My Dinner With W.I dreamed I had dinner with George W. Bush the other night. At least I think it was a dream.
I realize that to some the experience might qualify, technically, as a nightmare. But boy, was it interesting. How many chances does one get, after all to, sit face to face with the contemporary world's surely most powerful, compulsive and destructive liar? To watch treachery work its jaws and wipe its dribbling chin? To hear it account for itself up close and personally?
Also, the food was good. We met at a Thai joint in some city I didn't recognize. There was no plan or explanation for our rendezvous; we both simply showed up and sat down together. (You know how dreams are.) I ordered a green curry. W had the Pad Thai, which he swore is his favorite dish despite the bloody-steak Texas swagger act. Who knew?
We dined and talked for what seemed like a very long time. We each had a couple of Thai beers (he didn't explain his falling off the wagon). He had no entourage, and there were no secret service droids in evidence, which again, is inexplicable but typical for a dream.
At any rate, for those of you who might be curious, here -- courtesy of the CyberCam dream recorder, one of the weirder inventions of my expatriate Harvard physicist pal -- are some highlights from the transcript of my dinner conversation with the sitting President:
BAJ: A lot of people hate you. Do you know that?
W: (laughs) Hate me? Oh, my. Oh, dear. (laughs again) They hate me? Now why would they hate me? What's the matter, they think I'm dishonest or something? (laughs again)
BAJ: See, that's it. Right there. The sarcasm. The frat-boy thing. As if you think you can get away with anything. If there's anything people hate even more than evil, it's evil that gloats.
W: Yeah, well, let me tell you something. I'm the goddamned president of the United States, and they're not. Okay? So they can hate me or think I'm not so smart or wish torture and torment on me or think any God-fucking-damned thing they want to about me and it won't mean shit. Won't mean rabbit shit. Know why? Because I'm the goddamned president, that's why. Were you watching TV last fall? See who got elected? Me. Me and my base, that's who got elected. Hate me? Fuck them. You can tell them I said that. Tell them the President of the United States, the most powerful man on the planet, said Fuck You. Up your goddamned highfalutin' candy asses.
BAJ: When they hear that, they'll hate you even more.
W: (Laughs) Hey, I've always known how to give a crowd what it wants.
BAJ: Well, that's the thing. I've got to say, when we get past your lying, your ducking one bad war and then starting one as president, your using government as a private global-reconfiguration service for the wealthy and the tar-pit right...
W: "Tar-pit right." I like that.
BAJ: ...when we get past all that, the thing that makes progressives want to shove your face into a wood chipper is your 'tude. I mean, you're mean. You really are. You're unkind, and you like being that way, and it shows. Whenever you try to act soft and caring, you look completely phony. I mean, it's a joke: you're up there on the dais smirking at parents whose kids have died in Iraq. But when you're mean, man, that's when you shine. When you're trashing people and telling raging lies, you glow. It's like ugly is the real you.
W: Well, look. In all seriousness. All right? In all seriousness, I've just never given a shit. Okay? I'm a guy who basically doesn't give a shit about consequences. Because I don't have to. I don't have to care. When I was growing up I didn't have to figure out how to be a nice boy, how to go by the rules. Hell, families like ours, we made the rules. I've always liked having a good time, feeling the rush, doing what I want. When I was doing coke and then later drinking, I didn't give a shit about anything. I was royalty. I'd do what I wanted and it would be all right. No matter what I did, people would fix it for me. Karl does that for me now. Same thing. I like being a shithead, getting in people's faces. Okay? I like it. When I was at Yale I sat in the back of the classroom and chewed tobacco and told my professors and my classmates they were fucking assholes.
BAJ: I've heard that.
W: It's true. And guess what? Americans voted for me. No matter what you think about Florida and Ohio. I got half the American vote. Those millions of people wanted somebody who's not afraid to look like an asshole. That would be me. I'm their man.
BAJ: There's a professor named Mark Crispin Miller...
W: Never heard of him.
BAJ: He's got a theory about you. He's studied how you act in public, and his basic theory is that you're comfortable being mean and uncomfortable being nice. He claims that nearly all of your verbal slip-ups and gaffes happen when you're trying to be nice, but that when you're flat-out mean you speak perfectly and your instincts are flawless. He says that's because you're basically a mean guy.
W: (Shrugs) Call it what you want. I've got a style and it works for me. So what?
BAJ: Let me ask you this. You remember Karla Faye Tucker, right? The woman you executed in Texas while you were governor. She and a friend had committed two brutal murders on a drug binge. After she turned her life around in prison and became a born-again Christian, and people like the brother of one of the victims started asking for her to be spared, she begged to meet with you. You refused, and she was executed in 1998 by lethal injection. Remember?
W: Sure. I remember her.
BAJ: Well, you did an interview with Talk Magazine in September 1999 in which you talked about having seen Ms. Tucker's televised interview with Larry King. And in that Talk Magazine interview, you mocked her. You told the reporter how Ms. Tucker had been asked by King what she would say to Governor Bush. The reporter asked you what she replied. And you, Mr. President, then Governor, mockingly screwed up your face and, in a voice jokingly mimicking Ms. Tucker, you whined, "Please don't kill me!" And the story among journalists is that you then sat there grinning at the reporter because you thought this was funny. But then you looked at the reporter and you noticed that the reporter was staring at you in horror, mouth open in astonishment. And then you stopped grinning. Is that true?
W: Yeah, that happened. And the story ran in that little magazine. But it never really went anywhere. See, it's an interesting thing how you can deal with reporters. If you hammer the press, I mean really pummel 'em, pound 'em like meat, they'll roll. They're scared. This crop of reporters today, they're not like the reporters before. They're not willing to put it all on the line. They just want to talk to a few people and get their quotes and write their stories, get on the talk shows, have books, summer houses. Gamble their jobs? Lose their press credentials or their White House access? No way. You pound these little reporters good, let 'em know you're ruthless and you'll drink blood, they'll roll. Most of them. Karl understood that. Early on, he knew that. I give him credit. So that story went away. A lot of reporters, editors looked at that story and said, "We run with that, it's trouble, it looks personal." They backed off. They almost always do.
BAJ: So how come you and your folks at Fox News are so rabid about how "the bias of the liberal media" is killing you?
W: (laughs) You know damn well why. Best defense is a good offense. Again, that's Karl talking. When you're the biggest, baddest rat, you accuse the mouse of being a tiger. Works every time. Keeps everybody off-balance while the rat gets the cheese. (laughs again) And the reporters? They won't call you on it. Like I said, they're scared. And lazy. They just want a good quote. Next day the headline will say, "Rat Says Evidence Shows Mouse Is A Tiger." (laughs again) The press today. Best thing that's ever happened to rats.
BAJ: You didn't look so good in the press after Katrina. CNN, all of the networks but Fox, were all over it. I think even they were shocked that a government could be this broken. You were a disgrace. Standing there outside of New Orleans joking about how you used to party in Houston. Staying away from the poorest, most devastated parts of the city until the bad reviews forced you back to New Orleans to be seen. Being careful this time to force your face into that stupid smirking frowning thing you do for the cameras, pretending to give a shit. Gutting FEMA the way you did, replacing the career disaster people with political suck-ups who know nothing, putting that Arabian Horse hack Brown in charge, for God's sake, cutting the federal funds for Louisiana's dike repair projects when the Army engineers and scientists kept telling you it was a disaster waiting to happen. And then here comes the storm and it doesn't occur to you or to any of your folks to even think about what's going to happen to tens of thousands of nonwhite, non-middle-class, non-car-owning people in the middle of New Orleans. I mean, Jesus Christ. Do you live in another world or do you just not care?
W: All right. Look. It was bad luck. We had priorities. Getting a business foothold in Iraq and those other countries had to happen. The tax cuts had to happen. Keeping terrorism on the front burner had to happen...
BAJ: Front burner? Everything about your policies feeds and breeds terrorism. You've made Iraq a terrorism factory. You've made non-enemy nations into enemies. You've backed a brutal expansionist regime in Sharon's Israel. You've forgotten about Al Qaeda. You've under-funded domestic security...
