Thursday, June 16, 2011

McCain Makes a Stand Again

Opposing the Right-Wing Media Takes Courage

“These are questions that every member of Congress needs to think about long and hard, but especially my Republican colleagues.” –Sen. John McCain.

In what has been a stifling atmosphere since the present Congress convened in January, I appreciate any breath of fresh air that stirs the lockstep Republican miasma. Once again, Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, has provided a bit of a breeze.

He made the above comment this morning in reference to participation of the United States in NATO‘s military operation in Libya. Our role in the action has been limited to missile and drone strikes and the like, and we have put no troops on the ground there. Yesterday the Obama Administration made the assertion that because our involvement was limited in this way, it doesn’t require congressional approval under the War Powers Act of 1973.

That act requires the president to inform Congress within 48 hours after committing forces, and limits military actions to 60 days, with a 30-day withdrawal period, unless war is declared or Congress authorizes more time.

Sen. McCain was not supporting the White House in its assertion that what we are doing in Libya is exempt from this restriction, but he did make a strong case in favor of the action itself.

Lots of GOP members of Congress have criticized President Obama for supporting the NATO mission, and there is Democratic opposition as well. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-OH, has announced that he is suing the president for violating the War Powers Act.

But many of the Republicans who are now chastising Obama for his decision were among the most vocal, before he acted, in calling on him to do something for the poor, oppressed people in Libya. Such legislators make it clear that it is the president himself they really oppose, and they appear to be quite oblivious to the hypocrisy of their reversed positions.

Personally, I have mixed feelings about our participation in Libya; I think most of us do. I see a valid point in the argument that Congress needs to authorize further action. I am not going to imitate the lockstep Republicans and defend the administration at all costs. I think Kucinich’s lawsuit is an appropriate way to determine the scope of the War Powers Act and its restraint on executive power. In this case, especially, the law is not clear.

What I found refreshing in McCain’s speech this morning was his exhortation to fellow lawmakers to consider involvement in Libya itself, not just the fact that it was ordered by a president from the opposing party.

“Many of us remember well the way that some of our friends on the other side of the aisle savaged President Bush over the Iraq war, how they sought to do everything in their power to tie his hands and pull America out of that conflict…” he said. “We were right to condemn this behavior then, and we would be wrong to practice it now ourselves simply because a leader of the opposite party occupies the White House.”

Wow! And there’s more:

“Republicans need to ask themselves whether they want to be part of a group who are earning the grateful thanks of a murderous tyrant or trying to limit an American president’s ability to force that tyrant to leave power.”

For the second time in less than a month, McCain has spoken out against the politically correct GOP dogma. The first time was his condemnation of the assertion that torture of U.S. prisoners had helped track down Osama bin Laden. This time he stood in opposition to the most basic Republican tenet: anything President Obama does is wrong.

In between those two events we saw what happened to Newt Gingrich when he called the Ryan plan to dismantle Medicare “right wing social engineering.” The Faux-Limbaugh echo chamber almost blew a 50-amp fuse on that one, and Newt couldn’t backtrack, recant, apologize, or temporize quickly enough.

McCain escaped unscathed the first time; it’s hard to second-guess a man who was in captivity for years when he gives his opinion about torture. Will he get by with it this time?

I think so. He’s not running for president this time around, so his candidacy can’t be shot down, and he still commands a lot of respect from rank-and-file Republicans and independents who supported him in 2008. He was re-elected to his Senate seat just last year, so he can afford to speak out.

And usually McCain can be counted on to toe the party line. He’s careful about choosing the issues on which he differs from it. But that gives even more weight to his words when does decide to play the “maverick.”

I think both of his stances are courageous in the face of the bulldozer tactics of the right-wing media. I am reminded of the excesses of Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s. Everyone was so frightened of communists, or of being accused of being one, that McCarthy was able to trample the rights of many innocent people and pervert the protections of the Bill of Rights as he crusaded against them. Finally, some courageous Republicans stood up to him and he quickly crumbled.

Faux News and the Limbaugh clones are just as vicious, and just as wrong, as Joseph McCarthy was. It is heartening to see at least some resistance to their excesses.

