October 30, 2004
IT MAY ALL COME DOWN TO MICHIGAN (and other election eve musings...)
The most significant election news in the last 36 hours: Zogby, whose poill numbers have been the most consistently favorable to Kerry, gave Bush a 2 pt. lead in Michigan--where there is no adequate Democratic get-out-the-vote operation to speak of, as the idiots at ACT (the big labor-and-fat-cat-financed operation run by the ex-AFL-CIO politicaldirector, Steve Rosenthal) pulled out all their staff and field operation from Michigan four weeks ago thinking it was a safe state....that leaves nobody doing any voter turnout , particularly among blacks (who traditionally must be pulled to come out in sufficient numbers) except the NAACP, which has no money in Michigan.....
The Poptart (my nickname for the Canadian-born governor of Michigan, Jennifer Granholm) has done no significant campaigning for The Doofus and has not turned on her patronage/field operation for him (she expends her political capital on no one but herself)....so that leaves the UAW as the most powerful pro-Kerry operation in the field...but the UAW ain't what it used to be in the days when I was on its staff as a lad--it's a company union basically these days, and many of its Michigan members have accumulated so much high-tech seniority they're making over $100,000, and frequently vote
Republican to show it...And, the authoritative daily political briefing The Hotline today switched Michigan from leaning Kerry to toss-up....add Bush's last-minute visits to the state (3 in 3 days this weekend and Monday--which tells you the Republicans' pollsters think they've got a real shot--and I'm quite worried about Michigan (even though a very perceptive pol friend of mine there, who just completed a state-wide tour as he's up for re-election, reported to me on Friday seeing a highly unusual number of Kerry lawn signs on houses in the Republican-trending Western part of the state, particularly Grand Rapids (he's right, that's unusual) and a lot of ticket-splitting indications (Kerry signs next to lawn signs for down-ticket Republican office-seekers...and he had the sense, from speaking dates before unions, that there has been some movement toward Kerry by the "Reagan Democrats" in the working-class sections of McComb County, which was a key identifier of the Reagan reach among Dems....
If Bush takes Michigan, he doesn't need Ohio to win (although the laest poll there, from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, gives Bush a 3-point lead after two polls midweek which showed a Kerry lead), and if he also gets Wisconsin (where he's had a lead since the Spring) and Iowa (where he's been ahead a couple of points in the last week's tracking polls, including today's) and Minnesota (where he's had a tiny lead on several occasions, and where the state is now rated a total tossup), he doesn't need Pennsylvania either....Another problem: there are no races for other offices that excite blacks in either Mich. or Pa., and no referenda either (except in Michigan, where the sweeping anti-gay marriage-AND-anti-gay civil union referendum gets preached for from the
pulpit of 90% of the black churches, which also isn't good for Kerry).....
I personally think Kerry takes Ohio, Bush takes Florida and Pennsylvania, and Michigan is so damn close it all depends on the blacks. and their rate of turnout is at this point impossible to project, given the absence of a field operation...And I think Bush takes Wisconsin and Iowa--Minnesota not sure, but the state is VERY Christer and elected an evangelical homophobe Republican governor....Nader could make the difference there even with a tiny vote...Hawaii appears, surprisingly, to be a real tossup, and its 4
electoral votes now become very important....Hotline today is rating New Jersey as a tossup, but--despite the enormous impact 9/11 had on the state, from which you could see the Twin Towers and which lost some 400 people that day--I know it well and have trouble believing Bush can do enough on 9/11 alone to carry it (the pols I talk to there say the same thing)--if he does, then it means this will be a landslide election in electoral vote terms.....
So, as the old Russian proverb I love has it, an optimist is only a pessimist who has not yet heard the bad news....
So much for today's frettings (purely, rawly electoral, not ideological...And I also will much more firmly predict the Senate will increase its Republican majority by 3, and the House by a minimum of 6 (thanks principally to the Texas gerrymandering of the congressional district lines).....
I am readying both body armour and passport....And I greatly fear that, on Tuesday Night, we shall be singing the "Nightmare Song" from Gilbert and Sullivan's IOLANTHE:
When you're lying awake with a dismal headache, and repose is
taboo'd by anxiety,
I conceive you may use any language you choose to indulge in,
For your brain is on fire--the bedclothes conspire of usual
slumber to plunder you:
First your counterpane goes, and uncovers your toes, and your
sheet slips demurely from under you;
Then the blanketing tickles--you feel like mixed pickles--so
terribly sharp is the pricking,
And you're hot, and you're cross, and you tumble and toss till
there's nothing 'twixt you and the ticking.
Then the bedclothes all creep to the ground in a heap, and you
pick 'em all up in a tangle;
Next your pillow resigns and politely declines to remain at its
Well, you get some repose in the form of a doze, with hot
eye-balls and head ever aching.
But your slumbering teems with such horrible dreams that you'd
very much better be waking...
October 29, 2004
WHY ISN'T KERRY TALKING ABOUT THE ECONOMY?
For months I've been hollering that it was imperative that Kerry focus on the economy in the closing weeks of his campaign--he didn't. In fact, all this week, he's been making the key point in every speech the issue of the missing Iraqi explosives. Yet this is not a clean shot in media terms--there have been conflicting stories, reports contradicting the initial account in the New York Times, and so all the chatter on the little screen has been about the veracity of the initial report. That's not a smart way to try to win this election--voters want to know what you're going to do for them when you're elected, in concrete terms. A campaign close consisting primarily of negativism about Bush, on this one, very narrow issue of the missing explosives, runs counter to the established notion that voters want to hear a positive message from their presidential candidates, especially when they're being asked to evict an incumbent in the middle of a "war." (Of course, on the economy, Kerry hasn't had a distintive message).
Well, two new polls out today show the voters top concerns are economic. From today's National Journal "Polltrack newsletter:
"Heading into the final days before the election, new data from the Annenberg Public Policy Center suggests the plurality of registered voters consider the economy and unemployment to be the top issue facing the nation. Twenty-two percent made that assessment. Iraq came in second with 16 percent, terrorism was third with 13 percent, health care was fourth with 10 percent, and lack of moral and family values was fifth with 5 percent.
"Among Bush voters, 24 percent ranked terrorism as the top issue -- twice the number that ranked the economy as most important. Among Kerry voters, 30 percent rated the economy as the top issue, while Iraq was their second-place issue with 22 percent. And among 'persuadable' voters, 30 percent said the economy was most important, with Iraq running second at 18 percent.
"Annenberg defines persuadable voters as 'those who said they are undecided or said they have a preference between George W. Bush, John Kerry or Ralph Nader but there was a 'good chance' they could change their minds."
According to analysis by Annenberg pollsters: "For the nation as a whole, polling over the last year shows that concern about the economy rose through March and then declined to a point slightly below where it was a year ago. Worry about Iraq dropped last winter, then more than doubled in the spring, and has now receded... to about where it was last November."
A new survey by the Winston Group (R) also showed the economy as the top issue. Eighteen percent of registered voters said it would be the most important issue in determining their vote for Congress. The No. 2 issue was defense and foreign affairs, cited by 16 percent.
These numbers help explain why there appears to be a shift to Bush in a number of states in the last 48 hours, Bush's 2-point lead in the national "poll of poll" --which combines a half-dozen major national surveys--has today ticked up to 3 points.
There is still a slim hope that, on Tuesday night, we will be able to celebrate the eviction of Bush "with joyous shout and beaming cheer, with laughing song and merry dance"--as the chorus sings in The Mikado. But it is a shrinking hope, given Kerry's refusal to focus on the economy. I think Kerry is blowing it....
ANOTHER INDICATOR OF BAD NEWS: The latest Denver Post poll shows that Ken Salazar--the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate against Republican gazillionaire brewery heir Pete Coors--has lost the comfortable lead he had a couple of weeks ago. Why? Well, since the last state-wide poll, Kerry came into the state and, for the first time, campaigned with Salazar. And now Salazar's identification has leveld out the support he once had. The Senate race is now, apparently, linked inextricably to the national ticket--and if that holds true across the board, in other conservative-leaning states like North Carolina and Florida, that's bad news for Democratic chances of holding down the damage to its Senate ranks. Not to mention that this opinion shift in Colorado is bad news for Kerry.
TO THOSE CONSIDERING A NADER VOTE--FROM THE GREENS' U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE IN N.Y.
