Word and Image of Vermont
On and Off the Mark Archive    -    July 2004
The response of the major media to the loss of human life is fascinating. Some deaths are newsworthy and receive much attention and some are so ho-hum they can scarcely be mentioned. But the wise men and women of TV and newsprint don't explain why one's important and another isn't. Furthermore, a death that at one time would have come screaming from the headlines is at another passed by without a blink of recognition. Three years ago -- do our journalists remember that there was a three years ago? -- the death of a single American soldier from hostile action would have been a very big story. Now a couple of soldiers are killed almost every day and journalism is profoundly uninterested. Obviously, you can't cover everything and, certainly, you can't give major emphasis to everything.  But might it be responsible to explain to readers and viewers why one story is being pushed and another is not? That's almost never done. What appears in the newspapers is news. What doesn't appear is not news. And that's that. There's no need for explanation. The reason for this stance, I suspect, is that if journalists tried to explain, they couldn't, or, at least, they couldn't in a way that would bear the light of day. As a consequence some deaths will continue to be really, really awful. And others will be really, really nothing.


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You'd think that if the press were going to make a big thing about Mrs. Kerry's telling a so-called reporter to shove it there would also be an attempt to explain who that person was. It's one thing to speak harshly to a reporter who's just trying to do his job and entirely another to express contempt for the employee of one of the truly vile character assassins operating today in political life. The guy Mrs. Kerry targeted works for Richard Mellon Scaife. He's a man the American public would know about if journalism was carrying out its responsibilities. He has financed smear campaigns against Democrats for years and has been quoted as saying things so filthy the mainline press dares not print them. It's not hard to understand why Mrs. Kerry would regard his flack as scum. All the talk about her being weird, or a loose cannon, rises from the Dan Rather vision of normality which holds that regular women are, and ought to be, Stepford wives. How can such a silly idea  persist? I've heard nothing from Mrs. Kerry to indicate there's anything bizarre about her. That she's spoken of in that way shows us how bizarre the major media really are.


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Though it's probably true that it would have been unwise to turn the Democratic Convention into nothing but Bush-bashing, it's also true that the emphasis on John Kerry's military, macho toughness is beginning to wear thin. As Barbara Ehrenreich says in her column today (New York Times,  July 29, 2004), "The Dems couldn't be more butch if they took to wearing codpieces." It's hard to see what's tough about running scared before poll data indicating Bush's popularity with respect to security. If the Democrats forget that their main message has to be that George Bush has been a disastrous president they are lost. If they become afraid to say that George Bush has been a disastrous president there can be no weakness weaker than that. If they are not willing to assert that George Bush's vision for America disgusts them, any other assertion they make will be empty. Pussy-footing in order to win over so-called undecided voters is the best way to alienate voters who would be enthusiastic if they had forthright, honest statement from their leaders and especially from their presidential candidate.


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We hear increasing calls, especially from John Kerry's political detractors, for him to say specifically what he would do to improve the situation in Iraq. Just last night (July 28, 2004) on Jim Lehrer's News Hour David Brooks repeatedly demanded that Kerry lay out his plan for solving the problems there. This is disingenuous, of course. Even Kerry's opponents know that what he offers is a fresh attitude towards the world that would have to improve the way the world is responding to us. Our international reputation could scarcely be lower, especially in the Middle East.  Kerry's supporters need to point out that there can be no miracle resolution to the fouled up conditions created by the Bush administration in Iraq. Security there remains very fragile. The government imposed by the United States is not popular. Essential services have not been restored to the pre-war levels. Contracts for providing services have been rife with corruption. Many Iraqis continue to view the United States as a harsh occupying force. Belief in the promises of the United States remains rare. We have spent $200 billion to carry out the conquest and occupation of the country and very little of that money has been employed to strengthen social structures. To promise to rectify all these miseries overnight would be foolish. All Kerry can, and should, do is pledge to confront the horrors of Iraq with a new spirit of cooperation, to listen rather than always to tell people what to do, and to be determined to employ diplomacy rather than killing as our principal means of resolving difficulties.


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Reading yet one more news story about John Edwards's overweening optimism caused me to reflect I may be on the verge of getting sick of optimistic people, even though I've been accused of being one myself. Optimism is not a virtue. It's a frame of mind which can be blind to misery affecting other people. It tends to look the other way in situations promising injury, oppression and danger. Another Mr. Cheerful is not always what we need. We would do better to prefer public leaders with a taste for reality to those who invariably discover sunshine, even when there's no sun present. I like Edwards but I value him more when he's going after injustice than when he's telling me my future is going to be great.


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Things are happening in the world that American politicians don't dare talk about and, probably, don't dare think about. One thing is that educational levels in the United States are dropping -- a smaller percentage of our 17/18 year olds graduate from high school now than did thirty-five years ago. Meanwhile, education levels are rising dramatically elsewhere, particularly in China and India. American workers still expect to make about ten times what workers in Asia make. With education and training approaching equality that gap can't continue. Wages there are bound to go up and wages here are bound to go down. No American politician or party has a plan to do anything about that, or to prepare us to face it. When it begins to be evident, there will be great gnashing of teeth, and great blame, and even greater internal hatred than we have now. But none of it will stop the process. There probably are some things that might be done -- both to increase our skills and to allow us to live decently with less money than we spend now. But no major public figure is promoting them. We need to spend more of our public money to help make ourselves into the people we want to be and less public money to force people elsewhere to be what we want them to be. But so long as we and our politicians keep telling each other that we are very nearly perfect that's not likely to happen and we will continue our march towards a distinctly nastier existence.


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It becomes more and more clear that the most significant feature of the 9/11 Commission report will be its designation of "Islamist terrorism" as the enemy of the United States. Terrorism in general is said to be too abstract to concentrate our attention. Caleb Carr, a professor of military history at Bard College, says this is a big mistake (Washington Post, July 28, 2004). It will be seen by most of the world as a call for war against Islam overall. What we should do, instead, is announce a campaign to rid the world of terrorism. But to do that we require a definition that's internationally acceptable. It's a sensible argument but Mr. Carr seems unaware of how politically naive it is. The United States can't foster an intellectually defensible definition of terrorism because if it did it would emerge from the process a terrorist nation. We have to keep the definition fuzzy so we can continue to kill in the ways we like to kill while denouncing other people's modes of killing as morally reprehensible. I agree that having a clear definition would be worthwhile but Mr. Carr shouldn't expect to see one from the U. S. government any time soon.


