Monday, January 19, 2009

How Cool is Our New Prez?

Having sat through the last (LAST!) insufferably weird and awkward TV appearances of the totally lame George W. Bush, a new tone of cool has already been set for the new administration of Barack Obama and his Posse. The opening event of the three-day inaugural celebration featured a free rock/soul/country/folk concert at the Lincoln Memorial that had people recalling the 1969 Woodstock festival with a lot more vibrant color and less mud (not sure about how the quality of available drugs compared).

Seriously, though, if there are any doubts about the smartness of Obama and the people he has surrounded himself with, this event should do a lot to dispel them. In short, THIS huge musical event is exactly what was needed right now - in the days between our last good riddance to Bush and the necessarily staid swearing-in ceremony on Tuesday. The artists appearing truly derived from the widest range of styles, genres and generations that could be expected to headline any event. The political messages were upbeat and unifying with passages read from past significant speeches by Kennedy, Lincoln, Roosevelt and even Reagan. There was just enough religious and spiritual content to satisfy those who adhere to religion while not alienating those of us who are duly tired of the gross religiosity that has come to pervade so many governmental functions like this. If there was not something for everyone it was not for lack of trying.

The highlight of the program for me was the always fabulous Stevie Wonder crooning his funky-licious 1973 hit "Higher Ground" that pulled the Obamas out of their forced "oh so adult" presidential shell and got them up on their feet shakin booty like a couple of kids for just a few minutes.

I am always surprised by my reaction to Country Pop star Garth Brooks whenever I happen to catch a glimpse of his live performances. If I had to pick a representative from the CW genre to bring cool to the stage I might have to go with somebody like the Dixie Chicks but old Garth is pretty cool (and total bear eye-candy). With his rendition of "Shout!" you just can't avoid resurrecting the spirit of John Belushi dancing on his back, shaking hands & feet in the air... Party on, Garth!

Of course, there was the obligatory appearance by Bono and The Edge bringing a hint of Irish pop star U2 rebellion to the show while also reinforcing every other allusion to the bygone days of America's Camelot the spin meisters are making (Kennedy? Irish-American? Duh.) Auctung, Baby!

With all this feel-good, fun-filled, inspirational inclusiveness and hope does anybody else start to feel a wee bit nostalgic for the bad old days when the most fun we got to have at an inauguration was hurling vulgarities at the Commander-in-Thief as he slinked past the angry mobs gathered in protest along the parade route?

Well, just so we never forget what we are saying good riddance to, let us preserve a couple of videos from Bush's inauguration festivities...

Ah, good times huh? May we never have to go THERE again.

Coming back to the future now, imagine how different yesterday's concert might have been if, God forbid, John McCain had won the election. From his list of favorites this might have been the scene on the Mall...

Of course, we would just have to have a Youngbloods tribute band leading the alternative inauguration concert bringing back the spirit of the Hippie From Olema

Well I’m proud to be a hippie from Olema
Where we’re friendly to the squares and all the straights
We still take in strangers if they’re ragged
We can’t think of anyone to hate

We don’t watch commercials in Olema
We don’t buy the plastic crap they sell
We still wear our hair long like folks used to
And we bathe often, therefore we don’t smell

Well I’m proud to be a hippie from Olema
Where we’re friendly to the squares and all the straights
We still take in strangers if they’re ragged
We can’t think of anyone to hate

We don’t throw our beer cans on the highway
We don’t slide a man because he’s black
We don’t spill our oil out in the ocean
’Cause we love birds and fish too much for that

And I’m proud to be a hippie from Olema
Where we’re friendly to the squares and all the straights
We still take in strangers if they’re Haggard
In Olema, California, planet earth

In the real world, though, yesterday's concert for the future closed with an appreciative bow to the ancient but ever-cool Pete Seeger (turning 80 this year) leading the Jersey Shore's Bruce Springsteen in Woody Guthrie's folk classic anthem, "This Land."

Of particular note was the surprise (to me) inclusion of Washington DC's Gay Men's Chorus, uncredited as all the back-up ensembles were. But if your gaydar failed to identify them as gay (I had no problem at all) the 100 male singers provided a helpful clue: each one wore a red AIDS ribbon on his lapel when they sang "My Country Tis of Thee" behind Josh Groban and Heather Headley.

All in all, the concert was a pretty good start on washing out that bitter after-taste left in our mouths still burning from the ultra-toxic uncool Bush years.

It is incredibly smart to use musicians and popular music to convey the message of unity. If for no other reason, it is smart to put on such a show because even celebrity musicians, if they possess any amount of serious musical artistry, tend to be innately inclined to appreciate the artistry in other serious musicians despite their ethnic cultural or racial differences. It was a very effective symbolic example of example-setting for those in this country who still hold irrational prejudices on those bases.

On a very deep level, even the most reasonable and enlightened of us still crave symbolism and meaningful rituals in our lives. But these human necessities are too often subverted by the enforcement of empty dogma such as that which brought us the despicable Bush regime and his religious-right fundamental crusaders. American popular music in its many divergent styles that appeal to distinct audiences almost always finds a way to meld in various kinds of fusions while also acting as vehicles for new informal rituals and communities around the music, not necessarily supplanting religious fellowships but providing adjunct relationships where identities are established and propagated.

Presenting this concert as part of the initiation of a new era was a stroke of genius.

Our long national nightmare is over - Rock on to the future!

Rock on, Barack! Rock on!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

What's Left, Doc?

Not that I would ever try to claim it as an original idea but I have ranted here before on the lopsided political mind-scape in this country and the lamentable lack of a true Left Wing perspective in our political discourse. Unlike us, other democracies in the Western World respectfully embrace a wide spectrum of viewpoints including those on the far Left which balance ideologues on the Right and far Right.

