Friday, July 28, 2006


On the second anniversary of Ronald Reagan's death

OK, so I'm close to three months too late to really call this the second anniversary. I guess I was busy on June 5, and I didn't think it polite to say anything negative on the day Reagan actully died two years ago, because we liberals have better home-training than that. I didn't have this blog at the time anyway. I certainly couldn't abide the attempts to rewrite history by the right-wingers who worship Reagan - admittedly an unforgettable president but with at best a mixed record - as some sort of god. So now I'm ready to speak up and provide some balance to these right-wing revisionists efforts, often aided and abetted by the alleged liberal media.

A tribute to Ronald Reagan on the second anniversary of his death (plus 2 months, 3 weeks and 2 days)
If you believe it's only just and good that the rich got richer, the poor got poorer, the middle class shrank and adjusted income declined from 1981 to 1989, then I know you're a Reagan fan.

If you believe the average American living in poverty is a Cadillac-driving welfare queen, then please bow down before King Ronnie.

If you believe the poor in America deserve what they get, then you get the essence of the Gipper.

If you believe that ketchup should be served as a school lunch vegetable to children who may get nothing else to eat all day, then I know you hunger for Reagan's leadership.

If you think Iran is a bad, bad country, but support selling them 1,500 missiles, then you're sold on Reagan.

If you believe terrorists are bad, bad people, but support CIA distribution of a terrorist handbook to the Contras in Nicaragua, then Reagan is your man.

If you believe terrorists are bad, bad people but that it's OK to capitulate when they demand arms for hostages, then Neville Chamberlain - oops, I mean, Ronald Reagan is tops.

If you describe a band of thugs who murdered thousands of civilians in Nicaragua as "freedom fighters" believe they deserved our support, then you must support Reagan.

If you hate Saddam Hussein now but thought he was a swell guy and worthy of our support 20 years ago, then you must think Reagan a swell guy himself.

If you thought Manuel Noriega was a standup guy who belonged on Uncle Sam's payroll, then guess what! Your hero felt the same way.

If you're glad we backed right-wing death squads in El Salvador and Honduras and consider Archbishop Oscar Romero a troublemaker who got what he deserved, then you deserve Reagan.

If you're outraged by Jimmy Carter's failed attempt to rescue the hostages in Iran, but believe it no big deal that 241 Marines were blown up by terrorist in an equally insane mission in Lebanon, then Reagan is your kinda guy.

If you saw Jimmy Carter as inept and weak in his efforts to see the hostages released, but see Reagan as strong and competent as American hostages languished for more than six years in Lebanon, then you see Reagan as only a true supporter can.

If you believe MX missiles are "peacekeepers," then you surely long for Pax Reagana.

If you believe facts are stupid things, then I know for a fact, you must love Reagan.

If you believe trees pollute the environment, volcanoes create more pollution than cars and that a tree is a tree ("How many more do you need to see?"), then you must support Reagan's common-sense environmental approach.

If you believe balanced budgets are unnecessary, a 13-figure national debt is no big deal, and don't mind that in four years the U.S. went from status as world's No. 1 creditor to world's No. 1 debtor, then you owe a debt to Reagan.

If you admire the honesty and integrity of Lyn Nofziger, Michael Deaver, Anne Gorsuch Burford, Rita Lavelle, Edwin Meese, Richard Allen, Casper Weinberger, Elliott Abrams, Robert McFarlane, Alan Fiers, Richard Miller, Clair George, Richard Secord, Thomas Clineswaws, Carl Channel, John Poindexter, Oliver North, William Casey, James Watt, Phillip Winn, Thomas Demery, Deborah Gore Dean, Catalina Villaponda, Paul Thayer, and Joseph Strauss, then you must honestly admire Reagan, his integrity and the company he kept.

If you admire that a young actor cooperated fully with the House Un-American Activities Committee and its witchhunt and later sought to recharacterize his complicity as some sort of patriotic stand, then you and Joe McCarthy must surely look up to Ronnie Reagan.

If you believe allegiance to the flag and allegiance to a political party are one and the same, then you are a star-spangled Reaganite.

If you believe a man whose campaign crew that stole Jimmy Carter's briefing book on the eve of the 1980 presidential debates can be considered honest and scrupulous, then you are honestly a Reagan supporter.

If you believe our nation's public education system is an enemy of the American people, then you're a true scholar of the school of Reagan.

If you admire a professed warrior of Christian values who virtually never went to church, you must indeed worship at the altar of St. Ron.

If you admire a warrior of family values who spent little time with his own children and didn't even know his own grandchildren's names, then you surely are a Reagan warrior.

If you believe that domestic and international policy should sometimes by dictated by an astrologer, then it must be written in the stars, you're a Reagan kind of guy.

If you believe that AIDS, which so far has killed about 22 million people worldwide (about a fifth of those people children), is a character issue not deserving of decent people's attention, then just say yes to Reagan.

If you trust a man who slept through cabinet meetings, then you must have trusted Reagan.

If the Marines' defeat of some Cuban construction workers building a British-designed international airport on a tiny patch of Caribbean jungle and the subsequent rescue of a handful of American medical students strikes you as the ultimate American victory, then throw up a big V for the Ronmeister.

