From The Guardian, another specimen of human filth from post-racist America:
The judge in Ferguson, Missouri, who is accused of fixing traffic tickets for himself and colleagues while inflicting a punishing regime of fines and fees on the city’s residents, also owes more than $170,000 in unpaid taxes.
Ronald J. Brockmeyer, whose court allegedly jailed impoverished defendants unable to pay fines of a few hundred dollars, has a string of outstanding debts to the US government dating back to 2007, according to tax filings obtained by the Guardian from authorities in Missouri.
Brockmeyer, 70, was this week singled out by Department of Justice investigators as being a driving force behind Ferguson’s strategy of using its municipal court to aggressively generate revenues. The policy has been blamed for a breakdown in relations between the city’s overwhelmingly white authorities and residents, two-thirds of whom are African American.
Investigators found Brockmeyer had boasted of creating a range of new court fees, “many of which are widely considered abusive and may be unlawful”. A city councilman opposing the judge’s reappointment was warned “switching judges would/could lead to loss of revenue”.
I’ve been trying to think of something nice to say about Rudolph Giuliani, but the only thing I could come up with is that at least he out-grew the comb-over. For the nasty bits, you’ll have to read this dissection of the great patriot by Wayne Barrett in The New York Daily News.
Granddaughter Bethany on her way to a double-double as Iowa beat Colorado yesterday, bringing the Hawkeyes to 8 and 2 for the season. The losses were the result of biased referees and dirty play.
Waterboarding is in the grand old High WASP tradition, it seems. My son Mike came across this excerpt from George Biddle’s autobiography in a 1939 edition of Harper’s Magazine. The Reverend Endicott Peabody founded Groton School in 1884, with the object of shaping the moral character of rich kids.
For Peabody, the primary method of instilling a “manly, Christian character” was through athletics, primarily football. Sports taught cooperation, teamwork, along with a respect for following rules and sportsmanship. Everyone had to play. A letter from 1909 conveys the importance that Peabody placed on football. “In my work at Groton I am convinced that football is of profound importance for the moral even more than the physical development of the boys. In these days of exceeding comfort, the boys need an opportunity to endure hardness, and, it may be, suffering.”
Discipline was administered in a hierarchical manner by the faculty and older boys. George Biddle, who went on to become a well known artist, recounts going to a secluded basement bathroom and watching a dozen third form boys punishing a new boy, “little Teddy Roosevelt”, then 14 and the son of Theodore Roosevelt, who had violated some unspoken rule.
One boy held a stopwatch as the others held the offender under a faucet where the water “came from the open spigot with tremendous force and the stream could be concentrated in violence by thumb and forefinger. Besides the culprit was winded and frightened and held upside down during the pumping. He was being forcibly drowned for eight or ten seconds…” He recounts how they water boarded “little Teddy Roosevelt”, not for a specific transgression, but to send a message to the whole second form whose “tone … we disapproved of.” Amazingly, Teddy “was very plucky and began answering back. Shouts arose: ‘Shut up! Under again. Shut him up!” So they waterboarded him twice.
Nation editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel and contributing editor Stephen F. Cohen interview Edward Snowden in Moscow. Read the whole thing here. Snowden is a compelling figure, way above most of his detractors in both intelligence and love of country.
What defines patriotism, for me, is the idea that one rises to act on behalf of one’s country. As I said before, that’s distinct from acting to benefit the government — a distinction that’s increasingly lost today. You’re not patriotic just because you back whoever’s in power today or their policies. You’re patriotic when you work to improve the lives of the people of your country, your community and your family. Sometimes that means making hard choices, choices that go against your personal interest.
People sometimes say I broke an oath of secrecy — one of the early charges leveled against me. But it’s a fundamental misunderstanding, because there is no oath of secrecy for people who work in the intelligence community. You are asked to sign a civil agreement, called a Standard Form 312, which basically says if you disclose classified information, they can sue you; they can do this, that and the other. And you risk going to jail. But you are also asked to take an oath, and that’s the oath of service. The oath of service is not to secrecy, but to the Constitution — to protect it against all enemies, foreign and domestic. That’s the oath that I kept, that James Clapper and former NSA director Keith Alexander did not.
Each day brings new wonders in my search for the perfect asshole. I had heard neither of canned hunts nor of a specimen named Ted Nugent. Now that I have, my lack of faith in the human race is powerfully reinforced:
In most canned hunts tame or semi-tame game species, reared in captivity, are placed in enclosures of varying sizes, and the gate is opened for the client, who has been issued a guarantee of success. Canned hunts are great for folks on tight schedules or who lack energy or outdoor skills. Microchip transponder implants for game not immediately visible are available for the proprietor whose clients are on really tight schedules. And because trophies are plied with drugs, minerals, vitamins, specially processed feeds, and sometimes growth hormones, they are way bigger than anything available in the wild. Often the animals have names, and you pay in advance for the one you’d like to kill, selecting your trophy from a photo or directly from its cage. For example, Rachel, Bathsheba, Paul, John, and Matthew were pet African lions that would stroll over and lick their keepers’ hands before they were shot in Texas…
“If we don’t protect our image, we may not have a heritage,” says the Colorado Wildlife Federation’s treasurer and board member, Kent Ingram, a leader in the recent well-fought but failed battle to ban canned hunts in the state. He reports that he was informed by a Denver taxidermist that half the elk coming in to be mounted had tattooed lips, which identify captives. Ingram also said he had reliable information that one canned-hunt customer had flown into Colorado and paid $40,000 to kill a Minnesota-raised bull that had been trucked in for the one-day shoot.
From the New York Times:
The Justice Department has countered that crisis-era wrongdoing often amounted to reckless or risky behavior, but not criminal misconduct. Senior executives were far removed from the front lines of fraud, the department has argued.
In recent months, however, the Justice Department has pursued actions against bank employees suspected of manipulating foreign currencies. Those cases are expected to conclude in the coming months.
“Corporations do not act criminally, but for the actions of individuals,” Mr. Miller said in the speech, adding, “The criminal division intends to prosecute those individuals, whether they’re sitting on a sales desk or in a corporate suite.”
From the New York Times:
WASHINGTON — Thomas Hale Boggs Jr., who was the son of two prominent members of Congress and yet, as a pioneer of the capital’s lobbying and fund-raising industry, was the one who came to be called “King of the Hill,” died on Monday at his home in Chevy Chase, Md…
Starting a small company with a partner, Jim Patton, Mr. Boggs used his familiarity with both the levers of power and the intricacies of policy to build the firm Patton Boggs into a giant that became synonymous with Washington lobbying and represented some of the nation’s largest corporations and trade associations.
Mr. Boggs had a notable success as a behind-the-scenes architect of the federal government’s 1979 bailout of Chrysler, his client. He was well known for battling on behalf of trial lawyers to block changes to tort law that threatened to make it harder for people to sue for damages, and for lobbying for free trade, a priority of his father’s, in Congress.
De mortuis nil nisi bonum and all that, but what comes to my mind is that old graffiti, “A man’s ambition must be small, to write his name on a toilet wall.”
Friendly old Microsoft, as I learned over the weekend, has made it not quite impossible but inexcusably difficult to open a 1995 Word document. While I was messing around with this I came across a short story which I will now rescue from oblivion because why not. I have no recollection at all of having written the piece or why, or what if anything became of it. Tom Bethany is the protagonist of the six mysteries I wrote back in the Not So Gay Nineties; Hope Edwards is his married lover. Anyway, here goes:
They were rowing a double scull on the Potomac just after dawn, the water flat and smooth as paint in a can. Both women moving up the slide to the catch, then drive, finish, release, and then all over again, two bodies with one brain. So Hope Edwards in the stern knew something was wrong even before Julie Holcomb in the bow began to cry.
The water strider tracks they had been making on the river, two perfect lines of neat puddles disappearing behind them, weren’t so perfect anymore. The blades of Julie’s oars weren’t slipping up out of the water quite so quietly on the release. At the catch, Hope could hear the tiny back splashes Julie was making, and feel the barely perceptible they made in the boat’s forward passage. There was a change in the deep rhythm of Julie’s breathing, just a hitch at first and then a small sound forced out of her as she drove into the stroke. A sob? A sob.
Hope Edwards eased off, and so Julie eased off behind her, too, and the boat whispered along through the water on its own momentum. “Julie?” Hope said. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” Julie said.
The racing shell ran along until its momentum gave out, and then drifted.
“Go ahead,” Hope said. “Tell me.”
When Julie was finished, Hope said, “A friend of mine named Tom Bethany happens to be coming down from Cambridge tomorrow. This is just the kind of problem he loves.”
“One of your friends from law school?”
“Actually no. Tom’s sort of the opposite of a lawyer.”
“The thing is we row so well together that normally we go along in kind of a trance.” Hope was telling me the next evening. “You and the oars and the boat and the river, it all comes together and there’s nothing else. So when there was something else breaking in, I knew it had to be serious. Did you ever hear of this Richard Pennington, Tom? Is he really one of the baseball players out on strike? Or a player at all?”
“I never heard of him, no,” I said. “But I don’t know anything about baseball. I’d rather watch miniature golf.”
“I guess it doesn’t make any difference what he really does,” Hope said. “The point is, can we do anything about him?”
“Maybe, if I can find the guy. At least Julie knows where he used to live.”
“Shall we go look?”
“Hey, I just got in. Wouldn’t tomorrow do?”
We were eating where I was staying, at the Tabard Inn. We hadn’t seen each other for too long, so after dinner Hope and I went upstairs to my room to say hello to each other properly. Later we were lying in bed watching the TV with the sound off. An elephant was swimming toward a raft in the ocean, trying to sell us some type of artificially sweetened water. It was too baffling even to think about.
“Among other things,” Hope said, looking at the apparently sexless elephant, “Julie told me this Richard Pennington person was a very impressive specimen.”
“Big guy, you mean? Tall? Strong? Like that?”
“No, not like that.”
“Oh, yeah? More impressive than me?”
“You? Tom Bethany, the big-shot champion wrestler? Didn’t you ever look around at the other guys in the showers and wonder about yourself?”
“How about pretty, then? I bet I’ve got him on pretty.”
“Pretty doesn’t really enter into it. The truth is you men all look like some internal organ got left outside of the body by mistake. At least other animals keep it decently tucked away inside.”
“I can take a hint, but you’ve got to give me a few more minutes. I’m not some sixteen-year-old kid.”
“He moved out,” a woman’s voice said. I could see a section of her face in the crack of a partly-opened door down the hall.
“Oh, yeah? When was that?”
“Day before yesterday. He’s only been here a couple of months.”
“Know where I could find him?”
“He didn’t say.”
“Maybe the movers could tell me. Remember which company?”
“He rented furnished from the owners. They’re overseas, foreign service people. All he had was suitcases and some boxes full of trash which he very thoughtfully left in the hall so my husband had to take them down to the basement.”
“Sounds like Richard,” I said. Which it did, what little I knew of him.
I took the elevator to the basement, hoping pickup day hadn’t come yet. Four cardboard boxes were piled next to the lineup of green plastic trash cans. I carried the boxes outside and left them by the basement steps while I brought my car around.
There was a supermarket not far away, so I pulled into the lot to see whether Pennington’s trash had been worth stealing. Mostly not. Just routine, anonymous debris like old toothpaste tubes, newspapers and ad flyers, occupant mail, empty cans and TV dinner packages. He was a Ben & Jerry’s man, Cherry Garcia flavor. I never knew anybody actually ate Cherry Garcia. I always figured it was an old family recipe and they ran off a few token pints now and then just to keep Jerry’s granny happy.
Among all this junk, though, I found a crumpled ball of paper that turned out to be a Visa receipt for thirty-some bucks. The name on it was Richard Harrigan, not Richard Pennington. It was from a saloon called Eddie’s Irish Rose, which was in the Adams-Morgan area of D.C., not far from 16th and Columbia. Pennington/Harrigan’s abandoned apartment was all the way across the Potomac in Arlington. It was a long way to go for a drink.
“You’re an investigator, are you, Mr. Bethany?” Detective Weintraub of the Fraud Squad said when Hope introduced me. “Is your background in law enforcement, may I ask?”
“You could say so,” I said. “Government work overseas.”
“Where was that?”
“Laos, mostly. During the war.”
“Laos, huh? I see.”
That meant he figured I was CIA, which I wasn’t. I had been an enlisted man in the army attaché’s office, but I let Weintraub jump to his conclusion.
When Hope told the detective we were interested in a certain Richard Harrington, he said, “Did this individual claim by any chance to be a professional athlete?”
“You know him, then?” Hope said.
“We’ve had prior contacts with Slick Richie.”
“Slick Richie?” Julie said.
“This is the nickname we give to Richard Harrigan among ourselves in the squad. Because our experience with this individual dates from a long time.”
Weintraub walked Julie through her story with a series of leading questions that showed he already knew what the answers would be. At the end Julie Holcolmb said, “Then the only true thing he told me was his first name, wasn’t it? The rest of it was all lies.”
“I’m afraid so, Miss Holcomb,” Weintraub said. “He told you a baseball player out on strike. Sometimes he says hockey player, or tennis, or auto racing. Whatever is out of season and the victim doesn’t have any particular knowledge of the sport. Probably he determined at a given point that you were unfamiliar with baseball, am I right?”
“Well, now that you mention it.”
“That’s the way he does. The only thing unfamiliar in your story as regards to his mode of operation, what we call his M.O., is that he took you to his place of residence. In the previous cases he was evasive about where he lived. He always visited the victim at her own domicile.”
“I live with my parents.”
“Very wise,” Weintraub said. “This sort of thing wouldn’t happen so much if more young ladies lived at home.”
The young lady in this instance was a thirty-five-year-old cardiologist at George Washington University Hospital. I looked at Hope, who would normally have taken advantage of the occasion to give Weintraub a little lesson in applied feminism. But under the circumstances she limited herself to rolling her eyes for my benefit.
Julie was close to six feet tall, with a homely, friendly face. She had stroked the Radcliffe heavyweight eight, and gone back to rowing after her residency was over. She and Hope were practicing for the Nationals, in the masters division. “Living at home didn’t help me much,” she said. “It still happened.”
“Don’t feel too bad, because he’s an expert at this,” Weintraub said. “This guy isn’t just a swindler, he’s frankly a phenomenon from what previous victims have informed us. What they call one of those sexual athletes.”
Dr. Holcomb’s face flushed, and she looked down.
“How many other women has he swindled?” Hope asked.
Harrigan had pillaged the credit cards and bank accounts of nine women that they knew of, the detective said, always on the promise of marriage. In one case the invitations had actually gone out. When the time came to dump his fiancée he didn’t just walk out like a man. He told her face-to-face, and then he raped her at knife point. After he disappeared she would find out that her bank accounts and credit cards were empty.
“Is this type of armed sexual assault similar to what occurred to yourself, Miss Holcomb, pardon me for asking?” Weintraub said. He didn’t call her doctor because she hadn’t told him she was one. Nor had she mentioned rape. But she answered his question by flushing again, avoiding our eyes, and nodding her head.
“A knife?” the detective said.
She nodded again. “He didn’t use it,” she said. “He just took it out and put it on the table.”
“As far as the law is concerned,” Weintraub said, “threatening with a weapon for the purpose of rape is as much of a felony as actually employing the weapon. Are you willing to bring charges and testify against him in court?”
Again Julie Holcomb avoided our eyes, but this time she shook her head.
“That’s the whole trouble we’re facing here,” the detective said. “Ten women by now, and nobody willing to help us get the guy off the streets. I know it’s rough, but if you want to stop him, somebody’s got to put themselves through it.”
Julie just sat there, looking down at her lap in dumb, guilty anguish.
Harrigan was too far away for me to hear what he was saying, but he was making the other darts players laugh and seemed to be popular. I watched him for a few minutes and then slipped out of the place, leaving most of my pint of bitters behind. Harrigan might be settling in for a long evening, and I didn’t want too much fluid aboard while I waited for him in my ’89 Subaru wagon.
The Subaru was closing in on 150,000 miles, and was about as inconspicuous as a car could get. But I might as well have used James Bond’s 4.5-liter Bentley. Harrigan never even looked around when he left the saloon just after one o’clock. He headed off down the street in the kind of self-consciously casual walk that I remembered from my own drinking days. You try for loose and easy, and you’re sloshed enough to think you’re pulling it off.
