Adam Ash

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

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

US Diary: Hillary on the campaign trail

Mama Hugs Iowa -- by Maureen Dowd/NY Times

When she was little, Hillary Rodham would sit on a basement bench and pretend she was flying a spaceship to Mars. Her younger brother Hugh, perched behind, would sometimes beg for a chance to be captain.

No dice. "She would always drive, and I would always have to sit in the back," he once told me.

Through all the years of sitting behind Bill Clinton on his trip to the stars, Hillary fidgeted and elbowed, trying to be co-captain rather than just wingman, or worse, winglady.

Finally, in Iowa, she was once more behind the wheel of her spaceship to Mars. She didn't have to prop up Bill after one of his roguish pratfalls. She didn't have to feign interest in East Wing piffle - table settings and pastry chefs and designer gowns. She didn't have to defer to her male colleagues in the Senate, stepping back to give them the limelight.

She positively glistened as she talked about how "I" - rather than the "we" of '92 - would run the world.

Humbly, graciously, deftly, she offered Iowa the answer to that eternal question, What Is Hillary Owed?


John Wood, a self-described "plainsman," Republican and machinery-and-tool salesman from Davenport, asked Hillary how she would handle the world's evil and bad men, provoking the slyly ambiguous retort: "What in my background equips me to deal with evil and bad men?"

He said afterward that he was more worried about her ability to face down villains, "being a lady," but conceded, "The woman did good today."

(His question was reminiscent of Ali G's interview of Newt Gingrich, when the faux rapper asked whether a woman president would be turned on and manipulated by evil dictators, given that, with women, "the worse you treat 'em, the more they want you.")

As YouTube attests, Hillary didn't care about style as first lady; she was too busy trying to get in on Bill's substance. She showed off a long parade of unflattering outfits and unnervingly changing hairdos.

In Iowa, her national anthem may have been off-key, but her look wasn't. It was an attractive mirror of her political message: man-tailored with a dash of pink femininity.

"I think you look very nice," a veteran of the first gulf war told her in Des Moines.

"Thank you!" she answered, beaming and laughing.

When Geraldine Ferraro made her historic run in '84, she tried to blend a mother's concerns into her foreign policy answers, but it did not work so well once she started getting her nuclear terminology mixed up.

Hillary dealt with the issue head on - "I'm a woman; I'm a mom" - hoping to stir that sisterly vote that Ms. Ferraro failed to draw after it turned out that many women were skeptical about one of their own facing down the Soviets.

Unlike Barack Obama, who once said he was bored by the suburbs, she introduced herself in the land of bingo and bacon as a product of the suburbs, wallowing in the minutiae of kitchen-table issues.

W. and Cheney have lavished attention and money on Iraq, leaving Americans feeling neglected. Hillary offered Iowans a warm bath of "you," homey rumination rather than harsh domination.

(Though Jon Stewart warned on "The Daily Show" that her slogan - "Let the conversation begin!" - will not help her with men. "I think the typical response would be, ‘Now?' " he said, adding that her new Iraq policy is, "America, let's pull over and just ask for directions.")

Thomasine Johnson, a 66-year-old African-American from outside Des Moines, complained that Hillary talked too much about "traditional women's issues," but many in the audiences seemed enthralled.

The Achilles' heel of "The Warrior," as she is known, is the war. She expressed outrage about Iraq, but ended up sounding like a mother whose teenage son has not cleaned up his room: "The president has said this is going to be left to his successor ... and I think it's the height of irresponsibility, and I really resent it."

She uttered the most irritating and disingenuous nine words in politics: "If we had known then what we know now...."

Jim Webb knew. Barack Obama knew. Even I knew, for Pete's sake. The administration's trickery was clear in real time.

Hillary didn't have the nerve to oppose a popular president on a national security issue after 9/11, and she feared being cast as an antiwar hippie when she ran. Now she feels she can't simply say she made a bad decision. And that makes her seem conniving - not a good mix with nurturing.

So now the administration wants to mess with Iran

Iran Threat? Nobody Told the Iraqis… -- by Tony Karon/Rootless Cosmopolitan

It’s amazing, frankly, that even as the Scooter Libby trial reveals the machinations of an Administration determined to prevent any jabs of reality from puncturing the “Iraq threat” scarecrow it had built to stampede Americans into war, the same crowd are getting a free hand to build an “Iran threat” scarecrow.

But this time, even if the U.S. media is reluctant to bluntly challenge the suppositions being sold by the Administration, realities are beginning to intrude. Consider this lede from a New York Times story this week on Lebanon: “In an unusual collaboration that could complicate American policy in the region, Iran and Saudi Arabia have been mediating an agreement to end Lebanon’s violent political crisis.”

This, on the same day that President Bush cites Iran’s actions in Lebanon as further evidence of the “Iran threat” to the region. But we learn three important things from the Times story, which reports that Iran’s national security chief Ali Larijani has been working with top Saudi officials to broker a political deal that will avert a civil war in Lebanon.

The first is that Iran is actually a sober player in the region, not looking to set it aflame, but instead to consolidate the gains it has made across the region — as a major beneficiary of the democratic process in both Lebanon and Iraq, where it’s allies have emerged as the chosen leaders of large Shiite populations — and avert instability.
The second is that, as we’ve argued previously, it is not the dangerously provocative posturing of Ahmedinajad that defines Iranian policy — for the simple reason that in Iran, the president does not control foreign or national security policy. Larijani appears to have the backing of Supreme Leader Khamenei to make pragmatic accommodations to calm things down. These people are conservative nationalists, but they are also pragmatists. Again, as I noted previously, we can expect a lot more of this flexibility from Tehran in the months ahead, aimed at isolating and confounding U.S. attempts to build pressure against Iran.

The third, and perhaps most important lesson is that while the U.S. continues to maintain its absurd refusal to talk to Iran, deluding itself that it is “isolating” Tehran, Washington’s key allies in the region, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and especially Iraq (which, frankly, is not necessarily an ally, as such) are actively engaging with Tehran, seeking cooperation in pursuit of stability. Increasingly, and not only on Iran (also on Hamas, for example), U.S. allies in the region are simply ignoring the U.S. hard line because it offers no plausible solutions.

The frontline of Washington’s new aggressive posture towards Iran, of course, is in Iraq. Bush has issued what Juan Cole has archly described as a ‘fatwa’ allowing U.S. troops to kill Iranian operatives , and warns that this provocative position could touch of a much wider and more tragic conflict. Cole also highlights what I think is the most important reality that is largely overlooked in U.S. media discussions over “Iranian meddling” in Iraq — the fact that Iran’s presence and influence in Iran is actually welcomed by the political leaders democratically elected by the majority of Iraqis. Both the Shiite and Kurdish leadership are longtime friends of Tehran, having cooperated actively against Saddam Hussein.

Bush loves to sell this fiction that “Iraqis voted for a government of national unity and now Iran and others are trying to subvert that.” That’s just a crock. Iraqis did not vote for “national unity” in the two democratic elections held since Saddam fell; they voted overwhelmingly by sect and ethnic group for parties committed to advancing sectarian and ethnic agendas, even if they made a rhetorical nod to the principle of national unity. (The basic idea of hegemony in politics is that you present your own sectional interests as the national interest — you’d think oligarchic Republicans would know that better than most!) So while U.S. politicians and pundits begin alleging that Prime Minister Maliki is committed to Shiite power, as if this was a hidden agenda, they’re ignoring the obvious: It’s not a hidden agenda at all; Shiite power was the very basis of his electoral coalition. And it governs in alliance principally with the Kurdish bloc, whose program is essentially Kurdish independence. Neither is particular sympathetic to Sunni concerns, having suffered under the Sunni elite in Saddam’s time. The Shiites insist on having a share of power in Baghdad commensurate with their demographic majority, and the Kurds don’t much care what’s going on in Baghdad as long as it doesn’t impinge on their de facto sovereignty in the north — but they are at odds with the Sunnis over the fate of disputed cities, most notably Kirkuk.

From the very outset, this democratically elected government was an obstacle to the realization of U.S. goals in Iraq, because it didn’t necessarily share them. Not in terms of the desired domestic political arrangements for a post-Saddam Iraq; not in terms of U.S. policy in the Middle East more widely; and certainly not on Iran. And with Iran now identified as the premier strategic threat, the U.S. objectives in the region had to be recallibrated, and suddenly the old Arab autocracies that were to be swept away in the “creative chaos” of the U.S. democratic revolution in the Middle East were now, instead, to be rehabilitated as the key “moderates” holding the line against the “extremism” represented by Iran and other Islamist elements. Those Arab autocracies are, of course, quite hostile to the Shiite-Kurdish regime in Baghdad, which is why they’ve been so non-commital in response to Condi’s latest “looking busy” tour of the region. Instead, they’re warning that they could send money, weapons and even troops to help the Sunnis.

Some of those regimes have urged the U.S. to do more to combat Iranian influence in Iraq, which the U.S. has lately shown a great eagerness to do. But, in case anybody failed to notice, Iraq’s government is not complaining about “Iranian meddling” in Iraq , but they are complaining about U.S. efforts to hound Iranian operatives there. Key Shiite and Kurdish leaders have bluntly criticized the U.S. for arresting Iranian diplomats in Erbil last week, and have warned it against doing so again. The Shiites, of course, have a long history of intimate ties with Tehran, but even the key Kurdish parties have a long history of close cooperation with Iran. And, as my colleague Andrew Butters notes , the looming conflict with the U.S. over Kirkuk (Washington may postpone a revenue on its status in order to maintain a hope of bringing the Sunnis into a new political accord in Baghdad) actually strengthens the Kurds motivation to make common cause with the likes of Syria and Iran. So, to the extent that the U.S. moves to confront Iran in Iraq, it quite simply parts ways with the Iraqi government. And then the question becomes what exactly the U.S. is doing in the country.

The extent to which the U.S. begins to confront Iran on Iraqi soil is more likely to hasten the day when Iraq’s leaders ask the U.S. to leave, whatever the consequences. The idea that Iraq can be stabilized without acknowledging substantial Iranian interest and influence in that country is another relic of the Bush-Cheney Iraq fantasy. Pursuing that fantasy now will only hasten the collapse of the U.S. hold on Iraq, and offer America the prospect of another unwinnable war.

This guy finds another reason to impeach Bush

A Case for Impeachment -- by Robert Scheer / truthdig

Not all lies are created equal. It is understood that there is a chasm of importance between little white lies and big black ones. Most would agree that lying about a consensual sexual affair, even by the president, is of significantly lesser concern than lying about the proliferation of nuclear weapons as an excuse to take the nation to war.

