On the Way to the Forum

Funny things happen. A decorated Vietnam vet tried to tell a joke, something he is not well qualified to do. Perhaps I should say something he is well qualified not to do. The lesson, I suppose, is that those with stone faces do not belong on Comedy Central, unless they make deadpan part of their shtick. There are lots of things wrong with humor, not the least of which is that it frequently contains a kernel, or a full portion, of truth. Another problem, in John Kerry's case, is that the deliberate misinterpretation of a remark by the feather merchants on the right may be too close to the truth. It's not that our troops are dumb, just that at eighteen or nineteen years of age most of them have not had the opportunity for higher education. Windbags like Rush Limbaugh, for whom mention of Vietnam caused sphincter control problems, left their medical practice serving Michael J. Fox long enough to express outrage that anyone in public life would put someone down, particularly members of the armed forces.

I saw a newscast that indicated about one fourth of the 18 to 25-year-olds serving in Iraq has at least a bachelors degree. I would like to know what number or percentage of those are officers. I would like to know what number or percentage of the killed and wounded in that fiasco had such a degree. I would like to know how many or what percentage are National Guardsmen. John Kerry might have been better off forgetting his attempt at humor and, instead, openly questioning the motives and abilities of the man who got us into this mess in the first place.

Middle-aged men who passed on the opportunity to serve in the war of their youth are not qualified to make judgments on those who did serve. Sanctimony and hypocrisy are requirements of right wing politicians, so it comes naturally to them. However, when a man like John McCain jumps into the fray, it simply shows how far he is willing to go to further his hopes for the presidency. He has tried to establish a picture of himself as an independent thinker, but his remarks this week did nothing to paint such a picture, quite the contrary.

John Kerry still has ambitions for the White House, even though his chances of getting there are not much greater than my own. One consequence of his gaffe this week may have been to convince him to give up that idea. He could have quickly apologized, finished telling the joke correctly and turned the tables on his critics. Unfortunately for him, but perhaps fortunately for the Democratic party, he has pretty well nailed the lid on the coffin of his presidential hopes. It showed me that he would still not be able to handle the swift boat liars from Texas. There are no purple hearts for shooting yourself in the foot.

I've been assured that a soft answer turneth away wrath, and I think that humor can do much the same thing, but you have to make sure that you leave them laughing. That's Show Biz.

Move Over Pearl Harbor

On December 8, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proclaimed December 7th a day that would live in infamy. I was a Junior in High School, and we listened to his speech on the radio in Spanish class. Up until now, that day has stood alone as one deserving such a description. It is no longer alone. September 11, 2001 was in the running to join it, but today's events make it pale in significance. Almost three thousand lives were lost on that day. Today, the hundreds of thousands of lives sacrificed to preserve our freedoms were thrown on history's trash heap. Today, George W. Bush signed into law the most despicable act of a despicable legislature. Today the guarantees of freedom from government abuse, which we have taken for granted throughout our history, disappeared—with the stroke of a pen. The ceremony was filled with enough sanctimony to sicken an elephant, but the damage to all of us has been done.

Until a case reaches the Supreme Court, the president or the Secretary of Defense can determine what constitutes an enemy combatant and throw away the key. You've heard the expression where the sun don't shine in a different context, but this one is really frightening. No longer is there a guarantee that you can know the charges against you, have the right to a speedy trial, or a trial at all for that matter, face your accuser, see the evidence against you, or the many rights we as Americans have enjoyed and, indeed, taken for granted. Our hopes are in the hands of one Supreme Court Associate Justice, Justice Kennedy. Four of the black robed deciders are in the president's camp. Four are usually on the side of liberty. One is a swing vote and can't be counted on, particularly in this case. He's already said it's up to the legislature and, unfortunately, that rubber stamp group has acted. October 17, 2006. Patrick Henry, where were you when we needed you?

Moral Quarrel

The arrogance of the ruling party may have finally come home to roost, leaving an opening for the Democrats to take charge of both Houses of Congress. If only one changes hands, my preference would be the Senate, because there are still two years left for Bush to mess with the Supreme Court.

If they do take over the legislature, I hope the Democrats will show some states­man­ship. Some things need to be undone if we expect a real future as a country, but such undoings must not be carried out like a vendetta, which has been part of the Repub­licans' problem. The only thing holding the disparate wings of the GOP together is their shared hatred of Bill Clinton. Homophobia is the glue that binds evangelicals to the party, greed holds the take-care-of-the-wealthy wing.

