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The end of any year is often a time of reflection. Looking back to see what went right, what went wrong. This year, we could perhaps benefit from such retrospection more than other years.
I was going to refer to 2008 as “a kidney stone of a year,” but I was almost certain I had heard that phrase elsewhere, likely in something by Hunter S. Thompson. A quick Google search of the phrase didn’t reveal the original source, but it did show three other people describing 2008 in those words, so at least I’m not alone in thinking of it that way.
On a national level, we saw a further…what’s the word I want? crumbling? eroding? collapsing? disintegrating?…let’s go with… deterioration of: our civil rights, our privacy, our status overseas, the situation in Iraq (notwithstanding all the neocons rushing to claim the surge has been a “success”), the situation in Afghanistan, the economy, the health care system, our schools, our infrastructure (Rachel Maddow’s favorite word), the situation in Israel and the Gaza Strip, the environment, and…well…it’s a really long list, actually.
So maybe we should think of 2008 as the year when the whole house of cards we’ve all been living in fell to the floor.
There was the presidential election, which filled up our ears for way too many months with noise and lies and distortions and endless debates and oh the spinning and spinning and spinning and stop the world, please, I’m getting dizzy.
Before that, though, we had the primaries, and the caucuses, and the conventions, and the polls, and the protests and…well, you were there. You heard it.
There were a lot of lows, but there were a few highs, as well. Particularly toward the end of the year.
For a nice change, we had a presidential candidate that appealed to our hopes, rather than hammering at our fears. We dodged the bullet of a McCain/Palin administration, four more years that would most likely have looked like the last eight, except less organized, and instead managed to elect the smart guy over the guy people would like to have a beer with. Thought I suspect Obama would be way more fun to have a beer with than McCain, anyway.
And there was the nice bit about finally electing someone who isn’t a white male to the highest office in the land. That part was pretty cool.
But the economy is bad, and likely to get worse before it gets better. People are losing their homes, their jobs, and their retirement investments. We’re probably going to see a lot more people moving in with other family members to save money, and we’re already seeing more people living on the street.
It’s a scary situation.
And yet, with the new year comes hope.
In twenty days, we will be rid of alleged president George Walker Bush.
We will have strong Democratic Party majorities in both houses of Congress.
Let’s hope they use their new power for good. Let’s hope they actually use their power, instead of allowing themselves to be conned by Republicans into thinking they don’t dare use the power we gave them to change things.
Hope is good.
I have some ideas for a new project for myself in the new year…something that will involve this blog – or perhaps a separate blog created specifically for the project…more on that soon. But I think some more changes are coming in the life of yours truly, that I hope will be interesting for you all, and ultimately, perhaps profitable for me. We shall see…
In the mean time, happy new year, everyone!
And stay safe.
p.s. And lest there be any doubt about it…I still think Bush and Cheney ought to be impeached.
By now you may have heard about my new hero, Tim DeChristopher: the University of Utah (my undergrad university!) student who threw a spanner into the works at the recent Bureau of Land Mismanagement oil and mineral lease auction for parcels surrounding Arches and Canyonlands national parks.
If you haven’t, here’s more or less what happened:
The BLM, under Bush’s direction on his way out the door, was holding an auction December 19th in Salt Lake City, trying to sell off chunks of our pristine national wilderness to people in the non-renewable fuel industries. This has made a lot of people very unhappy, myself included.
It seems my new hero decided to do more than protest in front of the building where the auctions were being held. In a brilliant bit of monkeywrenching, he entered the building and registered as an auction participant, then proceeded to bid on many of the parcels being auctioned off, driving up the prices of the leases and even winning a few of the auctions.
Of course, Mr. DeChristopher (which is very fun to say out loud – try it and see) has no money to pay for these parcels, and has been arrested for his actions. He may be charged with criminal fraud, earning himself a few years in jail.
He has said that if his actions are successful in saving that pristine wilderness, he’s willing to serve the time.
Meanwhile, the outcome of the auctions is tangled up in some legal maneuvering connected to Mr. DeChristopher’s court case.
According to Rachel Maddow, there’s supposed to be some sort of court hearing to resolve the whole mess on January 19th. It’s probably not a coincidence that that’s the day before Obama and his crew take over in D.C.
Still, I have high hopes for this. See, I’ve had my own experience before a Republican-appointed judge in the Federal District Court in Salt Lake City. And he ruled the right way (i.e., in favor of my friends and I in our civil rights-related case), rather than the way that would have been popular with local (read: Republican) leaders.
