Tag Archives: Tea Party

General Electric’s F-136: Down but Not Out

Was I wrong. In a January post, I confidently stated that “newly elected House Republicans are not going to stop the F-136”. Yesterday they did, stripping funding for GE’s alternate propulsion system for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter from HR1, the continuing resolution for 2011.

House Armed Services Committee member Tom Rooney, a Florida Republican, sponsored the amendment. 47 Republican freshmen bucked their party’s leadership – Boehner, Cantor, and House whip Kevin McCarthy — and voted with Rooney. This led Colin Clark, who blogs over at DoDBuzz, to see yesterday’s 233-198 vote as a victory for the Tea Party and other “other deficit conscious Republicans.” Clark cites an email from defense analyst Loren Thompson:

“This shows how election of Tea Party Republicans has changed the political calculus in Congress.”…“Proponents of the second engine argued it could save the government money by enabling competition, but members were more impressed by the up-front cost of funding a second production line and supply network.” It also “really puts [House] Speaker [John] Boehner on the spot, because he was a leading proponent of pork-barrel spending that would have benefited his district. He doesn’t look like he’s in tune with the dominant trend in his party.”

“Now we know just how much Congress has changed since the November elections,” writes Clark, who thinks the F-136 vote might represent “a tipping point” for the Defense Budget generally. But that’s a pretty big leap, and the notion that meaningful cost-cutting is really “the dominant trend” in the Republican party is open to debate.

After all, the F-136 was an easy target. Secretary Gates didn’t want it; the Air Force didn’t want it; the President didn’t want it. It was egregious example, a symbol of the excesses of the Military Industrial Complex. Rooney brags that over the long term this single cut will save taxpayers “over $3 billion,” but more immediately it cuts $450 million – a fairly insignificant number in the world of DoD appropriations. Indeed, if HR1 marks a tipping point, it is most likely in other areas, such as transportation, education, funding for the arts and domestic programs.

It’s also unlikely that the vote on the F-136 will go the same way in the Senate. (Here I go, making another prediction.) GE will continue to “press the case for competition,” a spokesperson said. That probably will mean some negotiating behind closed doors for Jeffrey Immelt, whose appointment last month to lead the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness marked the crowning achievement of a $39.3 million dollar GE 2010 lobbying campaign, $9 million of which was spent on lobbying for the F-136. Mr. Immelt would be remiss if he did not take this opportunity to champion competition.

What’s Eating American Intellectuals?

I had dinner the other night with a friend who has been worrying about the sorry plight of the liberal elite in the year of the Tea Party. Ivy Leaguers see themselves outflanked by Astroturfers, unsure of their prospects and unable to connect. My friend wondered aloud what liberal intellectuals now ought to do.

The conversation would not really have made much of an impression on me – it’s one of those conversations one is bound to have after an election like the last one — were it not for the curious way it began to resonate in subsequent days.

Walter Russell Mead echoed many of the themes of our dinner conversation in a post about the delusions of the “liberal intelligentsia,” who were misled by the Obama victory in 2008. People really just wanted things to get a little better after the disappointments and troubles of the Bush years, Mead argues; they didn’t want a liberal political agenda forced on them and watched over by the guardians of the liberal elite.

Delusional, disconnected, defeated.

But it’s not just liberals. Soon I found out that even more people were having virtually the same conversation we’d had. For instance, I came across these themes in a lament on Stephen Bainbridge’s blog, about the plight of the intellectual elite on the right. Bainbridge was responding to a post by Nils August Andresen, who has been publishing a series on FrumForum about the role of intellectuals – specifically academics, and even more specifically, Ivy League academics — in the GOP.

Bainbridge, Andresen and others are rightly worried that the GOP is turning over the reins of power to boobs on the tube and anti-intellectual demagogues. The Palin and Beck crowd can easily out-shout the Smart Guys. Populism threatens to make the GOP not just the party of no, but the party of no ideas.

It would be easy to multiply the examples. Intellectuals on both sides feel as if they are under siege, or desperately out of touch, as if they are being pushed out of public life, or – worse – that nobody’s listening.

It’s hard to decide what’s really going on here. Are these just post-election blues, or have intellectuals begun to grasp some greater truth, not just about the intellectual death of the GOP or what’s really the matter with Kansas, but about their own diminished, marginal social position?

This much seems tolerably clear. A society that does not accord a place of prestige to intellectuals hasn’t simply stopped believing in the wisdom of tenured faculty at Ivy League institutions. Professors can earn or lose public face — and the social status and access to power — that comes with it. But a society that excludes, marginalizes or mocks intellectual elites has lost a certain faith.

It has stopped believing in the idea that educated people have any special insight into human affairs, and maybe even that such insight is possible. And so it has stopped believing in the value of education – or at least a certain kind of education: the liberal arts, the study of history, language and society – and the power of ideas to help people make sense of history, the problems of the day, or the future. If this is where we are, or where things are heading, then I’m worried, too.

