Wednesday, June 29, 2011

21st Century Has Left A Lot of Bodies About

Dale Earnhardt, Sr., was blocking the competition for his teammates, Michael Waltrip and his son, Dale, Jr. It was the Intimidator doing what had not come naturally to him over the 30-plus-years he had driven the NASCAR circuit. Normally on the last lap of the biggest race in NASCAR, Earnhardt would have been charging, butting and bulling his way through the competition trying to win the race he’d only won once in his illustrious career. But that was what Sterling Marlin was doing February 18, 2001.

Marlin was bumping, pushing, tapping, trying to bull his way around Earnhardt so he could use all his tricks to get around Dale, Jr., and Waltrip and steal a victory in the last lap. The crowd, those cheering for Earnhardt, Sr. or Jr., or Waltrip, and those cheering for someone to take a victory away from the Childress team that day, roared like a great beast across the Florida scruff.

Marlin’s silver Coors Light Dodge had a front end that showed all the dings and dents a knight might have shown after a day of jousting. His right front bumper tapped Earnhardt’s left rear one more time. Not much, but just enough to cause the Intimidator to veer to the left and down to the flat apron of the track. Earnhardt, ever the competitor, fought the forces of physics that day and muscled his car back to the right. It was too much muscle, however, and the car turned farther to the right and began its climb toward the wall.

Ken Schrader’s Pontiac hit Earnhardt’s Chevrolet, and then the Intimidator struck the wall at about 160 miles per hour. The two cars slide down the track toward the infield. Schrader climbed from his car and ran to help Earnhardt, but he took a quick look inside the black Chevy and turned to the infield frantically waving for the emergency crews. He didn’t know it then, but Earnhardt was already dead.

The cause of death was a basilar skull fracture. That’s the fancy medical term for the injury that killed Earnhardt. Basically, he died when his head whipped forward as his car hit the wall and stopped suddenly. Earnhardt also suffered broken ribs and a broken ankle, and he had abrasions where his seat belt rubbed his collarbone and hips.

Dale Earnhardt, Sr., the son of a stock car pioneer and the father of one of the racing games newest stars had died doing what he loved doing: driving a fast car and trying to win a race. His death was a shock to the Daytona crowd, and a shock to the nation.

Thousands of fans made their way that night to Dale Earnhardt, Inc., in Monroe, North Carolina, to leave shirts, hats, flowers, anything they had that symbolized their love affair with this southern good old boy.

I heard the news as I and several students from Appalachian State University were returning from the spring convention of the Associated Collegiate Press Association in New York City. We were heading down Interstate 77, near Fancy Gap, Virginia, when the word came that Earnhardt had been taken directly to the hospital. That was ominous news. Usually drivers injured on the track are first taken to a first aid station that NASCAR provides. The station is almost an emergency room itself, so by bypassing this facility one had to wonder if the news was already bad.

NASCAR delayed announcing Earnhardt’s death for two hours. One would have thought a head of state had died. The Intimidator made the cover of Time magazine. His death was on all the news shows for the next week. His funeral was carried live by the networks: Pretty good for a race car driver.

Earnhardt wasn’t the first driver to die on the track. And despite all the efforts of NASCAR to build cars around driver safety, he won’t be the last. There has always been this element of risk and danger associated with racing, but particularly with the southern version where a driver puts his foot to the metal and drives around the oval as fast as he can go hoping to outrun everyone else on a particular Sunday. Stocks are southern. The roots lay with the dusty red clay tracks in sleepy southern towns. Mechanics would soup up an old car, bring enough gas and oil, and a couple of extra tires, and spend the afternoon running around the dusty ovals. If they were fortunate, they might win enough money to buy some groceries for the week, or if the gate was particularly good, maybe some shoes for the kids.

Racing was a dirt and grease under the fingernails working class sport. The fans came out of the textile and furniture plants that dotted the Carolinas and the South. The big boys raced at Wilkesboro against Junior Johnson, or at Bristol, Winston-Salem, Charlotte, Rockingham, Martinsville, Daytona, Darlington, or Talladega. The wannabees could be found on the dirt tracks or the quarter-mile ovals in places like Hickory, Asheville, Spartanburg, or wherever a race lover could get the financing together to build a small track.

