Friday, September 28, 2007

Laughing Matters in Clinton Campaign

The New York Times
September 28, 2007

It was January 2005, and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton had just finished a solemn speech about abortion rights — urging all sides to find “common ground” on the issue, and referring to abortion as “a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women.”

Stepping offstage, she took questions from reporters, and found herself being grilled about whether she was moderating her own pro-choice position. And suddenly it happened: Mrs. Clinton let loose a hearty belly laugh that lasted a few seconds. Reporters glanced at one another as if we’d missed the joke.

This was my first close encounter with Senator Clinton, and with The Cackle. At that moment, the laugh seemed like the equivalent of an eye-roll — she felt she was being nit-picked, so she shamed her inquisitors by chuckling at them (or their queries).

Friends of hers told a different story: She has this fantastic sense of humor, you see, but it’s too sarcastic to share with the general public because not everyone likes sarcasm. (An example from personal experience: Mrs. Clinton sometimes likes to tweak people for missing an obvious point by saying to them, “hello!”) So, instead of alienating Iowans who might not vote for edginess, Mrs. Clinton goes for the lowest-common-denominator display of her funny bone: She shows that she can laugh, and that her laugh has a fullness and depth.

Perhaps. The reality is, Mrs. Clinton is the leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination right now, and the commensurate political attacks and criticism are coming at her from all sides. She needs ways to respond without appearing defensive or brittle, her advisers say.

She often responds to attacks with a counterargument: At the televised debates, she has pushed back at criticism from her rivals by saying there is little difference between herself and them (over the Iraq war, say), and recalibrates the discussion by focusing on the differences with President Bush rather than those among the Democrats. Doing so makes her look like a spokeswoman for a unified Democratic position — even though there are real differences among the candidates, as she showed at Wednesday’s debate by refusing to go into the same detail as some rivals about Social Security’s future.

And then, less often but more notably, she copes with the pressure by using The Cackle. At Wednesday’s Democratic debate, for instance, former Senator Mike Gravel complained about her vote on an Iran resolution and said he was “ashamed” of her. Asked to respond, Mrs. Clinton laughed before responding, as if to minimize the matter.

Last Sunday, meanwhile, she appeared on all five of the major morning talk shows. I don’t know what she had for breakfast, but her laughter was heavily caffeinated at times. Chris Wallace, of Fox News, first pressed Mrs. Clinton about why she was so “hyper-partisan,” and that drew a huge cackle. (Coming from Fox, that question is pretty funny, her aides said.) But at another point Mr. Wallace switched gears and said, “let me ask you about health care,” and she responded, “Yeah, I’d love you to ask me about health care” — and then let it rip, again, a bit quizzically.

The weirdest moment was with Bob Schieffer on the CBS News program “Face the Nation” when he said to Mrs. Clinton, “you rolled out your new health care plan, something Republicans immediately said is going to lead to socialized medicine.” She giggled, giggled some more, and then couldn’t seem to stop giggling — “Sorry, Bob,” she said — and finally unleashed the full Cackle.

The Schieffer moment seemed particularly calculated because Mrs. Clinton has most certainly not laughed, in other settings, when she has been accused of pursuing socialized medicine. She faced that accusation charge during a forum in Las Vegas this summer, for instance; she turned frosty and traded barbs with the audience member who made the accusation. It was clearly no laughing matter in that venue.

Jon Stewart skewered Mrs. Clinton on his “Daily Show” this week with a compilation of her outbursts from the Sunday morning shows. He noted that some people found her to be “some kind of synthetic being that cries mercury,” and he tweaked some of her laughs as a robotic expression of her strategic goal: To convey to the audience, “I’m joyful!”

“She’ll be our first president that you can’t spill water on,” Mr. Stewart said.

Clinton advisers find the interest in her laugh a little laughable. They fall somewhere between bemused and irritated by questions that suggest Mrs. Clinton is less than genuine — such as whether her use of laughter during an interview is a way for her to undercut a serious question or to avoid answering it altogether.

“Seems pretty basic — that’s the way she laughs,” one Clinton adviser said. “She has a good sense of humor about the process.”

Fred Hochberg, a fund-raiser, supporter, and friend of Mrs. Clinton, put it this way: “You know what, feigning a laugh as in feigning a tear is really hard to do. It feels genuine to me. If you don’t think something is funny, it’s really hard to laugh on cue.”

“With tough subjects, I use humor as a social lubricant to move situations forward,” he added. “Laughter is part of having a sense of humor and has that same ability, to move things along.”

