2008: Five years
ago, I started this page in despair ... today, I post for what may be the
last time, celebrating the repudiation by a solid majority of Americans of
those five years and more, by virtue of the election of Barack Obama as
our President. It is notable that the page started with quotations
from the words of Rev. Martin Luther
King, Jr. opposing war and inequality, and closes with the election of
America's first black president.
Many, many words have been written, in this age of blogging and the internet, about the progress and significance of the 2008 election ... among the wealth of thoughtful material I have encountered has been the blog of Andrew Sullivan to name just one ... I'm not going to add much to all of that .... But, for as long as it is available, I hope anyone reading here who has not yet heard the acceptance speech given by President-elect Barack Obama will use this link to listen to/read this historic address to Americans.
Though I want so much to say the long war is over at last, the fact is that 55 million Americans voted for Obama's opponent, and throughout the campaign there was plenty of evidence that some folks want to keep the conflict alive ... whether for political gain or simply because that's what is in their hearts. And yet ... so many millions more Americans voted to repair, to heal and to unite ... and most significantly, those people are the young ones, the ones who will take over from their elders and go forward with something much finer in their hearts, something upon which to rebuild this country, so that the America they live in will be the America we were all raised to believe in. Can we make it happen?
Yes we can.
before the actual swearing-in of our 44th President, I found this comment
Amen ... not only a presidential inauguration, but the day America actually fulfills the promise it has made to so many for so long.
Introduction to the page:
I don't believe anything has changed since this page was originally posted in the rush to war imposed on this country by the Bush administration ... well, actually, the way most Americans view that conflict has changed, from certainty that it was necessary to concern over the way it has been handled and the ultimate outcome. Dr. King's words are still instructive....
Meanwhile, articles keep popping up that deserve your attention ... some are posted below along with my own commentary -- and keep in mind that I don't pretend to be a pro political commentator ... I'm just a person like you that has to live in the world that the politicians make for us ... and as such, I have reactions to their actions and their policies.
one? No: This man
OK, I have to ask it: What kind of despicable man would be so intent on winning a contest (even a contest for the presidency of the county) that he would knowing and willingly foment racial hatred and threats of murder among his followers? What kind of man is this? What can possibly be going on in his mind? Is there any mind there, or is it all blind ego? How can this man still tell himself fairytales about his own supposed honor and decency, when he not only permits this situation to exist but encourages it? His party will have to abandon him, and is in the process of doing so now ....
This man desperately needs to speak with whoever is his spiritual advisor -- someone who can look him in the eye and remind him of this ultimate reality: For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? (Mark 8:36, KJV)
30, 2008: Folks, I couldn't make this stuff up ... the change in
American fortunes and prospects since my first post in 2003 (bottom of the
page), in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, couldn't be more profound
... no matter how bad you believe things have gotten, you wake up to find
out there's still room to fall ... but whereas the sinking we've
experienced up until now has been in many respects a moral issue, as of
this summer, it's finally become real in the way that matters most to
Americans: it's now about the money ... the economy is in freefall
and that's a subject that will make people change their loyalties and
their convictions like nothing else.
If you're reading this and you don't know what I'm referring to, well then first, congratulations on being either too rich or too mindless to feel you have to pay attention to the morning headlines ... and here are those headlines, just to put this commentary in historic context:
And just for the record, I'm actually one of those who agree that the plan should have been voted down ... I understand the resulting pain, but the economy works just the same as any intimate relationship: once somebody cheats, trust is damaged in a way that can be impossible to repair. The plan originally proposed by Secretary of the Treasury Hank (The Hammer) Paulson didn't pass the "this time you can trust me" test, especially with it's insistence on no legal review and no recourse against the actions of the Secretary (in real life, an investment banker who helped lead Goldman Sachs to earnings heaven through trading in the very sorts of complex instruments that have gutted the financial markets.) When you read the comments of market participants that basically boil down to "Well, the government has GOT TO DO SOMETHING" you get the sensation of some kid who is threatening to hold his breathe under he turns blue and dies. If only ... could we start over then?