In America, however, "conventional wisdom" promulgated by the mainstream media has long held that there shall be zero tolerance for voices coming from any further than just a tad left of the political center.

In fact, the fourth estate has been at least complicit - if not even more culpable for this than either major political party. Vilifying the Left has been de rigueur for the press even before the Republican Party propaganda machine known as Fox News became the standard-bearer for all news organizations with a nation-wide audience.

Media Matters takes note of this in a current article concerning the various health care proposals under consideration in Congress.

In the United States, slavish adherence to "moderate" positions is often construed as exhibited "pragmatism" that's in distinction to the more "ideological" views of people with less centrist views. In fact, moderation can reflect ideology every bit as much as extremism can.
If political "moderation" assumes a point of equilibrium between Left and Right, ideology is still reflected in a "Centrist" position because the American "Center" is in truth only "Center-right."

These parameters are set by the media in the interest of ratings and audience share. Unpopular points of view are given short shrift, though they may represent the most practical solutions, because unpopularity does not produce advertising revenues. Under the guise of "pragmatism" then, the media declines to give serious consideration to any Leftist point of view even when it is objectively more appropriate, workable, or potentially more effective to a situation than a centrist or right-wing proposal.

"Ideology" is a negative word when used in conjunction with the Left. It is seldom used to identify Right-wing points of view that are in fact equally ideological. The Media Matters article makes the point that the best proposal now on the table is the one that is decidedly from the Left-most end of the spectrum. As such it stands little chance for passage simply because it is considered "extremist" by the media that sets the parameters. Scary allusions to Socialism will be raised loudly by Right-wing ideological critics, giving the best proposal a stigma that will be difficult to overcome. It will be the irrational ideological reaction that will be considered newsworthy because those who are predisposed to buy into it uncritically will eat it up.

Notice too how Obama's announcement of his intention to create a new position of Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change has also rankled ideologues on the far Right who have been screaming that his appointee for the position is - gasp! - a Socialist!

Carol Browner, who will serve in that high-level position is the longest-serving administrator in the EPA. The UNITED STATES EPA. She ran the Environmental Protection Agency under President Clinton and then served on the board of directors for the National Audubon Society, the League of Conservation Voters, the Center for American Progress and former Vice President Al Gore's Alliance for Climate Protection.

She earned her alleged single Socialist credential as a member of the Commission for a Sustainable World Society, an international action group on climate change convened by Socialist International: an umbrella group for many of the world's social democratic political parties such as Britain's respected Labor Party of which Bush's former lap dog, Tony Blair was the leader.

The Commission has issued statements that urge the entire developed world to reduce consumption and commit to binding and punitive limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

The Obama transition team said Mrs. Browner's membership in the organization is not a problem and that it brings experience in U.S. policymaking to her new role. With predictable moronic virulence Right-wingers have seized on Browner's involvement with the international commission in order to regurgitate their baseless and thoroughly discredited attempts to brand Obama himself as a radical Socialist. And news organizations such as the Washington Times have dutifully reported their claims with little criticism of the source and with no sense of irony at all.

"The Commission for a Sustainable World Society includes world leaders from a variety of political parties, including British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who succeeded Tony Blair in serving as vice president of the convening organization," Obama transition spokesman Nick Shapiro told the Washington Times in an article headlined "Obama climate czar has socialist ties."

Of course, this is the same ultra conservative newspaper owned by Korean Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church ("Moonies") that angered its conservative readership last year when it announced its editorial decision to cease enclosing the term "gay marriage" in quotation marks in their news articles.

"Carol Browner was chosen to help the president-elect coordinate energy and climate policy because she understands that our efforts to create jobs, achieve energy security and combat climate change demand integration among different agencies; cooperation between federal, state and local governments; and partnership with the private sector," Mr. Shapiro said according to the Times (Obama climate czar has socialist ties, 01/12/09).

The appointment does not require Senate approval which is fortunate on the one hand, since it averts any attempt to derail it or to waste time by Republican ideologues who would love to obstruct the new Administration as it starts working on their recovery and reclamation of the catastrophes wrought by eight years of Right-wing extremism under Bush. On the other hand it potent fodder for the idiotic pundits who still peddle the laughable lies their devotees still buy into about Obama's secret plan to install a Soviet-style oligarchy in Washington.

Obama is no Socialist. But socialist ideology is, in fact, no more inherently un-American than is capitalist ideology. The image of socialism dredged up by the Right wing invariably harkens to that of the corrupt and detestable Third Reich Nazi Party. What Americans are not allowed to understand is that the National Socialist Workers Party (Nazis) was merely a vehicle for the egomaniacal Hitler to exploit for ends totally at odds with the tenets of socialism. The Bush Administration and its devastating effects on our democracy can be more reasonably equated to Hitler's regime than anything about that brand of socialism that may be said to pertain to Obama.

Bush's rise to the presidency and the Republican Party's resurgence in the 1990s came about on the strength of a concerted exploitation of fundamentalist Christian ideology in a manner similar to Hitler's appeal to the base feelings of superiority and entitlement packaged as German patriotism. We must not forget that Hitler was democratically elected although the ballots that put him in office were no less suspect than the two elections that stole the Presidency for Bush.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Now I Understand

NOW I UNDERSTAND WHY THEY HATE US: How a middle-class white guy came to accept the evil embedded in American political and military might

I had never heard of David Hilfiker until this week. This remarkable essay is cross-posted at where I was so moved upon reading it that I feel compelled to do whatever I can to help spread his story and analysis.

