Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Fifteen Years After Shock and Awe in Baghdad and Vintage Murfin Verse

Americans watched the gloies of Shock and Awe live on their cable new stations.

Yesterday marked the 15th anniversary of George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq and the unleashing of Shock and Awe on Baghdad, all covered live for your entertainment on your favorite cable news network.  Like a quickie Vegas marriage there was an initial thrill but things began to go very, very badly after a while.
We Americans tend to think of our own wasted lives and years, and the chaos that roils the region to this day.  But as Iraqi author Sinan Antoon who was a dissident in his country and who has lived in the U.S. since 1991 reminded us in an op-ed piece  on the anniversary in the New York Times reminds us, it is time for Americans to stop thinking about the Iraq War as a blunder.  He reminds us of the real victims, “15 years ago America destroyed my county.”
With typical narcissism I often thought of the invasion of Iraq as George W.’s nasty late birthday present to me—coming just three days after I turned 54 years old in the safety of McHenry County.
Less than a month before the bombs fell record numbers marched against an Iraq War in Washington and in cities around the world.
When it began, the huge anti-war movement that mobilized beforehand—and in which I took a very active part—kind of collapsed for a while into despair and disappointment. Americans, as are wont to do, rallied around their President and the troops and watched the cake walk to Baghdad with pride. In no time at all George was up there strutting on an aircraft carrier and declaring victory.
A moment of glory!  Americans were told jubilant Iraqis pulled down this statue of Saddam in Baghdad.  It turned out to be a stage propaganda photo op and American agents were on the other end of the rope
The Pundocracy of print, the cable news cowboys, the radio ravers united in both gloating and mocking the Left and the anti-war movement. To wit:
Tommy Franks and the coalition forces have demonstrated the old axiom that boldness on the battlefield produces swift and relatively bloodless victory. The three-week swing through Iraq has utterly shattered skeptics’ complaints.—Tony Snow, Fox News
The only people who think this wasn’t a victory are Upper Westside
and a few people here in Washington.Charles  Krauthammer, Inside Washington, WUSA-TV
We’re all neo-cons now.—Chris  Matthews, MSNBC

I hate to be an “I told you so.” But I did. So did thousands of others before the war ever started. The war transpired pretty much exactly a we said it would—a quagmire of guerilla insurgency, the shattering of the country on ethnic and religious lines, the inspiration to wider hatred of the America among Muslims worldwide, the recruiting engine for Islamic terrorism on the Bin Ladin model, the shattering of traditional ties among allies, the isolation of America in the world, and even the devastating drain on American military power. We predicted it all before the first “Shock and Awe” bomb was dropped.
If an (at the time) elementary school custodian from an obscure Illinois county could have foreseen this, what the hell was our genius leadership thinking?
They were blinded by a combination of arrogance, hubris, righteousness, and greed. To this day they cannot admit to any fundamental error and only grudgingly own up to slight tactical miscalculations.
Worse, the current rhetoric against Iran mirrors that they used to build a case for war on Iraq.  We are actively meddling militarily in a cluster fuck multi sided civil war in Syria.  And despite multiple declarations of victory, we still have troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan that still occasionally take casualties and may blow up into greater conflict at any time.  Our rulers apparently learned nothing.
But the American people, as so often in the past, have learned. The thrill is gone. We recognize the plain disaster wrought by the original cabal in power, perpetuated with technological refinement by Barack Obama, and flouted with bluster, heedlessness, and utter incompetence under the Cheeto-in-Charge.

