Sunday, December 31, 2006

"Good Gawd," James Brown.

photo by Randy

James Brown nearly got me out of Vietnam. As an aspiring, teenage garage rocker who had seen James Brown for the first time, I understood that I needed to do more than just stand there and play the guitar. So, once a performance, I put down the guitar and attempted my white boy song and dance, and at a point in the song, I would tip the microphone stand, drop to my knees, and catch it in emulation of Brown. I did this each night until I developed a condition know as Osgood-Schlatter's disease where I had crushed the cartilage in both knees badly enough to cause a leg to give way in mid-walk. I entered high school and college with a doctor's note forbidding me to march with the ROTC. When I was called for a physical by the Knoxville Draft Board, I was armed with my bulletproof doctor's note. But there was a war on and they were pretty much accepting anyone with a pulse, even if you checked the "gay" box on the personal questionnaire. Disregarding the severity of my limp, the draft board ignored what, in essence, was James Brown Syndrome and marked me fit for military duty. I was forced to fight the draft in ways other than with my knees, but such was my devotion.

Like millions of fans, I went James Brown crazy for keeps after I heard the album "Live At the Apollo," in 1963. I was familiar with his hits, particularly "Lost Someone," where he wrote the lyric, "Ten thousand people/underneath my Father's sun, who need someone," and "Night Train," which was his biggest hit before the Apollo LP. But this new live album was something different, raw, and exciting, and the response from the audience becomes a part of the show. I always wondered why he said in his recitation of "Night Train" cities, "New York City, take me home." Now I know. The spontaneous outpouring of love from the people in Harlem when the white, horse-drawn carriage passed was something not seen since the funeral of Princess Diana. President Ford may have gotten a catafalque in the Capitol, but James Brown got center stage at The Apollo while a hundred thousand people stood in the street in lines that reached five blocks long.

My first James brown show was memorable for many reasons. After listening to the Apollo album a thousand times, (a must-have album for any fan of Soul music), I had to see what the audience on the record was screaming about. I snapped up a ticket for his show in the North Hall at Ellis Auditorium in late 1963 and took my seat. Every white kid in Memphis will tell you that he or she was one of only ten white faces in the place, as if they were venturing into the enemy camp. But everyone will also say that they were warmly welcomed by the black audience and even made to feel a little bit hip just by being in attendance. When the announcer finally shouted, "James Brown and the Famous Flames," a woman sitting behind me that weighed at least 250 pounds leaped up from her seat and landed on my back, knocking me to the floor. So while James Brown was sliding to center stage on one leg, I was on all fours, fumbling on the sticky floor for my glasses. It was my good fortune, however, to see him perform the entire "Live at the Apollo" show, with the cape and additional flourishes to boot. It was the most memorable concert of my life. By show's end, I was dancing in the aisle with the woman who had flattened me.

Of all James Brown's nicknames; "Mister Dynamite," "The Amazing Mr. Please, Please, Himself," "Soul Brother #1," my least favorite was "Godfather of Soul," because it was the most contrived. Only after "The Godfather" was the biggest movie hit of 1972 did James Brown appropriate the moniker for himself, a nickname more rightly descriptive of Ray Charles. James Brown was the Father of Funk. But in reality, the nickname that most accurately described him was "The Hardest Working Man in Show Business." On my old radio program, I used to enjoy contrasting the live performance styles of Ray Charles and James Brown. Ray would take a song like "Drown In My Own Tears," which he recorded in the studio with a waltz-time, mid-tempo gospel feel, and play it in concert so slowly and laid-back that it nearly falls off the bed. Thus, part of the enjoyment of hearing Ray Charles was the anticipation and suspense of his slower tempos. Before Ray delivered the goods, he made you wait for it, and you left his concerts, on a good night, feeling warm and satisfied. In contrast, James Brown played his songs at three times the tempo of his studio recordings, and the intensely tight band never stopped charging until the audience surrendered to the dynamism and unflagging energy of the performer. When a James Brown show was over, he was reputed to have lost up to five pounds per show and sweat straight through the soles of his shoes. The audience left stunned, exhausted, and exhilarated.

And though others preceded him, James Brown was undeniably of the South. His music wasn't smooth or jazz based like Ray's, but gritty and greasy and wild. And he never made the concessions to a white audience like Jackie Wilson or Sam Cooke, with bland arrangements and whitebread back-up singers. James had the Famous Flames, who's very name spoke of Brown's ambition. I wish I could properly credit the writer who said that "James Brown exuded Negritude." He was a black performer for a black audience, and the white fans had to come over to him; and they did in droves, especially in the South. When James' fame was already reaching a boiling point, he released the song "Out of Sight" in 1964 and started a revolution in popular music. He so noticeably changed the groove that at any dance in the mid-sixties, there was all the other music, and there was James Brown's. His songs immediately packed the dance floors and the dance that the people did was called, "The James Brown." Suddenly every white frat-boy from the Universities of Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee, were hooking their thumbs in their belts and shuffling their feet across the floor. If you had the misfortune of wearing rubber soles, you had to kick them off to continue. Imagine the personal musical courage it took to change a successful formula into something untried and untested. But James Brown started as a shoe- shiner, a tap-dancer, and a prizefighter. It was his competitiveness and unschooled genius that propelled him. If he were a grammarian, he might have named his song "I Feel Well," but James had a language all his own. Even his ballads like "It's a Man's(4)World," and "Prisoner of Love" turned into screaming, sweat-drenched passion plays. As he grew older, the screaming grew more frenzied and sometimes over the top. It seemed as if James were reaching for a note that he was never going to hit.

The night that Dr. King was murdered in Memphis, James Brown was credited with keeping violence muted in many cities including Knoxville, where his radio station WJBE (for James Brown Enterprises) broadcast regular calls for calm. His public activism and appeals for racial understanding earned him accolades from President Johnson and rewards from Hubert Humphrey. His record company told him that if he released 1968's "Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud," it would cost him over half of his white audience. James Brown released the song and contributed to an unprecedented era of black pride. Stay In School campaigns followed and Life Magazine asked on it's cover if James Brown "was the most influential black man in America." This later added to the irony of his incarceration. The Memphis and Shelby County police always protected Elvis, and especially Jerry Lee Lewis and his entourage, from their most blatant transgressions. When Jerry Lee smashed his car into the gates of Graceland waving a pistol, the police took him home. Why then, would the South Carolina police fire twenty shots at James Brown in a high speed chase resulting from a domestic dispute and put him in prison for two and a half years if not for the continuing racial component? Perhaps James Brown wasn't a model citizen regarding his personal life, but I couldn't help thinking that they wouldn't have done that to Tony Bennett.

The crowds in the streets and the magnificent packed-house homegoing service in Augusta demonstrated the significance of this one determined man. The moving tributes by Reverends Sharpton and Jackson illustrated James Brown's appeal to the common man, and the presence and reception for Michael Jackson should erase the suggestions that Michael was ever insufficiently black. There are still huge gaps in Brown's digital discography that will now hopefully be filled. The box set "Star Time" on Polydor is a worthy attempt that was created in England. This is usually good news, since the British are among the most knowledgeable and loyal R&B fans in the world. But the James Brown phenomenon was a "you needed to be there" experience that could have benefited from a Southern perspective and not omitted regional classics like "Oh, Baby Don't You Weep," and "Three Hearts in a Tangle." However, it's a good place to start to hear how the music of this man with the humble name evolved from primitive R&B to rhythmic innovation and a place where it reached critical mass before exploding into the popular culture. The concert film, "The T.A.M.I. Show," 1964, has electrifying footage of James' performance in his prime. Finally, a word about these Republicans. Ray Charles died June 10, 2004, and Ronald Reagan died the next day. James Brown died on Christmas and Gerald Ford the following day. Not even a president can steal the thunder from a king. So, hey fellows, stop trying and "Let A Man Stand Up and Do the Popcorn."

Who's left of the Soul pioneers? We still have great voices like Jerry Butler, Mel Carter, and Bobby Womack, but the death of James Brown leaves an unfillable void. The greatest voice in Soul music with a live performance approximating James Brown's in excitement is Ronald "Ronnie" Isley, of the Isley Brothers. Unfortunately, like James in the past, he is incarcerated for income tax evasion and isn't singing for anyone. Doesn't the I.R.S. know that musicians get paid in cash? And isn't it pathetic to go after the entertainers who rose from nothing while corporate criminals like Ken Lay take the easy way out? For the sake of James Brown's activism on behalf of equal justice, Free Ronnie Isley! Meanwhile, God bless you and rest well, James Brown. You deserve it.
"Spotlight on James Brown ya'll/He's the king of 'em all ya'll/ Yeah yeah, oh yeah."...Arthur Conley; "Sweet Soul Music"

Friday, December 08, 2006

Oedipus Wrecks

The Baker/Hamilton Iraq Study Group report was only slightly less anticipated than the Starr report about Bill Clinton's sexual peccadilloes. Anticipated by all except the President, that is. This was Chucklehead's worst nightmare come true. Yet again, he has proven to be so completely inept at his life's undertakings that his father's old wizened aides have had to leap into the breach to save Georgie's sorry ass from himself. Only this time, he is sixty years old and at the end of his career road. I am certain that the thing George Bush detests most in life is to be lectured by his father and he has said as much in the past. They don't even talk shop, and his father won his war. This life-long characteristic of the prodigal son, Dubya, attempting to better his more accomplished Dad has become pathological to the most casual observer of psychology. What a tragedy, though, that this Oedipal drama must be played out on the international stage while stability in the world and our soldiers' lives are at stake.

Bush, Sr. went to Yale and played baseball, Dubya was a cheerleader who later owned the whole damn team; Sr. was a war hero, Junior supported the Vietnam War by wearing his Texas National Guard flight jacket on the campuses of those hotbeds of protest, Yale and Harvard; Sr. did well in the oil business, Junior had to be a wildcatter too and have his failed Arbusto Oil company purchased by Harkin Oil, his father's old associates; Sr. was elected, Junior was re-elected. This was because Junior had something not even Senior could abide; Karl Rove. Bush 41 fired Rove for dirty tricks before Rove discovered Junior's magical charisma and decided to make him president. No one knew Rove would upset Poppy's applecart again.

