Democracy has been taken for granted at a time when it is most endangered. Neo-Conservatives are organized to replace it with oligarchy, to replace consent for the rule of law with fascistic allegiance to the executive branch disguised as "patriotism." As a team made up of a political philosopher and a writer, we consider otherwise repressed information from a critical perspective in the hope of elevating the quality of our political dialogue so that it is worthy of a truly democratic society.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Desperately Crawling to the Surface

Eric, i think i may have told you in an email that i have just come closer than ever before to a nervous breakdown. I am sure there are many kinds of dispositions in intelligent people - i just happen to have landed the schizo-crackhead form of brainy-ness. I've been seeing a psychiatrist for nearly four months now. We don't talk about anything meaningful, but he is concerned to manage whatever symptoms of psychological breakdown i'm experiencing with useful meds, and that has helped to one degree or another.

Gillian flipped her shit in the last year. The abbreviated version is too disturbing to talk about right now, so i'll spare both of us. The short story is that she is no longer living with me and i've taken in new roommates. Evan is still around and much better to live with after two years. He'll be defending his dissertation soon.

I am stuck midway in dissertation - mainly due to psychological meltdown. I am supposed to call one of my committee members next week, and i'm looking forward to this because i have not found a way back to my old workhabits.

I am teaching primarily in Religious Studies now, doing Asian religion/philosophy and comparative philosophy east/west. Teaching my own class this summer has been a new challenge and i was in knots throughout but my evals were stellar and i got many nice personal letters from students attached to finals thanking me directly. This has been nice - but it hasn't totally broken my cycle of self-loathing.

My most immediate goal is to begin writing on a regular basis again, and that would include posting here. We'll see how it goes. Things with Bill are stellar as always - how did i ever manage to land such an interesting, compassionate philosophy professor? I could have ended up with any number of skinny, less than impressive dweebs. I have so many years invested in this amazing person that i often have to perform a reality check on myself, just to be sure i know what i've got. It takes a lot of effort to bear in mind that i am actually happy, i guess.

My van has broken down so many times, it's probably not worth the gunpowder it would take to blow it to hell as old man Blasch would say. But i do still have it. I also have now a 1991 Mercedes 190E which i bought for 4700 and love in a completely irrational way. I don't think i will ever go back to non-Mercedes automobiles, if i can help it. Three cheers for good old German anal-retentive engineering. I'm so proud that the tears are welling as i type...

My sister, Bill and I are going to see Dead Can Dance in Seattle in September. This will be phenomenal. I have been thinking of you and wondering about the chances of getting you to come out to visit - we can take a drive to the ocean and reflect over a bottle of wine.

Keeping in touch this time goddamnit - Lisa

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Official Played Down Emissions' Links to Global Warming
from today's New York Times:

"A White House official who once led the oil industry's fight against limits on greenhouse gases has repeatedly edited government climate reports in ways that play down links between such emissions and global warming, according to internal documents.

"In handwritten notes on drafts of several reports issued in 2002 and 2003, the official, Philip A. Cooney, removed or adjusted descriptions of climate research that government scientists and their supervisors, including some senior Bush administration officials, had already approved.

"Mr. Cooney is chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the office that helps devise and promote administration policies on environmental issues. Before coming to the White House in 2001, he was the 'climate team leader' and a lobbyist at the American Petroleum Institute, the largest trade group representing the interests of the oil industry. A lawyer with a bachelor's degree in economics, he has no scientific training.

"The documents were obtained by The New York Times from the Government Accountability Project, a nonprofit legal-assistance group for government whistle-blowers. The project is representing Rick S. Piltz, who resigned in March after a decade working in the office that coordinates government climate research and issued the documents that Mr. Cooney edited.

"A White House spokeswoman, Michele St. Martin, said today that Mr. Cooney would not be made available to comment. 'We don't put Phil Cooney on the record,' she said. 'He's not a cleared spokesman.'

"Other White House officials said today that the changes made by Mr. Cooney were part of the normal interagency review that takes place on all documents related to global environmental change. 'All comments are reviewed, and some are accepted and some are rejected,' said Robert Hopkins, a spokesman for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. He noted that one of the reports Mr. Cooney worked on, the administration's 10-year plan for climate research, was strongly endorsed by the National Academy of Sciences.

"And Myron Ebell, who has long campaigned against limits on greenhouse gases as director of climate policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian group, said such editing was necessary for 'consistency' in meshing programs with policy.

"But critics said that while all administrations routinely vet government reports, scientific content in such reports should be reviewed by the White House Science and Technology Office. Climate experts and representatives of environmental groups, when shown examples of the revisions, said they illustrated the significant if largely invisible influence of Mr. Cooney and other White House officials with ties to energy industries that have long fought greenhouse-gas restrictions. " [...]

Read the entire article here. (Requires a free, one-time registration)

Monday, April 18, 2005

A Radical in the White House

An excellent essay from today's New York Times

By Bob Herbert

"Last week - April 12, to be exact - was the 60th anniversary of the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. 'I have a terrific headache,' he said, before collapsing at the Little White House in Warm Springs, Ga. He died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage on the 83rd day of his fourth term as president. His hold on the nation was such that most Americans, stunned by the announcement of his death that spring afternoon, reacted as though they had lost a close relative.

"That more wasn't made of this anniversary is not just a matter of time; it's a measure of the distance the U.S. has traveled from the egalitarian ideals championed by F.D.R. His goal was 'to make a country in which no one is left out.' That kind of thinking has long since been consigned to the political dumpster. We're now in the age of Bush, Cheney and DeLay, small men committed to the concentration of big bucks in the hands of the fortunate few.
To get a sense of just how radical Roosevelt was (compared with the politics of today), consider the State of the Union address he delivered from the White House on Jan. 11, 1944. He was already in declining health and, suffering from a cold, he gave the speech over the radio in the form of a fireside chat.

"After talking about the war, which was still being fought on two fronts, the president offered what should have been recognized immediately for what it was, nothing less than a blueprint for the future of the United States. It was the clearest statement I've ever seen of the kind of nation the U.S. could have become in the years between the end of World War II and now. Roosevelt referred to his proposals in that speech as 'a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race or creed.'

"Among these rights, he said, are:

"'The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation.'

"'The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation.'

"'The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living.'

"'The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad.'

"'The right of every family to a decent home.'

"'The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health.'

"'The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident and unemployment.'

"'The right to a good education.'

"I mentioned this a few days ago to an acquaintance who is 30 years old. She said, 'Wow, I can't believe a president would say that.'" [...]

Read the entire essay here [require a free, one time registration].

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Laurie Garrett's memo to Newsday colleagues 2/28/2005 11:47:08 AM

Dear Newsday Friends and Colleagues,

On March 8th -- International Women's Day -- my leave of absence from Newsday ends. I will not be returning to the paper, largely because my work at the Council on Foreign Relations has proven to be the most exciting challenge of my life. But you have been through so much pain and difficulty over the last year, all of which I monitored closely and with considerable concern, that I don't want to disappear from the Newsday scene without saying a few words. Indulge me.

Ever since the Chandler Family plucked Mark Willes from General Foods, placing him at the helm of Times Mirror with a mandate to destroy the institutions in ways that would boost dividends, journalism has suffered at Newsday. The pain of the last year actually began a decade ago: the sad arc of greed has finally hit bottom. The leaders of Times Mirror and Tribune have proven to be mirrors of a general trend in the media world: They serve their stockholders first, Wall St. second and somewhere far down the list comes service to newspaper readerships. In 1996 I personally confronted Willes on that point, and he publicly confirmed that the new regime was one in which even the number of newspapers sold was irrelevant, so long as stock returns continued to rise.

The deterioration we experienced at Newsday was hardly unique. All across America news organizations have been devoured by massive corporations, and allegiance to stockholders, the drive for higher share prices, and push for larger dividend returns trumps everything that the grunts in the newsrooms consider their missions. Long gone are the days of fast-talking, whiskey-swilling Murray Kempton peers eloquently filling columns with daily dish on government scandals, mobsters and police corruption. The sort of in-your-face challenge that the Fourth Estate once posed for politicians has been replaced by mud-slinging, lies and, where it ought not be, timidity. When I started out in journalism the newsrooms were still full of old guys with blue collar backgrounds who got genuinely indignant when the Governor lied or somebody turned off the heat on a poor person's apartment in mid-January. They cussed and yelled their ways through the day, took an occasional sly snort from a bottle in the bottom drawer of their desk and bit into news stories like packs of wild dogs, never letting go until they'd found and told the truth. If they hadn't been reporters most of those guys would have been cops or firefighters. It was just that way.

