question, "How much time did the president spend dealing with this emerging crisis while he was on vacation?"

Both have demanded a wide-ranging investigation of the response to Katrina.

"While countless Americans are pulling together to lend a helping hand, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are pointing fingers in a shameless effort to tear us apart," Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman said in a statement on Wednesday.

But Mehlman had no admonitions for the many Republicans who've urged accountability and demanded answers for the slow response to Katrina.

The president's defenders have now perfected their public relations talking points: The public doesn't blame Bush. Any journalist, pundit or politician who criticizes the president is out of touch with the mainstream. Anyone who has the audacity to demand accountability is just a big old partisan meannie.

Making the rounds on the morning news shows, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), a presumptive candidate for president in 2008, repeatedly made the point that "the buck stops at the federal government." In another breath, she insisted, "I'm not interested in pointing fingers; I'm interesting in getting answers."

Clinton is pushing legislation to remove FEMA from under the Department of Homeland Security. Whether this idea goes anywhere, is it not worth at least debating?
And if that's worth debating, why isn't it worth debating whether the administration has -- particularly in the wake of 9/11 -- treated FEMA as a critically important agency.

In one of the few compliments Bush gave the previous administration during the 2000 campaign, he praised President Clinton's FEMA director, James Lee Witt, as a "guy who has done a really good job of working with governors during times of crisis."

Yet after his election in 2000, Bush quickly replaced Witt with Joseph Allbaugh, his former campaign manager, and a man who had little experience in disaster relief. At a Senate subcommittee hearing on May 15, 2001, he called the agency "an oversized entitlement program" and warned that "expectations of when the federal government should be involved, and the degree of involvement, may have ballooned beyond what is an appropriate level."

If the person at the top doesn't demand answers and assign blame when necessary, how can he send the message to bureaucrats that they will be held responsible for their actions?

"Only 13 percent blame Bush?" blared a headline on the Drudge Report yesterday.

Other supporters focused on the 55 percent who said in a Washington Post-ABC News poll that Bush should get only some (33 percent) or none of the blame (22 percent) for the response to Katrina.

But as is often the case, it's not that simple.

Drudge refers to a new CNN-Gallup-USA Today poll. And sure enough, there is one question that asks, "Who do you think is most responsible for the problems in New Orleans after the hurricane?" Indeed, 13 percent answered Bush. (Another 18 percent answered "federal agencies" -- which the last time I checked, answer to Bush.)

But in the same poll, people were asked a separate question -- judge how the president did in responding to the hurricane. And 42 percent said "bad" or "terrible" compared to 35 percent who said "great" or "good."

The boosterism also ignores anything else in the polls that doesn't fit public relations talking points, including the fact that majorities of people believe (according to the Washington Post/ABC poll) that the Bush administration does not have a clear plan for dealing with the post-Katrina situation, and that majorities of people believe Katrina has exposed major problems with the federal government's emergency preparedness.

What the aforementioned polls demonstrate is that people are reasonable. Almost no one thinks Bush deserves all the blame for the post-Katrina fiasco. But they are clearly not comfortable that he did everything he could to minimize the damage to humanity and ease the suffering of the victims of the historic storm. And people are also concerned that he has not done enough to prepare the nation for the catastrophic.

Polls show that the public is already increasingly weary of the president's character, largely because of the dubious claims he made in the march to war in Iraq and probably because of his failure to hold anyone accountable for the mistake made in selling the war as well as fighting it. But they won't soon forget the images coming out of New Orleans and elsewhere on the Gulf Coast.

In responding to public will, there is risk, and possibly reward if he demonstrates leadership and character in coming months. The public has a large capacity to forgive leaders who come clean about their mistakes and make an effort to fix them. But the issue will not go away.

So FEMA can try to hide the bodies from the public's view. But the public will not forget.

Terry M. Neal
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Thursday, September 8, 2005; 9:46 AM
Comments can be sent to Terry Neal at commentsforneal@washingtonpost.com.

Base Propaganda That Does Violence To History

Bush's Story Isn't History

As we commemorate the fourth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Americans are keenly aware of just how disastrously the Bush administration mismanaged the aftermath of that first September catastrophe. The documented failures are many, such as the failure to provide meaningful homeland security, the failure to capture Osama bin Laden, and the deceptive linkage made between 9/11 and Iraq.

