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Apparently, if you let one administration off the hook for war crimes and for violating our constitution and laws, the next guy to occupy the White House gets to thinking that it’s okay to issue an assassination order against an American citizen.

Hey, it’s not as bad as lying us into a war, right? Or torturing people to force false intel out of them to support a personal vendetta against Iraq. Or killing thousands of Iraqis or Afghanis or Pakistanis (and we’re not even at war with Pakistan!)…It’s just one guy. One American guy.

Apparently, Obama has gotten the impression that presidential performance is graded on a curve, and that as long as he does better than the previous guy, he’s cool.

Except that’s not the way it works. Or at least, that’s not the way it’s supposed to work…

For those who don’t obsessively follow the news but somehow do follow this blog (probably a null set, I will concede), the New York Times reported today:

The Obama administration has taken the extraordinary step of authorizing the targeted killing of an American citizen, the radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who is believed to have shifted from encouraging attacks on the United States to directly participating in them, intelligence and counterterrorism officials said Tuesday.

The article goes on to remind us that al-Awlaki has been linked to both Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the gunman in the Fort Hood shooting last year, and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the famed “underwear bomber” from last Christmas. Clearly, from an American perspective this dude is not on the side of the angels (speaking metaphorically, because hey, buddhist here). He may even be guilty of treason.

Does that mean it’s okay for an American president to order his assassination?

Hell no.

Let me remind you, no matter what activities this guy is guilty of, he is an American citizen. Like all of us, he should be held accountable for his crimes. I am not arguing against accountability.

What I am doing is arguing in favor of the rule of law. Remember, that concept – that fundamental principle of our system of government – that Obama campaigned on returning us to?

In taking this action, the Obama administration has started us down a very dangerous slippery slope. If we’re allowed to assassinate Americans overseas for engaging in terrorist activities, why not assassinate them domestically, as well? So much neater than actually trying and convicting them, after all. No chance they will be released because the prosecution dropped the ball.

But then, why stop there? Why not go after anyone who encourages others to rebel against the government? Again, if someone is truly inciting others to violence, we can lock them up (something Glenn Beck would do well to remember, as some of his rhetoric seems to be skating closer to the Brandenburg standard by the day). But they might beat the charge. A bullet or two would solve that problem right quick.

Sure, we might fuck up occasionally, and kill someone who didn’t deserve it, but it’s all to keep the country safe, right? Just call the innocent victims collateral damage and move on.

What led the Obama administration to believe it could get away with deciding to act to deprive this al-Awlaki character of life without due process of law?

I would argue that it is Congress’s failure, during and since the Bush administration, to rein in the power of the executive branch of government and reassert itself as a check on the authority of the president.

If our national political system were working the way it ought to, Bush and/or Cheney would have had to face the consequences of their various illegal and unconstitutional acts. At a minimum, following the last election, Congress would have imposed new constraints on the executive, or at least increased its oversight activities.

It’s what happened after we got rid of Nixon. It’s what should have happened in 2008. Actually, it should have happened by sometime in 2002 or 2004, but no use crying over spilled milk…

But a curious thing happened in 2008: voters were so fed up with the Republicans after eight years of Bush malfeasance and misfeasance that they voted in powerful Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress as well as the White House.

As a result, Congress apparently perceived very little need to rein in the executive branch. They were all on the same side, after all…the side of the angels (there they are again)…right?

Riiiiiiight…

It is a simple fact of political power dynamics that almost no one in a position of power will voluntarily relinquish that power to another official or branch of government unless forced to do so. Why would they? Even if they don’t intend to use the power to do some specific act (say, torture detainees, or hold them without trial) right now, well, there’s no telling whether circumstances might arise in the future where they would want to be able to do so.

Which is why we haven’t seen some changes that we were promised when we voted for Obama.

Remember habeas corpus? Yeah, I don’t either. Seems like we should have gotten that back by now, though, doesn’t it?

How about basic privacy protections? Like being able to trade e-mails or IMs or texts without thinking about how some computer was storing the information just in case someone got it into his head to use that information to build a federal case against you. Or maybe sell it to the tabloids. Whatever.

Remember how President Obama talked about Due Process back when he was candidate Obama? I miss that.

I could go on. And on. About the powers that Bush 43 grabbed that Obama hasn’t relinquished. About how wrong it is for our government to be targeting American citizens for assassination, no matter what those individuals are accused of doing. About what a freaking disappointment Obama is for progressives (no matter how much the Republicans may scream “Socialist!” about the man).

I could. But as usual, Glenn Greenwald has done a much better job than I could of explaining just how fucked up the whole thing is. Spencer Ackerman has some good thoughts on the subject, too.

Seems like this would be a good time to flood the White House e-mail servers with messages expressing concern about this change in policy.

We need to remind the Obama administration that if Congress won’t hold him accountable, we will. That we voted for him based on certain claims about what he would do if and when he was elected, and we can vote him out if he doesn’t at least try to live up to the hype. That he works for us, and has a duty to uphold the laws and constitution. And not some convoluted John Yoo interpretation of same, but an interpretation that would likely persuade a few Supreme Court Justices if it ever came down to that.

