Friday, September 30, 2011

Roll Over, Gatsby! Today's Epitome Of Outsiderness Is The POTUS 44!

As a callow college freshman, this blogger learned from Wallace Stegner that "fiction was a lens on life." Today's post by the critic Lee Siegal confirms Stegner. Just as Jay Gatsby (James Gatz) was an outsider in the 1920s, today, we have the POTUS 44 who is the Gatsby of our time. If this is a (fair & balanced) lens on life, so be it.

[x Intelligent Life]
The Book Of Illusion
By Lee Siegal

Tag Cloud of the following article

created at

First published in 1925, The Great Gatsby has never lost its allure. Last year “Gatz”, a six-and-a-half-hour stage adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, was a sell-out hit at New York’s Public Theatre. Everyone is now buzzing about Baz Luhrmann’s screen remake of Gatsby, now being filmed in Australia with Leonardo di Caprio in the title role that was once Robert Redford’s (pictured above). A musical adaptation of the novel is set to premiere on September 30th at the New York Musical Theatre Festival in Manhattan. Professor friends of mine tell me that no American work of literature excites their students so much as Fitzgerald’s rueful romantic taxonomy of American dreams and fantasies.

The lasting power and beauty of Gatsby is rooted in the story’s mix of illusions and self-delusion. Jay Gatsby lives in fabulous wealth in a magnificent mansion on Long Island. He throws glamorous, exclusive parties and excites admiration and envy. Yet his wealth is the product of some shady bootlegging. Gatsby swans about in a stainless white suit, yet his glow is tarnished by his foolish obsession with Daisy, the shallow, callous wife of brutish Tom Buchanan. His rise to riches would seem to illustrate the chimerical proportions of the American dream, yet he dies—brutally, senselessly—at the hands of a garage mechanic, who mistakes Gatsby for his wife’s murderer and so shoots him in his swimming pool. Such mercurial luck and weird violence is the unexpected underside of the American promise.

The poles of dreamy ideal and grimy real are represented in the novel by the colours gold and yellow, threaded through the book like a Schubertian leitmotif. “Behind every great fortune is a great crime,” Balzac once shrewdly observed, and this was not lost on Fitzgerald. Gatsby is ultimately an exemplary American, driven by a hunger for more. He keeps his illusions till the end, even as they blind him to the way his futile pursuit of Daisy is eroding his life. Fitzgerald’s worldliness was European, but his wistfulness was uniquely American. “Can’t repeat the past?” Gatsby cries incredulously at one point in the novel. “Why of course you can!”

No wonder the tale of fatefully deluded Gatsby still resonates at a time when the collision of illusion and self-delusion has so injured American expectations. America is now full of millions of bankrupt Gatsbys who bought their dream homes with no money down. Meanwhile, the derivatives market was the very embodiment of American fantasy and self-deception, built on as flimsy a foundation as Gatsby’s wealth. The promised gold of the Reagan years, burnished to a shine in the new millennium, has turned a grimy yellow.

Along with Gatsby, the novel’s other characters seem like they stepped out of today’s news. In Tom and Daisy Buchanan, Fitzgerald created the very image of callous, upper-class destroyers. “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy,” Fitzgerald writes, “they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” They were the moneyed id in action, blind to social reality and simple human decency. “Her voice is full of money,” Gatsby marvels about Daisy.

Among many Americans the past few years have instilled a sense that a thin stratum of people act with similar recklessness. The country’s dishonest bankers and shady mortgage-brokers never seem to be touched by economic cycles that grind other Americans down. As unemployment numbers have risen, these callous beneficiaries have seemingly “retreated back into their money.”

A romantic outsider, Gatsby is both admired and mistrusted. As Nick Carroway—Gatsby’s tenant, new friend and the novel’s narrator—tells us, rumours depict Gatsby as related to Kaiser Wilhelm, a German spy during the first world war, a bootlegger and a murderer. Outsiders like Gatsby are quintessential figures of American democracy, a system designed to welcome outsiders by elevating individual will over group affiliation. They can redeem, but they can also unsettle. Gatsby had to escape his humble origins in order to conquer society, yet in remaking his life he generated an aura of mysterious menace. Everyone attended his parties. Hardly anyone came to his funeral.

And here we are, in a time of unsettling flux, in which one enigmatic outsider after another vies for political leadership. Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, the scores of obscure Tea Partiers suddenly thrust into Congress. Then there is the epitome of outsiderness himself, Barack Obama. No one had the audacity to ask Gatsby for his birth certificate as proof of who he really was. But until Obama produced his, he was mythologised as wildly as Gatsby had been: as socialist, communist, revolutionary, conspirator, traitor.

In Gatsby’s case, the mysterious stranger in the immaculate white suit was really a cipher named James Gatz, who lucked his way into fame and fortune because of his looks, charm and the way he could imitate the gestures of confident success. The disenchantment with Obama among some of his most passionate supporters finds an echo in Fitzgerald’s portrait of Gatsby’s social dynamic. Gatsby had:

one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life.... It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.

Yet because of the inadequacy of those who were taken in by Gatsby, or because of his own deficiencies as a person, reality intrudes on illusion: “Precisely at that point [the smile] vanished,” observes Nick. “I was looking at an elegant young roughneck, a year or two over thirty, whose elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd. Some time before he introduced himself I’d got a strong impression that he was picking his words with care.”

Europeans are too disillusioned ever to be disappointed. But Americans cannot forgive any figure who, having invited them to project their dreams onto him, steps out from behind them. Undeterred, they will keep rushing right past him toward other illusions; toward, as Fitzgerald writes in his famous final lines, “the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further.... And one fine morning—”.

[Lee Siegel is a New York writer and cultural critic. His latest book is Are You Serious?: How to Be True and Get Real in the Age of Silly (20110. Siegel received his BA, MA and M.Phil. from Columbia University. The New York Times Magazine has called him "one of the most eloquent and acid-tongued critics in the country."]

Copyright © 2011 The Economist Newspaper Limited

Get the Google Reader at no cost from Google. Click on this link to go on a tour of the Google Reader. If you read a lot of blogs, load Reader with your regular sites, then check them all on one page. The Reader's share function lets you publicize your favorite posts.

Creative Commons License
Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2011 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Teabaggers Have Got It All Wrong! The Enemy Is NOT Big Government! It's The Job Creators, Stupids!

In 1993, The New Yorker cartoonist, Peter Steiner, contributed a comment on the dawning of the Internet Age:

and there is a Rants & Raves Corollary:

When you blog,
No one knows you're a dog.

This week, a couple of e-mail messages landed in this blogger's In Box from Professor Ralph Gomory. Gomory provided a link (PDF) to an article on international trade issues in The Journal of Policy Modeling (2011). At time when the Dumbos are demagoguing job creators as the victims of any tax increase, Professor Gomory offers another look at job creators. If this is (fair & balanced) blow against demagogy, so be it.

[x HuffPo]
The Real Crime: Concentration Of Power
By Ralph E. Gomory

Tag Cloud of the following article

created at

We are missing the lesson of the current British outrage over Murdoch just as we missed the lesson of the financial crisis in America.

Was the real crime in England that employees of the News of the World illegally hacked the cell phone of a missing girl? Was the real financial crime in America illegal acts such as Ponzi schemes or insider trading? The answer is no in both cases.

The real crime in England was legal, not illegal; it was that one man had the power to influence large parts of the British parliament and was credited with a major influence in electing whichever government he favored. No one in government dared to cross him until an emotion-provoking illegal act unleashed a public outcry. That outcry has, at least temporarily, liberated the members of Parliament from their fear of being smeared by Murdoch's newspapers if they dared to be hostile to his interests or beliefs.

Was the real crime in America illegal acts? No. Despite the press devoted to Madoff, the real crime, here as in England, was legal. Selling subprime mortgages to people who could never pay them back was legal. Rating agencies certifying to the high quality of the resulting worthless securities was legal. The whole web of interacting CDO's was legal. It was the legal, though strongly unethical, actions of a powerful Wall Street dedicated to self-enrichment at any price that brought down the U.S. economy. And, though we are still far from recovering from that disaster, the power of money has prevented any fundamental reform of the financial sector.