I had no way of knowing whether Harrigan had come on foot or whether he was heading for his car, so I gave him a little lead and pulled out from the curb to follow. I kept a block or so behind him till 16th Street, where he veered off onto a side street called Argonne Terrace. On the right was a huge apartment building that took up most of the block. As he came up on the entrance he started to fish something out of his pocket, presumably his keys, so I drove by him and pulled over. I caught up to Harrigan as he was swiping his key past some sort of electronic recognition device. When the door clicked and he went in I was right behind him.
“Thanks,” I said, pretending to put my own key back in my pocket. He smiled absently. The elevator was way down the hall, and I followed him to it. He was cool. Real men don’t panic when somebody their own size gets into the elevator with them. He punched four and I punched six. He looked straight ahead, pretending I wasn’t there till I grabbed his right arm in a come-along hold that put him up on his tip-toes. The keys were in his other hand.
“First sound and I break your elbow,” I said. The doors slid open when we got to four, and he started to say something. Not shouting, but just trying to say something. I jacked him up just short of popping the joint, and he gasped from the pain. “I told you shut up,” I said. This time he paid attention. “We’re going to your apartment.” Once he had let us in, I turned his arm loose and attached the door chain to slow him down if he decided to run off.
“You’re welcome to anything I have,” he said. “Really, I mean it. I’ve been tapped out, too, and I know what you’re up against. Hey, what the hell, it’s all insured anyway.”
“Okay, let’s see what you’ve got,” I said. He kept talking away about what pals we could be, and how he totally understood where I was coming from, and how he admired guys like me that had the balls to live on the edge, and this bullshit and that. Meanwhile I went around collecting every piece of paper in the place. It wasn’t much. Checkbooks, bills, an address book, the kitchen calendar, notes stuck to the refrigerator with little magnets. It all went into a grocery bag from the kitchen.
I rummaged through his bureau drawers and turned out the pockets of the clothes in his closet, but didn’t come up with anything more than what I had already shoved into the bag. All the while I was working out a plan, based on the fact that I had a spare key to Hope’s country place down in Virginia’s hunt country. I didn’t want Harrigan to know where he was, so I shoved his bathrobe into the bag, too. My idea was to tie his bathrobe over his head with its belt while I drove him to Hope’s isolated house in Rappahannock County. That was as far as my plan went.
Once I was done with the apartment, I set the bag to one side and unhitched the chain on the front door. “Let’s get it over with,” I said. “Take your best shot at getting past me, so we don’t have to go through the whole thing later.”
He was built well enough to pass for a professional athlete, but he just stood there. So I slapped him hard enough to bring tears to his eyes, and even then he didn’t do anything. I stuck out my own face, hands at my side. “Go ahead and take a shot,” I said, “you fucking pussy.”
I wanted an excuse to hurt him because of something Detective Weintraub had told me in private, after showing Hope and Julie out. I didn’t want Julie to hear me, but I wanted to know why Harrigan used the knife. Why wouldn’t Julie and the other victims welcome a chance to go to bed with him again? Wouldn’t it mean he still loved them? That he might come back?
“The purpose of the knife,” Weintraub said, “was to force the individual to participate in some type of activity that Richie knew this particular individual considered highly unpleasant or disgusting.”
So now I wanted to force this particular Harrigan individual to participate in a type of activity he would consider highly unpleasant. Getting, for instance, his ass whipped.
“You’re a lover, not a fighter?” I said to Harrigan as he stood there, confused and scared and drunk. “Is that it?”
I shot suddenly for his legs, dumped him on the floor, and wrapped him up with one of the dozens of holds that any trained wrestler can use to make any non-wrestler feel—and be—totally helpless. In this case it was a keylock on his right arm. A moment or two with the pressure on isn’t just agonizing. It leaves an individual’s arm temporarily paralyzed.
“Okay,” I said once our little lesson was over and his arm was dangling uselessly. “Let’s move out.”
In ten minutes his arm would be working again, but it would never occur to him to use it against me during our trip to Castleton. Tying up a person’s mind works better than tying up his hands.
“Hey, Richie,” I said. “You are an animal.”
Hope’s huge old Newfoundland had finally died a few years before, but his heavy chain had still been out in the garage. Now it was padlocked around Harrigan’s neck. The other end was padlocked to an eight-by-four oak beam under the roof. The chain was long enough to let him lie down, but not much longer. I had moved all the attic junk outside his reach, leaving him with an old plastic bucket as his only toy.
“You can’t just leave me here with no food or water, for God’s sake,” Harrigan said.
“I doubt if God gives a shit. I know I don’t.”
I went downstairs and got some sleep until Harrigan woke me up just before noon, shouting for somebody to come help him, he was dying of thirst. Probably he was, since the sun on the tin roof would have turned the attic into a sweat box by now. I ran a glass of hot water and climbed the attic stairs.
“It’s hot,” he said when I handed him the plastic glass.
“I thought it might be. That’s what it said on the tap.”
“What do you want, for God’s sake?”
“God doesn’t come into it, I told you already. This is between you and all the women you fucked over.”
“You tell me. I want the name of every woman you raped and stole from.”
“You’ve got me mixed up with somebody else. Do I look like somebody that would have to rape women?”
“That’s exactly what you look like.”
“Who are you, anyway.”
“Maybe an older brother or a real fiancé. Maybe an uncle or a father. Doesn’t matter. The point is you’re going to sit here and melt till you give up the names.”
“Listen, has some woman been telling you crazy things about me? We can straighten this out. What’s her name?”
“You tell me. Just give up all the names, loverboy, and one of them’s bound to be hers.”
“I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”
“Grow up. Didn’t you know this was bound to happen sooner or later?”
“What? Honestly, you must have the wrong person.”
“Think it over for the next couple of days, shithead. And keep the noise down. You see this? This is a rag I found behind one of the toilets. It gets taped into your mouth if I hear another sound out of you.”
“Why don’t you, then?” Julie said. “My God, did I just say that? I work for the ACLU.”
“I’ve already got him tied up under a hot tin roof with nothing but a loaf of Wonder bread and a plastic jug of warm Kool-Aid,” I said. “I don’t feel comfortable going any further than that.”
We were having lunch in the cafeteria of George Washington University Hospital, where Julie Holcomb worked. I had come up to the city so I could make the rounds of various ATM machines without leaving a paper trail pointing to Rappahannock County, or even so much as to Virginia. I had already maxed out Harrigan’s cards, using the PIN number in had found among the papers from his apartment. But he evidently didn’t have too much of a credit line, since I had only scored a total of $1100 on three cards.
“He must have put his real money somewhere,” I said. “But so far he keeps insisting he hasn’t got any bank accounts.”
“Repayment isn’t really the point, you know,” Julie had said when I told my plans to split Harrington’s assets among his victims.
“I know, but at least it’s something. Which is more than the police can do.”
Without a complainant, as I could have added but didn’t. Doctors live on dignity, and she wouldn’t have much left after Harrigan’s lawyers got through with her.
“I just wish there were some way to make he never does it to anybody else,” Julie said.
“Well, maybe he won’t,” I said.
“What’s going to stop him?”
“I found him once without even knowing his name, and he’s got to figure I could do it again. Which I probably could, now that I’ve gone through his papers. I know his parents’ name and address, his Social Security number, his date and place of birth, his driver’s license number, everything. Well, everything but his bank account numbers. I couldn’t find any bank records, so maybe he’s telling the truth about not having any accounts.”
“He probably ran through it all,” said Julie, whose morale seemed marginally better now that I had caught her tormentor. “Why not? He can always get more from some other idiot.”
She fell silent, while Hope and I tried out various ideas on each other, none of which seemed likely to keep Richard Harrigan out of the boudoir business for very long.
“Where are you keeping him?” Julie asked at last.
“Hope’s place in Rappahannock,” I said.
“Can’t he charge you with kidnapping?”
“Sure, but he’ll have a tough time proving it once I turn him loose. He doesn’t know where he is, and he doesn’t know who I am.”
A couple of frighteningly young interns in white coats came by, one of them a blond tall enough to play pro basketball. He had huge hands and shoulders wider than a lot of doors.
“Hey, Big Sis,” he said to Julie. She nodded as he passed.
“He’s supposed to call you doctor,” I said. “That’s what they do on ER.”
“It’s a special case,” Julie said. “I’m his big sister.”
“He row, too? He’s built for it.”
“He was on the first boat at Brown.”
“I’ll have to turn the son of a bitch loose. Unless you’ve got a better idea.”
From the ACLU office I walked over to Capitol Hill, where they put on the best free shows in town. There I reinforced my faith in human nature by watching Republican serial violators of the campaign finance law as they beat up on Democrats for violating the campaign finance laws.
It was still well before sunset when I arrived at Hope’s house in Castleton house to bundle up Harrington and dump him somewhere far away. It was a simple, old-fashioned lock. My key wouldn’t turn in the door. Either the mechanism was jammed or the bolt had already been opened. I stood still and listened hard. Nothing. I turned the knob and pushed against the door, and it gave slightly. So somebody had unlocked it. I backed down the steps and walked carefully around the house, keeping in close to stay out of sight as much I could.
A pane was broken in one of the kitchen windows.
Back at the front door, I let myself in silently and went from room to room on the ground floor and the second floor. I didn’t find anyone and I didn’t expect to. There wasn’t any car around, and whoever had broken in the back of the house had apparently let himself out the front door. Still, I was careful going up the stairs to the attic.
Richard Harrigan was right where I left him, with his plastic bucket and his Kool-Aid jug and his Wonder Bread beside him. But he had no line of bullshit for me this time. He was pulled as far away from me as the chain would let him, like a dog afraid of being whipped.
“What’s wrong, loverboy?” I said.
“For God’s sake, you never even gave me a chance to tell you before you let him do it.”
I took it slow, till I could figure out what was going on.
“Let who do what?” I asked.
“Huh? Don’t you know?”
“I didn’t say I didn’t know. I said tell me who exactly who did what. Unless you want him to come back.”
“I don’t know what he did. Not exactly. I don’t dare take the dressing off and look. Jesus, it hurts enough without pulling the bandage off of it.”
He made a little motion with one hand toward his groin.
“You’re telling me your equipment is bandaged and you don’t know what happened to it?”
“I don’t remember anything. He gave me a shot of something.”
“I don’t know. All I could see was the flashlight. The one that gave me the shot stayed out of the light and went around behind me. Big, huge guy. You could tell from his hands. I figured the other guy was you, the one holding the light.”
“Why? The guy sound like me?”
“The only one who said anything was the big guy. All he said was shut up and keep still. Why couldn’t he have asked me before he did it? I would have told him whatever he wanted to know.”
“Well, you can tell me now, unless you want him to come back and work on you some more. Unzip and let’s see what kind of a job he did.”
I was expecting the worst, but it wasn’t so bad. Just a neat dressing around Harrigan’s penis, about halfway up. Whatever had been done to him, there wasn’t any blood visible on the bandage or on his underpants.
When Harrigan had zipped up I started in asking him questions again, the same questions as before. But this time he erupted with answers. Words spilling over each other in his haste to tell me anything I wanted to know, anything at all. At the end I had the names of not ten but twenty-four women, in cities from Washington to Seattle. He gave me names and places of employment and addresses. He gave me exact amounts of money swindled from each one, and he told me how much of it he had spent, and on what.
“There’s still almost thirty thousand in the apartment in cash,” he said. “Take it, it’s yours. It’s hidden inside the kitchen ceiling. You know that kind of ceiling where the tiles just sit loose on this like grid? In the corner by the stove. Look, I’ll just give the money to you and disappear. You’ll never see me again.”
“You’ll give me shit, loverboy. I’ll go get it for myself, and if it’s not there, I won’t come back for you. My two friends will.”
I was back to the country house by midnight. I took a flashlight up to the attic instead of just switching the light on, which was no doubt a rotten thing to do. But I have to say I enjoyed seeing the gigolo/rapist cowering and whimpering until I spoke up and he figured out it was just me behind the light and not his two mysterious friends. I unlocked the chain around his neck and gave him his bathrobe back. “Tie this around your head, loverboy,” I said. “We’re out of here.”
On the way out to the paved county road, an annoying stream of talk kept coming out of the bathrobe. “You have to realize you’ve only heard one side of it,” he was saying at one point. “These are women who haven’t had much love in their lives. They were grateful for it. I don’t know what kind of lies your friend told you, but most of these women would take me back in a New York minute. They needed good loving and I gave it to them when nobody else would, and where’s the harm in that? I gave them memories they’ll cherish forever, and they wouldn’t have them without me. I was doing those poor dogs a favor.”
I pulled the car over, braking so hard he had to throw up his arms to keep from hitting the windshield. As he lowered them, I grabbed one and put it in a wristlock.
“Ow,” he said. “That hurts, for Christ’s sake.”
“Not yet it doesn’t. You’ll learn what hurt is if you don’t shut the fuck up right now. What you are, Harrigan, is the lowest form of human life. You’re a whore that pimps himself out. You’re a coward and a bully and a rapist and a pathetic little dick-peddler and I’m sorry those guys didn’t rip your dick off. Let me hear the first goddamned word out of you for the rest of this trip, just one single word, and I’m going to grab this wrist again and I’m going to break it slow, and then I’m going to break it the other way, and you’ll have nothing but a useless fucking piece of meat hanging off the end of your arm for the rest of your life. Nod if you want your hand back, loverboy.”
He nodded and I let him loose. We drove in silence for the rest of the way. I shoved him out of the car around the corner from his apartment building and drove off before he could get the bathrobe off his head. I kept his wallet and his keys. Let him figure out how to get in.
Next morning I got up obscenely early and drove to the Potomac Boat Club to fill Hope in on developments when she came back from her morning row. It was a pleasant wait, checking out the techniques of the occasional scullers who passed on the river. I had been learning to row myself, back home in Cambridge. I wasn’t much good yet, but I had got to where I believed I could tell a good oarsman from a poor one. Everybody’s a critic.
When Hope came in sight, she turned out to be in a double with Julie Holcomb. I excused myself to Julie and took Hope over to the other end of the dock. “So I guess the big question is,” I said when I had told her about Richard’s midnight visitors, “does Julie know where your summer house is?”
“Yes, and her brother is six-six, with huge hands. He was captain of crew at Brown.”
“And he’s a medical student.”
“And she’s a doctor,” Hope said.
“I don’t know,” I said. “It’s all circumstantial. I don’t believe they did it any more than I believe O.J. killed his wife.”
“Yeah. I wonder exactly what they didn’t do, though.”
“Let’s find out.”
So we went over to Julie, who looked guilty as hell. But she didn’t fool me.
“Julie,” I said, “we’ve been going over the evidence and we’ve decided you and your brother weren’t anywhere near Rappanannock County night before last.”
“Look—” she began.
“Nope, it looks like we’ll never get to the bottom of it, Julie.”
“Look, we didn’t mean—”
“It’s like Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance, Julie. Nobody’s ever going to crack this one. Harrigan’s loose again, running around with this really professional-looking bandage on, but he doesn’t have the slightest idea where he was or who did whatever happened to him. In fact I don’t know what happened to him, either.”
“Hold it, Julie. Hold it right there. Let’s keep this thing theoretical, shall we?”
At last she smiled a little. She could see where I was going, and the fright was starting to go away.
“Let’s just suppose you’re working in the emergency room and some guy comes in all taped up like a leaky hose, okay? Speaking as a professional physician, Dr. Holcomb, what would your diagnosis be in a theoretical case like that?”
“In a theoretical case like that—” she was definitely smiling now— “my diagnosis would be an acquired chordee.”
“Which is what?”
“A chordee is a pronounced bend in the penis, usually upward. Normally it’s congenital and poses no particular problem. But sometimes we run across a case where trauma has produced an acquired chordee that causes the erect penis to bend at right angles to one side or the other, depending.”
“Depending on what?”
“The location of the permanent and irreversible scarring that might be produced in the tunica of the corporal body by, for instance, a battery-powered cautery.”
“Burns, you mean?”
“Deep burns, yes.”
“Jesus, it hurts even thinking about it.”
“Well, of course you’d want to administer an anesthetic if you were doing a procedure like that. Possibly a mixture of Midazolam and morphine.”
“There wouldn’t be any real danger, though? Blood poisoning or something?”
“Not with wounds that were already cauterized, no. Not if they were dressed with Bacitracin ointment and properly bandaged.”
“And when the bandages came off the guy’d look ridiculous the rest of his life?”
“Not the entire rest of his life, no. When the organ was flaccid it would look relatively normal except for the scars. But in a state of sexual arousal, erection would produce a right-angle bend in the organ. I suppose you could call that ridiculous. Along with everything else.”