Even the improved attempt at bailout legislation that made it to the vote was too much for the seduced and abandoned electorate to stomach, and the tide of "nays" rolling in to Congress via letter, phone and email had a lot in common with the storm surge from Hurricane Ike last month: it basically raked the landscape clean and forced the resistance vote of both conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats in Congress. But what can they come up with in response? Where is the leadership? Or do people really only go into politics for the graft opportunities or the delight of stuffing their ideology down the throats of others? Man, do I sound bitter? If you think so now, then you'd better not get me started on the incredible cynicism of John McCain and his pick of Sarah Palin for VP ...
will be six years since the Twin Towers fell and history handed Bush & Co.
the key to
We have a little over one year to figure out who to hand the keys to next ...
|I've wanted to post a BC
page about The Worst President in Our History for a while
... but now Jane Smiley, a much much better writer, has done it for
me, here, on
HuffingtonPost.com ... the version quoted below is for your
convenience, but be sure and visit the HuffPost link to view all
the comments this article inspired:
Back in the year 2000, when George W. Bush lost the popular vote and was shoe-horned into office by the Supreme Court in spite of clear conflicts of interest on the part of Scalia and Thomas, the psychology of Little George was known to only a few. To most of us he seemed like a doofus--a more or less well-meaning guy who enjoyed running things like baseball teams and the State of Texas if not too much work was involved. Had been an alcoholic and a drug user, but had apparently come clean in some hazy, quasi-religious way--that was his personal history to many Americans (if not to all those who met with Karl Rove behind closed doors and heard the truth). At any rate, I remember thinking that Bill Clinton had done such a good job over the years getting the budget into a surplus and winning good feelings around the world that it really didn't matter who of the four who were running (Gore, Bradley, McCain, Bush) might win. They all seemed about the same in lots of ways. What we really needed was some respite from Clinton's own penchant for mischief. I liked Clinton. I remember that The New Yorker magazine asked me for my take on the Lewinsky scandal, and I said that on balance, in spite of the brouhaha, I still preferred a president who would make love, not war. Clinton was a flawed human being, that was evident, but he knew it. He never didn't know it. And he was always trying to make amends. But he was exhausting--or the media made him exhausting. I thought we were due for a rest.
Little did we know, of course, that the neocons thought we were due for a war. Thinktank gun-jockeys looking for a fight. Do they personally have some human qualities? Who cares. May they rot. At any rate, what I think happened is that when the Bush/Scowcroft/Baker faction decided to use Little George as their presidential poster boy to expand their Middle-East-based wealth and power, they didn't reckon with Cheney and Rumsfeld. They thought their boy would be personable and easy to control. The key moment was when Cheney went looking for a vice-presidential candidate and found himself. Once they had given him the opening and he had publicly used it to aggrandize himself and his agenda, B/S/B realized that for the sake of party solidarity, they had to live with it. When Baker engineered the coup that was Florida (and I do think one of the "perks" Bush offered as a candidate was that Florida was guaranteed ahead of time by Jeb and K. Harris), I think that B/S/B and C/R found themselves in an uneasy alliance--goals were the same, but temperaments were different. Right there at the pivot was Little George.
It's pretty clear that Little George requires a constant stream of flattery and cajolery to keep him going, and this was to be supplied by Harriet Miers, Karen Hughes, and Condi Rice. At the same time, his words (and ideas) were going to be supplied by Michael Gerson, who was his favorite speech writer for five or six years, a man who hides his unscrupulous neocon soul beneath a holier-than-thou, falsely modest self presentation. Christian soldier in every sense of the word, and someone who has largely escaped the contempt he deserves for the mess we are in. At the same time, Little George has a hard time with bad news, so he was never going be told the truth--he can't take the truth, as Jack Nicholson might say--this is evident in the famous 9/11 film of Bush reading about his pet goat when he gets news of the WTC. Talk about dumbstruck and unprepared and feckless and doltish! No, I don't think Little George planned the Trade Center attacks. If he had, he would have practiced a smarmy fake reaction, and he didn't.
