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March 31, 2005

"La republique des livres"

That's the title of the new blog for Le Monde by Pierre Assouline. The former editorial director of the monthly magazine Lire, Assouline is the author of some 15 books. I've appreciated his work for years, particularly the numerous books and articles he's devoted to the period of collaboration in Petainist France in 1940-45--no one has better chronicled the collaboration by literary figures, and several of his books are gems of investigative history. His magistral biography of the publisher Gaston Gallimard--which is chock full of insights into the politico-literary world, including the collaborationist period--has been translated into English, as has his revelatory bio of Georges Simenon. Unfortunately, some of his equally worthy books -- for example, his bios of the great journalist Albert Londres, and of Jean Jardin--the Petain regime's eminence grise and the chief of staff to collaborationist prime minister Pierre Laval--or his "L'epuration des intellectuels" (The purge of the intellectuals) have not made it across the Atlantic.. His latest book, Lutetia, published a couple of months ago, is a novel that tells the story of the Hotel Lutetia before, during, and after the war--it was the Paris headquarters of the Gestapo, and after the collapse of Nazi Germany served as the way-station for those returning from the concentration camps. Assouline has said he chose the novel form because it allowed him more freedom to tell this piquant story, but in preparing it he applied the same rigorous standards of research that have made him an eminently reliable investigative historian and biographer.

Assouline's blog gives his sharp-eyed, personal look at some of the latest and most interesting new and reissued books in French publishing--and since he frequently is interested in many of the same things I am, it's not only useful but a pleasurable read. You can check it out by clicking here.

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March 28, 2005


Now that Robert Schindler--the father of Terri Schiavo--is under the sway of Randall Terry (the anti-abortion terrorist, one of whose acolytes and deputies was the abortion-doc killer James Kopp), his rhetoric has increased in vehemence against letting a human vegetable die in peace.

But it wasn't always that way. The Guardian reported back in 2003 that Schiavo's father turned off the life support systems on his very own mother:

"But, given the vehemence with which he has been fighting to prolong Terri's life, it is a little surprising to learn that Robert decided to turn off the life-support system for his mother. She was 79 at the time, and had been ill with pneumonia for a week, when her kidneys gave out. "I can remember like yesterday the doctors said she had a good life. I asked, 'If you put her on a ventilator does she have a chance of surviving, of coming out of this thing?' Robert says. ' I was very angry with God because I didn't want to make those decisions.'"

So, Tom Delay agreed to the snuffing of his vegetable father, and Schiavo's father gave his mother release from suffering when (unlike Terri) her brain still worked but her kidneys failed. We, my friends, are awash in religious hypocrisy...(Thanks to Raw Story for digging out the Guardian clip.)

And the bad news just keeps on comin' -- Congress is gearing up to pass new legislation restricting the right to die, reports the New York Times this morning. Moreover, the Democrats are already showing signs of caving. It's stomach-turning that Barney Frank -- who led the House debate against the DeLay bill on Schiavo -- appears to be in favor of new restrictions to prevent human vegetables from being released from their lifeless brains and inanimate bodies:

"The Republican-controlled House," says today's Times, "already passed a bill that would allow the federal courts to review cases like Ms. Schiavo's, in which the patient has left no written instructions, the family is at odds and state courts have ordered a feeding tube to be withdrawn. That bill evolved into one that was narrowly tailored to Ms. Schiavo.

"Now some Democrats, prodded by advocates for the disabled, say Congress should consider whether such a law is needed. 'I think we should look into this and very possibly legislate it,' said Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, who opposed Congressional action in the Schiavo case. Mr. Frank was speaking on Sunday on the ABC News program 'This Week With George Stephanopoulos.' Mr. Frank added: "I think Congress needs to do more. Because I've spoken with a lot of disability groups who are concerned that, even where a choice is made to terminate life, it might be coerced by circumstances." Barney, Barney, what the f--- are you doing? You were on C-Span Morning Journal this morning for a half an hour, and I still couldn't tell exactly what specific new legislative restrictions you favor. But many of the proposals coming from the disability lobbies are very disturbing--and all demand the drastic intervention of the State in what should be a very private choice.

Yesterday, "Holy Joe" Lieberman used a Meet the Press appearance not only to side with Bush-Rove-DeLay on Schiavo, but to say his fellow Nutmeg State lawmaker, Republican Congressman Chris Shays of Connecticut, was dead wrong when he denounced the Republicans as having become "the party of theocracy" (the ultra-righties at NewsMax are gloating). With nearly half the Democrats who voted on the Schiavo matter in the House having voted with DeLay, and with the leader of the opposition to DeLay on the Schiavo case now proclaiming that "Congress needs to do more" to put restrictions on an intestate patient's right to die, it is inevitable that whatever the Republicans cook up this time -- and make no mistake, it will be highly restrictive -- will pass, overwhelmingly. And the State will take put on Seven League Boots to walk all over the rights of a hopelessly absent individual (and that individual's spouse) to an end of life choice that is based on science, not superstition. Gay people, who have no standing in most states where medical decisions about their partner is concerned, are going to have even rougher sledding now, because they cannot be legally wed.

But so will most Americans--since, even if you have a living will now, there is only a 50% chance of having it honored by a hospital, as a raft of studies shows--this horrifying statistic can't be repeated enough. So, make sure you not only have a living will, but also a medical power of attorney, and a videotaped recording of your wishes in the event of such a catastrophic, brain-killing illness -- then cross your fingers. Maybe then, but only maybe, you may have a chance to survive the gauntlet of barriers -- about to be raised considerably higher by Congress -- that prevent the realization of your wish not to spend years, even decades, as a potted plant.

