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BUSH WATCH...Charles Van Wey
Chuck Van Wey was on the editorial board of The Las Cruces Sun-News.' He was a 1991 National Endowment for the Arts fiction fellow and a longtime headline editor for bushwatch.com.' He lives in Seattle where he is' active in Democratic politics.' He bears sole responsibility for the opinions expressed here.
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Bush and Blair: Two Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Charles van WeyI took a day off from work recently to get some things done around the house, but a quick check of CNN to assure myself, given the current birth panging of freedom, that the Golden Gate Bridge or the Statue of Liberty hadn’t been laid waste while I slept, I was soon sucked back into the numbingly repetitive nightmare from which I cannot wake. Yes, I watched their press conference.
They repeated the same old lies. Blair was somewhat articulate. Bush rambled like Nixon on the tapes, only in public and sober. Let’s be clear: Any hope we might have held that Blair would finally break with the L. Ron Hubbard of freedom, are now finally, emphatically dashed. There was a kind of sweaty camaraderie between the two as they fielded questions from almost skeptical reporters this morning, Bush’s meanderings translated into fruity English by his very own Jeeves. It was the fellowship of Leopold and Loeb, partners in homicidal crime, who also were congenitally incapable of grasping the enormity of their actions.
Bush insisted that Israel must be allowed to address “the underlying problem” before the violence could stop. He added some new lies to his repertoire: The Hamas raid on the IDF post was an effort to undermine Ehud Olmert’s (very secret, apparently) negotiations with Abbas to create a Palestinian state. The rape of Lebanon is directly linked to, yes, 9/11, and a critical component in the war on evildoing.
And Blair leans forward over the podium and furrows his brow in assent.
What I found most striking was the utter indifference of these two upstanding, Christian men toward the human debris left in the wake of their policies, the unmarred smoothness of their self-assured rectitude. Most frighteningly, they see the thousands of deaths as but small change in a grand transaction between the forces of good and a righteous God. It is not at all difficult to imagine, with these two sky pilots at the controls, a region in flames, bombings, terror attacks, guerilla warfare across a continent. All beneath a banner emblazoned with a cross and the twin towers...
The “solution” concocted by Rice, et al, to insert UN hostages into the war zone where they will be slaughtered at will by both sides is just a backdoor effort to reassemble the ill-fated “coalition of the willing.” Any nation that commits its troops to this fool’s mission should be thrown out of office immediately. International forces sent in to guarantee a comprehensive, regional arrangement, a two-state arrangement and agreed upon borders on all sides might make sense. But a UN force in southern Lebanon would be viewed – accurately – as a proxy force for US/Israeli policy. If the UN has any value, it should be striving to stop the killing. Right now that means stopping Israel...
I just briefly switched over to Fox. They’re doing a town hall meeting on the topic of the end times. The busheviks have already left decency, compassion, the good sense that God gave a radish, behind. When will their savior mercifully pluck them from among us and transport them to their paradise?
Bushistotle, the New Messiah: An Interview with Satirist, Steven Hanley
By Chuck Van Wey
(The Legend of Bushistotle, History’s Greatest Philosopher-Warrior-King, by Steven Hanley, Booksurge, LLC, 2005, softcover, $15.99. Available at booksurge.com and amazon.com.)
We live in an age, alas, when no tale of conspiracy seems too farfetched, so author Steven Hanley confronts something of a challenge in his new satirical novel, The Legend of Bushistotle. He largely rises to the occasion, in a tale replete with holy mysteries, dark plots, both clerical and political (and despite a sometimes heavy-handed , but amusing treatment of Catholicism that can only reflect an unhappy parochial school experience ).
In a nutshell: Author and protagonist, Steven Hanley, responds to an apparent spam email in broken English from the “head libarian” of the Vatican Library. In short order, he finds himself down a Papist rabbit hole and responsible for translating a recently discovered manuscript in ancient Greek, describing the career of Bushistotle, warrior king. Steven is at first apprehensive that his lack of even rudimentary ancient Greek may slow down the project, but soon realizes that he is but a small cog in a vast conspiracy to falsify the document and subvert the very essence of worldwide Catholicism. We never know if Steven’s translation – with its revelations about such characters as Rumsfeldiavelli, Ashcroftus and Powellionius, and a war against Persia based on lies - bears any relation to the actual text. Our hapless protagonist soon realizes that he doesn’t care to advance the vile plan of his sponsors to elevate Bushistotle to the very highest spiritual ranks, and endeavors to get the truth out. I leave you to discover whether or not he succeeds. Author Hanley gets in some well-aimed shots here against Bush and his minions, and one can’t help but see, in the nefariousness of the Vatican’s scheme, the complicity of the mainstream media in elevating our own clown prince to undeserved heights.
Steven Hanley holds a Master’s degree in Spanish from Columbia, and has lived in London, Madrid and Singapore. His roots are in New York City. Steven was kind enough to sit down with us for an email interview.
Bush Watch: You make your feelings about the current political climate very clear in your book. Could you tell us a little about your political and writerly evolution?
