Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Adios, Bush

Well, we're both off in different directions, Bush. You, today, to India. Myself, tomorrow, to Mexico City. I fear we'll neither of us have much time for this journal. No idea what kind of online access I'll have while I'm away. I do know our hotel has a business center; what I don't know is whether there will be time for me to use it. We have a very full schedule for our few days in the city, and will be on the road from morning until night. So it may well be that you don't hear from me again until next Monday.

One thing to note before I leave: I heard the results of a New York Times/CBS poll last night, and the news for you was not good, Bush. Not at all good. Did any of your staffers have the balls to let you know that your approval ratings had dropped to the lowest ever? Not undeservedly, I have to say. Also in the New York Times a fascinating Nicholas D. Kristof column reporting on the opinion of troops on the ground in Iraq. Your people have been putting out the story for months now that it's only the evil media who don't support your war and undermine the noble efforts of the troops. Now we discover that the troops themselves are overwhelmingly opposed to our continuing presence there. A mere 23 percent of them support your "stay the course" policy. A whopping 72 percent believe we should leave within a year, and a significant 29 percent that we should pull out immediately. A different story, Bush, I think you'll agree, from the one wih which you and your Rumsfeld have been regaling us.

Anyway, listen, enough from me for now. The week ahead is clouded in uncertainty. We'll see what each day brings in terms of opportunity as well as urgency. As of this moment, I suspect you might not hear from me again before Monday--the day after the Oscars! See you then.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

A Smile, a Chuckle

Something to bring a smile to your face, I hope, Bush, as Iraq continues to spiral toward civil war and your Republicans rebel;

Viagra Dream

I find myself at this gathering,

a weekend of free love, perhaps,

standing in line with many other

couples,none of whom I know.

I am with a woman of great beauty,

who is not--I blush to say--my wife;

and I realize suddenly that this woman

may have expectations that I am unable,

in a state of high anticipatory nerves,

to adequately fulfill. It may be

that I need, well, pharmaceutical

assistance. In view of which,

I excuse myself momentarily

to fetch a handful of those

little blue pills from my wash bag

in the bathroom. When I open up

the bottle, though, it spills

its rattling contents to the floor.

I am amazed. I had not thought

to have so many, hundreds of them,

scattered on the carpet. I stoop

to pick them up, but they have now

broken up for no apparent reason

into small pieces, and the dog

comes dashing up to grab a share.

Fearful of what a small dog

might look like on Viagra,

I fend him off, scrabbling around

in the attempt to gather up

the pieces. But now the carpet

has transmuted into a fine dust

and the pills disintegrate

before my eyes into white powder,

impossible to hold between my fingers.

Meantime, in this desperate situation,

I seem to have forgotten all about

the beautiful woman waiting for me.

It was, I tell myself in consolation,

meant to happen. At least my wife

will be spared unsettling news.

I'm off this morning to staff one of those men's weekends we have spoken about, Bush. Wish you could join me. It's a great experience. See you Monday.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Deal

I have to admit, Bush, that it warms the cockles of this cynical old heart to see how the leadership of the Republicans in both houses of Congress have finally found the gumption to disagree with you on something. The oddest thing of all is that I part-way agree with you myself! I mean, after a full decade of globalization in the shipping industry, this seems like an illogical moment to start agonizing over security. That barn door was left open quite some time ago, and the horse is long gone. As I understand it, a mere 5 percent of shipping containers entering the country is subject to examination, and the U.S. Customs are entrusted with that responsibility--not the ports' owners. In any event, if I understand it right, U.S. business interests own only a single one of the 24 major ports throughout the world. The rest are already owned by foreign companies--hardly a situtation that fosters the kind of vigilance your critics on this issue seem to want.

Still, the prospect of your using the first veto in five years in defense of what's basically a profitable business deal does seem deliciously ironic. No veto when it comes to over-the-top deficits and the sound financial footing of this country. No veto when it comes to serving the interests of the American people. But a big veto threat to help ram a corporate take-over by an Arab company down our collective throats. You find yourself in a strange position, granted. The Arab world will unquestionably be up in arms (again!) if they see this country attempting to discriminate once more against one of their number. I'm sure you'd like to scratch an Arab back, Bush--and for very obvious reasons. But you built yourself another trap here: to allow the Congress to put the kibosh on this deal would be a slap in the face of the few (possible) friends we have left in that part of the world, and further bait for those who already wish us harm. It would be, as you so nicely put it, Bush, "a terrible signal to friends around the world." At least those few friends we have left.

But is the United Arab Emirates just another Arab country, a friend, as you'd have us believe? Or does it share, in Senator Chuck Schumer's words, "a significant nexus with terrorists?" If so, of course, you're in danger of being seen as aiding and abetting those very people against whom you're waging your continuing "war"--an irrestible opening for political attacks, against which your Republicans would have to defend themselves in an election year. Their current opposition to the deal is surely no more than a pre-emptive action to save their political skins. So where, I wonder, did they learn about pre-emption being the better part of valor?

All in all, it's another fine mess for you to have to deal with--and once again one of your own making, Bush. You were seemingly out of touch enough to be uninformed on an issue that could so obviously bring you grief. Apparently your functionaries rubber-stamped the deal without stopping to think that it might be important to discuss the possible consequences with you, or for you to discuss the matter with your allies in the Congress--let alone your opponents. Me, I'm just waiting for the other shoe to drop. The one in the Middle East, if opposition to the deal here at home is perceived as the insult they will likely take it to be. And as I say, I'm not sorry to see the Democrats get hold of another useful piece of ammunition.

