If George W. Bush had been The Manchurian Candidate for president, even on his own terms, it's hard to see how he could have done a better job. He's weakened the American military, destroyed our prestige abroad, increased the threats against us, exploded any hopes for fiscal discipline at home and done enormous damage to the political prospects of both the Republican Party and the conservative movement, whose tenants are now almost entirely discredited. Among the most dangerous of the nearly perfectly counterproductive policies that Bush has pursued however has been his strengthening of the domestic power and regional influence of Iran's radical leadership. Just as Western Europe and Japan won the Cold War, Iran (and Al Qaeda) have won the Iraq war. As Peter Galbraith writes in the current New York Review of Books, here:
In short, George W. Bush had from the first facilitated the very event he warned would be a disastrous consequence of a US withdrawal from Iraq: the takeover of a large part of the country by an Iranian-backed militia. And while the President contrasts the promise of democracy in Iraq with the tyranny in Iran, there is now substantially more personal freedom in Iran than in southern Iraq.
The United States cannot now undo President Bush's strategic gift to Iran. But importantly, the most pro-Iranian Shiite political party is the one least hostile to the United States. In the battle now underway between the SIIC and Moqtada al-Sadr for control of southern Iraq and of the central government in Baghdad, the United States and Iran are on the same side. The US has good reason to worry about Iran's activities in Iraq. But contrary to the Bush administration's allegations -- supported by both General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker in their recent congressional testimony -- Iran does not oppose Iraq's new political order. In fact, Iran is the major beneficiary of the American-induced changes in Iraq since 2003.
If only Ken Burns weren't a creature of that dagnab liberal media, we might get PBS specials about the actual sacrifice of our servicemen like this one.
A great deal is now being written about Blackwater USA and other private security firms that provide hired guns to the military and State Department in Iraq. Tom Engelhardt approaches the subject in an unexpected way, however, with a little stroll down memory lane to a moment on December 14, 2004 that few today remember. It was on that day that George W. Bush, only recently reelected president and soon to inaugurate his second term by launching a (short-lived) crusade to bring "freedom" to the globe and end "tyranny" on the planet, paid off some of his personal debts in the coin of "freedom." He gave Presidential Medals of Freedom to the commander of his Afghan war and Iraq invasion Gen. Tommy Franks, to former director of the CIA George Tenet, and to his former viceroy in Baghdad, L. Paul Bremer III.
Though Engelhardt considers just what kinds of freedom each of these men brought to our world, he focuses special attention on Bremer and a single document he signed literally on the eve of turning over "sovereignty" to the Iraqis back in June 2004 and leaving the country in a rush. That document, "Order 17," is now back in the news because of the freedom from prosecution it granted firms like Blackwater, but it is seldom read or quoted; yet it catches the essence not just of the Blackwater problem, but also of the sort of "freedom" the Bush administration actually brought to the planet. An extraordinary document, it managed to turn the global clock back at least a century, establishing a unique kind of freedom in Iraq, not seen since the heyday of European and Japanese colonialism.
Here is just part of what he writes about that order:
All foreigners involved in the occupation project were to be granted "freedom of movement without delay throughout Iraq," and neither their vessels, vehicles, nor aircraft were to be "subject to registration, licensing or inspection by the [Iraqi] Government." Nor in traveling would foreign diplomat, soldier, consultant, or security guard, or any of their vehicles, vessels, or planes be subject to "dues, tolls, or charges, including landing and parking fees," and so on. And don't forget that on imports, including "controlled substances," there were to be no customs fees (or inspections), taxes, or much of anything else; nor was there to be the slightest charge for the use of Iraqi 'headquarters, camps, and other premises" occupied, nor for the use of electricity, water, or other utilities. And then, of course, there was that "International Zone," now better known as the Green Zone, whose control was carefully placed in the hands of the Multinational Force or MNF (essentially, the Americans and their contractors) exactly as if it had been the international part of Shanghai, or Portuguese Macao, or British Hong Kong in the nineteenth century.