How then is it possible that a Republican-controlled Congress impeached President Bill Clinton over his attempt to conceal marital infidelity but that a Democratic-led Congress will not even consider impeaching this president for far more serious transgressions against the public trust? That is the question that arises from early revelations in the trial of Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff.

This case’s importance lies not in the narrow charge that Libby committed perjury in testifying about his role in the outing of CIA operative Valerie Wilson; that was merely one facet of a far-ranging plot to deceive Congress and the public about perhaps the most important issue of our time: the prospect of terrorists obtaining a weapon of mass destruction.

The infamous 16-word State of the Union claim by President Bush that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had sought to obtain enriched uranium from the African country of Niger was known to be based on fraudulent documents at the time Bush used this and other false evidence to make his case for war.

The Libby case testimony, centered on the chicanery of the vice president, certainly suggests that impeachable offenses occurred at the highest level of the White House. Just how conscious the president was of the deceits conducted under his authority, what he knew and when he knew it, is precisely what an impeachment trial would determine.

Consider the testimony concerning White House use of former CIA Director George Tenet in the cover-up of the president’s distortions. The record is unmistakably clear that the CIA and other intelligence sources warned the White House before the president’s speech not to make the bogus Niger claim, and that the reference had been voided out in a previous speech. Yet, after Ambassador Joseph Wilson exposed this fact more than a year after the invasion, Cheney orchestrated a new deception to shift the blame to Tenet.

That is the smoking-gun revelation in the testimony of Cheney’s former spokeswoman, Cathie Martin, a Harvard-educated lawyer who still works in the White House. Her word is that of a sophisticated and top-level White House insider and, as described by the Washington Post, one that offers a devastating glimpse into the moral depravity of this administration:

“At length, Martin explained how she, Libby and Deputy National Security Adviser Steve Hadley worked late into the night writing a statement to be issued by George Tenet in 2004 in which the CIA boss would take blame for the bogus claim in Bush’s State of the Union address that Iraq was seeking nuclear material in Africa. After ‘delicate’ talks, Tenet agreed to say the CIA ‘approved’ the claim and ‘I am responsible’—but even that disappointed Martin, who had wanted Tenet to say that ‘we did not express any doubts about Niger.’ ” Tenet later was awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Certainly this deliberate corruption of the integrity of the CIA, the nation’s premier source of national security information, rises to the level of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” which the Constitution holds out as the standard for impeachment. And can there be any more egregious example of betraying the oath of office of the president to uphold the Constitution than his deceiving Congress from the very well of the House on the reasons for going to war? The Constitution clearly delegates to Congress, and not to the president, the exclusive power to declare war, and deceiving our representatives in making the case for war is a far more important crime than the perjury charge against Libby.

Testimony already has established that Libby was nothing more than a pawn used by Cheney in the vice president’s constant and ferocious campaign to trick the nation into war—not a totally surprising quest for a man who had served as CEO for a corporation that has profited so obscenely from the Iraq agony.

Cheney, like some Daddy Warbucks cartoon character of old, has been so blatant in his corruption of the nation’s second highest office that we seem to have become inured to further revelations of his evil influence. Instead of being shocked, we are more likely jaded by even more examples of the man’s use of his office to persistently undermine our democratic heritage. Too bad he wasn’t cursed by an overactive libido.

David Byrne - indie rock's own American Idol

Indie Rock’s Patron Saint Inspires a New Flock -- by WILL HERMES/NY Times

WEARING a striped sports jacket and very sharp blue suede shoes, David Byrne stepped into an elevator at 32 East 57th Street in Manhattan last October. He was on his way to the Pace/MacGill Gallery for the opening of his art show “Furnishing the Self — Upholstering the Soul.”

Mr. Byrne was alone and running a bit late; the reception had begun a half-hour ago. “Anybody up there?” he asked cheerily.

Of course there was. There was a healthy crowd: a mix of what looked like well-heeled uptowners, scruffy Brooklyn bohemians and clean-scrubbed Asian art students. But those who still saw Mr. Byrne as the singer from Talking Heads, who came to catch a glimpse of a real live rock star, were surely surprised by the modesty of the event. And anyone might have been surprised by the artwork itself: simple, whimsical studies of chairs, either drawn with ink on paper, embroidered on framed furniture upholstery or constructed from odd materials, including a steel file cabinet, old encyclopedias and uncooked macaroni.

Yet the show (which has closed, but is documented at ) was consistent with the idiosyncratic tone of Mr. Byrne’s whole post-Talking Heads career, which has balanced playfulness and erudition with a dollop of disorientation. He has been an author and photographer (the book “Strange Rituals”), a film director (the documentary “Ilé Aiyé” and the feature film “True Stories”), a television host (the sadly defunct PBS performance series “Sessions at West 54th”), a PowerPoint programmer (the DVD/book “E.E.E.I. (Envisioning Emotional Epistemological Information),” which documents his attempt to recast the Microsoft presentation software as an art medium), a record producer, a soundtrack composer.

These days this 54-year-old polymath has been particularly busy. He is the curator of the 2007 Perspectives series at Carnegie Hall , which next month will feature a program of experimental folk music (including Vashti Bunyan, Devendra Banhart, Vetiver, Adem, Cibelle and CocoRosie) and a multi-artist concert based on the conceit of a single drone note. It will also include two nights of Mr. Byrne’s work: a performance of music from “The Knee Plays,” his 1985 theatrical collaboration with Robert Wilson , and a preview of “Here Lies Love,” his new multimedia song cycle based on the life and reign of Imelda Marcos, the former first lady of the Philippines.

If that seems an unlikely subject, well, consider the fact that Mr. Byrne, like Ms. Marcos, clearly appreciates a good pair of shoes. “Hush Puppies came out with all these wild colors like seven, eight years ago,” he said after his opening, referring to his turquoise footwear. “I thought: ‘Who the hell is going to buy these? They look like they’re for some Vegas singer.’ I figured they wouldn’t be around long, so I got those and a yellow pair and a lime-green pair.”

Perhaps more surprising is that while Mr. Byrne has been busy being a curator, sculpturing, drawing, mounting theatrical pieces about deposed foreign leaders and buying shoes, he has also become, without fanfare or Talking Heads reunion tours, perhaps the single greatest influence on the current generation of indie rockers. Four of the most hotly anticipated CDs of 2007 — by the Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem, !!! and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah — are coming from bands that, each in its individual way, show a clear stylistic debt to Mr. Byrne and his old group.

Mr. Byrne spoke recently over a late- afternoon coffee at his studio near Chinatown, sitting at a wooden farm table under a row of windows overlooking Broome Street. The walls of the loft space (a former sweatshop, he noted) are lined with book and CD shelves, or hung with curious objects, including a painting by the Rev. Howard Finster (who illustrated the cover of the Talking Heads album “Little Creatures”) and a pair of banners salvaged from a Mason hall.

Once the archetypal nerve-racked data-age persona (his famously uncomfortable 1983 Letterman interview is on YouTube, if you need a reminder), Mr. Byrne is today much more mellow. He seems comfortable in his skin, chatty and quick to laugh; his conversation ranges energetically from computerized embroidery machines to a recent visit to a neuroscience lab in Canada with his pals from the Arcade Fire. (“We didn’t get a chance to get into the M.R.I. machines,” he said, “but we had a lot of fun.”) He has even become a blogger, and a self-disclosing one at that.

“I was a peculiar young man,” he wrote in a reflective entry last April. “Borderline Asperger’s, I would guess.”

Lately Mr. Byrne has also been creating book-art projects with the writer and graphic designer Dave Eggers . The most recent is “Arboretum,” a reproduced sketchbook of curious free-associative riffs in the form of evolutionary trees and Venn diagrams that he prefaced with a series of questions: “What are these drawings? Why did I do them? Will they be of interest to anyone else? Of any use? Do they need to be useful?”

Here’s another question: Why so many media? “Some are better for saying a particular thing than others,” Mr. Byrne explained. “I think it’s also part of that punk do-it-yourself attitude, of being like: ‘Well, I don’t care that I’m not an expert in this. I know my limitations, but I think I can express what I want to express within those limitations.’ You know — like I may only know three chords, but that’s all I need.”

Mr. Byrne knows far more than three chords. And having attended, albeit briefly, the Rhode Island School of Design, he is not a fine-art naïf. But his can-do attitude appeals to young musicians, who understand that music careers now often involve Web design, blogging and filmmaking. So does his reputation for forward thinking, as on last year’s Web-enhanced reissue of “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts,” his 1981 collage-funk collaboration with Brian Eno, and his more recent solo work.

“He’s just kind of pursued what he finds interesting and hasn’t been specifically chasing after an audience, and I have a lot of respect for that,” said Win Butler of the Arcade Fire. That band has performed with Mr. Byrne on various occasions, and its cover of Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)” is a blogosphere favorite. “I don’t think of him as a pop star, really. He’s like a scientist, or a professor.”

Mr. Byrne appreciates being acknowledged by younger musicians, but he doesn’t seem nostalgic for the days when he was one himself. He likes the tributes best, he said, when they come from bands that “don’t sound anything like me, or Talking Heads.”

Relations between Mr. Byrne and his former bandmates are famously strained, although they did manage to reunite for a few songs at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2002. Mr. Byrne’s attitude seems best expressed in a short essay included in “Once in a Lifetime,” one of two extravagant Heads CD retrospectives released in the last few years.

Addressing himself and his music in the third person (something he does in conversation too), he noted that he was “just not the same person” who created his early work, and that he “can’t go to that place anymore.” Progress and evolution are more important, he wrote, at any cost.

Yet his latest musical project may capture the musical kinetics of Talking Heads better than anything Mr. Byrne has done since the band broke up in 1991. “Here Lies Love” was inspired by Imelda Marcos’s love of disco, so great that she installed a dance floor, complete with mirror ball, on the roof of the presidential palace in Manila. The work in progress was conceived for performance in a dance club, with an audience doing what one generally does in such places. (If the Carnegie Hall crowd needs to boogie at the Feb. 3 concert, perhaps the ushers will understand.)

Mr. Byrne, who was born in Scotland and raised in Baltimore and has traveled widely, says he was attracted to Ms. Marcos’s story in part as a way to understand the inner workings of dictators, always a timely endeavor.

“How do they justify — how does anyone justify — what might seem to be atrocious behavior?” he recalled wondering. In this case, he thought, maybe “dance music could be some sort of link: the way people sort of lose themselves at a rave or a club — maybe there’s something about it that connects to the feeling of somebody in power. Kind of a heady feeling, like you’re up in the clouds. And I thought maybe I could tell the story in that kind of setting. I thought that would be really neat.”

