Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Decrepit Beltway Punditocracy:Joe Klein - Both factually false and stuck in the 1980s

Despite the Democrats regaining legislative majorities, the filibuster and the Bush veto pen has thwarted their efforts at capturing control of the legislative process. Beyond the obvious obstcles, however, is the tendency for the Beltway to whip the party into subservience. More damaging, is the apparent unwillingness to grow a spine or exhibit, as Bill Maher has remarked, even One cajone! Here, Glenn Greenwald rightly excoraites Joe Klein for blathering about how the Dems must be Republican-lite, and demands the media hold Klein to task for his idiotic and self-inflated opinions, which more than a soapbox, is serving as a tinderbox for self-immolation. - MS

The Time pundit spouts pro-capitulation advice to Democrats that is as obsolete as it is grounded in falsehoods.
Glenn Greenwald
Nov. 21, 2007
For the sake of its own credibility, Time Magazine needs immediately to prohibit Joe Klein from uttering another word about the eavesdropping and FISA controversy. He simply doesn't know what he's talking about and he publishes demonstrably false statements.
Klein's latest article in Time does nothing more than what Klein and most Beltway "liberal" pundits always do and have been doing for the last twenty years -- namely, warn Democrats that they will lose elections unless they renounce their beliefs and act as much as possible like Republicans on national security issues. The article is entitled "Still Stumbling on National Security" and contains every 1980-2003 cliche about how Democrats better not oppose the big, mean, tough George Bush on war issues or else Rush Limbaugh will attack them and they'll lose. More on that in a moment.
Klein's main complaint is that "Democrats in Congress [] are being foolishly partisan on two key issues: continued funding for the war in Iraq and updating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)." On FISA, he claims:
Unfortunately, Speaker Nancy Pelosi quashed the House Intelligence Committee's bipartisan effort and supported a Democratic bill that -- Limbaugh is salivating -- would require the surveillance of every foreign-terrorist target's calls to be approved by the FISA court, an institution founded to protect the rights of U.S. citizens only. In the lethal shorthand of political advertising, it would give terrorists the same legal protections as Americans. That is well beyond stupid."Well beyond stupid" is a good description for what Klein wrote here. "Factually false" is even better. First, from its inception, FISA did not "protect the rights of U.S. citizens only." Its warrant requirements apply to all "U.S. persons" (see 1801(f)), which includes not only U.S. citizens but also "an alien lawfully admitted [in the U.S.] for permanent residence" (see 1801(i)). From 1978 on, FISA extended its warrant protections to resident aliens.
But Klein's far more pernicious "error" is his Limbaugh-copying claim that the House bill "require[s] the surveillance of every foreign-terrorist target's calls to be approved by the FISA court." It just does not.
The only reason why Congress began considering amendments to FISA in the first place was because a FISA court earlier this year ruled that a warrant was required for foreign-to-foreign calls incidentally routed through the U.S. via fiber optics. Everyone -- from Russ Feingold to the ACLU -- agreed that FISA never intended to require warrants for foreign-to-foreign calls that have nothing to do with U.S. citizens, and thus, none of the bills being considered -- including the bill passed by the House -- requires warrants for such foreign-to-foreign calls. Here is Rep. Rush Holt, a member of the House Intelligence Committee and one of the key architects of the House bill, explaining what the House bill actually does:
* Ensure that the government must have an individualized, particularized court-approved warrant based on probable cause in order to read or listen to the communications of an American citizen. . . .
The RESTORE Act now makes clear that it is the courts -- and not an executive branch political appointee -- who decide whether or not the communications of an American can be seized and searched, and that such seizures and searches must be done pursuant to a court order.Under the House bill, individualized warrants are required if the U.S. Government wants to eavesdrop on the communications of Americans. Warrants are not required -- as Klein falsely claimed -- for "every foreign-terrorist target's calls."
While the government (in order to prevent abuse) must demonstrate to the FISA court that it is applying its surveillance standards faithfully, the warrant requirement is confined to the class Rep. Holt described. Klein's shrill condemnation of the House FISA bill rests on a complete falsehood (that's not surprising; the last time Klein wrote about FISA, he said that "no actual eavesdropping on conversations should be permitted without a FISA court ruling" and then proceeded to defend a FISA bill which, unbeknownst to him, allowed exactly that).
* * * * *
Klein's broader point is even more odious. Along with most of the "liberal" punditocracy, Klein has been singing the same song for years and years and years now. The salvation for Democrats lies in following Republicans on national security issues. He's been warning Democrats from the very beginning of the NSA scandal that they had better stop condemning Bush's illegal spying on Americans or else they will justly suffer the consequences, and he issues similar lip-quivering warnings about Iraq: Democrats better stop opposing the Leader's War or else they will lose.
Klein is not unique in this regard. This view that Democrats had better act like Republicans on national security issues is the central religious principle of the Democratic Beltway Establishment. Compare that fear-driven, self-hating politics with how Karl Rove thinks, as evidenced by the 2008 advice he gave to the GOP in his first Newsweek column this week:
Say in authentic terms what you believe. The GOP nominee must highlight his core convictions to help people understand who he is and to set up a natural contrast with Clinton, both on style and substance. Don't be afraid to say something controversial. The American people want their president to be authentic. And against a Democrat who calculates almost everything, including her accent and laugh, being seen as someone who says what he believes in a direct way will help.Leave aside the cliches about Hillary Clinton. It is true that Republicans are willing -- and have been willing for some time -- to aggressively and unapologetically pursue policies even when they are unpopular. They know how to read polls as well as anyone else. They knew that most Americans were vigorously opposed to Clinton's impeachment, but they pursued it to the bitter end anyway. And they know that the Iraq War is deeply unpopular with Americans, and that George Bush is even more unpopular, but they stand by both of them anyway.
They don't have hordes of frightened Joe Kleins constantly fretting in their ears that they better not take any unpopular positions otherwise liberal activists will say mean things about them and they will lose. Republicans have calculated -- correctly -- that Americans have greater respect for a political party that is perceived to stand steadfastly for its convictions (even when unpopular) than to be perceived as politically afraid to state what it is that it even believes.
In 2004, the Republicans -- knowing that Bush and Iraq were already unpopular -- based their entire re-election strategy on this premise. This was Bush's defining line from his RNC acceptance speech:
In the last four years, you and I have come to know each other. Even when we don't agree, at least you know what I believe and where I stand.As has been pointed out so many times, to little avail thus far, the central fallacy of the Beltway Democratic establishment is that they think they will look "strong" by constantly capitulating, when actually such capitulation looks (and is) pitiful and weak.
What makes this Klein-ist, Fear-Driven Advice all the more bizarre is that, now, he's not even advising Democrats to run away from unpopular positions. That would be bad enough. But here, he and his fellow Beltway Democrats are now insisting that Democrats even run away from popular positions -- i.e., efforts to stop Bush's war and impose oversight on his powers. They are just hopelessly mired in the decades-old belief that Republicans are better on national security and Democrats must submit or else lose.
So many of these pundits who succeed in their profession in a certain time-frame get stuck in that era. Pundits of the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, who formed their views in the wake of George McGovern's defeat and Jimmy Carter's banishment by the Ronald Reagan Right (and Clinton's early difficulties with the Limbaugh Right), have ossified and are frozen forever in that obsolete "wisdom." That's why people like Klein, Mickey Kaus, David Broder, Eleanor Clift and so much of our establishment punditocracy endlessly fight phantoms that haven't existed for years, even decades.
Polls conclusively demonstrate that Congressional Democrats are so unpopular almost exclusively because their supporters are so dispirited by their refusal to take a stand against this President. Yet the liberal punditocracy and Democratic consulting class drone on with the only theme they know: Democrats are being "foolishly partisan" by opposing Bush's national security demands and must capitulate still further if they know what's good for them.UPDATE: Time is the 11th most-read magazine in the country and the most-read political magazine, with more than 4 million in circulation. Here's Time's caption accompanying Klein's story:So the Democrats are "still stumbling on national security" and are "tone deaf on how to strike a balance" -- this, from the person who supported Bush's invasion of Iraq and then out of embarrassment falsely denied having done so, and then went on national television and openly toyed with the monstrosity of a first-strike nuclear attack on Iran.
Here's what Washington Post reporter Tom Ricks said in his online "chat" yesterday:
Princeton, N.J.: Obviously not everyone in the media should resign, but it is annoying to having The Post (and others) regularly publish articles by those who were wrong, wrong, wrong, but those who were right about Iraq (e.g. Feingold) still get short shrift.
Thomas E. Ricks: Yes, I agree with you. There are a few people out there who should have the decency to follow the advice of the king of Spain.The advice which Ricks recommended for war advocates in his link was from the episode where "the king of Spain told Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to 'shut up.'"UPDATE II: Joe Klein responds without acknowledging that he's doing so and, worse (though quite predictably), without the decency to admit his errors. He contrives a convoluted explanation to claim now that the House bill "obliquely gives foreign terrorists the same procedures as American citizens, if not the same rights." The outright falsity in his reasoning is self-evident, sad, and not worth responding to, though for those interested, his swarm of outraged commenters do more than an adequate job, as always, of exposing every inaccuracy in what he wrote.
But there is one comment Klein made that I just have to highlight. In explaining why he favors telecom amnesty, he said of the FISA bill that he likes:
It would also have taken a middle path on immunity for telecoms -- no blanket immunity (as is currently provided in the Senate draft), but selective immunity to those telecoms who can provide written proof that they were acting in response to a direct order from the government. That seems fair to me.Seriously, in what country does Joe Klein live? Can someone please explain to him that in the United States, the President doesn't have the power to give "direct orders" to violate the law? And what kind of person who isn't in the military runs around talking about "direct orders" from the American President at all? That isn't how our country works. Presidents obviously don't have the power to give "direct orders" to anyone to break the law, let alone civilians and private companies. Why does that even need to be explained?UPDATE III: Here's an email I received today from former Texas Congressman John Bryant (he's not running for anything now and hasn't run for anything in 10 years; he's a private citizen):
You hit the nail on the head regarding Joe Klein and the wobblies in congress that listen to him. I was a Dem congressman for 14 years representing Dallas and eight rural counties in North Texas, hardly a liberal consitituency. I had only one close race (1994) in seven congressional elections, in spite of votes against Reagan's Central American war, GWH Bush's first Gulf War, and all the Repub social demagoguery, and was never defeated for reelection. My experience was that a majority of voters prefer a candidate with strong stand on the issues to one who is in exact agreement witth their own views.
Thanks for saying what needed to be said about Klein and the others like him.It's amazing how few Beltway Democrats can comprehend this extremely clear point.
Also: Wired's Ryan Singel, as knowledgable as anyone around on FISA and eavesdropping issues, has some rather harsh words for the assertions both in Klein's column and his "response" today: "Time ought to stop Klein from writing about any substantive topic, especially FISA. Because when it comes to these topics, Klein is well beyond stupid. He's dangerous." Singel's piece is worth reading in its entirety.
-- Glenn Greenwald

Monday, November 19, 2007

Gaia Newly Examined by The Prophet of Climate Change: James Lovelock

One of the most eminent scientists of our time says that global warming is irreversible — and that more than 6 billion people will perish by the end of the century.

