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January 31, 2005


It looks like Howard Dean has wrapped up a victory in the race for DNC chair. When the members of the Association of State Democratic Chairs voted today, Dean won an overwhelming majority of their votes, as the AP reported this afternoon: the former Vermont governor got 56 votes to 21 for Donnie Fowler, with the party establishment's preferred candidate, ex-Congressman Marty Frost of Texas, trailing badly with just five votes. Former Denver mayor Wellington Webb has just dropped out to endorse Dean, and other candidates may well drop out well before the formal February 12 DNC vote.

Frost's only hope--an affirmative nod from organized labor--is now dashed, as the D.C. labor bureaucrats aren't going to risk creating bad relations with Dean now that he appears to have the job sewed up (and in any case, some of the labor leaders--notably SEIU's Andy Stern and AFSCME's Gerry McEntee--are privately for Dean anyway, because Dean is so popular with their memberships).

Dean's victory is one in the eye for the party elite and its fat-cats--Dean can't be controlled by them, and they're frightened by the way in which his presidential campaign went around the traditional party fundraising fat-cat base to raise $50 million-plus, the lion's share of it from the grassroots and smaller donors by internet.

Will Dean make much of a difference as DNC chair? The way he squandered all that money he raised, only to win just his home state, isn't encouraging in management terms. Worse, the scuttlebutt in Washington among those who've talked to Dean and his people is that he intends to keep on the DNC staff assembled by Terry "the bagman" McAuliffe, the outgoing DNC chair. That's deplored by party technicians who don't consider the McAuliffe staff up to snuff.

In any case, it will take more than a technical fix to right what's wrong with the national Democrats. A recent poll showed a 12-point drop in the party's favorability rating among Democrats since the election--reflecting the disillusionment of the party base with the party elites' centrist drift. In their weekly conference call, the mayvens who run the Democratic 527 extra-party groups are--our spies tell us--talking about planning for taking back state legislatures so they, and not the Republicans, will control the gerrymandering after the next census. There's little of "the vision thing' in such technocratic strategizing. Will Dean, who has ever proclaimed himself a "centrist" with a "healthy distrust' of the left as well as the right, be the man to steer the party to a new, moblizing course and message? I'm not holding my breath.

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January 27, 2005


Martin Scorsese deserves an Oscar--but not for his mendacious film The Aviator, which glorifies the odious Howard Hughes. Scorcese, of all people, ought to know better than to have done so.

A couple of years ago, in the Irwin Winkler movie portraying the tragic consequences of the Hollywood blacklist of the '40's and '50s, Guilt by Suspicion--which starred Scorsese's friend DeNiro as a blacklisted screenwriter--Scorsese had a cameo role as a charming Hollywood director who is a proud member of the Communist Party, and who flees to Europe rather than respond to a House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC) subpoena.

How ironic, then, that Scorsese has forgotten to mention in The Aviator that Hughes was himself a major enforcer of the Hollywood blacklist, vindictive and rigid in his persecution of lefties in the industry. As the Las Vegas Mercury recalled two years ago:

"Paul Jarrico, a moderately successful screenwriter, was in his mid-30s when he signed a contract to write the screenplay for The Las Vegas Story in 1951. He had been hired by the film's studio, RKO, and that studio's world-famous, billionaire owner, Howard Hughes, who had been producing films since the late '20s. Movies were just one of Hughes' obsessions, and it seemed fitting to set one in the city he was becoming increasingly fond of (in the early '50s, Hughes even considered moving his aircraft research division to the city, but his subordinates balked; the idea of Hughes' impact on Vegas at that time offers a tantalizing what if').

"Jarrico was finishing up his treatment for the film when word came in April 1951 that he was to be called before the House Un-American Activities Committee, the organ of the infamous communist 'witch-hunt,' spearheaded by Sen. Joseph McCarthy, that had already ruined the careers of numerous Hollywood screenwriters who had refused to testify before it. Jarrico was no less adamant: 'If I have to choose between crawling in the mud...or going to jail like my courageous friends of the Hollywood Ten, I shall certainly choose the latter.'

"Unfortunately for Jarrico, Hughes' rabid anti-communism meant that it didn't have to come to that. As soon as Hughes heard of the committee's interest in Jarrico, he promptly fired him, and had him barred from the studio. Hughes ordered new writers brought in to remove all of Jarrico's contributions to the film, and removed his name from the credits.

"Of course, since Jarrico's contract with RKO stipulated that he could be terminated at any time, Hughes was in his legal right to fire him. But removing his credit was another matter. The Writers Guild of America, acting under its collective bargaining agreement with RKO, determined that Jarrico deserved a screen credit, and threatened Hughes with a strike. Hughes remained defiant, leaving Jarrico's name off the film in clear violation of his contract with the Guild. In fact, Hughes went on the offensive, preempting the Guild's legal action with a lawsuit of his own, claiming the novel argument that Jarrico had violated the morals clause of his contract by not revealing to the studio his involvement with the Communist Party.

"Hughes tenaciously defended his decision, going to court against Jarrico (who filed his own separate lawsuit) and the Guild and ultimately defeating both. Before the Guild could launch a strike, Hughes laid off 100 RKO employees, claiming he was curtailing production until 'the communist problem was solved.' In the climate of the Red Scare, the Guild and Jarrico were on the losing side, and Hughes' brazen dismissal of Guild arbitration had a chilling effect on Hollywood."

