Monday, May 9, brings us the sixtieth anniversary of the defeat of Nazism in Europe. I remember the first VE Day in 1945, sitting on my father’s shoulders on the side of some London street, watching the tanks rumble by and a soldier in a tin hat popping up and down in the hatch.
Each time May 9 rolls around Americans have to be reminded who did most of the fighting and who bore most of the losses. In 1944 the Allied forces commanded by Eisenhower faced 53 German divisions in western Europe. The Red Army had to deal with 180 German divisions in the east. The US lost about 400,000 in its armed forces, Britain, 260,000. Historians have been revising upwards Soviet military deaths, to a level as high as 14 million and beyond, with estimates of civilian casualties ranging from 7 to 20 million.
You can say and many do that many among these millions died because Stalin’s generals were willing to sacrifice division upon divisions in order to obey the schedules demanded by a psychotic tyrant. True no doubt, but that doesn’t alter the sacrifice or the immensity of the numbers lost on the eastern front in the defeat of fascism, or the fact that it was the Soviet Union that played the prime role in defeating Hitler.
Not for the first time, the White House’s contribution to these commemorations of victory over Hitler has been to indulge in seamy political antics. On his way to a D-Day memorial in 1988 Reagan stopped off to salute the dead at Bitburg, including members of Hitler’s SS. Bush Jr is playing to the Baltic and Georgian galleries.
Roberta Manning, professor of history at Boston College, has a good comment on these antics:
“For Russians, Belorussians, Ukrainians and many Caucasians and Central Asians, like the Jews, World War II was a Holocaust, given the magnitude of the sheer human sacrifice now estimated to range for the former USSR anywhere from 28-35 million war dead. If Israel can mourn the loss of six million of people without having anyone throwing the ongoing plight of the Palestinians in their face, surely Russia and the Soviet successor states have the right to do the same.
“There is no Putin problem. The problem is Bush, whose advisors finally realized that it is easier to divide the EU over anti-Russianism than over Iraq. Dividing the EU over Russia is essential to the global strategy of the Republican Party’s increasingly powerful and ever more totalitarian Neo-Conservative-Born-Again Ideologues who openly espouse US-Evangelical domination of the world and its resources in the 21st Century. A unified EU that develops close ties to a democratic Russia would prove a potent obstacle to these plans. The real problem of the world today is to manage America’s decline while dealing with an ideologically driven US leadership that lives in a world of fantasy and cannot deal with the rise of China and India much less a real European Union no longer under its political control. We should remember that United States never once criticized Yeltsin’s dictatorship.”
Blair Again (But Galloway Too)
Blair’s back in 10 Downing Street for another spell, as everyone predicted. In former times his lead by some 65 or so votes in Parliament would have been regarded as substantial, but not after the colossal majorities of recent years.
A couple of silver linings: the election prompted the leaking -to the London Sunday Times of the smoking gun memo described by Ray McGovern on this site last week, consisting of the official minutes of a briefing by Richard Dearlove, then head of Britain’s CIA equivalent, MI-6. in which he briefed Blair and his top intelligence advisors on what he’d just been told in Washington by CIA director Tenet ad others, to the effect that President Bush had resolved to remove Saddam Hussein by launching a war that is to be “justified by the conjunction of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.” Period. Dearlove added dryly: “The intelligence and facts are being fixed around the policy.” We knew it and we’ve said it all along, but it’s nice to have the former head of the British Secret Service put it formally on the record.
The other bit of silver lining is the victory of George Galloway, expelled from the Labor Party for his furious opposition to Blair and to the war on Iraq. Galloway chose to run as the candidate of the Respect Party in East London against the official Labor candidate, Oona King who had supported the war against the wishes of the majority of her constituents.
As Omar Waraich reported for CounterPunch on this site, “The East End of London used to have a strong radical tradition. It was where another Scotsman, Keir Hardie had founded the Labour Party. It was where Sylvia Pankhurst had established a political base and ran for parliament, and it was where living Labour legend Tony Benn’s father had been an MP. Today, Bethnal Green and Bow is one of London’s poorest constituencies with one of the largest Muslim populations.” In another recent dispatch on Blair’s poodle, Billy Bragg, Waraich recounted how “The Battle for Brick Lane has elicited more attention than any other constituency in this election. While Britain’s national papers are providing coverage almost every day, the Washington Post, Al-Jazeera, The Bangladesh Independent, and an entire slew of other foreign media outlets have also descended on the East End constituency of Bethnal Green & Bow where Oona King is being taken on by the former Labour MP, George Galloway and his Respect party.”
