by Barry Crimmins
Reprinted from the Boston Phoenix.com, with permission of the author.
Once upon a time in 2002, things got worse before they got better
The year 2002 was like a fairy tale — the middle of a fairy tale, when despair grows exponentially with each turn of the page. Just a year after the usurping of the throne, sinister forces continued dismantling all that was ever good and decent within the fallen kingdom of America. And so the dark shadow that was 2001 grew longer until our nation became engulfed by starless, moonless, unremitting night. At year’s end, many of us fear we may never see another metaphorical sunrise.
2002: The Fairy Tale was authored by the Family Grim, a/k/a the Bushes. They got plenty of ghostwriting help from an assemblage of spooks, zealots, felons, merchants of death, environmental assassins, bigots, and ratro-retread right-wingers who rose from political caskets to reassert world views that were arcane back when Strom Thurmond was still fighting for the Confederate Army.
In the long-ago, medieval peasants had to rely on the Church and its suspect agenda for what little information they received. In 2002, the great unwashed turned to a complicit and corrupt corporate media for news. If we ever reach the third reel and the big fairy-tale courtroom scene, media magnates will be sitting in the dock with wicked witches, evil sorcerers, greedy ogres, and pretenders-to-thrones. The sun will rise and the serfs will seize the brief, shining moment to bring (if you’ll forgive the term) the evildoers to justice.
The bucks stop there
2002 arrived discharging sparks of hope. The "Take the Money, Enron" scandal emitted such a new-year stench that it seemed at least plausible that Americans might finally see Court-appointed president George W. Bush not as an heir apparent but as an apparent error. Enron demonstrated that the pie-eyed piper in the White House didn’t just attract rats, he sought their guidance and did their bidding.
Enron set the platinum standard for scum. It was the business model for much of what was revealed throughout the rest of the year. Shortsighted, cold-hearted, and with a front office replete with more felons than you could fit into a crack house on a Friday night, this Ponzi scheme of a conglomerate had one business goal — to rob everyone.
The Crooked E couldn’t have pulled off this swindle without the help of Big Jive accounting firm Andersen LLP (formerly Arthur Andersen). Apparently, the firm believed LLP stood for "Let’s Loot People." With all the shredding Andersen did, it obviously forgot why its profession is called bookkeeping.
The best thing Enron did for its beloved GOP was spread money around on both sides of the ever-narrowing American political aisle. Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman’s former chief of staff was a lobbyist for Enron. Lieberman also received campaign and PAC contributions from the corporation that he later gently poked and prodded at some Capitol Hill hearings.
Responding to calls for him to recuse himself from the Enron investigation, the indignant Lieberman sputtered, "To say Enron owns me is absurd. Anyone who knows me knows that I am first, last, and always a pawn of the insurance industry!"
Bush’s State of the Union address included his infamous designation of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as an "axis of evil." Iran and Iraq are blood enemies, and North Korea is far removed from both nations, being located just slightly north of South Korea. Attorney General Kaiser Ashcroft was said to oppose the language Bush employed because he didn’t think it appropriate to use "axis" as a pejorative term. But the war on this particular axis proved to be a success. There wasn’t a single summit between the leaders of the three nations throughout the rest of the year.
Weird stories about Kaiser Ashcroft abounded. This year, a Dutch report claimed that Ashcroft considers calico cats to be a sign of the devil. One day, while speaking to a group of North Carolina seminarians (and who better for the AG to address?), Ashcroft burst into song. Accompanied by a wobbly backing track that sounded like it had been engineered on a circa-1975 Realistic® tape recorder, he broke into an inanely corny and nationalistic song of his own composition called "Let the Eagle Soar. " As bad as it was, ludicrous choreography, including a cringe-inducing lamp-lifting Statue of Liberty re-enactment, tipped us off that he had been planning this number for some time.
