4 Degrees of Separation

Until 1947 the U.S. had a peculiar succession plan should disaster strike both the president and the vice-president. The reins of power in those days were to be turned over to the senior cabinet official -- the Secretary of State.

For many ponderous reasons, Congress debated this situation for years and finally enacted a law in '47 which placed 2 additional persons between the the White House and the Cabinet, in the line of Succession, that is. First the Speaker of the House would be the next in line for the office of the presidency and if he or she was unable to serve, it would turn to the Senate president pro tempore.

Clearly having ELECTED representation closer to the succession plan was at least part of the intent. Otherwise, you might end up with something unexpected, like someone, say who's never run for city council, never served a day in military service, never raised a family, or never sat around town hall tables listening to constituents and helping problem-solve their difficulties. You might end up with someone without a clue of diplomacy. You might also end up with someone in the Oval Office who doesn't have a close grip on what most of us call a sense of 'reality' -- a sense of the responsibility for the heartbeat of the nation.

In looking back at the days of the Cold War, the Kruschev regime, the dreaded 'duck & cover' atomic bomb drills of grade school in the 1960's, it's worth reflecting on the people who have held the office of Secretary of State. What negotiating skills, interpersonal warmth and appeal, and modern-day knowledge coupled with wisdom and savvy judgment from a long career did he or she bring to the U.S. - International table?

At any dinner party, you're going to be hard-pressed to get anyone to name 6 out of the last 12 Secretaries of State. They seem to matter a lot when they're in office. When they're gone, unless they're Henry Kissinger who never tires of the limelight, they mostly wait to collect their Presidential Medal of Freedom. Of course, there are exceptions.

What you notice, though, is that nearly all have had lives of deep public service long before being asked to fill the office of Secretary of State. Military service is just one component of public service such as seen in the histories of Dean Rusk, Wm. Rogers, Kissinger, Cyrus Vance, Warren Christopher, and notably Colin Powell. Although in the case of the first woman, Madeleine Albright (the first female Secretary of State --under Clinton), she did not serve militarily. Some Secretaries of State also had distinguished careers as elected officials such as Christian Herter (Gov. of Mass., & Congressman) and Edmund Muskie (Senator). Visibly serving the international diplomatic community through UN appointment is another way in which Secretaries of State in-the-making (in hindsight) have 'earned their spurs' such as William Rogers and Madeleine Albright.

Some recent Secretaries of State have served their administrations well beyond that office. George Schultz uniquely racks a resume as Sec. of State, Sec. of Treasury, and the Sec. of Labor crossing decades of service. James A. Baker III not only served as White House Chief of Staff, he was chair of the president's Economic Policy Committee and was Undersecretary of Commerce.

One cannot help but come away with a view that the last 40+ years worth of Secretaries of State is quite impressive no matter whose administration they served politically. It is not a merely partisan matter. The breadth of talent, personal command, wherewithal, meaningful interpersonal connections and genuine goodwill to draw upon all contributes to a tidy dowry that any Secretary of State brings to bear in the office.

So why are so many people, even those close to the president, having a giant Rolaid moment over his insistence that Dr. Condoleezza Rice (he nicknamed her "the Warrior Princess") is the best "American face to the world" and her nomination for Secretary of State should be expediently supported by Congress?

Recently both Pat Buchanan and Jay Rockefeller (a contrast, let's agree) shared their deep concern over President Bush's nomination of Dr. Rice. (Calling this to question is akin to calling the president's judgment to question; otherwise. . . why go there? The president's deep attachment to Dr. Rice is unsettling, though.)

Their reasons were different, however. Buchanan felt that a Secretary of State must be independent of the White House to be effective. That is, he or she must be able to bristle the White House from time to time if he or she is doing the job well. There's just too much at stake to be a 'Yes man/woman' token spokesperson for the White House. He didn't think that Dr. Rice could be independent. Rockefeller, on the other hand, felt that Dr. Rice's lack of 'sterling' success as a Leader in the NSA would hamper her ability at State and that she wasn't sufficiently 'seasoned' to step into 'shoes that big' (my metaphor, not his). That Dr. Rice's driving influence in international politics should be her professor/mentor, Dr. Albright's late father, Josef Korbel, is just a little more of the peculiar.

