The River

Friday, February 27, 2004

More on Nader

From Bill Conolly over at Thoughts on the Eve of the Apocalypse:

While no radical, Nader at least has the background and pedigree [Bill points to an excellent Alexander Cockburn/Jeffrey St. Clair article here] to substantially challenge the "agreeable center" on issues like corporate malfeasance, media consolidation, environmental degradation, and out-of-control militarism.

In short, give him a chance. He's open for criticism, like everyone else, but those concerned with the trajectory of American politics should be wary of denigrating Ralph to the extent that the issues he raises are implicitly marginalized.

Oh, and lastly: hey, Ralph, have you heard about this fellow named "Kucinich"?

My reply:
Cyndy recently pointed to a Diane Sawyer interview in which Nader said he supports Kucinich. The problem, he intimated, was the Democratic party in general. He said he sees what he is doing as a good thing because it opens a "second front" against Bush.

It will be interesting to see where this goes. And I agree that he hasn't adequately addressed how this second front is going to help rather than hurt, as far as the effort to remove Bush.

One problem is his style. It can be haughty and disdainful, but it's also understandable, given his treatment from the "liberal intelligentsia."

Thursday, February 26, 2004

It's Time To Get Beneath The Wheels

Brad Zellar (Open All Night):

Friends, I'm going to ask you today to join with me in overthrowing the government of the United States. The time for revolution has come.

I'll admit that I'm not quite sure how to go about this, but I also don't think it'll be as difficult as it might seem. There's not much that's clear right now, other than the fact that the people who govern this country are ignorant, incompetent, and preoccupied with stopping homosexuals from getting married. Just last night I listened as various mouthpieces of the Bush administration righteously defended the sanctity of marriage on the Larry King program on CNN, a network that yesterday devoted hour after hour of programming to this important issue. I haven't checked today, but I've no doubt they're still talking about it.

I must say that I found it strange that none of the defenders of the sanctity of marriage seemed at all bothered by the fact that the man who was providing them a forum for their views has been married something like a dozen times.

We all need to acknowledge that --call it what you want-- there's a civil war going on in this country, but at this point it resembles nothing so much as one of those pathetic playground fights that involve a bunch of people milling around watching two guys spitting, shoving, and calling each other names.


Exactly. I go out at night occasionally. I look around. It's business as freaking usual. Bands singing about nothing. People sucking down beer and watching some sporting event on the tube. The one millionth remounting of "Our Town." Where is the cultural ferment? Where is the response?

There's a code of silence that we don't dare speak
There's a wall between and the river's deep
We keep pretending that there's nothing wrong
But there's a code of silence and it can't go on

-- Code of Silence, Bruce Springsteen

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Yankee or Dixie?

Great quiz. See where you fall on the scale, based on your language usage. I'm 84% Dixie. Northern born, Southern raised. How about you? What do you call that bug that rolls into a ball when you touch it? A drive-through liqour store? What's it called when you throw toilet paper over a house?

If you want to run for President, run for President

Well, if you want to sing out, sing out
And if you want to be free, be free
'Cause there's a million things to be
You know that there are
-- Cat Stevens

Yeah, Ralph, sing your song man. Don’t listen to the critics. If you feel you must mount a campaign in order to get your message out, then do it. They’ll say you’re only doing it for your ego, but if you’re ego wasn’t involved, Ralph, you’d have to be some kind of saint. That’s like saying your doing it because you want the most powerful governmental position on the planet. To which I would say, what’s your point?

I’m sure you know as well as anybody that most who voted for you in the last Presidential election will be voting Democrat this time. I don’t think you really want my vote. I think you really want to demonstrate how tightly shut down our national dialogue is. How all we are getting is the corporate voice. That’s exactly what you did in 2000, and you got no thanks whatsoever. If the liberal intelligentsia, as you call it, put half as much energy into holding their chosen standard-bearers (Al Gore and Joseph Leiberman, last time out) to the liberal policies and positions they believe in, we might have a meaningful election, instead of another charade.

One of the toughest lessons to learn, it seems, is to take the message to heart and absolve the messenger. Here’s the message I’m hearing from what you’ve done and what you’re doing: people, if a third party doesn’t work for you, perhaps we have some fundamental issues to address in the way party representation is set up. And some fundamental changes need to take place on how campaigns are financed. (In checking your Website, I see these two issues are given prominence.)

I saw this message in the fact that Al Gore did nothing to ensure you were allowed to participate in the Presidential debates and Al Gore did nothing to reach out to the liberals that were supporting you. Al Gore, the centrist, wanted the left to shut up and go away and vote for him. Al Gore, like John Kerry, would have invaded Iraq “the right way.” Al Gore was a sell-out in an expensive suit, and everyone knows it. He ran a pathetic campaign. He tried to be Conservative-lite, which only made him a less convincing version of Bush. He stood for nothing, which I find more reprehensible and egotistical than anything you’ve done.

I think the need to get past fear is also the message of your campaign. Fear leads to avoidance and passivity, which leads to blaming others, and finally to a vituperative piling on of one man. It ain’t pretty. Instead of blaming Gore for losing, we’ve been jumping on you with both feet, and we’re still at it. But if we’re afraid of alternatives, we’re not much of a democracy.

