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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

October 30, 2007


Immunity, the Sweetest Word

If being in love means never having to say you're sorry, as told to us in the movie Love Story, then being attached in any way shape or form to President Bush and the Bush administration means never having to say "I'm Guilty."

Today, the New York Times reported that a secret deal was made with Blackwater "contractors" who killed 17 Iraqis near Baghdad last month, and the US State Department which grants those who committed the shooting immunity from prosecution. Of course, for this grant of immunity they'll have to tell the truth. But don't be concerned - any truth will do.

In what is termed a "limited-use immunity", which limits the immunity to anything the Blackwater employees say under investigation, the "contractors" can admit to anything and walk away to shoot another day.

I don't even know why Blackwater fired them. After all, Condoleezza Rice's State Department gave them a "Get Out of Jail Forever" card.

This has become a pattern of the Bush Administration. All one has to do is look back to the sentence commutation of I. Louis "Scooter" Libby to realize that even when a Bushie is convicted, the Bushie doesn't have to answer for it. And, believe it or not, those "hard justice; hard sentence" Right Wingers wanted Libby to be completely exonerated with a Presidential pardon!

“In this administration, accountability goes by the boards,” he said. “If you get caught, they will give you immunity. If you get convicted, they will commute your sentence.”
-Senator Patrick Leahy (DEMOCRAT-VT), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee who Dick Cheney's famously offered the "F-Word" to on the floor of the Senate

And let's also remember that it was President Bush who said that anyone involved in the leaking the name of Valerie Plame's to the press would be fired, then, when the firing of Karl Rove and others would have come under that pledge, Bush changed his tone:

"If someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration,"
-President Bush


So what happens now when those Blackwater "Contractors" involved in the shooting of the Iraqis, after being offered and receiving State Department immunity, are told that those deals no longer are valid? Can we prosecute? Can the Iraqi government? And what about those at the top of Blackwater such as CEO Erik Prince? What of their culpability?

“The Department of State cannot immunize an individual from federal prosecution, federal criminal prosecutions,”
-State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack

Another non-committal committal by the Bushies. But they did, Mr. McCormack... They did. They were offered and given immunity from prosecution by an arm of government not allowed to give such immunity. What are you going to do about it?

“I can’t in any way, shape or form comment on any arrangements arranged, arrived at with individuals concerning that case,”

That's okay... President Bush will come to the rescue and let 'em off the hook anyway.

Prince and his brainchild Blackwater are the recipients of the good fortunes offered up to them by the American middle class, through their taxes given away by the Bush administration. Funny about how Prince's fortune was made so much greater as the Bushies came into office. back when Prince was a mere 19-year-old college student, he gave $15,000 dollars to the Republican party as a "contribution". When I was 19, I worked as a stock boy at night while attending classes during the day.

Life has been good to Mr. Prince, including no-bid contracts and immunity for those who might be able to put him on the hot seat.

The Iraqi government wants Blackwater to ousted from their country in all forms. But, really... does anyone think that's ever going to happen? In the end, the US government through us middle class taxpayers will pay the families of those killed by Blackwater's trigger-happy "contractors" their millions; Blackwater will work their way back into Iraq, even if it means doing so under another name (someone check and see if the name "Greywater" is available); and the Bushies and the GOP will get their Blackwater Lobbyist monies without interruption.

In Bushland, all is right with the world.

-Noah Greenberg

by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2007 San Francisco Bay Area Reporter, Inc.

There’s nothing like a natural or unnatural disaster to get TV to put its best (or worst) foot forward. The California wildfires have been an example of both.

The networks, particularly ABC, which has somehow managed to re-assert itself as leader of the pack since Charlie Gibson took over the top anchor slot (begging the question once again of why he wasn’t given the job initially–oh right: not pretty enough for prime time) did superb work with on-the-spot reporting. Gibson had a *Prime Time* special (pre-empting *Boston Legal*) on the situation when it was at its peak last week. Terry Moran was reporting–around the clock it seemed–for *Nightline.*

There was plenty of human interest–lots of discourse with exhausted firefighters who should all be given a trip to Disneyland when this is over, they have done such spectacular work. And of course the standard “how do you feel now that your house and everything in it including the family cat has been incinerated’ kind of interviews.

ABC even did several pieces on the animal facet of the story–the tragic loss of animal life, particularly in horses, as some of the area under assault from the fires is horse-breeding territory.

So the overview was broad, the camera obscura succinct.

But as is so often the case even when the news coverage is good, there was definitely news you’re not seeing.

Here’s what was missing: There was almost no discussion by any news source about *why* these houses go up in flames every year or two. There were no talks with experts about whether building repetitively in an area prone to horrific, uncontrollable fires is a risk worth taking given the concomitant problems of continued drought and increasingly dangerous Santa Ana winds. No mention of why insurance companies continue to insure the multi-million dollar homes in the area, despite the obvious risk-benefit ratio. We saw more than one interview with people who had lost their homes for the second or third time.

Nor was there much attention paid to the annual arsonist season in Southern California, another terrible wildcard in this scenario. Arson is one of the most difficult crimes to pinpoint and the criminals are rarely caught unless they are incredibly stupid. A few months back when wildfires decimated Greece, arsonists were found to be setting many of the fires. At least eight of the fires in Southern California are known to be arson; others may be found to be arson after more investigation.

*Nightline* did an interview with the parents of a convicted arsonist and it was terrifying.

Another point missed by the networks, CNN and their teams: counterpoint to Katrina. It’s been over two years since Katrina and thousands of Gulf residents are still living in formaldehyde-spewing FEMA trailers. It was difficult to watch the cavalcade of George Bush, Gov. Schwarzenegger and FEMA officials shaking hands with and hugging displaced white California residents and not think about Katrina.

There were a few comments by Gibson and NBC’s Brian Williams about “still smarting from criticism over Katrina” and “the slow response to that disaster” spurring the President and his Administration to be immediate in this crisis, but that was hardly enough.

Where, for example, was commentary on the differences between the Qualcomm Stadium and the Superdome? Not only was Qualcomm air-conditioned with working plumbing and water, but the thousands evacuated to the Stadium where treated to everything from massages to gourmet meals brought in from local restaurants.

Two weeks ago we caught a disturbing hour on CBS’s superb but rarely watched *48 Hours Mystery.* The episode was titled “Storm of Murder” (the show can be seen in its entirety at CBSnews.com) and detailed what has happened to New Orleans since Katrina.

Seasoned actor and comedian John Larroquette, who just joined the cast of *Boston Legal* this season, is a native New Orleanian who still lives in the city. On Craig Ferguson last week he was asked how the city is faring. His face changed as he talked about how “it’s coming back, but it’s very slow. Maddeningly slow.”
The *48 Hours* focus on two murders since Katrina showed exactly what the city is up against and how slow recovery truly is.

Gang shootings are at an all-time high. When we lived there, New Orleans had an air of lawlessness about it. The police were known by everyone to be corrupt, often engaged in criminal activity themselves. But since Katrina, there are not enough police. There’s also not enough electricity. Whole areas of the city are still outlaw precincts where after dark, all hell breaks loose.

Reporter Erin Moriarty focused on the murder of white filmmaker and New Orleans devotee Helen Hill, who was shot to death in her own home by a burglar. Her husband, a doctor who worked in a clinic servicing the poor, was also shot several times while shielding their baby boy from the gunfire. The killer has never been caught.

The other murder in the piece was that of African-American musician Dinerral Shavers, who, like Hill, was shot and killed while attempting to protect someone else, in his case, his teenaged stepson.

Hill was 31, Shavers, 26. To say that the loss of these two people to a community trying to rebuild its heart was immense would be to understate it in the extreme. These were spectacular, unbelievably generous and decent people who were making a huge difference in the city with the work they were doing. Hill and Shavers were both activists working with kids. Post-Katrina, Hill demanded that she and her husband and baby return to the city. Shavers started a school jazz band for kids displaced by the disaster.

Hill was a talented filmmaker and Shavers was an extraordinary musician in a band called “Hot 8" (you can check out their music at CBS.com as well–it’s fantastic). Their stories are immensely tragic and their deaths galvanized protests in the city among white and black residents calling for justice.

Last year there were 162 murders in New Orleans–a shocking number for such a tiny city. Only three were prosecuted. *Three.*

Now *there’s* some news you aren’t seeing. Thanks, CBS.

So the overall coverage of the fires needed some tweaking, and a revisiting of Katrina would have been one of those tweaks. And in case you were wondering, the cost of Katrina to date: $81.2 billion. The cost of the recent fires: $2 billion.

Speaking of costliness, for those of you who missed it, the Matt Lauer *Dateline* interview with Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) and his wife Suzanne can be viewed at NBC.com. We were riveted for the hour–it was an incredible train wreck. Craig may possibly be the most self-delusional man in the Senate these days after John McCain (R-AZ) and David “Diaper Dave” Vitter (R-LA).

Lauer was fairly tough, which just made the hour squirmier. Suzanne Craig clearly needed a shot or five of Valium and there were many long pauses before answers from both Craigs. But one could not help feeling sorry for this woman and the humiliation being heaped on her.

Our favorite question of the interview came when Lauer noted that Craig had repeatedly insisted he was “not gay.” Lauer queried, “So, are you bisexual?”
No. Apparently Craig is neither homosexual nor bisexual, just delusional.

As of October 26th, the latest news from Pottygate was this: The ACLU has filed a brief in court stating that Craig’s arrest was unconstitutional and urging the Minnesota District Court to let Craig withdraw his guilty plea in the case.

Here comes the fun part: ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero told TV reporters, “Sen. Craig has not always been a great friend of civil liberties, but you shouldn't have to endorse the civil liberties of others to keep your own.” Romero was, of course, alluding to Craig's history of voting against gay rights.

Oh dear. This could be a sit-com pilot were it not so ineffably sad.

Speaking of sad, the goddess Oprah has been taking on some pretty heavy topics in recent weeks. Her new season seems to have returned to the roots that made Oprah Oprah: social commentary.

Her October 24th show, which can be viewed at Oprah.com, “gay around the world” was pretty fantastic. There was the gay Indian prince disowned by his mother and the lesbian Jamaican performance artist who had been raped by a gang of toughs in her native country in an effort to turn her straight. And then there was our personal heartthrob, former NBA star (Chicago Bulls, Utah Jazz) and psychologist John Amaechi.

Note to everyone: The six foot ten inch British-raised (his accent is *so* fabulous) Amaechi is currently single, as he told Oprah. And looking.

Amaechi was, in a word, phenomenal. He’s like a one-man gay rights totem. In addition to being gorgeous, he’s super sophisticated (but also incredibly down-to-earth) and, as we said, a psychologist, so he has a lot to say about the role of gay men in sports.

On the subject of former NBA all-star Tim Hardaway, who made a series of repugnant homophobic statements after Amaechi came out earlier this year (Hardaway was banned from playing in the NBA all-stars game after the comments), Amaechi was terse and succinct. He noted that when famous people make statements like Hardaway’s, that gay people do not have a right to live, they set in motion a horrible chain of events that can result in people being attacked for who they are. He called on Hardaway to fix what he’d broken.

Oprah noted that her producers had contacted Hardaway, but he refused to comment. Her eyebrows were up and her “oh okay” voice was in full gear. Go Oprah.

We have long worshiped at the altar of Oprah and we are not–most of the time–ashamed to say so. But we really truly wish she had stayed out of politics. Had Oprah not spurred Barack Obama to run for president, he might have, in a decade, *been* president. But now he may never get another chance, and he has certainly blown the current one.

In an effort to spark interest in his flagging campaign and to garner votes in the black community, which polls indicate overwhelmingly support Hillary Clinton, Obama has begun to cater to the homophobic black evangelical vote.

There are many things to be said about this, but given this is a family newspaper, we can only note that the evangelical black church is complicit in the deaths of thousands upon thousands of African Americans from AIDS. The overt homophobia has led to a culture of down-low behavior that is killing black women and men at a rate so alarming, that while numbers are going down for rates of new infections among other racial groups, they are rising astronomically among young African Americans. As Hillary Clinton noted in the Democratic debate at Howard University, if AIDS were the leading cause of death among *white* women in America, would there be so much silence? (Obama never mentioned AIDS in the debate, but Hillary’s comment brought the audience to its feet clapping and cheering.)

Politicians often take the low road. It’s inbred to a degree. So it was only a matter of time before Obama succumbed as so many others before him have done. But to fall from grace from such a height and in such a despicable way is so disheartening.

Obama’s new touring mate: avowed homophobe and alleged ex-gay, Pastor Donnie McClurkin. The Grammy-winning McClurkin happens to be one of the biggest voices in black gospel music. He sang at the 2004 *Republican* National Convention. And did we mention *he hates queers*?

Way to go, Obama.

So here’s our rant of the week: Obama told reporters last week that he was “broadening” his campaign to include a “big tent” of different voices.

Oh, okay. So does that big tent mean he’s going to bring in some KKK members or some anti-Semites or some Texas Border Patrol guys who just bagged ‘em some Mexicans?


As our mother used to say, lie down with dogs, get up with fleas. Politicians need to get with the program: not only does the queer vote count (just ask Bill Clinton), but changing horses mid-race is *always* a mistake, whether it’s Rudy Giuliani suddenly ditching the Yankees for the Red Sox or Obama ditching his “we are not Red States and Blue States” shtick for a homophobic sidekick.

Obama may have forgotten he got big money from Hollywood queers a nanosecond ago. (We can see David Geffen huffing and puffing as we speak.) Obama may also have forgotten that it takes a village to elect a junior senator from Illinois. But what he should not have forgotten is that hatemongering should not be embraced by anyone, least of all the first major black candidate for president.

When we first saw Obama on the tube in 2004, we fell in love, just as Oprah did. We saw hope and dreams and wrote about it here with numerous flowery adjectives.

The bloom is most certainly off the rose now, however. We miss the Obama we remember from that shimmering, magical moment in 2004. But then it’s always hard to take when rising stars fall to earth as mere men with prejudices and biases like everyone else. We had hoped for so much more.

*Sigh.* Stay tuned.

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-Noah Greenberg