March 18, 2013

Shop Talk

Sam Smith - This Seventh Day Agnostic got started in a happier period when there were plenty of clerical types who found better things to do with their time than to blast gay marriage and abortion, cover up pedophilia, or serve as an apologist for Israeli apartheid. In the 1960s, ministers, rabbis and priests were among the most progressive folk around, a fact of which I was reminded  with news of the passing of Rev. Arnold Keller. As the Washington Post put it:

Rev. Keller served the Lutheran Church of the Reformation [on Capitol Hill in Washington] for 33 years over two separate assignments.

During his tenure, the congregation focused on global outreach and community ministries, including a tutoring service for youths living in a nearby housing project, a food pantry and efforts to restore homes for needy local families.

Rev. Keller helped start the church’s public-affairs ministry, which brought together hundreds of federal government employees to discuss political and theological issues. He also launched a health-care center at the church to serve the community.

...Rev. Keller’s family said he voiced early support within the Lutheran Church to welcome lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people as worshipers.
And there is a more personal reason to note the passing of Rev. Keller. His church provided a $2,000 contribution (about $12,000 today corrected for inflation) to help start the Capitol East Gazette, a neighborhood paper that became the citywide, and then national, DC Gazette and eventually the Progressive Review. 

Bet you never suspected a bunch of Lutherans got me going. . .

The rationalization of evil

Sam Smith- You don't need a lot of evil people for evil to spread. You just need evil's acceptance by people who think they're just going along with the flow. Especially when they're in the mass media. As John Ralston Saul put it:
"The Holocaust was the result of a perfectly rational argument -- given what reason had become -- that was self-justifying and hermetically sealed. There is, therefore, nothing surprising about the fact that the meeting called to decide on "the final solution" was a gathering mainly of senior ministerial representatives. Technocrats. Nor is it surprising that [the] Wansee Conference lasted only an hour -- one meeting among many for those present -- and turned entirely on the modalities for administering the solutions .... The massacre was indeed 'managed,' even 'well managed.' It had the clean efficiency of a Harvard case study "
We are far from the evil of the Wannsee Conference, but too many in power are thinking and acting in the way that eventually leads to such things. Increasingly, we are treating evil as normal or simply a fiscal or technical problem.

A case in point is Paul Ryan's budget. The mass media is ignoring or underplaying the evil effects involved. In fact, it's fair to say that Ryan's budget, if approved, would cause more Americans to die or become ill, starved or impoverished than any non-military legislation in time remembered.

The Tax Policy Center calculates that the poorest 20% of Americans will get a $60 tax cut. The top one percent will get $227,420.  And along with this the Ryan budget will rip tens of millions of Americans from healthcare, food stamps, and other forms of welfare as it takes 66% of its budget cuts from programs that aid the poor.

But how is the general public to understand the evil involved or Ryan's greed, selfishness and corrupted thinking, if the mass media treats it as so normal that a recent presidential poll found Ryan neck and neck with the likes of Biden and Cuomo in a state like Pennsylvania?

And there's little hope of a change when a publication like the Washington Post runs a column by Stephen Perlstein that argues:
Another reason for the correlation between income and life expectancy is that lower-income people lead less healthy lives - they are more likely to smoke, drink and take drugs, their diets are less healthy, they get less exercise and they don't take advantage of the health care that is available to them. This raises a different sort of moral question that conservatives are quick to raise and liberals prefer to ignore:
Why should the rest of the country be prevented from making a needed, common sense reform to its retirement program because some people refuse to take personal responsibility for their own health?  Where is the fairness in that?
Rising income inequality is a big problem, no doubt about it, but it seems to have encouraged some people to view every public policy issue primarily through a distributional or class prism....
Just about every policy you can think of has a disproportionate impact on certain classes, races, genders, regions, industries or age cohorts, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't adopt them. Sometimes what is "fairest" is doing what's best for the whole country.
When it's no longer considered fair for the country to do what it can for the most, we have become a society that looks on its less fortunate not only as "people who refuse to take responsibility" but as those to whom we owe nothing including their continued survival. Where will it stop?

There is no doubt that the evil is being spread by the likes of Paul Ryan. But the likes of Steven Perlstein, in making this evil seem rational, are doing as much damage if not more.

Ex Post non facto

Sam Smith: The Washington Post in arguing against the government printing money missed two key points:'

- At the present time, non-existent money is already being printed in huge amounts. It's called bank loans. The difference is that banks get to print the money but not the government. The government could just as easily print the money and consider it an interest free debt without causing inflation. It's not printing money that causes inflation, but letting the debt get out of hand.

- The government does not distinguish between money borrowed for capital expenses and that borrowed for operating expenses. This is one of the greatest flaws in the government budget system. For example, if you borrow $100,000 to buy a house you know that that's not the same thing as borrowing $100,000 for living expenses.  The same is true in government spending but we just ignore it. In fact, spending $1 billion on railroads has a  non-inflationary effect on the economy because the money spent is creating new money in the form of economic development.

Sam Smith, Great American Political Repair Manual, 1997 -

The total federal state, local and private debt in this country in 1996 was around $14 trillion. The actual money supply was just under $6 trillion. So what happened to the rest of the money?  Most of it doesn't exist and never did. We call this imaginary money debt. This debt is money that we (as individuals, companies and government)  have borrowed, primarily from private sources. As Bob Blain, a professor at Southern Illinois University, put it:
Most debt is not the result of people borrowing money; it is the result of people not being able to repay what they owed [to banks or individuals] at some earlier time. Instead of declaring them bankrupt, creditors just add more to their debt.
This new debt is called interest. Many people think the idea of  the government printing money is shameful, yet our laws permit private financial institutions to create money all the time. Every time you fail to pay off your credit card, you're letting a banker print some more money.  
You're not the first, of course. For example, when the Congress met in February 1790 to figure out how to pay off the Revolutionary War debt of $75 million, Alexander Hamilton strongly advocated issuing debt certificates and using them as money. Congressman James Jackson of Georgia warned that this would "settle upon our posterity a burden which [citizens] can neither bear nor relieve themselves from.  ... Though our present debt be but a few millions, in the course of a single century it may be multiplied to an extent we dare not think of."

 The privilege of creating and issuing money is not only the supreme prerogative of government, but is the government's greatest creative opportunity. By the adoption of these principles, the taxpayers will be saved immense sums of interest. 

An alternative to Congress borrowing money to pay off its debt would have been to have created the $75 million, using Congress's constitutional power to "coin money and regulate the value thereof." Instead Congress began a long tradition of borrowing the money that -- five trillion dollars of debt later -- many believe we can neither bear nor relieve ourselves from.

In the early 19th century, the little British Channel island of Guernsey faced a smaller but similar problem. Its sea walls were crumbling. its roads were too narrow, and it was already heavily in debt. There was little employment and people were leaving for elsewhere.
Instead of going still further into debt,  the island government simply issued 4,000 pounds in state notes to start repairs on the sea walls as well as for other needed public works. More issues followed and twenty years later the island had, in effect, printed nearly 50,000 pounds. Guernsey had more than doubled its money supply without inflation.
A report of the island's States Office in June 1946 notes that island leaders frequently commented that these public works could not have been carried out without the issues, that they had been accomplished without interest costs, and that as a result "the influx of visitors was increased, commerce was stimulated, and the prosperity of the Island vastly improved." By 1943, nearly a half million pounds worth of notes belonged to the public and was so valued that much of it was being hoarded in people's homes, awaiting  the island's liberation from the Germans.
About the same time that Guernsey started to fix its sea walls the town of Glasgow, Scotland, borrowed 60,000 pounds to build a fruit market. The Guernsey sea walls were repaid in ten years, the fruit market loan took 139 years. In the first part of the the 20th century, Glasgow paid over a quarter million pounds in interest alone on this ancient project.


April 22, 2012

How to stay free

Excerpted from  "Sam Smith's Great American Political Repair Manual" (WW Norton, New York & London) 1997

What was it all about? When did it begin? . . . Couldn't we just stay put? . . . We've done nothing wrong! We didn't harm anyone. Did we? . . . There must have been a moment, at the beginning, when we could have said -- no. But somehow we missed it.. . . Well, we'll know better next time. -- From Rosencrantz's final speech before disappearing and dying.
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard

About the most important job of a democracy -- next to serving its people -- is to make sure it stays a democracy.

This is a lot harder than many people think. Forms of government don't have tenure, and governments that rely on the consent of the governed -- rather than, say, on tanks and prisons -- particularly require constant tending.

Unfortunately, many Americans either don't understand or have come to ignore this basic principle. As things now stand, we could easily become the first people in history to lose democracy and its constitutional freedoms simply because we have forgotten what they are about.

They also thought they were free

How could it happen? Here's how a college professor, in another country and in another time, described it:
What happened was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to be governed by surprise, to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believe that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if people could understand it, it could not be released because of national security. ~ The crises and reforms (real reforms too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter.

~ To live in the process is absolutely not to notice it -- please try to believe me -- unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, 'regretted.'

~ Believe me this is true. Each act, each occasion is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join you in resisting somehow.

~ Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven't done (for that was all that was required of most of us: that we did nothing). You remember those early meetings of your department in the university when, if one had stood, others would have stood, perhaps, but no one stood. A small matter, a matter of hiring this man or that, and you hired this one rather than that. You remember everything now, and your heart breaks. Too late. You are compromised beyond repair.
This quote is from a remarkable book about Nazi Germany written by Milton Mayer in the 1950s. They Thought They Were Free (University of Chicago Press) examined not the horrific perversions but the horrible normalcies of the times. Mayer summed up his own experience this way:
Now I see a little better how Nazism overcame Germany ~ It was what most Germans wanted -- or, under pressure of combined reality and illusion, came to want. They wanted it; they got it; and they liked it. I came back home a little afraid for my country, afraid of what it might want, and get, and like, under pressure of combined reality and illusions. I felt -- and feel -- that it was not German Man that I had met, but Man. He happened to be in Germany under certain conditions. He might be here, under certain conditions. He might, under certain conditions, be I.
We, too, think we are free. But let's review the bidding. Here are some restrictions on American freedoms that are less than a generation old, each instituted, we were told, to protect us from a danger, a crisis or a threat to national security:
Roadblocks as part of random searches for drivers who have been drinking or using drugs.

The extensive use of the military in civilian law enforcement, particularly in the war on drugs.

The use of handcuffs on persons accused of minor offenses and moving violations.

Jump-out squads that leap from police vehicles and search nearby citizens.

Much greater use of wiretaps and other forms of electronic surveillance.

Punishment before trial such as pre-trial detention and civil forfeiture of property.

Punishment of those not directly involved in offenses, such as parents being held responsible for the actions of their children, employers being required to enforce immigration laws, and bartenders being made to enforce drinking laws.

Warrantless searches of persons and property before entering buildings, boarding planes, or using various public facilities.

Closing of public buildings or parts of buildings to the public on security grounds.
Increased restrictions on student speech, behavior, and clothing.

Increased mandatory use of IDs.

Increasing restrictions on attorney-client privacy.

Greatly increased government access to personal financial records.

Loss of a once widely presumed guarantee of confidentiality in dealings with businesses, doctors, accountants, and banks.

The greatest incarceration rate of any industrialized country in the world.

Mandatory sentencing for minor offenses, particularly marijuana possession.
Increased surveillance of employees in the workplace.

Laws in 11 states that make it a crime to suggest that a particular food is unsafe without a "sound scientific basis" for the claim.

Random traffic stops of blacks are so frequent that the drivers are sometimes said to have been stopped for DWB -- driving while black.

Increased use of charges involving offenses allegedly committed after a person has been halted by a police officer, such as failure to obey a lawful order.

Widespread youth curfews.

Expanded definition of pornography and laws against it.

Greatly increased use of private police forces by corporations.

Persons being forced to take part in line-ups because of some similarity to actual suspect.

In 1996 the British Parliament passed legislation that allowed police to stop, frisk and search anyone in any area they designate without ground for suspicion. Anyone declining to be searched may be arrested, jailed or fined. Under a previous milder law, some 21,000 people and vehicles in the London area were searched with only two arrests for suspected terrorist activities.

Loss of control over how personal information is used by business companies.

Eviction of tenants from homes where police believe drugs are being sold.

Public housing projects being sealed to conduct home-to-home searches.

Use of stereotypical profiles (including racial characteristics) to justify police searches.
Seizure of lawyers' fees in drug cases.

Warrantless searches and questioning of bus, train, and airline passengers.

Random searches of school lockers.

Random searches of cars in school parking lots.

Increased number of activities requiring extensive personal investigation and disclosure.

Lack of privacy in transactions such as video rental or computer use.

Video surveillance of sidewalks, parks and other public spaces.

Involuntary drug testing increasingly used as a prerequisite for routine activities such as earning a livelihood or playing on a sports team.

Steady erosion by the courts of protection against search and seizure.

Drawing the line


Over just a few decades the practices listed above have become part of "the slow motion underneath" America -- little changes each "worse than the last, but only a little worse."

Is the analogy unfair? Are the procedures described above merely the necessary results of a complex, modern society? The inevitable result of a war on drugs?

To find out where you would draw the line, go back over the list of items above and ask yourself of each: was this step necessary? Wise? Democratic?

Now, here are some further measures that have been proposed, or are incremental extensions of existing restrictions, or that may come about thanks to advancing technology. Which ones do you feel cross the line? At what point would you take a public stand on one or all of these?

Video surveillance of public bathrooms

Strip searches of persons matching terrorist or drug courier profiles at airports, bus and train stations

A national ID card encoded with any or all of the following: medical information, credit history, employment record, arrest and driving record.

Checkpoints at the edge of selected neighborhoods.

Random identification checks of pedestrians by police officers

Curfews for adults in high crime areas

A computer data search before you would be permitted to board a plane

Daytime curfews for youths

Random street frisks for weapons

Mail covers: recording by Post Service of suspicious names and addresses on envelopes

Mail surveillance: opening of suspicious mail by Postal Service.

National database assembling medical, credit, criminal and other records in easily accessible format.

Mandatory fingerprinting or ID chip implantation for purposes of positive identification.

Incarceration in "public health centers" for those who fail mandatory drug tests required for drivers' licenses or school attendance.

The right to be wrong

The major bulwark of freedom in our country is the Constitution. Many of the liberties we still enjoy did not, however, spring unchallenged from the womb of that document. Rather they were the product of protests, education and litigation, often over long periods of time.

After being won, such freedoms tend to be taken for granted. People lose the memory of why a battle was fought and how hard it was to win. Daniel Webster warned in 1837 that the danger to the country was not from a foreign foe, but from the "inattention of the people to the concerns of their government, from their carelessness and negligence." Thomas Jefferson put it even more bluntly during the Revolution:

From the conclusion of this war we shall be going downhill. It will not be necessary to resort every moment to the people for support. They will be forgotten, therefore, and their rights disregarded. They will forget themselves save in the sole faculty of making money, and will never think of uniting to effect a due respect for their rights. The shackles, therefore . . . will be made heavier and heavier, till our rights shall revive or expire in a convulsion.

Sometimes people believe in civil liberties, but mostly for themselves. Some feminists have attacked the First Amendment for permitting pornography, forgetting that the modern women's movement was built in part on the success of the 1960s free speech movement. Some blacks have attacked the protection of hate speech, even though such a protection works for both Louis Farrakhan and David Duke. And it has become fashionable for some academics to ridicule the Constitution as the work of dead white guys interested only in protecting property, although most of these academics have never been beat upside the head by a cop.

Two hundred and twenty years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the NY Daily News asked 40 people on the street what happened on July 4, 1776. Only nine got it right, almost all of them either school children or foreigners

Because people of differing views often lose interest in liberties when they don't work to their own advantage, groups like the American Civil Liberties Union are frequently criticized for defending what Walt Kelly once described as the basic American right of everyone to make damn fools of themselves. This chart shows some of the freedoms that have been constitutionally established by the Supreme Court just in the past few decades thanks to the ACLU and others. It's a good reminder that while you were doing your thing, someone has been looking after you:

A few rights a few people  have won for you in the Supreme Court

1932: The right to be protected by the Constitution even in state and local courts

1935: The right not to have your ethnic group excluded from a jury

1937: The right not to be arrested simply for attending a meeting of a peaceful but unpopular group

1938: The right to distribute literature without a permit

1939: The right to assemble in public spaces such as streets and parks

1940: The prohibition of racially based exclusion from party primaries

1946: Major limits placed on the ability of the post office to ban "offensive" material

1948: The outlawing of restrictive real estate covenants based on race and origin

1949: The right to give a speech that some find offensive

1952: The right to produce or view a movie that some consider sacrilegious

1954: The outlawing of segregated schools

1958: The right to travel

1962: Freedom from state-sponsored praying

1963: The right of poor people to be represented in court

1964: The right to have a lawyer after being arrested

1964: The right of the press to robustly criticize public officials without fear of libel charges

1965: The right of married people to use contraceptives

1966: The right to be informed of your rights following an arrest and to remain silent

1966: The right of an elected official to criticize US foreign policy

1967: The right not to have to sign a loyalty oath in order to obtain public employment

1967: The right of young people to be protected under the Constitution

1967: The right to marry someone of another race

1968: The right to teach and learn about evolution

1968: The right of a child born out of wedlock not to be discriminated against as a result

1968: The right of children living with a single parent to receive welfare benefits

1969: The right to speech that does not directly incite imminent lawless action

1969: The right of free speech for students

1972: The right of women to be protected under the 14th amendment

1972:The right of unmarried people to use contraceptives

1973: The right to an abortion

1974: The right of a student to notice and a hearing before disciplinary action is taken

1975: Prohibition of indefinite confinement of mental patients based on illness alone

1986: The right to use profanity towards a police officer in the course of an investigation

1989: The right to symbolic free speech such as flag burning

1994: The right to post political signs in your home windows

1996: The right of gays to equal protection of the laws

Use it or lose it

The lawyer brought a copy of a book on drug legalization to the bookstore counter.

"That looks interesting," said the clerk.

"Yeah," replied the attorney, "a lot of people think this is the right way to go."

"Makes sense."

"Would you join an organization that supported legalization?"

"Oh no, I wouldn't want the government to get my name."

Does the government compile lists of people opposed to the drug war? We don't know, although certainly government agencies have compiled such lists in the past. But in this case it really doesn't matter. The fact that the bookstore clerk believed they might has the same effect as if it were actually the case. A sort of voluntary repression has set in; what might be becomes as important as what is.

Every time an American decides that it is too dangerous to exercise a freedom, that freedom is diminished.

