ONE: Vinny Laughs Last
With NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams and his career hanging by a thread, it’s been fascinating to contemplate his attempts at apology and explanation for his Iraq tall tale. He claimed he “would not have chosen to make this mistake,” which begs the peculiar question of which mistake he might have opted for instead. He went on to note that he “[doesn’t] know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another.” Elsewhere, he implied he does know, ascribing his “mistake” to what he termed “the fog of memory.”
The fog bank apparently stretched across many months, all the way to New Orleans, where Williams’s recollections of armed gangs, dysentery, and bodies floating outside the Ritz-Carlton are now receiving some Category 5 scrutiny. As are other instances of Williams and the truth not being on the same page; the list will likely be augmented as his suspension continues. His very public humiliation is especially striking set against his remarks to an audience at New York University back in 2007:
“You’re going to be up against people who have an opinion, a modem, and a bathrobe. All of my life, developing credentials to cover my field of work, and now I’m up against a guy named Vinny in an efficiency apartment in the Bronx who hasn’t left the efficiency apartment in two years.”
Well, of course he hasn’t left that apartment, Brian. Who the hell wants to risk getting hit by an RPG crossing Jerome Avenue?
It’s worth noting that the credentials Williams has spent all his life developing began with his very first job, busing tables at a Perkins. Good thing he has a fallback career. Efficiency apartments, even in the Bronx, don’t come cheap these days.
TWO: Cloudy with a chance of stupid…
Vinny might also be wondering how someone as loathsome and nakedly biased as John Stossel could have won nineteen Emmy Awards. It certainly beats the hell out of me. Stossel has been acting like a jerk for such a long time that it’s pretty much automatic for him these days. Case in point, a recent Fox News appearance with colleague and fellow cretin Tucker Carlson, wherein Stossel got all nostalgic about the real heroes of Katrina. Apparently, it’s a story Brian Williams was too dysentery-ridden to investigate:
“After Katrina, Walmart and private charities helped people in many more ways than FEMA did… because FEMA is incompetent because government tends to be. But also Walmart everyday needs to know what people need, and they were ready. They had more weather forecasters than some of the local governments do.”
Missing from Stossel’s “analysis” were some inconvenient facts: the Bush administration’s initial indifference followed by its comprehensive mishandling of the crisis, the appointment of the monumentally unqualified Michael Brown to head up FEMA, chronic underfunding of federal agencies at the insistence of Republican fiscal hawks-of-convenience, and the general rightwing guiding principle of “if it’s busted, just leave it.” And though I’ve only ventured into a Walmart twice in my life, I don’t recall seeing a weather forecasting department.
THREE: Almost Heaven, part 1
West Virginia may rank 38th in state population, but it’s positively brimming with bonehead Republican politicians enthusiastically elected to public office by bonehead Republican voters. One in the news recently is Delegate Brian Kurcaba. Despite his pre-politics background as a financial adviser, Kurcaba is comfortable pontificating on a range of subjects, like “voter fraud,” traffic in Morgantown, and “Second Amendment freedoms.” Oh, and rape.
Kurcaba, in the presence of a reporter, recently weighed in on the topic during a House of Delegates debate on the imposition of a strict ban on abortions after 20 weeks, something West Virginia Republicans have been trying to impose for some time. While Kurcaba sagely allowed that rape is “horrible and terrifying and brutal… absolutely disgusting,” he managed to find a silver lining to inspire female rape victims everywhere: “But what is beautiful is the child that could come as a production of this.”
Or maybe not. A day later, Kurcaba issued a mea sorta culpa to “anyone who took my comments about the sanctity of human life to mean anything other than that all children are precious regardless of circumstances.” Delegates in West Virginia serve two-year terms. Sadly, then, I expect we’ll be hearing a lot more from Brian Kurcaba. Continue reading Take Five (Well, Shut My Mouth edition)
What’s happening to the children? I bet your first thought is which children? The kidnapped girls in Nigeria who captured the interest of the world, gaining commitments from international governments to send troops to pursue their return—but suddenly vanished from our imaginations, or at least our television screens and social media accounts? Or the 40,000 children massed along the US southern border with Mexico, whose 1,000-mile pilgrimages were met with protests, demanding their immediate return to countries and communities where they would be met by death and rape, the violence of promised threats from criminal gangs? Or maybe the uncounted and silent thousands of children who suffer from hunger because food assistance was cut by the Congress to “help” the balance sheet of federal deficits driven by Wall Street and tax giveaways to corporations, who are leaving the country in a huff because they want more even as we give the children less.
