Sunday, April 30, 2006


Once again life interrupts my usual patterns and habits..........It seems to do that quite regularly as of late..............Anyway...........I will be enjoying the pleasures of a rigorous work schedule of 6-10's for the next 3 weeks. I don't anticipate having a great deal of time to spend in front of my computer. I will try to see what I can do, but I anticipate taking a 3 week hiatus. Thanks for everyone's support and I shall return somewhere around the end of the month................PEACE..........................Scott

PS: listen to Neil Young's new album "Living with War"


April 30, 1803

On April 30, 1803, representatives of the United States and Napoleonic France
conclude negotiations for the Louisiana Purchase, a massive land sale that
doubles the size of the young American republic. What was known as Louisiana
Territory comprised most of modern-day United States between the Mississippi and
the Rocky Mountains, with the exceptions of Texas, parts of New Mexico, and
other pockets of land already controlled by the United States. A formal treaty
for the Louisiana Purchase, antedated to April 30, was signed two days
later.Beginning in the 17th century, France explored the Mississippi River
valley and established scattered settlements in the region. By the middle of the
18th century, France controlled more of the modern United States than any other
European power: from New Orleans northeast to the Great Lakes and northwest to
modern-day Montana. In 1762, during the French and Indian War, France ceded its
America territory west of the Mississippi River to Spain and in 1763 transferred
nearly all of its remaining North American holdings to Great Britain. Spain, no
longer a dominant European power, did little to develop Louisiana Territory
during the next three decades. In 1796, Spain allied itself with France, leading
Britain to use its powerful navy to cut off Spain from America.In 1801, Spain
signed a secret treaty with France to return Louisiana Territory to France.
Reports of the retrocession caused considerable uneasiness in the United States.
Since the late 1780s, Americans had been moving westward into the Ohio and
Tennessee River valleys, and these settlers were highly dependent on free access
to the Mississippi River and the strategic port of New Orleans. U.S. officials
feared that France, resurgent under the leadership of Napoleon Bonaparte, would
soon seek to dominate the Mississippi River and access to the Gulf of Mexico. In
a letter to Robert Livingston, the U.S. minister to France, President Thomas
Jefferson stated, "The day that France takes possession of New Orleans...we must
marry ourselves to the British fleet and nation." Livingston was ordered to
negotiate with French minister Charles Maurice de Talleyrand for the purchase of
New Orleans.France was slow in taking control of Louisiana, but in 1802 Spanish
authorities, apparently acting under French orders, revoked a U.S.-Spanish
treaty that granted Americans the right to store goods in New Orleans. In
response, President Jefferson sent future president James Monroe to Paris to aid
Livingston in the New Orleans purchase talks. On April 11, 1803, the day before
Monroe's arrival, Talleyrand asked a surprised Livingston what the United States
would give for all of Louisiana Territory. It is believed that the failure of
France to put down a slave revolution in Haiti, the impending war with Great
Britain and probable Royal Navy blockade of France, and financial difficulties
may all have prompted Napoleon to offer Louisiana for sale to the United
States.Negotiations moved swiftly, and at the end of April the U.S. envoys
agreed to pay $11,250,000 and assumed claims of its citizens against France in
the amount of $3,750,000. In exchange, the United States acquired the vast
domain of Louisiana Territory, some 828,000 square miles of land. In October,
Congress ratified the purchase, and in December 1803 France formally transferred
authority over the region to the United States. The acquisition of the Louisiana
Territory for the bargain price of less than three cents an acre was Thomas
Jefferson's most notable achievement as president. American expansion westward
into the new lands began immediately, and in 1804 a territorial government was
established. On April 30, 1812, exactly nine years after the Louisiana Purchase
agreement was made, the first of 13 states to be carved from the
territory--Louisiana--was admitted into the Union as the 18th U.S. state.


Here is #20 in the ongoing series of GREAT QUOTES. Distribute liberally!!!!!!!!!!! Thanks...........PEACE.....................Scott

"In the end, we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." - Rev Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thomas Jefferson said: "I have great confidence in the common sense of mankind in general.
Let's vote the bastards out!!!"

Congress is furious. They want to know, how come these oil company
profits are so high, but the money they receive under the table remains
the same. This has got to change. -- Jay Leno

"The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country."
— Abraham Lincoln, Second Annual Message to Congress

"Senator, when you took your oath of office, you placed your hand on the Bible
and swore to uphold the Constitution. You did not place your hand on the
Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible."- Jamie Raskin, professor of law at
American University, responding to MD state Senator Nancy Jacobs' biblical
justification for supporting a ban on same sex marriage.

At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home & our
being, drive a spear into the land, and say to the bulldozers,
earthmovers, government and corporations, "thus far and no farther." -
Edward Abbey

A university is what a college becomes when the faculty loses interest
in students. - John Ciardi

"He who slings mud generally loses ground." - Adlai Stevenson

The Bible contains six admonishments to homosexuals and 362
admonishments to heterosexuals. That does not mean God doesn't love
heterosexuals. It's just that they need more supervision - Lynn Lavner

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose -
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again, America!...
- Langston Hughes

The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of
extremists we will be...The nation & the world are in dire need of
creative extremists. - Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody
wants to read. - Mark Twain

Neil Young's "Living With War" Shows He Doesn't Like It

By Jon Pareles
The New York Times

Friday 28 April 2006

Neil Young unleashes a digital broadside today. His new album, "Living With War" (Reprise), was recorded and mostly written three to four weeks ago and as of Friday can be heard in its entirety free on his Web site,, and on satellite radio networks.

Mr. Young half-jokingly describes "Living With War" as his "metal folk protest" album. It's his blunt statement about the Iraq war; "History was a cruel judge of overconfidence/back in the days of shock and awe," he sings, strumming an electric guitar and leading a power trio with a sound that harks back to Young albums like "Rust Never Sleeps" and "Ragged Glory."

Some songs add a trumpet or a 100-voice choir, hastily convened in Los Angeles for one 12-hour session. During the nine new songs he sympathizes with soldiers and war victims, insists "Don't need no more lies," longs for a leader to reunite America and prays for peace.

In a song whose title alone has already brought him the fury of right-wing blogs, he urges, "Let's Impeach the President." It ends with Mr. Young shouting, "Flip, flop," amid contradictory sound bites of President Bush. But Mr. Young insists the album is nonpartisan.

"If you impeach Bush, you're doing a huge favor for the Republicans," he argued, speaking by telephone from California. "They can run again with some pride."

Mr. Young is a Canadian citizen. But having lived in the United States since the 1960's, he sings as if he were an American. The title song of "Living With War" quotes "The Star-Spangled Banner," and the album ends with the choir singing "America the Beautiful."

The album's release is a high-tech, globe-spanning update of a topical song tradition that's much older than recordings: the broadside, a songwriter's rapid response to events of the day. "They had these songs that everybody knew the melodies to," Mr. Young said. "They'd just write new words, and the minstrels would be traveling around spreading the word. Music spreads like wildfire when you do it that way."

On Tuesday a higher-quality version will be for sale as a download from online music stores, and a CD will be in stores next week as soon as it can be manufactured and shipped. Eventually a DVD will be released with video of the recording sessions, which took place March 29 to April 6. Many of the songs on the album were first takes, recorded immediately after Mr. Young taught them to the band. On March 31 he wrote three songs: "Let's Impeach the President" before breakfast, "Looking for a Leader" after he recorded "Let's Impeach the President" and "Roger and Out" the same evening.

Mr. Young's Web site will have a more elaborate presentation, available free. It will include a page designed like a cable-news broadcast, complete with visuals (including recording-session scenes), ticker and logo: LWW (for "Living With War") rather than CNN. "Even if it turns out that we can't sell it with the news in it, we won't sell it, we'll just stream it," he said. "We don't have to sell it. We can still get it out there. This has nothing to do with money as far as I'm concerned."

Mr. Young wants the album heard as a whole. The online streams play through from beginning to end; until the CD is ready, the downloadable copies will be available only as a bundle of the full album. "That first impression is so important," he said. "Instead of just going to 'Let's Impeach the President,' people will have to absorb the whole thing. To understand the songs, you need to understand where the whole album's coming from. It protects my right as an artist to have the work presented the way I created it."

Mr. Young has always been impatient with the time lag between writing a song and getting it to the world. When four student protesters were shot dead at Kent State University in 1970, he wrote "Ohio," recorded it with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and released it two and a half weeks later by sending acetates - preliminary pressings - to radio stations. (He will be on tour this summer as a member of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young in what's billed as the Freedom of Speech Tour.)

After 9/11 Mr. Young wrote "Let's Roll," a song about the passengers who brought down a hijacked plane in Pennsylvania, and released it free online. "Now we have the Internet," he said. "It doesn't sound as good, but it's much faster, and it gets around the world. That's huge, that's as big as we get."

The songs on "Living With War" are straightforward and single-minded, setting aside the allusive, enigmatic quality of Mr. Young's rock classics. "These are all ideas we've heard before," he said. "There's nothing new in there. I just connected the dots."

The protest song, rocked-up slightly from its folky 1960's form, has been making a comeback during the Iraq war, from arena bands like Pearl Jam, the Rolling Stones and Green Day to indie-rockers like Bright Eyes and blues-rockers like Keb' Mo' and Robert Cray. Bruce Springsteen's latest album is a tribute to the protest-song mentor Pete Seeger, although it features old folk songs rather than Mr. Seeger's topical material.

"We are the silent majority now, and we haven't done a damn thing," Mr. Young said. "We've stood by and watched this happen. But there's more of us than there is of them, and we have to do something. When people start talking and see they can get away with it, it's going to happen everywhere. It's going to be a landslide, it's going to be a tidal wave. This is just the tip of it."

