Just Jake

Jake Highton is a journalism professor at the Reynolds School of Journalism, University of Nevada, Reno. He teaches media law, history of journalism and advanced reporting. Highton is the author of numerous books, including "Nevada Newspaper Days." He writes a weekly column for the Daily Sparks Tribune.

Location: United States

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Karl Rove: ‘Bush’s Brain’ an evil genius

Karl Rove served his master well but was an unmitigated disaster for America.

He was a divider, not a uniter. A polarizer. His compassionate conservatism was a fraud, a ploy to get Bush elected in 2000. His dirty tricks were monumental.

Rove counseled nonexistent fears and terrorism because he knew they were winning gambits. He portrayed Democrats as disloyal cravens who coddled terrorists even though he knew it was untrue. He advised Bush to run on the war on terror.

Rove was the consummate political marketer. His product was Bush, the worst president the nation ever endured--shallow, vapid, intellectually challenged. Bush made the decisions but Rove fed him the lines. Rove was amoral but could not have cared less. As the book “Bush’s Brain” phrases it: Rove’s standard is “politics not morality.”

He was on a permanent campaign. Everything was politicized, serving the Bush agenda instead of the needs of most Americans. Under Rove, politics even overruled science.

Anyone left in America still starry-eyed about government and politics should glance at the career of Rove in general and in particular the 2003 book by James Moore and Wayne Slater, “Bush’s Brain,” a devastating account of Rove as political Machiavelli.

Rove, former political adviser to Bush, exemplified the reality of politics: money, appearance over substance and unethical campaigning. He was in the words of columnist Bob Herbert a sleaze-meister, a master of skullduggery. The éminence grise, the power behind the Bush throne, the co-president.

Rove’s character assassination was breathtaking. It began in Texas in 1994 when the Bush whispering campaign falsely portrayed Gov. Ann Richards as filling boards and commissions with lesbians and that she herself was one.

The gay card and same-sex marriage were potent at the polls. As Bill Moyers says: “Using church pews as precincts, Rove turned religion into a weapon of political combat, a battering ram aimed at the devil’s minions, especially at gay people.” The irony: Rove himself is at least an agnostic if not an atheist.

During the Bush campaign for president in 2000 it was whispered that rival John McCain had a black child, that his wife had a drug problem and that McCain had mental woes from his days as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

Rove was the svengali behind such negative campaigning.

Trade with Cuba was not as important as capturing Florida’s electoral vote. Again with Rove politics triumphed over the national good.

Rove leaked the identify of Valerie Plame as a covert CIA agent--against the law--as a petty reprisal for her whistleblowing husband’s article declaring the yellowcake story about Iraq bogus.

He directed federal funds to political appointees in direct violation of the Hatch Act bar to politicking on taxpayers’ dollars. Rove directed the nefarious scheme to fire federal prosecutors who followed the law rather than Bush policies.

Rove was nasty and ruthless. He learned from Lee Atwater, Bush I adviser, that smearing Gov. Michael Dukakis with the Willie Horton gross exaggeration paid off at the polls. He directed the outrageous smear of Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia as a stooge of terrorism. Cleland: a triple amputee and decorated Vietnam veteran.

Rove took the lead in stacking the federal courts with reactionaries and making the Supreme Court a bastion of reaction.

It was Rove who proclaimed that a vote for John Kerry in 2004 was a vote for Osama bin Laden. “Conservatives saw what happened to us on 9/11 and said: we will defeat our enemies,” Rove declared. “Liberals saw what happened to us and said: we must understand our enemies.”

In other words, if you don’t want to get blown up, vote Republican. The Rovian intimidation is still working as you can see in the spineless Democratic-controlled Congress.

The fraudulence was obvious even to Republicans. But so what? It was a political winner.

Columnist Paul Krugman, interviewed for the media book, “Feet to the Fire,” tells of how a moderate senator incurred Rove’s wrath. Rove yelled at an associate during an infamous phone conversation: “We will fuck him. Do you hear me? We will fuck him. We will ruin him. Like no one else has ever fucked him!”

The quotation says everything about Rove.