Complete Shock

I went into a total panic this morning, Bush. I clicked on our blog, and... nothing happened. Nothing! The whole thing had vanished from the blogosphere. I had an entry all ready to go, and couldn't post it. Maybe later... In the meantime, I was pretty much convinced that you'd had your people do the dirty on me. Turned out, I slandered you--at least in my heart--but it took me a couple of hours to work my way back in. Well, miracle of electronic miracles, here I am. Back again! But I've squandered my time this morning, Bush. Got to get going on other things. More later, I hope. Or failing that, tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Cruel, Unusual

In the news today, Bush: California screwing around with the execution date of Michael Morales, convicted killer and rapist, who was scheduled to die by lethal injection at 12:01 am today. According to the Los Angeles Times report, the warden was "not at a level of comfort" with the training of two anesthesiologists who had been roped in to monitor the proceedings. Of course, we wouldn't want the warden to be uncomfortable, would we? Besides, it's a wonder that they had found two doctors in the first place. Isn't it against the medical code of ethics to participate in the taking of life? There were a couple of letters to that effect from fellow physicians in yesterday's paper. Perhaps they made an impression: the NBC "news" on the Today Show said that the anesthesioligists in question had withdrawn on ethical grounds. Hmmm... More, I suppose, to learn about this.

Meantime, Bush, on a less somber note, good news: I will be brief this morning, because I'll be working on the electronic galleys of our book, "The Bush Diaries", which reached me yesterday. I'm excited. Hope you are too. And better still, you're off the hook with me for the rest of the day. Best of everything!

Monday, February 20, 2006

Menschlichkeit (or menschliness)?

After Friday's rant, Bush, you won't be surprised that I took a couple of days off. I needed some time away from all this madness, to take a good, deep breath of sanity and reason, and enjoy the view of Hollywood in rain and sunshine, both, from our new home. I didn't manage to quite fully escape, however. I was ill-advised enough to watch your Frist on a Sunday morning talk show.

What is it exactly about you guys? There's a quality you seem to share in common. I was interested in Paul Krugman's column in today's New York Times, because he tried to put his finger on that quality and had to define it as a negative, a "mensch gap". What's a "mensch", you may be asking? As a fellow goy, Bush, I understand that you might need some explanation. A mensch, as Krugman puts it, is "an upstanding person who takes responsibility for his actions." In his column, he took a look at your Cheney, your Rumsfeld, your Chertoff, your Leavitt--not to mention your good self--as examples of men who notably failed to take responsibility for their actions, with very specific, very egregious examples in each case to back him up. There are others, many of them, as we know, but these sufficed to make his argument.

Now comes your Frist, on Sunday morning, as if to prove in advance the point that Krugman made today. Asked about the Cheney incident, he attributed the blame not to Cheney, for having made the shot, nor the subsequent knee-jerk effort to blanket the whole episode in the usual secrecy, but to unnamed subversives who turned it unfairly into "partisan politics." Can you imagine, Bush? I mean, I understand that "partisan politics" is one of those coded phrases used in your administration to deflect any and all criticism, but this was taking it a little beyond the sphere of simple reason. It sounded like what it was, an empty phrase, devoid of meaning or applicability. And then, Bush, then--as though he had learned nothing from the ridicule that followed his long-distance medical diagnosis of the hapless Terri Schiavo--he presumed to make a medical assessment of the health of your Cheney's vitim, Harry Whittingon.

Okay, enough of the Cheney farce. I agree. Back to serious business. One of Frist's questioners was interested to know "what went wrong" with the implementation of your much touted new program to address the cost of drugs. It has not been hard to detect certain problems in its implementation, with thousands of sick and elderly confused by the befuddling multiplicity of plans, and many simply unable to get the medicines they needed--and with states forced to step in to resolve the worst of the emergency situations that resulted. The question was a clear and a direct one. And, I thought, a fair one.

Can you believe, then, that your Frist was unable to concede for one moment that there had been a problem, let alone to answer the question, "What went wrong?" His answer was pure "partisan politics": nothing, apparently, went wrong at all. The program was an unalloyed success. Thousands of people could now get the drugs they needed at affordable prices. No mention that the law expressly prohibits the negotiation of prices. No mention of the windfall profits for the insurance and the pharmaceutical industries. No mention of the chaos, the fear, the grotesque disparities in costs. Everything, thanks to your power play in shoving this absurd piece of legislation down the throats of the American public, everything about the program, in Frist's view, was hunky-dory.

This is exactly, as I see it, what Krugman was talking about. All evidence to the contrary, there were no mistakes. How could there be? Oh, in any big new government program, the argument goes, there are bound to be minor glitches here and there. Nothing serious, though. So in the chaos that followed the implementation of your drugs act, no one was responsible, no one was held accountable. It was all, I guess, one "heck of a job."

I've been trying to think of the right word to describe your Frist's appearance. The best I've been able to come up with is "mendacious." I like the sound of it, and it says what I mean. So look that one up in your Webster's, Bush. (By the way, in checking the word in my OED--yes, Bush, I still cling to my old English sources!--I first opened the tome to this delightful term: nestle-cock. I had no idea what a nestle-cock was until this moment. It's apparently "The last-hatched bird, or weakling of a brood; hence, a mother's pet; a spoilt or delicate child." A propos of nothing, really. But kind of a nice word. I'll try to find some place to use it, one of these days.)

Friday, February 17, 2006

Henry Bones

This morning, Bush, I'm with the poet John Berryman and his doppelganger Henry Bones: I must confess that I am heavy bored. I'm bored with you and your Cheney and his antics. Bored with your sullen Rumsfeld and your chirpy Rice. I'm bored with the whole lot of you in your administration. I'm bored with your lies and deceptions and cover-ups. Bored with your monumental incompetence. Bored with your press secretary and his dead voice. Bored with the rest of your spin meisters and their increasingly transparent spin. Bored with the dreary, archly indignant tone of your own voice and your silly grins.

