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Memories of the Reagan and Bush Administrations

“A scraping sound,” H. M. Enzensberger describes as the beginning of the end in his famous poem. The iceberg tore a jagged opening across the Titanic‘s hull, like the trail of a can opener. Not a very long or gaping breach, but just enough to ship tons of water into the engine room. As everybody knows, the biggest casualties were among the steerage passengers, huddled below decks with their bales of belongings, their infant chil­dren, and their identity papers.

Prevailing codes of civility required that women and chil­dren be placed in the lifeboats before the adult men. There are never enough lifeboats to go around; John Jacob Astor went down with the ship, along with several other bridge-playing gentlemen on A Deck. Like Enzensberger, and you, I have eidetic images of this event, jumbled with memories of Barbara Stan­wyck and Clifton Webb in A Night To Remember. There was that one cowardly million­aire in drag whose pant cuffs betrayed him in a Collapsible B as it floated away from the blazing lights of the Titanic. This individual was, I feel certain, the prototype of a kind of social criminal that flourished in Ameri­ca under Ronald Reagan, who had himself portrayed many spineless, good-fornothing playboys in films of the 1940s.

We spent a lot of time in the 1980s look­ing at TV and newspaper pictures of these arrestingly unenigmatic men. Rat-faced Elliott Abrams, lying through his teeth about Nicaragua on the 6:30 news. Grinning so­ciopath Oliver North, in full battle drag for the CNN cameras, exposing the Mafia in the White House basement while falling on his sword. Charles Keating, the Alvaric of Lincoln Savings, Dr. Mabuse hair in dire need of a rinse. The faces never stopped. Ivan Boesky. Michael Milken, Frank Lor­enzo. Whenever one of these hapless but stubbornly unrepentant glove puppets was thrown to the wolves, another was sighted in the middle distance, snapping the reins of Dracula’s carriage. The dogs bark, as Truman Capote noted in a different con­text, but the caravan moves on.

Where did they come from? It seemed that they had always been there, in one guise or another, pilot fish attached near the gills of much heavier marine life, si­phoning blood through strata of flesh and fat. Their social betters, born to rule, had swum through Phillips Andover and Yale, sometimes Choate and Princeton, though the Glove-Puppet-in-Chief, a petit bour­geois and adult child of an alcoholic, at­tended a farm college. (His Eve Harrington made Skull and Bones.) In a quieter if not more gracious time, the smaller fish would have been dashing parasites in the middle reaches of municipal banks and govern­ment agencies, brooding for years before skipping to Antigua with a bimbo and the monthly payroll. Or fourth-string advisers in Third World consulates, quietly going to seed while waiting for an Evelyn Waugh to become their Boswell.

The ’80s “empowered” such people, puff­er fish from the Heritage Foundation and the Brookings Institution who inflated every 24 hours on Nightline, icky crustaceans like Rush Limbaugh, Dinesh D’Souza, Al­lan Bloom, and Mary Matalin, weird left­over mollusks like Evans and Novak, Pod­horetz and Deeter, Henry Kissinger, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and Cap Weinberger. For the millions of outsiders whose noses were pressed to the aquarium glass, the most colorful and scary fish were the bot­tom-feeders. These creatures of the cold depths ranged all across the floor of the cultural cesspool, iridescent, luminescent, compellingly stupid. Their visibility in the tank sufficed to divert attention from the increasingly cannibalistic escapades of the larger fish. Randall Terry, Phyllis Schlafly, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Jesse Helms, William Dannemeyer, Richard Viguerie, Henry Kravis, Peggy Noonan, Al D’Amato: just a few of the lower phyla swirling among the grasses and weeds, aquatic ruminants emitting neurotoxins while nourish­ing themselves on fish droppings.

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I remember that in 1981 we were wor­ried about a war.

We were children of the ’50s who had cowered under desks during air raid drills, and some of us had had, through most of our lives, recurring nightmares about the hydrogen bomb. Then came Nixon and dé­tente, and Ford, who really seemed harm­less, and “the little Carter,” a man who grew peanuts for a living and clearly had no interest in blowing up the planet. At the tail end of 1979, though, all hell broke loose. The Shah was flown out of Iran, and some pious American imperative to add insult to injury caused us to bring him here. The American embassy in Tehran was seized. China resumed border skirmishes with Vietnam, which had invaded Cambodia to stop the Khmer Rouge, and the Soviet Union, being an ally of Vietnam and hav­ing already invaded Afghanistan, seemed poised to invade China. Nineteen eighty turned out to be a very nervous year, and at the end of it Ronald Reagan became president.

Ronald Reagan became president, and as he was sworn in the hostages were set free, and you did not need a congressional inves­tigation to figure out that some type of mickey mouse had occurred, some deal brokered by the dark forces that had steered Reagan through his years of selling out the Screen Actors Guild to HUAC, his stump speeches for GE, his Death Valley days, his gubernatorial terms in California. They were, it went without saying, the campfire guys from Bohemian Grove.

In the depths of the fait accompli, many of us lost all interest in politics. Some were turning into cocaine, others into heroin. Perhaps you, reading this, will say that you personally were trampling through the vin­tage where the grapes of wrath are stored, and if so, good for you, but I wasn’t.

I was interested in Mrs. Harris, who had shot the diet doctor. I was interested in Mark David Chapman, who had shot John Lennon. I was not especially interested in John W. Hinckley Jr., who shot Ronald Reagan that March, partly because he missed, and the assassination attempt somehow made Reagan more plausible, a hologram taking on ectoplasm.

At her trial, Mrs. Harris would say that under the spell of Dr. Herman Tarnower she had felt like a character in “Somerset Maugham’s Magnificent Obsession.” When it was pointed out to her that Maugham was not the author of Magnificent Obsession, Mrs. Harris claimed that it had just seemed too painful to say Of Human Bond­age. Mark David Chapman had a much-­thumbed copy of The Catcher in the Rye in his pocket as he waited in front of the Dakota for John and Yoko; like Holden Caulfield’s, his innocence had been violat­ed by “phonies,” though Holden Caulfield never shot one. Mehmet Ali Agca, who shot the pope that year, looked really, really cute in photographs. Another poor shot, though. One of the lessons of the 1960s was that only relatively useful people encounter competent assassins.

Martial law was declared in Poland. The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. My friend Cookie Mueller, always in the van­guard, began watching MTV as soon as it came on the air.

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Surrealism sifted down from the top, a sense of unreality spreading out into unex­pectedly pliable parts of what had seemed solid, immutable. The new government, the new president, exhibited an implacable nut­tiness, the kind of drollery that can’t be argued with. It would be like arguing with Lucy Ricardo. The Department of Agricul­ture announced that ketchup could be con­sidered a nutritious vegetable in school lunches. The president wanted to cut more social services and pour billions into the military, to put an end to the New Deal, Fair Deal, Great Society type of programs. Hasta la vista the compassion thing, the affirmative action thing. He fired the air traffic controllers. He dissolved the board of the Legal Services Corporation on New Year’s Eve to keep block grants from going out to advocacy groups. He cited welfare princesses in Cadillacs. He recommended tax-exempt status for schools that practiced racial discrimination.

It became evident that the new president could not talk. Or rather he could, being an actor, talk if he were reading lines, but his spontaneous verbiage never coalesced into sentences or paragraphs or even into intelli­gible non sequiturs. I suppose if you had asked him about Barbie he would have con­fused Barbie the war criminal with Barbie the fashion doll. He could not, after all, remember whether he had helped liberate the death camps in Poland, or had merely narrated a documentary about them, The soft, chewy, evasive language that had been such a remarkably damning feature of the Nixon crew’s Watergate testimony had re­turned to the penthouse level of govern­ment with a vengeance. Everything was hindsight, everyone misspoke himself, the most unequivocal statements needed to be clarified the next day, turned inside out, rendered meaningless.

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If you traveled a lot in those days, you were certain to notice this problem, this phenomenon of displaced persons, economic refugees, political refugees, people in flight, people from troubled Third World countries sweeping the streets of Germany and France, sweeping the streets and clean­ing the sewers, and it was clear that the local people, the ones who had rallied around Hitler and Marshal Petain, no champions of the melting pot, were becom­ing restive. A certain Nietzschean ressenti­ment could be detected in the daily papers of Frankfurt, Munich, Vienna, Berlin, Par­is, Lyons.

There was Strauss in Bavaria, Le Pen in Marseilles, the National Front skinheads in Manchester and Liverpool and London. Something was taking its course, probably the incurable in human nature.

U.S. unemployment hit 10.8 per cent, though it was a boom year for the stock market. The war on drugs was announced, emphasis on interdiction and mandatory sentencing. And there was this new illness going around, something whispered about in gay bars, some people called it gay can­cer and some people called it GRID, you had to look hard in the papers for it, be­cause in 1982 gay people were decidedly not news, and the deaths of gay people, whether by homicide or disease, were welcomed, not at all quietly, by the people the new government coaxed out of the wood­work: Jesus freaks, white-collar criminals who would become Jesus freaks in country­club prisons, military brass who wore Jesus on their lapels with their kooky decora­tions, abonion-clinic bombers with Jesus at their side, civil-rights opponents with a spe­cial relationship to Jesus, John Wayne.

