Thursday, February 2, 2006

It Takes A Potemkin Village

Our final thoughts on the SOTU tonight come from Terry McKenna, who raises a most original metaphor for this speech. First, however, an interesting and synchronistic follow-up on yesterday's post about the European cartoon that has Muslim fanatics enraged and too many people boycotting their morning Danish. For it seems we have our own lightning in a bottle tale here in the U.S. of a cartoonist inciting fundamentalist rage. This time, the fundamentalists are of that religion known as the military—none other than the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the holy priesthood of the American war-cult.

The Joints protested the Washington Post's publication of the cartoon pictured here, by Tom Toles. Unable to catch the drift of the "US Army" label on the bed and the "stretched thin" metaphor in the caption, they apparently thought it was a slur on wounded troops. Perhaps John Aravosis of America Blog had the best comment on this tempest when he quipped that perhaps the Joints might be more useful spending their time delivering proper body armor to the real troops than whining about a cartoon presenting an obvious metaphor on the wasted state of our military (which is, of course, based on a scientific analysis done by actual military experts).

But maybe the Bushies needed some smoke in the media air to cover the little gaffe that occurred just before the Crawford Clown stepped onstage. They arrested Cindy Sheehan—dragged her out of the building in cuffs. For wearing a t-shirt. She wasn't making noise, yelling, or otherwise visibly protesting. She was sitting in her seat with a t-shirt on that had the current body count for American soldiers in Iraq. Mind you, they didn't just remove her—they arrested her; took her to jail. The police have since apologized, but now Cindy's got lawyers, and she's thinking about putting them to work. I hope she burns a hole in Dubya's corrupt ass big enough to drive a Hummer through.

I now turn the daily vent over to Mr. McKenna:

Here's what I think about the President’s State of the Union Addres: it’s a Potemkin Village. A what? A Potemkin village. See the definition below, from the American Heritage Dictionary:

Potemkin village

NOUN: Something that appears elaborate and impressive but in actual fact lacks substance: “the Potemkin village of this country's borrowed prosperity” (Lewis H. Lapham).

ETYMOLOGY: After Grigori Aleksandrovich Potemkin, who had elaborate fake villages constructed for Catherine the Great's tours of the Ukraine and the Crimea.

The president’s speech was a similarly showy edifice. Lots of front doors and windows, but no foundation, no bedrooms and no attic storage. The sole purpose was to convince the already dispirited American people that the Republicans can still govern. But they can’t and they won’t.

They certainly won’t govern in the Middle East. For example, they can do nothing with Iran.True, Iran is our enemy and may soon have the bomb, but they are also, quite possibly, an emerging democracy. A flawed democracy, to be sure – but so were we for our first 175 years (until the passage of the Civil Rights Bill). Yet we must deal with them. We don’t have the power to do anything else.

Our attitude toward the Middle East is generally flawed. In the past, when faced with an implacable enemy (let’s say, the China of some 30 some years ago) we were not afraid to engage them - even though they had been as brutal to their people as a dozen Saddam Hussein’s. And what can Iran do to us anyway? Iran is surrounded by hostile neighbors – several with the bomb. They have no navy, no air force – and a population of youngsters who actually admire us.

Then there is Hamas. Yes, they also are an enemy, but (like Iran) an enemy who we must deal with somehow. Sure we can let them starve (western cash supports the Palestinians) but if they starve – watch out!

So the Middle East is a mess, and the American government is managing it no better than it managed Katrina.

Nor can the Republicans manage the economy. Yes, we have ample growth for the well-off (boy am I glad I'm one of them); but for industrial workers, the handwriting is on the wall. The poor are even worse off. With no skills, if they want to work, they compete for jobs with Mexican peasants willing to work 60 hours a week for $300 or less – peasants who are unable to complain if they get screwed.

And of course the Republicans don’t want to manage the environment. They have their heads in the sand about issues ranging from mercury pollution to global warming. And by the way, it is remotely possible that global warming is over-stated, but I’d stay away from beach front property if I were you.

How about the future? When I was 7 years old, the Russians started the Space Race when they launched Sputnik. In reaction, the US reformed aspects of our educational system. For example, in high school, my chemistry and physics tests were both designed by a government agency: the Physical Sciences Studies Commission. The point was to develop scientists. And although I did not become a scientist, I earned a college scholarship. I and most of my peers far exceeded the educational aspirations of our parents (most were just factory workers).

Contrast that with today’s real world. In the Potemkin Village of his State of the Union Address, George Bush trumpeted science and math education – but outside of the village, Congress has just cut $12.7 billion from federal student-loan programs. (Congress narrowly passed a deficit-reduction package that calls for $12.7 billion to be cut from federal student-loan programs over five years.)

The same is true with energy. We’d like to develop clean technology to burn coal. We’d also like to find a safe way to nuclear power. But we don’t have the money. We’ve spent it all on tax cuts for the wealthy.

No, the state of the union is none too pretty. We are governed by a single party government that has lost touch with the world and its people. Sadly, the opposition has been castrated. And our free press is too afraid to clearly speak the truth.

So it’s up to the bloggers. Hope somebody is out there reading.

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