Adam Ash

Your daily entertainment scout. Whatever is happening out there, you'll find the best writing about it in here.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Here's a picture to bring in your New Year

(Photo: Asif Hassan / AFP)
This is a Pakistani-Kashmiri girl, standing outside her temporary home in the earthquake-devastated city of Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
Drink a toast to her and to all the children in the world.
She's my New Year's present to you, dear reader.
Keep on smiling, world.

It's time to say fuck the Iraq War and go further: fuck ALL war

After the War -- by Howard Zinn

The war against Iraq, the assault on its people, the occupation of its cities, will come to an end, sooner or later. The process has already begun. The first signs of mutiny are appearing in Congress. The first editorials calling for withdrawal from Iraq are beginning to appear in the press. The anti-war movement has been growing, slowly but persistently, all over the country.

Public opinion polls now show the country decisively against the war and the Bush Administration. The harsh realities have become visible. The troops will have to come home.

And while we work with increased determination to make this happen, should we not think beyond this war? Should we begin to think, even before this shameful war is over, about ending our addiction to massive violence and instead using the enormous wealth of our country for human needs? That is, should we begin to speak about ending war—not just this war or that war, but war itself? Perhaps the time has come to bring an end to war, and turn the human race onto a path of health and healing.

A group of internationally known figures, celebrated both for their talent and their dedication to human rights (Gino Strada, Paul Farmer, Kurt Vonnegut, Nadine Gordimer, Eduardo Galeano, and others), will soon launch a worldwide campaign to enlist tens of millions of people in a movement for the renunciation of war, hoping to reach the point where governments, facing popular resistance, will find it difficult or impossible to wage war.

There is a persistent argument against such a possibility, which I have heard from people on all parts of the political spectrum: We will never do away with war because it comes out of human nature. The most compelling counter to that claim is in history: We don’t find people spontaneously rushing to make war on others. What we find, rather, is that governments must make the most strenuous efforts to mobilize populations for war. They must entice soldiers with promises of money, education, must hold out to young people whose chances in life look very poor that here is an opportunity to attain respect and status. And if those enticements don’t work, governments must use coercion: They must conscript young people, force them into military service, threaten them with prison if they do not comply.

Furthermore, the government must persuade young people and their families that though the soldier may die, though he or she may lose arms or legs, or become blind, that it is all for a noble cause, for God, for country.

When you look at the endless series of wars of this century you do not find a public demanding war, but rather resisting it, until citizens are bombarded with exhortations that appeal, not to a killer instinct, but to a desire to do good, to spread democracy or liberty or overthrow a tyrant.

Woodrow Wilson found a citizenry so reluctant to enter the First World War that he had to pummel the nation with propaganda and imprison dissenters in order to get the country to join the butchery going on in Europe.

In the Second World War, there was indeed a strong moral imperative, which still resonates among most people in this country and which maintains the reputation of World War II as “the good war.” There was a need to defeat the monstrosity of fascism. It was that belief that drove me to enlist in the Air Force and fly bombing missions over Europe.

Only after the war did I begin to question the purity of the moral crusade. Dropping bombs from five miles high, I had seen no human beings, heard no screams, seen no children dismembered. But now I had to think about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the firebombings of Tokyo and Dresden, the deaths of 600,000 civilians in Japan, and a similar number in Germany.

I came to a conclusion about the psychology of myself and other warriors: Once we decided, at the start, that our side was the good side and the other side was evil, once we had made that simple and simplistic calculation, we did not have to think anymore. Then we could commit unspeakable crimes and it was all right.

I began to think about the motives of the Western powers and Stalinist Russia and wondered if they cared as much about fascism as about retaining their own empires, their own power, and if that was why they had military priorities higher than bombing the rail lines leading to Auschwitz. Six million Jews were killed in the death camps (allowed to be killed?). Only 60,000 were saved by the war—1 percent.

A gunner on another crew, a reader of history with whom I had become friends, said to me one day: “You know this is an imperialist war. The fascists are evil. But our side is not much better.” I could not accept his statement at the time, but it stuck with me.

War, I decided, creates, insidiously, a common morality for all sides. It poisons everyone who is engaged in it, however different they are in many ways, turns them into killers and torturers, as we are seeing now. It pretends to be concerned with toppling tyrants, and may in fact do so, but the people it kills are the victims of the tyrants. It appears to cleanse the world of evil, but that does not last, because its very nature spawns more evil. Wars, like violence in general, I concluded, is a drug. It gives a quick high, the thrill of victory, but that wears off and then comes despair.

I acknowledge the possibility of humanitarian intervention to prevent atrocities, as in Rwanda. But war, defined as the indiscriminate killing of large numbers of people, must be resisted.

Whatever can be said about World War II, understanding its complexity, the situations that followed—Korea, Vietnam—were so far from the kind of threat that Germany and Japan had posed to the world that those wars could be justified only by drawing on the glow of “the good war.” A hysteria about communism led to McCarthyism at home and military interventions in Asia and Latin America—overt and covert—justified by a “Soviet threat” that was exaggerated just enough to mobilize the people for war.

Vietnam, however, proved to be a sobering experience, in which the American public, over a period of several years, began to see through the lies that had been told to justify all that bloodshed. The United States was forced to withdraw from Vietnam, and the world didn’t come to an end. One half of one tiny country in Southeast Asia was now joined to its communist other half, and 58,000 American lives and millions of Vietnamese lives had been expended to prevent that. A majority of Americans had come to oppose that war, which had provoked the largest anti-war movement in the nation’s history.

The war in Vietnam ended with a public fed up with war. I believe that the American people, once the fog of propaganda had dissipated, had come back to a more natural state. Public opinion polls showed that people in the United States were opposed to send troops anywhere in the world, for any reason.

The Establishment was alarmed. The government set out deliberately to overcome what it called “the Vietnam syndrome.” Opposition to military interventions abroad was a sickness, to be cured. And so they would wean the American public away from its unhealthy attitude, by tighter control of information, by avoiding a draft, and by engaging in short, swift wars over weak opponents (Grenada, Panama, Iraq), which didn’t give the public time to develop an anti-war movement.

I would argue that the end of the Vietnam War enabled the people of the United States to shake the “war syndrome,” a disease not natural to the human body. But they could be infected once again, and September 11 gave the government that opportunity. Terrorism became the justification for war, but war is itself terrorism, breeding rage and hate, as we are seeing now.

The war in Iraq has revealed the hypocrisy of the “war on terrorism.” And the government of the United States, indeed governments everywhere, are becoming exposed as untrustworthy: that is, not to be entrusted with the safety of human beings, or the safety of the planet, or the guarding of its air, its water, its natural wealth, or the curing of poverty and disease, or coping with the alarming growth of natural disasters that plague so many of the six billion people on Earth.

I don’t believe that our government will be able to do once more what it did after Vietnam—prepare the population for still another plunge into violence and dishonor. It seems to me that when the war in Iraq ends, and the war syndrome heals, that there will be a great opportunity to make that healing permanent.

My hope is that the memory of death and disgrace will be so intense that the people of the United States will be able to listen to a message that the rest of the world, sobered by wars without end, can also understand: that war itself is the enemy of the human race.

Governments will resist this message. But their power is dependent on the obedience of the citizenry. When that is withdrawn, governments are helpless. We have seen this again and again in history.

The abolition of war has become not only desirable but absolutely necessary if the planet is to be saved. It is an idea whose time has come.

(Howard Zinn is the co-author, with Anthony Arnove, of “ Voices of a People’s History of the United States.”)

US Diary: some good things happened this year

1. Ten Good Things about Another Bad Year -- by Medea Benjamin

As we close this year, a year in which we were pummeled by the Iraq war, attacks on our civil rights and Mother Nature’s fury of hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis, there is no shortage of reasons to feel bruised and beaten. But to start the new year with a healthy determination to keep on fighting, we need to reflect on the good things that happened. And there are plenty.

One continent alone - South America - could provide more than ten examples of wonderful progressive victories, but I’ll just list some of the highlights.

1. Hugo Chavez has shown how an oil-rich nation can use the country’s wealth to provide education, health care and small business opportunities for its people — and we here in the US have discovered an oil company we can feel good about buying gas from: Venezuela’s CITGO.

2. Bolivians have, for the first time in their history, elected an indigenous president, Evo Morales. The former llama farmer and coca grower has fought against “free trade” and the privatization of his nation’s resources, and has brought new hope to indigenous people throughout the continent.

3. Anti-war activists—who once represented a much-maligned minority—now represent the majority of Americans who agree that the war in Iraq was a mistake and the troops should come home as soon as possible. And with Cindy Sheehan and Cong. Jack Murtha, we finally had spokespeople the mainstream media listened to!

4. In an historic blow to the Bush administration’s five-year attempt to destroy the Kyoto Protocol, the climate summit in Montreal ended with even stronger measures to combat global warming. At home, nearly 200 cities are taking their own Kyoto-type actions to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

5. The Senate ended the year with a spurt of defiance, refusing to permanently extend the expiring provisions of the Patriot Act, blocking the Republican maneuver to attach Arctic oil drilling to a defense spending bill, and passing John McCain’s anti-torture amendment.

6. Despite a concerted offensive to lift the president’s sagging public support, George Bush’s approval ratings are still below 50%, his economic agenda (from the privatization of social security to the repeal of the estate tax) has unraveled, key cronies from Lewis Libby to Tom DeLay have fallen from grace, and 2006 might just put impeachment back into the congressional lexicon.

7. Labor, community activists and women’s groups have mounted a spirited campaign against the behemoth of behemoths, Walmart. And a California jury awarded $172 million to thousands of employees at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. who were denied such basic rights as lunch breaks, with 40 similar lawsuits pending in other states.

8. With the wild swings in gas prices, SUV sales have plummeted (Ford Explorer down 52%, Chevrolet Suburban down 46%), the sale of hybrids has doubled, and the US House of Representatives actually held a forum on the “peak oil theory”.

9. In a great win for farmworkers, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers forced the fast food giant Taco Bell to raise the price for picking tomatoes (nearly doubling many workers' salaries) and now they’re ready to take on an even bigger bully: McDonald's.

10. The global movement for peace and justice proved it was alive and kicking: witness Argentina during the Free Trade Agreement meetings, Hong Kong around the World Trade Organization ministerial, and the ongoing rallies against the war. The steady growth of the fair trade movement also shows that we are not just protesting, but we’re also building a more sustainable economy.

