(July 5, 2004)
Regarding John Blunt's Letter To John Kerry
To the Editor:
I first scanned John Blunt's June 21st article while visiting Washington D.C. last week and then read it again with the proper attention after returning home. It is well written and contains a wonderful amount of disgust and anger. This was one of my favorite passages... "We the people of this nation want our government back. The halls of our public forums have been overrun, and the doors to the state house have been locked.
You, the DNC, want some fresh, new Democratic platform issues? Dust off the Constitution and start reading out loud. Where does it say freedom of speech is measured by the depth of your pockets? Where does it state Capitalist Darwinism shall govern public consensus and debate? Where does it describe public access going to the highest bidder? Nowhere, baby. We have grown weary of social demagoguery, and the politics of destruction. We are bloody fed up with checkbook policy making."
Having just arrived home from a visit to our nation's capitol, I've had lots of opportunity to contemplate this very notion. Here is an example of one of several incidents that happened in D.C. I climbed the capital steps last Wednesday evening with my 2 kids (ages 11 and 9). We were excited about the event and unintentionally left my husband back a ways. There was a large group of people at the top of the first tier of steps and we followed an Asian man and his son toward them. The man and his son stepped over to the other side of the stairs to avoid the crowd above and as we followed them we heard yelling from the top of the stairs. We looked up and realized that we were being screamed at by an M-16 wielding, swat style, tobacco-the-size-of-a-golf-ball-in-the-cheek, security officer. He bellowed, "GET BACK TO THE BOTTOM OF THE STAIRS." The two in front of us quickly backed up and over to the side of the stairs where we were. Again, the security officer yelled, "GET BACK TO THE BOTTOM OF THE STAIRS" several times. The folks in front of us quickly retreated back down the stairs. However, the kids and I only stopped and stared incredulously, while he bellowed over and over until I yelled back to him insisting that he explain why we were being prevented from entering our capital building. We bantered back and forth while he clenched his M-16 and screwed his tobacco stuffed face into a furious glare. I persisted calmly with my questions until he finally asked us to wait at the bottom of the stairs while the group coming down were cleared explaining that the capital would reopen momentarily. Back at the bottom of the stairs, we looked around for any signs that we may have missed preventing access to the capital. We crossed no barricades and passed no signs giving details of access limitations. Befuddled we turned to other tourists for information. We discovered that access was only allowed from the opposite side of the building. Fuming, we walked to the other entrance. An armed guard stood in front of a gate there and politely gave us the real story. The capital is actually no longer open to the public without a ticket and a tour guide at a designated time. Even then, the public is only allowed access to a very limited section. It seems to me a wonderful analogy and a wonderful parallel to John Blunt's essay/letter to the presumed leader of the DNC. Where is the common man's access to our government? A representative democracy is what the writers of the constitution intended.
Moments later, still outraged and ready to vent, we happened upon Representative Lincoln Davis from Tennessee. He approached us kindly apologizing that we could not be allowed entrance to the building. He asked where we were from and who our representative was. Jay Inslee, he told us, is a good man. After realizing that he was a representative, I was all too pleased to express my opinion on what had happened (he actually witnessed the event from above). He was very sorry that our children had to witness such a thing and promised to speak to the security folks about the incident. My 11-year-old daughter is that kind of idealist that all children should be. The kind of idealism that is enviable. It is not tainted with the reality of corruption or greed that festers in humans with too much power. She is aware it exists, having studied her share of American history, but she wasn't yet ready to face it the way it was dished out that night. On the verge of tears for hours, tears of anger and confusion, she asked over and over again, "Why was that man screaming at us? We didn't do anything wrong. Why would he treat us that way?" Our conversation was lengthy and filled with troubling images she has questioned before. "Why did those prison guards do those awful things in Iraq?" It's a parallel that is terribly unsettling.
According to Blunt, "Our hands, once open, have been made into fists. I think we are sick, now, and drunk with all this killing and power." I've witnessed those fists here in our homeland. I've witnessed them through my daughter's eyes.
These are not proper uses of power. When a government resorts to bullying its own people and gross distortions of the truth to control the outcome of elections, we have lost our tenuous grasp on democracy. We realize that there has been a decay or our rights as citizens. We were searched over and over, subjected to metal detectors at every Smithsonian museum entrance, my bag put through an x-ray machine on one occasion so that we could enter a food court in the basement of a building. Similarly, our local Washington State Ferry system is being prevented from installing a much more convenient walk-on passenger bridge for reasons of National Security. The reason is that vague. Apparently when you are in power these days, no more explanation is needed. Cars in the ferry lines are subject to random search -- get this, without probable cause...so much for the 4th Amendment. These are not proper uses of power either.
