Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Which War IS It?

Our of our local radio stations has some quirky contractual arrangments. Each morning they break into a talk show to bring in Paul Harvey, a guy notorious for seamlessly blending news and commentary even before the current generation of audio barbarians took power. Today, Mr. Harvey informed his elderly audience that our current conflict had been renamed (by the White House, who else?) as the "War Against Islamic Fascism", as if the term were new. Readers of this blog, all three or four of you, know the term from reading this blog just last week.
The whole administration is now behind the name change, not to be confused with a policy change. Secretary Rumsfeld used it as a jumping off point in a long ramble in front of the American Legion convention just yesterday, comparing again this war to the last war with true popular support, WW II. We don't really know who thought up the term, but I'm guessing that it was a staffer in Karl Rove's office who found a little something extra in his paycheck as a reward for his/her creativity.
Of course the comparisons go way back before we saw fit to attack Iraq. Part of the runup to that involved then White House Security Advisor Condi Rice talking about how Europe failed to stop Hitler's advances in the late 1930's when there was still a chance to avoid war, implying that attacking Saddam Hussein would be something done in the interest of world peace. I wrote last week how using the term fascism wasn't accurate, but did serve a purpose of giving a subtle reminder of that good old war and its memories of American military might.
Now I think there's something even more subtle at work here. It's Condi or Rumsfeld or Cheney or Bush trying to imply that they were there, shoulder to shoulder with Churchill making plans for what we would later call the Free World. It's a little condescending: "We understand HISTORY. Most of you dopes couldn't tell fascism from fettucini. WE'LL make the decisions, just like we helped Eisenhower and Reagan. We've been doing this since before those Democrats even learned how to smoke pot."
The executive branch has great power to promote its message, and some people get fooled all of the time. I bet you don't know of a single conservative pundit who hasn't used the tactic comparing this war to WW II. Newspaper letter writers all think they invented it, and invariably close with the words "We are at WAR!" The Radio Right (especially after the JonBenet deflated balloon) has almost literally nothing else to talk about. The war cry means that the Constitution has to be ignored for awhile, funny things have to be done with the budget, and Muslims worldwide get lumped in together because there's no way to tell the "good" ones from the "terrorists". The only folks of Middle East descent we let off the hook are Paula Abdul, Andre Agassi and Ralph Nader. Senator Barak Obama would probably like to change his name to Michael Jordan.
Just for perspective, let's differentiate the two wars:
yes, many none
1939-1945 unlimited
dozens of countries shrinking "coalition of the willing"
rationing gas price creates profit
Hitler, Mussolini, Tojo Ahmed whoever-we-shot-last
shared sacrifice tax cuts for wealthiest 1%
GI Bill veterans benefits CUT
"Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" "Are You Ready For Some Football?"

Well, you get the picture. Before we forget the subject entirely, I'd also give credit to our fathers and grandfathers for NOT making torture a regular feature of a long and difficult conflict. Too bad we now have a vice president who stands UP for torture, and a president who, in effect, says "We don't torture unless you catch us doing it". Come to think of it, I can see why Bush and company want WW II, NOT Vietnam, to be the model war for this one, but it's not.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Damned if you do....

