The Alternate Reality We Live In

In light of this past week’s incomprehensible ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States, and since I am still intellectually stuttering in my attempts at a reasoned response, I instead present a very old essay that pays tribute to another of our Supreme Court’s auspicious decisions.  Hindsight is easy, I know, so please take this with the sense of irony with which it was conceived.  Have a happy and safe Fourth of July holiday.

BROUGHT TO YOU BY THE THOSE FINE FOLKS AT  THE SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

REALITY  (JANUARY 22, 2001):

“Gee, Dick, is this the first damn meeting in this office?  The tags are still on the chairs.”

“You know, Bill, now that you mention it, I think it is.”

“Well, Dick, I want to just say how great it is to finally have a couple of real Americans running this country.  And Texans, to boot!”

“Not just Texans, Bobby, Texas oil men!”

“Gentlemen, thank you.  And I know you know how much me and George deeply appreciate all you’ve done to make this a reality.  Now you know why you’re all here–our country needs an energy policy, and we’re here to write it.  This is our first and highest priority.”

“We appreciate the opportunity to participate at such an early stage.”

“Hey, Dick.  Since we’re talking about oil–you and George ever notice how Iraq is just about the same size as Texas?”

“Yeah–we could call it East Texas, Dick!  Way East Texas–I think Jeb’s gonna need a new state to run soon.  Term limits, you know.”

“Whoa, whoa.  This would be a prudent time to point out that this meeting is being transcribed and will be subject to discovery under the rules of the Freedom of Information Act.”

“Yeah, Dick.  Like you’d let that happen in this century…”

ALTERNATE REALITY (January 22, 2001):IMG_1114

“Mr. President, I appreciate you seeing me so early on in your Presidency.  I know you’re very busy.”

“I certainly am, Mr. Pickens. My staff tells me you’ve been calling nonstop since I finished my acceptance speech. You’re my token meeting with Big Oil.  Talk fast.”

“Yes, thank you Mr. President.  Please call me Boone.  Mr. President, our country’s highest priority is a new energy policy.  I believe our very survival as a nation will depend on what we do in the next decade.”

“I couldn’t agree more, Boone.  I said as much at my inauguration.  But drilling for more oil all over ANWAR is not the approach this administration is going to take.”

“I’m not here to talk about oil, Mr. President.  I’m here to talk about natural gas.”

“Gas?  I was hoping for something a little more imaginative from you, Boone.  Nothing renewable about gas. At least pretend you listened to my speech.”

“Mr. President, the technology does not yet exist to obtain any meaningful relief from our nation’s energy crisis from renewable resources.  That’s just reality, Mr. President.  What we do have, sir, is a breakthrough in our ability to tap our nation’s reserves of natural gas.  I believe that my plan will make our country independent of foreign sources of oil by 2020.”

“You have a plan?  Do your buddies in Texas know about this plan?”

“Mr. President, I think it would be best not to involve too many oil execs during these early critical months.”

“Hell, couldn’t agree with you more.  Let’s ask the Secretary of Energy to come in and listen to your plan.  I think we can find some extra time in the schedule–I only pencilled you in for five minutes.  Not wind power, huh?”

“Not in our lifetime, Mr. President.”

~~~~~

REALITY (September 12, 2001 AM)

“Bill, you’re my goddamn head of CIA.  How in God’s name could you let this happen?

“I’m sorry, sir.  We screwed up.  We had these guys on the radar.  FBI, too.  We didn’t know they were this close.”

“Close?  There’s a goddam smoking hole in the ground where the Trade Center used to be!  Over three thousand people dead, probably more by the time this is over.  On my watch!”

“Yes, Mr. President.  Let me just say that the CIA feels devastated by this.  I’ve got senior analysts in tears at their desks.  But we are all over this.  Nobody has gone home since this happened. We’re working our assets and configuring our response–”

“That’s just bull and you know it.  After the fact.  Hell, they should be in tears.  They failed.  They let down America.”

“Mr. President, it’s not that simple.  But if that’s how you feel, sir, you will have my resignation on your desk in the next hour.”

“It is that simple and that is how I feel.  But Dick and Karl and I have been talking and now isn’t the time to change horses.  No resignations, not right now–that would just send the message that we screwed up.  No–you stay.  But, Bill, I want a good old-fashioned house cleaning.  I want everybody who failed our country out!”

“Mr. President, it’s not like that.  These people are professionals, they are the best in the world.  I stand by my–”

“House cleaning!  Or I’ll put somebody over CIA who’ll do it.  And Bill–”

“Yes, Mr. President?”

“Don’t go signing any long-term leases in this town, you hear me?”

ALTERNATE REALITY (September 12, 2001 AM)

“What happened, Bill?  We’ve been talking about this coming for over a year.”

“Yes, Mr. President.  We knew.  We knew these guys–we just didn’t know enough.  And CIA didn’t know they were in country.”

“What are you saying?”

“FBI knew they were in the country.  But they didn’t know who they were.  We blew it–we all blew it.  Three thousand dead.  My God.”

“Mueller told me the same thing just now.  My God.”

“It’s not the people, Mr. President.  We’ve got the best.  Mueller’s got the best.  It’s the system–the system failed.  It’s gotta be fixed.”

“Can you do it?”

“I’m not your man–you need a systems guy.  Somebody younger–I’ve got a couple of names.”

“Thank you for not making me  say it.  Mueller’s getting me his letter in the morning.”

“You’ll have mine in the morning as well.  I’m sorry, Mr. President.  We let down the country.”

“I know it wasn’t your fault, Bill.”

“Three thousand people dead–you tell me whose fault it is, Mr. President.”

