by Greg Method
According to the Plain Dealer, if you've ever had an abortion, you're a whore.
Late one night in mid-January I opened up the editorial section of the morning edition of my local paper, Cleveland's Plain Dealer. No, that wasn't a temporal contradiction. You see, since I'm a night owl, I have a ritual before I go to bed every night: pick up the paper off the front porch at around four in the morning, read the editorial section, scan the arts section, see what the hell Funky Winkerbean and Bucky are up to, and then head up to bed, where instead of falling right to sleep I usually end up watching The Banana Splits until I pass out from exhaustion.
I usually enjoy reading the paper's "letters to the editor" column, not only because they give some insight into what people around the area are thinking (duh!) but also partly because the Plain Dealer misses the boat on a lot of issues and I'm always curious to see if anyone calls them up on it. I strongly believe that open debate is one of the cornerstones of our democracy (even though we're actually a republic, but you know what I mean), and the ability to send a letter to your local paper is a wonderful resource.
Now, I said the Plain Dealer seems to just not get some issues from time to time, and I'm not sure if that's intentional or not. For the last couple of years the PD has pandered more and more to the right. I really don't know why, as Cuyahoga County couldn't be any more bluer if a plane of Smurfs had exploded over Parma. Perhaps they're trying a bit too hard to keep in the middle, thus veering off into the right? Already the editorial section boasts a number of popular, highly profiled, Pulitzer Prize-winning liberal columnists, so perhaps it's merely a way to balance things out? I don't know, but on a number of occasions the paper has either mischaracterized a more-social issue or ignored it outright.
In 2000 the paper proudly endorsed George W. Bush, probably because the editors felt that our state hadn't been suffering enough. Yet four years later, after corruption and outsourcing and slaughtered soldiers and economy-crippling tax cuts to the rich and categorical evidence of the worst administration in U.S. history had all but destroyed Ohio, the PD suddenly decided that it didn't need to endorse a candidate for what was being called the most important election of our lives. It was the only major Ohio newspaper to chicken out of endorsing a candidate, and in what many were considering to be a crucial swing state. Was the Plain Dealer afraid of sticking to its own backwards principles by supporting Bush when the state was seemingly leaning blue, or was it afraid of admitting that it was wrong four years ago by now supporting Kerry? I wonder.
Very little has changed, of course. For those of you who don't know, Ohio's current governor, Republican and distant Bush in-law Bob Taft, was convicted last August of crimes related to his failing to report about $6,000 worth of donations and gifts from lobbyists and other party supporters. It was the first time in the state's history that a governor was charged with a crime while in office. Adding this to Ohio's numerous woes, Taft has more or less been declared one of the worst, if not the worst, U.S. governors currently in office...and that's just by his own party! Because Taft has served two corrupt terms, this fall Ohioans get to pick a new governor. One would think such an important election would warrant full coverage in the state's largest metropolitan area, right? Yet, the Plain Dealer completely ignored the announcement that a major state Democrat was entering the race.
So anyway, it's always seemed as if the PD editors have some sort of agenda going on, but at least in the letters column they have usually tried to keep things fairly balanced. The paper runs its share of tripe from both sides. You know, the ones that state sentiment as fact or blame Michael Moore for all of society's ills. The gist of one might be "Bush was correct to invade Iraq because of the way the left has attacked him on his performance of the war," if one can follow let alone make sense of such reverse logic. Mostly it's just a mix of average opinions, and the paper has never stooped to acknowledging "the nuts."
That all changed on January 12.
One letter I happened upon that early morning--well, okay, "happened upon" because the paper gave it its own headline--was referring to a previous article that was published on January 8 about the exhausting abortion debate. In the original article, a woman was talking about her own abortion on the condition of anonymity, which I would hope is certainly her privilege. The writer of the letter, however, did not feel the same way.
I personally do not know Ronald Karpuszka, nor do I really have any desire to (and I doubt I ever did), so all I can conclude about him is based solely on what he wrote. In his letter Ronald questioned why the woman "cowers behind the veil of anonymity" and wondered why she would "fear something as trivial as the scrutiny of the public" if she could "kill an innocent life."
I guess he was trying to say that women, particularly the feminists that he singled out, should publicly be proud that they have had abortions...you know, like it was the burning of a bra or something. Ronald punctuated his letter by suggesting that women who have abortions should wear scarlet "As" on their person to indicate such, a la those for adulterers in The Scarlet Letter. I am not making this up.
For those of you who don't remember or never read it, The Scarlet Letter is a classic, if a bit tedious, work of American literature about a married Puritan woman in the 1600s who has given birth to a child as a result of an affair. Refusing to reveal the father's name, the woman, Hester Prynne, is sentenced to wear a scarlet "A," for "adultery," on all of her clothing, thus allowing her to be subject to public ridicule as a whore. It's sort of a cross between Laverne and Shirley and modern Texas law.
So yeah, this guy, this shit who probably hasn't been with a woman since the first season of Dynasty, likened an abortion to an act of adultery. He's suggested that women who have had abortions should be singled out like the branding of one as a slut in the backwards, centuries-old setting of a work of fiction.
If you've read my past columns you know where I stand on abortion, but let's say for a second that you didn't. Even if I was completely, totally, 100 percent pro-life I would still have to question a person's morality for comparing a woman's agonizing decision whether or not to terminate a pregnancy to banging the gardener while her husband's at work, like it's just something some dizzy dame would do on the side during the day between her soaps. I think such a comparison alone indicates just how much guys like ol' Ronald here don't get the issue.
For the last three decades abortion has been the subject of one of the most, if not the most, heated social debates in our country. As long as it stays legal, I invite such debate to go on, because both sides do have valid points and concerns. That's the nature of a social debate. And regardless of what happens, whether some sycophantic Bush court appointee finds a sinister loophole in order to outlaw it or some Democrat finally gets the backbone to suggest amending the Constitution to give women specific freedom over their own reproductive organs without outside approval or intervention, abortion will always be debated. And that's fine. But, it's insulting to both sides of the debate to insinuate that abortion is nothing more than a minor social faux pas, as if one would read about it in a small-town paper's gossip section ("Oh, and Beverly Rosenblatt was just all excited about her son graduating magna cum laude at Kent, or so she told me as she came out of Planned Parenthood to take care of a little 'business,' wink-wink."). Doctors don't get murdered over a social faux pas. Buildings don't get blown up over a social faux pas. Demonstrations and riots don't occur over a social faux pas. The Supreme Court doesn't need to intervene over a social faux pas. And a social faux pas certainly doesn't become an election-year issue.
Ronald Karpuszka has said that women who have had abortions are no different from whores. Now, as anyone who knows even a little about the abortion debate can tell you, there are both pro-choice women who have had abortions and pro-life women who have had abortions. As far as Mr. Karpuszka is concerned, they're all the same: whores. All of those women who support the right to choose because it may have saved their lives at one point? Whores. All of those women who on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade were in Washington wearing "I regret my abortion" t-shirts? Whores. He believes they're all whores, and he further wants to know who they all are.
The simple reason why a woman might not want to publicly discuss her own abortion, or would feel safer in a more-anonymous group at a rally or speak under an alias, is because it's a private decision. As I said, deep down, I think a lot of us guys still simply don't get that, that there are heavy life-altering decisions a woman must make that we will never know or fully understand. To use a similarly private matter the gender can grasp, it's the same reason why prostrate exams aren't televised. It's a personal matter, and really the last thing many of these women who have had to make such a decision need is some prick comparing them to Hester Prynne.
Perhaps Mr. Karpuszka would also want women to tell everyone exactly how they had become pregnant in the first place? I'm sure Spencer Gifts would sell a "Rape Victim" t-shirt, or Cafepress users could offer bumper stickers that simply read "INCEST" in big red letters. Heck, as long as we're at it, let's go for broke and require women to have to divulge in graphic detail their entire sexual history and private life. After all, that's the least they can do for wanting some control over their own bodies, right?
The comparison between abortion and adultery is interesting because I think it goes to the heart of why a lot of pro-life guys feel the way they do: it's fear of the vagina. As men we can't control it, our access to it is strictly limited, and in the end we simply don't trust it. It probably just blows the minds of a lot of guys that there are things about a woman's body that we'll never grasp no matter how many times we've ogled at bad Shannon Tweed movies on Cinemax. To liken women who have had abortions to sluts is to say, "Well, I can't figure this organ out, so it must be evil."
These are some of the points I brought up when I sent off my own letter to the paper that very morning. I'm the first to admit that I don't exactly write for brevity's sake, mainly because I respect a reader's intelligence and their ability to handle a concept that might be a little weightier than a blurb and a platitude. God forbid a writer would want to write, huh?
