Dear Friend of Women Artists,
As you know, the USA PATRIOT Act gave the federal government unfettered access to a whole host of personal information, including library and bookstore records. Librarians and bookstore owners are not even allowed to alert customers to the fact that they have been approached for information. This power infringes on one of our most basic rights, the right to be an informed citizenry, the right to read.
Happily, booksellers, librarians and members of Congress have launched a campaign to restore protections for the privacy of bookstore and library records. The introduction of H.R. 1157, the Freedom to Read Protection Act of 2003, was announced at a Washington press conference on March 6 by Congressman Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Further discussion of the issues and list of Congressmembers who have now signed on as co-sponsors of the bill can be found at the web site of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee: http://www.bordc.org/freedomtoread.htm - current. The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression web sit is also helpful: http://www.abffe.com/.
Please contact your member of Congress and urge him or her to cosponsor the bill. If (s)he is already a co-sponsor, please thank her/him and urge them to oppose any further roll-backs of our constitutional rights (e.g. PATRIOT II.) To find contact information for your Congressional Representative, or to find out who your representative is, go to: http://www.visi.com/juan/congress/You can use language from the Talking Points below in composing your letter; or use your own words!
Talking Points from ABFFE
Freedom to Read Protection Act (H.R. 1157)
Privacy is an essential element of First Amendment freedom.
Our society places the highest value on the ability to speak freely on any subject. But freedom of speech depends on the freedom to explore ideas privately. Customers in a bookstore and patrons of a library must feel free to request books about health, religion, politics, the law or any other subject without fear that their choices may be made public. If they are uncertain that their privacy will be respected, they lose the freedom to buy and borrow the books they need to form and express opinions. For this reason, several courts have ruled that bookstore records enjoy First Amendment protection. In 1998, a federal court blocked Kenneth Starr's efforts to obtain Monica Lewinsky's book purchase records. In April 2002, the justice of the Colorado Supreme Court unanimously suppressed a search warrant that had been issued to the Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver.
The Patriot Act threatens the privacy of bookstore and library records.
Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act eliminates several important safeguards that prevent law enforcement officials in foreign intelligence investigations from engaging in fishing expeditions in bookstore and library records. FBI agents can search the bookstore or library records of anyone who they believe may have information relevant to their investigations, including people who are not suspected of committing a crime. The request for a court order authorizing the search is heard by a judge in a secret proceeding, which prevents a bookseller or librarian from objecting on First Amendment grounds. The court order contains a gag provision that forbids a bookseller or librarian to alert anyone to the fact that a search has occurred. As a result, it is impossible to protest the search even after the fact.
H.R. 1157 restores the privacy protections that were eliminated by the Patriot Act
The Freedom to Read Protection Act restores the protections for the privacy of bookstore and library records that existed before the passage of the Patriot Act. Introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on March 6 by Congressman Bernie Sanders (I-VT), H.R. 1157 is co-sponsored by 58 House members, including Democrats and Republicans representing every political perspective-liberal, conservative and moderate.
Many thanks and best wishes,
The Fund for Women Artists
P.O. Box 60637
Florence, MA 01062
Last week, Cecilia Vicuna asked me to read from Armand Schwerner’s The Tablets (Orono, Maine: National Poetry Foundation, 1999) at an event she was organizing at New York’s Poets House on May 12 to protest, and lament, the looting of the Baghdad museum, and other cultural sites. Schwerner’s Tablets is based on a scholar/translator’s reconstruction of a set of Sumero-Arkkadian clay tables from 4,000 years ago, as Schwerner frames the poem, which is, nonetheless, entirely his own creation.
The event opened with a presentation by Marc Van De Mieroop, of Columbia University, in which he speculated that the destruction of artifacts that took place in Iraq last month was part of an American program to wipe out the cultural past of Iraq. I presented an alternative, equally dark, speculation: that the destruction might not be the result of a deliberate American campaign to target Iraqi antiquities but rather a product of the brutal indifference to culture, foreign and domestic, that has been the hallmark of the current Executive Branch of the U.S. government.
The evening consisted largely of readings in translation of contemporary Iraqui poets, almost all poets in exile. Schwerner, who was born in Belgium in 1929 and came to the U.S. a decade later, is also a poet of exile, but one who became an American poet; indeed, a native American poet, if you believe, as I do, that exile is a native, indeed foundational, experience for American poetry.
A few days after I received Cecilia’s invitation, something odd occurred. A received an email from a trusted confederate in the Washington, D.C. area, that a new Tablet had been discovered in the subbasement level below the residence of Paul Wolfowitz. Startling news. Although we can’t yet be sure of authenticity of the Tablet – and our verification team has not been given enough time with the Tablet to verify it – preliminary evidence suggests that this Tablet is the work of Donald Rumsfeld and that it was composed between April 10 and 12. After reading Schwerner’s “Tablet II”, I gave the first public reading of the “Rumsfeld Tablet”:
[Very interesting, critical lecture by MSNBC correspondent Ashleigh Banfield that's gotten her into some trouble. It's basically a call to end the practice of embedded journalism for reasons that are might be too esoteric for a lecture like this, but really cross over into issues of technology and media that a lot more "highbrow" pomo thinkers have been pondering, perhaps a bit too passively, for years. This is an excerpt -- the rest follows (click "more"). I lifted the whole thing from Alternet so that comments could be left here about it.]
[...] That said, what didn't you see? You didn't see where those bullets landed. You didn't see what happened when the mortar landed. A puff of smoke is not what a mortar looks like when it explodes, believe me. There are horrors that were completely left out of this war. So was this journalism or was this coverage-? There is a grand difference between journalism and coverage, and getting access does not mean you're getting the story, it just means you're getting one more arm or leg of the story. And that's what we got, and it was a glorious, wonderful picture that had a lot of people watching and a lot of advertisers excited about cable news. But it wasn't journalism, because I'm not so sure that we in America are hesitant to do this again, to fight another war, because it looked like a glorious and courageous and so successful terrific endeavor, and we got rid oaf horrible leader: We got rid of a dictator, we got rid of a monster, but we didn't see what it took to do that.
Editor's Note: The following is the text of MSNBC correspondent Ashleigh Banfield's Landon Lecture given at Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas, on April 24. Her comments sparked a media controversy which reportedly prompted her NBC employers to severely reprimand Banfield. While she has not commented on the issue, an NBC spokeswoman told reporters Monday, "She and we both agreed that she didn't intend to demean the work of her colleagues, and she will choose her words more carefully in the future."
Thank you very much. Thank you, Mr. President. That was a very kind introduction. I would love to say that I'm a hero and was able to save this woman, but she was fine. I just gave her a quick checkover and she was just fine. But it was quite an adventure, nonetheless, and Chuck and I have a story to tell for the rest of time.
Thank you so much, by the way, for inviting me to be here. This is a real treat and a real honor. The last time I was in Manhattan, Kansas, there were a lot of other stories that were making top headlines, not the least of which were the anniversary of 9/11, the continued hunt for Osama bin Laden, the whereabouts of Elizabeth Smart, and what was to become of Saddam Hussein; and we have some resolution on very few of these stories, but we certainly know at least what Saddam Hussein is not up to these days, and it's leading Iraq.
So I suppose you watch enough television to know that the big TV show is over and that the war is now over essentially – the major combat operations are over anyway, according to the Pentagon and defense officials – but there is so much that is left behind. And I'm not just talking about the most important thing, which is, of course, the leadership of a Middle Eastern country that could possibly become an enormous foothold for American and foreign interests. But also what Americans find themselves deciding upon when it comes to news, and when it comes to coverage, and when it comes to war, and when it comes to what's appropriate and what's not appropriate any longer.
I think we all were very excited about the beginnings of this conflict in terms of what we could see for the first time on television. The embedded process, which I'll get into a little bit more in a few moments, was something that we've never experienced before, neither as reporters nor as viewers. The kinds of pictures that we were able to see from the front lines in real time on a video phone, and sometimes by a real satellite link-up, was something we'd never seen before and were witness to for the first time.
And there are all sorts of good things that come from that, and there are all sorts of terrible things that come from that. The good things are the obvious. This is one more perspective that we all got when it comes to warfare, how it's fought and how tough these soldiers are, what the conditions are like and what it really looks like when they're firing those M-16s rapidly across a river, or across a bridge, or into a building.
There were a lot of journalists who were skeptical of this embedding process before we all embarked on this kind of news coverage before this campaign. Many thought that this was just another element of propaganda from the American government. I suppose you could look at it that way. It certainly did show the American side of things, because that's where we were shooting from. But it also showed what can go wrong.
It also gave journalists, including Al-Jazeera journalists and Arab television journalists and Arab newspaper journalists, who were also embedded, it also gave them the opportunity to see without any kinds of censorship how these fights were being fought, how these soldiers were behaving, what the civil affairs soldiers were doing, and what the humanitarian assistants really looked like. Was it just a line we were being fed, or were they really on the ground with boxes of water and boxes of food?
So for that element alone it was a wonderful new arm of access that journalists got to warfare. Perhaps not that new, because we all knew what it looked like at Vietnam and what a disaster that was for the government, but this did put us in a very, very close line of sight to the unfolding disasters.
That said, what didn't you see? You didn't see where those bullets landed. You didn't see what happened when the mortar landed. A puff of smoke is not what a mortar looks like when it explodes, believe me. There are horrors that were completely left out of this war. So was this journalism or was this coverage-? There is a grand difference between journalism and coverage, and getting access does not mean you're getting the story, it just means you're getting one more arm or leg of the story. And that's what we got, and it was a glorious, wonderful picture that had a lot of people watching and a lot of advertisers excited about cable news. But it wasn't journalism, because I'm not so sure that we in America are hesitant to do this again, to fight another war, because it looked like a glorious and courageous and so successful terrific endeavor, and we got rid oaf horrible leader: We got rid of a dictator, we got rid of a monster, but we didn't see what it took to do that.
I can't tell you how bad the civilian casualties were. I saw a couple of pictures. I saw French television pictures, I saw a few things here and there, but to truly understand what war is all about you've got to be on both sides. You've got to be a unilateral, someone who's able to cover from outside of both front lines, which, by the way, is the most dangerous way to cover a war, which is the way most of us covered Afghanistan. There were no front lines, they were all over the place. They were caves, they were mountains, they were cobbled, they were everything. But we really don't know from this latest adventure from the American military what this thing looked like and why perhaps we should never do it again. The other thing is that so many voices were silent in this war. We all know what happened to Susan Sarandon for speaking out, and her husband, and we all know that this is not the way Americans truly want to be. Free speech is a wonderful thing, it's what we fight for, but the minute it's unpalatable we fight against it for some reason.
That just seems to be a trend of late, and l am worried that it may be a reflection of what the news was and how the news coverage was coming across. This was a success, it was a charge it took only three weeks. We did wonderful things and we freed the Iraqi people, many of them by the way, who are quite thankless about this. There's got to be a reason for that. And the reason for it is because we don't have a very good image right now overseas, and a lot of Americans aren't quite sure why, given the fact that we sacrificed over a hundred soldiers to give them freedom.
Well, the message before we went in was actually weapons of mass destruction and eliminating the weapons of mass destruction from this regime and eliminating this regime. Conveniently in the week or two that we were in there it became very strongly a message of freeing the Iraqi people. That should have been the message early on, in fact, in the six to eight months preceding this campaign, if we were trying to win over the hearts of the Arab world.
That is a very difficult endeavor and from my travels to the Arab world, we're not doing a very good job of it. What you read in the newspapers and what you see on cable news and what you see on the broadcast news networks is nothing like they see over there, especially in a place like Iraq, where all they have access to is a newspaper called Babble, if you can believe it. It's really called Babble. And it was owned by well, owned and operated by Uday, who you know now is the crazier of Saddam's sons. And this is the kind of material that they have access to, and it paints us as the great Satan regularly, or at least it used to. I'm sure it's not in production right now. And it's not unlike many of the other newspapers in the Arab world either. You can't blame these poor sorts for not liking us. All they know is that we're crusaders. All they know is that we're imperialists. All they know is that we want their oil. They don't know otherwise. And I'll tell you, a lot of the people I spoke with in Afghanistan had never heard of the Twin Towers and most of them couldn't recognize a picture of George Bush.
So you're dealing with populations who don't know better and who are very suspect as to who these news liberators are, because every liberator before has justreeked havoc upon their lives and their children and their world. So I wasn't the least bit surprised to see these marches and these pilgrimages in the last few days telling the Americans, "Thanks for the freedom to march to Najaf and Karbala, but get out." You know, this wasn't that big of a surprise. I think it may be a surprise though to the Pentagon. I'm not sure that they were ready to deal with this many dissenters and this many supporters of an Islamic regime, like next door in Iran.
That will be a very interesting story to follow in the coming weeks and months, as to how this vacuum is filled and how we go about presenting a democracy to these people when – if we give them democracy they probably will ask us to get out, which is exactly what many of them want.
But it's interesting to be able to cover this. There's nothing in the world like being able to cross a green line whenever you want and speak to both sides of a conflict. I can't tell you how horrible and wonderful it is at the same time in the West Bank and Gaza and Israel. There are very few people in this world who can march right across guarded check points, closed military zones, and talk to Palestinians in the same day that they almost embedded with Israeli troops, and that's something that we get to do on a regular basis.
