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Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Poly Sci 101
Last week, I was reminded of a political science class I took in college, Global Diplomacy I think it was. In this class we were given an international situation/crisis to investigate, in this case, it was the Zapatista rebels rising up in Mexico’s southern Chiapas region. Each student was assigned a specific role to play in a mock American presidential administration. I was appointed the role of White House press secretary. For the next six weeks, the class was tasked with managing this crisis, each of us playing our roles and working together to solve problems as they arose. A week or two into the class, I was called on to conduct a press conference to address mounting violence in the region and potential US involvement. I tell this story because as I watched President Bush’s primetime press conference last week I was eerily reminded of that day in class, a frightening exercise in which I completely froze up when presented with tough questions. I stumbled over each and every query and projected such an air of uncertainty and ignorance of the situation that I was quickly demoted and given a ‘less public’ role in the administration. As I watched in disbelief last week while Bush stood before the press and the nation completely befuddled by just about every question, I wondered, ‘can we demote this guy?’ Seriously, can we? Not only was W's performance void of any substance, he also managed to piss off millions of crazed American Idol viewers by pre-empting last week's live broadcast.

We now know why the president doesn’t do press conferences very often: he absolutely sucks at it. The performance was far from presidential. He fumbled just about every question thrown his way, falling back on the same empty rhetoric of ‘stay the course’ and ‘America’s duty.’ The guy simply cannot think on his feet. In fact, he said so himself in the midst of the press conference: "you just put me under the spot here and maybe I'm not as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one (an answer)." If it’s not in the script, he has no clue what to say. He seemed even more confused than Ronald Reagan ever did, even after the Alzheimer’s set in. After watching this performance, one has to wonder who, if anyone, is coaching this guy. But God is on the president’s side, so everything is going to be all right I’m sure.

Bush fans of course saw a completely different press conference than I did, as evidenced by Sen. Elizabeth Dole’s (R-N.C.) comments afterward. She said she thought Bush "showed he was a leader in every sense of the word," and said he "outlined and justified a bold and ambitious plan to combat terror around the world. He's telling Americans and the world that when the United States president says something, he means it." My answer to that? “But he didn’t say anything!” The Washington Post’s Tom Shales had a similar reaction, as documented here.

Another good recap of the president’s bumblefest was offered up by the New York Observer’s Joe Hagan, while the New York Daily News took the hardline approach and focused on the president’s tie.

A Matter of Hearts
A month or so ago, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry was caught on microphone uttering what he truly thinks about the Bush administration. Speaking to a supporter after a rally, he muttered something to the effect of, “this is the biggest, most crooked group of liars ever…” After catching heat from the Bush camp, Kerry explained that he was referring to the ‘Republican Attack Machine,’ not the Bush White House (aren’t they one and the same?). This oft-cited ‘Attack Machine,’ seeds of which I believe can be found in Hillary’s “vast, right-wing conspiracy,” has been in overdrive lately. The latest attack is on, of all things, John Kerry’s military record. Last week, the right-wing media (Rush, Hannity, et al) began to publicly question the validity of the injuries Kerry endured in Vietnam to earn his three Purple Hearts.

They’ve got to be kidding, right? Seriously, how in the hell can someone who fought the Vietnam War from Texas and Alabama, beer in hand, ask a question like that? The simple fact that Kerry even has Purple Hearts to ask questions about should make this line of attack null and void. It’s unbelievable.

The machine wants to paint Kerry as a flip-flopping, tax-raising, elitist liberal who’s weak on defense. Former NYPD Commissioner Bernard Kerik joined the weak-on-defense fight yesterday by insinuating that if Kerry were elected, another 9/11 would happen. This on the same day President Bush said a terror attack on the scale of 9/11 was likely to happen in the next several months, so we’re pretty much screwed either way then, right? If there’s one thing the Bush administration has learned, it’s how to cover their collective asses. Seriously, it’s astonishing to me that a sitting president who’s presided over possibly two of the worst intelligence failures in history – 9/11 and Iraq’s WMD – can claim to be stronger on defense than his opponent. What’s even more astonishing is the fact that people believe him! It must be all the tough talk and the furrowed brow, I don’t understand why else people would buy this claim. Syndicated columnist Richard Cohen explores the phenomenon further here.

The Republicans are also trying to make Kerry out to be some sort of smartass elitist snob who can’t relate to real Americans. While this is actually true – the senator’s yacht is bigger than my entire neighborhood – I’d still rather have a pretentious smartass than a pretentious dumbass as my president. But what we really need in the White House is a Slurpee-loving former wrestler, now we're talking!

Yes, this is going to be a seriously long and dirty campaign full of personal attacks, scandals, denials and spin – but the Daily News’ Denis Hamill doesn’t believe it’s dirty enough yet. He thinks the candidates need to take a few pointers from Yankees and Red Sox fans, who bring the term ‘heated rivalry’ to an entirely new level. Go here for his hilarious breakdown.

Just Give Me Some Truth
Mr. President, I want answers. Iraq is a mess, plain and simple. To deny that fact is to deny the truth. American kids are dying every day*. Innocent Iraqis are dying every day. And you tell us we have to be resolute. Fine. But what's the fucking plan? Why are we there? And how do we get out? What's the goddam plan?? And don't give me bullshit rhetoric about our higher calling, tell us why we're there.

I trusted you once you bastard. Sure, I was skeptical, but at least part of me believed, or at least wanted to believe, that maybe you were right... ‘surely, they can't be making this up’ I thought. ‘It must be based on something.’ But I thought it was based on more than George Tenet leaping out of his chair to shout "it’s a slam dunk!" (When is that fucker going to be fired anyway??)