But he did get a feel, just a little feel, right after the attacks, of what it might be like to lead the nation. He got a feel and he liked it, and for the purposes of the neocons, it was a good feel and it gave them something to build on in their plan to overcome the cautious side of his nature, represented by B/S/B. The neocons, as we know to our sorrow, never pay back anything they owe, except perhaps with betrayal, so even though B/S/B got them into office, they were never going to listen to B/S/B unless they absolutely had to.
How do you build yourself a madman? Well, first you flatter him, and then you try never to make him angry, and then you feed him ideas that flatter him even more by making him seem to himself sentimentally visionary and powerful and righteous. You appeal to his already evident mean streak and his hot temper by reminding him all the time that he has enemies, and you cultivate his religious side so that the sense of righteous victimization inherent in extreme religion comes out. If he were not already an ignorant, dependant, fragile, and rigid person, he would not be susceptible to this sort of conditioning, but by temperament and practice, he has nothing of his own to counter your efforts. Then you hire a few shyster-sycophants like John Yoo to tell him (ignorant as he is, with no actual understanding of the Constitution), that as president he can do whatever he wants.
So, here he is, Little George, caught between the devil (Cheney) and the deep blue sea (fifty-some years of being infantilized by B/S/B). Cheney and Rumsfeld, aided by Rice and Miers and Hughes, convince him that his masculinity will only be enhanced by doing all the masculine things he missed out on over the years, especially making war. And Gerson gives his war a virtuous, godly gloss. And Gerson's words come out of his mouth so often that he believes them and thinks they are his. In the meantime, Karl Rove continues to think that he is the maestro, playing Little George (and his base and the rest of the nation) like his own personal piano. Playing the president, for Rove, means enhancing LIttle George's actual dependency while encouraging him to think that he's the boss (allowing him to call you "Turdblossom", for example, and isn't it telling that "turd" seems to be Bush's favorite imprecation, rather than, say, "fuck"?).
Bush is the worst possible president because he is simultaneously unusually ignorant for a president and unusually shallow, as well as desperate for a success he can call his own. I can see how in a certain sort of era--say an era of prosperity and world peace (can you think of one? I can't) an unusually ignorant and shallow man could bump along in the presidency for a few years without creating havoc and destruction, but these years didn't happen to be peaceful and prosperous, they happened to be delicate and dangerous. Clinton knew that, and he approached his compromising and self-contradictory foreign policy tasks with care. But Bush and his fellow boors were so blind that they adopted as their motto "anything but Clinton", sheer contrarianism and resentment. It wasn't enough to them for the US to be powerful, as it was in the Clinton years, or to be generally respected and appreciated--they wanted something more sensational--power they could feel, power that was erotic and fetishistic, power that was uncomfortable for others, power that would make them feel big by making others feel small, power that would show Clinton up. That's the tit Little George has been sucking for the last six years--the deluded propaganda of the neocons, addressed first to him and through him to the rest of us. What we saw the other night, when he proposed more war against more "foes" was the madman the last six years have created. This time, in his war against Iran, he doesn't even feel the need for minimal PR, as he did before attacking Iraq. All he is bothering with are signals--ships moving here, admirals moving there, consulates being raided in this other place. He no longer cares about the opinions of the voters, the Congress, the generals, the press, and he especially disdains the opinions of B/S/and B. Thanks to Gerson, he identifies his own little ideas with God (a blasphemy, of course, but hey, there's lots of precedent on this), so there's no telling what he will do. We can tell by the evidence of the last two months that whatever it is, it will be exactly the thing that the majority of the voters do not want him to do, exactly the thing that James Baker himself doesn't want him to do. The propaganda that Bush's sponsors and handlers have poured forth has ceased to persuade the voters but succeeded beyond all measure in convincing the man himself. He will tell himself that God is talking to him, or that he is possessed of an extra measure of courage, or he that he is simply compelled to do whatever it is. The soldiers will pay the price in blood. We will pay the price in money. The Iraqis will pay the price in horror. The Iranians will pay the price, possibly, in the almost unimaginable terror of nuclear attack. Probably, the Israelis will pay the price, too.
