June 28, 2011

Of pink suits, golf balls & civil liberties

From a talk given at an upper school assembly
at Maret School, Washington, DC, September 2006

In my son Ben's senior year at Maret, he and a couple of friends visited a used clothing shop where one of them - Chris Friendly - found a pink suit and a pink fedora that he wore for his graduation. Chris and Ben were also featured with two buddies in odd poses in the Maret yearbook in a two page photograph accompanied by a caption from Nigel Hufnel, lead guitarist for Spinal Tap. "There is," Hufnel said, "a thin line between clever and stupid." My son explored this narrow divide by being pictured standing inside a large city trash can while playing a violin and wearing a ski cap. Ben no longer plays the violin in super cans - he prefers guitars in clubs - but the pink outfit continued to make regular appearances at Maret graduations - worn, so I'm told, by those who best exemplified the spirit of the pink suit.

And what exactly is that spirit? It is a spirit, to be sure, of independence but also a spirit based on confidence that others will tolerate this independence and perhaps even applaud it. At the very least it is based on the confidence that classmates will respect what the cartoonist Walt Kelly said was the basic right of every American to make a damn fool of themselves.

As I watched that graduation ceremony, my mind drifted back to the first meeting I attended at Maret. The speaker was the headmaster, Peter Sturdevant, an amalgam of Orson Welles and Rodney Dangerfield. He lumbered up to the stage and leaned into the microphone and began to speak. His first words to the new parents were these:

"Maret doesn't have a dress code . . . Let me tell you why Maret doesn't have a dress code. I used to teach at the Landon School. One day the headmaster sent us a memo saying that the boys could not wear tight jeans . . . Some of us in the faculty sent him one back in which we asked, 'How do you define tight jeans?' He replied that tight jeans were those where a golf ball could not be dropped between the waistband and the body and have it fall out at the ankle. We wrote back: "An English or an American golf ball?" . . . That's why Maret doesn't have a dress code."

Part of America's long struggle over civil liberties can be described as being between those who favor the pink suit principle and those who prefer the golf ball rule. Since I suppose some teachers would prefer I use a more elegant metaphor, let me also cite David Hackett Fisher who, in the book Albion's Seed, describes the differences in four strains of early American settlement from the British isles. In the matter of civil liberties he notes that in New England, freedom was defined by the community. As long as you played by the community's rules you were free. If you didn't you either suffered punishment or, like Roger Williams, had to leave town and go found your own colony.

Much of the political battle in America today involves people attempting to impose their own community's standards on the whole country. And it's not just the right. Listen to liberals speaking of the "red states" and you often hear as much disgust as when a Christian fundamentalist talks about gay marriage.

In the frontier communities, Fisher notes that there was a sense of natural liberty - or what we might call libertarianism. It was personal freedom taken as far as possible. This spirit is still at home in much of America and tends to be conservative in economics and progressive in personal freedom. And you're theoretically so free that the government isn't meant to help you get out of trouble.

The third view of liberty - what Fisher calls hegemonic liberty - is based on power. This was found among the elite of early Virginia where the more power you had the more freedom you got. If you were a slave you had no freedom, if you were a tradesman you had more, but if you were a cavalier you had virtually unlimited liberty. This is the idea of liberty that we see with increasing frequency today at the top levels of business, sports, entertainment, and politics. Again, drawing a political division doesn't really help. For example, both Bill Clinton and George Bush considered their power as a license of liberty in ways that the more restrained Jimmy Carter and Dwight Eisenhower never would have.

Finally, in the mid-Atlantic states, with no small help from the Quaker influence, you found what can be called a sense of reciprocal liberty, which is to say that I can't be really free unless you are as well. You are entitled to your freedom as long as it doesn't hurt mine. Thus, we must constantly negotiate the terms of our mutual freedoms.

Note that two of these forms of liberty - that defined by the community and that which is the privilege of power - are inherently unequal while other two strive for equality. And guess which two predominate in America today?

Sadly, the weakest form is reciprocal liberty. Both left and right seem to have forgotten that America is about sharing spaces with others who may have quite different views of the world. While writing one of my books, I asked my friend, the black journalist Chuck Stone, to give me a one sentence description of how to get along with people who are different than yourself and he immediately replied, "Treat them as a member of the family."

Being the third of six kids, I appreciated that. And I recalled my father saying from time to time, "You don't have to like your relatives, you just have to be nice to them." It works for other Americans, too.

In fact, to extend the analogy a bit, it may help to think of America less in terms of left and right and more in terms of a dysfunctional family. We have always disagreed but we haven't usually been so nasty about it.

Now if I'm doing a talk show and someone calls up to berate gay marriage my response is along these lines: "If you don't like gay marriage, then don't marry a gay. Beyond that it's really not your business or mine. As a good American you don't have to like gay marriage, but you have to be willing to share your land and its rights with those who do."

My theory - and I come at this as a onetime anthropology major - is that tolerance usually precedes approval. You see this in families where parents have had to adapt to the fact that their child is gay or is marrying someone of another ethnicity. At first they may just bitterly bite their tongues but with time often become proud and loving parents once again. The stereotypes eventual surrender to actual experience.

This is how it happened in many places in the south after segregation just as Martin Luther King knew it would. He told his lieutenants to keep in mind that some day the people they were fighting would be their friends.

So one of the best things you can do to preserve freedom in the United States is to stand up for the rights of those with whom you disagree or even dislike. As William Allen White put it, "Liberty is the only thing you cannot have unless you are willing to give it to others."

How has this struggle over the right approach to liberty worked out in America? It depends what year you're talking about. Obviously, lots of things took much longer than they should have, but still, over the first two hundred years, many Americans became freer and more equal. This is in part because while America often did not have the right answer; it was a good place to look for the answer. America has never been perfect; it's just been a place where it was easier to fix things that were broken. The ability to repair ourselves has long been one of our great characteristics and is absolutely dependent on the freedom to try things out. As Linus Pauling said, "The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas." Even if some cross the line from clever to stupid.

While we all know about the successful battles of women, labor, blacks and gays, you may not be aware of how many other struggles have been won as recently as during the lifetime of your parents and teachers. Here are just a few of these more recent victories:

The right of poor people to be represented in court

The right to have a lawyer after being arrested

The right of married people to use contraceptives

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

The right of young people to be protected under the Constitution

The right of free speech for students

The right of unmarried people to use contraceptives

The right to an abortion

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

If you were to count everyone involved in winning these suits you probably wouldn't end up with more than a few hundred committed Americans who had dramatically changed the course of our history. A handful of citizens - with a lot of help from a few lawyers - going before a court and proving that something was not constitutional or lawful. I've done it myself seven times and we've won three times. As members of the baseball team know, that's a .429 average and not all that bad. And just as in baseball you've got to be prepared to miss more balls than you hit.

But in 2001 the whole game changed. With 9/11 the standard of liberty became that determined by the level of fear.

It was not the first time. During the Civil War, constitutional rights had been short-circuited. During World One non-conformists had been thrown in jail including the Eugene Debs just for having given an anti-war speech. Debs ran as the Socialist candidate for president while still in prison and got nearly a million votes. In World War II, people were put in concentration camps because they had Japanese roots. And during the McCarthy era suspicion of disloyalty was enough to get you fired.

We now find ourselves in a similar period. Just as in the earlier instances, there was justification for the fear but not for its dangerously dysfunctional response. In order - supposedly - to protect our way of life, we find ourselves dismantling some of its basic characteristics beginning with civil liberties that have helped define what America was.

In fact, the trouble started even earlier than 9/11. If we had paid more attention to the unconstitutional aspects of the drug war, for example, we might have seen Guantanamo in the making. If we had paid more attention to the mistreatment of inmates in Supermax prisons we might have avoided Abu Ghraib.

Even before 9/11 your rights as a citizen of the United States were being. There was searches without warrants, increased use of roadblocks, wiretapping, drug testing, punishment before trial, travel restrictions, censorship of student speech, behavior, and clothing; excessive requirements for IDs, youth curfews, and video surveillance.

These are a few reasons why attention to civil liberties - even when most things seem to be going okay - is so important. Justice William O. Douglas once said, "As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything seems seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we must be most aware of change in the air -- however slight -- lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness."

This is what happened in Germany. Everyone talks about the brutal results of the Holocaust, but too few consider the many mundane acts that led to it. An exception was the reporter Milton Mayer who in his remarkable book - They Thought They Were Free - quoted a German professor on the rise of Nazism:

". . . 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."

When Hitler took power he helped establish his dictatorship by repeatedly invoking Article 48 of the Weimar Republic constitution which stated, "In case public safety is seriously threatened or disturbed, the Reich President may take the measures necessary to reestablish law and order, if necessary using armed force. In the pursuit of this aim, he may suspend the civil rights . . . partially or entirely. "

And why was it all so peaceful and easy for Hitler? In part because the supposedly democratic Weimar Republic had already used this provision 57 times prior to Hitler's rise to power..

For such reasons, many of the real lessons of the Holocaust are not to be found so much in its death camps as in its birth places. And this is why the changes taking place in our own country now - some eerily reminiscent of Article 48 - deserve such close attention.
But, you say, we must protect ourselves against the terrorists. . . .

Yes, we must. But before we trash our constitution and our liberties, here are a few things to consider.

Are our efforts working? As in the picture of bin Laden with the caption: "I'm still free. Are you?" Simply because a strategy is invoked with much fanfare doesn't mean it is the right one. Foreign Policy magazine recently asked a group of experts - including former secretaries of state and ex-CIA directors - how we were doing with the war on terror. 84% said we were losing it. It's not a good idea to lose both a war and your liberties as well.

Then there is the moat problem. Building a moat around your castle seemed a great idea until someone came along with a way to send fireballs into your courtyard by catapult. It's still happening. Five years after 9/11 you're told you can't carry bottles on board because someone has figured out a new way to kill you. And yet as you respond to each new threat in such ways, you are building your own prison.

Then there is the question of courage vs. fear. We've been taught to be afraid of so many things since 9/11 but we haven't been helped much with our courage. On 9/11 one of the first things I thought about was a young British girl who came to live with us during World War II. Ann became a virtual sister and a person whose quiet courage I have always admired. A couple of years ago she wrote me of her trip to America as a nine year old:

"I set sail in the Duchess of Atholl in convoy. There was a slight skirmish with a submarine. I remember feeling the ship shudder as depth charges were dropped but we were unscathed and pressed on. . . My mother told me we might well be sunk. If I was dragged underwater, not to struggle. I would come to the surface naturally, then not to strike out to England or America but float on my back, as I had learned at school, until I was picked up."