Mark Morford, San Francisco Chronicle essayist, deservedly pours invective on Rove: “The master orchestrator of what is increasingly recognized as the most disastrous, divisive, scandal-ridden, secretive, abusive, warmongering, hate-inspiring, homophobic, morally debilitating neo-conservative administration in modern American history.”


Hordes of tourists mar visit to Italy

ROME--Warning: do not travel to tourist sites in Italy during summers. The mobs of visitors to such places as Rome, Florence, Pompeii and Sorrento are unbearable.

The swarm is so huge in Florence that you need a reservation to get in the Uffizi Palace with its magnificent Botticellis, Caravaggios and Titians. You need a reservation to see Michelangelo’s “David” in the Accademia.

In Rome you stand in line for two hours to enter the Sistine Chapel. Once inside, the “Last Judgment” room is so jammed with tourists that the glory of its ceiling is diminished, if that is possible, for perhaps the greatest single achievement in art. When the chapel opened in 1512, art historian Vasari described the Michelangelo ceiling presciently: “a lamp for our art which casts abroad luster enough to illuminate the world.”

I focused my binoculars on ferryman Charon crossing the Styx, his paddle held menacingly behind his back, his body darkened, his ears pointed, his eyes bulging. One passenger dumped in Hades stares drunkenly, a glass of wine before him.

The ceiling is kept too dark, blunting the brilliant colors of the paintings. Indeed, you can see with more clarity in a glossy book of Michelangelo’s works. Yet the reason for the darkness is obvious: too much light could damage the paintings.

The St. Peter’s Basilica exhibits the magnificent Michelangelo “Pieta.” But it is behind bulletproof glass and about 15 yards from viewers, not the shining beauty I saw up close in New York decades ago. Also in the basilica is the Bernini dove window behind the altar. It is marvelous art, coppery and glowing yellow.

At the Michelangelo statue of Moses in the St. Peter-in-Chains Church, I felt awed merely to gaze at a work of the greatest artist in history. Then, suddenly, an Italian woman inserted a small coin in a box to turn on the lights. It was an epiphany, revealing the statue in all its Carrara splendor.

Rome abounds with glories. But it has one eyesore: the Victor Emmanuel monument, an oversized, cheap-marble building built in tribute to Italy’s first king. Italians label it derisively as “the wedding cake” and “the typewriter.”

Surge of hatred

Moving statue of Giordano Bruno in Rome’s Campo de’ Fiore. Bruno, Italian philosopher, was burned at the stake in 1600 as a Vatican-labeled heretic. This stark reminder gave me a sudden surge of hatred for the Vatican for destroying an intellectual giant in the name of Christ.

The figure of Bruno is hooded, holding a book. A book, like the mind of Bruno, is to be accepted or rejected but never, never burned. (Milton in “Areopagitica”: “he who destroys a good book kills reason itself.”)

Even the Catholic Encyclopedia admits that Bruno early in his career “attracted attention by the originality of his views.” Among his outspoken criticism of accepted theological doctrines: denial of the Trinity, the virginity of Mary and transubstantiation. Bruno was right on all counts, the church wrong as it admitted nearly four centuries later.

Ad desecration

Disturbed by a huge billboard towering over the top of the Spanish Steps, obscuring the towers of a church. Above the steps rises an ad screen. An attractive woman lies in the grass. The ad copy reads: “There is more space for my desires.” In other words, you can rent the space.

The Spanish Steps is hardly a holy place but the ad is still a desecration. The Italian cultural minister should bar it. But, alas, it’s an age when ads are seen in once unimaginable places: clothing and newspaper front pages. Money is more important than decorum.

‘Does anybody own a Rembrandt’

My wife Mary and I took a Mediterranean cruise but frequently stopped inland for tours. The tour guides talk too much, failing to realize the goldenness of silence. But they do indeed sing phrases from Italian opera, a genre the Italians invented. One guide bursts into “ridi Pagliaccio” (laugh clown) from “I Pagliacci” by Leoncavallo. Another cicerone begins “vissi d’arte” (I lived for art) from Puccini’s “Tosca.”

