18 November 2007

On Historical Names

As a history professor, something that annoys the hell out of me is when students refer to individuals from the past by their first names. I read essays that mention Franklin’s New Deal, Woodrow’s 14 Points, and Abraham being assinated by John at Ford’s Theater (yes, that’s how the murder of a famous person is generally spelled by students).

Why do they do this? My first inclination is to blame their lack of reading—for current students read very little. Since they rarely open a history book, they never see the regular use of last names.

But I also think some of it is cultural. Am I the only one who is utterly sick of reading about these media-anointed athletic superheroes like A-Rod, and T-Mac, and D-Wade? They are not our close personal friends. I sense that the cute little sobriquets somehow allow the unwashed masses to feel that they are connected to these celebrity millionaires. It makes us want to spend money and go see them, right?

This awkward need for celebrity kinship has unfortunately seeped into our history. I am sure it is only a matter of time before students start telling me how AJax (pictured above) kicked some ass at the Battle of New Orleans in 1814 (he defeated some terrorists--I see that one coming soon). AJax later became president, outpolling the ClayMan in the 1832 election.

And how about that inevitable research paper on that critical Election of 1800? That’s when G-Wash’s former vice-president lost a close election to TJ. The presidency almost went to that scoundrel A-Burr but for the machinations of his political enemy A-Ham. A-Burr later got back at A-Ham by assinating him somewhere in NJ.

We need to stop this crap soon.

Sean Wilentz on Hillary Clinton

What I really like about this post is that a respected historian is taking an unapologetic stand on presidential politics. When I was growing up, professors were not ashamed to comment and involve themselves in political affairs. But during the past few decades, the need to appear "neutral" has apparently driven academics from the public sphere. I assume the constant abuse by wingnut conservatives has something to do with that silliness.

It's about time historians and other academics reenter the civil realm. Neutrality is impossible anyway, and we desperately need to assert ourselves as citizens during these times of torture, empire, greed, and inequality.

While I don't necessarily agree with everything Wilentz has said, it's refreshing to see him get involved. Let's not allow the right-wingers to silence us.

11 November 2007

It Isn't Free-Trade At All

I admit that I can swing wildly back-and-forth concerning my faith and confidence in the American political system. There are days when I consider all the ways we can attempt to bring about change—and that list is extensive. Our freedoms allow us access to the process through an impressive variety of methods. And when my students ask me if one, solitary individual can make a difference in this country—I most often say yes.

But then there are my dark and pessimistic days—and they are becoming more frequent. These are the times when I am convinced, based upon logic and evidence, that money and power provide the only means to political influence. Yes, we can vote, blog, pass out campaign literature, and write to our representatives…..but on the major economic and social issues, those with money will always pervert the system and get what they want. Think health care, Iraq, and a variety of issues where we know that corporate interests are able to impede the will of the majority.

These two demons battle constantly in the political section of my consciousness. But then once-in-while the fight momentarily ceases as something sends me over the edge. This week it was the egregious and criminal Peru Free Trade Agreement. If it isn’t obvious to the American public that corporate and Wall Street interests bought the passage of this legislation—then nothing is obvious in this corrupt political system.

There are two broad issues that particularly bother me. First, the opponents of the Peru FTA are from groups or interests that lack clear and immediate political power in the United States. Many of these organizations work for global change--environmental groups, unions, small manufacturers, the progressive religious community, and the poor. Yes, if these groups coordinated their efforts, they might be more successful. But for the most part, none of them register high in the political polls. And few of these organizations are swimming in money.

And the supporters of this legislation—take a guess: Wall Street; the globalization crowd, the capitalist classes, and big, big money campaign contributors. These interests are seeking to basically commandeer the Peruvian economy, institute austerity and free-market solutions, and make millions off the suffering of others. And they will get their way. Just to show you the kinds of people we are dealing with—read about one of the following perks these modern day Robber Barons will gain when the Peru FTA passes:

In 2006, the Bush administration negotiated a NAFTA expansion pact with the Latin American country of Peru containing obscure provisions that would chill efforts to reverse the failed privatization of Peru’s social security system. These “free trade agreement” (FTA) terms would seem to only benefit one U.S. firm, Citibank, which is the largest shareholder in ProFuturo AFP, one of the private retirement account providers authorized to compete against the Peruvian government’s public social security system as part of the privatization. Other U.S. firms could also gain rights to service the privatized social security system under the Peru FTA terms, as noted by the Bush administration’s Industry Trade Advisory Committee on Services and Finance Industries, who hope to use the Peru FTA as a precedent for expanding the reach of privatized social security systems internationally: “Negotiators for the United States and Peru are to be commended for the substantive and meaningful provisions included on pensions and asset management… U.S. portfolio managers will be able to provide asset management services… including funds that manage Peru’s privatized social security accounts”

In simplest terms, the problem involves provisions of the Peru FTA that empower foreign investors to demand compensation in United Nations (UN) and World Bank tribunals for government actions that undermine their expected future profits as an investor in Peru. Under these terms, if Peru reversed its privatization, Citibank could use the FTA to seek Peruvian government compensation for its loss of future revenue caused by the “nationalization” of its investment in providing private retirement accounts. The FTA has an exception that would forbid the U.S. government from suing in an FTA tribunal for the loss of financial service market access in private retirement accounts if the privatization were reversed. Thus, while the FTA has safeguards for Peru’s legal right to reverse the privatization, the FTA undermines Peru’s practical ability to exercise those legal rights. This is the case because if Peru acted to exercise its rights to terminate market access in private retirement accounts, it could be confronted with foreign investor demands for major compensation.

The amount that Citibank could demand could be considerable, as the right to provide the private accounts is not time-limited and, under the statute establishing the privatization, licenses can only be removed for cause. Peruvian labor and other civil society figures say that the Peru FTA provisions would severely chill their ability to win reversal of the privatization, because the government could not afford to pay a huge fine for the right to restore a public service.

It is clear that these agreements are not about trade, they are about forcing global capitalism on weak economies and then leaving the “people/voters” with few options.

The second point that saddens me is that American politicians are cynical enough to understand that what happens to the people of Peru will gain them no votes. The hell with the Peruvians: the poor, small farmers and businesses—that isn’t something that registers on Washington's sophisticated polling data. But so-called free trade, cheap imports, and corporate contributions…….those terms awaken the senses of our politicians. Will we ever do the right thing and start considering ourselves citizens of the world? Will we ever care for the people of Peru, or Iraq? I am not hopeful.

This agreement clearly will benefit the rich and powerful in both countries. And because they stand to gain so much—they have “legally” worked the system and purchased enough votes to get their way. Poverty will be exacerbated in Peru, farmers will lose their land and be forced to move into crowded cities, and unions will cede power and influence. But of course the wonderful and enchanting hand of the “free-market” will engulf Peru and make it a better place!

In the United States—the few small farmers who remain will be forced out of business, and we might be able to purchase few cheaper goods. But at what price? The agreements that the Bush administration claims to have made on the environment and labor issues will not be followed, and few will try to force it because it will bring no political gains.