W: Duh! Come on. You know how it works. Terrorism's not the thing. The fear is the thing. The fear is the thing that gets our agenda through. Okay? Maybe we lose against terrorism -- and we're gonna make sure we take a good long time losing -- but with the fear keeping the noise level up the whole time, we win. With the fear bashing in the brains of good suburban Americans every day, our side wins. We win on taxes. We win on logging and the FDA and stalling the global warming controls and keeping our hands on the oil in the Mideast. That's the thing. That's all there is. I know you know that. You've gotta know that.
BAJ: I needed to hear you say it.
W: Shit, dogging it at Yale doesn't mean I'm stupid. The minute 9/11 happened, we knew it was our ticket. You know who's stupid? The people who think I'm stupid. Now, those are some real-life suckers.
BAJ: So you just didn't care that so many poor black people in New Orleans would drown or be trapped or starve or die without their medicine?
W: Are you listening? Hello? I told you, we played the odds. And if you're going to gamble big, better to do it with poor blacks who've got no political capital. Jesus, it's not like we planned the damn storm. Chances were that this Katrina scenario wasn't going to happen in the next three years, and that's all we needed. Three more years. To finish getting our agenda through. Some things had to give. The money was already spoken for. We have an expensive agenda. So we made gambles, a lot of them. Any one of them, if you look at it alone, is a decent three-year bet. Seen a pandemic yet from how we cut public health funding? Seen a nuclear bomb blow up Boston yet because we're holding off on port inspection procedures that would cost shippers money? Seen parents shut down any cities yet with riots after they find out how we buried military access to their kids in No Child Left Behind? We make gambles. Okay? Most of them we win. That's all. That's as good as it gets. I'm sorry New Orleans happened. I am. But, shit. We've got a country to run. And anyway, the lives of most of those people left in New Orleans were probably already... well, never mind.
BAJ: Already what? Worthless?
W: I don't know. Ask Barbara. (laughs)
BAJ: Okay. So this is your version of morality. Right? This is your would-be theocracy. A thoroughly crooked government based on lies to serve your "agenda." How do you think this would go over with the devoted hard-right Christians who put you in Washington to bring God into the White House?
W: You mean Clem and Clementine? Those nice scruffy folks with a felt Jesus taped up on the wall of their double-wide? (laughs) Look, I believe in the Lord. I'm saved and it's a beautiful thing, grace. Beautiful. And if seeing me pray and speak up for the unborn and for marriage between men and women gives good God-fearing churchified people a glow inside from knowing they have a friend in Washington, then more power to me. And if they can't figure out that all the screaming about fetuses and gays is drowning out any talk about raising their own wages or keeping arsenic out of their drinking water, then, pardon my French, but fuck 'em. Okay? Let 'em beg Jesus for a raise at work and for clean water. There was a guy, I can't remember his name. Somebody German. He talked about free will. The mind being responsible for what it sees. That goes for religion, too. Caveat emptor. You know what that means, right, Harvard man?
BAJ: So it comes down to "Let the buyer beware," huh?
W: I learned that expression in college. You know, there's a big, big difference between being a slacker in school and being a loser. Never let it be said that I learned nothing at Yale. (laughs) So, did you like that curry? This Pad Thai was really good. Nice fresh peanut sauce. Who's gonna pick up the check?
I woke up in a sweat. I sat up for a while in the dark, thinking. Then I went downstairs for a snack.
Funny thing is, there was leftover Thai food in the fridge.
(Posted 9/24/05 by Bruce A. Jacobs)
Next, This News.So now Pat Robertson, champion of life, has proclaimed that the United States should kill the president of oil-rich Venezuela,
In case you missed it, Robertson told a TV audience of about one million ostensibly Christian viewers, according to the New York Times [8/24/05]: "If he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it... We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability."
Days have since passed, and the spectacle has been dutifully reported and soberly discussed by the press. It has spurred incredulous outrage, particularly in the non-American world, where billions of shock-weary onlookers wonder yet again what the friggin' problem is with the United States and the nut cases it accepts in positions of public leadership. As with many events involving the excesses of the powerful, major American reporters have maintained a robotic and sterile demeanor throughout, it being a breach of corporate journalistic ethics to report on an outrage in a manner that leads audiences toward the conclusion that it is in fact an outrage.
I was talking about all of this recently with my renegade Harvard physicist time-traveler friend -- you might remember my having previously written about him [5/29/05, 5/28/04] -- who had surfaced for a few hours to meet me at one of our usual inconspicuous spots. He listened patiently while I reeled off complaints about liquid-spined journalists and the paucity of principled news coverage to the left of Bill O'Reilly. When I was finished, he gave me a small, bitter smile.
"Wait until you see what's coming," he said. I watched, afraid to ask, as he dug for something in his overstuffed satchel.
"Here," he said finally, handing me a folder brimming with newspaper clippings and papers. "Don't read them all at once."
As usual, sometime after I began reading, he disappeared.
WASHINGTON POST, SATURDAY, JUNE 7, 2008
Vote Nears On Iceland Invasion; President Cites "Proof Of Threat"
Washington -- A contentious Congress yesterday neared a vote on President Bush's proposed invasion of Iceland, with holdout Democrats bristling under White House accusations that they are timid in the face of the Global War On America.
The President, on a stop in Iowa stumping for presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani, took yet another swipe at Democrats who challenge his rationale for war. "Rudy Giuliani knows the dangers of the weapons that underlies the icecap in that uncooperative nation," Bush told a cheering crowd. "The Defense Department has definitive proof of the threat. Even if some Democrats run scared, I promise you we will protect America."
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, on the defensive after she criticized the Security Secrecy Act that frees the President from public disclosure of evidence for war, said yesterday, "Democrats stand with the President for a strong defense. But I don't think a private review of the evidence is too much to ask."
Democrats have offered a compromise whereby unnamed senior members of their party would secretly review war evidence before signing on to invade Iceland. But the White House has steadfastly refused...
NATIONAL NEWS NETWORK, THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 20, 2087
HOST: ...So, Professor Rodriguez, from a historian's perspective, how exactly did the Great Avian Flu Pandemic of the early 2000's come to be such a massive catastrophe in the United States, killing millions of Americans? Why did the public health system fail so spectacularly?
PROFESSOR: Well, it's a tragic lesson. It began with the systemic weakening of the American public health sector in the 1990s by private industry, which did not wish to be regulated. At that time, private financial contributions dominated federal politics, and so public policy was often quite corrupt...
HOST: This was long before private financing of campaigns was outlawed, correct?
PROFESSOR: Correct. So, despite the warlike policies and rhetoric of the time, the public sector, including the public health infrastructure, was actually near bankruptcy and completely unprepared for a true catastrophe...
LOS ANGELES TIMES, TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 10, 2024
Texas Court Rules Public Beheadings Constitutional; ACLU To Appeal
Austin -- In a decision hailed by public execution advocates, the Texas State Supreme Court yesterday ruled that public beheadings are constitutional, freeing the state to proceed with the planned beheading of a convicted terrorist in a public square in downtown Dallas next month.
Opponents, led by the ACLU, had sued on the grounds of excessive cruelty. But the court ruled unanimously that public beheadings are "consistent with the framers' Constitutional vision of public order." Proponents, who have long argued that public executions are a necessary deterrent to violent crime, celebrated.
"Last year's U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing concealed assault weapons was our first victory for law-abiding citizens. This is our second," said Britney Spears, the ex-singer and founder of Avengers for Life...
NEW YORK TIMES, MONDAY, MAY 17, 2010
Expert Cites New Evidence Of Hamster Terrorism Risk; Authorities Worried
By Judith Miller
Washington -- An internationally-known expert on small mammals has uncovered the most compelling evidence yet of a nuclear terrorism plot involving hamsters, and top anti-terrorism authorities are deeply worried about the resulting danger to Americans, a White House source said yesterday.