Let’s make 2006 the year we broke the right wing tide, refused to give pro-war, free trade Democrats a free ride, and built a “people’s movement” with some muscle to it. We might just get some lessons from our southern neighbors. If Mexico City's progressive mayor Manuel Lopez Obrador becomes Mexico’s next president, Latin America’s revolutionary fervor will be smack up against the Texas border. Que viva el poder popular en 2006!

(Medea Benjamin ( ) is the cofounder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK: Women for Peace.)

2. From The Nation: A Year of Sweet Victories -- by Katrina vanden Heuvel

In the dark days after the election of 2004, the mainstream media was touting the making of a permanent rightward shift, and the progressive community was deeply deflated. It was difficult, in those times, to maintain a sense of hope--as corruption, war, lies and injustices large and small loomed all around, and outrage about the Right's assault on our democracy threatened to overwhelm us.

A year later, the dark and menacing clouds that hovered over The Nation 's November 2, 2004 cover ("Four More Years") seem to be slowly lifting. Millions of us are organizing, agitating, mobilizing--and there are many hard-fought victories to celebrate.The attempt to destroy Social Security has been successfully blocked, the movement for withdrawal has captured the majority of the public's support, the mainstream media is slowly rousing from its slumbers, the White House's surveillance state is being revealed, there is talk of impeachment in the air, Vice President for Torture Cheney suffered a stinging rebuke when John McCain's torture ban passed, the GOP is mired in corruption and cronyism ( "Jack Abramoff seems to have the whole party on his payroll,"Katha Pollitt writes in her end of year review for The Nation), and scores of local, statewide, and national victories have been won. Here are some of my favorite "sweet victories" of '05--to savor as we head into 2006.

Electoral Reform

Portland, Oregon becomes the first city in the country to approve full public financing of elections.

Connecticut passes the strongest campaign finance reform bill in the country, banning contributions from lobbyists and state contractors. Additionally, the legislation creates a publicly funded election system encompassing all statewide races, including House and Senate seats (also a first).

Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

Maine becomes the sixth and final New England state to outlaw discrimination against homosexuals in employment, housing, credit, public accommodations, and education.

Residents of Topeka, Kansas rejected Fred "Got Hates Fags" Phelps' attempt to overturn the city's ordinance banning discrimination of gays in municipal hiring. And in the city council primary, Phelps' granddaughter and fellow anti-gay activist, Jael Phelps, lost big to Topeka's first and only openly gay council member, Tiffany Muller.

Massachusetts General Hospital announced the creation of the Disparities Solution Center--the first institution specifically dedicated to bridging the racial gap in health care service.

Iowa's Governor Tom Vilsack restored voting rights to thousands of Iowans, reversing an unjust state law that imposes lifetime disenfranchisement for anyone convicted of a felony. Reform was badly needed in Iowa, where, despite the state's two percent black population, 25 percent of those affected by the disenfranchisement law were African-American--the highest percentage in the country. In March, Nebraska also overturned its lifetime disenfranchisement law for convicted felons, and currently only four states--Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia--continue to uphold this absurdly punitive law.

Montana became the fifth state to officially condemn the USA Patriot Act. Joining Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, and Vermont--not to mention more than 375 local governments--Montana's state legislature passed the strongest statewide resolution against the Patriot Act yet.

Environment and Health

California's Safe Cosmetics Bill is signed into law. The bill--which requires manufacturers to disclose to the California's Department of Health Services any product ingredients linked to cancer, mutations, or birth defects--is the first of its kind in America.

Six new Democratic governors--Rod Blagojevich (IL), Jim Doyle (WI), Christine Gregoire (WA), Ted Kulongoski (OR), Janet Napolitano (AZ), and Brian Schweitzer (MT)--joined an earlier three--Jennifer Granholm (MI), Ed Rendel (PA), and Bill Richardson (NM)--in embracing the Apollo Alliance's goal of achieving sustainable American energy independence within a decade.

Colorado passes the Renewable Energy Initiative. A precedent-setting victory for renewable energy, the bill requires the state's largest electric companies to increase their use of renewable sources such as wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, and small hydro from less than two percent today to 10 percent by 2015. Amendment 37 is expected to save Coloradans $236 million by 2025, create 2,000 jobs, and significantly reduce gas prices in the state.

New York City agrees to issue taxi medallions for hybrid cars, the latest in a string of victories for the "Green Fleets" movement. Earlier, legislators in Charlotte, NC voted to hybridize the city's municipal fleet, and Denver, Seattle, and Madison have also made strides in converting their fleets to green.

Labor and Economic Rights

Vermont, New Jersey, Hawaii, Connecticut, Minnesota, and Wisconsin vote to raise state minimum wages. Meanwhile, the national minimum wage has remained stagnant for nine years, the second longest period in U.S. history.

In California, an Alameda County judge ordered uniform giant Cintas to pay 219 workers more than $1 million of back wages in what is being hailed as a landmark decision. Paul Sonn of NYU's Brennan Center for Justice, called it "the first large scale enforcement effort involving a large group of workers in a class action suit."

Students at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. and Washington University of St. Louis stage protests and convince administrators to provide a living wage for university employees.

After a massive three-year boycott against Taco Bell, Yum Brands Inc.--the world's largest fast-food corporation and the chain's parent company--agrees to improve working conditions for its tomato pickers in Florida, increasing their wages by paying an extra penny per pound of tomatoes picked.

Maryland passes the Fair Share Health Care Act, requiring Wal-Mart and other large companies in the state to provide health benefits for employees. Throughout the year, Wal-Mart Watch and Wake Up Wal-Mart--who helped get the bill passed--wage a tireless campaign to reform Wal-Mart, forcing the retail behemoth into P.R. crisis mode.

Antiwar & Peace Movement

Chicago's City Council votes 29 to 9 to become the largest US city to pass the "Bring Them Home Now" resolution. The Windy City joins Philadelphia, San Francisco, Sacramento and more than fifty other municipalities that have called for withdrawal.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus--comprised of the strongest anti-war voices in Washington--gets in gear, hiring Hill veteran Bill Gould as its first full-time staffer.

The United Methodist Church and the Union for Reform Judaism pass resolutions calling for withdrawal.

Let's dance, sing and laugh on New Year's eve -- and celebrate these victories and the organized efforts behind them. But let's also admit that there's little time for pause. Much important work remains to be done and many critical battles loom ahead for all those who wish to rebuild America into a country we can be proud of once again.
(As of January 2006, The Nation will chronicle "Sweet Victories" as a regular feature in the magazine. If you have a victory you'd like to share with us, please write to And with many thanks to my co-conspirator on this project--writer and documentary filmmaker Sam Graham-Felsen.)

3. Heroes and Goats of 2005 -- by Gary Alan Scott

As we look forward to the New Year, it is well to remember the public figures that have distinguished themselves.


1. Sen. Russell Feingold, the only Senator to vote against the original Patriot Act and the one who led the fight to block its sequel. In this tradition of independence and integrity, we should also include Rep. Jack Murtha (D-Pa), Rep. Bernie Sanders (Ind-VT), and Sen. Robert Byrd, the eldest statesman in the Senate, who is still on target. I applaud these leaders for their courage and honesty. Keep holding the administration accountable!

2. Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald and Ronnie Earle for bringing I. Scooter Libby and Tom Delay to justice for their criminal behavior. Keep digging and bringing the cabal to justice!

3. Cindy Sheehan, the catalyst for an antiwar movement that was on life support before this grieving mother with her "no-holds-barred" way of expressing herself camped out in George W. Bush's back yard! Rebecca Solnit called her "the antiwar Movement's second chance." Sheehan demanded an explanation for the death of her son (and so many others), and she dogged Bush throughout the summer, refusing to allow him to evade or ignore the consequences of his actions. "He can run, but he can't hide!"

4. Jessica Lange and Etan Thomas for their speeches at the protest rally in Washington D.C. in October, which featured the sign carried by a Hurricane Katrina survivor that read, "No Iraqi Ever Left Me on a Roof to Die" Keep telling the truth and exposing the evil that is this occupation!

5. The reasonable and good citizens of Dover, Pennsylvania who voted out the school board members that wanted to replace science with mythology. The religious right demonizes Darwin but they sure seem to love social Darwinism!

6. Seymour Hersh of the New York Times for being the first journalist to report on the increasingly indiscriminate, lethal, and potentially sectarian U.S. air war against Iraq. From My Lai to Iraq, Hersh again breaks an important story where others do not dare to tread.

7. All of the good and responsible journalists who strive for independence, aver spurious balance, and speak truth to power. For a list, see Danny Schechter's December 18 article on this site, entitled: "The Envelope Please: It's Time to Honor our Media Heroes" and I would add one name Schechter omitted: Tom Engelhardt ( Thomas Jefferson was right: it would be better to have a free press with no government than a government with no free press!

8. The Christian Peacemakers Teams for their unbelievable courage, sacrifice and commitment to peace and justice. Blessed are the peacemakers; for they walk in the footsteps of Jesus.

9. Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former Sec. of State, Colin Powell's aide, for exposing the Cheney-Libby-Rumsfeld-Rove cabal that made decisions, apparently without the approval, and sometimes even without the knowledge, of the President. He should be applauded especially for recalling Gen. Tommy Franks' description of former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Douglas Feith, whom Franks called "the f---ing stupidest guy on the planet." You go, sir.

10. The Code Pink Movement, the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH), the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ) the Appalachia Science in the Public Interest (ASPI), and the women taking on Wal-Mart across the country. We all owe much gratitude to these and many other civic groups whose work is ignored by the mainstream, corporate media. Your service is appreciated!

THE GOATS: (an abbreviated list)

1. George W. Bush for his stubbornness, lack of compassion, duplicity, incompetence, and secrecy. You have brought shame to the office and disrepute to our country's values. No President is above the law!

2. The Cheney-Rove-Rumsfeld-Libby cabal for their dirty tricks, lawbreaking, and recalcitrance. Keep digging, Mr. Prosecutor!

3. The nine Republican Senators who voted against the ban on torture, which passed 90-9 (with Sen. Corzine absent). They are: Allard (R-CO), Bond, (R-MO), Coburn (R-OK), Cochran (R-MS), Cornyn (R-TX), Inhofe (R-OK), Roberts (R-KS), Sessions (R-AL), and Stevens (R-AK). Shame on all of you! There will be a quiz on the constitution after recess.

