31 October 2008

Austin Treasure : Vintage Video from Historic Protest Actions

Found Footage Reveals Bygone Era in Austin
By Amy Smith / October 31, 2008

See vintage Video of Austin protest activities in three parts, Below.
Austin native Patrick McGarrigle has put together a treasure trove of Sixties-era video footage culled from reels of film found in an alley off of Red River Street. "What They Sayin': A Tribute to Austin Protesters" is a lovely, grainy remembrance of another era – civil rights demonstrations, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War. Some familiar faces appear onscreen, including Margret Hoffmann in a 1963 "Easter March," in which a small group of peace activists walked from the Capitol to the gates of the former Bergstrom Air Force Base, and a camera-toting Alan Pogue, who had recently returned from the war. The video can be viewed on YouTube (search by title) or rented at Vulcan Video.

What They Sayin : A Tribute to Austin Protesters by Patrick McGarrigle

Part I

Part II

Part III

Source / Austin Chronicle

The Rag Blog

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William Blum on McCain and Much More

Jay McShann playing piano in a whore house.

The Anti-Empire Report: Read this or George W. Bush will be president the rest of your life
By William Blum / The Rag Blog / October 30, 2008

Don't tell my mother I work at the White House. She thinks I play the piano in a whore house.

The Republican presidential campaign has tried to make a big issue of Barack Obama at one time associating with Bill Ayers, a member of the 1960s Weathermen who engaged in political bombings. Governor Palin has accused Obama of “palling around with terrorists”, although Ayers' association with the Weathermen during their period of carrying out anti-Vietnam War bombings in the United States took place when Obama was around 8-years-old. Contrast this with whom President Ronald Reagan, so beloved by the Republican candidates, associated. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar was an Afghan warlord whose followers first gained attention by throwing acid in the faces of women who refused to wear the veil. This is how they spent their time when they were not screaming "Death to America". CIA and State Department officials called Hekmatyar "scary," "vicious," "a fascist," "definite dictatorship material".1 None of this prevented the Reagan administration from inviting the man to the White House to meet with Reagan, and showering him with large amounts of aid to fight against the Soviet-supported government of Afghanistan.

Reagan's successor, George H.W. Bush, palled around with characters almost as unsavory during his first campaign for the presidency in 1988. His campaign staff included a number of genuine pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic types from Eastern and Central Europe. Several of these worthies were leaders of the Republican campaign’s ethnic outreach arm, the Coalition of American Nationalities, despite the fact that their checkered past was not a big secret. One of them, Laszlo Pasztor (or Pastor) had served in the pro-Nazi Hungarian government’s embassy in Berlin during the Second World War. This had been revealed in a 1971 page-one story in the Washington Post.2 When this past was again brought up in September 1988, the Republicans were obliged to dump Pasztor and four others of his ilk from Bush’s campaign.3

And who has John McCain been palling around with? Who has been co-chair of McCain's New York campaign and a foreign policy adviser to McCain himself? None other than the illustrious unindicted war criminal and mass murderer Henry Kissinger, who must be very careful when he travels to Europe for there are committed and serious people in several countries there who will again try to have him arrested for the crimes against humanity he's responsible for ... Chile ... Angola ... East Timor ... Vietnam ... Laos ... Cambodia ...

By contrast, there is no evidence that Bill Ayers was involved in any Weathermen bombing that killed anyone; nor have I seen any evidence that on the very rare occasion that an anti-Vietnam War bombing in the United States resulted in a casualty that it could be ascribed to the Weathermen.

John McCain's bombings certainly killed – some two dozen aerial attacks upon the people of Vietnam, people who had neither done nor threatened any harm to him or his country. What label do we give to such acts, to such a man? His level of violence is matched by his degree of hypocrisy. Speaking of Ayers, McCain asked: “How can you countenance someone who was engaged in bombings that could have or did kill innocent people?”4

In his 2001 memoir, “Fugitive Days,” Ayers writes: “I don’t regret setting bombs. I feel we didn’t do enough.” This is something very few Americans can accept, and I wouldn't even make the attempt to persuade them. But I personally didn't blame the Weathermen then, and I don't blame them now. The Vietnam War was in its eighth year of barbarity. I and the rest of the army of the powerless needed a few points up there on the scoreboard against the lords of the national-security corporate state. A bombing, with a suitably war-criminal target – like the State Department or the Pentagon – and taking care to prevent any casualties, told the bastards that we were still out there, that their impunity was not total, that this is how it feels to be bombed. Armed propaganda. It told the public that there was something more serious going on than a town-hall difference of opinion that could be reasonably resolved by reasonable people discussing things in a reasonable manner. And like an unhappy child having a temper tantrum, we needed some instant gratification. We were struggling against the most powerful force in the world.

The Weathermen were on the right side of that war. John McCain on the wrong side.

And who has Sarah Palin herself been palling around with? John McCain, and the Alaska Independence Party, a secessionist party her husband belonged to for seven years. “My government is my worst enemy. I’m going to fight them with any means at hand,” Joe Vogler, who founded the party, once declared. Earlier this year Governor Palin shouted out to party members: ”Keep up the good work. And God bless you.”5

I do believe that secession of a state from the union is somewhat frowned upon by the powers that be, and if memory serves me, the last time it was seriously tried the government actually went to war. Who do these Alaskans think they are, the Kosovo gangsters whose secession from Serbia was immediately recognized by Washington?

This just in: John McCain (yes, the same one), as a congressman, met in 1985 in Chile with General Augusto Pinochet, one of the world's most notorious violators of human rights, credited with killing more than 3,000 civilians, jailing tens of thousands of others, and torturing a great many of them. McCain met with Pinochet apparently without any preconditions, which is what McCain has repeatedly criticized Obama for saying he would do with certain present-day foreign leaders whom McCain doesn't like. At the time of the meeting, the US Justice Department was seeking the extradition of two close Pinochet associates for an act of terrorism in Washington, DC – the 1976 car-bomb assassination of former Chilean ambassador to the US, Orlando Letelier, a prominent critic of Pinochet, and his American assistant. McCain made no public or private statements critical of the dictatorship, nor did he meet with members of the democratic opposition in Chile. Senator Edward Kennedy arrived only 12 days after McCain in a highly public show of support for democracy, meeting with Catholic church and human rights leaders and large groups of opposition activists.6

The John McCains of America, in and out of Congress, would much sooner pal around with Augusto Pinochet than Hugo Chavez or Fidel Castro or Bill Ayers.

The bourgeois triumphalism that attended the funeral of the USSR

Greed is a hot topic now. Stock brokers and others involved in the current financial crisis are angrily accused of being greedy. Time magazine declared that the nation's current troubles were "the price of greed". "Blame greed," echoed the Chicago Tribune. But these establishment publications can't be taken too seriously. Like other believers in the system, they're convinced that greed is a built-in, valuable, and necessary feature of capitalism and capitalist man, that it's indispensable for motivating entrepreneurs, and that it results in all manner of innovation and invention. During the years of the Cold War, this was a key element of the interminable discussions cum arguments between defenders of free enterprise and defenders of socialism; the arguments still continue, although most people now think that history has answered the question – capitalism has won. "The end of history", leading conservative Francis Fukuyama called it in his well-received book in 1992. He asserted that we couldn't expect to find a better way to organize society than the marriage of liberal democracy and market capitalism. Subsequent world movements such as anti-globalization and political Islam caused Fukuyama to have some second thoughts about whether history had actually come to an end. (He also came to renounce the war in Iraq which he had initially embraced on the premise that it would bring the joys of liberal democracy and market capitalism to the benighted Iraqi people.)

Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the boys of Capital have chortled in their martinis about the death of socialism. Until recently, the word had been banned from polite conversation (now achieving new notoriety as a term of political insult). And no one seems to notice that every socialist experiment of any significance in the twentieth century was either bombed, invaded, or overthrown; corrupted, perverted, or destabilized; or otherwise had life made impossible for it, by the United States. Not one socialist government or movement – from the Russian revolution to the Vietnamese communists to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, from Communist China to Salvador Allende in Chile to the FMLN in Salvador – not one was permitted to rise or fall solely on its own merits; not one was left secure enough to drop its guard against the all-powerful enemy abroad and freely and fully relax control at home. It continues today with Washington's attempts to subvert the governments of Venezuela and Bolivia, and, of course, still, forever, Cuba.

Imagine that the Wright brothers' first experiments with flying machines had all failed because the automobile interests had sabotaged each test flight. And then, thanks to the auto companies' propaganda, the good and god-fearing folk of the world looked upon this, took notice of the consequences, nodded their collective heads wisely, and intoned solemnly: Man shall never fly.

It's widely assumed that the Soviet Union demise resulted from gross shortcomings intrinsic to its socialist system, that the economy somehow imploded from its inherent contradictions. But all the shortcomings and contradictions that could have been found in the Soviet system in 1990 could have as well been found in 1980, or 1970, or 1960. Unlike capitalism, whose volatility is legendary, as each day's headlines remind us anew, the Soviet system with its government ownership of the means of production and its command economy, whatever its other defects, remained relatively stable and uniform. The question is thus: What happened in the late 1980s in the Soviet system to cause it to unravel? I believe that the best answer to the question lies in the person of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who came to power in 1985.

Gorbachev's long-time and ardent ambition was to model the Soviet Union after a West European social democracy and have the country accepted as such by the Europeans. That's the principal reason he put an end to the Soviet military involvement in Afghanistan; and why he instituted his historic economic and political changes at home (with their unintended consequences), and relinquished control over Eastern Europe without resorting to military force. The war in Afghanistan certainly had its effects, financially and psychologically, upon the people of the Soviet Union, and is commonly cited as a major cause for the nation's breakup. But the same can be said even more so of the effect of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq upon the American people, millions of whom have marched against the wars, yet none of this has led to an American withdrawal from either place; not even close. Superpowers should not be confused with democracies.

Ayn Rand's social philosophy: Let the strong prevail, let the weak pay for their weakness

"I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms. ... So the problem here is [that] something which looked to be a very solid edifice and, indeed, a critical pillar to market competition and free markets, did break down. And I think that, as I said, shocked me."

A remarkable admission from Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, long-time opponent of government regulation of the corporate world, and friend and devoted follower of Ayn Rand, the selfishness guru who turned the emulation of two-year olds into a philosophy of life. "I have found a flaw," said Greenspan, referring to his economic philosophy. "I don't know how significant or permanent it is. But I have been very distressed by that fact."7

Greenspan was induced into these admissions by tough questioning from congressmen at a hearing called in October to deal with the financial crisis. There was a time when Greenspan was looked upon as a guru by a largely unquestioning and unchallenging congress and media, no matter how dubious or obscure his pronouncements. He could have passed at times for Chauncey Gardener, the main character of the book and film “Being There”. Gardener, brought to life by Peter Sellers, was a simple man with very simple thoughts and behavior, who might have been considered to be borderline "retarded", but fortuitous circumstances and the deference toward him by those of insufficient intellect and/or courage resulted in him being thought of as brilliant by people in high positions.

There was one noteworthy exception to this delicate treatment of Greenspan. In July 2003, Rep. Bernie Sanders of Vermont faced the Fed chairman across the table at a congressional hearing and said:

“Mr. Greenspan, I have long been concerned that you are way out of touch with the needs of the middle class and working families of our country, that you see your major function in your position as the need to represent the wealthy and large corporations ... I think you just don’t know what’s going on in the real world. ... You talk about an improving economy, while we have lost 3 million private sector jobs in the last two years. Long-term unemployment has more than tripled. ... We have a $4 trillion national debt. 1.4 million Americans have lost their health insurance. Millions of seniors can't afford prescription drugs. Middle class families can't send their kids to college because they don't have the money to do that."

“Congressman," Greenspan replied, "we have the highest standard of living in the world.”

"No, we do not," insisted Sanders. "You go to Scandinavia, and you will find that people have a much higher standard of living, in terms of education, health care and decent paying jobs. Wrong, Mister."

Not accustomed to having to defend his profundities, Greenspan could do no better than to counter with: "We have the highest standard of living for a country of our size."8

This was quite a comedown from “in the world”, and inasmuch as the only countries of equal or larger population are China and India, with Indonesia being the fourth largest, Greenspan’s point is rather difficult to evaluate.

The idea that the United States has the highest standard of living in the world is one that is actually believed by numerous grownups in America, and most of them believe that this highest standard applies across the board. They're only minimally conscious of the fact that whereas they've made extremely painful sacrifices to send a child to university, and they often simply can't come up with enough money, and even if they can the child will be very heavily in debt for years afterward, in much of Western Europe university education is either free or eminently affordable; as it is in Cuba and was in Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

The same lack of awareness about superior conditions in other countries extends to health care, working hours, vacation time, maternity leave, child care, unemployment insurance, and a host of other social and economic benefits.

In short, amongst the developed nations, the United States is the worst place to be a worker, to be sick, to seek a university education, to be a parent; or, in the land of two million incarcerated, to exercise certain rights or be a defendant in court.

To which the Chauncey Gardeners of America, including the one who used to sit in the Federal Reserve and the one presently sitting in the Oval Office, would say: “Duh! Whaddaya mean?”

The Rosenbergs as heroes

John Gerassi, professor of political science at Queens College in New York City, recently wrote a letter to the New York Times:

To the Editor: NYT

In his "A Spy Confesses" (Week in Review 9/21), Sam Roberts claims that folks "fiercely loyal to the far left, believed that the Rosenbergs were not guilty ..." I am and have always been, since my stint as a correspondent and editor in Latin America for Time and Newsweek, a "far leftist," and I have never claimed the Rosenbergs were not guilty. Nor have any of my "far leftist" friends. What we always said, and what I repeat to my students every semester, is that "if they were guilty, they are this planet's great heroes." My explanation is quite simple: The US had a first-strike policy, the USSR did not (until Gorbachev). In 1952, the US military, and various intelligence services, calculated that a first strike on all Soviet silos would wipe out all but 6% of Russian atomic missiles (and, we now know, create enough radiation to kill us all). But those six percent would automatically be fired at US cities. The military then calculated what would happen if one made a direct hit on Denver (why they chose Denver and not New York or Washington was never explained). Their finding: 200,000 would die immediately, two million within a month. They concluded that it was not worth it. In other words, I tell my students, you were born and I am alive because the USSR had a deterrent against our "preventive" attack, not the other way around. And if it is true that the Rosenbergs helped the Soviets get that deterrent, they end up among the planet's saviors.

– John Gerassi (tgerassi@hotmail.com)

[It will not come as a great surprise to learn that the Times did not allow such thoughts to appear in their exalted pages.]

1. Tim Weiner, "Blank Check: The Pentagon's Black Budget" (1990), p.149-50.
2. Washington Post, November 21, 1971
3. Los Angeles Times, September 13, 1988, p.19. For further discussion of this issue, see Russ Bellant, “Old Nazis and the New Right: The Republican Party and Fascists”, Covert Action Information Bulletin (Washington, DC), #33, Winter 1990, p.27-31
4. New York Times, October 3, 2008
5. David Talbot, Salon.com, October 7, 2008
6. John Dinges, The Huffington Post, October 24, 2008, based on a declassified US Embassy cable
7. Washington Post, October 23, 2008
8. House Financial Services Committee, July 15, 2003; http://commdocs.house.gov/committees/bank/hba91775.000/hba91775_0f.htm
[William Blum is the author of:

* Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War 2
* Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower
* West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir
* Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire]

This article was also posted at Killing Hope.

The Rag Blog

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Bush's Exit Strategy : A Deregulation Frenzy

Dubya: The legacy.

The Legacy Grows: 'Every rule in every agency is under attack.'
By Thomas Cleaver / The Rag Blog / October 31, 2008
See 'A Last Push To Deregulate: White House to Ease Many Rules' by R. Jeffrey Smith, Below.
In the past three months, the Bush Administration has begun announcing significant rule changes, and they will all be in place before they leave office.

The administrative rules they are revising are an obscure body of law known as the Federal Administrative Regulations. These are the rules drawn up by every federal agency to detail the administration of the laws they are responsible for enforcing. The original reason was to insure justice, that there would be similar decisions in similar circumstances, so the law was clear to all. What they are doing now is the reverse of that.

These rules have the force of law with federal agencies, and it is very time-consuming the revise them. The Bushies have been working on these for at least the past two years. Even if the Democrats win a 60-seat Senate and a veto-proof House, with Obama in the White House, and they set to work on January 21, 2009, to change all these back, it would take a minimum of two years to accomplish.

Allow me to give an example of how bad this is: in August, the Interior Department announced they were revising the FARs for the Endangered Species Act. Specifically, they were revising the Independent Review Rule to allow the relevant agency to have the power to make the review independently themselves. What this rule is (it has been responsible for saving the majority of endangered species for the past 34 years) is that when a federal agency is making any decision that could impact an endangered species, they have to get an independent review from the Fish and Wildlife Service. It if is reasonably foreseeable that they will harm a species, they have to stop and revise the decision, revise the plan, so it does no harm.

Their change would allow the agency making the decision to review itself, to determine if it is reasonably certain they would harm a species, and determine what level of harm was acceptable, and make its own determination of what should be done. With no right of appeal or judicial review of that decision. As Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne said when he announced it, "this will keep the environmentalists from stopping our projects." The proposed rule change was given a 30-day public comment period (these have heretofore traditionally been 120-day reviews, with revisions as a result of comments), which was up on Sept. 15. They will be announcing the rule implementation probably any Monday after the election.

How would this rule wreck things? Here's an example: last March, the Interior Department announced they were de-listing the Yellowstone Wolves from the Endangered Species List on the grounds there were now 1500 wolves, and would turn over administration of the wolves to the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho -- which had already announced their decision that there only needed to be 300 wolves in the area. When Interior was sued to have the independent review process, they went ahead and de-listed the wolves. During the 60 days the wolves were de-listed, 60 were killed. When the NWF and Environmental Defense Fund got into court, they got an immediate injunction that stopped the killing, and then proved in court that Interior had disregarded its own rules, with the court putting the wolves back under protection in September. Were the new rule in effect then, we'd be burying 1200 wolves.

What has to be done is to go into court, get an injunction against implementation of the rule, and then to prove in court that the agency violated the law in revising the rule. This can be done. The EPA was successfully sued over an attempt to do this to the Clean Water Act, with the Second Court of Appeal telling them in August that they couldn't implement their revision. IT TOOK FOUR YEARS TO DO THIS.

Regardless of who gets into office next week, these fights will have to be made. They are revising the mining rules to get rid of the requirement that a coal company clean up the mess after blowing the top off a mountain for strip-mining, to get rid of the rules requiring maintenance of water and access for salmon runs, etc., etc. EVERY RULE IN EVERY AGENCY IS UNDER ATTACK.

We are all going to need to support those organizations, like Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation, NRDC, EDF, etc., that will be making these fights. Whatever interest you have, it is under attack.

All that money you were giving every month to Obama? Figure out what organization making these fights you support and make a monthly sustainer to them, so they can make the fight.

This is the Bush Administration's real legacy.

So, while we've all been distracted by the campaign...

A Last Push To Deregulate:
White House to Ease Many Rules

By R. Jeffrey Smith / October 31, 2008

The White House is working to enact a wide array of federal regulations, many of which would weaken government rules aimed at protecting consumers and the environment, before President Bush leaves office in January.

The new rules would be among the most controversial deregulatory steps of the Bush era and could be difficult for his successor to undo.

Some would ease or lift constraints on private industry, including power plants, mines and farms.

Those and other regulations would help clear obstacles to some commercial ocean-fishing activities, ease controls on emissions of pollutants that contribute to global warming, relax drinking-water standards and lift a key restriction on mountaintop coal mining.

Once such rules take effect, they typically can be undone only through a laborious new regulatory proceeding, including lengthy periods of public comment, drafting and mandated reanalysis.

"They want these rules to continue to have an impact long after they leave office," said Matthew Madia, a regulatory expert at OMB Watch, a nonprofit group critical of what it calls the Bush administration's penchant for deregulating in areas where industry wants more freedom. He called the coming deluge "a last-minute assault on the public . . . happening on multiple fronts."

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said: "This administration has taken extraordinary measures to avoid rushing regulations at the end of the term. And yes, we'd prefer our regulations stand for a very long time -- they're well reasoned and are being considered with the best interests of the nation in mind."

As many as 90 new regulations are in the works, and at least nine of them are considered "economically significant" because they impose costs or promote societal benefits that exceed $100 million annually. They include new rules governing employees who take family- and medical-related leaves, new standards for preventing or containing oil spills, and a simplified process for settling real estate transactions.

While it remains unclear how much the administration will be able to accomplish in the coming weeks, the last-minute rush appears to involve fewer regulations than Bush's predecessor, Bill Clinton, approved at the end of his tenure.

In some cases, Bush's regulations reflect new interpretations of language in federal laws. In other cases, such as several new counterterrorism initiatives, they reflect new executive branch decisions in areas where Congress -- now out of session and focused on the elections -- left the president considerable discretion.

The burst of activity has made this a busy period for lobbyists who fear that industry views will hold less sway after the elections. The doors at the New Executive Office Building have been whirling with corporate officials and advisers pleading for relief or, in many cases, for hastened decision making.

According to the Office of Management and Budget's regulatory calendar, the commercial scallop-fishing industry came in two weeks ago to urge that proposed catch limits be eased, nearly bumping into National Mining Association officials making the case for easing rules meant to keep coal slurry waste out of Appalachian streams. A few days earlier, lawyers for kidney dialysis and biotechnology companies registered their complaints at the OMB about new Medicare reimbursement rules. Lobbyists for customs brokers complained about proposed counterterrorism rules that require the advance reporting of shipping data.

Bush's aides are acutely aware of the political risks of completing their regulatory work too late. On the afternoon of Bush's inauguration, Jan. 20, 2001, his chief of staff issued a government-wide memo that blocked the completion or implementation of regulations drafted in the waning days of the Clinton administration that had not yet taken legal effect.

"Through the end of the Clinton administration, we were working like crazy to get as many regulations out as possible," said Donald R. Arbuckle, who retired in 2006 after 25 years as an OMB official. "Then on Sunday, the day after the inauguration, OMB Director Mitch Daniels called me in and said, 'Let's pull back as many of these as we can.' "

Clinton's appointees wound up paying a heavy price for procrastination. Bush's team was able to withdraw 254 regulations that covered such matters as drug and airline safety, immigration and indoor air pollutants. After further review, many of the proposals were modified to reflect Republican policy ideals or scrapped altogether.

Seeking to avoid falling victim to such partisan tactics, White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten in May imposed a Nov. 1 government-wide deadline to finish major new regulations, "except in extraordinary circumstances."

That gives officials just a few more weeks to meet an effective Nov. 20 deadline for the publication of economically significant rules, which take legal effect only after a 60-day congressional comment period. Less important rules take effect after a 30-day period, creating a second deadline of Dec. 20.

OMB spokeswoman Jane Lee said that Bolten's memo was meant to emphasize the importance of "due diligence" in ensuring that late-term regulations are sound. "We will continue to embrace the thorough and high standards of the regulatory review process," she said.

As the deadlines near, the administration has begun to issue regulations of great interest to industry, including, in recent days, a rule that allows natural gas pipelines to operate at higher pressures and new Homeland Security rules that shift passenger security screening responsibilities from airlines to the federal government.

The OMB also approved a new limit on airborne emissions of lead this month, acting under a court-imposed deadline.

Many of the rules that could be issued over the next few weeks would ease environmental regulations, according to sources familiar with administration deliberations.

A rule put forward by the National Marine Fisheries Service and now under final review by the OMB would lift a requirement that environmental impact statements be prepared for certain fisheries-management decisions and would give review authority to regional councils dominated by commercial and recreational fishing interests.
An Alaska commercial fishing source, granted anonymity so he could speak candidly about private conversations, said that senior administration officials promised to "get the rule done by the end of this month" and that the outcome would be a big improvement.

Lee Crockett of the Pew Charitable Trusts' Environment Group said the administration has received 194,000 public comments on the rule and protests from 80 members of Congress as well as 160 conservation groups. "This thing is fatally flawed" as well as "wildly unpopular," Crockett said.

Two other rules nearing completion would ease limits on pollution from power plants, a major energy industry goal for the past eight years that is strenuously opposed by Democratic lawmakers and environmental groups.

One rule, being pursued over some opposition within the Environmental Protection Agency, would allow current emissions at a power plant to match the highest levels produced by that plant, overturning a rule that more strictly limits such emission increases. According to the EPA's estimate, it would allow millions of tons of additional carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually, worsening global warming.

A related regulation would ease limits on emissions from coal-fired power plants near national parks.

A third rule would allow increased emissions from oil refineries, chemical factories and other industrial plants with complex manufacturing operations.

These rules "will force Americans to choke on dirtier air for years to come, unless Congress or the new administration reverses these eleventh-hour abuses," said lawyer John Walke of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

But Scott H. Segal, a Washington lawyer and chief spokesman for the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, said that "bringing common sense to the Clean Air Act is the best way to enhance energy efficiency and pollution control." He said he is optimistic that the new rule will help keep citizens' lawsuits from obstructing new technologies.

Jonathan Shradar, an EPA spokesman, said that he could not discuss specifics but added that "we strive to protect human health and the environment." Any rule the agency completes, he said, "is more stringent than the previous one.”

Source / Wahington Post (Subscription)
The Rag Blog

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Guantanamo Torture : CIA Officers Could Face Trial in Britian

'British resident held in Guantanamo Bay was brutally tortured after being arrested and questioned by American forces.'
By Robert Verkaik / October 31, 2008

Senior CIA officers could be put on trial in Britain after it emerged last night that the Attorney General is to investigate allegations that a British resident held in Guantanamo Bay was brutally tortured, after being arrested and questioned by American forces following the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington in 2001.

The Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has asked Baroness Scotland to consider bringing criminal proceedings against Americans allegedly responsible for the rendition and abuse of Binyam Mohamed, when he was held in prisons in Morocco and Afghanistan.

The development follows criticism of US prosecutors by British judges who have seen secret evidence of torture committed against Mr Mohamed, including allegations his torturers used a razor blade to repeatedly cut his penis. The Attorney's investigation is expected to include allegations that MI5 colluded in Mr Mohamed's rendition. Mr Mohamed, 30, an Ethiopian national and British resident, was arrested in Pakistan in 2002, when he was questioned by an MI5 officer.

On Tuesday, Government lawyers wrote to the judges hearing Mr Mohamed's case against the UK government in the High Court. In the letter they said "the question of possible criminal wrongdoing to which these proceedings has given rise has been referred by the Home Secretary to the Attorney general for consideration as an independent minister of justice". Baroness Scotland has been sent secret witness statements given to the court and public interest immunity certificates for the proceedings.

Mr Mohamed, 30, accuses MI5 agents of lying about what they knew of CIA plans to transfer him to a prison in north Africa, where he claims he was subjected to horrendous torture. Mr Mohamed, who won asylum in the UK in 1994, has been charged with terrorism-related offences. He awaits a decision on whether he is to face trial at the US naval base. He is officially the last Briton at Guantanamo. Last night his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, said: "This is a welcome recognition that the CIA cannot just go rendering British residents to secret torture chambers without consequences, and British agents cannot take part in US crimes without facing the music. Reprieve will be making submissions to the Attorney General to ensure those involved, from the US, Pakistan, Morocco, Britain, are held responsible."

Richard Stein, of Leigh Day, representing Mr Mohamed in the High Court proceedings, said: "Ultimately the British Government had little choice once they conceded that a case had been made that Binyam Mohamed was tortured. The Convention Against Torture imposes an obligation on signatory states to investigate torture."

In August two judges ruled allegations of torture were at least arguable and that MI5 had information relating to Mr Mohamed that was "not only necessary but essential for his defence".

The judges have read statements and interviews with Mr Mohamed between 28 and 31 July, 2004 when he says he was forced to confess to terrorism. The judges said: "This was after a period of over two-and-a-half years of incommunicado detention during which Binyam Mohamed alleges he was tortured."

He was first held in Pakistan in 2002, where a British agent interrogated him; he was then sent to Morocco by the CIA and allegedly tortured for 18 months. He was rendered to the secret "Dark Prison" in Afghanistan, where his torture is alleged to have continued. Since September 2004, he has been in Guantanamo Bay.

Source / The Independent, U.K.

Thanks to truthout / The Rag Blog

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30 October 2008

The Last Days of Dubya : Plunder and Run

The Bush gang's parting gift: a final, frantic looting of public wealth.
By Naomi Klein / October 31, 2008

The US bail-out amounts to a strings-free, public-funded windfall for big business. Welcome to no-risk capitalism.
In the final days of the election many Republicans seem to have given up the fight for power. But don't be fooled: that doesn't mean they are relaxing. If you want to see real Republican elbow grease, check out the energy going into chucking great chunks of the $700bn bail-out out the door. At a recent Senate banking committee hearing, the Republican Bob Corker was fixated on this task, and with a clear deadline in mind: inauguration. "How much of it do you think may be actually spent by January 20 or so?" Corker asked Neel Kashkari, the 35-year-old former banker in charge of the bail-out.

When European colonialists realised that they had no choice but to hand over power to the indigenous citizens, they would often turn their attention to stripping the local treasury of its gold and grabbing valuable livestock. If they were really nasty, like the Portuguese in Mozambique in the mid-1970s, they poured concrete down the elevator shafts.

Nothing so barbaric for the Bush gang. Rather than open plunder, it prefers bureaucratic instruments, such as "distressed asset" auctions and the "equity purchase program". But make no mistake: the goal is the same as it was for the defeated Portuguese - a final, frantic looting of the public wealth before they hand over the keys to the safe.

How else to make sense of the bizarre decisions that have governed the allocation of the bail-out money? When the Bush administration announced it would be injecting $250bn into US banks in exchange for equity, the plan was widely referred to as "partial nationalisation" - a radical measure required to get banks lending again. Henry Paulson, the treasury secretary, had seen the light, we were told, and was following the lead of Gordon Brown.

In fact, there has been no nationalisation, partial or otherwise. American taxpayers have gained no meaningful control over the banks, which is why the banks are free to spend the new money as they wish. At Morgan Stanley, it looks as if much of the windfall will cover this year's bonuses. Citigroup has been hinting it will use its $25bn buying other banks, while John Thain, the chief executive of Merrill Lynch, told analysts: "At least for the next quarter, it's just going to be a cushion." The US government, meanwhile, is reduced to pleading with the banks that they at least spend a portion of the taxpayer windfall for loans - officially, the reason for the entire programme.

What, then, is the real purpose of the bail-out? My fear is this rush of dealmaking is something much more ambitious than a one-off gift to big business: that the Bush version of "partial nationalisation" is rigged to turn the US treasury into a bottomless cash machine for the banks for years to come. Remember, the main concern among the big market players, particularly banks, is not the lack of credit but their battered share prices. Investors have lost confidence in the honesty of the big financial players, and with good reason.

This is where the treasury's equity pays off big time. By purchasing stakes in these financial institutions, the treasury is sending a signal to the market that they are a safe bet. Why safe? Not because their level of risk has been accurately assessed at last. Not because they have renounced the kind of exotic instruments and outrageous leverage rates that created the crisis. But because the market will now be banking on the fact that the US government won't let these particular companies fail. If they get themselves into trouble, investors will now assume that the government will keep finding more cash to bail them out, since allowing them to go down would mean losing the initial equity investments, many of them in the billions. (Just look at the insurance giant AIG, which has already gone back to taxpayers for a top-up, and seems likely to ask for a third.)

This tethering of the public interest to private companies is the real purpose of the bail-out plan: Paulson is handing all the companies admitted to the programme - a number potentially in the thousands - an implicit treasury department guarantee. To skittish investors looking for safe places to park their money, these equity deals will be even more comforting than a triple-A from Moody's rating agency.

Insurance like that is priceless. But for the banks, the best part is that the government is paying them to accept its seal of approval. For taxpayers, on the other hand, this entire plan is extremely risky, and may well cost significantly more than Paulson's original idea of buying up $700bn in toxic debts. Now taxpayers aren't just on the hook for the debts but, arguably, for the fate of every corporation that sells them equity.

Interestingly, mortgage fund giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac both enjoyed this kind of unspoken guarantee before they were nationalised at the start of this crisis. For decades the market understood that, since these private players were enmeshed with the government, Uncle Sam could be counted on to always save the day. It was, as many have pointed out, the worst of all worlds. Not only were profits privatised while risks were socialised, but the implicit government backing created powerful incentives for reckless business practices.

With the new equity purchase programme Paulson has taken the discredited Fannie and Freddie model and applied it to a huge swath of the private banking industry. Again, there is no reason to shy away from risky bets, especially since the treasury has made no such demands of the banks (apparently it doesn't want to "micromanage".)

To further boost market confidence, the federal government has also unveiled unlimited public guarantees for many bank deposit accounts. Oh, and as if this were not enough, the treasury has been encouraging the banks to merge, ensuring that the only institutions left will be "too big to fail", thereby guaranteed a bail-out. In three ways, the market is being told loud and clear that Washington will not allow the financial institutions to bear the consequences of their behaviour. This may be Bush's most creative innovation: no-risk capitalism.

There is a glimmer of hope. In answer to Senator Corker's question, the treasury is indeed having trouble dispersing the bail-out funds. So far it has requested about $350bn of the $700bn, but most of this hasn't yet made it out the door. Meanwhile, every day it becomes clearer that the bail-out was sold to the public on false pretences. Clearly, it was never really about getting loans flowing. It was always about doing what it is doing: turning the state into a giant insurance agency for Wall Street, a safety net for the people who need it least, subsidised by the people who will most need state protections in the economic storms ahead.

This duplicity is a political opportunity. Whoever wins on November 4 will have enormous moral authority. It should be used to call for a freeze on the dispersal of bail-out funds, not after the inauguration but right away. All deals should be renegotiated, this time with the public getting the guarantees.

It is risky, of course, to interrupt the bail-out process. Nothing could be riskier, however, than allowing the Bush gang their parting gift to big business - the gift that will keep on taking.

Source / Guardian, U.K.

The Rag Blog

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ART / George W. Urinal : Pee for Peace

Pee art by Clark Sorensen, famed floral urinal designer.

Go with the flow: Art from the men's room
By Sean Fallon / October 30, 2008

No matter who you are pulling for in this election, the popularity polls indicate that the vast majority of Americans are ready to see Bush pack up his things and get the hell out of the White House. While there is tons of anti-Bush paraphernalia out there, few things capture our disdain as well as "George W. Flush" -- a design by famed urinal sculptor Clark Sorensen.

Unfortunately, this urinal is one of a kind, but it will be on display at his one-man show entitled "Down The Drain - The Legacy of George W. Bush." at Ruby's Clay Studio and Gallery in San Francisco. The show runs from January 17 to February 16, 2009. Hopefully, visitors will be allowed to relieve themselves in it. Let's be honest—it would be satisfying on multiple levels.

Source / Gizmodo

Thanks to S. R. Keister / The Rag Blog

[+/-]

McCain's Latest Bogeyman : Respected Scholar Rashid Khalidi

The McCain campaign's latest bogeyman, historian Rashid Khalidi.

'McCain's and Palin's attacks on Khalidi are frankly racist.

'He is a distinguished scholar, and the only objectionable thing about him from a rightwing point of view is that he is a Palestinian.'

By Juan Cole / October 30, 2008
See three related Videos, Below.

Also see 'McCain Gave Money to Khalidi' by Matthew Yglesias, Below
The increasingly sleazy John McCain, who once promised to run a clean campaign, has now attacked my friend Rashid Khalidi and attempted to use him against Barack Obama. Khalidi is an American scholar of Palestinian heritage, born in New York and educated at Yale and Oxford, who now teaches at Columbia University. He directed the Middle East Center at the University of Chicago for some time, and he and his family came to know the Obamas at that time. Knowing someone and agreeing with him on everything are not the same thing.

Scott Horton has a fine, informed and intelligent discussion of the issue. Likewise Barnett Rubin ("My Friend the Neo-Nazi") and Chapati Mystery suddenly alarmed about the Hyde Park crowd.

I know it may seem a novel idea to people like McCain and Palin, but it would be worthwhile actually reading Khalidi's book on the Palestinian struggle for statehood. (I urge bloggers interested in this issue to link to his book, which the American reading public should know).

At the least, read a whole essay Khalidi has written.

Far from being a knee-jerk nationalist, Khalidi has been critical of the decisions of the Palestinian leadership at key junctures in modern history.

McCain's and Palin's attacks on Khalidi are frankly racist. He is a distinguished scholar, and the only objectionable thing about him from a rightwing point of view is that he is a Palestinian. There are about 9 million Palestinians in the world (a million or so are Israeli citizens; 3.7 million are stateless and without rights under Israeli control in the West Bank and Gaza; and 4 million are refugees or exiled in the diaspora; there are about 200,000 Palestinian-Americans, and several million Arab-Americans, many living in swing vote states). Khalidi was not, as the schlock rightwing press charges, a spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization. He was an adviser at the Madrid peace talks, but would that not have been, like, a good thing?

Much of the assault on Khalidi comes from the American loony Zionist Right, which quietly supports illegal Zionist colonies in the West Bank and the ethnic cleansing of the remaining Palestinians. They have been tireless advocates of miring the US in wars in Iraq and Iran to ensure that their dreams of ethnic cleansing are unopposed. They are a tiny, cranky but well-funded group that has actively harassed anyone who disagrees with them (at one point, cued by Daniel Pipes, they cyberstalked Khalidi and clogged his email mailbox with spam for weeks at a time). All opinion polling shows that most American Jews are politically liberal, overwhelmingly vote Democrat, and support trading land for peace to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Khalidi is their political ally in any serious peace process, which many have recognized.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has repudiated the "Greater Israel" fantasy that drives the Middle East Forum, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Commentary, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, the Hudson Institute, the American Enterprise Institute and other well-funded sites of far-right thinking on Israel-Palestine that have become, with the rise of the Neoconservatives, highly influential with the US Republican Party. Olmert's current position is much closer to Khalidi's than it is to the American ideologues.

That McCain should take his cues from people to the right of the Neoconservatives shows fatal lack of judgment and signals that if he is elected, he will likely pursue policies that are very bad for Israel, forestalling a genuine peace process (which would involve close relations with Palestinians!)

McCain even compared the gathering for Khalidi that Obama attended to a "neo-Nazi" meeting! I mean, really. This is the lowest McCain has sunk yet.

McCain is bringing up Khalidi in order to scare Jewish voters about Obama's associations, and it is an execrable piece of McCarthyism and in fact much worse than McCarthyism since it is not about ideology but rather has racial overtones. Not allowed to pal around with Arab-Americans, I guess. What other ethnic groups should we not pal around with, from McCain's point of view? Is there a list? Are some worse than others?

Ironically, as the Huffington Post showed, while John McCain was chairing the International Republican Institute, he gave over $400,000 to Rashid Khalidi's Center for Palestine Research and Studies for work in the West Bank.

Here is Lou Dobbs letting McCain have it over this piece of hypocrisy.

The rightwing American way of speaking about these issues is bizarre from a Middle Eastern point of view. Lots of real living Israelis have close ties to actually existing Palestinians. There are 12 Palestinian members of the Israeli Knesset, and they have helped keep the Kadima government in power. Here is PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas with current Israeli Prime Minister Tzipi Livni; Livni has repeatedly negotiated with the PLO as foreign minister of Israel. McCain's entire line of attack assumes that Palestinian equals "bad" and ignores Israel's and the Bush administration's support for the PLO against Hamas.

PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas with current Israeli Prime Minister Tzipi Livni.

As the Young Turks pointed out, before the 'straight talk express' became the 'mealy-mouthed train wreck,' McCain advocated direct negotiations with Hamas when it was in control of the Palestinian Authority after the 2006 elections.

Source / Informed Comment
McCain Gave Money to Khalidi
By Matthew Yglesias / October 29, 2008

One of the many recent rightwing freakouts is about the idea that the media is covering up some kind of close relationship between Barack Obama and Rashid Khalidi and this in turn shows, I guess, that the US is going to adopt a left-wing Arab nationalist perspective toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But Sam Stein reports:
In regards to Khalidi, however, the guilt-by-association game burns John McCain as well.

During the 1990s, while he served as chairman of the International Republican Institute (IRI), McCain distributed several grants to the Palestinian research center co-founded by Khalidi, including one worth half a million dollars.

A 1998 tax filing for the McCain-led group shows a $448,873 grant to Khalidi’s Center for Palestine Research and Studies for work in the West Bank. (See grant number 5180, “West Bank: CPRS” on page 14 of this PDF.)

The relationship extends back as far as 1993, when John McCain joined IRI as chairman in January. Foreign Affairs noted in September of that year that IRI had helped fund several extensive studies in Palestine run by Khalidi’s group, including over 30 public opinion polls and a study of “sociopolitical attitudes.”
Not that there’s anything wrong with that! But it does expose some pretty massive hypocrisy on the part of the right-wing. Meanwhile, the real truth about Obama’s approach to Israel policy is that though there have been some promising signs, there have also been many moments when Obama’s been disappointingly timid on this issue. It’s an issue that calls for a dramatic substantive departure from the conventional wisdom — the tragedy of the matter, as everyone says, is that everyone more-or-less knows what a final status agreement would look like. But it is an issue that calls for boldness and the taking of some political risks under circumstances where there’s little political upside. I hope Obama’s got what it takes, and some days I even think he does. But anyone who thinks there’s a real risk of Khalidi controlling US policy toward Israel is living on some other planet.

Source / Think Progress
The Rag Blog

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FILM / 'Milk' : The Man Who Set America Straight About Gay Rights

Sean Penn stars as Harvey Milk in the Hollywood biopic. Photo from Getty Images.

The release of a Hollywood biopic about Harvey Milk, America's first openly gay elected politician, could not be more timely.
By Guy Adams / October 30, 2008
Video: See trailer from 'Milk,' Below.
The streetcars are being renamed and the red carpets rolled out in the Castro district of San Francisco for the world premiere of Milk, the latest film to break Hollywood's long-running taboo over homosexuality.

A roar of approval greeted Sean Penn and Josh Brolin as they swept past several hundred people who had gathered on Tuesday to applaud the biopic of Harvey Milk, America's first openly gay elected politician who was assassinated in a corridor of the nearby City Hall 30 years ago.

Many in the crowd also used the occasion to protest, waving signs urging "Vote No on Proposition Eight". The measure would eliminate same-sex marriage in California if it were to be passed next week, and the battle serves as a topical reminder of how much still stands in the way of the movement that has elevated Milk to iconic status.

The colourful event brought considerable star power to Castro Street, the main street through the most famous gay and lesbian district in San Francisco, where Milk's reign as city supervisor was cut short after he was shot and killed along with the Mayor, George Moscone, having served only 11 months in office.

The actors Emile Hirsch, Diego Luna, and the director Gus Van Sant – the man behind the 1997 film Good Will Hunting – were joined by local politicians, together with Milk's old friends and contacts, many dressed as Seventies drag queens.

Yet it also highlighted a serious and pressing case of history repeating itself. Three decades ago, Harvey Milk was responsible for leading the campaign against a ballot measure that seems eerily reminiscent of Proposition Eight.

Proposition Six would have banned gays from teaching in California on the grounds that homosexuals were, at the time, considered more likely to be motivated by paedophilia. Milk's against-the-odds success in defeating the ballot measure is still seen as one of the most inspiring victories in the gay rights movement.

"Harvey Milk was prophetic, a pioneer of gay rights at a time when people needed it most," said Peter Novak, a researcher on Milk's career at the University of San Francisco, who also had a role as an extra in the film. "He was articulate and founded a defence for the movement that continues to this day. His death was also a significant moment in recognising what was at stake in the struggle for equality. He used to say: 'if a bullet should enter my brain, let it destroy every closet door,' and he knew his death would propel the gay rights movement forward."

Milk, who is played by Penn in the film, was assassinated by a right-wing former city supervisor called Dan White (Brolin), who was upset by the premature demise of his own political career.

Having been brought up in New York, Milk served in the US Navy, and became politically active after moving to San Francisco in the early Seventies. A gift for speechmaking that has seen him widely compared to Barack Obama, helped him to forge links with the local electorate, trade unions, and the city's Asian community. He was elected to office at the third time of asking in 1977.

The new film, which charts Milk's life, comes almost a quarter of a century after Rob Epstein's The Times of Harvey Milk won an Academy Award for best documentary.

The new film features a scene in which Penn enjoys a long French kiss with his co-star, James Franco. In a recent interview, Franco revealed that shortly after the scene was shot, Penn text-messaged his former wife Madonna saying: "I just popped my cherry kissing a guy. I thought of you, I don't know why." The singer texted back: "Congratulations!"

Although Milk's career as an elected official lasted only 11 months, he pioneered several major pieces of equal rights legislation. His anti-Proposition Six campaign culminated in an Obama-like appeal for gay people and civil rights advocates to contribute "just one dollar" to fight the measure. Yet it came to an end on 27 November, 1978, in a wood-panelled corridor of San Francisco's City Hall. Appropriately enough, this is where thousands of local gay couples have been married in the months since California's Supreme Court voted to make same-sex weddings legal.

Dan White had resigned after a political dispute with Milk and other supervisors, claiming that his salary was not enough to carry out the job. A few days later, he changed his mind and asked Moscone to rescind the resignation. When that request was refused, he blamed the Mayor and Milk in equal measure.

Though he hadn't previously shown signs of violence, the refusal affected White badly. A few days later, he broke through a downstairs window of City Hall to avoid metal detectors and killed Milk and Moscone with hollow-pointed bullets from a revolver.

At the trial, White was sentenced to seven years for involuntary manslaughter, having convinced the jury he had carried out the killing on a whim as he hadn't slept for days and had been bingeing on junk food. It is now seen as one of the worst miscarriages of American justice.

His successful use of the so-called "Twinkie defence," named after the snack that White blamed for his state of mind, meant that the plea of "diminished capacity" was later expunged from Californian law. The sentence caused small-scale riots, and inspired the gay rights movement to secure Milk's legacy.

Today, the tale will again be thrust to the centre of the public's consciousness. "Harvey Milk is a true American hero," Van Sant told reporters on the red carpet on Tuesday. "He's a great example of a man representing his community and city."

Gavin Newsom, San Francisco's Mayor, who pioneered same-sex marriage in California, and helped to install a bust of Milk at City Hall, announced that a streetcar used in the filming would be renamed in Milk's honour, saying: "This story couldn't have happened anywhere else."

In Hollywood, the film's nationwide release later this month is sparking widespread debate over how its production company, Focus Features, will try to sell to middle America a title which contains several explicitly homosexual scenes.

Only a small number of advertisements have been bought, and the film's trailer has received limited showings. Producers have kept it away from film festivals and are restricting media screenings, in a strategy aimed to make it become a "word of mouth" success like the 2005 film Brokeback Mountain starring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal.

They may still face an uphill struggle. "At a recent Vegas test-screening for a middle-class, straight audience, several senior citizens tried to leave after a gay love scene in the early moments, but couldn't because they were trapped in the middle of a row," according to the Hollywood Reporter this week. "The seniors eventually said they were happy that they stayed but, like independent voters in an election contest, these are the very viewers that Focus must woo."

A week before one of the most crucial ballots in the history of gay rights in the USA, the marketing conundrum inspired by Milk's biopic provides the movement he prematurely left behind with a graphic reminder of the troubles it still faces.

"You know, the fact that we are still at a stage where you cannot market this as a mainstream film shows how far we still have left to come," said Mr Novak.

Milk the legend
* Born in 1930, Milk was popular at school and studied at New York State Teachers College.

* He served in the navy during the Korean War and then worked as a banker.

* He became the first openly gay city official in California in 1977.

* Milk fought anattempt in 1978 to ban gay teachers.

* He was shot dead later that year.
Source / The Independent, U.K.

Thanks to CommonDreams / The Rag Blog

[+/-]

David Sedaris : Undecided? You've Got to be Kidding...

Illustration by Zohar Lazar / New Yorker.

'I look at these people and can’t quite believe that they exist.'
By David Sedaris

I don’t know that it was always this way, but, for as long as I can remember, just as we move into the final weeks of the Presidential campaign the focus shifts to the undecided voters. “Who are they?” the news anchors ask. “And how might they determine the outcome of this election?”

Then you’ll see this man or woman— someone, I always think, who looks very happy to be on TV. “Well, Charlie,” they say, “I’ve gone back and forth on the issues and whatnot, but I just can’t seem to make up my mind!” Some insist that there’s very little difference between candidate A and candidate B. Others claim that they’re with A on defense and health care but are leaning toward B when it comes to the economy.

I look at these people and can’t quite believe that they exist. Are they professional actors? I wonder. Or are they simply laymen who want a lot of attention?

To put them in perspective, I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?” she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?”

To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.

I mean, really, what’s to be confused about?

When doubting that anyone could not know whom they’re voting for, I inevitably think back to November, 1968. Hubert Humphrey was running against Richard Nixon, and when my mother couldn’t choose between them she had me do it for her. It was crazy. One minute I was eating potato chips in front of the TV, and the next I was at the fire station, waiting with people whose kids I went to school with. When it was our turn, we were led by a woman wearing a sash to one of a half-dozen booths, the curtain of which closed after we entered.

“Go ahead,” my mother said. “Flick a switch, any switch.”

I looked at the panel in front of me.

“Start on the judges or whatever and we’ll be here all day, so just pick a President and make it fast. We’ve wasted enough time already.”

“Which one do you think is best?” I asked.

“I don’t have an opinion,” she told me. “That’s why I’m letting you do it. Come on, now, vote.”

I put my finger on Hubert Humphrey and then on Richard Nixon, neither of whom meant anything to me. What I most liked about democracy, at least so far, was the booth—its quiet civility, its atmosphere of importance. “Hmm,” I said, wondering how long we could stay before someone came and kicked us out.

Ideally, my mother would have waited outside, but, as she said, there was no way an unescorted eleven-year-old would be allowed to vote, or even hang out, seeing as the lines were long and the polls were open for only one day. “Will you please hurry it up?” she hissed.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to have something like this in our living room?” I asked. “Maybe we could use the same curtains we have on the windows.”

“All right, that’s it.” My mother reached for Humphrey but I beat her to it, and cast our vote for Richard Nixon, who had the same last name as a man at our church. I assumed that the two were related, and only discovered afterward that I was wrong. Richard Nixon had always been Nixon, while the man at my church had shortened his name from something funnier but considerably less poster-friendly—Nickapopapopolis, maybe.

“Oh, well,” I said.

We drove back home, and when asked by my father whom she had voted for, my mother said that it was none of his business.

“What do you mean, ‘none of my business’?” he said. “I told you to vote Republican.”

“Well, maybe I did and maybe I didn’t.”

“You’re not telling me you voted for Humphrey.” He said this as if she had marched through the streets with a pan on her head.

“No,” she said. “I’m not telling you that. I’m not telling you anything. It’s private—all right? My political opinions are none of your concern.”

“What political opinions?” he said. “I’m the one who took you down to register. You didn’t even know there was an election until I told you.”

“Well, thanks for telling me.”

She turned to open a can of mushroom soup. This would be poured over pork chops and noodles and served as our dinner, casserole style. Once we’d taken our seats at the table, my parents would stop fighting directly, and continue their argument through my sisters and me. Lisa might tell a story about her day at school and, if my father said it was interesting, my mother would laugh.

“What’s so funny?” he’d say.

“Nothing. It’s just that, well, I suppose everyone has a different standard. That’s all.”

When told by my father that I was holding my fork wrong, my mother would say that I was holding it right, or right in “certain circles.”

“We don’t know how people eat the world over,” she’d say, not to him but to the buffet or the picture window, as if the statement had nothing to do with any of us.

I wasn’t looking forward to that kind of evening, and so I told my father that I had voted. “She let me,” I said. “And I picked Nixon.”

“Well, at least someone in the family has some brains.” He patted me on the shoulder and as my mother turned away I understood that I had chosen the wrong person.

I didn’t vote again until 1976, when I was nineteen and legally registered. Because I was at college out of state, I sent my ballot through the mail. The choice that year was between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. Most of my friends were going for Carter, but, as an art major, I identified myself as a maverick. “That means an original,” I told my roommate. “Someone who lets the chips fall where they may.” Because I made my own rules and didn’t give a damn what anyone else thought of them, I decided to write in the name of Jerry Brown, who, it was rumored, liked to smoke pot. This was an issue very close to my heart—too close, obviously, as it amounted to a complete waste. Still, though, it taught me a valuable lesson: calling yourself a maverick is a sure sign that you’re not one.

I wonder if, in the end, the undecideds aren’t the biggest pessimists of all. Here they could order the airline chicken, but, then again, hmm. “Isn’t that adding an extra step?” they ask themselves. “If it’s all going to be chewed up and swallowed, why not cut to the chase, and go with the platter of shit?”

Ah, though, that’s where the broken glass comes in.

Source / The New Yorker / Posted Oct. 17, 2008

Thanks to Thomas Cleaver / The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Koff. Wheeze. Doncha' Know?

Photo by Skylor Williams / The Rag Blog.

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Concerning Mark Twain’s ‘War Prayer’ and the 'Right to Life.’

Photo by Alex Wong / Getty Images.

‘In every presidential election for the past several decades we hear a hue and cry from the citizens who represent the "right to life” movement.’
By Dr. S. R. Keister
/ The Rag Blog / October 30, 2008
See ‘The War Prayer’ by Mark Twain, Below.
Frequently over the past seven years I have read and re-read Mark Twain's "War Prayer" and was impressed by the parallel of the congregation in that bit of Twain's masterful later writing, and the attitudes of the American public at large at the present time. As I recall, Twain wrote this essay during the Philippine Insurrection and the publication was held up for many years because the publishers deemed the then unrecognized masterpiece to be "unpatriotic.” One wonders now how many living Americans even know of the Philippine Insurrection and the development of “waterboarding” as a technique of interrogation at that time.

But I digress........

In every presidential election for the past several decades we hear a hue and cry from the citizens who represent the "right to life” movement. Let us look further into this appellation in its political context.

In the late 1940's I was a resident in a Pittsburgh hospital. Part of the three year program was a year working in pathology, where I, as the other residents, was required to do the autopsies. In that one year I did three post-mortems on women who had died of septic, i.e."coat-hanger" abortions. All three had died a terrible death of sepsis from the gas-gangrene bacillus. Antibiotics were then in their infancy; hence, there was no specific treatment. These corpses lying on the autopsy table were distended from the gas in the tissues, they were a dark blue color, with black spots of gangrene mottling their skin. As one cut into the tissues there was a hiss as the fetid gas was released. Why? Why? Why?

After the Roe v Wade Decision I felt that at last there was some degree of justice for a woman caught in an untenable situation. After all, abortion was nothing new, as it in all probability had a history going back to when early man was in the hunter-gatherer period and was able to sharpen a twig with his bronze knife. I did not recall any specific admonitions in Matthew 5-7 regarding abortion; although, there was a steady reference therein to the sanctity of life and the admonition not to kill. Later, in the Middle Ages, largely in the 14th and 15th Centuries, during the period of the Papal Schism, the recurrences of the Black Death, the various and many internecine wars, there was depopulation of the face of Europe. More serfs were needed to work the baron's fields, more men-at-arms needed for the various armies.

Thus, edicts were put forth to regenerate the population, i.e. edicts to encourage conception or to avoid the interruption of pregnancy.

I wish to underline that I am not philosophically in favor of abortion. Abortion is not a substitute for contraception. I do feel that abortion is justified in the event of rape, incest, or in situations where continued pregnancy will prejudice the life or health of the mother. In Western Europe, where there is ongoing learning regarding sexuality in the schools’ ciricula, i.e. health & hygiene, biology, and social studies, there is a much lower incidence of teen pregnancy, abortions, sexually transmitted diseases. There is, however, an underlying cultural difference between us and the Europeans, and that is their lack of the anti-intellectualism inherent to the United States. They accept education and do not relegate 'sex-education' to the parents who by-in-large do not know the difference between a Fallopian Tube or vas deferens and have no comprehension of the physiology of insemination. Thus I feel that Sen. Obama, with his program to reduce the needs for abortion, makes sense. If a woman is not put in a situation that forces her to make a decision, society will be largely absolved of the overall problem. If she chooses to carry the pregnancy to term, help will be provided for her and the infant. Never will she be told "not to have an abortion" and thereafter be left in limbo for the long term.

The major problem I have with the "right to life" movement, is the fact that it has nothing to do with the right to life. These folks, who I am sure, are absolutely sincere in their thinking, are in reality a movement to preserve the fetus. I find a few of them demonstrating against capital punishment, but totally invisible at antiwar rallies. I do not find them in the front-lines demonstrating for the child once born -- rallies against child poverty, child abuse or for child health insurance. I do not find them complaining aloud about the bombing of thousands of Iraqi children. I do find them at Sara Palin rallies where the audience in general behaves as a crowd at a bull baiting or public flogging. Here they are enveloped in the mass that cries with delight when the candidates call for the bombing of Iran, or military action against Russia.

Why the inconsistency?

In the Inferno Dante placed the hypocrites in the sixth circle of the lower ranges of Hell, where they walked slowly along in fine golden capes and hoods lined with lead.

It would seem that the Republican Party leadership does not want to interfere with the Roe v Wade decision, for as long as it is the law it can be used to whip up the energy of that 30% of the population that has interest in the sanctity of the fetus, thus, assuring their attendance at the polls. If this were no longer an issue, where would all of this energy be directed? Surely not into the anti-imperialist movement or for the preservation of civil rights.

In the total morass of Republican politics today I am reminded of the statement by Josef Goebbels: "There was no point in seeking to convert the intellectuals. For intellectuals would never be converted and would anyway always yield to the stronger and this will always be ‘the man in the street.’ Arguments must therefore be crude, clear and forcible, and appeal to emotions and instincts, not to the intellect. Truth was unimportant and entirely subordinate to tactics and psychology."
The War Prayer
By Mark Twain

It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts, and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country, and invoked the God of Battles beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpourings of fervid eloquence which moved every listener. It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety's sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.

Sunday morning came -- next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their young faces alight with martial dreams -- visions of the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender! Then home from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag, or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation
*God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest! Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!*
Then came the "long" prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was, that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory --

An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher's side and stood there waiting. With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued with his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal, "Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!"

The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside -- which the startled minister did -- and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes, in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said:

"I come from the Throne -- bearing a message from Almighty God!" The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. "He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import -- that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of -- except he pause and think.

"God's servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two -- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him Who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this -- keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor's crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.

"You have heard your servant's prayer -- the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it -- that part which the pastor -- and also you in your hearts -- fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. the *whole* of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory--*must* follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -- for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

(*After a pause.*) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits!"

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

[Twain apparently dictated it around 1904-05; it was rejected by his publisher, and was found after his death among his unpublished manuscripts. It was first published in 1923 in Albert Bigelow Paine's anthology, Europe and Elsewhere.

The story is in response to a particular war, namely the Philippine-American War of 1899-1902, which Twain opposed.
Transcribed by Steven Orso.]

Source / Midwinter.com
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Gore Vidal : John McCain in the Echo Chamber

Gore Vidal in 2007. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

'Even from the corpse of the Republican Party, which Abraham Lincoln left somewhat hastily in the 19th century, this was an unusually sickening display.'
By Gore Vidal

October proved to be the cruelest month, for that was the time that Sen. McCain, he of the round, blank, Little Orphan Annie eyes, chose to try out a number of weird lies about Barack Obama ostensibly in the interest of a Republican Party long overdue for burial.

It is a wonder that any viewer survived his furious October onslaught whose craziest lie was that Obama wished to become president in order to tax the poor in the interest of a Democratic Party in place, as he put it in his best 1936 voice, to spend and spend because that’s what Democrats always do. This was pretty feeble lying, even in such an age as ours. But it was the only thing that had stuck with him from those halcyon years when Gov. Alfred M. Landon was the candidate of the Grand Old Party, which in those days was dedicated to erasing every policy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose electoral success was due to, they thought, Harry Hopkins’ chilling mantra, “we shall … spend and spend and elect and elect.” Arguably, the ignorant McCains of this world have no idea what any of this actually signifies; Hopkins’ comment is a serious one, and serious matters seldom break through to cliché-ridden minds.

Although I am no fan of the television of my native land, I thought that an election featuring two historic novelties—the first credible female candidate for president and the first black nominee—would be great historic television, yet I should have been suspicious whenever I looked at McCain’s malicious little face, plainly bent on great mischief. Whenever Obama made a sensible point, McCain was ready to trump it with a gorgeous lie.

When Obama said that only a small percentage of the middle class would suffer from income tax during his administration, McCain would start gabbling the 1936 Republican mantra that this actually meant that he would spend and spend and spend in order to spread the money around, a mild joke he has told for the benefit of a plumber who is looking forward to fiscal good fortune and so feared the tax man, using language very like that of long-dead socialists to reveal Obama’s sinister games.

Advice to Obama: No civilized asides are permitted in McCain Land, where every half-understood word comes from the shadowy bosses of a diabolic Democratic Party, eager to steal the money of the poor in order to benefit, perversely, the even poorer.

So October (my natal month) was no joy for me, as the degradation of our democratic process was being McCainized. McCain is a prisoner of the past. Later, in due course he gave us the old address book treatment: names from Obama’s past, each belonging to a potential terrorist. Even from the corpse of the Republican Party, which Abraham Lincoln left somewhat hastily in the 19th century, this was an unusually sickening display.

Happily, physicists assure us that there is no action without reaction.

There were still a few bright glimmers of something larger than a mere candidate of the Republican Party, but Mr. McCain seems to be in the terminal throes of a self-love that causes him to regard himself as a great American hero. From time to time, he likes to shout at us, “I have fought in many, many wars,” and, “I have won many of them,” but he has, so far, never told us which were the ones that he has actually won, since every war that he has graced with his samurai presence seems to have been thoroughly lost by the United States. Consistency is all-important to the born loser as well as to the committed liar.

So what little fame he has rests on the fact that he was taken a prisoner of war by the Vietnamese—hardly a recommendation for the leadership of the “free world”—and thus aware of the meagerness of his own curriculum vitae, for his vice presidential choice he then turned radically, in the age of the awakening to power of women, to an Alaskan politician; a giggly Piltdown princess out of pre-history.

Her qualification? She has once been mayor (or was it “mare”?) of an Alaskan village and later governor of what had been known as “Seward’s Icebox,” named for Lincoln’s secretary of state, William Seward, who had over the misgivings of many bought all that ice from Russia.

One does get the impression that the senator from Arizona is living in a sort of echo chamber of nonsensical phrases, notions and unreality.

To further add insult to injury, as it were, he describes himself as a “maverick,” which one critic in the audience assures him he is not, anyway, like the great Maury Maverick, a New Deal congressman from Texas who was so dedicated to freedom that he allowed his cattle to roam unbranded, freely on the range—a tribute to a time when Texans were freer than now in the post-Bush era.

The critic in the audience said that he was no maverick in the usual sense on the ground that he was simply a sidekick. That just about sums it up: Sidekick to the only president we have ever had who lacked any interest in governance.

As we are going through a religious phase in this greatest of all great nations, I am reminded of Chancellor Bismarck’s remark about us Americans in the 19th century when he said: “God looks after drunks, little children and the United States of America.”


Source / truthdig / Posted Oct. 27, 2008

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