Speak up. Speak out. Do something.

jane doe


If you’ve been watching Glenn Beck much lately – something I generally try to avoid, but I inevitably see clips on Countdown, The Rachel Maddow Show, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and/or just about every blog on the liberal side of the blogosphere – you know that the man has been bandying about terms like “Nazi” and “fascist” and “Hitler” pretty freely in connection with progressives generally and President Obama in particular.

Not that President Obama is particularly progressive, but that’s another rant for another time.

Anyway, Beck has been engaged in a lot of ranting and raving and name calling, including some odd combos like “communist fascists,” which apparently is what happens when someone moves so far to the left end of the political spectrum that they end up back around at the extreme end of the right side of the spectrum.

Apparently no one’s ever explained Godwin’s Law to Mr. Beck.

Now, just yesterday, I ran across the following photo from the Washington Post (h/t @chrislhayes, link takes you to the original photo in context):

Glen Beck addressing the crowd at CPAC in February 2010

THIS guy likes to bandy about Hitler comparisons?

I ask you, who does this photo remind you of?

Here’s a hint. Change the flag behind him with another historical flag. One from, say, Germany. Late 1930s – mid 1940s era.

Seriously, dude. Glass houses. Pot. Kettle.

Mind, I’m not calling Glenn Beck a Nazi. Because, hey, I am familiar with Godwin’s Law.*

I’m just saying that, well, if there was a photo of me looking like this floating around on teh internets, I’d really want to avoid mentioning the H-word. Or the F-word. Um, fascist, that is, not the other F-word (which I manifestly have no problem with using when the occasion seems to call for it).

Just a thought.

jane doe

* I will concede that there comes a point where the comparison to fascism as a system of government may be appropriate, despite the emotional valence of the term. I drafted a couple of posts for this blog during the Bush administration where I speculated about where we as a nation were along the slippery slope leading to fascism, though I don’t remember if I actually posted any of them. I was not alone in speculating about this – see for instance Joe Conason’s It Can Happen Here: Authoritarian Peril in the Age of Bush.


So, former White House Press Secretary Dana Perino — you remember her, right? Bush administration Kool-Aid junkie? Well, I guess she’s forgotten all about 9/11. Because she was on Fox News recently, distressed that they weren’t calling the Ft. Hood shooting a terrorist attack, and she actually said that there were no terrorist attacks during the Bush administration.

I know. Mind boggling.

Amazingly, it appears her amnesia is some new contagious type, because Sean Hannity doesn’t bother to correct her assertion that “We did not have a terrorist attack on our country during President Bush’s term.” Guess he forgot about 9/11, too.

Sad, very sad. I hope they get help for that. I wonder what kind of health insurance they have?

On a completely unrelated note, sorry I haven’t been around lately. I’ve been doing NaNoWriMo, and that’s taking a lot of my time. I’m probably going to do some posts in the near future, though.

Next week. After NaNoWriMo ends.

jane doe


I was going to write a blog post about how the Obama administration appears to be adopting the prior administration’s positions with respect to the illegal warrantless wiretapping conducted by the Bush White House, but Glenn Greenwald at Salon.com beat me to it, and as usual does a better and more thorough job of it than I would.

I suppose I shouldn’t be too shocked. Much to my disappointment, Obama did vote for the FISA “extension” last year that expanded the government’s wiretapping ability and exhonerated the telecommunications companies that violated existing law with respect to wiretapping following 9/11. So why should it surprise me that he wants to hang on to at least some of that power that Bush seized for the executive branch?

But it does upset me. I expect better from Obama than we got from Bush. Perhaps that’s naive. Differences (and there are many) aside, Obama is a politician, just like Bush. Why would he want to give up power?

The Al-Haramain case may well be, as Greenwald says, “the only remaining case against the Government with any real chance of resulting in a judicial ruling on the legality of Bush’s NSA warrantless eavesdropping program.” From the perspective of all who care about constitutional rights, that is reason enough to want it to move forward.

So why is the Obama administration trying to shut it down?

jane doe


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.

jane doe


The stock market may be tanking, but my paranoia levels are soaring to new record highs with each passing day. If there were a way to make money off paranoia, I would be richer than Warren Buffett right now.

Sadly, this is not the case.

You’d think I’d be feeling relatively good about how the presidential election is going about now, wouldn’t you?

I mean, let’s face it, it’s rare that one gets to see the complete collapse of a national political campaign with just a little over three weeks left to go in the race. And the McCain campaign’s collapse has been nothing short of spectacular. Between McCain’s ongoing weirdness about the economic catastrofuck and his poor performance in the debates, and Palin’s scandals in Alaska and her appalling performance in interviews, not to mention the almost daily changes in major campaign platform components, the smear tactics that seem to be hurting McCain more than Obama, and the increasingly scary crowds at McCain campaign events…well, it’s been like this:

Yet I find myself unable to sleep, worrying about everything that can still go wrong.

Regular readers of this blog know that I’ve been harping on about terror management theory and its implications for our national politics for some time now. My first post on the subject – a rather lengthy primer on terror management theory and how it relates to the political world – was in June of 2007.*

At the time I wrote that post, I ventured into Paranoid Conspiracy Theory Land, where I speculated that persons with a vested interest in seeing that the Republicans retain control of the White House might use the principles of terror management theory to swing a presidential election where the Democratic candidate had a commanding lead in the polls in the weeks leading up to the election to something more to their liking.