On the day Dale Earnhardt, Sr., died, the stands at Daytona were packed. But a decade later the stands at NASCAR events are showing signs of fan dissatisfaction. The stands are not filled. Traditionally the fans for NASCAR came from the textile mills and furniture factories scattered across the Piedmont from Virginia, through the Carolinas, and into Georgia. No track was so far away that a working stiff couldn’t load the wife and kids into the old car and make it to the race of the week, or get back home in time to go to work at 7 a.m. on a Monday morning. Those plants are padlocked today. The companies that used to hire the southern worker have moved to China or Vietnam or Indonesia. The southern worker has been left behind without a job and without much of a future since many of them were high school dropouts, or only had a high school diploma.

For almost a century the southern worker avoided union attempts to organize them. They accepted the promise that the owners would look after them; the plants would always be there. But with the arrival of the 21st century, the crash of the Dot-Coms, and a recession that followed the Bill Clinton years, manufacturing began to implode. Many blame Clinton, who shepherded the North American Free Trade Agreement through Congress. NAFTA began the flow of American plants to Mexico, then to any place in the world where the cost of labor was cheaper. For the southern working class, the recession did not end during the George W. Bush years. In fact, one might say the economy crashed on to the southern worker like the concrete and steel that crashed to the ground on September 11, 2001. Three thousand souls were lost that day when terrorists from the Middle East crashed airliners into the twin towers of the World Trade Center. More than a million souls ultimately discovered their jobs were gone and the plants they had made careers at were padlocked.

One could say that the George W. Bush administration was as unable to stop the imploding manufacturing economy as it was unable to stop Osama bin Ladin’s plot to wage war against the United States. When Dale Earnhardt died at Daytona, one might be forgiven for believing our lives changed for the worse. Life became harder for most of us. We became meaner as a people and much more suspicious of our neighbors and a lot more unforgiving toward those who didn’t have it as well as we had it.

George W. Bush was governor of Texas when he ran for president in 2000. Before he became governor he pretty much was the recovering alcoholic son of George H.W. Bush, a New England Republican who had traveled to Texas to make a fortune in the oil business before he turned to politics, finally winning the presidency in 1988. He was a one-term president when the economy turned sour on him after he led a coalition of forces against Saddam Hussein. When that war ended so quickly in what appeared at the time to be a stunning victory, we celebrated like we had won World War II. In truth we had only won two decades of heartache and sorrow in the Middle East.

Shrub, as the late Molly Ivins so lovingly called W., came to power after the country had pretty much tired of the parade of trailer-trash women chased by Bill Clinton, the democratic president of the 1990s. Clinton’s dalliance with Monica Lewinsky in a private office in the White House was one dalliance too many and his lying to cover it up led to his impeachment by the Republican-controlled Congress. But that was a political battle and Clinton was saved when the Democrats hung together to prevent a conviction on the charges. But it soured the public on a Democrat in the White House. Clinton’s vice president, Al Gore, ran as the Democratic nominee against the Republican nominee, George W. Bush.

The campaign was long and dirty, and on Election Day the American people were conflicted. Gore had a commanding lead in the popular vote, but the popular vote doesn’t win you the White House. You have to win the Electoral College in the United States and there Gore was coming up short. Had he just won his own state of Tennessee we would have been talking about the Gore administration today. But Gore lost Tennessee and neither he nor Bush had enough electoral votes to win the office while Florida remained locked in controversy.

The nation didn’t know for weeks who would win. Gore hung on as the Democrats sought to recount all the ballots. We were treated to night after night of news reports of hanging chads and write-in votes. Very quickly the count became a legal issue and Republicans found the Democratic-controlled state supreme court favored counting the ballots. The Republicans had to get the issue before the U.S. Supreme Court, controlled by conservative Republicans judges. The Republicans were able to win the legal battle and the U.S. Supreme Court did what everyone expected, it closed down the recount and delivered the state to Bush. Gore did the only thing left to him; he conceded the election to the Republican candidate.

Bush, in what we would see time and again for the next eight years, wasted no time in claiming a mandate of the people to do things the people clearly opposed.