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March 27, 2005


Tonght's evening news broadcast on French public television carried an account of "Terror in the Hands of Justice," a series that is running twice a day on Al Iraqiya, the state-controlled television financed by the U.S., and operated under a contract to a major Republican party contributor. This is one of the most appalling TV shows one could possibly imagine, for it blatantly encourages lynch-mob justice and individual acts of revenge against alleged "terrorists"--who are presented as such without benefit of any trial or judicial proceeding. The alleged "terrorists" are shown on this Iraqi TV show  in videotapes mouthing "confessions"--but the provenance of those tapes is never specified. One does not know whether torture has been used to extract the "confessions" or not -- certainly some of those making the alleged admissions bore clearly visible traces of physical violence on their faces in the extracts broadcast by France2.

One of the most hate-inducing aspects of this TV series: the confrontations between alleged victims of the "terrorists" or their families, and those who are supposed to have committed the crimes against them. The alleged victims cry for vengeance--"Do with him what you will, kill him, crush him," cries one hysterical woman into the camera. This highly manipulative (and manipulated)TV series is intended to whip up a lynch-mob mentality among viewers--and it does so to great effect.

(The segment on this horrible series appeared on "Le Journal de 20 Heures," France 2, March 27--carried in the States by satellite on the international francophone network TV5. Since it is Sunday, the segment has not yet been posted in either video or text versions on the France 2 site--but I imagine it will be tomorrow.)

The Financial Times three days ago carried an article on this show--but the show is, in fact--when one can actually see excerpts from it--much, much worse than the F.T. report suggests. The F.T. article relates that the word mujahid -- meaning "holy warrior"--has become street slang for homosexuals "after men claiming to be captured Islamist guerrillas confessed that they were holding gay orgies in the popular Iraqi TV programme."

Says the F.T. ,"The insurgents' confessions have become increasingly at odds with the movement's reputation for stringent Islamic austerity. Many Iraqis believe that the stern-faced officers of the 'Wolf Brigade', the Iraqi security unit that arrested most of the alleged terrorists, may have pushed the suspects - some of whom appear on the programme sporting bruises - to embellish their 'confessions'...One long-bearded preacher known as Abu Tabarek recently confessed that guerrillas had usually held orgies in his mosques, secure in the knowledge that their status as holy warriors would win them forgiveness of their sins. Another guerrilla commander had a somewhat unusual nomme de guerre for an Islamic insurgent - 'Abu Lahab', an enemy of the Prophet Mohammed singled out in the Koran for special opprobrium....more mainstream Sunni leaders want the programme taken off the air, claiming it polarises an already divided country. Some human rights activists, meanwhile, say that the programme encourages police to abuse insurgent and ordinary criminal suspects by implying that it is desirable to extract as outrageous a confession as possible."

However, it is the use of U.S. taxpayer dollars to fund a TV  show that encourages violent, extra-judicial revenge on people who have not been tried or convicted of any crime that stands in sharp contradiction of the Bush administration's claims to have successfully exported "democracy" to Iraq. CorpWatch detailed in December how Al Iraqiya TV is financed by the U.S. as part of a $96 million grant to the Harris Corporation-- a high-tech defense contractor that has been a huge contributor to the Republicans:

"According to campaign contribution records, Harris is a big Republican supporter. During the 2004 election cycle, for example, Harris donated $263,570 to GOP political action committees and candidates, versus a mere $8,200 to Democratic candidates or causes. In 2000 -- President Clinton's last year -- Harris had won $265 million in prime contracts. By the end of 2003, prime contracting had nearly doubled, reaching $517 million at Harris. In fact, for fiscal 2003, Harris received $1.47 billion in total U.S. prime contract and subcontract government work -- fully 70 percent of the company's annual revenue."

The display on television of prisoners without their consent violates their rights under the Geneva Convention--all the more so when individual and mob violence against those prisoners is incited by the TV show on which they appear. But a defense contractor who got its contracts from pay-to-play contributions to the Republicans is hardly likely to be susceptible to such civilized niceties. "Terror in the Hands of Justice" constitutes another dark chapter in the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

P.S. My transatlantic correspondent Richard Seymour pointed out, after reading this, that homophobic overtones increasingly color the discourse and propaganda shoveled out by supporters of the government and the occcupation in Iraq, and so have become a recurrent theme in the British media. For another example--this time from the BBC--together with Richard's always-literate commentary, click here.

P.P.S. March 29 -- Crooks and Liars, after reading the above, was able to get a video capture of the France2 broadcast mentioned -- he's just e-mailed me to say that you can see it by clicking here.

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Today's Los Angeles Times unearths the story of Tom DeLay's father, who was in a serious accident--and when doctors told the then young Congressman and his family that the elder DeLay would "basically be a vegetable" (as the Congressman's aunt told the L.A. daily), the family took the decision to withhold life-extending care from the father and let him die quickly. In the Schiavo case, of course, Congressman DeLay has denounced the removal of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube as "an act of barbarism." But that's not what he felt 16 years ago when he told the doctors not to put his father on dialysis to prevent kidney failure.

The paper reported today: "There was no point to even really talking about it," Maxine DeLay, the congressman's 81-year-old mother, recalled in an interview last week. "There was no way he (Charles) wanted to live like that. Tom knew, we all knew, his father wouldn't have wanted to live that way." Moreover, reports the L.A.T., "The preliminary decision to withhold dialysis and other treatments fell to Maxine along with Randall and her daughter Tena -- and, his mother, said, 'Tom went along.' He raised no objection, she said."