A year or so after the war began when  blood ran in manageable rivulets in the gutter and had not yet saturated to the bed rock, I wrote a poem.  The occasion was the unseemly, fly-by night evacuation of L. Paul Bremer, the Ambassador and American Administrator of vanquished Iraq. He had created  something called the Iraqi Provisional Authority—a collection of bought and paid for American clients, local war lords, cleptocrats, and questionable representatives of ethnic groups and religious sects. I put mock heroic the words into Bremer’s mouth. 
Ambasador L. Paul Bremmer leaves his apropriately regal headquarters in one of Saddam's golden palaces with a senior U,S, commander.  Bremmer prefered a bodyguard of expensive mercinary contractors to the usual Marines--he didn't trust grunts.
Bye Bye Baghdad

Oh, what glory there should have been!
            What herald trumpets in gilded flourish
            should have proclaimed,
            what dressed ranks of might in splendor
            should have processed in measured dignity,
            what sleek and fleet air armadas
            should have shattered heaven in their salute,
            what Princes of the New Imperium
            should have strutted before an astonished world,
            what Hosannas sung as He, wrapped in purple,
            should have deigned wave His hand,
            and what cringing minions
            should have crept to kneel before Him,
                        pledging fealty, and better, oil,
                        in exchange for the blessings of fiefdom!

Yet these wretched sand niggers never got the memo.
            They failed to be appreciative of our sacrifices
            on behalf of grand ambition for an ordered world
            safe alike for Halliburton, Exxon/Mobile, and Franklin Graham,
            in cheeky ingratitude bit the hand that fed
            the satraps put in place for them, after all,
            refused to bow before our manifest Goodness,
            as if we had not told them over and over
            just how fortunate they were.

Can you believe they want to kill Us?          
            Well, not us exactly, not Us who live to rule,
            but those brave boys and girls who we call to our service,
            the sons and daughters of the irrelevant Them,
            who had nothing better to do with their lives anyway
            but bleed for the greater glory of Us!

The ungrateful the fickle folks back home desert us!
            Did we not offer our gleaming sword and shield
            to defend them from swarthy menace,
            did we not carry the mangled bodies of New York,
                                    and Pennsylvania’s unsuspecting field
            before them, beating our chests and pledging vengeance.
            What more could they want?

A simple roadside bomb here, a beheading there un-mans them.
It leaves them trembling and unwilling,
asking craven questions of our majesty,
assuming they have some kind of voice
when our manifest brilliance should have
swept aside mere doubts
and hearty patriotism silenced traitors.

And so, on a dusty hell hot day in June
            As bombs and bullets punctuate our urgency
            we must call a furtive meeting,
            toss the hot potato to whoever will catch it,
            then run like hell to the first fast plane
            that will take us out of here.

So long, Suckers.

—Patrick Murfin

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Heretic, Rebel, a Thing to Flout Illinois Primary Endorsements—McHenry County

Note: My apologies for not getting this final election endorsement post up until well after the polls opened today.  Life and the complex demands of researching this got in my way.  I hope it is still useful to some.
McHenry County has been a Republican sandbox since the Civil War.  Democrats have been sporadically energized  but despite sometimes Herculean efforts have seldom been able to elect candidates in partisan races and when they have succeeded the gains have often been erased in the next cycle. The peak accomplishment was two members on the County Board a few years ago and both of them were defeated in their next election.  Currently thanks to a change he helped orchestrate Democrat Jack Franks, popular long time State Representative,  is the first County Board Chair elected by voters.  He presides over a hostile Board with just one other Democrat—Paula Yensen who previously served a term on the panel and was a Lake in the Hills trustee.
Despite this, there have always been more Democrats and Democrat leaning independents  out here than first meets the eye.  Many were reluctant to identify themselves by taking Democratic primary ballots for fear of social ostracism or even retaliation.  Some never registered to vote at all.  Others pulled Republican primary ballots because it was the “only way to influence local government.”  Yet they would vote for Democrats in national and statewide election and have carried the county for popular candidates like Barack Obama and Senator Dick Durban.  And Democrats are routinely elected to non-partisan local offices like city councils, village boards, school boards, and fire protection districts, and other local bodies.
But the hand grenade of Donald Trump has blown up the old familiar stew pot activating somnambulant Democrats and independents; motivating legions of activists, volunteers, and candidates; and causing despairing social moderate Republicans to abandon ship or stay at home.
Meanwhile hard core Trumpistas and Tea Party type zealots live in bubble that convinces them that they are both popular and still mirror their neighbors.  No information to the contrary pierces that delicious certainty.  As a result they have ramped up a long brewing civil war in the local Republican Party, and often against other factions of the lunatic right turning the fratricidal struggle into a savage multi-sided free for all a la Syria in which yesterday’s ally is today’s demon.
Make no mistake, there are no good guys in this civil war, only degrees of evil and duplicity.  Your father’s stodgy but honest civic virtue Republicans have all be executed or coopted into one of the warring camps for survival.