Bragg was not the only high-profile figure to support King. Three senior cabinet ministers canvassed for her. Cherie Blair issued clarion calls for Galloway to be given “a bloody nose” and, Waraich told us, “the broadsheet bombardiers, Nick Cohen, Johann Hari and Christopher Hitchens, have scribbled furiously in Oona’s favour.” With such friends, how could Oona not lose?
How I pity my long-suffering British friends! Now they’ll have to endure month after tedious month of headlines about Gordon Brown’s schemes to evict Blair. The great day may come and of course Brown will offer more of the same. I’ll always remember the anguish of Eddie Miliband, who worked for the Chancellor at one point. Eddie spent some time here in the US at The Nation, and writhed in shock when JoAnn Wypijewski put to him the question I traditionally asked all arriving Nation interns assigned to me, “Is your hate pure?”. Eddie (who wasn’t my intern) thought it was wrong think of pure hatred as something laudable, though for anyone contemplating the ever-downward path of British social democracy it’s the most comprehensible of emotions.
I first heard the phrase from the late Jim Goode, who used to edit Penthouse. Jim was gay and it was always funny to come upon him in his editorial lair surrounded by photographs of naked women, gazing at them with distaste as he selected the Penthouse Pet on the month. He shouted the “hatepure” question after me one time as I left his office, heading down the corridor to call on Anna Wintour who worked there at the time. I always liked Anna and was distressed to find her crying in her office. It turned out she was upset at some scurvy treatment she’d endured at the hands of this same Hitchens. I comforted her by saying that soon the wound would be but a distant memory and she would soar to better things. And so she did, becoming the editor of Vogue, and empress of the fashion world at whose frown designers and writers tremble to this day.
The Mark of the Beast
The Reagans need not have changed their street address. It turns out the mark of Antichrist is not 666 but 616. From Great Beast to Area Code, (though this doesn’t explain why the 68 Dodge Dart I once owned with a California tag of 666 nearly killed me several times before it passed into the hands of Victor of San Leandro).
Using new photographic techniques, a know-it-all team of classicists has been reviewing the manuscripts chucked onto various rubbish dumps by the citizens of Oxyrhynchus, particularly a new fragment from the Book of Revelation, written in ancient Greek and dating from the late third century.
Professor David Parker, Professor of New Testament Textual Criticism and Paleography at the University of Birmingham, told The Independent that 616 is the correct number, a coded reference to the Emperor Caligula, an emperor the early Christians held in low esteem.
If you’re wondering 616 is an area code in south west Michigan, a region replete with militia groups who are probably wondering whether this is all a plot by the Pentagon. Pending further developments, CounterPunch will stay with 666, a number freighted with tradition.
The Decline of the Left (Chapter MMMMCCLVII)
Justifying my long years of public devotion to her intelligence and beauty (also the fact that she is the frail hawser linking G.W. Bush to reality) Laura Bush fired off some splendid jokes at the annual White House Correspondents’ dinner scripted mostly by Landon Parvin? And don’t start whining about her stuff being “scripted”. You think FDR wrote that thing about the Four Freedoms, or Dwight Eisenhower made up that phrase about the military industrial complex? It’s what they decide to read out that counts, not who wrote it.
You don’t think Laura chose some edgy lines? “George and I are complete opposites — I’m quiet, he’s talkative; I’m introverted, he’s extroverted; I can pronounce nuclear. …”
She accurately called her ghastly mother-in-law “actually more like … hmm … Don Corleone” and told the crowd, “I am married to the president of the United States, and here’s our typical evening: Nine o’clock, Mr. Excitement here is sound asleep, and I’m watching ‘Desperate Housewives’ — with [Vice President Dick Cheney’s wife] Lynne Cheney,” Mrs. Bush said. “Ladies and gentlemen, I am a desperate housewife. I mean, if those women on that show think they’re desperate, they ought to be with George.
