Friday, August 31, 2007

Craig's Collapse

"I am not gay," Larry Craig insisted during his police interview July 11, after being arrested at Minneapolis International Airport. Craig, a conservative Senator from Idaho, was accused of lewd conduct--namely, soliciting sex in a men's room at the airport--and plead guilty to the lesser charge of disorderly conduct. How did a high profile public official caught in such an embarrassing position?

Sgt. Dave Karsnia was working as a plainclothes officer at the airport on June 11 investigating civilian complaints regarding sexual activity in one of the men's public restrooms. Karsnia entered the bathroom at noon that day and took a seat in a stall. Craig entered the bathroom a few minutes later. The police report then states that Craig looked through the crack of the stall at the officer, entered the stall next to the officer, placed his roller bag in front of the door, and tapped his foot, a soliciting signal. Then, Craig's foot touched the officer's and Craig swiped his hand along the stall divider. At that point the officer showed his identification. Craig got out of his stall and was arrested.

Craig disputes virtually every aspect of the police report, saying that his foot accidentally touched the officer's because he employs a wide stance while in the men's room so his slacks would not slide to the floor. As for running his hand under the stall divider, Craig said he was reaching for a piece of stray toilet paper. Craig is accusing the officer of entrapment.

I can sympathize with a man wanting to keep his expensive, Senate-level pants off a public bathroom floor, an area usually alarmingly filthy, but this is also why most men don't go reaching down for pieces of dropped toilet paper. So, I understand one part of Craig's excuse but not the other. Then, there's the freaky stall leering behavior. Craig was probably was indeed soliciting, b
ut it's not much of a stretch to see how some of his actions could be misconstrued if one were motivated to catch a solicitor.

For example, Craig put his roller bag against the inside of the stall door, because, as Officer Karsnia suggested, "individuals engaging in lewd conduct use their bags to block the view from the front of their stall." But really, where's the bag supposed to go? Behind the toilet? Off to the side?
That's what he was arrested for? Improper roller bag placement and foot tapping? I find that to be more troubling than any other part of the story. Is his behavior odd? Yes. Is it disturbing? Yes. Is it a threat to airport security? Probably not. I can think of more than a few things I'd rather have police officers doing in an airport than sitting in stalls watching where men put their roller bags.

But what makes the story even more compelling is that Craig has a long history of legislating against gay rights, while for years stories have floated around about his less than straight sexual orientation. Even his use of men's rooms to solicit is nothing new. And then he goes and gets himself a men's room! Assuming the reports are false, and he is indeed straight, then he is certainly guilty of some strange bathroom etiquette and horrible timing. But if he is gay, which seems obvious, then his life is a sad example of someone who has to live a lie and sneak into bathrooms to round up some satisfaction.
Honestly, I could care less about his preference, what matters is his wife and family and whether or not he is deceiving them, himself, and his constituents.

So is the issue the soliciting? This is clearly not the problem because men do it everywhere, all the time. This behavior is enthusiastically represented by Republican Senator David Vitter who, because he is not gay, can take greater chances when scrounging for sex. Namely, by contacting the D.C. Madam herself. And, because Vitter is not gay, no one in the Republican party is asking for his resignation when his phone number turns up in odd places, like on the Madam's list. Craig's problem is inappropriate only because he may be gay, and, like other gay men, forced solicit it in such seedy places. Their procedure well known
, they can be targeted and easily arrested. Are they plotting to blow up a plane? Are they selling drugs? No, they're trying to hook up.

Since the story broke, Larry Craig's support has virtually evaporated. Mitt Romney, whose campaign Craig once assisted, called his behavior "disgusting." Pressure is mounting for the Senator to step down. Those on the left are having a field day over the self-loathing Republican Senator who might be gay. But the saddest thing to me is a man whose life is collapsing, buried under a pile of self-deception. What if, like Ted Haggard, he is gay? Then, his entire life is a fabrication built on the lies he tells to himself and others. Then, his anti-gay votes in the Senate are to be viewed not only as hypocrisy but as a sad and severe case of self-hate. And, if Senator Craig is not gay, surely there are thousands in this country who do live under that duplicity because of worn out social constraints. Regardless, the version we have invented is, no doubt, the way many actually do live, and sometimes they are arrested for tapping their feet in men's rooms. I hope someday we can look back with astonishment that we ever even cared about someone's sexual orientation. But, for now, it is all that matters.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Mistakes by Any Other Name

Last week President Bush again made his case against withdrawing from Iraq, this time calling it analogous to America’s pull-out of Vietnam. Meanwhile we have been witness to a conspicuous administration evacuation of men trying to distance themselves from a White House that itself resembles a policy quagmire. Still the President puts on his game face and refuses to admit that his realm, both foreign and domestic, is a shambles due to the neoconservative credo that any admission of weakness only emboldens our enemies.