Mr. Young said that he made "Living With War" not with a plan, but on an impulse. "I don't know what actually did it," he said. "It happened really fast, faster than I think I've ever experienced. There was just a kind of a wave."

As in the 60's, protest songs risk self-righteousness and preaching only to the converted. Only the most generalized ones outlast the interest in whatever headlines inspired them. There's not a lot of mystery to the songs on "Living With War"; they make their points as forthrightly as possible. Yet in the Internet era information - not just songs but blogs, videos, photos, drawings, e-mail jottings - is in the paradoxical position of being published worldwide and perhaps archived forever, but also being impulsive and ephemeral. A song for the Internet doesn't have to be one for the ages. Like an old broadside, it just has to get around for its moment, for right now. "Living With War" - irate, passionate, tuneful, thoughtful and obstinate - is definitely worth a click.

Go to Original

Songs of Protest
The Nation

15 May 2006 Issue

There may never be another Bob Dylan. But there will always be protest music of the sort that first endeared Dylan to a mass audience, and that confirmed the power of song to move not just a generation but a nation. Dylan was not the first protest singer; indeed, a good deal of his early Dust Bowl-poet persona derived from Woody Guthrie. And as his more overtly political compatriot Phil Ochs noted in the mid-1960s, Dylan was never comfortable in any movement, a fact that eventually led him to shed his topical-songwriter trappings to become the mythical character that Richard Goldstein examines on page 11. But the artful approach to political songwriting that Dylan pioneered remains an inspiration to today's musicians. And what they sing and say still matters, as the first skirmish of the Iraq War - the frontal assault on the dissenting Dixie Chicks after their lead singer criticized George W. Bush - confirmed.

As the devastation escalated, so did the music. Green Day's album American Idiot, a roaring pop-punk assault on the "redneck agenda" and the warped discourse of post-9/11 America, went to Number 1 on the charts, won a Grammy in 2005 for Best Rock Album and has sold more than 5 million copies. Hip-hop star Kanye West telescoped frustration with the White House's dawdling response to Hurricane Katrina when he told a national television audience, "George Bush doesn't care about black people." On his CDs West has been equally fierce, sarcastically suggesting on his 2005 song "Crack Music" that if anyone's still got questions about Saddam Hussein's supposed chemical weapons stash, "George Bush got the answer."

Now, as Bush's chart position sinks, he's getting even worse reviews. Pearl Jam's new single, "World Wide Suicide," the story of a mother mourning a son killed in battle because his was a life "the President took for granted," tops Billboard's Modern Rock chart. Bruce Springsteen has recorded a rollicking tribute to protest songs by the country's most famous folk singer in a new album, The Seeger Sessions: We Shall Overcome. Moby and REM's Michael Stipe just headlined an antiwar "Bring 'Em Home Now" concert, and the Dixie Chicks are letting Bush know they're not backing down, with their new single, "Not Ready to Make Nice." The extent to which Bush's fortunes have turned may be summed up by the news that pop singer Pink, who began the Bush era promising to "Get the Party Started," is ending it with a sobering lament, "Dear Mr. President," that savages Bush's stances on gay rights, the minimum wage and the war. Hitting even harder is veteran rocker Neil Young, whose post-9/11 song "Let's Roll" was heard by some as a call for war. Young clarifies things on his new CD, Living With War. With a track titled "Let's Impeach the President," it won't feature on George Bush's iPod.

But others in Washington are hearing the power chords. For years, Justin Sane, lead singer of the political punk band Anti-Flag, said it was "left to artists to make the statements that should be getting put into the public discourse." But Anti-Flag is no longer shouting from the sidelines. The band's new CD, For Blood and Empire, features the song "Depleted Uranium Is a War Crime." It was inspired by an appearance at a 2004 Punk Voter rally in Seattle with Representative Jim McDermott, a Vietnam-era vet who has introduced legislation calling for an investigation of the military's use of DU. McDermott is on the CD, and the band is spearheading a drive to get Congress to act on the bill.

Come to think of it, if a 69-year-old Congressman is heeding the call of a punk band, maybe it's time to recognize that, with prodding from outspoken and courageous musicians, the Bush order is rapidly fading and the times, again, are a-changin'.

Wyden's Long Talk Fails to Persuade

By Jeff Kosseff and Jim Barnett
The Oregonian

Friday 28 April 2006

The Democrat's filibuster to curb oil industry subsidies angers GOP leaders.

Washington - Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden seized control of the Senate floor for more than four hours Thursday in an attempt to reduce subsidies to oil companies.

Enraging Republican leaders, his filibuster stalled debate on an emergency appropriations bill.

At a time gasoline prices and oil company profits are at record highs, Wyden proposed an amendment that would give the federal government greater authority to collect royalties from oil companies that drill on public property. Republicans would not commit to allowing an up-or-down vote on his amendment.

"I would stay here all night," Wyden said. "I would stay here until they literally had to take me off the floor because I couldn't stay here any longer, to save taxpayers billions and billions of dollars on what amounts to the biggest giveaway - the biggest giveaway - to the oil industry."

The filibuster is a classic privilege, allowing senators to halt proceedings for as long as they'd like. The tactic was immortalized in a 1939 Frank Capra film, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."

"It's one of the ultimate powers of a senator to say, 'We're not moving until I'm through saying what I have to say,' " said Richard Baker, the Senate historian.

Baker said there is no technical definition of filibuster, so his office doesn't maintain a count of the times the procedure has been used.

In an interview outside the Senate chamber, Wyden said he did not plan to tie up the Senate for most of the day - and had only a bowl of cereal for breakfast. But he suspected by midmorning that he might be in for a fight.

Wyden filed his amendment Wednesday evening, making it the first order of business Thursday morning. Shortly after he started speaking at 10:51 a.m., it became clear that oil-industry allies planned either to block a vote or to attach a secondary amendment that Wyden would find intolerable.

Wyden held the floor for about four hours, talking about his amendment or yielding to questions from colleagues. Shortly after 3 p.m., one of them lost his cool.

Domenici Challenge

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-NM, challenged Wyden's assertion he could save taxpayers billions of dollars. Citing a Congressional Budget Office report, Domenici said Wyden's offering would have no effect, mocking it as "this great amendment."

"It's going to yield zero because the amendment is meaningless the way it's drawn," Domenici roared, his face reddening and his voice cracking.

Wyden quickly rebutted: "If this is so meaningless, it seems to me we could have disposed of this at 10 o'clock this morning."

With that, Domenici stormed off the floor.

The political theater delighted Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., who had offered a similar amendment in the House and sat at the edge of the Senate chamber. Markey could be heard chuckling and then made a cell phone call.

But by then, even Wyden's Democratic leaders had had enough.

About 3:20 p.m., Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he was disappointed that there would not be a vote on "this most-important amendment." However, Reid pointed out that other senators had amendments to offer.

Wyden acknowledged that Republicans would not allow a vote on his amendment and yielded the floor, ending his filibuster.

"It will not be possible to get an up-or-down vote at any point on rolling back this outrageous boondoggle that wastes taxpayer money," he said.

Handshakes Afterward

Wyden yielded the floor at 3:27 p.m. And when the cameras turned away, he was congratulated with handshakes and back pats from several colleagues, including Reid and Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., a renowned maverick.

The brouhaha was over a federal program administered by the Interior Department that reduces the amount the government charges oil companies that drill on public property.

Wyden's amendment would prohibit the government from reducing the payments from oil companies when the average price of crude oil is greater than $55 a barrel. Currently, oil prices are above $70.

Republicans criticized Wyden's plan as unnecessary, pointing out that the Interior Department will not grant royalty relief if oil prices exceed $35.86.

"It sets a threshold that is higher than the existing threshold," said Domenici, chairman of the Senate Energy Committee. "Why should we let you have a vote on that?"

Wyden was attempting to place a $55 cap into law instead of leaving it to the discretion of the Interior Department. Also, his amendment has an exemption if the oil supply is disrupted because of a natural disaster.

In an interview after the filibuster, Wyden said he made people more aware of the issue.

"You get up every morning; you fight as hard as you possibly can for the people from Oregon," Wyden said. "You fight for what they care about.

"Oregonians work really hard for their money. And all the middle-class folks I'm seeing at home are seeing billions of dollars squandered away on this pork-barrel rip-off."

Go to Original

Tax the Windfall
By Michael Kinsley
The Washington Post

Friday 28 April 2006

In, I guess, the early 1990s, when I worked for CNN, I found myself one evening at a Washington reception, chatting with an oil company executive and one from a defense contractor. The oilman said, "How's business?" How's business! Delighted and emboldened by the discovery that businessmen actually say this to one another, I arched a conspiratorial eyebrow and said, "Well, we could use another war."

The defense contractor said, "So could we."

The oilman said, "So could we - as long as it's in the Middle East."

I was joking, and I'm pretty sure the other two were as well. Corporate executives are human beings (except for Ken Lay). They profit from war, but that doesn't mean they want it. Well, maybe a few of them have mixed feelings about that. But until I see hard evidence, I am not going to believe that American business executives would induce the government to start a war, even if they had the power to do so.

These days even President Bush is dissing the oil companies. He doesn't accuse them of starting the Iraq war, of course, but he does now favor looking into other possible misdeeds, such as antitrust violations. For Republican Sen. Arlen Specter and a chorus of Democrats, oil company misdeeds are enough to justify a tax on their "excess profits."

This hunt for a smoking gun misses the point. Taxes are not a form of punishment. And you don't need to find wrongdoing to justify a special tax on their profits. You only need a pocket calculator - to figure out how much they owe.

The math is rough, but it's not complicated. About a third of the oil consumed in the United States comes from wells in the United States. That's about 150 million barrels a month. The oil industry refers to this as "production," but a more accurate term would be "extraction." Nature produced the oil and charges nothing for it.