In both countries, the real crime is the concentration of power that allows these things to happen.

How Power is Used

Power can be exerted through both the stick and the carrot. In England, members of Parliament feared being smeared in the powerful Murdoch newspapers, and they also knew that if they accommodated his views or interests, they could profit from his support.

In the United States, members of Congress understand that Wall Street money and corporate money can either be used to defeat them or to support their campaigns. They also know that if they are sufficiently influential in the right direction, lobbying jobs that are far more financially rewarding than their present occupation await them when they retire from Congress

Money can extend its power to other parts of government, too. In England, part of the police force became a Murdoch ally in ferreting out more news about important stories. In America, regulatory bodies, established to protect the public interest, become blind to risky behavior and kind to the industry. And these examples are some entries in a long list of possibilities.

The Tyranny of Government

It has been common throughout history for the concentration of power to be in governments, often but not always monarchies or dictatorships, and for the leaders of such governments to act to enrich themselves and their friends. In the years preceding the American Revolution, the British government's restrictions on colonial manufacturing, the Navigation Acts, the tax on stamps, and the tax on tea, brought revenue to the British Crown and profits to British merchants and manufacturers at the expense of the colonies, but also produced a revolution. This tyranny by governments is the type of oppression which the Tea Party is constantly reminding us of, but today's tyranny is of a different type.

The Tyranny of Wealth

The problem today is not the tyranny of government, but rather the concentration of money, and hence power, in Wall Street and in the largest corporations. And it is clear that enough money can buy political power.

Both Wall Street and the major corporations have added to their strong direct effect on the economy a decisive effect on the actions of governmental bodies. It is their influence on the federal government that caused the regulatory bodies to stand back from regulation and encouraged the excesses of the financial sector in the years leading up to the crash. It was the federal government, led by Wall Street alumni, that rescued the financial institutions so that they are now posting record profits despite having impoverished the nation. It was the overwhelming lobbying power of the financial sector that prevented the passage of meaningful financial reform. The banks that were too big to fail are, with the concurrence of both political parties, now bigger than ever. And the actions of the U.S. Supreme Court, permitting the unrestricted use of corporate and Wall Street money for campaigns, are adding to this effect.

The declared goal of most major U.S. corporations today is to make their stock as valuable as possible. As more than two-thirds of all stock is held by the wealthiest five percent in the country, this corporate goal amounts in practice to simply making the wealthy wealthier and increasing the extreme concentration of wealth and power that already exists in America today. And if making the stock as valuable as possible means sending jobs and technology abroad, while holding down wages at home, so be it.

Yet it is to this same corporate leadership that the government turns for policy advice on how to create jobs and revive the economy.


Today we have a concentration of wealth unmatched since the days immediately preceding the Great Depression in 1929. This wealth and power, concentrated in Wall Street and in the major corporations, is being used for the enrichment of the already wealthy. Unfortunately, that enrichment is one that does not raise all boats. As statistics clearly show, the big boats are rising rapidly and the small boats are not doing well.

After the Great Depression, the U.S. government acted to lessen the power of concentrated wealth. It separated commercial from investment banking, insured bank deposits, enacted social security, and facilitated unions as a counter-force to corporations. It even became to some extent the employer of last resort.

But the power of wealth today over both political parties is now such that new government actions are mainly words that cover real inaction, and even that limited action is often described as the actions of a too large and too powerful government.

Today, the threat of tyranny comes not from the government, but from the concentration of wealth and power outside government, and from the influence on government of that great concentration of wealth and power. Ω

[Ralph E. Gomory graduated from Williams College, studied at Cambridge University, and received his Ph.D. in mathematics from Princeton University. He has been a research mathematician for IBM and after retiring from IBM, Gomory became President of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. After 18 years as President of the Sloan Foundation, Gomory became a Research Professor at New York University's Stern School of Business.]

Copyright © 2011 Inc.

Get the Google Reader at no cost from Google. Click on this link to go on a tour of the Google Reader. If you read a lot of blogs, load Reader with your regular sites, then check them all on one page. The Reader's share function lets you publicize your favorite posts.

Creative Commons License
Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2011 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Have A Little Texas Toast In Today's Blog Post!

The late great Molly Ivins wrote, in the waning years of The Dubster Disaster: "Next time I tell you someone from Texas should not be president of the United States, please pay attention." It's déjà vu all over again: a Texas governor thinks he wants to be POTUS 45. To paraphrase The Mollster again (this time on former Congressman Dick Armey [R-TX]: "If ignorance ever goes to $40 a barrel, I want drillin' rights on that man's head.") With Ricky Dumbass (aka Governor Goodhair — thanks to Molly Ivins), you'd make money on drillin' rights if the price of ignorance fell to $5 a barrel. Final word: Ricky Dumbass is infradumb! If this is a (fair & balanced) assessment of a bottomless pit of ignorance, so be it.

[x TNR]
The Permanent Candidate
By Alec MacGillis

Tag Cloud of the following article

created at

The Tea Party movement had not yet fully impinged on the nation’s consciousness when Rick Perry stepped to the podium outside Austin City Hall on April 15, 2009, to speak at a tax-day protest. Wearing a big “DON’T MESS WITH TEXAS” pin, a black baseball cap with a hunting ranch logo, and the collar of his coat turned up, Perry swayed as he spoke, as if trembling with fervor. The crowd of 1,000 roared as Perry invoked states’ rights and the Tenth Amendment’s protections against federal overreach. Following the speech, Perry spoke to reporters—and uttered a few sentences that would make national headlines for days and weeks to come. “We’ve got a great union,” he said. “There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But, if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that.”

Perry’s comments established him as the standard-bearer of anti-Washington sentiment months before the country as a whole began a rightward shift. It was “the first true love affair for the Tea Party,” Perry’s friend Bill Miller, a political consultant in Austin, told me. The remarks were also cause for glee among aides to Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, a more moderate Republican who was preparing to challenge Perry in the 2010 gubernatorial primary. Surely, Perry’s musings about secession would be fatal to his reelection. And, in fact, the Texas establishment, already leery of Perry, did edge further away from him—for one thing, he received not a single major newspaper endorsement in the 2010 primary. But it didn’t matter. The right-wing, anti-Washington wave Perry had picked up on kept building and swamped Hutchison, who lost by 20 percentage points.

That race, together with Perry’s 2010 call to arms, Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington—in which he referred to Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme”—sealed the image of him as a hardened ideologue driven by small-government orthodoxy. This amuses those in Texas who know Perry best. What was on display that day in April and in the months since, they say, was not Perry the ideologue but Perry the tactician—a politician skilled at picking up on shifts in the electorate and adapting himself to them. Perry, says Bill Allaway of the conservative Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, has a “knack for seeing where stuff is headed and thinking where he could be with respect to that.” The tax-day speech was an example of Perry “getting right in front of the parade,” says Miller. “He saw that this is where I need to be right now. And that’s just having good campaign judgment to do that.” Perry’s political guru, Dave Carney, basically said as much when I met with him in Austin, attributing his client’s prescience to the pleasure that Perry takes in being out among voters. “He listens, he looks you in the eye, and he gets a sense of where people are going,” Carney told me. “He has a very good sense of what’s going on.” Greg Hartman, a former Texas political strategist, marvels at Perry’s transformation since 2009. “The most amazing thing about Perry is that now that he’s jumped out there, people say he’s brash and caustic, but he built his career as lieutenant governor and governor by being pretty quiet. He’s not brash. This is a little bit of a new persona here.”