And now we are witness to the start of another. Bush's August 30th speech reframing the historical meaning of 9/11—claiming that his war on terror is comparable to World War II—is not reasoned explanation or convincing persuasion, but rather base propaganda that does violence to history. Result: We're as confused as ever about what the "Global War on Terror" is all about.

True, Bush seems somewhat familiar with history. At Yale, he majored in the subject. This summer his reading list reportedly included Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky, Alexander II: The Last Great Tsar by Edvard Radzinsky and The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History by John M. Barry. Professional historians may despise Bush ("His presidency has been remarkably successful," one historian stated, "in its pursuit of disastrous policies") but he has publicly claimed to be concerned about their discipline, at one point even condemning historical "revisionism."

Bush's familiarity with history hasn't translated into his understanding of it. His latest ruminations in his speech commemorating V-J day link his Global War on Terror (GWOT) and World War II. Not surprisingly, they show our Chief Executive simply doesn't grasp the complexity and ambiguity of history. For him, the past is just a version of the present—the present as he (or as he's told) to see it.

In those remarks, addressed to WWII veterans and thousands of sailors against the backdrop of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, Bush the commander-in-chief did all he could to claim that his misbegotten GWOT was analogous to Franklin D. Roosevelt's victorious leadership in the Second World War.

Once again, war came to our shores with a surprise attack that killed thousands in cold blood. Once again, we face determined enemies who follow a ruthless ideology that despises everything America stands for. Once again, America and our allies are waging a global campaign with forces deployed on virtually every continent. And once again, we will not rest until victory is America's and our freedom is secure.

As numerous commentators (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 ) have observed, Bush's analogy doesn't pass history 101. The enemies in these two vastly different conflicts were not at all the same: Germany and Japan were industrialized nation-states with powerful military machines, while Al Qaeda is a terrorist group and Afghanistan and Iraq third-world countries with armies that could hardly match ours.

Japan first attacked us; we first attacked Iraq. Germany declared war on the United States; not so the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan. During World War II, America had strong allies; in Iraq, there is a loose, depleted "coalition" as part of the U.S. effort. American troops in Europe were liberators; in Iraq, many argue, we are increasingly despised occupiers. The American-funded reconstruction of Europe after 1945, carried out in a peaceful local environment, was, most specialists in the period would say, a success; in 2005, the U.S. is increasingly unable to assist in building the so-called "New Iraq," in large part because of the precarious security situation there. The U.S. occupation of Iraq continues to cause tragic American deaths; in Germany and Japan "the total number of post-conflict American combat casualties...was zero."

The U.S. national spirit today was nothing like what it was during World War II. In WWII, the country was mobilized and ready to sacrifice, having been persuaded by FDR what we were fighting for: to defeat inhumane regimes in Germany and Japan. Today, Americans increasingly don't know why we are in Iraq, and many don't see a connection between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein. There was a draft then: now we have a professional army with problems getting recruits. Four of Roosevelt's sons served in the war; the Bush twins don't intend, for all we know, to die for daddy in Iraq.

In WWII, there were no anti-war activists outside FDR's "Little White House," in Warm Springs, Georgia. Yet a major event in the summer of 2005 was the dissenting presence of Cindy Sheehan and her supporters near the current president's ranch in Crawford, Texas. As World War II progressed, most historians would agree, Americans sensed that they were on our way to victory; in 2005, more than a year after Bush's claim that our "mission" was "accomplished" in Iraq, we increasingly fear that we have gotten ourselves into a Vietnam-like quagmire with no clear exit strategy.

Finally, our actions in World War II helped the credibility, image and prestige of the United States (among our friends and allies, and among some in enemy nations, even before the end of the war), opening up the world to American ideas and products. But, since Bush's declaration of "The Global War on Terror" and preemptive attack on Iraq, we are witnessing the birth of an anti-American century, with the United States a pariah country whose commercial goods are loosing their "American" appeal, much to the long-term detriment of our national interests—and resulting in the loss of jobs for ordinary Americans.

Meanwhile, Bush, clearly unable to draw lessons from his major in college, continues to use history not as a source of enlightenment, either for himself or the nation, but as raw material for his favorite activity: "to kind of catapult," as he puts it with his usual verbal virtuosity, "the propaganda."

John Brown
September 09, 2005

John Brown, a former Foreign Service officer who resigned over the war in Iraq, compiles a daily "Public Diplomacy Press Review" posted on the internet here and available free by request at johnhbrown30@hotmail.com.