The increasingly disturbing rhetoric we are seeing coming out of the McCain campaign, and particularly from Sarah Palin and other McCain surrogates. Attempts to paint Obama as somehow not really American, someone foreign, someone Muslim, someone who associates with terrorists – all of these are tactics one would expect coming from a group of people who are familiar with terror management theory. Ditto all the race-baiting tactics they’ve been using. They want to portray Obama as “other”, because “other” is scary and they want people good and scared.

The increasing ugliness that can be seen at McCain/Palin rallies in recent days – people calling Obama a terrorist or shouting “Kill him!” or “Off with his head!” are evidence that these tactics are succeeding at least with a small portion of their base. This is sad, but not terribly surprising. There has long been that ugly, racist side of America – the side a lot of whites at least like to think we’ve gotten past somehow (though most of my friends who are members of minority groups would tell them otherwise). To see it surfacing in such a blatant manner is very troubling, and points out again how easy it would be for our country to slide into outright fascism of the sort usually associated with Nazi Germany. (Assuming that we haven’t already crossed that line, anyway.)

Still, the poll numbers suggest that most voters are more focused on the economy – an area where McCain’s behavior has been truly erratic and unreassuring to most voters –  and thus have not been swayed by the fear tactics employed by the McCain camp. Likely all that McCain has managed to do is stir up a bit of a hornets’s nest among those who already were likely to vote for McCain anyway, while scaring off independent voters and more moderate Republicans.

This still raises the scary specter of assassination – as Frank Rich pointed out so ably in his column in the New York Times this weekend. (edit: hat-tip to jc on the column, btw) But let’s be frank, that’s been a threat with the Obama campaign from the early days of this campaign, and the Secret Service is all over it. All we can do is hope that they continue to do the excellent job they’ve generally done in protecting presidents and other important officials since the days of the Kennedy assassinations.

It would take something much larger than innuendo and subtle race-baiting to swing the kind of voter shift that McCain needs at this point. This is, in fact, consistent with terror management research. The stronger the “death prime” that induces mortality salience – that is, the awareness of one’s own mortality – the larger the reaction you will get in a population, in terms of number of people who will change their positions or be swayed to take a position they wouldn’t ordinarily.

In other words, as long as the economy is what most voters are most concerned with, all McCain’s fear tactics are unlikely to sway enough voters to tilt the election his way. He either needs to convince the voters that he can handle the economic mess – something that will be difficult for him to do given his behavior over the past few weeks – or he needs a very big BOOM! somewhere in the world, preferably (from his standpoint) somewhere in the U.S.

Don’t get me wrong. I do not believe for one moment that McCain would take any steps to engineer a big BOOM! that would endanger the lives of Americans. Despite all his nasty rhetoric lately, I still believe that McCain is a man who loves this country and sincerely believes that he would be a better leader for it than Barack Obama. I don’t agree with him on the latter point, but I most definitely acknowledge the former.

But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t others out there – people with the money and connections and lack of moral conscience necessary to make these things happen – who wouldn’t do so on his behalf. There are probably a lot of people – people in or associated with the current administration, people in the business world – who have a very strong interest in making sure that Republicans retain control of the executive branch of government. And some of those people I wouldn’t trust further than I could comfortably throw them when it comes to a choice between the lives of innocent Americans and their own pocketbooks.

Which is why I’ve been feeling so paranoid lately.

I think that there is a very high probability of some sort of attack somewhere on American soil in the next two weeks – particularly the next week. And this worries me a great deal.

It could cost the lives of Americans.

It could change the outcome of the election.

It could get us involved in a war.

And it could all be instigated not by foreign terrorists – Bin Laden and his groupies – but by Americans hoping to secure a political and economic future to their liking.

And it could work.

jane doe

* My other posts on the subject of terror management theory can be found here.


Um, yikes! So the Dow apparently fell 777 points today, taking it lower than the first day of Bush’s presidency.

Seriously scared, now.

Can someone please just shut McCain up so the rest of Congress can work out a bailout package already? I don’t really like the idea of bailing out I-bankers at the taxpayers’ expense, but I like the idea of another Great Depression even less.

My mattress is looking safer and safer as a place to store what little money I have left…

jd

P.S. Oh, and be sure to check out this article from the Guardian.


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:

Peace.

jane doe


…for calling the Republicans on the appalling use of that 9/11 “tribute” for political purposes.  –jd


I missed this from the Denver Post last week because I don’t subscribe to any Colorado newspapers (I have no bird cages and thus no use for the local news), but I saw a post about it in my new favorite blog, No Blood for Hubris (another Buddhist blogger – yay! plus, gotta love the title). It’s the account of a protester who was arrested last week by the Denver PD for exercising his first amendment rights. A quick exerpt:

“The first thing I really noticed was at Civic Center Park when I was in the ‘Food Not Bombs’ area. The police seemed to be ready for conflict. They walked through the ‘Food Not Bombs’ crowd, which was a peaceful group, holding their weapons out and looking at people, really intensely, trying to intimidate everyone. It made us all a little worried.

“I was planning to march with the group that night. We all had different reasons for being there. I was marching to make people aware that they should be worried about our civil rights being stripped systematically right now, and show people that habeas corpus is six feet under. I just think the time we live in has so many deep-rooted problems that I don’t understand how people can NOT protest. I’d never been arrested before, and I have no criminal record or significant run-ins with the law.