Dr. Rice has spent the last recent years grooming the president on foreign affairs particularly. They work hand-in-glove. Heck, they work so closely that she sometimes has been heard to slip and refer to him as her "husband." It's all understandable. And it's also understandable that his zealous laudatory remarks about her illustrious career would cause her to weep on stage. True, I can't picture Kissinger weeping for Nixon, but then it's an emotional time, right?

Having worked for years to see women and minorities advance in public service careers, this is a time when I want to feel good about the appointment of Dr. Rice. I don't though. She might make an amazing undersecretary to the Right person, who, though, I'm not even entertaining because the die is cast, I know.

Is she truly the BEST American to represent the U.S. to the world diplomatically at this critical time? No. It's simply not possible. Look at her credentials. Look at her performance. Look at her historic profile. We know more about her background in academics, ballet, piano, song, and sports than can be fairly articulated by a panel of spokespersons for her as a diplomatic leader.

Where are her supporters -- besides the Bush family that is? Bring out Al Haig, Kissinger, Albright, Baker, Schultz, and deeply examine what former Secretaries of State know must be present for a Sec. of State to make it work on the global front. Who knows better than they do?

Poll some of our strongest allies. We surely have some, right? Shouldn't we care what some of our allies think about, well. . . Anything?

Every cabinet appointment, especially Secretary of State, should not be the opportunity to pay back historic thanks for sticking around and working hard. Think about it -- who will turn the lights out in Texas at this rate?

Not long ago, 'Condi' Rice said in an interview that she would not stay for Bush's 2nd term. Of course, she was with the NSA then. After Powell's departure, is Condi really the answer? I think in fairness to her, the president should cut her some freedom and let her return to academia where she can write about an amazing four years. Because the next four will only read tragically for her, if not the nation, and we can ill afford that now.

Dig deeper Mr. President, you will find the likes of a Colin Powell, George Schultz, or William Rogers if you just scan the horizon beyond your security blanket.

Don't bring us a Warrior Prince or a Warrior Princess; bring us a Secretary of State worthy of the office and the responsibility. Bring us someone who will tell you to take a weekend and go home to Crawford when Karl just wants to meddle in world diplomacy just because he can.

But most of all, in that remote possibility, that you, VP Cheney, Speaker Hastert, and Senate Pres. Pro Tempore Stevens have all eaten a bad batch of oysters some weekend at Kennebunkport, appoint a Secretary of State who will be able to stand and deliver.

We deserve it. We ask it. To be clear, we demand nothing less. After the bad oysters, it's just 4 degrees of separation for the Sec. of State since 1947 -- to the Oval Office.


Saving us FROM Private Ryan?

November 11, Veteran's Day, is already an emotional day for many of us. It's a day of remembering, of honoring those whose contributions in service of their county is brought full center once a year, once again.

Veterans come in all shape and sizes. Some are hospitalized; some don't remember much due to dementia type diseases or brain injuries in combat. Yes, some towns still put on remarkable parades to honor veterans and their families who made contributions on the homefront. Thousands of little flags blow in the winds across meadows and over hills of national cemeteries and town plots of the entire country.

Describing the concept of Veteran's Day is practically like describing Mom's home-made apple pie. Try to find someone to quarrel with it. Pretty dang hard to do. Ma's pie's not likely to go away anytime soon; neither will Veteran's Day.

Then this year, it got squirrely on us thanks to the lawyer-laden Federal Communication Commission (FCC), chaired by Michael K. Powell, coincidentally the son of General Colin Powell. Long before Michael Powell headed the FCC, he became a veteran who was injured during his military service. [Later he became an attorney. Then he was VP's Dick Cheney's policy advisor.]

It merits knowing a little more about the FCC because in anticipation of their Sanctioning (= Big $$ Fine) a television network, many tv stations felt they could not take the risk to show a particular movie due to its Violence and Profanity. This movie is particularly relevant to Veteran's Day and has garnered numerous awards and is recognized as one that has touched both the intellect and hearts of millions including veterans who have seen it since its release a few years ago -- "Saving Private Ryan."