Next, Ashcroft ordered a bare-breasted statue at the Justice Department covered so that he wouldn’t be caught flagrante delicto with an inanimate object. The bronze harlot was just begging for trouble, but the AG knew how to remove temptation, and she was foiled. A few weeks later, when the Kaiser kept singing "Let the Eagle Soar," the statue asked to be fitted with earplugs. Later in the year, Amnesty International investigated charges that the song was used to torture prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. A lot of people would sell their souls to calico cats if it would help run John Ashcroft from public office.
At February’s Salt Lake City Winter Olympic games (a/k/a the Downhill Cumorah Pageant), US Olympic figure skater Sasha Cohen said Bush told her during the opening ceremonies he couldn’t stay to watch any events because "I’ve got a war to fight." He then boarded Air Force One and flew to the Wyoming front to address his troops in Jackson Hole.
On an Asian tour, Bush made a grand gesture and offered China an opportunity to become the 51st police state. In honor of W.’s visit, Japan graciously renamed itself "The Land of the Really Stupid Son" for the duration of his stay.
W. called Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi "a great reformer." Koizumi returned the compliment by saying, "There’d be no need for reform if it weren’t for people like George W. Bush."
This ain’t Florida, gringo!
In March, Vice-President Dick Cheney was penciled in to head up the Shadow Government, although some questioned the move since he himself doesn’t cast one. Cheney spent much of the month on a 12-nation war-keeping mission. The tour was fairly uneventful except for one speech during which Cheney chipped a fang on a microphone.
The subtle yet inimitable influence of Henry Kissinger permeated news that the Pentagon had secret plans for nuking seven nations. Energy secretary Spencer Abraham privately hoped Bush would drop the Big One on the Middle East so that we could begin burning nuclear-fossil fuels. Kaiser Ashcroft doesn’t think of them as nukes — he considers them "rapture accelerants."
In March, Fatherland-security chief Tom Rigid unveiled a rainbow coalition of color codes with which the Bushies could foment panic and diversions whenever the public got too interested in matters not deemed appropriate for their consideration.
In the Middle East, Israel seized more land because Palestinian suicide bombers struck again because Israel began construction on a fence because Palestinian suicide bombers struck again because Israel launched rocket attacks because Palestinian suicide bombers struck again because Israel bulldozed occupied homes because Palestinian suicide bombers struck again because Israel leveled neighborhoods ...
In response, Bush admonished Yasir Arafat to resume "security cooperation" against terrorism with Israel. Security cooperation between Ariel Sharon and Arafat was about as likely as a poison-control program between cobras.
The massacres continued on both sides, spreading as far away as a Kenyan resort where innocent Israeli tourists where murdered by a terrorist bomb in December. Nowhere did 2002 seem more hopeless than in this continuing conflict perpetuated by a few, victimizing many.
In the beginning, there were priests and they saw that the collar was good ... for covering up what they did with what was under the rest of their robes. By April, many American Catholics began kicking themselves for not questioning those NAMBLA Journal inserts in the Sunday Bulletin.
A coup attempt against President Hugo Chavez masterminded by School of the Americas graduates and publicized by the corporate media put Venezuela into a brief state of flux. Within 24 hours, they were re-corking the champagne at CIA headquarters.
That assault on Latin American democracy installed "President" Pedro Carmona, who in just 24 hours dissolved the legitimately elected congress, delayed elections, and declared he had the right to remove any elected official from power. Bush and Carmona immediately formed a new group: the Organization of Illegitimate Leaders, or OIL.
The next day, the fix was out and the message from Venezuela to Bush was clear: this ain’t Florida, gringo! It was W.’s worst failure since his last breathalyzer test.
Bush went to New York’s Adirondack Mountains on Earth Day. During the week preceding his visit, the area experienced a heat wave, torrential rains, an earthquake, and finally, while he was there, a blinding snowstorm, making him the first president so environmentally unfriendly that an entire mountain range refused to appear in a photo-op with him. The Adirondack Chamber of Commerce asked W. to keep his stay short because it feared that if he hung around and kept lying about the environment, the Bowels of Hell would open.
