Monday, January 29, 2007

Marching to Nowhere

For a city under 30,000 people, this is a fairly political place. We don't even have a college, though there is one up the road about six miles, but seem to get plenty of folks to come out and send up another protest against the war.
We even joined other cities last Saturday in letting it be known again that we're just not going to take it any more!, except that we probably will. You see, there were plenty of marches and protests before the original "Shock and Awe" got going, with plenty since, and in countries we used to think of as pals. The sad part is that, as much as the voice of the people is supposed to determine the route taken by the Ship of State, that voice just doesn't carry too far today. Think about it. We now have plenty of books about the pre-Iraq invasion strategizing, but not one of them seems to have an anecdote about how the President or Vice President stopped in mid-plot to wonder about the protests that would happen if the public were outraged enough. It just never came up. So I, having learned this lesson, didn't go to the protest.
I don't think they care. Remember the recent post-election euphoria from Democrats? In the midst of it, Mr. Cheney flatly declared that it would be "full speed ahead" in Iraq, implying that the new Congress was welcome to take a flying leap at the moon. Mrs. Pelosi clucked a little protest at the time, but who's clucking now? The Decider has said that, generals be damned, we're surging to the tune of 20,000 or so new troops in Iraq, most destined for Baghdad trying to help the two main sides NOT resolve the always hot question of the rightful successor to Mohammad as espoused by the Sunnis and Sh'ia. Next thing you know, the new Secretary of Defense is sternly reminding us that protests of any kind by Congress against our strategy du jour are sure to bolster the morale of the bad guys. In other words, "Button yer lips and get in line! This is WAR, you pansies! You think you have democracy? The PRESIDENT will tell you when you've got democracy!! You pansy senators backed him. Now your job is to FUND this war, and at the level WE want! Is that clear, ladies!!??" And fund it they will, because they have no other choice.
We have no leverage left against Bush. He lied. We shrugged and wrote books about it. He continues to lie, and we salute - "Not the man" (we remind ourselves) -"The office." He selectively enforces the laws with his "signing statements", ships prisoners around the Mediterranean so we can deny that WE torture anyone, taps phone lines without warrants, opens mail, and leaves people he doesn't like on the "delay, frisk and grope" list at the airports. He makes plans for the next liberation, he won't stand for election again, he's got plenty of money and he says he doesn't care about his legacy with the historians. He can construct a giant library in Texas full of files that no one can unseal for 100 years. We can't touch him.
On the day he leaves office, assuming he doesn't find a new clause in the Constitution that allows him to simply seize power, he'll leave his best wishes for President Giuliani and mutter to his biographer that he would have achieved victory in Iraq if only the people hadn't bailed on him before his final victory. "Those weasels in the press."He'll say. "Make sure our people get the word out that it's all the media's fault." And they will.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Dr. King

Sure, there are big things coming up which will get mountains of commentary. The State of the Union, the who's-got-a-scorecard presidential campaign, the Super Bowl and accompanying commercials, the non-binding and therefore ignorable congressional resolution opposing the war escalation, I mean "augmentation", according to the Secretary of State.
But before tackling these items, let's pause a minute to discuss Dr. King and his contribution to our country. Following WW II, black soldiers returned home to find their own country divided along racial lines to their disadvantage, particularly in the former confederate states. It wasn't just custom - it was LAW that kept black folks down, and those who MADE law were not going to help things change. Mississippi even had a kind of "shadow" government with no other aim than violent intimidation and continued subjugation of its black citizens.
But change was sure to happen, one way or another. The black veterans were tired of being ignored in the very country they had fought to keep "free". A black middle class led mostly by the clergy was starting to make its moderate and patient voice (at first) heard. Truman integrated the Armed Forces, and Jackie Robinson had shown up to play for the Dodgers.
In the midst of this, Rosa Parks, one of many black household servants in the city, refused to step to the rear of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, sparking a citywide boycott of the bus system in 1955. Martin Luther King, still in his 20's and new to Montgomery, was asked to lead the boycott organization. It was felt he could be more effective than other black ministers who depended in one way or another on the local white establishment.
And the story goes on from there until King's assassination in 1968, just 13 years later. The speeches, the marches, the protests are all pretty well recorded and remembered, particularly in the places they occurred. The thing Dr. King deserves credit for was using his Christianity along with the methods of Ghandi of India to make changes happen without violence, that is to say, with LESS violence than might have been the case if someone else had emerged as national leader.
Not all blacks were as patient, especially as the 1950's gave way to the sixties, as Dr. King. The old clips of Malcolm X make him seem like a moderate, but he was a scary figure to most of white America. Ditto for other leaders of student organizations and Black Panther chapters who talked tough, though they were often in great danger from local police and J. Edgar Hoover's FBI.
The country was, I believe, lucky to have Dr. King as the most visible leader for change. It could have been MUCH worse for both sides if cooler heads had not possessed the levers of
leadership. Lyndon Johnson was not a great president, but he was brave enough to demand the help from Congress he needed to change our laws and our society even though he knew it might mean the permanent loss of the South by the Democratic Party, which has happened before our eyes. Congress itself deserves a little credit. It was less polarized then, and enough of its leaders could see that change was inevitable to actually bring it about. Southerners at first resisted change, but then made most of their protests vocal instead of violent. They didn't actually become Republicans until later, denying for the most part that they had ever BEEN racists, grudgingly making adjustments to the new order of things.
We can't pretend that racism has disappeared, but it's been pushed toward the margins and is rightly often opposed when it appears in the open. To History, this change will seem to have happened very quickly, in a single generation. Perhaps change was so overdue that it finally happened in what seemed like a heartbeat.
Dr. King wasn't perfect, but we shouldn't judge him on a different set of standards from the other leaders of the time. Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, the Kennedys all had faults which we usually ignore. Maybe that's what Dr. King finally meant when he hoped out loud to see all of us judged by the "content of our character."