To New York — To New York: Notes for a Short Film

On November 18th, 2009, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced his decision to move the trials of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other 9/11 terror suspects from a military to a civil venue. “I am a prosecutor,” Holder said in a prepared statement, “and as a prosecutor my top priority was simply to select the venue where the government will have the greatest opportunity to present the strongest case in the best forum.” So the Attorney General decided that those who are accused of plotting the 2001 attacks should be put on trial right here, in New York City.

He saw the poetic justice, the “symbolic significance,” in this. “After eight years of delay,” Holder said, “those allegedly responsible for the attacks of September the 11th will finally face justice. They will be brought to New York — to New York — to answer for their alleged crimes in a courthouse just blocks away from where the twin towers once stood.”

The idea that justice will be served by returning Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his cohorts for trial to the scene of their crime is an argument advanced by more than one of Holder’s defenders. The eighth district’s own Jerrold Nadler thinks it’s “fitting that they be tried in New York, where the attack took place”; Senator Jack Reed, of Rhode Island, thinks New Yorkers are likely to render a just verdict because we lived here on 9/11: “I can’t think of a better group of people to judge the guilt or innocence and the punishment for these individuals than people in New York who saw the towers fall.”

Republicans opposed the idea (and Holder’s weak performance before the Senate Judiciary Committee did nothing to win them over). “We generally don’t bring people back to the scene of the crime for justice,” said former Mayor Rudy Giuliani of Holder’s decision. The Obama administration, he continued, wants to send a message from New York City to the world: “both in substance and reality, the war on terror, from their point of view, is over.” Giuliani criticized the decision as a return to “pre-9/11 mentality” (failing to mention that he, Jeff Sessions and others had defended and even praised the Bush administration’s decision to try Zacarias Moussaoui here in 2002). Alice Hoagland (the aggrieved mother of a 9/11 victim, who lives – by the way — in Los Gatos, California), testified that she “can’t help feeling that it does make New York City a much more dangerous place and a target.” That may turn out to be true.

In any event, it has already made the city the scene of a bitter political contest.

A few weeks after Holder testified, on a cold, rainy Saturday, a crowd of about 300 firefighters, teabaggers, 9/11 families, and prominent conservatives rallied against the decision in Foley Square, right near the Federal courthouse in Manhattan. I had a camera, and covered the rally. The crowd was angry. They denounced Holder, booed him, and called for his resignation; David Beamer, father of 9/11 hero Todd Beamer, called on the President to fire him. People complained about the extension of constitutional rights to terrorists – calling them war criminals, not ordinary murderers. One man wearing an NRA hat and carrying an American flag with “Don’t Tread on Me” printed on it said the Obama administration was out to embarrass America, the West and “the white race.” There, in Foley Square, as on talk radio and on TV, the debate over the appropriate venue of the 9/11 trials had gotten confused with other issues.

The passions of some New Yorkers are running high. More rallies are sure to come. And all is not confusion. There are important questions to answer. Human rights advocates rightly point out that our civil justice system is resilient, and departing from our standards of justice might undermine any verdict reached and play into anti-American propaganda. But Holder never satisfactorily answered why some terrorists should be tried in civil venues here in New York, while others should be held in military commissions set up elsewhere. There are genuine security worries; and the expense and inconvenience to New Yorkers are not trivial concerns.

Unanswered questions around the trials are creating a vacuum, and politics abhors a vacuum. In the debate over where justice will best be served, the memory of the 9/11 attacks is taking on new political colors. The controversy over what is about to happen at the Federal courthouse in Foley Square is also a controversy over what happened here in New York in 2001 – a struggle for the memory and meaning of September 11th.

If you ask me, there are no easy answers here. I suspect most New Yorkers share my ambivalence about bringing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his associates to New York City for trial. Capturing and characterizing that ambivalence – staying with it, bracketing it or framing it, giving it form, definition and color without reducing it to pro and contra, populating it with characters and conversations – that is one challenge of the filmmaking here.

Most New Yorkers are not going to turn out for rallies; but no New Yorker can be fairly accused of having a pre-9/11 mentality. We live the post-9/11 reality, right here, every day. The whole world has changed; we have gone to war; we are still at war, all because of what happened right here, a little over eight years ago. And now, at the beginning of 2010, we still live here, in the same place – or is it a different place?

That’s a question, maybe the central question, the camera in To New York – To New York explores.

The project is to document the city right now, as it looks forward – with anger and uncertainty, existential dread, hedonistic indifference, or stoic resolve – to the arrival of the terror trials.

Rainy Day People (12-5-09)

Yesterday, with Daphne Eviatar of The Washington Independent, I shot and edited a segment about the rally against Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to bring Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his cohorts to New York City for trial in Federal Court.

People turned out, despite the rain. Many were angry — about Holder’s decision and about other things as well.