In my letter I also questioned the paper's ethics of running such a letter as Mr. Karpuszka's, and for that I lay the blame squarely on the editor of the letters column. It's their job to weed out the wackos. If the editor doesn't do their job and ends up just running any demented thought that gets sent to them, then why do they even have a job as editor?
Like I said, the abortion debate is important, but Mr. Karpuszka's letter was nothing short of insulting to both sides. This was a letter the paper chose to run. What purpose does it serve for a major newspaper to give such a twisted viewpoint some degree of prominence? Is it for no other reason than to prolong a hot-button issue on its editorial page? And it's not that I want to squash someone's freedom of speech or anything, but shouldn't the paper exhibit some degree of etiquette here? That's partly why they have editors, right? I can't believe someone at the PD didn't say at one point, "Hey Bill, are you sure you want to run the 'you're all whores' letter?" Decorum and civility aren't synonymous to oppression, you know. God forbid a newspaper would want to respect the maturity of its readers or the gravity of an issue.
When a vital public forum such as a newspaper's editorial page uses its precious little space to run a letter that trivializes and condescends not only those whose freedoms are at the center of the debate but also the debate itself, then how does that possibly help either side understand the other's position or valid points? Or is that in fact the point, so long as the debate goes on?
When I write to a newspaper, I usually am just venting, and at length (obviously). I don't expect it to be published, I don't expect to be offered some lucrative columnist position, and I certainly don't expect to get a reply! But just four short hours later one Racquel Chatmon, the Plain Dealer's letters editor, wrote back to defend Mr. Karpuszka's stance.
I've contacted the paper on numerous occasions over the past couple of years for various things, yet this has only been the second time I've received a response of any substance. The last time was after the features section ran a story about reclusive Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson, who since the end of his comic strip has found a private life for himself a little less than an hour from where I live. I greatly admire Bill Watterson's work and his preference to eschew the public eye. Heck, I can't even get my damn redneck high school to leave me alone long after I've graduated!
Anyway, last year, around the time of the publication of the Complete Calvin and Hobbes collection, the PD ran a full-page story about the great lengths Mr. Watterson has gone to in order to avoid press, interviews, and public appearances. The story not only mentioned the town he currently resides in, but it also included a twenty-year-old photograph of Mr. Watterson in his then-Calvin studio, the only known press photo ever taken of him, one Mr. Watterson has desperately, and no doubt futilely, tried to obtain the rights to. I wrote to the Plain Dealer asking if it was hypocritical of the paper to describe Mr. Watterson's desire for privacy at the same time it was offering key information that one could use to track him down, almost as if by saying, "He's shy. Go get him!" The paper's features editor wrote back to me to dispute such an assessment (and rather poorly, I might add). So evidently if one wants to get a personal response from someone at the PD, it's best to question their job performance.
And like before, this Plain Dealer employee wrote back to me, only not so much to defend her decision, but rather to defend the letter itself!
Miss Chatmon wrote, "That wasn't the writer's intention. The Scarlet 'A' he's referring would stand for abortion, not adultery as in Hawthorne's novel. He's not saying that the woman had an abortion because she cheated on her spouse. He's saying that if this is a feminist stance, she should wear her abortion decision proudly as a badge of honor. But the Scarlet 'A' is actually a stamp of shame, which is what the writer truly feels about abortion, i.e. a shameful act. I thought the irony was clear."
First, she clearly missed the point of not only my letter but also, seemingly, Mr. Karpuszka's. No shit that the scarlet "A" would stand for abortion, and that adultery had nothing to do with the pregnancy! I certainly didn't indicate that the letter said otherwise. But what Karpuszka did do was put the two acts on the same level of depravity, which I thought would be obvious to anyone who had read the letter.
When I wrote back to her, I asked, "You don't find that to be insulting to someone who has had an abortion, to be lumped into the same category as those who cheat on their spouses?"
It's like people who jokingly compare Bush to Hitler. Nobody who makes such a comparison is actually saying that Bush was a frustrated painter who decided to exterminate all Jewish people; just that he's as evil as Hitler was. It's the same thing. Mr. Karpuszka didn't say women who have had abortions also committed adultery, but he did say the denouncement should be the same.
At first I thought I would give Miss Chatmon credit for actually standing by the letter she chose to run, but then I reread her reasoning: "I thought the irony was clear."
Uh, no. It has nothing to do with irony, unless the definition of the word had recently changed. Mr. Karpuszka wants to be able to single out those who have had abortions, period. He wants to know who has done this supposed "shameful act," because god forbid someone support or oppose something without having to sacrifice their privacy.
No, that's not someone being ironic, that's some smug jackass who thinks he's found a cute little way to insult the on-average 1.3 million women a year who have had to go through with the procedure, sometimes because their life was at risk.
I told Miss Chatmon that it was sick that the PD felt that such an abusive letter was something worthy of publication, and that it was concerning that she would justify publishing it by trying to pass it off as more cerebral than it really is. That would be like if South Park, a show that stopped being funny about six years ago, ran an episode implying that homosexuality was morally no different from incest (then again, knowing them, they probably already have done one like that), while someone at Comedy Central tried to defend it by saying "I thought the irony was clear." That's not irony. It's not even wit. It's just trashy slander.
This is a major state newspaper we're talking about, not a message board or blog talkback. There's got to be some shred of tact or responsibility (like I said, isn't that what the editor is for anyway??). People look to a paper's letters column for serious discussion on issues, but if all they see is some baseless diatribe comparing women who have had abortions with whores, then what does that say about the paper's, and most certainly the letters editor's, ethics?
I again single out Miss Chatmon's sense of morality because of her need to take time to personally defend the letter to me. Go ahead, scroll up and reread what she wrote. It wasn't "I wanted to present an extreme viewpoint" or "I don't agree with what he wrote, but I found his hostility over this issue intriguing." In fact, it wasn't even apologetic at all. It's defensive of the letter, while completely skirting the other issue of the paper's ethics in running it. She didn't defend her decision to publish it but rather the content itself. Wouldn't one think it would be the other way around? So what does that say about how Miss Chatmon personally feels about how these women should be regarded?
Can it then be concluded that the Plain Dealer, which Racquel Chatmon is representing in her correspondence, shares this same view of Mr. Karpuszka's? After all, Miss Chatmon is a key member of the paper's editorial staff, correct? And she has adamantly defended not the reasons to publish the letter but the letter itself, right? Why would this representative of the paper feel the need to do that unless the paper as a whole agrees with this opinion?
Remember what I said earlier about the necessity of open debate in our country, particularly the ability to write to one's local paper? I concluded my original letter to Miss Chatmon with that same basic theme. I mention it now for a reason that you'll soon see.
About six hours later I received a second e-mail response from Miss Chatmon. Now granted I personally don't have much to do during the day, so I can take the time to sit down and write thought-out and considerate e-mail to people, but this is someone who took valuable time out of her eight-hour-or-so workday to electronically debate a stranger over her decision to run a letter comparing women who have had abortions with whores. Isn't this country great?
Anyway, Miss Chatmon wrote, "Well, I guess you're right. I would guess that the writer would liken the two acts--abortion and adultery--as depraved, the former, I would guess, as even more so."
You know, she sure threw in a lot of guessing this time.
It gets better. She continued, "I'm sorry that you don't think that views contrary to yours should be published on the Letters page."
Now one thing you're going to learn about me if you haven't already, I'm tenacious. If you're going to characterize me, you better be able to back it up with something. And if you can't, then I truly do pity da fool.
When I wrote back this final time to Miss Chatmon, I didn't exactly pull any punches.
First, I asked her why she felt the need to patronize me and lie about what I had written to her. I then challenged her to find anything in my letters to her that could be interpreted to mean that I was against people expressing their opinions in a newspaper. I also asked her if she had even bothered to read any of my letters past the first couple of sentences. I then concluded my response by asking why she had again neglected to address the serious question of the paper's ethics.
As I wrote, "The fact that you believe that simply a contrary view is the actual problem proves to me the point I had earlier made, that your section isn't interested in an intelligent discussion, just bickering."
Surprisingly, Miss Chatmon never wrote back, so I guess we'll never know if she actually did in fact read one of my letters in its entirety. Wanna guess what my prediction is?
The reason I bring all of this up is not to settle some score (although that is a plus), but rather because Miss Chatmon displayed something that I think has been plaguing our society of late. For the sake of description, let's call it "idyllic denial."
If one was to define it, "idyllic denial" could probably best be described as "a meaningless platitude or distortion, depicting the most idealistic extreme, used to explain or excuse a contradicting problem."
In this case with Miss Chatmon, as far as she let on the problem at hand wasn't that a reader was taking issue with her decision to legitimize a hostile, sexist opinion on a serious matter. To her, it was simply someone who doesn't like to read contrary views. In a perfect world, that would be her ideal way to explain away someone's questioning of her ethics as a person in journalism. She's of course incorrect to believe that is the case here, and she knows that, but it's not really meant to indicate truth. It's meant just to make her feel better about herself, to clear her conscience. This is the basic principle of denial.
