Saturday, August 29, 2009

Health Care You Die; Torture Good

A week away across the midwest to Ohio. It was the first time I've watched television for a year and came away with that feeling one used to get in the sixties when ads were aimed at making you neurotic and anxious about your Bad Breath and Body Odor. Now one is assaulted with medicines for ailments I never heard of. From incontinence, female heart disease, erectile dysfuntion, and ringing in your ears. I thought 50 was the new 30 but you would never know from watching mid-50 year olds suffering from prostate and strange bladder diseases. You would think my generation is reaching crepitude at a blistering pace. And maybe we are.

The good news if this is our condition is that the Republicans tell us we are all going to die. not from Al Qaeda or jihadis, but from Obama's healthcare plan. Michael Steele reversed historical GOP position against medicare and issued a Bill of Health Rights for Seniors, which will preserve Medicare coverage and prevent the Democrats from summarily executing senior citizens through Death Panels. The GOP is warning fellow party members that the Democrats will be using party registration to deny Republicans healthcare. So it's best if everyone registers as an independent just in case. If you are a veteran, you're going to die because of the Democrats' Death Book, which advises serious ill veterans about their end of life options. And in case, you haven't gotten the message, the Democrats will put a government bureaucrat between you and your doctor. In fact, it's all going to be run like the DMV--which is actually run at a state level. If a public option is chosen, millions of Americans will lose their private health insurance and they too will die. Even John McCain argues that a public option will destroy the private health insurance industry. And the beat goes on. Real Republican members of Congress are saying on the floor that health care reform is going to kill people. There are actual members of Congress, not the public, who believe Government will intervene in Medicare--at the last notice this was a government-run program.

The birthers and Rush Limbaugh have raised a more serious threat--male circumcision. The birthers believe Obama is not circumcised--which would indicate what I'm not sure. Rush Limbaugh is afraid that under Obama's healthcare he would be cirumcised. All of this was heard in the background as the Center for Disease Control put out a report how circumcision would help control certain illnesses. Naturally, since a black man is President, he's going to sick Eric Holder on white males and shear off their foreskins.

This fear-mongering raises the delicate topic of Death itself. For a party, which is dominated by evangelical Christians and observant Jews, why would death actually be such an issue? If death is not the end, then isn't it worst to go bankrupt through illness and become incapacitated through catastrophic illness? Isn't the long-term effects of destitution on the future of one's family more horrifying than death itself? Let's face it--America is one of the least death obsessed cultures in the world and by talking about it the idea is to raise irrational fear. If you preserve the status quo, you live; if you change, you die. It doesn't matter that the insurance and drug companies are coining money at the people's expense because I'm still alive. And if you change the system,there might be unintended consequences which with long odds might, might result in you not gettting treatment for some obscure and relatively rare sickness.

I'm not sure I know where the Republicans are going with this. I know for sure if Republicans are returned to power, they will sure as shooting drastically cut Medicare and Social Security benefits in the name of cutting the deficit. Many such as John McCain and Newt Gingrich are on record, saying so. There is some archetype that still exists in the Republican Party, which causes an almost knee-jerk reflex to undo the safety net first created by Franklin Roosevelt. I had long thought that had passed. But the rhetoric these days from the base is even blaming Roosevelt for prolonging the Great Depression and arguing that Barack Obama is doing the same through the stimulus package and the increased deficits. There is little self-reflection here that Republicans historically are the big deficit-spenders, almost totally for political motives. In a time when it looks like the United States will be lingering around 10% unemployment for some time, people are naturally anxious, people are worried. So one political strategy is to exploit this anxiety and create real fear. However, if you create fear, you must have something to replace it with--so far the Republicans are found lacking.

Not lacking in entertainment value is the Great Glenn Beck. Dozens of sponsors are fleeing Beck show as he has turned up the amp of his rhetoric against Obama, who now is going to create civilian national security corps to implement policy from the census-taking to poll-watching. Beck, a self acknowledged recovering alcoholic, has been barking lately that he will go down with his ship and re-emerge on a larger stage--hinting that if his 9-12 project goes el floppo or violent Australian mogul will give him the heave-ho. Glenn Beck will then team up with his best fan Sarah Palin and tour the country as ther conservative's version of Elmer Gantry and Aimee McPherson. If you think his incoherence and misinformation is deliberate, it's not--he's that ignorant of political affairs and history. But, there is a role for a conservative/libertarian version of the Jerry Springer Show. I'm not sure Glenn Beck is the best choice but he is ably carrying on to sell atheist Tom Paine to the religous right. And his ratings are knocking off Bill O'Reilly. Alot of the reasons to watch is to guess when he's going to cry and if he is going to commit suicide, which is an unfortunate occurrence in his family. He's like Howard Beal in Network screaming ,"I can't take it anymore" with the cynical television producer checking his ratings. So, do, please keep asking questions.

The conservative movement has fully embraced the Radical Left. There are now seminars on Saul Alinsky's theories of organization for Town Hall conservatives. It seems Republicans got the idea that the entire Obama campaign could not have succeeded without the mastery of these Alinsky principles. Even side figures as movie star Jon Voight claims that Obama is governing based on Saul Alinsky's writings. A lot of this comes from the work done by the Republican Opposition Research on Hillary Clinton, whom they thought would ultimately secure the Democratic nomination. Secretary of State Clinton wrote her senior thesis on Alinsky. So why let 1,000s of pages go to waste. A spokesperson for the Alinsky Institute said, however,"We would never call Mayor Daley of Chicago a Nazi because our goal is to work with people in power." This obvious point has gone unnoticed.

Karl Rove--still avoiding jail--was out on the hustings this week to say that this year the Republicans would be defined as to what they are against. He claimed--presuming he would still have a say in the Party he wrecked--that in 2010 Republicans would define what they are for.

Meanwhile, the Dailykos, which uses the polling firm Research 2000, published a blog called " Political Re-Alignment on Steroids". The piece dissected the recent decline in Obama's polling and ascertained his and the Democrats' strengths according to region. The bottomline is that Obama's approval ratings are basically incredibly strong throughout the country, except in the South. The South, which constitutes 21% of the country, is the only region that shows Republican strength. Generic congressional questions show Republicans with slight leads over Democrats. Everywhere else Democrats have 5 to 1 leads over the generic Republican. Obama's approval rating among White Southerners is a dysmal 9%. With nation-wide approval of congressional Republicans only slightly above 12% or in other polls at about 20%, what appears from digging deep in the Research 2000 numbers is that the Republicans have become a regional party far faster than anyone realised. What is also occuring is that whatever support Republicans used to have among non-whites is vanishing at an even faster rate.

But if health care makes you die, torture makes you good. Eric Holder finally appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the cases of abuse by CIA personnel involved in the torture of detainees. In my opinion,this was inevitable if not necessary because of the obligations of the United States and once stated ideals of advancing human rights. Immediately, the CIA started their Beltway political maneuvering and started to beat the drum of morale falling. What about the morale of those intelligence personnel who thought torture was wrong and have carried out their difficult tasks within the law? I've never understood the morale issue of punishing people who did wrong. Our town paper, The Washington Post today tried to feed the old saw that torture works by publishing a long story about how Khalid Sheik Mohammed after being water-boarded a cosmic number of times became a solid citizen and turned to a new life as a lecturer to the interrogators and assembled military and intelligence personnel on the theology and strategy of Al Qaeda. This was to back up Dick Cheney's claim that everything we know about Al Qaeda comes from the torture program. He no longer argues that imminent threats were averted because the CIA Inspector General's report clearly states this isn't true. But it does say lives were saved--but nobody knows whether they could have been saved without torture. But that's enough to serve as talking points for Republican members on the Hill who have come to the defense of the CIA interrogators. Dick Cheney called these people professionals but the record is showing they had very little training and were often contractors who had no experience in interrogation.

