Blogging a Dead Horse; or The Ballad of Luther Baldwin

It so happens that family business has taken me back to the Homeland where, for once, I am in a position to see the Dear Leader in action live. The newpapers and tube jibber-jabberers have been a-twitter all day about the SOTU by the POTUS. It has been a salutary shock for me to see how seriously the good gray geese in the media take the blood-soaked kabuki in the Beltway, especially tonight's tissue of lies and spin and desperate pitches for applause.

In the years since I escaped the reach of the deafening, maddening echo chamber of America's corporate media, it seems a whole cult has grown up around the State of the Union addresses, which were never taken that seriously in days of yore. The president would lay down a line of self-defensive bull about the glaring failures of his term so far, then lay out a few soaring bromides of appropriate vagueness about glorious programs to come. The latter would either be enacted or not, depending on the political exigencies in the months that followed. There was nothing extraordinary about the event, beyond the gathering of both houses of Congress together, and the chance to gauge the political temperature by seeing how strongly or tepidly they applauded certain lines.

But now a kind of craven giddiness prevails. The Tennessean -- the main paper in the region around my hometown -- devoted whole pages to a preview of Bush's speech, breaking out earnest analyses of the various issues that the president would address, and informing readers of "what it will mean for you." Of course, The Tennessean's long decline from one of the nation's most substantial and courageous daily papers to the wretched little assemblage of bite-sized, brain-dead corporatized Gannett goo that stains the area's doorsteps today would, at first glance, seem to make it an unreliable guide. But in fact, the Nashville paper's sad degeneration is an uncanny mirror of the American media's general collapse into frothing irrelevance over the past two decades or so. Thus the hushed and earnest tone it has taken toward the SOTU is entirely representative of the creepy -- and highly un-American -- reverence that has grown up not only around the speech but the presidency in general. (And this cult is bipartisan in nature; for instance, who could watch those many, many "West Wing" scenes in which the plucky aides genuflect in awe before the sacredness of the presidency without throwing up, or at least having a bout of dry heaves?)

But we are old-timey traditionalists here at Empire Burlesque. We don't hold with these modern notions of bootlicking the clown shoes of whatever bozo has managed to shimmy up the greasy pole into the Oval Office. We stand with that great patriot of ancient times, Luther Baldwin, who -- while watching President John Adams and his wife pass through Braintree, Massachusetts in grand procession, complete with a cannonade -- remarked to the generality, "I do not care if they fire through his ass." A nearby bootlicker reported Baldwin to the Department of Homeland Security -- or rather, the enforcers of Adams' draconian "Alien and Sedition Acts" -- who arrested Baldwin, convicted him and kept in jail until he could pay off his fines. Unfortunately for Adams, Cuba had not yet been brought into the American orbit by a war of aggression based on false and deliberately manipulated intelligence; otherwise Baldwin could have cooled his uppity heels indefinitely in Guantanamo Bay.

We've said all that to say this: we are sure enough not doing no live blogging of POTUS and his SOTU this evening. We're not even going to watch Junior mince and wince and smirk and grimace in his usual "frat boy with acute constipation" mode. Instead, we're going to draw your attention to a real story -- one which this particular SOTU is in large part designed to divert you from: the gathering storm of war blowing toward Iran. Glenn Greenwald points us to Steve Clemons who directs us to Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times, who has been covering an extraordinary conference of top Israeli officials, top American officials, top presidential candidates and a whole passel of the neocon warmongers who helped cook up the witch's brew of aggressive war against Iraq. They are all now openly rattling their swords and shaking their missiles for war with Iran, which most believe is coming in 2007.

As we have often reported here before, the Bush Regime is now accelerating its logistical, strategic and Machiavellian efforts to prepare, forment and provoke a war with Iran. Much of this has been done with the kind of hugger-mugger beloved by Chickenhawk Cheney, but now, in the resort town of Herzliyah, it is coming more and more into the open.

This the real state of the union: a nation hijacked by a faction of radical militarists hellbent on yet another war. And that, dear goo-stained readers of the Tennessean, is what tonight's SOTU "will mean for you."

Excerpts from the FT after the jump:

It sounds like the stuff that conspiracy theories are made of. In a coastal resort near Tel Aviv, senior Israeli politicians and generals confer with top officials and politicians from Washington to discuss the threat of a nuclear Iran. In any good conspiracy theory, however, these talks would be going on in secret – preferably in an underground bunker. In fact the Herzliya conference on “Israel’s national security” is taking place perfectly openly in a smart hotel. And I am in the audience.

The Israel participation is, as one would expect, high level. The conference is scheduled to close with a speech from Ehud Olmert, the prime minister. The lunch-time speaker yesterday was Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud leader, and maybe the next prime minister. We’re hearing from the foreign minister, the defence minister and a string of present and former generals.

But what has really struck me is the number of top Americans who have bothered to come over for the conference. The speaker at dinner last night was Gordon England, America’s deputy defence secretary; earlier in the day we heard from Nick Burns, the number three at the State Department. Several contenders for the presidency in 2008 have also felt obliged to tip their hat to Herzliya. Mitt Romney, who is probably second favourite for the Republican nomination, is turning up in person. John McCain, the GOP front-runner is appearing by satellite, so is Rudy Giuliani. For the Democrats, John Edwards is also scheduled to make a satellite address....Also well represented among the participants are well-known hawks like Richard Perle, Jim Woolsey (the former CIA director), Newt Gingrich and Jose Maria Aznar, the former Spanish prime minister. A lot of these chaps were very prominent in the drive to go to war in Iraq. Now, flushed by their undoubted success there, they are turning their attention to Iran.

There is no doubt that the war drums are beating pretty loudly here in Herzliya. The main topics of conversation that keep coming back and back – in the corridors and also in the conference hall – is how close is Iran to the bomb....Netanyahu claimed that Iran is 1,000 days away from having nukes. But the Israelis tend to argue that military action would have to come much sooner than that, before the Iranians learn how to enrich enough uranium to make a bomb. Shaul Mofaz, Israel’s deputy prime minister, argued that Iran is bent on building a “hegemonic empire in the Middle East” and presents an “existential threat to Israel”.

...Jim Woolsey, a former director of the CIA, castigated Burns for his caution and his emphasis on diplomacy. He also likened Iran to Nazi Germany. Funny thing is I distinctly remember hearing a similar speech from Woolsey at an international conference in 2002, when he likened Saddam Hussein to Hitler. Now Hitler is back – except that this time he’s Iranian.