A Flathead Valley, Montana, based independent journal of observation, analysis, and opinion.

Archives for September, 2006

27 September 2006

Is Butte running short of Democrats?

No campaign would be complete without one or more of the candidates complaining to some official body — Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices or the Federal Elections Commisssion — that his opponent wasn’t playing by the rules. The filing of the complaint always is accompanied by a press release announcing the grievance and portraying the complainer as the victim of low blows and various other outrages.

In Montana’s Senatorial campaign, Democrat Jon Tester is the latest complainer, alleging that a “…corporate sponsor with close ties to Republican Sen. Conrad Burns received premium reserved seats at a Butte debate in violation of federal election law,” according to a story by veteran political reporter Charles S. Johnson in today’s Helena Independent Record.

At the heart of the dispute is the fact that Resodyn received 50 reserved seats in the middle of the center section of the theater, and they were used by Burns supporters, who gave the senator a loud standing ovation when he was introduced. Resodyn’s share of the seats had been estimated at 30 seats Monday, but was expanded Tuesday.

In addition, Rhodia received 10 seats at the back of the theater, and each Senate candidate was allotted 25 reserved seats in front of the left and right sections.

The remainder of the seats in the 1,230-seat Mother Lode Theater were available on a first-come, first-served basis. Attendance was estimated at 1,000 people, with the vast majority appearing to be Tester supporters.

Resodyn and Burns have a history of “mutual cooperation,” the Tester complaint said, with Burns obtaining a number of federal grants for the Butte company, including a $10 million grant announced earlier this month.

There’s another headline possible here: Tester Supporters Fail to Fill Auditorium in Butte Debate. How could that happen in Butte, where it’s a wonder that any Republicans showed their faces? Did the Republicans occupying 50 seats in the center section really overwhelm Democrats, who were the vast majority of those present? And if they did, what does that say about the quality of Tester’s advance work? If I were running Tester’s campaign, I wouldn’t want to remind anyone that there weren’t enough Democrats in Butte to fill the Mother Lode Theater to whoop and holler on behalf of Jon Tester.

Tester’s campaign doesn’t see it that way, of course. It sees, rather, the 50-seat cheering section as more proof that Burns, already enjoying too close an association with jailbird Jack “The Tipper” Abramoff, is too cozy with corporate bigwigs — which, of course, he is. But the proof of excessive chumminess is found best not in 50 tickets to a debate but in the votes Burns has cast on behalf of corporate America during the 18 years he’s represented Montana in the Senate; for example, Burns’ vote for the Pharmacutical Manufacturers Relief Act, officially known as the Medicare prescription drug benefit.

Tester’s complaint about the tickets to the debate actually diverts attention from the most damning facts about Burns. It’s hard for me to understand how that will result in more votes for Tester.


25 September 2006

Courtesy clerks or cyborgs?

Star Trek fans who remember the Borg are getting an erie sense of deja vu when they enter certain chain stores. In these stores — in Kalispell, Borders, Target, Office Max — some or all of the employees have radios strapped to their waists and a large black earphone in one ear. Some wear a small boom microphone. This keeps them in constant communication with management and perhaps their fellow clerks. It also keeps them from giving you their undivided attention.

Whether wiring up employees in this way increases or decreases productivity is another question, although the manufacturers of the equipment surely can produce stacks of white papers proving that turning clerks into cyborgs improves the bottom line.

I’m sure the next step will be equipping clerks with tracking devices so that managers can have another efficiency metric with which improve the bottom line and further dehumanize their employees — with the ultimate goal, at least in the minds of some, of replacing flesh and blood with androids.

Commander Data, there’s a place for you at Office Max after you retire from Star Fleet.


22 September 2006

Bush 43’s bare-knuckled interrogations

I was going to discuss Kalispell’s westside bypass today, but the capitulation of John McCain, et al, on torture, is a depressing end to the work week. Dan Froomkin’s Bush Gets His Way column in today’s online version of the Washington Post is a comprehensive summary of the cave-in, and the reaction to it, and I recommend it highly. He also has a challenge for the news media:

Members of the traditional press were paying scant attention to the issue of state-sanctioned torture until a rift appeared within the Republican party itself. That, in Washington, qualifies as high drama.

