Friday, September 15, 2006

The useful enemy

It's becoming increasingly clear, I think, why Osama bin Laden is still at large: Because George W. Bush needs him to be.

It's not a pretty thought. But it's the only one that makes sense.

Atrios yesterday pointed out the strange contrast between Bush's incessant waving of the Bloody Bin Laden Shirt as the epitome of the Islamofascist Threat and his alternately peculiar disinterest in hunting him down:
Bin Laden is Hitler:

He said the world had ignored the writings of Lenin and Hitler "and paid a terrible price" -- adding the world must not to do the same with al-Qaeda.

Mr Bush has been defending his security strategy as mid-term elections loom.

His speech on Tuesday - the day following the US Labor Day holiday - coincided with the country's traditional start date for election campaigning.

"Bin Laden and his terrorist allies have made their intentions as clear as Lenin and Hitler before them," he said.

Bin Laden is not a top priority:

Barnes said that Bush told him capturing bin Laden is "not a top priority use of American resources." Watch it.

On the surface, this back-and-forth has always been somewhat baffling. As Faiz at Think Progress noted the other day:
Bush's priorities have always been skewed. Just months after declaring he wanted bin Laden "dead or alive," Bush said, "I truly am not that concerned about him." Turning his attention away from bin Laden, Bush trained his focus on Iraq -- a country he now admits had "nothing" to do with 9/11.

The bafflement doesn't end there. There is long string of puzzling behavior on the part of the Bush administration in this matter:
Why did Bush do nothing but clear brush after the August 6, 2001, Presidential Daily Briefing titled "Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S."?

Why did Bush let Bin Laden escape at Tora Bora?

Why did Bush divert the prosecution of the "war on terror" -- which should have focused on the pursuit of Al Qaeda and Bin Laden in particular -- into a war with Iraq?

Why did Pakistan's truce with the Taliban -- which, according to initial reports (later denied unconvincingly) allows Bin Laden to remain within its borders largely unmolested -- raise nary a protest from the White House?

Why did Bush and Co. allow the trail to Bin Laden to grow "stone cold" since 9/11?

Now, consider briefly what would have happened to Bush's "war on terror" if, say, Bin Laden had been captured or killed at Tora Bora. Al Qaeda and the terrorist threat, no doubt, would have continued to exist, but it would have been akin to a hydra with its strategic head chopped off -- dangerous, but far less so, and decidedly on the run. There would have been no identifiable but elusive boogie-man to scare the public with. Instead of being able to hype the nation into an attack on Iraq under false pretenses, Bush would have had to deal with terrorism as the asymmetrical threat that it actually is.

I have no idea whether, in fact, letting Bin Laden remain at large is a conscious strategy on the part of Team Bush or not -- although, given the utterly Machiavellian way the administration has leveraged the "war on terror" into every conceivable corner of its agenda, from the outrageous expansion of executive powers and concomitant lawbreaking in its wiretapping and torture programs to the smearing of all his opponents as "Islamofascist" apologists (and all points in between, including environmental policy like the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge drilling plan), it certainly is not inconceivable. Nor, for that matter, is it beyond the realm of possibility that it's just another aspect of his grotesque incompetence.

More likely, it's identical to the same Bush traits that wrought the Katrina debacle:
[T]here is a reason that, after being properely warned, Bush stayed on vacation and, essentially, sat on his hands, both before 9/11 and Katrina: It was in his best interests to do so.

The mistakes that were made in the runup to both events were in fact a direct outgrowth of policies that benefited Bush's cronies and his political allies. Counterterrorism -- derided in the early Bush administration as a "Clinton thing" -- was deemphasized in favor of the greatest defense-spending black hole ever devised, "missile defense." Preparing for a federal emergency in the event of a real disaster -- whether a terrorist attack or a hurricane in New Orleans -- was forsaken on behalf of pursuing a needless war in Iraq. The outcomes of both have been nothing but a huge bonanza for Bush's cronies.

Those policies were a product of this administration's priorities, which in the end are always about promoting the well-being of the moneyed class at the expense of the middle classes and poor, while effectively driving a wedge within those classes. That's no conspiracy; it's just the way the world works, especially with men like Bush in charge.

Osama bin Laden has been a very, very useful enemy for George W. Bush. So it should not surprise us that he remains in our faces -- and probably will as long as Bush is president.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

My Life as A Futurist

by Sara Robinson

You will not offend me if you give me That Look when I tell you what business I'm in.