The expert, who remains unnamed and is under CIA protection, revealed detailed evidence of a plot in which thousands of imported hamsters have been implanted with tiny nuclear explosive devices, created through nanotechnology, each of which can blow up the equivalent of a city block, the source said.
The revelation bolsters the White House's ongoing argument for a nationwide hamster security sweep, dubbed Operation Hamster Hammer, to pre-empt any planned terrorist attacks...
CBS EVENING NEWS, WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 28, 2009
ANCHOR: Good evening. I'm Kid Rock with tonight's headlines.
Liberals reacted with alarm today when Kansas Senator Mel Gibson called for the arrest and forced lobotomizing of any Americans whose skin color "is darker than that of a paper bag" or who "deny the reality of Jesus Christ as our Savior." Gibson, who made the remarks on "The Britney Spears Show," was unapologetic when he later faced reporters.
(VIDEO CLIP) GIBSON: Sorry? For what? For serving my Lord? Look, everyone knows who constitutes the real threat to our country, and I'm going to stand up and say it. The more the, uh, non-Christian media condemn me, the more I'm going to speak."
ANCHOR: Liberal groups, led by the Reverend Jesse Jackson, called for Gibson to apologize or resign, while a statement from Christian conservative leaders pointed out that Gibson's remarks do not target all people of color and merely pose a "challenge" to nonbelievers. In Washington, Republicans reacted with caution, while leading Democrats called for Gibson to explain the intent of his comments. The White House said it had no comment, citing Gibson's "right to speak his mind as an American citizen..."
CNN, THURSDAY, DECEMBER 12, 2019
REPORTER: ...It's not yet clear how the President intends to win approval for his controversial plan to assign all adult Americans to corporate work camps, which he calls "Lifetime Employment Centers." The plan still faces hurdles from some recalcitrant Democrats. Proponents say that the plan will strengthen America's economy and quality of life through guaranteed employment, benefits and enforced standards for diet and exercise. Critics say that the plan's stripping parents of custody of their children at age 8, at which time children enter work camps of their own, will place too great a strain on families. Democrats have proposed an alternate plan with child visitation rights, but it is not clear if the White House is willing to go that far.
For CNN, I'm Jenna Bush reporting from Washington...
I couldn't read any more. I put my head in my hands and looked down at the table. That was when I saw the note my friend had left for me.
"Look at it this way," he'd scribbled. "If people act fast, there might still be time to head it off."
(Posted 8/26/05 by Bruce A. Jacobs)
Welcome to the Death Squad.Here's a contemporary story from my home state, Maryland.
Anthony Deyonko Switzer, 17, was recently convicted of first-degree murder for what the judge called his "random, sniper-style" shooting of a passing driver, according to the Baltimore Sun [7/26/05, page 1B]. Switzer was sentenced to life in prison without parole. He was 16 at the time of the crime. The stranger he killed, Doray Delonte Jones, was 18 and on his way to his father's house.
According to the article, Switzer bragged to his friends (who later testified against him) that he "wanted to catch a body." They went to Bass Pro Shops and bought ammo for a stolen shotgun. Later, on the street, Switzer fired the shotgun at a passing car but thought that maybe he hadn't killed the driver, and, according to testimony, he didn't want to go home without shooting somebody. So the group went to the home of one of their ex-girlfriends in search of better luck. No one answered the door, so they tried a neighbor's house. The neighbor called police. Meanwhile, Switzer fired at a parked car while a woman was putting her 9-year-old twins into the vehicle. (There is no evidence that he saw the children.) He hit the car but none of the occupants. He was arrested within days. After the murder trial, the father of the slain driver, wearing a T-shirt bearing his son's photograph, said Switzer "deserved" life without parole but that it wouldn't make up for the family's cataclysmic loss. Switzer's father, for his part, offered his sympathies and said he had had trouble with his son.
Those are the facts of the story, as reported.
But here is another way of stating the facts:
A child is damaged. The damage starts early and goes deep. Maybe it's the daily emotional bludgeoning of a traumatized household. Maybe it's the child's seeing too many kids get their brains blown out, seeing too many friends die, having to run too scared for too long. Maybe it's sweet chips of lead paint slowly draining the child's brain of empathy and restraint. Maybe it's the wrong friends and the wrong parenting and the wrong schooling all at the same time. Maybe it's a traumatic childhood event, the kind no parent can prevent. Maybe it's plain old hard-wiring, and the family doesn't know what to do or cannot get the right kind of help when they try. Who knows what it is? Not you and I, that's for sure.
But we do know this: a 16-year-old boy who brags about "catching a body," and who then shoots at a procession of strangers until he bags one, is damaged. We know that for certain.
So here, then, are the underlying facts of the story: when horribly-damaged children, particularly horribly-damaged low-income children of color, do the spectacularly awful things that horribly-damaged children do, we American adult taxpayers opt not to try to repair them. We put them, instead, in cages, and we make them stay there, locked away from anything that might heal them, allowing their illness to fester and their bitterness to ferment, for much or all of the rest of their lives. Or else we kill them outright, telling them that they deserve to die and locking them away for years until we get around to injecting them with lethal poison.
These are the facts of how we Americans deal with our most damaged children.
This is a barbaric thing to do, of course, and so a lot of Americans deny it. We tell ourselves that these children are adults, having reached the legal age of 16, who have made informed choices for which they must be punished. We tell ourselves that these kids' problems have defied the endless efforts of a stream of bleeding-heart social workers and of coddling juvenile facilities to cure them, and that there is now nothing left to do with them but put them someplace where they can do no further harm. We tell ourselves that we are doing the best we can for these kids and for the wretched communities that create them, and that no one can blame us for running out of money and running out of patience.
These are, however, all lies.
It is a brazen lie to claim that a child of 16 or 17, let alone a child of 14 or 15, who by his or her very behavior has proven that he or she lacks a vital element of complete personhood, is an adult. I dare any child-jailer to prove to me the "adulthood" of, say, a fatherless 16-year-old who grew up ragingly starved for male guidance on a gang-ruled street and who, like the feral children of Lord of the Flies, seized and brandished the sharpened end of the nearest male power he could find. I dare any apologist for child imprisonment or execution to show me the "informed decision-making" of a 16-year-old who lost all capacity for human empathy when, as a toddler, he was abandoned by his crack-addicted mother and left at the mercy of a stream of uncaring and sometimes abusive caregivers. I dare any avenging right-winger to show me the "legal responsibility" of a 17-year-old who, after a life spent learning that nothing and no one can be trusted, is utterly devoid of compassion or self-esteem.
It is, as well, a fantastic lie to claim that our jailed children are the "incurables" of an overly generous and excessively therapeutic juvenile justice system. Turn off the talk show blather about "predators" and head down to your nearest big-city courthouse, and you'll see the reality no one has told you about: a chronically clogged, catastrophically underfunded system whereby frazzled, overwhelmed judges and caseworkers shuffle children between dysfunctional homes, under-supervised foster care and overcrowded (and sometimes stone-aged) detention facilities, all gaining virtually no public attention until some horrific abuse of a particular child in the system elicits spasms of outraged finger-pointing.
And, finally, it is a lie of the most vicious sort to pretend that we are doing anything like our best to fund and support rehabilitation for children who behave criminally. The best we can? When the billions of dollars that could build veritable cities of family support and child rehabilitation are instead being flushed daily into a titanically destructive war? When further trillions are being scooped from the federal treasury into the sticky palms of the rich, who have tired of the taxes on their corporations and their splendid incomes and estates? With the gusher of cash our government has found to wage a dishonest and disastrous war and to relieve the wealthy of their tax burden, we could instead be building halfway houses, family mental health centers, long-term psychiatric treatment hospitals, day care centers, job training programs, parenting support networks, drug treatment centers, and community colleges literally by the thousands, all staffed with qualified, well-paid counselors and child care workers and doctors and nurses and educators and trainers.
We could do it. We have the money, as the war and the tax giveaway have proven. So we should not lie to ourselves about how much America cares for its children. The President, despite his ad-slogan propositions and his recent Boy Scout photo op, does not care. The Republican Party, despite its scripted chants in defense of "life," does not care. The choices that our country -- or should I say our government -- has made are brutally clear. And we are paying for them.