And now that the rift has been papered over, most reporters’ tendencies will be to cover the issue mostly from the angle of its effectiveness as a political cudgel in the mid-term elections.

But the American public deserves to hear a full and open debate on this important moral issue. And if Congress won’t host it, then it’s up to the Fourth Estate to rise to the challenge.

Why Bush 43 insists that torturing detainees — and torture is the right word for waterboarding and the rest of the so-called “alternative” interrogation techniques — is both the American Way and a reliable means of extracting information from enemy captives is the real puzzle. No other American president has defended torture, let alone with such passion and belligerence. A story told by Ron Suskind in The One Percent Solution may provide the key to understanding Bush 43’s embrace of thuggery:

At [the Havard Business School] Bush — according to interviews with a dozen classmates — was short on academic skill, but long on bravado and cornball charisma. He distinguished himself in intramural sports and became de facto caption of his class’s winning basketball team, which played against a winning team from the class below, the class of 1976. The game was tight. The other team’s captain, Gary Engle — a mirror image of Bush, athletic, same size, headlong, crafty, mild attention deficit disorder — went up for a shot. Bush slugged him — an elbow to the mouth, knocking him to the parquet. “What the hell are you doing?” Engle remembers saying. “What, you want to get into a fistfight and both of us end up in the fucking emergency room?” Bush just smiled.

Moments later, at the other end of the court, Engle went up high for a rebound and felt some chop his legs out from under him. Bush again. Engle jumped up and threw the ball in Bush’s face. The two went at it until two teams of future business leaders leapt on the captains, pulling them apart. Engle, angry and vexed by what had happened, began wondering why the hell Bush would have done what he did. He lost his composure, and his team lost its leader.

A few years later, Engle, who was fast making a fortune in Florida real estate, bumped into Jeb Bush. It was 1980, and the young Bush was working with Armando Codina, a Miami businessman who was the chairman of George H.W. Bush’s Florida campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. Engle, a Republican contributor, had thought from time to time about his game against George. Nothing like that had happened to him before or since. This was his chance to get a little insight about it. He told the story. Jeb kind of laughed, Engle recalled. “In Texas, they call guys like George ‘a hard case.’ It wasn’t easy being his brother, either. He truly enjoys getting people to knuckle under.”

That must have happened before Bush 43 became a compassionate conservative.

I’m now waiting to see whether Montana’s Democratic candidates for the Senate and House, Jon Tester and Monica Lindeen, will speak out against torture and the McCain cave-in. So far, most Congressional Democrats have kept their consciences in check, treating the debate as an opportunity for Republicans to injure each other to the electoral benefit of Democrats. But now that McCain, Warner, and Graham have knuckled under, Democrats cannot avoid the issue. I’m hoping they’ll show some decency and backbone, but I’m betting they’ll knuckle under, too.


19 September

A pestilential theology

Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith, is no friend of organized religion. His new book, Letter to a Christian Nation, is being published this week.

In the meantime, in an oped piece in the Los Angeles Times, Head-in-the-Sand Liberals, he takes liberals to task for an unrealistic approach to the evils of Islam taken too seriously:

But my correspondence with liberals has convinced me that liberalism has grown dangerously out of touch with the realities of our world — specifically with what devout Muslims actually believe about the West, about paradise and about the ultimate ascendance of their faith.


A cult of death is forming in the Muslim world — for reasons that are perfectly explicable in terms of the Islamic doctrines of martyrdom and jihad. The truth is that we are not fighting a “war on terror.” We are fighting a pestilential theology and a longing for paradise.


Given the degree to which religious ideas are still sheltered from criticism in every society, it is actually possible for a person to have the economic and intellectual resources to build a nuclear bomb — and to believe that he will get 72 virgins in paradise. And yet, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, liberals continue to imagine that Muslim terrorism springs from economic despair, lack of education and American militarism.

I rather suspect that the Islamic zealots who are seduced into suicide bombing by the prospects of enjoying 72 virgins in the afterlife might might not be so eager to enter paradise that way if they thought the virgins were nuns with shotguns instead of belly dancers with things that shake, rattle, and answer a man's most libidinous prayers.


18 September 2006

Prussian Blue & red alert:

At what point does a well intentioned effort to warn one’s neighbors about an unsavory addition to the neighborhood become an exercise in vigilantism and a threat to the rights of the unsavory? A “No Hate Here” campaign in Kalispell may provide an answer to that question.

