You would think that V for Vendetta, a movie jam-packed with post-9/11 themes, deserved a serious response. Instead, some of the most prominent media outlets have chosen to insult anyone who might believe the film worthy of debate.
The New York Times' review opened with the line: "Thumb-suckers of the world unite." It concluded by wondering how anyone over the age of fourteen could find the movie subversive. David Denby in the New Yorker speculated that the movie would mainly appeal to "aging kids."
This infantilizing line of attack is sadly nothing new.
Those of us who objected to the results of the 2000 presidential election were told to, quote, "get over it." Those of us who were outraged by the outing of Valerie Plame were condescendingly told that this was "how the game is played." Those of us who question the continued occupation of Iraq are accused of being quitters or "cut-and-runners."
It never ceases to amaze me how desperate many members of the media are to appear cool, to show they "get it"--their eye-rolling cynicism masquerading as maturity. Government surveillance, torture, fear-mongering, media manipulation, corporate corruption--this is how the world works, they shrug.
Well, they may be comfortable in such a world. But for those of us who are not, V for Vendetta is a movie to savor.
The British government memo on Iraq, reported in today's New York Times, is perhaps even more important than the Downing Street memo. The five-page memo--of a January 31, 2003 Oval Office meeting between Bush, Blair and six of their top advisers--reveals the Bush Administration's fierce determination to invade Iraq even without a second UN resolution, and even if international arms inspectors failed to find unconventional weapons. Indeed, confronted with the possibility of not finding any weapons before the planned invasion, Bush talks of ways to provoke a confrontation with Iraq, including, the Times reports, "a proposal to paint a US surveillance plane in the colors of the United Nations in hopes of drawing fire, or assassinating Mr. Hussein."
Reminiscent of the Downing Street Memo's famous line, David Manning, British Prime Minister Tony Blair's foreign policy adviser at the time, writes, "Our diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning,"
Bush's mendacity in taking America into this illegal, unprovoked catastrophe is already well known. But it's still horrifying--especially on a day when the US Ambassador to Iraq states that "More Iraqis are dying from the militia violence than from the terrorists"--to read Bush's arrogantly ignorant prediction that it is "unlikely there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups." (For the record, the British memo shows Blair agreed with Bush's assessment.)
Today, American troops are an occupying force, inside a civil war, inside a militia struggle.
It is time to get US forces out of this untenable position.
Fortunately, with virtually no political leadership, there is, as today's New York Times article reports a "deepening and hardening opposition to the war."
Effective, smart pressure--in the streets, at the ballot box this November, and beyond--must be brought to bear so that our 'leaders" in Washington listen to this growing, broad-based opposition.
On behalf of all the angry Nation readers who protested Bernard-Henri Levy's "Letter to the American Left," I wish I had had a pie -- or at least Levy antagonist and pie-thrower Noel Godin in tow -- at Skidmore College's conference on "War, Evil, the End of History and America Now." The good folks at Salmagundi usually put on a good show, and this weekend was no exception. Bob Boyers brought historian Jackson Lears, poet Carolyn Forche, Jihad vs. McWorld author Benjamin Barber, "just war" theorist Jean Bethke Elshtain and Nation regulars Jonathan Schell and Michael Massing to reflect on the aforementioned themes. Too bad that the conversation was centered on the French buffoon in an expensive suit.
I'd never seen Levy in person before, though like most of you I found his writing vacuous, masturbatory hot air. I have to admit though that his keynote address was at least an amusing spectacle. His hair artfully askew, his English dramatically broken, Levy's most frequent words were "I" and "myself" and "my book" -- that is when he's wasn't referring to himself in the third person ("Bernard-Henri hates two things..."). His talk was mostly a self-hagiography and rehash of his book War, Evil and the End of History, and it was perversely satisfying to see his American interlocutors attempt to maintain civility while also upbraiding this self-styled Tocqueville in their midst. Lears objected to BHL's facile use of the word "evil" as akin to the neo-conservative expression "Islamo-fascism." Barber criticized BHL's evacuation of power and history from his classification of certain wars as "nihilistic, black holes of non-meaning." And even Elshtain -- whose latest book provides a morally bankrupt rationale for the Iraq War dressed up in ponderous and irrelevant philosophizing -- took Levy to task for the voyeuristic impulse of his reportage.
The most amusing, and in some ways most revealing, moment of the evening came, however, when BHL recapitulated his Nation article and excoriated U.S. left intellectuals for their impotence and docility. According to BHL, during the Vietnam War, America had a left intellectual class that mounted fervent, thoughtful and serious opposition to imperialism and war mongering -- unlike the present moment. Back then, BHL claimed "America had the kind of intellectual Martin Luther King...the writer Norman Mailer....and Jean Fondue."
"Jean Fondue?" I wondered. Who is this "Jean Fondue," and how come I haven't read her? About fifteen seconds later, the audience and I realized BHL was talking about Jane Fonda. Now I'm Kinda Fonda Jane myself, but I have to wonder: Does BHL admire and envy Fonda as an anti-war intellectual or as a the star of Barbarella?
A condensed version of this post, titled Had it With Hitler, was published today by the Washington Post.
Here's a modest proposal for improving national political discussion. Let's stop equating our opponents WITH famous dictators, their chief executioners, police apparatus, or ideologies. Let's declare a national ceasefire on "his (or her) view reminds me of..." -- fill in the blank: Hitler, Goebbels, Eichman, Stalin, Mao, the Gestapo, the Gulag, the KGB, etc.
I figure these are hard enough times in American politics -- war, threats to national security, the greatest increase in inequality in our history, deep cultural divisions, a brewing constitutional crisis -- that we don't need demonizing rhetoric that further confuses matters. The demons are already among us. It may be that our 24/7 cable/talk radio political culture is too far gone to hope for rational discussion of issues of public importance. But if we suck it up, I think we could manage to stop calling each other mass murderers. Doing so doesn't clarify debate. It further polarizes. And it shows a serious lack of imagination. I'm all for learning from history, but I'm also for describing present differences in contemporary terms.
Consider the value of such a cease-fire as you read this cross-section of quotes:
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez: "I mean, we've got Chavez in Venezuela with a lot of oil money. He's a person who was elected legally-- just as Adolf Hitler was elected legall."
Senator Rick Santorum, on Democrats protesting the "nuclear option" of eliminating the filibuster: "[It's] the equivalent of Adolf Hitler in 1942 saying, 'I'm in Paris. How dare you invade me. How dare you bomb my city? It's mine.'"
Senator Robert Byrd, on the nuclear option: "Hitler never abandoned the cloak of legality; he recognized the enormous psychological value of having the law on his side. Instead, he turned the law inside out and made illegality legal. That is what the nuclear option seeks to do..."
Michael Crichton, on a Senate global warming hearing: "It's all like a Stalinist show trial. The Senators all get up and make their statements and leave. No one listens."
James Dobson, on stem cell research: "In World War II, the Nazis experimented on human beings in horrible ways in the concentration camps, and I imagine, if you wanted to take the time to read about it, there would have been some discoveries there that benefited mankind."
Sen. Dick Durbin, on Guantanamo abuse: "You would…believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime -- Pol Pot or others...Sadly, that is not the case. This was the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisoners."
Ralph Peters, New York Post columnist, on Howard Dean and his supporters: "I can predict with certainty that Dean's Internet Gestapo will pounce on this column...These are the techniques employed by Hitler's Brownshirts...Had Goebbels enjoyed access to the internet, he would have used the same swarm tactic,
Rush Limbaugh, alleging a pro-life majority: "Militant femi-Nazism has backfired…."
Harry Belafonte: "We've come to this dark time in which the new Gestapo of Homeland Security lurks here, where citizens are having their rights suspended."
Grover Norquist, on those who support the estate tax: "That's the morality of the Holocaust. 'Well, it's only a small percentage,' you know...the morality that says it's okay to do something to a group because they're a small percentage of the population."
Larry Schweikart, describing the left: "I think the modern so-called 'left' in fact greatly resembles the Nazis."
Sheri Drew, who led the opening invocation at the 2004 Republican Convention: "Those who support gay and lesbian families are no different from those who supported Adolph Hitler."
Ward Churchill, on victims of the World Trade Center attack: "...little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers."
Congressman Frank Lobiondo, describing Guantanamo detainees: "Hitler, in his philosophy, was, you know, he hated Jews, he was murdering Jews, and there were some people he liked. But he never went to the level that these extremists are going to."
Michael Savage, on George Soros' campaigning against Pres. Bush: "I couldn't believe what I heard when I turned on C-SPAN today, and heard Billionaire George Goebbels Soros attacking Bush."
Camille Paglia, on students tape-recording professors as evidence of liberal bias: "...when students become snitches, we are heading toward dictatorship by Mao's Red Guards or Hitler Youth."
You get the picture. Now, does anyone think we'd lose anything by dropping such rhetoric?
Of course, to update our political language will require a little work. As historian Eric Foner has asked: "How do we describe the current system in which the government is increasingly corporatized and militarized yet democracy continues to exist?...What language should we put in its place?" Along with new analytic terms, we'll need some new analogies, symbolic politics, and cultural allusions.
A lot of us, albeit for different reasons, are very angry right now about where our country is headed. The purpose of public speech is not just to restate that anger, but to clarify the principles and evidence that fuel it -- in ways that invite discussion, not inhibit it. I know that finding the language (and analytics, symbols and metaphors) to do that is itself a formidable task. But maybe we can get started by dropping the dead dictator talk and saying something new.
How many young people turn away from low-paying but vital professions because they can't earn enough to pay back their student loans? How many potential social workers, public interest lawyers, investigative journalists, environmentalists, teachers and artists are we losing?
Nicholas von Hoffman asked these questions in an important Nation online article condemning the recent Congressional decision to raise the interest on student loans. (Click here to ask your elected reps to resist the GOP effort to pull funding for low-interest student loans.)
As von Hoffman writes, "There is social control in loading young people up with financial obligations. Burdened with debt and desperate to have and keep a job, there is no way they can take a wild year off and certainly no time for protesting, organizing or causing the kind of social and political trouble young people cause from time to time."
Fortunately, despite the best efforts of their government, students are indeed protesting, organizing and causing trouble. Don't buy into the nonsense you hear regularly about the lack on consciousness on the part of today's students. The fact is that students today are, on the whole, far more active, organized and sophisticated politically than earlier generations.
Noam Chomsky makes the point that there are far more progressive student groups and organizations now than ever before, and I've heard Tom Hayden remind people that most students in his day did not support SDS and march against the war. Although there is a profound disconnect between the issues of the day and what interests most students, that's the case for most of society and, if anything, it's less true on college campuses. From pro-choice protesting, to antiwar organizing, to living wage and fair trade campaigning, to electoral and media activism, to actions against sweatshop labor, for immigrant rights and for the environment, students today are involved in an unprecedented range of progressive political work.
Take a group like Students for a New American Politics (SNAP PAC). SNAP, a federal PAC, provides stipends for students who couldn't otherwise afford the low salaries to work as full-time grassroots organizers on progressive Congressional campaigns for 10 to 12 weeks during the upcoming summer of 2006. A student conceived and run organization, SNAP brings the energy and enthusiasm needed to promote democratic participation in the Democratic Party, if that's still possible, and to strengthen the progressive voice in Washington. (Click here to help SNAP support a grassroots organizer this summer.)
For a look at some other great organizing happening on campuses nationwide, check out a list of Sites We Like on The Nation's new StudentNation web page. Compiled by my colleague Habiba Alcindor, this collection celebrates the breadth of student activism today with sites like DownHill Battle, a non-profit organization working to build a fairer music industry and support participatory culture; the Campus Kitchens Projects, a student-led initiative that coordinates food donations, prepares and delivers meals to social service agencies, and teaches food preparation and culinary skills to unemployed and underemployed men and women; Campus Antiwar Network, the primary national grassroots alliance of students opposing the occupation of Iraq and military recruitment in schools; Campus Book Swap, a free service designed to help students circumvent the rip-off textbook publishing industry by buying, selling and swapping used books and Student Debt Alert and The Garnished Life, which both document the problems and responses to the increasingly widespread student debt crisis.
The issue of student debt seems so resonant that we've launched a StudentNation reader forum, asking people if they think they've paid too much for their student loans, and, if so, how that has affected their life choices. Read the comments and tell us your story. The conversation is still going strong.
Speaking of student politics, this year marks the 45th anniversary of the Port Huron Statement, and the document's author, Tom Hayden, will be talking about its continued relevance in a free public conversation with RadioNation's Laura Flanders this Thursday, March 30, at 6:30 at The Strand Bookstore in Manhattan.
The largest mobilization in the history of--and in favor of--immigrants stretched for a mind-boggling twenty-six blocks through downtown Los Angeles Saturday, bringing somewhere between a half-million and a million people into the streets.
Politicians, police and even organizers of the pro-immigrant rally were amazed by the massive turnout--five to ten times bigger than the still-talked-about 1994 rally against Prop 187--and surely the biggest political demonstration in LA history.
Labor, religious and civil rights groups worked for months to put this event together, but no one expected such a massive outpouring. "We're just blown away," one union organizer told The Nation. "This thing just snowballed on its own and became humongous."
The LA demonstration and rally is one of a series of nationwide events timed to coincide with the historic Senate debate on comprehensive immigration reform. The big urban demos are being called in the name of repudiating draconian anti-immigrant legislation passed by the House last December. While that measure has little chance of becoming law, the Senate on Monday is scheduled to take up the issue of a guest-worker program that would provide hundreds of thousands of migrants with a legal channel to come to the United States. The Senate is also looking at proposals that would legalize the 12 million undocumented already lving here.
A dozen years ago, when anti-immigrant forces pushed through Prop 187 in California, it provoked a Latino backlash that has created an ongoing disaster for the state GOP.
Are we on the verge of seeing the same thing now on a national scale? While Democrats and liberals have spent oodles of time this year debating everything from Downing Street to impeachment and censure, they have been mostly AWOL on the immigration issue--one that has now brought a million people into the streets in just the last week.
I've a longer analysis of Saturday's march on my blog.
To paraphrase that great line from Bogie: I remember the night of March 24, 1976 like yesterday. My wife was wearing blue. The Argentine military was in gray.
Exactly thirty years ago this weekend, the Argentine military seized power and installed a regime whose dimensions of barbarity overshadowed those of all other Latin American dictatorships: 30,000 dead or disappeared; massive torture; the stealing, bartering and selling of the children of the victims.
Living in Buenos Aires at the time,I had a front row seat to this sad spectacle as well as my own terrifying brush with the death squads. I recount those experiences here.
I was a lucky foreigner who survived. The relatives and friends of those who didn't are still seeking justice three decades later.
Among the unaccountable, of course, is one Dr.Henry Kissinger. No sooner had the regime been installed did Kissinger do everything possible to lend American support. That story is well told by Randy Paul over at Beautiful Horizons.
There are profound lessons still to be excavated from experiences like those of Argentina and Chile; namely an appreciation for democracy. And the need to unconditionally defend it from demagogues and dictators of both the Right and the Left.
Remember when opponents of affirmative action argued that it hurt blacks' self-esteem because they'd never know if they had succeededon their merit? According to this theory, first-rate students whowould have been accepted anyway are stigmatized by being lumpedtogether in the public mind with students accepted only because oftheir race, and this is stressful and anxiety-producing all around.Much better not to take race into account, and let excellence be theonly criterion.
I wonder how those champions of meritocracy feel about gender-based college preferences for men. Yesterday, Dean of AdmissionsJennifer Britz confessed on the New York Times op-ed page thatKenyon College accepts inferior men over better qualified womensimply because they are men, raising the obvious question : Whatabout the self-esteem of these poor boys? Surely some of them wouldhave gotten into Kenyon without the genital advantage, but how can agiven Kenyon male know it was his brains and not his penis that wonhim a coveted thick envelope? Thanks to Dean Britz's candor, thevalue of a woman's Kenyon degree has soared--a girl must be reallysomething to have made the cut--and that of a man's degree hasplummeted. He went to that college that takes the dumb guys!
If I was a man at Kenyon, I'd be thinking about transferring. Iwouldn't want people to think I needed a boost just because I wasmale. And I wouldn't want to wonder if maybe I DID need a boost. Imight even feel guilty that I had deprived a better candidate--youknow, one of those brilliant poetry-writing future-vaccine-discovering change-the-world-for-the better girls Dean Britzdescribes rejecting. I might have to go to a slightly less-selectivecollege, but that would be okay: I would have my self-esteem!
Every once in a while a politician stumbles into telling the truth. Even George W. Bush. Unwittingly, of course.
At his Tuesday press conference, Bush dropped one of the biggest bombshells of his presidency: American troops would not leave Iraq on his watch. Not in 2006 or 2008. Let John McCain or Hillary Clinton make that call. Bush's plan for victory amounts to: someone else clean up my mess. If Bush were a five-year-old, he'd undoubtedly receive a spanking.
His "plan" is the inverse of Colin Powell's famous Pottery Barn rule. Bush broke Iraq, never acknowledged owning it and now refuses to fix it.
The White House quickly tried to spin their own spin. The President's counselor, Dan Bartlett, said Bush's comment had been "over-interpreted." White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Bush never said what he said. Troops will come home, McClellan insisted, just not all of them. And don't you dare ask when, pesky media. It's your fault we're talking about this in the first place.
I think some of the coverage also seemed to leave the impression with readers or viewers that the President was saying that there will be large or significant numbers of troops in Iraq after he leaves office, and that's not what the question was. The question was will there be zero -- when will there be zero or no American troops in Iraq. So he was referring to that specific question.
I'm sure that explanation will satisfy the 61 percent of Americans who disapprove of Bush's handling of the war. CNN's John Roberts rightly told Bartlett: "You've given Democrats a real opening here."
If only they would take it. Sure, Harry Reid called Bush "dangerously incompetent." And Ted Kennedy noted that "the patience of the American people is wearing thin." No surprise there. But most of the party's leaders, including virtually all of the prospective nominees for the '08 nomination, stuck to silence.
MSNBC right-winger Joe Scarborough, of all people, nicely summarized the current debate: "When it comes to getting out of Iraq, Republicans may be clueless, but Democrats are spineless."
It isn't often that someone owns up to flagrant sex discrimination inthe op-ed page of the New York Times, so I suppose we should begrateful to Kenyon College dean of admissions Jennifer Britz for herhonesty. In "To All the Girls I've Rejected" she admits what manyparents of girls suspect: Boys have an edge in college admissions.In order to preserve "gender balance" and avoid the dreaded "tippingpoint" of 60 percent female enrollment, which supposedly makes acampus less appealing to applicants of both sexes, Kenyon puts thethumb on the scale for boys. The villain? Why feminism, of course:"We have told today's young women that the world is their oyster: theproblem is, so many of them believed us that the standards foradmission to today's most selective colleges are stiffer for womenthan men. How's that for an unintended consequence of the women'sliberation movement?" Right: if only more parents had discouragedtheir daughters' aspirations, Ms Britz wouldn't have to reject themnow. Why not: if only more boys worked a little harder in high schoolthey'd deserve a place at Kenyon?
At Kenyon, more girls apply, so more are rejected--not becausethey aren't brilliant , but because they are girls. Let me put thatanother way: inferior boys are accepted, because they are boys."Gender balance" looks a lot like a quota system to me, the sort ofextra-credit-for-testicles that the Supreme Court has specificallyoutlawed for public universities. If Kenyon was a public college,Britz would be on her way to court right now. Anyone for a lawsuit?
Britz asks "What are the consequences of young men discoveringthat even if they do less, they have more options?" How about: thoseyoung men will do less than ever, because why put down that Game Boywhen Kenyon College will take you anyway? then, armed with their not-quite-deserved diplomas, they get jobs they don't quite deserve, andpromotions they don't quite deserve either. Exactly the sort ofthing that opponents of affirmative action claim happens to blackswho benefit from affirmative action. Except, oh I forgot, the boys ofKenyon (and other colleges that favor males in admissions--and Ijust hope to God that Wesleyan, where my daughter is a freshman,isn't one of them) aren't black! They haven't been the victims ofcenturies of discrimination continuing up to the present moment,didn't grow up in segregated neighborhoods, go to overcrowded under-resourced schools without extracurriculars or AP courses or maybeeven science labs, and have families who couldn't afford mathtutors, SAT Prep classes, and maybe even a hired consultant to helpthem write a killer application essay. They're middle-class whiteboys! Whew.