(James Lovelock, and statue of Gaia, l.)

As an undergraduate student, I experienced the environmental "movement" in its nascent stages, with pioneers like Rachel Carson to Robert Rodale, and older organizations from Audubon to Sierra Club often thought of as just "nature-lover" groups, while others, were regarded as marginal or so specialized, that the subject of "ecology" was almost disregarded, even in the biological sciences department - despite all this, or because of it, the Earth Day campaigns and the emerging political activism that began to flex its muscle, was felt to be radical, and ironically, for a conservative principle. That all changed dramatically as environmental hazards became impossible to ignore and even conservative political animals became supporters of "protecting the environment." After all, Teddy Roosevelt, 60 years earlier, was a real "conserve"-ative. Gifford Pinchot from Pennsylvania, and others who championed establishing National Parks were generally sportsmen, or called conservationists, who recognized the welfare of their domain depended on wise stewardship of those lands. When Richard Nixon signed the Environmental Protection Act, it came on the heels of years of a coalition-building momentum from liberals who believed Government had a responsibility to protect, and conservatives who believed their resources had to be preserved, as well.

James Lovelock came to be a beacon of eco-insight, first as an inventor to detect the ozone depletion taking place on earth also through his work with NASA, and the early Mars Viking projects, studying the atmosphere on the red planet, to see if "life" - extant or extinct - existed there. His Gaia Hypothesis - is an ecological hypothesis that proposes that living and nonliving parts of the earth are viewed as a complex interacting system that can be thought of as a single organism. Named after the Greek earth goddess, this hypothesis postulates that all living things have a regulatory effect on the Earth's environment that promotes life overall. It's controversial, to be sure, but has served as a bedrock, nonetheless, for the Green movement, and despite his support for Nuclear energy. Here, in Rolling Stone, Lovelock, at 88, gives a bracing look at what he thinks is in store for our planet - and humankind. - MS