Little George isn't the same guy he was in 2000, the guy described by Gail Sheehy in her Vanity Fair profile--hyper-competitive and dyslexic, prone to cheat at games, always swinging between screwing up and making up, hating criticism and disagreement, careless of others but often charming. He is no longer the guy who the Republicans thought they could control (unlike, say, McCain). The small pathologies of Bush the candidate have, thanks to the purposes of the neocons and the religious right, been enhanced and upgraded. We have a bona fide madman now, who thinks of himself in a grandiose way as single-handedly turning the tide of history. Some of his Frankensteins have bailed, some haven't dared to, and others still seem to believe. His actions and his orders, especially about Iran, seem to be telling us that he will stop at nothing to prove his dominance. The elder Bush(es), Scrowcroft, Baker, and their friends, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Gerson, and the neocons have made the monster and in the process endangered the country, the Constitution, and the world, not to mention the sanity of wretches like Jose Padilla (for an analysis of the real reason Gitmo continues to exist, see Dahlia Lithwick's article in Slate, here. Maybe the bums planned this mess for their own profit, or maybe they planned to profit without mess; maybe some of them regret what they have wrought. However, they all share the blame for whatever he does next.
the lustre hasn't quite worn off the mid-term elections yet ... keeping
the fire going is the Iraq Study Group's report, released in the beginning
of December. Of course, what's left of the neo-cons are loudly
ragging it, mostly with the old tried and true personal attacks
that characterize so much of their political speech. Fine, when ya
got nothing else, rely on the character assassination, it's just what the
world expects by now (remember what you got called in 2003-2004 if you
opposed the war: a traitor or a moron.)
In the meantime, just in the interest of helping to keep it all honest, let me quote from Paul Krugman's column in my newspaper today ... the column titled "Give credit where credit is due (They told you so....)"
Krugman then goes on to single out Former President George H.W. Bush and Brent Scowcroft, Rep. Ike Skelton, Al Gore, Barack Obama, Rep. John Spratt, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Russ Feingold and Howard Dean, noting:
Amen, Brother Paul, amen.
|Post-election: It's been a really depressing time -- oh, years and years, actually -- but inasmuch as events culminated in a broad Democratic sweep of the November 2006 mid-term elections, there's recently been a bit of relief from that low-down state of mind. Not joy, not glee ... not with the mess that has been inherited and a country full of people that are really just looking for results right now. I think about how much our nation, our prestige, our economy, our civil rights and our future have been damaged by the misbegotten ideologies the Bush administration has pursued ... it's staggering, really. The clean-up, if it can even be accomplished in our lifetimes, will be simply monumental -- and that's just talking about Iraq. I had a metaphor floating around in my mind ... let me share it with you:|
THIS OLD HOUSE: DEMOCRACY
It seems like every town has an older section where the mansions of yesterday were clustered … mansions which have fallen into disrepair in most towns … if it's a university town, these are probably the big old homes that now house the fraternities and sororities.
In the same way, I think of democracy as one of those fine old mansions that has fallen into disrepair lately, particularly since it became the home to the Republican party frat boys … since they moved into the neighborhood back in the 90's, and then took total control of the house, its maintenance and repair, in 2000, things have started looking pretty grim there. Everything the townspeople once loved and admired about this grand old building has been diminished in some way or another … certain rooms have been closed off and locked, other parts have been pulled down and the parts that remain have been used hard, with ugly debris collecting in every corner. And the people who were supposed to be in charge of maintaining the house in its original glory -- well, it turns out all they wanted was a party house that they could use, or rent out to others who would use it, as they saw fit -- no one really concerned about the future of the house or its structural integrity, as long as they could host their parties there, sell beer from their kegs, and get some unsuspecting women (or boys) to wander off with them into the back rooms to check out the latest shipment of Viagra, perhaps….