Last February, at a rehearsal space amid the art galleries on West 26th Street, he prepared the “Here Lies Love” material for its world premiere, which took place in March at the Adelaide Bank Festival of Arts in Australia. Two Filipino singers flanked him on his right: Dana Diaz-Tutaan, who plays the Marcos role, and Ganda Suthivarakom, who plays Estrella Cumpas, the housekeeper-nanny who effectively raised Ms. Marcos. Dressed in a blue mechanic’s jumpsuit branded with the logo of Luaka Bop (his world music label), with his glasses perched low on his nose, Mr. Byrne played chucka-chucka chords on a blond Fender guitar.

Above the musicians — the keyboardist Tim Regusis, the bassist Paul Frazier, the drummer Graham Hawthorne and the percussionist Mauro Refosco — the video designer Peter Norman projected remarkable clips from the Marcos era: Imelda dancing with Gerald R. Ford , dining with Donald Trump , kibitzing with Richard M. Nixon and George P. Shultz. Some scenes read as vaguely comic; others were genuinely disturbing, like a segment capturing hardscrabble street life in Manila.

The songs conjured New York disco-rock of the ’70s and ’80s: a fusion that Talking Heads spearheaded, of course, and that is currently undergoing a revival. But the sound is not simply Heads redux. For one thing, much of the material is sung by the female vocalists, not Mr. Byrne. Furthermore, his (absent) collaborator on the project is the D.J. Norman Cook, a k a Fatboy Slim, who seemed to have added modern heft and a techno sheen to some of the beats.

Another sign of Mr. Byrne’s constant forward motion is his voracious appetite for new music. He’s a regular visitor to the annual South by Southwest music festival Austin, Tex., where he will be a featured speaker in March. And any concertgoer in New York City is apt to spot him regularly, hanging out near the back of a room, generally without an entourage, his shock of near-white hair adding a few inches to his already impressive height. Last year he could be spotted sipping white wine in the lobby of Town Hall before a Cat Power performance, applauding the debut of Gnarls Barkley at Webster Hall and cheering the Brazilian funk artist Otto (who appears on a forthcoming Luaka Bop compilation) at Joe’s Pub.

“He really keeps his finger on the pulse,” said Ms. Diaz-Tutaan, whom Mr. Byrne became interested in after hearing the CD her band, Apsci, recorded for the tiny progressive hip-hop label Quannum. “That’s really inspiring to me — that this guy who has been around for such a long time and has been one of my musical influences is keeping up with things on a more underground level. He’ll just ride his bike to a venue, go in, check out the band and ride home.”

Mr. Byrne doesn’t seem to think there’s anything particularly remarkable about it. “Sure, I go out a lot,” he said. “I’m in New York, and I’m a music fan. But sometimes I go out to these shows and I go ‘Where are my peers?,’ you know? Where are the musicians from my generation, or the generation after mine? Don’t they go out to hear music? Do they just stay home? Are they doing drugs? What’s going on?”

He laughed and shook his head. “Or maybe they’re just not interested anymore. They’re watching ‘Desperate Housewives.’ ”

This guy has doubts about Obama

“And what do African Americans get out of the deal? Far less than nothing.”
Barack Obama: The Mania and the Mirage
by GLEN FORD/Counterpunch

“Mirage” is the best metaphor for Barack Obama. He shimmers on the horizon, a promise of… something . But as one draws closer, Obama dissipates into nothingness – which is his purpose.

Like a mirage, Obama floats as an illusion in the political intersections between hot and cool air. It is the place he seeks: the deliberately chosen – yet ever-shifting – layer between other forces that are themselves constantly moving across the landscape. As the Illinois Senator this weekend announced his intention to create a presidential “exploratory committee,” corporate pundits pegged him as nestled in the Democratic niche between Hillary Clinton, to his right – based her relatively “hot” air on Iraq – and the much cooler, if not frigid, temperatures at the base of the party. That’s Obama’s intermediary comfort zone – a place of ever-interpretable impressions.

"I've been struck by how hungry we all are for a different kind of politics,” said Obama in a video posted on his website. “So I spent some time thinking about how I could best advance the cause of change and progress we so desperately need.” Ahh, so that’s what the period between now and February 10, when he will make his presidential intentions official, is all about: thinking time.

Obama is known for choosing his words very carefully. His admirers say that’s a sign of his conscientious nature, that he doesn’t want to inadvertently say the wrong thing, to speak irresponsibly. The truth is, Obama is determined to say next to nothing substantive at all, unless it is designed to position himself in some mellow region between opposing forces. Obama claims, "I didn't expect to find myself in this position a year ago.” Amazing. I suppose that’s why he has been so careful to navigate to the right of his fellow Democratic senator from Illinois, Dick Durbin; why he spent 2005 and 2006 mouthing “mush” on the Iraq war, and still continues to do so; why he told me point-blank, three weeks before being sworn in as U.S. senator, that he would not push for universal health care – the very issue that had made him a darling of progressives as a state senator, but which had burned Hillary Clinton when she was First Lady. Obama runs from even the flicker of a flame.

"The decisions that have been made in the past six years have put our country in a precarious place," he said. What the hell does that mean? Exactly what it is supposed to: next to nothing. By February 10, Obama will have crafted a catch-phrase that captures some vague mood of distress among the electorate. But he needs the time to measure the barometer, temperature and wind flow, and situate himself accordingly – the perfect mirage.

Barack Obama is a lawyer by training, but could easily have made a career on Madison Avenue, where “impressions” are the holy grail. The most effective commercials are those that provoke consumers to provide their own impressions of the product, through word and image association. Obama’s special genius is to elicit self-generated positive impressions from a wide range of consumers/observers – most dramatically, from consumers across the color line – while saying nothing of substance.

Corporate media, an extension of Madison Avenue, eat this crap up. Barack Obama has “wide appeal” and is, therefore, a “saleable” product. But what are they selling, and to whom? They (and Obama) are certainly not selling an end to U.S. wars of aggression, or universal health care, or the right to housing, education, and a minimal standard of income. Most insidiously, Obama-mania does not even market substantive measures toward racial justice. Quite the opposite: it presents an Obama presidential candidacy as a palliative – a soothing potion – that on its face serves as an historical benchmark showing how far “America” – meaning white America – has come.

Such is Obama’s carefully orchestrated message: Vote for me, and I’ll set you free – free like me! – from any obligation to reverse centuries of past wrongs or current crimes against African Americans; free to abandon universal health care as a national priority; free to warn Iraqis that there will be “no more coddling” of them, as if 600,000 Iraqis have died from excess coddling; free to threaten “surgical missile strikes” against Iran in early 2006, and free to later back away from the warmongers’ bully pulpit when the political winds changed. Free!

Commercialization is the great diversion in U.S. society: the creation of false realities that are “sold” far beyond conventional points-of-purchase. For decades corporations (and their two political parties) have been marketing an empty package labeled “new, improved America,” a product that miraculously cures the nation’s ills without the trauma of relinquishing white privilege and forging a real social compact among Americans, or of abandoning an imperial foreign policy. Barack Obama has cynically signed on as the beaming face on the package of that product.

In Obama’s mind, the game is all about “impressions” – ephemeral things that are very much like mirages. Having no substance – poof! – in a minute, they are gone, leaving us to anxiously await the appearance of the next illusions of light and temperature, or messages that seem to solve ancient ills, but actually promise…nothing.

Barack Obama has methodically created the impression that he feels no special obligation to African Americans (“There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America.”) – the source of his meteoric rise. It matters not what he feels inside, or what he wrote in a decade-old biography. Obama has eagerly signed on as a candidate of the center-right of the Democratic Party – a hair’s-breadth from Hillary Clinton, with whom I suspect he will eventually team-up.

And what do African Americans get out of the deal? Far less than nothing. By assisting white Americans to believe that painless absolution of collective responsibility for the past and current national sins can be achieved by looking kindly on an ingratiating Black man’s presidential candidacy, Obama has become an active participant in the Great Diversion. He repeatedly reinforces the notion that noisy “partisan politics” is what’s wrong with America, rather than rapacious corporations, structural and overt racism, and rampaging militarism.

As BAR Managing Editor Bruce Dixon has written, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), the announced presidential contender whose name is seldom uttered in the corporate media, is the “blackest candidate in the ring.” Kucinich’s voting record “matches the best of the Congressional Black Caucus across the board” and is far more in tune with the historical Black Consensus on issues of peace and social justice than Sen. Obama’s over the past two years.

However, African Americans will certainly flock to Obama’s candidacy, both emotionally and – if he doesn’t shift his weight to the Clintons before the primaries – with their votes. Despite the passage of four decades since the Black Freedom Movement defeated official apartheid, a Jim Crow mentality continues to haunt Black politics, one that celebrates every prospect of a Black face in a high place. The presidency is, of course, the ultimate brass ring. African Americans yearn to vicariously grasp it – even if the candidate has labored mightily to distance himself from them.

In many ways, the Black aspect of Obama-mania is as caught up in historical contradictions as is the white side of the phenomenon. We will have to wrestle with both.

(Glen Ford , Black Agenda Report Executive Editor can be contacted at .This article was made available by Black Agenda Report where other great features can be found.)

Bush broke an actual law and is getting away with it

Bush Is Not Above the Law -- by JAMES BAMFORD/NY Times


LAST August, a federal judge found that the president of the United States broke the law, committed a serious felony and violated the Constitution. Had the president been an ordinary citizen — someone charged with bank robbery or income tax evasion — the wheels of justice would have immediately begun to turn. The F.B.I. would have conducted an investigation, a United States attorney’s office would have impaneled a grand jury and charges would have been brought.

But under the Bush Justice Department, no F.B.I. agents were ever dispatched to padlock White House files or knock on doors and no federal prosecutors ever opened a case.

The ruling was the result of a suit, in which I am one of the plaintiffs, brought against the National Security Agency by the American Civil Liberties Union. It was a response to revelations by this newspaper in December 2005 that the agency had been monitoring the phone calls and e-mail messages of Americans for more than four years without first obtaining warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, as required by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

In the past, even presidents were not above the law. When the F.B.I. turned up evidence during Watergate that Richard Nixon had obstructed justice by trying to cover up his involvement, a special prosecutor was named and a House committee recommended that the president be impeached.

And when an independent counsel found evidence that President Bill Clinton had committed perjury in the Monica Lewinsky case, the impeachment machinery again cranked into gear, with the spectacle of a Senate trial (which ended in acquittal).

Laws are broken, the federal government investigates, and the individuals involved — even if they’re presidents — are tried and, if found guilty, punished. That is the way it is supposed to work under our system of government. But not this time.

