Ladies and gentlemen! Welcome to the latest installment of “Who’s the Biggest Ass,” the contest that pits the behavior of defendants at war crime tribunals against each other and - against the validity of the tribunals themselves! I’m Jim Savage, and this is Bob Sisco.
BOB: That’s right! And our next contest looks set to be a doozy! It’s Serbian military commander Ratko Mladic at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the Hague….
JIM: …. versus Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, architect of the September 11th attacks on New York and Washington, and his four co-defendants arraigned at the military tribunal in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba!
JIM: Before we begin, let’s go over the rules for our viewers new to “Who’s the Biggest Ass.”
BOB: Here at WBA, we examine cases of international jurisprudence based on criteria including questions of due process, the validity and impartiality of the court itself, and the abominable behavior of defendants during the trial! Because behaving like an ass is a point of pride for many!
JIM: Remember, if you’re megalomaniacal enough to orchestrate the massacre of, for example, your nation’s ethnic or religious minorities, you’re unlikely to recognize the authority of the court!
BOB: Our referees will reward the defendants points based on appalling behavior, but these points can be subtracted when questions of the court’s integrity and legitimacy come into play. Each defendant starts with 50 points.
JIM: The winner is the defendant who’s less of an ass - although in cases like these, many defendants appear to be going for the opposite goal!
BOB: Now let’s take a look - and right off the bat, 5 points awarded to Mladic as he walks into the courtroom as he gives a “thumbs-up” sign to Serbian supporters in the public gallery!
JIM: All signs of arrogance are fair play for our refs at the WBA! But the refs are overlooking the insults hurled at Mladic as he walked in - including someone who called him a “vulture.”
BOB: Let’s go to the charges that brought “the Butcher of Bosnia” to the dock. He faces 11 charges including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity - with a special focus on the massacre of 8 thousand Muslim men and boys in Srebenica in 1995 - in the single worst atrocity on European soil since World War II.
JIM: That’s right - and that was a UN designated “safe haven,” where Dutch peacekeepers oversaw what was arguably the worst systemic failure of the United Nations ever.
BOB: And with friends like that, who needs….
JIM: Oh no, you didn’t…!
BOB: Alright, I’ll leave it alone! Let’s not forget Mladic’s role in the 44 month Siege of Sarajevo! Look at this! Another 10 points to Mladic for drawing his finger across his throat in response to a Bosnian Muslim woman in the public gallery.
JIM: That’s a threat of execution if I ever saw one!
BOB: I haven’t had this much fun since Saddam Hussein ranted at the court during his 2006 tribunal in Baghdad!
JIM: And what an end to that case! A pre-dawn secret hanging as Iraqi executioners mocked and videotaped the defendant — just hammering the ‘legitimacy’ score — resulting in a posthumous upset for Saddam!
BOB: It’s just too bad he couldn’t enjoy it.
JIM: We’re off to a rip-roaring start in the Hague, but let’s turn our attention now to Guantanamo Bay and the most awaited trial of the past decade!
JIM: And it’s been chaos since the very beginning!
BOB: First, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was awarded 20 points off the bat for refusing to respond to judges’ questions - half of which were immediately subtracted because one of his co-defendants was wheeled into the courtroom in restraints, for no apparent reason!
JIM: And now - what’s this? Oh! Another 10 points to the defendants for standing up in the middle of proceedings to pray!
BOB: We can expect that to be a common theme throughout proceedings as the Islamic extremist defendants are expected to pray five times a day!
JIM: Let’s watch now as the refs gather to discuss some points of due process… this could hit the courtroom hard…..
BOB: …. This is the second time these defendants have been arraigned since 2008…. That’s already a long time since 9/11…..and the Feds couldn’t get it together to have a trial in New York City, or to close Guantanamo as President Obama promised he’d do his first year in office….
JIM: The refs have made their decision, ohmygod! It’s a staggering one at that! Seventy-five points subtracted for a lack of due process, transparency, and access to clients by their lawyers!
BOB: That’s got to make defense attorney Cheryl Bormann happy. As the sole female member of the defense team, she’s so committed to this trial, she’s wearing nearly a full burqa to appease her clients, and asking prosecutors to dress more conservatively.
JIM: A move that our WBA refs have not figured out how to score!
BOB: Wow. I’m not sure military prosecutors can ever come from behind to beat a 75 point loss! The questionable integrity of the proceedings will overshadow any bad behavior by the defendants and any verdict that’s reached!
JIM: That’s much less of a problem in the Hague, where the tribunal on the former Yugoslavia is seen as a infinitely more valid legal forum for the application of international law!
BOB: True, but perhaps defense attorneys there may question the quid pro quo! Serbia only handed over Mladic so it could enter the European Union!
JIM: As if they’d want to now! But look at this! Here’s Mladic claiming he’s innocent of all charges - but refusing to enter a formal plea! Ten more points!
BOB: That’s despite damning video evidence sure to come up of Mladic bragging his way through the days leading up to the Srebenica massacre!