The name of the blame
We used to worry about creeping fascism, but those days are over. By May, Bush had it jogging.
In May, Court-appointed-Bush-administration officials said the new International Criminal Court would get no cooperation from the United States — outside of necessitating it.
In light of the upcoming ban on soft money in federal elections, a May Republican corporate fundraiser was the equivalent of throwing a keg party at the entrance to an AA meeting.
Viper extraordinaire Karl Rove’s White House duties began to decrease as he geared up to head Bush’s 2004 organization — the Committee to Re-appoint the President, or CRAP.
Revelations about 9/11 ran from a trickle to a gusher in mid May, as the country tried to decide what was more shocking: the fact that Bush knew something or the fact that he knew anything.
The FBI stuck to its standard policy and refrained from commenting on Special Agent Coleen Rowley’s 9/11 whistle-blowing letter until the agency had a chance to rewrite it.
The US intelligence community’s 9/11 impotence was directly traceable to its unwieldiness, so what was the proposed remedy? Bloat the bureaucracy to provide more chains of command to use as downward conduits for blame the next time the system fails miserably. Intelligence "reform" is nothing more than an authoritarian make-work program.
Despite the FBI’s admission that it dropped the 9/11 ball, officials who blew it got promotions, the organization received a huge increase in funds, and almost any constraints against its use of police-state tactics are now history. It just goes to show you that when you take the fall for the Court-appointed Bush administration, you land somewhere soft.
As the first post-9/11 Memorial Day approached, New York City was singled out for several color-coded warnings. This blatantly political diversion was akin to yelling "Priest!" in a roomful of altar boys.
Bush made another embarrassing trip in late May, this time to Europe. In France, he spoke at the American Cemetery in Normandy on Memorial Day and was the stiffest person in the place. It would have been more fitting for Dubya to speak at the grave of an AWOL National Guardsman who got killed in a holiday-weekend drunk-driving accident.
Court-appointed president Bush underwent a colonoscopy, in late June, during which doctors successfully located his head, but only after performing an emergency procedure to remove the entire Fox News Network.
"I cannot think of a time when business overall has been held in less repute."
— Henry M. Paulson Jr., CEO of Goldman Sachs.
"We’re going to run the country like a corporation."
— George W. Bush, on the 2000 presidential-campaign trail
Court-appointed president Bush surprised many people during a Wall Street speech by demonstrating that he could actually wink and nod simultaneously. He gave the speech in front of a backdrop that said "corporate responsibility" while proposing reforms that had fewer teeth than a National Hockey League old-timers game.
In August, the prescription-drug plan died in the Senate, and many elderly Americans are likely to follow suit.
CNN showed awful footage of a dog dying from an apparent gassing by Al Qaeda. After years of corroborated stories concerning the Pentagon testing chemical weapons on innocent animals, it was good to see this horror brought to the public’s attention. It was now clear that Al Qaeda possessed the weaponry to take on the SPCA.
In late August, the court-appointed prez went to Oregon, where he gave a speech in which he explained why logging must be stepped up because the only way to eradicate forest fires is to eliminate forests. Smuggy the Unbearable’s reminder: only YOU can prevent forests!
Dr. Robert J. Goldstein of St. Petersburg, Florida, was charged with possessing a non-registered destructive device and attempting to use an explosive to damage and destroy Islamic centers. He allegedly had 40 weapons, 30 explosive devices, a list of about 50 Islamic worship centers in Florida, and detailed plans to bomb an Islamic education center. If Goldstein’s name were "Muhammad," I’m guessing he’d have been described as an "Islamic fundamentalist" rather than as a "Florida podiatrist."
By late August, Bush had built a broad domestic and international coalition on Iraq — in opposition to his policies.