Though we are obviously very different people in many ways, I can relate to Hilfiker's experience and conclusions. I'm betting that others who may have their own differences with him may find some clarification of their own troubled feelings about what the militarization of America has done to us.

Early in his article Hilfiker describes how he grew up in the 1950s which would make us about ten years apart in age. Like I suspect most Americans who came of age during that post-war era he was instilled with a sense of pride in his country as savior of the world and exemplar of all that is good about civilization. By the 1960s and early 70s of course, the direction in which our leadership had taken us was already eroding the truth in any basis of such a claim while the grandiose self-image imprinted on our collective consciousness was defiantly enforced and guarded. 

Hilfiker articulates a viewpoint that verifies one of the major differences between his contemporaries and many of us coming of age in the 60s and 70s. Rather than awakening to a world of exuberance over conquering an enemy of the world our experience was defined by mass confusion, at best, owing to the contradictions between that guarded, high-minded image and reality. 

I, for one, have never understood how any impressionable young American could survive into adulthood unaffected by disillusion having lived through the tumultuous era of the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War uprisings. The struggles that were waged then happened right in our living room TV sets if not in our neighborhoods and we absorbed images of the bloody executions of one president, a number of the greatest social leaders of our time along with the suppression and countless murders of activists who may as well been any of us. 

Still, so many of us continued to buy into the outmoded image indelibly imprinted on our collective consciousness as a nearly infallible good and moral people despite the horrible shenanigans our government has been up to since then - that continually contradict that hardened image. 

Only now, after a half a century or so of denial and exploitation of that denial, the reality behind the image impressed on all of us has perhaps begun to bring us to a humbling position where denial is no longer a reasonable - or even sane - option.

Hilfiker describes how he opted out of involving himself consciously in the events of the 1960s and 70s that were formative years for many of us. I suspect that this is how many of us justify our recent awakening to the ills inherent in our system: by opting out, if only in our minds for those of us who lived through it.

The last two decades of the Twentieth Century saw much less overt trouble than the two decades before. But this does not mean that the ills of that time were resolved. It does, perhaps, explain why Americans who were born or came of age during the 80s and 90s were instilled with an attitude more like those of Hilfiker's era. It was another age of prosperity and Reagan-inspired egotism all built on a false, manufactured image.

For the one millionth time, I will repeat what has been said by everyone alive: 9/11 changed everything. Unfortunately, with George W. Bush at the start of his reign of error, the change it brought until recently has been wrong-headed in the same ways that it was in the fifties: notably with the exploitation of the moment for purposes of those holding all the power. 

After eight years of the disastrous Bush regime, however, maybe we are lucky this time since so many of us from all possible coming-of-age eras realize that we are all in the same boat.  

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Explicit: Another California Tragedy

Dec. 31, 2008 Oakland, CA: On this New Year's Eve, 22-year old Oscar Grant was shot execution-style by transit police officer Johannes Mehserle. He was shot in the back while lying face down on a subway platform, unarmed and restrained by other officers.

The shooting was caught on film by commuters waiting on the BART platform. The video presented here is EXPLICIT.

The gun shot that killed Mr. Grant is recorded at 01:26 on the counter.

Despite such damning video evidence, it took nearly two weeks for the District Attorney to arrest Mehserle and charge him with murder.

In 14 years as Alameda County District Attorney, Tom Orloff had never before charged a police officer for an on-duty shooting. And when asked, several legal experts were unable to come up with any examples of officer-involved shootings becoming murder cases in California.

The DA admitted that it was only due to massive public pressure that he moved even at that pace, pressure that included more than 20,000 people speaking up after this video was distributed via email by the organization,

Johannes Mehserle's arrest is important, but it's only the first step. In cases like this, history has repeatedly shown that as soon as the public eye turns away the prospect of justice fades.

Oscar Grant's family and survivors deserve to see justice carried out. Making sure the prosecution does its job and pushing for much-needed reforms requires all of our voices.

Add your voice here:

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

1. WRONG Response! (2. Right Response)

Max Blumenthal is a senior writer for The Daily Beast and contributor to outlets including The Nation, Al Jazeera English,, Alternet, the Huffington Post, and the Washington Monthly. A winner of the USC Annenberg Online Journalism Award for his investigative print journalism, he has produced numerous widely-recognized video reports that have garnered hundreds of thousands of views on Youtube. His book, "Republican Gomorrah: Inside The Movement That Shattered The Party," will be published by Basic Books in 2009.

On January 11, Blumenthal covered a rally in front of the Israeli consulate in midtown New York that drew an estimated 10,000 people in support of Israel’s attack on the Gaza Strip. The rally, which was organized by UJA-Federation of New York and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York in cooperation with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, featured speeches by New York’s most senior lawmakers. 

While the crowd was riled to righteous anger by speeches about Hamas evildoers, the event was a festive affair that began and ended with singing and joyous dancing.

But as Blementhal shows in the video below, provided courtesy of, the deep animosity of the participants toward the Palestinians, and their total indifference to their suffering - even the bombing of schools and hospitals in Gaza, and the humanitarian crisis their attack has brought could barely be contained. 

In the words of these fired up demonstrators, their belligerent, hateful attitude is based on an ingrained delusion of superiority over their Palestinian neighbors as if ordained by God. If this is permitted to represent the American response to the complex and detestable aggression the State of Israel has exercised against the people of Gaza in recent weeks, it does not bode well for the future of this planet. It is high time we break ourselves from the knee-jerk bombastic tendency to go along with -- much less support -- disproportionate military action overriding diplomacy. The attitude and actions of Hamas and the entire Islamic World against Israel have been egregious for sure. But do Israel's leaders actually believe that their jughead response to the persistent missile assault on their territory will do anything other than strengthen Palestinian resolve and that of their allies who deny their right to exist in the first place? 

