Archives for category: history

(ETA: My friend Kevin added the following: ‘I am somewhat surprised you limited this to those affected by his ignoring AIDS. His policies in Central America, both under Reagan and on his own, went far further than was revealed in Iran Contra and resulted in untold deaths, mass impoverishment, and the overthrow of legitimate governments by USA backed and armed narco cartels who persist to this day.  Lastly we can point out that Bush and William Casey were responsible for the perpetuation of the Iranian hostage crisis, which cost Carter the election.’ These things are absolutely true, and any one of them could have earned another 500 words. The AIDS crisis struck closest to home at the time and is much in my thoughts these days for other reasons.)

I’ve been thinking about the death of George Herbert Walker Bush and why I won’t ‘dignify’ his memory by keeping silent. By 1988, HIV had been identified as the source of AIDS and AIDS had been named for three and five years respectively. Bush had remained silent the entire time, as had his predecessor, Ronald Reagan. (Reagan’s silence, even as friends of his such as Rock Hudson died, was despicable enough.) When ACT-UP and other gay groups protested in forms of extreme street theatre and were arrested for it, they were working in the same realm as the Freedom Riders two decades before, and playing for similar stakes. The people who risked and suffered violence and arrest at the hands of police forces coast to coast in many cases could have lived relatively quiet closeted lives, but as soon as they put themselves on the line for queer causes, they risked being disowned by their families (as the price of coming out had always included), firing, often their entire livelihoods. (This is why Harvey Milk pushed for all gays and lesbians to come out – to make it impossible to ignore that we were everywhere.)

s-e-dThis was a fair risk because their friends were dying. (I would so love to be able to say that I took the risks, but I lived safely then and rarely demonstrated, and generally only when it was safe. I won’t rewrite my own history.) Friends and lovers were dying horrible, lonely, painful deaths. Let’s not forget that the opportunistic infections associated with AIDS were slow and had few treatments. And there was no cure on the horizon.

As the leader of the free world, Bush had the responsibility and the duty to speak out, But, I hear you say, it wasn’t politically expedient to do so.

No, butt the crimes and death that result from political expedience are unforgivable. Instead of standing up and saying These are our brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters, he declared a whole segment of the population ‘Other’, a nuisance, and therefore disposable. That nuisance continued to die on his watch at an alarming rate. When he took office over 82,000 cases of AIDS had been reported in the US and almost 62,000 had died of it. When he left office in 1993, those numbers had increased threefold in the US alone. In his time in office, and in the succeeding quarter century, Bush has always been unwilling to stand up and own up and repent and do some kind of good work in this regard.

When his own Department of Health and Human Services produced a report on teen suicide that included the specific risks of gay and lesbian youth, Bush caved to far right groups and suppressed the report. The report was only released when its findings were leaked.

Bush’s successors have blood on their hands too, and I’m not willing to give them a pass, either, but in this moment of hagiography, I must say no. The man was not a saint of any kind. When the crisis was in its infancy, and leadership was required, he continued to do what was expedient. Were I the sort who believed in such things, I’d say that Hell had prepared a room.

ETA: The Rude Pundit has a column on this matter that’s a whole lot less nice than mine.

Bloomberg News posted a rather disingenuous editorial comparing Bill Clinton to Donald Trump, the idea being that Trump is simply presenting a grotesque version of the Clinton presidency.

The upshot is that the sex scandals entrapping Trump are as unforgivable as those that Bill Clinton subjected us to back in the 90s, and that somehow because Dems gave Clinton a pass, we should do the same for Trump. I call bullshit. Loud and Clear. I won’t give Trump a pass for ostensibly the same issue (infidelity) for a great number of reasons. One is that Trump’s payouts push us into obstruction of justice territory that Clinton’s simply didn’t.

But let me back up. There’s some merit to this argument that it’s the same thing. For all his impropriety, if the allegations even of rape against Bill Clinton are true (and that’s a hard thing to write, given how loudly we howled in his defense back in the 90s), in general he had the interests of the country and its underclasses at heart. At least some of the time. The health care battle, in the history of those times goes head to head with welfare ‘reform’ and his Supreme Court choices get in the ring with the death warrant he signed during the ‘92 campaign. Yeah, he did dozens of things wrong from my liberal pacifist armchair perspective.