The "Far Side" cartoons hit our family at the right time, when just about everyone could appreciate the wierd things that happened there. Somewhere in the home are some old books made of selected cartoons. We still often quote punchlines to each other.
A favorite of mine showed a scene in hell in which a reluctant man was getting a little pitchfork jab from one of the devils impatient for the man to choose between two doors - one was labeled "Damned if you do" with the other "Damned if you don't". "C'mon," the impatient servant of Satan was saying, "Choose one or the other."
The current event which brings this up is the recent Democratic Senate Primary in Connecticut between incumbent Joe Lieberman and challenger Ned Lamont. You may recall that Lamont actually won the Primary, but that Lieberman has stayed in the contest and is now running as an Independent.
It was pretty easy afterwards to see that the GOP's "talking points" apparatus still carries great weight, whether other items (war in Lebanon) get the most coverage or not. What a shame, all the usual columnists and radio Right advocates all said with remarkable unity, that Joe Lieberman had lost his Primary fight. Terrific guy, friend to Israel, not just another limp-wristed, anti-war Democrat - a true gentleman. We'll all miss him along with Sam Nunn, Zell Miller (!) and other "principled" Democrats (meaning those Democrats who can be counted on to switch sides on certain issues). This proves, the chorus added, that the Democrats actually have no room for their so-called "diversity", and represent just a small tent of gutless, dope-smoking ex-hippies.
But suppose Lieberman had actually WON the Primary - we would than have heard something like this: "The Democrats have proven that they have no real convictions by sticking with Joe Lieberman, a hack who tweeks the Party by continuing to support President Bush in the War On Terror. When the going gets tough, Democratic voters just stick to the Old Guard who have cost them so many BIG elections in the last two decades. The rank and file are just like Kerry - flip-flpping all over the place, hoping the rest of the US won't notice. Pathetic."
And you could find bits of truth in both these rants. Lots of senators DO like Joe L. as a person, but, yes, the Party is clearly now more anti-war than it was a couple of years ago. And yes, sometimes BOTH parties hang on to old guys whose productive days are long gone. But could anyone doubt that Lieberman deserved a challenge after pretty much completely siding with Bush in all the neocon-led decisions that put us in the spot we're in? He faced a modern challenger in Lamont, a guy with little history, but plenty of money - a little like GWB himself in 2000. Lamont won, fair and square, but will be stuck with Lieberman on his right throughout the campaign (the GOP guy being a non-factor here), making Cheney-like declarations about who AlQuaeda wants to win. Scare tactics 101 from someone who should know better, but can't get himself to let go. He should be the leader of the Anti-Defammation League.
One more quick illustration on how the GOP hate machine can function. Remember when Clinton finally authorized NATO bombing of Serbia in order to speed the end of the Bosnia Herzegovina/Kosovo conflict? Howls of opposition from the GOP. But when bombing ended a few weeks later with the desired results and ZERO casualties, the same people howled AGAIN, this time for STOPPING the bombing. History can change, but the whole affair looks like a gold-plated winner today compared to the botching of Iraq. Too bad the neocons took their rhetoric as truth when they got into office determined to do EVERYTHING differently from the hated Clinton. And too bad they didn't notice what had actually WORKED.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

loaded words

It's not a surprise to know that many of the terms we hear used in a political context are created with a particular purpose in mind. Controlling the language of a debate gives a big edge to one side or the other. I started to understand that 40 years a go as a high school debater, just beginning to "start thinking" (as my father used to suggest I do, not always kindly - but that's another story).
I don't know who invented all these terms, though it's tempting to simply say that Karl Rove did , the way you think all poetic devices started with Shakespeare. And I wouldn't pretend to think that only one side does it But it's surprising how someone will quote a bumper sticker to you and think they're saying something original. It's then you know this stuff really works.
Anyway, here is a sampling, complete with the meaning we're supposed to get. No question I'm more critical of those coming from the right:
Islamofascist - A term which did not exist even two years ago. It is supposed to mean the people with whom we're waging war these days. It has nothing to do with REAL facscism, which is an economic system which unites the interests of business and state. This term's real purpose is to make us connect the last war with fascism, WW II, with the current one. Both great ideas, right? It's also a bit milder than saying that it's a war on Islam. Why, we could never make war against a religion, could we?
War on Terror - Since we have no declared enemies (no, not one), we have to fight against a technique - terror. Something in this also implies that the war will never be over.
Political Correctness - using other words in a way which offends no one. The practice is universally hated, and the line extends around the block of all those who claim NEVER to serve it. It can also be a putdown meaning people who think differently from ME.
Pro-Life - really means "against abortion", but in the Reagan tradition, it's always better to be FOR something. Other side is "Pro-Choice". No one, however, is "pro-death", "pro-imprisonment" or "pro-protection". "Pro-family" is also a loaded word roughly meaning "anti-Democratic". "Pro-family" gets big use in church, where no one bothers to define anything very much.
Partial Birth Abortion - not a medical term, though it sort of sounds like one. No one is partially born, and no lives are saved by banning this procedure, whatever its medical term is. This one is a triumph of the right. It will likely be litigated for decades.
tax burden - it simply means taxes, but the words are used together to make you think that running the War on Terror should really be free. The Dems, naturally prefer "tax investment", which sounds smart.
death tax - another from the GOP Hit Parade, it refers to the tax now levied against only multi-million dollar estates when the mega-rich go to the, uh, final estate. A tiny number of already wealthy people become even richer when this tax is abolished.
fair tax - you might guess this is what I pay, but you'd be wrong. It used to be called the Flat Tax. Now it has a new name in order to get you to see at a glance why people living in travel trailers should pay the same tax rate as those who own their own islands. "It would be so simple", say its advocates. Yes, until the same people who love it so make it complicated, and not in favor of the po' folks.
detainees - a nice little euphemism meant to describe those held without charge in certain, sometimes unknown spots all over the world. Sounds pretty harmless, until you realize that the detaining lasts the rest of your life.
stay the course - what we keep doing to make Iraq the Islamic Sweden it is today. Also, the reason we have no real plans to leave.
cut 'n run - any plan other than "stay the course", such as bringing troops home to their families. Remember "pro-family"?
liberation - what we used to say we had done for the Iraqis. Trouble is, once you've been liberated, there's usually a party of some kind. We had OUR party. Remember "Mission Accomplished"? Seems like a long time ago, right? Well, it was almost three and a half years ago, and the Iraqi haven't had THEIR party yet. The term also used to apply to those other party guys, the Afghans.
drive by media - term referring to all news media other than the righteous radio right. Credit Rush Limbaugh with this one. I used to hear him say that the bad guys weren't shooting at the media because they were secretly allied on the same side. A few dozen reporters killed or wounded while doing their jobs, and his pet phrases change. Of course HE doesn't drive by anything, including the drug counter.
9/11 - the event all policy goes back to. Possibly the Bush administration's biggest intelligence failure, nevertheless used as a rallying point which seems to excuse every subsequent blunder and justify every little reduction in one's right to be left alone.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