The Lost Boys of the Sudan. Duane Romanell photo.
Thousands of children are refugees, displaced by conflict violence, whose only hope is to abandon their homes with their families and flee into the unknown. They live on the edge of civilization, marginalized as temporaries, their lives suspended from education and the security of a society rooting for them to find a future of success. As refugees, they live in a world in which hope is denied.
What’s happening to the education of US children? Why are states and communities resisting a national standard that allows any methodology and curriculum to meet the new standard?
Why is there a virus that suddenly emerges in 47 states that is sending hundreds of children to hospitals and has registered more US deaths than Ebola, with only miniscule public outcry?
Why are teachers engaging in sex with students, according to reports from Louisiana where two female teachers are alleged to have had a threesome with a male high school student; in Virginia where a married female teacher admits to having sex with four high school students; in Red Bank, NJ where a male substitute teacher is accused of having an ongoing sexual relationship with a student; in Bucks County, PA where a female middle school band teacher is accused of having sex with a student inside her vehicle; in Maplewood, NJ where a female teacher is charged with having oral sex with 15-year-olds on school property; in Brooklyn, NY where a male math and science teacher at one of the city’s elite high schools is charged with having sex with at least six female students, supported by evidence from videos and texts; in New Hampshire, where a male teacher is accused of having sex with a student in his classroom and encouraged the student to cover it up in an e-mail; in El Paso, TX which has reported four incidents so far in 2014; in South Carolina, where among multiple incidents involving multiple students, a female Berkeley County teacher is alleged to have had sex with a three students during a house party? Continue reading What Is Happening to the Children
(Warning: Disturbing image near the end of the article.)
What does a grown man feel as he kicks and punches a child viciously in the head? What fear or anger propels the blows? Doesn’t the thud against the bone make his stomach sick? Is politics so sick with our own vitriol that we beat and kill our children and feel dead? That instead of stopping, we spread beatings and killings and harm to children who are not our own?
What makes a person strike a child until a child’s face is unrecognizable to his mother? Is swollen so badly that he cannot speak or see? What security or vengeance or justice is gained from such insanity?
In the time of the world’s greatest prosperity, attacks of all kinds on children multiply. Wealth is used to buy infants for sex to cure HIV infections in South Africa, prepubscent children are purchased for work in brothels or as brides across Asia and Africa; boys are taken from schools and given guns and drugs and taught to kill and rape as child soldiers; in Mexico, adolescents who carry out hits ordered by drug lords are given Mercedes to drive, for which they are to young to have a legal license.
In a global cry for help, the children who throw away despair and evil, violence and crime; the ones making a heroic witness of hope by walking across the central America isthmus, facing down the ravages of hunger and starvation, the exhausting fatigue that weighs each step (to protest against their conditions and search for a better life build on moral truth) arrive in the US to face shouting adults with signs that say, “We didn’t ask for you,” “Go back.”
The government hears their cry, turns the buses around, and sends a funding request to Capitol Hill. We seek funds for judges for hearings to deport children, to send our youngest, most innocent neighbors back. We are sending the children of the world, who have shown the greatest courage of our era, back to iniquities and atrocities. Because they have challenged our ideas and laws, we treat them like criminals—which some decry as free meals. As we do, we are making hope a crime and hate a matter of law. Communities that a generation ago didn’t lock their doors now close their borders.
Am I a bleeding heart jumping on the most recent liberal bandwagon? Am I guilty of ignoring the national balance sheet? Deaf to limits of policy? Am I advocating taking jobs and resources away from Americans? Encouraging reckless behavior? No.
Children are dreamers, not schemers. Their turning to America by a path of footprints is an act of brave hope, not cynicism. Meeting needs, material and social, helps create prosperity. The economy is not a static or fixed sum, shared by pluses and minuses. It is a dynamic, interactive system, in which issues create opportunities, and opportunities lead to jobs. Protecting, rescuing and saving children no more takes away jobs and paychecks than buying a Chinese-built iPad or iPhone—the money spent on idevices and Galaxy 5s creates no American jobs except retail and transportation, drains the trade balance, increases the deficit, and the bulk of the purchase price for idevices will rest in Apple’s cash reserves—now larger than the entire GDP of all but the world’s 55 largest countries. Continue reading The Painful Lives of Our Youngest Pawns
What’s the price of injustice? What’s its costs to the human soul?
There is a lot of buzz in the world, from the Zimmerman trial’s 100-city rallies this weekend to Brazil’s millions-month-long protests of transportation costs and inadequate health care; from Edward Snowden’s search for asylum to the military’s intervention in Egypt to the ongoing insurgent fighting in the Sudan and the New York city council debate over Stop-and-Frisk that has made 4 million warrantless personal searches in a decade. In these times of massive scale events, little real change seems to be breaking through.
