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…if they really are out to get us?

It’s a question I’ve been pondering today, as I contemplate the current state of things in American politics.

There is a phenomenon in psychology known as habituation, in which an organism – human or animal – begins to ignore some stimulus in its environment that has been repeated over and over. After a certain point, the brain just tunes it out, and stops reacting even at the neurological level. Our nervous systems are set up to notice changes in the environment. Changes represent potential threats, or risks, or food sources, and they draw our attention quickly, while unchanging things are quickly filed and forgotten.

Say you bring home a new clock and put it on your mantle. When you first start it up, you notice the ticking sound made by the second hand as it moves in its circular route. But very quickly you become unaware of the noise unless you are deliberately attending to it.

Here’s another example: I live in the flight path of the Redstatesville airport. There are relatively few flights in and out of the airport each day, and once I had been living here for a while, I rarely noticed the planes anymore unless one passed by particularly low directly overhead. In the last few days, however, a helicopter has been flying around my neighborhood frequently, presumably because of its proximity to the airport. That, I notice. But if it becomes routine over the next few weeks, I’ll probably stop noticing it, as well.

People who live along train tracks experience a similar phenomenon, and wonder why their house guests never seem to get a good night’s sleep.

It kind of works the same way with warnings. Call it Boy Who Cried Wolf Syndrome: when a warning is repeated endlessly, and the event warned of never happens, the warning itself becomes meaningless chatter that gets filtered out as we go about our business.

When’s the last time you really listened to a flight attendant give the pre-flight safety speech? Do you actually look around the cabin to find the nearest exit before takeoff? I’m betting that for frequent travelers, the answer to those questions are, “Um, jeez, I don’t know,” and “No,” respectively.

Where am I going with this?

Well, as I’ve said elsewhere in this blog, I believe that the current administration has been using terror management theory to manipulate public opinion. Keith Olbermann has ably chronicled this in the series of reports he has done about the nexus of politics and terror, in which he recalls for us all the times that bad news affecting the Bush administration was followed, usually within a day or so, by press releases from the White House or the Department of Homeland Security about the terrorist threat. Increases in the threat level, the sudden reporting of uncovered and averted plots, that sort of thing.

And of course, the Republican Party’s beating of the 9/11 drum in the run-up to the 2004 presidential election was plain for all to see.

In the 2006 elections, they tried this strategy again, but it didn’t work for them so well that time. Partly because people were fed up with the ongoing Iraq war, and likely partly because of habituation.

People have simply heard the politicians talk about 9/11 so much that most people (though of course not all) now sort of tune them out and focus on other issues. Like the war, or the economy, or the huge laundry list of scandals perpetrated by this administration.

What does all this mean?

It means, quite frankly, that if the Republicans (and those interests that support them or benefit from their policies) want to continue to use fear successfully as a tool of political manipulation, they probably actually need another terrorist attack, preferably one on US soil. Something that makes a big boom, figuratively or literally.

This thought has been keeping me awake at night lately.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe that this is a Republican party campaign strategy. I am not accusing anyone of treason. There has been no attack yet, and I have know knowledge of actual facts about any plot.

What I’m saying is, that it would only take a few people with knowledge of terror management theory’s implications to see what “needed” to be done and to arrange for it to happen.

You may, at this point, be thinking, “Wait a minute. This is all well and good, but so far I haven’t heard anything that would suggest that people high up in the current administration or the Republican party are even aware of terror management theory. Isn’t this just something a bunch of ivory-tower social psychologists like to jawjack about? Where’s your evidence that any of the people you are talking about know anything at all about this?”

Here’s the thing:

Since 9/11, there has been a major increase in government funding for terror management research. Much if not all of that funding comes through the Department of Homeland Security, and various military officers and DHS officials have been briefed on the findings by the very university professors who are conducting the research.

How do I know this? Ah, that would be telling. But some of it, at least, can probably be confirmed through public sources – particularly information about research grants that have been made to fund the research. As for the briefings claim, well…let’s just say I have my sources, and leave it at that for now.

You can see why I am losing sleep at night: I don’t think the terrorists are the only ones we have to fear.

Hell, I don’t even think the terrorists are the most dangerous threat at the moment.

What might motivate otherwise loyal Americans to orchestrate a “terrorist” attack on their own country?

Money. Power.

Both of these are at stake, in huge amounts, at the moment.

My original mental doomsday scenario called for the attack to be a few weeks before the November election. Say, late September or early October.

But last night I got to thinking, what if manipulating the election results to ensure a favorable outcome weren’t your only goal?

What if you were trying to force measures further eroding our privacy and civil liberties through Congress?

What if you wanted an excuse to start bombing Iran?

Am I being paranoid?

We’re heading into a three-day weekend, a time when people will be pumped up with patriotic fervor. The day when we celebrate our country’s founding and the battle for our independence.

There will be all sorts of big events drawing thousands of people, all across the country. Baseball games, outdoor concerts, fireworks displays.