It’s obvious from the reaction to your announcement that we desperately need proportional representation. According to a Mount site, “Proportional representation -- sometimes also called "full representation" -- is the voting system used in most Western democracies and is widely considered to be fairer and more democratic than the current U.S. system….The basic principles underlying proportional representation elections are that all voters deserve representation and that all political groups in society deserve to be represented in our legislatures in proportion to their strength in the electorate. In other words, everyone should have the right to fair representation.”

As we have it now, the strength of diverse political groups reflecting a diverse population cannot be truly gauged through elections, because so many either don’t vote because their alternative is not on the ballot, or they don’t vote because their candidate has been marginalized and they’ve been told they must hold their nose and hope things get better. This has yet to work.

As I said, you and I both know that the country has already decided that Bush must go, and the way to do that is to vote for the Democratic nominee. If Bush is “elected,” I think we’ll learn a lot about just how good the plutocratic social engineers are. There will likely be nauseating displays in the media of supposed triumphs in the War on Terrorism (Osama captured!). There may even be a “terrorist attack.” And if there is, this too will be blamed on you, because it will be blamed on every liberal who opposes this administration, this “war President.” Liberals will be called the enemy within encouraging the attackers, making us more vulnerable.

Considering what the Bushies are capable of, bitching about you and blaming you seems an exceptionally weak response and a waste of time. Instead, we might learn from you that standing up to reflexive criticism and speaking out are just what is needed. As Norm and Benedict have also said, go ahead and run, Ralph. Give ‘em hell.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Protest music

Always liked Iris DeMent's "Wasteland of the Free" from the fine 1996 album The Way I Should. Just change "poor" to "Arabs."

(c) 1996 Songs of Iris ASCAP

Living in the wasteland of the free...

We got preachers dealing in politics and diamond mines
and their speech is growing increasingly unkind
They say they are Christ's disciples
but they don't look like Jesus to me
and it feels like I'm living in the wasteland of the free

We got politicians running races on corporate cash
Now don't tell me they don't turn around and kiss them peoples' ass
You may call me old-fashioned
but that don't fit my picture of a true democracy
and it feels like I'm living in the wasteland of the free

We got CEO's making two hundred times the workers' pay
but they'll fight like hell against raising the minimum wage
and If you don't like it, mister, they'll ship your job
to some third-world country 'cross the sea
and it feels like I'm living in the wasteland of the free

Living in the wasteland of the free
where the poor have now become the enemy
Let's blame our troubles on the weak ones
Sounds like some kind of Hitler remedy
Living in the wasteland of the free

We got little kids with guns fighting inner city wars
So what do we do, we put these little kids behind prison doors
and we call ourselves the advanced civilization
that sounds like crap to me
and it feels like I'm living in the wasteland of the free

We got high-school kids running 'round in Calvin Klein and Guess
who cannot pass a sixth-grade reading test
but if you ask them, they can tell you
the name of every crotch on mTV
and it feels like I'm living in the wasteland of the free

We kill for oil, then we throw a party when we win
Some guy refuses to fight, and we call that the sin
but he's standing up for what he believes in
and that seems pretty damned American to me
and it feels like I'm living in the wasteland of the free

Living in the wasteland of the free
where the poor have now become the enemy
Let's blame our troubles on the weak ones
Sounds like some kind of Hitler remedy
Living in the wasteland of the free

While we sit gloating in our greatness
justice is sinking to the bottom of the sea
Living in the wasteland of the free
Living in the wasteland of the free
Living in the wasteland of the free

Friday, February 20, 2004

21 Grams -- Heavyweight Contender

Everyone loses 21 grams worth of weight in the moment they die. So they say.

Whether it's true or not has little bearing on the excellence of the film 21 Grams.

Benicio Del Toro in in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's "21 Grams"

I went to see the movie on President's Day, a 1:30 showing in an aging theater in a decaying strip mall. I live about ten minutes down a state highway from Decatur, which is for all intents and purposes of a piece with the forested and sometimes funky neighborhoods that fan out from Atlanta's downtown and midtown Peachtree Street core. Ten minutes in the opposite direction is one of the typical suburban sprawl cities that spread out for seeming ever from the forested urbanity of Atlanta. For cultural sustenance, I almost always go toward Decatur and beyond, but it was in the opposite direction that I headed for the movie.

I parked in the empty lot and looked over at the darkened windows of the theater front. Had it closed down without notifying the newspaper? No, there was a head behind the smoked glass of the ticket sales booth.

I paid for my ticket and went in. The place was deserted. I decided on the large bag, but not the supersize tub, of popcorn, sans "butter," and a medium (read: large) Mello Yello. This was lunch. The theaters were arrayed along a long hall running an equal distance to the left and right of the main entrance area. My movie was showing in the last one to the left, on the right-hand side.

It was the smallest theater I've ever been in. About 10 or 15 rows. A small box with a soaring ceiling. The dimensions gave it an odd, airless, cold and technological feel. Reminds me, now, of the trash compactor on the Death Star. I'm glad no one hit the switch that starts the walls moving.

But I really wanted to tell you about the movie. 21 Grams. This is all we, the real us, our essence, this is all we weigh. We are so lightly here. This movie is a meditation on death, which is to say on life. Which is to say it is concerned with spiritual matters.