Keep it up, Sen. McCain!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

My Fellow Boomers:

An Open Letter

"There is absolutely no greater high than challenging the power structure as a nobody, giving it your all, and winning!" – Abbie Hoffman, 1936-1989.

I remember walking through a parking lot with my mother when I was quite young.

“Look, Morrie,” she said, pointing, “a two-toned car!” She explained that this was a new fad in Detroit, where they made cars. I thought about it a moment and then asked why cars didn’t come in lots of colors.

Two-toned 1955 Packard

“Well!” she responded, “I think two colors are quite enough!” She made it clear from her tone that this was something dangerously close to cultural excess, a disturbing distortion of the envelope of propriety.

This was in the 1950s, just after many thousands of young men had come home from World War II, where they had all worn uniforms and functioned in a strict hierarchal system. They exchanged their old uniforms for new ones: the gray flannel suit, the wide tie, the fedora. Their wives wore gloves and hats with veils and only wore white shoes in months without “r”s, or whatever that rule was. Any deviation from the norm was unsettling and subjected the “deviant” to possible censure.

Making up for lost opportunity, they had lots of kids – so many that the press started talking about a “baby boom.” That’s where we came in.

Most everyone agreed that we were “spoiled,” that our generation was better off than any before it, but that didn’t mean we were happier. We had lots of toys and unprecedented opportunities, but we saw flaws in the culture that had provided them.

We didn’t want to wear gloves or fedoras and we saw nothing wrong with two-toned or even fifty-toned cars. We would have been satisfied with fewer toys if that had reduced the stress caused by our parents’ pursuit of material advancement and superficial appearances. The pundits of the day called it “keeping up with the Joneses,” and we didn’t buy into it. We had to live behind the fa├žades. We were the Jones kids.

Eventually we went to college, or we went to war, or we went to the streets – or all three.

I entered college in the fall of 1965. In June there had been about 23,000 U.S. “advisors” in Vietnam or on the way. Before the year ended there were 184,000, and the charade that they weren’t simply soldiers evaporated. Ever more thousands were added, and before I graduated the total exceeded half a million. The draft was reinstituted and student deferments were cancelled.

Most of us smoked pot and a lot of us dropped acid, and so did the musicians we listened to. We turned on, dropped out, went back to nature, burned our bras (or stood by watching and enjoying it), let our hair grow, made love not war, invented ecology, took our shoes off, gave peace a chance, didn’t trust anyone over 30, ate brown rice, went to concerts with light shows, and participated in sit-ins, love-ins, and lots of other “-ins.” At least a quarter of our vocabulary was comprised of the words “wow,” “groovy,” “man,” “cool,” “like,” and “really,” usually in combinations like “Wow, man, like really groovy, man!”

(If you’ve forgotten what it was like, go back and read your Zap Comix and watch a few Cheech and Chong movies.)

We really thought we were changing the world, and for a while we really were. We ended a pointless war. We helped to break down centuries of prejudice against women and minorities and we ignored economic class distinctions. We respected not only fellow humans but all of Earth’s denizens. We crippled the power structure in the music industry and wreaked havoc on institutions of higher learning. We were open to new things. It was beautiful, man, really beautiful!

But of course it wasn’t. Not all of it. There were nightmares, too. The worst was the way many of us who weren’t soldiers treated those who were when they came home. Our “free love” was often used as an excuse to brush aside those who loved us. Our experiments with marijuana left some of us dazed and useless on some couch as the years went by, or even led us into the darker holes of harsher substances.

Perhaps the most disappointing shortcoming was our political evolution. We saw the excesses and injustices of the generations that came before us, and we all sang with Mr. Dylan as he wondered how many years it could continue. We took to the streets to protest these wrongs and make them right, but when Richard Nixon started replacing soldiers with bombers we sort of forgot about it. We had railed against our parents’ ridiculous social conventions, but we simply replaced them with new ones. It wasn’t the same line, but we all toed it.

And then it was gone. Money managers replaced flower children; cocaine and eventually double lattes replaced pot; sexting replaced free love; “drill down” replaced “groovy;” Beemers and then SUVs replaced hippie vans; and The Tea Party replaced the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. It isn’t the same line, but lots of us are toeing it.