Now the blue collar has been fully replaced by white ones in America's newsrooms, everybody has college degrees. The "His Girl Friday" romance of the newshound is gone. All too many journalists seem to mistake scandal mongering for tenacious investigation, and far too many aspire to make themselves the story. When I think back to the old fellows who were retiring when I first arrived at Newsday - guys (almost all of them were guys) who had cop brothers and fathers working union jobs - I suspect most of them would be disgusted by what passes today for journalism. Theirs was not a perfect world --- too white, too male, seen through a haze of cigarette smoke and Scotch - but it was an honest one rooted in mid-20th Century American working class values.

Honesty and tenacity (and for that matter, the working class) seem to have taken backseats to the sort of "snappy news", sensationalism, scandal-for-the-sake of scandal crap that sells. This is not a uniquely Tribune or even newspaper industry problem: this is true from the Atlanta mixing rooms of CNN to Sulzberger's offices in Times Square. Profits: that's what it's all about now. But you just can't realize annual profit returns of more than 30 percent by methodically laying out the truth in a dignified, accessible manner. And it's damned tough to find that truth every day with a mere skeleton crew of reporters and editors.

This is terrible for democracy. I have been in 47 states of the USA since 9/11, and I can attest to the horrible impact the deterioration of journalism has had on the national psyche. I have found America a place of great and confused fearfulness, in which cynically placed bits of misinformation (e.g. Cheney's, "If John Kerry had been President during the Cold War we would have had thermonuclear war.") fall on ears that absorb all, without filtration or fact-checking. Leading journalists have tried to defend their mission, pointing to the paucity of accurate, edited coverage found in blogs, internet sites, Fox-TV and talk radio. They argue that good old-fashioned newspaper editing is the key to providing America with credible information, forming the basis for wise voting and enlightened governance. But their claims have been undermined by Jayson Blair's blatant fabrications, Judy Miller's bogus weapons of mass destruction coverage, the media's inaccurate and inappropriate convictions of Wen Ho Lee, Richard Jewell and Steven Hatfill, CBS' failure to smell a con job regarding Bush's Texas Air Guard career and, sadly, so on.

What does it mean when even journalists consider comedian John [sic] -- "This is a fake news show, People!" -- Stewart one of the most reliable sources of "news"?

It would be easy to descend into despair, not only about the state of journalism, but the future of American democracy. But giving up is not an option. There is too much at stake.

I would remind my Newsday colleagues that during the bleak period that commenced with the appointment of Willes, and persists today, some great journalism has been done at the paper. A tiny, dedicated team of foreign correspondents has literally risked their lives to bring readers fresh, often ground-breaking news from the battlefields of Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East. Newsday readers are on top of details about the sorry state of fiscal governance in Nassau County, scandals in Suffolk County, Bloomberg's plans for the west side of Manhattan, and the sad state of politics in Albany. We still have some of the best film and performing arts criticism in the country, an aggressive photo department, tough sports columnists, under-utilized specialty and investigative reporters and a savvy business section.

So what is to be done?

I have no idea what Tribune corporate leaders in Chicago have up their sleeves for Newsday, the LA Times, Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune and the other media outlets under their control. Despite rumors that are rife in the newsrooms, you are also in the dark. And you should remember that. During times of hardship as extreme as those we have experienced at Newsday it is easy to become paralyzed by rumors, unable to think clearly about the work at hand. After all, people have lost their jobs, and some were removed from the building by armed guards, with only moments' notice. Every Newsday employee is justified in his or her concern about just how lean Chicago plans to make the newspaper machine.

But rumors only feed fear, and personal fear is rarely stimulus for good journalism. Now is the time to think in imaginative ways. Salon and Slate have both gone into the black; in nations like Ukraine and South Africa courageous new forms of journalism are arising; some of the blogs that clog the internet are actually quite good and manage to keep politicians on their toes. Opportunities for quality journalism are still there, though you may need to scratch new surfaces, open locked doors and nudge a few reticent editors to find them. On a fundamental level, your readers desperately need for you to try, over and over again, to tell the stories, dig the dirt and bring them the news.

Les Payne has often correctly pointed out that Newsday's problems have never been rooted in the institution's journalism: Rather, they have been business issues. We have never been accused of fostering a Jayson Blair, a bozo who accepted $250,000 from the Bush Administration to write flattering stories, an investigative reporting team that relied on a single source for a series that smeared the life of an innocent man, acted as a conduit for the Department of Defense for weapons of mass destruction disinformation, or any of the other ghastly violations of the public trust that have recently transpired. Newsday's honor has, by its own accounts, been besmirched by a series of lies committed on the business/ advertising/ circulation side of the company. (And few news organizations have covered on its pages their own shortcomings as closely as has Newsday.) All of us have been forced to pay a price for those grievous actions. But nobody has charged that Newsday's journalistic enterprise has failed to abide by the highest ethical standards.

Newsday has always had more talent than it knew how to use. So go ahead, Talent: Show them your stuff. I'll be reading. (March 8th may be my last day as a Newsday employee, but it won't mark the end of my readership.)

I thank each and every one of you who have been my friends and colleagues since I joined Newsday in 1988. I hope that we will stay in touch over coming years. Make me regret leaving, Guys: Turn Newsday into a kick ass paper that I will be begging to return to.

Bye for now,Laurie Garrett

Wherefore, L. Blasch?

Wow, I got an email from someone who actually reads this Blog, and he asked me what has become of my Blogging compatriot, Ms. Blasch. The answer, from my end, is: I haven't a clue! My email has lately not been going through to her email address, so I just don't know.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Hunter S. Thompson: Dead?

Or just testing?

Monday, February 07, 2005

Hunger for Dictatorship
War to export democracy may wreck our own

by Scott McConnell of The American Conservative

[...]"One of the biggest right-wing talk-radio hosts regularly calls for the mass destruction of Arab cities. Letters that come to this magazine from the pro-war Right leave no doubt that their writers would welcome the jailing of dissidents. And of course it's not just us. When USA Today founder Al Neuharth wrote a column suggesting that American troops be brought home sooner rather than later, he was blown away by letters comparing him to Tokyo Rose and demanding that he be tried as a traitor. That mood, Rockwell notes, dwarfs anything that existed during the Cold War. 'It celebrates the shedding of blood, and exhibits a maniacal love of the state. The new ideology of the red-state bourgeoisie seems to actually believe that the US is God marching on earth-not just godlike, but really serving as a proxy for God himself.'"[...]

Entire essay available here.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Bill Moyers: There is No Tomorrow

Bill Moyers Published January 30, 2005

One of the biggest changes in politics in my lifetime is that the delusional is no longer marginal. It has come in from the fringe, to sit in the seat of power in the Oval Office and in Congress. For the first time in our history, ideology and theology hold a monopoly of power in Washington.

Theology asserts propositions that cannot be proven true; ideologues hold stoutly to a worldview despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality. When ideology and theology couple, their offspring are not always bad but they are always blind. And there is the danger: voters and politicians alike, oblivious to the facts.

Remember James Watt, President Ronald Reagan's first secretary of the interior? My favorite online environmental journal, the ever-engaging Grist, reminded us recently of how James Watt told the U.S. Congress that protecting natural resources was unimportant in light of the imminent return of Jesus Christ. In public testimony he said, "after the last tree is felled, Christ will come back."

Beltway elites snickered. The press corps didn't know what he was talking about. But James Watt was serious. So were his compatriots out across the country. They are the people who believe the Bible is literally true -- one-third of the American electorate, if a recent Gallup poll is accurate. In this past election several million good and decent citizens went to the polls believing in the rapture index.

That's right -- the rapture index. Google it and you will find that the best-selling books in America today are the 12 volumes of the "Left Behind" series written by the Christian fundamentalist and religious-right warrior Timothy LaHaye. These true believers subscribe to a fantastical theology concocted in the 19th century by a couple of immigrant preachers who took disparate passages from the Bible and wove them into a narrative that has captivated the imagination of millions of Americans.

Its outline is rather simple, if bizarre (the British writer George Monbiot recently did a brilliant dissection of it and I am indebted to him for adding to my own understanding): Once Israel has occupied the rest of its "biblical lands," legions of the antichrist will attack it, triggering a final showdown in the valley of Armageddon.

As the Jews who have not been converted are burned, the messiah will return for the rapture. True believers will be lifted out of their clothes and transported to Heaven, where, seated next to the right hand of God, they will watch their political and religious opponents suffer plagues of boils, sores, locusts and frogs during the several years of tribulation that follow.