“Well, erection would result in a certain amount of discomfort for the patient. Quite a bit of discomfort, actually. Agony, actually.”
“Gee, that would really be tough luck. Could it be corrected surgically?”
“Generally not. The patient would just have to learn to avoid stimulating situations. You might call it a form of aversion therapy.”
…from that mean old Congress:
WASHINGTON — Just after the Senate Intelligence Committee voted in April to declassify hundreds of pages of a withering report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s detention and interrogation program, C.I.A. Director John O. Brennan convened a meeting of the men who had played a role overseeing the program in its seven-year history…
Mr. Tenet, who declined to be interviewed for this article, has arranged a number of conference calls with former C.I.A. officials to discuss the impending report. After private conversations with Mr. Brennan, he and two other former C.I.A. directors — Porter J. Goss and Michael V. Hayden — drafted a letter to Mr. Brennan asking that, as a matter of fairness, they be allowed to see the report before it was made public. Describing the letter, one former C.I.A. officer who spoke on condition of anonymity said that the former directors “think that those people who were heavily involved in the operations have a right to see what’s being said about them.”
Who would have thought that Texas voters were capable of electing a man like Craig Watkins? Maybe someday he’ll rise as high as the absurd Rick Perry 0r the creepy Ted Cruz. And maybe someday pigs will fly.
Wait a minute. Pigs actually do fly in, at least in Texas politics. Haven’t we just established that?
From the Houston Chronicle:
The National Registry of Exonerations said it’s the first U.S. case it knows of in which an innocent defendant was identified as a result of a systematic screening and DNA testing of past convictions by a prosecutor’s office, rather than being initiated by a defendant or the defendant’s representatives.
Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins sought the exoneration after DNA testing identified another man as the culprit in the rape of a 16-year-old girl at a motel where both men lived.
Watkins has an ongoing project of reviewing untested rape kits, even without defendants initiating the request. Should the appeals court decide in Phillips’ favor, it would be the 34th exoneration by Watkins’ Conviction Integrity Unit. On Friday, almost a dozen other men who had been exonerated were in the audience to greet him.
The recently-deceased historian Gabriel Kolko, writing in Counterpunch:
A Quaker, Hoover was an entirely self-made man, a very successful mining engineer-entrepreneur who made a fortune; he mastered Latin to the point that he made the still-standard translation of Georgius Agricola’s De re metallica and knew Mandarin. Roosevelt was born into privilege, went to Harvard, where he was a “C” student and a cheerleader…
…and May, June, July and so on.
Ted Cruz is right up there with Toronto’s Rob Ford when it comes to gifts that keep on giving. The senator has lent his name to a coloring book, the link to which I will not post because it’s time you did a little work for yourselves. Besides, Ted Cruz to the Future — Comic Coloring Activity Book is temporarily out of stock at Amazon anyway. Here’s the top five-star review, though:
Besides, you don’t really need to buy the book at all because Sparkle Pony has already colored it for you. While you’re there, take a look at “Close Encounters with Callista’s Hairdo” and the four-part Condi Rice retrospective, both linked in the right-hand column. If there’s one person you really, really don’t want on your case, that person would be Sparkle Pony.
— University of Chicago Professor Emeritus of History Andrew C. McLaughlin, from his concluding remarks in his The Foundations of American Constitutionalism, lectures delivered in 1932 for the Anson G. Phelps Lectureship at New York University:
“I have spoken much of law and of institutional forms, of the mechanisms which help to bind the Union together, but cannot close without pointing out that a nation, if it be a nation, must have in its possession certain common beliefs and principles. About seventy-one years ago, Abraham Lincoln, on his way to Washington, made a brief but signally significant though extemporaneous speech at Philadelphia. He declared the Union had been held together by the principles of the Declaration of Independence, those principles which promised the blessings of liberty to all mankind. The compelling thought, then, is this: the nation is held together as a living thing not by courts or armies or congresses, but by an ethical principle of justice. Without it the nation, the American nation at least, would be without the very essence of nationalism. I wonder if it is necessary in these days to emphasize the need of social ethics as the heart of a vital community, a community that would really live and be a community in more than outward seeming.”
From the Associated Press:
Former Vice President Dick Cheney says he once feared that terrorists could use the electrical device that had been implanted near his heart to kill him and had his doctor disable its wireless function…
My nephew Will is an editor at The Post-Star in Glens Falls, N.Y. His father, like me, was also a newspaperman and also covered the March on Washington. But Bill had a better seat than I did, as you’ll see:
My father, Bill, worked as a reporter for urban newspapers from the time he was a teenager up until we moved up to Saranac Lake in 1971. In August of 1963, he was on an assignment I asked him to write about, so he did:
Fifty years ago, I attended the March on Washington. Through the years that experience has grown in personal importance. At the time, I was a young reporter for The Trentonian, a morning newspaper in Trenton, New Jersey, which at the time was perhaps half black.
Memories of that experience are still strong, and I have a picture of Martin Luther King giving his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech hanging at the foot of my bed. Miraculously, one of the few clippings I have from that time on The Trentonian is my story of the March on Washington. It’s browning now and fragile, but still legible. The headline reads, ‘1,000 Area Demonstrators Join March in Washington.’
I did not mention King’s speech until the end of my story, which included the usage common during that time. For instance, I refer to King as ‘the Negro leader with charisma,’ as if I was writing for a white audience to whom King was not well known at the time. It surprised me today to read my story because I failed to focus on King’s famous speech until the end of my long piece.
Luckily, by chance, I was able to sit near him on the platform constructed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial when he spoke of ‘this sweltering summer of negroes’ discontent’ and of ‘a revolt which will shake the foundations of this nation,’ which included what he termed ‘an island of poverty in this vast ocean of material prosperity.’ How much and yet how little has changed in the past half century.
The last paragraph reads, ‘As he finished, the 4 o’clock sun cast the shadow of the Washington Monument across the Lincoln Memorial, and King spoke of his dreams for Negro equality. At that moment, it seemed the whole throng of Negroes was dreaming with him.’
How naive it sounds today.
Wednesday night, my wife and I watched a documentary, “The March,” on public TV. It showed the months of work that went into the event, and the long day of speakers and performers. As the film wound down, it showed excerpts of King’s speech. We had been commenting on the documentary, but the timbre of King’s voice has a way of holding you still, so you can hardly breathe.
For a moment, we were dreaming with him.
I was there, on that historic day 50 years ago, yes I was. I was a young reporter for the Washington Post covering the March on Washington. Well, part of it anyway. The beginning. It was still dark when I showed up down by the Washington Monument, barely in the same time zone as the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where King and the others would speak.
My assignment was to cover George Lincoln Rockwell and his storm troopers in the American Nazi Party. The assignment of some 200 Washington policemen and National Guard MPs was to make sure that the constitutional right of the Nazis peaceably to assemble and freely to speak would be thoroughly abridged.
But neither the Nazis nor the cops had shown up yet. Only the marchers. Bus after bus was pulling in with out-of-state plates, headlights still on from driving all night. Dazed, sleepy, excited, confused people climbed out, carrying picnic hampers, lunch pails, shopping bags, blankets, umbrellas. Black and white, but mostly black. Negroes, we said then.
This was an amazing thing, this march that was assembling itself. Nothing like it had been seen before. Hatred, fire hoses, dogs, bombs, the bullets and clubs, these things we had seen. And now out of all this was coming courage and love and hope. In the dark I felt like crying, I was so proud of us at last. The next time I was to feel that way about my country was the night we elected Obama.
Back to the Nazis, though. There were 75 of them and my memory is that they wore their little Nazi caps and their little Nazi armbands and uniforms when they appeared at 6 a.m., but they didn’t. The story I resurrected from the Post archives yesterday says that the storm troopers wore mufti, and sneakers instead of jackboots. They were corralled into a space about 50 yards square, and the crowd outside the perimeter mostly ignored them. We were too far away to hear the early speakers, but the deputy commander of the Nazis tried to make a speech of his own at about 11. The police arrested him for speaking without a permit, and the whole bunch of them, my story says, “then trailed off single file across the 14th Street Bridge toward their cars.”
I trailed off myself for the paper, and wrote my story. It was about ten inches long. The headline was “Rockwell Nazis ‘Kaput’ in Counter Move,” which was the sort of failed attempt at cleverness or cuteness or something that was to be expected from the burn-outs on the copy desk.
My own attempt at cleverness had been, “The bridge rang from the shuffle of their sneakers as the storm troopers headed home to Virginia.”
“What the hell is this, Jerry?” the city editor said. “Shuffles don’t ring.”
“Yeah, but…” I started out. “Oh, Christ, Ben, go ahead. Change it any way you want.”
It must have been about that time, across town, that Martin Luther King was having his dream.
From the New York Times:
PRESCOTT, Ariz. — The men were mostly born and bred in this city on the mountains, surrounded by thick forest of piñon pine and chaparral brush, parched by years of drought. They were young men, mostly, 14 of them in their 20s — outdoorsmen, fathers, heroes to the local high school athletes they themselves once were…
Nineteen of the 20 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots perished on Sunday, fighting a fierce wilderness fire outside the old gold mining village of Yarnell, 35 miles southwest of here. It was the greatest loss of firefighters in a single disaster since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
For a fascinating account of exactly how an eerily similar disaster unfolded in Arizona 23 years ago almost to the day, see Jaime Joyce’s article in a brand-new writers’ website, The Big Roundtable. Only in this case the doomed Hotshot crew was made up of convict volunteers from a state prison.
More unfond memories of the recently late Margaret Thatcher, these from filmmaker Ken Loach via the Information Clearing House. What set him off was the news that Thatcher’s funeral is expected to cost the British taxpayers more than $12 million.
“Margaret Thatcher was the most divisive and destructive Prime Minister of modern times,” [Loach] said. “Mass Unemployment, factory closures, communities destroyed — this is her legacy. She was a fighter and her enemy was the British working class.
“Her victories were aided by the politically corrupt leaders of the Labour Party and of many Trades Unions. It is because of policies begun by her that we are in this mess today…
“Remember she called Mandela a terrorist and took tea with the torturer and murderer Pinochet. How should we honor her? Let’s privatize her funeral. Put it out to competitive tender and accept the cheapest bid. It’s what she would have wanted.”
Here’s the GOP’s Messiah of the Month, Senator Ted Cruz, remembering grim times at Harvard Law School from 1992 to 1995:
“There were fewer declared Republicans in the faculty when we were there than Communists! There was one Republican. But there were twelve who would say they were Marxists who believed in the Communists overthrowing the United States government.”
OMG, back then I used to walk past the law school every day on my way to work! Innocent me, I never dreamed there was a Republican inside.
It is rare in American public life that a former enlisted man gets anywhere near true power. Al Gore was one of the few exceptions, until the Supreme Court headed him off in 2000.
Too bad, because the thing about having served as an enlisted man is that for the rest of your life your first thought on seeing a general will not be along the lines of Gee whiz, what a fine figure of a man. No doubt he is brave, clean, reverent, thrifty and obedient on top of being, obviously, a military genius as well.
If you’re like this former private your first thought will be, That asshole used to be a lieutenant, and I know lieutenants.
Former private Chuck Hagel was a decorated and twice-wounded squad leader in Vietnam. But the wounds and the decorations aren’t why I hope he gets to be Secretary of Defense in spite of Bibi Netanyahu and the outraged flutters from our domestic chicken hawks.
It’s because of something another squad leader said to me when I was a reporter. We were at a First Air Cavalry fire base in Tay Ninh province, and I had mentioned to this sergeant that I was thinking of leaving his outfit to hook up with Bravo Company.
“What are you, crazy?” the sergeant said. “Don’t you know their old man won the Medal of Honor?”
I didn’t, but what did that have to do with it?
“Why do you think they give a company commander the Medal of Honor?” the squad leader said. “For killing grunts like us.”
This story itself is interesting. But what I found even more interesting was the following exchange in the comments section between the columnist and an outraged patriot. Almost never do we see, even in the far left media, even a hint that The American Fighting Man is anything less than the brave, sacred and shamefully under-appreciated guardian of all that is good and holy in this the most wondrous nation ever to adorn Planet Earth.
Frank Zedar says:
Pierre — How edgy! How super cool! How über rebellious! It is your right to trash the freedoms that grant you the right to trash the freedoms… I’m OK with it… and I spent 20 years defending your right to be so hip!
Pierre Tristam says:
Frank, as is often the case, I don’t know what you’re inventing your points out of — in this case this notion that I’m trashing anything in this piece, other than my own profession’s innumerable dimwits.
In case you missed it, I find the original pledge quite graceful. Looking past your patronizing hip movements, I’m not sure how you’ve spent the last 20 years defending my rights any more ably than every teacher I know, or bus driver, or brick mason, or EMTs and firefighters, or (for all the dimwits) most of my colleagues have, or every single mother has, or even the occasional advisory council member manages to do: we’re all doing a job that more or less contributes to the safeguard of what we hope to be about.
You don’t have to don a military uniform and lose wars to protect anything. And of course you don’t have to die on a battlefield to do so… But if you’re somehow doing that tiresome thing of perhaps equating military service with defending “my” or anyone’s freedoms, particularly in the last 20 years (make that every year since Korea, actually), when our beautifully bloated military has done little more than serve as one of the many instruments of our diminishing freedoms and fast-approaching irrelevance… we may have a different argument on our hands, which, true to form given the absence of any military victory of note since 1945 (Grenada doesn’t count and Gulf War I was only the set-up of its disastrous sequel, unless you count protecting Saudi Arabia’s tyranny and Kuwait’s playboy sheikhdom as victories for freedom), neither stars nor stripes can win. Even those made in China.
A thought to take with you into the voting booth tomorrow. It’s from the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
“The good and just society is neither the thesis of capitalism nor the antithesis of communism, but a socially conscious democracy which reconciles the truths of individualism and collectivism.”
Among my circle of Facebook friends — many of whom I used to interact with in the real world before the internets relieved me of that burden — there is a tendency to celebrate the common-sense wisdom of one Dwight David Eisenhower. (There is also a seemingly endless fascination with kittens and Star Wars, but that's for another post.) The good general’s quotes are brought up to demonstrate that the Republican Party was not always dominated by con artists, shills, and flat-out lunatics. “Why isn’t the GOP this sensible today?” or something similar is usually the comment that accompanies these citations.
What my friends don’t seem to realize is that The Version of the Republican Party That Confronts Us Today (since it would be an oxymoron to call it “The Modern GOP" or even “Today's GOP”) has its roots in a reaction against the very moderation that Eisenhower embodied. The short version is that early in Ike’s first term, a small group of right-wing reactionaries concluded that Eisenhower was a communist dupe (!) because he did not move immediately to uproot every last trace of the New Deal immediately upon taking office. So they decided they would do it themselves. Step One was to take control of one of the two major political parties, and we can all guess which one they picked.
Step Two was to get a candidate of their choosing onto the national ticket. That turned out to be Goldwater in 1964 — which was rather sooner than expected. Goldwater’s campaign is usually depicted as a setback for this peculiar brand of conservatism. But the reality is that winning the election was not the point of his candidacy, although I’m sure the folks who put him there would have viewed it as a nice perk if he had actually won. (All of this is admirably recounted by Rick Perlstein in Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus, which I consider indispensable in understanding how we got into this mess.)
Step Three was to actually take the White House, which as we all know was accomplished by Saint Ronnie of Reagan.
Which brings us to another point my Facebook friends have made fairly regularly: The notion that Ronald Reagan — yes, even Ronald Reagan — would be “too liberal” for The Version of the Republican Party That Confronts Us Today. Nor is this point limited to Facebook. It seems to be Conventional Wisdom (which would explain why it’s disseminated on Facebook.) Last week it showed up here:
A lot of people have said that Reagan wouldn’t even recognize the Republican Party of today. Do you think that’s right?
I think that’s right. I don’t think Reagan or myself or any of us could win a primary now with these standards...
The problem with this idea is that it completely ignores the basic reality of what Reagan was — an opportunist. He would have become whatever his handlers told him to become in order to win a primary, and then a general election. I know The Version of the Republican Party That Confronts Us Today likes to claim that Reagan was a great leader. And certainly he exhibited many of the outward qualities of leadership. What he never exhibited was any actual leadership. Reagan was a follower, not a leader. It’s as simple as that.
So, let’s review:
1) Eisenhower was not representative of the GOP even when he was its nominal head.
2) Ronald Reagan is not our friend. Not then. Not now. Not ever.
Please make a note of it.