JIM: So let’s call it! After day one of proceedings in both tribunals, Ratko Mladic is the Biggest Ass!
BOB: Join us as both tribunals continue!
JIM: And in the years to come, as we hope to bring you the Libyan trial of Seif al-Qaddafi, versus Joseph Kony in the Hague!
BOB: Just as soon as they catch him.
The nation of Burma shuffles into its psychologist’s office, and plops down heavily in a chair.
“Thanks for seeing me outside our regular appointment,” Burma says. “I had a really bad weekend.”
“Or a really good one,” says the shrink. “The first reasonably free-and-fair election since 1990?”
Burma looks up but says nothing. It gives a slight shrug to its shoulders.
“Remember, a lot of these things are about changing your perception,” the psychologist says.
Burma puts its face in its hands.
“Are you regretting what you’ve done?” asks the shrink. “Wait – don’t answer that yet. What am I calling you today? ‘Burma’ or ‘Myanmar?’”
“Honestly – either one is fine.” Burma says, slouching in its chair. “Although I’m feeling in a slightly more Myanmar mood.”
“OK, Myanmar,” the shrink says. “The military’s held power since 1962 when it took over in a coup. They reigned with impunity for decades – hitting all the demagoguery hallmarks – locking up dissidents, refusing elections, forbidding a free press and more.
The last time you held a free election in 1990, the National League for Democracy swept to power. But you refused to acknowledge the defeat at the polls – and locked up democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in house arrest or jail for most of the next 20 years.”
Myanmar looks up and exhales. “And I changed my name.”
“But 1990 is where the self-loathing really set in.”
Myanmar just stares at the floor.
“Let’s go over again what you didn’t like about yourself,” says the shrink.
“I didn’t like how everyone began shunning me,” Myanmar says. “No full diplomatic relations. Sanctions. And the US, the UK, a lot of Europe, and a bunch of my own people, they don’t call me by my new name. Everyone keeps insisting on ‘Burma.’”
“China and ASEAN call you by your new name.”
“They just wanted me for trade reasons. For my natural resources - teak, gemstones, access to my ports. It wasn’t really about me.”
“What else?” asks the psychologist.
“And I don’t like being so near the top of the Failed States Index. Did you know the Democratic Republic of Congo scores better than me?”
“Remember, there’s a simple cause and effect here. Your border wars represent the longest running civil war in the world,” the psychologist says.
“It doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
“All these things make you angry – and remember, what’s the addiction pattern you fall into when you’re angry?”
Myanmar looks down at the floor. He mumbles something.
“What’s that?” asks shrink.
“I use absolute power to hurt others,” Myanmar says.
“That’s right. Arresting and re-arresting Aung San Suu Kyi? Refusing aid to victims of Cyclone Nargis? The bloody crackdown on monks – monks, for heaven’s sake, during the Saffron Revolution? How did that make you feel?”
“It felt really good – for a little while. It was…. ecstatic!” Myanmar says, suddenly lost in an excited revelry. “Ohmygod, I love that feeling of, of – omnipotence.”
The shrink looks at Myanmar steadily. “But we’ve talked about this. When that buzz from absolute power wears off, how do you feel?”
“Worse.” Myanmar catches his shrink’s eye. Its tone is like a dejected teenager’s. “Worse than when I started.”
There’s a pause.
“But I’m really proud of you,” the shrink says.
“What you did this past weekend? The first more-or-less free and fair election since 1990? Even if it was just a by-election, that was a giant step forward!”
“You keep saying, but then why do I feel so awful?” Myanmar asks.
“Because the election and reforming parliament – those are just first steps. Of course you’re feeling unsteady.”
The shrink stops and leans forward. “Look at me. This is where you were in 1990. You’ve got to take responsibility for your actions, without relying on absolute power. If the NLD’s 40 some-odd parliamentary seats add up to more influence than you thought? No locking anyone up, no disbanding parliament, no falling back on your addiction pattern.”
“But how do I know what comes next?” Myanmar asks.
“You don’t,” says the shrink. “Giving up absolute power is about being brave. In a democracy, the fact that you don’t know doesn’t matter.”
Myanmar scoffs. “Sounds a little utopian, if you ask me.”
The shrink leans back in his chair again. He thinks for a moment.
“You know how you’ll know it’s working? Everyone will start calling you ‘Myanmar.’”
“Once you start acting like you deserve to be called by the name you want, people will start calling you by the name you want,” the shrink says. “Not just China and ASEAN. Your own people. Everyone.”
“Even Hillary Clinton?”
“Even Hillary Clinton.”
The psychologist smiles. “They’ll even start calling you ‘Myanmar’ on the Failed States Index.”
Myanmar tries not to - but lets out a short laugh.
“See that? I made you smile. You have got a sense of humor!”
Myanmar’s trying to be mad, but it’s still smiling.
“Ok,” says the shrink. “When do you have to ratify the results of the election?”
“Later this week, maybe,” Myanmar says.
