Adam Ash

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

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

I listened to the President's State Of The Union speech, and this is what I heard:

Blah, blah, blah.

US Diary: 'orrible Bush

1. Treasonous Bush Fostering Fascism -- by Bill Gallagher

We, the suffering American people, are now in the sixth winter of our national discontent, thoroughly numbed by President George W. Bush's radical agenda, wild misjudgments and wholesale lies. He sells fear to win support, when it is he we must fear most.

The nation and world brace to endure more of Bush's obsessions, miscalculations, greed and sheer incompetence. We are in the seventh hell of an administration that claims all power and denies all responsibility. The state of our union is frightening.

These are very dangerous times. Nothing in our national experience has prepared us for the chilling consequences of the double dose of foreign and domestic irresponsibility and recklessness Bush has wrought.

Of course, I wish I could say I anticipated the cold reality of the Bushevik horrors. I didn't. I was horribly wrong. While I get a steady flow of hate mail accusing me of "hating Bush," I don't. I simply pity him as a tragically flawed figure who happens to be far more lucky than good and an effective prop for the interests he gladly serves. I do despise what he has done to our nation already and fear what's to come.

But that's not what I thought five years ago, after the U.S. Supreme Court selected and anointed this failed progeny of a wealthy family, with a familiar name and vast influence.

Left on his own and relying on his own merits and wit, Bush always fails.

But his pedigree, the country club culture and the Ivy League affirmative action his family status guaranteed assured this manifestly mediocre man his richly undeserved academic opportunities, business "successes," personal wealth and the powers of high public office.

Never forget that Yale University and the Harvard Business School gave our nation the worst president and manager of civic affairs we have ever had. That's a stigma those otherwise respected institutions must bear. They helped create this monster.

Reflecting on what I anticipated and wrote when the supremely ill-qualified Texas cowpoke took office on that bleak January day, I now realize what a fool I was.

I praised his inaugural speech, calling it "stunning." Dubya quoted Mother Teresa and urged Americans to see the "pain of poverty." The president who went on to do more to enrich the rich and steal from the poor than any other in our history was calling on people to sacrifice to help others.

"I ask you to seek a common good beyond your comfort," Bush said. He fretted that, in times of economic decline, "the vulnerable will suffer most."

And then, in one of the most pixilated moments in my life, I gushed in the column that "our 43rd president set a decent tone for his administration far different from his shrill campaign. He called for 'a nation of civility, courage, compassion and character.'"

What we got was corruption, cronyism, chaos and craven assaults on the civilized world. His "compassion" for the poor has turned into an unprecedented raid on the U.S. Treasury to give tax cuts to the richest Americans and his corporate sponsors. Middle-class workers are paying for the reckless debt, as their real income remains flat or declines. Programs to help the poor are being slashed as corporate welfare, business subsidies and pork-barrel spending have grown wildly under Bush's watch.

A cover story in Britain's "Economist" warns this is "danger time for America" as a result of Bush's economic and fiscal policies and the retiring Chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan's monetary policies.

The article notes Greenspan's legacy and reputation may well falter quickly from the pain his work leaves.

"Mr. Greenspan's departure could well mark a high point for America's economy with a period of sluggish growth ahead. This is not so much that he is leaving, but what he is leaving behind: the biggest economic imbalance in America history," the "Economist" warns. America's housing boom -- enabled by Greenspan's low interest rates -- results in people borrowing against "the rising potential artificial value of their homes" to indulge in all kinds of superficial luxuries.

As a consequence, "Americans have been able to literally consume more than they earn. ... Part of America's prosperity is based, not on genuine gains in income, nor on high productivity, but on borrowing from the future," the "Economist" offers.

Consumer spending dominates the modest expansion of the U.S. economy, but Greenspan -- along with the Busheviks -- has created a fragile and unpredictable economic engine built with unsustainable devices.

"Robust consumer spending has boosted GDP growth," the British journal notes, "but at the cost of a negative personal savings rate, a growing burden of household debt and a huge current account deficit."

Greenspan recently told the French finance minister, "We have lost control of the budget deficit."

No, Mr. Greenspan, "we" have not committed this unconscionable act of generational thievery. You, Bush and the Republican Congress have created this mess with your addiction to borrow-and-spend federal budgets.

Greenspan's irrational exuberance for Bush's irresponsible tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans has put us on the track of the fiscal trainwreck we are sure to have. Long ago, Greenspan lost any respectability as a central banker to become a hack politician and GOP partisan. Good riddance!

American manufacturing, especially the automotive sector, is in big trouble, and Washington refuses to do anything to help. Detroit auto executives, with their hubris and shortsightedness, have contributed largely to their own plight, but some factors are beyond their control and government can and should do something about them.

With Delphi in bankruptcy, Ford closing plants and cutting one-quarter of its workforce, and General Motors losing $8.6 billion last year -- and with that vulture Kirk Kerkorian ready and willing to use his large stake in GM to force liquidation of the company -- the industry and people who depend on it are in dire straits.

But Bush is not prepared to help in any way. He told the Wall Street Journal last week, "I think it's very important for the market to function," and he downplayed any possible federal role in assisting the domestic automakers.

Of course, Bush can't stop the Chinese from unfairly manipulating their currency, which hurts U.S. manufacturing, because Chinese banks are financing a substantial chunk of the enormous debt he's created. You can't get tough with the Chinese when they're keeping us fiscally afloat.

Health care costs put American automakers at a serious competitive disadvantage with foreign competitors. A single-payer health care system would be the best thing the federal government could do to help U.S. manufacturers. We pay more per capita for health care than any other industrialized nation, and yet we still have 40 million people uninsured.

Auto executives know a single-payer system would help enormously, but they don't have the guts to say so out loud.

Besides, they probably figure the Busheviks are so beholden to the drug industry, insurance companies and for-profit hospital chains, it's pointless to broach the subject.

But, by golly, some industries are doing just fine with their buddy doing a heck of a job in the Oval Office. Military contractors and energy companies are thriving. Halliburton, of course, is both.

Vice President Dick Cheney's former company -- with the largess of government subsidies for oil exploration and no-bid Pentagon contracts in Iraq -- reports the most profitable year in its 86-year-history: $1.1 billion in net income. Halliburton still sends residual payment checks to Cheney's bunker.

The corporate culture he created there has resulted in Halliburton being caught on numerous occasions cheating the taxpayers, overcharging and performing substandard work. A recent report showed that company provided untreated water for soldiers in Iraq. The market that best functions for Halliburton is based on influence and political clout.

Chevron -- where Condoleezza Rice once served as a director -- made a record $14.1 billion for 2005. That's as fuel prices soar, consumers and businesses suffer, and Bush and the Republican Congress provide more tax breaks for oil companies. It's always better to be lucky than good. Just ask Lord Halliburton and Princess "Concealeezza."

Bush's idea of "civility, concern, compassion and character" has made the world despise us. His war in Iraq will cost more than $1 trillion. That money would have been better spent investing in our own infrastructure and homeland security. Bush's neocon fantasy of forced democracy is failing in Iraq. Sunni fundamentalists and jihadists are gaining support in Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

The desperate Palestinians -- tired of getting nothing -- just voted democratically for Hamas to run their government. Bush has never put up a dime of his "political capital" to help create a Palestinian state and forge a lasting peace. The invasion and occupation of Iraq have only diminished hope for political stability in the region and have spread chaos and extremism.

Bush is fostering fascism to "protect" us, claiming he has the authority to spy on people without search warrants and indefinitely detain "enemies" without charges and legal representation. He condones kidnappings and torture. He says this illegal, unconstitutional and barbaric behavior makes our nation "safer."

Bush's horrible adventure in Iraq has weakened our security and nurtured terrorism. At home, the economy is precarious at best. We are a fiscal basket case. Tuesday night, Bush will tell us how much better off we are with him at the helm. The truth is, the state of our union is a shambles. Can matters get any worse? Just wait until next winter.

(Bill Gallagher, a Peabody Award winner, is a former Niagara Falls city councilman who now covers Detroit for Fox2 News. Email to:

2. Impeach or Indict Bush and Cheney -- by Ronnie Dugger

The year 2006 will be historic for the nation, and probably for humanity. Texans Bush and Rove and their conspirators in the second Bush presidency have disgraced American democracy at home and in the world with debasements of our nation and our values that have now entered their climactic phase. What part will the rest of us Texans play in this decisive year?

As I have written in a review-essay that appears in the tenth-anniversary spring issue of Yes! , the quarterly of new solutions published in Washington state by David and Frances Korten (, we are living and working in the very days and nights of the American Emergency, the climactic American Crisis. Our elections are bought, and our government is run by and for the major transnational corporations. Bush announced in 2002 his illegal presidential policy that the United States can and will attack other nations first, waging war on them, when he so decides. He is now waging, as if he were doing it in our names, a bloody war of aggression against Iraq, which on the face of it is a crime against humanity under the Nuremberg principles that we and our allies established and enforced with hangings after World War II. The President, the Vice-President, and their factors sold this war to Congress with twistings and lies that were crafted to infuriate and terrorize us about Iraq’s alleged connections to Al Qaeda and mass-murder endangerments to us from Iraq itself, all of which literally did not exist. In polls now six of 10 Americans do not believe the president is honest. Yet he has three more years of dictatorial control over our nuclear and other arms and our Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps and seems now to be maneuvering to use that control to wage another aggressive war on Iran, with literally incalculable consequences.

We Texans are a major source of this deterioration into crisis. The leading Democrats of the state so dishonored the liberal traditions of their party that in the resulting political vacuum, Bush was elected Governor here, and from Austin he mounted the campaign that a 5-4 majority of the U.S. Supreme Court illegally decreed made him President. After that, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, from Sugar Land, crafted his scheme to use corporate money to widen the Republicans’ majority in the Texas delegation to Washington, D.C., battening down right-wing GOP control of the House and the Congress. The third President from Texas and his Republican Congress then waged aggressive war on Iraq, drove the nation into insolvency to further enrich the already rich, and just for good measure tore up the Constitution.

As we in Texas bear guilt for this we have also begun to join the resistance and revolt against it, starting with Cindy Sheehan’s brigades in Crawford. By happy accident the Texas trip-root that now threatens to help bring the Bush presidency crashing down, crushing itself under its own arrogance, hubris, and criminality, is a law against corporate money in Texas elections that was passed a century ago in the state’s populist afterglow. To uphold that law, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle has braved ruthless contumely, as he had done often before in order to prosecute public officials he believed had violated the laws. While it is merely seemly to await the outcome of the trial of DeLay and his co-defendants on the charges that they laundered corporate money through Washington to elect Republicans to the House from Texas, in a speech in September Earle declared what he believes his prosecution is all about. “Corporate money in politics” has become “the fight of our generation of Americans....It is our job—our fight—to rescue democracy from the money that has captured it,” he said. “The issue that we’re faced with is the role of large concentrations of money in democracy, whether it’s individuals or corporations, the issue is the same.”

