Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Steve Young: Democratic Fresh Air

"Get Out the Vote" Rally Irvine, CA 10/30/06

Ed & Cindy Asner, Steve & Solange Young

A breath of clean fresh air has blown into the rancid politics of the 48th congressional district of California, and it has a name: Steve Young, democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives. Unlikely to win in the overwhelmingly republican stronghold of ultra-rich Orange County, also the location of squalid indigent immigrant and homeless poor zones, overlooked by the majority, 50-ish successful attorney Young and his wife, Solange, told us at a voter gathering in Irvine yesterday that they are “in it for the long haul.”

This is good news, because the message from Steve Young is positive, uplifting, and unifying. In the primary election there were several names on the ballot, including Jim Gilchrist, the racist anti-immigration advocate and co-founder of the vigilante border raiders called “minutemen,” who are not in the final running for this congressional seat. Gilchrist and his ilk spout nothing but negativity, as I have noted in this blog before, as well as Young’s positive outlook.

Beyond the details of Steve Young’s platform and goals, which are thoughtful and articulate, is his overall philosophy of inclusive government. Yesterday his message was simple. He saw several sign-holders with verbiage such as “How many more soldiers will you dishonor, Cindy?” (Referring to Cindy Sheehan, anti-Iraq War mother of a soldier killed in Iraq) and “Friends don’t let friends vote democratic.” And he started his speech by telling the crowd to thank these republicans for bringing their message as well, since what makes America a great country is the acceptability of diverging opinions. Young went on to say that the vitriol in Washington politics approaching next week’s election was polarizing the country completely, and that his major effort would be to bring back a sense of unity for Americans, no matter what differences they had.

This was the gist of his positive approach. Young did explain that there is no agenda, no plan, for the country under the current leadership, and this was a change that was needed. But he was not as critical as he was observational, and the tone was congenial, not rabble-rousing.

It is interesting to note that the incumbent representative, Steve Campbell, has been pretty much absent in any campaign effort. He was elected in the special election of December, 2005, after the last incumbent republican, Christopher Cox, vacated the office in order to head the SEC. Campbell is so certain of re-election that it doesn’t pay for him to spend money on letting the voters know what he wants to do for this district or what his goals are as a member of congress. Even the republicans in the 48th district deserve to know what representation they have.

However, the republicans are no longer holding a majority of the registered voters here—Steve Young announced yesterday their numbers have dropped just below 50% of the total. Conceivably, with enough republican voters disaffected by their republican leadership, and with enough registered independents voting democratic, Steve Young could become the first democratic congressman in many years from Orange County. His constituency in that case couldn’t deserve any better! Talk about getting rid of the stink, indeed.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

I remember Iran-Contra

Posted by PicasaA former neighbor called the other day to try to sell me a car. I ran into him a year ago at a local dealership after many years and he had me in his rolodex for sales calls. Business aside, he asked after so many years what I was up to, and I mentioned this blog. Since Orange County is the notorious quintessential right-wing political district of the entire nation, if not proto-racist as well, based on comments, to which I am unhappily privy, of the parents of my children's friends at numerous communal birthday bashes we attend--when a remark is made that might ordinarily be offensive, the assumption is that it's OK to say whatever because the audience will be in agreement.

So when told my former neighbor that this blog tended to stress tolerance and leftist politics, he came on with an extended tirade including such Ann Coulter retreads as "the left only tells lies," "Bush is the only one standing up in our defense," among others. He then mentioned that he voted once for a Democratic presidential candidate--Carter, to which I tried to reply in a friendly way that I once voted for a Republican--Reagan--out of my juvenile fear of Carter's inability to handle a foreign crisis.

This led to his gushing about the greatest president of all time, Ronald Reagan, and my growing wonder as to why I had become engaged in one of the two conversational no-no's, politics, the other of course being religion. I was about to say that Reagan was a criminal based on Iran-Contra, but instead I told him I'd call back when the lease was up on my car.

That conversation bothered me for a while afterwards, because I thought about this seemingly nice fellow who was spouting party-line propaganda and Orwellian phrases that caused more knee-jerk agreement than real thinking. "Fight them over there or we'll be fighting them here," kind of stuff, which is really a meaningless fear-mongering rant. I thought about so many people who would sit in abject agreement over everything this guy said, especially about the practical deification of the "Great Communicator, " Reagan.

