Body and Soul

Thoughts on the body politic, the human soul, Billie Holiday songs (and other people's) -- with a lot more questions than answers

Monday, December 23, 2002

A lump of coal in his stocking just isn't enough
The daughter of Sisyphus has a Christmas wish for the president.

Would you like to hear my Ebeneezer Scrooge impression?
Thank you, Devra. You've beautifully and righteously vented on something that's bothered me most of my life -- the distinct lack of charity in a lot of "charity." I've never sorted toy donations, but I've done canned food drives, and clothing donations, and at some point I always end up mumbling to myself, "Exactly when did you people come to the conclusion that the poor aren't human?" The one donation to clothing drives that sends me round the bend is torn underwear. What kind of people think the poor are so desperate they'd wear someone else's old underwear? And are they sitting at home basking in the warm glow of their generosity?

Sorry -- charity drives bring out my most uncharitable side. And bad memories as well.

I have to admit, this is partly a personal issue. I went through a period as kid when Christmas was ruined every year by the guy from the church (not our church, some other damn church) pulling up in a station wagon loaded with food boxes. My mother was too polite to turn him away.

It started when I was eleven -- just old enough to begin reading adult body language. A man with a crew cut, wearing a bright red cardigan, carried a cardboard box into the apartment and set it on the kitchen table. My mother was in her robe, her hair in curlers, getting ready for work. She worked night shift. I could tell that she was in hurry and embarrassed to be seen like that, and that she wanted the man out of the apartment fast. But he hung around, asking stupid questions and glancing at everything out of the corner of his eye. I remember realizing that my mother was trying to maneuver to get him with his back to the couch, because the couch had a spring sticking out. She had covered it with a towel, but you could still see the outline of the spring, and the towel looked ratty anyway. Every poor person fixates on one thing that makes them feel especially poor, an objective correlative of poverty, and for my mother it was that sofa. She could buy her clothes at Goodwill and go without food at least once a week, she could handle being awakened by phone calls about my father's gambling debts, but somehow she felt less poor if she thought no one saw the sofa.

My mother was from Ireland. I once read that during the potato famine, Irish peasants who realized they were about to die would find a corner of the houses that couldn't be seen from the window, and huddle there to wait for the end, humiliated by their starvation. And, strangely, I smiled when I read that sad detail, because it reminded me of my mother. You're all right as long as no one sees.

The man in the red cardigan just didn't get it. He hung around chatting, as if he were waiting for something. And eventually my mother figured out what he wanted and gave it to him. She asked if he had a lot more deliveries to make. I think she was just trying to remind him to get going, but that question turned out to be exactly what he wanted. He started rambling on and on about how many people his church helped at this time of year and how proud he was of all those fine people, and how good it made him feel to help. My mother kept looking at the door. And then he said that what he had in the car was for the people in our building, and he looked at a piece of paper and told my mother which other apartments he was spreading his Christmas cheer to.

Kids who grow up in violent homes learn to pick up the exact moment an adult becomes angry -- before they do anything. When the man named the other charity cases in the building, I could see a change in my mother's expression that I'm sure the man couldn't see. She kept smiling, but anger was building under the surface, made worse by the fact that she had to keep smiling and playing the part of the grateful poor lady.

The anger came out after the man left. My mother screamed and cried that he was going to tell half the people in the building that she couldn't even feed her kid. And all the time she was jerking the curlers out of her hair, because priorities are priorities, and she was late for work. And anyway, she screamed, headed for the kitchen, that was a lie. A no-good lie. We always have food, except the day before payday, and we don't need their garbage. She took cans out of the box -- some dented, some labelless, others just useless. Beets, lard, hollandaise sauce. I remember looking at that little yellow can and wondering what it was. Did it come from Holland, and was it made of daisies? My mother picked up the small frozen turkey. "I don't want this garbage," she screamed -- and she threw the turkey to the floor, and stormed out of the kitchen. She'd thrown it so hard, it dented the linoleum.

She left for work, and I put the canned charity away. There was one large box of kiddie cereal. The bottom of the box had gotten damp, and when I picked it up, it split open, and all the cereal scattered across the floor.

Whenever I hear about welfare taking away people's dignity, I always remember crawling around on the kitchen floor, trying to pick up the sugary colored rings of private charity.

I thought of the man who sucked the air out of Christmas a few days ago, as I was reading an article about President Bush urging Americans to give more to the needy. I'd second the idea, of course. It certainly wasn't his plea for time and money that bothered me. It was a president being photographed putting canned peaches and spinach in a bag, without thinking about the fact that there are more important and effective things he could do to help the needy. But of course that assumes that the point is to help those in need, and not to provide photo-ops for presidents, and chances for the middle class to feel good about themselves while getting rid of their garbage.

Sunday, December 22, 2002

Thank you to everyone who sent me ideas for fixing my archives yesterday, including Dwight Meredith, who suggested burning candles and chanting nursery rhymes in Arabic (don't know any Arabic, so I went with Gaelic prayers and Italian lullabies). After trying a dozen different suggestions, I finally followed the advice of my favorite conservative, Eve Tushnet -- I ripped out my archives link and made new links myself. And now, thanks to Eve, I have archives!

Saturday, December 21, 2002

This entry has also been posted at Stand Down -- the anti-war blog that explores reasons for opposing war with Iraq from multiple politcal perspectives. If you'd like to comment, you can do so here.

The Liberal Media in Action
Thank you to Donald Johnson for pointing out to me that the New York Times got around to publishing something this morning on a topic Kerim Friedman wrote about a few days ago and I picked up on yesterday: the outing of companies that did business with Iraq, providing support for Saddam's nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs. Oddly, the Times quotes "American officials and private weapons specialists" who say Iraq's weapons declaration includes the names of 31 foreign suppliers, including two small American companies, both of which are now out of business, and one of which was owned by an Iraqi immigrant.

The Times' numbers are decidedly out of synch with those published a few days ago in the German newspaper Die Tageszeitung (and picked up by The Independent), which include 24 US companies -- Honeywell, Unisys, Sperry, Rockwell, Hewlett Packard, Eastman Kodak, and Bechtel among them -- and 150 foreign companies in all. In all honesty, I have no way of knowing whose numbers are more accurate, but it seems dishonest to me to cite one set of figures, and one list of companies, without at least noting that others have been named. The oddity is compounded by the fact that at the end of the article, the Times quotes Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project On Nuclear Arms Control, who argues that any company that did business with Iraq deserves to have its identity revealed: "If you look at the scale and frequency of the exports of some of these companies, it's clear that they were deeply involved in Iraq's chemical weapons program. They must have known what was going on."

That's a bold statement. So, New York Times, where's the rest of the list?

Can somebody on Blogspot with functioning archives help me? For some reason, my archives expired in September. That's a bit of a problem because I occasionally get e-mails from people saying, "Remember that thing you wrote a few weeks ago on [fill in the blank, but it's usually Nigeria]? How do I get that?" And unfortunately my answer is always "Your guess is as good as mine." I can find everything I've written on my editing page, and I've even e-mailed old posts to people who've asked, but I have no idea how to get them to show up on the site. Ampersand even blogged about my late lamented archives (okay, that wasn't the most important part of his post, but the topic did arise.)

I just looked around and realized this is not just one of the things you have to live with if you're stuck on Blogspot. CalPundit has archives. Ignatz has archives. PLA, Rittenhouse, and Two Tears all have living, breathing, up to the minute archives (and good ones at that). Am I doing something wrong? My settings are on weekly archives (I'd change it to monthly, but since it's not working anyway, there doesn't seem to be any point.) I've tried republishing the archives so many times over the past few months it's ridiculous. Does anyone have any suggestions for bringing my archives back from the grave?

More awards! Jesse Taylor has opened nominations for The Year's Most Annoying Conservatives. I think his readers pretty much have it covered already, but go over and see if you can think of anybody who's been getting to you all year to add to the list. Personally, I'm with the reader who said Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Osama bin Laden should tie for first place -- people who sell the idea that God is full of hate should be lumped together, even if they call their hatred by different names, and they certainly top my list of people I wish would just go away.

Friday, December 20, 2002

Everything you always wanted to know about John Ashcroft*

John Ashcroft's opposition to school integration in Missouri may have been politically motivated, but it sometimes had a gratuitously mean edge. In 1984, when he was in his final year as Attorney General of Missouri, and was running for Governor of the state, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals voted to uphold most of the school desegregation plan that Ashcroft had vigorously fought during his tenure as AG, including a voluntary transfer program which permitted students from predominantly black suburbs to attend schools in predominantly white suburbs. The court did agree with Ashcroft that the state should not pay for the that part of the program, since it didn't have anything to do with integrating schools in the city. Ashcroft immediately moved to cut off payments for the 311 African American students in the program -- a move that, if implemented, would have forced them to return to their former schools with only three months left in the school year. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch called Ashcroft's action a "cruel way to deal with students who had placed their educational hopes in their new schools." Fortunately for the students, the court ordered the state to continue the payments until an agreement could be worked out between the state and the suburbs. Ashcroft called the decision allowing the black students to stay at the same school through the end of the year "a gross miscarriage of justice."


*but were afraid to ask.

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

That Western companies helped Saddam Hussein build weapons isn't news. But some bits and pieces of information about that assistance that have filtered out over the past few days disturb me, even though I haven't figured out how much weight to give them, and how to string them together yet:

* According to Die Tageszeitung, Iraq's report to the UN Security Council lists 150 foreign companies -- including American, British, German, and French -- who provided Saddam Hussein with equipment and expertise for his weapons program from 1975 on, including support for building nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

* Some of the companies were providing support as recently as last year.

* The dossier documents methods the companies used to cover up their activities.

* Information about foreign companies' involvement with Saddam Hussein was collected by UN weapons inspectors between 1991 and 1998. However, the five permanent members of the Security Council -- the United States, Britain, Russia, France and China -- have blocked release of the relevant information.

* The non-permanent members of the Security Council received an expurgated version of Iraq's weapons declaration report, with the names of foreign companies blacked out, although the censors did an incomplete job and left the names of some German and Swiss companies in the report.

* Die Tageszeitung quoted sources close to Dick Cheney as saying the Bush administration was hoping to prove a German company was continuing to co-operate with the Iraqi regime over the supply of equipment allegedly useful in the construction of weapons of mass destruction.

* Relations between Germany and Washington are strained because of Germany's outspoken criticism of a possible military strike against Iraq.

* Among the American companies listed are Honeywell, Unisys, Sperry, Rockwell, Hewlett Packard, Eastman Kodak, and Bechtel.

* British officials said the list of companies appeared to be accurate.

* Most of the sales were legal and often made with the knowledge of governments. In 1985-90, the U.S. Commerce Department licensed $1.5 billion in sales to Iraq of American technology with potential military uses.

* I can't find any articles on the subject in either The New York Times or The Washington Post -- and I'm hoping that has something to do with my lousy research skills.


More information and comments at Stand Down


Leaked report says German and US firms supplied arms to Saddam

Parts of declaration cut from Iraq weapons report

Arms report names Western suppliers

U.S., others aided Iraqi nuke program

Die Tageszeitung's List of Companies

Obviously the Republicans want Trent Lott out because he hurts their carefully crafted image. But there's another reason percolating under the surface. I've been thinking about it for a few days, because hints of this other motive peeked out in a couple of conversations I had with Republicans, and now the Christian Science Monitor has picked up the thread: They're afraid that with Lott around, the party (and, indeed, Lott himself) will have to be so sensitive that they're forced to move left on racial issues. The administration's backing off on support for the Supreme Court case challenging racial preferences at the University of Michigan, and Trent Lott's statement on BET in favor of affirmative action make conservatives nervous. What are they going to have to do to avoid the appearance of racism? Are there right-wing judicial nominees who might have squeaked through before Thurmond's Centennial who won't past the smell test now? And will that reduce the party to hunting for moderates? Will cutting millionaires' taxes while education, welfare, and health care wither suddenly be seen in a different light -- and force Bush to do the unthinkable: put the needs of the most vulnerable citizens (of all races) ahead of the wish lists of his corporate friends?

Relax, Republicans. It's not going to happen. I wish it would, but it won't.

The party is going to have to be a little more careful about race than it has previously been, whether Trent Lott goes or stays (but having him around scratches the wound and complicates matters). In many ways, that's a good thing for the country. Assuming we still have a remotely functioning press -- a big assumption, I admit -- the Southern Strategy just got harder to play. Bob Jones University may find few politically powerful speakers. Interviews with Southern Partisan magazine are probably not going to pass unnoticed by the mainstream press. It will get a lot more difficult to play footsie under the table with bigots. Your South Carolina strategy will be noticed in Southern California. And that's a good thing -- a small rip in the fabric of hypocrisy.

But when it comes to policies, nothing will really change. Genuine change requires understanding that the effects of slavery and segregation continue to gnaw holes in the promise of America, in psychological as well as economic ways, and that we have a continuing moral obligation to look for ways to undo the damage. The modern Republican Party, even at it's best, has never believed in that obligation. It's been about tokens, and twisting the language of justice to unjust purposes. In the CSM story, there's a revealing remark. An affirmative action opponent who believes the Bush administration will eventually file a brief opposing the Michigan program, offers a way of selling that opposition: "I think the way this drama has played out actually puts the president in a very good position.... He can say, 'I think racial discrimination is wrong..., and for exactly that reason, my administration is filing a brief telling the Supreme Court that they should rule against racial discrimination in college admissions.' "

Yes, we think discrimination is bad, and therefore we're going to put all our effort behind ending the massive discrimination against white people. Republicans think that will sell, and they're probably right. But the fact that they're thinking of that even now, while the fruit of that thinking is on the front page of the paper every day, says a lot about how deep their understanding of the problem goes.

I'm an odd sort of political junkie in that I tend not to pay much attention to electoral politics until I absolutely have to. I suppose when it comes right down to it, I'm too much of a moralist to feel comfortable with all the compromises involved, and so firmly on the left that I don't expect to have a real choice. I can count on the fact that my favorite candidate is not going to win. I haven't voted for a presidential candidate I actually liked since George McGovern (and I thought he was a bit too conservative.) Most of the time, I'd prefer to vote Green, but I understand that the Republicans also prefer I vote Green. You never saw a grin as smug and satisfied as the one that appeared on the face of one of my husband's Republican friends when my husband said he was considering voting for Nader. (The grin changed my husband's mind -- you've got to watch your body language, Republicans, you're giving the game away). Basically my attitude is, I despise Bush and therefore I'll hold my nose and vote for any Democrat you put in front of me.

I am capable of being embarrassed by my ignorance, though. Recently someone asked me what I thought of Howard Dean, and my answer ("Uh, the guy from Vermont, right?") was rather humiliatingly stupid. I would have been better prepared if I'd read this London Times article, which seems to me a good, fair, and simple (I need that) introduction. Count on the Brits to explain American politics in a way that even a politically clueless American like me can understand.

And the next time someone asks me about Howard Dean, I'll be able to say, "That's the best we can do, huh? Well, at least he's not Bush." (Once the campaign really gets going, rather than put on a bumpersticker for my favorite candidate, I may just have one made up that says, "Not Bush." That pretty much covers the possibilities I can live with.)

Score one -- maybe -- for the expression of outrage.

The people who own Nestle have an interesting sense of timing. Ethiopia is in the middle of a drought which has left millions in danger of starvation. The number of people requiring emergency food aid could reach 15 million over the next few months. Nestle decided this was a great time to demand $6 million from the Ethiopian government as payment for a company nationalized in 1975, which Nestle didn't even own at the time.

I hate to cut into VH1's monopoly on the eighties, but do they know it's Christmas?

That was yesterday's news. Today's news is that public outrage over Nestle's greed forced the company to promise to pour the money back into Ethiopia. Of course, it would be better if they didn't take the money out of the country in the first place. And it would be better if the promise to put the money "in a long-term viable investment in Ethiopia which will contribute to the economic development of the country" didn't arouse suspicions that they're talking about something that is more in the long-term interest of Nestle than of Ethiopia. (This is, after all, the same company that made a fortune on pushing powdered milk over breastfeeding in countries where, because of unsafe water, bottle-fed babies were 25 times more likely to die than breastfed babies.) Business may be business, but when people are starving, contracts and long-term investments are way down on the priority list. But at least Nestle got nudged in a decent direction, and I guess that's cause for a small Christmas celebration. Without chocolate.

Thursday, December 19, 2002

Everything you always wanted to know about John Ashcroft*

As governor of Missouri, John Ashcroft twice vetoed measures passed by the Missouri legislature which would have made it possible for volunteers from nonpartisan organizations like the League of Women Voters to register new voters in St. Louis, a Democratic-leaning city, which was about 50 percent black. The measure would have made it as easy to register in the city of St. Louis as it was in St. Louis County -- which was mostly white and Republican, and where volunteer deputy registrars could be, and were, commissioned. By making it more difficult for voters to register in St. Louis than in the suburbs, Ashcroft managed to surpress the African American vote, which aided him in his 1988 re-election bid.


*but were afraid to ask.

Chapter 1

Jeb Bush stepped up boldly yesterday to criticize Trent Lott. Not for rhapsodizing on segregation, mind you, but for doing something really unforgivable -- hurting Republicans.

"It doesn't help to have this swirling controversy that Senator Lott, in spite of his enormous political skills, doesn't seem to be able to handle well," Governor Bush told The Miami Herald in an interview published today. "Something's going to have to change. This can't be the topic of conversation over the next week."

I knew we could count on the president's brother to recognize the important ethical issues at stake here.

And also demonstrating his sense of priorities, Bush restored the civil rights -- including the right to vote -- of an FBI agent who was convicted of obstruction of justice for destroying a report criticizing the bureau's handling of the Ruby Ridge shootout. Bush obviously learned from his past mistakes and is making amends. And certainly this should more than make up for the thousands of legal Florida voters who were knocked off the voter rolls when they were classified as felons.

I'd really like to believe in the basic goodness and sanity of my fellow Americans. But sometimes they make it so damn hard.

(Via reading & writing)

I'm sure you've already heard that Bill Clinton told the truth. The man might lie about small things, but he told the truth when it counted: "They try to suppress black voting, they ran on the Confederate flag in Georgia and South Carolina, and from top to bottom the Republicans supported it."

Republicans have won elections by making it harder for African Americans to vote and by luring racists to the polls. That isn't a shocking statement to anyone who pays attention to politics, but it is stunning -- gloriously so -- when a politician says it. Even one who's not running any more.

I suspect Sam Heldman has it right. It won't be long before Clinton is accused of exploiting race in order to stick it to the Republicans and maybe benefit the Democrats. But so what? If Democrats hem and haw and try to play nice, Republicans will seize on insignificantly small disagreements to accuse them of playing politics. If Democrats stand up and boldly tell the truth, Republicans will accuse them of playing politics. Given the circumstances, they might as well tell the truth. The truth is always easier to remember anyway.

I don't pretend to understand the political machinations of the fight over Trent Lott. Who will benefit from this, Democrats or Republicans? Is this the first crack in revealing the strategy that has animated the Republican party for the past generation (in which case, Ashcroft goes next), or can the Republicans send Trent Lott into the wilderness and make everyone believe that their "seg"-tolerating days are over?

I honestly don't know, maybe because I just haven't thought about it much. I've gotten quite a bit of mail on the subject, so I know other people are thinking about it, but I just don't seem to be able to wrap my mind around the subject. To me, this is more an ethical than a political question. Trent Lott needs to go because if there's no cost to expressing support for segregation almost forty years after the Civil Rights Act, something is so rotten at the core of the American system that you might as well just give up on it. And I don't believe that's the case. If that benefits Republicans, I'll live with that, because the alternative is worse. But it's equally important not to let up on the Republican Party -- not for political reasons, but because the big lie that Republicans have worked hard to attract minorities shouldn't stand. They've worked hard to change their image; they've done little or nothing to change their ways. (I think Matt Yglesias is one of the smartest bloggers around, but I have to disagree with him on this issue: Bush has played racial politics with the best of them. Bob Jones, the Confederate flag, rumor-mongering about John McCain's adopted daughter. And let's not forget that he "won" an election by having his little brother surpress the black vote in Florida. What's new about Bush is that he's far better than Lott at talking out of both sides of his mouth.)

But even though I can't quite get a grasp on the politics of this issue, I have to admit, Clinton's statement cheers me. Clinton and I have probably been on opposite sides of issues almost as often as we've been on the same side, but there's two things I know you can count on Clinton for -- a good speech and an astute reading of how an issue plays out politically. Maybe now that he's not running for anything, he figures he can tell the truth and shame the devil, but deep down I suspect he's still reading whether or not it's a good time, politically, to tell the truth. The man's only been out of office two years, and I don't think politicians can turn honest that fast. But since his political instincts are obviously infinitely superior to mine, I'm encouraged by his honesty. I think it's at least possible he knows what he's doing.

It's always a good time to tell the truth. Maybe it's a smart time as well.

Yesterday I posted lyrics for Nina Simone's 1963 classic Mississippi Goddam. Two readers wrote to remind me that Phil Ochs had a pretty good understanding of Mississippi politics as well. Phil updated this song a few years later under the title "Here's to the State of Richard Nixon." ("where the wars are fought in secret, Pearl Harbor every day") I wish he was still around to update the song one more time.

Here's To The State of Mississippi
by Phil Ochs (1964)

Here's to the state of Mississippi --
For underneath her borders the devil draws no line;
If you drag her muddy rivers, nameless bodies you will find.
Oh, the fat trees of the forest have hid a thousand crimes;
The calendar is lying when it reads the present time.
Oh, here's to the land you've torn out the heart of.
Mississippi, find yourself another country to be part of!

And here's to the people of Mississippi --
Who say the folks up north, they just don't understand;
And they tremble in the shadows at the thunder of the Klan;
Oh, the sweating of their souls can't wash the blood from off their hands;
Where they smile and shrug their shoulders at the murder of a man.
Oh, here's to the land you've torn out the heart of --
Mississippi, find yourself another country to be part of!

And here's to the schools of Mississippi --
Where they're teaching all the children that they don't have to care,
All the rudiments of hatred are present everywhere,
And every single classroom is a factory of despair,
And there's nobody learning such a foreign word as "fair."
Oh, here's to the land you've torn out the heart of --
Mississippi, find yourself another country to be part of!

And here's to the cops of Mississippi --
They're chewing their tobacco as they lock the prison door,
And their bellies bounce inside them when they knock you to the floor;
No, they don't like takin' prisoners in their private little wars,
And behind their broken badges, there are murderers and more.
Oh, here's to the land you've torn out the heart of --
Mississippi, find yourself another country to be part of!

And here's to the judges of Mississippi --
Who wear the robe of honor as they crawl into the court,
They're guardin' all the bastions of their phony legal fort;
Oh, justice is a stranger when the prisoners report,
When the black man stands accused, the trial is always short.
Oh, here's to the land you've torn out the heart of --
Mississippi, find yourself another country to be part of!

And here's to the government of Mississippi --
In the swamp of their bureaucracy, they're always bogging down,
And criminals are posing as the mayors of the towns;
And they hope that no one sees the sights and no one hears the sounds,
And the speeches of the governor are the ravings of a clown.
Oh, here's to the land you've torn out the heart of --
Mississippi, find yourself another country to be part of!

And here's to the laws of Mississippi --
Congressmen will gather in a circus of delay,
While the Constitution's drowning in an ocean of decay;
"Unwed mothers should be sterilized," I've even heard them say;
Yes, corruption can be classic in the Mississippi way.
Oh, here's to the land you've torn out the heart of --
Mississippi, find yourself another country to be part of!

And here's to the churches of Mississippi --
Where the cross, once made of silver, now is caked with rust,
And the Sunday morning sermons pander to their lust;
Oh, the fallen face of Jesus is choking in the dust,
And Heaven only knows in which God they can trust.
Oh, here's to the land you've torn out the heart of --
Mississippi, find yourself another country to be part of!

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Everything you always wanted to know about John Ashcroft*

When John Ashcroft ran for Governor of Missouri in 1984, one of the centerpieces of his campaign was bragging about the fine work he had done as the state's Attorney General in opposing desegregation of St. Louis public schools. He called the desegregation plan "an outrage against humanity."


*but were afraid to ask.

I've discovered so many interesting blogs since I started reading them that sometimes it's hard to keep up. I just don't have time to read everything I want to. But one thing I've learned: Whenever Avedon Carol writes a long piece, read it. Today she has an essential essay on the politics of race -- in both parties. I'll come back to this topic, but right now, just go read Avedon.

My car radio is pretty limited. The public radio station fades in and out and the really good locally programmed station that I listen to at home doesn't come in at all most of the time. That leaves me with one talk radio station, one "classic rock" station, and one oldies station that are occasionally worth listening to. So today, as I was driving around doing my Christmas shopping, I had a choice between Jimi Hendrix (I love Hendrix -- but not on a car radio, thanks), Rod Stewart singing "Hot Legs" or Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh won. I figured there could at least be some comic relief there.

I quickly decided to go back to fuzzy Jimi Hendrix, but not before hearing about some poll that showed that two-thirds of all Republicans think that what Trent Lott said was no big deal. Rush Limbaugh seemed to think that meant the press was blowing it out of proportion. I had two reactions. If the poll is real, it ought to cue the one-third of Republicans who still have something vaguely resembling a conscience that they're in the wrong party. If it isn't true, it should cue all conservatives who still have something vaguely resembling a brain to turn off Rush.

Even if they have to listen to fuzzy Foxy Lady.

I just can't get this song out of my head for some reason:

Mississippi Goddam
(1963) Nina Simone

(The name of this tune is Mississippi Goddam
And I mean every word of it)

Alabama's got me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam!

Can't you see it
Can't you feel it
It's all in the air
I can't stand the pressure much longer
Somebody say a prayer

Alabama's got me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam!

(This is a show tune, but the show hasn't been written for it, yet)

Hound dogs on my trail
School children sitting in jail
Black cat cross my path
I think every day's gonna be my last

Lord have mercy on this land of mine
We all gonna get it in due time
I don't belong here
I don't belong there
I've even stopped believing in prayer

Don't tell me
I'll tell you
Me and my people just about due
I've been there so I know
They keep on saying "Go slow!"

But that's just the trouble
Too slow
Washing the windows
Too slow
Picking the cotton
Too slow
You're just plain rotten
Too slow
You're too damn lazy
Too slow
The thinking's crazy
Too slow
Where am I going
What am I doing
I don't know
I don't know

Just try to do your very best
Stand up be counted with all the rest
For everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam!

(I bet you thought I was kiddin' didn't you?)

Picket lines
School boycotts
They try to say it's a communist plot
All I want is equality
for my sister my brother my people and me

Yes, you lied to me all these years
You told me to wash and clean my ears
And talk real fine just like a lady
And you'd stop calling me Sister Sadie

Oh but this whole country is full of lies
You're all gonna die and die like flies
I don't trust you any more
You keep on saying "Go slow!"
Go slow!

But that's just the trouble
Too slow
Too slow
Mass participation
Too slow
Too slow
Do things gradually
Too slow
Would bring more tragedy
Too slow
Why don't you see it
Why don't you feel it
I don't know
I don't know

You don't have to live next to me
Just give me my equality
Everybody knows about Mississippi
Everybody knows about Alabama
Everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam!

The front page of yesterday's LA Times featured a poll showing that Americans are more doubtful about the need for war with Iraq than has been suggested, and that support for a ground attack on Iraq is decreasing. But it was a poll result buried at the end of the article that caught my attention: Seventy percent of Americans believe that if there is a war, we have an obligation to stay after the war is over and help rebuild. Unfortunately, that's an easy sentiment to exploit (The oil companies are laying pipelines all over the place. You don't call that rebuilding?) But at its heart it speaks to the decency of the vast majority of Americans. We expect to be held accountable for the consequences of our actions.

But rebuilding Iraq is off somewhere in the future. I wish someone would take a poll right now asking Americans if we have a moral obligation to help rebuild Afghanistan. I suspect (or at least hope) you'd find roughly that same seventy percent who say we do.

So how come we're abandoning that task and taking on a new one?

Human Rights Watch has issued a report on conditions in Afghanistan -- in Herat province in particular -- which documents that for women living under warlord rule (in this case, the rule of Ismail Khan, the governor of Herat) things haven't changed nearly enough since the Taliban were driven out. Many girls have been allowed to return to school, and women to some jobs. However, they can still be arrested for failing to veil themselves, driving, or speaking to a man on the street. Troops continue to enforce Taliban-era restrictions on music and dress, targeting women and girls for abuse. In addition, Khan has censored women's groups, intimidated women leaders, and even recruited boys to spy on girls and report "un-Islamic" behavior.

Ismail Khan and his warrior bands have received substantial military and financial support from the United States.

Hamid Karzai has made a bold move in the direction of breaking the warlords' control -- which is probably the most important task in improving the human rights situation, and protecting the rights of women in particular, in Afghanistan. On Tuesday he issued a decree banning senior politicians from military activity (in other words, no warlords allowed in the government) and announced that he will attempt to disarm the private armies that rule most of Afghanistan within the next six months. Heavy weapons handed over would be given to the still-forming Afghan national army. The private armies' weapons include tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery pieces, field guns, multiple-rocket launchers, and antiaircraft guns. Among the warlords most reluctant to give up weapons and hand control of their armies over to the national government is Ismail Khan, who so far has not responded to Karzai's decree.

Karzai doesn't have the power to control the warlords without help from the international security force. He's not getting it.

The Turks, currently in command of the ISAF, are going home ( according to the BBC, to prepare for war with Iraq). A combined corp from Netherlands and Germany will soon take their place. But discussions about getting the peacekeepers outside of Kabul have been abandoned. The UN Security Council resolution that created ISAF prohibits the troops from taking part in operations outside the capital. The US has suggested that coalition forces in several provincial capitals could work on both military and civilian projects, but humanitarian workers have already been targeted in many parts of Afghanistan, and are worried about any further blurring of the line between soldiers and aid workers.

HRW insists that all countries involved in Afghanistan -- including the US -- need to stop funding the private armies (the US is still using them to go after Taliban and al-Qaeda stragglers), and give all aid directly to the central government. We need to support Afghan women's groups and protect women leaders from threats and intimidation. And the ISAF needs to be expanded and sent out into the provinces. Women's lives are in danger.

But just in case Bush and Company don't really care about women's lives anymore, there is one other thing they should know. The chaos created by the warlords is threatening the trans-Afghan pipeline project as well.

Maybe that will get Bush's attention.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

The good old liberal New York Times ran a strange article this morning keeping alive the well-debunked myth that conservatives were the ones who tore into Trent Lott, and -- grab your hat, we're headed into the Twilight Zone here -- asserting that this "fact" disproves Al Gore's statement that that "the nation's conservative news media acts as a monolithic Republican support system." The Times gives a prominent place to Rich Lowry's laughable comment that conservatives have worked so hard, and with such great idealism, in overcoming their racist image, and they couldn't stand to see that image torn down by someone like Lott. Not the racism, mind you, just the image.

Howell Raines, let me introduce you to the man Trent Lott is least likely to send a Christmas card to this season.

The Los Angeles Times at least touched on the obvious fact that the main reason Lott is in trouble with conservatives is that they've never liked him personally and don't think he's done enough to promote the right-wing agenda. According to the Times many Republicans question whether Lott is even conservative enough. (Most of the Republicans I know are fairly moderate. I don't know any truly insane, to the right of Trent Lott Republicans, so I won't even take a guess on how true that is.)

But you'll have to go a little beyond the major newspapers before you get to the really important point: Republicans want Lott out fast not just because he tars their name, but because the longer the story plays out, the more likely it is that people will notice other Republicans who've played similar games.

Joe Conason did a great piece yesterday on John Ashcroft's ties to segregationists. Josh Marshall went after Ashcroft as well. Timothy Noah pointed out that Strom Thurmond is not quite as reconstructed as the press (and, in particular, the New York Times) would have us believe. Hesiod is piling on George Bush I's warm and fuzzy feelings for the 1948 Dixiecrat presidential candidate. Paul Krugman is going after the Republicans' "soft spot for theocracy" (which he seems to have discovered via Atrios .) And in a weird piece defending Lott (I think, it's hard to tell), William Saletan argues that a lot of the Republicans now going after Lott have plenty of "politeness to bigots" and "amnesia about struggles for civil rights" to answer for as well. (Saletan seems to suggest that his makes Lott somewhat less condemnable; I'd suggest it means the condemnation so far has been much too narrowly focused.)

It can't be repeated too often: It isn't just Lott.

Monday, December 16, 2002

Lady Sings The Dixiecrat Double Entendre Blues

In honor (or perhaps I should say dishonor) of Trent Lott's nostalgia for the good old days of segregation, Devra recently posted lyrics (and a link, if you'd like to listen) to Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit," a song about lynching. Keeping in mind Pat Buchanan's breathtakingly stupid choice of words in defense of Lott* it was a well-chosen musical accompaniment to the news.

Devra's post started me thinking about something I read a long time ago about Billie Holiday, "Strange Fruit," racism, and the interpretation of words.

Try to imagine Lady Day in an evening gown, a white gardenia tucked in her hair, on stage in a nightclub, singing a graphic song about lynching, while her audience sipped champagne. It's impossible, grotesque. And in fact, Billie was generally reluctant to sing the song, partly because, as you can imagine, it took a lot out of her. In her autobiography she  says she threw up every time she had to sing it. But she also had mixed feelings about the song because her audiences so often missed the point. She'd sometimes get bizarre requests to sing the "sexy" song about "black bodies," which unnerved her to say the least. Proof, if you need any, that as often as not, even the most eloquent voice is not heard.

When she did perform the song, it was usually at the end of a show. Two different kinds of audiences heard "Strange Fruit." One was a group Billie trusted. If she sensed that an audience was with her -- not just that they liked her act, but that they understood and appreciated the artistry of a woman who was changing the shape and structure of popular song -- she would sometimes sing "Strange Fruit" as a gift, the way you might share a painful secret with a friend who could understand that sharing was an act of trust and honor.

But she also used the song as a weapon. In Lady Sings The Blues she describes a scene that was all too common:

This white boy stayed around just to bug me. When I started singing...he'd start kicking up a storm of noise, rattling glasses, calling me nigger, and cursing nigger singers.

When she had that kind of audience, she would pull out "Strange Fruit," spitting out the words, as if to say, I know who you are, and I understand everything I need to know about why you're treating me this way.

One song, with many meanings -- most of them within the artist's control.

Southern trees bear a strange fruit

You don't have to start with a work of art to sing one song in different ways. You can start with words like "states' rights" and "traditional values." There's nothing wrong with the words themselves. Here in the central California suburbs, when Republicans I know hear politicians talk about things like "states' rights," what they hear is a message of smaller government and more local control. That's a perfectly reasonable thing to be in favor of. In some instances, I'd even agree with them.

But that arguable, respectable message is not what people in many parts of the country heard when Ronald  Reagan, for instance, proclaimed his belief in "states' rights" in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights workers -- James Chaney, Mickey Schwerner and Andrew Goodman -- had been murdered in the early sixties, and where there were still many people who deeply resented their state's loss of its "right" to segregation and intimidation of black voters. It does not make the tiniest bit of difference whether Ronald Reagan was a racist. Signaling that hard-core racism was acceptable was despicable. For many people who regard themselves as liberals, it remains, more than twenty years later, unforgivable. Maybe it gnaws at moderate Republicans, and even many conservatives, as well, but I haven't heard any complain about it.

What Reagan did was a mirror image of what Billie Holiday did. When she wanted, as she put it, to "bounce something off that cracker," she used a song to send a message of defiance (real defiance -- as she well understood -- would have landed her in jail, or worse). Reagan, facing the descendents of Lady Day's nasty hecklers (and quite a few even more dangerous sorts) sang a cozy little lullaby of acceptance. Compare Billie's unspoken, but nonetheless clear I can't hit you the way I'd like to, but here's what I think of you, cracker to Reagan's equally clear I can't come straight out and agree with you, but you boys know I'm on your side. It's the same technique, with vastly different results.

It's amazing -- sometimes appalling -- what an artist can accomplish with a few words.

And Reagan is far from the only one to use the device.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south

John Ashcroft, who made his name as a politician opposing school desegregation in St. Louis, gave an interview to Southern Partisan magazine in 1998, which the editors introduced by  noting that he was a "champion of states' rights and traditional Southern values." Sounds fairly innocuous, but one of the traditional Southern values Southern Partisan promotes is the notion that the Declaration of Independence contains "deliberate lies" like the idea that all men are created equal.

According to Richard M. Quinn, the magazine's former editor, in the South the magazine "is considered mainstream conservative." If you read "conservative" as a longing to return to the "values" of the past, I suppose there's some truth in that. Here's the formula for a "mainstream conservative" magazine: recipes for sweet potato casserole, articles on country music and NASCAR, suspicion of central government and disdain for taxes -- I'm okay with this so far, but then there are:

* revisionist articles on why slavery wasn't as bad as it's detractors suggest (apparently slave owners were strong supporters of "family values"),

* paeans to former Klan leader David Dukes as "a Populist spokesperson for a recapturing of the American ideal,"

* praise for "the effectiveness of the original Ku Klux Klan,"

* political commentary on the fact that "Negroes, Asians, and Orientals... have no temperament for democracy" (the author goes on to pat himself on the back, of course, for being bravely "unpolitic" in asserting this),

* and a denigration of Martin Luther King as "a man whose role in history was to lead his people into a perpetual dependence on the welfare state."

Makes you wonder about a politician in the South who describes himself as a "mainstream conservative," doesn't it?

I don't know whether John Ashcroft subscribes to Richard Quinn's definitions of "state's rights" and "Southern values," but most of the readers of his magazine do, and you don't have to be an expert code-reader to recognize the I-am-one-of-you message Ashcroft was sending to those readers. There's just no other, more innocent explanation of Ashcroft's praise for the magazine as a source that "helps set the record straight." Or his to-the-barricades call for "traditionalists" to "stand up and speak in this respect, or else we'll be taught that these people were giving their lives, subscribing their sacred fortunes and their honor to some perverted agenda." These people are Confederate leaders and Ashcroft didn't want anyone to be taught that there was anything perverted about their agenda. As in the case of Trent Lott's statement, I can't come up with a reading of that sentence that any decent person would subscribe to.

Here's a fruit for the crows to pluck.

Trent Lott, Thad Cochrane, Phil Gramm, Jesse Helms, and Dick Armey have all been interviewed by Southern Partisan.

Mark Potok, editor of the Southern Poverty Law Center's "Intelligence Report," describes an interview with the magazine as a way of pandering to an audience with racist leanings. It's a way of doing so without offending voters who would take less kindly to overt racist statements.

This wink and nod strategy isn't just a matter of nasty and unfair politics. The truly objectionable part of the whole thing is that when prominent politicians play this game, they leave hard-core, blatant racists with the impression that their beliefs are still respectable. They give people a license to be racist.

Here is a strange and bitter crop.

Why are liberals harping on this so much now, and disdaining Republican "apologies?" Because it's a ugly game that has driven most of us crazy for as long as we've been aware of politics. You'd have to have been old enough to vote before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to remember a time when Republicans weren't playing this loathsome game. (And by sheer coincidence, 1964 happens to be the year Strom Thurmond became a Republican, as well as the first presidential election year in which Trent Lott was eligible to vote.) The rest of us have wondered all our political lives why most people weren't as outraged by it as we are. Finally, they are. Trent Lott's statement helps expose the game even to people who normally don't pay much attention to politics.

In the end, this isn't about politics, it's about moral accountability. It's about standing up in front of your audience and singing the song straight. And it's about time.


*Pat Buchanan: "What we are witnessing is the lynching of a good man who made a bad choice of words in a birthday tribute to an old man whose sins are no more scarlet than those of the rest of us."

Sunday, December 15, 2002

The New York Times has started what looks like a very interesting series of articles on the Ten Commandments. Over the next ten days, they'll be taking one commandment each day and exploring how people reckon with it in their lives. How does a soldier, for instance, interpret the fifth commandment (the sixth if you're Jewish or Protestant) -- Thou shalt not kill?

The first article in the series is about a couple whose daughter died, and who found nothing but pain in the way they had always interpreted the first commandment -- as an assertion that everything that happens in the universe reflects the will of God. They were fortunate to connect with a rabbi who told them they didn't have to simply accept that commandment, but could challenge it.

So far, it looks like one of those rare occasions when the press takes seriously the moral struggles of people of faith, rather than defining religion as a set of simplistic rules.

A few days ago, I mentioned a moving essay Jeralyn Merritt wrote about passing on her sense of justice and compassion to her son. From today's New York Times comes a reminder that some people define "family values" in a somewhat less inspiring way:

Mr. Lott was staunchly opposed to [James] Meredith's integration of Ole Miss. "Yes, you could say that I favored segregation then," he told Time magazine in 1997. "I don't now." He added, "The main thing was, I felt the federal government had no business sending in troops to tell the state what to do."

Back at home, the turmoil at Ole Miss was roiling Pascagoula and even Mr. Lott's family. Ira Harkey Jr., editor of The Pascagoula Chronicle, was writing editorials denouncing racial violence and criticizing Barnett for fighting the integration of Ole Miss. In response, a group of local people — many of them shipyard workers, Mr. Harkey says — harassed him for months, threatening violence and even shooting out his office windows.

Some time later, Mr. Harkey said, he received a letter from a woman who told him that if he did not publish her letter it would prove "you are truly an integrationist and I hope you not only get a hole through your office door but through your stupid head." It was signed Iona W. Lott — Mr. Lott's mother.

"I called her, asked if she'd sent it to me, and she said she certainly had sent it to me and she meant every word," said Mr. Harkey, now 84.

Saturday, December 14, 2002

Dwight Meredith is taking nominations for the "Koufax Award" for best left of center blogging in various categories. It's a nice opportunity to say something nice about a few good and hard-working people. Never let it be said I turned down the chance to offer a well-deserved compliment. My nominees:

1) Best Blog -- Eschaton. That's a no-brainer. I can't even think of a close runner-up.

2) Best Writing - I could come up with a dozen nominees off the top of my head, but for sheer style, grace, and wit, The Rittenhouse Review is in a league by itself.

3) Best Post -- A few nominees (and I'm certain some obvious ones have slipped my mind):

* Rittenhouse on "Al Gore and the Alpha Girls"

* Rittenhouse's skewering of the conservative attempt to make political capital out of the Pennsylvania coal mine tragedy.

* Rittenhouse's nuanced take on the Mike Taylor ad (Come to think of it, maybe Eschaton does have some competition for best blog)

* Ampersand on domestic violence and the men's rights movement.

* Ampersand on anti-Semitism.

* Ampersand's take down of Glenn Reynolds' post on feminist mankillers -- "Conservatives lie about feminists!" (The competition for best blog is heating up here)

* CalPundit on Glenn Reynolds and Martha Burk

* Making Light's post-election essay on political action.

* Making Light's September 11 anniversary post.

* PLA's list of examples of Bush administration secrecy

* PLA applying the Al Gore consistency standard to George Bush.

* PLA's extensive list of Bush lies.

* PLA's case for focusing on disarmament, not regime change in Iraq (and apparently we have another nominee for best blog.)

4) Best Single Issue Blog -- Talk Left and Ignatz (To be fair, both Jeralyn and Sam talk about things other than law -- but that's the main focus)

5) Best Comedy Blog -- The Poor Man or Sisyphus Shrugged -- tough choice. I'm assuming you can do stuff other than comedy and still fall under the category of "comedy blog" if one of the things you do best is make people laugh.

6) Best Comedy Post -- Once again, a dozen spring to mind, but nothing comes close to Pandagon's channeling Peggy Noonan chaneling Tupac Shakur.

7) Best Series -- It's a tie: PLA on thimerosal, autism and the Homeland Security bill, and everything Atrios has done recently on Trent Lott.

8) Best Commentor -- How can I choose between Ted Barlow and CalPundit ?

9) Best New Blog -- definitely need a list of nominees here.

10) Best Special Effects -- Alas, a blog , of course.

Friday, December 13, 2002

Kissinger Quits As Chairman of 9/11 Panel

I'm in a mild state of shock here, especially since Kissinger resigned under pressure to disclose his business clients. It's still possible in America today for business conflicts of interest to bring someone down? Amazing. I thought that old-fashioned little ethic had been swept away for good. A little crack of sunlight cuts through the clouds.

The Twelve Songs of Christmas (plus a few extra)

skippy would like to know your favorite Christmas carols. Here's my list, in no particular order (other than the fact that this is the order they're in on my iTunes Christmas playlist):

1) Merrry Christmas Baby -- by just about anybody (it's a hard song to screw up), but the Charles Brown original is as slow and gently sexy as it gets, and Etta James' version is just plain hot. Otis Redding's version also has a special place in my heart (well, actually, the feelings runs all through my body, but you probably don't want to hear about this thing I have for Otis Redding…).

2) Santa Baby -- Eartha Kitt (Madonna? Oh, please -- it's Christmas and there's only one Madonna.)

3) The Rebel Jesus -- Jackson Browne and The Chieftains. And perhaps we give a little to the poor/ If the generosity should seize us/ But if any one of us should interfere/ In the business of why they are poor/ They get the same as the rebel Jesus. Who says Christmas is only for Christians?

4) Santa Claus Go Straight To The Ghetto -- James Brown. What's Christmas without funk? If you still feel like dancing, try Clarence Carter's Back Door Santa or Wilson Pickett's version of Jingle Bells.

5) Merry Merry Christmas -- Koko Taylor. Hotter than Etta James (and that's saying something).

6) Nothing But A Child -- Steve Earle. Okay, strictly speaking, it's not a Christmas carol, but it's in the vicinity.

7) Father Xmas -- The Kinks. Father Christmas, give us some money. We'll beat you up if you make us annoyed… When Christmas gets stickily sentimental, this one saves my sanity.

8) St. Stephen's Day Murders -- Elvis Costello. Another antidote when I'm on Nat King Cole.

9) O Holy Night -- Rickie Lee Jones. Every version of this song I've ever heard has been by a singer with a big, show-off voice. Rickie Lee's version is quiet, humble, awe-struck and a little off-key. The first time I heard it, it seemed to me far closer to the spirit of the song, and now I don't want to hear any other version.

10) Jingle Bells -- Duke Ellington. Having heard too many badly done instrumental jazz Christmas carols as a child, I have a deep aversion to the form. But this one is the exception. Every conceivable variation on the theme is in here -- there was just no excuse for anybody else to record the song after Ellington. (Except Wilson Pickett, of course).

11) Good Morning Blues -- Ella Fitzgerald. The title doesn't sound Christmasy, and in its original incarnation it wasn't, but Ella twisted it up a bit and made it a classic. Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas is my second favorite Christmas album of all time.

12) Go Tell It On The Mountain -- Odetta. From the best Christmas album ever: Christmas Spirituals. In case you need reminding what the whole point of the holiday is -- and even if you don't.

I don't want to be fussy or anything, but who thought it was a good idea to name a plane that will be carrying troops and heavy weapons into combat "The Spirit of Strom Thurmond?"

James Carroll has written a beautiful tribute to Philip Berrigan and the continuing relevance of his moral vision.

US Set To Use Mines In Iraq
To prepare for a possible war with Baghdad, the Pentagon has stockpiled land mines at U.S. bases in countries ringing Iraq, according to Pentagon records. The decision to make the mines available comes despite a recent report by the General Accounting Office, Congress' investigative arm, concluding that their use in the 1991 Gulf War impeded U.S. forces while doing nothing to impair Iraqi forces.

The 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which went into effect in 1999, has been signed by three-quarters or all nations, including all NATO countries except the United States and Turkey. It obligates countries to stop making, stockpiling and using landmines. A few reasons why the treaty has gained such widespread support:

* Experts estimate that there are currently 80 million land mines buried in 80 countries, and that it will take over 150 years to get rid of them all.

* Since 1975, landmines have killed over a million people.

* More than 20,000 people are killed or maimed by landmines each year.

* Ninety-five percent of those killed by landmines have been civilians.

* UNICEF estimates that 30-40 percent of mine victims are children under 15 years old.

* According to the International Red Cross, landmines kill or maim someone every 22 minutes.

* Because landmines remain in the ground for decades, they pose a continuing threat to civilians long after a war has ended. This enormously increases the difficulty of rebuilding war-ravaged countries.

* In May of 2001, 8 senior, retired U.S. admirals and generals wrote to President Bush stating that landmines "are outmoded weapons that have, time and again, proved to be a liability to our own troops." Mines have caused over 100,000 U.S. Army casualties since 1942.

I know there are intelligent and reasonable conservatives out there, because I got an e-mail from one of them yesterday. He objected -- very politely (God, I love people who object politely) -- to my statement that Trent Lott was not an aberration in the Republican Party and the party shouldn't get away with pretending that he is.

My reader had a point, and maybe I did overstate it a bit. (I've been known to do that kind of thing.) Unless someone can prove otherwise to me, I'll accept that George W. Bush doesn't have a racist bone in his body. (Or at least he's no worse than the rest of us. You don't grow up in America without ingesting a certain amount of racism) I suspect you'd have to go all the way back to Nixon to find a truly racist Republican president or presidential candidate. I'll even entertain the notion that the average Republican is no more racist than the average Democrat. But that isn't the issue.

For a generation, the Republican Party has coddled and mobilized racial bigotry for the sake of winning elections. It was a conscious policy, which Kevin Phillips, an advisor to Richard Nixon’s 1968 campaign, described, in The Emerging Republican Majority, as an attempt to "make an ideological bid for the anti-civil rights South." Lee Atwater expanded that strategy by prodding tensions between blacks and working class white ethnics. The racist, anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic Bob Jones University has been a traditional stop for Republican presidential candidates at least since Reagan. Republicans have been experimenting with how much subtle (and occasionally not so subtle) racism they can inject into campaign ads for as long as I can remember (and my political memory goes back a good thirty years).

The Republican Convention of 2000 and Bush's run as a "compassionate conservative" might look like an attempt to back away from that strategy, but at the same time Bush was hiring gospel choirs, he was speaking at BJU, pandering to Confederate flag wavers, refusing to condemn either a supporter who referred to the NAACP as "the national association of retarded people" or his own Louisiana campaign chairman who purchased mailing lists from former Klan leader David Duke. And in the end, of course, he "won" an election by disenfranchising voters, most of them African American.

That the Republican Party felt it had to present a tolerant face to America says something very good about the vast majority of Americans. We are a better country than we were forty years ago, and overt racism doesn't sell as well as it once did. But even while it was serving up that tolerant face, the party wanted the benefit of the racist vote. It got it. Having reaped the benefit, though, it ought to have to pay the price as well. Call it penance. Call it justice.

Trent Lott is an unrepentant racist, and I'll grant that most Republicans are not. But for me the fact that they aren't, that they know better, and are willing to exploit racism -- and to nourish and sustain it by doing so -- makes them morally worse than the poor dumb racists who are just looking desperately (and futilely) for someone more pitiful than them. That's something I've believed most of my life, and the Lott Affair just holds it up to the light so we can all take a good look at it.

That's why I not only want Trent Lott out as majority leader, I want it to be very clear that he's a Republican, that the Republican Party has provided a forum for people like Lott for decades. They're pretending they don't know what could make a man behave that way, and they shouldn't get away with it.

UPDATE: The New York Times has a good article this morning on the modern Republican Party's exploitation of race.

UPDATE 2: Well, this seems to be a trend. Paul Krugman has a particularly fine analysis of the Republican strategy on race. And I couldn't agree more with Krugman's reading of Bush's "rebuke" of Lott. He hasn't called for Lott to step down, and he won't unless he's pushed to the wall. He wants the benefit of looking like one of the good guys to most Americans, while at the same time keeping Lott in place and sending a simultaneous message that while politics forces him to say all that sanctimonious, politically correct nonsense, he doesn't really mean it. The issue isn't whether he really does or really doesn't mean it. The issue is a deceitful and disgusting strategy which abets racism, and -- as Krugman points out -- a press that overlooks it.

UPDATE 3: Tom Tomorrow dissects the Republican spin machine's current effort to deflect blame and CalPundit is all over the strange myth that conservatives responded with outrage to Lott's statement, while liberals took a pass.

UPDATE 4: If Republicans are going to enjoy the fruits of that poisonous tree, they shouldn't complain about the lot of racist crap used to fertilize it. -- The Flaming Moderate

Thursday, December 12, 2002

This morning my local paper had a charming letter to the editor containing the usual cliches about the antiwar movement consisting of nothing but warmed over hippies. This is central California. The farmers are still mad about the sixties. And you’ve heard it before, right? You would think it would be kind of hard to sell the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Methodist Church Council of Bishops, and General Wesley Clark as warmed over hippies, but of course the message of how mainstream and serious the antiwar movement really is hasn’t gotten out yet.

It’s moving in the right direction, though. Yesterday Max pointed to United for Peace, which includes several church groups and other non-radicals along with the usual suspects. Today Salon has an article about Win Without War, a coalition which includes the National Council of Churches, NOW, NAACP, the Sierra Club, MoveOn, Working Assets, Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities, Physicians for Social Responsibly and Veterans for Common Sense. This being fame-addicted America, it also has a fair share of celebrities (you can find their names, and add yours to their petition here) and while the media has ignored even huge antiwar demonstrations, it apparently finds it harder to ignore famous, even semi-famous, people. Janeane Garofalo got a chance to tear into the Iraq policy on "Good Morning America."

I prefer the voice of a less famous person, Rev. Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, who told Salon that normally when the NCC takes a political stand, they provoke controversy among ordinary churchgoers. This time people aren’t criticizing them, they’re telling the Council to speak louder.

Watch out for those noisy Lutheran hippies.

Just go read The Watch on how the Information Awareness Office plans to keep an eye on everything we buy, read or ingest, with one exception -- guns.

Trent Lott on amnesia:

I was 7 years old when, you know, Strom first ran for president. I don't really remember anything about the campaign.

I wasn’t born when Strom Thurmond ran for president, but I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know about the platform he ran on. I asked my 18-year-old son if he knew anything about Strom Thurmond, and he didn’t have any problem recalling the ugly details. The anti-teacher party has told us again and again that American schools are so bad that high school students don’t know a thing about the past, but somehow the election of 1948 seems to have made it into my son’s history books. Either Trent Lott is a liar, or his knowledge of American history is so pitiful that alone should disqualify him to be House Majority leader. And there’s some reason to suspect complete stupidity -- Lott couldn’t remember who ran against Harry Truman in 1948 either.

A hint, Senator.

But I’m still going for evil over ignorance -- a conclusion hard to avoid as Josh Marshall adds to the evidence and Pem digs into the Bob Jones University connection.

The one thing that is really important to point out here, though -- as both Slacktivist and Locust Eater have done -- is that Trent Lott is not an aberration within the Republican Party. He is the Republican Party. And not only should Lott not get away with this garbage, the GOP should not get away with pretending that they didn’t know about it and have nothing to do with it.

UPDATE: Uh...Senate Majority leader. I think I'll take a break from making fun of other people's ignorance until my own brain returns.

As you may have noticed, I didn’t post anything yesterday. It was one of those days when the total effect of the news leaves me feeling numb and dumb. I got up and looked at the front page of the Los Angeles Times and discovered that Bush and Company are not only talking about invading countries if they perceive a threat, but using nuclear weapons as well.

It was early, so I read the sentence again, thinking I must have misunderstood. Sane people don’t casually casually toss out threats to use nukes, right?

The anti-proliferation strategy codifies a national security evolution that began with last year's Sept. 11 attacks, and repeats the administration's threat to use preemptive and overwhelming force — including nuclear weapons — against what it perceives as imminent danger of an attack.

With this gang I suppose there’s always a possibility that tomorrow they’ll insist they were misunderstood or only kidding. What’s the matter with you liberals? You don’t have a sense of humor? What, you think we’re going to nuke a country just because we don’t like them?

North Korean missiles in Yemen are apparently no problem.

And while we’re on the subject of nuking countries we don’t trust, Christopher Hitchens, the humanitarian conscience of the hawks, has come out unabashedly in favor of American imperialism. Well, that’s been the implication running through most of what he’s written for the past year, so I suppose it was only a matter of time before he made it explicit.

Sort of like the Republicans running ads with uncomfortably racist undertones for an entire generation before the House Majority leader came out in favor of segregation. (Memo to Hitchens: If the imperialism piece causes you more grief than you intended, just say you didn’t intend to offend anybody, and then go on arguing implicitely for imperialism, without being quite so up front about it. That strategy seems to be working for Trent Lott.)

I was still trying not to step in the filth of birthday praise for a man who, according to the New York Times once said, "All the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negroes into our homes, our schools, our churches" -- only to learn that those weren’t exactly the ancient and for some inexplicable reason esteemed Senator’s words. Mikhaela Reid tracked down the more repulsive -- and apparently unprintable -- version of the speech that the Times didn’t quote. I have to admit, I can understand the Times not wanting racist garbage in their newspaper. The problem is, it would be nice if we didn’t have it in the Senate either.

Anyway, racism, imperialism and nuclear weapons all tied up in one day’s package (Merry Christmas!) had me feeling yesterday that I really didn’t want to read anymore news, and definitely didn’t want to talk about it. Today I want to scream about it. I hope you do, too. If we all do it together, maybe they'll hear us.

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Hip Hip Hooray!

In defense of feminism
A few days ago, I started an e-mail conversation with an interesting and articulate 19-year-old woman. In the course of a conversation about the relevance of feminism she noted that she and her friends had all grown up without experiencing any discrimination because of their gender. I told her I thought that was wonderful, and that not many women I knew in college in the seventies, not even relatively privileged women, could have said the same thing. But I reminded her that the experience of a university student is not universal. Just as a single example, I noted that my husband teaches in a community college where many of the students are poor and either immigrants or the children of immigrants. And the girls are often going to school with no support from their families, because their families don’t think girls should be educated. He has a student right now who would like to go on to a university next year, but her parents do not believe it is right for a girl to leave home. My husband would call himself a feminist, and the advice he gives her, the help he provides in getting her where she wants to be, grows out of his feminist values.

Our conversation about the meaning of feminism follows.


Helping poor and immigrant women get educated? Now, that is a cause worthy of feminism.

You’ve probably heard this before, Jeanne, but if the feminist movement is going to have any relevance to my generation you need to start talking more about causes like getting education and health care to poor women (as per your example) and talking less about how fashion magazines exploit us. Frankly, we bristle at your implication that we are merely passive receptacles of media images and that we don’t know how to think for ourselves.

I, and just about all of my peers since high school – both female AND male – support the equal rights of women to be healthy, independent, educated, and respected. But most of us would hesitate to call ourselves feminists, and that’s due to the unappealing dogma we’ve been hearing from self-proclaimed feminist leaders. Feminism may yet prove relevant in the US today, but it will need to re-consider what the most serious issues are currently facing women around the world. And that means thinking beyond bikinis and beauty pageants.




Well, I have to admit, now I'm the one who's baffled. I gave you an example of a local issue I care about as a feminist, and your response is to tell me the problem with feminists is that they don't care enough about the thing I just told you I'm concerned with, and they worry too much about issues that I've never mentioned.

Do you see a small error in logic here?

Over the weekend I saw a cartoon, I think it was in the NY Times (I read a lot of papers, so sometimes I get them criss-crossed), that expressed pretty much what you're saying, I think. There was a series of panels with an obviously poor woman holding a child and talking about her needs -- child care, equal pay, access to education, health insurance -- and another woman, wearing a shirt that said "feminist" on it was not paying attention. Then, in the final panel, the "feminist" turned away and said something about Augusta and the importance of making sure women could get into fancy golf clubs.

The cartoon infuriated me because it couldn't possibly be more dishonest. I pay a lot of attention to "women's issues" in the news. I read a lot of feminist news feeds. I’m a pretty alert and aware feminist, and I never heard of Augusta until the issue started turning up in men's blogs. It wasn't something feminists I know were paying any attention to. Men still have the loudest voices, you see, and they determine what is news, and what they decide are the important "women's issues" are often things active feminists care little or nothing about. I still haven't written anything about Augusta because I don't know or care much about it. I vaguely know that it has something to do with some women (or is it one woman?) who want to join a golf club and can't because of their gender. And if somebody asked me what I thought, I'd probably say, gee, that doesn't seem fair, but it's not the kind of unfairness that animates me. In the same way, if someone asked me what I thought of beauty pageants, I’d have to say I find them somewhat creepy and anachronistic. But unless someone else brings it up, the topic wouldn’t enter my head.

In the entire time I've worked on this blog, I think the only time I've mentioned beauty pageants was when some of the Miss World contestants threatened to back out of the pageant to protest the stoning sentence of Amina Lawal -- and that was to praise them for using whatever influence they had to call attention to a horrible injustice. (I'm less pleased with their decision to back off from the boycott -- and I wonder why they did so -- but I haven't written much about it because it's been hard to find information about it.) The only time I remember mentioning media images effecting women is when I wrote about something every woman I know with a young daughter was talking about -- the fact that the popularity of pop princesses like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera was influencing the kind of clothing that was available for girls, and that it was getting hard to find clothes for seven-year-olds that didn't make them look like tiny hookers. I have no doubt that you're no passive consumer of media images. You're old enough and wise enough to know better. But I am concerned -- as is every mother I know -- about the image the media is selling to small children.

It sounds to me as if your image of feminists comes not from reading or listening to feminists but from passively accepting what anti-feminists tell you.

What do real feminists really care about?

This week, the Feminist Majority Foundation is focusing on issues that have been centerpieces of its activism for a long time -- lobbying to expand the International Security Force outside of Kabul in order to protect the lives of Afghan women, and urging the president to release UNFPA funds which provide essential maternal and child health care around the world and which will be used for everything from fighting AIDS in Haiti to training midwives in Algeria.

NOW is highlighting things like protecting the Family Leave Act, getting out information about Wal-mart’s treatment of its employees (the majority of whom are women), and court rulings that threaten access to reproductive services.

NOW’s Legal Defense and Education Fund focuses primarily on poverty, violence against women, and how "welfare reform" effects women.

Ms. Magazine fronts an article on how the recent election results effect women’s issues, a profile of Dolores Huerta, the co-founder of the United Farmworkers Union, and an article on UNFPA. (You might see a pattern here -- access to health care for women in developing countries is a bit of an obsession with real feminists.)

If you comb through those feminist publications and organizations, you might find something buried in there about beauty pageants and golf courses, but it is far from the central issue. There may, for all I know, be feminist organizations obsessed with things like that. And if there are, all I can say is that isn’t my feminism, and it isn’t the feminism of women I know and work with.

If you pay attention to feminist theory and activism, and also read the mainstream media, you’ll quickly discover that one of the downsides of calling yourself a feminist is that powerful people lie about you. Daily. And since they have more power and louder voices than you do, most of the time they’ll get away with it.

It’s your choice whether you want to let them get away with it.

Take care,


Jeralyn Merritt’s Talk Left is on the short list of blogs I read everyday, even if I don’t really have time to read blogs. I do so partly because Jeralyn’s understanding of legal issues helps me make sense of so many things going on in the world today. But in all honesty, I read Jeralyn not just for information, but because her combination of intelligence and compassion are rare, and it gives me a little more faith in the world knowing that reasonable and decent people have some tools to slay the dragons.

It cheers me even more to know she’s passing on the tools. Today Jeralyn has a post up about her son Nic, a college senior, who is interning at Cardozo Law School Innocence Project and applying to law schools. It’s not just a piece on mom’s (well justified) pride. It’s a wonderful essay about passing important values on to children. I have an 18-year-old son, and while he’s nowhere near as far along the path to figuring out what he wants to do with his life as Nic is, I’ve had that same sense of pride and astonishment when I see my commitment to justice and compassion for others show up in him. It’s probably the best thing about being a mother.

You’ll hear politicians throw around the term "family values" all the time. But this is what family values are really about: passing on values like compassion and the genuine patriotism of believing the system can (and must) work. Our liberal family values -- when you think about it, they’re something to take enormous maternal (or paternal) pride in.

Monday, December 09, 2002

Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves (Part 3)
When I started adding the women who’ve been piling up in my "I really should add this one to my blogroll" list, I said I was going to almost double the number of women bloggers on the right. Actually, the number has increased a bit since then. There was an interesting side benefit to writing about women bloggers -- people started sending me names and URLs. Not bloggers asking to be put on the list, just readers who had other favorites they wanted to let me know about. I didn’t share the high opinion of all of them. A few were probably good, but wrote about things that just don’t interest me. But I was introduced to many good blogs that I never would have heard of (or would have taken a lot longer to find, at any rate) if I hadn’t raised the issue. Maybe it’s a reflection of one of those little pieces of women’s wisdom that gets handed around a lot: The first step in solving a problem is to start talking about it.

Some recent discoveries:

This Woman’s Work

Blog Sisters

Brief Intelligence


Just two days ago The Agonist linked to an Iraqi blogger. I’d seen the blog before, and found it intriguing, but wasn’t quite sure it was for real. Sean-Paul’s post made me a bit less suspicious that it was a hoax, and I decided I was going to follow it more carefully, and probably link to it. This morning I went to look at Where Is Raed and discovered that the blog has been shut down and its archives wiped out. Blogs disappear regularly, but this disappearance worries me.