Unfortunately, such a strategy has very little grounding in realistic perception. Adhering to this core tenet helps explain why, for example, people (like Donald Rumsfeld) were allowed to languish while vital areas (like the war in Iraq) were slipping out of control. Indeed, Bush and Cheney and others, felt it was better policy to deny the truth that everyone else saw to be self evident while showing support for officials we all knew were in over their heads. When Rumsfeld finally did leave town Vice President Dick Cheney gushed at the farewell service, proclaiming him one of the greatest SecDefs in United States history. The rest of us watched on confused.

But even this was all part of the plan. The belief is that any acknowledgment of a prior mistake, or failure, only helps out those who are against us. One can also see how this thinking would lead to very little critical oversight, and an outright contempt for reasonable criticism and questioning. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how this thinking could corrupt wartime operations. Neoconservatism's greatest product, Iraq, has been, for lack of a better term, a disaster. The situation has shown signs of improving over the past six months thanks to a new commander, General Patraeus, and a new strategy, to hold down Baghdad while buying the ineffective Iraqi government more time, but for five long years millions of Americans have overseen the war and deemed its execution a dreadful mess. They have watched as their tax dollars have vanished (sometimes literally, missing) somewhere in Iraq while the President voiced extreme optimism (declaring an end to major combat operations in Iraq) and then stoicism (we will stay the course).

Back before the war started Americans were told that the oil revenues would pay for the entire operation. We were told that Iraq was an important threat to American security. We were told that once we sheered the top of the Iraqi power structure off that liberty and Democracy would rush in to fill the void. Just how that last part would occur no one could say because, well, we’d never done such a thing before. But to even ask such questions would be to break the first rule of neoconservativism, which may have been pulled from off a Hollywood script: show only strength and, if at all possible, some honor.

Americans didn’t really understand the full incompetence of the Bush administration until Hurricane Katrina shuffled it’s way up the Gulf of Mexico, landed at New Orleans as predicted, and flooded the city. The response was a microcosm of our Iraqi mess. We witnessed the bureaucratic nightmare of institutions stuffed with family friends trying to communicate with each other. Millions were stunned to watch as the vaunted Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Association were knocked off-guard and left all but completely ineffectual while thousands of homeland citizens were stranded and hundreds died.
It was then that people started to ask critical questions of an administration that had put on such a powerful show for the Republic. The outcome was an overturning of the house and Senate in the 2006 November elections that allowed the Democrats to begin seriously investigating entrenched politburo officials.

Still Bush refuses to budge on Iraq, lest we embolden our enemies. A military withdrawal is out of the question yet what are we to make of the political withdrawal we are witnessing from the President’s administration? First there was Rumsfeld, a day after the 2006 elections, followed by a score of other, lesser cabinet members. Then Bush’s key advisor, Karl Rove, stepped down, like a fatigued football coach, announcing he wanted to spend more time with his family. And now, barely a week later, embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez has announced his sudden resignation.