We are living in a culture of idyllic denial. We look at the world through rose-colored glasses and pretend that everything and everyone is true and pure and honest, despite all evidence of the contrary. We don't really believe that these things are honest and pure, we just let on that we do. It's a way to avoid dealing with the real truth about ourselves, that we are capable of being sinister and crooked.
Here's another, funnier personal example: Back in 1998 Hollywood decided that it needed to stick its smelly, shitty hand into the Godzilla franchise, producing this big, loud, lame wreck starring Matthew Broderick and produced by the same people behind the bigger, louder, lamer Independence Day. To promote the movie, the producers and studio came up with the tagline "Size does matter," which anyone over twelve can tell you is a play on the concept of "size doesn't matter," referring to the stamina and ability of a man's shlong in relation to its length.
Anyway, with such a would-be blockbuster heading to theaters there were the obligatory merchandising deals and toylines targeted to kids, who naturally would be interested in a monster movie. The Godzilla action figures were being handled by Trendmasters, a toy company that was launched in the height of the figure boom of the mid-90s but has since gone the way of the Soviet Union. Trendmasters invested a lot of production and marketing resources into this movie line, complete with numerous television commercials and the like. They were average-looking movie toys, not too threatening to scare off little ones and not too detailed to attract collectors, and the marketing hit the usual channels that would reach the desired age group. However, the one thing that stuck out like a sore thumb was the ad campaign's use of the "Size does matter" tagline. These were commercials advertising toys, targeted primarily to kids and often airing on what are considered to be "family-friendly" networks, utilizing a phallic reference as a slogan. I'm not a prude or a "won't someone think of the children" nut by any means, but this struck me as a bit odd.
So I e-mailed Trendmasters, asking them if it was really appropriate to use such a catchphrase to sell a mainstream action figure line. Really more than anything, I just wanted to see how they would justify it.
Sure enough, a customer service representative did get back to me, one Connie Motl. In her response she wrote, "I'm sorry but I don't know what you're mean. The fact the Godzilla is stands over 200 feet tall and is much larger than a Tyrannosaurus Rex DOES MATTER." I swear, I'm not making this up. How could I?
Granted even I accidentally forget or mistype a word from time to time--hey, we all do, that's the nature of e-mailing and webmastering and online whatnot--but if I as a customer service rep displayed such piss-poor communication skills, my ass would be on the curb faster than Bush can cut student aid. This response was akin to something written on the case for a Malaysian bootleg VCD.
So anyway, I had to take the embarrassing initiative to write back to Miss Motl and explain to her what the "Size does matter" tagline referred to. Surprisingly, the ads soon stopped, although I'd rather credit the crappiness of the movie for that.
But here we are again, idyllic denial. Miss Motl probably knew exactly what "Size does matter" meant (you'd have to be either naive or ultra-religious to not understand it), but it just sounds nicer, and cuter, to make up some odd song-and-dance about a tyrannosaurus rex. There can't be anything sexual in a PG-13 movie's ad campaign! Walt never would have approved!
The reason I bring up this concept of idyllic denial is because that has been the mantra of the Bush administration. What, you didn't really think this column was going to be about some of the glorified receptionists I've had e-mail battles with, did you?
Let's get one of the most obvious and easiest examples out of the way: "Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job."
Umm, wha?? What, was that statement prerecorded or something? Yes, in a perfect world it would be great if the director of FEMA was competent and on the job during a major natural disaster. But come on, how much bending and twisting does one have to do to convince themselves that not only did Michael Brown know what he was doing, but that Bush did as well? You'd only need to turn on CNN to see the kind of job they were really doing. They can blame Ray Nagin or Kathleen Blanco all they want, but the truth remains that it was still their responsibility, and they choked.
But according to them, they're infallible. It's idyllic denial. People were dying and drowning and bleeding and screaming for help because one guy was asleep at the wheel and the other needed yet another vacation. Oh, but it can't be all that bad! After all, Brownie here is doin' a heckuva job!
Or how about this one: "America doesn't torture."
Okay, for the sake of full disclosure, I want to make it clear what Bush actually said. On November 7 of last year in Panama City he was asked about the "secret U.S. prisons in Europe for terrorism suspects" and if he shares Shotgun Cheney's view "that the CIA should be exempt from legislation to ban torture."
Bush answered, in part, "We are trying to disrupt their plots and plans. Anything we do to that effort, to that end, in this effort, any activity we conduct, is within the law. We do not torture."
Wow, so anything we do to that effort, to that end, in this effort, in that end, for our effort, to what end, to take effort, out my end, is perfectly legal?
The key part of this answer is "We do not torture." This mantra would be repeated numerous times in numerous ways over the next month, such as at an El Paso press conference on November 29 when he said, "The United States of America does not torture. And that's important for people around the world to understand." It should be noted that each time he made such a pledge, he often tried to wrap up questions soon afterward, no doubt hoping to end things on a high note.
You see, all this stressing that "we do not torture" was prompted by a May 2005 report by Amnesty International that detailed numerous allegations of torture and abuse against prisoners at U.S. detention centers, most notably at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba.
In the press release to announce the report, Amnesty International explained, "The U.S. government has gone to great lengths to restrict the application of the Geneva Conventions and to 're-define' torture. It has sought to justify the use of coercive interrogation techniques, the practice of holding 'ghost detainees' (people in unacknowledged incommunicado detention) and the 'rendering' or handing over of prisoners to third countries known to practise torture. The detention facility at Guantánamo Bay has become the gulag of our times, entrenching the practice of arbitrary and indefinite detention in violation of international law. Trials by military commissions have made a mockery of justice and due process."
Bush responded to the report on May 31 by saying: "It's absurd. It's an absurd allegation. The United States is a country that is--promotes freedom around the world. When there's accusations made about certain actions by our people, they're fully investigated in a transparent way. It's just an absurd allegation. In terms of the detainees, we've had thousands of people detained. We've investigated every single complaint against the detainees. It seemed like to me they based some of their decisions on the word of--and the allegations--by people who were held in detention, people who hate America, people that had been trained in some instances to disassemble--that means not tell the truth. And so it was an absurd report. It just is."
Apparently Mr. Bush has never seen Short Circuit, otherwise he would have known what the word "disassemble" meant (or, if you'd like, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."). Obviously his Yale education never included intermediate vocabulary lessons. Remember, 62,040,606 of us thought he was the best man for the job, if that says something about our standards.
So let's see if I got this straight: America does not torture, and allegations of abuse against prisoners are "absurd" because America promotes freedom. That's so sweet in a naive, first-grade-social-studies-report kinda way. This is the kind of thing an immigrant would have said in the mid-1950s. "I want to please live in this country America because this America is good and this America promotes it the freedom, and this America would never torture my peoples."
How, how, how does someone who apparently thinks in such two-dimensional terms convince a slim majority that he can lead an entire nation?? Oh right, I forgot, for the most part we're lazy simpletons, and schmucks like Karl Rove know that all too well.
This should be a textbook example of idyllic denial. We can't possibly torture anyone! We're America, and we're full of candy and puppies and daffodils and rainbows and Ray Stevens and we don't have a sinister bone in our bodies. We only live to spread freedom and Hershey Kisses.
So we don't torture, eh? Doesn't anyone else remember a little city in Iraq just west of Baghdad called Abu Ghraib, where a similarly named prison became the setting of numerous torturous acts by U.S. soldiers against Iraqi inmates?
I seem to recall a Sergeant Joseph Darby delivering a series of photographs in January 2004 that depicted numerous Iraqi prisoners stripped naked and forced into homosexual or degrading poses...while our fighting elite, our brave troops, the ones we're all supposed to support without any question or critique because we just love them all so god damned much, were seen mugging, pointing, and laughing like hillbillies at a sideshow. Darby would soon say that what he saw "violated everything I personally believed in and all I'd been taught about the rules of war."
And didn't someone named Major General Antonio Taguba issue a report in April of that year after months of investigating, a report that detailed "egregious acts and grave breaches of international law," such as numerous accounts of "sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses" of prisoners, some of who were actually wrongly detained because they were innocent and the majority of who were deemed "not a threat to society?" Some of the instances Taguba found evidence of included excessive beating and kicking of inmates, including one who, as Sgt. Darby had described, had been punched "in the chest so hard that the detainee almost went into cardiac arrest"; stripping numerous prisoners of both sexes; rape of various kinds; forcing the naked males into humiliating, often homosexual positions for the purpose of photographing (as already revealed); taking pictures of guards posing with dead detainees; attaching wires to the fingers, toes, and penis of a prisoner to simulate electric shock; treating some like dogs; recreating a sort of Chinese water torture with cold water and phosphoric liquid from chemical lights; piling up the naked males and jumping on them; siccing guard dogs on them; and writing embarrassingly misspelled labels on body parts (I'm not kidding). Later reports by the New Yorker and the New York Times revealed that in addition to the offenses Taguba had described, there were instances of our troops urinating on detainees (at least one of the released photos showed one covered in shit), aggravating and beating on previous wounds to prevent them from healing, threatening them to accept Jesus (which I'm sure he would have been cool with), denying them food or water, and most disturbing of all, suppressed videos of our troops raping Iraqi boys.
