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December 30, 2005

IS THE U.A.W. GRASS-ROOTS REBELLION REAL?

Uaw_logo Today's Wall Street Journal has a front-page article, "UAW Dissidents Add to Pressure on Union's Chief,"  promoting the idea that a grass-roots rebellion is threatening the current leadership of the United Auto Workers union. Not so fast--a quick reality check shoots large holes in the Wall Street Journal's report.

According to the WSJ, "Growing resistance from auto workers is putting pressure on the head of the industry's most powerfulRon_gettelfinger_1  union and threatening the tenuous ties he has forged with Detroit's Big Three. United Auto Workers union President Ron Gettelfinger (right) recently agreed to make concessions on health-care benefits to General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co., which have been battered by heavy losses. But union members ratified both deals by relatively slim margins.

"The deal to raise drug co-payments for union workers at Ford and charge monthly health-care premiums to Ford-UAW retirees squeaked by earlier this month with 51% of the vote, well short of the 80% or more typical for union-backed initiatives. Now, some UAW workers and plant-level union officials are questioning the accuracy and integrity of the vote tally. Two officials said they are considering challenging the results and pushing for a recount....[Gettelfinger] is taking increasing flak from union members who think he has already given away too much. One dissident group has threatened to picket the Detroit auto show on Jan. 8, when the automotive press arrives..."

Reuthers_walt_vic_roy There's more to the WSJ's report, which you can read by clicking here. Now, I've been very critical of the UAW (a union for which I once worked as a young man, on the staff of the very progressive UAW Region 9-A, under a great labor leader, the late EDWARD FRANKLIN GRAY) and have been dismayed at the UAW's weak and spineless leadership these last years. Once the flagship of progressive trade unionism in the days of the Reuther brothers -- Walter, Roy, and the most left-wing brother, my late friend Victor (photo of the 3 Reuther brothers is above left, with Victor on the left, Walter in the center, and Roy on the right -- appropriately reflecting their relative political positions) -- the UAW has in many ways become a company union under the past several union administrations, especially that of its last president, the dreadful Steve Yokich. So I would welcome a grass-roots movement to elect a more dynamic and uncompromising leadership that would move the union back into the forefront of progressive causes and organizing the unorganized (although it must be noted that, while the latter has improved somewhat under the current UAW President Gettelfinger, it's still not what it should be.)

But when I asked a prominent and very progressive Michigan labor lawyer of my acquaintance -- who has represented large UAW locals, and whose judgement I trust -- to evaluate today's WSJ report, his response shot holes in it. Here are his frank, e-mailed comments (I preserve his anonymity at his request):

"First, I do not believe that Ron [Gettelfinger, the UAW's president] is in any danger either from any well organized dissent faction or from within the Steve_yokich organization.  His leadership skills are quite different from that of his predecessor, Steve Yokich (right) whose real claim to fame was his ability to consume mass quantities of alcohol and still function.

"Let me take the Wall Street Journal's points one at a time

"1.  Retirees: It is an absolute miracle that the retiree health care package passed.  You have to remember that these are folks who came aboard in the late 60's to late 70's when the industry was booming.  Absent the import scare of the 1980's these folks had progressive contracts that rarely, if ever contained concessions.  This is a group that simply is not used to concessions.  The closeness of the vote is more a reflection of this than of any discontent with Gettelfinger.  Most retirees are coming to terms with concessions in lieu of bankruptcy.  I disagree with the rhe WSJ's analysis here and furthermore, the so-called labor lawyer they quote, I have never heard of, so I question just how much of a labor lawyer this guy is.  Bottom line--retirees had to make some concessions of co-pays to ensure the survival of the Big Three.  They didn't like it but no one is saying it's Ron's fault.

Robert_s_miller "2.  Delphi:This is a far more scary scenario for Gettelfinger because [Robert} Miller (left), the corporate hack brought in to run the corporation through its Chapter 11 bankruptcy, has a  history of screwing unions and working people in order to boost stock prices.  He committed a P.R. nightmare by giving himself and the other top evil vultures at Delphi huge golden parachutes in the event the company does not emerge from bankruptcy, which got a lot of press and probably bolstered Gettelfinger's decision not to talk to Miller when his initial offer was $10 an hour.  Delphi CEO Miller has now come up in terms of wages but without any real help from Washington (trade agreements have killed the domestic auto industry) in sight, Gettelfinger, and his rank and file membership know that they have to save as many jobs as possible and hope for the best.  Saginaw was built on Delphi--and the plant which once employed over 8,700 people now employs under 2,000.  However, they are the last of the high wage, good benefits jobs in the area.  Flint will get smacked again, as it looks as  though their plant will not survive bankruptcy. Ron was smart in this case to ally with General Motors and suggest they assume some of the pension burden in exchange for some concessions in later negotiations with GM.  Again I disagree with the WSJ's reporting because it uses Delphi as an example of the breakdown of the relationship between the union and the Big Three.  Delphi was once GM owned, but the only reason for the breakdown is Richard_shoemaker based on this corporate pig Miller, who is brand new to the auto industry.  I think [UAW Vice President Richard] Shoemaker (right) got it right by calling for a strike in response to a proposal of cuts in wages and benefits by more than 80%.  Also, the Bushies have made it clear that the auto industry has to follow the Mao-Mart model of getting its supplies from China.  Guess the rank and file are learning that abortion, guns and gay marriage don't mean shit when you don't have a job. [Late-breaking News: AP has just reported that Delphi reported a $127 million net loss for its first 54 days in bankruptcy protection. -- D.I. ]

"3.. General Motors:
I recall a Bruce Springsteen song where there was a lyric Bruce_springsteen_album_2 something like, 'foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain't coming back.' That is the current status of GM. [The Springsteen song is "My Hometown." -- D.I.] While it flirts with bankruptcy, the UAW has positioned itself in such a manner so as to make GM honor all existing labor agreements.  The real test here will come when the agreement is up and Gettelfinger has to negotiate a contract of concessions.  His relationship is strong here with GM brass, and there has been talk that the union has made it clear that, as long as GM stays out of bankruptcy court, the union is willing to work with them in upcoming negotiations and probably NOT make GM the target company.

"When I graduated from High School over twenty years ago, many of my friends went to work in the plants where they could achieve middle-class incomes without college.  By 1982 most of them were headed for Texas because the imports and the gas 'crisis' temporarily crippled the industry.  But that was nothing in  comparison to so-called free trade agreements.  The University of Michigan recently completed a study that found that unless the state of Michigan weans itself off the auto industry--and fast---they will be in worse shape than most impoverished Southern states.  Free trade killed these jobs.  To the extent that there is an auto industry left, I think the rank and file understand that they, like so many textile and steelworkers, are probably the last generation of Americans to build autos and their components.

