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I'm just another regular guy with something to say and access to the internet. All opinions are warranted to be at least fully half-baked and hopefully entertaining.

Thursday, December 8, 2005

It's been twenty-five years since John Lennon was assassinated. Since this is a significant anniversary, we'll likely be hearing rather more about this gruesome event than usual. "Usual" meaning a perfunctory mention at best and, at worst, the specter of some media ghoul like Larry King or Barbara Walters whoring an interview with the religio-wingnut loser who "ended an era" (his words) by murdering an unarmed musician.

But a lot of us have been observing December 8 as a day of remembrance and reflection each and every year since that horrible night in 1980. For me, Lennon's murder resonates right up there with that of Dr. King, not that the two men are necessarily comparable in terms of their place in history. Both were, however, very conscious of the important roles they came to play in our culture and neither was averse to taking risks. The legacies of both men loom large in my life.

But in certain personal ways, John Lennon is the more important figure to me. He was a great musician, something I strive to be. He was also fearless about living his own life, for better and worse, and usually in the public eye. Finally, he was clever and a smart-ass. I liked that.

Hundreds of people have written exhaustively about Lennon, The Beatles and the ways in which they changed the landscape of popular music. But music is a visceral thing, especially for a teenager, and I have my own distinct memories of hearing The Beatles early on. The first occasion was on a broadcast of "The Jack Paar Show." That film clip constituted, as I recall, their initial appearance on American TV, and they sang "From Me to You" (still one of my faves). And then "She Loves You" hit the airwaves (WAKY-AM in Louisville, KY), reached right out through the radio and took my breath away. Still does.

But it was with the release of "Rubber Soul" that I really started to pay close attention to Lennon's writing, particularly "In My Life." I was very impressed that a Rock & Roll star in his mid-20's would write such a serious, reflective song. It was about this time that I started to regard John Lennon as something of a surrogate older brother (I'm the eldest of three boys), a person I could look to for a certain amount of guidance in how - and how not - to approach life.

So I came of age to, among many interesting things, Lennon's music. It accompanied me through high school, college, the Navy, marriage, divorce and experimentations with altered states of awareness. And while I never consciously emulated John's life, I did take great comfort in knowing he was out there - somewhere - and I always wished him the best. Especially when he came out in opposition to the war in Vietnam, was hounded by the FBI and got put on Nixon's "Enemies List," a badge of honor in my estimation. When he finally got his Green Card and was able to set up legal residence in New York City, I was glad for him.

Then he and his music went away for five years and, well, that was cool with me because I was pretty sure he needed a break. But in the autumn of 1980, I heard "Starting Over" on my car radio and realized that John Lennon was back... and he sounded damned good. "Double Fantasy" was a great comeback album and I was happy that Lennon's music was going to be part of my life's soundtrack once again. Besides, I figured we needed all the help we could get, what with the election of Ronald Reagan and the rise of the Talibangelicals.

And then John Lennon was gone.

Not Eddie Cochran gone, not Jimi Hendrix gone, not even Elvis Presley gone. Accidents, drug overdoses, bad lifestyles... in the world of Rock & Roll, those kinds of deaths are at least comprehensible. But John Lennon was stalked and gunned down in cold blood, in front of his own home, by a man to whom he had given an autograph that very day. At the age of 40, one of the best and most important musicians of my time was taken away for no goddamned good reason. I will never get entirely over it - and I may never forgive his assassin.

Never... because he ended the life of someone who still had great music to make. Never... because he silenced a voice for peace in a world of pain. Never... because he took John Lennon away - from his family, his future and his chance to grow old. And, selfish though it may be, I was looking forward to that, because Lennon would have been a great old man: someone worth watching, listening to and learning from. His death was a profound loss.

I miss John Lennon. But, life goes on and I'm sure he wouldn't want us to wallow about in maudlin nostalgia, thank you very much. Besides, we still have the music. So here is a personal and eminently transitory playlist to celebrate the life of an extraordinarily creative and remarkable guy. My Top 10 for today, December 8... for all of us living on borrowed time.

In My Life
Nowhere Man
Tomorrow Never Knows
Strawberry Fields Forever
I Am the Walrus
Across the Universe
Instant Karma
Working Class Hero
#9 Dream
Watching the Wheels
12:04 am | link

Friday, November 11, 2005

Veterans Day, 2005
Veterans Day activities resound throughout the republic. Restaurants are offering free meals to geezers in goofy military baseball caps (yes, I do have one), the classical music station is awash in anthemic tributes and Veterans Day sales are the P.O.D. (Navy jargon: Plan of the Day). Oh yes, and parades out the wahzoo. In other words, business as usual.

