Thursday, September 10, 2009

Oh, Mr. Willlllllsson!

Remember Dennis the Menace? Hank Ketchum created the annoying but loveable Dennis nearly 60 years ago to menace the stuffy neighbor, Mr. Wilson.

I think we need someone to menace Representative Addison Graves "Joe" Wilson, Sr. of South Carolina's 2nd Congressional District. First, one can sympathize with his use of "Joe" when he is actually named after two rather awful diseases. That may account for some of the odd bent of the man. Mr. Wilson cut his political teeth working for Floyd Spence and Strom Thurmond both (R-Racism). Joe has a penchant for blurting out an inappropriate comments in public to his betters and then, dripping crocodile tears, making a public apology that no one takes seriously. And, of course, he's done it again during President Obama's speech to Congress on health care reform on September 9, 2009.

Rep. Wilson has apologized to President Obama (drag out the crocodile!*) and the President has once more demonstrated that he is an infinitely better and more gracious human being that Joe Wilson or, in fact, the bulk of the Congressional Republicans of both Houses by accepting Wilson's apology. Once again President Obama has demonstrated why he, rather than any Republican drawing breath today, deserves to be the leader of the nation.

During a speech in which the President went out of his way to validate Republican concerns, Republican ideas and Republican legislators who have a serious interest in improving health care for all Americans, Wilson and the neo-fascist, ultra-rightist jackals booed the President and, in their pusillanimous, partisan response, rejected his extended hand. By doing so the Republicans show clearly that they feel that by leaving millions of Americans without adequate health care, allowing insurers to steal the premiums of thousands of taxpayers only to revoke their coverage in time of need, and sewing lies and fear about health care reform they can win back control of Congress in 2010 much as they did in 1994. The problem with that strategy is that it's not going to work this time.

The President has met the Republicans more than half way and a majority of Americans know that despite the screaming antics of lunatics and bought-and-paid-for professional protesters. For every family afraid to go to a doctor because they have no health insurance, for every hard-working American denied coverage during an illness, for every household forced into bankruptcy by outrageous medical bills there are friends, neighbors, relatives and co-workers who are going to hold the Republicans responsible for any failure of reform in the 111th Congress. The Republicans are not going to be able to claim that they are running against a "do-nothing" Congress because, this time around, Rahm Emanuel, Nancy Pelosi and the President are going to be out hanging any failure of health care around the necks of the Republicans of the House and Senate.

Joe Wilson won't have any trouble being re-elected, of course. The professional soldiers, veterans and retired military personnel who form the core of his support in and around Beaufort, South Carolina will rail against "socialized, government-run" health care to and from visits to the base and VA Hospitals. But other Americans are going to hold Wilson's party responsible when a friend or loved one dies.

The issue that was the proximate cause of Wilson's outburst during the President's speech was the matter of extending health care to "illegal" immigrants. Right now I'm not going to take up the issue of "illegal" immigration other than to say that no immigrant is "illegal" until we make him so. If the Wampanoag tribe in coastal Massachusetts had had an immigration policy similar to America's currently my ancestors, William, Susanna, Resolved and Peregrine White would have been summarily deported from Plymouth Rock. Yet Wilson's narrow partisanship is more to the point. So is his profoundly un-Christian attitude. After all, isn't it better that we treat the 1 "illegal" than leave the 90 and 9 uninsured and untreated? Not in Joe Wilson's world of Old Testament wrath it's not.

President Obama's call was to rise above partisanship and care for our neighbors. It was a call to take both personal and societal responsibility for the health of our nation and its citizens. The President called us to look in the eyes of our neighbors and offer our help. The Republican response was a resounding "no". The Republicans, as they always do, put themselves and the profits of those who pay their bills ahead of the good of the nation while couching their disdain for their fellow citizens in concerns for deficits and "illegal" immigrants and other nonsense that is just, as the President said, plain lies.

The problem with Mr. Wilson is that he's lied so long and so hard that he can't recognize a real lie, especially his own.

* It seems that we now know for a fact that Wilson's apology was not his idea (as if he had any). He was told to call and apologize to President Obama by the House Republican Leadership. Of course, Minority Leader John Boehner has gone as far as to repeat the lie that health care reform will cover "illegal" aliens and defend Wilson. One wonders if one has to be born craven and corrupt to be a Republican or if it is a fault acquired as one grows? Given the extent of inbreeding amongst Republicans it is very hard to know, especially when we are speaking of Southern and Ohio Republicans.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Code Talkers

No. This has nothing to do with the heroic Navajo who sacrificed much to win the war against Imperial Japan in the 1940s. It certainly has nothing to do with anything one can reasonably call heroism.

No. I am writing about the talking heads like Glenn Beck, Steve Doucey, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and Lou Dobbs. I am talking about the hardcore of racists who have learned to frame their bigotry in code.

When an American president cannot tell the nation’s school children to work and study hard without being accused of “socialist indoctrination” we are off into something other than simple political disagreement. We are in the realm of something darker, more vicious and more odious, something that, if dragged out into the light, would discredit its purveyors completely. This, of course, is why those purveyors take such pains to hide it in irrelevant language, disguise it as religious preference or even claims of upholding the law.