Or, more specifically, children are paying for them. With their lives.
In these days when our draft-dodging leaders evoke more and more of the corrupt logic of the Vietnam War in their policy directives, it gives new meaning to the term "baby-killer."
(Posted 8/2/05 by Bruce A. Jacobs)
Bush's Left Brain.
Let's say I recently had lunch with my old college classmate Woozy (we called him that because he slept through half of his
Woozy works for the unofficial government. You know the unofficial government: the rightward-tilting think tanks that designed the political strategy for invading Iraq, helped the power industry to draft the nation's energy legislation, and did the advance work on the anti-gay-marriage 2004 scorched-earth campaign. Woozy is now a higher-up in one of these well-known privately-funded strategy bulwarks (you'd know it if I named it), an outfit he is fond of calling "Bush's left brain."
Since I am continually perplexed by the apparently self-destructive behavior of the far right wing and its representatives in the White House, while Woozy and I waited for our food I took the opportunity to quiz him about his team's doings.
"Tell me this," I said. "With Iraq being a disaster, and the 'War On Terror' being Bush's sole remaining playable card on foreign policy, how do you expect to keep Bush from going down the toilet when the long-term impact of his policies is to recruit terrorists and to underfund and misdirect the effort against global terrorism? I mean, out of raw self-interest, wouldn't you want to pursue anti-terror policies that actually work?"
Woozy was already grinning. "You make the classic error of a civically-inclined liberal," he said. "You assume that what we say we want is in fact what we want." He leveled his gaze at me.
"Okay," I said. "Go on."
"What we on the Bush team say we want is to win the War On Terror," Woozy said. "But what we really want to win is the war for our agenda."
"And what would your agenda be?" I asked.
"It's multifaceted," Woozy said. "Part of it is our being able to pursue certain regime changes abroad for their economic and strategic value. Part of it is our finally gaining the momentum to increase our surveillance and containment of domestic activists and dissenters who threaten to take the country off-message when it comes to big-dollar issues like global trade and the environment. And part of it is stirring up the kind of consuming international commotion that enables us to quietly pass the domestic legislation we promised to campaign contributors: relaxed rules for food, pollution, drugs, mining, logging, you name it. Notice where those regulatory stories are now? The back pages of the newspapers."
"All right," I said. "So the War On Terror is background noise. We've heard that before. But it's a war you're losing. What then?"
"That's the beauty of it," said Woozy. "The more we're threatened with losing the War On Terror, the more our agenda wins."
"Don't you see?" said Woozy. "It's precisely the frightening, unabated threat of continuing terrorism that gives us our pretexts for wars and our cover for unpopular domestic policies. My team's mandate is not to start winning the War On Terror. It's to keep losing it. Constant fear of losing the War On Terror is what puts the yellow ribbons on the SUVs. It's what helps Bush to fire up red state voters while he screws them on the issues. Our job is to milk the War On Terror for everything it's worth. The longer it lasts, the better. A perpetually struggling War On Terror is the best thing that ever happened to the American right wing. Without it, Bush would have been tossed out on his ear in 2004, with or without Ohio. Get it?"
He took a sip of his drink.
"Haven't you ever wondered," he went on, "why Homeland Security is chronically underfunded? Why we put our resources into invading Iraq while secretly knowing it had no connection to Al Qaeda? Haven't you wondered why American ports are wide open? Why airline security -- let alone security on trains and highways -- is a joke? This Administration is full of smart people. Wouldn't you think they would have made it a top priority to address the true dangers of terrorism if they understood this to be in their interest? Well, they've done the math. And here's the answer: Terrorism isn't Bush's enemy. Terrorism is his job security."
Woozy sat back in his chair.
"Jesus," he said. "Stop looking at me like I'm Satan's valet. This is me. Woozy. I haven't signed on with the true-believer crazies. I'm a small "d" democrat just like you. I want a future for my kids free of these corrupt politicians and perpetual wars. And it will happen. I promise you. My side's victories will be strictly short-term. Let's face it, this whole corporate-financed deficit-driven mall-fascism regime is unsustainable. Our economy can't survive it, poor countries won't stand for it, and the planet can't take it. Eventually, something will push the costs over the edge for Americans -- a collapse of the dollar, a horrible epidemic in the face of a bankrupted public health infrastructure, some surprise global warming disaster, who knows? -- and soon the good red state folks who've been nodding at our War On Terror will be stampeding their town halls and screaming bloody murder for good government. And our silver-haired corporate senators will be led off for political re-education. And things will change. And by then, all of us on the Bush support team, from the leaders on down, will already have what we want: boatloads of assets safely stowed away, and ample trust funds for our kids."
Woozy paused, stirred his ice with his swizzle stick, then continued. "So, when you look at the big picture, it's win-win. We on the right get what we want. And after things fall apart, ordinary Americans will get what they want, too."
He looked at me. "Come on," he said. "Say something. Stop looking so depressed."
(Posted 7/1/05 by Bruce A. Jacobs)
Who Hates America?
thoughtful and (thank God) cheerful musing on the future of American
public speech in this age of corporate-sponsored prattle, you might
want to cozy up to Garrison Keillor's "Confessions of a Listener" essay
in the May 23, 2005 issue of The Nation
(www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20050523&s=keillor). Not only is it
a fun read, but beneath Keillor's signature fireside storytelling -- in
this case, his tale of the past and future of radio -- are some
insights worth pondering about the mentality of the American far right.
One of the observations that really stays with me is Keillor's take on the rise of right-wing radio and the current hyped-up Republican frame of mind, of which he says:
Sure, Garrison's having a little fun. But I think he is also onto something.
When you think about it, beneath their bellicose pieties about the glories of the homeland and its God-given destiny, many of the most zealous of today's angry American right actually loathe their country. They may crave the fictional nation of their myths and fantasies. But they loathe their actual nation, this place where they in fact live. It is a place that was occupied by other people first, and is now home to an entire planet's worth of humans who bring all of their histories and hungers and gods and non-gods to bear in a beautiful riot of coexistence. Right-wingers hate this. They hate the fact that their neighborhoods keep changing and that they have to keep adjusting to new accents and new customs and evolving ideas of what is fair and just. Right-wingers like to talk about democracy, but they are not interested in living it. Not in the least. What they want is to be in charge. It curdles their blood that their assurance of getting their way is obstructed by the demographic facts and the (theoretical) principles of their nation. God, do they hate that. Every day while they lock their car doors against scary strangers and turn to Rush Limbaugh for sour radio comfort, they hate being in America.
So is it any wonder they are so mean? So insecure? So needy?
Not long ago I was sitting in a small quick-copy shop waiting for my order. A 50-ish guy, apparently a regular customer, strolled in and, after a minute of small talk at the counter, launched loudly into what I took to be his ritual rant in the general direction of the clerk about 9/11, the lefty food police and their persecution of McDonald's, and his own well-planned regimen to protect his family from the imminent threat of terrorist attack. I found myself staring at him, wondering what would possess a grown man -- aside from the obvious ailment of overexposure to the Fox Network -- to behave so antisocially in a store among strangers. Why was he driven to so feverishly intrude upon other people's aural space with this personal show of outrage?
Then it hit me: he doesn't feel at home here. In this store. In this city. In America. And he's doing what bitter orphans everywhere do: giving the finger to the fearsome and unwelcoming world.
Yes, I know, by the standards of reason it's certifiably loony -- a middle-aged white guy, who by both ethnicity and gender is part of the single most privileged group of humans on the planet, convincing himself that he and his kind are hapless pariahs who are being shoved off the edge of the earth by the REAL power elite: the liberals and the blacks and the gays. If you're laughing, I don't blame you.
It's both ironic and tragic: this bitter faction of scared and angry white American men, estranged from their natural allies of working- and middle-class Americans of color, clasping their Rush-blaring radios like pacifiers while the corporations that sponsor the furious noise quietly pillage their nation's tax revenues and flush working families' economic security down the toilet.