But the most telling and bizarre father-son episode I have seen was earlier this week, when Bush 41 broke down in wracking sobs while delivering a speech at an outgoing ceremony for Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Recalling Jeb's loss to Lawton Chiles in 1994 and vaguely referring to dirty tricks, Bush was overcome with tears and emotion at how honorably Jeb had handled defeat without complaining. Last week, Bush had to defend his son, Dubya, merely as an "honest man" to the foreign press. His emotional display in Florida causes me to believe that he wasn't as distraught over Jeb losing the governorship in '94, as he was that it upset the Bush legacy pecking order and the wrong son went and got himself elected president. And now Poppy has to cover that bounced check. "But Esau was an hairy man." I'd cry, too.

Dubya had himself quite a week, choosing to leave the country, Nixon style, rather than face the withering criticism of his failed Iraq policy. From Latvia to Indonesia and Vietnam, where he posed under a giant relief of Ho Chi Minh in a snappy native costume, he looked particularly ill at ease for someone who likes to play dress-up so much. He has dressed as a cowboy, a construction worker, a jock fighter pilot, and the President. Why should dressing in a silk, yellow gown with blue stars on it disturb him? A fashion reporter asked Bush, "Who are you wearing?" and he said, "Ringling Brothers." All he lacked was a big, round, red nose and a couple of bicycle horns to look like Clarabelle. He has become the Global Village Idiot and reflects that perception upon this country wherever he goes.

Then it was on to Jordan for dinner for two with King Abdullah at a table with three place settings. Can you imagine Lambchop refusing to talk to Shari Lewis? Or Jerry Mahoney not speaking to Paul Winchell? Such was the snub of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to Bush after the inner White House Steven Hadley memo calling Maliki a moron was intentionally leaked to the press. Bush had to settle for breakfast with Nuri, instead, because Maliki's strings are not merely pulled by Bush, but Moktada al-Sadr as well. Those Iraqis are just so ungrateful. I wonder if anyone mentioned "light at the end of the tunnel?."

Now the Baker-Hamilton report has repudiated the Bush plan in Iraq and calls for a troop drawdown by 2008. People everywhere hoped this study could serve as political cover for Bush to finally agree to changes in his imperial plans. So how does he react to the tough questioning of the British press about the report? He gets mad. He has the surliness of an drunk who hasn't yet treated the underlying causes of his alcoholism. Bush's performance since the release of the Iraq Study Group report has been that of a a petulant pissant. He is now cornered, and that is when he is most dangerous. His usual response is to lash out at his detractors, regardless of the damage it causes, and if that includes Uncle Jimmy Baker and the last, best hope for a graceful exit from Iraq, then so be it. Bush already plans to dump this mess into the lap of his successor if America survives him. And if you are counting on Bush to express appreciation to his father for throwing him a lifeline that could salvage his presidency, just remember, Bush "answers to a higher father." Dubya's "voices" told him to stay in Iraq until "victory is achieved." How will we know when that transpires, or if he is recommitting troops to their third and fourth tours in Iraq just to piss off Daddy?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

First Things First

Glory! There, I celebrated. Now there is serious work to do, the first of which is to block the President's lame duck Congressional initiatives left over from the bad-old days of one party rule. Then in January, when the new Congress is seated, take Speaker Pelosi's advice and don't overly concern yourself with righteous outrage and tie up the government in committees and investigations about cronyism and waste. There are soldiers' lives on the line and the American public voted for the Democrats to find a resolution to the Iraq War. First, find the way to extricate us from the morass of violence that Rumsfeld and his fellow architects of destruction have placed us in. There will be time enough for investigations when this nation gets off the dime and stops with this ridiculous "stay the course" bullshit. Oh, I forgot. They're retiring that slogan with Rumsfeld.

I am pleased to see the British agree with my recommendations, (See "My Exit Strategy;4/7/06) to send Islamic peacekeepers to the streets of Baghdad and remove the bulls eyes from the backs of our volunteers. I am especially pleased that the power to wage war without oversight has been wrested from the Bush/Cheney team by the voters and placed back into the hands of Congress. Thanks to Jim Baker's Iraq Study Group, Bush the Lesser may still salvage a dignified retreat from his self-inflicted, shock-and-awe, cesspool. Although it must be a humiliation for the Bush Power Rangers and discredited neocons to see their power usurped by Poppy's men, and returned to the realists who knew all along that occupying Iraq was a bad idea. Everybody knew but Chucklehead, Cheney, Rove, Rice, Rumsfeld, Wolfe, et. al, who were the true believers in this Faith Based Presidency. As far as our generational Presidential culture wars are going, it's Hippies-1, Jesus Freaks-0. And it will be sweater weather in Hades when another self-confessed Evangelical Conservative Christian is elected.

The new Congress is not yet seated, however, and I am already tired of windbag Joe Biden, and Charlie "Mississippi" Rangel's tough talk about the retribution they intend to deliver. Not that I don't believe that retribution is richly deserved, but let us address the matters of life and death first, starting with replacing our soldiers in Iraq with peacekeepers, either from the region, or from the United Nations. If their troops can stand between Israel and Hezbollah, they can stand between the Sunni and the Shia. An equal priority should be the reconstruction of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Although it wasn't funny, it was heartening to see Comic Relief use their donations to build and rent affordable housing in New Orleans areas where city services have not returned. The Dutch built their system of dikes and seawalls for seven billion dollars. We spend that in Iraq in a week.

And let us recognize that Hillary Clinton was right about our broken and corrupted health management industry, but we thought it was presumptuous of her to delve into policy as an unelected official. At least Hillary was trying to bring help to ordinary people. We've seen the Karl Rove attempts at policy making and it makes Hillary look like Joan of Arc. It is an ongoing crime of the deregulation-crazed Republicans since Reagan, that Canada and other nations can provide affordable medicine and health care to its' citizens, and the United States outsources its' public health policies to the HMOs and the pharmaceutical industry. Call it Socialism or whatever you wish, but our present health care system is killing us.

Finally, let the investigations begin. I recall the lazy summer of '73, when I spent nights singing in an airport bar and days watching the Sam Ervin Watergate hearings. They remain the best reality television I have ever seen. So if John Conyers or John Murtha want to open investigations with the power to subpoena people to testify about the crimes of this administration, have at it. I'm sure they will make great entertainment. Seeing an evil liar get his comeuppance is always gratifying. But don't be in a hurry to impeach the President. First, remember any impeachment must be in tandem with all the co-conspirators who have infested government with their greed and lies. No one wants a President Cheney, in title if not in fact. Rather, allow the accumulation of the evidence impeach the President and all of his cronies. This election has rendered Bush irrelevant for the remainder of his two years. But he is an unpredictable radical who is capable of Nixonian insanity.

The filing of charges of war crimes against Donald Rumsfeld by attorneys in Germany whose clients were inmates at Abu Ghraib, proves that no one is immune from prosecution for their actions. If the information revealed by congressional investigation shows that there was a conspiracy to mislead the American people into a ghastly war and it's consequent casualties, the charges may well outlive this administration, but the administration will not outlive the charges. Terrible wrong had been done in the name of the American people, and there must be consequences.
Meanwhile, let no man harm a hair on my president's head. May he and his cabinet stay healthy and hearty for the trials yet to come. Democracy is a beautiful thing when it works. The Hindus believe that it is not only man who possesses karma, but nations, too. I believe we are watching national karma in action. Accountability has returned to government like a snarling, junkyard dog and a whole lot of folks are fixin' to get bit. Secure our nation, protect our military from fool's errands, and rebuild our treasured cities, and there will still be enough time to give Junior the spanking he so richly deserves.

Monday, November 06, 2006

It's the Stupid, War

Well, less than a day now and we'll see if this government rights its course or continues on the expressway to hell. Will you vote for more war, or endless war, or put the grown-ups back in charge? By now, no one is persuadable about who they will vote for and no words from me will make any difference. Who I wish to directly address are the 50% of eligible voters that just can't be bothered. They leave comments on this page all the time about how voting is a waste of time, each party is equally corrupt, the vote is rigged anyway, and one vote doesn't make a difference. There have been suggestions to drop out, start communes, or begin to drink heavily.

I have never understood this reasoning, although George Carlin, among others, professes non-participation. I have voted in every election that I was able because of the one time it would have mattered most, I was unable to vote. This was 1968 and I wanted to vote for Hubert Humphrey against Richard Nixon, but I didn't turn 21 until after Nixon won. I always found it ironic that the vote was granted to 18 year olds under Nixon, because if we had had the vote while attending college, Nixon would never have been elected. Imagine that. The difference between the candidates was only a few 100,000 votes. Voting students might have stopped Nixon and saved the additional 20,000 lives that were lost in Vietnam on his watch. If only.

This go-round, if you are registered to vote but don't bother, you're a fool and don't know it. But I'm here to tell you. This time the election is about peace and war, and life and death. If you're an Evangelical Christian who expects to be "Raptured Up" in the next few years, you already have a dream government and I'd like for you to leave me your car. The confrontation with Iran that I discussed in a previous post did not materialize, but it wasn't because the government wasn't trying. We conducted military maneuvers in dangerous waters only a week before an important election. The Iranians just shot off some intermediate range missiles in return rather than rise to the provocation. But these boys are just itching to do some "shock and awe" in Iran. Bush repeated yesterday that Rumsfeld and Cheney were doing "fantastic jobs," and he wants them on until the end. When the end is, will depend on the independent voter.