Where do Israel's obstinate leaders get the idea that the US will back them up militarily as they provoke their enemies and irresponsibly escalate the kind of terror and hostility that has already brought so much shame and divisiveness to America within our country and in our relationships with the rest of the Western World?   

2. RIGHT Response

Rep. Dennis Kucinich sent the following letter to his colleagues in the US House of Representatives. 

January 9, 2009

Dear Colleague:

As the number of causalities in Gaza continues to climb to well over 750 deaths and more than 3000 injured in just two weeks, it is imperative that we focus on the humanitarian crisis that is growing every day.  I ask that you support a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire and unrestricted humanitarian access in Gaza.

The Washington Post and New York Times have reported that aid agencies such as International Committee of the Red Cross and Medicine without Borders are unable to reach even the most desperate victims.

The United Nations has been forced to suspend all aid operations in Gaza following attacks on its facilities and personnel who were trying to provide aid.  The UN is reporting that more than one-third of the deaths are civilians and that 1000 of the 3000 injured are children.  One day after the bombing of a UN school that killed 42 civilians, at least 30 people–including children–were found dead four days after a house where they were told to seek shelter by Israeli Defense Forces was bombed.

Nearly the entire population has had no access to water or electricity since the beginning of the blockade in February of 2006. As of January 2, 2009, hospitals in Gaza have been without electricity, forcing them to run on back-up generators that are reportedly on the verge of collapse.  Not only are doctors unable to cope with the number of injured, but these hospitals also lack the most basic necessities, such as gauze and medicine.  Access to medical supplies and food is protected by the Geneva Conventions.

We should oppose Hamas’ rocket attacks on Israel. And we should oppose Israel’s military response.  But we should, first and foremost, stand for an end to the humanitarian crisis this conflict is creating.  If you would like to be an original cosponsor of the resolution, please contact Diala Jadallah in my office
.  A draft is included below.


Dennis J. Kucinich


Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives concerning the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Whereas over 95 percent of the deaths incurred since the escalation of violence in Gaza beginning December 27, 2008, have been Palestinians;

Whereas over 50 percent of the population of Gaza is under the age of 14;

Whereas on January 7, 2009, the United Nations found that one-third of the Palestinians killed in Gaza were civilians, while over 1,000 of the injured are children;

Whereas on January 6, 2009, 40 civilians were killed and 55 civilians were injured when the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) bombed two United Nations facilities, including a school, where Palestinians were seeking shelter;

Whereas nearly the entire population of Gaza has no access to potable water or functioning water systems, and sewage and wastewater systems have seized due to lack of water and electricity, causing sewage overflows in some residential neighborhoods, creating a public health crisis, according to the World Bank;

Whereas since the beginning of the Israeli imposed blockade in February 2006, approximately 262 Palestinians in Gaza have died due to lack of access to medical goods and aid, according to Mustafa Barghouthi, the Secretary General of the Palestinian National Initiative;

Whereas on January 7 and 8, 2009, the International Committee of the Red Cross found a total of up to 65 bodies in two separate locations, both of which included a number of emaciated children , in houses bombed in the south of Gaza after four days of lack of ambulance access;

Whereas the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and the International Committee of the Red Cross have completely halted all aid shipments, following the death of two United Nations aid truck drivers; and

Whereas Articles 55 and 56 of the 4th Geneva Convention require ”ensuring the food and medical supplies of the population” and ”ensuring and maintaining…the medical and hospital establishments and services, public health and hygiene”:

Now, therefore, be it Resolved

That the House of Representatives calls on the Government of Israel and representatives of Hamas to implement an immediate and unconditional ceasefire and to allow unrestricted humanitarian access in Gaza.

3. What YOU can do

Write your Representative and tell them to support Rep. Kucinich's Resolution.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Fighting Words: From Cold War to Culture War in the Age of Irony

The War in Iraq is officially OVER!

As reported by the Daily Beast and elsewhere, the Iraq war ended unceremoniously with the expiration of authority Congress spinelessly granted Bush in 2002 permitting him to use force against that country. Bush did not bother to ask for renewal of the mandate so it expired at the stroke of midnight on December 31st, 2008.

It has been six years since the infamous lie of "Mission Accomplished." With this latest definitive news how about we just let it end now?


The war is over, Bush is done. Let us not allow our very lame duck ex to enlist us emotionally in any kind of Middle East "Cold War" as he is wont to do.

As the swan song of his disastrous Presidency - and totally true to form - Bush has signed the "Status of Forces Agreement" (SOFA) with the Iraqi government in blatant defiance of the US Constitution.

Isn't that just SOFA-King Bush-like?

It is imperative, lest we repeat the mistakes of the past, that We the People now do all we can to resist buying into the language of a new "Cold War" between us and an imaginary enemy from the Arab world who also exists among us at home.

History tells us that going along with such a concept can only derail the burgeoning movement away from the Bush-era war obsession and engender a long-term festering of a belligerent national attitude that will consume us, both domestically and in our international relations.

It happened once already - after the end of World War II with the unprecedented selling of the cold war concept which we adopted, hook, line and sinker.

In no small measure, our wholesale buying into the first cold war is what eventually enabled the poisonous "Culture War" that has been ripping at the spiritual fabric of our nation in recent years. With hopes running high on the eve of President Obama's inauguration, our future is still very much threatened by such underlying reactionary forces.

I believe we can do a lot to nip a new cold war in the bud by simply refusing to adopt any such language, no matter how fitting it may seem.