If only such sorry, suffering self-styled patriots would learn to love their country, they might have a better shot at a future.
(Posted 6/26/05 by Bruce A. Jacobs)
Sins of Faith.
I received a chain email recently, of the far-right Christian variety.
In most ways, it was pretty typical of the chain-polemic genre: a "DID YOU KNOW?" headline followed by a list of factoids cherry-picked to reinforce what the intended audience already believes. In this case, the intended head-nodders are fundamentalist Christians who want to believe that our government is and should be functionally Christian.
The email leads historically-challenged readers, with the help of cartoony drawings, through a list of religious inscriptions on federal buildings and intemperate quotes from various founding fathers, all purporting to prove -- in defiance of the substance of the historical record -- that American government has "always" been Christian. It is typically weak-minded Internet graffiti. Utterly forgettable. That is, until the email's concluding tirade, which I'll quote for you:
aside for a moment the small matter that the alleged 86 percent are not
all Christians. For me, the deeper meaning of this rant, and of the
proliferation of such sentiments among Christian fundamentalists, is
this: Within today's religious right there is a significant minority of
Americans who simply do not care about the viewpoints of others. They
want what they want. They believe that God entitles them to force their
will on the rest of us. And if we don't like what they do with our
country, we can go to hell. Literally.
Consider again the last sentence of that frothing quotation, with its capital letters and screaming punctuation: "Why don't we just tell the other 14% to Sit Down and SHUT UP!!!" That 14 percent being, of course, non-Godly taxpayers, who for their pains of citizenship and taxation are entitled to exactly nothing because God's reputed army of 86 percent has the raw numbers to trample the rest of the population. Such is the reply of devotees of the gentle Jesus to their countrymen's honest misgivings: "Sit Down and SHUT UP!!! We run the religious racket around here, and what our boss says goes! Or else. Got it?"
In short, the leading edge of today's Christian far right is not only mean, but also favorably disposed toward certain kinds of tyranny in service to its vision of the will of God.
This is a serious point, and one too easily dismissed by those journalists and politicians for whom the indestructibility of American democracy is an article of faith. In fact, democracy -- to the extent that we have it in a nation whose distribution of wealth and power bears increasing resemblance to a banana republic -- is fragile. And the susceptibility of scared and demoralized citizens to furious right-wing promises of reclaimed power and glory is one of a democracy's most profound weak spots. Right now in our nation, the machinery hacking most effectively at this chink in the national character is the Christian hard right, with its tyrannical amorality ("whatever enables us to win for God is right") disguised as fervent Christian piety. Having a government that lies about policy, keeps illegal secrets and changes senate rules to protect its own leadership is all part of the holy mission.
It is exactly this sort of faithful public deference to rule by force -- an attitude of "whatever the ruler does is okay because he's on our side of God's issues" -- that the Bush Administration and the Republican Party are counting on among supporters as they ignore public accountability to sledgehammer through the policies of their choosing.
What strikes me as most insidious about this kind of advance work for authoritarianism is that it appeals to so many decent and well-meaning people. The person who sent me the "SHUT UP!!!" email, for instance, is someone I know: a sensitive, well-intentioned person who was surprised and genuinely pained to learn how offended I am by this kind of ruthless groupthink. That, I think, is the dirty secret of charismatic tyranny: it works not only on the wild-eyed misfits but also on a good chunk of the rest of us, the middling people in need of some kind of passionate assurance in scary times. Ask anyone who was in the vicinity when another furious presidential demagogue, underestimated by the press and by the intelligentsia, rose to power in Germany in the late 1930s on a platform of reclaiming God and glory. To be sure, those times and their uniquely horrific implications are not ours. But the similarities, and the horrors already evident on our present course, are galvanizing enough.
That is why I suggest that when we see this kind of holy-stampede, tyrant-friendly thinking among people we know, we ought to take it seriously as a political force. It is not harmless. It does not deserve mockery or indifference. It deserves to be challenged.
It can do more damage than we know.
(Posted 6/15/05 by Bruce A. Jacobs)
The Secret NPR Tapes, Reel Two.
My Harvard physicist time traveler friend is back.
You might remember my having told you about him: the frazzled genius classmate of mine who went underground after working out the equations for time travel, and who now surfaces every so often bearing some troublesome shred of the future. His latest whispered phone message instructed me to meet him at a certain basement cafe. When I got there, he was even more agitated than usual.
"It's worse than we thought," he hissed. He slid a sheaf of paper across the table. "Transcript from NPR. February, 2008. Don't ask. Just read it."
From National Polite Radio, this is Double-Talk of the Nation. I'm Namby Pamby.
More controversial political news from Washington this week. In a move that liberals are denouncing as discriminatory and conservatives are hailing as a boon to national unity, President George W. Bush has issued an executive order that moves the church even closer to the center of public policy. Known as the Faith and Security Act of 2008, the President's order requires, effective immediately, that the first-born child of every Muslim American family be converted to Christianity, forcibly if necessary, before his or her fifth birthday. Details of the policy are reportedly being debated in private by Democratic and Republican party leaders, but sources tell NPR that the conversions would be carried out by government-backed representatives of Protestant and Catholic churches, with armed federal agents standing by to enforce the conversions if some Muslim families fail to comply with the new law.
Flanked by a Baptist minister and a Catholic priest at a press conference yesterday, the President declared that the Act is "a vital necessity in order to embrace our Muslim brethren in the American tradition of faith, and to protect and unite our homeland under God's love in the tradition of the founding fathers."
What are the limits to linking government policy with religion? Do first-born children in America's Muslim families show a disproportionate risk of developing sympathetic feelings toward Al Qaeda, as a group calling itself Front Line Clergy for Truth has claimed in its national TV ad campaign? Where do we draw the public line protecting the personal sanctity of faith?
Here to help us grapple with these questions are Lucy Snowden, a White House reporter for the Baltimore Sun... Welcome, Lucy...
Hello. Nice to be here.
...and Jarrett Foley, political reporter for CNN... Welcome to Double-Talk of the Nation, Jarrett...
Thanks for having me.
So, Lucy Snowden. Mandatory religious conversions? How did we get to this? What's going on here?
Well, Namby, this is the logical culmination of the brutally partisan state of politics in Washington today. It's "take no prisoners" on both sides. Take this issue, for instance. The hard-line Republicans are absolutely insistent that every Muslim first-born child in America be forcibly converted to Christianity. And the hard-line Democrats are saying, "No way under heaven we're going to allow that to happen." So you have these two totally inflexible, hard-line positions on both sides, with the moderates in the middle trying to broker some kind of realistic deal. It's not just playing hardball; it's more like two armies fighting to the death.
So it's partisanship gone wild. Jarrett, do you agree?
Absolutely. A senior Democratic senator said to me the other day, "I've never seen it this ugly. A lot of Democrats and Republicans in the Senate won't even speak to each other any more." There's been broad bipartisan support for the President on key measures, like our bombing of Iran after Condoleezza Rice's testimony before the House about an imminent nuclear attack. But on a lot of issues, like this forcible religious conversion debate, it's pure partisanship. Neither side will give an inch. The entire two-way process has broken down.
Hmm. Let's see what listeners think. Todd in St. Louis, you're on the air.
Hi. I'm listening to this, and I can't believe what I'm hearing these journalists say. Do they seriously think this is just a matter of equally extreme partisanship on both sides? I mean, come on. Isn't it much more of a hard-line extreme to try to mandate forced religious conversions than it is to oppose them? And look at the entire record of Republican versus Democratic positions in recent years. Sounds to me as if you journalists are afraid to call it like it is.
Well, as a journalist it's not my job to pass judgment on the Republicans' and Democrats' positions. I just report the facts.
But you're NOT reporting the facts. By treating both positions as equally hard-line and extreme, you're actually distorting the facts. You're creating an untrue story. You're actually stepping in and altering the picture that we readers and viewers get. So why not take a stand reporting the real deal instead of making up this "it's all equal" story?