Now, I don't begrudge any vet his/her shot at remembrance and gratitude, much less free chow. But this year, I think we deserve more that that. This year, this veteran would appreciate some apologies. I won't be holding my breath, but here's my short list:

George W. Bush, Chickenhawk-in-Chief: For peddling a concoction of fear and lies in order to sell a war that (a) has resulted in tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths and mutilations and (b) is destructive to America's global interests. That, and a total lack of competence as Commander-in-Chief.

Dick Cheney, Vice-Sneer: For the advocacy of torture, including Soviet-style gulags, for "suspected terrorists," a policy that puts American servicemen in even greater danger as they struggle against what is proving to be a formidable, and predictable, insurgency. That, and for pimping out the CIA to support Bush's war in Iraq.

Donald Rumsfeld, Defense Fuhrer: For waging Bush's war in Iraq on the cheap, to the considerable consternation of actual military officers, thus resulting in the systematic trashing of the structural integrity of our Army and National Guard. That, and having no plan for victory or withdrawal.

Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss: For comparing former Senator Max Cleland, a triple-amputee from the Vietnam War, to Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein just to win an election. That, and for wanting to take food out of the mouths of poor kids in order to help pay for Bush's war in Iraq. I'll say it again: Senator Chambliss is a chickenhawk and a disgrace.

Swift Boat Republicans: For wearing those idiotic "Purple Heart Band-Aids" in order to make fun of the war record of Senator John Kerry just to win an election. Their behavior was an insult to every veteran who has been wounded in the service of their country. That, and... well, that's plenty.

The Mainstream Media (MSM): For allowing the Cheney/Rumsfeld "cabal" to use them as snake-oil salesmen for Bush's war in Iraq, in spite of early and compelling evidence that it was based on a pack of lies. That, and for their general recalcitrance in speaking truth to power.

Congressional Democrats: For (a) allowing themselves to be steamrollered into voting for the war in the first place and (b) continuing to dump vast amounts of blood and treasure into the resultant, and predictable, quagmire. That, and for sniveling cowardice in confronting the Bushoids venality.

The Democratic Leadership Council (DLC): For continuing to endorse Bush's war in Iraq. That, and for pretending to be Democrats.

That's a start. But while we're on the subject, here are a few other items to consider:

The Bush administration requested a princely 2.7 percent increase in Veterans Affairs (VA) spending, even though the VA's under-secretary testified last year that the VA health care system needs a 13 to14 percent increase annually to maintain their current level of services. This, as Republican leaders in Congress blocked $2 billion in emergency funding for veterans' health care from a supplemental funding bill.

Wounded U.S. soldiers have returned home from Bush's war in Iraq only to learn that they are being referred to credit agencies that want the soldiers to pay for lost equipment or for charges for military housing.

Veterans comprise roughly one-fourth of all homeless Americans. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, nearly 200,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. Most of these cases are attributed to lingering effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and substance abuse, compounded by a lack of family and social support networks. In other words, neglect.

So, by all means, take in the parades, the hoopla and the well-meaning tributes to vets. But, in my opinion, the men and women serving in the armed forces today are being used by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Chambliss and other lesser men to the actual detriment of their country.

Those who currently serve will, if they live, join the ranks of veterans - a group I am proud to be a member of. But I seriously doubt that the men they work for will care any more about them then than they do now. And they will offer no apologies.

Happy Veterans Day.
12:20 pm | link

Sunday, November 6, 2005

Going for Broke
OK, I don't claim to be a great leader of women, or men, for that matter; but it seems to me that when 60% of the people you're supposed to be leading think you're going in the wrong direction, and question your integrity to boot, a reasonable cognitive response would be to do some serious reevaluation and consider altering your course to reflect the reality that your current plan of action is fundamentally messed up.

Or you could just say, "screw it" and stay the course. Which is exactly what the Bush Junta and its supporters have decided to do. Only more so; after all, they've got a war, several hurricanes and those obscene tax cuts for their base to pay for. In case you haven't heard how they intend to do it, here's the latest abomination from the halls of Congress.

The U.S. Senate has approved a plan to save about $35 billion over the next five years by cutting, among other things, federal spending on prescription drugs, agriculture supports and student loans. In this case, Senate Republicans, including Georgia's appalling Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson - but, to be fair, not Chafee (RI), Coleman (MN), Collins (ME), DeWine (OH) and Snowe (ME) - were joined by Democrats Ben Nelson of Nebraska (where, we must assume, poor people do not abide) and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. Which is, like... totally... unbelievable.

As always, the situation is worse on the House side: $54 billion in cuts to Medicaid, food stamps, student loans, agriculture subsidies and child support enforcement. The House measure would also allow states to impose premiums and co-payments on poor Medicaid recipients. But wait...