Last Aug. 17, Judge Anna Diggs Taylor of the United States District Court in Detroit issued her ruling in the A.C.L.U. case. The president, she wrote, had “undisputedly violated” not only the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution, but also statutory law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Enacted by a bipartisan Congress in 1978, the FISA statute was a response to revelations that the National Security Agency had conducted warrantless eavesdropping on Americans. To deter future administrations from similar actions, the law made a violation a felony punishable by a $10,000 fine and five years in prison.

Yet despite this ruling, the Bush Justice Department never opened an F.B.I. investigation, no special prosecutor was named, and there was no talk of impeachment in the Republican-controlled Congress.

Justice Department lawyers argued last June that warrants were not required for what they called the administration’s “terrorist surveillance program” because of the president’s “inherent powers” to order eavesdropping and because of the Congressional authorization to use military force against those responsible for 9/11. But Judge Taylor rejected both arguments, ruling that even presidents must obey statutory law and the Constitution.

On Jan. 17, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales unexpectedly declared that President Bush had ended the program, deciding to again seek warrants in all cases. Exactly what kind of warrants — individual, as is required by the law, or broad-based, which would probably still be illegal — is as yet unknown.

The action may have been designed to forestall a potentially adverse ruling by the federal appeals court in Cincinnati, which had scheduled oral arguments on the case for today. At that hearing, the administration is now expected to argue that the case is moot and should be thrown out — while reserving the right to restart the program at any time.

But that’s a bit like a bank robber coming into court and arguing that, although he has been sticking up banks for the past half-decade, he has agreed to a temporary halt and therefore he shouldn’t be prosecuted. Independent of the A.C.L.U. case, a criminal investigation by the F.B.I. and a special prosecutor should begin immediately. The question that must finally be answered is whether the president is guilty of committing a felony by continuously reauthorizing the warrantless eavesdropping program for the past five years. And if so, what action must be taken?

The issue is not original. Among the charges approved by the House Judiciary Committee when it recommended its articles of impeachment against President Nixon was “illegal wiretaps.” President Nixon, the bill charged, “caused wiretaps to be placed on the telephones of 17 persons without having obtained a court order authorizing the tap, as required by federal law; in violation of Sections 241, 371 and 2510-11 of the Criminal Code.”

Under his program, President Bush could probably be charged with wiretapping not 17 but thousands of people without having obtained a court order authorizing the taps as required by federal law, in violation of FISA.

It is not only the federal court but also many in Congress who believe that a violation of law has taken place. In a hearing on Jan. 18, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, said, “For years, this administration has engaged in warrantless wiretapping of Americans contrary to the law.”

His view was shared by the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, who said of Mr. Bush, “For five years he has been operating an illegal program.”

And Senator Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who is the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, noted that much of the public was opposed to the program and that it both hurt the country at home and damaged its image abroad. “The heavy criticism which the president took on the program,” he said, “I think was very harmful in the political process and for the reputation of the country.”

To allow a president to break the law and commit a felony for more than five years without even a formal independent investigation would be the ultimate subversion of the Constitution and the rule of law. As Judge Taylor warned in her decision, “There are no hereditary kings in America.”

(James Bamford is the author of two books on the National Security Agency, “The Puzzle Palace” and “Body of Secrets.”)

Bookplanet: it's OK to rip off Victor Hugo, French court finds

Heir of Victor Hugo fails to stop Les Mis II
France's highest appeal court allows modern sequel to 1860s masterpiece
By Kim Willsher/Guardian

The great-great-grandson of Victor Hugo said yesterday he was bitterly disappointed after his six-year battle to ban a modern sequel to Les Misérables was ended by France's highest appeal court.

But he vowed to continue fighting to protect what he described as his family's "moral rights" to the classic work.

"I believed we were fighting the good cause but the court decided otherwise. It is very, very disappointing," Pierre Hugo said. "I am not just fighting for myself, my family and for Victor Hugo but for the descendants of all writers, painters and composers who should be protected from people who want to use a famous name and work just for money." Mr Hugo, 59, a goldsmith, has been fighting to have banned Cosette ou le Temps des Illusions (Cosette or the Time of Illusions), written by journalist François Cérésa. He had demanded £450,000 damages, claiming the publishers had betrayed the spirit of his ancestor's work to make money.

Angry descendants have written to President Jacques Chirac, to the European parliament and to France's culture ministry urging them to criticise the book. In an open letter to the French newspaper Libération they asked: "Can one imagine commissioning the 10th symphony of Beethoven?" Hugo purists were furious that Cérésa resurrected Inspector Javert, the villain of Hugo's story who jumps into the Seine at the end, and recast him as a hero.

The court decision met with a sigh of relief from authors, playwrights and musical producers who had feared an end to adaptations of classical works.

The case set French copyright laws, which put a literary work in the public domain 70 years after the author's death, against the concept of an author's "moral rights". The latter are considered timeless and passed on to descendants.

Mr Hugo argued that the sequel, branded Les Mis II by critics, violated the "respect of the integrity" of Les Misérables, which Hugo wrote in 1862. The first court threw out his case saying he had not proved he was related to the author.

In 2004 an appeal court overturned this verdict, ruling that an author's rights were transmissible to heirs. It called Les Misérables "a veritable monument of world literature" and agreed that Hugo "would not have accepted for a third party to write a sequel". The publishers were ordered to pay symbolic damages of €1 but appealed.

Yesterday the French court of cassation decided Cosette, published by Plon, did not betray the spirit of the original or breach descendants' rights.

Mr Hugo said: "I don't mind adaptations and many are very good but this book is not an adaptation. I have read it and it is not badly written but the publishers used Victor Hugo's name and the title Les Misérables as a commercial operation ... It was nothing to do with literature, they were just trying to make money."

Mr Cérésa's lawyers argued that banning his novel would violate freedom of expression and prevent others using great works of art and literature as inspiration. Victor Hugo himself once wrote: "The writer as a writer has but one heir - the public domain."

Victor Hugo , who died in 1885, is considered one of the finest French Romantic writers. His best-known other work is The Hunchback of Notre Dame but he also wrote poetry and drama. Les Misérables is set in the early 19th century and tells of the struggle of Jean Valjean, a former convict, to redeem himself and the refusal of Inspector Javert to let him escape his past. It has spawned plays, musicals and more than 45 film adaptations. Currently at the Queen's Theatre, it is London's longest running musical at 21 years.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Craziness over non-support of troops continues

The piece your blogger wrote about refusing to "support our troops" continues to draw comments and visitors. Read it 11 or 12 posts down. If you get upset, join the crowd whose knickers are getting twisted totally awry.

Life in Iraq

Engagement with War -- by Kathy Kelly

Earlier this week, I received a joyful phone call from Baghdad. Members of a family I've known since 1996 announced that one of their younger daughters was engaged. Broken Arabic and broken English crossed the lines -"We love you! We miss you!" My colleague here in Amman, who also knows this family well, shook her head smiling when I gave her the happy news. "What an amazing family," she said. "Imagine all that they've survived." A few hours later, the family sent us a text message: "now bombs destroy all the glasses in our home - no one hurt."

No one was home when the explosion shattered every window and damaged ceilings and walls. This was exceptionally fortunate given that they are a family of nine living in a very small dwelling. The family has moved into an even smaller home where one daughter lives with her husband and newborn baby. It happens that their aunt and her three children are also with them. The aunt had traveled from Amman to secure needed documents in Baghdad. Seventeen people are crowded into an apartment the size of a small one car garage.

This family suddenly joined the ranks of over a million people in Iraq who are homeless, displaced. I watched television coverage of the gruesome carnage at the intersection of the street where they had lived. The blood-spattered streets, charred vehicles, and desperate bereavement are part of everyday footage filmed in cities throughout the region, whether in Iraq, Lebanon, the West Bank, or Israel. The humanitarian crisis that mounts as a consequence of the catastrophic explosions and attacks is more difficult to portray.

"We need.everything," said the visiting aunt when I asked what they needed. A displaced family needs food, water, clothing, blankets, fuel and housing.

Every family in Baghdad struggles with fuel and energy crises. In Baghdad, there is one hour of electricity every 12 hours. Only the more well-to-do families can afford a generator for back-up electricity. The price of fuel for transportation has risen so high that any travel has become extremely expensive. Families with no income in a society that has 50% -75% unemployment find themselves scrounging for basic necessities and not at all prepared to offer hospitality to newly displaced families.

Families that receive the dreaded knock on the door giving them 24 hours notice, - leave or you will be killed - often travel to other regions of Iraq where they no longer have access to the rations distributed in their former neighborhoods. Many families are hungry and cold. Disease sets in and they have no access to health care. Children aren't easily accepted in overcrowded schools when families move into a new area. Sewage and sanitation systems are stressed by unexpected rises in neighborhood populations. A family might be welcomed by relatives who couldn't bear to turn them away, but how are the host families and communities to manage continued hospitality with very little international relief or support available?

Consider, for instance, that over a third (38%) of Iraq's people depend on the ration system for the meager allotments of lentils, rice, flour, salt and tea. If a family is displaced by an attack on their home, distance or personal safety often prohibits returning to their former home to pick up these supplies. Too often the agent who delivers the supplies can't even approach the warehouse to collect them, because it is located in a "hot" area now controlled by a sect or militia to which he does not belong and which may kill him. In those cases, whole neighborhoods, already struggling and suffering, must go without a month's supply of food.

There should be massive convoys traveling into Iraq on a regular basis to meet the rising humanitarian needs. There should be, but there aren't. Families that can manage to reach the Jordanian or Syrian borders flee with the hope of being allowed to cross into the two countries that have allowed Iraqis to enter. But now, Jordan's official policy is that they'll only allow Iraqis with permanent residence in Jordan to enter, and the Syrians are also clamping down.

We who are vastly more comfortable and secure stand by, seemingly mesmerized by the awful consequences of a "war of choice" begun by the United States. We must liberate ourselves from the absurd presumption that the U.S. military has the power or the right to impose solutions in parts of the world where they are not welcome. We should insist that decision makers in the U.S. come to grips with the consequences of the past four years of military invasion and occupation and demand that U.S. wealth be directed toward humanitarian concerns, unhinged from U.S. military control. We should welcome and support diplomatic means to resolve crises.

Now another engagement looms. The Bush administration may try to wed U.S. people to yet another war, this time against Iran. If so, that would be joyful news for the controlling interests of large corporations that benefit from U.S. warfare and U.S. dominance over oil resources in this part of the world. We who claim the right to free speech, far beyond the imprisoning borders of Iraq, should join our strengths and wills to visit every congressional and senate office over the coming weeks, exercising nonviolent civil disobedience to cut funding for the wasteful, cruel, illegal and immoral U.S. addiction to war. (See to learn more about joining such a campaign.)