Not only that, Hughes helped to suppress the classic film Salt of the Earth -- made on a shoestring budget outside the Hollywood system by blacklisted artists to help union organizing (it was financed by the left-led Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers Union), the film was the anti-racist portrayal of a strike by Mexican-American mine workers that used real workers as its cast (the making of Salt of the Earth is itself recounted in a recent movie, One of the Hollywood Ten, starring Jeff Goldblum as blacklisted director Herbert Biberman). In a letter to HUAC member Rep. Donald Jackson, Hughes explained that "the studios could effectively kill the picture if they denied the production access to the facilities they needed -- to edit, dub, score, and otherwise prepare the movie for theaters," as Steve Boisson recounted in American History magazine in February 2002. (It is, by the way, a great movie--you can order Salt of the Earth by clicking here.) As boss of RKO, Hughes also made a series of hysterically paranoid anti-Communist films, beginning with I Married a Communist in 1949--all of them designed to foster the myth of an imminent danger to the nation posed by domestic Communists (they're considered camp classics today).

Hughes, a corporate despot, was also a notorious anti-Semite (one  of the reasons that he surrounded himself with "pure" Mormons as his personal staff), as well as a briber of politicians--the infamous "Hughes loan" of $205,00 to Richard Nixon's brother Donald, a loan that was never repaid, almost sank the then-vice president's political career. And Hughes' exaggerated nationalism and anti-Communism turned him into a front-man for and help-mate of the Central Intelligence Agency for years. For example, Hughes' chief of staff, Robert Maheu--as the late investigative columnist Jack Anderson famously revealed--was the point man who, with the help of the Mafia, organized attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro on the CIA's behalf. Offshore islands that Hughes had leased were used as training bases for CIA raids into Cuba. And Hughes was a paranoid madman and a major drug addict.

But it is Hughes' role in the blacklist and the anti-Communist witch-hunt that is the most shameful--as is Scorsese's silence on the matter in his cinematic hagiography.

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The Chronicle of Higher Education today has a top-drawer article about the researchers from Johns Hopkins and Columbia Universities  who published the study in the British medical journal The Lancet suggesting there were 100,000 Iraqi civilian dead from the war and the occupation. Lila Guterman, the article's author, notes that, "On the eve of a contentious presidential election -- fought in part over U.S. policy on Iraq -- many American newspapers and television news programs ignored the study or buried reports about it far from the top headlines."

The Chronicle article recounts in detail the methdology used for the study's 8000 interviews, in which 30 homes in each of 33 neighborhoods all over Iraq were visited. And other statisticins confirm the validity of the Lancet study's methdology: "Scientists say the size of the survey was adequate for extrapolation to the entire country. 'That's a classical sample size,' says Michael J. Toole, head of the Center for International Health at the Burnet Institute, an Australian research organization. Researchers typically conduct surveys in 30 neighborhoods, so the Iraq study's total of 33 strengthens its conclusions. 'I just don't see any evidence of significant exaggeration,' he says.

The researchers, including Johns Hopkins' Les Roberts--whose previous mortality statistics of conflicts had been used as fact by both the State Department and the U.N.--were particularly shocked by their findings in Fallujah:

"The Fallujah data were chilling: 53 deaths had taken place in the study's 30 households there since the invasion commenced, on March 19, 2003. In the other 32 neighborhoods combined, the researchers had counted 89 deaths. While 21 of the deaths elsewhere were attributable to violence, in Fallujah 52 of the 53 deaths were due to violence.

"The number of deaths in Fallujah was so much higher than in other locations that the researchers excluded the data from their overall estimate as a statistical outlier. Because of that, Mr. Roberts says, chances are good that the actual number of deaths caused by the invasion and occupation is higher than 100,000.

"Mr. Roberts took a few days in Baghdad in late September to compile and analyze the data. He discovered that the risk of death was 2.5 times as high in the 18 months after the invasion as it was in the 15 months before it; the risk was still 1.5 times as high if he ignored the Fallujah data. Because he had found in many other wars that malnutrition and disease were the most frequent causes of civilian deaths, he was 'shocked,] he says, that violence had been the primary cause of death since the invasion."

Guterman's article dissects the U.S.  mass media's attempts to dismiss the study's findings while European newspapers front-paged the story. The results of Guterman's interviews with the "experts" American newspapers relied upon to discredit the Lancet study should cause red faces at some of our national dailies. For example, "The Washington Post, perhaps most damagingly to the study's reputation, quoted Marc E. Garlasco, a senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch, as saying, 'These numbers seem to be inflated.'

"Mr. Garlasco says now that he had not read the paper at the time and calls his quote in the Post 'really unfortunate.' He says he told the reporter, "I haven't read it. I haven't seen it. I don't know anything about it, so I shouldn't comment on it.' But, Mr. Garlasco continues, 'like any good journalist, he got me to.'

"Mr. Garlasco says he misunderstood the reporter's description of the paper's results. He did not understand that the paper's estimate includes deaths caused not only directly by violence but also by its offshoots: chaos leading to lack of sanitation and medical care."

David R. Meddings, a medical officer with the Department of Injuries and Violence Prevention at the World Health Organization, points out why the study was so important: "If you can put accurate information out [on civilian casualties], it shifts the burden of proof onto militaries to substantiate why what they're doing is worth this humanitarian cost."

The Chronicle article is another case study of the institutional corruption of U.S. media, which is so complacent about challenging the reputation of this country's military and has been so lacking in coverage of Iraqi civilian casualties. And, of course, the caution of the media (with the exception of Rather and his CBS crew) during our presidential election made the timing of the Lancet's publication work against the story making headlines here.There's a lot more must-read material in this smart, first-rate article--you can read it in its entirety by clicking here.