Oil is oil, no matter where it comes from, so the price of those 150 million barrels will go up and down with the price of the 300 million or so barrels we import every month. A year ago, that price was about $46 a barrel. Now it's over $70 a barrel. The cost of extracting those 150 million American barrels depends a lot on how you figure and varies well by well. But we can make a few reasonable simplifying assumptions. First, no one was forced to pump oil at gunpoint a year ago. So, however you figure, in April 2005 it must have been possible to extract 150 million barrels of oil from American ground for less than $46 a barrel, including a reasonable profit.

Costs change: Wells have to be pumped harder, or they run dry. Gradually, we are running out of oil and need to import more and more. But these changes are nothing like the fluctuations in the price that oil can be sold for. If 150 million barrels could be extracted a year ago for $46 a barrel, it shouldn't cost much more than that to extract another 150 million barrels in 2006.

Let's round a bit and say that American oil extractors are getting an extra $25 a barrel. For 150 million barrels a month, that's $45 billion a year. And that's just for the oil that's extracted. The oil that remains in the ground also is about $25 a barrel more valuable. Other energy resources, used and unused, are more valuable by a similar amount.

To get this windfall, the oil companies didn't have to conspire with the Bush administration to start a war in Iraq. They didn't have to conspire among themselves to raise prices at the pump. If you own oil anywhere in the world, you didn't have to do a damn thing. Just close your eyes, make a wish, open them and - surprise - you're getting an extra $25 a barrel.

Ordinarily, and wisely, the US government doesn't try to guess what is or is not a reasonable profit, and it doesn't try to tax away profit that is unreasonable. As a general principle, the government tries to tax all business profits at a rate that will produce enough revenue to help cover the cost of government without unduly destroying the incentive to produce. Under Republican administrations, the government usually goes further and gives business a bunch of absurd tax breaks. The oil industry has been a special pet over the years.

Ordinarily, we shouldn't want the government to decide when profits become "excess." But the case of huge profits from the run-up in oil prices is different, for two reasons. First, it is unusually clear that these profits have nothing to do with productivity. Diverting them to the Treasury would have no effect on the incentive to extract more oil from American ground. Second, some or all of these profits are directly related to a situation that is imposing huge sacrifices - financial and otherwise - on others: that is, the Iraq war.

Because of the war, the government is adding hundreds of billions to the burden of debt that all taxpayers, including other businesses, will have to pay off. Because of the war, American soldiers by the hundreds, and Iraqis by the thousands, are paying the ultimate tax of death by government policy. And because of the war, American oil companies are raking in extra billions in profits.

The oil companies, like other big corporations, are mostly owned by ordinary citizens, either directly or through mutual and retirement funds. Presumably some of them support the war and others don't. Do any of these shareholders, pro-war or antiwar, want to pocket $45 billion (or whatever number you choose) from a war that is costing others so much?

Go to Original

Gas Prices: Buying Votes
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer | Editorial

Friday 28 April 2006

Senate Republicans' proposal to send millions of Americans $100 checks to "ease the burden" of gasoline prices is an embarrassingly bad idea.

It's obviously little more than a desperate election-year gesture by a party whose majority status is threatened by any number of presidential policy blunders. At best, it's a lame stunt to allow finger pointing on the campaign trail.

It accomplishes no relevant change in public behavior. Some folks might use the hundred bucks - about two fill-ups - to augment their gasoline purchases; others may spend it on cigarettes, or beer or a few music CDs. It will have no effect on gas prices or gas consumption.

Even if everyone does spend it on gas, it amounts to a windfall pass-through for the oil industry, a sort of taxpayer-funded validation of pump price increases.

It's shackled to the oft-rejected notion of opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration, which means Republicans aren't really serious about passing it anyway.

Save Family Farms, Save America

By Willie Nelson

Thursday 27 April 2006

It's time to abandon the failed model of industrial agriculture and join the Good Food movement: embrace healthy, delicious food that makes the entire country stronger.

As one of the founders of Farm Aid, I have watched with admiration and a good amount of satisfaction the growth of what many now call the "Good Food Movement" - the growing interest in and demand for organic, humanely-raised and family farm-identified food that is transforming the way America grows its food and how our food gets to our tables.

While it might seem obvious to many, good food comes from farms with healthy soil and clean water. I've always believed that the most important people on the planet are the ones who plant the seeds and care for the soil where they grow. As the stewards of the land, family farmers are the foundation of this movement, as well as its guarantor.

No one can say they planted the original seed that gave rise to this movement, but many can claim they have helped nurture and cultivate its growth. Farm Aid's vision for America is to have many family farmers on the land - a vision born out of our strong conviction that who grows our food and who cares for the land and water is of vital national importance; that farmers and their fields are the fabric that holds our country together.

Many have asked me, "What is the Good Food movement?" The Good Food movement isn't just about good and delicious food - although this is certainly one of its greatest achievements. The Good Food movement is at the center of some of the most important issues and debates that will define American society for years to come: issues like stewardship of our soil and water, local and democratic control of decision making and land use, health and nutrition and a thriving and sustainable food and farm economy needed to feed and fuel America.

While good, healthy, fresh food from family farms is the most visible product of the movement that each of us can enjoy, the movement stands for much more. It represents the interests of all who care about the future of this land, its resources and its people. As members of this movement and as eaters, the food we choose to buy connects us directly to those who produced it and to the multiple reasons why it is in our own interests to see this movement flourish.

Natural Resources

The future of safe and sound food production depends on taking care of the most basic resources needed to grow food: soil and water. Family farmers eat the food they grow in their fields and drink the water from their wells. They know that they have to take care of the soil and water in order to pass on the promise of the farm's bounty to the next generation. Sustainable family farms are the alternative to the large-scale industrial farms that erode our soil and pollute our waterways. Excessive chemicals, soil erosion, runoff from hog factories laced with hormones and antibiotics and the growing threats of widespread genetic contamination from genetically engineered crops threaten our capacity to grow the food we need to feed our country. By supporting family farms through the Good Food movement, we are all helping to ensure that our children and our children's children inherit a healthy and resilient environment.

Health and Nutrition

Good food leads to good nutrition and good health. There's no comparison between fresh, organic food at the local farmers market and the mass-produced, additive-laden, highly processed stuff that corporations would have us think is real food. The rising epidemics of childhood obesity and diabetes are clearly linked to the highly processed food peddled to kids and served in school cafeterias. The Good Food movement is helping to turn this situation around, bringing farm-fresh food grown by local farmers into school lunch programs. A diet of fresh, wholesome food will improve health outcomes for kids and provide new direct markets for family farmers.

Strong Local Economies

Family farms are the engines for economic vitality, in both rural communities as well as urban areas that benefit from jobs created by vibrant local and regional food systems. When family farms thrive, so do main street businesses. The Good Food movement is creating new markets and opportunities that help farmers stay on their land and provides hope for new and young farmers to make farming their life. A growing number of those now participating in direct farm-to-consumer marketing are first generation farmers! The more we keep farming local, the stronger the community. Participating in local and regional food and farm markets helps keep food dollars circulating in the local economy - rather than increasing the profits of distant corporations that suck the dollars and the life out of our communities.


Many Americans are becoming aware of the startling and troubling fact about our food system known as "food miles:" on average, each food item travels 1500 miles before arriving to our tables. It makes little sense to burn fossil fuels that pollute the environment to ship apples across the country and around the world when local growers can provide us with fresh apples, the purchase of which keeps dollars in the local economy. By strengthening local food production, the Good Food movement is reducing the distance food travels and the ecological footprint of American agriculture.

Keeping farmers on their land also enables them to use their know-how and ingenuity to help us achieve more energy independence. Farmers are key to our energy future - growers and harvesters of renewable energy that will power our vehicles and heat our homes. Farm Aid is working to link The Good Food and Green Energy movements as two sides of the family farm-centered agriculture system we envision.

Animal Welfare

The Good Food movement increases the demand for humanely-raised beef, pork and poultry products by family farms. As opposed to the factory livestock farms, where thousands of animals are raised under one roof and never see the light of day their entire lives, family farm-raised animals are fed natural diets and allowed to live in healthy conditions with access to open pastures.


I believe keeping family farmers on the land is inextricably linked to a strong and thriving democracy. Thomas Jefferson wrote, "cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens ... they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bonds." Family farmers are the backbone not only of a strong economy; they are also the defenders of local, democratic control of decision making.

In communities across farm country, large and powerful food corporations are working their political connections at the State House and on Capitol Hill to change local and state laws to take local control and decision-making away from communities, stripping local communities of their democratic right of self-determination. In many examples, corporations are working to change state laws so that communities cannot block the construction of hog factories.

We live in a time when all of us must take our responsibility to exercise our democratic rights seriously - before it's too late. Family farmers are standing up for their rights - and they're standing up for our rights too. The Good Food movement is about democracy at the grassroots level- building decentralized, sustainable and locally controlled farm and food economies.

Farm Fresh Food

And yes, the Good Food movement is about better food. Growing up in Texas, I learned at an early age the difference between a fresh tomato, a fresh farm egg and the stuff most other people eat and think is food. There is just no way to compare a family-raised ham to a ham from a factory farm, or fresh strawberries to berries shipped thousands of miles. To understand this, you have to taste it yourself. The next time you drive by your local farmers market, stop by and pick up some farm-fresh food. I guarantee you won't regret the flavor and freshness of food from the family farm.

Growing the Movement

If you enjoy good food and care about the issues behind this movement, I invite you to take action today to ensure the future of family farming and your right to choose food from family farms. The most direct and regular action you can take is to search out and buy as much of your food directly from farm families in your area. Our food choices today shape tomorrow's agriculture. Buying organic milk today strengthens tomorrow's outlook for organic dairy farmers. Think about one food item that you can buy from local farmers and commit to buying it. These small and simple actions are building the Good Food movement and changing American agriculture for the better.