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the food stamp cuts in the House measure would knock nearly 300,000 people off nutritional assistance programs, including 70,000 legal immigrants. About 40,000 children would lose eligibility for free or reduced-price school lunches.

Still another House provision would roll back a court-ordered expansion of foster care support, denying foster care payments to relatives who take in children removed from their parents' homes by court order. That provision would reduce the coverage of foster care payments to about 4,000 children a month and cut $397 million from the program through 2010.

Talk about bold strategies.

The GOP knows that our economic situation is untenable. They know that the majority of Americans disapprove of their policies. They know that the elections in 2006 and 2008 are going to be most vigorously contested. Yet they remain committed to doing away with the very functions of government that actually make life somewhat easier for people of marginal means. "Starving the beast" is their charming expression for this shameful strategy; and now they've decided to go for the gusto.

No more of that "Compassionate Conservative" nonsense; Bush and his fellow travelers apparently figure that if their days are numbered, they might as well make themselves and their pals as rich as possible; and if that means sticking it to the poor, the middle class and America's kids, so be it. It's what you might call the "Rapture mentality:" If you're convinced that you have got your ticket out, it really doesn't matter what happens to everyone else.

I submit that this scorched-earth campaign extends as well to the judiciary, specifically the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito to replace Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (whose enduring legacy, let us recall, is that she brought about this world 'o' crap by awarding Bush the Presidency in 2000). Alito - a kinder, gentler fascista - is a darling of the Talibangelicals, and will probably be confirmed, much to the delight of those who envision an America where anyone with a uterus should not have too damned much freedom on her hands.

The sad, soul-numbing truth is that our federal government has been hijacked by men and women who are working assiduously to insure the triumph of one economic class, the über-wealthy, and one moral viewpoint, Christian Dominionism. They repeatedly lie to the American public and employ appeals to fear, moral intolerance and faux-patriotism as cynical tools in the cause of destroying effective government and advancing a restrictive social agenda. And, faced with the deleterious effects of policies based on their dissembling, they manifest no acknowledgement of their human fallibility, much less any shame, contrition or accountability.

Just like George W. Bush. Now that's leadership.
10:27 am | link

Friday, September 16, 2005

Vacationer-in-Chief George W. Bush: "Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government, and to the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility."

To be honest, I was momentarily stunned. After four and a half years of mind-boggling incompetence - at last, the "R word." Granted, Bush delivered this epiphany in a fashion that reminded me of nothing so much as an 11 year-old boy 'fessing up because he has no way out. But things are getting desperate indeed if Karl Rove's spin machine has to resort to the truth, or at least something like it.

It is worth noting, however, that the wording of this statement includes the lawyerly phrase " to the extent." It will be interesting to see who gets to define "extent." Call me skeptical, but I sensing loopholes here.

For clarification on matters of semantics, I suggest we turn to comedian David Frye. Some of you will recall that Mr. Frye's shtick was to impersonate Richard M. Nixon, which he did brilliantly. One of Mr. Frye's routines considered a possible Nixon response to a question about the extent of his involvement in the Watergate scandal. As I recall, it went like this:

"I accept the responsibility, but not the blame. Let me explain: people who accept responsibility keep their jobs; people who accept the blame do not."

[Bonus snark from comedian Will Durst: "Bush says he doesn't want to play the 'Blame Game.' Makes sense. Never heard of a chicken who wanted to play the 'Extra Crispy' game."]

But now, live from Jackson Square, a turning point: "The Speech." It was a good speech, from the Bush Junta's point of view. It was mostly upbeat and hit on all the major talking points, including: tributes to heroes, salutes to the "armies of compassion" (nice militaristic touch), acknowledgement that America actually has a history of racial discrimination, another brief acceptance of responsibility (but not blame), enthusiastic extolling of entrepreneurship, a lot of broad pledges of massive federal aid, three actual initiatives and finally a tribute to that venerable New Orleans tradition, the "second line." All in all, just what Karl and the Spin Doctors were hoping for. Maybe.

Now I hate to rain on this parade - yeah, right - but I can't help but bring up some small problems that Shirtsleeves-in-Chief George W. Bush did not address to my satisfaction:

Such as... where is the money going to come from to finance the (conservatively) estimated $200 billion needed to rebuild the region? Will we roll back tax cuts for the rich? Doubtful. Eviscerate even more social programs for poor people? Too ironic. Pull out of Iraq? Ouch. Or will we simply pile it on the deficit and go even more in hock to the Chinese? Bingo!

Such as... why, after four years and a gazillion dollars, we are still in the position of having the Department of Homeland Security "undertake an immediate review, in cooperation with local counterparts, of emergency plans in every major city in America." While Osama quietly smiles.