Posted by Direland at 06:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 26, 2005


Your humble servant will be a guest on Warren Olney's NPR show, "To the Point," on Thursday, discussing Howard Dean and the race for DNC chair. Check the show's listings for airtimes in your area.

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January 25, 2005


This morning's papers are full of Bush's piffle about his administration's "culture of life," as he proclaimed to an anti-abortion rally yesterday. But this morning's Washington Post also carries the news that, according to the army's chief of operations, the U.S. will maintain at least 120,000 troops in Iraq for two years--while at the same time the administration is asking Congress for another $80 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, on top of the $25 billion already allocated for this year.

At the same time, Bush is continuing to cut AIDS programs. The latest to go on the chopping block is the Housing for People With AIDS (HOPWA) program, which provides shelter for indigent victims of the pandemic. Bush is cutting this already-underfunded program by $13 million--and three-quarters of this budget-slashing will hit New York City, which has the largest number of AIDS-inflicted homeless in the country (the city will lose $9.75 million of its allocation). Without proper housing, people with AIDS will die.

This latest cut is, of course, typical of the Bush smoke-and-mirrors approach to AIDS. More cuts are on the way under Mike Leavitt, the Mormon Governor of Utah who's replacing Tommy Thompson as HHS Secretary. "The Bush administration plans deep reductions in the rate of growth of Medicaid and Medicare by squeezing and denying health benefits. Mr. Leavitt states, 'It's always been my belief that we can expand the number of people we serve with the available resources,'" as the very useful e-newsletter of the excellent AIDS service organization Housing Works notes this morning. Leavitt's Alice-in-Wonderland dictum, which threatens not just the HIV-infected but all working poor and their families, stands logic on its head -- and people will die from this prime example of Orwellian newspeak.

Housing Works' newsletter also got hold of a transcript of Leavitt's confirmation hearing, and unearthed this edifying dialog between the new HHS Secretary and Senator Orin Hatch:

HATCH: Well, thank you. As one of the original authors of the Ryan White AIDS Act, I'm interested in what direction the agency will be taking on domestic and international AIDS policy. So this is also an area that I know you're going to get into, and I know that you can play a dramatic and I think a constructive role in this particular area. Our country is the leading country in the world in trying to resolve these dilemmas, and hopefully we can live up to what the president said we would do for the rest of the world. There are so many other questions I have, but I'll wait till the second round before I ask them. Thank you so much.

LEAVITT: Thank you, Senator. I will just comment that I'm aware of the president's commitment to invest up to $15 billion, and I know his both commitment to do it and his intent to see it carried out.

Not only does that non-answer answer betray a shockingly truncated knowledge of the global AIDS issue by the new HHS Secretary, it's evidence of the blase fashion with which this administration's top health officials treat the AIDS issue. Only a fraction of the promised money for the global AIDS fight has actually gotten into the pipeline (just as "only a fraction of the $18.4 billion set aside for rebuilding Iraq has been spent," as the Times observed this morning). All the Bush White House cares about is the press release and the headline it generates--not the actual delivery on its promises do what is necessary to save lives (like getting AIDS meds to the people who need them--only 3 million of the world's 40 million people with AIDS have access to life-saving meds; or like getting clean water, vital for life, to the people of Iraq whose water supply we destroyed--or, for that matter, rebuilding its hospitals we've bombed).

While chopping AIDS programs, the Republicans have come up with some $40 million more for the failed policy of teaching "abstinence-only" as the only way to prevent AIDS. These programs teach that condoms don't work to prevent infection with HIV and a host of other anti-scientific propositions, as studies by Rep. Henry Waxman have shown--and as reports on federally-funded state abstinence programs roll in, they're revealed to be totally ineffective in reducing teen sex or teen pregnancy, or risky sexual behavior. (There's a coalition of youth advocacy and health groups that's fighting to kill appropriations for this obscurantist abstinence-only nonsense: visit their website at www.NoNewMoney.org).

So, Bush can find four times more money to teach that condoms don't work and other bizarre fantasies to our kids--putting their lives at risk-- than he can to keep poor people ill with AIDS from being thrown into the street to die. And all the while pouring gun-money down the rat-hole in Iraq, where--as a Knight Ridder study has shown--twice as many Iraqis have been killed by the U.S. forces as by the terrorists of the insurgency.

I'd call that a Bush administration culture of death, not a culture of life, wouldn't you?

This recitation of some of the latest bad news and hypocrisy pouring out of Bush's Washington gives me the opportunity to plug the revival of AIDS activism, embodied in a two-stage mobilization in the nation's capital. At the beginning of January, an AIDS Advocacy Summit--bringing 120 AIDS activists from 25 states together in DC to plan how to respond to the second Bush term--decided on two major actions:

  • An expanded super-sized AIDS Watch training and advocacy days in Washington, DC from May 2-5, 2005 (co-sponsored with the National Association of People with AIDS).
  • Five days of Action to End AIDS, with caravans of activists from around the country and participation from PWAs around the world convening in Washington, DC October 8-12, 2005 for "an historic mobilization that will build political power for the AIDS movement for years to come". This will include civil disobedience and direct action on October 9, and a March on October 10. These initiatives have been endorsed by dozens of the country's leading AIDS advocacy and service organizations (with the notable exception of the Bush-coddlers at AIDS Action). For information on how to get involved, visit the website of AIDSvote, one of the initiating organizations, by clicking here.
  • Posted by Direland at 09:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

    January 23, 2005


    The assassination of the Iraqi trade union leader Hadi Salih has previously been discussed on my blog--as has the failure of large sections of the anti-war movement to condemn that inexcusable murder. I have always maintained that those of us who have consistently opposed the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq have a deep responsibility to support the development of Iraqi civil society at the same time. We must also support those genuinely  democratic elements in Iraq that oppose clerical fascism. And that includes the labor movement, which was repressed by both Saddam Hussein and (in somewhat less bloody fashion) by the U.S. occupation (which banned strikes) and by its puppet Allawi government (which continued the ban).