We’ve heard a lot of moaning these past days over the anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. Sure, it was fun while it lasted — but you can’t change the world without an agenda, without leaders, without structure, organization, bureaucracy.
And yet out of this anarchy has just come an enormously useful handbook — by anonymous authors of course — called The Debt Resistors Operations Manual. It is available — free of course — here. (h/t to Naked Capitalism.)
Credit card companies don’t mind if you’re late paying your bill or if you maintain a balance, as long as you go on paying your monthly minimum. Cardholders who never carry balances on their cards have long been known inside the industry as “deadbeats,” money-losers. Since almost all of the industry’s profits come from late fees and interest rate penalties, it depends on your slipping up.
This is why monthly statements are intentionally designed to be confusing. If they change the design of your statement — say, by moving a box to the left, or making the print a little smaller — in such a way as to cause even one cardholder out of a thousand to misunderstand and miss a payment, that’s millions of dollars in additional profit for them. In the past they would trip up consumers by intentionally making the due date fall on a Sunday or a holiday. This enabled them to extract even more from late fees, the whole time insisting it was all your fault…
Medical debt is debt that individuals accrue when they are charged, but don’t or can’t yet pay for, out-of-pocket health-care-related expenses charged by the hospital, clinic or doctor (provider). As soon as you pull out the plastic and put it on your credit card — something strongly advised against when trying to manage medical bills — it becomes personal or consumer debt…
In addition to making sure you receive coverage that you’re eligible for, avoid putting medical bills on your credit card. Doing so converts your medical expenses to consumer debt, which puts you in an even worse place. Having credit card debt instead of medical debt likely means greater fees and penalties, and greater difficulty securing a job or mortgage.
How can I not pass along the news that Sarah Palin ran a faster marathon than Paul Ryan?
Dave Barry sums it all up:
The Republicans are fired up about their ticket after listening to three days of carefully themed speeches, which for your convenience I have condensed here into a single All-Purpose Republican Convention Speech:
“Good evening. I stand before you tonight as the lieutenant governor of a critical swing state as well as a member of a minority group and CEO of the nation’s third-largest manufacturer of curtain rods.
“Yes, I am living the American dream. But let me tell you about my childhood. My family was dirt poor. In fact we didn’t even have enough dirt to go around. We all had to share one small dirt clod. At bath time, you would smear the clod onto yourself and sit in the bathtub; then, when you were done, you would smear the clod onto the next family member. The dirt didn’t get washed away, because we also had no water. For that matter, we didn’t have a real bathtub. We had to sit in an imaginary bathtub. And not a fancy imaginary bathtub, either: It was a nasty old used imaginary bathtub.
‘But we did not complain. We did not ask the government for a handout. And do you know why? Because we also could not afford vocal cords.
“No, seriously, we did not complain because we believed in hard work. Everyone pitched in with the family business, even us kids. My father woke us up every morning before dawn and put us to work. It wasn’t easy: You try selling curtain rods door-to-door at 4:30 a.m. People would throw rocks at us. We collected these and ground them up to make dirt.
In 1980, attorney James Leon Holmes wrote, in a letter arguing for a constitutional ban on abortion, “Concern for rape victims is a red herring because conceptions from rape occur with approximately the same frequency as snowfall in Miami.”
He later apologized for his comment and was successfully nominated to a federal judgeship by George W. Bush in 2004, the inside-Washington controversy over his remarks notwithstanding. Today he serves as the chief judge of the Eastern District of Arkansas.
Besides, what’s the big deal about forcible rape, anyway? For the Ayn Rand crowd, it’s kind of hot. As it used to be back in the 40s and 50s for Smith and Vassar coeds, who lapped up Rand's description of Howard Roark raping the haughty Dominique. What real woman could fail to grow moist over prose like this:
She fought like an animal. But she made no sound. She did not call for help… He did it as an act of scorn. Not as love, but as defilement. And this made her lie still and submit. One gesture of tenderness from him — and she would have remained cold, untouched by the things done to her body. But the act of a master taking shameful, contemptuous possession of her was the kind of rapture she had wanted…
She turned the light on in the bathroom. She saw herself in a tall mirror. She saw the purple bruises left on her body by his mouth. She heard a moan muffled in her throat, not very loud. It was not the sight, but the sudden flash of knowledge. She knew she would not take a bath. She knew that she wanted to keep the feeling of his body, the traces of his body on hers, knowing also what such a desire implied…
She had found joy in her revulsion, in her terror and in his strength. That was the degradation she had wanted and she hated him for it.
I have known quite a few assholes in my time, as who hasn’t. But it never occurred to me that they could be monetized, and even deducted as a business expense. Just take an anus to lunch in the course of researching a book about famous ani.
Geoffrey Nunberg has written such a book, bless his hole, and called it Ascent of the A-Word. Here’s an excerpt from an excerpt on AlterNet. The last sentence belongs on everyone’s list of little lessons to live by.
Still, nobody would argue that being an asshole is essential to business success. The books on leadership that line the business sections of Barnes & Noble offer career models to suit every personality type. One can take one’s cues from successful leaders ranging from Bismarck and Golda Meir to Nelson Mandela and the apostle Paul, not to mention Generals Lee, Grant, Custer, and Attila the Hun. With that choice before them, the managers who make for the shelf that holds books on Patton and Jobs aren’t settling on assholism as a career expedient, they’re looking to justify their predilection for it. Few people become assholes reluctantly.
Way to go, New York Times. We never thought you had it in you:
Helen Gurley Brown, who as the author of “Sex and the Single Girl” shocked early-1960s America with the news that unmarried women not only had sex but thoroughly enjoyed it — and who as the editor of Cosmopolitan magazine spent the next three decades telling those women precisely how to enjoy it even more — died on Monday in Manhattan.
She was 90, though parts of her were considerably younger.
President Obama yesterday, awarding Presidential Medals of Freedom:
Administration officials filled the room as well – with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton beaming from the front row as Obama touted the “courage and toughness” of one of her predecessors, Madeleine Albright, the first woman to serve as America’s top diplomat.Franklin C. Spinney, a long-time systems analyst for the Pentagon:
Kosovo is a case study in the failure of high complexity weapons and organizational arrangements. U.S. military planners predicted a “precision” bombing campaign would force the Serbs to capitulate in only two to three days, but the air campaign grinded on for 79 days. Yet when it was over, NATO intelligence determined only tiny quantities of Serbian tanks, armored personnel carriers, self-propelled artillery, and trucks were destroyed. Serbian troops marched out of Kosovo in good order, their fighting spirit intact, displaying clean equipment, crisp uniforms, and in larger numbers than planners said were in Kosovo to begin with.
Moreover, the terms of Serb “surrender,” which the undefeated Serb military regarded as a sell out by Serbian President Milosevic, were the same as those the Serbs agreed to at the Rambouillet Conference, before U.S. negotiators and Secretary of State Madeline Albright inserted a poison pill to queer the deal, so we could have what the politically troubled Clinton administration thought would be a neat, short war.
This is business of usual of course, for the world’s most aggressive and war-loving nation. Old folks will remember that Kissinger prolonged the Vietnam war for four bloody years to ensure Nixon’s reelection. Once this was accomplished he bombed Hanoi to save face, then immediately accepted the same peace settlement that Ho Chi Minh had offered four years earlier. Kissinger’s reward was the Nobel Peace Prize. No doubt he would have gotten a Presidential Medal of Freedom, too, if Nixon hadn’t been driven from office.
Missouri legislators have developed a cure for those suffering from an inability to vomit:
Einer Elhauge, writing in The New Republic, reports that while this Supreme Court’s Originalists may oppose federal mandates, the Originals themselves didn’t:
…In 1790, the very first Congress — which incidentally included 20 framers — passed a law that included a mandate: namely, a requirement that ship owners buy medical insurance for their seamen. This law was then signed by another framer: President George Washington. That’s right, the father of our country had no difficulty imposing a health insurance mandate.
That’s not all. In 1792, a Congress with 17 framers passed another statute that required all able-bodied men to buy firearms. Yes, we used to have not only a right to bear arms, but a federal duty to buy them. Four framers voted against this bill, but the others did not, and it was also signed by Washington. Some tried to repeal this gun purchase mandate on the grounds it was too onerous, but only one framer voted to repeal it.
Six years later, in 1798, Congress addressed the problem that the employer mandate to buy medical insurance for seamen covered drugs and physician services but not hospital stays. And you know what this Congress, with five framers serving in it, did? It enacted a federal law requiring the seamen to buy hospital insurance for themselves. That’s right, Congress enacted an individual mandate requiring the purchase of health insurance. And this act was signed by another founder, President John Adams…
In celebration of Easter here’s (via Brainstorm) Spiro Agnew whining about people smarter than him. Nixon’s soon-to-be-former vice president disparages such vermin, in words insinuated into his oral orifice by his amanuensis, Pat Buchanan, as “an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals.”
It must be very strange to be the man who wrote this. Who can he be? The answer is here.
It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can’t get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile.
Apropos of nothing, here’s an item from the late Abigail Van Buren’s advice column in the Washington Evening Star of September 3, 1963:
DEAR ABBY: I just read the letter from A Buddy’s Buddy who cried along with the guy who didn’t want to live any more because he got a “Dear John” letter from his girl back home. Well, I feel sorry for all the commanding officers who have to play wet nurse to a lot of slobbering crybabies who want to blow their brains out because some two-timing little tramp gave them the brush. A real man would go out and celebrate getting rid of her. If A Buddy’s Buddy is typical of our men in uniform today we should recall some of the old soldiers from World War II. CAREER MAN.
Consortium News interviews Phil Donahue, fired by MSNBC in 2003 for telling the truth in a public place:
Well, there’s almost a worship of people in power. You never see a peace worker or leader on Meet the Press. The established journalists cover established power…
So did the so-called expert generals, defense people on CNN and the other channels … I mean [the run-up to the Iraq war] was so managed and the press made it happen. One of the few journalists that I admire who doesn’t care if the White House calls them back is Sy Hersh. And I’m sure you’ve interviewed and you know you won’t see him on Meet the Press…
You know, if a Marine goes into a Fallujah home and blows away the family with an AK47 that’s a war crime. If we drop a bomb on that house and incinerate the family, it’s collateral damage. We are in denial. And we are creating language to help us continue to be in denial. This is awful…
A president doesn’t get a statue for fixing health care. The only way you get a statue in a park is winning a war. That’s why we’ve got horses and swords; we have military airplanes in parks that kids play on. We’ve cannons in parks, in parks! We celebrate war. There’s no other way to say this.
Jimmy from Sharon sends along this reminder from Capital Gains and Games that Saint Ronald, when it came to taxes, was actually playing for the other team. Of course you already knew this, but you might want to pass it on to your Republican friends. You do have Republican friends, don’t you? They will appreciate your input.
The cornerstone of Governor Reagan’s economic program was not the ballyhooed budget reductions but a sweeping tax package four times larger than the previous record California tax increase obtained by Governor Brown in 1959. Reagan’s proposal had the distinction of being the largest tax hike ever proposed by any governor in the history of the United States.”
The top income tax rate was raised from 7 percent to 10 percent, the sales tax rate went from 3 percent to 5 percent, the cigarette tax was increased from 3 cents to 10 cents per pack, the alcohol tax was raised from $1.50 to $2 per gallon, the bank and corporate tax rate went up from 5.5 percent to 7 percent, and the inheritance tax rose from a range of 2 percent to 10 percent to a range of 3 percent to 15 percent. According to Cannon, this was essentially the Democrats’ wish list of tax initiatives, with the sole exception that it did not institute tax withholding, which Reagan adamantly opposed. In Cannon’s words, “An economist who analyzed the tax bill without knowing its political background might conclude that it had been crafted by a New Deal Democrat…
[President Reagan’s] aides began pressuring him to support a tax increase. Conservative activists were appalled that Reagan would even consider such a thing, but he eventually endorsed the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982. According to a Treasury Department analysis, it raised taxes by close to one percent of GDP, equivalent to $150 billion per year today, and was probably the largest peacetime tax increase in American history.
Bethany Doolittle sinks another last night as Iowa Hawkeyes roll over Drake, 71-46.
We need more rich persons like this:
…I’m a very rich person. As an entrepreneur and venture capitalist, I’ve started or helped get off the ground dozens of companies in industries including manufacturing, retail, medical services, the Internet and software. I founded the Internet media company aQuantive Inc., which was acquired by Microsoft Corp. in 2007 for $6.4 billion. I was also the first non-family investor in Amazon.com Inc.
Even so, I’ve never been a “job creator.” I can start a business based on a great idea, and initially hire dozens or hundreds of people. But if no one can afford to buy what I have to sell, my business will soon fail and all those jobs will evaporate.
That’s why I can say with confidence that rich people don’t create jobs, nor do businesses, large or small. What does lead to more employment is the feedback loop between customers and businesses. And only consumers can set in motion a virtuous cycle that allows companies to survive and thrive and business owners to hire. An ordinary middle-class consumer is far more of a job creator than I ever have been or ever will be.
When businesspeople take credit for creating jobs, it is like squirrels taking credit for creating evolution. In fact, it’s the other way around.
It is unquestionably true that without entrepreneurs and investors, you can’t have a dynamic and growing capitalist economy. But it’s equally true that without consumers, you can’t have entrepreneurs and investors. And the more we have happy customers with lots of disposable income, the better our businesses will do.
That’s why our current policies are so upside down. When the American middle class defends a tax system in which the lion’s share of benefits accrues to the richest, all in the name of job creation, all that happens is that the rich get richer…
Here’s the lead paragraph of a story from The Atlantic Wire:
A 60 Minutes report on Sunday examined the ways that members of Congress trade on inside, privileged information to make themselves rich — without breaking any laws. Even though many positions in the federal government are bound by conflict of interest laws, Congresspeople are exempt from insider trading rules and are perfectly free to make business deals based on information they learn through their jobs…
My wife’s grandfather (grandfather-in-law?) was the late and truly great senator from Nebraska, George Norris. During his forty years in Congress he never bought stocks or bonds in any private enterprise, on the grounds that it would be impossible to avoid conflicts of interest. The only securities he would buy were U.S. government bonds.
When he died in 1944, he left behind a small house in McCook, Nebraska, and an old Buick sedan — as well as the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Rural Electrification Act, and the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
I’m not suggesting by this ancient history that those were the good old days. There has never been a golden age for ethics on Capitol Hill, nor will there ever. Boys will be boys.
I’’m just sayin’, that’s all.
Excellent point from Jonathan Last, whose blog I found via Steve Sailer. I’d add only that, if my memory is correct, the leader among the heroes aboard was a gay rugby player. If any of my old mates on the Washington Rugby Club were gay I never knew it, but there can hardly be a gayer formation in all of sport than the rugby scrum. So good for rugby and good for gays.
Despite the national memorial now emerging in Shanksville, I don’t think America has fully begun to appreciate where Flight 93 fits into the pantheon of great moments in American history. I’d argue that — for a host of reasons — it belongs somewhere in the same neighborhood as Little Round Top and Revere’s ride. It’s fitting that we mourn the World Trade Center and Pentagon dead on 9/11, but properly understood our commemorations every year should start there and build toward reverence and appreciation for the men and women of Flight 93. That field in Pennsylvania, not the hole in Manhattan, should be our enduring symbol of the day.
The Washington Post has a story today about another untold effect of the heroism of Flight 93. In addition to everything else they did, the people who fought in that narrow, terrible aisle saved the lives of Lt. Heather “Lucky” Penny and Col. Marc Sasseville. They were the two F-16 pilots sent on a suicide mission to ram the plane and bring it down. Their story is worth reading in full.
For this call to storm the barricades we are indebted to Jim Fallows. The true horror comes not from the video itself, but from the fact it was made at all.
I never thought I’d be holding up Bill Clinton as a profile in ballsiness, but here goes. This is from historian Taylor Branch’s 2009 book, The Clinton Tapes:
On tape, Clinton said he had pleaded for calm, and he described the climactic confrontation since as deceptively quiet. A week ago tonight, he almost whispered to Gingrich and Dole his reasons to veto their last, loaded resolutions keeping the government afloat. “You’re not the only people with convictions,” he told them.
His spiel extended full credit for sincerity to the other side. They all wanted to balance the budget, but they could finish the job without riders to the budget that would throw 380,000 kids out of Head Start. Or slash college funds or Medicaid.
If he must close the government to uphold countervailing values, so be it. He promised Gingrich and Dole that they would feel his priorities before this was over. Gingrich especially seemed shaken by the final notice. They were going over the cliff after all, and the Speaker quickly confided his surprise. All his calculations had assumed Clinton would bend or fold.
