Is it 100 days already? Try as I might, I simply can't visualize W as the White House's occupant. With Bill that was never a problem. Close your eyes and there he was, gladhanding the visitors, guiding Monica's nose below his beltline, quarreling with his wife. Bush has no presence, no imaginative affect. Every few days I see a forlorn, joyless little man trudging across the Rose Garden and hear earnest
commentary about the "President." But what has he done? The commentators have been quarrying industriously, but it's slim pickings: the China imbroglio, now preposterously inflated to the status of a Cuban missile crisis; denial of U.S. funds to abortions overseas, sundry favors to the banks (rewriting of the bankruptcy laws), UPS (nixing the late-Clinton ergonomic rules) and the coal industry. No tax bill yet, no education bill yet. What else?
Certainly in my lifetime there's not been such a gray presence in the Oval Office, a man so inarticulate, so visibly ignorant of almost everything except baseball scores. The only thing he has going for him is his wife and daughters. Someone told me that after a couple of years of marriage Laura Bush put it about that she found W unsatisfactory as a lawful wedded mate and wanted out. The Bush family told her that wasn't an option and she went along. This is unverified, meaning I got it secondhand from a well-informed Texan who threw in for good measure that Laura had been a tearaway in the old days in Midland, which I can well believe of that lovely woman.
The Star published in its May 1 issue an old photo of the crossroads where the 17-year-old Laura in her late model Chevy ran a stop sign and struck the 1962 Corvair sedan (actually a great car, despite what Ralph Nader said) of her 17-year-old boyfriend Michael Douglas, breaking his neck and killing him on the spot. His car was hurled nearly 50 feet according to the Star, using Midland police reports of the event. The photo of the spot where Farm Rd. 868 crosses State Hwy. 349, the road on which Douglas was traveling discloses an intersection devoid of shrubbery, trees or anything that might have obscured Laura's vision. Either she was mad at Mike or was just chatting to her driving companion, Judy Dykes, and not paying attention. The Midland PD said she wasn't drunk.
Looks like the twin girls, Jenna and Barbara, are as fun-loving as was Laura in her hot youth. In her first 100 days as child of the Prez, Jenna, the one at UT, has been busted for having alcohol, and the Yalie Barbara has partied hard. The newspapers are being respectful. If it were Chelsea Clinton we'd been reading pompous editorials in The Wall Street Journal about the moral fallout of the 1960s.
Our Kurt Waldheim
II'll tell you one thing?one of many, actually, but this is prime?that settles the Bob Kerrey thing for me. Supposedly wracked with indecision whether to accept the congressional Medal of Honor for a military action (subsequent to the one now under dispute), he finally did so on May 14, 1970, just 10 days after the Ohio National Guard killed four student antiwar protesters at Kent State. In other words, at a moment of maximal national revulsion against the war, Kerrey went along with the Pentagon's urgent desire for heroes and presented his chest to Nixon, who pinned the medal to it. So much for ambiguity. And now, and only now, is he considering whether to give back the Bronze Star awarded him for the mission in which he personally cut the throats of elderly peasants and ordered the killing of babies.
A 62-year-old survivor of Kerrey's raid, Pham Tri Lanh, may be cloudy as to whether she saw the killings or merely heard them, but she's clear on what Kerrey and his men left behind: "I saw them there, lying dead with their heads nearly cut off"?her 65-year-old neighbor, Bui Van Vat, his 62-year-old wife Canh and the couple's three grandchildren, all under 12 and all stabbed to death. Later she found 16 more bodies, some piled on top of one another, some fallen in a row. She believes her neighbors had been lined up and shot at close range "because they were all gathered in a group outside." In the piles of the dead were Lanh's three sisters, a sister-in-law and four of her nieces and nephews. The next day, Lanh and four other villagers dug a mass grave and buried the 21 bodies, including, she says, three pregnant women.
It's pretty clear that Kerrey's raid was part of the Phoenix program (as was My Lai, where Task Force Barker killed 504 men, women and children on March 16, 1968). The intent of Phoenix was terror, precisely the killing of not only suspected Vietcong, but their families. The late William Colby, the CIA man who ran the program in Vietnam, told Congress that between 1967 and 1971 Phoenix had killed 20,587 Vietnamese "activists." The South Vietnamese declared that nearly 41,000 had been killed. There are other much higher estimates. Barton Osborn, an intelligence officer in the Phoenix program, spelled out in a congressional hearing the prevailing bureaucratic attitude of the agents toward their campaign of terror: "Quite often it was a matter of expediency just to eliminate a person in the field rather than deal with the paperwork."
In 1972 a parade of witnesses before Congress testified about techniques of the Phoenix investigators: how they interviewed suspects and then pushed them out of planes, how they cut off fingers, ears and testicles, how they used electroshock, shoved wooden dowels into the brains of some prisoners and rammed electric probes into the rectums of others.
