Monday, June 30, 2014

Yes, Ann, football is a real sport

Seems conservatives have picked a new target of derision -- "soccer."  Ann Coulter isn't the only one who sees the game as un-American.  G. Gordon Liddy tossed in his two-cents, saying he would rather see South American Indians kick around decapitated heads than watch the World Cup.

I have to give the G-man a yellow card.   The game did not originate on the American sub-continent.  It actually dates back to Greek and Roman times, and was played in ancient China as well, before being popularized in England in the 14th century, long before Columbus or any other European (other than a wayward Viking) ventured to America.

All this would be quite amusing if the persons in question didn't take themselves so bats**t seriously.  Glenn Beck apparently thinks there is a worldwide conspiracy to get Americans caught up in World Cup fever, deflecting our attention from real events like Benghazi and the IRS scandal.

Instead of rooting for America's can-do kids, who qualified for the Cup by beating a heralded Mexico team, Dan Gainor believes the game is "browning America," adding a racist angle to round out the conservative angst over this highly popular game.

I guess my question is, don't these conservative pundits have something better to rage against?  I hate to break the news to them but football, or soccer as it is called in America, is a very popular sport and is played largely by kids who haven't made a political decision one way or the other yet.  But, assuming any of these kids bother to listen to these radio programs while being ferried to games in the ubiquitous soccer van by their "soccer moms," which Ann also takes exception to, it certainly won't influence them to vote Republican when they do come of age.

Also, what do these rants say to women, who excel at this game?  The US women's football team is currently ranked number one in the world and has twice won the World Cup.

These same pundits aren't complaining about golf, which has to be the most boring "sport" to watch.  It too was invented in England, and was forced down our throat by rich white men in the late 19th century.  Who knows, there might even be an early native American version where Indians batted around the testicles of their conquered foes?  It has become a fixture in weekend sports programming with multi-million dollar "purses" for both men and women.  Doesn't sound very manly, G-man!

Anyway, it doesn't seem to matter as both the "American Outlaws" and the team have made a friendly splash in Rio.  The exuberance has spilled over at home as well with more and more Americans tuning in for the games, led by the team's #1 fan, Stephen Colbert.  It is very unlikely Team USA will pull off a "Miracle" like it did in hockey 34 years ago, but a win over Belgium would be nice.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Killing Garfield

Borrowing a page from that indefatigable historical serial killer, Bill O'Reilly, the death of Garfield has a much greater air of mystery and intrigue than any of the deaths "Papa Bear" has chosen to explore, especially since most Americans would probably first think of a grumpy cat.

As some persons might know, James Garfield was the 20th President of the United States.  His election in 1880 was met with a great deal of expectation, as he had been a Radical Republican and strongly supported Reconstruction, which had ground to a halt in 1876 thanks to the "Compromise" in Congress that led to Rutherford B. Hayes' electoral victory.  Garfield had been great friends with Salmon B. Chase, who served in Lincoln's administration.  He had been one of the administration's point men in the House in 1863, to which he was elected after serving in the Civil War.  He represented Ohio for 9 successive terms.  He was a major advocate of the Freedmen's Bureau, and tried in vain to get Andrew Johnson, Lincoln's successor, to see the light in terms of civil rights.  When that failed he sided with those Republicans who wanted the un-elected President impeached.

Garfield was a dark horse at the 1880 Republican convention, which saw the vote split between former President Grant, James G. Blaine and John Sherman.  Rutherford B. Hayes had chosen not to seek re-nomination.  Garfield won the nomination on the 36th ballot at the deeply divided convention.  It was no easier in the general election, where he virtually split the popular vote with Democrat Winfred S. Hancock, winning by less than 2000 votes.  However, thanks to the larger electoral blocks in the North, Garfield had a clear victory in the electoral college.

There was a great deal of anxiety that Garfield would revisit Reconstruction as President.  He sought reconciliation in the Republican ranks by putting together a "team of rivals" much like Lincoln had done in his first administration.  However, it was clear in Garfield's inaugural address that he believed in full rights for African-Americans, which would have put him deeply at odds with Democrats and even some Republicans who considered the issue dead and buried after the 1877 Compromise.

He was only six months into his term of office, when he was shot by a political office seeker, Charles J. Guiteau, who had been stalking Garfield for months.  Guiteau shouted that he was a "Stalwart" and that Chester Arthur was now president.  This would seem to point to the split within the Republican party, as the Stalwarts identified themselves with the more conservative elements in the GOP, with "Lord" Roscoe Conkling the titular head of the faction.  They had supported Grant at the convention.  The selection of Chester Arthur as Vice-President was seen as a concession to the group, but Conkling was apparently very upset with the way the Cabinet was shaping up, which resulted in further acrimony.  Whether Guiteau was a tool or acted on his own volition is anyone's guess, but Garfield had two bullets that needed to be extracted.

The first was relatively easy to dislodge, but doctors had a hard time finding the second bullet, which apparently had deflected inside his body and couldn't be directly traced from the entry wound.  Newspapers were rife with speculation and eventually Alexander Graham Bell teamed up with Simon Newcombe to invent what could best be called a "metal detector" to locate the second bullet.  The two had tested the new device, which combined Newcombe's detection system with Bell's amplifying system, on war veterans who still had bullets lodged inside their bodies.  R.J. Brown describes the process.

However, they were in a quandry over Garfield, as the metal detector proved futile.  Bell and Newcombe tried a second time but similarly to no avail.  Garfield passed away three months later due to infection.  It was only discovered after his death that the reason the metal detector didn't work is because Garfield lay on a bed with metal spring coils, one of the first in the country, which the two men had no way of knowing.  Candice Millard argues in her 2011 biography, Destiny of the Republic, that the president would have lived if this oversight hadn't happened.

It is difficult to say what Garfield would have accomplished as President, but Chester Arthur didn't revisit Reconstruction.  In fact in 1883, the Supreme Court overturned the last remaining legacy of the era, the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which had allowed Blacks public access in society.  It was this fateful decision that paved the way for Jim Crow laws in the South and discrimination in the North.  The Stalwarts along with their Democratic allies had placed the final nail in the coffin of Reconstruction.

Persons and events easily get lost in the fog of history, but it is pretty hard to miss the Garfield monument at the Lake View cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio.  There is also a monument in his honor in Washington D.C.  He was a well-loved and well-respected man in his day.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

24 Hours of Le Mans

Steve McQueen's Le Mans Porsche 917 is expected to fetch $20 million on the auction block.  The iconic racing car was picked up a decade ago in a "barn find" and has been immaculately restored.  The film from which it dates is considered the greatest racing film ever made, in part because actual footage from the 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans was incorporated into the movie thanks to cameras mounted on several racing cars for this expressed purpose.

The car apparently rusted away in a French barn until 2001 when it was bought for an undisclosed sum by an undisclosed owner.  Now it goes on the auction block at the Pebble Beach Car Show, one of the elite automobile events of the year.