I'm not making this up. Like Monbiot, I've read the literature. I've reported on these people, following some of them from Texas to the West Bank. They are sincere, serious and polite as they tell you they feel called to help bring the rapture on as fulfillment of biblical prophecy. That's why they have declared solidarity with Israel and the Jewish settlements and backed up their support with money and volunteers. It's why the invasion of Iraq for them was a warm-up act, predicted in the Book of Revelations where four angels "which are bound in the great river Euphrates will be released to slay the third part of man." A war with Islam in the Middle East is not something to be feared but welcomed -- an essential conflagration on the road to redemption. The last time I Googled it, the rapture index stood at 144 -- just one point below the critical threshold when the whole thing will blow, the son of God will return, the righteous will enter Heaven and sinners will be condemned to eternal hellfire.

So what does this mean for public policy and the environment? Go to Grist to read a remarkable work of reporting by the journalist Glenn Scherer -- "The Road to Environmental Apocalypse." Read it and you will see how millions of Christian fundamentalists may believe that environmental destruction is not only to be disregarded but actually welcomed -- even hastened -- as a sign of the coming apocalypse.

As Grist makes clear, we're not talking about a handful of fringe lawmakers who hold or are beholden to these beliefs. Nearly half the U.S. Congress before the recent election -- 231 legislators in total and more since the election -- are backed by the religious right.

Forty-five senators and 186 members of the 108th Congress earned 80 to 100 percent approval ratings from the three most influential Christian right advocacy groups. They include Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Assistant Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Conference Chair Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Policy Chair Jon Kyl of Arizona, House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Majority Whip Roy Blunt. The only Democrat to score 100 percent with the Christian coalition was Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia, who recently quoted from the biblical book of Amos on the Senate floor: "The days will come, sayeth the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land." He seemed to be relishing the thought.

And why not? There's a constituency for it. A 2002 Time-CNN poll found that 59 percent of Americans believe that the prophecies found in the book of Revelations are going to come true. Nearly one-quarter think the Bible predicted the 9/11 attacks. Drive across the country with your radio tuned to the more than 1,600 Christian radio stations, or in the motel turn on some of the 250 Christian TV stations, and you can hear some of this end-time gospel. And you will come to understand why people under the spell of such potent prophecies cannot be expected, as Grist puts it, "to worry about the environment. Why care about the earth, when the droughts, floods, famine and pestilence brought by ecological collapse are signs of the apocalypse foretold in the Bible? Why care about global climate change when you and yours will be rescued in the rapture? And why care about converting from oil to solar when the same God who performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes can whip up a few billion barrels of light crude with a word?"

Because these people believe that until Christ does return, the Lord will provide. One of their texts is a high school history book, "America's Providential History." You'll find there these words: "The secular or socialist has a limited-resource mentality and views the world as a pie ... that needs to be cut up so everyone can get a piece." However, "[t]he Christian knows that the potential in God is unlimited and that there is no shortage of resources in God's earth ... while many secularists view the world as overpopulated, Christians know that God has made the earth sufficiently large with plenty of resources to accommodate all of the people."

No wonder Karl Rove goes around the White House whistling that militant hymn, "Onward Christian Soldiers." He turned out millions of the foot soldiers on Nov. 2, including many who have made the apocalypse a powerful driving force in modern American politics.
It is hard for the journalist to report a story like this with any credibility. So let me put it on a personal level. I myself don't know how to be in this world without expecting a confident future and getting up every morning to do what I can to bring it about. So I have always been an optimist. Now, however, I think of my friend on Wall Street whom I once asked: "What do you think of the market?"I'm optimistic," he answered. "Then why do you look so worried?" And he answered: "Because I am not sure my optimism is justified."

I'm not, either. Once upon a time I agreed with Eric Chivian and the Center for Health and the Global Environment that people will protect the natural environment when they realize its importance to their health and to the health and lives of their children. Now I am not so sure. It's not that I don't want to believe that -- it's just that I read the news and connect the dots.
I read that the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has declared the election a mandate for President Bush on the environment. This for an administration:

• That wants to rewrite the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act protecting rare plant and animal species and their habitats, as well as the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires the government to judge beforehand whether actions might damage natural resources.

• That wants to relax pollution limits for ozone; eliminate vehicle tailpipe inspections, and ease pollution standards for cars, sport-utility vehicles and diesel-powered big trucks and heavy equipment.

• That wants a new international audit law to allow corporations to keep certain information about environmental problems secret from the public.

• That wants to drop all its new-source review suits against polluting, coal-fired power plants and weaken consent decrees reached earlier with coal companies.

• That wants to open the Arctic [National] Wildlife Refuge to drilling and increase drilling in Padre Island National Seashore, the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world and the last great coastal wild land in America.

I read the news just this week and learned how the Environmental Protection Agency had planned to spend $9 million -- $2 million of it from the administration's friends at the American Chemistry Council -- to pay poor families to continue to use pesticides in their homes. These pesticides have been linked to neurological damage in children, but instead of ordering an end to their use, the government and the industry were going to offer the families $970 each, as well as a camcorder and children's clothing, to serve as guinea pigs for the study.
I read all this in the news.

I read the news just last night and learned that the administration's friends at the International Policy Network, which is supported by Exxon Mobil and others of like mind, have issued a new report that climate change is "a myth, sea levels are not rising" [and] scientists who believe catastrophe is possible are "an embarrassment."

I not only read the news but the fine print of the recent appropriations bill passed by Congress, with the obscure (and obscene) riders attached to it: a clause removing all endangered species protections from pesticides; language prohibiting judicial review for a forest in Oregon; a waiver of environmental review for grazing permits on public lands; a rider pressed by developers to weaken protection for crucial habitats in California.

I read all this and look up at the pictures on my desk, next to the computer -- pictures of my grandchildren. I see the future looking back at me from those photographs and I say, "Father, forgive us, for we know not what we do." And then I am stopped short by the thought: "That's not right. We do know what we are doing. We are stealing their future. Betraying their trust. Despoiling their world."

And I ask myself: Why? Is it because we don't care? Because we are greedy? Because we have lost our capacity for outrage, our ability to sustain indignation at injustice?
What has happened to our moral imagination?

On the heath Lear asks Gloucester: "How do you see the world?" And Gloucester, who is blind, answers: "I see it feelingly.'"

I see it feelingly.

The news is not good these days. I can tell you, though, that as a journalist I know the news is never the end of the story. The news can be the truth that sets us free -- not only to feel but to fight for the future we want. And the will to fight is the antidote to despair, the cure for cynicism, and the answer to those faces looking back at me from those photographs on my desk. What we need is what the ancient Israelites called hochma -- the science of the heart ... the capacity to see, to feel and then to act as if the future depended on you.
Believe me, it does.

Bill Moyers was host until recently of the weekly public affairs series "NOW with Bill Moyers" on PBS. This article is adapted from AlterNet, where it first appeared. The text is taken from Moyers' remarks upon receiving the Global Environmental Citizen Award from the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School.

© Copyright 2005 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Johnny Carson: 1926-2005

He represented to me possibly the last time there was any class to a late night host. Nobody was better with guests from "regular America." One of few people in the celebrity world I can honestly say I admired for his work. And while the newspaper cartoons tomorrow will probably all contain the gates of heaven saying, "Heeeeeere's Johnny," eh, well, why not? Good on ye, Johnny Carson.
U.S. and Torture: What is it Going to Take for Americans to Act?

The American use of torture against its enemies, in amount, degree, and widespread use, has been coming to light ever so slowly, and not in the television news media. This today from The New York Times's Frank Rich:

"But a not-so-funny thing happened to the Graner case on its way to trial. Since the early bombshells from Abu Ghraib last year, the torture story has all but vanished from television, even as there have been continued revelations in the major newspapers and magazines like The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books and Vanity Fair. If a story isn't on TV in America, it doesn't exist in our culture.

"The latest chapter unfolding in Texas during that pre-inaugural week in January was broadcast on the evening news almost exclusively in brief, mechanical summary, when it was broadcast at all. But it's not as if it lacked drama; it was 'Judgment at Nuremberg' turned upside down. Specialist Graner's defense lawyer, Guy Womack, explained it this way in his closing courtroom statement: 'In Nuremberg, it was the generals being prosecuted. We were going after the order-givers. Here the government is going after the order-takers.' As T. R. Reid reported in The Washington Post, the trial's judge, Col. James L. Pohl of the Army, 'refused to allow witnesses to discuss which officers were aware of events in cellblock One-Alpha, or what orders they had given.' While Mr. Womack's client, the ringleader of the abuses seen in the Abu Ghraib photographs, deserved everything that was coming to him and then some, there have yet to be any criminal charges leveled against any of the prison's officers, let alone anyone higher up in the chain of command." [...]

