Body Double

26 March 2005 |

By Chris Floyd
March 25, 2005

Far from the hurly-burly in Florida, where the Bush brothers and their shameless minions have sought to milk maximum "political capital" from the ravaged body of a brain-dead woman, the true moral values of these gilded hypocrites were on stark display last week in a quiet corner of the Bushes' adopted homeland: Texas.

This week, U.S. President George W. Bush melodramatically cut short one of his innumerable vacations and flew back to Washington to intervene in the case of Terri Schiavo when a Florida court granted her husband's request to cut off her life support after she had spent 15 years in a vegetative state. But days before, even as the president was supporting his brother, Florida governor Jeb Bush, and congressional Republicans in "defending the culture of life" in the Schiavo case, doctors in Houston were pulling the breathing tube from the throat of an ailing infant. The boy suffocated within seconds, legally killed -- against the wishes of his anguished mother -- in accordance with a draconian law signed as a "cost-saving" measure by the state's former governor: George W. Bush.

There were no frenzied protests, no camera-friendly prayer vigils, no preening politicians at Texas Children's Hospital when 5-month-old Sun Hudson took his last breath. There was only his mother, Wanda, holding him in her arms as he died, the Houston Chronicle reported. Sun suffered from an extreme form of dwarfism, which is incurable and usually fatal. Early on, doctors recommended cutting off the breathing tube that kept his undersized lungs working. He was inert, they said, unresponsive -- essentially comatose.

Wanda Hudson disagreed. "I talked to him," she said. "He was conscious." Moving, looking around, he responded to her. Although the odds were long, she wanted to give him more time to develop, not give up on him after just a few months. Wishful thinking, a despairing parent's denial? Perhaps. But the law signed by Bush in 1999 took the decision out of her hands and gave it to hospital bureaucrats, allowing them to shut down a patient's life support -- even against the wishes of the patient's family or guardian -- if the medical brass decide that treatment is "nonbeneficial," the Chronicle noted.

Indeed, why throw away good money pumping air down the gullet of some defective infant, just to mollify his nobody of a mother? For, unlike Schiavo -- a nice middle-class white woman, a political marketer's dream -- Wanda Hudson was just another worthless black woman living in poverty, unable to afford prenatal care. Who would waste a dime on trash like that? It's much more beneficial to funnel that cash into the coffers of your political patrons -- like George and Jeb, now wallowing happily in the swamp of campaign grease they get from giant medical corporations. In return, they push government policies designed to keep Big Medicine's profits sky-high while gutting public obligations to provide health care for the hoi polloi.

So the hospital invoked the Bush Law on Sun Hudson. Just as in Florida, a local judge ruled that life-support systems must be removed, and the patient allowed to die a natural death. But strangely enough, the Texas judge was not reviled in the halls of Congress as a would-be murderer, as was his counterpart in Florida -- even though the latter was carrying out the wishes of Terri Schiavo's husband, her legal guardian, while the Bush Law used state power to override a mother's choice. Nor was the Texas judge subjected to death threats like the ones the Florida judge received from Bush's "armies of compassion."

No, Sun's mother stood alone. Those compassionate armies and congressional kibitzers failed to materialize on her behalf. President Bush -- usually so eager to wade in a with a few scripted words of pursed-lipped piety about "family values" and "defending life" -- kept his big mouth shut. The hospital would not allow the media to see Sun or interview Wanda Jackson -- again, against her wishes. "I wanted y'all to see him for yourselves," she told the press after Sun's death. But so what? When nobodies die, nobody cares.

Why the stark contrast between the two cases? Simple: There was no political hay to be made from Sun Hudson's plight. Spotlighting his situation might reflect badly on the Dear Leader -- and on the religious extremists now banking millions in contributions from their slick campaign to "save" Schiavo. For it turns out that the spearhead of Bush's Christian army in Florida, the "Right to Life" organization, actually helped Bush craft the 1999 law that took Sun Hudson's life, the Chronicle reported. The family-bashing measure was drawn up in backroom sessions between the Right-to-Lifers, Bush staffers and Big Medicine. It seems the "culture of life" ends where power politics and corporate money begin.