You all wanted to have your war and you know it. Cheney led the charge, Rumsfeld right behind him, bouncing up and down all giddy with excitement at the prospect of bombing somebody, anybody. Condy Rice marching right alongside, trying to remember what she'd told the president the day before. Even Saudi Arabia's Prince Bandar was there, his arm draped around Condy while he sucked down another mojito. And Paul Wolfowitz brought up the rear, a maniacal look in his eye as he pounded his fist into his hand in repetition - “War. War. War! We gotta get our war on!” And then, suddenly, the cabal stops in mid-march: "Colin? Where's Colin? Shit. We forgot to tell Colin." Is this any way to prosecute a war? Is this any way to run a country?

This administration honestly believed its own bullshit, and they still do I think – they kind of have to now I suppose. They believed we’d be hailed as heroes by the Iraqi people, and I’m sure by most accounts we are. But how could they not have foreseen the resistance we’d face? Any simpleton would’ve at least prepared for rogue elements of fierce resistance. It frightens me to death that Bush and his cronies truly believed this would be a cakewalk. And when Bush plopped himself down on that aircraft carrier a year ago, he really must’ve believed that the Mission had been Accomplished.

But what's really been accomplished? Since Bush's Top Gun moment in May of last year, 635 US soldiers have been killed in Iraq. In July, when the resistance began to pick up in Iraq, Bush swaggered out in front of the cameras and shouted, “Bring It On!” to the insurgents. Since that ill-advised show of machismo, nearly 500 soldiers have been murdered – it’s surely been brought’n Mr. President, you got what you asked for. In December, Saddam was finally dug out of his hole and hopes that the resistance would diminish as a result filled the air; since then, 265 soldiers have been killed. In total, more than 700 US soldiers have been killed thanks to your misguided Iraqi adventure. No weapons of mass destruction have been found. No link to 9/11 has been uncovered. The world hates us more than ever. The faux-coalition you ‘created’ is crumbling. There’s even talk of the military draft being reinstated. And Osama is still taunting us from his cave.

How did you get us into this mess? More importantly, how are you going to get us out? I agree that we can't "cut and run" now, but that's your fault for getting us into this pickle in the first place, so what do we do now? And why are we there again? If the mission was to spread freedom throughout the world, how come we were told that the mission was to prevent a mushroom cloud from rising over our cities? We want answers, and we want them now. Give us some truth.

* this photo, which first appeared in the Seattle Times last Sunday, has sparked quite a controversy since it was printed. The woman who took the photo worked for Maytag Aircraft, a firm contracted by the US military to work in Kuwait. Because the administration does not want Americans to see the results and reality of its policies, these types of photos are forbidden. The woman lost her job yesterday as a result.

Ready, Ames, Bonfire!
One would think that with the escalating emergence of shady dealings in the White House and the spiraling chaos in Iraq, the youth of America would be up in arms. With all this talk of Iraq becoming Vietnam, I’ve been waiting for massive student marches, at least on traditional liberal campuses like Berkeley and NYU. Finally, last weekend, the first sign of this revolution redux seemed to be taking place, in Ames, Iowa. Yep, students on the campus of Iowa St. University rose up in protest. They marched against authority, they chanted slogans, they lit fires. And what were they protesting? The war in Iraq? The erosion of civil liberties? Regressive environmental policies? No, they were apparently protesting, uh, spring. Yes, this was more a riot than a protest, and was sparked by the annual springtime Veishea Festival. That, and a lot of alcohol. Good to know the youth is still fully engaged in the country's political discourse. Power (and beer) to the People!

Delivery for a Mr. Heston?
Earlier this week, Italian customs agents seized more than 8,000 Kalashnikov rifles headed for the United States. Italian officials seized the weapons because of discrepancies in the custom forms. There was no immediate claim of ownership, but Days believes there’s nothing to worry about - we’re pretty certain the rifles we’re ordered by vice president Dick Cheney. (check out Cheney in that photo… he looks like he’s about to make love to that thing in his hand. Scary.)

Catfish Are Jumpin'
There has to be some good news this week, doesn’t there? I guess we can look toward the weather. We’ve had an early dose of summer here in New York City, which only seems fair considering that it was still snowing only a few short weeks ago. Yes, all through last weekend, skies were clear and temperatures rose into the 70s. Sitting out on my fire escape last weekend, soaking in the sun, taking in the harbor, I spotted my first fire hydrant cap-busting of the season… the kids were frolicking and playing as the yellow-brownish water splashed all over them, ahhhhh, springtime in Brooklyn. And on Monday, the mercury hit 85 here in the city, which prompted two visiting Canadians to take an illegal dip in the Central Park Reservoir, as the Daily News reported:

The women, still stylish in jeans and hats after their afternoon swim, were charged with trespassing. At least one of the women had been staying at a backpacker-friendly hostel on Amsterdam Ave. before checking out yesterday, a clerk said.

Now come on, stylish? Canadian? Gimme some truth Daily News!

"What I say goes!"
More late-breaking, Central Park, springtime mayhem... when a transgender up a tree asks for a Diet Vanilla Pepsi, he/she MEANS it!

A Higher Calling
We finish today’s Days with the story of Richard Arko, a Roman Catholic priest from Akron, Ohio recently sentenced to two years probation for growing marijuana inside the rectory. Upon his sentencing, Arko apologized to the court and to his parish and said he probably won’t be able to continue as a priest. “I hope to move on in my life and continue to serve others,” he said. Serve others? Does that mean he’s going to start dealing now?



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