Programmed or not, Mrs. Clinton seems to share this view. At a news conference in Iowa last winter, she was peppered with questions about whom she was referring to when she playfully said that she had experience dealing with bad and evil men.

“You guys!” she said to reporters, chuckling, after the third question on the topic. “I thought I was funny. You guys keep telling me, lighten up, be fun. Now I get a little funny, and I’m being psychoanalyzed.”

It was a pretty amusing push-back — though it also prompted one reporter to become more direct and bluntly ask if she had been referring to her husband. “Oh c’mon,” she said, tightening up a bit. The silly Hillary can disappear into the sober Hillary in a New York minute.

Talk Show: Dick Cavett Speaks Again

September 26, 2007, 11:09 pm

Witness for the…Who, Exactly?

I was too young to understand what everyone was so excited about on a seemingly ordinary Sunday afternoon one December when my mother came out to collar my (only) friend Mary and me where we had been playing “Indians” — and marched us inside to hear the radio.

“I want you to hear this because it will mean something to you when you get older. The Japs have gotten us into the war.”

I was at a total loss. I didn’t know who “the Japs” were and I didn’t know what or where “the war” was, and there was a woman next door whose name was Pearl Evans. I liked her, and you simply have to take this on faith, but I was glad she wasn’t the Pearl who had gotten attacked.

What, I hear you cry, could this have to do with what I promised last time: more about R.M. Nixon? The somewhat strained connection is that it was the first time something thrillingly dramatic came into my life via a broadcast medium. That phrase was still singular way back then. There were to be four more such instances (the best was Watergate).

The very day my dad brought home our first television set, the Army-McCarthy hearings began — and were riveting. One met the great Joseph Welch and, at the other end of the human scale, the sparsely lamented lawyer Roy Cohn. So reptilian was Cohn in appearance — and in fact — that you expected him, at any moment, to shed his skin.

If you, dear reader, would rather hear more about Groucho than about Dicko (R.M.N.), I agree with you. But for the moment, the Yorba Linda Wonder must remain center stage, at least until I’ve therapeutically exorcised his ghost on your time, so to say.

John and Yoko came on my show in 1971. And came on again. Their appearances have been preserved on my “Dick Cavett Show” John and Yoko DVD. (I insert this for historical reference purposes only. Certainly not as an egregious commercial plug. And it just hit me that there are people out there who may wonder, “John and Yoko who?”)

A bit later certain things began to entangle John. He very nicely asked if I would be willing to do him a favor. Recklessly, perhaps, I said I would. Of course.

Especially considering what he and his wife had done for my Nielsen numbers. Would I help him resist the Nixon White House’s plan to have him deported?

Deported, for God’s sake!

Sure! I said. [Ominous chord]

How did this lowdown scheme by the famously klutzy golfer get spawned? I didn’t learn until years later that on one of the infamous tapes out of which Nixon wove his own noose, the wily H. R. Haldeman can be heard inveighing against the top Beatle. Having presumably educated his boss as to who John Lennon was, Haldeman deftly stimulates the Nixon venom sacs with these fateful words: “This guy could sway an election.”

The justice department was enlisted and the only deportation proceeding against a musical artist that I know of began. (Think of it! A politicized justice department!)

Nervously approaching for the first time those lofty, majestic buildings with the grand pillars scared this still somewhat innocent lad from the Great Plains. I knew the main court building, with those long steps, from multiple viewings of Sidney Lumet’s classic “Twelve Angry Men.” With my heart at least halfway to my mouth, I entered what looked like the courtroom on “Law and Order,” although both it and Sam Waterston were still in my future.

And there down an echoing marble corridor stood John Lennon, dwarfed by the high-ceilinged architecture of this Temple of the Law. He was solemnly clad in a respectful black suit, pants tightly pegged, and those awful round glasses.

I was not a brilliant witness. Trusting my usual facility for ad-libbing to carry me through, it evaded me. Every few words were accompanied by unaccustomed internal self-criticism. As in:

“Mr. Cavett, what is good about John Lennon, in your view?”

[Gulp] “He’s a force for… [Dry mouth stops me for a moment as I wonder what in hell the rest of that sentence is going to be. What am I going to say?]…um…for good,” I managed to squeeze out. Haltingly, I bore on: “…for young people.”

“How, Mr. Cavett, for young people?”

“Well, as an example for young people who want to do… [Do just what, Dickie? Think of something!] “Who want to do something good with their lives.” [Jesus, Dick, that’s pitiful!]

