Friday, January 30, 2009

I dreamed I jumped the canyon

Reaching out to you
I chanced to glance below me
Beheld an abyss:

River in its course
Was the cocoa-colored asp
Rocky rapids hiss,

Stones like bones await
My pitiful earthward fall
Should you choose to miss;

Emerald pinheads:
Those treetops so far below
Proving life persists;

Between us blue void;
Heart-stopped panic, not knowing
You'd return my kiss

Thursday, January 29, 2009


Dreamt the horn o'plenty, there to dwell forevermore;
An ort to spare for last and least; the busy dumbledore
At fruitful labor, seeds to feed, eternal tide of life;
Abundance spilt on tabletop; no hunger, pain, nor strife;

Intrude the shriveled upturned claw; emaciated eyes
Bend the brow, disturb the sleep: appalled by crass disguise;
Let's pray 'twas but a phantom, a mere omen to forewarn;
These nightmare shadows dimly glimpsed must surely not be bourne;

The stony faces by the sea beheld the fall of kings;
Mill wheel, tower, inkwell gone! No harper left to sing;
And now our cornucopia emits a sickly scent;
Look, ye children! Mark ye well: our bounty doth ferment!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

What is a "terrorist?"

Which one of these is not a murderer? (Answer below)
Recently, I became embroiled in a conversation on the subject of President Obama's interview on Al-Arabiya (a Saudi-owned television network whose primary audience is the Arabic world). Some of the conservative participants in the conversation were outraged that Obama would extend a rhetorical olive branch to the Muslim world. Here's a quote:
In this interview, [Obama] refused to link [M]uslims with terrorism. Well, in the country he lived in as a young boy, Indonesia alone, there are 19 million Muslims who support violent jihad. Barack Obama believes (and says) the “problem” is only with a few rogue Al-Qaeda terrorists. HA! What a load of crap.
The “Religion of Peace” is one of the most violent on earth. It is against their very tenants of faith to be tolerant of any others. It has recruited thousands and thousands as suicide bombers and terrorists. --You can read the whole thing here.

Well, despite the shaky grammar and clumsy articulation, the writer's intention here seems fairly obvious: Obama is in secret sympathy with Muslims. And Muslims are terrorists.

So, what is a "terrorist," then?

Is a "terrorist" a person who commits wanton murder on random victims? If so, is Erik Ayala, the young man who, on January 24, opened fire on a crowd of teenagers outside a Portland nightclub, killing two and wounding seven, a "terrorist?" Or was he a mere murderer?

Or is a "terrorist" motivated by racial or religious hatred? What about Daniel Cowart from Tennessee and Paul Schlesselman from Arkansas? These were the two neo-Nazi skinheads who, back in October, hatched a plot (on Facebook, no less) to go on a cross-country rampage, killing 88 black people (the number is somehow significant to Nazis), culminating in a blaze-of-glory attempt on candidate Barack Obama's life? Are they "terrorists" or just racists?

Or is a "terrorist" motivated by political ideology? What about the men responsible for the deadliest attack ever in the United States before 911? When they plotted and carried out a 1995 truck bomb attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, were Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, two home-grown American boys, "terrorists?"

If we look at each of these cases, there is little to distinguish them from the attacks perpetrated by suicide bombers in Palestine or Iraq or anywhere else. The murders are random. In the latter two cases, they were politically motivated and planned out in advance. So, what's the difference?

The answer, of course, is that none of the perpetrators in the cases I've mentioned are Muslims. And now, we get to the heart of the matter: conservatives that are gnashing their teeth over President Obama's conciliatory tone are, in fact, nothing more than ignorant racists. It is not murder or lawlessness that they detest. It is Muslims.

Apart from this being offensive to me personally, as the spouse of a devout Muslim, I find it shockingly and depressingly ignorant. One wonders if any of these conservative ranters has ever actually known a Muslim.

I know many. I have stayed at their houses, visited their countries, and, of course, married a Muslim woman. I can state with certainty that I have never met a Muslim that would support suicide bombings.

I don't believe that the majority of conservatives hold the same views as the wing nut that I quoted above. But I believe that the faction represented by this person had become dominant within the conservative movement. Well, after two consecutive beatings at the national polls, there is going to be a shake-up and that faction is likely to get demoted.

The sentiments expressed by the writer I quoted above will persist for a while in the public debate. But without the neo-conservatives fomenting their irrational fears, those voices will fade. They are already being isolated and discredited. Soon, those holding such views will be exiled to political obscurity, there to rage like wild-eyed hermits.

Rant on, madmen! But when you pause for breath, take a look around. You're likely to find that no one is listening.

Answer: Hassan Qazwini is not a murderer. He is the top Imam in the US. He expounds on the commonality of the world's religions. (The others are, from left to right, Erik Ayala, Timothy Mcveigh, and Terry Nichols.)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Feelin' the heat, Karl?

Uh-oh, Karl. Don't look now, but you might have a little problem here.
The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee subpoenaed Karl Rove, a former top White House aide, to testify about the Bush administration’s firing of United States attorneys and prosecution of a former Democratic governor. The subpoena, by Representative John Conyers Jr., Democrat of Michigan, continues a long-running legal battle and directs Mr. Rove to appear for a deposition next Monday. Mr. Rove previously refused to appear before the panel, arguing that former presidential advisers cannot be compelled to testify before Congress. --Associated Press, January 26, 2009
So what do you think, Karl? Are you going to continue to insist that presidential advisers are somehow exempt from Congressional subpoenas?

I know you did your best to cover your tracks when you destroyed all those hard drives with those emails that you didn't want anyone outside the "operation" to read. I know you and Al Gonzales did your level best to erase any electronic evidence. Presidential Records Act be damned!