For Democrats to have swept the mid-term elections as they have just done is tantamount to the townspeople rising up to say: Get Out. Get out of that fine old mansion before you totally destroy it. It's bad enough now, but we have hopes that we can still clean it up and restore its beauty and functionality. But oh, what a job we have ahead of us … step inside the door and look … take a good look … at what has happened in here while the frat boys have been in charge: walls defaced, furniture destroyed, dirty dishes piled up in the sink, puddles of post-party vomit in the corners of the rooms, even … can it be? Is that human blood and excrement smeared on the walls? I wouldn't doubt it, since I hear that in its darkest hours, this house has been used as a prison for "enemies" of the fraternity….
Can it be fixed? Can it be saved? We believe it to be so, or we wouldn't have tried so hard to regain control of the house … it's no fun to clean up someone else's filth, but what else can we do? If the house is to stand, then the people who love and value what it stands for have to roll up their sleeves and do the best job they can.
Join in. Don't do it for us, do it for yourself and your family … and because restoring and preserving this old house is the right and necessary thing to do.
If it seems like it's all too much, just spend a moment contemplating the recent past:
|From mid-2006: Well, OK, perhaps after
all not much has changed for Americans in America ... yeah, more of us now
feel that the war in Iraq was improperly undertaken, the enemy woefully
underestimated and the Administration's original assumptions about the
ultimate effects of our presence there now seem to be the ravings of a
clutch of lunatics. So, while things may have changed ... a little
... I notice that GWB still occupies the White House, so to my way of
thinking, not much of importance has changed.
But everything has certainly changed for the people of Iraq -- the citizens, not the militia or other jihadi types. Reprinted here without permission from the New York Times is one of the most affecting articles you may ever encounter about what it means to be an Iraqi in Iraq in 2006. Read it; you need to know this:
Correspondence | City of Dread
Where the Collateral Damage Is in the Mind
By KIRK SEMPLE
We were in the back seat of a sedan inching through dense traffic on our way to an interview in eastern Baghdad. I was sunk as low as possible, trying to keep my American head out of view. Umm Hassan, a 44-year-old Iraqi woman who works as a reporter and translator for The New York Times, was wrapped in a white hijab and oversize sunglasses that concealed most of her face.
We have had some of our best conversations like this, trying to hide in the back seat of a car. The shared tension of these trips, and our solitude, creates a sense of intimacy and we speak candidly. We were talking, as we always do, about the violence and how much ordinary life had changed in the face of it.
Hundreds of people had been killed in the preceding days, most in Baghdad, in a surge of sectarian violence. Yet none of that bloodshed was evident in this downtown patch where we were stuck in a traffic jam. Instead, the sidewalks were busy with vendors and pedestrians, shops were open, and life, in its tense and fraught way, seemed to go on.
I remarked to Umm Hassan how so much of the violence we report happens beyond the view of most Iraqis.
“I don’t need to see a dead body or a car bomb to feel it,” she replied, a sharpness in her voice. “The fear is always with you.” (Umm Hassan is not her name; it’s a standard honorific meaning “the mother of Hassan,” after her son.)
The violence here is mercurial and episodic. A politician is assassinated in a drive-by shooting. Several men are pulled from a bus and are later found floating in the Tigris River with bullets in their heads. Militiamen clash with government forces in a running battle through a residential block. A suicide bomber walks into a mosque and wipes out the congregation.
It can strike inside the fortified Green Zone or out, against the rich and the poor, in darkness or daylight. Its motivation might be sectarian, or it might be simple greed or anger. It’s this randomness and ubiquity that makes it so insidious.
The constant threat has forced a redesign of the urban landscape. Neighborhoods have been carved up by concrete barriers and roadblocks, forcing residents to relearn how to get around town. Soldiers and the police are everywhere.
But the violence has reconfigured the emotional geography as well — and this is what Umm Hassan was saying. Iraqis live with the creeping, paralyzing dread that anything can happen at any time, and when it does, they will be powerless to stop it.
So they struggle to control their environment by limiting their movement, cutting off all but the most essential contact with other people and staying indoors. The space in which people believe they can safely operate shrinks with every attack, no matter where it occurs.