The human miscalculations of war, military ego, human misfortune, life on the razor's edge, noble intent, pursuit of honor, execution of orders, doing the 'right thing,' the interminable legacy of memory on survivors, and putting another's life before your own are all insights learned from a cinematic portrayal of the World War Two D-Day Invasion. In gatherings of friends of a certain age, it was nearly impossible in the months following the movie's release not to have heard the remark that someone's father or uncle had experienced a significant break-through in repressed war memories and after a half century was beginning to talk about what happened so long ago. Peace, for war survivors, was coming although it had taken the shank of life in coming.

Now imagine that in 2004 TV programmers thought that a time when we have troops in harm's way and we have a Veteran's Day right at hand, an unabridged showing of "Saving Private Ryan," might be a good thing for people to see. Of course, we all know that the On/Off switch still exists on television sets and the channel changer button still permits a modification should someone not care to see the programming first displayed.

For my part this time (since I've seen "Ryan" twice), I watched the HBO special, "Last Letters from Iraq," a shorter yet powerful 1-hour program based on actual families and the significance of portions of actual letters they read out loud. The program did not intend to be representative of all of the 1100+ US troops lost in Iraq; it just meant to tell a story of loss, of some of those lost in the line of duty. It was provocative and did its job. I will remember it always. I wiped my eyes in reverence knowing that this hour-long program could be and might be 3-hours long someday soon.

I imagine anyone watching "Private Ryan" in the regions that had the guts to show it were wiping their eyes too. Were they harmed for the watching? Nah?

Were small children really up late watching it? Nah. . .can't imagine it.

Might they have observed an act of violence if they were in the room or heard what we now call 'expletives deleted' for a swear word. Hmmm -- yeah, might have, but probably no worse than heard in the neighbor kids' big brother's bedroom or walking across the high school basketball court during gym class.

And on the other hand, what if a high school English writing class had shown the HBO program "Last Letters Home?" Would anyone have been ruined for life? I don't recall any profanity. There were signs of family frustration and descriptions of learning about loved ones' deaths in painful ways. Families would need help with grief management for a long time to come. Would this disturb a student? I'd hope so. It would mean they are human after all. Should everyone see such things? Without hesitation, yes. Family and community pain is also a cost of war.

Moments, episodes, singular events of sorts are rarely ones that have such power for defining the totality of our lives. We are already 'set' in some direction; we are not aimless in all walks of our lives. And on this course, we just have to 'get a grip.'

But the FCC is the the Ultimate Judge and Jury of What will be in Your Interest and Mine. The commission serves 5-year terms by request of the presidents, with only 3 may be members of the same political party -- which indicates party affiliation is an explicit need-to-know issue.

Besides Chairman Powell, the other FCC commissioners are attorneys except for Michael J. Capps (PhD U.S. History) and Jonathan S. Adelstein. Kathleen Q. Abernathy and Kevin J. Martin both have prestigious law schools and bars behind them.

As a matter of the FCC's 'process engineering' it is not clear why the networks and stations perceive such a hostile relationship with them when they at best want to understand clearly the rules so that they will be on the 'right side of the law.' However, the FCC does not permit them to 'float' a scenario in advance for them to respond to, such as the "Saving Private Ryan" scenario; they will let them know afterword. Later would be. . . well, too late, unless you're Daddy Deep-pockets! So there's a kind of lunacy built into the system that is supposed to be working for you and me that must be extricated.

Listen, do we think there won't be at least a few movies made about our war in Iraq? Do we think that they won't contain scenes of violence and that to be authentic you might not hear profanity? Come on; you can practically get that by listening closely to the imbedded reporters' remarks real-time.

And how do you think it will play to those faces OVER There? Remember them? The ones who fight for us? The ones who dream of us and crave our approval of their performance? The ones who write those "Last Letters Home?"

