EYE ON WASHINGTON | Dick Cheney, Poet

Jeremiah Goulka

by Jeremiah Goulka


When you’ve just scored a surprise upgrade to first class, few things are worse than finding yourself trapped next to someone who looks determined to spend the entire five-hour flight yapping at you.

Way before the flight attendants announced that we could fire up our laptops—I had so much to get through—and maybe even before the airplane pulled back from the gate, this old codger who was occupying the seat separating me from the aisle started talking.  He pivoted his body toward me, boxing me in against the bulkhead, and shoved a small photo album at me.  “What do you think?” he said.

My fellow traveler looked like an older, bespectacled version of Grand Moff Tarkin, not-too-recently retired from ordering Darth Vader around the Death Star.  What choice did I have?  I opened the album and tried to think up with something nice to say.  Looks like a future imperial commander.  Now THAT’S a baby.

But there were no pictures.  Instead, I found this scratched across the page:


Flag of our fathers

Ripp’ling bright—blue red and white,

O say can you see


“I didn’t know Francis Scott Key did Haiku,” I said before I could stop myself.

Was that menace in his eye?  “Try this one,” he said, and he reached right across me and turned the page.  I know you’re not supposed to blame old men for smelling old.


The sun’s a pink orb

In a sand and bomb smoke cloud. 

I have no regrets.


“Hmm,” I said.  A veteran?  He looked too old for the Iraq wars and too young for WWII, so maybe Vietnam?  He didn’t sport any of the self-identifying military garb or haircuts you see sometimes.  His hair was short and white, and he was wearing a suit, conservative and elegant.  Actually it was beautiful, almost certainly bespoke.  It made me think of water, shimmering on marble, though that might have been the complimentary sparkling wine and my bladder.

Across the aisle, two burly men with buzz cuts stared at me.  Their suits looked even cheaper than mine.

“Try this one,” the old man said.


Glorious gavel

I pound their stupid heads in—

August body, ha!


“Pretty good, eh?”

“Unhh,” I said, and when he looked away—I think one of the buzz cuts may have made a noise—I reached for my headphones and flicked on my personal TV screen.   It showed a news channel.  The banner read “Former Vice President Cheney to Speak,” and they were running footage of him at a lectern at some think tank or industry conference.  My head started swinging back and forth from the screen to the old man next to me, and finally he reached over and closed my mouth.

“Hello there,” he said, and then he tilted his brow toward me and spoke my name.

He reached over and closed my mouth again.

“How … ?”

“… do I know who you are?  Please.  Who ushered in the No-Fly List?  I did.  Who spawned the expansion of the NSA wireless surveillance program?  Me. … Oh calm down, you’re not in any trouble.  Yet.”

He fixed me in his gaze.  Did I see in it what Shakespeare called “the evil which is here wrapt up [i]n countenance”?  Evil is a big word, but in the fire of his eyes I thought I saw Blake’s Tyger, and it freaked me out.  So much confidence and energy buzzed out of him that I didn’t see how it mattered whether our personal electronics were on or off.

“Don’t you, um, usually fly, in, like, a private jet, or something?”

“Not today,” he said.  “One is usually provided for me, of course, by friends.  But not today.  Speaking of which, I hope you are enjoying your upgrade.”

My legs stretched out involuntarily, and yes, it did feel good, those “measureless oceans of space.”  (Well, maybe not quite measureless; my apologies to Whitman.)  But then I saw his flat-lip smirk, curling up at each edge like a Viking ship.   It was uncomfortably familiar.  “Did you … ?”

“I have a more than enough miles in my portfolio.  Now, if you wouldn’t mind.”  He waved at the notebook.


ISIS burns my heart.

Those pinko lesbo lefties

Wouldn’t let us win.


I turned the page—all it read was “Ferguson“—and he ripped the notebook out of my hand.   He flipped through the pages himself.  “No… no… no…  harrungh … rrrgh … Here!”


Tomorrow I speak

At CPAC and Heritage.   [or maybe AIPAC???  yes, people know, and respect, AIPAC]

At least they like me.


I opened my mouth, but he cut me off.  “You never even once replied to my submissions.  Not even the standard-form rejection email.  Nothing.”

“We thought it was, I don’t know, from a crank?”

“I was worried about that.  Even using dickcheneyvp01@aol.com?  Well… now you know.  These are for real.  I would be grateful if you would consider them for publication.”

I accepted them all, on the spot.



