Friday, 29 February 2008

Hillary’s Hot-Line

Hillary Clinton’s are-you-skeered? ad designed to generate a late surge in Texas and Ohio plays on familiar fears. The ad shows a little girl asleep in the middle of the night while frightening critters threaten her—perhaps from under the bed—who needs a strong mommy to intervene. It’s a curious cross between Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 nuke-the-daisies moment and a leaf out of W’s constant referencing of 9/11. It’s also pathetic to think that our national fate hangs on a message this puerile.

I can’t imagine it will work, but it’s good advance practice for what the Republicans will soon throw at Obama if he becomes the candidate. The Obama camp’s prompt reply ad was a good laugh, too, reminding people that it’s important what you say on the line, not just how fast you get hold of the receiver.


Although Hillary’s cascade of tribulations are entirely deserved, it’s also true that Obama has had a pretty smooth ride in areas where the news media could have shown more skepticism. I was surprised to learn that Obama hasn’t held a single hearing as chair of his Foreign Relations subcommittee, which gives the criticism about being all talk and soft on specifics a little credibility.

Still, the nuances of policy and even of platforms aren’t really the point any more. We’re examining the candidates for character and for vision, and those factors won’t change much from here on out. McCain’s a known quantity, and Hillary C is too. Obama’s the novelty, and the people have made it clear they want something new. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Omen for Republicans

Little noticed outside of New York state, a special election for a state senate seat in a conservative district near the Canadian border held Tuesday offered an insight on where things might be headed this November.

Democrat Darrel Aubertine bested his Republican challenger by a four-point margin in the race to fill a vacated seat. That in itself is not remarkable, but this is: the Republicans have nearly a 2 to 1 registration advantage in the district and have held the seat for one hundred uninterrupted years.

As always, there were local factors involved, too. Aubertine is a popular guy of modest means, and he had an uninspiring opponent. On the other hand, Democratic Governor Eliot Spitzer has managed to drive his huge initial approval rating down into the 30s in a single year in office, and the race was understood by everyone to be a referendum on Spitzer’s less than stellar performance.

The only explanation I can extract from this shocker is that the voters have had it with the Republican Party nationally and are ready to give them a whaling wherever they raise their rosy pates. I am utterly charmed by this possibility especially since I was born in Mr Aubertine’s district a number of years ago and would like to see the execrable Bushite loyalists spanked and put out with the garbage at least once before I am awarded my exit certificate.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

A little respect for Ralph

Listening to all the Democratic poobahs’ take-downs of Ralph Nader, I keep waiting for someone to recognize that he’s done more to produce ‘change’ over the last 50-odd years than a whole passel of overpaid senators wrapped together with baling cord.

Instead, we get distortions of Nader’s arguments. In fact, Ralph doesn’t say the two parties are the same or that Bush and Gore were indistinguishable. He argues that they’ve jointly and complicitly led the country down a disastrous path toward war, hypertrophic growth combined with gross inequality and injustice, and systematic dismantling of the regulatory apparatus that’s led us into one catastrophe after another, the subprime mortgage debacle being only the latest.

Is he wrong?

I don’t dispute that Ralph’s plan to run for president again is deranged and counterproductive. But Nader’s now 73. A less dedicated guy would have tossed it decades ago and gone fishing. But Nader slogged on, patiently fighting the steady march backward on dozens of fronts in excruciating detail while his self-righteous Democratic critics buckled again and again.

You’d think the political classes would cool their jets long enough to treat Nader with some indulgent respect. A tad of humility on their part might even pull his miniscule base of voters towards the more viable opposition.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Hillary as veteran

Who is this ‘experienced’ Hillary person anyway when it comes to foreign policy? I keep asking myself where in her constant references to ‘35 years of public service’ did Clinton have anything to do with diplomacy? Has she played any role in making war or peace except applauding George Bush’s dumb plans and then criticizing him for carrying them out badly? Let’s wait until he bombs Iran to see if she’s consistent on that score.

Or are we to include her role standing by while president Bill carried out foreign policy? If those 35 years are supposed to include her stint as first wife, it strikes me as not exactly an endorsement and hardly a feminist triumph either.