I was spending a lot of time in Berlin. You did not hear much about the epidemic in Berlin. The disease was something peo­ple picked up in America. It was widely believed that only a certain type of person got it, a person who had too much sex, or the wrong kind of sex, or took too many drugs, or the wrong kind of drugs, and people would tell you this, sometimes, just before or just after having sex with you, or doing drugs, etc., etc.

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In 1983, a lot of people who were mak­ing a lot of money decided that if they jumped up and down every day in a health club, they would never get cancer, heart disease, or old.

In 1983, several people I knew were car­ried off by AIDS-related pneumonia.

In 1983, traveling behind the dreaded Iron Curtain, I discovered Ronald Reagan’s true constituency: Central European intellectuals and professional types who were, for the most part, immersed in politics as an all-male, heterosexual club, an arena for jousting between randy cocksmen, some armed with state power, others clad in the drag of superior moral truth and historical victimhood. They despised feminism, and indeed any systemic critique of the status quo except the concepts of anticommunism or anticapitalism. In Budapest and Prague and East Berlin, only the Jews seemed aware that the CP had kept the lid on pogroms, ethnic warfare, border clashes, etc.

It was the would-be Kundera types, the Brodsky and Milosz wannabes who had been unlucky enough to stay behind, the ones who weren’t getting that foxy tight pussy in Paris and London and New York, the chauvinists who wrote elegant and pow­erful books about repression and who yet maintained a stubbornly repressive attitude toward women, homosexuals, and quite of­ten people of other races and nationalities, who adored Ronald Reagan and his rhetorical willingness to go nuclear. The Soviet Union, they said, would only back down in the face of massive military confrontation, endless threats, endless displays of Ameri­can force around the world.

At home, polling data revealed that throughout his presidency Reagan was not an especially popular chief of state, and that the political views of most people had shifted, if anything, further left. This didn’t translate at the ballot box because more and more people stayed away from ballot boxes, perceiving no practical advantage in endorsing one or another spokesperson for the superrich and the defense industry.

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That year, Reagan announced his Star Wars vision. It had, it was said, come to him in a dream, screened through some vague memory of an army propaganda film he’d acted in during World War II: an ultrapowerful death ray, mounted on an ultrafuturistic multibillion-dollar orbiting space station full of special sensors and laser mirrors and stuff like that, could, with one press of a magic emergency button, zap intercontinental ballistic missiles in mid-­flight and turn them into butterflies. No one believed this, really, but it was an en­chanting fantasy, and Congress passed most of the money for it.

CDs hit the market for the first time.

The Cabbage Patch doll, with its cute computer-generated face, dominated the Christmas toy market. Two hundred and forty-one marines were blown to pieces in Lebanon by a kamikaze truck driver. Gre­nada, with its ominous stranglehold on the world’s nutmeg supply, was suddenly recog­nized as a threat to America’s national se­curity. An invasion was launched, resulting in the bombing of a mental hospital and the capture of four or five Cuban engineers who were rolling an airfield for the Minis­try of Tourism Eventually, 8612 medals for valor would be awarded for the Grena­da microwar. Fewer than 7000 people had participated.

The playwright slept with me for a while and then he stopped sleeping with me, which was fine, except that I missed him, not all the time, but regularly at three 1n the morning, when I had often kissed him in my sleep, or in his sleep, or wrapped my legs around his waist, or rubbed his back. or his feet, and quite often he spoke 10 me in his sleep, he called me Swee1ie. But of course, looking back on i1, he may not have been talking to me at all.

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There were wild men roaming the back hills of Idaho and Colorado, men with large, cultlike families, children with straight greasy hair who’d been yanked out of public schools to learn marksmanship at home, where a ten years’ supply of canned food was kept next to the AK-47s in the bomb shelter. They believed in skin color as the organizing principle of their particu­lar mammal clan. They believed that Ron­ald Reagan might himself be a socialist, a tool of the Trilateral Commission. or a dupe of the Kremlin. Every so often, these people shot a policeman, or clubbed an Asian to death, causing the media spotlight to settle, briefly, not on their alarming numbers, but on the special features of their delusional system. These included the concept of survival as a full-time obsession, tax revolt as a revolutionary tool, and old­-time patriarchy as the will of God. Which turned out to be not unlike the opinions aired on Crossfire, or printed in Commentary and The New Republic, except for the inside-the-beltway caveat that, of course, it was wrong to attack people, wrong to kill people one disagreed with, unless the vital economic interests of the country were at stake.

It must have been that winter that I fell, deeply and insensibly, in love with a junkie. I have always had a weak place for junkies, for semi-helpless people with Christ fixa­tions, people who believe, usually for good reasons, that they are doomed. Beautiful losers, debutantes gone awry. He could’ve done the cover of GQ without much effort, but he wanted, I think, someone with ex­travagant will to scoop him up and save him, and this is where, perhaps, Mark Da­vid Chapman’s favorite novel and I have something in common. I tried, and after he sold the entire contents of my apartment on the street, I gave up.

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At any given moment, you had an investi­gation or a set of hearings or a probe going on, often several at the same time, in the House or Senate or Justice Department or FBI, and along with these investigations, hearings, and probes, you got leaks, fol­lowed by denials, and eventually by confir­mations, followed by subpoenas and indict­ments. A chestnut from the Nixon period­ — “how much did he know, and when did he know it?” — became the favorite, irrelevant question of the White House press corps.

Language as a medium for describing re­ality underwent deconstruction. “I don’t re­call,” “I can’t remember,” “I have no recollection of that,” were considered acceptable euphemisms for “I’m not going to tell you.” If an embarrassing or litigable fact leaked, one could credibly claim to have been “out of the loop,” even if one happened to have been in the same room where the loop was.

The president was said to be a grandfa­therly type, naturally charming, genial, who never became ruffied by anything. And it was said, later, by people like Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, that these ingrati­ating qualities, added to the fact that the press was always accused of excessive liber­alism and therefore felt obliged to be more than fair, accounted for the media allowing him a free ride, never clocking his mistakes, never finding him accountable.

The principle of unaccountability was an important nuance. It signaled that the Cap­tain really was just a Spokesperson, a com­fortingly wrinkled ventriloquist’s doll. The unaccountability thing became the Wash­ington drug of choice. When the White House chief of staff’s proximity to Iran-­contra fell under scrutiny, he asked, with a note of pique, “Does a bank president know whether a bank teller is fiddling around with the books?”

It was the year of Miami Vice and Bho­pal. Daniel Ortega won a free and fair elec­tion in Managua, an election heavily monitored by representatives of the previous U.S. government. The Reagan people im­mediately declared it null and void, and for years this election was treated by New York Times correspondent Stephen Kinzer and in most U.S. newspapers as if it had never occurred.

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Even though I did a fair amount of cultur­al reporting in 1985, it’s hard to remember in any detail what was going on. Words like simulacra, Other with a capital O, appropri­ation, and infotainment were in high vogue. The art world had already seeped past its usual coterie boundaries when national magazines discovered the East Village Art Scene, causing a flood of suburban trust­-fund bohemians and boutiques to inundate the neighborhood, displacing thousands of working-class stiffs. Now painters and sculptors and their newly decorated country homes were turning up in People, in Archi­tectural Digest, and on Page Six, their par­ties and benefits and plans for world domi­nation reported in gossip columns.

Real estate values were pushing through the roof. The Dow Jones average finished the year at 1546, an all-time high. Buying and owning were the art world things to do. Ditto the Wall Street thing to do. Buying, owning, getting married.

“We Are the World” went platinum.

General Dynamics was indicted for con­spiracy to defraud the army. Years later, General Dynamics would opt to lay off thousands of employees rather than retool for civilian industry. Capital Cities Com­munications seized ABC. General Electric seized RCA, which controlled NBC. Laur­ence A. Tisch, owner of Lorillard tobacco, seized CBS.

A volcanic eruption in Colombia killed 23,000. An 8.1 earthquake in Mexico City killed 7000. Mob boss Paul Castellano was shot outside Sparks Steak House on East 46th Street. A hole in the ozone layer was reported by British scientists.

The president had cancer, or, as the Rea­ganese du jour had it, a little, noncancerous thing inside the president had some cancer in it. Namely his colon. A few months be­fore the little thing inside the president had cancer, the president visited an SS ceme­tery in Bitburg, Germany. He declared that the soldiers of the SS were, in their way, victims, just like the Jews in Auschwitz. Because they were all, you know, kind of inside a little thing called World War II.

