June 30, 2005
THE DOWNING STREET MEMOS
My young friend David Swanson is one of those trying to organize around the Downing Street memos, and has been cheerfully harassing me in a series of e-mails today to write something about this business and give some publicity to his website, afterdowningstreet.org. I've told David that the Downing Street memos don't interest me very much, that I think organizing around them is a strategic mistake, and that I couldn't in good conscience plug a campaign which I didn't really believe could possibly be effective without making my own views quite clear. Well, despite my caveat he renewed his request for the umpteenth time. Consider it honored, out of friendship. Those who choose to visit David's website may certainly do so by clicking on the link above.
But before you do, I would urge you to read my companero Marc Cooper's long post on the Downing Street memos, which articulates as well as I could the naiveté of well-meaning folks like my friend David in believing this is an issue which can sway those in the U.S. public who support the war and the Anglo-American occupation away from it. There are other ways to encourage the growing disenchantment with the war -- which is motivated largely by the feeling that all those body bags of American boys and girls coming home without TV coverage ain't worth what Americans are getting for their blood and their money. I don't think the Downing Street memo kerfuffle has a bloody thing to do with this disenchantment, nor will it. I've written reams of copy in opposition to the invasion of Iraq and its occupation long before they happened, but I don't have either the time or the inclination to expand on the reasons why I think that about a matter that interests me so little, especially since there's an exposition of most of the reasons already on the record with which I wholeheartedly agree as far as it goes: Read Cooper's impeccable rant.
THE MORALITY OF OUR TIME
June 29, 2005
THE MAN WHO WOULD DESTROY PBS (Updated)
I wrote the following for the new issue of the L.A. Weekly, which hits the newsstands tomorrow:
Big Bird gave San Bernardino County Congressman Jerry Lewis (right) a black eye last week. Lewis, who is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, is the conservative obscurantist who has been leading the right-wing Republican effort to slash the budget of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting -- which provides funding for PBS, NPR and their local affiliates -- and put it out of existence.
But, last Thursday, when the CPB appropriation came up for a vote on the floor of the House, the 25% cut in its budget Lewis had forced through his committee was restored, thanks to defections by Republicans afraid of public broadcasting’s popularity in the opinion polls -- 87 GOPers deserted their party leadership and voted to give back to CPB $100 million Lewis had snatched from it.
However, Lewis and the Republicans can still boast that they’ve managed to kill another $102.3 million in federal funding for public broadcasting. They’ve erased $79 million for PBS and its affiliates that funded both a satellite interconnection program to send content to local stations, and public TV stations' federally mandated conversion to digital transmission. And they’ve pulled the $23 million for TV from the “Ready To Read, Ready to Learn” program -- Laura Bush’s putative darling -- which provided money for PBS children’s programming. This Lewis-sponsored cut successfully eliminates funding for “Postcards from Buster,” the kids’ show that was the target of anti-gay, censorious attacks by Bush’s Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, Margaret Spellings, when it showed Buster visiting a Vermont family in which the parents were a lesbian couple. Thanks to Lewis, Buster -- a cartoon rabbit (right) -- won’t be sending any more postcards. Other popular children’s programs deprived of funding by Lewis include “Clifford the Big Red Dog,” “Arthur,” and “Dragon Tales” (“Sesame Street,” which has other funding sources, isn’t as vulnerable as these other shows, which don’t).
And Lewis’s anti-PBS crusade is only part of the Republicans’ all-out effort to tame public broadcasting.
First, just who is Jerry Lewis? A member of Congress since 1978, Lewis represents the safest Republican seat in California, a sprawling district (made even safer for the GOP in the last redistricting) that includes the easternmost suburbs of the Greater Los Angeles area, as well as the fastest-growing communities in the Mojave Desert, and stretches all the way to the Nevada border. So entrenched is Lewis that the Democrats didn’t even put up a candidate against him in the last two elections.
That’s hardly surprising, given Lewis’ record of vindictiveness against his political opponents. “Lewis (right) has a troubling, angry side, and an intimidating electoral style that can best be described as embodying pre-Watergate ethics,” says a prominent Democratic activist and businessman in Lewis’ district who, fearing reprisals from Lewis, requested anonymity. “The last time we put up a serious candidate against Lewis, he really went after the guy, put private detectives on him paid out of campaign funds, went after our candidate’s clients and tried to ruin him, pressured one of our guy’s clients into suing him -- Lewis is a take-no-prisoners kind of fellow.”
Lewis is a longtime Congressional water-carrier for the military industrial complex, and for years has raked in big campaign bucks from its corporate behemoths, like Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, Boeing, United Technologies, Boeing, General Dynamics, and General Atomics. Lewis’ congressional district is chock full of military bases -- including the Marine Air-Ground Task Force Training Command, Edwards Air Force Base, and the China Lake Naval Air Warfare Center.
Another huge facility in Lewis’ district is the million-acre Army National Training Center for desert warfare. A middle school, built to serve the Center’s off-base military families, bears Lewis’ name, and is a charter school funded with what are called “special impact funds” which Lewis procured. The school was the centerpiece in another unsavory political scandal involving Lewis. A few years ago, a school board member in the Silver Valley United School District, which has jurisdiction over the middle school, discovered some $15 million in cost overruns at the Lewis school, as the Deseret Dispatch and the San Bernardino Sun reported at the time. A General Accounting Office investigation found dozens of irregularities, and a draft report by the Pentagon’s Inspector General’s office sharply criticized the Lewis school’s management. Lewis’ reaction to all this? He had his cronies initiate a successful recall election against the obstreperous school board member who’d spotlighted the fraud, twisted arms to destroy the man’s business -- and, as the then-chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee overseeing Defense appropriations, put pressure on the Pentagon to scrub its scandal-revealing draft report, which no longer officially exists (although a copy is in the possession of local Democrats.) Lewis is not a politician many have the guts to cross swords with.