~~~~~

REALITY (September 12, 2001 PM)

“Gentlemen, America has been attacked.  I know it’s soon, but I want to go around this table and have your thoughts.  Please speak freely.”

“Mr. President, as you say, America has been attacked.  This is our generation’s Pearl Harbor.  We are at war.  We must respond.”

“That’s easy to say.  But at war with who?  How do we respond?  Dick?”

“SecDef is right, Mr. President.  We’ve pussyfooted around this too long and this is the result.  Clinton wouldn’t do it, last time around.  Hell, the last guys who tried to knock down the Trade Towers are eating three squares in San Quentin.  This changes the game.  We take it to the next level–no more police actions, no more trials.  They wanted a war–let’s give it to them.”

“You mean bomb those bases you showed me pictures of?”

“No, Mr. President.  That’s not enough.   That’s what the last administration did. This is a game changer.”

“Yeah–a game changer.  I get that.”

“Mr. President, we need a new policy on terrorism.  The Bush policy–we bring the full force of the world’s most powerful military to bear on any country contributing to terrorism.”

“Dick, that’s half the countries in the Middle East.”

“We know where these guys came from–we hold the state responsible for the actions of its citizens.  Providing safe harbors, that sort of thing.  And we don’t stop there–we take the offensive.  We go after them before they do this again.”

“The Bush policy?”

“Yes, Mr. President.  Pre-emption.  Offense, not defense.”

“There’s still the problem of which state to hold responsible–hell, you told me half these guys were from Saudi Arabia.  You’re not saying we bomb Riyadh, are you?”

“No, Mr. President, not at all.  But there are targets worth considering.  I’d like you listen to Mr. Wolfowitz, from the Pentagon.  I asked him to prepare a short presentation.”

“Thank you, Mr. Vice President.  Mr. President, gentlemen.  While the events we are discussing this morning are truly tragic, I believe we are now presented with the opportunity to directly confront the greatest danger currently facing our country–I am referring to Saddam Hussein and Iraq.  Could I have the lights down, please?”

“Did he say Iraq?”

ALTERNATE REALITY (September 12, 2001 PM)

“Mr. President, the people of the United States demand a response.”

“I know that, Mike.  But I’m the President and I’ll tell you something–this is not Pearl Harbor.  We are not going to treat these guys like the Imperial Empire of Japan.  This was horrible, I know.  But we’re not the first country to be attacked.  I’m going to weigh our options.”

“We have very few options, Mr. President.  I believe it is imperative that we immediately respond with overwhelming force.”

“Where?  Against whom do we respond with overwhelming force?”

“To start, Afghanistan.  We know Bin Laden was behind this.  We know he’s there.”

“So we bomb the whole country?”

“Not just bomb, Mr. President.  It will take a major land force to take out Al Queda.  Not to mention toppling their government–the Taliban have been supporting them all along.”

“Invade Afghanistan?  Are you nuts?  My Secretary of Defense is recommending I recreate the biggest military fiasco of the twentieth century?”

“No sir, I’m just saying…”

“Is that what you’re saying, Joint Chief?”

“Absolutely not, Mr. President.”

“Well, maybe you could share your thoughts, then.”

“As the Secretary said, we know who’s behind this, Mr. President.  We know where they live.  Al Queda isn’t an army–it won’t take an army to take them out.  We know how to do this.  I need additional assets, additional funding–and time.  We’ll take them out, completely and permanently.  But there won’t be any headlines.  It’ll take six months, maybe a year.”

“A year?  The American people won’t wait a year for revenge for yesterday.”

“Revenge, Mr. President?  Revenge I can do in six weeks–very loud, lots of explosions.  It’ll look great on the evening news–shock and awe, the whole works.  But if you want us to really take care of this–six months, at least.  A doubling of funds for special forces.  Creation of a new special forces command, complete international integration–the Israelis, the Brits, the French, the Saudis.  And no headlines–completely dark.”

“Can we sell this, Mike?”