Doesn't the caller have a point? Aren't the facts unbalanced sometimes?
Sorry, but that's for the public to decide. If journalists got into the business of saying, "Forced religious conversion is an extreme policy, and being against forced conversion is a more balanced policy," then what kind of society would we have?
Thanks for your call, Todd. Well, speaking of balance, let's get into the politics of this. There's talk on the Senate floor that moderate Democrats and Republicans are close to a compromise, perhaps one that would allow first-born Muslim children to keep their religion in exchange for their being required to serve fours years in the U.S. military once they turn 18...
My hands were shaking. I looked up from the transcript to ask my friend where the hell he got this and what he expected me to do with it.
But he was gone.
(Posted 5/29/05 by Bruce A. Jacobs)
Erring While Black.
could say a lot of things about the group of more than 100
Bush-supporting black pastors who, as detailed in a February 1 Los
Angeles Times story, are pushing a "Black Contract with America On
Moral Values" that includes opposing civil rights for gays, breaking
down the separation of church and state, and attacking what they call
the "America-hating black liberal leadership."
You could say that these would-be moralists are bigoted throwbacks who have learned little from the long and bloody struggle fought by many (including some gays) for the civil rights of blacks. You could say that they are smarmy opportunists who are cashing in on the money and power (essentially a bribe) offered to the black church leadership by the Bush Administration in the form of funds and support for "faith-based" initiatives. You could say that they are shills for corporate power who cynically embrace the fear-mongering vocabulary (with such epithets as "America-hating") of the Bush propaganda machine. You could say that the sheer ugliness and injustice of their alleged stance of faith makes a dirty joke of the best traditions of American Christianity.
You could say all of these things. And you would be right.
But the one thing you cannot truthfully say is that the position taken by these small-minded, short-sighted pastors is not sufficiently "black."
It is tempting, as we watch these power-scavengers-of-the-cloth scurry for scraps of raw meat from the Republican table, to hold them up as traitors to the black American cause. Among some black liberals and progressives right now, there is abundant righteous outrage (as well as slack-jawed astonishment) at the audacity of these black hard-right Sunday warriors and their links to Newt Gingrich and the Heritage Foundation. You can almost hear the unspoken charge: How dare these turncoats call themselves black leaders! How dare they claim to align themselves with black interests!
But that is where we make our mistake. Truth is, from the day of the first agreement between an African power broker and European slave raiders for the provision of human chattel, there has never been any such thing as a single "black" agenda in the New World. And there never will be. If there is one universal truth about blackness, it is that under the right conditions it is utterly compatible with greed, hate, evil and hypocrisy. As is also true of whiteness, brownness, yellowness and redness. (Ask the citizens of Nigeria, whose black government works ruthlessly in the service of Chevron and other oil companies, about this.)
Of course, what has made Americans want to believe in a single set of "black" interests is the long procession of laws and customs (and whips, ropes and guns) that have, over several centuries, treated we blacks as one single set of targets for white schemes and fears. It wasn't hard for us to buy into an official "black" agenda, as represented, say, by the N.A.A.C.P., when the law of the land dictated that blacks tolerate lynchings and sit in the back of the bus. Even then, of course, there were blacks who enabled, or personally exploited, the suffering of the rest. But those complexities pale beside today's realities, when members of the black middle class, now millions strong, flee for the suburbs and lock the doors of their SUVs against the glances of young black men at downtown stoplights.
Which brings us back to the previously-mentioned faith-fund-coveting African American ministers of the hard right. The point here is that these pastors have not "abandoned" some universal black agenda. They are simply pursuing a black agenda of their own. It happens to be one that is at odds with the economic and political interests, as well as the moral and spiritual well-being, of most black Americans. It does, however, exploit some very real sentiments in some black communities, including a fervent desire for self-empowerment and a resentful perception that homosexuality poses a threat to black manhood. It is no less black an agenda than any other: the vantage point of an elite group of black religious entrepreneurs whose personal incomes and assets likely lead them to believe, rightly or wrongly, that the Bush regime is their golden goose.
How successfully the ministers can preach this foul gospel to their black congregations remains to be seen. But there is certainly no reason to expect them to be any less successful than their charismatic, telegenic white counterparts on the far right, who have already made meanness and homophobia a billion-dollar religious industry.
So call these African American pro-Bush pulpit crusaders exactly what they are. Call them black. As black as Condoleezza Rice. As black as Clarence Thomas.
Call them black. Call them wrong. Call them mean-spirited, foolish, bigoted, and un-Christian.
That should about cover it.
(Posted 2/12/05 by Bruce A. Jacobs)
Let's Get Moral.
Let's get moral for a moment, shall we?
I am sitting here with a newspaper clipping on my desk. It tells the story -- one you may have heard recently -- about a television commercial, currently airing, that was produced by the United Church of Christ, a Protestant denomination looking to shore up its national membership.
The commercial shows two burly bouncers guarding the entrance to a church. They turn away a succession of would-be worshipers: a gay couple, a Hispanic man, a black girl. The bouncers do, however, admit a heterosexual white family. Then onscreen text comes up that reads: "Jesus didn't turn away people. Neither do we."
It's a simple message. It says, in effect, 'Our church honors God's love for everyone.' It's an affirmation of simple, inclusive faith. Whether you're religious or not, what's not to like about a TV spot such as this?
Well, as it turns out, plenty, at least according to the Taliban wing of Christian fundamentalism and the corporate decision-makers who quiver in fear of its bullying and boycotting. CBS and NBC refused outright to air the spot. Their reasoning? The commercial's message is too controversial. It advocates a position, the two networks claim, that might offend or upset too many viewers.
Hmm. Interesting. Networks that rush to entertain you with dramatized murder and physical harm, networks that eagerly feature the meanest possible rituals of personal warfare in staged competitions for sex or money, networks that spent an entire year uncritically repeating a president's brazen lies to start a war with nary a blush, are now shocked at the potential public harm of a message that says God doesn't discriminate.
So let's get moral for a minute. Let's dare to poke around in that allegedly conservative-ruled domain of morality, where presumably high-minded Red-State outrage is running amuck and scaring the bejesus out of the agnostic accountants who run major media conglomerates. Let's go on a hunt for good and evil on both sides of the political divide, and see what we find.
Let's start with the agenda of the President and his allies in segments of the Christian right, who bellow bloody murder about how the country is on its deathbed and how we had better nurture the family before it's too late. Except, these moralists remind us, "the family" doesn't include gay families, who choose to burn in hell. And, actually, it doesn't include poor families, either, whose dire need for living-wage laws and well-funded health and family services is either vilified or ignored by the right. Come to think of it, nor does it include middle-class families, many of whom simply have to gut it out without health coverage or solid jobs or well-funded public schools, thanks to an agenda that the Christian right supports. Nor does the right's purported championing of the family extend to law-abiding American Muslim families, who will simply have to learn to live with the right's policies of contempt, scrutiny and the threat of secret imprisonment while flag-waving churchgoers cheer the President and turn their backs. But if you're a prosperous white heterosexual family with kids in private schools, take heart: you've got an army of angry fundamentalist Christians fighting for your benefit.
But there is also the other chief moral complaint of the Christian right: that our nation has lost its decency and must reclaim essential moral values. Well, some moral values, anyway. Not honesty, to be sure, since so many fervent Christian Americans felt fine about voting for a serial liar whose personal history also makes him a spectacular hypocrite on the issues of drug abuse penalties, hard work, and personal responsibility. And certainly the moral virtues of compassion and thoughtfulness don't rank high with Bush backers, since, with their support, he is milking tragedy for all it's worth as a cynical excuse for kicking pre-emptive ass with or without supporting evidence. Nor does a basic reverence for life seem to register with the hard-core Bush faithful, many of whom appear to limit their love of humanity to a public spectacle of fetus fetishism while mustering no public outrage -- zero, none, nada -- about the physical and emotional carnage of unwanted and abused children, effectively orphaned inner-city teenagers, and domestic and global AIDS. In fact, true Christian faith itself appears to mean little or nothing to Bush and his belligerent band of prayerful crusaders, who blaspheme the Good Book by cherry-picking a few literal Biblical verses to use as ammunition against chosen targets (gays, for instance) while outright ignoring other verses that don't suit their political purposes.