None of this is to say that Perry isn’t really a conservative. He most certainly is. Specifically, he’s the product of a West Texas political culture that Miller describes as a “sort of Confederate-based, anti-federalism, anti-telling-me-what-the hell-to-do kind of deal.” But Texans, it turns out, don’t tend to think about Perry in ideological terms. “I’m not sure you can ever ascribe a real philosophy to Perry,” says Tom Uher, a conservative Democrat who lived in the same Austin rental house as Perry when both were serving in the state legislature in the 1980s. “He can switch colors to whatever he needed to be.” Indeed, the deeper one looks into Perry’s past, the more it becomes clear that ideology is not a particularly useful way to explain his actions or his worldview. But, if political philosophy doesn’t really animate Perry, the question remains: What does?

Rick Perry, now 61, grew up in Paint Creek, a tiny West Texas town in rural Haskell County. The area is not all that far west: It’s in the north-central part of the state, just east of the panhandle. But West Texas is defined less by longitude than by terrain—the huge, arid swath beyond Fort Worth. Rick’s father, Ray Perry, was a World War II tail gunner and a tenant farmer, leasing land for cotton, wheat, and cattle. Ray was on the county commission as a Democrat. Conservative “yellow dog” Democrats so dominated Haskell County that it did not hold a Republican primary for local offices until the 1990s.

Don Comedy, who grew up with Rick Perry and managed his campaigns for the legislature, recalls what the place was like: “In those early days, we were all poor, all struggling. When I was growing up, people didn’t know a single solitary person that didn’t have to work to get by.... There was sand blowing and drought. When there were sandstorms, I’d have to rake the sand off the cabinet and the table and sweep it up. It was so thick it would take a piece of cardboard to scrape it off.”

On Saturdays, Rick was with the Boy Scouts. The troop met at the home of farmer Gene Overton, an unusually committed troop leader: He took the boys to Dallas and to College Station, where they slept in empty cattle pens in the livestock pavilion. “We put a lot of gray hair on that old man,” says fellow scout Riley Couch. “We were just kids enjoying life, and we didn’t know too much about the world and worry about much.” Rick hardly stood out as a future leader. “Someone asked me once if we sat around talking about being governor,” Couch says. “No, I don’t think we even knew there was a governor.”

In 1968, Rick left for Texas A&M, then the scene of a social upheaval. Prior to 1965, it had been mandatory for students to receive military training through the Corps of Cadets. With that requirement dropped, a whole new crowd of students began enrolling at the school. The result, recalls Hartman, the former political strategist in Austin, was a “weird bicultural campus,” split between “typical college students” and Corps members. Perry, who was in the Corps, developed a reputation as a prankster and received terrible grades, but managed to get elected “yell leader,” a prestigious position roughly akin to cheerleader. His political training took other forms as well: One summer during college, both Perry and Couch sold Bibles in southeastern Missouri. “If you want a lesson in life,” says Couch, “you go door to door trying to sell something to somebody.”

After graduating in 1972, animal science degree in hand, Perry began a five-year stint in the Air Force, which included supply runs in Europe and the Middle East. By the late ’70s, he was back in Haskell County with his high school sweetheart, Anita Thigpen—a doctor’s daughter and former drum majorette whom he married in 1982. Rick helped his father with his farming, but not always to great success. A family that had hired Ray Perry to manage its cotton and wheat fields grew upset when they discovered after some time that Ray had been leaving the fields in Rick’s hands—and that they were overrun with weeds. When Letajo Howard, one of the owners, tried to talk to Rick about it, he told her he had a date to go bird-hunting and that she should take it up with his father. “We chided him about that and told his father he was not to farm for us anymore,” she told me.

Fred McClure, a close friend of Perry’s, says he could see political interest budding in him during the years after his return from the Air Force. McClure, then an aide to Republican Senator John Tower, met Perry when he came to Washington on his own in 1978 to check out the farmers’ protests that were dominating the city. A couple years later, McClure got Perry his first political appointment: He suggested that Governor Bill Clements, a Republican, put Perry on the Texas Real Estate Research Advisory Committee. “That was the beginning of my seeing him have these political sensitivities and antennae,” McClure says. “His decision to get involved in politics originally was a combination of believing he could do something that could have an impact and maybe the boredom of staying at home.”

In 1984, when the local state representative announced his retirement, Perry jumped. In the Democratic primary, Perry was able to fly his 1952 Super Cub around a district that took four hours to cross by car. Comedy, whose family ran the local newspaper, wrote the stump speeches; his most reliable laugh line was one that Perry still uses, in which he brags about having graduated in the top 10—in his high school class of 13. To get up to speed on legislative matters, Perry quizzed a local lawyer active in Democratic politics, Royce Adkins. On the day of the primary, Perry triumphed with 59 percent in a three-person field; the general election was uncontested. Having secured the seat, Perry made clear that he did not exactly have a big policy agenda. “I had not one piece of legislation I planned to carry,” he told the Abilene paper after the election.

Once in Austin, Perry made little effort to hide his lack of interest in the finer points of policy. Garry Mauro, then the Texas land commissioner, remembers coming to Perry to sponsor a piece of legislation and Perry cutting him off when he started to explain the bill in detail. “Don’t waste your time,” Perry said. “I wouldn’t understand it anyway. Just make sure you’re there to talk about it.” Recalling the incident today, Mauro says, “You at least have to give the guy credit for candidness.”

Yet Perry still managed to make his mark. By his second term, he had become one of the “pit bulls,” a group of young legislators, mostly sophomore conservative Democrats, who had been given seats on the appropriations committee and quickly set about trying to slash spending. “They decided early on they didn’t have to just sit there and listen,” says Allaway. Their cocksureness rankled veteran legislators, including Uher. “There were some who thought those pit bulls were cute,” Uher told me. “But they did not understand the appropriations process, the history of the agencies. The veterans would look on them, saying, ‘You’re here to turn the world upside down, but you don’t know.’ ”

Even among the pit bulls, Perry stood out. He was the handsome rancher who flew himself home at the end of every week, often offering a ride to Bob Hunter, a Republican from Abilene. That Perry had his eye on bigger things was confirmed for some of his colleagues when he showed up in his second term with a full set of corrective braces, which had the end result of enhancing his good looks. “Everybody who noticed his braces suspected that [it was a career move], but no one confirmed it,” says Steve Carriker, then a Democratic senator from West Texas.

Perry excelled in one area especially: The future governor “was very, very good at developing relationships with his peers,” recalls one veteran state Democrat. “All of those guys are still very much with Perry, very much a part of his political life, and all are making a living out of being with him.” He pointed as an example to one Perry pal, who, despite having been once voted the most liberal Democrat in the legislature, “now makes a living off of lobbying him.”

In 1988, Perry endorsed Al Gore for president. The decision looks understandable in retrospect, given that Gore was one of the more centrist (and Southern) candidates in that year’s Democratic field. But the veteran state Democrat was struck by how eager Perry was to take a lead role in the Gore effort, which has been downplayed in more recent accounts of the episode. The official co-chairs of the campaign in Texas were two older, prominent state Democrats, Bill Hobby and Jess Hay. But Perry and a few other young House reps got together and, with the elders’ permission, started calling themselves co-chairmen as well—with Perry flying them around the state on Gore’s behalf.

Yet, even as he was angling for status in his own party, Perry had caught the eye of those building the new GOP in Texas, notably a doughy savant by the name of Karl Rove. The state had been solidly Democratic for generations, but change was afoot, as Democrats became associated with Northern liberals like Jesse Jackson and Ted Kennedy. In 1983, Texas Congressman Phil Gramm had announced that he was switching parties. In 1989, with the coaxing of Rove, and with Gramm standing at his side, Perry announced he was doing the same in order to take on agriculture commissioner Jim Hightower, a darling of liberals and nemesis of Texas farmers. It was a bold move. “What the hell did I just do?” Perry muttered aloud after announcing the change, according to one Republican insider. In Austin, the switch only confirmed the sense that Perry was a striver. “Governor Perry is a really, really good politician,” Hartman, the former strategist, told me. “He understood where the state of Texas was going.”

