Monday, December 22, 2008

And I am telling you I'm not going

A correction: This outpost recently stated that all US attorneys would hand in their resignations as of January 20, so the new President can name replacements. We didn't know about Mary Beth Buchanan, loyal Bushie of the Western District of Pennsylvania, who is evidently unaware of this requirement. Anyway, she plans to stay. She has a lot of irons in the fire, including the prosecution and conviction of western Pennsy's Public Enemy No. 1, Tommie Chong. (I don't know what she's prosecuting him for, but I can guess.) So profound is her dedication to the law that she is prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice and -- wait for it -- work for the Obama Administration. Even though she hasn't been asked to. Will she barricade herself in her office? Can we expect gunplay? Is there a traffic-court career in her future?

This is exciting.



Brilliant. There's no other word for Barack Obama's choice of Rick Warren to deliver the traditional religious rant at next month's inauguration. It works on so many levels, I wish Machiavelli were here to chronicle a true Prince.

Apparently you can't have an inauguration without an invocation, no matter what the First Amendment says. That being the case, Obama knew exactly what he was doing when he selected Warren over "a dignified old hypocrite with no factional allegiances," as Christopher Hitchens wrote in Slate, presumably somebody of the Billy Graham stripe. Warren will not win the Democrats any votes in primitive backwaters like Kansas, but he will cancel out even more vicious bigots like Fred Phelps (think of him as Phelps with a quasi-human face). He will also subtly convey that, like the Republican Party, American Protestantism has been hijacked by end-time extremists and warped ideologues. That may be unfair, but it's going to take a lot of disproving. And Warren, with a record of dehumanizing Jews and Mormons as well as gays, is not at all interested in disproving it.

In addition, the elevation of Warren has driven a wedge between the pastor and his sheep, who are bleating all over the Christian websites that Rick is palling around with Antichrist. There was never any chance he wouldn't. When they met last summer, Senator Obama must have homed in on Rev. Warren's defining characteristic, vanity. (I know, I would have said gluttony, too. That's why I'm not about to become president. A fat guy who thinks he's disguising his superfluous chins with a shitty goatee might as well be cast as Vanity in a production of The Seven Deadly Sins.) It's hard to refuse on principle when visions of a national stage and lucrative book sales are dancing in your head. If you're an opportunist like Warren, it's impossible. It would be like turning down Oprah.

There may also be an element of personal revenge-taking here, though I wouldn't presume to read Obama's mind. Of course, there have been outraged responses from gay supporters of Obama, but where are they going to take their anger? I can't see David Geffen holding fund-raisers for Schwarzenegger, much less Sarah Palin. So Barney Frank is unhappy (as a gay man, interestingly, not as a Jew.) What is he going to do, quit the party and form a power bloc with Bernie Sanders? The Barney-and-Bernie Party? Even if they invite Joe Lieberman, they still need seven for a minyan. Obama is treating gays the way the Democratic Party has treated blacks for forty years, taking them for granted while doing as little as possible to earn their support. But maybe it isn't personal at all, just what Solozzo in The Godfather would call "una cosa di business."

Would I rather see a latter-day William Sloane Coffin or Daniel Berrigan at the lectern? Well, yes, it would be exhilirating for five minutes, but as an atheist I've fought all my life against being seduced by the "cool" clergy who say all the right things but expect you to show up, sooner or later, at their church. At the end of the day, they don't stand with us -- look what happened to Robert Drinan when the Church yanked the string. And we don't need them and their Iron Age superstitions. If the measure of a man is the enemies he makes, Barack Hussein Obama is already twenty feet tall. I'm content to have him keep this particular enemy close. I also intend no insult by invoking Machiavelli. The world is a dangerous place, made infinitely more dangerous by the antics of the Cheney-Bush regime. We need someone as brainy and devious, maybe even as ruthless, as Cesare Borgia.

I can wait until January 21.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Shoes for the dead!