I'm bored with your Republicans in the Senate and the House of Representatives, bored with their smug abuse of power and refusal to question even the least of your failures and deceptions. I'm bored with the way we Americans accept the outrage of your presidency and the bully tctics of your Republicans, and parade our ignorance and self-satisfaction and gullibility before an offended and increasingly hostile world. I'm bored with the pundits and their predictable rants, bored with the newspapers, bored with the pretty faces of the television journalists. Just plain bored.

Saddest of all, I'm bored this morning with myself. Bored with hearing my aches and gripes. Bored with our blog, Bush.

Perhaps, I tell myself--I hope--this boredom will pass before tomorrow. It's just a mood. It will float away like a cloud. For today, though, I have nothing else to say. Just too darn bored.

Anyway, as we say in California, have a good one...

Thursday, February 16, 2006


So there he was, your Cheney, doing his mea culpa on friendly Fox television news, and I know you'd like us to believe that he has held himself accountable by so doing. As I see it, though, Bush, accountability needs to go a whole lot further than a simple "I did it." A whole lot further, even, than "I'm sorry"--which is I guess what your guy was saying when he confessed that this was "the worst day of my life." Real accountability in my own experience means going deeper, to discover what it is about me that caused the disruption in my life, or the life of others; and what I need to do to ensure that it doesn't happen again.

I can't, obviously, do Cheney's work for him--though I did have the temerity a couple of days ago to suggest some areas that bear investigation: his arrogance, for example. His assumption of rectitude in every circumstance... None of which would matter terribly to the rest of us, if the refusal to be held accountable were not so typical not only of your Vice President, Bush, but of yourself, and indeed of your entire administration; and if the consequences of your failure to accept any real responsbility were not so frequent, nor so glaringly evident, nor so damaging to the world at large. I'm thinking, today, of two particularly painful examples: Guantanamo Bay, because of this week's UN report; and Abu Ghraib, in the wake of yesterday's publication of more of those dreadful pictures.

I heard a spokesman for your administration try to pass off the Abu Ghraib pictures as past history. The matter had been dealt with, was the claim. Those involved had been held accountable and punished. As though the courts-martial of a handful of low-ranking soldiers absolved their higher-ups of responsibility--along with a rap over the knuckles for one (female) officer. (Remember our earlier entry, Bush: Cherchez la femme?) As though it were enough to address the symptoms, not the cause. As though your Gonzales and your Rumsfeld were not complicit, with their justification of torture on legalistic and, of course, (questionably) practical grounds. As though you yourself, Bush, were not to be held accountable for Abu Ghraib. Where is it that buck is supposed to stop? Not, apparently, at your desk. Nor at the desk of your cabinet secretaries. Nor at the desk of the officers in charge. Did it never occur to you, Bush, that the use of torture at Abu Ghraib was not simply the work of a few "bad apples", but the symptom of a systemic problem that needed, badly, to be addressed.

It's the same systemic problem that is causing you grief in regard to Guantanamo Bay. It's the same underlying set of assumptions and beliefs that have proven time and again to be wrong-headed and counter-productive. To be fully accountable, even in your exalted position as the President of the United States, you need to be asking this deceptively simple, personal question: what is it about me that is causing this disruption in the affairs of the world? What do I need to learn from the errors in judgment that led to these events? What can I do to change the habits and behaviors that cause such harm to others and myself?

This, at least, is what I understand accountability to be all about. It's not about mouthing acceptance of responsibility--as you did after Katrina, remember?--or expressions of regret, then moving on to the next disaster. Take a look at how your Chertoff is dangling on the hook. Accountability is about bringing the hidden root causes to the light of day, and learning from them. It's about learning to avoid the repetition of the same destructive patterns. Above all, it's not about all those others to whom I delegate responsibility. It's about me.

(A footnote, Bush: A friend stops by as I'm completing this entry and points out the irony of your Cheney wailing that the day he shot his friend was the worst day of his life. My friend asks, How about all those other days, when he caused thousands of soliders to be sent out to be shot, and maimed, and killed? She was angry, Bush, that he should let himself so easily off the hook.)

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Pressing Priorities

Well, Bush, your Scott McClellan had a rough time of it yesterday, fending off reporters' questions about your Cheney and his hunting "accident". He looked to me a bit like a man trying to ward off a swarm of pesky, poisonous mosquitoes--without a great deal of success. Tough job. I only wish those same reporters had been equally persistent with questions about... well, say, the lead-up to your invasion of Iraq. Your energy "policy". Hurricane Katrina. Or any one of a number of other notable events.

McClellan's mantra was "let's get back to the pressing priorities of the American people." Well and good. But it seems to me, Bush, that the most pressing of our priorities today is the not-small matter of trust. The American people needs to be able to trust its government and its leaders, but they--the government and the leadership, including your good self--have breached this trust with an unprecedented and continuing pattern of secrecy, lies, and cover-up.

The reason that the current kerfuffle is important is not what would otherwise have been a minor shooting accident. Had the trust been there, had the response from your people been honest, forthright, timely, I believe that the whole matter would have been rapidly been put behind us. But no. Your people reverted to pattern: secrecy, prevarication, lies, and cover-up, proving once again that you are not to be trusted.

Are we now being told the truth about the victim's condition? Who knows? But yesterday's "minor heart attack," in view of what we had been led to believe, came as a major shock. Suddenly the questions--What if this man had died? What if this man could die?--reveal the enormity of the possible consequences of your Cheney's momentary inattention.