Andy_stern "As for the UAW, Gettelfinger has become more aggressive in organizing areas outside of the traditionally UAW base.  They have moved quite effortlessly into the Jennifer_granholm public sector -- causing a rub with Andy Stern (left) and the SEIU  (Service Employees International Union) -- and into health care where their future lies.  You also have to figure that how [Michigan Democratic Gov. Jennffer] Granholm (above right) is courting Toyota these days, but with no UAW opposition, speaks volumes about the UAW's declining power today..."

So, much as one might like to see rank-and-file auto workers take back their union and install a leadership with a helluva lot more spine -- like it had in the Reuther days, when auto was a huge and not a continuously shrinking indusry -- as well as returning the UAW to its aggressively progressive politics of the union's glory days, it doesn't look like that's going to happen. And the Wall Street Journal certainly seems to have seriously exaggerated the degree to which some grumbling and grousing in the membership represents a broad-based dissdent movement within the union.

A RESPONSE FROM THE WALL STREET JOURNAL-- AND A REJOINDER: I e-mailed the author of the Wall Street Journal article dissected above, Jeff McCracken, a link to this post. I've now received his response, and here it is:

"Doug, I am surprised a prominent labor lawyer in Michigan hasn't heard of Ellis Boals. He's been handling UAW appeals and lawsuits for more than a decade. He's taken a number of union cases to the Public Review Board and been one of the few layers to win there. You obviously think we gave the dissident movement too much credit. The story doesn't say they are about to win over the union majority, only that they are creating pressure on Gettelfinger and making a wildcat strike at limited plants a real possibility. They have, in somerespects, forced GM to get involved to keep the peace. And the 51percent approval of the Ford deal makes it unlikely any deal can get
done with Chrysler. Anyway, thanks for the email and sending me the link to your story.
I enjoyed reading it.
    Jeff"

And here is a response to Jeff's note from my Michigan labor lawyer friend:

" I just spoke at a UAW function this evening and no one had heard of this lawyer either, but it appears that he does public sector UAW work so that could explain a lot--they have a separate charter from the plants, so that could be why I never heard of the guy.

"Far be it from me to argue with the author, but I took the story in a completely different fashion.  Gettlefinger really hasn't done all that much to yet draw that much ire from the rank and file.  Yes, they are nervous, and yes they expect their union bosses to do the work for them. We also differ on the perception of the source of the pressure on GM.  He seems to think it comes from the threat of wildcat strikes, whereas I think it comes from the union leadership.  Hard to tell at this point, but it is also impossible to debate the supposition that Gettelfinger did something because a group was pushing him---sans his words, how do you prove or disprove?  As I stated, time will tell.

"I cannot but think, though, that the WSJ -- which has praised the Michigan Supreme Court as one of the best in the land and sung its praises as it tramples over the rights of workers on a daily basis, -- can't help but grin at the thought of Michigan's biggest political powerhouse suffering from internal strife."

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December 29, 2005

BUSH'S WAR ON PORN TARGETS HOLLYWOOD, THE INTERNET, AND THE FIRST AMENDMENT IN '06

Ed_meese_1 Not since Ronald Reagan’s attorney general, Edwin Meese (left), made a crusade against  pornography a top priority has there been such a broad-scale attempt to destroy First Amendment protections for sexual expression and sexual privacy as the one currently being mounted by the Bush administration and congressional Republicans.

And just in time to make it an issue in the 2006 election cycle, the U.S. Senate will take up early in the new year a House-passed bill that, disguised as anti-child Orrin_hatch pornography legislation, poses a serious threat to both Hollywood and to millions of American Internet users. The legislation is called the Children’s Safety Act of 2005. Already passed by the House, it has now been introduced by the Senate Judiciary Committee's ranking Republicaqn, Orin Hatch (right), the Utah Republican, and fast-tracked for speedy passage.

Current law requires that producers of material containing actual sexual conduct keep documentation—known as 2257 records after the section of federal statute governing them—of the names and proof of age of all actors shown in video and online material they distribute. But the House-Hatch bill would expand those requirements to include “simulated” sexual conduct; any tiny error or omission in keeping these 2257 records—which must be available to federal government inspectors upon demand according to the law—could result in stiff fines and two years’ imprisonment.

That’s part of what has the creative community scared. “We are extremely concerned Erik_v_huey_1 that this measure is overly broad and violates the constitutional protections of free  speech,” Erik V. Huey (right), a Washington lawyer for the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, recently told the Los Angeles Times. “Mainstream film and television productions are being lumped in the same category as hard-core pornography.” The Motion Picture Association of America is also lobbying hard against the House-Hatch bill for the same reasons.

Real child pornographers, of course, don’t keep such records—and the 2257 requirements have been used primarily to harass and close down producers of videos showing sex between consenting adults on the basis of minor technical violations. Indeed, as Adult Video News—the video sex industry’s online trade publication—has reported, the adult video industry (mostly based in the Los Angeles area) has been very active in tracking down and exposing real child pornographers. So extending the 2257 requirements to include Hollywood and cable TV appears to be just another Christian-right driven measure designed to intimidate producers into curtailing or eliminating sexual content.

Ted_stevens Another Republican proposal to come up for Senate consideration in 2006—this one from powerful, octogenarian Republican Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska (left), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation—would extend a censorious House-passed “indecency” bill regulating radio and TV broadcasters to cable TV and to the Internet. Stevens proposes sharply increased fines—just the sort of thing designed to frighten many timid, profit-bottom-line-minded Internet service providers, such as AOL, which has exhibited frighteningly censorious tendencies in the last couple of years—and a government-imposed ratings system. In particular, Stevens’ proposals—which, if adopted, would have a decidedly chilling effect on creative and artistic freedom on both cable TV and the Internet—seem motivated by advances in technology that have facilitated the downloading of movies and videos.

But the effect would be much, much broader than simply curtailing the availability of Howard_stern online sexual content. The Federal Communications Commission has defined “indecency” as everything from Howard Stern’s broadcasts to certain four-letter words. (Poor Howard (right)—he fled broadcast radio for the freedom of the Internet‘s Sirius Radio, but if Stevens has his way even that haven could be taken away from him.) Extending those FCC “indecency” standards from broadcast to the Internet and cable TV, as Stevens wants to do, would drastically change the audio-visual landscape—from stand-up comics such as Whoopi Goldberg to cable offerings like “Queer as Folk” and the gay cable networks Logo and QTN, sexually charged verbiage and portrayals would be threatened.

More far-reaching still, explicit science-based sex education on the Internet, or safe-sex videos on the Web featuring graphic instruction on how to use a condom, could potentially be covered by this new indecency bill. The photos of the sexual humiliations at Abu Ghraib inflicted by U.S. torturers, which first saw the light of day on the Internet, could also have been covered by the Stevens proposals, civil liberties lawyers say.