Thus the first rule of staying free is to act free.

Over the years, many people have forgotten this. During the 1950s, some of the country's most important leaders -- from President Eisenhower to heads of universities and prominent liberals -- allowed themselves to be cowed by Senator McCarthy and other anti-communist vigilantes. In doing so, they contributed to many decent people being badly hurt.

On the other hand, a few people stood up to McCarthy and his ilk. Among the most effective were not the longtime civil libertarians -- despite their steadfast efforts -- but the sort of people who might well have stayed on the sidelines, as so many do today. People fortunate enough not to have to worry about the problem personally. Yet.

These people included a highly respected broadcast journalist, Edward R. Murrow, who spoke out for decency even as the networks were blacklisting other journalists for their views. They included conservative politicians such as Henry Aiken and Margaret Chase Smith whose New England sense of integrity was outraged by what was happening. And they included a bow-tied Boston establishment lawyer named Joseph Welch whom Americans watched on TV being brought to tears and disgust as Senator McCarthy made an underhanded attack on one of his young associates.

Today, as then, there is a shortage of such voices. The media in particular has become unwilling to challenge the status quo, participating instead in what Spengler called the "terrible censorship of silence."

But there are important exceptions -- such as government or corporate whistleblowers. Here are people who, simply because they tell the truth about their government or employers, have been assigned to psychiatric treatment, threatened with dismissal, had security clearances revoked, been ostracized on the job or physically endangered. Here are some of the hidden heroes and heroines of democracy. They remind us that if they can take such risks, the least the rest of us can do is to act like a free people.

Understanding your warranty


The second rule for staying free is to know your rights.

When representatives of the American people met in 1787 to form what they called "a more perfect union," they drew up a sort of warranty agreement -- a contract between the people and the government they were creating. They called it the Constitution. Back then you didn't have to explain why such an agreement was important. After all the country had just fought a war against a government that had made a lot of bad laws without asking anybody. They didn't want it to happen again.

The Constitution created a new kind of government -- one that did not draw its legitimacy from force and intimidation but from the people themselves and from the places in which they lived. The powers of the federal government, as it says in the 10th Amendment, are those delegated to the United States by the Constitution. Everything else belongs to the states or to the people.

Lawyers tend to make the Constitution sound far more complicated than it is. They also fail to tell you that it is not just a legal document but a political and a moral one, and that your opinion about it counts, too.

Polls suggest, however, that Americans are woefully uninformed about the Constitution. According to one survey, three and a half times as many Americans can name the Three Stooges as can name three Supreme Court justices.

This is one reason why it's been so easy to chip away at the rights the Constitution contains. In fact, the important aspects of the Constitution are easier to understand then, say, the rules for the NFL player draft or free agentry and salary caps.

The best rights you've got

Here, for example, are the most important guarantees the Constitution makes to you:

1. You can say what you want

2. You can pray what you want or not at all.

3. You can gather peaceably with others,

4. You can complain to the government and ask for redress of your grievances.

5. You, your house, your papers or property may not be subject to unreasonable searches and seizures.

6. All citizens are entitled to equal protection under the laws.

7. If you run afoul of the law, you are to entitled to a long list of protections -- just in case someone made a mistake or is trying to frame you, to wit:

You are subject only to warrants issued "upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

You have to be informed of the crime of which you are charged.

You do not have to testify against yourself.

You can't be tried twice for the same crime.

You can't be tried for something that wasn't against the law at the time you did it. You are entitled to "due process of law."

You must have a "speedy and public" trial before an "impartial jury" if accused of a crime.

You are entitled to a court review of how and why you were imprisoned.

You are entitled to be confronted by the witnesses against you.

You can present witnesses on your own behalf.

You have the right to a lawyer.

You are to be free from excessive bail or fines as well as from cruel and unusual punishment.

Other rights that help

Freedom of the press: There are other rights average Americans do not usually exercise but which still benefit them. For example: freedom of the press. Freedom of the press, A.J. Liebling pointed out, really belongs to the person who owns one. Nonetheless, Thomas Jefferson thought this freedom so important he said, "were it left for me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter." His views changed sharply after he became president, which is one of the reasons why a free press is important -- so it will still be there after politicians have changed their minds.

At the time the Constitution was adopted many Americans were denied its rights. Blacks, women, people who didn't own land, and the less educated were among those widely and long denied some or all of its protections -- including the right to vote. Pre-Civil War free blacks in the nation's capital, for example, were still subject to apartheid-type codes requiring them to carry passes and to observe a nightly curfew. It was not until 1920 that women were finally allowed to vote. And it was only in 1971 that those 18 to 20 years old were also enfranchised. The history of America in no small part has been the story of fighting to right such wrongs and trying to make the Constitution apply to everyone.

Hidden rights: Two of the most important amendments to the Constitution long attracted little attention. In the past few years that's changed. One of these is the 9th Amendment, which declares that simply listing certain rights in the Constitution does not mean that the people don't have others. In other words, not all your rights come from the Constitution. Some stem from what are sometimes called people's natural rights or from a long history of legal precedents known as common law. For example, the Constitution doesn't address privacy but the common law does. Similarly, the right of juries to judge both the law and the fact comes from outside the Constitution -- from court rulings dating as far back as William Penn's day. .

The other hidden right declares that any powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution "are reserved to the states or to the people." Note that the powers of the United States are those delegated. This is from the 10th Amendment. When you hear the 10th Amendment being discussed, people are talking about the relative power of the federal government, the states, and the people.

So who's really in charge?

You are. Even the powers of the President, Congress, and Supreme Court are there only because they have been delegated by the people and the states. Besides, once the powers are delegated, the Constitution neatly divides them up. The founders wanted to make sure none of the branches of government gained too much power over you.

The most dangerous thing  any politician can say about your rights

When politicians or journalists say that a constitutional right must be balanced by something else, they are really talking about reducing or eliminating that right. In fact, the rights listed in the Constitution are not bargaining chips, but permanent guarantees.

Lately, politicians and the media have also taken to talking about "rights and responsibilities," as though free speech and free religion and not having cops raiding your house without a warrant were privileges we citizens only get when we're well-behaved. Don't believe them. Your constitutional rights, to borrow a phrase from the Declaration of Independence, are "unalienable."

Of course, the country will work a lot better if you vote in every election, help out in your community, and are nice to your neighbors, but it isn't necessary in order to be protected under the Constitution. You can be a grouchy, selfish couch potato making crazy calls to talk shows and still have the same rights as the most faithful volunteer at the local church.

Selling city hall

It's the dangest thing I ever saw. As majority leader you can't keep the money from coming in. -- House Majority Leader Richard Armey (R-TX)

There are ways that democracy can be lost other than through a direct assault on the Constitution. One of the most traditional methods for replacing or weakening democracy is to corrupt it.

Corruption isn't necessarily illegal. If I were to make a $1000 contribution to a political committee established to aid some member of Congress, no one would say that I had engaged in bribery. Yet in truth, the only difference between a bribe of $1000 to that congressman and a campaign contribution in the same amount is that the former is legal.

The late Senator Paul Douglas had a good ethical rule for himself. He would only accept gifts he could eat or drink within 24 hours. Thus a pint of whiskey was okay, but a quart was too much.

We not only don't pay enough attention to legal corruption, we tend to put far more emphasis on who is being corrupted than who is doing the corruption.

While it is beyond the scope of this book (or most major religions) to end political corruption, here are a few hints on how you can keep payoffs limited to a little sex and payola, and not have them destroy all our freedoms and rights.

How to keep corruption in check & out of the Constitution

1. Hit the corrupters at least as hard as the corruptees. The real danger in corruption is what the bribe buys, not the soul of the bought politician (which probably never was in that great a shape anyway).

2. The worst corruption tends to be legal, therefore hardly anyone notices it. Remember that corrupt not only means dishonest, it also means without integrity. In most jurisdictions the latter is not a violation of the law.

3. Just because the corruption is legal doesn't mean you have to accept it. Martin Luther didn't -- and so helped to reform a little church-run protection racket known as indulgences.

4. Simply because corruption is bad, don't assume all reforms are good. Early 20th century housing reformers, for example, would conduct midnight raids on tenements to expose overcrowding and Common Cause helped to give us PACs.

5. If forced to choose between minor corruption and major incompetence, take the former. It's cheaper and easier to live with.

6. Favor corruption that is well distributed-- that gets down to the street over that which only favors a few. Thus: reform zoning policies before you worry about parking tickets.

Economic freedom counts, too

So far, we've mainly been talking about political freedom. But economic freedom is important, too. The American Revolution was an economic as well as a political victory, triumphing over a system in which only the nobility and a few large merchants held economic power.

The definition of economic freedom at the time was quite different from that used by today's corporate chief executive seeking yet another congressional tax break. Early free Americans widely believed that one was entitled to the "fruits of your labor" and no more. They opposed the concentration of property because it would allow property owners to seize political power.

During the entire colonial period only about a half dozen business corporations were chartered. In the first 20 years after the Revolution only about 150 corporations were chartered. Each of these charters required that the corporation be in the public interest.

Early free Americans were not capitalists (the word hadn't even been invented). The Constitution was written for people and not for corporations. Free enterprise was not mentioned in it.

These early Americans were, however, deeply commercial. One reason for this was that commercial activity allowed you to break free of the social and economic restrictions of a British economy based on nobility and monopoly. Americans didn't want to work for such a system; they wanted to work for themselves. And they weren't concerned about competition because there wasn't much.