Clinton’s been in the Senate eight years to Obama’s two, and before that they’ve had checkered careers, which in neither case includes foreign service or ambassadorships (the Wal-Mart board of directors doesn’t count). I don’t see much of anything related to national security or foreign policy issues in the C.V.s of either one of them.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Amusing mayhem

While poring over the movie equivalent of horseracing forms to play pick-the-Oscar-winners, I was struck by the monotony of the themes of the supposedly best films of the year: psychopathic slaughter.

I’m no prude when it comes to blood-and-guts on the screen, which anyway has a long tradition. Watching Javier Bardem tweeze a bullet out of his leg in No Country for Old Men reminded me of a John Wayne movie where he does a similar tough-guy act and has whiskey poured over his wound to cauterize it. A lot of the mayhem is cartoonish, and one can be perversely amused by the Grand Guignol aspects of people getting bashed with bowling pins or shot in the forehead with a pressurized tube. You half expect them to get up afterward like Daffy Duck and say, Ow! That thmarth!

Nonetheless, you start to wonder what’s going on in a culture that can’t get enough of entertainment of that sort at the same time as huge numbers of entirely real people are getting killed half a world away. A few films about some other kind of topic or protagonists who were not ALL anti-hero sociopaths would be reassuring.

Two favorites of mine are the stunning Away from Her with Julie Christie as a woman slipping into Alzheimer’s, once favored for a statuette, which probably will lose to a lurid portrayal of drug- and booze-addled Edith Piaf; and Persepolis, which turns the Iranian clerical revolution and Iran-Iraq war into stand-up comedy without sacrificing its seriousness. Apparently, these movies are too adult in subject and treatment to please American audiences.

Friday, 22 February 2008

Sovereign territory

I loved Ambassador Khalilzad’s display of umbrage and pique at the UN yesterday over the burning of the U.S. embassy by a Belgrade street mob while the city’s entire police force was having a doughnut. ‘Under international law,’ sputtered the ambassador indignantly, this is NOT DONE.

We recall hearing about ‘international law.’ His predecessor at the UN, John Bolton, used to fairly gag on the term or spit it out with a vicious smirk. He let us know that international law’s for pansies and liberal airheads.

Funny how things change when our side needs the protection. But hey, you rip up the rules, you gotta eat it when the other guys do the same.

Elsewhere in the world. . .

[Despite my three-day silence, faithful reader, I have been paying attention. Writing this at 4 a.m. from Alabama, which has given me insomnia.]

While we are all agog with the Hillary v. Barack drama, the world seems to be falling down around our ears, not that anyone’s paying much attention. There is now the prospect of a new war in northern Iraq pitting two U.S. allies against each other (i.e. a lose-lose situation); Serbian authorities apparently stood by and enabled a mob to attack the U.S. embassy in Belgrade; and the economy continues to head for the toilet.

The economic piece has slipped from the headlines lately, but the gloomy news is we seem to have the worst possible combination of sluggishness and inflationary overheating, kind of like the clammy sensation you get with a fever and chills. The dreaded word ‘stagflation’ has even resurfaced, and I hasten to note that the combination of high unemployment and crushing interest rates decimated Jimmy Carter’s final year and ushered in the Reagan epoch.

The ‘surge’ (who brought us that inspiring term anyway?) has been a great PR triumph for Bush as it bought more war time for the hawks and provided a script for the drum-thumping pundit class. But it does nothing to resolve the underlying disaster, which cannot fail to become obvious sooner or later. I stand by waiting for the ‘Tet offensive’ moment, in which all the pretty talk crumbles into dust.

And now, ta-dum, enter the Turkish army into the Kurdish territories of northern Iraq. The Kurds are among the few true U.S. allies in Iraq, and Turkey has been a member of NATO since 1952. Trust W to screw that one up and alienate everyone if the shooting escalates.

But meanwhile, the presidential drama has been gripping and full of surprises. I hereby enthusiastically trumpet my erroneous (as usual) predictions that it would turn into a Clinton-Romney match as exciting as watching laundry spin. Thank you, incompetent and over-handled and -advised candidates! Your spent your millions for naught, and now we get a race we actually care about.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Independence Day

None of the Serbs objecting to Kosovan independence seem to be particularly concerned about the fact that Serbian irregulars recently marauded through the country slaughtering people at the tail-end of the Balkan genocide(s) of the 1990s. You’d think the perpetrators might have some slight sense of comprehension or even responsibility for the victims’ desire to be rid of their racist neighbors once and for all after an experience like that. But you’d be wrong.