A.J. Baime provides a bit of the backstory to LeMans in his book, Go Like Hell.  He focuses on Ford's attempt to outrace Ferrari in an effort to restore its brand image.  Ford's entry was a GT40, a joint British-American effort first launched in 1964.  The car's principal designer, Carroll Shelby, became a legend in automaking.  Shelby had previously won at Le Mans in teaming up with Roy Salvadori on the British Aston Martin DBR1  Shelby's cars inspired the Ford Mustang, which became America's most popular sports car.  Not surprisingly, the GT40 is also a valuable collector's item, and was similarly featured in the 1971 film.  The GT40 had won four years in a row before being upstaged by the Porsche 917 in 1970.

Alas, Ferraris, Fords and Porsches have all been superseded in the years since.  The Audi R18 is the beast to beat these days. A lot of folks still prefer the classics, but most of us have to live out the racing experience vicariously through film and scale model cars.

Mississippi Goddam: Crossing Over

It was a Howard Beale moment for the Tea Party, which is up in arms that Cochran pulled in Democrats to lift him over their favorite, Chris McDaniel, in the Mississippi GOP Senate run-off election.  Craig Shirley, a conservative political consultant and "biographer" of Reagan called it "a win with an asterisk."  I guess we could say the same about Reagan, who wouldn't have won in 1980 and 1984 if it wasn't for the massive Democratic crossover vote, particularly in the Deep South.

The so-called "Southern strategy" had been in place since Goldwater carried a handful of traditionally Southern Democratic states in 1964.  Nixon would later exploit this vote in 1968, thanks to a little help from George Wallace.  Even Ike couldn't carry the South in 1952 and 1956 against an effete intellectual, Adlai Stevenson, from Illinois. Lyndon Johnson helped secure most of the South for Kennedy in 1960.  Of course, many of these Dixiecrats eventually turned Republican, but not until after Reagan was elected.   The big demographic shift was in the 80s, despite earlier party changes, like that of Reagan himself, in the 60s.

It seems the Tea Party thought they had this one in the bag as McDaniel held a slim lead after the first primary and they figured that supporters of Thomas Carey, a Libertarian, would vote for their man.  The surprising loss left the McDaniel camp shellshocked, with their man refusing to admit defeat, and potentially challenging the results in court.

Conservative political action groups had sent monitors to make sure Democratic voters didn't vote twice, which evoked the Jim Crow era, as blacks were the ones expected to cross over and vote for Cochran.  In Mississippi, you don't have to vote in your particular primary but can vote in the other party's primary.  Apparently, enough Democrats felt the real choice was between Cochran, who has funneled a lot of federal dollars to poor rural areas in Mississippi during his 6 terms in the Senate, and McDaniel, who threatened to cut this support.  Whoever won the Republican primary would most likely win the general election as Travis Childers, the Democrat, isn't given much of a chance.  How many Democrats crossed over remains to be seen, but it didn't take many to turn this election as Cochran won by 6,400 votes.

It was a bruising night for the Teabaggers, as all their Senate hopefuls fell in Republican primaries. Oklahoma Republican James Lankford, who was also targeted by Tea Party groups, had no problem beating back T.W. Shannon and a handful of other conservative candidates, much to the chagrin of Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin, who had heavily supported Shannon.

McDaniel had Palin, Santorum and other TP leading lights campaigning for him in Mississippi, which once again shows these elections are no longer local.  Tea Party groups from all over the country poured money into McDaniel's campaign.  You can bet there was "dark money" too, as it turns out was the case in David Brat's so-called "grass roots" victory over Eric Cantor.

The defeat of Cantor appears to be a one-off victory, but there is no doubt the Tea Party still plays a disruptive force in the GOP, forcing "establishment" candidates to spend heavily in the primaries, leaving them vulnerable in the general election.  The Tea Party has also forced GOP leaders further to the right on key issues like immigration, which seemed to be the driving force in the primaries, not "Obamacare."

The surge in illegal immigration the past few months has once again made this a hot button issue.  It is unlikely that we will see any immigration reform bill move through the House, given the current shake-up.  The focus of the House now appears to be on Obama because of his recent executive decisions.  House Speaker John Boehner has threatened a "massive" law suit.  The President is at an all-time low in popularity, making him an easy target this summer.

This type of grandstanding is what we have come to expect from the Republicans, who have refused to work with the President in any meaningful way.  As a result, Obama has been issuing executive orders to bypass Congress, including his latest one on carbon emissions, which even has fellow Democrats upset.

But, these GOP primaries has been more about replacing entrenched Republicans with new conservative faces, as Teabaggers feel that Senators like Thad Cochran are RINO's, having sold out to the Washington establishment.  The fact that Cochran had to rely on Democrats to pull off his comeback victory only serves to vindicate their position.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

What a friend we have in Jesus?

A new documentary sheds light on evangelical attempts to"rehabilitate" their youth.  A recently returned missionary, Kate Logan, traveled to the Dominican Republic to do a documentary on a highly touted evangelical reform school, Escuela Caribe, only to find barbarous cruelty carried out in the name of Christ.

In Kidnapped for Christ, Logan shows teenagers who had literally been plucked from their homes, with their parents' knowledge, and shuttled away to this island school.  Apparently, Logan wasn't familiar with an earlier book, Jesus Land, written by one of the survivors of this insane religious boot camp, which was published the year before she arrived at Escuela Caribe.  Or, she sought to verify Julia Scheeres' horrifying story of the reform school.

It really makes you wonder what conservative evangelists have in mind when they talk about "gay conversion therapy," as one of the victims in Logan's documentary is a gay teen who was sent to the camp by his parents to be reformed.  It took several years for Logan to get this film to production due to threats from the school and the young man's parents.  It premiered at the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, earlier this year.

The school was shut down in 2011, apparently for economic reasons.  A new reform school, Crosswinds, now exists in its place, and one can imagine there are many more like them around the world, which will surely keep their doors closed to prying eyes.

The experience shook Kate Logan enough that she now considers herself an agnostic.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Atlas Shrugged, part III

It seems the producers of Atlas Shrugged will finish the story after a lackluster first two installments that failed to generate much interest.  To help Ayn Rand's canonical work reach a broader audience, the production team has enlisted the talents of Ron Paul, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity.

Paul seems like a good fit, being an ardent Libertarian himself who may have actually read Atlas Shrugged, but Beck and Hannity are suspect, given their fundamental religious leanings.  As Elizabeth Stoker points out in her opinion piece, Ayn Rand was a staunch atheist and the film's message is starkly anti-Christian.  But, they are only being asked to play themselves.

Ever since the book started being mentioned in political conservative circles, I had to wonder how the Republican Party can embrace Ayn Rand.  Yet, not only Ron Paul, but Paul Ryan and others constantly refer to her.  Many thought (including myself) that Ron Paul named his son after the Objectivist writer, only to disappointingly find out it was just a shortened form of Randal.  Maybe he read Rand in Ophthalmology school?  Even Sarah Palin found herself compared to Dagny Taggart, the heroine in the novel, but alas the Alaskan maverick didn't rate a bit part in the last installment.  As Jennifer Burns noted in her 2009 book, Goddess of the Market, Ayn Rand "has been the ultimate gateway drug to a life on the Right."