We cannot solve the national debt without more income. Tax revenue has modestly increased of late, but not nearly enough to make up for the enormous cost of the tax giveaway, and certainly not enough to pay for the war. Even the most conservative among us knows that we cannot cut government services enough to balance the budget. We need more income. This argument should be easy to understand for all who do not see themselves as welfare cases. Most Republicans believe in paying their bills, they just object to paying taxes. Perhaps we could bill them for their share of the interest on the national debt. We wouldn't call it a tax, just an interest payment.

The worst thing to have happened recently is the passage of a bill to set up military tribunals. That bill did away with the keystone of our system of jurisprudence, habeas corpus. The immediate purpose of the bill was—supposedly—for use against enemies of the state. Since anyone who disagrees with the current administration is unpatriotic, it is only a short step to labeling them traitors and terrorists.

After a charade in which four Republican Senators made a show of defending the Geneva Convention, the bill was passed that gives the president himself the power to decide what behaviors are within the parameters of that convention. It did away with most of the due process rights and built in a pardon for the president and all who work for him should they overstep the law. The battle the administration put up to defend the right to torture gives us a good idea what those parameters will be. It is my personal opinion that no legislator who voted for the bill should be allowed back into the Congress. They gave away rights that hundreds of thousands of our citizens have died to protect. It was unpatriotic and cowardly on their part.

Finally, Mr. Foley demonstrated the hypocrisy of the ruling party. It was not his homo­sexuality, nor was it his suggestive words. It was his abuse of power, pure and simple. The steps taken—or not taken—by the House leadership have simply extended that hypocrisy. It comes down to the old saying, "Those who walk on feet of clay must be careful where they stand to pray." Stay away from the street corner.

Waffling

During the 2004 presidential campaign, John Kerry was described by his opponent as being a "waffler" and a "wind surfer." Some of those descriptions may have been deserved—focus groups determined far too much of what he thought. But, there are larger and more far-reaching dimensions to the subject of waffling. The GOP was once seen as being more on the side of minorities, since the Solid South, the Southern wing of the Democratic Party, was definitely racist. Until the sixties, about the only people in the South claiming to be Republicans were Negroes, as Blacks were then identified. Republicans were and remain the party of big business and the wealthy, but because Lincoln was a Republican, Blacks considered Republicans their friends. FDR brought the Northern Blacks into the Democratic Party, but because few Southern Blacks could vote, their numbers remained inconsequential. Many, if not most of them, continued to consider themselves Republicans. Richard Nixon used the Voting Rights Act as a wedge to turn the Solid Democratic (Dixiecrat) South into the Solid Republican South. That was one easy waffle for most of them. They've remained in the Republican column ever since. In fact, they are the Republican Party there. The Blacks were politely invited out. Flip, flop.

The GOP used to be the party of fiscal responsibility. They always opposed taxes, but debt they opposed even more—government borrowing was anathema to them. The last three Republican administrations have managed to turn that argument on its head, the current one turning debt into an art form. Flip, flop.

Ronald Reagan was fond of the argument that government itself was the problem. By that he meant government was too intrusive. He may have meant that it got in the way of making money, but his argument was stated more generally. The current group wants government to know our every move, and indicates that it's unpatriotic to object. If the American government has ever been more intrusive than it is now, that fact has not been recorded in the history books. Flip, flop.

The war in Iraq began as a search for weapons of mass destruction, and then waffled into a battle for regime change. It has since waffled into a war to bring democracy to the Middle East. While our brave young soldiers die to accomplish this noble feat, the rights that have made us the envy of the world have been eroded as quickly as the would-be dictator and his lemmings in Congress could manage it. So they were right. Government is the problem. The party that once touted small government as the answer now wants unlimited power, and fear has become their weapon of mass destruction. Flip, flop.

During the fifties, the Republicans were fond of calling Democrats the war party. After the First and Second World Wars, and the Korean conflict, it sold pretty well. Korea might have been forgotten were it not for Hawkeye, Hot Lips, Radar, and M*A*S*H*. It's still going on, only the shooting has stopped. Eisenhower gets credit for that. How or why we got into Vietnam is a matter of great conjecture. It began slowly with JFK, and heated up under LBJ. Dizzy Dean might have said we just "slud" into it. In any case, it started under a Democrat, enhancing the war party theme. Nixon, a Republican, got us out of it—sort of. Since then we've had Grenada, Panama, Iraq, and, again, Iraq. All four of them under Republican presidents. Another waffle. The current occupant of the White House, a Republican, has made being the warrior president his mantra. We're supposed to feel safer now with Bush, rather than the war party, in power . How's that for a waffle? Flip. flop.