No doubt the Serbs dismiss those reports as NATO lies given that paranoid victimhood is a typical biped posture, especially after crimes against humanity.

Meanwhile, the ecstatic Kosovars might have exercised more prudence than provocatively waving the American flag alongside their new one during their celebrations, despite their understandable gratitude about the military intervention that saved their skins. Setting yourself up as a forward pawn in a battle between the big guys is tricky business and certainly doesn’t encourage the sort of long-term co-existence that you’d hope for if the people who live there are ever to get past tribalism and forge prosperous states.

A former diplomat interviewed on TV predicted renewed bloodshed within two years. By that time, Russia and the U.S. may have any number of burning desires, and the well-being of its tiny allies du jour may not be one of them.

It’s nice to see people joyous over their freedom and feeling liberated from the oppressor’s yoke. I hope it lasts.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Our guns are safe

The National Rifle Association must be holding a champagne celebration in the wake of the Northern Illinois University massacre since the now-familiar campus shoot-‘em-up hasn’t generated a peep about gun control. They can chortle contentedly that no matter how many kids end up slumped in bloody pools over their textbooks, the idea that gun policy might be a teeny bit at fault doesn’t even come up.

We’ll have another round of teary memorial services and camera shots of the teddy bears and heart balloons leaning against makeshift monuments. Vampires masquerading as TV anchors will get eyewitnesses to discuss how ‘terrified’ they were and how often they thought they were going to die, then move on to grieving parents and last year’s bereft families’ search for ‘closure.’

The news articles will focus on the randomness of it all and the impossibility of stopping people from running amok. Or as the lead AP story from Saturday headlined, ‘Shootings stir sense of helplessness.’

That’s all that’s left if you completely abandon the field of public policy to the gun lobbyists as our entire society, including the presidential candidates, now have done.

Of course, we’re not really ‘helpless’ at all but rather complicit in allowing weaponry to proliferate insanely with completely ineffective regulation and not even the kinds of purchaser checks that could have prevented the Illinois psychopath with officially recognized mental illness from making his recent gun buys.

The 27 paragraphs of the AP article include a single reference to this aspect of the issue, a passive-voice assertion that the incident ‘renewed questions about the availability of guns.’ But not one of the many people cited in the story raised one. No one was consulted or quoted about gun control on either side of the debate; the issue merely disappeared as unnewsworthy.

What we read instead is a series of lamentations about helplessness: ‘inevitability,’ ‘resignation’ and lack of ‘panaceas’ to prevent similar crimes with repetitive quotes from students, police and school administrators such as:

‘I don’t think anyone is going to be able to stop them.’

‘There’s no way of really protecting yourself.’

‘It’s unlikely that anyone would ever have the ability to stop an incident like this.’

There is also much talk of fear, insecurity and paranoia, followed by suggestions of more police, more background checks (on students, not gun buyers) and better school lock-down plans. But the idea that college campuses looking like the O.K. Corral might be related to gun policy has faded entirely from the radar. Not even the bereaved relatives muster an angry accusation.


Saturday, 16 February 2008

The African Bush

Is there a more inappropriate individual walking the earth today to ‘deliver a message’ to Kenyan leaders about overcoming the tribalism and violence that’s gripped their country than W? The guy who’s made a career out of appealing to the worst biped habits of caring only about one’s own group and telling all the rest to piss off up a rope?

If our ‘group’ today is a national rather than an ethnic entity, it’s no thanks to W’s party, which has spent 40 years building its power on NASCAR-dad chauvinism and coded appeals to insular whites resistant to equality. When the civil rights movement broke the color bar, the Republicans quickly moved into the vacuum, starting with Nixon’s ‘Southern Strategy’ and culminating in the notorious launch of Saint Ronald’s presidential bid from Philadelphia, Mississippi, a few miles from the site of a Klan assassination.

Bush, the absurd Condi Rice and all the rest of them assure us constantly that the only thing that matters on God’s green earth is our security, and if that means thousands die elsewhere, too bad. We pick up people and ship them to Guantánamo, guilty and innocent alike, throw them around and let them rot, but that’s okay because ‘The American People’ need to be safe at all costs.

These guys are chastizing African chiefs about tribal demagoguery?