The other opportunity we have to further this movement is the upcoming debate over the next Farm Bill. If you value good food from family farms, call your legislator and demand a Farm Bill that strengthens local and regional food economies.

If you care about local and democratic control, demand a Farm Bill that curbs the power of factory farms and the influence of lobbyists for large food corporations. If you care about health and nutrition for children, demand a Farm Bill that puts more fresh, wholesome food in our cities' schools. If you want your children and grandchildren to enjoy the benefits of a clean environment, demand a Farm Bill that increases protection of our natural resources by helping farmers transition to organic and more sustainable growing methods. The future of good food depends on you.

Willie Nelson is the president and founder of Farm Aid. This article appeared in the Spring 2006 issue of Waterkeeper, the official magazine of Waterkeeper Alliance.

"At Some Point, Reality Has Its Day"

By Eleanor Clift

Friday 28 April 2006

Al Gore on why America - and even George Bush - is close to a tipping point on global warming.

Al Gore has launched his new campaign-this one to battle the effects of global warming. At its center is a new film, "An Inconvenient Truth," which stars Gore and has been winning surprisingly positive press. It opens May 24. The former vice president, who has abandoned a relatively low profile to promote the movie, spoke to Eleanor Clift about the environment, technology and politics in America. Excerpts:

Newsweek: They say timing is everything. Has the moment arrived for this issue?

Al Gore: I hope it has. I hope that we are close to a tipping point beyond which the country will begin to face this very seriously and the majority of politicians in both parties will begin to compete by offering meaningful solutions. We're nowhere close to that yet, but a tipping point by definition is a time of very rapid change-and I think that the potential for this change has been building up, with the evangelical ministers speaking out, General Electric and Republican CEOs saying we have to address it, grass-roots organizations-all of these things are happening at the same time because through various means people are seeing a new reality. The relationship between our civilization and the earth has been radically transformed. Global warming is by far the most serious manifestation of the collision-and Mother Nature is making the evidence ever more obvious. Scientific studies have been coming out right and left over the last several years that connect various parts of the overall picture to the whole. And by whatever means, a lot of people have been absorbing this message, and they're now saying, "Wait a minute, we really have to do something about this."

Where did you get your initial interest in this?

AG: When I was an undergraduate I was privileged to sign up for a course offered by the first person to measure CO2 in the earth's atmosphere. He was a visionary, and he saw that the postwar economic boom powered by coal and oil was beginning to radically change the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere-and he knew atmospheric chemistry, and he knew what it would do to outgoing infrared radiation. So he started this historic set of measurements out in the middle of the Pacific. He shared his measurements with my undergraduate class, and he explained what it meant and sketched the future implications in such a compelling way that it was different from other experiences I had in college. I kept in touch with him, and later when I was elected to Congress-10 years later, or less-I helped organize the first hearings on this issue and had him as the lead-off witness. And that began a long series of hearings in the House and in the Senate, which led to a book and then, as vice president, to Kyoto and other measures. All along that journey I have watched those measurements continue to come in, and what my professor pointed to almost 40 years ago has come true.

How did this become a movie?

AG: After I left the White House in January 2001, I once again started giving a slide show on global warming on a regular basis. The first time I took the slides out of storage and held them up to the light and combined them into one carousel, went down to Middle Tennessee State University to give my slide show, and they were all backward. It was a very awkward and embarrassing moment, and I went back home to Nashville and Tipper said, "I knew I should have put those in for you." And then she said, "By the way, Mr. Information Super Highway, we have computers now and you should put them on your computer." Once I did that, it began to get a lot easier to update and improve-it got to the point where it was much better and more compelling. And at that point, I started to give it a lot more frequently-several times a week. At one of the showings in Los Angeles several people from the entertainment industry came up afterward and talked to me, and said, "Would you consider making this into a movie?" I was skeptical about that. I couldn't see how a slide show could be a movie, but they set up a follow-up meeting and persisted, and they satisfied my concerns that the science would be in the foreground and that it would be true to the integrity of the message, and they have done a fantastic job. The result I think-it's surprising to me-is a very entertaining and compelling movie that does preserve the central elements of the slide show.

And you inject some humor into your presentation.

AG: It's hard to believe-I benefit from low expectations.

I was surprised to hear that as vice president you went to China and gave the slide show. Why didn't we hear about it until now?

AG: The visit to China that's documented in the movie, that's later. But I did give a full presentation in the Great Hall of the People in China when I was vice president. A lot of the speeches and events and messages on global warming were not seen as being on the A list of issues to be covered by the news media. So a lot of what I tried to do to get more attention to it seemed as if it didn't take place because it didn't make it through that filter. But in any case, I think that's changing now-I think that people are tuned into it now. I hope that continues.

What do you hope to accomplish with this film?

AG: It's not just the film: I have a book coming out June 2 that is also titled "An Inconvenient Truth." At the end of the summer I'll start a training program to show others how to give my slide show. And what I hope to accomplish with all of the above is to help move the United States of America past a tipping point beyond which the political dialogue is completely different, and that both parties are competing to really solve this crisis. You know in England now that's already happened. Both parties are competing to be the most imaginative and creative and effective on this issue, and it's healthy. And this shouldn't be a partisan issue. It should be lifted above partisanship because it's a question of survival. It's a moral issue.

What do you say to President Bush and others who still suggest we need more study?

AG: Well, the title "An Inconvenient Truth" is a way of highlighting the reasons why some people, including the president, don't seem to accept the truth. It's inconvenient. This administration, as has been abundantly documented, is quite responsive to the oil and coal industry and, by the way, to the least responsible companies within those industries. And they do not want anything done on global warming.

Because it would cut into their profits?

AG: I think there are three reasons. One is they genuinely believed that in the past there has been hyperbole used to stampede the Congress or the people to adopt some measure that later turned out to be excessive-they fear that might be happening again-so there's a reflexive us and them. I'm trying to give them credit.

Secondly, though, I think that it's an example of the Upton Sinclair quote that "It's hard to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding." The behavior of ExxonMobil is disgraceful. They finance in whole or in part 40 organizations that put out disinformation on global warming designed to confuse the American people. There has emerged in the last couple of decades a lobbying strategy that is based on trying to control perceptions. In some sense it's not new, but it's new in the sophistication and the amount of resources they devote to it. It's not new in the sense it's the same thing the tobacco industry did after the surgeon general's report of 1964, and that is a major part of the reason why the Bush administration doesn't do anything. The president put their chief guy in charge of environmental policy in the White House.

The third reason is that some of the ideological conservatives believe that if global warming is a) real and b) as bad as the scientists are telling us-and we're responsible for it and we have to fix it-they worry that will mean government has to play a larger role in some way shape or form, and they want to prevent that no matter what.

But you know the temptation to reject the truth and try to manufacture your own reality is what got us into Iraq-it's what got us into these deficits. At some point, reality has its day. I hope they'll change. I think there is a chance they'll change. You know Winston Churchill once said that the American people generally do the right thing after first exhausting every other alternative. And maybe after exhausting every other alternative, Bush will do the right thing on this. I'm not going to hold my breath, but I do think that there's a chance. And after all, as I said last night, if the scientists turn out to be right and we only have 10 years, we can't give up two and a half years out of 10 to wait for this guy to accept reality. You know there are 218 U.S. cities that have adopted Kyoto on their own, a lot of grass-roots initiatives that are very impressive, and all that's going to continue. I'm not Pollyannish about it, but I'm optimistic.

Do you see anything positive in President Bush's leadership - anything you admire about him?

AG: I have to confess that I fear I'm losing some objectivity where he's concerned. I think he did a good job in his appointment of Ben Bernanke as Federal Reserve chairman. And I think he did well in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 in rallying the country and going into Afghanistan. I think he started making catastrophic errors immediately after that, but I think that in the initial aftermath, he did a good job.

Looking at what you're doing and how you're getting this issue out there and yourself out there, I'm wondering if you're running the first campaign of the 21st century by framing global warming as a moral challenge to a country that's really eager for leadership.

AG: Well it is a campaign, but it's not a campaign for a candidate. I'm not a candidate. It is a campaign to change the way our country thinks about global warming. But I'm not a candidate-I've been there and done that. And I found there are other ways to serve, and I'm enjoying them.

In 2000 and in 1988 when you ran, you really didn't talk about the environment that much. I think you were counseled that it was not a good issue. Any regrets about that?

AG: That's the conventional wisdom that I want to challenge because in both cases I talked about it extensively. And to take 2000 as an example, there were numerous speeches and events and proposals and multipoint plans that were not considered news, and if a tree falls in the forest and it's not heard, then later on people think it didn't happen. John Kerry went thru a very similar experience in '04 because the way the issue has been covered has been plagued with some of the adjectives that you began with-it's marginal, it's arcane, it's irrelevant, ridiculous-and so if a daily news cycle is devoted to that issue, then one candidate has his message out there and the other is mysteriously missing. There's another factor that's often overlooked in 2000. Then governor George W. Bush publicly pledged to regulate CO2 emissions and to forcibly, with the rule of law, reduce them-and publicly said "this is a serious problem and I will deal with it." Now, the other way that issues get covered in the media is if there's conflict, and if there's a sharp difference. And one is tempted to conclude that [Karl] Rove crafted those positions that were immediately abandoned after the election-in the first week after the inauguration, the first week-one is tempted to conclude that Rove wrote those positions in order to take from that issue any sense of contrast or conflict and thereby make it non-newsworthy. It certainly had that effect, whether it was intentional or not. I can't look into their hearts-I'll let the grand jury do that. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that.

The mainstream media still ruled during your campaign in 2000. It's a very different world today with the Internet. How do you see the new media changing upcoming campaigns?

