Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Olbermann vs. Bush (or right vs. might)

and it wasn't even a contest.

Two views aired tonight. The first was President George W. Bush's address to the nation, which used new language to describe old thoughts. Bush was like Vanilla Ice ripping off Queen and David Bowie, except Vanilla was more entertaining. The second was Keith Olbermann, whom words cannot describe, so simply watch it here. What particularly insulted me, though, was that the President tried to tie Iraq to bin Laden right after saying that Iraq had nothing to do anything with 9/11. Let me quote the man himself:

On September the 11th, we learned that America must confront threats before they reach our shores; whether those threats come from terrorist networks or terrorist states.

I am often asked why we're in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was not responsible for the 9/11 attacks. The answer is that the regime of Saddam Hussein was a clear threat.

My administration, the Congress and the United Nations saw the threat.

BUSH: And, after 9/11, Saddam's regime posed a risk that the world could not afford to take.

The world is safer because Saddam Hussein is no longer in power.

And now the challenge is to help the Iraqi people build a democracy that fulfills the dreams of the nearly 12 million Iraqis who came out to vote in free elections last December.

Al Qaida and other extremists from across the world have come to Iraq to stop the rise of a free society in the heart of the Middle East. They have joined the remnants of Saddam's regime and other armed groups to foment sectarian violence and drive us out.

Our enemies in Iraq are tough and they are committed, but so are Iraqi and coalition forces. We are adapting to stay ahead of the enemy, and we are carrying out a clear plan to ensure that a democratic Iraq succeeds.

We are training Iraqi troops so they can defend their nation. We are helping Iraq's unity government grow in strength and serve its people. We will not leave until this work is done.

Whatever mistakes have been made in Iraq, the worst mistake would be to think that if we pulled out, the terrorists would leave us alone.

They will not leave us alone. They will follow us.

The safety of America depends on the outcome of the battle in the streets of Baghdad.

Osama bin Laden calls this fight "The Third World War," and he says that victory for the terrorists in Iraq will mean America's defeat and disgrace forever.

If we yield Iraq to men like bin Laden, our enemies will be emboldened. They will gain a new safe haven. They will use Iraq's resources to fuel their extremist movement.

I don't recall bin Laden saying any of these things, and even if he has, what does it matter what he says? If the President hasn't noticed it yet, he takes the bait every time. He does the dirty work of the biggest mass murderer in our nation's history. Osama bin Laden may indeed hate our freedoms and want a Caliphate from the 14th century, but he could not possibly have done the damage that this administration has done to us in the world. On Sept. 12, 2001, the world rallied around us. Everyone was on our side. Bin Laden had caused everyone to realize their worst fears: that it could've been them.

Instead we half-assed the important battle, and threw all our attention into the battle that has now proven to have been unnecessary. Afghanistan, despite Bush's words tonight, is facing renewed Taliban attacks. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's statement recently to Congress that the Taliban is stronger in three of the four seasons of the year is not reassuring; quite simply, it's frightening. It means that twice this administration has declared Mission Accomplished, and twice has been wrong. Neither confict is ended, in fact, our commitment to Afghanistan may need to be upgraded again.

Iraq, meanwhile, is not going to follow us home. Al-Qaida may be in Iraq, but it's more for attention than it is a serious, follow us home, threat. In truth, it doesn't matter whether we are fighting them there or not. No matter what, they will be trying to attack us here again. If we hadn't gone to Iraq, though, and if this president hadn't become so wedded to the idea that being in the middle of a civil war somehow stopped Osama bin Laden from attacking us, we might be safer today. A negative doesn't prove a positive. No attacks in five years doesn't mean that this administration has truly done its job. Eight years transpired between WTC attacks one and two. And it's not like al-Qaida's been quiet, either. They've attacked in Madrid, in London, in Bali. They are alive and well, and they are alive and well in part because we failed in our mission. We failed to learn our lessons and take down terrorism.

For five years now, those of us who disagreed with the administration have been called everything from morally bankrupt to traitors and terrorist sympathizers. We have been slammed by people who have been so tied to the administration's ideology that they forgot their own. Conservatism lost its way in 2002. It stopped being about the ideas and became all about the power. It became a knockdown, dragout slugfest whose only goal was to further one man's vision of what America should be, and a perverse vision it has shown itself to be.

In five years, America has lost its way. We have become decadent empire. We have shown that fascistic ideas can exist on our own shores under the right conditions. We have validated Orwell's writings. America today is a nation whose leaders have sanctioned torture while denying their own words. It is a nation that has trashed hard-earned, long-lasting treaties with the rest of the world just to show it could. It is a nation that launched its first preemptive war with spin and falsehoods, toppling a dictator that certainly deserved his fall, but created a situation even worse by doing so.

