Friday, October 29, 2010

Amid the Sturm und Drang, a Moment Sublime

This was a week of dizzying visuals--Christine O'Donnell flubbing a radio interview and then threatening to sue the station if they air it. A reporter being strong-armed and handcuffed for questioning a candidate. A woman being thrown to the ground and head-clamped by a jack-booted patriot who now wants an apology from her.  A Democrat thrown to the ground and body-slammed at an Eric Cantor rally.

And just when I thought things were getting about as disturbing as they could get, up pops Charlie Sheen in another installment of his Hey wait!  Watch this! crash and burn melodrama.

Add to all of that the incessant news that the Republicans (now an arm of the Tea Party) are likely going to take over the house and possibly the senate, and I had every good reason to hate this week. I didn't realize, when I kept going back again and again to immerse myself in the few magnificent moments from an earlier "Last Word"where Lawrence O'Donnell apologized to RNC chairman Michael Steele for comments he had made the night before, that this was my therapy, my solace, my way of establishing that there are, in fact, some remnants of humanity still struggling to grab hold. 

I missed the original program, but I heard about it the next day, when the blogosphere was abuzz with the news that Lawrence, just days into his new MSNBC show, had made what looked a whole lot like  racial slurs toward Michael Steele in a pre-recorded intro.  This is what Lawrence said:

 As the first congressional election during his party chairmanship approaches, Michael Steele is dancing as fast as he can trying to charm independent voters and Tea Partiers while never losing sight of his real master and paycheck provider, the Republican National Committee.

Okay, that wasn't good.  I'm a huge Lawrence fan, going back to his days with The West Wing, my favorite TV series of all time, but this--coming so soon after his icky, un-Lawrence-like interview with Alvin Greene, where O'Donnell's main concern seemed to be the origin of Alvin's nick-name, Turtle, and whether or not the poor man was a witch.

I look at the hapless Alvin Greene, the unlikely and astonishingly inarticulate and unprepared  Democratic senate candidate from South Carolina, and see someone who needs protecting.  Alvin Greene needs a mom out there.  Whatever his original reasons for running for high office, he's finding himself the laughing stock of an entire nation, and yet he plugs on.  Time and time again his handlers set him up for the worst kinds of abuses, and he obediently goes out there and does the job as well as he's able.  That he can't now and probably never will be anything other than poor Alvin doesn't seem to phase either his handlers or the members of the media who see his fumblings as great sport.

I sincerely expected better of Lawrence O'Donnell.  And just when I was ready to concede that even someone with Lawrence's integrity can sell out to popularity-grab and celebrity-lust, he makes a dazzling come-back with his apology to Michael Steele:


 I'm not a huge fan of Michael Steele, truth be told, but that was about as classy an act as I've seen from a Republican in a long time.  I want to believe, after watching that clip over and over again, that we have a chance.

If, on Wednesday, November 3, we wake up to a whole new world of the same old crap, I'll somehow manage to get through the day by remembering that fleeting moment of political man's humanity to political man.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Still looking for the WikiLeaks Heroes


While nearly everyone in my world is cheering the release of a staggering 400,000 classified U.S documents by the website, WikiLeaks, in order to expose war crimes and atrocities by the U.S and its allies during both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, I can't help but dread the direction in which we're heading.

There are so many whistle-blowers I admire.  It takes great courage to go against the wind and do what's right.  Many of them have suffered mightily for their bravery.  (I would hope I could be as brave if the time came.)

Leaks have come in handy at times when the truth refused to surface without them.  (But even the seemingly benign can be destructive.  Ask Valerie Plame.) This is not an indictment of either method of letting the sunshine in.  Sunshine is good.  It warms us all.  But the flip side of sunshine is that if we're not careful it'll burn us.

