by Barry Crimmins
Originally published in the Boston Phoenix. Reprinted with permission of the author.
Can it really be a year since we didn’t elect George W. Bush president? Time sure flies when you’re going straight to hell.
Let’s take a look back at our first 12 months with the court-appointed chief executive.
Happy holidays! The Republicans, hell-bent on returning ethics to Washington, formalized the theft of the election with an assist from the Supremacist Court, when George W. Bush was appointed president of the United States.
The turn of the millennium, which reached a de facto conclusion a year earlier when marketers commandeered the calendar, actually expired at midnight, December 31, 2000, outliving the credibility of America’s electoral process by several days.
The New Year arrived with the feel of one of those action movies where a comet’s hurtling toward Earth and, short of a miracle, it’s going to hit — hard.
Neither Bruce Willis nor Robert Duvall showed. Bush was inaugurated. A dazed electorate had been body-politic slammed into a deep Florida sinkhole. As we scrambled to clear the cobwebs from our heads, an ominous groan grew to a large rumble emanating from a fleet of conveyances set to dump toxic waste, religious sewage, and corporate effluence upon us. Only those who could tread slime stood any chance of crawling back to dry land.
During the Inaugural weekend, the Republicans delivered on their promise to return dignity to the capital by tying longhorn steers in the foyers of grand hotels. Z-list celebrities, such as Dixie Carter and the Statler Brothers, were the only showbiz types to soil themselves by attending the festivities. Bush wept as he awaited his swearing in. Perhaps he was thinking of all the Texans who gave their lives in the death chamber so that he could be there.
Laura Bush announced that she would use her position as First Lady to promote abstinence. No one wondered why.
The F-month was marked by the continuation of ridiculous cabinet confirmation hearings begun in January. Even though W.(orst) was appointed president after losing the popular vote and stealing the Electoral College, the assemblage of corporate toadies, backroom fixers, and self-loathing zealots he nominated would make you think he arrived with a mandate.
What this guy lacked in brains he made up for in audacity. Who else would even consider Governor Christy Todd Whitman of New Jersey to head the Environmental Protection Agency? And who would foist upon us church-state integrationist John Ashcroft — a man deemed by Missouri voters less fit for public office than a corpse — as attorney general?
After becoming treasury secretary, former ALCOA chair Paul O’Neill told Britain’s Financial Times that he thinks corporate taxes should be abolished, along with Medicare and Social Security. Fortunately, O’Neill hasn’t yet found time to transfer the Social Security trust fund into Enron and Lucent stock certificates.
Bush better be reappointed in ’04, or there won’t be time for his cabinet to unpack all the baggage they brought with them.
The only nominee to go down was Linda Chavez, who withdrew her name from consideration for labor secretary when it got out that she had illegal aliens sleeping in the exact spot under the table where she paid them. Too bad: she would have worked cheap.
February’s highlight came when the teaching of evolution was restored in Kansas. Kansans celebrated by walking upright, taking shelter from storms, and communicating through a series of simple grunts. If this keeps up, their congressional delegation is in big trouble.
In March, Bush announced that taxes on the rich would be replaced with an honor system under which the elite would be expected to increase their commitment to private, faith-based bribery and slush funds by some 50 percent.
The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan was christened and immediately manned by scab air-traffic controllers. The vessel is actually larger than Grenada, the site of Reagan’s greatest military victory.
A March earthquake heavily damaged Starbucks’ Seattle headquarters. Within days, the coffee giant bounced back and replaced it with 60 new headquarters at various places around the city.
In financial news, the NASDAQ was traded for a 1988 Yugo, high mileage, needs bodywork and a new engine. Smith Barney ran a 75% off! everything must go! sale.
So far, on W.’s watch, the US
- Accidentally sank a Japanese fishing boat.
- Got into a military incident with the Chinese that any kid in a video arcade could have avoided with a few clicks of a joystick. (In fairness, the South China Sea was positively crawling with Japanese fishing vessels.)
- Strafed Europe with debris from military aircraft that must have been built by the same technicians who found a way to make plastic rust on US cars in the ’70s.
- Failed to explain adequately the "Baptists under fire" incident in Peru, where a Baptist missionary’s plane was shot down under the aegis of narcotics interdiction. Apparently the War on Drugs targeted-substance list had been expanded to include "opium of the masses."