Clinton said he thought Gingrich and his caucus were fooled by their own propaganda about the moral force of their proclaimed crusade. In the past week of shock or shutdown, as the President’s approval ratings skyrocketed while those of Congress plummeted, they clung to hopes that the adverse reaction was temporary panic. The president thought the mainstream press fed their delusion by attributing his success to nimble posturing and salesmanship — anything but a strong stand on principle…
Since the 1980s, Republicans projected absurdly high growth and low inflation in order to conceal their massive accumulation of public debt, while the Republican Congress now was predicting years of low growth and high inflation to justify their maximum cuts in nonmilitary programs…
His polls had shot up nearly to 70 percent with the likeliest voters, 55 and older, even though he had not yet gotten to veto appropriations slashing Medicare and Medicaid. He said these shutdown vetoes were magnificent teaching tools … If the next continuing resolution contained more poisoned riders as the price of reopening the government, he would veto that, too, gaining a platform to explain. “There are horrible things in there,” he said. “People have no idea.”
From Anthony Summers’ biography of J. Edgar Hoover, Official and Confidential:
In September 1964, when King was due to visit the Vatican, Edgar’s friend Cardinal Spellman was asked by FBI not to grant King an audience. To Edgar’s astonishment, the Pope ignored the advice. Then came news that the civil rights leader was to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. King, in the hospital suffering from exhaustion, thought it “the foremost of earthly honors, not for himself but for the movement.” Edgar was beside himself with rage.
“The mores of this country has [sic] sunken to a new low,” he scribbled, overlooking the fact that the Nobel was awarded by foreigners. “He was the last one in the world who should ever have received it,” he said. “I held him in utter contempt…” King, Edgar thought, deserved only the “top alley cat” prize.
Bitterness was compounded by jealousy, for Edgar had long hankered after a Nobel himself. Herbert Jenkins, the longtime police chief of Atlanta, talked with him at this time. “For years and years,” Jenkins later revealed, “Hoover had tried unsuccessfully to win the prize. Many prominent Americans had been asked by Hoover to write the Nobel Committee … but every year Hoover was passed over … Then along comes a Negro southerner who is awarded the prize. It was more than Hoover could stand. It just ate away at him.”
At Connecting.the.Dots Robert Stein does a contrast and compare on Henry Kissinger and Anthony Weiner. (For one thing, the Mass Murderer got laid in real rather than cyberspace.) Here’s a sample:
“Bound hand and foot by complexes, fraught with persecution mania ... His contradictions make him a species of monster ... From that moment ... I began to love him ... For the few seconds in which I held his hand in mine, the fatness of his sausage-like fingers, as the deformation of his face just a little earlier had surprised me.”
From CNN News:
Morgan asked Flynt what his preferred news headline would be following his death, “Larry Flynt, pornographer,” “Larry Flynt, free speech campaigner,” or “Larry Speech, lifelong controversialist.”
Flynt told Morgan he wanted something “much bigger than that. I always felt Moses freed the Jews, Lincoln freed the slaves, and I wanted to free all the neurotics. And I realized in the process that I’ve helped millions of people get through puberty. I think that’s a great accomplishment.”
Jim Hightower writes:
…While the great majority of workaday Americans are struggling to make it on about $30,000 a year — and having, at best, puny pensions and iffy health coverage — these incoming lawmakers tend to be sitting pretty on hundreds of thousands of dollars each in accumulated wealth. Their financial reports show them holding extensive personal investments in such outfits as Wall Street banks, oil giants and drug makers.
Their wealth and financial ties might help explain the rush by the new Republican House majority to coddle these very same corporate powers. From gutting EPA’s anti-pollution restrictions on Big Oil to undoing the restraints on Wall Street greed, they’re pushing for a return to the same laissez-fairyland ideology of the past 20 years that got our country in massive messes…
The late and incontestably great progressive senator from Nebraska, George W. Norris, was my wife’s grandfather. The senator refused to own stocks or bonds in any company whatever, on the grounds that a senator cast so many votes on so many matters that it would be impossible to avoid at least the appearance of self-interest. What little money he had was invested exclusively in U.S. government securities.
Robert Stein at Connecting.the.Dots reminds us of what the late, great Adlai Stevenson once said:
“The hardest thing about any campaign is how to win without proving you’re unworthy of winning.”
I’ve been reading David Halberstam’s The Fifties to see what I missed during the decade. One thing I didn’t was Mickey Spillane, the mega-best-selling author whose alter ego in a series of blood-and-guts books was a psychopath called Mike Hammer.
In the first, I, the Jury, the killer turns out to be Hammer’s own squeeze, Charlotte. As the book ends, the one-man jury sentences her to death by .45-caliber automatic. Hoping to change his mind, she strips naked and leans forward to kiss him. Good luck with that, Charlotte:
“Her eyes were a symphony of incredulity, an unbelieving witness to truth. Slowly she looked down at the ugly swelling in her naked belly where the bullet went in. A thin trickle of blood welled out.”
Some years ago I listened to Spillane give a speech at the annual awards banquet of the Mystery Writers of America. I don’t remember the speech, but I remember his answer during the Q&A to a lady author who wanted to know why Mike Hammer had shot Charlotte in the belly.
Said Spillane, “He missed.”
This sort of decency is rare among district attorneys anywhere, and virtually unheard of in the cesspool which passes for criminal justice in Texas. My new hero is Patricia Lykos.
State officials had denied his request for a pardon, but Harris County District Attorney Patricia Lykos agreed to review his case after she took office in 2009. New DNA tests on the forensic evidence in the case came back February 22 and conclusively ruled out Rodriguez, now 50, Lykos said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
“When this scientific inquiry began, there was no legal requirement or mandate for any further work to be done by our office, because the case had been dismissed,” Lykos said. “Instead, we acted on the most important obligation of all — to see that the truth emerges, and that justice is done. Today, we can state that an innocent man has been vindicated.”
The Harris County District Attorney’s office will ask a judge to formally declare Rodriguez innocent at a Thursday hearing, she said.
Lykos, a Republican, campaigned on promises to reform the prosecutor’s office in Texas’ largest city, and she has drawn praise from defense lawyers for creating a post-conviction review process to examine new evidence. The Innocence Project, which won Rodriguez’s release in 2004, gave her an award in 2010 for that program.
From the always useful Robert Reich:
Last year, America’s top thirteen hedge-fund managers earned an average of $1 billion each. One of them took home $5 billion. Much of their income is taxed as capital gains — at 15 percent — due to a tax loophole that Republican members of Congress have steadfastly guarded.
If the earnings of those thirteen hedge-fund managers were taxed as ordinary income, the revenues generated would pay the salaries and benefits of 300,000 teachers. Who is more valuable to our society — thirteen hedge-fund managers or 300,000 teachers? Let’s make the question even simpler. Who is more valuable: One hedge fund manager or one teacher?
Daniel Ellsberg, whose leaking of the Pentagon papers saved the lives of more American soldiers than any number of Medal of Honor heroes could have done, has returned to the front pages lately. It sent me back to his valuable book, Secrets, from which this comes:
No one else was going to tell me ever again that I (or anyone else) “had” to kill someone, that I had no choice, that I had a right or a duty to do it that someone else had decided for me.
This new principle, as I already thought of it, didn’t answer all questions about whether one should ever use violence or when, the questions I’d been wrestling with ever since I’d met Janaki and began reading Gandhian and Christian pacifists, but it did answer some. For example about whether unquestioningly to accept being drafted. That wouldn’t face me again, but it might face my son Robert. I would tell my kids, I thought, that no one could make it all right for them to carry a gun or shoot anyone just by telling them they had to. That would have to be their choice, their entire responsibility.
If I ever did it again — as I now told myself — it would be because I chose to do it or chose to follow such orders as the right thing to do, not just because someone gave me an order. I would also examine very critically my own reason for it. I would have to have better reasons, which stood up better under a skeptical look, than I had in Vietnam. [Ed. note: Ellsberg had commanded a Marine infantry company in Vietnam.] Responsibility for killing or being ready to kill was not something you could delegate to someone else, even a president.
This is excerpted from Claude G. Bowers’ 1925 study, Jefferson and Hamilton: The Struggle for Democracy in America. I would like Christine O’Donnell to read it and take it to heart. I would also like pigs to fly.
Just as the landed aristocracy of Virginia pursued him [ed. note: Thomas Jefferson, a Famous Founding Father] with increasing venom because of his land reforms, the clergy hated him for forcing the separation of Church and State. When he made the fight for this reform, it was a crime not to baptize a child into the Episcopal Church; a crime to bring a Quaker into the colony; and, according to the law, a heretic could be burned. If the latter law was not observed, that compelling all to pay tithes regardless of their religious affiliations and opinions was rigidly enforced.
This outraged Jefferson’s love of liberty. The Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists, who were making inroads on the membership of the Established Church, were prosecuted, and their ministers were declared disturbers of the peace, and thrown into jail like common felons. Patrick Henry and his followers fought Jefferson’s plan for a disestablishment — but he won. The ‘atheist’ law, which was never forgiven by the ministers of Virginia and Connecticut, was simple and brief:No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested or burdened in his mind or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.
Sometimes a few words can bring a whole era to life. These are from the review in this week’s New Yorker of Ron Chernow’s new biography of George Washington:
The mar to his beauty was his terrible teeth, which were replaced by unsuccessful transplant surgery and by dentures made from ivory and from teeth pulled from the mouths of his slaves.
…and have been since that night early in the millenium when I first heard Professor Warren on late night radio as I drove through Virginia on I-95. Thrillingly, she was talking about a trick employed by insurance companies to extort fake “late fees” out of customers. The companies, it seemed, would require East Coast customers to mail their payments to a West Coast address, and vice versa. That way a sucker could pay on the dot but still incur a late fee because of the extra day or so in the mail. A few million pennies here, a few million pennies there… It all added up.
Here, I knew at once, was a woman who really, truly understood me to the depths of my socialist soul. We two could find true happiness together, I said hopelessly to myself as I drove forlorn and lonely through the gathering dark of Bush’s America.
To judge by the MSM, I may be Nadya Suleman’s only living fan. Think I care? The hell with all of you. I’m glad her octuplets are well, and I hope they all grow up to win Nobel Peace Prizes and stop global warming. Good for PETA, too. There are too many dogs and cats in the world already. The damned things breed like people.
LA HABRA, Calif. — It’s official. Octomom Nadya Suleman doesn’t want your dog or cat following in her footsteps. As a front yard full of paparazzi cheered her on, Suleman unveiled a 3-foot-by-4-foot plastic sign Wednesday that reads: “Don’t Let Your Dog or Cat Become an Octomom. Always Spay or Neuter…”
Since I had never visited Washington D. C., and now knew several people in the new Kennedy Administration, I took the train down to spend a week there… They were tremendously excited by their new jobs, but as I spent time with them, I grew more and more uneasy. It was all a bit like the court at Versailles under the ancien régime. There was a great deal of gossip, and a constant anxiety about the thoughts, the feelings, the preferences, the moods of one person, the President.
When I went over to the Capitol to take a look at Congress, my view of the government changed entirely. I spent several days in the visitors’ gallery of the Senate, watching debates and votes… I watched with great amusement as Everett Dirksen [shown below] protested his love of duck hunting and hunters, imitating to great effect a duck settling onto a pond at sunset. Apparently the government had imposed a tax on duck hunting in order to raise money for wetlands preservation, and then had used the money to drain swamps for development…
I watched the great maverick, Wayne Morse, bellow to an empty chamber that he was not going to kowtow to the Catholic Church, with regard to what I can no longer recall. And I watched as all but two of the senators came to the floor to vote on the renewal of the Civil Rights Commission.
What attracted me so greatly was the fact that each of these men and women was an independent person, beholden only to his or her constituents, and not subservient to the President, regardless of how charismatic and powerful he might be.
These were men and women with honor, not servile courtiers hoping to be given pride of place on a balcony or in a presidential jet. Exactly the same sentiments welled up in me as I watch octogenarian Robert Byrd deliver speech after speech calling George W. Bush to account for the damage he did to the U. S. Constitution.
It was fun visiting Marc Raskin in the Executive Office Building, and listening to the rumors about Kennedy and Marc’s secretary, Diane DeVegh. It was interesting hearing Dick Barnet talk about the inside story at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.
But it was ennobling to watch the debates on the floor of the Senate. I think it was that week in a hot Washington summer, rather than any of the books I had read, that once for all time soured me on the Imperial Presidency.
It seems, [Carl] Sandburg began, that two cockroaches, brothers, were riding on a farmer’s cart into town one day, when the cart hit a bump, and they were both thrown off. The first brother fell on a big pile of dung, which is seventh heaven for a cockroach. He settled in, ate himself fat and glossy, and prospered.
The second brother fell into a deep hole, where there was nothing to eat and scarcely any way to get out. Slowly, laboriously, he dragged himself up the side of the hole, repeatedly falling back and starting again. He grew thin and weak, and his shell lost its sheen, becoming dull and discolored.
At long last, by the greatest of effort, he managed to heave himself back onto the road. Looking up, he saw his brother perched happily atop his dung pile. “Brother,” he said, looking up, “You are so fat and sleek. How have you managed to flourish like that?”
His brother looked down disdainfully over the edge of the dung and said, with a smug self-congratulatory smile, “Brains. And hard work.”
In 1987 agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency showed up at Monticello, Jefferson's famous estate. Jefferson had planted opium poppies in his medicinal garden, and opium poppies are now deemed illegal. Now, the trouble was the folks at the Monticello Foundation, which preserves and maintains the historic site, were discovered flagrantly continuing Jefferson's crimes. The agents were blunt: The poppies had to be immediately uprooted and destroyed or else they were going to start making arrests, and Monticello Foundation personnel would perhaps face lengthy stretches in prison…
My favorite college basketball coach used to be Geno Auriemma, of the University of Connecticut women. But that was yesterday, before I discovered Herb Magee. Magee is about to break Bobby Knight’s career record of 902 victories, which is good news for our side. This is because Knight is a complete asshole, whereas Magee is a total non-asshole:
PHILADELPHIA — Along his road to the top of college basketball’s career list for victories while coaching at Philadelphia University, Herb Magee has engaged bus drivers in games of Trivial Pursuit on long trips, bathed in beer after wins and been led onto the court in handcuffs by a police officer as a joke. He has had his mustache mimicked by fans, and he met his second wife, Geri, when she tended bar at the Yankee Doodle Inn…
“He can also spell words backward, including supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” his wife, now manager of the Great American Pub, said. “I married a ‘Rain Man’ type.”
It was dawn as 1,000 quiet Trentonians, bent on demonstrating their deep commitment to civil rights for Blacks in America, waited patiently to board buses for Washington, D.C. Lost in thought or just sleepy, each eased towards a line of buses in downtown Trenton, New Jersey.
We all knew this day we would be part of something bigger than all of us; we would be bearing witness to the struggle for equal rights for all Americans. We knew we were small players in a larger tragedy that had vexed America since its founding. And so hundreds and hundreds of buses roared and coughed their way down Route 22, through the slums of Wilmington and Baltimore. and finally past the magnificent monuments on the Ellipse honoring George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
As always in our flawed land, some whites had expressed fears of violence every time its citizens gathered to bolster the hopes of Black people that they would finally become full citizens.
I was there as a reporter for The Trentonian, a blue collar tabloid newspaper that gave enormous, if uncelebrated, coverage to the civil rights movement that was to reach its emotional crescendo this day, the 28th of August, 1963.
Disembarking into a sea of people, we realized immediately that this was no ordinary demonstration. This was to be a truly peaceful march — families, white and black, fathers with children on their shoulders, mothers cradling their infants.
Though I had covered numerous demonstrations and rallies, some of which turned violent, this was a solemn march of citizens peacefully seeking redress for centuries of discrimination and mistreatment. This march of 250,000 Americans that thronged the park behind the White House was more worship than war, more prayerful than raucous.
Previously I had covered the departure of James Farmer from New York with the Freedom Riders. After the buses left, an Asssociated Press reporter and I were jumped by a group of screaming northeastern racists. We were beaten, but not seriously injured. I was thankful later that I had not been on those buses whose passengers were to endure much worse treatment in Georgia.
On this more peaceful day I made my way to the roped-off foreground of the Lincoln Memorial and tried to enter to interview the celebrities and civil rights leaders milling about under the huge statute of Abraham Lincoln.