Umm Hassan, like almost every other Iraqi I’ve met, has largely confined her life to her home and the office and the route between, which she drives with great trepidation and with one eye on the rear-view mirror.
A secular Shiite and liberal, she was once very gregarious. But now she restricts her socializing to the homes of close relatives. She pressures her 17-year-old daughter and 22-year-old son to stay home and tracks them by cellphone when they are out of view.
Only a few people know she works for a foreign company; that information is a death sentence in the wrong hands. As a result, she can never talk about her work with anyone. Not that anyone talks about much these days other than the conflict and how they are going to survive it.
She hated Mr. Hussein — “to my core,” she said — but she sounds almost wistful for a certain simplicity that his rule represented.
“In Saddam’s time, I knew to keep my mouth shut, not to criticize the president, then I would be O.K.,” she said. “But now I don’t know what I should do. I’m threatened. I’m always in a threatened situation: for being Shiite, for having a Sunni son, for working in the media, for making a good salary, for cooperating with the Americans, for driving a car, for not wearing a hijab.” Her voice trailed off.
“Once there was only one Saddam, now there are many,” she continued. “Everyone has their own reasons to kidnap or kill.” She reached over and took my notebook and pen, then drew a circle. “That’s Saddam,” she said, tapping the circle with the pen. “I knew to stay outside the circle, away from him, and I was O.K.”
She then drew a chaotic group of circles, all overlapping — the most complex Venn diagram on Earth. She put the pen tip in the middle of the madness. That’s where the ordinary Iraqi now stands. The enemy, she said, “is everywhere, many sides, every side.”
“There is a new saying,” she went on. “ ‘We’re all sentenced to death but we don’t know when.’ ” Indeed, one of the greatest victims of the war is certainty. There’s uncertainty about who rules and who can be trusted. There’s uncertainty about the safety of moving from point A to point B, the source of the next meal, the meaning of a glance.
“Danger is too close, I can’t manage it,” Umm Hassan said. “Before, I could manage it.”
She has seen more violence than most other Iraqis. Like other journalists here, she has rushed to bomb sites after an attack to report on the carnage and pathos.
But inevitably, violence comes close enough to all Iraqis to make the dread very real. There are few people who haven’t had a family member threatened, kidnapped, wounded or killed.
Hope is in ridiculously short supply. It’s a difficult currency to trade in: few people are willing to invest more than they already have for fear they might lose it all. In the past couple of years, tens of thousands of Iraqis have already cashed in whatever hope they had left and fled the country.
Umm Hassan has agonized for months over whether to leave, too. She knows that if she joined her brother in London, where he works as a doctor, she and her children would lead safer lives.
Yet she doubts whether she would be able to find meaningful work, a productive existence. Here, at least, she feels she belongs. Iraq is her home — a wrecked home, yes, but her home nonetheless. “I don’t know if I can find myself outside Iraq,” she said. For her, it has become an existential struggle with mortal implications.
And this is what Iraq’s war feels like. Every decision becomes, on some level, a matter of life and death, and things that once seemed important are now entirely trivial. “Everything becomes an accessory,” is how Umm Hassan puts it.
What matters to Iraqis now is whether they are going to get through the day alive and how they plan to try.
|In observance of the birthday of Martin Luther King. Jr., my local newspaper has printed the following excerpts from three of his speeches, which expound his vision of the connection between war, poverty and racism. Opposition to the Bush Administration's blind rush to war in the Middle East takes King's prescient observations as their text in the protests currently being mounted in cities across the United States. Please read and consider:|
by choice or by accident, this is a role our nation has taken -- the
role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to
give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense
profits of overseas investment.
I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of a world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
from "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence,"
When I say questioning the whole society, it means ultimately coming to see that the problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together. These are the triple evils that are interrelated.
from "Where Do We Go From Here,"
Men for years have been talking about war and peace. But now no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it's nonviolence or nonexistence. That is where we are today.
from "I've Been to the Mountaintop,"