Monday, July 30, 2007

Gonzalez Must Go

Alberto Gonzalez has been in the news a lot lately, and none of the news has been good. He hasn't been able to tell a straight story to Congress yet. It's to the point now where, if he told me his name, I'd demand to see an ID card, and probably wouldn't trust it even then.

As with most Washington scandals, the problem has less to do with what was done than in how the stink has been handled. The roots of the problem lie with the Justice Department firing eight attorneys. The Department said it was for "poor performance", while the records show that they were all pretty good. Instead, it's been pretty clear that they were fired for political purposes: either to block ongoing investigations or to make room for Rove-trained up-and-comers to get something neat on their resumes. On the one hand, the administration (Bush, Cheney, and Gonzalez) have grossly undermined the Justice Department by subverting its non-partisan mission and awarding party loyalty over professional competence. This is serious stuff. On the other hand, the Constitution says that the attorneys serve at the pleasure of the President. In other words, they can be fired for no reason whatsoever.

Had Gonzalez and Cheney and Bush said up front, "Yeah, we replaced these good attorneys with partisan party hacks. The Constitution says we can do it. Now deal with it", well, then Congress wouldn't have much to bitch about. However, this administration is genetically incapable of telling the truth. So they dissemble, put out falsehoods and half-truths, and parse statements so they don't really say what it sounds like they're saying. And now Gonzalez is caught up in it.

I read somewhere over the weekend that watching Gonzo give testimony to Congress was like watching the clubbing of a baby seal. The guy is just not fast enough on his feet to defend himself. He's been clearly trying to mislead Congress; he has repeatedly had to submit written statements "clarifying" his oral testimony, and he obviously can't keep up with what he's said previously.

Bush is no help. Beyond his usual "You're doing a helluva job, Gonzo" type statements, he's still letting the guy swing in the wind. He values loyalty over competence, obviously, and won't fire Gonzo no matter how bad he is. So the Justice Department is hemorraging good talent, is leaderless, and the morale is somewhere at the bottom of a toilet filled with poop.

And what would happen if Gonzo goes? Well, you've got a Democrat-controlled Senate, which would have to approve any new nominee. Figure the odds of getting a loyal party hack by those guys. But actually, Bush has a pretty good track record of replacing idiots with competent people. Look at the Intelligence Director and the Secretary of Defense, for example.

Bottom line: Alberto Gonzalez must go. Now.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Resurrection in Mostar

Resurrection in Mostar
Oil on canvas, 18"x24"

This is the newest painting in my "Meditation on War" series. It's based on a trip that I took from Sarajevo to Mostar during my deployment there in 1996. Mostar was under seige for years and the Old Town along the river took the worst of it, since the river was the boundary line between the Muslim and Croat sections. The buildings in the painting are composites of several structures in the old Muslim section. They were being repaired and re-inhabited, with shops and restaurants starting to open up again.

I'm still doing small paintings for now. They're a lot of fun, really: more spontaneous and much more quickly done than the larger Paintings from Hell that stay on my easel for up to six freakin' months. Rather than making a Statement, these are observations. Or, as an artist friend said, they bear witness.

I'm still working from photographs, which is very much a limitation, especially since I didn't take nearly enough pictures. But in a way, it's also a bit of a liberation. Often, I find that when I'm working on-site, there's a tyranny of reality. I paint what I see as I see it. It's only later, with a bit of mental and emotional distance, that I can look at the image as an image and say, "Dang, that looks like crap!" Working from these photographs, there's already an 11-year distance, so I can pick and choose what I want to play with, while still remaining true to the spirit of the experience.

A while back, I wrote about approaching my paintings more like a journalist approaches a story. I'm obviously not doing that yet. But these pictures, I think, are laying the groundwork for it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Bumper Stickers

People are lazy. We'll put a bumper sticker on our cars a month before an election, then drive around with the dang thing for two years, until we put another one on a month before the next election. Except I've been seeing people driving around now for three years with "Bush/Cheney '04" bumperstickers. It's sad, really. It's like they're driving around with a big "I'm Really Stoopid" sign on their backs.

Today, though, I saw one that took it to the next level. It read "Bush/Cheney '08".

Yes, people, true evil really does exist in this world ...

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Studio Stuff

I've completed a couple more paintings in the "Meditation on War" series since my last entry.

Over the Drina River
Oil on panel, 12"x17"

Plastic Window
Oil on panel, 12"x9"

I'm doing some small paintings right now. It's a nice change. This series of paintings about war is kinda heavy, and seems to call for larger works. I mean, heavy subject matter means it's gotta be big in order to do it justice, right? But now that I've done three small ones, I've found that there's definitely a place for smaller works. They're a lot fresher, for one thing. I don't spend a lot of time doing workup drawings and thinking about the meaning of each and every item. And they don't have to have multiple layers of meaning. All of these are based on things I saw in Bosnia - just quick images that, for whatever reason, left an impression in my memory.

None of these are copied from photos, by the way. I do use photos, but usually there are multiple sources for each painting. The Drina painting, for example, was triggered by a snapshot I took during a helicopter trip. The landscape in that photo was boring, so I used a couple of other photos to guide me while I made up the "Drina" composition.

In a previous post, I mentioned that I wanted to start working in a slightly different way. This past week I set the ball in motion by contacting some people representing various veterans organizations. I hope to be able to find some vets to work with me on some paintings. Exactly what that means is still to be determined - whether that's in sharing thoughts, stories, images, or (better) sitting for a painting whose storyline is based on their experiences.

Also this week, I came across another artist who is working along similar lines. His name's Aaron Hughes. He's a young guy who spent a year plus in Iraq. Afterward, he completed a BFA and did a powerful series of works based on his experiences. You can see his works here.

And just a couple of days ago, I discovered that there are efforts underway to hold a large-scale anti-war protest event in Washington on September 15th. That's the day that General Petraeus is scheduled to present his report to Congress. Last year, I went up to DC for Camp Democracy, which was also an anti-war event. I thought it would be big, but turned out to be very little. This one, though, might be the real deal. I'm looking at taking my display tent and political satire paintings up there. The event is being organized by the ANSWER Coalition and you can read about it here.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Now back to politics ...

Our Abject Failure in Chief continues to distinguish himself with his political commentary. Today's press conference is certainly no exception.

Example: "The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq were the ones who attacked us in America on September 11." Umm, no. Bush has been conflating Iraq and Al Qaeda his whole presidency, and they are NOT the same thing, as any intel analyst will tell you. Bin Laden and Al Qaeda attacked us on September 11, while Hussein was sitting on his hands in Baghdad. The Al Qaeda in Iraq organization shares little more than the "Al Qaeda" name with Bin Laden. Yes, they're really bad guys, but they WEREN'T IN IRAQ before Bush's invasion, and they're not all that likely to try to attack us here. They'd like to, but liking and doing are two different things.

Example: "Those of us who believe the battle in Iraq can and must be won, see the satisfactory performance on several of the security benchmarks as a cause for optimism." Bush and Cheney are the only ones in the world who seem to think we can "win" in Iraq. The only ones who can bring about the conditions that will end the violence are the Iraqis, and to date their so-called "government" has proven to be remarkably incompetent. The "satisfactory performance" that Bush touted are all due to American servicemen/women. The Iraqis have completely missed every single one of their "benchmarks". In other words, our troops are still carrying Bush's sorry ass after four years in a useless quagmire. Peace requires diplomacy. How much diplomacy have you seen from this administration? Somewhere south of zero.

Example: "I'm aware of the fact that perhaps somebody in the administration did disclose the name of that person" ("that person" was Valerie Plame). Remember that when the Plame scandal began four years ago, Bush said he would fire anyone in his administration who was found to have publicly disclosed the identity of Plame. She was a covert CIA agent and her outing did untold damage to intelligence programs and possibly got people killed. As Scooter Libby's trial proved, there were quite a few people who outed her, including Libby. And what did Bush do in response? Commuted the convicted felon's sentence.

Sigh. Every day, every single day, brings more of the same. The guy is a frickin' idiot.

I remember during the runup to the first Gulf War that whenever Saddam Hussein was given a choice between two lines of action, he always chose the one with the worst possible outcome. George Bush is doing the exact same thing.

And we still have 556 days of this to look forward to.

More Pictures of the Grandson

He's a happy little guy, isn't he?

I've got about a half-dozen captions for this one, but you've probably got a better one ... let me know and I'll post it here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Another New Painting

I finally finished this painting over the weekend. It's been in progress since frickin' February! I had other projects which kept jumping in and taking precedence, so this one would sometimes spend weeks on hiatus until I could get back to it. The painting is two separate panels, each 48" x 36".
A lovely young lady here in Asheville posed for the woman in the left panel. She's got a description of the process on her MySpace page, which you can see here.
I must be gettin' old ... seems like they're all "lovely young ladies" these days ... there once was a time when they were "hot babes" ...

Friday, July 06, 2007

Army of Dude

I just added a new link. "Army of Dude" is a blog by a soldier currently in Iraq. It's a very powerful and well-written look at the day-to-day life of a soldier on the front line. Some of it's funny, some of it's not. In particular, look at his March 25 entry titled "Brian Chevalier, 1985-2007" for an unvarnished look at what street fighting in Iraq is all about.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Scooter Libby

Yesterday, George Bush commuted Scooter Libby's sentence. Scooter, you may remember, was Dick Cheney's chief of staff. Scooter was the one who was telling all the Washington reporters that Valerie Plame was a CIA agent, and then he lied about it under oath. He was convicted and the judge threw the book at him. Yesterday, George said the sentence was too much, so he threw out the prison sentence.

So what does it all mean? Well, that's the million-dollar question today, isn't it? Was George playing to the far right-wing base who were raising millions for the "Scooter Libby Defense Funds"? If he was, he didn't make them happy: they wanted a complete pardon. (Note that these were the same ones who were rabidly attacking Bill Clinton for lying under oath. Let's see: Libby outed a covert CIA agent, which effectively ended her career, did untold damage to all intelligence programs she was involved in previously, and possibly got some of her contacts killed. Libby then deliberately misled prosecutors in a successful attempt to divert attention from his bosses who dreamed this whole thing up. Clinton lied about a blow job. Yeah, that sounds about equal, doesn't it?) So with Bush's decision, Libby is still a convicted felon who will be on probation for a while and have to pay a $250,000 fine. Sounds stiff, except that even as a convicted felon, he won't have any problem getting employment from the multitude of right-wingers. I bet we see him at some think-tank soon, or maybe on the board at Halliburton. As for the probation, probation from what? Revealing any more CIA agents' identities? Lying to any more grand juries? Be real. And a $250,000 fine sounds terrible, except that, as noted previously, his "defense funds" have already raised millions. They'll just write a check from one of those funds and Scooter's off the hook. So basically, Libby is free to go write a book, make a lot of money, and have a good life. As George said, anything more is "excessive punishment".

Okay, so the far right wing base isn't happy that Libby didn't get a pardon. The other roughly 85% of America (according to today's CNN polls) isn't happy that he's not going to prison. This 85% of America, by the way, is collectively known as the "left wing" to Limbaugh, Coulter, and the Administration. None of us are happy because Bush has subverted justice yet again.

So if the right wing isn't happy, and the "left wing" isn't happy, who is? Well, Scooter. But he can't vote now, so he won't have any effect on the next election.

I heard some TV pundit saying that Bush might be trying to shore up his legacy. Yes, I can see it now:
"George Bush: Still dumber than a box of rocks."