Ernest Cassara

The Pettiness of the G. W. Bush Administration

I was very interested to hear the address of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the United Nations General Assembly, in which, among other things, he accused the United States and the United Kingdom of distorting the work of the Security Council for their own benefit.

As he spoke, the camera panned the hall, and revealed that no one of the several seats reserved for the United States was occupied.  The American U.N. contingent was just following the petty orders of the U.S. president, and/or John Bolton.

President Hugo Chavez Confronts the Devil

When it came the turn of President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela to address the U.N., he began by making the sign of the cross, for he claimed he could still smell the sulfur left behind by the devil, whom he helpfully identified as President George W. Bush, who, he said thinks he is the dictator of the world.

"Yesterday, the devil came here," Chavez said, referring to Bush's address before the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday. "Right here. Right here. And it smells of sulfur still today, this table that I am now standing in front of."

"Yesterday, ladies and gentlemen, from this rostrum, the president of the United States, the gentleman to whom I refer as the devil, came here, talking as if he owned the world. Truly. As the owner of the world.”

"We appeal to the people of the United States and the world to halt this threat, which is like a sword hanging over our head," he said. "The imperialists see extremists everywhere. It's not that we are extremists. It's that the world is waking up."

"I think we could call a psychiatrist to analyze yesterday's statement made by the president of the United States."

"The world is waking up," Chavez said. "I have the feeling, dear world dictator, that you are going to live the rest of your days as a nightmare because the rest of us are standing up, all those who are rising up against American imperialism."

"The United States empire is on the way down and it will be finished in the near future for the good of all mankind," Chavez said. "I hope that we will never have to face another empire. That's why I believe we need to re-found the system . . . I don't know whether it should be called the United Nations again or not."

"The president of the United States came to talk to the peoples - to the peoples of the world. What would those peoples of the world tell him if they were given the floor? What would they have to say?

"I think I have some inkling of what the peoples of the south, the oppressed people think. They would say, 'Yankee imperialist, go home.' "

President Chavez, also, gave a boost to Noam Chomsky’s latest book, which he held up for the audience to see: Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest For Global Dominance.  With a book review like that, I’m sure our fellow Cantabrigian’s latest should lead to a new printing soon!

The “Free” American Press

We in the U.S. criticize those nations who exercise control of the press.  Newspapers are closed down, editors and reporters jailed, in a large number of places.

We, of course, do not control our press.  Actually, we don’t have to.  A perfect example is how the media treated President Ahmadinejad and President Chavez, because they had the gall to criticize the president of the United States.

Sanity Strikes California . . .

Which became the fourth state to ban driving with cell phone in hand.  On the basis of my observation in Harvard Square and environs, I believe this a good thing. 

The Los Angeles Times reported: “Under the law, which will take effect in July 2008, Californians risk a minimum $20 fine for driving while talking on a phone - unless they are using a headset, speaker phone, ear bud, or some other technology that frees both hands while they talk. Drivers in emergency situations would be exempt.”

‘Twould be better, in my opinion, to forbid all use of mobile phones while driving - except in emergencies.  Check me on this, but I have observed that folks at the wheel, while talking on the phone, direct their eyes skyward; they are intent on what is being said, barely watching the road.  And, I doubt that headsets, etc., will make any difference.

The American Public Speaks!

In the newspaper, I always turn - no, not to the comics - but to the letters to the editor, to see what my fellow citizens are bitching about on a given day.  Some are very heartening.  The Boston Globe had earlier published what I considered a stupid op-ed, and some readers set the author straight.  Under the fair use doctrine, I do not hesitate to quote them verbatim:

September 16, 2006

HARVEY MANSFIELD, spouting the rhetoric that Islamic terrorists are "enemies
who hate us because they hate both our principles and our practices" and "despise
the way we live," kicks up a smokescreen that obscures America's own role in
encouraging the conditions that lead to terrorism ("At universities, little learned
from 9/11," op-ed, Sept. 13).

America isn't hated because of its democratic political system or those much-vaunted
freedoms that have been so dangerously eroded by the Bush regime. America is
hated by those who feel that its disastrous foreign policies in the Middle East have
destroyed their property, sundered their families, ruined their lives, and murdered
their loved ones.

Every day we remain in Iraq, we feed that hatred - and yet we've made such a mess
there that we can't in good conscience pull out without making a bigger mess.

For heaven's sake, let's dispense with this jingoistic rhetoric about barely fathomable
evildoers who hate us for the sheer pleasure of it, and examine the responsibility that
America bears for such attitudes. We can't fix what we can't see - or what we refuse to
look at.

