Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama’

Hope and Change or Just More of the Same?

January 16, 2016

Like Bill and George
He wants them speaking fees
So it’s the One Percent
That he’s gotta please

They steal our homes
They poison our kids
And our politicians
Seek the highest bid

His words are so pretty
But his words ain’t free
He don’t fight for the people
He fights for TPP

It’s incredibly sad
But it ain’t strange
Hope and Change
Just means more of the same

by Richard W. Bray

Ballad of the Pitiable Politician

July 20, 2012

I love the working man
And I’d walk your picket line
But my wingtips give me bunions
And my sneakers need a shine
And it’s so darn hot
When I’m out in the sunny
You know I feel your pain
But I love that dirtymoney

Free trade ain’t so free
When we ship your job away
But those fat cats with their wallets
Will remember me someday
Disappearin’ factory jobs
Ain’t no kind of funny
You know I feel your pain
But I love that dirtymoney

All my favorite people
Are really corporations
Corporations don’t get sick
Or ask me for vacations
Politicians crave cash
Like a bear loves him some honey
You know I feel your pain
But I need that dirtymoney

by Richard W. Bray

Righteous Retribution

June 14, 2012

What if life were simple
For all to understand?
What if we could settle things
By killing just one man?

What if crime and evil
Had a clear solution?
What if all it took were
Gallant executions?

Does he walk among us?
A man of grace and skill
Sent by God to tell us
Exactly whom to kill?

Deliver us from feeling
God grants us alone
Righteous retribution
Delivered on a drone.

by Richard W. Bray

Natural if not Normal

May 20, 2012

Sex is. There is nothing more to be done about it. Sex builds no roads, writes no novels, and sex certainly gives no meaning in life to anything but itself.

—Gore Vidal, United States: Essays 1952-1992 (37)

Sex.  What’s with the persistent human propensity to study, describe, imagine, define, categorize, restrict, denounce, regulate, prohibit, criminalize and constantly talk, talk, talk about what other people are doing in private with their naughty bits?

Sex is a basic human need, essential to the survival of the species. But this is only part of the answer.  Human beings require shelter, for example, yet the subject of housing barely elicits a fraction of the chatter that the Big Nasty generates amongst human interlocutors.

And as W.H. Auden pondered: Why should so much poetry be written about sexual love and so little about eating—which is just as pleasurable and never lets you down—or about family affection, or about the love of mathematics.

According to Gore Vidal, “the sexual attitudes of a given society are the result of political decisions” (539).  This explains why we see so many professional moralists and politicians “solemnly worshiping at the shrine of The Family” (601).  (Like when our president recently went out on a limb to courageously declare that Motherhood is the toughest job in the world.)

Barack Obama’s other recent bold pronouncement, that he has evolved to the point where the idea of gay marriage no longer gives him the willies, made much bigger headlines.

So why the big fuss?  To borrow a phrase from Thomas Jefferson, regardless of my own prejudices or proclivities, it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg if Adam wants to marry Steve.  (Yes, I know that Steve could be entitled to partake in Adam’s medical benefits, perhaps raising my health care premiums, but the two fellows will also be paying higher taxes, so I’d be willing to bet that the monetary consequences of their union would probably be a net gain for society at large.)

Gore Vidal contends that our political overseers ghettoize certain types of sexual behavior as a means of maintaining their hegemony over the populace: “In order for the ruling class to rule, there must be arbitrary prohibitions” (442).  Sexual preference is just one of the many divisions, such as  race, class, religion, age, region, gender, etc., which are exploited by los que mandan.  Thus we are informed, particularly from the pulpit, that when it comes to sexual preference, there are only two ways to be: “One team is good, godly, straight; the other is evil, sick, vicious” (442).

Like homosexuality, divorce is also dangerous to the status quo because “A woman who can support herself and her child is a threat to marriage, and marriage is the central institution whereby owners of the world control those who do the work” (540). Vidal notes with his characteristic wit that heterosexual couples are expected “to do their duty by one day getting married in order to bring forth new worker-consumers in obedience with God’s law, which tends to resemble with suspicious niceness the will of society’s owners” (540).  Of course, over the last four decades divorce has become so common that many of the leaders who rail in favor of “family values” are themselves divorced.  This helps explain the fury we hear from some quarters against the damage done to our sacred family unit by homosexuals. At any rate, “it does not suit our rulers to have the proles tomcatting around the way that our rulers do” (606).

The mechanisms which enforce such twisted mores are designed to produce citizens who “serve society as loyal workers and dutiful consumers” (540).  This is not an originally American arrangement; it is merely the machinery of power and profit in action.  And any “activity that might decrease the amount of coal mined, the number of pyramids built, the quantity of junk food confected will be proscribed through laws that, in turn, are based on divine revelations handed down by whatever god or gods happen to be in fashion at the moment” (339-340).

In 1948 Gore Vidal courageously published The City and the Pillar, a coming of age novel about homosexuality.  But Vidal is not celebrated as a hero for gay activists today largely because he rejects the “American passion for categorizing” which endeavors “to create two nonexistent categories—gay and straight” (606).  Vidal therefore scoffs at the notion that such a thing as the “gay community” could ever exist.  (“What in God’s name do Eleanor Roosevelt and Roy Cohn have in common?” he quipped.)

Experience has taught Vidal that “it is possible to have a mature sexual relationship with a woman on Monday, and a mature sexual relationship with a man on Tuesday, and perhaps on Wednesday have both together (admittedly you have to be in good condition for this)” (581).

by Richard W. Bray

Famed American Virtue

August 19, 2011

Graham Greene

Famed American Virtue

Innocence always calls mutely for protection when we would be much wiser to guard ourselves against it: innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm.

Graham Greene, The Quiet American (29)

The Muslims just need to be shown that it is possible to set themselves free.

President George W. Bush Max Boot

Recently there has been a discussion on Andrew Sullivan’s blog about how Americans should go about thanking our combat veterans. Such spasms of guilt from a populace who mindlessly sent so many off to kill and die for no good reason are not surprising. But I think it would be a lot healthier for everyone involved to say this to our combat veterans: I’m sorry. I’m sorry that we made you experience horrific things for no good reason. I’m sorry that I only went to two anti-war rallies. I sorry that, lacking the courage of Henry David Thoreau, I continued to pay taxes in support of the bloodthirsty madness which consumed our nation after 9-11. I’m sorry that almost our entire leadership class chose to plunge its head up its collective keyster instead of exploring reasonable alternatives to war. I’m sorry that George W. Bush had Daddy Issues. I’m sorry that Thomas Friedman wanted to feel fellated.

But Americans, particularly our pundit class, aren’t about to start apologizing for our unjustified invasion of Iraq. Really, how hard would it be to say, “Oops. We accidentally conducted a war in Iraq which led to the death of over a hundred thousand people and the displacement of a few million more. Our bad. Can we get a mulligan on that?”

Our leaders, our institutions, our media, all of us—we failed miserably. And the people of Iraq were forced to pay for it. Yet we rarely even speak these days of the true ramifications of this monumental dereliction of duty. We prefer to exalt and fetishize our troops instead of facing up to ourselves and what we’ve done. If we just keep telling ourselves that the men and women who signed on to defend America did so with courage and purity in their hearts, and if we keep focusing on their sacrifice, we can magically shield ourselves from a horrible truth and regain that “famed American virtue“—our innocence.

This is certainly nothing new. Our Beloved Founders lectured the world on the Rights of Man while enslaving one group of humans and nearly exterminating another.

Lofty words about freedom and democracy notwithstanding, enabling repressive regimes in the Gulf Region has been the unofficial American policy for decades. That’s why we have propped up repressive regimes from Iran to Algeria. That’s why President Obama was so timid and vacillating in response to the recent popular uprising in Egypt.

Brent Scowcroft, a prudent paleoconservative from the Henry Kissinger School of International Realism and a trusted adviser to George H.W. Bush, bragged that American support for tyrannical dictatorships in the Middle East helped ensure “fifty years of peace” in the region and kept the precious oil flowing at reasonable prices. Notable examples this policy include the 1953 CIA–sponsored overthrow of the democratically elected Mossadegh government in Iran and our longstanding support of the Saudi Royal Family.

In light of this history, it was almost surrealistic to hear George W. Bush declare in 2002 with neo-Wilsonian zeal that it was now America’s duty to usher in a new age of Democracy across the Middle East by unleashing our cluster bombs upon Iraqi conscripts. There wasn’t “much regard for truth in our papers” in the wake of 9-11, as mass amnesia about the true history of America’s relationship with the region miraculously took root among our pundit class (88).

Graham Greene refers to the remarkable American ability to maintain our sense of innocence no matter what we do as “a kind of insanity” in The Quiet American, his 1955 novel about early American involvement in Indochina (155). This brilliant and prophetic book is the story of a world-weary English reporter named Thomas Fowler who is befriended by an idealistic young CIA operative with “pronounced and aggravating views on what the United states was doing for the world” named Alden Pyle (4).

Pyle is a dreamy youth “absorbed already in the dilemmas of Democracy and the responsibilities of the West” (10). Tumescent with high-minded ideas about bettering the lot of the world’s downtrodden, Pyle is haughty with book-learning. He brushes off Fowler’s hard-won wisdom with the brash certainty of true ignorance. If Pyle had been capable of listening, he might have heeded Fowler’s simple truth: “They don’t want our white skins around telling them what they want” (86). The United States might have spared itself the loss over sixty thousand lives and billions of dollars in Southeast Asia if our leaders had been willing to listen to such talk.

Instead, Pyle dismisses Fowler’s wisdom as the voice of a wicked and defeated continent: “You talk like a European, Thomas. These people aren’t complicated” (168). If only Pyle had paid more attention when Fowler wryly noted that the Vietnamese “know enough to turn your exhaust pipe into a mortar” (79).

Deaf to Fowler’s multiple warnings, Pyle is determined to heed Kipling’s call and Pick up the White Man’s Burden in Vietnam. Searching for a pro-American “third force” to shake things up in the region, Pyle ultimately mistakes renegade General Thé, “a bandit with a few thousand men,” for “a national democracy” (149). When Thé uses explosives provided by Pyle to murder several civilians, Folwer confronts Pyle and asks him how he can possibly “justify a child’s or a trishaw driver’s death”(155).

Undaunted, Pyle replies, “In a way you could say they died for democracy” (171).

It was easy for Alden Pyle to drift into support of Thé’s terrorism because Pyle “was determined…to do good, not to any individual person, but to a country, a continent, a world” (10).

America’s perpetual longing for a world that never was, that City on a Hill of our most perfervid imaginings, often has drastic consequences in the real world. When will we ever learn that it is impossible to absolve our own sins with the blood of others?

by Richard W. Bray