And large gatherings of people make really good targets for a terrorist attack.

Am I being paranoid?

I really, really hope so. Believe me when I say that nothing would make me happier than to be wrong on this.

I just hope that, if the worst does happen, if another attack does occur, that things will be a little different than they were after 9/11. That Congress won’t rush to sell out our remaining civil liberties, or allow us to be bulldozed into a war with Iran before the investigation into the attack is even finished. That the media will question the information being fed to them by those in power, instead of just mindlessly reporting it as truth. That whoever conducts the investigation looks not just at the Middle East, but also closer to home, when trying to establish the list of suspects and their motivations.

I think I’ll end on that cheerful note. Again, I really hope to be proven wrong in all of this. I’ll be really happy if on January 21, 2009, I’m writing a post about how I got all worked up over nothing.

As for this weekend, well, I don’t think I’ll be going to any baseball games, or large concerts, or fireworks shows. Maybe I’ll go for a drive out into the farmland surrounding us here in Redstatesville. See how the corn’s coming up. Get away from the city lights and lie on the hood of my car staring up at the sky, counting stars and dreaming of a world where I don’t feel the need to engage in the kind of paranoid speculation I’ve been doing here today.

jane doe

Addendum: A new CNN poll out today (July 2) reports that “Americans’ concerns about terrorism have hit an all-time low for the post-September 11 era,” and goes on to say:

According to a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey released Wednesday, 35 percent of Americans believe a terrorist attack somewhere in the United States is likely over the next several weeks.

The figure is the lowest in a CNN poll since the September 11, 2001, al Qaeda attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people.

All of which ties in with my comment above about Boy Who Cried Wolf Syndrome. If Americans have become less concerned with the threat of another attack, then repeated comments about 9/11 and the threat of future attacks are less likely to have the kind of impact at the polls that they did in 2004.

I’m just saying…

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few days, you have most likely heard by now about the brouhaha surrounding McCain adviser and lobbyist (because apparently all McCain advisers are lobbyists) Charlie Black’s comment that a terrorist attack on U.S. soil in the coming months would likely help the McCain campaign. According to the article:

On national security McCain wins. We saw how that might play out early in the campaign, when one good scare, one timely reminder of the chaos lurking in the world, probably saved McCain in New Hampshire, a state he had to win to save his candidacy – this according to McCain’s chief strategist, Charlie Black. The assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December was an “unfortunate event,” says Black. “But his knowledge and ability to talk about it reemphasized that this is the guy who’s ready to be Commander-in-Chief. And it helped us.” As would, Black concedes with startling candor after we raise the issue, another terrorist attack on U.S. soil. “Certainly it would be a big advantage to him,” says Black.

Black’s statement, and McCain’s relative lack of reaction to it, have been causing great consternation and discussion both in the mainstream media and here in teh internets. Keith Olbermann has covered the remark and its fallout for five nights running so far. The liberal blogosphere is all a-tizzy. People have been calling for Black to resign from McCain’s campaign, and/or for McCain to show him the door.

Some people have also been debating the accuracy of the assertion. Is it fair to say McCain wins on national security? Is he better than Barack Obama in this area? Frankly, I find that idea hard to accept, and it’s disturbing that so many in the mainstream media seem to take it as a given. I mean, the man doesn’t know Sunni from Shia, he gets confused over the fact that Iran and al Qaeda are not best buddies, and he sang “Bomb-bomb-bomb Iran” in a town hall meeting. Color me unimpressed.

But when it comes down to it, as much as it pains me to say this, whether McCain is better than Obama in any substantive way on national security matters is probably irrelevant. Because in all likelihood, Charlie Black is right on this:

McCain benefits if there is a terrorist attack in the US in the run-up to the election.

Go ahead and yell at the computer monitor for a minute if it makes you feel better, my dear non-existent readers, but then read the rest of what I have to say before you flame me in the comments that you never leave.

It all comes down to terror management theory.

I’ve written about this theory from the field of social psychology in the past, so I won’t go into a detailed explanation of it again here. See here for my original post describing some of the theory’s principles and its relevance in the political sphere (it’s a long post but it covers the basics and how they connect to the political realm generally), or click on the terror management category link in the left column of this blog.

Suffice it to say that research into the field of terror management has found that on average, people react in rather predictable ways when they are reminded of their own mortality.

Say, for instance, the way they are when there is a major terrorist attack like 9/11, or even when some Republican politician harps on 9/11 and the threat of terrorism over and over in his campaign speeches.

It’s called mortality salience by the psych researchers. Terror management research indicates that when people are put in a mortality salience condition, they are more likely to exhibit the following behaviors:

  • They become more fearful of the “other” in society, and are more willing to express racist or stereotypical viewpoints.
  • They retreat into more conservative values, and show reduced tolerance for differing views.
  • They become more likely to support authoritarian policies.
  • They become more likely to support candidates perceived as charismatic over those seen as intellectual (and by charismatic, I mean politicians who use the strength of their personality and “values”, as opposed to their positions on the substantive issues, to win voters).