And who was classed as a "VC sympathizer" and therefore fair game to be slaughtered by units like Kerrey's? The CIA's Robert Ramsdell, one of the two men who developed the My Lai operation, told Task Force Barker's intelligence officer, Capt. Koutac, "Anyone in that area was considered a VC sympathizer because they couldn't survive in that area unless they were sympathizers."
The death squads run by the CIA men supervising Phoenix were a particular favorite of the man who pinned the medal on Kerrey: Richard Nixon. After My Lai there was a move to reduce the funding for these killing programs. According to Seymour Hersh, Nixon passionately objected: "No. We've got to have more of this. Assassinations. Killings." The funding was swiftly restored.
When he was at Newsweek in 1998, Vistica had Kerrey cold. But Newsweek editors decided that since Kerrey was no longer a presidential candidate it wasn't worth exposing him as a war criminal. Same deal with Waldheim. Why bother the guy unless he becomes UN secretary general? It's okay for a U.S. senator to be a war criminal. Then The New York Times finally decided to run Vistica's story because Kerrey had left the Senate. It's okay for a war criminal to be head of the New School, which has moral philosophers standing by to counsel any students bothered about the affair. Which they certainly should be. In fact, I hope that at this very moment the New School firebrands are demanding that Kerrey step down. And if not, why not?
So will the Kerrey brouhaha nudge the nation or Congress into confronting the past? Of course not. Right before the last election CounterPunch ran a story by Doug Valentine, who wrote The Phoenix Program, one of the best histories of what really happened in Vietnam. Valentine's CounterPunch story concerned Robert Simmons, in the midst of an ultimately successful campaign to be elected as one of Connecticut's U.S. reps. The specific charge against Simmons, originally leveled in the New London Day in 1994, was that he routinely violated the Geneva Conventions while interrogating civilian prisoners during his 20 months of service with the CIA in Vietnam. Simmons may well have supervised torture sessions as part of the CIA's Phoenix program. Simmons claimed he'd always steered clear of the dirty stuff. Same way Kerrey claims that when they cut the throats of the old folk in the peasant hut, he was outside.
Anyone interested can read Valentine's story in the CounterPunch archive on our website .
"Among various tasks," according to Valentine, CIA officer Simmons "advised the special police chief of the Phu Yen Province Interrogation Center, located in Tuy Hoa. With the assistance of Simmons, suspected members of the VCI, including women and youngsters, had their names placed on a blacklist. During the Vietnam War there were repeated allegations that people were tortured at interrogation centers, including the one in Tuy Hoa. U.S. Congresspersons traveled to Vietnam to investigate the situation and later held hearings in 1971. U.S. Representatives Paul McCloskey, John Conyers, Bella Abzug and Ben Rosenthal stated their belief that 'torture is a regularly accepted part of interrogation,' and that 'U.S. civilian and military personnel have participated for over three years in the deliberate denial of due process of law to thousands of people held in secret interrogation centers built with U.S. dollars.'"
When Simmons was battling to become U.S. rep (after a long career in state government in Connecticut), no local or national paper cared a whit about the fact that a possible torturer and war criminal was on the hustings. Small wonder the U.S. Congress is being protective of Kerrey. How many other war criminals are strolling up and down the aisles?
Trout with Taste
What happened to trout? Of all the farm-fed fish they're the most tasteless. Order one in a restaurant these days and you get something tasting like blotting paper. It was different once. Listen to the French writer Jean Giono in La France a Table:
"Never with butter, never with almonds; that is not cooking, it is packaging. (It is, of course, understood that my recipes are not for all comers.) With the exception of truite en bleu nobody knows how to cook a trout. It is the most unfortunate fish on earth. If an atomic bomb destroyed the world tomorrow, the human race would vanish without ever having known the taste of a trout. Of course, I am no more talking of tank-bred trout than I would give a recipe for cooking a dog or a cat.
"So, a fine fat, or several fine fat, trout from the river, fresh (that goes without saying), gutted, scaled, etc...
"A frying-pan previously rinsed out with flaming wine vinegar. Make this empty pan very hot. Into this very hot pan, a mixture of water and virgin olive oil (a claret glass of olive oil to 3 of water). Let it boil fast. Add a bouquet of thyme and nothing else whatsoever except 2 crushed juniper berries and some pepper.
"Reduce the mixture, and when there is nothing but a centimetre of fast boiling liquid left in the pan, put your fine fat, or several fine fat, trout gently into the liquid. Do not turn the fish over. Cover the pan and boil 1 minute, then 3 minutes very gently, and serve."
This rapid boiling of oil and water is the way to make bouillabaisse, which is fast food, the way fish should always be. Get the mix boiling, just like Giono says, then throw in your firm-fleshed fish like bass or snapper with the smaller stuff five minutes later. Take it all off after another three minutes, put a slice of bread in each soup plate, plus a dollop of aioli and go to it. I'll betcha George Bush wouldn't touch it.