If we can't let 'Private Ryan' have his due in a cultural setting, it sends the wrong message to present-day troops about what their stories will mean to us when they need to be heard and whether each of them will matter. Get it?

Maybe we're at a point where we don't need the FCC anymore. We may need something for checks and balances, but this kind of tyrrany shouldn't cause the whole USA so much heartburn. Take a Tums instead and do something constructive with your annoyance at Big Brother's zealous oversight once again.

You can email the commissioners by going to their website, www.fcc.gov.

Go ahead, you know you want to; just do it -- Share your thoughts with them!


Free Turd Blossom!

Third-term President Bush (oops, that's 2nd for W and 3rd for their dynasty) implores all Americans including the 55 million people who voted to oust him from office to get behind him. [Note: that was on Nov. 3; by the 4th the tone had chilled considerably.] I think they will. No matter who sits in that oval office, Americans are watching closely, now more than ever.

With particular attention now we're watching the coming announcements of the 'changing of the guard.' The proverbial lazy susan spins on the table -- cabinet positions are up for grabs. Re-up or not? Some have performed poorly. Some are just lackluster, but fecklessly harmless on the surface--not particularly competent, but as good as any placeholder. Others, though, have done damage and they need to go. Ah, the president, the RNC, and even Laura & the Twinsters know who they are. Aren't performance reviews part of public record for government employees? Well, they should be.

But, it's a whale of a time (you know, like you'd see off Kennebunkport in the summers?) to pause and reflect on what a 2nd term is or can be.

Presidential historians, if they're to be given a nickel's worth of credit believe that *this* is when Legacy is Made. What will your Legacy be President Bush?

Here's a thought to help you in this pursuit. Besides considering the rotation and replacement of Cabinet posts, think of this as an Opportunity for a Change of the White House 'guard.' You know, the people who have had your 'back' for a few years and may have injected either intentionally or accidentally a little too much of their personae into your words, style, and decision-making need to enjoy some retirement, some fresh air, you know, a life outside of the inner circle.

Here's a thought: why not Free Karl Rove! Yes, liberate Karl Rove from the shackles of the Washington establishment that have surely consumed his life these last many years. He's done his time as a public servant; we don't want to see anyone drop over in their office you know.

Karl. . .well, he's tough on the outside, of course, we all know that. But you know, his psychological profile is really quite fragile. Damn, he could make an up-and-coming psychiatrist rich, just helping him untangle his convoluted life. Let's face facts: just don't know that old Karl can really take it any longer. It wouldn't do your presidency any good to find Karl flashed in a compromising position on the front page of the Post shown on a boat in the Bahamas with a cute blonde on his lap swigging margaritas, would it? Let's face it, men under endless duress can reach the end of their limit and start to, well. . .do aberrant things, you know, like sitting under the wheels of Air Force One, to name a recent example. We'd hate to see poor Karl, the orphan, the former nerdy & pathetic friendless kid who didn't graduate college (but, wait, didn't he get a military deferment for college?) who somehow became your Senior Intelligensia, multiple-married Karl might just blow his cork or something on L St. some afternoon. Hey, here's your buddy -- mano-a-mano, don't let him down!