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Anne Applebaum (Washington Post,  July 28, 2004) writes about a woman she met recently in California who didn't know whether Mr. Bush is a Republican or a Democrat and then goes on to say that the real political divide in the country today lies between the political and the apolitical. "Apolitical" seems to be her polite term for astoundingly ignorant. We have known for a very long time that ignorance is the foremost weakness of democracy. But what we seem unable to face is that democratic political activity as  currently constituted is helpless to address it. No one who is ambitiously involved in politics can say to Ms. Applebaum's California companion, "You are a bonehead!" The "undecided" or those who haven't yet got around to thinking about the presidential campaign have to be addressed in the most respectful terms. After all, they are the "swing votes." They are the people who will decide how the nation will be directed over the next four years. They have to be solicited in terms that will prod their torpid brains partially to awake long enough to wander into a polling place and cast a vote. There is nothing official that can be done about this, no law that can be passed to alleviate the problem. It's an issue of public discourse. And as long as the political ignoramuses among us are talked about as though their empty opinions are, somehow, more valuable than informed attitudes, the difficulty will only get worse.


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David Brooks may have moved the art of damning with faint praise to a new height. In his column today (New York Times, July 27, 2004) he says that John Kerry may be the most boring person ever to have walked the earth but that given the time we find ourselves in, that may constitute wisdom. Maybe the country is now in the mood for a really boring guy. Boredom is an interesting subject. I've often thought it is little more than attention deficit disorder. And, certainly, the latter is a central feature of current political debate. If it can't be packaged into a TV sound byte, if it can't be made pithy in Bill O'Reilly's terms, then it's just not worth anybody's attention. The people won't listen to it, not even if we've reached the time when the people are beginning to pay attention to who their next president might be, which is generally not till October and never, never, never before August. All political wisdom has to be presented in phrases of less than four words -- stay the course -- move on -- axis of evil and so forth. So Brooks is telling us that we may be tired of people who engage in even that kind of discourse and are now ready for someone who talks in a way we can't understand at all and so we don't even have to try to listen to. How much praise can we stand from our pundits?


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"Flip-flop" has become the defining term of the current presidential campaign. Does John Kerry flip-flop, or does he not? Isn't there a more important question? What do people mean when they use the term? I know, I know. The meaning of words has nothing to do with American politics. We Americans have no time to worry about what words mean. We have to get on with it. Still, it's a curious concept -- flip-flopping. If someone says, "I changed my mind," that's not necessarily flip-flopping. Presumably, changing one's mind means that one has a mind to change and that one actually engages in thought. And I don't think that's yet considered to be altogether bad -- though we may be moving in that direction. I can almost see a new Constitutional amendment on the horizon. After we ban gay marriage, we can move on to banning thought. We might replace the Bill of Rights with a Bill of Bans. After all, what's morality about? But that's for the future. Since we're not there yet, we still can wonder what kind of changing of mind constitutes flip-flopping. I guess the implication is that if you change your mind for bad reasons, then you're flip-flopping. But are Mr. Kerry's reasons for changing his mind bad? But now we're getting way too complicated for American political thought. So let's just keep on using "flip-flop" cause it has a nice, sort of smeary sound.


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There are many forms of insanity in American nowadays and the most pathetic ones seem to involve children. There was an article by Joanna Massey in the Boston Globe yesterday (July 25, 2004) detailing ways parents are trying to ensure their children will succeed in school. And what they appear to mean by succeeding is not necessarily learning anything , and certainly not growing in judgment and wisdom. Rather success is all about getting better scores so the child can get into better schools, so that then he can then get into a better college, and afterwards into a better graduate school, and so on until finally, I suppose, he gets into a better heaven. As Ms. Massey reports, "Making sure a student stays above the pack requires more active parenting than ever before." Staying above the pack, that's essential. One wonders about the pack itself. What happens to it? But, if you're an active, engaged parent, you can't worry about stuff like that. According to Jane Franz, a mother from Newton,  "Just keeping your kid afloat requires an overwhelming amount of parental support." A great industry seems to be arising on the waves of this anxiety. Help centers, and tutors, and SAT preparation courses abound. Great amounts of money are spent to make sure children stand at the head of their classes. Schools have become the gatekeepers to paradise, and pushing their kids through those gates seems to be all parents can think of. I wonder about the poor child who would rather play down by the river than to go to math camp. But then, maybe, he's been psychologically eliminated.


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Over the past twenty-four hours I've encountered several paeans to the American obsession with having ever more and bigger stuff. This is said to be the "American Dream" and is what sets us aside from the other people of the world. David Brooks, promoting his new book on "Book TV" yesterday (July 25, 2004) was virtually in rapture about how zany Americans are for getting and spending. And now, this morning, Robert J. Samuelson in his column in the Washington Post  outdoes ever Brooks. For Americans, he proclaims ecstatically, "enough is never enough." A pertinent feature of these effusions is the use of words in ways that render their meaning fuzzy. For example, Samuelson intones, "We live in an ambitious and striving society. Most Americans hope to get ahead." But, what do they hope to get ahead of? What are they striving to do? What does their ambition entail? As one attempts to dig into these questions, the only answers suggested have to do with material possession. Americans want to have bigger houses and bigger cars. Their fear of not being able to have bigger houses and bigger cars leaves them perpetually anxious. Their whole lives are to be spent in endless effort to achieve bigger houses and bigger cars, and as they approach death, their thoughts, presumably are on how big their houses and their cars are. And this is said to be glorious and "a measure of freedom." This is one of the most peculiar definitions of freedom I've ever heard. To live in the grip of everlasting anxiety about bigger houses and bigger cars is to be free? One of the liberties American journalists appear to exercise regularly is the freedom to change the meaning of words whenever they wish. At the risk of being declared un-American, I'm going to say that being locked in perpetual adolescence is neither glorious, nor exciting, nor healthy. And those who celebrate the adolescence of American desire seem incapable of growing up enough to imagine any environment more meaningful than an endless shopping center.


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In an interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News, Ted Kennedy said that the upcoming election is the most important election of his life, more important even than the election of 1960 when his brother defeated Richard Nixon. Then, a short time later on the Sunday morning ABC program "This Week,"(July 25, 2004) commentator George Will said this is not a particularly important election because the policies of the two candidates are not significantly different. It's an interesting clash of opinion. What does the liberal, Kennedy, see that the conservative, Will, doesn't see to give the election such importance? It must be the loss of an opportunity that progressives have hoped for and that right-wingers have never believed to be possible. And what is the thing that might be lost? The prospect of a democratic government. Almost everyone recognizes that our democracy is seriously flawed, that powerful economic interests are more in control of our political affairs than is consistent with rule by the people for the people. Many believe that this election will decide, for some time to come, whether financial mandarins will continue to rule the nation unopposed or whether they will be challenged to some degree. If you can still hope for that challenge, the upcoming vote is important. If rule by the rich is, for you, the inevitable and proper way of ordering society, then the election doesn't much matter. In the latter case, you stand firm in the faith that regardless of what John Kerry and the Democrats say, the people really in charge will stay in charge because money will always win out over everything else. It's a comfortable assumption, particularly if you're comfortable.


