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April 30, 2005

AIDS ACTION BOARD MEMBER RESIGNS, BLASTS COMPROMISES WITH 'EVIL' BUSH POLICIES

On the eve of this coming week's AIDS March on the White House, Craig Miller -- a long-serving member of the board of AIDS Action Council (AAC) -- has just resigned from AAC with a ferocious blast at the organization's temporizing and compromising with the Bush administration, POZ magazine reported exclusively yesterday on its website. "“I cannot subscribe to a policy of timidity toward this Bush administration…whose [domestic HIV] policies are callous and evil to the core,” Miller wrote (you can read the full text of his letter by clicking on the link to it in the POZ article).

Readers of DIRELAND will recall that I've been extremely critical of AIDS Action's Bush-coddling in the past. Miller is the first AAC insider to break the omerta reigning on the AAC board, which whitewashed AAC executive director Marsha Martin after she joined a host committee for an inaugural celebration of the Republicans' '04 election victory thrown by a front-group for Big Pharma.

Now Miller -- a respected veteran AIDS activist who has for years organized the AIDSWalk fundraisers that are a mainstay of the big AIDS service organizations like Gay Men's Health Crisis and AIDS Project Los Angeles -- has joined the growing chorus of criticism targeting AIDS Action's boot-licking of Bush. POZ also quotes this blast from the admirable Martin Delaney -- founder of Project Inform and another veteran AIDS activist: "There is a wide feeling out there that AIDS Action Council has gone off the deep end...Working on the inside does not mean you have to roll over and spread your legs every time. What’s the point of being there at all if you’re not going to argue with them?” Indeed. My own view is that AIDS Action for years has been infected with a culture of compromise -- remember how the organization attacked AIDS activists who called attention to the Clinton-Gore administration's water-carrying for Big Pharma's efforts to stifle generic AIDS-fighting meds, instead of denouncing the administration for helping deny life-prolonging drugs to the world's poor? As we've spelled out previously on this blog, it's lick-spittle attitude toward the Bush administration has been even more shocking.

AIDS Action cares about only one thing -- Ryan White appropriations. Why? Because that money pays for the (sometimes extravagant) salaries of the bureaucrats in the Big Six ASOs (known in the AIDS world as the "Divas") that dominate AAC, and also makes up a big part of the budgets of the three thousand-odd ASOs that support -- and pay for -- AIDS Action. And in their money chase, these self-perpetuating AIDScrats have frequently thrown principle out the window. As long as AIDS Action continues to exist, it will be difficult for the AIDS community -- whose resources are already stretched to the breaking point -- to give birth to a Washington lobby that represents with vigor and and an activist spirit both the oh-so-urgent needs of people with AIDS, and a meaningful AIDS prevention policy agenda both here and abroad. As I've said before, I fervently wish local ASOs would disaffiliate from AIDS Action and put their money into more useful activities. (This recommendation is reinforced by the devastating criticism of AIDS Action in a report on the effectiveness of AIDS organizations in the nation's capitol by the Ford Foundation, issued this past winter. You can read the entire report by clicking here.)

One of those activities, of course, is the new Campaign To End AIDS (C2EA), launched earlier this year, which kicks off with a week of events in Washington beginning on May 2. C2EA is a grassroots effort conceived and supported by dozens of AIDS organizations -- both service and advocacy -- from around the country. The lobbying on Capitol Hill and the conferencing this week (including a Youth Training Institute for 150 young activists) will culminate in a "Walk a Mile in MY Shoes" AIDS March to the White House on Thursday, May 5. After a rally at Lafayette Park (just opposite the White House) that promises to be lively and loud, there will be a procession of 8000 empty pairs of shoes -- to symbolize the 8000 people in the world who die of AIDS every single day. And the unveiling of a 21-point program to end the AIDS epidemic world-wide.

Then, in September, people with HIV/AIDS and activists from every state will join up in nine cross-country caravans, converging on Washington for five days of action and advocacy on October 8-12. All this is the sort of thing AIDS Action -- which claims to be "the national voice on AIDS" -- bloody well ought to be doing. But, as we reported earlier, AIDS Action refused to endorse  this week's March and the vital new Campaign to End AIDS -- just as AIDS Action refused to endorse the nonpartisan AIDSVote campaign last year to get the HIV-positive and their friends and family registered to vote.

So, if you can't get to Washington this week, enter in your computer's link list the Campaign's new website -- which will become operational this Thursday -- at www.endAIDSnow.org, so you can keep in touch with the extensive Fall schedule of events and read the 21-point Ending AIDS program.

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April 26, 2005

A WORTHWHILE CONFERENCE ON 'NET POLITICS

On May 16 (a Monday) the PersonalDemocracy.com website is hosting its annual conference in the Big Apple. They're billing it as " the premier event for political leaders, activists and operatives; technologists, journalists and futurists and anyone else looking for strategic understanding and market opportunities in the evolving world of technology-driven politics."

The speakers include a quite diverse collection of names: Service Employees International Union president Andy Stern,  Markos "Daily Kos" Moulitsas,  Joshua "Talking Points" Marshall, Craig "Craigslist" Newmark, Republican National Committee e-director Mike Turk, Ex-MoveOn organizing director and ex-Kerry campaign e-whiz Zack Exley, 'net Deaniac Zephyr Teachout, "We Are the Media author Dan Gilmore, and many more. Of course, this is a rather pricey affair -- $295 bucks a ticket, which takes a little bit of the "democracy" out of the assembly and makes it another gabfest for the monied elite and entrepreneurs looking to make a buck out of 'net politics -- but the agenda looks worthwhile, and one might actually want to hear what some of these speakers have to say, as well as sound off yourself. So, readers of DIRELAND can get a $70 discount by using the
following registration code: direland225. You can register by clicking here. (If you are from a non-profit or are a student with ID, you should inquire with the conference organizers at info@personaldemocracy.com about other discounts.)