No luck until a friend inside shouted , “Bill, come on in !” Gail Buckley, there with her mother Lena Horne, the singer and civil rights activist, talked me through the tight security. Slowly I edged toward the wooden stands erected on the steps of the Memorial, and sat down close to the empty speakers’ podium.
And then I waited and waited and waited — trying to be unobtrusive, as if to imply, “I’m with them,” and blend in with the nation’s civil rights leaders. Slowly the stands filled up and the speakers began. A sea of citizens filled the expansive park, reaching from Washington to Lincoln on the banks of the Reflecting Pool.
Then came Martin Luther King, who delivered his historic speech, his words echoing across the park as they have down through history…
A continuation of a series started a while back, here are two more Guthrie songs outlining the lives of radicals that Woody was in favor of. Listen to all the crooks that Woody goes after in the religious song about Chris that properly portrays him as a socialist. Woody obviously knew his Bible well as he never let ideology get in the way of seeing Christ as he is portrayed in the Bible . Make a list of Christ’s enemies while you listen. I think my wife and I counted about eight crooks that Woody said Christ went after when I played this the other day, more or less. Are there any you recognize who are mentioned who aren’t problems today?
And the second song posted below is in direct response to Jerome Doolittle’s post here and also in response to the foreclosure crisis we have today, just like in the 1930s.Not that I am advocating adopting Floyd or Dillinger’s methods, the technology in use today being too sophisticated to live long on the outside of four walls.
But where did all the protesters go? Alternet says we just don’t have it in us anymore. Personally I think they’re about right. We don't have the tools to fight, at least most Americans don’t, because they don't understand the difference between fascism and socialism and which one is good for the common people, and which one is bad. Socialism has actually become a bad word in America, unlike in the past. If so, we’re doomed to the same fate as the Romans and the Egyptians and the Greeks and the Mayans and every other leading civilization that ruled the earth, or at least a part thereof. Woody quite often feigned simplicity, although his past and his journals belie that point, and reveal a rich history of someone who made it a point to try to help others who found themselves in dire straits. In those days though, the Democratic establishment often tried to do what Woody did. In today’s world, it’s hard to see the Democrats engaging in that kind of behavior, with a few notable exceptions.
There was a time in America when a popular protester could sings songs about a radical socialist like Jesus and a criminal like Floyd and get recognition for it, both of whom worked, according to Woody, to go after the powers that be who robbed regular folks of their due. And the point is, although there was only one Woody, there were thousands and thousands like him out in the streets and all over the country expressing similar sentiments during the last great depression we experienced. We need more people like Woody today, not yesterday.
I’ve always had a preference for Ian and Sylvia’s version of this song and I regularly look for their version on Youtube, but until I discovered the version below, I never knew that Paul Robeson sang it. I think I’m going to change my preference even though the Ian and Sylvia version has a quiet beauty that I still find spellbinding.
Coming from Paul Robeson, even though he was not Canadian, I still understand how poignant this song must have been for him, and for all of us who know some of what the United States Government did to him solely for his beliefs. In many ways, Robeson himself was an exile in his own country, for example as stated in his Wikipedia entry
To this day, Paul Robeson’s FBI file is one of the largest of any entertainer ever investigated by the United States Intelligence Community, requiring its own internal index and unique status of health file.
If you’re not familiar with who Paul Robeson was and what he stood for and what the US Government did to him for his beliefs, please go read the rest of his Wikipedia entry linked to above. And then listen to the his remarkable voice singing this wonderful but sad folk song.
Incidentally, I noticed that the song is called Le Canadien Errant on this version but is almost universally referred to elsewhere as Un Canadien Errant. I cannot say whether this has any significance but it is unusual to see the song referred to in that manner. (and sung in English with some verse changes) Perhaps it means nothing and perhaps it has a hidden meaning. Maybe one of our French speaking readers or writers here could offer me a clue as I always look for hidden meanings in small deviations from what is considered normal and I find the name change puzzling and can’t help but wonder if it has a hidden meaning, perhaps signaling that Robeson considered himself an exile in his own country.
From Agence France Presse:
OSLO – US President Barack Obama sensationally won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday less than a year after he took office with the jury hailing his “extraordinary” diplomatic efforts on the international stage.
Obama was honoured “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples,” the head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee Thorbjoern Jagland said.
The committee attached “special importance to Obama’s vision and work for a world without nuclear weapons” and said he had created “a new climate in international politics.”
“Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future,” it said.
Astonishing stuff. Makes me, for the very first time, wish I could be inside George W. Bush’s head. For him then, and for all the boys and girls at Fox, a list of talking points:
1. What do you expect from a bunch of socialists?
2. Not that I’m a racist, but I know affirmative action when I see it.
3. Carter, Gore, Obama? Do we see a pattern here?
4. A clumsy attempt by Europe to save a failing presidency.
5. The Norwegians are just using Obama to slap George W. Bush in the face.
6. Besides, who cares what a bunch of geeks in Oslo think? The International Olympic Committee speaks for the whole world.
7. No thinking person has taken the Nobel Peace Prize seriously since Reagan didn’t win one for ending the Cold War.
8. We elect a president to keep America safe, not to win prizes.
9. True leadership is not an international popularity contest.
10. Peace is no big deal anyway. No, wait a minute. Strike that last one.
I’m quick enough to slam trigger-happy cops, of whom there are plenty. But as an old police reporter myself, I also know that a good cop is one of God’s finest works. Here’s a story out of Sacramento about two of them.
From the Washington Post’s account of the warm homecoming extended by Youngstown, Ohio, to its former congressman and convict, James Traficant:
At Sunday’s party his fans said he remembered their names, returned their calls and was far from “elite.” Several recounted how he talked about his “gastric emissions” on the House floor.
In a memorable Capitol Hill moment, he called a friend, Sandra Ferrante, as a witness during a committee hearing on Standards and Official Conduct. At the time Congress was considering expelling him. The conversation went like this:
Traficant: Were you and I sex partners?
Traficant: Why not?
From Stephen Talbot’s letter to the editor in the current issue of The Nation:
I interviewed both men in 2001 for a PBS documentary, The Sixties: The Years That Shaped a Generation. McNamara told me that he’d come to realize the war was a tragedy that could have been avoided…
But Kissinger was unreconstructed, unapologetic. “If you are going to ask whether I feel guilty about Vietnam, the interview is over,” Kissinger said before I asked my first question. “I’ll walk out.”
I told him I had just interviewed McNamara. That got his attention. And then he did something I’ll never forget: he began to cry. Actually, he pretended to cry.
“Boohoo, boohoo,” Kissinger blubbered, rubbing his eyes. “He’s still beating his breast, right? Still feeling guilty.” He spoke in a mocking, singsong voice and patted his heart for emphasis.
It was one of those moments, before the camera rolls, when you get a rare glimpse into someone’s character and it’s even darker than you ever dreamed.
John and Robert Kennedy began their public lives in the shadow of their repulsive father. No one can say what either might have become, although Jack’s American University speech and Robert’s remarkable 1968 campaign for the presidency suggest that both men had escaped into sunlight.
About Ted Kennedy, we do not have to guess. On the available evidence, he was the pick of the litter. May his causes never die.
I believe Daniel Ellsberg to be one of the half-dozen most useful public Americans of my lifetime, which covers almost the same period as his. He was 14 and I was 13 that August in 1945 when Harry Truman murdered Hiroshima. I was elated and proud, just another fool among millions. But Ellsberg even then saw the future clearly. He still does. And he is still trying to wake us up.
I cannot recommend his 2002 book, Secrets, too strongly. Read it, and read Sven Lindqvist’s A History of Bombing. The truth is that civilians, mostly old men, women and children, are not collateral damage in air warfare. They are the intended targets.
Now read the essay from which these excerpts come:
I remember that I was uneasy, on that first day and in the days ahead, about the tone in President Harry Truman’s voice on the radio as he exulted over our success in the race for the Bomb and its effectiveness against Japan. I generally admired Truman, then and later, but in hearing his announcements I was put off by the lack of concern in his voice, the absence of a sense of tragedy, of desperation or fear for the future. It seemed to me that this was a decision best made in anguish; and both Truman’s manner and the tone of the official communiques made unmistakably clear that this hadn’t been the case.
Which meant for me that our leaders didn’t have the picture, didn’t grasp the significance of the precedent they had set and the sinister implications for the future. And that evident unawareness was itself scary. I believed that something ominous had happened; that it was bad for humanity that the Bomb was feasible, and that its use would have bad long-term consequences, whether or not those negatives were balanced or even outweighed by short-run benefits…
Most Americans ever since have seen the destruction of the populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as necessary and effective — as constituting just means, in effect just terrorism, under the supposed circumstances — thus legitimating, in their eyes, the second and third largest single-day massacres in history. (The largest, also by the U.S. Army Air Corps, was the firebombing of Tokyo five months before on the night of March 9, which burned alive or suffocated 80,000 to 120,000 civilians. Most of the very few Americans who are aware of this event at all accept it, too, as appropriate in wartime.)
To regard those acts as definitely other than criminal and immoral — as most Americans do — is to believe that anything — anything — can be legitimate means: at worst, a necessary, lesser, evil. At least, if done by Americans, on the order of a president, during wartime. Indeed, we are the only country in the world that believes it won a war by bombing — specifically by bombing cities with weapons of mass destruction — and believes that it was fully rightful in doing so. It is a dangerous state of mind…
Here’s a little more background on the man President Obama picked to be his General William Westmoreland in Afghanistan:
Dietary manipulation was one of 14 interrogation techniques that were outside the Army Field Manual but used as a matter of policy by the Joint Special Operations Command in Iraq when it was under the leadership of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who President Obama has now tapped to run the war in Afghanistan. The 14 techniques were more “than… any other military organization at that time,” according to a 2004 report by Vice Admiral Albert T. Church, then the Naval Inspector General. Other techniques including use of muzzled dogs, “safety positions,” sleep adjustment/management, “mild” physical contact, isolation, sensory overload and sensory deprivation.
McChrystal’s tenure began shortly after Amin’s five-day stay at Camp Nama but coincided with the abuses alleged in the New York Times and Human Rights Watch reports.
None of the senators on the Armed Services Committee asked McChyrstal about Camp Nama during his confirmation hearing for the Afghanistan post last month. McChrystal testified that he does not condone mistreatment of detainees and that he was uncomfortable with some of the interrogation techniques he found in place in Iraq when he assumed his command in October 2003, adding that he immediately sought to reduce the use of certain methods.
In a sharp follow-up query to McChrystal after the hearing, however, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) pointed out that seven months into his command McChrystal made a request to Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. military operations in the Middle East, for permission to use five additional “enhanced” interrogation techniques not listed in the Army Field Manual — techniques that had been suspended by Abizaid two months prior — including “sleep management,” “control positions,” and “environmental manipulation.” As an addendum, McChrystal asked that, in “exceptional circumstances,” handcuffs be allowed to “enforce the detainee’s position.”
Abizaid denied McChrystal’s request to use control positions, but approved the other four, which, in his written response to Levin’s query, McChrystal said he used “sparingly.” He also noted that he chose not to request permission to use physical contact or diet manipulation, “techniques which were in use by the SMUs [Special Mission Units] when I assumed command,” he wrote.
The circumstances of David Carradine’s death in a Bangkok hotel closet seemed more unusual than they were. I learned about the prevalence of autoerotic asphyxia while doing research for my second Tom Bethany mystery, Strangle Hold.
Steve Russell, a judge and a professor of criminal justice, tells you all you probably need to know about the phenomenon at The Rag Blog. Or you could do what I did, and dig up a copy of Autoerotic Fatalities, by Hazelwood, Dietz and Burgess.
Or, best of all, buy a copy of Strangle Hold and educate yourself the painless way. From the reviews:
Through his Tom Bethany character, a private investigator with no clear clientele, but an intense focus on righting wrongs, Doolittle lets readers know immediately — NO, NOW! — what’s wrong with bureaucrats, lots of businessmen, some cops, lawyers and many others whose very existence makes others suffer. And, oh, yeah. Lots of Republicans.
Great Characters, I laughed out loud at “The Hocker.” One of the best. Do read as soon as possible. Like all his books catches you on page one, and then the squeeze is on. Thankfully back in print.
From Lincoln’s Virtues: an Ethical Biography, by William Lee Miller:
When the boys in the neighborhood put hot coals on the backs of turtles to entertain themselves by watching the turtles’ reaction, there are several courses of action open to you. As a good fellow, you can go along with the fun. As one who does feel the turtle’s pain, but is intimidated, you can keep your objections to yourself. As one who has more important business elsewhere, you could ignore the whole matter. As a budding representative of the relativisms of the century to come, you could shrug your shoulders and say: “They like to put hot coals on turtles, I don’t like to put hot coals on turtles — preferences differ. Who is to choose? Don’t be judgmental.”
Or you can do what the ten-year-old Abraham Lincoln did: You can tell your companions that what they are doing is wrong, and that they should not do what they are doing. And you may even, as young Lincoln did, draw out the larger moral principle, and write a composition — cruelty to animals is wrong — and argue publicly on its behalf in your one-room school.
Or on the other hand you could…
This is from a long campaign profile in the New York Times of May 21, 2000, to which we should have paid more attention than we did:
While playing Little League baseball, running for class president, or even sobbing in the principal’s office, George W. Bush absorbed West Texas values that many old friends say are central to understanding who he is today…
‘‘We were terrible to animals,’’ recalled Mr. Throckmorton, laughing. A dip behind the Bush home turned into a small lake after a good rain, and thousands of frogs would come out.
‘‘Everybody would get BB guns and shoot them,’’ Mr. Throckmorton said. ‘‘Or we’d put firecrackers in the frogs and throw them and blow them up.’’
When he was not blowing up frogs, young George — always restless and something of a natural leader — would lead neighborhood children on daredevil expeditions around town, seeing how close they could come to breaking their necks.
From Winter Haven, Florida, comes this heart-warming tale:
You’d think that even Dick Cheney would have the decency to return from the dead as something other than Dick Cheney. But decency was always irrelevant to Cheney, and he keeps coming back just the way he went out — a testy, self-serving, snarly-lipped, ruthless, power-crazed, nasty, deeply dishonest reptile.
But let’s not forget that Cheney is, like his longtime pal, mentor, and sometime colleague, Donald Rumsfeld, a true patriot. Cheney always put his country first, except in those instances where it was necessary to put Cheney first. This sense of the relative importance of things he learned from Donny the Rassler back in the Gerald Ford years when the two pilgrims ran amok in the White House.
Ah, those were the days, with Donny pulling the strings as chief of staff and Lil Dick, as his assistant, aiding and abetting to beat the band. Rosenkranz and Guildenstern in Brooks Bros. suits. Patriotic fervor required them to thwart the unwelcome presidential aspirations of then Vice President Nelson Rockefeller and, incidentally, open the way for Donny’s own presidential ambitions.
They also felt a strong patriotic need to marginalize that tiresome bore with the accent, Henry Kizzzinger. Rockefeller, who couldn’t chew gum and carry his own ego at the same time, was an easy mark but Kissinger proved resistant to the many poisons they put in his food.
Eventually, Rumsfeld became Ford’s Secretary of Defense and the furtive Cheney slithered into the vacated chief of staff’s chair with hardly a twitch of his tail. This is all ancient history now, but these on-the-job training experiences would serve them well 25 years later when they were tapped for high duty by Him Who Couldn’t Possibly Be As Dumb As He Seems. But he was, he was a dumb as he seemed, and before you could say, What the f…?, Rumbunny and Twisty Lip were more or less running the country. Into the ground.
But, oh my! Didn’t they have a time of it? For sheer mischief these two set a new standard. They were the Tom and Huck of twenty-first century international politics, but without the fun. For a couple of cut-ups with designs on history, the Two Bozos enjoyed incredibly good fortune…
Hardly had they arranged the family photographs on their big credenzas, when the opportunity of two lifetimes presented itself. Wooly-faced Bin Laden unleashed his murderous acolytes and in a few fiery minutes three thousand Americans were dead and the two biggest buildings in New York City ceased to exist.
Way to go, Osama! Talk about Heaven-sent. This was the answer to a pilgrim’s prayer. As any high-achieving mischief-maker knows, there is only one really foolproof way to make a lasting mark and have a hell of a good time making it. War. Of course, Americans hate war. That’s why we start so many—to remind ourselves how horrid it is. Yet it’s not always easy to sell a war to the public; you need a good reason, or the appearance of one. You need something like 9/11.