“Everything happened really fast. We knew there were police behind us, and that presence was growing larger, with more police, but then suddenly there were police in front of us at the other end of the block. Shortly after that, the police encircled us. A lot of people were able to escape before they closed the circle, but the rest of us were inside, along with a journalist from Brooklyn, and a woman who started writing on her laptop about what was happening, and some photographers. There were many people who weren’t protesters, just citizens, who were in the encircled group.

“We moved to the sidewalk – a few people stayed in the street – because we didn’t want a confrontation, but it didn’t matter.

“People started pleading: ‘Let me go,’ ‘I want to go home.’ The police started using the pepper spray. Some of the police on horses were whacking people with their batons. I was told later that the police were telling us to disperse, but I didn’t hear them say that. And where would we go? The police were all around us, not letting us leave.

So it’s not just the St. Paul police, though obviously the SPPD have been much more…what’s the word I’m looking for…brownshirt-ish?

It’s a curious thing, though.

In St. Paul, the police seem to be sweeping up everyone who looks at them cross-eyed, without regard for group affiliation, and it looks like the Denver PD had its moments with the lefty-leaning protesters, as well.

But both days that I was in downtown Denver during the convention, I saw groups protesting against gays (and the whole GLBT spectrum) and against abortion, right on the sidewalks where people were trying to walk. These protesters were a little intimidating and in-your-face (because, after all, they were telling everybody else on the street that they were going to burn in hell).

And all the Denver PD did was keep people out of the street. That’s it. No arrests. No intimidation tactics. No hassling the right-wing protesters.

Who do they go after?

Not the anti-abortion people, in spite of the violent tactics often associated with their movement. Not the people preaching hatred and intolerance.

They went after the peace activists. The journalists. The bloggers. The people calling for health care reform. The people calling for economic reform. The people who usually make a point of being non-violent in their protests. Sure, they’re uncooperative, but they are not violent or destructive.

And yet the police are treating them as if they were throwing bricks and molotov cocktails.

America is getting scary.

Make no mistake about it, my friends. We are now living in a police state.

And the worst of it is that the people who are running the show don’t seem to understand that they are creating the conditions that are more likely to lead to open revolt against the status quo.

If you allow people to protest, they tend to think, “Okay, things are fucked up, but at least we can still say that they’re fucked up, and protest, and march, because we have our constitutional rights to free speech and assembly. We can work with this.”

But when you stifle dissent…well…

In a way, society is like a pressure cooker. You need a way to vent pressure when it starts to build up to dangerous levels. Right now, certain factions within our society are trying to tighten the lid on the cooker, to prevent that venting from occurring. Protests are the steam valve that allows some of the pressure to bleed off.

Oppression breeds subversion. Rebellion.

Revolution.

Just sayin’…

jane doe

Update: I edited this post to give the source for the quoted text (the Denver Post).


Well, my friends, I was unable to get myself to St. Paul for the Republican National Convention this week. It just wasn’t in the cards, financially.

I don’t know whether to be bummed or relieved.

See, the blogger/activist side of me really wants to be there with cameras rolling, documenting what’s happening outside the convention. Because there is a lot of shit happening that really ought to be documented. More on that in a minute.

Then there is the self-preservation side of me, that wants to remain unbruised, unhandcuffed, unpeppersprayed, and un-arrested-on-ridiculous-trumped-up-charges.

Though you can’t tell it from the coverage in the mainstream media, the St. Paul police (and, according to at least some of the reports, the FBI) have been totally out of control for the past few days, trying to round up anyone who might have an opinion before the Republican convention gets started.

They’re not just arresting the activists. They’re also arresting journalists – they got Amy Goodman Monday afternoon, and also AP photographer Matt Rourke. And anyone who might be trying to document the police behavior. I read one report that said one or more of the lawyers who have shown up to represent activists have also been arrested.

Sorry, I can’t remember where I saw that one. I’ve been reading blog coverage – since the mainstream media has been totally fucking ignoring this – more or less continuously since I saw subMedia’s early Saturday morning report about the first police raid Friday evening. They’ve done two more since then, and both are must see. Lots of other people have been writing and posting videos about what’s going on in St. Paul. Here’s a few worth checking out.

Here’s the thing that’s got me nervous:

Regular readers of this blog may remember that back in early July, I had a pretty severe attack of paranoia. I was expecting some sort of faked terrorist attack (or a foiled fake terrorist attack) around the Fourth of July.

My understanding of terror management theory (see more that I’ve written on this subject here) and my beliefs about certain corporate and ultra-right-wing interests had me quite concerned about one or the other scenarios happening, because frankly, the Republicans actually need a terrorist attack at this point if they hope to win this thing using their fear tactic (since obviously Mr. Get-Off-My-Lawn-You-Damn-Kids’ charm isn’t doing the trick).

Well, my paranoia’s back, and lately it’s all centered around the city of St. Paul.

Let’s see what we have:

  • A Republican convention that most of the Republican “all-stars” (Bush, Cheney, Schwarzenegger, etc.) have backed out of due, allegedly, to hurricane Gustav
  • A Republican candidate with all the charm of Oscar the Grouch – one whose Senate colleagues think is too hot-tempered to be trusted in the Oval Office
  • A Vice-Presidential candidate who is already under investigation and an embarrassment to her party due to her family, um, situation

Plus, a whole lot of liberal/left-wing activists who would serve very nicely as scapegoats if anything…unfortunate…were to happen during the convention.