Many private Internet users could be targeted as well under the Stevens proposals. For example, a well-known gay professor in New York City of my acquaintance has an amusing annual Christmas tradition—he harvests and distributes X-rated gay photos and videos with Christmas motifs and sends them out to his friends and to subscribers to the Yahoo group he created for that purpose. He, too, could be covered by the Stevens amendments. There are at least two million Web sites and blogs which offer some sort of pornography, many of them run by private individuals from their homes—targets all under the proposed new laws.

Alberto_gonzales This Pandora’s box of Republican legislation would give new weapons to President George W. Bush’s aggressive new war on porn, which is spearheaded by Attorney General Albert Gonzales (left). An electronic memo from FBI headquarters to all 56 field offices described the push against porn as “one of the top priorities” of Gonzales and, by extension, of “the Director”—FBI chief Robert S. Mueller III. U.S. attorneys all over the country are making sure their troops get the message. In May, Gonzales established an Obscenity Prosecution Task Force under the office’s criminal division. The Task Force, headed by the deputy chief for obscenity Richard Green, will work closely with Bruce Taylor, senior counsel to the criminal division’s assistant attorney general. And the FBI has just begun recruiting anti-porn agents for obscenity units in all of its field offices.

Taylor (right) was one of the founding members of the Justice Department’s NationalBruce_taylor  Obscenity Enforcement Unit under Attorney General Meese back in the Reagan ‘80s. He reportedly has prosecuted more than 100 state and federal obscenity cases and is the prosecutor who went after Hustler publisher Larry Flynt in the early 1980s. Taylor won that case and Flynt spent six days in jail, but the verdict was overturned on appeal by the Supreme Court—a major free speech victory portrayed in the 1996 movie, “The People Vs. Larry Flynt,” starring Woody Harrelson as the scrappy publisher. But with a hard-line conservative, “family values” majority on the Supreme Court under strict Catholic Chief Justice John Roberts, there won’t be any Flynt-style victories from the high court on sexual issues in the foreseeable future.

Gonzales has already more than quadrupled federal obscenity prosecutions. In the entire Clinton presidency, there were only four such cases brought by the feds—during the eight months since Gonzales succeeded John Ashcroft as attorney general, there have already been 20. Christian right groups including the American Family Association, the Family Research Council, and Focus on the Family—all of which have pressed hard for the new Republican legislation—have appointed themselves sex vigilantes who report what they perceive as obscene or pornography to the Alan_sears authorities and press for prosecutions. A well-funded and well-connected new group pushing the anti-porn crusade is the Alliance Defense Fund, whose president, Alan Sears (left), served as executive director of Meese’s Commission on Pornography during the Reagan years.

When, as expected, the skein of new Republican anti-porn and anti-indecency laws pass—few Democrats up for re-election in 2006 or ‘08 will oppose them—one can expect that Gonzales and his minions will initiate a raft of new prosecutions under those laws. Texas has become a favorite venue for judge-shopping federal anti-porn prosecutors. Defense attorneys preparing for pending cases expect Dallas to be the venue of choice for feds keen to fatten their conviction record by doing legal battle in one of the most socially conservative areas in the Eddie_wedelstedt nation. Already, the Northern District of Texas has been chosen as the venue for an upcoming trial of Eddie Wedelstedt (left), a Colorado man who has earned the distinction of being the country’s largest operator of adult video stores, with 60 located in about 20 states. Wedelstedt’s bust included the seizure of videos that were sexually explicit, but included no sexual torture, rape, or underage exploitation.

Gonzales told the Associated Press in September that he’s ordered the Justice Department to offer resources to, and cooperate closely with, local prosecutors in making obscenity and anti-porn cases. That’s why one of the most closely-watched pornography prosecutions in the country is the case Florida prosecutors—in close cooperation with the FBI and Gonzales’ Obscenity Enforcement Unit—brought against Christopher Wilson, whose Web site, nowthatsfuckedup.com, offered free pornography to soldiers in Iraq in exchange for graphic photos of the war’s dead casualties, a barter which drove conservatives crazy. Wilson has been charged with a whopping 100 counts of distribution or transmission of obscene materials, 100 counts of offering to distribute or transmit obscene materials, and 100 counts of possession of obscene materials. If Wilson is convicted and that conviction upheld on appeal, it will set a draconian standard for harsh prosecutions of porn providers. Not only has gay consumption of pornography skyrocketed in the age of AIDS—as a safe alternative to sexual promiscuity—but obscenity and indecency laws have historically been used to disproportionately persecute gay people, who therefore have particularly strong reasons to be concerned about the Republicans’ new, electorally-motivated anti-porn crusade.

I wrote the above for the new issue of Gay City News -- New York's largest gay weekly -- which is out today.

THE READING ROOM: I wrote some comments for Jan Herman's Robrt_fisk_bandages_1 ArtsJournal blog Fisk_book on his response to John Gray's new article in the New York Review of Books on "The Mirage of Empire," -- you can read my comments by clicking here. While you're on Jan's interesting blog, also check out his excerpts from the new book by the great war correspondent Robert Fisk, The Great War for Civilization." (Fisk above left, his book jacket above right).....If you're not tired of reading about Brokeback Brokeback_4_kiss_best_1 Mountain (left), there are two new (and very different) pieces on Ang Lee's Oscar-headed movie I recommend. My old friend and former Village Voice and Soho News colleague Jeff Jeff_weinstein_1 Weinstein (right) -- now Fine Arts Editor and columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer -- devotes his latest column to a personal gay liberationist meditation on the film, which you can read by clicking here. And, in the David_ehrenstein_1 new L.A. Weekly just out, David Ehrenstein (left) has a contrarian rip-snorter tearing up the critics' all-too-predictable responses to Brokeback -- read David's acid send-up of Ian_williams_3 reactions to the film by clicking here....You can also watch an amusing and brief video parody called "Bareback Mountain," created by the Thach brothers, by clicking here....My jovial confrère Ian Williams Hugo_chavez_3 (right), The Nation's UN correspondent, on his blog Deadline Pundit, has a witty and stinging dissection of U.S. attitudes towards Venezuela's that nicely mirrors my own attitudes about Chavez and American foreign policy towards him -- you can read Ian's on-target take by clicking here. (And pick up a copy of Ian's new book, Rum: A Social and Sociable History of the Real Spirit of 1776, it's a great read!

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December 27, 2005

BUSHIES REFUSING TO DIAGNOSE RETURNING SOLDIERS WITH POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER

Helmet_1 The Bush administration is twisting itself into a pretzel trying to find ways not to diagnose soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), including altering the diagnostic criteria established by the American Psychiatric Association-- that's the essence of a first-rate piece of reporting in today's Washington Post. .The article, by staffer Shankar Vedantam, relates the attempt to have politics dictate medicine. "Larry Scott, who runs the clearinghouse http://www.vawatchdog.org/ , said conservative groups are trying to cut VA disability programs by unfairly comparing them to welfare. "Compensating people for disabilities is a cost of war, he said: "Veterans benefits are like workmen's comp. You went to war. You were injured. Either your body or your mind was injured, and that prevents you from doing certain duties and you are compensated for that." Not cited by the WashPost was a New England Journal of Medicine study showing that 1 in 6 Iraq vets are suffering from PTSD -- and less than half of them seek treatment..