Jeff Goodell, Rolling Stone
Posted Oct 17, 2007
At the age of eighty-eight, after four children and a long and respected career as one of the twentieth century's most influential scientists, James Lovelock has come to an unsettling conclusion: The human race is doomed. "I wish I could be more hopeful," he tells me one sunny morning as we walk through a park in Oslo, where he is giving a talk at a university. Lovelock is a small man, unfailingly polite, with white hair and round, owlish glasses. His step is jaunty, his mind lively, his manner anything but gloomy. In fact, the coming of the Four Horsemen -- war, famine, pestilence and death -- seems to perk him up. "It will be a dark time," Lovelock admits. "But for those who survive, I suspect it will be rather exciting."
In Lovelock's view, the scale of the catastrophe that awaits us will soon become obvious. By 2020, droughts and other extreme weather will be commonplace. By 2040, the Sahara will be moving into Europe, and Berlin will be as hot as Baghdad. Atlanta will end up a kudzu jungle. Phoenix will become uninhabitable, as will parts of Beijing (desert), Miami (rising seas) and London (floods). Food shortages will drive millions of people north, raising political tensions. "The Chinese have nowhere to go but up into Siberia," Lovelock says. "How will the Russians feel about that? I fear that war between Russia and China is probably inevitable." With hardship and mass migrations will come epidemics, which are likely to kill millions. By 2100, Lovelock believes, the Earth's population will be culled from today's 6.6 billion to as few as 500 million, with most of the survivors living in the far latitudes -- Canada, Iceland, Scandinavia, the Arctic Basin.
By the end of the century, according to Lovelock, global warming will cause temperate zones like North America and Europe to heat up by fourteen degrees Fahrenheit, nearly double the likeliest predictions of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations-sanctioned body that includes the world's top scientists. "Our future," Lovelock writes, "is like that of the passengers on a small pleasure boat sailing quietly above the Niagara Falls, not knowing that the engines are about to fail." And switching to energy-efficient light bulbs won't save us. To Lovelock, cutting greenhouse-gas pollution won't make much difference at this point, and much of what passes for sustainable development is little more than a scam to profit off disaster. "Green," he tells me, only half-joking, "is the color of mold and corruption."
If such predictions were coming from anyone else, you would laugh them off as the ravings of an old man projecting his own impending death onto the world around him. But Lovelock is not so easily dismissed. As an inventor, he created a device that helped detect the growing hole in the ozone layer and jump-start the environmental movement in the 1970s. And as a scientist, he introduced the revolutionary theory known as Gaia -- the idea that our entire planet is a kind of superorganism that is, in a sense, "alive." Once dismissed as New Age quackery, Lovelock's vision of a self-regulating Earth now underlies virtually all climate science. Lynn Margulis, a pioneering biologist at the University of Massachusetts, calls him "one of the most innovative and mischievous scientific minds of our time." Richard Branson, the British entrepreneur, credits Lovelock with inspiring him to pledge billions of dollars to fight global warming. "Jim is a brilliant scientist who has been right about many things in the past," Branson says. "If he's feeling gloomy about the future, it's important for mankind to pay attention."
Lovelock knows that predicting the end of civilization is not an exact science. "I could be wrong about all this," he admits as we stroll around the park in Norway. "The trouble is, all those well-intentioned scientists who are arguing that we're not in any imminent danger are basing their arguments on computer models. I'm basing mine on what’s actually happening."
When you approach Lovelock's house in Devon, a rural area in southwestern England, the sign on the metal gate reads:
A few hundred yards down a narrow lane, beside the site of an old mill, is a white, slate-roofed cottage where Lovelock lives with his second wife, Sandy, an American, and his youngest son, John, who is fifty-one and mildly disabled. It's a fairy-tale setting, surrounded by thirty-five wooded acres -- no vegetable garden, no manicured rosebushes. "I detest all that," Lovelock tells me. Partly hidden in the woods is a life-size statue of Gaia, the Greek goddess of the Earth, whom Lovelock named his groundbreaking theory after.
Most scientists toil at the margins of human knowledge, adding incrementally to our understanding of the world. Lovelock is one of the few living scientists whose ideas have touched off not only a scientific revolution but a spiritual one as well. "Future historians of science will see Lovelock as a man who inspired a Copernican shift in how we see ourselves in the world," says Tim Lenton, a climate researcher at the University of East Anglia, in England. Before Lovelock came along, the Earth was seen as little more than a cozy rock drifting around the sun. According to the accepted wisdom, life evolved here because the conditions were right -- not too hot, not too cold, plenty of water. Somehow bacteria grew into multicelled organisms, fish crawled out of the sea, and before long, Britney Spears arrived.
In the 1970s, Lovelock upended all this with a simple question: Why is the Earth different from Mars and Venus, where the atmosphere is toxic to life? In a flash of insight, Lovelock understood that our atmosphere was created not by random geological events but by the cumulative effusion of everything that has ever breathed, grown and decayed. Our air "is not merely a biological product," Lovelock wrote, "but more probably a biological construction: not living, but like a cat's fur, a bird's feathers or the paper of a wasp's nest, an extension of a living system designed to maintain a chosen environment." According to Gaia theory, life is not just a passenger on Earth but an active participant, helping to create the very conditions that sustain it. It's a beautiful idea --life begets life. It was also right in tune with the post-flower-child mood of the Seventies. Lovelock was quickly adopted as a spiritual guru, the man who killed God and put the planet at the center of New Age religious experience.
Lovelock is not an alarmist by nature. In his view, the dangers of nuclear power are grossly overstated. Ditto mercury emissions in the atmosphere, genetic engineering of food and the loss of biodiversity on the planet. The greatest mistake in his career, in fact, was not claiming that the sky was falling but failing to recognize that it was. In 1973, after being the first to discover that industrial chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons had polluted the atmosphere, Lovelock declared that the buildup of CFCs posed "no conceivable hazard." As it turned out, CFCs weren't toxic to breathe, but they were eating a hole in the ozone. Lovelock quickly revised his view, calling it "one of my greatest blunders," but the mistake may have cost him a share in a Nobel Prize.
At first, Lovelock didn't view global warming as an urgent threat to the planet. "Gaia is a tough bitch," he often said, borrowing a phrase coined by a colleague. But a few years ago, alarmed by rapidly melting ice in the Arctic and other climate-related changes, Lovelock became convinced that Gaia's autopilot system -- the giant, inexpressibly subtle network of positive and negative feedbacks that keeps the Earth’s climate in balance -- is seriously out of whack, derailed by pollution and deforestation. Lovelock believes the planet itself will eventually recover its equilibrium, even if it takes millions of years. What's at stake, he says, is civilization.
"You could quite seriously look at climate change as a response of the system intended to get rid of an irritating species: us humans," Lovelock tells me in the small office he has created in his cottage. "Or at least cut them back to size."
Lovelock's cottage in the woods is a world away from South London, where he grew up with coal soot in his lungs, coughing and pale and working-class. His mother was an early feminist; his father grew up so desperately hungry that he spent six months in prison when he was fourteen for poaching a rabbit from a local squire’s estate. Shortly after Lovelock was born, his parents passed him off to his grandmother to raise. "They were too poor and too busy to raise a child," he explains. In school, he was a lousy student, mildly dyslexic, more interested in pranks than homework. But he loved books, especially the science fiction of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.
To escape the grime of urban life, Lovelock's father often took him on long walks in the countryside, where he caught trout by hand from the streams and gorged on blueberries. The freedom and romance Lovelock felt on these jaunts had a transformative effect on him. "It's where I first saw the face of Gaia," he says now.
By the time Lovelock hit puberty, he knew he wanted to be a scientist. His first love was physics. But his dyslexia made complex math difficult, so he opted instead for chemistry, enrolling at the University of London. A year later, when the Nazis invaded Poland, Lovelock converted to Quakerism and soon became a conscientious objector. In his written statement, he explained why he refused to fight: "War is evil."
Lovelock took a job at the National Institute for Medical Research in London, where one of his first assignments was to develop new ways to stop the spread of infectious diseases. He spent months in underground bomb shelters studying how viruses are transmitted -- and shagging nurses in first-aid stations while Nazi bombs fell overhead. "It was a hard, desperate time," he says. "But it was exciting! It's terribly ironic, but war does make one feel alive."
As a result of his research in the bomb shelters, Lovelock ended up inventing the first aerosol disinfectant. A few years later, as a pioneer in the field of cryogenics, he became the first to understand how cellular structures respond to extreme cold, developing a means to freeze and thaw animal sperm -- a method still in use today. "Thanks to Lovelock," says biologist Lynn Margulis, "they don't have to send the entire bull to Australia."
But Lovelock's most important invention was the Electron Capture Detector, or ECD. In 1957, working at his kitchen table, Lovelock hacked together a device to measure minute concentrations of pesticides and other gases in the air. The instrument fit into the palm of his hand and was so exquisitely sensitive that if you dumped a bottle of some rare chemical on a blanket in Japan and let it evaporate, the ECD would be able to detect it a week later in England. The device was eventually redesigned by Hewlett-Packard: If Lovelock had retained the patent, he would have been a rich man. "Jim has never cared much for money," says Armand Neukermans, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and old friend of Lovelock, "except to buy himself freedom as an independent scientist."
As it turned out, Lovelock's invention roughly coincided with the publication in 1962 of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, which alerted the world to the dangers of pesticides like DDT. By the time her book appeared, scientists were already using the ECD to measure pesticide residue in the fat of Antarctic penguins and in the milk of nursing mothers in Finland, giving hard evidence to Carson's claims that chemicals were impacting the environment on a global scale. "If it hadn't been for my ECD," Lovelock says, "I think critics in the industry would have dismissed the whole thing as wet chemistry -- 'Oh, you can't measure this stuff accurately, can't extrapolate.' And they would have been right."
A decade later, Lovelock made an even more important discovery. In the late 1960s, while staying at an isolated vacation house in Ireland, he took a random sample of the haze that drifted into the area and found it laced with chlorofluorocarbons. CFCs are man-made compounds used as a refrigerant and as a propellant in aerosol cans -- a sure sign of man-made pollution. If CFCs are in remote Ireland, Lovelock wondered, where else might they be? Hitching a ride on a research vessel for a six-month voyage to Antarctica, he used a jury-rigged ECD to detect the buildup of CFCs in the atmosphere. But Lovelock failed to grasp the danger that they posed; two other scientists won the Nobel Prize for correctly hypothesizing that CFCs would burn a hole in the stratosphere, allowing dangerous levels of ultraviolet light to reach the Earth. As a result, CFCs were banned. "If Lovelock hadn't detected those CFCs," says Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich, "we'd all be living under the ocean in snorkels and fins to escape that poisonous sun."
If you type "gaia" and "religion" into Google, you'll get 2,360,000 hits -- Wiccans, spiritual travelers, massage therapists and sexual healers, all inspired by Lovelock's vision of the planet. Ask him about pagan cults, though, and Lovelock grimaces -- he has no interest in soft-headed spirituality or organized religion, especially when it puts human existence above all else. At Oxford, he once stood up and admonished Mother Teresa for urging an audience to take care of the poor and "leave God to take care of the Earth." As Lovelock explained to her, "If we as people do not respect and take care of the Earth, we can be sure that the Earth, in the role of Gaia, will take care of us and, if necessary, eliminate us."
Lovelock came up with the Gaia theory during a rough time in his life. In 1961, he was forty-one and working at a research center in London. It was a good job, decent pay, plenty of freedom, but he was bored. He had four kids at home, including John, who was born with a birth defect that left him brain-damaged. In addition, Lovelock’s mother -- cranky, demanding, aged -- was driving him nuts. He smoked, he drank. Today, we'd call it a midlife crisis.
One day, a letter from NASA arrived in Lovelock's mailbox, inviting him to join a group of scientists who were about to explore the moon. He had never heard of the space agency -- but within a few months he had dumped his job, packed up the family and moved to America to join the space race. Before long, though, he concluded that, scientifically speaking, the moon wasn't a very interesting place. The real excitement was Mars. "With the moon, the question was, is it safe for astronauts to walk on the surface?" Lovelock recalls. "With Mars, the question was, is there life there?"
Lovelock's colleagues at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, struggled to design instruments to test for life on the Martian surface. Lovelock, as usual, took a different approach. Instead of using a probe to dig up soil and look for bacteria, he thought, why not analyze the chemical composition of the Martian atmosphere? If life were present, he reasoned, the organisms would be obliged to use up raw materials in the atmosphere (such as oxygen) and dump waste products (like methane), just as life on Earth does. Even if the materials consumed and discharged were different, the chemical imbalance would be relatively simple to detect. Sure enough, when Lovelock and his colleagues finally got an analysis of Mars, they discovered that the atmosphere was close to chemical equilibrium -- suggesting that there had been no life on the planet.
But if life creates the atmosphere, Lovelock reasoned, it must also, in some sense, be regulating it. He knew, for example, that the sun is now about twenty-five percent hotter than when life began. What was modulating the surface temperature of the Earth, keeping it hospitable? Life itself, Lovelock concluded. When the Earth heats up, plants draw down levels of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases; as it cools, the levels of those gases rise, warming the planet. Thus, the idea of the Earth as superorganism was born.
The idea was not entirely new: Leonardo da Vinci believed pretty much the same thing in the sixteenth century. But Lovelock was the first to assemble all the existing thinking into a new vision of the planet. He soon quit NASA and moved back to England, where his neighbor William Golding, author of Lord of the Flies, suggested that he name his theory after Gaia, to capture the popular imagination. When established scientific journals refused to touch his ideas, Lovelock put out a book called Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth. "The Gaia hypothesis," he wrote, "is for those who like to walk or simply stand and stare, to wonder about the Earth and the life it bears and to speculate about the consequences of our own presence here." Gaia, he added, offers an alternative to the "depressing picture of our planet as a demented spaceship, forever traveling driverless and purposeless around an inner circle of the sun."
Hippies loved it. Darwinists didn't. Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene, dismissed Lovelock's book as "pop-ecology literature." British biologist John Maynard Smith went further, calling Gaia "an evil religion." In their view, Lovelock's concept flew in the face of evolutionary logic: If the Earth is an organism, and organisms evolve by natural selection, then that implies that somehow the Earth out-competed other planets. How is that possible? They were also troubled by Lovelock's suggestion that life creates the condition for life, which seems to suggest a predetermined purpose. In the minds of many of his peers, Lovelock was dancing very close to God.
But that was not what Lovelock had in mind. Large systems, in his view, don't need a purpose. To prove it, Lovelock and a colleague devised a simple, elegant computer model called Daisyworld, which used competing fields of daisies to show how organisms evolving under rules of natural selection are part of a self-regulating system. As the model planet heats up, white daisies thrive, reflecting more sunlight; that, in turn, lowers the temperature, which favors black daisies. Working together, the flowers regulate the temperature of the planet. The daisies are not altruistic or conscious -- they simply exist and, by existing, alter their environment.