"Moral" is not the adjective that comes to mind to describe the hard-right lifestyle.
And what stances and values do we find on the political left, among the allegedly morally bankrupt, family-hating God-bashers of the cosmopolitan Blue State set?
Well, let's see. Progressives said it was wrong to go to war in Iraq on so little evidence, since war must always be a last resort. Progressives said the civilian casualties in Iraq would be unconscionable, and that we would live to regret the invasion. Progressives insist that presidents be held accountable to tell the truth not just about oral sex, but about starting wars that kill tens of thousands of people. Progressives support not just their own civil rights, but also those of others. Progressives believe that working people need medicine and good schools more than rich people need a tax break. Progressives say that effective drug treatment should be available to all drug addicts, not just to radio talk show hosts and future presidents. Progressives think that a child's life is too precious to be lived in hunger, deprivation or preventable illness, and progressives actually act to do something about it. Progressives believe that a well-informed teenager in a society that truly supports families will make a more moral decision about sex than an ignorant teenager in a society that ignores the needs of families. Progressives believe in respecting other people's beliefs. Progressives understand that the universe doesn't revolve around them and their own opinions. Progressives do politically unto others as they would have others do unto them. Progressives are not mean by doctrine. And progressives would not wish eternal damnation on any human being, or dog, or earthworm.
So now who's got the moral high ground? And whose offensive extremism should be cited by network television executives?
I tire of watching the meanest among us masquerade as the most godly; of hearing selfish, piggish bully-worshippers use a perversion of Christianity as an excuse for their own know-nothing swagger; of witnessing the self-indulgence of those who are faithful above all else to a use of religion as a kind of personal fascism.
If you tire of this as well, I have a suggestion. The next time someone gets in your face with some variety of mass-produced egoism disguised as religion, do what someone I know once suggested.
Tell them you hope God will forgive them.
(Posted 12/30/04 by Bruce A. Jacobs)
Condoleezza Rice, Underachiever.
It's an old story, a scenario that has become all too familiar, and painful, to many an African-American parent, teacher or
neighbor: squandered brilliance.
Be it in Washington, Memphis or Los Angeles, our hearts break every time we watch yet another bright, talented striver fall off the path of promise and into a life of disrepute and destruction: Running a street corner drug operation. Or fencing stolen SUVs and cartons of DVDs.
Or brazenly lying to Americans on behalf of a corrupt presidential administration.
It breaks our hearts every time we see it happen. And it's no different with Condoleezza Rice.
Look at her. What a colossal, screaming-out-loud waste -- of talent, of brains, of ambition.
What went wrong? She seems to have come from a good family; they pushed her early to achieve and to excel. As a young woman, she became a standout figure skater and an extraordinary pianist. Then she took the academic world by storm, becoming the youngest provost in the history of Stanford University.
But somewhere along the line, the thugs came calling, singing the siren song that thugs always sing to the good kids: Come on Condi, you've got the stuff but we've got the power, don't be a sucker, get on the right side. The next thing anybody knew, Condoleezza Rice, geopolitical expert and proud descendant of ex-slaves, was helping the corporate right to engineer a hostile takeover of the global economy while she sat on the board of an oil company, Chevron, that was profitably devastating a West African nation. And now here she is in the thick of dishonest policies on both terrorism and Iraq, dispatched like a steely-eyed Mafia consigliore to tell the cameras whatever tales will carry the day.
It breaks your heart.
Just think of who she might have been had she gone straight. Imagine: Condoleezza Rice, global political expert, running an international school where young diplomats from poor nations could learn how to negotiate trade deals that would actually help to nourish their own economies instead of simply serving them up as markets for global corporations. Or: Condoleezza Rice, scholar/athlete/pianist, founding a billion-dollar national program (funded with foundation contributions) to train star student athletes and artists in the skills of political and social leadership. Or: Condoleezza Rice, eloquent speaker and organizer, touring the corporate circuit to drum up support for a new movement of "Responsible Profit" whereby far-sighted companies would eschew sleazy legislative favors and tax breaks and instead step up to pay their fair share of an investment in a stable global future.
She had so much promise. So much potential.
But the thugs got to her first. And now Condoleezza Rice is lost, another sneering lieutenant in the brutal regime of the latest street corner lord, her purse bulging with blood money, her "friends" immersing her in a code of utter ruthlessness. Even if she wanted to get out now and come clean, she couldn't. And she knows it.
And as with all of our fallen children, the question is always the same: Who let Condi down? Was it the parents? Was it the schools? Was it the economic and political system? Was it all of us?
We see good, talented kids go bad every day. And every new case hurts just as much as the last.
It breaks your heart.
(Posted 4/11/04 by Bruce A. Jacobs)
The Media Dream Version of Dr. King.Oh, no. It's that time of year again, when major newspapers and TV news
shows trot out the usual montage of clips from Dr. Martin Luther King
Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech in honor of the great man's birthday
(January 15) and Black History Month.
I have come to dread this once-a-year replay of Kingbites, not because of the way it claims to honor him, but because of the way it succeeds in diminishing him. Gone is the Dr. King who condemned the Vietnam War, who helped to plan the Poor People's Campaign, and who died while visiting Memphis in support of striking sanitation workers. In his place, once every winter, we get those few carefully-chosen poetic nuggets about a dream of little black and white boys and girls and the content of our character. Beautiful and moving, yes. But what about the rest of King's vision? You know, the stuff that scared the FBI into trying to, well, ruin his life?
So, as a counterweight to the warm and cuddly King who will once again soothe you this February, I am reprinting here a few excerpts of speeches by the censored King, the dangerous and gutsy and visionary King, whose words you will rarely get to see and hear.
Let's begin with "Beyond Vietnam," a speech King delivered on April 4, 1967 at Riverside Church in New York City. The speech -- denounced at the time by both Time magazine and the Washington Post -- is eerie in its foreshadowing of the Iraq war and the War on Terror. In it, King called Americans "strange liberators" for having sided with French colonizers against Vietnam's attempts at independence, and for backing the hated Diem dictatorship prior to becoming mired in an ensuing guerrilla rebellion (sound familiar?). King also criticized the American presidency and media for misinforming the public about the history and nature of the Vietnamese situation during the run-up to war (also sound familiar?).
In King's own words:
'Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the heart of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism.'
"If we continue, there will be no doubt in my mind and in the mind of the world that we have no honorable intentions in Vietnam. It will become clear that our minimal expectation is to occupy it as an American colony and men will not refrain from thinking that our maximum hope is to goad China into a war so that we may bomb her nuclear installations. If we do not stop our war against the people of Vietnam immediately the world will be left with no other alternative than to see this as some horribly clumsy and deadly game we have decided to play.
"The world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve. It demands that we admit that we have been wrong from the beginning of our adventure in Vietnam, that we have been detrimental to the life of the Vietnamese people. The situation is one in which we must be ready to turn sharply from our present ways...
"Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the 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... 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."
Next, here is King on the costs of war, from his "Remaining Awake Through A Great Revolution" speech in Washington, D.C., on March 31, 1968:
"Not only that, it has put us in a position of appearing to the world as an arrogant nation. And here we are ten thousand miles away from home fighting for the so-called freedom of the Vietnamese people when we have not even put our own house in order. And we force young black men and young white men to fight and kill in brutal solidarity. Yet, when they come back home, they can hardly live on the same block together."
And finally, here is King on what we now call globalization, from his "Conscience and the Vietnam War" essay in his 1968 book The Trumpet of Conscience:
And that is just a small sampling of what King had to say. Infuriating, isn't it, that the man's legacy has been shrunken to the billboard-friendly "Dream" snippet we now see every February. But it makes an obvious point: Most American media did not like the real King back then. And they do not like him now.
