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Our Illiterate National Leadership
January 28, 2002
by Jeremiah Bourque a.k.a. J B

Besides the Bible, how much do you think your national leaders read?


Once upon a time, a seemingly long, long time ago, George W. Bush said that his favorite book was the Bible. He failed to recognize the name of the leader of Pakistan who has become his most crucial pawn in the Great Game of Central Asia. Each and every time he reads for students, he reads the same book, each and every time.

We know that AG John Ashcroft does not read the newspapers or watch television. We can see with our own eyes that Donald Rumsfeld, when not defending himself against the accusation of being a stud, sees and hears what he wants to see and hear. We can guess that Mary Matalin exists in a world all her own, where externalities beyond those that she has chosen to make her rhetorical arguments and stnging slaps against figures on the other side (I doubt she sees them as people with children and families). We know that the Vice President absolutely refuses to allow sunshine laws to illuminate his energy policy formulation meetings, having the aforementionned self-styled black sex kitten to tell Congress to shove its inquiries "where the sun don't shine."

So how much do they really read?

When's the last time these people actually took out the Ten Commandments and studied the part about not coveting your neighbor's possessions? Peggy "Men Are Gods" Noonan has written an article on Enron lately. She paints herself as a confused angel who just couldn't understand how these people actually made their money. It just wasn't... simple enough. She wrote a prologue about how she couldn't understand how these businessmen were fighting over the last final millions of compensation packages of something like $100 million. She could simply not understand the difference between $105 million and $100 million. (Which is, she pointed out, $5 million. Compared to $100 million, that's not a lot of money. So far, so good.) Why would people fight over the last 5%?

Before answering that, might I suggest that a better read person would understand such an integral part of our modern world? Greed has not been a secret for, oh, at least recorded civilization, probably a lot longer, but somehow, the speech writer of presidents simply could not get it. She couldn't understand. Why did these people (that is, Enron's top management) hire her to do a shareholder's meeting speech? She apparently spent 100 or 200 hours trying to figure out how to get it done, over the course of a month... and can't even remember exactly how many. The kicker: She charged $250 AN HOUR!! I know Enron threw a lot of money around, but this is ridiculous, especially since she admitted that she did a bad job of it.

To answer the rhetorical question, which I'm sure she didn't actually intend to have answered: To these people, money is the overriding, if not the sole, measure of personal worth. In Randian fashion, money is the accumulated virtue possessed by a person, his right to collect goods and services from society for being good. More importantly, it is a measure of personal worth *as compared to one's peers*. If these executives were competing only against the average employee salary, or the average executive salary, or their own financial needs, then there would be nothing to fight about.

Rather, they chose to compete against each other, squabbling until they all got the $105 million.

Peggy Noonan is, I will repeat, a presidential speechwriter.

Let's take Donald "The Stud" Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld recently explained how he had "not the slightest concern" about the treatment of the suspected (but not charged nor convicted) terrorists at Camp X-Ray, which is not a camp at all, but a concentration camp of temporary accomodations about the size of the legendary Japanese cubicle size for overnight business stays (except with wire fence walls and 24/7 arc lights) set up until "permanent accomodations" can be prepared. The purpose of this camp is to evade the jurisdiction of federal law, while citing national sovereignty to ignore international law regarding the holding of detainees. Thus, the very existence of Camp X-Ray is an attempt to have it both ways.

Rumsfeld further railed against critics from a distance ("5000 miles away") who could not know the conditions for themselves. This might have been a valid criticism, were it not for Rumsfeld's rant that the Taliban prisoners were being treated far better than they had treated anyone else, therefore, no one can complain about American cruelty.

Did he even understand how he sounded? Does he even get the point? This is the classic fallacy of saying "At least WE do not eat our children alive." This implies that we may be exceptionally evil people, but at least we do not eat our children. This distinction is seen, overall, as a rather small one, and, thus, is not only ineffecitve propaganda, but directly aids enemies by allowing them to paint the speaker as an uncultured barbarian representing a sanctimonious nation of double standards. (The double standards theme was taken up in a recent article by Molly Ivins. I consider her article to be very well written.)

Further expanding on why these Taliban do not have rights, period, Rumsfeld and other government sources made clear that these were not POW's because they were not part of a regular army, and the United States was not at war. (NOW they tell us!)

I wonder how much our punditocracy reads, frankly. It didn't take me much research to find out, first of all, that "the Geneva Convention" is a complete fallacy. There are four Geneva Conventions (plural!) on the conduct of war.

I shall repeat this for clarity.


The one regarding POW's captured in wartime is the THIRD Geneva Convention. It quite likely does not apply to Al Qaeda or the Taliban, per se, though it does act as a barometer of international norms which international bodies routinely request that combattants in police actions, civil wars, and so on, adhere to.

The FOURTH Geneva Convention covers the detention of civilians.

If these are not combattants, are they not, then, civilians?

For clarity, all people who are known as "terrorists" are, by definition, civilian. There is no term "unlawful combattant" in normal legal discourse concerning treaty rights, but just the same, we can presume this: It means someone who is not protected as a POW. The people who are protected as POW's are soldiers. Those who are not soldiers do not enter some kind of legal black hole. They are, in a word, in fact, in one single world, civilians.

Consequently, the protections for civilians, covered by the Fourth Geneva Convention, a large host of UN treaties and conventions that the US has been a party to, and for goodness sakes, the Constitution of the United States and basic protections believed to belong to ALL human beings, regardless of race or creed, protections that the United States government is required to uphold, and has been required to uphold for two hundred years, must, and do, apply to those held in Guantanamo Bay.

Rumsfeld just says that they're not covered by the Geneva Convention and that's that.

Consequently, I question: Is this just ignorance, and he genuinely does not know, or is he deliberately using bad interperetations international law in order to justify his own position?

I knew that Bill Clinton knew what the meaning of "is" was (and is). I do not know if Rumsfeld has any idea what international law requires, if more than one Geneva Convention exists, or if foreign nationals have rights. I do not even know whether or not he believes we are at war, despite his, the Executive, branch, maintaining that the United States is in a state of armed conflict, and consequently claiming wartime powers to defend home soil by bombing the hell out of foreign soil.

I imagine that the truth may well be, "I do not have the slightest concern..."

Well, I suppose, no, he does not. He should.

So what about Ashcroft, saying that John Walker Lindh waived his right to an attorney orally and in writing? He'd been through three days of hell on earth that he ought not to have survived. He had been given morphine for the control of pain. Before the prison riot, the CIA agent known as "Dave" had told him, "You know, there's only so many people that we can get the Red Cross to help." He was, I imagine, told that he had no rights, that he was not a POW, and that he could be excecuted for a wide variety of crimes against the United States.

Frankly, I don't care if he signed that document waiving a lawyer in his own *blood*. I will not consider it legitimate, and no court of any worth should, either.

Though I fully expect enough lying and cheating and sacrifices of principle to convict Walker based on his own confessions and other evidence, though Ashcroft has (intelligently? stupidly?) specified that Walker's own words form the lion's share of the government's case, this will be a test of core American legal principles. This trial will truly help determine, for the next century, who we are, and what we stand for. We will see if guilt by association is enough to put someone behind bars for life; if Americans fighting for foreign governments that America suddenly attacks without a declaration of war, are traitors; if criminals apprehended outside the jurisdiction of the United States can be interrogated with contents of that interrogation leaked to the media; and if we really give a damn about protections against self-incrimination.

I also personally believe that any intelligence gleaned from Walker is worth less than bovine manure.

What of the President himself?

Maybe it's laziness on my part as a writer, but I don't really want to get very deep into this. I will leave it at this: Ending scheduled tax cuts is not raising taxes.

To say so is to be a big, fat liar.

I have to wonder if this is out of ignorance, because to think otherwise, would be to think that these people are taking everything that they accused Clinton of ever doing, from cover-ups, to wagging the dog, to using incorrect grammar to describe grade school math, and are doing so themselves in a vain search for revenge.

This is like believing that the government was going to hell in a handbasket under the last administration, to come in on a narrow mandate... and, just in case, to make sure that the government IS going to hell in a handbasket.

Perhaps they are like the executives described above, obsessed with competing against Clinton the man, rather than holding themselves to more objective standards, like truth, justice, the interests of the People, honor, and self-respect.

So, I ask, which is it: Ignorance, or malice?

You decide.

I think I'm getting the urge to read a good book.

Jeremiah Bourque is a guerilla intellectual, historian, and desktop general.

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