For nine months, George W. Bush frolicked in the White House, seemingly in an aimless fashion. The son had finally matched his father’s achievement; or so he probably thought in his mind. The country, however, was beginning to see there was a power behind George W.’s throne, and that was former congressman, White House aide, defense secretary to the elder Bush, and now vice president to the son.

A lot has been said and written over the years about Dick Cheney’s decision that only he had the mettle to be vice president in 2000. The country could not be faulted for believing Cheney was the acting president on September 11, 2001. Cheney was the man holed up in the basement of the White House while an ashen-faced George W. was flown from one location to another, apparently unsure of what was going on or what was happening around him.

After Bush had returned to Washington, his eyes welled with tears and his voice choked when reporters asked him what he would do. One was left to wonder if this swaggering version of a Texan, albeit one with Connecticut roots, really had it in him to take on a monster. It wasn’t until Bush had his emotions under control and could visit ground zero that we saw him act like our John Wayne defined version of a steely-eyed Texan. You know the image: One riot, one ranger. At least that is how the story is told about a single Texas Ranger arriving on the train after the local sheriff had telegraphed the town was rioting.

It was this man to whom we had given the task of ordering the military, the army, to attack the country housing the training camps of al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. It was this same man who a few weeks later would almost kill himself tossing Cheetos into his mouth while watching a football game in the presidential residence. America found it impossible to move enough troops to Afghanistan to attack the Taliban and to search for bin Laden. The war became a CIA operation using Special Ops troops to form a bond with the Northern Alliance, the only credible fighting force not part of the Taliban.

For the next ten years America’s fight against global terrorism was fought in the back alleys of the Middle East. The truth, however, is more damning. We never put enough troops into the country to defeat the Taliban. We only ran them across the border into Pakistan. And when it came to capturing the elusive bin Laden, well, we were told it wasn’t important if we captured him. Only later did we come to understand that Bush’s handpicked general was too interested in retiring and playing golf and not interested enough to put American troops at a critical location to hammer bin Laden into surrender or to kill him. So, we allowed the mastermind of 911 to escape and to go into hiding for the next decade, many of those years hiding out just yards away from Pakistan’s largest military base and only 30 minutes from Pakistan’s military arsenal of nuclear weapons.

Two years after bin Laden’s escape into the unknown regions, Bush sent American troops across another border and into its second war in the Middle East. This time the target was Iraq, and with that decision America entered five years of hell. As our gaze was turned to the world of Saddam Hussein, a truly bad man but one who had nothing to do with 911 or bin Laden, we took our eyes off Afghanistan and the crumbling economy here at home.

American wages had been stagnant since the 1970s, and during the Bush years, especially after the crash of the Dot Coms (the fantasy world of computers and online commerce), job growth slowed and reversed as factories began to close across the country. Globalization was on full display. North Carolina alone lost almost a million jobs in this five-year period as most textile mills closed the factory gates and left for China, and the same for furniture. Today the governor sends out press releases seeking cheers when they can get 20 or 30 jobs in some town in the state, but remains very quiet when some national firm shuts its doors and takes 1,000 jobs to India or China. From 2003 to 2005, no one was watching the hen house as the fox destroyed not just the eggs in the nests, but ate the hens.

Because those who came to power in 2000 and were re-elected in 2004 believed in an unregulated free market, Wall Street and the big banks created investment packages that were nothing short of fraudulent. It wasn’t much of surprise to many that the whole system almost melted that autumn, but for the free marketers who had built their house of cards out of the libertarian rants of Ayn Ryan it came as a rude awakening, but one they buried while blaming the very people hurt the worse by their criminality. It was the biggest crisis since the Great Depression. George W. Bush once again looked into the pit and turned ashen with fear.

His two terms in office had begun with the first attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor, and it ended with the country standing on the edge much as a man at the edge of a cliff waving his arms desperately trying to regain his balance before pitching over the edge. His terms in office ended with the bailout of the very institutions that had caused the collapse of the American economy. His legacy is one of enriching his already rich and powerful cronies and those already well off, but sending more and more Americans into poverty. You could say he hit the wall twice, but unlike Dale Earnhardt, Bush was able to walk away and leave the mess for someone else to clean up.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Can We Keep Our Democracy?