A few months later, Britain stopped sending children to America because two ships carrying them were sunk. Meanwhile back home, there were 57 consecutive nights of bombing. 27, 000 civilians lost their lives in the Battle of Britain, 32,000 were injured. Repeat 9/1l ten times in a two month period and you get the idea.

Ifan, the man Ann would later marry, was working as a medical student in London. Each day he would be given a set of colored tags to tie to the feet of victims of the Nazi bombings so the ambulances would know to which hospital to send them. When a particular color ran out, that meant there was no more room at that hospital. Meanwhile, London went about its business.

We need the quiet courage of the British during that awful time.

Then there is the question of risk. A recent article in Foreign Affairs estimates the probability of an American being killed in an terrorist incident is about 1 in 80,000. You are, in fact, more likely to drown, die of a workplace accident, be murdered, commit suicide, be killed by the side effects of a prescription drug, or die of cancer or heart disease. You are also more likely to die in an auto accident or from a hernia. Why are we so afraid?

There is also the message that history gives us. These problems don't go away because some guerilla leader is killed. When I was in high school I played the role of a commander in the Irish Republican Army in The Informer, which was a play about a rebellion taking place thirty years earlier yet still going on as we took to the stage. Only recently - about a half century later - did Britain's problems with Ireland subside - thanks not to force but through negotiation. I pray you do not have to reach my age before seeing an end to the current conflict.

Finally, I would argue that the easiest, quickest, least dangerous, and most cost-efficient way to reduce the danger of terrorism is to reduce the anger felt towards our country. You limit the constituency of the least rational by responding to the concerns of the most rational. Yet ask yourself: since September 11 what have we done to reduce our risk in this way? In what ways have we changed our foreign policy to change how others react to us?

Now you may discount or disagree with any or all of my points but what you can't disagree with is that we never truly argued about them before assaulting our own civil liberties. The media has not discussed them, the Congress has not debated them. We just charged ahead as though there was only one answer. Yet, as Benjamin Franklin pointed out, "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

I'm afraid you've got your work cut out for you. The twin threats to your liberties and our environment is unprecedented. They're not about to go away. There are several ways to react. You can - as many of my generation did - pretend it's not happening, fail to ask obvious questions, fail to act. Or you can react with fear and avoidance as we, in many ways, are being encouraged to do. But you can also act with the simple witness of a free American, prepared but not paranoiac, determined but not self-destructive, loyal to our country's ideals and not merely to its symbols.

One of the best ways to pursue such a course is to always act and think of yourself as a free American. Above all avoid what Spengler called the "terrible censorship of silence." Don't be afraid to speak up for what you believe is right.

Don't let others bully you into fearful behavior.

Help others retain their freedoms.

Treat those with whom you disagree as a member of the family

Learn your rights. It's not that hard. In fact, 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.

And don't let anyone tell you that your rights must be balanced by this or that. Lately, politicians and the media have 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."

Finally, long ago I worked with a civil rights leaders whose wife use to say, "the trouble with Julius is that he takes the Constitution personally." Now my wife says the same thing about me. I hope you will feel the same way. Your country desperately needs your help in making its promises possible once more. The best way to start is to learn your rights and then take them personally.

June 25, 2011

America's extremist center

Sam Smith

Washington has become a city of barricades, a place where agents on rooftops scan the sky for missiles, and where metal detectors are turned so high they can find a nail in your shoe. It is a city of clearances, closed doors, need to know, a city that believes even Alice Rivlin should take a drug test.

Washington is a town that will host an August conference on "Special Tactics and Security" featuring "personal, tactical, and corrections body armor, hand-held shields, blankets, helmets, face shields, soft armor" and so forth.

Washington is where the idea developed that the rap of Sister Souljah might undermine our most precious values and that messages on the Internet were going to eat our children alive.

And Washington is the town that won't speak to you unless it knows "what it is in reference to," assumes you have a hidden agenda and demands to know "who you are with."

It is a bit odd that a place of such premonitions, predilections and obsessive precautions should come to believe that much of the rest of the country suffers from paranoia. But such is the eccentricity of the disordered mind that it sometimes assigns to others its own defects.

A psychiatrist has suggested that one useful way to judge such claims in individual cases is to count the bodies. Which is to say that healthy people don't leave a trail of victims as they go through life. On the other hand, the disordered, no matter how convincing their claim to normalcy, produce a wake that tells a different story.

A similar principle can be applied to politics. And when it is, a simple, stunning fact stands out: With few exceptions, the major threats to American democracy have come from neither right nor left but from the center.

From that internecine struggle of two factions of the American middle known as the Civil War to FBI assaults on activist organizations in the 60s and 70s, from the Palmer raids to Bill Clinton's anti-terrorism legislation, Americans have traditionally had more to fear from people they have elected than from those on the fringes of politics. In fact, the latter have often served largely as an excuse for the American center to tighten its grip on the political and economic system. This is not to say that the left and the right would not enjoy being just as violent and repressive given the chance, but the American center has rarely allowed that.

Even the KKK, so often cited as an example of the sort of threat the contemporary right poses, was powerful primarily because it was at the center, holding political and judicial and law enforcement office as well as hiding beneath its robes. In some towns, lynching parties were even announced in the local paper. And in the 1920s, both the Colorado governor and mayor of Denver were members of the Klan, the latter well enough regarded to have had Stapleton airport named after him.

If we were going to worry, therefore, let's at least worry about the right thing. Let's, for example, count the bodies. The Vietnam War is a good place to start: nearly 60,000 Americans killed to test the conspiracy theory that if one country fell in Southeast Asia they all would. Or the paranoia about the civil rights and peace movement in this country during the 1960s that led the FBI to place tens of thousands of citizens under surveillance, including Caesar Chavez and Martin Luther King Jr. Or the 1969 memo from the agency's San Francisco field office that suggested the FBI use the women's movement as a wedge against the left. Or the 1970 memo that proposed to "disrupt and confuse" Black Panther activities. Or 1977 -- when the CIA told some 80 academic institutions that they had been unwittingly involved in the mind control research.

Meanwhile, what was happening on the fringes of American politics? One study of civil violence in the tumultuous years between 1963 and 1968 found just 220 deaths -- an overall rate due to civil strife less than one half that in Europe during the same period. Most of the victims, by the way, were inner city residents.

Are the days of state-sponsored violence gone forever? Not at all. Let's, for example, count the bodies in the War on Drugs -- a decade of violence dedicated to the proposition that human nature can be effectively outlawed. It is a fantasy as wild as anything contrived by the Michigan Militia, but empirically far more deadly. The Drug Policy Foundation estimates that drug war has cost five to six thousand deaths a year, enough over the past decade to equal American fatalities in Vietnam.

Now let's count the bodies wasted in order to combat another conspiracy theory, namely, that smoking a weed considerably milder than tobacco is a major threat to our society. This summer America celebrated its 10 millionth arrest on marijuana charges. Bill Clinton is even afraid to let pot be used for medical purposes.

What about arms stockpiles and the like? According to a Defense Department report last December, America's share of worldwide arms shipments has risen from slightly over 20% during the last years of the Cold War to more than 50% today. During the last decade of the 20th century -- as the nation occupies itself with Oklahoma City, Randy Weaver and Waco -- the US will sell over $150 billion worth of arms to other lands. Some undoubtedly will become part of what the US government will refer to as the international terrorist threat.

Hate groups? Name those that pose anywhere near the threat to American minorities as does the 104th Congress. And what about the "wanted" poster published by congressional Republicans that showed 28 targeted Democratic incumbents -- 80% of them black, latino, women or Jewish? Or the Good O'Boys Roundup, a festival for law enforcement personnel sponsored by agents of the BATF, which has included such things as signs saying NIGGER CHECKPOINT, T-shirts with a target superimposed over Martin Luther King's face, others showing DC police officers with a black man stretched across a car hood above the caption BOYZ ON THE HOOD, and cards labeled NIGGER HUNTING LICENSE?

Random acts of terror? They are a growing part of the police repertoire as domestic law enforcement and military tactics blend. The raids shown on TV programs like Cops are not designed merely to intimidate the criminal, but to convince whole communities -- whole ethnic and age groups -- of police invulnerability. They also teach police officers bad habits by providing dubious role models. Meanwhile, the centrist media shows minimal interest in whether such practices as jump-out squads, random roadblocks, arbitrary traffic stops and curfews are constitutional.

Garden variety paranoia? How about US Postal inspector Don Davis who was quoted in the San Francisco Examiner as saying of the Unabomber's questioning of technological society: "There are groups that adhere to a lot of these thoughts, expecially out of Berkeley." As Hank Chapot, a Green who ran for Berkeley city office, asked, "Is Mr. Davis talking about me?"

Good data on home-grown terrorism, meanwhile, is hard to come by. We do know that only 171 people were indicted in the US for "terrorism and related activities" during the 1980s. We find (using the BATF's own figures) that there were just 328 bombing deaths between 1989 and 1993. These bombings include everything from Mafia retribution, insurance cover-ups, apolitical acts of madness, to right-wing sabotage such as that directed against abortion clinics. In sum, fewer deaths in five years than the city of Washington loses to murder annually. Even the Oklahoma City incident barely undermines the comparison.

Three hundred people is, of course, too many to die for any reason. But it is also far too weak an argument for the end of democracy. Hysteria hustling

The media could give some sense of scale to this business. But because it doesn't -- because, for example, it insists that we treat the Oklahoma City bombing as a pivotal event of our time -- we find ourselves bouncing from crisis wave to crisis wave, unable to gain an understanding of the underlying currents of history.

The media is more than willing to pump up the hysteria. The results, as in the Oklahoma City case, can be atrocious. The media watchdog, FAIR, recently cited a long list of those who leaped to the conclusion that the bombing might be the work of Arabs. Among them were the New York Post, Christian Science Monitor, New York Times, Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post. Also ABC, CBS, and CNN. Also columnists Georgie Anne Geyer, A.M. Rosenthal, Mike Royko, Jim Hoagland, as well as such predictable sources of anti-Arab sentiment as Steve Emerson and Daniel Pipes. Royko, for example, wrote in the Chicago Tribune:

I would have no objection if we picked out a country that is a likely suspect and bombed some oil fields, refineries, bridges, highways, industrial complexes . . If it happens to be the wrong country, well, too bad, but it's likely it did something to deserve it anyway.