There are other issues that have flip-flopped, but one of particular importance remains. During the Sixties, while church leaders were greatly involved in the Civil Rights Movement, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell stood on the sidelines. Among the many leaders who fought the good fight, Martin Luther King, Jr. is the best known, but he was joined by Catholic priests and leaders from many Protestant churches. Now that civil laws have been enacted, and have made a difference, the Republicans, with Falwell and Robertson, have adopted the morality issue, as if the next life should be an issue for government! The sad thing is, it was the Democrats who waffled on this one.

Waffling, it appears, is a sign of weakness, but only as applied to small issues—the battles, not the war. Democrats have made a significant difference in people's lives over the last seven or eight decades, but they have failed to capitalize on their accomplishments. "It's all in the selling," as they say. It's time we took back the waffles. IHOP says it best: We need people to Come hungry. Leave happy.

Adden Dumb: A Follow-up to "The Doctored Drama"

As a remnant of the World War II generation, I deserve some leeway. Though I did nothing courageous or even productive during my time in the service, I have outlived the many who might contradict me should I involve myself in the writing of fairly tales. Those who are neither dead nor senile are probably telling lies of their own, but, despite the literary license available to me, I think I'll save that exercise for a creative writing class. Instead, I'll dwell on the home front, and compare it to the Ad­minis­tration's fairy tale version of the Iraq war.

To make the current war a credible version of World War II, as this Administration is attempting to do, we would first have to reinstate the universal draft. There were few families in the 1940s who did not have a son or daughter, niece or nephew, grandson or granddaughter in the service. Those who did not, had friends who did, so the entire nation, in one way or another, had an emotional stake in the fighting.

Lives were impacted in many ways. Imagine, if you can, being unable to replace a tire if you had a blowout, settling, if you were lucky, for a recap of reclaimed rubber. Imagine price controls and rationing. You'd need ration stamps to buy gasoline, which was in short supply for civilians. Highway speeds were reduced to stretch the supply of that precious liquid. The zipper on your fly might be replaced by buttons. High school and college sports were severely restricted, and night games were no longer allowed because of the blackout. Taxes were increased to make a down payment on the war. A twenty percent luxury tax was added to such things as jewelry. Items such as coffee, sugar, cooking oil, and cigarettes were both scarce and valuable commodities. Fresh meat, if you could find a butcher who had meat to sell, required ration stamps. High school and elementary students bought saving stamps each week that were turned in for war bonds when the proper amount had been reached. Cooks saved bacon grease for use in munitions production. Automobile factories turned out tanks, jeeps and military trucks in place of passenger cars. The airplane industry built only military planes—fighters and bombers. Children collected tinfoil to help build them. The shipbuilding industry built only merchant and warships for the Navy. Junkyard owners rose quickly on the social ladder. Civilian Defense volunteers watched for enemy planes at night, calling the authorities to report fly-overs. They were also on the lookout for lighted windows. Coastal cities and towns had blackouts for homes and automobiles. Grateful citizens gave rides to hitchhiking service personnel.

These and many other sacrifices and inconveniences brought the war home to us all. We did not consider many of them particularly restrictive—it was a time of lowered expectations. After all, we had just come through the Great Depression. Spoiled generations were yet to come. Everyone, in one way or another, was involved in the war effort. Nowadays we'd have to find other ways to sacrifice, and that's precisely why the comparison is truly a fairy tale. We have not been asked to sacrifice at all. In fact, our president has encouraged us to act as if nothing has happened. We are expected to be afraid, but that's just so we'll vote Republican. It's the current version of the bloody shirt that kept the GOP in power for decades following the Civil War. It's hard for a leader who has never had to sacrifice anything to know what to ask a nation to give up.

If this really were a modern version of World War II, we would all be well acquainted with sacrifice. It's not that we as a nation are unwilling, it's just that this war is a lot like a bad movie. There's no real plot or story line. There's no prospect of it ending with a kiss and money in the bank, as classic Hollywood once aimed for. The best that Bush can hope for is to salvage his legislative majority and to ride out the war for another two years.

Most of us no longer believe in fairy tales, so we're not looking to live happily ever after. But, we would like to start the ever after part soon. That would be close enough to a fairy tale for most of us. It would be for me.