Like Terri Schiavo, the elder DeLay didn't take the precaution of leaving a living will either -- he apparently trusted the good judgement of his family, just like Terri trusted her husband to do the right thing and fulfill her wishes.

Pretty stunning hypocrisy, all this, wouldn't you say? But there's more. The DeLay family filed a lawsuit "against Midcap Bearing Corporation of San Antonio and Lovejoy Inc. of Illinois, the distributor and maker of a coupling that they said failed and caused the tram [in which Congressman DeLay's father was riding when the accident happended] to hurtle out of control... The family's wrongful death lawsuit accused the companies of negligence and sought actual and punitive damages." The family collected some $250,000 from the lawsuit in an out of court settlement.

But Congressman DeLay doesn't believe other Americans should be able to collect from manufacturers for product negligence, and since then has continually denounced trial lawyers who "get fat off the pain (of plaintiffs and off) the hard work (of defendants)." In 1996, "DeLay cosponsored a bill specifically designed to override state laws on product liability such as the one cited in his family's lawsuit. The legislation provided sweeping exemptions for sellers of such products." (The bill was vetoed by President Clinton.)

So, not only did Congressman DeLay call down the full fury of the U.S. Congress on the head of Terri Schiavo's husband for committing the same "act of barbarism" that DeLay and his family engaged in when the Congressman's own father was a vegetable--he tried (and continues to try, through his mis-named tort "reform") to deny to other Americans the right to collect from manufacturers when their products cause injury or death, a right the DeLay family profited from to the tune of a quarter of a million dollars. Well, they don't call DeLay "The Hammer" for nothing--except it's the American people who get hit on the head.

But it's not just the Republicans who've engaged in this pathetic and hyopcritical charade. The Democrats have either acquiesced in or actively supported the Washington assault on the intimate decisions of Mr. and Mrs. Schiavo. The Democrats' Senate majority leader, right-to-lifer Harry Reid, made sure not one Democratic Senator objected to the DeLay-sponsored, Bush-endorsed Schiavo bill (which would have temporarily blocked it and forced a debate on the Senate floor). And half the Democrats in the House actually voted for this hypocritical terror legislation. As Frank Rich nicely observed in a New York Times column entitled "The God Racket:"

"Faced with McCarthyism in God's name, most Democratic leaders went into hiding and stayed silent. Prayers are no more likely to revive their spines than poor Terri Schiavo's brain."

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March 25, 2005


Ralph Nader has joined the Christers in opposing the removal of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube--and has linked up with a right-winger with unsavory connections to do it.

You may recall Ralph's unprincipled hooking up with the cult-racket formerly known as the New Alliance Party to help get him on the ballot for his '04 presidential campaign. Well, now he's up to his old tricks of making an unholy alliance, this time with the conservatives.

Nader's intervention in the Schiavo case came in a joint statement with one Wesley J. Smith. And who, you may well ask, is Mr. Smith? A conservative bio-ethicist who contributes to the Weekly Standard and the National Review, Smith is a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute--one of whose co-founders and prime movers is the ultra-conservative economics writer George Gilder, famous for his anti-feminist rants ("This is what sexual liberation chiefly accomplishes-it liberates young women to pursue married men") and anti-homosexual ravings. (Gilder is also noted for such statements as "A successful economy depends on the proliferation of the rich," and "Real poverty is less a state of income than a state of mind.") Gilder's views are endorsed and promoted by Focus on the Family's James Dobson.The Discovery Institute is also a promoter of the so-called "intelligent design" movement, which posits the creation of the universe by an intelligent Supreme Being and opposes teaching evolution. Nader ally Smith's official bio also lists him as a "special consultant" to another right-wing think-tank called the Center for Bioethics and Culture, peopled by Southern Baptists and other Christers, and whose national director, Jennifer Lahl, is an associate of born-again convicted Watergate criminal Charles "Chuck" Colson, (now an evangelical minister), and Lahl is also an adjunct fellow of Colson's Wilberforce Forum.

Now what does Ralph say in his joint statement with the dubious Mr. Smith? Among other things:

"A profound injustice is being inflicted on Terri Schiavo," Nader and Smith asserted today. "Worse, this slow death by dehydration is being imposed upon her under the color of law, in proceedings in which every benefit of the doubt-and there are many doubts in this case-has been given to her death, rather than her continued life."

Benefit of the doubt, says Ralph? Why, before the Bush-Rove-DeLay intervention by ukase in the Schiavo case, in the eight years that Terri's husband has been seeking to legally fulfill her wishes not to live as a vegetable, the case was before 19 different courts. Seven different neurologists appointed by those courts found that Schiavo is, in essence, already dead in everything but name. The cortex of Schiavo's brain, they all affirmed, was completely "liquefied, and she can neither feel, sense, nor think," as the Washington Post wrote in summarizing their findings. Since the Washington Republicans' attempt to interfere with the intimate, private decision made by Schiavo and her husband, the Schiavo case has been before half a dozen more courts--including the U.S. Supreme Court, which found no reason to review the findings of the lower courts, thereby effectively affirming them. Schiavo has already had many, many more hearings than your average prisoner on death row (not that I'd begrudge them a single one).

But Ralph and his new right-wing buddy insist that, "This outrageous order proves that the courts are not merely permitting medical treatment to be withheld, it has ordered her to be made dead." No, Ralph, the courts have ordered that Schiavo be treated in the manner she wished, and in the merciful manner that her own doctors have recommended for eight long years--that she cease to be kept artificially in a simulacrum of life because doing so makes the religious nuts, including her parents, feel better. The courts have ruled that her doctors be allowed to let her escape from the lifeless prison of her body.