Yes, 9/11 furnished the perfect incentive. Now, all that was needed was an adversary. A worthy adversary is crucial in war-mongering. Preferably a country where the people wear funny clothes, speak an impossible tongue, and don’t have much of an army. A place full of odd-looking people and a leader with good bad-guy credentials. A place like, say, Iraq.
Donny said we would need only a streamlined force to get the job done and Cheney told us the Iraqis would greet our troops with bouquets. In no time at all Dubya chimed in and declared “Mission accomplished.” Saddam got caught in his hidey-hole and there wasn’t much left to do in Iraq but hang around and get killed.
Some churlish traitors have suggested that the Iraq war has not lessened the terrorist threat to the U.S. by even the tiniest measure, but these complaints invariably came from lefty whiners trying to sharpen their ideological axes. It does now appear that the Terrific Trio knew perfectly well there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and there was no connection between that country and 9/11, but so what? We won the war, didn’t we? Sort of?
Meanwhile we snuffed out the terrorist threat by snatching bearded guys from all over and putting them in Guantanamo. After we held their heads under water — which is not torture, by the way, the Attorney General said so — they all confessed and gave us lots of useful info.
That’s pretty much the way things stood when the upstart from Chicago talked his way into the White House. Rummy was by then telling the true story on the lecture circuit. Cheney came to the inauguration in a wheelchair and it was assumed that his heart would stop beating at any minute.
And then — there he was again, smelling of the grave but just as snarky as ever, giving interviews in which he extolled the virtues of torture, or as he calls it, “the program.” It was information gleaned from the program that kept the terrorists at bay, and the smart-aleck from Chicago was putting the country in jeopardy by putting a stop to it. Cheney speaks with unimpeachable authority because he’s dead. Sort of.
Not enough attention has been paid to Sarah Palin’s choice for attorney general of Alaska, a lacuna which I intend forthwith to fill. First of all his name is Wayne Anthony Ross, giving him the initials W.A.R. It is not clear whether his father, a Milwaukee insurance man, saw the significance of this. But the day must have come when the boy realized that his initials spelled “War.” The epiphany changed him forever, sort of.
Not enough to actually make him want to go to “War” himself, although one was handy when he graduated from Marquette University in 1965, and remained within easy reach when he graduated from its law school in 1968.
Instead he moved to Alaska, where he adopted bolo ties, high-heeled boots and a cowboy hat and became a civilian trial lawyer. But the dream never died. He went to gun shows. He shot animals, no doubt wishing they could shoot back. He became a director of the National Rifle Association.
And he pulled an 11-and-a-half year hitch in the Alaska State Defense Force (a 240-man “government-approved state militia”), rising to become its inspector general with the rank of colonel. He also became vice president of the 49th Territorial Guards Regiment, Inc., which guards territory.
Twice knighted (by Poland and the Vatican), Sir Wayne holds the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta and the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem.
As if that weren’t enough the colonel has also received awards from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Daughters of the American Revolution (for patriotism), as well as being a recipient of the NRA’s Award of Merit for the Promotion of Gun Collecting.
But want to know the best thing of all? Another dreamer of martial dreams was appointed president in 2000, and Colonel Ross finally got his chance to go to war.
He scored this really keen red Hummer to tool around Anchorage in, with these totally awesome license plates that say “WAR.” Eat your heart out, kids.
Oh, yeah. He stands right with God, too:
‘‘I feel I have a good relationship with the good Lord but if I could overturn Roe vs. Wade, I figure I got my ticket.”
This video clip dates from the early dawn of human history, even before General Electric forced its new spokesman, Ronald Reagan, to submit to a brain transplant. (h/t to Ketchup is a Vegetable.)
…when it comes to political jiu-jitsu. From medieval Saudi Arabia:
It would be bizarre in any country to find that its lingerie shops are staffed entirely by men. But in Saudi Arabia — an ultra-conservative nation where unmarried men and women cannot even be alone in a room together if they are not related — it is strange in the extreme…
“The way that underwear is being sold in Saudi Arabia is simply not acceptable to any population living anywhere in the modern world,” says Reem Asaad, a finance lecturer at Dar al-Hikma Women’s College in Jeddah, who is leading a campaign to get women working in lingerie shops rather than men…
Rana Jad is a 20-year-old student at Dar al-Hikma Women’s College, and one of Reem Asaad’s pupils and campaign supporters.
“Girls don’t feel very comfortable when males are selling them lingerie, telling them what size they need, and saying ‘I think this is small on you, I think this is large on you’,” she says. “He’s totally checking the girls out! It’s just not appropriate, especially here in our culture.”
Campaigners are calling for a boycott of all lingerie stores that are staffed by men.… “The concept is flawless,” says Ms Asaad. “The concept of women selling women’s underwear to other women is so natural that any other option is just invalid.”
And from medieval Louisiana, as reported by A.J. Liebling in The Earl of Louisiana, his 1961 biography of Governor Earl Long:
“Earl is like Huey on Negroes,” Tom said, “When the new Charity Hospital was built here, some Negro politicians came to Huey and said it was a shame there were no Negro nurses, when more than half the patients were colored. Huey said he’d fix it for them, but they wouldn’t like his method.
He went around to visit the hospital and pretended to be surprised when he found white nurses waiting on colored men. He blew high as a buzzard can fly, saying it wasn’t fit for white women to be so humiliated. It was the most racist talk you ever heard, but the result was he got the white nurses out and the colored nurses in, and they’ve had the jobs ever since.”
Friends of Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity and the Fuller Center for Housing, are petitioning Congress to honor his life’s work. They’re shooting for 10,000 signatures, and as of this moment (they’ve just started) there’s only 659. So add yours. From the petition:
Following what appeared to be a routine cold and congestion, the man who spent his life envisioning a world without shacks entered just such a place with his Lord suddenly on February 3, 2009, to the unspeakable grief of his family, friends, and supporters around the world. He was buried at Koinonia Farm within 36 hours of his death as hundreds of supporters around the world flew or drove in overnight to celebrate his life.
A simple wooden grave marker made of pecan wood read, “Like he told Clarence, ‘You made it, Millard! You made it.’ Faithful to the end.”
Among other songs, those gathered sang “Happy Birthday” to Millard and steadfastly determined to carry on his life’s work until his vision of a world with no more shacks reaches completion.
(1) I support the Obama pay cap for CEOs of companies on the dole.
(2) My choice would be to cap them at the rate of a 4-star general or admiral, with max seniority.
(3) If you sent all Fortune 500 CEOs and their #2s to St. Elba, performance of their companies would not on average deteriorate. The “myth of the irreplaceable CEO” is just that — myth.
Don da Man sends this along, claiming that it would make me chuckle. He was right, and so I post it in its entirety. But click on the link, too. The blogger, Paul Tatara, is a first-rate writer. He has, that is, the ability to make interesting a subject in which the reader has no interest. In this case, bad popular music.
So go see. And meanwhile:
1. I am fascinated by words, but not so much by sentences.
2. I feel the basis of any stable relationship is my ability to strike first.
3. I don’t mind if someone I distrust is made to feel like he or she is drowning.
4. When my daughters are drunk I often feel jealous.
5. Just because I am the only person in the room and the mirror suddenly breaks, that doesn’t mean I broke the mirror.
6. If I had my life to live over again I would not eat pretzels.
7. Sometimes when I talk to Jesus, he tells me to do stupid stuff. But I still do it.
8. I believe empirical evidence is too often misleading.
9. When confronted by a brick wall, I will slam into it again and again until my head looks like a mass of bloody pulp. This, I think, is my key strength as a person.
10. I feel that people who die because of me are heroes. Unless they’re not American, then they’re just dead.
11. I have always believed that if you live near a levee, don’t have any money, and are too old to swim, you get what you deserve.
12. I enjoy throwing out the first pitch at baseball games because there’s no umpire to get all judgmental.
13. When Dick Cheney says something nice about me I blush like a schoolgirl. But he usually just makes that animal noise.
14. I’m always amazed what Americans will say on the telephone when they don’t know you’re listening.
15. I like to make up funny nicknames for people so I’ll look more like a regular guy and less like one of them arrogant douche bags.
16. Laura is both the love of my life and my best friend, now that everybody else has pretty much backed off.
17. On those occasions when I pull my head out of my ass it takes a while for my eyes to adjust to the light.
18. The next time I see the Pope I plan to trade infallibility stories with him.
19. Over time, I have come to dislike celebratory banners.
20. I have long felt that the best co-workers are those who agree with every fucking thing you say.
21. My favorite food is Texas-style barbecue ribs cooked by an old Negro.
22. It seems pretty obvious to me that if man really evolved from monkeys, God would have made Adam and Steve, not Adam and Eve. Or something like that. I don’t remember the actual jingle.
23. I’m sorry I never got to thank Ken Lay for dying.
24. Sometimes I wish I knew if I was ever in the military.
25. I will badly miss my “veto erections.”
One of the truly fine Americans of our time has died:
Steve Benen says:
Once in a while, a politician drops the pretense and lets his true colors come through. In this brief interview, Dick Armey, perhaps best known for calling his then-colleague Barney Frank "Barney Fag," showed just what he's made of, before a national television audience.
Here’s the silver-tongued former House Majority Leader on Hardball, debating Joan Walsh, editor-in-chief of Salon.com:
This is by Ross Mackenzie, retired editor of the editorial page at the Richmond Times Dispatch. I know you will feel, as I did after reading it through, deeply ashamed:
The left and the media and the ever-expanding blogosphere, and of course the Democrats, never permitted George Bush to recover from the circumstances of his 2000 election.
They deemed him unacceptable, accidental, illegitimate, likely a conniver in the national outcome — and so took to lobbing their hateful commentaries one after another without end.
On issue after issue they rejected his appeals for bipartisanship, especially in his second term. In his 2004 victory speech, Bush said: “Today, I want to speak to every person who voted for my opponent. To make this nation stronger and better, I will need your support, and I will work to earn it. ... We have one country, one Constitution, and one future that binds us. And when we come together and work together, there is no limit to the greatness of America.”
Yet from Social Security and judges to the surge and terror and continuation of the tax cuts, malign leftists dug in and sought to foil him on every front — to deny him any victory, any success, anywhere.
“Malign” is too harsh? Consider: Television, blogospheric, and newspaper commentaries slammed President Bush 24/7. Nicholson Baker wrote Checkpoint, whose protagonists weigh whether to assassinate him. Twelve thousand San Franciscans signed a petition to rename an Oceanside sewage plant for him—
Hollywood went apoplectic, with Oliver Stone — director of the detestable October-released flick “W” — declaring: “We are a poorer and less secure nation for having elected (Bush) as our president. ... America finds itself fighting unnecessary and costly wars and engaging in dangerous and counterproductive efforts to fight extremism. Even more significant and troubling, I believe, is his legacy of immorality.”
Despite this vicious stream, George Bush persevered and prevailed. The events of 9/11 changed him. Mistakes abounded, but no subsequent domestic jihadist strike ensued. As he noted at the Army War College last month, this staggering security success was “not a matter of luck.” Against islamo-fascism pre-emption (described by the all-knowing as naive, idealistic and wrong) was — as it remains — the right policy for spreading liberty and democracy, particularly in a Middle East that boasts so little of either.
The enterprise in Iraq, following the surge, now approaches victory — the great Osama bin Laden himself having declared Iraq “the central front” in his war against the United States.
Barack Obama repeatedly pronounced Iraq a distraction and - from beginning to end — a mistake. Yet a resolute Bush was true to his values, to his nation, and to mankind’s ultimate cause. Last month he told The Wall Street Journal’s Kimberly Strassel that liberty can be extended beyond Iraq as long as America continues to believe “in the universality of freedom.”
His early tax cuts helped the country out of the recession Bill Clinton left him. The budget exploded, as did deficits — largely a result of expanded defense spending for the war on terror. (Said Bush in the Strassel interview: “I refused to compromise on the military” — for which thank heaven, given that the first obligation of every administration is the people’s protection.)
Bush was correct about Social Security, despite a spineless, risk-averse Congress unwilling to get its game together. While vastly more nominations would have been better, he managed against obstructionist Senate Democrats to gain approval of 61 federal appellate judges (compare Clinton’s 65), now constituting majorities on 10 of the 13 appellate courts. And he gave us the estimable Supreme Court Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito.
Yes, spending blew out of control — albeit with congressional concurrence.
Problems plagued the war’s conduct in Iraq. Post-Katrina New Orleans was mishandled. Still, Bush can boast hefty tax cuts, major assistance for HIV-infected areas of Africa, significant gains in health care and in education accountability, a multi-ethnic Cabinet (including the first two black secretaries of state), and massive improvements from surveillance to strategic policy.
We invest our presidents with greatly too many expectations. It happened with George Bush and his predecessors, as it is happening with Barack Obama — the latest secular savior. Few mortals can deliver on more than a small percentage of their promises and hopes.
Yet Bush carried two added burdens: (1) difficulty in articulating his goals and (2) relentless hammering by leftists hostile to his values and his success. Then, perceiving him harmful to the Republican brand, many conservatives abandoned him as well. Still and all, his favorable ratings never descended to the ratings for Congress — particularly the Congress led by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.
George Bush a perfect president? Hardly. The worst president of the past half-century, as too many with ideological axes to grind would have us believe? Compare, oh, Carter and Clinton. A more prudent categorization: The most consequential president since Reagan.
To those cognoscenti who argue such an appraisal is preposterous, remind them of this: The most recent conventional wisdom — the consensus of the best minds and analysts — was (remember?) that because the fundamentals were so sound the stock market could not crash, the economy could not possibly collapse.
Former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson — a man of laconic, perceptive humor — noted that “those who travel the high road of humility in Washington are not bothered by heavy traffic.”
George Bush concludes his presidency with abundant accomplishments, not least a safer nation — and still, despite a tsunami of hateful coverage, commendably humble. When the tumult and the shouting die, an appreciative people would escort him down to robust and lingering applause.
From a Washington Post interview with White House chief of staff Joshua B. Bolten:
Bolten said another of his goals when he took over was to try to get the country to see the likable boss he and other aides saw in private, convinced that would boost Bush’s popularity. “I failed miserably,” he conceded. “Maybe in the beginning of the sixth year of a presidency, that’s a quixotic task… But everybody who has actual personal exposure to the president, almost everybody, appreciates what a good leader he is, how smart he is and, especially, how humane he is.”
You judged Paris Hilton all wrong. You thought she was nothing but a worthless, spoiled tramp, and I admit she played the part well. I myself was fooled for many years. But it turns out she’s actually a philanthropist who’s hip to the plight of the global economy. Don’t believe me? Check it out:
American socialite Paris Hilton has declared herself a saviour who shops for the greater good in tight economic times.
In Sydney to host an exclusive New Year’s dance party, the 27-year-old heir to the Hilton hotel fortune this week drew criticism for spending 5,560 Australian dollars (3,844 US dollars) in a 40-minute shopping spree.
Local charities accused her of callous excess but Hilton Wednesday defended the splurge.
“I’m in Australia, I think it’s important to help out, you know, the economy out here, everywhere in the world,” she told reporters, ahead of her New Year engagement.
“And what’s wrong with doing a little shopping? It’s New Year’s, I need a New Year’s dress.”
Acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard, questioned during a news conference Tuesday about Hilton’s shopping spree, commended the socialite for recognising Australia’s attraction as a fashion and shopping destination.
“I heard that a politician said that,” Hilton said. “I thought that was very sweet and it’s true.”
Hilton will be paid 100,000 Australian dollars by the party’s promoters for her Sydney appearance, promising a number of costume changes ahead of midnight.
Wow. That’s, like, totally cool and sweet. Now I know that I’ll be helping the economy when I go to the hardware store today to buy a pitchfork. Nothing wrong with a little shopping.
Former general and former drug czar and present Pentagon propagandist Barry McCaffrey, you’ll recall, was the subject of a recent evisceration by the New York Times.
If you don’t recall, follow the links in the Columbia Journalism Review article by Charles Kaiser from which the excerpt below comes.
It turns out that McCaffrey is the living embodiment of all the worst aspects of entrenched Washington corruption — a man who shares with scores of other retired officers a huge financial interest in having America conduct its wars for as long as possible.
House Financial Services Committee chairman Barney Frank recently announced that he wants to cut the Pentagon’s budget by twenty-five percent — or approximately $150 billion a year. Sadly, because of the entrenched position of McCaffrey and hundreds of others like him, there is almost no chance at all that president-elect Obama will do anything to curb the military-industrial threat about which President Dwight Eisenhower first warned us in his farewell address forty-eight years ago. With the willing complicity of NBC News, that threat just keeps on getting stronger and stronger, every year.