Am I being overly cynical if I say that somewhere out there is someone with enough money (and no moral compass), someone whose interests would be adversely affected if the Democrats take control next year, or even maybe someone who just wants to help Jesus come back to earth now — and that that someone may try to take a bunch of lemons and make lemonade for himself?

Now, once again, I want to emphasize that I am not accusing Republican leadership of planning a terrorist attack on American soil. I really believe that most Republicans who hold public office honestly believe that what they are doing is best for the country, even though it is really only what is best for their country club buddies.

But their there (jeez, jane, proofread once in a while, will you?) are some sharks out there who lack all conscience, and have a kill or be killed mentality, who would think nothing of a little “collateral damage” if it served their bottom line.

I hope I’m wrong.

I’m probably wrong.

But I’m not going to stop worrying until the current bastards are literally out of the Oval Office and back on the ranch in Crawford.

Or better yet, cooling off in a nice federal penitentiary for their various high crimes and misdemeanors.

But that’s probably too much to hope for, isn’t it?

jane doe

P.S. I still wish I had managed to find a way to get to St. Paul.


About a week ago, I revisited an old friend of sorts. I re-read Antigone on a lazy Saturday afternoon, something I haven’t done in years. It was Paul Roche’s translation of Sophocles’ version of the tale, a battered copy, older than I am, picked up in some used book store years ago, with someone else’s notes in the margins and single words underlined here and there throughout, seemingly at random and not by me.

It’s a play I really wish someone would update and turn into a movie. I’ll spare you the plot synopsis, beyond noting that Antigone is both the daughter and half-sister of the Oedipus of Freudian fame, so her family dynamics could probably make the annual Thanksgiving dinner of the most dysfunctional family you’ve ever known seem Norman Rockwellian in comparison.

The central conflict in the play is the debate about whether it is better to obey the tyrant, who has the power to punish one in very unpleasant ways in the here and now, or to remain true to a higher law or moral principles. It’s about the choice between doing what is right and following orders.

When faced with someone in a position of authority giving orders, most people almost reflexively choose what is easy over what is right. It’s rather depressing really.

Certainly, this is the lesson history has taught us. German soldiers were only following orders when they killed millions of innocent people for the simple crime of being Jewish, or communist, or gay, or a member of some other group that a madman had designated a threat to the state. Yes, some of those orders had seemed, well, wrong, but orders were orders, so what else were they to do?

What else, indeed?

Starting around the time of the 1961 trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, a Yale social psychologist named Stanley Milgram performed a now-legendary series of experiments to assess the general willingness of members of the public to obey authority figures. The results were disturbing, to say the least.

Each volunteer who participated in the study was directed, by a man in a white lab coat with glasses and a clipboard (the scientist), to administer a series of increasingly strong shocks to another “volunteer” (the victim) every time the other person got a wrong answer on a memory task. Both the scientist and the victim were actually actors playing carefully scripted roles. The scientist remained in the room with the volunteer, while the victim went into a different room, where he could be heard but not seen by the volunteer. As the shocks increased in voltage, the volunteer heard sounds of distress from the victim, who also mentioned some sort of “heart condition.” If the volunteer continued to administer the shocks (increasing from a low of 15 volts to a high of 450 volts) long enough, the victim in the next room would eventually fall silent, not responding audibly to either questions or shocks. If the volunteer objected or tried to stop the experiment, he was told the following things, in this order:

  1. Please continue.
  2. The experiment requires that you continue.
  3. It is absolutely essential that you continue.
  4. You have no other choice, you must go on.

(Prompts courtesy of Wikipedia, which also has a more detailed description of the experiments.) The volunteer was only given permission to stop if he continued to object after the fourth prompt was given.

The idea was to identify the point at which people would say, “No, I won’t do this.”

Before conducting the experiment, Milgram surveyed both his students and his professional colleagues, asking them to predict the percentage of people who would continue all the way to the 450 volt level. Everyone thought that few if any would proceed all the way through the experiment as it was to be staged, with the average being 1.2 percent. (Again, details courtesy of the Wikipedia entry.)

As I noted before, the experiment was being conducted in 1961, near the time of Eichmann’s trial. The trial certainly would have received a fair amount of press coverage at the time, so theoretically, participants should have been somewhat sensitized to the problems that can arise from just following orders. One would think, or hope, that the colleagues and students were accurate in their predictions, that most of the participants would have at some point refused to continue to administer the shocks.

In the first run of experiments, sixty-five percent of the participants went all the way up to 450 volts.

Sixty-five percent. For the sake of an experiment.

The participants weren’t happy about doing it. They made their concern about the learner’s well-being clear, for the most part. But when prompted by the serious looking man with the clipboard, they kept right on going.

When the initial study was released, it got quite a lot of attention, as you might expect. And there were some at the time who thought students should be taught to question authority, and not just blindly follow orders that were clearly wrong.