Nader and Smith's press release asserts that, to know "whether Terri can be improved with therapy....there is only one way to know for sure- permit the therapy." But, in the first seven of Schiavo's 15 years as a vegetable, she had that therapy, extensively. As ABC News reported in its profile of Schiavo's husband:

"When doctors determined that Terri had entered a persistent vegetative state, Michael flew Terri to California for experimental surgical treatments, sleeping on a cot in her hospital room.

"Even after doctors in California determined surgery would do nothing to help Terri, Michael continued to seek help. He admitted Terri to a Florida brain-injury center and hired an aide to take her out to parks and museums, in the hope it might stimulate her reawakening. It didn't." Fortunately, it now appears that science and reason have triumphed over religious superstition and anti-rational knownothingism, and that Terri Schiavo's 15-year long Calvary --which encompasses the trauma inflicted as well on her loyal, loving husband and her daughter -- will soon be over. I've previously written about my deep conviction that an individual has the right to choose death with dignity, which is what the Schiavo case is, in part, about. It's sad that Nader now casts his lot with those who oppose this right.

Ralph will do almost anything these days, and ally himself with almost anyone, to get attention. Nader's stomach-turning intervention on the side of the irrational in the Schiavo case is just one more piece of evidence of the path to kook-dom on which he has placed himself. I deeply regret having endorsed him for president twice (in '96 and 2000), given where he's ended up, and how he's misled the many well-meaning but politically innocent young who've considered him a leader--first into the orbit of Fred Newman's cult-racket, now into the obscurantist world of the religious extremists.

MORE SCHIAVO--THE TWO FACES OF BILL FRIST: Bravo to D.C.'s Inside Scoop for digging up Bill Frist's quotes when he attacked Sen. John Edwards for saying that stem cell research would enable people like Christopher Reeve to “get up out of that wheelchair and walk again.”

Frist responded on a 2004 conference call with reporters arranged by the Bush-Cheney campaign: "I find it opportunistic to use the death of someone like Christopher Reeve -- I think it is shameful -- in order to mislead the American people… We should be offering people hope, but neither physicians, scientists, public servants or trial lawyers like John Edwards should be offering hype.

“It is cruel to people who have disabilities and chronic diseases, and, on top of that, it's dishonest. It's giving false hope to people, and I can tell you as a physician who's treated scores of thousands of patients that you don't give them false hope." [CNN.com, 10/12/04] But that's just what Frist did in his Senate speech on behalf of the Bush-Rove-DeLay bill Congress passed when it intervened in the Schiavo case. Thus, Frist not only earned his money from fraud--he is one.

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March 24, 2005


YOU CAN READ MY LATEST L.A. WEEKLY ARTICLE, "Censor Alert: Congress considers controls for cable TV and the Internet," by clicking here....

SCHIAVO: A flurry of tragi-comic developments in the affair of the poor Schiavo woman on Wednesday: first, The Twit's brother, Gov. Jeb, once again jumped into the case with both feet and a hastily called press conference, declaring his intention to have the Florida Adult Protective Services division seize Schiavo's inanimate body to "protect" it from the merciful interventions of her husband. No luck: a Florida judge issued a cease-and-desist order barring this state-sponsored kidnapping. And a Jeb-sponsored bill to allow Schiavo's feeding tube to be restored was defeated in the State Senate 21-18, thanks to defections by Republicans. But the worst news of the day was the arrest--videotaped by CNN--of three minor children, whose deranged Christer parents had forced them to participate in civil disobedience at the hospital where Schiavo is under doctors care. The children appeared to be in the 10-12 year old age group--and were handcuffed, on national television, and stuffed into a paddy wagon by the police. The parents of these children ought to be prosecuted for child abuse....I've received some rather violent messages since I posted my denunciation of the Bush-Rove-DeLay maneuvers using Schiavo as a political football and asserted the fundamental right to die with dignity. Many of these messages take issue with my assertion that Schiavo is brain-dead, or with the notion that removing her artificial feeding tube is painless. But, as this morning's Washington Post reminds us, "court-appointed neurologists, who have examined her closely, say Schiavo's cerebral cortex has been liquefied and that she cannot feel, sense or think." And those who think ending her alimentation is painful are contradicted by the medical experts--a useful L.A. Times article reiterates what those of us who've been through similar experiences with our loved ones, as I have, know: this form of death "can be quite blissful and euphoric" and is "a very smooth, graceful and elegant way to go."....

INDIA HAS JUST PASSED A LETHAL PATENT LAW that will end its ability to produce generic versions of AIDS-fighting drugs--a global tragedy, because India is the source of those cheap drugs for half of the HIV-positive of the impoverished countries of the world--including half of India's 5 million HIV-positive citizens who depend on them, as do 30% of the HIV-positive in Africa. What the New York Times story today on this development leaves out is why India took this step. It's a combination of blackmail by U.S.-based multinationals and by Washington; and bribery by the U.S. government, which has just designated India as a major recipient of part of the money (subject, of course, to the religious, no-condom restrictions imposed by the Republican Congress) from The Twit's cash-starved global AIDS fund. It's a pity the Times didn't run a story on all this before it happened--because everyone in the global AIDS fight knew it was coming. For example, the French daily l'Humanite, the Communist Party's paper, ran a thorough article outlining the what and the why back on February 26, and global AIDS activists have been organizing an appeal to India not to take this step for months. Too late now--watch the death rate from AIDS among the world's poor soar....