Please do yourself a favor and read the entire piece here. [Requires a free, one time registration]

Aside: I find it absolutely uncanny that the History Channel is running its grand guignol "The French Revolution" doco at this time. Tune in, and consider what form of "National Razor" might be necessary in our own country some day.

Friday, January 21, 2005

U.S. and Them: Sources Indicate We're Already Well Underway in Iran

In the current (24 & 31 January) issue of The New Yorker, Seymour Hersh, in an engrossing and troubling article, asserts that President Bush, before his re-election, signed a series of executive orders authorizing secret groups and Special Forces units to begin (or continue, depending on who you hear) covert operations "in as many as ten nations in the Middle East and South Asia" (Hersh 41). Donald Rumsfeld is enabled to control the operations "off the books--free from legal restrictions" (41). Hersh reports that in his interviews he has been told that the next target is Iran.

Of course, this raises myriad questions, and, sadly, most Americans won't even care. Can they be persauded to care? Perhaps. But this issue is thorny to be sure. One thing, however, that is not thorny, is that the Bush camp is dead wrong in its tactics. With a demoralized military that more and more makes its lack of faith in Rumsfeld known, an attrocious and unforgivable national debt, an ever unashamedly fascist regime isolating our country from sensible international diplomacy and reasoned discourse, and with more than a passing presidential belief that he somehow represents biblical prophecy, future days do not look bright.

The problem with a potential U.S. invasion of Iran is manifold, but let's begin with some basics: even if we buy in to the assumption that the youthful majority of Iranians want some form of democracy rather than the mullahs currently dictating so much Iranian policy and fabrication (that Iran has been less than upfront about its various nuclear practices is not generally in question), the United States can hardly put forth a solid plan for progress there anymore than it could[n't] in the sorrowful quagmire that is now Iraq. We proved we didn't grasp what it is to be an Iraqi; how can we assert an understanding of the Iranian mindset (even if most Americans see only "Arabs")? Do the youth of Iran suddenly love us in ways their parents and grandparents did not when we were helping their brutal dictator, the Shah, get out of the country ready to overthrow him? Do the youth of Iran love us in ways that will show swift, measurable, and democratic results should we "Iraq them"? And how many Farsi translaters do we have, even if they are gay or lesbian?

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Whoops! Sorry About That Bombing!

Yeah, well, what can I say? We sure goofed on that one! But you can bet that the dickweed responsible for this will find the right guy we need to fire for it, I-tell-you-what! You know, you have to admit, we took the high road and owned up to our mistake right away and have, by now, paid at least a few cable-TV pundits to say, "Amen for that," on our behalf.

Let me be absolutely clear on this matter: When the United States of America accidentally bombs the wrong place, we admit it! We are God-fearing Christians, after all. I've dispatched Condi and Turd Blossom to put our best face on this, and they're suiting up as I write this. Depending on who you listen to, either four or five or fourteen or no people were killed in this s.n.a.f.u., but none of them were Americans or, you know, British, heh, so rest easy, America. We're in charge up in here. We're still fighting the good fight.

As you were!

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Jobless Claims Surge

From Reuters today, by Andrea Hopkins

[...] "The number of Americans filing first-time claims for state unemployment insurance aid rose 43,000 to 364,000 in the week ended Jan. 1, up from a revised 321,000 in the previous week, the Labor Department said.

"It was the largest one-week gain in nearly three years and far surpassed Wall Street expectations for a rise to 331,000 from the originally reported 326,000 in the prior week." [...]

Entire article available here.

Even if the Feds find ways to poo poo this data (as they have already) as some sort of holiday blip, I have a hard time seeing a surge of this degree as a blip, and I doubt those unfortunate 364,000 first time unemployment insurance seekers feel like blips. One thing many of my former students had a tough time understanding (and many people in general) in regard to unemployment figures is that the numbers refer to first time unemployment insurance seekers, not folks who have had to file a second or third time. As of Monday at 5pm, I joined these ranks after my dot com laid off five of us. I hadn't seen it coming. I had my own office, business cards, keys, and company passwords. The company did not make as much money during the holiday season as it had hoped, and our positions were eliminated in a cost-saving measure. Hello, 2005.

I am in the process of being reflective this week, attempting to see beyond this. I haven't been destroyed by a tsunami; I have a roof over my head; I have a pretty good support network and a great therapist...the Jayhawks remain undefeated, etc. My supervisor, who was also laid off, just had colon cancer surgery, so my thoughts and support are certainly with her. I've been told by the CEO that if the company is able to get back on its feet financially he will readily meet with me about rehiring. I really liked my job, but I have to move forward in whatever way I can. I'm giving myself this week, and then I will hit the paperwork that so many of my fellow Americans are also having to do this time of year. By now I should be an expert at it.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Susan Sontag: 1933-2004

A remarkable thinker.
Judy Miller's War
by Alexander Cockburn
Dissident Voice
August 19, 2003

Lay all Judith Miller's New York Times stories end to end, from late 2001 to June 2003 and you get a desolate picture of a reporter with an agenda, both manipulating and being manipulated by US government officials, Iraqi exiles and defectors, an entire Noah's Ark of scam-artists.

And while Miller, either under her own single by-line or with NYT colleagues, was touting the bioterror threat, her book Germs, co-authored with Times-men Steven Engelberg and William Broad was in the bookstores and climbing the best seller lists. The same day that Miller opened an envelope of white powder (which turned out to be harmless) at her desk at the New York Times, her book was #6 on the New York Times best seller list. The following week (October 21, 2001), it reached #2. By October 28, --at the height of her scare-mongering campaign--it was up to #1. If we were cynical...

We don't have full 20/20 hindsight yet, but we do know for certain that all the sensational disclosures in Miller's major stories between late 2001 and early summer, 2003, promoted disingenuous lies. There were no secret biolabs under Saddam's palaces; no nuclear factories across Iraq secretly working at full tilt. A huge percentage of what Miller wrote was garbage, garbage that powered the Bush administration's propaganda drive towards invasion.

What does that make Miller? She was a witting cheer-leader for war. She knew what she was doing.

And what does Miller's performance make the New York Times? Didn't any senior editors at the New York Times or even the boss, A.O. Sulzberger, ask themselves whether it was appropriate to have a trio of Times reporters touting their book Germs on tv and radio, while simultaneously running stories in the New York Times headlining the risks of biowar and thus creating just the sort of public alarm beneficial to the sales of their book. Isn't that the sort of conflict of interest prosecutors have been hounding Wall Street punters for?

The knives are certainly out for Miller. Leaked internal email traffic disclosed Miller's self-confessed reliance on Ahmad Chalabi, a leading Iraqi exile with every motive to produce imaginative defectors eager to testify about Saddam's biowar, chemical and nuclear arsenal. In late June Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post ran a long story about Miller's ability in recent months to make the US Army jump, merely by threatening to go straight to Rumsfeld.

It was funny, but again, the conflicts of interest put the New York Times in a terrible light. Here was Miller, with a contract to write a new book on the post-invasion search for "weapons of mass destruction", lodged in the Army unit charged with that search, fiercely insisting that the unit prolong its futile hunt, while simultaneously working hand in glove with Chalabi. Journalists have to do some complex dance steps to get good stories, but a few red flags should have gone up on that one.

A brisk, selective timeline:

December 20, 2001, Headline, "Iraqi Tells of Renovations at Sites For Chemical and Nuclear Arms".

Miller rolls out a new Iraqi defector, in the ripe tradition of her favorite, Khidir Hamza, the utter fraud who called himself Saddam's Bombmaker.


"An Iraqi defector who described himself as a civil engineer said he personally worked on renovations of secret facilities for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in underground wells, private villas and under the Saddam Hussein Hospital in Baghdad as recently as a year ago.

"The defector, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, gave details of the projects he said he worked on for President Saddam Hussein's government in an extensive interview last week in Bangkok. The interview with Mr. Saeed was arranged by the Iraqi National Congress, the main Iraqi opposition group, which seeks the overthrow of Mr. Hussein.

"If verified, Mr. Saeed's allegations would provide ammunition to officials within the Bush administration who have been arguing that Mr. Hussein should be driven from power partly because of his unwillingness to stop making weapons of mass destruction."

Notice the sedate phrase "if verified". It never was verified. But the story served its purpose.

September 7, 2002: Headline: "US says Hussein intensifies quest for a-bomb parts".

This one was by Miller and Michael Gordon, promoting the aluminum tube nonsense: "In the last 14 months, Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium." All lies of course. Miller and Gordon emphasize "Mr. Hussein's dogged insistence on pursuing his nuclear ambitions, along with what defectors described in interviews as Iraq's push to improve and expand Baghdad's chemical and biological arsenals".

