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The Tuesday Column
Worst Threats to America Aren't Foreign

Finally, a subdued 9/11 anniversary. The cataclysmic has competition. It took Katrina to accomplish what the 2001 attacks hadn’t - humble the nation’s oversexed claim to infallibility, though that may be unfair to Katrina. The hurricane wrecked real estate and took lives, as hurricanes do. The criminal wreckage came afterward, when incompetent federal leadership compounded local negligence to do to New Orleans what nature couldn’t: condemn it to a calamity worthy of a Somali sister city. “ New Orleans,” Ellis Marsalis, the pianist, New Orleans native and patriarch of America’s premiere jazz family has been saying for years, “is always one hurricane away from Third World status.” We have met the Third World face to face, and it is us.

It gets worse. The New Orleans mayor’s brief but tyrannical attempt to force out of their homes those who wanted to stay, and the military’s continuing policing of the city as if it were Fallujah-on-the-Mississippi - interrogating law-abiding residents at gunpoint, disarming them and bashing down their doors as if the Second and Fourth amendments had also been bused off to the Houston Astrodome - has been the latest phase of a disaster that keeps mutating disgraces and making the 9/11 attacks seem, perversely, less obscene in retrospect. At least back then, the attacks could be blamed on infamy from without. The infamy of New Orleans is as home-made as President Bush’s White House barbecues.

It puts the 9/11 attacks in the kind of perspective that was so wanting four years ago. The worst threats to domestic security have never been foreign. Not since Hitler fantasized about hanging a swastika on theEmpire State Building, anyway. The worst threats have been domestic. They’re pretty much summed up in the federal government’s fixation since the 1950s to run the country as a national security state and keep a mythically peace-loving populace on a permanent war footing. The 1990s were a nice reprieve. The 2001 attacks lifted the warmongers out of their despair, giving them a reason to live again like George Bailey in “It’s A Wonderful life,” but not quite for the same noble reasons: Every time President Bush snarls the word terrorists, a neocon earns his wings.

With them came the trigger-happy norms of this 2001 odyssey - the bullying, mastodon-like Department of Homeland Security, the USA Patriot Act’s police-state revivalism, the gorgon-headed war on terror and its profiteering medusas, and, above it all, the government’s compulsion to - as Jesse Jackson would have put it if he were Republican - keep fear alive, because without fear these new norms would implode like the thousand frauds of Bush that they are.

The Sept. 11 commemorations of the last three years have occasioned just such renewals of chest-thumping on top of patriotic self-flattery, the gore culminating at the Republican National Convention last September, held a few dozen blocks from ground zero, as the graves of 2001 became the dance floor for the GOP’s two-step toward re-election: Keep nerves taut and submissive with fear, promise safety and security, and reap the rewards. It worked like a Sept. 11 charm.

The New Orleans disaster shows the national security state for what it is. When it mattered most, the federal government not only couldn’t save Americans from harm, but added to the harm. If this is how the 2001 machinery of security responded to an event it knew was about to unfold, location and affected populations included, imagine the compounding of failures had there been an actual surprise attack. Most Americans probably wouldn’t mind if the United States were carrying on crusades for democracy in the Arab world and beyond, whatever the fake motives behind the crusade, as long as the same government was capable of providing aid and comfort at home the rare times states and localities call on the government to do so. New Orleans showed that it couldn’t, because it has willfully demolished the capacity to do so in the name of 9/11’s sham security.

The few contaminants of Sunday’s commemorations of 9/11 show how hopeless it will be to reverse course on 2001’s new norms. President Bush was again exploiting 9/11’s memory to prop up his Iraqi futility, while the Pentagon and defense contractors were organizing a march, by registration only, in support of their beloved war on terror. But the fraud of the 9/11 security state has been exposed. Like a Third World blight, it, too, is us: We re-elected it, and we have three years to go. We’re all refugees now.

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