Sunday, January 30, 2005

"Progress for America"

In an effort to foster dialogue among the competing voices in America, ClearBlue Sky has created a new venue, Progress for America, a forum actively encouraging exchange between people of opposing points of view on the issues in the USA today. This exchange has already generated some positive results, as this excerpt from a recent ClearBlue post may illustrate:

"
PROGRESS FOR AMERICA said...

to: Donald
from: Clearbluesky
www.clearblueskyoutwest.blogspot.com

I think you made some excellent points in that last
entry and I really need to think about them further.
You raise a good point that republicans are often
involved in strong communities. However, I'm still
stuck on the fact that man republican
policies...government policies advocated by
republicans...are ANTI-COMMUNITY. I just don't get the
contradiction.

Someone once said that Ronald Reagan, if he saw a
homeless person on the street, would have been
inclined to dash over and give them a blanket and some
kind words...however, if he saw a group of 60 homeless
people, he would have seen it as a communist
conspiracy. This is an odd example, but it strikes at
the heart of what I'm getting at: caring about the
local community...individuals who they can put their
finger on...seems ok, even great, for republicans.

It's when the love gets a little to broad and
intangible that they have problems. Are there problems
with social programs, ABSOLUTELY...and they should be
fixed...rather than cut back or dismantled. It's the
lack of caring for the community on the part of
republicans I can't get past: fight the public school
teachers, take the teeth out of environmental laws,
snub the UN, etc.

I understand the concern you and other republicans
have for people who leech off the system. That's
maddening. But I'm afraid that's an exception rather
than the rule and you and your side are abusing the
anecdotal stories to further your agenda.

I worked as a caseworker in a homeless shelter and
spent a lot of time with families in need. Across the
board, they were not leeches...they were people who'd
encountered catastrophic events that knocked them down
like a tidal wave tosses a hut on the beach. Could
they have made better life choices along the way? Yes
(better husband, better wife, fewer kids, all that --
and don't start going off about having too many babies
because conservatives are the ones fighting AGAINST
teaching kids about birth control and giving them all
the options concerning unwanted pregnancy).

I'm also going to get a little worked up here on one
point: I think anyone who has attained even the
slightest amount of wealth or status in society
(anyone with a steady job and a place to live has a
little wealth and status in my book)...anyone who gets
there runs the risk of believing that the POOR WANT TO
BE LIKE THEM. That is a HUGE mistake and causes
incredible tensions between the poor and anyone trying
to help lift them up (whether the lifter is republican
or democrat).

Many of us who have attained wealth and status, did
some lousy things along the way to get there and the
act of doing those lousy things demeaned us and hurt
our spirit, hardened us, made us cynical, lead some of
us to forget about love altogether.

The poor, though cold and lacking significant food,
are at least huddled together quite often...especially
poor families....and when the rich man (anyone with a
car, place to live, and job) condescends to them and
makes it clear he wants to teach them to be more like
him, they are justifiably skeptical. After all, they
may lack wealth and status, but often times they have
much more love in their lives and they are much more
honest, sincere, and genuine people.

And the rich man (liberal or conservative), when he
senses they are put off by his attitude is
angered...The rich man is angered because he wanted to
help them, not for their sake, but for his...it made
HIM feel good to teach another group to be more like
him....it put him up on the pedestal and made him feel
like he's above someone. We are really screwed up when
it comes to status in America. We always seem to gain
our status not from great accomplishments, but from
our ability to look down on others. We define
ourselves, often times (liberal and conservative), by
our ability to compare ourselves to those less
fortunate.

My point is: we need to reexamine how we define a
life...the quality of a life, what makes a good life
and a good person. My view is that republicans too
often judge the world through the money lens..."you
either got it or you don't and if you don't, you must
want it...and if you can't get it, you need to learn
to get it, and if you don't make the effort to get it,
you're lazy."