If you believe Reagan single-handedly ended communism and that Mikhail Gorbachev, Lech Walesa and Pope John Paul II and 40 years of previous anti-communism heroes deserve zero credit, and see the Soviet Union of the '80s as more than just a moribund, pathetic shell, then score one for the Gipper.

If you enjoy our current society in which everything has everything to do with the acquisition of money, and nothing has anything to do with anything else, then thank Ronald Reagan's legacy.

If you see greed as virtue and are glad the likes of Ken Lay and Bernie Ebbers can run amok and aren't stopped until thousands are unemployed, then pay tribute to Reagan's legacy.

If you believe that corporate pensions and healthcare plans are optional obligations and that eight-figure payouts to corporate executive failures are just compensation, then salute Ronald Reagan's legacy.

If you enjoy living in a society in which corporations have no responsibility except to shareholders, and even that's a flexible notion, then hats off to Reagan's legacy.

If you're glad that any ideal of the public good and commonwealth has been traded for the dominance of private interests, then give a high five to Reagan and his legacy.

If you enjoy the prospect of America's deindustrialization by corporations shipping jobs to Mexico and China, all in the name of free trade, then give three cheers to the Reagan legacy.

If you're enjoying the greatest redistribution of income in U.S. history - this time from the bottom up - then give Reagan a big wet kiss for the culmination of his vision.

If you appreciate the current Bush administration and everything it stands for, then wave a big red-white-and-blue banner for the culumination of Reagan's vision.

If facts and truth are irrelevant in the face of warmfuzzies, generalized feelgood images and inspiring anecdotes of dubious origin, then smile! The Reagan message triumphs.

If you believe that images of a cowboy riding into the sunset are more important than sound policy, a command for facts, and a commitment to honest and truthful characterization, and that style should always trump substance, then you are the truest believer in the Reagan vision.

Congratulations! The Reagan Revolution is fulfilled. You must be very proud.

The quotable Reagan Administration
I found many of these quotes on a site called Ronald Reagan: The Bonzo Years. Click here for a long walk through an account of a presidency described by the Right as triumphant and embodying of everything good, but really venal and inept.


"Ebenezer Scrooge suffered from bad press in his time. If you really look at the facts, he didn't exploit Bob Cratchit. Bob Cratchit was paid 10 shillings a week, which was a very good wage at the time... Bob, in fact, had good cause to be happy with his situation. His wife didn't have to work...He was able to afford the traditional Christmas dinner of roast goose and plum pudding...So let's be fair to Scrooge. He had his faults, but he wasn't unfair to anyone."
- Edwin Meese, speaking to the National Press Club, December 1983

"If you tell the same story five times, it's true."
- Reagan spokesman Larry Speakes, responding to criticism concerning a Reagan anecdote of a Congressional Medal of Honor winner that turned out to be a complete fabrication. The anecdote apparently bears a striking resemblance to a scene from the 1944 movie "A Wing and a Prayer" and a 1944 selection from Readers Digest, Reagan's favorite magazine.

"We love your adherence to democratic principle, and to the democratic processes."
- then-Vice President George Bush, addressing Phillipine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, 1981

"(Supply-side economics) was always a Trojan horse to bring down the top rate."
- Reagan budget director David Stockman, quoted in a 1981 Atlantic Monthly article

"I also happen to be someone who believes in tithing - the giving of a tenth."
- Reagan, although tax returns for that year show he actually gave 1.4 percent of his income.

At his seventh press conference, President Reagan:
· Claims there are "a million more working than there were in 1980," though statistics show that 100,000 fewer people are employed.
· Contends his attempt to grant tax-exempt status to segregated schools was to correct "a procedure that we thought had no basis in law," though the Supreme Court had clearly upheld a ruling barring such exemptions a decade earlier.
· Claims he has received a letter from Pope John Paul II in which he "approves what we've done so far" regarding U.S. Sanctions against the USSR, though the sanctions were not mentioned in the papal message.
· Responds to a question about the 17% black unemployment rate by pointing out that "in this time of great unemployment," Sunday's paper had "24 full pages of ... employers looking for employees," though most of the jobs available - computer operator, or cellular immunologist - require special training, for which his administration has cut funds by over 30%.
· Misstates facts about California's abortion law and an Arizona program to aid the elderly

"She really just got tired of people misinterpreting what she was doing."
- an aide explaining Nancy Reagan's decision to no longer accept gifts of designer clothes "on loan." Americans would learn six years later that Nancy never stopped accepting these gifts and would continue doing so until the end of her husband's White House tenure.

"We've got a $120 billion deficit coming, and the President says, 'You know, a young man went into a grocery store and he had an orange in one hand and a bottle of vodka in the other, and he paid for the orange with food stamps and he took the change and paid for the vodka. That's what's wrong.' And we just shake our heads."
- Sen. Bob Packwood, R-Ore., 1982

"Is it news that some fellow out in South Succotash someplace has just been laid off, that he should be interviewed nationwide?"
- Reagan on the worst unemployment figures in 42 years, 10.4 percent, 1982

"South Succotash, with its population of nearly 11 million, must be a considerable place."
- AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland

"Well, it's a good story, though. It made the point, didn't it?"
-Larry Speakes, on Reagan's citation of a nonexistent British law making the carrying a gun a capital offense. Reagan would make the same claim four years later.