Remind me again why they hate us?
First of all, am I the only one who's concerned about the numerous occurrences of rape and the gay posing of naked men, and what this says about the morale of our soldiers over there? I don't believe I've ever heard a torture report focus so much on what was being done to people's genitalia before. Are we that obsessed with "pee-pees," or do we just find having naked Arab men act out our homosexual fantasies to be that hysterical?? Maybe, and I'm just talking maybe, maybe if our soldiers were less interested in which album was playing over their group's radio and stopped thinking they were in a real-life version of a shoot-em-up game, then they might just take their job seriously and not treat a prison like a level of Grand Theft Auto. Doing so might actually give us a reason to support our troops past the empty declaration.
When I first heard of the kinds of things being done at Abu Ghraib, I immediately thought of the Roman Polanski movie Death and the Maiden, which is this really excellent drama about a former political prisoner under a fascist South American regime (Sigourney Weaver) who comes across someone she believes was one of her captors (Ben Kingsley), so she holds him hostage until he admits to what he had done. The abuses she describe as having happened to her eerily mirror what had gone on at Abu Ghraib: beatings, sexual abuse, morbid manipulation, electric wiring of the genitals, being covered in feces, etc. I urge everyone to check out the movie sometime (it's on IFC, like, every other day), as it's not too hard to imagine such a situation happening to one of our soldiers a few years from now from a really pissed off Iraqi who never received justice.
So anyway, it's clear that America doesn't exactly have an "anti-torture" policy, but let's get back to what started this mini-rant of mine, the Amnesty International report on Guantánamo Bay. Perhaps not surprisingly, some of the personnel at "Gitmo," as the base is sometimes known, would later find themselves at none other than Abu Ghraib, but the torture at the former was more of a psychological nature.
What is it about psychological torment and harassment anyway? Why do we as a culture think we're so good at mind games all of a sudden? We're certainly not smart enough. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, American students rank among the worst industrialized countries when it comes to math skills, while we're only average at reading and science skills; the National Institute of Literacy found that between 21 and 23 percent of the U.S. adult population, amounting to about 44 million people, "can read a little but not well enough to fill out an application, read a food label, or read a simple story to a child"; the Department of Education's National Assessment of Adult Literacy found that 14 percent of adults were below basic literacy standards; Friends lasted for ten seasons; and Titanic is the highest grossing movie of all time...yet we all think we're Max Cady. And how come they always find themselves in the military, particularly at detention camps? I can't count the number of times I wished I had one of these steely-eyed, introspective mindfuckers on my side to help me get a price-match on something at Toys "R" Us.
When Amnesty International conducted its report on Guantánamo Bay, it had no choice but to rely on the testimonies of witnesses, lawyers, and representatives of governments (such as those from the United Kingdom). The only independent organization that's allowed at the base is the International Committee of the Red Cross, so it's not like the Amnesty people could just wander around with clipboards under their arms. Actually, what I said about the Red Cross being the only outsiders allowed there wasn't entirely true. From February to April 2002 a new detention center called Camp Delta was being constructed in part by workers from Kellogg, Brown, and Root, which some may know better as a subsidiary of crooked ol' Halliburton. So evidently, if you ever want to check out Gitmo, don't work for the world's leading human rights organization...just get close to the guy who mixes drywall for Dick Cheney's company.
But as the report described, in detail, for some prisoners the abuse begins even before Cuba enters the picture. Take, for example, the case of Huda Hafez Ahmad al-Azawi, who was captured anew by U.S. and Iraqi forces in February 2005 after having been previously detained in 2003 and 2004: "She was taken away handcuffed and blindfolded, and the detaining soldiers also allegedly beat, handcuffed, and blindfolded her daughters, and took jewellery and cash from the house. By 19 April 2005, she had still not been seen by a lawyer or her relatives," while nobody knew for sure exactly where she was being detained.
Or what about British Iraqi national Bisher al-Rawi, who was captured in Gambia in late 2002 and shipped off to Gitmo after a nightmarish stop at Afghanistan's Bagram Airbase? Two years later he testified at a Combatant Status Review Tribunal hearing that while at the latter "I provided information only after I was subjected to sleep deprivation, and various threats were made against me." Fellow British prisoner Moazzam Begg told BBC Radio in April 2005 that "[Al-Rawi's] face had obviously the marks and bruises of what were the remnants of a beating," while he previously told Channel 4 that not only was he tortured but also that he "witnessed two people get beaten so badly that I believe it caused their deaths." And yet another British detainee, Richard Belmar, said that while being held at Bagram his head was covered with a hood and then beaten to the point of skull fracture. He would later say, "The worst thing that happened to me, I can't even explain because it's too horrific, I can't, you know, I can't handle it, to speak on it."
But perhaps not surprisingly, the cruelest acts happened once prisoners arrived at Guantánamo Bay. Such reported offenses include the obligatory excessive beatings, forcing prisoners to "walk barefoot over barbed wire," smashing detainees' heads into the ground repeatedly or into broken glass, electric shocks, extreme temperature manipulation during interrogations, macing and other eye abuse, death threats toward not only prisoners but also their families, rape or threats of rape, pumping water up prisoners' noses to the point of suffocation, shackling some to floors for an average of sixteen hours at a time, refusal of medical or dental attention, denial of food, stripping and sexually harassing males, dog attacks, injections of "unknown substances," forcing detainees to run as many as twenty laps while in shackles, forcing heads into buckets of cold water for extended periods of time, covering mouths with duct tape to prevent prisoners from praying or quoting the Koran, and sleep deprivation, among others.
But, um, the good news is that those who behaved were treated to a Happy Meal from Cuba's only McDonald's, located at the base. I don't know, is that better or worse?
Like at Abu Ghraib, some instances at Gitmo involved bodily functions. Let's return to the United Kingdom for a moment, where in February 2005 London's weekly newspaper The Observer recounted the mid-2004 tale of British detainee Martin Mubanga.
As Mubanga described one interrogation session: "I needed the toilet and I asked the interrogator to let me go. But he just said, 'you'll go when I say so.' I told him he had five minutes to get me to the toilet or I was going to go on the floor. He left the room. Finally, I squirmed across the floor and did it in the corner, trying to minimize the mess. I suppose he was watching through a one-way mirror or the CCTV camera. He comes back with a mop and dips it in the pool of urine. Then he starts covering me with my own waste, like he's using a big paintbrush, working methodically, beginning with my feet and ankles, and working his way up my legs. All the while, he's racially abusing me, cussing me: 'Oh, the poor little negro, the poor little nigger.' He seemed to think it was funny."
And of course there's the famous instance in the May 9, 2005 issue of Newsweek, which reported that interrogators had flushed a Koran down a toilet to degrade a prisoner's religion.
The pricks running Guantánamo Bay definitely had a thing for humiliating a detainee's culture and religious beliefs, and as our old friend Ronald Karpuszka would no doubt agree, there is no better object to manipulate for the purpose of humiliation than the human female.
The Amnesty report went into the story of German Turkish national Murat Kurnaz, who had been "subjected to sexual humiliation and taunting by young women who entered the interrogation room where he was shackled to the floor. When of them began to caress him from behind, he jerked his head back, hitting her head. He alleges that a response team of guards in riot gear entered the room beat him and sprayed him with pepper spray, and he was taken to isolation where he was left on the floor with his hands tied behind his back for twenty hours."
"They used girls to tempt us to have sexual intercourse with them in order to degrade us and our faith," explained former Swedish detainee Mehdi Ghezali in a July 2004 interview. "I don't know if these girls were prostitutes. The girl who was let into my interrogation room wore a military uniform. Other prisoners were subjected to very scantily clad girls. It only happened once that a woman came into my cell trying to seduce me. Other fellow prisoners told me about a girl who tried to have sexual intercourse with a prisoner, but he just spat on her. The guards beat the prisoner to the ground and knocked out his teeth. I also heard a story about a scantily clad girl who came into the interrogation room and smeared her menstrual blood all over him."
Back in March 2005, Vice Admiral Albert T. Church, the former U.S. Naval Inspector General, turned in a 378-page report chronicling his investigation of all U.S. detention and interrogation operations. It was envisioned to be the final official word on what was going on around the world under our authority, so naturally that meant that the whole damn thing was soon deemed as classified information by the Department of Defense, with only an anemic 21-page summary being released to the public. One interesting part of the summary was the mention of two female interrogators at Gitmo "who, on their own initiative, touched and spoke to detainees in a sexually suggestive manner in order to incur stress based on the detainees' religious beliefs." Why exactly would they think this would be an effective tactic?
Perhaps the answer lied with a December 2002 order Amnesty uncovered, in which none other than Donald Rumsfeld authorized the interrogation technique of "inducing stress by use of detainee's fears." The March 21, 2005 issue of Newsweek provided the final piece of the puzzle when it reported that female interrogators were specifically told by Rumsfeld to be "creative" in their tactics. Gee, how could a female interrogator possibly be creative in ways that the males couldn't? I have no idea.
Now then, is it any wonder that in February the United Nations called for Guantánamo Bay to be shut down??
"Those people should be released or brought before an independent court," said U.N. torture investigator Manfred Nowak. "That should not be done in Guantánamo Bay, but before ordinary U.S. courts, or courts in their countries of origin or perhaps an international tribunal."
He added, "We want to have all information about secret places of detention because whenever there is a secret place of detention, there is also a higher risk that people are subjected to torture."
The White House, "curiously," rejected the notion outright, with spokesman Scott McClellan excusing torture allegations by saying "these are dangerous terrorists that we're talking about."
Ahhh, so that's why this is all okay, because we have characterized these people as "dangerous terrorists."
Let's say that, by a stroke of luck, these are all terrorists being abused at Gitmo. How are we any better than them now? Granted we have yet to fly a plane into a building, but is that going to be our only litmus test? Is rape or psychological abuse or fecal humiliation or penis shock really all that morally better than murder? This is just my opinion, but I think all of that sounds sicker.
What about when we first heard of all the shit our captured troops in Vietnam were going through? Would it have made it any better if the Viet Cong brushed it off with "Oh, these are just dangerous terrorists that we're talking about." Would anyone here really say, "Oh, well that makes sense. Proceed with the Russian Roulette."
One such vet was current Arizona Republican Senator John McCain, who was held captive in North Vietnam for five years and tortured to the point where today he still cannot raise his arms above his chest. As one might imagine, he has a genuine interest in how we treat our prisoners, so it was perhaps no surprise when in October 2005 he introduced the McCain Detainee Amendment to that year's defense appropriations bill; an amendment that essentially banned torture.
As McCain described it on the Senate floor:
"This amendment would (1) establish the Army Field Manual as the uniform standard for the interrogation of Department of Defense detainees and (2) prohibit cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of persons in the detention of the U.S. government.
"Mr. President, to fight terrorism we need intelligence. That much is obvious. What should also be obvious is that the intelligence we collect must be reliable and acquired humanely, under clear standards understood by all our fighting men and women. To do differently would not only offend our values as Americans, but undermine our war effort, because abuse of prisoners harms, not helps, us in the war on terror. First, subjecting prisoners to abuse leads to bad intelligence, because under torture a detainee will tell his interrogator anything to make the pain stop. Second, mistreatment of our prisoners endangers U.S. troops who might be captured by the enemy--if not in this war, then in the next. And third, prisoner abuses exact on us a terrible toll in the war of ideas, because inevitably these abuses become public. When they do, the cruel actions of a few darken the reputation of our country in the eyes of millions. American values should win against all others in any war of ideas, and we canĚt let prisoner abuse tarnish our image.
"And yet reports of detainee abuse continue to emerge, in large part, I believe, because of confusion in the field as to what is permitted and what is not. The amendment I am proposing will go a long way toward clearing up this confusion."
The amendment was co-sponsored by eleven other senators, from both parties, and the Senate would vote 90 to 9 to support it, while the House would vote 308 to 122.
Yet Bush refused to sign the appropriations bill, and it was specifically because of McCain's amendment.
You see, Cheney wanted the CIA to be exempt from this amendment. Gee, I can't imagine why. Surely it's to allow the CIA to continue to not torture, right?
It would take two and a half months for Bush to finally sign the bill, but only after a slight compromise was reached on the language of McCain's amendment.
This is a person who has personally launched a supposed "war on terror" and has declared himself a "wartime president," but has refused to recognize detainees from the Taliban, whom we fought, that were picked up in Afghanistan, where we fought, as "prisoners of war." Exactly where the disconnect is, I'm not sure. Rough estimates indicate that in cells outside the country, we have imprisoned over 70,000 people in the "war on terrah."
And yet, the administration has done everything in its power (and then some!) to prevent any U.S. court from reviewing appeals from foreign prisoners at places like Gitmo, a move that the Supreme Court itself ruled in June 2004 was illegal...and it has tried to prevent anti-torture bills from passing!
Despite all this evidence, my objection to this form of idyllic denial is more based on just the sheer arrogance of it.
Amnesty International was formed in 1961 and has been instrumental in educating the world on violations of human rights, not to mention its role in campaigning to release prisoners from numerous dictatorships and regimes from the Cold War-on. There are local chapters in over seventy countries around the world. For over four decades the group has consulted the United Nations. In 1977 they were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1978 they were honored with a United Nations Human Rights Award. They were the first to expose the world to prisoner abuse in South Africa, Chile, Vietnam, and the Soviet Union, among many others. In the fall of 1988, the group's newsletter led the call to the United Nations Security Council to "act immediately to stop the massacre of Kurdish civilians by Iraqi forces" (sound familiar?). This is a group whose only raison d'etre is to monitor violations of human rights around the world.
And now here comes this country bumpkin who suddenly declares that he's a better authority on torture and abuse than the organization that to many people defined what is and isn't torture and abuse. And on top of that, he has the nerve to blow off this group's concerning report as "absurd," without providing much of a reason why, and to simply say that such accusations must have come from "people who hate America," people who want to "disassemble," because you know, those would be the only kind of people who would dare speak ill of the red, white, and blue, right?
For the record, here is how Amnesty International describes its fact-checking process before releasing any report, press release, or statement: "Before any statement or report is issued, its text is approved within the International Secretariat to ensure it is accurate, politically impartial, and falls within Amnesty International's mandate. Amnesty International is often dealing with allegations rather than undisputed facts. It makes this plain and usually calls for an investigation of the allegations. If Amnesty International makes a mistake, it issues a correction.
"Amnesty International's research is recognized as reliable and is widely consulted by governments, intergovernmental organizations, journalists, scholars, other human rights organizations, and campaigning groups."
So yes, one can see how easily Amnesty International would drop the ball on a prisoner-torture report. They're just absurd people who hate America, and they're certainly not the first pro-human rights advocates who were a little funny in the head. Henry David Thoreau? Addict. Gandhi? Queer. Mother Teresa? Crackpot. Princess Diana? Whore.
"We do not torture," puh-lease! Then again, maybe he just doesn't know the definition of "torture."
What, is torture too heavy of a topic for you? Well then what about this chestnut: "They hate us for our freedom."
On September 20, 2001--nine days after September 11, nine days after the attacks that were previously predicted in the August 6 security briefing that Bush refused to read while on vacation, and nine days after he literally zoned out after having been told the country was under attack--Bush spoke at a joint session of Congress to talk about what the country had been going through. In the movie playing in George's head, this was to be the big "everybody loves me" moment, complete with thumbs-up from political rivals, hearty handshakes, and a sweeping crescendo of the charming Marc Shaiman score.
At one point, he said, "Americans are asking, why do they hate us? They hate what we see right here in this chamber: a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms--our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other."
Upon hearing this, we were all supposed to say, "They hate my freedom?? How dare they hate my freedom! Don't they know I'm an American! It's my right as an American to have the freedom to pierce my eyelid and masturbate to Christina Ricci movies! My uncle slit the throat of a baby in Vietnam so I can have that freedom to pierce my eyelid and masturbate to Christina Ricci movies! Well, I'll show those towel-headed freedom-haters! I'm going to support this man no matter what he says or does, because he wants me to keep on piercing my eyelid and masturbating to Christina Ricci movies!"
Unfortunately, a lot of us actually did say that (yes, word for word!), and we kept on saying that so much that by the time we actually stopped and thought about what we were saying, the Patriot Act was passed, we had invaded Iraq, and we even rewarded an inept drunk four more years for his incompetence on every issue. We wanted to spite the Muslim world so much that it blinded us, and in many cases we ended up ignoring reason and betraying our own principles and ethics. It doesn't seem to me as if they actually hated our freedom so much as they knew how to manipulate it.
Yes, ideally the September 11 attacks would have been unprovoked and without a clear catalyst. Surely they devised a complex terrorist plot merely because they hated our freedom, right? They're just jealous of us!
If they really hated our freedom, then how come the targets were the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the White House? One financial institution, the center for all things military, and the president's home and office. These terrorists weren't idiots, so if they really wanted to make a statement against our freedom, then how come they didn't go after more-symbolic targets? I don't know about you, but when I think of freedom, something like the Statue of Liberty or the Washington Monument ranks a little higher than the World Trade Center. And if we're talking about our loose free-wheelin' ways in terms of our culture, which we've been told must have driven them over the edge, then even Walt Disney World ranks higher than the Pentagon. Shit, Dollywood would rank higher!
It could probably be argued that if our financial and government institutions were taken out then our freedom and liberty would somehow collapse, like it's that easy, but does that really make sense? There would seem to be a lot of chance involved in such a plan. The September 11 attacks were calculated to hurt and scare us, not possibly confuse and disorient us. If that's all terrorists want, then wouldn't they instead be called "confusionists?" But, I guess if they were called confusionists, then nobody would want to make a movie about Chuck Norris fighting them. Hey, I say that's a fair trade-off.
Doesn't it make a little more sense that the September 11 attacks were not so much a statement against our freedom but rather our monetary gluttony and the political influence we use to achieve that? I mean, we're only the country that installs a former Unocal executive as ambassador to Saudi Arabia, right around the same time our vice president's company begins a drilling project to get natural gas out of the Caspian Sea. Let's be honest, we as a country do use our weight and connections to take advantage of and capitalize on natural resources and poor people. I'm not saying that justifies the attacks, but it's certainly a more believable motive than something like "they just don't like our goodness."
But of course nobody wants to really acknowledge that. It's hard to rally support behind the concept that deep down, we're all scumbags whose wallets grow fat at someone else's expense. Blaming a hatred for something abstract and positive like freedom is easier to manipulate than blaming a hatred for something tangible and negative like corporate greed. It's easier to make a protestor feel guilty by asking "Why do you hate our freedom?" rather than "Why do you hate our greed?" Nobody wants to stand behind Mr. Burns; they want to stand behind Superman.
You don't need to take my word for it. Back in 1998 al-Qaida issued what is called a fatwa to detail their reasons why Muslims should declare jihads against the United States. This is the document that many believe planted the seed for current Middle Eastern hatred toward us. Would you like to know how many times the word "freedom" occurs in this fatwa? None! Not even when you translate it into English does the word "freedom" show up, nor does any reference to the overall concept for that matter!
Here is an excerpt:
"First, for over seven years the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples.
"If some people have in the past argued about the fact of the occupation, all the people of the Peninsula have now acknowledged it. The best proof of this is the Americans' continuing aggression against the Iraqi people using the Peninsula as a staging post, even though all its rulers are against their territories being used to that end, but they are helpless."
These are the very people who attacked us, and they cite specific reasons why they hate us. Again, I'm not saying that makes what happened any better, but they clearly had a concrete reason to do what they did. To blame it all on a hatred of freedom is just a non-sequitur.
This was described a little more eloquently in a September 2004 report filed by the Defense Science Board, which is, as SourceWatch once described it, "a federal advisory committee established to provide independent advice to the Secretary of Defense." So these are the people who provide information and advice directly to Rumsfeld.
In the Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Strategic Communication, the DSB explained that "Muslims do not 'hate our freedom,' but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf states.
"Thus when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy. Moreover, saying that 'freedom is the future of the Middle East' is seen as patronizing, suggesting that Arabs are like the enslaved peoples of the old Communist World--but Muslims do not feel this way: they feel oppressed, but not enslaved.
"Furthermore, in the eyes of Muslims, American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering. U.S. actions appear in contrast to be motivated by ulterior motives, and deliberately controlled in order to best serve American national interests at the expense of truly Muslim selfdetermination."
Elsewhere in the report it says, "Muslims see Americans as strangely narcissistic--namely, that the war is all about us. As the Muslims see it, everything about the war is--for Americans--really no more than an extension of American domestic politics and its great game. This perception is of course necessarily heightened by election-year atmospherics, but nonetheless sustains their impression that when Americans talk to Muslims they are really just talking to themselves."
In other words, they don't hate us for what we stand for. They hate us for what we do, how we interfere with their culture, their religion, and their conflicts. If freedom has anything to do with it, then it's probably just the fact that we wrap ourselves up in the freedom blanket to excuse the things we do that piss them off so much.
September 11, 2001 was among the worst days of American history, no question. Lives were senselessly lost or ruined, a lot of our post-Cold War innocence had faded away, and the whole world saw that we can easily be duped (oh wait, they already saw that in late 2000). But to say that all this happened over an abstract concept like freedom? A concept that means different things to different people, regardless of country? A concept that hasn't prompted an attack on us since the late 1700s? I'm sorry, but it's juvenile.
"They hate us for our freedom" reminds me of the movie Annie. Remember those terrorists that always tried to assassinate Daddy Warbucks, the Bolsheviks? When Annie asked why anyone would want to do such a thing, Ann Reinking explained, "He's living proof that the American system really works, and the Bolsheviks don't want anyone to know about that." It's simplistic, vague, patriotic drivel, and to explain away something like a major terrorist attack with such simple-minded hokum is insulting to those who were killed and their families.
It's another case of idyllic denial, one the majority of us are guilty of.
Okay, enough of this gloomy stuff. Let's move on to something a little more behind-the-scenes: the Jack Abramoff scandal.
In early January, disgraced Washington lobbyist and GOP darling Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to three felony counts charging him with conspiracy, mail fraud, and tax evasion, which is all in addition to another fraud investigation against him. Since then, his name has been mud, with everyone on the right and left (well, mostly the right) scrambling to dump a considerable amount of the massive campaign contributions he had collected in recent years.
Bush was no stranger to the powers of Abramoff. Jack served on Bush's transition team in late 2000 after the Supreme Court decided the election, while four years later he would raise over $100,000 for Bush's 2004 campaign, a large enough amount to earn him the unofficial campaign designation of "pioneer"...like it was a friggin' fan club or message board or something. Good on Bush's original campaign promise to usher in a new era of morality and responsibility, almost as soon as Abbie pled guilty did the Bush campaign donate a "considerable" portion of his contributions to the American Heart Association...a whopping $6,000, or a little over one-sixteenth of what Jackie gave to the Bush people. Evidently Bush isn't feeling that much remorse.
Despite the past employment and financial ties, Bush has asserted again and again that he does not know Abramoff. Yet, Abramoff had been to the White House a number of times for staff-level meetings (at least, that's the official description), attended holiday parties, and has been seen with Bush in more than half a dozen photos...most of which, it should be noted, the White House has refused to release.
"I've had my picture taken with a lot of people," Bush said at a news conference in January as a way to excuse his association with Abramoff. "Having my picture taken with someone doesn't mean that, you know, I'm a friend with them or know them very well."
He would later stress at that same conference, "I've never sat down with him and had a discussion with the guy," only moments before hurrying away from the microphones. This time, no locked door got in his way.
If what Bush has said is true--hang on, I need to wipe the tears from my eyes from laughing so hard--then why is the administration refusing to reveal the Bush/Abramoff pictures? If there's no connection outside of an obligatory photo-op, then why the suppression? It's not like there's anything to hide, right? A late January Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 76 percent of Americans surveyed said Bush should come clean about his meetings with Jacko, regardless of how minor they might turn out to be.
Yes, ideally in a perfect world, a president would never, never, never have anything to do with a slimy, sleazy Washington lobbyist! How could we even suggest something so vile and scandalous? "No, no, no! I never meet with lobbyists! Why would I??" That's not a direct quote, mind you, but merely a summation. Regardless, it's idyllic denial. Bush is pure, Bush is good, Bush doesn't associate with scum like Jack Abramoff.
Does it matter then that Jackie reportedly has in his office a photo of himself with Bush that the latter autographed "to my great friend Jack?" Does it matter that in 1997 Jack charged the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, a client of his, to have then-Texas Governor Bush write a letter supporting the islands' school-choice proposal? Does it matter that Bush/Cheney '04 worker Dale Knally recalled a Bush/Abramoff meeting in which "He put his arm around Abramoff and told us that 'this man is one of this administration's greatest friends?'" Does it matter that Jack was charging clients $25,000 for lunch dates with Bush at the White House? How could one possibly be able to control a president's lunch appointments unless they knew them or worked with them on much more than just a casual level?? Twenty years ago I once met and had my picture taken with Full House star Dave Coulier, but as cool as that moment was I never felt that it entitled me to act as one of his personal handlers.
Remember that "pioneer" status Jack earned with the Bush campaign for raising over $100,000? Well, seemingly one little perk of such an achievement is a personal invitation to Bush's home. No, not the White House, the Crawford ranch! Yeah, the Fortress of Solitude, where Bush hides away in seclusion when things get too hot around him in big, scary Washington. Do you invite strangers to your home? What about your private secluded vacation home? What, don't we all have one of those?
'Tis true, as the National Journal reported in its September 6, 2003 issue. Jack was among a dozen or so other "pioneers" and other moneymaking friends to be invited "to Crawford on August 9 to hang out for a few hours at a barbecue with President Bush and his top campaign advisers." Jack regretted that he couldn't attend due to the Jewish Sabbath, while the article also mentioned his more ambitious goal of earning $200,000 to reach the grander, more-hillbillish "ranger" status. Rumor has it that those who had become "rangers" would not only get invited to Crawford for a whole weekend, but they would also get a personal three-hour blowjob session from both George and Laura (Laura reportedly would wear a zombie mask on request to appear more alive).
Most damning for Bush was the release of an e-mail in early February from Jackson to Washingtonian magazine national editor Kim Eisler, an e-mail that confirmed not only the favors he received such as the Crawford invitation but also the general chummy nature between him and Bush.
"The guy saw me in almost a dozen settings, and joked with me about a bunch of things, including details of my kids," Abramoff wrote. "Perhaps he has forgotten everything, who knows." Jack wrote that last part out of sarcasm, as he said elsewhere in the message that Bush "has one of the best memories of any politician I have ever met."
So, which is it then? Has Bush only met Jack Abramoff in passing, because surely a president would never be associated with a lobbyist, or is this guy "one of this administration's greatest friends?" Despite evidence of the contrary from numerous sources, the White House insists it's the former. It's idyllic denial.
But still, in the face of scandal and torture and red herrings and incompetence, here's my favorite assertion of idyllic denial at the moment: Bush has presidential authority to spy on us.
For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about (if you don't, you really need to open up a newspaper or turn on the news a little), in late December the New York Times reported that "months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials."
The article explained, "Under a presidential order signed in 2002, the intelligence agency has monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants over the past three years," which is a clear violation of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
When it was passed, FISA (as it is usually abbreviated) set up a special court to specifically consider all eavesdropping and wiretapping requests. This is the court's only function, surveillance. They have no other role or purpose to get in the way. They only handle surveillance, much as how Taco Bell only serves Mexican-like snackfoods, Suncoast only sells expensive DVDs, or Payless only carries shoes. It's their raison d'etre.
Anyway, this FISA court can approve a wiretapping and eavesdropping request in a matter of hours, or even minutes if necessary. Heck, if a situation is of the utmost urgency, officials can even file for a warrant retroactively! Yeah, they have up to three days after the fact to file a request! Since 1979, the FISA court has approved tens of thousands of eavesdropping requests and has rejected only four. It's quick, it's efficient, it's hardly ever resistant, and it's legal. So, this is hardly a system that needs bypassing.
For some reason, Bush doesn't agree, and he apparently feels there are situations in which proper legal approval can be sacrificed. For what? For who??
Since the story first hit, Bush and his team of scoundrels have defended this action by claiming some vague authority Bush holds, like a sort of presidential prerogative. The various quotes affirming such supposed power are numerous and repetitive, so I won't repeat them all here. However, to avoid being accused of putting words into the administration's mouth (or mouths, or whatever), here are a couple of noteworthy instances:
Speaking before the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research at the Grand Hyatt New York on January 19, Yosemite Cheney defended the spying program by saying, "These actions are within the president's authority and responsibility under the Constitution and laws, and these actions are vital to our security." Go ahead, look it up if you don't believe me. I won't be offended.
Less reported was the defense given by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on February 6. Speedy said, "The president is acting with authority both by the Constitution and by statute," an excuse that led Pennsylvania's Republican Senator Arlen Specter to reply, "I am skeptical of that interpretation."
Perhaps most famously, in a late December news conference Bush explained, "To save American lives, we must be able to act fast and to detect these conversations so we can prevent new attacks. So, consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution, I authorize the interception of international communications of people with known links to al-Qaida and related terrorist organizations."
Bush and his supporters have tried to use the defense that Bush is doing this off-the-books spying only when it comes to international communications, despite the assertions of the contrary in the Times article. But the flaw in that defense is if that's all it is, then why even authorize the NSA to bypass the FISA court? In times of war, the FISA rules specifically for gathering "foreign intelligence information" are even looser than those for domestic surveillance. Under FISA, a president or attorney general has an even bigger window of fifteen days to spy on international suspects without a court order. So the question remains, why was there even a need to authorize a FISA bypass, and then to renew this shady program more than thirty times since September 11? Exactly who did Bush want information on without having to go through the proper channels? What secret emergency can there possibly be that would not warrant the review of the FISA court, even in hindsight?
It's idyllic denial. Oh, the president definitely has the right to authorize such a program! It's in the Constitution, after all. He has an obligation to protect us, and he knows what's best for us. Allowing the government to spy on anyone without permission is perfectly legal!
Is anyone bothered by the fact Cheney and Speedy and Georgie and whoever else is getting away with the "constitutional powers" line? Doesn't anyone in this land of geniuses read the Constitution anymore, or are people that afraid they'd be mistaken for those "fiends" at the ACLU? By the way, anyone who does consider the ACLU to be evil is clearly too ignorant for their own good, and you have my permission to hit them with a brick.
But I digress. For those of you who don't know it off the top of your head, here is, in its entirety, Article II of the U.S. Constitution, the section that details the role of the president:
The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice President, chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows:
Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.
The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for two Persons, of whom one at least shall not be an Inhabitant of the same State with themselves. And they shall make a List of all the Persons voted for, and of the Number of Votes for each; which List they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the Seat of the Government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted. The Person having the greatest Number of Votes shall be the President, if such Number be a Majority of the whole Number of Electors appointed; and if there be more than one who have such Majority, and have an equal Number of Votes, then the House of Representatives shall immediately chuse by Ballot one of them for President; and if no Person have a Majority, then from the five highest on the List the said House shall in like Manner chuse the President. But in chusing the President, the Votes shall be taken by States, the Representation from each State having one Vote; A quorum for this purpose shall consist of a Member or Members from two thirds of the States, and a Majority of all the States shall be necessary to a Choice. In every Case, after the Choice of the President, the Person having the greatest Number of Votes of the Electors shall be the Vice President. But if there should remain two or more who have equal Votes, the Senate shall chuse from them by Ballot the Vice President.
The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.
No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.
In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by Law provide for the Case of Removal, Death, Resignation or Inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what Officer shall then act as President, and such Officer shall act accordingly, until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be elected.
The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be increased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.
Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:--"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.
He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.
The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.
He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper; he shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers; he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall Commission all the Officers of the United States.
The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.
Did you see anything about surveillance?? There was stuff about the military and treaties, but nothing about spying being under the president's authority. There were definitely spies in the Revolutionary War, so it's not like it was an alien concept to the Founding Fathers.
But since the administration wants to play the Constitution card, by all means, let's. Does it matter that outside of the Fourth Amendment, the Constitution doesn't even address surveillance, especially in relation to the president?
And just so you know what I'm talking about:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
So, does this all mean that the administration doesn't know what the Constitution says, or that they thought we didn't know?
And yet, Bush claims to know our rights, at least according to an appearance he made in Buffalo in April 2004.
"Now, by the way, anytime you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires--a wiretap requires a court order," Bush explained. "Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so. It's important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constitution."
But then again, I guess when you're trying to get votes from "security moms," "NASCAR dads," and "9/11 wussies," you're liable to say funny things about protecting people's rights in the age of the Patriot Act and unwarranted wiretapping.
The other crutch the administration has been using is that Bush has the authority under the infamous October 2002 Iraq resolution, the one that set the chain of events in motion leading to the March 2003 invasion. Their reasoning is that by authorizing Bush to use force against Iraq (which the resolution didn't really do in the first place), Congress inherently gave Bush the additional authority to do whatever was necessary in the interest of homeland security.
Well, let's just see what that resolution says, whaddya say?
The following is only an excerpt of the complete resolution. Most of the rest of it just goes into the history of U.S. force against Iraq. Below is the important stuff to note:
Whereas the President has authority under the Constitution to take action in order to deter and prevent acts of international terrorism against the United States, as Congress recognized in the joint resolution on Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107-40);
So, there you go. Not only did the resolution not grant Bush new powers in the name of war, but it also stressed that Bush's existing wartime powers are already outlined in the Constitution!
So, if you're having trouble following this, the administration is saying that the Constitution grants Bush the power to spy on U.S. citizens without a warrant, which it doesn't, and so does the Iraq resolution, which merely directs one back to the Constitution, which doesn't grant Bush the power to spy on U.S. citizens without a warrant. Their own excuse contradicts itself!
The only remaining conclusion is that Bush is breaking the law by allowing the NSA program to go on, and he has firmly said that he will continue to allow it to do just that!