So there’s still a chance that that pristine wilderness will remain pristine, at least for a few more years.
And in the mean time, Hayduke Lives!
Needless to say, I am beyond relieved that our country has not opted for four more years that look like the last eight years.
Oh, yeah, and the whole being in Chicago to see history being made part has been pretty cool, too.
One of the local papers estimated the crowd in and around Grant Park to be about 240,000 people. Someone else pointed out (and I have not checked this to confirm it) that that is more people than live in the entire state of Alaska. All on hand to celebrate the Obama/Biden victory.
Or should I say “landslide”?
Whichever you want to call it, it was an amazing night watching the returns come in.
As for today, well, everyone I’ve run into so far seems to be smiling.
Of course, some would say that is as much due to the unseasonably warm weather Chicago is experiencing at the moment – I’ve never lived here, but I would imagine that usually one would want to wear something warmer than a t-shirt by November (I guess that whole global warming thing does have one advantage) – but the people who would say that are probably just a bunch of bitter McCain/Palin voters, so their opinion isn’t about to bring the rest of us down today.
Now if we could just impeach Bush and Cheney, life would be just about perfect on the political front…at least until the next wave of scandals breaks.
Ah, the beauty of being in a state that allows early voting. No waiting in long lines next Tuesday for your humble correspondent. Which is just as well, because barring any unforeseen disasters, I will be driving to Chicago on election day to visit a friend and – assuming the election goes as current polls suggest it will – to be at ground zero for Obama victory celebrations.
No, I haven’t forgiven him yet for his vote on the FISA reauthorization. But I still voted for him, and I still want him to win.
The alternative seems unthinkable to me.
I honestly do not know that our country would survive even four years of a McCain presidency, considering our current sorry circumstances after eight years of alleged president George W. Bush’s mishandling of literally every matter that crossed his desk. To say nothing of the nightmare that might ensue if McCain died or became otherwise incapacitated (I still think he is showing early signs of Alzheimer’s disease) and Scary Palin took over running the show.
In spite of my ongoing fears that there will be some sort of terrorist attack in the coming days by someone seeking to influence the election in favor of John McCain (fears that the recent story about a call for terrorist groups to cause such an attack for just that purpose on a pro-al Quaeda website, did absolutely nothing to ease — honestly, who knew that al Quaeda would have a preference for a McCain/Palin presidency over an Obama presidency?), at this point, I do not believe that such an attack would actually be sufficient to swing the election in McCain’s favor.
Let me say that again, in case any terrorists (foreign or domestic) are actually reading this and got confused by that long sentence and the even longer parenthetical in the middle of it:
At this point, I do not believe that a terrorist attack would be sufficient to swing the election in favor of John McCain.
That window of opportunity has now closed, in my opinion. I don’t know if I could pinpoint the exact moment it slammed shut, but it has definitely done so now.
Back when the race was closer – before the economic meltdown and the McCain campaign meltdown that more or less coincided with it – there was a good chance that a terrorist attack would have swung the election in his favor enough to make a difference. I have explained elsewhere in this blog (over and over again) about why the principles of terror management theory and the research supporting that theory would make such a change in election outcome possible or even likely.
And even now, an attack would likely sway some voters who are still on the fence into McCain’s column. Just as the race-baiting and fear tactics that we have seen so much of from the Republican campaign likely have already swayed some particularly fearful voters.
But I do not think that an attack – even a very large one, even a nuclear attack on a major city – would be enough to persuade voters that McCain was in any way temperamentally suited to handle such a crisis.
Not after the way McCain responded to the economic crisis.
Not after the way the McCain campaign has repeatedly changed tactics and contradicted itself over the past few weeks.
Not after the way that McCain, Palin, and other members of the McCain campaign have repeatedly been revealed to have committed the very same sins they seek to smear Obama with, often to a far greater degree.
Not since the outcome of the Troopergate investigation, which has caused even Republican party loyalists to question McCain’s judgment in his decision to make her his running mate, and has even cause a few of said loyalists to actually endorse – or at least tacitly suggest that they plan to vote for – Barack Obama.
Not since it was revealed that the campaign that has repeatedly tried to paint Barack Obama as an elitist who is out of touch with the American public spent over $150,000 of the Republican campaign budget – money donated by party supporters under the assumption that it would be used to fund advertising – on the Empress’s new clothes.
Not now that McCain campaign insiders have taken to refering to Sarah Palin as “a complete whack job” and “a diva” who has “gone roque” in their comments to the press.
