Friday, September 09, 2005

Playing the Blame Game: From Cheney to Cheerleader

by Thomas Dimopoulos

You could find them them late Wednesday morning, congregating in coffee
shops on Broadway, mothers with eyes reddened by tears, suffering from
the September separation after bringing their youngest ones to school.

In the collage of faces that make up a portrait of America, these were
some of them. Across the country in Houston, there were others. In the
Astrodome, a place built for baseball games, there are so many people
living in the field of dreams, it has been granted its own ZIP code.
These are the faces of the same portrait. There just may not be any more
tears left to shed.

It was a year ago this month that I sat in Madison Square Garden,
watching and listening to Vice President Dick Cheney making his case for
re-election. I remember it clearly because you could read the sentences
as they scrolled on the teleprompter over Cheney’s shoulder.

“George W. Bush is a man who speaks plainly,” Cheney read. “A man who
means what he says. A person of loyalty and of kindness. A man with a
heart for the weak, the vulnerable and the afflicted.”

That was a busy week for the vice president who only seems to pop up on
rare occasion, a political Punxsutawney Phil, emerging to poke his head
up just enough to predict long, cold winters and scare the bejesus out
of everybody before returning to his burrow.

So it was later in the week that Dick “The Phantom” told a town hall
audience in Des Moines, Iowa, that is was “absolutely essential’ to
“make the right choice” come Election Day.

“Because if we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we will
get hit again,” he told them. “And we’ll be hit in a way that will be
devastating from the standpoint of the United States.”

Vote for Me or Die. That was the message coming out of the Republican
National Convention. We will save you. We will protect. We will preserve.

Eight weeks later, more than 50 million Americans voted these guys in,
largely I’m guessing because they bought the message.

A year later, with the gnarly eye of Katrina more than 300 miles away,
National Hurricane Center director Max Mayfield sounded the alarm that
for years everyone knew was coming.

“If that water breaches the levees, it will take forever to drain it
back out,” Mayfield said. Three days later the levees were breeched. And
in the days that followed, protection was nowhere to be found.

Eventually, President Bush spoke. “I don’t think anybody anticipated the
breach of the levees,” said the man who has proved that his finest hour
in his life’s work was when he was a cheerleader for the high school
football team. There at least, he could clap his hands together and not
hurt anybody.

In 2003, the cheerleader-turned-president nominated Mike Brown as the
head of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Previously, the director of FEMA was a chief rules enforcer for a horse
association. In 2005, Bush rewarded Michael Chertoff for his fundraising
efforts during the 2000 election by nominating him as Brown’s boss.

Chertoff became the director for Homeland Security. After the hurricane
hit, he said Katrina was “breathtaking in its surprise.”

Protect and preserve.

The only thing missing now is some genius to come forward and decree the
floods washing into New Orleans were divine punishment for the sins of
the city known for its jazz, its bourbon and its voodoo.

The only question is who will the genius be? We have gotten to know
quite a few of the characters in the past five years.

Republican Sen. Bill “Diagnosis from a Distance” Frist is a likely
candidate, given his across-the-country analysis of Terri Schiavo’s
condition. Then there is Condoleezza “I believe the title was Bin Laden
Determined to Attack Inside the United States” Rice, who despite actions
to the contrary, hasn’t verbally produced anything dopey in awhile.
There is also an entire pool of Rumsfelds and Roves and DeLays to choose
from. With protection like that, there won’t be much of anything left to

The world, much of which was supportive just four years ago, has been
shaking its head in disbelief ever since. The people in this country, of
course, have been paying for the show. Although many seem to have
forgotten they are footing the bill. For them, hopefully it has been
entertaining watching the dime-store cowboy in action.

What to do now? Maybe he can pull on the old sweater and lead the nation
back on its feet with a rousing cheer.

“Come on people/ Rake ‘em over the coals/ clap, clap, clap/ clap, clap,
clap/ Show ‘em want you got/ Smoke ‘em outta their holes.”…

published in The Saratogian

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

A Mother's Pain

By Thomas Dimopoulos

Earlier this month, on a rain-soaked Friday night in Schuylerville, two men were watching a high school football game and talking about who they were going to vote for on Election Day.

'It's because of the media that everybody thinks things are going bad over there in Iraq,' one snorted. 'They never tell you about any of the good things.'

His friend nodded and watched the home team quarterback fire a perfect spiral down field.

'I'll tell you something else,' the man continued. 'If Kerry wins- mark my words- then for sure you're going to have a draft. You won't see that with Bush. But you don't hear about that. All you ever hear is negative stuff.'

Down the road from the football field and onto Route 4, the sound from the grandstand grows faint. Here, you will find the permanent address of Nathan Patrick Brown. He grew up in South Glens Falls, but his eternal residence is 200 Duell Road, Schuylerville, Section 7, Site 268, Gerald B.H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery.

Brown was killed last April, on Easter Sunday, when a rocket-propelled grenade hit his Humvee in Samsara, Iraq, 60 miles north of Baghdad.
The high-riding, slow-moving vehicles nicknamed 'RPG magnets' by the troops themselves, Staff Sgt. Troy Mechanick told the New York Daily News. Riding in the vehicle alongside Brown - whom he described as 'the perfect kid' - Mechanick was seriously wounded, but lived to tell about it.
There was the promise unfulfilled that the troops would be given armored vehicles when they headed into Iraq. 'They lied to us,' Mechanick said.
When U.S. Rep. John Sweeney visited Iraq last week, he tried to find out why Brown's outfit was sent on patrol in unarmored vehicles. He came home with no answer, he said. He was only told that the lieutenant colonel who sent Brown's unit on patrol has since been relieved of

Nathan Brown would have been 22 years old had he been alive today, the same age as Jenna and Barbara Bush. Most likely, he would be sitting behind his classroom desk at Adirondack Community College. In between studying, there would be the preparations for his wedding to his sweetheart, a Queensbury girl named Sara.
Instead, her final words to him float eternally on a Web site called Fallen Heroes.
'Dearest Nathan Patrick, I loved you with all my heart,' it reads. 'You were my everything. This life will never be the same without you in it.'

Brown's parents were posthumously presented with a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and a New York State Medal of Valor. A letter also arrived from the president. Delivered by a driver from Federal Express.
His mother, Kathy, said the Family Readiness Group out of the National Guard Armory in Glens Falls has been an immense support to her. And she worries that her son's death was for naught. So, she manages the strength to stand up in the middle of a ferocious storm of public opinion to say that this war is no fight for freedom.

'I don't think President Bush is doing a good job, and I don't think he should be re-elected,' said the mother, Kathy Brown. 'He misled us into a war. So what was the reason for going into Iraq? We got Saddam Hussein. But shouldn't we have been going after Bin Laden? Isn't Bin Laden the one who organized the whole thing?'

On the road from the football field to where Nathan Brown rests, if the mother's words are thought simply, as just more 'negative stuff,' there are other words that have defined the invasion of Iraq thus far: Shock and Awe. Slam Dunk. Weapons of Mass Destruction. Abu Ghraib. Mission Accomplished.

'God blessed me with the short time you were here and he blessed me the day I gave birth to you,' posted Kathy Brown on a Web site called Military Chapel, an epitaph in cyberspace from mother to son. 'I always said (I would) take care of you. Now I say watch over all of us.'

Originally published in The Saratogian, Oct. 29, 2004.