Since 1994, although the polls show a majority of Texan citizens support progressive reforms such as adequate taxation for equal education for Texas schoolchildren, the leaders of the disappearing Texas Democratic Party and their statewide candidates, finking out on every ethically important political issue, have proved again and again that nothing fails like failure. Rot-gut Republicans have swept every statewide office and achieved mercenary domination of the Texas courts, too. In my opinion, Texas Democrats ought to have concluded by 2002 at the latest that they should be choosing, from among the waves of the on-comers, entirely new sets of state and local party leaders and candidates. For example, rather than be taken in, even a jot, by the torrent of contemptuous abuse directed at Ronnie Earle by Tom DeLay, his lawyers, and that ilk, Texans should be realizing that—just as the dramatic prosecutions of Thomas E. Dewey in New York made him a Republican presidential candidate and now the populist prosecutions of Eliot Spitzer in New York State are making him a national figure—Ronnie Earle has fully qualified himself as a front-rank leader in Texas politics. For another example, this year, in my opinion—shared, by the way, by Jim Hightower—Texans are very fortunate to have running for Attorney General the lifelong labor lawyer and Democratic firebrand David Van Os of San Antonio. The Observer does not make political endorsements, but I may say here for myself alone that David, in my carefully considered personal judgment, is the Ralph Yarborough of his generation.

The national resistance to Bush, Cheney, Rove, et al., is coming into focus, too. John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, which is the logical source for impeachment initiatives, has taken the significant step of calling for an investigation of Bush and Cheney with a view to censure, which obviously could metamorphose into impeachment. Tom Daschle, until recently the Minority Leader in the Senate, Sen. Edward Kennedy, and Nancy Pelosi, the House Minority Leader, are all calling for investigations of Bush and Cheney. Elizabeth Holtzman writes for impeachment in the current Nation , and the Internet is on fire with initiatives to impeach Bush and Cheney for crimes committed in office, foremost among them lying our nation into a war of aggression. Impeachment is unlikely as long as the House remains firmly in GOP control, but this year it would be gratifying to see citizens seeking the election of House candidates—whether Democrats, Republicans, or independents—who promise explicitly to vote, if elected, to impeach Bush and Cheney.

If impeachment does not become possible, let me broach with you the idea that a grand jury, federal or state, should indict Bush and Cheney for their manifold official crimes. Are we, as we are so often piously assured, “a nation of laws and not of men,” or is the President above the law if his party controls the House and can block impeaching him?

The Constitution is silent on whether a seated President and Vice President can be indicted, while in office, for crimes committed while they have held those offices. Constitutional lawyers are congenitally prone to announcing that this cannot be done because it would disrupt the ongoing business of the government. But it is time to do it, if necessary absent impeachment, for exactly that reason—to disrupt the continuation of THIS government.

I have not yet found one constitutional lawyer who can cite a Supreme Court case or any other judicial precedent prohibiting their indictment—if you know of one please let me hear from you. In 1973 Nixon’s attorney general said the President can’t be indicted, but why should Nixon’s attorney general bind us?

Committed to nonviolence, determined, in this post-Gandhi era, against violence, nevertheless we are once again in the position of the Framers of the Constitution. In the post-revolutionary emergency, the Founding Fathers took things in their own hands, violating their clear instructions from the states by proposing to create the United States, which the states then created. In the crisis we are in now we must not be misled by expostulating lawyers or posturing politicians. We the citizens can make up our own minds whether we can indict Bush and Cheney and, if they are convicted, throw them out.

May we close here, then, as we began two centuries and more ago, with the words of Tom Paine. “We have it in our power to begin the world over again,” he said. “The birth day of a new world is at hand… We are a people upon experiments. It is an age of revolutions, in which everything may be looked for.”

(Ronnie Dugger is the founding editor and former publisher of The Texas Observer. Author of presidential biographies and other books and articles, he writes now from his office in Cambridge, Mass.)

Little-discussed fem issue: see this introduction to a great book about how having a baby changes power relationships between wife and husband

"Kidding Ourselves: Breadwinning, Babies, and Bargaining Power" (BasicBooks: New York, 1995) by Rhona Mahony (via Bitch PhD):


Cheryl and Dean have two children who are now 18 and 12 years old. When the children were small, both Cheryl and Dean worked full-time. Cheryl worked at a computer center, giving technical help to people on-line. Dean ran the shipping and receiving de partment of a medical equipment company. Cheryl brought the children to and from the babysitter and the day care center. She stayed home when they were sick. At night, after she came home from work, she took care of the children, cleaned the house, coo ked dinner, washed dishes, washed clothes, and ironed. When Dean came home, he felt he had earned the right to relax for a few hours. In the late 1970's and early 1980's, that arrangement made a rough sort of sense to both Cheryl and Dean. He earned $1 1 an hour; she earned $8 an hour. Dean's own mother had taken meticulous care of him and eight other children. Cheryl's mother had kept the house spotless while raising her and her brother. The big difference, which Cheryl and Dean never discussed beca use it took them years to see it, was that neither of their mothers had held a paying job while they were raising their children.

Thanks to Arlie Hochschild, we have a name for Cheryl's predicament. It's called the second shift (Hochschild, 1989). Many people see now that it's exhausting and unfair for a mother with a full-time job to do all the housework and childraising whil e her husband does none. Even Cheryl and Dean see that now; Dean does more at home than he used to.

However, very few people see that the assignment of chores at home has much broader consequences. Even more is at stake than women's fatigue or unfairness in millions of families. What is at stake is the subject of this book: women's centuries-old struggle to finally and really achieve economic equality with men.

Chores at home are tied to women's equality because there are only 24 hours in a day. While women are cleaning, cooking, and raising children, what are men doing? They are earning money, taking part in community groups, unions or professional associ ations, running for public office, inventing widgets in the garage, playing sports, or resting. They are doing things that women don't get a chance to do.

Chores at home are also tied to women's equality because people act on their expectations. Girls who grow up believing the spoken or unspoken assumption that a big chunk of their adult life will be devoted to childraising don't study the hard courses that lead to high-paying jobs: trigonometry, calculus, or physics. Their brothers do. They expect that they will be responsible for supporting their wives and children.

Chores at home also matter because young women who believe that they will devote a big chunk of their adult lives to childraising don't go into challenging, non-traditional jobs. They don't choose jobs that require travel, lots of overtime, or inflex ible or unpredictable hours. They rule out thousands of jobs in business, science, law enforcement, and the military. They rule them out, or never ever consider them, because they conflict with that big job at home.

Chores at home also matter because they don't pay. No matter what else we say, reform, or reengineer, the truth remains that people who do thousands of hours of unpaid work each year are going to have less money than people who work only for pay. Mo ney isn't everything. However, it does matter. The lower a wife's income, the more likely she is to suffer real hardship if she and her husband separate. Also, the more likely she is to suffer battering by her husband while she stays with him.

Finally, chores at home matter because women get surprised by them. In particular, they get surprised by childraising. They get surprised by how much time and energy it consumes, they get surprised by how wonderful it is, and they get surprised by h ow hard it is to hire someone else who will take care of their children in just the ways they want, which they want with surprising intensity. As a result, many mothers scale back their paying work much farther than they ever expected. Some are happy to . Others don't understand why they can't get their husbands to share more in the effort and the rewards of taking care of the children. That difficulty surprises them, too.

This book argues, then, that who does what at home matters a lot outside the home. It shapes the whole economy. Because women and only women raise children, they are scarce in whole swathes of occupations and in the top echelons of business, politic s, art, science, technology, and religious organizations.

Social scientists call who does what at home the division of labor. Because our division of labor hinges on whether people are male or female, social scientists say that we have a sexual division of labor. This book argues that for us to understand women's struggle to achieve economic equality with men, we need a much, much better understanding of the sexual division of labor in the home.

Recent feminist books have not analyzed the sexual division of labor in the home in this way. None has said simply, as this book does, that the sexual division of labor in the home is what now stands between women and real equality. Why not? It's a little odd, since most of the research that I draw on here was published during the 1980's. The puzzle pieces have been sitting on the table for ten or fifteen years. It's just that, before this book, no one assembled them to make this particular pictu re.

I think that no one assembled this picture for two reasons. First, feminists have mainly focussed their energies on big and important evils outside the home. They have been organizing opposition to and remedies for discrimination against women, raci al minorities, and disabled people at work. They have been combatting sexual harassment and the glass ceiling. They have been working to make schools safer and fairer for girls. All that work is valuable. We need to keep doing it. The only catch is, it's not enough.

Second, no one focused on the sexual division of labor in the home because it was very hard for people to imagine an alternative. Sure, men should do more. But who, really and truly, is going to stay home when Junior is sick, read him "The Lorax" ei ght times, and make blackberry tea with honey just the way he likes it? Because millions of women--even clever, devoted feminists--found it hard to imagine an alternative to millions of mothers staying home to read "The Lorax," they didn't subject the se xual division of labor in the home to the searching scrutiny it deserves.

In fact, instead of searching and scrutinizing, I'm afraid that many women have been kidding themselves. We kidded ourselves when we thought about politics. We thought that government subsidies to child care centers would make the second shift go aw ay. We kidded ourselves when we thought about our own futures. We said, "Oh, it won't happen to me. I have lots of energy and my husband will help." Or we said, "My mother will babysit and I'll be office manager in no time." We were kidding ourselves when we said those things because we weren't facing up to some basic arithmetic. Here is that arithmetic. There are 24 hours in a day. There are 7 days in a week. That means that there are 168 hours in a week. If Grandma or the child care center or a babysitter takes the children for, say, 50 hours a week, what does that leave? It leaves 118 hours. Our kids need us for a surprising, appalling, delightful number of those 118 hours. If all those hours are women's work, then women's lives are going to look very different from men's lives. Even when and after we have eliminated discrimination, sexual harassment, the glass ceiling, and unfair schools.

But what about the women who said, "My husband will help"? Surely, they weren't kidding themselves. These are the 1990's, after all. Fathers are spending more time with their small children than ever before, right? Surely, women can tell before th ey have children whether their boyfriend or husband is the type of guy who will keep his promise to share responsibility for childraising?

Unfortunately, no. Women kid themselves about that, too. Women kid themselves about it because, both before and after the birth of their first child, they don't see what the real obstacles are that prevent fathers from getting involved in childraisi ng. They don't see what the real obstacles are because the real obstacles are very hard to see. Before you have a baby, it is almost impossible to peep over the threshold and see what your life will be like afterwards. Before the baby, you and your hus band have an arrangement at home. He buys groceries, you cook dinner. That seems fair. You expect that he'll do a lot of childraising, and so does he. Neither of you realizes that, after the baby arrives, the workload at home will increase by a factor of 20. It's nearly inconceivable.