RUMMY"S PENTAGON POWER-GRAB FOR ITS SPOOKS: Today's L.A. Times reports that, "The Pentagon's new emphasis on intelligence gathering overseas has led to a major expansion of espionage operations and a more prominent role for intelligence officers in military decision making and war planning." All this is being done by Rummy without Congressional authorization, simply by broadly redefining existing authority for a host of covert and clandestine operations around the globe. "Using that definition, Defense and congressional officials said military personnel could enter other countries to gather intelligence without getting advance approval from the president or giving notice to Congress," says the L.A.T. The paper adds that "In some cases, the clandestine operations involve inserting U.S. military personnel in countries unaware of the intrusion. Officials emphasized that the military has previously executed such delicate missions, but never before on such a large scale." Moreover, "Under the new plan, the senior intelligence officer within each combatant command could be given authority equivalent to that of the senior Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine and special operations commanders...." This rather reminds one of the puissant political commissars Stalin attached to each division of his Red Army. You should take all this as the harbinger of new military adventures--and as very bad news, if one remembers the old saying: military intelligence is to intelligence as military music is to music...

THE U.S. WON'T LET ITALY EXAMINE SGRENA'S CAR: The Associated Press reports that the U.S. military command in Iraq has refused Italian police investigators permission to examine the car in which Il Manifesto reporter Giuliana Sgrena was been carried to freedom from her captivity by Islamist thugs when the car was raked with unprovoked gunfire by soldiers assigned as bodyguards for the U.S. pro-consul in Iraq, John Negroponte. Doesn't look like that joint U.S.-Italian commission announced (with much fanfare) to investigate the shooting--which killed a prominent Italian secret service agent and badly wounded Sgrena--will get very far if Italy isn't allowed to inspect such crucial evidence....

SHARON'S PROSECUTION OF A PRO-PALESTINIAN RABBI: Add to our list of unlikely heros American-born Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Jerusalem, the head of Rabbis for Human Rights, who's just been convicted of the crime of trying to block the destruction of Palestinian homes built without permits from the Sharon government by putting his body in front of Sharon's bulldozers, the BBC reports. Ascherman says that Israel has deliberately created bureaucratic obstacles for Palestinians trying to build in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and that his trial "really was about the people who have no voice here, the victims of home demolition."

THE LARGEST-CIRCULATION PARIS DAILY, the tabloid Le Parisien, is in the throes of a rebellion by its journalists against its ethically spavined editorial director, Christian de Villeneuve. The paper gets a lot of its circulation from the many pages it devotes to horse-racing--and it turns out de Villeneuve is vice-president of a company, France Galop, that organizes horse-race meets. He's permitted lots of similar conflicts of interests for his favored journalists--like the reporter covering the "family" beat who was allowed to accept a paid appointment as a member of the Chirac government's commission on population and the family. Even in the ethically murky world of French journalism, where back-scratching, log-rolling, the acceptance of favors and fees, and source-coddling are all rampant, all this is considered a little too raw. For the handful of you who're interested, today's Liberation has all the details....

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March 23, 2005


The Bush administration and the supporters of the Anglo-American occupation of Iraq keep telling us what a "success" they've been having in creating "democracy" in the country post-invasion. Well, here's a "success" story from today's Times of London that gives a rather different picture:

A group of 700 students having a picnic in a Basra park were violently attacked -- and two of them beaten or shot to death -- by Shia militants for playing music the Islamists considered "immoral," and permitting dancing by unmarried couples of opposite sexes, the London Times' Catherine Philp reports in this morning's edition of the paper.

"The picnic had run foul of the Islamist powers that increasingly hold sway in the fly-blown southern city, where religious militias rule the streets, forcing women to don the veil and closing down shops that sell alcohol or music," the British daily reports.

"In the election in January, the battle between secular and religious forces in Basra came down to the ballot box. The main Shia alliance triumphed with 70 per cent of the province’s vote, most of the rest going to a secular rival. That victory has brought to a head the issue of whether Iraq’s new constitution will adopt Islamic law — or Sharia — as most religious Shia leaders desire.

"In Basra, however, Islamic militias already are beginning to apply their own version of that law, without authority from above or any challenge from the police. Students say that there was nothing spontaneous about the attack. Police were guarding the picnic in the park, as is customary at any large public gathering, but allowed the armed men in without any resistance.

"One brought a video camera to record the sinful spectacle of the picnic, footage of which was later released to the public as a warning to others. It showed images of one girl struggling as a gunman ripped her blouse off, leaving her half-naked. 'We will send these pictures to your parents so they can see how you were dancing naked with men,' a gunman told her. Two students who went to her aid were shot — one in the leg, the other twice in the stomach. The latter was said to have died of his injuries. Fellow students say that the girl later committed suicide. Another girl who was severely beaten around the head lost her sight.

“'We beat them because we are authorised by Allah to do so and that is our duty,' Sheik Ahmed al-Basri said after the attack. 'It is we who should deal with such disobedience and not the police.'"

USA Today also ran a story on this incident--but the story was originally broken by Iraqi bloggers. Do you suppose any of the Washington press corps will bother to ask Bush, Rummy, Condi, or Wolfie if this incident is emblematic of the new "democracy" we've brought to Iraq at gun-point? If I were you I wouldn't hold your breath -- especially with yesterday's new Gallup poll for CNN/USA Today showing that a majority of Americans (51%) continue to say sending troops to Iraq was not a mistake....

PHILOSOPHERS CROSS PICKET LINE: The online news magazine Inside Higher Ed has a revolting story about how the American Philosophical Association's Pacific Division has decided to cross a picket line by striking workers at San Francisco's Westin St. Francis Hotel, claiming it would be too "expensive" to change its plans. The underpaid manual workers at the St. Francis earn a helluva lot less than the philo profs--especially the tenured ones--and are losing more money by striking for dignity and higher pay. Chapeau to Nathan Newman's Labor Blog for calling my attention to this story. Nathan's comment: "Remind me why I should give a s--- about academic tenure for any of these people when they don't support job security for others?" Bloody good question, it seems to me....

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March 21, 2005

THEOCRACY WATCH #1: Evolution Censored--But Americans Don't Believe In It Anyway

Today DIRELAND inaugurates a new occasional feature: Theocracy Watch, which--as the increasing avalanche of assaults on the separation of Church and State and on rational thought warrants it--will bring you news of the Christian right's American Taliban and their depredations. Here's the first installment:

The I-Max chain has canceled screenings of science films in a dozen of its movie theaters because test screenings showed a majority of viewers judged their portraits of evolution "blasphemous" because they contradicted the Biblical portrayal of Genesis, the New York Times and the BBC report.

According to the BBC, "Religious controversy has reportedly affected the distribution of educational films such as Cosmic Voyage, Galapagos and Volcanoes of the Deep Sea to Imax cinemas, some based within science museums.  While relatively few cinemas were involved, it was feared it could have a profound knock-on effect across the world because of the high cost of producing Imax films."

At the same time, a new poll on religion and American life out today from NBC shows that a significant majority of our fellow citizens -- 57% -- believe in the literal truth of the Biblical explanation for the origin of human life, while only 33% believe in evolution (another 10%, who must have been living in a bubble, said they "didn't know.")

Among the other disturbing findings of the poll: a whopping 50% believe that the influence of religion is "losing its influence" on American life. Such is the paranoid worldview, propagated by the churches and the Dobson-led religious right, of a concerted satanic assault on their beliefs--their propaganda has persuaded a majority that they're losing--when, in fact, by every measure, government and private institutions have both been increasingly bending to religious-inspired censorship, particularly since the advent of The Twit as president. Separation of Church and State is on the run--as DIRELAND has been pointing out for some time now.

More from the NBC poll: 59% say religion plays some role in how they make decisions at election-time; 65% say religion plays some role in their interactions with their co-workers; 61% say religion plays some role in major health care decisions (ah, yes, poor Terri Schiavo, trapped by god-botherers in her non-functioning body against her will)  and 67% say religion plays some role in what they watch on television.

That last number no doubt is reflected in another new poll out today, from TIME magazine, showing that Americans want more censorship of TV. The TIME survey says that 68% of Americans believe  the entertainment industry has lost touch with viewers’ “moral standards," 53% want stricter F.C.C. censorship of sex and violence on TV, and 49% want to extend F.C.C. "indecency" regs to cover basic cable, including MTV and the E! channel on most cable systems (just as powerful Republican Senator Ted Stevens is proposing, as DIRELAND reported last week).

After the last 72 hours in the Schiavo affair--which saw Congress subpoena a human vegetable, both Senate and House vote to shred the Constitutional separation of powers, and The Twit flying back from Crawford to make sure Schiavo wouldn't be liberated from her suffering (although he's too busy to visit legless Iraq vets in their hospitals) --well, one can be forgiven if, at times, one wonders if we're not living in a better-furnished, fast-food version of Iran.....

Meanwhile, In Michigan, the legislature is set to vote soon on a bill approving the display of the Ten Commandments in public buildings--and the Democratic Governor, Jennifer Granholm--once known as a progressive, but who has been increasingly loud of late in her demands her party take a centrist course--says she has no problem with the bill....And today's New York Daily News reports that the Empire State's two U.S. Senators, Hillary and Chuck Schumer--principled public servants that they are--ducked the Schiavo vote in the Senate. In fact, not a single Democratic Senator objected to the Schiavo vote in the upper chamber, which could have blocked it. (Thankfully, Barney Frank, John Lewis, and a handful of other Democrats in Congress from safe seats put up a good, if symbolic, fight against the Bush-Rove-DeLay Republicans' totalitarian interference in the medical decision in the Schiavo case; the L.A. Times story on all this picked up on Barney's quote during the House debate: "The caption tonight ought to be: 'We're not doctors, we just play them on C-SPAN.'" But 47 House Democrats voted for the DeLay-sponsored Schiavo resolution--nearly as many as the 53 Dems who voted against it). Of course, as the Christian Science Monitor reports today, for the Republicans their Schiavo maneuver reflects "a desire to advance a 'culture of life' agenda that they think will be important in the 2006 elections and beyond.". Let's hope Hill, Chuckie, and the other cowardly Dems take note of the one bit of good news: the ABC poll out today showing Americans favor removal of Schiavo's feeding tube by 63% to 28%--while by a 25-point margin they opposed Congressional action in the Schiavo case....However, when it comes to fighting for the maintenance of the secular Republic which our Founding Fathers left to us, don't count on there being an opposition party in this country to stand up for rational thought and for keeping Church and State separate.....Stay tuned for more from DIRELAND's Theocracy Watch in the future.

Posted by Direland at 12:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

March 20, 2005

TREMBLING BEFORE MADONNA: Homos, the Kabbalah, and Boy George

I wrote the following at the request of Alternet:

Have you read much about the revelation that children as young as eight years old were imprisoned, abused, and sometimes tortured by the U.S. military at Abu Ghraib? Of course you haven’t -- the mass media have been too busy talking endlessly about such burning issues as Michael Jackson’s showing up in pajamas for his trial, “Baretta’s” improbable beating of a murder rap, and the use of steroids by the overpaid, bovine practitioners of industrial sports.

The latest pseudo-event causing the useless death of many trees to provide newsprint for the tabloids is the headline-grabbing cat-fight between Madonna and Boy George over the Kabbalah. I normally wouldn’t waste my time examining such detritus from what the late Situationist philosopher Guy DeBord called “la societe du spectacle”-- but there is a grain of something relevant in this current dispute between the bottle-blonde fag-hag and the gender-fuck karma chameleon.

In California--a strange land where anyone can put a bath-towel around their head, stand on a street-corner to proclaim themselves a guru, and instantly attract a cult following in the hundreds -- Kabbalah is, as the celebrity-watchers among you may know, the latest religious craze among Hollywood’s semi-literate show-biz icons. Among them: Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone (the name on the chanteuse’s Bay City, Michigan, birth certificate). Ms. Ciccone (or, if you prefer, Mrs. Ritchie now) was accused this week of outrageous hypocrisy for embracing the mad mysteries of the Kabbalah by George Allan Dowd (the real name of the polymorphous Brit pop star).

Mr. Dowd told London’s Daily Mail: “'Her agenda with the gay community was always about: ‘It's good for me '… It's ironic that she's joined Kabbalah, an organization that says homosexuality is a disease that can be cured, and no one picks her up on it. After making all those millions of dollars out of gay people, pretending to kiss girls, pretending to be a lesbian. I think she's cynical.'’

The performer known as Boy George will never be taken for a deep thinker, so his illusion that Kabbalah is an “organization” may perhaps be forgiven, because--the Culture Club front-man confessed--he got all he knows about Kabbalah from “watching a documentary.” (I suspect he was referring to "Trembling Before G-d," Sandi Simcha Dubowski's searing documentary about the soul-destroying schizophrenia engendered in Orthodox Jewish gays who try to cling to their anti-gay religion.) But I confess a small weakness for eccentric, genuine gender-benders in the Quentin Crisp mold--folks like Mr. Dowd and his cultural godfather, Mr. Crisp, showed extraordinary courage in putting on public display their costumed challenges to gender norms, thus exposing themselves to the unwanted physical attentions proffered by gay-bashers. Their unabashed and unapologetic homosexuality helped create a wider cultural space for more sartorially sedate same-sexers, in whose ranks I may be counted.

In his current dispute with Ms. Ciccone, Mr. Dowd is on to something. The Kabbalah is a set of rather deranged mystical commentaries by ultra-Orthodox Jewish sages of centuries past, for whom homosexuality was not only an “abomination” but a capital crime (as the Old Testament book of Leviticus, revered by Orthodox Jews, states rather clearly.) The attitudes toward gays of the Kabbalah and its prophets are even worse then Mr. Dowd suspects.

Now, anyone who has seen Alek Keshishian’s 1991 documentary on Madonna, “Truth or Dare”--in which her notorious fag-hag-ery is prominently on display as part of her self-promotion--knows that Ms. Ciccone for years used the gay community as a springboard to celebrity. One of my neighbors in New York City’s East Village back in the ‘70s was a delightful queer lad who was Madonna’s set designer--before he sadly died of AIDS, he would regale us with hilarious tales of the sexual antics of the gay boys who made up the  singer’s entourage, for which she was an indulgent enabler--the sort of thing which fertilized the gay-based cult that helped make the Material Girl a star. Not all that long ago, Madonna used the televised MTV awards for a headline-making, open-mouthed liplock with both Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera--the photos of which flew around the world--and also consciously paraded before the press her supposed “flirt” with Sandra Bernhard (and, later, with Bernhard's inamorata Ingrid Casares, to the comic's great discomfort.) Same-sexers were for years Ms. Ciccone’s trampoline to media attention, in the days before the lavender Step’n Fetchits of “Queer Eye” and “Will and Grace” made a vulgar, commercialized version of consumer-camp minstrelsy profitable-- and even banal.

Now that “family values” are in -- and her career is sagging -- Madonna
ostentatiously parades her motherhood and writes children's’ books. But, given her life-long immersion in a homo subculture of show biz, Ms. Ciccone should have known better than to enslave herself to the Kabbalah and its anti-gay “sacred” tracts. Even the religion-belching Fox News has reported that her current husband, the film director Guy Ritchie, is "becoming less and less happy with the influence Kabbalah has over his wife."

When the Boy George attack hit the tabs, Madonna’s press agent pretended to the New York Post that the Kabbalah “does not discriminate against homosexuals.” That’s hogwash, of course. Here, for example, is the tortured fantasy offered by the sages of the website Kabbalah.com to explain the Kabbalah’s views on lesbianism:

“According to Kabbalah, lesbianism does not create the same intensity of a spiritual short-circuit as gay sex because no semen is spilled into the open. Semen is the closest substance on earth to the Light of the Creator. For this reason it creates pleasure and it creates life. If it is exposed, negative forces immediately latch onto it. Thus, the negative forces are strengthened in the world. Lesbianism, however, does not create Light or Life. Therefore, though there is no spilling of a man's seed, there is no creation of Light and Life. Thus, the action only serves our interest and for this reason, is not endorsed.”

This is the sort of clap-trap Ms. Ciccone has now embraced, having replaced girls with the Kabbalah as the object of her lip-lock. And that, as Boy George certainly has reason to say, is both hypocritical and cynical.

Posted by Direland at 04:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack

March 18, 2005


In the latest of the truly obscene Republican exploitations of human suffering to get votes, the House of Representatives' GOP leadership announced this morning that they'd issue a subpoena for a human vegetable--the unfortunate Terri Schiavo, a Florida housewife whose brain's ability to function was destroyed fifteen years ago when a massive heart attack deprived it of oxygen. Led by Speaker Dennis Hastert, Tom "The Hammer" DeLay, and House Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis of Virginia, the Republicans thus proposed to bring a woman who is brain-dead to Washington to testify. This is torture more vile than anything that was inflicted at Abu Ghraib.