Not since it was revealed that Indiana employees of a robocalling firm walked off the job en masse the other day rather than read the Republican-prepared script smearing Obama over the phone to Indiana voters.
Let there be no doubt about it: not only have the wheels come off the Straight Talk Express, but so have the axles, the transmission, the exhaust system, and various other vital engine parts.
And as much as the pundits and politicians may assume otherwise, the American public does not consist entirely of uneducated morons. And even most of those with less education are smart enough to see that the McCain campaign is a campaign not only without a plan for responding to the various crises that currently face our country, but it is a campaign without even a coherent strategy for winning the election in order to attempt to take on those problems.
Meanwhile, the Obama campaign has continued to take the high road (for the most part, at least) – refusing to be persuaded to openly badmouth either McCain or Palin in the press, speaking instead (again, for the most part) only about differences between the two campaigns plans for the country and their respective abilities to respond to crises. Members of the campaign have not panicked, and are not badmouthing either Obama or Biden (or other members of the campaign team) in the press, and are continuing to work hard to ensure an Obama victory next week.
Obama continues to take his measured approach to responding to questions from the press. He has demonstrated an ability to be thinking about and responding to multiple issues simultaneously. And he has not once, to my knowledge, lost his cool during any of that. Sure, there’ve been a couple of times where he has clearly appeared frustrated by the differences in press treatment of the two campaigns – especially during a couple of the debates. But he has remained cool under pressure, has not made faces when his opponent was speaking, and has stuck to his message – a message that has remained consistent over the course of the entire campaign, not one that changes with the weather.
Of course, none of this is enough to persuade diehard Republican loyalists to vote for Obama. What would be? There are always and have always been members of both parties who would sooner cut off useful parts of their anatomy than consider voting for a candidate from the other party – particularly in presidential races. There likely always will be such voters.
But for most of the voters who describe themselves as independents (with the notable exception of Bill O’Reilly, who, let’s face it, is about as independent as Puerto Rico), the difference between the two major candidates is clear, and those that have taken the time and trouble to listen to what both candidates have to say are showing a lot of concern about what they are hearing coming out of the McCain camp. And with each day that passes, it seems that a larger chunk of those independent voters have made the decision to support Obama.
And I do not believe that a terrorist attack at this point in the race would be sufficient to change that, or to assuage voters’ concerns about the chaos they are seeing in the McCain campaign.
So in spite of being both a Democrat and a Cubs fan, I am actually feeling less and less certain that the Democrats will find a way blow this thing between now and next Tuesday. Though of course, I suppose the election could still be stolen. Sort of like the last two presidential elections…
That’s it for now, my friends. I have to hit the road. I have a long drive ahead of me today.
The folks over at the Real News Network have posted a series of videos (three so far) of their interview with historian Howard Zinn that I strongly encourage you to check out.
For those not in the know, Howard Zinn is a very well respected historian, political scientist and activist. He’s probably best known for his book, A People’s History of the United States, 1492 to Present, which presents a real eye-opening view of America’s history for those who only got the sanitized, government-approved version of US history in their journey through our wonderful, crumbling, increasingly more and more children left behind public schools. I’m most familiar with his A People’s History, but I would say that anything written by Zinn is worth checking out at your local library or independent bookseller. He’s like a more user-friendly Noam Chomsky.
In the first segment of this interview, Zinn talks about voting for Obama, the need for people to continue to be active after the election if we are going to see any real, substantive change, and particularly the need for civil disobedience in the face of looming problems like foreclosures.
The second segment focuses on the economic bail-out, problems with the free market and the theory of trickle-down economics, and the concept of “big government” and why it’s not necessarily the bad thing that Republicans paint it as – what’s important is what big things government chooses to do (i.e., social security, public works and infrastruscture, education, public health, and rational spending related to national defense vs. feeding the military-industrial complex and facilitating corporate greed and the interests of the wealthiest segment of America at the expense of the public interest).
The third segment deals with taxes and the concept of class warfare that is inherent in our nation’s tax structure.
It’s all very powerful stuff, and something that those of us concerned about how to fix the problems facing this country after eight years of George W. Bush should keep in mind.–jane doe
Yeah, yeah, I know. Most important election in our nation’s history, and where have I been the last few weeks? Largely absent from the blogosphere.
I’m a bad blogger. No cookie for me.
Well, that’s changing, but first, I guess I owe you all an explanation, my dear non-existent readers.