Rock Hudson died of AIDS, and it was felt that his death would bring the epidemic into focus for people who had so far ignored it. Rock Hudson had been, after all, a friend of the Reagans, beloved by millions, and, in private life, by all accounts, a sweet guy. But the focus settled a bit to the side of the larger issue: on Rock Hudson’s secret gay life, Rock Hudson’s ex-lover’s lawsuit, the actual size of Rock Hudson’s estate, and on whether or not Rock Hudson should have kissed Linda Evans on Dynasty. The lesson of Rock Hudson’s death became boilerplate for every celebrity AIDS death, i.e., “even a movie star can get AIDS,” as though it were widely assumed that fame immunized a person against physical misfortune.

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The next year, we retaliated for the bomb­ing of a disco in Germany by bombing Tripoli. In the absence of hard evidence that Libyans were actually involved in the German disco bombing, the State Depart­ment assured us, as did the president him­self, that the ruler of Libya was a “mad dog,” similar to Hitler, and therefore crazy enough to lash out at a vastly superior mili­tary foe.

The Senate approved $100 million in aid to the contras, an army of mercenaries left over from Somoza days in Nicaragua, most of them drug dealers with ties to what was traditionally referred to in Pentagon circles as the “disposal problem,” i.e., the old Bay of Pigs veterans who, with backup from jailbird flotsam from the Mariel boat lift, now ran the coke business in Miami. Ever since they may or may not have helped assassinate JFK, the anti-Castro Cubans had been on one or another federal payrol — of the CIA, FBI, NSC — biding their time, with scapulars of the Virgin Mary and Batista clasped to their chests along with the gold chains and the coke spoons.

Baby Doc fled Haiti with most of the national treasury. Years later, the Bush people would open a concentration camp for Haitian refugees at Guantánamo, re­minding many Americans who’d forgotten that throughout 30 years of economic blockade, the U.S. has maintained a mili­tary base on Cuba itself.

Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos fled the Philippines with billions. The space shuttle exploded. The Chernobyl reactor exploded. A lake in Cameroon exploded, killing 1700.

William Rehnquist became chief justice of the United States Supreme Court. An­thony Scalia was confirmed as associate justice.

Mergers in the airline industry. More mergers in communications.

The Iran-contra arms-for-hostages deal was reported in a Beirut newspaper.

Swedish prime minister Olof Palme was shot on the street in Stockholm.

Unemployment fell to 6.6 per cent.

In The World Almanac’s Sixth Annual Heroes of Young America poll, Eddie Mur­phy was chosen as Young America’s “Top Hero,” followed by Ronald Reagan, Bill Cosby, Prince, Sylvester Stallone, Clint Eastwood, Debbie Allen, Michael Jordan, Madonna, Mary Lou Retton, Bruce Spring­steen, Eddie Van Halen, and Harrison Ford.

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What do you call these things, I asked the psychiatrist, where you don’t sleep with the person, but become so involved with him that the two of you behave like people in the throes of passion? You have fights, you make scenes, you spend hours gazing like cows into each other’s eyes, and even the people you are sleeping with become secondary figures in the drama, extras you go home to, members of the chorus.

Well, the psychiatrist said, I’d call it barking up the wrong tree, frankly.

Everyone was under indictment. The principle of unaccountability was part of the mandate of surrealism. Unless you were caught, preferably on videotape, with your hand in the cookie jar, what you knew and when you knew it, or what you did and how you did it, were matters of pure conjecture I and speculation. Unless someone had actu­ally seen you hurl your wife out the win­dow, or shoot her up with an overdose of insulin, the beau monde would flock to your defense, throw cocktail parties and banquets in your honor, write profiles of you in Vanity Fair.

Nobody was responsible for anything bad. And if you had, in fact, been caught doing something terrible, your entertain­ment value shot up.

Wearing a green velvet Carolina Herrera dress, Nancy Reagan presided as guest of honor at a fund-raising dinner at the Met: pasta with lobster and roast veal with calva­dos sauce. In Managua, Times journalist Stephen Kinzer valiantly continued report­ing the horrors of Sandinista land reform and free day-care centers.

There was a stock market crash in 1987. The Dow ended the year at 1938, down from 2640 on October 5. Ivan Boesky pleaded guilty to insider trading.

In 1988, Panama’s General Noriega was indicted for drug dealing by a Florida grand jury.

The largest leveraged buyout in history occurred in 1988, when RJR Nabisco, which employed 12,000 people in its tobac­co division alone. was acquired by Kohl­berg, Kravis, Roberts & Co., an investment firm with 15 dealmakers. Thanks to Willie Horton and Read My Lips, the baton of shininess passed from Ronald Reagan to George Bush.

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We had, according to the papers, partially overcome “the Vietnam syndrome,” which meant, as far as I could tell, partially forget­ting the experience of losing a war. Reagan had sounded this theme and backed it up by bombing various backwaters where actu­al battle and troop loss were unlikely, though Lebanon was a miscalculation. Ever since Vietnam, Americans had displayed the petulance and pettiness of sore losers, stoking the issue of MIAs, which involved some satanic fantasy of GIs pressed into slave labor long after the war was finished. It did not matter to anyone that the Vietnamese had over a million dead to mourn, or that their landscape was still toxic from American chemicals. In Vietnam. it is com­mon for two men or two women to hold hands while walking in the street. Here it’s an incitement to murder, and we have an active lobby on our local school boards determined 10 keep it that way.

I suppose I fixated on him because of the rotten times we were living in, with more rotten times expected ahead, and we ended up clinging to each other like two wet rags stiffened by a sudden drop in temperature. He wouldn’t make love because he was scared, and I convinced myself, you see, that having him around would be enough, and then, in a tentative frightened way, he began to open up, began getting physical, and I thought, Well, there, he loves you after all. Months passed. He became more and more open, more available, more talk­ative, more passionate, more insistent about the convolutions of his psyche, the turmoil our relationship was stirring in his soul. I thought he was coming to love me, and actually he was having a nervous breakdown.

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George Bush was not loved by the peo­ple who simply lived in the country, the faceless thousands strung out on revolving credit and bad mortgages, the people who lost their jobs when their plants packed up for Mexico, the folks who found themselves without enough insurance when the inevita­ble neoplasm rolled around. He was not loved by people with HIV infection and AIDS or the people who cared about them. He was unloved by people of color.

The press enjoyed, especially at the end, telling us that Barbara Bush was, in fact, widely admired, but I despised her chicken­wattle face and that gleeful malice in her eyes — this phony grandmother who proba­bly carried on in private like Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate, cya­nide pellets hidden in the pearls — and a lot of people fell the same way.

George Bush was not loved, because he’d had the silver spoon thing going from Day One, and that Yale Skull & Bones thing, and everything he did, to cop a phrase from Robert Wilson, was just Instant Hitler. The deals with China, the April Glaspie cables, Clarence Thomas, Iran-contra, and that ghastly massacre in Iraq. The land of hope and glory thing didn’t work on him, not really, not for long. He’d climbed on the ticket in 1980 by renouncing abortion rights and endorsing what he’d previously called voodoo economics, and rode the coattails straight into a brick wall.

Everybody knew he had no principles except Me First. He epitomized hypocrisy. He had that whale Marlin Fitzwater blubbering in the briefing room, and that other horror Margaret Tutwiler, two dead ugly people who blinked so often you knew they were pulling one over, and it won’t surprise me, you know, if they’re all under indict­ment tomorrow morning, Tutwiler, Fitz­water, Mephistopheles Baker, the whole greasy crew with their High Episcopal pre­tentions, their sycophants from Fordham, that Kristol nightmare whom they brought in to teach Quayle the alphabet, the Council on Competitiveness, and all the other no-neck monsters who went that extra mile to make ordinary people’s lives a living hell.

George Bush was not loved by the people who own the country. He was jumped-up, not in a brash oil millionaire sort of way, or a Kennedy Mafia bootleg sort of way, but in a thin, simpering, obsequious way. He whined. He was obviously vindictive and mean-spirited. He believed, you see, in no­blesse oblige in New England, but he kept a hotel room in Texas as a phony sunbelt pedigree, and that showed you he was neither fish nor fowl. He was the American Andropov, with too many ugly things on his resumé. He had to go. David Rockefel­ler endorsed Clinton.

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As I write this, Channel 17 features, at certain hours, several seriously disturbed individuals posed in front of an Israeli flag, vowing vengeance for Rabbi Kahane. They refer to Arabs as “Jew-hating cockroaches on two legs.”

There is, still, years after the 1967 war, a widely held view of Israel as a victimized and embattled state, surrounded by hostile Arabs, when, in reality, the state of Israel is a heavily armed welfare client of the U.S., actively engaged in what would be called, in a different setting, ethnic cleansing. The Israelis deport and jail people arbitrarily, engage in torture, bulldoze houses belong­ing to Palestinians.

