Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Our moral values may be hard-wired by evolution, Worth Noting.

October 31, 2006
Books on Science
New York Times
An Evolutionary Theory of Right and Wrong

Who doesn't know the difference between right and wrong? Yet that essential knowledge, generally assumed to come from parental teaching or religious or legal instruction, could turn out to have a quite different origin.

Primatologists like Frans de Waal have long argued that the roots of human morality are evident in social animals like apes and monkeys. The animals’ feelings of empathy and expectations of reciprocity are essential behaviors for mammalian group living and can be regarded as a counterpart of human morality.

Marc D. Hauser, a Harvard biologist, has built on this idea to propose that people are born with a moral grammar wired into their neural circuits by evolution. In a new book, “Moral Minds” (HarperCollins 2006), he argues that the grammar generates instant moral judgments which, in part because of the quick decisions that must be made in life-or-death situations, are inaccessible to the conscious mind.

People are generally unaware of this process because the mind is adept at coming up with plausible rationalizations for why it arrived at a decision generated subconsciously.

Dr. Hauser presents his argument as a hypothesis to be proved, not as an established fact. But it is an idea that he roots in solid ground, including his own and others’ work with primates and in empirical results derived by moral philosophers.

The proposal, if true, would have far-reaching consequences. It implies that parents and teachers are not teaching children the rules of correct behavior from scratch but are, at best, giving shape to an innate behavior. And it suggests that religions are not the source of moral codes but, rather, social enforcers of instinctive moral behavior.

Both atheists and people belonging to a wide range of faiths make the same moral judgments, Dr. Hauser writes, implying "that the system that unconsciously generates moral judgments is immune to religious doctrine." Dr. Hauser argues that the moral grammar operates in much the same way as the universal grammar proposed by the linguist Noam Chomsky as the innate neural machinery for language. The universal grammar is a system of rules for generating syntax and vocabulary but does not specify any particular language. That is supplied by the culture in which a child grows up.

The moral grammar too, in Dr. Hauser’s view, is a system for generating moral behavior and not a list of specific rules. It constrains human behavior so tightly that many rules are in fact the same or very similar in every society — do as you would be done by; care for children and the weak; don’t kill; avoid adultery and incest; don’t cheat, steal or lie.

But it also allows for variations, since cultures can assign different weights to the elements of the grammar's calculations. Thus one society may ban abortion, another may see infanticide as a moral duty in certain circumstances. Or as Kipling observed, "The wildest dreams of Kew are the facts of Katmandu, and the crimes of Clapham chaste in Martaban."

Matters of right and wrong have long been the province of moral philosophers and ethicists. Dr. Hauser's proposal is an attempt to claim the subject for science, in particular for evolutionary biology. The moral grammar evolved, he believes, because restraints on behavior are required for social living and have been favored by natural selection because of their survival value.

Much of the present evidence for the moral grammar is indirect. Some of it comes from psychological tests of children, showing that they have an innate sense of fairness that starts to unfold at age 4. Some comes from ingenious dilemmas devised to show a subconscious moral judgment generator at work. These are known by the moral philosophers who developed them as “trolley problems.”

Suppose you are standing by a railroad track. Ahead, in a deep cutting from which no escape is possible, five people are walking on the track. You hear a train approaching. Beside you is a lever with which you can switch the train to a sidetrack. One person is walking on the sidetrack. Is it O.K. to pull the lever and save the five people, though one will die?

Most people say it is.

Assume now you are on a bridge overlooking the track. Ahead, five people on the track are at risk. You can save them by throwing down a heavy object into the path of the approaching train. One is available beside you, in the form of a fat man. Is it O.K. to push him to save the five?

Most people say no, although lives saved and lost are the same as in the first problem.

Why does the moral grammar generate such different judgments in apparently similar situations? It makes a distinction, Dr. Hauser writes, between a foreseen harm (the train killing the person on the track) and an intended harm (throwing the person in front of the train), despite the fact that the consequences are the same in either case. It also rates killing an animal as more acceptable than killing a person.

Many people cannot articulate the foreseen/intended distinction, Dr. Hauser says, a sign that it is being made at inaccessible levels of the mind. This inability challenges the general belief that moral behavior is learned. For if people cannot articulate the foreseen/intended distinction, how can they teach it?

Dr. Hauser began his research career in animal communication, working with vervet monkeys in Kenya and with birds. He is the author of a standard textbook on the subject, "The Evolution of Communication." He began to take an interest in the human animal in 1992 after psychologists devised experiments that allowed one to infer what babies are thinking. He found he could repeat many of these experiments in cotton-top tamarins, allowing the cognitive capacities of infants to be set in an evolutionary framework.

His proposal of a moral grammar emerges from a collaboration with Mr. Chomsky, who had taken an interest in Dr. Hauser’s ideas about animal communication. In 2002 they wrote, with Dr. Tecumseh Fitch, an unusual article arguing that the faculty of language must have developed as an adaptation of some neural system possessed by animals, perhaps one used in navigation. From this interaction Dr. Hauser developed the idea that moral behavior, like language behavior, is acquired with the help of an innate set of rules that unfolds early in a child’s development.

Social animals, he believes, possess the rudiments of a moral system in that they can recognize cheating or deviations from expected behavior. But they generally lack the psychological mechanisms on which the pervasive reciprocity of human society is based, like the ability to remember bad behavior, quantify its costs, recall prior interactions with an individual and punish offenders. “Lions cooperate on the hunt, but there is no punishment for laggards,” Dr. Hauser said.

The moral grammar now universal among people presumably evolved to its final shape during the hunter-gatherer phase of the human past, before the dispersal from the ancestral homeland in northeast Africa some 50,000 years ago. This may be why events before our eyes carry far greater moral weight than happenings far away, Dr. Hauser believes, since in those days one never had to care about people remote from one’s environment.

Dr. Hauser believes that the moral grammar may have evolved through the evolutionary mechanism known as group selection. A group bound by altruism toward its members and rigorous discouragement of cheaters would be more likely to prevail over a less cohesive society, so genes for moral grammar would become more common.

Many evolutionary biologists frown on the idea of group selection, noting that genes cannot become more frequent unless they benefit the individual who carries them, and a person who contributes altruistically to people not related to him will reduce his own fitness and leave fewer offspring.

But though group selection has not been proved to occur in animals, Dr. Hauser believes that it may have operated in people because of their greater social conformity and willingness to punish or ostracize those who disobey moral codes.

"That permits strong group cohesion you don’t see in other animals, which may make for group selection," he said.

His proposal for an innate moral grammar, if people pay attention to it, could ruffle many feathers. His fellow biologists may raise eyebrows at proposing such a big idea when much of the supporting evidence has yet to be acquired. Moral philosophers may not welcome a biologist’s bid to annex their turf, despite Dr. Hauser’s expressed desire to collaborate with them.

Nevertheless, researchers’ idea of a good hypothesis is one that generates interesting and testable predictions. By this criterion, the proposal of an innate moral grammar seems unlikely to disappoint.

Monday, October 30, 2006

How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?

Dying to Save the GOP Congress
By Frank Rich
The New York Times

Sunday 29 October 2006

If you happened to be up around dawn on Tuesday, you could witness the death rattle of our adventure in Iraq live on CNN. Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador, and Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the American commander, were making new promises from the bunker of the Green Zone, inspiring about as much confidence as Jackie Gleason and Art Carney hatching a get-rich-quick scheme to sell a kitchen gadget on "The Honeymooners."

"Success in Iraq is possible and can be achieved on a realistic timetable," said Mr. Khalilzad. Iraq can be "in a very good place in 12 months," said General Casey. Even a child could see how much was wrong with this picture.

If there really is light at the end of the tunnel, why after three and a half years can't we yet guarantee light in Baghdad? Symbolically enough, television transmission of the Khalilzad-Casey press conference was interrupted by another of the city's daily power failures. If Iraq's leaders had signed on to the 12-month plan of "benchmarks" the Americans advertised, why were those leaders nowhere in sight? We found out one day later, when the prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, mocked the very idea of an America-imposed timetable. "I am positive that this is not the official policy of the American government, but rather a result of the ongoing election campaign," he said, adding dismissively, "And that does not concern us much."

Give the Iraqi leader credit for a Borat-like candor that almost every American in this sorry tale lacks. Of course all the White House's latest jabberwocky about "benchmarks" and "milestones" and "timetables" (never to be confused with those Defeatocrats' "timelines") is nothing more than an election-year P.R. strategy, as is the laughable banishment of "stay the course." There is no new American plan to counter the apocalypse now playing out in Iraq, only new packaging to pacify American voters between now and Nov. 7. And recycled packaging at that: President Bush had last announced that he and Mr. Maliki were developing "benchmarks" to "measure progress" in Iraq back in June.

As Richard Holbrooke, the broker of the Bosnia peace accords, has observed, the only real choice left for the president now is either "escalation or disengagement." But there are no troops, let alone money or national will, for escalation. Disengagement within a year, however, is favored by 54 percent of Americans and, more important, 71 percent of Iraqis. After Election Day, adults in Washington will step in, bow to the obvious and pull the plug. The current administration strategy - praying for a miracle - is not an option. The current panacea favored by anxious Republican Congressional candidates - firing Donald Rumsfeld - is too little, too late.

The adults in charge of disengagement will include the Bush family consigliere, James Baker, whose bipartisan Iraq Study Group will present its findings after the election, and John Warner, the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, who has promised a re-evaluation of Iraq policy within roughly the same time frame. Democrats will have a role in direct proportion to the clout they gain in the midterms.