For the race against Hightower, David Weeks, the TV whiz in Rove’s shop and a friend of Perry’s from West Texas, crafted gauzy spots featuring Perry in chaps and playing piano with his young son. “David is wonderful at capturing him and projecting him,” says Miller, the Austin consultant. “Rick’s his muse.” Weeks also produced an ad that showed images of flag-burners morphing into Hightower’s face. On Election Day, Perry eked out a win, 49 to 47 percent.

As commissioner, Perry set about scrapping Hightower’s regulations on pesticides and played up his bond with farmers, defending them against attacks from “food terrorists and stomach police.” But his anti-government stance only went so far: He sought big increases in his department’s budget and defended a state loan program for farmers against a critical audit.

Meanwhile, the state’s political shift toward the GOP was accelerating. When Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock, a Democrat, announced he would not seek reelection in 1998, Rove urged Perry to run in the hopes of putting a Republican in place to take over as governor if George W. Bush was elected president two years later. Perry was ready—even though it meant running against a good friend from A&M, Democrat John Sharp.

Rove couldn’t manage Perry’s race because Bush wanted him to focus on his reelection bid that year. Instead, Perry turned to Carney, an acerbic New Hampshirite who remains his strategist to this day. The two teams clashed over strategy: Rove and Bush demanded that Perry not go too negative, to help maintain the bipartisan aura that they wanted to carry into their upcoming run for president; Perry, already resentful of the Bush scion’s unearned elevation in Texas politics, chafed at the order, according to several people with knowledge of the campaign.

Sharp told me that running against Perry was like nothing he’d ever experienced. “You talk about focus—the man gets focused. Hell, we were getting up at five a.m. in the morning to go to breakfasts, and this guy was getting up at four a.m. and doing two breakfasts and then a luncheon,” he recalls. “If you run against Perry, you’d better bring your lunch because you’re not going to have much time to eat it.” Perry was distinctly less eager about one element of the campaign—the televised debate. At his urging, it was held in El Paso on a Friday night at the height of the high school football season. “El Paso on a Friday night during a football game and the time zones are different,” Sharp says. “How many people do you think watched that?”

Polls showed the race as a nail-biter. But, at the last minute, Perry received a $1.1 million loan from several top Republican donors, including Bill McMinn, a chemical executive, and James Leininger, a staunch social conservative and proponent of private-school vouchers who made his money manufacturing hospital beds. “That was the edge,” Sharp says. “Before the last week, our money-raising was just about equal, but in that last week he had twice the airtime. It was a big deal.” On Election Day 1998, Perry won with 50.4 percent, a far narrower margin than the one enjoyed by Bush and other Republicans on the ticket. (In an odd twist, Perry managed to lose his home county, where the shift toward the GOP had not fully taken hold.)

After the election, Perry set about retiring his debt by holding fund-raisers where lobbyists were asked to give $50,000 each, a more aggressive approach than Texas had seen before. He charted his own path in other ways, too. Among Bush’s proudest accomplishments as governor was the friendship he had cultivated with Democrats like Bullock and House Speaker Pete Laney. Every Wednesday during the legislative session, the trio would meet for breakfast. The tradition continued once Perry replaced Bullock—but the new lieutenant governor seemed to have little interest in the gatherings. Several people with knowledge of the breakfasts told me that, while Laney and Bush would chat, Perry would sit in near-total silence. Sometimes, to fill the time, he would file his nails.

After Bush was sworn in as president in 2001, Perry became governor. He quickly developed a reputation for blocking legislation, vetoing 82 bills on a single day in June 2001—an episode that became known as the “Father’s Day Massacre.” In a weak-governor state like Texas, the veto pen was an obvious way to let legislators know who was really in charge. Democrat Paul Sadler, a former representative from East Texas who is on friendly terms with Perry, recalls the day in 2001 when a Perry aide called to inform him, in grave tones, that the governor was vetoing a bill that Sadler in fact had little to do with. “He was sending me a message... but he didn’t realize it wasn’t mine,” Sadler says.

Perry’s penchant for vetoes continued even after Republicans took control of the Texas House in 2002. In some cases, he was objecting to legislative compromises he found unacceptable; but, in other cases, his priorities were simply out of step with Republicans in the legislature.

How could a conservative Republican governor find himself so at odds with a legislature controlled by his own party? It wasn’t for a lack of partisanship—Perry campaigned far more aggressively for state Republicans than Bush had done. The best explanation was that Perry often seemed more driven by personal priorities than ideological ones. His failed highway and rail plan, the Trans-Texas Corridor Initiative, was derided by legislators of both parties as a boondoggle that would have required a massive land grab. But the project also would have benefited three highway contractors who had contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Perry. The governor’s attempt to mandate that Texas girls receive a vaccine for HPV, so seemingly at odds with Perry’s social conservatism, came at a time when his former chief of staff—one of five Perry chiefs of staff to also serve as lobbyists—was lobbying for Merck, the vaccine’s manufacturer. (Merck contributed $5,000 to Perry during the vaccine discussions and nearly $30,000 over the past decade.)

There were plenty of other moments where Perry’s actions seemed to align with the needs of his very successful campaign account. (By the 2006 cycle, Perry had 85 donors giving at least $25,000, double Bush’s total from eight years earlier.) In 1999, Perry’s first year as lieutenant governor, an e-mail from a Dallas insurance executive surfaced claiming that, by offering a $25,000 contribution, a lobbyist had convinced Perry against convening a Senate committee on insurance deregulation; shortly after the e-mail was sent, Perry received $19,000 at an insurance industry fund-raiser. In 2008, Perry requested a waiver from federal ethanol mandates; a month later, an East Texas poultry producer who was pressing for the waiver to keep feed costs lower contributed $25,000 to Perry. Earlier this year, momentum grew for a bill restricting texting while driving, authored by former Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick. Perry vetoed the bill in June, following a surge in contributions from telecom companies—especially Dallas-based AT&T, whose PAC has given the governor more than $500,000, including $100,000 last year. (“This is a big deal to AT&T. We live in our cars here,” says Garnet Coleman, a Democratic state representative from Houston.) In August, after much debate over whether to turn millions of Medicaid beneficiaries over to managed care companies, Texas awarded a $1 billion Medicaid contract to the HMO Centene—whose PAC has given Perry $45,000 since 2006.

When it came to appointments to Texas’s 270 boards, commissions, and agencies, the pattern was no different. Texas governors have historically made full use of the power of patronage, but Perry has done so with particular zeal. A report last year by Texans for Public Justice, a watchdog group, found that he had received contributions from nearly two-thirds of the 155 state university regents he had appointed—$6 million in all. Leininger, who helped arrange the 1998 loan to Perry’s campaign that may have allowed him to barely defeat Sharp, continued to support Perry, giving him $239,000 over the decade; meanwhile, Perry appointed former top employees of Leininger’s hospital-bed company—in which Perry’s personal investment during the ’90s resulted in a $38,000 gain—to the Texas Board of Health, as chair of the influential Texas Workforce Commission, and as head of the nonprofit that oversees the state’s faith-based grant-making. In another case, Perry created a whole new government body, the Texas Residential Construction Commission, to allow building contractors to self-regulate rather than fight claims in court. Among those pushing hardest for the new board was the homebuilder Bob Perry (no relation), who gave the governor $175,000 in the two years prior to the board’s creation in 2003 and whose own corporate counsel was given one of the seats on it. (Bob Perry’s other priority has been fighting immigration restrictions that could drive up his labor costs—which some Texans point to as one possible explanation for Rick Perry’s moderate stance on illegal immigration.)

Perry’s seeming emphasis on cultivating allies rather than advancing legislation means he has left an oddly shallow policy imprint—especially given that he is the longest serving governor in Texas history. He has presided over few major reforms other than a sweeping tort overhaul and a much-praised repair of the state’s juvenile justice system. “What does it say if your governor’s clearest role is in vetoing bills and not passing them, in a legislature that’s Republican dominated?” asks Kirk Watson, a Democratic state senator from Austin. Here, many Texans draw a contrast to Bush, who, despite facing a Democratic legislature, managed to implement more significant reforms, notably in education. “Bush’s focus was on what’s good for Texas,” says one senior state Democrat. “Perry’s was a little more on what’s good for Perry.”