    I urge you to join in signing the following statement put together by my good friends friends at the Campaign for Peace and Democracy in defense of the Iraqi labor movement, a statement of which I am one of the initiators. I've been a supporter of the CPD's fine work for years, and this new statement is in line with previous CPD statements many of us put our names to, particularly the pre-invasion declaration of opposition both to the war and to Saddam Hussein. Please help to circulate widely the following statement:


            "We, who opposed the U.S.-led war on Iraq and who call for an immediate end to the occupation of that country, are appalled by the torture and assassination in Baghdad on January 4, 2005 of Hadi Salih, International Officer of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU). There are also disturbing reports of intimidation, death threats and murders targeting other IFTU members, trade unionists in general, and political activists.
            "We utterly condemn the assassination of Hadi Salih. We call upon all sides in the conflict in Iraq to respect the rights of non-combatants as required by international law and to recognize the rights of workers to organize freely, without threat or harm, in trade unions of their own choosing in accordance with International Labor Organization (ILO) standards.

            "We believe that the physical targeting of trade unionists is in no way politically or morally acceptable, even though we disagree strongly with the IFTU's support of UN Resolution 1546, which supports the U.S. military presence in Iraq. This resolution has been used by the Bush Administration to justify keeping U.S. troops in the country.

            "We also oppose the victory of those elements of the resistance whose agenda is to impose a repressive, authoritarian regime on the Iraqi people, whether that regime is Baathist or theocratic-fundamentalist. We do not know whether such authoritarian elements have gained decisive control over the resistance to the U.S. forces and their Iraqi and international allies. We do know, however, that the continuing occupation of Iraq, which grows more brutal with every passing day, only strengthens these elements, increases their influence over the resistance and makes their ultimate victory more likely.

            "We further oppose the occupation because it is part and parcel of an imperial U.S. foreign policy that shores up undemocratic regimes like those of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, gives one-sided support to Israel against the Palestinians, and promotes unjust, inequitable economic policies throughout the world. Not only in Iraq but throughout the Middle East and globally U.S. foreign and military policy either directly or indirectly subverts freedom and democracy."

    Please join Stanley Aronowitz, Medea Benjamin, Marc Cooper, Daniel Ellsberg, Barry Finger, Barbara Garson, Thomas Harrison, Doug Henwood, Doug Ireland, Joanne Landy, Jesse Lemisch, Betty Reid Mandell, Marvin Mandell, David McReynolds, Mike Parker, Glenn Perusek, Katha Pollitt, Matthew Rothschild, Jennifer Scarlott, Alan Sokal, Chris Toensing, Jay Schaffner and others in signing this statement. 
    To add your name, go to www.cpdweb.org
    For further information about the issue,  contact us at cpd@igc.org And for more information on the murder of Hadi Salih, see David Bacon's article for Pacific News Service by clicking here.

    Posted by Direland at 06:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

    January 22, 2005


    If the outrage continues to mount against The Nation 's decision to publish a gay-offensive cartoon by Robert Grossman, it's the magazine's own fault. ( if you missed the cartoon, it's reproduced in my last post). Among the heartfelt letters of protest to the magazine was one from John Berendt, the former editor of New York Magazine and author of the best-selling "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," who wrote:

    "I'm sure I'm not the only person who finds your Abe Lincoln cartoon deeply and painfully insulting.  What you mistake for humor is nothing more than virulent and blatant homophobic garbage, utterly unworthy of the 140-year-old magazine entrusted to your care.  It's this kind of ignorant stereotyping that fuels and perpetuates hatred, disgust and violence against homosexuals.  I'm embarrassed for you."

    Indeed. If only The Nation's editors had taken a suggestion made by some of the mag's own staff, simply said, "George Bush won't admit his mistakes--but we do," and acknowledged that running the Robert Grossman cartoon was an unfortunate lapse in judgment, I have no doubt that would have earned widespread respect, and little more would have been heard about the matter.

    Unfortunately, that's not what The Nation did. Instead, the inhabitants of Irving Place in New York, where the magazine is put together, chose to pick a few of the many Letters to the Editor they've received in protest, stick them up on their website--but leave any response to the protests to Grossman, who penned what one of my friends rightly called "a resentful and sarcastic dodge" of the issues raised by the controversy.

    The brief paragraph from the mag's editors introducing the letters and Grossman's reply, as originally posted, read: "We regret it if the cartoon demeaned homosexuals, transgender people or even Log Cabin Republicans. --The Editors" (Ah, that cowardly and Clintonesque "if"...) Then, it was changed to read: "We regret if anyone was unintentionally offended. --The Editors" I can't quite figure out what that change means in their little heads, unless it's to excise any hint of an admission that the 'toon "demeaned homosexuals", as the first version put it. (Moreover, the second version is illiterate--it reads as if there are queers running around who are feeling offended without meaning to be, instead of what I suppose was meant, that the mag's editors did not intend to offend anyone. But nobody thinks the mag's editors sat around intentionally trying to think up ways to offend gay people, so this non-apology is puerile and avoids the real issue--one of attitude, and of judgment)

    The cartoon has generated a wide response in the blogosphere from all sides. Andrew Sullivan -- with whom I disagree profoundly on so many issues, including his ill-founded critiques of the gay liberation movement -- posted this comment:

    "You expect the homophobic Weekly Standard to run tasteless cartoons about gay people, playing to stereotypes, ridiculing serious study of homosexual history. But The Nation? I'd say their cartoon of 'Babe Lincoln' is worse than the Standard..." 