The campaign started, as most such campaign start, as a reaction to an pleasant discovery about the new kids on the block.

April Gaede, her twin daughters, Lamb and Lynx, and her current husband, Mark Harrington, purchased a house in Kalispell in February, 2006, and reportedly moved into it in mid-August. The move was neither eventful nor remarkable. What happened next, was.

After meeting Gaede, a neighbor, Bill Mateer, watched a rerun of ABC’s Primetime program featuring Lamb’s and Lynx’s musical group, Prussian Blue, which performs white nationalist music. Mateer connected the dots. His new neighbors, Mateer realized, were white nationalists.

According to Chery Sabol’s story in the 2 September 2006 Daily InterLake, Gaede and her family left Bakersfield, CA, because that city no longer was white enough for their liking. Insofar as I know, the Gaedes arrived in the Flathead with a clean legal slate. According to a story in the Bakersfield, Californian, however, April was involved in a bitter custody dispute with her ex-husband, Kris Richard Lingelser, who, the Californian reported, alleged in court papers that Gaede was “…brainwashing the 13-year-old girls and endangering them by involving them with violent racist groups.”

Once here, the Gaedes kept a low profile until they found themselves outed as white nationalists by a group from their south Kalispell neighborhood. Outraged by the Gaede’s politics, that group, whose members include Mateer and Rebecca Kushner-Matteer, went door-to-door distributing flyers and asking neighbors to put “No Hate Here” signs on their homes.

Unnerved by that exercise, the Gaedes complained to the Kalispell police, who explained that the members of Mateer’s group had the same free speech rights as everyone else, including the Gaedes. Before long the dispute hit the blogs on right wing websites such as Stormfront and National Vanguard. Kushner-Metteer and other “No Hate Here” activists found themselves the targets of pro-Gaede wrath. In a guest opinion piece in the 17 September 2006 InterLake, Kushner-Metter wrote:

Since the [Sabol] story was published, …my husband, myself, and the other members of the group mentioned in the article have received threats and abuse that cannot be repeated in this forum. Our names are popping up everywhere on the Internet with threats to “burn our houses down.”

Kushner-Metteer told a similar story to Paul Peters, a reporter for the Missoula Independent, a newspaper friendly to progressive causes, saying she feared for her safety:

[Kalispell’s chief of police Frank] Garner confirmed that some of the people involved with distributing the flyers have received threats, although he wouldn’t confirm specific language of letters or phone calls. He says that none have risen to the level of death threats, but that the Kalispell Police are working to trace the threats and prosecute anyone found to have made them under Privacy in Communications laws. Garner says all the written threats, so far, have come from outside the Flathead Valley.

Being on the receiving end of a threat is no fun — I know, from personal experience — but I suspect that Kushner-Metteer and their fellow no-haters may not be in much danger, if any. Most people who make threats never attempt to carry them out. Nevertheless, if the threat makers can be caught, they should be prosecuted. Threats have no place in civil discourse.

Whether the “No Hate Here” campaign against the Gaedes is a productive exercise in civil discourse is open to question. Unlike right wing Kalispell radio peronality John Stokes, who sought the limelight and sometimes seemed bent on inciting a riot, April Gaede and her family were flying under the local radar before finding themselves in the “No Hate Here” group’s spotlight. According to the Independent, she and her family moved to the Flathead “…in part for the anonymity.” (The other part, I’m sure, had to do with her custody dispute with her ex-husband.)

Gaede, of course, is no saint. According to a Southern Poverty Law Center’s intelligence report, she

grew up on goat’s milk and Third Reich footage in the foothills of Fresno (the family now lives in Bakersfield), the daughter of a rancher who branded horses with swastikas. A college dropout, she married a man she describes as a pot-smoking Icelandic pole-vaulter when she was 20, giving birth to Lynx and Lamb in 1993.