And I just wish that the leadership of all these different entities, ours included, could do the same thing, because they would have an eye opening experience, horrible and wonderful, all at the same time, and it would give a lot of insight as to how messages are heard and how you can negotiate. Because you cannot negotiate when someone can't hear you or refuses to hear you or can't even understand your language, and that's clearly what's happening in a lot of places in the world right now, the West Bank, Gaza and Israel, not the least of which there's very little listening and understanding going on. Our language is entirely different than theirs, and I don't just mean the words. When you hear the word Hezbollah you probably think evil, danger, terror right away. If I could just see a show of hands. Who thinks that Hezbollah is a bad word? Show of hands. Usually connotes fear, terror, some kind of suicide bombing. If you live in the Arab world, Hezbollah means Shriner. Hezbollah means charity, Hezbollah means hospitals, Hezbollah means welfare and jobs.
These are not the same organizations we're dealing with. How can you negotiate when you' re talking about two entirely different meanings? And until we understand – we don't have to like Hizbullah, we don't have to like their militancy, we don't have to like what they do on the side, but we have to understand that they like it, that they like the good things about Hizbullah, and that you can't just paint it with a blanket statement that it's a terrorist organization, because even when it comes to the militancy these people believe that militancy is simply freedom fighting and resistance. You can't argue with that. You can try to negotiate, but you can't say it's wrong flat out.
And that's some of the problems we have in dealing in this war in terror. As a journalist I'm often ostracized just for saying these messages, just for going on television and saying, "Here's what the leaders of Hezbullah are telling me and here's what the Lebanese are telling me and here's what the Syrians have said about Hezbullah. Here's what they have to say about the Golan Heights." Like it or lump it, don't shoot the messenger, but invariably the messenger gets shot.
We hired somebody on MSNBC recently named Michael Savage. Some of you may know his name already from his radio program. He was so taken aback by my dare to speak with Al -Aqsa Martyrs Brigade about why they do what they do, why they're prepared to sacrifice themselves for what they call a freedom fight and we call terrorism. He was so taken aback that he chose to label me as a slut on the air. And that's not all, as a porn star. And that's not all, as an accomplice to the murder of Jewish children. So these are the ramifications for simply being the messenger in the Arab world.
How can you discuss, how can you solve anything when attacks from a mere radio flak is what America hears on a regular basis, let alone at the government level? I mean, if this kind of attitude is prevailing, forget discussion, forget diplomacy, diplomacy is becoming a bad word.
I'm fascinated to find out how we are going to diplomatically fix what's broken now in Iraq because nobody thinks Jay Garner is going to be a leader for Iraq. They don't want him to be a leader. He says he doesn't want to be a leader, but he sure as heck wants to put a leader in there that is akin with our interests here in America so that we don't have to face this trouble again. Clearly it's the same kind of idea we had in Afghanistan with Hamid Karzai. You know, they all look at him as a puppet, we look at him as a success story. Again, two different languages being spoken and not enough coverage of that side.
Again, I'm not saying support for that side. There are a lot of things that I hate about that side but there's got to be the coverage, there's got to be the journalism, and sometimes that is really missing in our effort to make good TV and good cable news.
When I said the war was over I kind of mean that in the sense that cards are being pulled from this famous deck now of the 55 most wanted, and they're sort of falling out of the deck as quickly as the numbers are falling off the rating chart for the cable news stations. We have plummeted into the basement in the last week. We went from millions of viewers to just a few hundred thousand in the course of a couple of days.
Did our broadcasting change? Did we get boring? Did we all a sudden lose our flair? Did we start using language that people didn't want to hear? No, I think you've just had enough. I think you've seen the story, you've' seen how it ended, it ended pretty well in most American's view; it's time to move on.
What's the next big story? Is it Laci Peterson? Because Laci Peterson got a whole lot more minutes' worth of coverage on the cable news channels in the last week than we'd have ever expected just a few days after a regime fell, like Saddam Hussein.
I don't want to suggest for a minute that we are shallow people, we Americans. At times we are, but I do think that the phenomenon of our attention deficit disorder when it comes to watching television news and watching stories and then just being finished with them, I think it might come from the saturation that you have nowadays. You cannot walk by an airport monitor, you can't walk by most televisions in offices these days, in the public, without it being on a cable news channel. And if you're not in front of a TV you're probably in front of your monitor, where there is Internet news available as well.
You have had more minutes of news on the Iraq war in just the three-week campaign than you likely ever got in the years and years of network news coverage of Vietnam. You were forced to wait for it till six o'clock every night and the likelihood that you got more than about eight minutes of coverage in that half hour show, you probably didn't get a whole lot more than that, and it was about two weeks old, some of that footage, having been shipped back. Now it's real time and it is blanketed to the extent that we could see this one arm of the advance, but not where the bullets landed.
But I think the saturation point is reached faster because you just get so much so fast, so absolutely in real time that it is time to move on. And that makes our job very difficult, because we tend to leave behind these vacuums that are left uncovered. When was the last time you saw a story about Afghanistan? It's only been a year, you know. Only since the major combat ended, you were still in Operation Anaconda in not much more than 11 or 12 months ago, and here we are not touching Afghanistan at all on cable news.
There was just a memorandum that came through saying we're closing the Kabul bureau. The Kabul bureau has only been staffed by one person for the last several months, Maria Fasal, she's Afghan and she wanted to be there, otherwise I don't think anyone would have taken that assignment. There's just been no allotment of TV minutes for Afghanistan.
And I am very concerned that the same thing is about to happen with Iraq, because we're going to have another Gary Condit, and we're going to have another Chandra Levy and we're going to have another Jon Benet, and we're going to have another Elizabeth Smart, and here we are in Laci Peterson, and these stories will dominate. They're easy to cover, they're cheap, they're fast, you don't have to send somebody overseas, you don't have to put them up in a hotel that's expensive overseas, and you don't have to set up satellite time overseas. Very cheap to cover domestic news. Domestic news is music news to directors' ears.
But is that what you need to know? Don't you need to know what our personality is overseas and what the ramifications of these campaigns are? Because we went to Iraq, according to the President, to make sure that we were going to be safe from weapons of mass destruction, that no one would attack us. Well, did everything all of a sudden change? The terror alert went down. All of a sudden everything seems to be better, but I can tell you from living over there, it's not.
There are a lot of people who hate us, and it only takes one man who's crazy enough to strap a bunch of suicide devices onto his body to let us know that he can instill fear in even a place like Manhattan. You know, you're not immune from it. One suicide bomb in a mall in a small town in America can paralyze this country, because every small town will think it's vulnerable, not just New York, not just D.C., not just L.A., everybody. And we may not be far from that, and I'm desperately depressed that it's come to this, that it's come to the American shores in the worst way.
I was under the second tower when it came down in New York City on September 11th. I have a real stake in this, and I've got two friends whose remains haven't been found yet at the Trade Center, and that stays with you for quite awhile. It's important that we continue to want to know what happens overseas when we leave. It's important to demand coverage of these things. It's important because your safety and your future and your world and your children will depend on this stuff.
If we had paid more attention to Afghanistan in the '80s we might not have had 9-11. If we hadn't left it in such a mess, we might not have had 9-11 and three thousand people would be alive to talk to you today. If we do the same thing in lraq it is possible that without you even knowing, a brand new federation is formed where deals are made in secret, because the leadership is not allowed to talk about America in good ways, the street would blow up. Because that's essentially what happens everywhere else in the Arab world right now. You can't talk about making deals and allowing the Americans to use your military bases or you will be out like the Shah. Not in the election, of course, but you'd be out like the Shah. And most of these people worry about that. I'm very concerned that Iraq may end up the same way.
There was a reporter in the New York Times a couple days ago at the Pentagon. It was a report on the ground in Iraq that the Americans were going to have four bases that they would continue to use possibly on a permanent basis inside Iraq, kind of in a star formation, the north, the south, Baghdad and out west. Nobody was able to actually say what these bases would be used for, whether it was forward operations, whether it was simple access, but it did speak volumes to the Arab world who said, "You see, we told you the Americans were coming for their imperialistic need. They needed a foothold, they needed to control something in central and west Asia to make sure that we all next door come into line."
And these reports about Syria, well, they may have been breezed over fairly quickly here, but they are ringing loud still over there. Syria's next. And then Lebanon. And look out lran.
So whether we think it's plausible or whether the government even has any designs like that, the Arabs all think it's happening and they think it's for religious purposes for the most part. Again, most of them are so uneducated and they have such little access to media, what they do get is a very bad story, and there's no reason why they shouldn't be afraid as they are. You know, they just don't have the luck that we do of open information.'
One of the things I wanted to mention about the technology of this war, because I know that we've got questions that we want to get to, so I'll just tell you a little bit about some of the technology and how that's changed, perhaps not only how the fighters behave, but how we see things.
The tanks and the vehicles that are used in the front lines are so high tech that an artillery engineer can actually pinpoint a target that looks like a tiny stick man on a screen and simply destroy the target without ever seeing a warm body.
Some of the soldiers, according to our embeds had never seen a dead body throughout the entire three-week campaign. It was like Game Boy. I think that's amazing in two different ways. It makes you a far more successful warrior because you can just barrel right along but it takes away a lot of what war is all about, which is what I mentioned earlier. The TV technology took that away too. We couldn't see where the bullets landed. Nobody could see the horrors of this so that we seriously revisit the concept of warfare the next time we have to deal with it.
I think there were a lot of dissenting voices before this war about the horrors of war, but I'm very concerned about this three-week TV show and how it may have changed people's opinions. It was very sanitized.
It had a very brief respite from the sanitation when Terry Lloyd was killed, the ITN, and when David Bloom was killed and when Michael Kelley was killed. We all sort of sat back for a moment and realized, "God, this is ugly. This is hitting us at home now. This is hitting the noncombatants." But that went away quickly too.
This TV show that we just gave you was extraordinarily entertaining, and I really hope that the legacy that it leaves behind is not one that shows war as glorious, because there's nothing more dangerous than a democracy that thinks this is a glorious thing to do.
War is ugly and it's dangerous, and in this world the way we are discussed on the Arab street, it feeds and fuels their hatred and their desire to kill themselves to take out Americans. It's a dangerous thing to propagate.
I hope diplomacy is not dead. I hope that Colin Powell at one point would like to continue revisiting the French. I hope that he has success in Syria at some point with Basha Assad.
Whenever that meeting is going to happen, and I sure hope we focus on the Middle East, and I sure hope that some kind of peace plan is revisited and attention is paid – American attention is paid to the plight of the Israelis and the Palestinians on an equal basis and that some kind of resolution is made there, because that is the root of so much of the anger. For right or wrong, it's the selling point of all the dictators and despots and leaders overseas. They use that as a pawn any chance they get. Osama loves to sell the Palestinian's cause. I don't even think he cares a hoot about the Palestinians, believe it or not, but he uses it for his cult following to increase his leadership. That is something that we don't understand the power of overseas, and we must. And television has to play a better part in that.
We haven't been back to the West Bank since Operation Defensive Shield last year. It's been a good solid year since we gave you wall-to-wall coverage on what's been going on in the West Bank and Gaza. Hell, we just raided Rafa again. I mean, the Israelis had an incredible raid in Rafa, one of the deadliest in years, but it barely made headlines here.
Again, it is crucial to our security that we are interested in this, because when you are interested I can respond. If I put this on the air right now, you'll turn it off and we'll lose our numbers, as we're finding we're losing now the numbers being so much lower than they were last week.
There is another whole phenomenon that's come about from this war. Many talk about it as the Fox effect, the Fox news effect. I know everyone of you has watched it. It's not a dirty little secret. A lot of people describe Fox as having streamers and banners coming out of the television as you're watching it cover a war. But the Fox effect is very concerning to me.
I'm a journalist and I like to be able to tell the story as I see it, and I hate it when someone tells me I'm one-sided. It's the worst I can hear. Fox has taken so many viewers away from CNN and MSNBC because of their agenda and because of their targeting the market of cable news viewership, that I'm afraid there's not a really big place in cable for news. Cable is for entertainment, as it's turning out, but not news.
I'm hoping that I will have a future in news in cable, but not the way some cable news operators wrap themselves in the American flag and patriotism and go after a certain target demographic, which is very lucrative. You can already see the effects, you can already see the big hires on other networks, right wing hires to chase after this effect, and you can already see that flag waving in the corners of those cable news stations where they have exciting American music to go along with their war coverage.
Well, all of this has to do with what you've seen on Fox and its successes. So I do urge you to be very discerning as you continue to watch the development of cable news, and it is changing like lightning. Be very discerning because it behooves you like it never did before to watch with a grain of salt and to choose responsibly, and to demand what you should know.
That's it. I know that there's probably a couple questions. No one's allowed to ask about my hair color, okay? I'm kidding, if you want to ask you can. It's a pretty boring story. But I just wanted to say thank you, and let's all pray and hope in any way that you pray or hope for peace and for democracy around the world, and for more rain this summer in Manhattan. Thank you all.
The Mirror is featuring a statement from recently sacked NBC correspondent Peter Arnett titled THIS WAR IS NOT WORKING.
There is enormous sensitivity within the US government to reports coming out from Baghdad.
They don't want credible news organisations reporting from here because it presents them with enormous problems.
I reported on the original bombing for NBC and we were half a mile away from those massive explosions. Now I am really shocked that I am no longer reporting this story for the US and awed by the fact that it actually happened.
That overnight my successful NBC reporting career was turned to ashes. And why?
Because I stated the obvious to Iraqi television; that the US war timetable has fallen by the wayside.
The right-wing media and politicians are looking for any opportunity to be critical of the reporters who are here, whatever their nationality. I made the misjudgment which gave them the opportunity to do so.
But whatever happens I will never stop reporting on the truth of this war whether I am in Baghdad or somewhere else in the Middle East - or even back in Washington.