Also, right after the baby is born, women don't see the real obstacles because the atmosphere at home is very emotionally charged. That charged field of emotion--and the fatigue of brand-new parents--makes it much harder for you and your partner to t alk in an articulate way, or an insightful way, about who should do what at home.

Also, women don't see what the real obstacles are because they created lots of the obstacles themselves, many years before. Suddenly, decisions that they made in high school and in their twenties matter in a way that they never foresaw. They matter in ways that women don't see even as their consequences are unfolding in their own houses. The truth is that, from an early age, many women shape themselves into becoming primary parents. Unwittingly, they lock themselves into childraising and lock thei r husbands out. They are not as free to choose what their families will be like as they think, or as their husbands think.

So, is there an answer? Will women ever achieve real equality with men? This book proposes that the answer to that question is another question: "Can a father raise babies and can a woman let go?"

That is the key question because in order for women to achieve economic equality with men, men will have to do half the work of raising children. Whether or not that happens depends on whether men can be tender and competent hands-on parents and on whether women will let them do it.

What does it mean for men to do half the work of raising children? We should make that point clear from the beginning, because it is easy to misunderstand. It does not mean, for example, that in every couple a man will do half the child raising and a woman will do half. It does not mean that parents will split responsibility toward their children according to their incomes, as in, you earn one-third the income so you should do two-thirds the child raising. Nor does it mean that a few more fathers will be househusbands.

None of those formulas would work. They wouldn't bring real equality within women's reach. More to the point, we couldn't pull off those formulas even if we wanted to. As we said above, the typical woman on the brink of having her first child does not get to pick what percentage of child raising she will do. She has already made decisions that lock her into a traditional motherly role.

Instead, this book proposes a revolution in people's attitudes toward the sexual division of labor in the home. It proposes that we throw away the stereotypes that say men cannot be tender and competent as hands-on parents. It proposes that we also throw away the stereotypes about what makes a woman a good mother. A woman who earns most of her family's income while her partner does most of the child raising is a caring, loving, good mother, too.

We need to throw away those old stereotypes because they stand in women's way. They make it impossible for men to really do half the work of raising children. For that to happen, women and men will have to see each other differently. Millions of wo men will have to give up the search for a man who will take care of them. Millions of men will have to give up the search for a woman who will reflect their glory. Mothers and fathers will also have to ask their sons to do much more work at home and the ir daughters to set high earnings goals.

When the sexual division of labor in the home has melted away, the link between people's sex and their work will be severed. Women will be as likely as men are to be surgeons and pilots, on average. They will be as likely as men are to work for pay full-time their entire lives, on average. Men will be as likely as women to shift into part-time work when their first baby is born, or to quit paying work entirely. When there are roughly as many househusbands as housewives and roughly as many female b readwinners as male breadwinners, then men will really be doing half the child care. That scenario is the prerequisite of women's equality. It is the only scenario in which women will finally and really achieve economic equality with men.

The key to understanding the sexual division of labor in the home is negotiation. Any given division of labor--who does what chores--is the result of negotiation between the people who live together. That negotiation can be full of talk or it can be silent. It can be planned or it can be accidental. It can be conscious or unconscious. Most important of all, by the time the sun sets on the typical woman's wedding day, she has already done nearly all the negotiating over chores and child care that she will ever do. (Or, if she hasn't married, on the day she conceives her first baby.) How can that be? This book says that the decisions that girls make about school, that young women make about jobs, and that women make about who their romantic part ners will be put them, years later, into a particular negotiating position. That position may be strong. Usually, it is weak. Usually, it makes it hard for women to reach their goals, even when their goals are mainly to cherish their children and husba nds as they think best.

In this book, readers will learn how to assess the strengths and weaknesses of people's negotiating positions, including their own. They will learn how women can improve their negotiating position. As we'll see, that is easiest for young women, but possible for all women. We'll see what steps women can take singly, and what steps can be taken only by lots of people working together. Throughout, we will emphasize that every word of this analysis applies with full force to working class and poor wom en, to African American and Latino women, and to women in developing countries. Together, of course, they make up the biggest proportion of women in the world and those for whom real equality will bring the sweetest fruits.

This book takes a particular view of negotiation, one based in economics and in game theory. Most likely, you have heard of economics. You may have heard that it is the study of how people deal with scarcity. Time is scarce, money is scarce, and en ergy is scarce. So we have to make decisions about how we spend those things. You may not have heard where the word "economics" comes from. Long ago, someone on the shores of the Mediterranean wrote a manuscript called "Ta Oikonomika." Some people thi nk that it may even have been Aristotle. That's where the word comes from. What was the manuscript about? It was about how to manage your household. ("Oikos" is classical Greek for house; "nomos" means managing.) Since then, economists have figured o ut a lot of things, but, until this book, no one thought to apply them to the nitty-gritty details of who does what at home and what difference it makes. As we will see, the difference it makes is the difference between equality and second-class citizens hip for the two and a half billion people in the world who happen to be female.

What about game theory? A lot more people know about it now than did a few months ago. Newspapers all over the world have announced that the 1994 Nobel Prize in economics went to three pioneers in the field. So what is it? It is the study of how people behave in situations in which other people are going to react to their decisions and those reactions matter. So, everyone tries to look ahead. Lucky for us, we can delve deeply and thoroughly into our topic--the negotations that create, sustain, and melt away the sexual division of labor in the home--using only simple ideas from game theory. If you can play checkers, you can follow every bit of the analysis in this book (even if you usually lose!).

So, this book brings good news and bad news. The good news is that the dream of real, practical equality that women have dreamt for thousands of years isn't a dream any more. Now they can make it real. The bad news is, it's up to women themselves. It isn't coming on any silver platter. Then again, maybe that's good news, too.

Bookplanet: the reading crisis

From N + 1:

The reading crisis, like the social security crisis, has become a con-game based on facts. The NEA announces there are fewer literary readers than two decades ago. Books continue to have more competition from non-book technologies. Will people still read in 2060? As with Social Security, there are variables one just doesn’t know how to project forward: fewer people read books but more want to write them, and more and more books are published.

A real debate could be had about all these things. Instead we get the “reading crisis.” Under conditions of the reading crisis, everything a writer does, no matter how self-serving and reprehensible, becomes a blow in the service of literature. An arbiter of a “revolution” in reading features games, accordionists, and contests at his public events. A best-selling author sends out emails asking acquaintances to buy his new book before it slips off the Times top-seller list—because without these sales-markers, classic works can disappear. A blogger-author roams bookstores putting advertisements in books reminiscent of her own: “If you liked this, you’ll love The Tattle-Tale.” And these figures are held up as models of the hopeful signs for a renaissance in reading.

When reading, flat on its back, encounters these clown-suit paramedics with nitrous in their tanks instead of oxygen, it ought to get to its feet, wheezing and weak as it is, and run.

In the past decade and a half, as publishing reorganized itself on the Hollywood model, writers began increasingly to speak in public about book sales, and publicity, and readership—formerly the province of bookstore owners, publicists, and sociologists, respectively. Earlier this year a group of novelists came together to circulate a petition asking Oprah Winfrey to turn her television book club back from classics to contemporary fiction. “Dear Oprah,” ran the petition:

[Y]ou did something very bold, something that no one else has done. You declared that every person—anyone who could turn on a TV set—could be part of the literary world and enjoy it. You declared that anyone could like good books.

Had no one said that before? Or was the central notion that television could make viewers “part of the literary world,” like the red-carpet interviews that make viewers “part of the entertainment world” or the stock-news that makes them “part of the business world”? The petition insisted on a strange reasoning: soft sales figures for novels mean a declining readership for books; declining readership for books means a loss of national literacy; and the true cause of all this decline was—Oprah halting her book club! Plus, Oprah was discouraging young people: “First novelists and literary authors felt emboldened to write because of the outside chance that an editor would see their work as potential Book Club material.”

It is true that the economics of publishing depends now on a quest for mega-hits: but this is about corporatization, not Oprah, and in either case it has nothing to do with writing. Praise of her as an encourager of reading is unimpeachable; so is praise of high schools, neighborhood reading groups, and the Bookmobile. But if the alternative you resent is William Faulkner—whose three best books Oprah assigned for summer reading in 2005—it becomes clearer that this genial-sounding hokum isn’t innocent at all.

Suppose the petition had been honest:

Dear Oprah,
None of us can prove our books are of genuine worth yet—that would require time, and belief in the reading process, therefore respect for an ordinary readership, and even maybe respect for critics. Instead, we’re impatient. Isn’t everything publicity today? Since we don’t believe literature is worth a lifetime of obscure toil, we’d prefer at least some hope for the kind of fame that the most unworthy TV and diet-book people get. Oh, Oprah, we don’t ask it for ourselves. Think of the children writers!

This corrosive realignment of values, of why one writes, had formerly been the ambition of one group only—those who write for money, not art. But if you look at the list of signers, and compare it to the obsequious words printed above the names, you see how a distinction is being lost or hidden, even among serious writers, beneath increasingly confusing pleas for reading.

Take another example: a new book on “writing in unreaderly times.” “For starters,” its editor writes, “it’s no help that being well read has an enormous image problem in this country.” That image starts to change when the writer steps away from the book and into the spotlight, and the reader moves out of his life (to which books come as emissaries from nowhere) into pseudo-literary participation. Book “events” are “putting writers on the same stage with jugglers, fire dancers, radio producers, and punk bands.” Visibility and personal availability make a horrible arrival: authors must explain their “life and process” to us “without our having to ask.” And all this in service of the revolution: “Taken to their logical extent [sic], the ideas here point to a world of possibility for the future of books.” So they do. In that future, the place of reading becomes the bookstore, not the library or den. And the bookstore becomes a permanent tradeshow, with banners, musical distractions, and bestseller lists, and the exhausted author propped up like a Spider Man cutout at the “new releases” table.

The final, insidious manifestation of the reading crisis is the way it gives cover to the hostility to criticism. One’s critics “piss in the fragile ecosystem that is the literary world” (Eggers); or they are merely “resentniks” (Foer). The real trouble of course is that if “books” are “good,” as the mantra goes, you don’t have to face how good or bad your book actually is. The criterion is only to “make readers.” I make readers , the writer deludes himself, waving his sales reports—surely these millions came into existence only for him? It no longer matters what he wrote. In this way the novelist becomes as protected as the poet is today, a member merely of an endangered species (in the “fragile ecosystem”), or say of an identity group, who cannot be disagreed with, to whom certain months of the year will be dedicated, who is not only tolerated but encouraged and petted by the powers that be, not because of the content of what he writes (there is no content), but because, well, what sort of powers would they be, to discourage the flowering of such an art?

