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Ten Years

September 18, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

The tenth anniversary of 9/11 occurred during our trip, giving me a good excuse to avoid reading the remembrances, reflections, and coverage. Then again, we were in New York two weekends ago, a week before the anniversary, and flew back into New York from Nantucket on the anniversary itself, a week ago today. Air traffic delays due in part to Obama’s arrival in New York led to our plane having to sit near the foot of the Nantucket runway for half an hour before being allowed to depart.

Once we arrived in New York, we saw no signs of the day, though we did have a spirited discussion with my brother’s family at dinner that evening about post 9/11 security issues. Oh, and then there was a weird encounter the next day while we were on the security line at JFK’s JetBlue terminal before flying back to Seattle. The man ahead of us in line had a FDNY t-shirt on. After a few moments, he turned to us to explain that he was a retired NY firefighter who had come back to NY for the anniversary. He went on to describe how he had been trapped for six hours under rubble, how a German Shepherd sniffed him or he would have been one more 9/11 casualty, and how he was allowed to keep the dog as his pet. I asked how the dog was doing and he said he had to bury the dog a couple of years ago. Next, he asked where we were headed, and on hearing Seattle, he said we must be (University of Washington) Husky fans. This led to his telling us how Rick Neuheisel was his daughter’s godfather.

Neuheisel is the former UCLA star quarterback who coached two college football teams into scandal — Colorado and Washington — before surfacing yet again to coach UCLA. Despite leading us to an 11-1 record a decade ago and an end-of-season ranking of #3, he left in disgrace after recruiting a team’s worth of criminals and getting enmeshed in a betting scandal. Not only did our friendly firefighter know Neuheisel well, he was part of the infamous betting pool, and Rick had texted him from the sidelines during the UCLA game two nights before to comment on how it was going. Somewhere along the way, Gail and I began to have doubts about our storyteller’s veracity. Who knows?

It was only after we got home that night that I began to read some post-anniversary commentary, notably Paul Krugman’s blog post the day we flew back describing

the two years or so after 9/11″ as “a terrible time in America – a time of political exploitation and intimidation, culminating in the deliberate misleading of the nation into the invasion of Iraq. … It was a time when tough talk was confused with real heroism, when people who made speeches, then feathered their own political or financial nests, were exalted along with – and sometimes above – those who put their lives on the line, both on the evil day and after. So it was a shameful episode in our nation’s history.

I didn’t see much to disagree with there, though of course the right wing blowhards wasted no time excoriating Krugman for using the word ‘shameful’.

Scott Horton had a less strident and more in-depth post at Harper’s on Thursday reviewing how 9/11 changed four key government institutions: the military, the CIA, the NSA, and the Justice Department. Here, for instance, is a good part of what Horton says about the military:

America was founded with the ideal of a citizen army on the model of the Roman Cincinnatus, an army that came together in times of peril to fight an enemy and returned to civilian life in times of peace. Most of the Founding Fathers initially didn’t even want a standing army. But that model wasn’t workable. After the Second World War, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, we settled on a different model: of a large, professional military that relied increasingly on technology to establish its superiority. The idea of a citizen-soldier motivated by an ideal of national service stood nevertheless at the center of this model.

Donald Rumsfeld was aggressively critical of this concept. He had a strikingly different vision of how the military should be configured and how it should project force. He used 9/11 to reshape our military dramatically, without making formal proposals or seeking congressional approval. 9/11 provided a backdoor. Rumsfeld and many of his key lieutenants were convinced that career soldiers were in the military because they couldn’t find better work in the civilian economy. Rumsfeld also believed that there was hardly a task that the military performed that couldn’t be handled better—more efficiently and at a lower cost—by a civilian contractor. This is a shameful attitude for a person put in charge of the nation’s armed forces because it disrespects the ideal of national service that lies at the heart of the nation’s military service ethos. But using his contracting discretion, Rumsfeld set out to realize his vision. We see the fruits of this in Iraq from 2003 to 2009, and in Afghanistan today, where the number of contractors now substantially exceeds the number of uniformed military personnel. This experiment has been calamitous. The contractor army is vastly more expensive (contrary to Rumsfeld’s claims), less professional, impervious to congressional oversight and, most significantly, essentially unaccountable when things go wrong and people die.

Also on Thursday, emptywheel spun a front-page NYT story on poor internet service in Idaho into a deeper tale of a decade’s worth of investment in infrastructure abroad rather than at home. The starting point was this quote from the NYT article:

“We have a guy here who was dropped into remote, isolated areas of Iraq to set up their telecommunications systems,” said Christine L. Frei, director of the Clearwater Economic Development Association in Lewiston. “He told me, ‘We had better communications in Iraq than you have in central Idaho.’ ”

Reuters reported Monday that “U.S. House Republican Leader Eric Cantor said on Monday he will not support President Barack Obama’s proposal to renovate U.S. schools as part of the administration’s bill to spur job growth.” Pivoting off this, emptywheel concludes:

These things–schools and highways and post offices–are what make us a country, a country that includes cities and suburbs and rural areas. But Republicans think we can’t or don’t need to afford to be a country anymore.

Republicans are literally choosing to fund our empire over our own country. I guess that makes it clear where their priorities lie.

Meanwhile, the book whose author I couldn’t stomach mentioning by name two weeks ago entered the NYT bestseller list today at #1. (On the nonfiction list no less!) No one has brought more shame on our country in the last decade. And yet, our president would rather look forward, allowing him and his fellow lying war criminals to spout off without consequence, free of even the most minimal investigation, thereby ensuring that the shame will continue.

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