Sure, his campaign dirty-tricks are legendary starting from his youthful days (Manchester Guardian, March 9, 2004) but who among us doesn't have a few 'indiscretions', right? Well, sure, he took his lessons to the road and advised people cross country on the How-To shenanigans and political ploys of the likes of the Segretti-Nixon maneuvers (W. Post, Aug. 10, 1973), but heck, he never told anyone to model him. Karl just told them how not to get caught. Hey, he was young. But, was there ever someone looking out for him when George H. W. Bush took him under wing, saved young Karl from himself (practically speaking), and hauled his arse to Tejas, where he learned to hang and twang with his new 'family.' Talk about falling into a shitload of luck! So even if he's not formally educated, he got the education of a lifetime there in Texas while helping the 'family' and then Laura take his 'brother' by the shirt-tails and groomed him into what's now our Commander in Chief. Voila! Like so much magic, good luck had finally come Karl's way and you can't blame any poor soul who was cursed with his lot in life for grabbing, clinging onto those Bushes, right? But. . . it's time to get back to that Legacy Thing. Sometimes, when people are just hammering away year after year they lose touch with judgment. Really now, for a fellow like Karl, after all, to be the creator of the new Moral Compass of our country is something right out of Mad Magazine.
He's served a valuable purpose being First Buddy, your Chief Advisor, and an intimate one at that. Imagine being able to speak for our president, metaphorically he can climb inside W's brain and finish his sentences for him. Now that's a pal for ya'. Heck, they're so close, Pres. Bush even has 2 Nicknames for Karl -- don't even know that sweet Laura has more than 1 (but in this case she might be grateful). The President calls Karl the "Boy Genius," and you can imagine how that triumphant sound feels rolling over Karl's proud shoulders in meetings when he's outfoxed the hunters. The 2nd nickname is named after that flower found all over Texas trails that just sort of springs up from cattle dung -- "Turd Blossom," Karl's called. That good ol' Turd Blossom -- well. . . he's been quite a Senior Advisor and an awesome political campaigner. But the campaigning is over now for you and it's time for a Fresh Start with some fresh blood and some clean, fresh records, not tarnished with some tawdry pasts that muddy up those lonesome trail streams like you find all over cattle-dung-bound Texas.
So, please, be humane, FREE KARL ROVE from his demons and from the burdens of the White House and serving you so intensely. You know it's true; he can't separate You from Himself and frankly, some of us think that's just bordering on a kind of sickness.

We're behind you Mr. President; we've got 'your back' now. See, we've got your best interests at heart because trust us, they're OUR best interests too.


The Power of the Red, White & Blue

A parade is best enjoyed by two or more. Thank God, the election is over and no matter how we voted, individually, we voted and it's over -- for four more years. Turn off any channel that's already talking 2008 -- too soon! We need national recovery, national healing, unity of purpose, and getting back to the business of the country's business. While the media commentators kept a lively pace for hours through the night and into the morning, flipping their visual aids of maps with whirling red states and blue states, those beige, and some 'green' ones around the gills, finally. . . i t i s o v e r. No matter how it has concluded or even if it had ended differently, it takes more than 'red' states alone or 'blue' states alone to be the USA. That grand old flag has room for both colors and we need to remember that Division is what made our country fall once before from within. So HERE'S to the Parade that we all need, real or imagined, to celebrate that IT's over and we can reclaim some normalcy again.


"Take a Good Look At My Face. . ."

Sometimes a tune gets stuck in your brain like: "People say I'm the life of the party 'cause I tell a joke or two; Although I might be laughing loud and hearty, Deep inside I'm blue; So take a good look at my face -- You'll see my smile looks out of place; If you look closer it's easy to trace the tracks of my tears." and then I just wait until it takes me where it's apparently supposed to. In this case, to -- www.militarycity.com.

This is an all-too handy site for looking up what are called the "Faces of Valor" -- the fallen in Iraq.

Since we're up to more than 1,100 U.S. fatalities now it's way past time to get to know some of these faces and clusters of faces more closely than we have heretofore. Some weeks, they dropped so quickly, it's seemed like a blur, didn't it? And if you don't have an immediate member of your family or a friend or an associate overseas in harm's way then "collateral losses" can feel, well, foreign. So I suggest you pull up a good map while you're at it. There are many online, such as the www.defendamerica.mil/iraq example. This isn't going to cost you a penny, just a few moments of your thoughts, your conscience, and possibly your prayers -- of course, that's all up to you.

In my case, having tracked all sorts of soldiers stories and groupings of soldiers incidents, I decided to take a closer look at all of the fatalities associated with the military base closest to my home. Within 300 or so miles of any of you, though, there's got to be such a military base. Why don't you follow along and replicate my exercise?

You look down the list and notice obvious characteristics such as those below. You can't help but wonder about the men and women whose names appear. With many there are pictures too; sometimes they were smiling.