DavId McReynolds, the Green Party's U.S. Senate candidate in New York, and an elder statesman of the peace movement (whom I endorsed in an earlier post), has sent 'round a lengthy last word on the elections to his supporters. Here are excerpts:
"My mentor, the late A. J. Muste, used to say, 'the truth is always concrete'. I don't know whether the phrase was his own, or borrowed from Marx, Trotsky, or Gandhi. But it made sense and has stuck with me. When people ask me "who will you vote for for President?" my answer is "Which state do you live in?" Because of the electoral college I can safely vote for Ralph Nader here in New York State (though if David Cobb were on the ballot, I would have voted for him), knowing that Kerry will safely take New York State. If I lived in New Jersey, another safe state, I would certainly vote for Walt Brown, since I am a member of the Socialist Party and he is our candidate. But if I were in Ohio - or any swing state - I would vote for Kerry. How can a simple question have three different answers? And how in the world could I even consider voting for Nader "when the fate of the world hinges on defeating Bush"...
"Let's look at some of the errors in thinking which I feel have sprung up. (I think if I hear one more time the nonsense about 'Voting for a Lesser Evil Is Still Voting For Evil' I shall scream - how can we miss the fact that a lesser evil, while it may indeed still be evil, is lesser! ...
"First, 'there is no difference between the two major parties' (a position Peter Camejo has argued with vigor, and which is shared by many in the Socialist Party). This position is nonsense. There are major differences between the two major parties and, more important, vast differences within them. In terms of basic political science neither major party is a "party" of agreed principles. Both major parties are collections of regional interests, and usually the greatest differences are between regions, not within the parties themselves...
"The efforts by Socialists or Greens to insist there are no differences between the two parties, or that it doesn't make any difference whether Kerry or Bush wins the election, defies common sense. (Which is one reason the left has so little impact in the country as a whole - people perceive their own immediate interests better than we do. One reason many on the left are irritated by Michael Moore is because he has spoken the truth on this, reminding us that we don't really speak for or understanding working class Americans).
"If you earn more than $50,000 a year, are white, and are a male, then it doesn't really make any difference to you who wins. It is a matter of esthetics.
"But if you are a woman, if you earn less than $30,000 a year, if you are of color, then it makes a very great deal of difference. I spent time yesterday with an intelligent, committed member of the Greens (who has been extremely helpful and supportive in the Senate campaign) who insisted that it didn't make any difference in terms of choosing the next member of the Supreme Court whether Bush or Kerry won the election. This is self-deception on a disturbing scale. (Even allowing for the fact that some of the Republican choices for the Supreme Court proved excellent - Earl Warren comes to mind - and some of the Democratic choices have been dismal, do people really think that Bush can be trusted with credible nominations? Granted also that nominations have to pass the Senate, and this puts some curbs on either Bush or Kerry, I remain bemused at the thought it "makes no difference" who is President in terms of the Supreme Court....."
"On issues of the minimum wage, affirmative action, rights of gays and lesbians, of a range of judicial appointments for lower courts, of which tax cuts go to whom - on all these issues there is a difference. It certainly makes a difference in one of the more chilling aspects of this campaign - which is the degree to which the forces around Bush are pressing for a kind of 'Talibanization' of American political life, the destruction of the historic separation of church and state....."
"It was Marx who reminded us that while we make our own history (an extremely important point in Marxist thought), we do not make it as we might wish, but within the circumstances of the time and place within which we find ourselves...
"One thing which we as radicals need to confront and come to terms with is that there are no 'pure actions.' Not even for saints, and certainly not for us. All of life is a compromise between the possible and the ideal. The job of the radical is surely to press hard to make the ideal possible....
"I think of Kenneth Patchen, the poet whose works the late Alvin Ailey introduced me to, and his lines from the poem 'What is the beautiful':
'A narrow line,
Walking on the beautiful ground.
A ledge of fire'
That is what we are always walking - that 'ledge of fire' where there is hope of changing the future, and not simply protesting the present. And that 'ledge of fire' is always indeed narrow, hard to locate, and sometimes that ledge of fire is shown to us by those with more courage, who take greater chances, and help make a radical politics more possible. There is a dialectic between the prophet and the radical politican...
"So yes, dreadful as it is to argue for a vote for Kerry in a swing state, it is because Bush represents a danger great enough that the interests not only of the more rational sectors of the ruling class, but of a wide range of the rest of us, require the defeat of Bush. The general 'left' public grasped this from the beginning. Only the more elite sectors of the left, those inclined to self-delusion, don't see this...."
You should remember these wise words from Dave McReynolds as you go to the polls next Tuesday...
100,000 Iraqi dead--THE LANCET Report
The new study released in the U.K. this morning by the British medical journal of reference, THE LANCET, is devastating. Here's how The Independent summarized the report's findings:
"The first scientific study of the human cost of the Iraq war suggests that at least 100,000 Iraqis have lost their lives since their country was invaded in March 2003.
"More than half of those who died were women and children killed in air strikes, researchers say. Previous estimates have put the Iraqi death toll at around 10,000 - ten times the 1,000 members of the British, American and multi-national forces who have died so far. But the study, published in The Lancet, suggested that Iraqi casualties could be as much as 100 times the coalition losses. It was also savagely critical of the failure by coalition forces to count Iraqi casualties."
This report underscores both the iniquity of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the moral imperative to continue vigorous agitation against the U.S. occupation even if (one might well say especially if) Kerry replaces Bush. You may read the full report in THE LANCET, and the commentary accompanying it, by clicking here.
AN INTERNATIONAL GREEN APPEAL FOR KERRY
A group of 10 Green leaders from other countries has issued a last-minute appeal for U.S. Greens to vote for Kerry in "contested states." While aknowledging that Kerry is "far from the ideal candidate," these international Green leaders plead for their U.S. comrades "to not act with the unilateralism which Bush has made your country famous for, and to see to it that Bush is defeated, adding, "Kerry is an internationalist who acknowledges the widespread ramifications of his actions, and believes in working with other countries around the world and through international alliances like the United Nations. Bush has not acted with concern for the well-being of the global community, and will not."
The statement was released by Greens for Impact, the group chaired by Providence, Rhode Island, City Council Minority Leader David Segal, an attractive up-and-coming young Green Party leader and one of the highest elected officials in the U.S. Green Party. To read the full statement, click here.
This statement comes on the heels of an appeal to U..S. voters from 116 left-wing Italian members of parliament in the opposition to Silvlio Berlusconi, which called on Nader to withdraw to help defeat Bush. The Italian deputies signing this appeal included Radicals, members of the Party of Democratic Socialism, and Greens. Even if some of our domestic lefties don't see Bush as all that dangerous for the planet in a second term, clearly a lot of the world-wide left does.
October 27, 2004
WAS ABE LINCOLN GAY? The Book That Will Change America's History
I wrote the following article for L.A. WEEKLY:
If the loving heart of the Great Emancipator found its natural amorous passions overwhelmingly directed toward those of his own sex, it would certainly be a stunning rebuke to the Republican Party’s scapegoating of same-sex love for electoral purposes. And a forthcoming book by the late Dr. C.A. Tripp — The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln, to be published in the new year by Free Press — makes a powerful case that Lincoln was a lover of men.
Tripp, who worked closely in the 1940s and 1950s with the groundbreaking sexologist Alfred Kinsey, was a clinical psychologist, university professor and author of the 1975 best-seller The Homosexual Matrix, which helped transcend outdated Freudian clichés and establish that a same-sex affectional and sexual orientation is a normal and natural occurrence.
In his book on Lincoln, Tripp draws on his years with Kinsey, who, he wrote, "confronted the problem of classifying mixed sex patterns by devising his 0-to-6 scale, which allows the ranking of any homosexual component in a person’s life from none to entirely homosexual. By this measure Lincoln qualifies as a classical 5 — predominantly homosexual, but incidentally heterosexual."
Tripp also found, based on multiple historical accounts, that Lincoln attained puberty unusually early, by the age of 9 or 10 — early sexualization being a prime Kinsey indicator for same-sex proclivities. Even Lincoln’s stepmother admitted in a post-assassination interview that young Abe "never took much interest in the girls." And Tripp buttresses his findings that Lincoln was a same-sex lover with important new historical contributions.
Others, preceding Tripp, have proclaimed in print that Lincoln was gay. The first, some four decades ago, was the pioneer Los Angeles gay activist Jim Kepner, editor of ONE, the early gay magazine (the ONE Institute National Gay and Lesbian Archives at the University of Southern California [http://www.oneinstitute.org/] is the largest collection of gay historical material in the world). Kepner focused on Lincoln’s long-acknowledged intimate friendship with Joshua Speed — with whom Lincoln slept in the same bed for four years when both men were in their 20s — as did later writers, like the historian of gay America Jonathan Ned Katz and University of Massachusetts professor Charles Shively. Gore Vidal has said in interviews that, in researching his historical novel on Lincoln, he began to suspect that the 16th president was a same-sexer. But all this has been little noticed or circulated outside the gay community.