One way or another the various long-shot exit scenarios being debated in the capital will be sorted out: federalism and partition; reaching out somehow for help from Iran and Syria; replacing Mr. Maliki with a Saddam-lite strongman. There will be some kind of timeline, or whatever you want to call it, with enforced benchmarks, or whatever you want to call them, for phased withdrawal. (Read "Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now" by George McGovern and William R. Polk for a particularly persuasive blueprint.) In any event, the timeline will end no later than Inauguration Day 2009.

In keeping with the political cynicism that gave birth to this war and has recklessly prolonged it, the only ones being kept in the dark about this inevitable denouement are our fighting men and women. They remain trapped, dying in accelerating numbers in a civil war that is now killing so many Iraqi civilians that Mr. Maliki this month ordered his health ministry to stop releasing any figures.

Our troops are held hostage by the White House's political imperatives as much as they are by the violence. Desperate to maintain the election-year P.R. ruse that an undefined "victory" is still within reach, Mr. Bush went so far at Wednesday's press conference as to say that "absolutely, we're winning" in Iraq. He explained his rationale to George Stephanopoulos last weekend, when he asserted that the number of casualties was the enemy's definition of success or failure, not his. "I define success or failure as to whether or not the Iraqis will be able to defend themselves," the president said, and "as to whether the unity government" is making the "difficult decisions necessary to unite the country."

Unfortunately, the war is a calamity by both of those definitions as well. The American command's call for a mere 3,000 more Iraqi troops to help defend Baghdad has gone unanswered. As we've learned from Operation Together Forward, when Iraqis do stand up, violence goes up. And when American and British troops stand down, murderous sectarian militias, some of them allied with that "unity" government, fill the vacuum, taking over entire cities like Amara and Balad in broad daylight. As for those "difficult decisions" Mr. Bush regards as so essential, the Iraqi government's policy is cut and run. Mr. Maliki is not cracking down on rampaging militias but running interference for their kingpin, Moktada al-Sadr. Mr. Maliki treats this radical anti-American Shiite cleric, his political ally, with far more deference than he shows the American president.

The ultimate chutzpah is that Mr. Bush, the man who sold us Saddam's imminent mushroom clouds and "Mission Accomplished," is trivializing the chaos in Iraq as propaganda. The enemy's "sophisticated" strategy, he said in last weekend's radio address, is to distribute "images of violence" to television networks, Web sites and journalists to "demoralize our country."

This is a morally repugnant argument. The "images of violence" from Iraq are not fake - like, say, the fiction our government manufactured about the friendly-fire death of Pat Tillman or the upbeat news stories the Pentagon spends millions of dollars planting in Iraqi newspapers today. These images of violence are real. Americans really are dying at the fastest pace in at least a year, and Iraqis in the greatest numbers to date. To imply that this carnage is magnified by the news media, whether the American press or Al Jazeera, is to belittle the gravity of the escalated bloodshed and to duck accountability for the mismanagement of the war. Mr. Bush's logic is reminiscent of Jeffrey Skilling's obtuse view of his innocence in the Enron scandal, though at least Mr. Skilling has been held accountable for the wreckage of lives on his watch.

It is also wrong to liken what's going on now, as Mr. Bush has, to the Tet offensive. That sloppy Vietnam analogy was first made by Mr. Rumsfeld in June 2004 to try to explain away the explosive rise in the war's violence at that time. It made a little more sense then, since both the administration and the American public were still being startled by the persistence of the Iraq insurgency, much as the Johnson administration and Walter Cronkite were by the Viet Cong's tenacity in 1968. Before Tet, as Stanley Karnow's history, "Vietnam," reminds us, public approval of L.B.J.'s conduct of the war still stood at 40 percent, yet to hit rock bottom.

Where we are in Iraq today is not 1968 but 1971, after the bottom had fallen out, Johnson had abdicated and America had completely turned on Vietnam. At that point, approval of Richard Nixon's handling of the war was at 34 percent, comparable to Mr. Bush's current 30. The percentage of Americans who thought the Vietnam War was "morally wrong" stood at 51, comparable to the 58 percent who now think the Iraq war was a mistake. Many other Vietnam developments in 1971 have their counterparts in 2006: the leaking of classified Pentagon reports revealing inept and duplicitous war policy, White House demonization of the press, the joining of moderate Republican senators with Democrats to press for a specific date for American withdrawal.

That's why it seemed particularly absurd when, in his interview with Mr. Stephanopoulos last weekend, Mr. Bush said that "the fundamental question" Americans must answer is "should we stay?" They've been answering that question loud and clear for more than a year now.

What we should be thinking about instead are our obligations to those who are doing the staying. Kevin Tillman, who served with his brother in Iraq and Afghanistan, observed in an angry online essay this month: "Somehow back at home, support for the soldiers meant having a 5-year-old kindergartener scribble a picture with crayons and send it overseas, or slapping stickers on cars, or lobbying Congress for an extra pad in a helmet."

If we really support the troops, we'll move past Mr. Bush's "fundamental question" to one from 1971 posed by a 27-year-old Vietnam veteran, John Kerry, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

Sunday, October 29, 2006

CIA Expert: "Torture does not work." Apparently Bush knows better.

SPIEGEL ONLINE - October 27, 2006, 05:02 PM
URL: http://www.spiegel.de/international/0,1518,445117,00.html
"The President Knows more than He Lets on"

One hundred suspected terrorists from all over the world are still being held in secret American prisons. In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, CIA expert Ron Suskind accuses Washington of "running like a headless chicken" in its war against al-Qaida. He reserves special criticism for the CIA's torture methods, which he argues are unproductive.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Suskind, the Red Cross recently visited all of the prisoners at Guantanamo who had been transferred from secret CIA prisons, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh. Do we know more about these CIA prisons, or "Black Sites" as a result of this visit?

Suskind: We know that almost everything from the tool kit was tried: extraordinary techniques that included hot and cold water-boarding and threats of various kinds. We tried virtually everything with Binalshibh. But he was resistant, and my understanding of that interrogation is that we got very, very little from it. At one point, there was some thinking that we should put out misinformation that Binalshihb had been cooperative, he had received money and he was living in luxury. So that would mean that his friends and family, who obviously are known to al-Qaida, might face retribuition, and we ended up not doing that.

Nancy Crampton

For years, Ron Suskind has been considered one of the best- sourced reporters when it comes to the CIA or the US government. The author and former Wall Street Journal reporter has high- level access to sources in the US administration. He has won two Pulitzer Prizes for his investigative reporting and his new book, "The One Percent Doctrine," has been the subject of critical praise around the world. In the book, Suskind describes how George W. Bush and his advisors completely reshaped US foreign and security policy after Sept. 11, how they hunted in vain for Osama bin Laden and turned torture into a regular part of CIA interrogations of suspected terrorists. In the exposé, Suskind also reports for the first time about terror attacks that have been successfully foiled and about one al- Qaida turncoat who served for years as an informant against bin Laden and Co. Suskind lives and works in Washington, DC.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: And what happened to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed?

Suskind: He was really the prize. He is the 9/11 operational planner, a kind of general in the al-Qaida firmament. He was water-boarded, hot and cold, all matter of deprivations, beatings, threats. He told us some things, but frankly things that professional interrogators say could have been gotten otherwise.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: With waterboarding, the prisoner is made to feel as though he is drowing, even if he isn't really at risk of dying. There are reports that Mohammed was a kind of unoffical record-holder when it came to waterboarding.

Suskind: With extraordinary minutes passing he earned a sort of grudging respect from interrogators. The thing they did with Mohammed is that we had captured his children, a boy and a girl, age 7 and 9. And at the darkest moment we threatened grievous injury to his children if he did not cooperate. His response was quite clear: "That's fine. You can do what you want to my children, and they will find a better place with Allah."

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why do you think the 14 prisoners were transferred from the Black Sites to Guantanamo?

Suskind: There was a debate simmering inside the US government for over a year. Since early 2004, when things really started to congeal, we were saying we need to think about an end game. People said you need to have a process that has a finish. We didn't have one. We were moving with a kind of improvisional urgency in that first year after 9/11 -- the thinking was, just do anything. We need to find these people, we have almost no human intelligence, and these interrogations may be our most precious material. The years started to pass -- and some of these people were not giving us much information in. Essentially we felt as through their yield had been harvested.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: It seems clear that at a certain point CIA agents were asking for some clear assurances that they wouldn't be prosecuted.

Suskind: Absolutely. That cry has been at CIA for years, but it was not until recently that Bush decided to act. I think the White House decided that the fall of this election year would be the ideal time. So now they acknowledge that the Black Sites exist. I don't think there is any doubt that terror would be a key issue this fall in a mid-term election year.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: And maybe they thought that everything has already been squeezed out of the 14 men and that there is nothing more they could tell.

Suskind: Well, here is the problem. Whether or not they currently are holding information is a supposition, based on a relationsship between interrogator and captive. You don't want them to talk for minutes or a day, they need to talk for years. For that you need relationships that are nuanced and deep. My sense is that they are not doing that now, for whatever reason. Maybe it is because of the way we interrogated them, or maybe because they have nothing more to say. My guess would be the former rather than the latter.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: With all your access to high-level sources, have you come across anyone who still thinks it is a good idea for the US to torture people?

Suskind: No. Most of the folks involved say that we made mistakes at the start. The president wants to keep all options open because he never wants his hands tied in any fashion, as he says, because he doesn't know what's ahead. But those involved in the interrogation protocol, I think are more or less in concert in saying that, in our panic in the early days, we made some mistakes.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Because they could have gotten information through normal interrogations ...