When the first suspects turned out to come from the Mid-West rather than from the Mid-East, the Chicago Sun-Times' Richard Roeper responded, "Does that mean we conduct overnight bombings of Arizona and Kansas and Michigan now?"

After the anti-Arab paranoia was deflated by none other than the FBI, the demon vacuum for the center was quickly filled by the citizen militias. Even such normally sane voices as FAIR and the Nation began to crack with alarm. So agitated did the Nation become that several readers had to write and urge some perspective. Here are excerpts from two letters:

Actually, but for the [militia's] confusion over the distinctions between socialism and fascism . . . many of their fears regarding the multinational corporations running the world are valid.

Though we disagree on many issues, we as working people must still view the members and supporters of militias as working people who are victims of government repression merely reacting to this repression in their own way. To focus your fire on this right-wing fringe element and advocate government repression against them is to invite this same repression against ourselves somewhere down the road.

The most remarkable piece of hysteria-hustling, though, came in a June New Yorker article, by Michael Kelly. The article was called THE ROAD TO PARANOIA. Its subtitle: There have always been radical fringes on both the left and the right which believe that the government conspires against the people. But lately the two have formed a strange alliance -- fusion paranoia -- that is reaching millions of disaffected Americans.

Telling the tale of the confluence of a liberal and a Montanan right-winger, Kelly outdid Newt Gingrich in reliance on argument by anecdote, spinning for the New Yorker's chaise lounge potatoes a delicious conspiracy theory of mischief and paranoia among the hoi poloi.

Along the way, Kelly managed to extrapolate some conclusions that some might regard as, well, extreme. He implied, for example, that there isn't all that much difference between the "wise use" movement and radical environmentalists who "see the same corrupt conspiracy as the Wise Users, but in mirror image." Implicit in such an argument, of course, is the assumption that the sort of ad hoc and erratic environmental policies pursued by the Clinton administration represent a rational center from which fringes diverge. Another way to look at the matter, however, is that the Clinton approach is so intellectually vapid, that anyone -- whether on the right or left -- who actually has a view about such issues (rather than merely being interested in their immediate political impact) will find it wanting.

Kelly's grasp of such matters leaves much to be desired. For example, he seems to imply that the Wise Users are well represented by something called The Sahara Club USA, which believes in a conspiracy consisting of:

New Age nuts, militant vegetarians, anti-gun pukes, animal rights goofballs, tree worshipers, new world order pushers, human haters, pro-socialists, doom-sayers, homosexual rights activists, radical eco-Nazis, slobbering political correctness advocates, militant feminists and land closure fascists.
In fact, far from being representative of the corporatist "wise use" movement, the Sahara Club USA, as journalist Husayn Al-Kurdi recently reported, consists of "a bunch of bikers who are mad because they can't have unrestricted access to the desert to practice their crudities."

Kelly, even as he speaks of paranoia, manages to lump together not only corporate suits and bikers, but Noam Chomsky and the John Birch Society, Ramsey Clark and Bo Gritz, and Timothy Leary and Lyndon LaRouche.

Here are some others that Kelly believes suffer from conspiratorial fantasies: moderate conservatives, liberals, feminists and African-Americans. Who then, besides Kelly himself, is finally left on the side of reason?

In the next paragraph, Kelly gives another list, this one a compilation of charges that have been made against the president, which he cites as an example of "the degree to which political paranoia has worked its way into the culture at large." These charges include the drug and gun smuggling activities at Mena, the murder of Vincent Foster; the murder or beatings of those threatening to expose his illegal activities as governor; the BCCI scandal; and the retention of an incompetent medical examiner to cover up a death caused by Clinton's mother.

By deftly blending the highly probable (a cover-up of CIA-assisted drug running at Mena) with the bizarre and unlikely (the incompetent medical examiner story) Kelly attempts, in best centrist fashion, to discredit all suspicions of the president. Such a technique eliminates the need to argue substantive questions such as: if it is all a paranoiac fantasy, what are more than fifty FBI agents doing in Little Rock? In the 1950s, there was a name for such skillfully sloppy associations. It was called McCarthyism.

In the end, Kelly's story is about the center and not about the left or right. It is one of the center's most notable defenses to date against the growing clamor of non-elite America for a share of power. It is about the paranoiac obsession of the American establishment to make sure (in its own phraseology) that the "center holds."

Kelly understands the stakes in all this; he describes fusion paranoids as believing that the government "is controlled by people acting in concert against the common good and at the bidding of powerful interests working behind the scenes." This elite is comprised of "the money-political-legal class, and the producers of news and entertainment in the mass media." In short the sort of people that Kelly and other Washington journalists hang out with and have come to accept as the model of normalcy.

As Kelly himself notes, the center's concern is not new. He quotes Richard Hofstadter's chestnut about the "paranoid style" of American politics, which Alexander Cockburn, in the Nation, describes as one in which the "American lower orders -- including unions -- were dangerous, potential brownshirts restrained only by educated elites of mature judgment."

In the fifties it was the elites of mature judgment who were prompting the CIA to destroy labor movements in the Third World and dislodge populist tribunes of the poor, by murder if necessary. In the nineties the elite increasingly detour democratic process by means of 'bipartisan commissions,' international 'agreements' fast-tracked through Congress, and the crude disenfranchisement of the poor, with 'law enforcement officials' turning growing numbers of them into felons denied the vote.

Ironically, if Kelly had only waited a week he might have had a better perspective on the sources of American violence and the cultural distribution of sanity. In the same issue as his article was a review of the life of General Curtis LeMay, written by Richard Rhodes. LeMay ran the air war against both Japan and North Korea, became head of the sacrosanct Strategic Air Command and was one of the military heroes of his time.

Here are just a few of his accomplishments:

- The destruction of nearly 17 square miles of Tokyo with the loss of at least 100,000 civilian lives. The US Strategic Bombing Survey estimated that "probably more persons lost their lives by fire at Tokyo in a 6-hour period than at any time in the history of man."

- The destruction of 62 other Japanese cities. Only Hiroshima and Nagasaki were spared -- reserved for a different sort of horror. In sum, more than a million Japanese civilians were killed. LeMay himself would admit years later, "I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal. Fortunately, we were on the winning side."

- The bombing of North Korean cities, dams, villages and rice paddies. Civilian deaths: more than two million.

In short, with the enthusiastic blessing of the American center, LeMay was directly responsible for the slaughter of about half as many civilians as died in the Holocaust. To this day, establishment Washington won't even face what happened at Nagasaki or Hiroshima, let alone the far larger massacres occurring under the command of LeMay.

And LeMay had even grander schemes. His plan for defeating the Soviet Union included the obliteration of 70 Soviet cities in thirty days with thirty-three atomic bombs and the deaths of 2.7 million citizens.

To be sure, those vocally uneasy back then with the presumptions and power of SAC were not called paranoids. They were just called Commies and dupes. Wannabes

Let's pause for another body count. From the time I first began looking into citizen militias, I have watched assiduously for certifiable acts of violence. Not talk, not war-games, not uniforms. But action. What I've found is a few threats, beatings and hair-brained schemes like stealing tanks from an army base. There's some bad stuff, to be sure, but in aggregate the sort of thing that wouldn't even make a daily's front page if instigated by one of the urban militias, that is to say a gang.

Not even the Oklahoma bombing, from what has been revealed to date, can be pinned on the militias. So far, the worst the militias can be accused of in this case is guilt by attendance.

Tim McVeigh seems to have met those of his ilk mainly at gun shows. And if there is any violent link among the suspects it is with a military organization called the US Army, which teaches men such unmarketable skills as how to kill large numbers of people quickly and then returns them to a civilian world in which they can't find a job. Despite the ads on television, the unemployment rate of veterans 20-24 years old is twice that of those who have not had the benefit of Army training.

Besides, the militias seem largely manned by wannabes. Former Green Beret Gregory Walker, who is writing a book about terrorism and anti-terrorism, told Pacific News Service:

Today, the militia movement rates about 1.5 on a scale of 1 to ten in which one is completely benign . . . It's made up primarily of law-abiding citizens who make no attempt to conceal their identities or [ideology] and who are so desperate for real military training they put want-ads in the newspaper . . . Eighty percent of militia members have no military experience, and just an infinitesimally small percentage have any kind of combat experience. The rest are the butchers, the bakers and the candlestick makers, the guys who ran the computers and fixed truck tires. . . . That's why the militia's are so desperate to hire trainers -- and why they end up hiring bunko artists in a lot of cases because very few real-deal military would get involved. The narrow window of normalcy

Let's pause now for some argument by anecdote. To understand the establishment's fear of the rest of the country, it helps to understand how narrow is its definition of normalcy. A minor, but telling example, came earlier this year when I was bounced from the lineup for a TV show about the DC fiscal crisis after the host, Derik McGinty, found that I still supported DC statehood. In some pique, McGinty said, "Don't you know, Sam, that puts you out of the loop?"

I replied that I had been out of the loop for about 30 years, but that I did try to do right. I didn't mention that probably a majority of DC voters agreed with me, but that wouldn't have mattered much anyway. The loop is not for voters, but for those who decide things.

It's not hard to bump up against the Washington consensus. During 1992 primary season. I was walking down 15th Street when I ran into Don Graham, the publisher of the Washington Post. Graham asked whom I was supporting for president. I said I was backing Jerry Brown. Graham immediately grabbed my arm and started waving it in the air as he shouted something to the effect of "Look, everyone, I've found a real, live Jerry Brown supporter! Look!"

Brown, at the time, was the second choice of the country's Democratic voters. That, in Washington, wasn't good enough. No one in Washington who mattered supported Jerry Brown.

Such anecdotes may help to explain how the New York Times can write a front-page story -- headlined CONSPIRACY THEORIES' IMPACT REVERBERATES IN LEGISLATURES -- that treated an historic debate over the Tenth Amendment (guaranteeing the rights of the states and the people) as some sort of right wing plot.

The historic and constitutional ignorance displayed by the "paper of record" produced a piece as bizarre as if it were to be suggested that the separation of church and state was a scheme dreamed up by President Assad.

As with Kelly and his taxonomy of paranoids, the Times even went so far as to link those concerned about the Tenth Amendment with those who think the numbers painted on the back of Indiana highway signs are signals to invading UN troops.