A recent mailing from the RNC finance chairman came addressed to my husband. Likely because he is an ex-air force fighter pilot, and that mailing list tends to be plenty conservative. Here is a direct quote from Chairman Mercer Reynolds letter, "If liberals like Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton regain control of the White House, Congress and statehouses across this country... ...our taxes will be higher. We will never create jobs for the 21st century nor become energy independent. The democrats will take our nation back to the dark days of radical liberalism and government give-away programs. And once again, American foreign policy will be about appeasement and America will look to the United Nations for guidance and direction."
OK RNC, define "government give-away programs"...does that only mean give-aways to the poor, give-aways to Halliburton and the Carlyle group are exempt? And since when is the RNC our ticket to energy independence...isn't anyone paying attention? With manipulation of the truth like this and strong men at the top of the stairs bullying women and children, it brings to mind the rage with which our country's founders found themselves filled. So enraged that they put their lives and livelihoods on the line to fight against the government's corruption. After signing the Declaration of Independence, I understand many of them were hunted down by the British, killed and their farms and homes destroyed. So enraged, and yet with great purpose that they wrote these words, from the Declaration of Independence...
"That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security." (http://www.archives.gov/national_archives_experience/declaration_transcript.html)
Fortunately, some of us still hold fast to the ideal that we have the power in this democracy to make changes and make a difference. So many disenfranchised voters have turned away from their privileges and duties as citizens to speak out and to vote. So many of us Americans feel powerless to exact change. We feel, in fact, damned to our destiny of pawns in a game played far out of our reach to participate. It's not true, of course. Revolutions come in many forms...civil rights, voting rights for women, freedom from slavery, and on and on. These revolutions created changes from many small voices banding together to make a bigger noise. Robert Kennedy said it superbly in 1966 speaking to students in South Africa when he said,
"Let no one be discouraged by the belief there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world's ills -- against misery and ignorance, injustice and violence... Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation...
It is from the numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."
The last paragraph of this statement is carved into stone over a beautiful meditation fountain at Arlington National Cemetery. I took a picture of it last week as our family took in the gravity of the overwhelming number of grave sites of our lost soldiers. It was with the same serious and heavy heart that I read John Blunt's letter to Mr. Kerry. A letter demanding that our idealism, the idealism of our parents' generation, the idealism of Robert Kennedy, the idealism of an 11-year-old girl standing on the capital steps, is honored and the 'vengeance and fear for the American dream' that has taken over the DNC's platform be replaced once again with "genuine ideals and an optimistic vision of the future."
Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA - July 3, 2004
Regarding Manuel García's McCain Versus Kerry?
To the Editor:
Bravo, bravissimo! A friend sent your url for the McCain vs Kerry article, and I ended up being pulled into the vortex of your mind blowing material. You are restoring one's faith that the republic will somehow survive the ongoing savage and freedom-hating terrorist attack from within it own citizenry...
Santa Rosa, California, USA - July 3, 2004
John Steppling's Review of Swans' June 21 Edition
To the Editor:
Capitalism is the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men, for the nastiest of reasons, will somehow work for the benefit of us all.Something is reaching psychic fail safe in America and the SWANS writers are all feeling it. Maybe it's as simple as people finally asking basic questions about the theoretical underpinnings of the "state" about an era that began with the dissolution of the absolutist state and slowly formed into the capitalist model we have today. The theoretical aspects began around the time of Hobbes and moved on to Locke and Bentham, and have ended up with jerk offs like Francis Fukuyama. Confucius, in an oft noted quote, said if he ran the empire the first thing he would do was to rectify the naming of things. We need such rectifying today. The overview of this issue is a desire to examine assumptions, and to look at the implications of history. Bill Eger rightly brings a focus to the history of political parties -- though I would question his glossing over of the US history of corruption. The ideals of political life in America have never been much adhered to, and I would point to the history of railroads as a start, or the late Mayor Dailey who said "vote early and often." One could go on, but I only ask if there have ever been civic institutions in America that one might really trust in? I guess I don't understand comments about a party being there so you could get what you needed. Really? I would also argue that the abolition of child labor and civil rights are not to be credited to political party platforms. Capitalism is predicated on exploitation and that's not ever been otherwise...still, it's smart to direct