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The trouble with Ralph Nader is he makes too much sense. If he really were the kooky candidate the right-wing wants to make him out to be, then we could write him off and forget about him. But much of what he proposes must be brought into being if the nation is to become healthier. Writing in the Boston Globe today (July 25, 2004) he lists twelve points you won't hear the Democrats making at their convention next week. Yet all of them, according to Nader, are points the Democrats should be making. I can't be sure he's right about all of them but their general thrust is concern for public well-being that does need to be placed in tension with the corporate well-being the Republicans serve so faithfully. The Democratic Party has been marked for years by timidity, which they call moderation. Their general proposition seems to be that if the corporate and monied interests are exploiting the majority of people, let's find ways to reduce the exploitation a little bit. Nader doesn't think that's good enough, and for the most part he's right. To vote for him would be an emotional luxury we can't afford. But to listen to him costs no one anything and it might put a little backbone into the flaccid Democrats.


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Most news is about scheming, wheeling, and dealing. I don't mind that any more than I mind gossip, which, after all, is just a localized form of news. But, what I do mind is the implication that history is nothing but the story of scheming, wheeling, and dealing. If that's all it were, it could never be interesting. Are there not currents that wash past petty ambition as though it didn't exist? And are there not lives that tell us something worth knowing? Journalism would be better if it looked for things like that.


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Here's what the editors of the Washington Post  have to say about the army's investigation of the mistreatment of prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq:

The report effectively communicates the strategy of the military brass on the
detainee affair, which is to focus blame on a few low-ranking personnel, shield
all senior commanders from accountability, and deny or bury any facts that
interfere with these aims.

It's curious that the military is supposedly the most respected organization in the United States, and, yet, when the leaders of that organization are asked to face the truth, they regularly fail the test. What does that say about us? Might it be that we're caught up in immature romanticism about brass buttons?  Bureaucratic ambition and fear are at work in the military just as they are in any other large organization. And they lead to same kind of misbehavior there as they do anywhere else. I don't think the leaders of the U.S. Military are any worse than executives. in other areas. But I see no reason, and certainly no evidence, to support the conclusion that they're better.


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Every now and then a hot shot scholar comes along. His grasp seems supernatural and his energy even more so. His productivity exceeds what's generally thought to be possible. Sometimes, he's even handsome. Given the nature of the intellectual community, all this is seen as manifestation of thought. The latest person to play the role is Niall Ferguson, author of more books than anybody can keep up with, and most recently of Colossus,  a study of America's imperial functions. Contrary to most scholarly opinion, Mr. Ferguson is up on empire. It has historically, he says, been a means to both order and justice, and he believes the world is in need of a great empire today, a need only the United States can fill. The problem is, we're not doing it very well because we lack an imperial cast of mind. We're too fond of building shopping malls and not fond enough of building nations. It's a charge which points, of course, to cheapness of mind, which, as far as I know, Mr. Ferguson does not expound explicitly. The question of whether empires do more harm than good cannot be answered. Humans don't possess the kind of historical calculus to allow definitive conclusions. Consequently, people's take on empire rises more from taste than it does from evidence. Some people love the idea of political grandeur. Others find it childish and vulgar. I tend to fall more into the latter group, though, I admit, spectacles of power have, at times, aroused me. The problem with empire is that power needs to be controlled or else it will become insane, and the mechanisms of controlling vast power are few and often quite nasty. It may be old hat to say so, but a system of countervailing power strikes me as being more healthy than empire -- or, at least, more healthy for the majority of people (I admit, though, my thought comes more from taste than from evidence). Yet, empire has pizzazz, and as long as it does, guys with tastes and energy like Niall Ferguson's will get to go on TV.


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The portrait presented by the media of the American electorate is deeply schizophrenic. On the one hand, Americans are described as being free-minded, independent thinkers. On the other, they are said to be desperately in need of leaders to tell them what to think. The latter is the theme of Cathy Young, a contributing editor of Reason  magazine, writing today (July 24, 2004) in the Boston Globe. Ms. Young is not inspired by either candidate, and inspiration, evidently, is what she needs in order to decide how to vote. Why this should be the case, she doesn't say. The records of both Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry are clear. There's little doubt how they would differ in governing. If anyone actually does not know now whether he or she wants Mr. Bush to continue as president after next January, then that person can fairly be described only as a political ignoramus. If the media, including commentators like Ms. Young, would scrutinize the electorate as carefully as they do parties and candidates, then perhaps we could begin, collectively, to understand what we actually do need from our political culture.


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The big news today is the report of the so-called 9/11 Commission (July 23, 2004). I find myself profoundly uninterested. Part of my response has to do with the report's predictability. The security bureaucracies are bumbling, self-obsessed and mired in vested interest. What a revelation! So what's to be done? We're going to fix them up through reorganization. We're going to have a Czar! The faith in Czarism among public officials is an interesting comment on our democracy. If the scare stories we've been told are true, if a single man carrying something lethal in a briefcase, can launch an attack that will kill vast numbers of Americans, no Czar will be able to stop him. The immense fascination with super-duper security agents who are prescient and courageous beyond normal human capability  reflects a comic book mentality that takes our minds off what might actually be done -- like, perhaps, a well-informed diplomacy. If we find the premises of the 9/11 report convincing, what we really ought to do is get in touch with Spider Man.


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The array of numbers that comes at us each day from the various news sources is bewildering. I don't understand how the public can make use of them. Here, for example, are two numerical facts I received this morning (July 23, 2004). Over the past two and a half years new immigrants have obtained 2.06 million jobs whereas older portions of the population have lost 1.3 million jobs. Of the 18.4 billion dollars appropriated by Congress for reconstruction of Iraq, only 400 million has been disbursed. What am I to make of either of these? Journalism accepts the duty of reporting data of this kind. But who accepts the duty of making sense of them? We need a new measurement -- an "Intelligence Adequacy Index." It would measure not inherent intellectual ability but rather the ratio between the intelligence of current public discussion and the level needed to participate adequately in social decisions.  If such a number could be established and tracked historically, we would probably find that it has never been lower than it is right now.


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I've been having a hard time imagining the threat that homosexual marriage poses to people who want to be married in the old-fashioned way. I haven't heard anyone say that in the future marriage between a man and a woman ought to be banned. And I can't conceive of anyone ever saying that. Still, voice after voice proclaims that if we allow people of the same sex to marry then marriage as we have known it will be down the tubes. Now, at long last, I've received an explanation. In the New Yorker for July 26th, there's a cartoon on page 30 which shows a woman, bags packed, standing near the doorway of her apartment and saying to her husband, "There's nothing wrong with our marriage, but the spectre of gay marriage has hopelessly eroded the institution." There you have it. Marriage is not a matter of love between two people. It's an institution. And if you can't have the kind of institution you want, then away with it. It seems to be the case that most political disputes arise between those who want to make agreeable individual decisions and those who wish to be ruled by institutions. The latter tend to call themselves moralists. And they seem willing to promote any level of misery so long as their morality is upheld.


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In his column today (Washington Post,  July 22, 2004), Richard Cohen admits that it's possible for nations to go nuts and that he, himself, went a little crazy in the fall of 2001. The reason was fear. His point is that we needed leadership to get past the fear without doing anything irrational but instead we got a leadership that pushed us as hard as it could toward irrationality. That's true, but I don't think it's much of an excuse. When people do foolish things out of fear, it's their own fault, not the president's. He's simply an opportunistic politician who will use any public neurosis he can to increase his own power. Besides, the reality of the fear seems to me a hard thing to credit. It was more of a made-up self-dramatization than it was actual worry about being injured. It was clear all through 2001 that I was in far more danger of being killed by one of my fellow citizens in an automobile than I was by radical Islamicists. And fear of automobiles didn't put me into a tizzy. Perhaps we should begin to face the truth that we like the thought of being afraid, especially when it's not accompanied by serious danger. The desire to be a victim may be the strongest public emotion going, and when it's in charge, it's no wonder we don't have sane public policy.


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MoveOn.org has launched a campaign to call Rupert Murdock before Congress to explain why Fox News is so biased. This, it seems to me, is a misguided effort. No news organization should have to explain its slant to any portion of the government. Efforts of that kind raise the threat of censorship which is a danger MoveOn.org ought to be guarding against rather than promoting. Any sane person who keeps up with public events knows that the Fox News claim to be "fair and balanced" is a joke. Their commentators repeat it incessantly simply to irritate Democratic voters. Instead of taking the bait and waxing indignant, Democrats ought to be laughing at Murdock and his minions. The interview that's being conducted with Murdock in Doonesbury this week is a far more effective weapon than Congressional investigation.


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There continues to be an undertone of commentary about how many lower and middle income people vote against their economic interests because they're being flim-flammed by Republican propaganda, especially on the so-called social issues. Robert Kuttner's column in today's Boston Globe (July 21, 2004) is a good example. The principal argument of this contention is that the rich have received the dominant portion of the tax cuts under Bush. Though this is true, it's not the issue Democrats ought to be emphasizing. The most important fact about taxes is not how they're raised but how they're spent. It's in the spending that ordinary people are really getting hurt. A smaller portion of our national income goes to services that benefit all the people than is the case in any other Western country. That's because most of our disposable national income goes to weapons and military adventures. Republicans argue that the latter make everyone more secure. The falseness of that claim ought to be the main Democratic campaign issue. Nobody in America is physically safer because we have spent more than a hundred billion dollars to conquer and occupy Iraq. But quite a few rich people are richer because we did. Meanwhile we have worse roads, a less effective medical system, more dysfunctional schools, and a more polluted environment than any Western European country. Good roads, effective schools, a medical system that serves everyone, a clean environment  -- these are what ordinary people need. That they're not being provided, despite all our vast expenditure, is the real class issue in America.


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The biggest political transformation of my lifetime has involved ideology. When I was young the most avid ideologues were leftists. They were arrogant, boorish, and tedious. Now, in my later years, most ideologues have become rightists. They are arrogant, boorish, and tedious. Perhaps this should tell me something. Might it be that ideologues we have with us always and it doesn't matter much which segment of the political spectrum they occupy. I used to think that leftish ideologues were slightly less likely to kill people than the rightists are. Now, though, I'm less sure of the distinction. Truth is, ideological conviction places non-righteous people in a worthless category. If they get the the way of progress they deserve to be eliminated -- eggs and omelets and all that. If we were smart we would alter the way we think of political divisions. They aren't so much a matter of the left-wing versus the right-wing as they are of the ideologues versus the rest of us -- we pathetic souls who aren't so sure of our political purity as to be justified in erasing people who haven't yet arrived at our own level of enlightenment.


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David Brooks has written a pretty good column (New York Times,  July 20, 2004) asking why education in colleges is such a rare occurrence. His answer, as far as it goes, isn't bad. Most college professors have narrow knowledge and very limited experience. They are not prepared to talk with students about the searing questions of life. They are not even prepared to think about such questions for themselves. What Brooks fails to mention is that persons of that character don't get their positions by accident. They are selected because of their vices (or some might say, their intellectual flaccidity). The managers of colleges and universities have long since ceased to view education as their goal. Perhaps they never did. I can't be sure about that. But I am sure that education has virtually no force in the thinking of college deans and presidents today. And certainly none in the minds of the members of the boards of trustees. The kind of experience offered by the Grand Strategy course at Yale, which Brooks lauds, comes from unusual teachers who by a process distinctive to themselves have decided to step aside from common university behavior. We can be glad that such teachers exist, but they can't be expected to set the dominant tone in the college and university world. It is a world of vested interest in which socially dysfunctional behavior is rewarded with prestige and a fair degree of financial comfort. A regretful column now and then is not going to change it.


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I suspect that California politicians who are trying to use Arnold Schwarznegger's "girlie men" remark against him are going to be disappointed. If Arnold had made up the term himself, it might be taken as an unacceptable vulgarity. But since it came from a popular comedy show, most voters will simply take it as humor and react against people so humorless not to see it for what it is. The appeal of super-sensitivity in America has long since worn thin, and though it may at one time have strengthened decent causes it no longer has that potential. Instead of being indignant, Arnold's opponents would have done better to ask which one he really is, Hans or Franz?


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One of the more pervasive mantras shaping politics nowadays is the statement that our military forces are magnificent and always perform magnificently. This continues to be said despite considerable evidence that military people on a fairly regular basis do things that fall well outside the ranks of magnificence. The strange feature of this sentiment is that there's no logic to it. It's widely acknowledged that in most areas of American life people misbehave frequently and seriously. CEOs cheat. Doctors are greedy and careless. Teachers abuse their students. College professors are lazy and pretentious. And, lawyers -- we don't even have to talk about them. But in this one area of public life -- the military -- we have nothing but boy scouts?  Where did these people come from? When I was in the army, the men around me were representative of the people generally. There were decent, intelligent guys. And there were louts of the most brutal, ignorant sort. Yet, supposedly, over the past decades, all the latter have been eliminated, and there's nothing left but rank after rank of heroes who would never think of doing anything nasty or illegal. It's a silly idea and one wonders how we listen to it so often without breaking out in laughter.


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A report in the Washington Post (July 19, 2004) says that Republicans are trying desperately to brand the Kerry/Edwards ticket with the term "liberal," which is said to be the most lethal weapon in the Republican arsenal. If there's truth to that assumption, then it explains the degeneration of politics in our era. Labels -- and, for the most part labels that mean virtually nothing -- have become the stock and trade of the political parties. It's a strategy that has to be based on the theory that most voters are boneheads. And once that theory is established, there appears to be no argument too boneheaded for political operatives to employ. Scott Stanzel, a Republican spokesman says, for example, that Kerry is "out of the mainstream." Isn't that what we would hope for a presidential candidate? Do we actually want a president who simply floats with the current? But, you see, these are not the sort of questions expected in politics now. The process seems to be: use a word or phrase and get an instant, non-thinking response. The party that gets the most automatic reaction to the terms it throws at the other party, wins. It's a curious way to run what is automatically described as a great country.


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A bill being considered in the Senate would charge companies for permission to emit carbon dioxide, which a majority of scientists believe is causing global warming. The bill is, of course, opposed by energy lobbyists because it would probably reduce the profits of energy companies. Their arguments involve two main themes. Global warming is not caused by carbon dioxide emissions. Reducing the emissions will raise prices. The bill, at the moment, has no chance of passing. But last fall, 43 senators voted for it which was a larger number than expected. So, the energy lobby went into high-gear to strike it down. The interesting thing about the whole campaign is that. although conflicting scientific claims are involved, they are only a side show. Even if the evidence for carbon dioxide caused global warming were incontrovertible (and it's pretty close), opposition would continue because there's a portion of our population which cares more about current money than it does about future health. They won't give up dollars now even if they knew it would save lives ten years hence. I don't know if this is a principle inherent in capitalism but it does seem to be the case that people who are focused on money are also concentrated on the short run. It may be that the future of the nation will depend on convincing greater numbers of people that the future really does exist, and that in the future, dollars won't matter much, if nature is goaded into deciding that conditions fit for human life need not be preserved.


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Harold Meyerson, writing in the Washington Post (July 14, 2004), says that the Republican version of values is simply a mixture of "homophobia, provincialism and cultural insecurity." It's harsh judgment, but I confess I'm finding it difficult to discover any distinctive Republican values -- that is, those that are different from Democratic values -- that fall outside those categories. The tricky thing for those who are trying to counter Republican "values" -- their real values , of course, involve getting more money in the hands of people who already have a lot -- is that the people who hold them are not in the habit of confronting persuasion. If a person is hostile to homosexuals, for example, no appeal based on the humanity of homosexuals can get through to him. What the "values" component of this campaign really tells us is that a considerable portion of the American public is in intellectual lockdown. It will vote as a block, and there's nothing anyone who is skeptical of those "values" can do about it. The serious question is whether there are enough people outside the block to give genuine give and take a practical chance to prevail.


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Nicholas Kristof (New York Times, July 14, 2004) says that John Ashcroft and others in the Bush administration who are trying to strike down Oregon's law which allows terminally ill people to end their own lives should talk to Francis Tauber about how important it was for her husband to decide about the timing of his own death. It's a sweet idea but its impractical. Talking to John Ashcroft would not only do no good, it would be impossible. As far as we can tell, he doesn't engage in conversation. He simply pronounces. On television, I continually see people who claim to be perplexed by the intensity of opposition to the current presidential administration. The reason is not hard to find. People who cannot be talked to are terrifying. One comes to realize that in dealing with them, nothing matters -- not fact, not reason, not compassion. They know what they think and they refuse to hear anything to the contrary. And the ultimate in their terrorism is the claim that they know what's right because God told them. Among such people, talking is little more than a sign of weakness.


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The most shameful practice in politics over the past decade has been the claim to Christian faith by right-wing operatives in order to promote anti-Christian policies. It's an ancient practice and you would think the journalistic community would have been more on top of it than they have. But, at last, we're beginning to hear voices speaking against it. Jim Wallis, the executive director of Sojourners, has a piece in the Boston Globe today (July 13, 2004) which asks bluntly, "How did the faith of Jesus come to be known as pro-rich, pro-war, and pro-American? " How, indeed. If a Nazi were to call himself a democrat, that would be seen through pretty fast. If a ruthless CEO described himself as a friend of labor, he would be ridiculed straight off. But when politicians like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and John Ashcroft claim to be followers of Jesus, they're generally accepted without challenge, despite their hostility to most of Jesus's teachings. The failure of the media to turn a critical eye on these false religious claims has resulted in a skewed political structure in which Christianity is being used for purposes antithetical to its authentic message.


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The text of one of my radio talks recently showed up in the letters to the editor section of my local newspaper. That wasn't my intention for it but I can see how the editors might have misunderstood my intentions. So, I don't hold it against them for printing it. Now, however, (July 13, 2004) another letter writer has denounced me for saying things I never said and for favoring actions I've never supported. He makes me feel very proud, almost like I'm a real journalist. For a long time I've believed that local newspapers could serve as a forum for community discourse. In my enthusiasm, I probably haven't taken proper account of the way special interests, bad education, and poor reading habits can transform that discourse into nonsensical mishmash. But even after having been thrust -- in a minor way -- into that mishmashery, I'm sticking with my faith. Sharing and contrasting ideas is far from a perfect process. Yet, I can't think of another that can take its place.


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Newt Gingrich is regularly described as a man of many ideas. Most of them are confused and a considerable portion are demented. But that doesn't mean that he might not have a good idea now and then. Evidently, some of his thoughts about reforming the medical care system are worth attention (see Cici Connolly's article in the Washington Post,  July 13, 2004). Newt says our system is so severely disorganized it has to be transformed.  In particular, the management of information about the condition of patients and the development of preventive measures is so archaic  no one can keep up with either. There's something to be said for the charge. If you've spent time at a medical facility lately, and kept your eyes open, you can't help noticing that systems are in disarray, leading to lots of very nice people running around not knowing what they're doing and staying, continually, too busy to think about it. The operative model for a hospital, for example, seems to be a bee hive, with the only difficulty being that people aren't bees. It would be ironic if a man whose political influence has largely been toxic could actually help improve the medical care system. But, then, irony, is quite often a rule of life.


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The Republican Party of Texas has put a plank in its platform which asserts that the United States is a Christian nation. This has generated considerable controversy about its meaning. Is it a simple statement of numerical fact? Is it a gesture of opposition to secularists, who, according to Bill O'Reilly, are trying to throw God out of the public square? Or is it, as it seems to be, an argument that Christianity has a privileged place in American policy? These are all worthy questions but none of them gets at an issue which, for me, is far more interesting: what is meant when people use the word "Christian?" It is, of course, used in a variety of ways but the main distinction lies between its sociological definition and its designation of a spiritual existence. When we use the term in the latter sense, it's clear that over the past centuries many people who call themselves Christians are not Christian at all. I suspect that the percentage who fall into that category nowadays is as large as it has ever been. And, in Texas, it may be even larger than that. Journalists, however, tend to use the word loosely and seldom say what kind of Christianity they're talking about. So, when we get stories in the newspapers concerning what Christians do or think, we don't actually know what we're being told. One thing, though, I think we can be pretty sure of: when Texas Republicans say that America is a Christian nation, they cannot be referring to the spiritual condition of the American people.


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Among the recent denunciations of partisanship and the flood of regret over the demise of political amity in Washington, there's been little discussion about how bad a political group must get before we are justified in sacrificing comity  in order to mount wholehearted resistance. We seem able to do this fairly easily in history and with respect to foreign politicians. No one calls now for a balanced treatment of Bull Connors, or Joseph McCarthy, or Hitler, or Stalin. Yet, when they were on the political stage they had masses of supporters whom we now judge to have been dead wrong and we applaud the people courageous enough to have resisted them without reservation. Are there now American politicians who deserve the same degree of opposition? I can't pretend to know. But I do believe history will deal fairly harshly with the administration of George Bush. I can't find anything in it which merits applause and its policies with respect to taxation, the environment, civil liberties, and the treatment of other nations strike me as strong candidates for historical condemnation.  We'll have to wait to see how it finally measures up, but the evidence is already strong enough to make discourteous resistance at least understandable.


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David Broder, widely regarded as the dean of American political columnists, has weighed in on the "values" controversy (Washington Post, July 11, 2004). He used to think it was mostly rhetoric but now he has decided there is some substance involved. Most of his piece is devoted to the issues that supposedly involve values, such as gay marriage. But I suspect he would have served his readers better if he had made an attempt to explain what values are, and, in particular, if he had addressed the question whether anything is a value that a person says is a value. If we can project our minds back several decades we discover a country in which invidious racial discrimination was valued by a majority of the people. Does that mean that racial bigotry can legitimately be called a value? I suppose it can, if we define "value" in a certain way. But that's not how it's being defined by today's journalists. With them, a value is something to be esteemed, and the issue is often presented as a battle between those who have values and those who do not have them. The result is an advantage to those who love to preen themselves about their values over those who find it more tasteful to speak of their interests and commitments. I've lived long enough to have been lectured on the value of attitudes that are now almost universally considered despicable. And the experience has taught me that if we're going to argue about values, we ought, at least, clarify the meaning of the words we use.


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In today's New York Times (July 11, 2004), Barbara Ehrenreich has a satirical column about the Bush administration's efforts to teach poor women how to get married. There's no evidence, she says, that marriage will help these women escape poverty, which is the genuine problem they face. She's right. Yet, she doesn't address the key point. This administration is not trying to lift people out of poverty. It's trying, instead, to press them into convention. And why? Because conventional people, that is those who accept the status quo, constitute the group who acquiesce, unquestioningly, in the economic hierarchy the president's advisors are trying to stretch out in every way they can. They want a world in which there is a small percentage of wealthy people and a large percentage who are just getting by and who, for that reason, will serve the wealthy in a docile manner. That is their vision of stability. That is their concept of social paradise. That is their understanding of the kind of freedom they want to impose on the rest of the world. One CEO making ten million dollars a year, three managers making $300,000 a year, and 400 Wal Mart type employees making on an average $17,000 a year is their ideal social unit. If the Democrats are bold enough to fight the election on support of or opposition to that goal, then we can determine exactly what sort of nation we want.


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The state of Florida has come up with a list for kicking former prison inmates off the voter rolls that eliminates virtually no one who is listed as Hispanic. (New York Times, July 10, 2004). In Florida, Hispanics vote mainly for Republicans. That this gives Republican candidates a big advantage is merely an accident according to Florida officials. Let him who will believe. On NPR, on July 9. 2004, Ralph Nader said Democrats face a far greater danger from voting fraud than they do from ballots that might be drawn away by people voting for him. I have tended to view Mr. Nader's candidacy as destructive, but I have to admit he's right on that point. A considerable sector of the Democratic vote comes from population groups -- mainly blacks but poor people generally -- whose voting is hampered by officials who, again, just accidentally, happen to be Republicans. I grew up in Florida and know that many of these officials believe sincerely that the lesser breeds have no right to vote. But sincerity in this case is criminality. If the national Democratic Party has an ounce of sense, it will flood Florida with observers who know how to report every instance of illegal discouragement of voters.


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A headline in the Washington Post (July 9, 2004) proclaims: "Values Become Key Campaign Issue." The article by Jim VandeHei goes on to explain that Republicans believe they have an advantage with respect to values because most Americans share their desire to outlaw abortions and to thwart homosexual people in their efforts to marry one another. Perceiving values as a matter of restriction seems to be a bedrock Republican principle. You best express your values by stopping other people from doing what they want to do. I suppose there is a relation to values in such action, yet it seems a curiously limited view of values to think of them as behavior you want to impose on others rather than as goals you aspire to for yourself.


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For years I have thought that the attempt to portray Osama bin Laden as an evil lunatic is both inaccurate and misguided. Now comes a book -- Imperial Hubris -- by a high-ranking CIA official which supports that view. Mr. Bin Laden,  says the author, who had to remain anonymous in order to get permission to publish, is the most loved and respected figure in the last 150 years of Islamic history and he has a definite set of policies he is trying to advance. The sooner the government of the United States faces up to who its opponents are, the sooner rational policies can be devised to counter them. The more we look into the policies of the Bush administration the more we discover their adolescent propensities. It's childish to assume that anyone who opposes you is a devil. It also causes you to underestimate his effectiveness. The only proposal we have heard from the Bush administration to negate what it likes to call "terror" is to kill all the people it calls "terrorists." There has been no response to clear evidence that our program of killing is creating more enemies than it eliminates. The author of Imperial Hubris, who used to head the anti-bin Laden unit in the CIA, says that recently, the United States has been an indispensable ally of bin Laden in helping him create the worldwide anti-American network he needs. Arrested adolescence is the most serious political problem we face, and if we want to avoid horrors that will make September 11th seem minor, we had best start solving it.


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George Will has now set out to label people who write about economic equity as leftists who care only about materialism (Washington Post, July 8, 2004 ). Rightists, who push policies to benefit corporate executives making ten to thirty million dollars a year, presumably care about more spiritual things. The denunciation of those who have criticisms of the economic structure in America will become ever more shrill as the election season proceeds. These people are engaged in class warfare. They are spreading conflict and hatred. They have no values and care only about money. Why can't they just shut up and be grateful for the blessings their economic betters allow to drip down upon them? This would be comical if it weren't so farcical. The people who live in multiple-million dollar houses, drive fifty and sixty thousand dollar cars, spend tens of thousands of dollars every year on vacations and travel, are now taking it as their duty to teach the rest us how crass materialism really is.


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The National Endowment for the Humanities has conducted a survey which finds that Americans don't read very much (New York Times,  July 8, 2004). Only 56.6% of respondents had read a book of any kind in the previous year and only 46.7% had read a book of literature. When you consider that the latter category includes Tom Clancy novels you would have to conclude that the reading of more durable fiction is pretty low. Even so, I would be encouraged if I could believe that the percentages are accurate. But, I can't. A goodly number of people, when they answer questions about what they read, lie. At least among certain groups -- college professors for example -- the reading of books is still expected. So when members of those groups are asked if they read, they say yes whether it's true or not. Reading a book, particularly a book that offers thought-provoking material, requires a a level of concentration that becomes more rare every day. A majority of Americans in 2004 have minds so distracted that reading a book is impossible for them. And, when we consider the future, we need to keep in mind that it is to the advantage of our current social and political leaders to increase the levels of distraction beyond what anyone could have imagined a generation ago.


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Even though Ahmad Chalabi was Mrs. Bush's guest of honor at the president's State of the Union address in January, it turns out that Mr. Bush barely knew him and never had any extensive conversations with him (New York Times, July 4, 2004). I wonder if that might be because the president has never had any extensive conversations with anybody. He doesn't strike me as the kind of guy who engages in conversation. That's because it requires give and take, and, as far as words are concerned, Mr. Bush is all give and no take. Why should he have to listen to anyone? He knows everything he needs to know or, at least, everything he wants to know. Knowledge, in any case, is not his cup of tea. He's into conviction, and there's nothing like knowledge to foul up being sure that you know what you think you know.


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I think I read somewhere once -- or if I didn't, I should have -- that newspapers are the stupid man's literature. It has always been one of my own stupidities not to understand why that should be the case. Why should it be that newspapers must deal only in banalities and over-simplifications? I suppose one might answer that if you want subtlety you should go to books. Yet where has it been decreed that only books may contain writing fit for a mature mind? Editors appear to live in mortal fear of that mythical figure, the ordinary guy, whose head would explode if he encountered anything requiring more than thirty seconds thought. They write for him. They bow down to him. At times they seem to worship him. And it may be that he doesn't exist, or that if he does he's not likely to be reading anything, not even a newspaper.


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Politics provides the finest arena for nonsense talk, and of all the political talk flapping about our ears now the most nonsensical has to do with experience. Listening to the critics of John Edwards, one might think he was barely out of his teens and had never engaged in a single adult enterprise. He is simply not competent to be in line for the presidency because he has not served on enough government boards and agencies. The people making these charges are supporters of a man who, when he was elected president, had less political experience than any president of history. And they now, almost uniformly, profess to find him one of the greatest leaders we've ever had. How did he escape the need for experience? One wonders what people think when they hear this foolishness. Do they simply write it off as politicians flapping their jaws? Or do they forget everything that happened more than a month ago? To parse the meaning of current political blather may require intellectual skills beyond the reach of any living human being.


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Nicholas Kristof (New York Times,  July 7, 2004) says that the working classes are benefited by Democratic economic policies but that many working class voters continue to support Republicans because of values. He got me to wondering what these values are that Republicans favor and Democrats oppose. Values used to refer to habits like generosity, and fair mindedness, and kindness that crossed political lines. But that's no longer the case.  Nowadays when political commentators refer to values they appear to be talking about some bigotry or other. "Values" has become little more than a code word for nastiness towards homosexual people, or racial minorities, or anybody who doesn't subscribe to a white bread mode of existence. Using words to mean the opposite of what they actually mean has got to be a major weapon in the political arsenal. The practice has cankered discourse to such a degree it's hard to know what politicians are saying. But when values enter the conversation, you can be pretty sure the speaker is not saying what he actually intends to convey.


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To help him decide what he thinks of John Edwards, New York Times columnist William Safire went to Lindsey Graham, the senator from South Carolina (July 7, 2004). And guess what? Mr. Graham told Mr. Safire that Edwards was a safe choice because he was chosen to help Kerry campaign and not to help Kerry govern. This shows that Kerry has no confidence. Mr. Bush, by contrast, showed confidence because he chose Mr. Cheney, whom no one would expect to be an asset in campaigning. That Mr. Cheney has been a asset in governing could be asserted only by minds sunk deep in pathology, but, nevertheless, that seems to be what both Graham and Safire are suggesting. Having established that Edwards is a safe choice, Safire proceeds to denounce him as a "happy class warrior." These are the two themes the Republicans are going to hammer relentlessly over the next months: John Edwards is nothing but a campaigner and he's indulging in class warfare, the worst thing, from a Republican point of view, a man can do. The campaign might well turn on whether the Democrats confront these charges boldly or, as has been so much their habit in the past, run away from them.


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The interaction of business and politics has never been adequately investigated by American historians. One reason is that business maneuvering and the influence of interlocking directorates are so complex, and, frankly, so boring, that scarcely anyone can stand to read about them. Certainly, they don't constitute a subject that can be explained on thirty-minute television news programs where quick sound bites are the ruling technique. Yet, these murky dealings, generally taking place behind the screen of democratic attention, shape the conditions of life for ordinary people more dramatically than any other political force. If, for example, the actual behavior of the U. S. arms industry could ever be explained to the American public there would be a reaction of indignation that would sweep many of our current political leaders from office. If the people could grasp how the private military company, Halliburton, has inserted itself into the core of military expenditure in America we clearly would not have the vice president we have now. There is no greater democratic need than for our educational and journalistic establishments to lay out clearly how influence is peddled and money is made in our nation. Yet, at the moment, both of them are fleeing from the task.