I'm just not sure that's where it's at. Most (not all
but most) wealthy people I know (and I know a lot)
have so many battle scars from their rise to power
that their jaws are clenched, their home security is
tight, and they've walled themselves off to
love...side effect of maintaining the battle position
for extended periods. I'm not saying they are
intentionally mean. I'm saying that someone living in
America can easily fall into this trap...out of mere
survival.

The most beautiful people I've met do not measure
their lives by money. The majority of these beatiful
souls are poor or close to it. I can't help but think
that they had an advantage...that they were lucky not
to have to wear the yoke of yearning for status all
their lives...and that this is why they lack frown
lines....that this is why they are genuinely, clearly
happy.

Now, some of the beautiful people I've met in this
world are wealthy, or super wealthy....they are a rare
breed...but they exist...It's tough to make it through
the meat grinder and come out the other side a whole
person but I've met people who have and it's
impressive.

I don't know that this is a necessarily a liberal /
conservative issue but I wanted to bring it up. WE
SHOULDN'T BE SO SURE THE POOR WANT TO BE LIKE US
LIBERALS OR YOU REPUBLICANS. Perhaps they see us as
being below them...especially if they are genuinely
happy and they see us running on the hopeless
materialist treadmill.

Yes, in that case, they may feel sorry for us!!! On
more than one occasion, someone I was trying to help
materially ended up teaching ME a thing or two.

What does it mean to be a whole loving person?
Shouldn't that be the measure of a person....whether
they live life with love, humor, integrity, charity,
and humility? Isn't that what its all about.

If, for a moment, you visualize what I'm saying and
take it to be true, then our whole discussion of how
to fix the poor takes on a whole new light. Perhaps if
we were more spiritually and socially in tune...if we
were more loving, we would build a society in which
one does not have to sell one's soul to live
comfortably (food, shelter, clothing).
I've found the tradeoff ain't worth it. Shouldn't we
be striving to make the world safe for love. Don't we
need to save our own souls before we start telling
other people how to save theirs?

When I was at my lowest point materially (nearly
homeless), I despised people who looked down on me and
offered only their narrow view on how I could better
myself...the only way they could see I could improve
was to gain more wealth...they couldn't even conceive
of the idea that they didn't represent the ideal to
me...far from it.

I have seen this from the other side and the
liberal/conservative "HELPING HAND" is often extended
by someone who needs WAY more help than the guy with
no home. The desperate one is the one extending the
helping hand. You have to admit, it's quite often
true.

I think back to the complicated issue of race in
America, especially during times of slavery and civil
rights movements...the curious interdependence between
blacks and whites is a fairly close metaphor for the
interdependence between the poor and their
benefactors. Whose soul needed to be saved? Who
needed to be lifted up. Painful stuff, since we're
not quite over all that race stuff yet and won't be
for some time. But sometimes this pain is
transformative if we confront the issues head on.
We're not there yet, but I have confidence we will get
there.

By the careful insight of your responses, I'm guessing
you already get this. You have to admit though, it's
an interesting and mindbending point that most people
miss.

There's all sorts of exceptions and flaws here but I
hope I've at least gotten my point across.

Thanks for your thoughtful responses. You've got me
thinking. At the very worst, I'll hone my arguments
and patch holes in them through these discussions. At
the very best, I may just learn something from you and
adopt some of your beliefs.

We'll see. I'm a hard nut to crack...but improving
this country and forcing / encouraging honesty is my
ultimate goal...so I may be willing to sacrifice my
pride now and then for progress. Perhaps here the ends
might just justify the means :)"

Check out the new site and get into the discussion! It's getting interesting out there! Progress for America! What a great idea!
Link

Sunday, January 16, 2005

A progressive plan of action

My fellow progressive blogger and new-found friend ClearBlue Sky, who shares my outrage at the fact that our government has been taken over by a radical-reactionary imperial cadre, has posted a challenge to the progressive movement to abandon being correct in the abstract in favor of actually implementing a program that will save the democratic principles our country was founded on and protect the civil liberties that make it possible to maintain this democratic government based on consent of the governed rather than command of the elite.

I urge you to read his Jan. 14 post, Bush Shocks Nation....

It is an impassioned yet rational plea for us to get involved, get real, and get radical in our approach. Just being right, claiming the moral high ground because we are not willing to do the horrible things that the wingnuts (right-wing nuts) do, and presenting our carefully reasoned policy statements is not enough to keep things together in America in the face of what is clearly a proto-fascist and imperialist onslaught.

One simple example of the attack: Willa Johnson, right-wing foundation extremist, who runs a group dedicated to exterminating progressive groups, has the nerve (perhaps idiocy is a better word) to accuse progressives of having "lost faith in ... diversity in the marketplace of ideas." The absurdity of this is probably obvious. They don't want us to be able to speak, because we don't believe in the free marketplace of ideas. This is typical of the kind of absurdity and doublespeak these people get away with all the time, because they have carved out such a niche in the minds of their "true believers" that virtually anything they say is swallowed. (Thanks to ClearBlue for the link!)

Fascism
(my post on it), which is where it seems to me we are headed, arises in the midst of people who have stopped thinking, usually because of fear of dispossesion, and latched their minds onto some easy explanations for their distress and their hearts onto some leader who gives the right cues to make them feel secure. The people behind Project for a New American Century have skillfully spread propaganda to create the fear of dispossesion and at the same time carefully manipulated George W. Bush into position to project the proper cues to the American people, thus triggering the fascist response.

(For several excellent reports and near-exhaustive research on this rising fascism in America, see Orcinus, the great web site of journalist David Neiwert.)

So, the time has passed for us to sit around and commiserate about how unfair it all is and how undeserved is our low status in the minds of Americans. We must unite, organize and act. Dialogue on the nature of that action, and organization into a coordinated effort is essential. ClearBlue's post is a clarion call. Let's all respond!
Link

Monday, January 10, 2005

Gonzo at the helm

Alberto Gonzales is George Bush's Special Counsel. Is that enough to say about him, or do I need to go on?

I have been really reluctant to criticize Mr. Gonzales, I suppose because he seems like such a likable guy. I lived in the Southwest and worked with Hispanics for some time, and I have a genuine like and high regard for them as a group, so it makes it hard for me to oppose him. But I kept getting emails from every organization I'm signed up with urging me to contact the Senate in opposition to his nomination, so I began to check him out. It has not been pleasant.

First the good news: he's not a screaming maniacal christo-fascist freakoid like the guy he's replacing, so he looks really good by comparison. At least on some issues, though I guess most anyone Bush could come up with would look good next to Ashcroft. Seriously, Gonzales is apparently a moderate on most social issues. Here's the LA Times ( Richard B. Schmitt) reporting on the hearings: "[Senate Democrats'] sometimes sharp questioning was done in a friendly atmosphere — at a hearing that lasted only a day — that made his eventual confirmation by the Senate virtually a foregone conclusion. One reason is that he is considered a moderate on many social issues compared with the man he would replace, former Missouri Sen. John Ashcroft.
...On other issues, Gonzales indicated he was receptive to review of the Patriot Act, the terrorism-fighting law passed after the Sept. 11 attacks, saying the use of government power should be the subject of regular scrutiny.
He said he would make civil rights and immigrant issues a priority, and spoke of the need for government to provide reentry support for the growing number of people leaving the nation's prisons every year. He said he considered the question of abortion rights closed, given Supreme Court rulings over the last three decades on the right to privacy. 'My judgment is that the court has had ample opportunity to look at this issue,' he said. 'So far as I am concerned,' he added, the right to abortion is 'the law of the land, and I will enforce it.'"

The Times report went on to quote: "What was lacking in this hearing was a fuller measure of accountability, something that has long been lacking from this administration," said Vermont Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. "The Bush administration's torture policy seems to have been created through spontaneous combustion. No one will take responsibility for it."

And that only hints at what is really lacking in both the candidate and his inquisitors. The Democrats seemed to be just going through the motions, with no real hope of stopping the nomination now or later should Gonzales (can we call him Gonzo yet?) actually be the next Supreme Court appointee – excuse me, nominee – as seems likely. What Gonzales himself seems to be lacking is any clear sense of what Constitutional government really is. Bruce Shapiro of The Nation characterizes him as “an enthusiastic apostle of the imperial executive.” George Bush's man.

People for the American Way (PFAW) is softer in its assessment, but the impact is the same: “a lawyer who too often allows his legal judgment to be driven by his close relationship with the President rather than adherence to the law or the Constitution.” The ACLU's extensive report documents Gonzales as a “committed friend to the executive,” and suggests he is hostile to executive accountability and open government. Not what we're looking for in these proto-fascist times.

Even the Christian group Sojourners has come out strongly against Gonzales, raising concerns in their action alert about his involvement in the torture and abuse memo. They document the significant differences between his testimony before the Senate and the record on this issue.

LA Times columnist Robert Scheer also faults Gonzales for his approach in the torture memo incident: “Acting like a sleazy attorney advising a client on how not to be convicted of an ongoing crime, Gonzales was apparently not worried about irrational foreign courts or high-minded jurists in The Hague, but rather US prosecutors who might enforce federal laws that ban torture of foreign prisoners of war,” Scheer writes. “Indeed, Gonzales made the case for a legal end run around the 1996 War Crimes Act, which mandates criminal penalties, including the death sentence, for any US military or other personnel who engage in crimes of torture.

Georgetown Univ. law professor David Cole says that in the terrorist trial department, “Gonzales makes Ashcroft look like a voice of reason.” Cole says Gonzales ignored wide-ranging advice against an extreme position on the terrorist trials, listening only to Federalist Society conservatives. Cole also points out that in the 57 capital cases on which Gonzales advised Bush during the Texas governorship, all were executed.

Perhaps the most damning criticism of Gonzales has come from an unlikely source: retired military officers. Their letter, according to Shapiro, accuses Gonzales of having "fostered greater animosity toward the United States, undermined our intelligence gathering efforts and added to the risks facing our troops around the world." They believe Gonzales' tactics are hurting long-running efforts within the military to prevent further atrocities such as My Lai.

Shapiro says that the Gonzales appointment, which seems assured at this point, raises serious questions - “questions not just of human rights for terrorism suspects worldwide but of a presidency absorbed in its own quest for unrestrained power, both domestic and international.

In short, Gonzales is the next step in the rise to power of the Bush Reich. It's time to get serious about organizing at every level possible to combat what amounts to a frontal assault on the basics of the American democratic system. Our civil liberties, indeed the very ideals of liberty and justice for all, are at risk.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Blow Up Your TV?

What is the impact of TV on the country? How should it change?

Blow up your TV...” John Prine sang back in the sixties, and lots of us did. At least we pulled the plug.

But, maybe not enough of us. It's clearly a powerful drug. TV seems to be a social poison. But may it also be – like many powerful and deadly drugs – capable of doing great good? Is it enhancing and enlightening our lives – or killing us?

Around the same time John was singing, Marshall McLuhan coined his famous phrase, “The medium is the message,” and most of us missed his message.

Well into this millennium, it seems that TV is getting stronger and stronger despite the widespread, intense criticism it has endured since its beginning. The truth of TV's impact is hard to discern, either in the short term immediate impact or in its long term overall effect as a medium.

Programatically, it seems to get worse and worse, as the latest crop of “reality shows” seems to prove. One day last week, we agreed as a family not to watch any of those shows, partially as an aesthetic statement and partially out of genuine concern for our mental health, especially that of our 15-year-old daughter. We watch very little TV actually, yet I can see great influences on us from even our small weekly dose.

I didn't own a TV for the first 40 or so years of my life, and I have resisted its incursion into our lives, though mostly it's been a losing battle.