After all, my own mother still gives it to me. "Tell me again....just what is it that" she queries me now and again, her voice a nuanced blend of confusion, incredulity, and a sincere desire not to hurt my feelings. At least she doesn't smirk or giggle out loud (which has been known to happen with less gentle acquaintances). Not that I would blame her if she did. I've resigned myself to the fact that I'm going to get That Look every time I introduce myself, probably for the rest of my days. It's an occupational burden I'm learning to bear.

Everybody knows this. Futurists are crazy old men with wild white hair and bow ties and pockets full of cool micro-gizmos who go around talking about flying cars. (In fact, the very phrase "flying cars" is a standing joke in the professional futurist trade, the signifier for all the usual and stereotypical things the media wants to talk to us about, even when we're desperate to talk about something far more important or interesting.) Bucky Fuller was a futurist. Ray Kurzweil is a futurist. Here in Vancouver, we have Dr. Tomorrow, a colorful character who's been the town's iconic (and iconoclastic) "futurist" for about 30 years.

But that middle-aged mom over there with the dimples and the tumbled thatch of auburn hair? No. She is not what comes to mind when you think of a futurist. At all. Which is why I get That Look.

The picture only gets fuzzier when you understand that there are futurists and futurists -- and sometimes even they themselves aren't quite sure where the line between them falls. On one hand, anybody can hang out their shingle and call themselves a futurist. There are urban futurists and media futurists and space futurists and fashion futurists: a motley crew of people who are united by their optimism about the future, and their eagerness to share (or sell) their visions of how it might take shape. Imaginative and intelligent, these people are full of creative ideas about how things will become. They also tend to make more earthbound types a bit...uncomfortable. "Flaky" is a word that's sometimes used. "Wild-eyed" is another. "Professional"...not so much.

Which rather annoys those on the other hand, who are indeed real-life professional futurists. Most of these are serious people who spent years in graduate school and professional practice mastering a large body of foresight methods that have emerged over the past century, and which were refined into usefulness at places like the Department of Defense, RAND, and the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment. While no less imaginative -- and often at least as idealistic -- these highly educated guessers are focused on scanning the horizon and tracking actual signs of change, separating the truly plausible from the not very likely, and helping their clients systematically prepare for a wide variety of possible futures. The biggest of big thinkers, they operate in a weird overlapping space that's part sociology, part technology, part policy analysis, part economics, part environmentalism, part research, part instinct, and part voodoo.

I'm the second kind of futurist. Or, more precisely: I'm a professional futurist-in-training, hard at work on a masters of science in Futures Studies at the University of Houston.

Professional futurists do a vast range of things, most of them fascinating. Some of my colleagues and mentors work in-house for large corporations like Kimberly-Clark, IBM, Dow, and Pitney Bowes. (The future of postage? Yes. And it's actually pretty intriguing.) Others work for foresight firms that advise US agencies or foreign governments. A handful teach futures studies courses, which are increasingly being offered in graduate business, urban planning, and public policy schools. Quite a few are happily swimming in think tanks; and others are independent researchers, writers, and consultants.

Surprisingly, while we're all at least somewhat engaged with technology, not all futurists are technologists (or even technophiles). There are energy futurists, transportation futurists, food and agriculture futurists, urban futurists, medical futurists, retail futurists -- you name it, and there's a futurist somewhere keeping a weather eye on developments in the field. While we all pay close attention to technology shifts because they're typically a leading change driver, we're also watching how the effects ripple out to create change in other areas that most people wouldn't have imagined might be affected.

Me? I'm a social futurist. My area of interest is authoritarian movements -- fundamentalisms initially, but the field is broadening in time. That's what brought me to Dave's blog in the first place. It's also why I stuck around and became part of the ongoing dialogue. And, since Dave has given me my own key to his whaling shack, it's something you're going to hear me hold forth on now and again. That's why I'm taking this opportunity to explain, in a little depth, what I do and where I'm coming from.

It's a settled fact among most futurists that we are in an era of unprecedented technological change. My friend John Smart at the Accleration Studies Foundation says that on just about any front you can name, our ability to process matter, energy, space, time, and information is expanding at an exponential rate. We will create more change in this decade alone than humanity saw in the entire first 1500 years AD. There's lively argument about whether that rate of acceleration is sustainable, and for how long. But most futurists agree that the pace of change is many orders of magnitude faster now than it's ever been in history -- and will likely continue to pick up speed at least through the rest of our lifetimes.

Smart also set down several "laws of technology," one of which is that all new technology is inherently destructive and dehumanizing in its first generation. There are always problems we could never have anticipated, economic upheavals as old technologies are supplanted, badly-planned responses simply because nobody's ever done this before, and cultural convulsions as the new invention demands people to form new social rituals and customs around it. For a while, things get strained while we figure out what this new thing is, what it does, how it harms, how it helps, what its limits are, and how we might optimize it to maximize the good features and minimize the bad.