> surname (ethnicity)
> rank
> unit assigned
> age
> home state
> enemy fire, accident, 'friendly fire,' under-investigation, suicide (an inexplicably high rate which nobody in the DOD wants to talk about)
> location killed

And then you take a highlighter and Dot the map where they fell. Then look back on the U.S. map and Dot the map of the hometowns where flags were at half-mast and families were left broken apart forever. Such a condensed area where they fell and such a sprawling country we are.

My list is long. Only a couple were our 'own' local residents. My list is made up of your Marines from DuQuoin, Illinois, Vancouver, Washington, Milford, Mass., Scio, NY, Mountain Grove, Missouri, Jefferson, Ohio, Ottawa, Kansas, Edinburg, Texas, and several other states. You shared them with us right here for awhile before sharing them with the Nation and then the World. Now they rest with the warriors of all time and God himself rules dominion.

Take a moment and get to know them before they go. Should they ever appear in a newspaper near you, get to know their faces. Remember their dependent children if you can (financially) and the myriad of lives forever compromised by their devotion to duty. Their execution of orders, of delivering democracy to the post-war occupational defenses of an unforgiving land, leaves an endless "track of tears."

The beat goes on. . .

Do I See A Hand Up At the Back?

You've heard it, someone saying, "I got out of jury duty by telling them. . ." Of course, there are a few valid excuses for not serving a civic role like jury duty. Mostly, though, people are just escaping personal inconvenience and putting their burden on someone else. Shame on you. Shame on me. But the country needs more than jury duty volunteers; they needed us during this election as poll workers. See, we were a half million poll workers short and that's not trivial given record electorate turnout. Unless we permit Privatization of the Election Poll Workers (Holy Gadzooks, what a great business plan!), we can't expect that companies are just going to let workers mosey on down to 'help out' out of the goodness of their hearts. Nah, won't fly. We can DO so much better. While we're examining how to DO better, put people to work, and build a better Democracy 'Plaza' [and I don't mean the one in NYC], we need to think about EQUITY -- sharing the responsibilities of democracy, b e y o n d the domestic front. If we can get workers to jury duty, then to election/poll duty, we can get them to International Service duty too. You know, let's give more of those 18-30 year olds who are serving abroad a break to come home for awhile while you and I temporarily fill positions in the commissary, supplies, laundry, transport, medics, chaplaincy and the like. Heresy? Nah. . . Just think about it. All of these major corporations that have invested millions in corporate training directed at following procedures, filing reports, customer service, and quality engineering like Dell Computer, Southwest Airlines, Starbucks, Walmart, Ford, Merck (they may have some time on their hands), and P&G. These are all skills that the military would highly value in non-combat roles. A month's exchange could be wildly enlightening to civilians about BOTH the needs of the military and those of occupied people. Going back to wearing that skimpy blue vest might look like heaven on earth after wearing 40 lbs. of armour. But most importantly, it's a way to give back and to share the load -- you know -- what we do when we act upon our civic duties by serving on Juries, by Voting and apparently by participating in bringing Democracy to another country. . . ready or not.


The Tao of Fonzarelli

Early in Geo. H. W. Bush's presidency (the father), he pined for a "kinder, gentler nation," wishing that we-the-People were more like the Waltons (remember the depression-era barefoot clan in the hills who never had health insurance?) and less like the Simpsons. The power of TV, pop culture, even made it into the consciousness of the elite heads of state.

Nobody's recently suggested that we hunker down with the Waltons' reruns as we enter the final hours of the election race, but for my money, I'm thinking we'd be better off with a dose of Happy Days anyway. You know, the wisdom of the Fonz could go a long way about now. Or what about Gary Coleman's 'Arnold' ("what [are] you talkin' about?"] to help us decipher last minute political statements? That scenes from MASH remind us of parallel real-time inadequacies of troops' protection in Iraq would keep you up at night though. Art imitating life, you know.

Just another chunk of time and then another until we-the-People can pick up the pieces and move on in some direction or another without the political ads, 11th hour accusations, and the not-so-subtle appearances of OhnoOsama Productions.

Sigh. . .click. . .click. . .click. . .on one of these channels 'Touched by an Angel' must be playing right now.