But Perry is not running on his legislative legacy; he is running on his state’s impressive record of job creation. Economists are quick to point out the structural explanations for these numbers—the oil and gas boom, the state’s good fortune in escaping the worst of the housing bubble. Perry can point to one area, however, where he took direct action to create jobs: the two economic development funds he established. Most states use incentives to lure companies, but few toss out as much public money or do so with as little oversight as Texas. There is the Enterprise Fund, which Perry created with money from the state’s rainy day fund in 2003 to serve as a “deal-closing” mechanism for companies considering moving to Texas. And there is the Emerging Technology Fund, created two years later as a sort of venture-capital fund for Texas start-ups. Awards from both funds require only the approval of Perry, the lieutenant governor, and the House speaker; for the technology fund, Perry added a 17-member advisory council, appointed by him.

Together, the funds have distributed more than $800 million. By far, the two largest awards were to ventures associated with Texas A&M. While in Texas, I traveled to College Station to visit the one that is already up and running, the Texas Institute for Genomic Medicine (TIGM). In 2005, Perry launched the institute with $50 million from the Enterprise Fund. Most of the money went toward buying mouse stem cells and software from a biotech firm called Lexicon Genetics. McMinn, who along with Leininger had contributed to the $1.1 million loan during Perry’s 1998 campaign, was an investor in Lexicon. And the Houston Chronicle would later report that he and another Lexicon investor, a former energy executive who now owns the Houston Texans, had each given Perry’s campaign account $25,000 a few weeks before the award was announced.

When I got to campus, the official gatekeepers at Texas A&M were unresponsive, so I went straight to my destination. The institute sits in a nondescript building behind the veterinary school; some cows were grazing in an adjacent field. As luck would have it, the lab’s director, Ben Morpurgo, was outside on a cigarette break, and he welcomed me in for a tour of the building, where a dozen big freezers hold embryonic stem cells culled from mice that are kept in 1,000 cages. Morpurgo, a genial fellow who had previously worked as a crocodile farmer in Israel and Ethiopia, was apologetic about the small size of the operation—it has ten employees, a tiny fraction of the 5,000 jobs Perry said the venture would eventually produce. “All the work we generate around here, on a lot of these things, it’s hard to put a dollar sign on it,” Morpurgo said. “But you need to look at the overall impact.”

That argument hasn’t been persuasive to many at A&M, who regard the institute as a bit of an embarrassment. In 2008, it was the subject of a scathing audit, and, in early 2009, the university’s president, Elsa Murano, declared that A&M was spending $2 million per year “to help TIGM continue to operate in spite of heavy financial losses.” A few months later, amid a growing dispute over the institute and other research funding, the Perry-appointed board of regents forced Murano to resign.

In 2009, Perry announced another $50 million grant, this time from the tech fund, to create the National Center for Therapeutics Manufacturing, which would seek to turn A&M into a hub of vaccine development. A year earlier, the A&M system had entered into an agreement to develop vaccines with a therapeutics manufacturing firm called Introgen; this put the firm in a position to benefit from the new center. Introgen’s founder, David Nance, is a close friend of Perry’s. He contributed $100,000 to Perry over the decade, he had previously served on the advisory committee of the tech fund awarding the $50 million, and Perry’s son, Griffin, owned Introgen stock between 2001 and 2004.

Introgen had its main drug rejected by the FDA and declared bankruptcy shortly before the $50 million award, but Nance continued to do well by the state. In 2010, the tech fund awarded $4.5 million to his next venture, Convergen, even after a review panel rejected the application. The fund paid Nance’s daughter $70,000 for promotional work, and several fund employees went to work with Nance. Perry also provided $1.9 million in federal funds to a separate Nance venture, Innovate Texas, founded in 2008 as a sort of clearinghouse for Texas tech firms. The outfit paid Nance a six-figure salary. It is now defunct. I was unable to find any trace of Nance—his name is still on the directory at his gated community outside Austin, but the line has gone dead. Meanwhile, the National Center for Therapeutics Manufacturing is nearing completion, a gleaming building not far from the genomic institute on A&M’s campus.

Perry's enthusiasm for the job-creation funds is driven in part by his competitive spirit and well-established Texas chauvinism. He decided to launch the Enterprise Fund in 2003 after nearly losing out on a bid to bring Toyota to San Antonio, because he lacked the money to close the deal. In announcing the awards, his rhetoric verges on triumphalist, particularly if it involves beating a college football rival like Oklahoma. “It’s a little unusual to trash talk in our business,” says Jim Clinton, the former head of the Southern Growth Policies Board. “It’s not what you see most of the time.”

But skeptics see another possible explanation for Perry’s support of industrial policy: the multiple ways in which this approach appears to have benefited him. A Dallas Morning News report in 2010 estimated that $16 million from the Emerging Technology Fund had gone to firms backed by major Perry donors—including $4.75 million that went to two firms backed by Leininger. Often, the dynamic seemed quite obvious: After Joe Sanderson received a $500,000 Enterprise Fund grant to build a poultry plant in Waco in 2006, he gave Perry $25,000. More complicated was the case of Sino Swearingen Aircraft, which received a $2.5 million grant in 2006. The company rescinded its request for the money after announcing major layoffs, but that was not the end of the story: The Morning News reported in 2010 that among the company’s main investors was Doug Jaffe, the owner of Horseshoe Bay Resort near Austin. The resort is the site of one of Perry’s several highly lucrative land deals, which are the primary reason why the former farmer and career government employee is now a wealthy man. Perry bought a small parcel there in 2001 from his friend Tony [sic] (Troy) Fraser, a state senator, for about $300,000. In 2007, one year after the award to Sino Swearingen, he sold the parcel for $1.15 million to Jaffe’s longtime business partner, Alan Moffatt, a British national whom the U.K. government investigated in connection with arms shipments to Africa for use in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Moffatt was never charged. A resort official told me that Moffatt had taken the initiative in reaching out to Perry, without Jaffe’s intervention.

But, even in cases where Perry himself did not seem to benefit, there were often questions about whether the money was well-spent. When I was in Texas, I went looking for the Texas Energy Center in Sugar Land, the Houston suburb made famous by its favorite son, Tom DeLay. The center—a public-private consortium for research and innovation in clean-coal technology, deep-sea drilling, and other areas—was formed in 2003. Its goal was clear: to attract billions in federal funding with the help of DeLay and Washington lobbyists hired by Perry’s administration. The state initially awarded the center more than $30 million. But the federal largesse never came through, and the Enterprise Fund grant was cut to $3.6 million, to be used as incentives for energy firms in the area. Perry made the award official with a 2004 visit to the Sugar Land office of the Greater Fort Bend Economic Development Council, one of the consortium’s members, housed inside the glass tower of the Fluor Corporation. Today, the Perry administration lists the Texas Energy Center as a going concern that has nearly reached its target of 1,500 jobs and resulted in $20 million in capital investment.

There’s just one problem: The Texas Energy Center no longer exists—at least not physically. The address listed on its tax forms is the address of the Fort Bend Economic Development Council, inside the Fluor tower. I arrived there late one Friday morning and asked for the Texas Energy Center. The secretary said: “Oh, it’s not here. It’s across the street. But there’s nothing there now. Jeff handles it here.” Jeff Wiley, the council’s president, would be out playing golf the rest of the day, she said. I went to the building across the street and asked for directions from an aide in the office of DeLay’s successor, which happened to be in the same building. She had not heard of the Texas Energy Center. But then I found its former haunt, a small vacant office space upstairs with a sign on an interior wall—the only mark of the center’s brief existence.

Later, I got Wiley on the phone. There has never been any $20 million investment, he said. The center survives only on paper, sustained by Wiley, who, for a cut of the $3.6 million, has filed the center’s tax forms and kept a tally of the jobs that have been “created” by the state’s money at local energy companies. I asked him how this worked—how, for instance, was the Texas Energy Center responsible for the 600 jobs attributed to EMS Pipeline Services, a company spun off from the rubble of Enron? Wiley said he would have to check the paperwork to see what had been reported to the state. He called back and said that the man who helped launch EMS had been one of the few people originally on staff at the Texas Energy Center, which Wiley said justified claiming the 600 jobs for the barely existing center.