The lesson all of us forgot after 9/11 is that this is our nation. This is not the nation of Bush. This is not the nation of Cheney. America is not here to satisfy their whims or glorify their half-victories. They are here to serve us. Government is of the people, by the people, and for the people, and it is our duty as true patriots to stand up and let our voices be heard. On 9/11, 40 brave Americans on Flight 93 won the first battle against the terrorists while the President who acts tough was base-hopping. There's a lesson in that for us. The least among us can make the biggest difference, and those highest can often be irrelevant.

9/11 was the opening in a clash of ideology. Unfortunately, the American ideology, which can win any battle, was benched for the mirror image of what we are fighting. America is freedom. It is tolerance. It is respect. It is welcoming. It is NOT partisanship. It is NOT theocracy. It is NOT one-party dominance. It is NOT torture. It is NOT warlike, and it is NOT about the unitary executive/dictatorial crap that this administration spews to justify its actions.

ON 9/11, 40 brave Americans took back their plane. It's now time for brave Americans to take back their nation.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Tribute, tribulations, and terror: Remembering 9/11

It is difficult to write about this day. Every year there is a sense of dread as the date approaches, for a plane slamming into the World Trade Center was the first thing I saw that morning. I woke up, walked into the living room of my new apartment, and turned on the TV. I saw the plane hit and thought I was watching some movie. But as I flipped channels, I saw the same thing everywhere, and then I began to feel abject, gripping fear.

I called out my (ex)girlfriend, and we sat there and watched, holding each other and afraid to even leave the apartment. I decided I wasn't going to class, which turned out to be a good move, since most classes were canceled anyways. I called friends and we talked about what to do, which was basically to do nothing but sit tight and pray that everyone we knew was safe.

I have the images of the towers coming down burned into my memory: nothing could make that go away. I remember how my mom called me, scared to death because she couldn't leave work and check on my younger brothers and take them home. I ended up going to her house to wait for them to come home since their schools were supposedly going to let them go early (it turned out not to be true.) I told work we were going to be late, and my manager quite literally begged us to come in to work. In a sense, it's not like it mattered. We came in, but it was dead. It was slower than a holiday. Anyone who came in looked like a zombie, and all they could do was talk about what happened. People I worked with that were usually full of bluster were subdued. It was so surreal.

That night, I couldn't sleep, and it was a good week before I was functioning alright. I wrote a column the next week (unfortunately, the issue is missing right now from the paper's website), and for a scared 19-year-old, I'd like to think it was alright. I remember my friend and coworker Dan's quip from when he was called by his mom about the crash. She told him a plane crashed into the trade center, and he said, "What, the Gibraltar Trade Center (a Michigan swap meet type place)?" He wrote about that and then his feelings when it hit him. Two weeks later, seeing the tribute at the Mets game, hearing the Star-Spangled Banner, I wept. I wept so hard, and since then, it's hard to hear the national anthem without tears coming to my eyes because I will always see that day when I hear it.

Many of us dealt with things their own way. I kinda checked out that semester in terms of classes, and the classes that had relevance to what was going on were where I did good, and the classes that seemed unimportant I sucked at. I focused a lot of attention on preserving our liberties, criticizing the Arab roundups and indefinite detentions and the Patriot Act. And on my 20th birthday, one month later, I had several sobering reminders of how things had changed. Between my trip to New Orleans (read the below post for details) and my run across the border to Canada to celebrate, I dealt with the changes. I had m-16's right in front of me. I almost wasn't readmitted into the U.S. because we didn't have passports with us, and we hadn't known to bring them, because the changes weren't widely publicized in Detroit, where cross-border traffic is heavy. Eventually, though, life went on.

Five years later, the day has become a political tool. It's not even a national holiday yet, though it should be. It was our Pearl Harbor, our Kennedy assassination. We'll never forget where we were or what we were doing that day. Sadly, our political leaders have largely forgotten the spirit of the day, the meaning of the attack, and the lessons it should have taught us. We are not safer. We haven't bridged the divide with the world, instead, we've widened it. The only lesson we can and should take from this is that 9/11 isn't political. It isn't partisan. It isn't an excuse for personal agendas. 9/11 is, and can only be, in the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, "a day that will live in infamy." Although I doubt it, I hope that our leaders remember today that they stood together that day in a spirit that needs to be revived. When it comes to security, it's fine to debate ideas, but words like traitor and terrorist sympathizer are not acceptable. They don't fix the problem, they perpetuate it. It is five years later, and we are not nearly as safe as we should be. How is this acceptable? Quite frankly, it isn't, and our job as citizens is to remind our leaders that we find this behavior appalling, and that we demand better.

When it comes down to it, the only legacy of 9/11 should simply be: NEVER AGAIN. For that to happen, we have to make our leaders understand that what they've done is not enough, and they need to fix it, NOW.