So this IS a pressing priority for the American people. The first priority, to my mind. Trust. Without it, nothing else counts. But the breach you've made may just be irreparable, Bush. It would be a start if you could just take charge, right now, and instruct your Cheney to level with the press and the American people. If you could get him to show just a little contrition, just a little humility... That might help.

By the way, our American readers might not be aware of this, but try googling "Dick" and "Whittington" together. If you do, you'll find that Google leads you not to your Dick, or his unfortunate victim, Harry Whittington, but rather to that wonderful old story, known to every English child, of Dick Whittington and His Cat. It's quite short, and I think you'll find it a cheerful little distraction from all this trauma in your White House.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Bang! Bang!

What a card, your Cheney, Bush! He goes out gunning for quail and he bags his hunting chum! I was going to say something yesterday, when I first heard the news, but held back because I thought it would be a cheap shot (excuse the pun!) He certainly came in for a lot of those on late-night television.

On second thoughts, though, is it really so damn funny? I mean, isn't the first rule of gun-toting of any kind to be sure what's in your sights before you pull the trigger? All very well for your Cheney's folks to imply it was the victim's fault (creeping up behind him without warning, standing in the line of fire of the Vice President of the United States!) My understanding is that it's the man with his finger on the trigger who's responsible for the direction of his bullets. Suppose, I wondered--I suspect we all have wondered--suppose this guy had not merely been injured, but had died as a result of Cheney's carelessness? An inch or two either way, a shift in elevation, a moment's change in relative positioning... who knows? And would we then have been so inclined to laugh the incident off? The Vice President of the United States on a manslaughter charge? And even had he managed to avoid any legal repercussions, how would we all have processed such a mind-boggling event?

Hmmm.... So my indulgent smile turned to a certain, less forgiving anger as I mulled this over. An accident, of course. But even in an accident, there's usually some human inattention that's to blame. And in the work I do with men, Bush, we have an oft repeated adage: "There are no accidents." If there's some truth to that, then maybe we should be taking a good look at what it was about your Cheney that gave him permission to pull the trigger on a hunting friend? Could it be that in his arrogant self-assurance he felt he could do no wrong? Is he possibly addicted to his own overweening power? Does he secretly nurse a fuck-you attitude to the rest of the world? A habit of dangerous mindlessness?

Not funny, then. Especially not funny when you begin to see what an apt metaphor this incident is for your adventure in Iraq--of which your Cheney, as I recall, was a prime instigator. Shoot first, in haste. Hit the wrong target. Then muddle through the consequences as best you can. Blame the victim. Delay exlanations and stall questions for as long as you can. Then spin for all you're worth. Not funny, Bush. Not funny at all.

Monday, February 13, 2006

A Sad Day

It's another sad day in the history of this country, Bush, when the Los Angeles Times headline reinforces what we have suspected for a long time now: that our nation has violated, and continues to violate the rights of those men we're holding at Guantanamo Bay. This time it's the report of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights--not yet published, but previewed by the Times. From what I understand, the U.S. is challenged on two major counts: the first is the right to hold these men at all; the second, the less then humane treatment to which they have been subjected.

You have become known, Bush, for your propensity to interpret the law to serve your own convenience and your own agenda. That goes for both our own and international laws. In the past few weeks alone, your folks have made a mockery of the law of this country, twisting its language and intent to claim authority to spy on our own citizens. With regard to the Guantanamo prisoners, you claim entitlement to hold them under the international rule of war that allows a country to hold "enemy combatants" without charges or access to counsel for the duration of hostilities. The intention, of course, is to keep them from returning to the field once they've been captured. But having defined the "war on terror" as an endless battle, you nicely give yourself permission to hold these particular men indefinitely. Many of them, we're led to understand, have little or no demonstrable connection with your terrorist foes, but apparently you have also taken upon yourself the right to determine who is an "enemy combatant" and who is not. Turns out, conveniently, it's anyone you say is one.

As for their treatment, since the U.N. commission was denied access to the prisoners, we come back to having to trust your word. But there are grounds enough to believe that you may be defining terms again to suit your own purposes. You have insisted unambiguously that America "does not torture"--but you would seem to be excluding from that term a good deal of behavior that most civilized people would include: the description of the force-feeding of prisoners sounds brutal enough to me, and there have been too many other reports of heavy-handed treatment to be dismissed with the cavalier self-assurance of your legal people.

It seems to me, in my perhaps simple-minded way, that we always do well to listen to the criticism of others. No matter that it may sting at first, I have always found that I profit immensely if I listen and learn. Your own knee-jerk reaction, Bush, has been to reject anything that questions the wisdom of your actions, and instead to attack the credibility--if not the person---of your critic. It's a pattern. So I have no doubt that this report will be summarily dismissed by your admnistration. It might be important to remember, though, that the vast majority of people on this planet are more likely to believe the report by a commission of the United Nations than yourself.

Once more, we're forced to contemplate the spectacle of the damage your arrogance has inflicted, not only on the world--though that in itself is significant--but also on the reputation of this once widely admired country. You promised to return honor and dignity to the White House, Bush--and by implication to the rest of us Americans. Instead, you've dragged our name through the mud. And have made the world, not incidentally, a far more dangerous place. You may attribute blame for this to those ruthless terrorists. And they have played their part. No question. But it is you, yourself, on your own initiative, who turned what should have been an internationally cooperative police action into a third world war.

I repeat, it's another sad, sad day in the history of these United States.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Lost It...