Since we’re all different colors here, it’s easy to miss how racist the Bushite discourse is. If Bush were a Kenyan politician, he’d be the worst partisan of Luo or Kikuyu supremacy, a ‘big man’ whipping up the village crowds in the local language and appealing to their sense of group victimhood, real or imagined. When the resulting violence hurt his people, he’d redouble the rhetoric, then use the chaos to cut deals and assure his slice of the patronage.

Seeing the Serbians spewing racist hatred in reaction to Kosovo’s upcoming independence is yet another reminder that the default posture of our species is blind, in-group fury, especially under stressful conditions. We need the supra-ethnic visions of a Gandhi or a King to bring us back to our senses; without that, so-called civilization breaks down in a jiffy.

Friday, 15 February 2008

What rules?

Yet another sign of our deteriorating civilization is the reaction to the car bomb death of the Lebanese bad guy Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus. The Israelis snicker and the White House applauds, and there’s not even a flicker of public dissent. So there are no rules, just the murder of one’s enemies anywhere in any way. Islamic Jihad and indeed Mr Mughniyeh himself would certainly approve, in principle.

I remember when using a car bomb on foreign soil was considered shocking, such as in 1975 when the Chilean junta exploded one underneath Orlando Letelier a few blocks from my Washington address. That was NOT DONE in those days. Now it’s cause for a gleeful, frat-boy celebration.

After the Vietnam debacle and its political fifth act known generically as ‘Watergate,’ the country was chastened enough to force the ruling elite to open up their secret archives (a little), pull the FBI back from its interference with dissent and prohibit assassination of foreign leaders. There was even a feeble attempt to rein in the CIA’s worst excesses. Or so we thought.

Now all the rules have changed, and it’s okay to rocket-bomb cars from above, detonate them from below and torture defenseless detainees. Those are the rules our country has set, and many around the world will play by them very merrily. When Americans become the victims—which inevitably will occur—we’ll hear lots of outrage about what’s fair, right and just.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Hall of Shame

Careful with The Law, you Mexican dishwasher, you. We can’t be having ILLEGAL ALIENS make a mockery of our statutes. That’s for the U.S. Senate to do. The upper chamber signaled once again its ignominious collapse in the face of the Bush regime Wednesday by voting 57 to 31 to give retroactive immunity to the telecom companies who’ve been spying on us in blatant disregard of our laws. Their excuse? George W told them to, or ‘I was just following orders, sir!’

All 49 Republicans voted for this measure, of course. They were joined by 18 Copperhead Democrats. Here they are:

[Clinton supporters]:
Evan Bayh, Indiana
Daniel Inouye, Hawaii
Blanche Lincoln, Arkansas
Bill Nelson, Florida
Debbie Stabenow, Michigan
Dianne Feinstein, California
Mark Pryor, Arkansas
Ken Salazar, Colorado
Barbara Mikulski, Maryland

[Obama supporters]:
Kent Conrad, North Dakota
Tim Johnson, South Dakota
Claire McCaskill, Missouri
Ben Nelson, Nebraska

James Webb, Virginia
Thomas Carper, Delaware
Herb Kohl, Wisconsin
Mary Landrieu, Louisiana
Jay Rockefeller, West Virginia

Just in case we needed a reminder why the triumph of the Democrats two years ago mattered so damn little in the long run on things like the war in Iraq, the economy, health care and all the rest of it. And why Hillary Clinton is so richly deserving of being shellacked in the primaries, the Clinton duoply being representatives par excellence of exactly this sort of cowardly obedience to the reactionary tendencies creeping forward around us.

[P.S.] Obama voted against. Clinton was in Washington, according to one website, but didn't vote at all. She resurfaced in El Paso, Texas.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Oil Change

The always prescient Michael Klare writes in TomDispatch:

Over the past decade, this country has squandered approximately one and a half trillion dollars on imported oil, much of which has been poured down the tanks of grotesquely fuel-inefficient vehicles that were conveying drivers on ever lengthening commutes from the exurbs to employment in center cities.

What a graphic and efficient summary of what Mr Obama has to ‘change’ if he indeed gets close to the Oval Office, encapsulating as it does energy policy, urban planning and foreign policy all in three lines. But he’s going to need more than enthusiastic college students and appealing slogans to pull it off.