"Scott said Veterans Affairs' objectives were made clear in the department's request to the Institute of Medicine for a $1.3 million study to review how PTSD is diagnosed and treated," the WashPost continued. "Among other things, the department asked the institute -- a branch of the National Academies chartered by Congress to advise the government on science policy -- to review the American Psychiatric Association's criteria for diagnosing PTSD. Effectively, Scott said, Veterans Affairs was trying to get one scientific organization to second-guess another.

"PTSD experts summoned to Philadelphia for the two-day internal "expert panel" meeting were asked to discuss "evidence regarding validity, reliability, and feasibility" of the department's PTSD assessment and treatment practices, according to an e-mail invitation obtained by The Washington Post. The goal, the e-mail added, is "to improve clinical exams used to help determine benefit payments for veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder."

"What they are trying to do is figure out a way not to diagnose vets with Natl_gulf_resource_center_logo PTSD," said Steve Robinson, executive director of the National Gulf War Resource Center, a veterans advocacy group. "It's like telling a patient with cancer, 'if we tell you, you don't have cancer, then you won't suffer from cancer.' ..." The article makes the politics of this administration effort clear: "The growing national debate over the Iraq war has changed the nature of the discussion over PTSD, some participants said. "It has become a pro-war-versus-antiwar issue," said one VA official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because politics is not supposed to enter the debate. "If we show that PTSD is prevalent and severe, that becomes one more little reason we should stop waging war. If, on the other hand, PTSD rates are low . . . that is convenient for the Bush administration."

Earlier this year, USA Today reported in a lengthy article on PTSD that, "Of the 244,054 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan already discharged from service, 12,422 have been in VA counseling centers for readjustment problems and symptoms associated with PTSD." And that's an obvious undercount, for, as USA Today added, "Many of the most common wounds aren't seen until soldiers return home. Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is an often-debilitating mental condition that can produce a range of unwanted emotional responses to the trauma of combat. It can emerge weeks, months or years later. If left untreated, it can severely affect the lives not only of veterans, but their families as well." And the WashPost article underscored that many Iraq-Afghanistan vets suffering from PTSD are afraid to seek treatment, both because of the stigma attached to a mental disorder, and because the Bush administration's humiliating toughening of the criteria for diagnosing PTSD means the vets have to relive the very horrifying episodes that provoked the profound mental troubles. Moreover, "A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that one out of six soldiers surveyed may be struggling with PTSD," ABC News reported two weeks ago. You can read the New England Journal of Medicine study by clicking here.

PTSD has also become a budget issue:"In the past five years, the number of veterans receiving compensation for the disorder commonly called PTSD has grown nearly seven times as fast as the number receiving benefits for disabilities in general, according to a report this year by the inspector general of the Department of Veterans Affairs. A total of 215,871 veterans received PTSD benefit payments last year at a cost of $4.3 billion, up from $1.7 billion in 1999 -- a jump of more than 150 percent." And those numbers don't even reflect the full impact that will be felt when the boys currently occupying Iraq and fighting in Afghanistan return. So many soldiers are being driven 'round the bend by their service in an illegal war and occupation that now the Bushies are trying to exercise cost control by refusing to diagnose them! You can -- and should -- read the entire fascinating WashPost article by clicking here. And for more information on the PTSD issue, visit the National Gulf War Resources Center webpage devoted to it, and the VA Watch site, both of which have lots of links. The National Center for PTSD also has a lot of relevant material, including an Iraq Clinician's Guide

IRAQ ELECTION FRAUD: Bush may be prattling on about how his invasion brought democracy to Iraq and their "free" elections prove it -- but this morning's Los Angeles Times reports that, "More than 1,000 election fraud complaints have been filed with Iraqi officials, and there have been waves of protests in and around Baghdad. 'With these election results you're giving the resistance a reason to continue their resistance,' said Nabeal Mohammed Younis, a professor of political science and a Sunni Muslim Arab nationalist...." You can read the entire LA Times report by clicking here.

"FRENCH FARCE DURING THE BOXER REBELLION" -- That's the title of an interesting (and humorous) post last Friday, which I only just saw, from Walk the Talk, a blog written from Hong Kong by Stefan and Dave, two chaps in the tourism industry. Thanks, guys, for disinterring this fascinating morsel of forgotten history.

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December 26, 2005

CHINESE GAYS: THE DARK BEFORE THE DAWN

China_map_1 Today's edition of China Daily -- a national English-language newspaper with a 200,000 circulation published in Beijing, and aimed primarily at the foreign business community -- carries a long article on China's gay and lesbian population, "The Dark Before the Dawn," which  portrays some of their tiny first steps toward openness. The article, reprinted from the Beijing Review, while it Chinese_rainbow_flag_1 contains interesting interviews, omits any reports on recent government crackdowns on gay people -- there is, remember, no free press in China -- and so must be taken with a grain of salt. Here are excerpts, with my notes on some of those omissions:

"Little over four years ago, homosexuality was still officially classified as a mental disorder in China. On December 16, 2005, China's gays and lesbians celebrated their first national festival. It's a huge leap forward in a country long associated with closed attitudes toward alternative lifestyles.

"Despite the stigma and public admonishments, China's gay community is taking its first tentative steps out of a closet that was, until recently, firmly bolted.  In 1997, the word "hooligan" was deleted from China's criminal code in reference to gays arrested for soliciting in public places. The move is considered by many as the de facto decriminalization of homosexual acts and was followed in April 2001 by the deletion of homosexuality from the Chinese Classification of Mental Disorders.

Cuizien_1 "Now, marking gay-awareness month June 12 by flying kites in Beijing, Shenyang and Fuzhou, and turning out in numbers for the country;s first national gay and lesbian festival December 16 in Beijing, organized by Cui Zi' en, a gay associate professor at the Beijing Film Academy, are acts that illustrate changing attitudes toward the pink revolution. [Photo above left: Cui zi'en, shown below a gay rights poster, was the first Chinese intellectual to come out, in 1990--D.I.]

[Note: This China Daily/Beijing Review article omits to mention that the festival referred to above was raided and stopped by police, The Times of London reported on December 17, the day after it was to have taken place. According to the Times' China correspondent, "Organisers had planned to hold their festival of films, plays, exhibitions and seminars on homosexuality at one of the trendiest artistic communities in China. The venue was to be the studios and warehouses at the 798 complex of converted factory buildings in northeastern Beijing. Most of the capital’s hippest and most happening events take place among the grey concrete blocks, fashionable French bistro-style bars and industrial pipes of 798. Police notified studio owners that the event would not be allowed to proceed. Li Yinhe, a distinguished sociologist from the prestigious Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, had been invited to address the opening, but had to stay away. The group of about 30 participants bold enough to reveal their sexuality in China’s conservative society were undeterred by the cancellation. They decided to move their ground-breaking event to On/Off, a Beijing gay bar. Police swarmed around the bar even before the group arrived. 'This bar is temporarily closed for review,' police told would-be festival participants," the Times of London concluded.  Human Rights Watch issued a press release denouncing the ban on the festival. -- D.I. ]

The China Daily/Beijing Review article notes that, "The word tongzhi, literally meaning comrade (people with the same ideals),is now widely accepted by gays and lesbians as a self-reference in this country. Googling the Chinese character for tongzhi produces some astonishing results...." [Note: the term tongzhi for gay was adopted by a national conference of 200 Chinese gays held in Hong Kong in 1996, when Hong Kong was still under British control; the conference issued China's first gay manifesto. There is now an Institute for Tongzhi Studies at the City University of New York -- D.I.]

"Sociologist and gay novelist Tong Ge's impassioned call for 'comrades to melt the frozen land with our body heat' galvanized Chinese professionals into lobbying the government for the approval of same-sex marriage, regardless of the very real obstacles lying ahead.

"Zhang Beichuan (seated in photo on the right) -- China's leading scholar in the field of Zhang_beichuan homosexual study and winner of the 2000 Barry & Martin Prize awarded to individuals making outstanding contributions to the AIDS awareness campaign -- estimates there are 40 million homosexuals on the Chinese mainland, far more than the official figure of between 5 and 10 million released by the Ministry of Health in December 2004. This huge number, equal to the population of Spain, can no longer be ignored by society.

"Conan_liu_1Conan Liu (below left) , 24, a tax consultant with one of the Big Four accounting firms, told Beijing Review that he has never tried to conceal his sexual orientation since finding out he is gay. Unlike the older generation, Conan's age group is more willing to talk about their lives and love experiences. Fashionably dressed and charming, Conan is proud of who he is. 'My friends usually say that I need to be protected,' he smiled, saying that he seldom has difficulties either at work or in his life. 'Most people around me understand and accept my homosexual orientation,' Conan said. As for those who don't like men behaving in a feminine manner, he's defiant. 'I like the way I am and I will stay away from those who dislike me. It's no big deal.' In spite of his carefree attitude, Conan has not been able to admit his sexual orientation to his parents. It's a common situation throughout the Chinese gay community.

"In interviews conducted with gay people, Beijing Review found that family members were always the last to know and the most difficult to tell. A Confucius saying may best explain the Chinese difficulty in accepting homosexuality: There are three things that are unfilial--disobeying one's parents, not supporting one's parents and, the most important, not continuing the family line.  Hao Ting, a 17-year-old sophomore at Peking University, said that most of his friends know he is gay. But he still felt uneasy telling his parents. Chinese homosexuals do not want to disappoint their families by not being able to produce heirs.

"As Zhang Beichuan noted, homosexuals in China mostly feel guilty and sorry for their family. Homosexuality can be tolerated as long as they still give birth to the next generation, as the Chinese have a strong sense of family ties, said Zhang Beichuan. 'But it is too painful to marry a person that you don't really love.'"

The article adds, "Currently, there are more than 10 bars catering to gays and lesbians across urban Beijing [That's not very many when you consider that Beijing's population is now 15.25 million! -- D.I.]...Moreover, hundreds of websites are devoted to the gay scene in China, with almost every city having a dedicated site." But the article fails to note that -- as a comprehensive Human Rights Watch Report on "Restrictions on AIDS Activists in China" put it in June 2005 -- "Chinese authorities have shut down websites offering information to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people." To read the entire China Daily/Beijing Review article, click here.

For an extensive article by two Chinese scholars on the rapid spread of HIV-AIDSChinese_gay_history_1  in  China, in the Nov.-Dec. 2005 scholarly journal Cell Research, click here. A history of gay life in China over 2,000 years (in Chinese, book jacket in photo left), by Hong Kong's pioneering gay activist Samshasha, can be ordered by clicking here.

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December 23, 2005

Holiday Cheer: THE SANTA SPEEDO RUN

Santa_run_2Here are some pix from this year's Santa Speedo Run, anSanta_run_4  annual Boston event since 1999 that raises money for charities. This year's event, which circled the Boston Common and was held December 17, benefitted the Ellie Fund, which raises money for breast cancer victims. The Santa Speedo Run was co-sponsored by local radio stations and businesses. At last, a holiday event this old atheist can salute!Santa_run_3

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December 22, 2005

SIGN A PETITION TO SUPPORT STRIKING N.Y. TRANSIT WORKERS

Striking_santa I support TWU Local 100's strike against the MTA's subways and buses here in my town of New York City. Our arrogant billionaire Mayor, Mike Bloomberg, has used feckless and slanderous rhetoric to denounce the workers who were forced to strike to get justice. As Local 100's president, Roger Toussait, said to the mayor today, "Yesterday you used your position as Mayor of New York to call us 'thuggish'and 'selfish.' How dare you? Our children turn on the TV to see the Mayor denouncing their parents as 'morally reprehensible.' Have you no shame? (THE ABOVE PHOTO OF SANTA ON STRIKE IS COURTESY OF MY OLD FRIEND AND FORMER COLLEAGUE ALLAN "BOO" TANNENBAUM)

"As you know better than most, this strike was forced on us by the MTA. You know this because you share much of the blame. It is your provocative rhetoric about what givebacks we transit workers must accept for the next generation of transit -- our children and new immigrants -- that has pushed our members beyond the limits of their patience." You can read more on the real issues in this strike on the Local 100 website.

Help support the strikers. Sign the Petition in Support of Local 100's Strike by clicking here.

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December 20, 2005

FRANCE'S COMMUNISTS CUT A DEAL WITH THE SOCIALISTS

The possibility of a coalition of the "left of the left" in France for the 2007 legislative and presidential elections appears to be remote in light of today's announcement by Francois_hollande_quizzical the French Communist Party that it will enter into an election-year "contract for governing" with the Socialist Party, which is led by the colorless aparatchik Francois Hollande (left). The weekly Nouvel Observateur's daily Marie_george_buffet online news bulletin just reported that the CP's general secretary, Marie-George Buffet (right), in a press conference this morning, announced that her party will enter into an alliance of the "governing left" together with the Socialists and the Greens, who had already cut a unity deal last week.