Well, Bush, I lost my whole entry today. Gone. In the tap of a key, and I don't even know which one, that's how computer-savvy I am. An hour's worth of careful thought and writing. Too bad. You might have enjoyed it.

The entry was called "What's in the Daily News? (with apologies to Frank Sinatra, Damon Runyon, et al.)" and it was a whole spoof on that song from "Guys and Dolls." I simply gathered headlines from the newspapers and listed them in no particular order, with the refrain, "That's what's in the Daily News." Your Brownie turning tail and ratting on you, Bush. Your feds confiscating cheap drugs bought by senior citizens in Canada. The Abramoff scandals. The GOP in trouble. More chaos and killing in Iraq. Hamas. The misuse of FEMA funds. The disappearance of billions of reconstruction dollars in Iraq. The cowardly deal on the Patriot Act renewal. Your plan to auction 300,000 acres of our national land to fund rural schools and roads. This guy going around the country preaching the denial of science to our schoolkids, and promoting "creationism" in its place...

So that's what was in the Daily News. Sorry it got lost. It's not so much fun this way, Bush, but I expect you get the picture. Disaster, betrayal, mismanagement, incompetence everywhere. A litany of lies, deceptions, mistakes and pratfalls. The whole house of cards collapsing, Bush. To mix metaphors, it's a shipwreck. With you at the helm.

But then I'm hardly one to talk. I can't even control my own damn computer. Have a good weekend.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Re: Wolf! Again!

Re: today's entry, Bush. One good reader sent me this link to Capitol Hill Blue. Take a gander. It's educational. From my vantage point, it's a good piece, well argued, full of useful facts, and with heartening response in the comment column! Not sure you'll see it the same way, Bush. But I can only hope there are more and more like this, who see through the pap and lies you're feeding us.

Wolf! Again!

I guess your people know the minds of the American electorate, Bush. And what they seem to know is not exactly encouraging. It must have served some purpose to have you up there again yesterday, putting out those same scare tactics to beef up flagging support for your "war" presidency. Now we hear how you saved Los Angeles from the devastation of a terrorist attack on the highest of our highrises--a mere two years ago! Well, it wasn't exactly breaking news--though it was treated as such by some of the more desperate media--because we had known about it for some time. But it had obviously become a matter of pressing national importance for you to fill in a couple of wonderful details: shoe bombs to breach the cabin door! And Asian rather than Middle Eastern terrorists! Those cunning, ruthless devils! And incidentally, of course, it was a not inconvenient moment to remind us all of 9/11 and the continuing dire threat from which your wise policies are protecting us.

The question in my mind, Bush, is this: how long can you get away with it? How long before it sinks into the minds of the American electorate that we're all being manipulated to serve a purely political agenda? After all, Bush, there was absolutely no discernable reason for you to make this not very startling disclosure, other than politics and the approach of the 2006 mid-term elections. So at what point do these tactics begin to backfire on you? At what point do we all agree that this bullshit should not be allowed to pass? If New Orleans offers an example of the results of your effectiveness in preparing for disaster (see today's New York Times headline story, by the way, sticking another pin in the inflated, excuse-filled story of your ineptitude there) we should all be afraid--and not only of the terrorists. The time may come, believe it or not, Bush, when Americans begin to see that the Democrats could certainly do no worse than yourself on the home security front, and maybe even a whole lot better.

Thursday, February 09, 2006


What a drag that Dick is, Bush! I mean Cheney. The name says it all: Cheney. Sounds a bit like Marley's ghost, I always think, hauling those chains around and rattling them once in a while to scare the pants off all of us. Sepulchral is the word that comes to mind when I see him on TV. And the first name... well, it speaks for itself, doesn't it?

And the voice, Bush! He puts on this voice of self-evident reason, avuncular, confidential, fast and low as a cruise missle, and as deadly. You just get carried along for the ride when you listen to him, hypnotized by the drone into (almost) believing every word he says. Ah, yes, you (almost) think, this is a man of unquestionable authority. This is a man who knows whereof he speaks.

I listened to him during that Jim Lehrer interview a couple of nights ago, and good old Jim, I have to say, seemed almost as hypnotized as the rest of us, nodding away as His (e)Rectitude, the Dick himself rattled off facts and figures 'til the cows came home. It's only when he stops that you come to and realize what a load of crap he's dumped on you. That his premises are back in the 19th century somewhere. That he's a retro-cyborg from some distant past when the world was a simple place and oil was plentiful and the rich deserved their riches; and America was always right about everything and super-powerful and Father always knew best.

Enough. I don't want to get personal or anything. But really, Bush, you should keep this golem locked up in his closet. Otherwise, he'll be the end of all of us, and the earth we live on. Trust me.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Cartoon Riots

Questions abound, as usual, Bush, in the matter of the world-wide riots in the wake of re-publication of those original Danish cartoons poking irreverent fun at the prophet Mohammed and, by extension, the Muslim religion. Interesting that they seemed to evoke no such response at the time of their original publication. Perhaps the venue was too restricted to attract much notice. But no, it was their recent re-publication in newspapers throughout Europe that set the Muslim world on fire with religiously-inspired rage.

The questions swirl around such things as freedom of expression and respect for the rights and religious beliefs of others: Was the original publisher right in soliciting--as I understand it--cartoons depicting attitudes toward Islam? In publishing the results? Were the European papers justified in republishing the cartoons to inform their readers what the fuss was about? Were they perhaps obligated to "report the news"? Were they rashly adding fuel to the flames? Or were they just plain naive? Should they have withheld the pictures from the public out of respect for Islam? Out of good taste? Out of concern for the possible consequences?