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Mr. Kerry's decision to ask John Edwards to be his running mate indicates that he has chosen to wage a bold campaign rather than a cautious one. Edwards will surely take after the Republicans for their support of the economically privileged over middle-class and lower income Americans. And that's exactly what a Democratic candidate ought to do. Democrats have for far too long been frightened by the Republican charge that they are waging class warfare. The inevitable claim by the Republicans that Mr. Edwards is not experience or seasoned enough to be in line for the presidency will be hollow to anyone who recalls the condition of Mr. Bush's experience as he sought the presidency four years ago. This is scarcely a time for timidity. A spirited campaign is what the nation needs and Mr. Edwards's place on the Democratic roster should help it along.


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A revolution is occurring in how people get news, if, indeed, they get any at all. Only about 50% of Americans admit to reading a newspaper once a week, and over the period from 1985 to 2000, confidence in the accuracy of newspapers declined by 21%. Meanwhile, the number who get news from the internet, particularly in the 18-34 age group, has continued to rise. It's not hard to see why few people find their local newspapers enthralling. They are mostly cut and paste jobs. My hometown newspaper, for example, has today (July 6, 2004) nothing in the first eight pages that comes from the paper itself, except for the editorial and the letters to the editor. People are learning they can cut and paste from the web just as well as newspaper editors can. So why should they pay for the latter's product? Furthermore, the coverage is very flat -- little detail and virtually nothing that encourages readers to think. You might almost say that local newspapers are obsolescent. And that's a shame because they have a potential to induce community discussion as no other source can. But it would require changes in their ways  of doing business and that they appear unable to contemplate.


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A study just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science reports that about 30,000 years ago, people started living to dramatically older ages, and that along with the increase in age came developments in the arts of civilization. As people got older, they turned their attention towards more lasting things. One of the authors of the study, Rachael Caspari of the University of Michigan, commented, "it might be older people that make us human after all." Somehow, I'm reminded of the English critic Cyril Connolly's remark that members of young privileged groups tend to retain  adolescent perspectives throughout their lives. If humans thirty thousand years ago could shift their behavior towards more mature concerns, there seems to be no reason why, at this stage of civilization, we couldn't do the same thing. But to do it, we need to escape the adolescent belief structures that rule in circles of power, and, in particular, to renounce the faith that the best way to solve problems is to kill people. It would be a grand thing if under the tutelage of older people we could make a leap of learning comparable to that of our ancestors millennia ago.


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Michael Moore tends to be dismissed as a political thinker because his criticisms of George W. Bush are said to be too extreme. Yet American Dynasty, the sober study of the Bush family by Kevin Phillips, paints a far more devastating picture of Bush and his associates than Moore has attempted. The degree to which the Bushes have worked to increase the wealth of upper income Americans at the expense of everyone else, and the shady business deals they've used to accomplish their personal and political goals could scarcely escape charges of criminality if they were ever to be investigated rigorously. Phillips's theme is that the Bushes and the groups with which they associate themselves see America as their personal fiefdom. It exists for their benefit alone. And if most of the people have to suffer to serve the Bush interests, well, that's their proper role, decreed by a tough-minded God. Phillips's book is a more damning indictment than Moore's film, but, of course, in modern America, few will read a book. That's what the Republicans count on more than anything else.


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The American public was surprisingly uninterested in the Bush administration's claim that the military base at Guantanamo Bay fell outside the jurisdiction of the federal courts. The position was that since Cuba is a sovereign country, U. S. courts cannot impose their decisions there. The pure silliness of the argument seemed not to bother many citizens. They seemed unaware that if the government could deprive anyone of constitutional rights by whisking him off to a U. S. controlled prison outside the borders of the country, then there would be no practical constitutional rights left. Fortunately, the Supreme Court was more attentive than Mr. Ordinary Guy, and ruled 6-3 against the government's argument. Now, even if Uncle Sam has you at Guantanamo, you still have the right to confront the charges against you in an impartial court. Yet, one wonders how long we can rely on the court alone to support basic liberties if the people lose interest in them.


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I happen to know a bit about the California prison system. So the report of a forty member panel which calls the prisons dysfunctional doesn't surprise me (Associated Press, July 4, 2004). The report should have gone farther and called them vicious and corrupt. California has one of the highest reimprisonment rates in the nation. That. also, is no surprise. If a prison does not model fairness and decent behavior, what can we expect of inmates other than a view of society as the enemy? Why should they want to join it? Why would it not be seen by prisoners as honorable to remain outlaws? Our prisons are as much universities for crime as they are deterrents to it. And among them California prisons lead the way.


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Colin Powell, speaking in Jakarta, says Saddam Hussein should be presumed innocent during his upcoming trial (Reuters, July 2, 2004). It's a sweet idea, but scarcely practical. When one is tried by a government set up by forces which launched a war against him, his chance for a fair trial is severely limited. The legitimacy of a tribunal established by brute force will always be in question regardless of whether the force was used for defensible ends. In this case, the people who try Saddam don't dare find him innocent. So, it will be a show trial, just as Saddam says. I have little doubt that he is a brutal man, but he has been more truthful than many of his opponents, including Colin Powell, over the past couple years.


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I finally got in to see Fahrenheit 9/11. Though clearly slanted, it's a fairly effective movie, with lots of funny scenes. But the obvious point to be made about it is the one Paul Krugman makes into today's New York Times (July 2, 2004). It shows lots of footage the so-called respectable media should have shown but didn't. How many Americans have seen the anguish and hatred of Iraqi women whose family members have just been blown apart by American bombs? How many have heard someone asking God to curse America forever for what we have done? How many have heard the text of a soldier's letter, written a couple days before he was killed, saying that Bush had put him into miserable, unwinnable situation? These items ought to be part of the news too, along with the super-patriot flag-waving that has filled the pages of our newspapers and our TV screens. Over the long run, the main feature of the Bush years may come to be seen as the puppy-dog ineptitude of the American media and their craven surrender to the Fox News phenomenon.


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The American media are so focused on what they call "news"-- that is, events that can be photographed-- they virtually ignore the underlying developments that shape our social lives. One of the most powerful of these is the use of so-called family values to promote the interests of rapacious financial operations, which, in truth, are about as hostile to the health of families as anything could be. The cynical alliance of corporate America with a nativist fundamentalism that has long since ceased to be religious is probably the most dangerous happening in America over the past half-century. But if you rely on newspapers or television to tell you about it, you would be unlikely to know it has occurred. Thomas Frank's fine new book, What's Wrong With Kansas?  lays out this manipulative connection in full detail. The chances are, however, that it won't be reviewed in your local newspaper or mentioned on your local TV station.  It's curious that such journalistic malpractice continues to be tolerated. But I suppose people will accept almost anything that has become commonplace.



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