Most worrisome to supporters of PBS, however, is Lewis’ reputation as a master of the backroom deal in the House-Senate conferences that revolve differences in the bills passed by the two chambers. The CPB appropriation now goes to the Senate -- where the Appropriations Committee chairman is ultraconservative Mississippi Republican Senator Thad Cochran (left), a darling of the Christer right, which has been crusading against PBS. When Lewis and Cochran put their heads together after the Senate acts on this year’s appropriations bill, last Thursday’s moral victory for public broadcasting may turn out to have been a Pyrrhic one.
And that’s not all. On the same day as the House vote on its budget, the board of directors of CPB -- under the thumb of its hardline Republican chairman, Kenneth Tomlinson -- voted to name as CPB’s new president and CEO a partisan political operative: Patricia deStacy Harrison (left), a co-chair of the Republican National Committee for four years (1997-2001), and a major fundraiser for George Bush, who rewarded her with a job in the State Department. She co-chaired Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole's finance committee in 1996, when it accepted $80,000 in contributions from employees of Empire Sanitary Landfill, a waste management company later indicted for illegally funneling contributions to numerous federal campaigns and ordered to pay an $8 million fine, the largest Federal Election Commission fine in history. Harrison is a former lobbyist and p.r. woman with no public broadcasting experience, and was selected by passing over four more qualified finalists for the top CPB job. “Patricia Harrison’s selection as president and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is an outrage -- her complete lack of experience and close ties to the leadership of the Republican Party represent a new low in public broadcasting history,” says Josh Silver, executive director of the media reform group Free Press, which has been central in fighting the GOP’s effort to bring public broadcasting to heel.
Tomlinson (below), a close associate of Karl Rove, hammered through the hiring of Harrison despite a huge public outcry at her pending appointment. For example, two weeks ago, the board of Iowa Public Broadcasting, in a letter endorsed by the Association of Public Television Stations, wrote to the CPB, saying of the widely-publicized news about the coming appointment of Harrison as CPB head: “We believe strongly that such an appointment would be in absolute contradiction to the concept of CPB as [a] buffer against political interference. It would call into question the motivations of everything we do, whether funded by CPB or not.”
The Harrison appointment is only the latest in a series of initiatives by Tomlinson -- a former editor in chief of Reader’s Digest -- to stifle non-Republican thought at PBS. Former CPB board member Christy Carpenter told the New York Times that, under Tomlinson, there has been “an increasingly and disturbingly aggressive desire to be more involved [in runnng PBS] and to push programming in a more conservative direction.”
Tomlin hired a Republican polling firm, The Tarrance Group (which had worked for the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign) to take a poll on public broadcasting’s credibility. But he suppressed the poll’s findings when it revealed that PBS and NPR had an 80% favorable rating, and that a majority (55%) found PBS more “fair and balanced” than the Big Three broadcast networks, CNN, or Fox News. He brought in a Bush operative, the director of the White House Office of Global Communications, to oversee two ombudsmen he appointed to scrutinize PBS programming for non-Republican thinking. And Tomlinson hired a special consultant, Fred Mann, to monitor “bias” in Bill Moyers’ PBS news magazine “Now.” Mann created categories of Moyers’ guests, in his reports to Tomlinson, that had headings like “anti-Bush,” “anti-business,” and anti-Tom Delay.” Before being hired by Tomlinson at CPB, Mann worked for 20 years at the National Journalism Center, an organization founded by the American Conservative Union and M. Stanton Evans, a conservative columnist, and which counts among the alumni of its training programs Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund and right-wing pundit Ann Coulter.
The assault on PBS “is being orchestrated by Karl Rove (left) and the White House, and it isn’t going to stop until they reshape public broadcasting to their liking,” says Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy.
Clearly, more dark days are still head for PBS.
UPDATE, June 30: The above article was, becaue of the L.A. Weekly's summer deadline, written six days before it was published. There have been several useful PBS-related pieces published elsewhere since. There was an original Michael Winship article for Common Dreams with more information on CPB chairman Tomlinson and his gumshoe Mann (including Tomlinson's involvement in blacklisting of a speakers' list at the US Information Agency in the '80s). NPR published on its website the complete Mann Report ordered by Tomlinson, which spied on not only Moyers but on Tavis Smiley and other public broadcasting hosts to root out the undesirables on their guest lists. Also, Alexander Cockburn, whom I used to consider a friend -- has taken to attacking me off and on these last years as, of all things, a lackey of the Democratic Party (which will surprise and amuse most people who've read my incessant critical attacks on the mediocrity, timidity, spinelessness, and enslavement to Corporate America of the Democratic leadership) -- but that doesn't stop me from recommending you read his hilarious dissection and sendup of the MacNeill-Lehrer News Hour on PBS, written for Harper's some years ago, and which Alex disinterred and republished in the June 30 issue of his newsletter Counterpunch. (I'm really not terribly troubled by Alex's spleen -- after all, last year Counterpunch attacked the Green Party, saying it "supports the perpetuation of the war and the corporate contamination of the American political system" -- an assertion even more hilarious than Alex's McNeill-Lehrer sendup. The Greens' crime was running its own presidential candidate instead of endorsing Nader, and abstaining from serious campaigning in swing states where doing so might have tipped those states to Bush.)
June 28, 2005
BUSH AND EMINENT DOMAIN--THE MONEY TRAIL
The Supreme Court's decision last week on eminent domain is full of dangers. An editorial in today's Rockford (Ilinois) Star points some of them out, and Mike Wallace had a good CBS report on abuse of eminent domain last year which you can read by clicking here. Reason magazine had a juicy one two years ago, too, you ought to read.
Just as interesting: my friend Sam Smith -- the veteran independent Washington journalist whose invaluable daily press review, Undernews, has long been a must-read for me -- has dug into his capacious archives and unearthed a superb article in the Texas Observer (that first-rate, progressive biweekly now edited by the sterling investigative journalist Lou Debose). The Texas Observer piece, from 1997, shows how then-Governor George W. Bush profited handsomely from an abuse of the eminent domain process.
The article, "Stealing Home," by Robert Bryce, points out that: "...baseball has been very good to the governor. When it comes to power, the governor is a true triple-threat. Consider his record: (1) His initial baseball investment of $600,000 carries the current potential of a 2,500 percent return. (2) Through savvy P.R. and political maneuvering, he and his partners have persuaded a city and the state to directly subsidize a facility for their business. (3) Not content with taxpayer subsidies, he and his fellow owners have also successfully used the power of government to take land from other private citizens so it could be used for their own private purposes.
"Yes, baseball has been very good to Bush. Moreover, the biggest deal Bush has ever done, the career-shaping transaction he boasted of on the campaign trail—the planning, funding and construction of the Texas Rangers’ Ballpark at Arlington—has been largely ignored by the national media as they rush to paint Bush’s presidential portrait.
"Yet whether the public interest issue is taxes, size of government, property rights, or public subsidies of private sports ventures, Bush’s personal ownership interest in the Texas Rangers baseball team has been wildly at odds with his publicly declared positions on those issues. And ongoing litigation over the Ballpark deal has revealed documents showing that beginning in 1990, the Rangers management—which included Bush as a managing general partner—conspired to use the government’s power of eminent domain to further its private business interests.
"Since he took to the stump three and a half years ago to run for governor, Bush has railed against 'big government.' On the very first day of his campaign, November 8, 1993, Bush told supporters in Houston, San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas that 'the best way to allocate resources in our society is through the market place. Not through a governing elite, not through red tape and over-regulation, not through some central bureaucracy.'
"But through the Arlington stadium deal, Bush, who owns 1.8 percent of the Rangers, has been personally enriched by using the 'governing elite' and the 'central bureaucracy' not only to confiscate land for private purposes, but to get a huge public subsidy for a stadium that generates profits for himself and the Texas Rangers. Though Bush’s present ownership percentage of the team is relatively small, the asset represents a large part of his personal wealth; moreover, Bush’s deal with the team includes a provision that will almost certainly multiply his future ownership interest to 11 percent....." Read the rest of Bryce's revealing article about Dubya by clicking here.
I hope it will encourage you to support the Texas Observer by subscribing to it -- lefties in Texas need all the reinforcement they can get, and T.O. is always an informative read.... And, if you aren't already a subscriber to Undernews, check it out and sign up now via Topica by clicking here -- it's free, and you won't regret it, I promise you.
June 26, 2005
TONY BLAIR'S SON TO INTERN WITH CONSERVATIVE CLOSET-CASE DAVID DREIER (Updated)
The Daily Telegraph reports today that Tony Blair's 21-year-old son, Euan (below, with his mother), has snared a prestigious internship in Washington working under Republican Congressman David Dreier, the powerful conservative chairman of the House Rules Committee (and a hypocritical gay closet case who supports the Republicans' homophobic political agenda). And Democrats aren't happy about the internship, engineered by Daddy Blair, calling Dreier an "extremely surprising choice" to train Euan in the intricacies of American politics.
The Telegraph, which says that Euan Blair will be "mentored" by Dreier (at right), notes: "Committee officials say the decision to offer the sought-after position to the Prime Minister's son was taken at a senior level - not by staff ordinarily responsible for sifting internship applications. The offer followed a telephone interview with the committee's staff director. British diplomats in Washington also played a part in the process. A Downing Street spokesman said: 'Given the obvious sensitivities, the Prime Minister asked the British embassy to get involved in the process.'"
Euan Blair (left) is, as the Brits say, "a bit of a lad," with several drinking-related arrests and one drunk-driving incident having hit the British papers. Here's an interesting epistomological fact: so well-known are young Euan's night-time antics that his name has even entered Cockney rhyming slang as the auditory equivalent of Leicester Square, the hub of London nightlife, where one finds giant disco clubs like Hippodrome, Equinox, or Maximus (thus, one would say, in Cockney, "Meet me at Euan Blair.") And the internship with Dreier isn't the first time Euan's Mum and Dad have used their power in office to pull strings for their offspring: In 2002 a scandal (dubbed Cheriegate) was uncovered over Euan's mother, Cherie Booth, having used under-handed methods to acquire two flats for him and his guards to live in (in Bristol, where Euan was to attend university after failing to get the A-level grades needed for admission to Oxford), apartments which were secured with the help of a convicted Australian con-man, Cherie's pal Peter Foster. The Liberal Democrats later described these as "one [flat] to sleep in and one to party".
The Telegraph story, which didn't bother rehashing these well-known incidents for its British readers, went on to say that "...Despite his father's close relationship with President George W Bush, the news that Euan is to work for the Republican-led committee has stunned Democrats in Washington. Eric Burns, the communications director for Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, the leading Democrat on the committee, said: 'Working on the Rules Committee will be quite a learning process as it has always been one of the most partisan in the House. It is extremely surprising that the son of a Labour prime minister would intern with the Republican majority staff on the committee.'"
Well, what's so surprising? Tony Blair began his reign by imitating the sell-out triangulations of Bill Clinton and has moved steadily to the right of traditional Labour policies ever since--not just on foreign policy but on economic issues and civil liberties. By getting the British Embassy to snaggle a job with Dreier for his son, it looks like the prime minister wants to make sure young Euan doesn't stray too far from the family right-wing line. In an editorial just before the Brits' recent elections, The Independent growled that Tony Blair "is essentially a con man." So is the two-faced Dreier, who keeps his male lover on the Congressional payroll at a salary equal to that of Karl Rove and the White House chief of staff Andy Card -- but continues to use his power to step on the rights of gays to full equality before the law. Don't drop the soap around Dreier, Euan. (See my article in the L.A. Weekly, "The Outing: David Dreier and his Straight Hypocrisy.") Dreier is not only one of the most powerful men in Congress, but one of the most influential politicians in California -- he's a close advisor of The Governator, whose transition team he headed.
There's a solid, detailed analysis of Blair's New Labour and its sharp turn to the right in the current issue of the New Left Review. Susan Watkins' carefully footnoted article, "A WEIGHTLESS HEGEMONY--New Labour’s Role in the Neoliberal Order," among other things points out how Blair's policies have widened the yawning gap betwen the haves and the have-nots in Britain:
"Gross transfers to the rich from the poor have continued under New Labour. Indirect taxes, though they have fallen slightly following the mass protests against fuel prices in 2000, are still higher than in Thatcher’s day. Brown’s tax credits for low-paid parents and pensioners—garnering much praise from left-liberal commentators for giving the poorest decile an extra £15 a week—have been offset by larger changes in underlying income distribution...Wage differentials and the gender pay gap have widened during Labour’s second term."
Watkins, after dissecting Blair's neo-Thatcherian policies on economics, foreign policy, civil liberties, and the rest concludes her lengthy analysis with a judgement from which there is no appeal: "There is no reason for any greater sentimentality towards Labourism than Blair himself has shown. The Economist’s judgement that he is the best right-wing prime minister Britain could have is perfectly accurate. For the left, the logic should be clear: any other would be preferable. It is an anachronism to think that the performance of rival parties competing within the field of neoliberal politics can be distinguished, once in office, by their ideological pedigrees or electoral bases. The policies they adopt correspond to the balance of forces within that society—typically, the legacy of antecedent regimes—and of the world outside it. Just as Clinton was far to the right domestically of Nixon, so Blair has been of Heath; let alone Eden or Macmillan. Today, the U.K.’s main opposition parties, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives, are attacking the government from the left on student fees and pensions, attracting the disapproval of the financial press. Judged against its immediate predecessors, an objective audit can only conclude that New Labour has scattered a few crumbs to the poor, while otherwise consolidating and extending Thatcher’s programme; externally, it has a far more bloodstained record...." Read this definitive NLR article in its entirety by clicking here.
UPDATE: Following the pick-up of this DIRELAND post over the weekend by the U.K. Gay News, The Independent for Monday, June 27, became the first Brit daily to pick up on my L.A. Weekly article outing Dreier; you can read The Independent's article by clicking here. This raises the question, when will the major U.S. dailies begin to write about the gaggle of prominent Republican Party top officials and Bush administration operatives who've been outed? This is a highly relevant part of the public discourse, given the Republicans' huge anti-gay crusade, but so far only New York Times columnist Frank Rich has had the courage to write about them in several articles....Also, Mike Rogers' blogactive.com website, which has led the outing campaign against the Republicans, has initiated an amusing "Write to Tony Blair" campaign asking him to "save Euan from the clutch of America's closets"...
June 25, 2005
RONALD ARONSON and ARIEL DORFMAN on SARTRE-HEIDEGGER
After reading the previously posted exchange on Sartre and Heidegger -- provoked by my reminder of Sartre's relevance on the 100th anniversary of his birth -- Ronald Aronson (right), whose authority in matters Sartrean is not in dispute, as his many books on Sartre's thought and life amply demonstrate) dropped me the following e-mail, which I reproduce with his permission:
"I think you yield too much to Charles Todd on Sartre's 'nefarious political views.' His acknowledgement of Sartre's 100th birthday by linking to Edward Said's remembrance of a fading Sartre a few months before his death is puzzling indeed. Why not refer to Sartre's commitment - unique in the West - to both the rights of Israelis and of Palestinians? Why not, for example, cite his efforts after 1965 to create a rapprochement between the Egyptian and the Israeli Left? His visit to Egypt and Israel in 1967 and his editorship of a special issue of Les Temps Modernes later that year seeking to find common ground between Israelis and Arabs? His 1969 statement that 'an Israeli Jew has the right to remain in his homeland; by the same token a Palestinain has the right to return to his'? Why not Sartre's no less 'nefarious' statement that the hostage-taking of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972 was “the Palestinians’ only weapon” (see http://www.is.wayne.edu/raronson/Articles/Terror%20Symposium.pdf )? But perhaps there is a method to such omissions: they allow Todd to parallel Sartre to Heidegger, the former Nazi Rector of the University of Freiburg, as a man who made 'some unfortunate decisions.' And there, Doug, thanks for setting the record straight. -- Ron"
On reflection, I think Ron is right to chide me -- his useful reminder of the fuller Sartre record on the Palestine question makes me realize I should have put Charles' negative comment through a much finer sieve.
ARIEL DORFMAN ON SARTRE: My old and dear friend Ariel Dorfman (right), the prolific Chilean novelist-playwright-scenarist-political essayist-poet-literary critic who also teaches at Duke University, has been following the discussion of Sartre here on DIRELAND, and e-mails me to say that a piece of his on Sartre -- "Adieu to a Philosopher," a memoir of Sartre's funeral originally written for the Paris daily Liberation -- has been translated into English, and can be read by clicking here. Writes Ariel, "I owed so much to Sartre...he had taught me, among other things, that the truth tends to be a profanation of our expectations, uncomfortable and startling." Ariel adds in his note to me that "I thought Aronson's comment [above] was very much to the point. One of the things I noted at J-P's funeral was the lack (almost total lack) of Arabs, no sense of how he had stood up for the rights of Palestinians (along with his commitment to not allow Israel to be destroyed). I commented on this in the Spanish version many years ago, but never got around to fitting it into the present versions and memories of that event."....And, check out Ariel's multi-media website by clicking here. It features Ariel reading his work, excerpts from novels, short stories, an articles archive, film clips....more than worth a visit.
