The Nation is America’s oldest weekly news magazine, and one of the most widely read magazines in the world for politics, news and culture.
One night when I was in my teens, I found myself at a production of Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author. I had never heard of the playwright or the play, nor had I seen a play performed in the round. The actors were dramatically entering and exiting in the aisles when, suddenly, a man stood up in the audience, proclaimed himself a seventh character in search of an author, and demanded the same attention as the other six. At the time, I assumed the unruly "seventh character" was just part of the play, even after he was summarily ejected from the theater.
Now, bear with me a moment here. Back in 2002-2003, officials in the Bush administration, their neocon supporters, and allied media pundits, basking in all their Global War on Terror glory, were eager to talk about the region extending from North Africa through the Middle East, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan right up to the Chinese border as an "arc of instability." That arc coincided with the energy heartlands of the planet and what was needed to "stabilize" it, to keep those energy supplies flowing freely (and in the right directions), was clear enough to them. The "last superpower," the greatest military force in history, would simply have to put its foot down and so bring to heel the "rogue" powers of the region. The geopolitical nerve would have to be mustered to stamp a massive "footprint"--to use a Pentagon term of the time--in the middle of that vast, valuable region. Also needed was the nerve not just to lob a few cruise missiles in the direction of Baghdad, but to offer such an imposing demonstration of American shock-and-awe power that those "rogues"--Iraq, Syria, Iran (Hezbollah, Hamas)--would be cowed into submission, along with uppity U.S. allies like oil-rich Saudi Arabia.
It would, in fact, be necessary--in another of those bluntly descriptive words of the era--to "decapitate" resistant regimes. This would be the first order of business for the planet's lone "hyperpower," now that it had been psychologically mobilized by the attacks of September 11, 2001. After all, what other power on Earth was capable of keeping the uncivilized parts of the planet from descending into failed-state, all-against-all warfare and dragging us (and our energy supplies) down with them?
In his New York Times article about why US troops will (and should) remain in Iraq beyond 2008, NYU law professor Noah Feldman provides a common mischaracterization of American public opinion.
He concedes that Iraqis and Americans agree "that US troops don't belong in Iraq." But he goes on to write that Americans feel a "deep ambivalence" about exiting Iraq and that "leaving too fast is seen as undesirable as well." To buttress his claim, he cites a poll by CNN showing that only 21 percent of Americans want to bring all the troops home now.
Feldman, like many former and current war advocates, is misreading public opinion to support his own views about Iraq. Americans may be ambivalent about leaving, but they are remarkably clear about the need to go, sooner rather than later. According to the latest USA Today/Gallup poll, sixty percent of Americans favor "setting a timetable for withdrawing all US troops from Iraq no later than the fall of 2008."
Black people have a great sense of humor about themselves. I don't just say this because I happen to be black but because there's ample evidence to support this. For instance, arguably the most celebrated black comedians (Richard Pryor, Chris Rock come to mind) have been self-deprecating when it comes to the subject of race. Yet there was nothing remotely funny, incisive or somewhat excusable about radio personality Don Imus' remark about the black players on Rutgers' women's basketball team.
For those of you not in the know, he referred to them as "nappy headed ho's". This is not the first foray into racially insensitive rhetoric from Mr. Imus. He's also notoriously referred to respected black PBS anchorwoman Gwen Ifill as a "cleaning lady" and has been known to regularly use the epithet "ragheads" when referring to Arabs. Yet unlike his similarly politically incorrect, but I'd argue more entertaining counterpart Howard Stern, Imus has somehow managed to gain some semblance of mainstream political acceptance.
Left-wing politicians like John Edwards and John Kerry have enthusiastically appeared on his show and while they've never, as far as I know, gone so far as to endorse Mr. Imus' views--by appearing on his program they've more or less implied that they aren't offended enough by them to not be his guest. He even headlined a White House correspondents' dinner in 1996, although he promptly bombed after making off-color jokes about the First Lady.
Is there a more perfect symbol of the excesses of global capitalism than Charles Simonyi's 13-day joyride into outer space? Simonyi, a Hungarian-American software programmer who made his fortune at Xerox and Microsoft before launching his own start-up, paid $20 million to be escorted to the Kazakh steppes, packed into a Russian Soyuz rocket and blasted towards the international space station. En route, he'll enjoy a meal of roasted quail, duck breast confit with capers, shredded chicken parmentier and rice pudding with candied fruit -- all carefully selected by his girlfriend, Martha Stewart. (Martha, whatever happened to astronaut ice cream and Tang?) No word yet on the threadcount of his sheets or if there's 24-hour concierge service in orbit.
The whole saga is Dickens for the new millennium, but without the other half. So it's up to us scolds at The Nation to point out the obvious. Simonyi might have spent his money fighting AIDS, or building housing for Hurricane Katrina survivors, or providing clean water to developing nations, or mosquito netting and medicine for malaria patients, or musical instruments for needy, photogenic, musically-gifted inner city school children or...well, depressingly, the list goes on and on. But picking on the follies of the rich is easy, and in this case, not particularly fun. Just think of the carbon footprint a Soyuz rocket leaves!
But the next time the bards of capitalism sing the praises of Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and the outstanding generosity of the mega-rich in the age of extreme wealth (and extreme poverty), I'll trot out Charles Simonyi's space odyssey as counter-example.
The 15 British sailors and marines who were held for the better part of two weeks by the Iranians should thank their lucky stars that they were under the command of Prime Minister Tony Blair, as opposed to President George Bush.
Blair believes in diplomacy. And he and his aides employed it ably to secure the safe release of the sailors and marines with a minimum of trouble.
Bush makes a point of rejecting diplomacy. He condemns those who would dare even to speak with the Syrians or Iranians â€“ most recently House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose meetings with officials in Syria happened to coincide with Syrian moves to encourage the release of the British sailors.
On Tuesday, meeting with the press in the White House Rose Garden, the President responded to a question about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Syria this way: "[P]hoto opportunities and/or meetings with President Assad lead the Assad government to believe they're part of the mainstream of the international community, when, in fact, they're a state sponsor of terror." There should, he added to the assembled reporters, be no meetings with state sponsors of terror.
That night, Brian Ross of ABC News reported that, since 2005, the U.S. has "encouraged and advised" Jundullah, a Pakistani tribal "militant group," led by a former Taliban fighter and "drug smuggler," which has been launching guerrilla raids into Baluchi areas of Iran. These incursions involve kidnappings and terror bombings, as well as the murder (recorded on video) of Iranian prisoners. According to Ross, "U.S. officials say the U.S. relationship with Jundullah is arranged so that the U.S. provides no funding to the group, which would require an official presidential order or â€˜finding' as well as congressional oversight." Given past history, it would be surprising if the group doing the encouraging and advising weren't the Central Intelligence Agency, which has a long, sordid record in the region. (New Yorker investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has been reporting since 2005 on a Bush administration campaign to destabilize the Iranian regime, heighten separatist sentiments in that country, and prepare for a possible full-scale air attack on Iranian nuclear and other facilities.)
The President also spoke of the Iranian capture of British sailors in disputed waters two weeks ago. He claimed that their "seizureâ€¦ is indefensible by the Iranians." Oddly enough, perhaps as part of secret negotiations over the British sailors, who were dramatically freed by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday, an Iranian diplomat in Iraq was also mysteriously freed. Eight weeks ago, he had been kidnapped off the streets of Baghdad by uniformed men of unknown provenance. Reporting on his sudden release, Alissa J. Rubin of the New York Times offered this little explanation of the kidnapping: "Although [Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshyar] Zebari was uncertain who kidnapped the man, others familiar with the case said they believe those responsible work for the Iraqi Intelligence Service, which is affiliated with the Central Intelligence Agency." The CIA, of course, has a sordid history in Baghdad as well, including running car-bombing operations in the Iraqi capital back in Saddam Hussein's day.
It's been a frigid winter for the abstinence-only crowd. Back in October the GAO slammed the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) for funding two abstinence-only programs without reviewing their "education materials for scientific accuracy" or even requiring grantees "to review their own materials for scientific accuracy." Then last week the Institute of Medicine (IOM) attacked abstinence-until-marriage earmarks in the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) as ideologically driven barriers that jeopardize "the vitally important end of saving lives." The nation's editorial pages echoed IOM's findings. And this Monday, Wade Horn, director of ACF and architect of Bush's abstinence-only and marriage promotion policies, abruptly resigned -- much to the dismay of the family-values crowd.
Add to this mix the introduction of Gardasil, the HPV vaccine endorsed by the CDC and Republican governors alike but opposed by abstinence-only fanatics, and it's clear that support for abstinence-only education is more precarious now than at any other point in the Bush administration. With Democrats in control of Congress, there's hope that funding for comprehensive sex education (such as the REAL Act and the PATHWAY Act, both sponsored by Barbara Lee (D) and Chris Shays (R)) might get a fair shake.
But don't count your condoms just yet. As Scott Swenson reports over at RH Reality Check, federally-funded abstinence groups have pooled together their resources and created the National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA). And they've hired Creative Response Concepts (CRC), the pitbulls behind the "Swift Boat Veterans" ads, as their PR flacks. NAEA promises "proactive 'rapid response'" to "negative attacks" on abstinence education, a campaign to "promote positive national media exposure" and the mobilization of "local abstinence organizations" in "key congressional districts."
It wasn't enough for George W. Bush to nominate a donor to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth as Ambassador to Belgium. When the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on which John Kerry sits, was poised to reject Sam Fax's nomination, Bush gave him a recess appointment.
The President just told Congress what Dick Cheney memorably said to Senator Patrick Leahy: "Go [bleep] yourself."
Under the recess arrangement, Fox will bypass the Senate and serve in a voluntary capacity, receiving no salary. But since he's a multimillionaire donor to GOP causes, that hardly matters. Democrats are now questioning the legality of this arrangement. "Federal law prohibits 'voluntary service' in cases where the position in question has a fixed rate of pay, as an ambassadorship does," reports Mary Ann Akers of the Washington Post, citing the Government Accountability Office.
Boy, does the media love a good daycare controversy. Since we haven't had a good Satanic abuse or child molestation daycare story in years, we have to make do with provocative statistics. It's not the same, but it allows us to air our gender anxieties and maternal issues, and we seem to have a collective need to do that at least once a year.
Last week's media frenzy focused on the latest National Institutes of Health day care study-- actually on one finding in particular: kids who spent three or four preschool years in daycare had marginally more behavior problems in school. Researchers themselves said kids were "in the normal range" and parents shouldn't freak out -- but such caveats were lost in the cacophony. This week, the reports are still making the roundsin the blogosphere, with many bloggers offering a salutary corrective to the way the story was initially reported. Many mainstream journalists, as usual, were eager to twist the results to confirm the most reactionary assumptions: mothers shouldn't work. The very best analysis anywhere was Emily Bazelon's terrific dissection on Slate.
The study suggests some interesting possibilities. The quality of the day care mattered a great deal (though the quality of the care children received at home, from their parents, mattered even more). Many day care centers are substandard, especially those available to poor people. Watching TV in the company of underqualified strangers can't be terribly helpful to a kid's development. Raising the pay of child care workers would certainly help improve the quality of care, and more oversight of the daycare industry would be helpful. There's a great daycare center in my neighborhood-- caring, intellectually and socially stimulating -- but since it costs more than three years of my college education, I have never even visited it. All kids deserve to attend places like that. But in addition to improving daycare, we need to get more companies to offer on-site babysitting so that parents and children can spend more time together. And of course, people should have more choices: it should be made much easier for parents to take longer parental leaves or work part time when their children are very young.