    On Irving Place, Andrew's comments are being dismissed as "arrant opportunistic criticism from a right-winger who likes to pose as a liberal from time to time--and get in his digs at the left whenever possible," as one of the magazine's editors wrote to me. Whatever one thinks of Sullivan's positions, actions, and ethics on other issues--and I could cite any number of instances in which I've found his thought and conduct revolting--I can't agree when it comes to this one. Andrew's gay outrage is not artifice -- for, as much as I have fundamental political and philosophical differences with Andrew, I am certain that, when gay people are harmed, dissed, or sneered at, his indignation is genuine. And this time, Andrew's comment is unexceptionable--one expects The Nation to know better.

    The folks at The Nation cannot so easily dismiss the stinging criticism from one of their own--Marc Cooper, a longtime contributing editor of The Nation and host of its widely-syndicated Radio Nation broadcast, wrote on his blog:

    "Grossman's cartoon is embarrassingly stupid. Something you might expect in some fourth-rate right-wing rag...Problem is, once the mistake was made, my friends at The Nation didn’t just come out and say ‘oops’  -- sorry. That would have been the right thing to do. Maybe they’ve been watching Condi too closely and have forgotten how to simply acknowledge an error...Instead, in my humble opinion, they have compounded the mistake with their ‘remedy’: a posting of irate letters followed by a totally inadequate response (and self-defense) by cartoonist Grossman...." There were any number of other bloggers with posts on this matter--including an intelligent, witty, and scatological one, entitled "The Nation Puts Gays in a Skirt," from Lenin's Tomb.

    As someone who has written dozens of articles for The Nation --including quite a few on gay politics and gay issues -- I want to say that this entire sorry episode has left me feeling disheartened and depressed.

    By putting all the onus on Grossman to reply to critics of the magazine's decision, and letting his snarky riposte -- which reflects the same mentality as the cartoon, and which even thanks the mag for running it--stand as the only real response by the magazine, The Nation's editors have simply amplified their insensitive error, making it doubly offensive. By choosing to publish Grossman's defense of his attitudes toward same-sexers that are from another age and time, while avoiding admission of any real responsibility or mistake by The Nation's editors in the matter, the magazine has only made things worse, and underscored the flaws in its editors' mindset when they decided to run the cartoon in the first place. Their abandonment here of the faculty of critical judgment that makes for a great magazine forces one to reflect on what this episode says about what the magazine's deciders have in their heads and hearts when it comes to gay people, once one scratches under the surface of the kneejerk "politically correct" rhetoric which, thanks to the organized gay civil rights movement's teachings, they have learned to spout. To put it simply, in the everyday language of our time, they just don't get it. And that reflection leaves me quite sad.

    P.S. Don't miss Gore Vidal's Vanity Fair article, "Was Lincoln Bisexual?" It's a dissection of and meditation on the recently published C.A. Tripp book, "The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln," which sparked the incident recounted above.

    Posted by Direland at 12:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

    January 20, 2005


    Lincoln1_2 "BABE LINCOLN" is the title of a rather unfortunate Robert Grossman cartoon in the current (January 24) issue of The Nation, showing Lincoln's head on a woman's body with an ample, protruding bosom and dressed scantily in 19th century women's lingerie. Larry Gross, Director of the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Southern California, has written me to comment on this embarrassing cartoon that, "besides not being funny -- a serious sin, as Oscar Wilde might have pointed out -- it's fairly offensive in its knee-jerk association between 'Gay' and 'woman in man's body' or whatever yuck yuck image Grossman intends. It's not much different, interestingly enough, from what was on the cover of the Weekly Standard." Yes, Larry, it is different--it's much worse. This Nation cartoon is like something out of a time warp: the long-ago disproven notion that a man who loves a man really wants to be a woman is truly from another age. Judge for yourself--the cartoon is reproduced to the left of this column --and then, if you agree, you may register your objection by e-mailing the mag's editor, Katrina VandenHeuvel, at kat@thenation.com....

    THOSE EXIT POLLS on which a lot of folks in the blogosphere based their erroneous theories of a great conspiracy to steal the November election seriously overestimated Kerry's support, the firms who conducted the exit polls have now admitted. "Procedural problems compounded by the refusal of large numbers of Republican voters to be surveyed led to inflated estimates of support for John F. Kerry, according to a report released yesterday by the research firms responsible for the flawed surveys," recounts today's Washington Post, and their study of what went wrong with the exit polls also revealed that the younger interviewers they hired did a lousy job compared to those of more mature age.

    We have a technically inept voting system in this country and always have had, but there wasn't much more error or fraud in this election than in elections past--it's just that the mistakes and occasional local malfeasance got more attention this time around because of the 2000 Florida "chad" debacle. And the report by veteran pollster Warren Mitofsky and Joe Lenski of Edison Media Research also declared that they  "found no evidence of fraud resulting from the rigging of voting equipment, a contention made repeatedly by those who question the 2004 vote."

