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Senseless Images in Strange Times

April 9, 2008
by Rob Lafferty

I've got some imagery stuck in my mind's eye these days of events that I don't really understand...

There's an image of President George W. Bush walking onto the baseball field at Nationals Park, in Washington D.C., and hearing the crowd boo him louder than he was being cheered. Bush has often proclaimed his love for the game of baseball, but he didn't linger on the playing field that day.

He came to throw out the ceremonial first ball at the new stadium, which he did as quickly as possible. Videos show Bush waiting patiently in the tunnel leading to the field, with one false start as he started up the stairs but was called back by an anonymous man with a radio who was in control of the President's movements at that moment.

When the signal to go finally came, Bush climbed out of the dugout wearing the jacket of the hometown Washington Nationals, looking relaxed but in a bit of a hurry. He gave a quick handshake to a team official and two players who were there to greet him, walked quickly to the mound and immediately made a confident throw to the plate. It was high and wild, but still a decent throw for a President. Then he left. A few quick waves to the crowd and gone.

Fifty-eight seconds. That's the entire amount of time he was visible to those who were booing and cheering. Was Bush afraid of being exposed to an uncontrolled public? This President usually appears before small crowds that are carefully screened. That can be managed at a political event, but not at a sporting event with 40,000 people who paid for tickets to watch a ballgame.

What was the point, George? Why do this thing? Were there weird promises made that must be kept? Why face a certainly hostile crowd when you're almost home free, when by some strange twist of Fate you'll stroll out of office in less than ten months without being indicted or impeached for violating your Oath of Office in ways that no other President even dreamed of? Why, indeed...

There's an ugly image of Dick Cheney's face as he described to an interviewer his perspective on how the "surge" of troops into Iraq has "been a major success" and how the "major progress" being made was worth the cost of all those U.S. troops who have died.

Raddatz: "Two-third of Americans say it’s not worth fighting."
Cheney: "So?"
Raddatz "So? You don’t care what the American people think?"
Cheney: "No. I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls."

He then went on with his usual dishonesty about having a vision and keeping to the plan and staying the course until our inevitable victory in the not-too distant future. But there was that oddly honest moment, and it came on the day that the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq reached 4,000.

It was madness, or it was mockery – just another one of Cheney's little jokes on all of us. He's never cared about what the People want or what the Constitution requires; he has violated his Oath of Office in every government position he's ever held. His principle belief is the concept of a "Unitary Executive", an odd renaming of the "Sovereign Right of Kings" that people in this land rebelled against more than two hundred years ago when they founded this country...

There's an image of John McCain moving stiffly, slightly hunched over and looking worn down as he pronounced in New Hampshire in January that the U.S. military could stay in Iraq for "...maybe a hundred years. As long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed, that’s fine with me."

The problem with McCain's vision is that it will never be accepted in Iraq by a violent minority capable of such strong hatred that it has spawned suicide bombers every week for five years now. Those "insurgents" will always be trying to kill American soldiers, who will always be invading infidels to them...

That image is coupled with the weird sight of Joe Lieberman always at McCain's side. Lieberman, the Democrat turned Independent who has aligned himself with Republicans, was actually onstage with McCain at that town hall meeting in New Hampshire. Several times he followed McCain's response to a question with a more detailed answer. He was also there to correct McCain in Jordan last month when McCain incorrectly said that Iran was training members of al-Qaeda to fight in Iraq.

Why is Lieberman traveling with McCain these days like a political handler, or like Sancho Panza to Don Quixote, always explaining the reality behind Quixote's illusions? That's the disturbing part of this image, not the fact that McCain used the specific label of "al-Qaeda" instead of the more generic term of "extremists" in order to implicate Iran. Has Lieberman, who has publicly called for a military attack on Iran, become something of an extremist himself in his ever-present defense of Israel? Is he pandering for the vice-presidential selection that will probably go to Lindsey Graham, the other Senator helping McCain on the campaign trail?

Unfortunately for McCain, his loyal colleague wasn't there to whisper in his ear during a radio interview earlier that same day when McCain first made his incorrect statement, saying, "As you know, there are al-Qaeda operatives that are taken back into Iran, given training as leaders, and they’re moving back into Iraq." There were no cameras rolling during the radio show, so maybe Lieberman just likes to hog the video spotlight and McCain is too nice to tell him to go away. No matter how you view it, Lieberman's behavior is an image that makes no sense at all...

There's an image of a Dept. of Homeland Security border fence between the U.S. and Mexico that literally runs through backyards on the poor side of town but stops completely at the borders of wealthy folks' property.

During the past two years, environmental and property laws have been "waived" once by the DHS in order to build 14 miles of the "Border Infrastructure System" near San Diego; twice in Arizona, including a stretch through a riparian conservation area; once for a variety of projects covering a total of 470 miles across four states; and once for 22 miles of levees in Texas.

Apparently speed is of the essence in that Texas project, as the DHS states that, "In addition to environmental and land management laws, this waiver addresses other legal and administrative impediments to completing this project by the end of the calendar year." That's a nice way of saying that the law won't allow the DHS to do what it wants whenever it wants to, so the agency is exempting itself from the law.

DHS also condemned dozens of homes and small plots of private land and took that land from the legal owners in order to build fence along its preferred route. But DHS won't be putting any fence at all through the 6,000 acres of Sharyland Plantation that was developed by Dallas billionaire Ray Hunt. Not through the gated communities with golf courses and million-dollar homes. Not through the 1,800-acre business park which is part of that exclusive enclave.

In Brownsville, however, the border fence will go through the backyards of folks like Eloisa Tamez, who is 72 years old and not wealthy. The fence will continue for another two miles before it stops at the edge of the River Bend Resort, which features a large RV park and golf course. Border patrol agents will keep a close eye on that land, because like Sharyland Plantation, it will remain open to the south. On the other side of the resort the fence will start up again.

That's probably not what supporters of the fence concept had in mind as they worked hard to convince their representatives to fund the project. Those supporters didn't have history in mind, either – for history has proven that it's impossible to keep determined people from crossing even a solid, well-guarded wall, much less a 700-mile long, under-patrolled fence with numerous large gaps...

There's an image of Justice H. Walter Croskey of California's Second District Court of Appeals, who ruled in February that parents don't have any constitutional right to educate their children at home. According to state law he is correct; since 1953, California has required that children between the ages of 6 and 18 must either attend a certified school or be taught by credentialed tutors.

What was memorable about the judge's ruling – what invoked a lasting image – was this statement:

"A primary purpose of the educational system is to train school children in good citizenship, patriotism and loyalty to the state and the nation as a means of protecting the public welfare," Croskey wrote, quoting from a 1961 appeals court decision regarding home schooling. "Parents have a legal duty to see to their children's schooling under the provisions of these laws."

Croskey provides a fair description of how our public school system actually functions, but it also describes a situation that is just plain wrong. That's exactly the kind of socialism that so many Americans react strongly against when it's applied in other countries. It's a little odd that those same patriotic folks embrace a clear socialistic principle when it comes to the education of their children yet reject the same principle when it comes to health care...

And finally, there are haunting images of this generation's "Winter Soldiers" who, one by one, came and sat before cameras last month at National Labor College in Maryland to tell their stories of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. They spoke of the things they had seen and done while there. They described what those things had done to them. They illustrated the reality of combat for all of us to see. They offered their stories so that we all could learn from them.

Not enough Americans have seen those images, but I can't get them out of my mind. And I haven't tried. They serve a valuable purpose...