“One night, after George went to bed, Lynne Cheney, [Secretary of State] Condi Rice, [Bush adviser] Karen Hughes and I went to Chippendales,” she said, referring to a strip club where women tuck cash into male dancers’ skimpy thongs. “I wouldn’t even mention it except [Supreme Court Justices] Ruth Ginsberg and Sandra Day O’Connor saw us there. I won’t tell you what happened, but Lynne’s Secret Service code name is now ‘Dollar Bill.’ ”
The reaction of the progressive crowd? Laura’s jokes were too strong a diet for The Nation’s wimpy David Corn, who quavered to Fox, “It was very risqué. I was wondering what the social conservatives and James Dobson had to say about all these jokes that were laced with sexual innuendo. Not a very family-values-type speech. I’m not sure I want to explain a lot of those jokes to my 4-year-old.”
Imagine being taught to read on an exclusive diet of Nation editorials. When they reach maturity (which comes at twelve these days) every time the little Corns come across a cuss word their hands will shake so much they’ll have to sit on them.
Laura rolled out a very old joke about mistaking a stallion for a cow and trying to milk it. This sent other pwogs scurrying to their laptops to issue an appeal to pwogwessives everywhere to complain about Laura to the FCC.
Let me say this on the record: in a race between HRC and Laura for the White House I’d vote for Laura every time. The record shows she’s antiwar, pro choice and since she’s worked in libraries she’s seen the seamy side of life. My old friend Laurie Townsend used to spend half her mornings at the Jefferson branch of the Detroit Public Library telling geezers to “put it away”. Maybe that’s how Laura and George started dating, when he was in there practicing his reading skills. (Remember, when Brendan Gill visited the Bush compound in Kennebunkport, the only thing he could find to read was “The Fart Book”.)
By contrast, HRC is running for the White on a platform of attacking sex and immigrants. Politically Hilary’s out there in the Arizona desert with the Minutemen, Guarding Our Borders. (Amid all the uproar about the Minutemen, who remembers Cesar Chavez’s war against immigrants and the infamous Wet Line organized on Chavez’s orders by the Farmworkers. I guess we’ll have to stand by for Frank Bardacke’s long-awaited book on Chavez and the Farmer Workers which, when Frank is finally done, will be up there on the shelf as one of the landmark political histories of our time.
More on Big Woody
The ivory-bill woodpecker remains huge news in the bird world. Last week I wrote about the politics of the “discovery” of this elusive bird and several CounterPunchers send me interesting notes, one of them offering this useful gloss on why Big Woody’s habitat disappeared:
“As Birds of North America puts it, ‘During World War I, Northern industries were getting the bulk of money spent for the war effort, and Southern politicians demanded their share. A bill was passed to build 1,000 ships of southern pine, sounding the death knell for remaining virgin pine forests. It was considered patriotic to cut the forests, although only 320 ships were ever built and none saw war action. World War II was the final blow.'”
Most likely, eco-tourism will now drive Big Woody out of south-east Arkansas. Already the inhabitants of the run-down Arkansas town of Cotton Plant are gearing up for the hoped-for tide of birders.
The town is just 10 miles off Interstate 40, between Memphis and Little Rock. You can tell when you’ve hit the state line, heading west because the quality of the road top declines markedly. Looking at the on-ramps, you can tot up the contributions of the concrete lobby as you roll along.
Of course it’ll be a nightmare for anyone who likes to fish or hunt. Since Big Woody went public on April 28, Fish and Game has closed 5,000 acres of popular hunting and fishing areas within the Cache wildlife refuge for the bird’s protection. As one Fish and Game official blithely conceded in one news report, “I’m sure there are some commercial fishermen and some subsistence fishermen, who fish to feed their families, living there.”
One seasoned birder, Mary Scott, kept quiet about her convincing sighting of a male ivory-bill, in the spring of 2003. She stopped lecturing about her search for Big Woody and closed down her web diary on the topic.
As she wrote on her site last week, “It was immediately obvious to me that I could only diminish the future hopes for the ivory-billed woodpecker by making my sighting public.” She reported her sighting to local wildlife officials and the Cornell Ornithology lab and then kept her mouth shut.