4. Rep. Tom ("The Hammer") DeLay for his brazen disrespect for constitutional democracy, for breaking Texas' campaign finance laws, and for his pathetic performance in the Terri Schiavo case. You shall be judged by the company you keep.

5. Sen. Bill ("One-Eyed Bill") Frist for shady, likely insider-trading of his HCA stock. A little prison time was good for Martha, so I'm sure it will be good for you!

6. Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham for accepting bribes and being yet one more elected "public servant" selling his country for personal gain. Let this be an example for the friends of the likes of Michael Scanlon and Jack Abramoff! May you reap what you have sown.

7. DHB, the company that manufactured and sold to the U.S. military what were supposed to be "bullet-proof vests", until the Marine Corps Times revealed that the vests experienced "multiple complete penetrations". The company's President and CEO, David H. Brooks used $10 million of his war profits to throw a Bat-Mitzvah for his daughter. No punishment is too severe for you!

8. The Democratic Party, especially Senators Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, for being wimpy, wishy-washy wafflers. Sen. Kerry didn't even have the fortitude to challenge the voting irregularities in the 2004 election and a Hillary nomination in 2008 would be a Republican's dream come true. Oh, and Hillary, pray tell, did Bill inhale before going on the Dec. 9 Larry King show with Bush 41?

9. The U.S. Election System (and the Democrats again) that cannot seem to verify vote counts in order to hold free and fair elections (in 2000, 2004, and 2005). It really doesn't matter who runs nor who is nominated in 2008 if the vote tallies are left up to the right-wing cyber-thieves. Bring on the U.N. election monitors and the Carter Center. We must demand paper back-ups to allow for recounts!

10. Judy Miller, Bob Woodward, and generally, the mainstream, advertising-saturated, trivial, corporate, insider media. Unembed yourselves!

11. FEMA and Cronyism. Gee, who knew that a party that believes government is the problem and does everything possible to undermine government would turn out to be poor governors? Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy!

(Dr. Gary Alan Scott is a philosophy professor at Loyola College in Maryland. He is currently the Director of Loyola's International Nachbahr Huis in Leuven, Belgium. You can email him at

4. The Most Valuable Progressives of 2005 -- by John Nichols

It is hard to complain about a year that began with George Bush bragging about spending the "political capital" he felt he had earned with his dubious reelection and ended with the president drowning in the Nixonian depths of public disapproval.

But the circumstance didn't just get better.

A handful of elected officials, activist groups and courageous citizens bent the arc of history toward justice.

Here are this one columnist's picks for the Most Valuable Progressives of 2005:

MVP - US Senate:

This is an easy category. While California Democrat Barbara Boxer deserves credit for refusing to go along with the certification of the dubious presidential election results from Ohio, and Arizona Republican John McCain merits praise for forcing the administration to back down from its pro-torture stance, there's no question that Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold was the essential senator of 2005. He was the first member of the chamber to call for a timetable to withdraw troops from Iraq - a stance that initially was ridiculed but ultimately drew support from many of Feingold's fellow Democrats and even a few Republicans. And he ended the year by forging a bipartisan coalition that beat back the Bush administration's demand for the long-term extension of the Patriot Act, scoring one of the most significant wins for civil liberties that Congress has seen in years.

MVP - US House:

There are plenty of members of the House who deserve credit for standing up to the administration on critical issues - from Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown, who led the fight against Central American Free Trade Agreement, to Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders, who was the point man in the battle to fix the Patriot Act, to North Carolina Republican Walter Jones, who courageously broke with the administration to oppose the war. And, of course, there was Pennsylvania Democrat John Murtha, the decorated Vietnam veteran who forced the House to get serious about the war he called for a speedy withdrawal. But the essential member of the House in 2005 was Michigan Democrat John Conyers, the ranking member of his party on the Judiciary Committee. No one used their bully pulpit better in 2005 than Conyers, who gathered damning information about electoral irregularities in the 2004 Ohio presidential voting and then led the challenge to the certification of the results, held hearings on the Downing Street Memo's revelations regarding the Bush administration's doctoring of pre-war intelligence, and ended the year by moving resolutions to censure President Bush and Vice President Cheney for lying to Congress and the American people - and to set up a committee to examine the issue of impeachment.

MVP - Executive Branch:

Yes, there was one. It's Lawrence B. Wilkerson, the retired US Army colonel who served as chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin L. Powell until Powell exited the State Department in January, 2005. After leaving his position, Wilkerson began revealing the dark secrets of the Bush-Cheney interregnum, telling a New America Foundation gathering in October that during his years in the administration: "What I saw was a cabal between the vice president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made." Wilkerson warned that, with "a president who is not versed in international relations and not too much interested in them either," the country is headed in an exceptionally dangerous direction. "I would say that we have courted disaster, in Iraq, in North Korea, in Iran, generally with regard to domestic crises like Katrina, Rita and I could go on back, we haven't done very well on anything like that in a long time," Wilkerson explained. "And if something comes along that is truly serious, truly serious, something like a nuclear weapon going off in a major American city, or something like a major pandemic, you are going to see the ineptitude of this government in a way that will take you back to the Declaration of Independence." That is truth telling of a quality and a scope all too rarely witnessed in the Washington of Bush and Cheney.

MVP - Law Enforcement Branch:

While Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald deserved all the headlines and the credit he got for indicting I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the now former chief-of-staff for Vice President Dick Cheney and a key player in faking up the "case" for war with Iraq, Fitzgerald's work is just beginning. His most important indictments are yet to come. The prosecutor who took the greatest risks and who secured the most consequential indictment of 2005 was Travis County, Texas, District Attorney Ronnie Earle, who brought down House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. The man who ran Congress for most of the Bush years has not been convicted - yet - but DeLay was forced to step down as majority leader and no one who watches Washington thinks he will ever regain that position. Earle got his man, and began the long process of cleansing a Congress that, after all these years of being run by a pest-control specialist, is in serious need of fumigation.

MVP - Citizen Branch:

In August, when Democrats leaders in Washington were still talking about working with the Bush administration on Iraq - effectively leaving Americans who were growing increasingly ill-at-ease about the war without a voice in the chambers of power - the mother of a slain soldier followed Bush to his Crawford, Texas, ranchette and asked him to take a few minutes away from his month-long vacation to talk about the quagmire. Cindy Sheehan put the issue of the war back at the forefront of the national agenda, forcing even the dysfunctional White House press corps to start covering dissenters and getting D.C. Democrats to wake up to the reality that the American people had lost faith in the president and his military misadventure.

MVP - Watchdog Branch:

The media did a slightly better job of monitoring political wrongdoing in 2005 than it did during the first four years of the Bush-Cheney presidency - when it actually would have mattered. But the real work of exposing the misdeeds of the administration is still being done by activist groups. And the most inspired of these in 2005 was After Downing Street, the coalition of groups that describes itself as "working to expose the lies that launched the war and to hold accountable its architects, including through censure and impeachment." In conjunction with Progressive Democrats of America, the able activist group that seeks to create an actual opposition party in America, After Downing Street is pushing the political envelope in exactly the direction it needs to go. Check out their website and keep ahead of the action in 2006.

(John Nichols, The Nation's Washington correspondent, has covered progressive politics and activism in the United States and abroad for more than a decade. He is currently the editor of the editorial page of Madison, Wisconsin's Capital Times. Nichols is the author of two books: It's the Media, Stupid and Jews for Buchanan.)

Poem of the week: Partnoy

By Alicia Partnoy

When I talk to you about poetry
you say
when do we eat
the worst of it is
I'm hungry too

US Diary: the American Dream = the American Pipe Dream?

American Road Leads Off a Cliff -- by Holly Sklar

The American Dream doesn't need to go on a diet in the new year. It's been shrinking for years.

We are becoming a nation of Scrooge-Marts and outsourcers -- with an increasingly low-wage workforce, instead of a growing middle class. Even two-paycheck households are struggling to afford a house, college, health care and retirement.

The American Dream is becoming the American Pipe Dream.

"The vast majority of American workers (70%) think 'the American Dream' has been or will be harder for them to financially achieve than it was for their parents' generation," according to the Principal Financial Well-Being Index.

We are living the American Dream in reverse.

The hourly wages of average workers are 11% lower than they were back in 1973 (adjusted for inflation), despite rising worker productivity. CEO pay, by contrast, has skyrocketed -- up a median 30% in 2004 alone, in the Corporate Library survey of 2000 large companies.

Median household income has fallen an unprecedented five years in a row. It would be even lower if not for increased household work hours. Americans work over 200 hours more a year on average than workers in other rich industrialized countries.

We are breaking records we don't want to break. Record numbers of Americans have no health insurance. The share of national income going to wages and salaries is the lowest since 1929. Middle-class households are a medical crisis, an outsourced job, or a busted pension away from bankruptcy.

The congressional majority voted the biggest cut in history to the student-loan program, at a time when college is more important, and more expensive, than ever. Public-college tuition has risen even faster than private tuition, jumping 54% over the last decade (adjusted for inflation).

Our shortsighted government, beholden to powerful campaign contributors and lobbyists, is cutting rungs from the ladders of upward mobility, while cutting taxes for the superwealthy.

That's not the American Dream.

Contrary to myth, the United States is not becoming more competitive in the global economy by taking the low road. We are in growing hock to other countries. We have a huge trade deficit, a hollowed-out manufacturing base, and deteriorating research and development. The infrastructure built by earlier generations has eroded greatly, undermining the economy, as well as public health and safety.

Households have propped themselves up in the face of falling real wages by maxing out work hours, credit cards and home-equity loans. This is not a sustainable course. The low road is like a shortcut that leads to a cliff.

We will not prosper in the 21st Century global economy by relying on 1920s corporate greed, 1950s tax revenues, pre-1970s wages, and global-warming energy policies.

We will not prosper relying on disinvestment in place of reinvestment. We can't succeed that way any more than farmers can "compete" by eating their seed corn.

As Business Week put it in a special issue on China and India, "China's competitive edge is shifting from low-cost workers to state-of-the-art manufacturing. India is creating world-class innovation hubs, and its companies are far better performers than China's."

The United States will not succeed by shifting increasingly from state-of-the art manufacturing and world-class innovation hubs to low-cost workers.

Contrary to myth, many European countries are better positioned for the future than the United States, with healthier economies and longer healthy life expectancies, greater math and science literacy, free or affordable education from preschool through college, universal health care, less poverty, and more corporations combining social responsibility and world-class innovation.

Among the world's 100 largest corporations in 2005, just 33 are U.S. companies, while 48 are European. In 2002, 38 were U.S. companies and 36 were European. CEO-worker pay gaps are much narrower at European companies than American.

The United States dropped from number one to number five in the global information-technology ranking by the World Economic Forum, whose members represent the world's 1,000 leading companies, among others. The top four spots are held by Singapore, Iceland, Finland and Denmark, with Sweden number six.

Instead of pretending the problem is overpaid workers and accelerated offshoring, we need to shore up our economy from below and invest in smart economic development. Let's make that our New Year's resolution for the American Dream.

(Holly Sklar is co-author of Raise the Floor: Wages and Policies That Work for All of Us --

Friday, December 30, 2005

Yahoo helps Chinese government find dissident locked up for 10 years (craven, suck-ass capitalists)

With more than 100 million users, the Internet is booming in China. The American Web giants Microsoft, Yahoo and Google have all grabbed a piece of the lucrative Chinese market - but only after agreeing to help the government censor speech on the Web. In providing portals or search engines, all three companies are abiding by the government's censorship of certain ideas and keywords, like "Tiananmen massacre," "Taiwanese independence," "corruption" and "democracy." Most foreign news sites are blocked.
This year, Yahoo even supplied information that helped the government track and convict a political dissident who sent an e-mail message with forbidden thoughts from a Yahoo account; he was sentenced to 10 years in jail. "Business is business," said Jack Ma, Yahoo's chief in China. "It's not politics."
SHAME ON YOU, Yahoo. You deserve in the face, every morning for breakfast, a projectile vom of rancid bile.

One more reason why religious fundamentalists should be butt-fucked for eternity with the business end of pineapples

Every year, about 500,000 women throughout the world develop cervical cancer. In the United States alone, the disease kills about 3,700 women annually. This year, scientists developed a vaccine against human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted disease that is the primary cause of cervical cancer. The vaccine produced 100% immunity 6,000 women who received it. As soon as the vaccine is licensed, some health officials say, it should be administered to all girls at age 12.
But the Family Research Council and other social conservative groups vowed to fight that plan, even though it could virtually eliminate cervical cancer. Vaccinating girls against a sexually transmitted disease, they say, would reduce their incentive to abstain from premarital sex.

This is the movie scenario I dreamt last night: a fitting end to 2005

The title:
"Cinema as Metaphor."

The action:
1. We're at a fashion shoot in the desert. Some Beduins and camels, and lots of half-naked models in all sorts of racy ensembles. Lots of powder to cover the sweat.
2. On two opposing sanddunes, two armies gather. There's a crew filming them.
3. Far away, a knight in armor, with a pisspot on his head, approaches on a donkey, followed by another man on a donkey, a peasant, followed by another donkey loaded with romance novels. Don Quixote and Sancho Pancha. Behind them is a cameraman in a jeep, filming them.
4. This is intercut with newspaper headlines of the buildup to the war in Iraq.
5. Also intercut with two men on a bus in Manhattan, arguing. One man keeps saying, "Bush is a fucking liar," and the other man keeps saying, "This is no time to call the President a liar," and the other people on the bus join in, until the whole bus is yelling at each other, and the driver stops the bus in the middle of the street and tells everyone to get the fuck off.
6. Then the Don Quixote character stumbles into the scene where the armies are gathering. Excited, he gallops up to the commander of one army, takes off a glove and slaps the commander in the face. They decide to settle things with a boxing match, so they start boxing bare-fisted in the desert, watched by the two armies.
7. The cameraman in the jeep who filmed Don Quixote and the crew covering the two armies start fighting with each other, too. A third camera crew is filming the fighting camera people. A soldier offers his gun to one of the cameramen, but the cameraman is too busy fighting to notice.
8. The fight between Don Quixote and the commander goes on forever, because they're very evenly matched. Many bets are laid by the watching soldiers. The two combatants get very tired. Finally Don Quixote hits the commander so hard he falls down and sits flat on his ass, and Quixote himself falls down from the blow and sits down beside the commander. They look at each other and laugh.
9. One of the fighting cinematographers asks Don Quixote to punch his camera, which he does. The film ends with the camera's POV, as Don Quixote's fist slams into it and the film goes to black because the camera is punched out.

The meaning:
Very meta, I must say. "Cinema as metaphor" indeed. It means something, for sure, but it came to me in a dream, so I don't know what. Yet it seems to wear whatever meaning it has, boldly on its sleeve. A metaphor that neither hides nor teases, but sits there with the irritating obviousness of a red bulb on a clown's nose. Nothing to decode, I'm afraid. All I know is this: politics has invaded my dream world. Ugh. I hate when that happens. Damn. Fuck me with a long lens.

The end:
Happy 2006, y'all.

Poem of the week: Charles North

CADENZA by Charles North

The longer the life
the roomier the harbor.

Well, not exactly…

Partly though. The sails
continuous with the furled and expectant moments
making their sum bad writing (when they write at all).

Yesterday about 10 a.m. Hopkins stopped by. He seemed absorbed.
This morning: gray, rainy, somewhat anxious, eager for the landscape
to proceed… you go first; no you. Suppose
I hold the door for you.
Thank you; but no.

This is a hunch, but I’ll bet
even the Medusa, grim as she was, took a shower
at least once in a while,
tossing her “hair” around until it dried
if not exactly shone—not that anyone could live to tell the tale
or for that matter distinguish between things suddenly petrified
and rock-strewn Greece.

Lately, for some reason,
I’ve grown quite interested in small start-up businesses.
Particularly the choice of locations.
The fact that so many start-ups fail
(whether due to vagaries of economic climate, misreading of neighborhoods
—which I personally believe isn’t given sufficient
credit as an explanation—or just plain mismanagement)
doesn’t seem to diminish their number
let alone the poignancy inherent in ribbon-cutting.

A recent example: one seemingly choice location
almost directly across the street
went begging for an entire year. Finally,
an espresso bar opened—only to close within six months;
followed by a branch of an outfit specializing
in low-cost back massage; and now (already there are signs of imminent failure)
a branch of a discount shoe store chain.

In response to your recent enclosure; let me say, initially,
that it’s o.k., you don’t have to change anything—though I would
at least think about “continuous” preceding “as the stars that shine.”
It’s not that the analogy isn’t evocative; but is that really what starlight
looks like to the naked eye? (Continual? Contiguous? which
would have to be in the extremely rare temporal sense
bringing risks of its own, which I’m not sure you want to risk
since when all is said and done the last thing you want to do is “stop”
your reader). I’m
not, by the way, hinting that everything has to be absolutely clear
or reasonable, visually or in any other way. Have you thought
about trying it as a pantoum, or sestina?

It must be true, mustn’t it
that the more ideas you have
and are able to express in some intelligible form to others
the fuller life is for all concerned—notwithstanding the perfectly natural fear
that the ideas you do have,
for all the fireworks of the night before,
can and frequently do appear wan and even sheepish
in morning sunlight.

“Thinking on paper”
is one aspect. Another is
the ghostly traces of mind that hover
over whatever is in the process of being constructed,
whether lyric poem or midtown office building.
“Ghostly” because the connections
between mind and world are impossible to make out
not to speak of the “rewriting aspect” seemingly built
into the nature of things.

One of the more disturbing ideas, at least in my view,
is that all thinking entails something like
“triage” among competing ideas,
such that the contents of mind
at any given moment aren’t
and can’t be an accurate representation
of the mental processes involved—moreover,
that they mask equally significant mental activity
which hasn’t (for reasons
that are plainly unavailable)
been selected, but which could equally have been so,
given even minuscule variation in our complex mental life.

But this is the point at which the portable typewriter (I
still use one of the old manual ones)
went on the fritz, inconveniently or not;
and I didn’t feel like paying
more to have it repaired than I paid for it originally!
Plus the reconditioning fee I always seem
to get talked into. The Frank Gehry buildings really did move;
but the reality in that case was the dream.
Still, the dream involved ideas.

“Baseballically speaking,”
as former Red Sox slugger Ted Williams
once began a response to a TV interviewer,
it’s as though the outfield fences have been moved in,
leaving less room to maneuver
but a fortiori more opportunity for transcendence.
Nonetheless, the gaps (late afternoon shadows in clumps) remain poignant,
like those “queasy ‘being’ emotions which,”
according to the philosopher Roger Scruton
whom some are inclined to write off as a conservative (and worse),
“lead to drink and metaphysics.”

The shadows twist the argument “like you did last summer.”

How about stopping with the syllepses—or Whitman!

Clearly, I don’t seem to be able to… at least it’s taking a lot more time
than I expected.
As for the day as a whole, it came and went
I think it’s fair to say
minus any notable losses, notwithstanding
the fragment of cornice that broke off
the roof of a pre-war apartment building, grazing a dark green Subaru wagon
parked below
but fortunately no passers-by. What Thoreau,
the Thoreau, was doing poking around the construction site
for the new neighborhood Arts Theater
I haven’t a clue, any more than I know
what was in the brown paper bag his mother (it certainly appeared to be)
brought him at approximately noon. Sky earlier not quite angry
as in an “angry throat,” but definitely annoyed.
The city trees, the sycamores, acacias, Callery pears, lindens and gingkoes,
were all waving their arms, clearly delighted to be doing so,
but it is the ginkgoes whose humanity continues to be born anew.

Speaking of which, some believe that as a result
of the current recycling craze
which it certainly is, the very notion of new
is acquiring a negative connotation such as plastic once had
and retains in those areas
where traditional materials such as metal and wood
have demonstrated themselves to be elegant as well as durable,
e.g., certain high-end SLR cameras and the few extant
makes of manual portable typewriters still in production
(though here too, it must be said that quality is more and more being
sacrificed on the altar of brand name gods).

A few light drops have begun falling
close to where the twenty-foot-long, late 50s
mauve Cadillac with the For Sale sticker
was parked seemingly forever, without,
amazingly, being towed or stripped for parts
or otherwise interfered with. At one point light appeared to
shoot out from its fins in reddish squalls
reminiscent of some of Philip Guston’s abstract paintings from the 50s.

And the evening, already fully loaded, drops into
its pumice sea.

North to Reznikoff. The storm
struck as forecast, tearing big branches loose from their moorings,
leaving mature evergreens maimed, bloodied,
in advanced stages of syphilis, diabetes, and osteoporosis,
leaving (for some few minutes afterwards)
a thin wash of blue sky
like the melody that breaks in fleetingly
in the second movement of Chopin’s Second Sonata.
Has there been a literary critical backlash
beginning at the basketball pole
and continuing all the way to the Catskills?

Then I am at the bottom
of an extremely tall, vaguely cylindrical
(something about it reminds me of a freeform glass candy bowl)
swimming pool which has the water painted up the sides
and no clear point of exit or entry.
Far off, near what must be the top, is what looks like
a porthole where, if the pool were in fact filled,
a swimmer could theoretically exit—although
if this were as well the point at which
the water entered, exiting would be problematic to say the least.
The water is painted in a pleasing
—actually dry-looking—powder blue,
more the look and feel of sky than water,
neither realistic nor stylized (in the manner,
say, of a Hokusai) but somewhere between the two.
The English painter David Hockney, who has in fact
painted swimming pools, comes to mind.

All viewpoints coexist, if
not at precisely the same moment, then
within the same spatial/temporal frame,
the tragic, so-called, barely pulled back down
onto its stone bench and efforts to disentangle tragic from comic outlooks
doomed to wrong-headedness if not out-and-out failure.
Like, I have to say, the widow of the English poet and courtier
Sir Walter Raleigh, who kept her dead husband’s head
for weeks beside her bed in a red leather bag. As John Sloan said,
“It makes living, living. It makes starving,
living.” Numerous persons, many out of focus,
rush in and out of a rural train station carrying all their belongings,
stowing them above and underneath their seats,
taking them out again and staggering down platform steps
before doing an about-face while a Sousa march,
“The Thunderer,” blares from the station’s multiple loudspeakers.
It’s not that we say (or ever would),
“It’s a red leather day,” but that
Screwball Tragedy, so-called,
is never far off the mark. Take the names. Take Ajax

and Jocasta and Medea.


I fall upon the books of life, I read.

—Me too. But I find it useful,
at least some of the time, to think in a focused manner
about the writing process,
the “ghost” directing the machine. One
thing I’ve found that doesn’t help
is the word-processing programs that think
they know what it is you’re about to write
before you do and fill in the blanks,
and frequently if not invariably get it wrong
and think you’re writing a report to shareholders
when you’re smack in the middle of your film script or Spenserian sonnet.

Then someone stirs
in the next room and it is as though the roof fell in,
as far as the writing is concerned.

(Then it’s simply too dark to write without a flashlight,
which I don’t have—although, truth to tell, this was the point when the only pencil I had with me broke and, dumb me! I had
completely forgotten to bring along a sharpener
let alone a backup. Eventually finding a local shopkeeper,
a butcher who happened to be open late for business,
I inquired whether he had anything sharp
I could borrow just for a moment. In response,
he sang a few bars of “How High the Moon”
and proved himself prophetic. “Not that sharp!”
we all chimed in, good-naturedly. But I had to miss parts of a late
“down” afternoon, plus early evening, of recording.)

Why shouldn’t
Athena’s famously gray eyes further
signify human limitation, even fundamental lack,
as in our modern notion of “gray areas,”
the limitations built in if often (fortunately) obscured?

The following are congratulated for obtaining their degrees
and instructed to return caps and gowns
(as well as overdue library books) to avoid fines: James Anthony Pinto,
Marilhou Aubry, Philip Kwan, Margarita Komarovsky,
Simonne Pollini, Igor Oytser, Soraya Hazrat Sayeed,
Melissa C. Schouls, Sean S. Samad, Christiana Sciaudone,
Charles Alexander Mujahes, Shirley I. Robinson,
Anna Lisa Bella, Darline Lalanne, Marcia P. Turk,
Motoko Miyama, Joseph C. Scorcia, Rose-Elizabeth DePasquale,
John D. Drinkman, Jr., Amanda Jill Bernstein,
Christopher Edward Quirk, Candida Lynn Tapia, Brian Elmer Taylor,
Richard Edward Heater, Melisa Ng, Ronnie Cummings, with
apologies to any whose names have been misspelled or
unintentionally omitted. Naturally, those who own
their caps and gowns (or who have received written extensions
from the library) are excluded. Be sure the writing is legible.

In a crowded off-Broadway theater,
a heckler refuses to sit down despite mounting threats
from the relatively large audience. Several of the costumed and in some cases
masked actors
(they are doing Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in traditional dress)
though visibly distracted, climb down from the stage
and form a protective ring around him. Bottom
appears to be the ringleader.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

US Diary: journalist Molly Ivins slams into Bush & Co

Big Brother Bush -- by Molly Ivins

The first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. Thirty-five years ago, Richard Milhous Nixon, who was crazy as a bullbat, and J. Edgar Hoover, who wore women's underwear, decided some Americans had unacceptable political opinions. So they set our government to spying on its own citizens, basically those who were deemed insufficiently like Crazy Richard Milhous.

For those of you who have forgotten just what a stonewall paranoid Nixon was, the poor man used to stalk around the White House demanding that his political enemies be killed. Many still believe there was a certain Richard III grandeur to Nixon's collapse because he was also a man of notable talents. There is neither grandeur nor tragedy in watching this president, the Testy Kid, violate his oath to uphold the laws and Constitution of our country.

The Testy Kid wants to do what he wants to do when he wants to do it because he is the president, and he considers that sufficient justification for whatever he wants. He even finds lawyers like John Yoo, who tell him that whatever he wants to do is legal.

The creepy part is the overlap. Damned if they aren't still here, after all these years, the old Nixon hands -- Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, the whole gang whose yearning for authoritarian government rose like a stink over the Nixon years. Imperial executive. Bring back those special White House guard uniforms. Cheney, like some malignancy that cannot be killed off, back at the same old stand, pushing the same old crap.

Of course, they tell us we have to be spied on for our own safety, so they can catch the terrorists who threaten us all. Thirty-five years ago, they nabbed a film star named Jean Seberg and a bunch of people running a free breakfast program for poor kids in Chicago. This time, they're onto the Quakers. We are not safer.

We would be safer, as the 9-11 commission has so recently reminded us, if some obvious and necessary precautions were taken at both nuclear and chemical plants -- but that is not happening because those industries contribute to Republican candidates. Republicans do not ask their contributors to spend a lot of money on obvious and necessary steps to protect public safety. They wiretap, instead.

You will be unsurprised to learn that, first, they lied. They didn't do it. Well, OK, they did it, but not very much at all. Well, OK, more than that. A lot more than that. OK, millions of private e-mail and telephone calls every hour, and all medical and financial records.

You may recall in 2002 it was revealed that the Pentagon had started a giant data-mining program called Total Information Awareness (TIA), intended to search through vast databases "to increase information coverage by an order of magnitude."

From credit cards to vet reports, Big Brother would be watching us. This dandy program was under the control of Adm. John Poindexter, convicted of five felonies during Iran-Contra, all overturned on a technicality. This administration really knows where to go for good help -- it ought to bring back Brownie.

Everybody decided that TIA was a terrible idea, and the program was theoretically shut down. As often happens with this administration, it turned out they just changed the name and made the program less visible. Data-mining was a popular buzzword at the time, and the administration was obviously hot to have it. Bush established a secret program under which the National Security Agency could bypass the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court and begin eavesdropping on Americans without warrants.

As many have patiently pointed out, the entire program was unnecessary, since the FISA court is both prompt and accommodating. There is virtually no possible scenario that would make it difficult or impossible to get a FISA warrant -- it has granted 19,000 warrants and rejected only a handful.

I don't like to play scary games where we all stay awake late at night, telling each other scary stories -- but there's a reason we have never given our government this kind of power. As the late Sen. Frank Church said, "That capability could at any time be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capacity to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn't matter. There would be no place to hide." And if a dictator took over, the NSA "could enable it to impose total tyranny."

Then we always get that dreadful goody-two-shoes response, "Well, if you aren't doing anything wrong, you don't have anything to worry about, do you?"

Folks, we KNOW this program is being and will be misused. We know it from the past record and current reporting. The program has already targeted vegans and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals -- and, boy, if those aren't outposts of al-Qaida, what is? Could this be more pathetic?

This could scarcely be clearer. Either the president of the United States is going to have to understand and admit he has done something very wrong, or he will have to be impeached. The first time this happened, the institutional response was magnificent. The courts, the press, the Congress all functioned superbly. Anyone think we're up to that again? Then whom do we blame when we lose the republic?

(Molly Ivins is the former editor of the liberal monthly The Texas Observer. She is the bestselling author of several books including Who Let the Dogs In?)

Expert says introspection useless: more likely to screw you up than help

Don't Think Twice, It's All Right -- by TIMOTHY D. WILSON

IT'S navel gazing time again, that stretch of the year when many of us turn our attention inward and think about how we can improve the way we live our lives. But as we embark on this annual ritual of introspection, we would do well to ask ourselves a simple question: Does it really do any good?

The poet Theodore Roethke had some insight into the matter: "Self-contemplation is a curse / That makes an old confusion worse." As a psychologist who conducts research on self-knowledge and happiness, I think Roethke had a point, one that's supported by a growing body of controlled psychological studies.

Not sure how you feel about a special person in your life? Analyzing the pluses and minuses of the relationship might not be the answer.

In a study I conducted with Dolores Kraft, a clinical psychologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, and Dana Dunn, a social psychologist at Moravian College in Pennsylvania, people in one group were asked to list the reasons their relationship with a romantic partner was going the way it was, and then rate how satisfied they were with the relationship. People in another group were asked to rate their satisfaction without any analysis; they just gave their gut reactions.

It might seem that the people who thought about the specifics would be best at figuring out how they really felt, and that their satisfaction ratings would thus do the best job of predicting the outcome of their relationships.

In fact, we found the reverse. It was the people in the "gut feeling" group whose ratings predicted whether they were still dating their partner several months later. As for the navel gazers, their satisfaction ratings did not predict the outcome of their relationships at all. Our conclusion? Too much analysis can confuse people about how they really feel. There are severe limits to what we can discover through self-reflection, and trying to explain the unexplainable does not lead to a sudden parting of the seas with our hidden thoughts and feelings revealed like flopping fish.

