Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Impeachment Now

As soon as the election results came in, Nancy Pelosi assured the Republicans that there would be no Democratic effort to impeach the President, thereby removing the one weapon we have that might exercise some control over this runaway train of a President. This, together with warnings from Republicans, such as the excellent Chuck Hagel, seemed to put the matter to rest.

But without impeachment what can be done to restore this Republic, and keep it from further harm to itself and the world? Nobody believes that the Democrats will remove the funding of our soldiers, so what now does George Bush have to fear? As Commander-in-Chief he can continue to execute this war with criminal incompetence until so many soldiers have been killed that he has destroyed the backbone and morale of the army, and completed the task of destroying American credibility throughout the world. He will not be up for reelection, so there will be no political accountability. He remains the Commander-in-Chief, with as much power to do harm as he ever had, and perhaps less reason to exercise caution that before. His entire career has been about diversionary tactics, shape shifting, ambushing opponents with smears, and most important, the refusal to be held accountable for his acts. What better way to distract from the war he has lost in Iraq than by starting another in Iran? If you can't shrink a catastrophe, at
the very least you can expand it into a cataclysm.

What cannot be said enough is that so many ordinary Americans understood that the war in Iraq could only lead to disaster, why then did our Republican leaders fail to do so? Because they lacked the vision and the judgment and the honesty necessary for their office. You cannot impose Democracy on another people, particularly a people who have never in their history known a democratic government. The very idea of imposing Democracy is an oxymoron. And the minute you start imposing Democracy abroad you lose it at home.

What is the impeachable offense, other than lying to America and to the world about the WMD's? First and foremost, stupidity. There is a point in which bad judgment is a crime, or as the diplomat Count Metternich said of some 19th Century misadventure, it is worse than a crime, it is a mistake. As a result of George Bush and Dick Cheney's mistake, the republic is at risk. That is what impeachment is about - removing those whose disgraceful actions have put the country in danger. It is not a vindictive act, it is the most patriotic act, to be used sparingly, only when the country has no alterative. In the coming months there will surely be enough Bush & Company mistakes exposed, coupled with evidence of the most venal corruption, sufficient for ten impeachments. All we need is one. It must happen or there will be no accountability, and without accountability, no correction of the course. Are we to accept in our leaders something we would not accept in our own children - lies, excuses, and outrageous bad behavior? If ever impeachment was necessary, this is the time. It will not tear the country apart; it will help to heal it.

Clarence Thomas, O.J Simpson, Tribalism and Me

About fifteen years ago I was visiting my sister in Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, where she was dying of leukemia. While waiting in that hospital, trying to keep my balance between false hope and real despair, I watched the Clarence Thomas hearings on television in the visitor's lounge. I was not alone.

A great many African American doctors, nurses and orderlies had assembled there to view the proceedings. As testimony by Thomas's former associate, Anita Hill exposed the Supreme Court nominee as a sexist, a hypocrite, and a liar, it seemed clear to me that he would be rejected by both the black and white public who watched the proceedings. How could anyone want to see this hack, this right-wing pompous creep with his pubic hair jokes succeed Thurgood Marshall, the great African-American jurist? It seemed impossible that the African-American community would get behind an enemy to their progress, and accept the slandering of Miss Hill as "a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty." All I could see was the Republicans using a black man to advance their social agenda to peel away the New Deal. Surely a people who had suffered as much as African Americans had, could not support such a man? It wasn't the first time I was wrong.

When Doubtful Thomas was finally voted through the committee, a great cheer rocked that TV room. The amiable African-American nurses and orderlies who were attending my sister in her last days were caught up in a raucous victory celebration for Thomas. While I saw a ruthless opportunist, they saw another black man under attack by the white world, and seemed to endorse his self-serving claim that he was experiencing a judicial lynching. We all know the outcome. Thomas is our most radical Justice, and we are stuck for a lifetime with this immutable block of judicial ice totally lacking in compassion for the poor of any color, a steadfast ally of the most reactionary forces in this country. It wasn't the first time I was right.

I don't have to tell you about the outcome of the O.J. Simpson trial. Like most white Americans I was astonished by the joyful response of the black community to the not guilty verdict for this very guilty murderer, but then I hadn't really examined my own tribal connections, and, if I had, no doubt I would have better understood the cheers, even though I could not justify them.