"You know, your nose looks just like Danny Thomas'."
- Reagan to Lebanon's foreign minister in a meeting with Middle Eastern leaders

"Do I think US foreign policy is inept?...At times it is. At times it's not. At times it's even brilliant. At times it's rather stupid. It would be very hard for me to label it."
- Secretary of State Al Haig

"It would be a user fee."
- Reagan describing a proposed 5-cent-per-gallon gas tax

"It's a change in his view. It's not an evil empire. It's a Mickey Mouse system."
- an administration official on Reagan's view of the Soviet Union

"I don't think he's read the report in detail. It's five and a half pages, double-spaced."
- Larry Speakes on Reagan's grasp of facts on a Lebanese truck bombing, 1984

"With regard to the age issue and everything, if I had as much makeup on as he did, I'd have looked younger, too... I never did wear it. I didn't wear it when I was in pictures."
- Reagan in a post-debate swipe at Walter Mondale, quickly refuted by Reagan's former makeup artists on "G.E. Theater" and "Death Valley Days," as well as one of the debate panelists.

"Why aren't we talking about these hostages? Why is it allowed to stand when Ronald Reagan says America won't have hostages again? Are we bored with hostages now?"
- Lucille Levin, wife of an American hostage in Lebanon, comparing his then-1984 stance with his get-tough chest-beating on Iran while Carter was still president

"The moral equival of our Founding Fathers."
- Reagan's description of the Contra's in Nicaragua, terrorists responsible for thousands of civilian deaths

"Just had a verbal message delivered to me from Pope John Paul, urging us to continue our efforts in Central America."
- Reagan in a statement immediately refuted by the Vatican.

"I know all the bad things that happened in that war. I was in uniform for four years myself."
- Reagan responding to criticism after he laid a wreath in a visit to a Nazi cemetery iin Bitburg, West Germany, 1985. While indeed in uniform during World War II, Reagan stayed behind in Hollywood to make training films.

"(Thirteen-year-old Beth Flom) urged me to lay the wreath at Bitburg cemetery in honor of the future of Germany."
- Reagan, apparently misunderstanding Flom's letter urging the president not to go.

"They haven't been there. I have."
- Reagan responding to Europeans heckling his Nicaragua policy. Reagan, in fact, never once set foot in the Central American country.

"They have eliminated the segregation that we once had in our own country, the type of thing where hotels and restaurants and places of entertainment and so forth were segregated - that has all been eliminated."
- Reagan, praising the notoriously racist, apartheidist administration of South Africa's P.W. Botha as "reformist"

"You have to treat him as if you were the director and he was the actor, and you tell him what to say and what not to say, and only then does he say the right thing."
- an unnamed White House aide quoted in the New York Times magazine, 1985

"What do you do when your President ignores all the palpable, relevant facts and wanders in circles?"
- David Stockman in his 1986 memoir

'Hypocrisy is a question of degree."
- Donald Regan asked whether it was hypocritical for the U.S. to demand that other countries not trade with Iran while we secretly sold them weapons.

"If Colonel North ripped off the Ayatollah and took $30 million and gave it to the Contras, then God bless Colonel North!"
- Pat Buchanan, praising the sale of arms to terrorist sponsor Iran and the illegal funding of terrorist thugs in Nicaragua

"I don't think there is another person in America that wants to tell this story as much as I do."
- Oliver North, opting just the same to plead the Fifth Amendment before a House ccommittee. Later he would lie to this same committee and be convicted of perjury.

"On the surface, selling arms to a country that sponsors terrorism, of course, clearly, you'd have to argue it's wrong, but it's the exception sometimes that proves the rule."
- Vice President Bush

"The simple truth is, 'I don't remember - period."'
- Reagan on whether he authorized the arms for hostages deal in a written response to the Tower Commission investigating the scandal

"The record is that he was either absent or silent. I don't know what that does for him."
- Bob Dole on Reagan's poor memory

"I hope I'm finally going to hear some of the things I'm still waiting to learn."
- Reagan on the opening day of the Iran-Contra hearings, 1987

"I can't recall."
- Ed Meese in a statement (or some variation thereof) he would utter 340 times during the Iran-Contra hearings

"I can't recall."
- John Poindexter in a statement (or some variation thereof) he would utter 184 times during the Iran-Contra hearings

"That shows the success of what the Soviets were able to do in this country."
- Reagan citing what he sees as a communist conspiracy to discredit and dishonor Joseph McCarthy

"I knew those quotes were the way he felt."
- Larry Speakes, in his 1987 memoir, on making up quotes he attributed to the president

"Like reinventing the wheel."
- Speakes describing preparations with the persident for a press conference

"You know, if I listened to him long enough, I would be convinced that we're in an economic downturn, and that people are homeless, and people are going without food and medical attention, and that we've got to do something about the unemployed."
- Reagan on Michael Dukakis

"I will never apologize for the United States of America! I don't care what the facts are!"
- Vice President Bush after the U.S.S. Vincennes mistakenly shot down an Iranian airliner, 1988

"This was a PR outfit that became President and took over the country."
- former press aide Leslie Janka in her 1988 tall-all, "On Bended Knee"


The minimum wage, estate tax and a couple of girls who matter to me

I'm lucky to teach at my suburban school. Our students who live in the city and are bussed in daily under the voluntary transfer program are quite lucky too. I believe in this program strongly, and I can't wait to visit my city families in their northside homes each summer to let them know how lucky we all are. Not only that, but these visits allow me a glimpse into the lives of some kids who are very important to me, yet lead lives very different from mine.