My station is a threat to American media control - and they know it
by Faisal Bodi
Last month, when it became clear that the US-led drive to war was irreversible, I - like many other British journalists - relocated to Qatar for a ringside seat. But I am an Islamist journalist, so while the others bedded down at the £1m media center at US central command in As-Sayliyah, I found a more humble berth in the capital Doha, working for the internet arm of al-Jazeera.
And yet, only a week into the war, I find myself working for the most sought-after news resource in the world. On March 23, the night the channel screened the first footage of captured US PoW's, al-Jazeera was the most searched item on the internet portal, Lycos, registering three times as many hits as the next item.
I do not mean to brag - people are turning to us simply because the western media coverage has been so poor. For although Doha is just a 15-minute drive from central command, the view of events from here could not be more different. Of all the major global networks, al-Jazeera has been alone in proceeding from the premise that this war should be viewed as an illegal enterprise. It has broadcast the horror of the bombing campaign, the blown-out brains, the blood-spattered pavements, the screaming infants and the corpses. Its team of on-the-ground, unembedded correspondents has provided a corrective to the official line that the campaign is, barring occasional resistance, going to plan.
Last Tuesday, while western channels were celebrating a Basra "uprising" which none of them could have witnessed since they don't have reporters in the city, our correspondent in the Sheraton there returned a rather flat verdict of "uneventful" - a view confirmed shortly afterwards by a spokesman for the opposition Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. By reporting propaganda as fact, the mainstream media had simply mirrored the Blair/Bush fantasy that the people who have been starved by UN sanctions and deformed by depleted uranium since 1991 will greet them as saviors.
Only hours before the Basra non-event, one of Iraq's most esteemed Shia authorities, Ayatollah Sistani, had dented coalition hopes of a southern uprising by reiterating a fatwa calling on all Muslims to resist the US-led forces. This real, and highly significant, event went unreported in the west.
Earlier in the week Arab viewers had seen the gruesome aftermath of the coalition bombing of "Ansar al-Islam" positions in the north-east of the country. All but two of the 35 killed were civilians in an area controlled by a neutral Islamist group, a fact passed over with undue haste in western reports. And before that, on the second day of the war, most of the western media reported verbatim central command statements that Umm Qasr was under "coalition" control - it was not until Wednesday that al-Jazeera could confirm all resistance there had been pacified.
Throughout the past week, armed peoples in the west and south have been attacking the exposed rearguard of coalition positions, while all the time - despite debilitating sandstorms - western TV audiences have seen little except their steady advance towards Baghdad. This is not truthful reporting.
There is also a marked difference when reporting the anger the invasion has unleashed on the Muslim street. The view from here is that any vestige of goodwill towards the US has evaporated with this latest aggression, and that Britain has now joined the US and Israel as a target of this rage.
The British media has condemned al-Jazeera's decision to screen a 30-second video clip of two dead British soldiers. This is simple hypocrisy. From the outset of the war, the British media has not balked at showing images of Iraqi soldiers either dead or captured and humiliated.
Amid the battle for hearts and minds in the most information-controlled war in history, one measure of the importance of those American PoW pictures and the images of the dead British soldiers is surely the sustained "shock and awe" hacking campaign directed at aljazeera.net since the start of the war. As I write, the al-Jazeera website has been down for three days and few here doubt that the provenance of the attack is the Pentagon. Meanwhile, our hosting company, the US-based DataPipe, has terminated our contract after lobbying by other clients whose websites have been brought down by the hacking.
It's too early for me to say when, or indeed if, I will return to my homeland. So far this war has progressed according to a near worst-case scenario. Iraqis have not turned against their tormentor. The southern Shia regard the invasion force as the greater Satan. Opposition in surrounding countries is shaking their regimes. I fear there remains much work to be done.
Michael Moore: Whoa. On behalf of our producers Kathleen Glynn and Michael Donovan from Canada, I'd like to thank the Academy for this. I have invited my fellow documentary nominees on the stage with us, and we would like to — they're here in solidarity with me because we like nonfiction. We like nonfiction and we live in fictitious times. We live in the time where we have fictitious election results that elects a fictitious president. We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons. Whether it's the fictition of duct tape or fictition of orange alerts we are against this war, Mr. Bush. Shame on you, Mr. Bush, shame on you. And any time you got the Pope and the Dixie Chicks against you, your time is up. Thank you very much. [video here.]
Nicolas Buchele, Arab News Staff
JEDDAH, 19 March 2003 - The person of the US president is an irrelevance. To
appeal to George W. Bush - amusing character though he may be - is like
berating a broom for omitting to sweep in the corners.
[comments involving Hannah Weiner & clairvoyance as resistance follow]
Nicolas Buchele, Arab News Staff
JEDDAH, 19 March 2003 - The person of the US president is an irrelevance. To
appeal to George W. Bush - amusing character though he may be - is like
berating a broom for omitting to sweep in the corners.
The new totalitarianism prevailing in America and taking hold in its
satellites around the world has learned important lessons from the failed
experiments of the past. The first of these lessons is that the greatest
liability to the survival of a regime is a strong and erratic leader.
A point often made in history classes is that Hitler should have stopped at
Kiev instead of thinning out his eastern front to move on toward Moscow.
Thus without Hitler's deranged ambitions, the Third Reich might really have
lasted a thousand years. Similarly, if Stalin had kept his genocidal
ambitions in check, the Soviet Union might have continued to enjoy its
initial popularity among sections of the West and at home.
With these examples in mind, the leader has been eliminated as a factor in
US politics. George W. Bush's very nullity as a politician throws into
relief the fact that the US has long been governed, not by its people, but
by interests that are happy to remain largely anonymous, do not rely on
individuals for their hold on power, and are recognizable in public mainly
by a soothing corporate blue.
Americans often seem baffled that others fail to admire their system of
government. They know after all that in the US there exists a lively culture
of debate, where the whole lunatic spectrum of opinion can find a platform
of one kind or another (though at the same time the difference between the
political parties it is actually possible to elect is vanishingly small).
They have a vibrant and largely unchecked artistic community. They have the
Even Greg Palast, at the end of his expose of corporate power The Best
Democracy Money Can Buy, found himself heartened by the American culture of
customer complaint, the notion that you have enforceable rights and can sue
for them in a court of law. This is, after all, the nation that gave us the
concept of "animal rights."
Hollywood is happy to feed this perception by producing blockbusters like
Erin Brockovitch and The Insider, where ordinary people take on corporations
and win, in other words, films which, by seeming to challenge, actually
affirm the existing order.
The reason for all this is that the new totalitarianism has learned a second
lesson from its heavy-handed predecessors. If artists and intellectuals were
able to do precisely nothing about Hitler or Stalin or any of the legion of
tin-pot dictators around the world, it follows that you might as well have
freedom of expression.
In the new totalitarian system, people can say whatever they like, and it
makes absolutely no difference.
The impending war on Iraq is only one example among many of a supposedly
sovereign public completely powerless in the face of a government bent on a
course of action.
That this should surprise some people outside America is odd. Proponents of
the enlightened self-interest of nations like the late Alan Clark MP - who
argued that it would have been better for Britain's imperial status if it
had signed a peace with Hitler in 1941 - have long held that nations do not
They have interests. Thus the idea clogging up the editorial pages of
American papers that people ought to be grateful to the US is childish.
Alliances are formed where the interests of nations coincide or where one
nation expects to take advantage of another.
In other words, America has never been a moral guardian to the rest of the
world, and it would be peculiar to expect it to be. It has simply more
astutely safeguarded its interests, except where it has allowed its
interests to become distorted in countries like Vietnam. But these blunders
have long been rectified.
The neo-conservative writer P.J. O'Rourke some years ago said the Americans
had won the Vietnam war, and so they have - if not the one they were
fighting. Vietnam is now in all but name a busy capitalist country, and no
doubt the better for it as far as its long-suffering people are concerned.
On the whole, however, annexation by mostly carrot and a little stick has
worked best, and the US has avoided the limitless aggression that proved the
downfall of old-style regimes.
Many more obvious US satellites in Southeast Asia and elsewhere have
benefited from the ties that bind them and are evolving comparable
The middle-class subjects of these satellites would be foolish to prefer
their country to be differently aligned, and to the slum-dwellers it doesn't
matter either way. This practically guarantees a stable dependency on the
motherland, which an invasion could never have achieved.
The most important lesson to the new totalitarianism, then, comes from
ancient Rome, and is simply that people sufficiently supplied with bread and
games will put up with anything.
It may seem strange that a system that has been working so well both at home
and abroad should so blatantly rattle the saber and polish the jackboot, but
for this we may have to thank Al-Qaeda.
In Blowback, his study of American imperialism, Chalmers Johnson points out
that the intention of terrorists is among other things to provoke a
disproportionate reaction in the enemy and goad it into revealing itself as
the brute it is, thereby forfeiting public sympathy.
Alternatively, it could be that the fruits of a takeover of Iraq are too
juicy to pass up and difficult to get hold of by any other means. In either
case, this will be a passing phase, and the current preponderance of stick
in US international policy will in good time make way for more ample carrot.
But by improving on its predecessor, the US has not abandoned the essential
ingredients of the totalitarian state.
These include a powerful propaganda machine - America's is the most
comprehensive and sophisticated in history - centered around a few simple,
powerful symbols which, though in themselves meaningless, are nonetheless,
in old-fashioned parlance, taboo. It remains an offense to "desecrate" the
They also include a public rhetoric so far removed from ordinary speech as
to constitute practically a separate language and whose intended effect is
essentially to baffle; and control mechanisms that are not so much seen as
felt, as evidenced by the wide-ranging official and unofficial powers given
to US intelligence organizations.
The question remains whether overall there is anything wrong with an
endlessly adaptable, stable system of world government that keeps the
majority of its subjects happy or at least comfortable.
And once technology has solved the problem of cheap labor, there will
probably be nothing wrong with it. Only we mustn't call it democracy.
- - - - - - -
This article puts me in mind of the peculiar values I and many of the artists I admire invest in the work we do, characterized as "dialogic" in my last "statement" posted here at Circulars. Buchele rightly refers to the USAmerican art worlds as "mostly unchecked," while a project like Circulars, to which many of the artists I admire contribute - artists with whom I tend to share "poetics" or aesthetic criteria / directions - presumes the values of a dialogic poetics would be, by default, "checked." This is the land, after all, of "checks and balances," a concept crucial to the sort of "democracy" Buchele aptly perceives as disappeared (if ever it were there). However, the entity "checking" must be fundamentally "relevant" in order for a poetics to be in any sense democratic, much less anarchic or socialist, etc etc. And forget about activist ...
The autonomy of the artist has been sufficiently attacked - vis-a-vis liberal ideology - in the past several decades in the US, while the NEA (principle issuer of checks and checks) has been all but dismantled (the final straw being Gioa's appointment as head).
Meanwhile, there is the publication of Hannah Weiner's PAGE by Roof Books this fall. In my review of this book at Jacket Magazine, I argue that Weiner's notion of "clairvoyant writing" presumes the individual person is on the "same page" as the next in a contiguous movement unable to, quite simply, comprehend their subjectivity in the march of history.
Recent debates here at Circulars over anarchism / pacifism / dialectical reasoning vis-a-vis the place of artworks or their authors in an effective resistance to the criminal actions taking place all around us point to the need for a sort of inability to comprehend, foreseen by Weiner among others (Anne Tardos and Jackson Mac Low come to mind). But this alternative to dialectics is NOT the same as the relativism that forges an "unchecked" space for artists within the corporate power grid. And NOW is the least appropriate time to make "statements" in the sense of advancing aesthetics. Rather, nations AS WELL AS individual persons "have interests" - this radical inadequacy between persons can be demonstrated to be, as Mac Low once said of his own work, "microcosms of the good society," so long as we suffer one another to check that imbalance.
I believe in this beautiful country. I have studied its roots and gloried in the wisdom of its magnificent Constitution. I have marveled at the wisdom of its founders and framers. Generation after generation of Americans has understood the lofty ideals that underlie our great Republic. I have been inspired by the story of their sacrifice and their strength.
But, today I weep for my country. I have watched the events of recent months with a heavy, heavy heart. No more is the image of America one of strong, yet benevolent peacekeeper. The image of America has changed. Around the globe, our friends mistrust us, our word is disputed, our intentions are questioned.
Instead of reasoning with those with whom we disagree, we demand obedience or threaten recrimination. Instead of isolating Saddam Hussein, we seem to have isolated ourselves. We proclaim a new doctrine of preemption which is understood by few and feared by many. We say that the United States has the right to turn its firepower on any corner of the globe which might be suspect in the war on terrorism. We assert that right without the sanction of any international body. As a result, the world has become a much more dangerous place.
We flaunt our superpower status with arrogance. We treat UN Security Council members like ingrates who offend our princely dignity by lifting their heads from the carpet. Valuable alliances are split.
After war has ended, the United States will have to rebuild much more than the country of Iraq. We will have to rebuild America's image around the globe.
The case this Administration tries to make to justify its fixation with war is tainted by charges of falsified documents and circumstantial evidence. We cannot convince the world of the necessity of this war for one simple reason. This is a war of choice.
There is no credible information to connect Saddam Hussein to 9/11. The twin towers fell because a world-wide terrorist group, Al Qaeda, with cells in over 60 nations, struck at our wealth and our influence by turning our own planes into missiles, one of which would likely have slammed into the dome of this beautiful Capitol except for the brave sacrifice of the passengers on board.
The brutality seen on September 11th and in other terrorist attacks we have witnessed around the globe are the violent and desperate efforts by extremists to stop the daily encroachment of western values upon their cultures. That is what we fight. It is a force not confined to borders. It is a shadowy entity with many faces, many names, and many addresses.