There is a whole Easter basket of other excuses and explanations that Bush and his Legion of Doom have thrown out there. Bush has said, at various times, the NSA program is okay because its reach is limited, because we need to know what terrorists are thinking, because we need to prevent future attacks around the world (except those in Madrid and London, I guess), because people in Congress from both parties were made fully aware of it in advance (they weren't), because past presidents have supposedly also done it (they haven't), because federal courts approved of it (they didn't), and of course that old chestnut, because of September 11.
But none of this, none of this, is a reason to break the law, to violate our civil rights, to ignore our own real rights under the Constitution. Nothing should ever supersede that.
Like I said, Bush has claimed that "federal courts have approved the use of that authority." There are eleven judges on the FISA court, and only one of them, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, even knew about the NSA program when the Times story first broke, and it's unclear if she was in fact told about it before it started. Meanwhile another judge, James Robertson, resigned from his seat on the court in protest of the program! Does this sound like the action of a judge who would have approved of something like this, assuming he was made aware of it in the first place? So, which federal courts is Bush referring to then??
Bush has also claimed that previous presidents have violated FISA, and Gonzales has specifically referred to such presidents as Lincoln, Wilson, and FDR. Well, in this case they're right. Lincoln, Wilson, and Roosevelt might very well have bypassed the FISA court to spy on citizens...which of course is easy to do since FISA didn't pass until 1978. I guess by this rationale slavery should still be legal because "past presidents" had slaves. It should probably be noted that since FISA was passed, no president has bypassed it to eavesdrop on or wiretap Americans without a warrant...that is, until now.
My favorite take on all this has been by James Bamford, who has written two books on the NSA. Referring to Bush's reasons and rationale when he confirmed the program's existence, James told the Associated Press, "I didn't hear him specify any legal right, except his right as president, which in a democracy doesn't make much sense. Today, what Bush said is he went around the law, which is a violation of the law, which is illegal."
Despite the legality of it, or lack thereof, and despite the fact that the whole NSA program poses a direct threat to our civil rights and liberties, Bush still has the nerve to say that it is a "vital tool in our war against the terrorists." This sentiment was echoed by Gonzales, who also proclaimed that "FISA remains a vital tool in the War on Terror." Uh, no, FISA is not a "tool" to use at one's leisure. It's the law, one set up to protect us and keep us safe. That would be like saying speed limits are a great tool in getting across the country. I once knew someone who said that speed limits are merely a "suggestion" of how fast we should go (I think we've all known someone like that at one point or another). I think it's the same ideology here: to Bush, FISA is merely a "suggestion" of how to legally spy on someone.
Ironically, the big excuse Bush has used to justify this program, September 11, might be a red herring. Yeah, yeah, I know, how could I suggest such a thing about our day of worship, I'm evil, I'm al-Qaida, etc., etc., whatever. In January the Truthout web site reported that the NSA was conducting unauthorized eavesdropping on Americans as early as days after Bush's inauguration, according to the agency's Transition 2001 report. The article states that "the document contradicts [Bush's] assertion that the 9/11 attacks prompted him to take the unprecedented step of signing a secret executive order authorizing the NSA to monitor a select number of American citizens thought to have ties to terrorist groups."
This revelation came shortly after the Slate web site reported, "A former telecom executive told us that efforts to obtain call details go back to early 2001, predating the 9/11 attacks and the president's now celebrated secret executive order. The source, who asked not to be identified so as not to out his former company, reports that the NSA approached U.S. carriers and asked for their cooperation in a 'data-mining' operation, which might eventually cull 'millions' of individual calls and e-mails."
And yet, all the secret post-September 11 spying turned up nothing. In mid-January, the New York Times reported, "In the anxious months after the Sept. 11 attacks, the National Security Agency began sending a steady stream of telephone numbers, e-mail addresses and names to the FBI in search of terrorists. The stream soon became a flood, requiring hundreds of agents to check out thousands of tips a month.
"But virtually all of them, current and former officials say, led to dead ends or innocent Americans."
So not only did it drain the FBI's resources to hunt down credible leads, but it also resulted in zip.
And Bush will still defend it as nice and legal, while pricks like Cheney and Karl Rove will go so far as threaten those in Congress who challenge the program. In early February Cheney told PBS's NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, "It's important for us, if we're going to proceed legislatively, to keep in mind there's a price to be paid for that, and it might well in fact do irreparable damage to our capacity to collect information." Ah, so either we let the administration encroach on our rights, or we're doomed. Didn't he use this same threat before about John Kerry?
So, what can we do to stop this madness? I want to quote one more passage from the Constitution:
The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.
Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.
Hear that, gang? We need two-thirds. What are you willing to do to help make that happen in November?
So that's it, finally. Just a few of the examples of idyllic denial that have essentially defined the Bush administration.
I think what it all comes down to is that Bush, his cronies, and the many other old shits around them don't think that people can easily find out what's really going on. They all seem to think that a person's only source for information is the morning paper.
This is now 2006, fellas. The Wizard of Oz routine is a bit antiquated. Not only can we see behind the curtain, but we saw the curtain, read a blog analysis of it, and have already debated it on a message board before you even knew it was open.
Maybe they just don't take the Internet seriously.
Last April, disgraced former House majority leader Tom DeLay hopped onto Fox News (hey, who else would listen to him?) to publicly scold Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy for daring to look up the policies and laws of other countries for some perspective while preparing his own writings. "And not only that," he added, "but he said in session that he does his own research on the Internet? That is just incredibly outrageous."
Yes, yes, Tommy, the Internet is evil because you might--gasp!--be able to see a picture of a nude woman if you look hard enough! But that one magazine scan where you can kinda sorta see Scarlett Johansson's nipple if you squint just right shouldn't devalue the Internet as a wonderful research tool, where one can look up practically anything about anybody...and as incredulous as it may sound, the sources are as reliable if not the same as the ones if you hunted through your local library's microfiche archive. Sheesh, it's just a cord that plugs into your phone line, Tom. It's nothing to be afraid of.
Bush meanwhile, although he personally doesn't use it because he doesn't trust it, seems to think its only use is to allow his ultra-white daughters to e-mail his Kroft-puppet-like father. Aw, how sweet. Surely Jenna never hopped on there to find out where one can score a fake ID to obtain substances that would have been illegal to a minor. No, not a member of the Bush family. They stand for integrity, what with their coke habits and vehicular homicides, right? Um...right? Idyllic denial.
They think we don't know any better, or at least are too lazy to look up the facts on our own. That may very well be true to a point, as there are still a large number of mental midgets out there who think Iraq had something to do with September 11, but still they're hoping that not too many people are going to know or want to know more information past the soundbytes. Hell, they're counting on it. An ignorant public is a public easily controlled.
I personally don't feel controlled, and I don't feel suckered. I feel insulted, because it really is an insult to my intelligence for them to assume that I'm going to take things at face value. I hope it would be an insult to anyone else's intelligence as well. There are so many things going on behind our backs in this country that we'll simply never know about it--shit, there was a supposed 2002 al-Qaida plot against Los Angeles that Bush kept from the mayor of Los Angeles--but if Bush or Cheney or Scott "Harvey Dent" McClellan is going to stand there and make up some fantasy about how we're so good and everyone else is so evil for questioning our abilities or whatever, then the least they can do is put some effort into their bullshitting. But these insipid "we're good and pure" tapdances they do is just nothing short of patronizing.
Maybe, just maybe, people wouldn't be second-guessing everything Bush says if he didn't inject smirks, wisecracks, or involuntary chuckles while talking about serious issues such as spying on fellow citizens, nominating bigots to the Supreme Court, or the rapidly increasing casualty rate in Iraq. It's just a little hard to trust someone who comes off like a local TV station's weekend weatherman.
But like I said, it's just insulting. If the Bushes and the Cheneys and the McClellans and the DeLays and the Racquel Chatmons of the world are going to act all self-righteous, go right ahead...if you're doing it to excuse something slimy or underhanded, you'll still get caught. But don't think for a second that gives you the right to condescend to us in order to cover your ass.
We can do better as a country. I like to think there's a real democracy waiting for us out there, one in which our leaders are actually relatively trustworthy and looking out for everyone's best interests and don't feel the need to cover up problems with accusations and fantasy. I do believe we can get there, and it can happen soon.
I don't know, is that my own idyllic denial? It might be, but I like to think it's just optimism, but then I guess that too would be considered denial. I can't win.
I will tell you this much; in the land I'm envisioning, nobody will be called a whore for merely exercising a legal right or for speaking up to support it. That designation will be saved for the legitimate whores, like the ones we see on Grammy night.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some newspapers to write to. I invite you to do the same.
Quote of the Month
"We didn't exactly landslide our way into office."
Bush speaking with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House on January 13, offering perhaps the understatement of the century
Link of the Month
Do Bush followers have a political ideology?
by Glenn Greenwald