I went out yesterday to visit two girls who will be in my class this year and their families. In one home, my student lives with both her mother and father, as well as several extended family members in a bustling, seemingly joyful single-family house. I didn't catch what mom does for a living, but dad works as a groundskeeper. At the second home I visited, a subsidized apartment, my girl lives with her sister and single mother, who works at Wal-Mart. I admire both families a lot. They are loving and stable with clean well-kept homes; these two girls are quite fortunate to be where they are. Yet, I know that in both homes, the parents earn little money, and day-to-day living must be a struggle. If my wife and I gross a combined $75,000 per year and often feel like we barely make it, then how must these folks feel?

I thought about these two families today as I heard news of the Republicans' efforts to hold hostage efforts to raise the minimum wage, a raise that's not happened since 1996. Under the proposal our minimum wage would incrementally rise over three years from its current $5.15 to $7.25, frankly still a pitiful wage but an improvement nonetheless. Republicans know that most Americans support this - 83 percent, according to a Pew Research poll earlier this month - although that didn't stop the Republican controlled Senate from voting against it in June. This time, they've chosen to blackmail Democrats, who have kept a vote on the estate tax repeal at bay. Either allow a vote on the estate tax repeal, Republicans say, or we will quash your minimum wage hike.

"It's going to be one hell of a rumpus," said Eric Ueland, chief of staff for Bill Frist's chief of staff.

Republicans have once again taken sides on who they value. The mega-wealthy over the working poor. You remember all the old estate tax repeal arguments ultimately demonstrated as dishonest and even outright lies. The most famous was the sob stories of all those family farmers who lost their spread after the heirs couldn't pay the "death taxes." When pressed by the New York Times, neither the White House nor the American Farm Bureau could come up with one example of any real family affected this way. Indeed, do you think the average American stands to inherit $4 million, the minimum at which an estate is currently taxed? Conservatives knew better, too, but still resorted to dishonesty to make it look like some sort of kitchen table issue. They showed true zeal and willingness to fight tooth and nail to repeal a ta that affects less than 1 percent of all estates every year. Is there a good case to be made for repealing the estate tax? Perhaps, but any logical argument was long ago obscured in the fog and haze of the Right's deceit and mendacity.

And they show equal amounts of it in their arguments against a raised minimum wage. Conservatives have always hated this as it interferes with their overly concrete belief in Adam Smith's guiding hand. We've heard it all before. If the economy is booming, these folks say that raising the minimum wage will put the brakes on everyone's fun. If the economy is in the shitcan, these folks warn that raising the minimum wage will slow down the recovery. It seems there's never a good time to suit conservatives. Don't forget the one about all those lost jobs and suffering small businessmen, an apparent falsehood given that three quarters of small business owners see no adverse consequences to a wage hike, according to a recent Gallup poll. And of course, to hear right-wingers talk, nobody actually earns the minimum wage other than teenagers flipping burgers, an utter lie.

I happened to tune into Oprah today - summers are great when you're a teacher - and she and her guests discussed these ridiculous claims made against raising the minimum wage. Morgan Spurlock of "Supersize Me" fame discussed his experiences earning minimum wage for one month as part of his new TV show, "30 Days." Spurlock and his girlfriend worked a string of jobs, doing the work none of us middle-class Americans wants to do and earning shockingly small paychecks in exchange. Their deprivations over a month are unimaginable to us average folks, and for Spurlock himself, this was merely a monthlong experiment, not a lifelong trap.

The Christian Science Monitor reported recently that 4.8 million Americans earn less than $7.25. Of those individuals, 48 percent were between the ages of 25 and 64 and support the majority of household expenses with their earnings. A full-time worker earning minimum wage at 40 hours per week and no vacation will gross $10,712 per year. Oprah reported today that 20 million Americans earn less than $10 per hour, and many of these folks include EMTs, teachers assistants and healthcare professionals - in essence people we depend on to do important work in our society. A 40-hour-per-week worker earning $10 per hour will gross an annaul pay of $20,800, still not a wage many of us middle-class Americans would find livable.

So as the right-wing think tanks and pundits work overtime to decry the injustice in taxing a $4 million estate and explain why the working poor don't really need extra money, my thoughts return to my two city girls, both age 10 and certainly not responsible for their family's financial situation. Their parents probably worry nonstop about how they will pay for the groceries, clothing, housing and the expenses of keeping everything running and working. I felt guilty yesterday simply handing over the school supply list. It's none of my business how much these families make, but I bet they could use some extra money.

Clearly Republicans have taken a stand, and it's not with my two girls. Do you plan to take one in November?

A little irony on your freedom fries?

I stumbled into the website selling W Ketchup today. You might remember this as a brand launched in 2004 by a group of ideologues wanting to boycott Heinz after false allegations connected the company to the Kerry campaign. The W in W Ketchup stands for Washington, the website claims with a knowing wink.

Anyway, on their site is a tribute to the deified one, Ronald Reagan. The purveyors of this product apparently forgot about his administration's classification of ketchup as a vegetable to save money on school lunches. Am I the only one seeing irony here? Apparently, W Ketchup's webmaster didn't.

Click here to see this worshipful paean to the man who single-handedly ended the Cold War, got the dadblamed government off our backs, and allowed the eagle to soar once again.