It's simple for me. A vote for a Democrat means the policy in Iraq will be reviewed and revised. A vote for a Republican means you're a collaborator. This wasteful war has taken so much more than is shown on TV or the Internet. Here are the most accurate figures to date that aren't discussed. On top of the 2,800 U.S. troops who have died in Iraq, there are an additional 48,000 non-fatal casualties serious enough to disqualify a soldier from further service. That's a whole football stadium full of our soldiers, friends. An astounding 650,000 to 800,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed since the American invasion. This study was done by Johns Hopkins University and the most startling thing is how non-plussed we are as a nation about this hideous number of "collateral" deaths. A further 1.5 million people have fled the violence in Iraq for elsewhere in the world, and because these were people who could afford to get out, they were the professionals and technicians needed to construct a viable nation out of the rubble we have created. In addition, there are as many American private contractors in Iraq as there are soldiers, often doing the same work for twice the money. This obscenity must end.

If you are able to vote and sit this election out, you deserve exactly what you get. The Republicans, for the last four election cycles, have demonstrated great ability in getting their voters to the polls. This election, too, is all about mobilization. Non-voters may not realize that the right wing and Christian conservatives have discovered the way to motivate their supporters and get them to the polls in great numbers. They are counting on you to stay home because the political season was the nastiest in memory. That's why they run those hideous ads; they work. But Karl Rove is not Superman and is not invulnerable. He will once again get the conservatives out en masse, and the only way to counter this is with equal determination from people wanting change. My hope is that every lethargic, cynical, and turned-off voter will wake up and realize this election is different from the rest. This government is using your children to die for a discredited ideology and only you can stop it. Will you? Tomorrow, you have the chance.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


I wake each day with trepidation knowing that earlier this month Karl Rove promised an "October Surprise" in a speech to his acolytes, and this is the last day of October. I think the preferred surprise would have been lower gas prices or a new record for the Dow, because these are things within the capacity to manipulate. The lower gas prices are due to the huge sell-off in oil futures by hedge funds thinking the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict would have lasted a few days more. The record Dow is just that; a record for the handful of blue chip stocks that make up the Dow-Jones Average. These are good days to own stock in Pfizer and Bristol-Meyers; not so good if you need the medicines they make and lack either the insurance or the means to buy them.

So if not cheap gas and high stock prices, what could Rove come up with that would be the Republican equivalent of the Rebel Yell? Only this; matters of war and peace. Since Chucklehead threw the phrase "stay the course" overboard, could an announced change in tactics be far behind in Iraq? Any timetable for troop withdrawal would please me, regardless of the cynical timing of the announcement. I've long ago given up the delusion that this government would not trifle with the safety of our soldiers for political gain. Especially when the expected death penalty for Saddam Hussein will be announced on Nov.5, in the face of projected riots. But a troop withdrawal alone will not stem the tidal wave of angry voters heading for the GOP, and something more electrifying than the thought of gays marrying must motivate a disillusioned base.

It is of some note that James Baker,III has returned to the White House as co-chair of the Iraq Study Group, a group of Poppy's Wizened Old Fixers who always kick in the door and take over whenever Junior has lost his way and needs rescuing by the grown-ups. So it wouldn't surprise me if Baker announced a plan for drastic changes in not merely Iraq, but the "War President's" cabinet as well. This may placate some conservatives, but it won't happen until after the election. The spookiest specter of them all is Henry Kissinger wandering around the West Wing, hands forever stained by the blood of Laotians and Cambodians, giving advice to President Cheney. Is there anyone remaining who does not see the parallels to Vietnam, including the very real possibility of a wider war in the Middle East? If not, here is a ghoulish scenario that only the Frankenstinian minds of Cheney/Rummy/Kissinger might have dreamed up.

All month I have been reading reports, the most alarming by former New York Times Middle East bureau chief Chris Hedges,

that speak of a large build-up of US warships in the Persian Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz near Iran. This flotilla includes aircraft carriers, guided-missile cruisers and destroyers, and fast attack submarines. This was done quietly since only tonight did CNN, of all the news networks, announce the presence of US warships in the Gulf for an "exercise to potentially intercept WMD." Would that be coming into, or going out of, Iran?

Bob Woodward has described Dr. Strangelove Kissinger in interviews as "getting to re-fight the Vietnam War" these days. In 1972, he said, "Peace is at hand," and then began secret saturation bombings involving three countries. But while our ships are on an "exercise" off the coast of Iran, I am reminded of how the whole terrible Vietnam War began; with the Tonkin Gulf Resolution of 1964, after an attack on US warships was fabricated by a hawkish Defense Department for political purposes. If the Bush's follow the LBJ mold, which worked once, any provocation, real or imagined, by Iran against our soldiers while they are rattling the administration's saber, will be considered the gravest of threats to mankind. Then when a "Cuban Missle Crisis" scenario is developed and a blockade against Iran is formed, Bush gets to attempt to re-enact a genuine JFK moment while a breathless nation watches on TV and decides to go to the polls and dance with those that brung 'em. With power at stake, anything is possible.

The brink of nuclear war is a sure enough scary Halloween trick, but with the possibility of Congressional investigations on the line, WWKD?(Karl). I hope President Shemp is forced to take the James Baker avenue. Baker, even though he lawyered Bush into the White House, is much less scary than the present occupants of the cabinet. Especially Dr. Evil; Dick "The Merciless". This evening when my doorbell rings, we have chocolate goodies for the trick-or-treaters. But if I open the door and see a group of children dressed as Bush, Cheney, Condi, Rove, and Rummy, I trust my wife will have the portable defibrillator nearby. In fact, with the ghost of Richard Nixon still haunting the White House, it might be a good idea to keep it close all week long. Happy Halloween, everyone. Trick or treat?

Friday, October 13, 2006

Jake "Fredo" Ford

After the last televised debate between the candidates for Tennessee's 9th Congressional District, I was enraged that Jake Ford, the "Fredo" of the Ford family, continues in his race-driven quest to siphon votes away from the rightly elected representative of his party, Steve Cohen. But after watching Jake Ford's press conference on WMC-TV, (the link for the whole thirteen minute mess is here: ,type in search for "Jake Ford"),my anger has turned to bemusement over the Ford Family Follies. In thirteen short minutes, I was convinced that Jake Ford is so slimy that he leaves a grease trail behind him when he walks, like a slug. This would all be a joke if he were not receiving the backing of Rev. LaSimba Gray and other prominent ministers, and leading voices in the community like Walter Bailey.

Don't the Fords believe that Junior has enough of a fight without the embarrassing electoral chicanery of his family? And doesn't Harold Ford, Sr. understand that this election is far too vital to the Democratic Party and the nation without his attempt to further enrich himself and his lobbying business by ensuring a son serves in each chamber, even though one is grossly unqualified? Only yesterday, (10/11), The Commercial Appeal had a front-page story on questions of impropriety between Harold Ford, Sr.'s business clients and their favors to Harold, Jr. Are the Fords so deluded as to believe that the Corker campaign won't go negative on them as well? Ford, Jr. bristles at the mention of his family by his opponent, yet his father is a lobbyist in D.C., his Uncle stands indicted, his Aunt was bounced from the State Legislature, his cousin Joe, Jr. was defeated in the Democratic primary, and now brother Jake threatens a once secure Democratic seat in the Congress with a vanity run. Harold Ford, Sr. is risking the labor of thirty-five years' worth of bi-racial cooperation within the Democratic Party for his personal purposes.

The outstanding Jake Ford press conference quote after admitting he was arrested "about" four times in Washington, D.C. for marijuana possession, ("It wasn't mine!"), assault, and DUI, he claimed, "There was never a conviction because there was never any proof throughout the process I'd done anything criminally wrong." He should have just gone ahead and blamed Clinton. When reporters asked why he didn't come forward sooner with this information, Ford shot back, "It's public information. You all have always had this information, but again, it was my opponent, Steve Cohen, who alerted you to it." Well, thank you Steve Cohen for pointing out a congressional candidate's arrest record. Ford certainly wasn't going to do those reporters' jobs for them. The Republican candidate, Mark White, owned up to the fact that he had been in trouble with the law as well over a tax "dispute" with the Tenn. Department of Revenue. With this bunch, Cohen's campaign slogan could well be, "I've Never Been Arrested."

My friends have accused me in the past of being what's known as a "Yellow Dog Democrat." If you didn't know, it means that I would prefer to vote for an old yellow dog over a Republican. I understand the importance of every single vote for the Senate seat being vacated by "Dollar Bill" Frist. But I have decided that unless Harold Ford, Jr. endorses the Democratic candidate, Steve Cohen, for Congress, or Jake Ford withdraws his candidacy, I will not vote for Ford. I won't be voting for Frist's man Corker either but I might write in Prince Mongo, the perennial protest candidate. If enough people become vocal, perhaps the Fords will come to their senses and realize a Ford in the Senate is better that two Fords working for their daddy's corporate clients until the next election cycle.

And should you believe my enmity towards the Fords is racial, I would point out that Cohen has received the endorsements of both Mayors Herenton and Wharton. In reference to Jake Ford's candidacy, Mayor Herenton said, "His qualifications are nowhere appropriate for him to represent the 9th Congressional District when compared to Steve Cohen." Herenton added, "I'm sick of the Fords." So am I. And should Junior lose to Corker as a result of his father's reckless choices, I will re-double my efforts in two years to see that Congressman Cohen is re-elected to the House of Representatives, and that the Ford political dynasty of Memphis, Tennessee, finally comes to an end.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Ford, Sr.'s Last Trick

I watched the television debate tonight by the three candidates running to represent Tennessee's Ninth District, Democrat Steve Cohen, Republican Mark White, and "Independent Democrat" Jake Ford, and I am upset. Not with my candidate Senator Cohen; he was succinct, knowledgeable, and showed a mastery over the issues; explained how he was the "real" Democrat in the race, and pointed out every falsity the Ford machine has thrown at him, all the while expressing his support for Junior's Senatorial bid. Cohen also refused to rise to the bait when young Ford attempted to distort his record, and Jake "Fraud" could only say in rebuttal, "he's too liberal, liberal, liberal." What a day when a candidate from the Ford family attempts to paint his opponent as "too liberal," for the District.

