A close friend writes: "Here is something I ran across in the new Collected Poems of Robert Lowell (sorry, I know poetry isn't your thing). It's in a note to The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket, a famous poem in his first collection. In an interview from 1963, Lowell said, 'If I have an image for [America], it would be taken from Melville's Moby Dick: the fanatical idealist who brings the world down in ruin through some sort of simplicity of mind.' Now who does that remind you of?"
It's time to stop calling the post 9/11 struggle against terrorism a "war." Iraq is a (disastrous) war; Afghanistan was a brief one. But the struggle against stateless terrorists is not the same thing. And framing it as a war, as columnist Matt Miller argued earlier this year, "was a conscious decision made by Bush and Karl Rove and others in the first days after 9/11."
Rove understood that if the indefinite struggle against terror was generally framed as a "war," it would become the master narrative of American politics giving the GOP the chance to achieve "a structural advantage, perhaps in perpetuity" over Democrats.
The "war" metaphor, as retired American ambassador Ronald Spiers wrote in a provocative piece last March in the Vermont Rutland Herald, "is neither accurate nor innocuous, implying as it does that there is an end point of either victory or defeat.... A 'war on terrorism' is a war without an end in sight, without an exit strategy, with enemies specified not by their aims but by their tactics.... The President has found this 'war' useful as an all-purpose justification for almost anything he wants or doesn't want to do; fuzziness serves the administration politically. It brings to mind Big Brother's vague and never-ending war in Orwell's 1984. A war on terrorism is a permanent engagement against an always-available tool."
Champions of losing parties and their pundit pals are always quick to claim that special elections for open US House seats don't matter. That's what Republican operatives and conservative talk radio hosts are doing today, as they try to explain away Tuesday's pick-up by the Democrat Stephanie Herseth of a previously Republican-held seat in South Dakota. Republicans are claiming that their candidate got a late start, that Herseth had better name recognition and, above all, that this was a local race in which no one could possibly find signals regarding national trends.
They are, of course, wrong.
Special elections results, especially when they follow upon one another and begin to form patterns, mean a great deal in American politics. In the last two election cycles where Democratic challengers defeated Republican Presidents, those wins were preceded by patterns of Democratic wins in special elections for House seats vacated by Republicans. Before the 1976 presidential election, Democrats swept a series of special elections in traditionally Republican districts--even winning the Michigan House seat vacated by Gerald Ford when he accepted the vice presidency in Richard Nixon's collapsing Administration. In 1976, after assuming the presidency, Ford was defeated by Democrat Jimmy Carter.
Arizona's pioneering system of full public financing of political candidates, called the Clean Elections Act, is under fierce attack by wealthy special interests with deep pockets and national conservative ties that run all the way from Tom DeLay to Bush's fundraising machine. They've raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to put a constitutional referendum on the November ballot that could crush America's best hope for people-powered democracy.
As the lead editorial in the new issue of The Nation argues, progressives now need to rally like-minded citizens to defend Arizona's exemplary model of civic empowerment.
Thousands of small contributions can help beat back this big-donor funded attack on democracy. The Public Campaign Action Fund is asking people to contribute the manageable sum of five dollars (or more) to help keep Arizona "clean" and, if you have the time, to ask your friends to pitch in too.
Why five dollars? Under the Clean Elections Act, five dollars is the most a voter can give a candidate. Small donors mean as much to candidates as big donors because candidates take no big money from special interests whatsoever. Talk about the great equalizer. The bank president can't give more than the teller in his bank. Now you can understand why well-heeled developers, insurance companies, Bush "Pioneers" and corporate lobbyists are so hellbent on overturning the Act.
Please help thwart their efforts to undo a terrific democratic reform in Arizona. And check out The Action Fund's homepage for a range of ways you can help decrease Big Money's choke-hold on politics in the US today.
You need look no further than the prisoner abuse in Iraq to understand the importance of the work of the Correctional Association of New York.
For almost 160 years, since a law passed in 1846 gave it the legal authority to do so, the CA has been visiting and inspecting New York State prisons and reporting its findings and recommendations to the State Legislature and the public. It usually follows up its reports with public education and advocacy in support of reform legislation.
Off and on over the course of the CA's history, it has had contentious dealings with state prison officials. But, since the summer of 1999, the relationship has been especially combative. In the past the CA would produce a report and the Department of Correctional Services would attack it, dismiss the findings, even villify the CA and its staff in the press and threaten the organization's access to the prisons.
The latest incident dates to last August. Shortly after receiving a draft copy of the CA's report Lockdown New York: Disciplinary Confinement in New York State Prisons, officials in the Department of Correctional Services retaliated by imposing a range of restrictions on the organization's prison access, including how and with whom it can conduct visits, to whom it can speak during visits, and what part of the prisons it can see.
The Lockdown New York report, it's important to point out, powerfully documents the many problems plaguing the state prisons' punitive segregation units, especially the mistreatment and neglect of the disproportionate number of mentally ill inmates who end up confined there for 23 to 24 hours a day for week, months, sometimes years at a time with little or no social interaction. The report documents extreme sensory deprivation; high rates of suicide and acts of self-harm; men in their underwear cowering in corners, mumbling incoherently; men ranting so feverishly that it was unclear whether they were insane to begin with--or driven mad by the conditions of their confinment.
It's too bad, isn't it, that the Correctional Association can't bring cameras into the prisons, rather than having to conjure up the images in words. But in important ways, the CA is our society's camera. Its representatives go everywhere in the prisons: the cellblocks, clinics, yards, visiting rooms, kitchens, program areas, punitive segregation units. Its members talk to prisoners and guards. (The CA's public education and advocacy program after the Lockdown New York report led to first steps toward more humane and sensible policies: The New York State Assembly passed a law banning the confinement of mentally ill people in disciplinary units; Governor Pataki also included an additional $13 million in his proposed budget for increased mental health services in the prisons.)
For months the Correctional Association tried "back channel" negotiations to resolve the dispute with the State, but prison officials remained intransigent on key issues involving access. Finally, in March, the CA sued in federal court, asserting that the State had effectively violated its First Amendment right to exercise free speech. The judge in the case has urged both parties to meet and seek a negotiated settlement; the CA has engaged in these meetings. What the outcome of these discussions will be is not yet clear.
So far legal fees for the case have amounted to over $100,000 (and that despite the 25 percent discount offered by CA's lawyers, Emery, Celli, et al.) Since these costs were not budgeted, the CA must find a way to find untapped sources to cover them.
In my view, speaking as both a longtime board member of the CA and as a concerned citizen, it's crucial that the Correctional Association prevails in this case, not only so that it can regain its access to our prisons--so critical to the organization's valuable work--but also to send a message that the state government's ugly, bullying tactic doesn't carry the day. For information on how you can help, click here or contact Susan Gabriel at the Correctional Association at 135 East 15th Street, New York, NY 10003, 212-254-5700 or firstname.lastname@example.org.