Friday, July 21, 2006


Did they really say that?

My e-mail inbox has been filled these past couple of days with missives from an ongoing debate on my posting from a few days ago regarding Bush-haters vs. Clinton-haters.

I continue to hear an insistence from conservatives that liberals' rhetoric is meaner than conservatives. I guess they really believe that old Bushianism, if you repeat it enough times it becomes conventional wisdom and therefore truth. But I won't let that happen. I insist on conservatives facing up to the propaganda machine they've built, dependeed on and reveled in over the past 15 years.

Their arguments to the contrary are so sadly weak. When I ask conservatives to explain how liberals can be possibly worse than the Limbaugh/Hannity/Coulter/Ingraham/O'Reilly/Savage axis, they typically dish up the same recycled half dozen quotes from the past year from Howard Dean, Barbara Boxer or Dick Durbin. One conservative recently offered the old quote, "Poor George. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth," said by Ann Richards, at the time Texas state treasurer, in 1988.

We liberals don't need to go back 18 years. I can offer several from just the past couple of weeks. You think I can't? OK, I'll take that bet. Here goes:

Yesterday, July 20
"It is perfectly legitimate, perhaps even praiseworthy, to recognize Islam as a religion of vicious, violent, bloodthirsty cretins."
- Neal Boortz, categorically tarnishing anyone who practices the world's most-practiced religion. Isn't it funny how these same folks expect to win the hearts of Iraqis?

"A lot of Jewish liberals...say it's Israel's fault because we've been mean to (Palestinians), therefore they have a right to do whatever they want, behead people on camera, all this terrible stuff."
-Bill O'Reilly, asserting that some Jews think it's OK for Palestinians to commit acts of terrorism.

Tuesday, July 18
"The American left is cheering today. They'll probably break open the jug wine and cheer that Jews are dying, and that they're living and cowering in bomb shelters. One day, the 'Deutschland über alles' may be played in Jerusalem, and the American left can tear off their masks once and for all and show themselves to be what they really are, which is the Nazis of our time."
-Michael Savage

"So glad to hear that The New York Times got my letter."
-Anne Coulter on The Times' receipt of a powdery substance in the mail that turned out to be corn starch.

Friday, July 14
"(The 9/11 widows) put a lot of other women at risk for becoming widows."
-Coulter, not giving it a rest.

Thursday, July 13
"Couldn't he have killed Jerry Springer?"
-Bill O'Reilly on mafioso Tommy "Horsehead" Scafidi, who allegedly was ordered to rub out Geraldo Rivera.

"Shouldn't somebody be allowed to offer me 10, 20, or 100 thousand dollars?"
-John Stossel, arguing that transplant organs be bought and sold on the open market.

Wednesday, July 12
"I prefer a firing squad, but I'm open to a debate on the method of execution."
-Coulter, calling for New York Times editor Bill Keller's execution.

"I mean, they still have people in Brazil running around with their little darts, hitting you in the head with the poisoned darts, with the loincloths. They still have 'em down there. And they're driving an ethanol vehicle. After they hit you with the poisoned dart, OK, they get into their ethanol vehicle and drive back into the Amazon to do whatever they do there. Eat tapioca, whatever."
-O'Reilly, making what appears to be a backhanded compliment of Brazil's use of ethanol.

Tuesday, July 11
"Liberalism is, in essence, the HIV virus, and it weakens the defense cells of a nation. What are the defense cells of a nation? Well, the church. They've attacked particularly the Catholic Church for 30 straight years. The police, attacked for the last 50 straight years by the ACLU viruses. And the military, attacked for the last 50 years by the Barbara Boxer viruses on our planet."

So there you have it, 10 outrageous quotes from the past two weeks lifted off the liberal Media Matters website, which is devoted to monitoring this crew of loose cannons. Media Matter's job is easy. The 24-hour right-wing media establishment of talk-radio hosts and cable news talking heads is always blaring and spewing something mean-spirited, goofball and flat-out false.

And I've heard the right-wing response umpteen times. Well, this isn't the party leadership speaking, conservative ideologues say. It's such an incredibly tiresome, dishonest argument. Well, let's call it what it is - a chickenshit argument. I would argue that these pundits are indeed the party leadership, and the figureheads in the White House and on Capitol Hill beholden. If not that, then the right's pundirty serves as the standard-bearers who do the dirty work and allow Bush and Cheney to look statesmanlike and officious. There's no doubt of the White House's endorsement of this motley bunch. How many times have Cheney and Rumsfeld been Rush Limbaugh's guests? Have the president or any GOP leader ever called for these propagandists to at least turn down the rhetoric? Of course not. They wouldn't dare lest Bush's 35-percent approval rating plummets even further.

And how about the rank-and-file conservatives who listen to, watch and read this crap? They glue their ears and eyes to the radio and TV, unwilling to miss one word that will come out of Michael Savage's or Sean Hannity's mouths. They guffaw, high-five each other and revel in the vicious anger they so smugly describe as political incorrectness. But later, when challenged about the hateful words they so enjoy hearing, these folks harumph and clear their throats and deny they really listen to these guys. Well, someone's listening in. Millions in fact, according to industry figures, and I don't think they're on the left or even in the middle.. Yet, we can't get these conservatives who yammer on and on about personal responsibility to take responsibility for the rhetoric they so eageraly buy into.