Stoker notes that the Conservative Right didn't have much time for Rand when her 1000+ page opus first appeared in bookstores in the late 1950s.  William F. Buckley, Jr. and Whittaker Chambers both wrote scathing reviews.  Chambers compared her simple materialist system to an oxcart without wheels.  But, Rand already had a devoted following, thanks to the success of The Fountainhead and her Obectivism tracts, so she didn't need the approval of the National Review.

The story may have seemed preposterous back in 1957, but not so much today as literally trillions of dollars are missing in circulation, hidden in offshore accounts all around the globe.  Romney serves as the unofficial ambassador to the Cayman Islands.  Forbes conservatively estimates the worldwide buried loot at $21 trillion, but other sources have it much higher.  With so much money out of circulation, it leaves countries hard pressed to generate the revenue needed to carry out long-standing social programs, not only in the US but throughout Europe.  Greece nearly went bankrupt largely because of its inability to collect taxes from the super rich.

The richest one per cent hold an estimated 46 per cent of the world's wealth, which Thomas Piketty says will only get worse if the G20 countries don't get together and charge a worldwide wealth tax.  Of course, such a tax is highly unlikely.  Corporate and income tax  rates have steadily declined since their peak in 1957, so it seems that economists and politicians did take cues from Ayn Rand's books, notably Milton Friedman, who was apparently a devout Randian.  Ditto, Alan Greenspan, and to a lesser extent Ben Bernanke.  The Federal Reserve has been promoting Randian economic policies for decades now, allowing for this great wealth imbalance to take place.

Of course, the 2008 crisis didn't help matters any.  All those foreclosures allowed banks to consolidate even more wealth, especially when the government generously offered to cover their losses.  The mortgage relief provided in the 2009 Stimulus Bill did little to offset the tremendous losses suffered by the Middle Class, which has steadily shrunk since its peak in the 1960s.

The Socialist policies that Ayn Rand railed against never came to pass.  The Free Market has prevailed, but unfortunately most of us are poorer for it.  Trickle Down economics dried up like the Colorado River thanks to all the dams that favored the rich.  It's not like anyone ever paid those exorbitantly high taxes of the Eisenhower era.  Just as today the average Corporate Tax rate paid is 12 per cent, far below the actual rate of 35 per cent. Romney struggled to pay 12 per cent in his 2011 return, forgoing deductions he would have normally taken.  Thanks to an army of lawyers the rich find their way around paying taxes whether they hide their money or not.  It's the rest of us dupes forced to pay payroll taxes and take standard deductions on income tax that cover a large portion of the federal budget.

Yet, to hear Tea Party pundits like Hannity and Beck, the tax rate is still too high and driving away businesses from the US.  Ron Paul would have the federal income tax abolished all together.  Ayn Rand lives on through third-rate hacks like these guys.  Only fitting that they should appear in the final chapter of this banal trilogy.  Mitt Romney can lend his Park City home for John Galt's secret hideaway, as little time as he spends there.

Gunfight at the Golden Corral

In today's highly charged rhetorical political world, the Second Amendment probably gets the most lip service.  Although the "debate" is relatively new, both sides like to root their arguments in history, cutting and pasting from the Founding Fathers or simply inventing passages to suit their purposes.  The "quote" in the political cartoon came from a draft by Jefferson for the Virginia Constitution in 1776, and is often cited by gun advocates.   However, the passage was not adopted.

James Madison is generally credited for the second amendment, which makes it pretty clear that the main purpose was to ensure the means to form a militia.  In reading Pauline Maier's book, Ratification, the amendments were an afterthought, used to win the favor of crucial states like New York and Virginia, which the Federalists felt would turn the other states.  Madison initially felt there was no need for amendments at all.  All though, I don't remember her spending too much time on the Second Amendment.

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Michael Waldman tries to cut through the debate by offering a "biography" of the constitutional amendment, but Garrett Epps argues in his review that Waldman presents an opinion more so than a biography, castigating pro-gun advocates for their ridiculous views, including some well-noted scholars.  Epps feels that Adam Winkler's 2011 book, Gunfight: The Battle Over the Rights to Bear Arms, is more even-handed.

However, there appears to be no middle ground in this debate.  Whenever the issue is raised, hackles rise on pro-gun advocates who fear the government will come take their guns away.  Any legislation regarding gun control is seen as the "first step" in a total repeal of gun rights.  Among the many conservative advocates is David Barton, who himself wrote a book on the Second Amendment, vociferously arguing that the Founding Fathers intended everyone to have access to firearms.

Otis McDonald
Probably one of the most emotional attempts to support gun rights was Clarence Thomas's opinion on the McDonald v. Chicago case, where a 74-year-old black man had been denied the right to purchase a firearm for protection.  Thomas cited Jim Crow Laws which limited a black man's right to bear arms in the past and evoked the 14th amendment as the basis for a black man's defense.  One doesn't quite know what to make of this opinion.  Was the justice simply playing on emotions as so many gun rights advocates do, or was he making a heart-felt argument?

Unfortunately, blacks still seem to be more often the victims of gun violence than the perpetrators.  What made the McDonald v. Chicago case particularly hard to swallow is that the 5-4 decision essentially said the US Constitution trumps state laws on the matter of gun control and that it is an inalienable right for a US citizen to arm himself or herself.  It seems that McDonald and other Chicago residents represented in the case were little more than a Trojan horse pushed into the Supreme Court by the Second Amendment Foundation and the Illinois State Rifle Association to get their desired outcome.

Apparently they thought there was discount
for firearms at Chipotle that day
Still, states to one degree or another place regulations on the distribution of fire arms and ammunition.  However, in recent months we have seen several states enact open carry laws that allow persons to brandish firearms in public places, which Jon Stewart noted is at odds with Stand Your Ground laws in the same states.  Wouldn't carrying an AR-15 into a public place represent a reasonable threat, especially given the number of mass shootings we have seen since Sandy Hook?

It is not likely that Waldman's book will make any impact on this debate.  Instead, these competing gun laws appear to have created a veritable "Gunfight at the Golden Corral," as Stewart not so comically pointed out.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Dress Doctors

You wonder who the fashion arbiters are today when Rihanna appears in a competely shear dress, with a pair of panties to hide her private parts, at the CFDA Fashion awards.  As expected she created the most stir, but you have to wonder what the designer who fitted Lupita Nyong'o was thinking as well.

This certainly wouldn't have been the case in the 1930s when the "Dress Doctors" instructed women across the country on how to dress smartly and frugally through pamphlets, books and magazines.  You can read the first chapter of Linda Przybyszewski's new book, The Lost Art of Dress, in which she describes the rise of this tight-knit group of home economists.  Good taste was paramount and a woman didn't go flaunting her wares on an unsuspecting public.