In at least one instance, this charade went too far: In 2006, a Sugar Land city official protested to Wiley that, while it was one thing to quietly claim the job totals from a Bechtel venture in town, it was not “appropriate or honest” to assert in a press release that the Texas Energy Center had played a role. “There is a clear difference between qualifying jobs to meet the [Energy Center’s] contractual requirement with the state and actively seeking to create a perception of [it] as an active, successful, going concern,” wrote the official, according to Fort Bend Now, a local news website. In this case, reality prevailed, and Wiley declined to count the Bechtel jobs.

As for those cases where the funds have led to jobs in Texas, there has sometimes been bipartisan grumbling that many of the companies getting the cash would have come to Texas anyway. Citgo more or less admitted as much in 2004, when it got $5 million for moving from Tulsa but said that the move was a “strategic decision” driven by the need to be closer to its refineries in Texas and Louisiana. And, in 2005, the CEO of Hilmar Cheese, which got $7.5 million to move to the Panhandle, declared that its primary motivation was to avoid California’s tougher environmental regulations.

“To create these funds is a very un-conservative thing to do,” Southern Methodist University economist Mike Davis told me. In Austin, I asked Perry’s staff: Don’t both funds represent the sort of “picking winners and losers” that conservatives accuse Barack Obama of engaging in? Not so, they argued. “As I think the governor’s made clear, there are things the states can do that the federal government should not do,” said Ray Sullivan, his spokesman.

There is also the TexasOne Foundation, which Perry created in 2003 to pay for state marketing efforts. TexasOne’s model is simple: Businessmen cut checks in exchange for access to Perry, with the money going toward promoting the state at conferences or in the media as a business destination. The top rate of $50,000 per year earns an executive the right to go quail hunting with Perry and attend events like the Super Bowl, Rose Bowl, and Final Four. The foundation, with a $2 million annual budget, has paid for several of Perry’s trips abroad. (In one case, a 2009 trip to Israel where he received the Defender of Jerusalem Award, Perry traveled on the jet of highway contractor Doug Pitcock, an in-kind donation of $180,000.) Massey Villarreal, a Houston military logistics contractor who was the first president of TexasOne, told me the foundation served the state because executives liked to rub shoulders with the governor before making a big investment in Texas. “It’s putting icing on the cake,” he says. “These are people who think, ‘I’d like someone to show me a little love.’ ”

Perry’s opponents in Texas have tried dutifully to make something of these donations and expenditures and revelations as they’ve been dredged up by the more dogged elements of the local media. But Perry has been able to dismiss the press with a wave. Part of this may be due to sheer apathy. “Maybe it’s gotten to the point where people don’t like it, but they just think that’s how it works,” says Chris Bell, a former Democratic congressman who finished second to Perry in a four-person field in 2006. Part of it may be due to the fractured nature of the huge state: If a story appears in one of its 22 media markets, it may not be picked up in the others. And much of it is due to the exceedingly friendly landscape in which Perry has been operating. He has prospered by appealing to the sliver of Republicans who turn out reliably in primaries and then holding on in general elections, where he typically gets fewer votes than others on the GOP ticket but is still able to win. For his base, finger-wagging stories in the papers are hardly a detriment; Perry’s pollster has tested how Republican voters weigh newspaper endorsements and has found they actually hold them against candidates.

On the national stage, Perry’s new rivals have just started testing whether questions about his record in Texas will resonate with the GOP electorate. Michele Bachmann has invoked “crony capitalism” in criticizing Perry’s dealings with Merck, and Mitt Romney has attempted to cast Perry as a “career politician.” There is certainly plenty of fodder for these attacks. What no one knows is whether Republican voters are in a mood to care.

Perry's campaign staff had barely moved into his campaign headquarters on Austin’s Congress Avenue, a few blocks from the majestic capitol, when I dropped by in early September. Deliverymen were wheeling in computer boxes; a lone campaign sign hung on the divider behind the front desk.

Jump-starting a presidential campaign is daunting, but Perry has a crucial advantage: an unusually cohesive team accumulated over two decades. “His Aggie and military background places a lot of weight on familiarity and loyalty,” explains Sullivan, who has been with Perry since 1998. “But, first and foremost, the group has been highly successful, and why mess with success?” At the team’s center is Carney, who keeps a low profile, shares Perry’s distaste for Washington, and is deeply committed to his boss. “He’s a fun guy to work for,” Carney told me at the campaign office, bare feet poking out of his shoes and his hands crossed over his considerable girth. “He’s got his sense of principle; he’s very loyal and very authentic.”

Carney’s skills as a tactician are legendary. In 2006, he invited four political scientists to run experiments during Perry’s campaign to test the effects of TV ads, direct mail, robocalls, and candidate appearances. One of the academics, Columbia’s Donald Green, told me that the experiments were not without risk, since they entailed withholding ads and other investments from much of the state. The findings were fascinating: Ads, direct mail, and robocalls had little impact, which led Carney to adopt an Obamaesque grassroots approach, with a heavy social-media component, for the 2010 campaign. “He’s willing to learn,” Green says of Carney. “He’s interested in trying new things, in seeing what works.” Laconic as Carney is, Green added, he is running the show: “He’s got an interesting blend of irascible and irreverent quarterback style. It’s interesting to see how much they defer to him. He’s in control.”

Also on the core team are Perry’s policy adviser, Deirdre Delisi, a no-nonsense former chief of staff, and his longtime pollster, Mike Baselice, who, according to Allaway, is “really good at figuring out what people are talking about” and with whom Perry likes to “spend a lot of time just talking about where stuff is headed.” Serving in an unofficial capacity are several of the original pit bulls, including Cliff Johnson, an East Texan who bookended lobbying work around a stint as a senior adviser to Perry.

Then there is Perry’s former chief of staff Mike Toomey, also a legislator in the ’80s—a Republican from the outset, unlike most of the other Perry pals—and the Merck lobbyist during the HPV controversy. He is a man who is “totally focused on what he is working on” and “doesn’t like opposition,” says Allaway. Miller, the consultant, says Toomey has a hidden lighter side: “He has a good sense of humor, but he never lets you see it because he likes being the dark figure.” Toomey is running a “super PAC” that aims to raise $55 million to back Perry. By law, it must not coordinate with the campaign.

While I was in Austin, I asked Sullivan: "Why was his boss running for president, when he has said so often that what matters most in a federalist system is state government?" (“Being the governor of a state like Texas, or for that matter, Oklahoma or New Mexico, is a more pivotal job in the future” than being president, he said last year.) Sullivan replied that Perry wanted to “use his record and philosophy of job creation to improve” the economy and “to reduce the scope and size of government that has gotten too big and intrusive.” Miller, the consultant, said there should be no doubt on that last point: “By God, I can tell you he will veto the shit out of spending bills.”

But these are ideological motivations. What seems to have spurred Perry most in his career is the business of politics: ladder-climbing, deal-making, campaigning, and, most of all, winning. Sometime in the past few months, it seems, he decided that he saw an opening for the final rung on the ladder. Already, there are ill-concealed whispers in the national Republican establishment that this one will prove too big a reach. Of course, they were saying similar things just a couple of years ago, when the Bush network and many other country-club Republicans lined up with Kay Bailey Hutchison against the man in the black baseball cap and the “DON’T MESS WITH TEXAS” button. Ω

[Alec MacGillis is a senior editor at The New Republic. MacGillis previously was a national staff reporter for The Washington Post. In 2010-2011, he was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan.]

Copyright © 2011 The New Republic

Get the Google Reader at no cost from Google. Click on this link to go on a tour of the Google Reader. If you read a lot of blogs, load Reader with your regular sites, then check them all on one page. The Reader's share function lets you publicize your favorite posts.