Both Rove and Gonzalez are very powerful members of the administration (Gonzalez, in theory, is supposed to be independent) whom Bush continually championed while the Democrats laid siege to and lobbed projectiles against administration walls. Those walls now appear to be crumbling. A true believer to the end, Bush “reluctantly” accepted Gonzales resignation referring to him affectionately as “Al.” And why not? The two men have been through a lot since then Texas Governor Bush plucked Al Gonzalez out of a Houston law firm and made him his legal advisor. Gonzalez gave insufficient counsel and did not second-guess convictions and failed appeals while the state of Texas executed more prisoners during his term than any other state. But more important than competency was his loyalty. He was rewarded by being appointed Texas’s Secretary of State and then to the state Supreme Court.
But it was as President Bush’s White House counsel that Gonzalez showed his usefulness by trying to limit The Freedom of Information Act, and helping the United States circumvent the “quaint” Geneva Convention and detain and torture prisoners without cause in camps around the world, including Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He also authored the Presidential Order that authorized military tribunals to try terror suspects. As to whether or not Gonzalez was involved in the firing of nine US Attorneys, perhaps we will never know, thanks in no small part to his spotty memory before a Senate panel. Of this man Bush said, “It's sad that we live in a time when a talented and honorable person, like Alberto Gonzales, is impeded from doing important work, because his good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons.”

One can only guess what “important work” remained for Al Gonzalez but two things are known. One, the Justice Department is another Bush administration victim, which makes quite a body count for a President who never admits a mistake. And two, the next Attorney General will have a much higher hill to climb to confirmation now that he or she has to go through the Democrats. No doubt some might consider it too audacious to expect the next Attorney General of the United States wont be a Bush family friend.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Are We Having Fun Yet?

When I was married I was miserable because I thought I wasn’t having any fun. After my divorced I was shocked to learn no one else was having any fun either. I re-entered the dating scene with all the enthusiasm of a high school graduate but it quickly evaporated as I discovered that all those people I thought were having fun really had no idea what they were doing. Once again, I'd been had.

I place part of the blame on “Sex and the City” syndrome. One of the few girls I actually liked when I was dating once broke out He’s Just Not That Into You, the best selling book by two writers of the ubiquitous HBO show, which, as it turned out, was sort of her field guide for dating. I was humiliated when she referenced the book to criticize me. Imagine that! Someone taking real life cues from two people whose credentials were forged in a fictional universe. To her it was simply a matter of acting like a successful woman on TV, and consulting the book if there were any questions. Welcome to the single life.

All you really want when dating is for the other person to be real. You just want to know: do you like me or not? Not, would this make a good episode on TV? You want to know: is this working or not? Please don’t consult the manual. Our society works in vapid the way China dabbles with led paint. Everyone just seems to be doing their best impression of someone who is having fun, or in-charge, or successful, no one really knows what they're doing and most people are having no fun. They wake up Saturday mornings hungover, dust themselves off, and return to their dreams of being a lawyer, or crime scene analyst, just like on TV.

I just read an essay outlining 25 steps to boost your self-confidence. Here, again, is another symptom. How can we be the same species that mastered fire, and ventured from caves to kill mastodons with crude weapons made from sticks and stones, and be so plagued with self-confidence issues? When did we fall into this ridiculous cycle of simply doing what we see everyone else doing on TV or consulting someone else’s ideas on how we should run our lives? Ten thousand years ago we just had to do it, or parish. There was no room for people who couldn't discover their motivation. Today people think self-confidence can be conjured up by consulting a few web pages.

You see: no one is having any fun, really. "Fun" was trademarked, homogenized, and is now re-heated to the consumer. On TV people who drink beer look like they're always having fun, right? So, in real life it's a blast to get hammered every weekend, right? I know a lot of married people who look longingly at the single life because it seems so interesting and sexy. Well, sometimes it is, but most of the time it’s just a bunch of bullshit. Trust me. For every one person you meet that really lights your fire, there are hundreds who look like they’ve wandered onto the set of “Sex and the City” and are just killing time.

Clubbing, drinking, drugs, and large sunglasses, these are the signs of someone who is really having no fun but is trying desperately to hide it. But who knows, maybe if all the props are in place everything will come together. It’s one big competition out there to see who can outdo everyone else. It’s really a lot like high school. And maybe that’s why, when they’re not pretending to have fun, so many people are confused, powerless, miserable and broken and empty. Which drives them to pretend even more.

I was stunned to learn how much effort it is to keep up appearances like that. And the appearances on top of appearances. The money invested in designer clothes, and hair products. It's an entire fake lifestyle on top of a lifestyle. No wonder corporations continue to report record profits. They reach both the conformists and the non-conformists. Everyone is trying desperately to be like the next guy, who is having no fun, or to not be like the next guy, who is having no fun. When does it end?

I’m 31, and it may be time to check-out. I have a decent job and I'm a responsible adult and that actually makes me happy. I'm the guy that owns a house in the suburbs, which my friends see as an example of my pitiful existence. They seem stunned that I have no interest in hanging out at a club, or living upstairs from a martini bar, or going to film school. I've essentially vanished. If you did happen to notice me on the street you might laugh. I'm the guy who no longer matches his belt with his shoes. Being free is the most fun I've ever had.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Bridges, and the Funny Thing About Bad Goverment

President Bush dismissed today raising the federal gas tax to repair the nation's bridges citing fiscal responsibility.

"The way it seems to have worked is that each member on that (Transportation) committee gets to set his or her own priorities first," Bush said. "That's not the right way to prioritize the people's money. Before we raise taxes, which could affect economic growth, I would strongly urge the Congress to examine how they set priorities."

This comes a week after the highway 35W bridge collapsed in downtown Minneapolis during rush hour killing five people, at least eight are still missing. As a resident of the Twin Cities, and one who traverses its bridges frequently, this event has been, perhaps, more personal than to our nation's leaders. One does not expect a major bridge, in a major city, to collapse during rush hour. It's not only stunning but obviously unacceptable.

What is also stunning is that the press has quickly uncovered previous inspections of that bridge deeming it structurally unsound. Thus I am not sure which element I find more disconcerting: the collapse of the bridge, or the wealth of information on-hand warning us that such a thing could occur and was basically ignored. Minnesota Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty twice vetoed compressive transportation bills, but more on that in a moment.

Since the collapse Pawlenty has been quick to point out there are 70,000 bridges across the country that are in similar condition. His point serves two purposes. One, to illustrate the dire condition of our nation's infrastructure while at the same time assuaging fears many people have about their own bridges. After 69,999 of these unsound bridges are still standing.

But how many of these bridges are in major cities? How many carry over 100,000 cars a day as the 35W bridge in Minneapolis did? Shouldn't some priority have been given to a major bridge when it is found to be structurally unsound? Our problem is not lack of information but leaders who lack the wisdom and judgment to make the right decision with the information they have. We now know that the 35W bridge inspections had been done and their findings turned out to be an accurate harbinger of the disaster. Still, our leaders choose to take their chances. That bridge, and the pages of findings about its deficiencies, is a symbol of how we govern these days. It is now a terrible tragedy; unfortunately, and unnecessarily, a recovery zone.

There's a funny thing about conservativism, which stokes a strong American distrust for government: operations which are conducted are done so poorly that one finds the distrust reasonable. When those operations are found to be woefully inefficient, comities are formed to plumb the depths of their incompetence, but nothing changes. Amazingly, the people usually know what needs to be done without the availability of official reports. They go to their executive leaders and ask to be taxed to create the funds needed for remedy and they are turned away in the name of fiscal responsibility. Thus bad government, trying to do things for nothing, creates disasters, which fosters more mistrust in the government. In this area President Bush, and Gov. Pawlenty have done a magnificent job.

In early 2006 the Minnesota legislature produced a transportation bill which was being pushed unilaterally from both sides, and notably by business leaders, a crowd not usually anxious for more taxes, who affirmed the poor condition of our state's infrastructure. Gov. Pawlenty swiftly and dramatically vetoed the bill while musing aloud, "How dumb can they be?" The people resurrected the bill as an amendment which was voted on, and rejected, in the 2006 elections. By November 2006 enough people had seen enough inefficiency in government to allow the no-tax, something-for-nothing crowd to have its day and in the end we are left with what we (don't) pay for. Since the 35W bridge collapse Pawlenty, to his credit, says he could accept a higher gasoline tax to pay for infrastructure upgrades. A changed man, perhaps, we will see if he has discovered the leadership needed to govern above people's base fears.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Fred Thompson Article Featured on

One of my previous articles is now being featured on the front page of Helium. Helium is a web page for opinionated writers (how could I resist?) and the article features my thoughts on Fred Thompson. It was written about four months ago so it's a little dated but the gist of it continues to ring true in my opinion. Fred Thompson, who has not even declared his candidacy, is currently ahead of John McCain and Mitt Romney and only trails Rudy G.

Go check out Helium for some good writing (and me!).