Steven Hanley: My pleasure! Though politically I’m a registered Democrat I’m actually pretty middle-of-the road, and voted for Michael Bloomberg for mayor, for instance, and Rudy Giuliani, too, not to mention George the First for president (the first time, not the second), but I always thought that this President Bush was a bit of a numbskull. Something about how he says “newkular” instead of “nuclear,” and those god-awful silly grins. Then there’s Dick Cheney, who I wouldn’t even trust to cat-sit for me lest my poor pussies be sent off to some Halliburton foreign slave-labor camp, where they would – God forbid! – be forced to hunt for mice for a living, as if they’d know what a mouse was.
Writer wise, I’ve become a humorist by default, because even when I try to write something sad and heartrending everybody winds up laughing at it. If I made a conscious effort to write something funny I don’t know what would come out – it’d probably make me cry.
BW: There are a lot of laughs in Bushistotle. As citizen of the world and a New Yorker, how hard has it been for you to maintain a sense of humor during the reign of our own warrior king?
SH: First, thanks for the compliment! Second, as a Blue-State Denizen and native New Yorker – probably the last person now living in New York City who was actually born here – this has been a very depressing time for me. Very depressing. I look at what’s happening in the world and I think, “My God, what did I do to deserve this?” because I take the state of the world very personally, and I think that other people should, too.
In any case, let’s face the depressing facts: How many votes did W “win” by in the first election? I think the number was 537 out of a total of about 102,000,000 votes cast, which amounts to about .0005% of the electorate. This reminds me of what is called “Chaos Theory,” which claims that a butterfly flapping its wings in China could set off a tornado in, say, Crawford, Texas. Knowing what it is, it’s easy to see how the Chaos Theory works in the present case because those 537 “votes” (plus 5 on the Supreme Court equals 542, though God only knows what the Supreme Court was doing voting in Florida), like the proverbial butterfly’s wings, have created chaos upon the face of the earth. I mean, who would have imagined that 537 dimpled chads could lead to the invasion of Iraq?
BW: The conspiracy you describe in your book is fairly discrete and explicable, however vile. Here we are in the real world with Abramoff, NSA wiretaps, vote tampering in Florida and Ohio, and the war in Iraq, all seemingly linked in a complex web of lies and corruption. How the devil can we connect the dots... in a field of dots?
SH: It’s more like a fog of dots, or a maze of dots. This is all about power in my opinion, and in my opinion the far right is much more enamored of their power than the left, and much more willing to do anything to get it. Could you imagine a left-wing Rush Limbaugh? No way, because people on the left aren’t inclined to reduce everything to black or white, good or bad, gay or straight, or whatever. We can see nuance, but the far right can’t: it’s either/or for them. You know, you’re either for us or against us. Wait? Where did I hear that before?
So the right has turned everything into a zero-sum game – win or lose, nothing in between, no compromise. Just listen to them. Since all is either win or lose, the ends will have to justify the means, even if it means breaking with precedent, or the law. I have to admit that Bill Clinton did a real nasty with Monica Lewinsky, but the House of Representatives had already decided that perjury was not an impeachable offense when it learned that Nixon had lied on his income tax. But what do the Republicans impeach Clinton on? PERJURY! There’s also already plenty of precedent that warrant-less wiretaps of Americans are illegal, but Cheney is now proclaiming that lives have been saved because of this program. Well, anybody can make such a claim because it’s entirely improvable, but the sad part is is that it’s parroted on Fox and on talk radio as if it were really true, and PEOPLE BELIEVE IT!
The icing on the cake will be when Scooter Libby is pardoned. Then the world will truly end.
BW: You’ve spent a significant part of your life overseas. If you have contact with friends in England, Spain and Singapore, what sort of opinions are they expressing to you about our current happenstance? How did they respond to your book?
SH: Well first, everyone who’s ever read my book has loved it, including the Dominican doorman in my building. The reviews have been really good. Regarding my foreign friends – I only ever seem to date foreigners, and it always seems to end disastrously – they have opinions pretty much in line with mine.
Again I hearken back to the Chaos Theory, and how a very small number of people in the US are able to have such a chaotic effect on the world. Most people in the world – and now in the country, it happens – share my belief that it was naïve at best to think that the US could just tiptoe through the tulips right into downtown Baghdad and be welcomed as heroes. Don’t get me wrong: I fully supported invading Afghanistan and probably would have dropped a newkular bomb on them, so it’s good that I wasn’t in office at the time: I have a temper. My foreign friends supported that, too, because it made sense. But there was no way that the invasion of Iraq wasn’t going to be interpreted as yet one more Crusade; we tried the same thing in Iran in 1954 when the British (sound familiar?) and Americans returned the shah to power, and see where that got us? And now we have Hamas in Palestine, a clergy-dominated elected government in Iraq, Iran (still), and in other countries like Egypt the leading opposition parties are radical Islamists. Not to mention the fact that we still don’t have Bin Laden, and bombs are blowing up all over the place when they didn’t before.