I couldn’t look down from the stand at John, figuring he was thinking he might have done better inviting Sly Stone than me.

I got a chance to wince again at my alleged testimony when it was quoted in The New Yorker the following week. Somehow I can’t imagine I played a major role in the fact that John’s side won. But his victory supplied the administration with yet another self-inflicted wound to lick.

I’m sure that even the dullest reader can see how my aligning myself with John Lennon in court could well have narrowed my chances of, say, being invited to Tricia’s wedding.

And, reading your comments, I see that a perceptive reader has asked whether I had any other evidence of additional darts winged my way from Pennsylvania Avenue.

Yes. Years later I was stunned to learn that, post-Lennon, my entire staff was audited by the IRS, right down to the lowest secretary. (In rank, I mean. Nothing personal.)

I had nearly forgotten how “screwing” enemies real and imagined by illegally wielding the IRS as a weapon — sometimes ruining lives — was one of the paranoid-in-chief’s favorite amusements. Of course there is the possibility that more than a dozen people’s IRS audits — in defiance of the laws of probability — just happened to come up simultaneously, by coincidence. If so, I’ll just have to live somehow with the thought that I have done a posthumous injustice to an innocent man.

To those who feel I am too hard on Mr. Nixon, yes, I willingly acknowledge his many gifts, his intellect and his great accomplishments.

Of course I have not forgotten his remarkable feat of “opening up” China.

Without him, what would we have done for poisoned toys?

Hired Gun Fetish

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
September 28, 2007

Sometimes it seems that the only way to make sense of the Bush administration is to imagine that it’s a vast experiment concocted by mad political scientists who want to see what happens if a nation systematically ignores everything we’ve learned over the past few centuries about how to make a modern government work.

Thus, the administration has abandoned the principle of a professional, nonpolitical civil service, stuffing agencies from FEMA to the Justice Department with unqualified cronies. Tax farming — giving individuals the right to collect taxes, in return for a share of the take — went out with the French Revolution; now the tax farmers are back.

And so are mercenaries, whom Machiavelli described as “useless and dangerous” more than four centuries ago.

As far as I can tell, America has never fought a war in which mercenaries made up a large part of the armed force. But in Iraq, they are so central to the effort that, as Peter W. Singer of the Brookings Institution points out in a new report, “the private military industry has suffered more losses in Iraq than the rest of the coalition of allied nations combined.”

And, yes, the so-called private security contractors are mercenaries. They’re heavily armed. They carry out military missions, but they’re private employees who don’t answer to military discipline. On the other hand, they don’t seem to be accountable to Iraqi or U.S. law, either. And they behave accordingly.

We may never know what really happened in a crowded Baghdad square two weeks ago. Employees of Blackwater USA claim that they were attacked by gunmen. Iraqi police and witnesses say that the contractors began firing randomly at a car that didn’t get out of their way.

What we do know is that more than 20 civilians were killed, including the couple and child in the car. And the Iraqi version of events is entirely consistent with many other documented incidents involving security contractors.

For example, Mr. Singer reminds us that in 2005 “armed contractors from the Zapata firm were detained by U.S. forces, who claimed they saw the private soldiers indiscriminately firing not only at Iraqi civilians, but also U.S. Marines.” The contractors were not charged. In 2006, employees of Aegis, another security firm, posted a “trophy video” on the Internet that showed them shooting civilians, and employees of Triple Canopy, yet another contractor, were fired after alleging that a supervisor engaged in “joy-ride shooting” of Iraqi civilians.

Yet even among the contractors, Blackwater has the worst reputation. On Christmas Eve 2006, a drunken Blackwater employee reportedly shot and killed a guard of the Iraqi vice president. (The employee was flown out of the country, and has not been charged.) In May 2007, Blackwater employees reportedly shot an employee of Iraq’s Interior Ministry, leading to an armed standoff between the firm and Iraqi police.

Iraqis aren’t the only victims of this behavior. Of the nearly 4,000 American service members who have died in Iraq, scores if not hundreds would surely still be alive if it weren’t for the hatred such incidents engender.

Which raises the question, why are Blackwater and other mercenary outfits still playing such a big role in Iraq?

Don’t tell me that they are irreplaceable. The Iraq war has now gone on for four and a half years — longer than American participation in World War II. There has been plenty of time for the Bush administration to find a way to do without mercenaries, if it wanted to.

And the danger out-of-control military contractors pose to American forces has been obvious at least since March 2004, when four armed Blackwater employees blundered into Fallujah in the middle of a delicate military operation, getting themselves killed and precipitating a crisis that probably ended any chance of an acceptable outcome in Iraq.