I’ve always believed that the state of Isra­el should have been established in Lower Bavaria, to keep things secular. The state of Israel was established like this: you are sit­ting in the living room of the house your family has lived in for several generations. Strangers smash down the front door and, using their gun butts, force everyone up to the attic, declaring that they owned your house a thousand years ago, it says so in some sacred book, and anyway, some other people threw them out of the place they were living in, etc., etc. Now they want the attic, too, since you have relatives living next door that you can move in with.

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We could do the Berlin Wall, or the mi­raculous Fall of Communism. The refugee populations pouring over the old borders, the Balkanization of the Balkans, the break­up of the Soviet Union into myriad nucle­ar-ready zones, the Exxon Valdez spill, the Time-Warner merger, Tiananmen Square, HUD, the $ 166 billion price tag on the S&Ls, Mitsubishi’s acquisition of Rockefel­ler Center, Sony’s buy-up of CBS and Co­lumbia Pictures. We could do the invasion of Panama, the execution of Ceauscescu. We could do the budget deficit. We could do the trade deficit.

Or the Quayle thing, which everyone said was impeachment insurance for George Bush, but it said something else to the country at large, and what it said was, We’ve had Charlie McCarthy for eight years as Number One, and now Number Two is going to be Howdy Doody.

A theory. It was something about taking things on faith for a little while, and some­thing, in the end, about exhaustion. Since the beginning of the Cold War, American governments had misidentified the Soviet Union as the enemy of the country, when the actual adversaries of American business and its partners in the Pentagon were Japan and Western Europe.

The false enemy was forever depicted as technologically inept, incapable of manu­facturing a working light bulb, yet dangerous, because of its state-of-the-art nuclear arsenal. The real enemies were persuaded to underwrite our budget deficit, with the false understanding that their markers would never be called in.

These fables worked long enough to dump a lion’s share of 40 years of public money into research and development for General Dynamics, McDonnell Douglas, Northrop, Boeing, General Electric, and other defense contractors, who were the true welfare queens of the era. As capital was diverted into increasingly pointless products like the 8-1 bomber and Star Wars, with no reinvest­ment in civilian enterprise and infrastruc­ture, our competitors were able to outstrip us in most areas of practical benefit and con­oern to the general population.

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A theory. It was something about the por­cine lack of inhibition that the newly rich displayed while celebrating their ascendan­cy: the $1000-a-plate fundraisers, the con­stant parading of patriotic symbols, the ero­ticization of contempt. It was about the pasta with lobster and roast veal with calva­dos sauce juxtaposed with three million homeless rooting around in garbage cans for bits of food. It was George Bush com­plaining to Florida hurricane victims that his own little shack in Kennebunkport had sustained a bit of damage, too, so he knew how they felt. It was George Bush telling Katie Courie on Today that he’d testified 450 times, under oath, about Iran-contra, when he in fact had testified exactly once. It was too many dubious foreign affairs, too many tin-pot dictators transformed into mad dogs and Hitlers whenever the presi­dent’s approval rating hit a slump, too many telegenic bombings of sleepy desert capitals. It was George Bush trying to win an election with a war everyone had forgot­ten, since hardly any of our own people were killed, and the Hitler du jour, re­mained in the saddle.

The Big Lie works great when you’ve just built the autobahn and invented the Volks­wagen. It doesn’t work at all when the auto­bahn’s falling apart and no one can afford a Volkswagen.

But it worked for 12 years, and the people it worked for aren’t the types to fade quietly into outer darkness. They’ll be around, some waiting to do a few months in a resort slam­mer, others blowing bubbles in their think tanks, ruminating on family values, the evil lifestyle of homosexuals, the glories of war, the absolute sanctity of money, and the mot­to of Republicans the world over. Admit Nothing, Blame Everybody, Be Bitter. ■

Research Assistance by David Lewis 

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Don’t Cry for Him, Argentina: Goodbye to the Lesser-of-Two-Evils Bush

You could say, “It’s the history, stupid” — because Donald Trump is the presidential ideal the Republican Party has been driving toward for generations. Pander to racists and homophobes to shore up the base? Check. Give tax bonanzas to the already wealthy? You got it. Block universal healthcare at every turn? Damn straight. Cater to a vicious gun lobby to solidify a vital voting block, school shootings be damned? You bet. Deny scientific consensus in order to rape the environment? Well, of course — it’s profitable.

Trump did not arise out of a vacuum. President George H.W. Bush’s domestic policies were part of a template that fell fully into place when a flimflam real estate mogul/reality TV star became Leader of the Free World.

Since his death, at age 94 this past Friday, Bush 41 has been getting some boffo reviews for his one-term presidency. Many have bestowed laurels on him for his grown-up handling of the collapse of Communism. Among other prudent acts, Bush, along with a bipartisan group of U.S. senators (remember when that was a thing?), hashed out the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, which sought to keep nuclear armaments and technology out of the hands of terrorists and rogue states, as the Soviet Union disintegrated. The patrician Bush was less successful in dealing with the economy and the day-to-day struggles of average Americans. He had been a loyal vice president to Ronald Reagan, and had stood by as the Gipper presided over an upward redistribution of the nation’s wealth that put a glitzy patina on a widening gap between rich and poor — the latter of whom the GOP stigmatized with such labels as “welfare queens.”

Bush had a reputation for decency and reticence, but that did not prevent him from using expedient racism and demagoguery when searching for votes. In the May 1, 1984, issue of the Voice, investigative reporter Jack Newfield detailed how Bush overlooked colleagues who disparaged minorities: “When Peter Grace, the corporate executive, insulted Hispanics by saying they were all living off food stamps, George Bush did not move his lips. When Earl Butz told his racist joke, George Bush had nothing to say. When James Watt ridiculed blacks, women, Jews, and the handicapped, George Bush stood mute.” Newfield labeled Bush’s pearl-clutching over Jesse Jackson’s supposed anti-Semitism “hypocrisy season,” pointing out the vice president’s selective conscience when it came to racism. Toward the end of the piece, Newfield made a plea that has at least as much relevance today as it did three decades ago: “What we need now are public figures of decency who can rise above politics and tribalism, and ostracize bigotry wherever they see it.”

Bush became president in 1989, promising a “kinder and gentler nation,” to which Reagan’s wife, Nancy, reportedly quipped, “Kinder and gentler than who?” The cover of the January 3, 1989, issue of the Voice answered Mrs. Reagan’s question — the tuxedo class, led by her husband, was laughing all the way to the bank as George H.W. Bush assumed the helm.

The laughter continued as Bush gathered his cabinet. In a piece titled “Texas Fried Ethics,” Voice muckraker Joe Conason reported on how Bush’s new secretary of commerce was big-time screwing small landowners back home in the Lone Star State.

Bush’s term was notable for his appointment of Clarence Thomas — fan of the Long Dong Silver series of porn movies — to the Supreme Court. Bush also presided over the first invasion of Iraq, forcing Saddam Hussein back to Baghdad after the dictator had invaded the neighboring country of Kuwait. Bush flew bomber missions in World War II and survived being shot down by the Japanese, and so had some sense of how a conflict can spiral out of control. He prudently ended the conflict at Iraq’s border, thereby maintaining the tenuous balance of power in the volatile region. In 2003, his son, whose “missions” consisted of training flights over Georgia and Texas with the National Guard, invaded Iraq with as little pretense as Saddam had employed in his original attack on Kuwait, and America has been paying the bill ever since.

The elder Bush was known for a stumblebum rhetorical style. Once, when speaking to a group of insurance-company employees, he began with something he’d said to a voter who had prayed for him, and then segued into a line from a hit musical:

I said this to him: “You’re on to something here. You cannot be president of the United States if you don’t have faith.” Remember Lincoln, going to his knees in times of trial in the Civil War and all that stuff. You can’t be.

And we are blessed. So don’t feel sorry for — don’t cry for me, Argentina. We’ve got problems out there, and I am blessed by good health, strong health. Geez, you get the flu, and they make it into a federal case. Anyway, that goes with the territory. I’m not asking for sympathy, I just wanted you to know that I never felt more up for the charge.

The June 23, 1992, issue of the Voice, highlighted “the focus thing,” the upper-crust president’s maladroit attempts to connect with the hoi polloi —as Bush himself had once put it, “the vision thing.”

As the 1992 election season heated up, the Voice questioned the motives behind the Iraq war, in a story headlined “Anatomy of a Scandal: How Bush Armed Saddam, Then Painted Him as Hitler and Called for War.”

The paper then zeroed in on the president’s increasingly negative, fear-mongering re-election campaign (a tactic his son would repeat twelve years later). In the September 1, 1992, issue, reporter Donna Minkowitz filed from Houston under the headline “I Was the Antichrist at the Astrodome: Can a Lesbian Report (and Survive) the Republican Convention?” In the first paragraph, she informs readers, “The most heterosexual clothes in my suitcase are gray wool pants, blue and white striped shirt, and pumps. I go through my hosts’ closets hoping to find a dress or two, but they’re just not that kind of gay men. I don’t own the right drag for the Republican convention.”

With election day nigh, the Voice informed voters about the financial shenanigans of Bush and his cronies. A reporter from Texas had dug deep into the savings and loan boondoggle, which had rocked America’s economy under Bush, and asked the question, “Who benefited from the S&L ripoff? Would you believe George Bush’s Houston pals, his campaign manager, his comptroller of the currency, and his landlord, not to mention the Republican Party, the Mafia, and the CIA? You should.”

The cover of the October 20, 1992, issue featured Bush chortling in his bow tie, recalling the “So Long, Suckers!” moment the Voice had captured in 1989, as Reagan took the money and ran.

Bill Clinton turned Bush Senior into a one-term president. The Voice, like progressives everywhere, was glad to see the back of Bush — but the paper was also prescient about the fact that the GOP was becoming more angry, bitter, and vengeful with every passing day. In an article titled “Bewitched: The demonization of Hillary Clinton,” contributor Patricia J. Williams pointed out that America was struggling with “the anxiety of impending Gender Trouble. Will this loose, unmanaged female, Hillary née Rodham didn’t wannabe Clinton, sit in on Cabinet meetings? Will she make his appointments?”

By that time, the Right had been vilifying Hillary for a solid year, ever since her husband had risen from the relative obscurity of the Arkansas governorship to become a contender for the Democratic nomination. That was in 1992.

Twenty-four years later, the GOP’s never-ending campaign of lies and hate finally paid off, and Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States.

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Profile in Cojones

Though he now lives in a red-brick mini-mansion down a silent, frostbitten cul-de-sac in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., Alberto Mora is at heart a Miami Cuban. Among the clues are a voracious appetite for debate and the Bustelo espresso he brews for visitors to his sparsely decorated home.

And until recently, you could tell by his politics. When U.S. soldiers invaded Iraq in 2003, he was general counsel for the U.S. Navy, the equivalent of a four-star general. He was a die-hard right-winger who had earned appointments to both Bush administrations.

But this past fall, he voted for Barack Obama.

A pivotal reason: He found the Bush administration’s inattention to human rights law “offensive . . . I’m elated and hopeful,” he says during an interview at his home two days before the inauguration, “that this new administration will lead other countries in establishing global prisoner-treatment guidelines that are even more stringent than those in effect before Bush mangled them.”

You could say this is Mora’s thing. Perhaps more than any other American, he’s responsible for turning the tide on prisoner abuse at Guantánamo Bay. For two years, with memos and heavyweight legal arguments, he waged a quietly vicious inner-Pentagon campaign to stop the torture.

“Mora’s an American hero,” says Michael Gelles, a Navy psychologist who also helped bring prisoner abuse to light. “He created a debate that led to a full reversal.”

Mora has a genetic distaste for tyranny. His Hungarian mother and Cuban-born father both saw their homelands hammered by Communist rule. He was born in 1952 in Boston, while his father, a physician, studied at Harvard. The family moved to Havana when Mora was still an infant. They fled for good when Fidel Castro took power in 1959.

He studied at liberal bastion Swarthmore College—an experience that hardened him to the “inept” politics of the left—and earned a law degree at the University of Miami. He then moved from heavyweight local firm Greenberg Traurig to a George H.W. Bush appointment as general counsel of the U.S. Information Agency.
In 2001, Mora was appointed to the Navy’s top civilian legal position—and was initially underestimated. “He was very quiet, low-key, and thoughtful,” says Mike Brant, director of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, that force’s policing unit.

Mora was soon tested. After September 11, he says, “there was this enormous apprehension that more attacks were imminent, and it was our job to prevent them quickly,” he says now. “We needed intelligence.”

Just over a year later, on December 17, 2002, Brant came to him. He lugged Guantánamo interrogation logs that detailed in clinical prose harsh tactics used on Mohammed al-Qahtani, a suspected missing hijacker of 9/11, and other detainees. He had been handcuffed and called a pig as he was forced to pick up trash with his mouth. He had been made to dance blindfolded and allowed to sleep only four hours a day, with cold water periodically dumped on him.

Mora could have easily dismissed Brant, who wasn’t following a clear chain of command. He didn’t. “His reaction was, ‘We’re going to do the right thing here,’ ” says Brant. “And the right thing, in his mind, wasn’t necessarily what was already happening.”

Mora started digging and soon learned that the abuses were more policy than fluke. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had approved previously prohibited techniques in a hush-hush memo, and Guantánamo judges had approved the harsh interrogation.

He took the information to White House General Counsel Jim Haynes, then jetted to his mother’s Key Biscayne home, thinking something would be done about a “terrible mistake.” But when he returned, Brant informed him that the brutality had only increased at Guantánamo. For instance, al-Qahtani had been shaved forcibly, made to urinate on himself, and then blasted with pop music in his ice-cold cell. “Alberto was taken aback by the administration’s lack of action, but it only made him more determined,” says Brant. “It also became very apparent that he was willing to put his professional future at risk.”

On January 15, 2003, Mora sent Haynes a memo stating that Guantánamo’s prisoner treatment was, “at a minimum, cruel and unusual treatment and, at worst, torture.” He told Haynes he would sign it by the end of the day—making it an official document and instant front-page news—unless the interrogation tactics were suspended.

The threat seemed to stun even Rumsfeld, who that day authorized the suspension pending further inquiry. But Bush legal adviser John Yoo opposed Mora, and the next year, Abu Ghraib photos demonstrated the culmination of what Mora calls a “policy of cruelty.” In 2004, Mora wrote a 22-page memo detailing his thwarted struggle—a historic document declassified soon after he retired from the Navy in January 2006.
That year, he was awarded the Profile in Courage Award, an exclusive laurel given out by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation that might’ve been designed with Mora in mind: It honors those who defy personal risk and public opinion to follow one’s conscience.

These days, he’s a vice president and general counsel of the Mars candy company. He’s “not a Democrat . . . yet,” he says, but he’s optimistic about the next four years. “With the declaration that Guantánamo will be shut down, our reputation for intolerance of torture, cruelty, and inhuman degradation will begin to be restored.”

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Lithuania and the Collapse of the USSR Records Last Gasp For Mother Russia, Father Brokaw

After five decades of filming himself, his family, and assorted luminaries of pop and underground culture, the original home-movie mix master (and this paper’s first film critic), Jonas Mekas, ventures no further than his living room for his latest time-memory opus. At 286 minutes, Lithuania and the Collapse of the USSR is a vacuum-tube epic composed almost entirely of TV news footage videotaped by Mekas right off the screen as he was watching it, from the moment his Baltic homeland declared its independence in March of 1990 to its induction into the United Nations in September of 1991.

No mere idiot box this: For Mekas, who emigrated to America in 1949, the filmed image has always been a way of commuting with the past and with his own sense of cultural displacement, and the roughly 18-inch, over-the-air TV signal (complete with periodic interference) that dominates Lithuania is no exception. It allows Mekas return passage to a country that has in many ways remained frozen in time since he left, while giving him a front-row seat as the tiny nation of 3.4 million becomes the first wobbling domino in the toppling of mighty Mother Russia. That the images are re-photographed rather than merely re-purposed is essential, for with every bob and weave of his camcorder, each abrupt changing of the channel, Mekas manages to do something remarkable—he personalizes the evening news.

As much a diary film as Walden, Lost, Lost, Lost, or As I Was Moving Ahead . . . , albeit with a more fixed chronology, Lithuania differs from the Mekas norm primarily in its cast of characters. Instead of such frequent subjects as John Lennon, Andy Warhol, Jack Smith, and brother Adolphas Mekas, the no less star-studded Lithuania features major roles by George H.W. Bush, Mikhail Gorbachev, and the Lithuanian president, Vytautas Landsbergis, as well as a who’s-who of ’90’s network news titans, including David Brinkley, Tom Brokaw, Sam Donaldson, and Jim Lehrer. Divided into four chapters, the movie follows blow-by-blow as the humbling will of the people chips away at the might of hammer and sickle, throughout which the background noises and sideshow actions of Mekas’s apartment happily intrude upon the course of world events. A child cries; a telephone rings; Mekas asks for a replacement battery pack; and, in a juxtaposition so dada it almost seems planned, Gorbachev’s chief power rival, newly elected Russian president Boris Yeltsin, speaks of his non-interference accord with the breakaway Balkan republics while the theme song from the 1984–1992 sitcom Who’s the Boss? drifts in from an adjacent room.

Making for an echo chamber of a different sort, Bush channels Yogi Berra by telling reporters that he “doesn’t want to make the wrong mistake” with regard to possible U.S. action in Lithuania (at that point being squeezed by Moscow-imposed economic sanctions). By the time the film—and the blockade—enters its final act, the events are losing airtime to reports of another incipient foreign conflict, this one in Iraq.

A record of change not just in the Baltics, but in the landscape of televised news and, to an extent, television itself, Lithuania unfolds during the last gasp of the Big Three networks as masters of their domain—before CNN’s night-vision cameras turned Operation Desert Storm into a ratings bonanza and ushered in the age of the 24-hour news cycle. There is a strong nostalgia in Mekas’s homemade recordings: for the primacy of television as a broadcast medium, for the revolutionary wonder of live images beamed via satellite, and for an intelligence in broadcast journalism all but obliterated by the he-said/she-said, cable-news turf wars. Yet as we watch Mekas watch, it’s impossible not to consider that a 21st-century Lithuania would be filmed less from television screens than from laptops and BlackBerrys. Moreover, the images coming across would be as likely to hail from professional cameramen as from armchair videographers like Mekas himself. From the streets of Lower Manhattan to the skies over Baghdad, today, all one needs is a cell phone to catch history in the making.

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Scarface Is Never Gonna Change, and Thank God

Brad Jordan hasn’t changed meaningfully in 20 years. The Houston rap giant’s first famous song, “Mind Playing Tricks on Me,” found him sitting alone in a four-cornered room, haunted by visions. He was 21 years old, and George Herbert Walker Bush was president. Last month, Brad turned 39, and America elected Barack Obama. There’s probably a 10-minute “We Didn’t Start the Fire” anthem to be written about what’s happened to rap music in between. But “the homey Scarface” remains proudly, defiantly alone, having made a point—a virtue—of never changing. Everything he believed in in his early twenties, he remains convinced of now that he’s kicking 40’s door down—a sad statement on inflexibility, but a testament to a peculiar kind of integrity.

Emeritus is Scarface’s ninth studio album, and, he claims, his last, though he’s been threatening retirement for so long, it’s begun to feel like a reflex. He nonetheless remains consumed with righteous contempt for snitches and obsessed with “the code of the streets,” as it were: “Let’s keep it real/I got the documents to prove it/You a snitchin’-ass nigga/Tryin’ to hide behind your music,” he crows on “High Powered.” The chorus of the mournful “Soldier Story” (which also features his quiet, elegant blues-guitar comping) says it all: “The streets always been my daddy/And mommy is the county jail/I’m a soldier and I’m about my mil/I ain’t tryin’ to do right/I’m already livin’ in hell/Cuz I’m a gangsta.” Scarface has built his entire persona around these kinds of cold-comfort affirmations, and here they feel like folk wisdom.

Ever since 1996’s five-mics-in-TheSource landmark The Fix, ‘Face has been relentlessly refining his sound, and on Emeritus, he continues stripping away, boiling down his beats until they’re little more than a thumping chassis with some sticky guitar and organ adorned, while cutting his words until each one lands with thudding resonance. He still paints in mercilessly vivid strokes: parents identifying their dead children’s bodies, crack sold in jelly jars. His misery is still fresh, but there’s comfort in familiarity. Scarface remains trapped in the four-cornered room of his mind, but he seems to have found a measure of peace in solitude, turning out quietly masterful albums like this one, and letting time turn him into a weathered monument.

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Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story

Just about everyone interviewed for Stefan Forbes’s fascinating documentary about Lee Atwater—whether Democrat or Republican pols, African-American bluesmen or hardened reporters—ends anecdotes about the Republican strategist’s dirty tricks with a titter that’s either nervous or ambivalently appreciative. Politically speaking, it may be enough to know that Atwater, who shamelessly drove race into the 1988 presidential campaign to destroy Michael Dukakis and win the election for George Bush Sr., was a disciple of Strom Thurmond, got along like a house on fire with Bush Jr., and taught Karl Rove most of what he knows about exploiting media. But Forbes adroitly fills out his picture of this “marsupial” little man with “the eyes of a killer” through the testimony of those who admired and/or loathed Atwater. Less persuasive is Forbes’s perfunctory, psychologically thin rummage through Atwater’s childhood for a traumatic event that would explain his utter ruthlessness. He finds one, but it’s much less interesting than the question of whether the blues-playing Southerner was a racist or merely a cynic, or the film’s revelations about the ambiguities of Atwater’s highly publicized remorse, with hand on Bible, as he lay dying (and largely ignored by the dynasty he had served so assiduously) of brain cancer.

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‘King Leopold’s Ghost’

The latest in a recent wave of films on past and present troubles in Central Africa, the new documentary King Leopold’s Ghost sets itself apart with its historical scope. Based on a book by American journalist Adam Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost devotes its first half to the era between 1880 and World War I, during which unknown millions of Congolese died as a result of the forced production of rubber. Sleeker and more ambitious than the 2003 BBC-produced Congo: White King, Red Rubber, Black Death, which focused more narrowly on long-suppressed Belgian atrocities of that era, King Leopold’s Ghost traces the living legacy of colonialism, pausing to consider the 1961 assassination of Patrice Lumumba and the subsequent Mobutu years (there’s a damming video clip of George H.W. Bush introducing the dictator as “one of our most valued friends”), and linking the country’s recent civil wars to continuing economic exploitation. Overstuffed with information on everything from the importance of coltan mining to the minutiae of recent U.N. investigations, the last half-hour should be expanded into its own movie.

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The Bush Family Coup

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The 9-11 attacks provided the rationale for what amounts to a Bush family coup against the Constitution.

From the outset, President George Bush used 9-11 to reorganize the federal government and increase its reach far beyond any existing law to delve into the lives of innocent, ordinary people. The new powers allowed the government to arrest them at will and to subject them to endless incarceration without judicial review. Some people were sent abroad to be tortured for crimes they had nothing to do with. Who knows how many people have been tortured in American jails? When government employees within the intelligence community sought to protest, the government fired them and made sure they could never get another job in their areas of expertise. This extraordinary program of spying on Americans, much of which was carried out in fishing expeditions under the Patriot Act, has the makings of a consistent and long-range policy to wreck constitutional government.

It is little wonder both left and right have come together to fight Bush and may yet jettison the Patriot Act. Revelations of the domestic spy operation, with its secret wiretaps, ought to supply sufficient evidence to impeach Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney and launch criminal prosecutions of the top federal officials involved in carrying out the program. After all, these people are directly engaged in overthrowing constitutional government. How did this all come about?


GET THE COMMIES

In opening a conference on counterintelligence in March 2005, former president George H.W. Bush, who headed the CIA from 1975 to 1977, said, “It burns me up to see the agency under fire.” Recent criticism, Bush said, reminded him of the 1970s, when Congress “unleashed a bunch of untutored little jerks out there” to investigate the CIA’s involvement in domestic spying, assassinations, and other illegal activities, and subsequently passed laws to prevent abuses.

Bush was referring to the activities of the U.S. Senate’s Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations With Respect to Intelligence Activities, commonly known as the Church Committee after its chair, Idaho Democratic senator Frank Church. Among other things, the committee’s 1976 report detailed the workings of the infamous COINTELPRO, an FBI domestic spying program on Civil Rights leaders, anti-war groups, and anyone else who rubbed J. Edgar Hoover the wrong way. The report also detailed illegal domestic activities by the CIA and military intelligence. A simultaneous—and even more contentious—investigation was carried out in the House by the Select Committee on Intelligence, which also came to bear the name of it chair, New York Democratic congressman Otis Pike. The Pike Report focused on the CIA covert actions, as well as on the CIA’s overall effectiveness and its budget.

Within days of the 9-11 attacks, officials of Bush the younger’s administration and former intelligence chiefs were on the talk shows denouncing the “chilling effect” of the congressional investigations of the 1970s, and of subsequent halfhearted efforts to regulate the work of the intelligence agencies. Paul Bremer, the future head of the Iraq occupation, who had chaired the National Commission on Terrorism from 1998 to 2000, said on CNN that the Church Committee did “a lot of damage to our intelligence services. . . . And the more recent problem was that the previous administration put into effect guidelines which restricted the ability of CIA agents to go after . . . terrorist spies.”

Congress lost no time in repealing these rather toothless earlier guidelines, along with a host of other restrictions, especially those safeguarding the privacy of electronic communications. The Senate passed the Combating Terrorism Act of 2001 on September 13, one of its first actions in response to the attacks.

Between 1960 and 1974, the FBI conducted half a million investigations of so-called subversives, without a single conviction, and maintained files on well over a million Americans. The FBI tapped phones, opened mail, planted bugs, and burglarized homes and offices. At least 26,000 individuals were at one point catalogued on an FBI list of persons to be rounded up in the event of a “national emergency.” Hoover was particularly obsessed with Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, which he thought was influenced by communists. The FBI proceeded to undermine the civil rights movement, planting agents among the Freedom Riders (and also the Ku Klux Klan). Hoover put spies into the ranks of labor activists and of Democratic Party insurgents during the 1964 presidential campaign.

Meanwhile, the CIA began spying domestically. The Agency planted informants of its own within the United States, especially on college campuses. Between 1953 and 1973, they opened and photographed nearly a quarter of a million first-class letters, producing an index of nearly 1.5 million names. Under something called Operation CHAOS, separate files were created on approximately 7,200 Americans and over 100 domestic groups. In 1964, the CIA even created a secret arm called the Domestic Operations Division, the very name of which flew in the face of its legal charter. Back then, there were no “communications problems” between the two agencies.


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RAISE THE WALL

In documenting all this, the Church Committee concluded the intelligence community had engaged in actions “which had no conceivable rational relationship to either national security or violent activity.” The report of the House’s Pike Committee documented a history of CIA covert actions, as well as notable intelligence failures. As a result the CIA got out of domestic spying and the FBI supposedly pulled back from its orgy of homeland snooping. Some rather modest oversight was applied, the most important of which led to the creation of the “the wall.” This refers to application of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). FISA was enacted in 1978, in the wake of the congressional investigations, as a compromise that would allow the FBI and other domestic law enforcement to carry out counterintelligence operations while putting some sort of restraints on COINTELPRO-type abuses. Under FISA, the FBI could continue to do things like conduct searches and tap phones without traditional search warrants and without probable cause, as long as agents were targeting terrorists, spies, or other purported enemies of the United States, and as long as they got permission from a secret FISA court.

There was concern from the start that FISA would be used to circumvent the Fourth Amendment in routine criminal cases. So FISA dictated that these warrantless searches and surveillance could be conducted only for counterintelligence purposes, and not for regular criminal investigations. However, if a FISA search happened to turn up evidence of a crime, this information could be handed over to law enforcement. According to a joint inquiry conducted in 2002 by the Senate and House Select Committees on Intelligence, “the Intelligence Community agencies, perhaps overly ‘risk-averse’ in dealing with FISA-related matters, restricted the use of information far beyond what was required. The majority of FBI personnel interviewed . . . incorrectly believed that the FBI could not share FISA-derived information with criminal investigators at all or that an impossibly high standard had to be met before the information could be shared. Most did not know [it] could be shared with criminal investigators if it was simply relevant to the criminal investigation.”

And anyway, the FBI never stopped its domestic spying. During the ’80s and ’90s the FBI spied on and/or infiltrated peace and solidarity groups engaged in protesting U.S. involvement in the wars of Central America, put agents into Earth First, and went after the far right, again trying to plant agents and turn participants into informants. The shooting at Ruby Ridge and the raid in Waco galvanized not just the right but the heartland against the Bureau. At Ruby Ridge, it was an FBI sniper killing a mother with a baby in her arms. At Waco it was a monstrous assault on a religious enclave. And the Bureau’s handling of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995—with botched lab work and lost documents—to this day fuels the controversy over the government’s role in that catastrophe. Recent evidence suggests a federal agent may have penetrated the gang that conducted the bombing. The informant told her superior, who sat on the information until long after the bombing.


INSTALL BIG BROTHER

The failures of the FBI and CIA in 9-11 were not because of any wall. These agencies failed because they weren’t doing their jobs right. The congressional investigation found the CIA couldn’t penetrate al Qaeda—an especially odd claim since we had helped to create and finance al Qaeda as an instrument to win the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. John Walker Lindh and other Americans walked right into al Qaeda and were greeted by its high officials. How come the CIA couldn’t do the same? No wall kept the CIA from getting Osama bin Laden. They just couldn’t find him. As for how the hijackers got into the U.S., it’s hardly a mystery. An FBI informant among the Muslim community in San Diego socialized with two hijackers and rented a room to one of them. When Congress tried to figure out how this happened, the Bureau covered it up, refusing to allow the informant to testify. Again, there was no wall here—just plain incompetence made worse by a deliberate cover-up. The FBI reportedly was informed in April 2001 by a longtime reliable asset of an impending attack using airliners as missiles. It did nothing. An operation known as Able Danger reportedly turned up information on and tracked hijacker Mohammad Atta as far back as 1998, but the Pentagon wouldn’t tell the FBI what it knew. Even now, the Bush administration is fighting to prevent the Able Danger officials from testifying before Congress about what they knew and when they knew it. When it comes to intelligence, the only thing worse than the FBI’s record is the CIA’s.

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Given all that’s happened, the only explanation for the Bush domestic spying is that it’s political. There are no crimes involved here. But there is an overweaning desire by this so-called conservative government to establish and institutionalize a Big Brother regime that tolerates no dissent and wrecks constitutional government.

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

The Bush Family Coup

The 9-11 attacks provided the rationale for what amounts to a Bush family coup against the Constitution. From the outset, President George Bush used 9-11 to reorganize the federal government and increase its reach far beyond any existing law to delve into the lives of innocent, ordinary people. The new powers allowed the government to arrest them at will and to subject them to endless incarceration without judicial review. Some people were sent abroad to be tortured for crimes they had nothing to do with. Who knows how many people have been tortured in American jails? When government employees within the intelligence community sought to protest, the government fired them and made sure they could never get another job in their areas of expertise. This extraordinary program of spying on Americans, much of which was carried out in fishing expeditions under the Patriot Act, has the makings of a consistent and long-range policy to wreck constitutional government.

It is little wonder both left and right have come together to fight Bush and may yet jettison the Patriot Act. Revelations of the domestic spy operation, with its secret wiretaps, ought to supply sufficient evidence to impeach Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney and launch criminal prosecutions of the top federal officials involved in carrying out the program. After all, these people are directly engaged in overthrowing constitutional government. How did this all come about?



Get the commies

In opening a conference on counterintelligence in March 2005, former president George H.W. Bush, who headed the CIA from 1975 to 1977, said, “It burns me up to see the agency under fire.” Recent criticism, Bush said, reminded him of the 1970s, when Congress “unleashed a bunch of untutored little jerks out there” to investigate the CIA’s involvement in domestic spying, assassinations, and other illegal activities, and subsequently passed laws to prevent abuses.

Bush was referring to the activities of the U.S. Senate’s Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations With Respect to Intelligence Activities, commonly known as the Church Committee after its chair, Idaho Democratic senator Frank Church. Among other things, the committee’s 1976 report detailed the workings of the infamous COINTELPRO, an FBI domestic spying program on civil rights leaders, anti-war groups, and anyone else who rubbed J. Edgar Hoover the wrong way. The report also detailed illegal domestic activities by the CIA and military intelligence. A simultaneous— and even more contentious—investigation was carried out in the House by the Select Committee on Intelligence, which also came to bear the name of its chair, New York Democratic congressman Otis Pike. The Pike Committee focused on the CIA covert actions, as well as on the CIA’s overall effectiveness and its budget.

Within days of the 9-11 attacks, officials of Bush the younger’s administration and former intelligence chiefs were on the talk shows denouncing the “chilling effect” of the congressional investigations of the 1970s, and of subsequent halfhearted efforts to regulate the work of the intelligence agencies. Paul Bremer, the future head of the Iraq occupation, who had chaired the National Commission on Terrorism from 1998 to 2000, said on CNN that the Church Committee did “a lot of damage to our intelligence services. . . . And the more recent problem was that the previous administration put into effect guidelines which restricted the ability of CIA agents to go after . . . terrorist spies.”

Congress lost no time in repealing these rather toothless earlier guidelines, along with a host of other restrictions, especially those safeguarding the privacy of electronic communications. The Senate passed the Combating Terrorism Act of 2001 on September 13, one of its first actions in response to the attacks.

Between 1960 and 1974, the FBI conducted half a million investigations of so-called subversives, without a single conviction, and maintained files on well over a million Americans. The FBI tapped phones, opened mail, planted bugs, and burglarized homes and offices. At least 26,000 individuals were at one point cataloged on an FBI list of persons to be rounded up in the event of a “national emergency.” Hoover was particularly obsessed with Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement, which he thought was influenced by Communists. The FBI proceeded to undermine the civil rights movement, planting agents among the Freedom Riders (and also the Ku Klux Klan). Hoover put spies into the ranks of labor activists and Democratic Party insurgents during the 1964 presidential campaign.

Meanwhile, the CIA began spying domestically. The agency planted informants of its own within the United States, especially on college campuses. Between 1953 and 1973, they opened and photographed nearly a quarter of a million first-class letters, producing an index of nearly 1.5 million names. Under something called Operation CHAOS, separate files were created on approximately 7,200 Americans and over 100 domestic groups. In 1964, the CIA even created a secret arm called the Domestic Operations Division, the very name of which flew in the face of its legal charter. Back then, there were no “communications problems” between the two agencies.

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Raise the wall

In documenting all this, the Church Committee concluded the intelligence community had engaged in actions that “had no conceivable rational relationship to either national security or violent activity.” The report of the House’s Pike Committee documented a history of CIA covert actions, as well as notable intelligence failures. As a result the CIA got out of domestic spying and the FBI supposedly pulled back from its orgy of homeland snooping. Some rather modest oversight was applied, the most important of which led to the creation of “the wall.” This refers to application of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). FISA was enacted in 1978, in the wake of the congressional investigations, as a compromise that would allow the FBI and other domestic law enforcement to carry out counterintelligence operations while putting some sort of restraints on COINTELPRO-type abuses. Under FISA, the FBI could continue to do things like conduct searches and tap phones without traditional search warrants and without probable cause, as long as agents were targeting terrorists, spies, or other purported enemies of the United States, and as long as they got permission from a secret FISA court.

There was concern from the start that FISA would be used to circumvent the Fourth Amendment in routine criminal cases. So FISA dictated that these warrantless searches and surveillance could be conducted only for counterintelligence purposes, and not for regular criminal investigations. However, if a FISA search happened to turn up evidence of a crime, this information could be handed over to law enforcement. According to a joint inquiry conducted in 2002 by the Senate and House Select Committees on Intelligence, “the Intelligence Community agencies, perhaps overly ‘risk-averse’ in dealing with FISA-related matters, restricted the use of information far beyond what was required. The majority of FBI personnel interviewed . . . incorrectly believed that the FBI could not share FISA-derived information with criminal investigators at all or that an impossibly high standard had to be met before the information could be shared. Most did not know [it] could be shared with criminal investigators if it was simply relevant to the criminal investigation.”

And anyway, the FBI never stopped its domestic spying. During the ’80s and ’90s the FBI spied on and/or infiltrated peace and solidarity groups engaged in protesting U.S. involvement in the wars of Central America, put agents into Earth First, and went after the far right, again trying to plant agents and turn participants into informants. The shooting at Ruby Ridge and the raid in Waco galvanized not just the right but the heartland against the bureau. At Ruby Ridge, it was an FBI sniper killing a mother with a baby in her arms. At Waco it was a monstrous assault on a religious enclave. And the bureau’s handling of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995—with botched lab work and lost documents—to this day fuels the controversy over the government’s role in that catastrophe. Recent evidence suggests a federal agent may have penetrated the gang that conducted the bombing. The informant told her superior, who sat on the information until long
after the bombing.



Install Big Brother

The failures of the FBI and CIA in 9-11 were not because of any wall. These agencies failed because they weren’t doing their jobs right. The congressional investigation found the CIA couldn’t penetrate Al Qaeda—an especially odd claim since we had helped to create and finance Al Qaeda as an instrument to win the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. John Walker Lindh and other Americans walked right into Al Qaeda and were greeted by its high officials. How come the CIA couldn’t do the same? No wall kept the CIA from getting Osama bin Laden. They just couldn’t find him. As for how the hijackers got into the U.S., it’s hardly a mystery. An FBI informant among the Muslim community in San Diego socialized with two hijackers and rented a room to one of them. When Congress tried to figure out how this happened, the bureau covered it up, refusing to allow the informant to testify. Again, there was no wall here—just plain incompetence made worse by a deliberate cover-up. The FBI reportedly was informed in April 2001 by a longtime reliable asset of an impending attack using airliners as missiles. It did nothing. An operation known as Able Danger reportedly turned up information on and tracked hijacker Mohammed Atta as far back as 1998, but the Pentagon wouldn’t tell the FBI what it knew. Even now, the Bush administration is fighting to prevent the Able Danger officials from testifying before Congress about what they knew and when they knew it. When it comes to intelligence, the only thing worse than the FBI’s record is the CIA’s.

[

Given all that’s happened, the only explanation for the Bush domestic spying is that it’s political. There are no crimes involved here. But there is an overweening desire by this so-called conservative government to establish and institutionalize a Big Brother regime that tolerates no dissent and wrecks constitutional government.

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

Springing a Leak

While Patrick Fitzgerald’s indictment follows the Byzantine finagling between Scooter Libby and various Washington reporters to make the overall charge he engaged in obstruction of justice, lied, and committed perjury in his grand jury testimony, the overall picture that emerges is of the vice president’s office as a boiler room, with Dick Cheney’s flunkies concocting a story to smear Joe Wilson by outing his wife’s undercover employment by the CIA.

In preparing for trial, Fitzgerald will doubtlessly uncover more and more of Cheney’s machinations, and it seems possible that one superseding indictment will follow another. The prosecutor’s witnesses could easily include other members of the vice president’s staff, as well as current national security adviser Stephen Hadley, Karl Rove, and others. And among his witnesses might very well be Cheney himself. That is, if he does not become a target.

The vice president runs foreign policy for Bush. Cheney is the most prominent political figure in the Bush administration with experience directing a war. He was George H.W. Bush’s secretary of defense during the first Gulf war. He has years of business dealings in the region as CEO of Halliburton, a major logistics contractor for the Pentagon in both Gulf wars. Cheney is thoroughly adept in Congress, having been a House member from Wyoming for years, and he knows the White House inside out as a former White House aide.

Bush, on the other hand, has never been in war and never run a military operation before the current war. He is totally inexperienced in foreign policy and knows little about Congress or the functioning of government. Neither he nor his father was remotely attuned to New Right ideology, let alone the ideas of the neoconservatives. Bush’s entry into right-wing politics comes through the Christian Right, where he found Jesus in his fight against drinking.

Cheney’s office is the data base for neocon ideological thinking piped in from the American Enterprise Institute. It was Cheney on 9-11 who took over control of the country—an unconstitutional act, some say—when the president was unable to keep his phone connections with the White House bunker. Cheney issued the shoot-down orders to protect Washington.


Too hot to handle

The Bush administration has always insisted it did not know the uranium documents sent it from Italian intelligence were forgeries. But
La Repubblica, the Italian newspaper, last Tuesday revealed that the documents came from Nicolo Pollari, head of that nation’s military intelligence service. The paper said Pollari met secretly on September 9, 2002, with Hadley, at the time the deputy security adviser. A month later, forged papers were cabled to Washington from the U.S. embassy in Rome. They had been delivered to the embassy by an Italian reporter. Last week a spokesman for the National Security Council told reporters that the meeting between Hadley and Pollari amounted to no more than a 15-minute courtesy call. The spokesman then made this waffling statement: “The subject of Iraq’s supposed uranium deal with Niger is not believed to have come up.” He added, “No one present has any recollection of yellowcake being discussed.” The CIA had repeatedly warned Hadley that the uranium story was dubious. George Tenet, then head of the CIA, even called Hadley and told him to watch out for the suspicious story. Pollari reportedly also worked his ties within the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans, run by Doug Feith, Rumsfeld’s neocon in residence. The Italian military security chief also met with Harold Rhode, Michael Ledeen, and Larry Franklin of that office. Franklin subsequently pled guilty to passing information about U.S. policy on Iran to Israel, through the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

It’s Dick Cheney who has pumped out the Bush line on foreign policy, much of which has been just plain wrong. Here, with the assistance of the Center for American Progress’s excellent research, are a few of Cheney’s more startling statements:

Links between Iraq and Al Qaeda: Cheney on September 14, 2003: “There was a relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda that stretched back through most of the decade of the ’90s.”

However, the Los Angeles Times on November 4, 2002, reported Europe’s top investigator saying, “We have found no evidence of links between Iraq and Al Qaeda . . . we have found no serious connections whatsoever.” The New York Times reported on June 27, 2003: “The chairman of the monitoring group appointed by the United Nations Security Council to track Al Qaeda told reporters . . . that his five-member team had found no evidence linking Al Qaeda to Saddam Hussein’s administration.”

Cheney on September 9, 2004: “[Saddam Hussein] provided safe harbor and sanctuary . . . for Al Qaeda.”

However, the final 9-11 Commission report in 2004 said there was no evidence that Iraq and Al Qaeda “ever developed a collaborative operational relationship.”

Weapons of mass destruction: Cheney on August 26, 2002: “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.”

But on October 2, 2003, David Kay, the Bush administration’s weapons inspector, said, “Iraq did not have a large, ongoing, centrally controlled [chemical weapons] program after 1991 . . . Iraq’s large-scale capability to develop, produce, and fill new CW munitions was reduced—if not entirely destroyed—during Operations Desert Storm and Desert Fox, 13 years of U.N. sanctions, and U.N. inspections.”

Cheney on October 3, 2003: “If we had had that information and ignored it, if we’d been told, as we were, by the intelligence community that he was capable of producing a nuclear weapon within a year if he could acquire fissile material and ignored it . . . we would have been derelict in our duties and responsibilities.”

In fact, the U.N. had reported on September 8, 2003, that Iraq was not capable of pursuing a nuclear weapons program after 1991 and that there was no sign of active weaponization activities in Iraq.

Iraq and 9-11: Cheney on September 14, 2003: “With respect to 9-11, of course, we’ve had the story that’s been public out there. The Czechs alleged that Mohammed Atta, the lead attacker, met in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official five months before the attack . . . ”

But California congressman Henry Waxman has noted that this meeting probably didn’t happen and that Cheney knew it. Waxman’s report said: “Czech intelligence officials were skeptical about the report; U.S. intelligence had contradictory evidence, such as records indicating Atta was in Virginia at the time of the meeting; and the CIA and FBI had concluded the meeting probably didn’t occur.”


Additional reporting: Ali Syed and Isabel Huacuja