Even if they cannot keep the Iraq war going for a hundred years as they had hoped, the cold war concept will be meted out to us in some form by those right wing hawks and politicos newly in retreat. Now more than ever, they only stand to profit by exploiting such internecine conflicts in our hearts and minds -- if we let them.

If we can keep that from happening, however, we would also very likely see a de-escalation in the current "Culture War" raging in the minds of many today.

Consider history.

By all accounts it was Herbert Bayard Swope (1882-1958) who coined the concise term "Cold War" to sum up the relationship between the world's two emergent superpower nations following WWII in 1947. Immediately, this deceptively simplistic concatenation was absorbed into the American vernacular. Its endurance to this day stands as a testament to Swope's mastery of his craft, which had also earned him earlier distinction as the first recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for reporting (1917). It is hard to imagine a more succinct, emblematic and readily fathomable summation of America's deep trepidation about the M.A.D. standoff that had quickly developed between rival nuclear powers, the USSR and us.

When Swope, a war corespondent and political speechwriter, first stuck the word "cold" (frosty, frigid, inhospitable, cold-blooded, unsympathetic), together with the word "war" (conflict, strife, bloodshed, hostility, combat), he could hardly have known how durable his neologistic invention would prove to be.

Nor how potently malignant would be the mind frame he induced with it into the 20th Century American psyche, impressionable as it was.

As with most known carcinogens, the deleterious effects of this advancing linguistic tumor would remain undetected for decades as life went on as usual.

Even at the end of World War II, when the US Department of War was officially abolished in favor of the new improved Dept. of Defense, We the People continued to indulge in the usage of the all-too-convenient oxymoronic "cold war" as part of our casual discourse ("melts in your mouth; not in your hand")

The "Age of Irony" having not yet arrived, we had little means of appreciation for what the concept of a cold war meant... nor for how much it mattered.

What did it hurt?

It was just two little words, a nifty turn of phrase: just words really... that hit the nail right on the head, it seemed ("builds strong bodies in 12 ways"). So what if hostilities had cooled down and treaties were signed? So what if we still sucked up and regurgitated this bit of militaristic jingoism after the end of the real war?

There is no denying that we were being force-fed this cold war guck through the news in print, heard over the radio waves and, not insignificantly, experienced in a new dimension through the innovative medium of broadcast television. It was just too convenient a short hand slogan, going hand in hand with other catch phrases of the time like "baby boom" and "truth, justice, and the American way."

Sure, you could "See the USA in your Chevrolet," but this "cold war" phrase was more than a misnomer. It was a lie, actually, that we, as a nation, bought into part and parcel with that conglomerate of terms that branded our postwar identity.

Whatever the mood, temperature or climate, the truth is that WWII really was over when it was over. If we had known where it would lead us, the cold war may have ended as well, before it ever got started.

"A little dab will do ya..."

Like all wars before it, World War II had a beginning and it did have an end.

We have never, in fact, experienced a real war that did not have an end. Even World War I - the so-called "War to End All Wars" - had been given its last rites at Versailles in 1919. Maybe we were so chastened by that gross overestimation that it would be too embarrassing not to remain on a war footing long after.

But in the case of WWII, the shooting stopped in 1945. The bombing had stopped. Troop movements and strategic battle planning ceased at last when the US wiped two Pacific Islands off the map that year.

The nationalistic feelings whipped up during WWII were like nothing seen on this continent since the American Civil War. Exploiting those intensities was obviously irresistable to the red-baiting McCarthy-era hawks. To their misfortune and to our temporary relief, however, they pushed too hard too fast - tipping their hand too early in the game and losing big.

It is understandable, after what the world went through during those horrible years from 1939 to 1945, that the powers who brought a close to such a planetary nightmare may have felt the need to distract the public while they stayed on guard in case the truce among nations failed to hold. It is even forgivable that the gullible public, the millions of Americans who had suffered so many personal losses during the war, would still feel the need to fortify themselves, emotionally, against any chance that it could happen again while basking in the glory of being part of the alliance that had saved the world.

Keeping the war alive in our minds kept our lost loved-ones alive but that is just one effect of the complex mental conditioning that redefined our world from top to bottom. Another is the unprecedented American internalization of war, driven so deep into our imagination that it was hard for a long long time to have another actual war in the traditional sense.

Any military actions we engaged in during the cold war were called maneuvers, skirmishes or "peace-keeping missions." It was a "police action" in Korea and a "conflict" in Vietnam. We invaded Grenada and intervened in Kosovo but never officially engaged in war.

There was also that long, drawn-out hostage crisis in Iran.

All of these bloody involvements could have easily turned into wars, and in other times probably would have. But the word "war" was cautiously never applied in any official reference to those bloody crises.

Our political leaders often went to great lengths, in fact, to deny that there was anything warlike about dropping bombs, shooting up villages and getting up to more than a million of our own troops slaughtered and leaving even more of them maimed and shell-shocked in the process. It was as if war had been removed exclusively from our real world experience into the realm of imagination. It could not exist in two places at once.

The napalm that laid waste to Vietnamese jungles and burned many people alive was most definitely hot but by then we had been led to believe that war could only be cold. The only real war was the one smoldering in our hearts.

Maybe we were reserving the label "war" for that inevitable conflict with our number one rival on the planet and every other act of armed aggression was considered a prelude to that feared eventuality. Or perhaps other conflicts just did not merit such an estimable reference, no matter how many of our young people and foreigners were killed in the fighting.

The cold war hawks did shoot themselves in the foot early on with their outrageous commie witch-hunts as the 1950s came to a close. Unfortunately, however, there was no disciplined alternative to their extremism.