The Doctored Drama

The Disney owned ABC network ran a mini-series recently depicting the purported lead-up to the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. I didn't watch the series, but the reviews I've read suggest that the Disney Corporation did not stray far from its history of turning fairy tales into big bucks or, in this case, propaganda.

The current administration in Washington, not to be outdone, developed a fairy tale of its own. The war in Iraq, so it seems, is World War II. The terrorists we're supposedly fighting have become goose-stepping Nazis—fascists all the way. Saddam has become Hitler and the W in Bush's name has somehow become Winston. Our president relishes this role of savior of the West. Of course, a few changes to history will have to be made if he expects all the characters and events to work.

Winston Churchill spoke English, and because of a speech impediment that made writing speeches for him a work of art, certain words had to be carefully avoided to accommodate his lisp. Something similar is being done for W. His sentences have been reduced to three word bursts followed by long pauses, and all words difficult to pronounce have been eliminated, though he still mispronounces many of them. But, more changes will have to be made if the current crisis is to match the events of the 30s and 40s.

Several characters in the drama will have to change sides and the Allies will have to attack Franco's Spain rather than Italy or Germany. Joseph Goebbels will have to change sides to provide a role for Cheney. The infallible Donald Rumsfeld can play Pope Pius XII, though the Pope did many things behind the scenes that do not fit well with Rumsfeld's record. Wolfowitz and Feith can fill the roles of Eisenhower and Montgomery with no problem, but Lord Ha Ha and Tokyo Rose will have to change sides so that Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly can fill their roles as administration apologists. Condi Rice may have to settle for the relatively minor role of Antonia Eden, necessitating a sex change. Karl Rove should be able to continue writing Dick Cheney's speeches. Numerous Democrats will be auditioned for the part of Neville Chamberlain—John Murtha, that old softie, is the leading contender. His suggestion that we implement a plan for withdrawal or re-assignment of our troops fits the Munich agreements to a T. It's true that Osama might have been cast in the role of Hitler, but his beard is far too long and, besides, he's nowhere to be found.

They needed someone to play FDR, but W insisted on playing both sides of the Atlantic. He assured the producers that the language barrier was no problem. Tony Blair will, of course, play Fala.

Osama bin Laden entered the developing hype for this fairy tale aimed at the showdown in November. Once again, using reverse psychology to keep the current group in power, he inserted a video at a critical juncture. Nothing unites like a common enemy. The crew in Washington has provided Osama with poster boys for the Ugly American, and he knows a winning strategy when he sees one.

Let us hope that this fairy tale does not come true, and that, in the spirit of true fairy tales, we all live happily ever after... at least, for a while.

Ann's Fact-Free Crockbook

Ann Coulter has figured out that as long as she sticks to politicians and political organizations she's free to say whatever she wants without worry from the courts. If she were sued for libel or slander it would only add credence to her vicious prevarications. She has a built-in readership, the political equivalent of the readers of tabloids found in grocery store checkout lines. They don't believe her either, they just wish what she says were true. It would make their hatreds understandable, perhaps even acceptable.

I've seen Ann Coulter on at least four talk shows and each time she was wearing the same inadequate black dress. It looks like the same dress she wears in the publicity shot for her latest book, Godless. I guess she thinks if she shows enough thigh and buttocks it will take the viewer's mind off her face. Also, she may hope we'll think Goddess instead of Godless when we see the book.

It occurs to me that she might be the modern equivalent of Little Orphan Annie who wore the same dress fifty or sixty years in a row. Except, of course, that Annie's dress was red.

If they chose Ann to play Dracula's wife it would only be type casting, which may explain why she seemed more relaxed on the Tonight Show than the early morning Today Show. No matter who does the interview, her face shows defensiveness and anger. I haven't seen her on Fox —I stopped watching Fox—but she's probably much more relaxed on that network. They, doubtless, consider her balanced there.

I'm not sure if her readership includes much of the religious right, but I suspect it does. The hatred I have witnessed in that group is astounding. They proudly bear the prophet's name who preached and practiced love and forgiveness, yet they end up being the worst, or among the worst, haters in our nation. (Just mention Bill Clinton.) The sad thing is they don't seem to see this as a contradiction. Ann Coulter, our most unhappy of women, continues to feed this hatred toward anything considered liberal.

The black dress may have been intended to be a burqa, one of those tent-like dresses worn by Muslim women. Her opinions seem quite suitable for one. Maybe the dressmaker did the best she could, but ran short of material. And, unlike Ann, she couldn't just make it up.