Similarly, CBS News ran a piece attacking the fully informed jury movement (of which your editor is a supporter) as evidence of a right wing assault on the judiciary. In fact, the idea that a jury has the right to judge both the law and the facts goes back to the trials of William Penn and Peter Zenger, was supported by a number of the country's founders and early judges, and has been most recently applied to the benefit of the likes of Marion Barry and Abbie Hoffman. Black helicopters

We now pause for the really good stuff: black helicopters. You see, we are told, not only does the paranoid right believe in the Tenth Amendment and jury rights: it believes in black helicopters.

The greatest power of the mass media is the power to ignore. As angst mounts in the heartland, however, and as alternative mass media like the Internet gain significance, the elites are losing their ability to decide what exists and what is merely a fiction of our imagination. Implicit in the mass media ridicule is a rising anger over its loss of control of the agenda. In the old days, issues like proportional representation, the fully informed jury movement, or the shorter work-week would never see the light of day. Now, however, whole movements can arise without the assistance of the Post or the Times, something that is regarded in establishment circles as truly aggravating. I suspect, in fact, that much of the media's angst about sex on the Internet is really little more than a foil for a far deeper concern: massive competition.

The black helicopters are a trivial but interesting case in point. It is standard fare for journalists to make fun of the idea of unmarked black helicopters. Yet there is evidence -- newspaper accounts, intelligence sources and so forth -- that such craft do exist. In all probability their ubiquity -- although not necessarily details of color and markings -- can be explained by this country's growing assumption that it can conduct surveillance on anyone it pleases, especially those who might be engaged in growing marijuana. Certainly a federal judge in California thought so; he found helicopter surveillance so intrusive and harassing that he enjoined its continued routine use.

And just one day after I had been jousting on such matters at lunch with a British journalist, and while engaged in giving him a tour of the city, he suddenly cried, "Look, a black helicopter!" To be sure, flying low above us was a dark whirlybird. Given the direction of the sun, I couldn't swear the craft was not dark green but it certainly was unmarked. I might, perhaps incorrectly (but without an iota of paranoia), have described it as black.

The whole business reminds me of James Thurber's fable about the unicorn in the garden. Upon informing his wife that he had seen a unicorn in the garden, his spouse calls the police to have her husband dispatched to the booby hatch. When the cops arrive, however, the husband denies ever having seen a unicorn in the garden and has his wife locked up instead. And lives happily thereafter. Thurber's moral could well apply to today's discussions of black helicopters and political paranoia. "Don't," he warned, "count your boobies until they are hatched."

To be sure there are those who see more than black helicopters, who believe that these craft are the advance troops of a UN invasion. But what service is provided to reason by the media pretending that they don't exist at all? Why not determine their function, color and so forth and point out that the UN is unlikely to invade with a staff and budget only slightly larger than that of the DC government? What's really going on here? Paranoiac co-dependence? Or are we seeing a more generic version of what often happens when government or defense contractor whistle-blowers speak out -- namely that they are sent to see a psychiatrist? The myth-killers

One of the greatest myths of America's elite is that it functions by logic and reason and that it is devoid of myth. In truth, elites function like other people; they choose their gods and worship them. The gods, to be sure, are different. For example, many in Washington believe fervently in the sanctity of data, the Ivy League, the New York Times op pages and the Calvinist notion that their power is an outward, visible sign of an inner, invisible grace.

And some, even while professing to be without myth, spend their lives creating myths for others. We call them political consultants and ghostwriters.

There is no consistency to all this. The Pope's disastrous myths concerning birth control are treated with deference while domestic fundamentalism is ridiculed. Similarly, politicians and media created an instant mythology around the deaths of 15 children in Oklahoma City, but tend -- as did the Washington Post recently -- to lump the 22 children who died in Waco as among "80 group members," apparently as deserving of their end as was David Koresch.

What makes those in power different from other Americans is not the absence of myth but their denial of it. In refusing to allow room for the unknown, for faith, for those temporary fillers called theories that slip into the empty spaces of our knowledge, those in charge of America ultimately separate themselves from such natural human phenomena as myth.

As less of what should be known in our society is allowed to be known, the distance widens between those who have the knowledge and those who do not. To have any sort of decent relations with those Americans not professionally trained to suppress belief and imagination, we would need an elite with more poets and fewer economists. The poet understands that a myth is not a lie but the soul's version of the truth. One of the reasons so many stories are mangled by the media these days is because journalists have become unable to deal with the non-literal.

Consider the mythic underpinnings of the OJ Simpson saga. The average white lawyer or reporter sees it only as a murder case. But to many blacks, Simpson is carrying the mythic weight of decades of ethnic abuse under the justice system. In a column for Pacific News Service, a black journalist, Dennis Schatzman, outlined some of the black context for the Simpson trial:

Just last year, Olympic long jumper and track coach Al Joyner was handcuffed and harassed in a LAPD traffic incident. He has settled out of court for $250,000.

A few years earlier, former baseball Hall of Famer Joe Morgan was "handcuffed and arrested at the Los Angeles airport because police believed that Morgan 'fit the profile of a drug dealer.'" He also got a settlement of $250,000.

Before that, former LA Laker forward Jamal Wilkes was stopped by the police, handcuffed and thrown to the pavement.

A black man was recently given a 25-year to life sentence for stealing a slice of pizza from a young white boy.

In 1992, a mentally troubled black man was shot and killed by LA sheriff's deputies while causing a disturbance in front of his mother's house. Neighbors say they saw a deputy plant a weapon by the body.

Simpson case detective Mark Fuhrman was accused of planting a weapon at the side of a robbery suspect back in 1988. The LAPD recently settled for an undisclosed amount.

In North Carolina, Daryl Hunt still languishes in jail for the 1984 rape and murder of a white newspaper reporter, even though DNA tests say it was not possible.

These examples would be rejected as irrelevant by the average lawyer or journalist in New York or Washington. What do they have to do with Simpson?

Only this. OJ Simpson's case serves as the mythic translation of stories never allowed to be told. The stories that should have been on CNN but weren't. Everything is true except the names, times and places. In Washington, they do something similar when stories can't be told; they write a novel.

Something parallel takes place when a militia member imagines that the Bloods & Crips are being armed by the US government or when blacks believe the same thing about the militias. Or when the UN is thought to on the verge of invasion.

Like urban blacks considering the justice system, the rural right has seen things the elite would prefer to ignore. It has observed correctly phenomena indicating loss of sovereignty for themselves, their states and their country. They have seen treaties replaced by fast-track agreements and national powers surrendered to remote and unaccountable trade tribunals. And they have seen a multi-decade assault by the federal government on the powers of states and localities.

Like urban blacks, they have not been paranoid in this observation, merely perceptive. But because the story could not be told, could not become part of the national agenda, they have turned, as people in trouble often do, to a myth -- and, yes, sometimes a violent myth -- that will carry the story.

The tragedy is that the American center has not responded to these myths by confronting their causes but rather with ridicule and repression. And by creating its own myths. In fact, to the American center, the militias serve much the same purposes as the United Nations and the Council on Foreign Relations do for the right. Just as once the establishment tried to define the civil rights movement by the Symbionese Liberation Army and the cause of North Ireland by the IRA, so Americans' concern over the usurpation of sovereignty at every level is being defined primarily by its most exaggerated manifestations. There is no wisdom and much danger in this.

As author Gregory Walker puts it, "We've haven't seen a great peacemaker step forward to quell the fears and uncertainties. Instead we've seen a strong effort demonize people and polarize thought. Where is the person who can rise up and say, 'My fellow Americans' and truly be including all Americans. He's not out there, and she's not out there, and that's who we need to hear from."

In the meantime, when someone tells you about some Americans who are paranoid or crazy, be sure to count the bodies. -- July 1995

June 22, 2011

Where did all the cool preachers go?

Sam Smith

The death of the activist minister, William Sloane Coffin, propels a troubling question to the front of my mind: where have all the cool preachers gone?

It may seem an odd query for a Seventh Day Agnostic but I have always tried to separate cause and character and have enjoyed a happy if inconsistent relationship with those of the cloth. Besides, we are all members of what Weber called the pariah intelligentsia, including teachers, ministers, writers, intellectuals and activists. In other words, moral outsiders of supposed integrity, passion, and faith providing guidance to a market, politics, and culture that would often just as soon do without it.

These days, however, religionists - as least as they appear in the media - seem dominated by people-slaying dogmatists, thought-slaying propagandists, morality-slaying hustlers and hypocrites, not to mention those whose supposed spiritual concerns are merely tools to strengthen their growing role as political insiders.

There are Islamic jihadists, a Judaism indentured to cynical and cruel Israeli governments, a Pope more concerned with punishing the views of American politicians than dealing with the personal habits of some of his own priests, and Christian evangelists delivering to rightwing politicians an economically endangered flock that has been sold the absurd apostasy that abortion and gay weddings are more important than pensions or healthcare.

Although I was raised in solemn and smug Episcopalism and educated in solemn and stolid Quakerism, I soon discovered the alternatives. For example, my father was involved in politics and so I quickly learned the three major branches of Judaism: your orthodox, reform and liberal Democratic, of which the latter was apparently far the strongest. I picked up a book by a preacher named Martin Luther King and learned that one could be both peaceful and political at the same time. And, when I went to my friend Larry's house, an occasional visitor for drinks or dinner would be Father Patrini, hardly distinguishable, except for collar, from all the garrulous seculars in the room.

In 1960s Washington, the preachers were everywhere. We had Father Drinin in Congress, Father Baroni at HUD, and Father Kemp on the DC school board; all three were as good company as you could hope to find. Episcopal Reverend Jesse Anderson helped to kick off the DC statehood movement. When I covered an anti-poverty meeting, there would often be the Baptist Rev. Frank Milner, part preacher and part cab driver, imploring the crowd with a white collar on his shirt and a change maker on his belt. And there was the Presbyterian, Rev. Tom Torosian, handcuffed at a protest and giving me a grin as I slipped a twenty for bail into his coat pocket.

My lawyer is an ex-priest who keeps telling me to go easier on the Pope. I once got an unrequested grant from the Lutheran church for my community newspaper. I even was invited to become Washington correspondent of the National Catholic Reporter, although that journal - apparently remembering that it was then the 1990s and not the 1960s - withdrew the offer without a word of explanation. And when I was a member of the DC Humanities Council, we happily funded a film on liberation theology right under William Bennett's nose.

And I hardly thought about it all; I only enjoyed it. Regardless of one's own beliefs, if you were active in any cause you expected to find preachers, priests, and rabbis among your friends and allies. And they were fun to eat and drink with, in part because they only witnessed and never proselytized.

Part of it, perhaps, was the different role of the church in a majority black town. In the 1060s, in our community paper's two and a half square mile circulation area, for example, we had over 100 churches including the Revolutionary Church of What's Happening Now. I was reminded of this while attending a performance of "Where Eagles Fly," a tribute to Washington's Shaw neighborhood, once host to the nation's black Broadway, U Street. The performers in the play by Carole Mumin were better than five years worth of 'American Idol,' but the other thing that caught me was how long it had been since I had seen that once bandied word 'ecumenism' being so enthusiastically practiced. There were, of course, the Baptists, but Abdul Majeed Muhammad sang a song in praise of Islam, and Catholics, Episcopalians, and Jews all got their props. A high point was the appearance of one of the great brass bands of the House of Prayer for All People.

Here was religion in the hood rather than on cable TV. It's harder to condemn someone to everlasting damnation when you see them a couple of times a week or when your daughters play together.

On the other hand, the dominant religions we find on cable TV are killing us, making us nastier, and erecting walls between alternative meanings as rigid as those real barriers in Gaza.

So where have all the cool preachers gone?

About a decade ago, Jesuit Peter Collins described one manifestation:

"In 1944 the first worker-priest missions were set up in Paris, and then in Lyons and Marseille. Sharing the grime and toil of an often oppressed social class was a frustrating mission, but gradually the barriers between priests and workers broke down. This sometimes happened in surprising ways. One priest, sacked in front of the workers, had a fellow worker come up to him and say: 'You can stay with me. Now you are one of us'.

"In 1944, Father Henri Perrin and other volunteers met, and with the support of Cardinal Suhard of Paris, began working anonymously in factories. There they emulated their previous life in the wartime camps. By sharing in the labor and suffering of the workers, they hoped first to gain interest in the Gospel by lives of credible witness, and then (and only then) to draw people back to the Church. . .

"They began to see that the absence of the poor from the Church signaled not simply a gap to be filled by 'bringing them back', but a radical rethinking of the whole mission of the Church . . . Sharpest of all, they discovered first-hand the complicity of the Church in injustice. . .

"Catholic industrialists and factory owners, traditionally reliant on the Church for support, complained bitterly to the French Bishops, and then to Rome, accusing the priests of being partisan and divisive, of being 'political' and Marxist because they belonged to the pro-Communist unions. . .

"By 1953, the position of the worker-priests had become untenable. In November, the Papal Nuncio in Paris passed on the Vatican's demand that superiors of religious orders recall their priest-workers. Despite protests from some French bishops, the priest-workers were instructed to leave temporal responsibility to lay people. This meant leaving the unions and their work."

In 1980 another worker priest got the axe. Pope John Paul II told all priests to get out of electoral politics. The most visible example, Rep. & Rev. Robert Drinin, a progressive congressmember from Massachusetts. Liberation theology got an equally hostile reaction from the Vatican.

Clearly, churches of many stripes have pulled away from the spirit of such things as worker priests and liberation theology. The preacher has been put back in the pulpit where it is easier for words to replace witness and propaganda to supplant practice. And the industrialists who make big contributions like it better that way.

This is not, however, unique to churches. For example, my own trade, journalism, has erected huge barriers between itself and its own parishioners both in who gets selected to write (post-grads being favored) and what they get to write (filtered through the myth that major corporations can truly practice objectivity). The worker priests of journalism have disappeared as well.

Even secular non-profits have lost street cred as they have become increasingly formal institutions based on a corporate model rather than activist associations driven by the energy of those involved. A primary characteristic of both the religious and secular groups is that their programs have been increasingly dumped in a red wagon waiting to be pulled by fundraising. Empathy, moral missions and integrity all come later.

Oh, I know you're out there, Reverend Dude. That's not my point. My point is that the system and its media only cares these days about religionists who are out to kill, control, or defeat someone. The worker priests, the cool preachers, the progressive rabbis are still there but struggling in a wilderness of silence and indifference.

It's not my beat to tell you how to change this. I've got enough problems of my own to worry about. But I just wanted to let you know that I miss you badly.

June 20, 2011

Brain Drain: the hazards of grad school politics

Sam Smith

Back when JFK was getting ready to invade Cuba, the New Republic got wind of the CIA's training of Cuban exiles.

Harvard professor Arthur Schlesinger was shown an advance copy of the article, which he promptly passed to Kennedy, who in turn asked (successfully) that TNR not print it. The New York Times also withheld a story on the pending invasion, which Schlesinger would later praise as a "patriotic act" although he admitted wondering whether if the "press had behaved irresponsibly, it would not have spared the country a disaster."

Schlesinger was a prototype for that modern phenomenon, the meddlesome Harvard prof seeking manly vigor by helping presidents damage this country. Henry Kissinger and McGeorge Bundy would soon follow. Later, the staff and management of the Harvard Business School would assist at the collapse of the Russian economy even as their colleagues at the Kennedy School were teaching scores of American politicians how to repeal 60 years of social progress.

It certainly hasn't all been Harvard's fault. As LBJ once told an aide, the CIA was filled with boys from Princeton and Yale whose daddies wouldn't let them into the brokerage firm.

The American intelligentsia has repeatedly let the country down. Consider that exemplar for generations of law school students: Oliver Wendell Holmes. Prospective litigants have all learned Holmes' immortal warning that "the most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic." Fewer, I suspect, have also learned that these words were uttered in defense of the contemptible Espionage Act and that Holmes himself was among those upholding Eugene Debs' sentence of ten years in prison for saying such things as "the master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles."

As early as the turn of the last century, Julian Benda noted, there had been a shift among intellectuals from being a "check on the realism of the people to acting as stimulators of political passions." He described these new intellectuals as being most interested in the possession of concrete advantages and material values, while holding up to scorn the pursuit of the spiritual, the non-practical or the disinterested.

It is true that many intellectuals and grad school graduates took a strong stand against the Vietnam War. But that was a long time ago and today there is nothing even remotely close to that era when the Kissingers and Bundys were matched by others including, in 1970, 1000 lawyers joining an anti-war protest.

In The Twentieth Century: A People's History, Howard Zinn describes a response by some of the intelligentsia stunningly at odds with what we are currently observing: The poet Robert Lowell, invited to a White House function, refused to come. Arthur Miller, also invited, sent a telegram to the White House: "When the guns boom, the arts die." Singer Eartha Kitt was invited to a luncheon on the White House lawn and shocked all those present by speaking out, in the presence of the President's wife, against the war. . . In Hollywood, local artists erected a 60-foot Tower of Protest on Sunset Boulevard. At the National Book Award ceremonies in New York, fifty authors and publishers walked out on a speech by Vice President.

These, remember, were protests against a far more liberal president than we have today - a man who had already shepherded through Congress the most progressive social changes since the New Deal.

Things really started to collapse with the Democratic conservative Clinton administration, typified by a major group of intelligentsia coming to his defense over the Monica Lewinsky affair. It's just lucky we didn't have to rely upon this craven crowd when we were fighting George Wallace, Strom Thurmond, Carmine DeSapio and Richard Daley. They probably would have lectured us all about party unity.

You had Toni Morrison claiming that "the president is, being stolen from us" and Jane Smiley virtually applauding the president for demonstrating in his relationship with Monica a "desire to make a connection with another person something I trust." And there was a multinational manifesto issued by the likes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Desmond Tutu, William Styron, Lauren Becall, Jacques Derrida, Sophia Loren, Carlos Fuentes, Vanessa Redgrave and the ever-faithful Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

Obama's campaign brought this crowd alive again and, as with Clinton, one hears little talk of economic or social issues. It is all about the new savior.
Who needed to worry about foreclosures as long as Obama was in charge.

But beyond the weaknesses of the Democratic Party being turned into an elite, conservative club are some serious intellectual problems. A growing number of those in charge have been educated in graduate schools that train their students in a particular and limited perspective on life: whether it be law, business or economics. The number those trained in history, arts, anthropolgy or the classics who have also risen to the politics top is miniscule.

The favored skills have their virtue but only within a larger context, something recognized by twenty percent of the Harvard Business School graduates who have signed a pledge "to serve the greater good," a move presumably driven by a sense that the goal was not intrinsic to the school's curriculum.

These schools are an elite form of vocational training. Vocational training is useful when applied to the vocation for which one is trained. They can be helpful in other fields as well, like running a government, but only in conjunction with other values and skills.

Apply the law excessively and you can come up with endless good sounding excuses for violating the Constitution.

Apply the lessons of business school excessively and you happily bail out many of the biggest banks but hardly any homeowners in the depths of foreclosure purgatory.

Apply the lessons of economics excessively and you can declare the recession ending even as more Americans are losing their jobs.

Among the other biases is an undue faith in expertise and status, reflected in the hierarchal approach to the stimulus bill and so-called education reforms. There is little indication emanating from the Obama administration that it appreciates or respects the vast pool of competent politicians and bureaucrats at every level of our society. There is even an implicit disrespect reflected in how much control is concentrated at such a high altitude. Among the effects: a constituency of state and local officials who are somewhat or quite annoyed at Obama instead of being enthusiastic participants in his programs.

You also can drive the soul out of politics, which helps to explain why we can have such a huge recovery program with hardly any good stories of how it has helped real people. In grad school politics, anecdotes don't count; only data.

As this soulless, heartless politics takes control, the distance between the politician and the voter grows, even - as is now becoming painfully evident - to the point of nasty distrust and anger.

Some of this, in the case of Obama, is due to ethnic prejudice and some to the manipulation of issues like healthcare by the rotten right. But it is still surprising that Obama of all people - who has yet to find an issue about which he is reliably passionate and who uses the word 'bipartisan' like teenagers use 'you know' - has stirred such frenzy.

Among the factors at work may be that his very lack of conviction makes convincing argument difficult; that at a time when so many are hurting so much, he seems so distant and abstract; that he is able to present data but not draw pictures, and that he lectures when he should just be talking and scolds when he should be sharing.

Further, many of his well educated liberal constituents have made it quite clear what they think about the mass of unhappy America. If you read the liberal blogs and comments of their readers, what comes through is not a desire to reach this constituency but merely to hold it in contempt. The numbers would suggest that is not good politics.

Obama is not alone. Congress and the executive branch is increasingly filled with those who know how to speak to a camera but not to an ordinary American.

Further, as our elites become better educated, more of what passes for learning is vicarious, e.g. learned from books rather than from experience. As Robert Louis Stevenson said, books are all right in their way but they are a pretty poor substitute for life.

In earlier times the learned either had to retreat to monasteries or else have their abstract knowledge constantly jostled by the daily demands of survival as well as by the philistinism and practical knowledge of the non-literate masses. Consider how different the daily life of a Jefferson or a Frederick Douglass was in comparison with that of a Larry Summers or Henry Louis Gates. In earlier times the privilege of the insular world belonged to a few monks and scholars; today it is just another commodity one can purchase.

Among the most dramatic changes in Washington has been the disappearance of the practical person, the individuals - whether pol, hack or advisor - who compensate for deficiencies in formal learning with a superb understanding of life. They were either masters of the pragmatic or of the moral, but in either case served as the GPS of national politics.

In their place we find a town overflowing with decadent dandies who, to quote a 19th journalist, have been educated well beyond their intellects.

They keep busy creating fictions about the nature of politics and the presidency that coincidentally serve their own ambitions, until they become incapable of returning to reality.

The intelligentsia, like everything else in America, has also become corporatized. This can be seen at its worst on campuses and in publishing houses. Journalism and academia have become so subordinated to the needs of their controlling conglomerates that the vital ground between starvation and surrender has become, economically at least, increasingly difficult to hold.

The safest route is to cling to approved symbols while shucking substance, to serve in a House of Lords of the mind, robed and bewigged but naked of power and meaning.

This alteration in the relation of the intellectual to the culture was instinctively grasped by the DC elementary school student as she defined the difference between art and graffiti as "Art is when you have permission to do it." These are days when you not only need permission for art, but also to think. And among the places you go for permission are corporations and grad schools.

For much of my life I have hewed to H. L. Mencken's dictum that the liberation of the human mind has been best furthered by those "who heaved dead cats into sanctuaries and then went roistering down the highways of the world, proving . . . that doubt, after all, was safe - that the god in the sanctuary was a fraud." For much of my life this strategy has worked. Even in the gathering gloom of the Reagan-Bush years. But starting with the arrival of the Clinton administration and its cultural as well as political authoritarianism, skepticism began being blacklisted. Not only was belief to be unopposed by doubt but the terms themselves were banned. In their place was only loyalty or disloyalty.

Under current rules, truth belongs to the one with the most microphones clamped to his podium and the most bucks to buy them. In the end it has become a struggle for the control of fact and memory not unlike that described in 1984: "Who controls the past controls the future, ran the Party slogan, "who controls the present controls the past."

All that is needed is an unending series of victories over memory.

In such a time those with wrong memories and wrong facts are considered mad, disparaged, and dropped from the Blackberry. To hold power happily, one must not be curious and one must not question fully accredited paradigms. To think is to fail. . . .

America has frequently been blessed by the bitter dissatisfaction of those still barred from tasting the fruits of its ideals. It has been the pressure of the dispossessed, rather than the virtue of those in power, that has repeatedly saved this country's soul.

In this century, three such influences have been those of immigrants, blacks, and women. Yet in each case now, social and economic progress has inevitably produced a dilution of passion for justice and change.

Thus we find ourselves with a women's movement much louder in its support of Hillary Clinton than about the plight of its sisters at the bottom of the economic pile. We have conservative black economists decrying the moral debilitation of affirmative action but few rising to the defense of those suffering under the rampant incarceration of young black males. We are also at the end of an succession of Jewish writers and thinkers, raised on the immigrant experience, who created much of the form of progressive 20th century America. Now Jewish writers and thinkers tend to be too busy saving Israel to even notice the American underclass.

Meanwhile, those truly at the bottom -- such as black and white men without a college education or new immigrant groups -- are rarely heard from or about except in reports on crime and poverty.

The dirty secret of 20th century social movements is that they have been successful enough to create their own old boy and girl networks, powerful enough to enter the Chevy Chase Club, and indifferent enough to ignore those left behind.

Their elites have joined to form the largest, most prosperous, and most narcissistic intelligentsia in our history.

And as the best and brightest enjoy their power, who will speak for those who, in Bill Mauldin's phrase, remain fugitives from the law of averages? Not the best and brightest because they have built an oligarchy that gets its face from the united colors of Benetton but its economics from the divided classes of Dickens.

June 19, 2011

Flogging the blogs won't clear the fog

Sam Smith

One major differences between journalism today and when your editor started out 47 years ago is that there wasn't as much bragging, pomposity, hypocritical self-analysis and professional narcissism back then. Reporters, in fact, were among those most skeptical of their trade and the public readily endorsed their judgment. HL Mencken put it this way: "The average newspaper, especially of the better sort, has the intelligence of a hillbilly evangelist, the courage of a rat, the fairness of a prohibitionist boob-jumper, the information of a high school janitor, the taste of a designer of celluloid valentines, and the honor of a police-station lawyer."

Even the far less contentious Richard Harwood remarked, "We were perceived as a lower form of life, amoral, half-literate hacks in cheap suits. Thus I was assigned to a Chamber of Commerce meeting in Nashville in the late 1940s and, with other reporters, was given lunch at a card table set up in a hallway to protect the dining room from contamination."

Moving from this dubious trade, a majority of whose practitioners hadn't gone to college, to a profession graced by graduate schools and thence to a status part actor and part apparatchik of a rising corporate uber-culture, journalists became ever more prominent and self-referential even as they were losing touch with both their purported constituency and their purported purpose. They became the first group in human history to dramatically improve their socio-economic status simply by writing about themselves, self-casting themselves among the very elite from whom they had once been expected to protect their audience.

Ironically, the result was a status not only without substance but without honor. While this may appear a contradiction it is quite typical of early 21 Century power in which one finds such figures as Donald Trump, Martha Stewart, and George Bush notable for an authority almost inversely proportional to reputation, admiration or affection. So many individuals and institutions of power these days have become only that, impressive for the dominance they have achieved rather than for the virtues, skills and honor they have exhibited. Which is why we don't see many Pope Johns, Orson Welles, Eleanor Roosevelts, Beatles, Katherine Hepburns or Martin Luther Kings anymore. The only surviving requirement for being on top is being on top. And reminding others constantly that you are there. Everything else, from actual achievement to criminal conviction, becomes largely irrelevant.

Thus, despite the media's rise in prominence, a Harris survey over nearly 30 years has found that as far as prestige goes, the press remains stuck, still ranked near the bottom just ahead of accountants, stock brokers and real estate dealers. This, of course, was probably also true fifty years ago; the difference is that no one then pretended otherwise.

But since no one else can get the airtime or column inches to point this out, the media can happily go about its business in deep denial and without challenge save for its own braggadocio parading as criticism in which minor flaws such as a single story going awry are subjected to portentous analysis while major media errors - like years of downplaying global warming or buying into false justifications for invading Iraq - escape scot free.

Take just one responsibility of the press, investigative reporting. Most investigative reporting these days is done by non-profit organizations, led by groups like the Center for Public Integrity, which probably has more investigative journalists usefully engaged than any media corporation in the country. Environmental organizations and governmental watchdogs have broken story after story that a real reporter would have been proud to have uncovered. And Ralph Nader has been one of the best investigative reporters this country has ever known. Further, non-profits, rather than the media, have been at the forefront of defending freedom of the press and government accountability, ranging from the daily work of the ACLU to freedom of information suits and the legal protection of government whistleblowers.

This outsourcing of journalistic responsibility both saves the media money and provides it with distance in case something goes wrong with a story. But non-profits don't win Pulitzers so the myth of journalism as public savior goes on even though the profession is ever more in the hands of some of the least public-minded people in American history.

There are, however, a few recent signs that even the media is feeling a bit less secure upon the pedestal it has constructed for itself. The crowds no longer seem to be paying homage. . . or even attention. In fact a recent survey found that only 22% of Americans say they get most of their news from a newspaper, barely twice as many as say they use the Internet as their primary source. Radio is at a mere 15% while 50% rely upon the true church of our new Middle Ages - guardian of the faith, inquisitor of free market apostasy, perpetuator of sanctified superstition, lord of all men, judge of all things, which is to say, television.

If you look closely at this division of news curricula, one finds that just under a third of the public relies on media that by habit, methodology, and tradition are most likely to concern themselves with the rational and the factual. This does not mean that such matters are absent from TV, only that you won't use up anywhere near your Tivo memory recording every Front Line, 60 Minutes and available equivalent.

Yet far from welcoming their colleagues in cyberspace, the print media has gone out of its way to disparage and ridicule digitized news, with particular disdain for bloggers who dare to occupy space the archaic press believes belongs to them. There is of late much talk about the social and professional status of bloggers who are presumed not to be as properly credentialed as, say, Jason Blair, Robert Novak, Geraldo Rivero, Bill O'Reilly, the broadcast staff of defense contractor General Electric, or the 400 journalists who moonlighted for the CIA in times past.

But Tom Paine, Ben Franklin, and Frederick Douglass did not have press passes either, nor did anyone give them credentials before they commenced their unlicensed practice of the First Amendment. And where does one go these for such a license anyway? Usually to the government or to a committee comprised of employees of large media corporations whose interest is not in dispensing news but in owning its profits and who hire numerous lobbyists to manipulate the same White House and Congress their ace reporters are covering.

There are, of course, good bloggers and there are bad ones. There are gay prostitutes pretending to be objective cyber-journalists and there are internet journalists uncovering answers to questions conventional reporters don't even bother to ask. A simple test of the average quality of these efforts would be to invite nothing but bloggers to the next presidential news conference. Can anyone doubt that it would be more interesting and useful than a room full of David Gregorys asking questions so predictable that the president already has the answers on paper?

Something of the same effect could be achieved by ridding the White House news confabs of media prima donnas and replacing them with that quiet body of lesser known reporters who cover truly tough beats such as Congress - a task at least 535 times more complex than trailing a bubble wrapped president. Science reporters, investigative journalists who don't usually have time for show business, hacks who know federal agencies inside and out, not to mention well-informed advocacy scribes from right and left, would serve the country far better than the present club of servile stenographers.

The archaic media's discomfort with the Internet began early. I collected some examples for my book, Why Bother?:

- Cokie and Steve Roberts wrote a column, headed 'Internet Could Become A Threat To Representative Government,' warning against the direct democracy of the Internet and saying it could threaten the "very existence" of Congress.

- A commentator on Court TV argued that acceptance of government regulation of the Net was the equivalent of growing up.

- Leslie Stahl on 60 Minutes called for the removal of undesirable information from the Net. Asked on what grounds, Stahl replied, "That it's wrong, that it's inaccurate, it's irresponsible, that it is spreading fear and suspicion of the government; 10,000 reasons."

- A writer in the Washington Post warned that without gatekeepers of information -- e.g. the Washington Post -- "our media could become even more infested with half-truths and falsehoods."

- On Crossfire, Geraldine Ferraro breathlessly warned that "we've got to get this Internet under control."

- A front page story in the New York Times was headlined 'Term Papers Are Hot Items On The Internet.' Other horrors in the Times' series included a story that the Net had caused Dartmouth students to forget sex, socializing and drinking; another on how to spot your computer addiction; and, finally, how the same technology that encourages celibacy at Dartmouth encourages flagrant and prolific sex everywhere else.

I went on to note that "those not in media elite have found something quite different on the Net. They are creating a cyberarchy of transformation -- as different from the hierarchy of traditional information and politics as the vast wilderness of America was from the taut geography of 19th century Europe. The old dukes and baronets, clinging to their decadent landscape of conventional thought, rail against the primitiveness, the raucousness, the freedom of the new media, but theirs is effete whining in a happy hubbub of people discovering the ubiquitous potential of a new frontier. The ways of the Net have become inseparable from the ways of new politics -- they are the smoke-filled room, the Tammany Hall, and the political picnic of a new age.

"With the heady discovery of how many of us there really are has come a sense of incipient rebellion based not on ideology but on dreams and values -- a shared faith that truth, freedom, the individual, community, and decency still matter."

I have been a radio reporter; have edited newspapers and newsletters; have written for local, national and foreign readers; have had articles in more than two dozen publications; and then ten years ago I took to the Internet. Nothing has made me feel closer to the guardian angels of journalism and more a honest part of the free press than this latter adventure, while nothing has made me feel more distant from those who haughtily claim custody of journalism's holy grail even as they dishonor its most hallowed traditions. Anyway, in the end, there is only one journalism credential that really counts: telling good stories well - and truthfully.

June 13, 2011

All War all the time

 Sam Smith

As it tries to recover from the most expensive failure in American military history, the Pentagon has its eyes on an easier target. The beauty of this adversary is that it is not from an indecipherable culture, it doesn't speak a strange language and it doesn't scatter IEDs in the path of Hummers. In fact, it's not even armed and its headquarters, far from concealed in the mountains of Pakistan, are easily found in the high rises of Washington, DC. The new foe: The State Department, USAID and other civilian diplomatic and development operations - proving once again that our military leaders' real skill set is not fighting mile by mile on some foreign battlefield but line by line in the domestic budget.

There is no doubt that the domestic surge is working. Between 2002 and 2005, the share of government development assistance flowing through the Pentagon rose from 6% to 22%.

Stewart Patrick and Kaysie Brown, in a paper last fall for the Center on Global Development, outlined the problem:
These trends have stimulated concerns that U.S. foreign and development policies may become subordinated to a narrow, short term security agenda -- at the expense of broader, longer-term diplomatic goals and institution building in the developing world -- and that U.S. soldiers may increasingly assume responsibility for activities more appropriately conducted by civilians skilled in development challenges. . .

We attribute growing U.S. reliance on the U.S. military to carry out reconstruction, development, and capacity-building activities to three factors: an overwhelming focus within the Bush administration on programs that can help in the global war on terror, particularly in unstable, conflict-prone, and post-conflict countries; the vacuum left by civilian agencies, which struggle to deploy adequate numbers of personnel and to deliver assistance in highly insecure environments; and a general failure on the part of the U.S. government to invest adequately in non-military instruments of global engagement, including by creating deployable U.S. civilian post-conflict capabilities. . .
A less polite way of looking at it is that the military is aggressively and greedily invading territory that traditionally has been left to civilians. Of course, anyone familiar with the militarization of law enforcement will not be surprised, but the new stakes should not be underestimated. Do we really want to turn civilian development activities that have lent our country honor over to a crowd that is in no small part to blame for America's current pitiful world reputation?
At the end of the Cold War, a top Soviet official promised America one last horrible surprise: the loss of an enemy. It was as the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy had written early in the century:
Night is here but the barbarians have not come.
And some people arrived from the borders,
and said that there are no longer any barbarians.
And now what shall become of us without any barbarians?
Those people were some kind of solution.

A decade later, a Pentagon office still sported a sign that read, WANTED: A GOOD ENEMY. It was not long after the Cold War, in fact, that the military went out shopping for new enemies to buck up the welfare fathers of the defense industry. It had not yet received the budgetary blessing - heralded by a handful of young men with box cutters - of Iraq and Afghanistan. Who could have imagined that so few could cause so much fear among so many? Who would have thought that, instead of pursuing the perps, you could turn the whole affair into the most expensive war in history and the first to be waged against a perpetual abstraction - terror - rather than an actual country? Who would have dreamed that the public could be sold the notion that the way to deal with guerillas was to engage in warfare that would increase the number of their allies?

Instead, mostly unreported, America's political and military planners worked hard developing an external threat to compensate for the disappearance of the USSR. Although in the short run, the Pentagon had been remarkably successful in exempting itself from the deficit-cutting hysteria, there was always the danger that the public and politicians might start asking too many questions.

So uncertain was the trumpet, in fact, that planners were forced to resort to abstractions that were not only uninformative, they were truly absurd. Thus, we were told to spend hundreds of billions to protect ourselves against a generic composite peer competitor, myriad formless threats, and even, god forbid, an asymmetrical niche opponent. (What did you do in the last war, Daddy? Well, son, I killed 14 generic composite peer competitors and would have wasted more if a frigging asymmetrical niche opponent hadn't got me in the chest.)

As Clinton's budget director Franklin Raines told a meeting of high level Pentagon officials, "We will protect your purchasing power."

Thus is was not surprising to see a new enemy starting to turn up in the military planners' mind: the US citizen. For the first time since the Civil War, American government officials began seriously considering the possibility of armed conflict in, and occupation of, their own country. There was a growing assumption that the interests of those with power and those without might diverge to the point of insurrection.

The major media steadfastly ignored the trend despite ample evidence lying about. For example, Defense Week reported that "Army Chief of Staff Gen. Dennis Reimer said the Army needs to focus more on homeland defense and welcomes a 'mission creep' into that area." A 1996 article by military historian and strategist Martin van Creveld in the Los Angeles Times argued that

As the 20th century draws to an end, it is time that military commanders and the policy makers to whom they report wake up to the new realities. In today's world the main threat to many states, including specifically the US, no longer comes from other countries. Either we make the necessary changes, or what is commonly known as the modern world will lose all sense of security and dwell in perpetual fear.Perhaps most startling was an article in the Winter 1992 issue of Parameters, a quarterly published by the US Army College. The author was Lt. Col. Charles J. Dunlap Jr., a graduate of Villanova School of Law, the Armed Forces Staff College, and a distinguished graduate of the National War College. He had been named by the Judge Advocates Association as the USAF's outstanding career armed services attorney. In short, not your average paranoid conspiracy theorist. Dunlap's article was called "The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012."

In it, Dunlap quoted one of Washington's journalistic cherubs, James Fallows, who wrote in a 1991 article
"I am beginning to think that the only way the national government can do anything worthwhile is to invent a security threat and turn the job over to the military . . . The military, strangely, is the one government institution that has been assigned legitimacy to act on its notion of the collective good.
Fallows was not alone within the Washington establishment. Stephen Rosenfeld of the Washington Post wrote a column praising an Army advocate of Dunlap's nightmare. Rosenfeld described US Army Major Ralph Peters this way:
"At home, use of the military appears inevitable to him -- though not yet to an American consensus -- "at least on our borders and in some urban environments" . . . He would dutifully prepare for the traditionally 'military' missions, plus the new one of missile defense. But he would be ready to engage with drugs and crime, terrorism, peacekeeping, illegal immigration, disease control, resource protection, evacuation of endangered citizens . . ."
What Dunlap described and Peters advocated was not a bold military stroke against the civilian society, but simply a coup by attrition. Something similar seems to be going on now, only the target is not our domestic, but our foreign, affairs. The goal: all war all the time, with the Pentagon in charge of as much as possible.
Before raising philosophical questions about whether the military should be supplanting the civilian in matters of diplomacy and development, some sense of scale is useful. Based on figures from a few years ago, for example, the amount of money the military spent annually on useless - in fact heavily counterproductive - drug interdiction and anti-drug activities was nearly a half billon dollars. This was approximately the same sum being spent by USAID on agriculture, or the environment, or child survival and maternal health or family planning. And it was vastly more than was spent on higher education or diseases other than AIDs.

One example of how the military has infiltrated civilian diplomacy has been the new African Command. You may not have noticed too many wars against the U.S. in that part of the world, but the Pentagon has managed to con Congress into a grand operation that includes, according to its website, achievements such as the following:

- U.S. service members from the Combined Task Force-Horn of Africa gathered with residents of Mikocheni on May 15 to celebrate the completion of a newly built health clinic. The Jaypal Singh Babhra Memorial Clinic was completed by U.S. service members of the CJTF-HOA. . .

-- A group of 20 sailors from the U.S. Navy's USS Momsen visited a school in the port city of Mombasa on May 7, as part of a community relations program called Project Handclasp. Project Handclasp is a U.S. Navy program that provides donated items such as books, clothes, toys, and medical. . .

-- The Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa funded the renovation of the Mokowe Primary School in Mokowe, Kenya,and helped construct a fence to secure the facility.

Patrick and Brown cautiously describes the Pentagon's African mission this way
According to DoD, the new command's primary mission will be "shaping" activities, designed to ameliorate troubling trends in the region by helping to eliminate the roots of extremism, terrorism and violent conflict before they reach a crisis, rather than traditional operations involving the use of force. . .

"The Pentagon's new focus on conflict prevention and its commitment to U.S.-government-wide policy planning and implementation are to be welcomed. What has not yet been satisfactorily explained is how AFRICOM's interagency process will interact with other U.S. programs and activities - and how DoD will ensure that its military activities do not compete with, undermine, or overshadow U.S. development and diplomatic objectives throughout the continent. The risks, which are both symbolic and practical, will need to be carefully managed. From a public diplomacy perspective, the elevation of AFRICOM to a position of apparent leadership in integrating U.S. policy toward Africa may create the damaging impression (or allow U.S. adversaries to argue) that the United States has a militarized approach to the continent.46 More substantively, the enormous asymmetry between the resources available to the Pentagon, on the one hand, and the State Department, USAID and other civilian agencies, on the other, raises the danger that any "shaping" activities that emerge from AFRICOM will be dominated by U.S. defense priorities while giving short shrift to broader political and developmental considerations, (including the democratic accountability of those same security forces). . .

"In a recent briefing, the head of the AFRICOM Transition Team, Rear Admiral Robert Moeller, declared that "Strategic Success" for the new command would include the achievement of the following goals:

- An African continent that knows liberty, peace, stability, and increasing prosperity
- Fragile states strengthened; decreased likelihood of failed states; all territory under the control of effective democracies
-Economic development and democratic governance allow African states to take the lead in addressing African challenges. . .

What is impressive about these strategic objectives - beyond their breadth -- is how few lend themselves to DoD leadership. Generally speaking, the U.S. military is not well-equipped, by its mandate and personnel, to expertly address the structural sources of underdevelopment, alienation and instability in target countries. Although requisite skills can sometimes be found within the civil affairs component of the U.S. Army, few soldiers possess deep expertise on matters of governance, development, and the rule of law. . .

Finally, a number of European officials have expressed misgivings about the integration of U.S. counter-terrorism and development agendas, suggesting that the new command could complicate common approaches to Africa within the donor community. . .
To be sure, there is far from total agreement on the nature and distance of this shift in the military, even within the Pentagon. There are, for example, plenty of Army and Marine officers who would just as soon not be running day care centers in Tanzania.

Even Defense Secretary Gates seemed to side with traditional diplomatic and development approaches in a recent speech in which he praised the role of civilian agencies. According to the Pentagon release:
Speaking at the Academy of American Diplomats in Washington, the secretary said there is bipartisan support on Capitol Hill to devote more resources to the State Department and other civilian agencies.
Since the war on terror began, President Bush, defense officials and military officers have stressed that all parts of the federal government must work together to combat extremists -- that the military can put in place conditions for security, but civilian agencies are the repositories of expertise on governance, economics, agriculture and so on. Countries like Iraq and Afghanistan need these skills to cement progress in place.

"There is a need for a much greater integration of our efforts," Gates said. "There is clearly a need for a better way to organize interagency collaboration."

The problem with the civilian agencies providing the personnel has not been a lack of will, but a lack of capabilities, Gates said. The State Department has about 6,600 Foreign Service officers. To put it in perspective, that's barely enough to crew one carrier battle group in the Navy, the secretary said.

The upshot is that when civilian agencies cannot deploy personnel, service members step in to take up the slack. The provincial reconstruction teams in Afghanistan and Iraq are primary examples of this, Gates said. The teams, which have slots for officials from the departments of agriculture, commerce, treasury, justice and so on, were staffed by military personnel so they effort could get up and running quickly.

"There aren't deployable people in agriculture and commerce and treasury and so on that are prepared to go overseas," Gates said. And these skills are desperately needed, he emphasized.
Which all sounds comforting until you discover who's going to be assigned to whom:
Defense personnel have always worked in the State Department, but now State Department personnel are assigned to DoD, especially with the combatant commands. The newly formed U.S. Africa Command, for example, has a large number of State Department personnel assigned to the organization. U.S. Southern Command also has a large number of personnel from civilian agencies as integral members of the command. . .
And he also called the civilian agencies a "combat multiplier," hardly a reassuring description of peaceful diplomacy.

Now consider this from an Economist article on Gates' philosophy:
In a recent article, General Peter Chiarelli, an adviser to Robert Gates, America's secretary of defence, says more money has to be spent not on the Pentagon but on the "non-kinetic aspects of our national power". He recommends building up the "minuscule" State Department and USAID development agency (so small it is "little more than a contracting agency"), and reviving the United States Information Agency.

As the American army expands, some thinkers. . . say it needs not just more soldiers-nor even linguists, civil-affairs officers and engineers-but a fully fledged 20,000-strong corps of advisers that will train and "embed" themselves with allied forces around the world. The idea makes army commanders blanch, but they do not question the underlying assumption.
As the American media has found in Iraq, embeddedness is not the repose of equals.
Then there is the controversial Defense Department draft directive going around on the topic of irregular warfare that some believe lays down the basis for much further intrusion on civilian roles. The directive would replace one that had already staked out sizable new turf, of which Patrick and Brown wrote:
Chastened by its failure to plan for postwar Iraq and the chaos that resulted, the Pentagon has cast off its former aversion to nation-building. This shift was cemented in November 2005 with the signing of DoD Directive 3000.05, which declared that the U.S. military would henceforth treat "Stability, Security, Transition and Reconstruction Operations" as a core mission, on a par with combat operations. Decidedly broad in scope, this directive extends DoD's mandates and programs to a wide range of activities that are typically the province of civilian agencies, including reforming the security sector, establishing institutions of governance, reviving market activity and rebuilding infrastructure. While the directive openly recognizes that many of these tasks are more appropriately carried out by civilian actors and agencies, it also states that this may not always be possible in highly insecure environments or where such civilian capabilities do not yet exist."
Still another way it all might look is described in American Diplomacy by Sam J,. Holliday, a West Pont graduate and a former director of Stability Studies [sic] at the Army War College, and a retired army colonel.
Today there are two broad contending views regarding policy formulation and implementation for irregular warfare:

1. Focus the military on conventional war against the armed forces of other states and focus the Foreign Service on diplomacy and negotiations to avoid war, while muddling through irregular warfare.

2. Recognize irregular warfare as being distinctive from both war and peace by creating a new Department of Stability with career personnel dedicated to irregular warfare. . .
The first view has strong support within the military from those that do not want war-fighting forces to be used for internal security against insurgents attempting to overthrow those in authority. They do not want to be the handmaidens of "political strife," and they want to avoid the cruel, violent, and unrewarding activities of internal conflict. . . This first view sees the solution in a plan that unites all agencies of the U.S. government. These agencies have different philosophical, political, and institutional agendas. Therefore, how to coordinate all U.S. government agencies involved in foreign affairs (State, Defense, Justice, CIA, NSA, etc.) during policy formulation is the critical challenge. Until this is done there will be turf battles, uncertainty, delays, and ineffectiveness. . .

A Stability Department would allow the development of career personnel (military and civilian) dedicated to determining and using the means, strategies, tactics, and methods necessary for irregular warfare. This should make both policy formulation and implementation more effective and more efficient. The result would be professionals without preconceptions shaped by war fighting or diplomacy, without institutional allegiance to either the military establishment or the foreign policy establishment, and without mindsets appropriate only for either war or peace. Hopefully these professionals would be able to determine how to achieve stability through equilibrium at the lowest possible costs. . .
Key to the concept of irregular warfare and a Department of Stability is the assumption of perpetual conflict, a chronic absence of peace and America's continued colonial dominance, which others that see shrinking by the day. A Department of Stability would certainly seem as odd to young students a century from now as reading about the bureaucracy of British colonialism under Queen Victoria does today.
Besides, all morality aside, if there is one thing our time should have taught us it's that war is about the dumbest way to go about anything that there is. After all, even the exceptionally well equipped and righteous America hasn't won a real war against a comparable enemy since WWII and when you add in Vietnam, Korea and Iraq and then find yourself falling back on Grenada for props, it may finally be time to think of other approaches.

This has not, of course, been the fault of the troops, but of the star bedizened galaxy under which they serve, of presidents with testosteronic insecurities, and of toy boys on Capitol Hill willing to gamble our nation to satisfy another defense contractor aka campaign contributor. After all, even the best boatswain's mate can't save a ship from the rocks if those on the bridge can't, or won't, read the chart.
The tragedy of modern military history is how much courage has been sacrificed for so many puerile, pointless or psychopathic ends. Which is one good reason you want the better part of your foreign policy run by civilians and not generals.
Another reason diplomats, development officials and civilians now working with the Pentagon are concerned abut the expansion of the military role was well outlined by an aide to General Petraeus:
At present, the U.S. defense budget accounts for approximately half of total global defense spending, while the U.S. armed forces employ about 1.68 million uniformed members. By comparison, the State Department employs about 6,000 Foreign Service officers, while the U.S. Agency for International Development has about 2,000. In other words, the Department of Defense is about 210 times larger than USAID and State combined - there are substantially more people employed as musicians in Defense bands than in the entire foreign service.

There are plenty who won't be all that happy having to deal with a military surge into diplomacy, including international non-profits, some of our allies and UN organizations. It is also hard to imagine rock stars throwing themselves into global fundraising fests when they know the money will go to pad the budget of a General Petraeus.

Here is how one civilian professional - who represents others who do a lot work for the Pentagon - reacted to the proposed new directive:
As I understand things, if this change were to be implemented, we would have the following:

The connection between State and Defense to harmonize stability and reconstruction operations would become moot because the funding and control of the stability operations would be subsumed under "irregular warfare." It would be up to DoD to decide if they needed to bring in civilians to help them out.

It would become even more difficult for civilian organizations and agencies to be involved in any comfortable way, given that all humanitarian aid, providing essential services, building local governance, etc., would become part of "irregular warfare." In fact, I can't think of a single humanitarian aid organization that would agree to become involved in "irregular warfare."

This would continue and extend the idea that "irregular warfare" is an appropriate approach to dealing with fragile or failed states, with post-conflict situations, or preventing future conflicts. Such policies will be completely rejected by the civilian agencies of the US Government, NGOs, the international community, without even attending to what the fragile states would think.

We would have even more power and control in the military, creating an even greater imbalance between the civilian agencies and the military that are supposed to be working to "harmonize" their activities now. They are so underfunded and undermanned at this point that it is very difficult to manage the civilian side of the "harmonization" process effectively.

The military would then be left with a mission to provide for stability operations across the board for which they do not have training, are not equipped to do, have not been able to successfully accomplish (witness Iraq and Afghanistan), which would mean that the U.S. capacity to contribute to serious peace building efforts would be seriously undermined even further than it is now.

The military takeover of traditionally civilian foreign policy roles is part of a mission creep that has been going on a long time. My first article on the topic was 12 years ago when the concerns were the military's expansion of the futile and terribly damaging drug war and its growing interference with domestic civil liberties.

Things have only gotten worse since. Now diplomacy and international development are joining the target list for the mission creep, by a military that has finally found a battleground it truly likes. And we, the citizens funding it all, will once again lose the war.