I backed Cohen in 1996 when he lost the congressional seat to Harold Ford, Jr. and was disappointed at his statements that a white candidate could not get fair consideration in the African-American community. Cohen has said in this campaign that his remarks ten years ago were from frustration and disappointment, but he has never wavered in his support for all candidates fairly elected in the Democratic Primary. After last night's debate, perhaps Cohen's election analysis of 1996 was more accurate than anyone thought. When Joe Ford, Jr. is fairly beaten in the primary, but Harold Ford, Sr. places his unqualified and undereducated son, Jake, in the general election as an independent stop-gap to preserve the family seat, there is something racist and obscene about such tactics that should be harshly dealt with not just from the State Democratic Committee, but from the DNC itself.

The headline of the debate came from Republican Mark White, and it's a slogan Cohen should use for the remainder of this campaign. When asked by Norm Brewer how he felt about Ford's independent candidacy, White replied, "I'm tickled pink that Jake Ford is in this race." And he looked it too, both pink and tickled. Ford claims to be an "Independent Democrat" and he has the backing of a group of ministers as well as some community leaders that actually don't feel that Cohen is too liberal for the district, he's too white. That's the self-admitted excuse for this group's allegiance to Jake Ford's candidacy, and Harold Ford, Sr.'s influence.

I have voted in every election since 1972, and some of those votes were for Harold Ford, Sr., Otis Higgs, D'Army Bailey, Willie Herenton, and A C Wharton. I have never felt these gentlemen were too "black" to represent me, and deserved my vote because of their qualifications. I did not vote for Junior in 1966 and I have been dismayed with the number of times he has voted with the Republican majority. The source of my disappointment in Junior's voting record is that I feel he really doesn't agree with the Patriot Act, for instance, but he does it because he is ambitious and eager to please the conservative voters of middle and east Tennessee. But how are you going to out-conservative a Bush man like Corker? Junior's strategy is to have his more "liberal" voters understand him while he conducts himself like another Joe Lieberman in dealing with the Bush regime, and his true Democratic colors will emerge once he's elected; unless, of course, he begins compromising his values in an immediate run at the Presidency.

I propose a remedy. After Frist, no one wants "Frist Lite." So my plan was always to hold my nose and vote for Ford. But I don't like it, and I am not above withholding my vote for him in the Senate until or unless he backs Cohen for the Congress. Although the latest polls show Ford, Jr. up a few points in his race, I would like for Democrats to insist through their local, state, and national committees, that if Harold Ford, Sr. doesn't cease and desist with his manipulation of the election in the Ninth District by attempting to split the Democratic vote, then real Democrats will withhold their votes for Junior in the Senate. This cynical maneuver to sneak his son into Congress' by undermining Cohen's candidacy is all about Harold Ford, Sr.'s power as a lobbyist in Washington and not for the betterment of the district, but for the family Ford.

In reality, Democrats have their best chance to reclaim power in the House rather than the Senate in November, and Cohen was a prohibitive favorite until the Jake Ford trick. Harold, Jr. has a tougher race and needs all the votes from West Tennessee that he takes for granted that he already has. Every Democrat should demand the support of their party for Senator Cohen. And I don't believe it is too much to demand party discipline for Harold Ford, Sr., who after all, built his political dynasty through the efforts of the Democratic Party. The party should unequivocally back their candidates straight down the line, and if they are too afraid of the Ford machine to act, the voters should take it upon themselves. I favor circulating an online petition, of which I will be the first signee, that says in effect to Harold Ford, Sr. that if you continue to push an independent candidate merely because his name is Ford, I will refuse to vote for another candidate merely because his name is Ford, and I mean Junior. I would prefer throwing the Senatorial election to Corker before I allow Harold Ford, Sr. to be the Ralph Nader of Memphis, and pass off another dubious member of his family as someone who is dedicated to public service, when opportunism is his sole motivation.

The petition should be forwarded to Democratic Party offices and precincts in the entire state. Democratic voters should be aware that Harold Ford, Sr. is using all his influence and power to see that one Ford enters Congress through the front door, while the other enters through the back. I will not stand for it. Neither should you. There are thirty days left to become vocal on this issue. Cohen did his job at the debate. It's time for true Democrats not to just speak up, but shout it out loud, "No support for Cohen? Then no support for Junior."

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Party's Over

It used to be said that the only way to lose your job in this gerrymandered Congress was to be caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy. I think we've nearly reached that threshold. Before the news networks went all Mark Foley, all of the time, the most outrageous comment I heard came from the Republican leadership, including former Speaker Newt Gingrich, that if they aggressively confronted Foley about their knowledge of his conduct with underage boys, they might be considered "gay bashing." What a breathlessly hypocritical remark. The party that every two years campaigns to write discrimination against homosexuals into the Constitution is suddenly sensitive about "gay bashing?"

The e-mails and IMs from Foley to the pages in question are salacious and specific, and if you enjoy fifty year old men asking teenage boys to measure their penises, there are nine pages of similar requests on or at this address:
So, these are not merely "naughty e-mails," as Tony Snow so Victorianly put it, and the shameful cover-up involves the entire Republican Congressional leadership. Mark Foley was allowed to continue as head of the caucus to protect children from internet predators while the party leadership knew he was trolling for teens, to protect their political power.

If you are homosexual, and suddenly your political party launches a faith based, anti-gay jihad; then you become a closeted and repressed gay who ends up preying on boys over which you wielded power. Say what you will about Rep. Barney Frank, and Fox news certainly has, including the claim that he operated a brothel from his townhouse. But of all the smear and charges by his opponents, the only allegation that proved true was that Frank had temporarily chosen an unsavory companion, and who, regardless of sexuality, can deny experiencing that unfortunate reality? But Frank's open sexuality doesn't seem to interfere with his effectiveness as an advocate for his constituents. Only the party of "family values" would try to keep this scandal under wraps until after the election when they were warned about the problem well in advance. Barney Frank's questionable companion was at least a consenting adult. Rep. Foley's wanting "you to know that he is a gay man," is an insult to gay men. Does he believe his admission excuses his arrangements with teenage pages, or his incredible recklessness?

Foley also wants you to know, according to his attorney, that he "is in no way a pedophile." That depends on what "is" is. True, he never solicited a prepubescent on the internet, so the proper term may be "pederast." The word the people need to remember is "hypocrite." So before Mark Foley joins O.J. Simpson, Tanya Harding, Mel Gibson, and Laci Peterson in the 24 hour news cycle's DNA, it's well to remember that Iraq is a slaughterhouse and half the world is on fire. I realize that the paralyzed Republicans will do absolutely nothing about Iraq before the election, short of announcing the total withdrawal of our troops as a last attempt to preserve their power, and the only way we can even begin to put out some of these fires is to elect Democrats to Congress next month. So, if the sleazy story of Mark Foley's liberties with teenagers makes the "values voters" hesitate for just a minute before trusting the Republican Party to protect their cherished beliefs again, then let the media frenzy begin. Dig it all up so we can stare at it like a car wreck.

But voters who have already had enough need to keep their eyes on the prize. Last week, I would have thought that the only GOP supporters left were the Christian right and the social conservatives. This week, I'm not sure if they would be endorsed by NAMBLA. This scandal may be a necessary distraction for those people who haven't placed the Iraq war at the top of their concerns. I'm willing to endure that distraction if it means garnering more votes to elect Democrats who are willing to change course in Iraq and the entire Middle East. Our immediate local concern is electing Steve Cohen to Congress from the Ninth District. It is outrageous that a man like former representative Harold Ford, Sr., who built his family's political dynasty with the support of the Democratic Party, would withhold his support for the elected Democratic candidate. Does he intend to be the Ralph Nader of this race by supporting a candidate that could split the Democratic vote and endanger the seat? Both Fords, Sr. and Jr., need to pay attention when the president says you are with us or with them and pick a side. Then urge their son and brother Jake, (running as an Independent), who is neither informed, qualified, employed, or a High School graduate, to drop out of this race while the Democrats have a real chance to pull the rug from under these corrupt men who have wrecked our government. That is more important than attempting to keep just another average Jake (Ford) in public office after the average Joe (Ford),lost the Democratic primary. The extent of Junior's Democratic support in his Senate race again Bob "Frist Lite" Corker could well depend upon his support of Cohen.

And for the regular commenter to this blog that preaches the Tim Leary "Tune in, Turn on, and Drop out" philosophy; I have no problem with the first two thirds of your thesis. When we were children of the sixties, we had the luxury of dropping out as a protest against war profiteers, consumerism, and a militaristic society. And because we were not just idealistic, but young, we were willing to try alternative living and societal experiments because it seemed as if we had nothing to lose. It is good to remain idealistic, but we are no longer young. The people we now oppose are the same people we opposed in the sixties, only now they are our peers in open revolt against the social advances we already fought for. We are the grown-ups now and we are responsible for our government's conduct in the world. If we "drop out" we are truly lost. If you believe the Democrats' b.s. is the same as the Republicans', at least it's different b.s., and right about now, different will suffice. Leary's slogan needs to be revised to fit the times;
It might be more effective as "Tune In, Turn On, and Take Over."

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Long Live Rock n' Roll

I rediscovered something last week that I hadn't realized I had lost; the redemptive power of music, and particularly, playing music. I was asked to participate in a reunion of musicians that were popular in the "garage band" era of the mid-60s. I had been asked to take part in similar gatherings in the past and respectfully declined, but this time I was asked by Larry Raspberry as part of a free outreach for his local church, Heartsong Church, who's motto is "The Church That Rocks." I have known Larry since we were both 11 year old students of the same guitar teacher, Lyn Vernon. Our teenage competition between the Gentrys and the Radiants and Larry's formation of the Highsteppers and his unequaled live performances made me a fan as well as a friend. So even though I couldn't field a team for the event from a combination of my founding partners being out of town and the loss of four band members in the last 15 years, I agreed to represent the Radiants even before I heard the stellar line-up.