Creative Commons License
Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2011 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

This Blog Unveils A New Academic Field: 9/11 Studies!

9/11 Studies are hot! Journals, conferences, research institutes, and sub-disciplines are the coin of the realm. If this is a (fair & balanced) idea whose time has come, so be it.

[x Boston Fishwrap]
9/11: What Else It Taught Us
By Leon Neyfakh

Tag Cloud of the following article

created at

September 11 transformed the world of American ideas in many ways—fueling sharp debates about America’s role in world affairs, about the clash of religions, about freedom and security. Money flowed into counter-terrorism research. Universities hired experts on Islam and the Middle East; students flocked to courses on any subject they thought might help them understand what had happened.

The attacks also began to reshape our knowledge in ways that didn’t make headlines, revealing gaps in our knowledge of terrorism, of the costs of security, of the human response to trauma. Stirred to help, specialists in one field after another began asking new questions—using their expertise, whether it was mathematics or psychology, to puncture the veil of shock and mystery surrounding the events of that day.

Elaine Scarry, the Harvard English professor, applied the kind of close-reading normally reserved for literary scholarship to phone calls and official reports related to the hijacked airplanes, and has since written several books about national security. Yaneer Bar-Yam and Kawandeep Virdee of the New England Complex Systems Institute built a mathematical model to predict the location of attacks by insurgents in Afghanistan. Michael Johnson, a biologist at the University of Illinois-Chicago, started developing antibiotics that would be useful against anthrax and other potential bioweapons. John Jost, a social psychologist at New York University, studied the effect of terrorism on the ideological inclinations of the people it targets. (He found that it makes them more conservative. )

What follows is a sample of the research and thought that have been undertaken as a result of the September 11 attacks. By no means should it be taken as an attempt at a comprehensive survey—nor even as a “best of.” Some questions remain maddeningly unanswerable, but 10 years later, this snapshot gives a sense of the countless ways that 9/11 changed not just how we engage with the world, but what we know about it.

The mathematics of terror

As a national event, the September 11 attacks weren’t just unusual—they felt impossibly random, something that could never have been predicted. Aaron Clauset, at that time, was just a young math whiz who was only starting to think about applying to graduate school. By the time he entered the computer science program at University of New Mexico a year later, Clauset had developed an interest in the math used to describe so-called complex systems—think anthills and social networks—and wondered whether the same tools might help detect large-scale patterns in unexpected places.

Clauset eventually realized that the mathematical models he was working with could be applied to terrorism. Starting in 2003, Clauset and a colleague, Maxwell Young, analyzed a database of 10,000 terrorist events that had taken place around the world over the past 40 years. What they saw was an improbably clean pattern in the data that no one had noticed before—a pattern that could theoretically be used to predict where terrorist attacks would happen in the future. One of Clauset’s surprising findings is that the probability of an event as big or bigger than 9/11 between 1968 and 2006 wasn’t tiny: It was a substantial 23 percent.

“This does not mean that 9/11 was a certainty,” Clauset says, “but it does illustrate that an event of that size is not all that surprising given the historical record of terrorism in the late 20th century.”

Clauset compares himself to a seismologist looking at earthquakes: Though earthquakes are still extremely hard to predict specifically, geophysics can tell us far more than we used to know about when and why they occur. Now an assistant professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Clauset still studies patterns in terrorism, and is working to sharpen what we know about how they connect to political and social trends around the world.

Post-traumatic resilience

Volunteer therapists and social workers streamed into New York City in the wake of 9/11, providing counseling they hoped would reduce people’s chances of developing post-traumatic stress disorder. Many of them came wielding a then-popular treatment technique known as “debriefing,” built on the notion that people should talk about what they’ve been through instead of bottling it up. Some psychologists warned of a national epidemic of PTSD, arguing that even people who had watched the events on TV—as opposed to witnessing them firsthand—were at risk of permanent psychological damage from what they’d seen.

Richard McNally, a psychologist specializing in trauma at Harvard, saw what mental health professionals were doing in New York, and grew concerned. McNally knew that research conducted during the 1990s had shown that debriefing was at best ineffective, and at worst actually slowed people’s recovery. Several days after the attacks, he teamed up with 18 other psychologists, including the influential trauma and anxiety scholar Edna Foa from the University of Pennsylvania, and drafted a public letter to colleagues in the profession imploring them to think twice before rushing in to “debrief” people affected by the attacks. “As psychologists, our instinct is to help, and indeed there is much we can do,’’ said the letter, which was widely publicized. “But in times like this it is imperative that we refrain from the urge to intervene in ways that—however well intentioned—have the potential to make matters worse.”

In the years after the attacks, a growing body of research, including an influential paper in Psychological Science coauthored by McNally in 2003, began suggesting that most people are much more resilient to trauma than previously thought. They might be shaken, or upset, or scared right after something terrible happens, said Columbia University psychologist George Bonanno, who has conducted resilience research. “But as far as trauma, most people are symptom-free....They are able to continue functioning without missing a beat.”

In the 10 years since 9/11, thanks in part to research and advocacy on the part of trauma specialists like McNally and Bonanno, debriefing has steadily fallen out of favor. In early 2004, after the earthquake in Iran, the World Health Organization published a bulletin advising against its use in connection with natural disasters and other emergency situations. So far there is no consensus among psychologists on what should be done instead, but according to McNally and Bonanno, one technique that’s winning significant support is a lighter-touch approach known as “psychological first aid.” Though psychologists are still trying to figure out exactly how to distinguish people who are at risk from those who aren’t, it has become widely accepted that while the trauma of the attacks was real, it turns out human resilience is, too.

The social attacker

In 2005, when Max Abrahms came to Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government as a research fellow, the school was still adjusting to the surge of interest in terrorism that had taken hold after 9/11, among both students and the public. The same was true all over American academia. As Abrahms remembers it, most political scientists trying to address terrorism were talking about it in the classic terms of foreign affairs, the realm of political conflicts and nation-states.

Abrahms believed terrorism required a new approach, and questioned his colleagues’ assumptions that it could be understood in terms of the classic machinery of international politics. In 2006, he published a paper in the journal International Security announcing his deceptively potent insight: As a political tactic, terrorism doesn’t work. The record shows that terrorists hardly ever get what they want from the governments they attack, Abrahms found; on the contrary, governments are much more likely to react to terrorism by digging in their heels against whatever the terrorists are demanding.

Abrahms’s observation that terrorism leads to political failure forced a crucial question: What does make terrorism attractive? He has argued that even for terrorists who claim political goals, the real answer is psychological: More than anything, terrorists need to be part of a social group. As strange as it sounds, Abrahms finds that people take up terrorism for the same reasons they might participate in, say, a bowling league. “Two things predispose people to becoming terrorists: social isolation, and knowing someone, having a friend, who is somehow affiliated with a terrorist group,” he said. It’s not about achieving political goals at all, but rather, about how being a terrorist makes a person feel.

If that’s the case, Abrahms argues, we need to reconsider some of our strategies for eradicating terrorism. “Counter-terrorism policies that are based on stripping terrorism of its political utility don’t have a good track record,” he said, adding, “Terrorism, empirically, should be understood as a social behavior.”

Even searing memories change

Everyone remembers where they were on 9/11—whether they were at school or at work, with friends or alone. Like the Kennedy assassination, or the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, the attacks have stayed fresh and vivid in the memories of anyone who lived through them.

But how well have those memories been preserved, really?

For William Hirst, a specialist in memory at the New School, 9/11 presented a chance to gain untold insight into how important events seal themselves in our heads. Within days, Hirst and an all-star team of memory researchers, which included Elizabeth Phelps from NYU, Marcia Johnson from Yale, and Randy Buckner from Harvard, had set into motion an ambitious study on how we remember large-scale, public trauma, and how our personal memories are influenced by outside forces. Hirst and his colleagues got 1,500 people, about half of whom were in New York at the time of the attacks, to fill out a thorough questionnaire, establishing where they were when they heard what had happened, what they went through, and how they felt. The Hirst team administered the questionnaire a second time about a year later, and then again four years after that. (Another set of data was collected just a few months ago, and has not yet been analyzed.)

