Tuesday, June 29, 2004

“Sauce for the Goose”

[Cringingly] “Excellency, pardon me for interrupting your morning session in the harem with the Playmates, but we have received an urgent communiqué from the American ambassador.”

“No harm done, Abdul, we needed a break anyway. [Aside: “Girls, take ten.”] What’s this about a message from the American ambassador?”

“He wishes to lodge a formal protest about our treatment of American prisoners, Excellency.”

[Astonished] “Whatever in the world for?”

[Apologetically] “He alleges that we are routinely torturing them, Excellency.”

“In what ways?”

“He says that we have been forcing U.S. prisoners to kneel for hours on end, depriving them of sleep for days on end, forcing them to strip naked and masturbate in front of women, hooding them for long periods of time, feeding them bread and water, attaching wires to their genitals and shocking them, and subjecting them to near-asphyxiation. He alleges that a number of U.S. prisoners have died as a result of this treatment.”

“Of course. What of it?”

“He claimed such treatment was a violation of the Geneva Convention.”

“I hope you told him that I, as commander-in-chief, am empowered to make any decisions necessary for our nation’s defense, and that included ignoring the Geneva Convention?”

“I told him, Your Excellency, though he scoffed at the notion. Then I told him that, in fact, none of the actions he mentioned could properly be considered ‘torture.’ I told him that him that for physical pain to amount to torture, it must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.”

“What did he say?”

“He heaped scorn on the definition. He said—begging your pardon, Excellency—that he knew torture when he saw it, that the definition was poppycock, and wondered where we ever came up with a definition that violated both common sense and civilized norms. He claimed that it was simply legal gobbledygook served up to justify inhumane treatment. He said we were—begging your pardon again, Excellency—nothing but war criminals, and he hoped to see us hanged.”

“You told him, I hope, that we had a sound legal basis for our actions?”

“I did, Your Excellency. I told him how much we had admired the interrogation techniques employed by the U.S. in Iraq, Afghanistan, and at Guantanamo Bay. I said that, accordingly, we had taken our guidance, word for word, from the memo used to justify interrogation methods used by the U.S.—the one Mr. Bush requested from his legal counsel, Alberto Gonzales.”

“And his response?”

“He was quiet for a moment, Excellency. Then he said, ‘Excuse me. I see I am protesting in the wrong place.’ And he left.”

[Potentate laughs.] “Thanks for keeping me posted, Abdul. Okay, girls. Time to get back to work.”

© Tony Russell, 2004

Thursday, June 03, 2004

“Metaphors Are Sprouting Everywhere”

The Bush administration’s propaganda curtain over Iraq is finally lifting. Colorful metaphors are sprouting everywhere, like blossoms of truth after a long winter of lies and deception.

· Gen. Anthony Zinni said on “60 Minutes” that the problem with the administration’s “stay the course” plan for Iraq is that "the course is headed over
Niagara Falls."

· General Joseph Hoar, a former commander in chief of US central command, told the Senate foreign relations committee, "I believe we are absolutely on the brink of failure. We are looking into the abyss.”

· Bob Herbert, writing in the New York Times, says, “…we all may be passengers in a vehicle that has made a radically wrong turn and is barreling along a dark road, with its headlights off and with someone behind the wheel who may not know how to drive.”

· Byron Williams, a pastor in Oakland, California, uses a medical metaphor: “What the president now has is an obstinate policy that is allergic to self-reflection.”

This administration came into office as the self-proclaimed “grown ups,” the mature, competent managers who would give the rest of us a demonstration of how things are supposed to be done. Instead, their failures in Iraq exemplify their record across the board. In a mere three and a half years, they have managed to screw up so many things so badly that whoever follows them will have to work day and night just to clean up their mess.

Interestingly, the most withering criticism of the administration isn’t coming from Democrats. It’s coming from Republicans, from retired military officers now free to speak their minds, even from former Bush administration officials. Mark Helprin, for example, is a former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, now a contributing editor to the Wall Street Journal (not exactly a bastion of liberalism). Helprin writes that Abu Ghraib is "a symbol of the inescapable fact that the war has been run incompetently, with an apparently deliberate contempt for history, strategy, and thought." (Personally, I would add to that list “an apparently deliberate contempt” for justice, respect for other cultures and religions, and empathy for other human beings.)

Or take Gen. Zinni again, who collaborated with Tom Clancy, long a darling of the militarists in the administration, on a forthcoming book, Battle Ready. Zinni’s judgment on the administration’s handling of Iraq? "In the lead-up to the Iraq war and its later conduct, I saw, at minimum, true dereliction, negligence and irresponsibility; at worst, lying, incompetence and corruption.”

Say ‘Amen!’ Who would have believed that in less than one term of office, ANY administration could: Inherit a balanced budget, and turn it into annual deficits approaching half a trillion dollars? Shed American jobs in the millions? Replace well-paying, secure, rewarding work with marginal, low-wage service jobs? Alienate traditional allies? Undermine the United Nations? Withdraw from vital international treaties? Sully America’s reputation? Give the green light to torture and abuse? Fuel a global religious conflict? Spur the growth of terrorism? Make the strategically vital Middle East dangerously unstable? Botch the aftermath of military conquest in Iraq? Assault basic American rights with the wildly-misnamed “Patriot Act”? Shift the tax burden more and more onto the shoulders of the middle class and the poor?

And on and on. The Bush administration record is so thoroughly dismal, its actions so offensive to America’s core beliefs and values, that supporting it takes denial to an extreme never seen before in our country. Over and over, the same words have been used by Republicans and Democrats alike to describe this crew—words like “arrogant,” “obstinate,” “stubborn,” and “deceptive.” Let’s close with one more metaphor, from a friend of mine, writing from Virginia: “Arrogance and secrecy have spread through this administration like a cancer, and it’s eating out America’s core.”

© Tony Russell, 2004

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

“Public Service Is a Public Trust”

“It looks like we’re about out of Chateau Ste. Michelle Chardonnay, John, and we’re having friends over for dinner tonight. Could you have your secretary call the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers and ask them to send over a few bottles of unsolicited gifts?”

“Sure thing, sweetheart. How many?”

“About eight cases should do it for now. Be sure and have her tell them that it will add to the ‘elegant ambience at the residence.’”

“Will do. Should I have her order some beer at the same time?”

“Gosh, thanks for the reminder. Yes, have her call Anheuser-Busch and tell them we’d like three unsolicited cases from them, too. And she could order some of those free expensive Cuban cigars you and your friends like, while she’s at it.”

“Who’s coming, anyway?”

“Oh, just the usual lobbyists. Dave and his wife couldn’t make it because he’s tied up supervising the remodeling at our summer cottage.”

“That’s a shame. We haven’t seen them since we all got those free lift tickets up in Vermont. Darned white of him to do all that remodeling work for nothing, out of the goodness of his heart.”

“It is, isn’t it? Maybe you could steer a state contract his way or something, just as a reward.”

“You know, I’ve been thinking the same thing. What’s the good of being governor if you can’t do something nice once in a while for your friends?”

“It’s like a religious obligation, isn’t it? ‘Do unto others as they have done unto you.’”

“We phrase it a little differently in politics. We say, ‘You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.’ Same idea, though. What do you have in mind to do afterwards?”

“There’s a big Michael Bolton concert in town, starting at 8. I thought that would be a great way to cap off the evening.”

“Might be kind of tough to get tickets at this late date.”

“Tickets? Since when do we need tickets?”

[Embarrassed.] “What was I thinking of? I’ll just have my secretary notify them that I’ll be attending the opening night ceremonies in my official capacity as governor with—what, my wife and six guests?”

“Make that eight guests. And don’t forget about next weekend.”

“Next weekend?”

“I thought we’d take advantage of that honorary membership they gave you to the Essex Yacht Club.”

“Sounds good to me. Is there anything else before I head back to the office?”

“Oh yes. What should I do about these four pairs of socks someone upstate sent as a gift?”

“I’m surprised you even asked! Return them immediately, with a note of regret that we want to avoid all appearances of impropriety. Public service is a public trust.”

© Tony Russell, 2004