Not much came of it, of course. Because the people who are running the country don’t want a bunch of citizens or soldiers or employees questioning their orders all the time. They want obedience from the masses. They want most people to do what they’re told, when they’re told to do it. And so you don’t hear a whole lot about questioning authority or thinking critically in your average high school classroom. Maybe in college. If you’re one of those liberal arts majors, or in political science, or psychology, or some other field that focuses on how people interact with each other. And even then, the focus is usually on skepticism and critical thinking, rather than outright defiance of authority.

I’ve been on a bit of a defying authority kick lately.

Actually, my mother would tell you that’s been a constant theme in my life since I was about five. Not always defying authority, but at least questioning it. The poor woman was mystified by my tendency to disagree with teachers, often rather loudly and at great length, with examples and the odd footnote thrown in. And that was just grade school. But I digress.

In addition to re-reading Antigone, I’ve also been making my way through Sebastian Haffner’s Defying Hitler, which chronicles the author’s experiences in Germany as the Nazis rose to power there. And last week I also pulled out my copy of Abbie Hoffman’s Revolution for the Hell of It, another used book store find, and have been going through that, as well.

Truth be told, my bookshelves are rather full of that sort of reading material, in one form or another. Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench GangLysistrata. Calvin & Hobbes. Dr. Seuss (that Cat in the Hat was a rebel, I tell you). Heck, even those books on Linux are related in a way, as they are part of my ongoing attempt to escape from the tyranny that is Microsoft and Apple.

But I always come back to Antigone.

She’s been my favorite ever since I read Jean Anouilh’s version of the play back in high school. His version was produced in Paris, in February of 1944, while Germany was occupying France and artists and playwrights there were forced to work under the suspicious eyes of Nazi censors. Anouilh’s version of the play was necessarily more nuanced, the ethical lines less clear than earlier versions of the story. The play never would have opened had it been otherwise, at least not before the Nazis were driven out of France. But it was clear enough to the audience what the story was about.

Antigone was the Resistance, Creon the Vichy government.

She’s a difficult character to warm up to. She’s a bit overbearing in her righteousness. And she’s also a bit defiant merely for the sake of being defiant: in the play, the second time she covers her brother’s body with dirt was unnecessary as far as the religious rites were concerned. His spirit would have already moved on. No, the second time, she buries him to make a point: that tyrants should not be obeyed when their edicts are unjust. And she is willing, even proud to sacrifice her life in order to make that point. You kind of have to think, is it really worth your life just to make a political point, when other lives aren’t hanging in the balance at that moment?

But when it comes down to standing up for one’s ideals, very few can hold a candle to her.

It’s just that I can’t help thinking how different the past few years might have been if various people in the upper echelons of our government had been a bit more in touch with their inner Antigone.

Like when Bush and Cheney were trying to start a “preemptive” war with Iraq based upon manipulated intelligence findings.

Or when someone suggested that torture should be made a part of official US policy.

Or when someone decided to run our Constitution through the shredder.

Or…well, you know, this could end up being an awful long list, now that I think about it.

On the other hand, would any one person have been able to make much of a difference at the time? It’s hard to say. Consider how more moderate voices in the executive branch were gradually forced out of their positions by the hard-liners. Or how the whole “Plame-gate” scandal got started because former Ambassador Joe Wilson spoke out publicly about his findings regarding administration claims that the Iraqis were attempting to acquire “yellowcake” uranium from sources in Africa. Or how U.S. Attorneys who refused to institute prosecutions against Democratic officials on flimsy pretenses were replaced by ones willing to take the case. Or…well, I guess this one could be a pretty long list, too.

So maybe there were plenty of people who were in touch with their inner Antigone, but they weren’t able to get the word out widely enough, or weren’t taken seriously by the media.

Our wonderful, consolidated, corporate-controlled, authoritarian-enabling mainstream media.

Where am I going with all this? I’m not really sure, to be honest.

Over the past few months or maybe years, my own inner Antigone has been reawakening. Stretching and rubbing the sleep out of her eyes after a long slumber. And I think that very soon, she’s going to be ready to take her act back out on the road.

I’m going to be making a few big changes in my life over the next few weeks, so my posting here will be a bit erratic for a while. I’ve decided to take fall semester off from my graduate studies, get out of Redstatesville for a while, and see what kind of trouble I can get myself into in the last few months before the November election.

It should be fun. Or at least interesting, which is often nearly as good as fun, and sometimes even better.

I’ll keep you posted, my dear non-existent readers (and also the one or two of you who have been leaving comments lately), when my plans are a bit clearer. For now, however, I have a six-year-old’s birthday party to attend one state over, so I need to be hitting the road.

And lest there be any doubt in the matter, I still think Bush and Cheney ought to be impeached.

jane doe

* I used the masculine pronoun throughout my description of Milgram’s experiment instead of making it gender-neutral because back in the days when the study was being conducted, nearly all human psychological research used only white males as study participants.

For many years, the field of psychology, like the field of medicine, treated white males as the norm for the entire population, and everybody else who was not a white male was considered merely a deviation from the norm. The fact that most of the early psychological and medical research was also being conducted almost exclusively by white males is probably just a coincidence.

This lead to a lot of situations where the psychologists and doctors trying to apply the results of research to their patients found that the treatment or intervention (whether psychological or medical) did not work as advertised when dealing with patients who were not white males. This was particularly problematic on the medical side of things, as there were patients who actually died or suffered serious complications because their bodies did not respond the way a white male’s body would to the medications or dosages their doctors prescribed.