Bush doesn't care if Schiavo lives or dies. Her body -- like the bodies of the 100,000 Iraqis he has killed, like the bodies of the American soldiers being chewed up every day in his Babylonian conquest, like the bodies of the poor and working people whom he is methodically and remorselessly cutting off from medical care, financial protection against catastrophic illness, and legal redress against corporate predators -- is just a means to an end, the only end Bush cares about: increasing the power and wealth of his own rapacious circle of privileged elites.

There is nothing, absolutely nothing, he will not do to serve this end. He'll wage war on false pretenses, he'll pervert the democratic process, he'll spit on the Constitution -- and he'll exploit the private suffering of families facing hideous dilemmas of life and death. There is no honor, no morality, no values in his "culture."

The poodle and the Wolf

19 March 2005 |

If he's serious about Africa, Blair must oppose Bush's World Banker

Noreena Hertz
Saturday March 19, 2005
The Guardian

This is the year Africa will be saved, and we're going to do it - that, more or less, was the prime minister's message at the launch last week of the report of the Commission for Africa. But not with Paul Wolfowitz in charge of at the World Bank, we won't.

Key recommendations - for example, that corrupt dictators' cash in foreign bank accounts should be repatriated, and that forcing policies such as privatisation on countries in exchange for debt relief and aid needs to be rethought - are highly unlikely to be endorsed by Wolfowitz.

This, after all, is a man who, while US ambassador to Indonesia, was scarcely a vocal critic of the blatantly corrupt Suharto regime; a man who embodies the mindset that compels other countries to adopt a particular set of values and policies, whether they are right or not.

Wolfowitz is hardly even a champion of the values on which the bank itself was founded. He is neither well placed to help it meet its early goal of helping countries rebuild, nor its later one of poverty alleviation. Wolfowitz recently told the US congress that war-ravaged Iraq should pay not only for its reconstruction but also for the war itself out of its oil revenues.

Although the bank today is hardly a collaborative or progressive operation, any moves its current president, James Wolfensohn, has made to include environmental considerations in lending decisions and to broaden the range of nations consulted are unlikely to be continued under Wolfowitz, who has a track record of rewarding subservience. He banned countries that opposed the war with Iraq from bidding for reconstruction contracts.

Perhaps most worryingly he is George Bush's chosen one. And the Bush administration is a very long way from the bank's espoused goals and mandate. Development thinkers are now pretty much unanimous that trade subsidies are a serious barrier to development. Wolfensohn has spoken out against trade subsidies. But the Bush administration continues to reject calls to remove subsidies on its cotton and sugar producers, while its response to the recent World Trade Organisation ruling that US cotton subsidies breached its trade rules has been an attempt to negotiate a way out of the ruling with Mali and Brazil.

There could hardly be a less suitable administration to choose a candidate to lead an organisation whose mission is to alleviate poverty. At home Bush has implemented a series of tax cuts for the rich, and his latest proposal to reduce the US deficit has been to suggest the slashing of food aid to his country's poorest.

Of course, the US hijacking the World Bank to serve its foreign policy interests is not a new phenomenon. But the Bush administration is unabashedly forthright in its pursuit of self-interest, and in its willingness to use aid as a tool to promote its geo-political goals. Bush has said that he nominated Wolfowitz because he had proved himself adept at promoting US interests while ambassador to Indonesia. But the nomination of the World Bank president is being left to a government that has cut off aid to any country that does not exempt it from being held to account by the international criminal court, and that has resisted attempts by Wolfensohn to weaken the US stranglehold over the bank.

It is only a matter of con vention that America gets to nominate the president of the World Bank. The US has twice successfully rejected Germany's candidate to head the IMF, despite the convention that allows Europe to nominate its head.

A rejection of the presumption that the US nominates the bank president would chime well with today's climate of demands for more democracy and transparency in the development arena. It is also something that fits with the Labour government's position on necessary reforms of the international financial institutions.

Jack Straw said of Wolfowitz's nomination: "If his appointment is confirmed, we look forward to working with him." That is not the response the world is looking to Britain for. If Blair is serious about making poverty history, he will have todo away with such diplomatic niceties for once. A U-turn on Blair's wider support for Bush unfortunately remains a pipe dream. But Blair credibly can, and should, oppose the Wolf.