Daisyworld quieted some of the critics, but the scientific debate over Gaia raged throughout the 1980s. Lovelock continued refining his thoughts despite troubles in his personal life. His first wife, Helen, was in the midst of a slow and painful decline from multiple sclerosis. Lovelock himself had several major surgeries, including the removal of a kidney he damaged in a tractor accident. He supported himself in part as a consultant for MI5, England's top counterintelligence agency, where he developed a method to monitor the movements of KGB spies in London by using an ECD to track their vehicles. To Lovelock, working for the spy agency was the equivalent of writing potboiler novels for a quick paycheck. "It was enjoyable work, and it kept food on the table," he says now.
Among scientists, Lovelock redeemed himself with a second book, The Ages of Gaia, which offered a more rigorous exploration of the biological and geophysical feedback mechanisms that keep the Earth's atmosphere suitable for life. Plankton in the oceans, for example, help cool the planet by giving off dimethyl sulfide, a chemical that seeds the formation of clouds, which in turn reflect the sun's heat back into space. "In the 1970s, plenty of us thought Gaia was nonsense," says Wally Broecker, a paleoclimatologist at Columbia University. "But Lovelock got everyone thinking more seriously about the dynamic nature of the planet." Of course, scientists like Broecker rarely used the word "Gaia." They prefer the phrase "Earth system science," which views the world, according to one treatise, as "a single, self-regulating system comprised of physical, chemical, biological and human components." In other words, Gaia in a lab coat.
Gaia offers a hopeful vision of how the world works. After all, if the Earth is more than just a rock drifting around the sun, if it's a superorganism that can evolve, that means -- to put it in a way that will piss off biology majors and neo-Darwinists everywhere -- there is a certain amount of forgiveness built into our world.
For Lovelock, this is a comforting idea. Consider his little spread in Devon. When he bought the place thirty years ago, it was surrounded by fields shorn by a thousand years of sheep-grazing. But to Lovelock, open land reeks of human interference with Gaia. So he set out to restore his thirty-five acres to its more natural character. After consulting with a forester, he planted 20,000 trees -- alders, oaks, pines. Unfortunately, he planted many of them too close together, and in rows. The trees are about forty feet tall now, but rather than feeling "natural," parts of his land have the look of a badly managed forestry project. "I botched it," Lovelock says with a grin as we hike through the woods. "But in the long run, Gaia will take care of it."
Until recently, Lovelock thought that global warming would be just like his half-assed forest -- something the planet would correct for. Then, in 2004, Lovelock's friend Richard Betts, a researcher at the Hadley Centre for Climate Change -- England's top climate institute -- invited him to stop by and talk with the scientists there. Lovelock went from meeting to meeting, hearing the latest data about melting ice at the poles, shrinking rain forests, the carbon cycle in the oceans. "It was terrifying," he recalls. "We were shown five separate scenes of positive feedback in regional climates -- polar, glacial, boreal forest, tropical forest and oceans -- but no one seemed to be working on whole-planet consequences." Equally chilling, he says, was the tone in which the scientists talked about the changes they were witnessing, "as if they were discussing some distant planet or a model universe, instead of the place where we all live."
As Lovelock was driving home that evening, it hit him. The resiliency of the system was gone. The forgiveness had been used up. "The whole system," he decided, "is in failure mode." A few weeks later, he began work on his latest and gloomiest book, The Revenge of Gaia, which was published in the U.S. in 2006.
In Lovelock's view, the flaws in computer climate models are painfully apparent. Take the uncertainty around projected sea levels: The IPCC, the U.N. panel on climate change, estimates that global warming will cause Earth's average temperature to rise as much as 11.5 degrees by 2100. This will cause inland glaciers to melt and seas to expand, triggering a maximum sea level rise of only twenty-three inches. Greenland, according to the IPCC's models, will take 1,000 years to melt.
But evidence from the real world suggests that the IPCC is far too conservative. For one thing, scientists know from the geological record that 3 million years ago, when temperatures increased to five degrees above today's level, the seas rose not by twenty-three inches but by more than eighty feet. What's more, recent satellite measurements indicate that Arctic ice is melting so rapidly that the region could be ice-free by 2030. "Modelers don't have the foggiest idea about the dynamics of melting ice sheets," scoffs Lovelock.
It's not just ice that throws off the climate models. Cloud physics are notoriously difficult to get right, and feedbacks from the biosphere, such as deforestation and melting tundra, are rarely factored in. "Computer models are not crystal balls," argues Ken Caldeira, a climate modeler at Stanford University whose career has been deeply influenced by Lovelock's ideas. "By observing the past, you make informed judgments about the future. Computer models are just a way to codify that accumulated knowledge into automated educated bets."
Here, in its oversimplified essence, is Lovelock's doomsday scenario: Rising heat means more ice melting at the poles, which means more open water and land. That, in turn, increases the heat (ice reflects sunlight; open land and water absorb it), causing more ice to melt. The seas rise. More heat leads to more intense rainfall in some places, droughts in others. The Amazon rain forests and the great northern boreal forests --the belt of pine and spruce that covers Alaska, Canada and Siberia --undergo a growth spurt, then wither away. The permafrost in northern latitudes thaws, releasing methane, a greenhouse gas that is twenty times more potent than CO2 -- and on and on it goes.
In a functioning Gaian world, these positive feedbacks would be modulated by negative feedbacks, the largest of which is the Earth's ability to radiate heat into space. But at a certain point, the regulatory system breaks down and the planet's climate makes the jump -- as it has many times in the past -- to a new, hotter state. Not the end of the world, but certainly the end of the world as we know it.
Lovelock's doomsday scenario is dismissed by leading climate researchers, most of whom dispute the idea that there is a single tipping point for the entire planet. "Individual ecosystems may fail or the ice sheets may collapse," says Caldeira, "but the larger system appears to be surprisingly resilient." But let's assume for the moment that Lovelock is right and we are indeed poised above Niagara Falls. Do we just wave as we go over the edge? In Lovelock's view, modest cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions won't help us -- it's too late to stop global warming by swapping our SUVs for hybrids. What about capturing carbon-dioxide pollution from coal plants and pumping it underground? "We can't possibly bury enough to make any difference." Biofuels? "A monumentally stupid idea." Renewables? "Nice, but won't make a dent." To Lovelock, the whole idea of sustainable development is wrongheaded: "We should be thinking about sustainable retreat."
Retreat, in his view, means it's time to start talking about changing where we live and how we get our food; about making plans for the migration of millions of people from low-lying regions like Bangladesh into Europe; about admitting that New Orleans is a goner and moving the people to cities better positioned for the future. Most of all, he says, it's about everybody "absolutely doing their utmost to sustain civilization, so that it doesn't degenerate into Dark Ages, with warlords running things, which is a real danger. We could lose everything that way."
Even Lovelock's friends cringe when he talks like this. "I fear he's overdrawing our despair budget," says Chris Rapley, head of the Science Museum in London, who has worked hard to raise international awareness of global warming. Others are justifiably concerned that Lovelock's views will distract from the rising political momentum for tough restrictions on greenhouse-gas pollution. Broecker, the Columbia paleoclimatologist, calls Lovelock's belief that cutting pollution is futile "dangerous nonsense."
"I wish I could say that wind turbines and solar panels will save us," Lovelock responds. "But I can't. There isn't any kind of solution possible. There are nearly 7 billion people on the planet now, not to mention livestock and pets. If you just take the CO2 of everything breathing, it's twenty-five percent of the total --four times as much CO2 as all the airlines in the world. So if you want to improve your carbon footprint, just hold your breath. It's terrifying. We have just exceeded all reasonable bounds in numbers. And from a purely biological view, any species that does that has a crash."
This is not to suggest, however, that Lovelock believes we should just party while the world burns. Quite the opposite. "We need bold action," Lovelock insists. "We have a tremendous amount to do." In his view, we have two choices: We can return to a more primitive lifestyle and live in equilibrium with the planet as hunter-gatherers, or we can sequester ourselves in a very sophisticated, high-tech civilization. "There's no question which path I'd prefer," he says one morning in his cottage, grinning broadly and tapping the keyboard of his computer. "It's really a question of how we organize society -- where we will get our food, water. How we will generate energy."
For water, the answer is pretty straightforward: desalination plants, which can turn ocean water into drinking water. Food supply is tougher: Heat and drought will devastate many of today's food-growing regions. It will also push people north, where they will cluster in cities. In these areas, there will be no room for backyard gardens. As a result, Lovelock believes, we will have to synthesize food -- to grow it in vats from tissue cultures of meats and vegetables. It sounds far out and deeply unappetizing, but from a technological standpoint, it wouldn't be hard to do.
A steady supply of electricity will also be vital. Five days after his visit to the Hadley Centre, Lovelock penned a fiery op-ed titled "Nuclear Power Is the Only Green Solution." Lovelock argued that we should "use the small input from renewables sensibly" but that "we have no time to experiment with visionary energy sources; civilization is in imminent danger and has to use nuclear -- the one safe, available energy source -- now or suffer the pain soon to be inflicted by our outraged planet."
Environmentalists howled in protest, but for anyone who knew Lovelock's past, his embrace of nukes is not surprising. At the age of fourteen, reading about how the sun is powered by a nuclear reaction, he came to believe that nuclear energy is one of the fundamental forces in the universe. Why not harness it? As for the dangers -- radioactive waste, vulnerability to terrorism, the possibility of a Chernobyl-like meltdown -- Lovelock says it's the lesser of two evils: "Even if they're right about the dangers, and they are not, it is still nothing compared to climate change."
As a last resort, to keep the planet even marginally habitable, Lovelock believes that humans may be forced to manipulate the Earth's climate by erecting solar shades in space or building devices to strip huge quantities of CO2 out of the atmosphere. Although he views large-scale geoengineering as an act of profound hubris -- "I would sooner expect a goat to succeed as a gardener than expect humans to become stewards of the Earth" -- he thinks it may be necessary as an emergency measure, much like kidney dialysis is necessary to a person whose health is failing. In fact, it was Lovelock who inspired his friend Richard Branson to put up a $25 million prize for the Virgin Earth Challenge, which will be awarded to the first person who can figure out a commercially viable way of removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. As a judge in the contest, Lovelock is not eligible to win, but he's intrigued by the challenge. His latest thought: suspend hundreds of thousands of 600-foot-long vertical pipes in the tropical oceans, put a valve at the bottom of each pipe and allow deep, nutrient-rich water to be pumped to the surface by wave action. Nutrients from the deep water would increase algae bloom, which would suck up carbon dioxide and help cool the planet.
"It's a way of leveraging the Earth's natural energy system against itself," Lovelock speculates. "I think Gaia would approve."
Oslo is Lovelock's kind of town. It's in the northern latitudes, which will grow more temperate as the climate warms; it has plenty of water; thanks to its oil and gas reserves, it's rich; and there's already lots of creative thinking going on about energy, including, much to Lovelock's satisfaction, renewed discussion about nuclear power. "The main issue they'll face here," Lovelock tells me as we walk along Karl Johans Gate, the city’s main boulevard, "is how to manage the hordes of people that will descend upon the city. In the next few decades, half the population of southern Europe will try to move here."
We head down to the waterfront, where we pass Akershus Castle, an imposing thirteenth-century fortress that served as Nazi headquarters during their occupation of the city during World War II. To Lovelock, the parallels between what the world faced then and what the world faces now are clear. "In some ways, it’s 1939 all over again," he says. "The threat is obvious, but we've failed to grasp what's at stake. We're still talking about appeasement."
Then, as now, the lack of political leadership is what's most striking to Lovelock. Although he respects Al Gore's efforts to raise people's consciousness, he believes no politician has come close to preparing us for what's coming. "We'll be living in a desperate world in no time," Lovelock says. He believes the time is right for a global-warming version of Winston Churchill's famous "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat" speech he gave to prepare Great Britain for World War II. "People are ready for this," Lovelock says as we pass under the shadow of the castle. "They understand what's happening far better than most politicians."
However the future turns out, Lovelock is unlikely to be around to see it. "My goal is to live a rectangular life: long, strong and steady, then a quick drop at the end," he says. Lovelock shows no signs of hitting his own personal tipping point. Although he's had forty operations, including a heart bypass, he still zooms around the English countryside in his white Honda like a Formula One driver. He and Sandy recently took a monthlong trip through Australia, where they visited the Great Barrier Reef. He's about to start another book about Gaia. Richard Branson has invited him on the first flight on the Virgin Galactic space shuttle late next year --"I want to give him a view of Gaia from space," says Branson. Lovelock is eager to go, and plans to take a test in a centrifuge later this year to see if his body can withstand the G-forces of spaceflight. He shuns talk of his legacy, although he jokes with his kids that he wants his headstone to read, HE NEVER MEANT TO BE PROSCRIPTIVE.
Whatever his epitaph, Lovelock's legacy as one of the most provocative scientists of our time is assured. And for all his gloom and doom, his notion of the planet as a single dynamic system remains a hopeful idea. It suggests that there are rules the system operates by and mechanisms that drive it. These rules and mechanisms can be studied and, possibly, tweaked. In many ways, Lovelock's holistic vision is an antidote to the chaos of twentieth-century science, which fragmented the world into quarks, quantum mechanics and untouchable mystery.
As for the doom that awaits us, Lovelock may well be wrong. Not because he's misread the science (although that’s certainly possible) but because he's misread human beings. Few serious scientists doubt that we're on the verge of a climate catastrophe. But for all Lovelock's sensitivity to the subtle dynamics and feedback loops in the climate system, he is curiously tone-deaf to the subtle dynamics and feedback loops in the human system. He believes that, despite our iPhones and space shuttles, we are still tribal animals, largely incapable of acting for the greater good or making long-term decisions for our own welfare. "Our moral progress," says Lovelock, "has not kept up with our technological progress."
But maybe that's exactly what the coming apocalypse is all about. One of the questions that fascinates Lovelock: Life has been evolving on Earth for more than 3 billion years -- and to what purpose? "Like it or not, we are the brains and nervous system of Gaia," he says. "We have now assumed responsibility for the welfare of the planet. How will we manage it?"
As we weave our way through the tourists heading up to the castle, it's easy to look at them and feel sadness. It’s harder to look at them and feel hopeful. But when I say this to Lovelock, he argues that the human race has gone through many bottlenecks before --and perhaps we're the better for it. Then he tells me the story of an airplane crash years ago at Manchester Airport. "A fuel tank caught fire during takeoff," Lovelock says. "There was plenty of time for everybody to get out, but many of the passengers wouldn't move. They just stayed there in their seats as they were told to, and the people who escaped had to climb over them to get out. It was perfectly obvious how to get out, but they wouldn't move. They died from the smoke or burned to death. And an awful lot of people, I'm sad to say, are like that. And that's what will happen this time, except on a much vaster scale."
Lovelock looks at me with unflinching blue eyes. "Some people will sit in their seats and do nothing, frozen in panic. Others will move. They'll see what's about to happen, and they'll take action, and they'll survive. They're the carriers of the civilization ahead."

