Saturday, January 02, 2010

The Real Top Ten Stories of the Past Decade

Oh, yes. A New Year. New Decade. And I'm resuming my (oh, so interesting and important !) postings. In the summer of '08, I rather inexplicably curtailed the level of blogging I had been doing in the past couple years. I simply became more engaged in other activities, and, despite the ensuing Presidential Elections underway, chose to withdraw from commentary, and attempt in the process to gain a broader perspective on the heated up media landscape, all fueled by the anxiety of the political platforms in motion. Basically, I questioned the real value of even doing any writing in this platform. I still raise the question.
So, a few posts, then and again, and time will reveal whether the hiatus was of any benefit or value. I will post those articles of interest to me, and invite any responses.-MS

The Real Top Ten Stories of the Past Decade

by Robert Freeman

The media are awash with talking heads bloviating about the top stories of the last decade. The wired-in society. The growth of organic food. The new frugality. This is the ritual that reveals their true function in the culture: pacification. It's their way of signaling the masses that Bigger Thinkers are looking after things, so go back to your Wii or Survivor or Facebook reveries.

The amazing thing is how little is ever mentioned about the stories that really mattered, those that affected the very nature of our society, its institutions, and the relation of the people to their state and society.

Those stories paint a picture of danger, of a people who have lost control of their government and the corporations that own it. But you'll hear nary a word about such difficult truths from any storyteller in the conventional media.

So here, in no particular order, are my Top Ten Stories of the Naughties, the ones that really matter.

  1. The Supreme Court hijacking the 2000 presidential election. This isn't even a historical controversy anymore. Al Gore won the national popular vote by 570,000. And we now know he would have won the Florida vote as well if the vote counting had not been stopped by the Supreme Court. This was literally a right wing judicial coup d' etat, so it's understandable that it's never mentioned in the "right" kind of circles.
  1. Bush knew of 9/11 long before it actually happened. Three years before Bush took office, the neo-cons' Project For a New American Century called for a "new Pearl Harbor" to galvanize the nation into a war to seize Middle East oil. And even before the event itself, Bush-as-president was warned dozens of times of the imminent attack, the most notorious being the August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing titled, "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S". Amazingly nothing was done to prevent the attack. But even less is it advertised that Bush knew.
  1. Iraq was all premised on lies, yet we're still there. Saddam Hussein wasn't pursuing Weapons of Mass Destruction. He wasn't involved in 9/11. He wasn't engaged with Al Qaeda. As with the 2000 election hijacking, we know all these things. And we know they were false at the time they were proffered. Yet, there we are, with no intent to leave, our very presence spitting in the face of International Law and the international community we so unctuously pretend to respect.
  1. The Global War on Terror. Or more specifically, the ease with which the "GWOT" has replaced the Cold War as the justification for the ever-increasing militarization of society. What happened to the post-Cold War "Peace Dividend"? The U.S continues to spend more on the military than all the rest of the world combined. It continues to maintain over 700 military bases around the world. And it continues to manufacture excuses for foreign interventions whenever weapons makers and military logistics companies need more profits — which is forever.
  1. The fact that 2/3 of all economic growth went to top 1%. John Kennedy's social contract had a rising tide lifting all boats. But over the last decade 2/3 of all economic growth has gone to the top 1% of income earners. Meanwhile the middle class has suffered a $13 trillion writedown in wealth as a result of the housing collapse. The banking bailout and the health care "reform" debate showed as never before the extent to which corporations have captured government and use it to redirect national wealth to themselves and their owners.
  1. The Neo-Feudalization of the American economy. The top 1% of wealth holders own 41% of all the assets in the country while the bottom 40% own absolutely nothing. Meanwhile, workers are saddled with $12 trillion of national debt, an effective indentured servitude that will bind them to their corporate masters for the rest of their lives. This is the working definition of feudalism, where the rich own everything and everybody else has nothing but their proffered labor and their obligations to their masters. The Hapsburgs, the Tudors, and the Bourbons would be jealous.
  1. The surrender of civil liberties. Despite the Fourth Amendment supposedly protecting us against unreasonable searches and seizures, the government can now read your email and listen to your phone calls without any probable cause. The Obama administration has gone to court to prevent the re-institution of Habeas Corpus, suspended during the Bush administration. We are much less free, much less protected from brutalization by our own government than we were just ten years ago.
  1. The failure of "the free market" to sustain prosperity. The "free market" has long been an ideological dodge used to resist real government regulation of the economy. Still, the ideal was supposed to deliver prosperity in a stable, sustainable matter. Now we have the greatest global economic collapse since the Great Depression, with the government transferring $11 trillion to the banks to cover their sociopathically greedy bets that went bust. All in the name of deregulation, with future regulation vigorously resisted. Is this a deranged country or what?
  1. The collapse of the media. We once imagined it would guard the hen house. Yet that was an anomaly, a freak event around Vietnam and Watergate when it slipped its leash. Since then, sixty independent media outlets have consolidated into five, all retailing the ideology of the powerful, the perpetrators, laundering their lies, covering up the truth, and harassing the truth tellers. In every story mentioned above, the mainstream media have worked to ensure that the people didn't know the truth about the forfeiture of their government, their wealth, their security, and their rights.
  1. The meaninglessness of elections. This is the most embittering revelation of all. Despite the greatest electoral majority since Johnson crushed Goldwater in '64, Barrack Obama has betrayed everything he ran on. In every case where he had the opportunity to confront power — in financial bailouts, financial regulation, health care, wars and military spending, utilities and global warming, national surveillance — Obama has sided with the rich and powerful against the interests of the American people. He has probably engendered more cynicism, more disaffection with government than any president since Richard Nixon. It will deal a staggering blow to the hopes of mobilizing masses of people again for a real takeback of government. And he's not even one year into it.

History paints decades with broad brushes-the Roaring Twenties, The Depression, World War II. Historians will look back on the Naughts as the time when Americans Lost Their Country. It was the decade when all the institutions that they believed would protect them — the media, the courts, Congress, the market, a messianic new president — in fact betrayed them. It will forever more be a different country.

But not just yet. Did I tell you about the big move to locally-grown produce?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Filmmaker Magazine 25 New Faces of Independent Film

Filmmaker Magazine's 25 New Faces of Independent Film

Here are the new filmmmaker faces that you've not heard of...yet...

Every year, this announcemnet is heralded as the new turks or new crop of indie cinmeatic voices. Some may reveal themselves to really bring a fresh voice to the screen, while others invariably fade away, and often not due to their own efforts, but simply because the film industry eats their young, whether through lack of funding on their projects, or the ever changing demands of distribution and their films die on the vine.

No matter what the case, these are filmmakers worth discovering....and may even come to a theatre near you...or DVD, or VOD, or, or....

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sundance or Tribeca....

From, and Andrew O'Hehir, who writes on independent film. My comments are at bottom, in response to letter writers about his article. -ms

Across its eight erratic years of existence, the Tribeca Film Festival -- which opened its slim and trim, Second Great Depression-era 2009 edition on Wednesday night with the premiere of Woody Allen's "Whatever Works" -- has largely succeeded in drawing large audiences and establishing its reputation as one of the film world's headline-making events. Whether that reputation is deserved, and what Tribeca's core identity is (or should be) are murkier questions.

Questions about Tribeca's future, and how the competition within the fraternal and fratricidal little world of film festivals might shake out, were thrown into sharp relief by a recent bout of backstage intrigue that set film bloggers and other insiders atwitter. Geoffrey Gilmore, the longtime director of the Sundance Film Festival, abruptly resigned that job on Feb. 17, moving to New York as chief creative officer of Tribeca Enterprises, the entity that operates the festival and related "branded-entertainment businesses and initiatives." Oddly, Tribeca's press release announcing Gilmore's arrival went out that morning, several hours before Sundance confirmed that he was leaving. This was likely just a routine public-relations snafu, but heightened the long-standing perception that no love is lost between the two festivals.

It took less than two weeks for Tribeca's artistic director since 2003, veteran world-cinema maven Peter Scarlet, to depart for a new gig at the Middle East International Film Festival in Abu Dhabi. (The Persian Gulf emirates are now home to several large and well-funded film festivals; Tribeca, in fact, operates a satellite festival in Qatar.) Not long after that, John Cooper, Gilmore's longtime deputy, was named to succeed his former boss at Robert Redford's Sundance festival -- whose status as the mecca of American independent film seemed, at least potentially, in question -- and the game of musical chairs was complete.

At least in its general outlines, the whole thing sounds pretty juicy. A throwdown between two Hollywood heavyweights, Sundance founder Redford and Tribeca co-founder Robert De Niro! The laid-back, luxury-skiwear mode of the Wasatch slopes vs. the multitasking, Armani-clad bad attitude of the Big Apple! In defecting from the Utah mountains to Gotham, would Gilmore bring the Indiewood mojo of Park City -- and a wave of superior films and directors -- across the country with him? Despite its success at self-marketing, Tribeca has struggled since its inception to establish a coherent identity. Has it finally found one as the new Sundance?

Well, maybe. But my vote is on probably not. Conversations with people who have worked at one or both festivals suggest that while there's definitely some sense of rivalry between Sundance and Tribeca, they're nowhere near a shooting war. John Cooper, the new Sundance director, says that increased competition for premieres of major films -- not just with Tribeca, but also with Toronto, South by Southwest and other festivals -- can only benefit filmmakers. "We have a lot of legacy and a lot of mythology behind us," he says. "I'm not too worried about whether we're going to get the highest caliber of films. But I kind of like the competition. When we were the only game in town, it wasn't serving the filmmaking community."

No doubt Gilmore's arrival and Scarlet's departure mark the next phase of Tribeca's long-running quest to define itself. But as one industry source put it, "It isn't as simple as saying that Geoff came in and forced Peter out. You could say that it was all part of the same process: Peter started to see that he wasn't a good fit with Tribeca anymore, and Geoff's arrival was part of that. But Geoff isn't taking Peter's job, and those who believe that Tribeca will suddenly become Sundance because Geoff is there are just wrong."

Gilmore's role at Tribeca, in fact, is not entirely clear. He holds a newly created senior executive position, in charge of an unspecified "global content strategy" that's likely to include digital distribution ventures and the Qatar festival, among other projects. According to people who know him well, he doesn't want to run a festival anymore and isn't supposed to be hands-on with Tribeca programming. On the other hand, whoever does wind up running the festival on a daily basis will, in all likelihood, report to him.

Anyway, no matter how well-liked Gilmore is by filmmakers and how strongly he's identified with Sundance, that festival will be Redford's as long as he lives. Gilmore's track record and personality are probably not sufficient to cajole Paul Thomas Anderson and Quentin Tarantino to bring their world premieres to a festival with a brief and bewildering history instead of, say, to Sundance or Cannes or Toronto. (At this writing, it's not clear whether any one person will fill Scarlet's Tribeca post, although many observers suggest that the festival's highly regarded programming director, David Kwok, may take a more central role.)

In asking what Tribeca is, one might well turn the question around, in Socratic fashion, and ask what the hell it isn't. At various times, Tribeca has been viewed as a philanthropic community venture, a paparazzi-friendly spectacle of red-carpet starfucking, a hometown party for the Manhattan-based independent-film industry, a marketplace (albeit a notably unsuccessful one), a spring dating-and-networking event for young New York professionals, and a broad and esoteric showcase of world cinema. "It's a very schizophrenic festival, and that goes back to its inception," said one person who has worked with both Tribeca and Sundance. "There's a lot of ambition there, and a lot of good programming. But it's a festival that has tried to be all things to all people and pretty much lacks a sense of what it is or what it wants to be."

One thing Tribeca did very quickly was become really, really big. The festival was put together fast in 2002 by actor Robert De Niro, producer Jane Rosenthal and investor-philanthropist Craig Hatkoff (who is Rosenthal's husband), officially as a means of restarting the lower Manhattan economy after the 9/11 attacks. While there's no reason to doubt the trio's community spirit, it's clear in retrospect that De Niro and Rosenthal had been contemplating launching a new film festival in New York for some time, and the wake of 9/11 presented a unique marketing opportunity. After their first chaotic year, when almost no one in the organization had festival experience, they hired Scarlet -- who'd had a long and successful tenure at the San Francisco International Film Festival and a shorter, tumultuous one at the Cinémathèque Française in Paris -- and handed him the keys.

That original goal, along with the festival's eponymous downtown neighborhood, were left far behind as Tribeca rode a seemingly booming economy and an attendant explosion of independent-film production deep into the George W. Bush years. By 2006, Tribeca was screening an unmanageable and seemingly uncurated roster of 170-odd feature films (along with numerous shorts) at venues all over Manhattan, making it one of the world's largest and sprawliest festivals. A year later, hubris was in full effect. "We should become, if not the dominant festival, then one of the great festivals of all time," co-founder Hatkoff told the Hollywood Reporter in 2007, while Rosenthal made clear that Tribeca's goal was to be the fifth major event on a calendar that also includes Sundance, Cannes, Toronto and Venice.

While bigness, status and importance can be useful marketing concepts -- especially in New York, home to the Yankees, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the financial industry and other not-so-widely-loved institutions built on excessive enormousness -- they don't signify an aesthetics or a sensibility. As I and many other journalists have complained in public and in private, programming throughout the Scarlet era was wildly hit-and-miss, with the accent on the miss. (Among publicists, critics and reporters, the admittedly cruel term "Tri-dreck-a" is not unknown.) At least when the festival booked red-carpet premieres of "Spider-Man 3" and "Speed Racer," you knew what you were getting and why it was there. But I can't tell you how many mediocre Amerindie clunkers I've sat through in the cavernous Tribeca Performing Arts Center, presented as major weekend premieres because of the presence of a B-list celebrity or two.

On the other hand, those overstuffed, bubble-economy Tribeca lineups allowed Scarlet to bring in piles of unlikely art movies from all over the globe, things you'd never heard of before and would never see again. Personally, I'll accept having suffered through Adam Carolla's star turn as a 40-year-old Olympic boxer in "The Hammer," or the ick-making love affair between Alec Baldwin and Sarah Michelle Gellar in "Suburban Girl," since I also got to see a tremendous Egyptian soap opera called "The Yacoubian Building" and a hypnotic Beirut-set thriller called "The Last Man" that must be the slowest-paced serial-killer movie in history.

"Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall," as the Good Book instructs us, and as of April 2009 Tribeca's schemes for world domination seem to be on hold. Of course, the fall that has brought Tribeca's lineup down to 85 or so features this year -- half the 2006 total -- is one that has downsized the rest of us too. The Hollywood red-carpet premieres are pretty much gone with the wind, unless you count such relatively low-wattage phenomena as Allen's opening-night film, Spike Lee's basketball documentary "Kobe Doin' Work" and "My Life in Ruins," the new vehicle for "Big Fat Greek Wedding" star and creator Nia Vardalos.

"The reasons why Tribeca has downsized this year are 90 percent economic," said one festival insider, "but anytime you can do some more self-editing, some more curation, it's a good thing." This is a festival that badly needs to find its soul, you might say. While that period when Scarlet seemingly flung anything and everything up there on the screen -- and I know him well enough to know that he knew a lot of those movies were crap -- yielded some interesting surprises, it didn't do the Tribeca brand any favors.

This year's lineup still bears Scarlet's fingerprints, with an intriguing selection of international art films, most notably from the Middle East and East Asia. (I'll post a preview of Tribeca's most interesting offerings on Friday.) That may well change. Several observers suggest that Rosenthal and De Niro became dissatisfied with Scarlet's "esoteric" tastes over the long haul and gradually nudged him aside. Gilmore's arrival may indeed signal that they want to move Tribeca back toward a more conventional film-festival identity, built around premieres of mid-budget, independent American film. While that might sound logical on the face of things, I suspect it's a poor survival strategy for a severe recession.

Tribeca is unlikely to prevail in a direct competition with Sundance for the hottest indie premieres, and it definitively lacks the DIY community spirit that has made South by Southwest the go-to festival for ultra-low-budget filmmakers with no expectations of a theatrical release. Right now it's a festival that serves several different incongruous niches. It's a terrific showcase for American documentaries (having premiered the Oscar-winning "Taxi to the Dark Side" and the Oscar-nominated "Jesus Camp," among many others). It hosts the country's best mini-festival of sports films, which began as an ESPN sponsorship deal but has gotten more interesting every year. It serves Scarlet-esque Manhattan cinephiles who want to see Ukrainian and Tunisian films, and Twitterized Manhattan scene-makers who want to be where the action is.

Presumably Gilmore and the new Tribeca regime hope to craft an identity that creates something holistic from those miscellaneous pieces, but what that might be and how to get there remain mysterious. "I'll tell you what Tribeca has done," said one observer. "They've sold a hell of a lot of tickets in New York City. They've proved that there's room for a big, populist festival that isn't elitist" -- in other words, that isn't Lincoln Center's New York Film Festival. "They've got the biggest media market in the country and a ton of potential sponsorship dollars, even in a recession. They're not going to beat Cannes or Sundance at their own game. They're just not, and they shouldn't even try. But there's plenty to work with there, and Geoff Gilmore wouldn't have taken that job if he didn't see that."

** ** **
In response to several letters posted by others, at,, I wrote:

The previous posts seem to not have even read the article at all!

Films are really in trouble, to say nothing about Sundance or Tribeca, not from fest organizers, or filmmakers, if the previous posters are any indication, as they blather about hair, wrinkles, all superficial nonsense, or how many films are being shown, etc. Has any of them even been to either, or any, film festivals?!
What matters is the film, pure and simple. I didn't see anyone talk about the FILMS! To be certain, Tribeca arose from the post-9/11 ashes, and we are better for it; it's NY-centric, even populist, by origin. It's "We Heart NY". Scarlet or Gillmore, it's still in it's brash infancy. It isn't, and can't be, the venerated NY Film Festival at Lincoln Center, let alone Sundance - it's apples and pears.
Sundance - despite up/down years, is everyone's favorite whipping boy, and memories are too short, or even non-existent, judging again from the previous posters' comments. Their criticisms are feeble, and fatuous. Sundance has been the most significant forum and venue for indie film in America. One doesn't have to see or like any or all of them. Festivals by their nature are proving grounds, pushing boundaries, and by their merit demonstrate the vitality of filmmaking - or lack thereof. No one expects all the films to be Boffo Box Makers, and truth is, there are too many festivals, anyhow. Besides, no one has a crystal ball. H-wood rolls the dice everytime, with no guarantees.
Sundance has spawned Slamdance, Nodance, etc. Even the much beloved Telluride doesn't/can't do what Sundance atttempts, and vice-versa. What's vital is the creative spark it lights, not the accountants who add the box office. O'Hehir rightly sees the tabloid dustup being tossed for what it is, silly, and what the real issues, beyond the big personalities, are: the quality, and future, of film, whether festival identity, or theatrical distribution challenges (which are more important and pressing), and that's how it's always been. The "Industry" has bigger problems/issues than size of red-carpet, or the glitterati posing and preening.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

SXSW Film Festival

I'm at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas! The capital city is a hub of film and media development and befitting Texas, a rich and wild town, proud of it's history and even more intent on its future. I'll be examining and reviewing the three legs of the Fest - film, interactive media, and music, posting reviews and encounters, the scenes of Austin. As thousands of cinephiles, musicians, and the uber-geekdom of interactive media (gaming, etc.) coalesce, the emerging cultural stew is set to create a "state of the art" as only "South By..." does.
Along with attempting to absorb nine days of film, one can't swing a guitar around without hitting a musician as over 1800 bands are performing in the myriad venues all over town, for a five day blast of sound and fury. Stay tuned.....

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Who Is Bill Ayers and Why He Was Used by the McCain/Palin Campaign

Bill Ayers looks back on a surreal campaign season.

The saga of Bill Ayers, poster radical for the McCain/Palin campaign, but before them the Clinton campaign, too, is a painful reminder the political and culture wars of the 60's still reach deeply in the psyche of the US political landscape. The notoriety he gained from his participation with the Weather Underground made him - and that agit-prop group - a sitting duck for criticism, scapegoating, and easily exploited in the effort to discredit Barack Obama. The 'price' he has paid - is huge, as is the cost to the very society and system that continues to mask and conceal the military violence that is paraded around as "patriotism". Here, Ayers speaks out - yet again - on the reality of his actual participation and the statement about our society today. The hopeful aspect is in the repudiation of the tactics used against Obama by resurrecting and distorting the 60's and the political movements of the day, and to bring the focus on each of us taking responsibility for our actions to seek and realize social justice. - MS

Whew! What was all that mess? I'm still in a daze, sorting it all out, decompressing.
Pass the Vitamin C.
For the past few years, I have gone about my business, hanging out with my kids and, now, my grandchildren, taking care of our elders (they moved in as the kids moved out), going to work, teaching and writing. And every day, I participate in the never-ending effort to build a powerful and irresistible movement for peace and social justice.
In years past, I would now and then - often unpredictably - appear in the newspapers or on TV, sometimes with a reference to Fugitive Days, my 2001 memoir of the exhilarating and difficult years of resistance against the American war in Vietnam. It was a time when the world was in flames, revolution was in the air, and the serial assassinations of black leaders disrupted our utopian dreams.
These media episodes of fleeting notoriety always led to some extravagant and fantastic assertions about what I did, what I might have said and what I probably believe now.
It was always a bit surreal. Then came this political season.
During the primary, the blogosphere was full of chatter about my relationship with President-elect Barack Obama. We had served together on the board of the Woods Foundation and knew one another as neighbors in Chicago's Hyde Park. In 1996, at a coffee gathering that my wife, Bernardine Dohrn, and I held for him, I made a $200 donation to his campaign for the Illinois State Senate.
Obama's political rivals and enemies thought they saw an opportunity to deepen a dishonest perception that he is somehow un-American, alien, linked to radical ideas, a closet terrorist who sympathizes with extremism - and they pounced.
Sen. Hillary Clinton's (D-N.Y.) campaign provided the script, which included guilt by association, demonization of people Obama knew (or might have known), creepy questions about his background and dark hints about hidden secrets yet to be uncovered.
On March 13, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), apparently in an attempt to reassure the base,- sat down for an interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News. McCain was not yet aware of the narrative Hannity had been spinning for months, and so Hannity filled him in: Ayers is an unrepentant "terrorist," he explained, "On 9/11, of all days, he had an article where he bragged about bombing our Pentagon, bombing the Capitol and bombing New York City police headquarters. ... He said, 'I regret not doing more.'"
McCain couldn't believe it.
Neither could I.
On the campaign trail, McCain immediately got on message. I became a prop, a cartoon character created to be pummeled.
When Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin got hold of it, the attack went viral. At a now-famous Oct. 4 rally, she said Obama was Ïpallin' around with terrorists.- (I pictured us sharing a milkshake with two straws.)
The crowd began chanting, "Kill him!" "Kill him"- It was downhill from there.
My voicemail filled up with hate messages. They were mostly from men, all venting and sweating and breathing heavily. A few threats: "Watch out!" and "You deserve to be shot." And some e-mails, like this one I got from "I'm coming to get you and when I do, I'll water-board you."
The police lieutenant who came to copy down those threats deadpanned that he hoped the guy who was going to shoot me got there before the guy who was going to water-board me, since it would be most foul to be tortured and then shot. (We have been pals ever since he was first assigned to investigate threats made against me in 1987, after I was hired as an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.)
The good news was that every time McCain or Palin mentioned my name, they lost a point or two in the polls. The cartoon invented to hurt Obama was now poking holes in the rapidly sinking McCain-Palin ship.
That '60s Show
On Aug. 28, Stephen Colbert, the faux right-wing commentator from Comedy Central who channels Bill O'Reilly on steroids, observed:
To this day, when our country holds a presidential election, we judge the candidates through the lens of the 1960s. ... We all know Obama is cozy with William Ayers a '60s radical who planted a bomb in the capital building and then later went on to even more heinous crimes by becoming a college professor. ... Let us keep fighting the culture wars of our grandparents. The '60s are a political gift that keeps on giving.
It was inevitable. McCain would bet the house on a dishonest and largely discredited vision of the '60s, which was the defining decade for him. He built his political career on being a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
The '60s - as myth and symbol - is much abused: the downfall of civilization in one account, a time of defeat and humiliation in a second, and a perfect moment of righteous opposition, peace and love in a third.
The idea that the 2008 election may be the last time in American political life that the '60s plays any role whatsoever is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, let's get over the nostalgia and move on. On the other, the lessons we might have learned from the black freedom movement and from the resistance against the Vietnam War have never been learned. To achieve this would require that we face history fully and honestly, something this nation has never done.
The war in Vietnam was an illegal invasion and occupation, much of it conducted as a war of terror against the civilian population. The U.S. military killed millions of Vietnamese in air raids - like the one conducted by McCain - and entire areas of the country were designated free-fire zones, where American pilots indiscriminately dropped surplus ordinance - an immoral enterprise by any measure.
What Is Really Important
McCain and Palin - or as our late friend Studs Terkel put it, "Joe McCarthy in drag" - would like to bury the '60s. The '60s, after all, was a time of rejecting obedience and conformity in favor of initiative and courage. The '60s pushed us to a deeper appreciation of the humanity of every human being. And that is the threat it poses to the right wing, hence the attacks and all the guilt by association.
McCain and Palin demanded to "know the full extent" of the Obama-Ayers "relationship" so that they can know if Obama, as Palin put it, "is telling the truth to the American people or not."
This is just plain stupid.
Obama has continually been asked to defend something that ought to be at democracy's heart: the importance of talking to as many people as possible in this complicated and wildly diverse society, of listening with the possibility of learning something new, and of speaking with the possibility of persuading or influencing others.
The McCain-Palin attacks not only involved guilt by association, they also assumed that one must apply a political litmus test to begin a conversation.
On Oct. 4, Palin described her supporters as those who "see America as the greatest force for good in this world" and as a "beacon of light and hope for others who seek freedom and democracy." But Obama, she said, "Is not a man who sees America as you see it and how I see America." In other words, there are "real" Americans - and then there are the rest of us.
In a robust and sophisticated democracy, political leaders - and all of us - ought to seek ways to talk with many people who hold dissenting, or even radical, ideas. Lacking that simple and yet essential capacity to question authority, we might still be burning witches and enslaving our fellow human beings today.
Maybe we could welcome our current situation - torn by another illegal war, as it was in the '60s - as an opportunity to search for the new.
Perhaps we might think of ourselves not as passive consumers of politics but as fully mobilized political actors. Perhaps we might think of our various efforts now, as we did then, as more than a single campaign, but rather as our movement-in-the-making.
We might find hope in the growth of opposition to war and occupation worldwide. Or we might be inspired by the growing movements for reparations and prison abolition, or the rising immigrant rights movement and the stirrings of working people everywhere, or by gay and lesbian and transgender people courageously pressing for full recognition.
Yet hope - my hope, our hope - resides in a simple self-evident truth: the future is unknown, and it is also entirely unknowable.
History is always in the making. It's up to us. It is up to me and to you. Nothing is predetermined. That makes our moment on this earth both hopeful and all the more urgent - we must find ways to become real actors, to become authentic subjects in our own history.
We may not be able to will a movement into being, but neither can we sit idly for a movement to spring full-grown, as from the head of Zeus.
We have to agitate for democracy and egalitarianism, press harder for human rights, learn to build a new society through our self-transformations and our limited everyday struggles.
At the turn of the last century, Eugene Debs, the great Socialist Party leader from Terre Haute, Ind., told a group of workers in Chicago, "If I could lead you into the Promised Land, I would not do it, because someone else would come along and lead you
In this time of new beginnings and rising expectations, it is even more urgent that we figure out how to become the people we have been waiting to be.
Bill Ayers is a Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the author of "Fugitive Days" (Beacon) and co-author, with Bernardine Dohrn, of "Race Course: Against White Supremacy" (Third World Press).

Saturday, November 01, 2008

It Is Now Absolutely Crystal Clear That Republican Rule Is Dangerous and Authoritarian

By John Dean,

November 1, 2008
Republicans rule, rather than govern, when they are in power by imposing their authoritarian conservative philosophy on everyone, as their answer for everything. This works for them because their interest is in power, and in what it can do for those who think as they do. Ruling, of course, must be distinguished from governing, which is a more nuanced process that entails give-and-take and the kind of compromises that are often necessary to find a consensus and solutions that will best serve the interests of all Americans.
Republicans' authoritarian rule can also be characterized by its striking incivility and intolerance toward those who do not view the world as Republicans do. Their insufferable attitude is not dangerous in itself, but it is employed to accomplish what they want, which it to take care of themselves and those who work to keep them in power.
Authoritarian conservatives are primarily anti-government, except where they believe the government can be useful to impose moral or social order (for example, with respect to matters like abortion, prayer in schools, or prohibiting sexually-explicit information from public view). Similarly, Republicans' limited-government attitude does not apply regarding national security, where they feel there can never be too much government activity - nor are the rights and liberties of individuals respected when national security is involved. Authoritarian Republicans do oppose the government interfering with markets and the economy, however -- and generally oppose the government's doing anything to help anyone they feel should be able to help themselves.
In my book Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive and Judicial Branches, I set forth the facts regarding the consequences of the Republicans' controlling government for too many years. No Republican -- nor anyone else, for that matter -- has refuted these facts, and for good reason: They are irrefutable.

The McCain/Palin Ticket Perfectly Fits the Authoritarian Conservative Mold
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Senator John McCain and Governor Sarah Palin, the Republican candidates, have shown themselves to be unapologetic and archetypical authoritarian conservatives. Indeed, their campaign has warmed the hearts of fellow authoritarians, who applaud them for their negativity, nastiness, and dishonest ploys and only criticize them for not offering more of the same.
The McCain/Palin campaign has assumed a typical authoritarian posture: The candidates provide no true, specific proposals to address America's needs. Rather, they simply ask voters to "trust us" and suggest that their opponents - Senators Barack Obama and Joe Biden - are not "real Americans" like McCain, Palin, and the voters they are seeking to court. Accordingly, McCain and Plain have called Obama "a socialist," "a redistributionist," "a Marxist," and "a communist" - without a shred of evidence to support their name-calling, for these terms are pejorative, rather than in any manner descriptive. This is the way authoritarian leaders operate.
In my book Conservatives Without Conscience, I set forth the traits of authoritarian leaders and followers, which have been distilled from a half-century of empirical research, during which thousands of people have voluntarily been interviewed by social scientists. The touch points in these somewhat-overlapping lists of character traits provide a clear picture of the characters of both John McCain and Sarah Palin.
McCain, especially, fits perfectly as an authoritarian leader. Such leaders possess most, if not all, of these traits:
* dominating
* opposes equality
* desirous of personal power
* amoral
* intimidating and bullying
* faintly hedonistic
* vengeful
* pitiless
* exploitive
* manipulative
* dishonest
* cheats to win
* highly prejudiced (racist, sexist, homophobic)
* mean-spirited
* militant
* nationalistic
* tells others what they want to hear
* takes advantage of "suckers"
* specializes in creating false images to sell self
* may or may not be religious
* usually politically and economically conservative/Republican
Incidentally, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney also can be described by these well-defined and typical traits -- which is why a McCain presidency is so likely to be nearly identical to a Bush presidency.
Clearly, Sarah Palin also has some qualities typical of authoritarian leaders, not to mention almost all of the traits found among authoritarian followers. Specifically, such followers can be described as follows:
* submissive to authority
* aggressive on behalf of authority
* highly conventional in their behavior
* highly religious
* possessing moderate to little education
* trusting of untrustworthy authorities
* prejudiced (particularly against homosexuals and followers of religions other than their own)
* mean-spirited
* narrow-minded
* intolerant
* bullying
* zealous
* dogmatic
* uncritical toward chosen authority
* hypocritical
* inconsistent and contradictory
* prone to panic easily
* highly self-righteous
* moralistic
* strict disciplinarians
* severely punitive
* demanding loyalty and returning it
* possessing little self-awareness
* usually politically and economically conservative/Republican
The leading authority on right-wing authoritarianism, a man who devoted his career to developing hard empirical data about these people and their beliefs, is Robert Altemeyer. Altemeyer, a social scientist based in Canada, flushed out these typical character traits in decades of testing.
Altemeyer believes about 25 percent of the adult population in the United States is solidly authoritarian (with that group mostly composed of followers, and a small percentage of potential leaders). It is in these ranks of some 70 million that we find the core of the McCain/Palin supporters. They are people who are, in Altemeyer's words, are "so self-righteous, so ill-informed, and so dogmatic that nothing you can say or do will change their minds."
The Problem with Electing Authoritarian Conservatives
What is wrong with being an authoritarian conservative? Well, if you want to take the country where they do, nothing. "They would march America into a dictatorship and probably feel that things had improved as a result," Altemeyer told me. "The problem is that these authoritarian followers are much more active than the rest of the country. They have the mentality of 'old-time religion' on a crusade, and they generously give money, time and effort to the cause. They proselytize; they lick stamps; they put pressure on loved ones; and they revel in being loyal to a cohesive group of like thinkers. And they are so submissive to their leaders that they will believe and do virtually anything they are told. They are not going to let up and they are not going to go away."
I would nominate McCain's "Joe the Plumber" as a new poster-boy of the authoritarian followers. He is a believer, and he has signed on. On November 4, 2008, we will learn how many more Americans will join the ranks of the authoritarians.
Frankly, the fact that the pre-election polls are close - after eight years of authoritarian leadership from Bush and Cheney, and given its disastrous results -- shows that many Americans either do not realize where a McCain/Palin presidency might take us, or they are happy to go there. Frankly, it scares the hell out of me, for there is only one way to deal with these conservative zealots: Keep them out of power.
This election should be a slam dunk for Barack Obama, who has run a masterful campaign. It was no small undertaking winning the nomination from Hillary Clinton, and in doing so, he has shown without any doubt (in my mind anyway) that he is not only qualified to be president, but that he might be a once-in-a-lifetime leader who can forever change the nation and the world for the better.
If Obama is rejected on November 4th for another authoritarian conservative like McCain, I must ask if Americans are sufficiently intelligent to competently govern themselves. I can understand authoritarian conservatives voting for McCain, for they know no better. It is well-understood that most everyone votes with his or her heart, not his or her head. Polls show that 81 percent of Americans "feel" (in their hearts and their heads) that our country is going the wrong way. How could anyone with such thoughts and feelings vote for more authoritarian conservatism, which has done so much to take the nation in the wrong direction?
We will all find out on (or about) November 5th.
John W. Dean, a FindLaw columnist, is a former counsel to President Nixon.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Shock Doctrine exchange on Bill Maher

Naomi Klein discusses recent bailouts of Wall Street titans on Real Time with Bill Maher. Sept. 19, 2008

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Now is the Time to Resist Wall Street's Shock Doctrine

Not alone, but clearly the most articulate critic of globalization, with her book No Logo, and last year's breakthrough critique Shock Doctrine, she now urges the public to stand forcefully and resist the blank check proposals being rushed through the Capital, with the fallout of the Wall Street implosion still unfolding. Along with Barbara Ehrenreich, she addresses the root causes of economic injustice and disparity as we are now unavoidably seeing the harvest of the greed and avarice in the monied, investor class that has been running unfettered and unregulated. The chickens have come home to roost, or is it their eggs have hatched and they are not a pretty sight. - MS

Disaster Capitalism in Action
Naomi Klein, Huffington Post, September 22, 2008
I wrote The Shock Doctrine in the hopes that it would make us all better prepared for the next big shock. Well, that shock has certainly arrived, along with gloves-off attempts to use it to push through radical pro-corporate policies (which of course will further enrich the very players who created the market crisis in the first place...).The best summary of how the right plans to use the economic crisis to push through their policy wish list comes from Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich. On Sunday, Gingrich laid out 18 policy prescriptions for Congress to take in order to "return to a Reagan-Thatcher policy of economic growth through fundamental reforms." In the midst of this economic crisis, he is actually demanding the repeal of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which would lead to further deregulation of the financial industry. Gingrich is also calling for reforming the education system to allow "competition" (a.k.a. vouchers), strengthening border enforcement, cutting corporate taxes and his signature move: allowing offshore drilling.It would be a grave mistake to underestimate the right's ability to use this crisis -- created by deregulation and privatization -- to demand more of the same. Don't forget that Newt Gingrich's 527 organization, American Solutions for Winning the Future, is still riding the wave of success from its offshore drilling campaign, "Drill Here, Drill Now!" Just four months ago, offshore drilling was not even on the political radar and now the U.S. House of Representatives has passed supportive legislation. Gingrich is holding an event this Saturday, September 27 that will be broadcast on satellite television to shore up public support for these controversial policies.What Gingrich's wish list tells us is that the dumping of private debt into the public coffers is only stage one of the current shock. The second comes when the debt crisis currently being created by this bailout becomes the excuse to privatize social security, lower corporate taxes and cut spending on the poor. A President McCain would embrace these policies willingly. A President Obama would come under huge pressure from the think tanks and the corporate media to abandon his campaign promises and embrace austerity and "free-market stimulus."We have seen this many times before, in this country and around the world. But here's the thing: these opportunistic tactics can only work if we let them. They work when we respond to crisis by regressing, wanting to believe in "strong leaders" - even if they are the same strong leaders who used the September 11 attacks to push through the Patriot Act and launch the illegal war in Iraq.So let's be absolutely clear: there are no saviors who are going to look out for us in this crisis. Certainly not Henry Paulson, former CEO of Goldman Sachs, one of the companies that will benefit most from his proposed bailout (which is actually a stick up). The only hope of preventing another dose of shock politics is loud, organized grassroots pressure on all political parties: they have to know right now that after seven years of Bush, Americans are becoming shock resistant.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Infinitely Sad

Of all the writers from the past 10-15 years, Wallace not only stands out, he jumps beyond the bounds of common understanding. His death leaves me sad, bewildered, and a voice has been snuffed, at a time the culture needs it more than ever. - MS
Infinitely Sad
David Foster Wallace, self-absorbed genius.
By Troy Patterson
David Foster Wallace began his review of John Updike's Toward the End of Time by classing Updike, along with Philip Roth and Norman Mailer, as "the Great Male Narcissists who've dominated postwar American fiction." The word narcissist isn't strictly disapproving there. One reason that the piece, 10 years after its publication, remains more memorable than its ostensible object is that Wallace offhandedly engaged the "radical self-absorption" of this Greatest Generation of Quality Lit—"probably the single most self-absorbed generation since Louis XIV"—in a complicated way. He saw that narcissism as the force both animating moving prose and repelling younger readers in its involute explorations. He imagined—in a gorgeous little gesture of telescoped perspective—how things might appear to the GMNs, "in their senescence": "It must seem to them no coincidence that the prospect of their own deaths appears backlit by the approaching millennium and online predictions of the death of the novel as we know it. When a solipsist dies, after all, everything goes with him."
Of the three older writers, Wallace most closely resembled Mailer. Both earned their celebrity and electric esteem—becoming not just famous writers but author-heroes—on the strength of maximalist novels of ambition-announcing bulk and scope (Mailer's The Naked and the Dead, Wallace's Infinite Jest). And both produced nonfiction so bold and inventive as to surpass their achievements as novelists. As a journalist, Wallace, who died in a suicide last Friday at the age of 46, left American literature with a body of work as fine as any produced in America in the last two decades.
His own self-absorption played no small part in the achievement. In his fiction, Wallace drew on the examples of Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, and their less famous peers in an attempt to invest Postmodernist high jinks with pathos—to give soul to novels about novels. The journalism shows him as practitioner of metafiction not merely by trade but by fundamental inclination. The implicit premise of his reporting is that reporting the stories behind and around and beneath the story is an essential part of reporting the story. You could say that he always intruded on these pieces—loudly announcing his methods, coughing just a touch coyly at the process of writing a piece for "a swanky East-Coast magazine," stage-whispering to his editors, and appending his own doubts, anxieties, and second thoughts (of which there were usually plenty) as both a writer and a human.
Mailer, striding through Armies of the Night in the third person, was, even at his most unsparingly buffoonish, a royal presence. Wallace's autobiographical I, whether writing about tennis, porn, television, or John McCain, was humble, curious, always on high alert for glinting irony, and consistently ingratiating in practicing a strain of confessionalism that was somehow ego-abasing. The I was frequently to be seen sweating heavily in its nervousness, a condition exacerbated by its frequent worrying about serving the reader by working to get at that most un-Postmodern abstraction: the truth. Naturally, then, the nerves would be part of the article, each "self-indulgent twinge of neurotic projection" emerging as a figure in a sweeping interior landscape. It requires a fair deal of writerly nuance and human understanding to pull off such shenanigans without achieving instant audience alienation. Do not try this at home.
That "twinge" line above is from the title piece of Wallace's first essay collection, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, an account of a week of strenuous relaxation on a luxury cruise line first published in Harper's in 1996. In its Balzac-like detail and fervent curiosity—Midwestern skepticism gone to Northeastern grad school—the article was an instant classic. It stands as the second work in a trilogy of what you might undersell as travel pieces or exalt as insightful tours into all-American pleasure domes. Two year before, Harper's ran "Getting Away From Pretty Much Being Away From It All," in which the writer, who grew up on the outskirts of Urbana, Ill., went back to Illinois for its state fair and, without condescension, threw new light on what we're doing when we amuse ourselves with such a "self-consciously Special occasion of connection."
David Foster Wallace in a 1997 excerpt from The Charlie Rose Show:

In 2004, the editors of Gourmet, doubtlessly expecting another further late-model Tocqueville-izing, sent Wallace to the Maine Lobster Festival. He sent back an essay on "the whole animal-cruelty-and-eating issue" so acute and supple in its consideration of uneasy questions about aesthetics and morality that it ranks as a must-read for anyone even thinking of having dinner. In memorializing a writer who has killed himself, there is an impulse—wholly human and totally ghoulish—to rifle through the work in search of clues and cries and suicide footnotes, and in the case of Wallace, the rifling requires no strain. (Like any smart writer aspiring to greatness, despair was a regular theme, and "A Supposedly Fun Thing …" got some of its considerable energy from the author's association of "the ocean with dread and death." Despair, he wrote, is "wanting to jump overboard.") But if you must dwell on pain and suffering, why not pay the man tribute by reading the Gourmet essay, the title piece in Consider the Lobster. It's about boiling lobsters. It's about the neurological capacities of crustaceans and the spiraling motions of the human mind. It's not a tract, just an argument guided by a sure sense of "moral duty," and Wallace's achievement was to make thinking about the facts of Postmodern life, and thinking about thinking about them, one of the keenest pleasures of being alive.Troy Patterson is Slate's television critic.
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Friday, August 29, 2008

To Shrink Government So Much We Will Drown It In A Bathtub

Greg Anrig on Grover Norquist's "Leave Us Alone"
Conservative policy ideas have failed again and again. Who will tell the Grover?

A 2005 New Yorker profile aptly described Grover G. Norquist as the conservative coalition’s “ringleader, visionary, and enforcer.” As head of the advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform since 1985, Norquist relentlessly pushed disparate factions on the right to cooperate in electing Republicans at all levels of government and in killing the careers of politicians who dodged or broke his signature “no-new-taxes” pledge. Because Norquist’s ascent to power coincided with the conservative movement’s domination of American politics, when he speaks, everyone across the ideological spectrum listens.Norquist wrote his new book, Leave Us Alone: Getting the Government’s Hands Off Our Money, Our Guns, Our Lives, to lay out his roadmap for his “Leave us Alone Coalition to continue its progress toward Jefferson’s vision of the self-reliant, independent American—toward a free society where everyone lives off the earnings of no man but himself.” But with the conservative era apparently on the verge of collapsing in November, Norquist’s book is more illuminating as a resource for understanding why his movement’s resounding political successes ended up producing such catastrophic failures of governance. The belief system built on hostility toward government that motivated Norquist and his followers left the public officials they elected with no effective ways to respond to challenges ranging from Hurricane Katrina to stagnating wages to the downward-spiraling health care system to tainted spinach to global warming and so on. Drowning government in a bathtub, to use Norquist’s characteristically blunt language, left the residents of New Orleans on their own when Katrina drowned their city. A large majority of Americans were appalled at what that looked like. Nowhere in his 333 pages of text does Norquist wrestle with the governing failures that knocked down the popularity ratings of President George W. Bush, whom Norquist enthusiastically supported through thick and thin, to historically low levels. Nor does Norquist offer anything other than the same policy ideas that Bush pursued, foremost among them tax cuts and curtailed regulation. Because Norquist’s mission is singularly focused on weakening government’s domestic capabilities, he doesn’t perceive what non-ideologues recognize as obvious failures to be anything other than distractions to be ignored or excused away. Good government still means virtually no government.Sometimes Norquist’s analysis is downright delusional, as when he applauds Bush’s failed proposal to privatize Social Security. He writes: “Bush turned a losing issue for Republicans—Social Security—into a winner. In 2000 and 2004, roughly 50-55 percent of Americans supported reforming Social Security to create personal savings accounts. This was turnaround from 1986 when the Republicans lost eight Senate seats and their Senate majority after discussing ‘reforming’ Social Security by reducing some benefits.” But after Bush proposed his privatization plan in 2005, and the public learned during the course of the debate how, mathematically, it would weaken their retirement security and greatly add to the national debt, support for the idea plummeted. Most other observers across the spectrum recognized that experience as disastrous for Republicans and one of the big reasons why they were clobbered in the 2006 Congressional elections. Norquist is more insightful as a political strategist than as a policy wonk, but even his framework for thinking about coalition-building in its own right illustrates another root cause of his movement’s inability to govern. He argues: “What matters in politics is the one issue that moves a citizen to vote for or against a candidate. The Leave Us Alone Coalition members…find themselves shoulder to shoulder working together for the same candidates and over time the same party because on the issue that moves each of their individual votes—not necessarily all or even most issues—what they want from the government is to be left alone.” Norquist identifies the subgroups of his coalition as focused above all on one of the following: lower taxes, less regulation of their small businesses, gun ownership, home schooling, or property rights. Others strong candidates for his team include “parents of faith who will fight to control what is taught to their children in their schools,” “the growing investor class,” and police, prison guards, the military and other employees of “properly limited government” who “play a role in protecting the life, liberty, and property of citizens.”Early in this decade, Norquist, his close friend Karl Rove, and their movement succeeded in gaining enough votes from that amalgamation of groups to deliver the presidency, the legislative branch, and the leadership of many state governments to Republicans. But what each of those groups and their members wanted, by Norquist’s own account, was nothing more than for government to stay out of some aspect of their lives. Issues that affect all Americans collectively – problems related to the economy, health care, the environment, energy, etc. -- don’t motivate the supporters of conservative politicians. In and of itself, that would help to explain why Republicans in office haven’t done much more than pay lip service to such matters, even though government in the past has succeeded in making progress in addressing precisely those kinds of collective challenges. Just keep talking about the virtues of home schooling, guns, school prayer, low taxes, and so forth, and the Leave Us Alone Coalition will keep on winning, Norquist believes, no matter how many Americans lose their health insurance.At the state level, Norquist and his activists have energetically campaigned across the country for rigid tax-and-spending limits, called the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), like the one that Colorado’s voters approved in a 1992 referendum. Almost entirely because of its TABOR amendment, Colorado was forced to cut billions of dollars that would have financed public services, with the reductions becoming especially severe after the 2001 recession. Colorado – which has the 10th highest median income in the country – saw its national rankings with respect to a wide range of educational and health care measures plummet to the bottom 10 states alongside impoverished Mississippi and Alabama. For example, from 1992 to 2005, the portion of low-income children lacking health insurance doubled in Colorado even as it fell in the nation as a whole – dropping from the top half of the states to dead last. The ratio of teacher salaries to average private sector earnings also plummeted from the middle of the pack to 50th, with teacher shortages so acute that Denver sent letters home with students asking parents to serve as substitutes. In 2004, Colorado’s voters switched both houses of the state General Assembly from a Republican to Democratic majority; in 2005, they voted to suspend TABOR for five years; and the following year they replaced the Republican governor with a Democrat. Undaunted by those results – either the damage to Colorado’s public services or the unfavorable political outcomes – Norquist continues to argue as strenuously as ever that other states should implement TABOR amendments as well.With a similar day of reckoning rapidly approaching in November, Norquist remains emphatic about sticking to precisely the game plan that made him famous and his movement so successful up until now. At a recent discussion of his book, he said that notwithstanding the deep unpopularity of President Bush, “If center-right candidates articulate their positions correctly, they will win 60 percent of the vote just like Reagan did in 1984 and George H.W. Bush plus Perot in 1992.” The Republican presidential nominee John McCain appears to be listening, hewing to much the same domestic tax-cutting, government-slashing agenda that Norquist advocates. But for progressives, the lessons Norquist offers aren’t of the sort that we should try to emulate. Since our whole orientation is to try to make progress in addressing problems confronting society as a whole – to promote the common good -- trying to assemble potential supporters based on which single narrowly defined issue is most important to them undermines how we think about government and each other. Rather, the real value of Norquist’s book is to clarify what we want to defeat: an everyone-for-himself mindset that has caused so much damage to our country. Greg Anrig is vice president of policy at The Century Foundation and the author of The Conservatives Have No Clothes: Why Right-Wing Ideas Keep Failing.
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This is the Week That Was

AL GORE Speaks out at the DNC....Oh, how eight years can change our perspectives!

August is Midsummer, at least in the southern climes of the Florida Keys. The month began on the heels of Hemingway Days, and Mel Fisher Days, and led right into the exhilarating Midsummer's Night Dream Salon Spectacle, held August 12th. Over 400 people joined in the celebration. Truly a Night to remember, as locals and over 60 artists made the night the highlight of the summer thus far. But the real heat of summer was to be found at the Democratic National Convention held in Denver this past week has really been not just a Mile High affair, but a watershed moment of political history. Barack Obama is the nominee, and Joe Biden as his running mate, with over 38 million people watching on the TV networks (and not even counting web or C-Span, which is where I watched it as I wanted to avoid the talking head histrionics). This is 20 million MORE than watched John Kerry accept his nomination in 2004. More than the Oscars, More than the opening ceremony for the Olympics in China. And even (shocking!) more than who watch American Idol! To be expected, much of the stagecraft is from central casting, full of pithy cliches, and fealty to a set of "values" espoused to ensure the party is unified, despite the acrimonious path to the final crown.

But I feverishly watched some of the so-called lesser lights, the minor leaguers, and even the hacks and pols who get their chance at history with a 5 minute speech, the state or local office-holders who are passionate about their concerns, the precinct captains from all over the great 50 states, union stalwarts, teachers, cops, the usual big tent the Democrats revel in, the diverse polyglot that make up the Democratic Party.
For a political junkie like me, who cut his teeth and bled on the alter of the Chicago 1968 convention, each quadrennial convention is a true exercise in bringing to focus the national identity, warts and all. The stagecraft is right from central casting, the usual bromides and blathering unabated - the best was when Barney Smith (a real person, who looked like, well, a Mid-western corn-fed Barney Fife), in his own reduced 5 minutes of fame, asserted the Bush gang had deserted him, for Smith Barney (of Wall Street ignomy).
But I wanted to hear Al Gore speak, the man who of course WAS elected President in 2000, only to have a coup, executed by the handmaidens of the Supreme Court wrest it from him. Here is his speech. Read and you cannot help but feel how history has been robbed, even raped by cycnical, corrupt, and evil people - Bush and his gang of neo-con enablers. The future now is in our hands once again, as an act of true faith, not in the sanctity of a religious church, but of the American experiment in this noble thing we call democracy. Of course, we can also be cynical and say our vote doesn't matter. Or, that Obama isn't enough of this or that, a centrist, even, or just another patsy for the true lords of our culture, whether they be bankers, brokers, or barons of industy. But, Al Gore, who I had the distinct pleasure of meeting at the Sundance Film Festival when he was premiering his award-winning film, An Inconvenient Truth, had a lot to say in his extended comments prior to Obama coming onstage to accept the nomination. Here is the transcript: - MS
One of the greatest gifts of our democracy is the opportunity it offers us every four years to change course.
It's not a guarantee – it's only an opportunity.
The question facing us is, simply put, will we seize this opportunity for change?
That's why I came here tonight: to tell you why I feel so strongly that we must seize this opportunity to elect Barack Obama President of the United States.
Eight years ago, some said there was not much difference between the nominees of the two major parties and it didn't really matter who became President.
Our nation was enjoying peace and prosperity. Some assumed we would continue both no matter the outcome. But here we all are in 2008, and I doubt anyone would argue now that election didn't matter.
Take it from me, if it had ended differently, we would not be bogged down in Iraq, we would have pursued Bin Laden until we captured him.
We would not be facing a self-inflicted economic crisis, we would be fighting for middle income families.
We would not be showing contempt for the Constitution, we'd be protecting the rights of every American regardless of race, religion, disability, gender or sexual orientation.
And we would not be denying the climate crisis, we'd be solving it.
Today, we face essentially the same choice we faced in 2000, though it may be even more obvious now – because John McCain, a man who has earned our respect on many levels, is now openly endorsing the policies of the Bush-Cheney White House and promising to actually continue them, the same policies all over again?
Hey, I believe in recycling, but that's ridiculous.
With John McCain's support, President Bush and Vice President Cheney have led our nation into one calamity after another because of their indifference to fact; their readiness to sacrifice the long-term to the short-term, subordinate the general good to the benefit of the few, and short-circuit the rule of law.
If you like the Bush/Cheney approach, John McCain's your man. If you want change, then vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
Barack Obama is telling us exactly what he will do: launch a bold new economic plan to restore America's greatness. Fight for smarter government that trusts the market, but protects us against its excesses. Enact policies that are pro-choice, pro-education, and pro-family. Establish a foreign policy that is smart as well as strong. Provide health care for all and solutions for the climate crisis.
So why is this election so close?
Well, I know something about close elections, so let me offer you my opinion.
I believe this election is close today mainly because the forces of the status quo are desperately afraid of the change Barack Obama represents.
There is no better example than the climate crisis. As I have said for many years throughout this land, we're borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the future of human civilization. Every bit of that has to change.
Oil company profits have soared to record levels, gasoline prices have gone through the roof and we are more dependent than ever on dirty and dangerous fossil fuels. Many scientists predict that the entire North Polar ice cap may be completely gone during summer months in the first term of the next President. Sea levels are rising, fires are raging, storms are stronger. Military experts warn us our national security is threatened by massive waves of climate refugees destabilizing countries around the world, and scientists tell us the very web of life is endangered by unprecedented extinctions.
We are facing a planetary emergency which, if not solved, would exceed anything we've ever experienced in the history of humankind.
In spite of John McCain's past record of open mindedness on the climate crisis, he has apparently now allowed his party to browbeat him into abandoning his support of mandatory caps on global warming pollution.
And it just so happens that the climate crisis is intertwined with the other two great challenges facing our nation: reviving our economy and strengthening our national security. The solutions to all three require us to end our dependence on carbon-based fuels.
Instead of letting lobbyists and polluters control our destiny, we need to invest in American innovation. Almost a hundred years ago, Thomas Edison said, "I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don't have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that."
We already have everything we need to use the sun, the wind, geothermal power, conservation and efficiency to solve the climate crisis – everything, that is, except a president who inspires us to believe, "Yes we can."
So how did this no-brainer become a brain-twister?
Because the carbon fuels industry – big oil and coal – have a 50-year lease on the Republican Party and they are drilling it for everything it's worth. And this same industry has spent a half a billion dollars this year alone trying to convince the public they are actually solving the problem when they are in fact making it worse every single day.
This administration and the special interests who control it lock, stock, and barrel after barrel, have performed this same sleight-of-hand on issue after issue. Some of the best marketers have the worst products; and this is certainly true of today's Republican party.
The party itself has on its rolls men and women of great quality. But the last eight years demonstrate that the special interests who have come to control the Republican Party are so powerful that serving them and serving the national well-being are now irreconcilable choices.
So what can we do about it?
We can carry Barack Obama's message of hope and change to every family in America. And pledge that we will be there for Barack Obama – not only in the heat of this election, but in the aftermath as we put his agenda to work for our country.
We can tell Republicans and Independents, as well as Democrats, why our nation needs a change from the approach of Bush, Cheney and McCain.
After they wrecked our economy, it is time for a change.
After they abandoned the search for the terrorists who attacked us and redeployed the troops to invade a nation that did not attack us, it's time for a change.
After they abandoned the American principle first laid down by General George Washington when he prohibited the torture of captives because it would bring, in his words, "shame, disgrace and ruin" to our nation, it's time for a change.
When as many as three Supreme Court justices could be appointed in the first term of the next president, and John McCain promises to appoint more Scalias and Thomases and end a woman's right to choose, it's time for a change.
Many people have been waiting for some sign that our country is ready for such change. How will we know when it's beginning to take hold? I think we might recognize it as a sign of such change if we saw millions of young people getting involved for the first time in the political process.
This election is actually not close at all among younger voters – you are responding in unprecedented numbers to Barack Obama's message of change and hope. You recognize that he represents a clean break from the politics of partisanship and bitter division. You understand that the politics of the past are exhausted and you're tired of appeals based on fear. You know that America is capable of better than what you have seen in recent years. You are hungry for a new politics based on bipartisan respect for the ageless principles embodied in the United States Constitution.
There are times in the history of our nation when our very way of life depends upon awakening to the challenge of a present danger, shaking off complacency to rise, clear-eyed and alert, to the necessity of embracing change.
A century and a half ago, when America faced our greatest trial, the end of one era gave way to the birth of another. The candidate who emerged victorious in that election is now regarded by most historians as our greatest president.
Before he entered the White House, Abraham Lincoln's experience in elective office consisted of eight years in his state legislature in Springfield, Illinois and one term in Congress – during which he showed the courage and wisdom to oppose the invasion of another country that was popular when it started but later condemned by history.
The experience Lincoln's supporters valued most in that race was his powerful ability to inspire hope in the future at a time of impasse. He was known chiefly as a clear thinker and a great orator with a passion for justice and a determination to heal the deep divisions of our land. He insisted on reaching past partisan and regional divides to exalt our common humanity.
In 2008, once again, we find ourselves at the end of an era with a mandate from history to launch another new beginning. And once again, we have a candidate whose experience perfectly matches an extraordinary moment of transition.
Barack Obama had the experience and wisdom to oppose a popular war based on faulty premises. His leadership experience has given him a unique capacity to inspire hope in the promise of the American dream of a boundless future.
His experience has also given him genuine respect for different views and humility in the face of complex realities that cannot be squeezed into the narrow compartments of ideology. His experience has taught him something that career politicians often overlook: that inconvenient truths must be acknowledged if we are to have wise governance.
The extraordinary strength of his personal character – and that of his wonderful wife, Michelle – are grounded in the strengths of the American community. His vision and his voice represent the best of America. His life experience embodies the essence of our motto -- e pluribus unum -- out of many, one.
That is the linking identity at the other end of all the hyphens that pervade our modern political culture. It is that common American identity – which Barack Obama exemplifies, heart and soul -- that enables us as Americans to speak with moral authority to all of the peoples of the world to inspire hope that we as human beings can transcend our limitations to redeem the promise of human freedom.
Late this evening, our convention will end with a benediction. As we bow in reverence, remember the words of the old proverb: "when you pray, move your feet."
Then let us leave here tonight and take the message of hope from Denver to every corner of our land and do everything we can to serve our nation, our world -- and most importantly, our children and their future -- by electing Barack Obama President of the United States.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Candidate We Still Don't Know

Frank Rich, The New York Times

As I went on vacation at the end of July, Barack Obama was leading John McCain by three to four percentage points in national polls. When I returned last week he still was. But lo and behold, a whole new plot twist had rolled off the bloviation assembly line in those intervening two weeks: Obama had lost the election! (John McCain during a commercial break at the forum on faith. (Photo: David McNew / Getty Images)

The poor guy should be winning in a landslide against the despised party of Bush-Cheney, and he's not. He should be passing the 50 percent mark in polls, and he's not. He's been done in by that ad with Britney and Paris and by a new international crisis that allows McCain to again flex his Manchurian Candidate military cred. Let the neocons identify a new battleground for igniting World War III, whether Baghdad or Tehran or Moscow, and McCain gets with the program as if Angela Lansbury has just dealt him the Queen of Hearts.

Obama has also been defeated by racism (again). He can't connect and 'close the deal' with ordinary Americans too doltish to comprehend a multicultural biography that includes what Cokie Roberts of ABC News has damned as the 'foreign, exotic place' of Hawaii. As The Economist sums up the received wisdom, 'lunch-pail Ohio Democrats' find Obama's ideas of change 'airy-fairy' and are all asking, 'Who on earth is this guy?'
It seems almost churlish to look at some actual facts. No presidential candidate was breaking the 50 percent mark in mid-August polls in 2004 or 2000. Obama's average lead of three to four points is marginally larger than both John Kerry's and Al Gore's leads then (each was winning by one point in Gallup surveys). Obama is also ahead of Ronald Reagan in mid-August 1980 (40 percent to Jimmy Carter's 46). At, which aggregates polls and gauges the electoral count, Obama as of Friday stood at 284 electoral votes, McCain at 169. That means McCain could win all 85 electoral votes in current toss-up states and still lose the election.
Yet surely, we keep hearing, Obama should be running away with the thing. Even Michael Dukakis was beating the first George Bush by 17 percentage points in the summer of 1988. Of course, were Obama ahead by 17 points today, the same prognosticators now fussing over his narrow lead would be predicting that the arrogant and presumptuous Obama was destined to squander that landslide on vacation and tank just like his hapless predecessor.
The truth is we have no idea what will happen in November. But for the sake of argument, let's posit that one thread of the Obama-is-doomed scenario is right: His lead should be huge in a year when the G.O.P. is in such disrepute that at least eight of the party's own senatorial incumbents are skipping their own convention, the fail-safe way to avoid being caught near the Larry Craig Memorial Men's Room at the Twin Cities airport.
So why isn't Obama romping? The obvious answer - and both the excessively genteel Obama campaign and a too-compliant press bear responsibility for it - is that the public doesn't know who on earth John McCain is. The most revealing poll this month by far is the Pew Research Center survey finding that 48 percent of Americans feel they're 'hearing too much' about Obama. Pew found that only 26 percent feel that way about McCain, and that nearly 4 in 10 Americans feel they hear too little about him. It's past time for that pressing educational need to be met.
What is widely known is the skin-deep, out-of-date McCain image. As this fairy tale has it, the hero who survived the Hanoi Hilton has stood up as rebelliously in Washington as he did to his Vietnamese captors. He strenuously opposed the execution of the Iraq war; he slammed the president's response to Katrina; he fought the 'agents of intolerance' of the religious right; he crusaded against the G.O.P. House leader Tom DeLay, the criminal lobbyist Jack Abramoff and their coterie of influence-peddlers.
With the exception of McCain's imprisonment in Vietnam, every aspect of this profile in courage is inaccurate or defunct.
McCain never called for Donald Rumsfeld to be fired and didn't start criticizing the war plan until late August 2003, nearly four months after 'Mission Accomplished.' By then the growing insurgency was undeniable. On the day Hurricane Katrina hit, McCain laughed it up with the oblivious president at a birthday photo-op in Arizona. McCain didn't get to New Orleans for another six months and didn't sharply express public criticism of the Bush response to the calamity until this April, when he traveled to the Gulf Coast in desperate search of election-year pageantry surrounding him with black extras.
McCain long ago embraced the right's agents of intolerance, even spending months courting the Rev. John Hagee, whose fringe views about Roman Catholics and the Holocaust were known to anyone who can use the Internet. (Once the McCain campaign discovered YouTube, it ditched Hagee.)

On Monday McCain is scheduled to appear at an Atlanta fund-raiser being promoted by Ralph Reed, who is not only the former aide de camp to one of the agents of intolerance McCain once vilified (Pat Robertson) but is also the former Abramoff acolyte showcased in McCain's own Senate investigation of Indian casino lobbying.
Though the McCain campaign announced a new no-lobbyists policy three months after The Washington Post's February report that lobbyists were 'essentially running' the whole operation, the fact remains that McCain's top officials and fund-raisers have past financial ties to nearly every domestic and foreign flashpoint, from Fannie Mae to Blackwater to Ahmad Chalabi to the government of Georgia. No sooner does McCain flip-flop on oil drilling than a bevy of Hess Oil family members and executives, not to mention a lowly Hess office manager and his wife, each give a maximum $28,500 to the Republican Party.
While reporters at The Post and The New York Times have been vetting McCain, many others give him a free pass. Their default cliché is to present him as the Old Faithful everyone already knows. They routinely salute his 'independence,' his 'maverick image' and his 'renegade reputation' - as the hackneyed script was reiterated by Karl Rove in a Wall Street Journal op-ed column last week. At Talking Points Memo, the essential blog vigilantly pursuing the McCain revelations often ignored elsewhere, Josh Marshall accurately observes that the Republican candidate is 'graded on a curve.'
Most Americans still don't know, as Marshall writes, that on the campaign trail 'McCain frequently forgets key elements of policies, gets countries' names wrong, forgets things he's said only hours or days before and is frequently just confused.' Most Americans still don't know it is precisely for this reason that the McCain campaign has now shut down the press's previously unfettered access to the candidate on the Straight Talk Express.
To appreciate the discrepancy in what we know about McCain and Obama, merely look at the coverage of the potential first ladies. We have heard too much indeed about Michelle Obama's Princeton thesis, her pay raises at the University of Chicago hospital, her statement about being 'proud' of her country and the false rumor of a video of her ranting about 'whitey.' But we still haven't been inside Cindy McCain's tax returns, all her multiple homes or private plane. The Los Angeles Times reported in June that Hensley & Company, the enormous beer distributorship she controls, 'lobbies regulatory agencies on alcohol issues that involve public health and safety,' in opposition to groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The McCain campaign told The Times that Mrs. McCain's future role in her beer empire won't be revealed before the election.
Some of those who know McCain best - Republicans - are tougher on him than the press is. Rita Hauser, who was a Bush financial chairwoman in New York in 2000 and served on the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board in the administration's first term, joined other players in the G.O.P. establishment in forming Republicans for Obama last week. Why? The leadership qualities she admires in Obama - temperament, sustained judgment, the ability to play well with others - are missing in McCain. 'He doesn't listen carefully to people and make reasoned judgments,' Hauser told me. 'If John says ‘I'm going with so and so,' you can't count on that the next morning,' she complained, adding, 'That's not the man we want for president.'
McCain has even prompted alarms from the right's own favorite hit man du jour: Jerome Corsi, who Swift-boated John Kerry as co-author of 'Unfit to Command' in 2004 and who is trying to do the same to Obama in his newly minted best seller, 'The Obama Nation.'
Corsi's writings have been repeatedly promoted by Sean Hannity on Fox News; Corsi's publisher, Mary Matalin, has praised her author's 'scholarship.' If Republican warriors like Hannity and Matalin think so highly of Corsi's research into Obama, then perhaps we should take seriously Corsi's scholarship about McCain. In recent articles at, Corsi has claimed (among other charges) that the McCain campaign received 'strong' financial support from a 'group tied to Al Qaeda' and that 'McCain's personal fortune traces back to organized crime in Arizona.'
As everyone says, polls are meaningless in the summers of election years. Especially this year, when there's one candidate whose real story has yet to be fully told.