The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, January 03, 2008


Well, it starts today. I'm not behind a candidate, really. I just want the country to swing back left a bit. My very real feeling is that we went too far Right. I'd love to be complaining a couple of years from now that we've gone too far Left. Any of the three top Democrats would be all right with me, for now. I wish I could figure Hillary out, but the only thing I'm SURE of is that we're not seeing her real face. No way she has publicly expressed her private feelings about Bill, and they have to loom large. But she could be anything under that...including a fantastic potential president. Or not. Edwards impresses me at times, but I haven't looked as deeply into him as I should. Obama has continued to impress me. He strikes me as the smartest candidate I've seen in years. And he is insanely self-possessed. His recent surge in Iowa suggests that his campaign approach has been sound. Would I trust him to hit the ground running? Yes, because he is smart enough to surround himself with people even smarter than he is. But today, I just want to sit back and watch the fireworks. I can't WAIT to stop paying attention to politics for a while. Not my area of expertise at all, at all, at all. Yuck. It would chew me up and spit me out in six months. But the people who can stomach it? Hat's off. I mean, SOMEBODY'S got to do it, right?


Lynn said...

I agree, it's time to swing back to the left just a bit. It's not that I'm either to the left or right. I'm not in the middle either, just out in space somewhere I think. I just think change is good. If one party is in power too long they inevitably go too far and we need the other party to go in and fix things. (Then of course they go too far the other way.)

I don't know who our next president should be. I like Obama's dignity and presence on camera (That would certainly be a change.) but I worry that he might be too far to the left to suit me. I don't like Hillary but I agree with the way she votes more often than I agree with Obama. Strange. How important is personality? Should we vote based on voting records alone?

Kukulkan said...

I'm not sure what you mean when you say you want the country to swing to the left because it swung too far to the right. Oh, I get it in a vague sort of way, but not in particulars.

Do you want the government to provide more services (e.g., universal healthcare)?

Do you want our government to stop using military force to influence world affairs?

What do you believe the role of government is? This one is probably too big to answer in comments or even one post. This is why pubs and beer were invented.

In what ways do you believe our country has swung too far to the right?

The primary example I can see of a swing to the right is the increased influence/organization of church going folk in influencing political choices. I'm not a believer myself, but have nothing against church going folk and believe that regular attendance can help provide guidance and stability. However, I'm not sure how I feel about the increased influence of believers. Certainly, President G.W. Bush (elected largely as a result of the increased influence) will have a controversial legacy. However, one "bad" choice does not mean that the increased influence is bad.

Another area in which I have perceived a swing to the right is in Second Amendment rights. This began before Pres. G.W. Bush and is accelerating. Generally, I think that this is a good development since I believe that every (1) able-bodied (2) adult (3) U.S. Citizen (4) without a felony record, should have access to and know how to use a rifle. Why? (1) Civil defense; (2) resist tyranny; and to some degree (3) self defense. Why do I put self defense last? Because a rifle is better suited toward the first two roles than to self defense and because I feel uncomfortable telling someone else what to do when it impacts only that person's interests. Accordingly, I view decreased restrictions on citizens' ability to keep and bear firearms to be a good thing and I do not want to see a shift to the left.

Another perceived shift to the right has been the willingness of the U.S. to use its military. There is no doubt in my mind that the government of Afghanistan circa 9/11 fostered Al Qaeda and that military intervention was in the best interests of the United States. I would have been disappointed with any President who did not use military force in Afghanistan following 9/11 (I'm disappointed in Pres. Bush for not sending enough troops to accomplish all of our goals). I really have no idea why the U.S. administration invaded Iraq, but I think that the population of the U.S. was willing to support the invasion because we were still reeling from 9/11. Having invested in the invasion, I am not surprised that a large percentage of the population still supports the initial invasion. Frankly, I'm surprised at how large the percentage is of people who now wish to end our involvement in Iraq. Since I think that the initial support for the Iraq invasion was based on time-specific factors, I'm not sure it really is evidence of a swing to the right.

Kukulkan said...


"How important is personality? Should we vote based on voting records alone?"