Often the most dangerous assumptions are the ones we don’t even realize we’re making.

What does this have to do with the rest of the post? Nothing, really. I just thought I’d mention it.


I’m going to say right up front that this post is aimed at the women among my non-existent readers.

Guys are welcome to stay around and read the rest of the post if you want to. I’m not planning on talking about chick flicks, or shoes, or any of the other things men seem to think women talk about when no men are present. It’s just that the things I have to say will more likely be of concern to women than men.

I want to talk about John McCain and women today.

Perhaps, I should be more specific, though. I don’t want to talk about the fact that he cheated on his former wife with the woman who is now his wife, or the fact that he divorced her after a serious car accident apparently left her not pretty enough for him. Though I think both of those facts say rather a lot about the kind of man John McCain is.

Neither do I want to talk about McCain’s positions on women’s issues, atrocious though they may be. Although I would caution any Hillary Clinton supporters who are thinking about voting for McCain because they are angry that she didn’t get the Democratic party nomination to look carefully at his positions on matters like abortion, family planning, and equal pay before revenge voting in November.

No, I don’t want to talk about McCain’s position on women’s issues. I want to talk about his issues with women.

This past week, a story surfaced about a joke McCain told back in 1986. A wildly inappropriate joke regardless of the setting, involving a woman and a gorilla.

It’s hardly the first wildly inappropriate joke the man has told – witness his singing of “Bomb, bomb Iran,” and his comment about the cigarettes the United States is exporting to that country being “one way to kill them.” But this one is part of a subset of his inappropriate jokes and comments that suggest some troubling things about McCain’s character.

I think that John McCain is a bully.

More specifically, I think that he is the kind of bully who gets off on making women feel powerless. Vulnerable.

Let’s examine the evidence, shall we?

We’ll start not with the story that surfaced this week, but rather a joke the man told during the Clinton presidency. I don’t feel like googling the thing to get the exact words, but the gist of the joke – and here I am stretching the word joke well beyond its definitional limits solely because that is how others have described the remark –  was that Chelsea Clinton was ugly because Janet Reno was her father.

What a breathtakingly cruel thing to say of a teenage girl.

Having been a teenage girl at one time in my life, I feel comfortable in saying that there was probably very little he could have said of her that would have hurt her worse than that casual remark. Most teenagers, and particularly most teenage girls, are insecure about their appearance. It comes with the territory. They are in that awkward transition between childhood and young adulthood, when hormonal changes and social pressures and the process of growing into independent individuals separate from their families tend to combine to produce a perfect storm of angst.

To have someone, some senator, say she was ugly in such a public way just to get a laugh could not have felt good. Even if she could shake it off, and shrug to her friends and say, “What an asshole,” that sort of comment initially hits you like a punch in the stomach and can linger to eat away at your confidence for years.

So, strike one against John McCain.

There have also been reports that McCain called his wife – his current wife, that is – a cunt.

Guys, if any of you are still reading this, let me give you a hint:

Never, ever call your wife or girlfriend a cunt.

Just, don’t.

It’s okay, if crude, to use the word to refer to that portion of her anatomy if you find the term vagina too clinical. (“The gynecologist sticks this thing into your cunt? EWWWW.”) And it’s not completely off-limits during an argument (“What crawled up your cunt and died?”), though its use will probably have you sleeping on the couch for a few nights. Used judiciously under the right circumstances, the word can even be arousing. (“When I touch you like this, can you feel it down in your cunt?”)

But when you call a woman a cunt, when you say the words, “You are a cunt,” or “You cunt,” you are verbally reducing her to nothing more than that portion of her anatomy. Not a human being, a person with complex hopes and fears and dreams. Not a partner in your life, someone to walk through the world beside you, to share your laughter and sorrows. Just a receptacle for your sperm, to be used when the urge hits and otherwise ignored, unimportant.

Some might argue that calling a woman a cunt is no different than calling a guy a dick, but I strongly disagree. It’s about power dynamics in society. The men are the ones who have most of the power in the world. They build war monuments that are really nothing more than huge phallic symbols, and don’t even get me started on the whole Freudian thing with guns and missiles and other weapons. So to call a guy a dick doesn’t carry the same simultaneously devaluing and threatening overtones toward the guy that calling a woman a cunt does toward her. If anything, a guy who is a dick would be more of a threat to the people around him.

But when you call a woman a cunt, you are reducing her to that one function. Something that exists solely for a man’s pleasure, something that is interchangeable with some other cunt should the man tire of this one.

When you call a woman a cunt, you remind her that in a world full of men who are dicks, she is vulnerable.

Men are the conquerors, the invaders, the destroyers. Not all of them, maybe not even most of them, but enough of them that we know that they are there, a threat to us. Our bodies are literally open to the threat of invasion against our will.

Which brings me around to this week’s revelation about that “joke” that McCain told, back in 1986. The one that his campaign staffers are trying to shrug off with statements about McCain’s “bad boy” side.

I’m not sure why one would even call it a joke, or find it funny. It apparently involved a woman who was beaten and then raped repeatedly by a gorilla. The punchline is that when she wakes up after the attack, the first thing she asks the doctor is, “Where is that marvelous ape?”