What emerged in that cultural vacuum was the 1960s "flower child" era soaked in the drunkeness of our sudden liberation from those out-moded mindsets, hyper-powered by the new phenomenon of recreational drugs. The Peace Movement was quickly subsumed into that giddy experimental culture, thanks to our escalating involvement in Vietnam's civil war and, moreover, by the concurrent existence of a military draft in the US.

Against this backdrop, it was the effort of a well-intentioned Democratic President who gave the still subdued movement toward the coming "Culture War" an inadvertent boost. At the height of the Vietnam folly that had once again given war a deservedly bad name, Lyndon B. Johnson announced his "Great Society" program, a large scale campaign to address the inequities of race and class in the United States: a noble undertaking indeed.

In an unfortunate linguistic miscalculation, LBJ chose to invoke the language of war in order to distract attention from Vietnam while instilling a sense of urgency and generate headlines for his effort to eradicate the injustices due to poverty.

Notably, Johnson's "War on Poverty" was the first in a progression of instances when our national leaders would apply the three-letter word to any large-scale non-militaristic social policy.

Too bad Johnson could not have made his analogy to something more humanitarian, like an urgent reclamation effort to clean up after a devastating natural disaster: an earthquake or flood, for example. At best an incomplete analogy it was the first war declared by this nation that did not indicate an actual enemy. Decidedly avoiding any call to "spread the wealth around" Johnson's war on poverty was not a war on the rich. The war on poverty was the first war on an fundamentally abstract human condition.

It was not without its successes, among them ushering in at last, the golden age of irony.

With a deadly and expensive conflict raging in Vietnam, where we butted against a proxy for our Super Power enemy, we were asked to buy into a more palatable idea of a war at home with no enemy at all.

Later, in 1971, an embattled Richard Nixon would put his own spin on the idea of conceptual war turning it against something more frightening than poverty to middle class Americans - the "war on drugs." This was seen as based in a moral judgment against the deviant hippie drug culture as much as against the supplier cartels of South America.

By 1979, Vietnam was remembered as a tragic mistake but Jimmy Carter would make an even worse miscalculation than his Democratic predecessor Johnson had by urging us to adopt the "moral equivalent of war" during the energy crisis: explicitly linking morality and nationalistic pride, still in the absence of any named enemy (Ironically, a few months after Carter's speech, Iran stepped up to claim the title of enemy by taking 52 Americans hostage just months after the "moral equivalency" speech and held them long enough to doom Carter's re-election bid).

By then, the idea of war as a concept rather than reality had taken root so deep in the American psyche that we had grown much more accustomed to it than we were to any real war. But some of us had also become frustrated being constantly ready to do battle but lacking any real enemy.

The only step left, then, to set the stage for a "Culture War" with a real home-grown enemy was to regain political power and credibility in a well organized campaign that would exploit the existing inclination to engage in conceptual warfare.

Finally they could name an enemy - something they had not dared since pinpointing commies back in the 50s. Lavender became the new Red as queers and their sympathizers would draw the bulk of fire in this culture war. And now they could label it a "war" outright. No more need to disguise their intense loathing of this detestable bunch of deviants. After all, their very existence threatens to destroy the fundamental building block of society, according to the movement's propaganda.

By 1992 the reactionary Republican right had found religion big time and on drummed up fear and hatred toward marriage-seeking homos, they won back power after a 40 year exile, taking over both houses of Congress on the strength of their subversive "Contract on America"

With 9/11 and a new Republican President squarely aligned with the cause, The Age of Irony was over and all Hell was let loose.

With the installment of a Republican President hell-bent on restoring war as a ruinous reality on the world stage we would eventually come to realize more than ever the horrific effects of sustaining battles on multiple fronts, both real and imaginary.

In the waning days of this calamitous administration, with the reactionary forces who would thrust us into a new cold war defeated, we are apparently fortunate enough to have a great deal more discipline than we did heading into the 1960s.

With a bit of luck and determined caution against repeating our linguistic mistakes along with other errors from history, we have a much better chance today to finally dispel the notion of perpetual war - beginning with how we talk about it.

Here's one more thing you can do - totally symbolic if you are into this sort of thing: take Yoko up on her invitation in memory of John: take the vow of non-violence at the Alliance for a New Humanity Website. It doesn't cost a dime and it only takes a few seconds.

"You'll wonder where the culture war went when you brush off Bush as President."

Saturday, January 3, 2009

2009: No Gay Leftist Left Behind?

Looking back on the Story of the Century so far...

It may be said that the Democratic Party won the Presidency in '08 on the strength of an unprecedented voter coalition forged over a long and hard-fought campaign among divided Party loyalists who finally gave in to the demands of virtually every existing nonpartisan Progressive and Liberal organization's dark horse candidate, Barack Obama. This includes, of course, many LGBT constituents and LGBT groups. The last minute endorsements by prominent Republicans just capped off Obama's winning effort when it became a fait accompli.

The President-elect's campaign -- which only now we may properly call historic -- presumably succeeded as well with a huge percentage of the votes from every unaffiliated minority community, many of whom consider themselves apolitical or even Conservative. A number of these may have only tended to vote Republican before this.

For historical significance, factor in the effect of so many first-time voters all this includes - youthful, previously disenfranchised or just normally apathetic - who were also were moved enough by something in Obama's candidacy to back his election enthusiastically. In working for this campaign some involved themselves for the first time ever in a purposeful group activity of any kind.

