The lives and deaths of two prisoners intersected this week--Stanley
Tookie Williams and Richard Williams, flawed men whose political
perspectives and pursuit of personal redemption were inspired by
a radical social consciousness.
The outsourcing of torture to other countries is a devilishly clever
legalistic fiction that allows the Bush Administration to
systematically violate basic human rights of terror suspects while
claiming it does not condone or practice torture.
Advocates of Samuel A. Alito's nomination to the US Supreme Court
praise him for "judicial restraint" and "not legislating from the
bench." But the buzzwords conceal a political agenda that would scuttle
precedent, strike down hard-won legislation and render other laws
Eugene McCarthy, the Minnesota senator, frequent presidential candidate
and poet who died Saturday at age 89, never had a chance at the
Democratic nomination in 1968. But his passionate anti-Vietnam war
campaign would change the course of the war.
Sometime in the mid-1990s, after it had become quite clear that Bill Clinton's presidency would deliver rather less than had been hoped, and when it was becoming clear that Newt Gingrich's control of the House would deliver rather more than had been feared, I penned a review of a then-recently published collection of former Sen, Eugene McCarthy's poems. In it, I lamented the lack of poetry in the politics of the moment and suggested that America would be far better served by politicians with a literary bent than by the dim-witted technocrats and self-absorbed plotters to whom power had fallen.
A few weeks later, a modest package with a Virginia postmark arrived at my office. In it was a lovely note from McCarthy, along with a thin volume of his poetry, Other Things and the Aardvark, which had been published in a limited edition of 250 almost three decades earlier. The senator had given copies of the book to friends and supporters of his anti-war campaign for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination. In the book's preface, McCrathy noted that "ancient mapmakers used the term 'terra terribilia' to identify what was beyond their knowledge of the earth" and he then paid tribute "to poets who have gone beyond the 'known' and the 'certain' into the 'terra terribilia' in the search for truth."
What did not need to be noted, of course, was that McCarthy had journeyed, in 1968 and over the decades that followed, across the terra terribilia of American politics, earning the enmity even of his onetime supporters and the affection of some who had once dismissed him as a dangerous radical. As I would learn over the years of our acquaintance that began with the arrival of that package, McCarthy was in most senses a very conservative man. He studied religion and the classics, he saw the value of tradition, he embraced standards of duty and responsibility that are so rarely followed today that they do indeed seem radical.
"We call our stuff information and the enemy's propaganda," says Col. Jack N. Summe, former commander of the Fourth Psychological Operations Group, in Jeff Gerth's masterful, must-read investigation into how the US military is waging a quasi-secret information war in Iraq and the Middle East. Even in the Pentagon, Summe admits to Gerth, "some public affairs professionals see us unfavorably," and inaccurately, he says, as "lying, dirty tricksters."
It turns out that the Lincoln Group, the Washington-based subcontractor hired by the Pentagon to plant stories in Iraq's media was no rogue operation. Instead, as Gerth documents, it was just one of many elements in the Bush Administration's vast, extensive and costly propaganda apparatus.
Recent news stories have documented how the Lincoln group received tens of millions of dollars in Pentagon contracts to plant paid, boosterish articles in the Iraqi and Arab media. Now we learn that while US troops had defective bulletproof vests, US taxpayer money was being used to help Lincoln pitch pop culture ideas as a way to win hearts and minds in the Middle East.
If you're really organized you've already completed your holiday shopping for the year. If so, you can take a break from this column. But if you're like me and still looking for holiday presents with a progressive slant, keep reading for ideas, many of them courtesy of my crack intern researcher Mike Fox (who also plays a mean fiddle and whose band's CD makes a nice holiday gift too).
First, check out Katha Pollitt's latest Nation column, which upholds her recent tradition of offering annual suggestions for giving to groups and organizations doing unbelievable work with shockingly little money. The efficiency of some of these places would awe a McKinsey consultant, so look them over before you make your final round of charitable contributions this year.
Heifer International also makes it easy to help assist needy families far from home. The Heifer gift catalog allows you to purchase an animal that can be a life-line for families in the developing world. A pig can be bought for $120 (or chip in $10 to help share the cost of one), three rabbits are a bargain at $60 total, a flock of chicks costs only $20, and if you're feeling really generous, a $1,500 donation provides two sheep, four goats, a heifer and two llamas.
Even the poets are restless now. TheyÂ¡Â¦re not content to go along with Shelley and be the unacknowledged legislators of the world. They want to be acknowledged just a little bit.
Eugene McCarthyMarch, 1968
Eugene McCarthy, who has died more quietly than he lived at the venerable age of 89, will be remembered first and foremost as the courageous Minnesota senator who, when the anti-Vietnam War movement needed a champion in the political arena, took up the fight and deposed one of the most powerful presidents in history.
The remaining members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams in Baghdad say their work will go on regardless of what happens to their four colleagues still held hostage. CPT workers were among the first to expose abuses at Abu Ghraib prison and continue to document the excesses of the US occupation.
Four years ago, when U.S. Senator Russ Feingold stood alone in the Senate to oppose the Bush administration's Patriot Act, he was portrayed as a political fringe dweller whose determination to defend basic liberties was out of touch with the realities of the post-9/11 era.
This year, as Feingold leads the fight to block a flawed proposal to reauthorize the Patriot Act, he does so as the voice of a national movement that includes conservatives and liberals, Democrats, Republicans, Greens, Libertarians and independents, and residents of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. And he has enough Senate allies to speak seriously about launching a filibuster to block the measure.
What has changed since 2001?
Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement, died 25 years ago this month. Today Catholic Workers are in Cuba, keeping vigil outside the US Naval Prison at Guantanamo Bay and keep a vigil for detainees. This Colman McCarthy meditation on Day's funeral sheds light on Catholic Workers as a political and social force.
Twenty-five members of the Catholic Worker movement are walking across Cuba to the US Naval prison at Guantánamo Bay in hopes of meeting with more than 500 detainees, the first time peace activists have brought their protests to the tropical gulag. If they are turned away, the pilgrims plan on conducting a vigil outside.
The Tipton Three embody a nightmare scenario of the "war on
terror": Young British men visiting Pakistan for a wedding wound up
accused of terrorism in Afghanistan, imprisoned and tortured at
Guantánamo Bay, then released with no charges. Now they're
telling their story in the docu-drama, The Road to Guantánamo.
The pursuit of truth in drama is elusive, but in life it is mandatory, wrote Harold Pinter, who died Wednesday at 78. When he won the 2005 Nobel Prize for literature, he condemned the United States for its actions in Iraq and and called on its citizens to reject the manipulation of political language.
The current debate in the United States over the use of torture in the
interrogation of terror suspects has prompted Patricia Isasa, a teenage
torture victim in Argentina's "dirty war," to speak out against the
School of the Americas, a longtime training ground for torture
The Chronicles of Narnia is the perfect combination
of Christian allegory and The Lord of the Rings, a well-crafted
commodity and nothing more. The Ice Harvest, an anti-Christmas
film noir, has an unexpected depth of feeling. Memoirs of a
Geisha is all prestige and promotions.
Photographs are supposed to be unbiased recognitions of
reality, but they're really self-portraits of the photographer. The
Ongoing Movement, a blend of biography and analysis, examines what
happens when photographers create deliberately untruthful pictures.