But the Times’s recent evisceration of the sleazy war flack wasn’t total. To it must be added Sy Hersh’s account of how McCaffrey’s role in Bush War I, the Gulf War, was not that of a conquering hero but rather a bloodthirsty, glory-seeking butcher who needlessly massacred hundreds if not thousands of fleeing and helpless Iraqi troops — during a ceasefire.
It’s quite rare for those of us at Bad Attitudes to praise anyone from the current crop of conservatives. Although one can see from the links on the sidebar here that conservatives of another generation are highly thought of here, Albert Jay Nock in particular and my own personal favorite, H.L. Mencken.
It’s probably unprecedented that we would praise a member of the Federalist Society here, but I’m going to award someone a Bad Attitudes Online Medal of Freedom, which coming from this site, is indeed an honor, notwithstanding that many of those medals given by a certain government official who stands at the pinnacle of power, but not for long, are considered by many in this country to be Medals of Shame.
However, Justice Richard Sanders of the Washington State Supreme Court deserves more than just praise and thus I’m going to give him the first Bad Attitudes Medal of Freedom for his principles in standing firm in his belief in the Constitution of the United States of America, and who obviously does not regard it, as some others do, as just a scrap of paper. The Washington State Olympian newspaper has the full story and Scott Horton, a legal scholar of immense talent and ethics who blogs at my favorite legal blog, Harper’s No Comment briefly details the events leading up to Robert Mukasey’s recent fainting spell.
Scott blogs for his Thanksgiving blessings, giving special thanks to honorable men like Justice Richard Sanders. As far as I know, Justice Sanders is no relation to Ben Franklin’s alter-ego of almost the same name, or at least I believe it to be so, although Richard Saunders, sometimes known as Poor Richard, was also known to give excellent advice to others even when they often didn’t want to hear what he had to say. Without further ado, here’s a portion of the post from Scott Horton’s blog:
Thomas Jefferson called the heavy-handed, fear-mongering rule of the Federalists from 1798 through 1800 a “tyranny,” and when friends protested, he explained why this term was correct notwithstanding the fact that the Federalists had taken power through the ballot box. They were, he said, tyrannical in their dismissive attitudes towards the liberties of the people, in their use of crass fear to retain and strengthen their grip on power and in their contempt for the dignity of the ordinary human being, something that a genuine democrat recognizes even in the least and most frail members of our species. He was right to use the term “tyranny” with respect to what the Federalists did.
And I am thankful to Richard Sanders, a long-time member of the Federalist Society and a justice of the Washington Supreme Court. As Michael Mukasey stood at the lectern of the society’s annual meeting and delivered a speech saluting the role played by latter-day Federalists in crafting a legal doctrine for the war on terror — a doctrine that included the use of torture as a presidential prerogative, and granting the president the right at his unreviewable whim to hold people in permanent confinement without ever bringing charges against them — Sanders rose and filled the hall with his voice. “Tyrant! You are a tyrant!” he shouted.
Mukasey paused, stunned by the outbreak, and minutes later he slumped to the floor — suffering from what was fortunately no more than a bout of fatigue. No, Sanders acknowledged, Mukasey himself is not a tyrant — he clearly has been the best of Bush’s three attorneys general (which is of course not much) — but the practices that Mukasey was extolling are tyrannical practices. Indeed, these practices — confinement without charge and denial of the writ of habeas corpus — were condemned as such before, by James Madison, whose silhouette appears, ironically, on the logo of the Federalist Society, and by Edmund Burke, to whose political philosophy many of these latter day Federalists purport to adhere, and whose Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol can be read today as a condemnation of Guantánamo and everything it stands for.
Sanders was right. He upheld values that others in the room had surrendered in the interest of political expedience. In 1800, the Federalist war stratagem caused a severe political setback to the party, ultimately leading to its political extinction. And in 2008, as in 2006, the same phenomenon has occurred in an America which has grown weary of hate and fear-mongering and anxious for hope and a revival of confidence in the American Idea.
I concur strongly with Mr. Horton. It is men like Justice Richard Sanders who are the true patriots amongst us, those who dare to speak truth to power. And I am amazed that our mainstream media has failed to let our people know about this story and the heroic actions of Richard Sanders, although we’ve known for some time that most of our press have no idea of what speaking truth to power means nor do they have any intention of letting the public know about all the abuses that have been committed in our name, at least not at this time.
One can only hope that eventually that time will come. In the meantime, be thankful that there are men like Richard Sanders, who are not afraid to confront those who would have no qualms about destorying our sacred Constitution. The torch of Lady Liberty still burns despite the efforts of evil men to put it out.
My sister Patsy went door-to-door for Obama in Michigan, as she wrote about weeks ago here. For weeks my brother Bill worked the phones for Obama in his Pennsylvania hometown, East Stroudsburg. Monroe County, in some small part due to him, went for the Democrat by 11,000 votes.
My lawyer son Ted took unpaid leave to travel to Pennsylvania work the phones as well, and on election day he did sentry duty at two polling places in Philadelphia.
And the blogger Papa Bonk went to Erie County, Pennsylvania to — cut up stickers. The thanks of a grateful nation (and world, for that matter) are due to all four of them, and to hundreds of thousands of others like them, and now here’s Papa Bonk:
Busch (sic) was a continual embarrassment … and finally an endless source of humor. That was his highest value.
Funny how I started getting the idea that it was my fault. Something my daddy told me one election night when he took me and my brother to the county courthouse to watch the election returns come in. “Politics starts with setting up chairs at the committee meeting,” he said, “Somebody has to do it.”
So I went to Pennsylvania…
Friday night before the election I am in Edinboro’s little store front office. I have a stack of sheets of stickers with a nice picture of Barack Obama that say Vote November 4. I am one of three people who are cutting them out and putting them into a box. I am using a little pair of scissors that hurt my hand. Someone asks,“What are you doing that for?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Georgia (the office manager) asked for them.”
“How many will you do?” I am asked.
“As many as it takes to win,” I said.
For a glimpse of history to come, see this from Ohollern at his first-rate blog, Donkey Mountain. Rather than excerpting and linking, I’m lifting it intact. As you read, bear in mind the splendid cosmetic surgery that our historians have already done on Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and the sainted Reagan. Among others.
When I woke up this morning, something was different. I felt a sense of lightness and hope that I haven’t experienced in eight years. Then it hit me. The Bush presidency is coming to an end. It fully sank in and I truly grasped it. The Bush presidency is coming to an end. Say it with me, brothers and sisters, and say it long and loudly so all God’s creatures might know, the Bush presidency is coming to an end!
I’m aware that my joy might be premature. I well remember that a few months back Bush told some sycophantic interviewer on FOX News that he wanted to “finish strong.” That’s a statement that should give us pause. And, of course, with Cheney still lurking around the dark hallways of the White House like a child thief waiting to pounce, we must all remain vigilant. Still, barring any major catastrophes (a bold hope, I know), we can plausibly assume that in a couple of months, our long national nightmare will be over. Praise be to God and the U.S. Constitution. Praise be to Mr. Madison. Praise be to the United States of America. Take me in your arms once more and let me love you again!
After permitting myself to indulge in this pleasing notion for an unseemly length of time, I regained my composure and came back to cold reality. Or, to paraphrase Shakespeare, the buttocks of the evening gave way to the forehead of the morning. I began to wonder how we’ll explain the dark phenomenon of Bush-Cheney to our posterity. How will we justify ourselves and lay claim to any virtue when we allowed these dense, cold-blooded reptiles to seize power and inflict such grievous harm on the world?
Then a few names began floating through my mind, like lazy clouds that occasionally blot out the sun on a summer’s day. Doris Kearns Goodwin. Michael Beschloss. David McCullough. Suddenly, my stomach began to bloat and churn as if I’d eaten bad Mexican food. Of course, I thought, we’ll explain it away the same way we always explain our sins. We’ll send in the Court Historians.
They’ll unfurl their scrolls and begin scribbling away, doing what they always do best: make history nice. They’ll set to work writing, publishing, speaking, and frequently materializing on C-Span and the Jim Lehrer News Hour. Gradually, an acceptable narrative will take shape. It will acknowledge the misdeeds of the Bush Administration but place them in a context that makes them palatable to the saplings in high school who must, at all costs, be made into patriots. I suspect it will look something like this:
George W. Bush was a man of deep faith. He fervently believed in the rightness of what he was doing. Unfortunately, the devoutness of his beliefs often led him into errors of judgment. He was a good man, a likable man, the kind of guy you want to have a beer with, but, alas, his religious devotion to spreading democracy crashed on the rocks of a world that wasn’t ready for it … His greatest failing was an inability to adapt his beliefs to the vicissitudes of the world, or some such crap.
Bottom line, George was a true believer and the disasters that resulted stemmed from good motives.
It practically writes itself. That’s why legions of no-talent, hack historians will be rolling it off like machines in the next few years. Their books might even include a few photos of George W. standing alone in the White House, back to the camera, staring pensively out the window like LBJ or Nixon. I can Hear Doris Kearns Goodwin now, “He agonized over the the failure of Iraq. His faith simply didn’t allow him to accept that it wouldn’t work. Since defeat was not an option, he doggedly persevered . . . “
The more ambitious historians will tie in the Freudian angle. Georgie was driven by a subconscious urge to outshine his father. His insecurity created a manic striving for greatness that actuated itself in the form of military conquest and nation-building. If the war in Iraq failed, he failed, and that meant his father won. George W. couldn’t face that prospect, so even in the face of mounting disaster he persevered .… In other words, he wasn’t just an illiterate simpleton who didn’t know what the fuck he was doing. No. He was a complex soul propelled by dark subconscious forces that brought about his fall.
Thus the emotionally stunted moron becomes a tragic, Shakespearean figure who the citizens of the American Empire can sympathize with. It worked for Nixon.
If that fails, they can always fall back on what I call the “Cardinal Wolsey Defense.” It was a popular trope during the Middle Ages. Basically, it absolves the King of responsibility for his evil deeds by placing the blame on his advisers.
The King, after all, is a good, decent man who thinks of nothing but the welfare of his people. He doesn’t wilfully act out of purely vain or selfish motives. It’s always his evil counselors who are to blame when shit goes bad. They are the villains! Thus the disasters of the last eight years will be the fault of Cheney, Rove and Rumsfeld. Doris Kearns Goodwin, once again, “Cheney took advantage of Bush’s naïveté to implement his own agenda.”
That all of this is pure horseshit is irrelevant. This pure horseshit is exactly what your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will be taught about our dismal gray era and the petty little wannabe Cæsar who presided over it all. We know what he really was. They will not. Even if the psychological crap is true, it doesn’t excuse him. All of us have issues and resentments. It’s called life. Most of us deal with them in a responsible way. That’s called being a mature human being.
If Poor Little Silver Spoon Georgie, who was born a millionaire, who was given a pampered upbringing, who was given an Ivy League education, and who was given numerous profitable careers by Big Bad Ole’ Daddy, cant’ figure that out then, well, I guess that makes him an object of some small pity.
That he carried these adolescent neuroses to the White House and used his power to kill hundreds of thousands of human beings makes him a monster, no different than Caligula or Domitian or Lucretia Borgia. He is a mental, moral and intellectual midget. He is evil. No amount of vanilla ice-cream scooped up and slathered over our historical memory by the likes of Doris Kearns Goodwin or David McCullough must ever be allowed to white-wash over that simple fact.
This war is about to end. Praise God.
These odd and sad parallels hadn’t occurred to me, but they did to Jim Fallows:
The plotlines and character-motivations of the two Bush Administrations, 41 & 43, are perhaps too broad and obvious ever to support a first-rate novel. At least that is what reviews of Oliver Stone’s W suggest to those, like me, who have not seen the film. (Not yet on the pirate-video market here in Beijing. Maybe next week.) Or if could be simply that Stone and other Bush chroniclers have taken a family saga of Shakespearean scale and presented it without corresponding richness and nuance.
Still, someone will eventually do something compelling with the intersecting stories of John McCain and Colin Powell, including the latest chapter that began today.
Close contemporaries, born eight months apart; both headed toward military careers, but from very different starting points — immigrants’ son, versus son and grandson of admirals. Lives changed by the Vietnam War, including ultimately putting both on the track to top-level politics.
Powell declining to take what could have been a promising path to the Republican nomination in 2000; McCain trying hard for that nomination but losing out to a slime-rich campaign by GW Bush and Karl Rove. It was during a debate in this campaign that McCain delivered his famous and withering line directly to Bush’s face, about his campaign’s character-assassination ads. The line, spat out with more contempt than anything McCain later displayed toward Obama, was “You should be ashamed” — and, when Bush tried to answer, “You should be ashamed.”
After that, diverging arcs: Powell providing cover and legitimacy for the Bush-Cheney WMD argument in favor of the Iraq war, and despite acclaim for his record as Secretary of State clearly understanding how his historical standing had been diminished. McCain increasing his “maverick” reputation, before that term became a joke, right through his defense of John Kerry against the Bush-Rove Swift Boat ads in 2004.
And now the arcs reverse again. Powell, with his endorsement of Obama, taking a cleansing step not because he is endorsing a Democrat or the person who, instead of him, has a chance to become the first black President. But rather because Powell is at last free to say the many “Cut the crap!” things that his fealty to the Administration had kept him from saying publicly while in office or until now, ranging from the perverse effects of anti-Muslim hysteria to the dangers of scorched earth political campaigns.
Meanwhile, John McCain, once laid low by those very tactics, embracing them as his best chance for victory this year. Powell, tainted by his association with the Bush Administration, choosing at age 71 to restore his reputation for recognition of higher principles. McCain, who earlier opposed Bush tactics, choosing at age 72 a path that in the end is likely to bring him both defeat and dishonor. Maybe we need a Shakespeare to do this story justice.
Another American legend is now gone, and I must admit that I find some of the movies that Paul Newman starred in as some of the finest films of the Twentieth century. One film that Newman starred in, HUD, elicited a comment from Newman before his death from cancer:
As Hud Bannon in “Hud” (1963) Mr. Newman was a heel on the Texas range who wanted the good life and was willing to sell diseased cattle to get it. The character was intended to make the audience feel “loathing and disgust,” Mr. Newman told a reporter. Instead, he said, “we created a folk hero.”
I watched that film a couple of years ago and it struck me in a particular way. I saw George Bush perfectly personified in the character of Hud and I saw many of my fellow Americans too. It’s a film I urge everyone to watch. Because we have a society filled with people who aspire to be just like Hud Bannon. Some of my favorite quotes from the movie appear below:
Homer Bannon: You don’t care about people Hud. You don’t give a damn about ‘em. Oh, you got all that charm goin’ for ya. And it makes the youngsters want to be like ya. That’s the shame of it because you don’t value anything. You don’t respect nothing. You keep no check on your appetites at all. You live just for yourself. And that makes you not fit to live with.
Homer Bannon: That’s your solution for getting out of a tight? To pass bad beef on to my neighbors who wouldn’t know what they was getting? Or maybe risk starting an epidemic in the entire country?
Hud Bannon: This country is run on epidemics, where you been? Price fixing, crooked TV shows, inflated expense accounts. How many honest men you know? Why you separate the saints from the sinners, you’re lucky to wind up with Abraham Lincoln. Now I want out of this spread what I put into it, and I say let us dip our bread into some of that gravy while it is still hot.
Homer Bannon: You’re an unprincipled young man Hud.
Hud Bannon: Don’t let that worry you none. You got enough for both of us.
Yes, the movie personifies George Bush. But it also personifies rich conservative America. I urge you to watch it. Because we need to bring back the Homer Bannons. I remember when there were plenty of them in America running small businesses. But it's hard to find one now. Because small businesses have a hard time making it when they behave responsibly like Homer Bannon. Paul Newman did some great things with his brand “Newman's Own” which donated all the money it made to worthy charities. No other companies in America have brands that behave that sensibly. At least if they have, I’m not familiar with them.
Paul Newman was an American hero. Rare in the film world. But Newman lived his life the way Americans should live their lives. If we could get more people to do so, America might have a chance at becoming a nation that is looked up to by the rest of the world as something to aspire to once again. But we have a long way to go to get the nation back to an honest status that other countries would like to emulate. Newman also proudly referred to himself as a liberal and was 19th on Richard Nixon’s enemies list. I’m proud to say that Newman belongs to those of us in the liberal camp, and conservatives can’t lay claim to the great legacy he left this nation.