Wednesday, January 14, 2004

The Real State of the Union

Joshua (why do I always want to say 'John' - is that supposed to be short for Joshua?) Marshall told us about The Real State of the Union event in DC. I stopped in at the only session I thought would be interesting:


James Fallows, Francis Fukuyama,Kenneth Pollack, Paul Glastris, and Martin Walker; Moderator: Kathryn Kross
Surprising to me was that all of the speakers were rather good. Well, at least they spoke clearly, and quickly - or at least not too slowly, which I think is the norm in these types of watch me, see me, hear me, I'm special events.

James Fallows, now the National Correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly, opened up - actually he was already speaking when I got there - couldn't have been more than five minutes past 11 am. On time - pretty cool. Unique, that's for sure. Anyhoo, he was good, and set the pace.

Francis Fukuyama, the next speaker, was good too. He's the Dean of Faculty at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at John Hopkins University. I figure any school with enough gumption to name themselves 'School of Advanced [fill-in-the-blank]' must be pretty good. I thought Fukuyama was interesting for a few reasons. One, he's not white/causasion/whatever - therefore, he doesn't fit the mold of old, stodgy, cracker-jack-white, egotistical, American professor of something-or-other-ology who has mostly contempt or pity for other cultures. Second, he's not female. I saw 'Francis' on the agenda handout and thought 'wow, a woman.' Should I have been surprised to see a female name on the agenda? [email] Third, he's associated with JHU - the old home of one Paul Wolfowitz. Actually, it looks like Fukuyama took over for Wolfy when 'the wolfman' decided to run off and start conquering galaxies. Curious if there's a personal relationship there. Fukuyama seemed pretty level-headed, so maybe not. Hmmmm.

Next was the infamous Kenneth Pollack. He, I suppose, was the headliner. He's the main reason I was curious to show up. He seemed relatively smart, and somehow seemed apologetic for the Administration, as usual, for the Iraq war, but was also more harsh than I expected him to be - calling for investigations and all sorts of liberal nonsense. I guess I really haven't figured out how otherwise reasonable, supposedly-intelligent people could have supported the Iraq War - the way the U.S. did it. I just don't get it - at all - so I just can't let go of this deep contempt I hold for everyone who supported the war. It is thus that I hold a special reserve of contempt for those who really pushed the Iraqi Oil agenda forward - Pollack did so with his book that so many pols then used as an excuse. Well, I couldn't help it, I mean, the book, the, it has this POWER over you... You'd think they were talking about the ring, man! So, in that way, it's not on Pollack that so many of our politicians either had no spine, no brains, were only interested in being re-relected (Hillary?), or some combo of these.

Martin Walker, the final speaker (I think! - what happened to Paul Glastris - was he that unremarkable?!), was a UK-type guy with neocon-type apologetic qualities for the Administration. I don't understand that. I think he was saying something along the lines of this was was all wrong, wrong, wrong, but it was the the right thing to do (to invade). Whatever.

So, Paul Glastris is apparently the editor in chief of the Washington Monthly. Sorry, Paul - I don't remember thee. You might want to spice it up a bit next time. Maybe slip a couple of jokes in there somewhere.

I hardly remember what each of them was talking about. The room/building we were in, listed on the website as Senate Caucus Room Russell Senate Office Building; Constitution & Delaware Ave.; Washington, DC was marvelous...borderline spectacular. It was noisy, and I was celebrity searching. [Do all journalists look like Joe Conason?] Didn't see anyone I recognized, but it seemed like there was a row at the front for important people. I wouldn't recognize but a handful of congressfolks anyways.

There were no signs for where the shindig was going on, so after the compulsory anal probe at the entrance to the building, I wandered down one of the halls to see the office waiting area for 'The Honorable blah blah Warner'. Man - these guys are LIVIN'! Now I can see why Daschle is so willing to do whatever to keep his plush Senate office. I mean, I think I tend to the side of good principles, moral righteousness, etc., but put me up in one of these offices for a couple of days....and HOOOO-WEEEE boy, I'll start talkin' Texas quicker than hell could scorch a feather!

So, I'm looking for a transcript if you know where I can get one...or a video...which is a nice segway into the less impressive details of the gathering. First, it seemed like the events of the day were rolling - nonstop - no pee breaks - nada - just keep on keepin' on - or else. That sense of urgency can be nice, as opposed to a sense of we-have-the-rest-of-our-natural-born-lives-ness, but the event, for me, seemed rushed. Like swallowing water from a firehose.

There were a bunch of impeccably-dressed intern-types running around in dark suit/skirt things, dropping friendly smiles, asking for names for registration (Ashcroft-itis?), pushing folks into seats upon entering the Barmitvah-like speaking room, chattering in the back of the room or just outside it - I guess to add to the already undulating pitch of white noise competing with the panelists for the ears of the 250 (?) or so guests. The cameras at the back of the room - crimeny - how many were there - 15? Real cameras too - not the little, dinky, handhelds that don't make a racket when you change their VHS tape internals. Tellin' ya, the speakers were very good to speak as clearly as they did.

Oh, and this. This is hilarious. The WHOLE F*CKING TIME, off to the right side of the room, there was a staff of about four to six waiter-types clinging and clanging and jangling and whatever else. What in the H*LL were they doing, exactly? I swear, it went on for the entire time I was there, and it culminated in a brief announcement, just before the last speaker, that everyone was going to be 'eating at their chairs', and 'please wait until about 11.20 am to soothe your voracious appetite by cracking open those incredibly-loud platic-y containers - and filling your piehole with nonother than a....roast beef sandwich?' Roast beef or turkey, apparently. Well, someone was feigning shock horror at the choice of roast beef. Me, free is free. Always willing to help the mad cattle lobby get back to business.