Yet Blackwater is still there. In fact, last year the State Department gave Blackwater the lead role in diplomatic security in Iraq.

Mr. Singer argues that reliance on private military contractors has let the administration avoid making hard political choices, such as admitting that it didn’t send enough troops in the first place. Contractors, he writes, “offered the potential backstop of additional forces, but with no one having to lose any political capital.” That’s undoubtedly part of the story.

But it’s also worth noting that the Bush administration has tried to privatize every aspect of the U.S. government it can, using taxpayers’ money to give lucrative contracts to its friends — people like Erik Prince, the owner of Blackwater, who has strong Republican connections. You might think that national security would take precedence over the fetish for privatization — but remember, President Bush tried to keep airport security in private hands, even after 9/11.

So the privatization of war — no matter how badly it works — is just part of the pattern.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Take Action: Send Urgent UN mission to Myanmar (Burma)

Ask President Bush to urge the UN Security Council members, especially the Permanent members like China, to immediately deploy a UN Security Council mission to Myanmar (Burma).

This mission should act to resolve the human rights crisis and avert the risk of further violence and bloodshed.

The Council should also consider the possibility of imposing an arms embargo and to address the dire human rights situation in Myanmar.

The peaceful mass demonstrations taking place compare in scale to those in 1988, when security forces broke up massive pro-democracy demonstrations with deadly violence, killing thousands. »Learn more.

Click here to Take Action Now!


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

This Website Stands in Militant Solidarity with Progressive American Labor

An Injury To One Is An Injury To All !

Demand a paper trail NOW!

2006 is the third election in a row shadowed by questions about the integrity of voting machines, something most Americans never dreamed could happen. Together we can make the 2006 election the tipping point—the moment when demand for an auditable, verifiable voting system forced Congress to act.

This year, 18,382 votes have been LOST in Sarasota County, Florida, on touch screen voting machines with no paper trail. Without serious reforms, we're headed for a meltdown in 2008.

Urge your Senator to support legislation for paper trails and random audits for ALL electronic ballots. Click here


The Ugly Side of the G.O.P.

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
September 25, 2007

I applaud the thousands of people, many of them poor, who traveled from around the country to protest in Jena, La., last week. But what I’d really like to see is a million angry protesters marching on the headquarters of the National Republican Party in Washington.

Enough is enough. Last week the Republicans showed once again just how anti-black their party really is.

The G.O.P. has spent the last 40 years insulting, disenfranchising and otherwise stomping on the interests of black Americans. Last week, the residents of Washington, D.C., with its majority black population, came remarkably close to realizing a goal they have sought for decades — a voting member of Congress to represent them.

A majority in Congress favored the move, and the House had already approved it. But the Republican minority in the Senate — with the enthusiastic support of President Bush — rose up on Tuesday and said: “No way, baby.”

At least 57 senators favored the bill, a solid majority. But the Republicans prevented a key motion on the measure from receiving the 60 votes necessary to move it forward in the Senate. The bill died.

At the same time that the Republicans were killing Congressional representation for D.C. residents, the major G.O.P. candidates for president were offering a collective slap in the face to black voters nationally by refusing to participate in a long-scheduled, nationally televised debate focusing on issues important to minorities.

The radio and television personality Tavis Smiley worked for a year to have a pair of these debates televised on PBS, one for the Democratic candidates and the other for the Republicans. The Democratic debate was held in June, and all the major candidates participated.

The Republican debate is scheduled for Thursday. But Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson have all told Mr. Smiley: “No way, baby.”

They won’t be there. They can’t be bothered debating issues that might be of interest to black Americans. After all, they’re Republicans.

This is the party of the Southern strategy — the party that ran, like panting dogs, after the votes of segregationist whites who were repelled by the very idea of giving equal treatment to blacks. Ronald Reagan, George H.W. (Willie Horton) Bush, George W. (Compassionate Conservative) Bush — they all ran with that lousy pack.

Dr. Carolyn Goodman, a woman I was privileged to call a friend, died last month at the age of 91. She was the mother of Andrew Goodman, one of the three young civil rights activists shot to death by rabid racists near Philadelphia, Miss., in 1964.

Dr. Goodman, one of the most decent people I have ever known, carried the ache of that loss with her every day of her life.