“I want you to call me if you’re having any second thoughts. Any time, day or night. You have my cell and my home number.”
Myanmar stands up, preparing to go. “OK.” It’s back to sounding unconvinced.
“You’ve got a lot of people counting on you,” the shrink says. “You can do it this time.”
“I know, I know,” Myanmar says. “It’s my decision.”
Also on: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mp-nunan/burma-elections_b_1398107.html
Inside what looks like the bar in an airport departures terminal. It’s dimly lit, with dark wooden tables and faux leather chairs failing to give the place the touch of class it aspires to. Cigarette smoke wafts through the air.
Nearby, an airport gate which - despite giving off a faint glow - exudes the unmistakable sense of long-running delays.
Christopher Hitchens, British-American man of letters, is holding court at a table with Muammar Qaddafi and Osama bin Laden, when a disoriented-looking Kim Jong Il walks in, wearing his classic 1950’s civil servants suit and Floridian retiree sunglasses. His hair is in a perfect pompadour.
“Do join us,” Hitch says, pouring another glass of whiskey. “We’ve been waiting for you.”
Collecting himself, Kim sits down and grabs his glass and immediately begins to make a toast.
“As befits the great and glorious reign of myself, the Dear Leader, I’m greeted in paradise by a table of visionaries! Let’s drink to - ”
“Visionaries! You’re no visionaries!” Hitch sneers. He takes a drag on his cigarette. “We saw Vaclav Havel sail on by the other day. He was a visionary. Alas, there’s a reason why we’re stuck here. As much as it repels me to use such a term, this is purgatory.”
“Purgatory?” Kim asks.
Qaddafi nods. “I’ve been here for months.”
“We’re the Class of 2011,” Hitchens says.
Osama bin Laden looks unconvinced. “What right do you think you have, Infidel, to share the afterlife with me?”
“Yeah,” Qaddafi says, looking up. “You’re an atheist. Why did you make it even as far as purgatory?”
Hitch shrugs. “At least I’m here by the volition of thought,” he says. “A lifetime spent arguing against the compulsive need of people to invent a celestial dictator to which they willfully subject themselves, because they lack the courage to live lives based on free thought.”
Hitch takes a sip from his drink.
“That, and decades spent combating those who are so arrogant, so corrupt and manipulative, that they assume the ability to hear from a divine being, in order to influence the secular affairs of state.” He downs the rest of his drink.
“You’re just dictators,” Hitch says.
“Bullshit. You’re here for dissing Mother Theresa,” Osama sneers.
“Yeah,” Kim laughs. “Are you finally going to admit that you’re wrong?”
“We don’t know that yet,” Hitch says, still confident. “We don’t know what’s on the other side of that gate,” he says, gesturing to the faint glow. “It could be nothingness.”
“And it could be the 72 young virgins sent to celebrate my martyrdom,” Qaddafi says.
“Ohmygod - you were so not martyred!” Osama says. “You died at the hands of your own people – not for the great Allah! There are no virgins for you!”
“Oh, and I suppose getting shot in the face by US Navy Seals instead of an evening spent jerking off is going to get you face-time with the Prophet?” Qaddafi retorts.
Hitch ignores them to calmly finish his point.
“Gentlemen, isn’t the fact that I’m here proof that prayer is useless? After all, if supplication were some kind of entrance requirement to meet a Master Deity, then why am I here at all?” Hitch reaches for the whiskey bottle. “The arguments I made in my lifetime remain beyond reproach.”
“I love, love, love supplication,” Kim Jong Il pipes in. “And prostration. Have you seen Pyongyang this week? So much wailing and gnashing of teeth!”
“Gnashing of teeth because there’s nothing to chew,” says Qaddafi.
“Oh – like your people are so much better off.” Kim retorts. He downs a quick shot. “My son, the Great Successor, will carry on with my work and that of my father, the Supreme Leader. Your son’s going to end up in the Hague.”
“Maybe you should drop the ‘Supreme Leader’ bit,” Hitch says drily, “if you’re so convinced that you’re imminently going to meet someone who’s even more so. You’re running out of superlatives.”
Kim’s annoyed. “Go waterboard yourself, Hitch.”
“There’s no one greater than Allah,” interjects Osama.
“Oh for god’s sake,” Hitch yells. “He doesn’t exist! And you know it!”
Osama’s about to speak when Hitch stops him.
“If you were so keen on impressing an Almighty Being,” Hitch asks, “what did you ever accomplish? Driving Americans out of the Holy Land – that was just a premise to feed your own sick ego - that had absolutely nothing to do with improving the lives of the Muslims you claim to hold so dear.”
Hitch downs another shot. “What did it get you? Driven out of Afghanistan, a hundred thousand Muslims dead in Iraq.”
“A war that you supported!” Osama yells.
“Yes, I did!” storms Hitch. He takes a look around. “Come to think of it, where is Saddam? I’ve got a bone to pick with him about the Kurds.”