Dead: playwright Wendy Wasserstein, video art inventor Nam June Paik, civil rights campaigner Coretta Scott King

1. Wendy Wasserstein: she never let go of the giggle -- by Michael Feingold

When I think of Wendy Wasserstein, I hear her giggling. I know I'm not supposed to. I know that we live in a time when individuals are supposed to represent their genders and age groups and ethnicities with dignity and correct thinking, and that everyone's behavior to everyone else must be immaculately polite. I know that Wendy, who died Monday after a long and horrible struggle with cancer, was a feminist hero, a significant spokeswoman for the social good, and a major role model for women in the arts. I know all that -- but I still hear Wendy Wasserstein giggling. I can't help it. Wendy giggled the first time I met her, when she was an incoming student playwright at the Yale School of Drama and I was the (rather self-important) literary manager of the Yale Repertory Theatre. She kept giggling, as her playwriting career blossomed over the years, when we ran into each other at various social and theatrical occasions. And she giggled the last time I saw her, as she struggled to sing her part in the little entertainment she had invented to celebrate her dear friend William Ivey Long's 50th Broadway show. She was visibly in pain and may have already known that she was dying, but she still giggled.

Wendy's giggle was both a mask and a revelation: It was an insecure plump girl's defense against a coldhearted world that mistakes anorexic for beautiful, and a smart, observant child's satirical comment on the absurdities of that world. The product of a high-pressure family that urged its children toward success, and got its wish, she learned early on that she could succeed by turning her insecurities and embarrassments into comedy. Having achieved that success, she extended it into a long-running series of triumphs by turning the world that had laughed at her into a target of laughter -- and demonstrated the superior quality of her own comic sense by mixing compassion, irony, and incredibly astute social observation into the joke. She became a social commentator, an essayist, a spokesperson, and an eminence grise. She evolved, in her late forties, into the proudly independent single mother who steadfastly refused to reveal the identity of her child's father. Yet behind this imposing figure there always stood the shy, dateless Seven Sisters coed of her first successful play, Uncommon Women and Others, the nervous novice playwright who, when a friend introduced her to the novelist Joseph Heller as a brilliantly funny writer, responded to his request, "Say something funny, Wendy," by barfing on his coat.

That Wendy in later life had no shame in recollecting this story was a mark of the fundamental honesty that led to her skill at observing, and making dramatic capital of, so many different kinds of people and ways of life. Not for her the easy oversimplifications of television writing, which comes in for merciless ridicule in what is probably her best play, The Heidi Chronicles . (Remember the devastating line: "Just tell us who these women are and why they're funny.") Her project, insofar as a playwright has an overall project, was to dramatize the female life of America in her time without scanting its complexity, its pain, its inconveniences, or its lapses into the absurd. If sometimes in her later plays, as in the laborious An American Daughter , she seemed to be layering issues onto her characters simply because the issues needed representation, you could always feel her struggling, as all artists inevitably struggle with their material, to make the issues make human sense, to give them three-dimensional embodiment. That, as some have pointed out, the original cast of Uncommon Women was sprinkled with future stars only demonstrates the great chance that awaited Wendy: A newly aware generation of women was coming into its own. That she had the prescience to seize her chance and make herself a principal chronicler of that generation with the plays that followed, from Isn't It Romantic? through The Sisters Rosensweig, is the highest tribute to her intelligence and skill.

For the giggling girl who had enlivened the Yale School of Drama with endearingly foolish extravaganzas like Montpelier Pa-zazz and When Dinah Shore Ruled the Earth, this achievement was a triumphant evolution. But the even higher compliment is that, through all her travails, she never let go of the giggle; her puckish, uneasy comic sense pervades the most unfairly underrated of her plays, Old Money, in which the ironies of this generation's feminist progress are played off, cannily, against those of a century ago. This canniness, too, was the essence of Wendy: While she was giggling, and making you giggle with her, she was watching for her opportunity, and took it. As a result, she is a permanent part of our social as well as our theatrical history, an artist who began by making herself an unforgettable character, and concluded by impressing that character's achievements upon the world.

2. An American Woman -- by GAIL COLLINS

Wendy Wasserstein and I had a running e-mail joke in which we took turns taking responsibility for everything bad that happened. "I'll bring the Iraqi constitution and we can work on it in the bar," she wrote last year before a theater date. I congratulated her for getting Michael Brown the FEMA job. We both claimed to be in charge of the Middle East peace process.

We were making fun of Wendy's reputation for good-heartedness. Her outrageously premature death yesterday deprived the nation of a beloved playwright, but it also stripped the city of one of its best people.

The first time I met her, she was rushing to a speaking engagement at a small library in a faraway section of Brooklyn. I assumed that either this was the historic spot where she had learned to read or that she was related to the librarian. But no, it was simply a place that had the moxie to ask a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright to come and do its event.

"Last month I was voted Miss Colitis," Wendy once wrote. "I was honored at the Waldorf-Astoria and presented with a Steuben glass bowl — by Mary Ann Mobley Collins, a former Miss America. It's not that the treatment of colitis is an unworthy mission, but I have no connection to the cause except that I received a letter from the Colitis Committee asking me to show up. In other words, I became Miss Colitis because I am very nice."

Sometimes it was almost impossible to resist taking advantage. Wendy and I once jointly agreed to give talks at a convention of women journalists being held in Montana, under the theory that it would be an excellent opportunity to see one another. (We had reached that circle of scheduling hell in which two people who live less than a mile apart have to traverse the continent in order to have coffee.) After I arrived, I got a call from Wendy, who had missed the plane. Her only alternatives were to cancel or fly in at midnight, give her address at breakfast and then immediately return to the airport.

"You should do whatever you think best," I said cruelly. "The only thing I can tell you is that these women are really nice and they're looking forward to meeting you."

I picked her up at midnight. "You were right," she said, as we drove back to the airport 10 hours later. "They were awfully nice women."

Wendy was a charter member of the company of nice women, a river of accommodating humanity that flows through Manhattan just as it flows through Des Moines and Oneonta, N.Y., organizing library fund-raisers, running day care centers, ordering prescriptions for elderly parents, buying all the birthday presents and giving career counseling to the nephew of a very remote acquaintance who is trying to decide between making it big on Broadway and dentistry.

In the essay that began with the Miss Colitis story, she noted that niceness had become unfashionable, and promised to be crankier in the future. It was just a literary device. Wendy understood that being considerate in a society of self-involved strivers was not for wimps. It required a steely inner toughness that was the hallmark of many of her heroines.

She also knew her own nature. "Frankly, I never want to leave a room and be thought of as a horrible person," she admitted. But Wendy never explained what the rest of us were supposed to do when she left the room before us.

3. Wendy Wasserstein Dies at 55; Her Plays Spoke to a Generation -- by CHARLES ISHERWOOD

Wendy Wasserstein, who spoke for a generation of smart, driven but sometimes unsatisfied women in a series of popular plays that included the long-running Pulitzer Prize winner "The Heidi Chronicles," died yesterday at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan. She was 55 and lived in New York.

The cause was complications of lymphoma, said André Bishop, the artistic director of Lincoln Center Theater.

Starting in 1977 with her breakthrough work, "Uncommon Women and Others," Ms. Wasserstein's plays struck a profound chord with women struggling to reconcile a desire for romance and companionship, drummed into baby boomers by the seductive fantasies of Hollywood movies, with the need for intellectual independence and achievement separate from the personal sphere.

"She was known for being a popular, funny playwright, but she was also a woman and a writer of deep conviction and political activism," Mr. Bishop said. "In Wendy's plays women saw themselves portrayed in a way they hadn't been onstage before — wittily, intelligently and seriously at the same time. We take that for granted now, but it was not the case 25 years ago. She was a real pioneer."

The lights on Broadway are to be dimmed tonight in her honor.

Her heroines — intelligent and successful but also riddled with self-doubt — sought enduring love a little ambivalently, but they didn't always find it, and their hard-earned sense of self-worth was often shadowed by the frustrating knowledge that American women's lives continued to be measured by their success at capturing the right man. Ms. Wasserstein drew on her own experience as a smart, well-educated, funny Manhattanite who wasn't particularly lucky in romance to create heroines in a similar mold, women who embraced the essential tenets of the feminist movement but didn't have the stomach for stridency.

For Ms. Wasserstein, as for many of her characters and fans, humor was a necessary bulwark against the disappointments of life, and a useful release valve for anger at cultural and social inequities. Her work, which included three books of nonfiction and a forthcoming novel as well as about a dozen plays, had a significant influence on depictions of American women in the media landscape over the years: Heidi Holland, the steadily single, uncompromising heroine of "The Heidi Chronicles," can be seen as the cultural progenitor of "Sex and the City's" Carrie Bradshaw. (Coincidentally, Sarah Jessica Parker, who starred in that HBO series, played a series of small roles in the original production of "The Heidi Chronicles.")

Ms. Wasserstein, who grew up in New York, recalled attending Broadway plays as a young woman and being struck by the absence of people like herself onstage: "I remember going to them and thinking, I really like this, but where are the girls?" she once said. Ms. Wasserstein would fill the stage with "girls" — a term she used with a wink despite taking flak for it — in a series of plays that pleased loyal audiences even when the critics did not always embrace them.

"The Heidi Chronicles," her most celebrated and popular play, opened on Broadway in 1989 after receiving critical acclaim Off Broadway. It ran for 622 performances and collected the Tony and New York Drama Critics Circle awards for best play as well as the Pulitzer Prize. Joan Allen created the title role in the play, which toured nationally and was later filmed for television with Jamie Lee Curtis.

Reviewing the play in Newsday, Linda Winer called it "a wonderful and important play." She continued, "Smart, compassionate, witty, courageous, this one not only dares to ask the hard questions ... but asks them with humor, exquisite clarity and great fullness of heart."

Ranging across more than two decades, "The Heidi Chronicles" was an episodic, seriocomic biography of an art historian seeking to establish a fixed and fulfilling sense of identity amid the social convolutions of the 1960's and 70's, a period when the rulebook on relationships between men and women was being rewritten. Heidi's allegiance to her ideals and her unwillingness to compromise them for the sake of winning a man's attentions caused conflict with friends who chose easier or different paths. Looking around at her materialistic, married, self-obsessed peers two decades after the exhilarating birth of feminism, Heidi observes: "We're all concerned, intelligent, good women. It's just that I feel stranded. And I thought the whole point was that we wouldn't feel stranded. I thought the point was that we were all in this together."

In the play's bittersweet final scene, Heidi has become a single mother to a new infant — a path Ms. Wasserstein would herself pursue many years later, ultimately at great physical cost, when she gave birth, at age 48, to her daughter, Lucy Jane, in 1999.

Her next play, "The Sisters Rosensweig," brought the issues of ethnicity and religion into her continuing conversation about the making and remaking of women's identities as it focused on three sisters with different relationships to their Jewish roots. It opened on Broadway in 1993, ran for 556 performances and was nominated for a Tony Award for best play. Less successful was her 1997 play, "An American Daughter," inspired by the harsh attacks on women in politics, which lasted only 89 performances on Broadway, though Ms. Wasserstein later adapted it for television.