In 1990, the American Historical Association presented a panel on "Gay American Presidents? — Washington, Buchanan, Lincoln, Garfield." Tripp was in the audience, and was seized with the desire to explore Lincoln’s sexuality and emotional complexity with the same brand of scrupulous methodology he’d learned from Kinsey. Tripp devoted the next decade to this research, and created an electronic database and index cross-referencing for more than 600 books of Lincolnalia, a historical tool now available at the Lincoln Institute in Springfield, Illinois.
One of the few traditional Lincolnists to describe (however obliquely) the lifelong Lincoln-Speed relationship as homosexual was the Illinois poet Carl Sandburg, in his masterful, six-volume Lincoln biography. In the tome titled The Prairie Years (1926), Sandburg wrote that both Lincoln and Speed had "a streak of lavender, and spots soft as May violets." "I do not feel my own sorrows more keenly than I do yours," Lincoln wrote Speed in one letter. And again, "You know my desire to befriend you is everlasting." In a detailed retelling of the Lincoln-Speed love story — including the "lust at first sight" encounter between the two young men, when Lincoln readily accepted Speed’s eager invitation to share his narrow bed — Tripp notes that Speed was the only human being to whom the president ever signed his letters with the unusually tender (for Lincoln) "yours forever" — a salutation Lincoln never even used to his wife. Speed himself acknowledged that "No two men were ever so intimate." And Tripp credibly describes Lincoln’s near nervous breakdown following Speed’s decision to end their four-year affair by returning to his native Kentucky.
In the preface to his massive biography, Sandburg wrote that "month by month in stacks and bundles of facts and legend, I found invisible companionships that surprised me. Perhaps a few of these presences lurk and murmur in this book." Tripp’s book is remarkable and precedent-shattering because, for the first time, he restores names and faces (more than just Speed’s) to a number of those previously invisible homosexual companions and love objects of the most venerated of America’s presidents, among them, Henry C. Whitney; the young Billy Greene, a Salem contemporary of Lincoln’s and another bedmate (who admired Lincoln’s thighs); Nat Grigsby; and A.Y. Ellis.
One of them was the handsome David Derickson, by nine years the president’s junior, captain of Lincoln’s bodyguard Company K, the unit assigned to ensure Lincoln’s protection in September 1862. Citing a variety of sources — including an autobiographical essay by Captain (later Major) Dickerson, Lincoln’s letters, contemporary diaries and historical accounts written while many of the witnesses to the Derickson-Lincoln relationship were still living — Tripp describes in great detail how Derickson was the object of "the kinds of gentle and concentrated high-focus attention from Lincoln that [Lincoln’s law colleague] Henry C. Whitney, from having himself once been on the receiving end, well described: ‘[It was] as if he wooed me to close intimacy and friendship, a kind of courtship, as indeed it was.’"
Lincoln’s seduction of Dickerson was more than successful. Tripp discovered a forgotten volume of Union Army history, an account of The Pennsylvania Volunteers, Second Regiment, Bucktail Brigade, published in 1895 by Derickson’s commander, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Chamberlin, who was historian of the Bucktail Survivors Association, and in which he recounted:
"Captain Derickson, in particular, advanced so far in the President’s confidence and esteem that in Mrs. Lincoln’s absence he frequently spent the night at his cottage [at the summer White House], sleeping in the same bed with him, and — it is said — making use of his Excellency’s night-shirt! Thus began an intimacy that continued unbroken until the following spring, when Captain Derickson was appointed provost marshal of the Nineteenth Pennsylvania District, with headquarters in Meadville."
The Dickerson-Lincoln affair was common gossip in Washington’s high society, as Tripp notes with a citation from the diary of the wife of Assistant Navy Secretary Gustavus Fox: "Tish says, Oh, there is a Bucktail soldier here devoted to the president, drives with him, and when Mrs. L is not home, sleeps with him. What stuff!"
Lincoln was very fond of witty, and quite often ribald, stories, a great many of them having anal references. When a friend once suggested that he should collect his stories and publish them in book form, Lincoln replied that he could not, for "such a book would Stink like a thousand privies."
Another Tripp rediscovery is a smutty, humorous poem written by Lincoln when he was a teenager — in which the future president describes a marriage between two boys! Here (with some of the spelling corrected for easier reading) is Lincoln’s gay-marriage poem:
I will tell you a Joke about Jewel and Mary
It is neither a Joke nor a Story
For Rubin and Charles has married two girls
But Billy has married a boy
The girlies he had tried on every Side
But none could he get to agree
All was in vain he went home again
And since that is married to Natty
So Billy and Natty agreed very well
And mama’s well pleased at the match
The egg it is laid but Natty’s afraid
The Shell is So Soft that it never will hatch
But Betsy she said you Cursed bald head
My Suitor you never Can be
Beside your low crotch [slang for big penis] proclaims you a botch
And that never Can serve for me
Tripp notes that the stanza beginning "The egg it is laid" suggests that "Abe was well aware of the term ‘jelly baby.’ Originally from Negro vernacular, the phrase soon came to be used by whites as well: slang denoting what uneducated folk imagined . . . as a ‘pregnancy’ from homosexual intercourse . . . As a poem, Lincoln’s rhyme of course is a mere trifle, except that it is perhaps the most explicit literary reference to actual homosexual relations in 19th-century America — more explicit certainly than anything Walt Whitman ever wrote about the ‘Love of comrades.’"
There is a great deal more to this book, which — as Lincoln scholar Jean Baker notes in her admiring preface — "is not a work of sexual or biological reductionism, but rather a significant effort to understand a complicated man." Among the many invaluable contributions is the chapter revealing that Lincoln’s supposed tragic "romance" with Ann Rutledge — often hyped by Hollywood retelling — was a myth invented after Lincoln’s death (this chapter is for the most part due to the research of Tripp’s faithful collaborator on the Lincoln project, the writer Lewis Gannett, who edited the book for publication). Many of Tripp’s findings come from finely argued circumstantial deductions — which will no doubt be seized upon by what Vidal has called the "scholar squirrels" of the considerable Lincoln industry, who have a lot of skin in the game. But it will take more than their usual regurgitations of the cliché about the absence of central heating back in those days to explain Lincoln’s consistent, yearslong choice of male bed partners, a same-sex affinity that he acted on even as president.
Tripp completed The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln just two weeks before his own death. It is a tragedy that tawdry squabbles between the aging and irascible executor of Tripp’s estate and his publisher prevented the book’s publication before this year’s elections (it is now due out, after yet another postponement, in March). That is why, when — after assiduous and clandestine effort — we managed to obtain a copy of the book’s uncorrected proofs, we decided to break with book-chat conventions and, without authorization, make some of Tripp’s findings public here before November 2.
In a year in which those who claim Lincoln as their political progenitor are trying to introduce a ban on recognition of same-sex love into the Constitution that Lincoln loved so much and defended so well (and also into the constitutions of 11 states through referendums), it seemed to me that the voters had an overriding right to know how, in doing so, the Republicans and their Christian-right allies are wounding the martyr-president squarely in his heart of hearts.
EMINEM MAKES A CONVERT OUT OF ME!
It's always been clear to me that Marshall Mathers had a certain talent--but, quite frankly, I could never get past what I was hardly alone in perceiving as the rather nasty homophobia he larded into his lyrics to listen to him with an open ear.
Well, I'm now a convert. The clip for Eminem's new single, "Mosh", is nothing short of brilliant. It is one of the most effective AND artistic pieces of anti-Bush video I've ever seen. If this doesn't get young people off their butts and voting, nothing will.
Now, please do this for me, and for yourself: turn on your computer's speakers, click here, and watch Eminem's "Mosh." Then, help get it on MTV--
Scroll to the very bottom and select
to cast your vote for the video. Enter Eminem as the artist and
as the name of the video.
You'll be glad you did. Then, spread it around!
FLASH: As an alternative to waiting for the Sundance Showing, I've just learned the film "BUSH'S BRAIN" has been converted into a high-quality streaming video, available on the 'net by clicking here.
October 26, 2004
THE FORGOTTEN DICTATORSHIP: TUNISIA
The re-election on October 24 of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, with the Ceausescu-like score of 94.49%, was scarcely noticed in the Stateside news media. Even the New York Times only posted a brief dispatch from AP on its website. In most U.S. media, a Nexis search reveals, the event rated only a few lines, if anything. And in none of all this was there mention of the huge numbers of political prisoners--500, acording to a report in July by Human Rights Watch, 600 according to a report this week in Le Monde--langushing in horrific conditions in Ben Ali's prisons.
A penetrating report in the English-language Lebanon Daily Star explained that the trick elections were a form of theater designed primarily for Western consumption:
"As Moncef Marzouqi, one of Tunisia's most prominent democracy advocates who heads a genuine (and unrecognized) opposition party, the Congress for the Republic (CPR), put it: 'It's a well-staged play and a kidnapping of the democratic process aimed at giving a certain aspect of legality to the dictatorship. The president appoints those whom he wants to see play the role of opposition to his government. And it's the same president who changes the Constitution to have all the power.'" Recent amendments to that Constitution are designed to make Ben Ali president for life.
The real opposition parties all boycotted the sham elections--and the three Ben Ali puppet candidates allowed on the ballot against him, as the Star pointed out, "are merely expected to give him the opportunity to improve his image, particularly among his allies in Europe and the United States. (Ironically, Washington D.C. chose Tunis to host one of its two regional Middle East Partnership Initiative offices, focused on promoting political and economic reform in the Arab world.)"
Asked about the fraudulent elections, the U.S. State Department's spokesman merely mumbled a few anodyne phrases noting that "the opportunities for political participation in this process were not everything we'd hoped for." President Ben Ali, of course, is a critical U.S. and Western European ally in the war on terrorism who has fiercely cracked down on agitation by Islamist fundamentalists (who might also tap popular disgust with Ben Ali and threaten his regime). Not only Washington, but France and Italy (Tunisia has been a colony of both in the past, and is a market for their exports) are prepared to turn a blind eye to Ben Ali's repressions of basic democratic rights as long as he keeps the radical Islamists under control. Colin Powell embraced the dictator, and announced new U.S. aid in a visit last December, and President Bush welcomed Ben Ali with open arms to the White House in February.
The sparkling sands of Tunisia's heavily policed beach resorts make it a tourist paradise--over 5 million visitors a year, mostly Europeans, account for a healthy share of the country's economy. And as of last year, the European Union has shown its gratitude for Ben Ali's help in the war on terrorism by making it the largest recipent of EU aid in the southern Mediterranean.
But, while the tourists play and aid flows in from the West, a new book published in Paris provides a detailed portrait of Ben Ali's repression, corrption and personal enrichment. "L'Europe et ses despotes modernes - Quand le soutien au modèle tunisien fait le jeu du terrorisme islamique", published by Les Editions de la Decouverte--and hailed by Le Monde as bieing of "unequaled precision" in its portrait of the Ben Ali dictatorship, is authored by Sihem Bensedrine (with Omar Mestira.) Bensedrine has been in an out of Ben Ali's jails, and she has been a forceful voice for the democratic opposition as editor of the online magazine Kalima. But her books are forbidden in Tunisia.
Meanwhile, many of Ben Ali's prisoners are held in long-term solitary confinement, conditions amounting to mental torture, according to the Human Rights Watch report: "Today between thirty and forty prisoners, most of them leaders of Tunisia’s Islamist Nahdha movement, are confined in small solitary cells at least twenty-three hours daily. Some of these prisoners have spent most of the past thirteen years in isolation. The rest have been in isolation for months and in many cases for more than a year. With rare exceptions, even their brief daily “outside” period and visits to the shower take place away from other inmates. Other than prison authorities, their only direct human contact occurs during brief family visits. Even then, they do not see other prisoners or the relatives of other prisoners, but only the guards who are stationed nearby, often taking notes as they speak."
Who, in the United States, cares about these victims of torture? Hardly anyone, of course. After all, they're only wogs....But America's ally Ben Ali is fabricating martyrs whose persecution will only help the recruiters for the Islamist terrorist gangs find fertile ground for their arguments, as Bensedrine's and Mestira's book argues. And Tunisia remains the forgotten dictatorship.
WHILE WE'RE ON THE SUBJECT OF FORGETTING, who remembers that September 11th was also the date on which a U.S. sponsored-and-organized coup overthrew the democratically-elected left-wing government of Chile's Salvadore Allende? The wonderful, uniquely-voiced Chilean writer Ariel Dorfman--an old friend--certainly does, and he's contributed an essay to TomDispatch, "Memories of Chile in the Midst of an American Presidential Campaign" Check it out--it should inspire you to buy his latest book, a collection of essays entitled "Other Septembers, Many Americas: Selected Provocations, 1980-2004 "
October 25, 2004
GET OUT YOUR CALENDARS--BUSH'S BRAIN ON TV!
Once in a very rare while, something pops up on the little screen that makes you want to call everyone you know and shriek, "WATCH!" The superb documentary about Karl Rove -- "Bush's Brain" -- will air on the evening of November 1, on the Sundance Channel, at 10:10 E.S.T.
The film is based on the meticulously researched investigative bio of the same name by two solid Texas journalists (James Moore and Wayne Slater). It explains the strategy that brought Bush first to the Texas State House, then to the White House, and shows you how and why The Twit's re-election campaign this year was planned waaaaay in advance, and has gone perfectly according to Rove's script. I doubt that you'll be able to resist buying the book once you've seen the film--which is scary, and damning, and even--by turns--quite funny.
If you have any friends or neighbors who are even considering voting for The Twit--poor you!--invite them over the night before the voting starts on any pretext and make them watch it. "Bush's Brain" is more effective than a hundred of those dreadful Kerry commercials. Call up your local paper and insist they pre-review it (their reviewer can get a screening copy of the DVD of the film by e-mailing Susan Mainzer at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by ringing Susan at 213-840-0077.)Then, pour yourself a stiff one, sit back, and watch The Man Behind the Curtain...
FLASH: As an alternative to waiting for the Sundance Showing, I've just learned the film has been converted into a high-quality streaming video, available on the 'net by clicking here.
ON THE IRAQI COMMUNIST PARTY
An American foreign policy analyst of my acquaintance, who spent a lot of time in Iraq before the war, sent in the following comment, in response to a query from me, on Sami Ramadani's long analysis of the Iraqi Communist Party which I excerpted in the prevous post:
"To answer this question, I have referred to Iraq Since 1958: From Revolution to Dictatorship, by (the late) Marion Farouk-Sluglett and (currently, the University of Utah's) Peter Sluglett. In short, the period of ICP collaboration with the Ba'ath party was shorter than Ramadani reports. The ICP decided to participate in the 'National Patriotic Front' already established by the ruling Ba'ath party in July 1973, partly under pressure from the USSR to do so. By then the Ba'ath party and the USSR were getting closer, although they would begin to fall out again soon. Moreover, the Ba'ath party had already decimated the ICP back after the Ba'athist coup of 1963 --up until 1971. By 1973, the ICP still had more trade uniosupport than the Ba'athists. The ICP feared being excluded from the Ba'athist-led front, and the Ba'athists needed the trade union support that the ICP had built.
"The Ba'athists began to repress the ICP again by the end of 1975. By April 1976, the ICP complained about the Ba'athist-led front at its Third Party Congress. According to the Slugletts, 'they [the communists] demanded the introduction of democratic liberties in accordance with the original agreement, the establishment of the rule of law, and a return to constitutional prinicples.' (page 183)
"By 1979, the ICP was back underground and the Kurdish wing of the ICP joined the anti Ba'athistKurdish resistance. Doug, I do not know what the party was saying in London and elsewhere for
or against the Ba'athists as Ramadani claims they were apologing for the Ba'athists. But he clearly ignores the ICP's consistent demands for democratization, the rule of law and constitutional governance, even while the ICP was collaborating with the Ba'ath. Moreover, if one has to go back to the ICP's mistakes three decades ago, that suggests that Ramadani's critique is weak.
"His main argument seems to be anger at the ICP for collaborating with the U.S.-backed occupation
and not joining the resistance. But, again, this is a criticism that one could make of nearly every party and group in Iraq apart from those with roots in the Sunni Arab heartland. (Although al-Sadr may yet flip-flop again over whether to again fight the U.S.-led occupation; I, for one, doubt it.) And Ramadani's critique of the ICP and IFTU would be more persuasive if he mentioned even once that the contemporary anti-American Iraqi resistance is dominated by former Ba'athists who deserve to be loathed by any informed leftist."