When Oscar Wilde visited Rome’s non-Catholic cemetery in 1877, he prostrated himself in the grass before poet Keats’ grave. One genius bowing to another…On the cruise ship I attended an art auction and history lecture. I laughed when the speaker asked: “Does anybody own a Rembrandt?”

Strand of Hair

On the airplane to Rome a woman was sitting in front of us, a single strand of her hair glistening in the sunlight. I thought of Camus’ “The Stranger” where a prison chaplain visits the anti-hero Meursault soon to be executed for a senseless murder. He tries to get Meursault to confess his sins and to accept God. But Meursault angrily tells the priest: none of “his certainties was worth the strand of a woman’s hair.”

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Tenure denied for ripping Israeli policies

Headline in the New York Times: “Outspoken Political Scientist Denied Tenure at DePaul.” His name: Norman Finkelstein.

He met the publishing standards of academia. His political science department at the Catholic college in Chicago endorsed him. The DePaul president called him an excellent teacher. He pointed out that Finkelstein was a nationally recognized public intellectual.

But a DePaul committee rejected his tenure bid, 4-3. Why? Finkelstein made the “mistake” of writing and speaking vigorously against Israel for oppressing the Palestinians.

The Jewish lobby smeared him, conducting a hysterical nationwide campaign even though it was an internal DePaul matter and none of the lobby’s business. The hysteria was led by Alan Dershowitz of Harvard, the arch-Zionist and ultra-defender of Israel,

It was an egregious violation of academic standards, a blacklisting worthy of Joe McCarthy. Finkelstein noted the irony: his parents were yanked from the Warsaw ghetto and sent to Nazi death camps. They survived but the rest of his relatives were slaughtered.

The DePaul tenure committee doubtless never heard of Richard Ely, economics professor at Wisconsin. He was denounced in 1894 as a socialist, agitator, heretic and labor sympathizer. So Ely was haled before the board of regents for an examination of his opinions.

After a “trial” in which Ely’s book on socialism and proposed social changes was the “star witness,” Ely was not just “acquitted.” The regents issued an opinion that Ely called the Magna Carta of U.S. higher education.

It said: “We could not for a moment think of recommending the dismissal or even the criticism of a teacher…Such a course would be equivalent to saying that no professor should teach anything which is not accepted by everybody as true…In all lines of academic investigation it is of the utmost importance that the investigator should be absolutely free to follow the indications of truth wherever they may lead.”

Word abortion banned

The word abortion has been banished from Hollywood films. Following the retrograde line of President Bush, scriptwriters no longer use the word.

A new release, “Knocked Up,” cries out for at least the suggestion that abortion is the way out of an unwanted and unplanned pregnancy. But, no, the word is unmentionable.

Robert Thompson, who directs the popular cultural center at Syracuse University, notes sadly: “It has been the one controversial subject matter that has not only not progressed but has totally retreated from popular culture.”

‘Just’ school books

Jonathan Cummins, a former student of mine now living in California, sent me an email saying that he was in a Barnes & Noble recently when he overheard some girls passing by a table displaying “The Great Gatsby,” “The Old Man and the Sea” and “Of Mice and Men.”

“These are school books,” one girl said with a sneer.

Cummins commented: “What a shame that for these youths literature was a source of suffering through their school years.”

Self-taught is poorly taught

Recently I had an epiphany: the limitations of being an autodidact. I was a poor tennis player and golfer because I was self-taught--and hence badly taught. (Aside from the fact that I had no athletic talent.)

Similarly, I educated myself as most people do with an intellectual bent. I would look up the meaning of “chimera” but I never paid attention to how it was pronounced. (Not pronounced CHIM-era but KI-mira.) Ditto with “egregious.” I mispronounced it for years as EGREG instead of the correct EGREE.)

SHORT TAKES: All hail San Francisco. It is the first major city in America to start banning plastic bags…The French government spends $3.8 billion a year on the arts, 30 times more than the U.S. budget for the National Endowment for the Arts…

All hail Deidre Pike, columnist for the Reno News & Review, for writing the line: “We are what we read”…British General Montgomery in World War II said his first rule of warfare was: “Don’t march on Moscow.” It was a lesson Hitler never learned from Napoleon’s débâcle…

The late Kurt Vonnegut: “I know of only one nation that has dropped nuclear bombs on innocent people”…A deputy assistant secretary of state said he was shocked that major law firms would represent terrorism suspects. He should be compelled to read “One Man’s Freedom” by Edward Bennett Williams. One man’s freedom is everybody’s freedom.