A nice pre-emptive strike by the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati, which ruled that Bushcists could no longer deport people in secrecy, declaring, "Democracy dies behind closed doors."
To which an insolent Kaiser Ashcroft responded, "Yes ... and ... ??"
Virginia is for Lugars
On September 11, the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the USA was observed by a moment of silence surrounded by 23 hours and 59 minutes of blaring hype.
Jan Brandt, the vermin behind the plague of AOL discs mailed by the gross to every man, woman, child, and farm animal in North America, was fired. Here’s hoping they sent him three-dozen copies of the dismissal letter.
Voting irregularities in the Democratic gubernatorial primary invoked the six scariest words in American politics: Florida is back in the news.
Those six words were repeated when a latter-day Gladys Kravitz named Eunice Stone lifted her head from the pancake trough at a Florida Shoney’s just long enough to racially profile a couple of American doctors of Middle Eastern descent. The victims of her misjudgment got put in the cross hairs of every cop in Florida. The news networks aired wild rumors about exploding luggage and nuclear targets. An entire interstate highway was shut down. In the end, the men were guilty of one thing: stopping at the wrong bad restaurant.
Bush took his case for war to the American people on October 7. He kept saying, "Americans speak with one voice" And apparently the voice emanated from its ass. The scariest part of the speech was when Bush said Americans wouldn’t live in fear. Right, interstate highways were getting closed on the word of one busybody, but we weren’t living in fear.
The fear line got extended applause because everyone was afraid to stop clapping. Brazilians unleashed a weapon of mass destruction — the ballot — when 52 million of them voted for their new president, Lula da Silva, a leftist.
Congress caved in and authorized Bush to wage war at whim upon Iraq. The most disappointing member of the long list of those who voted "yea" was Massachusetts senator John Kerry, who was facing a fierce re-election campaign against no one.
A shooting rampage gripped the Washington, DC, area, reminding us that guns enslave much more frequently than they liberate. Several of the sniper victims were pumping gas. This resulted in a new pricing structure: self-serve, $1.39/gal; full serve, $5.99/gal. Two men were arrested just in time for there to be no substantial debate about anything during the midterm-election campaigns.
Jimmy Carter drew reactionary ire for winning the Nobel Peace Prize just as we were consecrating our nation for the holy sacrament of war.
The difference between Iraq’s alleged desire to possess weapons of mass destruction and North Korea’s admission that it is well on the way to having them is simple: should something go wrong with Iraq’s weapons, it could damage oil fields, whereas North Korea’s weapons most likely would harm only Asians.
Did you know? The same people who calculate royalties for record companies work weekends estimating the size of crowds at peace rallies, and the crowd estimates never include the FBI agents.
October ended with the horrible news of the deaths of Senator Paul Wellstone, his wife Sheila, daughter Marcia, three staff members, and two pilots in a small plane crash in Minnesota. Wellstone had composed about 60 percent of all the great people in the Senate.
Mock the vote
A new psychological affliction was identified: AlGoreaphobia — the fear of election stories emanating from Florida.
Up until election night, the American people couldn’t be blamed.... Up until election night.
North Carolina senator-elect Liddy Dole’s mortician did a great job on her makeup for her victory speech.
The policy of impugning the patriotism of senators who left three limbs behind in Vietnam resonated with the voters in Georgia — but that was probably because Max Cleland fought for the Union Army.
The election provided closure for Walter Mondale. Now he has lost in all 50 states.
George W. Bush called Katherine Harris and informed her she’d won her bid to represent Florida in the US House of Representatives. It was Harris whom Bush called on election night 2000 to tell her he’d won the presidency.
A lot of people say the Democrats didn’t have a message this fall, but they did, and here it is: we support the same things as the Republicans, it just takes us longer. We are bought by the same concerns as Republicans, just for less money. We are as silent about issues that matter to working families as Republicans, it’s just that our silence represents betrayal of our purported core values whereas Republicans are merely being consistent.