The storm of protest over disseminating President Obama’s speech on the opening of the public school year on September 8, 2009, had nothing to do with conservatism, nothing to do with indoctrination, nothing to do with socialism. It was the most thinly disguised expression of racism yet by the neo-fascists who call themselves Republicans. The accusation of “indoctrination” is of a piece with the “Birther” insanity. President Obama is not “white,” therefore he is not one of “us.” His father was an immigrant from Kenya and, therefore, his Hawaiian birth certificate must be phony. He must have been born in Kenya say O’Reilly, Dobbs and Hannity and many whose fathers were Italian, Greek, German or Polish. Clearly no one whose father or grandfather or some ancestor was born outside the United States can’t be a real American especially if he’s not white. Clearly, if he’s not white, President Obama is out to control the minds of our children and better hide the white women while we’re at it.

Basically, the right wing of this nation is racist at its core. It built itself just as the German Nazis and Italian Fascists did on fear and bigotry. We have simply substituted Afro-Americans and “non Aryan” immigrants for Jews. The fascist America Firsters of the late 1930s dug in while Liberalism fought World War II only to reemerge as the Red Scare McCarthyites of the post-war period. And at the very moment when their heroes, Tailgunner Joe and his vile factotum, Roy Cohn, discredited themselves and their movement, Brown v. the Board of Education came along to reinvigorate the American neo-fascist movement with an influx of racist rednecks. It took a while. After all Dwight Eisenhower sent troops into Little Rock, Arkansas. He was a Republican and a war hero which is why the billboards in the South all demanded, “Impeach Earl Warren,” and never called for Eisenhower’s impeachment. But the cultural shifts of the 1960s that disoriented those who, having lived through World War II, wanted no more upheavals and a nation conditioned to see any cause in which America fought as just, regardless of all contrary evidence, gave the neo-fascists their opening to join sweaty palms with their white racist brethren in Nixon’s “Southern Strategy.”

This marriage of bigotry and fear has a pantheon of Boogie Men. They raise up the straw men of “socialism”, “communism”, “homosexuality”, “indoctrination” even as the Log Cabin Republicans commune with their peers at the country club and indoctrinate anyone within earshot about a “free market” that demands billions of taxpayer dollars to salvage it from their mismanagement. We have had tastes of this vile bigotry before. It has been test marketed with the accusations of homosexuality by Teletubby Tinky Wink and Sponge Bob Squarepants. But now the veneer applied to this racism is getting thinner and more transparent.

Glenn Beck and the rest of the neo-fascists will certainly trot out black and brown friends to claim that they are not racist. Unfortunately, those black and brown right wingers prove nothing of the kind. They merely prove that there are minorities too who are as venal, amoral and self-promoting as there are whites.

We have reached the point at which we need to start calling this racism and bigotry for what it is. We need to drag it out in the light where the good people easily confused by rhetoric can look at this deformed, odious, disgusting thing and shun it before it churns their stomachs further.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

It’s Not You; It’s Me.

His guilt or innocence is irrelevant.

His reception at home is irrelevant.

The complexity of the government’s motives is irrelevant.

It’s not about him. It’s about us.

When the Scots Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill gave compassionate release to the only person convicted of the 1988 PanAm Flight 103 over Lockerbie on August 20, 2009 he faced a storm of criticism. The storm rose in volume and intensity when Abdelbeset al Megrahi landed in Libya to cheering crowds. The British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has washed his hands of the matter while expressing outrage at Megrahi’s reception and President Obama has similarly expressed his dismay. Subsequent releases of government documents and speculation on the multiple considerations that lead to Megrahi’s release have further incited anger and conspiracy theories. Amongst the families who lost children and other family members aboard the PanAm flight a range of equally stormy emotions rage. Some are plainly angry. Others despair that they will never know whether Megrahi was a mass murderer or simply a sacrificial goat.

Before going further, let’s consider what we actually know. On Wednesday, December 21, 1988 a bomb loaded inside luggage at London’s Heathrow Airport exploded on board PanAm Flight 103 as it passed over Lockerbie, Scotland on its way to New York. The bomb killed 243 passengers, 16 crew members and 11 Lockerbie citizens on the ground. An investigation lasting nearly 3 years concluded that Libyans al Megrahi and Al Amin Khalifah Fhimah had participated in the bomb plot. The Scottish arrest warrants for al Megrahi and Fhimah could not be served for 8 years during which time sanctions and negotiations proceeded with the Libyan government. Finally the parties created a compromise that allowed the Scottish Courts to try al Megrahi and Fhimah in the Netherlands on a former military base and under Scottish Law. The result was that al Megrahi was found guilty and Fhimah was acquitted. Al Megrahi was sentenced to life in prison.

But al Megrahi and his attorneys continued to protest that he was innocent of the charges. Many people in Lockerbie and even some of the victims’ relatives came to believe that al Megrahi was simply the goat sacrificed to atone for and mask the guilt of others in Libya or possibly Iran.