Historian Zinn: naysayer backed by truth

A Power Governments Cannot Suppress

By Howard Zinn. 270 pages. City Lights Books. $16.95 paperback

The real American heroes are not victorious generals nor politicians who are proclaimed as statesmen after they are dead. The real heroes are the dissenters, naysayers, rebels and truth-tellers.

People like Paine, Thoreau, Debs, Mencken, King--and Howard Zinn.

Zinn is a rebel with a cause: the truth.

Perhaps the finest historian in America today, Zinn told many hidden truths in his classic “A People’s History of the United States,” first published in 1980 and updated twice.

He is still at it. He is still telling truths that most Americans don’t know or don’t want to know.

Zinn’s latest truth-telling book is a collection of essays on race, class, justice, history and people who speak truth to power. The book is badly titled, not reflective of the contents. It also projects an optimism that is unwarranted.

But those are minor flaws. Its truths are searing. Like:

• “We must face our long, grim history of ethnic cleansing, slavery, racism, imperial conquest and acts of unwarranted intervention and aggression around the world.”

• “ Let us cease being a military superpower and start becoming a humanitarian power…Instead of being feared for our military prowess, we should want to be respected for our dedication to human rights.”

• “The history of bombing--and no one has bombed more than this nation--is a history of endless atrocities, all calmly explained by deceptive language like collateral damage.”

• “From the founding of the nation the government has generally legislated on behalf of the wealthy, has done the bidding of corporations in dealing with working people and has taken the nation to war in the interests of economic expansion.”

• “The courts have never been on the side of justice. Those words engraved in the marble of the Supreme Court, ‘Equal Justice Under Law,’ have always been a sham. Justice is not meted out equally to the poor and the rich, the native-born and foreign-born, the orthodox and the radical, the white and the person of color.”

• “True patriotism lies in supporting the values the country is supposed to cherish: equality, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness.”

• “Even the slightest suggestion that we are a nation divided by class brings angry reactions. However, reality repeatedly exposes the myth of a classless society.”

Zinn deplores the planting of U.S. bases throughout the globe, controlling resources in the interest of corporate profit and engaging in “foreign adventures to divert attention from domestic problems.”

To see the breakup of the Soviet Union as a sign of the failure of socialism is to mistake the monstrous tyranny created by Stalin for an egalitarian and democratic society possible under socialism, Zinn writes.

He notes how presidents lied or deceived to get America into wars and make unwarranted bombings and assaults: Polk with Mexico in 1846, McKinley with Cuba in 1898, Wilson with World War I, Truman with Hiroshima, Nixon about Cambodia, Johnson about Vietnam, Reagan about Grenada, Bush I with Panama, Clinton on Sudan and Bush II in Iraq.

Zinn excoriates Bush II for two wars, “death and dismemberment of tens of thousands of human beings in this country, Afghanistan and Iraq and for his violations of the Constitution.” He blasts the Bush mantra of privatization and deregulation, “with calamitous results for ordinary people.”

He faults the Democrats for playing the corporate game, for refusing to endorse national health insurance and for failure to back “a truly progressive income tax to diminish the huge gap between rich and poor.” Sadly, the Democrats also support the military establishment, the death penalty and “the cruel use of sanctions against the people of Cuba.”

America itself supports the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and insists on “controlling the oil of the Middle East.” Zinn quotes Naomi Klein in her book, “Twilight of Empire,” describing the government as devoted “to the capitalist ethic of greed.”

It is an ugly picture that Zinn paints. And, like Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” an all-too-true portrayal of corruption and degeneracy.

During the Vietnam War, Bobby Kennedy proclaimed “our right to the moral leadership of this planet.” And during the Iraq War, Sen. John McCain pontificated that America was using its “power for moral purpose.” The statements are grotesqueries.