Meanwhile, contrary to the distortions of Obama's positions and associations promulgated by his Republican opposition (and turncoat Sen. Joe Lieberman), the relatively few radical leftists that exist joined with fringe elements of the progressive movement. They either backed their own long-shot candidates or showed only lukewarm acceptance of the one non-Republican Party ticket that had any chance of humiliating the despised ruling party.

Any real Leftist in fact would have found little to support in either of the two major parties' candidates. Both would be seen as representing just one or another faction of the Right-sided brain that single-mindedly commands the American body politic.

It is no accident that a substantive Left is nonexistent in American politics today. The political spectrum here runs the gamut from Far Right straight to the Center, and no further. There is absolutely no representation of an independent Left in the American halls of power. No Workers Party, Labor Party or even Green Party in America balances the Management and Investor interests to which both the Democratic and Republican Parties are more or less beholden.

Even as our failing Capitalist economy lays waste to the working middle class and as industry moguls grovel before Congress for state intervention to save themselves from ruin, we average Americans continue to buy into the out-dated dualistic paradigm that holds: Capitalism (as we know it) = All Things Good; Socialism (as we fear it) = Pure Evil.

The Left is so reviled in America that Sen. John McCain, in a last ditch attempt to save his failing campaign, makes screaming headlines by simply uttering "the 'S' word" - avoiding the offense of using an expletive on TV - in a scurrilous reference to fellow Senator Obama's political viewpoint.

Obama had offhandedly commented that "spreading the wealth around" might not be such a bad idea. McCain jingoistically cited the sound bite as proof of his opponent's hidden Marxist agenda. At the same time Republican Treasury Sec. Henry Paulson presumptuously requests $700 billion of tax payer money to save the reputation of fat cat swindlers who had already laid off thousands of lower-level employees of our biggest financial institutions and other companies. In the process they brought our whole economy to the brink of ruin with little effect to the wealth and well being of those top-level managers and owners who made out like bandits relative to the fate of the workers who had their very livelihoods pulled out from under them.

In rational, pluralistic democracies, the interests of the working class are represented by political parties that openly promote far Left Socialist perspectives that vigorously counter such outlandish impositions from the extreme Right. This just provides a reasonable complement to the spectrum of political viewpoints and nary an eyebrow is raised when the word when the word, "Socialist" is spoken in polite company.

But after decades since the implosion of our national nemesis, The Soviet Union, our paranoid American power establishment still craves a boogeyman in order to validate our default super power status and dubious claim to be a moral leader on the world stage.

All this really does, of course, is just keep the balance tilted in favor of the dominant Right.

Despite the absence of a Russian super power boogeyman, US patriotism remains a hot commodity, now co-opted by the Religious Right. So neither major Party can afford to allow their volatile constituencies to draw much of a distinction between a Socialist and a Terrorist. Nor, coincidentally, between a legitimate marriage and a same-sex relationship. Far right extremists in the Republican Party still call the tune while Centrist Democrats dance just close enough to one side of this narrow spectrum to give the appearance of a "safe" political alternative.

No serious candidate for office dare step over that scary line of demarcation by, say, solidly endorsing same-sex marriage rights or by calling for an end to the fake war on terror, the un-winnable war on drugs or any of those other wastes of time and money we've waged endless metaphoric wars on.

After the atrocities we have committed to promote wars both real and imaginary and after all the ruinous injustices we have suffered right at home because of them in recent years, the only way we can claim moral superiority as a nation is by way of exploiting the "natural" American fear of the unknown. There is precious little on earth that our collective imagination can dream up that is scarier than war. As a political metaphor its abuse is doubly effective as it compels a taking of sides on any issue. And the Right side is always the patriotic one.

Vying for their continued hold on power, the Right Wing therefore willfully demonizes the alleged "Socialist Tendencies" in the Democratic agenda -- including same-sex civil rights (again coincidentally) -- because they know this can still send a shock through the lopsided sensibilities of the American electorate. It works in precise disproportion to the extent of familiarity the average American may have with an actual Left Wing Agenda. In the public eye, even the Log Cabin (Gay) Republicans organization is a "leftist" group.

The furthest departure from Republican extremism that is familiar to Americans is this fragmented Progressive Movement which is only now poised to build for itself a broader base of acceptance, if not support, within the mainstream governing establishment. This comes at long last after decades of increasing fits and starts under Liberal Democratic Administrations and periods of regrouping after so many futile battles with obstinate Republicans when that party has held power.

For most of this country's existence the federal government has been dominated by reactionary politicos who often attain national office after rising up through the ranks of local governments: those provincial pockets of small-mindedness that make up so much of the vast American landscape.

Think of the prospect of someone in Alaska (pop. 670,000), for instance, moving on the strength of their narrow local appeal in a tiny burg like Wasilla (pop. 5,469) to Juneu as Governor of the state, then moving on to a position of power over the entire United States (pop. 306 million+) from elected office across the continent in DC.
Far from blazing any kind of trail, Sarah Palin in '08 was actually looking to trod, piggyback, a long-established path to the nationwide authoritarian mantle, bringing her narrow backwater values with her, intending to impose them on the whole lot of us.

The American experiment with democracy, once unique in the Western World, intended that anyone could theoretically rise above their class to claim the highest ruling positions in government without causing a total upheaval to the established system. In the waning years of the 20th Century, however, that experiment had reached a point where it was in danger of becoming little more than a parody of itself.

At the same time, much of Western Civilization was moving deliberately toward the threshold of the 21st Century, arriving more or less on schedule, with America lagging embarrassingly behind in many, largely political, ways. In some measure, this is certainly the result of that lack of balanced representation in our political system.