In one of the vilest moves in modern presidential politics, Ronald Reagan, the ultimate hero of this latter-day Republican Party, went out of his way to kick off his general election campaign in 1980 in that very same Philadelphia, Miss. He was not there to send the message that he stood solidly for the values of Andrew Goodman. He was there to assure the bigots that he was with them.

“I believe in states’ rights,” said Mr. Reagan. The crowd roared.

In 1981, during the first year of Mr. Reagan’s presidency, the late Lee Atwater gave an interview to a political science professor at Case Western Reserve University, explaining the evolution of the Southern strategy:

“You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger,’ ” said Atwater. “By 1968, you can’t say ‘nigger’ — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things, and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.”

In 1991, the first President Bush poked a finger in the eye of black America by selecting the egregious Clarence Thomas for the seat on the Supreme Court that had been held by the revered Thurgood Marshall. The fact that there is a rigid quota on the court, permitting one black and one black only to serve at a time, is itself racist.

Mr. Bush seemed to be saying, “All right, you want your black on the court? Boy, have I got one for you.”

Republicans improperly threw black voters off the rolls in Florida in the contested presidential election of 2000, and sent Florida state troopers into the homes of black voters to intimidate them in 2004.

Blacks have been remarkably quiet about this sustained mistreatment by the Republican Party, which says a great deal about the quality of black leadership in the U.S. It’s time for that passive, masochistic posture to end.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Politics in Black and White

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
September 24, 2007

Last Thursday there was a huge march in Jena, La., to protest the harsh and unequal treatment of six black students arrested in the beating of a white classmate. Students who hung nooses to warn blacks not to sit under a “white” tree were suspended for three days; on the other hand, the students accused in the beating were initially charged with second-degree attempted murder.

And one of the Jena Six remains in jail, even though appeals courts have voided his conviction on the grounds that he was improperly tried as an adult.

Many press accounts of the march have a tone of amazement. Scenes like those in Jena, the stories seemed to imply, belonged in the 1960s, not the 21st century. The headline on the New York Times report, “Protest in Louisiana Case Echoes the Civil Rights Era,” was fairly typical.

But the reality is that things haven’t changed nearly as much as people think. Racial tension, especially in the South, has never gone away, and has never stopped being important. And race remains one of the defining factors in modern American politics.

Consider voting in last year’s Congressional elections. Republicans, as President Bush conceded, received a “thumping,” with almost every major demographic group turning against them. The one big exception was Southern whites, 62 percent of whom voted Republican in House races.

And yes, Southern white exceptionalism is about race, much more than it is about moral values, religion, support for the military or other explanations sometimes offered. There’s a large statistical literature on the subject, whose conclusion is summed up by the political scientist Thomas F. Schaller in his book “Whistling Past Dixie”: “Despite the best efforts of Republican spinmeisters to depict American conservatism as a nonracial phenomenon, the partisan impact of racial attitudes in the South is stronger today than in the past.”

Republican politicians, who understand quite well that the G.O.P.’s national success since the 1970s owes everything to the partisan switch of Southern whites, have tacitly acknowledged this reality. Since the days of Gerald Ford, just about every Republican presidential campaign has included some symbolic gesture of approval for good old-fashioned racism.

Thus Ronald Reagan, who began his political career by campaigning against California’s Fair Housing Act, started his 1980 campaign with a speech supporting states’ rights delivered just outside Philadelphia, Miss., where three civil rights workers were murdered. In 2000, Mr. Bush made a pilgrimage to Bob Jones University, famed at the time for its ban on interracial dating.

And all four leading Republican candidates for the 2008 nomination have turned down an invitation to a debate on minority issues scheduled to air on PBS this week.

Yet if the marchers at Jena reminded us that America still hasn’t fully purged itself of the poisonous legacy of slavery, it would be wrong to suggest that the nation has made no progress. Racism, though not gone, is greatly diminished: both opinion polls and daily experience suggest that we are truly becoming a more tolerant, open society.

And the cynicism of the “Southern strategy” introduced by Richard Nixon, which delivered decades of political victories to Republicans, is now starting to look like a trap for the G.O.P.

One of the truly remarkable things about the contest for the Republican nomination is the way the contenders have snubbed not just blacks — who, given the G.O.P.’s modern history, probably won’t vote for a Republican in significant numbers no matter what — but Hispanics. In July, all the major contenders refused invitations to address the National Council of La Raza, which Mr. Bush addressed in 2000. Univision, the Spanish-language TV network, had to cancel a debate scheduled for Sept. 16 because only John McCain was willing to come.

If this sounds like a good way to ensure defeat in future elections, that’s because it is: Hispanics are a rapidly growing force in the electorate.