I have doubts about Obama's new interrogation oversight panel, which will be located at the FBI. First, he got it right that the CIA has no experience in interrogation. Only the FBI and the military do and in the case of Al Qaeda, the most successful interrogations were conducted by the FBI without the use of torture. The most successfull actually involved given a diabetic terrorist a sugar-free cookie. But I have deep misgivings about the President of the United States actually being in charge himself of the interrogation program, reporting through his National Security Council. As we saw under Reagan, the National Security Council should not be a policy implementing body.

We end with the war in Afghanistan. No one should be surprised about the irregularities reported in the Afghanistan elections. Nor should one be surprised by the increased casualties taken by our military personnel. Rather one should raise questions of what is our ultimate purpose there. Only a few months ago General Petraeus confirmed what others had already reported--Al Qaeda was not there; it was in Pakistan. Do we want to nation-build and defeat a nationalist fundamentalist group, who have no international terrorism capabities or intent? Or are we after Al Qaeda? My fears are that Al Qaeda will eventually move out of Pakistan and set up shop once again in Yemen and Somalia. Because their ultimate goal is the liberation of Saudi Arabia and its sacred shrines. There is evidence now that at least with proxies this is taking place. But I suspect the leadership will move there as well. Then we will be pouring money and men into a war that like Iraq was peripheral to any war against terrorists.

Monday, August 17, 2009

A LUCKY CHILD

A colleague from a former lifetime expressed his relief that the United States no longer acted as the terrorists they were fighting. Judge Thomas Buergenthal, who now sits at the International Court of Justice in The Hague,claims the U.S. made the mistake of "assuming the only way to fight terrorism is to throw your values out the window. If we stuck to our values and own procedures, we could have achieved more without facing any of the problems we face now."

Judge Buergenthal enjoyed a distinguished academic career before he became the first U.S. judge of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, where he served as its President from 1989 to 1994. He later served on the UN Truth Commission for El Salvador from 1995 to 1999, where he investigated the history of human rights violations during that country's long civil war. In 2000 he joined the ICJ.

Now 75-years old, Judge Buergenthal recently published a memoir of his childhood spent in the Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz. He attributed his survival to luck, citing times when he slept with inmates who had diptheria but he never contracted it and other such moments which could have led to certain death. In his memoir,"A Lucky Child," he says he never faced survivor syndrome that has plagued many Holocaust survivors and that it was relatively easy writing the book after all these years. He did recall that his mother when asked to set down her recollections often broke down and wept at the memory of those horrible times. The book has an introduction written by Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel.

Judge Buergenthal made his remarks about the war on terror while in Australia where he shared a podium with Vicenzo Cerami, who wrote Life is Beautiful, the Oscar-winning film about an Italian boy who survives the Nazi death camps through the ingenuity and love of his father.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Obama's Townhalls

I have now viewed President Obama's townhall meetings at AARP, New Hampshire, Montana, and Colorado and wonder what the hubbub is about concerning healthcare reform. As he said in his last three townhalls eighty percent of the work on the healthcare bills has been done and the remaining needs to be negotiated out.

From the Left, there are cries that the single-payer system is not being considered. President Obama never campaigned on a single-payer platform either in the primaries of the general election. The Right has been disingenous from the very beginning about this,raising the specter of "socialized health care". But the more they argue the more I realize that probably is the right way to go if the United States can ever be a fully realized 21st century economy. The whole health care debate has brought forth in stark terms the reality that this is all about the enrichment of the so-called health insurance industry. With the economy cratering, the health insurance industry has been immune from the catastrophes affecting American lives. Their top executive earn salaries and stock options that exceed even productive elements of our society like say a Steve Jobs at Apple or someone who actually has done something worthwhile. The endless rate charges by the insurance companies--like Connecticut Blue Cross-Blue Shield's 35% hike--are unsustainable for a modern political economy. Where President Obama erred in his presentations was the claim that Blue Cross was a non-profit. It used to be but no longer.

So far, President Obama's presentations have dealt with the whole issue of small businesses and the range of reforms the insurance industry will have to make about excluding pre-existing conditions, caps on payouts, and a whole host of details that have eliminated millions of Americans from health care. So far so good. He really hasn't publicly talked about the insurance companies' near monopolistic practices in a variety of states. For instance, the state of Alabama and,I believe, Arkansas only have one company to insurance their entire states. He also hasn't talked about the situation in New Jersey where the insurance companies are not reimbursing providers for emergency room care. Yet, he has made considerable progress--more than anyone in recent memory on this vital issue.

The astro-turfing of anti-health reform issues is a sight to behold. The predominant class of people showing up to heckle members of congress and the President are senior citizens. In other words, people who are on Medicare, a government-run system. The whole demagogic claims by Republicans over euthanasia and death panels are aimed at senior citizens, who should be reminded that no Republicans ever voted for Medicare at its creation. And, in fact, the Republican long-term strategy is to eliminate Medicare, which I will get to. Another anti-health care group are the evangelicals or fundamentalists who are claiming that the bill would pay for abortions. Since the bill won't, it seems to me as a former Divinity School student that these so-called Christian sectarians are running straight against the teachings of the central figure in their religion. I just can't comprehend the religious motivation against providing healthcare for the poor, the indigent and now even the middle class.

President Obama in Colorado finally corrected what I have felt has been a long-standing error when he kept referring to inheriting a deficit of $1.5 trillion. Yesterday, he finally added the $10 trillion in structural deficit spending that had also been racked up over the last eight years. As he has made clear, if health reform isn't adopted, Medicare goes broke in eight years. He also chided his critics who are bemoaning the deficits but who passed Medicare B--the prescription drug plan--without having a way to pay for it. And, finally, he pointed out the same about the Iraq war, which was fought off budget--another $1 trillion which was not paid for.

So, let's go straight to the motives of those opposed. The Republicans have made it clear that they are banking on a revival by defeating health reform. They did this in the 1990s and believe it will work again. Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma let the cat out of the bag at his townhall meeting by saying he wants to eliminate Medicare and eventually wants to privatize Social Security like George W. Bush wanted. The long-term strategy of Republicans is to eliminate Medicare. Some estimate Medicare costs will add some $40 trillion to our national deficit over the decades. Prior to it runnng out of money, look to Republicans to seek drastic reductions in benefits and then to its elimination or some gimmick to privatize.

The funding by the insurance companies--some $245 million spent on lobbying this year alone--and their financial support to organizations organizing these rallies is aimed at only one thing--to eliminate any public option that will put a break on their profit margins. That's all. They want the big bonanza of an additional 42 million customers, subsidized by the American taxpayer, without any restraints on their monopolistic activities. That's the beginning and end of the insurance agenda. At some point, the divergence between the Republican and the insurance agenda will become obvious in the fall. Can the insurance companies continue to obstruct progress since they have already forecast a less properous future for themselves with no change?

As for President Obama's performance at these townhall meetings, can you imagine President Bush answering any policy questions in such detail--especially with real opponents in the crowd? Remember his meetings were tightly controlled and scripted events. Even those who dissented from his policies and managed to sneak in were arrested. In Colorado, three were jailed for having "no war for oil" bumperstickers.

President Obama has hit the points for reform in all his townhalls. We can not afford the status quo--literally. Millions more Americans are going without health insurance. Thousands are having to declare bankruptcies because of medical expenses. Even those with insurance are finding the cost of medical care not covered and sometimes deprived by the insurance companies. The insurance companies have no mechanism by which they can be kept honest. And, he has raised the unpleasant truth that we spent over $6,000 more per person than the closest industrialized country for healthcare, which produces worst results. In short, no, we don't have the best health care system in the world.

More devastating is the fact that over 6 million Americans will go abroad for medical care next year.

In all probability, a heath reform bill will pass this year. Not enough Blue Dog Democrats will have been intimidate by the mobs to back down. The real issue is what form a "public option" takes? As of today, the press has Obama backing away from the public option. Kathleen Sibelius said that it wasn't "essential" to the health reform plan and that President Obama would settle for an "insurance cooperative". Before everyone screams, we should wait and see what this means.

I'm for GEICOing medical insurance. The medical insurance would be sold on a national markewt not on a state-by-state basis and that all major medical insurers would participate. I'm also in favor a a regulatory commission, which would take complaints against insurance company by individual patients with the power to seek restitution. I am also in favor of a public option because otherwise the whole health reform becomes a massive TARP bailout for an already rich industry.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Late Evening Coffee

Glenn Beck's neighbors in New Canaan ,Connecticut are squawking that he wants to raise the fences around his multi-million dollar home to eight feet in violation of the local zoning rules. I humbly suggest they just burn the home down as part of urban renewal. Beck, Newt Gingrich, and the whole crew of death panelists have targeted medical ethicist and oncologist Ezekial Emmanuel as the alleged mastermind of this fiendish plot. Emmanuel doesn't own a television and loathes the internet so he went off on vacation to Italy to do some mountain hiking. Glenn Beck, taking a page out of the Sarah Palin disabled relative handbook,cited his sister who suffers from cerebral palsy as one of those Emmanuel would euthanize. The problem here is that Emmnual's sister also has cerebral palsy.

If you read an account of his career in Time magazine, he is almost the opposite of who he has been portrayed--someone who has actively opposed euthanasia and is one of the leading ethicists about truly complex medical matters. Mr. Nazi is in fact an Israeli-American citizen. What's troubling about this is not just the falsehoods but the fact that the target of these attacks is simply the opposite person his critics portray.

The celebration of ignorance has become the hallmark of Glenn Beck. He warned his viewers that the wildly successful cash-for-clunkers program will enable the government to invade your computer. Something--as the way the program is designed--would be virtually impossible.

Not to be outdone, a Republican congressman from Georgia claims Nancy Pelosi wants to declare martial law. This would as interesting a constitutional turn as Dick Cheney ordering the military to invade Buffalo. Of course, Cheney actually wanted to do just that. Where were the Republicans when the Bush Administration threatened Congress they would have to declare martial law if the bank TARP funds were not approved? When the financial system collapsed in the fall, Secretary of the Treasury Paulson visited the Hill and told both the Senate and House banking committees that the situation was so dire martial law would have to be declared. At least now maybe Obama will get around to it.

Obama still hasn't killed Stephen Hawkings. In fact today he awarded him the Medal of Freedom. The claims that the British medical system would terminate someone like Stephen Hawkings provoked the scientist to come out in full-throated support of the UK Health System, which he credits as having prolonged his life. American attacks against foreign health care systems in the current debate have provoked interesting backlashes. Canada conducted its own poll about their system and found that between 80-90% give it high ratings. More pointedly, a poll of Canadians revealed that the most important historical figure in the country was in fact the man who invented the national health system.

More odd news. Next year over 6 million Americans will be leaving the country to seek medical treatment abroad--something we haven't heard in the so-called health debate. The figure is expected to grow in the years ahead. likewise, hundreds of thousands of Americans live abroad because of they have pre-existing conditions and can not get health insurance in America.

The Ed Show had a disturbing segment on the Southern Poverty Law Center's report on the rise of the militia movement. The panel included former Rep. Istook, now at the Heritage Foundation, who did the moral equivalence line that there exist kooks on both sides--Left and right. He made sure to throw in the Unabomber and the anarchist demonstrations against the World Bank. He said one constituent of his threatened him and was prosecuted--the man wanted marijuana decriminalized. The editor of the Huffington Post was also strange in saying that Barack Obama helped create the situation because of the bank bailouts and the stimulus pacakage didn't create a sense of fairness. And Ed went wimpy by asking the White House correspondent if there was anything the White House can do to calm these people. The entire panel just minimized the report and simply wrote off these people as a small fringe element.

Stay tuned folks because it's only going to get worst and the media is going to be oblivious until too late. I have been writing about the birthers since I began this blog. Only in the last month has the so-called corporate media paid any attention to this group and their conspiracy theory. The fact that a plurality of Republicans believe them should be alarming. What was interesting about the ED Show was the absence of any discussion about the report's finding that the militia ideology has become mainstream with the Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs and others. That was what they found troubling. Of course, none of this was mentioned.

The Second Wave--The Return of the Militias

The Southern Poverty Law Center has issued its August update on the status of militias in the U.S. The report by Mark Potok reports that after a period when they faded ,weakened by systematic prosecutions and splits within ranks,the militias have re-emerged. Law enforcement agencies report they are seeing the most significant growth in 10-12 years and believe it's just a matter of time before we see threats and violence. The new twist to the Patriot movement is that because of immigration and a new black President they have become racialized. The SPLC also points out that so-called mainstream politicians and media figures have been helping spread Patriot and related propaganda from conspiracy theories about a secret network of U.S. concentration camps and wholly false claims about President Obama's country of birth.

Law enforcement authorities are concerned that militiamen, white supremacists, anti-Semites, nativists, tax protesters and others of the radical right are now cross-pollinating and may even be coalescing. One law enforcement figure said:"All it's lacking is a spark. I think it's only a matter of time before you see threats and violence." In recent months,men with pro-militia views have committed a series of high-profile murders--including the billings of six law enforcement officers since April.

The killer of Dr. Tiller in Kansas was a man steeped in the ideology of the "sovereign citizens"movement. These citizens are people who subscribe to an exotic ideology, or constitutional theory, originated by Posse Comitatus in the 1980s. Whites are a higher kind of citizen--subject only to 'common law", not the dictates of the government--while blacks and others are mere "14th Amendment citizens" who must obey their government masters. Most of these people contend they do not have to pay taxes and are not subject to most laws. Dr.Tiller's killer picked up his ideology while being a member of the Montana Freeman. His wife said he had been in such debt that he gravitated to this ideology because he understodd he would not have to pay income taxes. He also had been previously stopped by police for having a sovereign citizen license plate.

Since February, the FBI have launched a national operation targeting white supremacists and the "militia/sovereign citizen extremist groups". These people engaged in what is called "paper terrorism" such as filing unjustified property liens and setting up pseudo-legal "common law courts" and "citizens grand juries". You might have seen the grand juries in action with Orly Taitz and the birther movement. In March, authorities raided a Las Vegas printing firm where meetings of the "Sovereign People's Court for the United States" were conducted in a mock courtroom. Seminars taught how to use phony documents and other illegal means to pay off creditors. Four people were arrested on money-laundering , tax and weapons charges.

Alot of the "sovereign "talk appears in alot of the propaganda of the tea baggers and on right-wing talk radio ,often without any awareness of its origins and the groups who created it. More worrisome according to the Southern Poverty Law Center is the emergence of the Oath Keepers, a military and police organization that was formed earlier this year and mustered on the Lexington Green. Members vow to fulfill the oaths to the Constitution that they swore when they were in the military or police. They claim they are faithful to the constitution , not to politicians.

The founder is Yale Law School Student Stewart Rhodes, a former aide to Ron Paul, who believes the day is coming that we will face a full-blown tyranny and that this can only occur if "our brothers in arms" go along." One of the Oath Keepers posted a video on the group's blog claiming he was an Afghanistan and Iraq vet and described President Obama as "an enemy of the state", adding," I would rather die than be a slave to my government."

One of the most interesting points of the SPLC report is that claim that Oath Keepers is making inroads in current law enforcement circles. The group reports that the leak of the Department of Homeland Security's report on right-wing terrorism was a sworn law enforcement agent in contact with the Oath Keepers.

The report points out that a truly remarkable aspect of the antigovernment movement is the extent that they are gaining support from elected officials and the mainsteam media. They point to the 10th Amendment movement where the re-assertion of states' rights has hit 36 states. We all saw Rick Perry of Texas flirt with secession, an idea first raised by the militia movement in the 1990s. Michele Bachman raised the specter of President Obama planning "reeducation camps for the young", a service program which ironically her son joined without telling her. Alabama representative Spencer Bachus warned of 17 socialists in Congress. And, of course, the insurrectionist leader himself, Glenn Beck calls Obama a fascist, a Nazi and a Marxist and widely publicized the militia movement's conspiracy theory that Obama has set up a country-wide network of FEMA camps to be used as concentration camps. The report also cites Lou Dobbs embrace of the Aztlan conspiracy, where Mexican illegals are being salted so that our Southwest will be taken back by Mexico, and as well as his support for the birthers.

During the Sotomayor confirmation hearings, conservative politicians claimed that the judge was linked to La Raza and hence a supporter of the Aztlan conspiracy. Sadly, La Raza had to respond that they did not support this concept. Colorado representative Tom Tancredo was the most visible spouting this view as he appeared on all major networks.

David Holthouse analyzes the morphing of the nativist vigilante groups adopting the ideas of the Patriot movement. Minuteman outposts along our southern border have been amplifying the broadcasts of ResistNet and other Patriot Network programs into their base camps. Undocumented illegal immigration sparked by the Original Minuteman Project of 2005 but now these organizations appear to be emerging as the new paramilitary wing of the resurgent Patriot Movement. While immigration flows have dropped dramatically across the border because of the deep recession, paramilitary exercises and rallies have increased. The Minutemen now believe there are larger problems beyond immigration, namely a potentitally totalitarian government, driven by an illegitimate president, bent on seizing all firearms, trampling the Constitution and imposing a fascist-socialist system on a docile population.

At Campo Minutemen, the fight song is the "Tea Party Anthem", which goes like this: "Mr. President! Your stimulus is sure to bust/It's a socialist scheme./The only thing it will do?Is kill the American Dream." This sentiment has led to Minutemen groups distributing a sovereign "citizen complaint petition" demanding Obama appear before an "American Grand Jury" to answer charges of treason. If the words are familiar, it's because you've seen them in the birther literature.

The Minuteman's defacto leader now is Jeff Schwik, the head of their San Diego Branch, a man known for his confrontational tactics and his hard-line views. In mid-April, he announced the formation of the Patriot Coalition, made up of 23 organizations, including Minuteman factios, tax-protest groups, pro-gun rights and two anti-immigration organizations. No longer were they just going to resist "the invasion from Mexico" but also the "socialist takeover" of America. The press release described their common cause under the motto "Secure Borders, Constitution and Rule of Law". It went on to say that "patriotic and Constitutional American grassroots groups" had come together to "fight the growing threats to our region and to the taxpaying American citizens." Schwik declared,"Revolution is brewing!".

To put the other pieces of the political puzzle together to include the Christian Idenity, neo-nazi movements and the white supremacists and the neo-confederates, I highly recommend Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream by Leonard Zeskind( Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2009, $37.50). This is an extraordinary piece of work that covers the white nationalist movement for the last three decades. The author has been a persistent student of the international racialist movement, including the field of Holocaust deniers. He wrote the book as a warning with the hopes the subject would remain obscure and not relevant to our present reality. Unfortunately, Zeskind outlines exactly how the themes of these movements have almost become acceptable to elements in Washington, particularly the conservative movement and elements within the Republican Party.

What I found particularly important in Zeskind's book is his analysis of the sociology of this movement--the fact there has been highly educated and accomplished people in its ranks and is predominantly not of the lower classes. What most observers and critics maintain is that these people are on the fringe--true--but they suggest somehow they are ignorant because of a lack of education. The problem is that they have considerable abilities and often high education levels and that's why they are dangerous.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Has Obama Killed Stephen Hawkings Yet?

The title is taken from the Investor Business Daily's assertion that the National Health Care System in Britain would terminate the life of someone as disabled as physicist Stephen Hawkings because he would not be considered valuable to society. The lesson was that Obama's Health Care reform would create the same situation in the United States. A problem--the great scientist is still alive as of this writing and continues to live in the United Kingdom where he has been all his life unmolested by the health police.

Stephen Moore's Club of Growth has been placing ads that say that the same British health care system terminates life when the medical bill hits $22,500. Maybe the British embassy should refute some of these little tales out of school. Much to my disappointment President Obama said he had no such plan to create the vaunted death panels so the bureaucrats would sit behind desks and judge disabled and crippled patients wheeled to defend their right to life.

For a political person such as myself, how is one to grabble with the lunacy pouring forth not only on this issue but every issue since the fall elections? The late, great Bayard Rustin, a friend and one of our greatest civil rights leaders, used to say whenever there was some black foolishness "When the brothers go, they really go." Maybe I should channel the smidgin of Cherokee blood and just say,"Those white people are just CRAAZZZYY." Because I can find no entry into the so-called political discourse. My son asked me to explain a comment by one of the frothing screamers at a health townhall meeting. I told him there was none--there was no discernible reason behind their statement.

Here we have the first President in my son's life that he can look up to--a young, classy guy with a touch of the nerd and articulate as hell--surrounded by a country I don't recognize. It's almost like President Obama is the only adult in a room that is peopled by whiners and complainers who all have more privilege and wealth than 90% of the country and now believe they are victims. Should my son be taught that America has gone insane?

Or maybe my attitude should be as a foreign correspondent or anthropologist watching a fascinating human society that on the surface defies our understanding of community. In this way, the current rhetoric would lack the emotive force to enrage. Instead from the observer's vantage point, we would watch with detachment some modern ritual of sacrificing the leader. These detached moments have traditionally failed. One only has to read V.S. Naipul's accounts of the South to know the outsider often fails to comprehend the magnitude of our derangement.

Perhaps imagining a writer's style will do it. Hunter Thompson would have loved today with the strange peoples dotting the terrain. What would he do with a conservative movement that takes its directives from an Australian paperbaron married to a Chinese woman and a woman who claims the President isn't an American, who is herself from Moldova and regularly gives interviews to Pravda? The whole term astro-turfing would probably end up to be one of his ESPN columns. But Hunter isn't appropriate. He amped up the quirks and visuals of the established figures of the 1970s and 1980s so we could see how truly depraved and bizarre they were, even while most people thought they were straight. Everyone today is over the top,you can't hype their style to make them any more real or understandable. And, poor Marshall McCluhan, television is no longer the cool medium--it's hot now. That's why I believe Obama appears a classic figure--he's cool and comfortable, while everyone else on the tube is amped.

Hunter won't do. James Ellroy might be appropriate for the hinky doings within the powerdrome but he too would fall short. A surprise candidate for capturing the full panorama of American madness might be Carl Hiassen. Carl's journalism has covered in microcosm some of the demented as it affects Florida, a state that almost becomes cutting-edge in the realm of mundo bizarro. Pythons freed into the Everglades; pension funds invested by the Governor in Lehman Brothers, which just vanish along the firm itself, 32-story condo buildings with a sole occupant because the real estate market has gone bust. Ghost towns of developments left by owners who would rather just give up the second home than pay the mortgage. His style, particularly his humor, might be the best antidote to the current madness.

It would be nice to say--It's all America. It's all good. But it isn't.

Should Conservatives Go Straight to Armed Struggle?

Less than 24 hours from the last post, we have more claims about the Health Insurance Reform bill. This time the federal government is going to have access to your bank account (which they already have under the old Bush laws) and will tap your bank account to pay for Health reform. To be frank, this is a variation of my idea that federal hackers raid corporate acounts in tax havens to pay for the deficit--an idea I still support. A man openly carrying a gun with a sign "Death to Tyrants" appears near President Obama's Health Care townhall meeting. because the audience was well-behaved, our corporate media claimed the audience was hand-picked despite the Republicans the President called on. They liked Arlen Specter's townhall meeting where people screamed loudly, covering the gamut of issues such as how innocent lives will be lost when Guatanamo will be closed. Naturally, we had the office of a black Democrat in Georgia covered with swastikas--was this an advertisement for the perpetrator or a delirious accusation that now blacks are Nazis. It could go either way.

What's great is that Liberty College talking points on the health care reform bill were posted and made like they were really referring to a real text. Thank God, they point out that ACORN will get special discounts on their health care. ACORN as we all know rigged both the Presidential election and the Minnesota Senate race. One of the best statements came from a town hall in Missouri where one of the protestors claimed illegals would get heath care and take it back to their home country. Cool.

Part of the subtext of the manufactured outrage throughout the election period and through the pseudo issues raised from the day Obama became President is that the Left had all the fun in the 1960s and 1970s and the conservatives sat back and just took it. How does one explain the infatuation with Bill Ayres? Conservatives resent the fact that Bill Ayres didn't go to jail and has created a career as an educator. Currently, there are efforts under way to try and deprive him of his tenured position. Most amusing to me is the right's belief that the Rosetta Stone for understanding the Obama Administation is Saul Alinsky and his Rules for Radicals. Part of this is because the RNC did a large opposition research project on Hillary Clinton, who did her thesis on Saul Alinsky, so they can't let good material go to waste. Rules for Radicals is the new bible for World Net Daily and a virtual playbook to understand the Obama Administration. Rewind to the campaign when Alinsky's son was interviewed about this and he started laughing uncontrollably explaining that his father had died before Obama was even a teenager and he knew of no connection.

A right-wing website published an article last night that claimed the Left were not able to mount violent protests anymore and taunted to the Left as if the Right is finally going to even the score for what?--Vietnam, Watergate, Abortion, Drugs, Welfare, Iraq? If you look at the protesters at the townhall meetings they are basically aging Baby Boomers, some of whom may have moved from the left to the right as they aged. Others were those who felt they missed out on the 60s and 70s because "they lives responsibly"--the silent majority.

The new twist is really religious. Terry Randall of Operation Rescue vowed violence if the Health Care Bill paid for abortions. Of course, there is an explicit amendment prohibiting this. But Rev. Huckabee with his sweetest sincere voice urged all pro-lifers to work against the Healthcare Bill because it did fund abortion and that Obama was the most radical pro-abortion President we have ever had. (A note--the Left is a bit miffed because Obama keeps putting pro-lifers in the Administration on health care issues. I agree with this concern.) Huckabee went on to say that Obama is for partial-birth abortions, late-term abortions and, I expected to hear, post-birth abortions. At today's townhall meeting, a Republican started asking the President a question reciting his alleged positions in his earlier career--as if the man has not listened at all for the past several months.

I received an e-mail basically declaring war on the govermment, "which has turned socialist"--certainly one of the most amazing transformations in world history, and calling for the people to take the government back from the current Administration. This is a common theme these days about conservatives wanting "their country back." Josh Marshall at www.talkingpointsmemo.com had snarky comeback,"Can't you wait your turn?"

But I think it comes from a number of reactions to both demographic and ideological changes in the country. Conservatives are very crestfallen that the Holy War against Islam has been --at least rhetorically--dismantled, even though the counter-terrorism programs have been beefed up. Few of us really undestood how George W. Bush really was the culimination of conservatives' dream and ideal of a born-again Christian , who was totally devoted to deregulation and to corporate interests and willing to launch an endless war against islamic terrorism. After the Cold War ended, conservatives felt a deep vaccuum in their lives, which became momentarily replaced by the events of 9-11. Recall Glenn Beck's glycerine tears about "how 9-11 brought us all together" and how we should all unite again on 9-12 this year. Conservatives feel now that they are the "dispossessed white people", a prominent theme of both white and Christian nationalists since the 1990s. Of course, the fact that white control all primary financial and political institutions in this country doesn't quite seem to count.

The Republican vote against Judge Sotomayor--a moderate despite conservatives' complaints--looks suicidal except that Republicans are cynically banking on white outrage to propel them back into being political players. But to stay in tune with this fanatical base, Republicans have to start creating structures to accomodate the insurrectionary rhetoric of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and other right wing radio hosts. The last I looked calling for insurrection was against federal law. I know Thomas Jefferson called for a revolution each generation but we never took that seriously. Sort of like Glenn Beck not acknowledging his hero Tom Paine was an atheist.

Demographically, the tide is going against conservatives and their strange religious brethren. So far, we have been asked to endorse torture because Obama opposed, asked to keep Quantanamo open because closing will send a sign of weakness, asked to oppose the auto bailout because the car industry should fail, oppose the stimulus package because it would increase federal intrusion into the affairs of the states, support the 10th Amendment Movement because it will block Washington's--read Obama's reach, block health care reform (after bills have already been passed and simply have to be reconciled)because of --fill in the blank-- and protest Obama's tax increases, although people like myself have gotten tax cuts.

In my view, the Republican Party needs to develop an armed wing. I suggest calling it the Revolutionary Army of Baby Jesus after the terrorist group in the Luis Bunuel movie with Fernando Rey. This would allow them to at least exert some control over the people carrying arms into townhall meetings. There is a surreal--is the right word for it--triumphalism of the Right these days--a Devil May Care type of vanguardism, which used to show up in the Marxist Left, when they argued the greater repression by Nixon would lead to a general revolt. There is a lot of this going around and will lead to deadly events. The white masses will rise up and save the Christian nation. If you don't think this isn't being fomented, just wait and see the reaction to the immigration reform legislation when the draft bills are posted. The Left keeps thinking this is a reflection of racism and the fact certain people can't get over a black man--albeit one descended from the Mayflower--is President. Also, that white are seeking to preserve their privileged positions in society and now feel threatened.

It's far more complex than that. The radical religious right believes America is degenerate and must be purged ofits sinful nature. For them, the United States was created as a Christian nation and to lead to the triumph of Christianity across the globe. The last, best hope for mankind must impose its will across the globe and at home. When the Republicans lost power in both Congress and the Presidency, there was big bucks at stake. The Bush Presidency created $500 billions worth of grants for contractors and non-profits, which shared similar goals. It's no mistake that even the security contracts went to followers of the radical religious right. This has been unhinged and all these people have become unhinged as a result. Elections do have consequences but the radical religious right will not countenance this. Because they are Christianists, not Christians; they are in for the politics and the power.

Those like myself who believed the din would die down after a few months; that the Republicans would have been chastened by their role in creating the worst economic situation since the Depression and structurally probably worse; that they would sober up to play a constructive role as the loyal opposition, were the ones who are deluded. The endless deep pockets of the corporate world can pay for the teabaggers, the birthers, the deathers and all the extremes for a prolonged period of time. The question is whether the morale and stamina of the people being mobilized last that long. Will defeat after defeat finally break their morale? After if it does, then will this really lead to a new generation of Tim McVeighs?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Obama Death Panel

I've volunteered for the Obama Death Panel. Hopefully, Dr. Kervorkian will oversee the implementation of the orders. Obviously it's true because Newt Gingrich told us so this morning. And I remember in 1994 when Newt said to me," Conservatives are tethered to the truth." Apparently, the tether has come loose and the balloon is floating up into the sky. We all know that the government is going to take over all the hospitals and medical services so that we will wait in long lines like getting into an Obama rally and have our health care rationed.

Pat Robertson says that health reform will pay for sex-changes. I'm surprised they aren't mandatory because we know that fiendish President of ours is a racist. Sometimes he hates the white part of him; sometimes the black part of him. And while we wait in line to have our sex change, government agents under the command of Attorney General Eric Holder will confiscate all our guns. Abortions will be paid with funds in the Health Reform bill. Women enjoy abortions so much that they can't get enough of them and want them on demand. If your congresscritter holds a meeting, make sure you get right up in his or her face and tell them they lying. Better yet, scream,"Read the Bill!" Those damn guys haven't read a bill since they microscopically read every article of the Patriot Act because it concerned putting people like the peace demonstrators in Takoma Park and the Sierra Club on the terrorist list. The Sierra Club people are very dangerous. I think they even squawked when Dick Cheney killed all the Salmon by damming the Klamanth to help Republican farmers. For the record, I have read the House bill and you can too unless you're too lazy and trust the GOP to get it right.

I just don't know how we stand all the tax hikes. I'm going broke but that Obama cut my taxes this year as well as for 98% of Americans. So now I have myself to blame. But,I'm blaming him anyway. He did raise the cigarette taxes even though he's a fellow-traveller. Knowing him, he'll get the government to interfere with Medicare and Tricare, the insurance for military veterans. Leave our medicare alone! We know the government can't even run the Senate cafeteria or the Post Office. Why do you think they can run healthcare? At least the private sector got us to the Moon and won World War II and built the interstate highway system and invented the internet. and created the atomic bomb. Has government even created a single, lousy hulahoop?

By Thursday, the unions gave out marching orders to attend the congresscritters' town hall meetings. It's just like Nazi Germany. We can't even have mobs disrupt meetings without the Democrats complaining. Mitch McConnell thinks this is going so well it means the Republicans are winning. Winning what? The GOP townhall meetings are so much more classier--they held in Germany, Austria and Israel. Is that cool or what?

Finally Jesus arrived to condemn the healthcare reform. Evangelicals are mobilized en masse on this issue because why do you need health care, when Jesus heals. I mean God created the government--I wonder in what year and how. And the good news--English for gospel--is that Jesus is an Aryan and a capitalist. The Family told me so and they will take over the government and run it like Blackwater. At least the guys there can get blowjobs for a buck. It pays to be a Crusading Christian. It's great that Jesus retracted his statement that rich men will have as hard time getting into heaven as camels going through an eye of the needle. He really didn't mean it. He was having a hard day. Now why would alleged Christians have a problem with death? Death where is thy sting? and all that. Maybe Jesus retracted that statement,too. With all the Godly fornicators and torturers lately,Christians are taking it the chin. Chris Hedges could not do a better job of turning people away from God than our fundamentalist crew. Even Diaper Dan Vitters has weighed in again on family values and how Obama, who happens to have the perfect nuclear family and even goes out on dates with his real wife,is destroying our way of life. I thought the North beating the South destroyed your way of life, Congressman.

I want my country back. I imagine alot of native Americans would say the same thing. And what country was that, exactly? And whose was it exactly? Francis Schaeffer, one of the founders of the religious right, has repented and now warns against the subversive nature of the religious right and says they hate America. Francis' father was the one who coined the phrase "taking back America" for Jesus. Schaeffer now claims the religious right want to overthrow the present order from inside in the name of God. With their champion George W. Bush out, times have become more urgent and the Religious Right must summon its power to destroy Barack Obama. Hence he becomes the "anti-Christ", a video "proving" this was circulated last week, or Hitler, which actually produces a more visceral reaction. What Francis argued--quite rightfully--on the Rachel Maddow show was that the Religious Right has placed a loaded revolver on the table, waiting for someone to pick it up.

We've seen a few pick up the gun recently. The two killers in Pittsburgh, the killer of Dr. Tiller, the Holocaust Memorial killer and , of course, the dirty bomb Neo-nazi in Belfast ,Maine. Having lived through this before,all this noise--the birthers, the deathers, Obama "the Socialist","the Muslim","the Nazi","the Foreigner"--is meant to create the atmosphere, the noise, the fog that triggers an assassination attempt. The thin membrane between the Christian/White nationalists and the Republican party has all but disappeared. Joe McCarthy's heir, Michelle Bachman has urged her constituency to become armed and dangerous over the issue of health care. What a truly pathetic end to this country if our President were killed over health care reform?

I would like to hear someone in the clowncar finally acknowledge that Obam is a direct descendent of Henry Blossom of the Mayflower or related to Wild Bill Hitchcock. You will never hear it. It is amazing that all these maniacs have never once listened to Obama. That was true during the democratic primaries, the general election and now. There is not one accurate thing said by the republicans and their radical fringe camp followers--now leaders--have said about Barack Obama either about his character or his policy. It is truly astonishing that truth has long abandoned the conservatives and the republicans. The reason they can not engage or won't with the Administration is because they have long abandoned any pretence of basing policies on facts or the truth.

It is too bad. At some moment we will need a reasonable alternative political force so that there can be serious reflection on the impending threats of the deficits in the next few years. It would foolhardy of Democrats to even enter discussions with Republicans now on any issue because they do not want to help Americans and can offer nothing but nihilism for the future.

Remember, kids, "the Kingdom of God is within you." and not on "C"Street. Isn't it sad that the Dinosaurs died so our children can't play with them anymore?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

If you are young and interested in human rights, I suggest you choose a country or people you are interested in and forget all about whether there is any political interest in the United States about their cause and just concentrate on them. Human rights as a field has become so institutionalized and corporatized and dominated by specialists ,sometimes we forget why we became involved in the subject at all and why it is paramount to maintain a deep empathy with those people to whom we relate. Many of the causes I am still involved in date back over twenty years, sometimes longer, and all have maintained their interest to me because of the marvelous people I have met and encountered. Even during very dark days for them, they have maintained relationships and often these have extended to families. In recent years, in fact, I have focused on causes and people that have never engaged the interest of political United States or are removed from some grand strategic design.

One example of how individual interest can make a difference was the case of East Timor. In the 1970s and 1980s, a Washington lobbyist on other matters took a deep and almost obsessive interest in the fate of East Timor. This man was named Bruce Cameron. He would slowly make contact with every possible congressional office of importance and distribute information about human rights violations in the former Portuguese colony, which had been annexed by Indonesia. It wasn't that he was met with hostility; he was met for years with indifference. But after a long time, suddenly the issue of East Timor's independence became the issue and the wider human rights community and foreign policy think tanks became involved. But alot of what was accomplished in large part I attribute to Bruce's lonely but pioneering efforts.

So, today we should honor another such person--Eric Reeves, a professor of literature at Smith College and author of "A Long Day's Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide". A classmate of mine at William College, Eric was a supreme philosophy student and cut a figure like Ludwig Wittgenstein on campus. During the college year, our student body--despite being distracted by Cambodia and Vietnam--came the aid of a southern Sudanese student, whose father had been killed in the then civil war. Whether Eric's later interest in the Southern Sudan came from the plight of Mom Arou at Williams I do not know. Before the entire global community embraced the cause of Darfur, Eric was one of only a few voices sounding alarm about the deteriorating situation in southern Sudan and warning about imminent genocide. At one point, he took a leave of absence from his tenured position at Smith to write about the subject, cajole and plead non-governmental organizations and our government to take action.

In an op-ed in the Boston Globe www.boston.com on August 6, Eric warned about a false optimism on Darfur. He has been right so many times before on the issue so these warnings should be heeded. He notes that the policy debate within the Obama Administration is still intense and that US special presidential envoy Scott Gration, a person close to the President, had argued for the normalization of relations with Khartoum and lifting sanctions and removing Sudan from the State department list of terrorist-sponsoring states. In June Gartion had blundered in saying that genocide in Dafur had ended.

Reeves was alarmed by this testimony. He points out that Khartoum has never lived up to any of its agreements; Egypt and China are still both obstacles to progress; and any ceasefire would demand robust monitoring of the sort that can not be provided by the current UN/African Union peacekeeping force, which is undermanned, underequipped and now has lost the confidence of most Darfuris. On March 4, Khartoum expelled 13 vital international humanitarian organizations and the Obama Administration, according to Reeves and others I have talked to, sadly underestimates the difficulty in generating new capacity on the humanitarian front as we hit the high point in the rainy season and a number of the camps face grave health and sanitation crises. Even in the camps, security is a tenuous, women still face rape, men are tortured and murdered and looting is epidemic.

There simply is no capacity to oversee what Gartion has talked about the "voluntary" return of some 2.7 million dispalced persons languishing in the camps throughout Darfur. They are being asked to return to lands without any protection and land which has already been seized by Arab tribal groups. The infamous Janjaweed have not been disarmed and continue to pose a threat.

Finally, Eric Reeves argues that Gration himself shows absolutely no understanding through his public statements that he comprehends the brutal nature of the regime that rules the Sudan and that they simply can not be cajoled or rewarded to do the right thing. Eric concludes," Any rapprochment that is not preceded by clear and irreversible actions to establish unimpeded humanitarian access, create freedom of movement and deployment for peacekeepers, and meet the critical benchmarks of the north/south peace agreement is doomed to fail." Unfortunately, Eric is right.

But we would not know this or have such advocates for the people of Darfur if Eric Reeves many years ago did not throw himself into the issue. What is most troubling is Washington's endless blindness to how crucial it is in zones of humanitarian crises to insert,sustain and maintain a capacity for humanitarian organizations to service the needs of the displaced, the refugees, the threatened. It is a sure recipe for more death and disaster.

Follow-up tributes to Doug Payne

Thanks to all who responded to the news of Doug Payne's death. In the world of the internet, some of the responses were surprising, especially the locations. A colleague of ours, remembering Doug's human rights work in Central and Latin America, e-mailed me from an out island of the Phillippines as a typhoon hit. The name for the typhoon Doug would have appreciated--Angela Jolie. Moose Kaplan called from Paris to recall Doug visiting his English class in the Bronx and entering his primarily Hispanic classroom, who enjoyed Doug's stories. One e-mail was from Singapore.

Calling through his laptop was George Zarycky, the current USAID Director for Democracy Programs in Armenia. George for many years wrote all the country reports on Central Europe and the former Republics of the Soviet Union for Freedom House's Survey of Freedom. I guess he had survived his work in the Ukraine, probably stirring up the Orange Revolution.

Others e-mailed about his work for indigenous people and particularly those marginalized or dispossessed in our world. And of course mention was made to his comprehensive view of the Caribbean and its politics.

I tried to tally up the number of heads of state Doug and I had met either separately or together. This did not include guerrilla leaders or opposition political party leaders. I stopped at four dozen a piece. What was striking about this was that I don't recall Doug ever expressing any admiration for any of them. And to be frank, I can only think of Vaclav Havel and the Dalai Lama as the two admirable figures I have met and for whom I have continued respect. I think alot of it has to do with a mutual awareness that politics is by nature corrupt and corrupting.

A few things I omitted in my tribute to him. I forgot he organized the improbable trip of Mayor Ed Koch through Central America in support of the Arias Peace Plan. Nobel Peace Prize winner Oscar Arias thought it was hilarious that Mayor Koch showed up at the presidential palace wthout any socks on, while wearing dress shoes. He had run out of clean socks but that didn't deter Hizzoner. I was also called to task by one of Doug's friends for not mentioning that Doug visited Cuba to assist the democratic underground and human rights activists there by travelling through the Bahamas as a tourist. In the process, he decided to travel throughout the island, particularly the rural areas.

In my last e-mail to him, I sent a declaration by Eden Pastora, "Commandante Cero"the famed Sandinista guerrilla, then anti-Sandinista guerrilla and shark hunter, who vowed to come out of retirement to liberate Honduras from the golpistas. He quipped,"Whose going to be Commadante Uno?" We sponsored a trip for Eden Pastora to New York and Washington during the heat of the Central American wars and Doug and I had to finesse Pastora away from running off for dalliances with some of the female journalists, whom he was always trying to seduce. We caught the Commandante flagrante delicto with a journalist on top of the conference table in a small meeting room at Freedom House.

It's important to remember that when Doug started work on Latin America he knew next to nothing about it, except his fine appreciation of magical realism, and in a few short years became an authentic expert with a comprehensive knowledge of its politics and culture. He was sought out over the years for background briefings by many well-known journalists, some of whom capitalized on his knowledge and his contacts to keep their sputtering careers going. He was widely quoted and interviewed on television and radio. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, he and I recorded a series of radio shows for syndication covering a range of topics from democratization, the revolutions in Central Europe, the progress in Central and Latin America and issues facing American foreign policy. One wonders what we could have done if the world wide web existed at its present capacity.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Doug Payne 1951-2009

We've lost our most critical reader. Poet, writer and human rights activist. Doug Payne wrote prose with a style tight as a drum and with a fluency in images that brought issues home with an impact. Doug was my friend for 53 some odd years and died on Wednesday July 29th from a two-year struggle against lung cancer. First diagnosed in 2007, he underwent surgery and chemo and had a positive prognosis. On July 19th I e-mailed him a clip about the famous Commandante Cero--Eden Pastora--threatening to invade Honduras to free it from the golpistas. Apparently in the ensuing week his condition deteriorated and finally he died in the Bronx.


His last monicker was "author lives in the Adirondacks". For me he will always be associated with my childhood on the Jersey Shore where we went to grade school in Asbury Park and later with Manhattan, where he lived for over a quarter of a century before he and his wife bought a home near Saranac Lake. By coincidence both of us ended up at William College, where we found ourselves as roommates. Now it can be told, Doug was involved in the capture of the Administrative Building during the protest by black students and comveniently stole the files secretly maintained on his friends, including me. During the protests against the invasion of Cambodia during 1970, Doug spoke at local colleges in Western Massachusetts and participated in the strike movement. He began writing poetry at Williams and won honors from the Yale Younger Poets program.



When I was at Harvard, Doug drove a cab and lived in Belmont, Massachusetts. We later rented a house in Newton with my wife and an actor Ed Barron. Doug and I "tutored" a young man, whom Harvard Medical School literally called "the sickest human being we have ever examined." A man prone to violence, incoherent ravings who communicated in pop lyrics. We convinced his mother to let us ween him away from the massive doses of thorazine. The experiment ended with a semi-articulate man, who no longer punched through the mindclouds created by the drug. At his worst, Richard could knock you out while you drove him in a car or break a solid oak desk in half during one of his rages. Our experience with him would provide a catalog of private phrases and codewords we would use to communicate in the years ahead.



With my wife at Duke and me at the University of Chicago, Doug moved to Manhattan and worked first in the mailroom of a law firm to allow himself time to write. He was assembling a book of poetry with another Williams Alum Jamie James entitled "Today's Problems",the title of a well-known history and civics book used in the 1950s. The book had such classic images as Hitler riding in a car with the caption "Not Our Style". Doug started writing sports columns for Andy Warhol's Interview magazine. After I moved to New York in the mid-1970s, we had lunch with Andy who graciously showed us his silk screening technique and proudly showed off to Bob Collicello several pages of his book--a single page xeroxed several times.



Together we created Pachyderm Productions, a multimedia company that sought to publish Today's Problems, write screenplays and produce documentaries. I went off to Angola with David Smith to produce a documentary on the UNITA guerrilas fighting the Cubans in southern and central Angola. The film "Bullets into Rain" was shown at MOMA and caught the eye of the now late Walter Cronkite, who showed it on the CBS Evening News, which we all watched at a neighborhood bar. We also wrote a screenplay with David Shepard and Jamie James called Zungu Whiplash, a spaghetti Western set in Kenya, which was supposed to be a vehicle for the late Tony Perkins. Years later, I thought I saw a grade C production of it on television overseas. After a few years, we abandoned our 26nd Street offices with a second-story picture window that showed a parade of streetwalkers late at night and moved everything into Doug's apartment.



On a dare by a publisher--could we produce a book in a month--Doug and I wrote "Where have They Gone--Rock and Roll Stars". The Tempo paperback made the bellseller list for a month on the West Coast. The project entailed tracking down old time pop stars and interviewing them about their lives. A few moments were worth it. Herman of Herman's Hemits--Peter Noone told us he actually had saved all his money from those years, lived in Malibu, had a studio built near the pool and was enjoying life. Tony Williams would call and talk for hours on heroin, asking us to get royalities for him. And we met Ronnie Spector at a diner near the old Coliseum Bookstore where she told us she couldn't be interviewed for fear of her ex--Phil. Friends of ours heard about this and suggested the both of us contribute to a book on Fast Food. This led to our interview with Parliment and Funkadelic leader George Clinton and the strange graphic of the United Nations made from chocolate that appears in the book.



After a few years of freelance writing, I went onto Freedom House and became the resident scholar. After a stint as a bartender, Doug called me from the train station to say he was going into rehab after a a ten day bender, which nearly killed him. What's amazing today is that he stayed absolutely straight for over a quarter of a century and smoke free for the last fourteen years or so. As events were happening in Latin and Central America, I hired Doug first as my assistant and then later he took my position as head of Latin America at Freedom House. After I left there, he eventually served for a short time as the executive director.



He became a regular contributor to Freedom at Issue and for many years virtually wrote up the country reports for all of Latin America, the Caribbean and Central America for the Survey of Freedom, something unheard of today when academics produce the reports.



During these years, Doug and I travelled alot--often together. For years, we basically commuted to El Salvador. He was a popular speaker at labor union functions in the region. We were together at the historic elections in Chile, which saw the end of the Pinochet regime. We also travelled to Suriname where we had the bizarre moment of watching missionaries baptize locals in the motel swimming pool. Paraguay was probably the strangest trip because of the country itself. Prior to an audience with then General Rodriquez, who had toppled Stroessner, we found ourselves in a British beef house decorated with English prints and ghastly furniture. But it was Haiti where Doug got into his old revolutionary spirit. This was before Rev. Aristide got corrupt and it was in the middle of the popular revolution against the military government. He spent hours on the street becoming involved in the demonstrations and parading around Port-au-Prince.



After both of us left Freedom House in the 1990s, Doug developed the dossiers for political asylum cases from Central America and actively persuaded the INS to become more deliberate and moral on these issues. He also began to write for Dissent and new magazines on topics ranging from the border wars along the Mexico-Texas frontier to the corruption in our native Asbury Park. For years, he worked closely with the Socialist International secretariat crafting their position papers and making the arrangements for their meetings. During these years, he finally got to travel to Africa and to India. His analysis of Caribbean politics for CSIS provoked the ire of the Bird family in Antigua as Doug detailed the levels of their corruption. In the last few months, we have shared a few e-mails over the arrest of the ponzi scheme artist, Sir Stanford, and the complete collapse of the Antiguan banks and the total impoverishment of the local citizens.



Shortly after 9/11, he and his wife Nancy, who is a licensed vet, bought a home in upper New York State. Nancy was one of the vets who took care of the dogs during the immediate aftermath to the Twin Tower collapse. You can see some of Doug's last works on http://www.wordriot.org/ . With my dreams of moving to Maine, Doug exchanged his views on wood-burning stoves, the proper snowshoes to buy and the problems of getting wired in rural America. He loved where he lived, except when all the yuppies would fly up for summer days on Saranac Lake. Over the last few years, he travelled to Oklahoma to meet with distant relatives to study the outlaw background of some of his family in the 19th century. He went fly-fishing in Montana and Pennsylvania with his brother Roger, and would alert me to his travels to the Jersey Shore where he loved to stay in a motel run by a Hindi couple.



Doug took time to critique my son's band and forward his recommendations of favorite old bluesingers, which he listened to. He was looking toward Ian's new CD to be cut this month. He thought Ian had wrongly moved from a punk-style, which reminded Doug of the days going to CBGB's and listening to the Ramones, to a more jazzy style, which he always called noodling. He preferred the unvarnished rock without decoration--much like his prose style.



Years ago, we said when our rides were about over we would get together again and compare notes. Unfortunately, it won't happen. There were a lot of hits and moments. An endless stream of memories. As our favorite phrase coined under the influence of acid, it was a 'remembered state of mind that has never been."



Goodby, old friend.