Nearly eight years ago -- eight years!-- the motorcade carrying George W. Bush to his inauguration stopped for nearly ten minutes. This fact was never explained to the television audience, nor its cause (demonstrators enraged at the stolen election were throwing eggs and other materials at the cars). There was no way for the "news" media to conceal the slapstick event last week in Baghdad, since the shoe-toss was all over YouTube long before Katie and Charlie hit the airwaves. The official, Supreme-Court-certified President of the United States of America had to dodge a pair of well-worn shoes flung by a citizen of a country he may sincerely believe he liberated, a country torn by violence, hardship, homelessness, forced emigration and political chaos. Needless to say, Bush is just as oblivious as he was eight years ago. And always will be, unless something hits him hard enough to cause one of those Chump at Oxford occurrences -- you know, where Stan Laurel is transformed into an upper-class twit? Until something else hits him in the head?

Thanks in large part to the incompetence and malfeasance of the Bush regime, few Americans or Iraqis could afford to waste eggs in 2008, but used shoes are a different matter. If Muthathar al Zaidi (come on, Time magazine, this is your Person of the Year) survives his incarceration and gets them back, he could sell them on eBay for enough money to retire. They have inspired online games, a campaign to flood the White House with old shoes, and the obligatory music videos and comedy sketches. Though never worn by Fred Astaire, Rudolf Nureyev or Gregory Hines, they are the most famous men's shoes of our time.

And so the Bush projectile circle remains unbroken, and just as Marx predicted, the second time was farce. Except that there was no farcical intent in Mr. al Zaidi's act, performed in the name of Iraq's widows and orphans. We ignore that legacy at our peril, and our shame.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Whitewater: The Next Generation

Blagojevich, Blagojevich, Blagojevich...when you say a word over and over, it starts to sound like nonsense.

Not to the intrepid Washington newshounds, though. They love to say it. They say it loud and there's music playing, the sit-up-straight-and-pay-attention music that CNN uses to alert us to a breaking story about a plane crash or a missing child. It fills their heads to the point where they fail to notice that nobody is paying any attention. People in forty-nine states and even in Illinois are preoccupied with other questions, like "Where do I go to file for unemployment?" "How do food stamps work?" and "Would my family be better off if I accidentally fell asleep in the garage with the motor running?"

An apparently corrupt governor with an obvious connection to the president-elect, and both of them Democrats? Christmas has come early. Right now Barack Obama could call a press conference to announce that he's moving the White House to the moon, and the first question he took would begin, "Concerning Governor Blagojevich..." In fact, damned if it didn't happen a few minutes ago after he named his Secretary of Education, and he came as close as he ever has to telling the reporter to shut up and sit down. (Obama reminds me of the exquisitely unthreatening characters Sidney Poitier had to play for most of his career; one of these days, I hope to see him cut loose and go all Virgil Tibbs on some deserving party.) It's the guilt-by-association tactic that didn't work during the campaign, with Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers, so why would it work with Rod Blagojevich? Forget about fairness. Three months ago, when the Republican governor of Alaska was running for vice-president, did anyone ask what she knew and when she knew it about the Republican senator from Alaska then under indictment (and eventually convicted) on seven felony counts? Sarah Palin's ignorance of everything except the Bible is just about encyclopedic, but it stands to reason she must have heard something about Ted's House of Gifts. Were they afraid of making her cry? And even if Obama were dirty, is it likely the smartest man in Chicago would get on a phone he knew was tapped and have an incriminating conversation with the dumbest man in Chicago?

It can't just be the fun of saying "Blagojevich," a name few could pronounce two weeks ago. Or "Blago," or the unspeakable "B-Rod." I think it's the joy of scandal itself. Most reporters are men, and men are supposed to know stuff. They're supposed to know about cars, be able to peer under the hood and figure out what's wrong, although everyone knows you can't diagnose an automotive problem without a computer these days. They're supposed to know all about sports, to be able to name long-dead shortstops or point guards. They have to be able to discourse on why Woody Herman was better than Stan Kenton. They think nobody else can carve the turkey or grill indigestible meats outdoors, and as for sex...well, I blame Playboy . So when forced to report day after day on economic and financial matters so arcane that even the Securities and Exchange Commission can't explain them, the boys began yearning for a juicy story they could understand.

