Friday, September 13, 2002


Can't resist, having brought up Countee Cullen, also including this:


She even thinks that up in heaven
Her class lies late and snores,
While poor black cherubs rise at seven
To do celestial chores.

-- Countee Cullen, 1924

posted by Fred Clark 2:17 PM


From jeanne d'arc at Body and Soul:

... The story is probably embedded in your memory, with the emotional resonance of a parable or a fairy tale -- a cautionary tale for women, a sign of the brutality of our times for everyone, and, for too many, a justification for racist fears.

In 1989, a 28-year-old woman was jogging in Central Park late at night, when she was attacked by a gang of teenage boys who had gathered for a night of "wilding" -- roaming the park and attacking people at random. She was beaten so severely, she lost three-quarters of her blood and was in a coma for 12 days.

When she came to, she had no memory of the attack.

Thirty teenage boys were arrested. Six boys, ages 14 to 17, were tried for the assault. Five were convicted.
The young woman was white. The boys were black and Hispanic. That shouldn't matter, but of course it always does.

...Thirteen years later, there's one more detail that needs to be added to the story: It was a lie.

Jeanne links to this Village Voice article providing the outline of the story, and she further unpacks many of the ugly ramifications of this miscarriage of justice, and turns a wise and unflinching eye on the mythmaking that accompanied/produced this story.


I said:
Now will the poets sing --
Their cries go thundering
Like blood and tears
Into the nation's ears,
Like lightning dart
Into the nation's heart.
Against disease and death and all things fell,
And war,
Their strophes rise and swell
To jar
The foe smug in his citadel.

Remembering their sharp and pretty
Tunes for Sacco and Vanzetti,
I said:
Here too's a cause divinely spun
For those whose eyes are on the sun,
Here in epitome
Is all disgrace
And epic wrong,
Like wine to brace
The minstrel heart, and blare it into song.

Surely, I said,
Now will the poets sing.
But they have raised no cry.
I wonder why.

-- Countee Cullen, 1934

posted by Fred Clark 2:00 PM


MSNBC offers a piece by Dina ElBoghdady of The Washington Post that says political pollsters and consumer surveyers are having a hard time finding cooperative callees due to rising hostility over telemarketing. (Arianna Huffington and Harry Shearer think this is a good thing.) For instance:

Using — what else? — a telephone, the [Council for Marketing & Opinion Research] found that 44 percent of people it surveyed had refused to participate in a survey in the past year, compared with 19 percent in 1980.

I'm not a sociologist, but isn't there some kind of sampling error implicit in that survey?

REMINDER TO PA RESIDENTS: Sunday is the deadline for registering on the state's "Do Not Call" list. Call 1-888-777-3406, or go here.

(Note the prominent picture of GOP candidate Mike Fisher on this page. Note that Mike Fisher looks a lot like Steve Forbes. He also thinks like Steve Forbes. Say to yourself, "Pig-gy! Pig-gy! Pig-gy!" Chuckle. Go here and sign up to volunteer for Ed Rendell's campaign. Then prepare for 2004.)

posted by Fred Clark 1:27 PM


1. I believe cigarette taxes are good policy.
2. I believe in most states -- including Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware -- the current cigarette taxes are too low.
3. I believe recent efforts to raise cigarette taxes -- including those in Pa., N.J. and Del. -- are wrongheaded, dangerous, bad policy.

Here's why that doesn't involve a contradiction: Cigarette taxes are effective as a means of discouraging costly and harmful behavior, but not as a means of raising revenue. What little revenue they may generate, in fact, should be designated to offset the costs of medical treatment for smokers and economic transition for tobacco farmers (who are, of necessity, small-scale, hands-on farmers -- a rare and invaluable resource we dismiss at our own peril).

Cigarette taxes make good social policy, but bad fiscal policy. And in the end, fiscal policy wins.

When cigarette taxes go up, cigarette consumption goes down, especially among teens. The following is from Tobacco-Free Kids:

Numerous studies show that increasing cigarette excise taxes is one of the most effective ways to reduce smoking among both youth and adults. These studies show that every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes will reduce overall cigarette consumption by 3 to 5 percent and reduce youth smoking by about 7 percent.