where politics meets Shakespeare

Remember english class? Sure, there was plenty of drudgury learning obscure verb tenses and so forth, but if you were lucky there was also the discovery of characters in literature. Some of them seemed to symbolize certain character traits, good and bad. The was Hamlet - indecision, Brutus - treachery, Ahab - obsession, Scrooge - selfishness, then redemption.
If you put your eye on history, you see some of the same thing. In fact, in August we note the resigning of one such character/person from public office - Richard Nixon, the most Shakesperian of all our presidents, who departed the White House for California 32 years ago today.
The man was a model of complexity. He had some good qualities. He was smart, no question. Lots of people know that he went to law school at Duke, but not as many know that he financed it with Navy poker winnings. He was a ruthless campaigner, and never had to be told to stay "on message". He had already served in both the House and Senate when Eisenhower picked him (though he personally disliked him) as running mate in 1952. Nixon was around 35 at the time, and had ridden this new issue, anti-communism, to fame all over the country.
But there was the other side of the guy, too. If Humphrey Bogart's Captain Queeg, from "The Caine Mutiny", is our model for paranoia, then Nixon was right behind. From his youth he carried a certain bitterness that colored his whole thinking. What other professional politician (and I'm using the word in its positive context) had such a low regard for people in general? As president, for example, his favorite room in the White House was a tiny room near the Oval Office with a single piece of comfortable furniture. He thought that everyone was running some kind of scam designed to fool him. This sometimes included close White House staff members, like Bob Haldeman and John Ehrlichman (who he often confused), and even foreign policy co-conspirator Henry Kissinger, he of the famous thick German basso accent. This inner cynicism was so pervasive that certain staffers were assigned by others to help keep that side of the president away from the public, and especially the media, whom Nixon held in the lowest possible regard.
Like Macbeth, Nixon saw everything in terms of its relation to HIM. He became incapable of separating his own interests from those of the USA. Like almost all presidents, he was surrounded by people who knew that they would have no other chance to be near real power, and were anxious to tell the president what he wanted to hear. This is a dangerous quality of the presidency which, if unchecked, can lead a president slowly to a place which puts him out of touch with the people who, for reasons of their own, elected him in the first place. This was doubly true for Nixon, who had little regard for Congress and felt he had no special duty to cooperate with it.
Even when he did the right thing, it was often for the wrong reason. He ended the military draft in order to end college protests against the continuing Vietnam War. He broadened the social welfare net so as to blunt the damage from his "southern strategy," a plan to appeal to white southern votes at the expense of black voters. He had the CIA partitipate in the removal of an elected Marxist in Chile, not to free the Chileans from Marxism, but to stamp out leftist movements in South America, still at that time a source of raw materiels like copper. It mattered little to Nixon that the military seized power and began a reign of terror which still scars many Chilean families. Southeast Asians fared even worse in the name of "freedom".
There are a hundred books or more regarding the Watergate scandal. More accurately, Watergate was a series of scandals which finally revealed Nixon as seeing himself above the law, with a staff capable of almost any act of skullduggery they saw in Nixon's interest. The scandal took dozens of turns, and close to two dozen officials, some as high up as the Cabinet, did some prison time. A handful of them are still around, and they gather every now and then to try to figure out Nixon and his ultimate plans. They can't completely do it, of course, because the Boss isn't around to explain it, nor could they trust him to be truthful if he was still with us. When your children ask about Watergate, just give them what they want - the SHORT answer, Dad. The short answer is this. Nixon felt it was OK to get the entire US government to serve his agenda, in violation of the Constitution. If that's not enough for them, be glad you have inquisitive children...and suggest they read a book on the subject.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