Does any of this sound familiar? Say, 2004-ish?

Now look at some of the memes floating around on Faux News or in the talk radio realm and conservative blogosphere:

  • The emphasis on using Obama’s middle name (Hussein)
  • The constant “mistakes” where people say Osama when they mean Obama, or vice versa
  • The whispered rumors that Obama is really a Muslim
  • The talk of him being an elitist or a more intellectual candidate who may be “difficult for voters to relate to”

I submit to you that some people are consciously, deliberately setting Obama up as an “other” to be feared, as different, as not a real American. And I expect that the closer we get to the November election, the more frequently we will be hearing McCain and his surrogates beating the 9/11 drum, reminding us of the threat of future terrorist attacks.

They’re trying to raise mortality salience in the electorate. An actual attack on US soil, or even a very real looking threat of one that is somehow stopped, would certainly do a fine job of it.

The effect of mortality salience on a person’s behavior seems to be influenced by the strength of the stimulus that put him or her into that condition in the first place. That is, the bigger the stimulus, the greater the change in behavior as a result.

When a psychologist is conducting research in the field of terror management, there are limitations on the strength of the stimulus that can be used to put subjects into a mortality salience condition. One wouldn’t want to traumatize the research participants, after all. Thus, the people participating in the research are often just asked to think about the experience of death (e.g., death of a loved one), or to read a paragraph that talks about something related to death (people in the control condition are often asked to think about dental pain, instead). This sort of stimulus (or prime) is enough to produce statistically significant results, but generally doesn’t produce a very large effect size – that is, the difference between the control group and the experimental group in the study usually isn’t very big. Indeed, some participants’ behavior might not change measurably at all in such circumstances.

In contrast, people who have directly experienced something that reminds them of death – say, by witnessing a car bombing – may exhibit very marked changes in behavior consistent with the trends I mentioned above. People who would not be affected at all by just a spoken or written reminder of death may be deeply affected by a more traumatic experience, and changes in behavior across the population become more substantial.

Translating all of that into political terms, reminders of 9/11 and the threat of future terror attacks spoken by a political candidate or broadcast in the media probably wouldn’t change the voting behavior of a huge percentage of voters, but in a very close election, like for instance, the 2004 presidential election, it could sway enough voters to change the outcome. I am aware of at least one study that concluded that this did, in fact, happen.

In contrast, an actual terrorist attack on US soil, or even a credible one that was somehow thwarted, would probably have a much larger effect. Its impact in the voting booth could be huge.

Of course, many factors influence voters’ decisions, so it is difficult to gauge the impact of any single factor. Still, based on my reading of the research, it seems safe to infer that the bigger the boom, the bigger the change in the polling numbers.

Think I’m crazy?

Think back to the weeks and months following 9/11. A whole lot of people who were still very bitter about the 2000 election results suddenly fell into line supporting our alleged president after the attacks. American flags were flying off the store shelves. Bush’s approval rating soared, and Congress couldn’t give away our civil liberties fast enough in their desire to be seen as protecting us from the evil terrorists.

So yeah, I think Charlie Black is right. A terrorist attack on US soil would help the McCain campaign.

Would it be enough to swing the election?

That’s much harder to predict. Obviously many other events will occur between now and November that can change the two candidates’ standing in the public opinion.

And I think Obama’s campaign is focusing on some important themes that the research suggests can help counter the effects of the constant reminders of the terrorist threat that we are likely to hear from the McCain camp. Themes like the idea of Americans uniting and his faith in the strength of the American public.

Themes like hope, and change.

So I can’t say conclusively that a terrorist attack would change the results in November. But it would certainly heavily influence the levels of support for the two candidates, with McCain likely seeing a strong increase in his polling numbers.

You may think I’ve made a bad call by posting this information. Am I not giving the terrorists (or anyone else who might have an unhealthy interest in the outcome of the presidential race – say, businesses legitimate and not-so-legitimate that are making a killing in Iraq, pun very much intended) a roadmap for how to influence our elections?

I don’t think so. That ship has already sailed.

All of the research I’ve referred to here is available in any number of social psychology journals. Abstracts of all the articles I’ve read, summarizing their key findings, can be found in a number of online databases and search engines by anyone curious enough to look for them. This isn’t like publishing the designs for a nuclear device, or anything.

The bad guys aren’t stupid. They can google just as well as anyone else, I assure you.

Anyway, for those who would like to find out more, I’ve included a few references at the bottom of this post. I would post links, but the articles are all in proprietary academic databases that require a paid membership to access. Any friendly college student would probably be able to access copies of the articles from his or her school’s computers. The one book that’s listed (last item on the list) is actually available at Amazon.com.

