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Ward Harkavy, 1947–2020

Ward Harkavy, a Voice stalwart who left the paper before he had the opportunity to aim his editorial scalpel at the Trump regime, died from Covid-19 this morning, at age 72.

Below, we resurrect a classic Harkavy essay, surveying the departing George W. Bush administration — a hit parade of an inept commander-in-chief’s aggressive, unilateral wars; economic chicanery; and world-class propensity for gaffes. Ward didn’t find it necessary to specifically remind his readers of the ways in which earlier Republican POTUSes — Ford, Reagan, and George H. W. Bush — had carried on their party’s grand old tradition of comforting the comfortable while afflicting the afflicted. He did, however, write a headline that specifically recalled a whiny Richard Nixon declaiming to the press, after losing the California governor’s race in 1962, “But as I leave you, I want you to know: just think how much you’re going to be missing. You don’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.”

A true journalist, Ward had no favorites — he would call bullshit on anyone and everyone (including himself). But he would also deliver the hardest of facts with humorous insights — although in this particular case, W made it easy by providing the writer with such quotes as “Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.”

In every sentence Ward wrote (along with the untold thousands he edited for the Voice and other papers over the decades), he never forgot that “our people” were his readers, and that they deserved the truth.

And a laugh. —R.C. Baker

 

Ward Harkavy writes about the failures of George W Bush

Don’t Leave, George!
January 20, 2009
By Ward Harkavy

The Constitution says George W. Bush can’t remain in the White House past next week, but as we’ve learned during the past eight years, the Constitution is just a piece of paper. So it’s not too late to make a final plea: Bush, don’t leave us journalists hanging.

Don’t pardon our behavior during the past eight years. Don’t make us commute our sentences. Bail us out. Don’t leave.

George W. Bush has set a standard that’s unmatched in the history of the U.S. presidency.  And now, with the bar he’s set, he’s leaving us in limbo?

That’s low.

Bush is abandoning reporters when we need him the most. The newspaper industry is in the tank, and no other bailouts are in the offing. Survival depends on a sense of humor, and what will journalists do without Bush?

He’s been the problem. He’ll never be the solution. And that’s why he needs to stick around.

It’s a selfish argument, but what’s more American than selfishness, or haven’t you been following the Bernie Madoff saga?

For journalists accustomed to feeling dumbstruck, this goes beyond selfishness to true double-pronged satisfaction: self-expression and a strong sense of duty to lick the roadkill clean so the public doesn’t step in it.

Face it: Reporters are vultures, and Bush is the carcass that never stops putrefying.

Carry on without Bush? Can’t imagine how journalists will do it.

Barack Obama may be the first black person elected president, but compared with Bush, he’s colorless. Reporters certainly won’t be catching Obama frequently flub-a-dubbing at press conferences or getting stumped on the stump.

The days are over when drooling reporters will get to pick at such presidential bone mots as “Fool me once, shame on—shame on you. Fool me—you can’t get fooled again” or the more recent “Let’s make sure that there is certainty during uncertain times in our economy.”

So the question is not whether “the human being and fish can coexist peacefully,” as Bush once philosophized, but whether reporters can live without Bush as life drags on.

Fun and excitement make time pass so quickly. Where have the past eight years gone? They’ve just flown by, except maybe for the families of the thousands of U.S. soldiers killed, maimed, or shell-shocked in Iraq since Bush declared, “Mission accomplished!”

The shoe. My Pet Goat.
Yellowcake. The flight suit. Curveball.
Katrina. Brownie.

OK, so it’s not strict haiku, just a few “symbols of Bush’s reign” that The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank threw out there recently that I tried to convert to a metric system.

Poetry doesn’t usually put food on the table, but poetry editors sometimes do well, and Slate’s Jacob Weisberg elbowed his way to the front row at the parade of politics and words with his meticulously collected Bushisms archive. Somehow, I don’t see Weisberg gaffing similar gaffes from Obama, who never seems to be in over his head as a communicator.

Which gives journalists a serious problem: The new president is as eloquent as Bush isn’t, but how many different ways can reporters note that for their readers? That’ll get old quickly.

And if Obama’s not the man of peace lefties hope he is (don’t worry, he isn’t, if he’s installed Hillary Clinton and Dennis Ross as his Middle East peacemakers), you can bet that he’s not going to start many, if any, wars.

That’s right, no more unilateral invasions. That means rough times ahead for writers. As Thomas Hardy—a serious writer, not a journalist—once noted, “War makes rattling good history, but peace is poor reading.”

There have been no worries on that score while Bush has been president. Just a few months (or minutes) after 9/11, the Bush-Cheney regime abandoned the hunt for Osama bin Laden and started plotting how to justify an invasion of Iraq.

Only now have Afghanistan and Pakistan resumed their rightful places as the prime battleground for U.S. troops into the frightening future.

Maybe it doesn’t matter where the politicians send a generation or two to die. If the Iraq invasion was built on lies, well, politicians will always lie; it’s just that some lies are bigger than others, and when they are, reporters have more to gnaw on.

But it was when Bush accidentally spoke the truth that he truly took our breath away. Like when he said in August 2004, while signing a gigantic Department of Defense bill, “Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.”

Hold that thought, Bush. And good luck to reporters who are waiting for the next president to say something like that. In fact, covering Obama will be tor­ture for the traveling White House press corps. Instead of going to Crawford, Texas, where there were no distractions and they had to focus on work, they’ll have to tag along with the Obamas to Hawaii during presidential respites from D.C.

Waterboarding’s out; surfboarding’s in. Boring.

The liberal media and lefty activists have already abandoned their carping at Bush for the even more futile flurry of “suggestions” to Obama about how he can “change” things.

A suggestion box. Boring. In any case, the early returns indicate that Obama is not a conservative Democrat, like the Clintons, but he may not be a lefty, either. So far, he seems to be just to the center of center.

Boring.

As for the incoming vice president, Joe Biden has no chance of filling the vacuum, the black hole, that is Dick Cheney. Biden is so unexciting that he’s likely to be re­membered mainly for his charter mem­bership in the Hair Club for Senators.

Reporters will have a whole lot less fun traipsing off to Delaware with Biden than bird-dogging Cheney while he hunted for his next victims.

Will Biden tour the country, as Cheney did only a few short years ago, trying to hoodwink Americans into letting Wall Street handle their Social Security accounts? I don’t think so.

That’s fortunate for the public, but style is more important to reporters than substance. Biden’s weird little smile can’t compare with Cheney’s lip-curling sneer.

Biden as the imperial vice president, the Rasputin, the man behind the throne, the puppet master, the bender of the Constitution to his will?

No, that dog won’t hunt — with or with­out the Chief Justice of the United States. Here’s $100 that says Biden will never shoot a hunting partner. And another $100 that says Biden will never mutter, “Fuck yourself,” as he brushes past a senior senator from the other party.