And I suppose you figured you'd be saved from the inconvenience of probing questions once you had your "permanent Republican majority" in place, eh? I mean, if Fat Denny Hastert were still running the show, you'd be on Easy Street. But things didn't quite work out the way you planned, did they, Karl?

Here's the problem: John Conyers, ever the mule, seems to be insisting on his prerogatives. For some reason, he feels strongly about compliance with congressional subpoenas. The nerve! That's not the way Big Dick used to tell it, is it, Karl?

John Conyers! What a crock! Thinks he's important just because he's the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Pshaw! Take a look at the puffed up rhetoric he's been throwing around:
That 'absolute immunity' position ... has been rejected by U.S. District Judge John Bates and President Obama has previously dismissed the claim as 'completely misguided.' I have said many times that I will carry this investigation forward to its conclusion, whether in Congress or in court, and today's action is an important step along the way. Change has come to Washington, and I hope Karl Rove is ready for it. After two years of stonewalling, it's time for him to talk. --statement by Representative John Conyers
Pretty cocky, eh, Karl?

And now, you just might have to sit in front of a bunch of self-important congresspersons and answer questions about the way you operate. They might ask you about the firing of US Attorney David Iglesias. Or, they might ask about your involvement in the prosecution of Alabama governor Don Siegelman. Who knows what kind of inconvenient queries they might fire at you, eh, Karl?

And, gosh darn it, Junior forgot to scribble you a pardon on his way out the White House door! Can you believe that? After all the times you saved his sorry ass! But, you know, he always was forgetful like that. Probably all that boozin' he did when he was young. And now, here you are with a bunch of subpoenas in your mailbox and none of your peeps within a mile of a congressional gavel.

Loosen up that collar, Karl. From what I hear, it can get pretty hot under those klieg lights.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Movie Review: Defiance

Director Edward Zwick's latest effort is Defiance, a flick based on a true story, about four brothers in Byelorussia who find themselves at the head of a community of Jewish refugees hiding in the forest during the darkest days of the 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union.

The eldest of the brothers, Tuvia (played by Daniel Craig) is a moral, courageous man who's primary concern is to maintain his humanity, perhaps even at the cost of his survival. His younger brother, Zus (played by Liev Schreiber), is militant, angry, focused on revenge, and seemingly more ready to resort to savagery in his quest for satisfaction. The primary conflict of the film, then, is the validity of the respective approaches that these two characters take as they face Nazi barbarity.

The winds of war soon sweep Tuvia and Zus apart. Tuvia establishes a camp in the forest where he and his two youngest brothers, Asael (played by Jamie Bell) and Aron (played by George MacKay) protect their ever-growing community of non-combatants (the elderly, women, children) and attempt to establish some semblance of a civilized life. Zus, meanwhile, signs on with a Red Army partisan unit operating in the vicinity and becomes one of its most fearless and valiant fighters, harassing and ambushing German military units.

Zwick, in his none-too-subtle way, demonstrates how the different paths chosen by the brothers are a reflection of the larger struggle of everyday people to remain above the savagery inherent in war. "We will not be like them!" insists Tuvia. "Well, let us at least kill like them," retorts Zus.

Zwick has a number of titles to his credit, the only one of which I have actually seen is the 2006 flick, Blood Diamond, which I liked well enough. And, being something of an amateur historian, and a World War II buff, Defiance seemingly had a lot to offer.

But, honestly, at times I found myself bored by the flick. I had very little empathy for any of the characters; I feel that Zwick never sufficiently raised the emotional stakes.

The film mostly avoids depicting Nazi cruelty; it is referenced but never really demonstrated. And while I suppose one could argue that such depictions have been done to death (no pun, please!) with such films as Schindler's List or The Pianist, I believe that Defiance suffers for their lack.

Further, in an apparent concession to date-going viewers, Zwick inserts some awkward romances, with the characters Lilka (played by Alexa Davalos) and Tamara (played by Kate Fahy) that may or may not be historically accurate, but that certainly don't move the plot forward.

The acting is adequate, all around, but I thought the dialog was a little weak. The writers threw a lot of pitches, but none really stuck with me. And Zwick seemed a little ham-handed with his use of the score: swelling violins cued viewers to feel moved or awed or sad. (The script certainly didn't manage it.) And, is it just me, or does anyone else find it annoying when the director instructs his cast to affect accents to indicate that they are speaking something other than English?

I suppose Zwick had his audience clearly in mind when he entered the cutting room, though. And that may well be why this film, with so much potential for high drama, feels watered down. The majority of weekend movie-goers probably don't want to leave the theater horrified and haunted by visions of Nazi brutality. Much better to come away from the experience with a pleasant sense of adventure, with images of a handsome actor and a foxy female lead to instigate the post-dinner bedroom play. Fair enough.

In short, I'd call this a good date movie. And to me, that's a disappointment. Because, given the subject matter, it could have been so much more.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Obama, Bush, and moral consistency

With the stroke of a pen...

The Obama administration is a mere three days old and, as someone inclined to support it, I find that I'm struggling to maintain my moral footing.

The two developments that I attribute to my quandary?
  • Missiles from an unmanned drone (suspected to belong to the CIA) slammed into several villages in Pakistan, killing 15 people;
  • There is a seeming reluctance on the part of Obama to investigate the constitutional transgressions of the Bush administration.
Obama flexes, Pakistanis die

In geopolitics, muscle-flexing means killing people.

In a move that is surely intended to warn off any temptation toward military adventurism by rival nations during the early days of his administration, President Obama apparently authorized the missile attack on the Pakistani village. Fifteen people were killed and initial reports say that at least three children were among the dead. (Thanks to Ridwan Laher for the link).