Ms. Wasserstein's other plays were produced Off Broadway, and included "Isn't It Romantic" (originally produced, to mixed notices, in 1981 and revised in 1983, when it was largely acclaimed) and "Old Money" (2000), a time-traveling comedy about the well heeled. Her most recent play, "Third," about a female professor who is forced to question her staunchly held ideas about politics and ethics, opened in the fall at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center.

Ms. Wasserstein's abundant gift for comedy and her plays' popularity disguised the more serious ambitions underpinning her writing. "My work is often thought of as lightweight commercial comedy," she told The Paris Review in 1997, "and I have always thought, No, you don't understand: this is in fact a political act. 'The Sisters Rosensweig' had the largest advance in Broadway history," for a play (not a musical). Therefore, she continued, "nobody is going to turn down a play on Broadway because a woman wrote it or because it's about women." When Ms. Wasserstein won the best-play Tony for "Heidi Chronicles," it was the first time a woman had won the prize solo.

Ms. Wasserstein was born in Brooklyn on Oct. 18, 1950, the youngest of five siblings. Her father was a textile manufacturer, her mother an amateur dancer. In addition to her daughter, Ms. Wasserstein is survived by her mother, Lola Wasserstein; her brothers, Abner and Bruce, the chairman of the investment banking giant Lazard and the owner of New York magazine; and her sister Georgette Levis of Vermont. The family moved to Manhattan when Ms. Wasserstein was 12. After earning her undergraduate degree from Mount Holyoke College in 1971, she studied creative writing at City College with Joseph Heller and Israel Horovitz. Her first play, "Any Woman Can't," found its way to Playwrights Horizons, then a small Off Broadway company, and was produced in 1973, shortly before she began to study playwriting in earnest at the Yale University School of Drama. ("My parents only let me go to drama school because it was Yale," she said in an interview for the magazine Bomb. "They thought I'd marry a lawyer.")

Ms. Wasserstein's career would be closely linked both with Playwrights Horizons, which under its artistic director, Mr. Bishop, would first produce "The Heidi Chronicles," and with many of the artists she met at Yale, including the designer Heidi Ettinger and the director James Lapine, who remained lifelong friends. (Mr. Bishop left Playwrights Horizons to move to Lincoln Center Theater, which has produced all her subsequent plays.) Ms. Wasserstein's classmate, the playwright Christopher Durang, was a particular friend; she used his introductory icebreaker — "You look so bored, you must be very bright" — directly in "The Heidi Chronicles," and they collaborated on a revue for the school's cabaret group.

After receiving a master's degree in fine arts in 1976, Ms. Wasserstein returned to Manhattan, and essentially never left. Her first major success came quickly, with "Uncommon Women" in 1977, produced by the Phoenix Theater. Depicting an informal reunion of a group of Mount Holyoke graduates that dissolves into scenes of their college days, it was described as "funny, ironic and affectionate" by Edith Oliver in The New Yorker, who added, "Under the laughter there is ... a feeling of bewilderment and disappointment over the world outside college, which promised so much, and with their own dreams, which seem to have stalled." The play, which was filmed and telecast on PBS's "Great Performances," was also an important breakthrough in the careers of the actresses Glenn Close, Swoosie Kurtz and Meryl Streep, who played Ms. Close's role in the television version.

Ms. Wasserstein's other writing included a spoof of self-help literature, "Sloth" (Oxford University Press, 2005), and two books of essays, "Bachelor Girls" (Knopf, 1990) and "Shiksa Goddess" (Knopf, 2001), eclectic collections that embraced such disparate topics as Chekhov, her sister's battle with breast cancer, and the life and career of Mrs. Entenmann, creator of a bakery empire and fosterer of much guilt. Included in "Shiksa Goddess" was an essay Ms. Wasserstein wrote for The New Yorker, as poignant as it was hilarious, in which she discussed the medical complications of her late-life pregnancy and her newborn daughter's early struggles. "Although I remain a religious skeptic," she wrote, referring to the disorienting days following Lucy Jane's premature birth, "I had a kind of blind faith. I believed in the collaboration between the firm will of my one-pound-twelve-ounce daughter and the expertise of modern medicine. Of course, there was more than a bit of random luck involved, too."

Lucy Jane will live with Ms. Wasserstein's brother Bruce.

Ms. Wasserstein also wrote a children's book, "Pamela's First Musical," which she adapted for the stage in collaboration with Cy Coleman and David Zippel, and wrote the libretto for "The Festival of Regrets," one of three one-act operas presented under the collective title "Central Park" at the New York City Opera. She had also completed a libretto for another opera with music by Deborah Drattell.

Ms. Wasserstein worked intermittently for Hollywood, although her sole produced screenplay credit was for "The Object of My Affection," a 1998 romantic comedy that starred Jennifer Aniston. Her first novel, "Elements of Style," is to be published by Knopf in April.

But the object of Ms. Wasserstein's deepest affection was always the stage, and her relationship with the theater permeated all aspects of her life. Her friendships in the theatrical community (and out of it) were wide and deep, and she generously gave of her time and resources to benefits of all kinds. A recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, she later served on the Guggenheim Foundation board, and she also taught playwriting at several universities.

In 1998, seeking to help instill her love for theater in a new generation of New Yorkers, she personally instigated a program to bring smart, underprivileged students from New York's public high schools to the theater. In an essay about the program for The New York Times, she wrote: "As far as I'm concerned, every New Yorker is born with the inalienable right to ride the D train, shout 'Hey, lady!' with indignation and grow up going regularly to the theater. After all, if a city is fortunate enough to house an entire theater district, shouldn't access to the stage life within it be what makes coming of age in New York different from any other American city?"

The program, administered by the Theater Development Fund, has steadily expanded since Ms. Wasserstein first held a pizza party for eight students from DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx after a matinee of "On the Town." Now officially called Open Doors, it consists of 17 groups (more than 100 students), chaperoned to a season's worth of theater offerings by interested mentors.

Of course Ms. Wasserstein's devotion to theater took its purest and most enduring form in her writing for the stage, which allowed her the freedom to explore the evolving lives of American women with a fluidity and frankness that befitted the complex experience she was writing about. Although it was always laced with comedy, her work was also imbued with an abiding sadness, a cleareyed understanding that independence can beget loneliness, that rigorous ideals and raised consciousnesses are not always good company at the dinner table. But she shared her compassion among a wide array of characters, those who settled and those who continued to search.

"No matter how lonely you get or how many birth announcements you receive," a character says in "Isn't It Romantic," "the trick is not to get frightened. There's nothing wrong with being alone." The popularity of her work speaks for her ability to salve a little of that feeling of aloneness in her audiences with her deeply felt portraits of women — and occasionally men — seeking solidarity in their individuality, finding comfort in the knowledge that everybody else is sometimes uncomfortable with the choices they've made, too.

4. Nam June Paik, 73, Dies; Pioneer of Video Art Whose Work Broke Cultural Barriers -- by ROBERTA SMITH

Nam June Paik, an avant-garde composer, performer and artist widely considered the inventor of video art, died Sunday at his winter home in Miami Beach. He was 73 and also lived in Manhattan.

Mr. Paik suffered a stroke in 1996 and had been in declining health for some time, said his nephew, Ken Paik Hakuta, who manages his uncle's studio in New York.

Mr. Paik's career spanned half a century, three continents and several art mediums, ranging through music, theater and found-object art. He once built his own robot. But his chief means of expression was television, which he approached with a winning combination of visionary wildness, technological savvy and high entertainment values. His work could be kitschy, visually dazzling and profound, sometimes all at once, and was often irresistibly funny and high-spirited.

At his best, Mr. Paik exaggerated and subverted accepted notions about both the culture and the technology of television while immersing viewers in its visual beauty and exposing something deeply irrational at its center. He presciently coined the term "electronic superhighway" in 1974, grasping the essence of global communications and seeing the possibilities of technologies that were barely born. He usually did this while managing to be both palatable and subversive. In recent years, Mr. Paik's enormous American flags, made from dozens of sleek monitors whose synchronized patterns mixed everything from pinups to apple pie at high, almost subliminal velocity, could be found in museums and corporate lobbies.

Mr. Paik was affiliated in the 1960's with the anti-art movement Fluxus, and also deserves to be seen as an aesthetic innovator on a par with the choreographer Merce Cunningham and the composer John Cage. Yet in many ways he was simply the most Pop of the Pop artists. His work borrowed directly from the culture at large, reworked its most pervasive medium and gave back something that was both familiar and otherworldly.

He was a shy yet fearless man who combined manic productivity and incessant tinkering with Zen-like equanimity. A lifelong Buddhist, Mr. Paik never smoked or drank and also never drove a car. He always seemed amused by himself and his surroundings, which could be overwhelming: a writer once compared his New York studio to a television repair shop three months behind schedule.

Mr. Paik is survived by his wife, the video artist Shigeko Kubota.

Mr. Paik got to television by way of avant-garde music. He was born in 1932 in Seoul, Korea, into a wealthy manufacturing family. Growing up, he studied classical piano and musical composition and was drawn to 20th-century music; he once said it took him three years to find an Arnold Schoenberg record in Korea. In 1949, with the Korean War threatening, the family fled to Hong Kong, and then settled in Tokyo. Mr. Paik attended the University of Tokyo, earning a degree in aesthetics and the history of music in 1956 with a thesis on Schoenberg's work.

He then studied music at the University of Munich and the Academy of Music in Freiburg and threw himself into the avant-garde music scene swirling around Cologne. He also met John Cage, whose emphasis on chance and randomness dovetailed with Mr. Paik's sensibility.

Over the next few years, Mr. Paik arrived at an early version of performance art, combining cryptic musical elements — usually spliced audiotapes of music, screams, radio news and sound effects — with startling events. In an unusually Oedipal act during a 1960 performance in Cologne, Mr. Paik jumped from the stage and cut off Cage's necktie, an event that prompted George Maciunas, a founder of Fluxus, to invite Mr. Paik to join the movement. At the 1962 Fluxus International Festival for Very New Music in Wiesbaden, Germany, Mr. Paik performed "Zen for Head," which involved dipping his head, hair and hands in a mixture of ink and tomato juice and dragging them over a scroll-like sheet of paper to create a dark, jagged streak.

In 1963, seeking a visual equivalent for electronic music and inspired by Cage's performances on prepared pianos, Mr. Paik bought 13 used television sets in Cologne and reworked them until their screens jumped with strong optical patterns. In 1963, he exhibited the first art known to involve television sets at the Galerie Parnass in Wuppertal, Germany.

In 1965 he made his New York debut at the New School for Social Research: Charlotte Moorman, a cellist who became his longtime collaborator, played his "Cello Sonata No. 1 for Adults Only," performing bared to the waist. A similar work performed in 1967 at the Filmmakers Cinematheque in Manhattan resulted in the brief arrest of Ms. Moorman and Mr. Paik. Mr. Paik retaliated with his iconic "TV Bra for Living Sculpture," two tiny television screens that covered Ms. Moorman's breasts.

Mr. Paik bought one of the first portable video cameras on the market, in 1965, and the same year he exhibited the first installation involving a video recorder, at the Galeria Bonino in New York. Although he continued to perform, his interests shifted increasingly to the sculptural, technological and environmental possibilities of video.

In 1969, Mr. Paik started showing pieces using multiple monitors. He created bulky wood robotlike figures using old monitors and retrofitted consoles, and constructed archways, spirals and towers, including one 60-feet tall that used 1,003 monitors. By the 1980's he was working with lasers, mixing colors and forms in space, without the silvery cathode-ray screen.

For his 2000 retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum, Mr. Paik arranged monitors faceup on the rotunda's floor, creating a pondlike effect of light and images. Overhead, one of the artist's most opulent laser pieces cascaded from the dome in lightninglike zigzags — an apt metaphor for a career that never stopped surging forward.

5. Coretta Scott King, 78, Widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dies -- by PETER APPLEBOME

Coretta Scott King, first known as the wife of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., then as his widow, then as an avid proselytizer for his vision of racial peace and non-violent social change, has died, her sister in law, Christine King Farris, said this morning.

She was 78 and had been in failing health since suffering a stroke and heart attack last August. Mrs. King appeared at a Martin Luther King Day dinner on Jan. 14, but did not speak.

Andrew Young, the former United Nations ambassador and longtime family friend, said at a news conference this morning that Mrs. King died in her sleep. "She was a woman born to struggle," Mr. Young said, "and she has struggled and she has overcome."

In a statement, the King family said that "Mrs. Coretta Scott King, first lady of human and civil rights, died overnight." Mrs. King rose from rural poverty in Heiberger, Ala., to become an international symbol of the civil rights revolution of the 1960s and a tireless advocate for a long litany of social and political issues, ranging from women's rights to the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, that followed in its wake.

She was studying music at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston in 1952 when she met a young graduate student in philosophy, who on their first date told her: "The four things that I look for in a wife are character, personality, intelligence and beauty. And you have them all." A year later she and Dr. King, then a young minister from a prominent Atlanta family, were married, beginning a remarkable partnership that ended with Dr. King's assassination in Memphis on April 4, 1968.

Mrs. King did not hesitate to pick up his mantle, marching before her husband was even buried at the head of the garbage workers he had gone to Memphis to champion. She then went on to lead the effort for a national holiday in his honor and to found the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change in Atlanta, dedicated both to scholarship and to activism, where Dr. King is buried.

Aside from the trauma of her husband's death, which left her alone with four young children, Mrs. King faced other trials and controversies over the years. She was at times viewed as chilly and aloof by others in the movement. The King Center was criticized first as competing for funds and siphoning energy from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which Dr. King had headed. In recent years, it has been widely viewed as adrift, characterized by intra-family squabbling and a focus more on Dr. King's legacy than continuing his work. And even many allies were baffled and hurt by her campaign to exonerate James Earl Ray, who in 1969 had pleaded guilty to her husband's murder, and her contention that Ray did not commit the crime.

But more often, Mrs. King has been seen as an inspirational figure around the world, a dogged advocate for her husband's causes and a woman of enormous spiritual depth who came to personify the ideals Dr. King fought for.

"I think the way I will remember her is as a totally faithful, totally devoted wife and mother who nevertheless found time to offer her leadership skills and be involved with other children in need all over the world," Mr. Young said today.

"She'll be remembered as a strong woman whose grace and dignity held up the image of her husband as a man of peace, of racial justice, of fairness," said the Rev. Joseph Lowery, who helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Dr. King and then served as its president for 20 years. "I don't know that she was a civil rights leader in the truest sense, but she became a civil rights figure and a civil rights icon because of what she came to represent."

Coretta Scott was born April 27, 1927, the middle of three children born to Obadiah and Bernice Scott. She grew up in the two-room house her father built on land that had been owned by the family for three generations.

From the start there was nothing predictable about her life. The family was poor, and she grew up picking cotton in the hot fields of the segregated South or doing housework. But Mr. Scott hauled timber, owned a country store and worked as a barber. His wife drove a school bus, and the whole family helped raise hogs, cows, chickens and vegetables. So by the standards of blacks in Alabama at the time the family had both resources and ambitions out of the reach of most others.

Some of Coretta Scott's earliest insights into the injustice of segregation came as she walked to her one-room school house each day, watching buses full of white children kick up dust as they passed. She got her first sense of the world beyond rural Alabama when she attended the Lincoln School, a private missionary institution in nearby Marion, where she studied piano and voice, had her first encounters with college-educated teachers and where she resolved to flee to a world far beyond the narrow confines of rural, segregated Alabama.

She graduated first in her high school class of 17 in 1945 and then began attending Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where two years earlier her older sister, Edythe, had become the first black to enroll. She studied education and music and after graduation went on to the New England Conservatory of Music, hoping to become a classical singer and working as a mail order clerk and cleaning houses to augment the fellowship that barely paid her tuition.

Her first encounter with the man who would become her husband did not begin auspiciously. Dr. King, very much in the market for a wife, called her after getting her name from a friend and announced: "You know every Napoleon has his Waterloo," he said. "I'm like Napoleon. I'm at my Waterloo, and I'm on my knees."

"That's absurd," Ms. Scott, two years his elder, replied. "You don't even know me."

Still, she agreed to meet for lunch the next day, only to be put off initially that he wasn't taller. But she was impressed by his erudition and confidence and he saw in this refined, intelligent woman what he was looking for as the wife of a preacher from one of Atlanta's most prominent ministerial families. When he proposed, she deliberated for six months before finally saying "yes" and they were married in the garden of her parents' house on June 18, 1953. The 350 guests, elegant big-city folks from Atlanta and rural neighbors from Alabama, made it the biggest wedding, white or black, the area had ever seen.

And even before the wedding she made it clear she intended to remain her own woman. She stunned Dr. King's father, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr., who presided over the wedding, by demanding that she wanted the promise to obey her husband removed from the wedding vows. Reluctantly, he went along. After it was over, the bridegroom fell asleep in the car back to Atlanta while the new Mrs. King did the driving.

Mrs. King thought she was signing on for the ministry, not ground zero in the seismic cultural struggle that would shake the South when he became minister of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery in 1954. But just over a year later the Montgomery bus boycott brought Dr. King to national attention and then like riders on a runaway freight train, the minister and his young wife found themselves in the middle of a movement that would transform the South and ripple through the nation. In 1960, the family moved back to Atlanta, where he shared the pulpit of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church with his father.

With four young children to raise — Yolanda born in 1955, Martin 3d in 1957, Dexter in 1961 and Bernice in 1963 — and a movement culture dominated by men, Mrs. King, for the most part, remained away from the front lines. But the recognition of danger was always there, including a brush with death when Dr. King was stabbed while autographing books in Harlem in 1958.

What role she would play was a source of some tension between them. While wanting to be there for their children, she also wanted to be active in the movement. He was, she has said, very traditional in his view of women and balked at the notion she should be more conspicuous.

"Martin was a very strong person, and in many ways had very traditional ideas about women," she told The New York Times Magazine in 1982. She continued: "He'd say, "I have no choice, I have to do this, but you haven't been called,' " "And I said, "Can't you understand? You know I have an urge to serve just like you have.' " Still, he always described her as a partner in his mission, not just a supportive spouse. "I wish I could say, to satisfy my masculine ego, that I led her down this path," he said in a 1967 interview. "But I must say we went down together, because she was as actively involved and concerned when we met as she is now."

Instead, she mostly carved out her own niche, most prominently through more than 30 "Freedom Concerts" where she lectured, read poetry and sang to raise awareness of and money for the civil rights movement.

The division disappeared with Dr. King's assassination. Suddenly, she was not just a symbol of the nation's grief but a woman very much devoted to carrying on her husband's work. Exactly how to do that was something that evolved over time. Marching in Memphis was a dramatic statement, but Ralph Abernathy, one of Dr. King's lieutenants, was chosen to take over his movement. In stepping in for her husband after his death, Mrs. King at first used his own words as much as possible, as if her goal were simply to maintain his presence, even in death.

But soon she developed her own language and own causes. So when she stood in for her husband at the Poor People's Campaign at the Lincoln Memorial on June 19, 1968, she spoke not just of his vision, but of hers, one about gender as well as race in which she called upon American women "to unite and form a solid block of women power to fight the three great evils of racism, poverty and war." She joined the board of directors of the National Organization for Women as well as that of his Southern Christian Leadership Conference and became widely identified with a broad array of international human rights issues rather than being focused primarily on race.

That broad view, she would argue, was completely in keeping with Dr. King's vision as well. And to carry on that legacy, she focused on two ambitious and daunting tasks. The first was to have a national holiday in his honor, the second was to build a nationally recognized center in Atlanta to honor his memory, continue his work and provide a research center for scholars studying his work and the civil rights era. The first goal was achieved despite much opposition in 1983 when Congress approved a measure designating the third Monday in January as an official Federal holiday in honor of Dr. King, who was born in Atlanta Jan. 15, 1929.

President Ronald Reagan, who had long opposed the King Holiday as too expensive and inappropriate, signed the bill, but pointedly refrained from criticizing fellow Republicans such as Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina, who continued to denigrate Dr. King, saying he had consorted with Communists. The holiday was first observed on Jan. 20, 1986.

The second goal, much more expensive, time consuming and elusive remains to this day a work in progress — and a troubled one at that. When Mrs. King first announced plans for a memorial in 1969, she envisioned a Lincolnesque tomb, an exhibition hall, the restoration of her husband's childhood home, two separate buildings for institutes on non-violent social change and Afro-American studies, a library building an archives building and a museum of African-American life and culture. And she envisioned a center that would be a haven both for scholars and a training ground for advocates of non-violent social change.

Even friends say it may have been too ambitious a goal. Building the center was an enormous achievement in itself. But many of Dr. King's allies, particularly the leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, grumbled that the center was draining scarce resources from the movement. And over the years the center struggled to find its mission. Critics worried it had become too much a family enterprise with her two sons, Dexter and Martin 3d vying to be its leader. Those problems became particularly acute after she suffered a stroke and heart attack in August 2005 and the two brothers struggled for control over the center while she was recuperating. As a result, many feel it has not become the scholarly resource it could have become, while never becoming a center for civil rights activism.

And many supporters were saddened and baffled by the family's campaign on behalf of James Earl Ray, who confessed to the murder, then recanted and died in 1998 while still seeking a new trial. After his death, Mrs. King issued a statement calling his death a tragedy for his family and for the nation and saying that a trial would have "produced new revelations about the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. as well as establish the facts concerning Mr. Ray's innocence."

Still, to the end Mrs. King remained a beloved figure, often compared to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis as a woman who overcame tragedy, held her family together and became an inspirational presence around the world. Admirers said she bore her own special burden — being expected somehow to carry on her husband's work and teachings — with a sense of spirit and purpose that made her more than just a symbol.

If picking up Dr. King's mantle, in the end, was something of an impossible task, both of them described a relationship that was truly a partnership. "I think on many points she educated me," Dr. King once said. And she never veered from the conviction, expressed throughout her life, that his dream was hers as well. "I didn't learn my commitment from Martin," she once told an interviewer. "We just converged at a certain time."

Quote of the week

"A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true sight, restore their government to its true principles. It is true that in the meantime we are suffering deeply in spirit, and incurring the horrors of a war and long oppressions of enormous public debt. If the game runs sometimes against us at home we must have patience till luck turns, and then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost, for this is a game where principles are at stake." --Thomas Jefferson

Monday, January 30, 2006

US Diary: three reflections on the State of the Union

1. Bush Is at War with Americanism -- by David Michael Green

Forget the war on terrorism. President Bush is engaged in a full-blown war on Americanism.

Ridiculous? Unthinkable? The idea that an American president could epitomize anti-Americanism is certainly counterintuitive. But it's a lot less shocking if we consider just what defines this country's core values.

And if that list includes such essentials as freedom, responsibility, justice, humanity, respect and fairness - and doesn't it? - if that's what it means to be American, then George Bush is indeed at war with Americanism.

Each new revelation forces patriotic Americans to reconsider how much of ourselves - our liberties, our reputation, our dignity - have now been sacrificed on the altar of the Bush presidency. Each week brings fresh outrages. Torture, wiretaps, planted news stories, secret prisons, one unmasked war justification after another. This country faces some very real threats, but must we give up everything that makes America, well, America in order to live safely within our borders?

As it turns out, that's a false choice anyhow, since even our security has been diminished by George Bush. The 9/11 commission has flunked him for his preparations against another attack. Meanwhile, he admits a breathtaking disinterest in Osama bin Laden, saying "I am truly not that concerned about him" and "I don't really think about him very much."

Bush he has been similarly unconcerned about North Korean nuclear proliferation on his watch, Hurricane Katrina, and the still unsolved anthrax case. Add these to his Iraq obsession, which has severely diminished our military, and American security has lessened.

For this, we've given up two centuries worth of proud honor and traditions?

For this, George Bush has traded away so much of what makes this country great that his presidency can only be described as a war on Americanism.

Once, America stood as a proud beacon for human rights. Now we are known for the horrors of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, extraordinary rendition and torture.

Once, we stood foursquare for the rule of law. Now we demolish inconvenient agreements we once promoted - the Geneva, nuclear nonproliferation and ABM treaties, the International Criminal Court - and thereby encourage others to follow suit.

Once, America's word was good. Today - after deceits ranging from WMD, to promised but withdrawn U.N. votes, to shameful lies about former football star Pat Tillman's death in Afghanistan - we are distrusted.

Once, America stood tall against colonialism. Today, with invasion excuses falling like dominoes, most of the world sees us as just another old-fashioned imperialist predator.

Once, we stood for due process of law. Now our President creates his own prisons and courts and denies the accused long sacred rights - to habeas corpus, an attorney, a speedy trial judged by peers, knowledge of the crime charged, and more.

Once, we were a model for civil liberties. Now, Mr. Bush authorizes himself to conduct illegal wiretaps on Americans while his government monitors everyone from vegans to Quakers, then snoops in libraries to see what we're reading.

Once, we stood for press freedom. Now our tax dollars pay to plant stories and buy off journalists, here and abroad, while our President plots to blow up al Jazeera, all in the name of bringing freedom to the Mideast.

Once, we were a good neighbor. Today, our 5 percent of the world population produces 25 percent of global warming emissions, while the President scuttles the Kyoto Protocol.

For all these reasons and others, world opinion of the United States has sunk precipitously - as well it should, for this is not the America our Founders had in mind.

And so we must ask, just what will be left of Americanism after George Bush is through with America? And, if the goal is not only preserving our lives, but also our way of life, just who is the true enemy of America and Americanism?

Surely al-Qaida is. Too bad, therefore, that the President doesn't think very much anymore about the folks who brutally attacked us on 9/11.

Surely Saddam Hussein - who never attacked the United States and never threatened to do so - was no such enemy, however brutal a dictator he certainly was.

But what of Mr. Bush himself? However counterintuitive, it is hard to reach but one conclusion about a President who has bankrupted America morally, fiscally, and militarily, who has alienated the world and deeply divided his own country, and who has trampled roughshod over our most sacred traditions and liberties, as if he were some sort of self-anointed king.

(David Michael Green teaches at Hofstra University. His e-mail address is

2. Gorilla Empire? A Global State of Disunion -- by Tom Engelhardt

This Tuesday, the presidential State of the Union Address rolls around yet again. Only four Januaries have passed since the President used a State of the Union Address to brand Iran, Iraq, and North Korea -- the first two then bitter enemies, the third completely unrelated to either of them and on the other side of the planet -- as a World-War-II-style "axis of evil." It was the first great State of Disunion deception of the Bush administration's regal reign of error. Only three Januaries ago came the second. The President stood before Congress and pronounced those sixteen little words on his bum's rush to war with Iraq: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

How time flies. Now, thanks to the decision to terrify and manipulate Congress and the American people into this administration's much desired, unprovoked invasion of Iraq (and everything that followed from it), almost two-thirds of that "axis of evil" -- Iran and southern Iraq as well as the newly elected government in Baghdad's Green Zone -- have become something like an "axis" of two democratically elected, theocratic Shiite powers; while the third member of that putative axis is now a genuine, no-holds-barred nuclear "axis" of one. In the meantime, those sixteen words morphed into another kind of administration catastrophe -- the Joseph Wilson op-ed on Saddam's missing Niger uranium; the conspiracy inside the administration to smear Wilson; the outing of his CIA agent/wife, Valerie Plame; the coming into being of the Plame case; and the appointment of a dogged prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, as Special Counsel to investigate an administration which prided itself on controlling everything in its path but couldn't, in the end, control the career officials in the Justice Department who managed to make the appointment. Now, sixteen words, so many secret meetings, leaks, smears, lies, obfuscations, obstructions, baroque press briefings, and plots later, Fitzgerald works doggedly in the wings, the bureaucracy's avenging angel in its war with this administration. Having lopped off the Vice President's good right arm, I. Lewis ("Scooter") Libby , Fitzgerald seems to be preparing to take out the President's "brain," Karl Rove and then check the landscape for other candidates.

Now, here we are, at the President's fifth State of the Union Address. Last year , of course, he brought forward his -- lucky for us all -- DOA social security overhaul. "Fixing" social security was what he called it, but putting in the fix on that classic safety-net program might better have caught the spirit of the moment -- or, if you want to get the full picture, just imagine the hurricane Katrina rescue effort applied to the world of retirement. This year, Richard W. Stevenson of the New York Times writes, the President will focus on health care (hold your hats), spending restraint (every speech needs a laugh line), illegal immigration, and "the nation's international economic competitiveness" (okay, two laugh lines).

You have to wonder: Which sixteen words will it be this time? Will it be National Security Agency spying assurances (" As I stand here right now, I can tell the American people the program's legal, it's designed to protect civil liberties..."), the Abramoff denials ("I've had my picture taken with a lot of people..."), the complete-victory-in-Iraq pronouncements, or more bogus reassurances to the elderly and sickly in our society? It's your guess -- and while you're considering the matter, I have another urge. As I think back on this administration's record, on this country (call me "homeland," Bill Bailey), and on this planet in its edgy state of disunion, I'd like to tote things up for a moment.

You know how every couple of months the New York Times produces that not particularly inspiring Iraq scorecard (thanks to the Brookings Institution ) -- how much electricity available 2003, 2004, 2005; how many Iraqi "security personnel" stood up; how much crude oil produced; how many insurgent attacks or suicide bombings? Well, I've had the urge lately to produce an equivalent Bush administration scorecard. You know, the trillion dollar invasion , occupation, and war; the multimultibillion dollar hurricane; the $67 going on $130 barrel of crude oil; the war on terror that somehow has managed not to pick up Bin Laden, Zawahiri, Zarqawi, or the anthrax killer ; that ever thinning "green line" of a Bushed and broken Army; our busted government; those every-child-left-behind educational "reforms"; the Medicare prescription drug plan that couldn't shoot straight ; the liberated-from-terror country that now produces not just enough opium but enough heroin to inject us all, and so on and so forth.

It really doesn't matter what the crisis is. The response these days is predictably the same. You have thirteen men stranded in a mine disaster in West Virginia? Think of it as the Katrina rescue operation gone underground. Rescue teams were once mandated to be located at mines. Under this President, they can be up to two hours away. As it happens, the team heading for the Sago mine took a mere six hours to get itself together and arrive, while the trapped miners wrote their goodbye notes and all but one slowly died. No surprise there. After all, in recent years the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration has been FEMAted , and heck-of-a-job-Brownie-ized. Then again, what hasn't?

You want a working federal government for tomorrow's crisis in your neck of the woods? Where have you been these last years? Or maybe you've already had your crisis and you're waiting for the federal government to pitch in. Remember how, when it came to Iraq, the Bush administration constantly cited our rebuilding efforts in Germany and Japan after World War II (not to say in all of Europe via the Marshall plan)? Well, "reconstruction" turns out to have another meaning these days. It means funds down the tubes or into friendly pockets in Iraq or here. Our reconstruction program has essentially deconstructed Iraq, and when it comes to New Orleans or the ravaged parts of Mississippi , the power of prayer better prove effective indeed for Bush and friends because there are only four months to go until hurricane season begins and it remains reconstruction nada-time on our southwest coast.

Even the right-wing experts agree. Ronald D. Utt, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, offered this observation on disaster housing policy in the area: "It just doesn't seem to be well organized… Things in some respects have gotten more confused than they were a couple weeks after the storm." As Oklahoma's Republican Senator Tom Coburn pointed out, when it came to post-storm clean-up efforts, "The worst fears of many policymakers are being realized… Bureaucratic delays have caused the recovery effort to be appallingly slow and inefficient." Heck of a job, Brownies all!

Whatever the term might be for having a knack for being incapable of governing, the record thus far indicates that the Bush administration has a corner on the market, both at home and, when it comes to ruling as a global superpower, abroad. What its top officials are, however, intensely capable of -- so much so that some critics have claimed this to be their intent -- is sowing chaos everywhere. They arrive, guns literally (or metaphorically) blazing; bring in their cronies, corporate buddies, and former lobbyists for various industries or institutions about to be overseen; seed confusion; strip mine the neighborhood; dump tons of money into "security" that only generates more insecurity; create -- whether inside Baghdad's Green Zone or at their dream agency, the Department of Homeland Security -- the bureaucracies from hell; and then more or less abandon ship. And you don't have to be an Iraqi to notice this phenomenon, either.