(Kathy Kelly ( is a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence

Streaming-video movies from Netflix

A Stream of Movies, Sort of Free – by DAVID POGUE/NY Times

Here we are in 2007, and the interstellar space travel depicted in “2001” is still a sci-fi fantasy. Heck, we haven’t even reached the society of mind control imagined in “1984.” (Insert your own joke about politics or advertising here.)

So when the pundits tell you that the death of the DVD is imminent, that we’ll soon get all our movies instantaneously from the Internet, some skepticism is in order.

Already, you can buy movies from iTunes, for example, but the selection is tiny (250 movies), and you pay about as much as you would for a DVD. CinemaNow and MovieLink offer online movie “rentals” for about $4. But again, the selection is fairly small, at least once you subtract the mind-boggling gigabytes of B movies — more like C or D movies — like “Addicted to Murder III: Bloodlust” and “Witchcraft XI: Sisters in Blood.” The copy protection is a bit overbearing, too. You can download a movie, all right, but it self-destructs 24 hours later.

All of these services permit you to start watching a movie after only a minute or so, before it’s been fully downloaded — but you can’t fast forward (or, in some cases, even rewind) until you’ve got the whole thing on your hard drive.

Last week, a new contender entered the field with a radically different approach to Internet movies: Netflix .

Now, this isn’t the first time “radically different” was applied to a Netflix business model. Its main service, renting DVDs by mail, entails no per-movie fee, no late fees and no shipping fees.

Instead, you pay a flat monthly fee to “check out” a certain number of DVDs at a time — $18 for three, for example. You keep them as long as you like. When you mail one back in its postage-paid, pre-addressed envelope, Netflix sends you the next one on your wish list automatically. So far, about six million people have signed up. ( Blockbuster ’s similar DVD-by-mail service is also increasingly popular, thanks in part to a recently introduced twist: if you return a DVD to a Blockbuster store instead of mailing it, you get a free in-store rental on the spot.)

Once again, Netflix has rewritten the rules — this time, of the online movie-rental game. The company has done away with expiration dates, copy protection and multi-megabyte downloads. That’s because you don’t actually download any of Netflix’s movies; instead, they “stream” in real time from the Internet to your computer. (This advantage comes with a key disadvantage: you must be connected to the Internet. Wireless hot spots at airports and hotels are fair game, but movies can’t be carried around on a laptop.)

Netflix has also done away with per-movie fees — in fact, there are no additional fees for watching movies online at all. Instead, the Netflix service is free if you’re already a Netflix DVD-by-mail subscriber. When you log in to, you see a new tab called Watch Now. It opens what looks like a duplicate set of the company’s usual excellent movie-finding and movie-recommending tools, except that you now see two buttons beneath each movie’s icon: Rent and Play.

(If you don’t see the Watch Now tab yet, it’s because Netflix is rolling out this service in phases to 250,000 customers at a time, to be completed by June. The idea is to avoid a technical meltdown. Your time will come.)

The first time you click Play, you’re sent a tiny software blob that takes under a minute to install, and doesn’t require restarting your browser or PC. After that, when you click Play, the movie loads for a few seconds and then begins playing, right there in your Web browser. That’s it: one click. No special program, no confirmation boxes, no credit card charges, no copy-protection hassles. The movie just begins to play — full-screen, if you wish. You can jump to any spot in the movie, although the movie takes a few seconds to “catch up” each time you use the scroll bar.

Even more startling: Your movie watching is measured by time, not by individual movie title or by individual viewing.

The hours of movie watching you get each month depends on which DVD-by-mail plan you have. You get one hour of online movies per dollar of your monthly fee. So if you pay $6 a month (for the one-DVD-at-a-time plan), you can watch six hours of movies online; if you pay $18 (for the three-DVD plan), you can gorge yourself on 18 hours of online movies. And so on.

This innovative metering system has one minor drawback: rewinding to watch a favorite scene eats up a few more minutes of your monthly allotment.

But the huge, mind-bending, game-changing advantage of this model is that you can channel-surf movies just the way you channel-surf TV. You can watch 15 minutes of “Single White Female,” decide you’re more in the mood for a documentary, and switch over to “Super Size Me.” When a buddy tells you that “Twister” is lame except for the climactic final sequence, you can fast-forward right to that part. You can watch the beginning of “Gladiator” tonight, and watch the rest of it a month later, without having to re-rent it or pay late fees.

Or you can casually sample one movie after another, looking for something that grabs you.

Movie surfing like this has never been possible before. All other movie delivery formats require you to make your movie choice based only on the box shot, the movie trailer and a synopsis.

(Starz’s Vongo service comes close; it offers unlimited movies for a flat $10 monthly. But you have to download a movie before you can watch it, which rules out this sort of casual real-time movie surfing.)

Netflix-by-Internet, in other words, is deliciously immediate, incredibly economical and, because it introduces movie surfing, impressively convention-shattering.

It will not, however, change the way most people watch movies in the short term, for many reasons.

First, it works only on Windows PCs at the moment; a Macintosh version is in the works.

Second, only 1,000 movies and TV shows are on the Play list. There’s lots of good, brand-name stuff here — “Zoolander,” “Chinatown,” “Jaws,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “Twister” and so on — but Netflix’s lawyers and movie-studio negotiators have a long way to go before the number of movies online equals the number of DVDs available from Netflix (70,000). Still, the company says that at least 5,000 movies will be on the list by year’s end. So far, the sole holdout among major movie studios is Disney , perhaps because of its partnership with Apple ’s movie service.

Third, you generally get only the movie — not the DVD featurettes, alternate languages, subtitles, director’s commentary and so on.

Fourth, you can’t control the video quality you get. Your movies arrive in one of three resolutions, depending solely on the speed of your broadband Internet connection. In the Basic version (for slow connections), the image is blurry and somewhat unsatisfying, like bad VHS. At Good, the picture looks about like regular TV. At High, you’d swear you’re looking at a DVD: razor-sharp image, superb color and shadows, perfect smooth motion. (Note to geeks: the Basic, Good and High versions correspond to minimum broadband speeds of 0.5, 1 and 1.6 megabits per second.)

A prominent speed meter on the Netflix page tells you which version you’ll get. You can click this graph repeatedly as you move your laptop around in an effort to improve your wireless signal.

Finally, remember the biggest drawback of Internet movie services: Only a nerd would gather the family around the PC to watch a movie.

The masses have yet to connect their computers to their TV sets. Only then will the decline of the DVD begin in earnest. Only then will the futurists’ fantasy of instant access to any movie, any time become a reality.

When that day arrives, Netflix, for one, will be ready.


Confronting market fundamentalism

Note to Nancy Pelosi: Challenge Market Fundamentalism -- by Ruth Rosen

Allison Stevens, a contributor to Women’s enews, a news service which too few good men bother to read, has just reported that the hugely expanded bipartisan Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues now has the power to put women’s issues on the national agenda. The caucus, which Stevens says may end up outnumbering the so-called “Blue Dog Coalition, a caucus of 44 fiscally conservative Democrats, and the New Democrat Coalition, a group of 63 pro-business Democrats,” also has access to, and probably the support of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was a member of the caucus, which was founded in 1977.

Among the issues on their “wish list” according to Women’s enews, are women’s health, educational equity and sex trafficking, women in prison, and international domestic violence.

All are important but will go nowhere if they don’t challenge Market Fundamentalism, the exaggerated and quite irrational belief in the ability of markets to solve all problems, an economic fundamentalism that has dominated our national political debate for a generation. Without directly challenging Market Fundamentalism, they will ultimately fail to improve the lives of ordinary American women and their families.

Put it this way: What do catastrophic climate change, the widening gulf between the wealthy and the poor, America's obesity epidemic, and our society’s lack of care for the young and the elderly have in common? Each has powerful special interests who insist that we need to let the market work its private magic and that government action would create more problems than it would solve. These interest groups also block any effort to enlist the government by invoking the arguments of Market Fundamentalism: privatize everything, rely on yourself and expect nothing from your government.

Market fundamentalism has become like the air we breathe; we hardly notice it. Every time George W. Bush argues for more tax cuts, he relies on the unquestioned assumption that we all embrace Market Fundamentalism. Like religious fundamentalism, it is based more on faith than on reason. Through constant repetition, however, the American public has been bullied into believing that private spending is rational and efficient while public spending is always wasteful and unproductive. (Tell that to people in New Orleans.)

Progressives and liberals have assumed that Americans would eventually turn against these ideas, much as they become disillusioned with the Iraq War. But the truth is, neither the women in Congress nor progressives outside of D.C challenge Market Fundamentalism directly. Two decades of the reign of Market Fundamentalism have impoverished both the language and aspirations of progressive Democrats.

Instead, they dance around Market Fundamentalism; they try to gain support for their cause without directly attacking the 800 pound gorilla that sits in Congress, in our deteriorating schools, and at the bottom of the gulf between those who hold stocks and those who wait for their next minimum-wage paycheck.

Ideas that are not challenged or questioned become even more deeply entrenched. We have private “security guards” who are doing the work of soldiers in Iraq, but who are not accountable to the military. When Hurricane Katrina tore through New Orleans, many of us imagined that the Bush Administration’s callous and incompetent failure to rescue the people of New Orleans and to provide the leadership to rebuild the city would lead to massive disillusionment with the Administration’s market-oriented rhetoric.

But has it? I’m not sure. Many people saw Bush’s incompetence, but they also viewed it as one more example of the government’s incapacity to solve problems.

This is a huge problem for liberals and progressives. Even if a decent Democrat wins the White House in 2008, his or her ability to offer compelling leadership and to propose new progressive solutions will be limited if Market Fundamentalist ideas remain unquestioned. Ditto for the women in Congress who think they will push women’s issues on to the national agenda.

So, it’s necessary­no,urgent­that we immediately challenge Market Fundamentalism every chance we get. Between now and the 2008 election, we need take every opportunity­on blogs, among political progressive---to explain to others why this exaggerated faith in markets is so dangerous and misplaced.

Fortunately, there is now a resource to help us make these arguments. The Longview Institute, a progressive think tank with which I am affiliated, has just launched a Market Fundamentalism resource page, designed to help people recognize and refute these arguments. Longview’s Fred Block, a sociologist at the University of California at Davis, has long been articulating the dangers of Market Fundamentalism. Take a look: The plan is to steadily add new arguments and new material, but what is already there provides plenty of fodder for a collective assault on the irrational ideas that support Market Fundamentalism.