Why are we stuck? Not just politically, on budgets, rights, jobs, debt, the recovery, the environment, safety nets, and districts across the country drawn like fiefs, controlled by political overlords. Why are we stuck, inside our heads and hearts, in views and reasons that seem to accept or impose the intolerable? How did our spirits come to be divided?
Why are so many campaigns being conducted against basic freedoms, when we take a wide-angle view?
The main reason is wealth, its illusion, displacement and disenchantment—the way it historically fuses a reactionary penchant for violence into a society rather than the lazy idleness that the political bokors claim. A bokor is a leader of the zombies, one who can summon them at will—the mindless whom Marx once called the lumpen. Fanon called them “the Damned of the World,” (translated into English, “The Wretched of the Earth”).
As it does to the earth and the environment, wealth causes in society a violent dislocation and instability—we have seen the results of conquistadors and the Latin drug cartels; we have forgotten the lessons of the African slave trade, whose generation of wealth disrupted Africa and fueled the industrial revolution. America’s plantation slavery saved Sweden from bankruptcy by increasing the demand for its iron ore for hoe culture.
Real divisions created by the enormous tide of wealth—which the Koch brothers celebrated recently in ads reminding us, in America, we are still the 1% globally—the ad offered as a penitential source of pride—while utterly missing how much more grotesque that makes the contrast between “our” 1 %, their 1 %, and the rest of the world!
Real divisions of violence and conflict reside in culture; a maze of meanings, conversations and choices; the collective will and individual expressions that dial in who we are outside legislation, policy and Wall Street greed.
In politics, this culture divide is spoken of in images framed as stereotypes; straw figures offered as shrills and shells in debates over the balance sheet and safety nets. Politics cites issues and ignores real elements of the divide or exploits them. It clouds culture’s massive fissures and commonalities, and culture’s usefulness as a tactical guide. Continue reading The Price of Injustice
Have Republicans forgotten they were elected to govern? Not when it comes to money and power. Money, especially. It’s being used in South Carolina to raise support for Lindsay Graham, up for reelection next year, by touting an immigration solution that matches his work with the Senate bill introduced by the Gang of Eight. Now in committee, the bill is the object of scorn by Alabama’s Jeff Sessions. But Graham says he, “believes in it with all his heart.”
The same 501(c)(4) money supporting Graham opposes Vincent Sheheen, a Democratic candidate for governor, a moderate from an established political family, the kind of Democrat that once won easily in South Carolina, as Bill Clinton once did in Arkansas. A 30-second commercial opposes Sheheen by saying he wants South Carolina to be the only Southern state to accept Obamacare. The spot openly touts the region’s solidarity with regression.
Win or lose, Republicans have put buzz words in place. Now at the state level, voters hear the bell and respond. This is one reason why Republicans repeatedly raise Benghazi. It’s not only to tie Hillary Clinton to the incident, but to pound into it a connotation of failure, weaknesses and cowardice. Hence the angry testimony of State Department officers in a recent hearing which added nothing to what was known except more reports and confessions of anger.
The white men expressed their anger at being told troops would add to the confusion, especially when conditions were not clearly understood. The Republican purpose is to add anger and fear—to turn Benghazi into a brand like Obamacare. All one need do is hear the word, and a parade of negatives immediately comes to mind for the uninformed majority.
If Benghazi is in, military sexual assault is out. Silence reigns about a problem so severe that both males and females in a US uniform are more likely to be sexually assaulted than killed in combat. The Republican concern for mission-readiness and discipline so displayed when gays were allowed to serve openly does not extend to violence and force within inter-gender (and intra-gender) relationships.
Any civilian organization facing year-on-year statistics for sexual assaults at the level of the military would be gravely criticized and shut down. Yet the focus of Congressional national security is on e-mails about Benghazi talking points, while the rampant, growing, out-of-control epidemic of military sexual assaults undermines military working order—widespread reports cite the difficulties of working with your rapist—and puts the nation’s security at risk. And brings home a lot of hurt.
Last year, 26,000 assaults were committed, by the military’s own score. The Air Force Chief of Staff discussed it in a Senate subcommittee hearing as the result of a “hook-up” culture. Yet the Air Force’s officer in charge of the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention was charged two weeks ago with groping an unknown woman in a Virginia parking lot, and was arrested by civilian authorities. Yesterday, the Army reported the arrest of an officer at Fort Hood, a Texas base, who was the Sexual Assault Prevention Office Coordinator. He is being held on multiple charges of abusive sexual misconduct.