On April 13, I wrote: "If Bush’s foreign policy gets any more antiquated, the Crusades will resume in July." Okay, I was off by a few months. Oh, and on April 15, wealthy Americans paid taxes for the final time.
Although humanity is pretty durable, many began to believe it didn’t have a British cow’s chance at customs of surviving the court-appointed Bush administration.
Aaron Sorkin, creator of the Emmy Award–winning The West Wing, was arrested for possession of hallucinogenic mushrooms, which explains Sorkin’s vision of a White House peppered with idealists fighting good battles.
In honor of May Day, American corporations laid off workers by the thousands just to make sure they would be ineligible to celebrate the international workers’ holiday. Court-appointed president Bush finally named his choices for the federal bench in May. The long delay was due to the travel time required for the judges to reach Washington from their residences in the 17th century.
After appearing at the National Rifle Association convention and praising gun nuts as "America’s unsung conservation heroes," Interior Secretary Gail Norton earned a new title: Secretary of the Ulterior.
May’s top story: like any good Vermonter, Senator Jim Jeffords demonstrated he knows when the sap runs and when to run from the sap. Jeffords left George W. Bush and the Republican Party, taking with him majority control of the Senate. As a result, Trent Lott and the rest of the GOP Senate leadership were given a chance to do some of that "downsizing" they like so much.
First the court-appointed Bush administration literally takes office, and then The Producers sweeps the Tonys. The year 2001 will always be remembered for joke revivals featuring fascists.
In June, I traveled to Albuquerque to speak at a drug-policy conference hosted by the stalwart anti-drug-war warriors of the Lindesmith Center. Federal drug prosecutors and DEA agents just happened to schedule their convention in the same town at the same time. The feds held no seminars on subtlety.
Speaking of substance-abuse arrests, Jenna Bush was busted in June for
underage drinking. Considering who her father is, it’s a miracle the poor kid isn’t walking around with a morphine drip in her elbow.
Al Giordano, a former Phoenix staff writer who publishes the Web-based Narco News, and Mexican journalist Mario Menéndez faced a huge civil suit in New York City brought by Banamex (a Mexican bank, since purchased by Citigroup) and its chair, Roberto Hernández. Hernández was upset with Al and Mario for printing corroborated facts about his and his bank’s involvement in the drug trade. The suit was intended to prevent Al from continuing to publish his independent, highly factual refutations of the big lie that is the drug war. At a July hearing in federal court, Giordano and Menéndez demonstrated that the case had no business in New York, especially since it had already been thrown out of Mexican courts for lacking merit. In December, New York State Supreme Court judge Paula Omansky threw the case out of court, informing the plaintiff that Giordano and Menéndez deserved the same First Amendment protection afforded journals that publish lies about the War on Drugs.
Unlike most Americans in their first year on a new job, W. took an extended paid vacation in August. It’s a good thing he got rested up, rather than exhausting himself with concerns like airport safety and domestic security.
George W. Bush’s vacation ended on Labor Day in Detroit. He’d been invited there to attend a picnic by Teamsters president James Hoffa Jr., a man whose integrity is less likely ever to be discovered than the whereabouts of his missing father.
John Joslin and Kevin Mackey, two rank-and-file members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, were disturbed by the invitation of such an obvious enemy of labor to labor’s hometown on Labor Day. So, at the spot where the building-trades portion of Motown’s massive Labor Day parade formed, Joslin and Mackey put up a stage and sound system. Then they put me on the stage. As each union marched in place waiting to round the corner of Michigan and Trumbull, I suggested to the workers just how insulting and cynical Bush’s visit was. And then Joslin, Mackey, and a host of activists handed out signs that articulated the many ways Bush and his cronies harm working Americans and their families.
Bush’s photo op was co-opted by thousands of real working Americans. Carrying signs and chanting insults, union members made it clear that Bush was no more welcome in Detroit on Labor Day than they would be at a clambake at Bush’s country club. It was the last wonderful day we would have for a long time.
September 11 and 12
On September 11, the whole world changed — except for large portions of Europe, Asia, and Africa, several island nations, and those parts of the world where terrorism, whether state-sponsored or rogue, was already part of everyday life. Okay, on September 11 life in the US began to resemble, just slightly, life elsewhere.
The court-appointed prez was addressing elementary-school children in Florida when the attacks occurred. (Somehow it’s always Florida.) He quickly headed to Louisiana and then into a game room in Omaha.