My problem with this story is the cavalier approach to the theft of thousands of pages of classified government documents by a person who took an oath to guard them with his life, if necessary.  I've lived with, and known, people who held high security clearances, so it could be that I'm more sensitive than some to the obligations and fidelity a security clearance requires.  There is a long process of life-scrubbing scrutiny before a security clearance is awarded.  It can often take months of investigation, delving into every aspect of an applicant's life, past and present.   No one I know who ever went through it took the designation lightly.  I haven't asked them, but I think I can safely say that none of them would consider the acts of either WikiLeaks or Bradley Manning, the soldier who leaked an un-named number of documents, as anything other than acts of treason.

I hate war.  I hate everything about the bloody, messy reality of war-- the lies, the propaganda, the cover-ups, the lives lost in the name of honor or vengeance or blood-lust or money.  So, having said that, it seems reasonable that I should be rejoicing in the release--even the unauthorized release--of the unavoidable truths of the messes we've gotten ourselves mixed up in.  I'm not. I can't.

There is no doubt that there have been cover-ups in the numbers of casualties on both sides in both current wars.  There is no doubt that there have been atrocities and killings, with thousands of innocents caught in the cross-fire--and with each revelation we react with a kind of impotent fury that has become all too familiar.  So when whistle-blowers like Bradley Manning or Julian Assange come along with undeniable proof that we have good reason to distrust our own government, a nation as battered and war-weary as ours is going to let loose and hail them as heroes.

It's easy to forget in the heat of it that what we have here is a security breach of massive, unprecedented proportions, with unimaginable repercussions.

We know that Bradley Manning, a 22-year-old intelligence analyst stationed in Iraq found himself with way too much time on his hands and started "rummaging" through computer files he knew full well were off limits to unauthorized PFCs--even ones with secret security clearances.
"If you had unprecedented access to classified networks 14 hours a day 7 days a week for 8+ months, what would you do?" he asked.
We know that before he was caught he managed to download thousands of text and video files and pass them on to WikiLeaks for unauthorized publication.
"Hillary Clinton, and several thousand diplomats around the world are going to have a heart attack when they wake up one morning, and find an entire repository of classified foreign policy is available, in searchable format, to the public," he wrote to a hacker friend.
What we don't know yet is why this young soldier was allowed access to such sensitive documents and given so much time alone.  It must have seemed unreal, even to him, as he bragged about how easy it was to accomplish such an unbelievable breach.  (That's the rest of the story.  How could this happen when they're so security-conscious we still have to take our shoes off at the airport?)

Whatever the answers, I won't be celebrating the release of those documents.  It sets up a whole new dangerous phase for us--where the ideals of free speech and transparency trump the security of our country.  When the wholesale theft of mountains of classified documents becomes a heroic deed, it sends a signal that anarchy is now the favored act of rebellion. 

I guess I would be careful what I wished for.  This is what the Tea Party wants, too.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The GOP's big plan: Yell "taxes" in a Crowded Theater, Send in the Clowns, Boffo Box Office*

I woke up this morning with a mad, radical thought in my head: What if I'm wrong and those damned Republicans really are right?  What if, after all their clowning around, it turns out they actually have what it takes to allow us to pack up our troubles in our old kit bag and smile, smile, smile?

It sat me right up, this thought that I've been fighting against that bunch for so long I've completely lost sight of what they might actually stand for.  Ye gads, what if Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin are just the kind of visionaries it takes to shock us into lasting prosperity?

I can't say my eureka moment energized me enough to cause me to leap out of bed, but around my third cup of coffee it came to me that in order to understand my potential new pals I must go to the source and see what they have in mind for us once they've regained control of congress and have set to work fixing all of the things they so successfully screwed up in the first place.

I went to, the one-stop-shopping place for all things Republican, and wasn't a bit surprised to see Sarah Palin waiting for me at the door.  I got past  her, side-stepping the booth where they're lining up to get on the Get Pelosi Fired bus, then found myself in some pretty nasty alleys and a few dead ends, but I forged on, looking for the magic portal marked "Solutions", the entrance into proof-positive that the Republicans have only our best interests at heart and are working feverishly toward making America the Land of Plenty for more than just the ultra- ├╝ber- super-rich.