People reading this book know how absurd and hubristic those statements are. Readers can only conclude that America is a hateful country, an evil empire with a despicable history.

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Bush policies catastrophic for America

Will this abhorrent Bush administration never end?

Yes, sure. As Macbeth says: “Come what come may, / Time and the hour runs through the roughest day.” But the end cannot come soon enough.

The daily outrages continue. The latest “last straw” among hundreds of “last straws” was President Bush’s commutation of a 30-month jail sentence for Scooter Libby, a felon who perjured, obstructed justice and broke the law by outing a CIA agent.

This is a president who constantly proclaims his toughness on crime. He advocates federal legislation demanding stiff sentences, prosecution compliance with sentencing guidelines and life terms for repeated petty offenders.

Then there is the outrageous firing of nine U.S. attorneys because they refused to push Bush “justice” rather than the law. The Justice Department is nearly dysfunctional because of Bush politicization, undermining the very essence of democracy.

Frank Rich, fine Sunday essayist for the New York Times, wrote recently: “This president is never one to let facts get in the way of a political agenda.”

Example: a former surgeon general, Richard Carmona, was muzzled on stem cell research, teen pregnancy, smoking and global warming. Once again ideology topped science. Carmona was also ordered to mention Bush the Great three times on every page of his speeches. The nation’s doctor, supposedly nonpartisan, was reduced to flackhood.

Improper politicking at government agencies are a constant under Bush. Example: the White House directed the nation’s antidrug czar and his deputies to appear at 20 political events with vulnerable Republican members of Congress before the 2006 election--all at taxpayer expense.

Even the Smithsonian Institution, which you would think would be the last nonpartisan bastion in Washington, was forced to mute its exhibit on climate change. Graphs were altered to show that global warming “could go either way.”

Bush’s two Supreme Court choices led to reaction. Bush nominates a racist from Mississippi to a federal appeals court. He names a homophobe to be surgeon general. His attorney general, totally unqualified, lies to Congress. He calls the Geneva Convention “quaint.”

Bush names a subhack to the Federal Election Commission. He nominates a lobbyist for the National Association of Manufacturers to head the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The General Services Administration investigators found that the Bush-appointed head of the agency violated the Hatch Act barring on-the-job politics.

Politics is everything to Bush. The good of the nation is nothing. He even rejects entreaties by Republicans to renew a program providing health coverage for poor kids. Bush says it would be a step toward “government-run health care for every American” at the expense of insurers.

Bush, not knowing of Santayana’s warning that those ignorant of history are condemned to repeat it, refuses to see the grim parallel between the quagmire in Vietnam and the quagmire in Iraq. The Vietnam War tore the nation apart. The Iraq War is doing likewise.

Columnist Robert Scheer put it well: “what will go down in history as ‘Bush’s folly’ is that this idiot of a president invaded a country that had absolutely nothing to do with terrorist attacks on 9/11 or threatening America with WMD.”

The administration scales back guideposts governing wetlands. Political appointees in the Interior Department favor industry and landowners over agency scientists. Bush obstructs worldwide efforts on global warming. Guantánamo remains a national and worldwide disgrace with its denial of human rights and America’s precious due process.

Bush abuses executive privilege, trashing all legal and constitutional restraints on his power. He condones torture in the notorious Baghdad prison, Abu Ghraib, and condones “black site” prisons for torture overseas. Bush authorized the CIA to mount a covert black operation to destablize the Iranian government. The administration threatens to attack Pakistan.

The Bush signing statements on acts of Congress make him a dictator, deciding what the law is. That is hardly what the Constitution Framers had in mind.

The administration is rife with fearmongering, corruption, cronyism, incompetence, abuses of power, stonewalling, Constitution-shredding, lawlessness, empire building, privatization of the military and attempts to privatize Social Security. The list is as depressing as it it long.

Bush has succeeded in getting most of the world to hate America, a nation that has lost the last shred of moral authority.

The administration is without honor, without integrity and without even a modicum of respect. No one with a conscience could work for it. The Bush legacy is clear: the worst president in history.

As essayist Mark Morford wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle: “The country is rotting at its core.” Bush is responsible for that rot.

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