Our nation was forged out of rebellion against British tyranny. For the next 221 years we have wrestled with the tyrannical excesses of regimes around the world, and from time to time the tyranny of our own elected officials, yet it isn't the tyranny of our government we should fear, but rather the tryannical excesss of the capitalist system that has us under its heel.

Today, we find our government on its knees, not before some foreign potentate, but on its knees before big business and the capitalist system.

We spend billions of dollars to subsidize business at a time when American business ships American jobs overseas. One could argue that the shortsighted nature of the American business class has sealed our doom. Our jobs are gone. The factories that used to house them are relics of a past that no longer exists and every job lost is a paycheck not buying products and boosting our economy.

With all these lost jobs we have watched the dollars we need to rebuild our infrastructure, our schools, our psyche vanish. Instead we are trapped in a rustbelt mentality that accepts this and refuses to allow our anger to explode.

We listen to the Glenn Becks of the world, spouting their hate-filled swill that drains directly from the bile ducts of the John Birch Society and the John Locke Foundation. These seem to be people who are filled with so much hate their minds can't get around a simple concept: if the country falls, so do they.

The Lockers try to sound so knowledgeable in their Libertarian mindset, but it is an act. They really just want our great experience to fail. They don't understand, certainly they don't accept the notion of a shared responsibility. Instead they pitch their argument in language that seems to show them as smart and deserving of attention. But that argument is that those hurt by the conomy have no one to blame for their fate but themselves: It's all their fault, NOT MINE!

Think about what is under assault. Schools: Yes, why should we pay for schools for the unwashed masses when what we need is to rob the public coffer yet again to fund our charter schools and private academies. Those will train our children to live in this global world while the rest of you can live in the filth that will be left after the garbage men have all been laid off. Police: Who needs police? Who cares if the most crime ridden areas are the poor neighborhoods of our collapsing cities? We live in gated communities and if what police are left to protect them can't do the job we'll either hire private security firms to do it or move to protected enclaves for the rich overseas. Highways: Who needs them? Our factories are gone so why do we need to keep them up? Railroads: Walk. Airports: No fuel to fly anyway unless you have the money to pay for it. Doesn't sound like much of a world does it?

Our parents and grandparents could clearly see their future and they didn't let the hate-filled, selfish men of their day keep them from repairing their damaged economy; defeating the dark forces of evil that really did challenge their world;
building a better world. They certainly didn't hesitate when their country needed them to fight, and when it was over they returned home and went back to work building that better world they so desired.

We, however, have failed to keep it. Our generation has squandered the vast natural wealth of our nation, and sucked the natural resources of others into our smelters and burners. Today we face a world frightening in its hostility to our economic system. Think about this. When the terrorists flew their planes into the World Trade Center, what was it they attacked? Capitalism. Particularly a capitalist system pushing its tentacles globally. They did not fly those planes into the National Cathedral in Washington, our national homage to the spiritual; they did not fly those planes into the Golden Dome at Notre Dame University, our national homage to the games we love so much; and they did not fly those planes into the Kennedy Space Center, our national symbol of American greatness reaching for the stars. No, they realized those symbols were not the essense of America, it was trade. Our global reach and our willingness to use our military to protect trade at the expense of poor people around the world.

Benjamin Franklin is often quoted as saying that with the adoption of the Constitution, we had "A Republic, if you can keep it." Can we?

Monday, March 7, 2011

The End of An Era

One day in the middle years of the decade we call the Sixties, I went to work at Marion Manufacturing Company. It was a textile plant that dominated the neighborhood in which I was born and grew up. I was working for $1.25 a hour, the minimum wage of the time and was trying to earn enough money to go to college for a year. On entering the weaveroom, I and all my fellow workers were greeted by blown-up photographs, at least 10 feet tall, of the shootout at the main gate of the plant which happened one October day in 1929.

It was an attempt to convince those of us working in the Sixties that the union was bad and supporting a union would lead to violence again. It was intimidation at its worse and it achieved its objective. The employees voted down union representation yet again. In North Carolina and across the South, the late 1920s and early 1930s was a period of labor strife and when coupled with the brutally savage response strikers in the coalfields of Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia suffered when trying to organize, it successfully kept unions out of the Carolinas and much of the Deep South.