Life, says the movie, is harsh, dramatic, vivid, emotionally charged, violent. And fraught, beautifully, with meaning, for you, individually, yours to find, especially when you are faced with challenging circumstances. And who isn't? Step back (movies allow this like nobody's business) and look. Wow. It's huge.

And yet, it all adds up to 21 grams. The weight of love, the weight of the soul. Not much, but so packed charged. Funny how when you make yourself smaller, more humble, everything else becomes so much bigger yet so much clearer.

Wait, I really wanted to provide a review. Okay: 5 stars. Benicio Del Toro, Naomi Watts and Sean Penn give intense, revealing performances. All come together through tragic circumstances, very heavy, very real. They are so much there, so solid, weighted down. Gritty stuff here.

But...21 grams. The weight of love. It can be so light, and it can feel so heavy. What a play of contrasts, what a play of light and dark, lots of dark, in 2 hours. In a box. In an everyday, rundown strip mall.

I drove home along the commercial thoroughfare, past old, once-gloriously new strip malls, all-but-gutted strip malls, small and cheap strip malls, used car lots, fast food emporiums, insurance agents, pest control, fluorescent-lit karate studios. I had movie high. I'll be damned if I didn't see beauty everywhere.

Sean Penn and Naomi Watts in "21 Grams"

Blogging is folk music

Pete Seger was on NPR this morning talking to Bob Edwards about his latest collaborative CD, Seeds --The Songs of Pete Seeger, Volume 3. He said Michele Green, who wrote a song on the CD called "From Way Up Here", didn't start writing folk songs until she was in her 40s. She had told Pete that she'd like to do what he was doing, and asked how to go about it. He said you look in the paper, and then you write a song about what's going on. He said you wouldn't get rich, but you'd meet the best people in the world.

You could say the same things about blogging.

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Most definitely

Ms. D:

There's Something Happening Here

What it is ain't exactly clear
There's a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

I think it's time we stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

Ok... I've had this rant brewing in my head for a few days now, actually over a week. So some of the material is old news, blogged and reported ad nauseum even. But there's something about all the "headline" stories that's been bothering me...

It all began with the Janet boob flash. If I had only known the power of the almighty boob, I would have tried to creatively make use of some boob flashing to alter the course of history. At a Senate Hearing yesterday, concerning television indecency, a Republican New Mexico Senator was nearly in tears, talking about the invasion of her living room by That Boob. People decrying the traumatization of children by seeing That Boob - "We must protect our children!!" The outrage over That Boob has been a great distraction for the people of the U.S.

Now consider the outrage being expressed over the Mass. Supreme Court ruling that will allow gay couples to get married. People have mobilized on both sides of the issue in mass. (no pun intended) Legislators are scrambling all over the country to pass Constitutional amendments to ensure this atrocity never occurs in their state. Oh the horror! Oh the breakdown of civilization! Our own President has suggested our country's constitution should be amended to protect the sanctity of marriage, making sure this "privilege" is granted to heterosexual couples only. We must protect this country by keeping marriage safe from gay perversion!

(it just gets better)

Friday, February 13, 2004

Kucinich Campaign Drops in on Georgia, Part II

(Part I here)

I drove on to Eddie’s Attic. I had planned on seeing a movie, but I was somewhat charged up from meeting Dennis, and who wants to remove themselves from their reality for a couple hours when that reality is so stimulating? I had also enjoyed a chance meeting with an old friend at the book store, someone both Leigh and I met when we worked at Oxford Books in the late 80s, so continuing to enjoy this friend’s company was another reason to move on to the next campaign stop.

The small listening room, as they call it (there’s another bar and covered deck for loud and rowdy behavior, a sign advises), was filled near to capacity, which can’t be much more than 200.

Out in the deck area there was a silent auction for raising cash, and I bid $55, and then $65, on an original Star Wars poster, framed. Probably a reproduction, but I didn’t care.

Back in the listening room, a couple of juvenile white guys who had that dark-eyed look of the young druggie were on stage rapping to preprogrammed beats. The message was as repetitive as the music – society, TV, politicians, they suck! Heck, I feel the same way, but they even went so far as to insult Mr. Rogers, and you have to draw the line somewhere. Besides, it’s sort of where we are all coming from, but not where we want to go.

That’s where Dennis Kucinich comes in. Although, not literally. First a wonderful singer songwriter, Sherri Kling, who has a voice like Mary Chapin Carpenter, followed the would-be rap stars. She had a bass player joining her acoustic, and she sang about the yearnings of the human spirit. She quoted a woman who said in a Studs Terkel book, “Working”, that most people have jobs that are too small for their spirit. And she asked, “What would work be like if we could bring our whole heart and soul?” (to which I might answer, do it anyway, realizing, of course, that most advice people give is the advice they most need to hear.)

Sherri was followed by Sonia Tetwell, who, it was said, had played with Patti Smith. The punk attitude was a 180-degree turn from Sherri. I think I could have made the guitar sound as good as she did on her first number. She did her thing for a handful of songs, and it got better, and then she conceded the stage to Elise Witt, a 50ish woman with curly gray hair and fine-boned features. And, it turned out, a heavenly voice. She had no guitar to bang or strum, but it didn’t matter. She sang, and she had the whole room singing with her: “open the window and let the dove fly in” at the appropriate spots in her song, and we sounded damn good. We got quieter on cue. We got louder on cue. We rocked. She thanked us and talked about the powerful experience of singing together.