Reagan was indeed a criminal. So were several of his closest aides and advisers, including former President George H.W. Bush. With the upcoming election threatening to install a democratic majority in one if not both of the federal legislative bodies, the ghost of Iran-Contra re-emerges from the coincidence of the twentieth anniversary of another time congress was re-won over by the democrats. This is the main issue of an illuminating op-ed piece in today's Los Angeles Times by Greg Grandin:

It was 20 years ago this Nov. 3 the day after the Democrats regained control of the Senate in 1986 that a Lebanese magazine revealed that the Reagan administration sold missiles to Iran. The sale (brokered by a National Security Council staffer named Oliver North) violated a U.S. arms embargo against Iran and contradicted President Reagan's personal pledge never to deal with governments that sponsored terrorism. Soon after, it was revealed that profits from the missile sale went to the Nicaraguan Contras, breaking yet another law, this one banning military aid to the anti-Sandinista guerrillas.
I read this editorial while watching Clinton give a speech at Georgetown University in which he described the Bush Administration as "ideologues" who were set in their own reality unable to hear anything contrary, and those of us who are in the world reality which includes dialogue and compromise. Listening to Clinton is always a lesson in charisma and communication. He constructs well-thought-out concepts with a clarity and ease of a friend looking you in the eye over lunch. And his topic was about negotiation, not rigid doctrine, so it would be hard to find fault in his premise.

Then I looked down at the op-ed story, and the description was of another rivetting and commanding speaker--Oliver North:

How did Democrats fail to inflict serious damage on an administration that sold sophisticated weaponry to a sworn enemy of the United States? How did they also fail to depict Iran-Contra as a sequel to Watergate--that earlier tutorial on the danger of unchecked executive power? One explanation is that their congressional hearings backfired. For months, they amassed evidence of what many observers believed amounted to treason by administration officials, if not Reagan himself.

But then in marched North: the crisp Marine with his hard-rock jaw and chest full of medals.For six days, North fended off the questions of politicians, and many TV viewers viscerally connected with the loyalty and courage he so artfully displayed. "If the commander in chief tells this lieutenant colonel to go stand in the corner and stand on his head," North said, "I will do so."

Olliemania swept the heartland and Hollywood. Even liberal TV producer Norman Lear admitted he couldn't "take [his] eyes off" the colonel.

No doubt North had his appeal, as does Clinton. The problem with propaganda and aphorisms and Orwell is, you have to compare apples with apples, not with oranges. Oliver North as an iconic image in uniform telling of "courage under fire" in so many words before a national TV audience vis a vis congressional hearing, is a message all by itself. Orwell would have to give way to Mcluhan, for whom the medium is indeed, is the message, regardless of its content.

Then there is the studied, if not media-manicured and honed-professional speaker, former President Bill Clinton. Yet at the moment of his speaking, there is no iconic figure or overall propaganda--that is quite clear in his tone. He quotes current writers, references journalists for accuracy, and states the case: that there is the perception of two realities--one, of the empire created by a joint executive and congressional alliance of right-wing neo-conservative ideology--and the other, of historical immediacy, the reality that affects everyone on the planet.

Clinton points to the latest news of a vote by the US against negotiating the issue of weapons in space. Clinton says that this was not a vote on whether to allow weapons in space or not, just a vote on whether or not to start talking about the question. Clinton rightly says the vote, out of 160 nations, was 159 in favor of negotiation, and the one vote against was by the United States:

President Bush has signed a new National Space Policy that rejects future arms-control agreements that might limit U.S. flexibility in space and asserts a right to deny access to space to anyone "hostile to U.S. interests."

A number of nations have pushed for talks to ban space weapons, and the United States has long been one of a handful of nations opposed to the idea. Although it had abstained in the past when proposals to ban space weapons came up in the United Nations, last October the United States voted for the first time against a call for negotiations -- the only "no" against 160 "yes" votes. -- Washington Post
The use of this late-breaking story in Clinton's argument serves to show that Bush's crusade is a daily ongoing mission, to gain executive power and abrogate reasonable accountability to the US public, and therefore the rest of the world. The end is to enrich the fortunes of the elite few who follow and are coddled by this group--in the wider sense, the right-wing cadre in the US, in the more literal and sinister practical sense, it means the quasi-clique moneyed group whose interests are served by the furthering of war-mongering and fear-mongering--for lack of a better name call it the wider "Bush family."

Meantime Grandin brings us up to the present regarding the Iran-Contra reference:

Just last December, Vice President Dick Cheney pointed to the Republican "minority report" on Iran-Contra written, not coincidentally, by Cheney's current chief of staff, David Addington to justify the White House's insistence on the primacy of the executive branch in matters of national security. At the time, that report, which blamed the scandal on Congress for "legislative hostage-taking," was considered out of the mainstream. Today, it reads like a run-of-the-mill memo from the Justice Department outlining the legal basis for any of the Bush administration's wartime power grabs.