We can just imagine the resistance (Yes, we can!) from the floundering auto industry (no more SUVs), the collapsing real estate sector (stop building exurbs) and the military-industrial behemoths (end this demented war).

The need to wean our society from imported oil, reduce greenhouse emissions and build more livable urban landscapes for our growing population hasn’t a big secret at any point during my now-substantial adult life. But Saint Ronald told us to forget about all those tediously negative things and enjoy ‘Morning in America’ instead. We had to fight the communist menace and win the Cold War by building a lot of useless weapons. Yes, we can! And did!

So the Soviet Union is no more, replaced by Commissar Putin sitting atop an ocean of $100-a-barrel glop and announcing the next arms race. Meanwhile, Reagan’s tactic of bankrupting the enemy might look disturbingly like a boomerang when our ATMs say ‘Abu Dhabi Investment Authority’ instead of Citibank.

Reagan was a huge disaster, but instead of sober criticism of his reign, we’re supposed to weep at his tomb and keep applying his failed prescriptions. When that tired old trope starts to fade, we’ll know real ‘change’ has a chance.

Sunday, 10 February 2008


I haven’t seen Obama up close yet, and when he was at Washington Square a few months ago, I didn’t bother to go down and see him because his positions seemed so skim-milky and centrist. But what has happened since has convinced me that it doesn’t matter—we’re not voting on a platform, we’re placing a bet on a vision.

I’m now curious about the live-concert Obama because he obviously has some sort of magical impact on our tender youth. Jaded cynics fear disappointment, so we creep nervously toward the proscenium, eyes shielded. We are wary of hypnosis and even more unhappy if it doesn’t take, confirming that we’re going deaf in that ear.

But the question remains, for now, why all this enthusiasm for the man when his soundbites reveal nothing out of the ordinary to anyone immune to preaching? Perhaps that’s one key right there: maybe he doesn’t translate well into sound bites. A recent column in the LA Times mentioned that he called the anti-immigrant panic ‘scapegoating’ and ‘demagoguery’. Good for him! Why haven’t we been soundbitten with that? Maybe his speeches really do probe our multiple national crises and offer cogent lines of response.

Whatever it is, it’s certainly catching if it convinced Mainers to pour into the blizzards to caucus for the guy.

I agree that it’s kind of embarrassing to fall for sappy slogans like ‘Change’ or ‘Yes, we can!’ but it sure would be cool to actually experience either. The fact that the two parties’ powerful machinery were unable to impose their visions on the voting public is a refreshing sign that there is still such a thing in this country as the people’s voice and that the byzantine nominating process hasn’t managed to smother it. In fact, the endless, goofy, anarchic procedure may accidentally be giving it a boost.

Friday, 8 February 2008

The perp and the accomplice

While the candidates—all the candidates—were showering us with fuzzy-warm TV spots of happy multiethnic crowds bursting with finely-tuned emotion and American flags waving in the breeze, the Bush White House was getting ready to go back on the offensive—something for which neither Obama nor Clinton really have the knack.

Not content with getting a pass from Senate Democrats on the loathesome Michael Mukasey, who refused to condemn torture when nominated to be the nation’s top legal officer, Bush went one better Thursday: he said torture’s just great.

But the best joke is the faux shock that followed.

There’s something brilliant about this counterintuitive strategy from someone who is allegedly on the political ropes. And yet it’s always Bush who determines the playing field and the terms of the debate. When pushed up against the wall by the Baker-Hamilton report on the war, for example, he told the wise-men coalition advising a prudent pullback in Iraq to wipe his thighs with it and announced he was going in deeper.

It’s a pity those in the misnamed ‘opposition’ camp don’t take a lesson from this eat-me-raw approach to politics. Instead, we get whiny outrage from the fully complicit Dianne Feinstein and other Demowimps. “This is a black mark on the United States,” moaned the California senator, pretending she had nothing to do with it. Recall that it was Feinstein and my own ophidian senator, Charles Schumer, who broke with the Democrats and handed Bush a success on Mukasey’s nomination despite all the grotesque waffling on torture.

Sorry, Deedee, they ain’t waffling no more.

Given the morally repugnant debate about when torture might be kinda okay—a debate that reached as far as the pages of The Nation magazine in 2001—it’s bracingly clarifying that Bush should demand to bring it back given the ‘right circumstances.’ After all, that’s what everyone argued at the time and many still do: that the thumbscrew and the rack should be allowed, along with neutron bombs and, hey, why not?—smallpox and anthrax cannisters, to stave off a hypothetical threat.