So finally Kucinich comes in, in what I imagine to be his perpetual gray suit and red tie. This time the speech was on his Department of Peace idea. The response when he came out was very enthusiastic. He began by quoting Shelley in Prometheus Unbound – something about hope creating from its own wreck the thing it desires. He follows that up with a quote from Tennyson: come my friends; it’s not too late to create a better world.

This set the tone and tenor of his remarks. A bit more low key here, talking more quietly the way you do when you say your most important words. He mentioned Martin Luther King Jr. and how it was appropriate to talk peace in MLK’s hometown. His Department of Peace, a cabinet-level agency, would make non-violence an organizing principle in our society. We should be aware of the scourge of domestic violence and the attitudes we bring into the home, he said. This initiative would bring out hope that is everybody’s birthright. “Everybody’s birthright is peace.”

I brought a pen with me at this stop, and I sat on a bar stool and took notes on the back of a flyer at the high counter running along one side of the room. This is about more than me, Dennis said, “You know that. Each of us makes the other possible. This is about a movement. About more than just one presidential election. It’s about each person being empowered to be president of his or her own life.

“Think for a moment about how the nation could be changed …peace, giving, sharing, each seeing in the other person aspects of themselves. There’s an opportunity here for society to grow. Interconnections, interrelationships create the context in which human spirit can be uplifted.”

The Department of Peace, he said, is an idea that comes from watching Congress make a decision about going to war.

This is the science of human relationships (which comes from FDR) -- science, metaphysics, spirituality is what we are talking about, he said.

During the question and answer session, someone asked about the Bush AWOL issue. Dennis answered that making an issue of how the candidate served 30 years ago was the wrong track. The question is what did we learn from 30 years ago, he said, not someone’s service record. We are getting into a war metaphor, who is more of a warrior, who is more patriotic, he argued. “It’s the wrong metaphor for this time and place.” And, too, he noted that if we go in the direction of dehumanizing even this president, we are going down the wrong path. This is what makes war possible. Charity for all, malice for none – these are words to lives by, he said.

Someone else asked about his lack of media coverage. His response was that we give the media so much power, yet we are all mediums. Word of mouth is a powerful medium. E-mail. He didn’t mention blogs, but that’s okay. Even with the campaign receiving less than one percent of the coverage it took third in Maine and Washington.

In closing, he said, “I want to thank you for sharing this experience.”

I reluctantly skipped out on the rest of the evening. One of the campaign organizers said the Apache was small and would probably be crowded due to its popular Tuesday night program. She said those who didn’t attend should check it out at some point, though, because it is where a lot is happening in Atlanta.

I gave my newly re-met friend directions to a gas station, told her it had been fun, but that I needed to get home. It was around 11. Luckily, she too blogs, and she described the rest of the night herself:

Next was an inner city hip hop club. The crowd was mostly black and male, mostly smoking marijuana, and drinking beer, and there was a band on stage, an MC who welcomed Dennis to the stage, and people shouted out, asked who Dennis was, said it was 'wack', crazy, until Dennis mentioned decriminalizing marijuana, then the place 'lit up'! One guy was smoking a small bit of a joint, passed it to a friend, all the while shaking his fist at Dennis, cheering wildly.

The rest of the time I couldn't believe Dennis had the balls to be there. By now his shirt sleeves rolled up, and his previous gentle manner, tailored to the peaceniks at the acoustic club, now loud, bombastic even, rolling out his platform, talking about living in cars as a kid, his family, the importance of having a home, the fact his uncles had been in prison, he was appealing to the 'inner city youth', clearly, and I don't think they heard a word.

Finally, that is what it comes down to: Will Dennis be heard? The man is working as hard as is humanly possible to get his message out, and our society is mostly deaf to it. The report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution the day after his visit was a couple of paragraphs, maybe 200 words. It was condescending in its mention of Dennis’ third place finishes in Washington and Maine. It ended by reducing his supporters to child-like dreamers by quoting someone as saying “he’s so cute.” (by the way, remember all the debunking of blogs and how they ain’t journalism? Not to beat my own chest, but compare my report, and my friend’s, to the official media. Which is better journalism?)

At Eddie’s Attic, Dennis talked about evolutionary biology, that concept that Georgia school superintendent Kathy Cox would de-emphasize in favor of creationism. “They say there is a break, a leap where man began a dramatic spiral upward,” he said. “I think a similar social evolution is underway.”

Despite the Kathy Coxes, the Bushites, the corporate/neoliberal agenda, the MEDIA, and the constantly manufactured fear and hatred, I think he’s right. Go see the man if you get a chance.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Kucinich Campaign Drops in on Georgia

So there I was, waiting in line to get Dennis Kucinich’s book signed by the man himself. It was a little before 8 on Tuesday night, Februrary 10. He’d come to Outwrite Books, an independent, gay-oriented bookstore in midtown Atlanta, to speak. It was his first stop in a whirlwind evening tour of the Southern capital. Later, he would talk at Georgia Tech, then move on to Eddie’s Attic, a bar/music venue in Decatur for an official campaign fund-raising event, and from there head to an after-party at the Apache Café downtown, a hip-hop, funk, soul, jazz, art space.