Promulgated on the eve of the "return of sovereignty," Order 17 gave new meaning to the term "Free World." It was, in essence, a get-out-of-jail-free card in perpetuity.
It is this conception of "freedom" that created today's Blackwater crisis and also turned Iraq into a looter's paradise. In this piece, Engelhardt concludes: "In Iraq, in a twist on the nightmare language of Orwell's dystopian novel 1984, freedom meant theft."
Our buddy (and favorite Yankee fan) Siva Vaidhyanathan has launched his new "open book" blog to help him write his next big book, The Googlization of Everything.
"The Johnny Cash Show," by Rosanne Cash (An Altercation Exclusive)
On June 8, 1969, I walked in to Holy Cross School in Ventura, California, and into my eighth-grade classroom with a new mandate of confidence and coolness. My dad's television show, The Johnny Cash Show, had aired the night before and his guest had been Bob Dylan. My dad and Bob had sat at the edge of a small stage, wearing hip black suits, with only their two acoustic guitars, and had sung a duet of "Girl From the North Country." The entire country, or at least my entire generation, was buzzing. It was a certifiable, seminal musical event. My new mandate was justified thusly: the English teacher who had told my entire class, right in front of me -- only to pretend that he had forgotten that I was there -- that none of my dad's work was worth listening to, save perhaps "Folsom Prison Blues"; the boy who had said my dad couldn't sing and could barely talk; the nuns who had made nasty comments about my dad's profession and attendant personal catastrophes ... they could all kiss my ass. They could at least back off. No one was cooler than my dad, well, no one but Bob Dylan. But even Bob Dylan thought no one was cooler than my dad. Everything was forgiven under the terms of my new mandate (at least until MUCH later): the long absences, the drugs, the overnight jail stay, the infidelity, the bizarre and dangerous behavior and the divorce. The stratospheric level of coolness witnessed the evening before on television healed and dissolved just about every problem I had in my 14-year-old life.
Last night, more than 38 years later, I watched that performance on the new DVD which my brother and my dad's old manager produced. In most childhood memories, when you revisit the place of the memory, the driveway isn't as long, the room isn't as big, the grown-up isn't as tall. Things shrink, scale back and down, and fit into the adult world-view, with its underpinnings of cynicism and weariness. That wasn't the case in this re-viewing. Dad and Bob were just as cool, the guitars looked and sounded just as rich and ringing, their suits were cut just as fine, and the performance was just as great. Add the superb color, ambience, and sensibility of the late Sixties and early Seventies, and you have what I think is damn near a masterpiece in this four-hour, two-disc set. Add the fact that these are the things that survive of my father, and it's nearly unbearable for me, in a good way. But the Cash/Dylan duet is only the beginning. In these 58 shows we have an almost quintessential representation of American music, post-Summer of Love. Exciting juxtapositions abound: Dylan followed by Louis Armstrong, who appeared just a few months before his death. Creedence Clearwater Revival -- Could someone please find out how I can get a pink plaid shirt exactly like John Fogerty's? Seriously -- followed by Marty Robbins. And thern there's Pete Seeger, Waylon Jennings, Joni Mitchell, Kris Kristofferson, Neil Young, Loretta Lynn, Linda Ronstadt, and of course, the magnificent Carter Family and Tennessee Three.
It's almost too rich. Last night I watched Bob, and Creedence and James Taylor and George Jones, and dad with all of them. I had to stop. Almost all my happy memories of growing up with my father are somehow represented in these programs; everything I loved about music is identified and explored. I watched Marty Robbins and remembered how my mother would swoon over him, and tried to figure out if the number of times I had heard "El Paso" was in the triple digits, or more. My father was so handsome, it hurts to look at him. This was the best time of his life, when he was clean and straight, and taking musical risks (bringing blacklisted Pete Seeger on the show, as well as many new and television-deficient artists) and those risks pay off with interest. He was acting with clarity and focus, and singing in his absolute best voice.