Reagan and Bush should have gone to prison for violating their oath of office and committing treason, and in my neck of the woods this declaration would get at least a laugh, if not a truck off to the funny farm. Bush says he will "stay the course" even if only his wife and his dog stand with him. The stage is set for a two-year hiatus on any new legislation of any meaning getting passed, with a dead-locked congress and a lame-duck president. The empire is only in its early growth stages, there is still time to bring back the republic.

Iran-Contra, then, wasn't just a Watergate-style crime and a coverup. It was, rather, another battle in the neoconservative campaign against Congress and in defense of the imperial presidency. Though Iran-Contra might have been a draw the 11 convicted conspirators won on appeal or were pardoned by George H.W. Bush the backlash has become the establishment.--Grandin
Americans have a voice they haven't begun to muster yet--that voice ended the debacle in Vietnam, it brought reform to government and civil rights. The abuses of power Bush has called for may warp the spirit of the constitution for years to come. And the toll on lost souls through war and other carnage either in the active incursion in Iraq, or in the passive denial of aid to Africa, can never be undone. But history tells us the spirit of the constitution will survive, as it has, and the mistakes of the last six years can be corrected through the power of will, and numbers.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

We Let the Liars Steal America

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I vaguely remember reading Kurt Vonnegut many years ago who wrote that cigarette smokers were suicidal. He explained that the real smokers did not smoke filtered cigarettes, because that might get in the way of the effect of the smoke. The “dilettantes,” as he referred to them, smoked Pall Malls.

I thought of this when I read that Foley was in rehab because it seemed like a way to blame pederasty on the booze . In fact, real members of professional alcoholics would blame the kids for driving them to drink, not the other way around. So Foley comes up as a categorical dilettante when it comes to being an alcy wannabe.

Foley’s not even the subject of this post—dilettante as a word, is. Woodward’s Book, State of Denial, is surprisingly fascinating. Why “surprising?” Because we knew all the important factual information from all the prior-to-publication points and all the interviews and recaps. What was not part of this hype, and the best part of the book, is the nuance “fleshing-out” of all the details of big bucks, arrogant power, high-end relationships, and down and out insider dialogue. For instance:

[Surprise party for Barbara Bush’s 75th birthday at Kennebunkport June, 2000] George W. pulled Bandar [Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabian ambassador to the US] aside.

“Bandar, I guess you’re the best asshole who knows about the world.
Explain to me one thing.”

"Governor, what is it?”

“Why should I care about North Korea?”

It goes on but the language and the attitude are clear: arrogance, opportunism, and ambition.

I’ve heard elected representatives in the US referred to as “public servants.” That’s like referring to the rubber-stamp aristocracy who cowered in the shadow of Julius Caesar 2,050 years ago, "representatives of the people of Rome." Caesar's was a dictatorship, and the US is brewing a similar one now: a simmering stew which, while we’re not looking, becomes a comforting home-made meal with all the substance, but none of the nourishment, of the original ingredients.

It is frustrating to see the “Lying Liars” -- as Al Franken titled his book -- say what they want, while innocent lives are squandered and, in fact, Americans at home are constantly put in danger. Chris Matthews told Jay Leno last night that every vote counts. If you don’t like the Iraq occupation and what else the Republicans are doing, vote them out. Yet even the voting method is under question with the possibility of computer voting records to be hacked and altered to the advantage of…whoever is in charge.

Woodward’s book may be “tardy journalism,” as Chris Matthews said on Jay Leno. We’ve known the "knowns" of the meat of it for a while. And while Matthews describes Woodward as “unbiased,” let’s not forget the background info we’ve supplied before in this blog: Woodward was a courier for military intel prior to his initial stint at the Washington Post and his muckraking of Watergate’s bowels. That’s where he met and befriended Deep Throat—FBI uber-agent Mark Felt. And don’t forget the number of “disclaimers” over the years that Woodward was in fact a Republican…

Bob Woodward is also a pre-eminent journalist in the ancient tradition of the art. He’s on the inside, with no axe to grind as far as we can tell, and he’s precisely accurate and writes a page-turner as well as any best-selling novelist. So, as a current history of what’s going on in the Bush White House, and from an insider who has the access to, and respect of, the powers-that-be, Woodward’s book definitely tells the tale. He’s no dilettante, but his book is all about one who is president.