As if a woman who was beaten and then raped repeatedly (and apparently those were the terms McCain used when telling this wonderful joke) would ask longingly about her attacker.

As if this were matter worthy of a few chuckles over dinner.

Women don’t generally find much to laugh about when talking about rape.

For one thing, far too many among us have been raped. It’s hard to say how many, because so many go unreported, for a variety of reasons. Date rapes, girls who get too drunk at parties and wake up with memories of things they would never have consented to when sober, things that fall into a gray area where the woman or girl is afraid of reporting it because people will somehow say or think that they deserved it, because they wore short skirts, or got drunk, or went to a guy’s apartment, or let themselves be alone with the wrong guy.

And before you ask, no, I have not been raped. I consider myself rather fortunate in this respect because there were a couple of situations in my undergrad days that could have turned ugly for me but didn’t. I have many female friends who were not as lucky.

A friend from law school once posited, as we sat around a table eating horrible fast food between our classes, that in our society, every woman, or nearly every woman, has some experience, some moment in her life that forces on her the awareness of her vulnerability on a physical level. When that moment comes (usually in one’s late teens or twenties, though it can come earlier or later), it is a very shocking awakening for the woman or girl who previously felt relatively safe or protected in the world.

My friend wasn’t talking about the kind of awareness that one gets when one hears lectures on the subject of date rape at freshman orientation, that abstract sort of awareness that, yeah, okay, this is something that can happen, but it probably will never happen to me.

She was talking about the kind of awareness that grabs hold of one with an icy fist and says, “You are vulnerable. You can be beaten, or raped, or killed, and there’s not much you can do to defend yourself, because they are men and you are a woman. You are weak, and they are strong.”

Sitting at that table on the day when my friend talked about her theory were perhaps seven or eight other young women, myself included. All well-educated, mostly self-assured, secure in our knowledge that we could do just as well as our male classmates when we went out into the business world. All women with the sort of forceful personality it takes to even consider entering the field of law. We were ready to take on the world, and no one was going to stop us.

And every single one of us started nodding when she finished telling us her theory.

Each one of us had some definite moment in time that she could point to, some event that happened or very nearly happened, and say, “This is when I knew.”

And every woman I’ve discussed this theory with since that day has had that moment experience at some point in her life.

After that moment, the little reminders are there, popping up in random places as you go about your life, just in case you should forget your vulnerability. Little things that say, “You are weak.” And no matter how much you work out at the gym, or how many self-defense classes you take, those reminders never quite lose their power.

There are men in the world who play on that vulnerability. I don’t mean the obvious ones who do it within the context of intimate relationships, though certainly there are plenty of those running around.

I’m talking about the type who wear business suits, and spend their days working on business deals, negotiating, trading, bargaining, arguing, walking the corridors of power and getting stuff done, who welcome women into the board rooms and conference rooms and offices because the law requires them to, but still use their physical presence as a way of asserting their dominance over women. They are particularly likely to use it when it gains them a business advantage, but also sometimes when it doesn’t, just because they can.

You usually see these men, and they are usually among the taller men in the room if they are playing this particular game, looming over the women who are present. One I knew of would stand nearly toe-to-toe with a woman when negotiations became particularly heated, forcing the woman to tilt her head back and look up at him, trying to take advantage of that feeling of vulnerability.

Sometimes this works rather well for the men. They get concessions in the negotiations as the women both literally and metaphorically back away from their original position.

Sometimes it works…less well. I ran into a few guys back in my lawyer days who tried to use this tactic on me. The thing is, I am 5’9″ – six feet tall in heels (and back in my lawyer days I almost always wore heels). Relatively few men are able to truly tower over me, and a good percentage of the ones who can play basketball professionally. More often what happened was that they would stand up to start the game, and then I would stand up and look them more or less directly in the eye, no head tilting required, which led to a few priceless facial expressions when they realized they weren’t going to win that particular game.

But I digress.

Men who lack the physical presence to play these power games so blatantly in the business world often find other ways to remind women of their vulnerability, however, as a way of asserting power in social situations.

Some of them tell off-color jokes, or at least say words in a voice that suggests that they are joking. Sometimes those jokes are about rape or physical violence directed at women.

Which brings us back to Senator McCain.

His staffers have tried to play off the gorilla joke as something that he doesn’t remember telling, but certainly might have said, and claim that it’s just a reflection of his “bad boy” side.

Because he’s a maverick, that McCain is, no matter how many times he’s supported Bush’s proposals over the past eight years. You just can’t control a maverick. It’s part of his charm.

News flash, guys. Picking on teenage girls, calling one’s wife a cunt, and making jokes about rape don’t make one a maverick or a bad boy.

In my book, things like this say bully. And that’s what I think McCain is.

There are other examples of this sort of behavior from the man, abuse directed at people less powerful, that I could have cataloged here but chose not to. A little googling would turn up several of them within minutes. But I think that, at least for my own purposes, the three incidents I’ve written about are sufficient for me to draw the conclusion that I have.

John McCain is a bully.

And if there is one thing this country does not need right now, after the last eight years, it is to have another bully in the White House for the next four.

jane doe

Update: I wrote this post yesterday, but found this site today. It’s a much lighter take on John McCain and women’s issues.

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May 2017
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