Pawns in the Big Game
The target of some of the attacks was the residence of an unnamed person described as a "pro-Taliban tribesman," whatever that means. But it doesn't take too much imagination to surmise that the reason this attack took place today is not because there was some unique and inviting grouping of al Qaeda members, but because the Obama administration needed to send a message.

In the '80s and '90s, Bush the Elder and Bill Clinton used Iraq as a convenient bombing site whenever they needed to do a little military muscle-flexing. But Junior killed that golden goose with his illegal invasion. Obama now seems to have determined that the mountainous region of the Afghanistan/Pakistan border will be the new sounding board for his geopolitical commentary.

And now I'm forced to confront a reality about my new president. At least in the realm of geopolitics, "change" might just be skin deep.

If not Lincoln or FDR, why Bush?

In yesterday's post, A return to the rule of law, I wrote that, in light of the fact that the United States had endured attacks more dire than 911 in the past without abandoning her ideals, the Bush administration's subsequent disregard of the Constitution demanded investigation, indictment, and prosecution. But then, Dan Binmore pointed out that in the two cases I cited, the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter and the Empire of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, each of the presidents had responded with their own constitutional abuses. And he's right, of course.

"If you're gonna make an omelet, ya gotta break some eggs."
President Lincoln suspended habeas corpus at least three times over the course of the Civil War. And President Roosevelt issued the infamous Executive Order 9066 authorizing the internment of Japanese Americans in "relocation centers." Yet both of these presidents are hailed as heroes and are named among our greatest presidents.

So, why should Bush be subjected to investigation? As conservative blogger, Ken, put it: "Certainly both actions by Lincoln and FDR were unconstitutional, but then the question begs: Do you do what you have to in a time of war to protect American lives, and then make the apologies later? Or do we try to get it right as we go, and cost the lives of God knows how many people? It would seem that in the case of two American icons, Lincoln and FDR, it was the [former], yet they are both viewed as saviors of our nation, and rightly so."

Well, the only argument I can make in response is this: I cannot right the wrongs committed before I was born. But I must do what I can to see that justice is served in my own time.

The clamor for investigation and prosecution of potential crimes committed by the Bush administration continues to grow. The disregard and abuse of the Constitution by team Bush is well-documented. No less a figure than Big Dick himself has admitted to authorizing interrogation techniques for which the United States convicted officers of the Imperial Japanese Army post-WWII.

But President Obama hasn't shown a lot of enthusiasm for following the trail of torture, illegal wire-tapping, and falsified intelligence wherever it leads. Although he has done an admirable job of undoing the most egregious of Bush's excesses regarding the treatment of prisoners, that's only half the job.

Another reality I am forced to confront: Obama may be more interested in preserving his political capital than in seeing justice served.

Alas, alas, America

Such is the price of being on the winning side, I suppose. It's not a position in which I have found myself often. In fact, this last election is only the second presidential election since I started voting in 1980, in which I have voted for the winning candidate. (If you're wondering, the other was in 1992.)

I pride myself on my integrity and my moral consistency. But I also know that all of us must operate from positions we can't completely defend.

Maybe that's the truth I must apply to Obama. Maybe being president means one's compromises and transgressions have greater magnitude. And, that means that Obama, like Bush, will operate outside what is conceived as "justice."

Maybe it's just a matter of degree...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A return to the rule of law

Which side of the fence are we on?
Today, President Obama issued an executive order to begin the process of closing down the Guantanamo Bay "terrorist prison." That means that each detainee that is currently held there will be entered into the official, legal, constitutionally-defined justice system of the United States.

The Bush administration had used the prison as a means to circumvent our system of justice, claiming that, since the prison is not on US soil, the legal rights proscribed in the Constitution of the United States (habeas corpus) do not apply to those held there. It's a dubious legal argument with the stink of Alberto Gonzales all over it and it has since been shot down by the Supreme Court.

(The Declaration of Independence states that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights...” No exceptions.)

The Bush administration's motives for pursuing this appalling attempt to redefine the Constitution now seems transparent: it was attempting to protect itself from potential criminal prosecution for illegal detentions and the mistreatment of detainees. Well, we'll see how that works out for them.

Hold-over Bush apologists will argue that the persons detained at GITMO and other "black sites" (which are included in President Obama's executive order) are "the baddest of the bad guys", and that this move to bring them into our system of justice is somehow compromising the security of the United States. That seems questionable considering the dubious circumstances by which some of these detainees were imprisoned in the first place.

"But," a Bush apologist might say: "911 changed everything." That doesn't wash either.
  • On April 12th, 1861, a rebel army attacked and seized a federal installation in Charleston harbour, instigating a civil war that raged for four years and resulted in some 600,000 deaths.
  • On December 7th, 1941 the Empire of Japan attacked United States military forces with no declaration of war and destroyed a significant part of the American fleet.
Were either of these events less threatening than the attacks of 911? I'd argue that each was more threatening, as they imperiled the very existence of our nation.

But, more than that, protestations about a need for extraordinary (unconstitutional) legal practices stem from a fundamental lack of faith in our Constitution. As President Obama said in his inaugural address:
As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. --President Obama, January 20, 2009
And this, it seems to me, is what the Bush apologists have forgotten, or have never understood. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land. It was written to apply not just in times of peace and prosperity, but also, and most especially, in times of danger and hardship. The Constitution is our safeguard. It prevents any of us from being overrun by the passions of the historical moment.

Works for me...
I have faith that the Constitution is robust enough to deal with any disaster or security threat that might arise. From time to time, we should examine it and amend it. But there is a process for that, too. And, until such time as it is amended, if we are to live in a nation of laws, it must be the supreme law of the land.

As Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion of June 12, 2008 that declared that foreign detainees at GITMO have the right to appeal to US civilian courts, "The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sorry, Sam. It's time to go.

Mayor Sam Adams: A sad fall...

When I heard the news on KPOJ yesterday, I thought for a moment that I had been transported to some Bizzaro-world alternate reality, where Portlanders were moralistic prudes, obsessed with the sleeping arrangements of their public officials.

Newly-elected Portland mayor Sam Adams, the first openly-gay mayor ever elected to preside over an American city, is in the stew over a sexual relationship that occurred in 2005. According to the local weekly, Willamette Week, in the summer of that year, Mayor Adams was involved with a younger man, Beau Breedlove. Adams was 42 at the time, and Breedlove was 18. My initial reaction was an incredulous "Who cares?"

But then, I became aware of the details. (You can read the story here.)

Allegations about the relationship first came to light during the lead-up to the mayoral race when a potential rival to Adams, a Pearl District developer named Bob Ball, raised questions. There was some uncertainty as to Breedlove's age and the nature of the relationship. (In Oregon, the age of consent is 18).

Adams maintained that his relationship with Breedlove was platonic and went on to suggest that Ball's motives were political, that Ball was attempting to discredit an electoral rival. In a public letter on September 18, 2007, Adams wrote: “I have been the target of a nasty smear by a would-be political opponent. I didn’t get into public life to allow my instinct to help others to be snuffed out by fear of sleazy misrepresentations or political manipulation.”

Well, it's hard to argue with Adams on that score. As a proud citizen of the Rose City, the idea that some moral hypocrite would try to use a person's private life to destroy his career is anathema. As it stands, Ball will probably never get my vote for anything simply because he resorted to this method of attack.

But there's a problem. Adams' letter was a lie, as he now admits. And further, in a move that has "cover-up" written all over it, Adams hired a Portland Mercury reporter, Amy Ruiz, as an adviser on sustainability and strategic planning.

Ruiz has no experience in urban planning or in government work of any kind. In a January 15th interview, she is quoted as saying: “This town has a million and a half urban planners, and I’m not one of them."

But Ruiz was an experienced reporter. In fact, she was working on a story about the Adams-Breedlove connection in 2007, a story that suddenly went away.

It now appears that Sam Adams' credibility and integrity have been compromised. It's a tragic fall. I had high hopes for his administration. But now he's tarnished.

If Adams chooses to fight, Portland is in for a long, agonizing process of investigation, accusation, and recrimination. And even if he survives, he will be crippled.

But if he loves his city like I love it, maybe Adams will do the right thing and get out of the way.

Mayor Adams, please resign for the good of your city.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

President. Barack. Hussein. Obama.

A president...
An historic day. A new era.

This morning, on my way to work, my predominant emotion was one of relief. Relief that the Bush administration is at an end. It is no more. It can inflict no more damage on the world.

At my workplace, a small crowd gathered around the big screen tee-vee in the cafeteria to watch the inaugural ceremonies. We watched as the various dignitaries and statesmen came onto the dais: Senators Reid and Roberts. Congressmen Hoyer and Boehner. President and Mrs. Carter. President and Mrs. Bush the Elder. President and Mrs. Clinton. And, yes, President and Mrs. Bush the Lesser.

Then, as I watched footage of the new First Family making its way to the Capitol, I felt a surge of sympathy and regret for Barack Obama. I just recently finished reading Leo Tolstoy's masterpiece, War and Peace, and as I watched the President-elect and his wife get out of their limousine, shadowed by Secret Service agents, I reflected on how persons in positions of authority are stripped of the illusion of freedom; how their lives are transparently governed by the laws of human behavior. I believe that our new president is a good and sincere and idealistic man, and I fear that the course of human events may break him as it has so many before him.

The ceremony

Pastor Rick Warren delivered the opening invocation. His was a fine sermon, expressing hopes and prayers with which all people of good will must agree. Aretha Franklin sang a prelude to Vice-President Joseph Biden's swearing in.

Then, a musical selection, composed by John Williams and performed by four of the world's most accomplished virtuosos: Itzhak Perlman (violin), Yo-Yo Ma (cello), Gabriela Montero (piano), and Anthony McGill (clarinet).

Then, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath of office to our new President of the United States, Barack Obama.

The Inaugural address

We watched the address, myself and some 30 coworkers, in the large lounge area in our cafeteria building. And no one said a word throughout.

The speech was sobering, but also hopeful. President Obama spoke of the challenges ahead and of his faith in our ability to meet those challenges. He spoke of responsibility and of extending a hand to one another.

By the time our new president had finished speaking, my cynicism, the cynicism that had grown like a cancer on my heart for eight long years, had melted away.

I am mildly embarrassed by my own emotion. I find it self-indulgent to allow oneself to submit to sentiments imposed by ceremony and ritual. And I tried to resist getting swept away by the moment. Honestly, I did.

But it proved to be beyond me. I discreetly wiped my eyes several times during the speech. And I noticed others among my coworkers doing the same. It's been a very long and painful eight years. They've taken a lot out of me, personally. And as the President articulated in his speech, we've all got some enormous challenges ahead.

...for all Americans
But at long last, we have a President. A President for all Americans. President Barack Hussein Obama.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Shocker: No blanket pardons from Junior!

No goodies in the goody-bag for these two.
Leave it to Junior to make a monkey out of me on his way out the door. Here I was, all ready to let forth with a stream of outraged invective as Junior snuck through a ream of last-minute presidential pardons. I had expected a flurry of sneaky pardons to fly out the White House door, eradicating any path to justice that just might lead to Junior or Big Dick. And then Junior surprises me and everyone else by issuing exactly two pardons for two Border Patrol agents, Jose Compean and Ignacio Ramos, and giving everybody else a goose egg!

