You don’t give Mrs. O’Leary a forum to bad-mouth the firefighters, or let Capt. Hazelwood criticize how they clean up the oil spill

So extreme that they even scare Al Qaeda?  OK, you’ve got my attention.

What the hell is The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and how is it able to take over major Iraqi cities apart from the luck of only encountering feeble resistance from American-trained Iraqi government forces?  I don’t know, and it’s a little unsettling to read and hear the stories of these religious extremists blowing through city after city summarily executing those who don’t worship properly—as Sunni Muslims—and setting up their own governing authority.  The Iraqi government has asked the U.S. for help and our government is thinking it over.

In the meantime, because news networks have lots and lots of air time to fill, the punditocracy has cranked into gear to do what it does best: blow hot air.  Well, that’s just fine, I suppose, but…why, why, why, in the wide wide world of sports are they asking the opinions of the men who got us into the quagmire of Iraq in the first place for their opinions on what President Obama should do now?

Sargent Iraq arson

Thanks Ben Sargent and GoComics.com

Want to read some more—try here and here and here and here and here.  But as one might imagine, some of the best remember-what-these-nutballs-said-and-did-and-what-happened-because-of-it recollection has come from Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.  (click the pic to see what I mean)

wrong about iraq

Hey, talk show bookers and assignment editors: think, just for a minute, before you make your next move.  Looking for a good summary of what happened way back when–here’s one.

The totality of the Bush administration’s failure in Iraq is stunning. It is not simply that they failed to build the liberal democracy they wanted. It’s that they ended up strengthening theocracies they feared.

And it’s not simply that they failed to find the weapons of mass destruction that they worried could one day be passed onto terrorists. It’s that a terrorist organization now controls a territory about the size of Belgium, raising the possibility that America’s invasion and occupation inadvertently trained the fighters and created the vacuum that will lead to al Qaeda’s successor organization.

And all this cost us trillions of dollars and thousands of American lives.

(UPDATE: Yes, I did change the headline once I realized the error…I figure it’s never too late to get it right–PR)

And now for some truth about today’s GOP, we go to Bob in the Heights

My friend Bob Eddy has something to say today about the current race for president of these United States, about which you may have heard a thing or two in the past year or so. He has an endorsement, and a prediction, and a link to a great story in Rolling Stone (that I’m still working on) with background on the evolution of the Republican Party over the last two generations into the enclave of selfish anti-tax extremists you see before you today. Bob…

Against my better judgment—I guess more than anything because I have a lot of reading time these days—I have been keeping up for some time now with the often humorous and desperate “Anyone but the Mormon!” reality show currently masquerading as the Republican primaries. I mean, who can resist? What a pack of fucking coconuts, every one of them. Excluding Ron Paul, who’s basically a nut with a couple of good ideas, and Huntsman, who is waaay too centrist for this rabid crowd, they’re a bunch of pathetic pledge-signing panderers beholden to the Tea Baggers and Christian right; scumbags who made their millions peddling their influence trying to portray themselves as “outsiders” and reformers—I’d have better luck trying to dress up and look like Kim Kardashian. I liked Bill Maher’s “New Rules for the New Year” featured in the [New York] Times last week – among my favorites: 

If you were a Republican in 2011, and you liked Donald Trump, and then you liked Michele Bachmann, and then you liked Rick Perry, and then you liked Herman Cain, and then you liked Newt Gingrich…you can still hate Mitt Romney, but you can’t say it’s because he’s always changing his mind.

And now you can add Rick Santorum to that list. Concerning Rick Perry:

The press must stop saying that each debate is “make or break” for Rick Perry and call them what they really are: “break.”

Even crusty curmudgeon Krauthammer at the [Washington] Post calls this one “a weak Republican field with two significantly flawed front-runners contesting an immensely important election.” Of course that was a couple of weeks ago, when everyone assumed it would be Romney vs. Newt: Yes Charlie, who will save America from that cloaked and quasi-American and his plan to turn this great nation into a socialistic Hieronymus Bosch painting, the commie love child of France and Cuba?!  In the same editorial he wraps it up with “If Obama wins, he will take the country to a place from which it will not be able to return (which is precisely his own objective for a second term).”