However, what devolved from the Clinton presidency onward was an intractable right wing that had only the interest of the the wealthy and the evangelical in mind and the continuation of their own power. Part of the issue is that the Democrats (as an organization, not an affiliation) have the same faults and predilections as the right, but never had what it took to separate the workers’ interests from the worker’s evangelical leaning in the public imagination. I’m not sure how it evolved that the best interests of the worker no longer lay with that of other workers. (Howard Zinn, if I recall rightly, explains that historically it dates back to slavery/reconstruction when whites in power peddled the line to the landless/luckless whites that ‘you may be trash, but at least you’re not black.’)

Fostering that seemed to hold things together. Oddly this was the Dems’ position, not the Republicans’. It wasn’t until Nixon that the Republicans took hold of Dixie. While it was a Republican that presided over the Union in the Civil War – the Dixiecrats held the south until a Southern white democrat signed the Civil Rights Act. It took the Dems 100 years to lose the South and Republicans have only tighetned their stranglehold in the last 50.

But it’s not unremarked upon that no matter what, both Republicans in legislatures and Democrats vote against the interests of the poor. Nine times out of ten, if not more. I’m not sure that’s just a recent New Democrat (the American equivalent of the UK’s New Labour) or if it dates further back than Clinton’s election. My suspicion is that recent statistics on the matter would be borne out if we applied them in every decade to the founding of the union.

I’ve said before that Clinton was a bastard (our bastard, sure), but we knew when he signed off on Rudy Ray Rector’s death penalty at the start of the ‘92 campaign, that he could be either disgustingly calculating or outright heartless. I think the left trusted it to be the former, because it’s somehow well-known that someone against the death penalty could never be president. I pulled the lever for him twice, because 12 years of Reagan/Bush were enough. And because in ‘96, Dole got the nomination because it was his turn, not because he was the best Republican for the job. Not saying he wasn’t the better man, but I wasn’t ready to question my own liberal ideology. (I’ve been ready enough in recent years, but 21st century American conservatism turns my stomach. So I’ll keep my lunch, thanks. And American Liberalism is firmly in Reagan territory at this point anyway.)

So all that noise above about Bill Clinton is simply to say that I, and possibly my fellow liberals, are not blind to his faults, and that we knew what we were getting into. He was as opportunistic a politician as any other, but no matter what bullshit was thrown at him with regards the so-called scandals of the time, he wasn’t found to be absolutely crooked. This is the key distinction between Clinton (and the Lewinsky affair which finally brought him to impeachment) and Trump (and his various scandals): we know that Trump is crooked. We know because he doesn’t release his tax returns; we know because the one lawyer he keeps close makes payoffs to keep stories from the newspapers; we know because several who did work for him came forward during the campaign to say he reneged on contracts; we know by the skeezy way he talks about his daughter.

I’m going to move from the differences between Trump and Clinton to the greater issue of how our recent presidents differ in similar ways.

Valerie Plame penned an interesting editorial on the pardon of Scooter Libby this week. Libby was the only person charged (and convicted) in the outing of Agent Plame as a covert agent in 2003. His situation plays into the essential what-aboutism of the Bloomberg editorial – Under Bush II and Trump, the worst elements of the party have twisted the agenda of the president. While we may have disagreed quite strenuously with Clinton’s policies, behaviour, and agenda, we didn’t doubt his grasp of policy and his understanding of how his actions would resonate in the geopolitical arena.

For example, when he joined in the bombing of the former Yugoslavia, he knew what the effects might be and he was aware of the historical context in which the war was taking place. (More on this in a moment.) When Rumsfeld and Cheney dragged us into Iraq, President Bush knew that we in the public knew that he was well out of his depth and had no idea what the fuck he was doing. (My apologies: Take a moment to diagram that sentence if you need to.) He told us as much during the campaign, that he was taking on the greatest minds of his daddy’s administration to guide him. The problem was then, as now, the massive conflicts of interest. Has anyone measured how much Dick Cheney’s fortune increased due to Halliburton’s Iraq/Afghanistan war contracts? Just for a start?

Cheney knew the effects of what was going to happen and apparently didn’t give a good goddamn.

Did anyone who mattered in the Shrub White House grasp the history of the region well enough to know the can of worms we were opening? In the public arena, they showed that they didn’t care. The impression they delivered was that eventually the oil would flow and its profits would flow back to the US, that they didn’t care about the war’s time line – the past history didn’t matter – the future would justify it, that they didn’t understand the distinctions between Shias and Sunnis and Kurds (the Yazidi didn’t even figure into the public equation at the time), that somehow all the ethnic hatreds that were held in check by Saddam Hussein would evaporate once we, um, liberated the place.

Clinton at least gave the impression that he cared about what was going to happen. With Bush and Trump, we don’t see that they understand the effects or that they care.

The Bloomberg editorial points out that one of the several parallels between Trump and Clinton is that when Clinton was in the hot seat regarding the Lewinsky scandal, he tried to divert attention by ordering a bombing raid, in Bosnia if I recall rightly. Trump, under slightly more pressure this week after a massive three-venue no-knock raid on that attorney I mentioned, and Trump pulled the same maneuver (possibly at the behest of Fox News), and sent soldiers to bomb Syria. The fact remains that there was feck-all for the independent counsel to nail Clinton on, despite the Republicans’ insistence there was (echoed later with all of the Benghazi bullshit flung at an unflappable Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State). The investigation finally got him for a blowjob, making the US the laughingstock of the western world. Bloomberg’s editorial suggests that the odd possibility that Trump might be brought down by a sex scandal somehow makes Trump’s presidency equal to Clinton’s. Of course I call bullshit.

Preet Bharara, in a recent interview with former Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson discussed Johnson’s efforts with President Obama to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Regarding Republican arguments against closing the prison, Preet asked ‘Do you think the Republicans were acting in good faith?’ This is the question I’m trying to parse with regards Bush’s actions, Clinton’s, and Trump’s. Did they then and do they now act in good faith?

And what do I mean when I use that phrase? I mean that what a politician says in public aligns with what they say in private, with what they promised to the public constituency on the campaign trail, and with a professed belief system. That’s a good start.

And I think that in general, the Dems have acted in better if not good faith to the extent they could, with the proviso that as politicians, they’re performing ethical balancing acts all of the time.

Trump, from my perspective, does not act in good faith, even in faith to what he’s said himself even a week before (viz his tweets about Syria within the month of April, 2018). Bush might have been an actor in good faith, but his advisors were not, and they not he were the government at the time. The fact remains that for the eight years of his residency at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., he was a figurehead, and most folks knew that.

An example of the good faith/bad faith discussion is the health care debate of the first two years of Obama’s first term. Obama and the Democrats acted in as good faith as they could, to the point of compromise on the most basic of principles, finding middle ground for every one of the Republicans’ arguments, and still we were shafted. One could argue that the Republicans in congress were acting in good faith, but their faith was to the insurance companies, hospital conglomerates, and drug manufacturers. By my definition above, this isn’t good faith. And in the end, not a single red tie voted for the bill. And then they proceeded to sabotage it in the courts.

There wasn’t a credible Republican atop the 2008 ballot, John McCain having chosen the most unqualified VP since, um, Dan Quayle in 1988. Eight years of Bush/Cheney had worn us out on wars and lies and there was readiness for change, to be sure, but Sarah Palin was another example of the Republican party acting in bad faith. Palin was barely qualified for the job she had, like Bush (and Trump), didn’t read much, and could barely answer very simple questions. McCain and the Republican party played us for fools when they thought (and rightly so, obviously, given that Obama’s victory wasn’t precisely a landslide – solid, but it was no 1984 Reagan over Mondale trouncing) we would buy her pretty face over Obama’s obvious experience. Acting in good faith in the political realm requires some modicum of honesty – the whole ‘Democrats are coming for your guns’ canard comes into play here. Palin, in the midst of the Republican sabotage of Obama’s relatively modest agenda had the gall to utter the phrase ‘How’s that hopey-changey thing working out for you?’ as if she wasn’t spending all of her (at the time excessive) on-camera Fox News time subverting rather than adding something constructive to the debate. Had McCain chosen someone credible to join him on the ticket, things might have been different. But we got the grifter instead.