And we liberals? Yes, some of us say some mean things, and I continually challenge folks on the left to not fall into the ugliness of the right's rhetoric. Yet, I look at Air America and other failed attempts at liberal talk radio. Folks on the left apparently have better things to do than tune into that garbage. I can't even get many of my liberal friends to read this blog; they tell me they have no interest in anyone's rantings. To equate a few kooks on the left with the very foundation of conservative hegemony is completely fallacious and an impossible task, at least not with a straight face.

Monday, July 17, 2006


How dare these Bush-haters!

Syndicated columnist Jonah Goldberg is indignant this morning, flat-out positively outraged. How dare these liberals! How dare they hate President Bush.

"Hatred of Bush drives - or poisons - almost everything in liberal politics now," Goldberg says, the sanctimonious righteousness dripping from his brow like so much sweat (Excuse my flowery Victorian metaphor, but nothing else seems as appopriate alongisde Goldberg's grave disapproval).

For an example of this venomous hatred, he points to the New Republic's Jonathan Chait, who wrote that Bush has "wreaked enormous damage on the political and social fabric of this nation."

Horrors! Gasp! Let the booing and popcorn throwing begin in this melodrama. The cursed, blasted liberals exercise the temerity to say that our handsome, gallant Bush has pursued some extreme courses of action that have been harmful to our nation. To be certain, Chait's criticisms carry none of the elan of the Right's artful wordsmithing. When will these dastardly liberals at least begin showing the gentlemanly or ladylike statesmanship of such conservatives as Anne Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity who so delicately, yet truthfully, make their points so that they can never be denied?

"America haters," Hannity so kindly refers to those wicked liberals.

"God haters," says Coulter, pinky sticking daintily out from her teacup.

"Shut up!" O'Reilly says to disagree in a most constructive fashion with his esteemed colleague in the adjoining chair.

OK, enough of my silly rhetoric stolen from a forgotten episode of "Dudley Do-Right." Let me just ask point blank, do conservatives seem more than a little silly in their self-righteous moralizing against criticizing the president, in their assertion that liberals are sour and mean-spirited? We know that some folks on the right exercise a Soviet-style penchant for rewriting history. But do you remember as I do their bitter, mean-spirited hatred of President Clinton? How can anyone forget, other than conservatves who do so quite conveniently?

Let's go back about 10 or so years ago and recall the constructive, statesmanlike things what they were saying:

1) Clinton murdered Vince Foster.
2) Clinton directed tanks to act as flame-throwers to ignite the Branch Davidian compound.
3) Paramilitary wacko Randy Weaver and child molester David Koresh were misunderstood heroes who stood up to Clinton's evil.
4) Government is evil. In fact, let's overthrow the government. (They backed down from that one after Tim McVeigh attempted to make good on their wish)
5) If an FBI agent comes to your door, aim for the head because he'll probably have on a flak jacket.
6) Clinton murdered those two boys mysteriously found dead along the railroad tracks outside Benton, Ark.
7) State troopers in Arkansas provided Clinton with a steady stream of bimbos. (David Brock admits he made that one up)
8) Whitewater. What the hell was that, anyway? Apparently Kenneth Starr didn't find anything there, try as he might (well, other than a cigar and a stained dress).
9) The American Spectator set up shop in Hot Springs, Ark., to search for any more allegations, the truth behind those allegations clearly of secondary importance.
10) Clinton was a draft dodger. OK, that one might be true, but a hypocrisy considering the accusers' unquestioning worship of the current Draft Dodger in Chief.
11) Clinton was a pot smoker. True again, but it appears to many of us that the current Drug User and Recovering Alcoholic in Chief used more than just pot.

These were widely accepted attitudes and views among the mainstream of conservatism, accepted as fact without any questioning for veracity. As crazy as all these allegations seem, they were not extremist views held by a fringe. Not in the least. These were views held by the average rank and file right-winger with plenty of encouragement from the likes of then-Speaker Newt Gingrich and his cabal of Washington ideologues.

Let me say, lest people see this entry as a defense of Clinton, that I grew to thorough dislike him during his presidency. His character was poor, he was shady and he was frankly a disgrace on the office. There was so much about Clinton to dislike that was true that all of these fabricated stories, made-up scandals and flat-out lies were so gratuitous and only served to characterize many Clinton-haters as the same kinds of frothing, red-faced kooks they accuse today's Bush-haters of being. And is there more than a little hypocrisy in tolerating, ignoring and even celebrating so much of the same behavior and poor-character from Bush that these folks claimed to loathe in Clinton?

In the end, are we liberals really so terrible in our criticism of President Bush?

Saturday, July 15, 2006


Evil-doers or democracy lovers? Which is it?

I admit it. I'm perplexed. I seem to be hearing two messages from the right about Middle Easterners, especially Iraqis. They hate us and everything we stand for. They're evil and they wish to destroy us. No wait. They're freedom loving people, and our troops are dying so they can sculpt the democratic republic they so long for.

Which is it?

I consider this as polling data comes forth from the Pew Research Center showing that we Americans and Westerners in general hold a pretty negative view of Middle Easterners and especially Muslims. According to the poll:

*69 percent of Americans think Muslims are disrespectful of women.
*Americans are almost evenly split on whether devout Islam can ever be conducive to life in a modern society.
*More than 40 percent of us think that Muslims are violent and fanatical.

