Thursday, June 17, 2004


In Case It Wasn't Obvious department

Referring to the "war on terror", National Review Online columnist Victor Davis Hansen says we shouldn't fret over its effects on the "Arab Street." He says that history teaches us that only resolute force wins wars and creates respect. Don't worry about the effect on ordinary Arabs. "Most people simply wish to associate with victory," he says. The best answer to terrorism is to rush the "insurrectionists" who threaten democracy in Iraq and elsewhere.

Jessica Stern--author of "Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill"--has since 1998 been interviewing terrorists from Islamic, anti-abortion, white supremacist and other violent organizations, trying to discover what inspires them to make holy war. In a LA Times piece, she said "there was one common thread: overwhelming feelings of humiliation." Cunning terrorist leaders tap this humiliation, giving legions of powerless young men the means and an ideological justification for turning their rage into revenge. The US doesn't yet understand this, and the statistics prove it. Nearly twice as many terrorist acts occurred in the two years following 9/11, the Rand Corp recently found, than in the two years preceding it. Clearly, "reactionary remedies like bombs and bullets won't win this conflict. (Here's a link to a Buzzflash interview with Ms. Stern:

Further, Marc Sageman, also in the Times, says our real enemy is the nihilistic "jihadist" vision. To win a lasting victory, the US must lay out "an alternative vision of a just and fair Islamic society living in harmony with the West. Day by day, year by year, we must provide proof of our sincerity, in Iraq, in Israel, and throughout the Mideast. "This war of ideas promises to be a long war of narratives, fought on a battlefield of interpretations. But it is the only thing that can work."

So there it is again. Brains vs. Brawn. Reason vs Force. The usual suspects.

I think, though, that Robert Reich is right in his new book, Reason: Why Liberals Will Win the Battle for America. I predict that America is going to ultimately get so fed up with the lack of reason in the ideology and policies of the Radcons (as he calls them) that the citizens will finally throw the bums out of the national body politic. And I predict that day is coming sooner than we would have anticipated a year ago. But more on that another time. Meanwhile, here's a link to a terrific Buzzflash interview with him about his ideas and the book:

Tuesday, June 15, 2004



The funeral and services are over. The predictable rightwing paeans and suggestions to name everything in America after him from Washington DC to a mountain in New Hampshire, and to replace Andrew Jackson's pic on the 20 with his (bad to worse), seem thankfully to be over--or at least off the front page and the soundbite parade, which is all that matters anymore. Even America's worst president has stopped trying to compare himself to America's 2nd worst president (apologies to all the other contenders for the #2 slot).

Instead of mourning for this criminal's death, we ought to be mourning for the tens of thousands of people who died in Central America and elsewhere, or at home by AIDS, or who otherwise suffered or died miserably because of his direct actions and inactions.

America is like the anonymous woman in Bob Dylan's "Idiot Wind" (off Blood On The Tracks:

"Idiot wind blowing every time your move your mouth
Blowing down the backroads heading south
Idiot wind blowing every time you move your teeth
You're an idiot babe
It's a wonder that you still know how to breathe."

But Greg Palast said it best:

Sunday, June 6, 2004
by Greg Palast

You're not going to like this. You shouldn't speak ill of the dead. But in this case, someone's got to.

Ronald Reagan was a conman. Reagan was a coward. Reagan was a killer.

In 1987, I found myself stuck in a crappy little town in Nicaragua named Chaguitillo. The people were kind enough, though hungry, except for one surly young man. His wife had just died of tuberculosis.

People don't die of TB if they get some antibiotics. But Ronald Reagan, big hearted guy that he was, had put a lock-down embargo on medicine to Nicaragua because he didn't like the government that the people there had elected.

Ronnie grinned and cracked jokes while the young woman's lungs filled up and she stopped breathing. Reagan flashed that B-movie grin while they buried the mother of three.

And when Hezbollah terrorists struck and murdered hundreds of American marines in their sleep in Lebanon, the TV warrior ran away like a whipped dog ... then turned around and invaded Grenada. That little Club Med war was a murderous PR stunt so Ronnie could hold parades for gunning down Cubans building an airport.

I remember Nancy, a skull and crossbones prancing around in designer dresses, some of the "gifts" that flowed to the Reagans -- from hats to million-dollar homes -- from cronies well compensated with government loot. It used to be called bribery.

And all the while, Grandpa grinned, the grandfather who bleated on about "family values" but didn't bother to see his own grandchildren.

The New York Times today, in its canned obit, wrote that Reagan projected, "faith in small town America" and "old-time values." "Values" my ass. It was union busting and a declaration of war on the poor and anyone who couldn't buy designer dresses. It was the New Meanness, bringing starvation back to America so that every millionaire could get another million.

"Small town" values? From the movie star of the Pacific Palisades, the Malibu mogul? I want to throw up.

And all the while, in the White House basement, as his brain boiled away, his last conscious act was to condone a coup d'etat against our elected Congress. Reagan's Defense Secretary Casper the Ghost Weinberger with the crazed Colonel, Ollie North, plotted to give guns to the Monster of the Mideast, Ayatolla Khomeini.

Reagan's boys called Jimmy Carter a weanie and a wuss although Carter wouldn't give an inch to the Ayatolla. Reagan, with that film-fantasy tough-guy con in front of cameras, went begging like a coward cockroach to Khomeini pleading on bended knee for the release of our hostages.

Ollie North flew into Iran with a birthday cake for the maniac mullah -- no kidding --in the shape of a key. The key to Ronnie's heart.

Then the Reagan roaches mixed their cowardice with crime: taking cash from the hostage-takers to buy guns for the "contras" - the drug-runners of Nicaragua posing as freedom fighters.

I remember as a student in Berkeley the words screeching out of the bullhorn, "The Governor of the State of California, Ronald Reagan, hereby orders this demonstration to disburse" ... and then came the teargas and the truncheons. And all the while, that fang-hiding grin from the Gipper.

In Chaguitillo, all night long, the farmers stayed awake to guard their kids from attack from Reagan's Contra terrorists. The farmers weren't even Sandinistas, those 'Commies' that our cracked-brained President told us were 'only a 48-hour drive from Texas.' What the hell would they want with Texas, anyway?

Nevertheless, the farmers, and their families, were Ronnie's targets.

In the deserted darkness of Chaguitillo, a TV blared. Weirdly, it was that third-rate gangster movie, "Brother Rat." Starring Ronald Reagan.

Well, my friends, you can rest easier tonight: the Rat is dead.

Killer, coward, conman. Ronald Reagan, good-bye and good riddance.

"Idiot wind blowing like a circle around my skull
From the Grand Coulee Dam to Capitol
Idiot wind blowing every time you move your teeth
You're an idiot babe.
It's a wonder that you still know how to breathe."

Sunday, June 06, 2004


The last just war. Maybe one of the few. Seems true to me, but what a concept.

As a boomer who came of age during the Vietnam madness, it's sometimes been hard to acknowledge and thank those who indeed gave the ultimate sacrifice for us in WWII. My father was too old at the time to go into the service, and my family was not personally touched by the Holocaust, but to this day I get shivers and tears at the thought of it.

On both of these fronts--the war itself and the shoah--it's Steven Spielberg that has re-created some of the most lasting images, outside of the actual photos from the death camps.

Schindler's List. Saving Private Ryan.

An image from each haunts me. In Schindler's List, it's the Nazi idly shooting the little girl, an act of such insane evil, performed perhaps hundreds of thousands of times, incomprehensible, too much to countenance, yet of course it must be.

But, surprisingly, it's an image from Saving Private Ryan that I can't get out of my mind, and it's the one that reminds me to be grateful to all those who fought and died in that war. It's in the opening scenes of the landing on Omaha Beach. One of the Higgins boats reaches the shore, the landing panel opens, and before any soldier--any scared-to-death teenager--in the boat can even move an inch, every one of them is killed instantly from machine gun fire.

I heard a vet on NPR today describe what seemed to be that very event. Or another one just like it. How many were there?

Nevermind. There were many.

And we are here now because of those events. I'm taking a moment to reflect on that obvious point, and how lucky I was to be born when and where I was.


