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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Presidents and Irrelevance

How quickly do the blustery storms of windy bravado become the squawks of a cold little man in the last throws of leadership!

Below thirty is not only chilly on a Fahrenheit thermometer. It's also a frosty place to be in an opinion poll, and that's where the President of the United States finds himself these days. The White House this weekend dismissed Jimmy Carter's opinion of the present administration's foreign policy as the "worst in history" by arguing that the former president and recent Nobel laureate is becoming "increasingly irrelevant." The question is, with Bush's numbers in the deep freeze, just who's opinion exactly is "irrelevant?"

The world stopped listening to George W. Bush four years ago when he launched an unprovoked, negligibly supported war in Iraq. Despite what the media called a "mandate" following the close 2004 elections, the confetti at the inauguration had not even stopped falling when the President's numbers began their slide. After getting us into an endless war and showing blind support for Michael Brown after Hurricane Katrina, does anyone really care about his opinion about what the Lebanese are doing to the Palestinian refugee camps, or whether or not he is confident of Alberto Gonzales?

We have a low opinion of the President because, like the drug addict he once was, he has shown horrible judgement. If he has poor judgement, his assessment of any situation (other than, perhaps, what his Scottish Terriers' poop smells like) is completely without weight or merit.

For some presidents, strong presidents, honorable presidents, opinions can be easily converted to calls to action. Recommendations are considered, coherent arguments are made, and a good government functions. But a president with a track record of mismanagement on - literally - a global scale, is weak and has no honor, and deserves (arguably) only the honorific of his office as a modicum of respect. He is not just a lame duck. He's just lame.

The problem is, if one day he realizes the level of his impotence, and graciously removes himself from office, we may no longer have a screaming Lilliputian on our shoulder, but we will still have to deal with the Cheney in our shoe.

But the high office of leadership is bigger than one man. Each of the three branches of government strives for the permanence of its opinions, and each wields a pen to imbed those ideas into the foundation of our government and the fabric of our society. I hope one of them has the wisdom to build the necessary consensus that will help us recover from this time of the worst US government in history.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Taking a Train to Dachau


Timeless Messages of the Past

It has recently been reported that, according to scientists, time travel into the past is probably not possible. So we are stuck with the tried and true ways of touching history: a book, a movie, a play, and travel.

Sometimes, some coins in a slot is all you need. They buy you a story, an eyeful of strobing shadows through the binocular lenses of a nickelodeon. There is also the story that unrolls itself on railroad tracks, paid for with some Euro coins in a ticket machine, and revealed through the strobing light and color of the German countryside zipping by the windows of an S-bahn train from Munich.

I took a train into a story of the past. I took a train to Dachau.

Before I left to meet my wife for a week in Germany, my brother asked me, in that goofy, cynical way he has, "Oh. Germany. Are you going to a concentration camp?" I cannot wait to tell him that I did, that I actually took a train there. It's a quirky dark irony to which, I think, perhaps only children of Holocaust Survivors can relate.

But in the interest of full disclosure, we did not actually step off a steaming train by the old gate house, waiting to be marched past the "Arbeit Macht Frei" ["Work Will Set You Free" - a cruel Nazi joke] sign in the gate door. We had to take a public bus, along with loads of other tourists, from the town of Dachau's main train station.

But this is not a travelogue. This is about a journey, a pilgrimage to a horrible place from a horrible time. It is about where the unimaginable started, and it presents an opportunity to talk about the political and social relevance to our time. After all, what began in Dachau is the scale by which all unsavory, modern political and military actions have been measured. Some say such comparisons tend to dilute, or even disrespect, the magnitude of the death of compassion those terrible times signify for so many. They may be right.

On the other hand, all those horrors that my parents and millions of others went through were allowed to happen because each call for counteraction was ignored and unheeded. In this extreme case, ignorance was not just bliss; it was murder. State sanctioned discrimination, then arrests and deportations, then pogroms and finally genocide - each happened with barely a murmur of shock from the world community.

If one defines a "holocaust" as any one of those actions being allowed to happen by an apathetic world, then it is easy to see the tragedy in the former Yugoslavia in the same terms as Darfur and in the same terms as George Bush making political arrests without due process and allowing torture. After all, the Nazis did these things too. Therefore, regardless of where one stands on the issue of comparisons, we still have a responsibility to speak against all these things, whenever and wherever they happen.

That the Nazis were permitted to commit all of these, and so many more, unimaginable horrors, shows how important it is to pay attention to each act an unrestrained government takes on its own people (or others) on their own behalf.

But using a page from the Nazi playbook does not make Cheney into Goebbels or GW into Hitler (Putin's recent allusions notwithstanding). Still, if we continue to allow any branch of our government to support and fund these bad policies, we will be just as guilty as the Germans who were mostly silent while their government ran a cold scythe across Europe. In this there is no breakdown of comparisons. Apathy is apathy.

When I stepped through the gate into Dachau, and I saw the reminders of the murder, torture, political arrests and medical experiments, I was in that time seventy years ago, feeling the dust blowing across the enormous assembly ground. Then, when I read about shipping people to a prison camp at a former armory, holding them without due process, arresting them for their political and religious beliefs, of course I thought of Guantanamo Bay and no habeus corpus and renditions that our happening while we watch.

When I got on that train to Dachau, I was traveling to a place in time that I was able to feel, to see, to learn about. When I returned to my own time, I came back with the sad, certain knowledge that the apathy that allowed Dachau to happen is still in the world.

The Universe, it seems, called on me to take notice of the timelessness of the experience. You see, the exact minute I dropped my coins into the ticket machine in Munich for that train trip back in time, my watch literally stopped.

-PBG

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Dear Texas Homeland Security Partner

The Ongoing Saga of the Love Between a Government and the State That Made Her

(based on the actual letter from Homeland Security to ranchers on the Rio Grande portion of the Texas/Mexico border)



Dear Texas Homeland Security Partner,

I know that you love the good ole' USA, and you want to support your president and favorite son in protectin' our borders. Seein' as how your land abuts right there at the Rio Grande, I'm remindin' you, in case I forgot to tell you, that, well, we gotta fence off the river. Wall it off, really. Keeps them illegal, law breakin' alien varmints out.

Rememberin' you most fondly,

Homeland Security

xxxooo

...

Dear HS,

I miss you somethin' fierce. Your letter, though, kinda rattled me. I thought we had an understanding. How can this relationship be successful if you won't give me the space to be the rancher that I am and let me water my cattle once in a while? I love you. You know I do. But we talked about this. We talked about our future together, where drones and sensors and radars in balloons would protect what we have forever. We held hands and you made promises. If I can't trust you, where does that leave us?

Your dearest partner,

Texas Rancher

...

My dear T.R.,

I am touched by your devotion, and I know I sometimes take it - and you - for granted. I am looking forward to the romantic border future of which you spoke, but I know what's best for both of us. After all, what's more important to our future than a safe, secure, impenetrable home? Surely not a few measly head of cattle. Surely not some flea bag beasties that just drink and keep migratin'. I'm looking out for our survival, not theirs. Don't you trust me? They don't love you like I do.

Can't wait til we are together again. Meanwhile, here's a little somethin' to show you just how much I care.

xxxooo, Homeland

...

Dear HS,

Please think about what you are askin' me! I'm a Texan, and I have a hard time submittin' to anyone, and no, I don't trust you! But I can't quit you neither. My ranch is your ranch; my border is your border. I know you'll do right by me. Thanks for the generosity of your little, er, gift. But say, won't the rest of the country be pissed that they're not gettin' what I'm gettin'?

I love you more,

Texas

...

Dearest TR,

I knew you'd see what was best for all of us. As for the others, they don't control me. Fact is, they don't control much (heh heh). Guess that won't keep 'em from wantin' to try to take back my recent gift to you. They are nasty that way, never wantin' you to have what you so rightly deserve. We won't let 'em come between us though. Will we? Seriously, I'm askin' you. I mean, we won't. I mean I won't if you won't.

Please?

In glory,

Your Texas Homeland Security Partner

...

Dear Homeland,

You are mine forever, as long as you keep me happy. A cowboy could get used to this. You don't think this makes me a sissy, do ya?

TR

...

Dear Texas,

Your only a sissy if I say so, and I won't call you a sissy, unless... well, you're my good bitch- I mean feller, and I and gonna let anything happen to you or your sweet backside. (Wait. did I say that? Whoa. Don't hit send. Don't hit sen--- shit!)

...

pbg