I have my own personal theory: countries that have dictators have dictators because they’re ungovernable. As soon as they become governable, they kick the dictators out. It’s a process of cultural and political growth, and it always repeats itself. The seeds of liberal democracy in the US were sown with the Protestant Reformation and John Locke; it wasn’t until hundreds of years later that our own democracy was born, and even then we didn’t desegregate the South until the 1960’s, and look at revolt that that caused! How, then, given our own history, could we possibly expect that we could just drop into Iraq, say hi, establish a liberal democracy, then say, “Toodles, you’re on your own!” and expect it to work? No one has ever done that, and no one ever could. Martin Luther started the Protestant Reformation in about 1520. Martin Luther King marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965, and was assassinated in 1968. That’s almost 450 years from beginning to end, and we’re still working on it. How do we expect to bring liberal democracy to Iraq in a year or two when it took us 450?
Continental Europeans remember World War II like it was yesterday and they have their own religious and separatist battles going on now, and those are two main reasons why they don’t go to war so quickly, especially when the pretenses are false, as these always were. Moreover, look at the map: they live right by North Africa, and lots of Arabs and Muslims live in Spain and France and Italy. Albania and Turkey are Muslim countries. So I think that Europeans would rather get along in peace and only fight if attacked, or to prevent imminent disaster. They might want to stop Iran from building a nuclear bomb, but they wouldn’t support what I call in my book “The Bushistotle Doctrine of Preemptive Retaliation,” because it’s paranoid.
BW: I expected more anger and searching questions when I was abroad last year. But old friends and even strangers were more sad, bemused, even commiserative, as though they’d heard I had recently been diagnosed with a fatal illness. It struck me that there is a vast reservoir of friendship in other lands, a desperate hope that we will come to our senses. What degree of celebration do you expect in the places you know when we finally get shed of our warrior king?
SH: As you mention, I’ve traveled and lived all over the world, and my impression is that Americans are not, in general, disliked. Americans are actually very open. However, there is a lack of understanding about our system of government because it’s unique in the world: foreigners see these vast red swatches across the electoral map and think that George W. Bush has this tremendous electoral advantage, that most of the country supports him, when that is most definitely not the case. With the exception of Texas – Florida is sort of a Maroon State – nobody lives in the Red States, but they have an electoral advantage because the Electoral College grants votes according to the total number of members of Congress from each state. That means Alaska, with a population of about 630,000, gets 3 electoral votes, or 1 electoral vote per 210,000 people. California, on the other hand, has a population of about 34,000,000, but has 55 electoral votes, or one per every 618,000 people. Do the math: one vote in Republican Alaska is worth about three times as much as one vote in Democratic California. Is it no wonder they win? Let’s hope we start to shed the policies of our own warrior king during the midterm elections, and impeach Bush over the NSA wiretaps. The problem is, again, our Electoral College system: even though more people voted for Democratic Senate candidates in 2004 than for Republican Senate candidates, the Republicans swept the elections. This electoral skew used to work in the Democrats’ favor when the South voted Democratic, but now that they vote Republican we on the left have our work cut out for us. That’s why they put Karl Rove in charge of rebuilding New Orleans, or not rebuilding it, as the case seems to be: the last thing they want is for all the black people to move back to Louisiana, because if they don’t then the Republicans will have one more formerly-Blue-now-Red State on their side. Nonetheless, I have a bottle of champagne in my refrigerator, just waiting to be opened! I retain my faith in God!
BW: What hopes, if any, to you hold for the upcoming elections? SH: One word: Hillary!
BW: As a New York voter, how do you feel about Senator Clinton and her potential primary opponent, Jonathan Tasini? Might he be the only substantive opposition Senator Clinton will face this year? How is Spitzer doing in your estimation?
SH: I support Hillary for president, and I think she can win. I happen to know Jonathan Tasini, though not well, from when he was president of the National Writers Union and I was a member. He did good work there and won an important copyright case before the Supreme Court, but he’s a little too far left for me, and I don’t think he can win. He should try for local office first rather than making his foray into politics at the top, since he’s completely unknown, except among members and former members of the NWU. But New York City is strange in that our Republican mayor is really a lifelong Democrat, and that’s because the Democratic Party here is very far to the left. I tend to agree with them on social issues but not on economic issues because I already pay 50% of my income in tax (no lie!) and I think that’s enough. In my opinion Bill Clinton was right to adopt some Republican ideas like welfare reform because they made sense; Republicans, however, would be right to adopt some of Jonathan Tasini’s ideas like universal healthcare, because they also make sense. We need to find the middle somewhere, and that’s probably where you’ll find me. You know, ready to compromise even if I don’t really want to.
BW: What books, films and music give you heart during these terrible times for the country?
SH: Well, my favorite book right now is “The Legend of Bushistotle,” and I highly recommend that people rush right out and buy it because it’s full of wisdom and erudition care of yours truly, plus it’s really funny. Films I would say “Brokeback Mountain” because it’s got cultural relevance – W hasn’t watched it, apparently, which is one more thing in its favor – and “Good Night and Good Luck,” since it’s like dejà-vu all over again. I grew up on Engelbert Humperdinck because my mother was a big fan in the late ’60’s so maybe my taste isn’t mainstream, but I love the opera because they have such great stories behind the great music. Then, of course, I like Linkin Park, too. For real!