Or just google terror management theory, and see what you come up with.

jane doe

Note: I edited this post to add the very last sentence, which was inadvertently omitted. Sorry about the multiple posts, RSS readers.

References

Cohen, F., Ogilvie, D. M., Solomon, S., Greenberg, J., Pyszczynski, T. (2005). American Roulette: The effect of reminders of death on support for George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 5, 177-187.

Cohen, F., Solomon, S., Maxfield, M., Pyszczynski, T., & Greenberg, J. (2004). Fatal attraction: The effects of mortality salience on evaluations of charismatic, task-oriented, and relationship-oriented leaders. Psychological Science, 15, 846-851.

Landau, M. J., Solomon, S., Greenberg, J., Cohen, F., Pyszczynski, T., Arndt, J., Miller, C. H., Ogilvie, D. M, & Cook, A. (2004). Deliver us from evil: The effects of mortality salience and reminders of 9/11 on support for President George W. Bush. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30, 1136-1150.

Pyszczynski, T. (2004). What are we so afraid of? A Terror Management Theory perspective on the politics of fear. Social Research, 71, 827-848.

Pyszczynski, T., Solomon, S., & Greenberg, J. (2003). In the wake of 9/11: The psychology of terror. Washington, D. C.: American Psychological Association.


U.S. News and World Report reported today about the large number of international travelers who have been having their laptops and/or USB drives “temporarily” seized by US customs officials when entering or leaving the country. According to the article:

The extent of the program to confiscate electronics at customs points is unclear. A hearing Wednesday before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary’s Subcommittee on the Constitution hopes to learn more about the extent of the program and safeguards to traveler’s privacy. Lawsuits have also been filed, challenging how the program selects travelers for inspection. Citing those lawsuits, Customs and Border Protection, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, refuses to say exactly how common the practice is, how many computers, portable storage drives, and BlackBerries have been inspected and confiscated, or what happens to the devices once they are seized. Congressional investigators and plaintiffs involved in lawsuits believe that digital copies—so-called “mirror images” of drives—are sometimes made of materials after they are seized by customs.

The security value of the program is unclear, critics say, while the threats to business and privacy are substantial. If drives are being copied, customs officials are potentially duplicating corporate secrets, legal records, financial data, medical files, and personal E-mails and photographs as well as stored passwords for accounts from Netflix to Bank of America. DHS contends that travelers’ computers can also contain child pornography, intellectual property offenses, or terrorist secrets.

Excuse me, but what ever happened to probable cause? I agree that it makes sense to check electronic equipment before boarding a plane to prevent explosives from being smuggled onboard the aircraft. This is an entirely different level of intrusion, however, and one that I find difficult to justify.

When customs officials open a suitcase chosen at random from a group of incoming travelers, the intrusion is over within minutes if no contraband is found, and the person is free to go on their merry way.

But confiscating someone’s laptop for a few weeks? That can disrupt someone’s travel plans or completely defeat the purpose of taking the trip. And making a mirror image of the hard drive? That’s the general equivalent of making photocopies of every single page in a person’s planner. Think about all the personal information someone might have jotted down in the typical Franklin-Covey binder: credit card numbers, medical information, bank account PIN numbers, computer passwords. They can also find all your internet search history, so give a thought when you Google in foreign lands. Mirror imaging the drive can even give them copies of documents you think you deleted that haven’t been overwritten on the disc yet.

The good news, I guess, is that Congress is apparently holding hearings about all of this. The bad news? That doesn’t mean things will change any time soon. The Democrats have been showing a rather distressing lack of spinal material when it comes to standing up to the executive branch.

I’ve written before about disturbing things the government is doing in connection with our ability to travel freely to other countries. Things seem to be getting worse.

And I just don’t understand the relative lack of outcry over all this.

Actually, I do understand: people are scared of making themselves targets for this sort of treatment if they make waves. Just keep your head down, don’t make noise, and everything will be fine.

Too bad that’s a lesson I never learned. I wonder how thick my folder at the Department of Homeland Security is?

I find this all very troubling. Especially since I’ve got this real yearning to go elsewhere. See the world a bit, you know, before it’s all destroyed by global warming, war, and corporate exploitation.

Oh, well. It’s not like I can afford to travel, anyway, what with increasing fuel prices, the decreasing value of the dollar, and my mountain of student loan debt. Ah, the glamorous life of a grad student!

Just add it all to my list of reasons why Bush and Cheney really ought to be impeached.

jane doe


Much to my displeasure, I’m going to be abandoning my “janedoe at inbox.com” e-mail address.

You see, some genius named Linda Dudley apparently thought that was a good e-mail address to use for websites that required her to provide an e-mail address in order to login or whatever, and now my mailbox is getting about 300 spam messages a day.

This wouldn’t be so bad, except that the inbox.com anti-spamware is a little overzealous in sending things to the junk mail folder, forcing me to scan through all the ads for easy credit and viagra in order to find the legitimate stuff that gets diverted by mistake.

Linda Dudley is very lucky I don’t have her e-mail address, because if I did, I would set up a filter that would auto-forward all the spam I’ve been getting to her before I washed my hands of the account. I figure sometimes it’s okay to act as an instrument of karma. Especially since I’m being forced to give up a nice, simple e-mail address in favor a more difficult to remember one.

Anyway, the new e-mail address is janedoe_tcandm [at] inbox [dot] com. Feel free to not send comments about the blog to that address if you’d rather not not post them directly as comments here, my dear non-existent readers.

jane doe

P.S. If anyone has sent me a message lately that I have not responded to, please re-send it. It was very late when I went through the thousands of messages in the spam folder, and I may not have caught all the legitimate e-mail messages. Sorry about that.


If you are well into your thirties and you are driving around in a car that is plastered with stickers advertising your affiliation with your college fraternity or sorority, it’s probably time to get (a) a new car, or (b) a life. Possibly both.

Just a thought.

jd


I went to Congressman Dennis Kucinich’s web page today, hoping to find a copy of the articles of impeachment he has submitted to Congress. Instead, I found this, from today:

“WE WENT TO WAR FOR THE OIL COMPANIES” Kucinich Tells Congress
Demands Bush Administration and Oil Company Execs be Held Accountable

Washington, Jun 26 – US Representative Dennis J. Kucinich, in a speech to the House of Representatives today, tied the secret meetings of the Cheney Energy Task Force to the recent award of non-competitive oil contracts in Iraq and said that both the Bush Administration and the oil company executives who participated in those meetings in 2001 should be held criminally liable for an illegal war and extortion of Iraq’s oil.

“In March of 2001, when the Bush Administration began to have secret meetings with oil company executives from Exxon, Shell and BP, spreading maps of Iraq oil fields before them, the price of oil was $23.96 per barrel. Then there were 63 companies in 30 countries, other than the US, competing for oil contracts with Iraq.

“Today the price of oil is $135.59 per barrel, the US Army is occupying Iraq and the first Iraq oil contracts will go, without competitive bidding to, surprise, (among a very few others) Exxon, Shell and BP.

“Iraq has between 200 – 300 billion barrels of oil with a market value in the tens of trillions of dollars.  And our government is trying to force Iraq not only to privatize its oil, but to accept a long-term US military presence to guard the oil and protect the profits of the oil companies while Americans pay between $4 and $5 a gallon for gas, while our troops continue dying.

“We attacked a nation that did not attack us.  Over 4000 of our troops are dead.  Over 1,000,000 innocent Iraqis have perished. The war will cost US taxpayers between $2 – $3 trillion dollars. Our nation’s soul is stained because we went to war for the oil companies and their profits.  There must be accountability not only with this Administration for its secret meetings and its open illegal warfare but also for the oil company executives who were willing participants in a criminal enterprise of illegal war, the deaths of our soldiers and innocent Iraqis and the extortion of the national resources of Iraq.

“We have found the weapon of mass destruction in Iraq.  It is oil.  As long as the oil companies control our government Americans will continue to pay and pay, with our lives, our fortunes our sacred honor,” he concluded.

I have nothing to add right now, except (a) if you haven’t already done so, you should check out Naomi Klein’s book, The Shock Doctrine, which has just come out in paperback, and (b) I really, really think it’s time Bush and Cheney were impeached.

jane doe


Can I just take a moment to comment on how much I truly loathe and despise the aural valium that is John Mayer’s song Waiting on the World to Change?

Every time I hear its opening chords, as my hand goes flying to the radio to make the pain stop, I just think, “Dude, you’re a successful pop star. People are pointing microphones and television cameras at you all the fucking time. You are not powerless. If you don’t like the way things are in the world at the moment, open your mouth and speak out! Don’t just sit there waiting on the world to change, get off your ass and change it.”

Then I pop a Billy Bragg tape into the tape deck (it’s an old car) and the pain magically goes away.

jane doe


I was reading back over what I posted last night – something I really shouldn’t do because I always find things I would like to change – when I realized I left out something rather important in my review of War, Inc.

That is, the film’s impact on me.

Because, like all good satires, it did have an impact that lasted after I walked out of the theater. In spite of being absolutely hilarious at times, War, Inc. is, overall, a rather disquieting movie. This may account for some of the negative reviews, because at times you kind of feel like you’re laughing at a funeral. Gallows humor, I think it’s called.

I mean, here are all these absolutely absurd things happening up on the screen, and you can’t help but laugh, but in the pause after the laugh, you also can’t help but think, “Wait, this isn’t all that far removed from the shit that’s actually happening over in Iraq right now.”

It is a very disturbing feeling.

But that’s not entirely a bad thing. Because we should be disturbed by what is happening in Iraq.

It’s easy for a lot of people to ignore the war, the atrocities that are being committed in our names. Aside from our troops and their friends and families, most of us haven’t had to sacrifice much of anything because of the war. Yeah, we’re paying an obscene amount for gasoline at the moment, but that’s not because of the war. Gas is expensive because Congress hasn’t closed the Enron loophole that lets corporate executives game the system at our expense.

People slap magnetic ribbons on their SUVs and think they’re supporting the troops. Neocons say we can’t leave until we’ve secured “victory” (whatever that means this week), and think they’re being patriotic.

And all the while, people are dying in the name of the bottom line.

I saw Iraq for Sale when it came out on DVD, and it left me so angry I was literally shaking. The effect of War, Inc. was not as severe – probably because I got to release a lot of tension by laughing – but it left me with a definite feeling of needing to do something – march in protest, sign petitions calling for impeachment and war crimes trials for our alleged president, lead an angry mob waving torches and pitchforks up Pennsylvania Avenue, whatever – just something, anything to make this nonsense stop.

It’s a good feeling, I think, and one that more people need to experience.

So if you’re living in one of the cities where War, Inc., is showing, grab a bunch of friends and go see it. Heck, plan a road trip around it if you don’t live in one of those cities.

And then do something.

jane doe


Finally got to see War, Inc., last weekend when I was in Chicago. The showing I saw was on Sunday afternoon, and at that hour, unfortunately, the theater was more empty than full. Still, a fine time was had by all, I think.

Looking around on the net, one sees that War, Inc., has gotten rather mixed reviews from mainstream sources, and I can only conclude that those people don’t get it.

Me? I loved it.

War, Inc. is subversive, rebellious, twisted, and, most importantly, funny. The filmmakers made their political and social points without being heavy-handed, and clearly had fun doing so. This is what a good satire should be like.

The film stars John Cusack (who also co-wrote and co-produced it) as hitman Brand Hauser. Hauser is hired by Tamerlane, a US-based corporation run by a former Vice President (Dan Aykroyd) which has just successfully invaded a country called Turaquistan in the first-ever entirely corporate-fought war, to kill a competitor who has the temerity to build an oil pipeline in his own country in competition with Tamerlane.

Whew. That was a lot of info to fit in one sentence.

Tamerlane is a rather deliberate hybrid of Halliburton and Blackwater, and any resemblance between Iraq and Turaqistan (or between Aykroyd’s character and Dick Cheney) is purely intentional, I’m sure.

Hauser’s cover on this assignment is that he has to act as the trade show host for Tamerlane, which is showcasing all the wonderful products the company makes to help rebuild the country…sort of…most of the products seem to be things like inflatable prisons, weapons, security devices, and artificial limbs. Does any of this sound familiar?

While on assignment, Hauser is aided by his super-efficient assistant, Marsha Dillon (played by sister Joan Cusack). The relationship between these two characters seems very reminiscent of the roles the two Cusacks portrayed in Grosse Pointe Blank, but it works in this movie, too.

Hauser also finds himself interacting with lefty reporter Natalie Hegalhuzen (Marisa Tomei), an about-to-be-married 18-year-old Middle East pop star named Yonica Babyyeah (Hilary Duff), her piggish husband-to-be, Ooq-Mi-Fay (I’ll leave it to you to figure out the piglatin translation), their entourage, and the voice of an OnStar-like guidance system (Montel Williams).

Mayhem ensues.

I’ll refrain from detailing the storyline more than I already have, because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. Suffice it to say, there is sufficient plot excitement to keep the film moving along at a good pace, but probably no huge surprises as the story unfolds.

The performances from all the major actors are great. Cusack is again wonderful in the conflicted hitman/everyman role. Marisa Tomei, Ben Kingsley, and Dan Aykroyd all nailed their parts. And much to my surprise, Hilary Duff was great as Yonica, the Middle East’s Britney Spears. I’m not familiar with her earlier work, and I’d kind of assumed that her acting talent would be about on par with Britney Spears, as well, but she showed a great ability to disappear into the character – I really wouldn’t have recognized her if I hadn’t already known she was playing the role.

There’s a lot going on in this movie at any point in time, beyond the main focus of the scenes. The advertising signs scattered all over the place in Turaquistan were hilarious, and there was a lot of funny stuff that you would miss if you blinked. I’m really looking forward to getting this movie on DVD, so I can figure out some of the things that went by too fast on the screen to be appreciated.

The soundtrack is good, which is no surprise since Cusack has shown a real talent for pulling together nice soundtracks in earlier movies where he’s been involved in the production (e.g., the Grosse Pointe Blank soundtrack, which is awesome). A fitting selection of tunes for the big scenes, plus some original songs written by Paul Hipp for Yonica’s performances in the film, like her trade show number, I Want to Blow You…Up, which, as you might expect from its title, is heavy on the innuendo, hold the subtlety.

My overall recommendation on this movie is this:

If you are a neo-conservative, don’t bother. Either you won’t get it, or it will piss you off. Of course, from the absence of badly-spelled troll-like comments I receive on this blog, I assume not many neocons are reading this, anyway.

For everyone else: If you are sick of the Iraq war, if you are tired of the way the Bush White House is running this country for the benefit of its corporations instead of its citizens, go see this movie.

Make a little noise.

Get rowdy.

And don’t forget to VOTE in November.

jane doe


This evening, I had originally planned to post a nice review of War, Inc., which I finally got to see when I was in Chicago last weekend. It really is wickedly funny, and all the more topical given yesterday’s announcement about certain American and British oil companies going back to work in Iraq on no-bid contracts (read about that here). I’ll have to write that review tomorrow, though. Sorry.

The simple fact of the matter is, I’m too angry at the moment to write a good review.

The House Democrats sold us out today, folks. There’s no other way to describe it. And in doing so, they’ve pushed us a bit closer to that blurry, indistinct line that separates our democracy from fascism.

That’s assuming we haven’t crossed that line already. I’m really not completely sure, since it’s never been precisely clear to me what the defining characteristics of fascism are. There certainly seems to be a lot of debate about that on the internet. And it’s not like any modern government or political party will announce that it is hoping to institute a fascist form of government anymore, not since World War II. Still, we’ve seen the Bush White House use a lot of tactics that seem to come out of the Hitler playbook. Yes, I know that remark is likely to bring comments about Godwin’s Law — or it would if any of you, my dear non-existent readers, ever left comments, anyway. I don’t care. Sometimes, the Hitler analogy is appropriate from a historical perspective, and it has been increasingly so as this administration’s tenure has progressed.

But I digress.

The Democrats have a controlling majority in the House of Representatives. It’s not like the Senate, where they can only claim to have a majority because Joe Lieberman is still caucusing with them (even if he doesn’t vote with them on anything). So they didn’t have to cave.

They didn’t have to give in on the so-called compromise FISA measure. which grants the president expansive powers to spy on us without warrants — our phone calls, our e-mails, our internet surfing habits.

They certainly didn’t have to give the telecoms immunity. How the fuck does that make us any more secure, I ask you?

Yet this is precisely what they have done today. In doing this, they are giving us government not of the people, by the people, and for the people, but of, by, and for the major corporations. And for Big Brother.

In doing this, they betrayed us. The American people.

And it’s leaving me wondering what to do now?

See, here’s the thing. I used to be this corporate attorney. Big law firm, big business deals, big money. Well, big money for the number of years I was out of law school, anyway — lots of people were making a lot more money than me. I wore designer suits, I ate in nice restaurants, and I had a lovely office in…well, you don’t need to know which city, and I don’t want to make it too easy to identify me, for reasons I’ve already discussed elsewhere in this blog.

At first, the work was real easy to rationalize. Most of the clients I did work for were non-profit corporations performing essential services. So there I was, on the side of the angels, right? But the reality was, they were in competition with for-profit corporations, and in order to continue their operations, they had to engage in some of the same practices that the for-profits did just to remain financially viable.

This was very disturbing to me.

I tried going in-house at an organization that I believed then and still believe now to be very ethically run, but the business aspects were still getting to me. And when I have trouble believing in what I’m doing, I do not perform at my best.

Seven years out of law school, I was completely burnt-out.

I decided to go back to grad school to re-tool for a new career. I figured I would get my PhD, and then I could start working with certain organizations to educate legislators at the state and federal level about what scientific research was telling us about the field, and what the implications of that were for making policy applicable to that field.

Seems like a good fit, right? See, I already speak lawyerspeak, and politicianspeak and bureaucratspeak are both really just dialects of that language. So I thought I could help translate the scientific research (another language of its own) for the people making the policy, so that we don’t end up with policy that is so at odds with what all the research is telling us about certain things. (And yes, I’m dancing around the field I’m studying in, as well as the field I concentrated on in law. I’m trying to remain anonymous, remember.)

But then I watch things like what happened today, with the Democrats caving in to the President and the telecoms, instead of upholding the constitution. And I think about how the Democratic leadership has made it clear that impeachment is off the table. And I look at all the ways that the Democrats could have stood up for us since the 2006 election — on the Iraq war, on the economy, on our civil rights, on health issues, on torture and habeas corpus and corruption and no-bid contracts and the use of the Department of Justice for political ends and… the list just goes on and on and on.

And I wonder, am I fighting the wrong fight?

Should I be working within the system to bring about change?

Or should I be trying to change the fucking system?

I just don’t know anymore.

Any suggestions?

jane doe


Will this thing not die? It’s like some monster out of a horror movie that keeps coming back and causing trouble in the sequels, no matter how many times it appears to have been defeated.

The House of Representatives is currently considering a “compromise” updating of the FISA law that would, among other things, still give the President sweeping authority to spy on American citizens and grant immunity to the telecommunications corporations who have been helping Bush spy on us since 9/11.

All of us. Yes, you too.