I had grabbed one of his books off of the display by the cash register and hustled over to the line. I wasn’t sure how much time he had to sign books. I admit that I’ve not read up on Dennis (or any other candidate) as much as I feel I should, but I’ve liked everything I have read, and I agree with a blogger who noted after a debate that he stood out as so very real and human. Part of this may have to do with the fact that I didn’t really want to know more, because I could already see that Dennis is the type of man we need as president and that Dennis will never BE president. So, according to this line of thought, the more I learned about this man of peace, the more I would hurt for a reality that will never be.

How very weak. But hey, if the man is going to pursue this campaign against incredible odds, I sure as hell was going to make an effort to get out there and support him when he came to my city. So I did. And I heard him speak, some 40 minutes or so after we were informed that Dennis, running late, had just arrived at Hartsfield International Airport. What an amazing man. He packs an enormous amount of heart and courage in his diminutive five-foot, six-inch frame. He speaks with the authority of someone who believes in themselves and their quest. There is no bombast, no stridency, but there is quiet power. People were hanging on every word, riveted. There was a lot of positive energy, joy even. A recognition that this man was there for us as a true and humble public servant.

Kucinich gave a 10- or 15-minute speech to the 60 or 70 people assembled, then opened it up for a pre-selected panel to ask him a few questions. He spoke on the moral imperative of universal health care. On education, he said we should provide preschool for 3-5-year-olds five days a week. He said children shouldn’t be tested so much so early and that their early education should emphasize the arts, music, etc., because we should encourage their natural creativity, which is how they learn best. He said K-12 is outdated, that we need to extend free, public education four more years.

Of course there were questions about gay marriage, and Kucinich called for a federal mandate recognizing that these unions -- and the rights conferred through them -- be universal for gay and straight alike. He called it a civil rights issue, and said leaving it up to the states was a mistake that engenders disharmony throughout the country.

He spoke about Palestine and Israel in response to questions from a young woman who identified herself as Rachel Corrie’s cousin. He said any discussion of a Palestinian state also needed to talk about International community aid to get Palestine to begin to have a functioning economy. He said we also need a meaningful commitment on both sides to stop violence. When he said “International” he paused to say “I don’t say ‘foreign.’ ”

Someone asked about legalizing marijuana. He said he’d never appoint a Czar of any type. “Nyet.” He said it was wrong that the FBI was getting involved in stopping the use of medical marijuana, that they should not be telling doctors what they can prescribe for their patients. And he said that our whole approach to drugs should shift from prosecution to treatment. After a few more questions from the audience, he finished his remarks with a simple statement: “I love you all.”

After the talk, as the line snaking through the coffee-shop-like seating area inched slowly toward Dennis, I wondered what I should say to the man. I decided to tell him I appreciated what he was doing, and that he was an inspiration. As he handed my book back, he said, “we inspire each other” and shook my hand.

We’ve never had a presidential candidate on this level. When this man talks of the human spirit – and it comes up regularly, naturally -- it’s not a platitude designed for crass appeal, it’s from the heart.


(coming up, part II, the Eddie's Attic fund raiser)

Monday, February 09, 2004

So it begins

The Federal Government is using the Federal Grand Jury to stifle dissent.

Frank Paynter:

...intimidation through the grand jury process has emerged like a Nazgul screaming and flaying freedom from our flesh while Cheney and Ashcroft the Uruks look on, sinister growls in their throats and evil smiles contorting their hideous faces. In the background you can see Smeagol Bush cavorting and simpering about "his precious."

The Des Moines Register reports that Wendy Vasquez [a peace activist] has been supoenaed. ["reports" linkage added]


UPDATE: (from Chlora) "Apparently, the AGs office dropped the subpoenas and gag order yesterday after the huge outcry from the country. (Though they did NOT say they were dropping the investigation.)
Score 1 for the humans! Yay for us!
Gotta watch these bastards."

The Shit:

Oh, goodie. Sounds like the incident with "Ms. Jackson" might be just the thing that FCC chairman Michael Powell needs to fuel support for his radio censorship crusade. I even heard something on NPR today about the possibility of the FCC extending it's "content control" to include cable programming.

Of course everyone is screaming about "protecting the children". Hundreds of shootings, stabbings, beatings, and other acts of brutality are depicted on television every single week during prime-time - where's the outrage over that? But let one errant breast pop out on television and the Morality Gestapo go on a rampage. (And tell me that children across the country didn't hear Dad - and Dad's buddies - screaming profanities at the television set throughout the game.)

Imagine what could be accomplished if Americans actually spent time getting over things that really are offensive - like hunger and poverty and disease and the erosion of civil liberties and imperialism. Could you imagine the renaissance that would take place in this country if we got angry enough to confront real issues that affect real people? It's like evangelist Tony Campolo has been known to say from the pulpit: "30,000 children are going to die today from hunger and preventable disease and you don't give a fuck ... and you're more upset that I just said 'fuck' than you are about those 30,000 children." Fuck a bare breast. A bare breast isn't going to scar your child for life - and if you think it does, then you need to have your parenting license revoked. The American bombs that are being dropped on Iraqi homes, on the other hand, those fuckers are scarring the shit out of an entire generation of Iraqi children. Imagine if those were your shell-shocked children, huddled together in a bomb-scarred shell of a house. Imagine if those were your children who were seeing, not a bare breast, but the blood-soaked corpse of their best friend lying in the street.