Wow!  Gives me shivers…

Bye-bye, Michele, you were my favorite! Sorry God’s mysterious plan for America doesn’t include you after all! And who can forget “I’m not going away!” Herman Cain…are you fucking kidding me? Oh yes you are, Herman, your little five minutes on stage are mercifully over. Poor Herman, the misunderstood Jimmy Stewart of the pizza business. Yes, after shuffle dancing around the harassment accusations, he then had to admit to a 13-year relationship with an Atlanta businesswoman that included him giving her monthly cash installments—but all in benevolent innocence of course, strictly friends. A friend his wife knew nothing about. You know, like George [Bailey], when he gives the town floozy some cash to go start a new life outside of Bedford Falls in “It’s a Wonderful Life!”

So anyways, with the remaining bag of nuts now taking off the gloves and heading to New Hampshire for another family cage match, the media has been dogging my phone for weeks asking if I’m ready to go on record endorsing a candidate! And my Tweeter is down!! So I’ve chosen tonight to officially give my full support to the incumbent, President O. To quote Thomas Friedman in a recent editorial, “I still don’t want my money back.” Not only that, my money says he will soundly beat any one of these weak challengers. Sorry, they just didn’t/couldn’t come up with a serious contender. Poor Mitt—will he once again face the shame and embarrassment of his party’s rejection? I see grandpa McCain has thrown him a bone of support, as if anyone gives a dry fart what he thinks—the man who gave us Sarah Palin. Dan Quayle is also for Mitt—take that Newt, IN YOUR FACE!

The nation is still recovering from a crushing recession that sent unemployment hovering above nine percent for two straight years. The president, mindful of soaring deficits, is pushing bold action to shore up the nation’s balance sheet. Cloaking himself in the language of class warfare, he calls on a hostile Congress to end wasteful tax breaks for the rich. “We’re going to close the unproductive tax loopholes that allow some of the truly wealthy to avoid paying their fair share,” he thunders to a crowd in Georgia. Such tax loopholes, he adds, “sometimes made it possible for millionaires to pay nothing, while a bus driver was paying 10 percent of his salary – and that’s crazy.”

Preacherlike, the president draws the crowd into a call-and-response. “Do you think the millionaire ought to pay more in taxes than the bus driver,” he demands, “or less?”

The crowd, sounding every bit like the protesters from Occupy Wall Street, roars back: “MORE!”

The year was 1985. The president was Ronald Wilson Reagan.

That’s the opening from an excellent and fascinating piece in a recent Rolling Stone (by Tim Dickinson), entitled “How the GOP Became the Party of the Rich.” I mean no offense to those who vote and stand for the Grand Old Party, but sometimes I wonder if a lot of them really know what they’re voting for these days. It’s quite an extensive and in-depth look at the party today, and its evolution over the last 25 years. What’s most surprising is it’s filled with quotes from top level economic movers, shakers, and advisors of past Republican administrations that, frankly, barely recognize what their party has become. Reagan budget director David Stockman goes on record saying “The party has totally abdicated its job in our democracy, which is to act as the guardian of fiscal discipline and responsibility. They’re on an anti-tax jihad—one that benefits the prosperous.” Bruce Bartlett, an architect of the 1981 Reagan tax cuts says “Taxes are ridiculously low! And yet the mantra of the Republican party is tax cuts raise growth…so where’s the fucking growth?”

George Voinovich, former GOP senator from Ohio, when discussing the debt ceiling standoff of last year, likened his party’s new guard to arsonists whose attitude is “We’re going to get what we want or the country can go to hell.” Even economist Glenn Hubbard, designer of the Bush tax cuts, tells Rolling Stone there should have been a revenue contribution to the debt ceiling deal, “structured to fall mainly on the well-to-do.”