BW: Congratulations on your book, Steven. Is there anything new in the works? How hard does a satirist have to labor these days to surpass the absurdity that is contemporary American history?
SH: Thank you, and thank you for the opportunity for this interview. I would like to write a sequel that I’ve tentatively entitled “The Bushistotle Scrolls,” but we satirists, like writers everywhere, have our work cut out for us. Unless Oprah takes a liking to us it’s hard to get attention, though if Oprah takes a disliking to us, we’re bound to get plenty.--posted Feb. 4, 2006
Chuck Van Wey was on the editorial board of The Las Cruces Sun-News. He was a 1991 National Endowment for the Arts fiction fellow and a longtime headline editor for bushwatch.com. He lives in Seattle where he is active in Democratic politics. He bears sole responsibility for the opinions expressed here.
An interview with author and gadfly logician, Jamie Whyte
Jamie Whyte is a former lecturer of Philosophy at Cambridge University and winner of Analysis Journal's prestigious prize for the best article by a philosopher under 30. He has published numerous articles mainly on the subject of truthin academic journals. He has been a regular columnist for The Times of London and a contributor to The Guardian. He divides his time between his native New Zealand and the UK.
In Crimes Against Logic: Exposing the Bogus Arguments of Politicians, Priests, Journalists, and Other Serial Offenders (McGraw-Hill, November 2004; Hardcover, $12.95), Whyte rips apart the confused thought processes of talking heads, religious leaders, and respected journalists. He even addresses the mish-mash that may be going on in your own head. His mission is to encourage readers to seek absolute truth, and he makes the case that we don't have a right to our own opinions. Why? It's in the book.
Jamie and I recently sat down at our keyboards he in wintry New Zealand and I in autumnal Seattle (don't ask) for the following exchange.
CVW: Your most recent appearance on US bookshelves is CRIMES AGAINST LOGIC, but I believe your latest release in the UK is entitled A LOAD OF BLAIR, which appeared in time for the March elections. What were your impressions of that campaign and its outcome? To what degree is Blair's alliance with Bush on Iraq a product of logical thinking? Respect for the truth?
JW: The campaign was considered by many commentators, including me (I wrote a twice weekly column in The Times) to be the stupidest in living memory. It was almost wholly free of policy debate. Spin doctors and focus group gurus have apparently discovered that voters are not interested in policy. The Conservative Party tried to cast Blair as untrustworthy and the Labour Party tried to cast the Conservatives and especially their leader, Michael Howard as nasty, creepy people from some nightmare past. Labour's slogan was 'Forward not back' and the Conservatives was 'Are you thinking what we're thinking'. It was hard to know the answer to this question, because it wasn't terribly clear what the Conservatives were thinking.
For those of us who are interested in policy and like open debate, the election was a dismal affair. The outcome a Labour victory with a reduced majority surprised no one. The electoral boundaries are now drawn in such a way that to win a majority of seats in parliament, the Conservatives would need to win about 10% more of the national vote than Labour (Conservative electorates are more populous than Labour seats). Until this is remedied, or the Conservatives become overwhelmingly popular, Britain will continue to have a Labour government.
Blair's alliance with Bush certainly didn't help him electorally. Bush is loathed on the left but nor is he greatly loved on the right, mainly for reasons of style. He is just too cowboyish for the tastes of many traditional British conservatives. (Reagan was not liked for the same reason.) Yet the Iraq War and Blair's alliance with Bush were not very big election issues, because the Conservatives had themselves supported the decision to invade Iraq. They tried claiming that they had only supported the invasion because Blair had misled them about the threat posed by Iraq. But no one bought that line because, even with all Blair's dissembling, no one ever really believed that Iraq posed a threat to the UK. What's more, the Conservatives are congenitally incapable of voting against a plan to go to war.
As for the Iraq War and logic that is a tricky one. Certainly, the publicly made case for war was difficult to follow. The connection to 9/11, weapons of mass destruction: all that stuff was plainly bogus. But there might nonetheless have been some other agenda at work. Perhaps it was really part of a much bigger strategy for spreading democracy and thereby stability through the region. That's the new line. It is probably too soon to know if that is a sensible policy (I'm no expert on foreign policy, I'm afraid). The lack of respect for the truth, displayed by both the Bush and Blair regimes, was disturbing. Yet it isn't really surprising. Deceiving the public is an idea at the heart of the NeoCon movement. NeoCons believe that certain ideas, though false, are good for the common man. Christianity is the best example. They think it is the job of the ruling elite to perpetrate not true ideas, but ideas that serve the common good. In this respect, the NeoCons are reminiscent of the Bolsheviks and the Khmer Rouge.
CVW: We at Bush Watch are naturally hopeful that we will soon see A LOAD OF BUSH. Would a single volume suffice to contain so large a load?
JW: I suspect that A LOAD OF ... followed by any politician's name would make a book. The pressures of modern politics seem too great for talking sense. I am not going to write A LOAD OF BUSH because there have already been many books written about Bush's curious way with words and ideas. However, I am planning a book which expands the narrow focus of A LOAD OF BLAIR. It concerns politicians from around the western world and will connect their logical mistakes with real policy blunders. What makes logic important is what goes wrong in reality when it is violated.
CVW: As I was reading CRIMES, I ran across this quotation from Orwell:
"We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue... And then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield."
It seemed particularly pertinent to your book, and to the situation many Americans and Britons find themselves in vis a vis the war in Iraq. Can we morally equate the illogical belief in fairies and trolls (or Blytonism) with the outright deceit that got us into this fine mess?
JW: We cannot equate them. Being illogical is often just an honest mistake; outright deceit is not. But sloppy thinking can be culpable, in the same way that sloppy driving can be culpable. On many issues, it is important to arrive at the correct answer. When it is, you should do your best to reason properly. The religious bewilder me in this respect. They claim rightly, I think that religion is very important, potentially dictating every aspect of how you live your life. But then, having acknowledged this, they approach the topic with reasoning of a type that wouldn't (or, at least, shouldn't) get them a pass mark in a high school essay. They claim to believe in God on the basis of faith. What kind of a basis is that? Faith is just another word for wishful thinking. No one would run a business on wishful thinking. Why would they run their entire life on it? Alas, the religious can go on with Orwell's game of self-deception all their lives, because their false belief cannot 'bump into solid realityuntil they die by which time it is too late to get any benefit from the bump.
CVW: You have the good fortune, I think, of living in two countries with solidly social democratic governments (New Zealand perhaps more solid than the UK these days). Is that an accident of birth, or a matter of preference? You surely could live and work anywhere you chose.
JW: It is an accident of birth. But even if I were seeking solid social democracy, I wouldn't choose NZ or the UK. Australia, Canada and all continental European countries in the EU are more socialistic than New Zealand and the UK. Within my serious options, only the US is less socialistic than New Zealand and the UK. I am a political liberal. I favour a small role for the state in both the economy and in our private lives. Bush is illiberal, both socially and economically. Reducing tax rates isn't enough to make someone an economic liberal. An economic liberal wouldn't support agricultural subsidies and import tariffs, as Bush does. I have heard Bush's political philosophy (if that is not stretching the term too far) described as Big Government Conservatism. That is a horrifying idea for those of us whose only ground for sympathizing with conservatives was their former preference for small government.
CVW: In CRIMES you write, 'Left-wing rhetoric sounds so naive coming from a forty year old. Do act your age (and shut up).' As a person old enough to remember when fish and chips were fried in beef drippings (they were fantastic!) and who remains a leftist, I would like to ask if you think it is possible to be an adult, a lefty, and not a naif...
JW: The passage from CRIMES that you quote is not trying to suggest that it really is naÃ¯ve to be left wing when forty. It is mocking the way some people see ideology as a mere fashion accessory. Such people think left wing views don't suit forty year olds. The attitude shows no respect for the truth, since the age of the advocate is irrelevant to the truth of the idea advocated. As for your question about the possibility of being both left wing and sensible yes, of course, it is. 'Left wingcovers many only loosely connected ideas, but I suppose at essence it is a preference for collectivist government policies: tax funded healthcare and education, high levels of wealth re-distribution, and so on. Are these sensible policies? Well, that depends on matters of fact and of value. The matters of fact concern the effects of such policies. But they can't alone settle the issue, because we still need to know whether or not those effects are desirable. Consider redistribution of income. Taken beyond a certain level, it almost certainly reduces aggregate output. Taxing workers to pay non-workers makes not working more attractive and working less attractive. So the policy will diminish GDP. But it isn't necessarily a stupid policy, because the benefit to the poor might be worth this cost. If that is what a left-winger thinks, then he is not being stupid. He just thinks the welfare of the least well off is more important than average welfare. And even where people get the economics wrong, they haven't necessarily committed any crime against logic, since economics is a difficult and complicated subject where sensible people disagree.
CVW: I believe I read that you are raising a daughter. How robust an immunity has she developed to the rigors of your logic?
JW: She is only just two, so our conversations haven't yet started testing the limits of logic. They mainly involve her naming the objects she wants and my telling her to desist from the willful destruction of our home. But I am sure that when she is older and we talk about more interesting things, she will cheerfully ignore everything I have to say. At least, she will if she is anything like her mother.
--Posted July 14, 2005
Repairing The News
William Rivers Pitt puts it succinctly: The news is broken. Certainly, from my perspective and likely that of anyone reading this the news is very broken, indeed. But before we on the left can even begin to address our grievances with the current state of the media we must acknowledge that the news ain't broke at all for the folks running the show. It's functioning beautifully. The American people become more stupefied, more politically affectless, more relentlessly disconnected from their own interests, and, of course, more baselessly fearful by the day. In Bush's theo-corporate Heimat, this is a perfect state of affairs. We must surrender the notion that our media are in some sort of aberrant phase from which they can be shamed by email campaigns and sarcastic blog postings. Small victories can be achieved at the margins that way, but on the whole nothing changes. Bushophile Brian Williams gets the anchor chair at NBC, doughy nonentities like Tucker Carlson and Jonah Goldberg stay employed (at whatever it is that they do), and saucy rent boys have the run of the White House press room.
It's not a particularly new situation, although I doubt it's ever been so pronounced. Herbert Marcuse wrote about 'repressive tolerancefour decades ago and Robert Parry writes about 'managed democracy' today:
"This concept also might be called the "Putin-izing" of American politics, where one side's dominance of media, financial resources and the ability to intimidate opponents is overwhelming Ã as now exists in Russia under President Vladimir Putin. Crucial to Putin's political control is how the major Russian news media fawns over the Russian strongman, a former KGB chief."
In other words, they lie, they lie, they lie. They lie for power. They lie for oil. They lie because God and Strauss tell them that the end(time) justifies the means. They lie to avoid prosecution. They lie to confuse, intimidate and neutralize. Gone is the childlike innocence of a Lee Atwater, who threw his malice against the wall until something stuck. Now, Karl Rove, in his utter contempt and arrogance, preemptively slathers the entire wall with his own crap and dares anyone to notice. Most members of the New York and DC press corpse, fearful of losing their connections, their dinner invites, their privilege and six-figure incomes, admire Rove's wall of shit as though it were a recently discovered mural by the great Leonardo himself.
The idea of apolitical objectivity has always been a bit of a canard anyway, invented by entrepreneurial publishers after the Civil War to keep the advertisers happy. To the degree that newspapers became profitable, they became less overtly partisan. The comfortable consensus now so pleasing to the rich and powerful is more about a business strategy than it is about an impartial search for the truth, wherever that search may lead. The latter is a noble calling and there are many fine reporters and editors embarked on that dangerous path. (The World Tribune on Iraq recently "accused western corporate media of filtering and suppressing information, and of marginalizing and endangering independent journalists. More journalists were killed in a 14-month period in Iraq than in the entire Vietnam War.") The problem is structural, institutional. The current elite press corpse simply reflects those structural realities.
So, when we have liberated ourselves from the illusion that our media can be restored to some pre-existing state of honorable normalcy, where do we go? Well-heeled centrists in the pundit class and on the Hill seem quite comfy as the pot comes to a boil, even as the Bushites sprinkle Old Bay Seasoning on their complacent pates. They counsel the sleepy, bipartisan bonhomie of the Renaissance Weekend hot tub. (Think Joe 'useless-as-tits-on-a-fishBiden calling Alberto Gonzales 'ole buddy'.) These are the folks that have been feeding our lunch to the Newtoids and the Bushites for the past 15 years, and it's time they got the boot. With the increasing success of Air America and Howard Dean's recent elevation, they are at least hearing the heavy tread on the stairs. But it's not enough.
And we can't do it by ourselves. We need our own Rupert Murdoch, or make that Ruperts. We need our own cable channel, our own newspapers, and we need them soon Ã if it is not already too late. George Soros, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Sr., Paul Newman, Barbara Streisand, Michael Moore, Bono, Russell Simmons Ã you know who you are Ã why not convene and apply your brains and wealth to saving what's left our constitutional republic from the spreading darkness? By a cable channel I don't mean, for god's sake, a news channel, although the news programming and documentaries should be of the highest quality. The finest writers, artists, musicians, actors and comedians in the world are on our side, on the side of truth and justice. The entertainment on our channel would be brilliant AND popular! The ad slots would sell themselves!
On the newspaper front, Dave Lindorff over at Counterpunch had an engagingly feasible idea. Why, instead of doling out its millions to political cronies at election time, doesn't the AFL-CIO launch a daily newspaper? As Lindorff suggests, the paper could publish online at a relatively low cost initially. I would give subscriptions as a premium for membership in an Association of American Working People, which, like the AARP, would lobby for the interests of its members while offering a variety of affordable services. The editors of such a newspaper would have to avoid - like the plague - the gray boilerplate that typifies most labor publications. Give us real news, the muckiest muckraking, a take-no-prisoners editorial page, and even a little scandal and skin if that puts more butts in seats. (None of this, however, is likely to get a hearing until lame duck John Sweeney is out of the way, that is, until August.)
Yes, friends, we need a press of our own, a press as fearless in its advocacy as in its commitment to truth. No matter how much money our candidates raise on the internet, they cannot thrive in a journalistic environment in which the Swift Boat liars are canonized and CBS truth tellers get fired. Here the battle must be joined -- and soon. --posted 02.16.05
(As I post, the business press is abuzz with the news that Warren Buffet has doubled his holdings in Comcast, and George Soros has bought big-time into Time Warner, owner of Time Warner Cable, the second-largest cable provider in the country, and satellite provider Echostar. This could be huge!)
"All the leaders of groups tend to be frauds. If they were not, it would be impossible for them to retain the allegiance of their dupes..." ~H.L. Mencken
While the right's distortions, lies, scapegoating and cheating are all contemptible (and that is before we get to its actual politics), its chutzpah and determination in this respect are not. It has an agenda, and it sticks to it. It has a constituency, and it serves it. If the liberal left wants to be taken seriously, it will have to stand for more than office alone. It's time to bring back the lash. ~Gary Younge, THE GUARDIAN
"One of the advantages of the US constitution is that Bush cannot be re-elected for a third term. As the popular Israeli song goes: "We survived Pharaoh, we shall survive this, too." Perhaps this could become an anthem for the whole world."~Uri Avnery
Chuck Van Wey was on the editorial board of The Las Cruces Sun-News. He was a 1991 National Endowment for the Arts fiction fellow and a longtime headline editor for bushwatch.com. He lives in Seattle where he is active in Democratic politics.
America's Im-pyrrh-ial Nightmare
By Chuck Van Wey
"As hostilities continue in Fallujah and elsewhere, every day seems to bring news of yet another act of utter contempt for the most basic tenet of humanity." Pierre Kraehenbuhl, International Red Cross
"Residents of a village neighbouring Falluja have told Aljazeera that they helped bury the bodies of 73 women and children who were burnt to death by a US bombing attack. 'We buried them here, but we could not identify them because they were charred by the use of napalm bombs used by the Americans,said one resident of Saqlawiya." Aljazeera
So we have won in Fallujah . It's all over but the 'mopping up, which may take a few weeks or months or years. Next week we will win in Samarra, and the following week in Ramadi. Mosul and Tikrit will cry out for re-liberation before another wretched spring forces its clammy shoots up through the corpse reek and rubble. And then - Hooah! - it'll be back for another flash victory in Fallujah. The thing most asymmetric about this war is the disparity between the fulsome loftiness of declared intention and the sewerlike moral torpidity from which oozes actual Bushite ambition. Neocon democracy is indeed on the march, folks, and look at the trail of toxic slime it leaves behind.
It's not clear now who gains from these 'victories'. Increasingly, the purported victors will be the victims of their own success. The realization is slowly dawning on the corporate friends of George that, far from being the sumptuous feast Cheney promised them, Iraq is more like a toothsome mammoth trapped in a tar pit, tempting greedy predators to their doom. The head honchos, including the big Dick himself, nervously await indictment from courts foreign and domestic. Not even the desperately poor of Turkey, the Phillipines or Thailand, much less America's unemployed, are accepting the devil's bargain (and, at ten grand a month to operate a backhoe or drive a truck for Halliburton, the deal doesn't get much sweeter). There's a sensible inclination, even among the very poor, to keep one's head in immediate proximity to the shoulders. Iraq's vital fluid bleeds black into the sand from a thousand cuts instead of cheaply gassing up America's fleet of hypertrophied 'sportsvehicles. I would say nothing is going as planned if I thought anything actually had been planned.
The dead, the maimed, the alienated and embittered are only the most obvious ornaments on this poison tree. The list is too familiar by now to recount at length here: the blood betrayals of the early 90s; the sanctions that starved the innocent while Saddam lived in unencumbered luxury; the promises made but not kept to the Iraqi military for their somnolence during the 'war'; the 'permissiveenvironment created by Rummie's none-too-rosy blumenkrieg; etc., etc. Were I an Iraqi, I would release the safety on my kalashnikov whenever I heard the word 'democracy', having seen family and neighbors collateralized into tomato puree, having lived for almost two years with the day-to-day humiliation and terror of occupation. As the situation becomes even more dire, voices of moderation - the voices we so desperately want to hear - will grow fainter. Academics, politicians, trade unionists, feminists, journalists and nonfundamentalist clerics will end up dead or in exile... again. I would remind Colin Powell that once we 'brokeVietnam it pretty much stayed broken - until it broke us.
And, besides, if our geopolitical fortunes were reversed, what self-respecting American would not be an 'insurgent'?
That's a thought that must cross the minds of our folks over there as they chase phantom al Zarqawis through an ever-ramifying labyrinth of alleyways and cold trails. The more we win, the more certainly we lose. Every dead fighter is a son, a father, a husband, a brother, a clansman. Every door we kick down creates another traumatized family, another unassuagable grievance. We're as confounded in Baghdad as were the Hessians in Massachusetts. Those terrorists wouldn't fight properly either, shooting unsuspecting soldiers from ambush, often wearing civilian clothes, and sometimes even using church steeples as observation posts.
Bush's crimes have already been judged on the streets of London and Rome, Jakarta and Tokyo, and now on the blockaded avenues of Ottawa. Someday, one can hope, that judgement will be of a more formal, prosecutorial nature. Friends just returned from a recent vacation in Europe tell me that the media there did not stint in their coverage of the death and destruction visited on the once bustling city of Fallujah. Our media gives us in-bed-with dispatches from curiously pristine Zarqawi 'safe houses'. They speak of precision strikes as if there could be such a thing, and announce the daily tally of dead insurgents as if insurgents carried ID cards or wore brightly colored sashes. They never speak of the casual brutality, the demonization of the 'enemy,the desperate resort to racism. War makes such things as Abu Ghraib and the mosque shootings, the beheadings and car bombings inevitable. For this reason, the cause must rise to the enormous moral cost. Bush's war will never pass this test.
Now more than ever, it is our war, too. No longer will the people of the world indulge us in our impregnable sense of innocence as they did after 9/11. When the desperate enemies Bush has made for us manage to breach our defenses, where will be our Fallujah? Akron? Indianapolis? El Paso? To whom then will we protest? And on what grounds?
Notes from around
Broward County on the Columbia - Bush's roundheads coming soon to a town near you:
At latest count, GOP cipher Dino Rossi is ahead of Democrat Christine Gregoire by 42 votes in the Washington State governor's race. Quite sensibly, Gregoire will request a hand recount this week, just as Rossi would have done had the three dozen or so votes gone the other way. But the Rossi camp, with that unnerving faith-based sense of umbrage and entitlement so common among today's Repugs, let it be known last week that White House attorneys would "swarm" all over the state, suing every county in which a recount took place. Rossi, a sort of Ahnold minimee, is the new face of blue-state Republicans, a 'businessmanwith a short political resume and a studied knack for speaking out of both sides of his mouth. Gregoire seemed to assume that the Dem seniority system would ensconce her in the governor's mansion without too much fuss, and never really went after Rossi's curious, not to say shady, connections with the state's real estate developers. After eight years of Governor Gary Locke's ineffectual triangulation, and despite her respectable record as attorney general, Gregoire just may have taken too much for granted.
The Rossi team has since backed off somewhat, perhaps because Gregoire can't actually afford to pay, as required by law, for a statewide hand recount . Be that as it may, the most disturbing part of the story is the willingness of the GOP to threaten electoral mayhem anywhere things don't go their way. To add to our difficulties, we can expect to see Bushite flying tribunals in every state capitol over the next four years, as Rove and his junta seek to set their Christian falangist regime in concrete. The process, essential to the creation of a one-party state, is called Gleichschaltung (meaning, roughly, to make everything - and everyone - conform), a term with which the Rove family is doubtless familiar. (See below.)
Where we went wrong?
"Am I the only one here who likes both George Bush and John Kerry," asked Bill Clinton at the opening of his presidential library in Little Rock. He was about the only one, of course, and most of the GOP dignitaries seated on the platform behind him had nothing but contempt for the 'big dogwhen he was in office. Clinton's feckless effusion was sadly typical of his approach to governance. Are we really better off today for having kept the White House and lost the Congress in 1996? Just asking...
The good news...
...over the long term is that, despite the braying of the neocon intelligentsia to the contrary, America has neither the capacity nor the stomach for empire. It turns out that our power, military and financial, is all too estimable, given the tanking dollar, the debt metastasizing at every economic level, and a general lack of popular connection with the imperial project. Limbaugh is no Virgil. Coulter is no Kipling. Bush is no Alexander the Great. The Soviets were a superpower until, quite suddenly, everyone realized that they weren't...
Thanks to Mike Carleton of the Sydney Morning Herald for this quote:
"As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron." H.L. Mencken
Lest we forget (courtesy of Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman): "According to Wilson, and to Retired U.S. Navy Lt. Commander Al Martin , Rove's grandfather was Karl Heinz Roverer, the Gauleiter of Oldenburg. Roverer was Reich-Statthalter---Nazi State Party Chairman---for his region. He was also a partner and senior engineer in the Roverer Sud-Deutche Ingenieurburo A. G. engineering firm, which built the Birkenau death camp, at which tens of thousands of Jews, Gypsies, dissidents and others were slaughtered en masse."
Grandma is sleeping on a cot in the living room...
... because her Section 8 housing was privatized. She's cutting her pills in half so she can give you more money for groceries. You hope your youngest doesn't get sick again because the boss just announced that, thanks to losing his tax exemption, he won't be swinging for employee health insurance anymore. Your teenage son spends his days playing video games and says that, if he doesn't find a job soon, he's going to join up. Even if he doesn't enlist, he may get drafted before too long. The neighbor kid from across the way just got killed in the fourth battle of Fallujah. You and your spouse, who is working two part-time jobs, can hardly speak without arguing, usually about the maxed out credit cards, all five of them. Fortunately, you don't see each other that often.
But thank God those goddamn faggots can't get married and Osama bin Hussein will never again attack us with his anthrax laden, pilotless drones.
Hey, Bush voters, you made the bed we will all have to lie in for the next four years. Sweet dreams? Maybe not so much... --posted 12.08.04
Chuck Van Wey was on the editorial board of The Las Cruces Sun-News. He was a 1991 National Endowment for the Arts fiction fellow and a longtime headline editor for bushwatch.com. He lives in Seattle where he is active in Democratic politics.
Opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the author.
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