Saturday, November 17, 2007

It’s Treason: Dems Stay Silent on Bush White House Crimes

The growing drumbeat for impeachment of the Bush/Cheney White House is dull compared to the hysteria the Repuglicans howled over when Bill Clinton had blow jobs... on the job, or, hard at work. Their rapacious actions were far more damaging to the people's business, governance and accountability, than any adultery by Bill. Their goal was not to impeach him, but to tie him up, and his agenda. But it also soured the Capital on having to go through another grueling exercise in what may be another futile staging of outrage. Yet the offenses by Bush and gang is deserving of frankly, something more serious than a legislative spanking, for it is of course doubtful the Congress would do this in a presidential election year, when Bush will be gone, though maybe not soon enough. But gone he will be. The timidity of the Democratic "leaders" to advance a bill of impeachment (it has been in committee for months and months) exposes their own political calculations as also self-serving, and it risks losing any support they enjoy on the basis the Republicans are so bankrupt.

No, Bush and gang are deserving of a far more censorious action. An international tribunal may some day look more closely at their war crimes, for that is what they are guilty of. That is, if Bush and gang haven't already subverted the rule of law so deeply, they will escape to their South American sanctuary, where extradition is non-existent. What poetic justice it would be if they are captured, and their plea for habeas corpus will be denied. Here, AlterNet contributor pens an indictment against the Democrats for complicity and failing to hold Bush accountable. I sense that along with 1932, 1968, and maybe even 1980, 2008 will be regarded as watershed shifts in the political alignments of the nation. We are all in for a riveting year ahead - one that holds tremendous danger, and opportunity, as the sages are wont to reveal. - MS

By Richard W. Behan, AlterNet
Lying to the people and the Congress was the more despicable violation of the rule of law by Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, but many more followed.

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.
--Article III, Section 3, United States Constitution

The mainstream Democrats -- represented, say, by Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, Joe Biden, and Christopher Dodd -- have not levied war against the United States. Their treason lies instead in committing the second offense: They adhere to enemies of the country, giving them aid and comfort.

The enemies are President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney. Like no other president and vice president in history, these men attacked their country.
It was not our geography George Bush and Richard Cheney invaded. Instead they abandoned and subverted the bedrock institution of our constitutional democracy: the rule of law. By word and deed, Mr. Bush repeatedly and arrogantly sets himself above the law, claiming obedience to be a matter of presidential choice. Mr. Cheney orchestrates, coaches, applauds and iterates.
This cannot stand if the country we know and cherish is to survive. George Bush and Richard Cheney are literally enemies of the state; long before now and by any measure of constitutional justice, they should have been impeached and removed from office.
Abjectly, continuously and stubbornly refusing to hold them accountable, however, the mainstream Democrats adhere to this criminal president and vice president: Nothing they have asked for has been denied, no barriers placed in their way. That is giving them aid and comfort, and that is treason. George Bush and Richard Cheney took the country to war illegally, with a deliberate, carefully designed and executed package of fear-mongering propaganda: lies, distortions and deceptions. No informed citizen entertains the slightest doubt about this.
Lying to the people and the Congress was the most despicable violation of the rule of law by Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, but many more followed: torturing prisoners, denying habeas corpus, spying on U.S. citizens, nullifying new laws with "signing statements" and so on and on. The litany of impeachable offenses is long and painful, but the so-called "War on Terror," these men insist, makes all of it acceptable, even necessary. Nearly six years have elapsed since the Bush administration first defeated the rule of law. For most of these years, a Republican Congress saw fit not to intervene, or even to question this behavior, so effective was the administration's propaganda campaign and so firm were the bonds of partisanship. But now the mainstream Democrats control the Congress.
Also during these six years, the truth emerged, and now we can see the "War on Terror" truly for what it is -- an overarching megalie, an untruth of such unimaginable scope and magnitude it re-calibrates for an entire nation the perception of reality. (Aryan supremacy was the megalie of Nazi Germany.) No one should be surprised that the threat of terrorism has increased, not diminished, since 9/11: the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were not even remotely intended to combat it.
We know the Bush administration, when it took office, was indifferent to terrorism, brushing aside explicit warnings about al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden; we know the president was planning instead, at least six months before 9/11, to invade both Afghanistan and Iraq; we know of a National Security Council memorandum dated Feb. 3, 2001, concerning the "capture of new and existing oil and gas fields" in Iraq; we have acquired with a lawsuit the maps of Iraqi oil fields Vice President Cheney's "Energy Task Force" was studying a month later; we have learned how the privatized structure of Iraq's postwar oil industry was designed by the Bush administration a year before the war began; we know the administration was negotiating pipeline rights-of-way with the Taliban, unsuccessfully, until five weeks before 9/11; we know the final threat to them was a "carpet of bombs"; we are aware of President Bush twice refusing offers from the Taliban to surrender Osama bin Laden, before and after the carpet of bombs was unleashed; we've read of the five "megabases" in Iraq to house 100,000 troops for as long as 50 years; we've learned the U.S. Embassy compound under construction in Baghdad will be ten times larger than any other in the world; and we know Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell, and British Petroleum/Amoco are poised to claim immense profits from 81 percent of Iraq's undeveloped oil fields.

Are these the activities and outcomes of a "War on Terror?"
We also know President Bush, a month before 9/11 in August of 2001, notified the governments of Pakistan and India he would launch a military mission into Afghanistan "before the end of October."
Between the dates of the president's announcement and his order to attack, the Trade Towers and the Pentagon were struck by the hijacked airliners. Seizing in a heartbeat this spectacular opportunity to disguise and launch the preplanned invasions, the Bush administration concocted the megalie, and the "War on Terror" was born.
The "War on Terror" is a conscious and ingenious masquerade for the geostrategic pursuit and control of Middle Eastern oil and gas resources. The facts place this beyond dispute. Mr. Bush's claim of "taking the fight directly to the terrorists … and the states that harbor them" was yet one more intentional deception, as subsequent events fully demonstrated. In Afghanistan the state was overthrown instead of apprehending the terrorists -- Osama bin Laden remains at large -- and in Iraq, when we invaded, there were no terrorists at all. But today both "states" are fitted with puppet governments and dotted with permanent U.S. military bases in close proximity to their hydrocarbon assets.

Only the Bush administration continues to natter about a bogus "War on Terror." Others are more candid:
(l.) Republican Sen. Senator Charles Hagel: "People say we're not fighting for oil. Of course we are. They talk about America's national interest. What the hell do you think they're talking about? We're not there for figs." (Speaking at Catholic University, Sept. 24, 2007)

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, in his book The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World: "I'm saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: The Iraq war is largely about oil."
Democratic Sen. Jon Tester: "We're still fighting a war in Iraq and people who are honest about it will admit we're there over oil." (Associated Press, Sept. 24, 2007)

Gen. John Abizaid, retired CENTCOM commander: "Of course it's about oil, we can't really deny that." (Speaking at Stanford University, Oct. 13, 2007). The criminal fraudulence of the "War on Terror" is fully documented, but the contemporary press has been derelict in failing to expose the mega-lie and publicize it. The mainstream Democrats are equally derelict in ignoring it. Failing to hold President Bush accountable for his crimes constitutes the most profound obstruction of justice. And failing to contradict his hideous megalie clearly reinforces the president's hand: the mainstream Democrats are now accomplices.
The damage done by the Democrats' treason is equally great in prospect. Without exposing the lie of the war in Iraq and acting upon the exposure, there is no credible and reliable way to stop the administration's insane intention of attacking Iran. The proffered rationales -- and the fraudulence -- are identical, as the Democrats stride toward complicity in yet another illegal and immoral war.

Why can't the mainstream Democrats speak sublime truth to demonic power? Doing so, they claim, would be too "divisive" and jeopardize the party's success in next year's election.
This strategy is politically suicidal. A Democratic sweep in 2008 grows dimmer every day.

The rank-and-file Republicans who continue to believe Mr. Bush's lies about the "War on Terror" will not vote for a Democrat. The rank-and-file Democrats who see through the lies are increasingly enraged by the insipid waffling of their mainstream candidates. And roughly half the American people don't bother to vote at all, repelled by the tawdry attack ads and negativity of bitterly partisan, superficial, sophomoric and issue-avoidance politicking.
If the mainstream Democrats do nothing to change this, they will wind up where they're headed -- disappointed and defeated in 2008 -- and they will deserve it. Only by exposing and acting on the truth about the war can they change any Republican minds, regain the support of disenchanted Democrats and attract the politically inert, indifferent Americans. A new style of politics needs badly to be engaged, one that is dedicated not merely to winning elections, but to a genuine concern for truth, for justice, for the rule of law and for integrity in public service.
The most direct and honorable way of invoking such a style is by impeaching George Bush and Richard Cheney. Never in our history have the high crimes and misdemeanors been so flagrant, and the people of our country know it.

Yes, congressman Kucinich (l.) sought with a "member's privilege" motion to initiate an impeachment proceeding on the floor of the House of Representatives. But Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer moved immediately to kill the initiative, only to be thwarted by a Republican trick. Finally, Nancy Pelosi, desperate to avoid a floor debate, managed to have the matter referred to the Judiciary Committee, where Chairman John Conyers (r.) has been sitting on the original bill since last April. The giving of aid and comfort to the enemies will, seemingly, continue.
But the mainstream Democrats now face a carpe diem moment of truly historic measure: If they choose, they can foreswear their treason. It was a majority, bipartisan vote that sent the impeachment bill to Judiciary, and that is all the political cover the Democrats need to take the next courageous and necessary step.
For the sake of the rule of law, for the sake of the integrity of the Congress, for the sake of the country's future and incidentally for the sake of a potential Democratic victory in 2008, the politics of truth and justice must be showcased. The Judiciary Committtee must hold hearings immediately, to see if impeachment is in fact warranted -- and polls say the greater part of the country thinks it is.
If the mainstream Democrats will not do this, if their treason continues, then decent and thinking citizens everywhere -- concerned patriots all -- can only weep for their country.