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April 25, 2005

BULGARIA AND ROUMANIA--NOT READY FOR PRIME TIME IN EUROPE

The signing today of documents that will lead to the admission of Bulgaria and Roumania into the European Union can only add to the arguments of those who want the new European Constitution (subject of a previous DIRELAND post) to be rejected in France's May 29 referendum on it. The reason: by any standard, both Eastern European countries are still in gross violation of EU standards on two key issues: human rights, and corruption.

In both countries, corruption is so widespread that citizens are required to fork over bribes for absolutely everything -- from municipal building permits, to admission to a hospital or the right to obtain prescriptions for medication, to enrollment in a public school. Both countries have thus become playgrounds for rapacious corporations, eager to escape from laws protecting workers' rights, salaries and benefits in the advanced democracies of Western Europe, and profit from countries where labor is cheap, unions enfeebled, and where -- with a cash-stuffed envelope for a bureaucrat -- factories can escape from producing products under the strict health and environmental protections that exist in the West. Adding the 33 million people of these two countries--where illiteracy is still high, and familiarity with democratic standards and practices low to non-existent--to the EU will inevitably weaken it and its democratic ethos. But, under enormous pressure from Washington, the EU has rushed to include Bulgaria and Roumania under the NATO-EU umbrella which the proposed new European Constitution enshrines. Both countries are also failing to protect their ethnic minorities -- particularly the Turkish minority in Bulgaria and the Rom (or "gypsy" population) in Roumania, who suffer routine discrimination and exclusion from mainstream social and economic life.

The admission of these two corrupt countries is the harbinger of easy sledding for Turkey. The EU opened negotiations for Turkey's admission last October, under pressure from Jacques Chirac and Gerhart Schroeder. But, as Le Monde has reported, "Turkey stopped making efforts to reform since it opened negotiations with the E.U." Turkey, where corruption is likewise rampant, is a notorious violater of human rights, and torture is widespread there. Turkey is also continuing policies of oppression towards its Kurdish minority, as Human Rights Watch reminded us in a report last month.

Last month, the Turkish human rights organization Mazlum Der criticized 75 deaths -- just in the first two months of 2005 alone -- at the hands of the state police, all dead from torture, extra-judicial executions, or downright murder. This suits Washington and its "war on terror" just fine -- just last week, another Human Rights Watch report detailed how the U.S., U.K., and other Western countries are accepting flimsy "diplomatic assurances" as the excuse to send suspected terrorists to Turkey and other countries where they would be tortured, something U.S. law forbids. Turkey is also a major transmission belt for the drug traffic, which it makes little effort to control (the army in particular profits from drug-monied corruption). And Turkish gay leaders have written to the E.U. to protest violations of E.U. bans on discrmination against same-sexers that are contained in the new Turkish penal code.

Roumania and Bulgaria both have pro-Western governments who were part of Bush's "coalition of the bought" for the Iraq invasion. Their admission to the E.U. is part of a market-driven expansion which strengthens Washington's hand within the Union, and helps insure it will be docile when the next American military adventure is cooked up. All this is just one more reason to hope the French vote "non" against the new European Constitution at the end of the month.

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April 23, 2005

BOLTON'S GAYBAITING OF A WHISTLE-BLOWER

One aspect of wacko John Bolton -- Bush's nominee for UN ambassador -- that hasn't received enough attention is how he gay-baited a Texas businesswoman, Melody Townsel, in Moscow when Townsel got on Bolton's shit list. Her crime was blowing the whistle on the failures and substandard performance of a US. AID subcontractor whom Bolton, then in private practice, represented.

From Howie Kurtz's WashPost column of April 22, on "Bolton Bashing Bonanza":
"USA Today meanwhile, caught up with businesswoman Melody Townsel, who says Bolton once threw a file folder and a tape dispenser at an American businesswoman in Moscow, disparaged her weight and alleged she was gay in an attempt to get her to withdraw criticism of a foreign-aid project."

"When Townsel got into a dispute with a company represented by Bolton in 1994 and would not withdraw her complaint, she says, Bolton spread rumors that she had stolen money and also referred disparagingly to her weight and hinted that she was a lesbian. . . . Kirby Jones, a Washington consultant, said Townsel told him of Bolton's behavior at the time. "

You can read the entire USA Today story on Townsel by clicking here. And Daily Kos has the complete text of a letter Townsel wrote to Senators recounting Bolton's deranged persecutions of her. Townsel wrote:

"As a maligned whistleblower, I've learned firsthand the lengths Mr. Bolton will go to accomplish any goal he sets for himself. Truth flew out the window. Decency flew out the window. In his bid to smear me and promote the interests of his client, he went straight for the low road and stayed there.

"John Bolton put me through hell -- and he did everything he could to intimidate, malign and threaten not just me, but anybody unwilling to go along with his version of events. His behavior back in 1994 wasn't just unforgivable, it was pathological...."

Joe Biden and Chris Dodd raised the Townsel matter in the last hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that postponed a vote on Bolton's nomination -- but didn't mention the gay-baiting. It will be interesting to see if it comes up when the panel comes back from its recess hiatus....

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A BUSH MOMENT

Jimmy Kimmel, in the opening monologue for his Thursday night show on ABC, had a priceless clip of Bush speaking -- a propos of Earth Day -- about the energy problem. Republicans (and even some of my war-supporting friends who aren't) frequently denounce those of on the left who have the temerity to suggest that our president is a world-class Twit. They ought to see this clip.

Since I'm basically a technodoofus, I immediately dropped a line to my cyberpal Crooks & Liars -- a technical virtuoso who specializes in political video captures -- and suggested he get this Bush clip for his excellent website. Luckily, since C&L lives in Los Angeles, he got my message before the Kimmel show aired there, and has just added this must-see Bush moment to his perspicacious harvest of video gems -- you can view it by clicking here.

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April 21, 2005

THE NEW EUROPEAN CONSTITUTION--SHOULD AMERICANS CARE? (UPDATED)

The number one topic of political conversation in Europe for weeks has been the possibility that the French electorate may reject the new European Constitution, in a referendum on it to be held at the end of May. The reason: a month ago, the first poll showing the "No" winning in France appeared. This was a shock in every European capital, since France has been considered the most pro-European country on the Continent, its succesive governments having long played a seminal role in building common European political and economic institutions, since the 1950s.

A French "No" vote would effectively kill the new Constitution. And, since the first French public opinion poll showing a win for the "No," 14 consecutive polls have showed the French rejecting the new Constitution for Europe -- the latest, published Thursday by one of the better-known French polling institutes, CSA, gave the "No" a solid 55%, against just 45% for the "Yes." And the "No" vote appears to have doubled its margin of victory in just two short weeks -- despite an extraordinary mobilization of the French and European political and media establishments in support of a "Yes" vote.

Why, you may ask, should Americans care?

I have long been in favor of a strong, federal Europe -- and not simply because I developed great affinities for Europe during the decade I spent living in France. As the political center of gravity in the U.S. has ever more markedly shifted to the right over the last two and a half decades since the election of Ronald Reagan, it has simultaneously become increasingly clear that the arguments in favor of an ever-stronger Europe advanced by the Nobel Prize-winning American economist Joseph Stiglitz have been prophetic. The former chief economist of the World Bank, Stiglitz became one of the most forceful critics of the Bank and of the International Monetary Fund, the twin global enforcers for multinational capitalism. Long before George Bush's war in Iraq, Stiglitz argued -- in a series of books and articles -- that only a European Union that was both economically and politically puissant and coherent could provide a counter-weight to the U.S.-led drive toward the economic globalization that gives the behemoth multinational corporations free and untrammeled reign over our destinies, and offer some hope of resistance to the U.S. military adventures from which those multinationals profit so handsomely.

The war in Iraq, of course -- opposition to which was led by France, Germany, and other nations of "Old Europe" (to borrow Rumsfeld's famous epithet), and which was intensely unpopular even in countries (like Italy and Spain) whose governments, at the time of the invasion, supported the war -- underscored the added importance of a strong Europe as a brake on U.S. imperial adventures. And Bush's aggressive proclamation of an American first-strike doctrine -- which insists on Washington's right to make war or take military action against whomever it likes whenever it likes -- ought to have convinced the sceptical that a strong Europe was necessary to have any hope of preserving the world's fragile peace, since the Bush first-strike doctrine appalled most Europeans, whether of the left or of the right.

Moreover, the parliamentary elections in Spain in the Spring of 2004 -- as I wrote at the time -- "dramatically shifted the balance of power within the European Union against the Atlanticist alliance that sundered the authority of the United Nations by invading Iraq." Last year's eviction of Spain's pro-war Aznar government, and the concomitant election of the anti-war, moderate Socialist government of José Luis Rodriguez  Zapatero, has presaged the probable outcome of next year's parliamentary elections in Italy. The regional elections in Italy two weeks ago were a crushing defeat for Bush's last important Continental ally on Iraq: Premier Silvio Berlusconi and his hard-right governing coalition (and which includes the cosmetically air-brushed neo-fascists led by Vice-Premier Gianfranco Fini) were dramatically slapped down by an electorate with whom the Iraq war and occupation are enormously unpopular -- upwards of 70% of Italians in the public opinion polls oppose Italy's support for the U.S. Iraq policy. As even the conservative editorial writers of The Economist acknowledged in their election analysis, the defeat of Bush's ally in those regional elections means that there is, at the very minimum, "a strong chance that Mr. Berlusconi's lot will lose" next year. And I'd say that's a considerable understatement (the latest Italian opinion polls this past week all show Silvio and his allies losing to the center-left alliance, and the government crisis and Berlusconi's attempt to form a new government are a flailing against an obvious, growing trend).

With Aznar gone and Silvio tottering, even Bush's partner-in-lies Tony Blair's popularity heading into the U.K.'s May 5 parliamentary elections has taken a major hit -- his arrogant mendacity on Iraq about WMD and the "imminent" threat posed by the odious Saddam Hussein seriously undermined his credibility (and his center-right domestic policies have further alienated his base). Blair's New Labor is now down to just 33%--that's only a slim, six-point lead over the Tories in the latest poll released yesterday, with the anti-war Liberal Democrats siphoning off many Labour voters for a healthy 21%. And a poll for The Independent on Sunday this past weekend showed that, if Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown were leading Labour instead of Blair, Labour's vote would increase by ten points. Blair's support for the Iraq war has already atrophied his influence over the Continental European powers. And even Poland -- part of Bush's Eastern European "coalition of the bought" -- announced two days ago that it is going to withdraw its troops from Iraq. Significantly more so than at the time of the Iraq invasion, a strong Europe would be antagonistic to the American imperium.

But, contrary to the claims of its supporters, the new European Constitution is not a step toward a stronger Europe, but will actually lessen European influence on the world stage. And that's but one of the reasons why American progressives should be hoping French voters reject it next month. Let me explain why:

Although the new Constitution gives Europe a reinforced, lengthened presidency and its first European foreign minister, far from strengthening the voice of Europe in the World this Constitution would weaken it. Why? Because the requirements for adopting a common foreign policy are so restrictive. As the former Socialist Defense Minister of France, Jean-Pierre Chevenement (who resigned in protest over France's support for the first Gulf War) has repeatedly pointed out during the current campaign, under the Constitution the crucial role France played at the United Nations in opposing the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq would no longer be possible. Not only would a country like France no longer have the possibility of expressing its own view of the situation, but the Constitution restricts the ability of any member of the U.N. Security Council (like France) which is also a member of the E.U., to take a position contrary to that adopted by the European Commission. And the complicated weighting system for adopting policy within the Commission makes it possible for a handful of countries to veto any expression on foreign policy. You will recall that, in the leadup to the invasion of Iraq, George Bush was able to buy the support of a majority of European countries (by bribing the Eastern Europeans) for the war. Under the Constitution, the U.S. would, in effect, be able to buy a veto bloc of countries to avoid an independent role for Europe that is critical of Washington. Moreover, the Constitution specifically makes the E.U. subordinate to the authority and policies of NATO for foreign, defense, military, and security policy. This double hobbling makes a strong European voice in the world impossible--unless it supports the views and adventures of Washington, capital of the world's only "hyper-power" (to borrow the coinage of former French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine.)

The Constitution was prepared by an unelected convention of 115 members, all appointed by their national governments, which overwhelmingly had conservative regimes at the time the convention was named. And the Constitution was written under the direction of the convention's president, the conservative former French head of state Valery Giscard-d'Estaing (chased from the Elysee Palace by the voters after only one term, in 1981, and replaced by the Socialist Francois Mitterand amid a hail of Giscard corruption scandals). Given the political composition of those who wrote it, therefore, it is hardly surprising that the Constitution reflects the conservative, anti-regulatory, untrammeled-free-market ideology of its authors.

This document is a Constitution unlike any other in the world. It is of telephone-book length, with 448 different articles, making it difficult (if not impossible) for any ordinary citizen to unravel and understand. It also, in a manner unprecedented by any Constitution hitherto seen, establishes a whole range of policy questions as law -- rather than simply establishing a democratic political mechanism for the adoption of policy. By far the largest part of the Constitution is taken up by its Chapter 3--which enshrines in concrete a wide range of policy decisions on social and economic matters, all of a highly conservative bent, that would normally be decided upon by elected national legislatures after political discussion. To sum up, Chapter 3 institutionalizes what is being called "social leveling from the bottom." This Constitution removes from the sphere of democratic political decision-making a host of policy matters in a way that would set them in irrevocable concrete.

The hasty admission of the Eastern European countries that enlarged the E.U. to its current 25 members grafted on to Western Europe a gaggle of populous countries bereft of either the democratic traditions, the social safety nets, or the strong trade union movements of the Western European countries that initated the construction of a united Europe. This gives the E.U. a schizophrenic character, and under the Constitution the less democratically developed countries, with feeble social protections for their ordinary citizens, would be able to drag down to their level the E.U. member countries with advanced welfare states and historic traditions of democratic participation in politics and policy. Far from expanding the rights of workers and the salaried, and their protections against poverty and economic disaster, the Constitution gives primacy to market forces as the sole guarantor of economic health. It institutionalizes conservative economic ideology in a host of policy areas. To take just one example: electricity. The Constitution would end the state-owned monopoly of electric power that exists in all Western (and many Eastern) European countries, and substitute a market-driven energy sector --  that would inevitably lead to dramatic price increases for electricity, already quite expensive in Europe by comparison to the U.S. The old notion of a "public utility" is thrown out the window. Similar policy declarations on a wide range of economic questions are also included in the infamous Chapter 3--for example, there can be no restriction on the movement of capital within the E.U., meaning the great monopolies, trusts and banks could shift money around within Europe to escape those countries (like most in Western Europe) which have laws governing unfair exploitative or usurious economic and fiscal policies, allowing those capitals to be placed in countries where feeble tax laws are more honored in the breach than in the observance. Chapter 3 would be a shot of adrenalin for the process known as "delocalization"--by which corporations move their factories and assembly plants from the countries of Western Europe with strong trade union movements, relatively high wage levels and strong social safety nets, to Eastern European countries that have none of these, where labor is cheaper and more exploited. The one thing that is strengthened in the Constitution is the role of the Central European Bank -- a sort of European I.M.F., whose arch-conservative governors would have little check on their exercise of fiscal power. All of this is why, in the opinion polls, a majority of the French are saying they believe the Constitution would lead to a decline in their personal economic situations.

This Constitution also institutionalizes an undemocratic Europe, in which all power resides in its president and in the European Commission which chooses the president. Their decisions will have the effect of law -- while the elected deputies of the European parliament at Strasbourg would be, in effect, castrated, for Strasbourg is given almost no more power than it currently has (and, by virtue of the policy decisions that would be enshrined in the Constitution, shorn of its little real power in many domains). A Europe that is institutionally undemocratic is a prescription for hatred of the E.U. by Europeans, whose dislike of the E.U.'s bureaucrats in Brussels is already considerable. And that sows the seeds for conflicts that would further cripple European unity and render the E.U. role on the world stage even more meaningless. In the case of any conflict between national laws and policies and the conservative policies built into the Constitution, it is the E.U. court system and its unelected judges who would decide between them. With neither its president, nor its principle power-wielding body (the Commission) elected by popular vote, it is not an exaggeration to call this Constitution anti-democratic.

Finally--to underscore its anti-democratic character-- it would be virtually impossible for the Constitution to be amended, once adopted. Even if there were to be a change in the political composition of member governments to the left, and even if the "Rose Europe" of the '90s -- with a significant majority of its countries governed by the left or left-center coalitions -- were to return, the conservative Constitution would be unalterable. Why? Because any single E.U. country can veto any Constitutional amendment. Thus, one would only have to purchase the support of a tiny, corrupt country -- like, say, Albania -- to prevent any attempt to introduce progressive changes in the Constitution's conservative economic policies and end its embodiment of conservative ideology--or to strengthen Europe's ability to speak clearly on foreign policy in opposition to Washington. This is the multinationals' dream Constitution -- and one with which Bush & Co., and the neo-imperialist neo-cons, would be delighted.

A weaker Europe, vassalized to the U.S. through NATO, in which social and economic protections for its citizens against the ravages of the unregulated market are weakened, crippled or dismantled, and which contains no truly democratic mechanism for either adopting policy, making political decisions with the force of law, or making changes in the Constitution -- that sums up the reasons why progressive Americans should hope that the French vote "Non" on May 29. If they do, the Dutch -- who hold their own referendum a week later -- will, observers predict, likely vote No as well. That would effectively kill this Constitution and require a new constitutional convention -- which, given the changes in the politics of European countries now under way, might well be significantly less conservative. Another good reason to hope that the Giscard Constitution is soundly defeated--as indeed now seems likely.

P.S. Friday, April 22: A new poll out today for the newsweekly L'Express shows continuing gains for the "non" vote, which now has a 16 point lead over the "oui," 58% to 42%....Also today, a new poll for LCI radio and Le Figaro shows that a solid majority of the Socialists' electorate -- 57% -- opposes the party's position in favor of the "oui." At the same time, however, the Socialists' electoral base does not believe that a victory for the "non" should be a reason for any change in the party's directorate: 74% of pro-Socialist voters say the Socialist Party's leader, Francois Hollande, should not resign if the "non" wins. Which means that the hopes of the party's left wing (about 25% of the party, whose principal leader is Socialist deputy Henri Emmanuelli) that a grassroots revolt -- against Hollande and the so-called "elephants" who run the party -- could be provoked by a probable "non" victory in the referendum, is only wishful thinking.

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April 06, 2005

LARRY KRAMER'S NEW BOOK

This afternoon's mail brought me a copy of Larry Kramer's new book, "The Tragedy of Today's Gays," which Tarcher/Penguin is publishing on April 21. This version of Larry's terribly important speech last November at Cooper Union, which DIRELAND commended to your attention at the time, contains a new introduction with some explosive material, in particular Larry's disclosure that both New York Mayor Ed Koch and Dr. Richard Krause, the head of the National Institute of Alergies and Infectious Diseases at NIH, refused to do anything about AIDS for fear of being outed, and thousands died as a result. This book is must reading for anyone who is gay or has gay friends, anyone concerned with AIDS, and indeed anyone concerned with the context and contours of our current politics.

As usual, our dear Larry--a national treasure--does not hold back in this cri de coeur. It is damning indictment of the navel-gazing careerist hedonism, and the galloping, selfish conservatism, afflicting too many gay Americans; of their complacency and apathy; and of their appetites for self-destructive behavior. It is a call to conscience and to action. It is mordant and funny, it will make you cry, and--as our most important contemporary playwright, Tony Kushner, says--Larry's new book is "glorious, terrifically moving, fiery, and brilliant." Full disclosure: Larry says nice things about me in this book--but even if he hadn't, I'd insist you read this important manifesto and its life-saving, life-orienting counsel. This paperback edition, only $9.95, carries carries a forward by Naomi Wolf, and an afterword by Rodger McFarlane. You can already order it by clicking here.

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THE NEW CONGRESSIONAL ASSAULT ON THE RIGHT TO DIE

I wrote the following for this week's L.A. Weekly:

Poor Terri Schiavo, at long last, has now been mercifully released from the prison of her lifeless body--but if you think that puts an end to the Republicans’ assault on the right to die with dignity, think again. Another attempt to pass sweeping federal restrictions on that right will soon be made by the GOP Congress--even as California’s legislature is poised to pass a new law giving some terminally ill the right to legally obtain prescriptions for, and take, life-ending medication.

The chairman of the Senate health committee, reactionary Republican Mike Enzi of Wyoming, this week opens hearings on proposals for more federal control of an individual’s right to choose death without suffering. In the House, a member of the powerful Appropriations Committee, Florida GOP Rep. Dave Weldon--a doctor who is an opponent of stem cell research, and a condom opponent who has tried to slash funding for HIV prevention--has, with the approval of Speaker Dennis Hastert, reintroduced a bill which the House
passed two weeks ago but the Senate subsequently rejected. This bill -- H.R. 1151, the so-called “Incapacitated Person’s Legal Protection Act”-- requires federal courts to intervene at the request of any family member or loved one if a state court “authorizes or directs” the withholding of food or life support when there is an alleged dispute over the patient’s wishes. (Florida Christian primitive Mel Martinez, Bush’s former Housing Secretary, has introduced the same bill in the Senate).

If this bill becomes law, the federal courts would be clogged with thousands of Schiavo cases, in which parents or relatives who are religious extremists could obstruct an individual’s wish to die without suffering, through litigation that could drag on for years.

“This legislation is motivated by nothing more than pandering to a small group--and Congress has done enough of that in the Schiavo case,” growls Westside Los Angeles Congressman Henry Waxman, the ranking Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee and a ferocious critic of Bush administration health policies. In the wake of polls showing overwhelming public opposition to Congressional intervention in the Schiavo case --70% to 80%, depending on the poll -- Waxman told the L.A. Weekly, “many Democrats” who voted for the bill the last time “are reconsidering their votes.”

When the New York Times reported on the new Republican push for clamping down on the right to die last Monday week, its story gave the impression that the man who led the fight against Tom DeLay’s strong-arm Schiavo bill--Massachusetts Democratic Congressman Barney Frank--was in favor of new legislation regulating this choice by those terminally ill or totally incapacitated. Not true, Frank told me. “There has been no showing that there’s a failure on the part of the states to protect the rights of the disabled. Absent that, there’s absolutely no need for any such legislation,” Frank says. He adds that the Weldon-Martinez bill “violates two Constitutional principles: federalism, and the separation of powers--and it leaves out the economics of the circumstances of those who want to exercise
a right to die. We need hearings that will take up the whole range of issues involving the disabled--the Bush administration’s cuts in Medicare and in housing for the disabled, its failure to provide adequate health care, and the all those things that surround the decision to die, to make sure that a choice to die isn’t linked to being poor.” Although nearly half the House Democrats who voted on the DeLay Schiavo bill voted for it, Frank, too, says that “many of my colleagues have been chastened by the public’s negative reaction to it in the polls--I’ve talked on the floor to at least 10 Democrats who no longer feel that way and regret their vote.” Frank believes that, if the public pays attention to the Weldon-Martinez bill, it will have a tougher time passing the House again. But that's a big "if."

Besides the push by the Christian right for such legislation, much of the impetus for new federal regulation is coming from groups claiming to represent the disabled. But there’s a serious disconnect between the leadership of some of those groups and the disabled themselves. Three consecutive Louis Harris polls have found that over 60 % of people with disabilities support the right to assisted dying for competent, terminally ill people. In the most recent Harris survey of disabled people on this question, from December 2001, a whopping 68 % of respondents with disabilities support the right to assisted dying. Among all Americans, 65 percent of respondents to a 2002 Harris poll supported the legalization of aid in dying for the terminally ill. In a number of other studies, people with AIDS support the right to assisted dying by anywhere from 60% to 90%.

One of the reasons for this huge difference in opinion between disabled Americans themselves and some disabled organizations is that many of the latter have been on the take from ultraconservative members of the Philanthropy Roundtable, a collection of foundations that have funded conservative causes ranging from abolition of Social Security to anti- tax crusades and United Nations conspiracy theories. A conservative counterpart to the mainstream Council on Foundations, the Roundtable was initially operated under the aegis of the Institute for Educational Affairs, an organization founded in 1978 by two wellknown figures of contemporary conservative politics, William Simon and Irving Kristol. The Philanthropy Roundtable members' founders include scions of America's wealthiest families, like Richard Mellon Scaife (heir to the Mellon industrial, oil and banking fortune and a well-known financier of ultra-right causes), Harry Bradley (electronics--the Bradley Foundation has given grants to studies designed to prove the genetic inferiority of blacks), Joseph Coors (beer), and the Smith Richardson family (pharmaceutical products).

“Team Schiavo’s Deep Pockets,” an investigation by Working for Change columnist Bill Berkowitz -- who monitors the right - demonstrated that groups with anodyne-sounding names like the National Organization on Disability, the World Institute on Disability, and the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide--as well as the right-wing legal team representing Schiavo’s ultraconservative Catholic parents-- have received millions from Philanthropy Roundtable affiliates, including the Scaife Foundation and the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation (run by the heirs to the Amway fortune, Christian right extremists who’ve bankrolled anti-gay initiatives like last year’s successful referendum in Michigan banning gay marriage and domestic partnership benefits). Unfortunately, in the wall-to-wall TV coverage surrounding the Schiavo case, one heard only the voices of these well-funded extremists, like the spokesman for Schiavo’s Christer parents, anti-abortion terrorist Randall Terry; but never the voices of advocates for the disabledd having the right to die with dignity--like CompassionInDying.org’s president, Barbara Coombs Lee, a nurse and lawyer who argues that “the greatest fear of our constituents is that other people—complete strangers—will make end-of-life decisions for them. And God forbid that it be politicians.”

CompassionInDying’s Washington representative, Robert Raben, a former assistant attorney general in the Clinton administration who is leading the lobbying against the Weldon-Martinez bill, mocks the conservatives who are against Big Government--except in the bedroom and the hospital room. He says, “The Republicans are all over the place--this is a real quandary for the far right, because what do they do when people say, ‘I don’t want to live this way?’ Take away their right to die? That’s what this bill does.”

Alan Toy, wheelchair bound since he contracted polio at the age of three, is a veteran disability rights activist, former chairman of Santa Monica’s Americans with Disabilities Act Community Advisory  former vice chairman of California’s State Independent Living Council; he’s also an actor who’s appeared in films like “In the Line of Fire” and “Born on the Fourth of July,” and is widely recognized as Professor Finley, the nasty cult leader on “Beverly Hills 90210.” And he’s a sharp critic of the line taken by many disability groups over the Schiavo case. Says Toy:

“It's generally thought OK to put animals like dogs or horses out of their misery, but we're only supposed to help children and people with
disabilities live, no matter what their individual circumstances may be. How does this notion volley with our complaints about society's perpetual infantilization of people with disabilities? Isn't it contradictory to abhor that tendency in others, while not allowing ourselves to make very adult decisions like how and when to die? And even if one agrees that people with disabilities shouldn't be allowed to get help to die, isn't it crossing the line into arrogance to argue that no one should be given assistance?”

Moreover, Toy adds, “I also sense a kind of perpetual victimization at the core of arguments about slippery slopes and mass euthanasia for the severely disabled. Sure, the post-Holocaust cry of ‘never again’ has been mocked by recent slaughters in Rwanda and the Balkans, proving that we are still a long way from being a fully evolved species. But does anyone really believe that proponents of assistance in dying want to kill off everyone with a significant disability, or that we are all at risk of mass extermination?”

Toy is a supporter of new legislation now making its way through the California legislature. Next week, the Assembly’s judiciary committee will vote on the California Compassionate Choices Act, introduced by Assembly Majority Whip Leonard Levine of Van Nuys--and assuming it is approved, the bill could be before the entire Assembly by June. Modeled on Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act (now being challenged in the courts by Bush’s Justice Department, despite its having been approved by Oregon voters in a referendum), Levine’s bill provides for medically-supervised suicide for the terminally ill, but only if they have six months or less left to live. And it contains many safeguards: a patient must be mentally competent, make three requests -- two oral and one written -- for a prescription for life-ending medication; two physicians must evaluate the patient; there are two waiting periods before the medication can be issued; and the patients must take the drugs themselves--no one can assist them.

A March 2 Field Poll showed that 70% of Californians support the idea that “incurably ill patients have the right to ask for and get life-ending medication.” In addition, 68% of the California public, including 62% of seniors age 65 or older, would personally want to have this option if they themselves were terminally ill--numbers basically unchanged since Field began polling this issue 25 years ago. Assemblyman Levine says he’s spoken to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s chief of staff and legislative counsel, “who say Arnold is ‘open to the idea’ of the bill.” And Levine argues that the right to die is a very personal choice: “If you don’t want to do it, then don’t do it. But why should your moral superiority tell me that I should suffer?”

That’s an unanswerably good question.

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April 04, 2005

A DEFEAT FOR BERLUSCONI (Updated)--AND A GAY VICTORY

In Italy's regional elections, for which voting was held yesterday and today, Silvio Berlusconi's governing coalition has apparently suffered a huge defeat. According to Italian exit polls (as just  reported in the daily e-bulletin from the French newsweekly, the Nouvel Observateur), Silvio's coalition has been defeated in six of the eight regions it held going into the elections. Those losses include the important regions of Lazio--which includes Rome; Piedmont; and Liguria, in the rich industrial north. As the BBC noted in its pre-election survey, "The former centre-left Prime Minister, Massimo D'Alema, resigned after a poor showing at the last regional elections in 2000. This paved the way for Mr Berlusconi's victory at the general elections a year later.Mr Berlusconi's centre-right ruling coalition has lost every major mid-term election - European, by-election, regional and local - since storming to power in 2001." It thus appears that the handwriting is on the wall signaling a defeat for Berlusconi - George Bush's Iraq war-supporting ally and buddy -- in next year's general elections. The Sgrena affair made widespread Italian anger at the war--and at Silvio's participation in it -- red-hot, among right-wing as well as left-wing voters (including the botched way the affair was handled by Berlusconi's military, as well as Silvio's "I'll-withdraw-our-troops-No-I won't" priouette, after getting a phone call from Bush, in the middle of it) and undoubtedly had an influence on the regional voting against the governing coalition's parties.

The elections brought more good news: in the region of Puglia, in the south of Italy, Niki Vendola--openly gay and a member of the Partito della Rifondazione Comunista--has beaten the incumbent regional president who was a member of Berlusconi's party, Forza Italia, these same exit polls say. This makes Vendola the most significant elected openly gay public official in Italy, which has up until now lagged behind most other Western European countries in electing gays to public office.

We'll post more details as they become available, but there's nothing as yet on the wires. For continually updated hard numbers, you can check out the reports on the voting from RAI24, the Italian public station, by clicking here.

P.S. Update at 5:45 PM EST: Reuters, in a dispatch posted 27 minutes ago, is now confirming Berlusconi's massive defeat. Reuters reports that "Francesco Storace, the pugnacious centre-right president of the Rome region Lazio, conceded defeat and said the elections around the country had been 'a massacre' for the centre-right....Prior to the vote, Storace said defeat in Lazio would herald a centre-left general election victory: 'If we lose in Lazio the successor to Berlusconi can only be Prodi.'"

Che liberazione! Buttate fuori Silvio!, says DIRELAND...

The Italian news agency AGI is also reporting (in its English version) the Berlusconi defeat....but my transAtlantic friend Richard Seymour, the proprietor of the literate blog Lenin's Tomb, is dyspeptic about the Rifondazione Comunista's having joined the Olive Tree center-left coalition now headed by Romano Prodi: he thinks it's an inevitable sellout. Richard has a permanent disdain for "bourgeois electoral politics," but I, for once, see this glass as half full--joining the Olive Tree has provided more elected officials for the Rifondiazione, to pull the PDS-led coalition to the left on economic issues, the social safety net, and defense of the unions, where it's been lagging. Moreover, my dear Ilyich, as Rifondazione leader Fausto Bertinotti pointed out this afternoon to AGI, the primaries the Olive Tree held among its partners worked to the radical left's advantage. "I do not know why they would be made useless. In any case I insist: we didn't ask for the primaries, they were proposed by Prodi, we did them in Puglia and they went well," Bertinotti said. And without the Rifondazione's participation and those primaries, we wouldn't have seen our poof elected in Puglia...Moreover, I doubt, Richard, that you would have opposed the Popular Front against Fascism in the 1930s--but Italians today are confronted with a menace to their liberty nearly as grave, since Berlusconi's two puissant coalition partners can accurately be described as fascist: Gianfranco Fini, head of the Alleanza Nazionale (built from the old neo-fascist MSI, of which he was a youth leader) and now Berlusconi's Vice Premier, may have tactically withdrawn his chracterization of Mussolini as "the greatest statesman of the century," but the brown shirts remain neatly pressed in his closet; and Umberto Bossi's Movimento Politico Lega Nord is clearly fascist in its racist and xenophobic demagogy. The concerted assault on liberty by the Berlusconi coalition--including its bringing the justice system and the courts to heel to prevent corruption convictions of Silvio and his co-conspirators, and the total control of Italy's audiovisual media Silvio has engineered, are only the most visible and pernicious evidence of threats to real democracy. The Rifondazione, in joining the Olive Tree, recognized these facts, and the need to form an alliance to evict Berlusconi and dismantle his most noxious works. The right choice, in my view. It was also smart electoral politics, as these regional elections have demonstrated...There's one more potent argument for a united front against Berlusconi: this is a crucial moment in the construction of the European Union, and removing Berlusconi from power substantially weakens the conservatives in the EU in general and the European Commission's current president, Jose Manuel Barroso--the Portugese ex-Maoist turned capitalist enforcer--in particular. We've already seen the malign influence on Europe Berlusconi would like to have when he appointed the clerical fascist Rocco Buttiglione as the European Justice Commissioner (an appointment which Barroso was forced to cancel after Buttiglione's diatribes against gays and women (whom he wanted to send back to the kitchen). Removing Berlusconi from power helps the  European workers fight to resist social dumping and retain the social state, while insuring there is no European-wide relapse on civil freedoms. Finally, those of us who live in Western democracies that have never been under the boot of real fascism should not be so quick to judge as "sellouts" those in countries which, in living memory have, when those folks decide its circle-the-wagons time....Don't forget that, as my friend Norman Birnbaum--an expert on European politics--has just reminded me, "Bertinotti put Berlusconi in power at the last national election by rejecting a common candidates list for the Senate." I, for one, am glad Bertinotti has seen the error of his infantile leftist ways...

...AND THE POPE IS FINALLY DEAD: If you've been nauseated, as I have, by the wall-to-wall, hagiographic Popeaphilia leaking from the little screen for the last three days--Wojtyla took longer to croak than Franco-- take some heart from a new poll revealing that a lot of U.S. Catholics would like a Pope with different politics. The daily Polltrack from the National Journal tells us today that the latest Gallup Poll on the subject shows 78 percent said they thought the next pope should allow Catholics to use birth control, and 63 percent said he should allow priests to marry. Fifty-five percent also said they supported a new pope who permitted women to become priests; slightly fewer than half wanted a leader who would allow Catholics to divorce and remarry without an annulment, and 37 percent said the new pontiff should loosen church rules on abortion.

I wish we'd seen on U.S. TV the kind of cry of outrage at this socially reactionary Pope that came from the admirable Peter Tatchell, the indefatigable gay and human rights activist who heads the British gay group named, appropriately, OutRage. Tatchell declared:

"History will judge the Pope harshly. His opposition to the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV has contributed to millions of people dying an agonising, needless death. Millions of children in developing countries are orphans; having lost their parents to Aids because of the Pope's anti-condom dogma. Pope John Paul II waged a ceaseless war against the human rights of women and gay people; opposing the right of women to control their own fertility; blocking women's equality in the church; and endorsing state-sponsored discrimination against lesbians and gay men."  Not even our spayed U.S. gay groups had the guts to say this. The BBC has a critical piece on the Pope of the kind you won't find on U.S. TV, and it quotes Tatchell, too. You can read the BBC's take  by clicking here. And, in today's Guardian, Terry Eagleton has a sharp-eyed dissection entitled "The pope has blood on his hands," which you can read by clicking here. ...

CONGRATULATIONS to Nigel Jaquiss of the alternative Oregon paper Willamette Week for winning a Pulitzer Prize--he uncovered a three-decade-old sex scandal involving then Portland mayor, later Governor Neil Goldschmidt, who served in Jimmy Carter's cabinet, who was having it off with his 14-year-old babysitter. It isn't often the Pulitizer board recognizes the alternative press....Nice going, Nigel...

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