Such as... why the American people should expect a Republican-controlled Congress to be capable of a thorough investigation of " all the facts about the government response to Hurricane Katrina." Since Denny Hastert (R-Funk Impaired) gets to choose the members of the "bipartisan commission," including, I believe, Democrats as well as Republicans, lowered expectations might be in order.

In fact, I still have no reason to believe that this administration, given the astounding levels of hubris and incompetence manifested in their response to 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, is capable of rebuilding the Gulf Coast in anything like a equitable and just fashion. That's simply not their style. Paul Krugman sums it up nicely: "There's every reason to believe the reconstruction of the Gulf Coast, like the failed reconstruction of Iraq, will be deeply marred by cronyism and corruption."

Think not? The New York Times reports: "Republicans said Karl Rove, the White House deputy chief of staff and Mr. Bush's chief political adviser, was in charge of the reconstruction effort." I guess when your boss's job approval rating goes in the toilet, you become qualified to be the new "Master of Disaster."

For more than four years Bush and his base, "the haves and the have mores," have been relentlessly imposing their agenda on the rest of us, an agenda anchored in the fundamental tenet of Reaganomics: "I'm rich. Fuck you." (Kudos, Richard Beltzer.) One well-crafted speech in the face of catastrophe will not alter that.

I could be wrong... I sincerely hope I'm wrong. But I doubt it.
3:15 pm | link

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Reality Check
(Actually heard on the radio while driving from Atlanta, GA to Fairhope, AL on September 9, 2005.)

Laura Bush: The images of Katrina's aftermath that we've seen over and over again are "not representative of what happened."

Coast Guard rescue helicopter crewman (whose name I didn't get, I regret to say): The situation in New Orleans was "worse than it looks."

Black radio station somewhere south of Montgomery: "If you don't want to hear about it on the news, don't let it happen."

And now it's September 11, 2005. Four years after the towers fell, we've come a long way: disaster in Iraq, a diaspora of Black Americans and a worsening economy (unless you're rich, of course). Meanwhile, Osama is somewhere laughing his butt off. One would think that this anniversary of 9/11 - which occurs on a Sunday, no less - would be a time for sober assessments and serious reflection.

But this is the good old U.S.A., and there's nothing wrong with this country that a shot of jingoistic flag-wavin', boot-scootin' and ass-kickin' won't cure.

My favorite inspirational event today takes place today in Washington, DC; a Pentagon-sponsored parade followed by a concert featuring country singer Clint Black. Mr. Black, who looks very good in a cowboy hat, was born in 1962. Here is his military service record:

[ ]

Since the maximum age for enlistment in the armed forces has been increased to 45, Mr. Black would seem to be a prime candidate to pop right down to the recruiter's office and put his money where his mouth is. That would be this:

"IRAQ AND ROLL," words and music by Clint Black and Hayden Nicholas. (Excerpted without permission.)




"There's no price too high for freedom." Your patriotism is truly inspiring, Clint. But as you help the Bush Junta round up 9/11, the Iraq War and Hurricane Katrina with a red, white & blue lasso and tie them all together into one big rodeo spectacle, remember: talk is cheap. And until I see your ass in a uniform "taking out the garbage," I'll assume you're still taking your cues from First Cowboy and Chickenhawk-in-Chief George W. Bush.

All hat and no cattle.
12:08 pm | link

Thursday, September 8, 2005

An Open Letter to Senate Democrats
The most costly natural disaster in our country's history will play out in the political arena for years to come. We've already seen how the Bush administration intends to deal with the aftermath of hurricane Katrina: blame the Democrats, blame the victims, keep the media from showing any more bodies and muddle through until the heat is off. Perhaps FEMA Director Michael Brown will get the sack, but no one else will pay a price.

This is totally unacceptable. I expect accountability and I expect you to deliver it.

I've been a Democrat for 40 years, served my country in the Navy and pay my taxes. I have watched you let my party and my country down time after time.

In 2001, not one of you stood with the delegation of Black House members pleading for justice in the rigged 2000 Presidential election in Florida. Not one.

Following the attacks of 9/11, only one of you voted against the Patriot Act, a piece of pernicious legislation with chilling, and predictably awful implications for our Constitutional freedoms.

I've watched you vote in favor of a costly and brutal war based on lies. I've watched as Bush steamrolled you with tax cuts for the rich; with prescription drug reform that benefits the pharmaceutical industry; with bankruptcy reform geared toward the wishes of the banking industry; with energy legislation that does nothing about our long-term needs.

In short, I've watch Bush and the Republicans walk all over you. I'm sick of it. In the aftermath of Katrina, you have your last chance to stand up and do the right thing - to stand up and say, "Enough. No more."