· Noreena Hertz is the author of IOU: The Debt Threat and Why We Must Defuse It, and professor of global political economy at the University of Utrecht

Portrait - Mikhail Gorbachev

09 March 2005 |

Out in the cold

They don't like Mikhail Gorbachev in Russia, but on the world stage he is still a hero. Twenty years after perestroika, Sophie Arie finds its architect troubled by America's plans for the Arab world and standing up for Vladimir Putin

'Good evening", I say, feeling as if I'm standing in front of a bull. Mikhail Gorbachev, the 74-year-old hero of 20th-century politics, is running late. For a moment he gives only a formidable, expressionless stare. Then it breaks into a broad smile, and he charges straight into me. Amid a flow of Russian I find myself being hugged by Gorbachev and I grab on to his tum as he practically carries me down the corridor.

Things aren't exactly going to plan. But somehow, after some negotiation through interpreters and his bodyguard, he is convinced to turn back.

Gorbachev only got to bed at 3am after his flight to Rome as a guest of honour at the World Political Forum was delayed. All day he has been the belle of the ball at an event which brings together cold war-era leaders, freedom fighters and thinkers to celebrate the 20th anniversary of perestroika. There's Lech Walesa, Poland's Solidarity leader, tapping away on a tiny laptop, Eric Hobsbawm, historian, Lord Geoffrey Howe, Margaret Thatcher's deputy in 1989, Milos Zeman, former prime minister of the Czech Republic, and Helmut Kohl.

All day, amid the wooden paneling, marble busts and gold-framed portraits of Turin's military club, hosting the event, this steam-roller of a man has greeted a constant stream of admirers and flashing cameras, hardly stopping for breath.

Surrounded by many more wrinkly and frail contemporaries, some fiddling with hearing aids and canes, he looks strong and energetic He is dressed in a plain, dark suit with a blue striped tie and gold watch. His face is calm and strong. It hasn't changed much in the past 15 years except the double chin is slightly more noticeable and the hair on either side of the trademark wine-coloured birthmark has retreated and turned pure white.

There's a sofa but he chooses to sit on a hard chair. Everything this man does is firm and to the point: he does not shake your hand, he grips it; he does not walk, he strides; he does not chat, he proclaims. As he himself confesses, he does not eat the banquet laid on in his honour, he hoovers up every scrap on his plate.

"I am keeping extremely busy," he says, when asked how he maintains such a pace. "It may sound stupid to you, but I still go to bed at 2am like I did in those days when I had so much work to do. If I were to slow down I would feel worse."

Late nights, early mornings, an "intense" one hour, six kilometre walk followed by hot and cold showers, these are all part of the continuing regime. "That disciplines the body."

He attributes much of his physical and mental strength to his childhood in a peasant farm in the southern region of Stavropol. "From very early on, I did a lot of physical labour," he says. "Even though the food was nothing special, it was all natural and the air was pure."

One third of the residents of Gorbachev's village Privolnoie starved to death during the famine of the 1930s brought on by Josef Stalin's rapid collectivisation of Soviet agriculture. Both of Gorbachev's grandfathers were arrested arbitrarilyby Stalin's secret police.

This didn't put Gorbachev off joining the Komsomol, (the Communist Youth League) in 1946. "In school they kept choosing me to be the leader," he smiles. He stayed in the Stavropol region for another four years, driving a combine harvester on a state farm and winning a state medal for his work bringing in the harvest.

While at law school in Moscow he met Raisa. They married in 1953, and in 1955, when he graduated, the couple moved back to Stavropol. There he rose up through the local Komsomol, specialising in agricultural issues and becoming first secretary of the regional party committee in 1970. In 1980, he became the youngest member of the Politburo and five years later he was elected leader of the Communist party. In 1985, he introduced the social reforms - glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) - for which the world would come to know him and would eventually contribute to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In his "post-presidential" life, he has made himself a full-time job out of campaigning for environmental protection and an end to the arms industry. As founder of the Geneva-based Green Cross International, he travels around the world, and, in Moscow, he heads a thinktank called the Gorbachev Fund. He says he has been issued "one of those government mobile phones" so policy makers can call him for advice.

