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Thursday, December 28, 2006

New York Daily News - Stanley Crouch - Stanley Crouch: Letting Saddam rot in jail is the best penalty

New York Daily News - Stanley Crouch - Stanley Crouch: Letting Saddam rot in jail is the best penalty:
Letting Saddam rot in jail is the best penalty

Last night I thought about Saddam Hussein as I was looking at Fritz Lang's 1931 film "M," about a child murderer who terrorizes a German city and even taunts the police with a note in which he promises to continue killing. When the murderer is finally captured, we do not see the trial.

The film ends with three mothers who have lost their daughters to the killer's knife; one of them warns the audience that nothing done to the murderer will bring back their daughters. All we can do is take better care of our children and try to protect them.

I think the same thing about the butcher of Iraq. He is beyond execution.

Ours is a world in which ruthless and brutal men often rise to the top and barricade themselves behind walls of murdered, mutilated and tortured bodies. The degree of pain they bring not only to their individual victims but to their families is both incalculable and far too horrible to ever erase or avenge - even by their deaths, fast or slow.

It was easier for me to identify with the parents of the murdered girls in "M" because I have a daughter and had already lived through the paranoia of imagining her kidnapped, molested and murdered. Still, it is impossible to imagine how the many who lost friends or relatives to the torture and mass murders ordered by Saddam live with the memories.

I will never forget Saddam puffing on a cigar and laughing as though he was being paid for it after having announced death sentences to members of the Iraq assembly, about half of whom were to be shot immediately. He had just taken power and had decided they were enemies of the state. Saddam was really enjoying himself as they gasped and begged for their lives. Their protestations made them even funnier targets of his sense of humor.

So what does one do with a man who demanded that so many die or experience torture under his reign? Should he be killed like his two sons, either of whom would have been an equally cold and monstrous successor? One can easily imagine either of them slithering through the many palaces erected in recognition of megalomania and cruelty.

Should Saddam be executed as slowly as possible or be swathed in white and stoned to death as we hear those savage ululations that have accompanied the deaths of so many in the Middle East?

Though a stoning death sounds fairly good, the pain felt by the guilty man would not come close to what he helped bring into the world. The former dictator of the Central Africa Republic, Jean-Bedel Bokassa, got what I think they all should get and seems the only thing close to justice.

Men who have had an inordinate amount of power and who have gleefully abused it in every way possible should be stripped of everything. They should be held in isolation, fed bland meals and allowed no more than an hour of exercise outside of their cells once a day. Then they would be wedged between their memories of omnipotence and the hard blues of their present circumstances.

Such people are beyond our revenge, but they are not beyond boredom and the thoughts of once having seemed to have it all. Removing their freedom is rough on them but I cannot imagine anything worse than taking away their power to terrify their populace and take from it whatever things might amuse them.

They need to provide us with some amusement, finally. If we smile when thinking of the rabid monster wasting away for the rest of his life, that's about as close as any of us will get to a feeling of satisfied revenge. Anything more is truly a fantasy.

Originally published on December 28, 2006

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

BBC NEWS | Americas | Edwards to launch presidency bid

BBC NEWS | Americas | Edwards to launch presidency bid

Edwards to launch presidency bid
John Edwards, the vice-presidential running mate to Democrat candidate John Kerry in 2004, is to announce a new run for the White House on Thursday.

Staff of Mr Edwards, who is currently on a visit to Louisiana, let slip his plans by accidentally launching his campaign website a day early.

The former senator, 53, is the third man to announce his bid for the Democrat nomination for 2008.

His website carried the logo "Tomorrow begins today" before being shut down.

Mr Edwards' adviser, Jennifer Palmieri, said: "Better a day earlier than a day late."

Mr Edwards will formally reveal his plans on Thursday as he visits the rebuilding efforts in New Orleans that have followed last year's Hurricane Katrina.

He joins outgoing Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack and Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich in the running for the Democrat nomination for 2008.

Mr Edwards has headed a University of North Carolina poverty research centre since the 2004 defeat.

Story from BBC NEWS:

The Black Hills Pioneer, Newspapers, South Dakota, SD

The Black Hills Pioneer, Newspapers, South Dakota, SD:
Burying the dead in Pflugerville
By Steve and Cokie Roberts, Black Hills Pioneer December 15, 2006
Email to a friend Voice your opinion
Cheektowaga, N.Y.; Thibodaux, La.; Pflugerville, Texas; Presque Isle, Maine; Westerville, Ohio; Marysville, Wash.; Redding, Calif.; Stokesdale, N.C.; Bapchule, Ariz.; Oxford, Ala.
These are the hometowns of 10 American troops killed recently in Iraq, 10 of almost 3,000 fatalities. And there will be many more. The good folks of Pflugerville and Westerville and Marysville no longer believe their sons and daughters are dying for a good reason, but President Bush seems in no mood to hear them.
Yes, he fired Don Rumsfeld. And yes, he will announce next year "a new way forward." But listen carefully. It's clear the president is not really interested in a "new way" at all. He still firmly believes that his old way is right, that the war was justified, that "victory" is the only way to keep Stokesdale safe.
His own words reflect no doubt or regret: "Iraq is a central component of defeating the extremists who want to establish a safe haven in the Middle East, extremists who would use their safe haven from which to attack the United States. This is really the calling of our time, that is, to defeat the extremists and radicals."
But the president has not only lost the "battle for hearts and minds" across the Arab world, he's lost it across the United States as well. The people of Bapchule and Oxford no longer believe his words or have confidence in his judgment, and that's his own fault. Virtually everything he has ever said to them about this disastrous war - from "Mission Accomplished" to "absolutely, we're winning" - has been wrong.
At one time, the American people might have shared his vision of a free, self-governing Iraq, but not any more. He has squandered their trust and betrayed their patriotism and the parents of Thibodaux and Cheektowaga no longer want to sacrifice their children to a lost cause.
The elections certainly showed that, and since his party's defeat, the president's standing has continued to deteriorate. In the latest CBS News poll, only 15 percent agree with him that America is winning the war, and even his closest supporters are jumping ship. Fewer than half of all Republicans, and only one-third of all conservatives, approve of the president's war strategy.
In a USA Today poll, three out of four Americans say Iraq is now engaged in a "civil war." How does the president convince parents in Redding and Presque Isle that it is worth American lives to keep Muslim sects, thousands of miles away, from slaughtering each other? The answer: he can't.
That's why Republicans who backed Bush through the elections are now turning against him. Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon, who faces a tough campaign in 2008, broke ranks with an extraordinary speech: "I, for one, am at the end of my rope when it comes to supporting a policy that has our soldiers patrolling the same streets in the same way being blown up by the same bombs day after day. That is absurd. It may even be criminal."
Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska says the president "misunderstood, misread, misplanned and mismanaged our honorable intentions in Iraq with an arrogant self-delusion reminiscent of Vietnam."
But how can these critics exert any leverage over a president who is not running again and seems detached from reality? The hardliners in his own party - like Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney, who don't have to stand for office, or send their own children to war - are still telling Bush to ignore the "surrender monkeys," as one headline put it.
As for the Democrats, they're in a terrible bind. As the Baker-Hamilton commission demonstrated, the Bush Administration has made such a total mess that there is no such thing as a good option in Iraq. The panel's two main suggestions - negotiating with Iran and Syria and turning over security to Iraqi forces - have been widely derided as unrealistic, and with good reason. Neither one holds much promise of working. But then, nothing else does, either.
That's why the Democrats are lying low and insisting that "the ball is in the president's court." That might not be a courageous position but it's certainly an understandable one. This is Bush's War. He broke Iraq and now he owns it, not the Democrats.
The nation is facing an enormous tragedy. The current president can't or won't get out of Iraq, but staying means Pflugerville will keep burying its children. Only a new president will be able to stop the dying.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

And the Color of the Year Is ... - New York Times

And the Color of the Year Is ... - New York Times:
December 22, 2006
Op-Ed Columnist

And the Color of the Year Is ...

I know that you should never generalize about global warming from your own weather, but as a longtime resident of Washington, D.C., it’s hard not to, considering that it’s been so balmy this winter season I’m half expecting the cherry blossoms to come out for Christmas. In fact, my wife was rummaging through her closet the other day and emerged to tell me she needed a whole new wardrobe — “a global warming wardrobe,” clothes that are summer weight but winter colors.

For this, and other reasons, had I been editing Time magazine I would not have opted for the “you” in YouTube as Person of the Year — although that was very clever. No, I’d have run an all-green Time cover under the headline, “Color of the Year.” Because I think that the most important thing to happen this past year was that living and thinking “green” — that is, mobilizing for the environmental/energy challenge we now face — hit Main Street.

For so many years the term “green” could never scale. It was trapped in a corner by its opponents, who defined it as “liberal,” “tree-hugging,” “girly-man,” “unpatriotic,” “vaguely French.”

No more. We reached a tipping point this year — where living, acting, designing, investing and manufacturing green came to be understood by a critical mass of citizens, entrepreneurs and officials as the most patriotic, capitalistic, geopolitical, healthy and competitive thing they could do. Hence my own motto: “Green is the new red, white and blue.”

How did we get here? It was a combination of factors: Katrina, Al Gore’s terrific movie, the growing awareness that our gas guzzlers are financing the terrorists, preachers and rogue regimes we’re fighting, the real profits that major companies like G.E. and DuPont are making by going green, and the fact that even the Pentagon has given birth to “Green Hawks,” who are obsessed with powering our army with less energy.

The most telling sign was the last election, when “being green became pragmatic,” said the Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg. “No one thought that running an ad on alternative energy was something for an elite target audience anymore. The only debate we had was whether it was one of the three things a candidate should talk about or the only thing.”

And now, Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart has earned its black eyes for labor practices. But the world’s biggest retailer lately has gotten the green bug — in part to improve its image, but also because it has found that being more energy efficient is highly profitable for itself and its customers.

Wal-Mart has opened two green stores where it is experimenting with alternative building materials, lighting, power systems and designs, the best of which it plans to spread to all its outlets. I just visited the one in McKinney, Tex. From the big wind turbine in the parking lot and solar panels on key walls, which provide 15 percent of the store’s electricity, to the cooking oil from fried chicken that is recycled in its bio-boiler and heats the store in winter, to the shift to L.E.D lights in all exterior signs and grocery and freezer cases — which last longer and sharply reduce heat and therefore the air-conditioning bill — you know you’re not in your parents’ Wal-Mart.

Other big companies are now sending teams to inspect the green Wal-Marts, and customers are asking the manager how they can adopt these innovations at home.

“When I started having people stop me in the aisles and say, ‘How do I do that?’ or ‘Can I do that?’ that’s when we really started realizing that this isn’t just a small thing, this can be really large and can be very rewarding to the planet,” said the store’s manager, Brent Allen.

Hey, the more energy-saving bulbs Wal-Mart sells, the more innovation it triggers, the more prices go down. That’s how you get scale. And scale is everything if you want to change the world, but to achieve scale you have to make sure that green energy sources — biofuels, clean coal, and solar, wind and nuclear power — can be delivered as cheaply as oil, gas and dirty coal. That will require a gasoline or carbon tax to keep the price of fossil fuels up so investors in green-tech will not get undercut while they drive innovation forward and prices down. The U.S. Congress has to stop running from this fact.

Because while our embrace of green has finally reached a tipping point, the tipping point on climate change and species loss is also fast approaching, if it’s not already here. There’s no time to lose. “People see an endangered species every day now when they look in the mirror,” said the environmentalist Rob Watson. “It is not about the whales anymore.”

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Is Obama the new 'black'? - Los Angeles Times

Is Obama the new 'black'? - Los Angeles Times:

Gregory Rodriguez:

Is Obama the new 'black'?

The possible presidential candidacy of the biracial senator has sparked an illuminating debate on race.

December 17, 2006

WE KNOW this: Barack Obama is a rising star. He's a powerful speaker and a gifted writer. He is the only African American serving in the U.S. Senate. But is he black?

That's what New York Daily News columnist Stanley Crouch asked last month, and his answer was decidedly "no." No, Crouch wasn't just employing the old "blacker than thou" canard. Nor was he concerned with the fact that Obama was raised by his white mother. Rather, he was treating blackness not just as a racial (shared biology) identity but as an ethnic (shared historical experience) one. And isn't that what the switch of terms from "black" to "African American" was all about?


Think back to the late 1980s, when the Rev. Jesse Jackson became the most prominent black to call for the adoption of the term African American. "Just as we were called colored, but were not that," he said, "and then Negro, but not that, to be called black is just as baseless…. Every ethnic group in this country has a reference to some land base, some historical cultural base. African Americans have hit that level of maturity." The problem, of course, is that most black Americans are descendants of slaves who had their African cultural heritage brutally stripped from them.

What Crouch is arguing is that what the majority of black Americans share is their ancestors' experience as human chattel, brought to these shores in the grips of chains. Slavery and segregation not only forged a rigid racial line between black and white but created a shared ethnic experience. For Crouch, the fact that Obama's father — whom Obama met only once — was a black Kenyan who came to the U.S. to study at Harvard and the University of Hawaii removes him from the traditional black American narrative.

Author and essayist Debra Dickerson agrees. She believes that much of Obama's popularity among whites stems from the fact that his family wasn't part of the slave experience and therefore elicits no feelings of historical guilt. "The swooning from white people is a paroxysm of self-congratulation," she said. But Dickerson also thinks that Obama's thoughtful embrace of his African lineage has the potential to broaden the definition of what it means to be black in the United States. Indeed, the possibility of an Obama campaign for the presidency has already sparked an unusual — and potentially illuminating — debate about race.

It's true that in our country, blackness is not a choice but rather something thrust on people who have any hint of African lineage. Traditionally, anyone with "one drop of African blood" has been considered black. But in recent decades, more children of black-white unions are choosing to buck the "one-drop rule" and call themselves biracial.

But in this respect, Obama is a traditionalist. He clearly chooses a black identity, but he does so even as he embraces his Midwestern Anglo roots. In other words, rather than straddling two identities or creating a new mixed one, he prefers to place himself within a single category and then expand it. In his lyrical yet interminable 1995 memoir, "Dreams From My Father," Obama tells of his journey toward accepting his absent father's legacy and coming to terms with his feelings of alienation from both sides of his family tree. Ultimately rejecting old-fashioned racial nationalism and narrow notions of authenticity, Obama encourages Americans to accept their messy racial inheritance. And though he admits that his personal story bears little resemblance to that of most African American families, he chose to graft his own personal story onto theirs.

The one-drop rule was developed to protect slavery and to maintain segregation. By defining all mixed children as black and compelling them to live in black communities, the rule enabled whites to believe in the fantasy of their own racial purity. By extension, blacks also came to embrace rigid notions of their relative purity from whiteness.

BUT LOOK closely at the historical record and you'll find that plenty of prominent black political figures were at least half white, including Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington. In addition to his African ancestry, W.E.B. Du Bois could trace his roots back to France and the Netherlands. During Reconstruction, all but three of the 23 blacks in the House and Senate were some mixture of black and white. The list goes on.

The difference between now and then, of course, is the element of choice. Barack Obama does not remind Americans of the racial divide or of the chains that first created it. Instead, he points to an alternative history that Americans have never been able to achieve. "Symbolically, Obama's parentage is the founding couple that America never accepted," said Werner Sollors, who teaches African American literature at Harvard.

Crouch is right: Obama does not remind us of this nation's original sin. But he does remind us of an opportunity that we as a nation are continually missing.

Critic of Oprah really insulted all black people

Critic of Oprah really insulted all black people:

Posted on Mon, Dec. 11, 2006

Critic of Oprah really insulted all black people

The rappers are mad at Oprah again.

Just one rapper, actually: the gentleman who calls himself 50 Cent, but whose 1994 mug shot identifies him as prisoner No. 94R6378: Jackson, Curtis. Mr. Cent -- ''Fiddy'' to the cognoscenti -- was one of a trio of rappers (Ice Cube and Ludacris were the others) who lambasted the Queen of All Media last summer for being insufficiently willing to promote hip-hop. Now, Mr. Cent renews the attack.

In an interview in Elle magazine(!), he charges Winfrey with being not black enough. Winfrey, he says, ''started out with black women's views but has been catering to middle-aged white American women for so long that she's become one herself.'' He also calls her an ''Oreo,'' which, for those not fluent in black-on-black insult, means black on the outside, white on the inside.

Mr. Cent, should it not be painfully obvious from the foregoing, is an idiot. Worse, he's an idiot with a painfully transparent need for approval from the woman he has spent so much energy denigrating. I'll leave it to the mental-health community to explain what that means. I'm here only to make one point:

It's not easy being O.

Yeah, I know: Cry me a river. And $1.5 billion (the reported size of Winfrey's fortune) buys a lot of Kleenex.


I'm not trying to engage your sympathy for the most powerful woman (sorry, Hillary, beg pardon, Condi) in America. I'm only trying to say it's a hard trick to manage, being both famous and black. Or, at least, famous to the degree that Oprah Winfrey is -- i.e., to the degree that you are recognized as readily in white homes as in black.

To reach that level of renown is to find yourself pulled between competing expectations. On the one side, they praise you for ''transcending race'' -- whatever that means -- and they get resentful if you remind them of the ways you are not like them. On the other side, they are alert to any sign that you have Forgotten Where You Came From, and they will call you out if they think you're suffering racial amnesia.

I've always thought Oprah Winfrey handled those competing pulls with a rare grace. She produces programming (The Legends Ball) that celebrates the passages of great black women, she promotes black authors (full disclosure: I was once one of them), she speaks out on racial issues, she makes a movie (Beloved) on the horror of slavery, she builds a school in South Africa -- and yet, somehow, white women don't fear her, still love her. Even when she rebukes them for racial insensitivity.

I remember when one of those women, intending a compliment, told Winfrey she didn't think of her as black. And Oprah said, Whoa. Black, she explained, gently, but emphatically, is exactly what she is. And her predominantly white audience, as I recall, cheered. That's a minor miracle.


Granted, I watch daytime television infrequently. So maybe in those dozens of Oprah shows I haven't seen, Winfrey proves herself the black man hater and white woman worshipper that black critics often depict. But you'll forgive me if I doubt. You'll forgive me if I suspect that the Oprahs I haven't seen track pretty closely to the ones I have: celebrity interviews, pop psychology and self-actualization strategies for women of a certain age and station in life.

It's hard for me to understand what's wrong with that, or inherently ''not black'' about it. 50 Cent makes the mistake a lot of white people do: assuming that there is but one monolithic black experience and that it is street, poor and hard-core.

Which doesn't insult just Oprah Winfrey. It insults all of us because it denies a simple fact: Black is many things. That's something Mr. Cent should consider next time he's holed up in his mansion in Farmington, Conn. (median income $67,000, black population 1.5 percent), writing rhymes about how hard life is for poor black folks on mean streets.

The N-word, by any spelling, is still hateful

The N-word, by any spelling, is still hateful:
Posted on Mon, Dec. 04, 2006

The N-word, by any spelling, is still hateful

The N-word has had few friends better than comedian Paul Mooney.

Put aside that the word was long a staple of his act. Put aside the promotional pamphlet he once sent out that screamed the word in big, fat type. Consider instead what he told anyone who argued that blacks should stop using the word. He replied that he said it a hundred times every morning. ``It keeps my teeth white.''

Last week, the selfsame Paul Mooney joined the Rev. Jesse Jackson and California Rep. Maxine Waters in a news conference asking black folks to stop using the N-word. In other news, there are unconfirmed reports of pigs flying above Times Square.

Mooney says he was ''cured'' of his N-word addiction by Michael Richards' infamous meltdown last month at the Laugh Factory. I tend to think he's not the only one. From strangers online to my neighbor down the street, everywhere I turn lately, I find black folk debating the stubborn insistence some of us have on using this word.

Which leaves me as much vexed as pleased. More power to them for belatedly getting religion. Still, are you telling me that nearly 20 years after hip-hop made that word unavoidable, it takes some white TV actor losing his mind to make black folks see what should have been obvious all along?


I mean, what do we learn from Richards' rant that we should not have known already from Snoop Dogg or Ice Cube? That the word is ugly? That it is hateful? That it demeans, denigrates, diminishes and denies? Anyone with the barest historical memory already knew these things. So where was black outrage when black rappers began putting that word into the minds and mouths of black children? When we -- African Americans -- began hating ourselves to a beat?

And if I hear one more Negro offer a pseudo-intellectual justification for that self-loathing, I will not be responsible for my actions afterward. Don't give me the 'it means something different because we spell it with an `a' on the end'' speech. Spare me the ''it doesn't mean black, it means a bad person of any race'' load of bull.

And for mercy sake, don't subject me to the addled argument profferred by John Ridley in December's Esquire. He says that, as whites feel no particular solidarity with their impoverished racial brethren in Appalachia, it is time for ''ascended blacks'' to bid farewell to, as he puts it, ``niggers.''

Don't tell me any of that, because it quails in the face of historical fact. We are talking about the word that was used as Gus Clarke's back was split open with a whip and salt was rubbed into the wounds. The word that was used when Mary Turner's baby was cut from her womb with a knife and stomped to death in its birth cries. The word that was used when James Byrd was tied to the back of a pickup truck and dragged until his body was torn to pieces.


To the people who did these things, it did not matter how it was spelled. They knew precisely what race they were referring to. And they saw no difference between ''ascended blacks'' and any other kind. Nor should that last surprise us. In the calculus of race, I am not my brother's keeper. I am my brother. Individuality is the first casualty of bigotry.

Black people, like other Americans, tend to flee from the burdens and demands of history. History, ours especially, hurts too much.

But what Michael Richards taught, and what blacks may be learning belatedly, is that history doesn't care. Not about your feelings, not about your rationalizations, not about your subtleties of spelling.

Because they don't realize that, some blacks, Paul Mooney prominent among them, seem surprised to learn that this word still hates us. That it always has and always will.

And if Richards is the catalyst that finally forces them to understand this, there's only one thing I can say to him:

Thank you.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Revisiting Putin’s Soul - New York Times

Revisiting Putin’s Soul - New York Times:
December 4, 2006

Revisiting Putin’s Soul

The fatal poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in London, along with all the other suspicious murders and attempted murders of Kremlin critics in recent months, poses fundamental questions about Russia, and how the West should treat it.

Since most of these crimes remain unsolved, we can only speculate about who is behind them. We would certainly prefer not to suspect that anyone connected to President Vladimir Putin is involved, even if the attacks have the hallmarks of professional assassinations. The West needs a good relationship with Russia and its cooperation in containing nuclear proliferation and fighting terrorism. No one wants to return to the time when Russia was seen as an enemy.

Yet the recent events — a Russian defector is killed by a radioactive element, a Russian economic reformer suddenly is sickened in Ireland, a crusading Russian reporter is shot down in her doorway — cannot simply be dismissed as unrelated occurrences, as Mr. Putin would prefer.

What is indisputable is that a culture of lawlessness is spreading throughout Russia, and Mr. Putin has done little to stop it. On the contrary, he has weakened Russia’s democracy by stuffing his administration with shadowy fellow veterans of the old K.G.B. and by fanning Russians’ deep-seated feelings of insecurity and mistrust of the outside world.

Under the guise of restoring Russian honor, Mr. Putin’s government is quashing the freedoms won by the post-Soviet press, judiciary and legislature. Government critics have been branded “enemies of Russia” on lists that circulate openly in government circles. The Kremlin claims to see American wiles behind every real or perceived setback.

The West has no choice but to continue dealing with Russia, and with Mr. Putin. But when Kremlin critics are attacked or murdered, the West must demand a full, transparent investigation and punishment for the criminals — no matter who they are. It is time to let Mr. Putin know that we are looking hard into his soul, and we don’t like what we see.