McCain, Mitt Romney, Bob Dole, and Hillary Clinton all have in common that their candidacies came about because it was their turn. They’d risen high enough in the party to be considered the de facto candidates. And they lost because they worked on the assumption that they didn’t have to fight. History might suggest (from more objective distance than we have yet) that Dole and Romney would have made for better history. Would the tea party have dragged Romney through it the way they did John Boehner? I suggest it’s possible, but counterfactual. Hillary Clinton might have lost the selection anyway given Jim Comey’s October Surprise, and the astounding amount of Russia-orchestrated fight against her, but the fight within the party to subvert Mr. Sanders didn’t help matters. She herself was also acting in bad faith.

And there is, of course, the bad faith of the media: Every venue that put Trump on camera acted in bad faith. He’d spent much of the previous decade proving himself an actor (on his TV show), and a political player of astoundingly bad faith. His insistence on the illegitimacy of Obama’s presidency did as much as anything else to sabotage that presidency in the eyes of the electorate. Even with that in mind, the news stations put him literally center stage to spew his schoolyard BS over people of actual political experience. Note: No love lost between me and any of the people running for the Republican nomination in 2016, but giving Trump center stage over and over again legitimized his brand of campaigning.

And we bought it. To try to circle this back to my original thought, it’s not that Trump’s presidency is simply Clinton’s repeated as farce. No, Trump in his personal, political, public, and private dealings is the apotheosis of fifty years of bad faith governance from the Republican party, epitomized by the savaging of the American working class.

I should write something about the truck murder of four young Israeli soldiers by a Palestinian to provide balance of some sort to my recent pro-Palestinian posts. There’s not much to say. The attack was despicable as was the praise heaped on the attacker by Hamas.

A couple of days I started taking some notes towards a discussion of the fascism coming to roost in the US. This was before the latest reports of Trump’s Manchurian nature, coming in the form of possible compromising photographs of Trump with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel. It hasn’t mattered in months how much he’s said and done that positively disgusts most of America. For all her faults, and all the sleaze of her presidential campaign, Hilary Clinton is 100 times the president Trump could ever hope to be, but for a few nasty issues.

An essay I read a couple of years ago asserted that no Republican president since Eisenhower had taken office without the shadow of treason. Nixon subverted the peace talks in Vietnam; Reagan made deals with Iran that subverted negotiations to release the US hostages; George W. Bush rode in on Sandra Day O’Connor’s vote to shut down the Florida recount. (Poppy Bush seems to have defeated Michael Dukakis fair and square. The two justices he put on the Supreme Court, David Souter and Clarence Thomas, voted on opposite sides of Bush v. Gore.) Of course I can’t find the reference now.

(On Nixon: he lost by a hair in 1960, won by a hair in ’68 and only because RFK was assassinated and Humphrey wasn’t up to the task, and committed treasonous acts to win in ’72. Only for those did he and his administration pay. The text in the sidebar doesn’t even come into play, nor does it acknowledge some of the good Nixon did, such as signing the bill to create the soon to be gutted Environmental Protection Agency.)

We seem to have forgotten in the last two months about the highly questionable razor thin margins by which Trump supposedly won key battleground states. Were the actions of election officials treasonable? Possibly. Were the goons challenging every effort at a recount in Michigan. (This is another case of having read an article on the subject and now finding only articles on the challenges to Jill Stein’s recount efforts. My Google-fu has never been great. I gotta start bookmarking those articles.)