Umberto Eco on THE TEN COMMANDMENTS AND FASCISM
Gragnola and I talked about everything. I would tell him about the books I was reading, and he would discuss them passionately. “Verne,” he would say, “is better than Salgari, because he’s scientific. Cyrus Smith manufacturing nitroglycerin is more real that Sandokan tearing his chest with his fingernails just because he’s fallen for some bitchy little fifteen-year-old.”
Gragnola taught me about Socrates and Giordano Bruno. And Bakunin, about whose work and life I had known very little. He told me about Campanella, Sarpi, and Galileo, who were all imprisoned or tortured by priests for trying to spread scientific principles, and about some who had cut their own throats, like Ardigo, because the bosses and the Vatican were keeping them down. Since I had read the Hegel entry (“Emin. Ger. Phil. Of the pantheist school”) in the Nuovissimo Melzi, I asked Gragnola about him. “Hegel wasn’t a pantheist, and your Melzi is an ignoramus. Giordano Bruno might have been a pantheist. A pantheist believes that God is everywhere, even in that speck of a fly you see there. You can imagine how satisfying that is—being everywhere is like being nowhere. Well, for Hegel it wasn’t God but the State that had to be everywhere; therefore, he was a Fascist.”
“But didn’t he live more than a hundred years ago?”
“So? Joan of Arc, also a Fascist of the highest order. Fascists have always existed. Since the age of… since the age of God. Take God—a Fascist.”
“But aren’t you one of those atheists who say that God doesn’t exist?”
“Who said that? Don Cognasso, who can’t even grasp the most trifling thing? I believe that God does, unfortunately, exist. It’s just that he’s a Fascist.”
“Listen, you’re too young for me to give you a theology lecture. We’ll start with what you know. Recite the Ten Commandments for me, seeing as the Oratorio makes you memorize them.”
I recited them. “Good,” he said. “Now pay attention. Among those Ten Commandments are four, think about it, only four, that promote good things—and even those, well, let’s review them. Don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t bear false witness, and don’t covet your neighbor’s wife. This last one is a commandment for men who know what horo is: on the one hand, don’t cuckold your friends, and, on the other, try to preserve your family, and I can live with that; anarchy wants to get rid of families, too, but you can’t have everything all at once. As for the other three, I agree, but common sense should tell you that much at a bare minimum. And even then you have to weigh them; we all tell lies sometimes, perhaps even for good ends, whereas killing, no, you shouldn’t do that, ever.”
“Not even if the King sends you off to war?”
“There’s the rub. Priests will tell you that if the King sends you off to war you can—indeed, you should—kill. And that the responsibility lies with the King. That’s how they justify war, which is a nasty brute, especially if Fat Head is the one who sends you off. But notice that the commandments don’t say that it’s O.K. to kill in war. They say don’t kill, period. And then…
“Let’s look at the other commandments. The first commandment says you shall have no other God before him. That’s how the Lord prevents you from thinking, for instance, about Allah, or Buddha, or maybe even Venus—and let’s be honest, it wouldn’t have been bad at all to have a piece of tail like that as your goddess. But it also means that you shouldn’t believe in philosophy, for instance, or in science, or get any ideas about man descending from apes. Just Him, that’s it. Now pay attention, because the other commandments are all Fascist, designed to force you to accept society as it is. Remember the one about keeping the Sabbath day holy? What do you think of it?”
“Well, basically it says to go to Mass on Sunday—what’s wrong with that?”
“That’s what Don Cognasso tells you, and, like all priests, he doesn’t know the first thing about the Bible. Wake up! In a primitive tribe like the one Moses took for a walk, this meant that you had to observe the rites, and the purpose of the rites—from human sacrifices on up to Fat Head’s rallies in Piazza Venezia—is to addle people’s brains! And then? Honor thy father and mother. Honor thy father and mother means respect the ideas of your elders, don’t oppose tradition, don’t presume to change the tribe’s way of life. See? Don’t cut off the King’s head, although, God knows, if we have a head on our own shoulders we should, especially with a king like that dwarf Savoy, who betrayed his army and sent his officers to their death. And now you can see that even ‘Don’t steal’ isn’t quite as innocent a commandment as it seems, because it orders you not to touch private property, which belongs to the person who got rich from stealing it from you. If only it ended there. There are three commandments left. ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery.’ The Don Cognassos of the world would have you believe that this commandment means ‘Don’t commit impure acts,’ and its only purpose is to keep you from wagging that thing that hangs between your legs, but to drag in the stone tablets for the occasional wank seems a bit much. What’s a guy like me suppose to do, a failure? That beautiful woman, my mother, didn’t make me beautiful, and I’m a gimp to boot, and I’ve never touched a woman who’s a woman, and they want to deny me even that release?
“God could have said, for instance, ‘You can screw, but only to make babies,’ especially since at that time there weren’t enough people in the world. But the Ten Commandments don’t say that. So, on the one hand, you can’t covert your friend’s wife and, on the other, you can’t commit impure acts. When is screwing allowed? I mean, really, you’re trying to make a law that works for the whole world---when the Romans, who weren’t God, made laws it was stuff that still makes sense today—and God tosses down a Decalogue that doesn’t tell you the most important things?
“And now we come to the last commandment: ‘Don’t covet other people’s stuff.’ But have you ever asked yourself why this commandment exists, when you’ve already got ‘Don’t steal’? If you covet a bike like the one your friend has, is that a sin? No, not if you don’t steal it from him. Don Cognasso will tell you this commandment prohibits envy, which is certainly an ugly thing. But there’s bad envy, which is when your friend has a bicycle and you don’t, and you hope he breaks his neck going down a hill, and there’s good envy, which is when you want a bike like his and work your butt off to be able to buy one, even a used one, and it’s good envy that makes the world go round. And then there’s another envy, which is justice envy, which is when you can’t see any reason that a few people have everything and others are dying of hunger. And if you feel this fine sort of envy, which is socialist envy, you get busy trying to make a world in which riches are better distributed. But that’s exactly what the commandment prohibits you from doing. The tenth commandment prohibits revolution. Therefore, my dear boy, don’t kill and don’t steal from poor kids like yourself, but go ahead and covet what other people have taken from you. That’s the sun of the coming day, and that’s why our comrades are staying up there in the mountains, to get rid of Fat Head, who rose to power funded by agrarian landowners and by Hitler’s toadies, Hitler who wanted to conquer the world so that that guy Krupp who builds Berthas this long could sell more cannons. But you, how could you ever understand about these things, you who grew up memorizing oaths of obedience to Il Duce’s orders?”
