(Obviously Words endorses Kerry)
We all know that the best way to trash Bush is to take back the White House and America next Tuesday, with a Kerry-Edwards victory. We foreshadow that joyous day in many ways. Consider that the Red Sox just won the World Series for the first time since 1918 and a Bostonian will win the election next week. Then consider anther scenario: Kerry is ahead by seven points in moderate Bucks County, where I live; for some reason, in the case of presidential elections every four years, the nation chooses as Bucks chooses, and Bucks has elected moderates from either party to Congress and will probably go for the close to center Kerry rather than the way out in right field Bush.
Today we rallied for Kerry at a highway cloverleaf where Bush's motorcade was routed to pass en route to the farm where the candidate had scheduled a rally of his own. "How dare he trespass on my hometown?" I thought, among other things. There was just a handful of us diehard Dems and our principal speaker, the candidate for U.S. representative, was prevented from attending because of the surrealistically congested situation that the Republican rally had occasioned. Well, we did some chanting, the likes of "Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Bush and Cheney have got to go!" which I suggested, recalling my days covering ANSWER and UFPJ rallies. Most of our chants focused on the illegal election in Florida 2000 or the invasion of Iraq, but a few were transferable to today's occasion, including also "Hail to the thief!"
So there is a highway bounded by at least three farms and local people say that their produce couldn't be that nourishing since it absorbs the fumes of the heavy traffic. Well, there is a narrow right of way between the farm and the highway on which we trod, chanting and flaunting signs of all sorts, both homemade and professionally produced. At one point some riot police showed up with a large paddy wagon, looking fierce even as we exercised our first-amendment rights harmlessly, and I surmised that some extremist had passed by and decided a communist conspiracy was afoot. More than one passing car had abused us as "commies" while we returned the compliment with "Fascist!"
We stood for a while on a concrete island that borders two lanes: one east and the other west, the "presidential" party routed to the left to reach the host farm. We then marched closer to the site of their rally and noted the plethora of vehicles parked on the farm; more lined both sides of the highway and one of the side roads that led to the development where I had parked along with many others, across the street from another farm.
The paddy wagon left, bereft of any overt civil disobedience, though we felt tremendously naughty walking up and down the sides of the highway, crossing and recrossing the bridge over US 95, the police ever so politely and respectfully telling us where we could and could not go. I got the feeling they were Kerryites—the USPS employees certainly are, because Bush has targeted their employer for privatization. A postal worker told me this while I was canvassing last weekend.
We ultimately ended up on one side of the cloverleaf, the island now off limits, and even Bushites could no longer walk to their rally; I mean, everything was cordoned off and it was rush hour and we sort of hoped all the disgruntled commuters would blame Bush, So the would-be Bush ralliers were stuck standing with us Kerryites since they wanted a glimpse of the motorcade we intended to jeer and we chatted politely as we waited, amused at this unlikely integration and pitying the Bushites who had come here for one thing and then ended up embedded with a bunch of commies.
It got colder, the sun began to set, and a fulsome harvest moon became evident. By now there were about ten or so of us Kerryites remaining. The highway was so uncharacteristically bare and quiet: just this cross-section of America and a handful of police, and the woman standing next to me remarked that she was surprised the police hadn't frisked us. "She's right," I thought. I tried a few explanations: "Well, this is Yardley and who ever bothers the police for any reason around here?" Not good enough. "Well, we are Kerryites and you know what decency that implies." I hit the jackpot this time.
Meanwhile, I and my companion were at the front of the narrow line of people with a large sign with distinctly contrasting colors that said "Kerry Wins!" How appropriate to flaunt that before the motorcade, and that we planned to do, holding it up high so we wouldn't block the view of some Republican youngsters who had arrived too late to be let into the rally.
Along came some police cars and pretty soon after that, right on time, came a caravan of SUVs, Coach buses, and so on, and who knew or cared where Shrub was, except that we launched into a vociferous chant of "Hail to the thief!" and "KerryKerryKerry, etc." holding the sign aloft. Then they were gone and again, who cared? Our mission was accomplished. For one brief shining moment I got to release some hostility toward this s.o.b. who, with his henchmen, has wrought such havoc on the America we and the world knew and loved. Nothing is the same anymore and there is so much in need of being undone.
Another day in the life of my home hamlet. Word is that Kerry plans another trip through, and let that be the first of many Bush blunders that Kerry undoes as he prepares to assume office this January 20.
Copyright © Marta Steele 2004. All rights reserved.
It’s okay for the Bushites to outsource key positions overseas and legalize Mexican labor that undersells what Americans, unemployed, can afford to work for; but it is not ok for us to send away for drugs to Canada, another form of effective outsourcing. Well, the military can do it but Medicare can’t (so far).
There's plenty of
money to save the world, but we don't spend it; instead
the same money goes to destroying the world as we know it.
To maintain control, keep your public in constant fear, goes the methodology that strangles our democracy daily. Last Christmas was spoiled by elevated warning levels of immanent terrorist activity, but that is only part of the story Michael Moore has to tell this time around, focusing his hatred of violence and hypocrisy away from the sale of firearms to the uselessness and exploitation of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the source of this fiasco, the Bush administration.
Oh, Socrates, why not ask all the Senators and Members of Congress to enlist their offspring in the Marines to go over to Iraq, since they voted Bush permission to start the war and so far, from either House, only one representative has a son fighting there?
Oh, Socrates, why not remind us again of the illegality of Bush's presence in the White House, so that the Iraq war is an exponential crime? Why not remind us how Al Gore, as president pro tempore of the Senate, had to preside over the session that officialized the bogus election results, which could have been altered had any U.S. Senator had the courage to oppose the electoral college results? Several black representatives protested in vain.
Then there are the tears of a mother whose son was killed in Iraq. She takes her desperation and despair to the White House, but it is surrounded by an orange wall and armed guards on the roof.
We see cameos of Bush attempting to communicate rationally and failing miserably except at the one honest point when he jokes that things would be a lot easier for him were he a dictator instead of a president.
We learn that bin Laden was not such a black sheep among his multi-millionaire relatives who by the way have invested in Texas oil—why, if Saudi Arabia is the world's largest producer of oil? We learn that the bin Ladens, through their Carlyle Group affiliation, have profited greatly since 9/11 (scene after scene of Bushes with Saudis flash off and on the screen. In December 2001, on one day, profits totaled $237 million.), that two days after 9/11 Bush had a personal conference with the ambassador from Saudi Arabia, Prince Bandar, the subject of which has not been revealed but hardly might have related to the issue that fifteen of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis. Probably more to do with the fact that the Saudis could withdraw $1 trillion in investments in this country (6 to 7 percent of our total assets) and cripple our economy. It probably had nothing to do with the fact that back home the Saudis for some reason did not freeze the assets of any of the 9/11 hijackers native to their country.
We find out that contrary to what we were told about the provisions of international law, it would have been legal to retain other bin Laden family members whom Bush flew out of this country at taxpayers' expense soon after 9/11. Why let them go (we hear the loud rock 'n roll refrain "We gotta get outta this place" as their plane flight is photographed.) Remember how closely McVeigh family members were questioned after the Oklahoma bombings and how conscientious Clinton was the minute the news broke? He was not the sort to read goat stories while his country burned.
Moore lets us know that a fellow Air Guardsman named Bath, who with Bush violated protocol in the military by not showing up for a medical examination, later became a financial manager for the bin Laden family. Oh, why did Bush oppose prompt investigation into the violent and preventable deaths of three thousand innocent Americans? The danger, he claimed, in making the findings public? Remember Pearl Harbor? The Kennedy assassination?
Richard Clarke, former terrorism czar until he could stand it no longer and wrote a book about his harrowing time under the Bush administration, reveals that on 9/12 Bush's only concern was linking the attack with Iraq, opining that there were "no good places to bomb in Afghanistan." As far as hunting down the alleged source of the attack, our army was in Afghanistan for a two months before even moving into "bin Laden country," Tora Bora and environs. How many troops are in Iraq? Some were imported from Afghanistan, and the total U.S. presence there had been eleven thousand.
Slow and steady wins what race? Oh, by the way, funding for homeland security, as well as any salary or benefits for our armed forces, have been cut back. Are our borders safe? To patrol the entire Oregon coast, one soldier is employed and the emergency phone at his small office doesn't even work.
What more can Moore tell us? Photography of mutilated Iraqis and Americans and interviews with U.S. military both pro and con the Iraqi presence. A day in the process of recruiting working- class youth into the armed forces while avoiding more affluent subjects. He could have added, per one critic, that for two months before 9/11 Bush's staff did not fly on public airlines but took government planes at our expense. He does mention the month-long vacation Bush took in August of 2001 (despite a warning in writing of an immanent terrorist attack), showing in addition the "president"'s lame self-defense that he works in Crawford also (how ugly is his ranch, the photography reveals). That Bush has raised the most campaign funding of any candidate in history, and the first year in office spent forty-two days en route to and from, as well as on vacation.
Bowling for Columbine was well timed to reach and impact the public in 2002, but Republicans still prevailed in the November election, though the usual scenario is for the sitting president to lose partisan control of Congress midterm. Now we have Fahrenheit 9/11 during a far more crucial election year that will determine the president for the next four years and the future of our democracy. The crowds lined up to see the movie are record-breaking. Moore won at Cannes and received an academy award.
If this time we allow Socrates to lead us instead of swallowing hemlock, perhaps the outlook for November 2 is not so bleak. It was Socrates, after all, who taught the Western world how to think. Let his truths reach the unconvinced and the opponents and most especially the voting machines. Allow us an honest election and even more than that, an honest administration to lead us out of our domestic and foreign quagmires.
Copyright © Marta Steele 2004. All rights reserved.
THOUGHTS ON REGISTERING VOTERS FOR ELECTION 2004
by Marta Steele
It was my privilege last weekend to participate in a local effort that succeeded in registering 350 voters: both new ones and others who had changed addresses and/or names. My group selected what I deemed to be the highest concentration of third world and blue collar Democrats, Walmart (pace Greg Palast and our protest against exploitation and outsourcing). Traffic in and out was heavy, and my bull horn of a voice was helpful, though I habitually mumble at the conversational level.
If I could only describe the range of people we signed up and the thrill of recruiting a first-time voter; many in this category seemed unaware they could even vote or had considered the possibility. Others were glad we had caught them this weekend before the registration deadline. Think of how many voters would have missed out; similar efforts were going on all across the country, recruiting many first timers and reminding others who had not voted for years how important this November 2 was to all of us. I don’t think I registered one senior citizen. They all had answers: already registered or indifferent and unapproachable. Our recruits were largely thirty-something or younger. They were all, uniformly, well dressed and well groomed. Many passed us by cheerfully and gratefully, saying they were already registered and we were wonderful to stand around like that huckstering for Kerry—that’s what we actually were doing, nonpartisan though we were supposed to be. Most confided they were for Kerry. One middle-aged man eyed me menacingly and announced he was voting for Bush. I nodded, “That’s your right.”
As I stood on my feet for 3-1/2 hours each day without a break, I marveled at the phenomenon of thinking on one’s feet: the athletics of producing ready, if not brilliant answers in a debate setting such as the current ones broadcast on national TV. I was voicing basic instructions how to fill in registration forms. Think about standing before an audience of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, and staying focused, knowing that not only your career advancement but also, very likely, the fate of the whole human race depends on producing not only the right responses but communicating them effectively to the very diverse public. The level of pressure might be compared to that of an airline pilot flying a jumbo jet filled with hundreds of people, through a thunder storm or a surgeon performing a complex and life-threatening operation. Multiply that pressure many times over, though, when so many destinies are in your hands.
Anyone who does not equate debating skills with effective leadership at the helm of the entire civilized world should only consider what hell this country has been through in the past four years. Because the ability to think quickly and effectively and to express oneself in an articulate fashion is vital in emergencies and other crucial situations. The wrong response in a debate is analogous to wrong executive decisions, including the Iraq invasion, a major theme in the first debate between Bush and Kerry. Two short sentences uttered by Bush say so much about his qualifications as well as his numerous failures as president: “Of course I know that Osama bin Laden attacked us. Of course I know.” Debate performance indicates who will lead and guide the best. Results of debates equate with election results, according to the New York Times, along with past records of performance and accomplishment. Bush has failed both criteria and I am sure he will continue to.
I can’t help believing that the Democrats will triumph in this vital sector of the electoral campaign simply because Kerry and Edwards are both well educated as prosecuting attorneys, Edwards having practiced this profession until the late 1990s. Both political parties have hired lawyers to protect their interests in the event of disputed election results—highly likely because of the complexities of the new touch screen voting machines that were manufactured largely by Bush supporters and leave no paper trails to recount votes. May I hesitantly suggest that this 2004 election will be, as were many others, unconstitutional, in that different methods will be used for counting votes in different districts, which goes against the Fourteenth Amendment, equal protection, according to the Supreme Court decision of 2000 that put Bush into office (but this cannot be applied again; it's "non-precedent-setting")? Other factors enter into disputed elections, as we know all too fully, and must be resolved ethically for a country to prosper. In the absence of law, said Aristotle millennia ago, the best and brightest cannot rule.
But not only have both sides employed lawyers to protect their rights in the event of a dispute; Kerry and Edwards are lawyers and I am convinced that they will insist that justice, and nothing short of justice, be carried out, even if it takes longer than the month that caused Gore such agony before he conceded: Gore, the candidate we elected president by both popular and electoral votes. History would be different since 2000 if Gore had taken office, and I think a far more positive experience than this country has endured for the last four years.
I was just one person helping citizens fill out registration forms last weekend, one among thousands keeping democracy alive as well as we could. I hope and pray that election 2004 keeps democracy alive; hope and pray that the Kerry-Edwards ticket prevails against corruption, ineptitude, and plutocracy.
Copyright © Marta Steele 2004. All rights reserved.
SENATOR AND VICE-PRESIDENTIAL DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE
VISITS HAVERFORD COLLEGE CAMPUS
OCTOBER 18, 2004
"The first casualty for a desperate campaign is truth."
With these words John Edwards launched an hour-long speech and question-and-answer forum at Haverford College yesterday to an overflowing crowd.
Referring to a speech in New Jersey by George W. Bush that morning, Edwards continued that Bush is trying to convince the world that he's the one to defend it against terror. "You don't win the war with a speech," he said. "Bush's failures speak louder than his words. If you want to know how Bush will fight the war on terror, look what he's done in Iraq."
"The last two people who think things are going well in Iraq are Bush and Cheney."
Bush doesn't know how to lead, continued Edwards. He has made Iraq a haven for terrorists. 100 percent of airplane cargo remains uninspected. They inspect us [preventing Senator Ted Kennedy from boarding planes several times, for example]. 120,000 hours of tapes in Arabic have gone untranslated because Bush hasn't hired translators, 100 chemical plants are unsecured, and explosives can still be smuggled into our planes.
"If journalists can do it [that is, smuggle explosives into planes], then terrorists can do it," he said.
Bush refuses to strengthen U.S. sanctions against Iran, said Edwards. "John Kerry will unite the country to win the war against terror."
"George Bush says we don't have enough money to protect this country, but he spent $465,000 on a party, not radios, gasmasks, and radiation detectors for firefighters."
"We need the right priorities," said Edwards:
America's beacon will always be lit."
"Every child will be more secure," continued Edwards. "We will build a safer world where terrorism falls. We will keep you safe when John Kerry is president."
Bush can't manage a flu virus, Edwards told us. His solution is that he won't get a shot. "That isn't leadership but incompetence."
"Is outsourcing good for the economy?" he asked. Bush favors HMOs, insurance companies, drug companies. "You can't fix a mess unless you know there is one."
Edwards said that his favorite moment among the debates occurred when Bush asked a critical question: "Is my time up yet?" "On November 2 we'll answer Bush's question for him: 'Yes, your time is up.'"
Five million Americans have lost their insurance coverage, he continued. Thirty million have suffered increased insurance premiums. "Bush had four years to fix it. He made it worse."
The Kerry-Edwards administration will cover all children and bring down the cost of health care, the senator said, and the astronomical cost of prescription drugs. Drug companies do important work. When he first took office, Bush promised to allow drugs to be imported from Canada, but when the drug companies opposed this, Bush chose the drug companies, not the American people. "He chose the big insurance companies and blocked the patients' bill of rights. You can't be with the big oil companies and Halliburton and be with the American people."
John Kerry will allow the importation of drugs from Canada, said Edwards, and enforce truth in advertising laws [he was referring to those ridiculous and lengthy drug commercials more and more inflicted on the American public and gave the funny example of taking an arthritis pill and dancing through the wilderness in the romantic mist of sunset].
John Kerry will fund stem cell research. "This is the most important election of our lifetime."
"It's you that can change this country.
It's you that can move America away from energy dependence on oil.
It's you that can bring back the respect of the world.
That's what's at stake in this election. We need the young people" [at this point the Haverford crowd of students cheered].
"The American dream is on the ballot November 2."
During the question-and-answer period, when asked about the double bind that doctors face, including the trouble they have collecting bills and the huge amounts of money they must spend on malpractice insurance, Edwards clarified Kerry's solution: to assign more responsibility to lawyers before a malpractice suit can be initiated. Lawyers will be held financially accountable for the consultation of experts who will decide on the validity of each case. A lawyer who attempts three times to justify invalid suits will lose his right to prosecute them.
"That will keep out cases that don't belong," said the senator.
On the issue of Kerry's alleged "flip-flopping," Edwards produced several examples of the real problem, Bush's flip-flopping. One example was Bush's explanations for the U.S. invasion of Iraq once it was proved that there were no WMD.
Edwards said that he "feels good about things." "Don't rest for a second," he concluded. "So much is at stake. We need you in this huge battleground state. Pennsylvania will go for Kerry-Edwards!"
Copyright © Marta Steele 2004. All rights reserved.
THE NEW YORK CITY THEATER PREMIER OF BUSH FAMILY FORTUNES:
THE BEST DEMOCRACY MONEY CAN BUY
sponsored by Harper's Magazine and Air America hosts JANEANE GAROFALO,
RANDI RHODES, and SAM SEDER plus Democracy Now's JEREMY SCAHILL and Harper's publisher JOHN R. MacARTHUR.
by Marta Steele
I dread election night. I envision in advance being glued to a network TV station and watching the results pour in state after state. From what I know, network projections of who will win based on exit polls will not be admissible this year, because during the last presidential election they contradicted machine tabulations and/or hand counts in Florida. The outcome of that state’s electoral results haunts voters everywhere in all sorts of ways. Mainly we fear a repetition: in Florida and elsewhere, Colorado in particular, I just read.
My emotions will run amok on election night. I fear that it will not determine, as it used to, the next U.S. president, a choice that may drag on forever with two reasonably honest lawyers on one side and two radicals with a dismally unethical track record opposed to them. In other words I will cheer wildly when my side, the two lawyers, seems ahead, and cuss uncontrollably and obscenely if and when the other side seems to prevail. In my mind that side can do little more than “seem to prevail,” because I am convinced that if everyone, or even every registered voter could vote fairly and ethically, a Kerry-Edwards landslide would result. Pity the poor Republicans on election day as they struggle to lasso this tornado or sandbag the flood—choose your metaphor. My instinct also tells me that the opinion polls are way off base and measure only selected portions of the white middle class—adults at that because younger voters are addicted to cell phones, which pollsters do not contact.
In other words, I expect nothing but hell this November 2, even though this evening I met a pleasant college student who said his birthday is on November 2. I wanted that to be a good omen, in that he is a Kerry supporter. I met this young man and his girlfriend en route to the New York City theater premier of the iconoclastic journalist and author Greg Palast’s film Bush Family Fortunes: The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. In it Palast reviews and augments [with his BBC and other reports] the contents of his best seller The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, especially chapter one, which details the horrors and atrocities of our last presidential election in Florida.
Palast was present at this New York premier, along with Air America and Democracy Now stars and the publisher of Harper's Magazine. The theater, which included two balconies, was packed and overflowing, because Greg Palast has a problem. He always unearths truth and in the words of his introducer Randi Rhodes, “the Bush cartel doesn’t scare him.” Obviously most people prefer a good laugh to the truth, because Palast’s fans are fewer than, say, Michael Moore’s, because Moore is part comedian, combining truth with humor. Palast’s humor is infinitely drier, bitingly witty at the lexical level, rife with wordplay. Palast is rising, however. He says that his return to his native U.S. is now legitimized since he was anointed a contributing editor to a mainstream U.S. publication, Harper’s Magazine.
As far as I am concerned, the presence of anyone with the guts and ethics of Palast is always legitimate. It is almost more glamorous and romantic to be purposely excluded, as is Indy Media, for instance, whose hard drives have been confiscated by the FBI, Palast told us. But he needs to reach more people and let us hope this is the beginning of wider publicity for the hero without whom few if any of us would know what happened in Florida, what really happened four bitter years ago. How he has labored to spread this truth far and wide by traveling and publishing on paper and on line, along with his BBC news productions, which often result in Europeans, at least, knowing more of what really goes on here than we do.
Enough description, enough generality, enough griping. We are, after all, inhabiting interesting times. It is at least as difficult as being at the core of a real-life comedy or tragedy.
T he film begins with the famous clip of Palast confronting Katherine Harris ‘s operative Clayton Roberts about the illegal database of alleged felons that was so unjust and inaccurate, easing Bush’s illegal path into the White House. Roberts slams the door of his office in Palast’s face, right before live cameras.
After more close-ups of the villains, the ultra-right-wing fanatics causing so much suffering and tribulation both at home and in Iraq, the question is asked, in reference to Palast’s five-year relentless and ingenious tracking of the Bush family, “What drives them and where are they driving us?” To hell, I might respond to the latter and greed/lust for power to the former. I produce these glib responses as an avid Palastologist since I first heard of the iconoclast three years ago.
Palast takes us back to origins of the present quagmires. How many words and actions of his father is George Jr. contradicting by “answering to a higher authority” as if he were an employee of Hebrew National? It occurred to me recently that all Kerry has to do is claim that God told him it is his turn to preside over this country, read “the world.” What would Bush answer to that? He might alienate a lot of his Catholic supporters. The Bush 41 words Palast quotes are “Weakness drives us to war.” The next major focus is Bush’s ridiculous military record. He got into the Air National Guard, the very safest arm of the military, during the Vietnam era through his father’s contacts even though one hundred thousand others were on the waiting list ahead of him and he scored only 25 percent on the admissions test.
“Leadership is giving of yourself,” says another critic. “[This situation consists of] the weak leading the strong.”
Because Bush went AWOL and some enlightened souls are plundering past records to prove this, at one point $10,000 was offered to anyone who would step forward and testify that he served in the Guard in Alabama with Bush. So far no one has stepped forward. Oddly enough, the existing records are incomplete, with “tremendous gaps,” the files having obviously been “cleaned out.”
Back to more recent history, we hear that in 2000 the electoral vote of Florida was promised to Bush by both his brother Jeb, governor of that state, and Katherine Harris, doing double duty as Bush’s campaign manager there and secretary of state. On election night, told of exit polls that totaled against him, Bush merely grinned. I have seen him in the press grinning similarly this time around when the subject of who will win occurs. The grin is particularly hostile and smug, as if he knows something we don’t.
Statistics from the 2000 Florida election next appear: 179,855 votes were not counted, 50 percent of these of black voters, who proved to be 1,000 percent more likely to have their ballots discarded than were whites. Then we reviewed the gruesome details of the illegal database of alleged felons, 95 percent of whom were completely innocent—a total of 94,000 voters, 54 percent of whom were black. The company Choice Point, paid $4 million to generate the illegal list, warned the state government of dire consequences when they were told that it was unnecessary to verify the accuracy of the list, even though the contract required it.
In Part II: “The Money,” we find out that the Florida government has retained Choice Point frequently since 2000, in the form of no-bid contracts. Bush is described as a “corporate wet dream.” Why exactly? For starters, three days into his term, he signed an order to raise energy fees in California, a disaster for that state though a huge financial windfall for the soon-to-become-notorious Enron, which had donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Bush campaign. A committee of corporations like Enron were soon after engaged to rewrite all the environmental and energy legislation that was working well to clean up our ecology. One result was the decision to allow corporations to put their own caps on their energy prices without government intervention. Soon after, Bush is photographed saying that “things in the corporate world are black and white.” Through what lens?
In Part III, “The Oil,” the focus switches to the Bush-Saudi Arabia connection. Bush 41, a member of the Carlyle Group board, along with his son, used his presidential contacts after he left office to acquire contracts for the defense conglomerate. How, for instance, did the obscure company Harken Oil, one of Bush 43’s failed enterprises, receive a contract to drill off the coast of Bahrain?
Part IV, “The Connection,” continues this thread. Why didn’t our intelligence agencies know more about 9/11 before it happened? The FBI, for instance, wanted to question members of the bin Laden family who were in this country, but were not allowed to by the administration. Coincidentally, the bin Ladens invested in Arbusto Oil, another failed Bush 43 enterprise. Even though 15 out of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, Bush stayed close to that country after 9/11, shielding them from investigation. Interviewing Ron Motley, the richest lawyer in this country, Palast found out that al Qaeda’s plan was actually known in advance by the FAA, all airline companies, the FBI, and the CIA. Motely, who represents 9/11 victim families, said further that the Saudis donated money to Muslim charities in this country that funded al Qaeda. “Why were planes allowed to remove all bin Ladens from this country so soon after 9/11?” he inquires. The bin Ladens were also listed by al Qaeda as among their most generous contributors.
“Why do the Bushes fear further investigation of 9/11?” asks Palast.
“The Place: Iraq,” is the next segment. Bush 43 is shown warning prewar Iraqis not to destroy their oil wells once the U.S. invades. Palast wryly notes that the initials of Operation Iraqi Liberation” spell oil. A Freudian slip? Palast next displays a document of a prior plan among these neocons to divide and sell Iraq, especially its oil. General Garner, the first U.S.-appointed leader of post-invasion Iraq, is fired promptly when he dares to suggest that this decision would best be left to the Iraqis. Bush again receives camera telling the Iraqis in the same speech that “oil is thicker than blood.” “Don’t fight for your regime,” he continues. “It’s not worth your life.”
The film ends with a ray of hope: that both Palast and Michael Moore will be in Florida on election day if not sooner. Palast was in New York today after spending time in Tampa with his BBC crew. Another ray of hope is that on July 15 the Civil Rights commission voted to open a criminal investigation of Jeb Bush’s administration. The flip side of this is who will do the investigating: Attorney General Ashcroft.
We have everything going for us but the iniquity of the opposition. We know the devil now, though. This time democracy has a far better shot at survival.
During the question-and-answer period, Jeremy Scahill of Democracy Now told us that the British newspaper The Guardian, for whom Palast reports, has set up a website to reach all American expatriates and other exiles in Europe.
To the question, "How can we get the mainstream media honest?" Sam Seder of Air America responded that Indy Media is honest. He referred to the newspaper The Independent, and added that he prefers to work with Indy on corporate media and that Indy takes risks and doesn't imbed as do other journalists, in Iraq for example [among American troops].
Other issues included "slipping the truth" into Michael Moore's humor and more on the fallacious Choice Point database of "felons": that we need to "picket, threaten, intimidate." Scahill noted that harassing the mainstream can work, as when he released the phone number of New York Times reporter Adam Nagourney. "The right has been harassing the press for years," he said. "CBS refused a critical piece on Iraq because of pressure from the right."
Harper's Magazine publisher John MacArthur, on the subject of Sinclair's biased airing of an anti-Kerry film, co-opting prime time programming on sixty television stations, comprising 25 percent of the U.S. population, mostly rural, wished that FCC would revoke their license. Scahill added that all of Sinclair's advertisers are listed at Sinclair.com; that Sinclair stock is down by 10 percent; and that the company is losing advertisers.
FIGHTING THE BATTLE WHILE THEY FIGHT THE WAR
The air hung heavy with the threat of a downpour. A small crowd stood before the steps of the state capitol, Trenton, NJ, as speaker after speaker reiterated their ideals. There was no one to convince. State employees scuttled in and out of the building attempting to ignore us. The governor was nowhere apparent, though we all signed a petition begging him to add paper trails to computerized voting machines to ensure a reliable count. Police cars were present at every nearby street as if criminals were in their midst. We were not allowed to park in the guest area of the capital complex parking lot.
One speaker reiterated what we all knew but considered most outrageous: the slot machines at Atlantic City casinos were more intricately and conscientiously secured than the computerized machines that would determine the next president of the United States, not how many nickels or quarters to dispense to small-time winners. Computer experts ("nerds") are not allowed to examine the new machines nor find out their codes nor be assured that the machines would not be tampered with, nor be assured that the machines would not break down, as they have time after time, the glitches are so numerous.
Meanwhile the illegal databases in Florida, listing supposed felons, mostly black, whom they still will not allow to vote, are mostly still enforced and new lists are being created from them, equally inaccurate. Meanwhile, the precedent has spread to other states quietly, unacknowledged by the press, many of these states in the Midwest and hovering between the two major parties, so that the vote count is most crucial there.
And meanwhile in Ohio, a crucial state replete with failing industries and unemployment, the owner of Diebold voting machines has promised his state to Bush, as did Jeb Bush in 2000 and obviously again this year.
Meanwhile, how can democracy survive--the system in which the people get to choose their leaders, not the Supreme Court or the Electoral College or corrupt officials? Is a counter coup the only answer, or revolution? If anything has been proved in the last four years, it is that it takes an awful lot to anger a population enough for real decisiveness to prevail. We are trying hard to work within a system that is collapsing more and more into corrupt domination and manipulations.
I applauded slowly in the heavy Middle Atlantic summer humidity as each speaker reiterated my ideals. What a small group for such large ideas. I applauded slowly because I was skeptical that such rallies would accomplish anything more than a temporary and fleeting sense of hope. There was one black person amid the crowd of educated, middle-class whites. They know, I have been assured, about the iniquities that convened us here today. They know a lot more about discrimination than we ever can, however eloquently we may speak. How many of us in the crowd are not racists, many of us having grown up in the racist climate of the fifties and early sixties? If I were black, would I be there?
The rally lasted barely one hour. We signed the petition to the governor who had better things to do behind the cement wall guarded by police than listen to us. Progressives are a minority, not the ones who will reelect him. The mayor of Philadelphia, a black man, did come to greet a more radical rally last July 4. He left a group of famous Washington, DC, officials to do so. Back at the festivities he abandoned, a piece of roof adornment broke off and injured a few of the dignitaries sitting on the stage. Their location was the new Constitutional Center in Philadelphia and the occasion was its dedication.
And so, another rally, our constitutional right. We dispersed slowly, wanting more, despairing of more than the next petition or gathering. By the time we decide on the only real answer, revolution, too many of our rights will already have been revoked and petitions and gatherings will no longer allow us a temporary fix. It takes a lot to incite people to action. We are elite and the real victims of the system have been denied education and the will toward activism. They are also too busy struggling to subsist in this economy. Rallying and even signing petitions are leisure activities actually.
The real work to regain democracy: what is it?
"POLITICAL BOOKS IN A POLITICAL SEASON:
WHAT'S HOT, WHAT'S NOT"
WNBA PANEL OF EXPERTS
Thursday, October 21, 2004
Small Press Center, Manhattan
Because the mainstream media in America have largely become mouthpieces of the Bush White House, afraid of neo-conservative reprisals if they publicize what’s really going on, books published by both mainstream and alternative presses have become the sole surviving purveyors of truth and the civil “cold war” that is at least as real as the notion that our country is at war with Iraq. That point marked the climax of a panel discussion among distinguished experts related to the advancement of books on contemporary politics from various viewpoints: Sarah Groff-Palermo, managing editor at Soft Skull Press; Martha K Levin, publisher and executive vice president at Free Press; Barbara Meade, co-owner of the bookstore Politics and Prose in Washington, DC; and Craig Unger, author of the New York Times best seller House of Bush, House of Saud.
The panel was moderated by Susannah Greenberg, president of Susannah Greenberg Public Relations; and Kristina Klimovich, assistant sales manager at Simon & Schuster.
The advantage of being a small press is the ability to publish books in smaller quantities and less profitably than those produced by large, mainstream publishers. That is how Sarah began the discussion after introductions by Jill Tardiff, Manhattan branch and national president of WNBA and Susannah. Sarah’s employer, Soft Skull Press of Brooklyn, specializes in books left of center, particularly political ones like the satirical How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office and How to Take America Back from the Right. “We don’t have a lot to lose,” she said later. “There’s not an awful overhead.” How-to activism, also left of center but nonsatirical, is exemplified by Soft Skull’s Notes for the Water Underground, which explains the damage wrought on the environment by dams, among other themes, one of Sarah’s favorites and a good example of Soft Skull’s work. An audience member later expressed regret that small press books like Chomsky’s on 9/11 don’t get the distribution they deserve. “I can’t speak to the statistics of publishing,” Sarah replied.
Richard Clarke’s Against All Enemies, a runaway best seller at Free Press, was an “immensely unique" experience for Martha, who is a 28-year publishing veteran. “So many [political] books got traction because of 9/11,” she said. Anti-Bush books dominated the market in the first part of 2004, which since then is about evenly split between the right and the left. At the top of the best seller list, Jon Stuart’s book is selling slightly better (15 %) than Anne Coulter’s.
Clarke came to Free Press in July 2003 after having resigned from his White House position as terrorism czar in the preceding March. He wanted to put his hair-raising experiences into book form and, after two “jaw-dropping” hours with him, so did Free Press, said Martha, adding that this is the first time she has shared the story of the production of Clarke’s book with the public. Clarke had never written a book before but did well at this first attempt and of course, since the information in it was so timely, they wanted to publish it as soon as possible. The completed book was returned by the White House in October (books by government employees are always subject to this process) and released in late February of 2004. Offered space by both Newsweek magazine and the TV news magazine Sixty Minutes, Clarke ended up on the latter. Sarah said that half of what he related on that show was not in his book. Just about this time also Clarke was summoned to appear before the 9/11 Commission. Copies of the book were grabbed up by the public –first by an NBC newscaster and then George Stephanopoulos, among others.
Thereafter the book “took off like a freight train at 100 mph.” Martha was told it would bring down the government. What she learned from the experience, which she’d like to repeat, is that with a best seller you should double the number of copies you plan to print initially. 600,000 hardcover copies were sold; Against All Enemies remained on the best seller list for thirteen weeks. The subsequent paperback was also a best seller, for less time. “You never know when lightening will strike,” she concluded.
Washington, DC’s largest independent bookstore, Politics and Prose has grown since its opening in 1977 to a space of over 10,000 square feet, over $6 million in annual sales, and a staff of fifty. “2004 has been an incredible year for politics,” Barbara said, specifying the best-selling liberal authors Bill Clinton, Molly Ivins, Jon Stewart, Ron Suskind, Bob Woodward, Seymour Hersh, and Maureen Dowd. Sales are up by 20 percent, she said. “We’ll never have a more profitable year.” The downside of this roll are the customer emails accusing the store of liberal bias when the staff conscientiously gives equal space to the entire political spectrum. Conservative customers include George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Richard Perle, and Donald Rumsfeld. Politics and Prose is also proud to be the best Washington, DC customers of the conservative Regnery Press, including Unfit for Command, a book by the Swiftboat Veterans that attempts to debunk Kerry’s service in Vietnam.
“Republicans don’t buy more books than Democrats,” she said, supporting this with representative statistics. She related an anecdote of a visit to a New Jersey bookstore where she attempted to locate a copy of (D. Hardy and J. Clarke) Michael Moore Is a Big, Fat Stupid White Man and was given a hard time by the salesperson to the extent that the one copy finally located was on a top shelf, spine turned away from view. “Are you happy now, you frigging fascist?” asked the salesperson. “Paranoia is too hard to handle,” said Martha. “They [both sides] are irrational.” “Polarization has brought people to politics,” Sarah added later.
Barbara cited what she called an enormous disconnect between the huge number of “Bush-bashing” books sold and the results of opinion polls, which show the two presidential candidates in a dead heat. Books by conservatives sell best in megastores like Sam’s Club, Walmart, and Target, all of which sell large amounts of wholesale books; Bookscan and Costco account for 75 percent of conservative political books [this information was given out by Martha during the subsequent question period]. After the election, many books will be “dead,” she said, but there are timeless works of nonfiction and even fiction that survive the vicissitudes (though there is no conservative political fiction, it was later added). Martha later added that just like the books about Vietnam that didn’t appear for as long as six to seven years after that tragedy and a book about the Gulf War published just last year, books about this “cold civil war” and the accompanying international unrest over the U.S. invasion of Iraq will stimulate many more books on this subject in the years ahead, she said.
Last to speak was the best-selling author Craig, a frequent presence on CNN and the the ABC Radio Network who has written extensively about both presidents Bush for the New Yorker, Esquire, and Vanity Fair. Material from House of Bush, House of Saud was featured prominently in Michael Moore’s documentary blockbuster Fahrenheit 9/11. Craig’s theme is the incredible by-passing by the mainstream press of crucial behavior, nothing short of treason (fraternizing with national enemies, e.g.) on the part of George W. Bush. He writes that two days after 9/11 the Saudi Arabia ambassador Prince Bandar was photographed on the Truman balcony of the White House with Bush. “Here is where the war on terrorism should have begun,” said Craig.
Bandar’s wife, who donated generously to the Muslim charities that helped finance 9/11, was not even questioned, he said. Bush also let eight planes leave this country on 9/13, lifting commercial flight restrictions to transport 140 Saudis, including twenty-four bin Ladens, out of this country without interrogation. But a heart to be flown from Alaska to the mainland for transplantation was not allowed airspace. All of this and more the press ignored and the White House denied, said Craig. He also called the Jessica Lynch saga of heroism “a press fabrication.” He said that the New York Times took "handouts" from Ahmad Chalabi, who fed false information on WMD to Times reporter Judith Miller, now censured for filling Times front pages with this material time and again.
But other media vehicles did react to Craig’s revelations. Vanity Fair extracted eight thousand words in one of its issues, which extended his sales another eight to ten weeks. Michael Moore read this and hence incorporated the material into his documentary, best-selling of the category in history and first documentary to take first place at the Cannes Film Festival. Additional to this “guerilla operation” to get media attention, he was interviewed hundreds of times on radio and is now linked by Google to 72,000 websites. Hundreds of articles appeared all over the world, but not in America until Senator Chuck Schumer of New York questioned Richard Clarke, a former schoolmate. The report then reached the New York Times and advanced to thirty CNN programs. Further publicity appeared on Charlie Rose’s show, more radio, including local PBS stations but not NPR, and prominent websites like buzzflash and truthout.com.
During the subsequent question-and-answer period, Sarah, noting that book publishers have “saved our democracy,” expressed anxiety over another four years of a Bush administration. Martha replied that the White House is more concerned about obscenity than politics. There is still deep commitment to freedom of the press in this country.
Further on the subject of negative reaction by conservatives to progressive political literature, Craig said that 90 percent of his readers were liberals, and that the hate mail he received after appearing on a TV talk show reflects “extraordinary fear and anger—they don’t want to hear about it.” He is is going to an event in Ohio next week where each of those attending is required to bring along a Republican. “Things will get worse no matter who is elected,” he said.
Copyright © Marta Steele 2004. All rights reserved.
Start: Lillian Light on Ecology
The 2003 Bush Environmental Record
by Lillian Light
On the Monday before Christmas I received a survey on the Bush administration's 2003 environmental record. It was sent out by Sierra Club RAW ( the uncooked facts of the Bush assault on the environment), and listed 16 egregious assaults on the nation's air, water, and lands. I was asked to choose the top three actions most damaging to the nation's environment. If you would like to read their list contact http://www.sierraclub.org/lists/terms.asp. I am willing to share with you the top three that received the most votes
`1. Mercury Rising - Issued public health warnings to pregnant women and children about mercury after announcing policy changes to triple the amount of mercury pollution allowed from power plants.
2. Super Duped - Became the first administration to support shifting burden of Superfund toxic waste cleanups from polluters to taxpayers.
3. Sooty Santa: - Dismantled provision of the Clean Air Act ( New Source Review) that requires oldest, dirtiest power plants and refineries to curb soot and smog pollution when they expand production
Now I would like to discuss with you some of the administration's actions that imperil our environment and our future. I would love to conduct my own survey and find out which of this government's actions bother you the most. Let me know about any anti environment act that has been omitted from this article. (Contact: email@example.com or 310 - 545 1384)
To me, one of the most alarming acts of the Bush administration was its push to resume research, production, testing, and use of nuclear weapons. In September of 2003 the Senate approved Bush administration plans to research new battlefield uses for nuclear weapons and to improve the nation's capacity to make and test them. (by a 53 to 41 vote) Congress has also repealed the ten- year ban against research and development of "low-yield (less than 5 kilotons) nuclear weapons, and approved the funding for research and testing of nuclear "bunker busters". These are weapons that have only limited effectiveness against buried targets, yet would disperse extensive radioactive contamination into the atmosphere as well as on the ground. This kind of research could well open the door to a new nuclear arms race among nations. We would be promoting national security more effectively by ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, joining the 89 other nations that have already done so.
I strongly condemn the Bush plan to replace 11,000 federal Park Service employees, more than two thirds of the National Park Service permanent workforce, with private contractors. Positions subject to contracting out to private corporations include operations and maintenance staff, park biologists, archeologists, environmental specialists, and interpretive park rangers. Similar outsourcing efforts are beginning in the Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Environmental Protection Agency. It stands to reason that private consultants will minimize inconvenient findings or shade conclusions to match the contracting agency's interest. The corporations running environmental agencies will have no use for committed environmentalists trying to protect the nation's natural heritage. Bruce Babbitt, who served in the Department of the Interior for two terms under Clinton, was quoted in the LA Times (7/30/ 03) as follows:
"A radical ideological group is behind the outsourcing plan. Ultimately, proponents of privatization would hand over the national parks to private companies."
Another most disturbing Bush initiative was his attack on our wild forests and the wildlife that depend on forest habitat, by proposing to fight fire with logging. On December 3rd Bush signed legislation that guts environmental protections under the guise of fighting fires and increases commercial logging of our national forests, regardless of environmental consequences. On this same day his administration adopted a rule that would expedite timber- thinning projects by removing a safeguard for endangered species, and would exempt forest plans from environmental impact studies. These dangerous and destructive forest proposals call for the thinning of 25 million acres of national forest land in the next ten years that will cost taxpayers close to $4 billion. Forestry experts have long known that commercial logging increases the risk of forest fire, so the administration strategy could actually increase the likelihood of wildfires. But our rulers have succeeded in weakening environmental law, limiting public involvement, and avoiding judicial oversight. They seem determined to open our national forests to more quick - profit exploitation by lumbermen, oilmen, and leaders of industrialized recreation.
This administration has failed to crack down on air and water pollution from large factory farms, has weakened protections for wetlands, and has changed regulations to enable the continuation of mountain top-removal coal mining. In late December the Environmental Protection agency, caving into industry pressure, proposed the relaxation of national sewage - treatment standards. The new rules would allow treatment plants to skip critical sanitation measures when it rains, and would allow pathogen-filled sewage to be pumped directly into lakes, rivers, and coastal waters.
Whether it's opening pristine wilderness to recreational vehicles (threatening the survival of the desert tortoise by opening100,000 acres of the Imperial Sand Dunes to unlimited off-road driving), increasing snowmobile use in Yellowstone, allowing counties and states to claim national wilderness roads, or undermining dolphin- safe tuna labeling, our president is attempting to dismantle environmental safeguards that have been established over the last few decades. We must all play our part in responding to each of these new attacks on our environment!
In 2004 we now face a Senate vote on an anti-environment energy bill that could provide $119 billion in corporate subsidies. It rolls back environmental safeguards on public lands, consumes more wildlife habitats, and stokes more global warming emissions by encouraging the burning of fossil fuels. It would weaken the Clean Water Act by granting exemptions for oil and gas companies from this act's requirements. Construction at oil and gas sites causes the release of toxics such as benzene, toluene and heavy metals into our drinking water supplies. Oil and gas companies should have to do something to control this pollution.
Please contact your senators and tell them not to vote for this energy bill because it is too expensive, too dangerous and destructive for the environment, and too threatening to the health of the American people. (Their addresses are below)
Senator Dianne Feinstein
202- 224 3841
Local: 310- 9147300
Senator Barbara Boxer
202- 224 3553
PROTECT OUR PRIMEVAL PRISTINE PLACES!!!
by Lillian Light
If you have ever enjoyed a stroll through wooded forest trails or if you want to preserve California’s wild places for your children and grandchildren, it is imperative that you take action today! In the first week of March, the Bush administration released a plan to roll back protections for nearly 50 million acres of our national forests, including 4.4 million acres of the wildest and most pristine national forests in California. Bush administration officials have indicated that they plan to allow governors to exempt their states from the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, signed into law by President Clinton in January of 2001. This Rule protects the most pristine forests that we have left, and helps to provide essential habitat for threatened and endangered species as well as water quality benefits and recreational opportunities. Protecting roadless areas also reduces fire risk; the Forest Service has found that the number of large fires is much higher in areas with roads than in inventoried roadless areas.
It is very important that you contact Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and urge him to state publicly that he will not exempt California’s forests from the Roadless Rule. Perhaps he can persuade President Bush to reverse course and offer some protection to our national forests.
Contact Information: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
State Capitol Bldg
Sacramento, CA 95814 916 – 445 2841
firstname.lastname@example.org LA office: 213 –897 0322
In 2000 President Clinton issued a proclamation that created the Giant Sequoia National Monument. Recently the Forest Service chose an ecologically damaging and costly management plan for the monument. The plan allows logging up to 30 inch
diameter trees, and larger to prevent catastrophic fires. The alternative that would remove the brush, lower branches, and small diameter trees was ignored, even though these are the most flammable materials in the forest and removing them would protect the large trees that are the essential elements of the old forest ecosystem. Trees that have grown to a diameter of 30 inches are over a century old and ought to be preserved.
The Forest Service is proposing to construct new roads within the monument (contrary to the proclamation), even though money is not available to maintain the 900 miles of existing roads. It is estimated that about $14 million of our tax money will be needed to conduct logging projects in the Giant Sequoia National Monument.
To restore science- based management of this magnificent monument, it is necessary to request congressional action. It is clear that the Forest Service centered its plan around logging and cannot properly protect our monument and the rare and special trees within it. Please write to Senator Feinstein and to Congressperson Jane Harman and request that they support legislation that will turn control of our Monument over to the National Park Service, whose record in protecting National Monuments is far superior to that of the Forest Service.
While you contact our legislators, ask them to look into another administration forest protection rollback – the gutting of the Sierra Nevada Framework--which will lead to a doubling of logging levels and the loss of centuries-old trees in the national forests of the Sierra Nevada.
Senator Feinstein deserves our thanks and appreciation for her sponsorship of S 2067, the Los Padres National Forest Conservation Act , which would preserve the areas proposed for oil and gas drilling by the U S Forest Service..This bill will save wild and roadless forest lands, and will protect the habitat of the California Condor and other endangered species.
Thank you for doing all that you can to protect our state’s wild heritage!
Contact Information: Senator Diane Feinstein Congresswoman Jane Harman
331 Hart Senate Office Bldg 229 Cannon House Office Bldg
Washington, DC 20510 Washington, DC 20515
202 – 224 3841 202 – 225 8220
Local: 310 –643
It Was So Dark This Morning I Nearly Did Not Get Up
by Marta Steele
I thought it was still night. I heard no rain, only saw it through my window later, dull pointillism. Summer rain is orgasmic. You can run out into it and shower, risking your life or not. I stayed indoors, hoping to write, that witless dimension that blurs all business calls and carries me off beyond reason.
I had had a business call. Can I tutor Latin? Of course. Am I certified? No. I've taught college, not high school. What a tease. Oh, for the right student who wants it. Oh, for some mass literacy. We are headed into an age of Dionysos. We can still turn back.
I've had writer's block for months. Not having to write, not having to "get the paper out," I stopped, deciding I hadn't enough response to continue. Beyond that, I had a job that grasped, with obscene and dirty claws, for every moment of my existence. I fought that off but the scars are still fresh. The employers were Bush people enthralled with the Iraq invasion as if it were no more than a game of cowboys and Indians. That experience also constipated my muse.
Can I write a commentary? I pretend an audience now, to free my muse. Evidently I am at least 50 percent ham. I used to write as if my reactions made a difference, might contribute toward improving "things." It could be that I am so disgusted that at this untimely hour, an election year, my path has suddenly been blocked. Path toward what? The Republicans are looking for a way to put off election 2004. That gives me hope that Kerry-Edwards have a real chance toward victory. The delay tactics began the moment Kerry appointed Edwards as his running mate. Edwards's face is as round as Kerry's is long. They complement each other in this and many other ways.
So much has happened since my last commentary. I haven't forsaken the world, only tried to ignore it. Two celebrities telephoned me. I rationalized both away. I shall belatedly write for them as well as you. How can the word retain power over violence, as it supposedly does? What words can I write to affect terrorism, to evolve us into the next phase of history? What will that be? How soon will it come? Will it be good or bad? How golden were the so-called golden ages of history? It seems there was always an underclass who would describe such eras differently.
I can hear the rain only because I am at my desk while the drops hit the window. I don't hear rain on the roof, the ultimate in coziness for true enjoyment of an attic condo. Can I play the absurdity game: this particular raindrop, that one. I'll never retrieve them; a particular raindrop falls only once. There is no way to retrieve snowflakes that fell in the past. And so on. If continuous evaporation did not occur even in cases of 100 percent humidity, we'd all have floated away with or without an ark long ago.
Is the word really mightier than the sword? It once saved my life. I was about to collide with a car that didn't see me when my father roared "Stop!" in such a loud, booming voice that not only the car, but everything else for an instant, like a sneeze, stopped. I was terrified and embarrassed. We, my whole family, went home instead of buying my older brother the hobby accoutrements we had gone out for. The car filled with two parents and three children was completely silent on the way home. My father was angry. No one timidly thanked him. I had just wanted to cross the street like other adults I had seen breezily allowing cars to pass in front of them as they crossed.
Or was I jealous that we never took family trips to buy me "serious" things like my brother's? Dolls seemed so ridiculous compared to his hobbies. How many accidental deaths are suicides? How many suicides accidental?
Copyright © Marta Steele 2004. All rights reserved.
I wanted to sing. I remember years ago in Dorchester, Massachusetts, when I was working with Puerto Rican children on ESL and orientation into USA existence out of their rural origins. We were in a mildewed room at the mildewed YMCA, our headquarters. I had someone’s guitar. I strummed a few chords and then sang for the first time in seeming decades. I sounded like a frog. My voice had to have the mothballs shaken off. It was so deep it was almost bass. Finally I began to carry a low, reluctant tune. It was a curious evolution.
That is how I feel now, almost, allowing some writing time after a good three months sans essai, as they say, though the ideas continue to churn.
A further memory that sparks an incipient Muse is more recent. It has been a year since the U.S. attacked Iraq. Those films of that poor city with its mythical minarets exploding into roaring incandescence plague me. Let me tell you where I was a year ago. I was volunteering at a nonprofit book sale sponsored by Bryn Mawr and Wellesley Colleges. I was sitting at a table in a room with windows on two sides. I knew the attack would commence mid-afternoon our time, and so I was braced, waiting for the news, praying that something would happen at the last minute to restore sanity to the world. Instead, right at three o’clock there was a hail storm with stones the size of golf balls, the first time I had ever experienced this magnitude. The storm was so intense the sturdy new building was flooded quickly. I knew it was an omen. The storm was very localized, I found out later. Two miles away there was no precipitation. I later found out that the US bombing of Iraq commenced just about simultaneously with the hailstones.
How could I be so egotistical to believe the storm was for me? I had opposed the war. For whom did those hailstones pour?
My real preoccupation in the last few months since I began working full-time is what the world will invent in the future. There is so much that hasn’t occurred to anyone and a lot of what I ponder is stereotypical. We are so close to prolonging life indefinitely and so far from knowing what to do about it. Kurt Vonnegut in a recent essay warned us about the ramifications: that there would be no room for the young with so many old codgers hanging out ad infinitum. To him I have to say, We may have run out of horizontal space or be heading in that direction, but what of vertical space? That is a frontier we have yet to explore more fully.
Remember that reflection of mine about the real estate we still have for free within our handbags and back packs? In a few years that space will be at a premium. But in a few years, instead of migrating to Mars, we will have floating real estate. People will inhabit airborne homes in the back yards of others, so all that space between the roof of your beach house and the sky will be put to good use, a sobering thought but one way to accommodate a burgeoning population, at least up to a point. It will become routine, not bizarre, in that future generations will be far less scared of air travel and heights than we are.
We will also discover other dimensions and move into them to save space. In that process we will trap time and penetrate it and truly be able to voyage where we want in the past and unite this with our present and do away with conventional notions of horizontal progression. It can be 1960 and 2004 at the same time, as well as 1001 and 500 B.C. We can bring past figures into the present but unlike science fiction everyone who ever lived will be alive and able to go where they wish in time; the future will no longer be a mystery, nor the past. But layers of time will keep us from living on top of each other (despite what I wrote above), in that we will be able to inhabit whatever year we want to and usually fifties people will stay there and so on. We will be able to visit our cradles and our graves and before and after that—what freedom.
In such an environment, how can war persist and other maladies that currently afflict our world, seemingly incurable? What a super charge the past and future will lend to this miserable present. Will we be able to impact the future? Will the future not reveal a nuclear wasteland? That question is beyond me for now. And time once gone, there’s no more fighting then? to paraphrase John Donne.
I feel like Vonnegut’s scraggly misfit Kilgore Trout, preaching from the gutter to a few straggly listeners.
In the future there will be no more homosexuals nor the stigmas attached to that with such ignorance. Nor will there be the binary jaws of our present. We will discover several genders. Reality will totally alter. What a world to peer into from here. It’s beginning to happen. They are not so anxious to label and operate on hermaphrodite infants as they used to be, I read recently.
In the future the entire world will become one country, ruled by rotating nationalities, or former nationalities, now states in that cosmos. That also is beginning to happen. Why don’t I think of something entirely new?
The realities we are flirting with, floating rocket ships to the outer reaches of the solar system playing tapes in Renaissance Latin, as if outer space creatures would understand that better than Swahili or Spanish. Can you begin to imagine the life that does exist and its very disparate concepts of beauty and other desiderata? I start to fathom it and it is scarier than death. What dimensions do they inhabit? What creatures on Mars are watching our explorations in amusement, saying, “We’re right here, stupid,” but they occupy pockets of reality we are ill equipped to penetrate.
We won’t need to explore space, really; there’s so much on earth we don’t understand and what of all the other senses we have yet to discover, so that the bizarre civilizations may be occupying the same space we are, just in different dimensions? Our whole notion of distance and infinity may be completely skewed. The far corners of the universe may be a few miles from here only we are ill equipped as yet to realize that, so mired in optical illusions we are.
In the future everything we assume will be overturned. The very earth we stand on so solidly may become sky, the ocean an earth awash with houseboats coast to coast, in layers because we will have figured out how to have modular housing beneath the depths, cloning gilled people, for instance. There is so much. The sky as earth we have already tackled (above). In the future we will understand all languages ever spoken by all creatures and travel in landscapes of reality we can’t begin to foresee, even with insightful movies like Wolfen anticipating this.
Will love evolve? Will it persist? What forms will it take? What offspring will it contribute to civilization? The world I anticipate may be a long way off and the mere act of envisioning it is a form of suicide. The future will revive us, however, as millennial creatures, a new type of immortality, a life on a shelf we can leave and return to.
And what of the infinity of personal encounters that never will occur? Between you and the driver of that car who just took his turn to pass through the four-way stop intersection? Between you and all the cars you pass each day? What of the groups of people in places that occur only once? The people you speak with only once? What of the check you wrote ten years ago that you will never see again because you threw it out? Even if you went to the landfill you would not find it? What if? What if? Life is such an absurdity, where we are. Where is God? On the tip of a needle in your sewing basket, perhaps--no blasphemy that, because that is how little we know of the reality we inhabit.
Copyright MNS 3/22/04. All rights reserved.
HOW CAN ONE MOVE BACK INTO A CONDO THAT ONE NEVER LEFT?
The answer is probably accessible to those who have experienced this phenomenon. It’s called top-to-toe renovation of one’s domicile. It happens seldom in life, such an existential turn, such a push forward to dismantle the old and ring in the luster of new chrome and happily bid farewell to the tarnished old crap you have accepted as destiny for so long just because it was there and renovation is such a drastic step and when you do it yourself it hangs sideways or slanted or protrudes from the wall even when you squash the nail that won’t go far enough into the drywall that is only sporadically studded. So on.
Life has become a hike through piles and layers of boxed and bagged and stacked possessions, at least 50 percent of which should be discarded, remnant and souvenir though it is of specific occasions, details one will forget once the emblem is gone, shreds of existence, trivia, because one keeps the milestones enshrined in special folders or hung on the wall or even in safe deposit. But remember the book of coupons my daughter gave me for Christmas one year: two violin practice sessions without fighting: did I fight with her? Was I not exactly the “nurturing with love” Suzuki parent? How deeply did I wound her musical aspirations with my blind perfectionism? How would I have liked that sort of experience as a child, I who was left alone to practice or not to practice as I wished? But my musical life as a child was very un-Suzuki, especially when I graduated from the lady with a house full of Siamese cats with Chinese names to the local hotshot jazz pianist, I who loved classical music and Van Cliburn, not Liberace. If there ever was a mismatch, that was it, water I tredded for miserable years, though I did acquire some musicality despite both of us.
If I am cruising into tangents, that’s what the experience is meant to embrace: memories, soft wisps of our life as mother and daughter that float around and fly off at a sneeze. One can’t possess every past moment. One selects those that are chain-reactive, crucial steps, if not milestones. One gazes at photos and skates circumstances around each one: remember that picnic with two cans of Pepsi: “our day together” that you so cherished because I was busy recreating myself as a wage earner after having taken a few years off to parent during those crucial first few years? I was always leaving then, true, you had the cozy security of Grandma and Pop-Pop but now you take off all of the time, to the other side of the world or at least one ocean away and I am the one left waving a handkerchief, watching your birds fade into the clouds, praying for your safe journey because I can’t live without you. I wouldn’t have you any other way than fiercely independent: that’s how to live the best, most productive life, but I so appreciate those times when you reserve a corner of your busy life for me. It seems that for some reason we can’t talk in home settings: we must always go out and sit across a restaurant table from each other eating restaurant food. That’s the way it was between my father and me, except that our times alone together were infinitely rarer. You are my only child and there is no father and you have benefited so much from this exclusive focus, though you miss the advantages of normal life in this country: father, siblings, a two-car garage, friends and neighbors a constant presence if not consciousness. Because I was the product of a too-full such existence, I vowed to make my children the center of my cosmos barring nothing, and I did. Only children do so well in life as a rule: better than firstborns? You are both.
Far afield are we from moving back into one’s own domain, a labyrinth of discovery as you look here and find your utility drawer, there to find the contents of the northeast cupboard, somewhere else to find a whole box you can safely throw out, relics from the aquarium (not Aquarius) era: why is that stuff still around? Oh, here’s a bird toy. We still have a parakeet, a playful, chattering, self-sufficient loner of a songbird. He’ll like this multicolored miniature Ferris wheel, though it might take him six months to discover it, or a year, or a day. I saw him hopping around on the floor of his cage because one of his seed trees had fallen down there, so maybe he’ll find the Ferris wheel also and not startle at it. I placed it out of the way of his usual line of elimination so it won’t become unrecognizable in a week. Hike in another direction and here is your piano music, all those books you’ve had for so long some are parchment. You should copy them and throw out the originals, some of which the cat mistook for litter fodder, believe it or not, but it is your favorite book that you can’t duplicate even though you haven’t looked that hard, but who has time for music anyway? Only my daughter’s music that she hardly has time for. Life is such a ridiculous rush always. Today I stop to catch my breath, a snow day combined with the sort of appointment that requires personal time and I decide to steal a guilty hour to write because the shy Muse is pressing against my diaphragm, the place the Greeks thought harbored at least some of your soul sensations, phrenes as in sōphrosunē, frenetic, frenzy, phrenology, Euphrosunē, the goddess Milton summons, “good feelings, cheer,” in his “L’Allegro.” I relate more to “Il Penseroso,” however, which this piece if not others corroborates. Hence, loathed Melancholy…. How little you bestead!” How little? Bestead. Archaism. “to help, avail.” Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 4th edition.
Does that bring us back to “Do”? We took off on this particular flight from parched music scores and anthologies. Did I find any cat toys? No. My cats have outgrown their balls and toy mice. Every so often I attempt to engage one in this brand of euphrosunē and one or the other (I have two) will follow it slowly, sniff, and then eye me strangely as I expect their youthful bounce and stupidity to re-emerge out of the years. Cats like yarn and things that move: remember, stupid? All those years I have been too busy to play with them, and petting is an afterthought. Why do they need petting all of the time? Can’t they adapt to my new frenetic schedule, an occasional scratch behind an ear, a love of the drifting throat song that responds, no not a Geiger counter, and regret that you can’t do what they want you to do, curl up on the couch with one or both of them as the center of your cosmos for entire evenings. How can they possibly think they should be, but they do. That guilt vies with other more acute forms and so why wonder that they have acquired indifference to cat toys when I have become in midlife to them Felix Hoeniker (is that the name of the Cat’s Cradle protagonist who is no more than an occasional, feared, alienated intruder into his children’s matriarchal nexus?).
Turn the corner and next to the kitchen stuff are boxes and boxes and boxes of books. Those in the know use smaller boxes because books weigh such a ton but the number of boxes multiplies exponentially and I have acquired what borders on large biceps from all the schlepping. Large biceps and bigger upper arms that augment rather than “juvenate” my self-concept as more and more matronly by the day. I have earned the right to take up more space. I have paid rent for my existence by pouring out my heart and indignation in my Words paper and Internet arenas. That and having parented a productive and other-directed daughter and having attended and reported on a plethora of progressive rallies in the last year and a half, a tendency that has lately waned since I have trouble identifying sufficiently with other demonstrators or don’t have the time, so single-mindedly has my drive for lucre repossessed me lately now that the economy is temporarily swooping, a trend I don’t trust in that we are in an election year and the current administration has more control over the world’s money than, I daresay, any other in history anywhere. Woe to me, scribe, Pharisee, hypocrite, yes Hebrew and somewhat to blame, though I have a lot of catching up to do in the area of lifestyle, so up in my head and single-mindedly have I occupied the realms of parenting and self-improvement and compiling my too-large opus in the last decade. Money took a back seat because even when I earned it, it flew off before I could even count it. That will happen again but I am refeathering my nest. Now we got back to “Do” and maybe well stay there, because
The next time you want to compose a stream of consciousness, redo your place top to toe. I could go on forever, but you get the picture: chaos breeding even more introspection for one much too inner-directed as it is. Take a voyage into your own past and present and id and subconscious and deepest latencies, because your home, especially undone into its components, is a metaphor for your soul if not a map of your past both recent and remote. Look far enough and you will recover your birth, your greatest triumphs, your heartbreaks, and details, details that generate others: it is your whole life that is your home. The most revealing voyage may not take you on a plane or an ocean liner, the most profound self-discovery is nearer than you think and, as the late children’s author Margaret Wise Brown most wisely and eloquently wrote: “Everything you’re looking for is hiding within yourself.” The next art form to unearth from all the chaos is your future, because all that stuff holds the components of that, too: dreams and nightmares. We must learn where within our souls/habitats to look and how.
Copyright © Marta Steele 2004. All rights reserved.
TRIBUTE TO CHRISTOPHER REEVE
I went to high school with Chris Reeve—he was two years younger—and remember passing him in the hallway and thinking “pie-faced preppy.” The boys were required to wear jackets and ties as I recall; we girls were freer to wear our little circle pins, Peter Pan collars, and Villager skirts and sweaters. I remember also, years earlier, swimming at my cousins’ one day when he was there and wondering how anyone could be so happy to be who he was, so genuinely nice and outgoing, giving.
Then he became famous (among us alums) for sharing a stage with Katherine Hepburn, and then came Superman and he was launched and we were all so proud to have known him, the same guy I went swimming with years ago, so happy to be who he was and sharing this blessing with everyone he knew. Then came the accident and a different Chris, determined to become his former athletic self, an inspiration and immense tragedy for all of us. The world embraced this other Chris, still Superman, using his powers to help the world rather than entertain us, giving in other ways even as he suffered so acutely himself. Then all of a sudden he died, leaving a legacy for all paraplegics and others with ailments that stem cell research promises to cure, leaving a legacy that inner beauty vanquishes all turns of fortune, and this joie de vivre will never die.
Chris, we will all miss you.
Copyright © Marta Steele 2004. All rights reserved.
Editor-in-Chief: Marta Steele
All writing and photography, unless otherwise noted, copyright © Marta Steele 2003.
All rights reserved.