Why is this important today? I'm reminded that what we see happening in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio, and surely in other Midwestern and Northeastern states, organized labor once again finds itself backed into a corner suffering savage blows from a well-muscled opponent. Like a boxer whose eyes are swelling shut with blood flowing down his face, organized labor is at the mercy of a vicious opponent determined to stamp out forever the ability of the working man and woman to have a say in working conditions, wages, benefit packages and the like.

Of course, organized labor representation in non-public unions is at an historic low. Not since the days of the sitdown strike in the 1930s has labor been so weakened. Public employee unions make up the majority of unionized America today, and it is exactly those union members coming under attack by Republican henchmen. And henchmen is exactly what you have to call the current crop of state leaders who are attacking working men and women, and who are vilifying them. Imagine, public enemy number one isn't the Wall Street numbers runner, but is a school teacher.

Most of us have forgotten the long and often bloody trail American workers have traveled since the earliest days of the Industrial Revolution. As Americans left the farm and moved into the cities for employment, they fought for safer working conditions, fairer wages, and a say in determining what those conditions and pay might be. Many workers paid a dear price for that struggle. In the case of Marion and the textile workers, six were slain on the pavement of Baldwin Avenue, a street I didn't know until I was grown was named for the plant manager in 1929. Much like we name highways for successful generals in our wars, Marion honored a successful warrior who fought against the union in a small mountain town whose only industry at the time was cotton mills.

Believe me, many more than six died fighting for the union in this country. Now we are watching as their sacrifice is ground once again into the dust and public employees in Wisconsin face the possibility that what was once a proud bastion of liberal thought and practice has turned inself into, for lack of a better example, another Arizona. A state run by men and women with limited vision.

Monday, February 1, 2010

They were the losers!

When two airliners struck the World Trade Center's twin towers on 9/11, and another hit the Pentagon and a fourth crashed in Pennsylvania, my students acted with shock then with determination to tell the story and report how students at Appalachian State University were affected.

One wonders, though, how many finally joined a branch of the armed services to serve either in Afghanistan or Iraq. For some of the male students, their testosterone-laden bodies were ready to fight, or so it seemed at the time. Calls were made for us to strike back. To send troops to the mountains of Afghanistan to track down Osama bin Laden and to kill him.

One thing has not changed, however. The faces of our airmen, soldiers, sailors, and marines have not changed since the 1960s. While there was a draft in the sixties, it only snared the young men from working class backgrounds. The likelihood that anyone from an upper crust background getting called up in the draft were slim, pretty slim, hell, almost impossible.

Today, the soldiers and marines who are doing the dying in our two wars look a lot like they did in Vietnam. These are the young people who attend second- or third-rate high schools. And even then they are the students the cream of those schools labeled as the "Losers" with a capital L. They are the students one identifies as not going on to college, or who has to work to help the family, not just help pay for the Jeep in the driveway.

How interesting it is that when it comes to dying for our country, it seems that only those we label as losers are the ones willing to join and serve. Makes one wonder just what is worth saving in our country.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Weather and Politics Enough to Cause a Teetotaler to Drink

The weather has been...well...Boone weather today. It is cloudy, rainy, and there is ice on everything and people are beginning to worry about getting home. Appalachian State has canceled classes tonight and warned everyone to check the Web in the morning for whether there will be further cancelations. All in all, just another dreary day in the High Country.

Actually, the weather is pretty much a match for the funk the nation finds itself in. It seems everyone is pissed at the big banks, angry as heck at Congress and the White House, and, if Massachusetts is an example, angry enough to send any brainless bonehead to Washington in an effort to get change.

It's only been a year, but it seems the Democrats have set a record for how long it took them to completely turnoff supporters and ignite a progressive protest across the nation. If I weren't a teetotaler, I'd go home tonight and pour me a tumbler of scotch.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Who? What are we?

What will we remember about Christmas Day 2009? Will we remember it as a celebration of a Savior’s birth, or will we remember it as the day we, as a nation, showed the world just how feckless and cowardly we are?