The Democrats in the House voted against this measure—barely! Nancy Pelosi and other party leaders were afraid (they are always afraid of something aren’t they?) they would be labeled as the anti-trade party? But this is no reason to screw the people who are supposed to be the heart and soul of the Democratic Party. As the Nation wrote, the worry about being labeled anti-free trade is:

…the same simple-minded non sequitur the multinational establishment always invoke to scold Democrats. None of the Democratic dissenters are arguing for "no trade. They are trying to change the rules of trade so US workers are not the first victims of new agreements. Pelosi argued that the Peru agreement includes an important reform—stronger language in support of labor and environmental standards—and it does. But is there perhaps another reason why she pushed so hard against her own caucus?

Steven R.Weisman of the New York Times gently suggested one."Democrats from the prosperous areas of the East and West Coast have become especially responsive, many Democrats say, to the desire of Wall Street and the high technology, health, pharmaceutical and entertainment industries to expand their sales overseas," Weisman wrote. "These industries have also become major Democratic contributors."

She did it for the money. That is a more plausible explanation than insider arguments over the fine print in an inconsequential new trade bill. The big-money sectors are anxious to squelch the new critics of globalization in Democratic ranks before they can gain momentum in Congress. Looking toward financing the 2008 elections, Pelosi chose to stand with the money guys and dismiss the political backlash against globalization building across the country. She is probably betting people aren't paying attention to such trivial matters.

Many of us are paying attention, however. When the Peru FTA comes before the Senate this month, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton will be voting yes. John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich have come out against the measure—Kucinich in especially strong terms.

I urge everyone to help renew my faith in the American political system by doing something to try and stop this from passing in the U.S. Senate—write, call, cajole your Senators—especially the Democrats. You can also write a letter to your local newspaper and explain to people who might not be following, what this is really about.

Call the U.S. Capitol at (202) 224-3121 and ask to be connected to your Senator; tell them you think these NAFTA-style "free trade" agreements are a bad idea--tell them to vote against this legislation. And I bet Minnesota Democratic U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar is "on the fence" on this issue--contact her soon!

Here are some additional websites with "talking points" and even a link to email Washington

http://action.citizen.org/campaign.jsp?campaign_KEY=12561 (send an email message)

http://action.citizen.org/campaign.jsp?campaign_KEY=2535 (some talking points)

http://www.equalexchange.com/media/actionalerts/OxfamPeruFTALetterToCongress9-17-07.pdf (Oxfam letter opposing the agreement)


03 November 2007

The Bogus "Gender Card"

Since at least 1980, the Republicans' primary constituency has been white males. To be more specific, it has been middle to lower income white men who have constantly complained and whined about losing power and influence to all those “diversity” groups.

And the Republicans have indeed pandered to these white males like there is no tomorrow--oh, how they have pandered. Think about it; nearly every Republican issue is heavily steeped in gender—guns, war and security, no taxes for social problems (women’s issues), gay marriage, environment/big-SUVs, immigration, and abortion (don’t give those uppity women control over any decisions). All of this extreme political demagoguery has helped the GOP gain electoral ground: in the South (a trend started by the racist Nixon campaign of 1968 and honed by the equally racist Reagan campaign of 1980); as well as inroads with Reagan Democrats—those traditional blue collar male voters that once voted with the liberals.

But, when is the last time you heard the lazy and irresponsible mainstream media in this country charge that the Republicans were playing the "gender card?” They have clearly been punching that infamous ticket for nearly 30 years now. But I never hear anyone make the charge, or even bring it up.

Yet this past week, Hillary Clinton gave a
campaign speech at Wellesley College—her alma mater. She mentioned that her education at an all-women's college prepared her to "compete in the all-boy's club of presidential politics." Wow, really radial stuff! Immediately, the Republicans, the media, and even some Democrats insisted that she was utilizing the “Gender Card.”

Let me get this straight--white males can vote for their gender, Republicans can propose all sorts of so-called “manly” policy issues and insinuations to get that white male vote…..but that has never been labeled as gender pandering (although we all know it is).

What the hell is going on here? I suppose it is simply “accepted” behavior that men can pander to other men, and that men control the political system. But when women seek the votes of other women……holy shit we can’t have that. It’s unnatural of course. That’s different……blah, blah, blah.

This blatant hypocrisy really aggravates me. And as usual, only the liberal bloggers have even mentioned this problem.
Digby (one of the absolute best writers of all the leftist bloggers) said it best:
Indeed, the entire Republican campaign strategy can be said to be one big gender card-- the only people they believe matter in this country are delicate, insecure creatures who are so sensitive that they have to be pampered and pandered to like a bunch of overfed princes who like to play cowboy and don't want to share their favorite binky.

Every presidential candidate, and most other politicians, since 1980, have been bowing and scraping before this constituency. But for some reason, the hunting trips and codpieces and brush clearing and all that metaphorical crotch measuring isn't considered playing "the gender card." It's just considered the normal political pander to an aggrieved minority vote: the poor white males who've been treated terribly by all those powerful women and minorities and gays. What could be wrong with that?

I'm sorry, but this is truly sexist crap. Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney are out there one upping each other on who will be the most macho sadists among the crowd of warring GOP thugs. Hillary goes to her alma mater and says that her education at the women's college prepared her to do battle with the political boys club and the gasbags' eyes roll back in their heads and they start drooling and whining that she's 'broken the rules'.

All these squirming little fools who talk about how they have to "cross their legs" whenever they hear her voice, or hallucinate that she's "acting like a little girl" or any of a dozen other ridiculous, sexist responses to Clinton are revealing far more about themselves than they are about her. If anyone's playing the gender card it's them--and it's a picture of a quivering little boy crying in the corner because he doesn't want to share his toys with a girl. Tough. Eat some pork rinds and shut the fuck up.
Thanks Digby-- things are indeed changing and the angry white boys need to deal with it.

02 November 2007

A Bush-League History Lesson

Mr. 25% in the polls attempted to give the Democrats a history lesson today. Why does he do this? He has proven time and time again that he knows little or nothing about history. Yes, he knows how to clean and carry brush at the ranch—but he doesn’t know dick about history.

I believe it was several months ago that he tried to analyze Graham Greene’s novel, The Quiet American. He might have seen the movie, but it was clear that he didn’t intellectually grasp the book or the film. You would think that after he made an ass of himself with that earlier historical/literary analogy, maybe he would stick to something he actually understands.

But no……today he decided to again leap into twentieth-century global history with some baffling comparisons between Iraq and past historical crisis.

Bush suggested that the current Iraq dissenters and naysayers reminded him of earlier appeasers, like those who allowed Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin to launch the communist revolution; those who didn't stop Hitler when he moved to establish an ``Aryan superstate'' in Germany; and the liberals individuals in the early days of the Cold War who advocated accommodation of the Soviet Union.

``Now we're at the start of a new century, and the same debate is once again unfolding, this time regarding my policy in the Middle East,'' Bush said. ``Once again, voices in Washington are arguing that the watchword of the policy should be stability.''

Bush said any denial of war is dangerous and added that "History teaches us that underestimating the words of evil, ambitious men is a terrible mistake." The president added that "Bin Laden and his terrorist allies have made their intentions as clear as Lenin and Hitler before them. And the question is, will we listen?"

Oh my God…..what the fuck is this man talking about? He has dredged up the Nazi-appeasers argument. I thought that one was in mothballs. Using Bush’s logic, Iraq becomes a stand in for every disastrous event that has taken place in the entire course of human history. There were always people like him giving warnings, but liberals others just didn’t listen.

It’s not just Lenin, Hitler, and the Communists that made their "intentions clear"—hell Democrats and liberals have always been on the wrong side haven’t we? Indian attacks, Napoleon, slave rebellions, British troops burning the White House, union anarchists, uppity suffragettes, Castro, dirty naked hippies at Woodstock…….Bush and his ilk always knew the real motivations of these troublemakers and their allies. It’s us soft and pansy-ass liberals who have allowed this crap to flourish.

Let me respond to this moron with a more serious critique. He is absolutely wrong about the Cold War—wrong in so many ways. I cringe to think where we would be if Bush and his minions had been in charge during those critical years. I guess many of us would be small cinders or pieces of chard still smoldering in the nuclear fucking dust.

Even with all the hubris and the mistakes that were made during the Cold War, cooler heads generally prevailed and we averted a major meltdown. Isn’t that what we were aiming for? No, maybe I have it wrong. Maybe we should have let the nukes fly and showed the world what men we were.

Yes, both nations spent too much money and manufactured lots of unnecessary misery around the world……but we did avoid a nuclear catastrophe, we did end up with some stability (not a bad word in my lexicon), and a generation of diplomats steered this nation fairly well considering the circumstances.

As you nod off tonight, think about the following Cold War scenarios:
--Bush instead of JFK as president during the Cuban Missile Crisis (goodbye Cuba!)
--Not Eisenhower, but Bush negotiating with the Soviets during the U2 incident (nukes a flyin’)
--Bush, Cheney, and Wolfowitz dealing with the Berlin blockade instead of Truman, Marshall, and Acheson (Germany split into at least 15 sections)

Things could have always been worse my friends—Bush and his kind might have been in charge. His comments on the Cold War are an embarrassment. He is an embarrassment.

27 October 2007

A New Steve Earle Fan

While I don't plan to start writing music reviews, I do want to take this opportunity to mention the latest CD from Steve Earle, Washington Square Serenade.

Not only do I know little about music (aside from whether I like something or not), but there are several clear indications that my musical ignorance is actually profound. First, I don't even know what name to use when referring to an artists most recent release. Is it a CD, album, disk? I'm simply too old to know the terminology. Second, in the first paragraph of this post, I had no idea what kind of grammar to use when mentioning Earle's CD/disk/album. I guess the answer is buried somewhere in the Chicago Manual of Style, but I'm much too lazy to look it up.

Anyway, let me get on with this. I don't know much about Steve Earle. My Lovely Partner is a big fan--I think she has all of his albums (or whatever they are). I bought his latest several weeks ago when wondering around near the record-store. I listened.....and I do like some of the songs, especially "City of Immigrants" which is a tribute to the diversity of New York city where Earle now resides. It is refreshing to hear an artist sing about immigrants and what they have brought, and still bring, to this country.

But here is why I highly recommend the album. In the liner notes (yes they still exist, although hard to read), Earle includes a few paragraphs about the city which he loves. He even mentions Horace Greeley in those notes--a name probably familiar to few people. Then at the bottom of the liner notes comes this: P.S. Fuck Lou Dobbs

If I was indifferent to Steve Earle before, I don't have that same feeling now! Anybody who would write "Fuck Lou Dobbs" on his liner notes deserves respect as an artist and as a human-being. I now even plan to go back and listen to some of his earlier works. He has made a fan out of me.

24 October 2007

Bill Clinton

Last week during the SCHIP debate in Congress, a few Republicans took the opportunity to link that "socialistic" children's health care legislation with Hillary and Bill Clinton. One conservative gave a floor speech connecting SCHIP with what he called the "Hillary-Care" health care plan of the early 1990s. He went on to mention other evils like Bill Clinton, the Clinton presidency, and the big-government programs of those years.

I can understand the need to take shots at Senator Clinton--she is running for president. And the Republicans still view her as a lightning-rod and a polarizing figure. Just mention Hillary's name, they believe, and conservatives all over the country start foaming at the mouth.

comment: You know.....this Hillary as a polarizing figure theory is nothing but a myth. There appears to be no evidence to back it up--it is simply crap which is advanced by the right-wingnuts and then mindlessly repeated by the lazy mainstream media. But this is a subject for another blog entry. I am going somewhere else with today's post.

Anyway, Hillary can take care of herself, and I am sure she will. But what makes me snicker with amusement is that these stupid-ass conservatives think they will gain votes by trashing Bill Clinton and his presidency. Do we want to go back to the Clinton years, they ask? I know my answer.

Bill Clinton is popular, charismatic, intelligent, inspiring, and the absolute best campaigner of this generation. I don't remember anyone since Robert Kennedy who gets crowds fired-up like he does. And please, don't tell me how great a campaigner Ronald Reagan was--that doddering old fool wasn't in the same league with RFK and Clinton. If Republicans want to make Bill Clinton a campaign issue--one might say "bring 'em on."

The former president will do nothing but help the New York senator in her quest for the oval office. George Stephanopoulos once said Clinton was the most amazing campaigner he ever met--he would campaign nonstop for 20 hours straight and still be fresh and ready to keep going. The Republicans will get sick of seeing this guy. He is the energizer bunny.....he is the little engine that could.....and next to Hillary, he is their worst nightmare.

And one of these days, maybe soon--historians will begin judging the Clinton presidency. And I am sure conservatives will be incensed when those evaluations turn out to be positive. Historians will suggest that Clinton did a pretty good job (especially compared to what followed). Hell, I'm a historian and I have been saying this for several years now--so I guess we can conclude that the favorable pronouncements have already begun.

In the latest New York magazine (22 October), Joel Heilemann writes about the contrasting college experiences of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. He focuses on Bill and Hillary's courtship at Yale where many of her friends "could never figure out what Hillary saw in him." So many of their classmates viewed Bill as shallow; a nice guy who would "just tell stories and try to entertain them." Even those people underestimated the man. They saw the folksy, story-telling Southern politician, but never grasped the intelligent person beneath that facade.

I know that many of my own friends on the far-left still have mixed feelings about Bill Clinton because he didn't do enough for liberals during his two terms. Yes, he did triangulate, and he also moved the party to the middle (a party that couldn't win otherwise). I respectfully disagree with them. Politics is about incremental change--and we do what we can with our mostly moderate officeholders. Tell me we are better off now. Tell me we wouldn't all welcome even a moderate Democrat who generally agrees with our views over the quasi-fascistic brownshirts that now occupy the White House and other high positions of our government.

I think that historians will also see that Bill Clinton understood the 21st century and what was in store for America. He knew that the United States couldn't go it alone. He also grasped the changes taking place in the global economy. It seems so long ago doesn't it. A president that understood the changing nature of the world.....a president that understood America's role in the community of nations....and a president that even read books. Then came the dark ages.

If the Republicans want to focus on the Clinton years--they should go right ahead. They can have the legacy of Mr. 25% in the polls, and we will take the Clinton presidency--or should I say the first Clinton presidency.

19 October 2007

Eulogy for the Proprietor

While DEW is the chief blogger, the actual proprietor of Buddy’s Books and Bait has been a 14-pound, stubby-tailed, wonderful, loving character of the feline persuasion named Buddy. Buddy passed away on August 8, 2007.

Buddy came to live with DEW and me, DEW’s Lovely Partner, when he was about 4 years old. We lived in Northeast Minneapolis at the time, and there were a number of cats that roamed our neighborhood. We referred to them by their distinguishing characteristics—Flop-Eared Kitty, Brown Kitty, etc. It was apparent from their colors or general health that they had homes. It became clear over time, however, that Blue-Eyed Kitty had been abandoned, so we began putting food out for him. When he came to eat, we would say “There’s our pal” or “There’s our little buddy.” Eventually, as these things usually go, we decided to take him in.

We hatched our plot. I would hold the “cat-cart” at the ready, DEW would pick him up and plop him in the cart, and off to the vet we would go for shots and a check-up. Blue-Eyed Kitty, however, was not amenable to plopping. DEW picked him up, but he fought out of DEW’s grasp. Blue-Eyed Kitty was young, wiry, and very fast. DEW is now, and was then, many wonderful things. He was not, however, young, wiry, or fast. So the reader will understand that when Blue-Eyed Kitty went streaking across the street, through the neighbors’ yard and into the bushes and DEW, in a momentary delusion of grandeur, went chugging after him, the sight was, well, quite a sight.

This episode was the first indication of the great humor that “our little buddy” would bring to our lives when he did eventually submit to adoption and officially become Buddy. “Funny like a Bud” became a catch-phrase in our household. Whether going from the table to the stove to the top of the refrigerator to sleep in the roasting pan, riding all the way to Nebraska upside-down in his cat-cart with his paw over his eyes, or trying to open doors (he knew how they worked and would try to reach up and turn the knob with both paws), it seemed like he was always making us laugh.

If he wasn’t doing something amusing, Buddy could usually be found snuggling with one of us. Snuggling may actually have competed with eating as his favorite pastime. He loved to have DEW cradle him in his arms like a baby; if DEW tried to put him down before he was ready, Buddy would grab him around the neck and hold on. He slept with us every night. Depending on his mood and how warm or cold it was, he might be draped across the top of a pillow (which was know as “sleeping on our heads”) or spooning with his head tucked under my chin, or under the covers, curled up in the crook of DEW’s legs. We always knew when he was particularly relaxed and content—at those times, he drooled.

At the end of July, we noticed some mild indications that he was not quite up to par. Nothing to be overly concerned about we thought, but given that he was 17 we decided to have him checked out. We were devastated to learn that he had lymphoma and that it was very aggressive. Equally aggressive interventions were possible, but would only prolong his life for a few months. We agreed to try one moderate intervention. It didn’t work. We watched as, over the course of one short week, he lost substantial weight and became rapidly weaker, to the point of staggering when he walked. He was barely eating, and spending almost all of his time hidden away at the very back of a closet. We knew that the kindest thing we could do was end his suffering. On August 8th we had him put to sleep.

I would like to close this eulogy with words that I spoke to him many times during his life with us. These were also the last words that I said to him as I held him on my lap at the vet’s office while he received his final injection. “Mr. Buddy. We love you very much. You are the best boy in the history of boys."

18 October 2007

WWJD (What Would Johnson Do?)

Whenever I see the congressional Democrats once again pissing all over themselves and turning potential legislative victories into defeats, I think to myself, WWJD? That's right, what would Lyndon Baines Johnson have done when he ran the senate and the congressional Democrats from 1953 to 1961?

While I would like to forget most of his presidential years, I truly admire LBJ's legislative qualities. Outside of Henry Clay, Johnson has been the most masterful congressional strategist in American history.

So what would Johnson have done in this current Turkish-Armenian situation that the Democrats have once again fumbled? Not only can I guess how LBJ would have diffused the situation--but I sense he is laughing his Texas ass off every time he sees this current group of amateurs get thrashed by a president with a 24% approval rating. Senator Johnson would have been running all over this half-witted moron in the White House.

Here is what LBJ would have done. First, he would not have allowed a vote on genocide. Why risk defeat on something that offered few gains for the party? Instead, LBJ would have drawn up a resolution saying nothing about genocide, and nothing about Turkey. His vague proposal would have, however, contained glowing praise for the Armenians, their culture, their history, and all they have endured. It would have been a resolution that even the Republicans would have been forced to support--how could they vote against bill celebrating Armenia?

Granted, the Armenians would have been in LBJ's office complaining that his legislation didn't go far enough, that it didn't even mention what the Turks did to their ancestors. To pacify them, Johnson probably would have invited them all down to his Texas ranch. After treating them to a feast, he would have mentioned again what a great people they were and how in six months they would be receiving a $4-5 million check for a national project they desperately needed. That last perk would have come on a whisper--nothing guaranteed, but the Armenians could be sure that the money would show up in the not so distant future.

LBJ would then have sent one of his aids (Jack Valenti probably) to meet with the Turks. Valenti would have calmly informed the Turks that they owed Johnson for this one--he let them slide out of an uncomfortable international situation. They could expect to repay him soon on a defense bill, or a foreign aid appropriation.

Not only would the Democrats NOT have suffered a defeat--but they would have actually gained a victory. And LBJ would have been bragging to reporters the very next day about what great friends the Democrats had been to the Armenians. The Republicans, initially sensing a victory--had gained nothing. They had been co-opted by the Machiavellian Democrats. A sticky situation had been diffused and the party lost nothing.

Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi seem incapable of figuring out how to do this. They turn everything into a defeat. They do not appear to understand what is worth fighting for, and what is worth sacrificing. I suggest they stay up late some evening reading about LBJ or Henry Clay (or even Old Joe Cannon)--it might do them some good. Since I trust they read Books and Bait, I will even offer them the following suggestions:

Robert Remini, Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union
Merrill Peterson, The Great Triumvirate: Webster, Clay, and Calhoun
Robert Caro, The Path to Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson
Robert Caro, Means of Ascent: The Years of Lyndon Johnson
Robert Caro, Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson

16 October 2007

Back in Business

Greetings to Buddy's Books and Bait aficionados. Yes, I have been away for awhile--busy, lazy, uninspired, I have all sorts of excuses. But I realized after a few months of inactivity that I did truly enjoy voicing my political opinions. And even though my readership remains small, I think it is important to attempt to build progressive/liberal communities through blogs and other assorted media efforts.

As of now, I am still the solitary writer of this blog--which means that if any of my friends and supporters wish to contribute, I would be grateful (articles, book/movie/record reviews.....anything as long as it follows the obvious political leanings of the primary author).

Thanks for reading. Keep the comments coming and tell your friends about Books and Bait. Let's try to keep pissing off those conservatives.

A Vote Remembered

No better way to reenter the blogosphere than by writing about Paul Wellstone.

I was reminded in a recent Wellstone Action! newsletter that it is the fifth anniversary of the Iraq War vote. Wellstone was one of 23 senators who voted against that resolution (3 October 2002). But even more important--Wellstone was the only one of the 23 senators facing the voters in just a few weeks. As Jeff Blodgett writes in the newsletter, "The vote was considered by many political observers to be the death knell for his reelection."

Paul Wellstone was an inspiration on many levels. Not only did he vote against this bogus war, but he probably risked his political career. That whole "risked his political career" quip sounds dire--but maybe we would like to see some of our current progressive/liberal politicians inch just a little closer to that position. We aren't asking for outright political suicide, we just want to see some backbone.....a little courage.....show us that you fucking care!

Wellstone also voted against the 1991 Gulf War--the one started by Bush's daddy. And incidentally, he voted against the so-called Welfare Reform bill in 1996--another vote cast during a rough reelection campaign.

As you all know, Paul Wellstone died three weeks after his Iraq War vote. I think the consensus in Minnesota is that Wellstone would have been reelected in spite of his vote on the War. I trust that he would have been a strong voice for the antiwar left. And I get a sick feeling in my stomach each and every time I see Norm Coleman occupying the senate seat that Wellstone once held.

I miss Paul Wellstone. And I lament the fact that there so are few politicians today that are so resolute and fearless.

The other 22 senators who votes against the Iraq War resolution: Akaka, Bingaman, Boxer, Byrd, Chaffee, Conrad, Corzine, Dayton, Durbin, Feingold, Graham, Inouye, Jeffords, Kennedy, Leahy, Levin, Mikulski, Murray, Reed, Sarbanes, Stabenow, Wyden.

21 May 2007

Film Review: Joyeux Noel

This past semester, I had the good fortune to teach a U.S. “History on Film class. In planning the course, I had every intention of devoting several periods to antiwar films. While I am aware of some quality antiwar movies—I had to confront a curious problem. I have found that a number of these films—especially those about the Vietnam War—are interpreted by today’s students as very much pro-war in nature. Yes, the messages from Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, and Apocalypse Now are often missed and/or ignored by many of my students. Instead, they see exciting battles, shiny weapons, and heroic soldiers and come away thinking that war is glamorous—or at least valiant and courageous.

So in teaching this class for the first time, I decided to skip the antiwar section, not wishing to make these young conservatives any more enamored with blood and guts than they already are. I still feel somewhat guilty about that, but I will continue to advance my subversive, leftist agenda in other ways.

After the class ended, however, I did discover an excellent antiwar movie. The 2005 French film Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas) is an engrossing look at a 1914 holiday cease fire. I enjoyed it so much that I would have seriously considered showing this foreign film in my American history course.

The film chronicles a short but spontaneous Christmas Eve truce declared by French, German, and Scottish troops during WW I. There is a battle scene at the start of Joyeux Noel, but after that, this film concerns what might happen if soldiers could act like individuals instead of being forced to follow the orders of hypocritical and out-of-touch politicians.

The outbreak of temporary peace in the trenches starts when Christmas trees are shipped to German troops. The troops then begin decorating and displaying the trees—singing commences, and the soldiers lay down their weapons and come out of the trenches to celebrate the holidays. What takes place then is magical—troops begin showing each other pictures of their wives and children, they share food and drink, converse, and even play soccer. These young men act like you would expect them to—they aren’t angry with the enemy, they simply wish to live. They leave the obnoxious nationalism and patriotic fervor to others. And director Christian Carion also minimizes nationalistic stereotypes—the film does not depict these individuals as German, French, or Scottish; they are simply men who are afraid and want to return home. This war (like all wars) is not about heroism. It’s terribly violent and people are killed for absolutely no reason.

There are several plot lines and situations that some critics have called unrealistic. Stephen Holden of the New York Times says the film feels “as squishy and vague as a handsome greeting card declaring peace on earth.” There are critics who have questioned the historical accuracy of this particular event. While I will not vouch for or comment on the historical details, there was a book published in 2001 on this topic. Stanley Weintraub’s, Silent Night informs readers of the history and background of the Christmas Truce. After viewing the film, many of you will probably wish to read this extremely informative book.

I do believe the director takes some liberties with the exact details of the event—even though we know that this moment of sanity did take place. But what actually disturbs me is that it is too often deemed “unrealistic” to discuss or show peace. Why is it so hard to believe that soldiers might actually choose to drop their weapons and greet their so-called enemies with open arms? In too many films (especially in the United States) it has become natural to glamorize war and violence, but once a director attempts to illustrate pacifist behaviors—then it becomes time to scoff and use criticisms like naive and idealistic. I never hear these “unrealistic” arguments used in war films—both critics and the bloodthirsty public too often simply accept that type of history without question.

I urge you to rent and watch Joyeux Noel. It is a quality film, as well as one of best antiwar movies ever made (it was nominated for Best Foreign Language film at the British and American Academy Awards as well as the Golden Globe Awards). The stellar cast includes Diane Kruger, Guillaume Canet, Daniel Bruhl, and Benno Furmann. You’ll get misty-eyed thinking about what is possible. And more importantly, this film will force you to reflect upon the futility of war itself and why we fight.

09 May 2007

U.S. Violence Is Nothing New

Whenever the lazy and historically oblivious mainstream media reports that an event is the best, worst, smallest, tallest, or biggest in American history, I become skeptical. For the most part, it probably doesn’t make a difference—but that's the point. If it doesn’t make a difference, why do the media always use those excessive superlatives? Ratings I guess.

I wondered about this after the Virginia Tech shootings. Was it really the worse massacre in U.S. history? It was one of those questions that float around in my mind and give me something to ponder when I am riding the city bus.

But even before I read anything to the contrary, I was concerned that this was just one of the media’s fabricated statistics. See the problem is this, even when the media prints something that might technically be accurate—they offer the reading public no historical context. They fail to mention or discuss other massacres in American history—and more importantly, they never take the time to even define what their terms mean.

Let me explain what I mean by historical context and definition—because it makes a great difference here. At VTU, one student shot and killed over 30 individuals. If you believe the mainstream media, a massacre of this proportion has never taken place before. But wait…..let’s think about that for just a minute. My thoughts immediately turned to several critical historical issues: race and Indian removal. Even without doing any research, I had a gut-feeling that there has been larger numbers of African Americans or Indians killed at some time in America's past. Wouldn't you agree?

But without any historical context, and without an explanation of what a massacre even means—the media is able to make up its own definition. In this case, what we really have is the worst massacre in U.S. history by a single gun-toting individual against other middle-class, mostly white individuals.

Lo and behold, I soon found out I wasn’t the only person concerned about these ambiguous distinctions. CommonDreams posted an article by Carla Blank entitled,
“Worst U.S. Massacre?” Unlike yours truly, Ms Blank actually did some research and wrote a wonderful piece about this very subject.

I urge you to read her short expose and seriously think about America’s extremely violent past. In addition, it seemed hypocritical to me that the media harped about this recent violence while we continued to kill Iraqi citizens each and very day—but I guess that doesn’t really count now does it?

Let me just quote two of Blank’s examples, and then add one of my own.

-In 1913, during another nationally publicized action known as the Ludlow Massacre, more than 66 people were killed, including 11 children, and two women who were burned alive. Sparked by a strike against the Rockefeller family-owned Colorado Fuel and Iron Corporation by the mostly foreign born Serb, Greek and Italian coal miners after one of their union organizers was murdered, it eventually involved the Colorado National Guard, imported strikebreakers and sympathetic walkouts by union miners throughout the state. The union never was recognized by the company, and a U.S. congressional committee investigation failed to result in indictments of any militiaman or mine guard.

-In 1860, Bret Harte, a well-known California writer, had just begun his writing career, working as a newspaper reporter in Arcata (known then as Union). Harte was expelled from Humboldt County because he recorded the Gunther Island Massacre of Wiyot Indians, committed on Feb. 26, 1860, when a small group of white men murdered between 60 and 200 Wiyot men, women and children. The massacre was encouraged by a local newspaper. Extermination was once the official policy of the California government toward Native Americans, as Gov. Peter H. Burnett stated in 1851: “That a war of extermination will continue to be waged between the two races until the Indian race becomes extinct, must be expected…”

One more example—and I know there are many others. Here in my own home state of Minnesota, 38 Dakota Indians were killed in a mass hanging/execution in 1862. Many still see that as a massacre as these 38 were singled out (with little specific evidence) and blamed for violence that erupted in central Minnesota earlier that summer.

There are those who will say I am quibbling—that it doesn’t matter, Virginia Tech was a tragedy. It was. But why is the U.S. media so god-damned stupid when it comes America’s violent past? Could it be because most of that violence has been carried out against Africa Americans, Indians, immigrant laborers and other groups that have often been written out of the history books?

All American citizens should know about these other massacres and atrocities—starting with Columbus’ genocide, extending through slavery and Jim Crowism. We need students to know about this bloodshed and carnage—it’s an uncomfortable but critical part of this "great nation's" legacy.

03 May 2007

On Student Debt

I attended a small soiree last week at my University (I suppose the proper word is a picnic—but that sounds so Midwestern). At one point, there were 5-6 of us (faculty and students) talking, and the delicate subject of student debt was introduced. A very charming women, wife of a faculty member, mentioned several local organizations that teach and advise college kids how to live within their means. One student added that he visits several websites daily that offer advice on spending habits. The conversation soon turned to how students get into debt as well as the use and abuse of credit cards.

After listening to this interesting conversation, I immediately inhaled 4-5 hot dogs and pondered the discussion (no actual connection between the conversation and my gluttony though).

Anyway, here is my problem with the entire student debt issue. While it isn’t a bad idea to help young people with money management, maybe we need to inch a little closer to the real problem—the source. Maybe we should teach about capitalism first—about the absolute desire and need of the capitalist classes to exploit these kids, and why the American system works that way. Maybe if my naive students knew more about the system they are about to become part of, they would have a better understanding of why college costs are so high, why salaries are so low, why the job market looks so bleak, and why they are getting unsolicited credit cards in the mail every day!

But what we tend to do in this country is blame the "undisciplined spender" even though the entire structure is organized to get money from these students and saddle them with lifelong debts. Let's not fool ourselves, it's planned that way! Many of my students are spending $20-25,000 a year for their college degree. And that price rises each and every year. What kind of job should they expect? You all know the answer to that—the pay will not be very good. In fact, most of my students are going to be burdened with heavy debts for years and years.

And while they are building up these debts, they still get credit cards in the mail—what a great country this is! These kids are also bombarded with capitalist cues to buy…buy…and buy even more. They all have cars and all the electrical gadgets one can imagine. But I guess that is the point of capitalism, they keep making products we don’t need, and we keep buying those products—while slipping further and further into debt.

Yet our Puritanical society too often views debt as a personal flaw. And then when I say negative things about capitalism (which happens often), my students generally take offense. They have been taught by their conservative parents that the system is just fine—individuals screw up. But of course they can get help—they can learn how to control their spending at some seminar. We continually hide our heads in the sand and support this corrupt economic system that only benefits the rich.

Maybe we should start telling our young people about capitalism and how flawed it really is. Let’s go to source of the debt problem instead of expecting them to feel shame. American capitalism is putting these kids in a real bind—and they still refuse to acknowledge the culprit. They still blindly accept the system and spout ridiculous crap about our freedoms and what a great country we live in.

Teaching them about the evils of capitalism will do two important things—it will help them understand exploitation and how they are a necessary part of it. And second, maybe they will be able to understand the primary systemic problem—that capitalism needs to keep forcing people into debt, and it needs a blind obedience from a generation of young spenders to stay alive.

Maybe we can kill it someday—but we must get these young spenders to understand how they are aiding and abetting the monster.

01 May 2007

Mission Accomplished Day!

Hey folks, it's "Mission Accomplished Day" in America. Yes, George W. Bush has given us a new holiday to celebrate, a day of commemoration.

As you probably all know, it was on 1 May 2003 that our fearless leader went on that aircraft carrier and declared victory in Iraq--or mission accomplished.

Since that wonderful declaration of victory, thousands of American and Iraqis have been killed, and the war itself has become a unmitigated disaster for the United States. Our "great" nation is hated abroad, the public has finally turned against the war, the Republican political majority has vanished, and Bush has proven himself to be a fucking idiot--something we all knew from the beginning.

But the Mission Accomplished faux pax needs to be "celebrated" each and every year. When that cocky bastard stood on that aircraft carrier he thought he had actually pulled it off. All the lies and falsehoods in order to take us into that illegal war--Bush thought a quick victory would stifle any dissent. The troops would be home before anyone had a chance to look into the lies.

Well, he was clearly mistaken and we need to make him pay this year......and every year thereafter. Mission Accomplished Day has two purposes. First, to remind us what an incompetent leader and prick that Bush really is. The picture with the thumb in the air says it all doesn't it?

But there can be a more practical and fun celebration for this day. It's the one day of the year when, thanks to our president, we can tell grandiose, bald-face lies and smile about the whole situation. That's right, on May 1, we now have the right.....no, the duty to simply make things up. We need to all find a bad situation in our life and declare that everything is okay!

How might this work--let's look at some examples.

-You have been working on that new deck for over a year, but it remains unfinished. There is lumber strewn all over the yard and the kids cannot even use the back door because the "new deck" project has been a disaster. You should never have promised your wife that you would build it; you are in over your head. But wait.....it's May 1st. That means the deck is actually finished. On Mission Accomplished Day you take the family out on the deck and declare the project completed! That's all it takes.....mission fucking accomplished.

-You are a professor and that stack of ungraded papers is now at least 5' high. There is no way you can finish--students are clamoring for their grades, they want their papers returned. What are you going to do? Its May 1st--those papers are done, they are all graded. Go to class and tell them mission accomplished you little shits!

-You've been working on a written project for the boss now for months, and your have made no progress. You know this report will never be finished but you don't know how to tell the boss. No need to--it's Mission Accomplished Day.....the god-damned report is done.

You get the point, what a great holiday! Now the negative side of all this is that the joy will not last long; sooner or later your family, your students, and your boss are all going to find out what a fuck-up you really are. But on this one day, on Mission Accomplished Day--you can hold your head up high and be proud of what you have done (although it's all a fucking lie).

Even when they find out and you are proven to be a worthless piece of crap, you can look back with pride on that one day when everyone chose to believe you were actually competent. They all know different now, but you will always have Mission Accomplished Day. The liberal media and the dirty hippies can never take that one away from you.

25 April 2007

Nice Hair

The long-haired, disheveled gentleman to the left is Nick Swisher, first-baseman/outfielder for the Oakland Athletics. Swisher is a very good baseball player who is too-often criticized by obnoxious fans because of his hair. Here are a few random comments from an AOL sports website (the quotes and grammer are exact):

"This guy like all the other so called hero's should all cut their hair so as to like a male."

"While watching the recent series oakland played against the Yankees, I couldn't help but notice the difference in how each team looked. Oakland looked like a bunch of bums."

"Still a dirty hippie."

I have always wondered why anyone gives a shit how a baseball player looks anyway. What business is it of the fans if a guy has long hair?

Anyway, here is the kicker to this story. It seems as though Swisher (whose hair currently looks even wilder than in the picture) is growing his hair out in order to
donate it to help make wigs for women suffering from hair loss caused by cancer treatment.

That's right.....
Swisher's cause, and tribute to his grandmother (who raised him and died of cancer in 2005) is to work with the Entertainment Industry Foundation and the Women's Cancer Research Fund. He is encouraging others to donate real hair to be made into wigs.

P.S. Just so you all know I do have a sense of humor, and am not serious about everything, I will add several pictures of other great baseball "hair-moments" of the past. If Books and Bait readers have other hair pictures to contribute, please send.

Oscar Gamble, circa 1976 (below)

(right) Mike Piazza goes bleached blond, summer of 2001.....Mets remain in last place.

David Halberstam, 1934-2007

Journalist and prolific author David Halberstam died in a car accident on Monday. Halberstam may have been the greatest journalist of the last half-century. And that is not simply my opinion. Anthony Lewis made that determination--and Lewis has been a damned good journalist himself.

Halberstam had such an impact on many facets of American politics and intellectual life. Not only was he a superb journalist--but he was a gifted writer. You can pick up any of his books at random and quickly appreciate his knowledge, wit, and excellent storytelling skills.

You can read the obituaries that have been published during the past few days--but I would like to briefly mention three things about David Halberstam that I will always think about.

1. He set the standard in honest war reporting during Vietnam. Halberstam wasn't "embedded" with some military unit, he reported on what was actually happening in that country. And as you might expect, the politicians despised him--President Kennedy wanted the New York Times to remove him from Saigon. Along with other great, young reporters like Neil Sheehan and Malcolm Browne, Halberstam didn't accept the lies and coverups coming from official sources in Washington. As Dexter Filkins writes in the New York Times (26 April 2007), Halberstam was one of the first skeptics--one of the first reporters who questioned the government version of international events. We need more Halberstam's today. Since the Bush administration has clearly lied its way through the Iraq War, those skeptics are needed now more than ever.

2. David Halberstam wrote many excellent books--but his Vietnam masterpiece, The Best and the Brightest, is something everyone should read. While it is about America's tragic descent into the Vietnam quagmire, it's really about much more than that--our flawed system, American hubris, the lack of understand about the world and its people. You can learn about Vietnam, but you also learn about Iraq and other blunders. The book is as relevant today as it was when it was published in 1972. Please read it, you will not regret it.

3. Finally, a societal comment (and I might sound like an old coot here). We are inundated in this culture with news and information about politicians, sports and rock/rap star, media personalities (Imus, Stern, Springer, etc.). Have you ever stopped and reflected on how truly interesting those people are? The answer is easy--they are not very interesting at all! Generally, they are not very bright, or imaginative, or remarkable in any way. Yet we continue to worship Anna Nicole Smith, Paris Hilton, and the latest winner in the American Idol competition. It's low-culture at its worst.

David Halberstam was an tremendously interesting and fascinating individual.....as was Kurt Vonnegut who passed away last week.....as was historian Arthur Schlesinger who died in February....not to mention journalist Molly Ivins who died earlier this year. Yet the media continues to worship celebrities--and most Americans simply accept it.

Several weeks ago, someone did an clever experiment by
placing a classical violinist near a subway entrance in Washington D.C. to see if anyone noticed, or even cared. Over 1000 people walked past Joshua Bell, and only seven paid any attention--or gave him any loose change. Granted, people were in a hurry and had to get to work; but I bet if Paris Hilton was standing there, people would have stopped. David Halberstam will be sorely missed.

20 April 2007

Another Travel Destination Off My List

I didn’t figure to discuss religion much on this blog. Religion doesn’t interest me—I don’t really understand what the fuss is all about, and I don’t care to learn. I wouldn’t pay attention to religion at all if it weren’t for the right-wing fundamentalists who are currently attempting to hijack the American political system. That does piss me off. So what interest I do have in religion concerns these machinations of the political-Jesus crowd.

Now I haven’t always been disinterested in religion…..well, actually yes I have. I recall my very first youthful thoughts about religion, it seemed to be a crock of shit. Lots of old white guys making threats—and even as a little kid of 8-9, I never did have lots of respect for authority. My mom always thought I was going to hell, and she told me that continually….. which actually makes me feel pretty good now because she was never right about a fucking thing in her life.

While I don’t buy into the whole heaven/hell dichotomy, I was a Catholic altar boy for a few years. I always wondered if that secured me any chits in case there actually is a heaven. I doubt it, because even when I was up at the altar ringing the bell and serving wine to the priest, I wasn’t paying any attention to the service. I’m still not a detail guy, but during mass then I was thinking about other important life questions: what was I going to do that particular day, lunch, and various baseball quandries. I went through the motions during the service—always wondering if God could actually tell what I was thinking about. But since I never received any signs that this so-called Creator cared about my thought-process, I figured I would continue to ponder the Mets pitching rotation (Jackson or Fischer tonight?) instead of reflecting upon the gospels. It worked fine for me.

Why I am babbling about my altar boy days? Because the Catholics just got rid of Limbo. I really never knew exactly what Limbo was, or where it was. I do know that my Mom and Grandma mentioned that I would be going to some of these places if I didn’t shape up. Obviously, Hell was the leading destination for me and other smart-asses like me. But there were other Catholic eternal travel destinations that were supposed to scare youngsters. Purgatory was somewhere above Hell on the pecking order. I never got a clear explanation for Purgatory either—even though I kept asking. And that really pissed my Grandma off because she didn’t believe you were supposed to ask about these religious matters. It seems Purgatory was a sort of dull way-station where you went if you weren’t quite evil enough for Hell, but really didn’t deserve Heaven on the first-ballot. I always figured I could live with that.

Limbo was something else—it had something to do with babies who weren’t baptized or confirmed or some kind of nonsense. And even though I was baptized, I still got threatened with Limbo on occasion. I was told that it was kind of like Purgatory—except you might have to hang around Limbo even longer. I never knew if the Limboites were actually going to Heaven; whereas the Purgatorians seemed assured of getting admitted at some point. Is it any wonder why I never took this shit seriously?

Anyway, that new German Pope and some other Catholic bureaucrats have now dropped Limbo—it doesn’t exist anymore I guess. Can they do that? Does this mean all the other Popes were mistaken? What happens to the people who were waiting in Limbo—where do they go? I have a few other questions about Limbo:

-If you have Limbo T-Shirt, is it now worth more money?
-Is Limbo near Oz?
-Is there rent control in Limbo?
-Does this mean Purgatory will now be overcrowded?

I will spend some time in the next few days thinking about these questions!

Oh, and speaking of Catholics—these five really deserve our attention. Yes, they are all Catholic, wealthy, and male--and all of them seem to think women are too fucking stupid to make their own medical and reproductive decisions.

17 April 2007

Beware of a Phony Gun Debate

There wasn't much that could have been done to stop the VTU shootings on Monday. So I don't think the massacre will open a new debate on gun control. What I do think will happen, however, is that conservatives will soon begin to accuse liberals of using the murders to initiate a gun control debate--even though that isn't the case. Let me demonstrate how this is done.

At this point, even with the Virginia tragedy, I don't believe liberals are ready to reopen the gun control fight. There are several reasons. First, liberals have a number of other domestic issues of higher priority, like health care, the wage gap, and other poverty-related, economic concerns that must be addressed. Second, liberals clearly need to deal with the wasted and worthless deaths and other disgusting events taking place in Iraq. Third, with possibility of gaining states in the West, liberals and Democrats must think about some tradeoffs to make that a reality. As Machiavellian as it might seem, if 3-4 Western states could be brought into the Democratic electoral vote column, we should think about what would be necessary to bring that about. And it seems as though gun control would not be helpful in that electoral quest. Overall, it doesn't appear to be the right time to push this issue.

Personally, I would like to see this debate reopened. I think every one of those rabid, NRA-types ought to have a handgun shoved up their ass (it doesn't have to be loaded, just shoved). But I still possess a slither of political realism, and I am willing to wait on this issue.

But here is what the conservatives are already doing--and they have the mainstream media helping them. They are going to use the VTU murders to fire up their base.....by warning their mindless minions that liberals are now out to take away their firearms. Liberals are not pressing this issue--but the right-wingers have made the charge anyway. And once the wingnuts have made the charge, the media picks it up (they need something to report) and begins reporting on this new gun control debate.

The conservatives then throw up their hands, act surprised, and then blame liberals for exploiting the situation. They have been doing this for years--liberals understand it, it's their own conservative voters who are too damned stupid to have figured it out yet.

In graduate school we used to call this a "straw-man" argument: when someone falsely manufactures a case just so they can shoot it down. There must be a better word for it. If anyone has a better term for what Rove and his right-wingers do on a consistent basis--please leave it in the comments section.

Let's not fall for this. Spread the word, write, blog--do whatever you have to do to let the public know that while liberals are concerned about gun violence, we aren't reopening this gun debate just now. It's simply conservatives trying to use fear (as usual) to scare their own terrified constituents and wrangle some additional money out of them.

16 April 2007

To Those Defending Poor Don Imus

Yesterday (Sunday) I received a email post from my friend and frequent Books and Bait contributor Chet Brinkley (see that full post below). Mr. Brinkley wrote that as a civil libertarian and strong advocate of the first amendment, he finds himself "torn" over what to think about the Imus firing. After mulling over Chet Brinkley's sentiments, I opened the Sunday New York Times to see that Frank Rich was at least partially defending Imus in his Sunday column. And then today in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, columnist Syl Jones added some incisive anti-Imus commentary--some of which I will quote in this post.

Since this issue hasn't dissipated yet, I thought I would offer my own perspectives here today. I can find absolutely no sympathy for Imus on any grounds whatsoever. Chet Brinkley was impressed that even after CBS fired Imus, "he and his wife still wanted to apologize to the Rutgers team." Here are my answers to some of the extremely lame Imus defending that has gone on during the past few days.

#1: on the general topic of free speech--Imus did not lose his free speech privileges! This is very important to remember. Don Imus is sitting in his fancy New York apartment right now, or walking the streets of Manhattan (and he's probably wearing that dumbass cowboy hat too). He is not in jail, he is in no legal trouble, and his employment opportunities are, frankly, pretty good. Don Imus is not Eugene Debs, or Emma Goldman, or Margaret Sanger (all paid the price for their speech and actions). He got fired from his job because he's a fucking racist idiot. After cleaning out his desk, and picking up his inflated paycheck, Imus can still say anything he wants. He can go on TV, write an editorial, give a speech, publish a blog.....he remains totally free to be the bigoted and chauvinistic bastard that he was on the radio. He hasn't lost his free-speech rights at all.

#2: it's about the government--The critical part of the free speech issue is when it is imposed by the government. It's the government that can take away free speech rights--not CBS news. What we need to be concerned about is government censorship--the right to speak out against the Bush war-machine, the right to protest, online freedoms, and absolute music, art, and literature freedoms.

#3: Jackson and Sharpton--Bringing up these guys is nothing but a red-herring. Mr. Brinkley quotes Kansas City Star sportswriter Jason Whitlock who manages to get in a short quip against Jackson and Sharpton. The fact that the national media marches out Jackson and Sharpton every time there is race issues really tells us more about the national media than anything else. These two gentlemen don't speak for all African Americans. And if I was one of those conspiracy buffs (like my good friend Ratso Rizzo), I would say that the national media only uses Jackson and Sharpton to turn public opinion against African American issues. But I won't say that. In fact, it doesn't matter what Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton say--if you dislike these gentleman, it has nothing to do with the issues at hand.

#4: the weak-ass rap argument--Mr. Brinkley writes in his post, "As a white guy, I'm out of touch with the black experience. But I don't think it serves anyone well to condemn whites for using hateful and bigoted language while "rewarding" artists in the black community for using it with impunity." I think this is simply silly! There are many black organizations and individuals trying to deal with these rap/hip-hop race and gender issues. In the meantime, what should white America do? Are we allowed to all perform our best Strom Thurmond impersonations just because black rap artists use racial slurs in their music. The connection makes no sense. As Syl Jones writes in his editorial, " If you can't understand what's wrong with a white man piggybacking on the problems of an African American subculture of disrespect and blithely importing it into a nationally syndicated radio and television broadcast, what do you understand?"

#5: the even weaker-ass "chilling effect" argument--Frank Rich wrote in the Sunday Times that firing Imus will have a "chilling effect on comics who push the line" as well as on political talking-heads like Bill Maher and Ann Colter. Again, this is simply silly. Chilling is such a severe word when Imus didn't lose his free speech rights. Furthermore, Frank Rich is demonstrating his insider status here. Maybe there will be a slight effect on some of the inside-the-beltway types, but who else will be influenced......my guess is no one.

#6: this is also about women and gender--Some have forgotten during the past week that Imus not only made a racial slur, but he also showed his true chauvinistic colors. At the same time he made his now infamous statement on the Rutgers women's team, he said something about the Tennessee players being "cute." I think his clear disrespect for women should have earned him the ax.

#7: and don't use the term PC around here-- What does "politically correct" really mean? Let me tell you using a wonderful quote from Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon, "PC is a term that is used to declare insults aimed at the less powerful groups protected, while doubling up the social punishments for even legitimate (if humorous) criticisms of the powerful." PC is an excuse for the white, male frat-boy types to criticize anyone they please and laugh about it--it also "allows" them to label themselves the victims of an oversensitive society. What assholes!

#8: Imus only apologized because he finally went too far/he got caught--Did I even have to mention this one? Isn't it obvious?

#9: finally....and most importantly--free speech is here so "we the people" can criticize the government--I agree with Brinkley, Rich, and others that absolute free speech is important. But we need to reflect upon what it is for--free speech was not originally intended to allow the majority (white males) to say anything they want against minorities. They can do that already--and they have always had the political power to do that. Imus is just piling it on. Let's not forget that black female college athletes aren't the enemy; and rap singers aren't the enemy. No hip-hop artist is going to take away my habeas corpus rights.....but I know someone else who will. The enemies, the people we need to fear, are in the government (specifically the Bush administration). They can take away our rights.

I understand that even though Imus is a small-fish, we still don't want to go down that first amendment slippery slope. But Imus didn't lose any rights and he's not worth defending.