Call Me Irresponsible

Photo by R.D. Ward/
U.S. Dept of DefenseBabies are pretty irresponsible, but theyget a pass because they don't know any better—that, and they don't have much to be responsible about. But when they get bigger and it hurts when they hit someone, hurts more when they drive the car into opposing traffic, and hurts terrifically when they start an unprovoked war, that's when you hope Mr. Responsibility is standing on your big baby's shoulder, pleading into his better ear:

"Hey, please, please, what the Jiminy Cricket are you doing in there? You think you're the only person in the world? Stop driving like Spartacus on speed! Stop bombing babies! Stop acting stupid! Great power requires greater wisdom! Everything matters! And clean your ears!"

I started off writing another "bitching at Bush" column—and there is some ahead—but he and his cronies are just the blackhead of our nation's problem, and we're all part of the pus gathered underneath.

As Wendell Phillips, Thomas Jefferson or Skipper Alan Hale once said, "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." They weren't talking about standing at our borders with a pickaxe, but about keeping a scrupulous watch over ourselves, our intentions and our institutions.

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And we simply don't do that. When more Americans can tell you what Donald Trump did this month than what Donald Rumsfeld did, it's no wonder the Bush administration gets away with murder.

We are supposed to be a society, and very few of us are doing all we can to act like it. I'm lucky I get to vent here because aside from penning an occasional unpublished letter to the Los Angeles Times, I don't do all I should. We should all be calling our congresspersons—as well as ABC daily to ask why Scott Peterson gets more coverage than the mercury poisoning our kids.

As much as I pay attention to nationalissues, if I lived in Orange, I could easily have voted for Steve Rocco, Man of Mystery, because I spent more time on eBay than I did researching local candidates. It isn't like I don't know better: look at the havoc elected wackos have caused on the Garden Grove school board.

As a citizen, if you know something's wrong, you're supposed to do something about it. Consider Greg Haidl's date-rape case for a moment: it came to light because someone saw the videotape and, rather than shining it on, reported it to authorities. Nationally, it's like the Bush administration slipped a date-rape drug to Lady Liberty and went to town on her. Americans have seen the video—or at least the still photos from Abu Ghraib—and simply moved on to more pressing matters, such as what Nicollette Sheridan was doing in that locker room.

Are we a bunch of sensation-addled adolescents who just can't focus on serious matters? Forget about the past year. How about this past month? Donald Rumsfeld—he's the one without the casinos and turkey-wing hair—said probably the most irresponsible thing anyone said all year. When a soldier heading into Iraq voiced concerns about how he and his fellows were sitting ducks in their unarmored vehicles, Rumsfeld told him, "You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time."

Sure, if your country is under attack. But when it's purely an elective war; when there was serious doubt whether Iraq posed anythreat to us; when experienced weapons inspectors were finding no threat; when the world's nations were pleading with us that war was unnecessary; when the start of the war was arbitrarily set by politicians, ignoring their own military experts, sending soldiers into harm's way without cause or a clear plan—then there is no goddamned excuse in the world for the needless death and grievous wounds our troops have unnecessarily suffered.

Nor can it be very cheering for the survivors of the 1,300 military personnel killed in Iraq to learn this past week their condolence letters from Rumsfeld weren't even signed by him, but by a machine.

But ignore all that, because President George W. Bush says, "I know Secretary Rumsfeld's heart." It's a festival of faith! It doesn't matter that even Republicans such as Trent Lott and Chuck Hagel are calling for Rumsfeld's replacement after his gross mishandling of the war.

Actions don't matter. Results don't matter. Facts don't matter. Science doesn't matter. Not when the president has his exclusive Christian X-ray Vision glasses on! You know, the ones that see every child killed by an asshole insurgent's car bomb, but not the ones killed just as dead by our missiles. Such glasses don't see the abundant ironies in his "war on terror."

For example, first responders such as fire departments across the nation today lack the budget or staffing to respond to their everyday calls, much less a terrorist attack. Homeland Security dollars instead are disproportionately gifted upon rural areas unlikely to be attacked by terrorists unless they take up cattle tipping. These places don't even know what to spend the money on, so many are buying motor homes in case they ever need a "mobile command center," you know, like during deer-hunting season.

Don't worry, Bernard Kerik will fix it! Oops, it turns out the man Bush picked to head the government's biggest branch has problems, such as gifts he accepted while NYC police commissioner, possible mob ties, botched security work in Iraq, a bankruptcy and contempt citation for unpaid debts, a $6.2 million windfall he made on Taser International stock options (a firm with a fat Homeland Security contract), and two simultaneous adulterous affairs he was banging out in an apartment paid for with Sept. 11 funds. The network news mainly mentioned his household's untaxed, illegal nanny, this despite questions now of whether this nanny even exists or was a story concocted to preempt Kerik's larger lapses. And then this from Kerik's friend and business partner Rudolph Giuliani, who said when it comes to being careful, Bernie is "really challenged." Just the guy to safeguard our nation's security!

Meanwhile, there are cargo containers unchecked at our ports, unguarded chemical plants in our cities and other security chasms the administration doesn't even talk about. Look at exiting Health and Human Services head Tommy Thompson, who on his way out essentially said, "By the way, among the things I couldn't say when I was the president's man is that our food supply is so vulnerable to terrorist attack I'm surprised they haven't done it already. Oh, and I lose sleep over the way the prescription-drug plan favors the drug companies, and this flu thing could be a real problem, thank you all, bye."

And despite the billions, billions and billions we're pouring into Iraq, Pentagon leaders tell Congress they're strained to the limit. Military personnel are so discouraged by their shabby treatment they're not re-enlisting, so now the National Guard is offering a $15,000 bonus to re-sign, and the Marines as much as $30,000. People who'd hoped to have seen the last of Iraq may have to go for that money because their families at home have slipped into debt while they were kept in uniform. That's not exactly what you call a "volunteer army."

Hey, here's some more December news: administration attorneys argued in court that the U.S. military has the authority to hold even "a little old lady from Switzerland" indefinitely at Guantanamo if she gives money to a charity that, unknown to her, diverts it to a terrorist cause.

Along with the chilling effect this is having on charitable giving, consider this: it was revealed in December that the Pentagon and Halliburton have been doing millions of dollars' worth of Iraq cargo-shipping business with Victor Bout, a Russian blackballed by our own State Department for his extensive ties to the Taliban. Good thing the President can see into Rumsfeld's heart because otherwise, by the administration's own argument, he belongs in a cell next to the Swiss grandma.

The bullshit of it all is overwhelming.Records released in December, for example, showed that the White House, despite previous lies to the contrary, knew a month in advance about the 2002 military coup that deposed democratically elected Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. If Bush is so goddamned committed to democracy that he's willing to kill thousands of Iraqis to free them, why didn't he make a simple phone call to a leader in his own hemisphere to protect democracy?

Jesus, but it goes on an on, such as the several new reports this month of the torture and murder of military prisoners in our custody. It's not just Amnesty International and the Red Cross reporting it: it's senior FBI agents, CIA officials and lifetime Republicans who are troubled by the un-American things Americans are doing.

We might not want to take responsibility for these things, but future generations of Americans—if there are any—will blame us. They're not here to change things. We are, and it's irresponsible not to try.


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