Suddenly, an electronic chime rings, as if a boarding announcement is about to be made. The table immediately quiets down, as everyone turns to look at the gate – which glows a little brighter. For a moment, they all hold their breath.
“Nothing,” says Qaddafi, exhaling. “It just does that sometimes.”
“Kissinger?” Kim Jong Il offers brightly.
Hitch smiles. “I’ll drink to that.”
Omar, Qaddafi’s loyal-ish translator, peers carefully from behind a curtain at the scene below him. He and Moammar Qaddafi are in Sirte, where rebel fighters can be seen amassing in the street - closing in on their secret bunker. (For more on Omar’s recent history – from Qaddafi’s UN speech to his efforts to contact the Libyan rebels, please read here and here.)
As casually as he can, Omar pulls a cellphone out of his pocket and starts to write a text message.
Suddenly Qaddafi spins him around by the shoulder.
“Who are you contacting!?!” he screams. Qaddafi’s face is haggard. His Africa broach droops listlessly to one side.
“I am merely sending good wishes to His Excellency Seif al-Islam al Qaddafi,” Omar says, referring to Qaddafi’s son – conspicuous by his absence in the secret bunker.
Qaddafi looks confused. Disloyalty is something he has a hard time processing.
“I’m just surprised that the rebels have closed in so quickly since you’ve been in charge of the phone,” Qaddafi says. “And since they announced that reward for my capture.”
“A coincidence, sir.” Omar does his best to look casual, despite the line of sweat forming on his brow. “I mean, they always knew your hometown was Sirte.”
Qaddafi exhales, losing some of his anger. He paces across the room, sitting down on a sofa. A pistol lies on a coffee table.
He puts his head in his hands. Omar takes a quick moment to push the curtain aside, and wave furiously at the rebels below – before shoving the curtain back.
“Are you sure Seif’s merely gone for reinforcements?” Qaddafi looks up. “And he hasn’t fled like the rest of the family to Algeria?”
“I’m certain it’s the former, Your Excellency,” Omar says.
He picks up the pistol and starts playing with it. “My compound has been bulldozed. Everything’s shot to hell.”
Omar listens, keeping an eye on the gun.
“I’ve always sworn I’d die a martyr in Libya,” Qaddafi says. “But lately, I’ve started thinking about arguments I can make in the Hague. I want to make clear to the world the crimes of the CIA, their NATO stooges and that greasy rebel scum.”
Omar’s face falls. He swallows. This was not part of the game plan.
“Honestly, I think martyrdom’s better than the Hague,” he says, tentatively.
Qaddafi looks up. Omar pauses for a moment before speaking.
“I mean, are people still talking about Milosevic? No. But Hitler comes up in conversation with amazing frequency – 65 years later.”
“Only Muslims can be true martyrs,” Qaddafi says, eyeing his handgun.
“Exactly my point, Your Excellency.” Omar swallows hard. “That infidel has had 65 years of glory – all because he knew how to take advantage of a secret bunker moment – not unlike this one.”
“They’d have to listen to me at a trial,” Qaddafi says.
Omar pauses for a moment. He desperately needs to sound neutral.
“But Your Excellency,” he says gently. “How’d that work out for Saddam Hussein?”
Qaddafi suddenly turns and points the gun at Omar. Rebel solders can be heard not far from the door.
“And why shouldn’t I take you as my servant in the afterlife?”
Omar tries to remain steady. “So I can tell your supporters of the glory of your martyrdom.” He swallows hard. “Remember, we’ve got to beat 65 years.”
Suddenly – a gunshot rings out, as rebel soldiers burst into the room. Qaddafi lies wounded, possibly dead. And Omar?
(BBC) Libyan rebels have announced an amnesty for anyone within Col Muammar Gaddafi’s “inner circle” who captures or kills him, and a $1.7m (£1m) reward.
Col Gaddafi’s whereabouts are unknown, though rebels have said they think he is still in or around Tripoli.
Rebels fighters have fought running battles in the capital, where pockets of pro-Gaddafi resistance remain.
The fugitive leader has vowed in an audio message to fight until victory or martyrdom.
Deep inside a secret bunker, probably in Tripoli.
Moammar Qaddafi, his son Seif al-Islam al-Qaddafi, and Qaddafi’s loyal-ish translator, Omar are watching a satellite television news report. It reveals there is a $1.7 million bounty on Qaddafi. (Read Omar’s history here.)
“One point seven million? One point seven?” Qaddafi fumes. “That’s all I’m worth to them?”
Seif exhales. “Perhaps that’s not the part we should be focusing on, Dad.”
“The King of Kings - worth a measly $1.7 million?” Qaddafi starts to stride around the room.
“Has Hugo Chavez returned any of your phone calls yet, Dad?” Seif’s tone is impatient.
“What about Lockerbie? What about Libyan oil? They spend a $200 million a day in Afghanistan! And I’m only worth $1.7?”
“Dad – “
Qaddafi is ranting now. “I am the ‘Mad Dog’ of the Middle East! Reagan said so!”