us to the days when there was at least a semblance of rationality in public life...when unions took some care of their exploited workers for instance...but let's not romanticize the era as anything other than rank exploitation all the same. Those who asked to have their street lamp repaired were still overworked and underpaid. They were still fodder for the machinery of profit, and that profit went to the coffers of the ruling class, not anywhere else. Still, the state of public welfare is certainly worse today, and Eger's details are worthy of examination in the sense of building a clearer picture of the utter landscape of devastation that modern existence has become. In a sense Phillip Greenspan's amusing article serves as a good corrective to Eger's. The litany of obscenities he trots out is a cogent reminder of how the U.S. -- Uncle Sam -- deals with things. Greenspan's article is a welcome splash of cold reality. Richard Macintosh's fine article, "Fragile," also looks to dissect assumptions, in this case the strange seductive pull of military power. The collective self-loathing he catalogues reminded me of Luis Valdez' analysis of Latino gang members and how he saw the inter-gang killing as a form of suicide. When a society provides no place for you, provides so little space to develop self worth, then self hate, destruction, and anger will follow. Perhaps it's time to look more closely at the modern character structure and how it got that way. Macintosh writes well of our inner fragility, perhaps more important than the outer. Milo Clark's piece delves further into the metaphysics of the social. Again however, I would at least ask if there isn't a hint of something akin to new age prattling going on here...though Clark is no idle fantasist or romantic. "Wisdom of Classical Times," "Gaia consciousness," "women's knowledge"...all this worries me, as it sounds like various brands of mystification, frankly. It's something I often recognize in myself...a kind of neo-anarchist longing for a past that never was. This coupled to the pursuits of an affluent bourgeoisie now taking stock of its spiritual impoverishment results in a kind of fetishizing of enlightenment. One must be careful, so I would argue, not to imagine spiritual (a loaded word, that) insight as a panacea for the new feudalism. Within this article, however, is raised the significant question of modern corporate hegemony. The 21st century is ruled by corporate wealth and domination, and Clark's instincts are honed by the relevance of how we are conditioned to ask what we ask. What are the values we want for ourselves as a people. In an age, as I mention above, when language is so degraded, the demand for clarity is vital...and this means an historical clarity above all else. The "rising tide lifts all boats" chestnut is rightly corrected by Clark...and his questioning of what we mean by progress is certainly timely. Growth is making things worse, not better. One can ask if inequality has improved since the growth spurt that began in the 1960s? Of course it hasn't, it's gotten worse!
Both John Blunt and Manuel García are looking to dissect the programs of democrats and republicans. I am wondering these days (a lot) about the nature of democracy and what we all think we mean when we use the word. The strategies and tactics of this election are interesting, but are, in the end, just more distraction. (Click channel changer: Ok, well, let's ask Bob Novak...Bob, you think Kerry should go with a southerner as VP, or not?). This is the pastime of the chattering classes. Kerry and McCain, a perfect ticket, a uber-Hawk ticket...and I don't much care. The harsh realities are that the U.S. spends over a billion a day on defense. The IMF and World Bank impose draconian debt restructuring on the poor nations of the Third World (and democrat Bill Clinton was the biggest advocate of such measures). Neither the IMF nor the World Bank (or any other IFI) are democratic (nor are they non-profit). They are autocratic and hierarchical and run by a few very powerful and wealthy men. They were created by an agency of the UN (another non-democratic institution) and under the control of the Economic and Social Council (which in turn is under the aegis of the Security Council). They want private corporations to invest in the developing world...and those corporations want a profit...and that profit will come off the backs of the poor. The business friendly environment is what US foreign policy is all about: Duvalier, Marcos, the Shah: all good for profit. Milosevic, Castro, the Sandinistas: all bad for profit. Who is then marketed as demonic? Ronald Reagan thought Rios Mont a great Christian gentleman, when he was a mad dog sadist of the most psychopathic stripe -- but no matter, he was going to stop the threat of a business unfriendly....er... communism. I guess I am cynical about discussions of our two party electoral process. Gore Vidal rightly says we have two parties; one fascist, one conservative. Not much of a choice. The democrats are no different from the republicans when it comes to making money, and making money always costs someone, though rarely is that someone the CEO of the corporation in question.
Finally a word on Ray Charles and Gilles d'Aymery's wonderful eulogy. There are fewer and fewer cultural icons of Charles' stature, and its sad to have to say goodbye to them.
Krakow, Poland - June 24, 2004
(Steppling is a LA playwright (Rockefeller fellow, NEA recipient, and PEN-West winner) and screenwriter (most recent was Animal Factory directed by Steve Buscemi). He is currently living in Poland where he teaches at the National Film School in Lodz.)