marking territory

I looked at the previous pieces from this blog, and was surprised (and a little embarrased) to see so many badly spelled words!The last one had a boo boo in the title, on a word I must have written a thousand times!I owe it to this mass audience (which I understand is now in the mid single digits) to get it right. Sorry.
The concept of a "Christian" candidate for office, or a "Christian"anything, for that matter, has certainly changed drastically in the last twenty years. At first, it was just an adjective to describe a certain person. Now it carries the baggage of a whole range of issues (most of which are NON-issues, as we'll see) that define someone in very specific ways, almost all of which lead one to the Republican Party.
Let's look at an example. The Ten Commandments. Who could be AGAINST them? Certainly not little ole liberal me. If the people of the world were to vow to keep these simple (and simply put) absolutes, the world itself would certainly be better off. I suspect that some of the Commandments' most vocal defenders would be hard pressed to recite them. But that's another story.
What we have going on now is a furor (temporarily off the front pages) to control the places where the Commandments are displayed. But instead of concentrating first on places where such displays are a problem, why not begin with a list of places which everyone agrees are perfectly fine to show off your new three-ton custom-carved reminder of what happened on the mountain with Moses:
private homes
private yards, front or back
private buldings, including churches, hospitals, office buildings, factories and schools and places to which the public may have access
Combine all these and you have a breathtaking number of places. Not all have such displays, of course, but that's just a matter of personal choice, and there is little or no argument about these locations.
No, the dispute is over PUBLIC places, in which good "Christian" folks, all backed by the Republican Party, insist that T.C. displays MUST exist in order to somehow guarantee the Christian standing of the entire community. To be fair, the Left also advocates that certain displays, some in place for years, be removed on the grounds that they support certain (Judeo-Christian) beliefs, something that governments shouldn't do lest they be suspected of supporting a certain view of religion.
Where I think the Right goes way overboard is in these often emotional events in which loud prayers are sent up to "preserve" the public TC displays, lest the people be seen by God to inadequately devout. You can be sure at such events to hear invocations to the Almighty for Americans to remember their Christian Heritage, their Christian duty, blah, blah, even theough the commandments have NO direct connection to Christianity. The huge display removed (finally) from the Alabama Supreme Court Building is the best example of what I mean.
Now, does this mean that we have to dig out all the TC dispalys in crumbling county courthouses all over the nation? I would hope not. The longer ago these things were put in place, the less political were the intents of the installers. Those folks just never thought that there were any OTHER kind of people than Christians and OK, maybe a few Jews. I'm ready to give the benefit of the doubt to folks who thought this way 50 years or so ago.
Christmas dispalys in public squares? "In God We Trust"? Prayers to begin the sessions of Congress or the Supreme Court? These all deserve a calm reasoned discussion again, not because we've given up Christianity, but that others have joined us with the right to practice their own faith, whatever it is. The Christians need to recall that their business is PEOPLE, not buildings. Otherwise they look like those timberwolves wandering the wilderness to "mark" their territory, one buiding at a time. I say let 'em put up displays anywhere they like WHERE it's LEGAL, and realize that buildings, especially public buildings, don't require a Christian ID.