In recent years, many states have raised cigarette tax rates, and in every case, they have reduced cigarette consumption while increasing revenues to balance budgets and fund vital programs. These states are also reducing the millions they spend each year on tobacco-related medical costs.

One important study, released April 24, 2001, shows that cigarette tax increases are especially effective at preventing kids from becoming regular, addicted smokers. If cigarette prices were raised just 10 percent per pack nationwide, it would reduce the number of kids who become regular smokers by more than a million, saving them from addiction, disease and death.

Social engineering through the tax code? You bet.

And it works, too. It's so effective, in fact, that I believe states should set their cigarette taxes as high they can (the limit is probably how high these taxes can go before creating massive incentives for black-market sales). If you're looking to encourage people to quit smoking -- and to discourage others from starting -- then higher cigarette taxes are an extremely effective tool.

But this disincentive effect is also why cigarette taxes are a lousy, ineffective way to raise revenue. Higher taxes means fewer smokers. Fewer smokers means less cigarette-tax revenue. The state may see a short-term bump in revenue when the tax first hits, but as the disincentive effect of that tax takes hold, those revenues will diminish -- potentially shrinking below where they were before the tax increase.

The recent tax-increase proposals in Pa., N.J. and Del. were promoted as pain-free ways of increasing state revenues, and they were supported by the vast majority of those states' non-smoking residents. Proposals like these have a corrosive effect on civic responsibility (see the previous post). They reduce the ability of the government and the willingness of the people to associate legitimate costs with legitimate services. These free-lunch proposals erode the connection between rights and responsibilities -- training the public to demand more of the former and less of the latter. That's not healthy for democracy.

Just look at state lotteries. These regressive, oppressive taxes were promoted as a free lunch for the affluent/white majority who don't pay regularly. Now they're firmly entrenched in state budgets. No one seriously entertains the only respectable course of action -- abolishing these scams in favor of a legitimate tax program -- because these majorities of non-players have become so accustomed to irresponsible citizenship they are unable and unwilling to resume the costs of the services they demand.

So what do we have? State-sponsored advertisements promoting the state lotteries. (Advertisements that, by the way, are exempt from truth-in-advertising laws.) Horrendous, glaringly awful, social policy trumpeted on prime-time television and accompanied, God help us, by Ray Charles.

And those lottery ads may be the future of state tobacco policy. Cowardly politicians have hitched their wagons to vice. And once state revenues are made dependent on vice, the state will find itself in the business of promoting vice.

Some future governor of Pennsylvania may find himself dragging on a Marlboro in TV-spots lauding the pleasures of smoking ... "And remember, every pack you buy benefits older Pennsylvanians ..."
posted by Fred Clark 1:05 PM



The people of Pennsylvania are no damned good.

That, at least, is the conclusion of a recent poll by a group called "Issues PA," which found the residents of the Keystone State to be self-absorbed, irresponsible sub-citizens incapable of elementary arithmetic.

Issues PA found that Pennsylvanians want their state government to:

1. Spend more on public schools and improve their performance.
2. Spend more on universities and make them more affordable.
3. Spend more on health care, specifically to make pharmaceuticals more affordable for the elderly.
4. Attract new business to the state.

BUT, Pennsylvanians also think their taxes are too high:

More than 7 of 10 surveyed said they favored a "fundamental overhaul" of the state's tax system versus the status quo. Sixty percent said the tax burden on individuals in Pennsylvania is too high. ... [Pennsylvanians] adamantly opposed increases in the state sales tax, state income tax, the gas tax, or taxation of retirement income.

How exactly do the people of Pa. propose that their state government increase spending while decreasing the taxes they pay?

How else? By increasing the taxes somebody else pays:

Where do they expect the money to come from? IssuesPA poll results showed Pennsylvanians supported expanding the lottery, increasing cigarette taxes, slot machines at racetracks, and riverboat gambling as new sources of state revenue.

