Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The waning power of the War Myth

Aug. 28, 2007 Bush's entire presidency has been propped up by the War Myth. By aggressively presenting himself as a war leader, by wrapping himself in the sacred robes of patriotism, the military and national honor, Bush has taken refuge in the holy of holies, the ultimate sanctuary in American life. He has made criticism of his policies tantamount to criticism of the one institution in American life that is untouchable: the military. He uses the almost 4,000 new crosses in military cemeteries as a talisman against his opponents -- notwithstanding the fact that he is wholly responsible for those crosses.
War may, as Randolph Bourne argued, in 1918, be the health of the state, but it is definitely the health of the presidency. Paradoxically, the very thing that has destroyed Bush's presidency -- his disastrous war on Iraq -- is also the only thing that is propping it up. War is an incompetent leader's Waterloo -- but also his best friend. Being a "war president," as Bush incessantly calls himself, means never having to say you're sorry. No matter how many lives you have destroyed, you are not to blame.
What is crucial to understand is that the War Myth can be effective even when reality utterly undercuts it. Myths appeal to transcendental values, shared sacred beliefs. Once we have entered the realm of myth, taboos replace rational discourse.

That irrational power explains the Democrats' recent humiliating collapse on Bush's intelligence surveillance bill. It explains why Republican politicians, whose ideology is steeped in the War Myth, have failed to rebel against a doomed war that could cost them their jobs. And it is why the American political establishment is waiting hat in hand for Gen. Petraeus' predictable report, in which he will say the surge is working and ask for more time.
Bush's latest pro-war P.R. campaign is yet another attempt to tap into it. But the magic is finally wearing off. And in his desperation to save his presidency, Bush has been forced to squeeze the Myth so hard that its irrationality has become painfully evident.
Bush's invocation of the Vietnam War was a strangely convoluted and halfhearted attempt to reintroduce one of the most venerable War Myth themes: the "stab in the back." Last week, in a speech to a Veterans of Foreign Wars group in Kansas City, Mo. -- which he opened with his favorite self-description, "I stand before you as a wartime president" -- Bush pronounced that America's withdrawal from Vietnam led to the Cambodian genocide and the Vietnamese boat exodus. Withdrawal from Iraq, Bush warned, would result in similar catastrophes.
Bush's argument -- which piggybacked on a New York Times Op-Ed piece making the same points by Iraq war supporters Peter Rodman and William Shawcross -- was a gross distortion of history. In fact, almost all historians agree that it was not the U.S. withdrawal that was responsible for the Khmer Rouge's rise to power and subsequent genocidal campaign, but the Vietnam War itself, and in particular President Nixon's massive bombing of Cambodia. The 2,756,941 tons of bombs that first President Johnson and then Nixon dropped on Cambodia -- more than the U.S. dropped in World War II -- drove the devastated rural population into the arms of the Khmer Rouge, which had not been a significant player before America blundered into Vietnam.
Why would Bush choose to bring up Vietnam, a war most Americans see as a quagmire and a mistake, to defend the Iraq war, which most Americans see as a quagmire and a mistake? Even Bush was forced to acknowledge that "[Vietnam] is a complex and painful subject for many Americans" and that "there is a legitimate debate about how we got into the Vietnam War and how we left." By invoking Vietnam, Bush seemed to be going out of his way to invite unflattering reflections on how we got into his own deeply unpopular war.
The White House characterized Bush's speech as a limited argument about the consequences of premature withdrawal. Time's Massimo Calabresi quoted Bush aides as saying that Bush was not trying to "relitigate the Vietnam war," and that his reference was intended only to "deal with the current debate we're in now, weighing the consequences should America walk away from its commitment in Iraq."
But for Bush, Vietnam's real relevance to Iraq isn't the early withdrawal issue -- it's the "stab in the back."
The "stab in the back" holds that America was only defeated in Vietnam because we lost the will to fight. And those who sapped our will, those who betrayed our fighting men, were cowardly protesters and craven politicians. As Bush told "Meet the Press'" Tim Russert in 2004, "The thing about the Vietnam War that troubles me as I look back was it was a political war. We had politicians making military decisions, and it is lessons that any president must learn, and that is to set the goal and the objective and allow the military to come up with the plans to achieve that objective. And those are essential lessons to be learned from the Vietnam War."
As Kevin Baker noted in an in-depth analysis in Harper's, the "stab in the back" thesis is the ur-right-wing credo. It brings together two keystone beliefs: the idea that America is omnipotent and incapable of defeat, and that any war the U.S. engages in must be noble and heroic. Therefore, if America is defeated, traitorous elites -- craven politicians, un-American punks, degenerates, longhairs, pinkos and agitators, and the cowardly elite media -- must be to blame. Nixon and Agnew's demonizing of "nattering nabobs of negativism" and Reagan's claims that war protesters were giving "comfort and aid" to the enemy sprang from this belief.
In fact, the Vietnam War was a terrible mistake, and America pulled out because politicians and the American people alike realized it was unwinnable. But the "stab in the back" myth never died: It stayed alive in the resentment-filled caverns of the American right, for whom it is an article of faith that America's wars are always justified and our military omnipotent. It is not an intellectually respectable idea, but it has currency with Bush's core supporters. Bush usually prefers not to make his ties to the far right so obvious, but his situation is so dire he felt compelled to reach gingerly into this muck of Ramboesque resentment.
The implication of Bush's speech is that there is no real difference between Iraq and Vietnam. It was our moral duty to stay in Vietnam, and we would have eventually prevailed had we done so. Our withdrawal was an unconscionable surrender. And Bush is determined not to let what happened in Vietnam happen in Iraq -- even though there is no military solution to the war. Bush sat out Vietnam in a cushy, and mysteriously absence-filled, stint at the Texas Air National Guard. But now he is implicitly arguing that we should have stayed in Vietnam, and should stay in Iraq, indefinitely.
Needless to say, this is not a winning argument. Its sole virtue is that it invokes the War Myth -- but in a form so debased that it defeats itself. That Bush felt he had to make it reveals the desperate straits he is in.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Midsummer's Night and Incredible Dreams

What A NIGHT!!! Here are many of the pictures captured during the delirious and delightful evening of merriment, madness and mirth! You can visit markypierson.com or tropicalheart.com to see full fledged formats and many more pics.

Beginning while sunset was coloring the tropical skies, and into the late night while the Perseid Meteor showers were spraying their own sparkling light, the hundreds who attended reveled to the sounds of the Marvelous Meteor Orchestra, and DJ Sean, watched nearly 50 artists from the visual, performing and literary arts celebrate their talents and dreams, and encouraged everyone to share and embrace the arts and their own visions for community, as Dream Cards were issued to all to declare what futures they could envision. SPECIAL THANKS and HIGH PRAISE to Joyce Stahl for hosting the affair, to Marky Pierson and Christa Hunt (photo, r.) for creating the original sets (for two stages performing simultaneously!) and coordinating the program lineup extraordinaire. Christa also stepped up as MC and further kept the magic moving all night.

Sherry Tewell (photo, on Mural Project poster, below) along with MarkyP put together THE MURAL PROJECT that engaged 30 different painters to recreate Henri Rousseau's aptly titled work, "The Dream", and to the delight of everyone, created a 12' by 7' piece that is now installed at SODU Gallery, on Upper Duval Street. The piece is simply astounding. Stop by SODU to see this remarkable community piece of art! More such Mural Project pieces are being considered along with yet more SALON styled programs. Stay tuned for the events as they unfold and are revealed, location and time!

Singer, storyteller and troubadour Ben Harrison (photo, r.) adds his tunes to the music of the Night with a solo set and later, with the sharp sounds of the Marvelous Meteor Orchestra, of Nick Charles, Matthew Watson, Mike Emerson and Joe Dallas (photo of Joe and Mike, below)
In addition to singers and musicians raising the music to new levels, there were dancers Leon and Lucy making salsa sauce and movin' and shakin' in true Cayo Hueso style - very caliente!

In Barbara Ehrenreich's newest book, Dancing In The Streets: A History of Collective Joy, she points out that the human need for celebration and ritual is unsurpassed.

In her acclaimed book Blood Rites, she delved into the origins of our species’ attraction to war. Here, she explores the opposite impulse, one that has been so effectively suppressed that we lack even a term for it: the desire for collective joy, historically expressed in ecstatic revels of feasting, costuming, and dancing. Our effort to fashion a measure of joy is more than the simple urge to "par-ty". It is vital to our understanding of who we are as a culture, and to create the culture we imagine. Everyone who joined us for A Midsummer's Night created a collective experience and will further serve to imagine what the future can be. One's "dreams" are important, and vital, and no matter the scope or scale, they are what propel us into our future.

The evening also saw the re-staging for the One Night Stand 's one-act play that was produced only two days earlier at the Studios of Key West. The 3-member cast had to work with an opening line and a closing line that had been provided to all four teams that joined for a 24-hour lock-down, and crafted with a set by Rick Worth. Directed by Doug Shook, with Tom Murtha doing the night's turn, it featured Chris Stone, Mook J, and Cricket Desmerais in "Everyone Gets Laid on Valentine's Day".

There's more pics to come and credits to give in the next blog....stay tuned......

Toronto readies for 32nd International FIlm Festival

TORONTO '07 Fest Set With 349 Film Slate;
Cowan Unveils Serious, Political 32nd TIFF
by Eugene Hernandez (August 22, 2007)
349 films from 55 countries are set for the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival, organizers are revealing this morning in Canada. "There is a lot of soul-searching and a lot of extremely gifted, overwhelmingly passionate cinema in the festival this year, TIFF co-director Noah Cowan told indieWIRE in a conversation yesterday. "These are filmmakers who are out to transform the way we see the world, they are out to make a difference." As previously announced, the event will kick-off with Canadian Jeremy Podeswa's "Fugitive Pieces" (photo, r.) on September 6th and close with Paolo Barzman's "Emotional Arithmetic" on September 15th.

The massive Toronto fest boasts some 340,000 annual admissions and Cowan is preparing attendees for a challenging, serious roster of some provocative and even quite political films. "The tenor of the work coming particularly from the U.S. is fiercely political, aesthetically challenging, and will probably go down as a real beginning of a real golden age for American cinema in a time of war and strife," Cowan envisioned. "There are so many examples, its a little overwhelming," he added, specifically noting films such as Alan Ball's "Nothing is Private," Stuart Townsend's "Battle in Seattle," and even Tom McCarthy's more subtle, "The Visitor."
The entire 349 film lineup for the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival, is available in a complete 17 page PDF document.

Joining the Toronto lineup today are new films from Sidney Lumet, Jason Reitman, and even new, unseen documentaries from Michael Moore, Jonathan Demme and Julian Schnabel. Added to the fests Gala Presentations section are Renny Harlin's "Cleaner," Richard Attenborough's "Closing The Ring," Alain Corneau's "Le Deuxieme Souffle," Robin Swicord's "The Jane Austen Book Club," Kenneth Branagh's "Sleuth," and Paul Schrader's "The Walker." While in the Masters section, the event has added Wayne Wang's "A Thousand Years of Good Prayers" and "The Princess of Nebraska."
Some 275 films on the fest roster are features or mid-length titles, according to today's announcement and while planners have downplayed talk of premiere status in previous press releases this summer, organizers are touting that 85 percent of their films are having either a world, international or North American premiere at the festival this year. Saying that some film critics may have a challenge ahead of them at the festival, Cowan explained, "There is very serious, provocative work that needs to be judged at the very highest levels of criticism."
"This is not the American filmmaking we've become used to over the last decade," Cowan said. And citing such films as Neil Jordan's "The Brave One" and Terry George's "Reservation Road," added, "This all feels very much like the 70s vigilante movies." Noting such films as Gavin Hood's "Rendition," and Tony Gilroy's "Michael Clayton," Cowan highlighted some "very mainstream movies which have huge ambitions in terms of their political context." And then, singling out Paul Haggis' "In The Valley of Elah," Brian DePalma's "Redacted," and Nick Broomfield's "Battle for Haditha," he noted that those films directly confront, "what happens to American boys when they are sent into a war that doesn't make sense." Parallels with movies such as "The Deer Hunter" and "Apocalypse Now" are evident, he said, and "comes from the same sense of rage that drove those filmmakers."

New titles in the Special Presentations section this year are Sidney Lumet's "Before The Devil Knows Your're Dead," Melisa Wallack and Bernie Goldmann's "Bill," Michael Moore's "Captain Mike Across America," Gillian Armstrong's "Death Defying Acts," Vadim Perelman's "In Bloom," Jason Reitman's "Juno," Ira Sachs' "Married Life," Jonathan Demme's "Man From Plains," Alison Eastwood's "Rails & Ties," Brian De Palma's "Redacted," Brad Furman's "The Take," Thomas McCarthy's "The Visitor," and Anand Tucker's "When Did You Last See Your Father."

Added to the Real to Reel documentary section are Paul Crowder and Murray Lerner's "Amazing Journey: The Story of The Who," Julian Schnabel's "Lou Reed's Berlin," Ran Tal's "Children of The Sun," Philippe Kholy's "Callas Assoluta," Wang Bing's "Fengming: A Chinese Memoir," Grant Gee's "Joy Division," Olga Konskaya and Andrei Nekrasov's "Rebellion: The Litvienko Case," and Jia Zhang-ke's "Useless."
"It has been a long summer," admitted Noah Cowan, explaining that festival programmers have been debating filmmaker's ideas and agendas during screenings the past few months. "This is not normal procedure in our screening rooms," Cowan said. "I hope that the same debates that we had all summer long are going to translate ot the press and public screenings at the festival."
On the industry side, Cowan predicts a tighter roster of titles aiming for distribution. "It became clear early on that this was going to be a very crowded fall for important cinema from major distributors," Noah Cowan told indieWIRE, "As a result, we've strived to be very careful about the number of acquisition titles that would be on offer here in Toronto." With industry executives in Toronto to both launch Fall titles into awards season and also try to catch buyers screenings, Cowan acknowledged that TIFF is, "unlike Sundance where a distributor can really focus on the acquisition bidding." He noted, "We are aware of the fact that we serve many masters here."

Cowan told indieWIRE that organizers have eased up on emphasizing premiere status in their programming, even though the event still maintains a high percentage of debuts. "Nobody can agree what constitutes a premiere anymore," Cowan said. "Focusing on premieres has lead to films getting hurt," he said candidly, "The European model which insists on all world premieres all the time, that doesn't necessarily benefit the films having those premieres."

On the other hand, Noah Cowan explained, "World premieres are important at a major event. Getting the balance right is something we are always striving to figure out [and] we do play the game, too." Citing the Alan Ball's 'Nothing is Private', in which he discouraged the producers of the film from taking it to another festival, he noted, "That's the kind of movie that we can make a huge difference around and create massive momentum."

"Bigger, better and fewer was our mantra in terms of films that were seeking U.S. distribution," Cowan added on Tuesday, noting this year's available films include a mix of high-profile non-English language titles, a half-dozen high profile films with big stars, and a few horror titles.
Cowan also plugged the festivals Canadian films, particularly titles that were placed in some of the event's highest profile sections. He noted the continuing maturity of the generation after Cronenberg and Egoyan, highlights such filmmakers as Francois Girard, Jeremy Podeswa, and Clement Virgo. "There are no favors being done here," Cowan said, "The bench is deep," adding that the cherry on top for the fest is the world premiere of David Cronenberg's "Eastern Promises."

"Ultimately, the difference is that we are an audience based festival, the blend of material is based on what people here in Toronto are looking forward to seeing," Cowan told indieWIRE, "I think we've struck a balance between titles aiming for commercial distribution alongside films by great masters. They seem to have blended this year."
Continuing coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival is available in a special section at indieWIRE.com.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

45th New York Film Festival Announced

NYFF '07 Breillat, Chabrol, DePalma, Ferrera, Haynes, Hou, Landis, Lumet, Reygadas, Rohmer, Schnabel, Sokurov, Tarr, Van Sant... On New York Fest Roster
by Brian Brooks (August 15, 2007)

Twenty-eight films will be showcased at the 45th New York Film Festival, taking place September 28 - October 14. The Film Society of Lincoln Center, which organizes the annual event, announced Wednesday that Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud's animated coming-of-age Cannes '07 jury prize-winner "Persepolis" (illustration from film, below) will close the festival, joining previously announced opener "The Darjeeling Limited" by Wes Anderson and Centerpiece film "No Country for Old Men" by the Coen Brothers. Among the other films hailing from Cannes are Gus Van Sant's 60th anniversary prize-winner "Paranoid Park," Julian Schnabel's French-language "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," Palme d'Or winner "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" by Romanian director Cristian Mungiu as well as "Secret Sunshine" by Lee Chang-dong, which received the best actress prize in Cannes for Jeon Do-yeon.

In addition to NYFF's 45th milestone, this is also the 20th year that Richard Pena, the Film Society's programming director, has chaired the selection committee. Also making its return for the 11th year at the festival is "Views from the Avant-Garde," a showcase of experimental film and video (October 6 - 7) as well as a special tribute to the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region with "Chinese Modern: A Tribute to Cathay Studios (October 10 - 16). Additionally, as previously announced, NYFF organizers will salute New Line Cinema's 40th anniversary with a black-tie gala benefitting the Film Society's campaign to build a new film center.

Five films will screen in NYFF's retrospectives including the "definitive cut" of "Blade Runner" by Ridley Scott, marking the film's 25th anniversary. Also on tap is Josef von Sternberg's 1927 film "Underworld," winner of the best writing award at the first Academy Awards; John Ford's first major film "The Iron Horse" (1924); Sven Gade and Heinz Schall's 1920 production "Hamlet"; and an evening NYFF is calling "The Technicolor Show," introduced by Martin Scorsese and featuring John Stahl's "Leave Her to Heaven" (1945).

Due to ongoing renovations at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall, this year's New York Film Festival screenings will be held at the Frederick P. Rose Hall, home of Jazz at Lincoln Center, in the Time Warner Center. Opening Night will be held at Avery Fisher Hall, as well as Rose Hall.
Joining Pena on the selection committee this year were Kent Jones, associate director of programming at the Film Society and editor-at-large of Film Comment magazine; Scott Foundas, film editor and critic, L.A. Weekly; J. Hoberman, film critic, The Village Voice, and visiting lecturer at Harvard University; and Lisa Schwarzbaum, film critic, Entertainment Weekly.

45th New York Film Festival Lineup
(detailed program Information provided by Film Society of Lincoln Center)

OPENING NIGHT:"The Darjeeling Limited," directed by Wes Anderson, US (Fox Searchlight)Screening with: "Hotel Chevalier," directed by Wes Anderson, US, 2007; 12m Wes Anderson's latest is as exquisitely poignant and emotionally nuanced as movies get. One year after the accidental death of their father, three estranged brothers (Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman and Anderson-newcomer Adrien Brody) board the Darjeeling Limited train and travel across India on a self-proclaimed spiritual journey. They make all the appropriate stops along the way but their jealous (often hilarious) bickering and one-upmanship displace any possibility of enlightenment. And then, something happens. Anderson is, as always, surprising, prodigiously inventive, and utterly masterful in his daring modulation of tones and emotions. He has achieved something quite magical and astonishing here: a grand pageant, a vibrant portrait of a place and a people, a quietly intricate look at sibling love and rivalry. Above all, a Wes Anderson film--and a great one at that.
CLOSING NIGHT:"Persepolis," directed by Marjane Satrapi & Vincent Paronnaud, France (Sony Pictures Classics)Marjane Satrapi's lively and impassioned film version of her popular autobiographical graphic novels, animated by Vincent Paronnaud, about growing up in revolutionary-era Tehran.
CENTERPIECE: "No Country for Old Men," directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, US (Miramax)The Coen Brothers' magisterial adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's laconic, haunting story of a Texas drug deal gone bad, with brilliant performances from Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem and Tommy Lee Jones.
"4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days," directed by Christian Mungiu, Romania (IFC First Take)Winner of the Palme d'Or at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, Christian Mungiu's film is a harrowingly methodical and carefully detailed portrait of two girls in search of a secret abortion in Communist-era Romania.
"Actresses," directed by Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, France. A hilarious yet moving look at the life of a middle-aged actress desperate to marry and have children, directed by and starring the enchanting Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi.
"Alexandra," directed by Alexander Sokurov, Russia (Rezo Films) No living filmmaker has been more obsessed with the state of the Russian soul than Alexander Sokurov. In Alexandra, this great filmmaker ponders the cost of war. Mother Russia herself--a blunt, grimly humorous, and totally confident babushka indelibly played by octogenarian opera diva Galina Vishnevskaya--pays a solo visit to her grandson's unit in Chechnya. She rides among the young recruits in a troop transport and later, a tank; however incongruous, her tour of inspection through this dusty, sun-bleached landscape has a terrible familiarity. Alexandra is too visceral in its filmmaking to feel like allegory. Seldom has a filmmaker so directly addressed his fellow citizens.
"The Axe in the Attic," directed by Ed Pincus & Lucia Small, USVeteran documentary filmmaker Ed Pincus and his collaborator Lucia Small look at the hardships and sorrows of the Gulf Coast Diaspora two years after Hurricane Katrina.
"Before the Devil Knows You're Dead," directed by Sidney Lumet, US (ThinkFilm) In this masterful crime drama from Sidney Lumet, a "perfect crime" plotted by two brothers (Philip-Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke) unravels before their eyes.
"Calle Santa Fe," directed by Carmen Castillo, FranceCarmen Castillo's melancholy epic looks back at her life as a revolutionary in Chile, before and after her exile in France.
"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," directed by Julian Schnabel, France/U.S. (Miramax)Julian Schnabel creates a bold and beautiful adaptation of Jean-Dominique Bauby's autobiographical story of his paralyzing stroke and his fierce desire to communicate through the one unaffected part of his body: his left eye.
"The Flight of the Red Balloon," directed by Hou Hsiao-hsien, France (IFC First Take)Hou Hsiao-hsien's ineffably serene film is less of a remake of Albert Lamorisse's children's classic than a complex homage refracted through the complications of life in contemporary Paris. Juliette Binoche is Suzanne, the proprietor of a marionette theater and the single mother of a lonely boy named Simon (Simon Iteanu) who spends his days with his Chinese au pair Song (Song Fang). Simon and Song watch as the adults around them come apart at the seams, with joy and anguish, love and hatred...while the red balloon drifts across the Parisian landscape. Hou's film is heartbreakingly beautiful, and it is graced with a truly magnificent performance from Binoche.
"A Girl Cut In Two," directed by Claude Chabrol, France. Claude Chabrol has directed nearly 60 features and this mordant social satire filled with unforgettably nasty characters--and inspired, he's said, by the sensational Gilded Age shooting of architect Stanford White--shows him at the top of his game. A jaded novelist (Francois Berleand) competes with the bizarrely unstable heir to a Lyons pharmaceutical fortune (Benoit Magimel) for the affections of a luscious TV weathergirl (Ludivine Sagnier). Chabrol skewers the pretensions of literati and haute bourgeois alike and, although the inevitable crime of passion is committed late in the movie, it's evident that what we have really been watching the murder of a soul.
"Go Go Tales," directed by Abel Ferrara, Italy/US. The future of downtown strip joint Ray Ruby's Paradise Lounge may ride on tonight's New York lottery drawing, but there's no question that Abel Ferrara hits the jackpot with this hilarious, outrageous and unexpectedly poignant comic fantasy about a disheveled club owner (Willem Dafoe) striving to keep his doors open in the face of potential bankruptcy and, worse, gentrification. As personal in its way as Cassavetes' "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie," "Go Go Tales" crackles with vaudevillian showmanship, impromptu musical numbers and live-wire performances from Dafoe, Bob Hoskins, Sylvia Miles and Asia Argento (who comes duly heralded as "the scariest, sexiest girl in the world"). Consider it Ferrara's wistful valentine to a pre-gentrification Big Apple, and to his own unlikely longevity as a maverick of the American independent film movement.
"I Just Didn't Do It," directed by Masayuki Suo, JapanA terrifying, real-life crime drama and indictment of the Japanese criminal justice system from "Shall We Dance" director Masayuki Suo, "I Just Didn't Do It" follows a young man falsely accused of groping a school girl on a crowded train--guilty until proven innocent.
"I'm Not There," directed by Todd Haynes, US (The Weinstein Company). Todd Haynes' "Dylan movie" is a singularity: a cinematic phantasmagoria built around the poetic re-invention of the self, which collapses time and leaves the linear universe of progress and cold logic in the shadows. Haynes swirls through Dylan's life and legends and allows a series of avatars (including Richard Gere, young Marcus Carl Franklin and, most miraculously of all, Cate Blanchett) to bloom within a variety of settings and styles--black and white London out of Fellini and Don't Look Back, a TV documentary, the "old weird America" via Peckinpah. Like Dylan's music, with which it is suffused, I'm Not There is pure quicksilver, slipping into cracks and crevices of intuition and wonder.
"In the City of Sylvia," directed by Jose Luis Guerin, Spain/France. During a few languid summer days, a young foreigner spends his afternoons sketching in an outdoor cafe. Years before he had visited the same city and met a woman named Sylvia. Now he looks for her, but mainly, he sketches the many attractive young women he sees all around. Then one afternoon he thinks that he actually does see Sylvia, and he sets off to confront his memory. Jose Luis Guerin's lovely, exceedingly graceful work captures the feeling of being in love with love, a youthful sense of a world filled with an almost limitless sensuality.
"The Last Mistress," directed by Catherine Breillat, France (IFC First Take). France's foremost provocatrice, Catherine Breillat, continues to surprise even as she pursues her career-long interest in the ramifications of female desire. Breillat's sumptuous adaptation of Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly's Une vieille maitresse may be set in the reign of the "citizen king" Louis Philippe, but this dangerous liaison is recognizably modern. Disrupting cinematic as well as social conventions, Asia Argento gives another extraordinary performance in the title role as, as the film puts it, "a capricious flamenca who can outstare the sun"--not to mention outmaneuver her erotic rival Roxane Mesquida (the older sister in Breillat's "Fat Girl," NYFF 2001). A star as well as an actress, Argento holds the screen with the force of her carnality, which may be precisely Breillat's point.
"The Man From London," directed by Bela Tarr, Hungary/France/GermanyMaloin, a switchman at a seaside railway depot, witnesses two men fight over a suitcase. One falls into the water and apparently drowns while the other escapes. Retrieving the suitcase, Maloin discovers that it's stuffed with banknotes. After staring at his newfound fortune in awe, he hides the suitcase in his closet. Then a certain Inspector Morrison arrives, hot on the trail of two robbers. Based on a little-known work by Georges Simenon, this new film by Bela Tarr ("Satantango," NYFF 1994) plunges the viewer into nameless, timeless world perpetually encased in darkness--physical, moral and spiritual. In Fred Keleman's luscious cinematography, each image looks like the cover of a long-forgotten pulp noir.
"Margot at the Wedding," directed by Noah Baumbach, US (Paramount Vantage)Noah Baumbach's follow-up to "The Squid and the Whale" is a very funny and very true look at sibling rivalry during a quickly deteriorating family weekend in Connecticut, with Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Jason Leigh as contentious sisters.
"Married Life," directed by Ira Sachs, USA. Ira Sachs' wonderfully clear-eyed comedy relocates British crime novelist John Bingham's Five Roundabouts to Heaven to the Pacific Northwest in the late 1940s. Harry (Chris Cooper) is dissatisfied with his marriage to Pat (Patricia Clarkson) and has found love with Kay (Rachel McAdams), who immediately attracts the attention of Harry's womanizing friend Richard (Pierce Brosnan). Meanwhile, Harry, in order to spare Pat the humiliation of being left, is inspired to take drastic measures. Married Life is a beautifully rendered piece of period Americana and a perfectly acted four-hand roundelay. It is also a wisely comic and at times harrowing look at the pitfalls and pathologies of marriage.
"Mr. Warmth, The Don Rickles Project," directed by John Landis, US. John Landis' star-filled, fittingly uproarious documentary is a terrific portrait of a bygone era and, most of all, man named Rickles, a giant who continues to stride among us mortal lowlifes at the age of 81, his deadly timing in full working order. Rickles...the mere mention of his name strikes mirth-filled terror in the hearts of actors and fellow comics, not to mention overweight men with bad toupees. When the festival committee saw this movie, they could hear us laughing all the way in Jersey. We know you'll like it too...you hockey puck.
"The Orphanage," directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, Spain (Picturehouse). Laura, her husband Carlos and their young son Simon move into an imposing country house surrounded by woods and just a short walk to the sea. They plan to turn it into a home for sick and disabled children--that is, until Simon starts collecting a gang of invisible friends. Produced by Guillermo Del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth), this smart, continuously surprising movie starts off as a supernatural thriller, then veers off into some much darker, more unsettling territory, navigated by Belen Rueda's extraordinary performance as Laura. An impressive debut feature by Juan Antonio Bayona, scripted by Sergio G. Sanchez and featuring a wonderful turn by the great Geraldine Chaplin as a special kind of medium.
"Paranoid Park," directed by Gus Van Sant, US (IFC First Take). At once a piquant, dreamlike portrait of teen alienation and a boldly experimental work of film narrative, Paranoid Park finds Gus Van Sant working at the height of his powers and very far afield from Hollywood. Made in and around the director's native Portland, the film follows a withdrawn high-school skateboarder (Gabe Nevins) as he struggles to make sense of his involvement in an accidental murder, recalling past events across tides of unsteady memory and expressing his feelings in a diary that is, in effect, the movie we are watching. The skating scenes, filmed by Van Sant and cinematographers Christopher Doyle and Rain Kathy Li in a lyrical mixture of Super 8 and 35mm, depict their subjects flying through the air with the greatest of ease, momentarily free from the earthly troubles of adolescence.
"Redacted," directed by Brian DePalma, US (Magnolia). Americans of a certain age may be experiencing a sense of deja vu, but Brian DePalma hasn't waited until the end of the war in Iraq to make his movie on the subject. Redacted is ripped from the headlines--or, more precisely, from the cable news. It is a fictionalized account of a murderous 2006 atrocity committed against a teenaged girl and her family by American troops in Mahmoudiya. In its formal invention, it harkens back to the director's countercultural roots. Certain to inspire controversy, DePalma's disturbing portrayal of a dazed, confused, vengeful platoon, complete with resident videomaker, is a powerful movie of technical brio and ice-cold fury.
"The Romance of Astrea and Celadon," directed by Eric Rohmer, France (Rezo Films)Eighty-seven-year-old Eric Rohmer's glorious new (and allegedly final) film is based on Honore d'Urfe's legendary 17th century novel, a pastoral romance set among the shepherds of the Forez plain in 5th century Gaul. Astrea and Celadon are young lovers, pure of heart, torn asunder by fate. They are reunited gradually by chance and time, which are coaxed forward by the magic of river nymphs and the workings of a Druid priest. Rohmer's film is a rapturous idyll, set in the land of myth, and it ends with one of the most beautiful celebrations of carnal love the cinema has ever seen.
"Secret Sunshine," directed by Lee Chang-dong, Korea. Lee Chang-dong's most ambitious and fully realized film to date, Secret Sunshine is that rare movie that possesses the richness and complexity of a great novel, revealing new layers to us the deeper we move into it. It begins like an Asiatic "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore," as a recent widow (Jeon Do-yeon) and her young son adjust to life a small country town after relocating from Seoul. Then, abruptly and without warning, the film becomes something of a thriller, and after that a devastating, Bressonian study in human suffering. Lee navigates these switchblade reversals of comedy and despair, darkness and light, with a master's grace, as does Jeon in the revelatory performance for which she was duly awarded the Best Actress prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival.
"Silent Light," directed by Carlos Reygadas, MexicoNever predictable but always audacious, the young Mexican director Carlos Reygadas has made the world's first talking picture in the medieval German dialect called Plautdietsch. Silent Light is set in Northern Mexico's ascetic, self-contained Mennonite community and cast almost entirely with Mennonite non-actors. Building in emotional intensity, this elemental tale of love and betrayal is at once an ethnographic documentary and a quasi-remake of Carl-Theodore Dreyer's "Ordet." Reygadas too makes spirituality seem material, not least in the extraordinary, wide-screen landscape shots that bracket the action. With this, his third feature, he has secured a place in the forefront of contemporary film artists.
"Useless," directed by Jia Zhang-ke, Hong Kong. Jia Zhang-ke's new documentary is one of the rare films that continually re-defines itself as it unfolds, from modern clothing factories to designer shops to a Parisian fashion installation of the work of vanguard designer Ma Ke to Northern Chinese mining country and a series of portraits of local tailors, keenly aware of their own expendable role in a world of mass-produced goods. Useless does not illustrate a thesis. Call it a conversation between Jia and the modern world, which examines what we wear and winds up addressing who we are, with the greatest eloquence.

RETROSPECTIVE SCREENINGS:"Blade Runner: The Definitive Cut," directed by Ridley Scott, US, 1982/2007 (Warner Brothers) Philip K. Dick's tale of rogue androids on the loose, hunted down by ex-cop Rick Deckard, offered a vision of a time in which the line between the human and the non-human has become perilously thin. Ridley Scott's masterpiece starring Harrison Ford now seems not only to have anticipated our future but also, with some of the most extraordinary sets ever, to have designed it. So much of the world today appears, well...just so Blade Runner. To commemorate its 25th anniversary, Scott has gone back to the film, correcting a few details and coming up with a version of the film that he feels is closest to what he had always intended to make. One of the greatest American films of the '80s has gotten, remarkably, even better.
"The Iron Horse," directed by John Ford, US, 1924 (20th Century Fox)With the release of The Iron Horse, John Ford--known until then for his action-packed two-reel westerns--came to be regarded as one of Hollywood's most important directors. An epic tale about the building of the transcontinental railroad, this mammoth production was three years in the making, requiring over 5000 extras and the building of two entire towns. Yet beyond the film's impressive technical achievements lay its brilliant weaving of an edgy revenge tale into the fabric of American history. A veritable treasure chest of themes and motifs that would evolve in Ford's later work, this milestone of American cinema has now been lovingly restored by 20th Century Fox to its full glory."Hamlet," directed by Sven Gade & Heinz Schall, Germany, 1920-21Print Courtesy of the German Film Institute (Deutsche Filminstitut)Piano accompaniment by Donald SosinDanish screen diva Asta Nielsen was at the height of her popularity when she embarked on her greatest challenge--to play Hamlet. Other women had already played the beleaguered Danish prince, but Nielsen and screenwriter Erwin Gepard came up with their own twist: the Prince had actually been born a Princess, but for reasons of royal succession a change in gender was made, a secret known only to Hamlet's parents and his faithful nursemaid. From there the story follows along the general scheme of Shakespeare's play. While off at university, his father is assassinated and his mother and her lover steal the throne. Hamlet returns home with Horatio, who he secretly loves. When his stepfather and the chamberlain try to set up Hamlet with the chamberlain's daughter, Ophelia, Hamlet pretends he's mad. All the well-known sequences of Hamlet's life take on a different resonance, yet to Nielsen and the filmmakers' credit, the story maintains its visceral dramatic power. Long available only in black and white, the film has now been restored to its original polychrome tinted version by the German Film Institute, which we are presenting.
"Leave Her to Heaven," directed by John M. Stahl, US, 1945The Film Foundation presents a stunning restoration of this Technicolor noir classic, a favorite of Pedro Almodovar in which Gene Tierney tries to scheme and connive her way into the complete possession of her beloved husband Cornel Wilde.
"Underworld," directed by Josef von Sternberg, US, 1927Accompaniment by the Alloy OrchestraJosef Von Sternberg's silent masterpiece more or less began the American gangster genre. It screens with a new score from the inimitable Alloy Orchestra.
SPECIAL EVENTS:"Fados," directed by Carlos Saura, Spain/Portugal, 2007Beginning with his much-loved Flamenco Trilogy and moving on through Tango and Iberia, Carlos Saura has been at the forefront of finding creative ways to blend cinema with music and dance. For his newest film, he headed west to neighboring Portugal for this beautiful celebration of the Portuguese fado. Sometimes thought of as the Portuguese blues, as so many of the songs deal with loneliness and heartache, the fado, like flamenco, remains one of Europe's hardiest folk cultures; in recent years, fado has fused with everything from African rhythms to rock and hip-hop. Saura presents a broad panorama of fado styles, from the strictly traditional to some rather unexpected variations, and leading us through this musical journey are performers such as Carlos do Carmo, Catarina Moura, Argentina Santos, and Maria da Nazare, along with guest appearances by Brazilian singers Chico Buarque and Caetano Veloso. Homages are included to such past greats as Lucilia do Carmo, Alfredo Marceneiro and of course Amalia Rodrigues. A terrific opportunity to discover a vibrant strand of contemporary world music, as well a chance to simply enjoy some wonderful singing and dancing."The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan Live at the Newport Folk Festival, 1963-1965," directed by Murray Lerner, US, 2007Throughout the '60s, the Newport Folk Festival was one of the era's most reliable barometers of the changes beginning to rock American society. At the center of those changes was a rail-thin singer hailing from Hibbing, Minn., by way of Greenwich Village: Bob Dylan. Filmmaker Murray Lerner was there too, and he powerfully captured both the spirit of Newport as well as the extraordinary music produced there in his woefully neglected film Festival. Now Lerner has gone back to his footage from his years filming at Newport and created a revealing portrait of the young Dylan during the crucial period of 1963-65. We see the bright, chipper young Dylan--already a great crowd favorite in 1963--grow progressively darker and more withdrawn as he and his band take their first steps towards rock and roll in 1965. The film features Dylan singing stirring versions of many of his most famous songs--"Blowin' in the Wind," "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall," "Maggie's Farm," "Only a Pawn in Their Game"--as well as some of his legendary duets with Joan Baez. A great document of an extraordinary performer, and a fascinating complement to Todd Haynes' wonderful I'm Not There.
"Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Runnin' Down a Dream," directed by Peter Bogdanovich, US, 2007Rarely, if ever, has the history and development of a major rock band been explored with the care and the depth with which Peter Bogdanovich approaches Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Starting out from Gainesville Florida, the band (as Mudcrutch) headed to Los Angeles in the mid-'70s and soon attracted the attention of producer Denny Cordell. Their first singles failed to cause much of a stir in the U.S., but in the U.K., they were hailed as the best American band in years. After a hugely successful European tour, they headed home, this time finding a much warmer response from critics and the public alike. Liberally peppered with rare concert footage--from Florida bars to "The Top of the Pops" to major stadium appearances--the film also chronicles Petty's epic battles with the record industry and collaborations with Bob Dylan, Stevie Nicks, Roger McGuinn and the Traveling Wilburys. Dispensing with the cynicism that usually accompanies longevity in rock music, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have managed to remain fresh, feisty and popular for over thirty years. Peter Bogdanovich helps us understand why.

The Last Days of American Democracy?

By James Harris and Joshua Scheer, Truthdig

James Harris: On the phone we are talking to Elliot Cohen, the author of The Last Days of Democracy. Elliot, let's start with your theory. For the most part, you're saying that our government in the United States is coming to an end. And that we are headed toward a dictatorship, toward authoritarian rule. The idea that we will one day be like Nazi Germany was … is hard for a lot of Americans to swallow. Why do you believe it to be true?
Elliot Cohen: We are not saying things off the top of our heads; we do have the operations and secret prison camps in Europe, we torture prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Gitmo. This regarding the Geneva Conventions and the NSA spying programs warrantlessly. Bush is issuing signing statements, which is tantamount to nullifying congressional lawmaking powers. Cancellation of habeas corpus, enabling individuals as enemy combatants just by virtue of whether the president deems that hostile to U.S. interests. I mean this goes on and on for individual facts as to why one might say that America is becoming a dictatorship. And as far as the issues of the media and how the media is being controlled, I think there's many insiders who admit the same facts that I've stated, in fact, they come from such -- I mean, the issue here is not that the media is somehow an ideologue in cahoots with the government for ideological purposes. It's rather that the media is a moneymaking machine and is being controlled by the purse-strings -- through the government.

Josh Scheer: Now, aren't there good people in the media who are trying to do something? Are they wimpy? Or are they not speaking loud enough? What do you think is the cause of the problem with the media?
Cohen: Well, the cause of the problem isn't the good journalists who are in the trenches and risking their lives to get out stories. They're still there. What happens is when the news is edited, what facts that are damaging to government, the censorship kicks in. And the stories just don't get out there from the mainstream. And, so, it's not that it is a sense of wimpiness of individuals who are risking their lives. I think there needs to be a realization, however, that is it really worth risking your life when the story is going to be cut, edited, censored, in a way that the news isn't going to get out. And so it's not at the lower levels of journalists in the trenches; it's the higher levels of editorship and ownership where -- I mean there's a lot of reasons for this. First of all, when you look at the media and its interests, its bottom line is its major interests. And how does it attain its bottom line? Well, it does it through military contracts, for instance. Because these companies are not just newsrooms, they are giant conglomerates.
Take, for interest, General Electric. General Electric has interests in producing jet engines for military contracts with Lockheed Martin. And the war in Iraq is something that builds up these revenues, and when it comes to advancing the media ownership, how many cross-ownership markets and how far can you advance your national market? Well the FCC is the one that grants those wishes and … so there's lots of reasons why, not withstanding tax incentives and other little government perks, why the media would be beholden, you know, to the politicians who hold the reins of government. And when you have such an aggressive government as we do, which is ideological and has this desire to control and amass great power, then you have really a recipe for dictatorship. And that's what we have: We don't have an independent Fourth Estate doing its job. And we have problems there.
Scheer: That's what I'm talking about. When I say wimpy, I don't mean obviously the person in Iraq trying to cover for Indymedia. I'm talking about those people in power who are editors, who are publishers, who are the owners, shouldn't they have some kind of standard, because they are the Fourth Estate, speaking truth to power ... ?
Cohen: The way things are going is they're thinking as corporate executives and not journalists. They're thinking about their obligations to their shareholders; they're thinking about their bottom line. And that kind of thinking is incompatible with the Fourth Estate that's independent of government -- not when you're in business with the government. One of the major problems as far as the media is concerned is media consolidation and these large corporations that control the media being not these good journalists of the Fourth Estate, but rather simply businessmen trying to make a profit.
Harris: I was reading something you said about the Internet and of course it's at least in one respect the ability of alternative press to be heard and seen by others who wouldn't normally see it. You say the regulations we're seeing right now are just one example of the way we are being stripped of our democracy, our, at least an access to continuing democracy. Explain that.
Cohen: The Internet is really a great bastion of democracy. If we didn't have the Internet we wouldn't even know about the Downing Street Memos, for example. Because the mainstream didn't cover it. And so what we're up against is, if we can hold on to the Internet, then we still have a source of a democratic press. But the problem is, it's being encroached upon just like mainstream media and it's in danger of becoming really an arm of these large corporations who are now dominating the Internet. And this started in 2000, well, well before. But in 2005 there was the landmark decision by the Supreme Court, which was the Brand X decision, where the court essentially turned over the pipes that send the information down the Internet to these large corporations.
It basically said that they own the conduit for the Internet. The Supreme Court ruled that the Internet is like a cable TV station and can be owned and can be operated like such. For instance, Fox broadcasts its program and you have no control -- we have no control over what it broadcasts. Well, essentially, this is the way the Internet is now conceived, legally. They can send and control, you know, send things down and control the content. And if they can control the conduit, they can control the content of the Internet pipes. And even wireless there are these fights to try to hold on to control of the Internet, and that's the first stage to do away with what's common carriage, which means that just like on a phone conversation, anybody can enter a phone conversation and use the phones.
Well, the Supreme Court said that that is no longer the case with the Internet. The Net's not going to be seen as a telecommunications system but rather it's going to be conceived as an information system just like CNN or Fox cable. And what that does is open up the door effectively for various modes of control, and one of the ways in which these large corporations like Comcast are trying to control the Internet right now is through setting up these tollbooths where they are instituting, or want to institute -- and there's a lot of powerful lobbies in Congress to try to do this -- they are trying to set up these tollbooths which will regulate how much, what kind of bandwidth different Internet sites can have, depending upon how much they are wiling to pay. So we have a pay-for-play system where the bandwidth will determine how quickly you connect then, and whether or not you end up spinning out in cyberspace versus reaching lots of people. And obviously those corporations with the deepest pockets are going to be able to have the best connectivity. What that means is money is going to control truth.

Harris: Why don't we hear about this legislation? Why don't we hear about these efforts to control the Internet, to control wireless? Is this part of the systematic effort you are talking about?
Cohen: Yes, I believe that that's the case. Just to preface this in 2007, I won the Project Censored award for my article on the corporate takeover of the Internet. And the reason why I did was because Project Censored thought that it was the most censored story of -- it actually goes back to 2005 when the decision I mentioned, the Supreme Court decision, was made. It wasn't heard at all on the mainstream. And why not? Well, part of the main reason, one of the main reasons, is that these companies really don't want to blow their cover. I mean, you have all these large corporations having interconnected board members.
I mean, they have contracts with each other, they have relationships with each other. And if they don't want this news covered because it's dangerous to their prosperity, it won't be covered. That's part of it, but the other part of it is even more unsettling. And that's where we find the government really having an interest in this, and much has been said in the progressive media about the Project for the New American Century, PNAC, but one of the issues of PNAC that hasn't been broached that much is the problem of the Internet and how that keys into the ideology of PNAC. Basically, what PNAC wants to do is to control the Internet. And they have been very explicit about this and a report called "Rebuilding America's Defenses" in 2000 -- they specifically address this, so I think something about the Project for the New American Century, what its genesis is, before I say something about -- .
Harris: I think a lot of people aren't aware of it, but are becoming, so please help them. …
Cohen: Right, the Project for the New American Century was begun around '97 or '98 by a bunch of individuals who ultimately showed up as the officials of the Bush administration. These people like Dick Cheney and even Scooter Libby and [Paul] Wolfowitz and [Richard] Perle and so many others who are controlling the government right now [or were controlling the government]. It even included [Donald] Rumsfeld.
Scheer: Some of them should be in prison, or are in prison.
Cohen: These individuals are now calling the shots for the Bush administration. So we can understand, we can assume that the ideologies espoused by the Project for the New American Century are really the perspectives of the Bush administration. Because they control the Bush administration, including the vice president. And, one of the things, the main interest of the Project for the New American Century, was really to control, to use military might, to corporatize and control the world. I mean, in just plain English. They entertained the idea of taking over Iraq, whether or not Saddam Hussein presented a threat; they were very specific. It didn't really matter as long as they can get that area and establish a permanent base there, that's what they wanted.
One of the things regarding the Internet that they talked about was the Internet has elements in a global commerce politics and power play. And they said that "any nation," and this is a quote, "wishing to assert itself globally must take account of this other new global commerce." And then they went on and said it's an invaluable tool, they said, "that could provide," and this is a quote, "America's military and political leaders," let me emphasize political leaders, "an offensive," not just a defensive, "for disabling an adversary in a decisive manner." And then when they were talking about cyberspace that it maintains that the Defense Department must establish control and provide for the security for the Internet. Now, when you bring in the Defense Department controlling the Internet -- tell me if I'm speculating here -- is that a recipe for controlling the Internet?
Scheer: Is this a new phenomenon with the government trying to control people? Because it seems that governments have always tried to do that, or is this Bush administration, and this time that we are in, something unique and even further than the Nazis or the communists or the Americans in the '20s, the '30s, the '40s and the '50s. Is this something that we are seeing right now that is different than the typical government control of its people?
Cohen: Well, if you're talking about, let's say, how much control did the Clinton administration exert over the government versus the Bush administration; or if you're comparing it with the Nazis, that's a different story. I think there's a strong parallel between the ways the Nazis proceeded and the way Bush is proceeding. If you look at the distinction between, say, the Clinton administration and the Bush administration, there's also a difference. It's to some extent a difference in degree, and in some extent, to some extent, it is a difference in kind. The different in degree is the interest in dealing with the media and engaging in quid pro quo. Certainly, the Clinton administration, which in 1996 signed into law the Telecommunications Act , which gave more control over larger markets to the media, the mainstream -- these large corporations -- and helped to move along this corporate consolidation. You know, these large corporations gaining, getting larger and larger and controlling more and more of the media. So, I mean, when you have this small group of individual corporations controlling the media, there's less competition. Even though there are more stations, but, in that case, you know, I know you want to get away from the media, it's hard to do that here.

Scheer: Well, I didn't mean to get away from the media, but I meant that in terms of having a conversation about the New American Century and things like that, I know they go hand in hand. I was talking more about Nazis, not about their brutality but their control of the media, or in this country we had the Red Scare in the '20s and we had McCarthyism, we had the Cold War, where we used fear, we used the media, to kind of control the message.
Cohen: And that's where it comes in now, the difference, it certainly, as I mentioned, the Clinton administration wanted to control the media, as I mentioned. It was involved in that. It engaged in quid pro quo and so forth, but the difference here, and this is the difference in kind, I believe, is the ideology that the Bush administration has and that's this amassing of power and control, this global domination theme, and this is what it lives and breathes for. Control. And, so, when you have this voracious appetite for control and then you have the media set up to accommodate it, there is a difference here that's going on between what we've seen in America before. And it's the kind of control and desire for control that's analogous to what we saw in Nazi Germany. ... What's different about this case is that we have technology that we never had before. If Nixon had more than his little tape recorders, he could do a lot more than he did as well.
Scheer: Yeah, I understand. It's just interesting to look at, say, watch a movie, or read the book, "All the President's Men," and go "Nixon's pretty bad with wiretapping and in terms of election fraud, and corruption, and those types of things"; it seems that it kind of goes in a revolutionary cycle. I want to talk about hope because we had a conversation with somebody the other day and it was talking about how some people don't hope, and that even [I] have been a little cynical. And I want to talk about your book because at the end you have something called "What's Now, Compatriots," and you talk about what you can do as an average citizen, and you put in a selected media guide, even though Truthdig's not in there yet. ...
Harris: We need to talk to you about that.
Scheer: But, I want to know, does that mean you have hope? Do you have hope that this system can be changed or do you think that it's hopeless and we should just kind of cower and go away?
Cohen: Never cower. Never cower. It's not over until it's over, and right now we need to understand that that's where we're heading. And it's easy enough to say, "Well, you know it happened in [Nazi] Germany, but we're different." That's a very pompous attitude. As though Americans are somehow different than Germans. They're not. They're people. And if we don't watch it, this is where we're heading. Well, what do we do about it? There's things we can do. Well, one thing is for the average person to make sure that they're informed: To stop relying on mainstream media as much as they do, and to get their information from independent media. Then really when you look at the survival of dictatorships, and whether they thrive or not. They thrive on keeping people ignorant. And if the masses of people are just ignorant and they don't take responsibility for their failure to know, then we aren't looking in the face of hopeless dictatorship; people need to wake up.
They need to start learning about what's going on and they need to say, "We're as mad as hell and we're not going to take it." They need to join activist movements like, for instance, Free Press, which is an organization that's been really doing a lot to try to counteract the taking-over of the free Internet and the destruction of Internet neutrality. And a lot of other causes about media ... [like] organizing massive letter-writings to Congress. People need to start thinking in terms of doing these sorts of things. Peaceful assemblies. And demonstrations. These are constitutional rights, and as long as we have these rights in our Constitution we should make sure that we see that through. These are things that we need to do. Educators should stop placating and looking for fair and balanced and start speaking out because there's danger here and every educator has an obligation to step up onto the plate as a vanguard of democracy.
The lawyers of this nation, including the American Bar Association, need to present a unified front against violations of the rule of law. They did that at one point where they denounced Bush's instituting signing statements to do away with the congressional lawmaking authority and they made it clear that it was illegal and unconstitutional. But we need to be more unified as educators as citizens. As journalists too. I think the journalists associations and the schools of journalism need to start making a unified stand that, you know, journalists need to be vanguards of democracy.
We need to get back the Fourth Estate, and we can't simply support these large corporations allowing this go down the tubes and that's exactly what's going on. I think we need to take the unified stand. Is it going to happen? Well, you know, people like us, you and your site and the things that I'm trying to do with the book and doing these kinds of interview are the things that more of us need to take seriously. And listen and learn. Is that going to work? Well, I think that we better do that. It's better than laying down and playing dead.
Scheer: Well, thank you. I just want to talk about Free Press because we have interviewed people from Free Press and it's not just a liberal-Democrat issue; it's not just a conservative issue. Because with Net neutrality the Christian Coalition, that's their new issue they've set for this next election for the next many years, so it's not just a one-sided issue; it's keeping a free press. Keeping the Internet free, we can all agree, is the thing for the citizen.

Harris: … [H]ere's a question, and Josh speaks to this as well. Elliot, you were talking about PNAC, the Project for the New American Century, and you're also talking about media and how it's been manipulated severely in the last seven years. We've seen the government exposed; we've see the government abuse, that power can be misused. Does this reveal a problem perhaps, a more insoluble one that our government is flawed? That the system that we abide by, the Republic, is flawed? And if so, what do we do about that fact?
Cohen: I think that after they've ransacked the Constitution and the balance of powers and the like as they've done, it really is flawed. They've set some dangerous precedents. Was the system intact when they came in? I think it was. But any system, any system has vulnerabilities. There's no system of government and no system of any activity or operation that's entirely invulnerable. I think we have a good system and if we can only get it back and start recognizing the rule of law in implementing it. I think what's happening is that they are getting away with so many things. I mean, they refused to recognize subpoenas, they evoke executive privilege even with the Tillman case; I mean, this is absurd. They've gone to such absurd lengths of just disregarding the rule of law that anybody, no matter how perfect your system was, if they weren't going to follow the rules then the system wouldn't work.
So I think what Congress needs to realize is just that. They have to take the powers that they do have, they have some powers that they can exercise, but they're not doing it. I think this is human error. I think it's with people who are in power right now and the people are trying to do something about it. There's where the wimpishness comes in. They're being … the Congress is being wimpish. They need to impeach Bush. They can do that. But they're not. And it's not the system's fault; it's their fault.
Harris: And isn't that a sad fact, though? You see [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi there; you see Sen. [Harry] Reid there. They all seem to be talking the talk but nobody is actually getting anything done. And I think that's the most upsetting part, as Dr. Cohen just said.
Scheer: As Dr. Cohen said, and previous with people writing letters to Congress, I think that as a citizenry, and I need to do more. I'm sure everyone could do a little more ... to let them know that we're pissed off. And I think that's why the election [outcome of 2006] happened. The Democrats should learn from that and, you know, any time you get a system that large obviously things are going to fall through the cracks, but they can certainly, they should be responsible with the election and how much the Democrats have raised more than the Republicans. They should learn that the citizenry is upset.

James Harris is a radio producer and filmmaker based in San Francisco.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


The Midsummer's Night and Perseid Meteor SALON SPECTACLE was spectacular!

The event last evening, August 13, was, as hoped for and intended, the highpoint of the summer in Key West. Hosted by and at the home of Joyce Stahl, Java Studios presented an evening of magic and delight, that had people attending proclaim it as the best Key West party in memory!

Produced by Java Studios and the amazing duo team of Marky Pierson and Christa Hunt, of Desnudo, with Quincy Perkins, and a score of volunteers, especially the talented, and resourceful Linda Shield, who carried every task I asked of her, and made it look easy.

The extraordinary Joyce Stahl deserves the greatest praise and appreciation for underwriting the evening's event, and for providing her home and her equally amazing staff - Carlos, Sonia, Julietta, Gabrielato, Tand rinni - to help make things go so smoothly, with food preparation and insuring the property was ready in every respect.

The Midsummer's Night talent lineup:

Singer Maj Johnson, crooner Johnny Truelove, Leon and Lucy on the dance floor, the Marvelous Meteor Orchestra - Nick Charles on Sax and reeds, Matthew Watson on the skins, Joe Dallas on electric bass, and Mike Emerson on Guitar; Sheena as M.C. on the Pool stage, and Christa Hunt who M.C.'d the Main Stage, filling in for George Murphy, who regretfully called in ill at the last minute; Moana Amore on the KW Burlesque, writer and poet Cricket Desmarias, singer Marilyn Holderfield, singer and songwriter Ben Harrison, who also tells the best stories (!), Jimmy Wray and his incredible jugglers, throwing fire and illuminated globes (!), painter Cayman Smith-Martin on his gravity-defying 10' tall stilts - and dancing on them, no less; singer and crooner Roc Solomon, actors Mike McCabe and Carolyn Cooper, poets Rosalind Brackenbury, Connie Gilbert, and Sherri Lohr; painter Sherry Tewell (photo, r.) - who masterfully created the arts mural, (left) replicating Henri Rousseau's "The Dream", aptly titled for the night, with 35 artists each painting a panel of the iconic painting; media creators and filmmakers Steve Panariello, and Will Thompson, photographers John and Bernadette McCall, David Bethune with his art installation on digital projection, still photographer Carol Tedesco; the fabulous night faeries - Marci Rose, (photo, l.) Elany, Joele, and the wicked satyr, Landon; additional kudos to Deborah Goldman, who insured the presentation leading to the gates being open was pitch perfect; DJ Sean Sebastian, and a most special performance of One Night Stand, presenting the short play that had just been staged for the first time two days earlier at the Studios of Key West - titled "Everybody Gets Laid on Valentine's Day", with (photo, r. to l.) Mook J, Cricket Desmarais, and Chris Stone, written by Chris Schultz and originally directed by Doug Shook, with actor and director Tom Murtha doing his turn for the Midsummer's Night reprise (taking it "Off-Eaton"), and set backdrop painted by Cayman Smith-Martin. I no doubt have left off some others who made the Night so incredible, and will come back to rectify the oversight - my head is still spinning from it all, mere hours from mopping up the scene!

We expected a full house, about 200 give or take a couple dozen. We printed up 200 programs and Dream Cards. They were all given out within the first hour. Our gate keepers estimate over 400 came through in the course of the evening, and they stopped counting after three hours. Thanks go to the throngs who filled out the Dream Cards, from which we read aloud to the delight of all.

It was, as many declared, the most amazing, original, and creative party they'd been to in Key West - and for the "old-timers" within memory, and also the way "it used to be in Key West."

The Night was about discovering what your dream is.

The power of our dreams. That dreams can and do come true.

To launch the Key West Salon and continue the spirit of knowing how invaluable the arts are in defining the quality of life in the community, that the collective spirit is what makes our town as remarkable as it we know it.

As a review is underway to give further verdicts on the many elements of the Night, what worked best, what might have been created differently, and so on, we are also relieved no predicted rains fell, and also fatigued from the sheer physical demands - putting it up, and now striking the set - a day of rest is in order, to relish and bask in the afterglow. And then - to embrace the challenge of channeling the energy and begin anew for the NEXT great SALON event. Stay tuned, and more pics will be posted, too. You can also visit http://www.tropicalheart.com/ for photos of the evening, of which the ones in this post come from. A HUGE THANK YOU TO KEY WEST!

Friday, August 10, 2007

An Ocean of Plastic Bags Are Drowning Us

The most ubiquitous consumer item on Earth, the lowly plastic bag is an environmental scourge like none other, sapping the life out of our oceans and thwarting our attempts to recycle it.
By Katharine Mieszkowski

On a foggy Tuesday morning, kids out of school for summer break are learning to sail on the waters of Lake Merritt. A great egret hunts for fish, while dozens of cormorants perch, drying their wings. But we're not here to bird-watch or go boating. Twice a week volunteers with the Lake Merritt Institute gather trash out of the waters.

read more digg story

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Real Key West: An Arts Manifesto

From the ever growing blogosphere, comes one more and thoroughly engaging site, The Real Key West: An Arts Manifesto. Visit and add your voice!

Friday, August 03, 2007

1967 - The Year That Changed the World

I graduated from high school in 1967, from a conservative and nearly all-Republican Pennsylvania community, having grown up in a small, 5,000 population town. My beliefs, like so many, had been shaped by that environment, but in that seminal and watershed year, all of that changed. Within a week of turning 18, I was joining the March on the Pentagon, to "levitate it". I then moved - or, escaped - to the East Village in New York City, earning an education that forever would impact my life. As 1967 all so quickly blended and merged into 1968, I was an active war-resister and straddled the fence between the peace and love hippies (the chosen self-description and epithet my friends and compatriots preferred was "freaks", for it's what we felt we had been painted as) and the political radical style of the yippies, and even of the Columbia University students who stripped away the "establishment's" invincibility which was further galvanized when Martin Luther King was assassinated in April of 1968. At that juncture, I left NYC, and hitchhiked across the US to California, where I continued my own Odyssey to Los Angeles and later, to San Francisco, living in the epi-center of the ever growing counter-culture, the Haight Asbury. Joining the many thousands who were likewise on the search for meaning, purpose, direction, and riven by the Vietnam War and the counter-culture that was erupting in fits and starts all over the world. I was on a path to Canada and as a draft-resistor, not, as a draft-dodger, for I was willing to confront and pay the cost of refusing to be used by a discredited government and policy, and not be killed, or kill others. I campaigned for Eugene McCarthy, and was living in LA, and recall the fateful night when Bobby Kennedy was killed, moments after his electoral victory in the Democratic primary. I quickly moved to the Bay Area. The whole world was watching, alright. Here's a new examination of that period. 40 years, ago. It still feels like it just happened, still vivid and powerful. I'm not nostalgic, despite this reminiscence. This is history. Has our culture learned, or rather, what has our culture and society learned? - MS

New year's eve, San Francisco. Country Joe and the Fish play the final set at the Avalon Ballroom, ushering in 1967. That same night, Big Brother and the Holding Company, fronted by Janis Joplin, perform nearby in Golden Gate Park. Two weeks later, 20,000 people pack the park for the first Human Be-In - a foretaste of the Summer of Love in Haight-Ashbury. Timothy Leary, in a phrase of his own invention, tells the assembled tribe to "turn on, tune in, drop out."'
The Age of Aquarius is dawning in 1967 - but so is another, very different age. A hundred miles from San Francisco, less than twenty-four hours after the last chord dies at the Avalon, governor-elect Ronald Reagan takes the oath of office in Sacramento at the stroke of midnight. Reagan, who has won the election by telling lurid, fanciful tales of college orgies and promising to root out communists at Berkeley, declares that universities must transmit "accepted moral and ethical standards."'

A dozen years earlier, Reagan was a washed-up B-movie actor, presiding over the official opening of Disneyland. Now he is the hard-line conservative governor of the nation's most populous state--with his inauguration festivities staged by the Walt Disney Company.
The stock images of 1967- hippies and free love, political dissent and upheaval - are strong and enduring. The year brought important breakthroughs in what historian Theodore Roszak later described as "the making of a counter culture." By the decade's end, civil rights protests, having formally destroyed Jim Crow, also inspired new egalitarian movements for the rights of women, gays and other denigrated groups. Anti-war protests forced a fresh reckoning with the conventional wisdom about America's role in global affairs. Concerns about the environment grew to the point where even government bureaucrats were forced to take notice. A sexual frankness mixed with both communal adhesiveness and insistent individualism - the long- suppressed tradition of Walt Whitman - washed over American culture.

Yet, as the contrasting scenes from that New Year's Eve suggest, the stock images are also incomplete. Even as the counterculture was helping to transform America into a nation of greater tolerance and freedom, the country was beginning a long-term political shift to the right. The Republican Party was back in force, swearing in forty-seven new congressmen--including a transplanted Connecticut Yankee from Texas named George H.W. Bush. Like Reagan, Bush had endorsed Barry Goldwater for president in 1964. Together, the two men would play a prominent role in the conservative resurgence that has reshaped America's political landscape just as surely as the Summer of Love reshaped the cultural landscape. We should remember 1967 not as the time the nation turned on and tuned in but as the moment the United States began hurtling toward a nervous breakdown, riven by conflict that would change the country and the world forever. It was the beginning of an era of intense polarization - one in which, arguably, we are still living. More than a momentous year, 1967 was a seedbed for our own times.

The Vietnam War, and the rising opposition to it, dominated the nation's politics in 1967. The U.S. military presence inside the tiny country had skyrocketed from 12,000 "advisers" five years earlier to nearly 500,000 troops, and Operation Rolling Thunder continued to rain millions of tons of bombs on North Vietnam. The U.S. death toll in 1967, computed at 11,153, was nearly double the figure for the previous year - and far surpassed the total number of U.S. personnel killed in Vietnam in the previous eleven years.
In 1967, the protests that had been building against the war became a genuine mass movement. On April 4th, at Riverside Church in New York, Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed that "the madness of Vietnam" disclosed "a far deeper malady in the American spirit." Over the weekend of October 21st, in the first truly national anti-war demonstration, 50,000 protesters marched across the Potomac to confront the war-makers at the Pentagon. And in late November, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara resigned in a dispute with President Johnson over escalating troop levels and the bombing of North Vietnam.

Although the war would drag on for another eight years, the anti-war movement that mobilized in 1967 left a lasting mark on the nation. Not since the Mexican War more than a century earlier had so many Americans repudiated a U.S. military effort. The alienation contributed enormously to the broader rift between patriotic traditionalists and the emerging counterculture. The Johnson administration's deployment of what one historian has called "a policy of minimum candor" about the war also bred widespread cynicism about politics and politicians. The cynicism deepened when Nixon's attempts to silence his critics over the war led to the Watergate scandal and his resignation in 1974.

That lost trust has never completely been regained, especially among the baby boom generation that came of age in the 1960s. Many of those who could still stomach politics would always be on the lookout for candidates who presented themselves as uncompromised outsiders. Even the two Bush presidents, recognizing the shift in the electorate, campaigned as down-home, straight-shooting Texans. The latter, George W., went to the trouble of buying a stage set of a ranch in Crawford, where he could wear bluejeans, clear a little brush and look, on television at least, like a real cowboy.

Vietnam also caused a lasting breach on the left over foreign affairs. For a radical minority, the war proved once and for all the essential malevolence of U.S. military involvement abroad. Ever since, the hard left has regarded virtually every U.S. intervention, from Bosnia to Iraq, as imperialist misadventures. But mainstream liberals - Bill Clinton and Al Gore being the best examples - have perceived a clear role for American military might in a dangerous world, preferably in alliance with other like-minded powers. The divide has been one reason why the Democratic Party has spent much of the past forty years wandering in the political wilderness. The Vietnam experience also sharpened the willingness of Americans to turn against military operations when the government's credibility slips--as it has over the continuing war in Iraq.
Will we learn from these mistakes? Can we? -MS

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The White House's 3 Stooges

There are so many stories erupting from the political frenzy surrounding the totally discredited Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, I hardly know which story to cover or comment on, there are so many. Each day a new one tumbles onto the street for dissection and even shredding, taking the euphemisms that politicians employ and stretch to new outrageous levels, further defying description anymore. Bill Clinton was (rightly) excoriated for parsing "It depends on what the meaning of "is" is." So while less elegant, even, the "I don't recall" is the best excuse since the "dog ate my homework". A perfect storm in the making. Will he resign, be impeached, or fired? Answers: unlikely, only if the Democrats grow a spine, and never. The current pit in the White House seems to be getting deeper and deeper, and the ramifications are yet to be fully realized. Certainly, the familiar adage to "Stop Digging" would be wise, though nothing the White House is doing would imply they are acting in the interest of anything except expediency - or to continue to conceal, obfuscate, or dissemble.- MS

The president won't fire Alberto Gonzales. He needs him to protect White House secrets, including the scheming roles of Cheney and Rove.
By Sidney Blumenthal
Aug. 02, 2007

Omertà (or a code of silence) has become the final bond holding the Bush administration together. Honesty is dishonorable; silence is manly; penitence is weakness. Loyalty trumps law. Protecting higher-ups is patriotism. Stonewalling is idealism. Telling the truth is informing. Cooperation with investigators is cowardice; breaking the code is betrayal. Once the code is shattered, however, no one can be trusted and the entire edifice crumbles.
If Attorney General Alberto Gonzales were miraculously to tell the truth, or if he were to resign or be removed, the secret government of the past six years would be unlocked. So long as a Republican Congress rigorously engaged in enforcing no oversight was smugly complicit through its passive ignorance and abdication of constitutional responsibility, the White House was secure in enacting its theories of the imperial presidency. An executive bound only by his self-proclaimed fiat in his capacity as commander in chief became his own law in authorizing torture and warrantless domestic wiretapping and data mining. Following the notion of the unitary executive, in which the departments and agencies have no independent existence under the president, the White House has relentlessly politicized them. Callow political appointees dictate to scientists, censoring or altering their conclusions. Career staff professionals are forced to attend indoctrination sessions on the political strategies of the Republican Party in campaigns and elections. And U.S. attorneys, supposedly impartial prosecutors representing the Department of Justice in the states, are purged if they deviate in any way from the White House's political line.

Last week, for example, the Washington Post reported that (photo, r.), William R. Steiger (who just happens to be a godson of former President GHW Bush - MS) director of the Office of Global Health Affairs in the Department of Health and Human Services, suppressed the 2006 "Call to Action on Global Health" report of U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona, which explained the connection of poverty to health and urged that attacking diseases become a major U.S. international commitment. Steiger, who has no credentials in the field, is the son of a former congressman who was Vice President Cheney's earliest patron, giving Cheney his first congressional job as a staff intern. At the White House's behest, Steiger acts as a micromanaging political commissar. His insistence on approving every single overseas appointee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has left many of its posts empty. "Only 166 of the CDC's 304 overseas positions in 53 countries are filled," the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in April. "At least 85 positions likely will remain unfilled until 2008." Such is the theory of the unitary executive in action.