On the other hand, there is now no reason to take a Republican primary ballot any more.  If you don’t have time to read the analysis below you can stop reading now.  Just take a Democratic ballot and vote for all of the candidates in the local races.  There are no Dem contested elections on this end of the ballot, except for State Committeeman and Committee Woman in the 14th Congressional District.  All of the candidates are citizen activists and none are criminals or predators.  What more could you possibly want?
There are also two stupid  county-wide advisory referendums on the ballot.  Vote No on both.  I will explain why later, if you are interested.
Ok, then, on with a quick spin around the races and a score card of candidates.
Judicial Ballot
There are no Democrats running for judge.  Although many members of the local Bar are open or covert Dems few have dared run for judge because it has been considered a suicide race with possible disastrous consequences for attorneys who would then have to practice in front perhaps hostile GOP judges.  And none have earned appointment to open slots the can result in getting on the retention ballot.   All of the action is on the Republican side, but it is worth a side note as an illustration of the Republican civil war.
The number and enormity of the signs that began popping up along frozen county roads even before the New Year are an indication of the enormity and ferocity of some of these usually obscure races.  The old Republican regulars and highly rated Bar Association recommendations have been targeted with ideological hacks backed by party insurgents, particularly those recruited and encouraged by County Recorder of Deeds Joe Tirio, the most ambitious and aggressive of the local war lords.  More about that piece of work below.
Clerk Mary McClellan .
In addition to the real targets of his support, Tirio pulled off one of the niftiest political hornswoggles in recent history when he convinced  first term incumbent Mary McClellan  to opt out of seeking re-election to run for an open judgeship.  It was a bait and switch con.  The lean and hungry Tirio won the obscure Recorder of Deeds office two years ago on a pledge to eliminate the office and merge its functions into the County Clerk’s operation and he wanted to move up to the Clerk’s position to facilitate the merger and put himself in charge of a little patronage empire and probably become the most influential politician in the county. 
Former County Board member McClellan was herself a conservative pick against the long term assistant to former Clerk  Katherine Schultz who was considered insufficiently partisan in her management of county elections.  They got partisanship, but they also got incompetence as McClellan botched her first elections and threw a previously well managed office into chaos.  As a parting shot McClellan orchestrated the consolidation of more than sixty polling places, many of them at inconvenient distances from their precincts that Democrats suspect is part of a voter suppression strategy.
Unfortunately for McClellan, her skills as an attorney are not highly regarded.   She received the lowest Bar Association scores—in the low 20% in categories across the board—I have ever seen.  And beyond that embarrassment, the promised support from Tirio and other reactionaries never materialized as they turned to their real choices.
And that is McHenry County Republican politics in a nutshell in 2018.
County offices
Up for election in this cycle are County Clerk, Sheriff, Treasurer, and County Superintendent of Schools.  Only one Democrat has filed—Andrew “Drew” Giorgi, Jr. for Clerk.  The Democrats may still slate a candidate by caucus to oppose Sheriff Bill Primm, who has previously been at the heart of his own intra-party battle, Treasurer Glenda Miller, and Superintendent Leslie Schermerhorn.
The Clerk’s race is critical.  Empire builder Tirio is opposed by underdog Janis Dalton, the City of McHenry Clerk who filed for personal bankruptcy the same day she filed her nominating petitions.  She listed “$10,000 in cash loss due to video gambling” and $30,000 in money she withdrew in her husband’s name from his annuity fund.  That she was the best the old guard could put up against Tirio is a comment on their embarrassed condition.