So, the last speaker is on - and the guy with really bad breath to my right is laughing at the ridiculousness of this eating-in-place exercise - which makes me laugh - but I almost gagged when I caught a wiff of the noxious fumes emanation from the mouth of Mr. GO BRUSH YOUR GO*-DAMNED TEETH ONCE IN A WHILE, AND FLOSS TOO! I was forced to not-so-discreetly cast my face down and towards my left armpit (down...and to the left, down...and to the left) sucking away for life at some not-overly-funkified air to breath into my now-poisoned lungs (I've found the chemical weapons!). Wow, it was a mess. So, stomachs are growling. Plastic-enveloped sandwiches are being handed out in a not-so-silent fashion - 'Turkey or Roast Beef? Turkey? Roast Beef? I only have Roast Beef left. Wait, I can go get another.' Of course, there are only three aisles in the whole damn place - one on either side of the room, and one down the middle. The rows were, oh, about....25 people per. Take one plastic-y container, drool, pass it down, take one, drool, pass it down. Oh, the speaker - that's right - there's someone up there speaking. Cameras getting kicked and bumped, cameramen changing tapes, the stewardesses chatter-ing up a storm that would make Al Qaeda jealous on New Year's Eve, the girl behind me who is compelled to give to her cohort a brief synopsis of the entire Iraq conflict - current status, runup details, and historical context, because said cohort was evidently holed-up in a cave in Afghanistan for the past couple of years - the smirks of the panelists as they being to recognize the Falluja-like riot atmosphere descending upon the room - it was waaaaay too much for me.

I quickly formulated an exit strategy. The weather was milder today than that of previous days. I would cordone-off whichever type of sandwich it was my good fortune to snare, and put on a brave and patient face until I saw an opening - and then make a run for the border. The elements vs. Fallujah/DC - I'll take the elements. I don't know what event triggered my reaction, but my instincts told me 'NOW! NOW!' and I broke for the door, sandwich in hand. I went back in to grab a can of Coke off the table - and then bolted. I felt like all the stewardesses were looking at me, like Dude, you didn't want to eat next to smelly? Like, didn't they announce that we were eating 'in our seats'?

Did I mention how close together the seats were? Try, touching each other. I'm not kidding. And guess how much room there was from row to row - guess. Almost none. You could *not* pass someone in your row. We're not talking a tight squeeze like at the MCI Center, or any stadium/convention/arena-type complex - we're talking, NOT POSSIBLE. Fortunately I was only the second seat in, so only Smelly had to get up to allow me access to my seat. I'm curious how the eat-in-place thing went...I honestly can't imagine it. No trays, no place to put your drink, no rooms to move your arms to shuffle parts of dead animals into your piehole, halitosis-stricken people masticating all around you. Noooo, thanks.

The little lunchbox/plastic/sandwich-type thing they had was pretty dope, though, I have to admit. Good sandwich - a packet of mustard and mayo, an apple, a big chocolate-chip cookie, a napkin. Yep, no complaints on the food. I kinda wanted to go in and grab a few of those lunchbox-type meals to hand out to the homeless folks, but I didn't have the guts.

What else? Oh, questions from the audience. One lady from NOW or some similar organization gets up and asks one of the panel members about the situation for women in Iraq, and in particular, why or what or how, with respect to not enough women on the governing boards of Iraq. I can't keep track of all the congresses going on. What is there - the CPA, the INC, and IGC? Probably others, but one of them doesn't have enough women - like 3% or something she said. My first thought was, "let's try to fix America first, baby!" So, knowing that most Americans are ethnocentric even beyond their wildest dreams - even so-called liberals - I thought I'd check what the status of women in the U.S. Congress is. The Center for American Women and Politics says that in 2003, women held 13.6% of the 535 seats (the 108th U.S. Congress). That's 73 seats of the 435 in the House, and 14 of the 100 in the Senate. Now, my math turns out a little bit different [(73+14)/535 = 16.3%], but what's a couple of percentage points? That's interesting - I was guessing 5%, my co-worker guessed 30%. In any case, I don't even know what the Panel's answer was. I'm curious to know what they said. I'll tell ya what - being a woman in Iraqistan right now can't be much fun.

The best question came from...a CATO person?! I swear, the world has gone completely insane. Well, this is the Administration of upside-downism, so I guess it makes sense. I'm really worried that I agree with CATO on so many things these days. Seriously - this is scary. In any case, Charles Peña, said something to the effect I want to challenge the seemingly-forgone conclusion that staying to occupy Iraq is the best solution to our current predicament - hemorrhaging innocent lives, good will, money, etc. As one of the panelists just said, occupation is not something new for the U.S. - we've done it 17 or so times this century - and only three times did we achieve a clear success. So, what up? Something like that. Previously, one of the panelists had listed Japan, Germany, and I think South Korea as our only reconstruction successes. All 14 others (Guatemala, Haiti a couple of times, etc) were failures. The panelist argued that staying five-plus years doesn't guarantee success - in fact, it is almost a sure indication of a failed reconstruction. So, I thought Peña made a good point, and I don't remember who answered, but it was very dismissive in tone - something like 'well, blah blah blah, and how dare you even suggest, and blah blah blah, and we have to give it our best shot.' So much for debate.

And Pollack is part of Brookings. WTF?!