Are partisan gerrymandering and the implementation of onerous voter ID laws treasonous? Probably not. Are they (small-d) democratic? Absolutely not. And the fact that many states are gerrymandered now to the point that ten times more votes are needed to elect a Democrat than to elect a Republican now pretty much guarantees Republican majorities in those legislatures and in the federal government. I fear for our ability to recover the country from that imbalance.The allegations of Russian involvement in the election certainly point to treasonous offences on the part of the Republican party. James Comey sitting on this information but releasing that idiotic non-report regarding (again) Secretary Clinton’s emails days before the election certainly points to a misdeed if not an actual crime.

And I would mind the state of affairs less if Republicans behaved honourably. If they took legislative proposals and debated them on their merits. If they worked with the executive branch in good faith. For the last eight years they’ve taken the position that thwarting the president and the needs of the people, as long as it kept some other group happy (insurance companies, bankers, oil companies, racist constituents, for example) was fine. And it’s not as though left-wing legislators were acting that far to the left. It’s become astoundingly rare for any legislation that benefits the working class to make any headway at the federal level. This page is in support of a petition to challenge federal corruption, but the study it quotes finds that public opinion has little to no effect on what actually gets passed into law. Not surprising, but terribly troubling.

Last night I saw Watch on the Rhine with Bette Davis and Paul Lukas from 1943. It’s an interesting counterpoint to Casablanca in which an American woman and her German husband and their three children return to the woman’s home in Virginia in 1940 to connect with family members. The husband fought against Franco in Spain and had been fighting against Hitler’s forces in Germany and Austria trying to keep the resistance alive. The conflict involves a dissolute Romanian count who hangs out at the German embassy and tries to blackmail our hero. While it covers similar ground, Watch on the Rhine lacks Casablanca‘s emotional growth and romantic punch. And the acting (or perhaps the direction) isn’t as good, though Lukas won best actor at the Oscars that year for his role. That said, its clarion call to get on the right side of the battle and to keep fighting is unmistakeable.

I’m not sure I have a point right now, and if I do, it’s that the times ahead are going to get worse before they get better and I’m confounded if I know how we’re going to get out the other end with any kind of national soul intact. And the battle lines are being drawn.


So after the announcement that Bob Dylan had been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, I decided to listen to his entire studio catalogue. 37 albums. I made it most of the way through. His last album is not on Spotify (Nederland) yet, but here are the pithy comments I posted to the Music Obscurica group of my progress. And links to (usually) related videos.

1. Usually I try to read something, a poem or a short story at least, but each new recipient of the Nobel in literature. My new goal is to listen to one Dylan album per day for the next few weeks. I listened this morning to Dylan’s first album for the first time. I love lots of Dylan, but was never a completist, and knew most of the songs only from other people’s versions. Back in ’91 or so (follow me here), I saw Diamanda Galas on her solo piano tour. Her intro to this song made mention of the original and to Dylan’s ‘awful’ version of it, and that she was there to reclaim it. I quite like her version, but that night was my introduction to…

Blind Lemon Jefferson: See That My Grave Is Kept Clean:

2. Trying to listen to Bob Dylan’s discography. I know there’s brilliance in the lyrics, but Another Side of Bob Dylan is nearly unlistenable. I listen to some difficult music – I crank up Swans’ Public Castration Is A Good Idea for pleasure, but wow, there’s a hole in the bucket Dylan’s carrying his tunes in. [NB: I apparently didn’t post consistently for the first few]

3. A Dylan A Day #(Buick) 6:

This might be the first in his discography that I actually like. This is partly true because it’s the album of his I probably know best. Have owned more than one copy. These weren’t songs written for someone else to improve/do correctly. These were done well in the first place. The presence of other musicians meant that Dylan actually had to sing in key. And yeah, it’s all good stuff/no filler.