By the 50s things began to loosen up a little, but still a certain decorum was expected, which is why Lee Remick created quite a stir for going without a girdle in Anatomy of a Murder.  A woman wasn't supposed to "jiggle," and jiggle is just what Lee Remick did in her pair of slim pants in an early scene of the movie.  In fact, the panties in question came to play an important role in the story.

But, it wasn't until the 1960s that women chose to break all rules of convention.  Of course, men didn't adhere much to the rules either, judging by the Love-ins that became front page news by the second half of the decade, ending in the Summer of Love.  The Dress Doctors were an anachronism by this point except maybe in rural towns where social conventions were still adhered to.  

Such prude tastes became the subject of ridicule on television and in movies.  Bra-burning came to symbolize militant feminism of the 70s, but the infamous protest of the 1968 Miss America Contest only had women dumping bras, girdles, high-heeled shoes and cosmetics into a symbolic "freedom trash can," not a bonfire of the vanities as luridly described in the press.  Skirts and blouses may have become more shear, but most women were still comfortable wearing undergarments.  

In the 60s and 70s, you never knew where the Maidenform woman would turn up. The undergarment company had been around since the 1920s but had opted for a bold new ad campaign, which could be found in virtually every magazine at the time.  As a young teenager, this was my first exposure to the "feminine mystique," and I would scour my mother's journals for such ads.

While the divas of today represent the extreme in fashion, the smartly tailored dress or women's business suit is still very much in demand.  Michelle Obama has become one of the fashion icons today with her appealing mix of designer fashion and off-the rack clothes that seem a perfect match for almost every occasion.  Not since the divine Jackie Kennedy has a first lady made such a statement in fashion.  So, all is not lost.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Politics of Astro Boy

I found myself watching Astro Boy this morning and was amused by the notion of blue core (good) and red core (bad), especially given the strong political theme of the movie.  It was based on a Japanese anime series but tailored to an American audience with some rather explicit references.  Republican parents might not want their kids to see this movie as it could influence them to vote blue when they reach voting age ; )

In the spirit of Pinocchio, a scientist Dr. Tenma tries to recreate his son, placing a blue core, which looks like the Hope diamond, at the heart of the android version, but alas the sad doctor has a hard time identifying with his creation and rebuffs the boy after the tike finds he has all these super powers.  It seems the boy was little more than a way to hide the blue crystal from the evil President Stone, who desperately wants to destroy this positive energy once and for all.  He finds himself in a hotly contested election with sagging poll numbers.  After a rather complicated series of events, the militaristic President resorts to the red core to kill the pesky Astro Boy once and for all, resulting in a Godzilla-like battle royale, which Astro Boy eventually wins by flying straight into the red core of the mutant robotic monster and shattering the evil power once and for all.  It leaves the boy powerless but victorious.  Stone also miraculously survives but is left totally defeated.

Anime and politics don't really mix, but I thought it was a game effort by the Hong Kong-based company, Imagi, to break into the American market.  Alas, Americans tend to prefer their superheros grown up and without any identifying political preferences.  We all remember the stir the Teletubbies caused when they invaded America.

2010 Election Results by counties
I suppose if Astro Boy had been a hit at the box office, Democrats could have capitalized on the mighty tike in the 2010 midterms.  Instead, they lost the House in a historic turnover of US Representatives.  Ever since, the Republicans have managed to consolidate their power in Republican states, forming a "red beast" out of gerrymandered voting districts that virtually ensure majority rule.  The Senate remains blue because state-wide elections generally tend to favor Democrats.  But, the Republicans are looking to retake the Senate this election cycle and render the President powerless in his remaining two years.

It got me to wondering where this whole red state v. blue state paradigm came from.  Not surprisingly, it dates back to the highly contentious 2000 elections when Tim Russert used these colors to define Republican and Democratic states.  Such color coding is nothing new, but this new system stuck and it seems that both parties identify themselves this way now.  You can look at this color coding in a number of ways, from how states vote in the Presidential election to the make-up of their US Congressional representatives to the way the state legislatures and gubernatorial offices are divided.

Historically, Red has generally represented progressive movements, but I guess the radical conservatism,which took root in the Republican Party of the 90s, had an active red quality to it, whereas the status quo nature of the Democrats seemed rather blue and sad.  However, blue also represents stability, which seems to be something sorely lacking in the Republican party these days.  The GOP appears ready to burst like a radioactive isotope, wreaking havoc on the body politic.

Originally, Astro Boy was built around a post-apocalyptic theme in that the citizens occupied a floating city that hovered above a planet that had essentially become a wasteland, not much unlike what Japan would have looked like following World War II.   The series created by Osamu Tezuka ran between 1952 and 1968, and came to embody the Cold War as well.  Astro even does battle with the US Air Force at one point, saving a Vietnamese village in one of his time-travel episodes, as the story takes place in the not-so-distant future.

In this movie, the Mighty Atom joins in with a band of orphans when he falls to earth.  He is eventually discovered to be a robot under his human skin, and the evil President Stone tracks him down.  Sadly, children are too often the victim of political struggles for power.  The movie doesn't explore this theme in much depth, but Astro's new friends eventually come to his aid when he is forced to battle the mutant red robotic beast.

It is hard to say how our political situation will play out this election cycle.  It seems voters are for the most part dissatisfied with both political parties, judging by the low turnout across the country.  No major turnover in Congress is expected, just a few new faces to liven up events ... maybe.  Everyone seems to be looking ahead to 2016 to put a fresh face in the White House, but even here we see the same old faces being offered as prospective nominees.  Where's Astro Boy when you need him!

Friday, June 20, 2014

The war that never ends

It seems that Iraq is one of those recurring nightmares Americans just can't shake.  No sooner do we pull out of the country than all hell breaks lose.  Seems our pundits and partisans who pushed the United States into war with Iraq are now trying to thrust the blame for the current unrest on the Obama administration for coitus interruptus before the seeds of democracy could be properly fertilized in Iraq.  Jon Stewart had a field day with these old hawks, but much more surprising was Megyn Kelly calling out Dick Cheney for his harangue in the Wall Street Journal.

It's more like the Collapsing Bush Doctrine as we see the fragile "democracy" in Iraq unravel before our eyes.  To those who have followed the events before,during and after the war none of this comes as a surprise.  Andrew Bacevich has savaged both Bush an d Obama for the war, but has heaped his harshest scorn on the architects of the war, William Kristol and Paul Wolfowitz.  You might throw in Richard Perle as well, but he seems to be remarkably quiet these days.  Maybe he is taking a page from George Bush, and purposely keeping a low profile.

There is no doubt where this policy of preemptive war sprang from, the only question was could we make a clean withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan without the two countries splintering into warring factions.  We had a short period of calm, but this was mostly because the press was no longer covering Iraq after the final withdrawal in December, 2011.  So, we weren't made privy to the growing unrest in the country.  Kristol and Wolfowitz argue we should have maintained a military presence in the country, like we have in Japan and South Korea, but the withdrawal was entirely planned under the Bush administration.  The Obama administration simply carried it out under the guidance of Robert Gates, who had authored the plan under Bush.  So maybe these two chicken hawks should take up their criticisms with Gates, not Obama?