And listen to what some conservatives say about the people they allegedly seek to liberate. Southern Baptist leader Jerry Vines called Mohammed a "deomn-possessed pedophile," and said, "Allah is not Jehovah. Jehovah's not going to turn you into a terrorist that will try to bomb people and take the lives of thousands and thousands of people."

Asked Pat Robertson, "Whoever heard of such a bloody, bloody, brutal type of religion? But that's what it is. It is not a religion of peace."

Michael Savage had a few words about what he'd like to do to Muslims: "So, kill 100 million of them, then there'd be 900 million of them. I mean ... would you rather us die than them? Would you rather we disappear or we die? Or would you rather they disappear and they die? Because you're going to have to make that choice sooner rather than later."

Remember, these are people who strongly support this war.

At the same time an entire World region is branded as antithetical to everything we hold dear, Republicans, conservatives and war supporters insist that Iraqis are freedom-loving peaceful folks who urgently need our help in transforming their nation into a vibrant democracy.

"The vast majority of Iraqis do not want to live under an Iranian-style theocracy and want Syria to stop allowing the transit of terrorists," states a White House fact sheet on the progress of installing democratic institutions in Iraq.

President Bush himself said in a 2003 speech, "And the questions arise: Are the peoples of the Middle East somehow beyond the reach of liberty? Are millions of men and women and children condemned by history or culture to live in despotism? Are they alone never to know freedom, and never even to have a choice in the matter? I, for one, do not believe it. I believe every person has the ability and the right to be free."

Certainly, conservatives cheered on all those blue thumbs held up for the media during last year's elections in Iraq, presented as proof that Iraqis love freedom and democracy and that the war is producing the results we seek.

So which is it? Are Iraqis freedom-haters who despise everything we cherish? Or are they big-hearted lovers of freedom and progressive values? It appears war supporters want it both ways. I know how they would probably answer those questions. The terrorists are different from the average Iraqis, they'd say, who simply seek peace and freedom.

But I'm not so sure that's true. What's becoming increasingly apparent is that most attacks on our troops in Iraq are carried out by locals. We also see that most recent terrorist plots from last year's bombimgs to this summers uncovered plot to attack the Canadian Parliament have been the work of folks from the local mosque, not the work of some worldwide terrorist army. Recent polling data indicates that a large percentage of Iraqis think that attacking U.S. troops is OK and that acts of terrorism might indeed be permissible under some circumstances.

I'm not going to wade in today to fathom attitudes of the average Iraqi. Attempting to ascertain the "goodness" or "badness" of an entire religion or nation is quite a tricky undertaking. Their perceptions of the world and America, right or wrong, often color their attitudes. I would bet that most are just trying to survive and are no better or worse than the society around them.

In the end, I suspect that the folks we wish to liberate are really the same people we Americans label as intolerant terrorists. Somewhere between those two characterizations, I'm sure, lies the truth.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


A Greek tragedy played out for the zillionth time

What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?
- Mark 8:36

It appears Ken Lay pulled off the ultimate prison escape yesterday.

You'd think I would have danced a jig in delight. Ding dong, the witch is dead. Or maybe I should have been outraged that he didn't get the punishment many of us feel he deserved. After all, here was public enemy No. 1 for us liberals, the poster boy for everything wrong with corporate America and our money-dominated political system. I rejoiced when he was convicted. I guffawed heartily the other day when I received this month's Texas Monthly magazine in the mail and saw the small tag on the cover teasing, "Kenny Boy Gets His." In fact, we watched "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room," just last week (As Netflix subscribers we're quite slow in getting to the latest movies). I watched the documentary with great satisfaction, knowing what I thought was the ultimate outcome, that Kenny Boy was indeed getting his. Obviously, I had no idea at the time what the ultimate outcome would be.

But instead of feeling outraged or thrilled, I just feel kind of sad. I actually do feel sorry for Ken Lay. You know us liberals, how we feel sorry for the worst criminals and always seek to understand those who do terrible things. And look at the terrible things Lay and his minions did. There's the 2001 California power crisis, originally blamed by conservatives on state authorities, but in retrospect clearly the work of Enron trading floor warriors who sought to kidnap every last watt from the state as some sort of twisted ransom scheme. Imagine the essential services and commerce disrupted to the tune of tens of billions of dollars. And we can't forget all those employees who stood by helplessly watching their frozen retirement funds drain away like the California power grid while Lay, Jeff Skilling and Andy Fastow were cashing in secretly on their own investments to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. Some conservatives say these rank-and-file workers got what they deserved for their alleged greed, but most of us in middle class America have more empathy than that. There but for the grace of God, we say.

So goshdarnit, why do I feel bad for this guy? I suppose because sometimes it's not fun at all to see someone get his or her just desserts. And I have no doubt that Ken Lay saw himself as a decent guy. I'm sure he honestly saw himself as some sort of visionary out to reinvent American business, a John D. Rockefeller for our times. He was known for his personal generosity, dispensing millions from his own assets for causes I'm sure were worthy. Like me, he belonged to a United Methodist church, so I assume that in his heart he felt he was a good Christian. And perhaps God agrees. His friends all were quoted in this morning's paper, describing lay as a good friend and gave many examples of his personal magnaminity. Who am I to argue?