A self-described “…White Nationalist that believes in eugenics,” she writes for the National Vanguard, a splinter from the National Alliance (founded by the late William Pierce, an associate of George Lincoln Rockwell and author of the infamous American race war novel, The Turner Diaries; Powell’s Books stocks the title). And she doesn’t like Jews. Rudolph Hess, Hitler’s deputy Reichsfuhrer who flew to England in one the strangest episodes of World War II, was, she told Aaron Gell of GQ,

…horribly misunderstood. “People want to depict everything that happened in World War II Germany as marching around killing Jews,” April says. “They don’t want to understand how the whole ideology of National Socialism is really a beautiful thing. I mean, it really is.”

The Gaedes don’t really believe all those stories about the Holocaust. See, it’s not that the Nazis were consumed with pathological hatred for Jews. They simply decided that “genetically, those were not the people they wanted mixing in with the German people,” April explains. “They wanted Germany for the Germans.” (To say nothing of Poland, France, Belgium, etc.)

Concentration camps? Sure, but only because the Jews were working against the interests of the state, just like what the American government did to the Japanese and is doing now to Muslims. “I don’t deny that Jewish people died and were rounded up and put into camps,” she elaborates. “But I don’t think it’s as drastic as they say.” Gas chambers? April and the girls aren’t buying it. As it happens, the name Prussian Blue refers to a chemical residue that Holocaust deniers claim should have been detected in greater concentrations on the walls of the gas chambers if all those rumors of Zyklon B were true.

Nor has she abjured publicity elsewhere. In her youth, the SPLC reports, she

rode a horse through the streets of her hometown wearing nothing but a cowboy hat, boots, G-string, bunny tail, and a pair of bumper stickers slapped across her breasts as part of a contest at a local radio station. She was arrested for indecent exposure before a winner could be determined.

No less subtle than her Lady Gaedeiva act is her choice of “Prussian Blue” for her daughter’s musical group. Conjuring images of stormtroopers, midnight rallies at Nuremburg, hate crazed crowds roaring Seig Heil! Seig Heil! Seig Heil!, it’s an inspired name for a white nationalist musical group. Put Prussian Blue, and the emotional power it packs, together with two fetching, blond, blue-eyed, young American girls singing white power songs, and you’ll attract a television news crew everytime. Gaede knew that; that’s why she created the group and set her daughters to doing things they may view with shame if they ever break free of their mother. So, it’s hard to believe she was surprised by her reception in Kalispell once her neighbors learned of her politics.

And it’s easy to understand the why Gaede’s neighbors were outraged. There’s the appearance of children being exploited, of innocent young women being indoctrinated with hateful lies by a mother who does not qualify as a poster girl for a love thy neighbor campaign.

But what, exactly, do the neighbors want? In her guest opinion piece in the InterLake, Kushner-Metteer says:

This letter is not written as a means to harass the family, or to begin a “Witch-hunt.” We feel deeply sorry for the young girls who are only regurgitating ignorance from the adults around them. We wish the family no harm; our goal is to peacefully communicate that this kind of hate and ignorance will not be accepted here, in our neighborhoods, where we live and raise our families.

A peaceful demonstration of unity within our community is an effective way to communicate that we will not tolerate hate and prejudice.

It’s the “we will not tolerate” objective that concerns me. How will the “we will not tolerate” objective be attained? Is the objective to harass Gaede and her daughters into leaving Kalispell — to run them out of town on a leaflet and a “No Hate Here” sign? Is it to administer a de facto oath of “tolerance” to one’s neighbors, an oath to which one must attest by putting a “No Hate Here” sign in one’s window? Is it to stir up the issue so that the Montana Human Rights Network can waltz into town for a fund-raising drive while passions are high?

Whatever the motivations of Kushner-Metteer, et al, it seems to me that while they are not yet at the witch hunt stage, they are headed down a road that could take them there, and that they would be wise to give the issue a rest. They’ve made their point.

Neither Gaede nor any member of her family has broken any law in Kalispell, or, to my knowledge, committed any act that could reasonably justify civil litigation. John Stokes campaigned, in ways that some found frightening, against local groups and people he didn’t like, but all April Gaede and her family did was move here. One can argue with considerable merit that Stokes constituted a political menace against which a mobilization was required, but putting April Gaede in the same threat category as John Stokes requires an over-developed talent for hyperbole. No one has to love April Gaede, or approve of her politics or child rearing practices, but as long as she remains a law abiding citizen — a citizen with exactly the same rights as each and every one of us — we have to tolerate her.