Kucinich shows real political courage

At the CNN sponsored Democratic debate in Las Vegas, Congressman Kucinich calls for impeachment of Cheney and Bush.Kucinich has consistently showed real political courage among the Democratic presidential candidates....with a few exceptions, namely Edwards, Dodd, Obama, and even Biden on occasion. Clinton is the rope-a-dopa candidate at this point, still standing, but still has the highest negatives which may prove unsurmountable in the general election.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

It’s Movie Time! Nine for November (and December)
by Sara Vilkomerson
This article was published in the November 12, 2007, edition of The New York Observer.

Courtesy of Focus Features
Am I blue?: (photo, l., Keira Knightley and James McAvoy in Atonement).

Ho! Ho!...Ho? How is it that the holidays are here already? It’s a time to give thanks, a time to reflect, a time to spend lots of QT with those nearest and dearest. … which inevitably sends most of us screaming to the multiplex for a few hours of escape. But, good news! It’s also the time when studios unleash their brightest baubles of films, those features poised to bring in the bucks and the little gold men. This year we’ve got a little bit of everything: big, weepy love stories; quirky, heartwarming comedies (is there any other kind these days?); musical mayhem with bloodshed; the return of Daniel Day-Lewis; and Will Smith attempting to save the good planet Earth … again. We’ve made a list and checked it twice. Here are the nine must-see movies of this season.
“I look at people and I see nothing worth liking.” So intones Daniel Plainview, the misanthropic figure at the center of the highly anticipated There Will Be Blood. This is Paul Thomas Anderson’s first film since the (much maligned) 2002 Punch-Drunk Love, and the writer-director chose to loosely base his script on the 1920’s Upton Sinclair book Oil! Mr. Anderson tends to make movies that people like to argue about (whether or not you think Magnolia is overrated or a modern masterpiece can be a relationship deal breaker), but so far the initial chatter on this one has been across-the-board positive. Daniel Day-Lewis stars. … And, well, when hasn’t he been amazing? The film is set in turn-of-the-century California during the oil boom, so expect plenty of media analysis about the politics of oil; but more importantly, it tackles the scary lust for and corruption of power. Paul Dano co-stars (hooray for the boys from The Girl Next Door!) as a young preacher who may or may not stand in Mr. Plainview’s way (look out!), and we’re guessing Mr. Anderson means it when he says there will be blood, okay? Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood did the score (sorry Aimee Mann), and our only concern is that there doesn’t seem to be a female of any note anywhere in this flick. (Paramount Vantage, Dec. 26)
Phew! A lighthearted film to liven up the mix comes in the form of Juno, the second film from Jason (son of Ivan) Reitman, following up on his success with Thank You for Smoking. Juno is the name of the title character (played by Ellen Page), a young teenage girl faced with an unplanned pregnancy who decides to give her baby away to a worthy couple. The father of the baby? Superbad’s Michael Cera, looking younger, more nervous and skinnier than ever. Enter Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner (who, by the way, would make an excellent real-life couple—sorry, Ben!) as the young couple who hope to adopt. (It’s nice to see Mr. Bateman cracking wise on the big screen again, and reunited with his Arrested Development son, Mr. Cera.) Supporting members of the cast are equally as impressive, and include (very tall) Allison Janney, Rainn Wilson and J.K. Simmons. Expect Juno to be this year’s Little Miss Sunshine. (Fox Searchlight, limited, Dec. 15)
What can we say about a movie that boasts this much talent? It was written by Aaron Sorkin, directed by Mike Nichols, and stars Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Emily Blunt and Ned Beatty. Amazing or spectacular mess? We can’t wait to find out. (Universal, Dec. 25)
When Grace Is Gone premiered at Sundance, it inspired the kind of crazy bidding war one could only imagine happening on Entourage (it ended at around 5 a.m. after seven hours). The movie stars John Cusack as a man whose wife is killed in service in Iraq, and who is left the uneasy task of telling his young daughters the news. Mr. Cusack, whom we’re always happy to see no matter how many bombs he may be in (cough, Martian Child) is being buzzed over as an Oscar contender, and since it was Harvey Weinstein who came out of the film’s bidding war victorious, expect a huge end-of-the-year publicity campaign. (Weinstein, Dec. 7)
The Savages is one of those movies that it’s hard to imagine going over gangbusters at a pitch meeting: Two siblings reunite to take care of their mostly absentee father who is suffering from dementia. Doesn’t exactly scream holiday box office gold, does it? And yet, due to the tremendous performances of Philip Seymour Hoffman—it’s been said before but needs to be said again, this guy is just so darn good—and Laura Linney (who has truly perfected the art of high-strung) this movie is a small but excellent one. Writer-director Tamara Jenkins, whose last feature-length film was 1998’s Slums of Beverly Hills, carries the same cool aesthetic look and quirky feel as executive producer Alexander Payne’s films. (Ms. Jenkins is married to Mr. Payne’s writing partner, Jim Taylor.) While the situation the actors find themselves in is grim, Mr. Hoffman and Ms. Linney manage to eek out some truly hilarious moments that resemble, for better or for worse, real life. (Fox Searchlight, Nov. 28)
We love it when filmmakers put the fun back into dysfunction—where would the movies be without family neurosis to probe?—and with the holidays fast approaching there’s no better time to see a film that will reassure you that your family isn’t the craziest one around. And boy oh boy, does Noah Baumbach’s latest, Margot at the Wedding, manage to do that! Nicole Kidman (forehead distractingly wrinkle-free) plays the title character, a conflicted and complicated drinking and pill-popping mother that takes oversharing to a new cringing extreme. Jennifer Jason Leigh (a.k.a. Mrs. Baumbach) plays Ms. Kidman’s more spiritualized (yet just as complicated) sister on the occasion of her wedding (to a restrained Jack Black), and the two women manage to convey a lifetime of shared family trauma and competitive rivalry skillfully and subtly. The movie is much darker than Mr. Baumbach’s last film, the heartbreakingly wonderful The Squid and the Whale, but Margot has many of his signature elements: naturalistic dialogue, a washed-out watercolor palette and achingly awkward moments that will have viewers shifting uncomfortably in their seats. We promise you’ll walk away feeling better about your own familial issues (not to mention weirdly grateful you’re not a boy going through adolescence). (Nov. 16, Paramount Vantage, limited)
We don’t know what to make of the big-screen adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. On the one hand, it has reteamed Johnny Depp (happily not in his pirate suit) with his favored director, Tim Burton. On the other, musicals have been more miss than hit since Chicago (see: Hairspray, Dreamgirls, Rent), and this one, a bloody romp about a man falsely imprisoned who returns to seek vengeance through murder, might be a truly hard sell. That said, if anyone was going to make this source material great, it’s Mr. Burton. Rounding out the cast is Sacha Baron Cohen (who must be psyched not to be Borat), the awesome Alan Rickman, and Mr. Burton’s female muse and real-life love, Helena Bonham Carter. There’s been much Internet speculation as to whether Mr. Depp actually belts out his songs, or pulls a Rex Harrison à la My Fair Lady. We don’t care! Some fairly reputable sources have named this the film to beat this year. (DreamWorks SKG/Paramount, Dec. 21)
Holy smokes, this movie looks crazy! We’re guessing this is going to be the one that all the boys will flock to see at the IMAX on 67th street, ’cause you know when it’s Will Smith and saving the world is on the line … the box office will follow. I Am Legend follows the sole human survivor after a catastrophic infection wipes out the planet. Expect shots of Mr. Smith chilling out in an eerily empty New York City, racing cars up Fifth Avenue, hitting golf balls off of deserted buildings (at least he seems to have a very good-looking German Shepherd as a companion). But! He’s not alone, and from the trailer we’re guessing … vampires? Zombies? Hard to say, but it looks incredibly scary, and we’re expecting hysteria over the bird flu to crop again by the time the credits role. (Warner Bros., Dec. 14)
It’s been far too long since there’s been a grand, dazzling, sock-you-in-the-guts-and-tear-your-heart-out epic love story at Oscar season. So cheers for this year, which brings the ludicrously lovely Atonement. Adapted faithfully from the Ian McEwan novel of the same name, it’s directed by Joe Wright, who did the very excellent retread of Pride & Prejudice in 2005. His leading lady from that picture, Keira Knightley, returns here, and never has a period picture done more for an actress than the late 1930’s setting has done for Ms. Knightley, who literally gleams on celluloid. Atonement begins on a hot and languid afternoon in the English countryside where misunderstandings and false accusations spiral into a lifetime of regret (trust us when we say that never before has the use of a dirty word set off such a riptide of consequences). Co-starring with Ms. Knightley is James McAvoy (The Last King of Scotland), playing the wrongfully accused man; we’re betting on him as the next hot Scot to become leading man material. Mr. Wright seems to have a knack for capturing the golden hues of pastoral settings, but it’s his treatment of World War II, specifically his depiction of the evacuation of Dunkirk, that will make jaws drop (one seemingly endless panoramic beach segment is practically worth the ticket price alone). Inevitably folks will compare Atonement to The English Patient, which may or may not be fair to either film. All we know is that the past couple of years the Academy has awarded fairly unromantic films—Crash (don’t even get us started) and The Departed—the top honor. The time might be ripe for this one to come in and clean up. Oh, and bring your tissues! (Focus Features, limited, Dec. 7)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Mailer is Dead, Long Live Mailer...

Two-time Pulitzer-Prize winning author Norman Mailer is dead at 84. He died early this morning at Mount Sinai Hospital of acute renal failure, his family told The New York Times. The prolific writer behind The Naked and the Dead, Armies of the Night, and Executioner's Song had a long and storied career, founding the Village Voice and constantly remaining at the center of American letters.

Charles McGrath of the New York Observer writes this morning:
He was also the least shy and risk-averse of writers. He eagerly sought public attention, and publicity inevitably followed him on the few occasions when he tried to avoid it. His big ears, barrel chest, striking blue eyes and helmet of seemingly electrified hair — jet black at first and ultimately snow white — made him instantly recognizable, a celebrity long before most authors were lured out into the limelight.
At different points in his life Mr. Mailer was a prodigious drinker and drug taker, a womanizer, a devoted family man, a would-be politician who ran for mayor of New York, a hipster existentialist, an antiwar protester, an opponent of women’s liberation and an all-purpose feuder and short-fused brawler, who with the slightest provocation would happily engage in head-butting, arm-wrestling and random punch-throwing. Boxing obsessed him and inspired some of his best writing. Any time he met a critic or a reviewer, even a friendly one, he would put up his fists and drop into a crouch.
Gore Vidal, with whom he frequently wrangled, once wrote: “Mailer is forever shouting at us that he is about to tell us something we must know or has just told us something revelatory and we failed to hear him or that he will, God grant his poor abused brain and body just one more chance, get through to us so that we will know. Each time he speaks he must become more bold, more loud, put on brighter motley and shake more foolish bells. Yet of all my contemporaries I retain the greatest affection for Norman as a force and as an artist. He is a man whose faults, though many, add to rather than subtract from the sum of his natural achievements.”