Of news to a particular generation of Memphians that will befuddle everyone else were the announced reunions of Flash and the Casuals/Board of Directors and the first full performance since 1967 of Tommy Burk and the Counts. These are the bands that provided the music for our precious memories before an unpopular war forced the end to our innocence. My eagerness grew when I heard the musicians who were coming in from out of town were dear friends from a half dozen different combinations of acoustic trios to electric bands that I worked with over the last 40 years. Raspberry organized the event from Los Angeles while the church provided the hall, sound, multi-media screens, and house band; Wing and a Prayer, consisting of perennial premier players Dave Smith, Gene Nunez, Freddie Kirksey, and Greg Lundy. I was given an hour to rehearse the afternoon before Rosh Hashanah.

I spoke with Flash,(David Fleischman), about my reluctance to participate in any actual proselytizing for the church, especially on the Jewish New Year, but we were both assured that it was a free show with no strings attached, and besides; George Klein had agreed to MC the event now called "Talent Party Time Travel," for the popular TV show of the 60s that regularly featured local bands. I selected my songs to sing, the band charted them up, we ran through them twice at most and said, "See you at the gig."

It rained hard the day of the show, yet there were still more than 200 people there for the 6:00 PM start. First up was Eddie Harrison, former leader of the Short Kuts, one of the most popular club bands of the era. I first worked with Eddie in 1963, when I was a sophomore at segregated Christian Brothers High School, and Eddie was a sophomore at integrated Christian Brothers College. I've always believed he was one of Memphis' most electrifying singers and I love to sing with him. Unfortunately, I had to follow him because he was booked at a wedding, but we arranged to sing some harmonies to some old Soul favorites and Eddie left to a standing ovation while I stayed in place onstage.

I have not played with an electric band in at least nine years, and had to bring my electric guitar out from under the bed to do it. But there's something about strapping on a Fender Stratocaster and standing with musicians that you admire and in whom you have confidence that is thrilling and empowering. Their professionalism allowed me to concentrate on staying on pitch and the variety of our songs, from original, to the Kinks and the Rascals before an attentive and appreciative audience caused me to remember why I started playing music in the first place; because it was just so damn much fun. My thirty minutes flew by. I had a ball.

Raspberry was up next playing a variety of material including the Gentry's "Keep On Dancin'," which I hadn't heard him sing in 30 years and brought the audience to their feet. It wasn't exactly like one amazing gig I saw him perform with the Highsteppers at the High Cotton Club in the mid-seventies when his combination Southern Preacher-Carny Barker non-stop patter and the bands' continual driving music caused several male patrons to spontaneously rise from their seats, grab their wooden chairs, and smash them over the tables. I saw Larry cause a clubful of people to destroy the furniture. Of course, there was whiskey involved then. The people at the church were just there for the music, but Larry reached them just the same. He was accompanied on keyboard by fabled Memphis producer Jim Dickinson, who also sang his Sun Record from 1965 with the Jesters, "Cadillac Man."

The Flash and the Casuals/Board of Directors reunion was sentimental to me because of old friendships with members of that band. Original drummer John McNulty played; Mark Tidwell came from Nashville to play guitar, and Flash even called up Charlie Fineberg to sing back-up reaching all the way back to 1962. Flash is still a magnetic showman and received his standing "O" for a moving version of "St. James Infirmary Blues." Along with slides and film of a mop-topped Flash on Talent Party in 1966 with George and the WHBQuties projected on either side of the band, the audience seemed transported to that time and responded in kind.

Anyone who did not grow up going to dances featuring Tommy Burk and the Counts can't totally appreciate how heartwarming it felt to see them onstage again. When Flash was a guest on my former radio program, we deemed Tommy Burk, "The Godfather of the Garage." The skinny kid with the prominent Adam's apple is now Professor Tom Burk of Christian Brothers University's Department of Germanic Language. And the rest of the Counts, from Thomas Boggs and Mike Stoker of the Huey's Corporation; to Wayne Thompson, John Greer, and Steve O'Keefe, are all professional men who gave up music long ago. Yet, when they began playing and got into their second song, you could see a spring in their step that the audience's response only encouraged, and by the time they played their signature song, the huge Memphis hit garage band version of "Stormy Weather," the crowd was again on their feet.

Interstate 55 completed the show and continued to play for a jam for all the participants, who were reluctant to leave. The audience's kindness to me personally, left me buzzing for a week afterward. The flurry of e-mails exchanged between all the musicians and singers was universally positive and we agreed to consider the possibility of doing it again. I told Larry that we may well do it again, but we'll have a hard time matching the joy of that night. And for me, the most uplifting part was that money took no part in the equation. I understand that musicians have to sell what they play, but for this one occasion, we did it as a favor to a friend and his good work. And I learned that all Christians are not, by definition, Conservatives. And that there are progressive churches that encourage free expression and the use of music as praise, much like some of the more contemporary efforts of the Reform Jewish movement. And most importantly, I was reminded of that basic tenant of all religions; that the most rewarding work you can do is that which you do for others without expectation of reward. At Heartsong Church, the applause was sweet; the chance to see old friends and musicians and watch them entertain their appreciative audience one more time was sweeter. I was uplifted, invigorated, and proud to be included, and am now prepared to re-enter the fray. Thank you, friends. I think I remember now.
Hail, hail rock and roll
Deliver me from the days of old
Long live rock and roll
The beat of the drums, loud and bold
Rock, rock, rock and roll
The feelin is there, body and soul

Chuck Berry, "School Days"

Friday, September 22, 2006

Life Rage

I hardly go out any longer. Instead, I invested in a flat screen TV. There are several programs that Melody and I enjoy and I like to keep up with the news and commentary. A few posts ago, a commenter to this blog suggested that anyone that vexes himself over political matters as much as I must have other issues. At first I laughed it off as a "no one is blinder than he who won't see" remark, but then I began to worry that someone had posted the results of my Minnesota Multi-Phasal Personality Index on the net and I had to reconsider the commenter's statements.

I am by nature reclusive, but even I can recognize this last round of social withdrawal as pathological. If I were female, I might say that after the Cohen primary victory, I was so shocked from backing a winner that I went into a sort of post-partem depression from dealing with these unfamiliar feelings; or a Jimmy Carteresque malaise waiting for the other shoe to drop. Since I was diagnosed twenty years ago with a genetic pre-disposition for depression, these episodes don't concern me as much because I understand them now and know they will pass. Still, I feel like I should call my friends and apologize for going missing in action, but this frame of mind also accepts that most people are so self-absorbed they never notice the comings and goings of anyone else, and my real friends understand anyway.

Of course my days are colored by the tenor of the times and I remain disconcerted about the workings of this government. But the discord created by this administration manifests itself in almost every other aspect of life. In every arena of public life I am daily disturbed by the combative, confrontational, inconsiderate, or just plain mindless attitude of people's interactions with others. I have previously written about the chore driving has become. When Melody and I go anywhere, she insists on driving because my explosive responses to the cell phone talkers and bad drivers were not disturbing anyone but her. An example; today, we were driving behind a new Escalade driven by some unconscious preppie wannabe, and there was a brand new "W" sticker on the rear window that said "Still the President." I wondered if it was necessary to continue to remind us? The polarization that exists in general society today makes me nostalgic for Nixon.

I watch my wide screen and wonder how the Evangelicals must feel hearing their born-again President compared to the Devil at the United Nations, to the general amusement of other world leaders. I see Bush's approval ratings above 40% and wonder who can still be defending this Chucklehead when he says to Matt Lauer about the terrorist threat, "This is people who want to come here and kill your families." I hear Darth Cheney brag that there have been no further acts of terror on our soil since 9/11 and I immediately search for a wooden surface to knock on. I think that before any "alternative" interrogation techniques are approved for use by our forces, that Bush should have to try them out first. The way they make it sound, waterboarding is a pleasant summer sport. I try to put this growing hatred I feel towards the members of the Bush administration in context and tell myself that it is their policies that I hate, although it's difficult to make the separation with this strutting, stammering fool in your face all the time who feels he can better make his point by saying the same thing, only louder. I wish Bush's handlers would just tell him to shut up and go to Crawford and do no further harm, but he consumes my reality with his arrogance and constant hurtling toward further wars. I wish there were more I could do to hasten the day when accountability arrives, but I fear that the Bush group will use future conflicts or aggressive actions to fan the flames of nationalism for their cynical partisan use.

But I'm just one man looking for a brighter day when my sense of humor returns and I can enjoy the simple comforts of time passed easily with friends. This election is only 46 days away. If by some chance the Democrats snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, I honestly don't know what I will do. I could benefit from the use of a psychologist, but I am one of the uninsurables, and psychotherapy is a luxury for which I cannot afford to pay retail. I had health insurance once, but the company dropped me because I needed it. Until then, you are my psychologist and I thank you for withholding your bill until times get better.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Rove Rage

All right, I admit I am disappointed. Karl "The Unelected President" Rove somehow escaped indictment by the Grand Jury in the CIA leak case . That doesn't mean he has been left unscathed. Like many others who have read about and observed Rove's political tactics, I truly believed that the sort of smarmy payback meted out to Joseph Wilson through the outing of his wife as an agent was a typical Rove operation. So did James Moore and Wayne Slater, authors of "Bush's Brain", which I have referenced before, in updated material in the latest edition of the book.

"No one who knows Karl Rove has been surprised to hear his name as a prime suspect in the scandal involving the leak of a CIA agent's name. That is how Karl Rove has operated in the political arena for his entire career...The greater shock for Washington, and journalists who have reported on Karl Rove's career, would be if he were not involved in outing undercover agent Valerie Plame.