This morning's announcement was followed by a terror ukase from Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist--in it, he made explicit a threat against Shiavo's doctors to have them prosecuted if they "obstructed" a Senate "investigation" of the Schiavo case by precluding her responding to an "invitation" to testify before a Senate committee. Frist, himself a medical doctor, was born rich, and got richer, from a family business that committed criminal fraud--the Health Corporation of America, which is the largest for-profit hospital chain in the country, with a criminal history I have documented for the L.A. Weekly. Dr. Frist's money comes from defrauding Medicaid, Medicare, and Tricare (the federal program covering the military and their families). Coming from Fraud-boy Frist, pretensions of concern for a "right to life" are particularly vile. As to DeLay, he'd much rather wave the "right to life" flag in front of Schiavo's sightless eyes to distract voters from his own spavined ethics as the most corrupt man in Washington and the multiple investigations of which he is now a target. The Republican party would much rather have people talking about Schiavo than about their proposed destruction of Social Security, or their cutting the budget for children's health care, which will cause some of those kids denied medical attention to die. Much better to try to force medical attention on a woman who, as she made clear to her husband, doesn't want it.

In jumping into the Schiavo case, the Republicans are simply once again engaging in crass pandering to the Taliban of the religious right--which has coalesced around this case--in an attempt to win votes by extending the grip of theocracy on our country. And as Schiavo's husband's attorney said moments ago on CNN, there was no congressional investigation--it was trumped up by the Republicans to grab headlines, by interfering in a particular case to prolong the torture by forcing a patient to submit to medical care she had previously said she did not want. This, as Felos said, was "thuggery"--and it could happen to you. The attempts to prolong Schiavo's life against her will, and that of her husband, are cruel and unusual punishment.

Schiavo's husband, who has fought for seven years for her right to die, seems by all accounts to be a loving partner of the kind we would all wish to have. As a profile of Michael Schiavo by ABC News reported, in 1990, after "doctors determined that Terri had entered a persistent vegetative state, Michael flew Terri to California for experimental surgical treatments, sleeping on a cot in her hospital room.

"Even after doctors in California determined surgery would do nothing to help Terri, Michael continued to seek help. He admitted Terri to a Florida brain-injury center and hired an aide to take her out to parks and museums, in the hope it might stimulate her reawakening. It didn't....

"With his wife in a nursing home, Michael began taking classes in health care at St. Petersburg Junior College. He eventually became a certified respiratory therapist and a registered nurse. Michael today works in an emergency room at a hospital in Florida.

"He has said his own mother's death from cancer helped him come to terms with death and dying. In 1998, Michael began to petition the court for the removal of the feeding tube that had kept Terri alive for eight years...." An admirable fellow, it would certainly seem.

I have long believed that the right to die with dignity to avoid pain and decay is a legitimate personal choice: Every person his own Kevorkian, that's my motto. I have a living will and a medical power of attorney in an attempt to make sure I will not suffer a fate like Schiavo's: fifteen years of torture imprisoned in a functionless body. But there have been any number of studies -- including one sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation -- showing that living wills are honored by hospitals only about half the time. Hospital administrators are often afraid of lawsuits by religiously-minded members of a patient's family who wish to substitute their beliefs for the patient's. (AIDS has made the right-to-die issue particularly critical for gay people, who--because they cannot marry and therefore have no legal standing--have no voice in ending their partner's suffering when all hope is gone, and are often over-ruled by parents.) Many medical practitioners are cowards who don't want the responsibility of honoring a patient's expressed wish to die. Others--an increasing number--arrogate to themselves the right to deny medical care (like medically necessary abortions), or withdraw artificial life support, because they feel sucn actions violate their personal religious beliefs . And the Congressional Republicans' actions today are also designed to terrorize even more doctors into disregarding living wills. The invasion of the health care field by rampant theocracy even extends to pharmacists, who are refusing to fill prescriptions for medications that prevent conception and other drugs to which any citizen has a presumptive right.

This interference with a human being's right to die, and not to be forced to undergo a prolonged simulacrum of life against their will, should be unacceptable in a civilized society. But your only way of being sure your right to die will be respected is to back up your living will with other means of ending your life, if you can find a loyal, loving relative or friend who will administer them to you should you be in a physical state in which you cannot do so yourself.  If you wish to take precautions to be sure you can avoid unnecessary and unwanted pain and suffering, you should visit the website of End of Life Choices, which combines a number of organizations, including the Hemlock Society, that work for the right to a dignified death.

And you should act on attorney Felos's superb, heartfelt appeal on CNN this afternoon: write your Senators and Congressmen and insist that the specter of forced medical care exacted by vote-seeking politicians be forbidden by law. Tell them that you will not tolerate their barbaric interference with your right to die. Because the spectacle we've witnessed in the last 24 hours on Capitol Hill in the Schiavo case shows that it is Congress which is also in a vegetative state.

P.S. In response to a Florida judge's order this afternoon to remove Schiavo's artificial feeding tube--which was done in the presence of her doctors, despite the Republican Congress's threats of prison terms for them--Tom DeLay just announced, live on CNN at 5:51, that the Republican-controlled House "will pass on Monday" a new bill to keep Schiavo alive. That makes it even more urgent you let your representatives know now that you are opposed to this totalitarian interference with a decision that should be solely personal and medical.

Posted by Direland at 04:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack