December 20, 2007


If Edwards wins the Iowa caucuses, it will be the most significant progressive primary win since Eugene McCarthy got 41% of the vote in New Hampshire in 1968.

While those who prefer the personal, albeit single digit, purity of supporting a Kucinich may scoff, even Ralph Nader agrees that an Edwards nomination would be a historic shift in the political landscape. While the iconographic liberals - those placing ethnic or gender symbolism ahead of real change - dismiss Edwards, the obese media and the Washington establishment certainly agree; from the start they have tried mightily to bury Edwards in the purgatory of silence.

Presidents don't make change as much as they reflect it, profit from it and manipulate it. Those seeking our, or their own, salvation from a president come to the wrong altar. What politicians do extremely well, however, is to reinforce whatever is already happening. Lyndon Johnson, for example, was about as far as a saint as one could imagine, yet the 1960s could not have happened without him. Put Barry Goldwater in his place and the story would have been totally rewritten.

That, in fact, is what helped bring an end to the 1960s. Nixon simply stopped the draft and convinced the record moguls to cease advertising in the underground press. An era was over.

Edwards' election would signal the end of another era, namely that of Reagan, the Bushes and Clinton - one that has wrecked social democracy, returned the economy to robber baron standards and caused us to be hated around the world.

Finally we can begin again. This would not be a reflection of Edwards' virtues so much as of the strength of a constituency for change that this country has not seen for a long time. And it would be a victory for all of us. - Sam Smith

December 06, 2007


Sam Smith

1. Does the candidate belong to one of the more exotic sects such as Scientology or Mormonism? What does this suggest about the candidate's ability to deal rationally with real situations and the quality of that candidate's judgment?

2. Is the candidate a saint in the church but a devil under cover? As Mahalia Jackson put it, "I can't go to church and shout all day Sunday, come home and get drunk and raise hell on a Monday."

3. Does the candidate try to appear highly religious to one set of voters and highly broad minded to another?

4. If the candidate is a Catholic, whom does he or she most admire: the current Pope, the Berrigan Brothers or various liberation theologians?

5. If the candidate is Episcopalian, to which branch does he or she belong: the high and crazy, broad and hazy or low and lazy?

6. Which aspects of the candidate's religion or its history will that candidate openly condemn?

7. Is faith used by the candidate as a space filler for the absence of facts or is it used as a false replacement for facts?

8. Does faith primarily influence the candidate by providing positive values or by supplying wildly unsupportable information posing as truth?

9. Would the candidate support the end of discrimination against secularists? For example, would the candidate support an atheist opening sessions of the Senate and would the candidate host idea breakfasts as well as prayer breakfasts at the White House?

10. Does the candidate think God talks to him? How does one distinguish this from the heard voices that lead others to be committed to mental institutions?

11. Does the candidate believe God is responsible for improvements in poll numbers? Does the candidate agree with Mike Huckabee's assessment: "There's only one explanation for it, and it's not a human one. It's the same power that helped a little boy with two fish and five loaves feed a crowd of 5,000 people?"

12. If, as Mitt Romney claims, "We are a nation under God, and we do place our trust in him," and if as Barack Obama says, "What role does [religion] play? I say it plays every role." then shouldn't there be a religious test of candidates so we can tell who God trusts the most?

13. But since there supposedly isn't a religious test for high office, why does Mike Huckabee run TV ads proclaiming himself a "Christian leader?" Or tell a group of evangelicals, "God is not spelled G-O-P, and if the G-O-P ever leaves G-O-D then the G-O-P will lose m-e?"

14. Why does the media use the term "pro-family" to describe Republican policies when the divorce rate in heavily GOP states in the Mid West is higher than in God-forsaken Massachusetts?

15. If there is no religious test then why are issues like abortion and gay marriage so important, since about the only people worried about them are religious fundamentalists?

16. Mitt Romney says, "Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom." What section of the Constitution is that in? What if one seeks freedom from religion?

17. If there is no religious test for high office, why does a new president have to take an oath using a Bible?

December 04, 2007


Sam Smith

Best estimates of unsanctioned immigration to this country puts the total at 3-4% of the total American population, or roughly twice as many people as support Mike Gravel, who can't even get into the presidential debates, let alone become a major topic of them.

While it is clear that immigrants are being used by conservatives as a target to deflect criticism from themselves - much as southern whites used blacks in the days of segregation - it is possible that something else is happening as well.

What if large number of Americans are afraid - consciously or not - of something that their leaders, most environmentalists and the media won't discuss at all: the real consequences of population growth? Immigrants make an easy substitute for dealing directly with this issue for in the end they commit only one real sin other than not following regulations: adding to the competition for human existence by an ever increasing population.

Ten years ago, I wrote about it this way:

|||| We know it took about four million years for humans to populate the earth with its first billion humans. It took just a hundred years for the second billion. Thirty-five years for the third. Fifteen years for the fourth and twelve for the fifth.

The world is growing by 10,800 people an hour, adding the equivalent of a city the size of Newark, NJ every day

Former Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, counselor of the Wilderness Society, has a good way of describing it. At the current rate of growth, he says, the population of the United States will double in 63 years. So at some point around the middle of the next century, we are likely to have (or need) twice as much of everything we have now. Twice as many cars, trucks, planes, airports, parking lots, streets, bridges, tunnels, freeways, houses, apartment buildings, grade schools, high schools, colleges, trade schools, hospitals, nursing homes, prisons.

Imagine your city or town as it would look with twice as much of everything. And, oh yes, don't forget to add twice as much farmland, water and food if you can find it. And twice as many chemicals and other pollutants in the air and water, twice as much heat radiation from all the new construction, twice as much crime, twice as many fires, twice as big traffic jams and twice as many walls with graffiti on them.

Not that everyone accepts this scenario. There are those who think we can, with the help of science and technology, feed tens of billions more people. Some of them are scientists who admit that life will be degraded but think it still physically possible. Some are Roman Catholic bishops who said a few years ago that the earth could support 40 billion people.

Some are the voices of industry or in think tanks. Their argument is based on the economic notion that growth is an unmitigated virtue and that anything opposed to growth is wrong. And many of them are economists who, as Amory Lovins has said, "are people who lie awake nights worrying about whether what actually works in the world could conceivably work in theory."

Gaylord Nelson suggests some questions for them: "Do the unlimited growth folks really believe that the more crowded the planet becomes, the freer and richer we will be? Do they think a finite planet with finite resources can sustain infinite economic expansion and population growth? If not, where do they draw the line? They don't say." ||||

The number of foreign born - legal or not - now comprise the same percentage of the population as was the case in 1930 and considerably less than between 1860 and 1910. Looking back, those weren't such bad times. Why are American so worried now, even discounting for all the politicians and media George Wallacing the issue?

One answer is that people are really worried about something they know is happening and no one will talk sensibly to them about it.

December 03, 2007


[Your editor recently celebrated with some old friends the 50th anniversary of covering his first story in Washington. An excerpt from his remarks]

Sam Smith

I actually started in journalism more than fifty years ago. At the age of 13 I began a family newspaper - first handwritten, then typed, that lasted some 20 issues and dealt with everything with my mother's predilection for yogurt and wheat germ to UFOs, the H-bomb and the shocking fact that my youngest sister was allowed to ride her tricycle in the house while none of her five siblings had been.

I was further encouraged towards the trade when as news director of the Harvard radio station, I asked a reporter to interview Cambridge city councilman Alfred E. Velucci which helped cause the only riot of our time there. Velucci suggested "paving Harvard Yard and making it into a parking lot" and turning Harvard into a separate state "like the Vatican in Rome" The story made the front page of the Boston Globe. That evening, after someone threw a typewriter out of a window at the Lampoon, 2000 student gathered - quickly taking sides on whether Harvard should become a separate state like the Vatican in Rome as well as letting the air out of all four tires of Mayor Eddie Sullivan's car when he came to quell the disturbance. Clearly journalism was where the action was.

A few other snapshots from my early days in journalism:

Being one of a handful of broadcast news reporters in town with battery operated tape recorder - so new that the engineers union wanted to send someone out with us to make them work.

Learning in a matter of months that America wasn't quite as I had been taught, as I covered the Jimmy Hoffa, U2 and TV game show stories as well as some of the first sit-ins and civil rights filibusters.

Interviewing Louis Armstrong in a hotel room on 16th Street and John F Kennedy right after he announced for president.

Working for Roll Call newspaper, where editor Sid Yudain let me be the resident poet, including writing a Christmas poem that took a whole page printed over a background image of Santa Claus and included the names of all 435 members of the House of Representatives

Covering the attempt by police to shut down DC's only coffee house - Coffee n Confusion - which was being ably defended by Texas lawyer Harvey Rosenberg who told us: "Personally, I must admit that I have very little knowledge of poetry, or the bohemian atmosphere that is found in Coffee n Confusion. But I have been informed by personages who have visited Paris that this is the way that numerous writers and poets have reached the French scene."

Being told by the Saturday Review of Literature that they couldn't run my ad because my publication was too radical.

Being mistaken at four different demonstrations for an undercover cop, the one pleasant confrontation being as I sat smoking a pipe near the Reflecting Pool and a long haired guy next to me said, "FBI?" and I said, "Nope" and he said "CIA?": and I said nope and he said "Smoke much" and I said, "Half and Half all day long," and he said "Cool" and gave me his love beads.

Having half our circulation department in jail and finding needles hidden behind stacks of papers in the office.

Having one of my advertisers - ex-CIA agent Harry Lunn, then running an photographic gallery, tell me in the aftermath of the riots that if anyone burned down his store he was going to burn down my house. And another advertiser, Len Kirsten of the Emporium telling of a woman who came in and saw the stack of Gazettes on the floor. "Isn't that a communist paper" she asked and Len replied, "No, the editor is a communist but the paper isn't"

Being visited at my office by a 9th precinct cop who would occasionally drop by to talk politics. Officer Donald Graham listened to me better in those days than he would later on.

Taking part in a day-long Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee boycott of DC Transit buses.

After my article on the action appeared, having the local chair of SNCC - another 20 something named Marion Barry - come over to my apartment to seek help dealing with the press.

Later, sitting in the SNCC headquarters as Stokely Carmichael announced that whites like me were no longer welcome in the civil rights movement.

Getting a call from an angry young guy who was working in a car wash, complaining about me running one of his photos without credit. I pointed out that it had been sent with a news release from a community organization and added, "You wanna be a real photographer? I'll tell you how. Get a rubber stamp marked 'Photo by Roland Freeman. All rights reserved" and I won't run any more of your friggin' photos without credit." Two weeks later, Roland became the Gazette's photo editor later becoming an associate of Magnum, author of a number of books, the first photographer to get a fellowship from the NEH and subsequently three from the NEA, the most recent last June.

Sitting in our smoky living room, watching the TV coverage of the riots, including what was going at that moment just four blocks north of us on H Street. Going the next morning through the neighborhood and feeling - as troops marched past the rubble - like I was in World War II Europe. Two of the four major riot strips were in our circulation area - 150 businesses and 52 homes in our neighborhood had been damaged and things would never be the same.

By the time all this had happened I had just hit 30 years of age. I thought, this is kind of an interesting life and so I just kept going.

It has been fascinating and fun but doing something different in this town can also be quite lonely. In my case, some people have taken it personally, as though I did what I did simply to annoy them. Or as though I were a mugger of the mind, come to rob them of that most precious possession: comfortable certainty. But it was really more like Vaclav Havel said long ago when he was still a rebel:

"You do not become a 'dissident' just because you decide one day to take up this most unusual career. You are thrown into it by your personal sense of responsibility, combined with a complex set of external circumstances."

In a nation ablaze with struggles and divisions, we are too often forced to choose between being a participant in the arson or a member of the volunteer fire department. But, as best as I can tell, my real impetus has not been so much duty, anger or virtue - but a truly manic, grandiose and cockeyed optimism - a child's dreams and an adult's faith pounding tide after tide on the rocks of reality, thinking that maybe this time I'll float off.

Saul Alinsky was once asked by a seminarian how he could retain his values as he made his way through the church, "That's easy," replied Alinsky. "Just decide now whether you wish to be a cardinal or a priest."

Mark Plotkin started his interview with me on WTOP this way: "How do you respond to those who say you're just outrageous, off the wall, beyond normal?" Here's part of what I told him: If you go back and read what I wrote ten, twenty or thirty years ago it's hard to see what the problem was. The FBI, in a rare of moment of literary eloquence labeled those who fought in the Spanish Civil War as "premature anti-fascists." In this town timing is everything. Phil Hart once described the Senate as place that does things 20 years after it should have. I think I was like a bad comedian; I knew the punch lines, I just couldn't get the timing right. I came to think of myself not as a radical, but as a moderate of an era that had yet to come.