Suskind: ... yes, and without paying this terrific price, namely: America's moral standing. We poured plenteous gasoline on the fires of jihadist recruitment.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: So the average interrogator at a Black Site understands more about the mistakes made than the president?

Suskind: The president understands more about the mistakes than he lets on. He knows what the most-skilled interrogators know too. He gets briefed, and he was deeply involved in this process from the beginning. The president loves to talk to operators.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The government's tenor seems to be that, with the transfer of the 14 prisoners, the system of Black Sites is ending.

Suskind: They were the prizes, the most significant of them. Are there others? Of course, they are in various places, in the sort of loose confederation of prisons that are housed simply within countries. The prisoners are farmed out but not beyond the purview of the United States, which is still interested in what they say. The Egyptians, Jordanians and others keep us informed. I assume there are still about 100 prisoners and that the system of Black Sites is continuing. The president has preserved his right to do that.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Does the transfer to Guantanamo mean that the system of the Black Sites will come to an end?

Suskind: No, the president reserved the right to continue this program.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you expect the announcement of court proceedings against the Sept. 11 masterminds anytime soon?

Suskind: No. Can you imagine what discovery would look like for their attorneys? Constitutional crises are knitted into every step of that traditional legal process. The process of discovery for who was overseeing the (Black Sites) program would be very complex for the United States, and would lead right into the White House. My guess is that there will be some push-and-shove and court rulings and challenges and that nothing really significant will happen until January 2009, when a new president is in office.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You quote former CIA director George Tenet in your book as saying after Sept. 11: "There is nothing we won't do, nothing we won't try." Are there any other dirty stories?

Suskind: Logically, I would have to say yes. You're dealing with an oddity here, a secret war. Wars tend to be very public things, they are visible. There are correspondents traveling with the troops and you get daily dispatches. This is a new conflict, fought largely in secret. The public is only informed a kind of "need to know basis." Based on that, I would assume that there remains something of an undiscovered country of activity in terms of what we have done over the past five years.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What will Americans say in 10 years about Bushs "War on Terror"?

Suskind: They will say what I said: That the United States and its allies were winning this struggle up until around the end of 2002. Think back to September 12th. That arguably is the most important day, when we mustered ourselves to a response ...

SPIEGEL ONLINE: ... and most of the world stood in unity with the Americans.

Suskind: There were candellight vigils in Tehran -- a nice marker of where much of the world was. Even virulent radicalized Islamists were saying: "That is not my Islam." And virtually all were saying, in unanimity, "Well, the United States is certainly justified in doing whatever it sees fit in Afghanistan with the Taliban and al-Qaida. If any goal of foreign policy is to unite your allies and divide your enemies, it is fair to say that we were successful. Even countries that were not naturally inclined to be helpful were being helpful, especially in the Arab World. Our allies said, "How can I help?"

SPIEGEL ONLINE: During that time there were also defections from al-Qaida.

Suskind: Yes, dissent (inside al-Qaida) helped to provide the seabed for human intelligence that the United States harvested, including Ali. He provided important tips right up until early 2005. And the Emir of Qatar gave us intelligence that helped us to catch Binalshibh, and Mohammed was turned over by another source. He got a $25 million reward and is now living somewhere in America with his family. These are human intelligence assets and they are the how you win these wars.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: So things were going well ... at least until the Iraq war?

Suskind: You can almost mark by the day how our human intelligence assets have withered. The chances of someone coming to the US authorities in this period are slim to none and that will blind us at a time when the terrorist threat has metastasized into what I call the franchise model. It is particulary difficult to discover prior to the operational moment.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: That has been a source deep frustration for the intelligence community.

Suskind: And that is why people in the counter-terrorism community in the United States are terrified at this point and why many cooperated with this book. They wanted to send out a signal and say: "We need to have a real strategy here that is not only tactically forceful, but where the left hand of the US foreign policy doesn't undermine what the right hand is doing." Right now we often run like a headless chicken. We need a strategy. And we need it immediately because, in some ways, we are less safe then we were on Sept. 12.

This interview was conducted by Matthias Gebauer and Georg Mascolo in Ron Suskind's Washington office.

All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Keep on singing, Joan Baez, by John Dear, Jesuit priest.

Published on Friday, October 27, 2006 by CommonDreams.org
Joan Baez, After All These Years
By John Dear

"Come back, Woodie Guthrie, Come back, Mahatma Gandhi,” sang Joan Baez in her beatific soprano. “Come back to us Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. We’re marching into Selma as the bells of freedom ring.”

She’s been singing for peace and civil rights for forty-eight years. Originally inspired by Pete Seeger, she captured the attention of the nation in the early 1960s, her politically charged music propelling her to the cover of Time magazine long before Bob Dylan and the Beatles. To my mind, as soon as she sang “All My Trials, Lord,” the 1960s were born and the culture turned a corner. Music and politics would never be the same.

Today, she’s better than ever. Her voice is strong, her vision clear, and her call for peace and justice just as urgent. She continues to use her extraordinary talent for global peace and brings the power of music to the needs of the world.

Joan Baez has long been one of my heroes. She was in New Mexico last week to perform a slew of folk songs against the latest U.S. war, including Bob Dylan’s “With God On Our Side,” “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall,” and “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue.” She also sang “Finlandia” and a moving rendition of “Amazing Grace.” “Any Day Now/ Baez Sings Dylan” is my favorite of her CDs, but she has just released a great new CD, Bowery Songs, with these inspiring songs recorded live in New York.

I was thrilled that Bruce Springsteen recently recorded some of Pete Seeger’s folk music and anti-war songs, and hope Joan gets the same recognition. If I had any say in the matter, she’d win a place in the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammies, and the Nobel Peace Prize.

Joan learned from Pete Seeger and then the writings of Gandhi to use her art for social change. She shows us that every peace and justice movement needs every possible creative outlet--music, painting, poetry, drama, film and literature--to help uphold the vision of a new world without war, poverty or nuclear weapons. These movements need everyone of us to contribute whatever we can. In fact, everything we do should serve peace and justice, the coming of God’s reign of nonviolence here on earth.

Over the years, Joan has helped me with various causes and protests. Once, an envelope from her arrived at my door and nestled inside was a large drawing she made of me speaking for peace. She’s a friend and more—she’s one of my teachers.

After the show I told her stories of my recent civil disobedience action against the U.S. war on Iraq, the September 11th Peace Walk from Thomas Merton’s hermitage to Louisville, and our ongoing campaign to disarm Los Alamos. But then I grew pensive and confessed a nagging thought. The actions are necessary, I said, but they sure seem futile.

“Well, John, you know what Gandhi said, right?”


“Full effort is full victory.”

“Okay, Joan,” I returned. “I'll keep at it.”

Joan herself has kept at it a long time. She walked for civil rights in the South, befriended Dr. King, sang at the 1963 March on Washington, read poetry with Thomas Merton in his hermitage, sang to Dorothy Day as she sat behind bars with the United Farmworkers, and supported dozens of movements for social change, from Poland to Chile to Nicaragua. In the 70s she ventured on a perilous trip to Vietnam, and like Daniel Berrigan and Howard Zinn, suffered under an interminable U.S. bombing raid.

Joan, like Dan, King, Merton and Day, has a rare commitment to nonviolence. Armed only with her guitar and her voice, she helps us envision a world without war or injustice. And to make her songs authentic, she practices what she sings. She marches, organizes, gets arrested, has refused to pay part of her taxes, and has joined countless demonstrations. Last month, for example, she was the featured guest in Prague at the national birthday party in honor of Vaclav Havel, the heroic former president of the Czech Republic.

We can create a new world of nonviolence, she teaches, “by studying, experimenting with every possible alternative to violence on every level. By learning how to say ‘No’ to the nation-state, 'No' to war taxes, 'No' to military conscription, 'No' to killing in general, and 'Yes' to cooperation, to building new institutions based on the assumption that murder in any form is ruled out, by making and keeping in touch with nonviolent contacts all over the world, by engaging ourselves at every possible chance in dialogue with people to try to change the consensus that it's okay to kill.”

In her famous essay, “What Would You Do If?” she concluded, “The only thing that’s been a worse flop than the organization of nonviolence has been the organization of violence.”

These days she ends her concerts with a moving rendition of Steve Earle’s hymn, “Jerusalem. ”It rises like a prayer. Her prayer is her song and her life is her witness. Between witness and song, she still stirs hope for peace. After all these years.

“I believe they’ll come a day
when the lion and the lamb
will lie down in peace together
in Jerusalem.

“They’ll be no barricades then.
And they’ll be no wires or walls.
And we can wash all this blood from our hands,
all this hatred from our souls.

“And I believe that on that day
the children of Abraham
will lay down their swords
forever in Jerusalem.”

John Dear is a Jesuit priest, peace activist, and author, most recently, of “You Will Be My Witnesses” and “The Questions of Jesus.” For info, see: www.johndear.org

Friday, October 27, 2006

Media Matters, examples of distortions,Liberal Bias.

Friday, October 27, 2006
from website: Media Matters
Examples of Liberal bias.

