Word and Image of Vermont
The current scapegoat in Washington is Donald Rumsfeld. If President Bush had just fired him then everything would be going all right in Iraq. It's fouled up there because of Rumsfeld's stubbornness and deficient planning. This can be called the dopey child's analysis of politics. A bad man hasn't done what he was supposed to do and as a consequence a fine and noble system has been betrayed. Scapegoating is an ancient political flimflam. Just get rid of  two or three bad apples and then we'll be back on the right path. It's theory silly beyond belief and yet it continues to function.  Few in Washington who can command attention have the courage to say things are hideous in Iraq because we sent an army there and killed tens of thousands of people for no good reason at all. And by "we" I mean our entire political system including the people who were fatuous enough to vote for a man like George Bush and the members of Congress who were so craven as to give him approval for the slaughter when the reasons he gave for it were clearly false. Compared to the vast numbers responsible for this horror, Donald Rumsfeld is insignificant.  (Posted, 9/30/06)

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If the Democratic leadership were courageous and wise -neither of which, I'm afraid, is the case -- they would concentrate on establishing George Allen in the mind of the nation as Mr. Republican. In doing it, they would have the advantage of truth. Allen is fully committed to the three strategies which have fueled recent Republican success -- racism, appeal to greed, and a cankered nationalism which amounts to xenophobia. He has been widely spoken of as the only prominent Republican who would continue to advance the entire Bush agenda. Consequently, if the Democrats could get the country to focus on who George Allen is and what he actually stands for, they could go a long way towards stripping off the mask the Republican Party has worn so persistently over the past five years. It's true that the Democrats would have to start calling things what they are. But, perhaps, they wouldn't be quite as terrified by speaking the truth about George Allen as they have been by the thought of applying truth to another George.  (Posted, 9/28/06)

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If you listen to Republican advocates for Mr. Bush's system of military tribunals you'll find that they generally speak of courts for trying terrorists. Evidently, they never think of the implications of their statement. Their mindset holds them back from recognizing what they say. The primary purpose of a trial in a legitimate court is to determine the truth. Men and women who have been accused of something, on the basis of suggestive evidence, are examined to see if they actually performed the forbidden action. But, if a court has been set up specifically for the trial of "terrorists" then those thrown into it have been deprived, from the beginning, of the fundamental rights that are supposed to be available to any defendant. Their very presence in a court for terrorists predisposes their guilt. Under those circumstances, why have a trial at all? Phony speech has become a hallmark of our political system, and we have never seen it displayed more blatantly than in the proclamations of those who have used fear to ram through this undermining of our judicial system.  (Posted, 9/28/06)

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Senator George Allen's "Macaca" remark has metamorphosed into a general charge of racism which is getting much attention from the news shows on cable TV. Chris Matthews of Hardball is leading the way in asking whether Allen's speech indicates nasty attitudes or simply mimics the rough way of talking common in many American neighborhoods. It's a fair question, and one that needs more airing than it usually gets. I don't know whether Allen is a racist in the basic sense of the term. He's a Republican and that's enough for me to want him out of office. Still, the belief that he shares the racist sentiments of some of his supporters clearly gives him a stronger standing among them. Sly and muted hints of racism are required from most Republican politicians. Otherwise, they couldn't win. If somehow the votes cast for Republicans on the basis of racial bigotry were magically to be taken away, the GOP wouldn't have a hundred members in the House of Representatives. This is the open secret everyone in politics knows but that few will admit. I'm not sure what advantage is supposed to be gained by refusing to acknowledge the power of racial prejudice in American politics. The advantage to Republican politicians is clear, but what is the advantage to all the other people who are unwilling to speak of it? It's as though, in America, existing nastiness cannot be faced. The failure to face it, however, doesn't cause it to go away. Rather, keeping it out of the light helps it to fester. So, I hope Matthews and others will continue to push this issue and provoke frank discussion of it.  (Posted, 9/27/06)

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President Clinton's interview with Chris Wallace is drawing quite a bit of notice. Fox News has gone balmy over it. There's a theory in some quarters that Mr. Clinton by showing passion has reduced his stature. But, that's probably the opposite of the truth. For too long, Bill Clinton has pretended to feel no anger against those who have persistently worked to smear him. But there comes a time to call disgusting behavior what it is. To lie down before it cannot do anyone any good. The right-wing's viciousness towards the Clintons has been and continues to be inexcusable. Mr. Clinton's decision to hit back at it is not only understandable, it's heartening. Those who are defending Wallace by saying he was just behaving as a reporter should need to remember that he has chosen to sign on with Fox News, which always puts propaganda ahead of the truth. Nobody forced him to go to work for Fox, and it's naive to think that can escape responsibility for serving a network that skews every story it presents. He's reeling in the rewards of being part of the Fox system so he ought to expect the hostility that comes with them. If Mr. Clinton's outburst shows Democrats it's permissible to react strongly against right-wing distortion it will have served a fine purpose. Someone needs to teach the leading Democrats that their timidity in the face of disgusting attacks is exactly the reason they have lost the confidence of much of the country.  (Posted, 9/26/06)

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David Broder raised some eyebrows by saying in his column a couple days ago that George Bush has proved to be both "lawless and reckless." As Chris Matthews noted that night on Hardball, when a guy as strait-laced as Broder says anything that strong, it has to be seen as unusual. Matthews is right and Broder is to be commended for finally coming to the light. But, actually, his judgment about Bush now was not as interesting as his comment about how the country -- and, presumably, himself -- used to see the president: "a pleasant, down-to-earth guy." Why anyone should ever have viewed George Bush that way is hard to grasp, unless you give way to the notion that political propaganda machines can take in not only ignorant guys in bars but the most astute students of politics in the media. Did Mr. Broder fail to note the chest-thumping glee with which Bush presided over state killings while he was the governor of Texas? Or did he fail to take in the meaning of the Bush campaign's lies about John McCain in 2000, in South Carolina. You can reasonably call Mr. Bush lots of things, but you can scarcely call him pleasant. Still, "lawless and reckless" offsets, at least a bit, previous blindness.  (Posted, 9/23/06)

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On the Bill Maher show last Friday, Gloria Steinem said that imams have given Osama permission to kill ten million people in his campaign to protect Islam against the incursions of the West. I have no idea whether that's true, but it got me to thinking. In a certain version of Muslim politics, the imams play the role the people are supposed to play in a democracy. That being so, it raises the question of the number we have given George Bush, Dick Cheney and their henchmen permission to slay. One of the curiosities of the past five years has been Bush's persistent demand that we kill the enemies of freedom. But he never will say how many he thinks there are. And nobody who can get into his presence ever asks him. Is it okay for him to kill one million, or five million, or thirty million, or what? Shouldn't we have some idea? If I could have my way, every time the might of the United States had been  used to kill five hundred people the president would have to appear publicly before Congress, explain in detail who the dead were and why they had been slain. Then he would have to seek authorization to kill up to five hundred more, in pursuit of specific policies. But you know what the chances of that are. Neither numbers nor kill ratios are our thing. We can't even be bothered to keep count. (Posted, 9/21/06)

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Last night wasn't Katie Couric's finest hour. She appeared to go gaga over Hugo Chavez's calling Bush a devil, right here on American soil. Then she went on to give the impression she barely knew who Chavez was. The technique of seeming just as uninformed as the TV audience is the opposite of genuine humility. If Katey Couric really knew as little about Chavez as she suggested, she has no business holding her current position. And if she actually didn't get Chavez's irony in designating the denouncer of evil as the devil, then she has no grasp of the current world dialogue. Fake indignation is the most phony of emotions, yet it abounds on television. It's an insulting condescension toward the public. If I were advising Katey I would advise her to speak to the people who do know. Those who don't won't get what she's saying no matter how she phrases it. Furthermore, they won't be interested. In truth, they probably won't even be tuned in.  Why worry about playing up to them?  (Posted, 9/21/06)

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Until a short while ago Emile Nakhleh worked for the CIA. And he had a fairly important job. He was the head of the Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program. Here's what he has just said about Iraq in an interview with Harper's Magazine: "I have come to believe that our presence is part of the problem and that we should begin to seriously devise an exit strategy. There's a civil war in Iraq and our presence is contributing to the violence. We've become a lightning rod - we're not restricting the violence, we're contributing to it....."

What in the world is wrong with this guy? Doesn't he know you can't say the obvious if you want to be taken seriously in politics? Not only will it offend the president. It might even offend Joe Biden.

Just as soon as these people get out of government, they run off the rail.  (Posted, 9/20/06)

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Mr. Bush goes to the United Nations and says he wants peace with the rest of the world. At home, he pushes his torture and kangaroo court bill. It's not hard to discern what he really wants, and peace is not it. In fact, peace would be a disaster for Mr. Bush. He knows it would, and if we don't know it too then we're extremely naive people. The only peace Mr. Bush has in mind is the coercion of other countries by the United States. That's not good for us and its certainly not good for them. But from the president's point of view, it's the only good there is. Meanwhile, Mr. Cheney goes to the meeting of the National Automobile Dealers Association, and tells the audience that "We know that the hopes of the civilized world ride with us. Our cause is right, it is just and this nation will prevail." The world has good reason to be suspicious of Cheney's view of civilization, since it too projects U.S. coercion and nothing else. Both men are megalomaniacs. Neither has ever shown any appreciation for civilized pursuits, and their unceasing efforts to make everyone fall in line with their orders shows beyond doubt that their vision is concerned only with power. This has been obvious for a long time now. It seems that a majority of the American people are coming to that understanding. But whether a majority understands that the tool Bush and Cheney need most to pursue their ends is a Republican dominated Congress remains in doubt.  (Posted, 9/19/06)

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Last night on Washington Week in Review someone raised the question of whether President Bush is projecting an ever-widening circle of enemies with whom we are bound to have an everlasting conflict? How will the American people respond to that notion? Will they seize on it as a life purpose for adding drama to otherwise dull and harried existence? Or will they turn away from it as a big pain? That Mr. Bush is trying to habituate us to perpetual warfare is fairly obvious. Only if we believe in that state of being will we continue to accept him as  a leader. He has nothing else to offer than being a tough guy who will kill our enemies (actually, he has not even that, but in the world nowadays, it's the image that counts). Some say that in a media-drenched world, where the flashing image and the quickest of sound bites are all that matter, leaders like Bush are an inevitability. Most people can't take time to examine the simplistic unreality of his message. And only a man of his intellectual character can stand to repeat it incessantly, without even a tincture of variation. Our mode of living brings forth leaders who are too stupid to bore themselves to death. It's a droopy thesis but it does seem to have a certain force.  In my hopeful moments I tell myself it's not right. But my hopeful moments haven't been perfectly ascendant lately. At any rate, that thesis does point to the political fate of our era. And its rightness or wrongness lies not in the stars but in ourselves.  (Posted, 9/16/06)

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Bill Frist, the smarmiest man in American politics, went on PBS's News Hour, to say that Democrats want to wave the white flag, cut and run, surrender. All this intensely original commentary was made in support of President Bush's torture bill, which some members of his own party, including the former secretary of state, are too confused to get behind. The president's mind, of course, is crystal clear. There are no facts there to muddy it. I have said before, so I'll say again, that torture is an issue which is either backed or opposed according to one's tastes. If one likes the idea of torture, he will come up with arguments to justify it. And if one doesn't, he won't. There's no evidence that it does any good. Mr. Bush is gambling on the premise that a majority of Americans enjoy the thought of torture. It excites them to think of virtuous CIA agents putting the screws to swarthy Islamofascists, all done, of course, to protect the innocent here in this most innocent of lands. Obviously, there are a good many Americans who would thrill to that scenario. But whether they constitute more than fifty percent of us remains to be seen. It could be that Bush, Rummy, Rove, et cetera are miscalculating. While that question is being answered, we'll be treated to a full menu of Fristy pronunciamentoes to the effect that if you don't want to torture then you aren't really an American and your only desire lies in running away.  (Posted, 9/15/06)

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David Brooks of the New York Times has decided to dive completely into silly mode. In his column this morning he says this, in essence: "Bush vision, tremendous. Bush tactics, not so hot." This, I suppose, is his version of fair and balanced. What is Brooks's reading of Bush's overpowering perception? The president thinks he sees that our actions now will determine the future fifty years hence, and that if we don't follow his lead, and kill all the people he wants to kill, then the world will have subsided into radical Islam. Is Brooks telling us he thinks this is a genuinely serious possibility? If the Osamas of the world didn't have Bush and his tactics to use as  boogeymen, they wouldn't have much standing now in the countries that are formally Islamic. And the notion that they could gain political stature outside those areas is so fatuous only a man of Bush's mental condition could speak of it without giggling. Does Brooks think that China, or India, or South America -- to name just a trio of vast populations -- are actually in danger of adopting the kind of political system that Osama evidently advocates (I say "evidently" because the reporting on him in the United States has been so childish it's hard to know what he actually does want)? If anything that tyrannical does happen in America it will not be because of people from outside the country. Rather, it will be that Americans who, presumably, have brains, like Brooks, will get so twitter pated by the accessories of power they will project vision into intellects that are little more than husks. Any man who thinks Bush has real historical vision is so cut off from history he's wrapped up in a virtual bobble head bubble.  (Posted, 9/14/06)

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I clicked on The O'Reilly Factor last night and managed to get through about a quarter hour of it. I wonder if my stomach is growing effete. I used to be able to watch the whole thing.  The brief exposure left me asking, as I have so often before, how is the country going to emerge from the pandemonium of propaganda we've built up around us? O'Reilly's propaganda is particularly sleazy but that's not what makes it characteristic of our age. It's most notable feature is its loudness, and in that it demonstrates the purpose of propaganda in our time -- not to persuade but to drown out, everything, even its own trash. Earlier, on Hardball, I heard Chris Matthews say that the Democrats can't make anything of the facts and the Republicans don't need the facts. It was an accurate statement, but who heard it? For that matter who heard Katy Couric an hour earlier report that violence in Iraq is ripping the country apart. The government is failing. Death squads, many of them made up of government forces now pose a greater threat than the insurgency does. Even our own State Department says the country is fast approaching a crisis.  "Pandemonium" of course, is the name of the capital of Hell in Milton's Paradise Lost. And the main feature of it, for the damned, according to poet Randall Jarrell, is that they not only like it there; they feel loyal to the place. Clearly, we have a lot of loyalists among us. They think they're reaping rewards. And that thought -- as the expressions on poor Bill O'Reilly's face amply demonstrate -- is the most lousy propaganda of all.  (Posted, 9/14/06)

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About a week ago, I pasted into my political scrapbook an article from the Chicago Tribune titled, "European Confidence in U.S. Leadership Plumbs New Depths." It reported that in Europe Mr. Bush's overall approval rating is 18%. As we move southeast from Europe, dislike is transformed into hatred. And the hatred extends beyond the president to the American people themselves. Americans are supposedly befuddled by this hostility towards themselves and their leaders all around the world. John Powers offers one of the better explanations I've seen: "They hate us because we don't even know why they hate us." For the past several years the American discourse, especially as represented by journalism, has been particularly weak in addressing how things are connected in the world. There's an implicit assumption that all phenomena are distinct and have little to do with one another. Therefore, so-called Islamic fascism -- which is itself a dishonest term and one of the reasons why we're hated -- is assumed to be a movement which fuels itself out of unreasoning bigotry and has little connection to other global sentiments. We're making a serious mistake to continue with that assumption. When there's a worldwide attitude, it's only commonsense to conclude that in some areas it will be moderate and in others radical. But that doesn't mean the radical elements are completely disconnected from the less intense manifestations. Anti-Americanism is now a widespread and unified thing and we would do well to begin understanding why that's the case. Comprehending our standing in the world community need not be a black or white thing. We don't have to decide that we're always right or always wrong. But we do need to know why others see us as they do, and come to some conclusions about how justified they are.  (Posted, 9/13/06)

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John Powers, in his sprightly and intelligent Sore Winners, speaks of "the color-coded algebra of fear that has become part of every American's psyche." I'm not sure I know what he means by that but if, as seems likely, he's implying that since the attacks of five years ago all Americans have felt more afraid than they did before, I'm doubtful. Perhaps I'm more peculiar than I recognize but I have to confess that the events of September 11th have never caused me a second of fearfulness. The chances that I, or that anyone I know, will be hurt by actions similar to the ones which occurred then are so much less than the everyday dangers that visit my thoughts continually, the former have never produced any personal anxiety at all. I'm sorry they happened. I sympathize with the people who were hurt by them. But I sympathize just as much with people who were killed or injured in automobile wrecks, or were murdered, or who died because of our national medical negligence.  All deaths caused by violence or stupidity are  miscarriages and I see no reason to single out a tiny portion of them for overweening public condolence. The purpose of such observances strike me as less than noble. It's not that I reckon the attacks of September 2001 the less but that I reckon the atrocities of ordinary life the more and think they deserve more of our concern than publicity ginned up to support certain political and journalistic careers.  (Posted, 9/9/06)

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A pernicious idea operating throughout politics nowadays is that since there are many foolish and simpleminded people in the country, social problems must be discussed -- by both politicians and journalists -- in ways that appeal to their mental attributes. Thus black/white analysis must be elevated over subtlety, sentiment must take precedence over fact, and flattery and fear must be dished out in fulsome doses.  All these practices stewed together cook up a noxious pot of egotistical nationalism which is giving us a serious societal stomach ache. The mass of the people need to develop different tastes in order to get well. But it's hard to know what might cause them to do it. There is, though, the hope that if a concoction gets foul enough even gross taste will reject it. That seems to have happened with President Bush's recipe, issued last Tuesday, for persuading Americans to swallow secret prisons pervaded by torture. Though much of the press initially played it up as a political delicacy, a considerable portion of the people seem to regard it is what it is, a pile of rottenness. It's sometimes the case that if you eat something so vile it makes you miserably sick you'll never be able again in your life to stand the taste of it. We can hope that the practices of the Bush administration will operate the same manner in American history. It's a rough way to develop a healthy appetite. But, if that's what it takes....  (Posted, 9/8/06)

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CBS News has instituted the practice of having guest commentators voice opinions on its evening broadcast. It's a worthwhile innovation but its success will depend on who is chosen to speak. So far the choices deserve a grade of C-. Last night the selection was particularly bad. They brought on Rush Limbaugh, which was a waste . He has his own forum so he doesn't need CBS. His message is already widespread. Furthermore, he's an intellectual clown who will do nothing to advance or deepen public discourse. Mr. Limbaugh's single point so far as foreign relations are concerned is that killing people we don't like is the only solution for our problems. This has become a right-wing mantra which is merely emotive and almost completely devoid of substance. It avoids the questions of who? when? how? and most significantly, what is likely to be the result of all this killing? That's all right with people who put forward argument of this sort. They have no interest in contributing to substantial debate. They want only to arouse base emotions in their simpleminded fans. But CBS News should have other motives.  (Posted, 9/8/06)

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You see, if George Bush authorized it, it's not torture. Even if someone's eyes were gouged out, it wouldn't be torture. It would just be ocular stress technique. The president is evidently so mesmerized by his control over the simpletons who support him he thinks he has equal control over the English language. Actually, he goes even farther. He thinks that by assigning a bureaucratic name to an action he can change its nature. This is what sane people designate a God-complex. But, then, we need to remember that for people who still accept Bush's leadership it doesn't matter if officials of the United States engage in torture. The president decrees that certain men are bad. So, then, they deserve to be tortured. It's a good thing to torture them whether or not there's any useful information to be got from them. The president must see that as justice or else he wouldn't do it. And if the president says something is justice, then that's what it is.  (Posted, 9/7/06)

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With his traditional smirk George Bush bragged about using unrevealable "techniques" to interrogate men in secret prisons. We the people are supposed to be thrilled by this. I wonder if we're supposed to be equally thrilled by the thousands of young men the president's tone undoubtedly recruited to the ranks of those dedicated to striking at our country and killing as many of us as they can. Bush neither understands nor cares about this. He thinks he's cute when he boasts about illegal activities. And guess what? He won't have to pay for his cuteness. We will. And if we continue to celebrate his Pyrrhic  victories against terrorism we'll be welcoming the bill. At one point in CBS's slavish paean to Bush's political daring an official at the new Counter Terrorism Unit -- which seems to have been modeled on the TV version from 24 -- proudly announced that his organization regularly adds thousands of names to their lists of suspected terrorists. Nobody bothered to ask him where these people are coming from or why they are determined to attack us. It couldn't be, of course, that our leaders have anything to do with it. We're expected to fall back on the belief that it's simply because our opponents hate freedom.  (Posted, 9/7/06)

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Words are used for two purposes: to explain or convey meaning and to persuade or manipulate. In political discourse when the second overwhelms the first we get degeneracy. In America now the second has not only overwhelmed; it has inundated. Speech designed to inform has been drowned by a flood of words from men talking only to get their way. The president  leads in manipulation because his position affords him notability. But a majority of political operatives try mightily to keep up with him. Under these conditions many truths become unutterable. No politician dares, for example, to speak informatively about the so-called war on terror because the rhetorical atmosphere rewards only denunciation in describing those who are hostile to the presumably sacred American way of life. Osama bin Laden is regularly called a pathological madman, which tells us nothing useful about him. The reasons why he is regarded by millions as an inspiring leader cannot be discussed. Yet, knowing what it is that bonds him with his admirers is necessary for intelligent management of a struggle -- misnamed by us as a war -- which is destined to continue for generations. Think of it. We can't talk to one another sensibly because we are addicted to hustling. We have brought forth a population of politicians who can't imagine speaking for any other reason. This is not healthy. Unless we can cure ourselves of it, our political future is bleak.  (Posted, 9/6/06)

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I watched Rick Santorum debate Bob Casey, Jr., on Tim Russert's Meet the Press. Neither candidate made much sense. Santorum is a pure fanatic, believing things aren't true just because he wants to believe them. Casey is timid, fuzzy, and uninspiring. Each is a good representative of his political party at the moment. The sad truth is that the only genuine options we have as voters lie between fanaticism or droopiness. I choose the latter because it is less lethal. But it certainly doesn't fill me with happiness. The Democratic Party has made the decision that there is not a majority of voters in America who will listen to facts and reason, so they shy off from the firm truth whenever they can. The Republicans care nothing about truth, so they don't have to appear shifty. They get by with lies. The Democratic Party may be capable of reform. The Republican Party is not -- at least not in the next generation. But the Democratic Party of 2006 is nothing to make the heart go pitty-pat.  (Posted, 9/4/06)

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I've tried to stay away from the terms "fascist" and "Nazi" when discussing current politics. They have been employed in such slovenly ways recently they function primarily as insults. Few people hear them any longer as indicators of a political philosophy. I feel fairly sure the advisors of President Bush are relying on that. These incendiary words are being worked into the president's speeches for one purpose only. And it's not to convey information about the opponents of America. The tactic of trying to scare the population into supporting Mr. Bush has been used so frequently it can work only if the people are devoid of political memory. The current argument that the enemies of America are both unified and fascistic , and therefore comparable to Germany in the 1940s, is so silly only those who are uncomfortable with meaning and find drama in being terrified can avoid laughing at it. It's sad that we can't be sure they make up only a small minority.  (Posted, 9/1/06)

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