I was a child living in America during the Holocaust and I can never forget the horror I felt when I first saw those newsreel photographs of the murdered Jewish bodies piled up in the camps. When the state of Israel was founded, my Jewish family saw Israel as the last chance for the world to right the monstrous historic wrongs against the Jewish people by providing them with a safe homeland. As a boy I cheered the beleaguered Israelis as they triumphed over their Arab adversaries in battle. Israel had proven that Jews knew how to fight, and better yet, they knew how to win. I took pride in what the Israeli's had made of their country, not just by creating a democracy; fractious and alive as any democracy should be, and despite its orthodox fundamentalists introducing modernity to the Middle East, modernity not just in architecture and in agriculture but in civil liberties, free elections, and women's rights. Slowly, over time, my cheering diminished.

During the last Israeli incursion into Lebanon, as the civilian casualties mounted, I felt a deep concern for the hapless Lebanese people caught in the crossfire of yet another senseless war, and for the endangered Israelis where every win was now another loss. Once the bloodshed began the cry of "He started it!" seemed a dumb, childish, playground excuse that solved nothing. What mattered was the suffering and the hellish punishment of innocent peoples by tanks, or suicide bombers. Although I worried about the Israelis, and I suppose I always will, I thought I had finally gotten beyond my own parochial passions, that I was able to give equal value to the humanity of all the combatants in the Middle East, including the Palestinians. And yet...and yet...during a trip to London, I came upon a peace rally in Trafalgar Square, where a huge crowd of protestors were demonstrating against the Iraq war. I felt solidarity with the protestors until I saw the many anti-Israeli signs decrying the "Zionist" murderers, with anti-Semitic slogans and cartoons worthy of Joseph Streicher's "Der Sturmer." One look and suddenly I was a Jew again, alone, cut off from those who allegedly espoused the same anti-war cause that I embraced. Life is tricky that way.

I have never before written about the Arab-Israeli conflict because I recognize the tribalism within me. Like those who cheered O.J. and Clarence Thomas, it is driven by the hurts of the past, and this will always be so until we recognize our common humanity and not just our tribal roots. In the seventies and eighties finding one's roots was the way to overcome the negative stereotypes that many minorities faced and often internalized. But in my mind finding one's roots was a beginning, and not an ending. I am not asking that we deny our ethnicity, our unique culture, or our history, but that we first accept our common humanity. Easy to say and hard to do. It sounds as banal as the lyrics of a sixties peace song, but what choice do we have?

If I could I would declare a ban on all pride: Black Pride, Jewish Pride, Irish Pride, Scots Pride, French Pride, Muslim Pride, Italian Pride, Indian Pride, Hispanic Pride, Greek Pride, and you can throw in Women's Pride, Million Man March Pride, Gay Pride and Flag Day for good measure. You name it, I am the anti-pride man. And while I'm at it, down with all parades, with the possible exception of the Thanksgiving Day Parade, where Snoopy and the other gas balloons are inflated once a year, unlike the political and tribal gasbags who are always with us in their inflated state. It's not just that parades halt all traffic and litter the city streets; it's that they stop all thinking and litter the human mind. Group identity sounds great, often it feels great because it helps to salve our existential loneliness, but in practice it does not serve our greater goal of a world at peace. Tribalism is far too dangerous when the drum-beat can quickly become the suicide bomber or the atomic blast. Tribalism, ethnic pride, is a fuse waiting for a match. George W. Bush has lit that match in Iraq and used American tribalism as a rallying cry for his war without end. Tribalism in the twenty first century is as pernicious as global warming, far more dangerous than bird flu, and it is time for both the finger pointing and the cheering to stop. And please, please, for starters, less pride and no more parades.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

American Freak Shows: Cruise and McCain

When I was a kid we still had side-show attractions at the circus. In those politically incorrect days one was taken to see all kinds of physically deformed people - known as freaks - as a source of amusement; people who were put on display to be laughed at, to shock, frighten, and to entertain us. My squeamish folks would rush my older sister and I past these unsettling sights and get us to the main tent to watch the trapeze artists, the pretty girls riding on elephants, and the fearless, barrel-chested lion tamers. But we sneaked curious glances at the freaks nevertheless, and in one case I cried until my parent's purchased a huge brass ring from the nine foot giant who sold them to patrons for a quarter. All this came to mind as the television news filled up with the Cruise-Holmes wedding in Italy.