Do you remember the 2000 hit movie “Gladiator,” starring Russell Crowe as the Roman general Maximus who was betrayed by an emperor, had his family murdered, and escaped death at the hands of the Praetorian Guard only to find himself in slavery, captured by a North African slave trader who sold him to Proximo and a life in the arena.

One scene in that memorable movie stands out for me and, and at least in my mind has come to represent what I see out of the Washington and media elites whenever some uneducated or obviously mentally deranged scavenger from some Third World country decides he wants to blow up himself along with a bunch of Americans.

Maximus is chained to Juba, played by that marvelous African actor Djimon Hounsou, and they stand with all the other newly purchased slaves in their rags and filth waiting for the crude door to this backwater arena to open and lead them to their fate. The excitement in the scene grows as each character comes to grip with what awaits them. Horns sound. The crowd screams in its bloodlust. The gladiators on the other side of the door, identities hidden behind grotesque animal heads, swing their arms and swords, axes and other implements of death. Maximus and a few others stand tall, tamping down their own fear ready to lead and conquer.

Remember? As a member of the audience the day you saw this film, weren’t you ready for Maximus to avenge himself? You had picked your side in this fight. That’s the image we want the world to see when they see an American. Isn’t that so?

But what image do they see all too often? It’s the image of the little, sniveling coward standing in line, chained to a huge German slave. Tears streak his dirty face and piss slides down his legs to pool at his feet. The others move away from him. The stench of death already rests with him and when the door opens the first to die is the coward.

Wow! I can heard it now. I’ll be accused of not supporting our troops in Iraq or Afghanistan. As a U.S. Marine veteran I’m convinced our men and women in those theatres of operation are performing outstandingly. But of course the British Army was just as professional in the 19th century when it fought two wars against Afghanistan tribesmen. The first, from 1838 to 1842 ended badly for the Brits. After invading and ultimately reaching Kabul and seating their man on that country’s throne, the British faced insurrection and, ultimately, defeat in the mountain passes as the remainder of its combined Brit and Indian force and 12,000 civilians were wiped out.

It is not the brave men and women on our frontlines that I see as the sniveling cowards. It is all the rest of us who refuse to sacrifice for this struggle. Especially, it’s this daily image of conservative lawmakers and talkers who rant and rave about the inadequacies of our mission, blaming the current leadership, Democrats, for all that’s wrong but never once offering anything that might indicate they have really thought about this war and what our strategy ought to be. Despite all the failure. Despite all the abuse. Despite the war crimes we have committed and, probably, continue to commit, no one offers sound advice for getting ourselves out of this mess, and no one shows any willingness to talk with those in the other party to work it out. The failure, my friends is not with our brave men and women in uniform. It is with the feckless cowards who stroll the protected halls of Congress doing nothing to protect our soldiers, sailor, marines and airmen.

We are constantly bombarded with vitriol from the right. Conservatives in Congress take a perverse pleasure in seeking failure for the country as they see their only route to power as coming with the destruction of those currently in power. We ought to remember this. Democrats, then the minority in both Houses of Congress, crossed the aisle with extended hands offering to work with their Republican colleagues and the Republican administration in 2001 to defeat the people responsible for 9/11. That happened. It is in the historical record. But Republicans decided they controlled Congress so there was no need to be bipartisan. The White House decided it was their way or the highway, not only for the domestic political world but for international strategies as well. That attitude continues in Washington, and not just with the war effort. It is an attitude that will ultimately destroy us.

For me, I am beginning to see strong parallels to these Afghan wars with our own. I’m also beginning to see strong parallels to the Vietnam struggle, despite what our leaders and military analysts say. Cambodia, a neutral country bordering Vietnam was sucked into the maelstrom of war as it was used by North Vietnam and the Viet Cong for safe havens to escape American and South Vietnamese forces in the 1960s and 1970s. Sound familiar? Our leaders at the time opted to carry out secret bombings of that tragic little country, and finally, when that had not worked, invasion. The result was a country toppled into the quagmire of our war. In fact, we opened the gates of hell for Cambodia as the result of our failed strategy was Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. It is estimated that 1.7 million people died in the Killing Fields of Pol Pot’s regime.

We bomb the tribal regions of Pakistan trying to kill Al Qaeda leaders using drones and missiles. We badger the Pakistani Army to fight the war for us in the tribal regions, and in Afghanistan we face a growing and persistent threat from the Taliban, the former leaders of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the government we toppled in 2001 when we attacked after 9/11. Eight years later we are still fighting them. Just like the Brits in the 19th century, we face an insurrection. We have tied ourselves to a leader the people of Afghanistan hate, don’t trust, and whom we do not trust. The Afghans don’t want us there, yet we are afraid to pullout. The Taliban is using that growing hatred of Americans to grow its struggle for regaining control of that backwater little country. And, Al Qaeda is willing to see American blood spilled on any battlefield as long as it leads to the collapse of another super power.

Finally, who will be the next Pol Pot? Is he sitting in some mud hut in the tribal areas today? If we Americans are truly like Maximus, we will not let that happen. However, if we are truly like the sniveling coward with piss on his legs, then we are really at the end of our run as a world power. Which are we?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Two apologies: Night and Day

Serena Williams, after a day and a half to cool off, has offered a sincere apology after her behavior Saturday was deemed inappropriate and threatening by U.S. Open officials.

At least there seems to be one person in this country who, after taking some time to reflect on their actions, is ready to admit they screwed up--BIG TIME. Not so the congressman of South Carolina, Joe Wilson.

The only thing Wilson has proved is that James L. Petigru had it right on the eve of the Civil War when he said South Carolina was too small for a country but too big to be an insane asylum. Joe Wilson certainly appears to be a descendant of those South Carolinians who believed it was OK to kick start a war that would destroy their region and leave 600,000 American from North and South dead.

Here it is several days beyond the episode. Wilson has given his grudging apology claiming he just lost it. Like I and most football fans lose it before the TV in the privacy of our living rooms when we scream at the idiot coaches or hapless players who are spoiling our afternoon.
Wilson apparently believed it appropriate to shout out from the floor of the House at the President of the United States and call the man a liar.

I put that behavior in the same tasteless and threatening arena as those bozos who carried guns to where the president was speaking during the August recess.

Well, we know there are lies and damn lies and I don't know which kind Wilson was accusing President Obama of, or of which Joe Wilson is guilty of himself. One thing we know about our political leadership in this country, most if not all of them lie from time to time. We voters are capable of deciding who is lying and who isn't without Joe Wilson's help from the floor of the House.

We expect Wilson to act like a grown up. And we expect Serena Williams to act like a grown up. She and her sister have commanded center court in tennis for several years. They are well on their way to, perhaps, becoming the best to play the game. There was no need for this outburst, and certainly no need to appear so threatening while using language more appropriate to the parking lot outside a strip club.

But she has apologized, twice, for her misdeed. Good for her. But Wilson is another matter. He is the poster child for a fringe element that seems to have grabbed control of the Republican Party. This radical element is the same that used to control the Democratic Party in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the South. The Democrats at the time were a regional party, pretty much based in the South like the Republicans today.

Party members were basically in bed with industrialists and bankers (sound familiar?), and used race baiting tactics to keep poor whites and blacks at each other's throats. It worked until the 1960s when, for some reason a southern president decided Civil Rights had to be honored in this country and forced Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and other legislation that finally began to remove the second-class status of blacks. The flow of white voters switching parties began to grow in the South, picking up a really fine head of steam when Ronald Reagan decided to announce his candidacy for the presidency in the heart of old Dixie, Mississippi.

Joe Wilson seems happily at home with that pedigree. After LBJ gave it up the Republicans began to attract those in the South who were wanting a better home for their race baiting souls than the one the Democrats then offered. Republicans have become a marginal party, but one still capable of making mighty mischief as they obstruct progress. However, unless their plan is to forment armed insurrection, I don't see how they plan to widen their influence and once again challenge the nation with its political theories.

I tip my hat to Serena. She and Venus are still the best. Joe, it's time you learn how to really lead. And voters of South Carolina, it's time you moved away from Petigru's directions to a lost traveler, "My dear sir, take any road, you can't go amiss. The whole state is one vast insane asylum."