No more tax cuts, no more corporate welfare, no more no-bid deals. It's time for accountability. The Bush administration is the most corrupt, venal and immoral government we've had in my lifetime. If you do not hold them accountable at long last for their perfidy, I am through with you.

It may not seem like much of a threat; I am a contributor, though not a wealthy man. But I represent something much more important: your base. And if you allow Bush and his pals to get away with their utterly appalling neglect of our citizens and our security, I will leave the Democratic Party and I will make a point of taking everyone I can with me.

Do your damned job. Serve the American people.

Rodger French
4:52 pm | link

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

The Blame Game - It's Showtime
Hear that sound? Finally... the well-oiled machine that is the Bush administration has swung into decisive action in this time of national emergency. I refer not to the Department of Homeland Security or FEMA. No, I'm talking about the amazing right-wing, fact-rending, truth-sucking spin machine operated by Karl Rove, Bush Junta Minister of Propaganda.

Ladies and gentlemen, step right up and be astounded as Mr. Rove and his minions expound for the rubes in the American Homeland on how the inept federal response in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina was absolutely... positively... conclusively... (wait for it)... SOMEONE ELSE'S FAULT.

You know, if the situation weren't so tragic, this shit would almost be funny. Nevertheless, in the interest of fairness, let's take a look at King Karl's Kavalcade of those who are to get the blame for making his incompetent (but very fit) Commander-in-Chief look bad.

1. THE LOCAL AUTHORITIES: Why did New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin not do more to evacuate the poor citizens of New Orleans? I don't know, but that's a fair question and deserves an honest answer. Why didn't he do something about the levees? Could it be because they're not in his jurisdiction? Why did he allow the situation to get out of hand at the Superdome and Convention Center? Could it be because he was fucking overwhelmed? Nah, spin away.

2. THE STATE AUTHORITIES: Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco's first response was to call for a "Day of Prayer." Like maybe God would think it over and take His hurricane back? Not the most pragmatic leadership, in my view. But her real failure, according to the Rove spin meisters, was that she didn't ask for help from the Feds soon enough.

Before we proceed, here's a message from your friendly, neighborhood Department of Homeland Security website:

"In the event of a terrorist attack, natural disaster or other large-scale emergency, the Department of Homeland Security will assume primary responsibility on March 1st for ensuring that emergency response professionals are prepared for any situation. This will entail providing a coordinated, comprehensive federal response to any large-scale crisis and mounting a swift and effective recovery effort."

Seems clear enough. Now here's what Governor Blanco wrote in an official letter to President Bush dated August 27, 2005 (just the fun parts):

"I have determined that this incident is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the State and affected local governments, and that supplementary Federal assistance is necessary to save lives, protect property, public health, and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a disaster. I am specifically requesting emergency protective measures, direct Federal Assistance, Individual and Household Program (IHP) assistance, Special Needs Program assistance, and debris removal."

"I request Direct Federal assistance for work and services to save lives and protect property."

Governor Blanco also provided a basic list of needs. And here's the administration response, dated August 28, 2005:

"President Bush has declared a state of emergency for the Gulf Coast state of Louisiana, as it braces for the expected onslaught of Hurricane Katrina, set to make landfall on Monday.

Saturday's emergency declaration authorizes federal officials to coordinate all disaster relief efforts and provide appropriate assistance in several Louisiana parishes."

"Coordinate all disaster relief efforts." Sounds pretty darned unambiguous to me. Of course, it didn't say when. There's your loophole, Karl; spin away.

Incidentally, Bush neglected to tell Governor Blanco about his latest photo-op visit to her state; she found out he was coming from the Associated Press and managed to tag along. Nice touch. Needless to say, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour was fully informed.

3. THE CITIZENS OF NEW ORLEANS: Those pesky poor Negroes could have made Beloved Leader George W. Bush's life a lot less complicated if they had just left town. What possible excuse could they have? No money? Everyone has money in Bush's America. No car? Everyone has a car in Bush's America. No support system? Actually yes, the people of New Orleans had a support system; it's just all happened to be in, well... New Orleans. Where their homes were.

Wait, I've got it: they stayed in town so they could take advantage of enhanced career opportunities for looting. Brilliant! Spin away, Karl.

[This update: All is well with the evacuees in the Houston Astrodome according to no less an authority than Barbara Bush: "Almost everyone I’ve talked to says we're going to move to Houston." Then she added: "What I’m hearing which is sort of scary is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this - this is working very well for them." Thanks, Barb. We can see where George gets his boundless compassion.]

[Take a moment... OK.]