Were those who took such deep offense justified in their response, or did they merely lack a sense of humor? Were the perhaps merely irritated reactions of otherwise moderate Muslims exploited and inflamed by radicals who saw the opportunity to take political advantage? Were the protests justified? At what point does the right to peaceful protest stop when violence threatens? How much force is justified in controlling political demonstrations? Are the protesters right in condemning whole countries rather than individual cartoonists and their newspaper outlets? What are we to think, when the publication of a handful of irreverent, perhaps tasteless cartoons leads to wholesale destruction, the attack on embassies, and death? Thirteen people have died already, as of this writing.

The answers, of course, are all imponderable, Bush. Or simply too complex to untangle. But in this tinderbox world, the explosion of rage is deeply troubling. Given where we humans stand today in relation to each other, given the hatred and the fury of perceived disempowerment, given the hardening of political, religious and philosophical arteries and the inability to listen to each other, this handful of silly cartoons has the potential to lead us into World War III. Pathetic, no? And I very much fear that this is a world, in part, of your creation, Bush, in that your policies have done little to better relations with the Islamic countries of the Middle East, and much to reinforce their negative views of America, its power, and its insatiable greed for oil.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Real Obscenity

Here's the burning question for the day, Bush: is America not ready for the penis? I was lounging around in bed this morning, with half an eye on the Today Show (strictly research, Bush, for cultural purposes. Not much of a source for the news, I think you'll agree!) and there was Katie Couric on assignment in Florence, Italy, and posed in front of Michaelangelo's "David." A great statue, certainly. One for the ages, as they say. But the network kept their cameras at a coy distance from the artwork, presumably to protect Americans (they need it, Bush, as you keep reminding us!) from the dangerous aspect of the male sexual organ. In a daring close-up, moments later, the camera stuck to the head and torso while we listened to Katie's voice-over.

Now maybe it's sheer prurience on my part, Bush, but I would have been happy to have seen shots that revealed the full power of the David. To paraphrase a famous plea: show me the penis. Because to my mind a good deal of David's power is invested in that particular part of his anatomy. The piece is all about youthful male virility. Traditionally it's about focus and tension as the Biblical hero prepares for his slingshot attack on the enemy, Goliath. But in my view it's also about potency, and languid sexuality. Take a look at the pose, with the hips thrust slightly forward, slightly angled, to emphasize the strength and dangerous beauty of raw, naked masculinity. I've written about this before but I don't mind saying it again: at the other end of the masculine scale there's the same artist's "Moses", which embodies the power of the older man, his maturity, his deep engagement in reflection, his introspective gaze, his seated pose, the drapery that in some way reinforces his inherent dignity. No need for this one to show off his body: the strength is in his spirit.

What I'm saying, Bush, is that Katie and her network, in their timidity, effectively emasculated a great work of art, and at the same time spoke volumes about our shame-based attitudes towards real masculinity--not the vapid macho substitute that we worship in its place. We mistake military swagger for true power; and we don't get the distinction between the erotic and the obscene.

No, the real obscenity, Bush--to change the subject--is that budget proposal you released yesterday. Talk about military swagger! A cool 6.9 percent increase for defense--and that's not even counting the endlessly escalating costs of your Iraq adventure! And another 1.3 percent raise for homeland security! But then a 0.1 percent increase only for the Energy Department, which I suppose would have to be responsible for seeing to all that research into renewable sources that you touted just last week.

On the other hand, more cuts (3.8 percent) for education. More cuts (2.8 percent) for Health and Human Services. That includes cuts in Medicaid. Includes cuts in support for housing for the elderly, and food aid for the poorest of the poor. A 9.4 percent cut in transportation--which presumably would help us toward a saner use of energy resources. All to pay for your scheme to make permanent your tax cuts for the wealthiest of the wealthy. Oh, and while we all breathed a sigh of relief when you spared us mention, in your State of the Union address, of that stubbornly repeated plan to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, I note that you managed to sneak it into your budget nonetheless.

Shame on you, Bush, after all those fine words, for producing this monstrosity which makes a mockery of your calls for compassion and for bipartisan efforts toward energy independence and other common goals. From everything I read and hear about it, this is a fuck-you budget, if ever I saw one. We should have known better, those of us who saw a glimmer of hope that you might finally want to redeem yourself and your administration at least in some small ways in your last years.

Monday, February 06, 2006


What a kick (pun kind of halfway intended, Bush) to see the old Superbowl geezers lead the way yesterday, in the introduction to the players. Yes, I did watch it, Bush. Did you? It managed to be pretty unexciting, I thought, aside from a couple of standout moments. But what do I know about football? (What do you know about anything, you might be asking, Bush! And with some justification!) But at least it was a good excuse to spend a few hours of my Sunday on the couch in the traditional way, with a beer and chips. Therapy, sort of.

Anyway, listen, to see all those MVPs going back to the first of all Superbowls, number I, in the 1960s, was a healthily sentimental reminder for all of us lesser specimens of the passage of time. It put a little lump in my own aging throat to see that even Bart Starr and Joe Namath get a little older, put on a little girth, gather a few wrinkles, lose a little hair. But the spirit, Bush... that just gets better, stronger, wiser, more authentic for those who manage to age with consciousness and commitment in their lives. And I have to believe that men who reach the Superbowl--no matter how ultimately silly the whole enterprise might be--must have some special quality in their character, some special sense of discipline and devotion to their craft.

And aside from the football heroes, how about those Rolling Stones? Mick Jagger is still capable of the prance at--what?--sixty-two, sixty-three years old. That these guys have survived at all is something of a miracle, given the intensity of their path and the challenges and temptations they've had to face along the way. That they've survived with such incredible spirit and, well, a kind of grace, an almost serene sense of who they are, has to be gratifying to those of us who knew them when... As Jagger said, with no exaggeration, "Satisfaction" was a song they could have been singing at Superbowl I.