Self-reflection is especially problematic when we are feeling down. Research by Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, a clinical psychologist at Yale University, shows that when people are depressed, ruminating on their problems makes things worse.

In one study, mildly depressed college students were asked to spend eight minutes thinking about themselves or to spend the same amount of time thinking about mundane topics like "clouds forming in the sky."

People in the first group focused on the negative things in their lives and sunk into a worse mood. People in the other group actually felt better afterward, possibly because their negative self-focus was "turned off" by the distraction task.

What about people like police officers and firefighters who witness terrible events? Is it helpful for them to reflect on their experiences?

For years it was believed that emergency workers should undergo a debriefing process to focus on and relive their experiences; the idea was that this would make them feel better and prevent mental health problems down the road. After 9/11, for example, well-meaning counselors flocked to New York to help police officers, firefighters and rescue workers deal with the trauma of what they had seen.

But did it do any good? In an extensive review of the research, a team led by Richard McNally, a clinical psychologist at Harvard, concluded that debriefing procedures have little benefit and might even hurt by interrupting the normal healing process. People often distract themselves from thinking about painful events right after they occur, and this may be better than mentally reliving the events.

What can we do to improve ourselves and feel happier? Numerous social psychological studies have confirmed Aristotle's observation that "We become just by the practice of just actions, self-controlled by exercising self-control, and courageous by performing acts of courage." If we are dissatisfied with some aspect of our lives, one of the best approaches is to act more like the person we want to be, rather than sitting around analyzing ourselves.

Social psychologist Daniel Batson and colleagues at the University of Kansas found that participants who were given an opportunity to do a favor for another person ended up viewing themselves as kind, considerate people - unless, that is, they were asked to reflect on why they had done the favor. People in that group tended in the end to not view themselves as being especially kind.

The trick is to go out of our way to be kind to others without thinking too much about why we're doing it. As a bonus, our kindnesses will make us happier.

A study by University of California, Riverside, social psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky and colleagues found that college students instructed to do a few acts of kindness one day a week ended up being happier than a control group of students who received no special instructions.

As the new year begins, then, reach out and help others. If that sounds suspiciously like an old Motown song or like simplistic advice from one of those do-gooder college professors, well, it is. But the fact is that being good to others will ultimately make us kinder, happier people - just so long as we don't think too much about it.

(Timothy D. Wilson, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, is the author of "Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious.")

Philip Roth, 72, on kicking the bucket

'It no longer feels a great injustice that I have to die'
In a rare interview, Philip Roth, one of America's greatest living authors, tells Danish journalist Martin Krasnik why his new book is all about death - and why literary critics should be shot:

Philip Roth rarely gives interviews, and I quickly find out why. It is not that he is unpleasant or rude; he just cannot be bothered with answering the same questions, over and over again. "What do you want to talk about?" Roth asks, as he sits down. Already I sense that this will be a difficult job. In September, the New York Times interviewed Roth about his work being published by The Library of America. Only two other authors (Eudora Welty and Saul Bellow) have achieved this honour while still alive. But Roth would say practically nothing to the Times's increasingly desperate journalist.

My photographer's name is Flash Rosenberg, and she really tries to help me. She says that she just returned from Berlin, where they called her Blitz (German for flash). Roth does not laugh. He looks at her with an empty stare while she jumps around taking pictures. She takes a Polaroid photo of him and inserts it into one of those souvenir snow globes. Roth turns it upside down, and the snow falls silently upon his head.

"It looks like I have a huge dandruff problem," he says in a low, slow voice. "That poor guy really needs a strong dandruff shampoo."

"I always use that trick to make people smile," Flash says.

"I don't smile."

There is a long, agonising pause.

"Why don't you smile?" I ask.

"There once was this photographer from New York. 'Smile,' she always said. 'Smile!' I couldn't stand her or the whole phenomenon. Why smile into a camera? It makes no human sense. So I got rid of both her and the smile."

"Do you ever smile at all?"

He looks at me. "Yes, when I'm hiding in a corner and no one sees it."

We are sitting in a backroom of Roth's literary agency in midtown New York. The room is full of books by Salman Rushdie. "It's probably wisest to place the Rushdie room in the back," Roth says - without smiling. He has arrived from his home in rural Connecticut to give an interview about The Plot Against America, which was published in America and Britain a while back, but is only just being published in my home country of Denmark. The book imagines Charles Lindbergh, king of the skies, winning the presidential election in 1940 and establishing an alliance with Hitler.

"I got the idea when I read an autobiography by an American historian. In a footnote he mentioned that the right wing of the Republican Party had made an attempt to nominate Lindbergh in 1940. I didn't know that. I remembered that my family supported Roosevelt, and that everyone around me hated Lindbergh. The whole neighbourhood was Jewish, and everyone worried about his extremely critical attitude towards Jews."

Jews appear everywhere in Roth's books, but this one seems to be Roth's great Jewish history. "Jewish?" he says. "It's my most American book. It's about America. About America. It's an American dystopia. You would never tell Ralph Ellison that Invisible Man is his most Negro book, would you?" He looks at me. "Would you?"

"Maybe not ..."

"Those kinds of considerations are newspaper cliches. Jewish literature. Black literature. Everyone who opens a book enters the story without noticing these labels."

"But you are seen as an American-Jewish writer. Does that mean anything to you?"

"It's not a question that interests me. I know exactly what it means to be Jewish, and it's really not interesting. I'm an American. You can't talk about this without walking straight out into horrible cliches that say nothing about human beings. America is first and foremost ... it's my language. And identity labels have nothing to do with how anyone actually experiences life."

I am now talking as quietly as him. Whispering, I say that he himself writes about identity in his books. In Operation Shylock it is about who is a Jew. In The Plot Against America, it is about who is American.

"But I don't accept that I write Jewish-American fiction. I don't buy that nonsense about black literature or feminist literature. Those are labels made up to strengthen some political agenda."

It takes all my strength to ask the next question: about Roth - and Roth. He appears in many of his books - as a boy or an adult author. And then there is his alter ego, the author Nathan Zuckerman. So where does the real Philip Roth end, and where does literature begin? The real Philip Roth looks at me, impatiently, as if I am being stupid.

"I just don't understand that question," he says. "I don't read or perceive books in that way. I'm interested in the object, the ... the thing, the story, the aesthetic jolt you get from being inside this ... thing. Am I Roth or Zuckerman? It's all me. You know? That's what I normally say. It's all me. Nothing is me."

Then the ice breaks. I have brought to the interview copies of The Dying Animal and The Human Stain - two books about the relationship between an older man and a young woman. Why does that interest him? "Because it exists," he says. I tell him about a huge scandal in Denmark in which a 68-year-old author has just been stripped of all honour. His crime: he wrote openly about a sexual relationship with an 18-year-old black girl in Haiti - the daughter of his servant. Punishment: public crucifixion, which can be really nasty, even in progressive Denmark. Roth wants to know everything about the story, every little detail. Then he says: "That author asked for it. Did he really write about how he had sex with the girl in his master bedroom? Yes, that's interesting. It turned political. If it was an affair with a 25-year-old student at the university in Port-au-Prince, it wouldn't have been a problem."

I tell him that interviewing him can be extremely difficult - like climbing an iceberg without clothes on.

"Well, I wasn't put on this earth to make your life easy. Ha!" His laughter is like a proclamation - no smile, just "Ha!"

"Maybe we shouldn't be talking about literature at all," I say.

"Ha, ha," he says. "Now you're talking! I would be wonderful with a 100-year moratorium on literature talk, if you shut down all literature departments, close the book reviews, ban the critics. The readers should be alone with the books, and if anyone dared to say anything about them, they would be shot or imprisoned right on the spot. Yes, shot. A 100-year moratorium on insufferable literary talk. You should let people fight with the books on their own and rediscover what they are and what they are not. Anything other than this talk. Fairytale talk. As soon as you generalise, you are in a completely different universe than that of literature, and there's no bridge between the two."

Roth goes and fetches a small black plate - the cover for his new book. It is completely black with a narrow red line framing the title: Everyman. "What do you think about it? It's getting approved today," he says. "It looks as if it's about death," I say. "Yes, you get your money's worth, if you want death. Everyman is the name of a line of English plays from the 15th century, allegorical plays, moral theatre. They were performed in cemeteries, and the theme is always salvation. The classic is called Everyman, it's from 1485, by an anonymous author. It was right in between the death of Chaucer and the birth of Shakespeare. The moral was always 'Work hard and get into heaven', 'Be a good Christian or go to hell'. Everyman is the main character and he gets a visit from Death. He thinks it's some sort of messenger, but Death says, 'I am Death' and Everyman's answer is the first great line in English drama: 'Oh, Death, thou comest when I had thee least in mind.' When I thought of you least. My new book is about death and about dying. Well, what do you think?"

"It's black," I say, and ask him if the publisher isn't worried that people won't want to buy it because of the colour. "I don't care," he says. "I just want it my way."

I tell him it looks like a bible. "Ha! Wonderful. Perfect. I think it looks like a tombstone." He waits for me to ask the next question.

"Are you afraid of dying?"

He thinks for a long time before answering. Maybe he thinks of something else. "Yes, I'm afraid. It's horrible." He adds. "What else could I say? It's heartbreaking. It's unthinkable. It's incredible. Impossible."

"Do you think a lot about death?"

"I was forced to think about it all the time when I wrote this book. I spent two whole days in a cemetery to see how they dig the holes. For years I had decided never to think about death. I have seen people die, of course, my parents, but it wasn't until a good friend of mine died in April that I experienced it as completely devastating. He was a contemporary. It doesn't say so in the agreement I signed, I didn't see that page in the contract, you know. As Henry James said on his deathbed: 'Ah, here it comes, the big thing.'"

"Are you satisfied with your life?" I ask.

"Eight years ago I attended a memorial ceremony for an author," he says. "An incredible man full of life and humour, curiosity. He worked for a magazine here in New York. He had girlfriends, mistresses. And at this memorial ceremony there were all these women. Of all ages. And they all cried and left the room, because they couldn't stand it. That was the greatest tribute ..."

"What will the women do at your funeral?"

"If they even show up ... they will probably be screaming at the casket." He looks out of the window, across the buildings of midtown. "You know, passion doesn't change with age, but you change - you become older. The thirst for women becomes more poignant. And there is a power in the pathos of sex that it didn't have before. The pathos of the female body becomes more insistent. The sexual passion is always deep, but it becomes deeper."