Do I sound paranoid? I’m not. It’s not paranoia when the breach of privacy you are concerned about is actually happening.

See, after 9/11, George and his buddies decided that they needed a bit more information to help them track terrorists. So they asked all the major telecoms to start giving them their data about who is calling whom, when, and how often.

Most of the telecoms went along with this cheerfully, even though it was a clear violation of the law that was in place at the time, which required a warrant to see even a phone user’s records. The companies knew this. They were well aware of the law (they had lawyers who could probably recite the relevant portions of the law in their sleep) and chose to act in violation of it. They started providing the government with tons of data, all about whom you are calling, and who’s calling you.

Now, you may think, “I’m not doing anything illegal, so there’s nothing to fear.” And, in your individual case that might even be true. Maybe.

But it means that the government – specifically, the political forces that are in control of the executive branch of the government at the moment – has access to a whole lot of information that we, as members of the public, might not want them to have access to. Information about perfectly legal activities that could nevertheless create big problems for law abiding citizens.

What sorts of things am I talking about? Reporters’ anonymous sources. Whistleblowers who try to halt dangerous or illegal practices. Sometimes the government doesn’t like what these sorts of people have to say, yet it may be critical for public safety or national security for them to be able to say it safely, relatively free of the fear of retribution.

Of course, there are lots of other reasons to be concerned with all this data. The Bush administration seems to be real big out outsourcing things to private corporations, and it wouldn’t shock me to know that some of these corporations had acquired the data. Where is the assurance that your information will not be made public? Or used for other purposes? Information about your calls to doctors, or lawyers, or mental health care providers, for instance.

And if you find yourself wondering why this issue keeps resurfacing, and why it may pass this time when it’s already been voted down due to public outcry…well…the telecoms give an awful lot of money to congressional campaigns, to candidates in both parties.

There is apparently going to be a vote on this tomorrow. Call your representative and tell them to vote against the FISA compromise!

The always thorough Glenn Greenwald over at Salon.com has been leading the charge on this. Crooks and Liars and Daily Kos have been fighting the good fight, too. They have much more information on the subject than I do, so be sure to check them out!

I still think Bush and Cheney should be impeached, but maybe we need to be looking a little wider than that now. Self-serving bastards.

jane doe


For those who may have missed it – easy enough to do if you get your news from the mainstream media – on Monday, Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D – Ohio) introduced 35 articles of impeachment against George W. Bush. Bravo!

Back in 2006, when the Democrats re-took control of the House of Representatives, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that impeachment was off the table, thus virtually guaranteeing that Bush and his cronies would not be held accountable for their repeated and flagrant violations of our constitution and laws or their crimes against humanity.

Perhaps Pelosi and the other leaders of the Democratic party did not want to be seen as repeating the pettiness of the Republican persecution of Bill Clinton when he was in office. Perhaps they felt that the slim Democratic lead in the Senate (if you want to even call it a lead, given the Blue Dog Democrats and Sen. Lieberman) would make impeachment a costly and ultimately futile gesture. Perhaps their decision was part of some cynical strategy to let Bush drag the rest of the Republicans down with him in public opinion, ensuring major Democratic gains in the 2008 elections.

I don’t claim to be a mind reader, so I can’t tell you what the reasons are for their failure to take action. But I would beg them to consider the possible consequences of not impeaching Bush and Cheney. What message are they sending by failing to take action against possibly the most corrupt administration in history? What are they telling future members of the executive branch?

The answer is simple: they are saying, in essence, that the Democrats are unwilling or unable to stand up to rampant abuse of authority by the executive branch. They are saying that we are no longer a nation of laws. They are saying that there will be no consequences for starting a war of aggression against a nation that was never really a threat. They are saying there will be no consequences if an administration wants to spy on our citizens, violate our constitution, and torture those who they think might be a threat. That it’s okay to use departments in the executive branch as if they were merely subdivisions of the Republican party, existing to ensure the continued dominance of the Republican party.

And by failing to stand up to the White House, they are effectively complicit in its misdeeds. Which is why it is so critical that they impeach Bush and Cheney now, while there is still time.

jane doe


John Cusack has teamed up with the folks at MoveOn.org to put together a fantastic commercial highlighting the differences – or more importantly, lack thereof – between John McCain and George W. Bush on some of the important issues facing our country at the moment.

MoveOn.org currently has the video posted on their main page, where they’re raising money to get it on the air. Crooks and Liars also has the video posted here, but if you watch it there, be sure to head over to MoveOn’s webpage and show them some love.

Sure, the video will get lots of views here on the internet, but that’s largely preaching to the choir. We want to make sure this message gets out to the mainstream! Our country (and the rest of the world) cannot take a third term of Duhbya’s failed policies.

Especially since, as regular readers of this blog know, I already think that Bush and Cheney ought to be impeached.

jane doe

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janedoe.tcm [at] gmail.com or follow me on Twitter: @janedoe_tcm
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