A big thumbs down, though, for the Escalade commercial--a tasteless, over-the-top production that was totally out of touch with the realities of the world in which most of us live. The sultry, slinky runway model and her audience of the trendily rich and over-endowed played to the lowest of American values, in my estimation: greed, concupisence, envy, the appeal of superficial glamor. No matter that this hideous machine (sorry, my judgment, Bush!) consumes inordinate amounts of the petroleum products that even you now want to wean us from. No matter that its tank-like proportions render it a menace to every other freeway user. No matter that its "statement" is a brash, aggressive insult to those who choose a more modest means of personal transportation. There it is, a glamor object, gleaming with self-satisfaction on every polished surface. Give me the bettered 1960s VW that our house painter drives, with a license plate holder that reads "Three more payments and it's mine"!

Oh, and the same for the Hummer commercial, the lovechild two Titans, a giant dinosaur and a giant technological golem. Okay, we get the point. It's part the primitive urge for bulk and power, part futuristic marvel. But the ad was weird, vaguely unpleasant. How about that Kermit the Frog, though, with his clean green machine, the Ford Escape Hybrid? Nice contrast. He ended up his "It's Not Easy Being Green" song with a big sigh and, "Well, I guess it is." Simple, straight, low-budget, honest. Good for Ford, I say--though I'm not sure that the Escape has the quality of my own inimitable Prius. But that's probably just pride of ownership. Anyway, I can testify to Kermit's conclusion: it really isn't hard, being green.

Well, this is turning out to be a maybe somewhat offbeat review of the Superbowl, Bush. But that's what I got out of it. I was sad that Seattle lost. I kind of leaned toward a Left Coast team. Pittsburgh, eh? I have nothing against them, but I didn't have any great reason to root for them either. As I told Ellie at the end of the game, I should always root for the team I don't want to win. My support never fails to be anything but a fatal jinx when it comes to sport. Have a good week, Bush. Watch out for those slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

About That Addiction...

A big bravo to Nicholas D. Kristof, Bush, for calling your State of the Union bluff on this oil addiction thing. He points out in his New York Times column today that all your blather and vague promises for better behavior in the future amount to no more than the word of the addict who says he'll quit "tomorrow:" a good, practical part of the answer is there, in front of you, today. I think I've mentioned before that I chose already eighteen months ago to drive a hybrid car--which, incidentally, has served me very nicely, thank you, even on Southern California freeways. The car is no slouch when it comes to power, with ample get-up-and-go for acceleration and overtaking, as good as any mid-sized car I ever owned; and it's comfortable, well-appointed, and with ample space for both passengers and cargo. I've sacrificed nothing in terms of the quality of my drive. And yesterday, on a long, four-hour trip, I averaged 47.2 miles per gallon.

And even that is nothing, Bush, when compared to what can be done with existing technology, begnning right now. The "plug-in" adaptions of the Prius have already proven they can do 100 miles plus. Kristof's column explains how, for daily short-run driving, the plug-in can go for months without a single stop at the gas pump, deriving its energy from the domestic electricity supply and an extension cord. He's talking 1,000 miles on a gallon of gas. Achievable. Right now. Today.

So, Bush, if you were doing anything other than emitting more hot air the other night, take note. No need to wait for tomorrow to address this wasteful addiction of ours. Start today. Now. This minute. It takes the choosing and the will, not the technology, a good part of which is already there, awaiting your support. Instead, I note from the newspaper a couple of days ago that, shortly after bloviating eloquently (presumably for voter consumption) about ethanol and other alternative energy sources, you quietly amputate a big chunk of the budget for the very organization charged with doing the research that you touted!

I believe you know something about addiction, Bush. I understand that you're a dry drunk, an alcoholic who commendably quit on will-power alone, without the support of a twelve-step program or its equivalent. Trouble is for people such as your good self, I'm told, the denial persists. In looking for band-aids that might cover up the wound some time in the future, you're avoiding the need for readily available emergency room treatment right away: and meantime, our long-suffering, vulnerable planet is in real danger of dying as a result of our abuse.

Friday, February 03, 2006

A Dream...

Speaking of health care, Bush, I had this awful and depressing dream last night. Well, actually in the early morning hours, but no matter... I dreamed I had become a doddering old man, incapable of taking care of myself and losing my mind. The time span covered many years, since one scene involved my being incomptent to give my baby son (now 40 years old!) a bath, and letting him slip through my fingers to the floor. Other scenes seemed more contemporaneous, or perhaps looking forward into the future. The chief theme was that I no longer knew who I was, or where I was, or what I was doing there. I actually had the experience--and in dream, Bush, you know how real it all seems--of feeling what I imagine an Alzheimer's patient to feel: totally isolated, unwanted, out of touch, tired of myself and unable to accept the sympathy of others.

Not a dream, then, but a nightmare. The depression refused to leave when I awoke, and was still with me after a half hour of (depressed!) meditation. Hours later now, I still feel it hanging around me like a fog. Like all dreams, as you know, Bush, it was irrational. For myself, from a purely practical point of view, I'm in the fortunate position of being able to buy long-term health care insurance, for which I pay a "healthy" annual premium. I've done what I can to insure that neither Ellie nor I will be as uncared for as my fears projected in that dream.

But that's my own good fortune. I'd want to share that good fortune--if necessary by an increase in my taxes--with those millions of people for whom their health care, current and future, is a daily worry. Your plan for health care savings accounts may sound wonderful to those who can already afford to save, and pay, for their own health insurance. I'm sure they sound wonderful to the banks and the insurance companies who'll make off gleefully with yet more hard-earned dollars from the less-well off.