Jeremiah Goulka is a writer based in Washington, DC. Before he couldn’t stand it any longer, he worked at two federal agencies and a prominent think-tank. You can follow him on Twitter @jeremiahgoulka or contact him through his website jeremiahgoulka.com.


EYE ON WASHINGTON | The Border Crisis, Explained

Jeremiah Goulka

The Crisis
: Thousands of Central American children want to come to the United States.


Why is that a crisis?

Because they are criminals, violent gang-bangers, rapists, murders, and possibly rappers.

Oh really?

Yeah, really.

What evidence do you have?

Criminal aliens commit thousands of murders!

Who told you that?

Rick Perry, and he’s governor of Texas, so he’d know.

You know that Politifact rated that boner as “pants on fire,” right?

Your pants are on fire.


The Crisis:  Thousands of Central American children want to come to the United States—and they might eventually become voters.


Why is that a crisis?

Because it would be the End of America.

You mean the end of the United States?

Si.  (Get it?  Get it?)

Actually, there’s an accent on it: SíSee?

Why do you hate America?

You mean the United States?

Don’t give me that Central America or South America bullcrap.  We all know there is only one America.

Who is this “we”?

Listen, pal, we can’t have all these Mexicans coming into our country, filling up our public schools, using up our generous social services, and bringing their filthy criminal culture with them.  It will undermine and corrupt our values, our way of life.

In other words, the GOP will have to work even harder at gerrymandering and suppressing the vote in order to win elections?

Why must you liberals lie all the time?  If it wasn’t for illegal aliens and ACORN stuffing the ballot boxes…

Then you might have to come up with some other nonsensical explanation for why Mitt Romney lost?  Come on, isn’t all this just a ruse to get the bigots out to vote in the mid-term elections?  And for Republican incumbents to defend their asshole card against right-wing challengers?

Who are you calling a bigot?  Typical Democrat: playing the race card.  That makes you the racist, you know.

Do I hear a dog whistle?  Also, we would prefer that you use the term “undocumented immigrant.”

We would prefer that you shut up. 


The Crisis:  Thousands of Central American children want to come to the United States—because of global warming.


Why is that a crisis?

It’s a hoax is what it is.

No, actually a rust fungus called Roya is decimating coffee crops all across Central America, and scientists think that it is due to global warming.  It’s pushing families off farms and into the violent and jobless cities, and some of their children are now coming to the United States.

Sounds like the old “hockey stick” mumbo jumbo again.  If those scientists would actually show some data going back more than a few hundred years—

How about hundreds of thousands of years? 

—then maybe I’d …

You’d what?  They already have.  Or did they only need to go back six thousand years for you?

Listen, monkey boy…

What I don’t understand is: If you hate immigrants so much and want them to stop coming here, why not aim for the heart of the problem?

Collectivist!  Statist!  Besides, we already are: Rick Perry sent 1,000 Texas National Guardsmen to the border.

Mission accomplished.


The Border: The stretch of land separating the United States and Mexico, formerly located in Mexico.  Discuss.


Jeremiah Goulka is a writer based in Washington, DC.  Before he couldn’t stand it any longer, he worked at two federal agencies and a prominent think-tank.  You can follow him on Twitter @jeremiahgoulka or contact him through his website www.jeremiahgoulka.com.



Jeremiah Goulka

Are you tired of partisan discord? I am. Our two great political parties just bicker, bicker, bicker, and it takes all the joy out of watching Wolf Blitzer’s beard.

Oh for the sight of the Gipper and Tip O’Neill laughing together! It makes a person nostalgic. If only Obama would deign to reach out like Reagan did! The Republicans who sound this grievance are actually quite right to be sad about it, because back in those halcyon days, whenever Ronnie wanted to raise taxes, all he had to do was invite good ol’ Tip to the White House for a chinwag, a beer, and maybe a complementary astrological reading from Nancy, and the Speaker would get busy legislating.

Is the aisle a mile wide? There must be something they can agree on, aside from the urgent patriotic importance of pinning small American flags to one’s lapel and “free trade.”

Fortunately, there is.

Yes, there is an issue that unites our Republicans and Democrats, elected and appointed alike, that bridges the partisan chasm, that fuels common ground in Washington and in state capitals across our fair land, that brings them together to break bread at the communal trough. It’s hiding in the crevices of shale rock from Marcellus to Monterey, just waiting for someone to show up with the know-how, the tools, and exemptions from most every environmental regulation.