Regarding Gilles d'Aymery's Ron And Ray
Cher Gilles (you don't mind if I call you by your name, do you?):
Take this free advice from a concitoyenne engagée: I've read your friendly depiction of the savvior of the free world and your last poem, Stay the Course. Change your name before the Ricains send you all-feathered to Guantánamo, or a John Wayne bonzo, loaded on Twinkies, starts shooting nothing but bull's-eyes in your tight little ass. The way those guys and gals have been operating lately -- you know, Afghanistan, Iraq, Abu Ghraib, and all these exotic Club Meds -- it's just a matter of time they apply their "freedom and democracy" techniques closer to home. I hear that high at the top of their rat list, just below the Arabs, Muslims and look-alikes, come the French...
Remember September 11, 2001: We were all Americans then, at least that's how I felt. Now we're all "terroristas" according to these rednecks and other wackos. It's Orson Wells' War of the Words déjà vu all over again -- the Martians, the Martians have landed on Grover's Hill! Get out of there when there is still time and before they squeeze your "modicum of sanity" and sense of humor -- how ever damaged they already are -- out of your gruyère-like brain. Do they behead dissidents in America?
Boonville? There's a novel with that title by Robert Mailer Anderson. Is he related to the AVA's editor? Looks nice there...the Anderson Valley and the Mendocino coast... Summer vacations are coming up. Can I come for a visit? I've really nice, long legs and firm boobs due to my tender age.
As to Elvis and Ray, your mom was most evidently correct.
Allez, bon vent. Keep it coming.
Paris, France - June 27, 2004
Regarding the Tribute to Ray Charles and the Cobb-LaMarche Greens
To the Editor:
Thanks for the Proyect/Buhle heads-up. I will look for it. My family is this connection...lower east side grandparents, uncles and aunts to their Hollywood sons. I can't wait to read this book.
As for Ray... It saddened me so much. I felt a profound loss that some unfortunates felt for Reagan. He certainly brought more joy and understanding to our country than Ronnie.
I saw Ray several times, however his most memorable concert for me was in 1969 at the Fillmore East in NYC. He was on the bill with B.B. King and Taj Mahal...three remarkable artists playing purely American music in their own way. I was 18 years old in bell bottoms and a "jew-fro." Middle class white jewish kids from Long Island were SO VERY hip in the sixties...at least on weekends.
It was a funny experience. My friend Russ and I were in an audience of black middle class fans, dressed in their Sunday best. We were standing out in this crowd like a pair of brown socks in a tuxedo shop.
We had center, front row seats as a result of a comp from B.B. King. I had interviewed him (very badly, but he was so gracious) for the Queens College radio station. It was subsequently never aired. The world is better for this.
The audience was about 90% black...very unusual for a blues performance but not at all unusual for a Ray Charles crowd. When B.B. King came out he put on a very powerful show. At one point he looked at me, smiled and leaned over and said "feels great, doesn't it." I have many ideas about what this meant. All of them something to do with being in a minority. It was not said with animosity, only humor.
When Ray came out he lit up the house. This was the purest sound I have ever heard. It was joy, pain, irony...it was a completely open expression of his feelings and he swept me up in it. The Raylettes were so in synch with him. We are not talking Jordanaires here...this was righteous sex with a voice!
I had been a fan of his for many years. My Mom was a huge Ray Charles fan and always played his records. I knew the lyrics to "Losing Hand" at the age of twelve. I have always believed that if anyone is not a Ray Charles fan then they are wrong. That simple. I am a disciple. I love to play my Ray CD's in my car VERY loud with the windows open so that others can hear him. It is my way of saying to them "This is you. You just don't know it."
[On politics] I was a little shocked (and delighted) to see the Green Party reject Nader. I believe their reasoning is rock solid and makes me want to get more involved with them. Like Lula in Brazil (see the NY Times magazine this weekend) these people are looking to slowly build a well-grounded consensus that will be more populist in its make-up. Slow but good for the long-term. I am excited and will now seriously consider voting for them this November because of their willingness to not contend in swing states. See how quickly they are getting people like me to come over?
Independent Media Producer
Sonoma, California, USA - June 28, 2004
Regarding Milo Clark's Final EIS For SBCT Transformation In Hawai'i
To the Editor:
In his essay, "Final EIS For SBCT Transformation In Hawai'i" (June 2004), Milo Clark states that Thomas Berry and Wendell Berry are brothers. I do not think this is true. As far as I know, Thomas Berry had only one brother, the late Jim Berry, founder of The Center for Reflection on the Second Law.
Raymond S. Oliver
Ballwin, Missouri, USA - June 29, 2004
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