But to get the Republican nomination, a candidate must appeal to the base — and the base consists, in large part, of Southern whites who carry over to immigrants the same racial attitudes that brought them into the Republican fold to begin with. As a result, you have the spectacle of Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, pragmatists on immigration issues when they actually had to govern in diverse states, trying to reinvent themselves as defenders of Fortress America.

And both Hispanics and Asians, another growing force in the electorate, are getting the message. Last year they voted overwhelmingly Democratic, by 69 percent and 62 percent respectively.

In other words, it looks as if the Republican Party is about to start paying a price for its history of exploiting racial antagonism. If that happens, it will be deeply ironic. But it will also be poetic justice.

Down Time From Murder

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
September 24, 2007

So now we know where Eva from Mannheim and Angela from Dortmund and Irmgard from Dresden ended up during the war years — jiving in pleated skirts to the strains of an accordion, or gorging themselves on blueberries, or lounging on deck chairs in the shadow of the Auschwitz-Birkenau crematoriums.

How fresh-faced and playful the SS women look in the 116 photographs that, 62 years after the liberation of the Nazi camp, have found their way by a circuitous route to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. It is not easy to imagine these young ladies moving on from a picnic to administer death wholesale.

In thinking about the Holocaust, we have grown accustomed to images of the Nazis’ victims: shadowy naked figures on the edge of ditches about to be dispatched by the SS-Einsatzgruppen; huddled wide-eyed children; skeletal human simulacra; piles of bones. Getting the perpetrators in focus is harder.

But here, revealed by these newly discovered photographs, are the German murderers in all their dumb humanity, flirting and joking and lighting Christmas trees, as if what awaited them after the frolicking were just the bus to some dull job in a dental office rather than the supervision of Auschwitz’s industrialized killing machine.

If they were downwind of the camp, did some trace of the acrid-sweet stench of death ever mess with the merry-making? Did the image of a Jewish girl from Budapest being herded toward the gas mar a mouthful? Did conscience stir or doubt impinge? Was it clear that the children had to die in order to eradicate not only a people, but also their memory? Such questions are useless. The facts must speak for themselves.

Goethe’s hero Faust declared: “Two souls, alas, are housed within my breast, and each will wrestle for mastery there.” The light and dark of Germany, the disturbing proximity of civilization and barbarism, speak of that battle and its universal echoes.

I wish I could say I was surprised by the photos (on display at the museum Web site — My years in Germany eroded my capacity for shock. The walk from Buchenwald’s brick-chimneyed crematorium to the genteel streets of Weimar — home to Schiller and Goethe, birthplace of the Bauhaus — is illusion-stripping. In 1942, Buchenwald prisoners were ordered to make wooden boxes to protect Schiller’s work.

Germans, through distinct postwar stages, have engaged in a painful examination of who the people giving and obeying such orders were and how, in Günter Grass’s words, an “entire credulous nation” believed in Santa Claus, but “Santa Claus was really the gasman.”

Just how hard that introspection has been was illustrated when Grass, a moral reference to the Bundesrepublik, broke a 61-year silence and revealed that he served as a 17-year-old in the Waffen SS.

More such revelations are needed; the threads of truth’s tapestry are not all tied. Germans will gaze at these photographs and ask: is that my grandmother or great-aunt? If not, might they have been? Jews and Germans are tied at their hip in their contemplation of the two sides of the crime.

Historians are voyeurs; they like nothing more than reading other people’s mail. They need to pry to put names to these faces of “ordinary Germans” doing their jobs at Auschwitz.

The album was kept by Karl Höcker, the adjutant to the camp commandant. Höcker’s father was killed in World War I; his mother struggled. And what of the stories of Eva and Angela and Irmgard? Will any Germans step forward to claim these young women and give them real names rather than those invented here?

Hans Magnus Enzensberger wrote in 1960 of a Germany “overcrowded with absentees,” full of people “who happen to be in this country fleeing from this country.” With the years, Germany has gained confidence, pried open locked drawers, filled some of the absences. But these photos are an invitation to do more.

Inevitably, they pose the question: What would you have done? Filled your mouth with blueberries or balked and paid the mortal price? Perhaps no single question is more important. The voyeur has the luxury of posing it whereas those living then had to answer it. The overwhelming majority acquiesced to the unspeakable.

It has become banal to quote Hannah Arendt. But she encapsulated these photos’ conundrum when she wrote: “Under conditions of terror most people will comply but some people will not,” adding that “Humanly speaking, no more is required and no more can reasonably be asked for this planet to remain a place fit for human habitation.”