Well, we know from two sources that he was involved. I don't know what sort of deal he made with the Special Prosecutor to save his hide, but even if Rove wasn't the primary source for the leak, a pertinent question must be asked. What was the President's political advisor doing with information about clandestine CIA agents in the first place? Who ever cast a single vote for this guy other than the Young College Republicans in 1973, when he was accused of stealing the election? His opponent was the chairman of the College Republicans for Nixon in 1972 at the University of Michigan. I remember well the Republican Convention of 1972, after Nixon paraded out Henry Kissinger to say "Peace is at hand." That was his last trick to get re-elected. Rove and his fellows were the young people so incongruously packing the galleries in their straw boaters and neckties chanting "Four More Years." What must go through a young person's mind when he is draft eligible, his President has bombed and destabilized two adjacent countries to the already ravaged Vietnam, his fellow students are being gunned down on college campuses for war protests, and he wants four more years of Nixon's plan. It wasn't that they were so pro-Nixon, as anti-hippie. So was G.W. Bush, who's cheerleading career at Yale was disrupted by those shaggy war protesters. This is where the "culture war" began.

It was still a mistake for the Democrats to have put all their eggs in Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald's basket. Although there are revelations to come, Karl Rove has been unleashed. Now that Rove is free to publicly question the patriotism of the administration's critics, the Democrats need a bold voice to counter the vitriol that will only build as the mid-term election grows near. The Democrats take Rove's bait every time and it is entirely possible that they could blow this election despite the President's and Congress's record low approval ratings. Gary Hart wrote a piece this week in The Huffington Post, that the public should be alerted to the possibility of an "October Surprise." Hart surmises that even though the mantra is still "stay the course," Rove will find a way to declare victory in Iraq, or at least enough progress to begin plans to withdraw troops. Rove knows Iraq is the albatross around the Republicans neck and he must address it. Hart warns that whatever the administration promises are only plans to get them through this election. Rove trades principle for politics every time.

I hope the electorate sees through the cynical attempts of this bankrupt Republican administration to hold on to its power. It was reported yesterday that Rove contacted Joe Lieberman with an offer to help him in his independent run for Senate Spoiler. Is there any better validation for Lieberman's loss to an unknown in the primary? Only a change in Congress can begin to inquire why Karl Rove was in possession of classified and sensitive information. Does he even have a security clearance, and if so, why? And how did one political operative that G.H.W. Bush hired as his special assistant at the Republican National Committee come to accrue so much power after this article from The Washington Post from 1973?

"Republican National Committee Chairman George Bush (the first) has re-opened an investigation into allegations that a paid official of the GOP taught political espionage and "dirty tricks" during weekend seminars for College Republicans during 1971 and 1972. Some of the 1972 seminars were held after the Watergate break-in. Bush said he will urge a GOP investigating committee to "get to the bottom" of charges against Karl C. Rove, 32, who was executive director of the College Republican National Committee."
Bush's Brain, Ibid

It is a continuous line from Karl Rove to Lee Atwater, Donald Segretti, G. Gordon Liddy, John Mitchell, and Richard Nixon. Karl Rove may have escaped indictment from the Fitzgerald jury, but he may yet face it from the American public. The people got wise to Nixon. They will ultimately see through his disciples as well.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Content of Their Character

Since I live in Tennessee's Ninth District, I received an interesting piece of mail today from the Nikki Tinker for Congress Campaign, co-sponsored by Emily's List. Since Ms. Tinker is a political novice running for an important representational office, I would think any slick mailers would be for the purpose of introducing the candidate and enunciating her views on local and national issues. But the picture on the cover was that of State Senator Steve Cohen. They used to say that any publicity is good publicity, but this desperate attack from Ms. Tinker borders on the scurrilous. This shows that any organization such as Emily's List, that ordinarily does good work, in their zeal to promote an attractive woman candidate, can sometimes overlook the best candidate.

Ms. Tinker's flyer attacks the attendance record of Senator Cohen between 1998 and 2004, conveniently overlooking the fact that those of us who put him in the State Senate know that he has been there for 24 years. There was corporate money spent to say in her ad that "Senator Cohen led efforts to allow sex shops to stay open on Sunday." To make such a bizarre accusation, regardless of which postscript of obscure legislation that you pulled it from, reeks of desperation. In fact, it seems like a campaign engineered by Karl Rove. To attempt to somehow link Steve Cohen with sex shops is laughable, but the brochure contains a lurid color photograph of a eerie green, neon sign that says "Sex Shop; Projections," and questions Senator Cohen's ability to fight for "our families" in Congress. Ms. Tinker also combed through Cohen's votes and found he declined to grant money above that budgeted for some unnamed "K-12 Education Funding." In fact, every college student who benefits from the Hope Scholarship, be they male or female, black, white or Asian, and whether the institution is a state university or a community college, should say, "Thank you, Steve Cohen, for your years of persistence in creating the Tennessee lottery." I know I do. My stepson attends Christian Brothers University and receives a grant from the Hope Scholarship which is projected to produce a billion dollars in four years. So what is Ms. Tinker really trying to say?

I think that "content of their character" speech by Dr. King in 1963 didn't sink in with some people. A July 5 edition of the Tri-State Defender ran a banner headline asking, "White Chocolate, or opportunist; can Sen. Steve Cohen represent Black people?" The article points out that since 1974 the Ninth Congressional District has elected an African-American to represent them and proceeds to chronicle the struggle of Black people through the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments. Rev. Benjamin Hooks is quoted as saying a Cohen victory would be devastating for Memphis' majority population. Of course Steve Cohen can represent Black people. The problem is the Ford family dynasty has controlled the seat for so long that they believe they own it. In the crowded race to succeed Harold Ford, Jr. in Congress, there is a Ford brother, a Ford cousin, and Ms. Tinker, widely known to be Harold, Jr.'s campaign manager, advisor and protege. Judging from Junior's Congressional record, where he voted to ban same-sex civil unions and against raising the minimum wage, it often appeared as if he were positioning himself with conservative Republicans to make himself more palatable to a national audience. Ms. Tinker's campaign slogan was "Running for the right reasons." If her voting attitude reflects that of her mentor's, those are the very "right reasons" that I'm afraid of.

From Julian Bolton's comments about Mr. Cohen's "complexion," to the hysterical ravings of TaJuan Stout Mitchell, the African American political community has launched a "Stop Cohen" campaign filled with the same sort of racist arguments that white candidates used to make in the bad old days. Consider this excerpt from a letter to the Memphis Commercial Appeal; "The candidate's ideology should represent the majority of residents in the district rather than the majority of the votes in an overcrowded race. Most Ninth District residents do not support same-sex marriage, the legalization of drugs, Sunday liquor sales and restricted prayer, and some citizens do not support the lottery. Most of the district's constituents are of the Christian faith and would be offended by an elected official who would vote to curtail their free expression of religion or suggest that a pastor be told not to say, 'In the name of Jesus.'" If you read that comment on it's own without knowing the author or the context, you might think it was someone in league with Jerry Falwell or Tom DeLay. But it's old fashioned fear-mongering by Councilwoman Stout Mitchell. Only Ms. Mitchell ads the touch of reminding voters that Sen. Cohen is not Christian. In fact, it will be refreshing to vote for someone who will be a genuine liberal Democrat in Washington, and not someone who tempers his votes with an ambitious eye toward national office. I am one of the Ninth's constituents Ms. Mitchell speaks of that doesn't support the lottery. Only, I just don't buy a ticket. But you go ahead, and thank you for the revenue.

This sort of inflammatory rhetoric should be insulting to thinking people of all races. If Congressman Ford wishes to be a Senator he must court the white vote, why then, should African-American politicians encourage Black people to only vote for a Black candidate? It has been a long time since the mid-seventies and Harold Ford, Sr.'s infamous "white devils" quote. I believed the election and re-election of Willie Herenton and A C Wharton showed progress on behalf of Memphis' electorate that promised to reach beyond the politics of race. It may have been more accurate to say that moderate white voters made progress by voting for African-American candidates based on their abilities. But judging from the level of vitriol coming from the Black community toward Sen. Cohen, there are still some old-time Memphis politicians, and some new ones, too, that still just don't get it.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Ugly American

I squirm every time I see President Jethro promenade across the world stage, but this trip that just ended was particularly painful. On his way to the G8 summit in St. Petersburg, the prospect of peace in the world's hot spots was as dire as I can remember. Over 160 people murdered on trains in Mumbai, more sectarian atrocities in Iraq, and the bludgeoning response of Israel toward the Lebanese infrastructure, and there stands Bush at a press conference in Germany talking about the pig that they have prepared for him for dinner. Nothing intrinsically wrong with that, but when a journalist asked him whether he was worried that Israel's military response might trigger a wider war, he said, "I thought you were going to ask me about that pig." Bush supporters seem to like his schoolboy type of humor, but I don't get it. It seems inappropriate and distasteful considering the circumstances.

Then came the press appearance with his pal Vlad "Pootie-poot" Putin. Trying to look tough, President Jethro said that "In Iraq they have freedom of the press and freedom of religion. A lot of people in our country would like to see Russia go the same way." Putin grinned like a Cheshire Cat while responding, "We certainly wouldn't want the same type of democracy they have in Iraq," to the laughter of the world press. But Chucklehead, always needing the last word had to yell out "Just wait," like a petulant fourth grader shouting back "Am not!" I guess former head of the KGB Putin isn't Bush's soul mate, after all.

After Bush blocked Russia's entrance into the World Trade Organization, the G8 Class Picture looked like a gathering of statesmen and Bush, President of the United Redneck States of America. All that was missing was the Stetson. It became more revolting when his candid chatter was captured by an open microphone. I don't object to his profanity so much as the context in which it was delivered, beginning with, "Yo, Blair!" His simplistic remarks while stuffing his face, his condescension towards the British Prime Minister, rebuking his suggestion to visit the Middle East, his James Dean adolescent body language, and his inability to have an intelligent conversation should be an embarrassment to those who remember Kennedy, Reagan, and Clinton.

What is profoundly unsettling is that this third generation of an Ivy League political dynasty has absolutely no couth. His father was a worldy man, but the son seems not to have even learned basic manners. He has no curiosity about how the rest of the world lives, aside from the occasional photo-op. Why would the leader of the free world go to India and not take his wife to the Taj Mahal, even to the point of being gently chastised by his hosts who apologized to Mrs. Bush on his behalf? He spent exactly three days in China. If you're going to spend a day and a half on a plane, wouldn't you like to do a little sightseeing before you return to clearing brush at the ranch? Incurious George wants to instruct the world in democracy, yet he couldn't point out the continent of India on a map.