By and by, with all this new information in hand, we go back to the drawing board and create a second-generation version, which typically resolves about 75% of the problems in the first generation, greatly mitigates most of the rest...and usually creates one or two fresh concerns of its own (nothing being perfect). Second-generation technology tends to be much more human-centered, is often far more economically and ecologically sustainable, and usually doesn't create the vast economic upset the first generation did. At that point, we finally refine it into something that genuinely adds positive value to our existence. That, says Smart, is how progress happens.

All this is rattling around the back of my mind when I look at the tech futurists' acceleration J-curves. I don't just see a dizzying launch into a future that's getting harder and harder to predict. I also see vast new waves of first-generation technologies, each one requiring us to go through its dehumanizing early phases (though the good news is that we'll also advance to the second generation much faster than we used to). I also see the growing numbers of people who stand to be left behind by those ever-increasing changes -- people who are comfortable and content now, but are vulnerable to losing it all when some random new development comes out of left field and knocks them out of the economic or social game. It's going to happen more and more often -- perhaps several times a lifetime. Most of us aren't emotionally or financially equipped to handle this, which suggests that the number of seriously dislocated people could become profound -- at least for the couple of generations it will take for society to absorb the pace of change, and start equipping its children with better tools to cope.

The real danger that keeps me up at night is this: If we allow the numbers of the lost and sidelined to grow, that necessary process of cultural adaptation may get derailed. Overall attitudes towards change and progress can sour and harden into anger, bitterness, and resentment of progress. It's not hard to imagine a mass backlash that violently rejects modernism, and creates large cultural movements that operate out of a deep fear of change. Unfortunately, these are also the two most essential characteristics that authoritarian religious and political leaders feed on -- which means it's not an overstatement to say that our capacity to assure that there even will be a future could be overwhelmed by the demands of vast fundamentalist and totalitarian movements unless we get very smart, very quickly, about keeping large masses of people out of those belief systems.

This is, as we say in the futures biz, not my preferred future.

Especially when you consider what we've got coming up on our plate this century. Beyond accelerating technology and all its outfalls, we've got seismic geopolitical shifts, global warming, increasing resource scarcity (water is the big one nobody's talking about), and the necessary transition from hydrocarbons to other fuels. We've got a massive amount of work to do just to keep this blue ball alive and spinning; and the clock is ticking.

Unfortunately -- as we have so painfully learned from the way America's authoritarian leadership botched Iraq -- the inflexibility, irrationality, defensiveness, either/or dogmatism, and epic capacity for denial inherent in authoritarian systems often preclude them from even recognizing actual threats, let alone moving ahead to create clear and effective plans to deal with them. Any system that allows a few amoral opportunists do most of the thinking for the entire group is not only inherently brittle and unstable; it's also profoundly ill-equipped to respond effectively to the kinds of challenges we are going to be facing in the century ahead.

It's obvious that authoritarian leaders and followers, reflexively acting out of their fear of change, will not be the ones to solve our huge and looming problems. Even worse: they've already put us on notice that they're going to do whatever it takes to keep us from even acknowledging those problems, and doggedly work to obstruct our best efforts to do anything about them. There is too much at stake here to waste time on these people. We no longer have the time or the bandwidth to deal with their nonsense.

Ten thousand years of human history, 220 years of modern democracy, and the more recent discoveries of chaos theory have convinced most of the world-- pretty much beyond argument -- that groups and individuals operating within free, open societies are more innovative, prosperous, and creative. They are also more likely to seek and preserve peace, and immeasurably more flexible and adaptive in the face of serious political, economic, environmental, or other threats. Looking ahead, it's clear that if we are going to solve our looming global issues, promoting and preserving democratic societies is the critical precondition for success.

At the same time, we are coming to understand that these open social orders and democratic societies are also complex organic systems that take many generations to come into being, but can be very easily and thoughtlessly destroyed in the space of a few years. These fragile ecologies are global assets need to be protected for the sake of the future of the planet, no less than the rainforests and oceans.

Yet, when it comes to building the kind of open, democratic societies that are our best hope for a prosperous and peaceful future, the world's authoritarians can only manage reactions that range from vague suspicion to outright hostility. It's probably not an overstatement to say that the fate of the planet may well depend on our ability to reliably, intelligently, effectively identify and deal with these enemies of the future wherever they crop up -- and figure out how to create the conditions that will prevent them from arising in the first place.

My wandering explorations of these issues will likely become a dominant theme in the things I write here at Orcinus.. I hope they'll be an interesting counterpoint and complement to Dave's pieces. He understands, more keenly and intimately than most, the past and present of the far-right authoritarians in our American midst. I'm looking ahead to the future -- both the short-term specifics of how we can curb the authoritarian impulse within people and cultures, and the longer-term generalities of why this is important for our collective survival.

As the Democrats rise from the dead, and as more Americans awaken to the true costs of our recent experiments with authoritarianism, I think it's a conversation that will take some interesting turns. Thanks to Dave for giving me a place on his porch to get that discussion started -- and to the rest of you for not giving me That Look.

The Republican tradition

Today's Dave Horsey cartoon in the Seattle P-I seems to be inspired by TRex's observations at FDL:

Of course it immediately brought to my mind a rather similar image, this time for real:

This was a billboard in Pittsburgh, Pa., back in 1949. (Charles "Teenie" Harris was the photographer.)

Ah, there's nothing like sticking with the tried and true, is there?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Playing the Rove card

If you're looking for a clear sign that Republicans are growing desperate about their chances for hanging onto control of the House, look no further than Washington's 8th District, where Democrat Darcy Burner has been turning up the heat, forging a three-point lead over Republican incumbent Dave Reichert in the latest polls.

So how does the GOP respond? Why, they send in the master of the dirty-trick campaign, Karl Rove.

Lynn Allen at Evergreen Politics has the details regarding Rove's career, just in time for for his visit here.

How soon after his visit here, you think, will we start seeing the nasty attack ads on Burner?

The countdown won't be weeks or even days. More like nanoseconds.

Tunnels and Bridges, Part IV: Landing Zones

by Sara Robinson

Inspiring people to take a look over the wall, then climb it, then brave the crossing is only the first half of the process. The second half is welcoming them and helping them find their feet here in the reality-based world.

Recent polls show that the rising chorus of strong progressive voices has already begun to intrigue disillusioned soon-to-be-former RWAs. When these people seek us out, and finally admit: "Yeah. I was sold a bill of goods. Now, tell me something I can believe," we should be ready to deliver the goods they need to integrate themselves into the reality-based world. This post offers some thoughts about what they're most likely to need, and how we can create landing zones that meet those needs effectively.

Culture Shock
For a while, they're going to be wobbly. In Cracks In The Wall II and III, we saw that people tend to join authoritarian groups to as a refuge from a world they find unmanageable on ther own; and they consider leaving when they start to acquire skills and discover unrealized inner strengths that restore confidence in their ability to manage. But these skills don't emerge overnight. We'll do best if we recognize and respect that the first year or two is a learning period, and deal with them gently while they're sorting out their new worldview.

Here are some of the issues we can expect to see among the newly-landed:

Information Hunger -- For many new arrivals, fresh information is the main antidote to the enforced ignorance of their old life. As they move away from an emotion-based worldview and toward a more evidence-based one, they may spend hours a day on the Web, change their TV habits from O'Reilly to Olbermann, and devour books that fill in knowledge gaps that are almost painful for them to acknowledge.

But raw data only goes so far. They also need to connect with live people who help them integrate this new information, show them the lay of the land, work through the implications of it, and make their new world friendly. The most urgent desire of my former fundie friends is simply having somebody understanding and non-judgmental to talk to while they process this avalanche of new data.

One of these friends, Karen, offers a caution: "Don't tell them it'll be easy or encourage them to chuck their past beliefs quickly. They're so used to being led, preached at, and dictated to, that reasoning and freethinking is all new - and liberating. They need to exercise that freedom little by little. (Some do plunge in all at once and come to their own conclusions quickly. But I think that's the exception, rather than the norm.)"

What our newest arrivals may need most is role models of how free-thinkers think -- how to approach the world in a way that is non-judgmental, how to put all this new information into a rational perspective, and relax and wrap the odd parts in humor rather than fretting about them. It's a skill that takes some learning -- but if they've come this far, they're already bent on mastering it.

A Craving for Community -- Careful readers of Muder will recall that new arrivals may bring with them very different expectations of family and community, which will also be under adjustment for a while. Former fundamentalists often mourn the hothouse intensity of their family and church ties -- even when they're simultaneously grateful not to be under the constant watchful eyes of all those intrusively "caring" people, and free of the manipulations used to keep them in line. On our side of the wall, that level of intimacy is harder to come by. What feels like an appropriate respect for other people's boundaries to us may feel fairly cold and uncaring to them, and it may take a while before they become accustomed to the more temperate social climate that prevails on our side of the wall.

Says my wise friend Karen, a lifelong fundamentalist who made the leap in her late 30s, "Make yourself available when they need to vent, cry, question, cower in fear and spew in anger. It's an extremely emotional process and one that is SO isolating. The person's traditional support group is no longer available for them and this may be the first time in their lives they are thinking for
themselves, so they need reinforcement."

Self-Respect and Self-Expression -- Emerging RWAs may have sublimated their own needs and desires to those of their leaders to the point that they may not know how to ask directly for things that they want and need. In fact, they may not even be aware of their own physical, emotional, or practical needs at all. This can make them easily frustrated and angry. Learning to consciously identify their own desires and express them honestly and appropriately may take some time, practice, and solid role models. This is especially true of those who grew up in authoritarian homes.

Boundary-Setting -- Authoritarian systems are, almost by definition, obsessively nosy attitude about their followers' personal lives. There's no detail so small or intimate (right down to your choice of underwear, breakfast, and sexual position) that the leaders won't attempt to make and enforce rules regarding it, and attempt surveillance to ensure the rules are followed. Right-wing authoritarian followers tend to be very submissive to these incursions -- the more intimate, the better, in fact -- and accept them as a sign that their leaders care.

Liberals, being liberals, have a much stronger respect for the place where one's personal life ends and the public sphere begins -- and thank no one to cross that line, or to try to tell them how to run their private business. They can handle that just fine on their own, thanks.

These different understandings may lead to culture clashes in the early phases. A newly-emerged leaver may make inquiries that they regard as simply pleasantly social, but we see as just plain nosy. They may respond to our misfortunes with a generosity that we find a bit unsettling; or, conversely, they may expect us to become involved with theirs to an extent that's frustrating to us and disappointing to them. It's best to remember that what's really happening here is a bit of cross-cultural miscommunication, and deal with it in that same multiculti spirit. It's something we're supposed to be good at.

Negotiation -- Authoritarian leaders do not negotiate with their followers. Leaders give commands; followers follow them. The farther down you fall on the Great Chain of Being, the less power you have to negotiate for your rights; and the harder the retribution will fall on you if you try. Which is why RWA women children, and low-status men may never learn to stand up and argue for their own interests at all.

Given this, it's not surprising that exiting RWAs are often frightened, puzzled, and astonished at the way reality-based folks negotiate with each other for things. The free and easy give-and-take we enjoy with our spouses, bosses, liberal clergy, civil authorities, and so on may be viewed as shockingly transgressive (confirming, perhaps, the belief that we're a bunch of unwashed hippies with no respect for authority or the rules of society). They can't imagine themselves having such egalitarian conversations with the authorities in their lives.

On their side of the wall, authority is to be feared and followed. Confronting it is always dangerous; better to shut up and deal rather than speak up and buy almost certain trouble. Defiance, if you dare, will almost always be covert and passive-aggressive. The kinds of conversations in which adults meet as moral equals to dispassionately consider and resolve a problem may very well be entirely outside of their life experience. It takes kind mentors, and a few positive experiences, to show them how it's done.

Reason Over Emotion -- One of the most important psychological traits that separates our side from theirs is that, while reality-based people tend to prefer arguments based on facts, evidence, and logic, RWA followers assess arguments on the basis of their emotional appeal. Facts just don't carry the same weight as the deeper sense of personal truth that they feel in their gut. (This is the origin of Stephen Colbert's "truthiness," which he defines as "something that isn't factually true, but feels true.") Politicians who give up on facts and speak to their emotional truth always do better with this group. Conversely, if you argue a point with them, you will likely hear an appeal that's long on passion and short on evidence -- because on their side of the wall, passion is what scores points and wins debates.

Here in the reality-based world, though, acquiring the ability to identify the real issue, separate it from the emotional content, line up the evidence, and argue calmly for it is one of the hardest lessons an ex-RWA will have to learn. For many of us, this lesson was learned in a series of examples -- meetings with enlightened authority that went extremely well, conflicts with friends or co-workers who were able to model rational resolution methods, and so on. The light goes on: there are other ways of resolving things besides avoidance, passive aggression, creating a dramatic scene (there's that love of passion again) or storming out in a huff. And the winner is not the one who can bring the most emotional persuasion to bear.

Tools for Troubled Times -- It seems likely that humans have an innate instinct to fall in behind their leaders in times of stress. (I'm expecting history to record this as the "9/11 effect," after the way Americans of all persuasions automatically lined up behind George Bush in the days following the tragedy.) From an evolutionary perspective, this makes sense. For a new arrival to the reality-based side of the wall, though, it's a habit that particularly hard to shake.

Among former fundies, we see people tend to return to the church in times of great personal or cultural stress. It's natural for any of us to reach into the old toolbox for the familiar coping strategies our families and churches taught us -- especially when you're overwhelmed, tired, lonely, or scared. Almost always, former fundies flirt with this for a few weeks or months before realizing that they really can't go home again. At that point, they get serious about investing in a new toolbox with better real-world coping tools that allow them to address their fears and problems more directly and effectively.

We need to expect that individual leavers will regress in times of stress, and accept this as a natural part of their process. At the same time, we do them a great service when we stick around and show them other ways of dealing with trouble.

Perhaps most important of all: we need to remain keenly aware of the human biological tendency to follow the leader during times of stress. If there should be another 9/11, the fate of the country may depend on how effectively the reality-based world can address people's fear responses, and provide them with strong models of firm, resolute calm.

Whose Job Is This?
A lot of us in the blogosphere are activists. We're eager to take the fight to the RWA leaders and their hard core, to face them down and push them to the fringes where they belong. It's an important and noble piece of the fight, and one that my friend Dave has covered with depth and thoughtfulness here and elsewhere through the years.

But the more subtle task of finding and courting would-be former RWA followers is at least as important in the long run. Without legions of the faithful supplying votes and money, the leaders quickly deflate to nothing. Going into this fall's elections, when vast numbers of Americans are reckoning with the consequences of their support for RWA leaders, we need to get good at talking to these people -- individually, in large groups, and fast.

Local groups play the front-line role here. Mainstream and liberal churches, unions and veterans' groups, parent and school groups, community and service groups, and other places where people share non-political common ground are logical landing zones for the newly-escaped. Local Democratic offices should also play a central role in this. (If you don't know where your nearest one is, find out and give them a call.)

Those of us who are active in these organizations should be keeping our eyes open for new arrivals, and have strategies in place for receiving them. We are performing a huge national service when we become enlightened witnesses to these new arrivals, and offer them safe havens where they can explore and validate their personal desires and needs, learn to draw boundaries and negotiate for them, grow in trust and skill, and learn to operate in the reality-based world.

Strategic efforts to find and engage those interested in change might focus on people in transitions -- young men and women just leaving home, newlyweds, new parents, moms at home, men and women in midlife , the lately divorced, immigrants, those who've lost their jobs, recent arrivals, those who've lost parents or spouses, the recently retired. These people are usually looking for new ways to engage with community. If we don't find a way to put their energies to work, our local fundie churches and right-wing groups very well might.

At the same time, we need to invest in restoring community, family, social, recreational, and personal support networks. It's benefited the authoritarians in our midst tremendously to have these gone. These things are essential social capital: their very existence increases the relative liberality of our culture. It's not going to be easy while we're working 60-hour weeks for falling dollars -- but these networks are valuable resources that make tough times more emotionally and financially survivable, as any oldtimer who remembers the Depression can tell you.

Finally, remember that what we're spreading here is memes -- which are, Dawkins' original formulation, a form of virus that propagates and spreads. My recovered fundie friends report that weeks, months, and years typically elapsed between the casual comment, the sudden observation, or the unignorable fact that sparked the very first doubt; and the moment they finally decided to head over the wall for good. Often, the person responsible was never aware that they'd done or said something that had changed that person's life forever.

You never know what little cognitive seed is going to take root in somebody's head and sprout like a weed long after you've gone. The ideas in this series are just a little pocketful of such germinators, to be sprinkled wherever we see someone starved for a bit of sustenance, and with a growing appetite for change. It will take time, persistence, and practice; but we will change the world only when we find ways to speak to the madness and persuade reason to answer us back.

Say hello to Sara

Many of you are probably wondering what's going on with my vacation fill-in, Sara Robinson, aka Mrs. Robinson, who's been busy much of the past month helping me out while I was off watching whales.

When I got back and had a chance to read through Sara's work -- which is still ongoing, since she's working at wrapping up her series on "Tunnels and Bridges" -- I was so impressed that I asked her if she was interested in making it a permanent arrangement of sorts. She readily agreed. (In the next day or so I'll put up a complete list of links to the series in the sidebar.)

I should add that the response I received from readers was overwhelmingly positive, in some cases powerfully so. The only really negative note came from an old friend and ally who, strangely, chose to radically misinterpret what she was saying; something, I suspect, that is likely to befall either of us.

I decided to do this, after nearly four years of running Orcinus as a purely solo blog, not so much to ease up my workload but to help fill out a lot of what I do write. Sara's background in technology and futurism complements much of what I do because, while I tend to focus on identifying problems and areas of concern, Sara actually thinks about what we can do about it. It's a good symbiosis, and brings to my mind the superb way that Digby and Tristero work off each other.

Sara has been a regular commenter here for some time and I've found that her insights have been so good that at times I've wanted to just post them. So, rather than do the work myself, I've basically enabled her to do it.

I think you've all seen too that Sara is a superb writer, and it's my expectation that the added practice here will only make her better.

Orcinus will continue to be what it has always been: A place where blog readers can go to get information and analysis, as well as some deeper insights, that you can't find anywhere else. Sara, I think, will just add to that depth.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Max Blumenthal Explains It All For You

by Sara Robinson

The Nation Online has posted Max Blumenthal's roundup of where we currently are with the "Path to 9/11" story. His summary of Our Story So Far makes it very clear that, while the show may have already aired, the fallout will be landing for quite some time to come yet. A few choice snippets:

ABC 9/11 Docudrama's Right-Wing Roots

On Friday, September 8, just forty-eight hours before ABC planned to air its so-called "docudrama," The Path to 9/11, Robert Iger, CEO of ABC's corporate parent, the Walt Disney Company, was presented with incontrovertible evidence outlining the involvement of that film's screenwriter and director in a concerted right-wing effort to blame former President Bill Clinton for allowing the 9/11 attacks to take place. Iger told a source close to ABC that he was "deeply troubled" by the information and claimed he had no previous knowledge of the institutional right-wing ties of The Path to 9/11's creators. He reportedly said that he has commenced an internal investigation to verify the role of the film's creators in deliberately advancing disinformation through ABC.

...All week, ABC has withstood withering criticism for The Path to 9/11's imaginative screenwriting that depicts Clinton and members of his administration either ignoring threats from Al Qaeda or botching operations that could have eliminated terror-master Osama bin Laden. Iger conceded in a September 5 press release that key scenes in The Path to 9/11 were indeed fabricated, calling the film "a dramatization, not a documentary." Behind the scenes, Iger reportedly made personal assurances to some of the film's most prominent critics that those scenes would be edited out. But even though some deceptive footage was cut from the original, much of its falsified version of events leading up to 9/11 remains.

Iger now bears ultimate responsibility for authorizing the product of a well-honed propaganda operation--a network of little-known right-wingers working from within Hollywood to counter its supposedly liberal bias. This is the network within the ABC network. Its godfather is far-right activist David Horowitz, who has worked for more than a decade to establish a right-wing presence in Hollywood and to discredit mainstream film and TV production. On this project, a secretive evangelical religious right group long associated with Horowitz, founded by The Path to 9/11's director, David Cunningham, that aims to "transform Hollywood" in line with its messianic vision, has taken the lead.

Before The Path to 9/11 entered the production stage, Disney/ABC signed David Cunningham as the film's director. Cunningham is no ordinary Hollywood journeyman. He is in fact the son of Loren Cunningham, founder of the right-wing evangelical group Youth With A Mission (YWAM). According to Sara Diamond's book Spiritual Warfare, during the 1980's YWAM "sought to gain influence within the Republican party" while assisting authoritarian governments in South Africa and Central America. Cunningham, Diamond noted, was a follower of Christian Reconstructionism, an extreme current of evangelical theology that advocates using stealth political methods to put the United States under the control of Biblical law and jettison the Constitution. Cunningham instilled his radical ideology in young missionaries by sending them to "Discipleship Training School." A former student of Cunningham's school claimed "similarities between cult mind controlling techniques and the [Discipleship Training School] program instituted by YWAM."

(It should probably be noted here that YWAM shares its quarters in Garden Valley, TX with Ron Luce's Teen Mania group, which is famous for its hypermilitary "Battle Cry" rallies and "Acquire the Fire" workshops around the country. The Garden Valley ranch serves as a summer training camp for high-school-aged Teen Mania missionaries, who are farmed out around the world on short-term mission assignments. The Acquire The Evidence website has more.)

When the young Cunningham entered his father's ministry, he helped found an auxiliary group called The Film Institute (TFI). According to its mission statement, TFI is "dedicated to a Godly transformation and revolution TO and THROUGH the Film and Television industry." Cunningham has placed over a dozen interns from Youth With A Mission's Discipleship Training School in film industry jobs "so that they can begin to impact and transform Hollywood from the inside out," according to a YWAM report.

Last June, Cunningham's TFI announced it was producing its first film, mysteriously titled Untitled History Project. "TFI's first project is a doozy," a newsletter to YWAM members read. "Simply being referred to as: The Untitled History Project, it is already being called the television event of the decade and not one second has been put to film yet. Talk about great expectations!"

...The following month, on July 28, the New York Post reported that ABC was filming a mini-series "under a shroud of secrecy" about the 9/11 attacks. "At the moment, ABC officials are calling the miniseries 'Untitled Commission Report' and producers refer to it as the 'Untitled History Project,'" the Post noted.

Early on, Cunningham had recruited a young Iranian-American screenwriter named Cyrus Nowrasteh to write the script of his secretive Untitled film. Not only is Nowrasteh an outspoken conservative, he is also a fervent member of the emerging network of right-wing people burrowing into the film industry with ulterior sectarian political and religious agendas, like Cunningham.

...Since the inauguration of Bill Clinton in 1992, Horowitz has labored to create a network of politically active conservatives in Hollywood. His Hollywood nest centers around his Wednesday Morning Club, a weekly meet-and-greet session for Left Coast conservatives that has been graced with speeches by the likes of Newt Gingrich, Victor Davis Hanson and Christopher Hitchens. The group's headquarters are at the offices of Horowitz's Center for the Study of Popular Culture, a "think tank" bankrolled for years with millions by right-wing sugar daddies like billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife. (Scaife financed the Arkansas Project, a $2.3 million dirty tricks operation that included paying sources for negative stories about Bill Clinton that turned out to be false.)

In the immediate wake of the 9/11 attacks, Horowitz led the right's campaign to pin the blame for attacks on Clinton. On February 19, 2002, Horowitz's organization mailed 1,500 lengthy pamphlets to major media outlets which claimed to expose how "the left" in general and Clinton in particular had "undermined America's security," thus causing 9/11. Two years later, Horowitz penned a lengthy manifesto for his FrontPageMag blaming Clinton once again for having "accepted defeat" in the fight against Al Qaeda. Horowitz singled out Clinton's National Security Council Director, Samuel "Sandy" Berger, as especially culpable for allowing the terror threat to fester, casting him as "a veteran of the Sixties 'anti-war' movement" who "abetted the Communist victories in Vietnam and Cambodia."

This year, Horowitz's Hollywood hothouse finally spawned his most potent anti-Clinton propaganda device. With the LFF under Horowitz's control, his political machine began drumming up support for Cunningham and Nowrasteh's Untitled project, which finally was revealed last August as The Path to 9/11.

Like Iger, Horowitz has pleaded ignorance about the sectarian agenda of the film's creators. Responding to an article I wrote for the Huffington Post exposing Horowitz's involvement in The Path to 9/11 (on which this article is adapted), he claimed in a blog post, "In fact, I never heard of David Cunningham or his group before reading about them in Max's hilarious column."

However, Horowitz's public relations blitz on behalf of the film began at least a month ago with an August 16 interview with Nowrasteh on his FrontPageMag webzine In the interview, Nowrasteh described how The Path to 9/11 was filmed "under the very able direction of David L. Cunningham." (Doesn't Horowitz read his own magazine?)

....Although Iger and ABC trimmed as much as thirty minutes of deceptive footage from Sunday's episode of The Path to 9/11, it appeared nonetheless as a mostly faithful adaptation of Horowitz's anti-Clinton essay. Indeed, The Path to 9/11 still contained its most egregiously false scene, in which Sandy Berger refuses to authorize a CIA officer's request to capture bin Laden, who is completely surrounded by rival Northern Alliance soldiers. After the halted (and totally fictional) operation, "Kirk," the (completely imaginary) CIA op played by Donny Wahlberg of New Kids on the Block fame, stands on a hilltop beside the Northern Alliance's quixotic warlord, Ahmed Shah Massoud.

"Are there any men left in Washington?" the script has a frustrated Massoud asking "Kirk." "Or just cowards?"

"Cowards?" The question is quietly being raised in the corridors of ABC-TV's headquarters in Burbank, California. Besieged in his lush office, Iger privately agonizes that he was complacent about an attack on his network's reputation by a band of political terrorists. But when faced with his own version of the Taliban, he appeased them.

It's a testament to our growing power that Iger is being forced to reckon with his inattention -- and his decision to let Horowitz run a mini-"network within a network" at ABC. That reckoning is far from over. At the very least, I hope Max and the rest of us will keep digging until we get an answer to the $40 million question: Who ponied up the funds for this extravaganza -- and picked up the bill for six hours of prime-time advertising?

We will also need to keep the pressure on ABC until they evict Horowitz and his mouseketeers from the premises. (Iger's story should be a caution to corporate leaders everywhere: Don't ever put right-wing ideologues like Horowitz in charge of so much as the parking lot, unless you can afford the legal, financial, PR, and shareholder catastrophe that will inevitably follow.) Beyond that, we can now assume that YWAM moles are probably scattered in media companies from coast to coast. They may go underground for a while after this fiasco, but we almost certainly haven't heard the last of them.