Market Fundamentalism is what prevents us from having universal health care, mass transit, affordable housing, trains that cross the nation, subsidized care for the young and elderly, and government efforts to reduce carbon emissions. The list, of course, is endless.

Aside from ending the war in Iraq, there is nothing more important we can do to improve our domestic future. Ending the reign of Market Fundamentalism is a precondition for every kind of progressive cause. For a quarter of a century, Conservatives have tried to convince us that we, rather than the government, should be responsible for what is know in other industrialized nation as the “common good.” If we don’t attack the effort to privatize every public service that belongs to this common good, we will ultimately fail to move this nation in any progressive direction.

(Ruth Rosen is a journalist and historian. She is a senior fellow at the Longview Institute in Berkeley and a professor emerita of history at the University of California, Davis. She is currently a visiting professor of public policy and history at U.C. Berkeley.)

The perils of being black and liking alternative rock

Truly Indie Fans -- by JESSICA PRESSLER/NY Times

WHEN Douglas Martin first saw the video for Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” as a teenager in High Point, N.C., “it blew my mind,” he said. Like many young people who soothe their angst with the balm of alternative rock, Mr. Martin was happy to discover music he enjoyed and a subculture where he belonged.

Except, as it turned out, he didn’t really belong, because he is black.

“For a long time I was laughed at by both black and white people about being the only black person in my school that liked Nirvana and bands like that,” said Mr. Martin, now 23, who lives in Seattle, where he is recording a folk-rock album.

But 40 years after black musicians laid down the foundations of rock, then largely left the genre to white artists and fans, some blacks are again looking to reconnect with the rock music scene.

The Internet has made it easier for black fans to find one another, some are adopting rock clothing styles, and a handful of bands with black members have growing followings in colleges and on the alternative or indie radio station circuit. It is not the first time there has been a black presence in modern rock. But some fans and musicians say they feel that a multiethnic rock scene is gathering momentum.

“There’s a level of progress in New York in particular,” said Daphne Brooks, an associate professor of African-American studies at Princeton. She was heartened last summer by the number of children of color in a class she taught at the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls, where kids learn to play punk-rock standards.

There is even a new word for black fans of indie rock: “blipster,” which was added to UrbanDictionary .com last summer, defined as “a person who is black and also can be stereotyped by appearance, musical taste, and/or social scene as a hipster.”

Bahr Brown, an East Harlem resident whose Converse sneakers could be considered blipster attire, opened a skateboard and clothing boutique, Everything Must Go, in the neighborhood in October, to cater to consumers who, like himself, want to dress with the accouterments of indie rock: “young people who wear tight jeans and Vans and skateboard through the projects,” he said.

“And all the kids listen to indie rock,” he said. “If you ask them what’s on their iPod, its Death Cab for Cutie, the Killers.”

A 2003 documentary, “Afropunk,” featured black punk fans and musicians talking about music, race and identity issues, and it has since turned into a movement, said James Spooner, its director. Thousands of black rock fans use ’s message boards to discuss bands, commiserate about their outsider status and share tips on how to maintain their frohawk hairstyles.

“They walk outside and they’re different,” Mr. Spooner said of the Web site’s regulars. “But they know they can connect with someone who’s feeling the same way on the Internet.”

On MySpace, the trailer for Mr. Spooner’s new film, “White Lies, Black Sheep,” about a young black man in the predominantly white indie-rock scene, has been played upward of 40,000 times.

Rock was created by black artists like Fats Domino, Chuck Berry and Little Richard, and Elvis Presley and other white artists eventually picked up the sound. In the ’60s, teenagers were just as likely to stack their turntables with records from both white and black artists — with perhaps a little bit of Motown, another musical thread of the time, thrown in, said Larry Starr, who wrote “American Popular Music: From Minstrelsy to MTV,” with Christopher Waterman. But that began changing in the late ’60s. By the time Jimi Hendrix became the ultimate symbol of counterculture cool, with his wild wardrobe and wilder guitar playing, the racial divisions were evident.

Paul Friedlander, the author of “Rock and Roll: A Social History,” noted that Hendrix became popular just as the black power movement emerged. Yet his trio included two white musicians and his audience was largely white. That made him anathema to many blacks.

“To the black community he was not playing wholly African-American music,” Mr. Friedlander said, even when Hendrix formed a new all-black band.

By the early ’70s, “you began to have this very strict color line,” Mr. Starr said. Music splintered into many different directions and, for the most part, blacks and whites went separate ways. Black musicians gravitated toward genres in which they were more likely to find acceptance and lucre, such as disco, R & B and hip-hop, which have also been popular among whites.

The next few decades saw several successful and influential black musicians who crossed genres or were distinctly rock, such as Prince, Living Colour and Lenny Kravitz, and rock melodies and lyrics have been liberally sampled by hip-hop artists. But rock is still largely a genre played by white rockers and celebrated by white audiences.

THE recent attention given several bands with black members — like Bloc Party, Lightspeed Champion, and the Dears — could signify change. “Return to Cookie Mountain,” the second album by the group TV on the Radio, a band in which four of the five members are black, was on the best-album lists of many critics in 2006. Around the country, other rock bands with black members are emerging.

On an evening in December, at Gooski’s, a crowded dive bar in Pittsburgh, Lamont Thomas, sweating through a red T-shirt that read “Black Rock,” played the drums behind the lead singer Chris Kulcsar, who was flinging his skinny frame around the stage, and the guitarist Buddy Akita. The bass player, Lawrence Caswell, dreadlocked and gregarious, introduced the band, a punk quartet from Cleveland with the name This Moment in Black History.

“The funny thing is, a lot of people assume from the name that we’re just white kids being ironic,” Mr. Thomas said.

This may be because their fans, like the ones who attended the show at Gooski’s, tend to be white, although there are usually one or two people of color, Mr. Caswell said.

Nev Brown, a photographer and writer from Brooklyn, said that at the indie rock shows that he has covered for his music blog, , he is almost always the only black person in the room. Some fans are curious about why he is at the show and try to talk to him about it.

“And then you get idiots, like people who think you’re a security guard,” he said.

Damon Locks, a Chicago-based publicist and singer in a hardcore band called the Eternals, said he is frequently mistaken for “one of the other three black guys” in the city’s rock-music scene. “We joke about it,” he said. “We’ve been thinking about getting together and starting a band called Black People.”

That kind of isolation is one of the reasons Mr. Spooner, the documentary director, regularly showcases black and mixed-race rock bands at clubs. For a band to participate, the lead singer must be black. This caused some friction early on, he said. “A lot of white people were offended that I was saying, ‘This is for us,’ ” Mr. Spooner said on a recent evening at the Canal Room, a club in downtown Manhattan, where he was the D.J. between sets for multiethnic bands like Graykid, Martin Luther and Earl Greyhound.

But, he added: “Almost every black artist I know wants to play in front of their people. This is bigger than just rocking out or whatever.”

Mr. Thomas, of This Moment in Black History, said that white fans sometimes want to know why he is not rapping. “It’s the stupidest question,” he said.

Just as often, it is African-Americans who are judgmental. “There’s an unfortunate tendency for some black people to think if you listen to rock music or want to play rock music, you’re an Uncle Tom,” Mr. Thomas said.

LaRonda Davis, president of the Black Rock Coalition, an organization co-founded by Vernon Reid of Living Colour in the mid-80s to advocate for black rock bands, said the resistance is rooted in group-think. “Black people were forced to create a community,” she said. “We’re so protective and proud of it, like, ‘We have to protect our own,’ and why should we embrace something that has always excluded us?”

Nelson George, author of “Buppies, B-Boys, Baps & Boho’s: Notes on Post-Soul Culture,” suggested that the rock ’n’ roll aesthetic had been a major deterrent. “Black kids do not want to go out with bummy clothes and dirty sneakers,” Mr. George said. “There is a psychological subtext to that, about being in a culture where you are not valued and so you have to value yourself.”

But lately, rock music, and its accouterments, are being considered more stylish. Mainstream hip-hop artists like Kelis wear Mohawks, Lil Jon and Lupe Fiasco rap about skateboarding, and “all of the Southern rap stars are into the ’80s punk look, wearing big studded belts and shredded jeans,” said Anoma Whittaker, the fashion director of Complex magazine. At the same time, the hip-hop industry’s demand for new samples has increased the number of rock songs appearing on hip-hop tracks: Jay-Z ’s latest album features contributions from Chris Martin of Coldplay and R & B artist Rihanna’s current single samples the New Wave band Soft Cell.

“Hip-hop has lost a lot of its originality,” said Mr. Brown of Everything Must Go, the East Harlem skateboard shop. “This is the new thing.”

Bookplanet: independent bookstores on the rise

The number of independent bookstores has been steadly growing. But will they survive? -- by Teresa Méndez/Christian Science Monitor

BROAD BROOK, CONN. - The swan song of the independent bookstore has been sung – and then sung again. In a bookselling climate dominated by the Internet and chain stores, even the most persistent redoubts are reportedly packing up. Certainly the numbers bear this out. Membership in the trade organization for independently owned bookstores has dropped by more than half in the past decade.

Yet new stores continue to open. "We're like Mark Twain" (who lived long after he was mistakenly reported dead), says Oren Teicher of the American Booksellers Association (ABA). "Rumors of our death are premature."

In 2005 the ABA registered 90 new stores. Last year there were 97, spanning the country from tiny, two-store towns to bursting metropolises. It's a recent shift, and one that should be heartening for famished bookworms. But it leaves one wondering, even worrying, about these novice booksellers, so new to a business where 2 percent is often considered a good margin of profit. Are they blinded by their love of books, harboring romantic dreams of earning a living? Is there even room in the cultural landscape for the independent bookstore? Is it worth the risk?

Like others who set up shop in 2006, Christopher Tarr, owner of Broad Brook Books & Stuff, on a bank of the audibly rushing waterway for which this town was named, has faced his share of doubters. "Everybody's first reaction to a bookstore is, 'Why ?' " he says. But the question never gave him much pause.

As for the other questions, the answer to those, it seems, is yes . These new booksellers are romantic (but also pragmatic), they hope to pull in a salary (or at least not lose money), they believe there absolutely is a place in their communities for independent bookstores, and yes, the risk is well worth it.

Mr. Tarr, his narrow store crowded with the unfinished poplar shelves that he assembled himself, embodies many of the attitudes shared by recently minted booksellers, just as his store reflects some of the trends among the newest crop of bookshops.

His wife grew up in this town of 3,500, a bedroom community 25 minutes from Hartford; he's from the next town over. When the couple moved from Maine, four years ago, Tarr was struck by the lack of things to do in Broad Brook's sliver of a downtown.