On the sanctimonious end of the scale, there were Bush’s Jesus freaks. You may have already forgotten that his first attorney general, John Ashcroft, ordered a modesty shroud for a naked ­lady statue in the Justice Department. But in the 9 /11 aftermath, he rounded up thousands of Muslims on American streets who were wearing their own modesty shrouds.

Forget that nonsense. No more hillbilly evangelists or Pat Robertson law-school grads making important decisions at Justice. Just take my word for that.

Deep in its bowels, the Obama White House may move with much the same rhythm as the Bush White House. But no matter how much of a shark-like en­forcer Rahm Emanuel is sure to be, it’s hard to imagine that Obama will give him a nickname like the one that Bush lov­ingly gave Karl Rove: “Turd Blossom.”

Or that Emanuel will have to continually hiss in Obama’s ear, as Rove did with Bush, “Stick to principle! Stick to principle!”

One of Bush’s Farewell Tour ’08 speeches last month did hold out a glim­mer of hope that there would continue to be 24/7 excitement for political reporters. He told his American Enterprise Institute friends at a Mayflower Hotel banquet in D.C., “Under ordinary circumstances, failed entities — failing entities should be allowed to fail. I have concluded these are not ordi­nary circumstances for a lot of reasons.”

Bush was referring to Detroit’s automak­ers, but he could have been hinting that he himself was one of those failed entities who should be saved — at least for four more years. Of failing. One bad term deserved another. Why not another after that?

Yet it seems clear that Bush is going to back up the Mayflower to the White House.

Mike Bloomberg abolished term limits so he could run for mayor again and continue walking the beat on Wall Street, making his business pals keep their market stalls clean and orderly. The mayor took his failure to do so in his own hands and decided he wanted to keep failing.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s situation was different, but he did flout tradition by grabbing an unprecedented third term after pulling the country out of a depression. Why can’t Bush have a third term, even though he’s driving us into one?

And he’s jumping out just as we’re going over the cliff? It’s not fair.

Not that life should be fair. We know the public’s not going to be rescued. But if Cheney doesn’t mount a coup to keep Bush in office, who’s going to bail out America’s journalists?

After eight years of a president who couldn’t keep his dick in his pants, followed by eight years of a president who couldn’t keep his foot out of his mouth, reporters are spoiled.

Now, after 200 years of toiling for highly profitable, ad-rich media outlets, the working press, gravy stains on its cheap ties, is rapidly being displaced by bloggers in bathrobes.

Tough luck for journalists still intent on getting paid for their work. At least Bush’s presence has provided enough of a distraction to take their minds off the industry’s collapse.

Now, journalists face at least one unavoidable change: Obama will screw up some things, but he doesn’t seem like a screw-up who can’t control himself He seems like … an adult.

And adults are so boring.

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Pranked Conservatives Squeal: Sacha Baron Cohen Fake-Newsed Us!

Last week, while President Trump was off in Europe being a dick to Queen Elizabeth and pals with Vladimir Putin, Sacha Baron Cohen was giving the rest of us a double treat with his new CBS/Showtime series, not only by pranking right-wing politicians (including several well-known gun nuts he convinced to do insane promos for a guns-for-children program) but also with the resulting angry denunciations he drew from the dopes he punked — including Sarah Palin, Roy Moore, and Joe Arpaio — and the conservatives who rose to defend them from the one thing, besides universal healthcare and white minority status, that really terrifies them: being made fun of.

I hardly need explain that conservatives hate when artists make them look bad, and wage what they are pleased to call “culture war” to dispel this aesthetic black magic. As bullies particularly hate to be laughed at, they have a special animus toward comedians.

This is the reason for their years of shit fits over left-wing clowns, from Will Ferrell as George W. Bush to Zach Galifianakis trading rimshots with Barack Obama, and especially Jon Stewart and other liberal faux-newsman types — see, for example, Liberal Fascism author Jonah Goldberg in 2008, consoling himself after his disastrous Daily Show appearance with fan mail (“I found it impossible for me to sit through whatever you call that television appearance — it certainly wasn’t an interview — without feeling nauseated”).

This tendency has metastasized in the Trump era, something that’s to be expected, given that Trump is the ultimate conservative bully; also, Trump’s primary appeal is inchoate rage against elites, which includes popular artists, whom the average Trump supporter probably thinks got to be on TV or in the movies by swearing a blood oath to the Democratic Party on a Pizzagate child sex altar.

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One would think Cohen’s reputation for pranks was by now universally understood, having begun with his Da Ali G show eighteen years ago and continued through several popular movies, including the 2006 hit Borat. So it was a delightful surprise to see right-wing pols and pundits crying in the press that they’d been hoodwinked into saying horrible things because they thought Cohen was a real supporter — though none of them explained why that would make their endorsement of crazy ideas any less appalling.

Give some Cohen victims like Dick Cheney credit for taking their punking like pros, but Palin responded with her usual word salad, referring to “Hollywoodism’s disrespect and sarcasm,” saying the show mocked “middle-class Americans,” and doing the old stolen-valor thing, claiming Cohen had pretended to be a disabled veteran — which afforded Cohen a fresh opportunity to make fun of her: “I was in the service — not military, but United Parcel.” Arpaio made himself so ridiculous even Breitbart couldn’t cover for him (“He said he thought it was unusual that they didn’t offer to powder his face before the interview”).

The brethren stepped up to defend Palin and other victims of Cohen’s satirical sneak attack.

“New Sacha Baron Cohen series a Hollywood hit job on GOP, source says,” reported Hollie McKay at Fox News. “I couldn’t believe how unbelievably partisan it is,” said the unnamed “source.” “They also interviewed Bernie Sanders but didn’t mock him at all.” (Reportedly Sanders tried the unique strategy of calling out the ridiculous things Cohen said to him as ridiculous instead of promising to support them.)

Another unnamed source — this one reputed to be “close to Palin” — told Breitbart the show was “meant to mock Trump voters as a bunch of ignorant and offensive kooks.” This “source” strained verisimilitude a tad, particularly in declaring the prank would “backfire dramatically” because it was “the epitome of a contemptuous Hollywood enclave that hates the ordinary working class Americans who swept Donald Trump into office. This is exactly what the American people voted against in 2016.” (“Close to Palin” apparent means “press agent.”) But it appeared at Breitbart, whose readers probably think Sinclair Network must-runs are the spontaneous effusions of news anchors, so no one will notice.

Some of the cleverer conservatives tried PR techniques that were ancient in the days of Hedda Hopper: declaring the show a dud that no one should watch, and insisting that Cohen was a fading star using conservatives to revive his flagging career.