HARVEY MANSFIELD worries, “Never mind what would happen to gays or defenders of
gays if the Islamic fascists took over." He sounds like a frightened school kid of the '50s
or '60s fretting over the Russians taking over. How in heaven's name does he suppose
that such a “takeover" would be engineered by the ragtag terrorists and beleaguered
regimes of the Arab world? He can invoke the fear-word fascism if he likes, but he
cannot thereby convert Islam into the equivalent of the mighty German Wehrmacht.

If the United States suffered the equivalent of one Sept. 11 attack monthly for a year,
our casualty total would still not amount to what the people of Iraq have endured as a
result of the US invasion. It is time for alarmists like Mr. Mansfield to look in the
mirror and make an honest assessment of where power truly lies.
TONY ZITO, Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

Particularly Relevant to Parents - Another Item of Note in the Boston Globe:

Reading, writing, and recruiting

By David Goodman | September 16, 2006

MY DAUGHTER started high school last week. This milestone was marked by the
arrival in our home of a ream of paperwork. Along with the usual bureaucratic
permissions, I found tucked into this package a seemingly innocuous form that
carries extraordinary consequences: failing to fill it out might result in my
daughter being harassed, assaulted, or being fast-tracked to fight in Iraq.

This form asks us whether we want to opt-out of having our daughter's contact
information sent to the US military. If we overlooked this form, or did not opt-out,
our high school is required to forward her information to military recruiters. This
is thanks to a stealth provision of the No Child Left Behind law. It turns out that
President Bush's supposed signature education law also happens to be the most
aggressive military recruitment tool enacted since the draft ended in 1973.

The military recruiting requirement of No Child Left Behind law has forced many
schools to overturn longstanding policies on protecting student records from prying
eyes. My local high school, like most in the country, carefully guards its student
directory information from the countless organizations, businesses, and special-
interest groups that are itching to tempt impressionable teens. Now, parents and
schools are being shoved aside, and the military is being given carte blanche
access to our children. Not surprisingly, abuse has followed closely behind.

Last month, an Associated Press investigation revealed that “more than 100 young
women who expressed interest in joining the military in the past year were preyed
upon sexually by their recruiters. Women were raped on recruiting office couches,
assaulted in government cars, and groped en route to entrance exams. . . One out
of 200 frontline recruiters - the ones who deal directly with young people -- was
disciplined for sexual misconduct last year."

Take the case of Indiana National Guard Sergeant Eric P. Vetesy, who is accused
of sexually assaulting six female high school recruits in 2002 and 2003. According
to the Indianapolis Star, Vetesy “picked out teens and young women with
backgrounds that made them vulnerable to authority. As a military recruiter, he
had access to personal information, making the quest easier."

The No Child Left Behind recruiter provision is but one piece of a concerted effort
by the Bush administration to reach unwitting teens without their parents'
permission. In June 2005, privacy advocates were shocked to learn that for two
years the Pentagon had been amassing a database of information on some
30 million students. The information dossiers on millions of young Americans
were to help identify college and high school students as young as 16 to target
them for military recruiting.

The database contains an array of personal information including birth dates,
Social Security numbers, e-mail addresses, grade point averages, ethnicity, and
subjects the students are studying. The Pentagon has hired a Massachusetts-based
company, BeNOW, to run the database. By outsourcing this work to a private firm,
the government is circumventing laws that restrict its right to collect or hold
citizen information.

If you are concerned about how this information on your children might be used,
you should be: the Pentagon has stated that it can share the data with law
enforcement, state tax authorities, other agencies making employment inquiries,
and with foreign authorities, to name a few. Students will not know whether their
information has been collected, and they can not prevent it from happening.

The main obstacle to getting children into the military - concerned parents - has
at long last been circumvented. Private companies can now harvest data on children
and provide recruiters, some of whom are also now private contractors, with the
information they need to contact children directly.

Should skeptical parents find out that the “Mr. Jones" calling for Johnny is offering
their child a free ticket to Iraq, the military is spending millions to learn how best
to persuade or bypass these negative “influencers." One Pentagon study is focused
exclusively on changing mothers' attitudes to enable recruiters to “exert some
influence on mothers who are currently against military service."

Grass-roots groups are mobilizing against the Pentagon's student recruitment and
data-mining campaigns. Leave My Child Alone (www.leavemychildalone.org) offers
opt-out forms that students and parents can download and submit to schools to keep
their names off recruiter contact lists. The group estimates that as of 2006,
37,000 students have opted out of the No Child Left Behind requirement. Students
can also file another form to send to the Pentagon to have their names removed
from the student database.

I signed my form directing our local high school to withhold my daughter's contact
information from military recruiters. Other parents undoubtedly missed it. When
military recruiters eventually come knocking at their doors, these families will
find out the hard way what Bush really meant when he promised to “leave no
child behind."

David Goodman is co author of “Static: Government Liars, Media Cheerleaders
and the People Who Fight Back."

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Harvard Square Commentary, September 25, 2006