What could be more natural than a bunch of gasbags standing united for natural gas?

The signs are everywhere. Just take the delighted responses to Obama’s sales pitch for his “All of the Above” energy policy in his 2012 State of the Union address:


“We welcome President Obama’s remarks in support of the safe and responsible development of natural gas and the opportunities it presents to create American jobs and advance our nation’s environment, economy and energy security.”

“We are pleased by President Obama’s strong support for America’s foundation fuel, and hope that he will … expand the use of natural gas, so that every American and our nation as a whole can benefit from this clean, abundant, domestic resource.”

“I applaud President Obama for highlighting natural gas and for calling on Congress to better promote its use.”[i]


repub dem 1There you have it, straight from the mouths of Regina Hopper of America’s Natural Gas Alliance, Dave McCurdy of the American Gas Association, and billionaire T. Boone Pickens … whoops! Those aren’t elected Republicans or Democrats! I shouldn’t be quoting people who don’t play a role in shaping our nation’s policies how we heat our homes (and planet). Sorry about that.

How to tell that there’s unity here? Natural gas is mostly methane, a greenhouse gas on steroids, yet the Democrats seem quite content to share the scientific sandbox on this issue with the GOP, a party whose leaders’ scientific literacy (or intellectual integrity) peaked back when the word “recess” still involved sandboxes.

Perhaps I’m being rude. Maybe the pols are just taking the industry’s data at face value, because, hey, industry knows best, right? Besides, you really can’t trust those independent scientists who do things like actually measure methane emissions. Their readings are so high!

Come to think of it, “polarized” sounds a lot like “polar ice.”  Discuss.

Sure, there’s still partisan bickering over natural gas, but it’s mostly a smokescreen. Congressional Democrats applaud President Obama’s rush to get new gas export facilities built; Republicans say he isn’t rushing fast enough. Dems cheer Obama for pushing fracking on Europe; the GOP says he isn’t pushing hard enough. And something about Vladimir Putin.

This isn’t the only unifying issue (though it is the only one with a term as fracktastic as “fracking”), but it is a window into real politics—or as the international policy jet-set likes to call it, realpolitik, demonstrating their mastery of exotic misspellings of English terms.

Here’s the playbook: Squabble in public, then head into your pleasantly air-conditioned office for a meeting with the relevant industry lobbyists. You’re delighted to see them because they’re your buddies and former colleagues, and they just might make a campaign donation.[ii]  Together, you strategize; together, you line up the votes. Shake some hands, seal some deals. Celebrate over gift-ban-avoiding canapés and perhaps a nice glass of pinot—and then run out to the nearest news camera and scream that the other party isn’t rushing and pushing enough. Repeat.

It’s all part of the show, keeping fools like me entertained, letting us continue to believe that our two parties actually represent the various publics rather than handfuls of industries, speculators, and robber barons. Yeah, I know… just writing that was depressing—look over there, stem cells in a petri dish! (Whew, a distraction.)

So don’t fret, the partisan divide isn’t quite as wide as we thought it was. Maybe that’s why they call natural gas a bridge fuel.


[i] The White House proudly posted the first two bits of industry adulation on its website. http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/01/25/statements-president-s-state-union-address

Pickens: http://www.pickensplan.com/news/2012/01/25/t-boone-pickens-statement-on-president-obama%E2%80%99s-state-of-the-union-address/  You can probably guess the nickname he earned when he paid for a referendum to be put on the California ballot a few years ago to force the state to buy him a whole new fleet of compressed natural gas-powered trucks a few years ago: Boonedoggle.

As to “All of the Above,” yep, industry hacks came up with that. http://www.greenpeace.org/new-zealand/en/high/blog/which-part-of-obamas-state-of-the-union-speec/blog/48080/  Every school kid knows that (d) all of the above is what you mark on a test when you don’t know the answer.

[ii] Some meaningless figures: Total oil and gas industry campaign donations in 2012, $73,330,448. Total oil and gas industry lobbying expenditures in 2013, $144,878,531. That’s what they reported, so, as with the industry’s data on greenhouse gas emissions, the real numbers are probably higher, unless they were exaggerating to show off.


Jeremiah Goulka is a writer based in Washington, DC.  Before he couldn’t stand it any longer, he worked at two federal agencies and a prominent think-tank.  You can follow him on Twitter @jeremiahgoulka or contact him through his website www.jeremiahgoulka.com.