Now that he's safely back in the White House, 25,000 Americans are in need of evacuation from Lebanon. The governments' leasing of a cruise ship from Cypress that holds 750 people at a time is at best a Katrina response, and at worst, a catastrophe waiting to happen. I understand the ship will be escorted by Navy vessels but God help the shortsighted people who could not see the obvious danger; that if Hezbollah, and thus Iran, can hit an Israeli ship with a missile, they can hit a Cypriot Cruise ship also. And the State Department under Dr. Rice was supposed to be so much more efficient.

Tomorrow, the Senate will pass a resolution lifting a government ban on further stem cell research. The President has promised to use his first veto to assure that those unused embryonic stem cells from fertility clinics hit the dumpster rather than a Petri dish. I hope that he does. I think that will seal his reputation as "Luddite in Chief," and not even his hard core conservative base, the right-wing Evangelicals, or Fox News can sway public opinion away from the conclusion that we elected a stupid man with a stupid plan. The emperor not only has no clothes, he has no sense either. The political season begins in earnest in just a couple of weeks. Will you help stop this insanity?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

On The Brink

In its' 58 year history, Israel has been more than capable of defending itself. In this latest spiral of violence, it is worth pointing out that the provocateurs of this action are Hamas and Hezbollah and their state sponsors in Iran and Syria. As the violence extends deeper into Lebanon and Gaza and once again threatens the region and the world, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert seems to be lashing out Bush style. The Israeli government is correct both politically and morally to punish the murderers and kidnappers of Israeli soldiers through the cross-border raids of terrorists in Lebanon and Gaza. But to declare that this was an act of war by the Lebanese government is a mistake.

To obliterate the constant menace of Hezbollah requires striking them in southern Lebanon and in South Beirut where their offices and power bases are located. This is how the Israeli army uprooted the P.L.O. from Jordan in 1971. After the P.L.O. launched assaults on Israel, King Hussein, tired of retaliatory attacks by the Israeli army, expelled Yasir Arafat and his colleagues from Jordanian territory and joined in peace efforts sponsored by the U.S. saying, "There must be peace, or war." The Lebanese government has announced the risky proposal of sending the regular army to take control of the South. After fifteen years of civil war and the occupation by Syrian troops, Lebanon's government is fragile and lacks the backing of the other Arab states. And their army may not only be outgunned by Hezbollah, it is questionable whether Lebanese soldiers would fight their countrymen who are in league with the militants. Israel would do well to remember that only last year, the Lebanese people conducted massive street demonstrations to force Syria to remove their army. Outside of Israel, this was the only popular uprising favoring democracy in the Middle East that I can remember.

Although Israel has dropped leaflets warning civilians in Lebanon to stay clear of Hezbollah's installations, their massive response plays into the hands of Iran and Syria, who want war. Every civilian death is a tool for jihadists to "prove" that Israel devalues Arab life and is a recruitment bonus for terror organizations. For Israel to bomb Lebanon's infrastructure and fuel depots punishes the wrong people and Hezbollah knows it. It offers the opportunity for jihadists to further radicalize the Lebanese and moderate Arabs in the area against any peace plan with Israel. While U.S. troops are bogged down in Iraq trying to create a democracy in the Middle East, the one successful democracy in the region is fighting on two fronts. The terrorists know they cannot defeat Israel militarily. They are hoping that Israel's response will be unfocused and indiscriminate enough to rally sympathizers to their cause and create the wider war against the West that they desire. Al Qaeda's own propaganda states, "Today London, Paris, and Madrid; tomorrow Los Angeles and Melbourne."

One thing the current crimes by Hamas and Hezbollah should lay bare is the fiction that the problem has been Israel's occupation of Arab land since the 1967 war. When Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip unilaterally, Hamas had the opportunity to actually govern Palestinian territory. But instead, they used it as a base from which to attack Israel with rockets and bombs. The Palestinians could have a state tomorrow in Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem by recognizing Israel's sovereignty and reigning in the terrorists, but their desire to kill Jews seems to be greater than their desire to live next to the Jews. Now we know why Yasir Arafat could not deliver for his people in 1999. Had he accepted a peace agreement with Israel, he would likely have suffered the same fate as Anwar Sadat. In an early video appearance, Osama bin Laden urged jihadists to kill Americans and Jews. He never mentioned Israelis by nationality. The underlying message to Hezbollah and their Iranian sponsors is to never make peace with Israel. Their goal is not a Palestinian state that would co-exist with Israel, but one that would replace Israel. Is there any question that if Iran were to acquire the technology to produce a nuclear weapon, or a dirty bomb, they would use it on Israel?

As the Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. told his Lebanese counterpart yesterday, both Israel and Lebanon will benefit from the destruction of Hezbollah on Israel's border. The Bush administration's newly discovered interest in diplomacy will not work here. The war in Iraq has cost the U.S. its' traditional roll as a fair broker of peace because of wide distrust in the Arab world. Critics who claim the war in Iraq is really to further protect Israel will have to live with the irony that the Israelis had to approach Putin and the Russians to exert any diplomatic authority over Iran. The Muslim world was already a tinderbox before George Bush set a fire in Iraq like David Koresh in Waco. Now that the Islamic reactionaries have become emboldened and the region is ablaze again, we can only hope the flames will be contained by responsible diplomacy before they engulf us all.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Kill the Messenger

Other Presidents have lashed out at the press when it suited their purposes. Jack Kennedy famously called and cancelled his subscription to the New York Herald Tribune and was rightly chastised for it by Richard Nixon who later tried to cancel the entire New York Times for publishing the Pentagon Papers. Nixon unleashed the criminal Spiro Agnew on the press and they ended up doing a jig on his political grave. So now the Bush leaguers want to take on the New York Times with righteous indignation about the newspaper revealing yet another secret executive power grab of questionable legality. Taking on the press is fair enough, but there should be one rule. Before you start criticizing a newspaper, you must first have to read it.

The Presidents red-faced tirade about the Times revealing the government's secret sifting through Americans' private bank records, calling it a disgrace that gave aid and comfort to the enemy was transparently rehearsed. Cheney's speech was just plain eerie. Cheney must be wondering who they are going to cast in his role in the movie. Is Donald Pleasance dead? Then Anthony Hopkins it is. "Hello Clarice." What took them two days to work up sufficient rage about the story? The fact that they used the Times like they were Jeff Gannon/Gunterts for hire to plant favorable stories about their rogue schemes, then allow one of their reporters to twist slowly in the wind, and the Times has the gall to turn on them? Every day, someone, somewhere reveals another of this regime's secret dealings and it is frightening.

This photo-op, propaganda saturated administration is like a bad dream that just won't quit. Look at these guys. The speaker is Denny Hastert, the majority leader is Bumbling Bill Frist, the political guru is Karl Rove, and the President is George By-Damn Dubya Bush. They are like the Student Government at a bad community college. The only thing they are capable of doing is choosing the band to play on the Washington mall this fourth of July. I'm certain it won't be the Dixie Chicks. I'd like to see them get Toby Keith, Lee Greenwood, Hank, Jr., and Charlie Daniels too, for a grand old Texas style celebration of xenophobia and ignorance. And nobody better burn a flag, Hoss, even though that jingoistic screed went down in flames in the Senate. Here's a solution to the flag burning amendment. Pass a law that says real American flags must be made of non-flammable material. They did it for children's' pajamas. Then anytime someone burned a flag, you would know it wasn't an "official" flag.

If the carnage in Iraq continues at the current pace, we'll need all the flags we can get to fold up for our servicemen's families. The Senate Republicans scorned the Democrats as cowards and traitors for suggesting a timetable for troop withdrawal, then General Casey announces just such a plan. I'll take my troop withdrawals any way I can get them, but it seems particularly sinister to release a token group of forces from their grinding duties just in time for the fall election. How cruel it must feel to wake up in a war zone knowing that you just missed a politician's required quota of troops to go home. If Cheney turns up with Bin Laden's head on a pike in time for the next presidential election, I won't be surprised. Everything the Bush leaguers do is for political effect.

This is the result of an electorate so distracted and delusional they will elect a President according to reality television rules. Outlast, out wit, out survive. This President came to office with no real vision for the nation, he just hired his Daddy's old administration, and they had a metaphoric hard-on for Saddam Hussein. The Bush Posse seized power after being appointed by the Supreme Court, with no mandate, and proceeded to operate government according to their own narrow ideology. They believe that government functions to reward your friends and punish your enemies, like the Baathist Regime. But for them to use the worst attack ever suffered on this soil to sell the American people a bill of goods including mushroom clouds, enrichment of uranium, and biochemical weapons factories on wheels, is beyond cynical. It is evil.

I still hope for some miracle of diplomacy to bring a political solution to the Iraqi insurgency. The hard figures require a miracle to even begin to reconcile the irreparable damage that the Bush government has done in our name. Beyond the 20,000 American casualties, the journalists kidnapped and killed, the beheadings, and the other atrocities, there is one stark figure that screams out; 50,000 dead Iraqi civilians whose only crime was being born. That's going to take more diplomacy to resolve than Karen Hughes can provide. I want every cabinet officer of this administration to remain hale and healthy. I want President Shemp to mountain bike, jog, and clear some brush. He'll need all his stamina for his trial in the Senate next year. And Daddy's Boys are ripe for an appearance at a war crimes tribunal in the Hague. It would be fitting for "Old Europe" to decide what punishment befits new world liars and warmongers.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Queer Baiting

Let's all go Bill Fristing down memory lane. For the next three weeks, while our democracy is challenged from all sides and both borders, our eminent Senator/Doctor has determined the schedule for topics of debate in the Senate; a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, a bill, approved by the ruthlessly ambitious Hillary Clinton, criminalizing flag burning, and the repeal of the estate tax, also known in the Orwellian world of Karl Rove as the "death tax." Does Frist know how to do the bidding of his masters, or what? If this guy thinks he's going to be President, he is even more deluded than I imagined.