So. You're pretty sure I found it, right?  You can't wait to read concrete evidence that the Republicans have actually come up with better recovery plans than anyone could even have imagined--that a miraculous fix is in the works, ready to be implemented as soon as they're in power again.

I'll bet you're thinking I'm going to have to eat a whole field full of crow after all the naughty words I've used against them.

Not so fast, mateys.  This is all I found:  A six-part section called "Issues".

The first, National Defense, is the longest, at 177 words, and starts out, "President Ronald Reagan's approach to America's national defense, which successfully confronted the Soviet Union and ended the Cold War, is as essential today as it was then."
Okay. Nothing new there.

Issue number 2 is Health Care:  "We support common-sense health care reforms that would lower costs, preserve quality, end lawsuit abuse, and maintain the health care that Americans deserve.  We oppose government-run health care, which won't preserve the physician-patient relationship, won't promote competition, and won't promote health care quality and choice."
Americans deserve this kind of health care?  And this wins you brownie points?

Third issue, Energy:  "We believe in energy independence.  We support an 'all of the above' approach that encourages the production of nuclear power, clean coal, natural gas, solar, wind, geothermal, hydropower, as well as off-shore drilling in an environmentally responsible way. We oppose so-called cap and trade legislation that would impose a national energy tax on families and small businesses that would kill jobs and raise utility prices."
Just kidding about that Green energy stuff.  We're not really going to push that.

Education is number 4:  "We believe that maintaining a world-class system of primary and secondary education, with high standards, in which all students can reach their potential, is critically important to American's future. We believe in the power of school choice, that giving parents the ability to send their children to better schools--not keeping them trapped in failing schools--is an important way to enable children to get the quality education they deserve."
Okay, public ed, the jig's up. You're outta here.

Issue number 5 is Economy:  "We believe in the power and opportunity of America's free market economy.  We believe in the importance of sensible business regulations that promote confidence in our economy among consumers, entrepreneurs and businesses alike.  We oppose interventionist policies that put the federal government in control of industry and allow it to pick winners and losers in the marketplace."
In other words, carry on, O Leaders of the Pack.  Your money is safe with you.

Number 6, the final issue, is the Courts:  "Republicans believe a judge's role is to interpret law, not make law from the bench. Judges in our court system, from district courts to the Supreme Court, should demonstrate fidelity to the U.S. Constitution.  We trust the judicial system to make rulings on the law and nothing else."
Phew, glad this one was last.  Sure stinks up the place, doesn't it?

So that's it.  There's nothing else.  Notice what's missing?  There's not a single solitary mention of the need to protect American workers or the need to create American jobs. Not a thing about the poor and middle classes, who are suffering the most in this depression masquerading as a recession.  Nothing about bankruptcies or foreclosures or people lining up at job sites, at food banks, at homeless shelters. Nothing about vets living on the streets. Nada bout kids having their health insurance canceled out of spite.  Nothing in there to sully their devotion to the Fat Cat sponsors who count on them to keep the "You line our pockets and we'll line yours" roundelay going.

Okay, they're as bad as I thought they were only just yesterday.  But I should sleep well tonight, ready for battle again tomorrow, because I've seen the nightmare and it is them.

But in case you're still leaning toward voting the bums back in because the Democrats just aren't doing it for you, you might want to read "The 'Teach-the-Dems-a-Lesson' myth" by Robert Parry.  It's an eye-opener.

(*Boffo box office:  Old Variety headline meaning a film, play or performance has raked in the big bucks.)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Shut your damned Enthusiasm Gap and get out there and DO something

We all know that certain people who make it a practice to depreciate the accomplishments of labor - who even attack labor as unpatriotic - they keep this up usually for three years and six months in a row. But then, for some strange reason they change their tune- every four years- just before election day. When votes are at stake, they suddenly discover that they really love labor and that they are anxious to protect labor from its old friends.
I got quite a laugh, for example - and I am sure that you did - when I read this plank in the Republican platform adopted at their National Convention in Chicago last July: "The Republican Party accepts the purposes of the National Labor Relations Act, the Wage and Hour Act, the Social Security Act and all other Federal statutes designed to promote and protect the welfare of American working men and women, and we promise a fair and just administration of these laws."
You know, many of the Republican leaders and Congressmen and candidates, who shouted enthusiastic approval of that plank in that Convention Hall would not even recognize these progressive laws if they met them in broad daylight. Indeed, they have personally spent years of effort and energy - and much money - in fighting every one of those laws in the Congress, and in the press, and in the courts, ever since this Administration began to advocate them and enact them into legislation. That is a fair example of their insincerity and of their inconsistency. 

The whole purpose of Republican oratory these days seems to be to switch labels. The object is to persuade the American people that the Democratic Party was responsible for the 1929 crash and the depression, and that the Republican Party was responsible for all social progress under the New Deal.

Now, imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery - but I am afraid that in this case it is the most obvious common or garden variety of fraud.

FDR, September 23, 1944

Okay, I feel like the mother hen here--the dotty old mother hen who keeps repeating herself, even when it's clear that nobody wants to listen.  We mother hens do this, not because we're so keen on being royal pains-in-the-ass, but because we're keen on looking at the big picture and keeping it real. 

So, yes, I've said this before and I'll say it again:  We Dems/Libs/Progs need to do everything we can to keep the Democrats in control.  If we don't, the Republicans win and their gloating will take the form of locking us in towers and throwing away the keys.  They haven't even won yet, but on the strength of polls and pundits telling them they will, they're already planning ways to kill the few puny safety nets we've been able to jimmy into place.

So along with the satisfaction you get from gunning for the Democrats who in your view are either clueless or cowardly or in bed with the corporates, you might want to give a thought to how all that griping is fueling the other side.  They're loving these little internecine battles, because while all that spitting and hissing is going on, they can move on down that low road with nary a care in the world. 

I'm not going to rehash the horrors that will be unleashed if the Republicans take over congress, because there are others who have done it much more thoroughly already.  It will be bad.  You know that.  It will be so bad, we'll wonder how we could have let it happen again.  We'll pretend we didn't have anything to do with it--that the Big Money/Tea Party juggernaut was just too much for us.  But we'll be lying to ourselves, won't we?  All of this energy going toward attacking our own should be going toward attacking them. They are the enemy of the people, the destroyers of the universe (given half a chance), and we have an obligation to heal the wounds, not make them deeper.

The One Nation rally should be enough to convince us that we have the power if we'll only just use it.  It's a lie that we are a right-leaning country.  We couldn't have accomplished as much as we did if we had historically followed the dictates of the right.  We would never have had a healthy labor movement, a vibrant middle class, a claim to the title of greatest power on earth, without liberal pressure and sweat.  We built this country; they tore it down.  Now we're trying to rebuild and they're on the fast-track to tearing it down again. 

 The press is profiting from the looniness of the Right Wing and spends almost all of their time mooning over them.  Meanwhile, the good folks with mountains of practical, beneficent ideas but no talent for hawking them sit around and wait their turn.  Still, I'm seeing encouraging signs of a momentum building.  The Huffington Post, for example, has a new page called "Third World America", where real people talk about real problems and real solutions.  Elizabeth Warren finally has the president's ear, and someone is actually quoting the irrepressibly sensible Bernie Sanders.   Al Franken's heart is a hit on the senate floor.  Rachel Maddow has become an unlikely and refreshingly brilliant star.  Lawrence O'Donnell--smart guy in his own right--has his own show.  Michael Moore gives the Dems five steps to a win and in his follow-up he sees some progress.  And President Obama is beginning to sound like his old self.

It's a start.

So what's it going to be?  The Republicans taking over congress and making sure none of our programs ever see the light of day?  Or the Democrats winning a clear majority, sending a message to the entire country about where our priorities must lie? 

I'm declaring a moratorium on Democrat-bashing until the elections are over.  If you're not willing to get on board, I'm blaming you for everything that happens from here on out.

Have a nice day.