"I was adrift and I needed something to do," says Tarr, an English literature major, with a penchant for philosophy, who has always had a "veritable bookstore" in his house. "And this town needed something. So it seemed like the right thing to do."

Other nascent booksellers also talk of filling a community need – by invigorating a sleepy hamlet or revitalizing an urban center – and being met with appreciation.

Fox Tale Books owner Mary McHale imagines she may be able to help give the 2,200 person town of New Durham, N.H., a heart. "Hopefully this will be a starting point," she says. "In some ways, we're like suburbia because everyone has to get in their car to go places." Her bookstore, where the coffee is free, may change that.

At the other end of the spectrum, in the middle of recently hip and thriving downtown Los Angeles, is Julie Swayze's Metropolis Books. Opened last month on a strip that she says was once referred to as the demilitarized zone, Ms. Swayze sees both arty loft-dwellers and homeless residents of the nearby Midnight Mission as part of her customer base.

Broad Brook Books, meanwhile, opened in August, in the 150-year-old red brick building owned by Tarr's mother-in-law, who is also his partner. Monthly rent just covers taxes and utilities, which may be key to staying open.

In the training seminars that her bookstore-consulting company conducts, Donna Paz Kaufman says she advises would-be owners to buy their own building. "Real estate is one of the biggest hurdles," she says. Business at Paz & Associates has held steady over the past 15 years, with about 300 prospective booksellers requesting information each year.

But at the ABA, membership dropped from 4,057 in 1996 to 1,625 members last year. From the mid-'90s until two years ago, store openings could be counted on two hands, says Teicher of the ABA. He speculates that part of what's changed may be that entrepreneurial book lovers have spotted a vacuum for the type of services independents can provide.

Part of what these stores – and the larger independent community – are working to do is find a niche, a way to create an experience the warehouse-size stores cannot, whether through knowledgeable handselling, hosting author and community events, or carrying a particular genre.

The newest booksellers may also be a savvier breed, with a background in business or books, sharpened by seeing independent's decades-long struggle for survival. "Twenty-five years ago they would have leased some space, built some shelves, and opened the door," says Russ Lawrence, ABA president and owner, since 1986, of Chapter One Book Store in Hamilton, Mont. "Now they're getting a business plan together."

As for money, well, as Tarr says, "It wasn't, 'Let's open a bookstore and make a million dollars.' " Indeed. Lisa Sharp of Nightbird Books in Fayetville, Ark., would love to earn a small salary. But if her store "can support itself and still be a contribution to the community," she says, "that would be enough." Her husband is keeping his job as an architect. Similarly, Tarr's wife is a payroll clerk across town.

At least there's an upside to the lasting reports of the independents' demise. "In a way, it frees me up to make the bookstore the way that I want it to be," says Adam Tobin, an MFA poetry graduate whose Brooklyn, N.Y., store, Adam's Books, has, for the time being, become his "literary project."

Monday, January 29, 2007

Got a lot of response to not supporting "support our troops"

Never has your blogger received as many comments -- and as much scorn -- for his gripe about our politicians' use of the phraze "support our troops" (see five posts down). I welcome every taunt and insult. Debate is alive and well in the US of A -- and so is talking past each other all the time.

Iraq - it's the numbers, stupid

1. Playing The Numbers Game in Iraq - Let’s Do The Math -- by Jane Bright

Numbers mean a lot these days. Every morning we read or hear the numbers – the number of Iraqis killed in car bombs, the number of bodies found floating in the Tigris, the number of beheaded Iraqis found in Baghdad alleyways. Daily we can go online and read the latest troop deaths, arguably moving up to 3,400 coalition troops, nearly 3,100 of them Americans.

For years we have known that the estimated number of Iraqis who died due to U.S. sanctions imposed on Iraq in the 1990s was at least half a million. These deaths occurred while Bill Clinton the Democrat was president. We’ve also read the Lancet study estimating that more than 600,000 Iraqis have died since we occupied their nation in March 2003. According to the June 2003 issue of Air Force Magazine (48-53) during the Gulf War of 1991 the estimates for Iraqi deaths ranged from 1,000 to 50,000. Human Rights Watch has estimated the number at 2,500 to 3,000. 293 Americans are estimated to have died in the Gulf War.

American body counters apparently do not tally up the number of nationals we kill when we invade and occupy a country, which is why we can only estimate the appalling number of Iraqi dead. For this reason I must estimate conservatively that the U.S. government has been responsible for, either directly or indirectly, the deaths of well over 1,000,000 Iraqis and nearly 4,000 American and allied military personnel in the past 16 years.

These numbers are important. They are important because most of the Iraqis killed were civilians. We are asking our military personnel, most of them under the age of 25, many still teenagers, to go to Iraq and, for the most part, kill civilians.

I have to believe that our government hopes we won’t do the math. George Bush asked us to go shopping a couple of days after the attacks of September 11, 2001. He also asked us to go shopping right before Christmas of 2006. That’s because as long as we are in the mall, shopping and consuming, we won’t be thinking about the more than one million Iraqis and nearly 4,000 Americans who have died over the past decade and a half.

We Americans seem to have a schizophrenic relationship with the rest of the world. On the one hand we like to reach out and help those in need, those who are beset by adversity, the underdog. At the same time we sit on our hands and do nothing while our government kills, or helps kill, over a million people in a country that never harmed us.

We stare blankly when someone mentions the occupation of Iraq. We speak meaningless euphemisms when someone dares to mention the dead Iraqis and the dead Americans. When the parent of a dead soldier, like me, starts to talk about our loss, our anguish, the unfairness of what our government has done, people avert their eyes, gulp, take a breath, nod and then change the subject. Didn’t we learn anything from our failed invasion and occupation of Vietnam? Do we think that we’ll wake up one morning and the infamy of Iraq will have been a dream.

Every Sunday I read the obituaries of military personnel reported killed by the Department of Defense for the prior week. It is painful to do this. Sunday, January 28 there were 40 obituaries. This act of tribute to the Americans killed makes me think about my own loss and remember what it felt like in the first hours, days and weeks after my son was killed. My heart hurts for the families. I do it because we must remember the dead and I’m not sure Americans are aware that people are dying daily in Iraq, otherwise we would stop the madness.

I’m afraid we’re not thinking about the ruin we have brought to Iraq. I’m afraid that in the end all the Iraqis we have killed and maimed, all the soldiers, marines, airmen and seamen we have caused to be killed and maimed will be simply numbers – part of the mathematical equations of war. Statistics.

The very least we can do is remember with humanity and respect the faceless, nameless Iraqis on whom we have declared war for no apparent reason and upon whom we have rained terror and death. The least we can do is keep alive in our hearts and in our minds the dead Americans whose names we will see in print each week, then probably forget as we head out to the mall.

2. More Than Antiwar -- by BOB HERBERT/NY Times

It was a few minutes after 11 a.m. when the scattered crowd began moving slowly toward the stage at the end of the Mall. The sky was a beautiful sunlit blue and the Capitol building, huge and white and majestic, offered the protesters an emotional backdrop that seemed almost close enough to touch.

“It’s so big,” said a woman from Milwaukee, who was there with her husband and two children. “It’s lovely. Makes you want to cry.”

You can say what you want about the people opposed to this wretched war in Iraq, try to stereotype them any way you can. But you couldn’t walk among them for more than a few minutes on Saturday without realizing that they love their country as much as anyone ever has. They love it enough to try to save it.

By 11:15 I thought there was a chance that the march against the war would be a bust. There just weren’t that many people moving toward the stage to join the rally that preceded the march. But the crowd kept building, slowly, steadily. It was a good-natured crowd. Everyone was bad-mouthing the Bush administration and the war, but everybody seemed to be smiling.

There were gray-haired women with digital cameras and young girls with braces. There were guys trying to look cool in knit caps and shades and balding baby boomers trading stories about Vietnam. And many ordinary families.

“Where’s Hillary?” someone asked.

That evoked laughter in the crowd. “She’s in Iowa running for president,” someone said.

When a woman asked, “What’s her position on the war?” a man standing next to her cracked, “She was for it before she was against it.”

More laughter.

The crowd kept building. There were people being pushed in wheelchairs and babies in strollers. There were elderly men and women, walking very slowly in some cases and holding hands.

The goal of the crowd was to get the attention of Congress and persuade it to move vigorously to reverse the Bush war policies. But the thought that kept returning as I watched the earnestly smiling faces, so many of them no longer young, was the way these protesters had somehow managed to keep the faith. They still believed, after all the years and all the lies, that they could make a difference. They still believed their government would listen to them and respond.

“I have to believe in this,” said Donna Norton of Petaluma, Calif. “I have a daughter in the reserves and a son-in-law on active duty. I feel very, very strongly about this.”

Betty and Peter Vinten-Johansen of East Lansing, Mich., said they felt obliged to march, believing that they could bolster the resolve of opponents of the war in Congress. Glancing toward the Capitol, Mr. Vinten-Johansen said, “Maybe we can strengthen their backbone a little bit.”

Even the celebrities who have been at this sort of thing for decades have managed to escape the debilitating embrace of cynicism. “How can you be cynical?” asked Tim Robbins, just before he mounted the stage to address the crowd, which by that time had grown to more than 100,000.

“This is inspiring,” he said. “It’s the real voice of the American people, and when you hear that collective voice protesting freely it reminds you of the greatness of our country. It gives you hope.”

When Jane Fonda said, “Silence is no longer an option,” she was doing more than expressing the outrage of the crowd over the carnage in Iraq and the president’s decision to escalate American involvement. She was implicitly re-asserting her belief in the effectiveness of citizen action.

Ms. Fonda is approaching 70 now and was at the march with her two grandchildren. It was very touching to watch her explain how she had declined to participate in antiwar marches for 34 years because she was afraid her notoriety would harm rather than help the effort.

The public is way out in front of the politicians on this issue. But the importance of Saturday’s march does not lie primarily in whether it hastens a turnaround of U.S. policy on the war. The fact that so many Americans were willing to travel from every region of the country to march against the war was a reaffirmation of the public’s commitment to our peaceful democratic processes.

It is in that unique and unflagging commitment, not in our terrifying military power, that the continued promise and greatness of America are to be found.

We've got 10 years to reverse greenhouse gases or we'll be totally fucked

Last warning: 10 years to save world
Scientists say rising greenhouses gases will make climate change unstoppable in a decade
Jonathan Leake/The Sunday Times UK

THE world has just 10 years to reverse surging greenhouse gas emissions or risk runaway climate change that could make many parts of the planet uninhabitable.