Another of Miller's defectors takes a bow:

"Speaking on the condition that neither he nor the country in which he was interviewed be identified, Ahmed al-Shemri, his pseudonym, said Iraq had continued developing, producing and storing chemical agents at many mobile and fixed secret sites throughout the country, many of them underground.

"All of Iraq is one large storage facility," said Mr. Shemri. Asked about his allegations, American officials said they believed these reports were accurate."

A final bit of brazen chicanery from Gordon and Miller:

"Iraq denied the existence of a germ warfare program entirely until 1995, when United Nations inspectors forced Baghdad to acknowledge it had such an effort. Then, after insisting that it had never weaponized bacteria or filled warheads, it again belatedly acknowledged having done so after Hussein Kamel, Mr. Hussein's brother-in-law, defected to Jordan with evidence about the scale of the germ warfare program."

What Gordon and Miller leave out (or lacked the enterprise or desire to find out) is that Hussein Kamel told UN Inspectors that he had destroyed all Iraq's WMDs, on Saddam Hussein's orders.

September 13, 2002, headline: "White House Lists Iraq Steps To Build Banned Weapons".

Miller and Gordon again, taking at face value the administration's claims that it was "the intelligence agencies' unanimous view that the type of [aluminum] tubes that Iraq has been seeking are used to make such centrifuges."

If nothing else this shows what rotten reporters Miller and Gordon are, because it now turns out the intelligence analysts across Washington were deeply divided on precisely this issue.

September 18, 2002: "Verification Is Difficult at Best, Say the Experts, and Maybe Impossible".

This is Miller helping the War Party lay down a preemptive barrage against the UN Inspectors: "verifying Iraq's assertions that it has abandoned weapons of mass destruction, or finding evidence that it has not done so, may not be feasible, according to officials and former weapons inspectors"

A cameo appearance by Khidhir Hamza reporting his supposed knowledge that "Iraq was now at the 'pilot plant' stage of nuclear production and within two to three years of mass producing centrifuges to enrich uranium for a bomb."

December 3, 2002, a Miller Special, murky with unidentified informants: "C.I.A. Hunts Iraq Tie to Soviet Smallpox".

Classic Miller: "The C.I.A. is investigating an informant's accusation that Iraq obtained a particularly virulent strain of smallpox from a Russian scientist who worked in a smallpox lab in Moscow during Soviet times"

January 24, 2003:"Defectors Bolster U.S. Case Against Iraq, Officials Say".

Another Miller onslaught on the UN inspectors:

"Former Iraqi scientists, military officers and contractors have provided American intelligence agencies with a portrait of Saddam Hussein's secret programs to develop and conceal chemical, biological and nuclear weapons that is starkly at odds with the findings so far of the United Nations weapons inspectors."

Al-Haideri is still in play: "Intelligence officials said that some of the most valuable information has come from Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, a contractor who fled Iraq in the summer of 2001. He later told American officials that chemical and biological weapons laboratories were hidden beneath hospitals and inside presidential palaces. Mr. Haideri was relocated anonymously to a small town in Virginia."

We'll leave al-Haideri in well-earned retirement and Miller heading towards her supreme triumph of April 20, 2003, relaying the allegations of chemical and bio-weapon dumps made by an unnamed Iraqi scientist she'd never met.

Alexander Cockburn is coeditor of The Politics of Anti-Semitism, and the author of The Golden Age is In Us (Verso, 1995) and 5 Days That Shook the World: Seattle and Beyond (Verso, 2000) with Jeffrey St. Clair. Cockburn and St. Clair are the editors of CounterPunch, where this article first appeared.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Jailing Judith Miller – One Step Toward Liberating the Press

I made up my mind last week to seek out journalistic assessments of Judith Miller’s journalism. Knowing little about her professional career at the New York Times, I cannot understand why so many people associated with the industry see her as an heroic figure. What little I know of Judith Miller leads me to see her as one of those glaring examples which gives the lie to the assertion that the Times is a left-wing rag.

Judith Miller is the paradigmatic example of a courtesan press which has traded a constitutional mandate to function with integrity for a chance to be in the inner-sanctum of corporate media who transcribe official doctrine as it is delivered from the White House. She was largely responsible for the public relations blitz before the Iraq war, in which Chalabi and his band of exiled but powerful conspirators claimed to be able to establish the truth about Iraq’s developing WMD programs and other violations of international expectations. Miller published Chalabi’s disinformation as if it were fact, a project for which she was even sent on assignment to Iraq to work on, where she alienated everyone she would work with, with her arrogance and aggressiveness and allegiance to the project of making the Bush view of Iraq into a reality. These “factual” reports from disreputable sources were in turn used by the administration during press briefings and in public statements as “factual evidence” of the existence of WMD programs and capacities. So you see, she was hooked up with the exile community desperate to regain political and economic control of Iraq, she published their spew of manufactured rumors designed in cooperation with the Bush administration to function as justification for a war effort that could not have been sold any other way. She is a propaganda lackey and a newsprint whore.

While the New York Times issued its mea culpa, Judith Miller remained arrogantly unwilling to acknowledge the way in which she compromised her craft in order to allow one branch of government to bypass the constitutional process of declaring war and the international rules intended to prevent wars of aggression. She was taken to task on none of these things.

Finally, however, Judith Miller broke the law and committed a felony offense by revealing the name of an undercover CIA agent, leaked to her and select others by a White House official intent on bullying Joe Wilson – a critic of the Bush Iraq policy and the individual who exposed the yellowcake scam – into silence. Now, Judith Miller is faced with an investigation into her role in cooperating with the White House to compromise national security by outing an agent who happened to be married to an outspoken member of their opposition.

I saw Judith Miller and a host of others with legal and journalistic perspectives on her situation on C-SPAN, although I caught very little of it and didn’t see her defend herself entirely. However, here is her argument as I understand it.

P1: The press has a Constitutional responsibility to report political developments which are kept from public view and thus would not be known to the public otherwise.

P2: A significant aspect of the press’ ability to perform its Constitutional role depends on the right of the journalist to make use of anonymous sources.

P3: By being forced to choose between revealing the source of the leak or going to jail, Miller’s case exemplifies an unconstitutional restriction on the freedom of the press.

P4: The press must have immunity from such legal investigations in order to perform their constitutional function of providing a check on State secrecy in the public interest.

C: Judith Miller should not be forced to reveal her source, nor should she go to jail, nor should she be the focus of a legal probe into a felony offense.

How any of the lawyers and journalists at the table managed to keep a straight face, I cannot say. And yet, while Miller tried desperately to hammer in the third nail on the cross of her own martyrdom, they quibbled over the history of constitutional interpretation and alternative explanations for why Miller is a target. The whole affair might have just as well been a public relations event staged by the White House, for all the cross-examination Miller received. In fact, she was unanimously declared the hero of the journalists and her martyrdom celebrated as professional integrity.

Here is the case for sending Judith Miller to jail for refusing to reveal her sources as a defense of the Constitutional provision for a free press.

P1: There is a distinction between a free press that monitors the state on behalf of its citizens and a press that is corporate-owned and cooperates with political factions on behalf of advancing one agenda over another.

P2: The press does not have a constitutional right to print any information whether true or false without being responsible for the credibility of the information.

P3: The press has the responsibility to check the power of the state against the citizens by monitoring the state and passing along news information to its readers. This does not equal a right to commit what would otherwise be considered a felony offense on the basis of journalistic privilege.

P4: In the case of corporate media in collusion to publish disinformation about potential threats to national security, there is a clear violation of the constitutional provision for the ‘freedom’ of the press, and we are left with a propaganda mechanism.

P5: In the event that an individual representative or association of the media industry performs a propaganda function on behalf of the state, they are legally accountable for their activities. In the case of a national security violation, the individual or association has committed a crime, and stands without constitutional immunity.

P6: In the event that the representative of the media refuses to cooperate with the inquiry into felony activity, he or she stands in contempt of court and must accept the consequences that obtain with any attempt to obstruct the judicial process. Jail time may be recommended.

C: By publishing propaganda on behalf of an administration deliberately deceiving the public about the reasons for war and its implications, Judith Miller compromised her Constitutional responsibility to check the power of the state. She participated in a politically-motivated felony that compromised national security. She can claim no journalistic privilege and cannot be held above the law as a defense of this privilege.

To this Miller responds, "we are only as good as our sources." Bullshit. From one side of her mouth, she has tried to invoke the privilege of immunity based on a responsibility to expose governmental impropriety. Out of the other side of her mouth, she foists responsibility for the journalistic process onto somebody else, and explicitly acknowledged the role of the courtesan press in reporting the official Bush administration "talking points" uncritically, without investigation into their credibility. She is just the mouthpeice, you see, and not accountable for what she does in the name of the public interest.