Those Silly Brits: Audience Laughs At Tom DeLay's Bogus Health Care Claims

Delay and his repug cronies are quite simply in denial, if not dissembling, about the true "health" of our nation. It's obscene, or irresponsible at best, when they throw out the bogey-man of "socialism" any time they want, which is to purposely frighten people that this spectre is tantamount to storm troopers knocking on your door. Examples of so-called "socialism" already institutionalized in every single community are fire departments, police departments, the libraries, the public the hell does universal health care of the sort found in every industrial country, and even many more third world nations, pose a collapse to the "American Way"...Of course the threat is to the pharma monopolies, for-profit hospitals, and bloated horse tick-fat insurance companies and their enabling legislators they finance with the mad money they bilk from consumers every step of the way. THAT is the threat they care about. "Socialism" and "anti-Americanism" has been rolled out every time these corporate whores stand to lose any inch or penny of their ill-gotten gains. Delay and Company are the filth of this country's political elite. They don't deserve the time of day, let alone any respect for their political arrogance. It extends to every cranny and corner they darken. -MS
This post, written by Ali Frick, originally appeared on Think Progress
Speaking in the UK yesterday, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) predicted that if a Democrat is elected president in 2008, he or she would seek to install a universal health care, similar to the system in Britain. This possibility "received thunderous applause." DeLay claimed that, under the U.S. system, "no American is denied health care":
By the way, there's no one denied health care in America. There are 47 million people who don't have health insurance, but no American is denied health care in America.
The audience, understandably, greeted DeLay's preposterous claims with "derisive laughter," according to the AP. A recent report showed that for the sixth straight year, jobholders continued to see a decline in employer-provided health insurance, with 38 states seeing "significant" drops in benefits offered by employers.
Observers estimate that anywhere from one to 18 percent of Americans are denied health insurance because of pre-existing health conditions. These conditions can range from heart disease to high cholesterol to yeast infections to being too skinny. A few examples of Americans who were denied health care:
Texas resident Shirley Lowe was denied health care because her breast cancer was diagnosed at a medical center rather than a clinic receiving federal cancer-research funds.
New Orleans bus driver Emanuel Wilson was denied health care when the government refused to pay for his chemotherapy because he had had a job that had provided insurance -- a job he lost after Hurricane Katrina.
Thousands of 9/11 workers who worked at Ground Zero were denied health care when the federal government approved woefully inadequate funds to address the permanent health problems, such as sinusitis and asthma, associated with work at the site.
As Michael Moore's film "Sicko" showed so clearly, millions more Americans who have health insurance are denied the care they need due to insurers' "cost-cutting strategies."

Ali Frick is a Research Associate for The Progress Report and at the Center for American Progress.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Who Needs Orwell? We are the Thought Police

Orwell's Big Brother never showed up. Instead of centralized Iraq war propaganda, we have an America in which the public and the press jointly impose their own controls.
By Michael Massing
Nov. 06, 2007 At first glance, the war in Iraq would seem to represent the realization of George Orwell's darkest fears. In "Politics and the English Language," he expressed alarm over how political speech and language, degraded by euphemism, vagueness, and cliché, was used to defend the indefensible, to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable. Three years later, in "1984," Orwell offered an even grimmer vision, one in which an all-powerful Party, working through an all-seeing Ministry of Truth, manipulates and intimidates the public by pelting it with an endless series of distorted and fabricated messages.
The Bush administration, in pushing for the war in Iraq, seems to have done much the same. It concocted lurid images to stir fear ("weapons of mass destruction," the prospect that the "smoking gun" could become a "mushroom cloud"). It asserted as fact information known to be false (the purported ties between Iraq and al Qaeda). It clipped and cropped intelligence data to fit its policy goals (dropping important qualifiers from the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq). It worked up snippets and scraps of unsubstantiated evidence into a slick package of deception and misrepresentation (Colin Powell's speech at the United Nations). And it created a whole glossary of diversionary terms -- "preemptive war" for unprovoked aggression, "shock and awe" for a devastating bombing campaign, "coalition" for an invading force that was overwhelmingly American -- all of which helped win the White House broad domestic support for a war that most of the rest of the world had decisively rejected.
Yet in many key respects, the Iraq war has diverged from Orwell's dystopic vision. Orwell had expected advances in technology to allow the ruling elite to monopolize the flow of information and through it to control the minds of the masses. In reality, though, those advances have set off an explosion in the number and diversity of news sources, making efforts at control all the harder to achieve. The 24-hour cable news channels, the constantly updated news Web sites, news aggregators like Google News, post-it-yourself sites such as YouTube, ezines, blogs, and digital cameras have all helped feed an avalanche of information about world affairs. In Iraq, reporters embedded with troops have been able via the Internet to file copy directly from the field. Through "milblogs," soldiers have been able to share with the outside world their impressions about their experiences on the ground. Even as the war has dragged on, it has given rise to a shelf-full of revealing books, written by not only generals and journalists but also captains, lieutenants, privates, national guardsmen, and even deserters.
In short, no war has been more fully chronicled or minutely analyzed than this one. And, as a result, the Bush administration has been unable to spin it as it would like. The spreading insurgency, the surging violence, the descent into chaos -- all have been thoroughly documented by journalists and others, and public support for the war has steadily ebbed as a result.
Yet even amid this information glut, the public remains ill-informed about many key aspects of the war. This is due less to any restrictions imposed by the government, or to any official management of language or image, than to controls imposed by the public itself. Americans -- reluctant to confront certain raw realities of the war -- have placed strong filters and screens on the facts and images they receive. This is particularly true regarding the conduct of U.S. troops in the field. The U.S. military in Iraq is an occupation army, and like most such forces, it has engaged in many troubling acts. With American men and women putting their lives at risk in a very hostile environment, however, the American public has little appetite for news about such acts, and so it sets limits on what it is willing to hear about them. The Press -- ever attuned to public sensitivities -- will, on occasion, test those limits, but generally respects them. The result is an unstated, unconscious, but nonetheless potent co-conspiracy between the public and the press to muffle some important truths about the war. In a disturbing twist on the Orwellian nightmare, the American people have become their own thought police, purging the news of unwanted and unwelcome features with an efficiency that government censors and military flacks can only envy.

Sometimes the public defines its limits by expressing outrage. The running of a story that seems too unsettling, or the airing of an image that seems too graphic, can set off a storm of protest -- from Fox News and the Weekly Standard, bloggers and radio talk-show hosts, military families and enraged citizens -- all denouncing the messenger as unpatriotic, un-American, even treasonous. In this swirl of menace and hate, even the most determined journalist can feel cowed.

Kevin Sites can attest to this. A freelance cameraman, Sites in November 2004 covered the second battle of Fallujah for NBC News. On Nov. 13, he followed a squad of Marines into a mosque that had been the scene of intense fighting. On the ground lay several badly wounded Iraqis. Seeing one of them move, a Marine shouted, "He's fucking faking he's dead," then shot him, making sure that he was. Sites caught the moment on tape and sent it to NBC. The network aired the clip but halted it at the moment when the soldier actually began firing. "NBC has chosen not to air the most gruesome of the images," anchor Brian Williams explained. Other networks did the same. (On the Arab satellite networks, the clip was shown in full, and repeatedly.) Even with this editing, Sites received thousands of death threats and pieces of hate mail. "Dear Liberal Media Scumbag," went one, "I hope the next video clip out of Iraq I watch is an insurgent placing your severed head onto your back." Bloggers accused him of being a traitor and an antiwar activist.
Since then, the networks have aired very few clips that approach even the truncated version of Sites' report. Sites himself no longer works for the networks; rather, he's out on his own, posting video reports from around the world on, where his audience is a fraction of what it once was. To find truly revealing footage about the war, it's necessary to seek out documentaries such as "The Ground Truth" and "The War Tapes," which play mainly before small elite audiences in art houses in the nation's largest cities.
In other cases, the public sets the limits of its tolerance through indifference and inattention, responding to reports of a shocking nature with a yawn and a sigh and thus causing these stories to wither and fade. The Haditha massacre is a good example. In March 2006, Time magazine reported that four months earlier, a group of Marines patrolling a remote village in western Iraq had lost one of its men to a roadside bomb. Furious, the soldiers had gone on a rampage, killing 15 unarmed men, women, and children. Initially, the Marines involved in the attack claimed that the civilians had died from the insurgent bomb, and the military accepted their report. But Time had obtained a copy of a videotape of the attack's aftermath and, based on it, and on interviews with eyewitnesses, concluded that a massacre might have occurred. "What happened in Haditha," correspondent Tim McGirk wrote, "is a reminder of the horrors faced by civilians caught in the middle of war -- and what war can do to the people who fight it."
All in all, it was an explosive report, presenting strong evidence of a Marine atrocity. Yet it stirred little public reaction, prompted no demands for an investigation, received scant follow-up from other news organizations. It was only two months later, when Rep. John Murtha denounced the slaughter at a press conference, declaring that the Marines had "killed innocent civilians in cold blood," that politicians began to pay attention to the episode, and that journalists began to write about it. Forced to investigate, the military determined that the Marines had killed not 15 but 24 civilians, and it initiated proceedings against eight of the soldiers.
From that point on, the massacre -- validated as newsworthy by a leading congressman -- received extensive coverage. Even so, it was framed as a rare exception, as an aberration from the otherwise commendable behavior of U.S. soldiers in Iraq. But, as William Langewiesche found in an investigation for Vanity Fair, the incident was not all that exceptional. The initial failure of the Marines to fully investigate the killings was due not to any conspiracy or cover-up but to the fact that the bloodshed was not regarded as anything out of the ordinary. "The killing of civilians," Langewiesche wrote, "has become so commonplace that the report of these particular ones barely aroused notice as it moved up the chain of command in Iraq." The debacle in Haditha grew out of the "normal operations in the war," he observed, operations that "make such carnage routine."
Few other publications, however, were willing to explore this. Doing so would require acknowledging that U.S. soldiers in Iraq are not necessarily paragons of virtue, that they do not always show respect for Iraqi civilians, that at times they harass, abuse, injure, and even kill them. It would require acknowledging that the Iraq war, like most wars, is a savage, pitiless affair in which American soldiers have been forced to do many un-American things. Most Americans prefer not to confront this. They want to be able to maintain their belief that Americans are an exceptionally virtuous, freedom-loving people and that their soldiers are a uniquely compassionate, well-meaning force. Any assertions to the contrary can rouse the beast, and the press, well aware of this, tends to tread warily around it.
Needless to say, many U.S. soldiers do behave in an upright fashion. Intent on doing good, they have distributed toys to children, cleaned up streets in poor neighborhoods, and arranged medical help for the injured and ailing. But these soldiers have been placed in an extraordinarily perilous environment with minimal preparation, and as the security situation has deteriorated and the population has grown increasingly belligerent, they have responded in ways that do not always conform to the standards taught in Army field manuals.