“ ‘Dumb,’ ‘Pointless,’ ‘Boring’: TV Critic Absolutely Destroys Sacha Baron Cohen’s New Show,” announced Joseph Curl at Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire. Curl praised Dominic Patten of Deadline, declaring that, unlike critics who liked the show — which opinion was after all just “the predictable take for Hollywood, which clearly despises President Trump and all Republicans” — Patten was simply “looking at the show without the normal liberal bias, just trying to inform potential viewers whether they should bother to tune in,” so his was the one honest opinion of the show and naturally the same as Joseph Curl’s.

Fox News’ Carley Shimkus and Howard Kurtz did their bit. “What Sacha Baron Cohen did to Sarah Palin was horrible,” huffed Shimkus, but she cautioned that when people react, Cohen “loves it, he feeds off it, it’s why he does what he does, so I do think that some of these conservative politicians sort of fell into that trap” — though, she quickly clarified, “You can’t blame them for complaining about this.”

“So we’re playing into his hands because we’re giving it some airtime,” harrumphed Kurtz. “Does CBS owe the public some kind of response to these low, slimy tactics?” Shimkus thought so, but again cautioned that seeking comment helped Cohen, because he “was completely irrelevant two and a half weeks ago.” “I’d frankly forgot that he even existed,” nodded Kurtz.

Thus, Shimkus and Kurtz agreed Cohen was counting on conservatives like them to talk about the show, as they were doing, and that was too bad.

At The Stream, John Zmirak called Cohen “Just Another Stale Comedian Attacking Safe Targets,” and also said he wanted to “punch Baron Cohen in the face for disrespecting veterans,” and furthermore, “I want to see the sketch, because it will probably be hilarious.” Adding to the confusion, Zmirak admitted he was once a fan of Cohen, but “by the time of the movie Borat, Baron Cohen largely abandoned his even-handed satire.” That’s right, Borat’s when Cohen went all-in for the libs; the bit where he wrestles his manager naked is pure gay propaganda.

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“Comedy used to be the one thing that transcended politics,” lamented The Federalist’s Joseph A. Wulfsohn, but now “the comedy branch of Hollywood,” which actually has its offices in Oxnard, “has chosen to narrow its target audience by alienating the roughly half of the nation who supported Donald Trump in the 2016 election.” Those poor Pennsyltucky coal miners haven’t had a good laugh in eighteen months — nice going, libs! Liberals can do this, Wulfsohn went on, because “the Left owns comedy. They have for decades.” Liberals also own chocolate and rainy spring mornings, and they won’t share, but that’s another column.

The real problem with Cohen’s “so-called ‘comedy’ ” — yeah, I know it sounds like one of my gags, but he really did call it that — was that it was “lowering” America into a “bottomless pit of blind hostility and pessimism towards Republicans and Trump supporters,” wrote Wulfsohn. “Comedy is supposed to connect us as humans. Now it’s tearing us apart.” Therefore we should unite and together help the president scoop up babies at the border, put them in cages and make sure their parents can never find them again.

The brethren got some support from the Main Stream Media; after all, the dopes who believe in Palin, Moore, and Arpaio watch TV and buy magazines, too, and so rate some ass-kissing. People magazine reported that “a source” — ha, ha, ha — told them Palin “walked out of the prank interview after the disguised Cohen asked her a ‘horrible’ question about Chelsea Clinton.” Gasp! Surely bothsides can agree this is now a bipartisan matter.

“Is Sacha Baron Cohen’s Show ‘Who Is America?’ Too Deceptive?” chin-stroked E! News. “When it was Ali G, it was kind of fun to watch him just dupe everybody, because the stakes in the world felt kind of low,” said host Will Marfuggi. “Do you think that viewers will respond to this kind of political humor in this climate or is he too volatile?” To put it another way, should we only do political satire when things are actually OK? Didn’t The Great Dictator just make Hitler worse?

By the show’s opening on Sunday, normal viewers knew there was some sort of controversy over the show, while for conservatives there was no controversy at all — merely the conviction that, whatever bad or crazy things their leaders appeared to be doing, it was all a trick and a trap, a bid for attention by a Hollywoodist has-been and — like everything they see and hear about Donald Trump (even if it’s on tape) that Trump says didn’t happen — fake news.

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The Case Against Fracking in Gasland

With its jolting images of flammable tap water and chemically burned pets, New York theater-director-turned-documentarian Josh Fox’s Sundance-feted shocker makes an irrefutable case against U.S. corporate “fracking”—the Haliburton-hatched scheme of natural gas drilling in and around the nation’s shale basins. Narrating in the first person, the filmmaker begins by describing a gas company’s six-figure offer to drill on his rural Pennsylvania land, which sits atop what the company trumpets as the “Saudi Arabia of natural gas.” Refusing the deal, banjo-strumming Fox takes his show on the road, inviting citizens who did take big-energy cash to prove the contamination of their groundwater and recount its ill effects on their health. Describing himself as “not a pessimist,” Fox nonchalantly exposes EPA conflicts of interest and fingers the “Haliburton loophole”—a curious exemption to the 2005 Energy Act as cooked up by ex-Haliburton exec Dick Cheney. No mere collection of talking heads, the doc expertly juxtaposes instances of natural beauty with those of mechanized incursion, practically making us feel the toxic chemicals spilling off the screen and into our laps. Alas, Fox pushes his luck on the soundtrack by coming on like Marty Sheen in Apocalypse Now, his ultimately numbing voiceover delivered in halting rhythms and hushed tones. Still, there’s only one conclusion to draw here: No fracking way.

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George W. Obama

Before President Obama, it was grimly accurate to write, as I often did in the Voice, that George W. Bush came into the presidency with no discernible background in constitutional civil liberties or any acquaintance with the Constitution itself. Accordingly, he turned the “war on terror” over to Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld—ardent believers that the Constitution presents grave obstacles in a time of global jihad.

But now, Bush’s successor—who actually taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago—is continuing much of the Bush-Cheney parallel government and, in some cases, is going much further in disregarding our laws and the international treaties we’ve signed.

On January 22, 2009, the apostle of “change we can believe in” proclaimed: “Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of my presidency.” But four months into his first year in command, Obama instructed his attorney general, Eric Holder, to present in a case, Jewel v. National Security Agency, a claim of presidential “sovereign immunity” that not even Dick Cheney had the arrant chutzpah to propose.

Five customers of AT&T had tried to go to court and charge that the government’s omnipresent spy, the NSA, had been given by AT&T private information from their phone bills and e-mails. In a first, the Obama administration countered—says Kevin Bankston of Electronic Frontier Foundation, representing these citizens stripped of their privacy—that “the U.S. can never be sued for spying that violated federal surveillance statutes, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or the Wiretap Act.”

It is one thing, as the Bush regime did, to spy on us without going to court for a warrant, but to maintain that the executive branch can never even be charged with wholly disregarding our rule of law is, as a number of lawyers said, “breathtaking.”