I fail to see, however, how your scheme can be of help to those who really need it. They have enough trouble making ends meet without having to put aside savings for this purpose. I guess your idea is to let employers off the hook. But that could best be achieved as it has been done in most other developed countries: by a single-payer system that would combine the resources of government, insurance companies, pharmaceutical producers, employers AND end users, working together for mutual benefit,to cut out multiple middle men and attenuate the soaring costs of medical care. The idea that competition and free market practices will eventually benefit the consumer seems amply disproven by the disastrous state of affairs already existing in this country's health care system--if it can be called such.

"Socialized medicine"? Bring it on, I say. Failing that, I fear my nightmare--already a reality for too many people--will become the norm for the huge wave of baby boomers headed for retirement age. Your jovial remark in your State of the Union speech--get a new joke book, Bush, for God's sake--about yourself and Clinton reaching that age seemed quite unfunny to those of us who know that neither one of you will need to draw on the entitlement services you speak of with such scorn. You're well taken care of. You'd do well to remember that not everyone can rely on the nice packages that you and your already wealthy political friends stand to benefit from, at public expense, when retirement comes around.

On this matter, too, Bush, let me suggest a little more humility, a little less bravado. Not to mention an ounce of common sense and a dash of human feeling.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

True to Form

All those fine words, Bush, and one single day later your people push through a budget whose $39.5 billion savings are carved out of the meager flesh of the poor and the needy. Health care and student loans! You sure know how to target the powerless, Bush. Such compassion! Such concern for the education of our young, for equal opportunity for all! For the much-touted "level playing field"! Does it never occur to you, from your patrician pinnacle, that there are millions out there who simply can't afford your medical savings plans? That there are millions out there who are deprived--by ignorance, by neglect, by poverty--of the opportunity that a good education affords? The responsibility for the impecunious sick, of course, devolves upon the already financially-strapped states: the Los Angeles Times estimates this morning that your budget will cost California at least $1.7 billion. So where does all that come from?

Oh, and then, in the second lead story in the New York Times, we learn that you're stonewalling on the delivery of documents to the Senate Judiciary Committee in connection with the investigation into your spying activites. You preach the values of government by the people to the world, but what do you practice here at home? It falls not too far short of tyranny, Bush. It's secretive, abusive of power, intolerant of opposition, punitive, unaccountable. And after five years of your administration, the tactic comes as no surprise. After all, you have stonewalled on everything else, from the planning of our nation's energy "policy" in your first year in office, to questions about the conduct of your war and the treatment of prisoners, to the federal response to Katrina last year. Par for the course, as Ellie's mother used to repeat with somehwat annoying regularity.

So what exactly do you mean when you use the word "democracy", Bush? What exactly do you expect by way of reaction from those to whom you preach your "do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do" plan to spread the glories of democracy to those countries in political and religious turmoil in the Middle East? Can you honestly expect all those people on the street to trust the words that you speak, when they see them to be so utterly empty of meaning? They have televisions, Bush. They have newspapers. Their media may not tell the truth as you see it, but they're seen, and read, and believed. And I'm sure that there are many in that part of the world who find your hypocrisy as astounding as I do.

And what a picture, today, on the front page of the New York Times! It could be some great Delacroix epic canvas, with the "might" on the right hand side of the image in the form of two helmeted, armored Israeli cops on horseback thrusting forward against the crowd of settlement Jews, gathered to protest their eviction by the government. The protesters fall back, one of them raising his hand in a gesture of defense, others, arm in arm, forced back by the towering presence of the horses. From behind the melee, an ominous cloud of smoke rises, billowing up into the sky to obscure the background. No matter the rights and the wrongs of this particular situation, the image captures memorably the confrontation between power and protest, between government authority and the will of the people.

Take a good look at it, Bush, and tell me which side you're on. In this case, the choice is a tough one. But at the rate things are going, believe me, if you persist in your war against the powerless and the needy in our own society, it could happen here.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Compassion etcetera

Okay, Bush. You and I both know that I'm no speech analyst, no policy wonk. I'll leave that work to others, and there's no shortage of them this morning. You won't be surprised to hear my inexpert view, however, that your speech last night was long on hot air and short on any significant ideas or information. But I guess that's the nature of the beast, with the State of the Union. I can't hold it against you for making the best of the opportunity to blow your horn.

But here's the one thing I have not seen or heard mentioned: for all your "compassionate, decent, hopeful society" theme, your compassion did not reach far beyond these shores--nor was it particularly evident in any specific policy here at home. I heard some high-sounding words. I did not hear any intention to take action. And out of sixty-six paragraphs (by my rough count), you devoted only two, a bare sixty seconds of your entire speech, to the real and pressing problems of world hunger, disease, and poverty. Even then, you saw the American role as "taking the offensive"--hardly a metaphor that suggests compassion--"because regions overwhelmed by poverty, corruption and despair are sources of terrorism, organized crime, human trafficking and the drug trade."

It seems to me, Bush, that if we are to be perceived by the world as a "compassionate, decent, hopeful society," our President needs to devote proportionately more of his attention to problems other than our wielding power on the world stage and protecting ourselves from those multifarious "evil-doers". It would be refreshing for me personally to hear something other than that old, rather hollow, rather strident "America is strong" rhetoric: perhaps an acknowledgement of a more modest place in a world that it so evidently ailing on so many fronts, of a share in the common responsibility of all peoples to alleviate the suffering of the many and to accept real stewardship of the planet.

Two paragraphs, Bush! One minute! So much for compassion.