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Speech No One Gave

I feel really stupid. I wrote a piece for this space this week which...vanished into cyberspace. Who do you gripe to when the Internet lets you down? Nobody, I guess. What you missed was a semi-wicked sendup of the President's latest victory plan in Iraq, however that's defined. It even included dialect, something Mr. Bush is not shy about using, especially as he goes south of the Mason-Dixon line. Perhaps my words will show up someday after a little round trip to Jupiter, though I doubt it.
This week it's the "angel" of the President's better self speaking, except that it never happened. The date would have been around Christmas, about three weeks ago. I'll leave out the dialect this time.

My fellow Americans, I know many of you have followed with interest the trial of Saddam Hussein, Iraq's former dictator. The people of the United States can count themselves blessed to have never had a head of state who so brazenly put his own interests ahead of his country's citizens.
Unfortunately, the Iraqis suffered for decades under his rule, from oppression, fear and want as a result of his selfish designs. The trial made clear his plan to install a reign of terror on the Iraqi people from which they are still attempting to emerge.
The United States had a large role in helping to provide a fair trial for Saddam Hussein in spite of his long enmity toward our country. Our funds helped pay for his defense. No fair observer could say that he did not have opportunity to defend himself from the charges under which he was finally convicted.
The law of the new Iraqi government calls for the death penalty for Saddam Hussein, and indeed his crimes go far beyond any that I have had any connection with, either as governor of Texas or as your president. There can be no question of his guilt of the charges brought against him, and of other crimes which are well documented. The world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power, and his removal should deter any on earth from aspiring to such a level of evil.
As you know, I signed the death warrants of over 100 convicted felons as governor of Texas, and would not hesitate to do so in the case of Saddam Hussein. However, that is not my decision to make. The authority for Saddam Hussein's fate is with the Iraqi people, be they Sunni, Shia, Kurd, Christian or Jew.
I have met with the Iraqi leaders regarding this matter. Saddam Hussein's fate is not merely his own. Some would use his execution as an excuse for sectarian violence, with potential to carry into future generations. We see the issue as more, therefore, than just the fate of one man.
We have agreed that, in order to begin a process of national reconciliation to commute the sentence of Saddam Hussein. He will be permitted to live out his life under strict conditions of imprisonment, in a country far removed from the Middle East region. His care will be managed by a coalition of small UN detachments from countries of every continent, and paid for jointly by the UN, the United States and Iraq. Though not intended as an act of compassion for this evil man, we have determined to continue his health care and personal religious observances and to discontinue the questioning which we have subjected him to for some time.
Killing must end if we are to have any hope of living in peace. We call on all parties in Iraq and in the larger region, governments and non-governmental, military and civilian, secular and sectarian, to consider this an invitation to lay down our arms and begin anew, knowing that we must continue as geographic neighbors for the forseeable future. The God we mutually recognize in one form of another would wish for us peace and mutual respect. We make no demands on anyone who now sees the United States as an enemy. We have no territorial ambitions, and simply hope that our act of mercy will bring a similar response from all parties. Neither is this done to curry favor with any one faction involved in this too-long black hole of strife.
Saddam Hussein is being transported as I speak to his final home. We guarantee that he will be treated humanely under the rules of the Geneva Convention, which as ruler of Iraq, he had no use for. Let me be as plain as possible. We undertake this action, which we know carries risks, in order to save innocent lives in the Middle East and elsewhere. We further propose a meeting of all combatant parties in Iraq to construct a framework for future Iraqi peace. Preparations for this great conference are underway in Jakarta, capital of Indonesia and coincidentally the largest majority Muslim city in the world, to be host to all concerned parties.
Let it be said that great nations not only made sacrifices in the 21st century in wars, but that they risked all to achieve peace. My fellow Americans, and fellow human beings everywhere, goodnight.