On the other hand, to his credit, Obama’s very first executive orders in January included the ending of the CIA “renditions”—kidnapping terrorism suspects off the streets in Europe and elsewhere and sending them for interrogation to countries known to torture prisoners. However, in August, the administration admitted that the CIA would continue to send such manacled suspects to third countries for detention and interrogation.

Why send them to a foreign prison if they’re not going to be tortured to extract information for the CIA? Oh, the U.S. would get “guarantees” from these nations that the prisoners would not be tortured. That’s the same old cozening song that Condoleezza Rice and George W. Bush used to sing robotically.

President Obama also solemnly pledged to have “the most open administration in American history.” Nonetheless, his Justice Department lawyers have already invoked “state secrets” to prevent cases brought by victims of the CIA renditions from being heard.

In February, in a lawsuit brought by five graduates of CIA “black sites” before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, one of the judges, visibly surprised at hearing the new “change” president invoking “state secrets,” asked the government lawyer, Douglas Letter, “The change in administration has no bearing on this?”

The answer: “No, your honor.” This demand for closing this case before it can be heard had, he said, been “thoroughly vetted with the appropriate officials within the new administration, [and] these are authorized positions.”

Said the torture graduates’ ACLU lawyer, Ben Wizner: “Much is at stake in this case. If the CIA’s overboard secrecy claims prevail, torture victims will be denied their say in court solely on the basis of an affidavit submitted by their torturers.”

Barack Obama a torturer? Not exactly. In this particular case, the torture policy had been set by George W. Bush. President Obama is just agreeing with his predecessor. Does that make Obama complicit in these acts of torture? You decide.

What is clear, beyond a doubt—and not only in “rendition” cases, but in other Obama validations of what Dick Cheney called the necessary “dark side” of the previous administration—has been stated by Jameel Jaffer. Head of the ACLU’s National Security Project, he is the co-author of the definitive evidence of the Bush-Cheney war crimes that Obama is shielding, Administration of Torture (Columbia University Press).

After the obedient Holder rang the “state secrets” closing bell in the San Francisco case, Jaffer described the link between the Bush and Obama presidencies: “The Bush administration constructed a legal framework for torture, but the Obama administration is constructing a legal framework for impunity.”

It’s become an Obama trademark: reversing a vigorous position he had previously taken, as when he signed into law the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) Amendments Act that, as a senator, he had vowed to filibuster as a protest against their destruction of the Fourth Amendment. And now he’s done it again. His government is free to spy on us at will.

For another example of the many Obamas, the shifting president had supported the release of photographs of Bush-era soldier abuses of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. (The Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York had approved the publication of these “intensive interrogations.”) But Obama changed his mind, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates flat-out censored the photos. Not surprisingly, the Roberts Supreme Court agreed with Gates and Obama and overruled the Second Circuit.

In a December 5 editorial, The New York Times helped explain why Obama—who doesn’t want to “look backward” at Bush cruelties—changed his mind: “The photos are of direct relevance to the ongoing national debate about accountability for the Bush-era abuses. No doubt their release would help drive home the cruelty of stress positions, mock executions, hooding, and other ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ used against detainees and make it harder for officials to assert that improper conduct was aberrational than the predictable result of policies set at high levels.”

Barack Obama may well go down in history as the President of Impunity for Bush, Cheney, and, in time, himself, for continuing the CIA “renditions.”

But he will also be long remembered as the President of Permanent Detention. At the Supreme Court in 1987, in U.S. v. Salerno, Justice Thurgood Marshall, strenuously dissenting, warned: “Throughout the world today there are men, women, and children interned indefinitely, awaiting trials which may never come or which may be a mockery of the word, because their governments believe them to be ‘dangerous.’ Our Constitution . . . can shelter us forever against the dangers of such unchecked power.”

Not forever. The Obama government is working to assure that its purchase of the supermax prison, the Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois, will be the permanent forced residence of certain Guantánamo terrorism suspects who can’t be tried in our regular courtrooms because—gasp—they have been tortured, preventing the admission of “incriminating” statements they have made or—”state secrets” again!—a due process trial “would compromise sensitive sources and methods.”

Like torture.

I increasingly wonder whose Constitution Barack Obama was teaching at the University of Chicago. China’s? North Korea’s? Robert Mugabe’s? Glenn Greenwald, a former constitutional lawyer, whose byline I never miss on the Internet, asks: “What kind of a country passes a law that has no purpose other than to empower its leader to suppress evidence of the torture it inflicted on people?”

You may not be surprised to learn that my next book—to be published by Cato Institute, where I’m now a senior fellow—will be titled, Is This America?

I often disagree with ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero—though I’m almost always in synch with his lawyers in the field—but Romero is right about Obama creating “Gitmo North”: “While the Obama administration inherited the Guantánamo debacle, this current move is its own affirmative adoption of those policies. It is unimaginable that the Obama administration is using the same justification as the Bush administration used to undercut centuries of legal jurisprudence and the principle of innocent until proved guilty and the right to confront one’s accusers. . . . The Obama administration’s announcement contradicts everything the president has said about the need for America to return to leading with its values. American values do not contemplate disregarding our Constitution and skirting the criminal justice system.”

If Dick Cheney were a gentleman, instead of continuing to criticize this president, he would congratulate him on his faithful allegiance to many signature policies of the Bush-Cheney transformation of America.

But never let it be said that President Obama is neglecting the patriotic education of America’s young. On December 13, Clint Boulton reported on eweek.com, “The Electronic Frontier Foundation and Berkeley’s Samuelson Clinic have sued the Department of Justice and five other government organizations (including the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence) for cloaking their policies for using Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks to investigate citizens in criminal and other matters. [The plaintiffs] want to know exactly how, and what kinds of information, the feds are accessing from users’ social networking profiles.”

Maybe Dick Cheney can ask Barack to confirm him as a friend on Facebook.

Charlie Savage, the Times ace reporter of constitutional violations, chillingly shows how Yale Law School professor Jack Balkin got to the core of the consequences of our “yes, we can” president by predicting that “Mr. Obama’s ratifications of the basic outlines of the surveillance and detention policies he inherited would reverberate for generations. By bestowing bipartisan acceptance on them,” Mr. Balkin said, “Mr. Obama is consolidating them as entrenched features of government.”

Do Congressional Democratic leaders Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi give a damn about this historic legacy of the Obama administration that they cluelessly help to nurture by providing lockstep Democratic majorities for?

Do you give a damn?

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Gwar

Currently on a befuddling blitz of press for their 25th anniversary (seriously, when was the last time Gwar was in SPIN?!), the original costumed scumdogs will be spraying blood, puke, and Zog-knows-what all over the insides of the hapless Fillmore. With a Democrat in the White House, their show on this tour will probably be less about decapitating Dick Cheney and more about some cosmic space nonsense of their 11th album, Lust In Space. . . but no less awesome.

Sun., Dec. 13, 8 p.m., 2009

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Don’t Leave, George W.!