It's starting to look like Patrick Fitzgerald was a little hasty in coming to their aid. He still has no indictment, which can only come from a federal grand jury, and members of his staff wanted to wait until they had an exchange of money or at least an offer on tape. The attorney general and the legislature are trying everything they can think of to get rid of Blagojevich, who naturally is not going anywhere; when and how Illinois will get a second senator is anybody's guess. But the repetitive drone of questions, speculation and half-baked opinions will continue until something sexier comes along. And of course, the farther right you venture, the wilder grows the surmise. For example, Sean Hannity knows that Obama will cover up the governor's crimes (and by association his own) by "firing" Fitzgerald. Reality: every US attorney, and thousands of other political appointees, will resign as of January 20 so that the new President, as always, can appoint his own people; they'd do the same if John McCain had won. Is the Fox audience that stupid?

Anyway, barring another reporter with better aim and bigger shoes, we're going to get Blago'd till the spring thaw. Or until we get news media that isn't in show business, but I can't wait that long.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Country First (Just Kidding)

Half a million Americans lose their jobs every week, retail sales slump, the stock market does whatever mysterious thing it does each weekday, and everyone agrees things will only get worse. Congress could have lent the auto industry enough money to keep going for a while, but the Republicans, like a guard dog distracted by a pound of beefsteak, could not pass up a chance to savage the United Auto Workers and, by association, every other union in the country. So billions for the bonuses of Wall Street CEOs, and not one cent for Joe the Assembly Line Worker. Was anyone surprised?

The one bright spot in the economy has been post-election gun sales. Convinced that "that one" will confiscate their beloved killing machines, the gun-nut community has been snapping up weapons and ammo like Bon Jovi tickets at the Meadowlands. It has been a triumph of panic marketing by the gun industry and its lobbying arm, the National "Rifle" Association.

I guess you can see where I'm headed. We need to start an urgent rumor that the Obama Administration plans to ban the sale of private cars, especially the gas-consuming retro tanks that Americans no longer want. Of course it's ridiculous, but as with UFOs, WMDs and Christianity, there are plenty of people eager to believe in the ridiculous, or at any rate enough to keep Detroit in business.

OK readers: If all three of you will tell three others, we can get this thing off the ground by January 1. I want to see something about this at Huffington Post, if not Washington Post, before Twelfth Night. Or, seeing it's completely bogus, maybe Page Six of the New York Post. Get posting.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


As a fan of democracy and an opponent of police brutality, I am truly impressed by this week's events in Greece. People of all ages and classes have been demonstrating, sometimes violently, ever since a teenager was shot and killed by police. The two officers involved have been arrested and one has been charged with murder, but the fires burn on. In some American cities, certain mayors I could name would have given the cops medals and ordered their fellow cops to fire on the "terrorists."

In another restive republic a little farther west, Silvio Berlusconi has announced that he will use his term as president of the G8 to press for "regulation" of the Internet. I have a better idea. Let's kick Italy out of the G8 until they agree to stop electing fascists.

I wonder why some countries have longer memories than others.

Goober-natorial Follies

Right after the election, BookTV (the weekend fill-in for C-SPAN) ran a 2006 interview with Barack Obama, then just another writer hitting the road for his second book, The Audacity of Hope. A member of the audience asked, "What's it like to walk onto the floor of the Senate for the first time?" and his reply characteristically mixed humor with thoughtfulness. "They have these little desks," he said (I'm paraphrasing), "too small to work on. You open them up and people have carved their names inside, Daniel Webster, Robert Kennedy. It's a little silly, like graffiti, but it also reminds you that you're part of a continuing process." He added, "I'm like 98 out of a hundred. My constituents ask me to do things for them and I remind them that I'm just a freshman. I'm practically mopping the floor."