Economic class snobbery and prejudice and pointless wars have made big comebacks, trashing the planet is in vogue again, and some of us have adopted yet another ridiculous set of social conventions. It’s “Alice in Wonderland” all over again, but this time with diamonds instead of hearts. The caterpillar still makes no sense. The Dormouse still ends up in the tea kettle.

After all these years, now that we’re all hitting thirty-something for the second time, can’t we sit back and look at where that “long, strange trip” has led us? We were always prone to take to the streets and yell and shake our fists, and less likely to listen and ponder and check things for accuracy. We think of ourselves as lone wolves, but we’re often just sheep in wolves’ clothing.

There are lots of problems left, and while we helped solve some of them, we also made some of them worse. Maybe we should look at ourselves through the same critical eyes that once stripped our parents of their pretensions. Maybe this time we can get beyond simplistic slogans and unquestioned assumptions.

There was a time when our generation woke up, realized that everything and everyone in the world was interconnected, and found the awareness that love was the most important thing we could give or receive. For that brief time, we knew that our fellow humans were infinitely more important than money or cars or a new dining room set or the guns and bullets with which they could be so easily killed.

It’s time to wake up again.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Lose This Word!


            In the 2007 Miss Teen USA contest, the finalist from South Carolina was asked why she thought it was that a fifth of Americans couldn’t find the United States on a world map. Her answer was mind-bogglingly incoherent and thus hilarious, and the YouTube video of it has racked up 50 million hits ( I must add that her smile was quite winning.
            What seemed to bother most people about her answer was her use of the term “U.S. Americans,” as if this were a stupid tautology. Nobody seemed to mind that she called the country where we’ve been fighting for a decade “The Eye-rack.” Twice.
             Well, I don’t think she was all that wrong in specifying which Americans she meant.
            There are (according to Wikipedia) fifteen countries or territories in South America, with a combined population of almost 400 million people. In North America, there are 43 countries and territories (including Central America and the Caribbean), with a total population of about 542 million.
            The United States of America (heavy on the “of”) is just one country with about a third of all those people.
            Yes, I am saying Canadians are Americans, too – as are Mexicans, Falkland Islanders, Brazilians, and even (gasp) Cubans.
            And yes, I realize that if you say you’re an American almost anywhere in the world, the hearer will assume you mean you’re from the United States. Katharine Lee Bates probably didn’t have Tierra del Fuego in mind when she wrote “America the Beautiful,” although the shining seas she speaks of meet down there.
            It’s just that I appreciate accuracy, and I resent those who seem to think everyone on the other side of an imaginary line is somehow inferior.
            Lyndon Johnson was famous for beginning his presidential addresses with “My fellow Americans,” and many of his successors have done the same, but I appreciate Barak Obama for ending his addresses with “…and may God bless the United States of America.” Perhaps he is sensitive to our usurpation of the word from our neighbors.

            If you enjoy speaking English precisely, please check out my other blog:

Friday, June 3, 2011

Lose This Word!


            There is very little need for this word. It is imprecise, gender-specific, and confusing.
            Article 1, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution begins as follows: “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.” The proper terms for members of Congress are, therefore, “senator” and “representative.” A “congressman,” if such a word had any utility, would be a male senator or representative.
            “Congress” includes both houses, but the ubiquitous use of the word “congressman” as synonymous with “representative” confuses many people, who think there are two legislative bodies, the Senate and the Congress.
            As for the gender-specific problem, it results in such unnecessary constructions as “congresswoman” and “congressperson” to specify, respectively, a female representative or a non-gender-specific representative.
            Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-TN, refers to herself in her official correspondence as “Congressman Blackburn.” I can see doing that with a word such as “chairman,” which is a title for a presiding officer, or “airman,” which is a military rank, but in this case it is simply unnecessary.
            “Representative” has two more syllables than does “congressman,” and as such might take a bit more energy to utter, but it is far preferable. If a catch-all term is needed to describe someone elected to Congress, try “federal legislator” or “member of Congress.”