This Spring, the parties of the "left of the left" were united in campaigning, successfully, for a No vote in France's referendum on the proposed European Constitution, which they considered a document guaranteeing a corporate-dominated European Union. Alaiin_krivine Their coordinated campaign included part of the Socialist Party's left wing, the Communists, and the largest of the two Trotskyist parties (the Ligue Communiste Revolutionaire , or LCR, led by Alain Krivine, left), whilie the much smaller and more sectarian Trotskyist party Lutte Ouvriere also supported a No vote but campaigned seperately from that coordinated campaign. Some three-quarters of the broad left electorate voted No on the Euroconstitution, a stunning rebuke to the Socialists under Hollande -- the party boss who'd hammered the Socialists into supporting a Yes vote, and went so far as to pose for the cover of the popular weekly Paris Match with the leading conservative presidential candidate, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, to urge support for the Euroconstitution. The disillusionment with the Socialists position in the referendum led to widespread speculation in France that a political space to the left of the Socialists had thus been opened.

A lot of ink has been spilled in France since the victory of the No in that Spring referendum about the possibility of a united "left of the left" ticket of those No forces for the 2007 election cycle. Jose_bove_2 The name most frequently mentioned as the possible presidential candidate of such an alliance has been that of José Bové (left), the popular leader of the French farmers' union (the Confederation Paysanne) who is also a leader of the anti-globalization movement -- and he also had considerable support in the Green Party. But the decision of the Communists to join in recreating the "plural left" coalition with the Socialists and the Greens -- an alliance that was forged in 1981 by the late President Francois Mitterand, but which fell apart over the Euroconstitution referendum this past Spring -- makes it impossible that the "left of the left" coalition in that referendum could be transformed into a functioning electoral alliance. And the enfeebled Communists -- once France's largest political party, but who only got 3.5% of the vote in the last election -- will be merely the tail on the Socialists' dog. Hollande, who just last month defeated a challenge to his leadership of the Socialists by the party's left at the party congress, will have his hand within his party strengthened even more by his success in cutting a deal with the Communists.

But is party boss Hollande an ideologically empty suit with his fist firmly closed around an intellectually empty party without a clearPs_logo_5 social project? The voters certainly think so. The programmatic bankruptcy of last month's Socialist Party congress demonstrated that the Socialists have yet to learn anything from the public opinion polls, all of which show: that significant majorities of voters think they wouldn't be much better off under a Socialist-led government than under the current conservative one; that majorities in all social categories believe that, had the Socialists been in power during the ghetto rebellion of October-November, they wouldn't have acted much differently than did the right -- and that nearly two-thirds of the electorate (and more than two-thirds of Socialist voters) doesn't believe the Socialists can win the 2007 elections.

FOR BACKGROUND ON THE STATE OF FRANCE'S LEFT and more on its major players, see my previous reports: May 29, "A Political Revolt in France: What Defeat of the EuroConstitution Means"; June 4, "A Suicidal Purge by France's Socialists"; August 24, "France's Socialists Threatened with a Split"'; November 19, "France After the Riots: 'Autism,' Repression -- And the Socialists' Impotence"; December 14, "A Woman for France's Socialists? The Rapid Rise of Segolene Royal"

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IS ANTI-ZIONISM ANTI-SEMITISM? THE EXAMPLES OF HANNAH ARENDT AND ALBERT EINSTEIN

Whenever one criticizes the apartheid policies of the Israeli government, or criticizes Zionism as a dangerous form of racial nationalism, one is taxed by the neo-cons, the unconditional Likudniks, and certain neo-liberal Jewish intellectuals with the knee-jerk Hannah_arendt response, "That's anti-Semitism!" But in such debates it is important to recall some forgotten history -- and Scott Tucker Scott_tucker (below right), in his onliine 'zine Open Letter, has usefully done just that, reviving the critiques of Zionism by such prominent Jewish intellectuals as Einstein_ii Hannah Arendt (left) and Albert Einstein (right). To quote from Scott's mini-essay (to which I've added some helpful links):

In order to gain some historical perspective on today's ruling versionof Zionism, it helps to remember two facts of immense importance in any discussion of Israel. First, free and far-ranging discussions of Zionism are presently more common in the better Israeli newspapers such as Ha'aretz than in newspapers such as The New York Times or The Los Angeles Times; and second, we would have to isolate Jewish intellectuals such as Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt and Judah Magnes within the ranks of "anti-Semites" if we insist on making dogmatic judgments about their criticisms of political and state Zionism.  In some respects, Noam Chomsky and other Jewish intellectuals are reviving this older critique of state Zionism-- and they have also been slandered in familiar terms.

This is essentialy a debate about nationalism, militarism and human rights.  Consequently, this debate is international -- and properly historical. In that spirit, certain passages in Elizabeth Young-Bruehl's biography of Hannah Arendt are worth special attention (Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World, Yale University Press, 1982).  Young-Bruehl sought to distinguish the views of Hannah Arendt and Judah Magnes-- but also to emphasize how much they had in common.

"Whenever Arendt wrote about Palestine, she repeated her prophecy that political organization in the postwar world might take one of two forms, empires or federations, and that the Jewish people would only have a chance for survival if federations were formed. She had desperately urged her people to avoid establishing a Jewish state which would only be a 'sphere of interest' in foreign powers' empires..."

For his part, Judah Magnes (right) and a small group of colleagues "offered aJudah_magnes general proposal for a binational state in Palestine in which neither Jews nor Arabs would be a minority and both would have equal rights... Magnes accepted the State of Israel after its May eighteenth birth, but he did not abandon his dream of Jewish-Arab cooperation."

In 1948, Arendt wrote, "Local self-government and mixed Jewish-Arab municipal and rural Councils, on a small scale and as numerous as possible, are the only realistic political measures that can eventually lead to the political emancipation of Palestine."  To prevent the ascendancy of Jewish and ArabHannah_arendt_in_the_40s  terrorists to power, Arendt (right, in the 1940s) also hoped to forestall the partition of Palestine.  Thus she Count_bernadotte supported President Truman's proposal -- and Count Bernadotte's second proposal (before his assassination) -- for an interim United Nations trusteeship of Palestine.  Arendt hoped such a UN trusteeship would give all people in Palestine the time to learn to live as neighbors. (left, photo of Count Folke Bernadotte)

Magnes and Arendt corresponded with respect on both sides, and worked together politically as far as possible.  As Young-Bruehl wrote: "The two choices Arendt saw were stark: Bernadotte's second proposal for a UN trusteeship or a Jewish -Arab confederation along Magnes' lines. Hannah Arendt, invoking feasability, had argued for the first.