The Constitution says George W. Bush can’t remain in the White House past next week, but as we’ve learned during the past eight years, the Constitution is just a piece of paper.

So it’s not too late to make a final plea: Bush, don’t leave us journalists hanging.

Don’t pardon our behavior during the past eight years. Don’t make us commute our sentences. Bail us out. Don’t leave.

George W. Bush has set a standard that’s unmatched in the history of the U.S. presidency. And now, with the bar he’s set, he’s leaving us in limbo?

That’s low.

Bush is abandoning reporters when we need him the most. The newspaper industry is in the tank, and no other bailouts are in the offing. Survival depends on a sense of humor, and what will journalists do without Bush?

He’s been the problem. He’ll never be the solution. And that’s why he needs to stick around.

It’s a selfish argument, but what’s more American than selfishness, or haven’t you been following the Bernie Madoff saga?

For journalists accustomed to feeling dumbstruck, this goes beyond selfishness to true double-pronged satisfaction: self-expression and a strong sense of duty to lick the roadkill clean so the public doesn’t step in it.

Face it: Reporters are vultures, and Bush is the carcass that never stops putrefying.

Carry on without Bush? Can’t imagine how journalists will do it.

Barack Obama may be the first black person elected president, but compared with Bush, he’s colorless. Reporters certainly won’t be catching Obama frequently flub-a-dubbing at press conferences or getting stumped on the stump.

The days are over when drooling reporters will get to pick at such presidential bone mots as “Fool me once, shame on—shame on you. Fool me—you can’t get fooled again” or the more recent “Let’s make sure that there is certainty during uncertain times in our economy.”

So the question is not whether the human being and fish can coexist peacefully,” as Bush once philosophized, but whether reporters can live without Bush as life drags on.

Fun and excitement make time pass so quickly. Where have the past eight years gone? They’ve just flown by, except maybe for the families of the thousands of U.S. soldiers killed, maimed, or shell-shocked in Iraq since Bush declared, “Mission accomplished!”

The shoe. My Pet Goat.

Yellowcake. The flight suit. Curveball.

Katrina. Brownie.

OK, so it’s not strict haiku, just a few “symbols of Bush’s reign” that The Washington Post‘s Dana Milbank threw out there recently that I tried to convert to a metric system.

Poetry doesn’t usually put food on the table, but poetry editors sometimes do well, and Slate‘s Jacob Weisberg elbowed his way to the front row at the parade of politics and words with his meticulously collected Bushisms archive. Somehow, I don’t see Weisberg gaffing similar gaffes from Obama, who never seems to be in over his head as a communicator.

Which gives journalists a serious problem: The new president is as eloquent as Bush isn’t, but how many different ways can reporters note that for their readers? That’ll get old quickly.

And if Obama’s not the man of peace lefties hope he is (don’t worry, he isn’t, if he’s installed Hillary Clinton and Dennis Ross as his Middle East peacemakers), you can bet that he’s not going to start many, if any, wars.

That’s right, no more unilateral invasions.

That means rough times ahead for writers. As Thomas Hardy—a serious writer, not a journalist—once noted, “War makes rattling good history, but peace is poor reading.”

There have been no worries on that score while Bush has been president. Just a few months (or minutes) after 9/11, the Bush-Cheney regime abandoned the hunt for Osama bin Laden and started plotting how to justify an invasion of Iraq.

Only now have Afghanistan and Pakistan resumed their rightful places as the prime battleground for U.S. troops into the frightening future.

Maybe it doesn’t matter where the politicians send a generation or two to die. If the Iraq invasion was built on lies, well, politicians will always lie; it’s just that some lies are bigger than others, and when they are, reporters have more to gnaw on.

But it was when Bush accidentally spoke the truth that he truly took our breath away. Like when he said in August 2004, while signing a gigantic Department of Defense bill, “Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.”

Hold that thought, Bush. And good luck to reporters who are waiting for the next president to say something like that.

In fact, covering Obama will be torture for the traveling White House press corps. Instead of going to Crawford, Texas, where there were no distractions and they had to focus on work, they’ll have to tag along with the Obamas to Hawaii during presidential respites from D.C.

Waterboarding’s out; surfboarding’s in. Boring.

The liberal media and lefty activists have already abandoned their carping at Bush for the even more futile flurry of “suggestions” to Obama about how he can “change” things.

A suggestion box. Boring. In any case, the early returns indicate that Obama is not a conservative Democrat, like the Clintons, but he may not be a lefty, either. So far, he seems to be just to the center of center.

Boring.

As for the incoming vice president, Joe Biden has no chance of filling the vacuum, the black hole, that is Dick Cheney. Biden is so unexciting that he’s likely to be remembered mainly for his charter membership in the Hair Club for Senators.

Reporters will have a whole lot less fun traipsing off to Delaware with Biden than bird-dogging Cheney while he hunted for his next victims.

Will Biden tour the country, as Cheney did only a few short years ago, trying to hoodwink Americans into letting Wall Street handle their Social Security accounts? I don’t think so.

That’s fortunate for the public, but style is more important to reporters than substance. Biden’s weird little smile can’t compare with Cheney’s lip-curling sneer.

Biden as the imperial vice president, the Rasputin, the man behind the throne, the puppet master, the bender of the Constitution to his will?

No, that dog won’t hunt—with or without the Chief Justice of the United States. Here’s $100 that says Biden will never shoot a hunting partner. And another $100 that says Biden will never mutter, ”

On the sanctimonious end of the scale, there were Bush’s Jesus freaks. You may have already forgotten that his first attorney general, John Ashcroft, ordered a modesty shroud for a naked-lady statue in the Justice Department. But in the 9/11 aftermath, he rounded up thousands of Muslims on American streets who were wearing their own modesty shrouds.

Forget that nonsense. No more hillbilly evangelists or Pat Robertson law-school grads making important decisions at Justice. Just take my word for that.

Deep in its bowels, the Obama White House may move with much the same rhythm as the Bush White House. But no matter how much of a shark-like enforcer Rahm Emanuel is sure to be, it’s hard to imagine that Obama will give him a nickname like the one that Bush lovingly gave Karl Rove: “Turd Blossom.”

Or that Emanuel will have to continually hiss in Obama’s ear, as Rove did with Bush, “Stick to principle! Stick to principle!”

One of Bush’s Farewell Tour ’08 speeches last month did hold out a glimmer of hope that there would continue to be 24/7 excitement for political reporters. He told his American Enterprise Institute friends at a Mayflower Hotel banquet in D.C., “Under ordinary circumstances, failed entities—failing entities should be allowed to fail. I have concluded these are not ordinary circumstances for a lot of reasons.”

Bush was referring to Detroit’s automakers, but he could have been hinting that he himself was one of those failed entities who should be saved—at least for four more years. Of failing. One bad term deserved another. Why not another after that?

Yet it seems clear that Bush is going to back up the Mayflower to the White House.

Mike Bloomberg abolished term limits so he could run for mayor again and continue walking the beat on Wall Street, making his business pals keep their market stalls clean and orderly. The mayor took his failure to do so in his own hands and decided he wanted to keep failing.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s situation was different, but he did flout tradition by grabbing an unprecedented third term after pulling the country out of a depression. Why can’t Bush have a third term, even though he’s driving us into one?

And he’s jumping out just as we’re going over the cliff? It’s not fair.

Not that life should be fair. We know the public’s not going to be rescued. But if Cheney doesn’t mount a coup to keep Bush in office, who’s going to bail out America’s journalists?

After eight years of a president who couldn’t keep his dick in his pants, followed by eight years of a president who couldn’t keep his foot out of his mouth, reporters are spoiled.

Now, after 200 years of toiling for highly profitable, ad-rich media outlets, the working press, gravy stains on its cheap ties, is rapidly being displaced by bloggers in bathrobes.

Tough luck for journalists still intent on getting paid for their work. At least Bush’s presence has provided enough of a distraction to take their minds off the industry’s collapse.

Now, journalists face at least one unavoidable change: Obama will screw up some things, but he doesn’t seem like a screw-up who can’t control himself. He seems like . . . an adult.

And adults are so boring.


See Press Clips for weekday links and coverage of New York City’s news outlets.

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NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Washington, D.C.

Obama’s First 100 Days

Pressure is building on the new president from his more urgent supporters to begin validating their audacious hopes within his first 100 days. Special heat is on to abolish torture. After all, during Obama’s 60 minutes interview on November 16, he said: “I’m going to make sure we don’t torture.” As I noted last week, he could stop it eventually with an executive order, but for many, that’s not soon enough.

On November 13, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture assembled more than 50 delegations of religious leaders in Washington—from Rabbi Gerry Serotta, chair of Rabbis for Human Rights, to Dr. Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America—to tell Obama to sign that executive order as soon as he gets into the Oval Office.

Also pushing Obama is Amnesty International, which is giving him 100 days to show the world that he actually means what he says about being repelled by torture. But Amnesty International also wants the President to do something else that he may be extremely reluctant to consider: “[We call] on the President-elect to support an independent commission of inquiry into all aspects of the United States’ detention practices in the war on terror, and to assure full accountability for human rights violations committed in that context.”

With regard to serial war crimes, “accountability” would mean putting on trial George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and his longtime associate, David Addington, and a coven of lawyers from the Justice and Defense departments.

Last August, the Philadelphia Daily News asked then Senator Obama if his administration would prosecute high-level Bush administration officials. Obama replied cautiously: “If crimes have been committed, they should be investigated, [but] I would not want my first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of Republicans as a partisan witch hunt, because I think we’ve got too many problems we’ve got to solve.” And Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein’s acute reluctance on war-crimes accountability extends beyond Obama’s first term. Putting Bush administration officials in the dock would result, the Obama adviser said, in “a cycle of partisan recriminations.”

Even Democratic Senator Pat Leahy of Vermont—Congress’s most persistent and passionate pursuer of the Bush administration’s chronic lawlessness—has said of these war-crimes prosecutions: “In the United States, no. These things are not going to happen.”

Fortunately, Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has brought war-crimes charges against Donald Rumsfeld in Europe (thus limiting his travel destinations), intends to keep pursuing these American war criminals. On November 18, he was quoted in The Huffington Post as saying, “The only way to prevent this from happening again is to make sure that those who were responsible for the torture program pay the price for it. I don’t see how we retain our moral stature by allowing those who were intimately involved . . . to walk off the stage and lead lives where they are not held accountable.”

Are you listening, Bush, Cheney, Addington, Rumsfeld, Gonzales, and Professor John Yoo (the endlessly resourceful legal adviser on torture and presidential supremacy)?

Starkly putting the case for accountability in a way we can believe is Joseph Galloway, a military columnist for McClatchy newspapers (“Moderation in the Pursuit of Justice Is No Virtue,” CommonDreams.org, November 19): “[This is] no way to begin an administration that was elected on promises of change . . . What signal does it send to Mr. Bush’s gang of unindicted co-conspirators, who’ve unwrapped a Pandora’s boxful of other offenses—from perverting the administration of justice, to illegally eavesdropping on the phone conversations and e-mails of ordinary Americans . . . to lying under oath to congressional oversight committees? Etcetera. Etcetera . . . Unless the newly empowered Democrats in the White House and on Capitol Hill hang a few coyotes on some fences in Washington, D.C., they’re making a huge mistake that will come back to haunt them—and all the rest of us, too.”

Obama fails to understand that the only way to clarify for us, and the world, how our laws have been radically perverted—which includes still-hidden executive orders and ruses about which we know nothing—is to first place the perpetrators under oath as part of an independent investigation. This deeply searching inquiry would not be a Democratic or Republican process, but would be conducted in the name and under the sovereign authority of the people of the United States.

If you remember, the Constitution begins: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice . . . and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

It’s our government. And neither Dick Cheney nor George W. Bush was among our Founders.

While Obama emphasizes that we must look forward and not backward, there is a way to clean out the cesspools of the last eight years.

Next week: the first steps on how to structure realistic, open forums of accountability—even if President Barack Obama chooses not to join us.

To begin a glimpse into how a restoration of the Constitution’s active separation of powers could take place—while showing, as the Declaration of Independence puts it, “A decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind”—I strongly suggest you read Scott Horton’s story, “Justice After Bush: Prosecuting an Outlaw Administration,” in this December’s Harper’s Magazine. His very specific, carefully researched suggestions on how to regain our self-government include achievable strategies for cleansing us of “The Dark Side” of the last eight years and dealing with those responsible for the rending of what this nation used to stand for.

Horton, an international human rights lawyer and an adjunct professor at Columbia University Law School, has been a source for this column since soon after 9/11. As he says: “This administration did more than commit crimes. It waged a war against the law itself.”

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NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Washington, D.C. Where To

DARK SECRETS

Shortly after 9/11, Dick Cheney made a chilling announcement on Meet the Press of a new attitude in Washington: “A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies. . . . ” What’s been secretly done in regards to human rights abuses is the subject of tonight’s panel discussion, Voices Against Torture: Writers and Lawyers on the Way Forward, hosted by the American Constitution Society and the PEN American Center. The panel includes Jane Mayer, a staff writer at The New Yorker and author of The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals; Anouar Benmalek, author of The Lovers of Algeria and co-founder of the Algerian Committee Against Torture; Columbia Law School professor Scott Horton; and Elisa Massimino, executive director and CEO of Human Rights First. Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor at Slate, moderates the discussion.

Tue., Dec. 16, 6:30 p.m., 2008

Categories
NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Washington, D.C.

Li’l Dickens

I did not mean to sodomize Dick Cheney.