Of course, it's effect as a news medium is more important than in the entertainment sphere, and there it also seems to be in steady decline, as evidenced by the general decline of network and cable news, led by the despicable duplicity of Fox News. But is there even here, another side?

The negative impact of TV has long been of concern. Soren Kierkegaard, writing before 1850 - half a century before even the theoretical possibility of wireless voice transmission was established by Fessenden – said that if some way to broadcast speech widely were devised, it would have terrible impact on the morals of society, due to the vast power it would give to some to spread propaganda. [As occasionally happens to me, I have lost the reference for this statement, but I remember it clearly, and hope to recover it!] He could look at the 2004 election and say, “I told you so.” The power of TV for propaganda is obviously great, and thus its power for undermining democratic civil society is terrible. If Hitler had had TV, we might not be having this discussion!

But is this power capable of being wielded for good as well as for evil? McLuhan said that the “medium shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action.” So TV means we communicate in increasingly visual forms, at increasing speed – the fact that it is apparently with decreasing levels of clear thought may not be intrinsic to the medium.

McLuhan also gave currency to the term 'global village' as a consequence of electronic media. This suggests that there may in fact be a long-term positive consequence to the changes wrought on human society by TV and its cousins. In fact, it seems TV is not the problem, but the use it is put to. Like any tool, it may be used for good or bad. To return to my original metaphor, if TV is a drug, it may heal as well as harm, depending on how it is used.

The defective nature of the news reporting common on TV is primarily a money function. TV journalism can be great. Witness Bill Moyers, many of the Nightline programs (especially those produced by Laura Palmer) and a few other great efforts, notably public broadcasting. Also notice the wonderful resource that C- span provides – and think about what it could be, with expanded funding and some creative energy.

Think about a political campaign waged using videos like Marshal Mather's “Mosh”, Knifeparty's PNAC message, and MoveOn's democratically produced and chosen messages – and on a major scale. Expand that to imagine a TV channel dedicated to producing the unreported news stories from Project Censored. It could prove a powerful means to spread word of the progressive cause. There are lots of exciting, dramatic news stories about corporate malfeasance out there that people would watch. The problem is not that people are not interested in finding out what's going on.

The problem is there are not outlets for these things if they are produced, because corporate media will not air anything that goes against corporate interests. Are we surprised at that? Why? Partly because we believe in the myth of a “free press.” As a publisher I once worked for loved to say, “Freedom of the press belongs to him who owns the press.” That's the truth of the matter and always has been. But people get upset with the newspaper because it won't print their letter – people think freedom of the press means the press belongs to the public. And in a sense it once did, because the people who owned the presses and wrote the news – my father was one of these – were dedicated to telling the truth and operating the newspapers in the public interest. I think my father was the last of that species. Most of them were killed in the wars between William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer.

But now, we have given the media to the corporate interests instead of keeping them as a public resource to be used for the public good; this is a consequence of the general nature of governance: Corporatism. We are no longer a Democracy. That is a polite fiction maintained to keep us Civics teachers quiet. America is ruled lock, stock and barrel by the Corporations. Politicians are strictly their lackeys.

(Witness the disgraceful performance of John Kerry in the 2004 Presidential election. And his worse performance since. His “Second Concession Speech” was revolting! Since reading it, I regret profoundly ever voting for him.)

“It is a mistake to think that the corporate media supports the neo-liberal project,” says Arundhati Roy. “It is the neo-liberal project. It is the nexus, the confluence, the convergence, the union, the chosen medium of those who have power and money. As the project of corporate globalism increases the disparity between the rich and the poor, as the world grows more and more restive, corporations on the prowl for sweetheart deals need representative governments... Corporate/nationalism has become the unwavering anthem of the mass media.”

So, indeed, Corporatism is the enemy, not TV. And we who have enough light left to see where things are going must pick up the tools that work and begin to use them to build a civil society with enough clout to wrest power from this enemy.

One of those tools, perhaps the most powerful one, is TV and the visual media in general. If we don't learn to use it and use it well, we may as well give up this campaign.