Outrage? The tempest over revised talking points and e-mails also ignores three of the most important global developments in recent weeks: the factory fire in Bangladesh that left more than 1,100 workers dead, calling into question issues of global working conditions and safety; the massacres in Northern Nigerian villages by the Nigerian army; and the conviction of Guatemala’s former president and military dictator, 86-year-old Efrain Rios Montt on charges of genocide. Continue reading Hooking Up the Wrong Way
What do you believe? Who do you believe? And what is the foundation for your beliefs? Those questions were overwhelmed in the noise but were underlined by the rage in the public square this week, on issues from sequestration to the Onion’s infamous tweet during the Academy Awards.
Defended as free speech and satire, whose firestorm of response by many was evidence of its success, the Onion’s 140-character post was never covered by the cover it claimed, of being the occasional moment in a society that cherishes free speech, when a good intent to poke fun goes awry.
It was, instead, the perfect example of irresponsible speech, an imitated form of liar’s rage, a flawed imitation of the disdain that has marked the political language of Republicans, especially, and dominates the airwaves and the internet. This mock and real rage is often packed with lies, to avoid responsibility and to deny its purpose by claiming: look, it’s absurd. This liar’s rage is engaged in; denigrating the President and others, often not for their views, but simply because hate is seen as a constitutionally protected act. The Onion poster falls into using liar’s rage as a mock model. So it’s okay to call a nine-year old a sexually explicit name. No different than other daily online fare. As long as it’s just words, and they are not used to incite, the Bill of Rights says speech is free, and restrictions can’t be imposed.
The folk who make that argument miss the point: the outrage about the Onion post wasn’t over a narrow legal view of whether it violated free speech or whether it was misinterpreted, or as I suggest, it’s evidence of a cultural faux pas, or whether the rest of us didn’t get it. The reaction was a collective, strong-willed assertion that the comment was wrong. Not all free speech is right, and the right to speak or tweet freely doesn’t guarantee that what is said will have an equal place in the public square, which also has the right to shout it down.
The short tweet combined the worst of Rush Limbaugh and Mitt Romney with Donald Trump. It was uncomfortably sexually explicit without the redemption or condemnation found in the best satire. It applied a smear with the full force of scatological misogyny. My daughter tells me it’s a frat boy word. Mis-gauging its impact channels Romney, who repeatedly put forth a worldview that took away the humanity of others. Its crudeness and bullying attack was pure La Donald.
By closer reading, the poster was also a male. (Read it, you’ll agree.) As it was defended, it revealed a large subculture who skip the who and cite their belief in the what; in this case, free speech, its foundation in the constitution.
I agree that the post didn’t “cross the line.” It was wrong. Murder doesn’t “cross the line.” It’s wrong. A country can’t maintain a dual morality, one for crimes of property and persons, and another that says if legal penalties aren’t at stake, anything goes. Gun owners are now citing the right to “constitutional carry,” without restriction or concealment permits (repeal!). A constitutional right doesn’t guarantee approval of every position (guns or free speech) that attempts to be derived from that right. The constitution also guarantees the equal right to be wrong under its authority.
Long before appeals to law, a society decides in dynamic ways its limits and order, its boundaries of behavior, its conscience and sense of embarrassment and shame, its priorities and patterns of care. The Constitution should not be cited to excuse bad taste at best, to conceal honest error, or to be the enabling document for the erosion of the full humanity of others who are diverse and different.
I see the post as a thoughtless and harmful example of how the decency of words has degenerated into a culture that sets no limits on impropriety, including using a sexually explicit, denigrating word against a prepubescence girl in the harsh light on the internet’s public square. Retreating to free speech was something that even the Onion CEO didn’t do. He says in a Facebook the post was “crude and offensive—not to mention inconsistent with The Onion’s commitment to parody and satire, No person should be subjected to such a senseless, humorless comment masquerading as satire.”
It should remind us that such an ill-advised attack is not by “rights” exempt from being wrong, and by its irresponsibility undermines the protections it cites.
It wasn’t that the rest of us “were afraid to say it.” We knew better. Continue reading What Do You Believe?
We like our victims pure. They never are. Which brings us to the latest round robin of characters whose mess is in the public square, inciting smiles, head shakes, and outrage, and returning us to the age-old debates about the relationship between women and men. Really, our ideas about relationships are telling not for the scandal unfolding, not for the overachievers at the center of the parody of power, but for how hard it is to talk when we agree.
We agree cheating on a spouse is bad. We agree the heads of organizations like the CIA and the European Allied Supreme Command, organizations whose major assets are personal integrity, singular commitment to missions, and a priority set that sidesteps distractions and turns aside temptations, should not be e-mailing civilians excessively, or circumventing national security by setting up a docs account online to describe what college students I know describe as “hot monkey sex.”
Where we disagree is who had the power. Do powerful men ever become weak? Do women ever gain the upper hand in those mutual but also one-sided relationships of power? Do men in power use women? Do women use men in power?
This morning, online, one New York Times commenter sees it this way. First, she quotes from Maureen Dowd’s column:
the dangers of young ladies with exuberant, flirtatious, “unguarded and imprudent” manners visiting military regiments and preening in “all the glories of the camp.”
Then she writes:
I am appalled at you, Ms Dowd, for insinuating that the women are to blame for the generals’ own lascivious tendencies. Why, you sound as apologetic as McCain (who Charlie Pierce categorizes as post-menopausal), Lindsay Graham (I am tough too, look at me), and Peter King (panderer in chief) on how sad it is that Petraeus allowed himself to be led by ‘little Petraeus’ than he did matters of the Republic.
You have company, too, you know. You are right there with Pat Robertson who rationalized Petraeus’ behavior thus:
“Who knows? The man’s off in a foreign land and he’s lonely and here’s a good looking lady throwing herself at him. I mean, he’s a man.”
And yet, as we speak, there are now three top generals mired in sexual controversy. Shame on you for putting this on the women!
In the rush to defend women, I think it’s wise not to lose sight of two connected issues, one large, one small. The smaller issue: by saying it’s all the fault of men in power, women are permanently consigned to status as victims. I first ran into this paradox studying slavery, where scholars removed all power and wiles from the slave community and turned slaves into faceless minions. Gradually, I began to understand that a slave who leveraged the system in his or her own interest through cooperation was in the long run more likely to resist and act independently than those who simply accepted the system without challenge. The line to be watched and not crossed was cooperation never went against the interest of the larger community. Advance yourself, but don’t sell us out.
The differences of slaves in the house and the field really were a difference of the importance and value of of an observed group ethic. Whose interests must be protected? Mine or the group’s?
Women are a group whose status is hard to escape. A barrage of national name-calling, targeted legislation, and commercial ads target American women and divide them from their sisters worldwide, who are assaulted daily in the hundreds of thousands, from infancy to old age. In South Africa, a women is more likely to be raped than to be able to read.
But rape is not a part of the scandal of the day. No one denies the affair was consensual. No one denies the affair. But who had the power? How was power defined? And were women as a group violated by the acts of the men or women involved? Continue reading Fighting the Wrong War
Sometimes, truth is besides the point. In today’s politics, its relevancy is certainly diminished. Its purpose is abandoned, standing as empty and eerie as the giant hollow factory shells of Detroit. We are taught to think of truth as solid and firm, but its integrity sways like the vine bridges built deep in rain forest interiors hidden from view. Truth is adaptable and timeless, which makes it easy to overrun. But in the heat of the moment, the property of truth Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. cited is often forgotten: “Truth crushed to earth will rise again.”
Its role in this season’s Presidential campaigns is over- and underrated, as one is about fear, the other about feel good. It is true that systems in conflict or competition create a set of their own norms intended to gain advantage and defeat the other, and this determines their options and handicaps their outcomes. Yet one campaign has based its entire strategy on betting against truth’s rise, believing truth’s adaptivity can be twisted and crushed by fear. The truth of truth is that truth expands; it is indispensable, not disposable.
Yet the power of truth is rare as a social or political force; it has always been tied to a sense of shame, a feeling of inner pain, a self-imposed humility, an emptiness and brokenness that rained on a soul telling a lie. Truth, celebrated as a virtue, carried with it a sense of embarrassment that made it hard to look people in the eye. Despair–agony–waited on those who bent or violated its moral faith. All day demons reigned in the lost hearts that told lies, a separation that left these hearts disturbed in out-of-body drift. Truth is the comfort of wholeness. Truth is foremost an inner quality, a force that builds a fabric of trust.
Akin and the ensuing political arguments badly miss this point. His one sentence/word/day violated a larger, higher trust. One New York Times commenter observed: Continue reading A Faith Lesson for Todd Akin
Africa today is not the Africa of my youth. When I was six, on the continent, only Ethiopia was free. The continent was a spider work of colonies run . . . → Read More: Digging Deeper: Out of Africa, Charles Taylor Sentenced For War Crimes