But here’s the part that really violates my sense of moral justice and political integrity: Judith Miller passionately portrays herself as the victim, who must unfairly sacrifice her life so that her profession is not compromised. Her self-pity and indignation are offensive to the principled tradition of American civil disobedience. Put aside for one moment the question of whether she is or is not guilty of committing a felony. The philosophy of civil disobedience describes rule-breaking as the process of rule-testing in consequentialist terms, including the role of legal punishment for disobedience to laws which are possibly unjust. So, Thoreau accepts jail in exchange for refusing to send taxes to support the war with Mexico, and he says that the place for free individuals living under state tyranny is in jail. Unjust laws do not get changed unless there is meaningful resistance, and such resistance may overwhelm the institutions designed to deal with such matters and force a revision of the law. If Judith Miller really believed in her innocence, accepting jail time to preserve her journalistic integrity might not be as traumatic as it clearly is for her. She is instead on the brink of tears, more worried about herself and trying to prove that she should not be accountable for a crime having been committed, all the while unconcerned with the well-being of the agent and possibly agents she endangered. She is even less worried about the hypocrisy of claiming journalistic immunity for compromising national security, while collaborating on a propaganda campaign to pass off the neo-cons’ war as necessary in the name of national security.

She claims the press will fail its obligation to the public if she is not protected by immunity for journalists to report freely what they learn from unnamed sources. She ignores the fact that the press DID fail when it published a public relations campaign concocted by the exiled Iraqi corporate class and the Bush administration as factual proof of an immanent threat to national security. The time for the press to make good on its Constitutional responsibility to check the power of the state came when this administration used all means at its disposal to pull us into a war which was illegal nationally and internationally, and instead she aided and abetted this covert neo-conservative plot by turning herself into an instrument of propaganda.

She should resign her post at the NYT, and she should go to jail if she continues to refuse to reveal the name of the leaker. If all such propagandists who commit felonies and violate the public trust provided for by the constitution were held to account, perhaps we might come closer to realizing the freedom of the press in practice.

ELECTION 2004: Bush Inauguration Heralds the Return of Savage Capitalism

The 2004 election has been a traumatic experience for those who have invested their passions in opposing the Bush administration. Curiously, it is something that I anticipated strictly intellectually as one possible outcome among many, but even at the time I knew that I wouldn’t be able to fully understand how jarring and numbing a Bush victory would be until it actually happened. The effect of this election on thinking citizens who generally oppose the insane, cutthroat policies and methodology of the Neo-Conservatives and their corporate and religious allies is much like the depressed hush that fell over the country after 9/11. Instantly Bush was given an institutional mandate to do as he pleased, no matter how drastic and radical the implications. We were supposed to shut up, and this was evidenced by the fact that, once the left and its allies began to speak out against the war, the patriot act, tax cuts for the wealthy and job losses for the working poor, underfunding of social programs, etc., we were told any number of things by those who prefer to see crises as political blank checks rather than problems that require the democratic process for clarification and resolution. In all, these injunctions were really nothing more than less than polite demands for our complicitous silence:

1) We’re at war – the president is the commander in chief. He has the right and responsibility to lead.
2) We’ve just come through a recession, you can’t expect us to meet some ideal policy standard when we face so many challenges all at once.
3) If you criticize the president, you do so in front of our enemies. Any sign of division or weakness will invite more attacks.

And so on and so forth. But the voices of resistance grew, came together and in the spring of 2004 it looked like we had a serious chance of throwing the rascals out. We realized that half the country was fed up with the corporate whoring, the reckless warmongering in the interest of the market rather than national security, the false adolescent machismo, the unwillingness to allow multiple perspectives on our approach to our problems and our understanding of the common good.

I think it is impossible to tell who would have won the state of Ohio this year if there had been voting resources available in African-American and heavily democratic districts, as there were in Republican and rural districts. Statistically, democratic districts were more likely to fail to provide access to the voting procedure (in numbers of ways) than their republican/conservative counterpart districts. What the Bush administration learned from the 2000 election was to WAIT to certify election results until it was clear that enough folks had been prevented from casting ballots; thus there would be no troublesome ghost of Katharine Harris to contend with.

Bush was quick to interpret the results as an automatic mandate, in which he accumulated what he refers to ask “political capital” for the spending. This response was unnerving and insulting, because it was a ruthless attempt to exert hermeneutic control over the democratic process. Bush gave the executive finger to the possibility of a democratic debate about the election's significance and implications. The other, more accurate view of the Bush victory is that he obtained a slight statistical majority overall, which may well account for nothing when voting irregularities factor in. In other words, Bush was quick to describe the democratic decision-making process in overly-abstracted terms borrow from classical liberal economic theory to deny a more unsettling reality. In one sense, this election must be seen as being wholly arbitrary from the perspective of popular sovereignty. We have not given Bush a mandate, and the homo economicus model of political power is inappropriate if it is to represent the workings of a democracy.

In another, more interesting sense, the election was NOT arbitrary if viewed from the perspective of state capitalism. When I was in my early twenties, I began reading Marx. I didn’t have a sophisticated view of historical materialism and I imagine I seemed rather ideological at times. I also did not understand that the decline of communism was not the proof of capitalism’s superiority but represented a transition point in its development as a single, irrational and deeply conflicted world system. Marx’s view of the dialectical relationship between the state and the economy seemed one dimensional to many of the people I talked with. In the decade or so since then, I have seen this so-called naïve and implausible view of liberal democracy as state capitalism crystallize in real-world economic and political developments. Much of it has been Machiavellian: so autocratic. I am disturbed by the increasingly quasi-fascist actions of right-wing politicians and the right-wing political culture. Fascism assimilates a corporate ideology and rule by the rich with cultural backlash. This unholy sort of allegiance between the powerbroker organizations of old, rotting ruling classes is ironic and powerful. In effect, the classes most negatively impacted by the centralization of economic and political resources can be made to scream for their own disenfranchisement if it comes with the opportunity to legislate social morality to others whom they shun as sinful or lewd or whatever.

In part, this is depressing because the culture of right-wing social politics is not consistent. Thus, people enforce biases through political choices that do not represent a thorough, thoughtful – and most importantly coherent - approach to political problems and values. As Howard Dean notes, the working poor who are harmed in real terms by the policies of the Republican party will vote for them anyway, as an expression of their views on abortion, guns, god and gays. For example, conservatives want to protect the sanctity of marriage by preventing gays and lesbians from marrying. But conservatives generally believe that marriage has a positive effect on people and is worth encouraging on a widespread level. In fact, if conservatives really believed in marriage, they would be having a sophisticated debate with themselves and with those on the left about whether it is appropriate to ENCOURAGE marriage in the gay and lesbian community – people whom they have objected to historically on the basis of promiscuity and lack of personal commitment to relationships. But the anti-gay marriage impulse isn’t about marriage, it’s about preventing the implications of gay marriage: that there is somehow something “okay” about gay sex. Republican ideology capitalizes on the fact that we are a homophobic culture, and deeply unhappy with what we perceive as being forced to tolerate the open practice of same-sex relationships.

Anti-abortion groups are another excellent example. At a time when conservatives could barely show less concern for the long-term well-being of future generations, they insist not only that abortion be made inaccessible through lack of education and funding, but that birth control education be restricted as well. How to make sense of this? The right is not pro-life, they are pro-birth. They don’t value life in any coherent way, but they want to make sure that it is impossible for people to experience the enlarged sphere of choice that resulted from the sexual revolution without having to pay the price, to experience sexual freedom without consequences. It is inherently an attempt to control the sexual autonomy of women according to a puritan morality of punishment. Forcing pro-birth policies on the nation without regard for the social complexity of reproduction in general gives the lie to the Orwellian term “culture of life.” Reasserting puritannical control over sexuality is the right-wing Scarlet Letter. In both the cases of abortion and gay marriage, the rhetorical religiosity of valuing life and marriage is a shallow disguise for a regressive, backward-looking social morality that is anti-sex.

The religious right is problematic for these reasons. What is clear, however, is that this group is politically organized and controlled from above. The Robertsons, Reeds and Roves have shown how effectively one political viewpoint can be instilled from the pulpit, eventually trickling down to the election booth. Catholics are told they should not vote for any candidate who endorses pro-choice policies. They are NOT told they should not vote for any candidate who endorses the death penalty, the war (which the Pope condemns) or the flagrant refusal to heed the commandments of the sermon on the mount, in which Jesus tells his followers to care for and put first those who are at the mercy of the powerful and the wealthy. The major media portray the right as having cornered the market on the sphere of values, and the left – even when they are given an opportunity to exploit failures of the right – never manage to do much to dismantle this distorted political disposition. In large measure, this occurs because they share the most basic problems of the Republican party (endemic to a two-party system of rule by elites), and because they have allowed the Republicans to define the terms of all the relevant debates.