Fuck your pathetic fake indignation, America, and fuck you, too. Great site. check it out.

via doc menlo on samizdat

Friday, February 06, 2004

Dear Mr. Unknown Democrat:

I want to know one thing and one thing only: Will you put a stop to the military-industrial-corporate-pharmaceutical-entertainment complex? Will you name and banish the thieves of our wealth, our lives, our hopes, and our aspirations?

Make this pledge, and others will sign on. Others will show up. Others will be counted.

I am not cynical, Mr. Unknown Democrat. I believe change is possible. Therefore, I am an agent of change. For my acts, large or small, will follow my beliefs.

I believe America, like any country, is full of fantastic, amazing, good people. People of much higher quality and integrity than myself. I believe I, and millions like me, are waiting for some kind of sign: Rise up and walk. The door has been opened. Take strength from me, so that I may take strength from you.

Take the pledge, choose the path, expose each and every lie, and watch as recognition leaps from eye to eye, as the fire of inspiration consumes the ossified cage of command and control.

Mr. Unknown Democrat, are you ready to lead? Do it truly and selflessly, and look out. You will have the strongest army of all time, one based on our deepest desires -- to progress rather than regress, to give and receive rather than manipulate and steal, to embrace rather than strike, and to love with all the courage one can muster.

Great leaders have assumed this challenge in the past. Will you accept the mantle?

Thursday, February 05, 2004

TV Nation

Up is down. War is peace. And Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is a dictator.

These are just three examples of the snow jobs promulgated by the media. And they’re just three examples of why The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.

The documentary of the same name currently showing in better theaters is about the coup attempt in Venezuela in April 2002. It is damning to Washington, to its captive press corp and, of course, to the powers behind the coup.

The film was produced by two Irish documentary filmmakers, who began their project eight months prior to the coup with the idea of producing a film about Hugo Chavez, the popular-with-the-poor and democratically elected President of Venezuela.

Once the coup attempt happened, they refocused their film on the dramatic event.

Hugo Chavez

So who is Chavez? The film begins by attempting an answer. We are told that the wealth of the fourth largest oil producer in the world is concentrated on a small percentage of well-off Venezuelans. The rest, as much as 70 percent of population, live in poverty. The disconnect of this division is nicely illustrated with a sequence in which people are given hand-gun instructions in case their servants start to revolt.

We are told that Chavez connected with the poor and used that to achieve victory in the presidential election. Early on, the film sets up this basis of Chavez’s power by showing him among the less-than-well-off, receiving and giving hugs and appreciation, even handing out pocket-sized copies of the Venezuelan Constitution, which he calls "the people's document."

He does a weekly show on the one public TV station – versus five privately held stations -- in which he takes calls from citizens. We see the handwritten notes and letters he receives by the hundreds weekly and which, it appears, are handled with care and answered. At one point, during a plane ride, he talks about the globalization issues discussed in a book given to him by a French (yes, French!) politician. He says there can’t be just one plan for globalization, as supporters want you to believe. There must be alternatives, he says, appearing to hold more democratic beliefs than his detractors credit to him. He is seen giving speeches in which he inveighs against a neo-liberal agenda for Latin America that he says amounts to slavery. He talks about the hidden and cruel hand of the “free” market and the inspiration he draws from Simon Bolivar, the General who fought for a unified Latin American Federation free of foreign rule.

In coming to power, Chavez had promised "revolutionary" social policies, using revenue from the state-controlled oil industry to improve agriculture against the interests of "predatory oligarchs,” also known as the corrupt servants of international capital. Toward that end, he has been instrumental in helping OPEC raise the price of oil. It’s easy to see why Washington dislikes Chavez. The man has even accused Washington of "fighting terror with terror" during the war in Afghanistan.

However, in this film he is likable in a way that you’d have to give him credit for even if you opposed his political views. His connection and his concern for people, his belief in trying to make Venezuela’s wealth work for all the people, appears genuine. In shots of Chavez in a crowd, or addressing one, we see people with real joy and gratitude on their faces. Later, when the coup comes down, we see the new, would-be leaders, we see the private TV pundits, and we see snippets of Administration politicians – Powell, Bush, Fleischer – and they stand out in stark relief. They seem rich, polished, and ruthless.

(In his review, Chicago Sun-Times movie critic Roger Ebert notes: “The last words in George Orwell's notebook were: ‘At age 50, every man has the face he deserves.’ Although it is outrageously unfair and indefensibly subjective of me, I cannot prevent myself from observing that Chavez and his cabinet have open, friendly faces, quick to smile, and that the faces of his opponents are closed, shifty, hardened.”)

It’s clear our filmmakers stand with Chavez. And the film is as much about attitudes as policies. The poor, mostly brown in color like Chavez, are grateful. The opposition indignant that someone would speak for the poor. Journalist Greg Palast, who has been following Venezuela, notes, “For five centuries, Venezuela has been run by a minority of very white people, pure-blood descendants of the Spanish conquistadors. To most of the 80 percent of Venezuelans who are brown, Hugo Chavez is their Nelson Mandela, the man who will smash the economic and social apartheid that has kept the dark-skinned millions stacked in cardboard houses in the hills above Caracas while the whites live in high-rise splendor in the city center.”