That’s because we don’t really love freedom, despite W’s rhetoric. We love safety.

Furthermore, we only object to weapons of mass destruction when they’re in the hands of our supposed enemies, which is why, my esteemed fellow bipeds, they’ll proliferate and persist forever.

The intellectual abetting of torture that dominated our polity from September 2001 onward is still with us. Bush is only the most egregious example, which is why his autistic refusal to live in our world remains perversely triumphant.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Life as a Biped

I get my hair cut at a peculiar little barbering school on Third Avenue near NYU full of very serious immigrant men from Russia, Jamaica, Honduras, Egypt and you-name-it. They’re adorable with their kits and their accents, asking each other’s advice and barely cracking a smile as they try not to nick you in the ear.

Once in a while one of them will engage the customers in conversation although, humor being the last thing you pick up in a new language, one doesn’t get far trying to horse around. The cut costs $5, and they seem quite happy with the $3 tip I throw in—see, you can still get a bargain in New York.

The best part, though, is just seeing all these newcomers trying to nail down a trade so they can have an income and a life in their new surroundings, amidst which you can witness them groping forward in the most winningly awkward way. The customers are another smorgasbord of ethnicities, and it reminded me of the segregationist argument from the 1960s that white-only barber shops existed because cutting African-style hair was just such a different technique. Sure, that’s why Sergey, Ahmed and Mario learn it in ten lessons.

The guy next to me smiled placidly while getting a clipper-cut down to his bald head that looked for all the world like a scalp massage. Guys, go forth and multiply, and let hair of all colors fall to the earth.


Oh yes, and Hillary looked pretty tough to beat on Tuesday, reminding me of my estrangement from the biped species. Several people in my daily environment were quite pleased even though they are not of a warlike nature nor particularly fond of the little adventure in Iraq she continues to quietly endorse. Politics is the art of doing one thing and projecting another on the large screen behind you, so I suppose we should be impressed with those talents of hers, at least.


It was 68 in New York yesterday, breaking the former record by 10 degrees. This is some consolation for those who do not believe in reincarnation—by the time things melt completely, we should be well dead and not have to come back to endure the consequences.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

An underground moment

I really had to track down the Obama headquarters to get a button and wear it the last 24 hours that it mattered, i.e. today. Heading up the east side it attracted subtle looks from the white people who live over there, non-committal in that New York way. It took a trip up the island to my neighborhood past Harlem and Washington Heights to get a rise out of anybody. There, a black kid jazzed me and mocked the button, saying Obama was going to be creamed by Hillary, his obvious favorite. ‘You’re going to loooooooose!’ were his exact words.

To recap: the middle-aged white guy wears the Obama button, and the black teenager is ready to do battle for the Caucasian lady from the suburbs. It’s superficial, of course, but it says something about the state of racial politics in our city. I say hooray.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Sign me up

All sentient beings know that the New York Giants staged a stunning upset Sunday night in which our favorite modest and slightly goofy quarterback totally kept his cool, broke free of four tacklers and launched two impossible but successful forward passes, the latter ending in the end zone for a true Cinderella triumph.

I don’t pay much attention to these spectacles, but it was delightful to see the unexpected happen in the last few weeks as the lowly Giants picked themselves up from a bad season start, reshuffled their ranks and gelled as a team based on some sort of rookie enthusiasm and lack of awareness that they couldn’t do it.

Dare this be an omen of things to come?

Barack Obama was not my first choice, and I still find him an unknown quantity. He could be a disaster as president though at this point, who cares? Worse isn’t in the dictionary. His policy formulations may be a little fluffy, and his experience limited (which counts as a plus these days in any case, given the hoarier examples). But we know—oh, do we know—that the others who paint prettier pictures will promptly burn them in the fireplace once they become inconvenient. Ergo, it matters not.

Curmudgeonly skepticism aside, Barack clearly sets people on fire, especially including people who arrived on earth three decades after I did. God knows we need something fresh and new, and Obama’s what the kids want. I’m down with that.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Unscientific Diner Poll

My cousins gathered at a diner last night, and of course the Democratic Party primary in New York came up. First we commented on who is likely to win, and the consensus was that Hillary has a strong edge given her significant base in the state as its senator.

