Saturday, July 10, 2004

A google bomb that is catching on fast

The search term fuck yourself places Dick "fuck yourself" Cheney's White House site at #5. Way to go, Dickie. Soon you'll be #1. Congratulations on restoring honor and dignity to the White House.



Update: and just like that, it was gone - nowhere to be found among the google links. Hmmm.

Civil Liberties Watch: How to Unwittingly End Up on a Homeland Security Watch List

I write badly, therefore I am a would-be terrorist, by Charles Green. My initial reading of this led to feelings of outrage, mixed with depression. Here's a taste of what has been lost in the paranoia that characterizes the authoritarian Bu$hCo Regime:



"How are you?" asked the airport security person who popped up beside me on my way to baggage claim.



"Uh, fine — thanks," I replied, wondering, why are you asking?



As if she'd read my thoughts, she told me there had been complaints about me on the airplane. Then she asked to see the crossword puzzle I'd been working on during the flight. Huh? I thought. Talk about being puzzled! Still, my grin was smug as I handed it over. I'd just completed the Friday New York Times puzzle, for the first time ever.



But the agent ignored the crossword, turning the paper sideways to read a line I'd scribbled in the margin: "I know this is kind of a bomb."



She pointed to the sentence, her finger resting on the word "bomb." "What does this mean?" she demanded.



Suddenly a light went on in my head. I remembered the passenger on my left leaning forward in his seat as I scribbled while we waited for takeoff. Seconds later, he'd clambered hastily over me without apology to make his way to the front of the plane. I'd assumed intestinal complications, but now that I thought about it, he hadn't used the bathroom. He'd spoken briefly with the flight attendants and returned to his seat. As the security woman looked at me, I now realized the passenger had been about as interested in my puzzling prowess as she was.



"I know this is kind of a bomb" is what I imagine Bucky, my main character, would say to Julie, his love interest, in the critical scene of my novel. I explained to the security woman that this is what happens when a 42-year-old man who is to literature what a karaoke singer is to opera tries to put words in the mouth of a fictional 19-year-old.




It goes downhill from there, including a police interrogation that leads to this conclusion:



Maybe he sensed that I white-knuckle on airplanes unless I have three shots of vodka. Perhaps my background check told him that I'm a secular Jew or that ex-girlfriends contend that my fear of commitment surpasses that of any Hugh Grant movie character. In other words, I don't exactly fit the profile of someone who would align with a radical cause to bring down an airplane he's already afraid he'll crash in. Even so, the honcho gravely warned me that while I hadn't crossed the line, I had walked right up to it. And for that I would be on Homeland Security's watch list.



That set me back. Why would I be put on a watch list even after Homeland Security had satisfied itself that I had no intention of blowing anything up, that my privacy had been violated by a nosy person who made an error and that I'd been the victim of a crazy misunderstanding? Why would I end up forever marked as a potentially dangerous character, subject to interrogations and body searches? Admittedly, some mornings, pre-shower, I do give Sheikh Mohammed a run for his money in the bed-head department; so if I ever venture to Starbucks this way, will I be straying across the line into never-to-be-heard-from-again-land?



If I could give myself practical advice and take it, this is what I'd say: Forget the things you read in history class about America, Charlie. Forget all the stuff about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Just keep your head down and your eyes peeled for that "line." The coach of my old-man baseball team, for which I occasionally hit a bomb — though now I would never describe it that way in public — thinks I should start taking Greyhound. I should listen to him; he's a Vietnam vet.




Folks, Americans are afraid of the wrong things. Think about that the next time that Ridge and/or Ashcroft are exhumed in order to "warn" us about "threats" posed by ice chests disguised as coolers for Bud Lite or some faceless group of Ay-Rabs who supposedly plan to strike at some unspecified location, time, and date. Think about that when Bu$hCo come demanding that you sacrifice more of your freedom under the aegis of extending the misnamed "Patriot Act" or expanding that act's invasiveness, and effectively turning the government into the very Orwellian "nanny state" we were once warned against.

Mohandas Gandhi on democracy

Via Dancing Larry's DailyKos diary:



Democracy necessarily means a conflict of will and ideas, involving sometimes a war to the knife between different ideas.



The very essence of democracy is that every person represents all the varied interests which compose the nation.



Democracy is a great institution and, therefore, it is liable to be greatly abused.



Democracy is an impossible thing until the power is shared by all, but let not democracy degenerate into mobocracy.



Democracy is not a state in which people act like sheep.



Democracy and violence can ill go together.



Evolution of democracy is not possible if we are not prepared to hear the other side.



Democracy, disciplined and enlightened, is the finest thing in the world.



The spirit of democracy cannot be imposed from without. It has to come from within.



My notion of democracy is that under it the weakest should have the same opportunity as the strongest.



To safeguard democracy the people must have a keen sense of independence, self-respect and their oneness.



Intolerance, discourtesy and harshness are taboo in all good society and are surely contrary to the spirit of democracy.



In true democracy every man and women is taught to think for himself or herself.



The spirit of democracy cannot be established in the midst of terrorism, whether governmental or popular.



Corruption and hypocrisy ought not to be inevitable products of democracy, as they undoubtedly are today.




Some themes that tie these quotes together: the importance of nonviolence (under which democracy is most likely to flourish), tempered with the reality that conflict is an inevitable part of the democratic process; the importance of critical thinking; the importance of open-mindedness; and the role of fear in undermining the spirit of democracy (see his comments on terrorism, which includes as I see it both the acts of violence by rogue groups and individuals and the fear-based propaganda of despots).



Want more? Here's a bunch of Gandhi quotes on various topics.



Food for thought.

Asia Times Book Review of Chomsky's "Hegemony or Survival"

A case against self-annihilation



Some highlights:



On the surface it may seem that Chomsky is out to expose US political hypocrisy - the gap between its stated ideals and actual policy. What he delivers, however, is a chilling expose of the connectivity between America's governmental rhetoric of hegemonic control and implemental reality especially through World War II (but in fact going way back to the colonization of North America by European settlers).



In the latter instance, his critique of rather contemporary US interventions - such as the war on Iraq - merges with a well-illustrated denunciation of Western colonization and imperialism.



On the whole, then, the book foregrounds the continuum not only between US domestic politics and foreign policy, political rhetoric and action, but also between the old European imperialism and the global US domination past World War II. The US comes off here as the new leader of the older practice of imperialism - now overlaid with a great deal more moralizing and political evangelism than ever before: "An era of enlightenment and benevolence was upon us, in which the civilized nations, led by the US, then 'at the height of its glory', acted out of altruism and 'moral fervor' in pursuit of exalted ideals" (page 51).



[...]



As for the Anglo-American intervention in World War II, Chomsky emphasizes that "the US and British governments, the business world, and a good deal of elite opinion" had generally harbored a favorable view of fascism for long (page 67). "By 1943," he reminds us, "the US and Britain had begun their efforts, which intensified after the war, to dismantle the anti-fascist resistance worldwide and restore something like the traditional order, often rewarding some of the worst war criminals with prominent roles" (page 69).



[...]



A diehard rationalist, Chomsky views the American state, a superpower, as an institutionalized irrationality that needs to be prevented from both self-destruction and world destruction - through strategic recourse by all thinking minds to the "second superpower": "world public opinion" (pages 253, 10). He backs up even this philosophical-sounding claim by invoking the massive empirical evidence of global opinion polls that have typically cast a thoroughly negative light on the actions of the US government.



Chomsky deems US polity destructive because its "basic principle is that hegemony is more important than survival" (page 231). As such, he views the peculiar framework of the economic globalization of the 1990s, orchestrated to a great extent by the US ruling elite, as yet another step toward self-destruction - especially because it equates the economic structure of the neoclassical market with the political structure of democracy.



In this setting, "the interests of those with no votes are valued at zero: future generations, for example. It is therefore rational," Chomsky argues, "to destroy the possibility for decent survival for our grandchildren, if by so doing we can maximize our own 'wealth' - which means a particular perception of self-interest constructed by vast industries devoted to implanting and reinforcing it" (pages 233-234). "The threats to survival," he goes on to underline, "are currently being enhanced by dedicated efforts not only to weaken the institutional structures that have been developed to mitigate the harsh consequences of market fundamentalism, but also to undermine the culture of sympathy and solidarity that sustains these institutions" (page 235).



In words reminiscent of Rajni Kothari, Chomsky sums up by arguing that there are "two trajectories in current history: one aiming toward hegemony, acting rationally within a lunatic doctrinal framework as it threatens survival; the other dedicated to the belief that 'another world is possible', in the words that animate the World Social Forum ..." (page 236).

Baseball Activism: Carlos Delgado

Carlos Delgado on Deck: Blue Jays Slugger Stands Up Against War



A clip:



Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Carlos Delgado is known throughout the baseball world as one of the most feared sluggers in the game. Last year the 32 year old All-Star hit 42 homers and drove in 145 runs. He has averaged almost 40 home runs a year over the last six seasons. With his imposing physical frame, baldhead and gold earring he is one of the most recognizable faces in the game. Lately he has put the baseball world on notice that he will use his fame to fight the US's war on the world.



In a very sympathetic story on the pages of the Toronto Star, Delgado came public with the fact he won't stand on the dug out steps for God Bless America. "I never stay outside for `God Bless America,'" Delgado said. "I actually don't think people have noticed it. I don't (stand) because I don't believe it's right, I don't believe in the war."



Delgado also made clear that we won't stand for the priorities of the US military machine "It's a very terrible thing that happened on September 11," he said. "It's (also) a terrible thing that happened in Afghanistan and Iraq. I just feel so sad for the families that lost relatives and loved ones in the war. But I think it's the stupidest war ever. Who are you fighting against? You're just getting ambushed now. We have more people dead now, after the war, than during the war. You've been looking for weapons of mass destruction. Where are they at? You've been looking for over a year. Can't find them. I don't support that. I don't support what they do. I think it's just stupid."




Not your average baseball story, to be sure. It's most cool when one reads of an athlete willing to venture into "above and beyond" territory, and Delgado is one such person.



Some other baseball news: Although the Angels are in 3rd place in their division, they're really not that far behind the 1st place Rangers. I've been an Angels fan for quite a long time, and am typically quite happy to see them having a decent season. After 2002, it's safe to say that it's a club that should not be underestimated. Also noticed the Cubbies were still in 2nd in their division. My fantasy would be for an Angels-Cubs World Series (a battle of the underdogs). Probably won't happen, but I can hope, right?

Looks like the Whiskey Bar is still open

and Billmon's back as bartender, serving some of the best thinks available. ¡Salud!



At least the trackback feature still exists, allowing readers to have some means of feedback even if the comments are no longer available. And even if Billmon ends up a bit less active, his writings are well worth the wait. One thing's for sure - blogging is addictive, perhaps more so than Guinness. Which reminds me...hey, bartender! Another pint, please. Thanks.

The Cheney Doctrine

Props to Trix of DailyKos (by way of Musing's Musings) for this most cool meme:



I hereby submit that from this day forth, "fuck yourself" [shall] be known as The Cheney Doctrine.




Works for me.

Friday, July 9, 2004

Some Republican Dissent, For Your Reading Pleasure

Let's start out with Joan Ryan's column, Bush loses a lifelong Republican, in which she writes this about her dad, a staunch GOP conservative:



But a funny thing has happened on the way to the 2004 election. George Bush is managing to do what no politician has done before him -- drive my mother and father and others like them from their well-worn seats on the GOP bus.



[...]



His anger is about more than a difference of opinion with the president about how and why he waged this particular war. There is a corrosive quality to this presidency that has eaten away at what my father believes his country stands for. Anecdotal evidence suggests he is not alone. Republican leaders, however, will tell you the faithful aren't wavering. As evidence, they point to a bipartisan poll conducted for National Public Radio in May that found just 6 percent of Republicans say they plan to vote for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.



But the poll means little. It asked the wrong question. My father would also have told them he doesn't plan to vote for Kerry. He'd cut off his finger before using it to cast a vote for a limousine liberal like Kerry. But his dislike for Kerry does not diminish his disillusionment with Bush. He won't vote for either of them, he says, leaving the top lines of his ballot blank for the first time in his life.




Next, let's check out Georgie Anne Geyer who rips Bu$hCo a new one in her column, Experience may be overrated. Keep in mind that this is someone who was a virulent Clinton-basher back in the day - and she wasn't alone among the GOP crowd. Let's take a peek at what she has to say:



Instead, within minutes of John Kerry's announcement on Tuesday, both the White House and the Republican establishment had the attack dogs out, and the message could not be clearer. Virtually every text used the same words, claiming that John Edwards was "unaccomplished and inexperienced."



Now, let us think about that for just a moment. When this unusual Republican administration was struggling to come to power four years ago, one of the major pluses for the electorate, surely for me, was that this group had more Washington and international experience than virtually any new administration in history. Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell: Among them and others, they supposedly knew the world like the back of their hands and would deal with it with expertise, sophistication and elan.



As it turned out, none of these men could even read a page in the Encyclopaedia Britannica that might have alerted them to how Iraqis have behaved throughout history; they couldn't figure out where those much-touted weapons of mass destruction were, or weren't; and their vast "experience," undiluted by modesty and inflamed with hubris, did not lend them any parlor manners with other governments in the world nor facility in husbanding the nation's resources in order to lead the world.



In short, we have to think twice about the question of experience. This administration has given experience a bad name and laid the way for Americans to hope that younger fellows, without so much of it, might at least have better sense.




Want more? Ms. Geyer also has this to offer up with regard to Kerry and his VP pick John Edwards:



Then, think about what this choice of John Edwards says about John Kerry and the Democratic Party today.



First, it shows that Kerry is confident (and ambitious) enough to choose a man who is more outgoing, charming and charismatic than he. It shows that he is a serious man, but that he harbors in that tall, spare, Lincolnesque frame a true political savvy--he chose as his vice presidential running mate the guy who could help him win, not lose.



Second, Edwards, though a trial lawyer, with all that means in terms of the general hatred of trial lawyers today, is in other respects a moderate "New Democrat." In his six years in the Senate, he joined two moderate groups, the Senate New Democrats and the bipartisan Centrist Coalition, opposed the big Republican tax cut of 2002 and the economic stimulus package of early 2003, and opposed fellow Democrat Richard Gephardt's health plan as too expensive. He did vote for the Iraq war (nobody's perfect).



So far, he seems to be a relatively unique creature in recent American politics: a populist without anger.




These are strange times in which we live, no? Certainly it fits in with the American Zeitgeist of 2004. I do agree with Joan Ryan that the anecdotal data are picking up on a vibe among the GOP rank and file that the pollsters may be missing, and that in fact the pollsters might be asking the wrong questions in the first place. I've encountered quite a number of students in my little corner of the academic world who are avowed Republicans and avowed mainstream conservatives who are very disillusioned with Bu$hCo. Add my parents to the mix (these were the people whom I recall were not especially pleased that I refused to cast a vote for Reagan in 1984 - that we're now on the same page is something I never envisioned in my wildest dreams). The discontent is clearly visible among the very people whom Bu$hCo depends for re-election. That discontent may not translate into votes for Kerry, but it could easily translate into choices to not vote at all in terms of the Presidential election.



Add to that a very motivated Democrat base, along with some more or less independent cats like me who want to rescue the country from the clutches of Bu$hCo, and we have the makings of a Kerry/Edwards landslide. I realize that's a bold prediction that is contrary with the prevailing wisdom, but as I said earlier, these are strange times in which we live.

Republicard







What's in your wallet?

One Thousand

coalition troops dead as of this post.



Iraqi civilians killed: estimated between 11,164 and 13,118.



That's not even considering the many who have been injured since the invasion and occupation began.

Flip-flops

No, not the sandals, but what Preznit Dubya does on a regular basis. American Prospect has the skinny on the Flip-Flopper-in-Chief. Something to use when encountering wingnut Kerry haters.

Dissent

Over the last year and a half I've seen a great deal of discussion with regard to how far we lefties can and should go in speaking out against the injustices perpetrated by the right-wingers (both those in positions of power as well as their various and sundry enablers). The prevailing conventional wisdom among liberals and progressives of all stripes was that the belligerence of the Limbaughs, Coulters, and Cheneys of the American political landscape was simply too unseemly and that it was imperative that we refrain from such discourse.



Clearly, that prevailing wisdom is no longer accepted to the extent that it once was. What's changed?



1. The roll-over-and-play-dead mentality of the Democrat party brass led to an embarrassing defeat at the hands of a party whose leaders are more than happy to continue smear campaigns; more than willing to rely on half-truths, damn lies, threats and insults to bully all others into submission. That was strike one against "playing nice."



2. The Quixotic invasion and occupation of Iraq that was perpetrated on the basis of blatant lies, and defended by challenging the patriotism of those who dissented. Add to that the increasing belligerence of the right-wingnuts over the course of the last year or so: threats of violence (escalating in some cases to actual violence), an increasing dehumanization of the Iraqi people (the same ones that Bu$hCo claimed to be "liberating"), etc. Strike Two.



3. A social and political climate that is generally more oppressive than possibly any time in American history has also convinced many of us that simply "playing nice" won't work - and likely hasn't worked for some time. From "free speech zones" to the mis-named Patriot Act to the attacks on the sciences etc. it is clear that those on the right wing are genuinely the enemies of freedom. Strike Three.



For better or worse, politics is an adversarial enterprise. (Surely that's not the only way to conceptualize politics: I can readily imagine politics framed as a cooperative endeavor which would imply a much different set of rules though this is not the time or place for that discussion.) Though the specifics of an adversarial politics change periodically, the basic conceptualization remains the same: one side wins at the expense of the other. Under such a system, those who manage to utilize all available means at their disposal allowed by the prevailing rules maximize their chance of winning. Unilateral disarmament, in such a system is typically a fool's game.



Which brings me to a recent post by Rob at Emphasis Added, titled Defining Dissent Down. Rob addresses some of the criticism from some in moderate/liberal/progressive circles of Michael Moore's latest film Fahrenheit 9/11 for its stridently polemic tone. If I am reading Rob correctly, he's noting that there are some among us who are distancing themselves from Moore on the basis of his film being too "uncivil." In other words, according to these critics, we should be "setting the example and play nice." Rob argues that such an approach has not and will not work currently, and I'm inclined to agree.



It's been a long time since I read Axelrod's classic 1984 text The Evolution of Cooperation, but one thing that I still recall from Axelrod's summarization of human and computer simulation research is that a default strategy of "always play nice no matter what" is simply ineffective: a player taking such a strategy is quite likely to end up losing; opponents who don't play with that strategy will take advantage of players who choose "always play nice" as their approach. In other words, the approach advocated by Kristoff and others is one that only works under an exceedingly narrow range of adversarial circumstances, and is otherwise doomed to failure. Strategies that work considerably better are variations of "tit-for-tat." One can think of this rule as roughly equivalent to the old adage "an eye for an eye." Tit-for-tat strategies work from a fairly straightforward premise: the player starts out nice, and will continue to play nice as long as his/her opponent reciprocates. If however the opponent chooses to attack instead, then the player will repay the opponent with an attack as well. Once the opponent stops attacking and chooses to play nice once more, the player goes back to playing nice as well. Tit-for-tat strategies tend to be effective in part because they address directly both positive and negative behaviors and in part because such strategies offer foregiveness (once the opponent stops attacking, the player using a tit-for-tat strategy will refrain from further attacks as well). The one disadvantage to a true tit-for-tat strategy is the potential for an escalation of attacks. To safeguard against that, an "almost tit-for-tat" strategy is recommended in which the player will respond to an opponent's attack with an attack of his or her own but which is just a bit lesser in intensity than that of the opponent. That strategy is close to tit-for-tat in effectiveness and seems to prevent escalations from occurring.



In fact, it's an "almost tit-for-tat" strategy that is being used by Moore and others who have taken a more strident approach to political discourse. What Moore and others are doing is answering the Limbaughs of the world with some vitriol of their own, albeit to a considerably lesser degree than one would observe among the right-wingnuts. It's almost tit-for-tat in that our approach to the new rules of the political game is not quite as belligerent: we generally don't call for the imprisonment, assassination, or deportation of those whom we oppose although we make it clear that we will fight back when such hate speech is aimed at us. Given that those on the authoritarian right have little interest in freedom of speech, freedom of dissent, we have little choice but to adopt some iteration of tit-for-tat for the sake of our political (and possibly physical) survival. Those are the stakes.

Love letters (Bush-Ken Lay Edition)

Love letters straight from your heart

Keep us so near while apart

I'm not alone in the night

When I can have all the love you write



I memorize every line

And I kiss the name that you sign

And, darling, then I read again right from the start

Love letters straight from your heart



I memorize every line

And I kiss the name that you sign

And, darling, then I read again right from the start

Love letters straight from your heart

And, darling, then I read again right from the start

Love letters straight from your heart



--Elton John




Oh, yeah: here's the Bush-Lay correspondence tracked down by The Smoking Gun.

Thursday, July 8, 2004

Now here's a face that exudes optimism:

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us




Truly a face only a (neo)con could love.

Junior Caligula Has a Tantrum

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us



It sucks to be Georgie.

Collateral Damage

Babylon: Cradle of World Civilization Destroyed by Invasion and Looting



The ancient people of Iraq, often described as the cradle of civilisation, are credited with inventing the wheel, writing and mathematics and developing a culture and history which has resonated through the ages.



"It's one of the major, major tragedies around the world. We have basically lost most of the ancient cities of Sumer," said Chicago-based professor McGuire Gibson, referring to one of man's earliest civilisations which dates back to around 3,000 BC.



"There's a culture of looting which has never been on this scale before - it's totally unprecedented. In this last year we have lost more sites than ever before."



[...]



The war has also had a direct impact on some areas.



Babylon, home of King Nebuchadnezzar, the Tower of Babel and the Hanging Gardens, is now a camp for 2,500 multinational troops.



The partly restored ancient city has been closed to visitors after Iraqi archaeologists found American Marines had bulldozed a 100 square metre [0.1 hectare] plot of land, above the buried remains of ancient homes, to create a helicopter landing-pad.



"You can see mounds of earth on both sides [of the landing pad] and I think it's very big damage," said Lukasz Oledzki, a resident architect employed by Polish troops now based at Babylon.



"You can see ancient pottery and bricks on both sides. I know they destroyed something from the sixth or seventh century BC."

This is apparently the caliber of "scholar" who can influence the White House

Crazy theories, popular theories focuses on Laurie Mylroie, a "scholar" who works for The American Enterprise Institute concocting all sorts of fantasies regarding the Middle East - Iraq in particular. Check out what Steve Gilliard has to say - he's included text to two articles on the gal, who's apparently a latter-day Rasputin-lite.



Among other things in the post is a reminder of how academic books get published - including the importance of peer review; more importantly there is a discussion of how charlatans can often avoid such inconveniences as peer review by having their work published outside of academic publishing houses. There's also a discussion of the questionable qualifications of those who inhabit the world of thinktanks when compared with those scholars found at universities - for better or for worse I suspect that much of the criticism is dead on.



When I discuss self-help books in psychology (we've been covering that topic a bit in the human sexuality course I am doing this summer), I remind students to be reasonable skeptics when shopping for books. In particular, I think it's important to seek the following information:



1. What is the author's degree, and where did s/he earn that degree (and is that institution a legitimate accredited degree-granting institution as opposed to being merely an unaccredited paper mill)?



2. What is the author's current affiliation? The usual way to bet is that authors affiliated with universities tend to produce more scholarly work. There are no guarantees, of course, but it's a useful heuristic.



3. Where does the author get her/his information? Do they cite primarily recognized scholarly sources (such as those found in recognized academic journals) or do they tend to rely more on testimonials, hearsay, scandal sheets, etc.? If the latter, to me that's a red flag.



4. Does the author appear to have an axe to grind? I'm usually concerned if the author, from the get-go is dismissive of practically all of the research and theory advanced by colleagues in their field. Some disagreements are to be expected, of course (we academics are a rather argumentative lot at best to begin with). Wholesale dismissal of what's accepted as methodological practices, theory, etc. is a whole other ballgame, and usually are a good indicator that the author is a crackpot as opposed to someone to be taken seriously.



The above I would offer work not only for evaluating self-help books, but practically any books authored by purported experts in any field. When someone who is lacking credentials, is unaffiliated with any recognized academic institution, and offers a perspective that flies in the face of what others in the field are saying based on the scantiest of evidence, I'd say it's a good idea to avoid taking that person's work seriously. Being hoodwinked by the tinfoil hat brigade is a rather unpleasant experience - as no doubt some folks in the White House are finding out first-hand.



My two cents.

Wednesday, July 7, 2004

The darker side of the prison torture scandal

Saw this post over at Sadly, No: Children in Iraqi Prisons. Includes links to a German news video and transcript (in German) of the news report. Suffice it to say, this is a story that has received little play in the US media. The stories that are coming out are simply awful.

The Way We Were

From the Tom Dispatch:



Some clips that caught my eye:



The administration neocons were utopian fantasists who, If you think of Afghanistan as the first enforced stop on their path to Iraq, and Iraq as the chosen second stop on the way to the larger Middle Eastern region, didn't actually get far along the path they set out for themselves. And here's the almost incomprehensible thing (if you don't consider the history of resistance to imperial power of every sort over the last centuries), they were stopped by a group of ill-armed nobodies, lacking predator drones, tanks, billions in intelligence, access to the globe's emails, or even evidently a central command. They were stopped by relatively small groups of brutes and thugs, fanatics and dead-enders backed by the extraordinary power, the overwhelming desire of everyday Iraqis not to be occupied and ruled by a foreign power or its proxies.



[...]



They imagined Iraq as the motor for reorganizing first the region, then the world -- a kind of wild force for change, a chaos machine that would scramble the previous world order in ways advantageous to them. Their only mistake was to believe that the levers of change in that scrambling would remain in their hands. They loosed -- to use a classic phrase -- the whirlwind and now it seems to be in the process of sweeping them away.



They weren't, of course, much at predictions. None of us are. It's one of those human failings. We can't help ourselves when it comes to predicting, but we're almost always surprised by reality. Still, they were worse at it than most, insistent as they were on imposing their soaring vision on a stubborn reality (exactly the charge long laid to the left). In a sense, of all their dreams, only the permanent bases in Iraq and the no-exit strategy remain, embedding Washington in the heartland of chaos for years to come. Perhaps the moral of their tale might simply be: Be careful what you wish for.



[...]



The administration policies that crystallized in the invasion of and high-handed occupation of Iraq seem to have set off a process that is reorganizing the world in ways we can't yet fully grasp. Some may be hopeful, some frightening indeed. In Korea and India, the right has already been swept from power. In Italy and possibly Japan, rightist governments totter. In Britain, Blair stands unsteady at the helm as does Howard in Australia, and so on. In the Middle East, this administration has created a border-blurring monster and god knows what will follow. All we can say with any degree of certainty is that it will be ugly, and every day we occupy Iraq under whatever "face" will make it worse.



In our country, the President's poll numbers look dreadful indeed. (As sociologist Michael Schwartz writes, "The really bad news for Bush in these polls lies in the voters' evaluations of his leadership, and all three polls concur in recording dramatic declines to his lowest scores since 9/11. To cite just some of this evidence, the WP [Washington Post]-ABC poll registers Bush's overall approval job rating at 47%, below 50% for the first time since 9/11. Only losing incumbents have been below 50% at this point, with the exception of the Truman miracle of 1948. His ratings on specific issues are also at low ebbs.") Already, for an election victory, a number of things will have to break very right for him -- and we're only in the early days of July. There's so much worse to come in Iraq as well as inside the Beltway where a lethal brew of investigations, court cases, commission reports, angry leakers and whistle-blowers, all released by or fallout from this administration's Iraq policies, ensure unending months of messiness. The president may already be political dead meat, even if the opinion poll head-to-heads with Kerry don't yet register it.



And here's an odd little bit of polling info, pointed out by John Nichols of the Nation magazine (Will the Senate Tip?): "Democratic candidate Inez Tenenbaum, South Carolina's superintendent of education, leads in the polls [for a South Carolina Senate seat in a state Bush won by 57%] --despite the fact that one of her opponents dismisses her as 'an Emily's List liberal.' And Tenenbaum's not alone in showing unexpected strength. Democrats are running even or ahead in four of five races for open Senate seats in the South, and they're also even or ahead in contests for Republican-held seats in Illinois, Oklahoma, Colorado and Alaska." Not so long ago, those southern Senate seats would have been considered throwaways, obvious red-state shoo-ins. No one may say it, but this too is Iraq. Though not yet likely, there is the possibility that, depending on how fast events sink in and how disastrous the news proves, the Democrats might take back Congress, and this might itself prove but part of a larger seismic shift, a global reorganization that, on the one hand, might end the quarter-century, near planet-wide reign of the right-wing, and on the other hand, may bequeath us all a desperately more dangerous world.



The Bush people were audacious; they were visionary (and didn't mind telling you so); the only liberty they truly valued was their liberty to do as they damn pleased; they were focused on unilateral global domination of a sort seen at most only a few times in history; they had the mentality of plunderers and didn't hesitate to use fear to herd Americans in the directions they most desired. In the end, they may find themselves alone and vulnerable in a Baghdad-on-the-Potomac of their own making with no Green Zone in sight and chaos in the driver's seat.




The whole thing is worth pondering. Check it out. As for me, I am among those who think that something is in the air - call it a Zeitgeist - that hasn't quite been picked up on by the pollsters and the pundits. Call it 1994 in reverse. A decade ago, it was the "Angry White Men" - namely the Dittohead contingent - that drove the GOP takeover of Congress. Those cats were very motivated to make their way to the polls. This year it's the "Angry Liberals" - mainly cats who get their news from blogs and/or tend to dig Howard Stern - who have the potential to shake things up. It doesn't hurt that with the possible exception of Bu$hCo's base much of the GOP faithful is demoralized. The war was a disaster. The economy isn't that great. Deficit hawks are unhappy with the budget situation. There are some folks who may very well sit out this election and stomach a Kerry term than allow Bu$hCo to run rampant for four more years. Kerry may be far from the top choice among those of us who are genuine lefties, but he's done some smart campaigning and has remained scandal-free thus far (adding Edwards to the ticket shows that Kerry's campaign realizes the need to keep the populists and progressives in the party motivated).



If I were to make any prognostication at this point, I'd concur with a colleague of mine who thinks that the presidential election will be a landslide - for Kerry. Yes, you read correctly. That may seem like a stretch (as conventional wisdom has the race as a squeaker), but bear in mind that the full force of the emerging Zeitgeist will be more apparent later this fall than is the case now. I don't quite know what will happen with Congress, although here too I think there is cause for optimism where once upon a time there was only cause for further pessimism. The Senate is ripe for a Democrat takeover. The House is a bit less doable for the Democrats, but it now is within the realm of the possible. The harbingers of change are there internationally and within our own pop culture.



It's about to get really interesting.

Tuesday, July 6, 2004

Stupid President Quotes

Straight from the mouth of a stupid president.



“In my judgment, when the United States says there will be serious consequences, and if there isn't serious consequences, it creates adverse consequences.”



“As you notice, when there's a hole in the ground and a person is able to crawl into it in a country the size of California, it means we're on a scavenger hunt for terror, and find these terrorists who hide in holes is to get people coming forth to describe the location of the hole, is to give clues and data. And we're on it.”



“It's a different kind of combat mission, but, nevertheless, it's combat, just ask the kids that are over there killing and being shot at.”



“Security is the essential roadblock to achieving the road map to peace.”



“The problem with the French is that they don't have a word for entrepreneur.”



“I'm also not very analytical. You know I don't spend a lot of time thinking about myself, about why I do things.”



“There's an old saying in Tennessee -- I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee -- that says, fool me once, shame on -- shame on you. Fool me -- you can't get fooled again.”



- George W. Bush, President Of The United States Of America




Found on Howard Stern's website.

By far the best post I've read about the liberal hawks' mea culpas

and why those mea culpas regarding the Iraq War fiasco don't measure up: Credibility Gap



The concluding paragraphs:



I realize how difficult it was to swim against that tide. It was exciting and difficult to resist, even for people like me. We were living history. But, at some point you had to step back and look at the magnitude of what we were contemplating --- particularly the huge step away from our post war consensus against wars of aggression --- and see that this thing was being rushed into production without adequate debate or planning. Saddam had been sitting there for a long, long time. There was no reason to believe that he couldn't have sat there for a few more months until we exhausted all other options. The fact that Bush and Cheney refused to do that should have been the deal breaker.



It's never easy to admit you were wrong. But, it is almost more important to realize why you were wrong than to admit it in the first place. If we could all wait to see how things turn out and then just say "whoops, sorry" and all would be well, then life would be pretty easy.



The fact is that the liberal hawks, especially, made the invasion palatable and acceptable to many people who trusted them. That is a heavy burden. I'm glad they've seen their error, but it doesn't mean we're on the same team, as Kevin seems to think. So far, I've seen little reason to believe they won't do exactly the same thing again if their blood gets up and they decide the opposition consists of people they don't wish to be associated with. I hope I'm wrong.




Needless to say, the whole damn thing is worth reading. Check it out.

An Aristotle Quote For Your Consideration

A tyrant must put on the appearance of uncommon devotion to religion. Subjects are less apprehensive of illegal treatment from a ruler whom they consider god-fearing and pious. On the other hand, they do less easily move against him, believing that he has the gods on his side.




From Politics

Monday, July 5, 2004

The Funk Wars (1984 B.C.)

(ONCE UPON A TIME...in a faraway parallel universe, existed a intergalactic humbug between the forces of GOOD and EVILÉ. And on Planet Splurge, FUNK became THE FORCE to alter the cosmos beyond the limits of time and dimension!)



JASPER SPATIC was finished with his new weapon, and the outcome of the negafunkatic FUNK WARS would hinge on its power. His Throb Gun would be used against the evilous BARFT VADA, the ruthless fuzzident of the enslaving MEDULLA OBLONGATA DOODOOS. Armed with the stinkifying Dookie Stick Blight Sabers, the DooDoos kept the population of several planets under their rule. Now - Jasper prepared to unite his Funkadelican DooDoo Chasers: he could not risk being ambushed by the Dookie Squad and being fried by their seething volley of pissgun rays...



SPATIC stepped into the streets, his creation carefully hidden. He shuddered as he scoped everyone under DooDoo Syndrome. Vada's massive program of mind control had constipated the masses...their minds were being zero'd out by constipated notions. Electric crinkloidism and advertising propaganda combined with drugnotics (woo drinks, devil dust, Ps' & Poos, Deludes and profile pills)...the unaware Splurgians were rapidly losing their funkativity!



But Jasper Spatic and his fellow DooDoo Chasers were impervious to the D.D.S. and through the Funkadelican scruples of 'Prune Juice of the Mind'...would the people be refunked into toppling Barft Vada's Empire. The DooDoo Chasers would strike at teh first D'Voidofunk Disco, where BARFT VADA was sure to be present. (Vada's disco ban of '82, enacted to prevent the now-illegal music of FUNKADELICA from deprogramming the population - gave his DooDoo scientists to perfect a diszak system to maintain mental constipation.) Angents from S.I.A (Sick Intelligence Agency) and Dookie Squads within the disco were unaware of the DooDoo Chasers who had merged into the crowds. They awaited for the first notes of diszak for the cue-vamp. Jasper glanced at a co-patriot, heliotart Pusooka Goodee and secretly flashed the 'P' for their uniting motto: "Give us funkativity or give us death!"



The noxious Barft entered Disco Control and the defunkatizing drone of diszak filled the blaflammic discosphere. Jasper whipped out his Throb Gun and the vampin' spat shattered the diszak booth. Other funkateers zapped the Dookie Squads with funk guns, and seized a strategic location to circuit-override the sound system and the neoburpic diszak sounds retrofired into funkastompic octave throbs! "No compute, no compute!" shrieked the smoking headsets of the blastified DooDoos...without Vada's commanding audio-stench, they were nullified. Barft Vada fled to his ever-ready pimpajet and scamped into the dark void as the masses were 'P'ed from their cerebral nods into revolt. The DooDoo Chasers had overfunked the system into collapse!



Planet Splurge had soon become ONE NATION UNDER A GROOVE and the forces of Funkadelica prevailed. As the happy populations of other planets rejoiced with their liberation...Jasper and Pussooka were crashatated at their crazoid crib, soothed by the Clintonic sonic waves of the spankatron box...but even the speckled sugarness of Pussooka swoop n' cup curvables did not remove Jasper's new fear: Would Vada return with more Constipated Notions? Worse yet, would the Dookie-Sticked defunkulator ambush some other galaxy and enslave yet another population? Before slipperous and bubbly wavers of strokativity funked him from his mental station-I.D. ... Jasper pondered the thought of what would happen next time...when a planet's mentors would warn its citizens of Barft Vada's presence with: THINK! IT AIN'T ILLEGAL YET! - Would they wake up in time?




From the liner notes to Funkadelic's One Nation Under a Groove. Light-hearted, with a message.

A classic Fifth of July speech by abolitionist Frederick Douglass (1852)

Props to Empire Notes for this excerpt:



What to the American slave is your Fourth of July I answer, a day that reveals to him more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy's thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.



Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the every-day practices of this nation, and you will say with me that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.




Rahul Mahajan of Empire Notes goes on to say:



On this day, when the eagle's wings are hopelessly stuck in the mire of Fallujah and Abu Ghraib, when American liberty was celebrated at Bush's speech by the removal of two people for wearing anti-Bush T-shirts (not even causing any disruption), those words are as relevant as they have ever been.




Rahul is right, of course. There's a major disconnect between the lofty ideals that we are supposed to celebrate during the July 4th weekend and the ugly reality. I'd like to believe that our government isn't the worst of the bunch when it comes to human rights, to respecting basic human liberty, etc., and arguably we aren't. But our hands are so dirty as to make make the dissonance between ideal and reality more than a bit disconcerting. That's the service Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 performs for a largely unaware mass audience: to hopefully shock the audience into awareness of that disconnect and hopefully act to bring reality more closely in line with the ideals. There are some good people in blogtopia and elsewhere who are trying to do likewise.



Patriotism isn't about playing dumb and going along with whatever the elites tell us to do. At least it doesn't have to be that way. The whistle-blowers and gadflies exist to point out what's wrong so that it can be fixed. Peace.

The apple didn't fall far from the tree

At least that's what Alan Bisbort contends in his recent column, Read My Lips: No New Bushes. No matter how much Bush the Elder may have messed up or committed impeachable offenses (which Bisbort is quite happy to remind us of those days), he looks fantastic when compared to his son's performance. One of the phenomena that is studied by social psychologists is "downward social comparison." Basically, self-perception (as is true of person perception more generally) does not occur in a vacuum, but rather occurs within a context. Depending on that context, the attitudes we form about ourselves can vary from favorable to unfavorable (and by extension, the attitudes others form about us will vary depending on the context).



In the context in which Bush the Elder finds himself, he probably doesn't look too hot. He pales in comparison to the relatively mediocre presidency of Reagan and the subsequent Clinton presidency (which itself was more or less a mixed bag of successes, tremendous failures, and scandal). Only a buffoon like Dubya can make dad look like he walked on water, merely than pass water.



In other words, who we are isn't some fixed, concrete entity. Rather, our "selves" as we see them or as others perceive them are rather dynamic and our perceptions and attitudes will vary depending upon the context in which those "selves" are presented. This is true for presidents every bit as much as for the rest of us.

Buzzflash Editorial:

Remember that You are the Spirit of '76 Proudly Fighting for Democracy and Our Constitution Against the Rebirth of the Tories, the Bush Cartel and the Radical Republican Party Leadership





A clip:



Supported by the likes of Tory strategists and power brokers such as Cheney, Antonin Scalia, William Rehnquist and Karl Rove, George W. Bush is the dauphin prince turned king, who goes along with the pretense of democracy, while working to undermine it at every opportunity.



Make no mistake about it, the so-called "cultural wars" that have fueled the right wing Republicans who have seized power in the United States know that the majority of Americans do not agree with their world view. So, they seek to assert a minority outlook and mandated behavior on the majority of Americans.



They believe that they are divinely inspired. They have contempt for democracy, because democracy is based on the rule of the majority. And the masses are not privy to divine communication -- only the King of America, George W. Bush, is; only radical Opus Dei follower Antonin Scalia is; only the self-anointing John "God is the King of America" Ashcroft is.



They and their cohorts support the rule of a divinely inspired monarchy that has no time to waste with the will of the rabble of democracy or the rights guaranteed in our Constitution.



Their rule of law is the Bible, as they interpret it. Funny, that even in this case, almost every major religious denomination had opposed the Iraq War (including Bush's Methodist faith), but the Bush Cartel, led by Mr. AWOL rich kid, believes that it is hot-wired into God -- and ignored their religious pleas. Democracy, to the Bush Royal Court, obstructs their personal claim of divine communication. God only speaks to them -- the elite self-chosen few -- not the scabrous, morally tainted majority of American voters and their ordained religious leaders.



Remember this on July 4th.



You are the true inheritors of the Spirit of '76. You are battling the Tories of this century, the Republican Party under the reign of the Second Bush Monarchy.

Bu$hCo's America: Keeping Americans Safe From Freedom

N.Y. woman gets 6 months in jail for 'obnoxious' activism



Convicted of disrupting Congress, the judicial activist from New York refused to accept probation with conditions imposed by the judge that she believed were onerous and unconstitutional.



So instead of walking freely from the courtroom, Sassower earlier this week was sentenced to the maximum six months in prison for the misdemeanor - even though prosecutors had recommended that the petite, 48-year-old serve no time in jail.



"It's a horrible thing to be here... it's beyond description," Sassower said yesterday in an interview in the warden's conference room of the D.C. Jail. "But to be in jail on the Fourth of July, when we celebrate what it means to be an American and the way we exercise our rights, well..."



A spokesman for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers said the sentence seemed "unusually excessive" for what amounted to "asserting her First Amendment rights."



"Six months is what you get in D.C. for decking someone," said Jack King, himself a criminal defense lawyer. "This woman is being punished for being obnoxious."




There's more, of course. Happy Fourth of July weekend.

Winter in America

Poem by Gil-Scott Heron



From the Indians who welcomed the pilgrims

to the buffalo who once ruled the plains;

like the vultures circling beneath the dark clouds

looking for the rain, looking for the rain.

From the cities that stagger on the coast lines

in a nation that just can't take much more

like the forest buried beneath the highways

never had a chance to grow, never had a chance to grow.

It's winter; winter in america

and all of the healers have been killed or forced away.

It's winter; winter in america

and ain't nobody fighting 'cause nobody knows what to save.

The con-stitution was a noble piece of paper;

with Free Society they struggled but they died in vain

and now Democracy is ragtime on the corner

hoping that it rains, hoping that it rains.

And I've seen the robins perched in barren treetops

watching last ditch racists marching across the floor

and like the peace signs that melted in our dreams

never had a chance to grow, never had a chance to grow.

It's winter; winter in america

and all the healers done been killed or put in jail

It's winter; winter in america

and ain't nobody fighting 'cause nobody knows what to save.




A poem every bit as relevant now as it was then. It's been a long winter. In his notes to the album, Winter in America, in which this poem was set to one of the most moving dirges to grace the 1970s r&b scene, Heron states it more succinctly than could I:



Winter is a metaphor - a term used not only to describe the season of ice, but this period in our lives through which we are traveling.



In our hearts we feel that Spring is just around the corner; a Spring of brotherhood and united spirits among people of color. Everyone is moving, searching. There is a restlessness within our souls that keeps us questioning, discovering, struggling against a system that will not allow us space and time for fresh expression. Western Icemen have attempted to distort time.



We approach Winter, the most depressing period in the history of his Western Empire, with threats of oil shortages and energy crises. But we, as Black people, have been a source of endless energy, endless beauty and endless determination. I have many things to tell you about tomorrow's love and light. We will see you in the Spring.



In the interest of national security, please help us carry out our constitutional duty to overthrow the king.




Written in October of 1973, it becomes clear that the times have changed but the song remains the same. The neo-cons are only the latest in a series of Icemen who've endeavored to transform this long, bitter winter into a full-fledged Ice Age. A new king ascended the throne, and is hopefully on the verge of overthrow as we speak. The threats of oil shortages and energy crises never did go away, even if we could delude ourselves into a false-sense of security for a couple decades. The cold winds continue to blow the words and deeds of our own elites' culture of war and death like so many snow drifts. We've been snowed all right. Working peoples of all races, cultures, religions continue to be tremendous sources of energy, beauty, and determination. Even as so much remains barren, the seeds of life lay in wait for the coming Spring. Like Heron, I have much to tell you about tomorrow's love and light. It won't be paradise, but it will be beautiful all the same. The days are getting longer; the sunlight is getting stronger.



Peace.

What Bu$hCo Thought of July 4th

Dear Leader's idea of Independence Day



The key clip:



"Two Bush opponents, taken out of the crowd in restraints by police, said they were told they couldn't be there because they were wearing shirts that

opposed the president."




Is this what the signers of the Declaration of Independence had in mind back in the day?

Food For Thought

Courtesy Earthside.com



"You said we're headed to war in Iraq -- I don't know why you say that. I hope we're not headed to war in Iraq. I'm the person who gets to decide, not you."

George W. Bush, December 31, 2002




Constitution of the United States of America

Article 1, Section 8:

"The Congress shall have Power ... To declare War ..."




OPINION: Their George and Ours

Barbara Ehrenreich, New York Times - July 4, 2004



From Ehrenreich's column, this clip:



The bulk of the declaration is devoted to a list of charges against George III, several of which bear an eerie relevance to our own time.



George III is accused, for example, of "depriving us in many cases of the benefits of Trial by Jury." Our own George II has imprisoned two U.S. citizens — Jose Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi — since 2002, without benefit of trials, legal counsel or any opportunity to challenge the evidence against them. Even die-hard Tories Scalia and Rehnquist recently judged such executive hauteur intolerable.



[...]



"He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power," the declaration said of George III, and today the military is indulgently allowed to investigate its own crimes in Iraq. George III "obstructed the Administration of Justice." Our George II has sought to evade judicial review by hiding detainees away in Guantánamo, and has steadfastly resisted the use of the Alien Tort Claims Act, which allows non-U.S. citizens to bring charges of human rights violations to U.S. courts.



The signers further indicted their erstwhile monarch for "taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments." The administration has been trying its best to establish a modern equivalent to the divine right of kings, with legal memorandums asserting that George II's "inherent" powers allow him to ignore federal laws prohibiting torture and war crimes.



Then there is the declaration's boldest and most sweeping indictment of all, condemning George III for "transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation." Translate "mercenaries" into contract workers and proxy armies (remember the bloodthirsty, misogynist Northern Alliance?), and translate that last long phrase into Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib.




Strong stuff, indeed. But then again, so was the Declaration of Independence. The individuals who signed that document were made of stern stuff, and were willing to lay it all on the line for a vision of liberty that would fit in nicely with today's civil libertarians.



I was ten when the Bicentennial year came and went. I remember reading the Declaration of Independence and The Constitution for the first time that year. I don't doubt that I was a little young to fully appreciate its meaning, but I could certainly appreciate its awesome spirit. Those words left an indelible mark on me. Watching my son helping to set off fireworks this evening reminded me of summer nights I spent in south-central Texas seemingly a lifetime ago. July 4 was such a special day to me then. It still is, although what passes for patriotism too has changed in those intervening years. I wonder if the day has even remotely the same meaning for my son and his friends as it would have for me. I think of the blood, sweat, and tears shed by some insurgents (no doubt King George would have declared them "enemy combatants") well over two hundred years ago in what was then colonial territory and wonder if their cause for which they so valiantly fought will get to live for a while longer.

Sunday, July 4, 2004

One more July 4th item

Down with King George!: A July 4th Quiz



More food for thought on this, the 228th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

The Patiot's Act: What's more American than asking questions?

Column in The L.A. Times by Michael Moore:



NEW YORK — As a young boy, I loved the American flag. I'd lead my younger sisters in patriotic parades up and down the sidewalk, waving the flag, blowing a whistle and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance over and over until my sisters begged me to let them go back to their Easy-Bake Oven.



I loved singing the national anthem. I won an essay contest on "What the Flag Means to Me." I decorated my bicycle with little American flags for a Fourth of July parade and won a prize for that too. I became an Eagle Scout and proudly promised to do my duty to God and country. And every year I asked to be the one who planted the flag on the grave of my uncle, a paratrooper who was killed in World War II. I was taught to admire his sacrifice, and I hoped to grow up and do my part, as he had, to keep us free.



But, in high school, things changed. Nine boys from my school came back home from Vietnam in boxes. Draped over each coffin was the American flag. I knew that they also had made a sacrifice. But their sacrifice wasn't for their country: They were sent to die by men who lied to them. Those men — presidents, senators, government officials — wrapped themselves in the flag too, hoping that their lies would never be questioned, never be discovered. They wrapped themselves in the very flag that was placed on the coffins of my friends and neighbors. I stopped singing the national anthem at football games, and I stopped putting out the flag.



I realize now I never should have stopped.



For too long now we have abandoned our flag to those who see it as a symbol of war and dominance, as a way to crush dissent at home. Flags are flying from the back of SUVs, rising high above car dealerships, plastering the windows of businesses and adorning paper bags from fast-food restaurants. But these flags are intended to send a message: "You're either with us or you're against us," "Bring it on!" or "Watch what you say, watch what you do."



Those who absconded with our flag now use it as a weapon against those who question America's course. They remind me of that famous 1976 photo of an anti-busing demonstrator in Boston thrusting a large American flag on a pole into the stomach of the first black man he encountered. These so-called patriots hold the flag tightly in their grip and, in a threatening pose, demand that no one ask questions. Those who speak out find themselves shunned at work, harassed at school, booed off Oscar stages. The flag has become a muzzle, a piece of cloth stuffed into the mouths of those who dare to ask questions.



I think it's time for those of us who love this country — and everything it should stand for — to reclaim our flag from those who would use it to crush rights and freedoms, both here at home and overseas. We need to redefine what it means to be a proud American.



If you are one of those who love what President Bush has done for this country and believe you must blindly follow the president to deserve to fly the flag, you should ask yourself some difficult questions about just how proud you are of the America we now inhabit:



Are you proud that one in six children lives in poverty in America?



Are you proud that 40 million adult Americans are functional illiterates?



Are you proud that the bulk of the jobs being created these days are low- and minimum-wage jobs?



Are you proud of asking your fellow Americans to live on $5.15 an hour?



Are you proud that, according to a National Geographic Society survey, 85% of young adult Americans cannot find Iraq on the map (and 11% cannot find the United States!)?



Are you proud that the rest of the world, which poured out its heart to us after Sept. 11, now looks at us with disdain and disgust?



Are you proud that nearly 3 billion people on this planet do not have access to clean drinking water when we have the resources and technology to remedy this immediately?



Are you proud of the fact that our president sent our soldiers off to a war that had nothing to do with the self-defense of this country?



If these things represent what it means to be an American these days — and I am an American — should I hang my head in shame? No. Instead, I intend to perform what I believe is my patriotic duty. I can't think of a more American thing to do than raise questions — and demand truthful answers — when our leader wants to send our sons and daughters off to die in a war.



If we don't do that — the bare minimum — for those who offer to defend our country, then we have failed them and ourselves. They offer to die for us, if necessary, so that we can be free. All they ask in return is that we never send them into harm's way unless it is absolutely necessary. And with this war, we have broken faith with our troops by sending them off to be killed and maimed for wrong and immoral reasons.



This is the true state of disgrace we are living in. I hope we can make it up someday to these brave kids (and older men and women in our reserves and National Guard). They deserve an apology, they deserve our thanks — and a raise — and they deserve a big parade with lots of flags.



I would like to lead that parade, carrying the largest flag. And I would like the country to proclaim that never again will a war be fought unless it is our last resort.



Let's create a world in which, when people see the Stars and Stripes, they will think of us as the people who brought peace to the world, who brought good-paying jobs to all citizens and clean water for the world to drink.



In anticipation of that day, I am putting my flag out today, with hope and with pride.




Pretty much sums it up, as far as I am concerned. Have a great Fourth. Be safe, but whatever you do, remember a line from Funkadelic's "One Nation Under a Groove" album: Think! It ain't illegal yet.



Peace.

Fourth of July Reminder

What King George and Dickie really think of the American people:



Some Impressions of Fahrenheit 9/11

Well, got to see the film this afternoon. My impressions are generally mixed, leaning toward favorable. On the one hand, there were several spots that left me kind of flat, although much of that has to do with having mined much of the issues that Moore mines in his latest film. To me the some of the value in the film is in its portrayal of the leaders who occupy the White House as greedy incompetents (especially good ol' Dubya). It's very clear that he's completely out of his league. Whether he's slacking off on vacation after vacation, or looking vacant during those several long minutes reading "My pet goat" with elementary school kids as the 9/11 terrorist attacks continued, or looking brain-dead while waiting to address the nation, Bush simply fails to measure up to his boasts.



The Saudi footage left me a bit flat. I think that although one might read something sinister into the Saudi-Bush-bin Laden link, that the more parsimonious way of viewing Moore's portrayal as of greed-motivated loyalty (and I suspect that's what he's trying to say anyway). Coin will put powerful blinders on folks along of course with ideology.



The most powerful moments of the film occur toward the middle when Moore presents footage of the scene in Iraq and of the effects that the war has had on the soldiers and on the Iraqi civilians who just happened to get caught in the middle. The human toll on the war has been quite astounding, and even my normally jaded outlook could not prepare me for the impact of Moore's portrayal. If one is interested in the banality of evil, there's plenty of it to be found. From the militaristic choice of songs the soldiers used to pump themselves up prior to battle, to the view of the Iraqis as less than civilized, we see how distant many become to the human beings on the other side. One soldier notes how it's not possible to go through what these men and women go through without losing something of themselves, of their souls in the process. If one is concerned about the sheer human suffering due to injury and the loss of loved ones, once again there is plenty of material for consideration. The footage of the disabled vets and of the family of a fallen soldier are especially stark, especially powerful.



I also found the class angle to be a powerful one, and Moore's film serves as a crucial reminder that wars such as the current one are ultimately left to the poor, to the working classes, rather than the elites to fight. From the footage of recruiters targeting men and women in relatively poor parts of town to the reluctance of the ruling elites to urge their own kids to serve we see who bears the onus of the consequences of war. It's here where I find Moore most effective, and his criticism of a system in which the elite get to be sheltered from the blood sweat and tears of the wars that they approve with minimal question is especially damning.



Although his main focus is on Bu$hCo, his criticisms of the Democrats in the Congress who rubber-stamp the PATRIOT Act and approval of Bush's plan for war in Iraq is equally scathing. Junior isn't the only spineless jellyfish in this film. The spinelessness of the Senators who could have acted as a last line of defense against a Bush occupation of the White House is inexcusable and hints at the lingering racism that still permeates the largely white male world of the higher echelons of the political landscape.



Will it change minds? I still think it's too early to tell. Rally the liberal, progressive, and populist troops at a crucial time? Quite likely. As a one-sided polemic, it's an effective work that deserves to be considered, and I would offer provides important balance to the one-sided portrayal that we get from the Faux-addled mass media (which reminds me, that his view of the media coverage of the war and its run-up is also rather damning, and in itself worthy of the price of admission).



Would I see it again? Yes. Will I be getting the dvd? Damn straight. The film and its reception hint at an undercurrent in American culture that is being missed by much of the mainstream - this may truly be 1994 in reverse.