Like Germany’s unfinished but already remarkable postwar voyage from self-amputation to self-realization, these words bear pondering.

A Moment of Silence, Please...

Scratchpad: Sun. 23 Sept. 2007

Greenpagan’s Quotidian Quotations

Eat or be eaten. (But go easy on the salt…)


Vitamin C, Cancer & Cardiovascular Disease

New research now suggests Linus Pauling was correct about Vitamin C fighting cancer after all. You know what? Do what you know…! The so-called experts will drive you crazy and steer you wrong. So…Go with your gut. Which isn’t top say disregard empirical reality. It’s just that if you do or take something that makes you feel better that hurts no one including yourself then screw the bat-&-rat-torturing punks in their lab coats clawing for PhDs & grants.

Meanwhile--not that awards and prizes and/or living to a great age automatically confer wisdom on their possessors, but --my money’s on Linus Pauling who took Vitamin C, lived to the age of 93 and won TWO Nobel Prizes (Peace and Chemistry).

"Pauling actually had some good evidence that under certain situations vitamin C can prevent tumor formation. It's just the mechanism was really not that clear then," Dang said.

"Now that, I think, we provide relatively compelling evidence of how this works, maybe Pauling is partly right. We shouldn't dismiss him so quickly." More


Reproductive Rights

You might have personal reservations about abortions. But what are you going to do? Hold a gun to a woman’s head? Make women carry dead fetuses to term as was the practice?

The fanatical anti-abortion creeps are also against contraception. What they really want is control over the sex lives of other people. How sadistic is that?

Many are Ted Haggard and Larry Craig fans…


Canadian Healthcare

Yes. There are waits in Canada. In rural areas and for certain non-emergency procedures like MRIs just for the heck of it,

The anti-universal healthcare louts in the US exaggerate the drawbacks of medical care in Canada for their own nefarious rightwing reactionary ideological purposes.

Indeed, America is exceptional in healthcare among the great democracies. Exceptionally bad! (Thanks in large measure due to profiteers, their congressional prostitutes and the bumpkins yokels oafs and ignoramuses who elect them.)

Healthcare is a Human Right.

“Yeah but where does it say it is in the Constitution?!”

Where does it say it isn’t…?


BTW--Is smoking worse than obesity?

All of us are going to get sick at one point and just because you can afford private insurance now doesn’t mean you’ll be able to afford it later. Go ahead and tax certain behaviors, but using the health insurance system in order to deny people care is monstrous!

You don’t like the Canadian Model? Too socialistic for you cornfed dunderheads?

How about the US Military model? And the newly refurbished VA? And what the members of Congress themselves have? (“Socialized Medicine for me, but not for thee…”)

Imagine that thoroughly corrupt crotchety old crank Ted Stevens with his Bridge to Nowhere trying to convince the good parishioners of Moose Brains Alaska that they should neither have nor want healthcare. (I love such creatures. They should all be hanged by their shorthairs. [Metaphorically of course…cough cough…] If they have any shorthairs…)

[ Acknowledgements in part to NPR’s The People’s Pharmacy . ]


From the ‘How Come…?’ files

How come you lately don’t hear: “Unions were okay in the past but they’ve outlived their usefulness…”

Do you think it might have a little something to do with the unhappy fact that more and more persons are being adversely affected by the healthcare crisis, downsizing, outsourcing and wage stagnation? IOW--With so many Americans are being kicked in the teeth by Capitalism it behooves one to ask: Are any of the candidates for President offering dental care as part of their healthcare reform programs?)


The Lexus, the Olive Tree…& the Pontifical Ass…!

Why do I get the recurring impression that Thomas Friedman is almost always talking down to everybody like some old uncle pissing in his pants while reading little children a Mother Goose story…? (I hate that guy…)

[C]an China really undertake the energy/environmental revolution it needs without the empowerment of its people to a whole new degree — à la the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004? The more I see China wrestling with its environment, the more I’m convinced that it is going to prove much, much easier for China to have gone from communism to capitalism than to go from dirty capitalism to clean capitalism.
[ Source: China in Three Colors ]

The only ‘clean capitalism’ that ever existed was probably all inside Adam Smith’s head…


My Peace Plan for Iran

Turn that country into a showcase for Solar Power & other forms of alternative energy. Therefore the Iranians will have no need of nuclear power--except for belligerent purposes. In which case they should be whacked!