But when we moved onto whether or not each of us would actually vote for her, the discussion changed. Without abusing their confidence with specifics, I can say that the appeal of a female candidate to my female relatives is overshadowed by Hillary’s love affair with military force.

There are other issues, but her vote to pursue the Iraqi invasion and her continuing enthusiasm for that adventure has pushed my liberal family away from the Clintons, despite their positive feelings about the Clinton era. If you believe the poll numbers showing that the war has been eclipsed by economic concerns in the minds of the electorate, you wouldn’t expect this topic to sway votes. But it does.

Meanwhile, if John McCain is the Republican’s front-runner, those guys are in serious trouble. His line about the Democrats ‘waving the white flag of surrender’ is true enough but only if you apply it to their supine posture upon the approach of George Bush. The idea that people are going to perceive the eventual opposition candidate as a tool of bin Laden sounds as crackpot as it is, and added to McCain’s moral obtuseness, sets the stage for an electoral wipeout. Let’s see if he has the same slobbering glee about killing people from the air when he’s on the business end of the massacre.

Crystal balls are notoriously unreliable, but to suggest that people have forgotten about the ongoing catastrophe Bush brought us in the Middle East and the trillion dollars of our money that he’s spent on it is nuts. I see no evidence that a stimulus gift bag to be spent at Wal-Mart is going to save his friends’ behinds in November.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Race, the Race and War

What is the first task of government? Bush would certainly argue that it is to provide security, even if that means dismantling 200-year-old civil protections put in place to guard against absolutism.

Given that vision, wouldn’t a better yardstick by which to judge the Iraqi war situation be the security of the Iraqi people in their lives and persons, instead of, say, the casualty figures among the occupiers? Thursday’s new round of massive terrorist bombings in Baghdad’s public markets is a reminder that whatever else the invasion did or does in the future, it has failed in this primary responsibility of maintaining public order.

The mantra coming from this administration and now from the candidates to continue it has been, We keep you safe. If you believe the invasion of Iraq was part of that mission, then you willingly traded the physical integrity of those 22 million people for your own comfort—rather an un-Christian attitude.

Be that as it may, what can we assume about the Iraqis feelings toward the Green-Zone state that ostensibly rules them? By the Bushite criteria, we could safely conclude that they find it so far off the scale of legitimacy as to be laughable, were there anything droll to be found there.

I engage in this exercise only to offer a reminder that the initiation and pursuit of this war was also about race, just as was the assault on Vietnam in its time. As our country contemplates the possibility of a non-white president for the first time in its history, there will be a lot of discussion of how far we have come from the color bar and de jure ethnic separation. That was racist, and the system was dismantled; but its spirit lives on in our vision of the world and its peoples.

Friday, 1 February 2008


We will hear from our friends and acquaintances over the next four days—let us fervently hope not the next ten months—endless variations on the theme that George Bush has been a disaster and yet two of his main enablers are the solution to it.

On Iraq: Hillary Clinton is indistinguishable from GWB on the war except possibly insofar as she might have been less incompetent at managing it. Bill never criticized the conquest while it was gestating, despite his baldfaced lie to the contrary. When Bush made the silly statement a week ago that al-Qaeda is ‘on the run’ in Iraq at the State of the Union address, HC lept to her feet to applaud. The Clintons are hawks in sheep’s clothing, and it is impossible to both support them and think that the conquest of Iraq was a catastrophic and sinful act. The two do not go together.

On gender: I refer to the Clintons in the plural because it is obvious that they are preparing us for a co-presidency. Depending on how that dubious experiment plays out, Hillary’s election could easily be a setback for the status of women in this country.

On domestic policy: the Democratic centrists represented by the Clintons have done nothing to reverse any of the unhealthy trends in the nation’s economy. Even the radical infusion of the Christian religion into the public sphere barely registers on their radar—witness the bribery offered to the Republicans with more ‘abstinence-only’ funding for schools. They stood by while Bush appointed more reactionary justices to the Supreme Court. The list is endless.

If this pair is swept into the nomination on Tuesday, it means that for all their moaning and head-shaking, the Democratic-leaning half of the country is not really all that bothered by the direction W has taken us during his eight miserable years. They may also be surprised to discover that when offered the choice in November between two Republicans, voters opt for a Republican.