Attitudes about the president are split just as dramatically as the wealth. The serious polarization in this society is an interesting mirror to our own, with both the Left and the Right claiming the other is trying to impose anti-democratic policy. In the film, the Right accuses the Left of totalitarian communism, calling Chavez, elected in a landslide, a dictator (you have to laugh). The Left accuses the Right of conspiracy and anti-democratic attitudes and actions.

As the film progresses, its focus tightens on both the coup and the power of the media. The title is ironic, because the “revolution” is indeed televised, if selectively. It is, in part, fought and won or lost with television images.

The uneven confrontation pits the slick, commercial stations against the one public station. The film uses clips from each throughout. Before the coup, you see the TV pundits repeatedly questioning Chavez’s sanity. One editorial commentator peers into the camera and asks “is he crazy?”. Military leaders, invited onto the news shows, hint at the need for a coup. Protests are encouraged.

What is happening, both here in the U.S. and in Venezuela, is nicely summarized by Palast in the piece
“Hugo Chavez is Crazy!”
. Covering the U.S. media’s extremely biased reports on events in Venezuela, he notes that one broadcast shows an anti-Chavez protestor shouting, "He's crazy!” Palast continues, “And if you watched the 60 Minutes interview with Chavez, you saw a snippet of a lengthy conversation – a few selective seconds, actually – which, out of context, did made Chavez look loony.

“In the old Soviet Union, dissidents were packed off to insane asylums to silence and discredit them. In our democracy we have a more subtle – and more effective – means of silencing and discrediting dissidents. Television, radio, and print press obligingly sequester enemies of the state in the media's madhouse.”

The film provides at least one text-book example of media dishonesty and distortion. During the tumultuous days leading up to the April 2002 coup attempt, with public demonstrations both for and against Chavez growing heated, the media in Venezuela (and in the U.S.) reported that Chavez had ordered gunmen to fire on opposition protestors. What seems clear is that snipers fired on Chavez supporters, who then returned fire (many Venezuelans carry handguns, we are told). What is unmistakable is the media manipulation of this event. The film shows various TV news reports featuring a short clip of a man on a bridge firing a gun. Each one claims the man is a Chavez thug intent on murdering opposition protestors. The filmmakers, however, have aerial footage – denied to the public -- that begins with a similar close-in shot of the man and then pulls back to show that he is firing at a hidden sniper in a deserted area. For me, the repeated use of the gunman, always without its context and including reporters and anchors commentary denigrating Chavez and his supporters, is uncomfortably reminiscent of seeming endless loop of the Dean scream, along with its missing context and snide commentary.

The film ends with the two-day coup stand-off. As Chavez is captured and flown to a nearby island, our Irish filmmakers, trapped inside Miraflores, the presidential palace, keep their cameras running. We see footage of captive government ministers inside, and the demonstrations against the coup outside the palace. We see the arrival of the “new president,” millionaire businessman Pedro Carmona, who moves to quickly eliminate any vestige of Chavez's rule, dissolving Congress and canceling the constitution. However, Chavez is able to get word to his government ministers that he has not resigned and to hang tight.

Anticipating the coup attempt, the leader had hidden several hundred loyal troops in secret corridors under Miraflores. According to a Palast report, once Carmona was inside the palace, he was informed that he had 24 hours to return Chavez alive.

The atmosphere is taut. The government knows it must get word to the people that Chavez has not resigned and that he is still president. Even without this confirmation, some protestors decry the perversion of democracy and the country's constitution, making Chavez look smart for disseminating the document.

The private stations dig in, broadcasting a happy face, all but congratulating themselves on the coup and their part in it. American news media is shown praising what they call a “profoundly democratic” outcome. In Caracas, the television stations blackout the growing demonstrations, insisting all is calm and under control. Even after it is known that Chavez will be returned to power, they desperately claim that Carmona is still president and order is all but restored.

Finally, Chavez is returned via helicopter to Miraflores to resume his presidency. In contrast to the locker room backslapping by the opposition 48 hours earlier, the back-on-top government officials exchange hugs and joyous smiles. And in contrast to brutal police suppression of demonstrations before Chavez’ return on April 14 in which dozens were killed with indiscriminate police fire (the police are run by anti-Chavez mayor Alfredo Pena), we see the people singing “he’s back! He’s back!”

Fittingly, the film ends with the returned-to-power Chavez addressing the nation through the public TV station. He strikes a remarkably gentle and conciliatory tone, insisting he has no rancor for the coup plotters, asking people to return to their homes. And he has a message: To all of those who oppose us, he urges, do not let them poison your mind.

To which we also have a televised Washington response, Colin Powell stating that Washington expects it will continue to have problems with Chavez.

Even as the Mighty and their Media congratulated themselves on the "democratic" coup and celebrated this latest reassertion of their invincibility, another voice was heard.

The wretched of this earth, residents of the slums of Caracas, whose suffering is the ugly secret of the glossy US Empire, came by the thousands, in from the countryside, down from the hills around Caracas, and with loyalist soldiers they took Venezuela back from the hands of what the CIA boys like to call "Civil society," and all we can say is this is how the current worldwide empire of lies will end: by just such actions of the ordinary, wonderful, decent people of this world, God bless them.

By D. Baatar, Jared Israel, Nestor Gorojovsky & Nico Varkevisser


Hugo Chavez Is Crazy! by Greg Palast


The Revolution Will Not Be Televised lyrics by Gil Scott Heron

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

It's the media, stupid

I know you're getting sick of this. I am too, and had pledged to myself that I'd write about something else this week, but I keep running across these pieces that eloquently condemn what our media is doing.