“No, I understand, even if not everything.”
“I sure hope so.”
[Chapeau to For the Record.]
OF SARTRE AND HEIDEGGER: An Exchange
My cybercomrade Charles Todd, who's getting his PhD. in philosophy and runs the intelligent blog Freiheit und Wissen, posted a comment on his blog in response to my earlier blogpost last week on Sartre at 100: Still Relevant. I thought our subsequent exchange, which appears on Freiheit und Wissen, was interesting enough to share with DIRELAND readers:
Freiheit und Wissen: Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Sartre. I thought I would commemorate the occasion by pointing to an essay I read a few years back, published in the London Review of Books by Edward Said. The article is titled, “My Encounter with Sartre.” Charles, Doug, DIRELAND: Brother Charles,
Despite the fact that this essay was published in 2000 (three years before Said died and 20 years after Sartre died), I thought it was worth looking up to reread. If you know anything about either Sartre or Said you may imagine that an encounter between the two of them would be rather interesting. Add to that the fact that Simone de Beauvoir and a handful of other intellectuals were present, and the fact that the entire meeting took place in the Paris home of Michel Foucault, and you have a pretty interesting read.
Some may find it odd that I choose to remember Sartre on this day with such an essay, but I think sometimes it is all too easy for philosophers to forget that despite the brilliance of the person’s mind and work, they may sometimes hold nefarious political views - which at least in the case of Sartre was a blindness for the plight of the Palestinians. Doug Ireland has a far more in depth look at Sartre and his legacy - also prepublished at Znet
I'm glad you exhumed our dear late friend Ed Said's article. It's important to remember, however, that at the time of this unfortunate episode, Sartre was in seriously failing health, totally blind, and being manipulated by his then-secretary, Benny Levy (who ended up as a mad Talmudist after Sartre's death). As I noted in my DIRELAND post, Sartre, of course, made mistakes -- especially in his later years. And in the final years, when he was under Levy's sway, those mistakes grew in number. The state of his health -- Sartre for decades had taken amphetamines to write (in some of his books, like Saint Genet, it showed) and the ravages of the drug on body and brain were very evident in his later years -- and the fact that he was under Levy's spell does not excuse his moral equivocation on the Palestinian question which Ed Said (right) chronicled, but it does place it in context. And I don't think it can invalidate the enormous philosophical and moral contributions Sartre made in his earlier years when he was in full possession of his mental powers, as he wasn't toward the end of his life.
Thanks for the comment! I absolutely agree that it should not invalidate Sartre's legacy. He made a tremendous contribution - one which I did not mean to dismiss at all. And yes, at that stage in his life Sartre was certainly the shell of his former self.
Heidegger is another philosopher whose work I find myself defending despite some unfortunate decisions he made in his political life - decisions that, once again, should not detract from an invaluable corpus of writing.
I'm afraid I can't follow you on Heidegger (below right), who seems to me a much different case from Sartre.
Far from being a short and temporary parenthesis in Heidegger's life, his embrace of Nazism and the worst sort of racialist drivel extended over a long period, and grew rather than diminished as the horrific criminal nature of Hitler and the national socialist enterprise became unmistakably clear. I don't know if you read frog (you certainly have the advantage of me in knowing German), but I earnestly recommend to you a book that came out in Paris earlier this year, Emmanuel Faye's "Heidegger, L'introduction du nazisme dans la philosophie" (Editions Albin Michel). Faye has unearthed hitherto unpublished works by Heidegger (including seminar lectures) and material that had not hitherto been translated from the German.
From this book it emerges that Heidegger's seminar of 1933-34 was entirely Nazified, for he identifies the German people with their racial community and postulates the formation of a new racial nobility for the Third Reich, while exalting the eros of the masses for Hitler. His Nazism subsequently became more and more radical. In June of 1940 he characterizes the motorization of the Wehrmact as a "metaphysical act." and in 1941 argues that racial selection is "metaphysically necessary." After the defeat of Nazism, his positions on national-socialism and on the Holocaust's camps nourished the revisionist and negationist discourse of the Holocaust deniers. His self-willed immersion in this sewer, over such a sustained period, and with such growing exaltation of the anti-humanism that is the negation of all philosophy worthy of the name, makes it impossible for me to take anything he said seriously in any moment. The sheer enormity of the Holocaust as the unhealable and defining moral wound of the 20th century, so brilliantly captured in the work of Primo Levi (left, whom I infinitely prefer to that pompous and indigestible political whore Eli Wiesel), completely negates for me any redeeming features which some profess to find in Heidegger's work. Do take a look at the Faye book, I think it might affect your reflection on Heidegger's worth to us today.
DIRELAND: Brother Charles,
June 23, 2005
ED KLEIN'S NEW HILLARY BOOK
I wrote the following for the new issue of the L.A. Weekly, out today:
Edward Klein’s new book on Hillary Clinton, published this week, bears the portentous title The Truth About Hillary: What She Knew, When She Knew It, and How Far She’ll Go To Become President. It has been the object of carefully nurtured buzz: Matt Drudge touted it as a book that could “destroy” Hillary’s presidential ambitions, and mega-right Web sites like NewsMax have gushed similar hype. Vanity Fair, for which Klein scribbles with some regularity, ran an excerpt with extravagant fanfare. And the book is already #2 on Amazon's best-seller list, thanks largely to conservative promotions. Alas, this rather slim, air-filled volume — many chapters are only three pages long — is a very wet firecracker indeed.