Carlson praised Kinky Friedman, denounced Ford Jr., over religion-themed ads

Bennett, Christie revived dubious claim that Steele "had Oreos thrown at him" to defend RNC ad former Sec. Cohen called "overt[ly] racist"

Self-identified non-partisan Beck: Democrats taking control of Congress "sounds scary"

Coulter misstated midterm election history, declared Democrats will "go away as a party" if they don't achieve what would be historic gains in House

NY Times falsely reported that McCain denounced controversial Tennessee attack ad

NY Times falsely suggested Lieberman isn't invited to fourth debate; in fact, he refused to participate

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Blitzer: "[C]orrect me if I'm wrong" that controversial Playboy party ad "has now gone away"; in fact, ad still reportedly airing

O'Reilly: "[T]en years ago, nobody [had] even heard" of Iraq

MSNBC's O'Donnell cherry-picked poll to suggest public divided over likely outcomes of Democratic Congress

CNN's Blitzer twice falsely asserted Limbaugh "apologized" for Michael J. Fox attacks

Media uncritically reported Bush's statement that he is "accountable" for Iraq war, even as he continues to pass the buck

CNN's King baselessly asserted GOP Congress has started to challenge Bush administration

Why was O'Reilly speaking at a fundraising event for an organization whose PAC is dedicated to electing "conservative, pro-business" and primarily Republican candidates?

To back up claims of a "liberal media," ABC's Halperin said liberal 527s "spent millions" attacking Bush, but falsely suggested there were no similar groups on the right

Lauer on Limbaugh's Michael J. Fox attacks: "Didn't Rush Limbaugh just say what a lot of people were privately thinking?"

Limbaugh falsely claimed of Michael J. Fox: "[E]very one of his ads is run for the benefit of a Democrat"

Saddam Hussein verdict postponed until two days before U.S. election: Will the media turn a skeptical eye?

Echoing Limbaugh, Halperin greeted Beck to discuss Michael J. Fox by stating: "[M]egadittos. And I just need you to know, I'm not doing this segment on my meds, so watch out"

E.D. Hill paired Michael J. Fox's stem cell ad, RNC ad called "overtly racist" by Republican William Cohen as "negative ads ... one from each side"; let Card claim only "Democrats have a message of negativity"

On Good Morning America, Hannity offered a host of misinformation to attack Michael J. Fox

Thursday, October 26, 2006


By Patti Davis
Updated: 4:35 p.m. ET Oct 25, 2006

Oct. 25, 2006 - When I was a kid, I was once being teased relentlessly by a bully at school, and I faked being sick to stay home and avoid him. My parents knew I was faking (the thermometer under hot water trick didn’t work) but they also knew something was wrong. My father came into my room to talk to me, and I willingly confessed. He patiently explained to me that the best way to deal with a bully was to totally ignore him—treat him as if he is invisible. Because all bullies really want is attention.

I got it right back then. I returned to school, ignored the persistent bully, and he backed off. I seem less able to do that now when a bully by the name of Rush Limbaugh has accused Michael J. Fox of faking the symptoms of Parkinson’s (OK, he actually said “acting”) for political purposes. Fox, who could easily be held blameless if he reacted with rage and vitriol, has exhibited grace and dignity, ignoring the blathering accusations of the radio host and expressing appreciation that, just two weeks before the midterm elections, we are discussing stem-cell research. We could all learn from the way the actor has responded to cruelty; certainly I can.

Fox, stricken with Parkinson’s disease while still in his 30s, has not shied away from public view or expressed any self-pity or anger at the hand fate has dealt him. In fact, he has called himself “lucky”—for the unwavering love of his family, a career he can be proud of and the opportunity to use his fame to bring attention to the miracles that stem-cell treatment holds for people afflicted with many diseases, including Parkinson’s. He has demonstrated courage, generosity and compassion.

Limbaugh, on the other hand, flagrantly broke the law by procuring large amounts of drugs and then escaped the punishment that someone who is not white, wealthy and famous would have gotten. He spends his time insulting people and gets paid handsomely to do so; now we have seen that even those with serious diseases don’t get a reprieve from his cruel bluster. And his apology doesn’t cancel out the nastiness of his original comment.

While I am obviously not ignoring Limbaugh, I am determined to focus more of my attention on Fox, because he is an example of how all of us should live our lives. There will always be cruelty in the world, there will always be bullies. How we respond is what matters. There are loftier goals than mudslinging. The people we will remember years from now are those who kept walking calmly and kindly through the worst mudslinging, who kept their attention on the changes they wished to make in the world and who treated others with compassion even when they were being abused.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

WHY WAR FAILS, by Howard Zinn.

To be published in the November 2006 issue of The Progressive
Why War Fails
by Howard Zinn

I suggest there is something important to be learned from the recent experience of the United States and Israel in the Middle East: that massive military attacks are not only morally reprehensible but useless in achieving the stated aims of those who carry them out.

In the three years of the Iraq War, which began with shock-and-awe bombardment and goes on with day-to-day violence and chaos, the United States has failed utterly in its claimed objective of bringing democracy and stability to Iraq. American soldiers and civilians, fearful of going into the neighborhoods of Baghdad, are huddled inside the Green Zone, where the largest embassy in the world is being built, covering 104 acres and closed off from the world outside its walls.

I remember John Hersey's novel The War Lover, in which a macho American pilot, who loves to drop bombs on people, and also to boast about his sexual conquests, turns out to be impotent. George Bush, strutting in his flight jacket on an aircraft carrier, and announcing victory in Iraq, has turned out to be an embodiment of the Hersey character, his words equally boastful, his military machine equally impotent.

The Israeli invasion and bombing of Lebanon has not brought security to Israel. Indeed, it has increased the number of its enemies, whether in Hezbollah or Hamas, or among Arabs who belong to neither of those groups.

That failure of massive force goes so deep into history that Israeli leaders must have been extraordinarily obtuse, or blindly fanatic, to miss it. The memory is not lost to Professor Ze'ev Maoz at Tel Aviv University, writing recently in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz about a previous Israeli invasion of Lebanon: "Approximately 14,000 civilians were killed between June and September of 1982, according to a conservative estimate." The result, aside from the physical and human devastation, was the rise of Hezbollah, whose rockets provoked another desperate exercise of massive force.

The history of wars fought since the end of World War II reveals the futility of large-scale violence. The United States and the Soviet Union, despite their enormous firepower, were unable to defeat resistance movements in small, weak nations. Even though the United States dropped more bombs in the Vietnam War than in all of World War II, it was still forced to withdraw. The Soviet Union, trying for a decade to conquer Afghanistan, in a war that caused a million deaths, became bogged down and also finally withdrew.

Even the supposed triumphs of great military powers turn out to be elusive. After attacking and invading Afghanistan, President Bush boasted that the Taliban were defeated. But five years later, Afghanistan is rife with violence, and the Taliban are active in much of the country. Last May, there were riots in Kabul, after a runaway American military truck killed five Afghans. When U.S. soldiers fired into the crowd, four more people were killed.

After the brief, apparently victorious war against Iraq in 1991, George Bush Sr. declared (in a moment of rare eloquence): "The specter of Vietnam has been buried forever in the desert sands of the Arabian peninsula." Those sands are bloody once more.

The same George Bush presided over the military attack on Panama in 1989, which killed thousands and destroyed entire neighborhoods, justified by the "war on drugs." Another victory, but in a few years, the drug trade in Panama was thriving as before.

The nations of Eastern Europe, despite Soviet occupation, developed resistance movements that eventually compelled the Soviet military to leave. The United States, which had its way in Latin America for a hundred years, has been unable, despite a long history of military interventions, to control events in Cuba, or Venezuela, or Brazil, or Bolivia.

Overwhelming Israeli military power, while occupying the West Bank and Gaza, has not been able to stop the resistance movement of Palestinians. Israel has not made itself more secure by its continued use of massive force. The United States, despite two successive wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, is not more secure.

More important than the futility of armed force, and ultimately more important, is the fact that war in our time always results in the indiscriminate killing of large numbers of people. To put it more bluntly, war is terrorism. That is why a "war on terrorism" is a contradiction in terms.

The repeated excuse for war, and its toll on civilians-and this has been uttered by Pentagon spokespersons as well as by Israeli officials-is that terrorists hide among civilians. Therefore the killing of innocent people (in Iraq, in Lebanon) is "accidental" whereas the deaths caused by terrorists (9/11, Hezbollah rockets) are deliberate.

This is a false distinction. If a bomb is deliberately dropped on a house or a vehicle on the ground that a "suspected terrorist" is inside (note the frequent use of the word "suspected" as evidence of the uncertainty surrounding targets), it is argued that the resulting deaths of women and children is not intended, therefore "accidental." The deaths of innocent people in bombing may not be intentional. Neither are they accidental. The proper description is "inevitable."

So if an action will inevitably kill innocent people, it is as immoral as a "deliberate" attack on civilians. And when you consider that the number of people dying inevitably in "accidental" events has been far greater than all the deaths of innocent people deliberately caused by terrorists, one must reconsider the morality of war, any war in our time.

It is a supreme irony that the "war on terrorism" has brought a higher death toll among innocent civilians than the hijackings of 9/11, which killed up to 3,000 people. The United States reacted to 9/11 by invading and bombing Afghanistan. In that operation, at least 3,000 civilians were killed, and hundreds of thousands were forced to flee their homes and villages, terrorized by what was supposed to be a war on terror. Bush's Iraq War, which he keeps linking to the "war on terror," has killed between 40,000 and 140,000 civilians.

More than a million civilians in Vietnam were killed by U.S. bombs, presumably by "accident." Add up all the terrorist attacks throughout the world in the twentieth century and they do not equal that awful toll.

If reacting to terrorist attacks by war is inevitably immoral, then we must look for ways other than war to end terrorism.

And if military retaliation for terrorism is not only immoral but futile, then political leaders, however cold-blooded their calculations, must reconsider their policies. When such practical considerations are joined to a rising popular revulsion against war, perhaps the long era of mass murder may be brought to an end.

Howard Zinn is the co-author, with Anthony Arnove, of "Voices of a People's History of the United States."

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Crisis in the Roman Catholic Church... book review,

How the Faithful Are Shaping A New American Catholicism
By David Gibson
Harper San Francisco. 360p $23.95

Cardinal Walter Kasper never tires of reminding his hearers that “crisis” entails both “peril” and “possibility.” It may lead to shipwreck, but also to new shores. The outcome of a situation of crisis, like that which faces the Catholic Church in the United States today, will depend on the discernment, courage and faithful perseverance of its members: lay people, priests and bishops alike. But the indispensable starting point for discernment must be willingness to see the reality. Any genuine response presumes careful attention to the data and the ability to raise the relevant questions. Precooked data or prepackaged responses only reinforce the partisan warfare that has plagued American Catholicism for all too many years.

The great merit of these books, the wonderful service their authors provide the church in the United States, is their resolute and unbiased marshaling of data, joined with their refusal to caricature legitimate concerns or dismiss, with facile labels, differing viewpoints. Neither fears to admit that there is much we still do not know about issues of sexual abuse of minors, whether in church or society, about financial costs to dioceses and about the extent and the causes of episcopal failure.

But though the sexual abuse scandal may have precipitated the current crisis, the scope of both books is much wider. For the sense of drift in American Catholicism antedated the recent revelations in Boston and elsewhere. In many ways, the Second Vatican Council, that epochal event now 40 years in the past, decisively altered Roman Catholicism’s self-understanding. In particular, the dignity and responsibility of the laity in the church received unprecedented affirmation. And the consequences are still being argued over and painfully worked out. Both A People Adrift and The Coming Catholic Church grapple with the legacy of the council, and both are aware that its reception was immensely complicated by the cultural upheavals of the late 1960’s and 70’s.

Steinfels and Gibson are, then, latter-day Virgils guiding the perplexed through a dark wood. Both are primarily journalists, who possess a keen eye for facts and concrete details and write crisp, uncluttered prose. Unlike many of their colleagues in journalism, however, both are well tutored about the church and its distinctive tradition. In addition, both have a rare ability to discern patterns among the data and to weigh proposals discriminately. All in all, theirs is journalism of a high order. Remarkably, these are also guides whose competence is wed to commitment: they are passionate for the church and its future flourishing.

Each, to be sure, brings distinctive sensitivities and perspectives that enrich and distinguish their books. Peter Steinfels emerges from the vibrant local church that was Chicago in the 1950’s. Son of “Commonweal Catholics” and editor of the student newspaper at Loyola University in Chicago, he was almost predestined to become himself editor of Commonweal and religion columnist for The New York Times. The evocation of the funeral of Chicago’s Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, with which his book opens, is memorable for its vivid sense of place as well as its poignancy.

David Gibson converted to Catholicism at age 30, after several years’ employment with Vatican Radio. He ruefully confesses: “Whether my conversion came because I was working at the Vatican or despite it, I am still working out.” Gibson’s book is more leisurely, at times meandering in style. He offers digressions into the history of the church and its institutions that provide helpful perspective, but can also distract. The book is replete with provocative quotations from a variety of sources: they tantalize by their suggestiveness but are too often left undeveloped.

Tellingly, Steinfels begins his book with a chapter entitled “The Battle for Common Ground.” In it he describes the project launched by Cardinal Bernardin in 1996 to address the increasing polarization in the Catholic Church in the United States and to promote dialogue among diverse views. The founding document of this Catholic Common Ground Initiative bore the prescient title, “Called to Be Catholic: Church in a Time of Peril.” This was six years before the annus horribiis of 2002.

In one of the supreme ironies of recent Catholic history, Bernardin’s initiative was severely attacked by an influential group of American cardinals, led by none other than Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston. They feared Bernardin’s undertaking could compromise core Catholic teaching and, though unwittingly, support the relativism that infects American culture. One can see Steinfels, as he recalls these happenings, shaking his head in disbelief at the spectacle of senior church leaders “tensed to think the worst, ready to perceive a doctrinally cautious appeal for dialogue as a subversive act.”

In many respects, Steinfels’s book explores in some depth topics identified by “Called to Be Catholic” as among the most pressing. Thus, after a nuanced examination of the “Scandal,” he treats major neuralgic concerns, such as the church’s role in society, Catholic institutions and Catholic identity, passing on the faith, and sexuality and the role of women in the church. Each treatment is deeply informed, fair-minded and willing to take a stand and make pertinent suggestions. I would, for example, urge boards of trustees of Catholic colleges and universities to dedicate a meeting to discuss at length the chapter on “Catholic Institutions and Catholic Identity.”

Woven through all Steinfels’s discussion is a twofold conviction. First, the “narratives”—reactionary, conservative, liberal, radical—that have been in place since Vatican II and have polarized debate have themselves become exhausted. “It is time to cease forcing the data into simplified, partisan accounts, time to relax and expand the framing narratives to accommodate almost four decades of further experience.”

Second, to accomplish this and to meet the real ecclesial exigencies of the 21st century will require persuasive and bold leadership. It is the failure and paralysis of leadership that most disturbs Steinfels as he reviews not only the sexual abuse crisis, but also the entire Catholic scene in the United States. What he says in concluding his chapter on “The Scandal” will become a leitmotif of the entire book. “But the underlying problem was not bad leaders. It was a vacuum of leadership, and it would manifest itself in area after area, from the church’s public role to its internal reform.” Hence, the final chapter of A People Adrift, “At the Helm,” recapitulates and expands upon this fundamental persuasion.

Certainly the bishops, because of their singular role in Catholicism, have a prime responsibility for leadership and are often most culpable in failing to exercise it. But at a time of growing lay involvement and leadership at various levels in the church, the need to engage in creative and responsible leadership is incumbent upon many: from Catholic college presidents to Catholic politicians, from religious educators to parish council members. Not surprisingly, the Bernardin approach—collegial, consultative and mediating—models the style of leadership most needed.

Steinfels’s injunctions here are as pointed as they are commonsensical. On the one hand, he writes, “Laity at the parish and diocesan level must avail themselves of all the advisory councils now called for—and invent new mechanisms for informal or formal accountability.” Reciprocally, “The liturgical and catechetical establishments and the guild of academic theologians, which have generally assumed the defense of innovation while leaving the task of protecting continuity to the hierarchy, will have to broaden their own sense of responsibility for the whole Catholic tradition.” How refreshing to witness this move beyond the tired antinomies of liberal and conservative and glimpse the emergence of a new and more comprehensive framework that seeks to do justice to all legitimate concerns.

David Gibson’s book, though differently structured, draws upon similar material and offers proposals quite congruent with Steinfels’s own. Gibson organizes his book in terms of the “three estates” of the church: the laity, the priesthood and the hierarchy. Once again, the sexual abuse scandal serves as point of departure, but the issues confronting the church in the United States far transcend what has dominated the media’s appetite for the sensational. At stake is the shape of the church to come.

Gibson shows considerable nuance in his assessment of the challenge and risk that laity, priests and bishops face in common. He asks: “How can the Catholic Church, under the fierce pressures of scandal and disillusionment and activism, change without conforming to the punch-stamp religious template that is making American Christianity about as differentiated as a string of Gap franchises? How can Catholics resolve their identity crisis without compromising their identity?”

Throughout The Coming Catholic Church the author’s analysis and recommendations are governed by a commitment to patient engagement with the church’s tradition, as well as realistic appraisal of the pastoral situation to which that tradition must minister. Gibson identifies three areas of church governance that seem most amenable to creative attention and change: transparency in financial affairs, accountability for personnel policies and decisions, and participation in the selection of bishops.

Change in these matters does not require the acumen of the rocket scientist; nor is it hostile to the tradition of the church. Precedents abound, beginning with Cyprian of Carthage’s assertion that his practice was never to make a decision without consulting his priests and deacons and gaining the approbation of his people. But perhaps one need only cite John Paul II, who in Novo Millennio Ineunte makes his own the counsel of St. Benedict that the abbot consult all the members of the community, paying particular heed to the young (N.M.I., No. 45).

The strength of these two books, then, is their unapologetic focus upon the pastoral-practical, indeed the institutional dimension of church. Steinfels underscores a defining trait of Catholic ecclesiology when he writes, “Despite the tendency of people to speak, usually dismissively, of the ‘institutional church,’ there is simply no church that is not institutional.” Gibson insists that the crisis is one of “governance rather than a crisis of faith.” (I cannot but wonder, however, whether it is not both.)

These books gain added substance because the authors recognize that issues of supreme spiritual import are at stake. Again, Steinfels is more explicit. He acknowledges that the sort of imaginative and empathetic leadership required “demands, as foundation, considerable intellectual and spiritual depth.” But Gibson too draws upon his wide reading to display spiritual gems, as when he quotes Leon Bloy: “Man has places in his heart which do not yet exist, and into them enters suffering, in order that they may have existence.”

The one lack I noted, in these otherwise exemplary studies, was their relative failure to probe the Christological foundation of genuine ecclesial reform. After all, the institution, indispensable as it is, exists only to serve the common life of the body of Christ. Steinfels does sound a promising Christological note in the very epigraph to his book. The disciples, adrift and buffeted by the storm, cry in terror: “Lord, save us. We are perishing.” And Jesus arises, rebukes the winds and the sea and calms the chaos. But the Christological insight, though raised up, remains undeveloped.

Gibson closes his own book with a typically intriguing quote from Georges Bernanos’s Diary of a Country Priest. “The opposite of a Christian people is a people grown sad and old.” But he does not explore the foundation of Christian hope and the source of Christian joy in the presence of the living Jesus “who is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.”

My conviction is that in this time of peril, all of us in the church urgently need to ponder anew and spell out the implications of the striking assertion in “Called to Be Catholic”: “Jesus Christ, present in Scripture and sacrament, is central to all that we do; he must always be the measure and not what is measured.” Absent this foundation, any presumed reform will be built only on sand. Robert Imbell

The Rev. Robert Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, teaches theology at Boston College. He is a member of the Committee of the Catholic Common Ground Initiative. Click here for a sample of author's writings in America and for books by author at amazon.com. Link to "sample writings" is slow; link to amazon may list books by authors with similar names.

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Why the Liberal Media supported Bush's War: Because they are lemmings and do not think for themselves?

Howl by Nicholas von Hoffman
Useful Idiots

The most important magazine article of 2006 never appeared in an American publication. John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt's "The Israel Lobby" first saw the light of day in The London Review of Books. Thanks to the Internet hundreds of thousands of Americans have been able to read this piece, which, for one unflattering reason or another, nobody in America would publish.

Now comes another piece in The London Review of Books that would have served the world better had it appeared in an American publication. It is ""Bush's Useful Idiots," Tony Judt's essay on "The Strange Death of Liberal America."

Judt is a corking good historian currently running New York University's Remarque Institute. In this piece he directs his anger toward the corps of men and women who, though presenting themselves as liberals, supported the Iraq disaster from the git-go. Of them he writes, "Indeed, intellectual camp followers of this kind were first identified by Lenin himself, who coined the term that still describes them best. Today, America's liberal armchair warriors are the 'useful idiots' of the War on Terror."

Who are the useful idiots who served Bush so well in bringing defeat and disgrace down on our country? He names some of them--Michael Ignatieff, Leon Wieseltier, David Remnick, Thomas Friedman, Jean Bethke Elshtain of the University of Chicago Divinity School, Paul Berman, Peter Beinart--but without too much head-scratching, others could be added to Judt's list.

It was publications as well as individuals who in Judt's estimation did the liberal Judas goat act: "Magazines and newspapers of the traditional liberal centre--the New Yorker, the New Republic, the Washington Post and the New York Times itself--fell over themselves in the hurry to align their editorial stance with that of a Republican president bent on exemplary war. A fearful conformism gripped the mainstream media." He might have added that only the prospect of what is beginning to look like defeat may loosen that grip.

These people should be called out for what they did because, as Judt writes, "those centrist voices that bayed most insistently for blood in the prelude to the Iraq War--the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman demanded that France be voted 'Off the Island' (i.e. out of the Security Council) for its presumption in opposing America's drive to war--are today the most confident when asserting their monopoly of insight into world affairs."

My God! People still not only take Friedman seriously, they kiss the man's fanny wherever he goes. Just the other day he likened the failure of the military's drive to pacify Baghdad to the Viet Cong's Tet offensive in Vietnam, and the next thing you know somebody's asking George Bush about Friedman's latest assessment--and the President seems to be agreeing. It's all nonsense, of course, because however terrible the Iraqi misadventure may be, it bears little similarity to the Vietnam misadventure other than the stink of defeat and deceit. Well, if you give a screeching baboon a column in the New York Times, he will be showered with awards and lucrative speaking engagements.

So how can we explain to ourselves the route that brings these big liberal names to become apologists for pre-emptive war, kidnapping, abolition of habeas corpus, wiretapping, torture, for the destruction of one-third of Lebanon and the deprivation of the means of livelihood, food, medicine and education of the several million Palestinians? How could these liberals become advocates for the squashing of the two fragile democratic or quasi-democratic Arab political entities in the Middle East: Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority? "Why," Judt asks, "has the liberal intelligentsia of the United States in recent years kept its head safely below the parapet?"

He is kind enough not to say that their stance has anything to do with good pay and cushy jobs. If you're an American citizen, conformity is enforced by the giving and taking away of jobs, fellowships, travel, prize money and so forth. If you're not an American citizen, the midnight arrest and vanishment is a darn sight worse than banishment, although Condoleezza Rice insists we make sure not to send the vanished to places where they torture or conduct "harsh interrogation."

Nor does one have to be a liberal to know the pressure to toe the line. Corey Robin, also writing in the London Review, says, "Journalists afraid for their careers aren't likely to question their government in time of war. And they haven't. ABC's Ted Koppel, reputed to be one of the most aggressive interviewers in the business, admits that 'we were too timid before the war' in Iraq. The PBS anchor Jim Lehrer says: 'It would have been difficult to have had debates [about occupying Iraq]...you'd have had to have gone against the grain.' The few journalists who bucked the trend were swiftly punished. After criticising the media for its coverage of the war, Ashleigh Banfield was 'taken to the woodshed' by her bosses, according to a Newsday report, and her career at NBC was finished. A Wall Street Journal reporter sent a personal e-mail describing the terrible situation in Iraq: her editors pulled her out of the country and off the story."

Judt's explanation for liberals' enlisting in the cause of the iron fist and the fat head is "Long nostalgic for the comforting verities of a simpler time, today's liberal intellectuals have at last discovered a sense of purpose: they are at war with 'Islamo-fascism.'" If ever a term was cooked up in the propagandist's retort, it is "Islamo-fascism." How well it rolls off the tongue!

Whatever the reasoning or the motives, we have been betrayed. The trahison des clercs yet again.

A Time to Remember Our Own Mortality. by James Carroll

Published on Monday, October 23, 2006 by the Boston Globe
A Time to Remember Our Own Mortality
by James Carroll

THIS OCTOBER has been a month of reckoning for Americans. A long-simmering anguish about the war in Iraq has come suddenly to a boil. One sees this in the readiness of Democratic politicians, finally, to challenge President Bush and the Republicans on the issue. Only weeks after the White House launched a strategy to emphasize GOP toughness on the war, in contrast to Democratic softness, expectations for a Democratic triumph in the elections are running high. Such a victory, with resulting changes in one or both legislative majorities, would empower Congress to challenge the administration on its disastrous war policy -- a challenge that will surely come if that policy is proven to have been the key electoral issue.

Meanwhile, in Iraq itself, American casualties are soaring this month, possibly heading for a record. The intensification of insurgent violence is drawing comparisons with the decisive Tet Offensive in Vietnam. US commanders are making rare admissions of failure. President Bush has affirmed the project of a bipartisan review commission, chaired by James Baker and Lee Hamilton. Their recommendation is expected to be anything but "stay the course." Bellwether pundits who supported the war denounce it now as if their early cheerleading never happened. And reliable surveys have been published this month putting the number of Iraqi dead in the many hundreds of thousands -- a stunning confirmation of worst fears about the consequences of the US aggression.

We may look back on these weeks as the time when the tide began to turn on the war in Iraq. That the reversal comes in October is what is so striking. October was repeatedly the month of reckoning during the Vietnam War. The nascent peace movement took its first hold on the national imagination with something called ``Vietnam Day" at the University of California at Berkeley in October 1965, and October demonstrations became a regular feature of anti war organizing after that. In 1967, October saw the march on the Pentagon, chronicled in Norman Mailer's "The Armies of the Night." In 1969, October was defined by the Peace Moratorium, simultaneous demonstrations in numerous cities across the nation, involving millions of protesters.

Once college campuses became the home ground of anti war activity, October continued to be the month of peace. University schedules were part of what made this so, with students and professors readily able to mobilize in the middle of the semester, after courses were launched and before the pressures of finals. But electoral cycles, peaking on that first Tuesday in November, were also factors in making October the time of acute public debate. Demonstrations and moral confrontations could and did occur throughout the calendar year, especially in the spring, but the distractions of holidays and exigencies of weather helped to keep October paramount as the time of public wrestling with war.

Was something else at work? Is something else at work today? Look around. October is the month of Earth's mortality. The beautiful hues of autumn define the dying of the year. Perhaps a subliminal pressure works on human consciousness, since we are the creatures, alone, who know of death. It is impossible to look at the orange screen of leaves and think only of color. In October, a feeling for the end of things imposes itself on normalcy. Foliage flags the passage of time, a rude interruption of the dominant assumption that life goes on forever. And once we are snatched back into that awareness, perceptions change. Suddenly, things we have been blind to show themselves for what they are. Life is too brief to waste it. And what is more wasteful than war?

When we humans are in touch with the common fate that awaits us all, the bond among us becomes unbreakable. Not only that each one of us will die, but also that each one knows it. That knowledge, once claimed, is the source of our inevitable compassion, and is the ground of the communion that is our species' natural condition. War, therefore, is not the normal state, but the aberration. On that bond of common fate and common knowledge rests every hope for peace.

The "realists" keep telling us to abandon this dream, and to accommodate the tragedies that history requires. But such accommodation presumes that those tragedies are not individual human persons -- each one a life just like our own, each one a life snuffed out too soon. War requires that we forget the meaning of mortality, but in October our beleaguered home itself invites us to remember.

James Carroll's column appears regularly in the Globe. His most recent book is "Crusade: Chronicles of an Unjust War."

© Copyright 2006 Boston Globe

Sunday, October 22, 2006


Published on Friday, October 20, 2006 by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Law Legalizes Shameful Treatment
by Helen Thomas

WASHINGTON -- President Bush has signed the law that legalizes the administration's shameful treatment of detainees suspected of terrorism.

The same measure also empowers the president to define torture. It's a sad legacy for the U.S. and its already-tarnished world image.

The new law -- the Military Commissions Act of 2006 -- establishes a system for trying suspects in military tribunals. It was enacted after the Supreme Court ruled in June that the administration plan for trials by military commissions violated U.S. and international law.

In effect, Bush got all he wanted from a submissive GOP-dominated Congress and a few spineless Democratic lawmakers. The president did not issue his customary signing statement interpreting implementation of the law. He didn't have to because lawmakers on Capitol Hill had handed him total victory.

The far-reaching legislation gives Bush the right to decide what constitutes torture. The president has often said "we do not torture," despite evidence to the contrary -- and photographs from Abu Ghraib prison.

The president also can set guidelines for interrogation of prisoners. White House spokesman Tony Snow declined to say whether "waterboarding" -- in which detainees are made to feel they are drowning -- would be permissible.

The law specifically bars blatant abuses including murder and rape and "cruel and inhuman" treatment. But it permits withholding evidence from defendants in certain cases. And it denies detainees the right to file habeas corpus petitions to challenge their detentions in federal courts. The tradition of habeas corpus dates back almost 800 years to the Magna Carta.

Under the new law, Bush also has powers to designate who is an illegal enemy combatant, which potentially subjects U.S. citizens and foreigners to indefinite detention with no power to appeal.

Bush is also allowed to interpret the Geneva Conventions on Humane Treatment of Prisoners of War.

Furthermore, the CIA apparently will be able to continue sending prisoners to secret prisons abroad and agents will have immunity from prosecution for their interrogation practices. Many Europeans who have lived under tyrannical regimes cannot believe the U.S. would submit to such treatment of detainees.

Bush was beaming when he signed the bill on a table with a sign in front that read: "Protecting America." Standing by his side was Vice President Dick Cheney, a prime mover in the administration's drive to enhance presidential power.

But right now those who voted for this law believe it will be help them in the November election. And Democrats who voted against it should watch out for a total GOP assault on their commitment to protecting America from terrorist attack.

Critics see the new law as authorizing creation of a veritable Gulag.

The American Civil Liberties Union called the new law "one of the worst civil liberties measures in American history."

Bush contended that his policies on terrorism suspects did not require congressional approval, manifesting his apparent belief that the president is above the law. The Supreme Court proved him wrong.

Bush's order for warrantless wiretapping of Americans is yet another example of a presidential power grab.

Tom Malinowski, Washington director for Human Rights Watch, said Bush has been accused of "criminal torture in a way that could hurt America and come back to haunt our troops."

The military commissions act is law. All Americans will be tainted by it.

Helen Thomas is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Faith based politics is large reason to worry, E. Goodman

Faith-based politics is reason to worry

By Ellen Goodman | October 20, 2006
Boston Globe

IT WAS barely a week past the 2001 inauguration when the new president's plan to fund the "armies of compassion" was reported on the evening news with more than a touch of skepticism. The story of a White House office for faith-based initiatives was illustrated with a large cross and introduced with a question: "Is there a reason to be nervous?"

This broadcast followed an election in which the three R's -- religious, right, and Republican -- had been tightly woven. The minister at the inauguration had invoked Jesus Christ the savior, and millions of Americans from Sikhs to Unitarians had to choose between saying amen and feeling excluded.

Nevertheless, I thought there was more reason to be hopeful than nervous about the idea of funding more social programs for the poor under spiritual roofs. I remembered a time when our most prominent religious leader was not Pat Robertson or James Dobson but Martin Luther King Jr. Had we forgotten how many religious groups cared more about good works than good election results? I thought it was worth, well, a leap of faith.

Before long it became clear that the faith-based initiatives were based on only one kind of faith. And it became clear that the faithful was political.
(Paschal: Evidence is that only conservative Christian projects were funded, all other interfaith, alternative Wisdom tradition, projects were rejected.)

Fast-forward to the fall of 2006. In September, there was a Values Voter Summit in Washington. The equation between values voters and conservative evangelical Christians had become so automatic that no one even noticed that the summit was held on Rosh Hashana, a high holy day on the Jewish calendar. No Jews need apply. Or Muslims or liberal Protestants or . . . fill in the blank.

Abroad, a recent Boston Globe series on foreign aid showed how, through a series of executive orders, religious groups have obtained hundreds of millions of dollars in government funding -- 98.3 percent of it to Christian charities. Your tax dollars are at work, sometimes changing the message that comes with American aid, even promoting the healing powers of a Christian God.

In one hospital in the ultra-sensitive Muslim turf of Pakistan, the X-ray machine, the blood bank refrigerator, and the radiology computer bear the USAID sticker, "From the American People. In the waiting room of this underutilized hospital "The Jesus Film" is shown.

At home, The New York Times reported at length that religious organizations are not only exempt from taxes but increasingly from civil rights laws. A church may now use its tax-free dollars to build retirement communities where the average resident's net worth is $1 million.

Finally along comes David Kuo, once the No. 2 man in the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. In his book, "Tempting Faith," he recalls how the stars in the religious right's firmament were described by White House honchos as "nuts," "goofy," "boorish." He confesses that the office did more for politics than poverty. How values voters were valued only for their votes.

Strolling down the aisles of a conservative religious convention with Lesley Stahl of "60 Minutes," Kuo pointed to brochures against homosexuality, cloning, and abortion -- but none about fighting poverty. For his political apostasy, he is described in one online Christian magazine as "An Addition to the Axis of Evil."

Is there a reason to be nervous? In this array of controversies over faith and politics, the question is not just whether religious leaders were the users or the used. It's about our identity as Americans in a changing country and world.

On Tuesday morning, at 7:46, the 300 millionth American was born into the most religiously diverse country in the world. We include an estimated 5 million Muslims, 2 million Hindus, and 2 million Buddhists. We are home as well to Zoroastrians and Druids and millions who attach themselves to no religion. While 80 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christian, half now personally know a Hindu, a Muslim, or a Buddhist. We go to school together, work together, live together.

This everyday pluralism, suggests Princeton sociologist Robert Wuthnow, has led many toward a greater acceptance of religious differences. It's led others, those he describes as "quite staunch in the belief that only their religion is true," to become even more entrenched. "We are going in both directions," says Wuthnow. Which is the future?

Kuo calls on religious conservatives to take a "fast" from politics. And it's high time we pushed back from the political table and turned from the argument over which voters have values.

But I also keep thinking of the USAID sticker on our gifts to the world: From the American People. What exactly do we bring to the world? The best export of our large, diverse, and often contentious democracy is the idea that people can worship separately -- or not at all -- and live together. We the people, not we the parishioners. (Paschal: Nor we the evangelical true believers who believe, sometimes fanatically, that every other Christian view has the gospel wrong.)

Ellen Goodman's e-mail address is ellengoodman@globe.com.
© Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

Thursday, October 19, 2006

O'Reilly (a "cowardly bully") and Fox News exposed

October 19, 2006

Hey Bill, are you scared to let Jeff Cohen back on the O'Reilly Factor?

By Richard Mathis

Dear Bill:

Jeff Cohen is a real cut-and-run liberal. Really, O'Reilly, realize that on your show, to your face, time after time, Cohen has cut your mess to pieces and then ran circles around your arrogant ass. All you did was get cross-eyed, tongue-tied and knocked-brain while Cohen gave you a good old-fashioned thrashing. No wonder it is that you haven't invited the lad back on the Factor, Billy boy. You might not be ticking too well but at least you have got enough sense to stop taking a licking.

No surprise, it is then, that Cohen has received no response from you regarding his muckraking expose of the down and dirty in Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media. Fair and balanced, Fox News and you cock-a-doodle-do from the henhouse. But Cohen says it's a fixed fight, the shouting matches which pass for civilized debate on the cabal news channels. Such spectacles have always seemed more like barroom brawls started by some dumbass saying something stupid like:

"I submit to you that George W. Bush is the closest modern president to what the Founding Fathers have in mind."

"I'm telling you that President Bush is doing just what Jesus would have done [in invading Iraq]."

If you don't remember, Bill, it was you who off-gassed those two stinkers. What Cohen writes in his book is that even the folks who work with you at Fox News know the whole thing about fair and balance is a heavy load of malarkey. Cohen quips that a better slogan for Fox News than "We Report. You Decide" would be "We Opine. You Recline."

Furthermore, Billy boy, for all intents and purposes, in his book Cohen basically accuses you of being a cowardly bully who picks on the weak and runs from the strong. "[O'Reilly] had an intimidating presence at Fox, like the schoolyard bully; I always thought he'd just received too few hugs along the way. . . .O'Reilly is a roaring contradiction: abundantly bright [I object, your honor, to that characterization- RM] but meagerly informed. A strong debater and interrogator, but consistently underprepared. A voice of the little guy who treats those around him as inferiors." My favorite line about you is that "When O'Reilly bears a grudge, the gloves are off - as are the facts."

Add what Cohen wrote me, Bill: "O'Reilly is always roaring about this or that advocate or celeb not having the guts to appear on his show. He now apparently doesn't have the guts to invite me."

Those are fighting words, Billy boy. Yet, you give the lad no response. Are you going to dance the same old dodge and duck, shuffle and jive steps as with Media Matters and your other critics? Gloat like a gadfly and sting like a flea? Have you gone soft, great culture warrior?

These are very serious charges that Cohen makes in his book. The longer you wait to respond, and the more you ignore him, the more it looks like you and the media moguls have something to hide. People might start to wonder if Cohen is right that corporate media serves Mammon and not the greater good. In other words, they might catch on that making a buck is more important than the truth to corporate media.

You also have to consider Cohen's reputation among liberals, Bill. Cohen is a legend. Way back when, Cohen founded FAIR, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, the well-known progressive media watchdog. Since the 1970s, Cohen has been involved with the progressive movement as an articulate critic of the establishment press. Cohen has proven admirably and repeatedly that he is not intimidated in speaking the truth to power. He has been co-host of CNN's Crossfire and a regular panelist on News Watch on Fox News. Cohen was a senior producer on Donahue before the show was yanked on the eve of the invasion of Iraq.

Why don't you invite Jeff Cohen back on The O'Reilly Factor, Bill? Americans want strong liberal voices like Cohen. They have started getting this notion that our present troubles have been caused in large part because of a lack of proper debate on the airwaves. People have started to realize that when it comes to freedom of speech, they had better use it or they are going to lose it. And right now, people are saying that channels like Fox News, and the O'Reilly Factor in particular, only present a progovernment, one-sided view and that is how the public got suckered into going along with Iraq.

So, finally, Bill, don't be surprised to start receiving emails at Oreilly@foxnews.com from motivated liberals who want liberals like Cohen on cable and mainstream news so that our airwaves can truly be fair and balanced. Can't wait to hear from you, good buddy, about when I can tune in to watch Cohen on The O'Reilly Factor.


Richard Mathis

Richard can be heard frequently live on the Bob Kincaid Radio Show (7-10 pm EST) on Head-on Radio

Tags: Bill O'Reilly, Jeff Cohen, Cable News Confidential, O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly, Fox News, FAIR, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Conservative media bias, Media bias, Cable news, Phil Donahue

Authors Bio: B. 1952, GA, USA. D. TBA. Beloved husband of Native American artist Karen Coronado, father, grandfather, and friend of many from bikers to Zen masters; American writer and speaker, known for his criticism of the unholy trinity of big business, big government and big religion; served the least of them professionally as psychologist and voluntarily as activist for decades; loved to shoot basketball, billiards and the bull; lived free, died game. (memorial sketch by davidhewsonart.com)


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Staying the course is a recipe for disaster. Scheer

Published on Wednesday, October 18, 2006 by Truthdig
The Killing Fields of Iraq
by Robert Scheer

Martin Luther King Jr., shortly before his assassination, grieved that his own nation was "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today." He was referring to the U.S. quagmire in Vietnam, but were he alive today, his prophetic voice would no doubt similarly question the bloodbath in Iraq. In response to the 9/11 killing of 3,000 Americans by a gang of mostly Saudi Arabian terrorists with no links to Iraq, the president has rendered that country a veritable killing field. An occupation initially advertised as a "cakewalk" war to disarm a tyrant is now, according to our politically desperate president, a fight for the soul of the world—good versus evil, democracy versus tyranny.

But the carnage we have visited upon Iraq represents nothing of the sort. We are not building democracy, we are creating mayhem.

The evidence arrives daily in the form of dozens, sometimes hundreds, of mutilated bodies. But even the few ghastly images that actually make it onto the television actually underestimate the horror. And it is getting worse, not better: The killing of innocents is now 10 times higher than a year ago.

)Hoqw many times has Bush, Cheney, Rumsfield announced that the insurgency is "its lts last throes?")

The most thorough appraisal of Iraqi deaths, done by British and American epidemiologists using accepted norms for public health research and published in the respected medical journal The Lancet, puts the number of war- and occupation-related dead at an appalling 650,000.

The authors, being serious scientists, concede that counting the dead in a country turned into a war zone is a difficult enterprise, but even the lowest figure in their estimate, more than 300,000 dead, is shocking enough.

Perhaps most important, it is not only the derided “cut and run” domestic critics of the president's policy who recognize that our continued presence is part of the problem rather than of the solution, but 90 percent of the Iraqi people we are supposedly trying to help, according to recent U.S. government and scholarly public-opinion surveys.

Even more shocking: Six in 10 believe it actually is acceptable to target U.S. troops for assassination. And while President Bush on Monday once again reassured the impotent puppet government in Baghdad that the United States is prepared to “stay the course,” the vast majority of both Shiite and Sunnis want us to leave within the next year.

That is not because, as the president insists, they want the outcome of an Al Qaeda-dominated Iraq; on the contrary, all of the polling data shows that Osama bin Laden remains enormously unpopular in Iraq. It is rather that they feel strongly that they could do a better job of providing security on their own, and they are afraid that the destabilizing U.S. presence, the main recruiting poster for terrorists, threatens to be permanent.

This makes the relevance of King's earlier condemnation of a pigheaded stay-the-course policy in Vietnam all the more relevant. The point is that it is time for the Iraqis, like the Vietnamese, to make their own history. They can hardly make a worse mess of it.

One cannot predict with any certainty the future of Iraq, or the region, in the face of a U.S. military withdrawal, but clearly Bush is wrong in insisting that our continued occupation of Iraq lessens rather than increases the likelihood of future terrorist attacks on the United States. Iraqis, like the Vietnamese, are most of all nationalists, preoccupied with the future of their own country rather than, as the president insists, challenging America's way of life. We still have not a single example of a disgruntled Iraqi carrying the battle to U.S. soil, but the longer we stay, the greater the likelihood of just such blowback.

Staying the course is a prescription for disaster. That is why a commission backed by Bush and led by the former Secretary of State James Baker, a Republican and a longtime aide to the Bush family, intends to propose—against the repeatedly stated wishes of the president—significant changes in the administration’s strategy by early next year, according to the Los Angeles Times and other papers. "Two options under consideration would represent reversals of U.S. policy: withdrawing American troops in phases, and bringing neighboring Iran and Syria into a joint effort to stop the fighting," reported the paper. At least one commission participant says they have already decided Bush is dead wrong: "It’s not going to be 'stay the course,' " the participant told the Times. "The bottom line is, [U.S. policy] isn’t working.... There’s got to be another way."

In other words, Bush’s critics were right all along.

E-mail Robert Scheer at rscheer@truthdig.com

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

1974 Democratic rout and 2006: similarities and differences.

Published on Tuesday, October 17, 2006 by the Philadelphia Inquirer
1974, a Political Rout for Democrats
Things Were a lot Like 2006 - Unpopular GOP President, Controversial War - But Different, too
by The Rev. Bob Edgar

In 1974, the year I was first elected to represent Pennsylvania's Seventh District in Congress, the world was different.

Some of us are tempted to remember 1974 as a good year - at least better than the one we're going through now. Stevie Wonder won Grammies for "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" and "Superstition." The Rockford Files premiered on NBC. Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's home-run record. And John Lennon appeared with Elton John at Madison Square Garden.

Looking back, of course, 1974 also had its shadows. Patty Hearst was kidnapped, the radical Symbionese Liberation Army was engaged in violent confrontations with the Establishment, and Ted Bundy's first murder victim was abducted in Seattle.

It seems like there was a major news story every day in 1974, and large, sinister forces were at work to make people anxious about the future. One of the obvious results of the national angst was the November election in which the Democrats won 49 House seats from the Republicans to control the House 291 to 144 - an advantage of 147 seats.

As this year's election campaigns enter the home stretch, many are saying this will be a Democratic year, too. The angst of the American public will cause them to turn against the GOP.

For many Americans, 2006 looks a lot like the 1974 we remember. Let's make a check list:

An unpopular Republican president tries to shore up GOP candidates by appealing to voters' patriotism. A war described by many as a mistake has lost the support of the silent majority. A scandal at the highest levels of government angers the voters. A bearded cleric makes Americans uncomfortable by his calls for an Islamic theocracy. A report in the New York Times reveals that our overuse of chlorofluorocarbons is melting the Earth's ozone layer. And an oil shortage causing long lines at the pumps cancels a lot of summer vacations.

The correlations aren't perfect, of course. The Vietnam War was winding down in 1974, and the Iraq experience has ceased to be a war and is now, in the estimation of professor George Lakoff of the University of California, Berkeley, an American occupation.

Even so, if the events on that list were enough to push the electorate to the left in 1974, then this year will see a Democratic sweep.

But life and politics are not that simple. For one thing, President Gerald Ford and his candidates did not have the advantage of 24-hour-a-day cable and broadcast-news stations reporting their message in a favorable light. There are a dozen TV interview programs in which a shouting host extols his guests from the radical right and pummels his guests from the left and center.

These same hosts call on religious leaders like James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Franklin Graham and Pat Robertson to tell viewers what people of faith think. They say we think the president is a devout Christian who was told by God to attack Iraq. They say we think Islam is a violent religion. They say we don't believe in global warming. They say we want our leaders to throw 11 million undocumented immigrants out of the country and build a fence to keep them out. They say we don't believe some of our tax money should be spent to help the poor. They say we think tax breaks for the rich will make us all better off down the line.

None of this is true, of course, at least for the majority of us who don't take radical stands and who worship in churches, synagogues and mosques that preach God's message of love, mercy and peace. But on Election Day 2006, a lot of voters will go to the polls after watching Bill O'Reilly and Pat Robertson. The question for me is: Will they assume these commentators speak for all of us? Or will they listen to their own consciences? Will they vote for candidates - of either party - whose moral values have not been abducted by the right?

Personally, I think 2006 will be a better year than 1974, regardless of who wins. A lot of things we started in 1974 were good ideas that got better with time. For example, in July 1974 the Episcopal Church began to ordain women as priests. Next month, the Episcopal Church installs its first female prelate, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.

That's progress. And with God's help, our representatives in Washington and our pundits on the screen will also make progress in another 32 years.

The Rev. Bob Edgar (redgar@ncccusa.org) is general secretary of the National Council of Churches USA and formerly represented Delaware County in Congress.

© 2006 Philadelphia Inquirer and wire service sources.