Who am I to question true love, but in this case, the true love seems to be more about publicity than marriage. How we Americans love a freak show. Here is Cruise, America's wild eyed couch trampoline champion, "With Katie and me and baby makes three" taking us to his blue heaven in Italy. And we go along for the ride, so desperate are we for some diversion from the cycle of bad news in Iraq. In this case the real freaks seem to be the newscasters; the very folks who are about to give us O.J. Simpson's mutli-million dollar, consequence free, televised "If I did kill them though I didn't kill them I would have killed them this way" confession on Fox, the freak show network. These are the very news people, together with their more respectable brethren, CBS, NBC, and ABC who have not shown us the real carnage of our wounded and dead troops in Iraq, or the deaths of the Iraqi population. Instead they have so confused hard news with "Entertainment Tonight" that they have seriously degraded their franchise to inform the public. Funny what makes some folks squeamish?

Forgive my digression. I meant to write about John McCain, whose anointment as the Republican Presidential candidate and possible future President seems inevitable, unless he lists so far to the right in the primary that he sinks his own boat in the election. As a New Yorker who lived through the Rudy mayoralty, I don't see Rudy winning that prize. As "America's Mayor" after 9/11 Rudy was proclaimed an American hero because unlike Bush he didn't duck for cover, but anyone examining his past and the claims made for him will find that Rudy lives in a house of cards. He did little to nothing to protect the city from terrorism prior to 9/11, and failed to provide our police and firefighters with proper equipment, despite the fact that the World Trade Center had been attacked in the past. About his other claim to fame, as superhero crime-fighter, crime was going down in the city long before Rudy appeared to shout "Shazam!" to fight the evil-doers. Worst of all, despite his pro-gay, pro-choice rhetoric, he was ready to crush our civil liberties, railing against offensive art shows and immorality while carrying on extra-marital affairs of his own; and announcing his intention to divorce his wife on television before telling her personally. Now that leaves us with John McCain, a genuine American war hero, but not without a very vulnerable past, as questionable in its own way as Rudy's, and I dare say, a bit of a freak himself.

What many have forgotten in our rush to the next news cycle, and the next freak show, is John McCain's role as one of the Keating Five; a group of Senators (alas four of the five were Democrats) who attempted to pressure an investigator into easing off on the Lincoln S&L investigation. As beneficiaries of a collective $1.3 million dollars in campaign contributions from Charles Keating Jr. the banker under investigation who ran the savings and loan, they tried to help their benefactor out of a tight situation that would eventually lead to his imprisonment. It was as crooked as any back-room deal in American politics, and McCain, the only one still with us in the Senate, was harshly criticized at that time for questionable conduct by the ethics committe investigating the matter. It is true that the senators were following the alleged status quo of campaign funding practises, but it was a highly questionable judgment on McCain's part, and one that should disqualify him from higher office if viewed in context with his entire career. So much has been made of John Murtha's ethical lapses in the past it is remarkable that McCain's dubious acts seem to be innoculated from close inspection by the newsmakers. Like Rudy, McCain is viewed as a moderate, but both these alleged Republican moderates have a deep grained streak of cruelty. McCain demonstrated his when he appeared at a Republican fundraiser in 1998, where he told this Rush Limbaugh style joke: "Question: Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly? Answer: Because her father is Janet Reno!" How the assembled Republicans roared as he humiliated an innocent child, cast sexual aspersions on the Attorney General and probably Hillary, all in the name of good old family-values politics. Of course he apologized later. They always do after the damage is done. Now in my world anyone who insults an awkward child is a freak. The lack of judgment and civility shown by that joke alone should disqualify him from seeking higher office. Chelsea Clinton has grown into a lovely young woman, but John McCain remains a flawed figure who still brings his failed judgment to this country, evidenced by his call for more troops for Iraq - a judgment that shows him as a future danger should he become our next President. And I guess when the judgment is as deformed as the judgment he has shown in the past, he is part of the great American freak show.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Winning for Dummies

It was inevitable. The think tanks are now advising us on Cspan and the other pundit pit stops that there is little that the victorious Democrats can do about the war in Iraq without throwing that country into further chaos; little that can be done about increasing the minimum wage without upsetting small business, little that can be done about the Arab-Israeli nightmare without upsetting Israel, no way we can talk to the nuclear madmen in Iran and Korea, and no way to institute economic fairness without upsetting big business, big oil, and the pharmaceutical companies. No way is their way. They are warning us that this was no Democratic victory but a Republican defeat, eager to take the air out of our electoral triumph. They are predicting failure before the new Congress is even in session, advising us that we are now mired in such a debt laden Bush created mess that there is no way out, so we must move cautiously, make incremental steps, forget about investigating the crimes of the past six years, silence our voices and hope for the best while expecting the worst. In other words, the only solution is to become the Republicans. We are now assured that even the firing of the wretched Rummy won’t do the trick. Again and again they post their “No Exit” signs. So like the characters in that Sartre play, we are stuck in our own private hell. Well, there is a way out. And we don’t have to look to the Washington punditry or a wall eyed, sneering, tobacco stained French intellectual like Sartre for the answer. We have our own beautiful Britney Spears to offer a solution, which I call “winning for dummies.”

Ms. Spears, “America’s Sweetheart” for our trashy 21st century (oh, how far we have descended from Mary Pickford to MTV) is by all accounts not the smartest young stunner to emerge from the pack, yet she showed us how to win when faced with what appeared to be an intractable problem. Not all of us can lose our extra weight and go on the David Letterman Show, as she did, but like Britney, we can opt for change by biting the bullet and making changes. She decided to rid herself of a mistake, her feckless, untalented, handsomely scruffy young husband, Kevin Federline, just as America decided to divest itself of its untalented, unscrupulous Republicans. And she did it on the very day that America filed for divorce. Yes, there will be those like Mr. Federline’s ex-girlfriend, the mother of his other children who claim, “He’s such a nice guy. He’s made some mistakes but everyone else doesn’t have the whole world pointing their finger at their mistakes.” You can imagine Laura Bush nodding in agreement. And Denny Hastert, offering a grunt that sounds a bit like an “Amen.” We change by changing, by making the bold moves that cannot undo the past, but can salvage the present for the rule of law and leave our children and grandchildren a future democracy. Yes, guys, we won. And caution is the only losing strategy for winners.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

BUSH: The Lame Hawk

Forget your lame duck President, Bush is our first lame hawk. He may have lost credibility and lost direction, as claimed by Congressman Murtha, but it would be foolish to see him after this election as powerless, chastized and tamed by the judgment of the American people. He will remain George Bush, making a false show of bipartisanship, if only to wait his moment to strike and make his kill.

A lame duck will hobble along for two years, quacking and quaking, but George Bush is an opportunistic predator, and like the American kestral, he feeds on mice and insects, keeps his talons sharp, and an eye out for the weakness of his timid prey. So unless the newly elected Dems wish to become the meal of this predator, they cannot hide their views in the name of collegiality, they cannot scamper away from the big issues; removing our troops from the Iraq war, repairing the environment, or scutter away insect like from the outrageous disparities in American economic life. Like a hawk, George Bush is a social predator, he will cling to his right wing views and conservative friends, pretend to be flying above the fray, and wait for an opening to swoop down and strike the timid Democratic prey. Never has it been more important for the Democrats to act in a fearless, forthright manner, or our lame hawk will swoop down once again and make a meal of them. He may have lost the public confidence but he has kept his talons. So this is no time to celebrate the defeat of the worst President in American history. As President he keeps some enormous power intact. It's time for the Dems to go to work, and the work of this government is a clean-up greater challenge than the Katrina mess. This business of saying that the Dems should not investigate the criminal war profiteering and corruption of the Republicans - and should not investigate the origins of this war because the American people want to move on - is so much sliced baloney. You can't move on until you clean up the ground. Americans have asked for a change, and the Democrats had better find the way to do it, without hoping that this President will see the error of his ways. This hawk of ours, George Bush, will not change, cannot change, so that must always be kept in mind as the Democrats attempt to repair the great damage he has inflicted on America and the world in the past six years.