Drew Georgi for Clerk.
Drew Georgi was a Hebron village trustee who crusaded to recall Village President John Jacobson was arrested on gun and drug (crack cocaine) charges as well as fighting small town cronyism and corruption.  He is also a long time Democratic Party Precinct Representative and party volunteer, Georgi has proven his capabilities by assembling on his own a data base of every elected office at every level, partisan and non-partisan in the County.  The Clerk’s office could not provide that information.  He also tracked and identified all of the new polling locations before the Clerk’s office publicized the changes.  Organized, focused, and detail oriented, Georgi has a perfect skill set match for the office.  He has pledged to resume printing the names and addresses of all county, township, and municipal officials as well as political party officers and committeemen, in the annual Yearbook issued by the Clerk’s office.
Drew is dedicated to open, free, and fair elections and in combating all attempts at voter suppression.  That is everything that Joe Tirio is not.

McHenry County Board Districts.
County Board Races
Democrats have uncontested candidates in five of six McHenry County Board Districts where half of the 24 seats are up for election.  Trust me, each and every one of them are superior to the mopes and miscreants the Republicans have up.  The candidates are:
Michael Vijuk.
District 1—Michael Vijuk is a retired business professor and community volunteer from Cary with a deep commitment to his family, community, and public service.
Suzanne Ness
District 2—Suzanne Ness of Crystal Lake is a small business owner who has led business groups, a homeowner’s association, and served on boards.  She is one of a generation of women motivated to enter politics for the benefit of the people.  A progressive voice.  Also Timothy O’Neill of Crystal Lake, a retired member of Operating Engineers Local 150, Army Special Forces veteran, and volunteer in beach preservation and the development of Vulcan Lakes recreational area.  Passionate about land use and infrastructure,
District 3—Kelli Wegener of Crystal Lake is a administer for the First Congregational Church of Crystal Lake and an active community volunteer who previously ran for Nunda Township Trustee.
Carlos Acosta.
District 5—Carlos Acosta is probably the best known Latino leader in McHenry County.  The social worker if the former head of the McHenry County Latino Coalition and a Democratic activist with a wide range of interests and issues.  He has been the target of vicious attacks from notoriously anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic Republican pols and an anonymous smear campaign on social media and in the comments to local newspaper articles, especially after he emerged as a leading critic of the County Clerk’s polling place shuffle as voter suppression.  Also running is former Green Party candidate Frank Wedig of Woodstock.
District 6—Buffy Brasile of Woodstock is running such a low key campaign that she has posted no biographical info or positions or answered candidate questioners.  That is too bad since her district, which covers most of the rural western half of the county has some notoriously nasty Tirio backed candidates facing relative moderates Michelle Aavang of Woodstock and Larry Smith of Harvard.  
Former right wing paramilitary terrorist Orville Brettman, now a Republican candidate for County Board, was lampooned in this faux comic book cove.