Knock me over with a flippin' feather! I simply can't believe it.

I thought for sure that there would be pardons for Karl Rove and Alberto Gonzales for their roles in the shenanigans that went on in the Justice Department.

None for little Scooter, neither.
I thought Scooter Libby would get a pardon for his lying to save Big Dick from answering any questions about the Plame Affair.

I thought Rumsfeld and Big Dick himself might get preemptory pardons for authorizing interrogation techniques that are clearly in violation of the Geneva Convention.

I thought former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens might get a pardon for his seven bribery convictions.

I thought there would be pardons for the myriad of bit-player schmucks convicted or suspected of various mischief: David Safavian, Monica Goodling, et alia.

But, according to reporting done by Michael Isikoff for Newsweek, Bush is through issuing pardons. He's going back to his Texas s**thole, leaving his flunkies to fend for themselves.

Sorry, boys. No pardons for you.
That means that the investigations that are promised by House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers and his Senate counterpart, Senator Patrick Leahy, can move forward. That means that the Justice Department under Eric Holder could get involved, that we could see investigations and even indictments handed down to former Bush administration officials...

...unless, of course, somebody cut a deal...

Friday, January 16, 2009

Bye bye, Baby Bush

Goodnight, Junior. Goodnight.
At long last, the nation can begin to breathe a sigh of relief. Even before the flurry of outrageous pardons come flying out the White House door (and, trust me, they're on their way), we can all allow ourselves one moment of pure bliss. Junior Bush will soon exit the national and international stage forevermore. Unless, of course, he is someday compelled to face justice.

And while dreamy thoughts of a shackled Junior standing before a Federal Court awaiting sentence will persist, I can at least now be thankful that I will never again be forced to look upon him as anything other than a terrible memory, a shameful mistake from which we have all learned.

He was on the tee-vee last night, trying to frame his legacy. I didn't watch, and I have to imagine that most Americans joined me when I hit the clicker to switch channels. I'd rather watch Bret Michaels select a prostitute than endure the Grand Liar's plea. To me, and to millions of others, he will always be a miserable failure and a scoundrel. Junior is a blight on the honor of our nation. (And Bret Michaels ain't doing us any favors...)

So, now it's time for me to assess what I know about the man. Some of it, I've deduced from facts; some of it I've inferred using my "gut," in much the same way that Junior himself used to assess people like Vladimir Putin and Ariel Sharon. Here we go...

Mommy and Daddy never loved him the way he needed to be loved

The way I hear it, Bush came from a home and a family where he felt unloved and alone: the product of a weak but ambitious father and an over-bearing, haughty mother. According to the book Bush on the Couch by Justin Frank, there was a younger sister whom Junior loved, but who died when Junior was but 4 years old. Apparently, Barbara and George Senior never openly grieved for the child, but hid their grief in other activities. No fault to George Senior and Babs. Grief is a complex thing; and losing a child would drive anyone mad. (Recall the slow, painful disintegration of Cindy Sheehan, one of the millions of victims of Junior's crimes.) But young Junior was profoundly effected by his sister's death. He was left to grieve by himself without anyone to help him through it.

Since then, his life has been a sequence of enterprises aimed at winning his parents' love and approval. Enterprises that failed dismally, every time. It starts with his mediocre marks at Ivy League schools and goes right through his disastrous business career.

This last failure, his presidency, ought to about ice the deal. It's not that his parents don't love him. I'm sure they do, in their emotionally-crippled way. But their love and their pride in him will always be tempered by a painfully intimate knowledge of his severe limitations.

Can't you just hear that old battle-axe Babs Bush? "Well, you know, George Junior was always... special."

And as far as the Old Man... well, Oedipal complex don't cover the half of it. Many men (myself included) have tortured relationships with their fathers. But only the rare few get to play them out on a world stage. Junior came into office imagining that he was going to outdo the Old Man, prove once and for all that he was better, stronger, smarter than the father that he loved, but for whom he held a certain contempt and resentment.

And, in a sense, Junior did outdo his papa. George Senior left office unpopular, but not disgraced. Junior leaves office not just unpopular, but despised, hated. And Junior knows it. Check the pictures of him lately. His expression is bewildered, confused. He seems to have no clue as to why he is the object of so much animosity.

Not an honest man in the bunch
Surrounded by scoundrels

So, how did he come to this pass? How did a man who at one time met with the approval of 90% of the American public become so abhorrent?

If we go back to the late 90's, toward the middle of Bill Clinton's second term, we recall that the country was at peace and largely prosperous. The big scandal of the day, the "issue" that Republicans banked on to try to overcome the Clinton successes, was the "character" issue. Republicans made political hay of the fact that Clinton was a lothario and that he lied about it. Alas, alas. If only Junior's faults were so trivial.

The Republicans needed a candidate that they could put up as titular head of the party. Ideally, the candidate would be smart, capable, and charismatic. But mostly, he needed to be "in the know." That is, he would know how to mouth platitudes for public consumption, but at the same time know without being told who was his real constituency. There was a huge pile of money sitting out there in the Federal Treasury in the form of budget surpluses, and the scoundrels behind the GOP simply had to get their hands on it.

The problem was that the most prominent and capable Republicans, people like Newt Gingrich, Tom Delay, and Dick Armey were all flawed in major ways. Then somebody thought of George Junior. Granted, he wasn't going to win any Nobel prizes for science --in fact, he struggled with basic English --but he had the advantage of a good family name and an unscrupulously effective political handler. And most importantly, with the right cadre of whispering advisers, he could be controlled.

Enter Dick Cheney. Cheney was at first chosen to head up a committee to find Junior a running mate. But after a search that apparently failed to find a sufficiently pliable drone, Cheney named himself as the vice-presidential candidate.

Then came the election of 2000. Papa Bush brought in the family consiglierie, James Baker, and with a little fancy legal footwork and a whole lot of favors being called in on Nino Scalia, Will Rehnquist, and some of the other black robes, Junior got in.

Big Dick took charge. And with Dick Cheney came Don Rumsfeld. And with Don Rumsfeld came Paul Wolfowitz. And with Paul Wolfowitz came Richard Perle. And on and on and on. Neoconservatives and scoundrels all. And the neoconservatives had an agenda which they had formulated years before, in the form of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC).

The neoconservative agenda gibed nicely with Junior's adolescent urge to show up his old man. The neoconservatives wanted to invade Iraq. Junior wanted to succeed where the old man had failed.
“He was thinking about invading Iraq in 1999,” said author and journalist Mickey Herskowitz. “It was on his mind. He said to me: ‘One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief.’ And he said, ‘My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it.’ He said, ‘If I have a chance to invade….if I had that much capital, I’m not going to waste it. I’m going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I’m going to have a successful presidency.” Read the whole thing here.

Birds of a feather
Bin Laden's gift

Things weren't going very well for the Bush administration through the summer of 2001. Apart from the tax cut package that barely squeaked through the Congress, Junior didn't seem to have much of an agenda, nor much of a mandate. There was an attempt to lend him some gravitas by puffing up his "carefully considered" decision regarding federal dollars and stem cell research, but it didn't really work. He went on vacation in August. It was during this period that Karl Rove's hair follicles probably accelerated their abandonment of his oily scalp.

But then, seemingly out of the blue, another son of privilege and heir to power from a family friendly to the Bushes burst onto the world stage with the 911 attacks, and Junior was bestowed with a mighty gift. Immediately, public support for Junior went through the roof as people shocked by the barbarity of the attacks looked to him for a response.

Big Dick and crew saw the opportunity, and seized it. According to CBS news:
"...barely five hours after American Airlines Flight 77 plowed into the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was telling his aides to come up with plans for striking Iraq — even though there was no evidence linking Saddam Hussein to the attacks." Read the entire article here.
And the rest is history. A sui generis historical event provided the opportunity; a cadre of capable, thoroughly wicked villains provided the agenda, and an emotionally-stunted, forlorn creature provided the figurehead to which people instinctively cling in times of crisis.

It took 19 months for them to finally begin the invasion of Iraq. The case they made was flimsy and dishonest and has now proved chimeric. But they convinced just enough people; and they made it happen.

For all his other faults, mendacity, and ineptitude I might have forgiven him. But for Iraq... never! How many millions of people have died or been maimed or driven insane because of it? How many millions of lives ruined?

"Please don't hate me."
"I was willing to make the tough decisions"

Reading through transcripts of his speech last night, I caught this little snivel:
"You may not agree with some of the tough decisions I have made. But I hope you can agree that I was willing to make the tough decisions." --Junior, January 15, 2009
I might agree with this statement if I believed for one moment that he cared one way or the other about the lives he has ruined. But I don't believe that. I believe he is a sociopath. I believe that he views the common people, the hoi polloi, the proletariat as resources at the disposal of the ruling class. In short, the decisions he made weren't tough at all.

To the extent that he has regrets, and I do believe he has them, they are due to those things he has done to humiliate himself, or because of his failure to surpass his father, to redeem himself in the eyes of his mother.

But now, with these pathetic public pleas for reassurance, he debases himself before us all. The whole sordid spectacle reminds me of nothing so much as an abusive drunk calling his ex-wife in the middle of the night and pleading "But we had good times, too, didn't we, honey?"

You made your own bed, Junior.
A word of thanks and a farewell

Anyway, very soon he will be gone. In a way, I suppose, I owe him a debt of gratitude. He definitely has made me more self-aware. Before his rotten stink descended on this country, I had believed that I could not hate anyone. He has taught me the folly of such naivete. So, thank you, Junior. It's a bitter lesson, but a necessary one.

And, yes, if I understand the meaning of the word, I hate him. But I also pity him. His self-imposed burden is enormous. I believe that in his heart of hearts, and in spite of his public protestations to the contrary, he is tortured.

A terrible fate awaits him: to be hated and scorned by millions for the rest of his life. People will curse his name for many years to come, and he will find his place in humanity's chronicle alongside such spectacular failures as Neville Chamberlain, George McClellan, and Chiang Kai-shek.

The dissipation of all the energy and thought that I spent hating him, cursing him, reviling him will leave a void in my soul. At least for a time. Good riddance. It's taken a toll on my psyche. In time, I will find something to replace it... something constructive and good and hopeful. And that's all to the good.

Adieu, Junior. Auf wiedersehen. But I do have to tell you, before you go: No.  There were no good times.  You've had every opportunity to make something of yourself and you squandered it all.  You're the worst.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Careful what you wish for, GOP

Attorney general designate, Eric Holder
Despite the thrashing they have received in two consecutive election cycles, Republicans show no sign of relenting in their audacious displays of hypocrisy.

For Republicans, hypocrisy is instinctual. In much the same way that a skunk raises its tail when surprised or threatened, GOP law-makers leap to positions that stand in stark contrast to all of their previous bloviating if they sense a political advantage in doing so.

Examples abound in this transition period before Obama's inauguration. GOP mucky-mucks have quite suddenly developed a new sense of the importance of senatorial "advice and consent" when it comes to confirming presidential cabinet appointments, have once again recognized the need for fiscal responsibility in the federal budget. Neither of these things were terribly important to them when it was Junior ramming through incompetent cronies or proposing budgets that were soaked in red ink.

Now, Republican Senators like the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter (R-PA) have expressed concern about President-elect Obama's choice for attorney general, Eric Holder.

Senators Specter (left) and Leahy (right)
"Sometimes it is more important for the attorney general to have the stature and courage to say 'no' than to say 'yes,'" said Senator Specter at today's hearings.

At issue is Holder's role in some controversial pardons made in the closing days of the Clinton administration. Holder was the number two official in Janet Reno's Justice Department and his legal advice was instrumental in the controversial Marc Rich pardon.

For Arlen Specter to now express concern about Holder's independence is but another example of Republican hypocrisy. GOP Senators fell all over themselves to confirm Junior Bush's own personal attorney, sleazy Alberto Gonzales, with nary a care for his lack of independence. And there have been exactly zero complaints from Republican Senators about Attorney General Michael Mukasey's stone-walling any investigations into the politicization of the Justice Department.

No surprise. Republicans know that their ignorant base will continue to support them; with the redneck crowd that is today's GOP base, it's not about consistency or integrity or honesty --it's about identity.

But, Republicans should be careful in their headlong rush toward a more assertive legislative branch of government. By insisting on an independent attorney general, they just might get themselves, Junior and Big Dick into real trouble.

When committee chairman Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) asked whether the so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" authorized by the Bush administration were torture, and therefore illegal, Holder was unequivocal. "Waterboarding is torture," he said. Quite a difference from the pathetic verbal tap-dancing of Mukasey when he sat under the klieg lights.

GOP flunkies Mukasey and Gonzales
In recent days, Obama has made remarks indicating that he is not all that fired up about investigating Bush administration crimes. "My orientation's going to be to move forward," he said on This Week with George Stephanopoulos. (Well, if he does, I'm going to be one pissed off monkey, let me tell you. But that's beside the point.)

So, Obama might be ready to move on. But, if Eric Holder is the attorney general, and if he really is independent, as he uncovers evidence of the abuse of the Constitution, of the Justice Department, and of international law that has been perpetrated by Junior and the gang, maybe Holder will make his own determination about the necessity of investigations, indictments, and prosecutions.

Now, that would be an independent Attorney General.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

On our third anniversary...

Even though I've asked thee many times, and thou hast answered, I've never understood. What was it? What word did God speak to thee? What purpose did He bestow upon thee that thou wouldst depart the dusty red plains of the upper Volta, leaving thy father and thy mother and thy people for the bewildering promise of sinful America?

I know that the departure rent thy noble heart asunder. I know thy tears flowed like Portland rain when thou didst contemplate the life left behind. And yet, thou didst come.

And here was I: clumsy, angst-ridden man. Good-hearted, yes, but half-defeated and foolish, foolish, foolish. Stumbling along, blindly, knowing nothing, hoping for the best.

I did not choose thee. Such effrontery is not among my many faults. It was thou who chose me. And in so doing, breathed new purpose into my life.

Perhaps thy reasons for coming are between God and thee, another mystery that must remain beyond my ken. So be it.

My only hope, on this, our third anniversary, is that this humble, well-intended but unmarked life that I offer thee can fulfill the promise that He made, can assuage the anguish of thy sacrifice.

All my love, now and forever.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Hillary gets her pay-off

Madam Secretary
Hillary Clinton was under the klieg lights today, enduring all the grand-standing, all the long-winded elocution, all the pomp and eclat of the various Big Egos that comprise the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. One might very well be moved to pity. There she sits, quietly enduring the likes of Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar holding forth on the high esteem in which they hold her, the dire needs of the country at this critical juncture, their eagerness to work with her, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Well, no need for pity. She's used to it being a senator herself. And these hearings are a mere formality. When it comes to cabinet nominations, Senators afford each other a great deal of latitude. Despite the smattering of questions she received about the funding for hubby Bill's foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative, none of the Senators got into too much of a huff. Her nomination will sail right on through. Very soon, Hillary will be our new Secretary of State.

From whence?

Let's go back, shall we, to that far away night of June 5, 2008? Back to the heady days of the Democratic primary race. On June 5, Obama had secured enough delegates to secure the nomination. But Hillary refused to bow out. There was even some talk about her going all the way to the convention; there might even be a floor fight and a move to challenge delegates' credentials.

That night, California Senator Diane Feinstein offered up her home for a secret tryst between the two Democratic candidates. The meeting was a hush-hush affair, and involved only the two candidates themselves: no staff, no lawyers, nobody else.

A few days later, on June 9, Hillary conceded defeat and endorsed Barack Obama for President.

So, now, with Hillary smiling smugly while John Kerry drones and Dick Lugar yammers, we see the end result of that conversation in Diane Feinstein's living room. "Secretary of State has a nice ring to it, wouldn't you say, Hillary?"

To where?

Well, that's politics. For my part, I think Hillary could be an effective top diplomat for this country. She's smart. No one can deny that. She's tough. That's apparent as well. She's got her husband, a respected world statesman, for council and advice.

Of course, a potted plant would be an improvement over the current embarrassment that sits in the corner office at Foggy Bottom. But I have high hopes for Hillary. She was well-prepared and thorough. Some of her statements today were like blissful rain in the desert. Lifting travel restrictions to Cuba, using diplomacy to curtail Iran's nuclear ambitions, action on Darfur... rain in the desert, I tell you.

You can read CNN's summary here.

