Friday, March 31, 2006

Return from Gotham

Just back from Gotham, and a terrific "Writers of the Storm" panel at The New School.

If you were there, you know I don't exaggerate when I say that keynote speaker, David Cay Johnston, was superb as was moderator Terrence McNally, as well as every member of the panel that included Danny Goldberg, Anne Waldman, Paul Robeson, Jr., Arthur Kopit, Phil Rockstroh, and Bob Hershon, whose combined dynamism made for a provocative, and electric debate. If you weren't there, you missed one hell of an evening.

Seldom are we graced with so much brain power, and grit under the same roof, at the same time. One can only hope that dialogue, like ignorance, will be contagious, and that this will prove to be just the beginning of more high octane discourse on the subject of censorship, manipulation of the press and media, as well as disenfranchisement, on all levels. If we can clone sheep, why not principles, as well as a principled struggle that transcends categories, labels, and the viscera of contempt. Any idea that can be viewed in only one dimension is one that is doomed to be obsolete before it can see the light of day.

As we, as a nation, move closer to censuring a president, it was refreshing to watch a group of writers accept the challenge to take the debate where it most needs to go, out of our living rooms, and into the streets. What we take away from Tuesday night's discussion, if nothing else, is that democracy is not now, nor has it ever been, a spectator sport.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

"to be stuck inside of Beijing with the D.C. blues again..."

"Kafka would have loved a day like this," to paraphrase a line from a contemporary American poet...

You may recall reports, a few weeks ago, about the pending release of Chinese journalist, Zhao Yan, who has been detained, in Beijing, for the past 18 months on charges of divulging state secrets. Mr. Zhao is on the Beijing bureau of the New York Times, and in a NYT editorial yesterday, it was revealed that he "remains languishing in a Beijing jail." The editorial discloses something else of import, namely that the "state secret," in question, was an assertion, in his NYT article, that then president Jiang Zemin might retire.

As yesterday's editorial suggests, the release of information of that nature should never be grounds for imprisoning a journalist anywhere, under any circumstances and, by extension, informing the public about a clandestine government operation that uses electronic surveillance, and wire tapping, is not justification for calling editors, reporters, and newspaper publishers, in this country, before a federal grand jury, and having theirconfidential notes, records, e-mails confiscated. The principle of "classified information" is not the province of the military alone. When we divest those who gather the news of their right to guarantee privacy to their sources, and indict reporters for refusing to compromise that privacy, we jeopardize the foundation upon which an independent press was built.

It is imperative that all who believe in the future of an autonomous vehicle for releasing unbiased, tamper-free information speak up for the immediate release of Zhao Yan in China, as well as for censure and condemnation of all those, in this country, who are working to bring Beijing to Washington, D.C. We must not stand by idly, and tolerate frivolous grand jury subpoenas of journalists, and their records, any more than we can tolerate the jailing of journalists in China.

What better time to remind you, too, that Writers-at-Large will be having a forum, "Writers of the Storm: Fake News, and Public Decency, in the Age of Terror," dealing with the issue of a free press, in America, neutering of the news, as well as censorship on the evening of Tuesday, March 28th at The New School, Lang Center, 55 West 13th Street, second floor, (between 5th and 6th Avenues). The keynote address will be given by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times, David Cay Johnston, and the moderator will be Terrence McNally. Panelists include: Danny Goldberg, Anne Waldman, Paul Robeson, Jr., Arthur Kopit, Bob Hershon, and Phil Rockstroh. I will be hosting. Call The New School box office at: (212) 229-5488 to reserve your seats. See you there!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

"nontraditional means"

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has sanctioned the use of what he calls "nontraditional means" of reporting the war in Iraq, in that nation's newspapers, in an effort to counter what he considers to be a widespread disinformation campaign on the part of Iraqi insurgents. And, as the Associated Press also reports today, a top military commander has called for a Pentagon review into cooking the news about U.S. forces in Iraq. General Peter Pace says he believes there needs to be an investigation to get at the truth about whether the U.S. military pays Iraqi media to print positive stories in their newspapers. Clearly, the general is on to something. But, while we're at it, maybe we ought to also see who's paying O'Reilly, and other reporters for Fox, to spin the war in this country.

Propaganda, in any war, is nothing new, but it never ceases to amaze how guys who trip over words like nuclear show such immense linguistic prowess when it comes to how they designate detainees so as to bypass lawful "prisoner of war" status. While we already know about the Lincoln Group, and their ongoing shenanigans to spin the war in Iraq, what is extraordinary here is that that none other than the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is taking his home boys at the Pentagon to task, and urging a formal inquiry into Mr. Rumsfeld's "nontraditional means" of depicting the civil war that has resulted from American invasion, and occupation of that country. Undoubtedly, a formal review into these charges is a good thing, but better still is the assurance that the investigation the good general has in mind is an independent one, and not one in which the military brass gets a pat on the wrist.

Officials in the Pentagon justify their propaganda campaign as necessary to "get the accurate message out to Iraqis about what the U.S. is doing in Iraq." (AP) Indeed, if the message were to get out accurately to the Iraqi people, the ranks of insurgents would swell to tsunami levels.

For a top official and a general, no less, to rebuke his superiors, and call for a review into their practices, while a war is in progress is stunning, and something no card-carrying journalist in Iraq, or this country, can afford to ignore. After all, a representative from the Defense Department met with an editor for The Washington Post to complain about the way in which a staff reporter covered the Gulf War more than a decade ago. You'll recall, too, that this president called the publishers of The New York Times, The Washington Post, as well as other newspapers, to meet with him after the NYT broke the NSA electronic surveillance program suggesting, ironically, that the leaking of this story was "shameful," and not domestic surveillance, and harassment, of ordinary citizens.

As the Associated Press story today affirms, the larger issue here is whether journalists, and members of the media should be paid to report, or not report, the news in a way that is favorable to this administration.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

"Nobody likes war..."

"Nobody likes war. It creates a sense of uncertainty," thus spake President George W. Bush in an hour long televised news conference yesterday. To the contrary, war only creates uncertainty for those who have the luxury of being armchair generals. For the wounded, dying, mothers, fathers, and loved ones of the wounded and dying, there is no uncertainty. War is no less certain than the cries of a small child at his father's grave.

The president also tells us nobody likes to turn on their televisions, and see beheadings. In his view, with respect to the prospect for civil war in Iraq, "the Iraqis took a look and decided not to go to civil war." Indeed, maybe their dance cards are full. Could it be that the president is projecting his own response to serving his country back in the Vietnam days? Is it possible, too, that when he refers to Iraq and Afghanistan as "theaters," he expresses some confusion as to what is real, and what isn't. How much more removed can one be from the true impact of his commands than to refer to the bile and devastation of battle as "theater," and do so gleefully. Can it be that bin Laden isn't the only one occupying a metaphysical cave, the kind Plato warned about in his allegory, the shadow on the wall which speaks only figuratively of the sun.

As the Washington Post reports today, when teased by national treasure, journalist Helen Thomas, about his stature in the polls, our commander-in-chief confesses to being in a state of "semi-regret" akin, arguably, to the notion of agony lite, something to which those who grieve the loss of loved ones in a pre-fab battlefield cannot relate.

When asked what he plans to do with the "capital" he was going to spend on social security, at the end of yesterday's news conference, the president said only that he spent it "on war;" a stunning reminder that a government which puts profits from combat above figuring out how best to serve the needs of those it serves is, in the most profound sense, one that is spiritually bankrupt.

Monday, March 20, 2006

separating the Dems from the Dames....

Is it just me, or is it getting hard to tell the Dems from the Dames? Is everybody out playing roller derby, golf, or trying to decide which shade of Chanel suits them better? Where are Hillary, Howard, and Di-Fi now that defense lawyers, in the Libby case, have called for all but eviscerating the files of working journalists at The New York Times, and Time Magazine, as well as catching broadcast journalist, Tim Russert, in their crosshairs? Even Nancy Pelosi appears to be hiding under the covers.

When Robert Bennett, Judith Miller's counsel, says that the subpoenas, and investigation into the former New York Times reporter's records, and notes, as well as written correspondence with her editors, is broader than this specific, and alleged, leak calling it "a fishing expedition," (CNN), what more do we concerned citizens, politicians or otherwise, need in order for us to speak up against this subversion of a free press? Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, and it's not cartoons of the prophet Mohammad.

What is going on in this country, and when will those who were hired to represent us, of both parties, stop stroking each other, and start stoking the flames of discontent. Shame on those who wish to occupy the Oval Office next for not opposing the actions of a defense team whose aim is worse, and more transparent, than the rightful target of this investigation!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

De-Face the Nation

Vice President Dick Cheney stepped out, and guested this morning on "Face the Nation" rejecting notions of a White House shake-up which have spread like wildfire this week.

When questioned about the president's sagging popularity, and support for his policies, Mr. Cheney argued that "The president has got a job to do ... He ignores the background noise that's out there in the polls taken on a daily basis." (A.P.) By the way, lest you're wondering, "background noise" that would be us, folks. Aren't you impressed by how we, the people, have become elevator music to this administration, and something to talk over? I sure as hell am, and the only thing more impressive, at a time when we are increasingly deprived of choice, is how pregnant with apathy we, as a nation, have become.

The "grumbling" Mr. Cheney asserts he also heard, back in the 1970's, while working as chief of staff for President Ford, must have been related to irritable bowel syndrome, and in no way resembles the fallout from Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Iraq, and soon to be Iran visiting this White House; apples and oranges. The Ford era may well look, to future generations, like a "sleeper presidency" compared with the past 5 years when everything, including the notion of free elections, has been up for grabs.

On the CBS program this morning, the vice president said, too, that he will not seek the presidency. It's reassuring to know that, while the First, Second, and Fourth Amendments may be in jeopardy, there are still term limits as everybody knows who the power behind the throne is, and it ain't Laura Bush. While he claims that his advice to the president has been "untainted" by any political aspirations of his own, no one can question that this vice-president's contribution has been not merely tainted, but toxic, not just for this country, but for the whole world.

Sad but true, it seems the only shake-up Dick Cheney has to worry about is in his shorts.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Marking the third...

Thousands of anti-war demonstrators in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and throughout the world, took to the streets today to mark the third anniversary of the invasion, and occupation, of Iraq.

In light of this milestone in strategic futility, which is little more than a pre-fab contest of wills---George W. Bush versus the rest of the world, here are two statements; the first was made a little less than a year after combat began, and the second only days ago.

On the invasion itself:

"It won't take weeks, you know that, professor. Our military machine will crush Iraq in a matter of days, and there's no question that it will."
Bill O'Reilly 2/10/03

On the aftermath:

"One of the oldest imperial strategems is to divide and conquer, incite sectarian divisions, and justify military occupation to keep the natives from killing each other."
Tom Hayden 3/9/06

Arguably, the only way to honor the war dead, and the blood of those, regardless of nationality, who have given their lives, is by telling the truth, the whole truth, unequivocally, all of it, no matter how ugly, and refusing to settle for less than the truth, the whole truth, no matter how ugly. To accept anything less is to concede that human life has been taken as a sacrifice at the shrine of corporate greed, and religious intolerance, which would be, in the best sense of the word, Un-American.

Taking a leak, Libby-style...

When was the last time you "misremembered" anything? For my part, I can't remember. Come to think of it, I can't recall even using the term "misremember," yet counsel for Scooter Libby, former top aide to the vice-president, who was indicted, in late fall, on 5 counts of perjury, obstruction of justice, and lying to the FBI, are intent upon claiming that all the hoopla, in the White House, surrounding the revelation that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, as first reported, may have been a contributing factor in distracting the poor man to the degree that he has forgotten meaningful "snippets of conversation," which relate to the disclosure of a covert CIA operative, Valerie Plame Wilson's identity, in violation of federal law. This argument strikes me as tantamount to saying you forgot whether you studied for your Final Exam because you were distracted by your parents who were fighting over a car payment in the other room.

Mr. Libby's counsel may be second only to the defense team that won the release of O.J. Simpson in their efforts to deflect attention away from the right hand to among the most powerful vice-presidents in United States history by asserting that chronic arguments, in the Oval Office, are behind his inability to focus on who it was who told him about Mrs. Wilson.

More intriguing still is the assertion, on the part of his lawyers, that "the State Department and certainly not Mr. Libby bears responsibility for the leak," according to a published report by the Associated Press today. Let's stop for a moment, and do the math---how many employees does the State Department have when it operates nearly 260 U.S. embassies, and consulates, around the globe, even if we factor out the number who work in D.C.? Does it follow logically that federal prosecutor Fitzgerald should pursue the State Department, and not their client, for leaking the CIA agent's identity, and do they have anyone in particular, out of several thousand employees, in mind?

The good news is that Libby's attorneys appear to have narrowed it down to 3 department officials, Richard Armitage, Marc Grossman, and (are you ready for this?) Colin Powell who, while secretary of state, reportedly mentioned that everyone knows what Mrs. Wilson does for a living. Well, that's 3 down, and how many more to go? Mr. Armitage, as you may know, was unanimously confirmed, back in 01, as Deputy Secretary of State despite having been denied appointment, in 1989, to the position of Assistant Secretary due to his ties to Iran Contra. (oh, and by the way, any resemblance between Armitage and Jack Abramoff is purely coincidental.)

While some might wince at comparisons between Colin Powell and Thomas Jefferson who was our first secretary of state, truth be told it was Mr. Powell who was the only member of this administration to suggest that the Pentagon was operating in defiance of international law, and the Geneva Conventions, in designating detainees at Guantanamo Bay, and elsewhere, "enemy combatants." I daresay, too, that history will record Mr. Powell's opposition to his president's invasion of Iraq, and human rights travesties.

On the other side of the equation, we have profiles not in courage, but in cowardice. The last time we saw such memorable "misremembering," or artful dodging, was when Ronald Reagan said he didn't recall any conversations about the sale of arms to the Contras in exchange for release of hostages in Iran. The only difference is, when the former president said he didn't remember, he was telling the truth.

If lawyers for Dick Cheney's former aide get their way, and go after the State Department, and the C.I.A., as they're trying to, we will never know who is responsible for leaking, and who broke the law, any more than we have seen the killer of Nicole Brown, and Ron Goldman brought to justice.

past its expiration date?

An expiration date for the news?

Guess the news, too, will soon have to come with an expiration date. Apparently, my St. Paddy's Day blog is dated---imagine, in 24 hours no less. Nonetheless, happy to report, (along with yesterday's New York Times, of course), that the U.S. and Iran have agreed to sit down to talks about their alleged nuclear build-up.

As William O. Beeman, professor of Anthropology and Middle East Studies at Brown University suggests, in an op-ed piece, while these talks may, to some, represent only a baby step, they are an impressive, and important baby step at that, and those who persuaded this administration to abandon its hard hat in favor of velvet gloves deserve the gratitude of all, throughout the world, today who rise up in protest of the war in Iraq.

While no date for the talks has been set, and there appear to be a few salient conditions, those of us who delight in a world in which energy, nuclear or otherwise, will be put to constructive, and positive, use applaud these developments.

Friday, March 17, 2006

"half in jest"

A writer for the Associated Press reports that Andrey Denisov, Russia's ambassador to the U.N., today joined China in rejecting proposals to the U.N. Security Council to demand that Iran come clean about its presumed nuclear program within 14 days. Allegedly, Mr. Denisov's comment that any ultimatum could lead to the bombing of Iran in a few months was only "half in jest." I don't know about you, but I see no humor in the idea that Iran could suffer the same fate as Iraq, in June, as the Russian ambassador speculates, for its failure to report back to the Security Council nor is the kind of institutional dementia which is precipitous of yet another time when ammunition replaces cognition in the least amusing to me. When the White House needs to be more effective at crisis management than domestic policy, and the concept of national security has been reduced to monosyllables, mostly mispronounced, we are living in dangerous times.

Both Russia and China think two weeks isn't long enough for Iran to produce exculpatory evidence. When we set deadlines for talk, and not for war, peace can only exist on paper. We need, I think, to take a closer look at a foreign policy that puts diplomacy second to defensive military intervention. Given this administration's recent reiteration of so-called "pre-emption," its "the best defense is a good offense" approach, it seems that losing a war in Iraq, and having not caught Public Enemy #!, Osama bin Laden, has yet to teach this administration anything. What's more, the fast food ethos which has resulted in record obesity, among Americans, has now morphed into a fast food defense.

Without a doubt, countries of Western Europe share our concern for what the Iranians have up their sleeve with respect to uranium enrichment, yet not one member of the U.N., nor any French, German, or English leader, has called the United States, and the Bush administration, to task on its reactionary, and most dangerous, turning back the clock on nuclear non-proliferation, and disarmament. Likewise, no one that I know of has openly challenged this president on his plan to beguile countries, like India, where uranium enrichment doesn't factor into acquisition of their oil stockpiles, away from disarmament. But then, what does India have to offer us but great customer service, the Bhagava Gita, and some rice?

Bottom line: if this administration is so concerned about the potential for calculated misuse of nuclear power then it should affirm, and reinforce, universal disarmament like every other administration has before it, dating back to Eisenhower. Mind you, I'm not suggesting that Iran be exempt from adhering to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, only that America be compelled to comply with it, too. We have no more right to sidestep a nonproliferation treaty than we do the Geneva Accord, and one thing has become clear, over the past 5 years, where profits are concerned, treaties are routinely shredded. It is encumbent upon all international law-abiding nations to hold accountable any rogue state that works to advance its own interests by imperiling the welfare, and well-being, of others.

Russia and China are justifiably concerned about America's obsessive need for instant gratification where employing our military is concerned, and the rest of the world should be too, as well as with an ideology which evolves around "shoot first, ask questions later." Further, this president's notion of pre-emption is as transparent as his use of the Second Amendment for entitlement, and little more than a thinly guised pretext for unitary militarism, and unilateral occupation.

When it comes right down to it, all the Russians and Chinese are asking is that the Iranian matter be referred to the International Atomic Energy Agency, an autonomous, and independent organization which was founded 50 years ago to promote, and provide oversight into, the peaceful use of nuclear energy. After all, it was the IAEA, and its director, Mohamed El Baradei, that was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last October. While the cloud of culpability looms large where nuclear energy is concerned, the presumption of innocence must prevail if diplomacy is to survive.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Quote of the Week...

taking it to the streets...

"I've often envied those writers in the Western world who can peacefully practice their craft and earn a living thereby. What (the authorities here) cannot stand is that a writer should give voice to the voiceless or organize them for action. In short, they do not want literature on the streets!"

written to PEN USA from his prison cell in Nigeria shortly before his execution.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

A Conversation between Andy Warhol and Thomas Jefferson

Time: The Present

Place: Purgatory

Okay, nobody believes in hell anymore, not even the folks who live there, so how about Purgatory, that's a place we all know well, a "netherland" not unlike the Michael Jackson ranch only several hundred thousand feet above the clouds perhaps.

Well then, here you have it, two of America's best known, and most loved figures, Thomas Jefferson (aka "Tommy") and Andy Warhol (aka "Andy") Here they are stretched out on a couple of chaise lounges overlooking a pool, Lethe?, sweating their backs off. Andy has picked up quite the tan, and Tommy finds that he looks more like John Malkovich without his wig, and has shaved his head like Yul Brennar. They're both sipping Tequilla sunrises, and fanning themselves, while geisha girls posing as angels pass trays of hors d'oeuvres.

TOMMY: Too bad you and I couldn't hang out in the same century.

ANDY: Yeah, I'll bet you're a helluva poker player.

TOMMY: We hear from Jack Kennedy that the best poker game of all is upstairs.

ANDY: Wish I could have shot you.

TOMMY: I beg your pardon?

ANDY: Filmed you.

TOMMY: Whatever for?

ANDY: I'd like to ask you a lot of questions about America.

TOMMY: You can ask now. We have front row seats; in fact,
we have an even better view from here than we had when we were
in body. What is it you want to know?

Tommy gets up and walks over to the side of the pool, yawns broadly, and points into space.

ANDY: What happened to democracy?

TOMMY: Nothing happened to it. It never existed, except on paper.

ANDY: What happened to the paper it existed on?

TOMMY: Which one? The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution?
You disappoint me, Warhol, you're asking some big questions.

ANDY: Why don't we start with the Bill of Rights.

TOMMY: Oh, jeez, you ought to know the answer to that better than
I. You lived through the Nixon years. It got shredded
remember in that bungled burglary. Speaking of Dick, he
stopped by last week, said his bursitis is still killing him.

ANDY: Ha! so even if life isn't fair, death is.

TOMMY: No, if death were fair you and I wouldn't be roasting in Purgatory

ANDY: Another big question for a big mind. What do you think of America in, oh, say,

TOMMY: Hmmmmm.... from where I sit, there's still a color war, only now
it's between red states and blue states, as well as black and white. And there's
still slavery, of sorts, in our factories.

ANDY: Do you see a Civil War?

TOMMY: I don't have crystal balls, my friend, but this I can say, there's nothing civil about it.
The land of the buffalo has been
replaced by barbarians. Free enterprise has been devoured by
corporate monopolies, and consolidation. Usury, and greed, have
replaced honor, and ethics. We've got plenty of weight lifters, but no gravitas. It's all about"bottom line," and this is where the bottom line gets you, after all, now isn't it?

ANDY: What do you think about the Supreme Court annointing
-er, appointing, a president?

TOMMY: A dangerous precedent, that.

ANDY: And what about what happened four years later in Ohio?

TOMMY: Elections have been, pretty much, an under the table
thing going back to the beginning, but the difference
in '06, is that big business is in the game,
and those who fought the first revolution have now
joined the growing ranks of disenfranchised. Freedom
has been outsourced, in America, along with justice.
I warned about tyranny of the mind, and
a dictatorship of ideas, two hundred years ago.
Why do you think I said that
America needs a revolution every twenty odd years?
Trouble is, even social change is the victim of
conspicuous consumption. Maybe on account of all the
disruption, people just zone out. What is that great
Billy Yeats line----"the best lack all conviction while the worst are filled
with passionate intensity."

ANDY: You saw Yeats here?

TOMMY: Oh, he just stops by, from time to time, and doesn't live here.
He tells me he's one of a focus group that gets a passport to
travel from realm to realm in exchange for writing the occasional
op-ed piece. Walt Whitman is part of that group, too.
Walt and I had lunch last week---that guy eats like a bird. He
tells me he watched Marlon Brando shoot pool with James Dean, about a month ago; he thinks the best thing about being dead is he gets to be an eternal anachronism.

ANDY: Not to mention an oxymoron! (pause)
I've been waiting to see Marilyn for years now.

TOMMY: Trust me, you won't run into her. She graduated, from
what I'm told. It pays to be connected, even in these parts.

ANDY: Why can't we see the future? Is that what it means to be damned, not
to be able to see ahead, but only behind and to the side.

TOMMY: What a dumb question. Of course not. The living can't see
what's ahead any better than we can.

ANDY: If you could go back to earth, even for 15 minutes, what would you

TOMMY: Oh, I dunno, I'd probably get laid.

ANDY: Apart from that, if you could make a State of the Union Address, what
would you say?

TOMMY: Put down your rice krispies, America, storm clouds are brewing, and the rain
isn't far behind.

ANDY; 'A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall?"

TOMMY: Bob Dylan? Not bad, but I prefer "Sailing to Byzantium" myself. I'm sure
we'll run into Bob, sooner or later, probably playing chess with Jack Kerouac,
Allen Ginsberg, and that Spanish fellow, Garcia Lorca. Poets get an automatic passport
in the afterlife.

ANDY: They should, they get shit on in the other life. (pause) I hear that
only poets get to dance with the angels.

TOMMY: Yeah, if they can find them, that is.

ANDY: Close your eyes, for a minute, and make believe you're in
a large auditorium at Georgetown University, in March, 2006,
with cameras on you, and millions of people hanging on
your every word---what would you tell them,
Mr. J, if you could say one thing before coming
back here.

TOMMY: Now, now, for the last time will you call me Tommy, please.
After all, we have true democracy here!
I'd say"Take back the streets, they're your streets,
take back the halls of justice, they're your halls, take back
the Congress, and send the Imposters on their way!"

ANDY: Can I quote you on that?

TOMMY: No, but you can try.

ANDY: Amen, Mr. President, amen...

Jayne Lyn Stahl
Walnut Creek, California
March 12, 2006

Dedicated, in loving memory,to Jack Kerouac who would have turned 84 today; born March 12, 1922

Quote of the Day -- hell, of the past 5 years...

"The only difference between Bush and Hitler is that Hitler was elected."

Kurt Vonnegut
March 2006
at Ohio State University
A Postscript:
Actually, there are a few other compelling, and noteworthy differences between the pair. First, Hitler was more well-read, or (mis) read; he (mis) read Nietzsche, for openers, whereas our president, on the other hand, thinks Nietzsche is a board that one uses to contact the dead. Secondly, El Fuhrer was (terrifyingly enough) hugely popular. Perhaps even more frightening is the fact that, in more parts of the world than we'd care to confess, he'd win re=election way more easily than Mr. Bush would. Arguably, the only thing more scary than Adolph Hitler are the people who elected him---yes, folks, he had quite the following, and in these "Mein Camp" days, we'd best be reminded that we, too, have a hand in the making the monster despots who will soon lead us to where the deer and the dinosaurs roam, as well as holding them accountable.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

"Writers of the Storm," at The New School, on March 28th

The New School
"Writers of the Storm:
Fake News, and Public Decency,
in the Age of Terror."
Writers-at-Large and The New School are proud to bring you this important symposium which will address the role of writers in speaking out against censorship, a free press under fire, neutering of the news, harassment of journalists, as well as what the concept of decency means who gets to decide that, and why, and what impact the politics of uniformity, and negation has had on the dignity of writers, diversity of opinion, and freedom of expression.
Keynote speaker: Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times, David Cay Johnston. Moderator: Playwright, and host of KPFK radio show "Free Forum," Terrence McNally. Panelists include: Danny Goldberg, Paul Robeson, Jr., Arthur Kopit, Anne Waldman, Bob Hershon, Phil Rockstroh; hosted by poet, and founder of Writers-at-Large, Jayne Lyn Stahl. Co-sponsored by Writers-at-Large and The New School.
Tuesday, March 28 at 7 p.m., $20 (advance tickets recommended)
Box Office: (212) 229-5488
At: Theresa Lang Center, The New School, 55 West 13th St., second floor (between 5th and 6th Avenues)
With special thanks to the following Friends of Writers-at-Large for their generous help, and support: Mike Farrell, Death Penalty Focus, Media Alliance, Stanley Sheinbaum, F. Henning Bauer, M.D., David Fitzell, the Gershwin Hotel,the Fountain Theatre, the Allen Ginsberg Trust, the National Coalition Against Censorship,, Tim Carpenter, Progressive Democrats of America; Thomas Bishop, Florence Lacaze Gould Professor of French Literature at New York University; Pamela Tillis, Director of Public Programs at The New School for General Studies, and the San Francisco Film Society.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Hiding in plain sight

Forget Real T.V., how about this---"surreal T.V.?"

Guess who's coming to dinner on a reality television show in a living room near you? Watah Dufour, Osama bin Laden's niece, the same one who graduated from law school at Columbia, and who is now a practicing musician, as well as a Paris Hilton in training. How's that for theatre of the absurd?

Ms. Dufour laments the fact that people have "pre-conceived notions" about her when hearing who her uncle is. Whatever for? Frankly, I think we should be happy when anyone exercises one ounce of critical thinking in this country. We all seem to have vegged out, even all those high wired, flag waving folks from nearly 5 years ago who now wait in line to cuss out those who want to outsource their friendly neighborhood ports to her next of kin.

What next? What a lovely country when a member of Public Enemy #1's family gets to pose in saucy magazines, and make nice to the camera. Maybe she can persuade her equally famous uncle, Osama, to guest on the cover of GQ. Who knows? You think she might even give up his post office box, in Pakistan, or cell number? What about an e-mail address? If you, or I, had access to all that Saudi oil, we might be able to hide in plain sight, too.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Camp Cropper

Good news--bad news:

The good news is that the U.S. military will close Abu Ghraib prison over the next few months.

The bad news is that some 5,000 of those who are currently housed in what was a nucleus of torture, under Saddam, will be transferred to other prisons in Iraq which are, no doubt, also being investigated by the United Nations for human rights abuses, and violations of international law.

Ostensibly, our military plans to build a new, and improved, "Camp Cropper," the name given to the facility which currently holds more than 100 "high value" detainees including Saddam Hussein. As Reuters also reports, there are now more than 14,000 people in 4 jails in Iraq, more than half of whom are at "Camp Bucca." Whoa, the Defense Department is getting very creative with how it names internment camps. Indeed, if the U.N. proceeds with its probe into violations of international law at Iraqi jails, Camp Cropper may soon be called "Camp Crapper" instead as this is precisely where our military will find itself.

One wonders, too, if "Bucca," in Camp Bucca, is a play on the word "buck," as in "pass the buck?" You can bet on this, the U.N. will need an effective group of farmers to separate the manure from the wheat when those who speak for our defense department claim that the U.S. is adhering to powers granted under a Security Council resolution, as well as complying with the Geneva Conventions in the way we treat those we incarcerate in Iraq.

In light of the Jack Abramoff debacle, as well as Andrew Fastow's revelations yesterday about Ken Lay's deliberate manipulation of facts, and figures, to deceive investors in Enron, we might want to consider opening a detention facility for "high value" crooks in this country----how does "Camp Boca" sound?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

So what else is new?

For anyone interested to know, the United Nations published a report yesterday in which U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan suggests that U.S. led "coalition forces" and Iraqi authorities may be violating international law in their treatment of thousands of prisoners in Iraq's jails. Moreover, the U.N. report suggests that investigations into torture, and abuse, of those held in Iraqi Ministry jails have yet to be made public, as promised.

This is a major step for the U.N as it is coming to realize where there's smoke there's fire in its inquiry into a coalition of one, and its puppet authorities, on charges of restricting freedom of movement of those detained, as well as using excessive force against them. Theft during raids of private homes, as well as evictions, and destruction of private property are among the potpourri of governmentally-sanctioned felonies committed in the name of bringing democracy to that country.

While this may be among the most potent expressions of outrage, on Mr. Annan's part, there remain several questions that need to be answered. For openers, which "coalition," or "multinational," forces is the Secretary-General referring to, and why do we have the last "tyrant" who tortured, as well as illegally incarcerated, thousands of people in Abu Ghraib in custody charging him of war crimes while the other is munching on Domino's pizza watching "Desperate Housewives" with the First Lady?

Indeed, this administration is right on the mark when it calls for reform in the U.N. and laments how ineffectual this behemoth world body of accountability has become. One can't help but agree when considering that General Colin Powell, former Secretary of Defense, was among the first to accuse his superiors of violating the Geneva Conventions more than two years ago (and look what happened to him!)

It's time for this league of civilized nations to confront those who commit barbaric acts head on, and call to task those who torture, and shame, regardless of which jihad they're operating under, or what flag they happen to be waving. Any league of nations, or world leader, worth its salt must challenge those who wish to turn back the clock on nuclear nonproliferation, as well as bring back the great Crusades.

The world is a remarkably smaller place today than it was, say, a thousand years ago, and while it might not look that way, crimes against humanity in 2006 aren't all that different from the way they were a thousand years ago; we just find out about them a whole lot faster, and we have a right to know, once and for all, who our war criminals are, to whom they will be held accountable, and when they will be brought to justice.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Postmortem on Choice in South Dakota

In Pierre, South Dakota today, Governor Mike Rounds has signed into law the proposed bill to ban almost all abortions in that state. Effective immediately, abortion will be illegal in cases of incest, and rape in the state, and abortion will be permissible only to save the life, the physical life, of the mother. The idea that the psychological needs of the prospective mother are not being considered is, in a word, chilling.

This new law criminalizes a physician's decision to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, a decision that is made in confidence between a doctor and patient. Those who perform abortions, except to save a woman's life, will face up to 5 years of jail time. For any state, or federal, legislature to demonstrate the wanton hubris of strongarming a doctor, or any other health care provider, is one that defies reason, as well as endangers future medical treatment for all of us.

Planned Parenthood will vigorously oppose this new legislation which is not merely reactionary, but unconstitutional. Those of us who believe that the state should stay out of doctors' offices, and examining rooms, as well as out of decisions that a patient makes with their health care provider must also speak out against this legislation as vigorously as Planned Parenthood.
When you criminalize medical procedures, you compromise health care for all Americans.