The rise of the modern corporation in the late 19th century represented a counter-coup against these values of the American Revolution. It dramatically undermined both political and economic freedom, corrupted politicians and ransacked national assets. It replaced the feudalism of the monarchy with the feudalism of the corporation.

Perhaps the most important event occurred 110 years after the launching of the American Revolution. In 1886, the Supreme Court ruled that a corporation was a person under the 14th Amendment and entitled to such constitutional protections as those of free speech.

With this fiction, the Court helped to boost the corporate takeover of America. The 14th Amendment had been clearly written to protect the rights of newly freed slaves. But by the 1930s -- fifty years later -- less than one-half of one percent of 14th Amendment cases coming before the Supreme Court involved blacks and more than fifty percent involved corporations seeking its protection.

As persons, corporations could inject themselves fully into civic life (such as influencing campaigns and politicians) while still repelling public interference in their own affairs. They could construct barriers on civil liberties grounds against efforts to control their rapaciousness and greed. Many of these rights that corporations secured by law came even as blacks and women were still struggling towards full enfranchisement.

How states once controlled corporations

The purposes for which every such corporation shall be established shall be distinctly and definitely specified in the articles of association, and it shall not be lawful for said corporation to appropriate its funds to any other purpose. -- State of Wisconsin, 1864

The charter or acts of association of every corporation hereafter created may be amendable or repealed at the will of the general assembly. -- State of Rhode Island, 1857

[Legislators shall] alter, revoke or annul any charter of a corporate hereafter conferred . . . whenever in their opinion it may be injurious to citizens of the community. -- State of Pennsylvania, constitutional amendment, 1857.

During much of the past century, Americans went along with the rising power of corporations because these companies provided higher incomes and ever-increasing jobs. But about 20 years ago, these two conditions began to disappear. Part of today's political tension stems from a growing concern over the rising power of big corporations even as their social and economic contribution to America declines.

Privatizing democracy

Another easy way to diminish democracy -- and one that has become immensely popular in the 1990s -- is to privatize it. Of course, that's not quite how it's described. Proponents speak of privatizing services or privatizing government, but what they often mean is making a corporate entity out of what was formerly part of democracy.

This trend has occurred with the media hardly noticing the political erosion involved. In fact, in the lexicon of politics and press these days, the citizen has been reduced to a mere consumer or taxpayer, terms that wipe out the fundamental notion of ownership of government by the public. The citizen, it is now widely suggested, only pays and is served; the citizen no longer decides.

Privatization inevitably creates an additional barrier between the citizen and whatever is being done. To be sure, cities have long contracted out services such as trash pickups, and that often works pretty well, but what is now happening is not only the contracting out of services but the contracting out of democratic control. There is an immense difference between letting the Biggo Corporation collect your garbage and letting it teach your kids. When a school system contracts with a private firm to run its schools, it is transferring not only the power to teach and administer but is delegating its own power to decide democratically how these things should happen.

A really simple rule on privatization

Ask the following question: Is this something about which citizens should have a say?

If the answer is yes, don't privatize.

The media has been a major cheerleader of privatization. Daily papers, in particular, like a new form called the "business improvement district." The idea is to designate a special district, usually downtown, in which a special assessment is applied to local businesses and their tenants to support programs such as new lighting, security patrols and planting. There are now some 1000 of these districts across the country with budgets as high as $10 million a year.

In these districts, voting on directors and their policies may be weighted based on tax payments, thus favoring the largest commercial interests even though the owners may not even reside in the city involved. In many cases, owners of major property not only get to decide, they can pass on the fees they approve to their tenants. Residents and/or business tenants tend to have little or no say.

Such districts, in essence, apply the principle of corporate voting -- the more money you have, the more votes you get -- to public decisions. Even in the early days of republic -- when the franchise was limited to property-owning white males -- each voter still only got one ballot.

Disney has outdone downtown business districts by purchasing a whole town. Lake Buena Vista, FL, has only 40 citizens, some 30 million visitors, and only one major business: Disney World. By creating its own jurisdiction, Disney has revived the 19th century notion of the company town and eliminated the need for local democracy. As Joshua Wolfe Shenk wrote in the American Prospect:

At stake is the control of public space. Americans may have so despaired of government that they are ready to concede authority over whole communities to private corporations. But, then, who insures democratic accountability? And where does corporate power end? ~ The "secession of the affluent," as Robert Reich has called the growth of private communities and private governments, is an acceptable solution to our problems only if democracy is irredeemable.

What happens when public space goes private


On public property you have the right of free speech. So does a corporation.

On the corporation's property, only the corporation retains the full right of free speech.

While in the town square, you are protected by not only the Constitution, but by a broad range of other laws such as those insuring civil rights.

While in a shopping mall that frequently replaces the town square your constitutional and legal rights are greatly restricted.

If you live in a town or village -- a real community -- you share with other voters broad powers over what happens and who carries it out.

If you in a developer's "community," nearly all decisions will be made by the developer's company.

In a traditional downtown, decisions are made (including tax policy) by the voters and the people they elect. All of these persons are residents of the town.

In the new privatized business districts sprouting up around the country, decisions (including special assessments ) are made by commercial taxpayers. Residents and tenants may get no vote and the business owners need not live in the community

Letting corporations run wild

The privatization of democracy is just part of the damage done by a post-1980 era of permissiveness towards corporations. Some of the other results:

declining real incomes for working Americans despite record corporate profits
  • the S&L scandals
  • the incorporation and industrialization of health care
  • the emigration of jobs and businesses abroad
  • the rise of multinationals and a decline of corporate loyalty towards the US.
  • the dismantling of union agreements
  • the de facto repeal of anti-trust laws
  • growing assaults on environmental and health regulations
  • the co-optation of the Congress, White House, and both major political parties to the service of major corporations
  • deep political corruption fueled by corporate lobbying and contributions.
How to loot local government

The corporate riot hasn't just taken place at the national level. Here are three popular ways corporations loot local governments:

1. Demand large subsidies for a company coming to, or remaining in, a community. Kentucky, for example, kept two businesses in the state by paying them $350,000 per job.

2. Refuse to pay a fair share of improvements required because of a company's presence in a community.

3. Take public property such as water and not pay for it or for the ecological damage that results.

Privatizing politics

Why has all this happened so easily? One reason is that the politicians themselves have been privatized. If you compare what members of Congress receive in government salary with what they get from business in campaign contributions, you might easily conclude that your representative was a corporate employee. You would not be all that far off.

There is a name for what has happened. It's called corporatism -- a system in which the state exists primarily to advance the interests of its largest corporations, which in turn direct the economy and national priorities.

Just as communism represents an extreme form of socialism, so corporatism represents an extreme form of capitalism.

America did not invent corporatism. That honor really belongs to Mussolini's Italy. Here's how historian Adrian Lyttelton described Mussolini's approach:
Industry was ordered to form 'a common front' in dealing with foreigners. To avoid 'ruinous competition,' and to eliminate inefficient enterprises ~ the values of competition were to be replaced by those of organization: Italian industry would be reshaped and modernized by the cartel and trust.
We had a less flattering term for what the Italians were about: fascism. Although we usually equate fascism with a particularly evil form of political tyranny, its roots were in an economic system. Lyttelton in fact defined fascism as "a product of the transition from the market capitalism of the independent producer to the organized capitalism of the oligopoly."

Sound familiar?

Several decades ago, a major industrialist was scorned when he said "What's good for GM is good for America. . . ." Today it is national policy.

Restoring economic democracy

This use of the government of all for the enrichment and aggrandizement of few is a revolution. ~ These sovereign powers . . . have been given by you and me, all of us, to our government to be used only for the common and equal benefit. Given by all to be used by all, it is a revolution to have made them the perquisite of a few. -- Henry Demarest Lloyd speaking in the 1890s to a crowd in Cook County, IL.

In the last few years, there has been growing support for a simple and direct notion: that we should correct the egregious error that the Supreme Court made when it declared corporations to be persons. This could be achieved by passing a constitutional amendment inserting some words clarifying that the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment is only meant to apply to living human beings.

In America's new economic circumstances, such a change would raise an issue that is no longer academic or quixotic. The battle over such an amendment would force Americans to educate themselves about the corporate ursurpation of our rights. It would help citizens learn the huge difference between economically productive commercialism and corporate feudalism.

Some things to do to stay free

1. Act like a free American

2. Know your rights

3. Know where you will draw the line and take a stand

4. You don't have to like other Americans; you do have to be decent to them.

5. Don't let anyone "balance" your rights with anything. Your rights are inalienable.

6. Don't let your politicians sell democracy to private business.

7. Amend the Constitution to make clear that corporations are not entitled to rights designed for individual citizens.

February 15, 2012

Another housing solution: government reverse mortgages

Sam Smith - Since 2008 I have argued without success for what I call a shared equity program in which federal, state or local government would take over a share of endangered mortgages in return for equity interest in the houses. Not only would this be a practical solution, but it might even make the governments some money should the houses rise in value down the lane.

But I haven't given up and so now offer an alternative plan: a government financed reverse mortgage program. As the government helped out, and in a fairer way than  commercial lenders, it would incrementally gain equity in the properties. Any money coming to the owner would be applied to their loan.

Just another idea for the day . .