I don’t think I prefer the Dead’s version of Queen Jane, but when I think of the song, I always hear Bob Weir’s vocal:

Read the rest of this entry »

I think this might be another one of those cases where a politician is saying outrageous things to distract the public from what’s really going on. I honestly don’t know what Theresa May’s agenda is. She’s not as transparent as say Jeremy Hunt. We know he’s trying to crush the doctors’ unions because of the massive amount of money that will come his way from a privatised NHS. May? Perhaps I just don’t know enough about her. But at the moment she’s making noise that rather than leave the EU, Britain should just leave the European Convention on Human Rights. (Let’s not entertain, for the moment, the fact that membership in the EU requires membership in the ECHR.)
Her position, according to The Guardian, is that the ECHR has tied Britain’s hands with regard deportation of extremists such as Abu Hamza and Abu Qatada, ‘and does nothing to change the attitudes of governments like Russia’s when it comes to human rights.’
This is where I usually stop reading when these things come up. The point of human rights conventions is to bind the signatories to be better at this stuff than non-signatories. The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter what any other country does when it comes to human rights. The UK decided at a certain point to be one of the good guys in this regard and say, ‘We will respect very basic human rights and will treat all with due process.’
It’s a very short document, clocking in at just 55 large-print pages, many of which are taken up with repetitions of ratification and depository information. Life, liberty, security, prohibition of torture, and prohibition of slavery all appear on the first page. The other basics, including due process, right to thought, expression, religion, privacy, and assembly come on the next seven pages. The next 16 cover the court itself. The balance covers the various protocols on human rights and freedoms. Interesting bit: In 1983, when the death penalty was abolished under Protocol 6, there was an addendum specifying that the death penalty could be imposed under certain circumstances in time of war. In 2002 this addendum was rescinded under Protocol 13.
With this in mind, it’s BS about other countries keeping us from doing what’s right (not just what’s right according to treaties we’ve signed) that got people so worked up when Dick Cheney said we had to torture to get information out of supposed bad guys. No, we don’t. We’re better than that, and have signed conventions (in that case, The Geneva Convention, but the idea is the same) as outward signs that we strive always to be better than that. Except when our leaders say, ‘Nah, we don’t have to be better – we’re exceptional.’ Or some such noise.
May was discussing Britain’s ECHR responsibilities in the context of a speech ostensibly supporting continued EU membership. She went on to say, however, ‘The states now negotiating to join the EU include Albania, Serbia and Turkey – countries with poor populations and serious problems with organised crime, corruption, and sometimes even terrorism. We have to ask ourselves, is it really right that the EU should just continue to expand, conferring upon all new member states all the rights of membership?’ Good question, I suppose, but the UK has an equal say in the admission of other countries to the EU. Organised crime and corruption weren’t issues when Italy and Greece joined. Or perhaps not to the same extent. She just wants some to be more equal than others.
May went on to say that Britain should be able to draft and amend at its own bills of human rights that apply to Britons. Again, we’re better than that. (Yes, I’m an American married to an English woman and say ‘we’ even though I have few rights to call myself a Brit. According to one friend, knowing why the M25 is called The Road To Hell is sufficient.) We should be able to look Europe and the world in the eye and say that the rights we enjoy should be available to all and that we’ll fight for that to be so. (It demeans weasels to say that May is trying to weasel Britain out of her responsibilities under UCHR.)
A week or so ago I read a screed denouncing new film versions of The Jungle Book and naming Rudyard Kipling a racist expletivedeleted. This article quoted extensively from Kipling’s poem The White Man’s Burden. Yeah, racist to the core with its references to colonised peoples as ‘half-devil, half-child’. The title itself makes us modern progressives cringe at the thought that whiteness alone made one group responsible for bringing others to modernity. What Kipling was arguing for, however, is that those who consider themselves civilised ‘fill the mouth of famine and bid the sickness cease’ even as others, no matter what we name them ‘bring all (y)our hope to naught.’ Yes, it’s terribly racist to name those others ‘sloth and heathen folly’, but the burden Kipling lays upon us is to do the work. In the Jewish tradition, there’s the concept of Tikkun Olam, heal the world. Get out and do the work of peace, of healing, of working for the safety of the disadvantaged. While Kipling names both the objects of the work and its obstacles with terms we consider abhorrent now (and were, in truth, abhorrent in 1899), the call is to be the good guy and do the work of making the world better.
May, on the other hand, is calling on Britain, do default on its obligations to better itself and contribute to the betterment of the European collective.