Tax things that other people do, the people of Pa. say: tax smokers, rip-off poor people with sucker's games, tax inferior wines, tax public transportation, tax prostitution ... hell, legalize crack and tax that. Just make sure you lower the property taxes on our McMansions and the gas taxes on our SUVs.

These poll respondents couldn't have shown more contempt for their citizenship if they had used Old Glory for toilet tissue.


"Ask not ..."
posted by Fred Clark 11:47 AM


For months Secretary of State Colin Powell has been the odd man out. He's been undercut, underestimated and undermined repeatedly by President Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Right-wing bloggers piled on to the extent that Andrew Sullivan -- who has a notably high tolerance for excessive harping -- even called for a reprieve of sorts: "And don't pick on Colin Powell," Sullivan wrote. "It's too easy."

The conservative consensus -- shared by many within the Bush administration -- was that Colin Powell didn't "get it" on Iraq. He kept talking about the need for inspectors, about the U.N. He refused to get on board the unilateral express to regime change.

Then came President Bush's speech yesterday at the U.N., which (as Josh Marshall also points out) sounded like it was written by Powell (with maybe some help from Joe Biden). Looks like Powell is back in the picture.

Score: Dick Cheney, 0; Colin Powell, 1.

In a Slate piece titled "Government by Op-Ed," Michael Kinsley discussed Powell's formerly awkward situation as protesting outsider in the Bush administration. "Powell and Vice President Dick Cheney apparently disagree about Iraq," Kinsley begins. He concludes, "In either case, shouldn't someone resign?" Hmmm.

posted by Fred Clark 11:01 AM

Tuesday, September 10, 2002


Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.

We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.

It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground.

The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here
have thus far so nobly advanced.

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these
honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion --

-- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

-- Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg, Pa., November 19, 1863.

posted by Fred Clark 10:05 PM


As part of The New Republic's 9/11 coverage, Peter Beinart offers an insightful TRB column exploring George W. Bush's way of viewing the world.

Bush, Beinart argues, is a moralist who perceives the world in terms of good and evil. He rarely concerns himself with structures or systems -- only with people, and whether they are "good men" or "bad men." This perspective, Beinart argues, served the country well immediately after 9/11:

While the press searched for structural explanations for the horror, Bush brushed off the left's agonized debate about "why they hate us" with superficial references to American decency, and he brushed off the right's angry debate about the growing malevolence of contemporary Islam with superficial assurances that Islam is a religion of peace. Instead, Bush focused on Osama bin Laden himself, the "evil man" behind the attacks. And after it became clear he was dwelling too much on one individual -- and thus setting up a false measure of the war on terrorism's success -- he simply broadened the enemy to "the evildoers" who brought down the twin towers. Bush seemed to understand instinctively that a debate about the attack's systemic roots could undermine the moral clarity the United States needed in a time of war. After an attack on U.S. soil that could have profoundly shaken national self-confidence, the United States was well-served by a president who didn't see good and evil as complicated categories. And George W. Bush never had.

In the long run, though, Beinart argues that Bush's individualistic moralism will be a problem:

Bush's great success over the last year has been to invest the war on terrorism with the moral clarity the United States needs as it enters a dangerous new era. His great weakness is his tendency to see that moral clarity in personal rather than philosophical terms, to view as self-evident principles that for others are becoming increasingly less so. If left unaddressed, that weakness will ultimately pervert the moral vision upon which the war on terrorism is based, sowing confusion and cynicism about what, exactly, the United States is fighting for.

Beinart's argument here calls to mind George Orwell's great essay on Charles Dickens. Orwell argues that Dickens, like George Bush, is primarily a moralist:

The truth is that Dickens's criticism of society is almost exclusively moral. Hence the utter lack of any constructive suggestion anywhere in his work. He attacks the law, parliamentary government, the educational system and so forth, without ever clearly suggesting what he would put in their places. ... There is no clear sign that he wants the existing order to be overthrown, or that he believes it would make very much difference if it were overthrown. For in reality his target is not so much society as "human nature." ... His whole "message" is one that at first glance looks like an enormous platitude: If men would behave decently the world would be decent.

Gandhi -- another moralist who earned Orwell's grudging respect -- complained of revolutionaries who were, "Dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good." Dickens was the opposite, and the complement, of such revolutionaries. He dreamed of people so good that imperfect -- or even hellish -- systems would be irrelevant.

It seems that in every attack Dickens makes upon society he is always pointing to a change of spirit rather than a change of structure. It is hopeless to try and pin him down to any definite remedy, still more to any political doctrine. His approach is always along the moral plane, and his attitude is sufficiently summed up in that remark about Strong's school being as different from Creakle's "as good is from evil." Two things can be very much alike and yet abysmally different. Heaven and Hell are in the same place. Useless to change institutions without a "change of heart" -- that, essentially, is what he is always saying.

"If that were all," Orwell says, "[Dickens] might be no more than a cheer-up writer, a reactionary humbug. A 'change of heart' is in fact the alibi of people who do not wish to endanger the status quo."

But, he argues, Dickens was more than that. In part because of his Christian instinct of "siding with the oppressed against the oppressors. As a matter of course he is on the side of the underdog, always and everywhere."

As Beinart suggests, President Bush also believes that "If men would behave decently the world would be decent." Unlike Dickens, however, Bush is almost never on the side of the underdog, and seems much more vulnerable to the charge of being "a cheer-up [leader], a reactionary humbug."

posted by Fred Clark 4:34 PM


Arianna Huffington is on today. Her Salon column laments America's missed opportunity to channel the wave of post-9/11 patriotism into something lasting and meaningful. That patriotism evaporated quickly, proving shallow and insubstantial.

Arianna rightly identifies this as a failure of leadership:

In the days and weeks following Sept. 11, our leaders did everything in their power to convince us that the best way to do our part in the fight against terrorism was to return as quickly as possible to our normal lives. Regrettably they got their wish.

But there's plenty of blame to go around, and plenty of evidence to suggest that our civic zeal was short-lived because, frankly, we're shallow, self-absorbed and lazy. Take, for example, our penchant for SUVs:

There is no more disturbing indicator of the limited shelf life of the public's commitment to make whatever sacrifices are necessary to win the war on terror than the 12 percent increase in sales of luxury SUVs this year. Think of that: a 12 percent increase in vehicles that virtually guarantee our continued inability to thumb our noses at oily Persian Gulf potentates.

Of course, the car-buying public was only following the example of our political leaders who passed up a perfect chance to make a real difference when, led by the White House, they killed a bill that would have increased fuel efficiency standards and, thereby, saved about 2.5 billion barrels of oil a day -- roughly the amount we currently import from the Middle East.

Is it possible to be patriotic and still drive an SUV?

To be fair, of course, some drivers may need an SUV. If, say, you live on an unpaved mountain road. Or if you need to tow a large trailer. Or if you feel compelled to compensate for underdeveloped genitalia. (Okay, that last one isn't necessarily fair ...)

Tom and Ray Magliozzi -- also known as "the Car Talk guys" -- have a useful quiz to help drivers determine if an SUV would be a useful vehicle for them, or just a gas-guzzling, traffic-clogging monstrosity that's hard to park.

Tom & Ray actually provide a fair-minded discussion of the topic, including a level-headed assessment of the downsides to SUVs.

Car Talk also offers a FREE bumper sticker reading: "Live Larger, Drive Smaller! Not everybody needs an SUV." Just send a self-addressed, stamped business envelope to:

"Live Larger, Drive Smaller" Bumper Sticker
Car Talk Plaza
Box 3500 Harvard Square
Cambridge, MA 02238.

posted by Fred Clark 10:48 AM

Monday, September 09, 2002


That question comes from this World War 2 poster produced by the U.S. government.

Times have changed. Back then, during the great struggle in which Americans rallied to save the world, it was the government printing up posters that said "No blood for oil!"

While U-boats may no longer be torpedoing tankers off the Atlantic coast, brave men (and women) are still dying so you can drive. As these stickers put it, "Thank you for financing global terror." (Also: Thank you for financing the oppression of women. Thank you for financing religious persecution. Thank you for financing anti-semitism. ...)

Fifty years ago, it wasn't "" printing up such materials, it was Uncle Sam himself.

Can you even imagine George W. Bush or Dick Cheney reading this poster out loud: "Should brave men die so you can drive?" Can you imagine either one doing so without smirking sarcasm?

America's World War 2 propaganda posters could sometimes betray the prejudices of the time, but more often, these posters portrayed America at its best. The earnest, sacrificial patriotism of these posters puts to shame the callow self interest of President Bush's charge to: "hug your children, live your lives, and go spend your tax deduction at the mall."

Bill Maher is apparently, like the slacktivist, a fan of World War 2 propaganda. Gossip Liz Smith (via Cursor) reports that Maher's forthcoming book will be called When You Ride Alone, You Ride With Bin Laden, -- a reference to this classic WW2 poster.

"I find all this very apt for now," Maher says of the poster's wasting-gas-helps-our-enemy message.

Smith writes:

Bill and I went on to have a discussion about how government, once upon a time, put out such useful propaganda, demanded sacrifices and gave the average Joe and woman a chance to understand what they could do to help in a national crisis. Bill insists, "These days, however, the average guy finds himself simply bought and sold by the monied class."

The Northwestern University Library has a fantastic collection of WW2 posters online. I wish I knew enough HTML to post some thumbnails here, but links will have to do.

The war on terrorism is, for those few called to fight it, a real war. For the rest of us, it's a bit surreal to be told that our nation is at war, and so our duty is to pretend everything is normal. Buy a plane ticket to Disney World, we're told. Unless we live in Florida, then we're told to buy a ticket to Disney Land. Contrast that with World War 2 posters like this or this or this or this. During WW2, it was considered unpatriotic to drive to the supermarket -- now our leaders are trying to sell frivolous travel as a patriotic duty.

This war comes with a tax deduction -- with our obsequious Commander in Chief promising even more tax cuts to come. The idea that we might actually have to help pay for the war on terror doesn't seem to have occurred to him. Contrast that with the routine calls for sacrifice and the purchase of war bonds in posters like this and this and this.

This poster shows a young war widow with two young children, and reads, "I gave a man! Will you give at least 10% of your pay in war bonds?" It seems not just from a different war, but from a different universe than the effortless citizenship-lite coddled by President Tax-cut.

During WW2, conserving energy and other services was a hallmark of patriotism.

"Fuel Fights! Save your share!" read one poster. It continued:

1. Keep temperature at 65 degrees during day -- lower at night.
2. Don't heat unused rooms.
3. Keep windows closed.
4. Draw window shades at night.
5. Shut off heat when weather permits.
6. Keep heating plant in top condition.
7. Use less hot water.

We've already heard what the Bush administration thinks of such steps to conserve energy. These were exactly the kinds of things mocked as "Jimmy Carter in a cardigan" by White House spokespeople when Dick Cheney's Enron-endorsed energy plan was announced.

So in only five decades, conservation has gone from patriotic duty to object of ridicule. Is this progress?

Or consider recycling. Tune in to Rush Limbaugh or visit Freeperland and you're sure to hear someone imply or state outright that environmentalist-types are somehow disloyal to America.

Contrast their anti-environmental jingoism with the patriotic fervor of this poster in which a [racist caricature of a] Japanese soldier says, "Thanks for the can you throw away!" Posters like this and this made it clear that loyal Americans "reduce, reuse and recycle."

I love these old posters because they show America at its best -- coming together to fight a worthy struggle.

September 11, 2001 again united Americans with a sense of dedication, patriotism and a soaring aspiration to fight for freedom. It allowed us -- despite the ironic tenor of the times -- to express an earnest love of country like that displayed in these old posters. But our president could find no use for such aspirations, and we were told that our service would not be required, only our consumption.

Should brave men die so we can drive?

posted by Fred Clark 10:56 PM

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