Monday, April 16, 2007


While the media is still playing it safe when it comes to the gap between congress and those who determine its membership, there’s been a tectonic shift on two less immediate fronts.

This morning on CNN an astronaut was seen “running the Boston marathon” in space; and the weather reporter expressed a concern for coastal erosion in Rhode Island in the wake of the latest nor’easter.

Neither of these events has been given airtime by chance.  Global warming is now recognized as a worthy subject of reporting, with big companies vying for first place as saviors.  And to show that we’ll someday be doing everyday things in space, a FedEx ad shows it picking up packages on the moon and whisks them to their earthly destination, to the relief of lunar residents.

Not long ago, someone associated with NASA, I think it was Jim Hansen, appearing on Democracy Now, told Amy Goodman that plans were in the works to eventually move populations to space, the powers that be having recognized that “we’re not going to make it here on earth”.

I didn’t focus on the remark until t turned out that a book I’d ordered out of curiosity for the title: “The Survival Imperative” by William E. Burrows, was about protecting earth from stray space object AND the program to colonize space to ensure our continued survival.

And yet, the Don Imus story took up about half of every news program for an entire week, including the Sunday talk shows.  I know the golden rule for journalists is that what’s happening here today is more newsworthy than what might happen in the future on the moon.  But as a result, it’s Madison Avenue that tells us what the future holds.  I guess the powers that be think we’ll judge our failure to make it on earth less harshly that way: for them, only failure in Iraq is unacceptable.

P.S.  Last night’s PBS special “America at the Crossroads” was worth watching even though it ran from 9 pm to almost 11.    Hosted by Bob MacNeill of MacNeill/Lehrer fame, it is a markedly better attempt to provide a context for Al Queda’s attacks against the West than was the special by Christian Amanpour on CNN a few months ago, even though they used some of the same materials.  The second installment is tonight at the same time.  Hopefully it will spell out the choices we face at the crossroads.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Hendrik Hertzberg devoted his this week’s New Yorker editorial to the Constitution as it pertains to our voting system.  I have been having slightly different thoughts about it.

I’m wondering whether it’s a good idea for our elected officers to pledge to defend the Constitution, rather than the American people.

Aside from the fact that I know of no other country that has a pledge of allegiance, it’s noteworthy that the American people are asked to pledge allegiance to the flag, whic, one could say represents the american people.

Yet elected officials do not commit to defending the American people. They commit to the defense of a two hundred year old document, whose drafters could never in a million years have imagined the world Americans now live in, so that changes that make sense are often deemed unworthy of debate because it can be argued that they wouuld be contrary to the constitution.

In the name of defending the Constitution, and as a sequitur to their pledge of allegiance to the flag, the American people have been duped into fighting unjustified wars.  Any suggestion that we get rid of the pledge of allegiance brings accusations of disloyalty.

Disloyalty to whom?  Not to the American people, but to the icons they are trained to worship.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007


It’s amazing how often, when I tune in to an 8 o’clock TCM movie, I wonder whether the programmers have an eye to the week’s news.
Last night the film “Cromwell” was not only a missing lesson in British history for someone who did high school in France, the messages for today were stunning:  King George (the real one) was not listening to Parliament: the Lords were inclined to let it go on; the representatives, mainly Puritans, were angry but not very courageous, and Oliver Cromwell was the hothead who bullied them into fighting.  Notwithstanding treachery from the Lords, he led an ultimately victorious army.  He then gave the King a last chance to be reasonable, but when it turned out the King was raising foreign armies to defend his throne, Cromwell forced a pusillanimous parliament to impeach him, and he was beheaded.  When a parliamentary delegation offered him the throne, he told them they had to govern, but after six years of increasing anarchy and corruption,  he sent them packing. Still refusing to be king, Cromwell reigned as Lord Protector for another six years, paving the way for the modern British monarchy, in which power is vested in Parliament.
Here’s the irony: we have a fundamentalist president, who sends our unsuspecting - because ill-schooled - youth to fight Muslim fundamentalists, flouting the authority of the Congress, which is accused of wanting to “micromanage” the war.  Our king obviously hopes that the public, ill-schooled in American civics, will forget that the army is under civilian control, i.e., Congress.
Harry Reid may not be as dashing as the galloping, sword- wielding Cromwell, but it’s beginning to look as though he’s read British history.

Sunday, April 1, 2007


In its march 24th issue, the Economist criticized Amnesty International in an article AND an editorial - something the magazine does when it feels strongly about something.
The gist of its criticism was that AI is putting less emphasis on getting people to write letters about and to political prisoners and more on economic rights, such as hunger and disease.
The Economist disputes the view that jobs, schools and hospitals are rights.
I can still remember when Fidel Castro, during the first of several encounters for a “portrait” for the French weekly Paris Match, said to me:  “What good is the right to vote if you’re hungry?”Perhaps I was naive, then, at the start of my career, to think that made sense.  On the other hand, I was, and still am, in the company of millions.
I’ve been reading “The Economist” almost since that time, a, because it is a highly professional journal, and b, because I believe in keeping up with the other side’s opinions.  It has seemed to me that  in recent years the conservatism of this British weekly has softened a bit: it has even come to recognize global warming. However its focus on political vs economic rights puts it back several decades.  Here is what it says:
“When a government locks someone up without a fair trial, the victim, perpetrator and remedy are pretty clear.  This clarity seldom applies to social and economic “rights”.  It’s hard enough to determine whether such a right has been infringed, let alone who should provide a remedy or how.  Who should be educated in which subjects for how long at what cost in taxpayers’ money is a political question best settled at the ballot box....And no economic system known to man guarantees a proper job for everyone all the time; even the Soviet Union’s much-boasted full employment was based on the principle “they pretend to pay us and we pretend to work”.
That is a typical “Economist” argument.   It sounds very clever, but it’s wrong.  It opposes the “clarity” of the perpetrators and victims of wrongful imprisonment to the variety of ways in which health care and education can be implemented, turns the difficulty of alloting goods into a reason for condemn the principle, and passes over the fact that the pretend workers were not starving, fudging the fact that it is just as wrong to deprive someone of food as of “freedom”.
The issue of food vs freedom has long been the focus of liberal attention.  The argument goes something like this:  if you are free to cast your vote for the candidate of your choice, you can ensure that you get food.  This contradicts the conservatives’ very argument that how much you get and how often will still be open to question.  One has only to look around to see that political power, if not backed by some kind of force, - whether that force be guns or strikes - is a myth.
There are few countries where who gets to be on the ballot does not depend on the same factors upon which the provision of food, schools and hospitals depend: money.  Together with universal single-payer health care, jobs for all who can work and good teachers’ salaries, public financing of elections go far toward ensuring an equal rights’ based society.
Alas the influental Economist believes that “free speech, due process, protection from arbitrary punishment” are “worth more than any number of grandiloquent but unenforceable declarations demanding jobs, education and housing for all.”
It chooses not to recognize that when decisions are unenforceable, it’s also a question of money.
Regardless of how much socialism you believe should go into a governing mix, do not be fooled by these  “old, stuffy” arguments.