Omar pipes up. “The bounty does not come from the American Satan. It’s from the rebels – the National Transitional Council. In Benghazi.”
Qaddafi stops mid-stride and stares at Omar. An uneasy silence falls over the room.
Seif turns to Omar. “You think the CIA has nothing to do with this?”
“Of course they do!” Omar quickly recovers. “I spit upon the them! You are the Glory that is Libya!”
The tension is broken when Qaddafi’s cellphone beeps. It’s a text message.
“Chavez?” Seif sounds hopeful.
“Mugabe.” Qaddafi sounds disappointed. “Zimbabwe would do anything to have the King of Kings live among them.”
“I am so not living in Zimbabwe,” Seif says. “It’s a basket-case. And Mugabe has a Hitler moustache.”
Seif looks caught in a day-dream. “Venezuela, on the other hand, is a nice oil state. With an anti-American dictator. You know – a guy you can trust.”
“You should be careful with a cellphone,” Omar pipes up. “The rebels could trace your locati –“
He stops short.
“What’s that?” Seif snaps out of his revelry.
“Nothing – nothing,” Omar says.
The cellphone beeps again with a text. “Mugabe – again!” Qaddafi fumes. “And I’ve heard nothing back from Castro!”
“Fidel or Raul?” Seif asks.
“Either.” Qaddafi is staring at his phone.
“May I send the reply to President Mugabe?” Omar ventures. He swallows hard. “I mean, if it’s too much trouble for Your Excellency.”
Qaddafi thrusts the phone at Omar. “One point seven million. I spend more on a single party . I spent more on my unit of female bodyguards.”
“I know, Dad. But maybe it’s time we call Chavez again. Our forces can only hold on to the airport for so long. ”
“There will be no spiderhole in my future!” Qaddafi yells. “I will not be in the Hague! I will die a martyr in Libya!”
“Dad! Remember what we discussed!” Seif is angry. “That’s only if Chavez doesn’t call!”
A cellphone rings. Qaddafi and Seif look up.
“Whoops!” Omar says. “I accidentally dialed my own number!”
“So now you have my father’s private number?” Seif looks suspicious.
“Oh! Do I? No problem! I’ll delete it!” Omar says, as a line of sweat appears on his brow. “Let me try ringing Mugabe.”
Seif looks at him through narrow eyes.
“Maybe I’ll try the call in another room,” Omar says, standing. “The signal in a secret bunker - umm, you know?”
“Well, hurry up,” Seif says. “We’re going to try back Chavez.”
“Maybe Syria would take us,” Qaddafi says. “Have we tried Assad?”
“He’s pretty busy this week too, Dad.”
A small voice can be heard up the hall. “Hello? I need a number for the National Transitional Council. In Benghazi.”
Omar glances up the hallway at Qaddafi and Seif.
“Yes, I’ll hold.”
Readers of this blog may recall that President Obama takes regular meetings with Mephistopheles – the representative of the Devil – to whom the president has promised his immortal soul, as Faust once did. (Please read the first installment here; and the second installment here.)
Mephistopheles, in human form, often resembles a lobbyist.
Because the Devil has apparently failed to follow through on some of his original promises of unparalleled political success, President Obama told Mephistopheles earlier this year that he is not handing over his soul. No - the president put his foot down. And Mephistopheles left more than a little angry.
Washington is now so enveloped in partisan divisiveness, any reasonable person might wonder – are those two facts related?
Late July 2011
President Obama exhales, frustrated, as his aides, Congressional Democrats and a group of Republican lawmakers leave the Oval Office, having once again failed to come an agreement on the debt ceiling. Pacing, it takes the president a moment to realize one person – one - well, one being – remains in the room. He looks up.
“You,” Obama says. “I should have known.”
“And good day to you, too, sir!” says Mephistopheles, smiling.
“Were you in that meeting all along?”
“Funny, but Congressmen simply can’t tell when the representative of Satan has infiltrated their ranks!” Mephistopheles bounces down on a sofa. “Don’t you think that says a lot about them?”
“What is it that you want?” The president’s voice is clipped.
“Well, to borrow a phrase from you, it’s time to talk turkey.” Mephistopheles is beaming.
President Obama is not in the mood to be pushed around.
“I’ve told you, your boss has been backsliding on our original agreement. An unprecedented mandate to change the national discourse. Matchless political success - redeeming government in the eyes of a cynical electorate.”
“And I am just not feeling it.” Obama looks up. “More importantly, I’m not giving him my immortal soul until he turns around his performance.”
“Yes, well, I took that to him last time I was here,” Mephistopheles says. “You wanna talk fire and brimstone? By Satan he was pissed!”
“I’m not sure I care.”
“Oh - but you do.” Mephistopheles says. “Wildfires across Texas and Arizona? Nuclear waste in the Sea of Japan? Kind of reminds you of wormwood?”
Obama just glares at him.
“Well, it should!” Mephistopheles says. “I thought you knew his handiwork!”
“Listen,” Obama starts - but Mephistopheles cuts him off.
“How dare you suggest that you’re not going to hand over your eternal soul!” Mephistopheles jumps to his feet, yelling. “You don’t dictate terms to Lucifer! You don’t backslide on Beelzebub! You want to wait til he turns his performance around!?!”
“What arrogance! What hubris!” Mephistopheles yells. His voice drops dramatically. “And – if you hadn’t noticed, you reap what you sow.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Satan has given you a return on your hubris ‘a thousand times a thousand.’ Like Dominique Strauss-Khan, like an unregulated Wall Street.”
Obama continues to glare.
“And just where, Mr. President, have you encountered hubris?” Mephistopheles sneers.
Obama’s face falls. “The debt ceiling.”
“But of course!” Mephistopheles can barely contain his glee - he’s almost dancing. “Isn’t it wonderful?”
“The debt ceiling – previously a tiny facet of budgetary talks only noted by economists and a handful of lawmakers – is now on everybody’s lips! From the beaches to the Beltway! From hair salons to the Hill!” Mephistopheles is on a roll.
“It’s been extended 79 times since 1960 – seven times in the last administration, and yet your political rivals are playing political brinksmanship with the global economy! The global economy! All to make you look bad!”
Mephistopheles really is dancing now. “That, my friend, is hubris.”
“None of this is news to me,” the president says.
“Oh, but it’s the question of scale!”
He puts on John Boehner’s voice and pretends to weep. “All I want to do is ignore my own party putting us trillions of dollars in debt, defy the basic laws of economics and arithmetic, [sniffle] and make you a one-term president. [Sob] Robbing from the poor and giving to the rich? That’s the American dream! Oh, boo-hoo-hoo!”
Mephistopheles does a quick spin.
“We’ve reached fabulous new lows in the abdication of facts from the national discourse! All because of your hubris! Isn’t it wonderful?”
Obama starts to speak. But Mephistopheles puts on cartoon voices and starts singing both parts of that old duet.
I can do anything you can do, better! I can do anything better than you! No, you can’t! Yes, we can. No, you can’t.
He bounces up to President Obama to deliver the last line.
Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can!
“Fine!” Obama yells. It’s so startling that even Mephistopheles stops. “You can have my immortal soul.”
“In full?” Mephistopheles says.
“Just tell me where to sign.”
With a sudden flourish, Mephistopheles produces an old-fashioned quill and a scroll.
“Now hang on,” Obama says. “If I sign this, then we reach an agreement on the debt ceiling that doesn’t drag into the 2012 election cycle, and I win re-election and we get back to fixing the economy, ending the wars, rebuilding our infrastructure and reforming energy policy? And we make Washington a little less broken?”
“Well, once facts are abdicated, you can’t just bring them back like that,” Mephistopheles snaps his fingers, producing a tiny cloud of sulfur. “These things take time. Your best bet is winning the Clash of the Narratives.”
“Let me guess,” Obama says. “The Republicans are hard-working, church-going, fiscal conservatives, whose core values help ensure the American dream for generations to come, and America’s global supremacy? While the Democrats are godless, big-spending, arrogant liberal elites, whose attitudes on everything from the economy to immigration to guns to media to sex to science is the top of a slippery slope toward moral decay and the US’s long-term decline?”
“Aren’t you being a bit hard on yourself?” Mephistopheles grins.
“I happen to believe that our nation is strengthened by its willingness to seize upon complicated challenges,” Obama says. “That the only constant in the world is change. And it’s our progressive attitude toward reforming the mechanics behind the American dream, such as the economy, tax reform, immigration, universal access to health care, gay civil rights - and ending misguided wars while remaining a leader in the community of nations as a force for stability - results in a greater inclusiveness, greater personal freedoms and prosperity for all.”
Mephistopheles is about to speak but Obama holds up a finger.
“While the implosion of the Republican party prompted them to appeal to a Tea Party base that is clinging to a reactionary American past that frankly, never actually existed. And it results in increased social ills like drug addiction and teen pregnancy, the eradication of rights, the endangering of America, and the absolute brutalization of the middle class electorate that the Republicans claim to hold so dear.”
“Well, then-‘’ Mephistopheles hands Obama and the quill.
President Obama signs away his immortal soul.
“The thing I love, love, love about the Clash of the Narratives? Real Americans vs Smart Americans?” Mephistopheles says, while rolling up the scroll. “It’s the exact same elitism, tied up in different color bows!”
Mephistopheles stands. “Isn’t it wonderful?”
And in a puff of sulfur, he vanishes from the room.
Post-Script: THE NEW YORK TIMES, August 1, 2011. WASHINGTON — President Obama and Congressional leaders of both parties said late Sunday that they had agreed to a framework for a budget deal that would cut trillions of dollars in federal spending over the next decade and clear the way for an increase in the government’s borrowing limit.
Hi. I’m Hacking. Not Hacking Cough. Not Hack’s License. Those are common mistakes. I’m just Hacking. My full name, really, is, “Using Illicit Means to Access Private Information With a Computer,” but I go by Hacking for short.
I’d like to nominate myself for an award. I dunno - the Nobel? Time’s Person of the Year – or, umm - Phenomenon of the Year? I know it’s only July – but, when you think about it? This year’s been all about me.
First things first. Hacking is delivering a serious blow to the Murdoch media empire. See – I’m powerful, and they played with me the wrong way. Sure, it started off small, Hacking the voicemail of celebrities and princes. But then they started Hacking the voicemails a murdered adolescent, families of the war dead, perhaps even 9/11 victims?
Hey – I’m just Hacking. I do what I’m told. It’s not my fault that I came back to bite them. But am I, Hacking, having a major impact on the British government and media establishment? You can bet your voicemail on it!
That one’s pretty obvious. Hacking is bad – I’m a violation of rights - when targeting individuals. But I’m still perceived as p r e t t y c o o l when done institutionally.
Take Wikileaks. I hang out with them constantly.
See, the thing about our Information Age is that information on its own, just raw, isn’t always valuable. But I’m the guy who makes it valuable, because with me, whatever you’ve got is Ill Gotten Booty. I mean, as Hacking, I don’t just change our perceptions, I change our perceptions of our perceptions – a stunt that not many of us can pull.
Yeah, yeah – I know. There are people out there who quibble that because Private Bradley Manning was on the inside, what he did wasn’t Hacking. It was Leaking. Frankly, I know Leaking and the guy’s a bit of a bore. Everything’s always “Deep Throat” this, and “Pentagon Papers” that. And I’m like, Get over it, dude. It was the ‘70’s.
Granted, the Hacking Manning did was easy – I mean, I own a thumb-drive kind of easy - but it was still Hacking. He achieved access way above his pay-grade; that information didn’t fall within the purview of his job. In fact, I doubt he even understood most of it. Unlike, say, the Associate Director of the FBI during Watergate. Or Daniel Ellsberg. Trust me: I hear it from Leaking all the *&^$ing time.
But Wikihacks? I agree: it lacks a certain je ne sais quoi. It lacks… romance. There’s no way Julian Assange would like it. It makes him sound like a goth European teen, and not the Great Albino Hope for Democracy he likes to think he is.
Anyway, I digressed. Take Wikileaks.
In the case of what Manning hacked, situation reports and from Afghanistan and Iraq – the information was striking only for its banality. Honestly, it wasn’t anything beyond what a routine reader of The New York Times or Washington Post (or The Guardian or the Times of London, or Der Spiegel, etc) had been reading about for nearly a decade.
And the State Department memos? Most of those – except in very few cases - confirmed conventional wisdom and the basic competence of the US diplomatic corps.
See – the information was suddenly really, really valuable, because it was Ill Gotten Booty. That was all me. Hacking. And, news outlets like The New York Times and The Guardian and The Washington Post – who already knew it most of it was banal? They still gave me gloriously huge front pages!
That’s because as Hacking, I changed perception. You can’t tell, but I’ve just taken a small bow.
Now, that Julian Assange? These days, he’s taking retroactive credit for the Arab Spring, by releasing all those State Department memos.
The argument is that Tunisians didn’t need Wikileaks to tell them that their government was run by a bunch of corrupt thugs; and a Tunisian fruit vendor didn’t need Wikileaks to tell him that he was the victim of police brutality. But the very fact that Wikileaks released all that hacked information? That was the spark. The people of Tunisia were suddenly so embarrassed that now the rest of the world knew how their government was run, they rose up and threw off the yoke of oppression! And that sparked Egypt, and Libya, and Bahrain, and Syria. Etc.
Frankly, I’m Hacking – I do this for a living – and I’m not sure I buy it. Think of how naïve and sensitive an entire nation would have to be. They have a crappy government for more than two decades, in a region in which they’re surrounded by crappy governments for more than two decades – and suddenly, they essentially blush so hard that they stage a revolution? Vanity’s a bitch, but I’ve never seen her that pissed off. And she’s not that naive.
But for the fact that people are even thinking that? That’s me. That’s Hacking.
I didn’t just change Perception, with the Ill Gotten Booty of cables released from the US Embassy in Tunis. I changed Perception of Perception: the alleged impact of that banal information that suddenly became valuable because of Hacking is perceived to be so huge, that people actually believe it set off a wave of revolutions and protests bringing down stagnant regimes and changing the face of the Middle East?
Again, I take a bow.
One last thing - so I don’t have to hear it later from Leaking. With me? With Hacking? It’s all about the Ends Justify the Means. Julian Assange takes credit for the Arab Spring after the fact, even though he set out to embarrass the US government.
With Leaking? Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers? FBI Associate Director Mark Felt? Each set out ahead of time to right a very specific instance of corruption or systemic failure. They knew what it was because of proprietary information they had for working inside the system. They wanted to fix it, and they did.
They weren’t just throwing stones at a system they perceived to be bad – like that goth European teen trying to outsmart the Windows OS with a worm. Because everyone uses Windows, it must be bad! And they weren’t document dumping State Department memos because, if they’re secret, State must be up to no good - in absolutely every instance!
Truth be told, most of the time, I’m not much more than a vandal. Julian Assange and Bradley Manning like to throw stones, simply because they figured out how to pick up a rock.
Leaking, that old bastard, is going the way of vinyl records. They’re still out there, but the only real interest in them is from collectors. Raw, stolen and hacked information is seen as far more valuable than that which comes with the context, care - and dare I say principle? - that Leaking provides.
So yes - I’m Hacking. I’m the one having the impact.
And that’s why I deserve an award. The Nobel, maybe. Phenomenon of the Year? And thank you - I’m taking one last bow.
One of the great gifts possessed by those of us who in the journalistic profession, is - of course - the ability to hear the words that should have been said, and weren’t. It’s like we’re psychic. I’m sorry we have this power, and you don’t.
And when we don’t hear the magic words, we don’t rest until we hound the appropriate party – be it a president, a CEO, or let’s say, a Congressman who tweeted dirty photos of himself – til he says them. (The words, Mr. Weiner, are “I resign.”)
That’s why my psychic abilities positively runneth over when I watched comedian Stephen Colbert interview former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on The Colbert Report, on June 13th.
Colbert acknowledged he was probably the only person in the studio old enough to remember (barely) the Nixon-Kissinger hay-day, and seemed mildly in awe of him, as if he had already partaken of Kissinger’s power – the “ultimate aphrodisiac.”
Because my psychic journalistic abilities extend into pre-taping, as I watched the interview, I could hear Colbert and his production staff marvel at the fact that Kissinger – one of the greatest war criminals of the 20th century - would be on their stage, and nervously ask each other, “How far do we go?”
So let me use my psychic journalistic abilities to share with you some of the words that should have been said in his interview, but weren’t. My psychic words are italicized.
Colbert: “Kissinger’s support for the secret bombings in Cambodia has earned him criticism from Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Ellsberg, and everyone in Cambodia. [Wait for laughter.] Yes, as architect of the campaign of carpet bombing eastern Cambodia in a misguided attempt to destroy the Ho Chi Minh trail – Kissinger dropped more bombs in a four year period on Cambodia, plus in Vietnam and Laos, than were dropped by the US in the entirety of World War II. Through that, and the illegal invasion of Cambodia, he brought about the rise to the genocidal regime of Pol Pot, whose Khmer Rouge who took over Cambodia in 1975 and killed at least a million people through starvation, torture and disease. The civil war that followed lasted 17 years.”
Colbert: “There are some out there who may not know the stature of the man sitting before me. You have advised many presidents on diplomacy, you were Secretary of State to both Nixon and Ford, you received the Nobel Peace Prize for the Paris Peace Accords in 1973. But really, what’s been forgotten is that in 1968, you – as a private citizen and part of the Nixon campaign - went on a secret trip to Paris to meet with the South Vietnamese, convincing them to withdraw from peace talks until after Nixon was elected. That meant the war dragged on another four years, claiming another 20 thousand American lives, plus untold hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians. A private citizen sabotaging peace talks in a time of war? There’s a word for that: treason. As Christopher Hitchens’ scholarship makes clear (in the link, above) you could have been hanged, by the laws that were on the books. In fact, after your Vietnamese counterpart refused to accept co-winning the Nobel Peace Prize with you, you attempted to decline it.
Hmm. Maybe some of my psychic journalistic abilities are really just snippets of institutional memory about the affairs of state, combined with research. Colbert’s a comedian, so he gets a pass. But what of the other networks who are giving air-time to Kissinger?
Perhaps Kissinger’s handlers laid out the terms for the interview in advance, and journalists and producers spanning the networks caved because you need to fill air-time. The 24 hour news-cycle is a fickle, shallow beast.
Yes, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, I’m talking to you. You should be embarrassed that Colbert did better. Fox? Forget about it. CBS and Time had the decency to ask a few questions, but let all his answers slide by unchallenged. Even The New York Times book review lets everything but China slip by unchallenged.
Because I’m psychic, I already know your argument: all these shows book Kissinger as a guest, he’s stumping for his new book on US-China relations, and Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, East Timor, Chile and all the rest of Kissinger’s murderous manipulations? Those aren’t relevant to our five minute segment.
That’s like interviewing captured Serbian war criminal Radovan Karadzic and limiting questions to his medical career.
And really, is Anthony Weiner ever going to live down the penis jokes? Bill Clinton’s obituary is going to include the words “Monica Lewinsky,” and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s marriage and career are over, for the simple reason we won’t ever forgive them their transgressions, even if their families do.
It’s just too bad that Henry Kissinger never got caught anywhere with his pants down. Maybe then we journalists would make better use of our psychic abilities to hear - and say - the words that should have been said.