Reagan's death makes me wistful for a premature passing of our current Resident (and his VP, oh my god, if he were overtly in charge, ye cats, as Scrooge McDuck was so fond of saying).

The Man can't take away my hope.

Speaking of sayings and Bush,I am reminded of this H.L.Mencken quote:
"The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false face for the urge to rule it."

Or this one, from George Eliot:
"Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving us evidence of the fact."

Or this one by Steven Wright. It's not related--I just like it.
"Ninety-nine percent of lawyers give the rest a bad name."



We heard the news today oboy.

All the horseshit paeans to him are making me nauseous. His crimes against the country, the constitution, and humanity are manifold, and there's no need to list them to anyone reading this, though I might later anyway, as a catharsis.

But this open letter addresses poignantly one of his most egregious crimes. One of? What am I saying? They ALL were most egregious.

Sunday, June 6, 2004

A Letter to My Best Friend, Steven Powsner On the Death of Former President Ronald Reagan

Matt Foreman, Executive Director National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

June 6, 2004

Dear Steven,

I so much wish you were here today to tell me what to do. You would know if it's right to comment on the death of former President Reagan, or if I should just let pass the endless paeans to his greatness. But you're not here. The policies of the Reagan administration saw to that.

Yes, Steven, I do feel for the family and friends of the former President. The death of a loved one is always a profoundly sad occasion, and Mr. Reagan was loved by many. I have tremendous empathy and respect for Mrs. Reagan, who lovingly cared for him through excruciating years of Alzheimer's.

Sorry, Steven, but even on this day I'm not able to set aside the shaking anger I feel over Reagan's non-response to the AIDS epidemic or for the continuing anti-gay legacy of his administration. Is it personal? Of course. AIDS was first reported in 1981, but President Reagan could not bring himself to address the plague until March 31, 1987, at which time there were 60,000 reported cases of full-blown AIDS and 30,000 deaths. I remember that day, Steven - you were staying round-the-clock in Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital caring for your dying partner of over 15 years, Bruce Cooper. It was another 41 days of utter agony for both of you before Bruce died. During those years of White House silence and inaction, how many other dear friends did we see sicken and die hideous deaths?

Is it personal? Yes, Steven. I know for a fact that you would be alive today if the Reagan administration had mounted even a tepid response to the epidemic. If protease inhibitors been available in July of 1995 instead of December, you'd still be here.

I wouldn't feel so angry if the Reagan administration's failing was due to ignorance or bureaucratic ineptitude. No, Steven, we knew then it was deliberate. The government's response was dictated by the grip of evangelical Christian conservatives who saw gay people as sinners and AIDS as God's well-deserved punishment. Remember? The White House Director of Communications, Patrick Buchanan, once argued in print that AIDS is nature's revenge on gay men. Reagan's Secretary of Education, William Bennett, and his domestic policy adviser, Gary Bauer, made sure that science (and basic tenets of Christianity, for that matter) never got in the way of politics or what they saw as "God's" work.

Even so, I think I could let go of this anger if this was just another overwhelmingly sad chapter in our nation's past. It is not. Steven, can you believe that the unholy pact President Reagan and the Republican Party entered with the forces of religious intolerance have not weakened, but grown exponentially stronger? Can you believe that the U.S. government is still bowing to right wing extremists and fighting condom distribution and explicit HIV education, even while AIDS is killing millions across the world? Or that "devout" Christians have forced the scrapping of AIDS prevention programs targeted at HIV-negative gay and bisexual men in favor of bullshit "abstinence only until marriage" initiatives? Or the shameless duplicity of these same forces seeking to forever outlaw even the hope of marriage for gay people? Or that Reagan stalwarts like Buchanan, Bennett and Bauer are still grinding their homophobic axes?

No, Steven, I do not presume to judge Ronald Reagan's soul or heart. He may very well have been a nice guy. In fact, I don't think that Reagan hated gay people -- I'm sure some of his and Nancy's best friends were gay. But I do know that the Reagan administration's policies on AIDS and anything gay-related resulted - and continue to result - in despair and death.

Oh, Steven, how much I wish so much you were here.


(On November 20, 1995, Steven Powsner, died of complications from AIDS at age 40. He had been President of the New York City Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center from 1992-1994.)