So here's your snippet. Tomorrow I'll have something, tomorrow I'll post about Venezuela, which I learned a bit more about by going to see the documentary "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." How's that for something different? Actually, it won't be a bit different. It all comes back to the media.

Ok, here ya go, from The Scream by David Podvin. Wait, you need to know that, as Podvin informs us, "On December 1, 2003, Howard Dean was ahead by twenty points in the polls when he appeared on Hardball with Chris Matthews and said, 'We're going to break up the giant media enterprises.' "

Now then...:

In a dictatorship, the tiny minority of well-armed people maintains absolute power by intimidating the vast majority of unarmed people. In a democracy that is populated by citizens who get their information from a few greedy companies, the tiny minority of well-informed people maintains absolute power by manipulating the vast majority of misinformed people. When you control what people think, there is no need to point a gun at them.

In recent years, corporations have dramatically increased their power at the expense of the average citizen (and with the apathetic complicity of the average citizen). Big Business has evolved from merely being a vital part of society into being master of both the political system and the means of communication. As a result, the boundaries of the national debate are now defined by the interests of the Fortune 500, and the malefactors of great wealth have become increasingly brazen. Americans used to laugh at banana republics, where the ruling elites are so shamelessly debauched that judges go on duck hunting trips with the politicians whose cases they are scheduled to review, but it doesn’t seem quite so funny anymore.

After the last presidential election, the corporate functionaries on the Supreme Court overrode the will of the people by empowering the man who had lost. It was an awkward procedure, so the process has been refined. In 2004, the mainstream media is rapidly disqualifying all the candidates who fail to honor the business agenda, thus eliminating the need for another controversial judicial intervention.

Howard Dean’s campaign now lies in ruins because he chose to confront the multinational conglomerates that run this country. If Dean is so resilient that he fights his way back into contention, the Fourth Estate will be ready to batter him again. In the United States of America, people who pose a threat to the reigning corporate establishment are destroyed. Or, as the Soviets used to put it, emotionally unstable individuals who deviate from the party line are guilty of engaging in “self-destruction”.

Monday, February 02, 2004

Another fine article

on the destructive power of corporations, media or otherwise.

Do you also get the feeling that we are getting down to cases? That global consciousness must -- and someday will -- come crashing in on America? That the "war," to put it bluntly, is the people vs. the corporations?

Read one of Atlanta's best, John Sugg of the free weekly Creative Loafing, on U.S. corporate economic imperalism vs. fed up people who are saying, ""

Sugg asks, "Did you know there's a worldwide call for a Coca-Cola boycott? Or that there's a mass movement in the subcontinent to make India a "Coke-free zone"? Or have you read about the interesting twists in a federal lawsuit against Coke brought by Colombia unionists who are tired of seeing their leaders butchered by paramilitaries allegedly doing the bidding of Coca-Cola bottlers?"

These, to put it mildly, are interesting questions.

Here's the beginning:

Death, drought and decay
For Coca-Cola's world empire, these are the "real things'


Porque amo la vida ... No consume Coca-Cola
Porque financia la guerra ... No consume Coca-Cola
No consume Coca-Cola ... No financio la muerte.

No, that little doggerel isn't the Spanish version of Coke's "It's the real thing." Nor is this line -- "Coca-Cola bhagao, gaon bachao" -- the ad jingle for the soft drink in India.

The slogans do bring to mind some of the lyrics from Coca-Cola's 1971 hallmark commercial: "I'd like to teach the world to sing/in perfect harmony ... ." But the message people around the world are humming, orchestrating and hip-hopping to is far different from what Coke's Madison Avenue hucksters intended.

The tune that many in the world are belting out is: "Go home, Coke!"

The Spanish verse -- from Colombia, where Coca-Cola is accused of being complicit in the murders of union leaders -- means, "For the love of life, I don't drink Coca-Cola/Because they finance war, I don't drink Coca-Cola/I don't drink Coca-Cola, I don't finance death."

The Hindi line translates as, "Save the village, chase away Coca-Cola."

Coke is, indeed, the fizzing personification of the Ugly American. It's the rich, white guys' burden made even heavier by George Bush's bellicose unilateralism.

Among the examples of blowback from the Bushies' foreign/economic/environmental policies, activists have declared war on two prongs of globalization:

-Shoving often harmful products -- McDonald's fatburgers and Coke's teeth-eating acid, for example -- down the world's throat.

-Obliterating millions of American jobs as corporations shut down factories here, moving operations to sweat shops in the Third World.

The very underpinning of the Republican/corporate financial agenda is to shift wealth to the elite and to "equalize" the world's work forces. That doesn't mean bringing other nations' up to our level, but depressing the American standard of living to the status of Wal-Mart greeters.

Naturally, not everyone agrees with that agenda. A poll released last week, funded by Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Ford Foundation, showed that 53 percent of Americans are "not satisfied with the way the U.S. government is dealing with the effects of trade on American jobs, the poor in other countries and the environment."

This month, in Mumbai (Bombay), there was a less abstract expression of that sentiment. Tens of thousands of people gathered for the World Social Forum, a counterpoint to Big Money's festivities at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.