14 September 2006

Banning laptop computers in class

Anyone who knows a college student knows that choosing a computer for school is no small matter. Most students choose laptops, partly because they save space in small living quarters, partly because they can be used in class to take notes, and partly because laptops are fashionable. I’ve found I can get along without one, but I date from the era when showing up for school with a slide rule and a portable typewriter made me a technologically advanced student. So, while I do appreciate the importance of computers in education, I may be too far gone into old fogeyhood to appreciate how vital laptops are to success in college and life.

Others have a different take on the subject. I recently encountered two articles on laptops in college that you may find interesting. Tidbits editor Adam Engst asked first year college student Dan Pourhadi what computer equipment and software he would purchase, and why, if he had $2,000 to spend on the acquisitions. Pourhadi, an aspiring journalist, responded with Mac to School 2006: the $2,000 Challenge. And Sherry Colb, an online columnist for Findlaw, professor at Rutgers Law School, and 1991 graduate of Harvard’s law school, addressed the issue of laptops in class in a thoughtful online essay, Taking Notes Without a Computer: How Laptops Distract From Classroom Learning.

Pourhadi chose a laptop:

Desktop or Laptop — No contest. I believe this can be adequately analyzed with nothing but questions: Can you bring an iMac with you to class to take notes? Or to the library to work on a project with classmates? Or to Starbucks for a coffee-fueled study session?

He might be surprised to learn that Colb has “…instituted a virtual ban on laptops in my classroom….”

He would not be surprised, at least if he knew me, to learn that I take a dim view of the notion that a Starbucks is a location conducive to study, or that it’s a good idea to have a cup of coffee next to a keyboard, or that group projects have much merit in education, or that I think a laptop is fine in a library if no one else can hear you typing.

What interests me most about his essay, however, is his rationale for choosing Microsoft Office for word processing:

Behold, the only piece of software that actually matters. Sure, there are other, less-expensive office suites, like the free NeoOffice. But in the end, compatibility and reliability trumps all. Everyone will be using Microsoft Office, so using it yourself assures compatibility. Word has a great notebook mode which makes it easy to take (and record) notes on the fly, and PowerPoint is... well, PowerPoint. Plus, buying Office:Mac Student edition before 12-Sep-06 saves you $50 through a rebate, bringing the price down to $100. (Also, check with your school store: they may sell it for less.)

Given that Microsoft Office is so widely used, I certainly understand his decision, but I don’t entirely agree with it. NeoOffice, the Mac OS X port of Open Office, the cross-platform, open source suite of business productivity applications developed first by Sun Microsystems, is a stable, powerful, reasonably-easy-to-use application, that opens and writes the MS Word format as well as the Open Document Format that many institutions and governments are beginning to adopt as a standard. NeoOffice lacks PowerPoint, but it does have an application for presenting electronic slide shows — although banning the use of PowerPoint in higher education would be a positive step. In any event, Pourhadi — indeed, every college student — should purchase several copies of Edward Tufte’s perceptive essay, The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint ($7 per copy, post paid), one to study and one to educate each professor/lecturer/instructor who employs PowerPoint.

In addition to banning PowerPoint, I would ban using laptops to take notes in class. Here, I think Colb’s insights and arguments are irrefutable:

When you take notes by hand, you are forced to digest what has been said and write down only a fraction of it. You are forced, in other words, to think while the class is in progress. It is what distinguishes a live lecture from a recorded one, after all. Listening means that you can understand the material, not just take it down like a stenographer. It also means that you can ask pertinent questions, answer professors’ inquiries well, and listen intelligently to what classmates have to say.

Putting my money where my mouth is, I have instituted a virtual ban on laptops in my classroom this semester (virtual, because two students are allowed to use laptops on the condition that they share their notes with the rest of the class). This is the first time I have adopted such a policy, and many students - at least before the semester began - expressed unhappiness about it.

These students are used to taking notes on a laptop computer, and they believe that they do their best learning that way. They are, however, likely mistaken, in my opinion. I have already noticed a higher level of reasoning, after only two weeks of class under the virtual laptop ban, and I am optimistic that student performance throughout the semester will improve as well.

If you want a magic bullet for how to get more out of your law school class, here it is: Put the laptop computer away, and take out a pen. You might actually learn something.

If I were starting college this fall, I’d bring with me a Mac laptop, loaded with NeoOffice, GIMP, and other open source software, but I’d also bring some pens and college ruled notebooks. There’s still a place in higher education for ink and paper.


12 September 2006

Burns executes GOP attack plan

Senator Conrad Burns was on the attack on Sunday during a debate with his Democratic challenger, Jon Tester, reports the Missoulian:

When Tester attacked Burns’ ethics in a debate in Hamilton on Sunday, Burns fired back by saying, “What is this little slush fund? You call it a constituency account, no accountability, you don’t have to report where you got the money.”

In response, Tester said the account was closed, and anyway, he pretty much spent the money on travel associated with his job as a state senator. He also released the details of the constituency account, which once held some $7,000. The details are in the Missoulian and you can read them there.

You’ll also want to read In a Pivotal Year, GOP Plans to Get Personal, by Jim Vanderhei and Chris Cillizza, in the 10 September 2006 issue of the Washington Post, who report that:

Republicans are planning to spend the vast majority of their sizable financial war chest over the final 60 days of the campaign attacking Democratic House and Senate candidates over personal issues and local controversies, GOP officials say...

...in a memo released last week, [Rep. Tom] Cole [R-OK], who is running to succeed Reynolds at the NRCC, expanded on that strategy. The memo recommended that vulnerable incumbents spend $20,000 on a research “package” to find damaging material about challengers and urged that they “define your opponent immediately and unrelentingly.”

GOP officials said internal polling shows Republicans could limit losses to six to 10 House seats and two or three Senate seats if the strategy — combined with the party’s significant financial advantage and battled-tested turnout operation — proves successful. Democrats need to pick up 15 seats to win control of the House and six to regain power in the Senate.

Against some less experienced and little-known opponents, said Matt Keelen, a Republican lobbyist heavily involved in House campaigns, “It will take one or two punches to fold them up like a cheap suit.”

Republicans plan to attack Democratic candidates over their voting records, business dealings, and legal tussles, the GOP officials said.

The exchange between Burns and Tester at the debate in Hamilton is a good example of how this kind of mud is slung. Burns, in political, and possibly legal, hot water because of his association with former lobbyist and now convicted felon Jack Abramoff, was attempting to neutralize the Abramoff issue by positing a moral equivalence with Tester over alleged ethical lapses. It’s the old “you’re another” and “two wrongs make a right” defense.

Tester’s releasing the details of his constituency account was the smart political move, but he was put on the defensive by Burns’ accusation. That’s never a good position for a challenger.

Tester’s bigger problem, however, is that although Burns’ relationship with Abramoff and Abramoff’s associates smells to high heaven, and although Burns is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice, Burns has not been indicted nor has anyone presented evidence that persuades me that Burns’ association with Abramoff resulted in material harm to Montana. That allows voters who wince at Burns’ behavior to dismiss it as “just politics.”

Tester will win only if he convinces voters that (a) they were injured, and badly, by the votes that Burns cast in the Senate, and (b) he’s a savvy legislator who will cast votes and broker deals that improve the lives of average Montanans.


11 September 2006

Response to attack speeches: Bush 43 v. FDR

1252 MDT. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 is the only event in American history that is comparable to the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. Both attacks were bolts from the blue; both were watershed events for the American psyche. Later this week, I’ll look at how badly we were hurt, but today I’m concentrating on the Presidential responses.

Franklin Roosevelt was in the ninth year of his presidency, and very much aware that the United States was nearing the point when it must join the battle against Hitler’s Germany. Indeed, on 11 September 1941, he delivered a sobering fireside chat on the sinking of the destroyer Greer, a step toward preparing Americans for entry into the conflict in Europe. Whether the authors of the attacks on 11 September 2001 were aware of this is an interesting question, but my personal opinion is that they did not know and would not have cared.

George W. Bush, entering the ninth month of the first year of his presidency, was as green on 9/11 as FDR was seasoned on 7 December 1941. Away from the White House that morning, on a political tour in Florida, reading a children’s story to very young students, he reacted with a certain amount of confusion and uncertainty that was recorded by news cameras videotaping the event. Within the hour he was aboard Air Force One, racing westward at 500 miles per hour, and did not return to Washington, D.C., until that evening, where from the White House he delivered a short address to the nation.

Bush 43’s address on 11 September 2001 and FDR’s response to the carrier raid on Pearl Harbor are the products of strikingly different schools of oratory and provide fascinating insights into the differences between the two Presidents.

FDR wrote his Day of Infamy speech himself. Delivered to a joint session of Congress on 8 December 1941, one day after Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, it was concise, cogent, directly to the point, rivaling Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address for power, elegance, and clarity. The next day, in his 19th fireside chat, this time written by Robert Sherwood and Samuel Rosenman, he rallied his countrymen for the sacrifices ahead. Both speeches remain the gold standard for addressing the American people following an attack on the United States.

When Bush 43 spoke to the nation on the evening of 11 September 2001, it was evident from the start that he did not use FDR’s Day of Infamy speech as a model for his own remarks. In certain respects, this is understandable. FDR knew the enemy was Japan, and that Japan had territorial ambitions that the United States opposed. Bush 43, however, did not know who was behind the attacks on Manhattan and the Pentagon (or if he did know, he was not letting on that he knew). He therefore argued that “America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world.” In other words, we were attacked not for what we were doing, had done, or were preparing to do, but for what we are. It was an assertion that America can do no wrong.

Bush 43’s speech was received well, which surprised me, but I thought then, and think now, that he could have done better, and should have delivered remarks similar to these:

My fellow Americans. This morning terrorists hijacked four American flagged airliners. They crashed two of the airplanes into the World Trade Center towers in New York City, and one into the Pentagon, near Washington, D.C. The fourth hijacked airliner crashed into a field in northwestern Pennsylvania.

Approximately an hour after being hit, the World Trade Center towers collapsed, killing thousands, including the hijackers, their captives, and many rescue workers. At the Pentagon, hundreds died.

Rescue efforts continue in both New York and at the Pentagon, where fires still burn in the damaged section of the building.

But most of the Pentagon escaped damage, and both military and civilian personnel there continue to discharge their duties. Our system of military command and control is intact and fully operational. From our own shores to the farthest reaches of the Earth, our military forces are on alert and ready to engage all enemies that approach.

No attacks have occurred since mid-morning. Another attack at this time is unlikely. Common sense, however, mandates vigilance. Armed fighter aircraft now patrol the skies above New York, Washington, D.C., and other vital areas, and all civilian aircraft were grounded this morning. We will lift the grounding order as quickly as we can, but we cannot lift it until the most exigent security concerns are addressed.

At this moment, we do not know who attacked us, or why. But we will find out — and when we do, we will loose our nation’s full might and fury upon those who helped murder so many today. That I promise. Let neither friend nor foe doubt the outcome of our campaign against the authors of these crimes against our nation and humanity.

What I cannot and will not promise is that terrorism will never again visit our nation. Dangerous currents of zealotry and malice flow throughout the world, currents that will, on occasion, send waves of violence against our shores. But terrorist attacks are rare events. It is an objective fact that Americans are much more likely to be injured or killed by automobile accidents than by terrorist attacks.

Thereore, as we begin our response to today’s attacks, let us remember a great truth about America: we can be defeated only if we defeat ourselves.

The terrorists intended to spill American blood, and they succeeded. But their ultimate goal was to frighten us into surrendering our freedoms in exchange for the illusion of greater safety. Their definition of victory is an America that reacts to today’s attacks not by remaining true to its principles and convictions, but by abandoning its freedoms for the false security of a police state. They hope to panic us into committing national suicide.

That will not happen. That is not how Americans confront adversity.

In the days to come, each of us, every man, every woman, every child, will be called upon, just as our fathers, and their fathers and families, were called upon in times of national need, to make the sacrifices necessary to defend our nation and the freedoms that we cherish. We are in this together, all of us. And together, we will prevail.

God bless you and good night.

0035 MDT. Flathead Memo is back online, no thanks to a bargain basement website hosting outfit that picked the day I advertised this website in a local newspaper to crash its server. Worse than that, whatever happened also temporarily wiped the record of the domain's registration with Internic. I'm tempted to call it corporate terrorism, but that would be giving the bums too much credit for competent administration.