I have received criticism from people wondering why I'm being so hard on Bush, Michael Chertoff (who, in my opinion, is an arrogant prick) and Michael Brown (who is just clueless) while not saying nasty things about Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco, both of whom are Democrats. That's a reasonable question and I have a reasonable answer.

I have never claimed that either the Mayor of New Orleans or the Governor of Louisiana are blameless in this mess; that’s clearly not the case. But the Mayor and Governor don’t work for me; George W. Bush does and he didn't do his job. While the nation held its breath waiting for the storm, Bush went golfing.

One didn't have to be a Homeland Security expert to know five days in advance that a Class 5 hurricane was headed straight for the Gulf Coast and that it would unquestionably (1) inflict immense damage and (2) put New Orleans' levees in serious jeopardy. Five days. Could it be that I had access to more information than the most powerful man on the planet? Hell, I don’t even have cable.

And for those folks who claim that it was not possible to get massive federal aid in sooner because of impassible roads and other logistical nightmares, I have one word (altogether, now): Iraq. Geraldo Rivera got in; Harry Connick, Jr. got in; three college kids from Charleston, SC in a Hyundai got in. If the National Guard troops whose job it is to respond to these kinds of disasters weren't in Iraq pissing their lives away in Glorious Crusader George W. Bush's war, they could've gotten in too.

It's another tragic turn in the same sorry spectacle: Bush blows it and Rove spins it. This is quite the polished little song & dance and it's the one thing these guys are really competent at. But the usual spin may not get it done this time, so Karl has come up with a new act. The Bush administration is going to launch a thorough investigation into what went wrong. That investigation will be personally overseen by... George W. Bush.

Spin away, Karl. Spin away.
10:18 am | link

Monday, September 5, 2005

Black Like Who
During one of the 1980 Presidential campaign debates, Ronald Reagan (insert gratuitous snarky aside here) famously remarked to Jimmy Carter: "There you go again."

Yep, here we go again. We try to ignore it, tap-dance around it or pretend it just doesn't matter anymore, but we can't stop the subject from coming up. The issue of race in America is being talked about again... loudly. And not the usual celebrity-trial-media-circus stuff either. This time it's much more serious and personal; and it's not going away.

Thousands of American citizens are dead in New Orleans and a lot of people are of the opinion that the racial composition of that city had something to do with it. The facts are indisputable: George W. Bush, the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA were delinquent in getting on the case. In addition to the dead, tens of thousands of Black Americans are displaced, headed for God knows - no, wait... He must know; He sent the hurricane - who knows where. The federal government, to which these Black citizens pay their taxes, let them down in the worst way.

Racism? My status as a middle-aged southern White man dictates that I proceed with care and sensitivity. That said, I know what I see.

NBC and the Red Cross broadcast a program the other night featuring music and fundraising pitches by performers from the affected states. That's cool, but I noticed that the local Atlanta affiliate had superimposed a graphic featuring a soft-focus image of a White woman rescuing a dog. What does it say that a media outlet, consciously or not, chose this image over a zillion others in order to raise money for hurricane victims, most of whom are Black? A small matter, perhaps; but indicative? I'm just askin'.

Anyway, when it was time for rapper Kanye West to make his ever-so-sincere, ever-so-scripted speech, he went off on it. “I hate the way they portray us in the media. If you see a black family, it says they’re looting. See a white family, it says they’re looking for food.” He's right; I've seen the videos and the captions. And while there's no denying or condoning criminality, I am loath to stand in judgment of desperate folks of any color who are trying to scrounge basic necessities just to survive. You do what you gotta do. I know I would.

Predictably, the right-wing punditocracy and some government officials, in typical, shameless attempts to shift the blame onto the victims, got all up in it with calls for "zero tolerance" and "shoot to kill" and, perhaps most outrageously, "why are they still there?" This from people whose idea of a bad day is not having the right shoes to match their outfit. But hey, maybe I'm just guilty of seeing the situation, as Secretary of Wardrobe Condi Rice so preciously put it, "in a color-affected way."

By the way, my new hero is a "looter." An 18 year-old Black kid from New Orleans named Jabbor Gibson spied a school bus sitting empty on a city street, commandeered it, filled it with 100 people and drove it straight to the Astrodome. Where he was promptly given a medal and put in charge of FEMA. Yeah, right. In fact, he was promptly arrested... for stealing a school bus. "I don't care if I get blamed for it," he said, "as long as I saved my people." This is a young man who gets it; who understands the true meaning of service.

Which is more than can be said for Golfer-in-Chief George W. Bush. To quote Mr. West again, "George Bush doesn't care about black people." I would amplify that statement: George Bush doesn't care about anybody who is not rich, connected and sycophantic. He is an Oil Prince, a fortunate son of undeserved privilege, and I honestly believe him incapable of understanding what an average person, whether in New Orleans, Biloxi or Fallujah, has to contend with on a daily basis, much less under extreme duress.

Here's something you can count on though; bring up the notion that race might be a factor in the government's belated response to this catastrophe and southern Governors (all White) and Senators (all White) will immediately pooh-pooh even the remotest possibility of such a thing. Mellifluous platitudes extolling color blindness, shared sacrifice and level playing fields (literally, in this case) will cascade from their lips like polluted water over the 17th Street levee. The best we can expect from them is that the question of race is "something that will probably be addressed down the line."

"Down the line," my ass. Black members of Congress - including mine, I'm proud to say - are livid over this. My personal opinion is that anyone who gives a good goddamn about this country should be furious with this administration. They had their chance to do the right thing; but they blew the mission so badly that who knows how many Black Americans died needlessly. It really is that simple and awful. And if dealing with this shitstorm means talking about race at the risk of impinging on someone's delicate sensibilities, that's just too bad.

This is a conversation that must take place.
5:07 pm | link

Saturday, September 3, 2005

The Blame Game
It is all so overwhelming... so heartbreaking... so... predictable. If you live on the southern coasts of this country, hurricanes are a fact of life: it is not a question of if, but when you get hit. Tragically, the worst-case scenario has come to pass in the great city of New Orleans. The conventional wisdom is that all Americans should lay aside ideological differences and avoid partisan politics, avoid pointing fingers, avoid laying blame, avoid etc.

Not on my watch. There's lots of blame to go around here and I, for one, have no hesitation in assigning it.

THE STORM - As much as I'd like to, I can't claim that Hurricane Katrina is the fault of George W. Bush, notwithstanding his criminal negligence of the science of global warming. Actually, I'm with the Talibangelicals on this one: I hold God responsible. Apparently, The Big Kahuna had it in for The Big Easy. The religio-wingnuts would have us believe that New Orleans incurred Jehovah's wrath because of its tolerance of sinners (and, to be fair, saints) of all types: gay party boys, topless Super Bowl fans, drunken Republican conventioneers, whomever.

This doesn't explain, however, why God would trash the Mississippi coast; after all, Haley Barbour (R-Welfare Assassin) is Governor and Lee Greenwood and Ted Nugent were booked at the Beau Rivage casino. Collateral damage, I suppose. But in my admittedly secular opinion, anyone who is seriously contemplating the "science" of Intelligent Design had better take a long, hard look at the chapter dealing with the malevolent intent behind a vengeful, Old Testament intelligence.

THE FLOOD - This is a more complicated issue. New Orleans' vulnerability to catastrophic flooding is the result of a collaborative effort. It's taken geography, industrialists, developers, the Army Corps of Engineers and politicians decades to reach this point. That said, the facts are that over the past five years the Bush Junta has (1) allowed the systematic destruction of protective wetlands and (2) gutted funds for essential levee repairs and upgrades.

And Bush's claim that "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees" is simply astounding. National Geographic knew, the emergency management director for Jefferson parish knew, I knew; basically, anyone who didn't have their head up their ass knew. Which explains why our Vacationer-in-Chief had no clue. (Gratuitous, yet sadly true.)

THE RESPONSE - If you've been watching the TV, you've seen it for yourself. Lots of good people pitched in, doing unbelievably brave and hard work in the worst possible circumstances. But the federal response, notwithstanding the heroic efforts of the Coast Guard, was absolutely appalling. The National Guard troops who were most needed are, along with their equipment, 7,000 miles away fighting Bush's war. Unfortunately, the troops that are actually available were held back because the political hack in charge of FEMA refused to "put rescuers in harm's way."

Excuse me? Getting in harm's way in order to save civilians? Tell it to the Coast Guard. That's the job, asshole.

And while we're on the subject, why did it take George W. Bush, brush whacking Christian stud-muffin and Commander-in-Chief of the United States of America, four days to get to the coast to check out the damage for himself? FOUR FREAKIN' DAYS! Unbelievable. Maybe it's just me, but I can't help thinking that if the ethnic demographics of New Orleans were more like that of, oh, Salt Lake City, the Bushoids would have been in there like white on rice.

It's too bad we couldn't have taken take Bush, Cheney, Condi and the rest of our tanned, rested and ready "leadership" and dropped their punk-asses off at the New Orleans Convention Center for 24 hours. Betcha that would've reordered their priorities. We missed our chance, sad to say. Bush just made a speech - at the airport, of course, where he could avoid desperate, pissed off Black people - and then split.

THE AFTERMATH - I love New Orleans; it is a vitally important American city, both economically and culturally, and there's no question whatsoever that it will be rebuilt, though some politicians like Denny Hastert (R-Idiot) may object. But here's what concerns me: George W. Bush is threatening to personally (pause for dramatic effect) take charge of the recovery.

What a great idea.

After all, he's done such a boffo job with the economy (record poverty and record deficits, true; but also record oil profits) and his war in Iraq (the pending establishment of an Islamic state allied with Iran - just what we had in mind). New Orleans is, after all, a riverboat gambler's kind of town. Why the hell not go for a trifecta of incompetence?

And when he pulls it off, we can just chalk it up to Intelligent Design run amuck.
12:01 pm | link

Monday, August 1, 2005

Clouds of Dust
There's a scene in the 1970 film "Little Big Man" that is forever etched in my memory. Our hero, Jack Crabb (played by Dustin Hoffman), has just spent a night making love to, if memory serves, three nubile Native American women. Nothing scary about that. The next day, however, he awakens, wanders to the edge of the encampment to pee and sees, in the distance, a cloud of dust. To his horror, Crabb realizes that this signals the arrival of the U.S. Cavalry come to slaughter the natives. He valiantly attempts, to no avail, to intercede in the ensuing massacre.

It's an old story; the powerful inflicting misery on the innocent, often with no more warning than a vague unease due to some unknown disturbance on the horizon.

Well, that's how I've been feeling pretty much all this (miserably hot) summer. Part of this malaise is personal, involving possible major changes in career, habitat, etc. Which, in the grand cosmic chaos we all inhabit, is not that big a deal. But most of the reason for my sense of desperation and impending doom (a tad dramatic perhaps, but there's a point to be made here) has to do with the utter paucity of people in positions of so-called leadership who are willing to acknowledge the truth: cataclysmic social change is on the way and we're not preparing for it.

[To clarify: by "we" I mean those of us who labor not under the delusion that Jesus is coming soon to "rapture" us into the arms of Jehovah, leaving approximately, oh, 5 billion non-believers to simmer in the toxic stew that we have collectively helped create. Many Talibangelicals and their followers doubtlessly relish the prospect of global misery, seeing as how that would signal the "end of days," from which they've already got their ticket out. Which conveniently absolves them of, like, actually addressing real problems. Can I get an "amen?"]

The signs are everywhere and you can have your pick of calamities: the rise of an American fascist empire; the lack of a decent health care system to deal with tens of millions of aging "Boomers;" the prospect of an endless, hideously expensive and recently renamed "Global Struggle Against Extremism." (Nice one, guys - better leadership through re-branding. By the way, does that include American extremists, too? Just asking.) But these are comparatively provincial concerns, troubling though they may be. Let's talk real global.

The news is not good. The human race has finally become a "carbon-based infestation" (courtesy: "Star Trek-The Motion Picture") that is inexorably destroying its own habitat. We are literally pillaging the planet, exterminating species by the thousands while merrily plundering non-renewable natural resources. Marine food stocks are dwindling, ice caps are melting and the oil our economies are addicted to will likely be gone by the end of this century. Put quite simply, we are shitting where we eat (paraphrase, courtesy: "Moonstruck"). OK, no more movie references.

And what's the best response that the Bush Junta and the Congress of the U.S. of A., the world leader in resource use and abuse, can come up with? That would be the 2005 Energy Bill; a 1,700+ page corporate lobbyists' wet dream that boldly provides... well, no help at all really.


Funds for developing alternative energy sources? A relative pittance. Higher fuel efficiency standards for motor vehicles? Not happening. A call for energy conservation initiatives? Just joking. Try this instead: obscene subsidies/tax breaks for energy companies that already have more money than God, as well as revival of the nuclear power industry, even though we still don't know what to do with radioactive waste. (I suggest stashing it in Colorado Springs; most everybody there is going to rapture out anyway.)

Oh yes, let's not overlook the $ 1.5 billion Tom DeLay (R-Greedy MF) managed to score for his own personal slush fund to dole out to his oily pals in Texas. That's the ticket - better leadership through larceny.

Clearly most of our elected representatives are (a) totally clueless, (b) totally corrupt or (c) totally both in the face of potential global catastrophe. The good news is that none of this is secret knowledge or comes as a surprise. We may even have time to turn it around, but it will take real determination, real leadership (yeah, right) and - dare I say it - real shared sacrifice to head off disaster. I could be overreacting, but given the current level of collective human stupidity on display daily in the halls of government, I don't think our prospects are all that swift.

One thing, however, is certain: we have no excuse - we can't say we didn't see it coming. Sometimes a cloud of dust is all the warning you get. We've had ours.
9:55 am | link

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Mr. French is an entertainer, a Navy veteran and a card-carrying Liberal. And proud of it.