I think the answer depends largely on the office you are considering. Preliminarily, I will substitute "character" for "personality" as it better reflects my beliefs. Under the Constitution, Representatives are elected every two years. The Founders had representatives being elected frequently so that they would be largely dependent on public favor. Accordingly, for Representatives, I believe the voting record is paramount -- these people should be voting the way their constituents want them to vote. On the other hand, Senators are elected every six years (and under the original Constitution were appointed by state legislatures). In short, Senators were intended to be largely divorced from public influence. Accordingly, for Senators, character is paramount for me. Is this person seasoned and perceptive enough to lead - not follow - the country? Will this person resist populism that is detrimental to our union? With respect to the President, character again is paramount. Most Presidents come from the executive branch, so we frequently don't get to see their voting record. Where we do get a candidate from the legislative branch, I check their voting record to see if their votes were good choices for the country, using the benefit of hindsight. I also check their voting record to see if it matches their character. If the voting record does not match the character, then it means the candidate is (to some degree) willing to sacrifice character for political gain/expediency. This is not to say that I won't vote for a Presidential candidate that has voted against character, it's simply a consideration.

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve –

While I too get tired of what normally works out to be about two years of campaigning, it’s also interesting from a purely human standpoint. I think it really does demonstrate all of our different perceptions.

You said that you felt the country had shifted “too far” right. Like another one of your posters, I am a little puzzled by that statement. Because even though we have a Republican President and for a time we had a primarily Republican Congress, I don’t see the country as having moved that far Right. I suppose it depends on how you define Conservative. I define Conservative as smaller government. Using that litmus test the government has gotten substantially larger; no programs have been cut and very few reduced in size. Bush has Vetoed almost nothing. His view on immigration is more liberal than most traditional liberals. Honestly, taxes have barely been cut and tax revenues have gone up…so in that way the government is not smaller. Yes we have substantially increased the size of the military and most Conservatives believe in a strong defense; so in that sense the country may have shifted more to the right.

The evidence that many use to demonstrate a shift to the Right is the war in Iraq and the frankly insane new “pre-strike” policy that Bush has implemented. Conservatives believe in a strong defense; if we are threatened or shoved we should have enough power and skill to make a nation that considers such foolishness and unhappy bunch. But what Bush is doing with our military has nothing at all to do with a strong defense and nothing to do with Conservative politics. What he’s doing is pure Imperialism. Imperialism has never been the sole propriety of the Right or the Left. If you look at world history both extremes and those in the middle have done this kind of garbage. Has the country moved to the right or is it just frightened? I think it’s frightened…an frankly a scared electorate will vote for just about anything that they think will make them safe.


Lynn said...

By the strictly correct definition of Conservative we probably haven't swung to the right at all. I was thinking of it in the sense that most people seem to think of it these days. Too far to the right, to me means too much influence by "religious conservatives" and giant corporations, although I'm not sure I'm on very solid ground with that last part. I know corporations contribute to the Democratic party too and the Democrats who get elected probably give them their money's worth as much as the Republicans do.

Regarding personality: You're right, character is a big part of what I meant. "Personality" wasn't the best word choice. But I was thinking of personality too. President Bush's strut and swagger plays well in Texas but not so well in Paris. Some of us feel, "Who needs the French; screw 'em," but what other people think of us does make a difference and our president is not only our leader he's our representative. Strictly as a representative I'd prefer to be represented by Obama. It's the leader part that I'm undecided on.

Kukulkan said...


Re personality. Yes, to a large degree the President is the public face of the U.S. presented to the world and as such personality is a factor to be considered. However, I would put personality after character and past performance for a Presidential candidate.

Re Obama. I get the sense that he and Ron Paul are the two most honest people in the race (Clinton is probably the most inscrutable). By honest, I mean most willing to present their personal opinions as opposed to the opinions they believe will be most favorably received by the desired demographics. Obama also is by far and away the most charismatic of the candidates. Nor does Obama's lack of Washington experience bother me too much relative to the other Democrats. None of the top three Democrats has any executive experience (except Clinton by proxy).

My problem with all of the Democratic candidates and all but one of the Republican candidates is that none of them are serious about getting our budget balanced. We're spending money that we don't have. During WWII this made sense. During the Cold War, this may have made sense. It makes no sense now. I guess what really bothers me about the Democratic candidates in particular is they are so transparently populists -- especially with respect to health care. Let's give the people something they really want and don't look behind the curtain to figure out how we will pay for it.