Up until now, the single best book on the Clintons and their gaping ethical lapses remains Partners in Power: The Clintons and Their America by former National Security Council staffer Roger Morris, which unfortunately ends after only a year and a half of the Clintons’ co-presidency (and from which Klein borrows copiously, as his footnotes indicate). A serious, full-scale political biography of Hillary that would include the rest of the Clinton White House years and her Senate service is certainly overdue. But Klein’s book — a snarling, rabidly sensationalist pamphlet with precious little of substance that is new — is not it.
The book’s subtitle refers to Bill Clinton’s sexual adventures (already finely dissected in Christopher Hitchens’ infinitely better No One Left To Lie To — a book curiously omitted from Klein’s “selected bibliography”). Klein, a former editor in chief of The New York Times Magazine, devotes a huge chunk of his book to disproving Hillary’s assertions of what she knew about Bill’s affairs over the years and when she knew about Monica Lewinsky, his “little humidor,” as Jay Leno once dubbed the onetime White House intern. Here’s how Klein puts it:
. . . Hillary decided to spin an implausible tale . . . In her memoir Living History . . . she wrote that on the morning of August 15 , her husband woke her up and “told me for the first time that there had been an inappropriate intimacy” with Monica Lewinsky. “I could hardly breathe,” she wrote. “Gulping for air, I started crying and yelling at him.” But her version of events was not credible. Months before, Hillary had taken charge of the White House’s damage-control operations. She ran the meetings that prepped Bill Clinton for his grand jury testimony. She asked Robert Shrum, the highly regarded Democratic wordsmith, to write a mea culpa speech for the President to deliver on national television. She then vetoed Shrum’s speech, because she found it too conciliatory, and instead urged her husband to “come out and hammer Ken Starr.” She saw the headline in The New York Times of August 13 — two days before her husband’s alleged bedside confession to her about Monica — that said: PRESIDENT WEIGHS ADMITTING HE HAD SEXUAL CONTACTS. The fact of the matter was, Hillary knew everything — and she knew of it before anybody else.
Well, of course. But this is hardly a shocking revelation. That Hillary had long been in charge of tracking Bill’s extramarital sexual affairs has been known ever since Roger Morris detailed how she put Bill’s former gubernatorial chief of staff, Betsy Wright, in charge of what was called the “Bimbo Patrol” to compile dossiers on Bill’s girlfriends and pressure them into keeping quiet. The role of Hillary confidante Evelyn Lieberman — nicknamed “Mother Superior” when she was installed by Hillary as Bill’s deputy chief of staff to monitor his contacts with women, and who was the person responsible for reassigning Monica from the White House to the Pentagon to get her away from Bill’s cigar wielding — was endlessly chronicled during the Lewinsky scandal and the impeachment proceedings. Klein is correct to say that “Hillary knew everything” — but again, it’s nothing new.
Instead of frothing like a 19th-century Comstockian prude at anyone in the book with an active sex life, Klein would have performed a valuable service had he dynamited the myth, perpetuated by the Clintons’ defenders, that the president’s private conduct had nothing to do with his governance. Quite the reverse was true.
As Clinton prepared to run for his second term several years in advance, it was Hillary who brought back to Bill’s inner circle Dick Morris, an ambulant cancer on the body politic and the turncoat Democratic strategist who had crossed the street to ply his trade for Trent Lott and the right-wing Republicans. Together, the prostitute-frequenting political consultant who had fathered a child out of wedlock and the serial-philandering president and his cynical wife made the full-blown “family values” presidency the overarching theme for securing a second Clinton term.
The charade was on: Clinton decided not to implement the lifesaving recommendations even of George H.W. Bush’s AIDS Commission, let alone his own. He made permanent the ban on immigration by HIV-ers; capitulated to the religious right on explicit sex education and condoms in the schools, while his administration — and Hillary in particular — preached the failed fantasy of “abstinence”; threatened prosecution of doctors who prescribed medical marijuana for people with AIDS and other patients to restore their appetites; sided with the know-nothing obscurantists on the issue of clean needles against the unanimous advice of the medical and AIDS-prevention experts; signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law — and then campaigned on it in 1996 with stealth radio ads targeting the Bible Belt so they’d be under the radar for gay voters on the two coasts. And this is only a partial list of the concrete consequences of Bill and Hillary’s hypocrisy.
In an apposite irony, Bill’s televised lies about his sex life with Monica, scripted with Hillary’s help, were beamed to the grand jury from the White House Map Room, site of those infamous fat-cat coffees where Clinton sold his soul to corporate America to get the money for the Clinton-Morris “family values” ad campaign. Thus did the twin hypocrisies meet: Clinton-policy Tartufferies were just as much a sham as “Putting People First,” which translated into putting the bond market first. Yet Klein is either too ignorant about policy, or too eager to pander to the conservative audience that is already making this book a best-seller, to delve into these substantive matters and connect them to Hillary’s active collaboration in the charade.
The author’s conservative bias shows throughout the book. For example, in a vain attempt to demonstrate that Hillary was, in her youth, “The Radical” (as one of his chapter headings has it), he makes much of Hillary’s readership of the now-defunct Methodist magazine motive. In Klein’s telling, he labels two who wrote for motive — the anti-war Catholic priest and advocate of nonviolence Daniel Berrigan and the noted civil-libertarian writer Nat Hentoff — both “Marxists,” which will be news to them. Klein hollers about Hillary’s supposed “fiery radicalism” while she was at Yale Law School — although he is able to produce no evidence of it, other than a couple of articles defending the Black Panthers, written by others, which were published in a law journal Hillary co-edited. Klein also devotes pages to implying (without ever coming right out and saying so) that Hillary is, or was, a lesbian. Thus, he writes of Hillary’s years as first lady of Arkansas: “To Arkansans, she walked like a lesbian, talked like a lesbian, and looked like a lesbian.” In fact, Klein sees lesbians everywhere; Hillary’s White House chief of staff Melanie Verveer is “mannish-looking”; another associate is “a Marlboro-Man-in-drag.”
Personally, I have little use for Hillary Clinton, and I’m appalled that the Democratic base has been taken in by her and thinks she’s a “liberal.” When the imprint she’s left on public life is carefully examined, it is that of an unprincipled opportunist who will say or do anything to achieve and hang on to power. Klein makes the latter judgment, but at the same time he pretends to find in Hillary a closet left-liberal who will swing the White House wildly to the left if she’s elected president. And he does so by ignoring much already on the public record, and with such exaggerated rhetoric, as to make this book quite useless to anyone who is not a right-wing Hillary hater.
THE TRUTH ABOUT HILLARY: What She Knew, When She Knew It, and How Far She’ll Go To Become President | By EDWARD KLEIN | Sentinel | 336 pages | $25 hardcover
June 22, 2005
SYRIA'S BLOODY HAND IN LEBANON
Today's Guardian has a piece reporting that a UN investigation of the wave of killings of anti-Syrian political leaders in Lebanon promises to have serious consequences for the Damascus dictatorship of Bashar al-Asad (left, under picture of his dictator father) , by linking Asad's security services directly to the murder of Rafik Hariri (far left). And, in The Independent this morning, their redoubtable Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk reports on yet another murder, this time of "Georges Hawi. Former head of the Communist Party, mediator between Christians and Muslims, friend of the Palestinians during the civil war and - of course - bitter critic of Syria...a "soft" target, a man who thought he had no need of protection. Just like his journalist friend and fellow critic of Syria, Samir Kassir, who was assassinated in his car - the explosives were set in an identical manner - earlier this month."
In the latest issue of The Nation, Adam Shatz -- the magazine's books editor, who has written extensively on the Muslim countries of the Mediterranean -- has a must-read piece, "The Principle of Hope: Samir Kassir, 1960-2005," describing the admirable Kassir's role, and deploring the U.S. left's silence on his dreadful murder.
Adam writes, "...The Movement of the Democratic Left that Kassir (right) helped found was an alliance of Lebanese progressives, many of them former Communists who had come to recognize that Israeli expansionism and American imperialism, although obstacles to Arab progress, had become alibis for autocracies that refused to reform. The creation of democratic, accountable institutions and the establishment of the rule of law, Kassir underscored, are vital aims in themselves; for what was the point of overthrowing colonialism if not to put something better in its place? Some of his critics complained that, with his focus on Lebanese-Syrian relations, he had abandoned the cause of Palestine. Rather, as a Lebanese citizen, he understood that his first obligation was to liberate his own country--a lesson lost not only on his peers in the pan-Arab camp, who have long dreamed that the liberation of Palestine would spark a revolution in their own countries, but on our own liberal-hawk missionaries.
"At the same time, Kassir understood that Lebanon's predicament could not be separated from regional struggles over land and capital, faith and power. The Lebanese could not afford to be provincial, the curse of small countries. With the Saudis building mosques in Beirut (and turning seaside resorts into a holiday harem); the Iranians arming Hezbollah and funding its schools and hospitals; Israel and Hezbollah trading fire on the border; the United States vying for influence with France, Lebanon's former colonial master; hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees in wretched camps, still awaiting their fate; and, not least, the Lebanese fractured into more than a dozen clans, many connected by religion and ethnicity to groups beyond the country's borders--with this intricate web of forces, Lebanon held up a mirror to the wider Arab world. The political and intellectual stagnation of that world, what he called the "Arab malaise," was the subject of his last book, Considérations sur le malheur arabe. In Kassir's view, the region had succumbed to this malaise not only because the West had overtaken it but because the Arabs had failed to modernize, instead taking consolation in false solutions like pan-Arabism and Islamism...
"...Kassir's murder went almost unnoticed by the American left, in large part because few here had even heard of him. But there was perhaps a less innocent reason: Kassir's cause converged inconveniently with the anti-Syrian agenda of the American government, which promptly turned up the heat on Damascus after his death. (Imagine the outcry from the left if a man of his stature had been cut down by American or Israeli arms.) It was his misfortune to incur the wrath of a state vilified by the United States; this deprived him of the sympathy to which he was entitled. No such parochial calculation deterred the Palestinian left--or Syrian dissidents, who have made it plain they do not wish to be rescued from Baathism by the American military--from paying tribute to Kassir, whom they recognized as a kindred spirit...." You really ought to read the rest of Adam's eye-opening piece by clicking here.
I agree with Adam that it's way past time for American progressives and the American left to be speaking out for, and helping, democrats in the Muslim countries who are fighting Islamist fundamentalism and authoritarian governments from a left perspective -- and who are victims of oppression, whether by the Syrians in Lebanon, or by their own governments (as in Iran -- where Nobel Peace Prize winner and human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi has announced she'll boycott the presidential run-off because it doesn't meet democratic standards; or Algeria, where -- as we noted in an earlier post -- the press is suffering a crackdown by the corrupt government of President Boutiflika).
By the way, Foreign Policy in Focus has a new piece, out two days ago, by Ronald Bruce St. John, "New Syria Looks, Acts Like Old Syria," reporting on the latest Syrian Ba'th Party Congress -- among the fresh twists, Asad's declaration in his speech to the Congress that the Internet is a threat to Arab values (he'd previously been thought to be a techno-modernizer). This is an interesting report (although I think St. John is a little naive to suppose the rhetorical Congress pledges of "more press freedom" should be taken seriously or found to be, as he puts it, "hopeful" -- it's all cosmetic blather, and just for show.)