What they’ve learned so far is that we don’t remember 9/11 nearly as vividly or accurately as we think. Hirst showed that people’s memories over time have become collections of immediate experience, invented experience, and details imported from articles and TV and talking to friends. We also tend to remember our feelings wrong, Hirst says, because we assume that the emotions we feel now have stayed the same since the beginning.

To realize that our memories of such a pivotal event can be somehow corrupted over time is unsettling, but Hirst explains that these glitches are natural. “Society demands that you remember this,” Hirst said. “And even though it turns out your memory isn’t up to the job, you nevertheless convince yourself, I suspect unconsciously, that you’re being accurate.”

What we didn’t know about the Middle East

If there was one instant shift in American consciousness after 9/11, it was the overnight spike in interest in the Middle East and Islam. Suddenly, TV news anchors were making pronouncements about the Arab world and discussing the Koran; reporters were traveling to the region so they could explain to their readers where the attackers had come from. Academic specialists in Middle Eastern studies found themselves in high demand, and the field was suddenly under a massive spotlight.

“It became clear there was a lot of ignorance about the Muslim world, about Islam, about who these people who had attacked the United States were,” said Zachary Lockman, a historian at New York University and the author of a book about the evolution of Middle Eastern studies. Scholars began giving interviews, writing books for popular audiences, and teaching courses that promised to answer students’ questions about what had happened. Salim Yaqub, a historian at the University of California at Santa Barbara who studies foreign relations and the Middle East, said that after 9/11 he received regular invitations to speak at schools, community centers, churches, and synagogues. This slowed down his own research, he said, but he tried to accept as many of these invitations as he could.

The attackers weren’t just “from the Middle East,” however; they emerged from a radicalized strain of Salafist Islam that the American public knew even less about. The movement’s beliefs—the ideology that drove Osama bin Laden, and which fueled countless other, less extreme political Islamists around the world--were rooted in a belief system and a history completely obscure to most Westerners.

Hillel Fradkin had been studying radical Islam since the 1980s. After 9/11, he saw other people flocking to his field—scouring the history and the spread of Islamist beliefs, and asking questions about what its contemporary manifestation had to do with its past. In 2005 Fradkin launched Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, a new academic journal whose purpose would be to closely examine the beliefs at the heart of radical Islamism—to investigate the movement’s religious and political history, ascertain its core principles, and figure out the source of its appeal. Fradkin, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and the director of its Center on Islam, Democracy and the Future of the Muslim World, said the journal is part of a broader trend in Middle Eastern studies, as scholars in the West build a better understanding of a movement whose influence on nations from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia is still very much alive.

Secure can be livable

At first, the impulse was all about security: If Americans were going to feel safe in their cities again—take the elevator to work in skyscrapers, eat lunch in front of federal buildings—public spaces were going to have to be different. Barriers, fences, and bollards began to be installed all over Washington, New York, and Boston. New government regulations called for all new federal buildings to be built at a 50-foot remove from the street so that vehicles couldn’t get near them. In the John Hancock Tower, the tallest building in Boston, the public observation deck on the top floor was closed after the attacks and has never reopened.

A few months after 9/11, David Dixon of the Boston-based firm Clancy Goody was invited to a conference, cosponsored by the American Institute of Architects and a national research lab, about how city planners, architects, and engineers should deal with the new terrorist threat. Dixon recalls being horrified as he realized the extent to which security was now taking precedence above all other considerations in urban design. What made sense in the moment could have damaging long-term effects on the health of cities, Dixon realized.

In the years since, Dixon and other urban designers have sought to weave together the demands of security and an active, open civic life. One solution has been to invent security elements that double as something else, Dixon said: For instance, an attractive fountain encourages people to gather around it while also preventing terrorists from driving a car-bomb through a plaza.

An example of this kind of thinking can be seen in the new design for the elliptical public park in front of the White House, a space Washingtonians know as the site of public events like the yearly Christmas tree lighting and the Easter egg roll. After 9/11, the park was surrounded by fences and concrete jersey barriers—an unsightly symbol of fear and closure at the heart of a democracy. The new design, created by the architecture firm Rogers Marvel, calls for an open space whose security is ensured by a “ram resistant” barricade that visitors will be invited to sit on. Rob Rogers, one of the designers, estimated that the barricade will be engineered to withstand a speeding truck in the neighborhood of 15,000 pounds—but thanks to its design, visitors will notice it only as a long bench around the park’s edge.

The economics of terror

Efraim Benmelech, a Harvard economics professor, had just started graduate school when the attacks happened. “I was, of course, devastated by the events,” Benmelech said. “I was trying to think about what academics can do.”

Benmelech set about analyzing terrorist organizations as economies, and individual terrorists in terms of their economic backgrounds. Benmelech found that terrorists were a surprisingly diverse bunch: Some came out of poverty, but many were well-educated members of the middle class, and it was these better-educated ones who were more likely to succeed in the most complicated missions, avoiding detection and actually realizing their plans. Benmelech’s conclusion was that, while their goals may be diabolical, terrorist organizations are a lot like other organizations when it comes to management: They have some exceptional employees who do all the high-end work, and are generally run according to rational economic principles.

“What we have shown is that these organizations are not being run by lunatics,” said Benmelech. “They might have some crazy objective, but they are behaving in a rational way that is consistent with the way other organizations that are trying to achieve other goals operate.” Ultimately, such insights could become part of smarter strategies to disrupt them.

Other economists have taken different approaches, including helping the United States weigh the costs and benefits of security spending. “You look at all these possibilities, and the problem is the cost of trying to do preventative soon exceeds the GDP of the United States,” said Gary Hufbauer of the Peterson Institute of International Economics.

John Mueller, a political scientist at Ohio State University and coauthor of the new book Terror, Security, and Money, has crunched the numbers and argued that the war on terror has been spectacularly inefficient: According to Mueller’s calculations, the United States would have had to stop four major bomb plots per day since the war on terror began for the security expenses that have been incurred to be considered cost-effective.

Such arguments, of course, inevitably run up against national politics and the emotions surrounding the issue of national security. But whatever policy makers decide, economics must be part of the conversation. “Someone has to do some ranking of what you’re going to try to actually deal with,” says Hufbauer.

Religious extremism’s political roots

Who becomes a religious extremist? That was one of the questions Jeremi Suri, an international historian at the University of Texas at Austin, wanted answered after the attacks. What could explain their radicalism, and what distinguished them from other believers?

Some scholars came at this question with their eyes trained on Islamism. Suri, whose new book is about nation-building in regions where religious extremism is rampant, took a broader view, seeking to compare Islamic extremism to analogous movements that have sprung from other religions. What Suri has concluded is that, although religious extremists do differ based on theology, they have a lot in common as well. Extremist leaders tend to come to power in similar ways, stepping into political vacuums after secular government has failed in one way or another. Their followers are more likely to come from poor regions, radicalized by deprivation and political exclusion.

Suri’s view of religious extremism as an outgrowth of politics as much as theology could help offer a clearer path for how democracies like the United States should be dealing with it—and also chips away at the clash-of-religions narrative that has animated hardliners around the world.

“It became clear in some of the research that’s been done that religious extremism is a very serious issue, but it’s not particular to any one group,” he said. “Distinctions are overdrawn.” Ω

[Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for The Boston Globe's Ideas section in the Sunday edition. After graduation from Harvard in 2007, Neyfakh wrote about technology, society, and the feelings of 26-year-olds in the New York Observer. In November 2010, Neyfakh joined the staff of the New York Times-owned Boston paper.]

Copyright © 2011 The New York Times Company dba The Boston Globe

Get the Google Reader at no cost from Google. Click on this link to go on a tour of the Google Reader. If you read a lot of blogs, load Reader with your regular sites, then check them all on one page. The Reader's share function lets you publicize your favorite posts.

Creative Commons License
Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2011 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves