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Hillary Silent on Murdoch

Rupert Murdoch's takeover of the Wall Street Journal this week is drawing the ire of some Democrats running for President.

Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd called the deal "a serious threat to our democracy." John Edwards urged fellow Democrats to oppose and block the merger and refuse campaign contributions from News Corp execs.

But the Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, hasn't said a peep. Perhaps that's because Clinton has been courting the Aussie billionaire since she became a New York Senator---and vice versa. Murdoch threw a lavish fundraiser for her at the News Corp tower last year. And he and son James, the heir apparent, both wrote big checks to Clinton's presidential campaign this June. Nine News Corp executives have thus far given a total of $20,900 to Clinton this election cycle.

She calls him "smart and effective." He calls her "a good Senator" and "very, very gutsy originally on the war in Iraq."

So you see, the Journal is not Murdoch's only recent prize.

When a Government Won't Own Up

Rescue and cleanup workers, who put their lives on the line in our nation's darkest hour, weren't given information about environmental risks and are now paying the price with financial hardship, illness, and even death.

Hundreds of thousands of people living on the Gulf Coast survived a horrific natural disaster and a failed government response, only to be placed in trailers that FEMA knew were at risk for dangerous levels of formaldehyde.

We are witnessing the cumulative impact of the Bush ideology: what columnist Paul Krugman called a "hostility to the very idea of using government to serve the public good."

Last month, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil rights, and Civil Liberties, chaired by Representative Jerrold Nadler, held a hearing entitled "the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Response to Air Quality Issues Arising from the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001: Were There Substantive Due Process Violations?"

It was revealed that scientists had informed the EPA of harmful air quality and dust at the disaster site that contained "dangerous levels of asbestos and other carcinogens." A September 14 draft of an EPA press release sited elevated asbestos levels and, as Nadler wrote in a New York Times op-ed, "expressed concern for workers at the cleanup site and for employees who would be returning to their offices 'on or near Water Street' on September 17." The White House deleted the warning and instead went with, "Our tests show that it is safe for New Yorkers to go back to work in New York's financial district."

Christine Todd Whitman, who was head of the Environmental Protection Agency at the time, testified that opening the stock market quickly was important: "We weren't going to let the terrorists win." As for revisions to public statements Whitman said it was critical at the time for the federal government to speak with "one voice."

How about an honest voice? A Mount Sinai Hospital study that began last year showed that 70 percent of the first 9,000 workers examined reported some kind of respiratory problem after working on the debris pile. Retired Lieutenant Bill Gleason of the New York Fire Department said, "If [Whitman] had stood on the pile and told us how bad it was, she could have saved tens of thousands."

According to Nadler, even the EPA's inspector general has concluded that the early statements about air quality were "falsely reassuring, lacked a scientific basis and were motivated by White House concerns other than public health -- and that, as a result, people were unnecessarily exposed to deadly contaminants."

And when Hurricane Katrina hit the EPA still hadn't learned its lesson. According to OMB Watch, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report "found inadequate monitoring for asbestos around demolition and renovation sites," and that "key information released to the public about environmental contamination was neither timely nor adequate, and in some cases, easily misinterpreted to the public's detriment." But far more damning is what has transpired with regard to FEMA-supplied trailers that an estimated 275,000 Americans are living in.

In March 2006, FEMA field workers began warning of health problems experienced by Hurrican Katrina survivors living in trailers with formaldehyde levels that were 75 times greater than the recommended workplace-safety level. One expectant couple was relocated, but then something that should be stunning, but sadly isn't, happened: the FEMA Office of General Counsel recommended no testing of trailers because--as one logistics expert wrote--testing "would imply FEMA's ownership of this issue." Another FEMA lawyer wrote, "Once you get results and should they indicate some problem, the clock is running out on our duty to respond to them." After a man who had complained of formaldehyde fumes was found dead in his trailer, "a 28-person, six-agency conference call took place."

Again, FEMA opposed testing of the trailers. Meanwhile, as Amanda Spake reported in February of this year in The Nation, infants and children were being hospitalized with respiratory illnesses. Air sampling by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the open air at trailer holding stations revealed formaldehyde levels thirty to fifty times greater than the EPA recommendation. Pediatrician Scott Needle, of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi said, "I was seeing kids and families coming in with repeated, prolonged respiratory illnesses--sinus infections, lingering coughs, viral infections that didn't go away. Over the course of three months, I saw several dozen families with these health problems. That's really high, and this isn't something I'd seen in my practice before. All of them were living in FEMA trailers."

"We started testing in Alabama," Becky Gillette, co-chair of the Mississippi Sierra Club, told Spake, "because we got reports from social workers there that so many elderly people living in the trailers were being hospitalized for respiratory conditions. And many of them were dying." The Sierra Club found unsafe formaldehyde levels in 30 of 32 trailers tested.

There were complaints of choking, coughing, nosebleeds, mouth and nasal tumors, sick pets, complicated pregnancies, and deaths. But it wasn't until last Wednesday--nearly a year and a half after the original warnings from field workers and right before a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing--that FEMA announced it would conduct random testing of trailers.

Committee Chairman Henry Waxman deemed FEMA's non-action "an official policy of premeditated ignorance.... senior officials in Washington didn't want to know what they already knew, because they didn't want the legal and moral responsibility to do what they knew had to be done."

One former army officer living in a trailer with his wife testified, "We have lost a great deal through our dealings with FEMA, not the least of which is our faith in government."

How many Katrina survivors might have been saved had testing begun a month ago? Or six months ago? Or a year? Or if people had been listened to and relocated?

How many workers who showed heroism after 9-11, who this administration praised but then left to fend for themselves, would still be healthy today if had they been properly warned?

The Bush government legacy is this: sacrificing proclaimed heroes, and turning its back on our most vulnerable citizens. We have fallen far indeed.

Broken Bridges, Lost Levees and a Brutal Culture of Neglect

As rescue workers continued to pull bodies out of the stretch of the Mississippi River that runs beneath the collapsed I-35W bridge in Minneapolis Thursday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters released a $5 million grant to help with cleanup and recovery at the site of the disaster.

That will barely be enough to cover the expense of extracting the bodies of the drowned and dismembered commuters who were hurtled into the river when the interstate highway bridge they were traveling on buckled and then fell into the river. And it will not begin to pay for the rebuilding of a vital transportation link in one of America's most populous cities -- an initiative that will cost in the hundreds of millions.

To get the money that is needed to repair the damage, limits on federal aid for infrastructure will have to be lifted.

This will happen now not because the money is needed but because dozens of Minnesotans have been killed and injured.

If the federal limits were not applied with an eye toward denying needed infrastructure funding to states, if the federal government accepted its responsibility to maintain the bridges, roads, levees and sewers of the United States, the death and destruction that comes from neglect might well have been avoided.

The I-35W bridge had repeatedly been identified as suffering from "fatigue cracks." Inspectors had labeled it "structurally deficient."

Yet, as Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist Nick Coleman noted on the morning after the collapse, "The death bridge was 'structurally deficient,' we now learn, and had a rating of just 50 percent, the threshold for replacement. But no one appears to have erred on the side of public safety. The errors were all the other way."

That's not a unique circumstance. That is the daily reality of America's rapidly aging and decaying infrastructure. Just a few weeks ago in New York City, an underground steam pipe exploded, killing one person and injuring dozens

Natural disasters do occur. Storms, heat, aging steel and concrete can all contribute to horrific turns of events like the Minneapolis bridge collapse, the pipe explosion in New York, or the nightmare that occurred in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina hitting the Gulf Coast.

But there is simply no question that the steady neglect of the crying need for repair and improvement of bridges, levees and other vital pieces of the nation's infrastructure, and the resolute stinginess of a federal government that is much better at finding money to repair the Middle East than the middle west, makes disasters more likely to occur and more extreme in their consequences.

Minnesota Senator Amy Klobucher is right when she says, "Bridges in America should not be falling down."

They will continue to fall, however, just as aging levies will continue to crumble, until the federal government gets serious about investing in the updating, improvement and replacement of decaying infrastructure. The point here is not to absolve state officials, who in Minnesota -- as in Louisiana two years ago -- could and should have done more. But an "interstate highway system" is, by its nature and by the intents of the founders of the American experiment and their wisest successors, a federal priority.

Major infrastructure challenges, such as maintaining bridges over our mightiest rivers and modernizing levies, ought never be the sole or even the major responsibility of cash-strapped state and local governments. That is a recipe for disaster -- deadly, injurious and damaging disaster of a sort that plays out not just in "headline" events like a bridge collapse but in hundreds of below-the-radar infrastructure failures each year.

The American Society of Civil Engineers argues that, "With each passing day, aging and overburdened infrastructure threatens the economy and quality of life in every state, city and town in the nation." Conditions have grown so bad that the ASCE estimates it would cost $1.6 trillion over a five-year period just to bring the nation's infrastructure up to "good" condition. "Establishing a long-term development and maintenance plan must become a national priority," says the group.

That $1.6 trillion figure sounds like a lot of money, unless it is compared with the anticipated cost of $1 trillion or more for completing George Bush's mission in Iraq.

Make no mistake, the money to renew our collapsing infrastructure can be found.

But it will not be spent appropriately until top officials in Washington, led by the president, recognize that maintaining the infrastructure of the United States is as important, and as worthy of investment, as fighting wars in places like Iraq.

There are many costs that come when our leaders divert $2 billion every ten days to occupy a distant land. The first of these is human. Wars cost lives in a war zone, but they also dry up the funding that could save lives on the home front. By drawing resources away from vital social and economic development projects at home -- and maintaining a safe and functional infrastructure is essential to progress on both fronts -- an obsessive focus on warmaking abroad leaves a trail of death, destruction and decay in the U.S.

Writing of federal "negligence" when it comes to infrastructure repair, the Star-Tribune's Coleman observed, "A trillion spent in Iraq, while schools crumble, there aren't enough cops on the street and bridges decay while our leaders cross their fingers and ignore the rising chances of disaster.

"And now, one has fallen, to our great sorrow, and people died losing a gamble they didn't even know they had taken. They believed someone was guarding the bridge.

"We need a new slogan and we needed it yesterday:

"No More Collapses."

Amen to that.

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John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Saying No To Bush & Saudis

At least one high-profile presidential candidate has come out against the Bush Administration's proposed $20 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia.

"Congress needs to stand firm against the president," John Edwards said in a press release this week. "The administration's proposed arms deal with Saudi Arabia isn't in the long-term interests of our country or the region. This deal has serious shortcomings--it doesn't force Saudi Arabia to stop terrorists from going into Iraq, make a real effort to help stabilize Iraq, lead regional security talks or assure the arms will not be used for offensive purposes. Congress should do the right thing and block the deal."

A group of Democrats in the House are preparing to introduce legislation to block the deal "the minute Congress is officially notified," according to Reps. Jerry Nadler and Anthony Weiner. Democrats picked up their first GOP co-sponsor when New Jersey Republican Mike Ferguson announced his opposition to the deal on Tuesday.

"I am deeply disappointed with the Bush Administration's decision to begin negotiations with Saudi Arabia on a $20 billion arms package of advanced weaponry," Ferguson said at a press conference, "and it is our hope that Congress will take every step necessary to block this transaction."

The deal has members of both parties scratching theirs heads. If Dubai wasn't fit to run our ports, they reason, why should the Kingdom of Saud get our arms?

[UPDATE: 114 members of the House, including 16 Republicans, sent a letter to President Bush this afternoon stating their "deep opposition" to the arms deal and vowing "to vote to stop it."]

For, Against & For The War

Before he was against getting out of Iraq, Michael O'Hanlon was for it.

In May 2004, the foreign policy specialist (and frequent advisor to Democratic candidates) penned a Washington Post op-ed with his Brooking Institution colleague James Steinberg entitled, "Set a Date to Pull Out."

"Unless we restore the Iraqi people's confidence in our role, failure is not only an option but a likelihood," they wrote. "Critical to achieving our goal is an announced decision to end the current military deployment by the end of next year."

But O'Hanlon, for reasons unexplained, seems to have had a change of heart. He supported the escalation of troops. And after a recent eight day tour of Iraq, on the invitation of his old Princeton buddy David Petraeus, O'Hanlon and Iraq war cheerleader extraordinaire Ken Pollack wrote an op-ed in the New York Times on Monday entitled, "A War We Just Might Win."

"We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms," the two write, contradicting Brookings's own Iraq index, ironically supervised by O'Hanlon. "There is enough good happening on the battlefields of Iraq today that Congress should plan on sustaining the effort at least into 2008."

So O'Hanlon and Pollack are back firmly in the pro-war camp, where they and so many of their colleagues in the foreign policy establishment were before the war. (I wrote a feature about the supposedly liberal think tanks that enabled the war in Iraq back in '05 called "The Strategic Class.")

Only Steinberg (now dean of the school of public affairs at the University of Texas), it seems, has kept to his position. "I'm skeptical" of the O'Hanlon-Pollack op-ed, he told me via email. "On the other hand, they've just been there and I haven't. But in the absence of more compelling evidence (and a chance to talk to them directly) I remain of the view that I held then."

It's little wonder why the White House likes O'Hanlon and Pollack so much. But it's a mystery why prominent Democrats still bother to listen to them.

Worse Than You Think

The non-stop violence in Iraq is overshadowing a humanitarian crisis, with eight million Iraqis--nearly one in three--in need of emergency aid, says a new report released by the international agency Oxfam and NCCI, a network of about 80 international and 200 local NGOs established in Baghdad in 2003 to help assess and meet the needs of the Iraqi population.

The report, based on research from the United Nations, the Iraqi government, and nonprofit organizations Oxfam works with or finances, offers little original data. But it provides one of the most comprehensive pictures to date of the human crisis within Iraq and what it describes as a slow-motion response from Iraq's government, the United States, the United Nations, and the European Union.

The numbers presented by Oxfam offer a stark contrast to the picture of steadily improving conditions painted by the Iraqi government and the US military over the past several months, as Megan Greenwell notes in the Washington Post.

According to the report:

•Four million Iraqis – 15 percent - cannot buy enough to eat.

•70 percent are without adequate water supplies, compared to 50 percent in 2003.

•28 percent of children are malnourished, compared to 19 percent before the invasion.

•92 percent of Iraqi children suffer learning problems.

•43 percent of Iraqis live in "absolute poverty," earning less than one dollar a day.

•More than two million people have been displaced inside Iraq.

•A further two million Iraqis have become refugees, mainly in Syria and Jordan.

Watch this brief BBC report on the report for a visual sense of the depths of the crisis.

Up until 2004, Oxfam had staff working inside Iraq but withdrew them due to chronic security problems. It now supports domestic and international aid agencies which are able to operate in Iraq from an office in Amman, Jordan.

Many humanitarian organizations refuse to accept money from governments with troops in Iraq for fear of jeopardizing both their security and independence. Therefore the report urges international donor governments that have not sent troops to Iraq to provide increased emergency funding for humanitarian action.

The solutions proposed by Oxfam, which opposed the American invasion, include far more aid by the Iraqi government and from abroad and the decentralizing of the distribution of food and medical supplies. The group also called for a doubling of the monthly $100 cash allowances to households headed by widows.

The best way to halt this growing humanitarian crisis is, of course, to end the war and occupation. Toward that goal, activists are spending August putting pressure on members of Congress when they are on recess in their home districts; are planning for a week of coordinated nonviolent actions in September and are organizing a raft of local and national actions on October 21 to highlight the connections between the war in Iraq and the global warming crisis. There are also a series of good bills well worth supporting being put forth by those few Democratic legislators who actually want to end the war.

But in the interim before this bloody war is finally over a donation to Oxfam will help the group continue to provide relief to the people of Iraq.

Wall Street Journal Gone Wild

There will be plenty of formal responses to the news that The Wall Street Journal will soon join the "stable" of Rupert Murdoch's "media properties.

But few will top that of MoveOn.org Civic Action, the grassroots activism wing of the popular internet forum.

MoveOn will dispatch newsboys and newsgirls to the streets of New York City tomorrow to hand out Murdoched versions of The Wall Street Journal in front of the venerable financial newspaper's Manhattan headquarters.

The parody papers will feature actual headlines from Murdoch's Fox News network -- and, with them, the suggestion that the Journal will soon be the latest reflection of Murdoch's one-size-fits-all approach to media.

That approach, it should be noted, is resolutely neo-liberal when it comes to economics -- all for free trade, privatization, deregulation -- and neo-conservative when it comes to superpower politics. It is wholly deferent to the presidents and prime ministers with whom Murdoch willingly and willfully allies himself. And it has a tendency to reduce serious matters to the sort of tabloid takes favored by Murdoch's New York Post newspaper.

Among the actual Fox headlines that will be featured on the Murdoched Journals to be distributed Wednesday:

"All-Out Civil War In Iraq: Could It Be a Good Thing?"

"Is The Liberal Media Helping To Fuel Terror?"

"The #1 President on Mideast Matters: George W. Bush?"

"Study: Some Trees Contribute To Global Warming"

"Have Democrats Forgotten The Lessons of 9/11?"

The headlines are as silly as Fox.

But there point is an important one.

One of America's most respected journalistic voices is in danger of becoming the print version of a certain fairly-imbalanced news network.

"This may be the beginning of the end for the Wall Street Journal," says Adam Green, the civic communications director for MoveOn.org Civic Action. "No sane businessperson or investor will tolerate the type of unreliable, partisan news that Murdoch serves up at Fox and his other media outlets."

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John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

"The President Cannot Ignore an Impeachment"

After months of revelations about his ham-handed attempts to politicize investigations and prosecutions by U.S. Attorneys and sections of the Department of Justice he heads, after his repeated refusals to cooperate with Congress and his deliberate attempts to deceive the House and Senate judiciary committees, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has invited impeachment to an extent rarely seen in the long and sordid history of executive assaults on the rule of law.

And Congressman Jay Inslee is answering the invitation.

The Washington Democrat moved Tuesday to introduce a resolution that directs the House Judiciary Committee to investigate whether Alberto R. Gonzales, Attorney General of the United States, should be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors.

Inslee's initiative is a serious one, and he is in many senses precisely the right member of the House to be making this push.

As a former prosecutor, he is well acquainted with the requirements of the oath that all House members swear to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic." He is, as well, a member of the Democratic establishment in the House, a relatively moderate representative who is on good terms with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But, most significantly, he is a representative from a state with an active impeachment movement.

For more than a year, the Washington for Impeachment campaign has demanded that Congress act to hold members of the Bush-Cheney administration to account for their high crimes and misdemeanors. Inslee has heard those demands, loud and clear, and he recognizes their broad appeal. Thus, his move to open an impeachment inquiry is proceeding on the precise lines that the founders intended.

Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Mason and their compatriots believed that impeachment should be an organic process, driven by public outrage over executive excess. They intended that the people would raise the call for accountability and that the federal legislators closest to the grassroots, members of the House, would take it up.

Pelosi -- who today admitted that as member of her caucus, as opposed to its leader, she "would probably advocate" for impeachment -- upset the organic process with her declaration last year that "impeachment is off the table." She was speaking specifically about President Bush, but her words chilled efforts to hold any members of the administration to account.

The chill began to come off in a meaningful way when a maverick member of the Democratic caucus, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, introduced articles of impeachment against Vice President Cheney. Fourteen House members, most of them stalwart progressives who are made of sturdier stuff than Pelosi and her lieutenants, have agreed so far to cosponsor Kucinich's resolution. They have taken the right stand and their numbers will grow.

But Inslee's initiative is of a different character. He is no maverick. And he has attracted cosponsors from the mainstream of the caucus, including a number of former prosecutors. Initial cosponsors included Xavier Becerra of California, Michael Arcuri of New York, Ben Chandler of Kentucky, Dennis Moore of Kansas, Bruce Braley of Iowa and Tom Udall of New Mexico. And as word of the initiative spread, more members indicated that they would sign on, including Oregon Democrats Earl Blumenauer and Peter DeFazio.

Inslee's initial plan was to solicit support from former prosecutors, many of whom serve on the Judiciary Committee. But his resolution is attracting attention from many of the 122 members who in May cosponsored a resolution by California Democrat Adam Schiff "expressing no confidence in the performance of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and urging the President to request his resignation."

It has become clear that the administration has no intention of abandoning Gonzales -- especially with Vice President Cheney's Monday declaration that "I'm a big fan of Al's." So Inslee has offered the appropriate response.

"It's indefensible to allow the continued violation of American privacy, and it's indefensible to treat the truth with such cavalier disregard when talking to the American people and Congress," the congressman says. "So if the president won't do his job (and either seek the Attorney General's resignation or fire him) we'll do ours."

As a former prosecutor, Inslee is doing things by the book.

His resolution does not feature explicit articles of impeachment. Rather, it initiates a process that should lead to the writing of articles by the House Judiciary Committee -- along lines similar to those seen during the period before the committee voted for three articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon. "Our resolution follows the careful procedure of conducting a thorough investigation before the House would decide on articles of impeachment -- a fairness the attorney general did not afford to his fired U.S. attorneys," explains Inslee.

If the committee chooses to free itself from Pelosi's grip and do its work, and if it approaches the task seriously, it will have no difficulty developing articles of impeachment against Gonzales. Politicizing federal investigations and prosecutions and lying to Congress are classic examples of impeachable offenses. So too, by any reasonable measure, should be faking up flimsy justifications for torture, warrantless wiretapping and other abuses of civil liberties.

The clear evidence of wrongdoing will not lead allies of the administration to roll over and let an impeachment move against Gonzales advance easily. Texas Congressman Lamar Smith, the Bush partisan who is the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, hastily denounced Inslee's initiative. "The call by Democrats to impeach Attorney General Gonzales is a misuse of congressional power for purely political reasons and a waste of the American publics' money and time," grumbled Smith.

The Texan is wrong. If House Democrats were to avoid proposing the impeachment of Gonzales -- presumably out of a desire to let the Attorney General "twist in the wind" and further discredit a Republican administration and its congressional allies -- that would be a "misuse of congressional power for purely political reasons."

Impeaching Gonzales is not merely an appropriate use of congressional power. It is the only appropriate use of congressional power in this circumstance.

It is, as well, what Inslee's constituents want. Washington for Impeachment director Linda Boyd hailed the introduction of the impeachment resolution and declared, "We will impeach to restore the rule of law!"

Boyd's got it right.

Impeachment is not merely about Gonzales. It is about renewing the Constitutionally-dictated system of checks and balances that virtually collapsed during the first six years of the Bush-Cheney interregnum. President Bush's disregard for the rule of law, and for the cautious assertions of the House and Senate up to this point, has created a Constitutional crisis. Impeachment, alone, is the proper response to that crisis.

"The president cannot ignore an impeachment," says Inslee, who correctly explains that, "This is the only option available to the American people."

But this may not be the only use of the option. The investigation of Gonzales will, necessarily, touch on Bush and Cheney. And, as it does, the issue of how Congress must deal with the impeachable offenses of a lawless president and vice president will, finally, be placed on the table.

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John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

A Reply to Dave Zirin

In The Nation's web-letters, Dave Zirin repliesto my post about his column on Michael Vick. In the nicest possibleway, he suggests that I'm out of my depth in tackling a sportssubject. He's certainly right that I'm no expert on sports or sportsmedia. How big an expert you need to be in this case is anotherquestion.

Zirin's big point is that Vick and other football stars do not havethe moral agency I attribute to them, because they come from poorbackgrounds and have few alternatives : "Vick and others are free notto play professional football. They are also free to work inMcDonalds, or go to a public school that treats them like prisoners."

That may be so. I wasn't condemning Vick for playing football, though,but for allegedly running a barbaric and illegal dogfighting business.What does dogfighting have to do with escaping from a life flippingburgers? Or -- Zirin's other distracting topic -- with the prevalenceof sports injuries? True, as Zirin notes, there are greater evils inthe world than animal torture, and animal torture does not exist in avacuum: "We are carrying out two military occupations, spend $500billion on "defense" and have over 300 million guns in circulation. Itshouldn't surprise us that violent sports, from the NFL to UltimateFighting, find a wide audience. It also shouldn't surprise us thatplayers in these sports engage in past times [sic] that one would deemanti-social."

Yes, yes: violence in, violence out. Not only am I not surprised thatour warlike and violence-loving society produces lots of, um,violence, I've made the same point myself. But every now and then, acrime is so gratuitously horrible it stands out. To blame Vick'salleged crimes on society and outrage against them on racism feelslike an evasion, like political boilerplate.

I do have trouble seeing sports stars -- zillionaires idolized bymillions and held up as role models to children (and how idiotic isthat?) --as mere victims of the system. To me they seem more likely tobe testosterone-poisoned narcissists who think they can get away withanything, and often do. The celebrity culture of entitlement -- that'sthe system they operate in, not the Old South. It may be true, asZirin says, that only poor kids become professional players, becausethe work is so hard and the struggle so great -- but whatever Vick'sorigins it's hard to see as a peon someone who is making $13 milliondollars a year. As for racism , that may be true of the radiofrothers-- maybe one day a white star will be accused of animaltorture and we can compare the public response. But it doesn'tdescribe me, or the many Nation readers who've written in to expresstheir outrage.

If charging racism doesn't play at The Nation, you probably need abetter argument.