As some of you may know, I decided this summer to take the fall semester off from my doctoral program, so I could decide if I was really on the right track. See, I wasn’t really happy doing the research I was supposed to be doing, and I had a major case of writer’s block with respect to any academic writing.
Funny thing was, I could write stuff for the blog and creative stuff on the side. So it wasn’t writer’s block in the traditional sense. I just couldn’t write papers for my classes, or things for my assistantship (basically a part-time job that got me tuition waivers and health benefits in addition to a modest stipend). I would stare at the computer for hours, feeling paralyzed. The words I could force out did not flow well, and paragraphs were not connecting with each other. It was a real mess, and not at all the norm for me.
I figured this was my subconscious trying to tell me something.
So I packed up most of my stuff and put it into storage, and put the rest into a U-Haul trailer and hauled it all to my brother’s house in Colorado Springs, where I’ve been living in the basement guest bedroom and trying to figure out what to do with my life.
And while I’ve been doing that, I’ve been getting back in touch with my creative side, which has been largely stifled (aside from this blog) for the last twenty years or so as I tried out various “safe” traditional career paths.
Years ago, at the end of high school, I could have gone one of two ways. College, or art school. I had done a lot of drawing and painting as I was growing up, particularly in junior high and high school, and I was actually pretty good. And I really enjoyed it.
But everyone kept telling me how hard it was to make a living as an artist. I would be much better off if I pursued a more traditional career path. I could always paint on the weekends, right?
Plus, I was (and still am) squeamish about the idea of attaching dollar signs to my art. I want my art to be the stuff I want to create, not something that someone else wants me to draw or paint for some specific commercial purpose.
So I tried the safe route. And it just about killed my spirit completely.
But all that’s changing now. I have decided to hell with traditional career paths. To hell with academia. To hell with collecting any more graduate degrees.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been sort of setting up some workspace and acquiring various art supplies. I’m taking a couple of classes at a local art school to refresh my memory for various painting techniques that I’ve forgotten about over the years.
And I’ve been painting. And drawing. And writing.
And it feels wonderful.
It’s also a little scary. I will be working without a net for a while, as I try to put together art and writing portfolios.
On the art side, I’m doing this without any art school degree, and hoping that someone will think my art is good enough to sell. I don’t want to even contact anyone until I have enough pieces that I am satisfied with to show to someone in the art business, and that’s going to take a bit of time.
I’m more confident on the writing side – I have, after all, made my living with words for many years. Still, it will be a while before I have anything outside of this blog ready for publication.
I’m not kidding myself – it’s going to take a lot of work and a fair amount of time. I’ll probably have to describe myself as an artist/writer/barista for a while, because student loans are going to start coming due soon, and I’ll need some form of income.
But at least I finally feel like I’m on the right track.
So last Friday, I contacted my advisor at my doctoral program, and told him I wouldn’t be returning to Redstatesville to complete my degree. And I called my boss at my assistantship, and thanked him for all his support as I worked on the doctoral degree, and told him I wouldn’t be returning.
I feel free.
All of this does raise one question with respect to the blog, of course.
Oh, I plan to keep writing things for it, especially for the next two weeks and probably at least for the remainder of Bush’s term in office. (Remember him? Our alleged president? Seems like you hardly hear anything about him these days, huh?)
But my whole reason for blogging under the name jane doe has now gone away.
When I started the blog, I adopted the pseudonym because my boss at the assistantship expressed concern that if I blogged under my real name, it would limit the projects he could have me work on. We did some work for local politicians in Redstatesville – from both parties – but he feared that clients might Google me to find out about me if I were working on projects for them, and if a Google search would lead them to my blog they might be offended.
And thus, I became jane doe.
At the time, I said that if my circumstances changed, I would go ahead and out myself. After all, I think a person should stand up for what he or she believes in and be willing to sign his or her name to it.
But here’s the thing: I’m kind of enjoying being jane doe.
First of all, it’s kind of cool having a pseudo-secret identity.
Plus, I kind of feel that being jane doe is what started me on the right path to where I am going with my life now. Under my real name, I wrote a bunch of stuffy academic articles and book chapters that will no doubt be forgotten amid the sea stuffy academic writing from other people living and working in the ivory tower. Hell, under my real name, I was a freaking attorney for seven years.
But as jane doe, I’ve written this blog for nearly two years now, and have finally figured out what I want to do in life.
So I’m kind of thinking of hanging on to the pseudonym, and seeing where it takes me.
I will have to ponder this for a few days, I suppose.