November 17, 2011

What to do if the Supreme Court approves the individual mandate

Sam Smith

It was clear from the start that the healthcare individual mandate was a price the Obamites thought they had to pay the insurance companies to get them to shut up about the overall healthcare measure. It’s what they call pizzo in Sicily.

And it worked. As Peter Suderman notes at Reason, "According to a Supreme Court brief filed by the insurance industry's biggest lobbying group, the industry doesn't oppose the law—just so long as it includes the most constitutionally dubious provision, a mandate to purchase health insurance."

It’s unconstitutional and it’s the political equivalent of a payoff to the mob, but what if the Supreme Court approves it?

The political battle then needs to shift. We’ll be stuck with it, but that doesn’t mean the insurance companies – which offer no real health benefit to the American people – still have to get their their payoff.

The best solution would be to switch the individual mandate from private firms to Medicare. Simply add a category, something like “Obamacare refugees.”

But wouldn’t that add substantially to Medicare’s fiscal problems?

Not likely. Remember, private insurance companies don’t lobby for something that doesn’t make them a good deal of money. One reason for this that no one talks about is that the uninsured pool includes a large number of younger people who don’t get sick as often. Seniors account for 60% of all healthcare spending and 74% of all prescription drug purchases according to one analysis.

While the available data is atrocious on this issue that Obama and his embedded liberals like so much, here are some rough figures based on data from Kaiser, the CBO and elsewhere:

- In 2008 the uninsured cost the government about $41 billion.

- Non-paying uninsured numbered around 43 million.

- The mandate would cut this figure roughly in half.

- The CBO estimated that a single person would have to pay about $5200 to meet the demands of the mandate. The cost for a family of four would be about $3025 for each member.

Let’s say that the uninsured cost the government about $1,000 a head for healthcare, yet (using the lower figure) the insurance companies are getting about $3000.

You can now see both the problem (even if the insurance companies offer decent policies which they won’t) and why the Medicare solution makes sense.

November 07, 2011

Why are Republicans acting so crazy

Sam Smith
March 2011

Not every change in national policy and events is announced with a new conference or presidential speech.

A case in point is the rapid rise of apparent mental instability in the Republican Party. You used to just disagree with Republicans; now you have to worry whether your children will be safe in their proximity.

Historians may peg 2008 - with Sarah Palin chosen to run for vice president - as the beginning of the GOP breakdown. But in the past year things have moved from individually ridiculous to generally irrational.

The explanations vary. David Sirota, for example, calls it sadism, but where did it come from and why so suddenly?

The best rule of thumb is to follow the money.

And that, rather quickly, takes you back to a little over a year ago to January 21, 2010 when the Supreme Court declared that corporations were free to buy our elections at will. As Justice Stevens noted in his dissent:

At bottom, the Court's opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics."

Of course, as Stevens suggested, the ability of corporados to buy politicians was already well underway. Twelve years earlier, for example, I had given a speech at a rally at the US Capitol in which I said:

My final objection [private campaign financing] is biologic. Elections are for and between human beings. How do you tell when you're dealing with a person? Well, they bleed, burp, wiggle their toes and have sex. They register for the draft. They register to vote. They watch MTV. They go to prison and they have babies and cancer. Eventually they die and are buried or cremated.

"Now this may seem obvious to you, but there are tens of thousands of lawyers and judges and politicians who simply don't believe it. They will tell you that a corporation is a person, based on a corrupt Supreme Court interpretation of the 14th Amendment from back in the robber baron era of the late 19th century -- a time in many ways not unlike our own.

"Before this ruling, everyone knew what a person was just as everyone knew what a bribe was. States regulated corporations because they were legal fictions lacking not only blood and bones, but conscience, morality, and free . .

"Corporations say they just want to be treated like people, but that's not true. Test it out. Try to exercise your free speech on the property of a corporation just like they exercise theirs in your election. You'll find out quickly who is more of a person. We can take care of this biologic problem by applying a simple literary solution: tell the truth. A corporation is not a person and should not be allowed to be called one under the law."
Further, you don't always need to buy a politician directly, as Source Watch explained:

In an April 9, 2009 article, Lee Fang reports that the principal organizers of Tea Party events are Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works, two "lobbyist-run think tanks" that are "well funded" and that provide the logistics and organizing for the Tea Party movement from coast to coast. Media Matters reported that David Koch of Koch Industries was a co-founder of Citizens for a Sound Economy, the predecessor of FreedomWorks. David Koch was chairman of the board of directors of CSE. CSE received substantial funding from David Koch of Koch Industries, which is the largest privately-held energy company in the country, and the conservative Koch Family Foundations, which make substantial annual donations to conservative think tanks, advocacy groups, etc. Media Matters reported that the Koch family has given more than $12 million to CSE (predecessor of FreedomWorks) between 1985 and 2002. .

Media Matters also lists the Sarah Scaife Foundation as having given a total of $2.96 million in funding to FreedomWorks. The Sarah Mellon Scaife Foundation is financed by the Mellon industrial, oil, and banking fortune. The Claude R. Lambe Foundation, also controlled by the Koch family, has donated more than $3 million to Americans for Prosperity.
That said, there is a moment when confusion turns into chaos or assault turns into murder. For the American political system that moment was the Supreme Court decision on corporations a year ago. Historians - if such people are permitted to exist in the future - will probably see this as one of the great tipping points in the collapse of America.

Further, what has happened in the last year - including the Tea Party surge in the 2010 election - is not so much the result of an intrinsic mental breakdown in the GOP as it is the conscious selection of candidates who would once have been considered absurd, but now can be safely used to carry out corporatist goals because the public no longer has the power to defeat the money.

A Scott Walker or Paul LePage can say and do anything that their campaign contributors want because it is assumed by the latter that money now inevitably trumps public will.

Yes, Scott Walker may be a sadist and Paule LePage a dumb bully, but they are merely tools of those who fund them. All they have to do is be pluto pimps for the corporate agenda.

This is scheme wouldn't work so well if their funders mainly wanted something, but what they really want is the absence of something -namely a government that might stand in their way. So long as Walker and LePage are destroying things, their backers are quite content.

These Republicans are wrecking trucks for the big businesses that want to tear down the neighborhood we call America.

It's working for them right now. Whether it will continue to do so remains to be seen. For example, for the working class to even think about supporting Republicans is an idea only about three decades old.

A short list of constituencies that Republicans have recently offended include supporters of 9/11 responders, the AARP, Americorps, black men, cchildren with pre-existing health conditions, college students, cops, disabled people, aarthquake warnings, employed women, EPA, ethnically mixed couples, gays, ill people who need medical marijuana, immigrants and their children, jobless people, journalists, latinos, Medicaid recipients, Methodists, minimum wage workers, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, NPR & PBS, the Postal Service, public school students, public workers, scientists, supporters of separation of church and state, Social Security recipients, state workers, and women generally.

That's not a bad base around which to build an electoral rebellion.

Liberals could rediscover the working class and start showing it some respect in their policies. Issues could become more important than icons in our politics. Youth could rediscover their collective power once they turn off Facebook and their Ipods. The drive for a constitutional amendment ending corporate personhood could become a major issue.

And, as I noted at the Capitol back in 1999:

The people who work in the building behind us have learned to count money ahead of votes. It is time to chase the money changers out of the temple. But how? After all, getting Congress to adopt publicly funded campaigns is like trying to get the Mafia to adopt the Ten Commandments as its mission statement. I would suggest that while fighting this difficult battle there is something we can do starting tomorrow. We can pull together every decent organization and individual in communities all over America -- the churches, activist organizations, social service groups, moral business people, concerned citizens -- and begin drafting a code of conduct for politicians. We do not have to wait for any legislature. If we do this right, if we form true broad-based coalitions of decency, then the politicians will ignore us only at their peril.

At root, dear friends, our problem is that politicians have come to have more fear of their campaign contributors than they have of the voters. We have to teach politicians to be afraid of us again. And nothing will do it better than a coming together of a righteously outraged and unified constituency demanding an end to bribery of politicians, whether it occurs before, during, or after a campaign.
 In the meanwhile, it is best to keep in mind that the Republicans destroying our land are doing so not so much because of some new mental problems. They had them before and you just didn't hear about them.

They are tearing down the nation because their problems are extremely valuable to the corporados who have put them into office and don't want government to work at all.

Our battle, thus, is not with Walker and LePage but with the big bucks that put them where they are. Follow the money.

October 19, 2011

Preppies at the gate

ALTHOUGH DANA MILBANK has done some good reporting from the White House he continues to display a curious anti-Nader fetish, most recently making fun of Nader selling books on his website. Given that Nader, David Cobb of the Greens, and Michael Badnarik of the Libertarians were clearly the three most decent human beings in the race who got any notice, the question arises: why does Milbank so dislike honesty and decency in a politician?

Ironically it may lie deep in the same preppy arrogance that Milbank's other target, George Bush, displays so regularly. It is the assumption that only people who act like them and belong with them matter. The rest are fools.

You don't even have to have gone to a prep school to pick up this nasty trait. Four years at Harvard or Yale are plenty to develop what songwriter Alex Jay Lerner described to as an "indubitable, irrefutable, inimitable, indomitable, incalculable superiority."

And since such people often go far in public life, it becomes a curse that affects us all. It was the arrogance of the Harvard faculty that helped mire us in Vietnam. It was the arrogance of George Bush that has us mired in Iraq. And no small part of the origins of such arrogance can be found in the training of such schools as Yale and Harvard especially if - as in the case of Bush, Kerry and Milbank - you add in the perverted and power lusting curriculum of Skull & Bones.

One can identify this way of thinking easily. Just ask a hard question and see how dismissive the answer is. Take Milbank being asked whether it wasn't strange for the Washington Post to have assigned a Bonesman to cover the election in which two Bonesmen were running. His response:

"I have been assigned to monitor all secret hand signals during the debates. . . I have it on good information that if this one gets tied up in a recount, [late Supreme Court Justice and Bonesman] Potter Stewart will return from the grave to write the majority opinion."

The odd thing about people like Milbank is that they expend so much effort trying to prove how sophisticated and grownup they are, yet in the end basically display a remarkable childishness. They are culturally imprisoned in a narrow set of values and perceptions and even in conversation repeatedly use the techniques of power - such as putdowns and dismissiveness - in place of intelligent argument.

Thus, they become little more than members of a club, rather than grownup members of the society they purport to serve or run. It is the irony of institutions like Yale and Harvard that they produce so many childlike products. And it is the thing that in the end make Dana Milbank and George Bush have far more in common than either would wish to admit.

On the west side of the Capitol


 2005 - YOUR editor enjoyed lunch today with his wife at Jimmy T's five blocks down East Capitol Street from where George Bush and his capos were being given four more years to do damage to their country, its constitution, its culture, and its environment -- not to mention further mischief to the rest of the world. The inauguration was taking place on the opposite side of the Capitol and there were hardly any cars or people and no signs of security.

The counter at Jimmy T's was full so we sat in a booth. The TV was on but no one looked at the inauguration and the sound was turned to WASH-FM - loud enough so you couldn't hear the helicopters overhead. For as long as it takes to eat a short stack with bacon and drink a cup of coffee we could pretend everything was okay.

The other day I walked by the Capitol and found myself wondering why we weren't more paranoiac during the Cold War. When Johnson and Kennedy and Nixon were president you could still wander about the Capitol's halls and through the associated office buildings as though you were actually a part owner. Yet if Tom Ridge had been in charge of setting the alerts for that era, he would have run out of colors. We were in far more danger than we are now.
Even if one wants to argue that a dirty bomb in a backpack is more dangerous than a clean bomb sent by a rocket or that a few suicidal young Arab guys are more dangerous than divisions of well dressed Soviet troops, you still do have to argue the point and that in itself suggests that the response should be somewhat similar.

But there's little similar about it and as I walked down the hill by the Capitol it suddenly struck me that this isn't about me and you; it's about them. We are being governed by some intensely frightened people. From George Bush on down. Much of the homeland security business, in Washington at least, is to provide personal protection to important people from the consequence of the extremely bad things they are doing. We are the victims of both Al Qaeda and Il Dubya, told to give up our rights and freedoms so that the worst leaders of our entire history can go about their business without having to suffer for it. The whole city of Washington has become the armored vest of the Bush administration and Congress.

October 03, 2011

What the Christian right forgets about the Bible

Sam Smith

[This appeared in the Progressive Review during the Reagan administration. Not much has changed.]


Our text for today is found in the eighth chapter of 1 Samuel. When Samuel got old he appointed his sons as judges over Israel. As so often occurs with nepotism this didn't work out: the offspring taking dishonest gain and bribes and perverting justice. So the elders of Israel paid a call on old man Samuel and suggested that he appoint a real king like other nations had. This didn't sit too well with Samuel so he took the matter to the Lord and the latter said in effect, "If you feel bad, think how I feel. Look, I brought these bums out of Egypt and what do I get for thanks? They go and serve other gods. Now they want to ditch you too.

"So Sam, here's what's going to come down. We're going to give them a real king and see how they like it." Continuing in the more literal translation, the Lord said: "However^ you shall solemnly warn them and tell them of the procedure of the king who will reign over them."

Here were the ground rules the Lord laid down through Samuel: "This will be the procedure of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and place them for himself in his chariots and among his horsemen and they will run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and of fifties, and some to do his plowing and to reap his harvest and to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots.

"He will also take your daughters for perfumers and cooks and bakers. And he will take the best of your fields and your vineyards and your olive groves, and give them to his servants.

"And he will take a tenth of your seed and of your vineyards and give to his officers and to his servants. He will also take your male servants and your female servants and your best young men and our donkeys and use them for his work. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his servants.

"Then you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer your in that day."

I submit this as further evidence that the Lord is not a conservative but probably a libertarian - if not an anarchist. It is one of the tragedies of modern political debate that the Bible has been surrendered to the right, even when it is clear, as in this case, that the Almighty approves of neither authoritarian regimes, military build-ups nor the concentration of land-holdings. Consider as well the little noted fact that the Bible is far clearer on the evils of usury than of abortion and that it not only is far less prudish about human sexuality than some in office, it even suggests an alternative approach to pornography, urging that if one's eye offends thee, one eye and not the vision should be removed. Further, as some deep ecologists have noted, the Bible suggests that the earth is the Lord's and not the property of multinational corporations.

The ultimate irony of the conservatives it that they pretend to be a bastion of Christian politics when, in fact, they are comprised in no small part of despoilers, usurers, war-mongers, hypocrites, idolaters and groupies of false prophets - all of whom are frowned upon by the book it pretends to follow. And its opponents, who are more faithful to the words the conservatives only quote, are often such good Christians that they never say a mumblin' word about it all.

September 21, 2011

Martin Luther King Day, Bull Connor years

Sam Smith
2006


I would like to celebrate Martin Luther King Day but I can't get Bull Connor out of my mind. I look for reminders of Martin Luther King but they are either old and weary or in lonely, small places. Reminders of Bull Connor are all around us.

The spirit of Bull Connor can be found in our foreign policy, in our police methods, in our treatment of the weak and the poor, in our abuse of the Constitution, in the implicit values of our media, in the violent forms of entertainment we prefer and our contempt for those who are different than ourselves, even in how we raise and teach our children. And, of course, as Charles Rangel said, "George Bush is our Bull Connor."

Bull Connor was more than a brutal police commissioner. In describing William Nunnelly's biography of Connor, Neal Tate writes, "Connor had the backing of the local corporate elite in spite of his declarations of being free of outside influence. Connor helped the industrial elite by 'controlling strikes...silencing radicals. . . Connor was exactly what companies that controlled Birmingham were looking for. . . ' He was counted on to keep the status quo. Connor 'stayed on the good side of the business leaders... [and was] always receptive to corporate suggestions.' His preaching about economy in government and no new taxes reflected the influence of Birmingham's industrial and financial interests, who 'always insisted in cheap government with only bare essential services.' "

In short, a Bush era conservative without the social graces.

It is hard to remember without reminders: an object, a story, a contemporary version of what we are trying to recall. The sense of Martin Luther King seems to have vanished. You won't find him in the Senate. You won't find him on CNN, nor C-SPAN nor NPR. He's even hard to find in the pulpit or in the streets. Bull Connor, on the other hand, is everywhere.

In that sense, we are living in a Birmingham before anything happened. Before Bull Connor was challenged.

But eventually he was, and here is what one man named King said about it:

I remember in Birmingham, Alabama, when we were in that majestic struggle there, we would move out of the 16th Street Baptist Church day after day; by the hundreds we would move out. And Bull Connor would tell them to send the dogs forth, and they did come; but we just went before the dogs singing, "Ain't gonna let nobody turn me around."

Bull Connor next would say, "Turn the fire hoses on." And as I said to you the other night, Bull Connor didn't know history. He knew a kind of physics that somehow didn't relate to the trans-physics that we knew about. And that was the fact that there was a certain kind of fire that no water could put out. And we went before the fire hoses; we had known water. If we were Baptist or some other denominations, we had been immersed. If we were Methodist, and some others, we had been sprinkled, but we knew water. That couldn't stop us. And we just went on before the dogs and we would look at them; and we'd go on before the water hoses and we would look at it, and we'd just go on singing "Over my head I see freedom in the air."

And then we would be thrown in the paddy wagons, and sometimes we were stacked in there like sardines in a can. And they would throw us in, and old Bull would say, "Take 'em off," and they did; and we would just go in the paddy wagon singing, "We Shall Overcome." And every now and then we'd get in jail, and we'd see the jailers looking through the windows being moved by our prayers, and being moved by our words and our songs. And there was a power there which Bull Connor couldn't adjust to; and so we ended up transforming Bull into a steer, and we won our struggle in Birmingham.

The Review and blogging

Sam Smith
2007


THE WALL STREET JOURNAL'S claim that this is the tenth anniversary of the blog - as well as some of the critical reaction to the story - led us to our archives to find what we could about our role in this tale.

We've tried to avoid the word blog - preferring to call ourselves an online journal - but the phrase has a ubiquity one can't duck.

The Wall Street Journal claimed, "We are approaching a decade since the first blogger -- regarded by many to be Jorn Barger -- began his business of hunting and gathering links to items that tickled his fancy, to which he appended some of his own commentary. On Dec. 23, 1997, on his site, Robot Wisdom, Mr. Barger wrote: 'I decided to start my own webpage logging the best stuff I find as I surf, on a daily basis,' and the Oxford English Dictionary regards this as the primordial root of the word 'weblog.'

"The dating of the 10th anniversary of blogs, and the ascription of primacy to the first blogger, are imperfect exercises. Others, such as David Winer, who blogged with Scripting News, and Cameron Barrett, who started CamWorld, were alongside the polemical Mr. Barger in the advance guard. And before them there were "proto-blogs," embryonic indications of the online profusion that was to follow. But by widespread consensus, 1997 is a reasonable point at which to mark the emergence of the blog as a distinct life-form."

While we refer to Barger as the sainted Jorn Barger - he has been repeatedly kind to this journal over the years - the WSJ has got things somewhat mixed up. It is certainly true that Barger blessed or cursed us with the word blog, but whatever you called it, something was already underway, including at the Progressive Review. As evidence, we would quote from the very issue cited by the WSJ: Barger's December 23, 1997 Robot Wisdom WebLog in which he writes:

"There's a new issue of the Progressive Review, one of the few leftwing sources that's vigorously anti-Clinton. . . The lead story this week is Judge Lamberth's condemnation of White House lies about the healthcare taskforce in 1993. Its editor Sam Smith also offers a nice fantasy of what a real newspaper should be, USA Tomorrow . . ."

Barger's contribution was not just one of nomenclature, but of gracing the Web with an eclectic spirit and curiosity, tapping its holistic wonders and happily mixing technology, politics, literature, philosophy and rants. In musical terms, Barger showed us how to swing.

A few examples from that last week of December 1997 illustrates the point (the copious links are not included)

- This Day in Joyce History. . . On this date in 1891, Dante Riordan left the Joyce household after the Xmas fight depicted in Portrait. In ?1893 the fictional Rudy Bloom was born. In 1916, Portrait was published by Huebsch. In 1931, John S. Joyce died. In ?1953 John Kidd was born.

- Two of the most readable computer journalists-- John Dvorak and Jerry Pournelle-- are about to launch a Siskel/Ebert-style weekly debate site, using 'wallet' technology to charge a dime a week. . .

- Gorillas make gorgeous representational art. . .

- Email from Frankie? TV.Com claims Frank Sinatra will sometimes answer friendly email. The Sinatra Family site is endearingly naif. . .

- A couple of x-rated essays at Salon: Susie Bright's very sweet appreciation of the Pam Anderson/ Tommy Lee bootleg sex video

- Sixties icon Kerry Thornley, intimate of Lee Harvey Oswald and Jim Garrison and Robert Anton Wilson, and author of the Principia Discordia is in poor health, and fans are encouraged to order a copy of PD straight from the source, autographed on request.

- The mass media's undeclared war against the Net is nowhere clearer than in their assaults against Ian Goddard's TWA800 website. CNN has baldly falsified a report that Goddard recanted his site as a hoax. . .

- How has the Newt Right so successfully blindsided the progressive Left? A dryish analysis in The Nation argues that we don't lack the funds, but we're spending them with self-defeating unfocus. . .

- I am having a fear of modern business practices: A fine culture critic named Tom Frank (not to be confused with Troll Mennie) explores Fast Company, the bastard spawn of Wired and Forbes. . .

- Sweden's Crown Princess Victoria (age 20) has been elected Swede of the Year by the evening paper Expressen. Last month it was announced that she's suffering from an eating disorder. . .

- Garrison Keillor, quoted on newsgroup misc.activism.progressive: "We're in the clutches of a bunch of folks trying to turn the U.S. into a third world country. Two hundred billionaires, and 260 million poor people. And they haven't done enough damage yet to be beaten."

Duncan Riley offers this critique of the WSJ article:

|||| According to my history of blogging (still No. 3 on Google BTW, and heavily researched at the time) blogging turned 11 on January 10, the date in which the first credited blogger (according to Wikipedia as well) Justin Hall commences writing an online journal with dated daily entries, although each daily post is linked through an index page. On the journal he writes "Some days, before I go to bed, I think about my day, and how it meshed with my life, and I write a little about what learned me." In February Dave Winer follows up with a weblog that chronicles the 24 Hours of Democracy Project. Winer has often claimed that he was the first blogger, I've long disagreed but whether it was Hall or Winer is a moot point: both were blogging in 1996. . . ||||

According to Wikipedia, "A blog (a portmanteau of web log) is a website where entries are written in chronological order and displayed in reverse chronological order. 'Blog' can also be used as a verb, meaning to maintain or add content to a blog. Blogs provide commentary or news on a particular subject such as food, politics, or local news; some function as more personal online diaries. A typical blog combines text, images, and links to other blogs, web pages, and other media related to its topic.

At least as early as 1993, the Progressive Review was sending a faxed blog-like substance to our media list as a supplement to the print edition. The earliest mention of an online edition that we could find comes from the August 1994 edition: "If you have an Internet address, send it to us on a postcard or to ssmith@igc.org and we will add you to our Peacenet hotline mailing list. You can also find us at alt.activism and alt.politics.clinton. Sorry, offer not good for networks that carry e-mail charges"

There then followed a series of blog-like entries.

But none of that really counts because it wasn't on the Worldwide Web. But by June 1995, the Progressive Review was on the web, where only about 20,000 other websites existed worldwide. We announced it like this:

"The Review now has a site on the World Wide Web. Pay us a visit at: http://emporium.turnpike.net/P/ProRev/ F Here is some of what you'll find: The Crash of America: How this country's elite ruined the economy, fouled the environment and left Newt Gingrich in charge. From the March 1995 issue. The fully informed jury movement: The right of juries to judge both the law and the fact dates back to the trials of William Penn and Peter Zenger. . ."

Still not bloggish, as we initially only posted longer articles. But within a few months - we were promising that "The Progressive Review On-Line Report is found on the Web" and our quasi-blogging had begun.

While we weren't the earliest we were certainly in same 'hood and we may hold some sort of record for consistency. We are still brought to you by Turnpike and we are still using Adobe Page Mill to post our non-blog pages. A year or two ago we ran into an Adobe sales rep at Best Buy and mentioned our loyalty, saying that "we still love it." She looked quite cross and said, "That's what a lot of people say."

The Web would come to value style over substance in design and conventional loyalty over free thinking in politics. But, inspired by a few like Jorn Borger, we have tried to keep our layout simple and our thoughts complex. In the game of Internet high-low poker, we went low and it doesn't seem to have a hurt a bit.

Thanks for sticking around.

September 20, 2011

Last call

Sam Smith
2009


One of the things you learn early as a writer is that the hardest parts of a story are the beginning and the end. The beginning of my story as a Washington journalist was over 50 years ago; the middle has encompassed all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies, and the end will come sometime this year.

I will continue to edit the national edition of the Progressive Review, which has more readers than ever but my wife Kathy and I are moving to Maine where we have deep ties, for me going back more than six decades.

I am leaving my birthplace, a town I have loved but also a place in which I have felt increasingly an exile as local values, culture and community faded - not because they lacked merit but because they did not produce enough power or profit for someone.

It has become a city where the police chief erects apartheid style roadblocks, where the deputy mayor hides a community library in a high rise like it was just another Starbucks, and where the government is spends over $600 million on a baseball stadium but can't keep its recreation centers open all weekend.

It is a city of magnificent views and dismal viewpoints, wonderful communities and dubious egos, natural spaces and artificial words. It is a city that too often can't tell the difference between intelligence and wisdom and, as Russell Baker once noted, the difference between being serious and being somber.

It is also a city in which all politics becomes office politics, and where imagination and free thought are restricted to thirty minutes on weekdays and violators will be towed.

Still, Washington has always been an unsortable amalgam of decadence and decency, undeserved profit and unrequited purpose, subterranean conspiracies and high ideals. Walt Whitman found himself "amid all this huge mess of traitors, loafers, hospitals, axe-grinders, & incompetencies & officials that goes by the name of Washington." Even earlier, Captain Frederick Marry noted, "Here are assembled from every state in the union, what ought to be the collected talent, intelligence, and high principles of a free and enlightened nation. Of talent and intelligence there is a very fair supply, but principle is not so much in demand; and in everything, and everywhere, by the demand the supply is regulated."

One of the things that affects the city's crosscurrents of felicity and felony is what is happening elsewhere in the nation. As a weak colony filled with professional migrants, DC is a beta edition of both the good and the bad. Just as Washington was once deep into the civil rights and peace movements, today it accurately reflects national values sown in the Reagan-Clinton-Bush era that have caused the disintegration of the republic's economy, its global status and its constitution.

You can feel it wandering around downtown, where every last centimeter of the zoning envelope is filled with the dull high rises of a second robber baron era. You see it in the endless piling on of new civil and criminal offenses in place of decent and effective policies. You find it in the official subservience and subsidy to those who already have more than their fair share. You observe it in a school system that values rigid tests and rules but not thoughtful questions and creative ideas.

You see it in the failure to lift a hand to help those unable to play DC's harsh games. And you see it in the increasing division between free and locked down Washington, the former being those parts where you can still cross a threshold without having to prove you are not a terrorist.

Which is not to say you can not find many good things hidden beneath the hubris, behind the ubiquitous fear in the world's most guarded place and under the false renaissance of a city that has spent billions on convention centers, stadiums, arenas, but which can't even provide as many jobs for local residents as it did 20 years ago.

You just have to look harder.

You'll find it still in the neighborhoods like the one I shall miss most: Capitol Hill.

You'll find it in the little oases of commercial sense and service like Frager's hardware store, Distad's auto repair shop and all the other small businesses that get mainly bills and regulations from the city government while the favors go to the big guys.

You'll find it over lunch at places like Jimmy T's, Ben's Chili Bowl and La Tomate.

You'll find it in the files of the Washingtoniana collection at the DC Library, on a trail sign or in an exhibit at the Historical Society of Washington.

You'll find it at the FDR Memorial late on a spring evening or in a quiet spot in some hidden corner high in Rock Creek Park.

You'll find it in a black community that has bravely maintained its values in the face of repression, indifference and socio-economic cleansing. I first did as a young man going to the Howard Theater and as a 20-something member of SNCC, and later in so many ways and places as I was welcomed by, and learned from, those who used the power of decency and friendliness as bridges across cultures and to overcome pain.

You'll find it among the activists of the DC Statehood Green Party who for nearly four decades have risen to the challenge presented by its first leader, Julius Hobson: "What do you want: a Disneyland for the rich or a state for free people?" You'll find it in their refusal to be silent in a city so colonial, corrupt and contented.

You'll find it among the teachers resisting the dismantling and corporatization of public education.

You'll find it in the artists and musicians who take us away from bitterness and contentions and into better places, those still holding on in a city determined not to even leave them with a pad cheap enough to rent.

You'll find it among those who seek to preserve not only open space and fine buildings, but great communities and wonderful institutions.

You'll find it among those trying to help fill monstrous gaps in government services by working at a food bank or shelter, counseling former prisoners, providing free legal service, or teaching children what the school system can't or won't.

You'll find it in a small band of journalists who haven't deserted the real city in favor of grander stories and sources.

You'll find it among the neighborhood commissions who still sometimes get those downtown to pay attention to things they would rather ignore.

And you'll find it in the shared memory of those who give the city life instead of draining it, add to the local saga rather than diminishing it, and are there for us when so many others aren't.

One place you won't find it much longer, though, is at my place. Sometime this year I'll be off to write the rest of my story someplace else. Thanks for all the good times, the encouragement, the inspiration, the example and the dreams.

Just remember, despite what others would have you believe, a vote in the House leaves you no better off than Algeria when it also was a colony; Washington never was a sleepy southern town and it never was a swamp; there is a J Street (albeit hidden in Northeast and spelled Jay), and most of the people who do serious wrong in this fair city come from somewhere else. We try to teach them different but they never seem to get it.

Thanks for the fun and, as Adam Clayton Powell Jr used to say, "Keep the faith, baby."

Leaving DC

Sometime this year the Review will be moving fulltime to its New England regional headquarters in Freeport, Maine, previously home only for the estivatory editions of summer.

I have deep ties to Maine, going back more than six decades. I have long lived as a geographical split personality, with the phrase bi-coastal meaning in my case Casco Bay and the Potomac River. Wherever my physical presence, part of me was in another place, symbolized by the day when I was quoted in both the Washington Post about Marion Barry and on a Portland TV station about alternative agriculture. My views of the city have always had a touch of tide and pasture in them.

Based on past experience, there is no evidence that this change will in anyway alter the journal's content or its editor's irascibility, so readers have nothing to fear. But as your editor has now covered Washington for all or part of ten of America's presidencies, it seems a good time to try something a little different.

Some random anecdotes from these past 50 years can be found here.

In compiling the these tales, I was struck by how few were of federal rather than local Washington. The stories of federal Washington involve power, intrigue and associated conflicts that, dramatic as they may be at one moment, are easily replaced by others a few moments later. The stories of local Washington are stories of real people and places living and struggling in a center of power, intrigue and associated conflicts. These stories survive because they come from heart, culture and community rather than depending on the transitory misadventures of ambition.

My writings about the nation's capital have been grounded in what the theologian Martin Marty described as the need to have a place from which to view the world. Too much of what is written about this city lacks such a place.

I am leaving my birthplace, a town I have loved but also a place in which I have felt increasingly an exile as local values, culture and community faded - not because they lacked merit but because they did not produce enough power or profit for someone.

It is a city of magnificent views and dismal viewpoints, wonderful communities and dubious egos, natural spaces and artificial words. It is a city that too often can't tell the difference between intelligence and wisdom or, as Russell Baker once noted, between being serious and being somber.

It is also a city in which all politics becomes office politics, and where imagination and free thought are restricted to thirty minutes on weekdays and violators will be towed.

Still, Washington has always been an unsortable amalgam of decadence and decency, undeserved profit and unrequited purpose, subterranean conspiracies and high ideals.

Walt Whitman found himself "amid all this huge mess of traitors, loafers, hospitals, axe-grinders, & incompetencies & officials that goes by the name of Washington." Even earlier, Captain Frederick Marry noted, "Here are assembled from every state in the union, what ought to be the collected talent, intelligence, and high principles of a free and enlightened nation. Of talent and intelligence there is a very fair supply, but principle is not so much in demand; and in everything, and everywhere, by the demand the supply is regulated."

One of the things that affects these crosscurrents of felicity and felony is what is happening elsewhere in the nation. As a weak colony filled with professional migrants, DC is a beta edition of both the good and the bad. Just as Washington was once deep into the civil rights and peace movements, today it accurately reflects national values sown in during the Reagan-Clinton-Bush era that caused the disintegration of the republic's economy, its global status and its constitution.

I was born in Washington during the New Deal, for which my father worked. I also went to a segregated public elementary school and lived a segregated life as a child. Thus, from the beginning, I was introduced to the painful contradictions of American democracy.

We left Washington when I was ten but there was an idealism among their friends from that era that I always admired. Years later, my wife and I joined my then widowed mother at a 50th anniversary of the New Deal at the Mayflower Hotel. The median age was probably 75 but I have seldom been in a room with so much energy and enthusiasm. Even the guest speaker, Hubert Humphrey, had a hard time keeping up with his audience.

In all my years in this town, there has only been one other period that has come close: the Great Society. Like the segregated city into which I was born, there were huge inconsistencies, headlined by the Vietnam War, but it was also true that Lyndon Johnson got more good legislation passed in less time than any president in our history. And Washington was once again filled with those who truly cared.

Such moments, however, are not only rare; they are typically born not in Washington but in what is happening elsewhere - such as a depression, civil rights movement, riots or the rise of the 60s counterculture.

It's one reason I don't worry about leaving Washington: most of the time Washington doesn't make news; it only reacts to it.

And slowly. As Phil Hart once put it, the Senate is a place that does things twenty years after it should have.

Which is why for some three decades, Washington has contributed so little to the nation other than to endorse, codify and promote policies leading to the collapse of the First American Republic. Since 1976 Congress has passed more laws than it did in the previous two centuries. And to what end? To place us in the dismal condition in which we now find ourselves.

I sometimes find myself reciting the lines of Tennessee Williams in Camino Real: "Turn back stranger, for the well of humanity has gone dry in this place. And the only birds that sing are kept in cages."

Those of us who have fought for alternative approaches have constantly been met with contempt and disinterest by those in power, whether in politics or the media. The Review, however, has been around long enough for there to be a scorecard and if you go back 20, 30, 40 years you'll find that those seeking other ways were far ahead of the curve on such issues as civil rights, education, self-government, foreign policy, civil liberties and the environment. It was the capital's elite, and not us, who were extreme and radical - extremely slow and radically wrong. Yet one of the privileges of power is to set standards, even if they are the standards of the slowest kids in the class. Another privilege is never having to say you're sorry. Which is why, beginning in the 1980s, we began to lose the struggle and have been doing so ever since.

Then why have I stayed so long? My fascination an affection for the local city aside, I was spurred by Chancellor Willy Brandt, who fled Germany as a young man in the 1930s, became a Norwegian citizen but returned to his homeland after the war. Asked why he had come back, Brandt said because it was more important to be a democrat in Germany than in Norway. I have long felt, lonely as it often has been, the same way about staying in Washington.

I sometimes describe what I do as drawing pictures on the walls of the Lascaux Caves of our times. Leaving sketches of what democracy and constitutional government once looked like as they galloped through the countryside.

As in Orwell's 1984, it was mainly in cities like Washington that we lost our way. Only ten percent of the people in his book lived in the capital he described. The rest, the proles, still lived largely free of the dismal, cruel dysevolution of which he wrote.

Eric Paul Gros-Dubois of Southern Methodist University described Orwell's countryside this way:

"The proles were the poorest of the groups, but in most regards were the most cheerful and optimistic. The proles were also the freest of all the groups. Proles could do as they pleased. They could come and go, and talk openly about whatever they felt like without having to worry about the Thought Police. . .

"[Orwell] also concluded that the hope for the future was contained within this group. At several points in the book, Winston, the hero, made a point of mentioning that the proles were the hope for the future and the only ones who could end Big Brother's tyranny, since they were the only group still allowed to have feelings and opinions. . . "
Similarly, you can still find a noticeably freer America simply by leaving the major centers of our post-constitutional society - away from those places where the most honored have done us the most damage.
The geographical parochialism of those who have made this mess leaves vast acres of our land still hospitable to dreams and perhaps even to the eventual eviction of those who have done us such wrong.

Further, the difficulty that large cities will have adapting to a dramatically different economy and ecology adds to the appeal of places like Maine - places skilled in survival, kinder to the environment and still appreciative of freedom.

One also finds in such places not only a deep culture of the past but one increasingly invigorated by those - in the best tradition of immigrants - courageous and imaginative enough to have moved there. In such ways such places offer not only a recovery of what one may have thought had disappeared forever but the possibility of another beginning in a land that has badly gone astray. I shall report from time to time on how it's going.