Alan Simpson, former senator and personal friend of the Gipper, says Reagan recognized raising taxes as a necessary and effective tool to bring down unwieldy deficits and wasn’t afraid to do so—he “raised taxes eleven times in eight years!” Yes, the Moses of the Republican party, the man who’s name and image is a virtual icon, only hearkened to with reverence and adulation.

Republicans have responded to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression by slashing inheritance taxes, extending the Bush tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, and endorsing a tax amnesty for big corporations that have hidden billions in profits in offshore tax havens. They also wrecked the nation’s credit rating by rejecting a debt-ceiling deal that would have slashed future deficits by $4 trillion – simply because one-quarter of the money would have come from closing tax loopholes on the rich.

How did this all start? With a smarmy little Harvard-educated Chamber of Commerce staffer and sphincter-licker named Grover Norquist, who began the hijacking of the Republican Party back in 1985 when Reagan made him point man for a pressure group called Americans for Tax Reform.

But it’s a long story, I’ve said my piece. I’ll close with something from one of the lucky few presidents who got to actually preside over a government that ran in the black—and get a hummer in the Oval Office from a hot young intern. The article mentions that a decade ago [Bill] Clinton warned the Republican tax cuts would return America to a period of “deficit upon deficit” that culminated in “the worst recession since the Great Depression.”

Obama is going to win because he will successfully make the case that his opponent’s party stands for obstructionism and the demise of the middle class. And it won’t be that hard.

Go Texans!

You wouldn’t mind if we just arrested you a little bit, would you, since you look like you might hate America?

Did you ever run across something that’s so bizarre, so out there, so freakin’ weird, that you think you must have heard it or read it wrong?  I did recently, when I read the story that the Congress of These United States was ready to pass a law making it perfectly legal for the government to use the Army to arrest American citizens here in America and hold them in custody, indefinitely, without charges or trial, if in the government’s wisdom that person was a terrorist threat.

Wait, what?

Yes.  Apparently still shivering with fear over the possibility of another September 11-type attack, Congress was ready to pass an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would authorize the use of the military as a domestic police force and give clearance to arrest and detain citizens on the mere suspicion of terrorist complicity; there would be no messy and time-consuming need for formal charges to be filed, or for due process or habeas corpus to be respected.  Congress seemed confident that the American sheeple either wouldn’t notice or were so scared of terrorists that they would happily line up to trade in some of their Constitutionally-protected liberties for an unkeepable promise of safety in the future and the warm confidence that comes from thoughtlessly submitting to government authority over their lives.

(When, please, are we going to stop being scared of terrorists?  I’m not saying we should ignore threats, or even that we should demand to keep our shoes on at the airport, but living our lives in quaking fear of possible terrorism isn’t much different from looking over your shoulder all day every day just in case there’s a tornado following you.)

But Congress didn’t pass that law, because enough people saw what was coming and made enough noise to shame the members into backing off.  They approved an additional amendment that specifically disallows the arresting-American-citizens-here-in-America-without-charges part.

What in the wide, wide world of sports were they thinking?  Seriously: what drives the thought process of supposedly mature and rational adults to think it’d be OK to do this, even though the Constitution expressly forbids using the military as a domestic police force and forbids indefinite detention without charges?

One of the richly ironic results of this misadventure is that it caused political enemies and philosophical opposites to unite: the “Say what?” reaction came from liberals and conservatives and moderates, who all recognized a ham-handed attempt to take a big bite out of the personal liberties that America promises to all of its citizens.  And they rose together—as Americans—to emulate Buckley and yell “Stop!”.

The lesson?  Keep your eyes and your ears open, because someone will try something like this again; they always do.  It’s up to us—all of us—to see that they don’t get away with it.

OK, now that you’ve eaten all your vegetables, here’s dessert:

3338df600dac012f2fc600163e41dd5b Thanks to Tom the Dancing Bug and his friend Ruben Bolling.

Reflecting on September 11: a call to our better angels

In the entry hallway at our house we have a framed picture of the night skyline of Lower Manhattan as seen from New Jersey, the twinkling twin towers of the World Trade Center the focal point.  The caption under the photo reads, “We’ll never forget.”  Not forget what happened that day?  That’s the easy part.

That morning I was at my desk at work with the television tuned to CNN, trying to concentrate on the newspaper, when I became barely conscious of talk about a plane hitting one of the towers.  They got my attention when I saw the video of smoke coming from the north tower and heard the anchor talking to someone who said he saw a passenger jet hit the building.  That’s ridiculous, I thought: those planes would never accidentally hit a downtown building, and you could see on TV that the sky was a clear, brilliant blue…must have been a small private plane or something.  My office mate walked in and I brought him up to date on what they were saying, then we sat and watched…and saw a passenger plane come into the frame and slam into the other building!  My first thought: this is not an accident.  (Firm grasp of the obvious, eh?)

I didn’t move from the TV.  Another plane hit the Pentagon.  I watched the towers collapse, fascinated at how they seemed to accordion down on themselves, and not believing the size of the dust cloud they sent up.  Then we were all sent home from our government office in Houston because no one knew what might be the next target.  I sat in front of my television at home the rest of the day trying to get it all straight in my head—what do we know, as opposed to what we think we know—as I had done sitting at a microphone in a radio studio in Houston more than 15 years earlier, on the day space shuttle Challenger blew up.

In the next few weeks we learned that the hijackers who died along with almost 3,000 innocent victims on September 11 were connected to a global terrorist network called Al Qaeda, founded by Saudi-born Osama bin Laden, and which was implicated in prior attacks on American targets around the world.  Apparently, Al Qaeda was attacking those it saw as enemies of its fundamentalist interpretation of Islam.  Before the end of the year, President Bush sent American troops to Afghanistan to get bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders and their protectors within the Taliban.  We’ve been at war ever since.

Not just an impossible to quantify war on “terrorism,” which is really more a tactic than an enemy, but an actual boots-on-the-ground bullets-in-the-air war, and there’s still no end in sight.  One big reason, I believe, is that “we” aren’t at war.  Our armed forces are at war, and so are their loved ones, but when have the rest of us felt like we were at war?  There haven’t been any shortages of goods, damn few protests, and no tax increases to pay for a war.  Absent any kind of personal connection it’s not surprising that many Americans find it hard to remember that “we” have been fighting war constantly since late 2001—and for much of that time, two wars.  We have come to think of it, when we think of it at all, as a perfectly normal situation; for many of our soldiers, sailors and Marines, being in a shooting war is all they know professionally, and what their spouses and kids assume to be a normal life.

We went to war in Afghanistan to get the people who attacked us on September 11.  We finally killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan this year, but there’s no sign of an end to our presence in Afghanistan.  We went to war in Iraq to…go ahead, you fill in the blank, but we know it wasn’t to get Al Qaeda, since they weren’t there, or to stop Saddam Hussein from using his weapons of mass destruction, which also weren’t there.  Ironically, the war we chose to fight in Iraq only strengthened our enemy there, if it didn’t actually create an enemy where he didn’t previously exist.  Last month, some eight and a half years after that war began, was the first month that there were no American casualties in Iraq.

The attacks of September 11 were a shot to the solar plexus of the American people.  In the immediate aftermath we did what Americans do after a surprise attack, whether from a mortal enemy or from Mother Nature: everyday men and women responded heroically in the face of the crisis, then we all took care of those who needed to be taken care of.  We opened our hearts and our purses without complaint or even a second thought, and helped each other through until the shock wore off, then turned our attention to those who attacked us.

Unfortunately, we didn’t see the second surprise attack, the one launched by cynical politicians and government functionaries who took advantage of our fear and anxiety.  The news media, shamefully fearful of even being accused of being less than loyal patriots, stood by and let officials get away with murder, in the figurative if not the literal sense.  We let our fear overpower “the better angels of our nature” and spent parts of the next ten years squandering our time, our treasure and our good karma.

We crawled all over each other with demonstrations of the trappings of patriotism as if that was all that was required to be a patriot, as if claiming allegiance to America’s ideals was just as good as living up to those ideals when it really matters.

We let natural wariness in unusual circumstances turn into fear of The Other.  We treated Americans who are Muslim, and those who came here from the Middle East and southern Asia, as though they were in the cockpits of those planes in spirit that day.  People whose only sin was that they practice a particular religion—including those in the peaceful mainstream of that religion, not in the violent, radical extreme—or trace their heritage to a particular part of the world weren’t given the benefit of any doubt but that they were enemies of America.  How much time have we wasted on things like trying to ban shariah law, or trying to stop Muslims from building mosques where some loudmouth decided it’s not appropriate?

How is it that we really spent breath fighting with each other over whether it’s all right to torture prisoners, or just OK to secretly send them to friendly countries where they do the torturing for us?  Were we napping when the government enacted Patriot Acts at the expense of our own civil liberties?  Why did we devote our time and energy to a blue ribbon investigation into ways we could better protect ourselves in the future, and then not implement the recommendations?

How did we sit still for the manipulators who used this attack on our country to whip up sympathy for a war against a country (and its people) that had nothing to do with that attack, with the result that a larger number of Americans have died in that needless war—Americans who bravely, selflessly volunteered to protect the rest of us—than died in the original attack?  And that’s to say nothing of the cost in dollars, and the resulting impact that has had on our national economy and well being.

Back then, I thought that a few months after the attacks, when the shock subsided, we’d regain our perspective, but it seems that I was thinking about a different America, one which perhaps only ever existed in dreams: one where we followed the rules we set for ourselves, even when we were frightened; where people who hijack our airplanes and use them to kill thousands of our fellow Americans have the right to a fair and public trial; where, when crazy people who claim to adhere to the tenets of one of the world’s great religions but are in fact an extremist group led by a delusional maniac with a messiah complex attack our cities and our government institutions, we don’t ignore facts and logic to leap to the conclusion that every person in the world who practices that religion is part of a plot to get us.

Today we have the chance to do better, and I believe we can.  We can work to put aside our fear and get over the juvenile impulse to attack anyone different from ourselves.  Let’s choose to deal with people based on who they really are and what they really do, rather than relying on our fevered imaginations to do our thinking for us.  Let’s start, for example, by recognizing the difference between Al Qaeda and Al Jazeera, or the difference between a community center and a terrorist training camp.

Not forgetting the events of September 11, 2001—that’s the easy part.  If we don’t do the hard part, and act like the people we pride ourselves on being, then the terrorists have already won.

Towers 002

Trump Treats Palin to Pizza Party, Sparks Stewart’s Riotous Rip

I’ve resisted the occasional urge to write something about the pretend politicians Sarah Palin and Donald Trump because I don’t think they’re worth the ink, so to speak.  Now, maybe I’m just ignoring reality and pretending that life is the way I wish it were, but in the grand scheme of things what do these people add to the constructive dialogue of American civic life?

Why give them the attention they’re screaming for?

Donald Trump was never running for president, he was promoting his television show…which exists only to promote him.  Self-promotion isn’t the worst thing in the world, I grant you, but it’s not especially attractive.  Sarah Palin?  Well, it’s not her fault John McCain chose her as his running mate, and she’s not the first (or last) ignorant self-involved demagogue to come down the pike.  That these two enjoy a certain popularity with self-described conservatives is owed more to the fact that they are not Barack Obama than it is to anything either of them stands for or has ever done.  And the fact that we hear so much about them is more evidence of the ongoing betrayal of the public interest that David Shaw identified as “the four horsemen of the journalistic apocalypse: superficiality, sensationalism, preoccupation with celebrity, and obsession with the bottom line.”

But today I can’t resist, because Palin and Trump were the jumping-off point for a(n) hilarious Jon Stewart rant in defense of New York pizza!

Trump Palin Stewart pizza