    It would be nice to think that the endless process debate which some progressive Democrats insist on continuing as a substitute for confronting the policy bankruptcy of their party (to the delight of the centrist Democratic establishment) will now give way to a real discussion of the content of the party's politics. But a conspiracy theory, once embedded, is hard to expunge, and the genuine crimes of the Rove-Bush Republicans are so huge that some people are prepared to believe them capable of anything--even when the evidence is to the contrary....

    PENTAGON claims that its proposal to develop biochemical weapons that would affect the personalities of "enemy" soldiers--including a "gay aphrodisiac" that would make them horny for one another--were "not taken seriously" and "rejected" in 1994 are false, says the Sunshine Project, which used a Freedom of Information Act request to secure the documents on which it based its original expose of the biochemical weapons program, which included the use of narcotics.

    The Pentagon's Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate continued to include the plans in its materials as late as 2001, according to documents just released by the Sunshine Project--whose analysis of the DoD denial, complete with links to the documents it cites, you can read by clicking here.....

    FEINSTEIN TAKES A DIVE FOR CONDI -- my friend David Corn's blog has an acid dissection of California Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein's abysmal performance in presenting Condi Rice to the Senate committee reviewing her nomination for confirmation.

    Corn writes that "Feinstein's fawning introduction of Rice was an insult to anyone who believes the administration presented a fake case for war--and that happens to be most Democrats....Feinstein practically endorsed the Bush administration's dissembling and disingenuous explanations for the invasion. After all, she was endorsing one of the chief dissemblers and ignoring Rice's crucial role in the caper.... Feinstein has aided and abetted the administration's ongoing effort to deny there is such a thing as a WMD scandal." To read the entire piece, click here.....

    WHY IS IRAN PURSUING W.M.D.? The Middle East Report Online has just published a sharp, carefully documented analysis by Joost R. Hiltermann, "Iran’s Nuclear Posture and the Scars of War," which suggests very strongly that Iran's attempts to produce weapons of mass destruction are blowback from the U.S. policy of coddling and aiding Saddam Hussein in his war with Iran. Hiltermann is no apologist for the Islamic Republic of Iran--he says quite clearly that "Iran [is]engaged in this apparently dogged pursuit of WMD concealed by an endless series of dodges, half-truths and quasi-concessions it fails to implement." But his explanation for why Iran is acting that way makes it clear that U.S. planning for a military solution to the Iranian nuke problem--now in advanced, on-the-ground reconnaissance stages, as the unbeatable Seymour Hersh revealed in The New Yorker this week--is wrong-headed. You shouldn't miss Hiltermann's piece, a perfect companion to the Hersh revelations, and you can read it by clicking here.....

    THE INAUGURATION ON $250,000 A DAY: My dear pal and blogodfather Micah Sifry (who pushed me into blogging) has a fascinating encounter with one of the co-chairmen of Bush's inaugural festivities, Brad Freeman, in the new issue of The Nation. Micah, co-author (with Nancy Watzman) of "Is That a Politician in Your Pocket?", dissects how there is "something dangerously rotten about the work Freeman does so well. " Also, a coalition of Big Business led by Boeing and Pfizer will spend at least $5 million to promote Bush's destruction of Social Security, Bloomberg reports today....

    IN ANOTHER SCANDALOUS ISRAELI infliction of suffering on the Palestinians, today's Haaretz, the prestigious Israeli daily, reveals that "thousands of Palestinians who live in the West Bank will lose ownership of their property in East Jerusalem....estimates say this could add up to half of all East Jerusalem property."

    Moreover, the Sharon government is using the Wall of Shame as an excuse to seize more lands. Says Haaretz, "With the recent construction of the fence in the Jerusalem region, Palestinian landholders from Bethlehem and Beit Jala requested permission to continue working their fields, which are within Jerusalem's municipal jurisdiction. The state's response stated that the lands ]no longer belong to them, but have been handed over to the Custodian for Absentee Property.] At stake are thousands of dunam of agricultural land on which the Palestinians grew olives and grapes throughout the years.

    "'These people's property was always considered absentee assets, but so long as no fence existed, these people could get to their property and everything was fine from their standpoint,' said a senior judicial official involved in the case. "The fence is the result of terrorism. It's not fair that a man becomes an absentee because his tie to his land has been cut without his doing. But morality is one thing, and what is written in our laws another.'" Read the entire Haaretz article by clicking here.

    "HOTEL JOURNALISM",  wrote the great Robert Fisk in The Independent two days ago, "is the only phrase for it. More and more Western reporters in Baghdad are reporting from their hotels rather than the streets of Iraq's towns and cities. Some are accompanied everywhere by hired, heavily armed Western mercenaries. A few live in local offices from which their editors refuse them permission to leave. Most use Iraqi stringers, part-time correspondents who risk their lives to conduct interviews for American or British journalists, and none can contemplate a journey outside the capital without days of preparation unless they 'embed' themselves with American or British forces.

    "Rarely, if ever, has a war been covered by reporters in so distant and restricted a way. The New York Times correspondents live in Baghdad behind a massive stockade with four watchtowers, protected by locally hired, rifle-toting security men, complete with NYT T-shirts. America's NBC television chain are holed up in a hotel with an iron grille over their door, forbidden by their security advisers to visit the swimming pool or the restaurant 'let alone the rest of Baghdad' lest they be attacked. Several Western journalists do not leave their rooms while on station in Baghdad...." To read the rest of Fisk's eye-opening dispatch from Iraq, click here.

    Posted by Direland at 12:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

    January 18, 2005


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

    Can Howard Dean be stopped in the race to elect a new chairman of the Democratic National Committee? That’s the question the party’s establishment has been asking ever since Dean--who’d said he wouldn’t run if he didn’t think he’d have the votes to win--jumped into the contest with a media splash last week to become the seventh announced candidate for party boss.

    The establishment’s original candidate, former Indiana Congressman Tim Roemer, came into the race with the puissant backing of the Democrats’ two Congressional chiefs--Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. The handsome and articulate Roemer got a lot of face time on the tube during the 9/11 Commission hearings, where he proved himself an aggressive questioner and burnished his image on national security--the latter, the party elite thought, made him a bullet-proof winner and a great public face for a party still reeling from its November defeat, in which post-9/11 security hysteria played a major role.

    But Roemer has been effectively torpedoed by a bizarre alliance--a double-whammy, slash-and-burn lobbying campaign by two of the party’s most influential interests: the women’s groups, and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The women’s groups, led by NARAL and the political fundraising champs at EMILY’s List, have targeted Roemer’s extensive anti-abortion voting record, and his declarations that the party should show more “tolerance” for abortion foes and needed to eliminate its “moral blind spot” on late-term abortions. (This record has many in the party, including a lot of House members facing re-election, privately questioning Pelosi’s judgement in endorsing him).

    AIPAC--the powerful, treasury-rich pro-Israeli lobby, now embroiled in accusations that it was at the center of a spy ring within the Pentagon on Israel’s behalf--has been brandishing a list of what it claims are 22 “anti-Israel” Congressional votes by Roemer, who’s been a critic of the $6 billion plus in U.S. aid to Ariel Sharon and his “Wall of Shame.” Many of the party’s Jewish big contributors have become even more knee-jerk supporters of Israel’s no-compromise conservative government since 9/11. “The DNC’s biggest source of large-donor money is from fat-cat Jews,” says a veteran Democratic fundraiser, “and AIPAC’s threat--elect Roemer and we’ll shut down your Jewish big money--has been incredibly effective.”

    A gaggle of little-known center-right postulants for the DNC post have failed to catch fire. Donnie Fowler, a callow technocrat from North Carolina (his biggest credential is having managed the ignominiously failed presidential campaign of Gen. Wes Clark), has a website featuring a plug for him that begins, “He Loves God.” Simon Rosenberg, a former staffer for the center-right Democratic Leadership Council, runs the New Democrat Network, the DLC-oriented PAC (some would say it’s a DLC front group), and has been relentless in attacking Roemer, whom he saw as the man to beat (a negative campaign that has alienated many committee members). Wellington Webb, a lackluster former Denver mayor and the only African-American in the race, hasn’t even generated much enthusiasm among black elected officials. And former Ohio party chairman David Leland is so unknown that some DNC members I talked to didn’t even know he’s in the race.

    That leaves the man who, as Roemer sinks, has emerged in the last week as the party establishment’s Stop-Dean candidate -- former Texas Congressman Martin Frost. Frost is much appreciated by party insiders for the skill with which he limited his party’s losses when he ran the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in the ‘96 and ‘98 election cycles, during which he proved himself an adept fundraiser and a master of organizational detail--and he’s got a powerful lobbying force in the Democratic House members whose seats he helped save. Frost was deprived of his House seat last year after a gerrymander engineered by House Majority Leader and fellow Texan Tom “The Hammer” DeLay,

    Frost, usually labeled a party “moderate,” doesn’t have some of the heavy baggage that has crippled Roemer: he’s won a 100% voting record approval on abortion from NARAL, and--as only the second Jew ever elected to Congress from Texas and a consistent supporter of aid to Israel who’s also voted for every pro-Israeli, anti-Arab resolution that came to the House floor--he’s more than acceptable to the AIPAC crowd. A fairly reliable liberal on economic issues who has opposed all of Bush’s tax cuts, Frost is a hawk on foreign and military policy. A supporter of the Star Wars missile defense system who has voted for bloated military budgets and against cuts at the Pentagon (Texas gets a lot of military-industrial complex contracts), Frost was a big supporter of the war in Iraq, voting to shred the Constitution by approving the blank check to Bush for war and defending the war on the floor of the House.

    The mood of the Democratic establishment these days is aggressively centrist, and Frost’s candidacy could be boosted by Democratic governors who have an inordinate influence over docile DNC members from their states--like Michigan’s Jennifer Granholm, an erstwhile “progressive” who last month declared the party needs “to push an agenda that is centrist and that speaks to where most people are.” However, Dean has always had an exaggerated reputation as a liberal. In the lead-up to his DNC candidacy, Dean reiterated in interviews that he was a “centrist“ who had governed as one in Vermont; and last year he told my colleague David Corn, ”I really have a healthy mistrust of the Left as well as the Right.” After his defeat in the Democratic primaries last year, he ran away from his opposition to the war in Iraq, telling MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, “I never did base my campaign on the war”--an attempt to rewrite history which drew guffaws from people not afflicted with Alzheimer’s. Dean has always been infinitely less leftish--and less significant--than the movement which crystallized around him. But Dean’s shoot-from-the-lip, unscripted style scares the bejesus out of party powerbrokers and Democratic consultants. And even Joe Trippi, who made a lot of money from TV ad buys when he managed Dean’s presidential campaign, showed he didn’t stay bought when he endorsed another candidate (Rosenberg) for the DNC job. There’s even a move afoot to persuade a fresh Stop-Dean centrist candidate to enter the fray: most frequently mentioned is ex-Senator Bob Kerrey, another ex-9/11 Commission member and current president of New York’s New School.