Just this week, Jeffrey Toobin wrote in the New Yorker about the suspicion that fell on the U.S. attorney in Washington state, (photo, l.) John McKay, who was fired in the wholesale purge because of his interest in devoting full resources to an investigation of the murder of an assistant U.S. attorney, Tom Wales, who had been a prominent local advocate of gun control.

On July 31, the U.S. attorney in Roanoke, Va., John Brownlee, (photo, r.) testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the night before a guilty verdict was delivered in his case against the drug manufacturing company that produced OxyContin, he received a call from a Justice Department official asking him to slow down his prosecution.

On Wednesday, Bush prepared to invoke executive privilege to protect his senior political aide, Karl Rove, and Rove's deputy, J. Scott Jennings (photo, l.) from testifying before Congress on the firing of the U.S. attorneys. (update note: Jennings has appeared, to avoid a contempt citation, but claiming 5th Amendment and executive privilege throughout his questioning, today, at the Senate hearing). Bush has already covered his chief of staff, Josh Bolten, and former counsel Harriet Miers with executive privilege to prevent their testimony. The House Judiciary Committee responded by citing both for contempt of Congress, which requires action by the U.S. attorney of the District of Columbia. But the Justice Department has declared that it will thwart that process, in effect rendering the nation's system of justice a political arm of the executive.
Bush has steadfastly refused to fire Attorney General Gonzals, even though Gonzales' former chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, directly contradicted Gonzales' testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee that he knew nothing about the purge of U.S. attorneys and by documentation that Gonzales' claim that they were dismissed for "performance" was a politically contrived excuse. In protecting Gonzales, Bush is shielding the true author of the purge -- Rove, who informed and received the approval of Bush himself.

Last week, after Gonzales had testified for the second time before Congress that there was no internal dissent against the authorization of warrantless domestic spying, FBI Director Robert Mueller (photo, l.) testified before Congress that Gonzales' statement was false and offered himself as proof of someone who had opposed the program that Gonzales said had won universal support. James Comey, the deputy attorney general in Bush's first term, had described the now-infamous "Enzo the Baker" scene of March 2004, when Comey, serving as acting attorney general, and Mueller rushed to a Washington hospital to intercept then White House counsel Gonzales, who tried to browbeat Attorney General John Ashcroft, (photo, r.) drugged and in pain after emergency surgery, into signing his approval of the wiretapping. Ashcroft refused. Comey confronted President Bush on the program's illegality and it was modified. Yet, in his latest testimony, Gonzales not only contradicted Comey's version but also claimed that the operation was about "other intelligence activities."

Gonzales' unashamed performance prompted senators to demand that the second-ranking Justice Department official, Solicitor General Paul Clement, (photo, l.) appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Gonzales' potential perjury, and members of the House to file a resolution asking the Judiciary Committee to launch impeachment proceedings.

The mystery surrounding Gonzales' position deepened with the bizarre attempted defense of Gonzales offered by Michael McConnell, (photo, r.) director of national intelligence, who sent a letter Tuesday to Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., explaining that the warrantless wiretapping was part of a much larger surveillance program authorized by a single executive order of the president. If this is true, then Gonzales' past efforts to describe the policy as narrow and relatively small are false. This defense, therefore, provided grist for further incrimination and failed to shine any light on Gonzales' patently misleading testimony.

Gonzales is a unique figure of disrepute in the history of the Justice Department, a cipher, enabler and useful idiot who was nonetheless indispensable in the rise of his patron and whose survival is elemental to that of the administration. Warren G. Harding's attorney general, Harry Daugherty (photo, l.) trailing accusations of bribery for which he was never indicted, resigned after Harding's death. Daugherty had been one of Harding's creators as the Republican Party chairman of Ohio. Two of Richard Nixon's attorneys general resigned in disgrace during the Watergate scandal, both significant political men: John Mitchell, Nixon's former law partner and campaign chairman, and Richard Kleindienst, an important player in the Barry Goldwater wing of the Republican Party of Arizona.

Gonzales earned the gratitude and indebtedness of Bush in 1996, when he enabled him to escape jury duty in Travis County, Texas, on the attenuated argument that as governor he might find himself in a conflict of interest in the future when considering a clemency or pardon. In fact, Bush's worry was filling out the juror's form that required listing arrests. By avoiding acknowledgement of his drunken-driving violation, Bush maintained his political viability. Grants of clemency and pardons never bothered Bush again. Of the 152 people condemned to execution in Texas during his tenure, the most under any governor in modern American history, he indulged in not a single act of clemency. His counsel, Alberto Gonzales, briefed him on 57 of these cases, and "repeatedly failed to apprise the governor of crucial issues in the cases at hand: ineffective counsel, conflict of interest, mitigating evidence, even actual evidence of innocence," according to a study published by the Atlantic.

As White House counsel, Gonzales served as a figurehead and rubber stamp for the radical views of Cheney and the legal neoconservatives on questions of executive power ranging from torture to domestic spying. Gonzales routinely signed the memos written by John Yoo and other ideologues and pushed the executive orders drawn up by Cheney's counsel, David Addington, on to the president for his signature.

Though Gonzales has nary a shred of credibility, even among Republican senators, his continued existence as attorney general is necessary to the preservation of the Bush White House. He is the firewall for Rove -- who issued his ultimate marching orders in the U.S. attorney firings -- and Bush. So Bush adamantly stands by him, covering Rove and the others with executive privilege.

Bush cannot afford to have Gonzales resign or be removed. Gonzales' leaving would ratchet up the administration's political crisis to an intense level. Bush could not nominate a replacement without responding to the Senate Judiciary Committee's inevitable request for information on every matter that he has attempted to keep secret. On every unresolved and electrified issue the Senate would demand documents -- the entire cache on the development of policy since 2001 on torture, the gutting of the Civil Rights Division, the U.S. attorneys and much more. Only Gonzales' perpetuation in office holds back the deluge.

Yet there is still another opening for Congress to explore that only became apparent in an editorial published in the New York Times on July 29. After observing that in March 2004 "the Justice Department refused to endorse a continuation of the wiretapping program because it was illegal," the Times revealed, almost in passing, "Unwilling to accept that conclusion, Vice President Dick Cheney sent Mr. Gonzales and another official to Mr. Ashcroft's hospital room to get him to approve the wiretapping."

"Cheney sent Mr. Gonzales ... "
This disclosure had not previously appeared anywhere else in print, including the news pages of the Times. Yet the Times' editorial page published it as indisputable fact. On Tuesday, the guest on CNN's "Larry King Live" was none other than Vice President Cheney. King asked Cheney about the Times' report about his order to Gonzales. "I don't recall," replied Cheney in a classic nondenial denial. "That would be something you would recall," King continued. "I would think so," said Cheney. "But certainly I was involved because I was a big advocate of the Terrorist Surveillance Program."

But under what authority did the vice president give this order to the then White House counsel? That is not a matter for editorial writers, but for Congress.
The Office of the Vice President has the most limited legal and constitutional power over the Justice Department. It can have input on an extremely narrow range of political policies, but absolutely none in operational matters. Yet the Times reports that Cheney sent Gonzales to pressure the attorney general to sign off on warrantless wiretaps. Why would a White House counsel act on a vice president's orders? And what else did Cheney's office do to influence the Justice Department over the past six years? Nothing is known beyond that one line in the Times.
We know nothing about the domestic wiretapping program, especially if it is as extensive as National Intelligence Director McConnell suggests. Only a congressional investigation can settle suspicions. When he was a congressman, Cheney notoriously defended the conduct of Oliver North (photo, l.) in the Iran-Contra affair as an aspect of executive power of which he approved. After North testified before the joint congressional committee investigating the scandal, Cheney declared that he was "the most effective and impressive witness certainly this committee has heard." In the minority report on Iran-Contra written under Cheney's aegis, the congressional role in overseeing foreign policy was contemptuously dismissed: "If they interfere with the core presidential foreign policy functions, they should be struck down." In the theoretical discussion of his view of the executive, it may be forgotten that North, whom he so passionately defended, had gotten the Washington field office of the FBI to wiretap the sources of the congressional investigators who were probing his activities. Fawn Hall, North's secretary (photo, r.)at his March 1989 trial delivered a line that summarized the entire affair and presciently anticipated certain Bush administration policies. "Sometimes you have to go above the law." (She married former Doors manager and Jim Morrison biographer Danny Sugerman (who passed away in January, 05). Early in their relationship they entered drug and alcohol rehab together- MS).

Now, in light of the Times' revelation of Cheney's order to Gonzales, the relevant committees of Congress are justified in requesting or subpoenaing documents from the Justice Department about the intrusion of the Office of the Vice President into domestic legal matters. The trail of what happened from 2001 to the present will be visible, to the extent it remains a record, embedded in e-mail communications and memorandums from the OVP to the Justice Department or in internal memos referring to such communications. Requesting them from the department end rather than the White House makes any claim of executive privilege hollow regarding departments or agencies outside the White House itself. The Justice Department has already cooperated with Congress in turning over documents. Why would it suddenly now refuse?

If executive privilege were to be applied in this instance to the Justice Department, then the unitary theory of government in which all power resides in a single vessel, a great Decider, would render the Constitution's grant of powers to three branches of government defunct.
Even Nixon, in asserting executive privilege in the heat of the Watergate scandal, did not claim that it applied to decisions made in the Justice Department. Attorney General John Mitchell, found guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice, could not be protected from prosecution for his part in what he called the "White House horrors."

Dick Cheney, the greatest exponent of the Nixonian concept of the presidency, more successful than Nixon, has usurped in his grasp of executive power even command of domestic legal policy. But we have seen only a flicker of a shadow of his power. And Bush knows that Rove, too, has played puppet master. Losing Gonzales would raise the curtain on this era's "White House horrors." So Bush throws executive privilege over everyone he can. The yes man has become the indispensable man.
-- By Sidney Blumenthal