AG: The old cliché about six months being a lifetime in politics is probably out of date now with the new technology coming wave upon wave. But I have a slightly different view from what I hear a lot. I think that television is still the dominant medium, and I do believe that the Internet has brought about a continuing and accelerating revolution in the technique of politics and the way candidates reach out to connect with individual voters and groups. But where the wholesale messaging is concerned, television is still completely dominant. One statistic that illustrates that is that last year according to this new study Americans watched on average four hours and 39 minutes of television per day-and that's up four minutes from the previous year,even with the increased use of the Internet. And the vast majority of Internet users are watching television while they're using the Internet. I have a television network. I've spent a lot of time looking into these things. And the characteristic of television that is so different from the printing press that was the medium dominating America's birth is that television is one-way. The individual has no way to get into the conversation. My point is that television may not be dominant in 2008, but I wouldn't bet on that. I think that it is still the most powerful medium, and the reason is it's quasi-hypnotic. One of the most valuable things in the television business if you're a content creator is to have a good lead-in show before you. Why?

People don't get up.

Not only do they not get up - a significant percentage are incapable of moving a thumb muscle to hit the remote because there's a quasi-trance that sets in. I don't want to overdramatize it, but the fact is that people just sit there entranced - and that's why most of the money in politics goes to television.

Do you think the Democrats have a chance of recapturing control of Congress?

AG: I think there's likely to be a Democratic wave this year. I think that the threshold for change of control in Congress is now artificially and absurdly high because of redistricting politics and incumbent protection mechanisms, and the net result is that it's rare to have more than a couple dozen seats really in serious contest. That may be different this year. There may be a big enough wave. I just don't know-I don't follow it closely enough to really have an informed opinion.

You use the phrase "connect the dots" quite often. You delivered a speech on Jan. 15, Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, that was critical of Bush for acting unlawfully in eavesdropping on Americans. Connect the dots from that speech to what you're doing now.

AG: This is different from that speech. I'm enjoying life, doing several different things that all fit together coherently for me. And one thing I do from time to time is when I can't stand it anymore, I give a speech trying to contribute to the public dialogue about what we're doing as a country. And the massive and almost certain illegal wiretapping of Americans outraged me and that's why I gave that speech. That's why I gave a speech on torture-several speeches on Iraq, et cetera, et cetera. But that is my contribution as a citizen to what Madison called an informed citizenry to take part in the political dialogue-but as a citizen. Now where the global-warming mission is concerned, I am a single-minded advocate to deliver a message that I think is crucial for our future. I don't think that is a partisan message. I don't think it should be a partisan message. I try to make it nonpartisan. And there are a few jabs that are just my authentic representations how I've evolved and come to the issue, but people who see this movie don't see it as a political movie. And Republicans don't find anything that they object to. Paramount has done these focus-group screenings, and they don't see it like "Fahrenheit 9/11" at all. They see it as nonpolitical. So I don't connect that to my periodic speeches on issues of the day. It is one of the issues of the day, but it's one that I'm really devoting myself to, and I see it as different from the speeches I make.

Bodies for Barrels: Betrayal and Energy Dependence

Editor's Note: This perspective comes from an Ohio Republican. Michael A. Fox served as a member of the Ohio House of Representatives for 23 years and is currently a County Commissioner in Butler County, Ohio. Conservative on most issues, Fox has come to realize that the war in Iraq is about feeding our oil addiction and it doesn't sit well with him. He raises his voice eloquently against "trading the bodies of our young people for barrels of oil." As more and more Americans from both the right and the left discover that the current energy crisis is not temporary but permanent, the political ground underneath many different issues, from the environment to foreign policy, will shift.

Bodies for Barrels: Betrayal and Energy Dependence
By Michael A. Fox
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

America's energy problems are not, as President Bush recently declared, because Americans have an "addiction to oil." Our energy problems stem from the failed leadership of two political parties - Democrats and Republicans.

For over thirty years presidents and congresses from both parties have had an addiction to playing politics and courting the special interests who fund their next election cycle - all at the expense of our national security.

They have betrayed us. America felt the first shock wave of energy dependence with the oil embargo of 1973. The lessons from that experience were clear - our nation and our economy could be brought to its knees by a handful of hate-filled lunatics in the Middle East; a lesson ignored by both parties. Since then, leaders from each party periodically paid lip service to energy independence, making symbolic moves designed to reassure the public that making America energy independent was important. But neither party ever made it a priority. Neither party has provided continuous and determined leadership to secure our national security by securing our energy independence.

The result? Never in our history has our country been more vulnerable to foreign influence and economic attack from our enemies. The neglect and betrayal by both parties has led us to an unspoken yet horrifically real and hollow energy and foreign policy that reduces us to trading the bodies of our young people for barrels of oil.

Like many Americans I trusted the President. I believe that he is a good and decent man. But like presidents before him, he cannot even seem to envision a policy that leads to energy independence. When he delivered his State of the Union Address a few weeks ago, I cringed when I heard him brag that "Since 2001, we have spent nearly $10 billion to develop cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable alternative energy sources - and we are on the threshold of incredible advances." He announced the creation of an "Advanced Energy Initiative - a 22 percent increase in clean energy research." Big deal, like going to a gun fight with a toy knife.

Suggesting that we can somehow do anything meaningful to achieve energy independence by increasing our five year investment in research by roughly $200 million per year is laughable. To put this investment in energy independence in perspective, consider that since 2001 Americans have spent $200 billion dollars on pet food - 20 times more on buying pet food than the federal government spends on energy research.

Here's the essence of our energy policy. Imagine this: you pull into a gas station and tell the attendant to fill up the gas tank. It comes time to pay and the attendant asks "Which of your children do you want to sacrifice in payment." Which child must die? Ridiculous? How is that different than what we are doing in the Middle East?

The invasion of Iraq, the stationing of our 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean, the posting of our troops at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars annually throughout the Middle East is about protecting the oil fields of Saudi Arabia - our so-called ally who has provided funding for most of the terrorist groups that stir anti-American hatred throughout the world.

America invests hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of young people's lives and mangled bodies each year to make sure each of us can fill up our tank when we need it - bodies for barrels. But what if we had to trade our child (as so many have been called to do) for a full tank of gas?

Wouldn't we demand an alternative solution like a responsible energy policy that is as important to us as the Manhattan Project was during World War II or putting a man on the moon was in the 60s? I believe we would - and we should.

If it is financially sustainable for our nation to spend what some estimate will be a trillion dollars in the Iraqi War before we're finished, then why is it so outlandish to expect that we make an equal investment of national and financial resources to energy independence? If we are willing to ask our young people to sacrifice and die or get maimed so we can top off our tanks, then why are we not equally willing to commit our nation to energy independence?

Our nation's energy vulnerability is an outrageous betrayal by both parties - Democrats and Republicans. In the coming days you will see a frenzy of proposals coming from both Democrats and Republicans in the Congress. These proposals will continue to cascade until the November election and then we'll go back to business as usual.

These gestures are nothing more than symbolic gestures. The public needs more than symbols from our leaders; we deserve solutions. America has the ingenuity, intellectual infrastructure, spirit and knowledge to come through this crisis as we have others in our history.

Across America there are young minds teeming with ideas that deserve research funding so they can help us end our reliance on foreign energy. There are ideas that will enable us to conserve more energy, get more efficiency out of our engines and industrial enterprises and lead to alternative sources heretofore not even considered.

The missing ingredients are and always have been, leadership, vision, and will. Money follows vision. Our political leaders need to articulate a simple vision and actually mean it - energy independence.

Here's a start. As Congress currently debates a measure that will provide increased funding for the Iraq War why not adopt a policy that says: "Not one more dollar should be spent on the Iraq War or securing the oil fields and shipping lanes of the world unless an equal dollar is spent on research to secure our energy independence?" If it is important enough to spend a dollar sending a young man or woman to war then it is important enough as a nation to spend an equal dollar eliminating the threat that causes them to lay down their life.

America needs political leadership that looks beyond the next election and beyond the favor of oil and multinational corporate interests. There is nothing that America cannot achieve if we commit ourselves to a vision and support it with the full will and might of our nation. What happened to the days when our political leaders had the courage to do what is right and had the will to set politics aside to protect our national security?

There is nothing more important to America's future than securing energy independence. Without it, our children and grandchildren are likely to see wars of incomprehensible destruction. President Eisenhower once said that "the only way to win World War III was to prevent it."

We are at the threshold or Armageddon and the fuse that is likely to set it off is energy dependency, nations warring to secure scarce resources. Our ability to avoid the incomprehensible horror of World War III depends on our energy independence. Continued energy dependence will mean continued war. America can do better than an energy policy that trades the bodies of our young people for barrels of oil. In order to do this, each American has to stand ready to make whatever sacrifice is required to become energy independent.

Why not give research a chance? Why not give America's brilliance and innovative spirit a chance? Why not enlist the creativity and intellectual fire-power of our young people's minds and back it with the full might of our nation's wealth?

If we must, in the short run, spend billions of dollars to send our young people into battle to secure the oil our economy needs then let's match those expenditures with equal amounts going into laboratories and university research centers to find the solutions to our energy dependence.

How can our leaders send someone's child to battle knowing that the circumstances that make their sacrifice necessary are driven by the unwillingness of our nation to make the sacrifices that must be made to avoid the war we send them to fight? How can any congressman, senator, or president send someone's child to battle without being able to look them in the eye and tell them with conviction and truth that we will match their sacrifice with the courage, force of will, and resources to become energy independent?

Our leaders are the stewards of freedom and thus far they have betrayed the trust of the American people. On the day President John F. Kennedy was murdered in Dallas, the speech he was to have delivered contained these words: "We in this country - are - by destiny rather than by choice - the watchmen on the walls of world freedom." His words ring true today, and unless our national leaders break the bonds of energy dependence, the walls of freedom will come tumbling down.