So, to cash out my reflections on the 2004 election, I find myself and everyone around me in a sort of deep depression because the political life of the United States is irrational and undemocratic. It is demoralizing enough to know that the political process is thoroughly corrupted by right-wing corporate jackals and democrats who have sold out to said jackals for a comparative sliver-share of the loot. It is more demoralizing to know that this could not have happened so seamlessly unless their was enough complicity in the electorate, such that more people would vote to reinstate an administration who would proceed to strip them of their sovereignty, their economic security, the protections of the law and the welfare state.

I saw this coming months and months ago. I knew that the Bush administration had every reason to be scared shitless no matter WHAT democrat they ended up facing, but I could not underestimate their Orwellian skill promoting doublethink, or their institutional willingness to suppress the vote. I had the sense that this election was a test of sorts. For one thing, it was a test whether we had any democratic legitimacy: whether an active, informed citizenry could make use of the political franchise to clarify their problems, their interests, their commitments, hold the administration accountable to these, and kick the rascals out if necessary. If we failed at this, I worried about the consequences for the next four years. This branch of the radical right came into office improbably, via a swindle. If they remain, they will rework the political, legal and economic structures so as to consolidate their hold on power. Before the election, I became depressed because there were as many reasons to think Bush would win as there were to think Kerry outperformed him.

Woody Allen often has his most autobiographical characters pivot on the axis of the personal and political domains. Each is a refuge from the other. When politics become irrational, interpersonal relationships are more significant. When our private lives are imploding, we turn our attention toward the problems of society and the world in general. Personally, I cannot separate these things, and I think this unavoidable fusion is something Woody intends us to explore. I shut myself off to the part of my life that is wrapped up in politics and economics and all such things, and focused entirely on my private life. I’m in love and my relationship with Bill is more and more serious as the months go by. This is the first time I have written in months.

John Bellamy Foster told me that he stopped reading Marx when the Vietnam war started because he was depressed about it. He began reading Schopenhauer for the abstract philosophical concern with the suffering human condition and its solution. I asked him why he came back to Marxism and he said he had no choice – his friends began dying in the war. I think this is what will happen to many of us who opposed Bush in the last election.

Think of what we will witness in the next few years. The war will not cease because the occupation will be complicated by the process of nation-building. We will be asked to keep paying more and more, while a military stretched thin will be presented with the imperative to engage Iran, possibly Syria, and North Korea as new threats, this time REALLY equipped with weapons of mass destruction. China’s economy will grow as the European Union solidifies itself, the euro will replace the dollar as the dominant currency. The prospect of investing in the United States will be less appealing when investors finally acknowledge us as a debtor nation, no longer the dominant economic power, with a looming constellation of social crises just ahead. The last vestiges of the New Deal will be stripped at a time when our population is growing older, sicker and poorer. Legal protections for citizens against industry will be restricted, while restrictions on corporate activity will be loosened. Coffers for social services (once understood as the public good and thus a political responsibility) will be raided to finance tax cuts (those nasty obstacles to limitless accumulation of capital), and to encourage business growth according to the “risk-reward” model, just another name for trickle down economics. The world will call on us to answer for our disproportionate pollution, consumption of resources and capitalist war-mongering at a time when human crises have global proportions. I could go on and on.

Ultimately, I am pulled out of my depressed state about a second Bush term by my ambivalence about liberal democracy as state capitalism, especially at a time when capitalism has outlasted communism to become the dominant, totalizing world-system. The right-wing represents the most anti-democratic aspects of our political and economic culture and institutions. Rather than expand political power by diffusing it to the electorate, they consolidate it in the institutions of elite power. The bourgeoisie manages the state, and the employed classes bear the cost of their goal of amassing limitless wealth. In order to privatize social security, one-third of the current resources going into the system will be handed over to Wall Street investors in the name of “personal accounts.” In order to finance the diversion, there will be massive benefit cuts. This will not work out well as we collectively approach sickness and old age. Nevertheless, the Bush administration will put its courtesan congress and media apparatus to work to enact the required legislation and conduct a corresponding media blitz of disinformation of world-historical proportions. They may well get away with it. But even the political ideology of right-wing culture is not immune from the confrontation between the policies of this administration and our most deeply held beliefs about the responsibility of the state to support the public good.

The Bush administration is hard at work to define the public good in the most narrow terms possible: as the process of wealth creation by private ownership and the promise of capital accumulation. A very von Hayek way of looking at a sustainable, well-organized society. But we have lived for seven decades with the New Deal. We may not be politically adept enough to recognize the way in which it has been systematically dismantled, but we’ll feel the consequences of losing it. And when this happens, people will not accept massive tax cuts for the rich so easily when they no longer have enough money to survive and must think of their eventual retirement. They will not accept massive war budgets when social programs begin disappearing. Treating corporations as if they are the mechanism of meeting the interest of the public will not cohere with the abject disregard the right will show for the public good in practice. They will not, I truly believe, accept the strategy of feeding the sparrows through the horses.

In fact, I think they know this. I don’t think they’re deluded, they’re too effective at implementing their goals to be delusional. They are morally depraved, but their cunning Machiavellian cynicism is the product of an institutional learning process that has shaped their psychology. I believe that the elite classes (and there are many, often battling one another for political and economic supremacy but generally sharing the same anti-democratic worldview) are consolidating power in various ways, with the knowledge that the conflicts of the future will revolve around struggles for basic resources, at the international as well as the domestic level. Those homeland security dollars are being used under our very noses to eradicate all forms of dissent, to widen the institutional barriers between the public who believes it is entitled to the democratic franchise, and the brokers of power.

As Hitler rose to power in Germany, the leftist intellectuals of the Frankfurt School had to seriously question why the economic life of society had become regressive in the face of historically unprecedented means for liberation. One problem they identified was the development of mechanisms to address the social function of the economy. So, working classes would accept the reality of wealth disparity if, for example, they were paid enough to survive and retained certain other benefits. This is the capitalism we are all vaguely familiar with – the New Deal form of liberal democracy that staves off the crises of capitalism by addressing, if meagerly, the negative costs this economic form passes on to society. Before, under the Victorian era of robber barons and starving paupers, the position of the rich was far less comfortable, because savage capitalism provokes social unrest.

The New Deal may well be a thing of the past, and we seem to be beginning a transition back to the Victorian-era distribution pattern of absolute affluence and absolute poverty. But this model isn’t sustainable and will collapse eventually. This time, the affluent classes appear to be willing to allow the conflicts inherent in the model to crystallize into protracted, irreducible human crises rather than give up a measure of wealth to keep the crises at bay. But the New Deal model wasn’t alleviating the basic contradictions between wealth and power, it was allowing them to persist as we gradually became more and more overextended. As the crises unfold, the public’s affinity for right-wing ideology will collide with its material conditions and the deep faith in democracy inherited from a history which has never made good on the democratic promise. This may be the only way of culling our conservative fellow citizens out of the social morality which masks the excesses of conservative politics and economics. American adolescence is a national phenomenon – and the tribulations of adolescent psychology are rooted in the subject whose limitations indicate that a pre-existing social contract must be fleshed out and understood in order for one to be truly autonomous and responsible. It may require a drunken fratboy driving the country into a ditch before there is a general realization that right-wing political ideology is bunk. But we must realize it is bunk if we want to reinvigorate a healthy democratic culture. This is why, by the way, Howard Dean is the future of the Democratic party, if they are wise enough to realize it and principled enough to practice accordingly. The democrats will never win if they pass themselves off to us as sharing the political culture of the Republicans. The Republican ideology is too firmly allied, institutionally and psychologically, in the political platform of the right. Instead of selling out to it, it should be broken by exploiting its weaknesses in the face of real-world problems.

If Bush has his way, a system in decline will decline at an exponential rate. We may yet have some say in determining how things look on the other side. But to do this, we need to work together to bring intellectual, political and economic pressures on the system. We need not just to organize but to practice sustained, active resistance. I don’t know yet what resistance will develop out of our collective disappointment with the failure of our democracy and the inability of our economy to perform the social function we would have it perform. We may find that soon the Bush administration has one muther of a fight on its hands. Even Nixon could be made to resign, and if the current Republican leadership is as ruthless in their efforts to purge dissent as he was, they may loose whatever political capital they believe they have. So, while we are collectively grieving and managing our depression, let’s not forget to look for the development of organized resistance and begin to work actively for that end. History, social well-being and democracy are on our side – we need to start fighting in earnest for a “structural transformation of the public sphere.”

Monday, December 13, 2004

A Nice Email Going Around

This has been making the rounds in various forms:

Dear President:Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from you and understand why you would propose and support a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage. As you said, "in the eyes of God marriage is based between a man and a woman." I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination... End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God's Laws and how to follow them:1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanness - Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord - Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2. clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination - Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this? Are there 'degrees' of abomination?

7. Lev. 21: 20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?

8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though Lev. 19:27 expressly forbids this. How should they die?

9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev. 24:10-16. Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Period of Mourning Over

Actually, it has been more like a period of rage and disbelief (even though I didn't like Kerry/Edwards), but I am back in whatever condition. And Lisa, what are you up to? I noticed you had a script draft up here for less than a day and then it disappeared, so I know you still breathe . . .

I am not moving to Canada, I have decided. I would rather stay here and be as much of an irritant as I possibly can be. My current focus is going to be on the untennability (is that a word?) of mixing religion and legislation, something practically no one in the state of Montana seems to think is problematic. And I'm not stopping with the fabulous array of confrontational bumper stickers I've purchased lately, either.

On the home front, I have a new obstacle, and his name is Roy, age: 2 months. Roy is a ruddy, male, Abyssinian jerk I got last weekend in Laramie, Wyoming. He's not a fan of road trips. And he is a freaking handful, although he's cute and cuddly when he wants to be.

Good things on the horizon: the title story of my MFA thesis finally comes out in print in The Flint Hills Review before the end of the year, and I got tickets to the Scissor Sisters' Seattle concert for late January (catch them on Saturday Night Live tonight!).

The mountains are lovely, and the ski bums are stoned and preoccupied.

More soon.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Well, maybe this is what had to happen. If anything, I hope this is the dawn of a new era of political protest in this country. And violence. I'm sort of ready for some good old fashioned violence.
Mr. Kerry was never presidential. My vote, as I assume was the case for many others, was not for Kerry but against Mr. Bush.
I also think we should have elections to determine whether or not LGBT people should be allowed to hold US citizenship. And the blacks.
Killing President Bush would just leave us with Mr. Cheney, so that's out.
I live awfully close to Canada . . .
Montana elected a Democrat governor (too bad he's a huckster) and legalized medical marijuana. We're a weird state.
I am numb all over.

Monday, November 01, 2004


At the University of Michigan last week, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Seymour Hersh was asked why so many Americans remain loyal to the president. He replied: “One thing you have to face up to is the fact that there are roughly 70 million people in America who do not believe in evolution — and those are Bush supporters.”
Let's hope this doesn't portend a Bush win.

Tonight on the CBS Evening News Bob Sheaffer said the biggest force in this election will likely be young people: "They all have cell phones, and it's nearly impossible to poll them."

Saturday, October 23, 2004

God and Sex

From today's The New York Times

Published: October 23, 2004

"So when God made homosexuals who fall deeply, achingly in love with each other, did he goof?

"That seems implicit in the measures opposing gay marriage on the ballots of 11 states. All may pass; Oregon is the only state where the outcome seems uncertain.

"Over the last couple of months, I've been researching the question of how the Bible regards homosexuality. Social liberals tend to be uncomfortable with religious arguments, but that is the ground on which political battles are often decided in America - as when a Texas governor, Miriam 'Ma' Ferguson, barred the teaching of foreign languages about 80 years ago, saying, 'If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it's good enough for us.'

"I think it's presumptuous of conservatives to assume that God is on their side. But since Americans are twice as likely to believe in the Devil as in evolution, I also think it's stupid of liberals to forfeit the religious field.

"Some scholars, like Daniel Helminiak, author of What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality, argue that the Bible is not anti-gay. I don't really buy that.

"It's true that the story of Sodom is treated by both modern scholars and by ancient Ezekiel as about hospitality, rather than homosexuality. In Sodom, Lot puts up two male strangers for the night. When a lustful mob demands they be handed over, Lot offers his two virgin daughters instead. After some further unpleasantness, God destroys Sodom. As Mark Jordan notes in The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology, it was only in the 11th century that theologians began to condemn homosexuality as sodomy.

"In fact, the most obvious lesson from Sodom is that when you're attacked by an angry mob, the holy thing to do is to offer up your virgin daughters." [...]

Read the entire essay here. [Requires a free, one-time registration]

The Unfortunate Tide of CA-96 in Montana and Beyond

I woke up to the bleating of my cell phone today. It was Tina, a woman with whom I worked a few months back in an attempt to peruade Montana voters exiting polling places to not sign petitions by the religious right in support of proposed Montana State Constitutional Amendment 96--writing into our state Constitution a ban on homosexual marriage when homosexual marriage is already illegal here. Tina is to be on the radio today at 12:30 to discuss her anti CA-96 stance. It's a brave move in Bozeman, and in Montana in general, where she can surely expect a wave of phoned-in hatred. CA-96 is very likely to pass.

Fewer people outside of Montana know that our state's Constitution was written (entirely re-written, actually) in 1972. That's right. And before you assume that this must mean our state Constitution is already a wreck I tell you it is anything but; I would argue that it is one of the most lyrical and forward-thinking state Constitutions in the whole of the United States (there is an excellent documentary on its creation available from Montana PBS)--it includes some of the first language of committed environmental protection and respect for the essential human rights of its citizenry, not just a select few. And therein lies my anger with the hysterical, narrow-minded, morally righteous proponents of CA-96: the idea that a state Constitution should encompass exclusionary clauses it has no need to include, thereby rendering a document meant to lay down protection for all a sudden moral finger of judgment (on taxpaying citizens!).

Just why it is that there seems to be this dovetailing of moral righteousness and narrow fields of vision at this time in our history is not hard to figure out, so I don't feel the need to wax on about that.

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle not only came out [pun intended] against CA-96 this week, it also rather shockingly endorsed Sen. John Kerry's bid for president. And this is a conservative newspaper (not, however, if you listen to the hysterical Republican crowd in town, mind you). Will it sway the squeakiest wheels? Likely not. For voting in 2004 appears to rely less and less on good sense, fair play, and what is best for the state and more and more on polarizations and moral civil war. No longer can we agree to disagree: the religious right has made it clear--not only are you either with us or against us; if you are against us you are (and should be, they feel) GOING TO HELL.

Fine with some. I've certainly been directed toward the fiery pits a time or two since moving here. But I have this concern about just how much of a state, just how much of a country we'll have left at this rate. Don't take this sentiment for an assumption of doom, but there is this slippery slope about which we should all be worried, isn't there?

The notions that I grew up thinking were obvious--that this country's forefathers were fleeing religious oppression, that Americans should be free to enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that the religious beliefs of a group must not dictate the religious beliefs of all and must not be the basis for legislation--are now so utterly wrongly called into question that feeling ill at ease is not so hard to fathom. But what to do? I try to imagine a Kerry victory and am saddened and frustrated at the extra time it will take just to attempt to heal the wounds in this country salted by our present regime. Time that could have been better spent ethically addressing foreign policy as well as domestic issues that do not divide but empower all of us--Americans and citizens of the world. We have at present a regime put into place by the courts that has allowed the Peter Pan of Unaccountability to bloat our national ego when we should most be ashamed. It will take an army of patient, far-sighted ADULTS to clean up this mess.

But we must.

Which brings me back to CA-96 and similar initaitives across this country. In what way or ways has any LGBT couple ever threatened heterosexual marriage if not by the fear engendered in those with narrow fields of vision and experience? It really is that simple. But Americans also seem terrified of admitting the obvious--and the rest of the world sees it so plainly--Americans are dumb. That, too, is also that simple. I just want to know what they're really afraid of.

As I stroll down Main Street, I can tell you, I am thinking more and more about approaching heterosexual couples for the expressed purpose of threatening the sanctity of their relationships, especially as God loves them in such special ways, and I, as an agent of the devil, would not otherwise be doing my duty.

We need some internal diplomacy just as we need some time for mess-cleaning and healing as a nation. As my mother rightly commented whenever I had to clean my room as a child--it has to get a little worse before it gets better. Hold your nerve, America.



I emailed that Bush photo to you some time ago as well as a short piece from Salon about the flap. Believe it or not I have a close friend who works at a very conservative paper in D.C., and that is the person who sent the photo to me the same day you inquired.

I am trying to stay optimistic for our country these days.

Two weeks ago or a bit more I broke up with the guy I'd been dating, which was not easy but which I recognized had to be done for myself. I took a bit of a break from going out on the town, and I think that has helped a great deal. I am becoming a believer in good karma, too.

I have met a wonderful guy who, for a change, is older than me by just a little bit. We shall see where it goes, but I am absolutely smitten and have spent the past week just embarrassingly happy. I send all good vibes your way, too! Smooch!

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