I’m telling you, these guys -- Iran, Syria, North Korea--are making Bush & Cheney look better than they have any right to. It’s as if the Axis-of-Evil-Doers are living up to clichéd roles formulaically scripted especially for them.


GOP Mess…

-- GP


Uxorious or Spurious?

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
September 23, 2007


The press piled into a hall near a pile of N.R.A. swag bags to watch Rudy stride into the ballroom.

Would the tough guy kowtow to the powerful lobby he once lambasted as extremist? Would he pull a Romney and pretend to be an avid hunter of small varmints?

Would he have an epiphany about the Second Amendment — the way he did about the First when he blew a gasket over that painting of the Madonna daubed with elephant dung — and reinterpret the Bill of Rights to suit his needs?

The heat was on.

Fred Thompson had already spoken to the group, recalling palling around with Charlton Heston, shooting skeet with some good ol’ boys from the N.R.A., and hanging out at gun stores and gun shows.

After guns, sports, Moses and a reference to his young ’uns, there was only one other ingredient needed for Flintstone Fred’s testosterone cocktail: a sexy blonde. Introducing his wife, Jeri, he drawled, “I think she’d make a much better first lady than Bill Clinton.”

Rudy was going to have to think fast to keep up with that. He kept it simple, selling himself as the Gotham crime fighter, “because, after all, if you don’t have a reasonable degree of safety, you can’t exercise your other rights: the right of free speech ... even your right to bear arms is all based on a reasonable degree of safety that you have to have.”

It’s an interesting bit of casuistry: I’m going to make you safe by enforcing gun laws in case you want guns to keep you safe.

Also, given that he was criticized for undermining free speech at the first sign of a little dung, his audience might not have been reassured.

Asked about a lawsuit he initiated in New York against American handgun manufacturers, Rudy said that 9/11 “cast somewhat of a different light” on Second Amendment rights. He said that “maybe it highlights the necessity for them more.”

What, exactly, is that different light? You need some assault weapons to shoot at terrorists planting dirty bombs beneath your tulips?

In the end, no one was deconstructing Rudy’s swerving stance because they were too busy obsessing on his strange interlude with his cell. Right in the middle of a disquisition about a legal decision underscoring the doctrine that “a person’s home is their castle,” the tiara-crowned queen of Rudy’s castle called.

“Hello, dear,” he said, with his toothy grin.

To the amazement of the audience, he interrupted his speech to have a lovey-dovey chat with Judi, who was about to get on a plane back from London.

After telling her that he was talking to the N.R.A. — a big speech that you would imagine she would know about, and not want to interrupt — he asked if she wanted to give a shout out to the gun-lovers and then paused while she spoke to him.

After saying “I love you” twice and signing off with another “dear,” he joked to the audience that he would have been in trouble if he hadn’t taken the call, noting that “this is one of the great blessings of the modern age, being always available. Or maybe it isn’t; I’m not sure.”

It almost made Bill and Hillary seem like a model of normalcy. Almost.

The odd interval triggered a fusillade of analysis: was it creepy, cute, staged, spontaneous, rude, awkward or downright weird? Shouldn’t Rudy have left the phone with an aide, or silenced it?

Was this a harbinger that President Rudy would interrupt other important stuff to talk to Judi in the White House? If Ahmadinejad goes crazy — O.K., more crazy — would Rudy be focused like a laser, or would he take a call from Judi about whether she could redecorate Air Force One in Louis Vuitton?

First The Times’s Marc Santora noted that it wasn’t the first time Rudy had interrupted an appearance to take a call from his Princess Bride, as Vanity Fair dubbed her. He did the same thing in June in Hialeah, Fla., with more mushy talk during a rally.

This suggests either that Friday’s call was staged to humanize the dictatorial former mayor, or that Rudy is afraid of Judi’s digital wrath, or that the candidate is still struggling with how to integrate his third wife into his campaign, after her puppy-killing, husband-hiding, cabinet-sitting rough start.

The episode also provided ammunition to Mitt Romney’s camp, which sensed an opportunity to highlight their candidate’s scary-perfect wife and scary-perfect kids. They found video of the first cellus interruptus and sent reporters links to YouTube clips of both calls.

On CNN, Carol Costello grilled the N.R.A.’s Wayne LaPierre about the conjugal intermission. At first he called it “a lighthearted moment,” but then conceded that he found it odd. “I don’t know that I would have a cellphone in my pocket on during a speech,” he said.

Who knows? It might be a valuable lesson for Rudy that guns and marriage don’t mix.

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