Friday, April 13, 2007

Apology accepted

I was glad to see that the Rutgers team has accepted Don Imus’ apology for his racist and sexist remarks made on his now defunct radio program. It’s too bad that the rest of the country can’t be as forgiving.
This whole mess has left a bitter taste in my mouth as the relentless crusade to tar and feather Imus went overboard in my opinion and has now left him looking more the victim than the perpetrator. I’m disgusted right now with the hypocricy of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, two supposed preachers who can’t seem to find it in their hearts to forgive Imus, but have been quick to beg our forgiveness for their past transgressions.
Rather than healing a wound, Jackson and Sharpton have only succeeded in further inflaming tensions with this vendetta. I think Imus deserved to be taken down a notch or two over this incident. He deserved a swift kick in the butt, a slap upside the head and a stern warning not to do it again. But by forcing his show to be canceled they have effectively set him up as a sacrificial lamb and thus a sympathetic figure.

JFK column

This is a column I wrote for the Kerrville Daily Times that was published on Nov. 22, 1993. For my own edification I will be posting my old columns into my blog as time allows.

JFK assassination battle will never end

I’m not one of those people who can recall what I was doing when President John F. Kennedy was shot. That fateful day in our nation’s history took place nearly two years before I was born.
Still it has had a profound, if somewhat delayed, impact on my life. From the time I crawled out of the crib until sometime during my junior year in college I had given no more thought to the assassination of our 35th president than I did to the death of Julius Ceasar. It was just another piece of history.
Then one day, almost innocently, I checked out a documentary video about the assassination from a library. Little did I know that this was a documentary put together by critics of the “official version” of events that day. It was 1986, still several years before the fuss over the 25th and now the 30th anniversary and before the release of Oliver Stone’s film “JFK.”
Sitting down to watch the film I was naive enough to not even realize there was a controversy about what really happened that day. Needless to say, the things the film purported to show me came as quite a shock. Up until that point I had never had any reason to doubt the government. (At the time I was also woefully ignorant about Watergate.) I can still recall having the very strange sensation of being cast out of my safe and sheltered existence. The very neat and tidy little picture of the world that I had in my head had just developed a crack.
I returned to the library that day and checked out every book I could find about the assassination. I read them all, both pro-conspiracy and pro-lone gunman theory. It became almost an obsession for the next several months. If my history books had lied to me about this, what else might they have lied about? What else might they be trying to cover up or keep secret?
I had experienced a loss of faith, a loss of trust and a loss of innocence; much like that which people who were living at the time of the assassination had experienced.
After a while I could see what the defenders of the Warren Commission’s lone gunman theory were trying to do. They were trying to repair that broken picture in my head. They were desperately trying to pick up the pieces and patch things back together, constantly reassuring me that everything was still OK, that things had not gone terribly wrong with the world.
But it was too late. The seeds of doubt had been planted. The preponderance of evidence weighed against the Warren Commission’s neat and tidy version of events. The critics were too relentless, too driven. Some of them, for sure, were off-the-wall, paranoid and fanatical, but many of them were serious. Too serious to be ignored or dismissed. None of them could tell me what really happened that day, but they did a good job of punching holes in the Warren Commission’s official version.
Today the controversy surrounding the assassination of President Kennedy continues to divide our nation into two groups — those who trust and those who doubt. Each year on the anniversary of the assassination it has become a ritual for these two groups to meet on the battlefield of public opinion and duke it out.
The doubters have been winning as of late if recent polls are any indication. They made major gains when the Oliver Stone film was released, but the defenders of the Warren Report are not giving up. This year they are rallying around a new book with the self-important title “Case Closed” that once again attempts to prop up the lone gunman theory. They also have most of the “establishment” media on their side which is holding nothing back in showering praise on the new book and continuing to heap scorn and derision on the “conspiracy theorists” and “assassination buffs.”
It is a battle that will never end. We are no longer dealing with the simple facts of a homicide investigation, but with the tenets of two very different philosophies. Depending on which philosophy a person adopts will affect which evidence they will see as the most valid and which eyewitness testimony is the most credible.
I may not have been around when President Kennedy was shot, but I will always remember when it first affected me. Like a shockwave reverberating forward through time it changed my view of the world and made me more cynical, but perhaps also more realistic.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Political Odyssey Pt. 2

As I noted in Part 1 of my Political Odyssey, I began my political life as a Republican after being raised in a mostly apolitical family.
But during my junior and senior years in college, things began to change rapidly.
The Iran-Contra scandal broke in the fall of 1986 when I was starting my senior year at Texas A&M. Then-President Ronald Reagan at first denied any involvement, but about a week later he reversed course. I remember watching the nationally-televised speech Reagan gave on Nov. 13, 1986, trying to explain what had happened and why. He made it all sound so innocent and stressed that we were only talking about a very small amount of arms sent to Iran, just enough to fit into one cargo plane.