The Johnny Cash Show is an artifact from another time and place that you can hardly believe once existed, and doesn't exist anymore, certainly not on television. But it exists in my memory, and in the template of my childhood experience, and now, on DVD for the whole world. "Ride This Train," a recurring spot in the show, is an apt metaphor for experiencing the totality of The Johnny Cash Show. If you can let go of your 21st Century constructs and prejudices about entertainment and media, and let yourself be immersed in the earnestness and honesty of a nearly 40-year-old experiment in television, and one man's extended passion and musical sense of discovery, you'll be in for a wonderful ride.
I have to say I find Rosanne's love for her parents (and step-parent) to be one of the most (of many) impressive things about her. Most songs about parents are about rebellion or as rock music has aged, resolution. (Think of Bonnie Raitt's unusually grown-up lyric:
I see my folks, they're getting old, I watch their bodies change/
I know they see the same in me, and it makes us both feel strange...
Mother love, on the other hand, well there's an awful lot of country music songs about mother love, but not too many rock or soul songs. Bruce Springsteen wrote a beautiful one that's kinda hard to find called "The Wish." But my favorite one these days is the incredibly tear-jerky "The Son of Hickory Holler's Tramp" by O.C. Smith, though it's been recorded by lots of people, including Merle Haggard and Kenny Rogers, and perhaps I'm wrong that Mr. Smith is its author. In any case, I have it on a superlative collection called "Rhythm & Black," but you should go to some trouble to find it too.
Here are the lyrics:
The Son of Hickory Holler's Tramp
Oh the path was deep and wide from footsteps leading to our cabin
And above the door there burned a scarlet lamp
And late at night a hand would knock and there would stand a stranger
I'm the son of Hickory Holler's tramp
Oh the corn was dry the weeds were high when papa took the drinking
He and Lucy Walker they took up and ran away
Mama cried a tear and then she promised fourteen children
I swear you'll never see a hungry day
When mama sacrificed her pride the neighbors started talkin'
But I was much too young to understand the things they said
The thing that mattered most of all was mama's chicken dumplings
And the goodnight kiss before we went to bed
Oh the path was deep and wide...
When papa left then destitution came upon our family
Not one neighbor volunteered to lend a helping hand
So let them gossip all they want she loved us and she raised us
The proof is standing here the full grown man
Last summer mama passed away and left the ones who loved her
Each and every one is more than grateful for their birth
Each Sunday she receives the fresh bouquet of fourteen roses
And the card that reads the greatest mom on earth
Oh the path was deep and wide...
Yes I'm the son of Hickory Holler's tramp
Name: Martin Cobern
Hometown: Cheshire, CT
To answer Jim Reuss' question: It was Bush adviser Larry Lindsey.
"Prices briefly spike to over $40 but within three months recede to normal levels or even lower with supplies plentiful. This scenario appeared to coincide with the Bush Administration's position in the months leading up to the launching of the war (although when Presidential adviser Larry Lindsey noted that with Saddam gone, 3 to 5 million barrels per day could be added to world supplies -- suggesting that war would be good for the economy -- the White House retreated from the comment, and Lindsey was later replaced)." -- Navy CCC report.
Most of your readers are probably aware of the proposed ballot initiative (I believe the signatures are being collected at this time) in California -- one which would reward the state's electoral votes proportionately rather than on the current "winner-take-all" basis.
The prospect of this initiative passing is alarming because it would almost certainly give about 20 electoral votes to the Republican presidential candidate that would otherwise go into the Democratic candidate's tally. Every analysis I have read indicates this would be enough to give the White House to the Republicans in 2008.
Law professor Lawrence Tribe of Harvard contends such an initiative is unconstitutional because Article II clearly stipulates that only the states' respective legislatures can determine such matters.
For what it's worth, I'd recommend we all start contributing money for the defeat of this initiative, because Tribe's assertion has a very serious potential flaw: the framers were always explicit that the legislatures are the "creatures" of the people, and thus inferior to them. In this light, it is hard to see why a ballot initiative -- which like it or not most directly reflects the people's will -- would be found unconstitutional. Nor should we necessarily want it to be.