So how do we reconcile these conflicting pictures of personal generosity and corporate callousness in the very same individual? It seems that the first answer is a matter of compartmentalization, that phenomenon allowing people to act as bastards in the workplace and act as dear friends, parents and otherwise generous souls away from the workplace. There's a line between work life and private life, the compartmentalized soul says, and the two can be kept separate. You've probably worked with - or more likely worked for - one of these people. You couldn't stand being around him, but were shocked to learn what a kind, decent soul he becomes when he goes home from the office. Or perhaps you've been good friends or gone to church with someone like this. You think she's an example of true Christian kindness and charity, and later you're crestfallen to learn that perhaps she mistreats her employees or behaves unethically on the job. There in a nutshell lies the essence of Ken Lay's character.

Lay was also a greedy and arrogant man. He craved money and power more than anything else, certainly more than any sense of ethics or decency could rein in. He labored under a long history and personal track record of winking at gross ethical violations and even outright crookedness. Hear no evil, see no evil, Lay seemed to say. Be sure you're making me lots of money, but please don't tell me what you're doing to earn it. This affected ignorance allowed Lay to plead that he knew nothing of what Skilling and Fastow were up to, yet of course he knew damn well the whole time. Ultimately, his tolerance for malfeasance and the increasing belief in his own corporate divinity led to his downfall.

So Lay never will go to prison. Still, he paid dearly. His fall from the uppper echelons of Houston's power elite must have been unbearable. To watch the corporate empire he built himself crumble into dust must have been the ultimate punishment. And for such a man who thirsted for acclaim to see his name and image loathed by the American public, it must have just killed him worse than any heart attack.

So Kenny Boy really did get his, after all. It's a timeless Greek tragedy. Apparently, the Athenians had a few Kenny Boys over 2,000 years ago. Clearly, Ken Lay was alive and well in Shakespeare's day. And because the arrogant and power hungry learn nothing from history, the tragedy will continue to repeat itself over and over again into perpetuity.

Sunday, July 02, 2006


America the Beautiful, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

As we prepare to celebrate another Fourth of July this week, I find myself pondering the national soul.

Maybe it's always been this way, but increasingly, I hear a hopefully small but awfully vocal groups of Americans take our goodness for granted as an absolute assumption. We're moral and just and good, they say, simply because we're Americans. Our goodness is not based on our actions, they seem to believe, but simply on our mere being. Likewise, they say, criticize America's actions and you must believe that America is bad and evil. You apparently hate America.

I think of this in recent days as I've heard arguments made that because we're not as bad as al-Qaeda, we don't really need to consider systematic torture and mistreatment of detainess in Abu Graib or Guantanamo. Because our detention facilities are nowhere near as bad as the Soviet gulags or Hitler's concentration camps, we need not worry about conditions there. Becasue our goodness is absolute, we must always be absolutely right. Because the bad guys are so much worse than we are, self reflection is never necessary and we need never take responsibility for misdeeds or missteps. In fact, there absolutely cannot be any misdeeds and missteps, because after all, we're America.

This extends to our view of the rest of the world. Since we're naturally good, we must always be right. Any nation that disagrees with us must be wrong. Because most nations disagree with us on our war in Iraq, most other countries are wrong and probably even weak in character. Other countries supporting us in Iraq support us only officially with that support quite unpopular among the people there. So those countries must be weak in character, also. Therefore we can take whatever unilateral action we wish, and everyone other nation on Earth must be wrong and even immoral.

These same folks usually call themselves Christians and declare us a Christian nation. It's a nation in which a seeming majority of God's people have committed themselves to warmongering and global coercion; a steadfast, unwavering support for the status quo; and a draconian agenda committed to comforting the comfortable and afflicting the afflicted. A few dissenting Christians might argue that this doesn't appear to be Christ's way. But the bulkd of God's people have spoken in America. Because we're God's people, they say, we must be right. If you disagree with our agenda, some of them even say, then you must hate God.

In the end, they say, we're great simply by being Americans, not by anything we say or believe.

I know these are tough words at a time when we should be putting tough words aside for at least a day to celebrate America, despite our differences. But this morning in church, we sang "America the Beautiful" and the "Battle Hymn of the Republic." I've always appreciated both songs, but listening to their words today, I was touched by the humility, self-reflection and true desire for goodness and righteousness they deliver. Both pieces imply an "if-then" statement. If we truly seek wisdom, righteousness and justice, then we truly are great, they say.

As you read the words to both hymns below, consider the message and ask youself what you base your patriotism on. A smug self-satisfaction and self-congratulation? Or a humble self-reflection and deep sense of responsibility to step forth to what is right and make amends for what is wrong?

America the Beautiful
Words by Katharine Lee Bates
Melody by Samuel Ward

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood From sea to shining sea!
O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!
O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!
O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
O beautiful for halcyon skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the enameled plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till souls wax fair as earth and air

The Battle Hymn of the Republic
Words by Julia W. Howe

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watch fires of a hundred circling camps
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps;
is day is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
His day is marching on.

I have read a fiery Gospel writ in burnished rows of steel;
“As ye deal with My contemners, so with you My grace shall deal”;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with His heel,
Since God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Since God is marching on.

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat;
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet;
Our God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Our God is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free;[originally …let us die to make men free]
While God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
While God is marching on.

He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
He is wisdom to the mighty, He is honor to the brave;
So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of wrong His slave,
Our God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Our God is marching on.

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