I mean, I’m not even gay. Not that it matters. Because when, to my surprise, I bumped into him—literally—at the counter of Heimler’s Guns and Ammo in Casper, something clicked. And I’m not talking about the safety on my Mauser.

You see, there’s another side to “L’il Dickens,” as the VP liked to refer to himself. Or, at least, a certain part of himself. En privado, he’s tender. He’s funny. He’s pink. And he’s a gun man, just like me.

But there I go, getting ahead of myself . . . See, I was in Wyoming to pick up some German pistols. Not, you know, that I’m some kind of Nazi gun freak. Not even close. I just like the workmanship. The craft. A taste, as it happens, shared by Mister Cheney.

Schnellfeuerpistole,” he smiled, eyes aglow as he surveyed my weapon.

“Model 1912,” I smiled back. “Recoil, single action.”

“May I?”

He held out his hand. I had yet to recognize him. In his black-and-red hunting cap, flaps down, he could have been any pudgy hunter. Some sneering Elmer Fudd. But his nails were beautiful. Buffed as a showroom Bentley. I slapped the gun in his palm, butt first. “Good heft,” he said. His lips parted—fleshy magenta outside, meat red within. “What are we looking at, 10 inches?”

“Eleven.”

The VP licked his lips and let out a trademark grunt.

“Mmm . . . barrel?”

“Five-and-a-quarter.”

“Pocket size. Nice.”

“Looks can be deceiving.” Our eyes met through his bifocals, and I felt a shiver. “Short bolt travel makes the rate of fire astronomical. But there’s no control.”

My new friend gave a little laugh that sounded like hug-hug-hug. “Believe it or not, I lose control myself.”

Really?”

Suddenly I had feelings I couldn’t name. We’d drifted to the back of the store—no more than a counter, really, flanked by locked rows of guns on the wall and a signed photo of George Bush Jr. in his flight suit, helmet under his arm, eyes triumphant, basket presidentially padded. His Mission Accomplished moment.

At some point the owner, a scruffy fellow who looked like Wilford Brimley, had slung a Back-In-Ten sign in the window and disappeared. Maybe he’d been given a signal.

“Gee,” I heard myself say, “you look a lot like— ”

“I am,” he said, “but you can call me . . . Li’l Dickens.”

He held open a door to the backroom. Which turned out to be more than that. I slowly took it in: sturdy mahogany desk and chairs, portrait of J. Edgar Hoover over the crackling fire, the shelves stacked with sheaves of documents, busts of Lincoln, Jefferson and Julius Caesar, and finally, as my eyes adjusted to the dark, the single bed in the corner with a rough green blanket tucked sharply under the mattress in military corners.

“Spartan,” he growled. “A man in my position can’t afford to be soft. We are, after all, at war.”

“Wait. Is this the bunker?”

“Negative. The Veepeock is technically in the White House basement. Everybody knows it. That’s the problem.”

“Veepeock. I’m not sure I—” He cut me off, clearly a fellow used to getting his way.

“VPEOC. White House terminology. Short for Vice Presidential Emergency Operations Center. You didn’t think the bunker was in Washington, did you? That place is a cesspool.”

“But shouldn’t there be security? Surveillance? Cameras?”

“Sometimes you don’t want anybody looking. Hug-hug-hug.” He tapped the cot. “Come on over here, soldier.”

“Okay.” Jesus . . .

In spite of myself, I drifted toward him. The man had tremendous animal magnetism. A musky aura of power seemed to emanate from his scalp. But still… shouldn’t there be pull-down wall maps? Advisers? Data banks? A red phone with a key in it, hotline to Moscow… or Baghdad? Or Crawford?

I had, I realized, conflated Cheney’s love nest with the president’s war room in Dr. Strangelove. But I wasn’t hobnobbing with Peter Sellers. Instead, here I was, rubbing cheek to grizzled cheek with the real vice president, arguably the most powerful man in the free world. Freakish, but true. While I stood there, frozen with fear, he looked up and licked my face. I blanched.

“Did you just lick me?”

My breath, as they say, came in short pants. Cheney chuckled, ignoring my question, and swept his arm before him, indicating his little patch of heaven.

“I like a barracks feel. It’s more . . . manly.”

“But you didn’t actually serve, did you? What was it, five deferments? You dropped out of Yale, then went to community college because of the draft. I heard your wife even had a baby nine months to the day after they ended the childless-married deferments.”

His face reddened. A tiny wormlet of vein began to throb at his left temple. For one bad moment I thought he was either going to kill me or stroke out on the spot. Instead, he began to hug-chuckle all over again. “That Lynne. Bent her over the sink and slipped her the Dickens. Out came l’il Mary, right on time. My daughter’s good people. Even if she is gay as Tallulah Bankhead’s fanny.”

[

With that, he gave me another smooch. I wanted to recoil. And yet . . . I couldn’t fight it. There was no other way. I had to ask.

“Are you gay, Mister Vice President?”

“Me?” He leapt from the cot and ripped off his flannel with such ferocity I feared he might tear a ligament. “I had so many chicks in high school they used to call them Cheney-acs!”

Before this, I admit, I never knew the meaning of the word swoon. I couldn’t help but stare at his tufted belly roll, his hairless chest and—be still my heart—his pacemaker. Yes and yes again!


Embedded under the skin over his left nipple was the outline of what looked like a pack of Luckies. He saw me ogling and beckoned.

“Wanna touch?”

I nodded.

“Figured you might.”

Slowly, I raised my fingers to his subcutaneous square. “It’s . . . it’s so hard.”

What can I say? He was overweight, and grunting, and no doubt capable of having me disappeared with a single phone call. But God, he was sexy. Soon my tentative touches turned to stroking, my stroking to outright caresses. Our eyes locked. The Veep parted his meaty lips.

With that, it was on. Lynne’s hubby yanked off his belt, let his pants drop around the tops of his waders, and popped his thumbs under the elastic of his white undies, which rode so high on his belly they covered the button. “Big-girl panties!” he chortled.

Then the Veep turned, waggling his ample bottom, and dropped to his hands and knees beside the army cot. I wasn’t sure how to react, but before I could, he grunted, stretched, and pulled out a monkey-head bong.

“Who does this remind you of?”


It’s all a little foggy after that. Yes, he reached in my pants and chuckled that he’d found the weapon of mass destruction. Yes, he wanted me to duct-tape the cheeks of his buttocks. Yes, he wanted me to spank him and call his organ “Bunker Buster.” The problem is, I’ve never really been that into grass. It always hits me harder than anybody else. And there are blank spots. Which is just as well, since, even now, my gorge rises at the very notion of anal sex with an aging fat man who voted against Martin Luther King Day.

After our “encounter,” he stared off, and, to my surprise, began to recite, in that trademark Oval Office–adjacent growl, albeit a tad slurry after the high-grade government kush:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,

Dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn, looking for an angry fix.