Take the administration's drug plan for seniors (so confusing that no one can make heads or tails of it) -- think of it as Katrina in a drug store. It's only "benefit" seems to be that now you can't get your meds on time or at a reasonable cost. As Jyoti Thottam of Time magazine summed it up, "Republicans realize that after Katrina, they cannot risk another crisis in which the government appears to be abandoning its most vulnerable citizens. Some are already making that connection. Aniela Toscano, 56, a New Yorker living in a shelter, has run up $885 in credit-card debt thanks to a brand-new bill for drugs and is worried that she can no longer afford her seizure medication. ‘What happened in New Orleans?' she says. ‘They let those people die. Why not us?'"

Another – seemingly opposite -- phenomenon is wedded to the administration's sowing of chaos. Any time the chaos factor kicks in and an ever more imperial government works ever less well, mobilizing itself ever more inefficiently, generating yet more confusion and suffering, it turns out to be yet another opportunity for George, Dick, and their advisers to gather in ever more power, creating yet more of the trappings of an unfettered, "commander-in-chief" presidency. Of course, the model for all this -- itself caused in part by administration inattention, inefficiency, and general incompetence -- was the assaults of September 11, 2001. The administration promptly leapt on the 9/11 tiger and rode it for all it was worth, rode it through the USA PATRIOT Act, through the creation of Guantanamo, through the institution of secret spying programs on Americans, through invasion, war, and occupation in Iraq, through kidnappings, torture, and secret CIA prisons worldwide, through data mining and illegal detention. It was, you might say (with a bow to Iraq) the Ur-crisis of our times. But other crises followed a similar pattern. New Orleans, for instance, brought on plans to increase the role of the Pentagon's new U.S. Northern Command ( Northcom ) in civilian life. Each crisis and disaster only sucked further power, further prerogatives, into the developing cult of the imperial presidency.

"His aides portray Mr. Bush as undaunted by the plague of setbacks last year that loosened his grip on his party and drove down his poll numbers," wrote Richard W. Stevenson on the front page of the New York Times . But let's not think of it that way -- as just one year's "plague of setbacks" (not in the very week of the Hamas-ific triumph of democracy in Palestine, the very month that a largely Shiite theocratic government will again be taking up the reins of... well, can you call it power?... in Baghdad). This administration is now guaranteed to have a very special relationship to "setbacks." No crisis -- a new round of fierce storms, an upsurge of guerrilla attacks in Iraq, a "nuclear" confrontation with Iran, a terrorist attack in the United States, the arrival of the avian flu on our shores or [fill in your crisis of choice] -- is likely to prove anything but a roiling disaster without end in a universe of Brownies, and yet each is likely to present Bush's people, especially his well-armed Veep, with but another chance to grab more power for the presidency. This disconnect between the garnering of potentially staggering powers to rule without restraint and the incapacity to use them for the well-being of just about anyone on the planet (other than a few friends and cronies) is now a major part of our domestic landscape.
Meanwhile, abroad, the Bush administration remains the 8,000 pound gorilla in the global living room -- and a crazed gorilla at that. Think of Kong before Peter Jackson turned him into a moonstruck softie. Back in the days of Vietnam, when things were so totally different (except, of course, for an endless war, massive illegal spying on Americans, presidential smearing and lies, prosecutors banging on White House doors, and the word "impeachment" somewhere in the ether), our imperial President of the moment, Richard M. Nixon, proposed a novel way to end his war -- not that it worked, of course. He put it this way to his aide Bob Haldeman (as related in Haldeman's memoirs, The Ends of Power ):

"I call it the Madman Theory, Bob. I want the North Vietnamese to believe I've reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war. We'll just slip the word to them that 'for God's sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about Communists. We can't restrain him when he's angry -- and he has his hand on the nuclear button' -- and [North Vietnamese leader] Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days begging for peace."

So here's a difference between the two eras. We now have a President who wouldn't think of propounding a Madman Theory of the presidency, but whom much of the world considers a madman, capable of doing just about any mad thing that crosses his imperial mind. He still has his finger on that same nuclear button (which his administration has been working hard to upgrade); and thanks to the Pentagon of former Nixon staffer Donald Rumsfeld, he even has an operational "global strike force" empowered to launch an attack "preemptively" against hostile countries developing weapons of mass destruction anywhere on Earth "in half a day or less," using conventional or nuclear weapons. So the "nuclear option" remains open to Bush and while, to the sane-minded, it might seem like an inconceivable one to exercise -- so was the invasion of Iraq. Against every bit of sane advice (even from his own father's top advisers), he's already committed an act of global madness in Iraq and followed it up by sowing chaos in the greater Middle East -- with a guarantee of so much more to come. Now, he's implicitly threatening Iran, even though an attack on that country would drive global energy prices through the roof.

So the world deals with the Bush administration and the U.S. exactly as though it were indeed that 8,000 pound Kong out there in the street smashing elevated subways and tossing cars about at will. The leaders of other states tiptoe around the U.S. in part out of fear that George and pals could, in honor of the State of Disunion 2006 or 2007, drop another sixteen words of seasoning into their already boiling-over stew pot and burn everyone in sight. They tiptoe less from straightforward military fears -- after all a relatively low-level guerrilla war in Iraq has stopped the exceedingly high-tech U.S. military dead in its tracks -- than from fear of what the administration might do economically just by, say, launching that insane strike on Iran, the very hint of which might drive crude oil prices toward the $100 a barrel barrier, and possibly wreck the global economy.

In the short run, for instance, China's leaders have probably been pouring into the streets of the Forbidden City every morning these last years to dance, sing, and thank nameless gods that Bush administration policy in Iraq has so far trumped any China-as-super-enemy policy possibilities. But they also have to be painfully aware that their country's prosperity is based on an expanding bubble economy based largely on export to the United States, and so any mad choice by this President could take them down too. They certainly know that. The Europeans certainly know it as well. The question is: Does George? Does Dick? Does Don? Does Condi?

Behind this lies an odd thought: Do you remember that period in 2002-03 when the neocons and their various supporters and clustering pundits were proclaiming us quite literally the New Rome and speaking of a Pax Americana that would last forever and a day? Neocon writers and thinkers like Robert Kaplan were, in fact, intent on describing a world of growing anarchy on the global peripheries, a jungle world of failed states that needed an imperial power like... well, us... for order. That, of course, was before the Bush administration managed so brilliantly to bring a jungle world of chaos and anarchy to Iraq and so to the very heart of the heartlands of the global energy system -- and, stunned by the results, they all fell imperially, resoundingly silent on the subject.

So I've been wondering in their stead, what sort of empire are we? Empires are usually settled and ruled areas, not -- except at their peripheries -- jungle worlds. But what exactly does our imperial presidency, with all its power, rule over? If, say, the Congo or Afghanistan is a failed state, are we a failed empire of some sort? Do we rule anything?

Yes, our military planners continue to put on the drawing boards staggering new kinds of high-tech imperial weapons of domination: electromagnetic rail guns for as early as 2010, the new FB-22 fighter bomber by 2015, and the B-3 Long Range Strike Platform in the years after 2030, to mention only three. Yes, our ever-shifting military bases -- our military "footprint," as the Pentagon likes to call it in the singular, invoking an image of a Kong-like creature so large that only one foot at a time can fit on the planet -- is stamped on this globe from Okinawa and Kyrgyzstan to Qatar, Morocco, and Great Britain. Our gunboats patrol the oceans and, soon enough, an array of space weaponry like those wonderfully nicknamed "Rods from God" may indeed be circling the weaponized heavens asserting "full spectrum dominance" over the planet. But despite our military posture, are we an empire at all -- or are we just Kong wild about that town? I don't know that I have the answer, but I thought I'd raise the question for us to think about as the President offers his next set of James-Frey-like Disunion fictions on Tuesday night without a stern Oprah in sight.

(Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The End of Victory Culture, a history of American triumphalism in the Cold War. His novel, The Last Days of Publishing, has recently come out in paperback.)

3. Can You Imagine George Bush by Another Name? -- by Beth Quinn

There is a courtroom scene in the movie "A Time to Kill" that comes to mind when I hear Bush fans blindly defend their president.

The movie is about the black father of a little girl who is raped, beaten and thrown off a bridge by two white men in Mississippi. Knowing that justice won't be served for a black child, her father kills her attackers and goes on trial for murder.

The scene that comes to mind these crazy days is this:

The defense attorney knows this heartbroken father is facing an all-white jury. And this jury will be incapable of putting themselves in the shoes of a black man.

So the lawyer asks them to close their eyes as he describes in excruciating detail the attack the little girl endured. "Can you see it?" he asks. "Can you see her being tortured?" And then he tells them: "Now imagine she was white."

It is a similar use of imagination that I would ask the blind faithful in Bush's camp to try.

Please, just close your eyes for a moment as I catalog the abuses George Bush has committed against our country. And then imagine he is Bill Clinton, a man you're predisposed to hate - and tell me you would still defend those actions.

When you consider that George Bush declared war in Iraq based on a lie, close your eyes and imagine it was Bill Clinton who had told that lie. Keep your eyes closed and picture it. In fairness and honesty, would you defend him?

When you consider that George Bush has been secretly and illegally spying on Americans, close your eyes and concentrate. Picture how you would react if it were Clinton wiretapping our phones. Would you defend him?

When you consider that George Bush partied for days at his Texas ranch while New Orleans was dying, close your eyes and picture Clinton partying on Martha's Vineyard. Can you see it? Can you imagine Clinton ignoring the plight of thousands of homeless and dying? Would you defend him?

When you consider that George Bush continues to promote the lie that "we do not torture" even as he declares the right to violate McCain's amendment barring torture, squeeze your eyes tight and picture it. Can you see Clinton defying the Geneva Convention and Congress? Would you defend him?

When you consider that George Bush has paid journalists to promote his propaganda, close your eyes and imagine Clinton buying off the Fourth Estate. Would you like that? Would you defend him?

When you consider that George Bush continues to send our young men and women into danger in Iraq without protective armor, then hides their coffins from the cameras when they are sent home dead, close your eyes and imagine Clinton doing such a thing. Is this a good thing? Would you defend him?

In the movie, the jurors' collective eyes pop open when the defense lawyer asks them to imagine the little victim was white. It's clear they have seen the light and justice will be done.

In real life, blind allegiance is no better than blind hatred. Both spring from fear and ignorance. It would be gratifying if the Bush defenders were to open their own eyes to see this president for what he really is.

George Bush, by any name, is nothing more than a power-mad liar.

There are 1,091 days 'til Inauguration 2009.