For the first time since 1960 we are about to have a President who will go straight from the Senate to the White House. Among other things, he obviously has a perspective that is not available to a governor. Also obviously, it takes no brains whatsoever to be a governor, and I'm not just talking about the jaw-dropping events in Illinois. I'm not suggesting that all governors are idiots, nor that all Senators are brilliant. I guess I'm saying that a doltish governor has a better shot at the presidency than a doltish Senator.

Even the most doltish Senator has to know that he or she is one member of a hundred-person body, seated behind that little desk. By contrast, the governor has a big office furnished to taste, and can usually look out the window at the domed state capitol (most of them have domes, no matter how silly they look; we love the Roman style in our civic architecture), and dream: "I'm the chief executive, the big dog in this state, but some day I'll be in the Oval Office looking at the real Capitol." Which is not necessarily a bad thing: the two Roosevelts, for instance, came out of Albany with progressive ideas which reshaped the nation for the better. Woodrow Wilson, on the other hand, allowed shrewder politicians to talk him out of most of his Fourteen Points and settled for re-drawing the map of Europe and the Middle East, creating ethnic and religious conflicts the world is still struggling to pacify. Bill Clinton wasted most of his time and political capital coping with inane scandal, and we will spend most of this century cleaning up the messes created by Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. All four of them could have profited from a term in the Senate, mopping the floor, reading the names of famous and forgotten men who sat there before them.

Which brings me to Rod Blagojevich. The mind-boggling stupidity/arrogance it took to incriminate himself on a tapped phone, within the jurisdiction of US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, reminds us that all you really need to be a perfectly competent governor is a change of clothes and a pulse. I mean, come on: Lester Maddox, Jesse "The Body" Ventura, Haley Barbour, Mike "Intelligent Design" Huckabee, Sarah Palin, does that sound like a slate of Mensa candidates? And now this guy with his Herb Tarlick hair helmet and David Mamet vocabulary -- has he forgotten that the last governor is in prison?

Despite the best efforts of the media, this can't be made into a partisan problem. George Ryan is a Republican, and Dick Durbin, a Democrat, is trying to get him a pardon (he's 74). ( Ryan's last act as governor was to commute the sentence of everyone on Illinois's death row, a gesture not likely to impress the vicious fool who once entertained his fellow evangelical Christians by imitating Karla Faye Tucker pleading for her life.) It isn't even an Illinois problem, despite the media's constantly intoning names like Dan Rostenkowski and Al Capone; cherry-pick the history of any state and you can fill a bushel basket with crooks. There's something about being a governor, what Mencken would call a "tin-pot tyrant," that brings out the dumb in sober, intelligent people.

Everyone knows about the risible fall of Eliot Spitzer, but what about his neighbor Jon Corzine? He was nearly killed while being driven at high speed on the Garden State Parkway last year, without a seatbelt. Why the rush? He had to get to Trenton to referee a meeting between Don Imus and the Rutgers Women's Basketball Team. As Patrick Fitzgerald might say, are you bleepin' kidding me? Then there was Thomas Rowland of Connecticut, who used state workers to spruce up his vacation house. What, that's against the law? The piddling bribes accepted by Spiro Agnew while governor of Maryland came back to bite him years later when he found himself saying "Nolo contendere" instead of "...faithfully execute the office of President." Personally, I think we got lucky there. And I seem to remember a few Louisiana governors who went away over the years, or should have, not to mention the one who was declared mentally incompetent.

The President-elect has come in for some sniping (a bit of it right here) for being too conciliatory and too willing to keep Republicans like Robert Gates on the payroll, but this may just be something he learned in the Senate, the Illinois legislature, and the South Side of Chicago. Let's see what January 21, 2009, brings.

Labels: ,

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Black Friday

Jdimytai Damour died last week. He was not a resident of Mumbai. He lived in Jamaica, Queens, and worked at the WalMart in Valley Stream. He was trampled to death as he tried to open the doors before dawn (after most likely stocking shelves all night) to shoppers maddened by the thought of cheap Chinese-made goods which they could exchange on the Christian holiday marking the birth of their Jewish redeemer-god. It's a small world after all.

In keeping with the whole Nativity theme, police report that a pregnant woman was also knocked down but managed to survive. Hey, that would be too ironic, right? And since the world's most profitable retailer does not provide temporary workers like Mr. Damour with health insurance, he's lucky not to be facing a long hospitalization. He couldn't afford it on his no-overtime wages. Yes, Virginia, I'm being sarcastic.

Happy fucking holidays.


Don't shoot the piano player

Could everyone please stop picking on Charlie Gibson? He's doing the best he can.

First, he's not a reporter, he's an anchor, the TV equivalent of Mr. Interlocutor in a minstrel show. He is employed by the Disney Corporation at a handsome salary, and he wants to go on being employed. As Otis B. Driftwood rhetorically asked during an earlier Depression, "How many people do you think are drawing a handsome salary these days?" He happened to be up first in the George W. Bush Farewell Interview Tour, because of all the anchors he was least likely to throw anything besides nerfballs. You don't see the Deciderissimo sitting down with Amy Goodman or Alex Cockburn, do you? This is as searching as it gets.

Second, given his subject, I think Gibson has done extremely well. When confronted with a man who proves that the unexamined life is not only worth living, it's a goddam bottomless kegger, all you have to do is ask the standard questions and then sit back and watch the fun. Ol' Charlie should get a Polk Award just for keeping a straight face. Like Carl Reiner interviewing the 2,000-year-old man, he leaves the laughter to the audience.

What will Bush miss most? The high-speed travel and the White House cookin', of course. What did you expect? Some boilerplate about serving his country or meeting interesting people? This is George W. Bush, who once said his greatest achievement as President was catching a five-pound perch in his personal lake (a triumph Roy Blount, Jr., dubbed "Fishin' Accomplished"). And eight years of war, terrorist attack, economic collapse and breathtaking incompetence, including the drowning of our principal port city? "A joyous experience," of course. Some bad stuff may have happened, but he didn't give in to gloom and depression, and besides, most of it was Clinton's fault. "I'm in the Bible every day," he assured Charlie, making it sound like he was the junior apostle recruited to replace Judas. As long as your faith is strong, apparently failure is immaterial, unless your name is Carter. Of course, Jimmy Carter has devoted his post-Presidential life to service in the old-fashioned Christian sense (Francis of Assisi rather than Joel of Osteen), and Bush thinks that's interesting, though he wouldn't be caught dead. So far, Gibson hasn't brought up issues like illegal wiretapping, torture or the disappearance of habeas corpus, and I don't expect him to. What's the point? The self-satisfied smirk would give way to the blank stare of incomprehension, and the interview would come to an abrupt end, followed by Charlie's career with the Magic Kingdom. So, Mr. President, what kind of a dancer is Madame Sarkozy? How is your Mom feeling? Who do you like in the Superbowl?

Hasn't the Bush Administration been a complete success? He got two terms, which means he's twice as important as his father. He rewarded his father's friends, who bailed him out of all his business disasters, with lavish tax cuts. He made up for that murky National Guard business by becoming a wartime president, even if it was the wrong war. He didn't vomit on anybody. Best of all, he made sure the next President would inherit a bankrupt Treasury. Who knows what Barack Obama might do about national health insurance or non-petroleum energy if he had the Clinton surplus to work with? Socialism avoided, mission accomplished.

There's no point in getting enraged and throwing stuff at the screen. "Gibson/Bush" is never going to be a Broadway play like "Frost/Nixon," but that's because David Frost and Richard Nixon sat down as serious men and worked their way toward an objective truth about a flawed but not wholly worthless Presidency. Anyway, Nixon needed money to pay his lawyers. Bush can go home and build himself a facsimile of the White House, staff the kitchen with any first-class chefs willing to live in Texas, buy a jet (if he doesn't already have one) and fish his life away. The eight years he spent in Washington, give or take a couple years' worth of vacations, will seem like a bad dream. Believe me, I know.

Labels: , , ,