Former Carpentersville Mayor and far right activist Orville Brettman recently made headlines when his past as an admitted terrorist for the Legion of Justice, a right wing paramilitary group with ties to the infamous  Chicago Police Red Squad in the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s.  He admitted in Grand Jury testimony after a grant of immunity to committing burglaries to Chicago offices of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and Communist Party to retrieve “intelligence” presumably shared with the Red Squad.  Even more troubling he planned and executed a raid on an apartment of members of the SWP affiliated Young Socialist Alliance at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb in which students were beaten with clubs.   He also was involved in bombing the historic Elgin Universalist Church because it hosted meetings of the Fox Valley Peace Group and supposedly “hid arms for the Black Panthers in the basement”—surely one of the most ludicrous claims ever.  Later he was involved in running guns to white opponents of the then new anti-apartheid government of Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress.  More recently he has been a political operative and dirty trickster focused on attacking RINOs—Republicans in Name Only.  Betterman is entirely unapologetic about any of this, makes light of the charges, and even boasts of his adventures as a “spy.”  While some Republican moderates have called for him to withdraw from the race Tirio and other right wingers like Diane Evertsen, a notorious anti-immigration zealot, a former leader of the local Illinois Minutemen Project, and a McHenry County College Trustee have rallied to Betterman’s side.
So has his running mate in District 6,  Ersel Schuster, a former County Board Member.  Recently Lakewood Police traced a threat made against Democratic County Board Chair Jack Franks in the comments section of the newspaper to a computer in the home Schuster shares with her husband. The threat implied that Franks should be shot and that the commentator “knew someone who would do the job for $5,000.  Despite Franks’ dissatisfaction, Lakewood police refused to prosecute because they could not determine who actually used the computer to post the threat and because “the elderly couple had no means of carrying it out.”
All of this makes mystery candidate Buffy Brasile look pretty damn good.  And hopefully she will tell us more about herself before the General Election.
14th Congressional District Democratic State Committeeman and Woman
State Central Committee posts are found down at the bottom of the ballot just above any candidate who may have filed for election as precinct committeeman.  The races are of interest only to the most determined political junkie and are in fact almost never contested and most primary voters don’t bother fill in an oval for the candidates.  But this year local progressives decided to flex their political muscle to get seats on the Central Committee dominated, as every one knows by State Chair Michael Madiga, a/k/a the Speaker of the House, no friend of the party left. Normally I would cheer the project and the candidates—Peter Janko for Committeeman and Alison Squires for Committeewoman and I admire Squires.
Kristina Zahorik.
The problem is that she is running against Kristina Zahorik who is also the very capable and active Vice Chair of the Democratic Party of McHenry County who has an impressive progressive record of her own,  The McHenry County Party, which in full disclosure I served for nearly 30 years as a Precinct Representative and sometimes officer, has a tradition of not endorsing candidates in primaries, preferring to let voters make the choice, quite different that the Cook County practice of anointing and official slate.  It is also more notably progressive in makeup than other county parties.  The majority of Precinct Reps and many officers supported Bernie Sanders through the primaries although they united around Clinton in the November election.  Zahoric as a key leader in mobilizing the large turn out from McHenry County for the Chicago Women’s March last year and helped organized the highly successful March for the Vote last July in Woodstock.  As far as I can tell Zahorik is already doing on the State Committee what Squires hope to achieve.
So if you are a progressive, by all means vote for Janko but also Zahorik.  And I hope Crystal Squires find other ways to serve in the near future.
Referendum Questions
Nothing is more practically useless than an advisory, no-binding referendum.  They are also often little more than a political gimmick to boost a candidate or group of candidates by pandering simplistic solutions to complex problems to voters who have little idea what the issues are. 
This year County Board Chair Jack Franks is behind just such a classic case.  A conservative Democrat,  Franks likes to paint himself as more fiscally responsible than the most dyed in the wool tax hating Republican.  On the County Board he pushed through a budget with a 10% cut over the previous year and challenged other taxing bodies  to do the same.  The advisory referendum on the ballot specifically calls for school districts to do the same to their budgets.  What voter doesn’t want his taxes cut.  Jack figures it will be a no-brainer to ring up big majority for the proposition and polish his reputation in the process.  The referendum will not force districts to make the cuts but will put political pressure on them to hack away on everything from class size, to salaries, to extracurricular activities and other “frills” to textbooks and technology regardless of the impact on the quality of children’s education.  Worse, because of state law capping increases, the effect of the budget cuts will last for years.  Other than a few anguished complaints to the local press by some administrators and a few letters to the editor by teachers and parents there has been no organized opposition.
Vote no on this ill-conceived stunt.  

Right Wing Republican power Broker Recorder of Deeds Joe Tirilo and the woman he seduced into giving him her job, Mary McClellan before abandoning her judgeship bid.
At the urging of Recorder of Deeds Joe Tirilo the County board voted to authorize a binding referendum question on his pet project, the elimination of his office and combining it into the County Clerk’s office.  In anticipation of its passage Tirilo filed for the Clerk’s office.  The question of whether the Recorders’ office should be eliminated is worth considering, as is the question why such a purely clerical job should be elected anyway.  But now is not the time.  As a purely practical consideration Tirio’s empire building must be stopped.  Vote no!
Whew!  That’s it!  We finally made it to the bottom.