By the way, for the full text of King's "Beyond Vietnam" speech, go to http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/45a/058.html
(Posted 2/19/04 by Bruce A. Jacobs)
A More Perfect Union.On a recent trip through the Midwest, while leafing through The Blade, Toledo's daily newspaper, I ran across an op-ed piece
about gay marriage.
I'm glad I did. In the op-ed's 900 or so plain-spoken words, an Ohio political consultant named Dale Butland -- a former Chief of Staff for U.S. Senator John Glenn and a certifiably mainstream kind of guy -- soberly dissects and discredits each of the major histrionic objections to allowing gay Americans to legally wed.
What struck me about Butland's piece wasn't just that his thinking makes good sense -- after all, gay rights activists have been making good sense about this for decades now -- but that it shows once again just how heartily mainstream a notion gay marriage is, and how radically anti-democratic an impulse it is to try to prohibit it.
Butland takes the three most commonly-heard objections to gay marriage and lays them to waste faster than Halliburton can invade a sovereign state. His point-by-point rebuttal of the anti-gay platform goes basically like this: Gay marriage threatens the sanctity of heterosexual marriage? Yeah, right, as if admitting gays into the marriage club will somehow force straight couples to wed gay partners or to cheat on and abuse their spouses more than they already do. Marriage is for procreation? Okay, so let's require that all straight couples have children, and let's forbid elderly people from marrying. Legalizing gay marriage undermines the sacred union between man and woman? Well then, let's just rewrite the Constitution so that the government's civil function of sanctioning marriage suddenly becomes a religious command that discriminates according to the biases of faith. (Don't say this loudly near some folks on the religious right).
The man from Ohio is, of course, entirely right. But the irony, it seems to me, is the fact that we need to re-learn any of these lessons at all. Because, if you think about it, we've been here before. All of this wailing and knashing of teeth over "threats" to the "sanctity" of tradition should sound distinctly familiar to all Americans who are over 40 years of age. Can you see where I'm going with this?
Remember, in the 1950s and1960s, when the idea of admitting black children into white schools and black families into white neighborhoods posed a "threat" to the way of life of panicky American whites who saw legalized segregation and wanton discrimination as birthrights? Remember when a black student sitting at a lunch counter or a black seamstress refusing to yield her seat on a bus constituted an attack on the "sanctity" of traditional white public life? Remember when most respected American priests and ministers casually accepted the belief that God thought it was okay for blacks to be subordinate -- or, a century earlier, to be slaves?
We've been here before. Then as now, we've seen American presidents mutter moralisms about the need to respect tradition by preserving the status quo. We've seen civic leaders talk evasively about the importance of preserving stability, and the need to not rush into rash social reforms. We've seen journalists file tepid stories about protestors' "controversial" demands for civil rights, and their "disputed" claims for equality. We've seen reactionaries froth at the mouth about the "destruction" of modern society by the "radical" advocates of change. We've seen millions of average Americans calmly watch as a segment of the population suffers abject discrimination and begins to fight back.
For black Americans and others who remember the 20th-century black civil rights movement, none of today's sound and fury over gay rights is new. It's the same story in 2003 for gay Americans as it was in 1963 for black Americans: there are those who understand the rightness of the cause of equal rights and full citizenship, and there are those who embrace bigotry in denying these rights according to some characteristic of human difference, and there are those who pretty much don't care. It was true for blacks who were fire-hosed and denied the right to vote, and it's true for gays who are beaten on streetcorners and denied the right to rent an apartment or to marry. It was true for Emmett Till and it was true for Matthew Shepard.
When I was a child in the 1960s, I couldn't understand what it was about us as black people that gave us such power to intimidate white people. Did we have super-powers that made our mere proximity a deadly threat to whites? Were we like kryptonite? Of course, the toxin, as my mother explained to me, was not in us. It was in bigoted whites and their ideas. Just as the problem with gay marriage is not gays; it is certain self-proclaimed heterosexuals whose experience of the meaning of their own marriages is so flimsy and so based on exclusion that it falls apart -- in their eyes -- when they have to be good citizens and share the concept.
But, as with racially prejudiced whites, they will simply have to learn. Bigotry is bigotry. And when John Glenn's former chief of staff goes on record in the heartland to testify to this fact, I take it as a good sign.
(Posted 12/22/03 by Bruce A. Jacobs)
The Secret NPR Tapes, Reel One.Sometimes
the wide-eyed, uncritical nature of media coverage of the
Bush presidency seems almost surreal to me. I look at the media's
bland, shrugging response to W's dizzyingly brazen succession of lies
and abuses, and I wonder if I'm still on the third planet from the sun.
Lately, with Bush's Iraq policy falling apart, it seems more reporters are committing acts of journalism. But then, a few nights ago, I had a horrible dream. In it, I was listening to the radio:
(THEME MUSIC UP, THEN UNDER)
From National Polite Radio, this is Double-Talk of the Nation. I'm Namby Pamby.
At a press conference yesterday, President George W. Bush announced yet another controversial White House initiative: the formation of a federally-funded Department of White Privilege. In the face of criticism from liberals, the President defended this new multi-billion-dollar federal initiative as being "necessary for the protection of our nation's millions of white citizens and their traditional way of life," which he said has been threatened by affirmative action and other race-based gains of people of color during the past century.
Has the President gone too far? His liberal critics say so. But his supporters say he is simply honoring a legacy.
Here to discuss this remarkable new development are my two guests: Bernard Lewis Stanford, Professor of History at Yale and winner of the Nobel Prize for his more than 30 books on American history... Welcome, Professor...
Thank you very much, Namby.
...and writer Steve Stone, author of the new book, "Why I Think White People Are Better Than Black People." Welcome to Double-Talk of the Nation, Steve.
Glad to be here, Namby.
Professor, let me start with you. According to the President, the new Department of White Privilege will have broad powers to legally re-segregate neighborhoods and schools, set limits to property ownership by people of color, declare higher wages for whites, and define crimes and punishments according to race. The President insists that this is not favoritism, but simply "a return to solid traditions that are good for America." Is there any reason to doubt the President's sincerity?
My God, there are centuries' worth of reasons. Even the most basic understanding of American history will reveal this to be an absolutely barbaric return to our nation's most wicked racial policies. We haven't seen anything like this since the sabotaging of Reconstruction. The human rights violations in this decision are unprecedented in recent American history. The rest of the world is watching with utter horror.
Strong words, Professor. Steve Stone, do you agree with that?
No way. Look, this is a white man's country. Whites made America, and we should benefit from what we made. Fair is fair. I support the President.
Hmm. What about those who say people of color were instrumental in building this country?
They weren't. It's a lie.
It's a lie?
Sure. For one thing, slavery never even existed. The whole slavery thing is a lie. Blacks who worked on plantations in the South were actually free the whole time. They were just poor because they were lazy.
Well, Professor, what's your answer to Steve Stone's argument?
His "argument?" This is ludicrous! This man has no knowledge whatsoever of American history. He is a rube who has written one crude book, completely fictional, and he knows nothing but his own opinions. He is a thoroughly ignorant racist...
...and I am flabbergasted that you would take his point of view seriously! How in the world can you, as a journalist, dignify an outlook so devoid of facts by putting it on the air as if it were respectable? This is utterly irresponsible!
Professor, I must remind you that our job as journalists is not to define the facts. Our job is simply to let both sides of any issue be heard. It's up to our listeners to decide what's true and what isn't. Our show has to be balanced.
That is complete nonsense! What if the facts themselves, as they are unearthed, are not "balanced?" What if delving into the factual record leads to clear and overwhelming conclusions? What if there is no serious "argument" to be had? Good Lord! Isn't it your job, as journalists, to stand up for what the evidence indicates is true?
Well, Professor, maybe that's what journalists did back in the Watergate days. But today it's not in our job description. I mean, hey, I want my agent to return my calls.
Anyway, let's take some phone calls. Huck in Hannibal, you're on the air...
Like I said, it was a bad dream. Am I awake yet?)
(Posted 10/3/03 by Bruce A. Jacobs)