“Your’re the president, Mr. President.  You tell me.”

~~~~~

REALITY (August 25, 2005)

“Mr. President, I’m sorry, I know you’re very busy.”

“Not at all.  Just getting ready to head to the ranch for a couple weeks of R and R, you know.  Gawd, I hate this town in the summer.  Feels like we’re living in a swamp.”

“Yes it does, Mr. President.  I wanted to just quickly mention one thing.  I’ve got a guy over at the National Weather Center who’s called about a hundred times about this hurricane in the gulf.  He’s bending everybody’s ear about a real disaster scenario.”

“Really?  Did you know about this, Karl?  Does this mean the weather’s gonna suck down in Texas?”

“Yes, Mr. President, I heard about it.  He’s called about every department in the government.  He thinks New Orleans could be hit hard.  It’s just one possibility–he’s a weatherman.  Twenty percent probability sort of thing.

“What do you think, Karl?  Get a task force together like we did in Texas?  Let’s get FEMA on it–who is FEMA, anyway, Karl?

“Michael Brown, Mr. President.”

“You’re kidding!  Brownie?  That Michael Brown?  Couldn’t find his office for the first six weeks when he was head of the racing commission?  Head of FEMA?  You have got to be kidding.”

“No Mr. President.”

“Karl, this is bad.  You’ve got to get Brownie some help.  Hell, he probably couldn’t find New Orleans on a map.  Put together an emergency task force, mobilize the Guard.  Let’s get on this!”

“Of course, Mr. President.  But could we discuss some of the other aspects of this, Mr. President?”

“Other aspects?  Karl, it’s a hurricane.  We’ve seen our share while I was governor.  We know how to do this.”

“This isn’t Austin, Mr. President.  There are bigger ramifications to how we handle this.  A big difference between state and federal authority.  This is a problem to be handled at the state level.  If we go charging up at the federal level, what kind of message does that send?

“Your losing me, Karl.  The man said this could be really bad for New Orleans.  What if they can’t handle this at their level?”

“Of course, Mr. President.  But we’re talking only possibilities.  Nothing’s definite.  Do we want to send a message that the federal government is willing to charge in, take care of all your problems?  That’s not us, Mr. President.  Remember, smaller government.  Compassionate conservatism.  Responsibility to the states.   Let’s see how this plays out.  If things look bad, we can always have Brownie come to the rescue.”

“Gee, Karl, you’re always seeing the political side.  It’s just a hurricane, for crissakes.”

“That’s what you pay me for, Mr. President.”

ALTERNATE REALITY (August 25, 2005)

“Mr. President, one more thing.”

“If I had a buck for every time somebody said that…”

“Yes, Mr. President.  It seems the Chief Meteorologist at the National Weather Service is having a conniption over this storm in the Gulf.  He’s called everybody with a phone, telling  a doom and gloom scenario about New Orleans.”

“When?  I haven’t heard about this.  What’s he saying?

“Evidently, this guy’s an authority on New Orleans.  He says there’s about a twenty percent chance that this is the big one–broken levees, massive flooding, hundreds of thousands homeless.”

“Holy cow!  When?  How come I’m just hearing about this now?”

“It’s not definite, Mr. President, just a possibility.  Nobody really thinks it’s gonna happen.”

“You don’t think so?  This is just the kind of thing I’ve been talking about for twenty years, dammit.  This is global warming taking a swing at us.”

“I’m sorry, sir, you’re losing me.  Global what?”

“Are you kidding me?  You’re my Chief of Staff?  What are you doing about this?”

“Well, nothing yet, sir.  I wanted to get your take on how you’d like to proceed.  As I see it, there are two approaches.  Traditionally, this sort of thing falls to the states.  We could let them handle it.”

“Have you ever been to Louisiana, Elliot?”

“Uh, no sir.”

“What’s your other approach?”

“Well, just the opposite, I guess.  Full court press.  Activate FEMA, call out the Guard.  Though, of course, we’d have to do that in cooperation with the governor and all.  Don’t want to offend–”

“Offend?  Don’t you think the sight of a few hundred bloated bodies floating in the bayou on the six o’clock news might offend?  Listen, Elliot.  This is what you’re going to do–who’s at FEMA, anyway?”

“Actually, I don’t know, sir.”

“Oh for crissakes!  Remind me to look for a new Chief of Staff.  Find FEMA and light a fire under his ass.  I want bigger than full court press–you put together a damn federal emergency task force.  I’m talking the army, not just the reserves.  Put somebody you know in charge–don’t screw this up.  Get a general, somebody in uniform.  I want helicopters and those big Starlifters we use when there’s a disaster in Somalia or whatever.  If we can send them to India every time there’s a goddam monsoon, we can sure as shit send them to Louisiana.  Use less gas, too.  And I want press notified–get them on this hard.”

“But, Mr. President–he’s a weatherman.  What if he’s wrong?”

“Then we’ll call it a damn training exercise for when the big one really does come.  You’re kidding about not knowing about global warming, right?  And Elliot–”

“Yes, Mr. President?”

“If this guy’s right, I’m gonna give him a medal in the Rose Garden.”

END

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