The stark warning comes from scientists who are working on the final draft of a new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The report, due to be published this week, will draw together the work of thousands of scientists from around the world who have been studying changes in the world’s climate and predicting how they might accelerate.

They conclude that unless mankind rapidly stabilises greenhouse gas emissions and starts reducing them, it will have little chance of keeping global warming within manageable limits.

The results could include the destruction of the Amazon rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, the forced migration of hundreds of millions of people from equatorial regions, and the loss of vast tracts of land under rising seas as the ice caps melt.

In Europe the summers could become unbearably hot, especially in southern countries such as Greece, Spain and Italy, while Britain and northern Europe would face summer droughts and wet, stormy winters.

“The next 10 years are crucial,” said Richard Betts, leader of a research team at the Met Office’s Hadley Centre for climate prediction. “In that decade we have to achieve serious reductions in carbon emissions. After that time the task becomes very much harder.”

Among the scientists’ biggest fears is that rising temperatures and levels of greenhouse gases could soon overwhelm the natural systems that normally keep their levels in check.

About half the 24 billion tons of carbon dioxide generated by human activities each year are absorbed by forests and oceans — a process without which the world might already be several degrees warmer.

But as CO2 levels rise and soils dry, microbes can start breaking down accumulated organic matter, so forests become net producers of greenhouse gases. The sea’s power to absorb CO2 also falls sharply as it warms.

The latest research suggests the threshold for such disastrous changes will come when CO2 levels reach 550 parts per million (ppm), roughly double their natural levels. This is predicted to happen around 2040-50.

“At the moment the real impact of our emissions is buffered because CO2 is absorbed by natural systems. However, if we reach this threshold they could be magnified instead,” said Betts. “It means we must start the action needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the next few years.”

His warnings were backed up by Dr Malte Meinshausen, a researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. He has used computer modelling to work out what might happen if greenhouse gas emissions were cut immediately, in 10 years’ time or later.

His results showed that immediate action might allow mankind to hold CO2 levels at 450ppm — well below the 550ppm danger level. However, Meinshausen and his colleagues recognise that this is unrealistic because the world’s governments are in such disarray over global warming. The best hope, they say, is that a global plan will emerge in the next few years, most likely from the renegotiations of the Kyoto treaty on reducing emissions.

“We have to make sure carbon emissions peak no later than 2015 and then fall at around 3% a year. If we let them keep rising after that date it becomes much harder to bring them under control,” said Meinshausen.

His views were echoed by Dr Carol Turley of Plymouth Marine Laboratories who has been studying how rising CO2 levels are acidifying the ocean. When the gas dissolves in water it creates carbonic acid. “Rising acidity makes it much harder for marine organisms to build shells,” she said.

Turley, like the other scientists, has contributed to the IPCC report but all commented this weekend on the basis of already-published research. “If we do not take action in the next decade, by 2100 swathes of the ocean could have been stripped of creatures from plankton to coral reefs,” she said. “Such changes would devastate ecosystems and fisheries.”

Commissioner Barroso leads the battle from his gas-guzzling 4x4

THE president of the European commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, has been accused of hypocrisy for driving a fuel-guzzling off-road vehicle while insisting that cars must become more frugal to combat climate change, write Daniel Foggo and Nicola Smith.

Barroso last week backed proposals to force manufacturers to slash carbon dioxide emissions from new cars by more than 25% within six years.

His car is a Volkswagen Touareg, a hulking 4x4 with high fuel consumption and a carbon dioxide output of 275 g/km compared with an average of 163 g/km.

Barroso said the Touareg was chosen by his wife Margarida and that he rarely travelled in it. His other mode of transport is understood to be a commission Mercedes.

His spokesman said it was “against the concept of a free society to micro-manage people’s choices”.

Jan Kowalzig, climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, said: “Barroso claims to be committed to fighting climate change whilst driving a big gas-guzzling

car in the narrow roads of Brussels. As a high-profile politician he should lead by example, making significant changes to his own lifestyle.”

In contrast, Stavros Dimas, the European environment commissioner, drives a small, green-pleasing Honda Jazz.

Feminist art going mainstream

Feminist Art Finally Takes Center Stage -- by HOLLAND COTTER/NY Times

“Well, this is quite a turnout for an ‘ism,’ ” said the art historian and critic Lucy Lippard on Friday morning as she looked out at the people filling the Roy and Niuta Titus Theater at the Museum of Modern Art and spilling into the aisles. “Especially in a museum not notorious for its historical support of women.”

Ms. Lippard, now in her 70s, was a keynote speaker for a two-day symposium organized by the museum that was titled “The Feminist Future: Theory and Practice in the Visual Arts.” The event itself was an unofficial curtain-raiser for what is shaping up as a watershed year for the exhibition — and institutionalization, skeptics say — of feminist art.

For the first time in its history this art will be given full-dress museum survey treatment, and not in just one major show but in two. On March 4 “Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution” opens at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, followed on March 23 by “Global Feminisms” at the Brooklyn Museum . (On the same day the Brooklyn Museum will officially open its new Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art and a permanent gallery for “The Dinner Party,” Judy Chicago’s seminal proto-feminist work.)

Such long-withheld recognition has been awaited with a mixture of resignation and impatient resentment. Everyone knows that our big museums are our most conservative cultural institutions. And feminism, routinely mocked by the public media for 35 years as indissolubly linked with radicalism and bad art, has been a hard sell.

But curators and critics have increasingly come to see that feminism has generated the most influential art impulses of the late 20th and early 21st century. There is almost no new work that has not in some way been shaped by it. When you look at Matthew Barney , you’re basically seeing pilfered elements of feminist art, unacknowledged as such.

The MoMA symposium was sold out weeks in advance. Ms. Lippard and the art historian Linda Nochlin appeared, like tutelary deities, at the beginning and end respectively; in between came panels with about 20 speakers. The audience was made up almost entirely of women, among them many veterans of the women’s art movement of the 1970s and a healthy sprinkling of younger students, artists and scholars. It was clear that people were hungry to hear about and think about feminist art, whatever that once was, is now or might be.

What it once was was relatively easy to grasp. Ms. Lippard spun out an impressionistic account of its complex history, as projected images of art by women streamed across the screen behind her, telling an amazing story of their own. She concluded by saying that the big contribution of feminist art “was to not make a contribution to Modernism.” It rejected Modernism’s exclusionary values and authoritarian certainties for an art of openness, ambiguity, reciprocity and what another speaker, Griselda Pollock, called “ethical hospitality,” features now identified with Postmodernism.

But feminism was never as embracing and accessible as it wanted to be. Early on, some feminists had a problem with the “lavender menace” of lesbianism. The racial divide within feminism has never been resolved and still isn’t, even as feminism casts itself more and more on a globalist model.

The MoMA audience was almost entirely white. Only one panelist, the young Kenyan-born artist Wangechi Mutu, was black. And the renowned critic Geeta Kapur from Delhi had to represent, by default, all of Asia. “I feel like I’m gate-crashing a reunion,” Ms. Mutu joked as she began to speak, and she wasn’t wrong.

At the same time one of feminism’s great strengths has been a capacity for self-criticism and self-correction. Yet atmospherically the symposium was a very MoMA event, polished, well executed, well mannered, even cozy. A good half of the talks came across as more soothing than agitating, suitable for any occasion rather than tailored to one onto which, I sensed, intense personal, political and historical hopes had been pinned.

Still, there was some agitation, and it came with the first panel, “Activism/Race/Geopolitics,” in a performance by the New York artist Coco Fusco. Ms. Fusco strode to the podium in combat fatigues and, like a major instructing her troops, began lecturing on the creative ways in which women could use sex as a torture tactic on terrorist suspects, specifically on Islamic prisoners.

The performance was scarifyingly funny as a send-up of feminism’s much-maligned sexual “essentialism.” But its obvious references to Abu Ghraib, where women were victimizers, was telling.

In the context of a mild-mannered symposium and proposed visions of a “feminist future” that saw collegial tolerance and generosity as solutions to a harsh world, Ms. Fusco made the point that, at least in the present, women are every bit as responsible for that harshness — for what goes on in Iraq for example — as anyone.

Ms. Kapur’s talk was also topical, but within the framework of India. It is often said that the activist art found in early Western feminism and now adopted by artists in India, Africa and elsewhere has lost its pertinence in its place of origin. Yet in presenting work by two Indian artists, Rummana Hussain (1952-1999) and Navjot Altaf (born in 1949), Ms. Kapur made it clear that they have at least as much to teach to the so-called West as the other way around.

Ms. Hussain, a religious secularist, used images from her Muslim background as a critical response to sectarian violence; Ms. Altaf (known as Navjot), though based in Mumbai, produces art collaboratively with tribal women who live difficult lives in rural India.

Collaborative or collective work of the kind Navjot does has grown in popularity in the United States and Europe in the past few years. And several of the symposium’s panelists — Ms. Lippard, the Guerrilla Girls, Carrie Lambert-Beatty, Catherine de Zegher — referred to it as a potential way for feminist art to avoid being devoured and devitalized by an omnivorous art market.

It was Ms. Fusco again who brought utopian dreams to earth. While sympathetic to the idea of collective work as an alternative to the salable lone-genius model, she suggested that the merchandising of art is at present so encompassing, and the art industry so fundamentally corrupted by it, that even collectives tend to end up adhering to a corporate model.

The power of the market, which pushes a few careers and throws the rest out — the very story of feminist art’s neglect — was the invisible subtext to the entire symposium. It was barely addressed, however, nor was the reality that the canonization of feminist art by museums would probably suppress everything that had made the art radical. Certainly no solutions for either problem was advanced, except one, incidentally, by Connie Butler, MoMa’s drawings curator, who is also the curator of the Los Angeles show.

In her panel talk she said that when she was agonizing over what choices of work to make for the “Wack!” exhibition, the art historian Moira Roth suggested, brilliantly, that she just eliminate objects altogether. Instead, Ms. Roth said, why not invite all the artists who made them to come the museum for a group-consciousness-raising session, film the session, and then make the film the show?

Somewhat unexpectedly, signs of a raised consciousness were evident among young people in the MoMA audience, the kind of people we are told either have no knowledge of feminism or outright reject it. In the question-and-answer sessions after each panel, the most passionate, probing and agitating questions and statements came from young women who identified themselves as students or artists.

When they spoke; when Richard Meyer, a gay art historian, spoke about queer feminism; and when Ms. Mutu ended her presentation by simply reading aloud a long list of curators, scholars and artists — all of them women, all of them black — who, could and should have been at the MoMA symposium, I had a sense that a feminist future was, if not secure, at least under vigilant consideration.