Giving the Roman citizens free grain was a sure way to gain their support too.

Henry Wilcoxon said...

However, if most American voters vote for change because change is good ;and they don't know what kind of change they want, we could elect Huckabee who is for increasing the wealth distributions in the USA and destroying the social safety net while continuing to attack defenseless nations.

The question I have is have we had smart people in Washington or at the top of the Corporate executive suites since 1968 ?

My sense is that we have elected louts and jerks to ruin our country and steal our treasure.

Let us look at a recent movie , Charlie Wilson's War which shows how Washington armed the Mujahideen in Afghanistan in 1979. The same Mujahideen who crashed airplanes into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

"According to the author of Charlie Wilson's War, the exception to CIA incompetence was the arming between 1979 and 1988 of thousands of Afghan mujahideen ("freedom fighters"). The Agency flooded Afghanistan with an incredible array of extremely dangerous weapons and 'unapologetically mov[ed] to equip and train cadres of high tech holy warriors in the art of waging a war of urban terror against a modern superpower [in this case, the USSR].'

"The author of this glowing account, [the late] George Crile, was a veteran producer for the CBS television news show '60 Minutes' and an exuberant Tom Clancy-type enthusiast for the Afghan caper. He argues that the U.S.'s clandestine involvement in Afghanistan was 'the largest and most successful CIA operation in history,' 'the one morally unambiguous crusade of our time,' and that 'there was nothing so romantic and exciting as this war against the Evil Empire.'

Crile's sole measure of success is the number of killed Soviet soldiers (about 15,000), which undermined Soviet morale and contributed to the disintegration of the Soviet Union in the period 1989 to 1991. That's the successful part.

"However, he never once mentions that the 'tens of thousands of fanatical Muslim fundamentalists' the CIA armed are the same people who in 1996 killed nineteen American airmen at Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, bombed our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, blew a hole in the side of the U.S.S. Cole in Aden Harbor in 2000, and on September 11, 2001, flew hijacked airliners into New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon."
Where Did the "Freedom Fighters" Go?

When I wrote those words I did not know (and could not have imagined) that the actor Tom Hanks had already purchased the rights to the book to make into a film in which he would star as Charlie Wilson, with Julia Roberts as his right-wing Texas girlfriend Joanne Herring, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Gust Avrakotos, the thuggish CIA operative who helped pull off this caper. [ Master alert the white guy is seen smoking naked in the bathtub after he has presumablly had sex with a married woman.] No we did not see the intercourse, Steven Barnes.

What to make of the film (which I found rather boring and old-fashioned)? It makes the U.S. government look like it is populated by a bunch of whoring, drunken sleazebags, so in that sense it's accurate enough. But there are a number of things both the book and the film are suppressing. As I noted in 2003,

"For the CIA legally to carry out a covert action, the president must sign off on - that is, authorize - a document called a 'finding.' Crile repeatedly says that President Carter signed such a finding ordering the CIA to provide covert backing to the mujahideen after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan on December 24, 1979. The truth of the matter is that Carter signed the finding on July 3, 1979, six months before the Soviet invasion, and he did so on the advice of his national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, in order to try to provoke a Russian incursion. Brzezinski has confirmed this sequence of events in an interview with a French newspaper, and former CIA Director [today Secretary of Defense] Robert Gates says so explicitly in his 1996 memoirs. It may surprise Charlie Wilson to learn that his heroic mujahideen were manipulated by Washington like so much cannon fodder in order to give the USSR its own Vietnam. The mujahideen did the job but as subsequent events have made clear, they may not be all that grateful to the United States."
In the bound galleys of Crile's book, which his publisher sent to reviewers before publication, there was no mention of any qualifications to his portrait of Wilson as a hero and a patriot. Only in an "epilogue" added to the printed book did Crile quote Wilson as saying, "These things happened. They were glorious and they changed the world. And the people who deserved the credit are the ones who made the sacrifice. And then we fucked up the endgame." That's it. Full stop. Director Mike Nichols, too, ends his movie with Wilson's final sentence emblazoned across the screen. And then the credits roll.

Neither a reader of Crile, nor a viewer of the film based on his book would know that, in talking about the Afghan freedom fighters of the 1980s, we are also talking about the militants of al Qaeda and the Taliban of the 1990s and 2000s. Amid all the hoopla about Wilson's going out of channels to engineer secret appropriations of millions of dollars to the guerrillas, the reader or viewer would never suspect that, when the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, President George H.W. Bush promptly lost interest in the place and simply walked away, leaving it to descend into one of the most horrific civil wars of modern times.

Among those supporting the Afghans (in addition to the U.S.) was the rich, pious Saudi Arabian economist and civil engineer, Osama bin Laden, whom we helped by building up his al Qaeda base at Khost. When bin Laden and his colleagues decided to get even with us for having been used, he had the support of much of the Islamic world. This disaster was brought about by Wilson's and the CIA's incompetence as well as their subversion of all the normal channels of political oversight and democratic accountability within the U.S. government. Charlie Wilson's war thus turned out to have been just another bloody skirmish in the expansion and consolidation of the American empire - and an imperial presidency. The victors were the military-industrial complex and our massive standing armies. The billion dollars worth of weapons Wilson secretly supplied to the guerrillas ended up being turned on ourselves.

An Imperialist Comedy

Which brings us back to the movie and its reception here. (It has been banned in Afghanistan.) One of the severe side effects of imperialism in its advanced stages seems to be that it rots the brains of the imperialists. They start believing that they are the bearers of civilization, the bringers of light to "primitives" and "savages" (largely so identified because of their resistance to being "liberated" by us), the carriers of science and modernity to backward peoples, beacons and guides for citizens of the "underdeveloped world."

Such attitudes are normally accompanied by a racist ideology that proclaims the intrinsic superiority and right to rule of "white" Caucasians. Innumerable European colonialists saw the hand of God in Darwin's discovery of evolution, so long as it was understood that He had programmed the outcome of evolution in favor of late Victorian Englishmen. (For an excellent short book on this subject, check out Sven Lindquist's "Exterminate All the Brutes.")

When imperialist activities produce unmentionable outcomes, such as those well known to anyone paying attention to Afghanistan since about 1990, then ideological thinking kicks in. The horror story is suppressed, or reinterpreted as something benign or ridiculous (a "comedy"), or simply curtailed before the denouement becomes obvious. Thus, for example, Melissa Roddy, a Los Angeles film-maker with inside information from the Charlie Wilson production team, notes that the film's happy ending came about because Tom Hanks, a co-producer as well as the leading actor, "just can't deal with this 9/11 thing."

Similarly, we are told by another insider reviewer, James Rocchi, that the scenario, as originally written by Aaron Sorkin of "West Wing" fame, included the following line for Avrakotos: "Remember I said this: There's going to be a day when we're gonna look back and say 'I'd give anything if [Afghanistan] were overrun with Godless communists'." This line is nowhere to be found in the final film.

Today there is ample evidence that, when it comes to the freedom of women, education levels, governmental services, relations among different ethnic groups, and quality of life - all were infinitely better under the Afghan communists than under the Taliban or the present government of President Hamid Karzai, which evidently controls little beyond the country's capital, Kabul. But Americans don't want to know that - and certainly they get no indication of it from Charlie Wilson's War, either the book or the film.

The tendency of imperialism to rot the brains of imperialists is particularly on display in the recent spate of articles and reviews in mainstream American newspapers about the film. For reasons not entirely clear, an overwhelming majority of reviewers concluded that Charlie Wilson's War is a "feel-good comedy" (Lou Lumenick in the New York Post), a "high-living, hard-partying jihad" (A.O. Scott in the New York Times), "a sharp-edged, wickedly funny comedy" (Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times). Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post wrote of "Mike Nichols's laff-a-minute chronicle of the congressman's crusade to ram funding through the House Appropriations Committee to supply arms to the Afghan mujahideen"; while, in a piece entitled "Sex! Drugs! (and Maybe a Little War)," Richard L. Berke in the New York Times offered this stamp of approval: "You can make a movie that is relevant and intelligent - and palatable to a mass audience - if its political pills are sugar-coated."

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