Was it really just six months ago?
The code was yellow in San Francisco and the weather unseasonably hot. A week before the fourth of July celebrations San Francisco was un-girthing its loins for Gay Pride weekend. The main man at the troublingly entitled “Department of Homeland Security” had deigned to inform us that it was safe to “return to shopping at the mall”, thus ending an imaginary and uneventful online shopping boom.
It all seemed curiously alien to me. I made most of my paltry purchases a few streets away on Haight Street. The Haight-Ashbury district is less than conducive to mall shoppers with an abhorrent lack of malls and parking. In place of the much-feared Terrorists and parking lots happily filled with SUV s we had the homeless, the stoned, the drunk, their dealers, the freaks the unemployed ex-dot-commers. Apart from renting an apartment I fitted into many if not all of these categories and thus felt very at home with my neighbors. To avoid the clear and present dangers, I was careful not to step on the tail of an overheated pit-bull while purchasing my burrito, my fair-trade coffee and my Financial Times. My shopping was distinctly “off-line”.
In the eyes of the paranoid majority it somehow seemed as if their world was going to hell in a hand basket. In my fair neighborhood it was business as usual. Maybe it was a familiarity with the surreal that kept me sane?
In Britain Mr. Tony Blair’s brilliant spin-meister Alistair Campbell had admitted to doctoring his “Dodgy Dossier” to hoodwink Britain’s great unwashed to fight a war in Iraq. Appearing before an open court of enquiry he had admitted to changing some crucial wording in what was actually a college thesis ripped from the internet. Among other editorial sleights of hand, the addition of the term ‘terrorist’ was designed to create the impression that Iraq posed an immediate threat to the defenseless West. This doctoring of documents was not only justified but entirely laudable in the opinion of the affable Mr. Campbell. To him, the end justified the means.
Even after the apparent failure to uncover Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction, the secondary premise of democracy in Iraq was entirely consistent with doctoring evidence, which in turn was consistent with the democratic process of Great Britain. If the war was now destined to bring ‘democracy’ to the Iraqi masses one could only surmise that the word ‘democracy’ itself was being re-defined. Nowadays democracy has been equated with regime change and freedom but who’s counting? Another ex-cabinet member Clare Short, belatedly resignation from her post as British home secretary but, even her self-sacrifice did not make her immune to political double-speak. She used the term “honourable deception” to describe the shenanigans of her colleague Mr. Blair, a new term indeed even to those familiar with the cesspool that is realpolitik.
On my side of the pond, Colin Powell had presented a similar “dodgy dossier” as crucial evidence to a somewhat nonplussed United Nations. Mr. Powell had initially refused to parlay the information placed in front of him but he eventually agreed to present a to the networks as instructed. The ruse had backfired when the holes in his PowerPoint presentation became known but within a few weeks the blame had been firmly placed on the shoulders of George Tenet the then head of the CIA. The UN refused to legitimize the War as directed but the Bush Junta didn’t care less. They went ahead as they had long since agreed with the decision to go to war.
If US domestic polls were to be trusted the only people to swallow the information were the great unwashed themselves. A full 60%+ found it simple to connect the dots. Bin Laden? Al-Qaeda? Saddam Hussein? Terrorist Threat? Twin Towers? Freedom from tyranny ? Invasion of Iraq? Demonstrated Military Supremacy? International Fear? Cheap gas to drive safely to the mall? If the truth be said most American people were Republicans in the true sense of the word, they really didn’t give a toss what happened outside their great country so long as they were not attacked and their leaders knew this. The war then seemed like a final clear-cut solution to a very complex threat. Now they could at last return to the issues at hand like refinancing their homes and looking for a job.
Meanwhile in Iraq the natives were revolting. It seems the SAS and the US Army was rather lacking in Muslim sensitivity training when conducting house to house searches. Whether the clerics had fanned the flames of indignation or not, the death toll was rising on both sides as were the summertime temperatures in Baghdad and Basra.
Back at home many if not all national economies seemed to be contemplating their fallibility. Interspersed with the occasional sucker’s rally, the aptly named dead-cat bounce, the stock exchanges were continuing to show “negative growth”. Mr. Bush, ever mindful of his father’s failures in the past, decided to give a little more money to his rich friends. The markets greeted Mr. Bush’s tax cuts with jaundiced disdain. In its inimitable way the US Federal Reserve Bank had followed the European Central Bank with another quarter point cut here, another half point there.
There were not too many points to go! Was the problem intractable? Were we finally seeing a human flaw in the perfection that is market dominance? Had greed eaten out the underbelly or was it simply a healthy correction? Something to be expected, nay encouraged after the boyish exuberance of the late nineties? Had we finally reached the bottom of the trough or was the rift still deepening. It was all very disconcerting!
But wait that was six months ago!
Then came Christmas and a Happy New Year for San Francisco: G.W. Bush, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gavin Newsom and acceptably low mortgage rates. Maybe gas seems a little expensive but hey, you can always buy bigger better 2004 models and take advantage of the new tax incentives on company SUV’s! As to Iraq? Well the temperatures are cooler and a bearded Saddam is in jail, hell he even looks like a terrorist now! And the democracy thing? Well, the President meant freedom, who ever said you had to vote to be free? Dammit anyway were glad we loaded our portfolios on defense stocks, the markets are up and all’s well that ends well. Pass the champagne!