    Even so, Dean is the man to beat. At a regional forum for the candidates for DNC chair in Missouri on Saturday, it was Dean whose every sally drew enthusiastic applause from those in attendance. And a poll for The Hotline of 187 of the 447 DNC members released late last week showed a clear Dean-Frost contest--with a first ballot choice of 58 for Dean, 30 for Frost, 8 for Roemer, 4 each for Fowler, Rosenberg, and Webb, and one lone vote for Leland. (But add all the votes in this poll for the other centrist candidates to Frost, and he edges out Dean). The DNC meets February 12 to make its choice. Stay tuned.

    P.S. on Wednesday afternoon: ABC's political desk reports a new head-count: "Opponents of Dean think he has between 100 and 120 solid commitments — perhaps about 30 to 35 percent of the total vote. The consensus among some advisers to Dean and some other opponents is that Rep. Martin Frost has about 50-60 commitments, or at most about 15 to 20 percent of the total vote.....Enough DNC members could decide to support someone else, and some external event could suddenly refocus the attention on another candidate. But as more and more un-Dean-like DNC members, such as, oh, Southern state delegations and party chairs, support Mr. Dean, the more unlikely any Stop Dean scenario is going to be."

    Posted by Direland at 08:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack


    Without my permission, David Icke has appropriated for his website my L.A. Weekly article on Mike Chertoff. As a result, my blog has been inundated with hundreds of visits from Icke's readers (an alarming 720 so far)--including David Duke, the Louisiana racist, who e-mailed me today, and who is apparently laboring under the misapprehension that I must have some sympathy with the views he shares with Icke.  I have e-mailed Icke demanding that he withdraw my article from his website. Here's why:

    Icke_ii  David Icke (photo left, on the cover of one of his books) is a dangerous madman. A thorough expose of Icke and of the malign brand of New Age racialist fascism he peddles is to be found on Public Eye, the website of the very reliable Political Research Associates (it is funded by the U.S. labor movement and foundations), and which--under the tutelage of the excellent Chip Berlet--monitors extremist, racist, anti-democratic, violent, and cult-like sects and movements. Here is an excerpt from their profile of Icke:

    "On the face of it, few people would credit a retired soccer player who rants about a world takeover by blood-drinking lizards from outer space as being much of a threat to democracy. And as a general rule, they would probably be right.

    "David Icke, however, is an exception to that rule.

    "Icke, 48, is a native of Leicester, England. For five years he played professionally for the Coventry City and Hereford United soccer teams until forced to retire by arthritis. He subsequently went on to become a sports announcer for BBC-TV. For three years from 1988 to 1991 he was national spokesperson for the British Green Party, until he began a political evolution that was to begin with his expulsion from the Greens and wind up with his current involvement with anti-Semitism, neofascism, and lizards from Mars.1

    "At first this evolution seemed relatively harmless. Icke began to flirt seriously with New Age theories, and then began to act on them. He dressed in turquoise, and began to call himself the 'son of godhead'. But by the time his book 'The Robot's Rebellion' was printed in 1994, his trajectory had begun to take quite a different course. In 1996, the British magazine 'Left Green Perspectives' wrote that this book 'indicated a convergence of New Age thinking with Nazi philosophy. Casting aside his pat concerns about the environment, Icke enthusiastically embraced the classic Nazi conspiracy theory, alleging that the world is controlled by a secret cadre of 'The Elite.' He openly endorsed The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the Tsarist anti-Semitic forgery that informed Hitler's notion of a global Jewish conspiracy.'

    "The following year Icke brought out another book, '..and the truth shall set you free.' This one, however, was self-published, as its content was so objectionable that his publisher refused to have it printed. And small wonder. The book repeated Icke's previous claims that the Protocols were true, and went on to state: 'I strongly believe that a small Jewish clique which has contempt for the mass of Jewish people worked with non-Jews to create the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and the Second World War....They then dominated the Versailles Peace Conference and created the circumstances which made the Second World War inevitable. They financed Hitler to power in 1933 and made the funds available for his rearmament.'

    "In this book, Icke went even further. He began to flirt explicitly with Holocaust denial, saying 'why do we play a part in suppressing alternative information to the official line of the Second World War? How is it right that while this fierce suppression goes on, free copies of the Spielberg film, Schindler's List, are given to schools to indoctrinate children with the unchallenged version of events. And why do we, who say we oppose tyranny and demand freedom of speech, allow people to go to prison and be vilified, and magazines to be closed down on the spot, for suggesting another version of history.' He also denounced the Nuremberg Trials as 'a farce' and 'a calculated exercise in revenge and manipulation.' "

    There's a great deal more to Public Eye's carefully documented profile of Icke and his networks and book distributors, which are apparently successful in sucking into his orbit a goodly number of incautious New Agers and fans of his pseudo-leftist imprecations who bloody well ought to know better. And my own paper, the L.A. Weekly, has also exposed one corner of Icke's feverish, brown-shirted brain--mad theories about 9/11.

    I want to make it clear that I completely disassociate myself from Icke's misappropriation of my work for his nefarious purposes, and want nothing to do with him or with his fans. I warn his disciples that you're wasting your time if you continue to try to post comments on this blog that echo Icke's obscene drivel--because I will remove them to the garbage bin as soon as they are received. Read the entire Public Eye profile of Icke by clicking here.

    Posted by Direland at 03:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (30) | TrackBack