Frist has not only been a failure as an effective representative, he has failed himself as a human being. As a surgeon, Frist took the Hippocratic Oath, "First, Do No Harm." As a Senator, he took the Hypocrite's Oath, "First, do no harm to conservative, wealthy Republicans." Here is a scion from a family who's fortune comes from the broken and derelict health management industry, who gave up a career as a healer to become one of the most mean-spirited, lock-step lackeys in government. He was, and is, a political novice who never held elected office, spending millions in both personal and public dollars to win a Senate seat from a conscientious legislator like Jim Sasser to fuel his misguided fantasy of being President of the United States. It will never happen.

The utter collapse of the "gay marriage amendment" should be an embarrassment for conservatives enlightened enough to tell when they are being used like a strap-on, yet Frist promises to bring the issue back up in a matter of months. It's ironic that this hate screed against homosexuality is called, "energizing your base," but let's be honest. Homosexuality is the tip of the iceberg for this gang of moral absolutists. It is sexuality itself that makes them uneasy. The "faith-based conservatives" are opposed to any sort of sexuality beyond the bonds of matrimony, and even then, the preferred manner is under the covers and in the dark and never in an upright position, lest they be accused of dancing. There is even a lunatic fringe that believe a "homonucleus" exists in every sperm cell. Is it that far of a stretch to imagine an attempt to pass a bill criminalizing Onanism? After all, if a little man lives in each sperm cell, then masturbation must surely lead to serial murder.

And this Doctor, like Mengele, will do anything to further his party's cause, even if it means misdiagnosing a brain dead woman by videotape as a viable member of society. This man of medicine was one of the architects of the pharmaceutical friendly Plan B for Medicare. Yet he doesn't want the Plan B contraceptive to be readily available for women, even though the FDA finds no reason why it should not. Nor does he favor sex education, legal and safe abortion procedures, universal health care, or same sex partnerships, even though the retiring Archbishop of Chicago said he could "live with the concept of civil unions." In this devastating age of AIDS, wouldn't you expect a doctor to see the value of committed relationships to our society regardless of the genders involved? But Frist prefers the "slippery slope" argument that gay and lesbian unions will naturally lead to inter-species unions.

So let's stop playing semantics. Stop persecuting people for the way they were born into this world and we'll reach a compromise. Conservative Christians can call their bonds "marriage," and same gender partnerships can call their bonds "civil unions." It's not the label, but the bonds that matter. Grant the same rights to all and cease this cruel stigmatization of gays and lesbians as evil. The evil is in the persecution. I understand the biblical reference of man not "lying with a man as a woman." Does that mean lesbianism passes muster, or was that covered by something Saint Paul said to the Corinthians?

There are thousands of Holy Scriptures in this world. Hinduism teaches that every soul is bestowed with a spark of life by it's Creator that is the equal to every other soul. By persecuting someone for their transient sexual nature in this corporal realm is a sacrilege against one of the world's major faiths. To intentionally harm anyone is an affront to God. And need we be reminded of the words of two other world religions; "Love Ye One Another," and "Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself." The oldest faiths teach service to all mankind as akin to being service to God. This hysterical tormenting of individuals that mean no harm to you, or your marriage, is evil, plain and simple.

When Frist brings up the "death tax" he isn't talking about you. This is in the interests of families that have amassed great wealth and wish to pass it along to their heirs "en toto," without feeling a need to chop anyone's estate up to feed the needy. This only exacerbates the already disparate chasm between the rich and the poor, and leads to the sort of class society that brought about the French and British Revolutions. Don't be concerned. Frist and friends are ready to trickle down on you. As for Frist's bosses in the Party of Hate, this attempt to create discriminatory law is a violation of that oath that promises to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."

I would suggest that Bill Frist forget about politics and return to the nobility of his former profession. I understand that he was an excellent surgeon. What a sin to trade healing men's hearts to hurting men's souls. And as for Frist's pandering to the evangelical Christian wing of the Republican party to curry favor for his intended run for the nation's highest office, he would do better to ask them to pray for his soul. In terms of Eastern religion, he has a lot of bad karma to resolve.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Collateral Damage

"Within minutes of their approach, a mine was tripped, and the men of Bravo Company heard screams. One was killed and four GIs were seriously wounded... Frustration reached a fever pitch...(It) was a confluence of disasters- inexperienced line officers, edgy troops, higher ups who covered up and eventually got off scot-free, inept intelligence..and an endemic, pervasive feeling in the military that wasting 'mere gooks' was of no great consequence."
Myra MacPherson; "Long Time Passing; Vietnam and the Haunted Generation"

All people have a right to be shocked about the emerging story of the murder of Iraqi civilians at Haditha, but for the Vietnam generation it is certainly no surprise. We have been through all this before. The massacre of 400 Vietnamese villagers at My Lai in 1968 came to be the epiphanous moment when we realized that in times of war, the U.S. is not always on the side of democracy and justice and that in dehumanizing conditions, our forces, too, are capable of evil. The similarities between the atrocities at My Lai and those at Haditha are uncanny and differ only in the magnitude and terrain in which the events took place.

"War changes men's natures. The barbarities of war are seldom committed by abnormal men. The tragedy of war is these barbarous acts are committed by normal men in abnormal situations."
Soldiers' Defense Attorney; "Breaker Morant"

The apologists for the Bush government have been arguing vociferously that we should not confuse Iraq with Vietnam, when in fact, Iraq is becoming exactly like Vietnam except the blood is absorbed by the desert rather than the jungle. The U.S. forces, whose mission in Iraq is now unclear, are fighting an enemy without uniform that sets land mines by night and blends back into the population by day. We are supporting a fragile government without popular support and our soldiers are unable to tell friend from foe because of the indigenous nature of the insurgency. The official cover-up of My Lai lasted a year; Haditha lasted seven months. This incident, and the others under investigation, are bound to happen when you demonize the enemy and devalue the lives under your subjugation.

"You had the whole chain of command trying to keep My Lai quiet. In any war where you lose so much, soldiers will want revenge. Anytime you have a losing situation, you've got a potential My Lai. That is when it is up to the commander to set the tone, to halt it."
General Eugene "Mike" Lynch, who fought in WWII, was an aide to General Matthew Ridgeway in Korea, and served in Vietnam.
Ibid. MacPherson

Donald Rumsfeld might have foreseen this since he was a Navy pilot. But the rest of the lot; Cheney, Rove, Rice, and especially Bush, have known not war, nor protest, nor conscientious objection or personal loss. Yet they pursue an ideological and political war with other people's children and misuse those same courageous forces for their own ends. Bush rightly claims that the individuals who participated in this atrocity will be punished, but the lessons of Vietnam tell us that responsibility goes beyond the soldier who's finger was on the trigger. The only man convicted for the My Lai massacre was Lt. William "Rusty" Calley, who served about half of his seven year sentence confined to his own quarters until a chorus of hawks and conservatives persuaded a pardon out of Richard Nixon. This investigation needs to go straight up the chain of command and place the culpability with the people who put our young men and women in this untenable position.

So, how should one feel upon hearing that this type of terrible event has happened again? After humiliation that this was done in my name, I feel sadness. I am saddened for the innocent Iraqi people who were killed and their families left to grieve them. I am saddened that our excellent troops working in impossible conditions will be tarred with the despicable acts of cruelty of a few. I am saddened for the Reservists and Guardsmen who joined the military to earn money for college or for their families, and are now on their second and third tours because our Commander in Chief doesn't have the luxury of a military draft. And I am sad for this country , involved in a war with seemingly no end, led by inexperienced and intractable "yes men" for geopolitical purposes. Surely pressure must now be applied to bring this horror to an end, because the saddest thing of all is that it never had to happen.

I have mentioned Robert McNamara's book, "In Retrospect; The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam," before. It was published in 1995. Rumsfeld, the neocons, and co-members of the Project for the New American Century were so certain in their militaristic theories that they did not even ask the advice of Bush the Smarter. So why should they consider consulting with the architect of our nation's most tragic foreign misadventure? Perhaps because McNamara, unlike Rumsfeld, assumes responsibility for his mistakes and urges others to learn from them. With Rummy, "stuff happens."

McNamara enumerates several "Lessons of Vietnam" that were the "major causes for our disaster." Some of the cogent ones are, "We misjudged then, as we have since, the geopolitical intentions of our adversaries, and we exaggerated the dangers to the United States of their actions."; "We viewed the people and their leaders in terms of our own experience. We saw in them a thirst for, and a determination to fight for, freedom and democracy. We totally misjudged the political forces within the country."; "We failed then, as we have since, to recognize the limitations of modern, high-technology military equipment...We failed as well to adapt our military tactics to the task of winning the hearts and minds of people from a totally different culture."; "We did not realize that our leaders are not omniscient. Where our own security is not directly at stake, our judgment of what is in another people's or country's best interests should be put to the test in open discussions in international forums. We do not have the God-given right to shape every nation in our own image or as we choose."; and most prescient, "We did not hold to the principle that U.S. military action, other than in response to direct threats to our own security, should be carried out only in conjunction with multinational forces fully supported by the international community." In conclusion, McNamara stated that in future "limited" wars, that "our leaders, and our people, must be prepared to cut our losses and withdraw if it appears our limited objectives cannot be achieved at acceptable risks and costs."

The risks and costs of this war are now beyond unacceptable. Only real investigations into the selling of this war can make clear how we got to this terrible place. And these investigations can only come about by individual and personal determination to create a change in the political dynamic of the United States. If we attempt to punish a handful of soldiers while the administration and higher-ups in the military washes theirs, we will miss this lesson as well, and can expect a My Lai or a Haditha again and again.

"We should strive to do things in (Ghandi's) spirit. Not to use violence in fighting for our cause, but by non-participation in anything you believe is evil."
Albert Einstein