"You said that you're afraid of dying. You're 72 years old. What are you afraid of?"

He looks at me. "Oblivion. Of not being alive, quite simply, of not feeling life, not smelling it. But the difference between today and the fear of dying I had when I was 12, is that now I have a kind of resignation towards reality. It no longer feels like a great injustice that I have to die."

I ask him if he is religious. "I'm exactly the opposite of religious," he says. "I'm anti-religious. I find religious people hideous. I hate the religious lies. It's all a big lie. Are you religious yourself?" he asks.

"No," I say, "but I'm sure that life would be easier if I was."

"Oh," he says. "I don't think so. I have such a huge dislike. It's not a neurotic thing, but the miserable record of religion. I don't even want to talk about it, it's not interesting to talk about the sheep referred to as believers. When I write, I'm alone. It's filled with fear and loneliness and anxiety - and I never needed religion to save me."

I ask him why he keeps writing then, if it's so lonely and full of anxiety? He sighs - loudly.

"There are some days that compensate completely," he says. "In my life I have had, in total, a couple of months of these completely wonderful days as a writer, and that is enough ... It's actually a good question [at this point I silently jump with joy]. You know, it's a choice to be occupied with literature, like everything else is a choice. But you quickly identify with the profession. And that's the first nail in the coffin. Then you struggle across the decades to make your work better, to make it a bit different, to do it again and to prove to yourself that you can do it."

"But you know that you can do it now, right?"

"I have no idea that I can do it again. How can I know? How do I know that I won't run out of ideas tomorrow? It's a horrible existence being a writer filled with deprivation. I don't miss specific people, but I miss life. I didn't discover that during the first 20 years, because I was fighting - in the ring with the literature. That fight was life, but then I discovered that I was in the ring all by myself."

He gets up. "It was the interests in life and the attempt to get life down on the pages which made me a writer - and then I discovered that, in many ways, I am standing on the outside of life".

Poem of the week: Almeder

You'll like this poem if you know anything about or by the New England poet Robert Lowell. If you don't, you won't.

Postmortem for Lowell, Massachusetts -- by Melanie Almeder

Lowell’s gone ash can, gone soot, gone hybrid
of lilac and factory and lapsed Catholic.
Leaves, the disoriented speak of trees;
with a little wind, they talk the shuffle, the sweep.
At night strange resemblances among teeth and grave stones:
We’ve got heads full of relatives
while the wind trills the silver ash leaves.

In the story of the city,
in the old woman’s grin back
at the wind and blue sky, teeth are the spokesmen
of bone, would have, if they could have, told
the one about skeleton where skin
makes off with the crows, wind pilfers sockets,
and later, much later, the industry of souls.

This Brit dude is fed-up with anti-Americanism: hey, come and live in the US, boyo, if you want to taste the real thing

From Fashionable anti-Americanism — by Dominic Hilton
The United States is burdened with the pains, frustrations, and hatreds of the rest of the world. Ignorant and unfair, says Dominic Hilton, in a scathing and witty critique of a disabling obsession.

The United States of America is on a hiding to nothing. In the conspiratorial alleys of the “Arab Street”, Uncle Sam is flogged like a habitual adulterer. In the bars and cafés of Europe, Yankee Doodle is lashed like a mutinous sailor. Even in the privacy of his own backyard, Brother Jonathan is grilled like a jumbo dog.

Ritual condemnation of the USA has been la tendance du jour since the Mayflower hauled anchor at Plymouth in 1620. But mankind has advanced some over the past four centuries: nowadays, taking pot-shots at the United States is a booming multi-billion dollar industry, and one my bank manager is keen I invest in.

Regrettably, however, I can’t indulge in the unceasing chorus of Yank-bashing. My financial balance suffers for it, but I’m what’s known in intellectual circles as an “ Americaphile ”. I told this to an American pal who’d taken shore leave on a recent trip past Europe. “Oh, so you’re the one,” he grinned.

His story is important. A pleasant chap – polite, open-minded, affable and adorably moral – he’d nevertheless found it hard to ignore the clear anti-American sentiment swilling around the old continent like the contents of an open sewer. In Paris, he explained, waiters had served him swiftly and attentively – a sure sign they’d identified him as an American pig and been keen to see the back of him.

I listened to his sad tale, then told him to quit worrying. While undeniably profuse these days, I said, anti-Americanism is not as alarming as many Americans are making out. Much of it is not serious. In fact, I qualified, most America-thumping is pathetically hypocritical, embarrassingly imbecilic, perilously ruinous and, worst of all, as derisorily fashionable as those ludicrous woolly boots everyone’s presently sporting. “But the world hates me and my nation!” he cried in response. “Fahgedaboudit,” I shrugged, in a hopeless attempt at a New York accent that nobody was buying.

Still, despite the best efforts of myself, most of Washington, and the entire populace of the Midwestern states, the fact remains it’s difficult for Americans not to notice how they’re the subject of global derision. Most of us would find that kind of thing hard to handle. We’d start to worry about ourselves and feel painfully conscious of our shortcomings. We’d look in the mirror, analysing, criticising, assessing and judging. We might consider therapy, confessional. We’d be reborn and either guest on Oprah or volunteer on Karl Rove’s staff.

Since 9/11, America has been aware of and concerned about the amount of anti-Americanism inside and outside its borders. Some of this has been caricatured, some of it earnestly analysed. Interest goes right to the top. “Why do they hate us?” President George W Bush asked Congress two weeks after 9/11. His administration splashes out $68 million per annum on “ Al-hurra ”, an Arabic satellite station which aims to tell “the truth about the values of the policies of the United States” to middle eastern couch potatoes. It was Bush who hired the legendary Madison Avenue advertising guru Charlotte Beers to market his nation to the Muslim world. She quit after eighteen months.

Some of this is understandable. It’s also understandable that “Why do they hate us?” has limits. In a Newsweek article, Fareed Zakaria expressed concern that with his lofty second inaugural address , Bush had ripened the opportunity for America’s critics to charge his nation with hypocrisy for the cavernous gap between its high ideals and its not-so-pure actions. But when Bush declared “America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one,” he was also telling the world how (with some noteworthy exceptions) the charge of American hypocrisy might lose legitimacy. The speech combined time-honoured American idealism with a smidgen of “put up or shut up”. Two birds with one stone. “Will you give us a break?” the president was saying. “We’re doing our best here. Cut us some slack, why don’t you?”

Quite right. It would be futile for America to respond in a soul-searching manner to the trash talk of its detractors. Why? Because most of the time, it’s not America’s fault the world so condemns it. It’s not that America does everything right. America is imperfect, thank God. Its commitment to (and achievement of) imperfection is arguably its greatest feat. For this, we should love it. Criticism remains entirely valid. If America makes a bonehead move – something it does as well as most of us – we should jeer and blow raspberries. Though this is not what we do. The industry of anti-American sentiment is just that – an industry. It should not be mistaken for legitimate and considered concern. “I hate America” is the world’s default position. Knocking America is a form of displacement. It helps non-Americans avoid focusing on their own big problems. In fact, strip it of its lacy hosiery and the world’s relationship with America is disgustingly Freudian.

Threats and fads

First, let’s distinguish between different types of anti-Americanism. Thomas Friedman put it well on one of his columns: “for Europeans, anti-Americanism is a hobby. For too many in the Muslim world it has become a career.” In other words, anti-Americanism that breeds terrorism and tyranny is a big, big problem. But anti-Americanism that falls into the category of “indulgent fad” is generally immaterial. Except this is not quite true, is it? Friedman missed something. For more and more Europeans, and more and more Americans, anti-Americanism is an ever more profitable career path. It is very material.

So let’s rework this: anti-Americanism that breeds terrorism and tyranny is a major problem for us all and one the United States of America must fully address; anti-Americanism that doesn’t result in suicide missions is not America’s problem, it’s the problem of its moron perpetrators – though it benefits nobody good. Non-Americans that find comfort in blaming America for all the world’s ills – poverty, war, environmental destruction, the death of high culture, their own pitiful inadequacies – suffer for such fatuous bunkum. Their own houses rot as they drone on at dinner parties and terrorist camps about American “crimes against humanity”. The rhetoric of Osama bin Laden is curiously similar to that of Harold Pinter (though notably less profane). Pinter, I hazard a guess, is less dangerous.

They are all morons, but the difference is that America can and should ignore the dinner guests. They pose no threat. Especially not an intellectual one. The philosophy of “damn you if you do, damn you if you don’t” is not worthy of serious contemplation. Insularly isolationist or intensely imperial, America is castigated for both, often by the same people. This is what’s technically known as a no-win situation. “The illogicality at base consists in reproaching the United States for some shortcoming, and then for its opposite,” writes Jean-Francois Revel in his aptly-titled Anti-Americanism. “Here is a convincing sign that we are in the presence, not of rational analysis, but of obsession.”

Many of those who say America does not live up to its own ideals and rhetoric would surely be the first to protest if it did. If America invades and “liberates” Iraq, they say, it should also invade and liberate North Korea, Burma, China, Zimbabwe, etcetera. I’d love to see their reaction if America took up the challenge. Yes, America talks a good game – but this should be celebrated, and, yes, held to account. As it stands, though, whether the “indispensable nation”, the “universal country”, the “last, best hope”, the “shining city upon a hill”, the “global policeman”, the “lone superduperpower”, the “empire in denial” or Jefferson’s “empire of liberty”, the US plays the traditional lead role of the world’s whipping-boy. We might suppose this is inevitable. C’est le prix du pouvoir (as Jacques Chirac might put it).

American booty

America does not want to be charged with hypocrisy by hypocrites. By definition, however, it always will be. In all its guises, anti-Americanism is an infatuation and an excuse. Anti-Americanism is “the dog ate my homework” of international relations.

“Power is fascinating … But being fascinating is also power,” says Timothy Garton Ash in his new book Free World . Fair point. But fascination quickly spills into fixation.

“At least part of the Western left – or rather the Western far left – is now so anti-American, or so anti-Bush, that it actually prefers authoritarian or totalitarian leaders to any government that would be friendly to the United States,” writes Anne Applebaum in the Washington Post. “Many of the same people who would refuse to condemn a dictator who is anti-American cannot bring themselves to admire democrats who admire, or at least don’t hate, the United States.”

Applebaum is on to something. This goes beyond Saddam apologia. It’s getting into the realm of anti-democracy. To some, democratic movements are only legitimate if also anti-American. Ukrainians in Independence Square were pro-American, not pro-Castro. Must’ve been a CIA plot.

In a sweeping commentary for Commentary magazine entitled “Americanism – and Its Enemies”, David Gelernter suggested “Americanism” is a religion and that “anti-Americanism is closely associated with anti-Christianism and anti-Semitism … America has remained an object of hatred within nations that have themselves gone over to American-style democracy; has been hated by people who had nothing whatsoever to fear from American power.”
Actually, it’s worse than that. America has remained an object of hatred from those who directly gain from American generosity. Some of America’s most sour critics preach their gospels in America’s palatial universities. A highly desirable standard of living is endowed on those who make their living attacking America’s highly desirable standard of living. Ditto its liberty.

“Since the end of the cold war, anti-Americanism has overtaken soccer as the world’s most popular sport,” Tom Friedman writes in Longitudes and Attitudes. “And there is this general assumption in intellectual circles that America is to be blamed first for whatever happens, and a given that American intellectuals will play along and accept this role as the world’s punching bag. And when you refuse to do this in mixed company, it’s as if you unleashed a huge fart at a cocktail party – people look at you funny and just start to back away.”

American cool

But it’s not just the left-leaning intellectual class that’s guilty of rank hypocrisy in its attitude towards Uncle Sam. It’d be comforting to think so, but you don’t have to wear elbow pads on your corduroy jacket to participate in this orgy of anti-American infantilism. The kids are at it too.

As 2004 faded into history, the Financial Times ran a feature under the headline “Tarnished image: is the world falling out of love with US brands?”

“Poll after poll has shown that allegations of human rights abuses and the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq have tarnished the international reputation of the US,” the article reckoned, worrying aloud about a “subtle tarnishing of brands in the minds of millions of ordinary consumers.” Joseph Nye , of Harvard and “soft power” fame, offered his wisdom: “US brands have benefited from a sense that it is fashionable, chic and modern to be American. The other side of that coin is when US policies become unpopular, there is a cost.”

A net incline in Abu Ghraib scandals = A net decline in Pepsi sales? Impossible to measure, even with the advent of Mecca Cola . Besides, “It is more a subject of debate between intellectuals than something that is hampering the development of these brands with consumers,” says Maurice Levy, chief executive of the marketing group Publicis . But subheads like “Cool would come from Tokyo rather than LA” are not entirely bullshit. Cool is important. The most popular is never the coolest. America has become like a manufactured pop band. Kids go for thrash metal.

Though hang on, where did thrash metal originate? America’s diversity, its sheer vastness, makes life hard for its opponents. The land of Disney is the land of Easy Rider. The home of televangelists is the home of hip-hop. America is “cool” – even in its failings. The bad trip that was the Vietnam war was replayed in a succession of überhip purple haze movies like Apocalypse Now! The Deerhunter, Rambo, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Born on the Fourth of July, and TV shows like Tour of Duty with its Rolling Stones soundtrack.

My generation grew up with these movies, the Sheen-Duvall-Hopper-Brando-DeNiro-Walken- Stallone-Sheen-Defoe-Berenger-Cruise out-of-control American soldier with a bandanna, an ironic peace tattoo on their helmet – wild-eyed boys in the fug of drugs. We pretended these were negative images of an out-of-control America. Nonsense. To my generation, these movies were an updated confirmation of American cool. How cool to burn villages, to collect skulls, to play Russian roulette, to rape and pillage your way across the jungle to the psychedelic strains of Jim Morrison, then return home and be messed-up about what you done out in ‘Nam – or what, ahem, you were made to do. These movies were so very, very American.

In essence, what we are witnessing is a pseudo-rejection of the USA. All this “I hate America as much as you hate America!” baloney is a cultural phenomenon, little to do with any meaningful or cultivated sense of “politics”. Across Europe, gigantic music stores stuffed to the gunwales with American pop, rock and urban do a sideline in hipster books. Virtually without exception these dazzling paperback digests are rabidly anti-American (Why do we hate America?), anti-Bush/anti-American (The Bush-haters’ handbook), anti-globalisation/anti-American (American Dream/Global Nightmare), anti-American culture/anti-American (Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World).

For the most part adorned with colourful depictions of the universally attractive symbols of Americana, the covers tell a story of their own: as beacon or pariah, America sells. Here lies the reading choice of today’s youth, of societies most cool, and these cash-in volumes are horribly high in the sales charts. It’s not just the dreadlocked, nose-ringed student-acolytes who pack the theatres to hear the nasal drone of the world’s Noam Chomskys, it’s the kids who lap up American culture, obese and spotty from a diet of McDonald’s and Coca-Cola, baggily clad in Nike, Gap and Levi’s, plugged into their iPods digitally replete with Eminem or 50 Cent. These are the kids whose street cred relies on their miserable detestation of the shallow, candied, military behemoth that is the USA.

Unlike back in ‘68, “I hate America” is now “organised”. Not organised in the leftist sense, I mean organised in the Ben and Jerry’s sense. Attractively-packaged, nice tasting, creamy, chocolaty, cookie-dough anti-Americanism that clogs the arteries and numbs the brain.

Fashion trumps sophistication. America’s insignia are ubiquitous – from Ralph Lauren jumpers to Primal Scream album covers to the end of a flaming match in the Arab Street, looking modish even when being burned . I’ve seen kids on TV in Osama bin Laden t-shirts and New York Yankees’ baseball caps (Hello? You don’t see the irony?). I’ve watched young British men in the nondescript north-of-London town of Luton clad in “New York” sweatshirts holding up banners of the extremist Islamic group al-Muhajiroun.

Our rebels are American. So are our anti-Americans. Michael Moore is one of America’s biggest exports. America makes anti-Americanism profitable for America. What a country!

Ideals and piggybacks

Now, even I admit there’s something a little fishy at times about America’s claim to moral exceptionality. When Gelenter writes about Americans being “positive that their nation is superior to all others – morally superior, closer to God,” I can only think of Hegel’s conviction that 1830s Prussia was the perfect and ultimate achievement of mankind, and how this applesauce led to Marxism.

Nevertheless, there’s something too easy about knocking the believer. America is going to say and think big things about itself. Look at its history, and then understand that the United States is a nation, and acts as such – in its own interests and with a powerful identity. In his response to Bush’s second inaugural, the American commentator David Brooks identified “this weird intermingling of high ideals with gross materialism” which so defines his country. In the spirit of Washington and Kennedy, the president waxed lyrical on mankind’s highest ideals. Later that evening, “drunken, loud and privileged twentysomethings” carried each other piggyback down K Street.

“The people who detest America take a look at this odd conjunction and assume the materialistic America is the real America; the ideals are a sham,” Brooks wrote. “The real America, they insist, is the money-grubbing, resource-wasting, TV-drenched, unreflective bimbo of the earth. The high-toned language, the anti-Americans say, is just a cover for the quest for oil, or the desire for riches, dominion and war. But of course they’ve got it exactly backward. It’s the ideals that are real.”

The ideals are real. Not because they are America’s, but because they are ideals and they are the right ideals. Those who don’t revel in extremism, dictatorship and political stagnation have to decide whose camp they want to be in. Does Europe really feel more allied to communist China than conservative America? The European Union and China share “a convergence of views about the United States, its foreign policy and its global behaviour,” says David Shambaugh of George Washington University. This should send a shudder down the spine of democrats. Who truly wants to believe the late Susan Sontag and her assertion that America is “a doomed country … founded on a genocide”? Get over yourself. I’m sticking with my stateside compadre John Hulsman , who believes “there is little doubt we have all benefited from the ‘naïve’ optimism that has enabled America to do amazing things not just for itself, but also for all mankind.”

Into the mirror

Anti-Americanism, when not perpetrated by true haters, is often a stale mockery of America, born of our own fascination. This is our (the world’s) problem, not America’s. Jean-Francois Revel suggests that we “project our faults onto America so as to absolve ourselves”. As he says of his native France, and Barry Rubin and Judith Colp Rubin say of the last four hundred years, some of this “Hating America” is born of fear, some of plain old weakness, some of outright jealousy. The left, in particular, is green with envy. 20th-century Communism only served to augment belief in the American Dream. “The success of America was thus a devastating blow to the Left,” writes Michael Ledeen . “It wasn’t supposed to happen. And American success was particularly galling because it came at the expense of Europe itself, and of the embodiment of the Left’s most utopian dream: the Soviet Union.”

But some leftists are getting tired of it. The narrative of left-wing anti-Americanism “has ceased to be critical, but become predestinarian,” says John Lloyd. Such stasis serves nobody except the tyrants, the terrorists, and the unoriginal, knee-jerk loudmouths who cash in on the fashionability of the flaming Spangled Banner (categorised by Barry Rubin as “self-interest”).

Even Americans are caught up in this silly love-hate relationship. “How can you have patience for people who claim they love America but clearly can’t stand Americans?”, Annette Bening’s flag-burning power-woman asks the eponymous Michael Douglas in Aaron Sorkin and Rob Reiner’s eco-friendly, anti-gun liberal dream The American President. Same question, the other way round, from rightwing firebrand Ann Coulter: a recent explosion was hilariously titled “Liberals love America like O.J. loved Nicole”.

This is all a little daft. After the fascistic and communistic horrors of the 20th century, we are bloody lucky to live in a world led by the United States in which the central geopolitical questions are “Should we spread liberty and democracy? And if so, how far?” We should ride our luck a little, before we run it out. “[America’s] interaction with the rest of the world must be a conversation, not a monologue,” says the new US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice. That goes both ways. In Asia, “consumers are increasingly indifferent to US brands and are paying great attention to Asian trends and products,” reports the Financial Times . The rest of the world should swallow a spoonful of this medicine. When President Bush declares how, “In a world moving towards liberty, we are determined to show the meaning and promise of liberty,” we should let him get on with it, and try dusting off our own promises.

America is not the panacea, nor is it the devil. Our problems are generally our problems. The world would do well to be a little more like America, a tad more insular, self-involved.

Non-Americans love to quote John Kennedy’s famous call, “And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Why? It is the second part of Kennedy’s couplet we should heed and let roll off our tongues: “My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.” This still stands. And freedom, like charity, discipline and intelligence, begins at home.