"Judah Magnes died on the morning of 27 October [1948] without having answered his own question about the way out.  For his supporters, it was clear that their own work could not go on without him, though they tried for a time to keep his ideas alive through the Judah Magnes Foundation [a task now assumed by the Judah Magnes Museum -- D.I.].  Hannah wrote to Magnes' old friend Hans Kohn, who was teaching at Smith College, on 12 November: 'Magnes's death is a real tragedy at this moment.  Nobody has his moral authority. I don't see anybody, moreover, who lives really in the Jewish world and who is prominent in a Jewish institution who would have the courage to speak up against what is going on now.'  All that she herself could do was to join aMenachem_begin_1   group of prominent intellectuals, including Albert Einstein, who submitted a letter of protest to The New York Times when the Jewish terrorist, Menachem Begin (right), came to America in search of support for the Revisionists of his Herut party. The protest flatly compared the Revisionists "to the Nazi and Fascist parties" and repudiated the blend in their ideology of 'ultranationalism, religious mysticism and racial superiority.' "...... [The full text of this letter, with a list of its signatories, is in Tucker's piece. -- D.I.]

Tucker's mini-essay also has this prescient quote from Einstein: ""I should much rather see reasonable agreement with the Arabs on the basis of living together in peace than the creation of a Jewish state. Apart from practical consideration, my awareness of the essential nature of Judaism resists the idea of a Jewish state with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power no matter how modest. I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain -- especially from the development of a narrow nationalism within our own ranks, against which we have already had to fight strongly, even without a Jewish state.".....There's more, and you can read the rest of Scott Tucker's important disinterring of this frequently overlooked intellectual history by clicking here.

Bill_frist_grimace BEST JOKE OF THE WEEK -- And it comes from Comedy Central star Jon Stewart Jon_stewart (right): "Senator Bill Frist (left), he's a doctor and he says that AIDS could be transmitted from sweat and tears. Not unless your penis weeps while you're fucking somebody." Quoted in Paul Krassner's article in The Nation this week, "Fear and Laughing in Las Vegas," on the first annual Comedy Festival.

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December 19, 2005

A TIME TO IMPEACH

I wrote the following for the forthcoming issue of L.A. Weekly:

When the U.S. Senate last Friday refused to renew the liberticidal Patriot Act -- with its provisions for spying on Americans’ use of libraries and the Internet, among other Constitution-shredding provisions of that iniquitous law -- it was in part because that morning’s New York Times had revealed how Bush and his White House had committed a major crime.

By ordering the National SecBush_dark_mood_1urity Agency -- the N.S.A, so secretive that in Washington its initials are said to stand for “No Such Agency” -- to wiretap and eavesdrop on thousands of American citizens without a court order, Bush committed actions specifically forbidden by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Passed in 1978 after the Senate’s Church Committee documented in detail the Nixon administration’s widespread use of U.S. intelligence agencies to spy on the anti-Vietnam war movement and other political dissidents, FISA “expressly made it a crime for government officials 'acting under color of law' to engage in electronic eavesdropping 'other than pursuant to statute.’”, as the director of the Center for National Security Studies, Kate Martin, told the Washington Post this past weekend. And the FISA statute required authorization of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to make such domestic spying legal. Bush and his NSA sought no such authorization before invading American citizens’ right to privacy -- a blatant flouting of the law that made both wavering Democrats and libertarian Republicans mad enough to vote against extending the hideous Patriot Act, which thankfully will now expire at the end of the year.

Bush not only acknowledged, and defended, this illegal eavesdropping in a Saturday Russ_feingold_1 radio address, he went further in a Monday morning press conference, saying he’d “suggested” it. But as Wisconsin Democratic Senator Russ Feingold (right) -- who, together with conservative Idaho Republican Larry Craig, led the filibuster that defeated the Patriot Act’s renewal -- said this weekend, “This is not how our democratic system of government works--the president does not get to pick and choose which laws he wants to follow.”

But Bush had plenty of bipartisan help from Democratic co-conspirators in keeping knowledge of this illegal spying from reaching the American public. It began in November 2001, in the wake of 9/11, and -- from the very first briefing for Congressional leaders by Dick Cheney until today -- Democrats on the Senate and Nancy_pelosi_1 John_d_rockefeller_iv_1 House Intelligence Committees were told about it. Those witting and complicit in hiding the crime included Democratic Senator John D. Rockefeller IV (left), former chairman and later ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (right), former ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee. They knew it was a crime -- Rockefeller, for example, warned the administration against it -- and yet did not make it public. They were frightened by polls showing security hysteria at its height.

Worse, the New York Times itself was part of the coverup. When it broke its scoop New_york_times_2 last Friday, the Times in its article admitted that, “After meeting with senior administration officials to hear their concerns, the newspaper delayed publication for a year to conduct additional reporting. Some information that administration officials argued could be useful to terrorists has been omitted.” In other words, the Times sat on its story until after the 2004 presidential elections, when American voters might have been able to stop this criminal conduct by voting out the criminal. Not content with employing Judy Miller as the megaphone for relaying the Bush administration’s lies about Saddam’s having weapons of mass destruction, the Times again proved its servility to power by not telling its readers it knew of criminal spying on them for an entire year, until the election cycle was long past. Yet this aspect of the Times’ story has gone unremarked in the mass media.

Bush’s excuses for the illegal eavesdropping are indeed risible. The Times didn’t mention it, but of 19,000 requests for eavesdropping the Federal Intelligence Security Court has received from the Executive Branch since 1979, only five have ever been refused. Bush claimed again on Monday that this flagrant flouting of the FISA law was necessary because fighting “terrorists” needed to be done “quickly.” Yet, as the Times reported, the secret court can grant approval for wiretaps “within hours.” And the excuse Bush offered this morning that this illegal subversion of FISA was necessary to prevent 9/11-style terrorism is equally laughable. As the ACLU pointed out in a study of FISA two years ago, “Although the Patriot Act was rushed into law just weeks after 9/11, Congress's later investigation into the attacks did not find that the former limits on FISA powers had contributed to the government's failure to prevent the attacks.”

A Zogby poll released November 4 showed that, when asked if they agreed that, "If President Bush did not tell the truth about his reasons for going to war with Iraq, Congress should consider holding him accountable through impeachment," Americans answered Yes by 53% to 42%. It is therefore not simply an extremist raving to suggest that impeachment of George Bush should be put on the table.

Remember that, in the impeachment of Richard Nixon, Article 2 of the three Articles ofNixon_1  Impeachment dealt with illegal wiretapping of Americans. It said that Nixon committed a crime “by directing or authorizing [intelligence] agencies or personnel to conduct or continue electronic surveillance or other investigations for purposes unrelated to national security, the enforcement of laws, or any other lawful function of his office.”

There was no national security justification for Bush’s illegal NSA wiretaps -- which could easily have been instituted by following the FISA law’s provisions -- and, instead of being related to “enforcement of laws,” Bush’s eavesdropping was indisputably in contravention of the law of the land.

And when a president commits a crime in violation of his oath of office swearing to uphold the law, it is the time to impeach.