Of course, this doesn't suit the rhetorical battle we see today where the hawks insist it was Obama who screwed the pooch.  This may play well among their conservative constituency who has refused to see Obama as anything other than an incompetent fool.  Lindsey Graham went even further in calling the President "stubborn-headed, delusional and detached."  I would get a good chuckle out of this if this idiots didn't take themselves so seriously.

Iraq has been preying on our subconscious ever since 1990 when the country had the audacity to annex Kuwait and President George H.W. Bush pulled together an international coalition to expel Saddam from our friendly oil-rich protectorate.  As you no doubt remember, Pere Bush likened Hussein to Hitler, claiming that if he wasn't stopped he would wreak the same havoc in the Middle East that Hitler did in Europe.  We were told how Iraq had the fourth largest military in the world and that its vaunted Republican Guard could match the German Nazi army.  But, like a much-hyped Super Bowl the Persian Gulf War was over in a matter of relative minutes and the allied forces could have marched right into Baghdad if they wanted to, but Bush kept to the mission, and Kuwait was liberated, albeit hidden under a haze of oil fires.

This war drug on for two decades, with Clinton maintaining no-fly zones over the country while UN weapons inspectors scoured the desolate landscape for the last remnants of Saddam's alleged massive pile of WMD's.  Scott Ritter, who served on the IAEA team for 6 years, considered the mission virtually complete in 1997 when Saddam announced he wanted his sovereignty back.  This didn't go over very well with the conservative hawks, who pressed Clinton to launch air strikes.  Even Tony Blair was pushing Clinton for punitive air strikes in the wake of Hussein's bold defiance, but wisely Clinton kept his distance.

Iraq was a nagging sore point with conservatives throughout Clinton's second term, so when Bush pulled off a surprise victory over Gore in 2000, it was no surprise that these same conservatives began pressing the Bush administration to finish the job in Iraq.  Many felt that Dubya's father had blown a golden opportunity to take Hussein out in 1991.  We now had Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld looking for any excuse to launch a strike against Iraq that would erase Hussein once and for all.  So, they began planting stories in papers that Hussein was buying aluminum tubes and Nigerian "yellowcake" to rebuild his nuclear program, and claiming the Tyrant of Baghdad had hidden nuclear and chemical stockpiles in the vast desert of Iraq.

The only problem is that none of these guys saw beyond Hussein.  They imagined a country welcoming us as liberators, and even managed to choreograph a freedom-loving moment with Iraqis tearing down a statue of Hussein in Baghdad just like the Lithuanians had taken down Lenin's statue in Vilnius 10 years before (no thanks to the United States).  But, alas what transpired was the return of Iraqi-American carpetbaggers and fake frontmen, who didn't have the respect of the people, along with private armies of defense contractors looking to cash in on the chaos that ensued.

Unfortunately, no one seemed to pay too close attention to the public relations coup this war gave al-Qaeda, which morphed into ISIS in Iraq, and now is mounting major insurgency movements throughout the country, much like the Taliban did in the wake of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in the late 1980s.  We seemed doomed to repeat our mistakes and those of others time and time again.  What a tangled web of deceit we weave.  It was refreshing to see Megyn Kelly call out Dick Cheney.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Mississippi Goddam, part II

The Mississippi Senate Republican primary is probably the ugliest election of the year, as it pits a new Tea Party darling, Chris McDaniel, against longtime incumbent Thad Cochran.  Even former governor Haley Barbour has come under fire from the radical right wing  because of his support for Cochran.  It seems the good folks of Mississippi want to take the Magnolia State back to the days of slaves and cotton, not content with the current Republican status quo, which they feel is too close to Washington.  As Florence King wrote in her ribald memoirs of her time at Ole Miss, you have Good Ole Boys and you have Bad Good Ole Boys, although in this case it is pretty hard to tell them apart.

The odd part is the state has benefited greatly during Thad's tenure, so we'll call him the Good Ole Boy.  For every tax dollar the state has paid to the federal government its citizens have gotten three back.  So what's the fuss?  Isn't that what going to Washington is all about, seeing what you can bring back to your state?

Apparently, this no longer counts in the tea-colored world of radical Republican conservatives.  What they seem to want is to shut down federal government all together so that nobody gets anything except what they scrape together themselves.  This "Pull Yourself Up By Your Bootstraps" mentality seems to be what drives the Tea Party.  Many Teabaggers no longer believe in paying taxes and feel the Bible trumps any federal law.  This is the people Chris McDaniel plays into with his rhetorical flourishes that date back to his days as a radio conservative talk show host.

McDaniel has also none too subtly wrapped himself in the Stars and Bars of the former Confederacy, taking campaign contributions from pro-confederate groups and speaking in terms that appeal to the good ole days of Dixie.

It seems that this maverick Republican lives in the same alternative world that so many Southern Teabaggers have come to inhabit, a world formed from the tattered mythology of the Old South.  They seem to imagine a place where the Confederate generals held their ground and the Union army retreated, allowing them to live out their antebellum days like Rhett and Scarlet in Gone with the Wind.  There was no siege of Vicksburg, much less Atlanta.  The South was able to live in the spirit of the Articles of Confederation, 11 separate entities bound by one flag, like the original colonies.

I've said many times before that what these radical conservatives want is not the Constitution, which it appears none of them ever read beyond the first two Bill of Rights, but the original Articles of Confederation that allowed the first 13 states to be virtually autonomous, with very limited federal oversight.  Yet, time and time again you hear these yahoos alluding to the Constitution as though they were the only ones upholding it, decrying the rest of us for straying from the narrow path.

Glenn Beck has gone so far as to distribute a petition for a new Constitutional Convention that would greatly delimit the powers of the federal government.  You might call it the anti-Constitutional Convention since under these conservatives' "rubric" it would nullify many of the federal powers contained in the original Constitution drawn up at the Convention of 1787.  I suppose they would also chop off many of the amendments added over the years, as they feel these attachments have greatly expanded the scope of the federal government.  Mark Meckler appears to be the mastermind behind this effort.

The danger of a guy like Chris McDaniel is that you would add to the growing number of anti-federal senators in Congress. McDaniel would most likely win the general election since Republicans vastly outnumber Democrats in the state, and whatever bad blood was spilt during the primaries would be forgiven before electing a Democrat to Washington, even if what few Democrats remain in Mississippi are pretty conservative themselves.

Thad understands the value of being a Senator when it comes to putting food on the plate, so to speak.  This is what drove Southern Congressmen for decades, as they were able to cut a pretty big slice out of the annual federal budget for their states.  Good Ole Boys like Cochran simply don't understand nor appreciate the dynamics of the New Republican Party driven by radicals like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, who desperately want McDaneil to join their ranks in Washington.

Essentially, these Young Turks are attempting a hostile takeover of government and the first major casualty is Eric Cantor, who is being stripped of his title of House Majority Leader after his surprise primary defeat in Virginia, even though he doesn't formally leave office until December.  If more of these anti-federalists get into Congress, it will make it virtually impossible to govern as they will use every opportunity to shutdown government, as Ted Cruz has already intimated.  The GOP tried its best to subdue this unruly group in its party, but failed.

We haven't seen anything like this since before the Civil War when Southern legislators fought desperately to limit any discussion on abolition, even though slavery held back the industrial development of their region of the country. They seem to prefer to live in their perverted notion of an agrarian society, where so many rural Southerners live below the poverty line and have come to rely on federal welfare programs to make ends meet.  A vote for Chris McDaniel would be a return to Southern antebellum days.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

There you go again

You know its a slow week in politics when Mitt Romney's name starts getting tossed around as a 2016 nominee.  It seems he has been continuously running for the Oval Office ever since he stepped down as governor of 2007.  Here he is again blasting away at the Obama administration and calling the Foreign policy under Hillary Clinton a "monumental bust."

The Bergdahl swap and the civil unrest in Iraq and the Ukraine has brought increased scrutiny of the Obama foreign policy, which has opted for a policy of containment, a long held US strategy until Bush ushered in a new era of preemptive war that appealed greatly to conservative hawks.  The rise of extremism in Iraq has brought these hawks out of the woodwork, decrying the Obama administration for having botched Iraq and giving the Taliban succor with his "unprecedented" trade for Bergdahl.

Mitt fancies himself a bit of kingmaker and has been hosting "ideas summits" in an effort to cultivate the type of leadership he favors in the Republican Party. He apparently was even going to invite Hillary this time around until all hell broke loose in Iraq.  Instead, Mitt went into full attack mode, fancying himself a foreign policy expert despite never having served in this capacity in his life.  I doubt he could tell anyone the difference between a Sunni and a Shi'ite Muslim.

Of course, the Republicans have shown themselves to be particularly weak in this regard, and the new crop of presidential wannabes similarly have little in the way of credentials to offer themselves to the public other than unwavering support for Reagan's famous dictum, "peace through strength,"  which many erroneously thought brought an end to the Cold War.

In this way, they differ little than Vladimir Putin, who has been flexing his muscles in Eastern Europe, stirring up unrest in the Ukraine and other former Soviet Republicans, in an attempt to maintain Russia's economic hold on these countries.  It hasn't led to desirable results.  Apparently, the recently annexed Crimea is in economic tatters, while Moldova and Georgia have openly defied Moscow by pursuing trade agreements with the European Union, which is what plunged the Ukraine into its current crisis last November.

These developments would seem to defend Obama's pursuit of containment rather than open conflict, but not according to the conservative hawks.  They firmly believe Obama has weakened America's position in the world.  No one moreso than Mitt Romney, who feels that if he had been elected President none of this would have happened.

Mitt seems to forget he was praising Putin shortly before the Russian president chose to annex Crimea, showing he was as clueless to what was going on in Eastern Europe as anyone else.  He, like many other conservatives, felt that Putin got the upper hand in Syria when Obama backed down from missile strikes.  Conservatives seemed to miss that Obama used this as a bluff to bring Putin to the negotiating table, given that Russia was Syria's biggest weapons supplier, and that Syria's chemical weapons date back to the late Soviet era.  But, in a war of words anything goes and here we are repeating the same old silly arguments we heard in 2012 on the campaign trail, most of which were completely debunked at the time, which is why Romney lost the election.

However, a politician has more lives than a cat, and comes back looking better than ever, at least among his constituency.  Especially, when no one rises up to fill the void left in his absence.  We've heard hardly a peep out of Paul Ryan.  Rand Paul and Ted Cruz appear all over the place but neither seems to have fully captured the imagination of the Republican electorate.  Rick Perry tries to mount a comeback bid, but his latest foray into gay pconversion has left him looking like a bigger fool than ever.  So, that leaves Mitt to save the day, hosting yet another leaership summit where no doubt he will put himself front and center.

Stoned Me

I guess it shouldn't come as much surprise that Oliver Stone will be bringing Eric Snowden to the big screen at some point in time.  He bought the rights to Luke Harding's book on the NSA whistleblower, whom The Guardian befriended and has been pretty much plugging his story since day one.  It won't be a documentary like his previous effort with Showtime on the pernicious "untold history" of the United States.  Seems Ollie wants a little more room to expand the story into a thriller, which will take some doing as it has pretty much played out as a soap opera since The Guardian first broke the news in June 2013.

Hard to believe it has only been a year.  It feels like this story has drug on as long as the Julian Assange trial. It is hard to know what to think of these whistleblowers since opinions are extreme on both sides.   But, no doubt Stone thinks the world of Snowden, calling him a "hero."

To read The Guardian, Snowden is a "committed Republican" of the Libertarian persuasion, who saw the opportunity to blow the lid on the National Security Agency when he felt it had gone too far in its surveillance efforts.  This was something the Obama administration conceded when the juicy tabloid stories broke of all the folks the NSA had been spying on, including world leaders like Angela Merkel.  But, the Obama administration wants Snowden brought to trial for releasing what was largely classified information.

Russia is expected to extend his temporary visa this summer until he finds a permanent home for asylum.  Several countries have extended invitations, but it seems Snowden badly wants to go to Brazil, which to this point has been noncommittal.  Too many things on President Dilma Rousseff's plate right now, although she too was notably miffed to be spied on.  Meanwhile, Dr. Ron Paul, everyone's favorite Libertarian and pediatrician, has launched a clemency petition for Snowden.

Of course, there isn't a conspiracy theory Ollie doesn't like, and he certainly has a lot of mileage in this story.  One can expect him to pull out all the stops, especially since he was none too favorable of the Obama administration in his Showtime "documentary."

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Tragic Remembrance

Father's Day dates back to the early 20th century, but it wasn't until 1966 that it became nationally recognized by proclamation, which Lyndon Johnson signed on this day.

Sonora Smart Dodd is generally given credit for the origin of the appreciation day, but it was two years earlier that Grace Golden Clayton asked West Virginia to honor fathers after a tragic coal mining accident that killed 360 miners, most of whom were fathers.  It was the worst mining disaster in US History.  The Appalachian state recognized the day in 1908.  Washington followed suit in 1910.

Oddly enough it took quite a while for the appreciation day to catch on, despite support from both Woodrow Wilson and Calvin Coolidge.  Seems many men thought such a day was unnecessary, as they would end up having to treat anyway since men were the principal breadwinners at the time.  But, eventually the idea of a national holiday garnered support and Father's Day was officially recognized.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


Seems the death of the Tea Party was a bit premature, as they managed to pull off a major upset in Virginia by knocking off Eric Cantor, and for less than one Cantor's campaign team spent on steaks.  For the last four years, Cantor has been Boehner's bull dog in the House but now it seems he will step down as majority leader in the wake of this stunning defeat.  But, Democrats shouldn't get too giddy because Cantor's district is heavily Republican and Dave Brat will most likely take his seat in the next session, barring a major foot-in-mouth moment.

Score one for Laura Ingraham who plugged Brat hard and heavy, having felt that Cantor had lost his "reputation."  She is the conservative host of a Virginia-based talk show that gave Brat plenty of free air time when the money was behind Cantor.   It is also a big knock against immigration reform, as Brat used this issue to hound Cantor throughout the campaign.

Not that Cantor was ever a major proponent of immigration reform.  In fact, he did his best to obstruct such legislation ever getting to the House floor.  But, he made the mistake of trying to play both sides of the issue in the press and if there is anything the Teabaggers can't stand it is a two-faced conservative.

However, talk of immigration reform didn't seem to hurt Lindsey Graham in South Carolina, as he managed to fend off bevy of challengers in the GOP primaries without having to worry about a run-off, unlike his friend Thad Cochran in Mississippi, who appears to be on the hot seat.  Senate races are statewide, so incumbents generally fair better than do their fellow incumbents in the House.

Cochran is a good ol' boy who probably would have been better advised to step down and enjoy his august years in retirement.  But, Thad just couldn't let it go and decided to give it one more try.  As a result, he faces the ignominious prospect of defeat to an upstart challenger, Chris McDaniel, who has been dubbed the next Ted Cruz.  Not that we need anymore Ted Cruzes, but alas this kind of take-no-prisoners approach to politics appeals greatly to hardline conservatives.  Poor Thad is simply out of step with the new wave in GOP politics, having received a low scorecard from conservative watchdog groups.

So, the GOP has yet to settle its Tea Party problem, despite having swung ever more to the right since 2010.  It seems it was its inability to get what it wanted out of the government shutdown last year that hurt incumbents.  Instead, of seeing this as the cost of their intractable nature, the Tea Party saw the old guard as caving in and sought to challenge each and everyone of the GOP top brass this time around.  Boehner, McConnell, Graham and other key legislators survived, but the loss of Cantor is a major blow.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Coal in the Stocking

Allison Lundergan Grimes has fired back at President Obama on the new EPA regulations he wants to place on carbon emissions.  Grimes finds herself in the unpleasant position of having to defend Kentucky's coal mining interests.  It's not so much jobs as it is cheap electricity that makes coal a big issue in the Bluegrass State.  As far as jobs go, Kentucky coal mines only account for one per cent of state's labor force.  However, coal generates 92 per cent of  the state's electricity, making it one of the cheapest rates in the country.

Yet, throughout this campaign both Grimes and McConnell have been stressing jobs.  The cuts in coal mining jobs are a result of the industry itself, which requires less and less manpower to produce the same amount of coal.  The EPA regulations concern the emissions from the power plants.  But, in a laggard state economy (8.4% unemployment) every job counts at least in terms of political rhetoric.

Grimes has distanced herself from Obama because the President is not popular in the state.  He failed to garner much in the way of support in each of the last two elections.  In 2012, when Obama ran unopposed in the primaries, many Kentucky counties remained "uncommitted," and Romney handily won in the general election, despite the state having a Democratic governor, Steve Beshear, who supports the Affordable Care Act and has made the state one of the role models for the health insurance exchanges.  But, Beshear also knows not to mess with Big Daddy Coal.

Coal companies have danced around the Clean Air Act for decades.  The average age of a coal-burning power plant is 42 years, which means they are not only major sources of carbon dioxide emissions (38%), but aren't very efficient either.  However, the cost of building new power plants would result in an increase in electricity prices so most states make due with what they have rather than anger their residents.

Grimes chooses not to address any of these issues head on, but continues to attack McConnell in terms most Kentuckians easily understand.  In so doing, she got herself into a flap for using a Ukrainian model (pictured above) in one of her newspaper ads defending coal mining jobs.  However, revamping Kentucky's energy sector would probably create many more jobs than would holding onto fossilized coal-burning power plants for a relative handful of mining jobs.

Not surprisingly, Grimes has called on the affable Bill Clinton to campaign with her in Kentucky, helping her to raise more money than Mitch in April.  Clinton never made any serious effort to enforce EPA regulations while President and has tried to play both sides on the carbon dioxide emissions debate in his typical ambivalent way.

Sadly, politics appears to have become a zero-sum game of Democratic vs. Republican with many Democrats now leaning to the right of the center to win seats in Congress, further losing sight of the progressive agenda that had once been the hallmark of the Democratic Party.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Dirty Deals Done Dirt Cheap

In what probably has to be a new low, Virginia Republicans pay off state senator Philip P. Puckett to resign his position so that the GOP will have the votes to block medicaid expansion.  Puckett will now be the deputy director of the state tobacco commission and his daughter gets a judgeship.  It sounds like something out of the antebellum South and I'm sure won't be ignored this election cycle.

Both the GOP and Puckett deny such a deal took place, but it is so transparent as to be undeniable, especially since they are taking advantage of the absence of two other Democratic senators to call an early session to secure the vote they need to block medicaid expansion, and appoint Puckett's daughter to her new judgeship.

Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe apparently has little recourse.  Obviously the state Republicans did their homework, using both hook and crook to get the advantage they needed in the state legislature.  With political stunts like this, you have to wonder how long an advantage like this will last.

What has been so disconcerting these past five years is the way the GOP has been able to use red states to block key parts of the Affordable Care Act.  Some red states appear to have relented to medicaid expansion, notably Florida, as Rick Scott makes a last ditch effort to overcome Charlie Crist in the polls.  Florida Republican legislators, who control the state legislature and have been adamantly opposed to medicaid expansion, appear to be changing their position as polls show Floridians strongly approve medicaid expansion.

So, why does Virginia continue to fight it?  It is already a state in transition politically, having twice voted for Obama, and elected McAuliffe as governor last year in a bitterly contested election.  You would think Republicans would see the writing on the wall and accept the fact that people want medicaid expansion and full access to the Affordable Care Act.  Instead, we see the same old ideological battle rear its ugly head again.

I suppose this is the result of the overwhelming fear among conservatives that the ACA will eventually lead to a single-payer system that would do away with state health care systems all together.  This was the biggest obstacle for Affordable Care Act, resulting in a myriad of state health insurance exchanges, with rates depending greatly on the number of providers available in those states.

Some states opted out all together, leaving it up to its' residents to apply through the federal health insurance exchange, which got off to a very bad start.  It was hoped at the time that this would be the death knell of "Obamacare," but the federal exchange was able to overcome its rocky start and eventually reach its target goal of new enrollees.  However, the ACA is relying heavily on medicaid expansion to pick up a great number of uninsured Americans who can't afford health insurance even with the substantial discounts available through the exchanges.

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Good War

The further a war drifts into the pages of history, the better it is remembered.  That is certainly the case with World War II, which has been called The Good War because the allied forces were able to defeat the axis of Fascism that threatened the make up of Europe.

D-Day is for Americans and Europeans what Victory Day is for Russians.  The successful invasion of Normandy eventually brought an end to the war, but the Germans were already back on their heels after the defeat they suffered at Stalingrad.  This was a German army clearly on its last legs, and while we finished them off, Soviet forces claimed much of Eastern Europe as their spoils.

The number of deaths as a result of this war was absolutely staggering.  An estimated 50 million people died.  60 per cent of the deaths were civilian, as city after city was laid to waste.  It was only after the defeat of Hitler that we were able to see the carnage.

But, D-Day is a day of remembering heroic moments and even re-experiencing them as Jim "Pee Wee" Martin did.  The spry nonagenarian relived his jump from 70 years earlier on "Utah Beach," recalling to a bevy of reporters what it had been like before.

Many persons believe this was the "Greastest Generation" for having lived through Depression and War.  It doesn't take much effort to read into the margins and discover that this generation wasn't much different than any other. The United States was a deeply divided country which deferred most of the difficult decisions to the next generation, i.e. Civil Rights.  But, the fact that this generation won the war made the men (and women) seem larger than life.

We are blessed with so many indelible images of this generation from the famous kiss at Times Square (which came after V-J Day) to Rosie the Riveter.  The Navy had John Ford make a documentary of the Battle of Midway.  Countless other documentaries filled the screens, making World War II the first war to be directly broadcast back in America, focusing on the more glorious aspects.  It wasn't until afterward that films like The Best Years of Our Lives appeared, showing the downside of coming home, but even this film is remembered in heroic terms.

It is not to diminish this defining moment in World War II, but if this day was "world changing" then why did it take so long to see something positive come out of the war?  No sooner did we celebrate V-E Day a year later than we saw the world plunged into a Cold War that would spawn proxy wars all around the globe, notably in Burma and Vietnam.   Dictatorships lingered on in Greece, Turkey, Spain and Portugal.  Africa began to burst at its colonial seams, giving rise to fratricidal conflicts throughout the continent.  The United Nations was formed to try to address these conflicts, but it was relatively powerless to do anything about them, since the Soviet Union was given a unilateral veto just like the United States.

It was only in the late 1980s that we began to emerge from all these post-WWII conflicts to have a brief moment of peace.  It seemed we could finally enjoy the post-war society the defeat of fascism had promised more than 40 years before.  Alas, no sooner had we embraced this moment than we found ourselves plunged into a new conflict in Iraq, with the United States equating Saddam Hussein's regional ambitions with that of Hitler, threatening the stability of the Middle East.  As Chris Hedges noted, war is a force that gives us meaning.  We don't seem to appreciate the benefits of peace.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Ghosts of War

John McCain is certainly not known for his consistency, but at age 77 you would at least think he would stick to his guns on one issue.  Unfortunately, he wants to have it both ways on the prisoner swap that led to the release of Bowe Bergdahl.

Only three months ago he said to Anderson Cooper that he was open to a deal with the Taliban, which indicates the Obama administration was keeping Congress informed of its intended actions.  McCain was first approached in 2012 along with other Senators in regard to the proposed deal.  He expressed his concerns but was open to a swap then as well.  Now that it has actually happened, McCain is airing his criticism of the deal, couching it in the hyperbole we have come to expect from Republicans.

The odd thing is that McCain himself was part of a prisoner swap back in March 1973 when the United States began its withdrawal from Vietnam.  He was in a second wave of American POW's being released in exchange for Vietcong.  Nixon had declared an end to hostilities in January, but there would be further bombing missions that summer, and the war not officially drawn to a close until April 30, 1975, with the Fall of Saigon.

Not much different circumstances than we find in Afghanistan today with Obama having officially declared an end to hostilities last month although he already had begun a drawdown last year, with the reduction of 60,000 American troops to 32,000 this year.  Fortunately, there was only one known POW in Afghanistan, who had languished in a Taliban cell for five years, probably much worse conditions than that McCain faced at the "Hanoi Hilton."

However, our good senator seems to feel the deal was too rich, that the five Taliban prisoners who had been incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay since 2002 pose a serious threat to the remaining troops in Afghanistan, should they ever make it back there.  They have been handed over to authorities in Qatar, who apparently will keep them in country for at least one year. Enough time one presumes to complete the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

It wasn't like these guys presented a serious threat to US and NATO forces to begin with, since they were rounded up in the first year of the war.  Yet, they were considered "the worst of the worst," blamed for atrocities committed in pre-war Afghanistan.  One of them, Khairulla Khairkhaw, was considered close to One-Eyed Omar.  You figure the main reason they were held so long was to get information out of them, which I would think at this point would be badly dated.

But, the US apparently needs bad guys and conservative Congressmen like McCain and Lindsey Graham apparently need a perpetual war.  They have been against the drawdown from the start, and now seem upset because this swap represents one more nail in the Coffin of the Afghan War that appears to be soon laid to rest.

Prisoner swaps are nothing new and are usually carried out during withdrawal not afterward.  This was certainly the case in Vietnam with massive prisoner exchanges beginning in February 1973, and continuing through the summer before the US finally announced a cease fire in August.  Israel does prisoner swaps all the time.  Israeli authorities released over 1000 Palestinian prisoners for the return of Gilad Shalit in 2011.  He too had been held for five years by Hamas.

By comparison, the return of Bowe Bergdahl seems like a pretty good deal, but conservatives are fuming over the exchange, which they feel will embolden the Taliban, who are slaughtering sheep in celebration of this historic swap.  American soldiers will now have bounties on their head, Lindsey Graham cries in one of his rhetorical flourishes.

 I would think these soldiers had been targeted all along. It's just that the Taliban didn't expect one to walk right into their hands when Bowe Bergdahl stupidly decided to leave his unit in the remote Paktika region.  Most soldiers are smart enough not to stray far from their unit no matter what misgivings they might have, but Bowe was apparently driven by some Calvinist urge to follow his conscience.

Congressional Republicans of course want a hearing into the matter, but McCain voiced the futility of such a hearing as the deal is done.  It seems what he is most upset about is being left out of the loop, as if he should be personally advised of all the President's actions as they take place.  Like it or not, Obama is the Commander in Chief and can call his own shots without Congressional approval in these cases.

Bowe Bergdahl will not be hailed as a war hero like John McCain was in 1973.  McCain trumpeted his POW experience to win him an Arizona Congressional seat in 1983.  He has continually reminded us ever since of his call to duty in his speeches and books.  His long internment didn't seem to diminish his commitment to military action, supporting both wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and even accepting the Bush administration's use of torture to pry information out of suspected terrorists like the detainees at Guantanamo.

In many ways, John McCain is a more curious case than Bowe Bergdahl.  For whatever reason, McCain seems to live in a state of perpetual war as if trying to exorcise the demons of Vietnam.  He identifies himself with fallen soldiers like Pat Tillman because he believes the war in Afghanistan is just and should be waged until the insurgency begs for mercy.  It seems that only then will he be able to rid himself of his demons.  Sadly, it seems it will never be done.