For a truly unsanitized look at the nature of the occupation, one must consult the many books that have been written about it. Just as the most graphic footage from Iraq has been tucked away in documentaries, so has the rawest reporting been relegated to books that only the most motivated will seek out. Especially revealing are the many firsthand accounts produced by ordinary soldiers. Among them are "My War: Killing Time in Iraq," by Colby Buzzell, a pot-smoking admirer of Charles Bukowski, Ralph Nader, and George Orwell and the operator of one of the most widely read milblogs (until it was shut down by the military); "Love My Rifle More Than You: Young and Female in the U.S. Army," by Kayla Williams, a freewheeling, foulmouthed military intelligence specialist; "The Deserter's Tale," by Joshua Key, a private from Oklahoma who, appalled by the brutality and cruelty of his fellow soldiers, left his unit and fled to Canada; and "Operation Homecoming," a collection of eyewitness accounts, private journals, and short stories by U.S. soldiers sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts. In these books are recorded not only many acts of courage, self-sacrifice, and benevolence but also many deeply disturbing aspects of the U.S. presence in Iraq -- realities that tend to get airbrushed out of news accounts. Among them:

The prevalence of drug use among U.S. troops. From these books, it seems clear that heavy drinking, hash smoking, and pill popping (especially of Valium, which is widely available in Iraq) are commonplace among U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Near universal is the use of "dip," or smokeless tobacco, which causes soldiers to spit out thick gobs of brown goo everywhere they go.

The ubiquity of pornography. Before the invasion, porn was all but unavailable in Iraq, but the presence of 130,000 U.S. troops has helped create an active market in it. Many Iraqis have since developed a taste for it as well, and soldiers freely trade porn for alcohol and pills. They also use it to motivate their Iraqi counterparts, promising a peek at a skin magazine in return for their going out on patrol.

The frequency of stealing from Iraqis. Despite strict prohibitions against this, U.S. soldiers on raids or at checkpoints sometimes unburden Iraqis of cash, jewelry, knives, electronic equipment, and sunglasses. Cars and motorcycles are sometimes seized as well.
The widespread contempt in which Iraqis are held. This is evident in the lexicon of racially charged terms used to refer to them: ragheads, camel jockeys, sand niggers, terrorists, and "the fucking locals." Many soldiers come to regard Arabs as "smelly, awful people," Kayla Williams writes. The labels for Iraqis are but a subset of the raw, thoroughly profane language many soldiers in Iraq use, a trait that generally goes unmentioned in journalistic reports from the field.

The routine mistreatment of Iraqi citizens during house raids. U.S. forces have undertaken thousands of these actions, hoping to find insurgents, weapons, and intelligence. In carrying them out, they often break down doors, bust up furniture, rip up mattresses, round up sleeping children from their beds, and arrest and zipcuff every able-bodied male in sight. These men are frequently punched, kicked, burned with cigarettes, and generally roughed up. In these books, a Marine brags of punching prisoners in the face or groin when no one is looking; a detainee is repeatedly kicked in the face in an effort to make him stop laughing; a prisoner suffers a broken jaw; another dies in custody. The vast majority of those detained turn out to be innocent. From these accounts, it seems clear that the types of abuses committed at Abu Ghraib were not the work of "a few bad apples," as most Americans insist on believing, but common occurrences throughout the archipelago of detention facilities maintained by the United States in Iraq.

The killing of innocent Iraqis at checkpoints. Throughout Iraq, U.S. soldiers set up roadblocks to check for weapons and prevent car bombs, but the sites are often so poorly marked that Iraqis do not realize that they are supposed to stop at them. When they fail to do so, they are often fired on and not infrequently killed. These books are filled with gruesome accounts in which U.S. soldiers, worried that they were coming under attack, gunned down innocent Iraqis.
The high civilian death toll in Iraq. Checkpoints are but one type of encounter in which innocent Iraqis die at the hands of U.S. soldiers. Convoys of U.S. military vehicles frequently run Iraqi cars off the road, causing injury and sometimes death. U.S. soldiers, when shot at, routinely respond by opening up fire and pumping round after indiscriminate round into hamlets, towns, and urban neighborhoods. When a location is suspected of harboring insurgents, it is often pounded by artillery rounds or air strikes, with often devastating results for civilians. In "The Deserter's Tale," Joshua Key observes that each military company in Iraq is responsible for dealing with the bodies of the civilians it has killed, and it fell to him to build a shack to hold the bodies of Iraqis slain by his unit until someone came to claim them.
In contrast to the deaths from car bombs and suicide attacks of the insurgents, most of the civilian deaths caused by Americans are unintentional. That does not, however, make them any less wrenching for the victims and their families. In the Arab news media, this ongoing slaughter receives constant coverage. In the American media, it receives very little. One can watch the evening news shows for nights on end, one can scour U.S. papers week after week, and not find any acknowledgment of the many civilians who have been killed by GIs. Writing in the Washington Post in July 2006, Andrew J. Bacevich, a professor of international relations at Boston University and the author of two highly regarded studies of U.S. foreign policy, expressed dismay at the indifference shown by both the military and the American public toward the ongoing slaughter of Iraqi noncombatants by U.S. soldiers. Observing that nobody has even bothered to keep a tally of the victims, Bacevich surmised from his own readings that the number "almost certainly runs in the tens of thousands." Aside from the obvious moral questions this raises, he went on, the violence against civilians has undermined America's policies in Iraq and the Mideast generally by "suggesting to Iraqis and Americans alike that Iraqi civilians -- and perhaps Arabs and Muslims more generally -- are expendable."
How can such a critical feature of the U.S. occupation remain so hidden from view? Because most Americans don't want to know about it. The books by Iraqi vets are filled with expressions of disbelief and rage at the lack of interest ordinary Americans show for what they've had to endure on the battlefield. In "Operation Homecoming," one returning Marine, who takes to drinking heavily in an effort to cope with the crushing guilt and revulsion he feels over how many people he's seen killed, fumes about how "you can't talk to them [ordinary Americans] about the horror of a dead child's lifeless mutilated body staring back at you from the void, knowing you took part in that end." Writing of her return home, Kayla Williams notes that the things most people seemed interested in were "beyond my comprehension. Who cared about Jennifer Lopez? How was it that I was watching CNN one morning and there was a story about freaking ducklings being fished out of a damn sewer drain -- while the story of soldiers getting killed in Iraq got relegated to this little banner across the bottom of the screen?"

In "Generation Kill," by the journalist Evan Wright, a Marine corporal confides his anguish and anger over all the killings he has seen: "I think it's bullshit how these fucking civilians are dying! They're worse off than the guys that are shooting at us. They don't even have a chance. Do you think people at home are going to see this -- all these women and children we're killing? Fuck no. Back home they're glorifying this motherfucker, I guarantee you."
"Generation Kill" recounts Wright's experiences traveling with a Marine platoon during the initial invasion. The platoon was at the very tip of the spear of the invasion force, and Wright got a uniquely close-up view of the fighting. In most U.S. news accounts, the invasion was portrayed as a relatively bloodless affair, with few American casualties and not many more civilian ones. Wright offers a starkly different tale. While expressing admiration for the Marines' many acts of valor and displays of compassion, he marvels at the U.S. military's ferocious fire-power and shudders at the startling number of civilians who fell victim to it. He writes of neighborhoods being leveled by mortar rounds, of villages being flattened by air strikes, of innocent men, women, and children being mowed down in free-fire zones. At first, Wright notes, the Marines found it easy, even exciting, to kill, but as the invasion progressed and the civilian toll mounted, many began to recoil, and some even broke down. "Do you realize the shit we've done here, the people we've killed?" one Marine agonizes. "Back home in the civilian world, if we did this, we would go to prison."
In an interview he gave soon after the publication of his book, Wright said that his main aim in writing it was to deglamorize the war -- and war in general. The problem with American society, he said, "is we don't really understand what war is. Our understanding of it is too sanitized." For the past decade, he explained, "we've been steeped in the lore of The Greatest Generation" -- Tom Brokaw's book about the men who fought in World War II -- "and a lot of people have developed this romanticism about that war. They tend to remember it from the Life magazine images of the sailor coming home and kissing his fiancée. They've forgotten that war is about killing." In "Generation Kill," he noted, he wanted to show how soldiers kill and wound civilians. In some cases, he said, the U.S. military justified such killings by the presence of Iraqi fedayeen fighters among the civilian population, but, he added, "when you see a little girl in pretty clothes that someone dressed her in, and she's smushed on the road with her legs cut off, you don't think, 'Well, you know, there were Fedayeen nearby and this is collateral damage. They're just civilians.'" The "real rule of war that you learn -- and this was true in World War II -- is that people who suffer the most are civilians," Wright said. "You're safest if you're a soldier. I'm haunted by the images of people that I saw killed by my country."
As Wright suggests, the sanitizing of news in wartime is nothing new. In most wars, nations that send their men and women off to fight in distant lands don't want to learn too much about the violence being committed in their name. Facing up to this would cause too much shame, would deal too great a blow to national self-esteem. If people were to become too aware of the butchery wars entail, they would become much less willing to fight them. And so the illusion must be maintained that war is a noble enterprise, that the soldiers who wage it are full of valor and heroism, that in the end their intentions are good and their actions benign.
In his reflections on politics and language, Orwell operated on the assumption that people want to know the truth. Often, though, they don't. In the case of Iraq, the many instruments Orwell felt would be needed to keep people passive and uninformed -- the nonstop propaganda messages, the memory holes, the rewriting of history, Room 101 -- have proved unnecessary. The public has become its own collective Ministry of Truth -- a reality that, in many ways, is even more chilling than the one Orwell envisioned.
-- By Michael Massing