God help Big Woody now. Mind you, there have been credible sightings of the ivory-bills in Cuba in the 1980s and the early 1990s, but those are Commie woodpeckers and we don’t count them.
Irma Thomas , Ike Turner and Audrey Madison
A highlight of the New Orleans Jazzfest was the tribute to Sister Rosetta Tharpe, courtesy of Marcia Ball, Tracy Nelson, Mairia Muldaur, Angela Strehli and special guest Irma Thomas. They were all strong, but Irma Thomas blew everyone away with “Beams of Heaven”. Not a dry eye in the Blues tent, including her own.
On a less portentous level, a big moment for me was Ike Turner’s set, also in the Blues tent, a day earlier,
Ike was terrific. Everything was wonderfully tacky, from the one-size-fits-all maroon suits of his band, looking like fugitives from a bad early 60s movie about Billy Haley, to Ike’s own sequined, white, purple and gold jumpsuit like a hand-me down from a late-Elvis wardrobe. His current Tina-like is (though you wouldn’t learn this from Ike, sparse with acknowledgement of his fellow musicians) Audrey Madison, gorgeous and with a big voice. Also a Tina-type wig. Some in the crowd thought this tasteless and left. Ike claimed that he just discovered her in Memphis three months ago. Jeffrey St Clair heard him say the same thing in Portland, Oregon back in 2001.
Ike was a great musician as always, on guitar and piano. Of course he sang Rocket 88, deemed by many the first rock ‘n roll song, released in 1951 (and immediately covered by Bill Haley). By the end the act had the initially cool crowd roaring. Ms Audrey, with her big voice, tumultuous bosom and increasing confidence, had a lot to do with it, though you wouldn’t know this from the guy in the band who roared into the mike during Audrey’s huge finale, “Ike Turner! Ike Turner!”
It was a little weird but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
Entrapping the Mayor of Spokane
Mayor James E. West of Spokane, a Republican and a hammer of the gays, has been accused by the Spokane Spokesman-Review of using what the AP story excitingly termed “the trappings of his office” to establish relations with someone he mistakenly thought to be an 18-year-old man on the Web site Gay.com. The man was actually a private computer expert hired by The Spokesman-Review as part of a sting operation.
It sure looks like entrapment to me. If the FBI had done this sort of thing (as in fact they do) we’d all be howling our heads off. The mayor denies all. He also says he’s had sex with adult men, as no doubt have many others in public life in the Inland Empire. Remember how tacky we thought all the charges leveled by Republicans against Tom Foley? West sounds like a self-hater in the Bauman mould.
I remember the mayor’s office in Spokane twenty-odd years ago when I enjoyed the only official welcome to a mayor’s office I’ve ever been accorded. I had a speaking date in Spokane to denounce Reagan’s war on Nicaragua and the lady mayor invited me to her office and gave me a cordial greeting on behalf of the town. Obviously the mayor’s office has gone down in the world since then but the Spokesman-Review’s tactics seem disgusting. I tend to go by my friend John Scaglioti’s rule. If someone has a political record of persecution of gays then that person is fair game for being outted if they turn out to be a closet case. But outting is very different from entrapment.
Footnote: Here are the words of Beams of Heaven, by Charles A. Tindley:
Beams of heaven, as I go,
Through this wilderness below
Guide my feet in peaceful ways
Turn my midnights into days
When in the darkness I would grope
Faith always sees a star of hope
And soon from all life’s grief and danger
I shall be free some day
I don’t know how long ’twill be
Nor for what the future olds for me
But this I know, if Jesus leads me
I shall get a home some day
Often times my sky is clear
Joy abounds without a tear
Though a day so bright begun
Clouds may hide tomorrow’s sun
There’ll be a day that’s always bright
A day that never yields to night
And in its light the streets of glory
I shall behold some day
Harder yet may be the fight
Right may often yield to might
Wickedness awhile may reign
Satan’s cause may seem to gain
There is a God that rules above
With hand of power and heart of love
If I am right, He’ll fight my battle
I shall have peace some day
Burdens now may crush me down
Disappointments all around
Troubles speak in mournful sigh
Sorrow through a tear stained eye
There is a world where pleasure reigns
No mourning soul shall roam its plains
And to that land of peace and glory
I want to go some day.