“Beg pardon?”

After meeting the vice president, touching his pacemaker and pounding him with a savagery that still makes me cringe, I did not think anything could surprise me. But hearing him, in postcoital splendor, recite Howl did just that. His passion was palpable. Or so it seemed . . . Maybe he was just trying to impress me. When I glanced over, he snarled from the side of his mouth. “Ginsberg’s my favorite. Next to Whitman . . . hug-hug-hug.”

After that, I passed out. I may have been behind the gun store for 20 minutes, or an entire day. When I came to, he was fully dressed, and clutching a shotgun.

“You know I have to kill you,” he said.

It was hard to tell if he was serious. You think Cheney, you don’t think joke. But the shotgun in his hand was not laughing.

“Remember Harry?”

“Harry Whittington? The guy you accidentally shot in the face? When you were quail hunting?”

By way of response, he thrust the muzzle toward my face and yelped. “BLAMMO!” It was the first time I saw him smile big. And I quickly wished he’d stop. That rictus grin was scarier than his persistent scowl.

“Quail’s a front,” he said, looming over me.

Here—finally—was the proverbial Dark Force of legend. He raised his shotgun and racked it.

“There was no hunting accident,” he went on, talking—literally—out of the side of his mouth. “I heard Harry was two-timing me. That bastard.”

“You mean it was a lover’s spat?”

“I shot him in the face.” He sneered his trademark sneer. “But I was aiming south of the Mason-Dixon.”

[

So saying, he stared off again. That double barrel was still pointed my way. But my chunky love mate seemed to have withdrawn into himself. Indeed, to my amazement, he wiped away a tear. This was my chance.

I began to back away. One step. Two . . . three. My fingers grazed the knob. Got it! But, just as I prepared to make my escape, Dick Cheney lowered the gun, turned away, and, as if pulled by invisible heartstrings, moved to a closed door. Sighing audibly, he opened it. A closet!

Over his shoulder, I could see within, where a single flannel shirt hung on a hanger. “Harry . . . Harry . . . Harry,” he wailed, but quietly, burying his face in the buckshot-riddled flannel.

I knew I should leave, but I was touched. We’d shared something, after all. Tenderly, Li’l Dickens rubbed the holey material on his face. Tenderly, he inhaled the must of lost desire. Here it was. Brokeback Neo-Con. I felt myself tearing up, though at the same time I was concerned about the nagging chafe on my man bag.

For another beat, I lingered. And then, I left him. The vice president the rest of the nation would never see. The burly, pink-thighed, sneering buffalo of love. I will never forget you, Li’l Dickens . . . I will never forget you!


Jerry Stahl’s short story collection, Love Without, will be published by Open City in June.

Categories
NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Washington, D.C.

Reprint: Team Bush Swamped by Crisis

Editor’s note: The following article by James Ridgeway was posted originally on September 11, 2001, at 6 p.m. The angry responses from readers, some of them included below, began arriving a few minutes later. We’re republishing the article in full to mark the fifth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center.


Team Bush Swamped by Crisis
Nation looks for leadership after attacks
September 11, 2001
by James Ridgeway

WASHINGTON, D.C., September 11—War has come to our shores, and where is the president? Scurrying around the country in a transparent attempt to keep from being killed by terrorists, when he should be taking charge. The first two times he addressed the country today, George W. Bush was quick to reassure the public he was in constant touch with Vice President Dick Cheney. At least now Cheney can take over and run the country. So long as he doesn’t keel over with a heart attack.

Clinton and Bush and their spaniellike partisans in Congress have spent billions of dollars on airport security, which was taken out not once but at least four times this morning in the greatest terrorist act ever to hit this country, an attack that is being likened to Pearl Harbor. And what about the Pentagon? We spent one third of the budget on the military, and it can’t even put in place a security system to protect its headquarters.

This attack ought to bring the immediate sacking of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the head of the FAA, which has nominal oversight—we stress the word “nominal”—of the nation’s air security system, along with the top executives of the FBI. All were clueless when it came to preventing these attacks.

What are the protectors of our national security doing these days? Erecting a $2 million fence in Washington to protect the IMF and World Bank meetings from a bunch of kids, who the cops claim are terrorists in the making.

The president and his advisors have spent months talking about the need to invest in a whopper system for missile defense, only to stand helpless before the threat from a handful of hijacked commercial flights. They need to get real. This is not leadership.


Readers Responded:
Letters from 9-11

A Load of Kabul

I was wondering how long it would take for some bonehead to start criticizing President Bush, even in the middle of the worst domestic crisis this country has ever experienced. Someone should point out to James Ridgeway [“Team Bush Swamped by Crisis”] that the Secret Service was responsible for Bush’s “scurrying around the country in a transparent attempt to keep from being killed by terrorists.”

Ridgeway just doesn’t get it: There’s no room for petty partisanship during a time of war. The object is to unify against a common enemy, and Bush is not the enemy. Terrorism is. If Ridgeway doubts that, perhaps he’d be happier in Afghanistan.

Caroline Adams
Dallas, Texas


Missing in Action

Jim Ridgeway’s Web article on President Bush was absolutely right. I was amazed by the disingenuousness of the press reporting that the Secret Service wouldn’t let him go to Washington. The country needed to see the president, and he hightailed it to Louisiana and Nebraska. The danger was past and he didn’t race home.

Then, when it came time to speak out, we got this “We are a beacon of light” speech. For the entire day there wasn’t a sign of his administration anywhere, except in the form of contrails heading west. We saw Ronald Reagan’s former secretary of state, George Stephanapoulos, and even Tom Clancy, but we didn’t see Bush Jr., Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, or Donald Rumsfeld. Where the hell were these guys?

Bill Smith
Bemidji, Minnesota


The Cost of Loss

I find Jim Ridgeway’s assertion that these terrorist attacks could perhaps have been preventable simplistic. How, exactly? How much would that have cost? In an overtly capitalistic society, whose job should it really be to protect the clients of publicly held corporations such as airlines?

As for the Pentagon, how could the nation have ensured absolute impenetrability of such a facility, especially when its history has been nearly devoid of large-scale terrorism? If such untold government expenditure were in place (and no disaster had occurred on either front), the outcry about the “wasted billions” would have been shrill. Now we see how grisly it is to even think of money over human life.

Steve Gruber
Raleigh, North Carolina


Bushwhacker

It’s nice to see that in this time of grave crisis and national danger, with thousands dead and maimed, James Ridgeway has not lost sight of what is truly important—attacking Bush. I can only salute his bold refusal to be swayed by the press of events, the horror of the moment, and the demands of fact. He marches forward with the clarity of his vision: Bush must and shall be maligned! If the slaughter of thousands of innocents must be used to this end, let not “propriety” or “taste” or “truth” sway us from it.

Joshua Trevino
Brooklyn