Independent's Day in Hollywood

Good news for those who make independent "art house movies," as some might call them, as last night's Academy Awards showed, the big production houses like Twentieth Century Fox, and Paramount, may soon walk arm in arm with the dinosaurs down Madison Avenue as Focus, and Lion's Gate prevail. Most, if not all, of the five nominated films for "Best Picture," such as "Brokeback Mountain," "Crash," "Good Night and Good Luck," and "Capote" were made by independent producers, and the winner was "Crash," an independent film which is (imagine!) already available on DVD. Clearly, the efforts of (bless his heart) Robert Redford, and Sundance, in enabling maverick, off the Beltway, filmmaking in America have won out over the former venture capital ideology; well, last night anyway.

While there were 10% fewer viewers of the Oscars Sunday night than back in 2005, it warmed my heart to see Philip Seymour Hoffman accept best actor award for his inspired performance of (ohmygawd) Truman Capote, yes, a novelist, and it was equally moving to see Ang Lee win best director, the man is, in the best sense of the word, an artist. Likewise, giving "Best Screenplay from an Adaptation" award to "Brokeback Mountain" was judicious, and more than symbolic of how times have changed, as well as how we, as a society, have changed along with them.

For me, the crowning moment came when Robert Altman accepted his lifetime achievement award, and revealed that he is currently at work, in London, on one of Arthur Miller's plays. There is hope for Hollywood, after all, when one of its most prolific, and commercial, directors recognizes that cinema must return to the angst, and catharsis that propels great theatre, and great times.

There were no losers last night. Indeed, all those who believe that making art and making movies is still possible, in America, scored a major triumph.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Aurora, indeed!

Aurora is the name for the ancient Roman goddess of the dawn, identified by the Greeks with the goddess Eos. Aurora is also the name of a city in central Colorado, near Denver, where, yesterday, more than 100 high school students staged a walk- out to protest their school's decision to place a social studies teacher on leave while they investigate remarks he made, in class, about President Bush's State of the Union Address. The teacher, Jay Bennish, who has taught at Overland High School for five years, is alleged to have made remarks in which he compared Bush to Adolph Hitler.

Administrators at Overland are now looking into whether Bennish violated a school policy requiring 'balancing viewpoints in the classroom," as the Associated Press reports. How did school officials find out about this history teacher's commentary? Evidently, a sophomore in his class recorded a little under a half hour of the discussion, which took place in early February, then went home and played the tape for his father who reported the teacher to the principal.

What the Cherry Creek School District needs to investigate, in my opinion, is whether or not a student has the right to tape record their teacher's lectures, then turn around and present those tapes to school administrators, as well as the devastating effect this dangerous obstruction to freedom of expression can have on educators, as well as students, nationwide whether in high school, or university lectures.

What a chilling statement about our times when educators have to worry about being taped by students, and having disciplinary action taken against them when "controversial" statements are made. Controversy, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder, and if we allow this threat to classroom discourse to go unchallenged, future generations of teachers may find themselves in the same situation, ironically, for expressing the opposite point of view.

In a field which is already woefully underpopulated, underpaid, underappreciated, and underrespected, will we take away the one incentive to become an educator, the ability to inspire a level of discussion that may offend some, but stimulate others to think, and challenge authority, as well as the arbiters of the status quo.

As recent revelations about the reclassification of 50,000 documents by the National Archives, as well as all the current Freedom of Information lawsuits in progress, egregiously demonstrate, we've pretty much kissed off freedom of information, in this country, and must now ask whether we're also killing off freedom of thought. Are, at worst, hyperbolic, purple analogies between our sitting president and Il Fuhrer made by a history teacher, no less, to be subjected to that kind of scrutiny and censorship? Aren't our educational institutions supposed to be sanctuaries for ideas, as well as for the free expression of thought, or are they to be manacled by the growing trend of governmental intrusion, and terror-mania?

Kudos to more than 100 students for refusing to turn the lights out on education, and educators, in a small town named for the goddess of Dawn, Aurora, Colorado yesterday. We can only hope reason will not be held hostage, and that this precedent-setting case will result in legislation precluding students from taping in-class discussions, and using those recordings against educators again.

Friday, March 03, 2006

One Name You Won't...

The Pentagon released today a list of approximately 550 names of those who have been detained, at Guantanamo Bay, for the past 4 years. The documents which contain the names of those held were only disclosed because the Pentagon lost a Freedom of Information suit brought on by the Associated Press. What's going on in our country when the press has to sue to obtain information that has been blatantly blacked out on documents? What's going on in our country when the president assures us that his government will protect our civil liberties. Hasn't Mr. Bush been a bit liberal with his possessive pronouns? Ooooops, well, maybe "liberal" isn't the best word to use.

Hello, anybody home, once again, the Associated Press won a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against our government to ensure that we the voting public now know the names of those who have been rounded up, in some cases arbitrarily, and branded "enemy combatants" in the 2001 war that drove out the Taliban, and sent Al Qaeda back into hiding.

One thing is for certain, you won't find bin Laden's name on that list!