Western European countries, on the other hand, along with our neighbors in North and Latin America, still respect real leftist party agendas, if only grudgingly so in some cases. The balance provided by this inclusiveness tends to temper the Far Right forces in their governments and engenders ready tolerance of a socially progressive agenda along with an expansive tolerance of those promoted by conservatives such as Christian traditionalists.

Our government's long ago purge of the least bit of tolerance for real Left representation came by way of McCarthy-esque witch hunts waged on the basis of nothing more than paranoid suspicion. Europeans, by contrast, survived ruthless and bloody coups under fascist dictators and Communist regimes in the 20th Century but survive nonetheless and flourish in the 21st without having instilled mass fear of any broad array of mainstream political viewpoints. France, Belgium and Holland were all invaded by Nazi Germany during WWII but have embraced the legality of same-sex unions, including full marriage rights in the latter two. Even in contemporary, Catholic dominated Spain - once under the nearly 30 year rule of dictator Francisco Franco - same sex marriage is now completely legal. In all of these countries there are also strong and high-profile Leftist parties, Far-Right parties and strong religious influence as well.

In the 21st Century, before and after 9/11, the one extremely audacious and detestable terrorist strike on American soil, many of our European allies sustained terroristic disruptions to the order of their lives and political systems more persistent than we ever have. Yet (until Israel lately picked up on our lead in dealing with Hamas), our right-wing government has been singularly disproportionate in its response to the attack of 9/11- 2001. We sustain curtailed civil liberties at home (including a suspension of habeas corpus), occupation of a nation uninvolved in the attack after unilaterally invading them eight years ago. We sent more than 4,000 American men and women to a bloody slaughter meddling in Iraq's civil war and bankrupted our economy in the process... among other reactionary impulsive mistakes.

The current culture clashes inflamed by the spread of radical fundamentalist Islam in the Western World affects our long suffering EU allies in much more tenacious home-hitting ways than we have yet to see in America. Still, those overseas allies of ours have not allowed themselves to be nearly so distracted, so disastrously consumed by the "culture wars" within their borders nor by the "war on terror," that they faltered in adapting to the changing realities and demands of modern civilization as we have.

The evidence for all this comes from recent news out of the United Nations.

Last year all European Union countries signed a draft declaration drawn up by France, which currently holds the rotating EU Presidency, condemning "discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity." A draft of the progressive declaration was submitted at the UN General Assembly on December 10th, the sixtieth anniversary of the UN declaration of human rights.

The same delegation that is currently blocking a rational, humanitarian Israeli/Gaza cease fire resolution with its Security Council veto, the United States, a former beacon of hope for those involved in struggles for human rights and dignity around the world, also refused to support the LGBT resolution.

Both efforts, coincidentally, were championed by the French Delegation.

The following is excepted from the December 18th issue of the New York Times.

In a First, Gay Rights Are Pressed at the U.N.

Over 80 countries in the world currently outlaw same-sex relations, with punishments ranging from short prison sentences to life imprisonment and even death by execution. The UN declaration will not be binding, but gay rights movements hope it will lead to a UN resolution. The French minister of human rights and foreign affairs, Rama Yade, said that the EU should also "take the lead in stopping violence against women worldwide."

The United States refused to support the nonbinding measure, as did Russia, China, the Roman Catholic Church and members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The Holy See’s observer mission issued a statement saying that the declaration “challenges existing human rights norms.”

The declaration, sponsored by France with broad support in Europe and Latin America, condemned human rights violations based on homophobia, saying such measures run counter to the universal declaration of human rights.

“How can we tolerate the fact that people are stoned, hanged, decapitated and tortured only because of their sexual orientation?” said Rama Yade, the French state secretary for human rights, noting that homosexuality is banned in nearly 80 countries and subject to the death penalty in at least six.

Navanethem Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, speaking by video telephone, said that just like apartheid laws that criminalized sexual relations between different races, laws against homosexuality “are increasingly becoming recognized as anachronistic and as inconsistent both with international law and with traditional values of dignity, inclusion and respect for all.”

The opposing statement read in the General Assembly, supported by nearly 60 nations, rejected the idea that sexual orientation was a matter of genetic coding. The statement, led by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, said the effort threatened to undermine the international framework of human rights by trying to normalize pedophilia, among other acts.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference also failed in a last-minute attempt to alter a formal resolution that Sweden sponsored condemning summary executions. It sought to have the words “sexual orientation” deleted as one of the central reasons for such killings.

Ms. Yade and the Dutch foreign minister, Maxime Verhagen, said at a news conference that they were “disappointed” that the United States failed to support the declaration. Human rights activists went further. “The Bush administration is trying to come up with Christmas presents for the religious right so it will be remembered,” said Scott Long, a director at Human Rights Watch.

The official American position was based on highly technical legal grounds. The text, by using terminology like “without distinction of any kind,” was too broad because it might be interpreted as an attempt by the federal government to override states’ rights on issues like gay marriage, American diplomats and legal experts said.

How does it feel to know that our enlightened government -- of the people, by the people and for the people -- is squarely aligned with the Islamic Conference and against our European Allies when it comes to a non-binding declaration of support for progressive rights and protections of sexual minorities?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

That's a Wrap! Two Short Videos

Happy New Year!

As we kiss the old year goodbye and wrap up commentary on one of the biggest debacles of last year's elections, the two videos below I think provide a 'nuff said postscript to the discussion of California's Proposition 8 and the subject of same-sex marriage. At least for 2008.

Melissa Harris-Lacewell discusses the ramifications the African American vote on Prop 8 with Rachel Maddow, MSNBC Nov. 10.

Two Law Professors Debating Strategy on Marriage Rights, Civil Unions and Domestic Partnerships: Jack Balkin & Ann Althouse on