Any thoughts or suggestions, my dear non-existent readers?
…or is McCain completely blowing it on the debate?
Okay, so maybe it won’t be one. Rachel Maddow said last night that Palin might do okay based on her past performance in debates – she’s apparently good at answering the question she wants to answer instead of the one she’s asked, and her folksiness is supposedly going to be a big plus.
I don’t know.
What I do know, is that tonight’s debate is definitely must-see TV.
And wouldn’t you know it, I have a class this evening at the time of the debate. And it’s not the type of class where I can slouch in the back and watch the debate on my laptop, either. Nope, it’s an art-type class – a workshop on making mandalas – one I like, and one that only meets about a half dozen times, so I don’t want to miss it.
So I’ve set the VCR to record MSNBC’s lead-up to the debate, the debate itself, and the after-chatter. And I will be watching the entire thing, train wreck or not, once I get back from class.
On the Palin side, they’ve set expectations so low that if she manages to pronounce her own name correctly the Republicans will declare it a win.
On the Biden side, the main concern is not looking like a bully as he rhetorically eviscerates her. I’m not sure what will constitute a win for the Democrats in this debate.
I know I’m looking forward to staying up late to watch it all, then parse the reactions.
Pass the caffeine. It’s going to be a late night for this political junkie…
Sorry, folks, I know it’s been a few days since I posted anything. Which is kind of surprising, I suppose, when you consider everything that’s happening on the political scene at the moment. There’s certainly no shortage of material.
For the past week, I’ve been mostly painting and sketching. After too many years of trying to relegate my creative side to the back burner, everything has been boiling over, and I’ve had several nights where I sat down to start sketching some idea I’ve had, and the next thing I know it’s starting to get light outside again. I’m in total zombie mode as I type this, in fact, as last night was another all-nighter. So if there are a bunch of typos or if there seem to be words missing, that’s probably why.
When I’ve surfaced for air, though, I’ve been watching the simultaneous implosions of the economy and the McCain campaign.
The former, of course, is rather horrifying. So many people stand to lose everything they’ve worked their whole lives for, all because some I-bankers got greedy and some politicians (cough*Republicans*cough) bought into the whole “deregulation of the markets is a good thing” argument and then sold it to a large chunk of the American public.
My parents are retired, and are dependent upon their investments for their financial support, so when the market is careening around like a yo-yo on a string, they get a bit jittery. The rest of the family is in better shape, I guess. My brother’s income is steady, and that looks likely to continue that way in the coming months (knock on wood), and he and his wife are super-responsible financially, so their mortgage is not of the sub-prime variety. Their credit score is probably off the scale. Their investments may suffer, but they have plenty of time before their kids go off to college or they consider retirement, so they are troubled but not completely freaking out about the recent market moodiness.
And then there’s yours truly. Let’s just say my brother got all the fiscal responsibility genes in the family and leave it at that. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been taking a leave of absence from school and my assistantship this semester as I try to figure out what direction I should be moving in. Thus, I have no money coming in. I’m living off rapidly dwindling savings (and living under my brother’s roof) at the moment. I don’t have much in the way of investments. Most of the money I’d saved up during my lawyer years has been eaten up while I’ve been living la vida grad school, leaving me with just my rapidly-dwindling IRA rolled over from a couple of 401(k)’s.
It’s very tempting to take all that money out and resign myself to the tax hit so I can put it someplace safer. Like my mattress. But while that might be better for me personally, it would be bad for the country, because what if everybody did that? So I am leaving my money where it is for the moment, and hoping that others do the same and that I won’t come to regret that decision.
What is it that the great philosopher Janis Joplin said? “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”? Well, I may be finding out real soon what that kind of freedom feels like, I guess.
But I digress…
In contrast to the economy, watching the McCain campaign implode has been rather entertaining in a very schadenfreude kind of way. At least,
it was, until McCain’s campaign posturing suddenly messed up some
bipartisan congressional efforts to stabilize the
It’s got to be tough to be campaigning with a record of loudly and proudly favoring market deregulation – hell, deregulation was a cornerstone of his platform just a few days ago – only to have the entire country’s economy suddenly and rather spectacularly in peril because of, oh yeah, inadequate regulation and oversight.
And to have as high-ranking members of your campaign staff, lobbyists who represented some of the major players in the ongoing economic catastrofuck?
Well, that’s got to make it really hard to look like you are the candidate who is going to clean up Washington, DC, and save us all from the greedy bastards who brought us to this precarious point.
And yet, somehow, McCain is trying to sell that image to the American public. Go figure.
But, hey! Apparently the debate is going to happen this evening, in spite of McCain’s attempt to postpone it. It should be interesting. I plan to pop a big bowl of popcorn, put on one of my snarky political t-shirts, and enjoy the show. Popcorn is the debate-watching food of choice because it won’t damage the television if I find myself forced to throw something at the screen in response to something McCain says.
Presidential debate during a major economic meltdown. What could possibly be more exciting for a Friday night?
Women Against Sarah Palin is a new blog that hosts comments from literally thousands of women who are appalled by Sarah Palin’s views on many issues critical to women and to our country. They have my whole-hearted support.
That woman scares me.
I would be fine with her if she were just a small-town mayor, because I figure in small towns everyone knows everyone else, so if they elected her, they deserve her. But for someone who is that shallow, corrupt, and reactionary in her thinking to be one heartbeat away from the presidency of one of the most powerful nations on earth, is a terrifying notion.
Seriously, if you think George W. Bush is bad, he’s got nothing on this woman.
NB: I start this post off with a fairly long and rambling recollection of my memories of 9/11/2001. If you don’t want to read this (and I won’t fault you if you don’t), please consider scrolling down to the asterisks, where I actually start talking about political stuff that may interest my regular readers. -jd
It was an awful day, a day I and many – most – others wandered through in a sort of state of shock.
I was living in California at the time, still working as a lawyer. The first plane hit one of the towers just before my alarm clock went off that morning, The drive-time DJs chattered on as usual about nonsensical matters I can mercifully no longer remember, unaware of the unfolding tragedy until the woman who gave the traffic reports joined them on the air a few minutes later and told them to turn on a TV if they had one in the studio.
I turned my own TV on immediately, and thus had the dubious honor of watching the second plane hit the other tower as it was happening.
I stumbled around my apartment that morning, somehow getting ready for work, largely on autopilot, in shock. My brother called from Colorado. Was I planning on going to the office? Yes, I said. I had a meeting scheduled about a contract I was working on, I had to at least go in to see if it was still happening.
I was a lawyer, and lawyers aren’t supposed to react to emotional events the way other humans do, because lawyers aren’t supposed to be human, to suffer human weaknesses. I never got my emotional circuits disconnected (nor do most lawyers), but I often felt like I was obligated by my status to act as if I had – like many other lawyers did that day.
My brother was worried, because I worked in a tall building. Not the tallest in the city I was living in at the time, not by a long shot, but it was a crazy day, and no one was thinking logically. I certainly wasn’t. The biggest mass murder in our country’s history and I was putting on a suit and acting like I could ride out a day at the office.
It was a ridiculous notion, of course, but the truth is, I didn’t know what else to do. I lived alone, and had only recently moved to this city, so I didn’t have any close friends close by. My family was half a continent away. Practically the only people I knew locally were my co-workers. I think that’s the real reason why I went to work – I didn’t want to be alone on that horrible day, watching the news coverage by myself.
Probably only about a third of our staff showed up for work that day, mostly people with urgent meetings or people who like me didn’t think they were allowed (by whatever entity it is that allows these things) to take the day off. No work actually happened, at least as far as I saw. We congregated in a conference room where the head of our department had set up a television. Someone brought in a tray of bagels and a thermos full of coffee, which were largely ignored by everyone present. As if we could have eaten on that day.
We were all mentally or literally going through our rolodexes, trying to figure out if anyone we knew was likely to have been in one of the towers. I was one of the lucky ones – no one I knew, at least that I could think of at the moment, was likely to have been in either of the towers that day, though I did know several people who worked in one of the buildings across the street from the towers.
A co-worker – one of the ones who did not show up at the office that day – was not so lucky. Her mentor from a firm she had worked for earlier in her legal career was at a breakfast meeting in the restaurant that was on the top floor of one of the towers. He was among the missing.
We sat in the conference room, speaking in low voices, watching the scraps of news as they came in. Praying silently for the safety of people that we knew. Praying for all the people we didn’t know – the missing, and the people who would be missing them.
Every now and then, someone’s cell phone would ring, and the phone’s owner would walk quickly out into the hallway outside the conference room to take the call away from the rest of us. Sometimes, the news was good – someone they knew had received confirmation that someone else they knew was okay, was safe at home, was out of town, had taken a later flight, was not among the missing. Sometimes the news was less good – there were lots of reports of unanswered calls to mobile phones, or reaching answering machines at the homes of friends, or of not being able to get through to New York numbers at all.
By noon, I had had enough of pretending to work. I walked home from my office, got out of my lawyer costume and into comfy sweats, and started calling every single friend and family member I could, all over the country, trying to make sure that people were okay, trying to reassure myself that the world was not ending. And by and large, the news from my circle of friends and acquaintances was good.
There were some near-misses, though. A family friend who works in investment management and retirement planning was supposed to be flying from the west coast to New York to meet with some people from Cantor Fitzgerald that evening. His flight was canceled before it had a chance to board. The people he was scheduled to meet with were all among the missing. Another friend was a regular on one of the flights from Boston to LA that was hijacked. In other weeks he might have been on the plane, but something had caused his schedule to change that week.
The day passed slowly, with information trickling out in small bits between the endless replaying of the videos of the second crash and of each tower collapsing. Wild rumors circulated, and were duly reported by the media, albeit with strong caveats that they were unconfirmed rumors, because actual information was scarce.
It quickly became too painful to listen to the reporters, so I muted the television and started going through my CD collection, looking for music that might bring some comfort. John Lennon’s Imagine destroyed me – I listened to it twice, and cried for the lives lost. Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World was very cathartic, as well. I tried listening to Beethoven’s third symphony, Eroica – my favorite of the nine – but quickly abandoned it as inappropriate to the mood of the day. Ditto a Mozart concerto. I finally settled on the Cowboy Junkies’ Trinity Sessions with the volume turned down low. The entire album has a very mournful sound to it, sad and soothing, something that could be listened to without fear of offending the souls of those who lost their lives that day.
As night fell, I lit candles in my apartment, in the spirit of hope that more who were currently listed as “missing” would turn up alive and well. I brewed chamomile tea, which I sweetened with too much honey and sat on my bed staring at the TV, half-listening to the Cowboy Junkies, and wondering vaguely what could possibly drive people to fly airplanes into buildings.
At some point, I fell asleep, lights still on, music still playing, TV still flashing endless loops of planes crashing and towers falling.
A new day dawned, and the entire world had changed.
* * *
You may wonder why I’m writing about all this. My story of that day seven years ago is not dramatic, and it’s not as if anyone who was alive and aware of the world around them at the time of the attacks couldn’t tell a similar tale.
In truth, it is not what I had intended to write about when I sat down at my computer. But these were the words that came out, and I let them, because I feel it is appropriate to honor the memory of that day, as horrible as it was, and to honor the lives lost there – particularly the sacrifice by those who were trying to rescue others caught in the inferno of the towers before they fell, and the lives of the people on flight 93, who, having heard what happened with the other hijacked planes, fought back against their hijackers and prevented their plane from being used as a fourth weapon of horror at the cost of their own lives. Likewise, it is appropriate to honor the suffering of all those who lost friends and loved ones on September 11th.
Moments of silence, flags flown at half mast, prayers and religious services are all appropriate tributes to the losses suffered on that horrible day. Likewise the haunting sounds of Amazing Grace played on the bagpipes or a stirring rendition of America the Beautiful.
These are the things that civilized people do when faced with such a tragedy.
What civilized people do not do, is to use the memory of that horrible day and the lives lost on it to score political points.
Yet today, we are seeing exactly that from the Republican party.
Last week, they showed that appalling 9/11 “tribute” video as part of the run-up to John McCain’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. The video was apparently sprung on the cable news networks covering the convention without warning, and without the opportunity to screen it prior to its airing.
It was graphic and jingoistic, and it was clearly designed not to honor the memory of the lives lost or the heroic efforts of those who worked feverishly to rescue people from the rubble of the collapsed towers, but rather to inflame the worst aspects of the American public’s memory of that horrible day.
Worse still, it attempted to tie the attacks to Iran – a nation that had no part in planning the attacks – and to reinforce the idea that Iraq and Saddam Hussein were also somehow involved in their orchestration, despite no evidence to support this notion and massive evidence to the contrary. But tying Iran and Iraq to 9/11 serves the political agenda of certain people in the upper echelons of the Republican party (and, let us not forget, the agenda of the corporate interests and radical religious groups supporting certain GOP candidates).
Minutes after it aired, Keith Olbermann was apologizing to MSNBC viewers for the inappropriate nature of that video. And last night, he rightly castigated the Republican party leadership for the showing of the video in one of his excellent special comments.
Unfortunately, it seems we can expect many more actions of this nature from certain groups backing McCain and the Moose Killer over the next few months.
According to Denise Dennis, writing at the Huffington Post:
This past Sunday, in presidential-election swing states across the country, the New York Times came bundled with a dvd of the documentary “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West,” a controversial film on the threat Islamic terrorism. The documentary is set for release to retail outlets this week — the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks — but has been shown at college campuses for nearly a year now, presented largely by Jewish student organizations and as part of Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week, the national “conservative campus protest” organized and sponsored last fall by conservative author David Horowitz’s Freedom Center.
As it happens, I find myself in possession of a copy of this DVD. I did not buy it, though it lists a manufacturer’s recommended price on the front cover. Apparently, someone thinks it is worth $19.95, though I would disagree with that appraisal.
The copy I have was pressed into my hands by an earnest-looking young woman on a Denver street corner two weeks ago during the Democratic convention. She said something about it being about the distinction between peace-seeking Muslims and terrorists. I thanked her for it and shoved it in my bookbag without much thought or attention at the time. It remained in a stack with all the other political literature and similar offerings that I picked up as I wandered around the convention venue until last night, when I saw Ms. Dennis’s story on Huffington Post and the movie’s title rang a bell in my memory.
I have now watched the first forty minutes of the one hour video. That was enough.
More than enough, actually.
It is a piece of propaganda, plain and simple. Like the 9/11 “tribute” video from the RNC, it is designed to reawaken the public’s fear off terrorism. It displays graphic images of people injured in terrorist attacks. It shows maps with ominous x’s at the locations of various events. And it shows clips of various men in Muslim attire, with subtitles full of scary threats against the west, and particularly against America.
The video purports to distinguish between most followers of Islam, who are as horrified by the terrorist tactics used by al-Qaeda as the rest of us, and the radical Islamists who actually support or engage in terrorist acts. In reality, what it does is paint the Muslim religion as a threatening “other”, both opposed and a threat to “our way of life.” It blatantly states that Muslim people will say one thing when non-Muslims are present, and another thing when only believers are present – thus, by implication, no Muslim person can be trusted, because you can’t tell the radicals from the non-violent majority.
Someone has obviously spent a lot of money to make sure this DVD is widely circulated in swing states. The copy I have was presented in the standard DVD case, with a cover that looks like it was designed professionally like any other commercial DVD. I would assume the same can be said of the copies that were sent to the New York Times subscribers. According to the above-cited Dennis piece, the DVD “was bundled into newspapers in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Colorado, Iowa, Florida, Wisconsin, Nevada, New Hampshire and Virginia.” Make no mistake. The distribution of this piece of political propaganda cost a fair chunk of change.
Why would someone go to this incredible expense?
It all comes back to fear, and to terror management theory.
As I have noted previously in this space, reminders of 9/11 and the threat of terrorism have been shown to influence opinions expressed by voters on a variety of political issues, and on average to sway those opinions in the conservative direction.
The stronger the reminder about the threat, the greater the number of voters likely to be swayed by such tactics.
Certain Republicans want to set up Muslim citizens as the “other” in society, to be hated and feared, because it will give mainstream voters a visible threat to fear.
They are using graphic reminders of the attacks that occurred on this day seven years ago and the lives that were lost on that day as a means to accomplish this end.
They are doing it shamelessly and without apology.
There is a word for this sort of political tactic.
It is obscene.
According to Black’s Law Dictionary, obscene means “objectionable or offensive to accepted standards of decency.” It then goes on to further define the term in primarily sexual contexts, which is how that term is usually interpreted in the legal arena. But the first sentence of the definition certainly applies to this tactic, so I will use the term obscene to describe it.
The people who lost their lives seven years ago today deserve better treatment than to have their deaths turned into a political tool. The people who lost friends and loved ones seven years ago deserve better. The American public deserves better.
And yet, as appalling as it is, there are politicians, corporations, and religious groups who are foisting this obscenity onto the American public, and who will continue to do so between now and November, all for the sake of winning a presidential election – an election which they in no way deserve to win after the horrible catastrofuck resulting from the past eight years of Republican “leadership.”
I cannot begin to describe how angry this makes me.
Mere words cannot suffice. I could paint you a picture, but I don’t think I have enough cadmium red or alizarin crimson – indeed, there may not be enough of either pigment in the world to convey my anger about the cynical use of our memories of 9/11 as a means to a political end by people who want to see John McCain elected in November.
Instead, I will leave you with this. It’s another Roy Zimmerman song, about someone else who tried to use 9/11 in a semi-political, semi-religious context: