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I’m excited to announce that a global literary and free speech organization, PEN International, has established a new chapter in Dallas, Texas. Founded in London in 1921, PEN International has a very simple mission: preserve literature in all its forms and ensure everyone can engage in free speech and freedom of expression. These are core elements in any truly democratic society, but they are constantly being challenged and even threatened by self-appointed guardians of writing, journalism and speech; people who seem to think they have the right and the power to determine what the rest of us can say and read. It’s a never-ending battle and, sadly, it never will be won. Those of us who advocate for a free press and free speech will always have to confront the oligarchical bullies who feel they – and only they – are blessed with inalienable rights to speech and literature.
Pen International felt the need to establish the Dallas / Fort Worth chapter in the wake of the fraudulent 2016 U.S. presidential election, which has given us an arrogant, foul-mouthed, womanizing, reality TV star in the White House.
“At a time of exceptional threats to free expression and open discourse, our chapters will bring years of mobilization, activism and organizing among writing communities across the country to the next level,” PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said in a statement. The Dallas/Fort Worth chapter, as well as others around the U.S. will be vehicles for “pushing back against the breakdown of civil discourse, the marginalization of vital voices, and encroachments on press freedom.”
This shouldn’t be a surprised to anyone familiar with U.S. politics. I’ve noticed over the years that, any time a conservative Republican lands in the White House, free speech and freedom of the press come under attack. They have no problems loosening gun laws and sending our military to fight stupid wars (as if there’s such a thing as a “smart” war). But, when it comes to education, health care and even voting, conservatives suddenly feel the need to debate the matter.
Regardless of how hard we have to fight to ensure the rights to free speech and freedom of the press, we will always take up the torch of liberty and justice.
Everyone has a story and everyone needs to be heard.
“Get over it. There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy.”
– Mick Mulvaney, Acting White House Chief of Staff, admitting Faux-President Trump expected concessions from Ukraine in exchange for financial aid
I’m starting to realize it’s actually possible Trump’s own staff will make the impeachment inquiry proceed more quickly, as the rest of us watch in shock and awe.
In his 1979 novel, Shibumi, author Trevanian (Rodney William Whitaker) told the tale of the fictitious Nicholai Hel, a Shanghai-born spy of Russian – German heritage who is the world’s most accomplished assassin. After surviving the carnage of the Hiroshima bombing, Hel retreats to a lavish and isolated mountain citadel with his beautiful Eurasian mistress. Everything is grand and everyone is gorgeous in this story! But, Hel is coaxed back into the netherworld of international espionage by an attractive young woman. Hel soon learns, however, that he’s being tracked by a mysterious and omnipotent global entity known simply as the “Mother Company.” The “Company” is a composite of corporate giants that installs leaders in key nations – even those in the developed world – manipulates the markets for such necessities as food and oil and incites wars whenever it deems appropriate. The conflict between Hel and the “Mother Company” becomes something akin to a board game, where millions of lives are used as toys for the benefit of a few powerful elitists. I first read Shibumi about a year after its publication and still find it one of the most fascinating works of fiction I’ve ever encountered. I’m surprised – and disappointed – that it hasn’t been made into a film yet.
The recent opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas made me think about the novel. No, I don’t believe Bush is an American version of Nicholai Hel. Hel is a polyglot and a skilled chess player. Bush can barely pronounce such complicated words as ‘nuclear’ and looks more comfortable holding a chain saw. It’s the notion of a “Mother Company” – a massive and ruthless international organization – that captures my attention. It’s easy to criticize Bush, or any president, for his domestic and foreign policies. But, in a true democracy, that one person isn’t completely in charge of the nation’s affairs. He simply represents the totality of the country’s population, as well as the nation’s successes and failures. And in the face of that reality, I don’t feel George W. Bush really wanted to be in that position.
I honestly believe Bush would have been content to serve two, perhaps three, terms as Texas governor and be done with public life. But, after gaining control of both houses of the U.S. Congress in 1994, the Republican National Party was determined to take back the Oval Office, too. They didn’t seem to have many viable candidates, so they zeroed in on Bush and – in my analytical opinion – virtually forced him into running. He formally announced his candidacy in June of 1999, well after all of the others. But, I surmise it was Dick Cheney – who had served as Chief of Staff for Gerald R. Ford and as Secretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush – who wanted to be president, or more importantly, wanted to have the kind of power that comes with it. Yet, with a personality less fluid than a chessboard, Cheney wouldn’t have stood a chance.
The fiasco that was the 2000 presidential elections certainly caught the nation off guard. But, its roots go back a mere three years; when Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld (Secretary of Defense under Bush, Jr.), Paul Wolfowitz (Deputy Secretary of Defense, 2001 – 2005, and President of the World Bank, 2005 – 2007) and several others formed the Project for the New American Century. PNAC had a simple mission: the United States needed to reassert itself as a global superpower, especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.
In its “Statement of Principles,” PNAC declared:
“As the 20th century draws to a close, the United States stands as the world’s most preeminent power. Having led the West to victory in the Cold War, America faces an opportunity and a challenge: Does the United States have the vision to build upon the achievement of past decades? Does the United States have the resolve to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests?
“[What we require is] a military that is strong and ready to meet both present and future challenges; a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad; and national leadership that accepts the United States’ global responsibilities.”
It’s obvious PNAC wanted the world to look and behave like the United States. The U.S. is often viewed as the beacon of democracy, and its president labeled “Leader of the Free World.” But, in this case, that noble brand of leadership was twisted to conform to a narrow viewpoint. For me, proof comes in the Iraq War and the oil gleaned from the bloody aftermath.
In February 1998, Kenneth Derr, then CEO of Chevron, said, “Iraq possesses huge reserves of oil and gas-reserves I’d love Chevron to have access to.” In May of 2000, Dick Cheney abruptly resigned his position as CEO of Halliburton and moved from Dallas with his wife back to his native Wyoming. There, the couple registered to vote, and just a few months later, Bush selected Dick Cheney as his running mate. Federal law prohibits presidential and vice-presidential candidates from having residencies in the same state. In 2001, Derr became CEO of Halliburton. Halliburton was among a handful of companies that were awarded no-bid contracts to assist with rebuilding Iraq. The U.S. Army awarded the first no-bid contract to Halliburton in March of 2003 (the same month the U.S. invaded Iraq) to rebuild Iraq’s oil infrastructure. The move generated enough outrage that the Pentagon cancelled that particular contract and opened up bidding to other companies. But, Halliburton was never shoved out of the loop and eventually earned $39.5 billion from the Iraq War.
Everyone has moments of self-doubt in their chosen profession; those sad times when the pressure of doing the job right makes you question everything. But, Bush always looked like he didn’t want to be there. Some say his facial expressions bestowed his arrogance, while others claim it was merely self-confidence. I think it was just frustration and – to some extent – cluelessness. Liberals and even some moderates joked that Cheney was the real power in the Oval Office and that Bush was just a figurehead – a puppet. But, there’s nothing mirthful about it – especially when you consider misinformation about the Iraq War was fed to the media and the American public. The results are 4,488 U.S. military personnel casualties and 1.5 million Iraqi dead.
After leaving Washington in January 2009, Bush moved to Dallas and has pretty much stayed out of the limelight; an unusual reaction upon vacating the highest office in the land. In contrast, Jimmy Carter made up for his dismal tenure in the Oval Office by working with Habitat for Humanity and overseeing elections in countries striving for the same brand of democracy Americans enjoy. Bill Clinton stayed front and center of the public eye. The Clinton Foundation works to improve global welfare through education and individual health. Clinton even joined with his predecessor, George H.W. Bush, to provide aid to nations affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Ronald Reagan probably would have done more after his presidency, had he not become hobbled by Alzheimer’s.
But, Bush, Jr.? He’s virtually been incognito. Even after publishing his memoir, Decision Points, it’s like he slipped into the Witness Protection Program. In a May 2009 speech to students graduating from a high school in Roswell, New México, Bush said, “I no longer feel that great sense of responsibility that I had when I was in the Oval Office. And frankly, it’s a liberating feeling.”
I don’t fault him for that! There’s no job like President of the United States. As with any national leadership role, the individual is president every hour of every day during his time in office. His movements and his words are tightly controlled and meticulously documented. He doesn’t really get weekends off, and vacations aren’t real vacations where he could get away and relax without a care in the world. It’s just the nature of the job; it’s impossible for the President of the United States to rest completely while in office. It is, without a doubt, one of the most prestigious roles in the world, but also one of the most dangerous. Presidents have to be self-confident – even a little arrogant – for sure, but it comes at great personal costs. I recall Jimmy Carter saying several years ago that he wouldn’t take the presidency again if it was given to him.
I’m not a conspiracy addict. I don’t see evil machinations lurking around every street corner. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone when he shot President John F. Kennedy and I don’t think Elvis Presley is living on a remote South Pacific island next door to Jim Morrison. But, I do believe the integrity of the 2000 presidential elections was subverted and George W. Bush was placed (forced) into office at the hands of a few corrupt, but very powerful individuals and corporations.
Usually the brightest and most ambitious of individuals lead nations and form policies that impact the global population. That’s just the way it is; the way it has to be. Those things can’t be left to chance. They don’t happen by coincidence.
But, if there is a “Mother Company” running this nation – or this planet – what is it? The aforementioned World Bank? The United Nations? The International Monetary Fund? All of them? Or, something else. Former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura has speculated it’s the Bilderberg Group, a Dutch-based organization formed in 1954 to encourage collaboration between the world’s great democracies. People have debated this matter for years.
History is often written by the victors. But, the history of George W. Bush’s presidency isn’t carved into stone.
Thank goodness for Hurricane Sandy! It’s provided some respite from the ongoing presidential campaigns. That a major tropical storm system could strike New England just before Halloween is news enough – without the inevitable destruction and loss of life. We have eight more days until election day here in the U.S., and Sandy could provide a twisted sort of the proverbial “October surprise.”
If it’s bad enough, both President Obama and Mitt Romney may not be anywhere near Washington, D.C. Obama could hunker down at his Chicago abode, while Romney could seek refuge in one of his many estates. Their responses to the disaster will prove what they really think of the American people. Obama most likely won’t stay in Chicago; he’ll want to head back to Washington to coordinate recovery efforts. I suspect Romney will take the traditional conservative Republican stance and just let New Englanders fend for themselves. After all, that’s been the mantra of his campaign; if you don’t have enough money in your bank account or drive a couple of Cadillacs, then you’re not worth saving.
Aside from November 7 being the birthday of one of my closest friends and former colleagues, it’ll be the first day after the elections and thus, the end of this campaign season. I got tired of this crap – oh – I’ll say around July 1. Political campaigns here in the U.S. are never-ending – like Thanksgiving turkey, deep space and the Harry Potter series. They just go on and on and on.
I suppose it’s inevitable in a truly democratic society. But, as a frequent, dedicated, tax-paying voter who’s experiencing firsthand the worst this dismal economy has to offer, I have some advice for all would-be candidates.
- Focus on what good you’ve done for your respective communities. In other words, run on your record, for God’s sakes! If you don’t have much of a record, then don’t run for public office! That’s like a high school graduate applying for an engineering position at NASA. You don’t have to walk on water, or even build homes for the impoverished (although the latter would be more practical and appealing), but show us something positive. What have you done for us?
- Stop, or at least limit, the negative ads. If you have to point out the adverse traits of your opponent instead of highlighting your positive attributes, then you don’t have much of a campaign. Karl Rove had to do that with George W. Bush. Bush was such a lame-ass that the only way the ignorant masses could be convinced to vote for him (other than because of their ignorance) was for the opposition to be demonized. The 2004 presidential campaign is a perfect example. There was nothing good about Bush’s tenure in office at that point. He couldn’t prove that he’d completed his stint in the Texas National Guard, and no one had found the elusive “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq. So the Rove goblins questioned John Kerry’s military record and made him out to be indecisive; e.g. a “flip-flopper.” It didn’t help that Kerry tried to take the high road, which was like Albert Einstein trying to explain quantum physics to Ron Jeremy. I wasn’t too crazy about Kerry anyway, but look at the mess we ended up with as Bush left office.
- Stop saying, ‘I promise to do .’ Instead, say something like, ‘I promise to cooperate with , or to do my best to accomplish .’ Every political candidate – especially those for the presidency – promises massive changes without realizing this not a dictatorship, or even an oligarchy. There are 3 branches of government, and they have to work with one another. Think We Are the World, or better yet, I Want to Teach the World to Sing. I suppose that’s a bit much to ask from grown people with Mount Everest-size egos. Merely promising to do your best goes a long way. Most people are smart enough to understand that an elected official – even the President of the United States – can’t do everything alone. I mean, William H. Taft’s wife, Helen, once answered the doorbell to the White House, and Harry Truman used to wash his own socks. Either way people won’t be too disappointed when an elected official can’t get X, Y and Z done – which is one reason why the American people should blame the Republicans in Congress for keeping things screwed up. They won’t work with Obama. But, that’s a different essay.
People are always glad to see election season come to an end. Yes, the candidates are tired, but so are we. Our elected officials don’t seem to get it sometimes. I’m still unemployed and have massive student debt to pay off. I don’t care about gay marriage; don’t want to hear your definition of when life begins; don’t want too much of our tax dollars go to treat diseases in foreign countries where people should have figured out by now that having sex with a virgin doesn’t cure AIDS. I want to see some real action in Washington – and not on the dance floor. I want to see our elected officials handing out water bottles after Sandy hits.
I just finished watching Mitt Romney’s interview with Scott Pelley on 60 Minutes and didn’t know whether to laugh or yell at Romney’s claim that President Obama has been unwilling to work with Republicans during his time in the Oval Office. Obama has done just about everything a biracial man can do to please a bunch of crusty old White men short of tap-dancing and calling them “Master.” If anything, Obama has been too conciliatory these past three years. But, the Republicans still don’t appreciate it. Of course, if he showed more backbone and got ugly with their sorry asses, they’d be just as hateful towards him. Either way, he can’t win.
I’ve never seen so much disrespect heaped upon a president than has been thrown at Obama. From the “birther” crowd (a pack of idiot assholes) to the Tea Party gang (neo-Nazis disguised as suburbanites) to Governor Jan Brewer sticking her finger in Obama’s face as soon as he got off the plane (I wanted to break than thing off and stuff it down her throat, but that would have ended her sex life). I thought Bill Clinton suffered plenty of disrespect from his Republican counterparts, especially with the self-righteous impeachment. But, that’s nothing compared to the crap Obama has endured.
The Republicans keep blaming Obama for the still-stagnant economy. Never mind that the GOP helped create the worst financial crisis in nearly eight decades with the help of the lame-brained George W. Bush. Their intense deregulation led to the housing and banking calamities. This was actually worst than the 1990’s-era savings and loan mess, which – in case anyone forgot – was brought on by the 1982 Banking Deregulation Act; a brain child of that other Republican moron, Ronald Reagan. Republicans keep thinking if you just let businesses do whatever they want, the economy will function perfectly. They haven’t figured out yet that’s never worked. It’d be easy to call them idiots, but I think they’re just greedy bastards. Perhaps they know deregulation doesn’t work so well, but don’t care because the hogs at the helm of the big corporations will get richer regardless of what happens. They just hope average people stay stupid enough not to be able to recognize it.
Moreover, the Republicans exacerbated the economic mess with two unfunded wars. Here’s where they get the ignorant masses riled up; the people who keep putting them into office. The GOP stalwarts wrap themselves in the American flag and cry freedom. Anyone with half a brain, however, realizes that the Iraq War was based on lies; lies perpetuated by a pack of scoundrels who weren’t so eager to answer their own country’s call to arms in their youth. I watched Condoleezza Rice’s speech at the Republican National Convention; a moving and emotional sermon where she talked of growing up a colored girl in the Deep South. And, I realized she was one of the architects of the Iraq War; one of the scumbags who hoodwinked both the country and the United Nations into believing that Iraq had yellow-cake uranium, or some other such dastardly concoction, and plans to destroy life as we know it. She, like Ann Romney, stood up there at the podium in her designer dress and extolled the virtues of being an American. And, I thought of the nephew of a friend of mine who served in the Marines in both Iraq and Afghanistan and is now back home, living with his single mother and going to school on the GI Bill. He told me at a Christmas party his mother held in 2010 – just months after he left the Marines – that he’d lost some friends in both wars. He didn’t seem to want to talk about it, so I didn’t press him on the details. But, I could tell it hurt him. I thanked him profusely for his service and gave him a good old fashioned bear hug. He deserved that much. He and other military veterans deserve a lot more.
All of us hard-working, law-abiding, tax-paying citizens deserve a lot more from our elected officials than the perpetual sludge fest known as the 2012 presidential race. So, what is Obama to do in the face of this morass? I suppose he could get meaner. But then, he’d be viewed as an uppity Negro by the Republican leadership. Yes, I feel race still plays a part in this discussion because if Obama was a full-blooded White man, he probably wouldn’t be subjected to this level of hate. He could still try to compromise. But then, he’d be seen as a weakling not worthy of the office of the president. Again, he can’t win – not in this political climate.
Americans keep talking about changing the way Washington works. Obviously, it’s not working now! But, it’s not Washington itself; it’s the people, or rather our elected officials. They just won’t work together anymore. Everyone complains about that great partisan divide, but who’s going to do something about it? Somebody needs to take the politics out of Washington and put back in public service. We all deserve that much from the people who represent us.