When Iraq agreed to jump through all the hoops the US demanded of it, a delicate stage of the affair was reached. Iraqi compliance was something Bush never counted on, and so now a larger fear loomed — what if the inspectors find nothing? In their first several days in the country, the UN inspection team found nothing more dangerous than a distillery that bottled 75-cent bottles of gin.
Osama bin Laden is like Jimi Hendrix. Nobody has seen the guy in ages, but his new recordings just keep coming out, including a new release in time for the holidays
The Homeland Security Bill included a rider guaranteeing corporations with tax-dodge offshore headquarters the right to participate in the upcoming war-profiteering frenzy. The bill should have been called the Expatriate Act of 2002. These corporations represent Bush’s largest bloc of unwavering international support.
In the battle between new House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and new House majority boss Tom DeLay, I’ll take the latte liberal over the frothing fascist every time.
In December, after edging out Pol Pot and Augusto Pinochet to head up the 9/11 inquiry commission, Henry Kissinger resigned for fear of being forced to explain why he had all those receipts from Saddam Hussein.
Trent Lout shocked no one by reminding the world that he was proud that Mississippi voted for Strom Thurmond for president in 1948. What was shocking was that Mississippi voted for Lout in 2000. Now the GOP must decide if Lout is moral enough to lead the push for another tax cut for the superrich through the Senate.
In 2002, globalization continued its journey from slick term to harsh reality. The great Detroit labor activist John Joslin said, "You just can’t find a good Mexican TV anymore." This is because 600 maquiladoras (export-only production facilities) in Mexico are now closed because corporations no longer want to pay wages that can run to $1.20 per hour, preferring to set up shop in Haiti or China or the Dominican Republic, where such inflation is unheard-of.
When we buy obviously underpriced goods, we aren’t helping out the working poor — we are creating them. If we don’t identify and deal with this crisis soon, the long-term ramifications are horrifying. We’re already hearing calls to end the exorbitant minimum wage. The impoverished, undernourished, uneducated, and infirm bottom of the triangle will soon be unable to sustain the weight of the engorged super-wealthy. And we will have a structural collapse of the domestic and international economy. Free trade does not increase competition between corporations — it increases competition between workers. And it’s wrong.
To close out the political year, Al Gore announced he would not seek re-election in 2004 and made a very gracious bow from the presidential arena. If only his old running mate Joe Lieberman would also do the right thing and challenge Bush for the Republican nomination, we might have a chance at having a semi-progressive Dem on the ballot in 2004.
But to think simply in terms of electoral remedies would be a fatal mistake. We have more important things to worry about than November of 2004. We must embrace every valid cause and struggle we can identify between now and then.
We must make sure that the less fortunate are sheltered, fed, and educated. We must find medical care for the more than 40 million of us without health insurance. We must stand and fight at the confluence of Joseph McCarthy and Jim Crow — the drug war. We must raise our voices in protest loudly enough so that we create an acoustic foreign policy, bringing evidence to the rest of the world’s citizens that all Americans do not have callous disdain for others’ lives. We must fight to hold on to what’s left of the hard-fought gains by women and racial, religious, and sexual minorities, because Bush is looking to grease the skids of a major backslide in domestic human rights.
If we succeed in remaining active, we might even embolden a few leaders.
Because the only way to make sure we have halfway-decent government is to lead our elected officials to what needs to be done. We can’t afford to sit around for the next two years pipe dreaming about how John Kerry or John Edwards or Howard Dean is going to save us. If we remain mum while this situation grows more desperate, there is no politician anywhere who will say what we’ll so desperately need to hear when the time comes to hit the campaign trail in ’04. Get with it, America. There’s a country and world to save. It’s time we headed toward living happily ever after.
Commentator and monologist Barry Crimmins is currently working on his first book for Seven Stories Press.
You can read his timely take on things at www.barrycrimmins.com