I authorized the transfer of small amounts of defensive weapons and spare parts for defensive systems to Iran. My purpose was to convince Tehran that our negotiators were acting with my authority, to send a signal that the United States was prepared to replace the animosity between us with a new relationship. These modest deliveries, taken together, could easily fit into a single cargo plane.

At first I was satisfied with this explanation. I was more than willing to give Uncle Ronnie the benefit of the doubt. But it soon became clear that Reagan had not been honest. We weren’t talking about a “small amount of defensive weapons” that “could easily fit into a single cargo plane.” We were talking about thousands of TOW missiles that took weeks to deliver in multiple shipments:

In January 1986, North and Secord negotiated on behalf of the United States the sale of 4,000 TOW missiles to Iran. Ghorbanifar agreed to pay $10,000 for each TOW. The terms and conditions negotiated by North and Secord required an initial sale of 1,000 TOW missiles for $10 million, and subsequent sales of an additional 3,000 TOW missiles for $30 million. North falsely informed DoD and the CIA that Secord would receive only $6,000 per TOW, or a total of $6 million. The Defense Department established its price as $3,700 per TOW missile for its sale to the CIA and the price to be paid to the CIA by Secord.
Between February 7 and February 18, 1986, Khashoggi deposited $10 million into the Enterprise's Lake Resources account. On February 10-11, 1986, $3.7 million was transferred from Lake to a CIA account for the weapons. Between February 17 and 27, 1986, 1,000 TOWs were shipped to Iran.

The full impact of Reagan’s lie took awhile to sink in, but the immediate effect was still jolting. My faith and trust in Reagan the man had been profoundly shaken. This ultimately had the effect of jarring me loose from my ideological underpinnings at that time. I suddenly found myself politically adrift. It was around that time that I decided I needed a better foundation and I turned to my history books to find a new hero. I eventually settled on John F. Kennedy. I began reading books on the Kennedy era including Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Vietnam, Watergate, etc. All the stuff that my history books had glossed over or skipped was suddenly becoming very relevant to me.
Then one weekend when I was home on break I went to the local public library and on a whim I checked out a video documentary about the Kennedy assassination. I was only vaguely aware at the time that there was any controversy surrounding the events of that period and was expecting mostly a historical overview. What I got instead was an eye-opening examination of the contradictions and inconsistencies in the official record that to this day leave unanswered one of the most important questions of the last century. Who shot JFK and why?
That video sparked my interest and I began to seek out as many books on the topic as I could find. I read books on both sides of the conspiracy issue - both pro-Warren Commission and pro-conspiracy theory. There was little question in my mind where the preponderance of the evidence pointed and I ended up siding with the majority of Americans who to this day believe Kennedy was killed as the result of an organized conspiracy. Who was behind that conspiracy is still debatable and I don’t pretend to have any definitive answers, but my suspicions were and still are that a right-wing cabal of anti-Castro Cubans, Mafia bosses and rouge elements in our own government conspired to pull off the crime of the century.
My research into the JFK assassination led me to believe that some of the same elements had conspired to pull off the subsequent assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King as well. I was incensed that THEY could get away with this. Even though I did not know who THEY were, I was nevertheless placing the blame on the right-wing side of the political spectrum and that was shoving me squarely into the left-wing side. It was a strange place to be for an Aggie in the Corps of Cadets but I felt the need to not only learn more about these issues, but to also do something about them.
As I became more and more enamored of JFK, RFK, MLK, etc., I became more and more disenchanted with Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Richard Nixon and the whole cast of characters who were making the news everyday in the growing Iran-Contra scandal.
I had never been to a College Republicans meeting, though I had faithfully supported the Republican ticket in 1984 and 1986. But by 1987 I was going to Aggie Democrats meetings and even got involved with the local chapter of Students Against Apartheid - quite possibly the only member of the Corps to ever be affiliated with the group. And I continued to read all kinds of left-wing political literature of that period much of which still influences my thinking to this day. They include:

“Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media” by Noam Chomsky
“Endless Enemies: The Making of an Unfriendly World” by Jonathan Kwitney
“The Power Game: How Washington Works” by Hedrick Smith
“Rise of the Counter Establishment: From Conservative Ideology to Political Power” by Sidney Blumenthal
“Tales of a New America: The Anxious Liberal's Guide to the Future” by Robert Reich
“The Media Monopoly” by Ben Bagdikian
“On Bended Knee: The Press and the Reagan Presidency” by Mark Hertsgaard

When the 1988 election season rolled around, my politics had done a complete 180’ from 1986 and I was anxious to not only vote for Democrats, but to actively work in their campaigns. When the Democratic primary rolled around I found myself supporting Jesse Jackson just to make a political statement - not because I had any illusions that he could win. After Michael Dukakis emerged as the candidate, I volunteered to work in his campaign in College Station. One of my talents was writing letters to the editor and when I had written all that I was allowed in any given month, I would turn around and ghost write letters for other people to send in.
Alas, all my efforts were for naught as Dukakis went down to defeat against the Willie Horton-fearmongering and shameless flag-exploiting campaign of George Bush the Elder. I was deeply disappointed but rather than turning away from politics I turned my efforts instead toward the state and local arena and supported the full slate of Democrats running for state office in 1990 including Ann Richards for Governor, Bob Bullock for Lt. Gov., Jim Hightower for Ag Commissioner, Garry Maruo for Land Commissioner and John Sharp for Comptroller. I also railed against a local Republican state rep trying to run for the state Senate (he lost) and worked in the campaign of a local attorney trying to win the vacant state rep seat (he lost too).
By the time Ann Richards and her group won, I was newly married and on my way to New England where I would soon get an entirely different perspective on politics.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Hidden gems

Remember those songs you used to listen to all the time and now you never seem to hear anymore? I’m talking about those hidden gems on albums that never got released as singles and never had any radio play. Songs that you only know about because you used to listen to the album or cassette constantly. But now you don’t even have a record or cassette player anymore and if you haven’t replaced those albums on CD you probably haven’t heard these songs in years.
Here is a list I put together of hidden gems I still cherish from the early to mid ‘80s:

Dragon Attack - Queen (Play the Game)
Rage in the Cage - J. Geils Band (Freeze Frame)
It’s Your Life - Loverboy (Get Lucky)
I Got the Six - ZZ Top (Eliminator)
Carry Me Away - Rick Springfield (Working Class Dog)
Can’t Stop the World - Go Go’s (Beauty and the Beat)
Don’t Worry Baby - Los Lobos (Will the Wolf Survive)
Too Much Information - The Police (Ghost in the Machine)
I Can’t Take It - Cheap Trick (Next Position Please)
Through Being Cool - Devo (New Traditionalists)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Collapse of the Bush Administration

Joe Klein has apparently had enough and goes off on the Bush administration in the latest issue of Time Magazine:

The epic collapse of the Bush Administration.
The three big Bush stories of 2007 — the decision to “surge” in Iraq, the scandalous treatment of wounded veterans at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys for tawdry political reasons — precisely illuminate the three qualities that make this Administration one of the worst in American history: arrogance (the surge), incompetence (Walter Reed) and cynicism (the U.S. Attorneys).
Iraq comes first, as always. From the start, it has been obvious that personal motives have skewed the President’s judgment about the war. Saddam tried to kill his dad; his dad didn’t try hard enough to kill Saddam. There was payback to be had. But never was Bush’s adolescent petulance more obvious than in his decision to ignore the Baker-Hamilton report and move in the exact opposite direction: adding troops and employing counterinsurgency tactics inappropriate to the situation on the ground. “There was no way he was going to accept [its findings] once the press began to portray the report as Daddy’s friends coming to the rescue,” a member of the Baker-Hamilton commission told me. As with Bush’s invasion of Iraq, the decision to surge was made unilaterally, without adequate respect for history or military doctrine. Iraq was invaded with insufficient troops and planning; the surge was attempted with too few troops (especially non-Kurdish, Arabic-speaking Iraqis), a purposely misleading time line (“progress” by September) and, most important, the absence of a reliable Iraqi government.
General David Petraeus has repeatedly said, “A military solution to Iraq is not possible.” Translation: This thing fails unless there is a political deal among the Shi’ites, Sunnis and Kurds. There is no such deal on the horizon, largely because of the President’s aversion to talking to people he doesn’t like. And while some Baghdad neighborhoods may be more peaceful--temporarily--as a result of the increased U.S. military presence, the story two years from now is likely to resemble the recent headlines from Tall ‘Afar: dueling Sunni and Shi’ite massacres have destroyed order in a city famously pacified by counterinsurgency tactics in 2005. Bush’s indifference to reality in Iraq is not an isolated case. It is the modus operandi of his Administration. The indifference of his Environmental Protection Agency to the dangers of carbon dioxide emissions was rejected by the Supreme Court on April 2.
On April 3, the President again accused Democrats of being “more interested in fighting political battles in Washington than providing our troops what they need.” Such demagoguery is particularly outrageous given the Administration’s inability to provide our troops “what they need” at the nation’s premier hospital for veterans. The mold and decrepitude at Walter Reed are likely to be only the beginning of the tragedy, the latest example of incompetence in this Administration. “This is yet another aspect of war planning that wasn’t done properly,” says Paul Rieckhoff of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “The entire VA hospital system is unprepared for the casualties of Iraq, especially the psychiatric casualties. A lot of vets are saying, ‘This is our Katrina moment.’ And they’re right: this Administration governs badly because it doesn’t care very much about governing.”
Compared with Iraq and Walter Reed, the firing of the U.S. Attorneys is a relatively minor matter. It is true that U.S. Attorneys serve at the pleasure of the President, but they are political appointees of a special sort. They are partisans, obviously, but must appear to be above politics--not working to influence elections, for example--if public faith in the impartiality of the justice system is to be maintained. Once again Karl Rove’s operation has corrupted a policy area--like national security--that should be off-limits to political operators.
When Bush came to office--installed by the Supreme Court after receiving fewer votes than Al Gore--I speculated that the new President would have to govern in a bipartisan manner to be successful. He chose the opposite path, and his hyper-partisanship has proved to be a travesty of governance and a comprehensive failure. I’ve tried to be respectful of the man and the office, but the three defining sins of the Bush Administration--arrogance, incompetence, cynicism--are congenital: they’re part of his personality. They’re not likely to change. And it is increasingly difficult to imagine yet another two years of slow bleed with a leader so clearly unfit to lead.

Monday, April 09, 2007

B.C. - R.I.P.

B.C. cartoonist Johnny Hart died the other day at age 76, reportedly while sitting at his desk working on storyboards for future comic strips. I think he might have appreciated that he died on Easter Sunday considering his very aggresive Christian evangelizing through his comic strips during his later years.
I was never a big fan of B.C. but it had the advantage of having always been around. It was a nearly omnipresent comic strip, in every paper I ever read as my family moved around from one place to the next as I was growing up. In recent years it had become an irritant because of the way Hart injected it with his right-wing political views - couched in holier-than-thou Christian Coalition smarminess. But I would often read it just to see what kind of outrageous thing he would say each day, otherwise the strip would have been relegated to the growing pile of gag-a-day, boring, long-past-their-due-date strips that I regularly skip over each day (Marmaduke, Hi and Lois, Snuffy Smith, etc.)
Now that Hart is gone I hope that his strip will be gracefully retired and allow for more room on the static comic pages for some of the fresh, new strips that are hungry for a chance to breakthrough. Unfortunately, the Syndicate may have other plans as this quote from the AP story implies:

Richard Newcombe, founder and president of Creators Syndicate said “B.C.” and “Wizard of Id” would continue. Family members have been helping produce the strips for years, and they have an extensive computer archive of Hart's drawings to work with, he said.

Great! The heart and soul of B.C. is gone, but they’re going to continue cranking out daily strips using rehashed and recycled drawings stored in a computer database. I hope that most newspapers will have the good sense to drop the strip if that is what they are going to pull. There are already far too many “zombie” strips out there that continue to haunt our comics pages long after the original creative talents behind them have departed this world.