Monday, September 28, 2009

Freedom From Fear—and the Second Amendment

Those of us living in the Rocky Mountains are steeped in America’s famous gun culture—and we therefore know well the binary debates surrounding the Second Amendment. Firearm enthusiasts—the vast majority of whom use weapons responsibly—believe the Constitution protects their right to bear arms. Gun control advocates counter that the Constitution doesn’t give anyone the inalienable right to wield automatic weapons that can kill scores of people in seconds.

This is the stultified freedom-versus-safety quarrel that seemed to forever define gun politics—that is, until anti-government activists started bringing firearms to public political meetings.

In early August, a protester came to a raucous Tennessee congressional forum packing heat. Days later, President Obama’s health care event in New Hampshire was marred by a protester posing for cameras with a pistol and sign reading, “It is time to water the tree of liberty”—a reference to a Thomas Jefferson quote promising violence. And this past week, 12 armed men—including one with an assault rifle—not only showed off their firearms at Obama’s Arizona speech, but broadcast a YouTube video threatening to “forcefully resist people imposing their will on us through the strength of the majority.”

These and other similar examples are accurately summarized with the same language federal law employs to describe domestic terrorism. Generating maximum media attention, the weapons-brandishing displays are “intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population.” Yes, the gun has been transformed from a sport and self-defense device into a tool of mass bullying. Like the noose in the Jim Crow South, its symbolic message is clear: If you dare engage in the democratic process, you risk bodily harm.

With that implicit threat, the incessant arguments about gun ownership have been supplanted by a more significant debate over which should take precedence: the Constitution’s First or Second Amendment?

Based on America’s history, the Founders’ answer to that question clearly lies in the Bill of Rights’ deliberate sequencing.


The First Amendment ethos guarantees people—whatever their politics—a fundamental right to participate in their democracy without concern for physical retribution. It is the primary amendment because America was first and foremost created not as a gun-owners’ haven, but as a place to shelter citizens from oppression.

Over two centuries, we have taken this tradition seriously, enacting statutes reinforcing freedoms of speech, creating the secret ballot, and outlawing harassment at Election Day polling stations. This is why, whether tracing roots to colonial England, Nazi Germany or any other tyranny, so many Americans say they came here specifically looking for protection from political persecution.

While the First Amendment doesn’t ensure credibility or significance, it is supposed to guarantee freedom from fear—a freedom that is now under siege. Citing the Second Amendment and the increasingly maniacal rhetoric of conservative media firebrands, a small handful of violence-threatening protesters aims to make the rest of us—whether pro- or anti-health reform—afraid to speak out.

And so we face a choice that has nothing to do with health care, gun ownership or any other hot-button issue that protesters of both parties are fighting over. It is a choice about democracy itself—a choice that comes down to the two axioms best articulated by, of all people, Mao Zedong.

One option is willful ignorance: We can pretend the ferment is unimportant, continue allowing the intimidation and ultimately usher in a dark future where “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

Better, though, is simply making public political events firearm-free zones, just like schools and stadiums. That way forward honors our democratic ideals by declaring that politics may be war, but in America it is “war without bloodshed”—and without the threat of bloodshed.

David Sirota is the author of the best-selling books “Hostile Takeover” and “The Uprising.” He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado and blogs at E-mail him at

© 2009

Missing: Democrats’ Passion

Here’s the least surprising news of the week: Americans are souring on the Democratic Party. The wonder is that it’s taken so long for public opinion to curdle. There’s nothing agreeable about watching a determined attempt to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

A poll released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center reports that just 49 percent of respondents have a favorable view of the Democrats, compared to 62 percent in January and 59 percent in April. This doesn’t mean, though, that Americans look any more kindly upon the Republican Party—favorability for the GOP has been steady at 40 percent throughout the year, according to Pew.

What it does mean, however, is that Republican efforts to obstruct, delay, confuse, stall, distort and otherwise impede the reform agenda that Americans voted for last November have had measurable success. And it means that Democrats, having been given a mandate—one as comprehensive as either party is likely to enjoy in this era of red-vs.-blue polarization—don’t really know how to use it.

That the Democratic Party is no paragon of organization and discipline is almost axiomatic. That’s not the problem. The Pew poll suggests that the Democrats’ weakness is neither strategic nor tactical, but emotional. To quote the poet William Butler Yeats: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

There’s not enough passion on the Democratic side, not enough heat. There’s some radiating from the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, too little emanating from the Democratic majority in the Senate, and not nearly enough coming from President Obama. Republicans, by contrast, have little going for them except passion—but they’re using it to impressive effect.

Step back from the health care debate for a moment and survey the landscape. Democrats are within sight of a goal that has fired the party’s dreams for half a century. They have the power to enact meaningful reform. Polls show that Americans are hungry for reform. The solid wall of opposition once presented by big business has crumbled. Even the insurance companies and Big Pharma are ready to deal. Yet somehow we’ve gotten sidetracked onto an argument about “death panels,” while a provision that many advocates believe is central to effective reform—a government-run, public health insurance—is suddenly in doubt.


How could this happen? The Pew survey suggests, basically, that Republicans are more passionate about the health care issue than Democrats.

According to Pew, those who would be “pleased” if health care reforms proposed by Obama and Congress are enacted outnumber those who would be “disappointed.” But when you look at those who feel most passionately about the issue, just 15 percent say they would be “very happy” if the reforms go through, while 18 percent say they would be “angry.” Among Republicans, a full 38 percent would be angry if health care reform finally passes—but among Democrats, just 13 percent would be angered if it doesn’t.

It’s hard to argue that anger, per se, is something we need more of in American politics. But passion—which sometimes, yes, finds expression in anger—is a powerful and legitimate tool. Health care reform is something the Democratic Party has been trying to achieve since the Truman administration, and only 13 percent of Democrats would be angry if it fails? Only 27 percent of Democrats would be “very happy” if reform passes, according to Pew, while 42 percent could only bestir themselves to feel “pleased” that the Grail long sought by the most beloved Democrat of all, ailing Sen. Edward Kennedy, has finally been attained?

One reason for this imbalance of passion about health care reform, I believe, is that there still is no single piece of legislation around which Democrats—and others who see the need for reform—can rally. But it’s impossible to deny that the Republican strategy of generating anger and fear has also been a major factor.

Where are the millions who so passionately chanted “Yes, we can!” at Obama’s campaign rallies? Where are the legions who cried tears of joy on election night and tears of pride on Inauguration Day? Is Sarah Palin now the only politician capable of inspiring “passionate intensity”?

Passion finds expression in anger, but also in hope. Democrats knew and felt that during the campaign. If they forget it, they might as well also forget about achieving the kind of fundamental change that the country sorely needs.

Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)

In a Reasoned Debate, Single Payer Will Come Out on Top By Laura S. Boylan, M.D., and Joanne Landy, M.P.H.

This piece was originally posted at the Web site of Physicians for a National Health Program (

One can only feel sorrow and dismay at the bullying and hate-mongering that is taking place at health care forums around the country.

Massive job losses, the devaluation and foreclosures of people’s homes, and precipitous declines in lifetime savings produce widespread fears of further loss. In an era of insecurity, mainstream Democratic Party proposals for reforming the health system have played into such fears.

A health care “reform” that protects private insurers and massive profits for the pharmaceutical industry inevitably becomes an ugly game where ordinary people’s interests are pitted against each other. Witness, for example, the proposed cuts to Medicaid and Medicare to fund an initiative that subsidizes the mandated purchase of private insurance with taxpayer dollars. Relatively little is offered to the already insured majority who are told of upcoming belt-tightening.

The near-total exclusion of single payer from the health care debate by our political leaders and the media has contributed to the present state of affairs. Single payer is an expanded and improved Medicare for All (“Medicare 2.0”). Many, perhaps most, Americans have come to believe in the false choice between universal coverage and quality health care.

Our nation needs a meaningful dialogue, including a fair hearing of the views of the 20 million constituents of the Leadership Conference on Guaranteed Health Care (of which Physicians for a National Health Program is a founding member), who advocate for single-payer national health insurance. Polls show that most of the public and their physicians favor such an approach.


There is simply no other viable solution to the problems facing us all, insured and uninsured. With Medicare 2.0, the already insured would benefit from radically reduced out-of-pocket costs for comprehensive insurance and expanded choice of doctors and hospitals. Medicare 2.0 stays with you for life, independent of your employment. The epidemic of medical[-related] bankruptcies would be just a bad memory.

It is unnecessary to pit the insured against the uninsured, or those with Medicare and Medicaid against those with private insurance.

Multi-payer, for-profit health insurance adds cost but not value to American health care. Savings of $400 billion a year can be obtained through the conversion to a single-payer system. With the money we are now spending (twice as much per capita as other developed nations), we can provide full service “what you need, when you need it” health care for everyone and control costs going forward.

With the “everybody in, nobody out” approach of a Medicare 2.0 system, we can all get more freedom, choice and security.

Single-payer advocates have been excluded from debate not because our premises or facts are wrong but because special interests, including the private health insurance industry and the big drug companies, have been allowed to define the limits of “politically feasible.”

We support the right to lively and dramatic expression of all views about health care and other issues in American political life. We share a common sense of frustration expressed by many protesters that it often seems that Washington’s ear is tuned to special interests over public interests. However, we strongly condemn the bullying and hateful speech that has precluded meaningful discussion at many town hall meetings.

The ugliest language suggests that the uninsured or undocumented should be allowed to “die in the streets” and asserts that areas with less racial and ethnic diversity are “the real America.” President Obama’s citizenship is questioned and he is likened to Hitler.

These actions have been facilitated and promoted by networks of well-funded, right-wing interest groups who have tapped into a vein of fear and discontent in a time of rapidly rising hardship and anxiety.

With this deteriorating public dialogue, we should affirm that we can get better health care by sticking together to support single payer. We support meaningful dialogue. We affirm the dignity of all persons and insist that health care is a universal human right.

Health care is instrumental to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” We continue, as ever, to insist that “everybody in, nobody out” is best for all of us and embodies the best of American values.

Chris Hedges on Health Care, War and the New Racism

Chris Hedges talks about the illusion of health care reform, the war in Afghanistan and what he calls the "new racism" in the age of Obama.

Lesson of Vietnam Lost in Afghanistan-Stanley Kutler

On Aug. 17, President Barack Obama made the obligatory presidential pilgrimage to the conclave of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, this time on Sen. John McCain’s home turf. The Phoenix speech, carried live on cable networks, captured a VFW audience often surly and seemingly uninterested in the president’s remarks. But at one point, he predictably brought even his recalcitrant audience to its feet when he made a pitch for his health care proposals: “One thing that reform won’t change is veterans’ health care. No one is going to take away your benefits. That’s the truth.” No doubt.

Away from the convention, the president and his spokespersons spent much of the day backing and filling on health care. Did he or didn’t he favor a public option? How much would “his” package (did he have one?) cost? And what about those “death panels”?

But for the VFW, Obama concentrated on the expanding war in Afghanistan—the war he now proudly asserts as his own. After in effect declaring victory in Iraq to justify the removal of American troops, Obama promised he now would “refocus” our efforts to “win” in Afghanistan. As Obama made abundantly clear in his presidential campaign, this was his war of choice, the one he consistently has said is necessary to eliminate al-Qaida, which had taken refuge in the desolate Afghan mountains.

During the campaign, he seemed at pains to demonstrate he was not the caricatured soft liberal when it came to American military power. Although Obama consistently has admitted, as he did before the VFW in Arizona, that military power alone will not be sufficient, he nevertheless has insisted that his “new strategy” has the clear mission “to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida.” Obama knows that defeat of the Taliban is essential to this strategy. “If left unchecked,” he has remarked, the Taliban insurgency will bring “an even larger safe haven from which al-Qaida would plot to kill more Americans.” It is not, he maintains, a “war of choice,” but “a war of necessity.”

In 1991, following the defeat of Saddam Hussein and Iraqi forces in Kuwait, President George H.W. Bush proudly announced that we had “kicked the Vietnam Syndrome.” His successor son, propelled by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, heady with 2003’s lightning rout of Iraqi forces, believed he had restored the “can do” notions of World War II for the military component of American foreign policy.

The same day President Obama spoke to the VFW, The New York Times carried a dispatch from Afghanistan in which a villager talked about his security and the difference between night and day: “When you [the Americans] leave here, the Taliban will come at night and ask us why we were talking to you,” a villager named Abdul Razzaq said. “If we cooperate [with the U.S.], they would kill us.”


Déjà vu all over again. The U.S. military in Vietnam often announced it had killed a particular number of Viet Cong and had “freed” a village. The Americans left, assuming the enemy had lost control, but at night, of course, the VC returned and reminded villagers of the reality.

Whatever “syndrome” we kicked, Vietnam’s primary lesson remains intact: American power is not without limits, both in terms of defeating an enemy and in terms of its domestic support. The primary lesson of Vietnam seems to be that it is a lesson lost. And now we have some of the same intractable problems in Afghanistan.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal and Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke recently called Vietnam War historian Stanley Karnow for advice. After the conversation, Karnow told the AP that the main lesson to be learned from Vietnam was that “we shouldn’t have been there in the first place.” We apparently don’t know what was said on the other end in Karnow’s talk with the general and the envoy, but McChrystal has asked for more troops.

As Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson expanded the American commitment in Vietnam, their deputies regularly insisted that the insurgency had Chinese support and backing. “Peiping,” as Secretary of State Dean Rusk said in blatantly demeaning the Chinese, was to blame. If the government had had any historians with the courage to speak truth to power, they would have pointed to a millennium of historical enmity between the Chinese and the Vietnamese. As if to prove the point, the Chinese launched war against the victorious Vietnamese in 1975, only to suffer an embarrassing defeat.

The historical lessons for Afghanistan are clear. The British readily acknowledge their defeat. Surely the Russians know that Afghanistan was their Vietnam—with some not-so-covert intervention by the CIA. Afghanistan has been a graveyard for imperial ambitions, however noble and ostensibly good the ventures may have been. Long after the Guns of Health Care Reform are stilled, Afghanistan apparently promises to be with President Obama—and us—for a very long time.

We thought we defeated the Taliban once before; and now it is back again. President Obama believes we must do more to roll back the Taliban. But what can we do with the ethnic and tribal rivalries, the corruption and inefficiency in Kabul, all of which are related to the place of the Taliban? Will the U.S. be able to destroy, everywhere in the country, the Taliban’s grip on power? Does anyone in Obama’s circle ask “why?”

We can ponder the alternative. If successful, the Taliban might offer “an even larger safe haven” for al-Qaida and similar groups. But now, without Taliban control of the Afghanistan government, “safe havens” persist in the mountains of the country and in the northwest provinces of Pakistan. The situation is not much different than it was in 2001, except that the safe area for terrorists may be smaller. But what is different is our intelligence, our use of it, our vigilance and our capacity to strike with sophisticated air weapons.

Americans are questioning the Afghanistan involvement as never before. A Washington Post-ABC Poll, published this week, for the first time showed a majority of Americans opposed to the war. Meanwhile, suicide bombings and other attacks mount in Kabul. U.S. troops can protect the citizenry only sporadically, and with limitations. But inevitably, Americans will ask how long we will remain in Afghanistan, how many troops will be needed, and whether the costs in lives and treasure justify the venture. As with the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese army, chances of our destroying the Taliban are slight. Eventually, the Afghans—Taliban or otherwise—will inherit their land and have to assume responsibility for governing. We, like the British and the Russians before us, will fade into Afghanistan’s history.

Stanley Kutler is the author of “The Wars of Watergate” and other writings.

Cristina Nehring on the New Erotic Fundamentalism

There’s a strange thing happening in America. A new fundamentalism is emerging in our midst. It is an erotic fundamentalism, and its champions, oddly enough, hail from the same ranks as those who yesterday decried the fundamentalism of the Taliban, the practices of Islamic extremists, the backwardness of Eastern burqa champions. The West is best, they told us—and there was some reason to believe them. In the West, you don’t get stoned for adultery, they said. You don’t segregate the sexes. You don’t hide women just so men will not be tempted. You don’t practice preventive mutilation to avoid erotic error.

This now seems forgotten. The United States is in the throes of a pious convulsion at odds with its image of itself. As Americans, our image of ourselves is that of a people of unprecedented liberty from taboo, of endless erotic opportunity, of a sexual freedom so wide it is lamented as loudly as it is lauded.

But a new—or is it an old?—reality intrudes. From the pages of Time magazine to the New York Examiner, on the blogosphere and on airwaves, pundits are telling us that men and women really shouldn’t speak to each other. “Most people underestimate the danger of close friendships with members of the opposite sex … , ” warns self-proclaimed “Infidelity Examiner” Ruth Houston: “Emotional affairs often start quite innocently, with regular e-mails, text messages, phone calls, or face-to-face conversations between two opposite sex friends. The frequency and intensity of their communication with each other gradually increases as time goes on. Their friendship deepens and strong emotional bonds are formed. … ” One would think this could be a good thing in our atomized modern world: communication and bonding. But no: Communication “can progress to emotional infidelity” to one’s partner, “which, in turn, can lead to a physical affair.”

The conclusion? Don’t befriend a member of the opposite sex! “If you or your spouse or significant other have a close friendship with someone of the opposite sex that you think might be bordering on emotional infidelity, get a free copy of the Emotional Infidelity Quiz” so you can yank the cord, before it is too late, on that dangerous identification with the enemy gender.

Lest one imagine that such wisdoms are limited to a fanatical fringe, let us consider the pronouncements in America’s most popular newsweekly, Time, on the recent extramarital love confession of South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford. For essayist Caitlin Flanagan, the governor’s tearful and self-flagellating press conference did not go anywhere near far enough, either in contrition or scope: “Sanford told reporters the affair had begun ‘very innocently’ [nine years ago],” she scoffs, “which reveals that he still hasn’t been honest with himself about the willfulness of his actions. When a married man begins a secret, solicitous correspondence with a beautiful and emotionally needy single woman, he has already begun to cheat on his wife.”

Never mind that Sanford’s Argentine correspondent was not as needy as all that. Still legally married to one man and already courted by a bevy of new ones, Maria Belen Shapur was also the mother of two driving-age sons, a sometime television reporter and apparently well-established. But Sanford sinned because he dared to communicate with a woman who may have gleaned some encouragement from his conversation. He sinned because he conversed with a woman who was pretty. (Had she been ugly would it have been all right?) I don’t know how much we can say about the secrecy—or openness—of this correspondence, which went on very peaceably for almost a decade before moving, around year eight, into romantic territory, but this, too, is a very dicey call to make. What is the meaning of “secret”? Any words not read to the family after dinner or dispatched from a conjugal e-mail account? The questions one could raise are endless—and they are vain.

The fact of the matter is this: Any communication can take on romantic colors. The only way to consistently rule out such romanticization would be to outlaw social contact between persons susceptible—by virtue of their membership in half of the human population—to mutual erotic attraction. This is like saying we should amputate our legs lest ever we sprain an ankle.

To be human is to be tempted in different ways at different times. It is to navigate emotional ambiguities and erotic undercurrents. With any luck at all, it is to experience emotional connections to many different persons over the course of a lifetime. It is to reach out to “emotionally needy” individuals (who among us can claim to have always been emotionally “un-needy”?); to reach out to them whether they are male or female, homely or comely. If we train ourselves otherwise, we will soon find ourselves in a heartless world indeed. We will sacrifice the possibility of humanity for a frigid and isolating guarantee of fidelity.

* * *

I cannot help thinking, when I read diatribes like the one in Time, that this is one of those moments when the heterosexual majority can learn a few things from the homosexual minority. Living in the Paris Marais as I have for the past few years, I am regularly privy to the social lives of the gay people in my building. Across the courtyard from me is a pair in their 30s, together now for 15 years, who entertain a revolving—as well as a steady—series of male friends. Every time there’s a new kid on the block who seems a little lost, they extend a welcoming hand—sometimes mutually, but also often separately. Being very different personalities (one works as a university professor, another as an immigration officer; one comes from Algeria, the other from Pennsylvania), they communicate most effectively with very different kinds of people.

Were my neighbors followers of American advice columns, there would almost certainly be terrific jealousy between them. Why are you having dinner alone with that attractive so-and-so, would be the refrain. Why are you e-mailing so vivaciously with your student? Who’s that guy you always visit up north?

Are there sporadic sexual frissons between my neighbors and the occasionally “emotionally needy” men to whom they extend their hospitality and support? No doubt. Would it, for that reason, be better they forbid each other such relations?

They would never try, for they know what some of their heterosexual peers have forgotten: that commitment is based not on the violent prohibition of competing contact; it is based not on the erasure of temptation and the criminalization of kindness but on something altogether different. It is based also on love and will, courtship and responsibility. It is also based on the continued quality of the relationship. And my neighbors’ enterprising friendliness not only enriches their community (one of the reasons I live in the Marais is its infectious conviviality), but dramatically enhances the quality of their own relationship. It does so by providing ever fresh material for exchange, and a reminder that both are independent agents—attractive, responsive and not to be taken entirely for granted. Trusted? Yes. Assumed as the other’s birthright? No. In my mind, that is a good thing. The rest of us could do worse than to learn from it.

* * *

What happens, though, if there really is an act of infidelity? Full-service physical infidelity, not “emotional infidelity”? The South Carolina-Argentina saga ended, after all, with some days of actual togetherness between the principals—though not as many as one might imagine from the pornographic spite-fest engaged in by columnists and bloggers as a result. In nine years of writing letters—letters rich with biblical quotation, literary discussion, offers of aid to each other’s children, tenderness and hand-wringing about tenderness—Sanford and Shapur managed to see each other for some portion of six days before meeting in the company of Sanford’s spiritual adviser in a New York church with the express purpose of breaking up. Whatever one’s moral judgments of the matter, it is extremely difficult to present this relationship as a sexual orgy.

But that is exactly how it is glossed in the American media. Sanford is a “travelling penis.” His purpose in life was “hot Argentinian f-cking.” It is worth mentioning that the hours he took off to visit Shapur on the famous “state-funded trip” to South America in 2008 came not out of any political activity he was pursuing at the time but out of dove hunting. The people of South Carolina lost nothing at all—but the birds of Brazil got a brief break from the carnage.

It is an existential irony that when an American politician takes time off to kill, his constituents are all applause or indifference. But when he takes time off from killing to love, they are aghast and begin to worry whether it might have cost them anything. Nobody cared that former Vice President Dick Cheney took time out from overseeing the killing of Iraqis in order to frequently kill ducks—not even when he shot a fellow American by mistake in the process—but when a small-state governor has dinner with a South American divorcée, now that’s a scandal.

One of the most tragic aspects of this sort of journalistic lynching is the extreme reductionism about human relationships that it reflects and perpetuates. An interaction that—for all the damage it may have done—probably clocked thousands of hours of letter-writing for each second of kissing, is glossed, simply and confidently, as a “booty call”—an opportunistic groping after “free sex.” Is it not obvious to us that opportunism has a different face? It does not write reams of prose to a person on the other side of the globe and risk public ruin for a few minutes of gratification more reliably obtained in a toilet stall with a magazine—or with a willing groupie on your staff at lunchtime. Women in general are far too much trouble, said poet Philip Larkin to a friend. In the very best of cases you have to take them to a movie and express interest in their career goals and take their phone calls for some time afterward. Larkin himself “would rather stay home with my hand.”

So would others. So would others some of the time. But even Larkin—as his poems occasionally showed—had other aspirations at other moments. Most of us do—or we would not go to the trouble we do to mess up our lives. There would be no allure to the distant bad girl, no myth of the irresistible bad boy, no attraction to hard-to-get mates. As regrettable as we sometimes think such phenomena are, they are also, in a way, reassuring. They demonstrate clearly what we might otherwise forget: that human beings are motivated by more than “free sex.” They long for more than easy gratification. For worse or better, they actually like to work for relationships; to spend time, effort, imagination and—yes—idealism on them.

I wager the following: Even sex is not about sex. Even sex, in many cases, is as much about seizing and offering tangible proof of affection and esteem as it is about the procurement of pleasurable spasms. Those spasms are easy to come by if they are what you’re after. But few of us seek them where they are most easily accessible. Most of us stray farther and wider than ever the desire for physical pleasure would sanction. For all of our cynical posturing and occasional self-incrimination we are a hell of a lot more romantic than we say we are. We are a hell of a lot more interested in intimacy and earned closeness than we are asked to believe by the New Erotic Fundamentalists.

The New Erotic Fundamentalists would call Tristan himself a pig. They would call Isolde a slut who couldn’t find her dildo in time to avert political catastrophe. They would call Romeo—who flouted family to embrace his soul mate—a self-indulgent sop with “pants on fire.” Ultimately, the new erotic fundamentalism stems from a failure of the imagination. It leads, moreover, to a failure of reality—to a turning back of the clock on social progress and gender liberation and human trust. It leads us into a land where university professors cannot close the door during office hours; employers and employees cannot pay each other a heartfelt compliment, and married people cannot joke, work, sympathize or commiserate with members of the opposite sex. It brings us back to burqas and barriers, scarlet letters and scaffolds.

There is still time to turn back. The price, admittedly, is perfect safety. But the prize is freedom, equality and the possibility of love. It’s our choice.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Dear AL,

Net Neutrality is within reach. Can you feel it?

Yesterday, the FCC chairman announced new plans to expand Internet protections at the agency -- a big step forward to safeguard Net Neutrality, the principle that ensures a free-flowing Web.

But powerful, well-funded corporations like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast have launched a massive campaign to stop the FCC rule and strong arm lawmakers from moving on the Net Neutrality bill. We can’t let them succeed.

Can you contribute $10 to protect Net Neutrality?

We are so close to making Net Neutrality the law of the land. For the price of a movie ticket, you can help us win.

If Free Press raises $100,000, a generous supporter will donate a matching $100,000 to our efforts. That means if just 10,000 people donate $10 each we’ll have the funds we need to begin a no holds barred push in Washington.

The industry opposition has over 500 lobbyists swarming D.C., and they’re spending millions of dollars to sink Net Neutrality at the FCC and in Congress. We have to counter their efforts.

Your contribution will help pay to:

- Lobby members of Congress to co-sponsor new Net Neutrality legislation;
- Compile a database that lets activists quickly track their lawmakers’ stance on Net Neutrality;
- Push back against industry spin in the media and on the Hill;
- Rally 2 million Net Neutrality supporters to contact Congress and the FCC; and,
- Use social networks, viral videos and new online tools to connect activists to one another and spread the word.

These steps are crucial, and without a well-funded campaign, we’ll be far less effective in Washington.

We need your contribution to rally our campaign.

Free Press has a plan to win and today’s news means we’re picking up momentum; but we need your help in this final push for Net Neutrality. That means we need $10 from everyone, including you. Together, we can make sure the Internet stays the way it should: free from corporate control.

It’s just the price of a movie ticket. Can you swing it? Please donate today


With thanks,

Josh Silver
Executive Director

P.S. Of course, we welcome donations above and beyond ten bucks. Could you purchase an entire movie theater? Donate the money

to us instead. Remember, every dollar gets us closer to the $100,000 matching donation.

Drug Company Finds Cure For Attention Surplus Disorder

Does your boss regularly compliment you for meeting deadlines? Do loved ones express delight every time you remember another birthday, anniversary or special occasion? Are you organized? Are you planning to upgrade your sedan to a BMW? If you find yourself answering YES to these questions, you might be suffering from ASD, Attention Surplus Disorder.

 by David Richfield This file is licensed under  Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0. wikipediaASD, a new disorder, was recently discovered by researchers at the drug company Novartis. "We were working on ADHD research," explained Frank Denton, Head of Marketing, "and we discovered that for every patient who suffered from ADHD, there are four others suffering from ASD."

Take the case of Sara Johnston, 26, of Pleasanton, California. "I was always an A-student and I graduated with a 3.9 GPA. I've had two promotions in my first eighteen months at Oracle. But all this time I was sick!! I had no idea, I'm going on medication right away."

Joyce Rifkin of Overland Park, Kansas, said she was going to get a prescription for her twin teenage boys Josh and Ryan. They have been excelling in sports and studies at Blue Valley West High and appear to have many of the symptoms of ASD. "My boys are doing so well and if they need extra medication, I'm going to get it for them. They need every advantage they can get."

A drug company salesman said, "Many adults have struggled for years with untreated ASD. They tried to treat individual symptoms, like calmness, equanimity and living in the suburbs, but these don't respond to standard medicines."

Fortunately, pharmaceutical giant Novartis has a new drug that treats ASD. "Doctors recommend that you should take two pills in the morning and one in the evening. More if your symptoms are severe," explained Head of Sales, John Hunt. "Side effects include missed deadlines, impulsive behavior, disorganization, procrastination and forgetfulness. If these symptoms become severe, you need to start a course of Ritalin."


Texans against Jesus in Public Schools

Obama to read from Waffle House Menu

So-called Hero Pilot Refuses to Lands Plane in Chicago River

Local Walmarts Fear Rise of Super-Walmart


PUMPED spokeswoman for a Birthers spinoff known as the Never Borners claims to have "incontrovertible proof" that President Obama is nothing more than a "terrifying hologram created by the elitist liberal science complex."

Ms. Whirly Tootz—who, but for her raven hair, bears a striking resemblance to Orly Taitz, Queen of the Birthers—cried, "Why, Obama practically gave it away the other day by wielding his light saber! Right on the White House lawn!! Isn't anyone paying attention?!"

Among what Ms. Tootz calls "clues that scream at you" that the President is "not human, but merely a left-wing hologram of evil," are his "unnatural calm" under the stresses of his high office ("'No drama Obama' is just an evil-gram for 'I am not human'!!"); his ability "to instantly break into a huge grin, just like a grinning hologram would"; his measured speech patterns ("First his voice goes up, then it goes down. No real person does that!!"); and his "deceptively cute little ears, that stick out just the way you would expect hologram ears to do if you were designing one from scratch."

Whereas the Birthers leader, Orly Taitz, has been foiled recently in her efforts to file suit in order to remove President Obama from office, Whirly Tootz claims "complete confidence" that she will amass enough "proof of hocus-pocus" to compel the courts to "dethrone the Obama hologram and return America to her rightful owners—real, God-fearing human beings" the vast majority of which Ms. Tootz claims, happen to be Republicans.

"Don't blame me!" chirped the feisty Ms. Tootz. "I'm just the messenger! Look at your liberal neighbor and ask yourself, 'Does he or she look totally solid? Are their feet really touching the ground, or are they kind of floating there, looking down at me?' I think everyone knows what I mean."

In service to her goal of removing "Mr. Barack Hussein O'Holograma," Ms. Tootz has launched a petition that her aids are circulating nation wide.

"I implore each of you to sign it," pleaded Ms. Tootz. "Just put an 'x' down if that's the best you can do, folks. The Lord above will know it was you!"

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Nader Was Right:

The American empire has not altered under Barack Obama. It kills as brutally and indiscriminately in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan as it did under George W. Bush. It steals from the U.S. treasury to enrich the corporate elite as rapaciously. It will not give us universal health care, abolish the Bush secrecy laws, end torture or “extraordinary rendition,” restore habeas corpus or halt the warrantless wiretapping and monitoring of citizens. It will not push through significant environmental reform, regulate Wall Street or end our relationship with private contractors that provide mercenary armies to fight our imperial wars and produce useless and costly weapons systems.

The sad reality is that all the well-meaning groups and individuals who challenge our permanent war economy and the doctrine of pre-emptive war, who care about sustainable energy, fight for civil liberties and want corporate malfeasance to end, were once again suckered by the Democratic Party. They were had. It is not a new story. The Democrats have been doing this to us since Bill Clinton. It is the same old merry-go-round, only with Obama branding. And if we have not learned by now that the system is broken, that as citizens we do not matter to our political elite, that we live in a corporate state where our welfare and our interests are irrelevant, we are in serious trouble. Our last hope is to step outside of the two-party system and build movements that defy the Democrats and the Republicans. If we fail to do this, we will continue to undergo a corporate coup d’etat in slow motion that will end in feudalism.

We owe Ralph Nader, Cynthia McKinney and the Green Party an apology. They were right. If a few million of us had had the temerity to stand behind our ideals rather than our illusions and the empty slogans peddled by the Obama campaign, we would have a platform. We forgot that social reform never comes from accommodating the power structure but from frightening it. The Liberty Party, which fought slavery, the suffragists who battled for women’s rights, the labor movement, and the civil rights movement knew that the question was not how do we get good people to rule—those attracted to power tend to be venal mediocrities—but how do we limit the damage the powerful do to us. These mass movements were the engines for social reform, the correctives to our democracy and the true protectors of the rights of citizens. We have surrendered this power. It is vital to reclaim it. Where is the foreclosure movement? Where is the robust universal health care or anti-war movement? Where is the militant movement for sustainable energy?

“Something is broken,” Nader said when I reached him at his family home in Connecticut. “We are not at the Bangladesh level in terms of passivity, but we are getting there. No one sees anything changing. There is no new political party to give people a choice. The progressive forces have no hammer. When they abandoned our campaign, they told the Democrats we have nowhere to go and will take whatever you give us. The Democrats are under no heat in the electoral arena from the left.

“There comes a point when the public imbibes the ultimatum of the plutocracy,” Nader said when asked about public apathy. “They have bought into the belief that if it protests, it will be brutalized by the police. If they have Muslim names, they will be subjected to Patriot Act treatment. This has scared the hell out of the underclass. They will be called terrorists.

“This is the third television generation,” Nader said. “They have grown up watching screens. They have not gone to rallies. Those are history now. They hear their parents and grandparents talk about marches and rallies. They have little toys and gizmos that they hold in their hands. They have no idea of any public protest or activity. It is a tapestry of passivity.

“They have been broken,” Nader said of the working class. “How many times have their employers threatened them with going abroad? How many times have they threatened the workers with outsourcing? The polls on job insecurity are record-high by those who have employment. And the liberal intelligentsia have failed them. They [the intellectuals] have bought into carping and making lecture fees as the senior fellow at the institute of so-and-so. Look at the top 50 intelligentsia—not one of them supported our campaign, not one of them has urged for street action and marches.”

Our task is to build movements that can act as a counterweight to the corporate rape of America. We must opt out of the mainstream. We must articulate and stand behind a viable and uncompromising socialism, one that is firmly and unequivocally on the side of working men and women. We must give up the self-delusion that we can influence the power elite from the inside. We must become as militant as those who are seeking our enslavement. If we remain passive as we undergo the largest transference of wealth upward in American history, our open society will die. The working class is being plunged into desperation that will soon rival the misery endured by the working class in China and India. And the Democratic Party, including Obama, is a willing accomplice.

“Obama is squandering his positive response around the world,” Nader said. “In terms of foreign and military policy, it is a distinct continuity with Bush. Iraq, Afghanistan, the militarization of foreign policy, the continued expansion of the Pentagon budget and pursuing more globalized trade agreements are the same.”

This is an assessment that neoconservatives now gleefully share. Eliot A. Cohen, writing in The Wall Street Journal, made the same pronouncement.

“Mostly, though, the underlying structure of the policy remains the same,” Cohen wrote in an Aug. 2 opinion piece titled “What’s Different About the Obama Foreign Policy.” “Nor should this surprise us: The United States has interests dictated by its physical location, its economy, its alliances, and above all, its values. Naive realists, a large tribe, fail to understand that ideals will inevitably guide American foreign policy, even if they do not always determine it. Moreover, because the Obama foreign and defense policy senior team consists of centrist experts from the Democratic Party, it is unlikely to make radically different judgments about the world, and about American interests in it, than its predecessors.”

Nader said that Obama should gradually steer the country away from imperial and corporate tyranny.

“You don’t just put out policy statements of congeniality, but statements of gradual redirection,” Nader said. “You incorporate in that statement not just demilitarization, not just ascension of smart diplomacy, but the enlargement of the U.S. as a humanitarian superpower, and cut out these Soviet-era weapons systems and start rapid response for disaster like earthquakes and tsunamis. You expand infectious disease programs, which the U.N. Developmental Commission says can be done for $50 billion a year in Third World countries on nutrition, minimal health care and minimal shelter.”

Obama has expanded the assistance to our class of Wall Street extortionists through subsidies, loan guarantees and backup declarations to banks such as Citigroup. His stimulus package does not address the crisis in our public works infrastructure; instead it doles out funds to Medicaid and unemployment compensation. There will be no huge public works program to remodel the country. The president refuses to acknowledge the obvious—we can no longer afford our empire.

“Obama could raise a call to come home, America, from the military budget abroad,” Nader suggested. “He could create a new constituency that does not exist because everything is so fragmented, scattered, haphazard and slapdash with the stimulus. He could get the local labor unions, the local Chambers of Commerce and the mayors to say the more we cut the military budget, the more you get in terms of public works.”

“They [administration leaders] don’t see the distinction between public power and corporate power,” Nader said. “This is their time in history to reassert public values represented by workers, consumers, taxpayers and communities. They are creating a jobless recovery, the worst of the worst, with the clear specter of inflation on the horizon. We are heading for deep water.”

The massive borrowing acts as an anesthetic. It prevents us from facing the new limitations we must learn to cope with domestically and abroad. It allows us to live in the illusion that we are not in a state of irrevocable crisis, that our decline is not real and that catastrophe has been averted. But running up the national debt can work only so long.

“No one can predict the future,” Nader added hopefully. “No one knows the variables. No one predicted the move on tobacco. No one predicted gay rights. No one predicted the Berkeley student rebellion. The students were supine. You never know what will light the fire. You have to keep the pressure on. I know only one thing for sure: The whole liberal-progressive constituency is going nowhere.”

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Me-First, Screw-Everyone-Else Crowd

I know I should be mortified by the lobbyist-organized mobs of angry Brooks Brothers mannequins who are now making headlines by shutting down congressional town hall meetings. I know I should be despondent during this, the Khaki Pants Offensive in the Great American Health Care and Tax War. And yet, I’m euphorically repeating one word over and over again with a big grin on my face.


Finally, there’s no pretense. Finally, the Me-First, Screw-Everyone-Else Crowd’s ugliest traits are there for all to behold.

The group’s core gripe is summarized in a letter I received that denounces a proposed surtax on the wealthy and corporations to pay for universal health care:

“Until recently, my family was in the top 3 percent of wage earners,” the affluent businessperson fumed in response to my July column on taxes. “We are in the group that pays close to 60 percent of this nation’s taxes. ... Think for a second how you would feel if you built a business and contributed more than your share to this country only to be treated like a pariah.”

This sob story about the persecuted rich fuels today’s “Tea Parties”—and I’m sure you’ve heard some version of it in your community.

I’m also fairly certain that when many of you run into the Me-First, Screw-Everyone-Else Crowd, you don’t feel like confronting the faux outrage. But on the off chance you do muster the masochistic impulse to engage, here’s a guide to navigating the conversation:

What They Will Scream: We can’t raise business taxes, because American businesses already pay excessively high taxes!

What You Should Say: Here’s the smallest violin in the world playing for the businesses. The Government Accountability Office reports that most U.S. corporations pay zero federal income tax. Additionally, as even the Bush Treasury Department admitted, America’s effective corporate tax rate is the third-lowest in the industrialized world.

What They Will Scream: But the rich still “pay close to 60 percent of this nation’s taxes!”

What You Should Say: Such statistics refer only to the federal income tax. When considering all of “this nation’s taxes” including payroll, state and local levies, the top 5 percent pay just 38.5 percent of the taxes.

What They Will Scream: But 38.5 percent is disproportionately high! See? You’ve proved that the rich “contribute more than their share” of taxes!

What You Should Say: Actually, they are paying almost exactly “their share.” According to the data, the wealthiest 5 percent of America pays 38.5 percent of the total taxes precisely because they make just about that share—a whopping 36.5 percent!—of total national income. Asking these folks to pay slightly more in taxes—and still less than they did during the go-go 1990s—is hardly extreme.

Stripped of facts, your conversation partner will soon turn to unscientific terrain, claiming it is immoral to “steal” and “redistribute” income via taxes. Of course, he will be specifically railing on “stealing” for stuff like health care, which he insists gets “redistributed” only to the undeserving and the “lazy” (a classic codeword for “minorities”). But he will also say it’s OK that government sent trillions of dollars to Wall Streeters.

And that’s when you should stop wasting your breath.

What you’ve discovered is that the Me-First, Screw-Everyone-Else Crowd isn’t interested in fairness, empiricism or morality.

With 22,000 of their fellow countrymen dying annually for lack of health insurance and with Warren Buffett paying a lower effective tax rate than his secretary, the Me-First, Screw-Everyone-Else Crowd is merely using the argot of fairness, empiricism and morality to hide its real motive: selfish greed.

No argument, however rational, is going to cure these narcissists of that grotesque disease.

In a Wing-Nut World, Granny’s Toast

I am as happy as anyone at signs of an economic recovery. But I confess to having mixed feelings about the resurgence of the wing-nut industry.

We now have “The Birthers” manufacturing myths that President Obama was not born in the United States and therefore is serving illegally. These products arrive in my inbox faster than I can press “block sender.”

They are just following the business plan of those earlier entrepreneurs selling the idea that Obama had killed his grandma. Consider the scare-biz Internet scribe who penned the memorable line: “Obama flies to Hawaii to visit his grandmother and just a few days later she winds up dead. Coincidence?”

But now the industry has ratcheted up from accusing Obama of killing his grandma to accusing him of trying to kill your grandma.

The campaign of the moment is based on a small provision in the health care bill that would allow Medicare to reimburse doctors for time spent consulting with patients about their end-of-life choices.

This modest idea was willfully distorted by people such as Betsy McCaughey, the former lieutenant governor of New York, who said that the bill would “absolutely require” end-of-life counseling that “will tell them how to end their life sooner.” Republican leader John Boehner offered the same flawed product, saying, “This provision may start us down a treacherous path toward government-encouraged euthanasia.”

Their views were also sold by right-wing franchise operators. Laura Ingraham warned that government bureaucrats would “come to an old person’s house”—yeah, house calls!—for scary death chats. Fox News analyst Peter Johnson called it a “kind of our 2009 ‘Brave New World.’” And Randall Terry, the Zelig of the pro-life movement, said this was an attempt to “kill Granny.”

Panic is their most important product. The bill doesn’t really mandate anything. It simply assures that a talk about advance care planning will be covered for the patients and families who want it. As Obama told a woman at an AARP forum, “It strikes me that that’s a sensible thing to do.” But who would trust someone who offed his grandma?

All in all, Fearmongers Inc. plays on the notion that advance directives are a sneaky way of cutting costs by cutting life short.

Well, here’s what we know: One-quarter of all Medicare dollars are spent in the last year of life, much of it in the last month. We don’t know yet whether it will cost less (and how much less) for patients to choose high-quality palliative care. It surely isn’t the cheap fix to the health cost spiral.

But we have some other hints. In a study of terminal cancer patients at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, those who had end-of-life conversations spent about one-third less in their last week than those who didn’t. And they had a better quality of life and death.

Yes, those who didn’t talk about options had more aggressive treatment. They ended up in intensive care and/or on ventilators or were resuscitated. They not only had a worse quality of death by any measure, they left their families in more distress, and here’s the kicker: They didn’t live any longer.

As the study’s author, Holly Prigerson, said, “Usually saving money comes at a cost to society or the patient and family. In this case it would appear to be a win-win.” The patients who got more expensive treatment, she added, “were not buying anything that any informed consumer would want.”

Conversations about dying are never easy. Only about 20 percent of Americans have advance directives.

This cultural silence lingers over a false and stark choice between “treatment”—the word we use to describe aggressive procedures—and fear of abandonment. Families may feel that if they aren’t doing “everything,” they are doing nothing. Patients may see the alternative to medical care as no care.

We confuse life-prolonging and suffering-prolonging treatments. We don’t always hear about palliative care and hospice. This is precisely why we need to encourage these conversations.

Some people will choose “everything.” Others will choose comfort care. But if we train and reimburse clinicians for the fine art of communicating, we’ll have an informed choice. And that’s what this teeny little clause in the great big health care bill does. It enables granny and grandpa and us to say how we want to die.

So may we declare the scare biz bankrupt?

Oh, no, what’s that I see on the horizon? “Obamacare Will Mandate Free

Reports The Nut Job as Political Force

If there’s been a more clinically insane political phenomenon in my lifetime than the “birthers,” I’ve missed it. Is this what our national discourse has come to? Sheer paranoid fantasy?

I’m talking about the people who have convinced themselves that Barack Obama was not really born in the United States, and thus is ineligible to be president. Even some commentators who usually are among Obama’s most rabid critics have acknowledged that this idea is simply nuts. Yet it persists, out there on the farthest fringes of the right-wing blogosphere. Oh, and also on CNN, which is usually a little closer to reality.

It has been definitively shown that there is not a scintilla of truth, or even the slightest ambiguity, in the whole “birther” idea. Officials in Hawaii have attested again and again that Obama was, in fact, born in Honolulu on Aug. 4, 1961. When the “birthers” demanded to see his birth certificate, state officials produced it. Journalists have looked at this complete non-story from every angle and concluded that it is, in fact, a complete non-story.

To believe otherwise, it’s necessary to explain the fact that birth announcements heralding the arrival of baby boy Barack Obama ran in two Honolulu newspapers in August 1961. So to be a card-carrying “birther,” you have to believe not only that Hawaiian officials conspired to fabricate records, but also that “they”—not state officials, necessarily, but the generic malevolent “they” who inevitably lurk behind the deepest, darkest conspiracies—somehow managed to alter or replace clippings in yellowing newspaper archives.

That’s what the less crazy birthers have to contend. The alternative scenario—for those who really ought to put their tinfoil hats back on—is that somehow this was all planned back in 1961: “They” diabolically planted these birth announcements 48 years ago, establishing a false record, so that a chosen infant who was actually born in some foreign land—Kenya? Indonesia? Manchuria?—could be groomed, perhaps programmed, and someday installed in the Oval Office. Cue evil-genius laughter.

These would be people who also believe that Stanley Kubrick’s comic masterpiece, “Dr. Strangelove,” was actually a documentary—and that Obama’s ultimate aim, as cleverly deduced by Gen. Jack D. Ripper, is to “sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.”

There are probably people out there who think the world is flat, and they’re not worth writing about. The “birthers” wouldn’t be either unless you believe a poll released last week by Research 2000 revealing that an astounding 28 percent of Republicans actually think that Obama was not born in the United States and another 30 percent are “not sure.” GOP officials need to order more tinfoil.

The survey, commissioned by the liberal Web site Daily Kos, found that 93 percent of Democrats and 83 percent of independents have no doubt—duh—that Obama was born in the United States. That only 42 percent of Republicans are similarly convinced is a fascinating indicator of just how far the Republican Party has drifted from the mainstream.

Also beyond the Outer Limits of sanity is CNN anchor Lou Dobbs, who has been giving prime-time exposure to the “birther” lunacy—even while denying that he believes in it. Dobbs’ obsession with the “story” has become an embarrassment to the network, which has tried to position itself as untainted by political bias. CNN/U.S. President Jon Klein has pronounced the story “dead,” but insists that it’s legitimate for Dobbs to examine the alleged controversy, though in fact no controversy exists.

The “birther” thing is only Dobbs’ latest detour from objective reality. For years, he has crusaded against illegal immigration by citing facts and figures that often turn out to be wrong. Television can confer a kind of pseudo-reality on any manner of nonsense.

Is this an orchestrated campaign to somehow delegitimize Obama’s presidency? Is the fact that he is the first African-American president a factor? Is it that some people can’t or won’t accept that he won the election and serves as commander in chief?

Maybe, maybe not. Trying to analyze the “birther” phenomenon would mean taking it seriously, and taking it seriously would be like arguing about the color of unicorns. About all that can be said is that a bunch of lost, confused and frightened people have decided to seek refuge in conspiratorial make-believe. I hope they’re harmless. And I hope they seek help.

U.S. Militarism Makes Us Less Secure

A once-fashionable subject in America’s think tanks was futurology, supposed to be a fruitful method for foreseeing the future (or “possible futures” as it was put at the time). It worked by projecting what were thought to be plausible developments in the situation of a given subject by way of a narrative that would lead to a series of “branching points,” expected eventually to lead the analyst to unforeseen conclusions about what could happen.

Unexpected developments actually were fairly uncommon, since nearly everyone who played the game started with a bias toward one or another desirable outcome (or toward a particularly undesirable one that would demand immediate preventive measures to which the analyst had a professional or political commitment). If you were in favor of building missile defenses, your scenarios tended to run to future missile threats to the U.S.

The second problem with the technique was that people are not really very imaginative, and the grip of conventional wisdom is hard to loosen. Ask people today about the geopolitical future and they nearly always will bring up a Chinese superpower threat, or a resurgent Russia threat, taking us back to the familiar terrain of the Cold War.

Rule out those two possibilities, and scenario writers today generally will propose some kind of explosive increase in terrorist attacks. For example, one popular scenario is that al-Qaida seizes Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and attacks America. Another, long popular among neoconservatives, is that terrorist infiltrators incite the Muslim minorities in Western Europe to rise up, overthrow existing European governments, and establish a new Grand Caliphate incorporating all of Europe and Central and South Asia, with all their resources, and America is left beleaguered.

I don’t know how many people in Washington take this last threat seriously, but there have been think-tank seminars to discuss the possibility, and books on the subject.

These and other commonly described future threats are ones that could badly damage the United States if they occurred, but rarely is a scenario offered with which an aroused America could not cope. This goes without much thought because of the automatic assumption that there is nothing with which the most powerful nation on Earth can’t cope.

There assuredly is nothing that it cannot destroy. But destroying is not the same thing as coping. Let us consider the situation in Iraq, where there still are some 130,000 U.S. troops, most of them scheduled to withdraw over the next year and a half.

These days, a small but real possibility of an Israeli airstrike against Iran’s nuclear facilities exists. One big reason Washington has opposed this is that an obvious Iranian riposte to what would be seen as an American-facilitated attack would be a ground assault on the U.S. forces in Iraq, and on those forces’ logistical routes to Kuwait.

This would presumably be combined with operations in the Persian Gulf and its Arabian Sea approaches to deny these waters to naval operations meant to evacuate U.S. forces. The threat to conventional naval vessels of masses of fast, advanced-rocket-armed speedboats and Zodiacs has been widely discussed in naval circles, and the U.S. Navy has gamed the threat, reportedly with disquieting results.

Turning to the second American war currently under way, consider the possibility that supporters of the Taliban might supply it with modern ground-air missiles, just as the U.S. supplied such weapons to the anti-Russian mujahedeen during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. These could cripple helicopter and fighter-bomber air support for U.S. and NATO forces.

Suppose an unfriendly Russia then terminated its overflight agreement that allows American and NATO aircraft to supply allied forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan via Central Asian air routes. The Pakistan government simultaneously becomes so weakened by Taliban offensives, the activities of other Islamist forces, and Balochistan separatist unrest that the American forces’ land communication routes to the south and east no longer function. The Pakistanis are in the same plight as the Americans trapped in Iraq.

Now all of this is perfectly normal futurology/war-gaming, and one can be sure that nothing I have suggested has failed to be foreseen and analyzed by military and naval staffs. But the overall conclusion that leaps up from the paper in this analysis is that the more wars you undertake abroad, the more places you intervene and the more bases you build around the world, the less secure you are.

The Pentagon has been ringing the world with U.S. bases, meant to make the U.S. secure and able to strike down any threat to American interests, anywhere. There are currently more than 800 manned U.S. foreign military bases. Taken all together, they make up a formidable global array of power. But practically every one of them could be picked off by a hostile military operation. Are they keeping America secure? I would argue that every one of them is an American vulnerability.

Can Republicans Escape Their Extremists?

Things are looking up for the Republicans, relatively speaking. President Obama’s poll numbers have dipped, GOP recruitment for the 2010 elections is going better than expected, and the heath care battle has been rough on the Democrats.

On top of that, the surveys show Republicans now leading in this year’s two major governor’s races, in Virginia and New Jersey.

There’s just one problem: The country still doesn’t like Republicans.

A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll last week captured the public’s mixed verdict. The headlines focused on growing doubts about Obama’s health care plan and the drop in his approval rating, from 60 percent in February to 53 percent now.

But the same poll found that while Democrats as a party had a net positive rating of five points (42 percent positive to 37 percent negative), the GOP faced a 13-point deficit. Only 28 percent rated the Republicans positively; 41 percent rated them negatively.

Perhaps this has something to do with how few positive things Republicans have to say. As a result, the party is being defined by extremist voices who have faced little push-back from its leaders.

The extremists include the “birthers” who, against all evidence, insist that Obama was not born in the United States and thus ineligible to be president. These guys are so out there that party leaders and conservative commentators have started to disown them.

Race-baiting is no longer off-limits on some of the right-wing talk shows. Fox News’ Glenn Beck, for example, declared that Obama “has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.”

Ethnicity has been an underlying issue in the debate around Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s Supreme Court nomination. Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee questioned whether she would be fair by repeatedly referring to her comment—from which she backed away—about the relative wisdom of a “wise Latina.”

Rush Limbaugh was far less subtle when her comment first surfaced. “How do you get promoted in a Barack Obama administration?” he asked. “By hating white people—or even saying you do, or that they’re not good or put ’em down, whatever.”

Some in the party are also entering never-never land in their attacks on the Democrats’ health care proposals. Last week, for example, Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., claimed that the Republican approach to health care would be more pro-life because it “will not put seniors in a position of being put to death by their government.”

Foxx’s ludicrous notion—taking off in the right-wing blogosphere—is that Section 1233 of the House health bill is an invitation to euthanasia.

It’s nothing of the sort. It simply provides Medicare funding so seniors with life-threatening diseases can consult their doctors on advanced care and be given “an explanation by the practitioner of the continuum of end-of-life services and supports available, including palliative care and hospice, and benefits for such services and supports that are available under this title.”

The harshness of the rhetorical salvos is feeding worries among some Republicans that the GOP is increasingly perceived as a right-wing, Southern regional party.

Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio brought those concerns to the surface in an interview with The Columbus Dispatch in which he spoke of the role played by Sens. Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

“We got too many Jim DeMints and Tom Coburns,” said Voinovich, who is retiring next year. “It’s the Southerners.” He added: “People hear them and say, ‘These people, they’re Southerners. The party’s being taken over by Southerners.’ ”

Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana shot back, calling Voinovich “a moderate, really wishy-washy” in an interview with The Washington Times. But Vitter offered indirect support for Voinovich’s claim when he said: “I’m on the side of conservatives getting back to core conservative values. There are a lot of us from the South who hold those value(s), which I think the party is supposed to be about.”

In the short term, these tussles and rumblings may not matter much. The country is focused on judging what the Democrats are doing with the power they hold. The path politics will take depends largely on the outcome of the health care battle and the direction of the economy.

But to take advantage of the opportunities that might come their way, Republicans will have to make themselves an acceptable alternative. They have not done this yet. Facing down extremism and breaking out of the party’s regional enclave would be good places to start.

So Much for the Promised Land

LeAlan Jones, the 30-year-old Green Party candidate for Barack Obama’s old Senate seat in Illinois, is as angry at injustice as he is at the African-American intellectual and political class that accommodates it. He does not buy Obama’s “post-racial” ideology or have much patience with African-American leaders who, hungry for prestige, power and money, have, in his eyes, forgotten the people they are supposed to represent. They have confused a personal ability to be heard and earn a comfortable living with justice.

“The selflessness of leaders like Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King, Harold Washington and Medgar Evers has produced selfishness within the elite African-American leadership,” Jones told me by phone from Chicago.

“This is the only thing I can do to have peace of mind,” he said when I asked him why he was running for office. “I am looking at a community that is suffering because of a lack of genuine concern from their leaders. This isn’t about a contract. This isn’t about a grant. This isn’t about who gets to stand behind the political elite at a press conference. This is about who is going to stand behind the people. What these leaders talk about and what needs to happen in the community is disjointed.”

Jones began his career as a boy making radio documentaries about life in Chicago’s public housing projects on the South Side, including the acclaimed “Ghetto Life 101.” He knows the world of which he speaks. He lives in the troubled Chicago neighborhood of Englewood, where he works as a freelance journalist and a high school football coach. He is the legal guardian of a 16-year-old nephew. And he often echoes the denunciations of black leaders by the historian Houston A. Baker Jr., who wrote “Betrayal: How Black Intellectuals Have Abandoned the Ideals of the Civil Rights Era.”

Baker excoriates leading public intellectuals including Michael Eric Dyson, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Shelby Steele, Yale law professor Stephen Carter and Manhattan Institute fellow John McWhorter, saying they pander to the powerful. He argues they have lost touch with the reality of most African-Americans. Professor Gates’ statement after his July 16 arrest that “what it made me realize was how vulnerable all black men are, how vulnerable are all poor people to capricious forces like a rogue policemen” was a stunning example of how distant from black reality many successful African-American figures like Gates have become. These elite African-American figures, Baker argues, long ago placed personal gain and career advancement over the interests of the black majority. They espouse positions that are palatable to a white audience, positions which ignore the radicalism and structural critiques of inequality by W.E.B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. And in a time when, as the poet Yusef Komunyakaa has said, “the cell block has replaced the auction block,” they do not express the rage, frustration and despair of the black underclass.

The conditions for black men and women in America are sliding backward, with huge numbers of impoverished and unemployed removed from society and locked up. Baker acidly calls this “the disappearing” of blacks. The unemployment rate in most inner cities is in the double digits, and segregation, especially in city schools and wealthy states like New Jersey, is the norm. African-American communities are more likely to be red-lined by banks and preyed upon by unscrupulous mortgage lenders, which is why such a high percentage of foreclosures are in blighted, urban neighborhoods. The Village Voice’s recent exposé that detailed brutal and sometimes fatal beatings of black and Hispanic prisoners by guards at New York’s Rikers Island was a window into a daily reality usually not seen or acknowledged by the white mainstream.

“The only difference between the world of high finance and drug dealers are the commodities they deal,” he added. “The mentality is the same.”

The most prominent faces of color, such as Obama and his attorney general, Eric Holder, mask an insidious new racism that, in essence, tells blacks they have enough, that progress has been made and that it is up to them to take advantage of what society offers them. And black politicians and intellectuals, including Obama and Gates, are the delivery systems for the message. We blame the victims, those for whom jobs and opportunities do not exist, while we orchestrate the largest transfer of wealth upward in American history. We sustain with taxpayer dollars a power elite and oligarchy that is responsible for dismantling the manufacturing base and social service programs which once gave workers and their families hope. Apologists for the system call their demands for black personal responsibility “tough love.” But the stance, music to the ears of the white elite, is to Baker and Jones morally indefensible. It ignores the harsh reality visited on the poor by the cruelty of unfettered capitalism. It ignores the institutional racism that makes sure the poor remain poor.

“The most published and publicized blacks on the American public scene today are well-dressed, comfortably educated, sagaciously articulate, avowedly new age, and resolutely middle class … , ” Baker wrote. “The evolution of their relationship to the black majority during the past three decades can be summed up in a single word: good-bye!”

“Things are deteriorating,” Jones said of the inner city. “There are no natural relationships because of the decentralization of the street gangs. You don’t have a leadership structure that can be talked to by members of the community to bring peace. You have basically guerrilla warfare going on in the inner city of Chicago. There is no structure or hierarchy where you can go talk to one person in the neighborhood that can then go down the pecking order to bring peace. You have different groups that have different motivations, and that factionalism is at the base of the violence. But there is no alternative when you don’t have jobs, when you have an educational system that has failed and bad home environments.”

Jones said Obama’s silence was illustrated during a recent fundraising trip to Chicago. The president called Chicago White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle to congratulate him for pitching a perfect game. Obama made no comment, however, about the shooting of nine people in Chicago, including a 9-year-old girl, a few days earlier.

“When Barack Obama does not speak to these issues, it is almost a double devastation to a certain degree,” he said. “It is different if President Bush doesn’t say anything or Bill Clinton doesn’t say anything. But when Barack Obama can’t say the obvious, it does a double devastation to those young men who wanted to hope and wanted to believe in the system to redress these issues.”

August Wilson wrote his last play, “Radio Golf,” about the black elite that sold out the African-American community in exchange for personal power and wealth. He portrayed them as tools and puppets of the white mainstream. It was the final salvo from one of the country’s most courageous playwrights on behalf of the forgotten. The show, despite being named best American play by the New York Drama Critics Circle and earning a Tony nomination for best play, was one of the least attended shows on Broadway and closed after less than two months. There are African-American leaders and writers with Wilson’s integrity who have refused to accommodate an economic and political system that increasingly punishes the poor, especially the poor of color, but you do not see them on CNN or writing Op-Ed pieces in The New York Times. Dick Gregory, James Cone of Union Theological Seminary, Thulani Davis, Komunyakaa, Angela Davis, Baker and Ishmael Reed still harbor the radical fire of our greatest civil rights leaders.

And, of course, there is Harry Belafonte, whose invitation to speak at the funeral of Coretta Scott King was withdrawn so President George W. Bush, whom Belafonte had called a “terrorist,” would not be offended when he spoke there. This last slight illustrates how craven many in the black elite, including some of Dr. King’s children, have become and how hard it is to hear the anguished cries of those being beaten down in the age of Obama.

Courtiers come in different colors in America but their function is the same. They are hedonists of power. They are invited into the inner circles of the elite, including the White House and Harvard University, as long as they faithfully serve the system. They are offered comfort and privilege, but they pay with their souls.

“Loose and easy language about equality, resonant resolutions about brotherhood fall pleasantly on the ear,” Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “but for the Negro, there is a credibility gap he cannot overlook. He remembers that with each modest advance, the white population promptly raises the argument that the Negro has come far enough. Each step forward accents an ever-present tendency to backlash.”