Our leaders have been asleep at their posts. It's time that they wake up and rise to the challenge of our time. It's time for them to make some tough choices and break our chain of dependence. It is time for them to muster the courage to do whatever is necessary to make sure that not one American son our daughter is sent to battle to fight for a barrel of oil.

For me the choice is easy. What I don't understand is why our national leaders cannot see it. For the sake of our children, our future, and the security of America, it's time we force them to see the challenge and act.

The Story of Carl - On Workers Memorial Day

By Thom Hartmann
Common Dreams

Thursday 27 April 2006

Carl loved books and loved history and, after spending two years in the army as part of the American occupation forces in Japan immediately after World War II, was hoping to graduate from college and teach history, perhaps even at the university level if he could hang on to the GI Bill and his day job in a camera store long enough to get his Ph.D. It was 1950, and he'd been married just a few months, when the surprise came that forced him to drop out of college: his wife was pregnant with their first child.

This was an era when husbands worked, wives tended the home, and being a good father and provider was one of the highest callings to which a man could aspire. Carl dropped out of school, kept his day job from 9 to 5 at the camera shop, and got a second job at a metal fabricating plant, working with molten hot metal from 7 pm to 4 am. For much of his wife's pregnancy and his newborn son's first year, he slept 3 hours a night and caught up on weekends, but in the process earned enough to get them an apartment and to be prepared for the costs of starting a family. Over the next 45 years, he continued to work in the steel and machine industry, in the later years as a bookkeeper/manager for a Michigan tool-and-die company, as three more sons were born.

Carl knew he was doing the right thing when he took that job in the factory, and did it enthusiastically. He considered himself fortunate to be able to find not just one but two good jobs in an era when the economy was still recovering from the Great Depression and the job market was flooded with returned GIs.

Working with molten metal could be dangerous, but the dangers were apparent, and Carl took every precaution to protect himself so he could return home safe to his family. What he didn't realize, however, was that the asbestos used at the casting operation was an insidious poison. He didn't realize that the asbestos industry had known for decades that the stuff could kill, but would continue to profitably market it for another twenty years, while actively using their financial muscle to keep the general public in the dark and prevent governments from stopping them.

Last month, Carl injured himself tripping on the stairs and ended up in the hospital with a compression fracture of his spine: what he thought was causing the terrible pain he'd been experiencing in his abdomen. The doctors, however, discovered that his lungs were filled with a rare form of lung cancer - mesothelioma - that is almost always caused by exposure to asbestos. Last week his doctor told him he had six months to live, and he lives daily with excruciating pain. All because he wanted to do right by his family.

I'm writing this note from Stadtsteinach, Germany, where today I walked along the "Prophet's Way" path with my old friend and mentor, Gottfried Mueller, who's still going strong in his 90s. We went to a sacred place in the forest to say a prayer for Carl and his wife, Jean, who is understandably terrified by the prospect of losing her husband so suddenly to such a hideous disease, and aches at his pain.

On the way back from our walk, Herr Mueller asked me, "How is it that companies could sell asbestos when they knew it would kill people? Why do they poison our food with pesticides when we know that organic agriculture produces better yields and healthier soil?" He swept his arm in an arc encompassing the Bavarian forest around us, many of the trees browning from acid rain. "And why is our air so toxic that it's killing the forests?"

It was, of course, a rhetorical question. We both knew that the answer was that democracy - the idea of government of, by, and for the people - has been twisted and perverted and essentially taken over by entities driven by a single value: profit. And it's happening all over the world.

Which is not to say that profit is a bad thing. Carl, for example, was happy that the company he worked for made enough profit that its owners would keep it in business and pay him a salary. Profit can drive healthy economies, and has its rightful place in the halls of business.

But profit has no place in the halls of governments, which were created by and for living humans. When corporations took over writing the rules that "we, the people" originally put in place to regulate and control profit-driven enterprises, then a sickness known as corporatism seized control of governments, and their people were the first ones to suffer for it. Virtually all legislation in nations that still call themselves democracies now passes through the filters of corporate lobbyists and corporate-funded think-tanks: democracy itself is at risk.

The main engine of corporatism - the chink in governmental law that makes it possible for corporations to so corrupt governmental processes - is an obscure legal doctrine first embraced in 1886 by the Reporter of the U.S. Supreme Court called "corporate personhood." This doctrine suggests that non-living, non-breathing entities called corporations should have the same rights the Founders of democracy defined (in the US in the "Bill of Rights") first for white men, and were extended after the U.S. Civil War to freed slaves, and to women and more fully to people of color in the 1960s via several different anti-discrimination laws.

It turns out that this doctrine of corporations as "persons" was a mistake from the beginning: while the reporter wrote that the Court had agreed with corporate personhood, the court itself, and its chief justice, had specifically and repeatedly ruled against it. (You'll find a photograph of the actual handwritten letter from Morrison R. Waite, the U.S. Supreme Court's Chief Justice, on my website: he said: "we avoided meeting the constitutional question [of corporate personhood] in the decision.")

But because of the words of the reporter, and the promotion of those words by corporations in the decades following 1886, corporations have seized so many "human rights" that they can now prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from performing inspections of their factories by claiming 4th Amendment "privacy rights." They claim they can give unlimited money to politicians - a process that before 1886 was called bribery and was criminal behavior for corporations in virtually all states - by claiming that they are entitled to 1st Amendment free speech rights. They claim that if the majority of the citizens of a local community do not want them to do business in that community, then they are the victims of "discrimination" and can sue that community and its elected officials.

Even though corporations are not alive and cannot vote, they claim the right to influence elections. Even though they do not need fresh water to drink or clean air to breathe, they claim the right to influence the government agencies that were created to regulate them. Even though they have no color or creed or religion, they claim that human people who speak against them are violating their civil rights. Even though they can live for hundreds of years and are not harmed by asbestos, arsenic, tobacco, or other toxins, they claim the human right of privacy to not disclose to governments or to workers and consumers the dangers they know about their own products.

So we now face a crisis that is at once environmental, political, and spiritual/moral. According to the AFL-CIO in a report released for April 28ths Workers Memorial Day, "On an average day in 2004, 152 workers lost their lives as a result of workplace injuries and diseases and another 11,780 were injured." The rate of death and disability among workers has been climbing since Bush became president for the first time in decades, in large part because funding for OSHA and mine safety have been cut. At the same time, Bill Frist and Senate and House Republicans want to wipe out asbestos victim's right to sue for damages (they promote it as "helping asbestos victims"), to protect companies like Halliburton that have huge asbestos liabilities.

How can we best return to our governments the essential values of protecting the "life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness" of their people, and separate from our governments contamination by the profit motive, which rightly should remain in the realm of business and not politics? How do we awaken our voters from the spiritual malaise of consumerism run amok? And what are the most appropriate and practical and positive steps we can take now to remedy the damage already done to our air, food, water, and other commons by the recent insinuation of corporatism into our legislatures and high political offices?

The first part of the answer is for us to awaken to the very real moral and spiritual dilemma we face. This a moral and spiritual dilemma because it transcends politics: it literally means life or death for our citizens and our planet.

Next, we must show up at the ballot box and send clear messages to our elected officials to correct this illness in our body politic. And, then (or perhaps concurrently), we must convince our governments to use their powers of persuasion (through policies like tax breaks and other incentives) to promote renewable and non-toxic forms of energy, agriculture, and medicine, and re-empower our regulatory agencies which have been so badly infiltrated and taken over by the very corporations they were put in place to constrain.

If we do this, and do it soon, our children may still inherit a world that can is just and decent and healthy.

And if you'd like to say a prayer for Carl, I know him well enough to believe that he'd appreciate it. I was his first child.


Thom Hartmann is a Project Censored Award-winning best-selling author and host of a nationally syndicated daily progressive talk show carried on the Air America Radio network and Sirius. His most recent books include The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, Unequal Protection, We The People, What Would Jefferson Do? and Ultimate Sacrifice (co-authored with Lamar Waldron). His next book, due out this autumn, is Screwed: The Undeclared War on the Middle Class and What We Can Do About It.

Katrina Report Rips the White House Anew

By Lara Jakes Jordan
The Associated Press

Thursday 27 April 2006

A Senate inquiry into the government's Hurricane Katrina failures ripped the Bush administration anew Thursday and urged the scrapping of the nation's disaster response agency. But with a new hurricane season just weeks away, senators conceded that few if any of their proposals could become reality in time.

The bipartisan investigation into one of the worst natural disasters in the nation's history singled out President Bush and the White House as appearing indifferent to the devastation until two days after the storm hit.

It said the Homeland Security Department either misunderstood federal disaster plans or refused to follow them. And it said New Orleans for years had neglected to prepare for large-scale emergencies.

"The suffering that continued in the days and weeks after the storm passed did not happen in a vacuum; instead, it continued longer that it should have because of - and was in some cases exacerbated by - the failure of government at all levels to plan, prepare for and respond aggressively to the storm," concluded the report.

It was titled "Hurricane Katrina: A Nation Still Unprepared," sober words for the future.

The Senate inquiry is the third major federal report on the government failures exposed by the Aug. 29 storm, which killed more than 1,300 people and which the Senate Budget Committee says has so far cost the federal government $103 billion.

The report follows similar inquiries by the House and White House and comes in an election year in which Democrats have pointed critically to the administration's Katrina response.

The senators concluded that only by abolishing the Federal Emergency Management Agency - which Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, called a "bumbling bureaucracy" - and replacing it with a stronger authority could the government best respond to future catastrophes.

But the two lawmakers who led the inquiry, Collins and Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., said such an overhaul could not be completed by the June 1 start of the hurricane season.

"As a practical matter, that's just five weeks away, and it's not going to happen," Collins told reporters. "But that doesn't mean that we should continue in the long term to operate with a system that's failed, that is so clearly flawed."

Looking ahead to approaching hurricane season, Collins added: "We're clearly better prepared than last year, but are we prepared enough? No, we're not."

Underscoring the hurdles the proposals face, eliminating FEMA got a cool reception from the White House as Bush traveled to the still-ravaged Gulf Coast to view rebuilding efforts in New Orleans and Mississippi.

"My thoughts are is that we've got to make sure it functions well. We're coming into a hurricane season," he said in an interview with "NBC Nightly News."

Earlier, White House homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend, said, "Now is not the time to look at moving organizational boxes around."

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco said: "FEMA is injured. It's going to take more than surgery and a cast to mend it. To restore the nation's confidence in times of crisis, the call for help must be answered and it must be answered quickly."

Besides dumping FEMA, the report makes 85 other recommendations, from clarifying who's responsible for maintaining New Orleans levees to demanding better plans for protecting or evacuating elderly and poor victims.

The report calls for more funding for disaster planning and response, but does not specify how much or where the money would come from.

The Bush administration says it has been working to prepare for what the National Hurricane Center has predicted will be an active decade for hurricanes. It is rebuilding New Orleans levees, prodding local governments to update evacuation plans and hire emergency workers, and creating databases to order and track food and other supplies needed during disasters.

Though the new report singles out officials from New Orleans to Washington for blame - and lambastes Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff in particular - it gives Bush a mixed review for his performance. It credits the president for declaring an emergency before the hurricane's landfall, but faults him for waiting until two days after it hit to return to Washington and convene top officials to coordinate the federal response.

Lieberman, in an addendum, took sharper aim at Bush, who he said appeared distracted from the disaster as it unfolded. "The president is, after all, the commander in chief - not only in terms of international crises, but in terms of catastrophes here at home," he said.

Not all the senators who participated in the seven-month inquiry agreed with its central recommendation - to create a National Preparedness and Response Authority but keep it within the oversight of Homeland Security Department to draw on the larger department's resources.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (news, bio, voting record), D-N.J., said FEMA needs to be stripped out of the larger department and restored as an independent Cabinet-level agency. "That's how it was done in the past and it worked as we hoped," said Lautenberg, a member of the Senate panel.

But Robert Latham, director of Mississippi's emergency response efforts, said lingering funding and manpower problems should be addressed before such a drastic step is taken.

"Changing the name of something doesn't fix a problem, other than maybe fixes a perception," Latham said. "Maybe FEMA has taken such a bashing that the name recognition itself will be hard to overcome."

"Nothing Prepared Me for Bush"

By Onnesha Roychoudhuri

Friday 28 April 2006

Robert Scheer has reported on every administration since Richard Nixon. But as he says in this interview, he never expected the lies and cynicism of Bush II.

With over 65 percent of Americans disapproving of our current president, why can't we get some credible opposition in Washington? As we head towards midterm elections, and look ahead to those of 2008, it's a question that is weighing heavily on millions of American minds.

Two longtime observers of our increasingly corrupt political system, Robert Scheer and Joe Klein have written books documenting the causes and the consequences. After 30 years covering politics, Scheer and Klein have some startling insights.

In conversation with AlterNet, Scheer explains why he thinks Nixon was one of the great policymakers of our time. Come back Monday to see Klein discuss how we can tell when politicians mean what they say. While Klein and Scheer have a distinctly different set of politics, you'll be surprised at their unified call for reform - and a cause that progressives can rally behind.

Robert Scheer spent over 30 years interviewing American presidents and candidates since Nixon, but it was only in retrospect that he discovered a disturbing pattern. Scheer's new book Playing President: My Close Encounters with Nixon, Carter, Bush I, Reagan and Clinton - and How They Did Not Prepare Me for George W. Bush explores the crippling effects the campaign process had on every candidate he interviewed - and how our presidents have become increasingly out of touch with American voters.

As one of the last print journalists to spend extended periods of time with candidates, Scheer's close examination of our political process, and how the media covers it, points to the flaws that led to the election of George W. Bush. AlterNet spoke with Scheer about what we got right, what we got wrong, and why in the face of such an unpopular president, we still find ourselves "drowning in lesser evildom."

Onnesha Roychoudhuri: How did the idea for this book come about?

Robert Scheer: I teach at USC, and it's obvious to anyone who teaches college students that they don't cover much modern history and certainly not the modern presidency. I start every term in my Media and Society class by showing Oliver Stone's "Nixon," and then I bring in John Dean.

They've never heard of John Dean, they barely know what Watergate was about, and by the end of three hours, they seem quite excited and recognize its importance. This book is in a way an attempt to collect some of the interviews and profiles with a new analysis at the beginning of each - a primer on the American presidency from Nixon to the present.

The big idea that came out of rereading all the stuff that I had done over the years was the process of running for president - that's where the "Playing President" title comes in. The process itself is so debilitating, so controlling, that it really doesn't matter who these guys are or what they start out with.

Even with the best of intentions, even when they're very smart and knowledgeable - as opposed to George W., who is neither - it doesn't seem to matter. All they are proving is their ability to manipulate, to think superficially, and to exploit national security issues rather than deal with them.

OR: Can you explain the title of the book?

RS: "Playing President" is an attempt to capture what it's really all about. Trying out for the role becomes the dominant experience, and by the time you get into office, you've been shaped by it and keep playing out the part. What you've learned to do in the process is to be superficial, to suspend more profound thoughts, to silence your own doubts and your own serious thinking.

OR: Why does that happen?

RS: It's built into our political process, particularly in a mass society with a mass media with a large owning bloc of almost 300 million citizens. What I was able to observe in these campaigns is it really didn't matter that Nixon had a lot of experience and a lot of ideas.

The reason he got to be president is that he was good at presenting himself in certain ways, manipulating information and covering up inadequacies. That's pretty much true of all of them, and that was something that hadn't jumped out at me before I put it all together in this book.

OR: Looking back on these different presidencies, do you think that this concept of "playing president," this artifice, has intensified?

RS: There's no question about that. I was able to do something that people can't do these days, which is to have quality time with the guys who were trying to be president and a number of them who got the job.

For example, I spent a lot of time with Reagan, both before he ran for governor and when he was running for president. As a print reporter without the cameras, I was able to really test the quality of their minds and their knowledge base. I don't think you can do that anymore.

These guys get booked into television. I guess in a sense this is the last broad view from a pre-electronic journalist. Whether I was writing for Playboy or for the L.A. Times, it was still basically one journalist with a tape recorder. There was no crew traveling with me. Also, the candidates were willing - either for nostalgic reasons because [they] still thought print was important, or because their campaign managers thought it was important - to give me a lot of time.

OR: Do you think there are any other components aside from this shift in medium that are contributing to how wooing voters and electioneering has changed over time?

RS: The role of money and the role of manipulation with campaign professionals. Much of what candidates have to do is raise money and appeal to constituencies or interest groups that can provide that money. That means presenting the issues in certain ways that will appeal to those people and then becoming a prisoner of your own language and thought process. That has always happened - it's just been intensified.

For instance, Clinton who was unquestionably the smartest of the bunch I talked to - both the ones who made it and didn't. He had a great interest in policy. When I interviewed him as a candidate he was very sharp on the issues but also very manipulative. That manipulative quality came to dominate his presidency despite his better instincts and his knowledge base.

The issue I highlight in the book is welfare reform. When I interviewed him as a candidate, he was very clear that poverty programs, particularly welfare, had to remain federal in order to keep it accountable. He acknowledged that you had to spend more money, not less - this isn't a way of balancing the budget. He betrayed those principles when he did his welfare reform. He turned it back over to the states, and they didn't spend more money.

What Clinton severed with his welfare reform was the obligation of the federal government to step in when the states failed and to monitor these programs. Maybe Wisconsin did a slightly better job than Texas, but we have no way of knowing this. The hurricane in Louisiana demonstrated this best of all: Suddenly, there are all these poor people, and people are asking, "Where'd they come from?" We assume that if we force them off welfare, they must be better off. We used to have the congressional greenbook which had good federal statistics on where people were in relation to welfare and these programs. We don't have that anymore.

OR: Who is responsible for allowing this kind of manipulation to become more prevalent? Is it the press? The public?

RS: The press doesn't care. The media, because it's been driven much more by market competition and competition with electronic media. They're doing this "gotcha" journalism. What passes for investigative journalism is finding somebody with their pants down - literally or otherwise.

Sometimes they have a good one - like torture and the rendering of prisoners. Those are good stories. But in the main, there's no felt obligation to cover the economy, poverty, or foreign policy in any systematic way. When the print organizations had a more dominant power in their own markets and publishers that cared to excel or readers that demanded they excel, they felt the need to cover even the boring issues. Now there isn't any of that felt obligation at all.

OR: Why is that? You think it has to do with the rise of electronic media?

RS: It's very competitive. When I started out, there was a sense that the story should have substance. While my Jimmy Carter interview got big headlines all over the world for the "lust in his heart" comment, the fact of the matter is that I was exploring some serious issues. Would he get us into another Vietnam? What does it mean, religion into politics? It's a substantive interview, sometimes to the point of boredom.

When I interviewed Reagan, there was some very detailed discussion. I talked to Reagan for about six hours all told. and Reagan was willing to go along with it. He didn't look at his watch, and he didn't allow his campaign aides to cut it off. He said, "Bring it on." They don't do that anymore. They get in trouble that way. They don't think the voters are thoughtful and serious. All they are looking to do is play to their base and to the people who will put up money, and then win. And they always have in the back of their mind that, when they win, they're going to do something wonderful. But by that time, they're deformed by the grueling campaign experience, and they've developed this habit of opportunism.

I'm worried why the policies get so screwed up. Why does an intelligent, reasonable guy like Bill Clinton endorse a welfare reform policy that is an absolute disaster? Why did Jimmy Carter, who turns out to be a really sensitive, pro-peace kind of ex-president, listen to the hawks in his administration, and overrule Cy Vance and get us into a new chapter of the Cold War?

OR: Do you have thoughts on why?

RS: I think only so much can be attributed to campaign handlers. It's what the process demands from the candidate during the trial period in order to make it. When Howard Dean started saying some honest things, they hung him. The leader of a party in a parliamentary system can develop a more coherent view of where they're going to take the country and how they see the nation and the world. In the basic go-round they just have to appeal to their group and show they have their head screwed on right.

The woman who is now head of Germany, whether you like her or not, wasn't elected on her personality. In fact, she was quite often criticized for her personality, but the people in her party thought she had a coherent view of where she wanted the economy and foreign policy to go.

OR: Do you think American voters care enough about the substance of policy?

RS At the end of the day they do. When their taxes are wasted and their sons and daughters are killed in a meaningless war, when fanaticism is unleashed around the world because we follow stupid policies, and when we can't save a city like New Orleans, yeah, I think they care. And when gas prices go up even though they were supposed to have gone down with the conquest of Iraq, I think they care. But the media fails them in not making a connection between the things they care about and the positions that these politicians take.

OR: Do you think it's possible to see what kind of policy decisions they're going to make based on the campaign?

RS: It is, but that would require the journalists and the news organizations being committed to getting that story. It certainly was done better before the electronic media. People traveled around with the candidate, and they could ask serious questions.

OR: Your Carter interviews stand out because it took you such a long time to try to get to the bottom of the his contradictions.

RS: Journalists are not all-knowing and all-seeing. You can have it wrong. What I tell people about the art of the interview is what you tell kids: Keep your listening ears open. You can't go in with a bunch of programmed questions. That's what a lot of this media stuff is now. "Are you going to fire Cheney? Yes? No?" or "Did you get a blow job or not?"

When I went to interview Clinton the first time he was running, I went to the L.A. Times bureau in Little Rock to see what we had on how he'd actually governed as the governor. I said, "Does anybody know what he did here?" There was only interest in whether his mother got some money from some program or sexual scandals. The journalists are no longer committed to a thoughtful examination.

OR: Has it been frustrating for you - to see the same issues that plague our country come up time and again? Are you hopeful, or have you become more cynical?

RS: It is true that the same issues come up, and we don't make as much progress as we could. Immigration is a good example. I've been covering immigration for 40 years now. The truth of the matter is quite simple: If you don't want people coming here, don't have the jobs. The way not to have the jobs is to enforce the labor laws and to go after employers. Politicians aren't going to do that because they're important sectors of the economy that are dependent upon this cheap labor force.

Every four or five years, we get some new hysteria about immigration when the fact is that undocumented workers, illegal immigrants, are contributing much more to society than taking out. Anyone who really studies it knows that, but you can find all kinds of ways of using it to fan the flames of hysteria. It's a sign of progress that there was a recent outpouring of people who know better, particularly people in the immigrant communities. They stopped Congress from doing some terrible mischief.

There's the same old national security hysteria, the call for bigger and bigger defense budgets when we're trying to stop people who use box cutters and primitive knives to capture airplanes. But there are signs of progress: sites like AlterNet, MoveOn, Buzzflash and Truthdig, where you can go to get alternative information.

OR: You say in your book that George W. Bush is the first electronically projected president. Can you explain that?

RS: This administration doesn't feel they need a mindful audience. They don't care about facts, logic or consequences. They are the most cynical people that I've ever encountered in politics. This is the most cynical bunch - just think about that "reality-based community" quote. They create their own reality. I don't think I've ever seen that kind of cynicism before, and I'm the guy who interviewed Richard Nixon.

These guys are, as John Dean keeps pointing out, far worse than the Nixon crowd because they think they can get away with it. Nixon, at the end of the day thought it mattered what the New York Times said. He felt that if there was a big contradiction, a big error, they would catch him and there would be all hell to pay.

There's no longer that feeling. Over the years, I'm not getting cynical - they're cynical. If I were truly cynical I wouldn't be talking to you, and I wouldn't be writing and teaching. Mark Twain said a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth puts its pants on. Well, the fact is the truth does get its pants on, it does catch up, and right now 65 percent of Americans think Bush lied to them.

OR: Between that kind of arrogance seen in your interview with George H.W. Bush, and the showsmanship we see with Reagan, who is a better comparison to George W.?

RS: As we say in the subtitle of the book, none of them prepared me for Bush. Reagan had been on the election circuit on issues. I didn't have to agree with him, but when he was a salesman for G.E. and head of the Actor's Guild, he was talking about issues of foreign policy and domestic policy. He cared about these things and collected anecdotes and information that supported his views. When he was running, he was aware of the issues and what was at stake.

That was true of all of them. They were adults, and this guy, George W., as far as I can figure, is just a spoiled preppy, as he's been described. What he's done is rely on his tutors and he picked, unfortunately for us voters, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.

OR: Are Americans capable of recognizing a good president?

RS: I do. I think the problem here was the failure of the democrats. When Kerry was asked by Bush, "Knowing what you know now, would you have gone into Iraq?" he should have said, "No." He should have said, "You lied to Congress, you lied to the American people, it's unconscionable." He would have won the election, but Kerry was not comfortable in his own skin. Here's the boy-scout war hero who seemed to be faking it, and yet in real life, this guy performed every time. And there's George W., who has been faking it his whole life and somehow came across as more genuine.

OR: The book does a good job of showing how presidents have used their foreign policy to manipulate voters. Can you explain this?

RS: When it comes to national security and foreign policy, the public is particularly vulnerable. When you're writing about a local school board race, or whether that traffic light should be moved, readers and voters are very smart because they can figure it all out. They know whether the school is working, and whether the light should be moved.

When you're dealing with foreign policy, the information can be kept from you. You can't tell someone that wants to know about police arrest records that they can't be made public. Everybody knows that we have a right to that information. You can't use the national security argument.

In foreign policy, we have classification and secrecy, and the public comes to believe that maybe it's necessary, that we can't be told everything because lives are at stake. It's much easier for leaders on that level to manipulate and to exploit our fears. What the Bush people are able to do is say that we're in this endless war on terror, so we can torture, lie and distort the facts. Hardly a day goes by that we don't have another credible witness to the lying of this administration, and yet they can get away with it because we're in this permanent war.

OR: How do we reclaim the sanity? How should politicians appeal to the public?

RS: They should have some courage. If you speak honestly to the American people, you can find an audience. Truth does come out. The problem is whether it comes out in time to prevent a great deal of damage in the world. I'm very optimistic about being able to get the word out there. You can't measure our success or failure by a simple standard. We have learned lessons about Iraq. It is more difficult to intervene. Just as we did with the Cold War, we are developing a more complex view of Muslim fundamentalists and what's going on in the world. We are starting to think in more complex terms. The public is getting an education.

I don't want to leave it just on the evil of the Republicans. The fact is that the Democratic leadership bears a great deal of responsibility. That last convention with Kerry was an atrocity - he was trying to out-jingo, out-patriot the Republicans. Look at the leading Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. She's unwilling to criticize this war. What does that mean? That we're going to have Democratic candidates that don't discuss the most important issue in the country? That's nutty. Fortunately there are a lot of people refusing to accept that.

OR: It seems like many politicians are failing to view themselves as leaders. Rather, they're operating out of a cowardice or fear.

RS: Which is why we can't follow them. We need to develop a countervailing progressive force - that's the great strength of the internet. It's time to put a lot of pressure on Hillary, to ask her, "Why can't you come out against this war? What was wrong with your health plan? What would you do differently this time?" And what about single payer? Why can't we ever talk about it? Everybody recognizes that the medical system is a big mess. Why can't one enlightened progressive state experiment with single payer for once? Why can't some Democrats get behind that? I do think we need some real leadership. But in the absence of such leadership, at least we ought to have healthy, alert centers of media that challenge them.

OR: Did the book come out the way you expected it?

RS: No. I ended up being kind to Nixon and critical of Carter. But, at some point you have to let the facts and logic have their own weight. It was the opportunism of Carter that helped bring about bin Laden. That's just the reality, and I'm not going to muscle that because it's convenient in making a larger argument against George W.

I think, as a journalist and as an active political person, you have to go with the truth. I was really surprised when the book came out and I read it from cover to cover. When you're writing it in these different chunks, you don't know how it's all going to add up. But you've got to let it carry its own weight.

For instance, on Carter, I went back and read all the writing I did at the time, and I quote Bob Dole. Bob Dole nailed Carter on Afghanistan and I thought, damn it, he's right. It's the same with Clinton: Why did he let the right wing attacks on him prevent him from doing what he needed to do about al Qaida. He could have sent in the special force in Afghanistan. He could have taken them out. It was a clear line of responsibility. He could have done it with a lot of international support. He didn't do it. And so he failed.

OR: What do you hope people will take away from your book?

RS: Empowering people is an overworked term, but I still believe in it. One reason I teach is because it's an exercise in humility. If you don't empower your students, you lose them. You can't propagandize or sloganeer them, or their eyes glaze over, and they're out the door.

I've been doing this a long time, and if you want to reach people, you have to be ruthlessly honest about what you don't know, what you do know, and where you're coming from. We need to let people know there are real issues to think about, and that they're interesting and exciting. They affect your life.


Onnesha Roychoudhuri is an assistant editor at AlterNet.

(Editor's Note: Be sure to read an excerpt from "Playing President," posted today on