Yes, Iran. Possibly Iran

Lest we forget these things too quickly, on July 3, 1988 a missile from the USS Vincennes destroyed Iran Air Flight 655 over the Straight of Hormuz killing 290 passengers and crew. Some felt that it was a greater and far more proximate cause of the PanAm 103 bombing than the air strike on Libya on April 15, 1986 that killed 40, including a 15-month old adopted daughter of Libyan leader Muammar al Gaddafi.

The point is that there has always been some doubt about al Megrahi’s guilt. But whether he is guilty or innocent is utterly irrelevant. The facts, as we know them are that a plane was blown out of the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland killing 270 people. An investigation ensued followed by a trial and a conviction. Those are facts. Guilt or innocence are at best findings, judgments. Without specific evidence those judgments can be wrong. But in this particular case let’s grant out of hand that the judgment against al Megrahi was correct and just and he was guilty. Even so his guilt is irrelevant.

Let us also grant out of hand that doing business with Libya, exploiting its oil reserves was one of the complex of considerations that motivated the British Government in its acts or inaction surrounding Megrahi’s release. That too is irrelevant.

What is relevant to the issue at hand is that al Megrahi is dying. He has spent 8 years in prison. Now he will be dead in a matter of months…3…6…who cares? Al Megrahi is dying. That is a fact. The length of time until his death is not relevant to anything. That Libya has orchestrated a hero’s welcome for a murderer is not terribly relevant either.

What is relevant – perhaps the only thing relevant to MacAskill’s decision - is compassion. I think that we can agree that whoever blew up PanAm Flight 103 for whatever reason was utterly lacking in compassion. Whoever plotted and carried out that horrible murder showed no compassion for the people on the plane, those on the ground or the families who survived those victims. The act was despicable and criminal. Anyone who participated in that horrible act deserves ostracism from the community of all decent people. But it is a mark of our decency, our compassion that we supersede our anger and outrage and, especially, our lust for revenge.

If we are in fact decent people, better, more civilized and of higher moral standards than Megrahi, Gaddafi or any other person who participated actively or passively in the bombing of that plane 21 years ago MacAskill’s decision was correct.

When faced with vile acts the lust for revenge is understandable. Yet if we are to display why those acts are vile we must be able to rise above them. We must be able to assert compassion in the midst of our anger and disgust for by doing so we demonstrate that as a society we are not on the level of the murderers, the terrorists, the criminals.

Though I have never seen it adequately expressed the failure to understand that just chanting, “We’re number 1,” does not make it so. We have to demonstrate our moral superiority by our acts. In fact, the utter failure to understand that it is by our acts of empathy and compassion that we establish that superiority is one of the hallmark differences between the right and left wings of American politics.

George W. Bush demonstrated his absolute unsuitability for the office of president by proceeding with the execution of Karla Faye Tucker and further confirmed his unsuitability by mocking her pleas for clemency. That vile, vengeful inability to rise above his basest instincts also played out when he sent inadequately armed and armored American troops to die in an unnecessary war in Iraq. He also demonstrated his basest instincts with his insensitivity to the plight of the people of New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit.

Bush and Cheney more clearly demonstrated that they are no better than the murderers and terrorists they claim to abhor by instituting their own reign of terror with secret prisons, renditions and torture. Certainly they cloaked their confirmation that they are no better than Megrahi, Gaddafi, or bin Laden in claims that they were defending the nation against a terror that their acts further incited. Still by surrendering to revenge and sadism their whole Administration demonstrated that they are not to be trusted with any level of power.

More broadly the neo-fascist Republicans have demonstrated that they are, as a group unsuitable for high office let alone leadership by defending those violations of law and decency perpetrated by the Bush-Cheney Administration. They continue to do so by sewing lies and fear to defend the profits of insurance companies in the health care debate and polluters in the debate on climate change.

In the health care debate Republicans have abjured any sense of compassion for their fellow citizens by actively campaigning for the implicit exclusion of their fellow citizens from effective medical coverage. The Republicans couch their arguments in red herrings like the cost of extending coverage when they really are concerned with the profits of their supporters in the insurance industry. They terrorize elderly citizens with false claims that they will lose Medicare coverage when the real purpose is to extend Medicare to every American. The opposition is mean, dishonest and utterly lacking in compassion for their fellows.

In the debate over mitigating climate change, the Republicans make great and loud lamentation over the cost to this and future generations of reducing dependence on oil and coal while defending their contributors and employers in the oil industries even as they jeopardize the health and welfare and even the life of future generations.

It is about us. Are we better? Are we decent enough to translate our concern for our children and grandchildren to the children and grandchildren of every person on our small, blue-green planet? Are we decent enough even to a murderer to show compassion? If we are, then we have some claim to that chant of “We’re number 1!” If we cannot, then we are down in the sewers with the murderers and terrorists we claim to abhor.

Kenny MacAskill did the good and right and decent thing in releasing a man, Abdelbeset al Megrahi, who is probably neither good nor right nor decent. I repeat, it is not about Megrahi. It is about us. It is about demonstrating our goodness, our rightness and our decency. Is it not, after all, what we are commanded to do in that cliché voiced by some old, dead white guy, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”?