October 25, 2004
Bush from Abroad: The BullyKAMPALA, Uganda -- I met a woman here from Houston. She's been here 10 years or so. She came here as a dentist and now runs her own very successful tour company. Someone asked her how she feels about the U.S. election. She said, "All my relatives in the states are very pro-Bush. They think he's the best thing since hair spray."
She described a kind of political socialization in Uganda in which local militia type organizations are formed in which the people use wooden guns and go through drills. They only have wooden guns, so it's all just pretend. But it's used to socialize people politically, create good citizens, so to speak.
"I feel like my relatives in the states have had the same thing happen to them through the TV. They are all so gung-ho about Bush. But when you've been out of the states for a while you see things differently. Back there people they don't really have problems. Maybe you couldn't get the shirt you wanted or something. Here 60 percent of the people don't have plumbing. They don't have running water. Here you see real problems and you look for ways to solve them. When you see Bush from this point of view, from some of the other news services like the BBC that are not American, you see Bush more as a bully, as an aggressor, as someone who doesn't want to really try to find solutions to the real problems, but just wants to strike out."
And meanwhile ... John Dean warns of the coming post-election chaos. Hang on to your hats. Bush Relatives for Kerry. Not-kissing cousins who don't drink the Kool Aid. Daily Kos maps out the electoral vote.
TALKING TO MYSELF
Wee Hours, Halloween,
October 31, 2004
Reimmersion -- Returning to the United States is never easy. It's always great to see New York no matter when or where I've been, but it's hard to see what is happening to my country.
In the week since I left, the autumn leaf change had progressed impressively. The display is rapidly nearing its spectacular peak. The trees in the suburban countryside between JFK airport and New York were almost iridescent with their greens turning to purple, bright yellows and oranges, muted with the misty, low-lying clouds.
Queens' one skyscraper had its head hidden in the fog and Manhattan was invisible practically until we were in it.
With New York's great ethnic diversity, you never fully leave any place. If you return from Asia, there are plenty of Asians to make you feel at home back home. If you return from Africa, you will certainly see plenty of Afro Americans. But there are qualities about the Ugandans you will not easily find in the U.S.
It was strange to be gone from the U.S. so close to the election. I felt I should be home working hard for the election, but I had to go. At the same time, it was good perspective to see the U.S. at this time from so far away.
A symposium on cultural and ecotourism is not a place one expects to find a lot of Bush supporters, and in fact I never heard a positive word about Bush while I was there. I did, to be fair, hear second hand that a particular woman who works in Uganda's government is a big supporter of Bush. And she is a remarkable, splendid woman, I must say, but perhaps misinformed.
Hardly anyone will express an inkling of understanding why Americans would support Bush. I ran into people from all over the world and saw news broadcasts and papers from different countries. The main reaction from the people I talked was bewilderment as to why the U.S. seems to have gone stark raving mad.
Newsmedia are more cautious and moderated in their reporting, but even in conservative European press like the Financial Times there seems to be a sort of repressed horror about how disastrous the Bush presidency is and how Americans don't seem to get it.
The U.S. election is front page news in the heart of Africa as it is everywhere else. No election has ever had so many eyes glued, so many fates entangled. There is no doubt about this assertion.
But no one who is not in the heart of America can begin to comprehend the state of information deprivation of Americans. I have to keep returning to the awesome power of the media propaganda system.
The top story on page 2 of Saturday's Financial Times begins thusly: "President George W. Bush will seek re-election on Tuesday with the US Stock market some 15 percent lower than at the time of his inauguration four years ago.
"Business headlines during his presidency have been dominated by accounting scandals, the record-size bankruptcies of Enron and WorldCom and the investigations by Eliot Spitzer, New York attorney general, into conflicts of interest in the brokerage, mutual fund and now insurance industries."
Hardly a conservative endorsement of the Bush presidency.
The headlines continue to be catastrophic right up to election day. The discovery of the hundreds of tons of explosive weapons that vanished under the watch of the U.S. military. Bush indignantly turns that into an issue of Kerry "once again criticizing the actions of the U.S. military..."
Even reporters who have made their absurd careers by blowing exuberant praise for the administration seem lackluster and at a loss for something positive to say. Al Sharpton confronts Bush's reptilian campaign chairman Marc Racicot and Racicot looks like an idiot, wilting as he tries to make the case that the latest catastrophe is all about Kerry being such a lying opportunist and who the hell knows if the weapons were ever really there -- and this is after the vivid video footage of the army inspecting the stockpiles has been aired.
So they don't know bout no damn weapons, what the hell? They know where the oil is, that's what counts... !! They just look so damn bad, how can anyone hold on to some faith in them? What is it? It is so hard to believe or comprehend.
I developed a bit of hope while I was away, seeing the U.S. race from a distance. I had a little vision, maybe it is purely wishful thinking, and only an alternate reality that will never manifest, but I saw election day a massive showing of voter power, people coming out to make their feelings known who have never appeared on the official political radar screen before. Young people who have just reached voting age, and people who never participated before who were outraged and ignited by events of recent years, beginning with the Supreme Court stopping the counting of votes and appointing a president, and through outrage after outrage, countless in number, peaking with the attack and invasion of a defenseless country on false pretenses, and then even botching that with the biggest, most expensive and serious military in the world.
I remembered the recent article by Alan Abramowitz that documented how far off the polls were last time, how the pollsters had Bush so hyped up about the possibility of winning California they had him out there spending precious final campaign hours in a state where it was nothing more than bluster that made him think he had a chance to win. Then election day, all the inaccurate predictions are quickly dismissed and forgotten.
I have a sense that a great deal is going to show itself on election day that the political/media establishment is not ready for, has not been tuned into. And if it is true, then the margin could be strong enough to make all the legal questions moot. We'll see. I could be way off.
Certainly there are still many representatives of America the terrified, America the confused. American the Misled.
So I'm back in Hoboken and I'm in a foggy jet-lagged state of exhaustion, unshaven, with airline processed air and bacterial cultures still exuding from my skin, running a few errands before going home to unwind and I see a table set up on Washington Street with a with a Bush Cheney sign big enough to crush a horse leaning against the bank building. I am always curious how these people think, so I crossed the street and approached the table.
A tidy woman with a mouth that looks like it just ingested a sour lime rind-and-all says, "So -- are you a Bush supporter?"
"No, I'm not," I say, "And I always wonder how anyone can be."
"Well, I wonder ... how anyone ... I wonder how anyone can support anything else, a man who has no plan."
"I would support you -- with no plan, never having met you -- before I would support Bush. He's a catastrophe. What makes people think he will keep them safe when it's been the most horrendous time in anyone's memory?"
"Oh there were worse times, I remember worse times," she says.
"No there weren't. There hasn't been anything nearly as bad as this." She may think she's older than me, but I know she doesn't remember any times I don't remember.
"The 90s were worse," she asserts. "We were attacked five times."
"Yeah, right." I sneer involuntarily. "How come no one knew about it? Because it was effectively stopped. I'll take the 90s any time."
"See, I can't talk to you. You're not here to listen. That's the trouble with liberals. You just make faces and you don't listen."
"You categorize me and then start criticize me as a 'liberal because I made a face. Why don't you just make your point?"
"It's the fastest growing economy in history. And that's after Bush took over in a recession," she says.
"Come on. When Bush took over there was a huge surplus, now we have a record deficit. You call that conservative economics?"
Another woman pipes in, "No, it's true, it was a recession when Bush took office."
This is a woman who has been involved in local politics for a long time, ran for board of education once. I was under the impression she had a brain. I thought she was probably there having a dialogue with the Bush Cheney people. Now I find out she's one of them. EEK!
"No, it's a great economy. There's a lot of building going on. Look what's happening in Hoboken," she says.
Indeed, there's a ton of building going on in Hoboken. A few developers and politicians going to jail over it, in fact, and probably plenty more who should. The parking, water, sanitation problems of a massively growing population are sitting on the back burner right now, but there is plenty of building going on, no doubt.
"Yeah, some people have money, that doesn't make a good economy," I say. "So what about the war? You like the war?"
This is where we really start to go into outer space.
"Yes. Well... I mean no I don't like any war, but where would this country be without war? Where would we be without our revolutionary war?" she asks.
"Whoa, that's quite a leap. This has nothing to do with our revolutionary war. There was no reason to attack Iraq."
"Yes, there was," she says. "Because he wasn't keeping the peace," she says, "he" meaning Saddam Hussein, one of the Iraqis who has actually survived.
"Well it was a lot more peaceful under him than it is now," I say.
"No it wasn't. He wasn't keeping the peace and he was even playing games with the U.N."
"Oh come on! You could attack practically every country on earth with a justification like that. That's crazy. How would you like it if someone blew this town to bits? How would you feel?"
"They already did," she says, "the World Trade Center is right over there and I had friends..."
"The Iraqi people didn't attack the World Trade Center! So someone attacks the World Trade Center and you kill 100,000 Iraqi civilians?" [see Reuters "Civilian death toll in Iraq exceeds 100,000"]
"Well, they didn't do it, but the terrorists are gathering there," she says.
"Yeah, now they are, because it's a big battleground," I say.
She returns to beefing up her case about how great it is over there, how great Bush's exploits are going. They had elections in Afghanistan, she says. "The reason it wasn't reported was that it was a success and there were no problems."
"It was reported," I say, "And there were problems. We've killed 100,000 Iraqi civilians. Do you get that? Does that mean anything to you? That's the number the Lancet medical journal gives, and even Tony Blair won't challenge the number."
She's still rattling on about how great it is in Iraq. "It's not that bad over there," she says. "I have friends over there and they call me. They're putting in a new fiberoptics network..."
"Yeah, right. Goodbye."
More on Uganda:
Good Vibes in Uganda