10 September 2006

It’s 9/11 Time Again

Tomorrow marks the fifth anniversary of al-Qaeda’s attacks on the Pentagon and two Manhatten skyscrapers. President Bush will deliver a major speech on Monday (he’s been working up to it the last couple of weeks with speechs defending his policies) Flathead Memo will discuss how badly we were hurt that day and take a look at how well Bush’s speech on the evening of 9/11 stacks up against Franklin Roosevelt’s speeches after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Meanwhile, ABC plans to broadcast tonight and Monday an increasingly controversial two part “docu-drama”, produced by Disney, on the events leading to 9/11. Clinton administration Secretary of State Madeline Albright and National Security Advisor Sandy Berger have complained that the movie contains scenes in which they deliver remarks they say they never made. Richard Clarke, who worked for both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, made the same complaint. Disney alleges it is still editing the film and that such criticisms are premature. Perhaps. But as Glenn Greenwald notes:

One of the most incriminating aspects of Disney's conduct is that it made Path to 9/11 screeners available only to the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Hugh Hewitt and even obscure right-wing bloggers, while expressly refusing to provide a copy to liberal bloggers, including those with large audiences, or even to Bill Clinton and the former high-ranking Clinton officials smeared by the film.

That alone suggests a political bias on the part of Disney, but Max Blumenthal's report on the film's writer and director suggests the Path to 9/11 is not just fiction, but right wing propaganda, and that Disney could not have been unaware of that:

Before The Path to 9/11 entered the production stage, Disney/ABC contracted David Cunningham as the film's director. Cunningham is no ordinary Hollywood journeyman. He is in fact the son of Loren Cunningham, founder of the right-wing evangelical group Youth With A Mission (YWAM). The young Cunningham helped found an auxiliary of his father's group called The Film Institute (TFI), which, according to its mission statement, is “dedicated to a Godly transformation and revolution TO and THROUGH the Film and Televisionindustry.” As part of TFI's long-term strategy, Cunningham helped place interns from Youth With A Mission's global training network in film industry jobs so that they can begin to impact and transform Hollywood from the inside out, according to a YWAM report.

From my standpoint, that's bad enough. What’s worse, however, is that aesthetically the movie might be a stinker. Tom Shales, writing in today’ Washington Post, starts his review this way:

Factually shaky, politically inflammatory and photographically a mess, “The Path to 9/11” — ABC’s two-part, five-hour miniseries tracing events leading up to the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon — has something not just to offend everyone but also to depress them.

It sure sounds as though liberals watching this flick will want hard cider with their popcorn.

Meridian Reconstruction

As I drove North Meridian Road (right; bigger pix) southbound yesterday, I noticed two things. First, with gentle curves and broad views of the low mountains southwest of Kalispell, Highway 93 to Highway 2 along Meridian will be one of the most scenic roads in Kalispell, especially at twilight. Second the road is paved — yet according to the schedule on the project’s website, the paving won’t start until late September.

An updated schedule isn’t all that’s missing from the project’s website. There’s no map showing how the road will look after its reconstruction is finished. Possibly that’s because the construction has proceeded so slowly that one wonders whether it ever will be completed. A few days ago a friend and history buff, exasperated by the snail’s pace of the project, said “If these guys had been hired to build the Alaskan Highway, we’d all be speaking Japanese and German.”

Tidyman’s Demise

Tidymans was Kalispell’s finest grocery store when it opened in 1992; bright lights, an outstanding produce section, eager-to-help employees who smiled. Fourteen years later, it’s an empty box and fitting tribute to the managers who mismanaged it into oblivion. Only the pharmacy, a small room flooded with cyan tinged fluorescent light, remains open, a relief to people who take prescription medicine. When I stopped by last week, a uniformed security was sitting on a bench across from the pharmacy, reading a paper and looking terminally bored. The rest of the store was empty, dark, abandoned.

The city is rife with rumors that another grocery chain — Safeway gets mentioned a lot — will buy, or has bought, the store and will remodel and open it before Thanksgiving. I wouldn’t bet on it. I think the store will stay closed, and that one day the pharmacy will lock its doors without forewarning, leaving those having their prescriptions filled there in a panic. The pharmacists down there are very nice people who are trying to meet the needs of their customers, and would not do such a rotten thing if the decision were left to them. Unfortunately, the decision appears to be in the hands that strangled the store in the first place.