I might have given Bush a pass on going Barney Fife that morning except for a few things. During a time when even Rudolph Giuliani rose above venal political considerations (albeit briefly), the Bush administration’s apparent top priority was to propagate alibis about why the president headed for the Grain Belt while the Northeast Corridor burned. This included telling us about a call to the Secret Service stating that the president was in imminent danger. Problem is, no such call was received. Bush was supposed to be a hard-ass Texas Republican naturally inclined to fly to DC, climb to the roof of the White House, and wave pearl-handled revolvers, yelling, "Try me, motherfuckers!" Instead, the Incredible President Limpet headed for a bunker in the Central Time Zone.
On September 12, while people lay trapped and dying under piles of rubble, several administration officials spent the morning telling us about the mythical phone threat, along with other prevarications that must have taken much of September 11 to prepare.
They also said the assault on the Pentagon was sort of a coincidence because the terrorists were really aiming for the White House. They called the Pentagon a "secondary target."
Even if the Pentagon had been a terrorist afterthought (and of course it wasn’t), why bring it up while people were still dead and dying in its wreckage? Because the cheesy people who operate the marionette that occupies the Oval Office value political viability over human life, that’s why. This episode is important to recall as we watch the Bush administration seize this crisis to further its entire agenda. SDI, oil drilling in Alaska’s Arctic Wildlife Refuge, destroying the federal judiciary, and yet another tax break for the rich — all have suddenly become essential weapons in the War on Terrorism. Yeah, and W. will be joining Mensa soon, too.
Within days, even skeptics were convinced that Osama bin Laden was behind the terrorist attacks. The US vowed to bring him to justice. All searches should include probes into the curdled milk of human kindness — a sure sign he’s nearby. If that doesn’t work, go to Jerry Falwell and take a slight right. If you get to Ann Coulter, you’ve gone too far.
The nation and the mainstream media universally embraced Junior for rising to the occasion. Such a delusion arose from the fact that September 11 created exactly what everyone feared: a life-and-death struggle that forced us to look to this rather dim bulb to think on his feet.
To be fair, after his weak start, Bush did have a good night of being TelePrompTed before Congress on September 20. His address promoted his basic dinosaur-brained good-versus-evil rap in terms speechwriters sufficiently airbrushed to make him seem almost eloquent. But once Jimmy Breslin busted him for recycling his father’s dead-cop-badge gambit, we quickly returned to the frosty truth that we had a president and Jingo was his name-o.
Bush spoke of "evildoers" and "crusades." They have a jihad; he gave us a GOPhad. We needed a president, and the guy who does the voice-overs for Underdog showed up.
Americans cautiously returned to airports to face many inconveniences. The new rule of thumb for airline passengers is to allow yourself as much time as it would take to walk to your destination.
Around October 7, the US "officially" began military action in Afghanistan. These were tough days for hungry Afghans who couldn’t differentiate between a yellow cluster bomb and a yellow food packet. Even if they found a food packet, there was a decent chance it had landed in the middle of a minefield. In the meantime, US military action brought legitimate humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan to a standstill.
Congress rewarded the airline industry for staffing its security checkpoints with minimum-wage employees who didn’t realize that McDonald’s offered better career options by coughing up a $15 billion bailout package. Damned welfare scofflaws!
In a classic example of becoming what you resist, the new Office of Homeland Security, headed by Pennsylvania’s Tom Rigid, opened. Rigid’s familiarity with Pennsylvania-Dutch/South African customs should be a real plus on the war’s domestic front.
The country was by now awash in the kind of demonstrative patriotism that is best left to used-car dealerships. Flags were everywhere — particularly in Third World sweatshops where they couldn’t keep up with the demand for Old Glory. Flag price-gouging was reported across the country. Now ain’t that America?
Throughout the delayed post-season, by the fourth inning of any baseball game the entire Irving Berlin songbook had been exhausted. At around the same time, someone decided that all motor vehicles should enter a General-Patton-staff-car look-alike contest. The fiercest competition was among sport-utility vehicles. Americans, involved in a war that’s in no small part related to dependence on Middle Eastern oil, managed to make obscenely fuel-inefficient SUVs that much worse with the addition of red, white, and blue wind resistance.
I had no flag at all until a homeless vet sold me a small one, the kind that goes on Fourth of July cupcakes. Now I can proudly point to it majestically flapping atop the bird feeder. It’s a nice reminder that when the veterans of this war come home, feeling destitute and forgotten, there will always be flags for them to sell.
Since September 11, the flag has become a perverse and undemocratic symbol of blind obedience to the edicts of the unelected son of a former chief of the CIA, an organization that helped school Osama bin Laden in terrorism.
Nazi Germany had a lot of flags and no Bill of Rights. That’s exactly where we are headed if we roll over for the likes of Kaiser Ashcroft and his full frontal attack on our civil liberties.
Osama bin Laden assaulted our way of life, but John Ashcroft and George W. Bush are destroying it. January 20, 2001, may end up much more a Day of Infamy than September 11. This does not make me proud to be an American.
I am willing to live with the slightly heightened danger of terrorist attack rather than the guaranteed oppression of a police state. I am willing to risk my life to remain free. Are you?
On October 30, the FBI sounded a new terrorism alert just in time for Halloween — or perhaps just in time to spook Americans into accepting the idea of carpet-bombing Afghanistan on October 31.
It wasn’t hard watching the hateful Taliban fall from power. These crackpots executed "improperly attired" women. Under the Taliban, Afghanistan became a fashion-police state. But when they faced true adversity, the Taliband of Brothers were routed from Afghan cities in less than two months.
I really can’t sort November from December, or December from October, for that matter, but while time got fuzzy over the past months, some things came into focus.
W.’s "With us or against us" cant doesn’t cut it. Every one of our lives is at stake, so we all need to get literate about the world in which we live. Though we’ll never cave in to the barbarous Al Qaeda network, we must stop making the world fertile ground for its violent lunacy.
We have to look at certain issues — even if they are found on known terrorists’ lists of grievances — because we don’t want there to be more terrorists. For instance, it’s time to face what over a decade of sanctions and bombing has done to the poor people of Iraq. And we must let the people of Israel know that we cannot truck the direction their nation has taken under the vicious Ariel Sharon. Mahmoud Abu Hanoud, the Hamas leader whose November 23 assassination sparked the recent terrorist attacks on Israel, was freed from a Palestinian jail under cover of mayhem caused when Israeli troops bombed it in a May attempt to
We can’t afford to celebrate driving a fifth-rate dictatorship from power in Afghanistan — particularly when the vacuum it leaves will be filled by the Northern Alliance, a collection of drug- and weapons-dealing misogynists with nary a democratic inclination among them. So far, all that has happened is the US has driven a bunch of terrorists from the cities and into the weeds. Terrorists like weeds and can strike at will from them.
What will America do when that starts happening? Send in Ashcroft to organize a round-up of all the people who appear to be Middle Eastern in Afghanistan?
Further, we can’t afford to ask with affected naïveté how anyone in the world could hate us enough to bomb us when we have bombed unoffending people more often than any other nation. There is a reason the US coined the term "collateral damage," and now that we understand just how profane it is, we have to speak up against it — here, there, and everywhere.
Another reason we are hated is that we always get so much more than our share of the worldwide pie. Only in America would anyone suggest running up credit-card debt as a way of helping the nation recover from tragedy.
The other night, after watching a news anchor pull off the amazing feat of correctly pronouncing several difficult Afghan names while simultaneously fellating the entire US military-industrial complex, I flicked off the TV and reached for Mark Twain’s Notebook. In it, Sam Clemens demonstrated once again that he was light-years ahead of his — or, apparently, our — era. Twain wrote:
There are two kinds of patriotism — monarchical patriotism and republican patriotism. In the one case, the government and the king may rightfully furnish you their notions of patriotism: in the other, neither government nor the entire nation is privileged to dictate to any individual what the form of his patriotism shall be. The Gospel of Monarchical Patriotism is: "The King can do no wrong." We have adopted it with all its servility, with an unimportant change in the wording: "Our country, right or wrong!"
We have thrown away the most valuable asset we have — the individual right to oppose both flag and country when he (just he by himself) believes them to be in the wrong. We have thrown it all away: and with it, all that was really respectable about that grotesque and laughable word, Patriotism.
Were Twain alive today, he could expect a visit from the Office of Homeland Security.
To keep up with Barry Crimmins’s thoughts as they occur — and not just annually — check out his Web site at http://www.barrycrimmins.com/.