P.S. LEWIS CALLS FOR IMPEACHMENT: After the above was written, Rep. John John_lewis Lewis, the Georgia Democrat (right) and distinguished civil rights leader, said the House should support impeachment, adding ""It's a very serious charge, but he violated the law.The president should abide by the law. He deliberately, systematically violated the law. He is not King, he is president."

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December 14, 2005

A WOMAN FOR FRANCE'S SOCIALISTS? THE RAPID RISE OF SEGOLENE ROYAL

Nouvel_obs_cover_segoleneThe new issue of France's largest newsweekly (with 500,000 circulation), the mildly left Nouvel Observateur -- just out today -- gives a huge boost to the 2007 presidential candidacy of the Socialist Ségolène Royal by putting her on its cover (left) with the headline, "And if it were her..." and a flattering, not to say gushy, package of articles. (Le Monde, too -- whose bosses desperately want to back a winner --has showered her with very positive and overindulgent coverage.)

Royal has been leading all the other Socialist presidential candidates in the polls for just two months, ever since she declared her interest in the party's presidential nomination in an interview with the weekly Paris-Match in October. In the latest poll, taken ten days ago by the leading French polling institute IFOP for the weekly Journal du Dimanche, she gets the preference of 29% of Socialist Party sympathizers, well ahead of all the other candidates for the Socialist nomination -- former Culture Minister Jack_lang_best_3Jack Lang (left, previously the long-time Socialist front-runner in the polls), former Economy and Finance Minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn (right), Dominique_strausskahn_2 former Health Minister (and former UN envoy in the ex-Yugoslavia) Bernard Kouchner  (lower left) Bernard_kouchner -- and Segolene's own domestic partner, the party's boss as its First Secretary, Francois Hollande (lower right), Francois_hollande_grim_3 none of whom gets more than 13%.

Who is Ségolène Royal? At 52, she is the president of the Poitou-Charentes regional government. "Ségo," as she is popularly known, is a product of l'Ecole Nationale de l'Administration -- l'ENA -- the super-elite, prestigious postgraduate school for France's bureaucrats, from whose ranks come nearly all of the political leaders of left and right (to the great detriment of representativity in French politics). "Sego" was in the same ENA class as her companion, party leader Hollande -- and as the current conservative Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin.

She first came to public notice as one of the "filles de Mitterrand," one of three prominent female counselors to the late Socialist President (the others were Elizabeth Guigou, later Justice Minister; and Martine Aubry, later Employment Minister, now Mayor of Lille.) Ségolène was first elected a deputy (member of parliament) in 1988, was named Mitterand's Minister of the Environment in 1992, and later served as junior Minister for the Family.

But the most intriguing fact about Ségolène is that she is what Americans would call Segolene_hollande the common-law wife of the Socialists' current leader, the colorless Francois Hollande, with whom she has had four children but never married -- after civil unions became legal in 2001, the couple took advantage of the new law to formalize their domestic arrangement (photo right, the couple together.) And Hollande's own presidential ambitions are hardly a secret. After his lady's headline-making Paris Match interview, a surprised Hollande admitted to reporters that "Ségo" hadn't informed him in advance she was going to use it to unveil her own designs on the presidential Elysée Palace.

One of the reasons for Ségolène's popularity is that she's been on TV a great deal as an outspoken "family values" crusader, and a fairly censorious one -- a deliberate, Hillaryesque appeal by her to conservative voters. She's volubly denounced sex and violence on TV. As Minister for the Family, she opposed the distribution of sex-education brochures in the schools -- saying they'd lead to "debauchery" -- and supported government censorship that preventd two AIDS-prevention spots from airing on television, calling them "obscene"; these were both positions which earned her the enmity of the gay and AIDS communities. But if the uncritical Nouvel Obs package on her has hardly anything on her political positions on substantive issues, it is also because -- as the iconoclastic centrist weekly Marianne(logo left) noted in a November 6 Marianne_logo profile of Ségolène Royal -- "she's avoided taking positions on big subjects on which there is sharp conflict, or on the economy, or on international affairs." Nouvel Obs also didn't mention that, in the middle of the rebellion that spread across France in November, Madame Royal's solution was...the reinstitution of military conscription! Not a word from the centrist Ségolène about how to combat the soul-destroying racism that was the root cause of the rioting. A recent acid portrait of her in the influential satiric-investigative political weekly Le Canard Enchainé portrayed her as a preachy, moralizing martinet, bereft of original ideas, with an authoritarian personal style and an ill-concealed disdain for her party colleagues.

Will a gender gap against an all-male field, good looks, and moral lecturing be enough to get Ségolène the Socialists' 2007 nomination for president? One wonders where she'll be in the polls once she's been the subject of critical press coverage under a microscope, as will Ps_logo_4undoubtedly happen in the year before the Socialist candidate's selection. Or how she'll fare if she is forced to take positions on the core social and economic issues that have led to the a gaping expansion of what the French call the "social fracture," of which last month's riotous rebellion in the ghettos was the most serious -- but hardly only -- symptom. Moreover, the process to select the presidential candidate -- currently designated by a majority vote of the 127,000 dues-paying Socialist Party members -- appears about to change.

There's been a lot of talk by party leaders -- and pressure from the grassroots -- for an Italian-style left primary, which its winner and the leader of the left-center Italian Romano_prodi_2 coalition, Romano Prodi, came to last month's French Socialist Party congress to explain in a keynote speech. In Italy, Prodi (right) was the winner of a primary open to all leftists, some 4 million-plus of whom participated in it this Delanoe summer. That's the solution being proposed by associates of openly gay Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe (left.), a popular party figure. But the broad left electorate appears in the opinion polls to be feistier and substantially to the left of the rather docile Socialist membership. For example, Ségolène joined Hollande in loudly demanding a Yes vote in favor of the proposed European Constitution in France's May referendum -- yet three-quarters of the left electorate voted No to the Euroconstitution, because they saw the document as setting in concrete a pro-corporate Europe. Party boss Hollande has proposed a primary open to Socialist sympathizers only. And in any case, the other significant but much smaller parties making up the French left -- the Communists, Greens, and the Trotskyist Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire (LCR) -- have all declared their opposition to participating in an all-left primary with the Socialists, fearing they'd be overwhelmed. Moreover, Ségolène has said she won't run if her domestic partner Hollande does -- but Hollande is trailing badly in the polls for the '07 nomination. Finally, Ségolène has no real network or apparatus of support within the party membership, many of whose activists are already committed to other candidates -- a membership that would surely play a weighty role in a Socialist primary. Hollande, of course, could undoubtedly deliver at least a third of them to her if he so chose. But we'll have to wait and see if the press-pushed boomlet for Ségolène is more than a mediatic flash in the pan.

Pride_at_work_logo_1 A NEW LABOR WEBSITE FOR GAYS: Pride at Work, the AFL-CIO affiliate for union gays and lesbians in the workplace, has just launched a new and redesigned website. Check it out by clicking here.

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