News from the Near Future.Maybe
you've noticed another lapse between blogs. I've been away in
non-bloggable territory. But in my travels I had yet another rendezvous
with my renegade Harvard physicist time traveler friend, about whom
I've written before ("The Secret NPR Tapes, Reel One" 10/3/2003; "The Secret NPR Tapes, Reel Two" 5/29/2005; "Next, This News" 8/26/2005). This time, as always, he surfaced from underground when I least expected him.
"Sorry to interrupt your dinner," he said as I looked up at him in surprise from my booth in one of my favorite late-night haunts. "I have more bad news from the future, I'm afraid."
"Bad news?" I asked. "We have the most corrupt presidency in American history, devastation and destabilization in the Mideast for the sake of corporate positioning, an attorney general whose outright prostitution of the Justice Department is defended by a wild-eyed White House, school slaughters by gunfire while the argument for arming students and faculty is treated as credible... and you're predicting 'bad news?'"
"It's not a prediction," he said flatly, laying a sheaf of newspaper clippings on the table.
New York Times, Feb. 4, 2009:
CLINTON SAYS "WE MUST PREVAIL" IN IRAQ
Washington -- President Hillary Rodham Clinton, in her first major post-inaugural speech on the Iraq war, warned against "a premature weakening of our national will" in the conflict, and urged Congress and the Senate to "not yield to defeatists even as we seek to avoid the unnecessary sacrifice of American lives." She proclaimed, "This moment calls for responsible strength on the part of our heroic men and women in uniform and our nation. We are fighting for democracy. And we must prevail."
The six-year war has, to date, claimed nearly 5,000 American lives and killed at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians. The current Iraqi government, the fourth since the war began, appears ready to collapse, as did its predecessors, amid a catastrophic nationwide lack of security and a popular furor over its deference to American-backed policies allowing foreign ownership of Iraqi oil, water, and utilities, and contracts with Halliburton and other firms to run the Iraqi military and police forces. A particular priority for military contractors has been to try to regain control of the "Green Zone" in Baghdad, overrun last year by a series of massive insurgent attacks.
In a press conference following her speech, the President did not respond directly to questions about the bipartisan Senate commission that in December called the war "a tragic misappropriation of American resources and resolve that must end immediately." But in an apparent assertion of her executive authority, she declared, "I am open to all sources of information and input. But in the end, I am the decision-maker..."
Los Angeles Times, July 14, 2018:
DEATH TOLL FROM GENETICALLY ENGINEERED VEGETABLES HITS 100,000
Washington -- In a grim statement yesterday, Food and Drug Administration head Milton J. Shillman announced that clinically-verified deaths from diseases related to ingestion of genetically-altered vegetables have topped 100,000 nationally.
"This is a day on which we rededicate our agency to eradicating the tragic travesties of the past in protecting American consumers," said Shillman.
The deaths, primarily from formerly rare aggressive varieties of stomach and colon cancers, stem chiefly from genetically engineered broccoli, particularly the banned and now-infamous Version 15722, which long-term studies have shown radically alters cell growth in ways that can ultimately trigger the sudden onset of fast-growing cancers. Some engineered varieties of corn, lettuce, spinach and tomatoes have been found to have similar effects. In response, the FDA and U.S. Public Health Service have jointly undertaken a massive national screening program to try to detect such cancers early.
Genetically engineered foods, pulled from the American market in a government-mandated moratorium in 2016, became prevalent in the early 2000s as a cost-effective method of mass-cultivating fruits, vegetables and livestock with desired traits of taste, appearance, and shelf life. Such foods were banned early on in Europe, but flourished in the United States despite consumer skepticism, largely because of the lack of any government requirement to label them as such. Experts now agree that several successive Administrations in the 1990s and 2000s, most notably the George W. Bush Administration, named industry-friendly political appointees to FDA leadership posts who overrode scientific opposition within the agency to the relaxed regulation sought by food and drug companies...
National Enquirer, October 27, 2008:
FIJI FOUND TO POSE "MAJOR" NUKE THREAT
by Judith Miller
Washington --The Fiji Islands, long a fantasy destination for sun-starved vacationers, now harbor "a major and imminent" nuclear threat to world safety, according to a highly-placed informant cooperating with the Bush Administration, an Administration official said last week.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, called the danger "a looming threat to world security. We have incontrovertible evidence that Fiji has a huge stockpile of nuclear weapons and intends to use them. We know what they have and we know where they are hiding them."
Calling the secret informant "an impeccable source with top-level personal knowledge of Fiji's nuclear arsenal," the official said the President is studying responses and will not rule out military action against the island nation.
"We don't want a smoking gun in paradise to become hell's mushroom cloud," the official said...
The Washington Post, November 19, 2008
DEMS MOUNT CAUTIOUS OPPOSITION TO PUBLIC STONINGS
Washington -- In an apparent attempt to walk a fine line between public opinion and an entrenched White House, the Democratic leadership is treading carefully in its opposition to a threatened presidential veto of a capital punishment bill amended by Democrats to forbid execution by public stoning.
President George W. Bush has vowed to veto any bill that would limit federal authority to execute capital criminals by public stoning. The Democratic amendment, added yesterday to the capital punishment omnibus bill, specifically prohibits public stoning as a means of execution. Polls show that Americans disapprove of public stoning by a wide margin. But President Bush has declared stoning "a moral imperative on which I won't blow with the wind of public opinion. Any bill that tries to tie the hands of our correctional forces on the ground, I will veto."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) replied in a carefully-worded statement, "The American people have spoken on public stoning, and we hope that the President finds the ability to listen. We believe there is a better way than public stoning to support our dedicated and courageous correctional professionals. We look forward to working with the President to craft a fair and realistic bill."
Asked by reporters if, in negotiations with the White House, Democrats would go along with language permitting some version of public stoning, Pelosi answered, "I'm not prepared to speculate. We're going in with a reasonable and open attitude, and I hope and trust that the President will as well."
But several high-ranking Democrats, speaking on the condition of anonymity, predicted a compromise. "We're not going to get everything we want on public stoning," said one. "We know that. I think the Speaker understands that we'll have to work with the White House on this one."
A meeting between top Democrats and the President is scheduled for next week after the President's expected veto of the anti-stoning legislation...
I had seen enough. I looked up and, as I expected, my friend was gone and he had left a note, this one scribbled on a napkin.
"You might want to wait a bit," it read, "before you read the piece about our military invasion of Canada."
(Posted 5/26/07 by Bruce A. Jacobs)
recently had the good luck to meet Patricia Romano McGraw, Ph.D., a
psychologist and author whose research has led her (and her scientific
predecessors) to a conclusion that many of we lay types have long
suspected to be true: A good deal of the ruthless and emotionless
violence and nihilism among inner city youth, attributed by the
mainstream to various mysterious strains of ghetto malevolence, can in
fact be traced to the very predictable lasting effects of childhood
We're not talking simply about trauma to the personality. We're talking about trauma to the brain -- in the sense that the brain of a young child who is denied certain essential nurturing and comforting experiences will not develop the particular neural pathways required for qualities such as empathy, a sense of security, and self-esteem.
If you wonder, as some might, whether there is a whiff of eugenics here -- as in "something's wrong with the brains of those people" -- then you're in for a surprise; according to McGraw, it's precisely the opposite.
As McGraw explains in her talks and in her book on trauma (and as most brain researchers but few of we laypersons, including our journalists, appear to understand), a child's growing brain is not a passive vehicle of genetics and parentage but rather an elastic system that largely wires its own circuitry in response to the types of stimulation to which it is (or is not) subjected.
This does not mean that genetics (or other fixed physiological forces) don't affect brain formation. Of course they do; everything we know about genetic predisposition to certain brain diseases, and genetics as one factor in intelligence or talents such as music, tells us so.
But McGraw's message is that when it comes to the behavior of legions of kids in shattered families in bombed-out neighborhoods, genetics and innate personality matter far less than we think, and the physiologic effect of trauma on the brain's own self-wiring matters far more.
McGraw calls the process through which young children's brains are wired "attunement," in the sense of the young brain's laying its millions of new neural pathways "in tune" with the patterned stimuli to which it is exposed. For instance, the brain of a young child who is regularly cuddled, protected from physical threats, and subjected to sustained eye contact will "attune" to these signals of safety, comfort, and attention through a self-wiring of neural circuits that create the qualities of trust, empathy and attachment. But the brain of a child who is seldom touched, who is subjected to continual fear of harm, and whose eyes are rarely met will not attune in such a way. In fact, says McGraw, the opposite happens: these neural pathways either do not develop at all or are actually erased ("pruned" in clinical terms) by the trauma of neglect or danger. Traumatized children often clinically display literally blank spaces in the specific portions of their brains where these socially-attuned neural pathways would otherwise form. But because the brain continues to be elastic, the problems can be reversed with new experiences that foster attunement.
Heady stuff, if you'll forgive my saying so.
All of which means that, if McGraw is right, the stream of young, angry, violent children of color paraded before us in the media as stone-cold thieves and killers -- as with the bold page B1 headline in the May 16 Baltimore Sun that blared, "'COLD-BLOODED' KILLER AT 15: Hardened boy gets 60 years for '06 shootings" -- has much more to do with malleable young brains being pounded by inattention, chaos and everyday danger (and with the selective attention of drama-driven journalism) than it does with evil adolescent choices. Which raises issues that many of the cluckers and moralizers would rather avoid: the dire need in these communities for jobs programs, adequate drug treatment resources, a public-health approach to addiction, functional health care and family services, serious gun control policies, and decent schools.
I should add that McGraw, a working psychotherapist who specializes in trauma and other difficult cases, applies her thesis to all forms of emotional trauma -- sexual assault, abuse, neglect, abandonment, personal crisis -- and not just to the realm of poverty. She does, however, argue adamantly that social scientists and policy makers need to wake up and begin to apply the trauma model to much of what we call dysfunction among some of our most impoverished children.
It's what I call the missing "back story" to the breathless daily news narrative about the latest brutal murder by a cold-blooded young street killer. We hear plenty in the present tense about his crime: who he killed, how viciously he behaved, how the victim's family suffered.
What we do not hear is how, as an infant, he lay alone and ignored while his mother fought her drug habit, and how, as a toddler, he learned to dodge gunfire, and how, at age 5, he found his father dead in a pool of blood.
Work like McGraw's helps to tell that part of the story.
(Posted 5/17/07 by Bruce A. Jacobs)
A Modest Proposal.
Lest we forget, today is the fourth anniversary of the day our President played fighter jock aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln
and gave a victory speech, in front of a giant "Mission Accomplished"
banner, announcing an end to major combat operations in Iraq.
3,000-plus and tens or hundreds of thousands of American and Iraqi deaths later, I'd say this surreally macabre anniversary deserves a tribute befitting its stature as one of the most grandly obscene and politically revealing moments of our lifetimes. Especially when you consider that the Bush Administration has, in fact, succeeded in its unintended mission of becoming the most destructive and dishonest presidency in recent, and perhaps all, American history. Not to mention today also being the occasion of a troop-pullout bill landing on his desk (thanks to the apt choreography of the Democrats) for his promised veto, by which he will further cement his legacy of obstinate contempt for the public will.
So I propose that we make May 1 a kind of reverse holiday: a commemoration of this pivotal little moment in history that revealed to millions of voting Americans just how supremely they had been suckered. And I think we ought to give this perverse national holiday a name.
Liars Day? No, not enough feeling. Casualty Day? Maybe. Denouement Day? Hmm. Bloody Tuesday? Except it won't always fall on a Tuesday. But maybe that won't matter; each time around we could change it to "Bloody Monday" or "Bloody Thursday" or whatever day it happens to be. Or how about Deception Day? That seems to fit.
Yeah, I'm going with Deception Day.
Let's make this holiday thing happen. I'm serious. If you have a name to suggest, or if you think Deception Day works, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know. And ask others to think up their own names and get behind this holiday movement.
Yes, I know that May 1 is already May Day. But it seems to me that the irony of a president choosing a traditional workers' holiday for his crowning moment of mass deception is itself an historic act to be remembered.
Already, there are thousands upon thousands of American and Iraqi families who will never forget it.
(Posted 5/1/07 by Bruce A. Jacobs)
The White Dependency Problem.
For a bulletproof analysis of how a certain kind of white defensiveness actually stems from a deep-set dependency upon people
of color, read activist and commentator Tim Wise's ZNet piece on "Breaking the Cycle of White Dependence."
Wise argues, I think rightly, that white Americans who bitterly complain about the "dependency" of minorities on government and social supports are actually projecting their own underlying anxiety about whites' centuries-long dependence upon people of color. In other words, resentful whites, in angrily accusing minorities of failing to solve their own problems, are actually expressing a subliminal white anxiety over the fact that whites have depended utterly upon people of color for virtually all the essentials of white Western life, including identity, for the past 500 years.
To support this proposition, Wise churns methodically through a historical laundry list of examples of white dependency: the slave trade's underpinning of the modern American economy; the Naturalization Act of 1790 (which granted superior rights to European immigrants on the backs of American-born people of color); the effectively whites-only Homestead Act giveaway of real estate (much of which, let us not forget, was previously occupied until its owners were evicted or exterminated); the GI Bill (which was consciously tailored to exclude most blacks, as historian Ira Katznelson has chronicled in detail and as I write about in my new book); the colonization of large portions of Africa, Asia and Latin America for resources (an extractive dependency that created, and still sustains, Western industrialism); and more, including white American identity itself, which depends more upon its privileged relation to "the other" than it does upon any intrinsic quality of whiteness.
Deep stuff. Wise's entire essay is worth a read. For my part, I have long believed that certain angry American white males, in particular, constitute the biggest and neediest pack of crybabies on the planet. Without the centuries-old economic wet nurse of black and brown sacrifice, plenty of today's white dittoheads might still be in serfdom to landowning noblemen. Of course, many are, in a way. But that's another blog.
Thanks to Karla Scott for calling attention to Wise's piece.
(Posted 4/15/07 by Bruce A. Jacobs)
Don Imus, Meet White Privilege.
(Yesterday I said I would write only one entry on the Don Imus debacle. I should have known better.)
There is an old Saturday Night Live routine in which Eddie Murphy (yes, I'm dating myself here) decides that he wants to find out what life is really like for white people.
So Murphy uses makeup and a wig to disguise himself as a white man, learns to stiffen his walk and his speech, and takes to the streets with a hidden camera to discover The World According to Biff. What he finds is that when no people of color are around to watch, white people simply give things to one another for free: the day's paper at a newsstand, movie and ball game admission, cars, houses, everything. White people, he is shocked to learn, have no actual need for money. Hard-earned currency is for suckers -- that is, it's for people of color, around whom whites pretend to use money in order to preserve their handy little secret.
Murphy's SNL riff is very funny, unlike the Don Imus "nappy-headed ho's" spectacle now playing out nationwide. But Murphy's parody also does all of us a service. It gets to that much-denied but insidiously pervasive condition, white privilege.
White privilege is the stuff that happens -- or, more often, doesn't happen -- to whites because they are white. White privilege is the state of not being followed by store detectives on the basis of your race; of not being told the lie that an available apartment was just rented 10 minutes ago; of not having a woman take one look at you in your suit and tie and then clutch her purse; of not having movies treat women who look like you as bossy and unattractive; of not being shot 41 times or 50 times or (you can insert the next incident's number here) by police officers.
Don Imus doesn't get this.
Imus has no idea (although he is now beginning to learn) how his throwaway racial slurs and epithets feel to those who have to live with the daily slights and threats and fears that he is spared. He has no clue about the bubble he inhabits as a white American male, let alone a rich one with a radio show. He doesn't know how his being free, white and 67 afflicts him with a reckless and ruthless sense of entitlement toward social "others." And, worse, he doesn't know that he doesn't know.
But that, Don, is precisely the nature of white privilege. And yours is a textbook case. To you as you sat behind the microphone on that fateful morning, the lives of five black women on the Rutgers basketball team -- at a moment that was both their greatest triumph and their most crushing defeat -- were nothing but crude raw material, disembodied and beneath human regard, the equivalent of a handful of Mississippi cotton for you to pluck and fling in the air.
I know you weren't thinking all of this as you did it, Don. But that's the point: White privilege thrives at a level beneath conscious thought. By now, after centuries of racially differential treatment and expectation, white privilege is so deeply imbued as to be reflexive.
White privilege, Don, is your presuming that the feelings and reputations of five young black women at one of the nation's top universities are yours to play with, like yo-yos or Slinkies, in a whimsical moment of grunting amusement. White privilege is your believing that you're too special to lose your job over a flagrantly abusive racial act that violates the stated standards of your employer. It's your assuming that you can hang your head and be sorry and then walk out of the courtroom; that your freedom is unlimited; that your privilege is irrevocable.
That, Don, is why you feel shocked and mistreated by NBC's having now dumped your show, and why you will feel ambushed and martyred if CBS does the right thing and fires you outright.
Welcome to the real world, Don, the world outside of white privilege.
Tough out here, isn't it?
(Posted 4/12/07 by Bruce A. Jacobs)
Earth to Imus.
moment, at least half the pundits in the country are hammering at their
keyboards over the latest abomination from Don Imus -- that being his
"funny" crack about the Rutgers women's basketball team being a tough
bunch of "nappy-headed ho's."
Do we really need to debate this matter when what spewed forth from Imus's mouth speaks so pungently for itself? I think not. All I'll say is this:
I didn't listen to Imus's April 9 appearance on Rev. Al Sharpton's radio show, but I did read the transcript, which you can peruse online at the New York Times or download from Newsday. It wasn't the whacked-across-the-back-with-a-folding-chair WWF blood match one might have expected, chiefly because a contrite Imus mostly kept his cool. Sharpton made no bones about his disgust with Imus's behavior and his desire to see the shock jock fired. But while he landed verbal shots at will with the repentant and often-flustered Imus, Sharpton (appropriately) did not let the interview disintegrate into name-calling.
As with comic Michael Richards's vapid hand-wringing on Letterman after his racist tirade, what struck me most about Imus in the interview was the seemingly surreal way in which he views himself. Beaten about the head by the outrage of Sharpton and his guests, Imus kept repeating, mantra-like, what he sees as the two defenses for his remark: One, he was just trying to be funny, a smart-assed morning jock talking shit. And two, in real life he's a good guy who does plenty to help those people with their problems.
So why, Imus asks, can't he apologize and be forgiven? Why must he pay with his job?
True, among the trash-talking rich white provocateurs who now pass for radio and television pundits, Imus is one of the more politically liberal, or at least humanitarian. He came out against the Iraq war. He made fun of the troglodytes who populated the Reagan Administration. He and his wife run a camp at their ranch for kids with cancer.
But what's odd is that Imus seems to expect the distance between his real life and his brutal on-air theatrics to excuse him. It's as if an actor were to actually kill a man while playing a role and then claim in court that he cannot be held accountable for the murder committed by the character. Imus seems genuinely baffled at the real-world consequences of what he sees as his own personal circus act. On Sharpton's show he seemed almost to be saying, Yeah, okay, the trapeze act did get out of hand. I shouldn't have suspended that little girl by her pinky 100 feet above the ground, and I'm sorry I dropped her and she died. But is that my fault? It's a circus, for Chrissakes.
This is what we get when punditry devolves into the corporate-generated theater of personal abuse. A kind parent and decent neighbor morphs into a racist or misogynistic or genocidal maniac upon stepping out of the limo at the TV or radio studio. It's a million-dollar Jekyll-and-Hyde act whereby otherwise lackluster gabbers make themselves over as nut cases or character assassins for fun and profit. I once heard a political writer say that he doubts that Ann Coulter believes a single word she says on the air. I'm lucky enough to not know Crazy Annie personally, but I'll bet that he's right.
Should Imus be fired? Of course. After years of insulting women, mocking gays, ridiculing blacks, and calling Arabs "ragheads," Imus needs more than a two-week suspension and the loss of some advertisers (several have bailed since his "ho's" spiel) to teach him that this is not some game where you get to be socially destructive by day and then go home at night and pretend you're an upstanding citizen. When your hateful diatribes reach 10 million listeners while your charity work reaches perhaps a few thousand people, it's time to realize that you're having a net negative impact on society. Do the math, Don.
Not long ago on the website of a radio station that carries Imus's show, I found a quote in which he describes his on-air mission as "reveling in the agony of others." I'm certain that if pressed, he would claim this is a joke.
Now that Imus is publicly agonizing over how his on-air cruelty gig has blown up in his face, I wonder if he expects us to laugh.
(Posted 4/11/07 by Bruce A. Jacobs)
it's been a while since my last post. Between traveling with my new
book and a bout with one of the new marathon cold/flu bugs, I've been
up, down and all around. But I'm back. What did I miss?
Let's start with this:)
We're sorry for slavery.
So far, one state, Virginia, has passed legislation apologizing for its role in the African slave trade; actually, Virginia's phrase was "profound regret," which I guess one could accept as a weasely way of saying you're sorry. Seven other states are looking at doing so as well, and an apology resolution has been introduced in the U.S. Congress. For the record, the mayor of the City of London has also apologized for slavery, eloquently, in writing.
Apologizing for a horrible crime that you or your child or your state or your nation has committed is a good thing. I support it. Few, except for those morally malleable types who register penitence only with permission from their favorite media bully, would raise a big stink about a measly little apology for what was undeniably one of history's great atrocities. Remember that we have officially apologized, rightly, for our political imprisonment of Japanese-Americans during World War Two. And Germany's mea culpas for the Holocaust were, without question, the very least that the Fatherland of the former Third Reich could do.
But that is also the problem: Apologizing for slavery is literally the very least that Americans can do.
It is hard to argue against apologies, especially when they are sincere. What I challenge, though, is the use of apology, whether consciously or unconsciously, as yet another sop to try to settle, on the cheap, the towering and still-outstanding debt arising from the African slave trade and its aftermath.
The Atlantic slave trade was a mammoth international enterprise. Depending on the estimate, anywhere from 12 to 40 million Africans were kidnapped and forcibly brought to the New World under the worst conditions imaginable -- if they survived the trip. When slavery was at its most profitable in the mid-19th century, the price of a single slave often totaled more than a typical American earned in a year; one shipload of slaves smuggled to Cuba in 1840 reportedly sold for $200,000, the equivalent of millions in today's dollars.
Without the stupendous revenues generated by slave labor on the massive plantations of the New World, there would have been no subsequent Industrial Revolution, no explosively-expanding American factories shipping their wares nationwide on newly-laid cross-continental rail lines, no fat and happy America tempting immigrants with mythical gold-bricked streets, no modern "consumer," no malls where you and I can now choose among a dozen clothing stores. Our nation's dirty secret is that slavery funded the modern American economy. The chain of causation is inescapable. Every item you and I now buy at a corporate boutique might as well be stamped "made possible by the African slave trade." (And some items are literally the products of contemporary slavery, whether in hidden American workhouses or abroad.)
So, with regard to the 400-year history of the Atlantic slave trade, something more than an apology is called for.
I am not a big believer in reparations, in the sense of handing out large checks to all we descendants of African-American slaves. It might be fair to do so (if we could solve the practical problems of establishing slave ancestry and working out the cash math), but it wouldn't be effective. For one thing, some black American inheritors of the legacy of slavery, racism and disenfranchisement deserve a lot more financial help than others. Further, this is about much more than handing out money. It is about rebuilding communities shattered by the long habit of forcible racial abuse, economic neglect, and political scapegoating.
So America should go ahead and say it's sorry for slavery. That's a start. But then let's see our country actually do something as a nation that will tangibly make good on its purported sense of moral justice. Let's see America turn on a dime to put $400 billion worth of resources into regenerating our neediest communities -- and not just the black ones, I might add -- the way the nation has poured those billions into the destruction of Iraq. Let's see our country reclaim some of the trillions of dollars in unneeded tax breaks that America's wealthiest 1 percent enjoy from the Bush Administration, and use them instead to invest in drug treatment clinics in cash-strapped cities where addicts now wait 6 months to get into rehab, and to create jobs repairing crumbling schools and rehabbing bombed-out neighborhoods and counseling shredded families and mentoring desperately angry kids who need to learn that their lives and futures have value. Let's see our cities and states add units and courses about racism -- what it is, where it came from, how to deal with it -- to the curricula of public elementary, middle and high schools across the country. Let's see our country make it a nationwide project to level the playing field by, well, actually leveling it: on the strength of the bountiful human and material resources now at hand in the America of Halliburton and Blackwater.
Anything short of that is simply a sorry excuse.
(Posted 3/25/07 by Bruce A. Jacobs)
V. Putin, Unlikely Truth-Teller.
you have to take truth where you find it. Recently, we Americans have
gotten a healthy and bitter dose of it from the unlikely ministering of
Russian President and ex-K.G.B. man Vladimir Putin, who has decided it
is his job to tell us what our official mouthpieces won't about our
Putin's latest and most caustic moral corrective, which led most international news coverage today, was his sermon yesterday at a security conference in Munich. In front of a slew of international leaders that included U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Putin declared that "the United States has overstepped its national borders...in every area” through “unilateral” and “illegitimate” military actions that “have not been able to resolve any matters at all” and "bring us to the abyss of one conflict after another.” Thanks to the United States, he said, “political solutions are becoming impossible.” In a cutting rejoinder to American rhetoric, Putin sniffed, “It has nothing in common with democracy...Today we are witnessing an almost uncontained hyper use of force in international relations — military force...This is the world of one master, one sovereign.” He went on to say that the United States has converted the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which monitors elections in former Soviet-controlled states, “into a vulgar instrument of ensuring the foreign policy interests of one country.” (New York Times, 2/11/07)
Whew. And those were just the highlights.
American leaders made a hollow show of surprise and rebuttal, the most unintentionally ironic of which came from Senator John McCain, who responded to Putin with this howler: “In today’s multipolar world, there is no place for needless confrontation.”
Putin, of course, has plenty of reasons to make a commotion chucking bricks at other people's glass houses. As the steely-eyed boss of a repressive regime beset with rampant gangsterism and a depression-level economy, he has provided an easy target for Bush's self-righteous barbs about democracy. Moreover, Putin has his own disastrous war against insurgents (in Chechnya) on his hands, and he is under international suspicion of having ordered the recent slayings of two prominent Russian dissidents, journalist Anna Politkovskaya and former K.G.B. agent and Putin critic Alexander Litvinenko (she was shot in her apartment building in Moscow; he was poisoned by radiation in London), as well as a long list of other political enemies who have been murdered execution-style. Now that the American public has joined the rest of the world in recognizing Bush as a bully and a buffoon, it's an opportune time for Putin to score points at W's expense.
But that doesn't stop Putin from being right about Bush. Sometimes the truth comes from strange places, including dishonest and ruthless Russian autocrats who have an interest in drawing attention to the lies and hypocrisies of their American counterparts.
From what I can tell, in his Munich remarks Putin got only one thing wrong: he proclaimed that President Bush “is a decent man, and one can do business with him.”
(Posted 2/11/07 by Bruce A. Jacobs)
Your Money for Nothing.
This from the Tuesday, January 23, 2007 New York Times:
"Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York became the first candidate since the program began in 1976 to forgo public financing for both the primary and the general election because of the spending limits that come with the federal money. By declaring her confidence that she could raise far more than the roughly $150 million the system would provide for the 2008 presidential primaries and general election, Mrs. Clinton makes it difficult for other serious candidates to participate in the system without putting themselves at a significant disadvantage."
The article goes on to detail how contenders for 2008 -- Clinton, John
McCain, Milt Romney, possibly Barack Obama -- are, one by one, bailing
from public financing altogether in order to keep up with the frenetic
pace of private fundraising. As Times reporter David Kirkpatrick, to his credit, pithily sums it up:
Public financing in any serious sense, of course, has been dead for
years. As reporter Kirkpatrick's Washington insiders -- and a couple
hundred million outsiders across the nation -- have long understood,
private money is the undisputed king of the federal election system.
Our publicly-funded "system," toward which we are asked to check off
that little voluntary one-dollar contribution box on our tax returns,
is a joke, a tattered jester who surfaces every few years to make a
sorry satire of citizen power. Our nation and 100,000 American private
contractors are now mired in Iraq, for instance, largely because the
money filter yielded a president and a congress who view government as
the payback division of the corporate largesse industry. We have no
universal health care -- despite years of polls showing that it is
favored by most Americans -- for the same reason. And so on.
I know none of this is news to you. But what is new is the official announcement of the death of public financing of elections. What we are left to conclude, implicitly, is that the market has spoken. Industry's blazing profitability has outpaced the public sector for cash. Citizens have seen the inevitable, shrugged, and walked away with their measly $1 donations still in their pockets, abandoning the electoral marketplace to the fair victors of the corporate class. It's all very tidily Darwinian.
Except that it isn't.
There is nothing natural about a monied elite crafting federal economic and political policy, through purchased candidates, to overwhelmingly favor business and the very wealthy and systemically neglect the public sector and then -- surprise! -- declaring the resultantly weakened and bankrupt public sector an unfit competitor. There is nothing meritocratic about rewriting tax law to feed corporate profits and private inheritances. There is not a hint of natural selection in the feeding of mega mergers via the shredding of long-established antitrust law, or the screening of potential candidates for national office by their ability to solicit cash from the advantaged rather than by their ability to earn the approval of the voting public.
To put it another way, the public financing of elections did not simply die of natural causes. It was murdered.
Ordinary Americans understand this. We did not shrug and keep our one-dollar bills in our pockets out of some principled opposition to the idea of public financing. We did so because we knew that the so-called public financing system was already bogus. Rigged. Sabotaged. And we saw no reason to waste any of our shrinking earnings on broken machinery. Ask virtually any American -- black, white, brown or red, female or male, straight or gay, religious or atheist -- if they want private money in politics, and they will answer with an emphatic No. Ask them what has the greatest influence in politics, and they will tell you, just as emphatically, "Private money."
Americans also understand something else: Public financing is not truly dead -- because it has never yet lived. The voluntary $1 donation system was always a token, a cheap imitation of public finance that was continually vulnerable to being nullified, and finally overwhelmed, by private money in a society that has always allowed the wealthiest to purchase their way into politics. We will not have public campaign finance worthy of the name until we embrace the simple ethic at the heart of it: In a democracy, private money has no place in the choosing of public leaders. A democracy, in fact, would legally bar private money from elections, and would treat the channeling of private money to a candidate as what it is: a bribe. To corrupt an election in such a way -- that is, to do what we Americans now freely allow in our federal elections and most of our state and county and local elections -- would be a crime punishable by law.
Sound radical? Put aside for a moment the raw inertia of our having gotten accustomed to private electoral funding, and consider the underpinning of the idea. We do not, for instance, allow our towns' and our cities' richest citizens to privately fund, and therefore control, our police and fire departments. Why not? Because we understand these to be publicly-owned entities that must remain free to serve the public good.
Well, if the presidency or a senatorial or congressional seat is not a publicly-owned entity that must remain free to serve the public good, I don't know what is.
Try that one out on a "money-is-speech" advocate who tries to defend the right to privately fund a public candidate. Dare him to find a chink in the above ethical logic.
Privately paying for election to public office is wrong. And most Americans know it and want it to stop.
But where would we find the public money to take its place?
That's where the Times piece provides another interesting bit of information. According to the article, the two final candidates for the 2008 presidency are each expected to spend more than $500 million. The total spent by all presidential candidates could easily surpass $1 billion.
To date in Iraq, we have spent more than $360 billion.
Next question, please.
(Posted 1/27/07 by Bruce A. Jacobs)
Americans Favor Impeachment.
Here is something you might not know:
Fifty-one percent of Americans favor the impeachment of President George W. Bush, according to an October 2006 Newsweek poll.
You read correctly. This is not a misprint. Fifty-one percent of Americans think impeaching President George W. Bush is a good idea.
If you didn't know this -- as I didn't until I did some homework after hearing this blockbuster statistic mentioned at an impeachment forum in Washington, DC last week -- it is because Newsweek carried out an interesting series of gymnastics to avoid bearing such inflammatory tidings to the reading public.
First, Newsweek buried this explosive finding far down in the text of the story. Secondly, Newsweek writer Marcus Mabry, through a procession of nimble verbal and numerical backflips, managed to blur the 51-percent statistic almost beyond recognition. It worked: the suitably muddied statistic attracted virtually no mainstream media attention. Only after critics spurred Newsweek readers to backtrack and do the math did the 51 percent pro-impeachment finding begin to attract notice.
Here is the paragraph in question from the Newsweek story:
Notice writer Mabry's language: "only" 28 percent of Americans say
impeachment should be a top priority, and "only" 23 percent say
impeachment should be a lower priority, while an ostensibly whopping 44
percent say impeachment should not be done. But wait a minute: 28 plus
23 equals 51. So how come it's written as "only" 28 and 23 percent
pro-impeachment when, in fact, this combined group significantly
outnumbers the 44 percent who oppose impeachment? Why isn't it written
as "only" 44 percent being against impeachment while 51 percent -- more
than half the country -- favors it?
And why is this astonishing statistic buried and dissembled deep within the magazine when -- as one impeachment forum participant observed -- it should be on the cover?
These are good questions to ask Newsweek -- by, say, accepting their website's invitation to post a comment on the story.
It is shoddy, timid reporting like this that has Americans sneering at the righteous pretensions of journalists.
By the way, the impeachment forum, held January 4 at the National Press Club by World Can't Wait.org, was a barn-burner, with talks by antiwar dynamo Cindy Sheehan, Pentagon Papers hero Daniel Ellsberg, writer and media reform advocate John Nichols, Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Sansara Taylor of World Can't Wait, who earlier that day gave as good as she got on Bill O'Reilly's television show when O'Reilly called her a "lunatic." There was also a typically biting message, via video, from author and dissident Gore Vidal. Civil rights great Dick Gregory was among those in the audience. If you ever feel isolated as a progressive who can't believe that Bush has not yet been impeached, such gatherings are part of the cure.
Especially when you remember that 51 percent of Americans agree with you about impeaching him.
(Posted 1/7/07 by Bruce A. Jacobs)