And just read what these Republican Senators had to say:

"Her qualifications for the post are remarkable... Her time in the Senate has given her a deep understanding of how United States foreign policy can be enriched... She is fully prepared to engage the world on a myriad of issues that urgently require attention." --Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN)

"Well, I'm -- I'm very pleased, very encouraged to hear that and truly look forward to the opportunity to be working with you to advance these issues." --Sen. Lisa Murkowski, (R-AK), in response to Hillary's support for the Law of the Sea Treaty.

"Congratulations, Senator Clinton. I always found you to be very prepared, very thorough, very thoughtful. And I'm sure you're going bring all of those same things to the State Department." --Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY)
Move aside, Condi. It's time for a real woman.

Hit the road, tramp!

Monday, January 12, 2009

So, now you're leaving?

So now you're leaving are you?
After all my fervent prayers,
There is no demon left for me to loathe;

You've emptied out the wood bin;
You leave an empty husk;
Your flight is vanguard of my many oaths;

Eight long years you've fed my hate,
Drawn out eight years of venom;
Now bumble in your idiotic sty;

Too dim to know the nature,
Of the damage you have wrought;
Please don't insult us both by asking "Why?"

Friday, January 09, 2009

Now that's the Harry Reid we've come to know...

Ah, Harry! You lovable loser. Whenever I'm plagued with feelings of inadequacy I need look no further than Harry Reid (D-NV), Senate Majority Leader for reassurance. It's you, Senator, that I want staying "in" with me the next time I play Texas Hold'em.

Recently, Senator Reid, leader of the mighty Democratic majority, made a stand for good government by stating flatly that he would not seat any senator appointed by Illinois' tainted governor, Rod Blagojevich, if Blagojevich tried to name someone to fill the seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.

This tough stance was something of a surprise. It's not that the sentiment Reid expressed didn't have a certain virtue. It's just that Reid might have learned by now that his tough talk doesn't carry much weight when he has already rolled over for everybody who has so much as cast a stern look his way.

The list of capitulations over the two years since Reid has been Majority leader is long indeed. Reid rolled over for Junior Bush on everything from telecom warrentless wiretapping (he voted "Nay," but he still allowed the FISA bill to come to the Floor) to unconditional funding for the Iraq misadventure.

Just last November, Reid rolled over for Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT), granting Lieberman chairmanship of the Homeland Security Committee in spite of the fact that Lieberman campaigned for the Republican nominee for president, criticizing the Democratic nominee at the GOP convention.

So, when Blagojevich went ahead and appointed Roland Burris to take the vacant senate seat there was much ado in the Washington Beltway about Senator Reid's response. Would the Senator have Burris escorted out of the Capitol building by the Sergeant-at-Arms? Would he table the appointment through some shrewd procedural maneuvering? Or, would he vanquish the would-be Senator through force of will, bringing to bear his mighty presence?

No, foolish one! Senator Reid is doing what he does best... he's rolling over.

Reid: Roland, you're a nice guy, after all.
Burris: Shut up, Harry.

After all of Reid's Sturm und Drang, it now appears as if Roland Burris will soon be seated as the junior Senator from the state of Illinois. And, why not? Burris himself is not implicated in the charges leveled against Blagojevitch. His appointment is perfectly legal. He appears to be as honest as any other Senator. (I know that might seem to be a pretty low bar, but what the hey?) Reid had no legal means to block the appointment although he tried to hide behind the straw man argument that Illinois' Secretary of State has not signed the appointment papers.

So, why did Reid choose this battle against the appointment of a Democratic senator when he couldn't muster up the gumption to thwart Junior Bush in any manner?

Maybe Reid thought this was a fight that he could finally win. Any bully on the playground knows which kids he can intimidate and which he had better avoid. But, in Reid's case, there might not be any kids that belong in the former group.

Just yesterday he was at it again, claiming "I don't work for Barack Obama." Gonna get tough with the new prez, huh, Harry? Nobody's gonna steam roller anything past you, eh?

I'm sure Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel are shaking in their shoes.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Israel cries havoc and lets slip the dogs of war

Seven hundred sixty-five dead Palestinians so far. Three thousand wounded. Schools and mosques targeted by Israeli ordinance. Humanitarian aid halted after an Israeli shell hit a UN relief truck, killing two aid workers. Foreign correspondents barred from entering Gaza to report on the situation. It's all right here.

There's no justification for what is going on in Gaza right now, people. Rocket fire, be damned. The Israelis have had their collective thumb on the Palestinians for 60 years now, cramming them into slums, surrounding them with razor wire and minefields, encroaching on their lands with illegal settlements.

It is all made possible because of massive infusions of US greenbacks, year after year. American support for Israel is unqualified, sacrosanct.

And how has Israel shown her gratitude? By infiltrating our highest levels of government with spies and by violating over 50 UN resolutions. By doing as they damn well please and leaving us to clean up the mess.

Still nary a word of criticism from anyone in the United States with any ability to do anything about it. The US could stop this atrocity today if the political will were there. But with a very few exceptions, US political "leaders" are confirming what we've all known: they are cowards and slaves to the AIPAC lash.

The whole thing makes me sick. I do not support it. I condemn it.

Think about it, people: who do the Israelis most resemble with their intentional (yes, intentional) targeting of civilians in apartment complexes, schools, and mosques? Who are the Israelis emulating when they confine people of a particular ethnicity to guarded slums? When they isolate those people from others? When they prevent those people from receiving basic humanitarian aid? When they strive to keep their atrocities hidden from the world?

In today's political environment, to even look askance at Israel is to risk being labeled an "anti-Semite." So, I won't answer those questions. I leave it to you, dear reader. Ask yourself if there is an historical precedent for this kind of behavior. Ask yourself which fanatically nationalistic people showed such contempt for international law, for basic human decency.

Go ahead... ask!