But, this Administration has directed all of the anger, fear, and grief which emerged from the ashes of the twin towers and the twisted metal of the Pentagon towards a tangible villain, one we can see and hate and attack. And villain he is. But, he is the wrong villain. And this is the wrong war. If we attack Saddam Hussein, we will probably drive him from power. But, the zeal of our friends to assist our global war on terrorism may have already taken flight.
The general unease surrounding this war is not just due to "orange alert." There is a pervasive sense of rush and risk and too many questions unanswered. How long will we be in Iraq? What will be the cost? What is the ultimate mission? How great is the danger at home?
A pall has fallen over the Senate Chamber. We avoid our solemn duty to debate the one topic on the minds of all Americans, even while scores of thousands of our sons and daughters faithfully do their duty in Iraq.
What is happening to this country? When did we become a nation which ignores and berates our friends? When did we decide to risk undermining international order by adopting a radical and doctrinaire approach to using our awesome military might? How can we abandon diplomatic efforts when the turmoil in the world cries out for diplomacy?
Why can this President not seem to see that America's true power lies not in its will to intimidate, but in its ability to inspire?
War appears inevitable. But, I continue to hope that the cloud will lift. Perhaps Saddam will yet turn tail and run. Perhaps reason will somehow still prevail. I along with millions of Americans will pray for the safety of our troops, for the innocent civilians in Iraq, and for the security of our homeland. May God continue to bless the United States of America in the troubled days ahead, and may we somehow recapture the vision which for the present eludes us.
by Thomas Walkom
There are many good reasons for Canada's decision not to join U.S. President George W. Bush's war against Iraq. The best is that such a war would be patently illegal.
Prime Minister Jean Chrétien hinted at this yesterday when he told Parliament that Canada would not support a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq because the U.N. Security Council has not authorized such an attack.
What he did not say, perhaps because he is too polite, is that in waging war without U.N. authorization, the U.S. and its ragtag "coalition of the willing" are putting themselves outside the boundaries of international law.
Or, to put it bluntly, they are transforming themselves into outlaw states.
"There is no legal basis for war," says Ted McWhinney, a former Liberal MP, professor and expert on international law. "None. That was clear from the beginning."
That the very nations which spearheaded efforts to rein in an outlaw state should themselves become outlaws is a rich, if tragic, irony. It will be appreciated as such in most countries, although possibly not in the U.S. where irony, like French toast, has been declared unpatriotic.
Yet this is what has happened. Iraq, a country that for 12 years did defy and obstruct the international community, is now seen by much of the world as a helpless victim. Even the villainous Saddam Hussein is viewed almost — almost — sympathetically.
The two men most responsible for this remarkable turnaround in world public opinion are Saddam and Bush.
Saddam's strategy was simple. When faced with pressure, he did what the Security Council told him to do. In the language of the U.N., he complied.
By contrast, Bush appeared capricious, arrogant and ever so slightly unhinged. The more Saddam complied, the more Bush complained that he wasn't. The more successes the U.N. weapons inspectors scored in their disarmament of Iraq, the more petulant Bush became.
Eventually, even those people who don't pay a great deal of attention to world affairs began to wonder which of the two was the madman.
Indeed, Bush's behaviour is difficult to fathom. For more than a year, he has seemed bent on invading Iraq, no matter what. Perhaps this single-minded focus on war explains his striking inability to win diplomatic support from the usually pliable members of the Security Council, most of whom are eager for American dollars. In the end, Bush couldn't even be sure of Mexico.
Which is why yesterday, the U.S., British and Spanish abandoned efforts to have the Security Council pass a resolution authorizing war. They now say they don't need one to invade Iraq legally. In fact, they do. Among experts, the overwhelming consensus seems to be that there is no legal authorization for an Iraq war.
Certainly, last fall's Security Council resolution 1441, the one that the U.S. cites to justify its actions, does not do the trick. Contrary to the common wisdom, it does not even threaten Iraq with "serious consequences" for non-compliance. It merely "recalls" that the council has warned of such consequences before.
Even Britain recognizes that resolution 1441 is a week reed. It insists that war is implicitly authorized by Security Council resolutions 678 and 687, both of which date from the early 1990s.
Nonsense, says McWhinney. Security Council resolutions are specific to time and place; they cannot be dragged out years later to justify unilateral actions.
"No country alone can be judge, jury and high executioner."
Besides, writes British lawyer Keir Starmer, the earlier Security Council resolutions don't quite work, either. Resolution 678 (1990) did authorize military action but only to force Iraq to abandon its occupation of Kuwait. And resolution 687 (1991), which established the ceasefire at the end of the first Gulf War, doesn't authorize force at all.
All of this is important in the context of the U.N. system set up by the U.S. and its allies after World War II to prevent war. Under the U.N. Charter, it is a crime for any nation to make war, except in self-defence or with the explicit approval of the council. Anyone in any country that makes war outside of these conditions is breaking international law.
This is not to suggest that Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair are about to be bundled into police vans — although there are precedents. Bush had foresight enough to refuse to recognize the new international war crimes court that is being set up in Holland. In any case, it's tough to arrest a man surrounded by nuclear weapons.
Still, says McWhinney, Bush — and indeed anyone involved in an illegal invasion of Iraq — would be wise to stay out of Belgium. That small country has aggressively pursued war criminals, arguing that it has the right to try them under its domestic law.
Theoretically, Bush could find himself sharing a Brussels cell with that other notorious international outlaw, Saddam Hussein.
Thomas Walkom's column appears on Tuesday.
[See story earlier today linking to the blog the BBC has set up to keep track of British political resignations.]
Cook received a standing ovation. Here is the full text of Robin Cook's resignation speech in the House of Commons, which won applause from some backbenchers in unprecedented Commons scenes.
This is the first time for 20 years that I have addressed the House from the back benches.
I must confess that I had forgotten how much better the view is from here.
None of those 20 years were more enjoyable or more rewarding than the past two, in which I have had the immense privilege of serving this House as Leader of the House, which were made all the more enjoyable, Mr Speaker, by the opportunity of working closely with you.
It was frequently the necessity for me as Leader of the House to talk my way out of accusations that a statement had been preceded by a press interview.
On this occasion I can say with complete confidence that no press interview has been given before this statement.
I have chosen to address the House first on why I cannot support a war without international agreement or domestic support.
The present Prime Minister is the most successful leader of the Labour party in my lifetime.
I hope that he will continue to be the leader of our party, and I hope that he will continue to be successful. I have no sympathy with, and I will give no comfort to, those who want to use this crisis to displace him.
I applaud the heroic efforts that the prime minister has made in trying to secure a second resolution.
I do not think that anybody could have done better than the foreign secretary in working to get support for a second resolution within the Security Council.
But the very intensity of those attempts underlines how important it was to succeed.
Now that those attempts have failed, we cannot pretend that getting a second resolution was of no importance.
France has been at the receiving end of bucket loads of commentary in recent days.
It is not France alone that wants more time for inspections. Germany wants more time for inspections; Russia wants more time for inspections; indeed, at no time have we signed up even the minimum necessary to carry a second resolution.
We delude ourselves if we think that the degree of international hostility is all the result of President Chirac.
The reality is that Britain is being asked to embark on a war without agreement in any of the international bodies of which we are a leading partner - not NATO, not the European Union and, now, not the Security Council.
To end up in such diplomatic weakness is a serious reverse.
Only a year ago, we and the United States were part of a coalition against terrorism that was wider and more diverse than I would ever have imagined possible.
History will be astonished at the diplomatic miscalculations that led so quickly to the disintegration of that powerful coalition.
The US can afford to go it alone, but Britain is not a superpower.
Our interests are best protected not by unilateral action but by multilateral agreement and a world order governed by rules.
Yet tonight the international partnerships most important to us are weakened: the European Union is divided; the Security Council is in stalemate.
Those are heavy casualties of a war in which a shot has yet to be fired.
I have heard some parallels between military action in these circumstances and the military action that we took in Kosovo. There was no doubt about the multilateral support that we had for the action that we took in Kosovo.
It was supported by NATO; it was supported by the European Union; it was supported by every single one of the seven neighbours in the region. France and Germany were our active allies.
It is precisely because we have none of that support in this case that it was all the more important to get agreement in the Security Council as the last hope of demonstrating international agreement.
The legal basis for our action in Kosovo was the need to respond to an urgent and compelling humanitarian crisis.
Our difficulty in getting support this time is that neither the international community nor the British public is persuaded that there is an urgent and compelling reason for this military action in Iraq.
The threshold for war should always be high.
None of us can predict the death toll of civilians from the forthcoming bombardment of Iraq, but the US warning of a bombing campaign that will "shock and awe" makes it likely that casualties will be numbered at least in the thousands.
I am confident that British servicemen and women will acquit themselves with professionalism and with courage. I hope that they all come back.
I hope that Saddam, even now, will quit Baghdad and avert war, but it is false to argue that only those who support war support our troops.
It is entirely legitimate to support our troops while seeking an alternative to the conflict that will put those troops at risk.
Nor is it fair to accuse those of us who want longer for inspections of not having an alternative strategy.
For four years as foreign secretary I was partly responsible for the western strategy of containment.
Over the past decade that strategy destroyed more weapons than in the Gulf war, dismantled Iraq's nuclear weapons programme and halted Saddam's medium and long-range missiles programmes.
Iraq's military strength is now less than half its size than at the time of the last Gulf war.
Ironically, it is only because Iraq's military forces are so weak that we can even contemplate its invasion. Some advocates of conflict claim that Saddam's forces are so weak, so demoralised and so badly equipped that the war will be over in a few days.
We cannot base our military strategy on the assumption that Saddam is weak and at the same time justify pre-emptive action on the claim that he is a threat.
Iraq probably has no weapons of mass destruction in the commonly understood sense of the term - namely a credible device capable of being delivered against a strategic city target.
It probably still has biological toxins and battlefield chemical munitions, but it has had them since the 1980s when US companies sold Saddam anthrax agents and the then British Government approved chemical and munitions factories.
Why is it now so urgent that we should take military action to disarm a military capacity that has been there for 20 years, and which we helped to create?
Why is it necessary to resort to war this week, while Saddam's ambition to complete his weapons programme is blocked by the presence of UN inspectors?
Only a couple of weeks ago, Hans Blix told the Security Council that the key remaining disarmament tasks could be completed within months.
I have heard it said that Iraq has had not months but 12 years in which to complete disarmament, and that our patience is exhausted.
Yet it is more than 30 years since resolution 242 called on Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories.
We do not express the same impatience with the persistent refusal of Israel to comply.
I welcome the strong personal commitment that the prime minister has given to middle east peace, but Britain's positive role in the middle east does not redress the strong sense of injustice throughout the Muslim world at what it sees as one rule for the allies of the US and another rule for the rest.
Nor is our credibility helped by the appearance that our partners in Washington are less interested in disarmament than they are in regime change in Iraq.
That explains why any evidence that inspections may be showing progress is greeted in Washington not with satisfaction but with consternation: it reduces the case for war.
What has come to trouble me most over past weeks is the suspicion that if the hanging chads in Florida had gone the other way and Al Gore had been elected, we would not now be about to commit British troops.
The longer that I have served in this place, the greater the respect I have for the good sense and collective wisdom of the British people.
On Iraq, I believe that the prevailing mood of the British people is sound. They do not doubt that Saddam is a brutal dictator, but they are not persuaded that he is a clear and present danger to Britain.
They want inspections to be given a chance, and they suspect that they are being pushed too quickly into conflict by a US Administration with an agenda of its own.
Above all, they are uneasy at Britain going out on a limb on a military adventure without a broader international coalition and against the hostility of many of our traditional allies.
From the start of the present crisis, I have insisted, as Leader of the House, on the right of this place to vote on whether Britain should go to war.
It has been a favourite theme of commentators that this House no longer occupies a central role in British politics.
Nothing could better demonstrate that they are wrong than for this House to stop the commitment of troops in a war that has neither international agreement nor domestic support.
I intend to join those tomorrow night who will vote against military action now. It is for that reason, and for that reason alone, and with a heavy heart, that I resign from the government.
I am always surprised to hear resistance to the simple observation that politics, ethics and aesthetics are necessarily joined. Kent Johnson's anger that Charles Bernstein would continue to insist so looks out of place when claiming that the way something is said or presented determines what is meant and what is understood, is at this point, almost a matter of stating the obvious. It is no different than observing that if you say "I love you" while rolling your eyes you mean something very different than if you say "I love you" with a smile. How we speak and write is what we mean—aesthetics are never secondary.
Allowing that aesthetics and ethics are one recognizes that naming constitutes difference. A politics that rejects aesthetics as argument only names differences. The former confronts political violence at the moment of its creation; the later arrives to late, screaming thief after the money is gone.
Reading Bernstein's statement carefully, it is clear that he is not suggesting that poets should refrain from engaging in political activity within the community at large. Rather he speaks to the role of poets, as poets—what their poems should be doing in and for that community. Labeling Bernstein's position as "fundamentalist" because it is not "multifarious" can only acknowledge positions that claim no other truth than heterogeneity as an idea. Such a critique fails when it attempts to escape the burden of debate, demonstrating as it does that it is too easy to call people fundamentalists only because they insist that something, anything, is true.
More dangerously, a leftist politics that rejects belief is perilous because it is a politics that creates the possibility of its own irrelevance. Witness President Bush's response to the recent war protesters. In embracing the democratic rhetoric of free speech President Bush could say, in plain words, "protesters certainly have the right to express their opinion, but I respectfully disagree." He could ignore nearly 40 percent of the population by appearing to listen. Of course there is nothing respectful in his tolerance of such voices, and his "Patriot Act" dismisses any real allegiance to the Constitution, but what is crucial about his response is that it turns war protest into a mere voicing of preference. As with all such simple 'differences of opinion,' the administration need no longer account for dissent among its constituents; it elides a government by the people for the people through the rhetoric of liberal democracy. President Bush uses the sound of tolerance to turn the differences between himself and his opposition into the same thing as the differences of opinion at a cocktail party—everybody gets to say what they believe, nobody changes their mind or really listens, and everyone leaves feeling polite and self-congratulatory.
Measuring poetry's success as political resistance by its ability to last, or move beyond aesthetic concerns, then, does not account for the manner in which political violence now occurs in our country. Which is to say that the Bush Administration's aggression rests on a constant abuse of language. Early in his war on terror we saw this type of language molestation when President Bush named his Afghan prisoners "detainies" rather than prisoners of war. What our country could do to these people in our name depended completely on their name.
While such indignity is not new to the current administration, the success of this abuse of words depends on our willingness to engage in an issues debate rather than our contesting the way the debate is carried out—an aesthetic concern if there ever was one. The difference between these two options is crucial because once we agree to argue over the issues only, the Administration can dismiss us altogether. We must not be willing, as poets, as keepers of language, to engage in such a discharge of words' significance. We cannot agree to name differences rather than using naming to constitute difference. We cannot hope to be relevant if we agree to a political debate that turns our position into mere opinion and takes away our most powerful weapon—the ability to understand and reveal how words come to mean what they do.
Maintaining that aesthetic partisanship for innovative writing is vain poetic infighting and not actual political work sides with the forces that believe words don't matter in the first place, that say nit-picking over what words mean is elitist and exclusionary rather than necessary for the health of our Republic.
Poets should take a leading role in political resistance, but this resistance should occur in more than one manner. We can speak out in 'normal' speech in any number of political situations, but we must also resist on the level of discourse itself; it is only on this level that we can mount a serious challenge to Bush's politics on his terms, terms that force us and our antagonists to fight over the same thing—the meaning a word like 'freedom' is going to have, and the way such a word can be used. We must insist, in our poems, as well as in our protests, letters, and speeches, that Bush take better care of his words. We can for our part not give into his desire that we limit our debate to civil disagreement, or at worst, fix our ourselves in ideologies so we may stare across the table and think the other person is the devil. By continuing to insist that words like 'justice' and 'freedom' occur in the way we use them, and that we are responsible to these definitions, not the other way around, we can begin to see how words are abused by others or by ourselves for the sake of power and control. It is here that we can ground or physical, worldly, resistance to that abuse. Aesthetics are not a matter of taste, a matter of preferring right angles over curves, bright colors over dull; aesthetics are that which shape our world.
Poetry helps us reshape that world by asking us to examine the way we use language in the first place. As Bernstein argues, to turn a poem into a political speech is to say poetry is not relevant as poetry. While the temptation to only speak 'plainly' is great, to do so is also to abandon what is most politically useful about our cultural position as people who dedicate themselves to investigating how words determine and represent all of our lives. When we give up aesthetics we give up the ability to make our cultural and political realties for ourselves. When it examines method of its production, poetry is the ability to act on the tools that would make us other than what we wish to be.
All across the Middle East, they are deploying by the thousand. In the deserts of Kuwait, in Amman, in northern Iraq, in Turkey, in Israel and in Baghdad itself. There must be 7,000 journalists and crews "in theatre", as the more jingoistic of them like to say. In Qatar, a massive press center has been erected for journalists who will not see the war. How many times General Tommy Franks will spin his story to the press at the nine o'clock follies, no one knows. He doesn't even like talking to journalists.
But the journalistic resources being laid down in the region are enormous. The BBC alone has 35 reporters in the Middle East, 17 of them "embedded" – along with hundreds of reporters from the American networks and other channels – in military units. Once the invasion starts, they will lose their freedom to write what they want. There will be censorship. And, I'll hazard a guess right now, we shall see many of the British and American journalists back to their old trick of playing toy soldiers, dressing themselves up in military costumes for their nightly theatrical performances on television. Incredibly, several of the American networks have set up shop in the Kurdish north of Iraq with orders not to file a single story until war begins – in case this provokes the Iraqis to expel their network reporters from Baghdad.
The orchestration will be everything, the pictures often posed, the angles chosen by "minders", much as the Iraqis will try to do the same thing in Baghdad. Take yesterday's front-page pictures of massed British troops in Kuwait, complete with arranged tanks and perfectly formatted helicopters. This was the perfectly planned photo-op. Of course, it won't last.
Here's a few guesses about our coverage of the war to come. American and British forces use thousands of depleted uranium (DU) shells – widely regarded by 1991 veterans as the cause of Gulf War syndrome as well as thousands of child cancers in present day Iraq – to batter their way across the Kuwaiti-Iraqi frontier. Within hours, they will enter the city of Basra, to be greeted by its Shia Muslim inhabitants as liberators. US and British troops will be given roses and pelted with rice – a traditional Arab greeting – as they drive "victoriously" through the streets. The first news pictures of the war will warm the hearts of Messrs Bush and Blair. There will be virtually no mention by reporters of the use of DU munitions.
But in Baghdad, reporters will be covering the bombing raids that are killing civilians by the score and then by the hundred. These journalists, as usual, will be accused of giving "comfort to the enemy while British troops are fighting for their lives". By now, in Basra and other "liberated" cities south of the capital, Iraqis are taking their fearful revenge on Saddam Hussein's Baath party officials. Men are hanged from lamp-posts. Much television footage of these scenes will have to be cut to sanitize the extent of the violence.
Far better for the US and British governments will be the macabre discovery of torture chambers and "rape-rooms" and prisoners with personal accounts of the most terrible suffering at the hands of Saddam's secret police. This will "prove" how right "we" are to liberate these poor people. Then the US will have to find the "weapons of mass destruction" that supposedly provoked this bloody war. In the journalistic hunt for these weapons, any old rocket will do for the moment.
Bunkers allegedly containing chemical weapons will be cordoned off – too dangerous for any journalist to approach, of course. Perhaps they actually do contain VX or anthrax. But for the moment, the all-important thing for Washington and London is to convince the world that the causus belli was true – and reporters, in or out of military costume, will be on hand to say just that.
Baghdad is surrounded and its defenders ordered to surrender. There will be fighting between Shias and Sunnis around the slums of the city, the beginning of a ferocious civil conflict for which the invading armies are totally unprepared. US forces will sweep past Baghdad to his home city of Tikrit in their hunt for Saddam Hussein. Bush and Blair will appear on television to speak of their great "victories". But as they are boasting, the real story will begin to be told: the break-up of Iraqi society, the return of thousands of Basra refugees from Iran, many of them with guns, all refusing to live under western occupation.
In the north, Kurdish guerrillas will try to enter Kirkuk, where they will kill or "ethnically cleanse" many of the city's Arab inhabitants. Across Iraq, the invading armies will witness terrible scenes of revenge which can no longer be kept off television screens. The collapse of the Iraqi nation is now under way ...
Of course, the Americans and British just might get into Baghdad in three days for their roses and rice water. That's what the British did in 1917. And from there, it was all downhill.
Weasel words to watch for
'Inevitable revenge' – for the executions of Saddam's Baath party officials which no one actually said were inevitable.
'Stubborn' or 'suicidal' – to be used when Iraqi forces fight rather than retreat.
'Allegedly' – for all carnage caused by Western forces.
'At last, the damning evidence' – used when reporters enter old torture chambers.
'Officials here are not giving us much access' – a clear sign that reporters in Baghdad are confined to their hotels.
'Life goes on' – for any pictures of Iraq's poor making tea.
'Remnants' – allegedly 'diehard' Iraqi troops still shooting at the Americans but actually the first signs of a resistance movement dedicated to the 'liberation' of Iraq from its new western occupiers.
'Newly liberated' – for territory and cities newly occupied by the Americans or British.
'What went wrong?' – to accompany pictures illustrating the growing anarchy in Iraq as if it were not predicted.
[Here is the website for the Project for the New American Century -- no joke, folks -- the organization Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Jeb Bush and others founded in 1997. Following is an analysis of the organization in the context of US foreign policy -- a project of "full spectrum dominance."]
The war in Afghanistan has plainly brought certain benefits to that country: thousands of girls have gone to school for the first time, for example, and in some parts of the country women have been able to go back to work. While more than 3,000 civilians were killed by the bombing, while much of the country is still controlled by predatory warlords, while most of the promised assistance has not materialised, while torture is widespread and women are still beaten in the streets, it would be wrong to minimise gains that have flowed from the defeat of the Taliban. But, and I realise that it might sound callous to say it, this does not mean that the Afghan war was a good thing.
What almost all those who supported that war and are now calling for a new one have forgotten is that there are two sides to every conflict, and therefore two sets of outcomes to every victory. The Afghan regime changed, but so, in subtler ways, did the government of the US. It was empowered not only by its demonstration of military superiority but also by the widespread support it enjoyed. It has used the licence it was granted in Afghanistan as a licence to take its war wherever it wants.
Those of us who oppose the impending conquest of Iraq must recognise that there's a possibility that, if it goes according to plan, it could improve the lives of many Iraqi people. But to pretend that this battle begins and ends in Iraq requires a wilful denial of the context in which it occurs. That context is a blunt attempt by the superpower to reshape the world to suit itself.
In this week's Observer, David Aaronovitch suggested that, before September 11, the Bush administration was "relatively indifferent to the nature of the regimes in the Middle East". Only after America was attacked was it forced to start taking an interest in the rest of the world.
If Aaronovitch believes this, he would be well-advised to examine the website of the Project for the New American Century, the pressure group established by, among others, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Jeb Bush, Paul Wolfowitz, Lewis Libby, Elliott Abrams and Zalmay Khalilzad, all of whom (except the president's brother) are now senior officials in the US government.
Its statement of principles, signed by those men on June 3 1997, asserts that the key challenge for the US is "to shape a new century favourable to American principles and interests". This requires "a military that is strong and ready to meet both present and future challenges; a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad; and national leadership that accepts the United States' global responsibilities".
On January 26 1998, these men wrote to President Clinton, urging him "to enunciate a new strategy", namely "the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime from power". If Clinton failed to act, "the safety of American troops in the region, of our friends and allies like Israel and the moderate Arab states, and a significant portion of the world's supply of oil will all be put at hazard". They acknowledged that this doctrine would be opposed, but "American policy cannot continue to be crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the UN Security Council".
Last year, the Sunday Herald obtained a copy of a confidential report produced by the Project in September 2000, which suggested that blatting Saddam was the beginning, not the end of its strategy. "While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein." The wider strategic aim, it insisted, was "maintaining global US pre-eminence".
Another document obtained by the Herald, written by Paul Wolfowitz and Lewis Libby, called upon the US to "discourage advanced industrial nations from challenging our leadership or even aspiring to a larger regional or global role".
On taking power, the Bush administration was careful not to alarm its allies. The new president spoke only of the need "to project our strength with purpose and with humility" and "to find new ways to keep the peace". From his first week in office, however, he began to engage not so much in nation-building as in planet-building.
The ostensible purpose of Bush's missile defence programme is to shoot down incoming nuclear missiles. The real purpose is to provide a justification for the extraordinarily ambitious plans - contained in a Pentagon document entitled Vision for 2020 - to turn space into a new theatre of war, developing orbiting weapons systems that can instantly destroy any target anywhere on Earth. By creating the impression that his programme is merely defensive, Bush could justify a terrifying new means of acquiring what he calls "full spectrum dominance" over planetary security.
Immediately after the attack on New York, the US government began establishing "forward bases" in Asia. As the assistant secretary of state, Elizabeth Jones, noted: "When the Afghan conflict is over we will not leave Central Asia. We have long-term plans and interests in this region." The US now has bases in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan and Georgia. Their presence has, in effect, destroyed the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation which Russia and China had established in an attempt to develop a regional alternative to US power.
In January, the US moved into Djibouti, ostensibly to widen its war against terror, while accidentally gaining strategic control over the Bab al-Mandab - one of the world's two most important oil shipping lanes. It already controls the other one, the straits of Hormuz. Two weeks ago, under the same pretext, it sent 3,000 soldiers to the Philippines. Last year it began negotiations to establish a military base in Sao Tome and Principe, from which it can, if it chooses, dominate West Africa's principal oilfields. By pure good fortune, the US government now exercises strategic control over almost all the world's major oil producing regions and oil transport corridors.
It has also used its national tragedy as an excuse for developing new nuclear and biological weapons, while ripping up the global treaties designed to contain them. All this is as the project prescribed. Among other policies, it has called for the development of a new generation of biological agents, which will attack people with particular genetic characteristics.
Why do the supporters of this war find it so hard to see what is happening? Why do the conservatives who go berserk when the European Union tries to change the content of our chocolate bars look the other way when the US seeks to reduce us to a vassal state? Why do the liberal interventionists who fear that Saddam Hussein might one day deploy a weapon of mass destruction refuse to see that George Bush is threatening to do just this against an ever-growing number of states? Is it because they cannot face the scale of the threat, and the scale of the resistance necessary to confront it? Is it because these brave troopers cannot look the real terror in the eye?
Bribing the Government of Turkey
Many around the world are skeptical when George Bush says he wants to use war to help create democracy in Iraq. As a step toward bolstering his credibility, Bush might start taking seriously democracy in the rest of the world, and at home.
U.S. reaction to the weekend news that Turkey's parliament had rejected a proposal to accept the basing of U.S. troops for an Iraq war only confirmed what has long been obvious: The Bush administration believes democracy is wonderful -- so long as it doesn't get in the way of war.
Let's remember the basic notions behind democracy: The people are sovereign. Power flows from the people. Leadership is beholden to the people.
If those ideas are at the core of democracy, Bush's recent reaction to the will of the people suggests he has contempt for the concept.
Bush has a habit of praising as "courageous" those leaders who most effectively ignore their people. In the U.K., polls show more than half the public against the war, and close to a million people turned out for the Feb. 15 protest in London. In Spain, 2 million hit the streets of Barcelona and Madrid, and 74 percent oppose the war. But Bush has praised the courage of prime ministers Tony Blair and Jose Maria Aznar in remaining fanatically prowar in the face of massive public opposition.
Silvio Berlusconi is another favorite of Bush. The Italian prime minister has to ignore the 80 percent of his people who object to the war, and on Feb. 15 the largest demonstrations in the world were in Rome, where police put the crowd at 1 million and others estimated two to three times that many.
But perhaps the most courageous leader in Bush-speak is the prime minister of Turkey, Abdullah Gul.
The Bush team found that it took some convincing (and $15 billion) to secure the ruling Justice and Development Party leadership's support for U.S. use of bases for a war. In that effort, as a former Pentagon planner and ambassador to Turkey explained, "the biggest problem is that 94 percent of the Turks are opposed to war."
After winning over the key leadership, U.S. officials faced another problem: The Turkish constitution requires a vote of parliament to allow those new U.S. troops. With tens of thousands of Turks protesting in the streets during the debate, the proposal failed by a narrow margin.
The State Department, expecting a favorable vote, had prepared a statement of congratulations. Because the initial reports out of parliament suggested the proposal had won, that statement was released and -- you guessed it -- it applauded the Turkish government for its "courageous leadership."
U.S. officials hope to reverse the vote later this week. No doubt Bush's people will be tough negotiators, but the Turks also can expect understanding of the problems that Gul and his party face. During earlier negotiations between the United States and Turkey, one U.S. official explained the process was time-consuming because, "We are dealing with a new and inexperienced [Turkish] leadership that is feeling very much caught by the situation."
"Experience" in this context means the ability to ignore and override the will of the people, an endeavor in which U.S. politicians have considerable experience.
And what of democracy at home? When asked about his reaction to the hundreds of thousands of Americans who rallied on Feb. 15 to oppose a war, Bush brushed them off as irrelevant. To pay attention to the largest worldwide political event in recent history, he said, would be like governing by focus group.
Of course, political movements -- people coming together because of shared principles to try to affect public policy -- are not quite like focus groups, which are convened by folks in advertising and marketing to test out their pitches. Demonstrations are real democratic expressions of the strong commitments of people; focus groups are a research tool used to craft manipulative slogans and advertising strategies in order to subvert real democracy. But let's put aside the president's confusion and go back to his assessment of how the system should work:
"The role of a leader is to decide policy based upon the security -- in this case, the security of the people," Bush said.
That's all well and good, but beside the point. The question is, does Bush think "the people" have any ideas about their own security that are worth considering?
Robert Jensen is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin, a member of the Nowar Collective, and author of the book Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream and the pamphlet "Citizens of the Empire."
"Nobody gives a shit what anti-war or pro-war writers think. Really. So shut up. That goes double for poets. Shut the hell up, poets. Everybody just shut up."
Neil Pollack has worked himself into a froth over at The Stranger. His beef is as follows:
September 11, 2001, has had all kinds of unintended consequences. One of the least tragic, but most irritating, has been an explosion of absolutely terrible writing [ ... ]The contention beneath the rhetoric is this: "In general, left-wing writers lack authority. They either sound naive and crazy or they sound elitist [ ... ] From any important historical circumstance, only a few pieces of genuine literary art emerge. In this current situation, I would argue for two: the Onion's special issue immediately following September 11, and William Langewiesche's book about reclaiming Ground Zero."
Post-September 11 writing felt like the nation's collective diary. Even at its worst, it was somehow cathartic and sweet, even necessary. But this war-to-be with Iraq has unleashed a torrent of pompous fulmination -- perhaps not as great in volume as after September 11, but twice as pretentious and grating.
[This one didn't make the Times; I got it from commondreams.org.]
Senate Floor Speech - Wednesday, February 12, 2003
To contemplate war is to think about the most horrible of human experiences. On this February day, as this nation stands at the brink of battle, every American on some level must be contemplating the horrors of war.
Yet, this Chamber is, for the most part, silent -- ominously, dreadfully silent. There is no debate, no discussion, no attempt to lay out for the nation the pros and cons of this particular war. There is nothing.
We stand passively mute in the United States Senate, paralyzed by our own uncertainty, seemingly stunned by the sheer turmoil of events. Only on the editorial pages of our newspapers is there much substantive discussion of the prudence or imprudence of engaging in this particular war.
And this is no small conflagration we contemplate. This is no simple attempt to defang a villain. No. This coming battle, if it materializes, represents a turning point in U.S. foreign policy and possibly a turning point in the recent history of the world.
This nation is about to embark upon the first test of a revolutionary doctrine applied in an extraordinary way at an unfortunate time. The doctrine of preemption -- the idea that the United States or any other nation can legitimately attack a nation that is not imminently threatening but may be threatening in the future -- is a radical new twist on the traditional idea of self defense. It appears to be in contravention of international law and the UN Charter. And it is being tested at a time of world-wide terrorism, making many countries around the globe wonder if they will soon be on our -- or some other nation's -- hit list. High level Administration figures recently refused to take nuclear weapons off of the table when discussing a possible attack against Iraq. What could be more destabilizing and unwise than this type of uncertainty, particularly in a world where globalism has tied the vital economic and security interests of many nations so closely together? There are huge cracks emerging in our time-honored alliances, and U.S. intentions are suddenly subject to damaging worldwide speculation. Anti-Americanism based on mistrust, misinformation, suspicion, and alarming rhetoric from U.S. leaders is fracturing the once solid alliance against global terrorism which existed after September 11.
Here at home, people are warned of imminent terrorist attacks with little guidance as to when or where such attacks might occur. Family members are being called to active military duty, with no idea of the duration of their stay or what horrors they may face. Communities are being left with less than adequate police and fire protection. Other essential services are also short-staffed. The mood of the nation is grim. The economy is stumbling. Fuel prices are rising and may soon spike higher.
This Administration, now in power for a little over two years, must be judged on its record. I believe that that record is dismal.
In that scant two years, this Administration has squandered a large projected surplus of some $5.6 trillion over the next decade and taken us to projected deficits as far as the eye can see. This Administration's domestic policy has put many of our states in dire financial condition, under funding scores of essential programs for our people. This Administration has fostered policies which have slowed economic growth. This Administration has ignored urgent matters such as the crisis in health care for our elderly. This Administration has been slow to provide adequate funding for homeland security. This Administration has been reluctant to better protect our long and porous borders.
In foreign policy, this Administration has failed to find Osama bin Laden. In fact, just yesterday we heard from him again marshaling his forces and urging them to kill. This Administration has split traditional alliances, possibly crippling, for all time, International order-keeping entities like the United Nations and NATO. This Administration has called into question the traditional worldwide perception of the United States as well-intentioned, peacekeeper. This Administration has turned the patient art of diplomacy into threats, labeling, and name calling of the sort that reflects quite poorly on the intelligence and sensitivity of our leaders, and which will have consequences for years to come.
Calling heads of state pygmies, labeling whole countries as evil, denigrating powerful European allies as irrelevant -- these types of crude insensitivities can do our great nation no good. We may have massive military might, but we cannot fight a global war on terrorism alone. We need the cooperation and friendship of our time-honored allies as well as the newer found friends whom we can attract with our wealth. Our awesome military machine will do us little good if we suffer another devastating attack on our homeland which severely damages our economy. Our military manpower is already stretched thin and we will need the augmenting support of those nations who can supply troop strength, not just sign letters cheering us on.
The war in Afghanistan has cost us $37 billion so far, yet there is evidence that terrorism may already be starting to regain its hold in that region. We have not found bin Laden, and unless we secure the peace in Afghanistan, the dark dens of terrorism may yet again flourish in that remote and devastated land.
Pakistan as well is at risk of destabilizing forces. This Administration has not finished the first war against terrorism and yet it is eager to embark on another conflict with perils much greater than those in Afghanistan. Is our attention span that short? Have we not learned that after winning the war one must always secure the peace?
And yet we hear little about the aftermath of war in Iraq. In the absence of plans, speculation abroad is rife. Will we seize Iraq's oil fields, becoming an occupying power which controls the price and supply of that nation's oil for the foreseeable future? To whom do we propose to hand the reigns of power after Saddam Hussein?
Will our war inflame the Muslim world resulting in devastating attacks on Israel? Will Israel retaliate with its own nuclear arsenal? Will the Jordanian and Saudi Arabian governments be toppled by radicals, bolstered by Iran which has much closer ties to terrorism than Iraq?
Could a disruption of the world's oil supply lead to a world-wide recession? Has our senselessly bellicose language and our callous disregard of the interests and opinions of other nations increased the global race to join the nuclear club and made proliferation an even more lucrative practice for nations which need the income?
In only the space of two short years this reckless and arrogant Administration has initiated policies which may reap disastrous consequences for years.
One can understand the anger and shock of any President after the savage attacks of September 11. One can appreciate the frustration of having only a shadow to chase and an amorphous, fleeting enemy on which it is nearly impossible to exact retribution.
But to turn one's frustration and anger into the kind of extremely destabilizing and dangerous foreign policy debacle that the world is currently witnessing is inexcusable from any Administration charged with the awesome power and responsibility of guiding the destiny of the greatest superpower on the planet. Frankly many of the pronouncements made by this Administration are outrageous. There is no other word.
Yet this chamber is hauntingly silent. On what is possibly the eve of horrific infliction of death and destruction on the population of the nation of Iraq -- a population, I might add, of which over 50% is under age 15 -- this chamber is silent. On what is possibly only days before we send thousands of our own citizens to face unimagined horrors of chemical and biological warfare -- this chamber is silent. On the eve of what could possibly be a vicious terrorist attack in retaliation for our attack on Iraq, it is business as usual in the United States Senate.
We are truly "sleepwalking through history." In my heart of hearts I pray that this great nation and its good and trusting citizens are not in for a rudest of awakenings.
To engage in war is always to pick a wild card. And war must always be a last resort, not a first choice. I truly must question the judgment of any President who can say that a massive unprovoked military attack on a nation which is over 50% children is "in the highest moral traditions of our country". This war is not necessary at this time. Pressure appears to be having a good result in Iraq. Our mistake was to put ourselves in a corner so quickly. Our challenge is to now find a graceful way out of a box of our own making. Perhaps there is still a way if we allow more time.
for Kerry Sherin
We may not have chosen to live inside Dick Cheney’s mind, but we do.
Wyoming, I read somewhere, is the safest place to live in North America.
No tornados, no tsunamis, no earthquakes, no hurricanes, monsoons, cyclones, or floods. No major airport: no big planes crashing in the sleet. Not even much traffic: not too many car crashes.
But if living in Wyoming is so safe, living inside Dick Chaney’s mind, though it was formed in Wyoming and stood for Wyoming in the Senate, is not safe at all.
How do you get from Wyoming to Shock and Awe?
Getting from Love to Hate, that’s easy: Love, Live, Give, Gave, Gate, Hate.
Love comes before life, and since newborns don’t survive on their own, life at the beginning involves giving. It can’t not: breast milk, protection, language, diapers made out of whatever, some sort of attention before you crawl or walk. Everyone living got some of that somehow.
That gets us up to Give. Gave comes next because giving is tiring. You give and give and what thanks do you get? Nothing. Or worse. They think they’re entitled; they’re madder than ever: They sulk in their rooms, they’re sarcastic, they throw rocks.
So much for giving. I gave at the office and, since they think they’re entitled and are madder than ever, the next logical step is to build a gate, which will keep things quiet at least.
But as we know, gates creak at night, they leak, they break, in fact, gates concentrate whatever’s on either side, they distill hate.
Love, Live, Give, Gave, Gate, Hate: Q.E.D.
But getting from Love to Hate only sheds a little light on getting from Wyoming to Shock and Awe.
Shock and Awe? “Shock and Awe” is the Pentagon’s current battle plan for Iraq: 300 to 400 cruise missiles the 1st day (more than in all of Desert Storm), 300 to 400 the next, to demolish water, electricity, communications, government buildings, roads, bridges, infrastructure in general; 6000 satellite guidance kits to convert so-called “dumb bombs” into so-called “smart bombs,” etc. “The sheer size of this has never been seen before,” a Pentagon official told CBS. “There will not be a safe place in Baghdad.” Harlan Ullman drew a direct parallel to Hiroshima: the Iraqi people will be “physically, emotionally and psychologically exhausted”; it will be “rather like the nuclear weapons at Hiroshima, not taking days or weeks but minutes.” A 1996 report elaborates: the point is “to impose [an] overwhelming level of Shock and Awe. . . . [to] seize control of the environment and paralyze or so overload an adversary’s perceptions and understanding of events that the enemy would be incapable of resistance.”
This is Shock and Awe, remember, not Wyoming.
But by the end it gets a little hard to tell them apart: overwhelming levels seizing control of the environment, paralyzing perceptions and understanding of events.
That works for Wyoming and just about anywhere in the United States.
That’s the problem with living inside Dick Cheney’s mind, whether we’ve chosen to or not.
What’s the point of Shock and Awe?
To free the Iraqi people.
“No safe place in Baghdad” contradicts “To free the Iraqi people.”
Since the Iraqi people are enslaved inside Saddam Hussein’s mind that mind must be destroyed. That means destroying Saddam Hussein’s body wherever it is in Baghdad, which means brushing aside Baghdad to find him to free the Iraqi people trapped inside
But dead people are only free in the most limited way. Not much bang for the buck there, really.
Forget “free,” “love,” “give”: it’s an adult world. Shock and Awe is adult political theater for a world audience. To reach an audience that big you have to project. That’s the point of Shock, the sheer size of which has never, etc. Otherwise the audience won’t be struck with Awe.
What’s the point of Awe?
Awe kills two birds with one stone. For good Arabs, it inaugurates democracy, somehow. For no-good Arabs, Awe will . . . what? Awe will awe them into submission. Then things will be quiet outside the gate.
I can hear Dick Chaney arguing that Awe worked at Hiroshima.
But Japan was at war with us, and Awe, or at least Instant Submission, didn’t work outside Japan. The Iraqi people are not only not at war with us, we’re rescuing them from Saddam Hussein’s mind. And as for working outside Baghdad? Destroying it will awe Al-Qaeda? That’s a stretch. There are more Al-Qaedans in London or Berlin than in Baghdad. Maybe we should get Berlin first.
No matter how big you make Shock, you can’t get to Awe.
Even with a placid audience like the U.S. electorate, you can’t get there.
Forget it, we’ll never know the exact route from Wyoming to Shock and Awe.
Some combination of Gate, Hate, Oil, Worship of Force and Getting Reelected mixed together in Dick Cheney’s mind got us halfway there; and Shock and Awe is already halfway here: Here, Baghdad and Here, Wyoming. We’re half “physically, emotionally and psychologically exhausted”; our “perceptions and understanding of events” are half “overloaded.”
But even half a mind is enough to do the math: we’re half capable of resistance.
The shocks are huge, disgusting, realer than any hell, but at least they’re not shocking, once we give up our imaginary safety.
The other half, Awe with its ersatz religious capital letter, we can resist right now, completely.
The bombs are awful, all the worse because of the thoughtlessness that aims them, but they don’t deserve a shred of awe from us.
Not a huge victory, but it does mean one weapon is destroyed, the one they always use first.
[The Shock and Awe language comes from various web sites found on Google under “Shock and Awe”: The McLaughlin Group; World Socialist Web Site, etc]
There is a peculiar circuit of influence between the USAmerican poets that most interest me, and which I’ve characterized through various readings of Lorine Niedecker’s “You see here,” a poem with an as-yet unattributed quotation.
You see here
Moon on rippled
Where does this imperative come from – or, from whom?
The ethics of attribution is in the news, of course. Of course, the news is in the ethics of attribution. Meanwhile, it’s far from enough to “take exception” when the inferences peculiar to the “abstract lyric” (so-called) – ‘as / and unless’ – do not do away with epistemology (as Zukofsky hoped Objectivism might). In Buffalo a year or two back, French poet Dominique Fourcade spoke generally about a “poetics of intimacy” and held the Niedecker-Zukofsky correspondence up as evidence. The particular inferences escape memory now, partly due to the difficulty of moving through a world whose ugliest impulses are seemingly instantaneously extended to principles of action. That’s part of my difficulty and perhaps others’ too. Yet I do turn to resources such as Circulars for a kind of intimacy. I read the initial mission statement as coming from a similar awareness of the peculiar value of the circuits of influence that interest me as subjects to history (social, aesthetic, political) as well as epistemology (though the rudiments of such an epistemology have yet to be articulated to my satisfaction, really, so I won’t go there).
To attempt to articulate this value, I have in mind some remarks on 1) Alan Gilbert’s “circular” from the “Poetry Is News” event at St. Mark’s in NYC, “The Present Versus (the) Now,” 2) Leslie Scalapino’s published response to the St. Mark’s “The Blank Generation?” forum in the latest Poetry Project Newsletter, 3) and last, recent rereading of some of Ron Silliman’s work, especially essays in his collection The New Sentence.
The problem I’m working out of is nonetheless similar, I think, to Gilbert’s viz. how one might accept the value of at least the potential influence between aesthetics and political action. At one time, for me, a potential “synaesthetic poetics” seemed promising (hence my little essay in the “Poetry as Activism” issue of Tripwire in 1998). “Now” it is the problem of the “present.” [How these problems are related, historically, is interesting, but I can't get into that right now.]
For Gilbert, “there’s a difference between a now in which one’s range of political and artistic choices are primarily immediate reactions to a current situation, and a present that draws upon a culture and politics of resistance rooted in the past, present, and future." What Gilbert calls a “micro-politics of the everyday” is this distinction, and connotes, for me, the always parenthetical definite article he places before “now” – what is the inference between every day and everyday? Every day the problem of presence (any instant whatever, as certain trends in continental critical theory have it) compels one to take exception, while “(the) now” elicits acceptance of one or another “reaction.” This dialectic seems to quickly short-circuit when, far from the luxury of speculative writing, the integrity of human bodies is being undermined, and the ludicrously “clear and present danger” of the Bush administration – who occupy the White House under criminal pretenses – exemplify for the nations of the world the worst forms of reactionary politics under the auspices of “moral” obligation. This is how I read Gilbert’s definition: “(the) now might be described as a brief lyric moment in these negotiations that’s interrupted by screaming.” While a suspension of disbelief seems like the last thing we need, what feels like an immanently definite “now” remains incredible. Gilbert remarks: “illiteracy is also a discourse” – I may be misunderstanding this remark, but doesn’t this artificially divide (as if a wider divide needed to be introduced to gain perspective here) the fact that “Language Poetry is now taught at Iowa” from the fact that hip hop stands as one of the most visible influences on contemporary poetic praxis? We can anticipate the historical reception of Chuck D. into the canon that already makes room for Ron Silliman. While I believe I share Gilbert’s impatience with “the reactive possibilities of (the) now,” the problem of the present emerges for me as an impossible one, wherein I’m constantly trying to calibrate what seems endemic with what seems insurgent – my “as” against my “unless,” past against future forthwith.
Discussing separate passages in which Silliman and Lyn Hejinian discuss the differences between the political motives of previous generations – namely, their generation – for Silliman a “critical” motivation marked by organization (?), for Hejinian in part the ability to consider utopian visions “tenable” – Scalapino writes, “Unbeknownst to their intention, both Silliman and Hejinian ‘oppose’ Stein and Dogen's theory of action: one's being in time, the outside and the inside, is one being the present alongside past and future at once.” To be present is deviant – “doing what the time is” – or, for Stein as for younger poets, to be continually present. Be vigilant, Silliman seems to say. Isn’t this a rather untenable critical utopia, holding vigil over or cherishing the lesson of the past? While for Gilbert – and I agree – to be present in the world is a critical act which is, in a term Hejinian has used and that might serve to temper Scalapino’s critique, myopic. Going on to perceive in Hejinian an opposition between thinking and being, Scalapino writes, “’Pain’ then (‘being’ rather than thinking) is connecting with one's being living in world war (not merely an individual's limitations, depoliticized as that characterization).” This is not a mourning but a confusion that is painful in the sense that, endemic to characterizations of aesthetics as politics and vice versa, the aesthetic is presumed to do anything other than hurt. Is that the limitation – namely, pleasure – of art?
I just came from a reading this afternoon where Nathaniel Mackey, to an audience nearly 20% sleeping (this was a college gig and we assume these nappers’ attendance was assigned), read:
I don’t much subscribe to the increasing talk, in these dreary times, of “empowerment,” “subversion,” “resistance” and so forth. I once quoted Bachelard’s line, “Thirst proves the existence of water,” to a friend, who answered, “No, water proves the existence of water.” I find myself more and more thinking that way. I find myself – and this goes for everyone else in the band, I think – increasingly unable (albeit not totally unable) to invest in notions of dialectical inevitability, to read the absence of what’s manifestly not there as the sing of its eventual presence. To whatever extent hyperbolic aubade appears to have eclipsed collective “could,” the ballons’ going on about love’s inflated goodbye should alert us to the Reaganomic roots of that eclipse.
I drove down to Santa Ana yesterday. An old friend and I went to the store at one point and on our way we passed a neighborhood park which has more and more become a camp for the homeless. Park Avenue people now call it, irony their one defense. Anyway, as we drove past, my friend, looking out the window, sneered, “Look at them, a bunch of dialects.” He meant derelicts.” So much for malaprop speech as oppositional speech, I couldn’t help thinking, so much of oppositional anything. (ATET A.D., 120-1).
“N.,” the narrator here, is in a temporarily somber mood, but I don’t think it diminishes the import of his approach. Temporary, but I think it’d be amply malaprop to call it provisional. But is it an instance of myopia (myopic speech)?
Since G. W. Bush and company are not legally elected, is it criminal to speak of their designs as policy? [I think so, yes.] How is it I find that I must resist doing so, given the “clear and present danger"?
Silliman: “Poetry in America … is class war – and more – conducted through the normal social mechanisms of verse. The primary ideological message of poetry lies not in its explicit content, political though it may be, but in the attitude toward reception it demands of the reader. It is this ‘attitude toward information,’ which is carried forward by the recipient. It is this attitude which forms the basis for a response to other information, not necessarily literary, in the text. And, beyond the poem, in the world” (“The Political Economy of Poetry,” The New Sentence, 31).
And what attitude is characterized by rapid eye movement (alternately paranoia and sleep). I’ll confess I assigned Mackey’s reading this afternoon to my writing students. I asked them, in the spirit of Hannah Weiner’s notes for a writing workshop she apparently never conducted ("AWARENESS AND COMMUNICATION - archived at UCSC Libraries), to write a response to the reading as a whole – what went through your mind while attending the event? I was cornered by a student on my way out of the auditorium, and he told me he had made an audio recording of the reading just in case. In case of what? In case I fell asleep – you said how we could write about whatever we were thinking – I want to write about how a bunch of people were asleep. He said he saw me sleeping too. I told him I had closed my eyes to listen. etc.
If his observation had been accurate (he wanted me to sleep), it would have been useful to write. In our previous class session, I found (rereading now Silliman’s essay “The New Sentence”) some vague afterlight of the hypothesis that there is an innate learning curve from full thought to imitation of sentence formulation based on complete thoughts – complete sentences. But I’d set up a dialogic situation in which “As I walked” was a complete thought yet to be completed as a sentence, and that the information carried was itself a vague afterlight of a preceding dialogue. So that, every sentence is “new” in that it ends or arrives, teleologically (the final term [.] is defined by the preceding terms). This is the seam through which Silliman is able to weave “K as if with a chamomile” (Tjanting, 132). “Literary criticism,” writes Silliman, summarizing Willard Van Orman Quine, “ought to serve as a corrective. Unlike philosophy, it is a discourse with a clearly understood material object” (“The New Sentence,” 71). This is, of course, untenable. That's Silliman's critique. But it is not so far from Silliman’s signal reference to Stein: “What Stein means about paragraphs being emotional and sentences not is precisely … that linguistic units integrate only up to the level of the sentence, but higher orders of meaning – such as emotion – integrate at higher levels than the sentence and occur only in the presence of either many sentences or … in the presence of certain complex sentences in which dependent clauses integrate with independent ones. The sentence is the horizon …” (87). But my dialogic approach had had nothing to do with the “removal of context” Silliman points to in Bob Grenier’s Sentences. I would argue against characterizing Grenier’s work in that way. My pedagogical approach anticipated that context is presence insofar as “time-sense” relates to sentence structure. Silliman thought, in this time, “poetic form has moved into the interiors of prose” (89). But this severing of context is precisely the work of the implicit dialectic teleology of Quine’s “eternal sentence” proposes as the intentional object of writing, critical writing.
Why I don’t read blogs: they are at best ‘dialects.’
Why I read, and would like to contribute to, Circulars: it is dialogic and, hence, timely.
This is the fourth invitation I’ve received in a month asking me to comment on the relationship between poetry and politics: two for print publication forums dedicated to the topic and two for symposiums revolving around the issue. As someone who’s written on the connections between poetry, art, culture, and politics for more than just a month, it got me thinking about the apparent sudden urgency to address the relationship between poetry and politics. This, in turn, caused me to consider different ways in which to conceive of the idea of the present, both as a historical category and in relation to contemporary culture, specifically, poetry and art. What became clear, at least to me, is that there’s a difference between a now in which one’s range of political and artistic choices are primarily immediate reactions to a current situation, and a present that draws upon a culture and politics of resistance rooted in the past, present, and future.
(The) now is a fragile history. Barely torn from the past at the same moment it erratically staggers into the future, (the) now moves so quickly, yet obliquely, that its blur appears determined. In an information-oriented society built on speed, this is particularly true; and anyone who sits in front of a computer all day as part of her or his job knows the feeling of watching fresh headlines continually pop up on the homepages of Internet news providers. This is an experience of history—or one form of it—as whizzing by before lunchtime. As a result, (the) now often only leaves room for reaction in its small space and the short time it has left.
One of my biggest concerns when thinking about differences between (the) now and the present is that the demand for action “now” has the potential to override the demands for action “then” and in the future—demands that never disappear, even when forgotten, covered-up, or silenced. For instance, I’m heartened—perverse as the use of this word may be, given the context—that because of the threat of war on Iraq and the diminishment of civil liberties in the US, people are once again thinking about the relationship between politics and poetry. But why weren’t there just as many symposiums and print forums dedicated to this topic when the Clinton administration was dismantling social welfare programs during the go-go ’90s? And what about the writers and visual artists who had trouble publishing and exhibiting their work not so long ago because it was deemed “too political”? And what happens to this work and this dialogue we’re having today once the war in Iraq has been averted or won or lost? Or when Hillary Clinton is elected president? (The) now is sometimes quick to elide these kinds of questions, instead favoring immediate reaction.
This plays out on a grassroots level, where it can be difficult to convince people of the need to protest the impending war on Iraq when they’re more worried about their unemployment benefits running out, or when the police are perceived as more of an immediate threat than so-called “weapons of mass destruction,” or when neighborhood schools are chronically underfunded and unsafe. I want a conception of politics that can respond as much to the day-to-day politics of people just getting by as it does to the out-of-touch national politics of Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe. Which isn’t to say that it wouldn’t be particularly difficult to make a map connecting the bombing of Iraqi children with the failure of schools in the US, something the strategists of the Democratic Party seem unwilling to do. But I’m hesitant to define politics exclusively in terms of broad-based social movements. It’s crucial that a micro-politics of the everyday isn’t forgotten by this generation’s peace movement, or else this movement may end up being as relatively homogenous as other recent versions.
A politics of the everyday negotiations with power that take place in the present—though not always in (the) now—are extrapolations of earlier, as well as yet-to-be-articulated, aspirations for a better shared world. To use a metaphor informed by poetry, (the) now might be described as a brief lyric moment in these negotiations that’s interrupted by screaming. (The) now always has the capacity for beautiful interventions—the slogans written on the walls of the Sorbonne in May of ’68, the ACT UP poster art of Gran Fury in the ’80s, the puppets and costumes at the WTO protests in Seattle in 1999—but these interventions move beyond the rhetorical certainties of (the) now and into the uncertain possibilities of the present when they become articulated to larger social and ideological formations. Similarly, poetry is never inseparable from the moment of both its utterance and its reception, an utterance and reception that are socially situated, and therefore politically and ideologically inflected. It’s important to listen or read for this, especially when the ability to corrode stale rhetorics from the inside and make accepted ideologies appear unnatural are two things that poetry and art have the potential to do effectively and brilliantly.
Yet to say that all poetry and art is political negates the ability to use politics as a critical concept, just as saying that all thought is ideological diminishes ideology’s capacity for critique. This isn’t to argue that all poetry can’t be read politically and ideologically, which may be more to the point. As access to information becomes a fundamental material level in society, while the digital divide remains yet another form of wealth disparity, the ability to read critically will assume a significance on par with more traditional political concepts such as voting, union membership, etc. Pedagogy then has the potential to become a revolutionary activity, because illiteracy is also a discourse, as the reigning president has illustrated so well—all humor aside.
If power is not permanent, then politics is not a privilege. Poetry and art examine language, image, and movement at the point of production, even if this production is frequently complicit with economic, social, and institutional status quos. At these moments of complicity, the farther one gets from a poetry and art of (the) now, the closer one gets to poetry and art as imagining and invoking an alternative set of present conditions, both within poetry and art, and outside of them. The poetry renaissance that occurred in North America during the ’90s is the result of the substantial role poetry plays in marginalized communities. This can be seen most obviously in the various forms of spoken word, performance poetry, and hip hop that, in many ways, instigated this renaissance a decade or so ago. The current cycle of poetry’s relevance and political vitality—as evidenced most strikingly by First Lady Laura Bush’s canceling of a poetry symposium at the White House that poet and publisher Sam Hamill planned to turn into a political protest—has decidedly not occurred because Jorie Graham sells more books than her equivalent in the ’80s, or because Billy Collins is NPR’s darling, or because Language poetry is now taught at Iowa. In fact, it’s happened in spite of them.
The reactive possibilities of (the) now—with its frequent retreat into moral pieties and political sloganeering on both the left and the right—are a horizon away from the creative emancipations of the present, however brief, however defeated by other pasts, presents, and futures. In this sense, it’s necessary to ask why are certain stories told and others not, why are certain kinds of information known and other kinds not, why are certain situations and phenomena represented and others not. “[H]ow is it,” asks Michel Foucault in the Archaeology of Knowledge, “that one particular statement appeared rather than another?” This question is as much the province of artists as it is of activists and historians, of artists as activists and historians. But it’s not simply a matter of spontaneous free expression; rather, specific statements must be understood within a larger constellation of institutions, communities, and ideologies. Without this contextual awareness, artistic, critical, and political interventions dissipate within the mystifying climate of (the) now.
All the while, it’s necessary to be realistic about what cultural workers are capable of. Thus, one strategic challenge for writers and artists—and not solely during times of crisis, because time is always in crisis—is not to try to compete with a mass media network that has rarely served to represent anything other than ruling class interests. Instead, the aim might be to foster alternative cultures, modes of representation, ideologies, and communities that the mostly false “public”—i.e., corporate-controlled—channels of communication will then be obliged to address, and with which the hegemonies they help prop up will be compelled to negotiate. This is a process different from—however tenuous the distinction—the absorption of alternatives by the mainstream . . . a process forced open by a now-informed-by-history.
St. Mark's Poetry Project, NYC, 1 February 2003
[I've just got this one dropped into my inbox. It is probably the most cogent, but also willfully controversial, statement I have read on the situation of poets right now, especially his assessment of the three options for creative intervention. It is the third, poets turning to prose, that has most inspired the creation of this site -- that and the fact that Bush's speech writer is an evangelical Christian.]
I am both pessimistic and optimistic about what's happening and briefly, or not so briefly, I'd like to say why:
First, I take the word "politics" in a very narrow sense: that is, how governments are run. And I take the word "government" to mean the organized infliction or alleviation of suffering among one's own people and among other peoples.
One of the things that happened after the Vietnam War was that, in the U.S., on the intellectual left, politics metamorphosed into something entirely different: identity politics and its nerd brother, theory, who thought he was a Marxist, but never allowed any actual governments to interrupt his train of thought. The right however, stuck to politics in the narrow sense, and grew powerful in the absence of any genuine political opposition, or even criticism, for the left had its mind elsewhere: It was preoccupied with finding examples of sexism, classism, racism, colonialism, homophobia, etc. -- usually among its own members or the long-dead, while ignoring the genuine and active racists/ sexists/ homophobes of the right-- and it tended to express itself in an incomprehensible academic jargon or tangentially referential academic poetry under the delusion that such language was some form of resistance to the prevailing power structures-- power, of course, only being imagined in the abstract. (Never mind that truly politically revolutionary works-- Tom Paine or the Communist Manifesto or Brecht or Hikmet or a thousand others-- are written in simple direct speech.)
Meanwhile, Ronald Reagan was completely dismantling the social programs of the New Deal and Johnson's Great Society-- creating the millions of homeless, the 25% of American children who live in poverty, the obscene polarization of wealth, and so on. (And the poets, typically, were only moved to speak up when he cut the NEA budget.) Clinton might have had a more compassionate public face, but essentially the political center had shifted so far right that today the Democratic party is to the right of any European conservative party, and the Republicans just slightly to the left of a European national front party. We may never live to see an American president as left-wing as Jacques Chirac.
The main result of almost thirty years of these so-called politics on the left is that there are now more women and minorities in the Norton anthologies, and we all know how to pronounce "hegemony"-- surely a great comfort to the 4 million people, predominately black men, currently in the prison system, or the teenage girls in most places in America who need an abortion and there's nowhere to get help, or the parents and babies who create the statistics of by far the highest infant mortality rate among the technological nations, or the 20% of high school seniors who can't find the U.S. on a world map.
The good news about the monstrosity of the Bush administration is that it is so extreme and so out of control that it has finally woken up the left, and once again we're talking about politics as the rest of the world knows it, about people getting slaughtered, people being hungry, and people deprived of basic human rights-- and not about language as a capitalist construct or queer musicology. The best news of all is that very young people-- the generation of the Zeroes-- after the decades of MTV and Nintendo somnambulism, are being politicized by the collapsed economy, the prospect of a reinstituted draft, and the realization that their sneakers are made by child-slaves in the Third World. Every political youth movement has its own culture-- look at the 30's, the 60's, or radical Islam today. It will be extremely interesting to see, and utterly unexpected to find, what culture this youth movement produces: What will be their ideals and practices, their music and poetry, or even their dress? I have a feeling that we won't have a clue, and that their response may well be a sort of iconoclastic asceticism, not unlike radical Islam, impervious to corporate takeover, and completely alien to their parents. [One of the hardest things for people my age to understand is that this is not 1967 all over again, that things are going to be very different, and that, if we don't learn to listen, we are going to end up being, as our old formula goes, part of the problem and not part of the solution.]
I take this gathering as a kind of union meeting-- the union of writers, mainly poets-- and it seems to me the primary question for us is: things are going to be happening with or without us, are we going to be part of it, or are we going to continue to talk about essentialism at the MLA and finding your voice at the AWP?
Poets in times of political crises basically have three models. The first is to write overtly political poems, as was done during the Vietnam War. 95% of those poems will be junk, but so what? 95% of anything is junk. It is undeniable that the countless poems and poetry readings against the Vietnam War contributed to creating and legitimizing a general climate of opposition; they were the soul of the movement. And it also resulted in some of the most enduring poems of the 20th century, news that has stayed news indeed.
The second model is epitomized by George Oppen, who as a Communist in the 30's, and a poet uncomfortable with the prevailing modes of political poetry, decided that poets should not be treated differently from others, that the work to be done was organizing, and so he stopped writing and became a union leader.
The third model is César Vallejo, another Communist in the 20's and 30's. He refused to write propaganda poems-- he wanted to write the poems he wanted to write-- so to serve the cause he wrote a great deal of propaganda prose.
The first model (political poems) is the most common, and no doubt the one we'll be seeing the most, and frankly it will come as a relief from all those anecdotes of unhappy childhoods and ironic preoccupations with "surface." Oppen, of course, was a kind of secular saint-- and most of us are too egotistical to take a vow of silence. But it is the example of Vallejo that seems to me the least explored.
People who are poets presumably know something about writing. So why does it never occur to them to write something other than poems? There are approximately 8000 poets registered in the Directory of American Poets-- are there even four or five who have written an article against the Bush Administration? Most of us can't get onto the Op-Ed page of the Times-- we'd never displace Condoleezza there-- but most of us do have access to countless other venues: hometown newspapers, college newspapers, professional newsletters, specialist magazines, websites, and so on. All writers have contacts somewhere, and all these periodicals must fill their pages. Even poetry magazines: Why must poetry magazines always be graveyards of orderly tombstones of poems? How many of them in the 1980's, for example, even mentioned the name "Reagan"? How many of them today have any political content at all?
I've been writing articles since Bush's inauguration for translation in magazines and newspapers abroad and, if nothing else, they at least help to demonstrate that the US is not a monolith of opinion. Foreign periodicals can't get enough of Americans critical of Bush-- which is why the collaboration of such supposedly antiwar poets as Robert Creeley and Robert Pinsky in the recent State Dept anthology was so grotesque. If, as they claim, they wanted to give Americans a human face, there was no end of other forums abroad-- they didn't have to do it as flunkies for Bush. More tellingly, the only public condemnations of that anthology have come from foreign newspapers-- American writers were either indifferent or afraid of alienating a future prize jury.
In English, I send my articles out via e-mail. It's one of the best ways, and certainly the easiest, to publish political writing in this country. Send it to your friends and let the friends, if they want, send it on. Let the readers vote, not with their feet, but with the forward button.
The last time I was here at St Marks, in 1994, I was practically laughed off the stage for saying that the major organizing force of political opposition in the future was going to be the internet. Now of course, it's a banality. The internet has completely changed all the rules. It's how the like-minded instantly find each other; it's the one national and international forum that has been-- so far-- impossible to control; and it's practically the only source of opposition information and opinions from everywhere in the world: not only immediate access to the foreign press, but also-- if you really want to give yourself nightmares-- to the endless reports available from the Dept of Defense and right-wing think tanks. That still-unrecognized prophet, Abbie Hoffman, said, almost 40 years ago, that if you want to start a revolution, don't bother to organize, seize a television station. With the internet, we are all our own tv stations and publishing companies and newspapers. The potential is limitless: Trent Lott was brought down by a weblog; all the doubts about the war that are seeping into the general public began online; and just this week even lovely Laura's Poetry Tea got canceled thanks to an e-mail petition.
There are 8000 poets in the Directory, and Anne Waldman and Ammiel Alcalay, a month ago had trouble coming up with a list to invite to speak here. One eye may half-open when, like Laura's party, it directly involves them, but most American writers have lost the ability to even think politically, or nationally, or internationally. In all the anthologies and magazines devoted to 9/11 and its aftermath, nearly every single writer resorted to first-person anecdote: "It reminded me of the day my father died..." "I took an herbal bath and decided to call an old boyfriend..."Barely a one could imagine the event outside of the context of the prison cell of their own expressive self. (Or, on the avant-garde, it was a little too real for ironic pastiche from their expressive non-self.)
We are where we are in part because American writers-- supposedly the most articulate members of society-- have generally had nothing to say about the world for the last 30 years. How many of those 8000 poets have ever been to a Third World country (excluding beach vacations)? How many think it worthwhile to translate something? How many can name a single contemporary poet, not living in the U.S., from Latin America or Africa or Asia? In short, how many know anything more about the world than George Bush knows?
After thirty years of self-absorption in MFA and MLA career-mongering and knee-jerk demography and the personal as political and the impersonal as poetical, American writers now have the government we deserve. We were good Germans under Reagan and Bush I; we were never able to separate Clinton's person from his policies and gave him a complacent benefit of the doubt; and the result is Cheney and Rumsfeld and Ashcroft and Perle and Wolfowitz and Scalia and Rice and their little president. They can't be stopped, but I do think they can be slowed down.
Statement for "Poetry is News" conference
St. Mark's Poetry Project, NYC, 1 February 2003