Only now, he says, is he emerging from the "big blow" of the death of his wife Raisa from leukemia in 1999. "I now feel that I should live and work for both of us," he says.

Does he think the world is a safer place today than it was 20 years ago? "Yes," he replies, without hesitation. "There are many things of concern and a lot of instability in the world today. But given we have avoided the threat of a nuclear war, I think yes."

Like the grey-haired cold-war veterans nibbling on stale biscuits in between their speeches, Gorbachev has a sense of disappointment that instead of the end of the cold war leading to global peace, new conflicts have quickly emerged and people's minds are still being "militarised".

"There are some people who are mentally hard-wired for violence," he insists, launching into a long tirade. "Unfortunately there are too many political leaders who don't like dialogue. Who cannot do dialogue. Who cannot do diplomacy.

"Some people just like to shoot a little bit. Maybe the military need to shoot from time to time. They have all those weapons and shells and missiles. And the defense industry has to keep producing them. So maybe that is the logic ... But that approach has never really solved problems."

While Gorbachev believes "democracy will in the end fit the needs of every nation", he is not getting too excited about recent signs of change in the Middle East.

"It will take time. It will not take tanks it will take time," is his response to the recent elections in Iraq. "If democracy is imposed from the outside on a part of the world where there is Buddhism or Islam ... If attempts are made to impose in a mandatory way all the requirements of western democracy, let's say American democracy, on these parts of the world, well, I don't think that will work."

When it comes to talking about Russia itself, Gorbachev gets edgy and irritable. His eyes widen and he flaps his hand downwards to swipe away a question about the dominance of Vladimir Putin in today's Russia.

"The world does not seem to understand. You can write all kinds of things in the media," he almost shouts. "But Putin has to deal with the reality."

Despite his concern over "an assault on the media", Gorbachev says the fact that two thirds of Russia is living in poverty means that "sometimes specific, limited authoritarian steps may be necessary".

Unlike Putin, Gorbachev is not popular in his own country. On the world stage, he enjoys hero status and basks in the glory of his Nobel Peace Prize. At home, he is still seen by many struggling with poverty and instability as the man who crippled Russia. In a disastrous attempt at a political comeback in 1996, he won less than 1% of the vote.

As his Soviet-era secretary biographer Andrei Grachev puts it: "It turned out to be a much easier thing to transform the world than to transform Russia." Has it been hard to accept that he is more popular with foreigners than his own people?

"That was not hard," he says, leaning forward, his large freckled hands on his knees. "I know why it happened. What people got here (in the rest of the world) was the end of the cold war. The start of nuclear disarmament, free travel, open borders. Of course the Russians got that too. But at the same time Russia had to go through a very profound change. That is a painful process. It affects millions of people. Nevertheless, time changes people's appreciation and judgment. So I am not resentful. In the big scheme of things, I would say I have had a uniquely happy life. I need to thank God for that."

The last of the utopian projects


Perestroika plunged Russia into social ruin - and the world into an unprecedented superpower bid for global domination

Eric Hobsbawm
Wednesday March 9, 2005

I have a lasting admiration for Mikhail Gorbachev. It is an admiration shared by all who know that, but for his initiatives, the world might still be living under the shadow of the catastrophe of a nuclear war - and that the transition from the communist to the post-communist era in eastern Europe, and in most non-Caucasian parts of the former USSR, has proceeded without significant bloodshed. His place in history is secure.


But did perestroika bring about a second Russian revolution? No. It brought the collapse of the system built on the 1917 revolution, followed by a period of social, economic and cultural ruin, from which the peoples of Russia have by no means yet fully emerged. Recovery from this catastrophe is already taking much longer than it took Russia to recover from the world wars.

Whatever will emerge from this era of post-Soviet catastrophe was not envisaged, let alone prepared, by perestroika, not even after the supporters of perestroika had realised that their project of a reformed communism, or even a social-democratised USSR, was unrealisable. It was not even envisaged by those who came to believe that the aim should be a fully capitalist system of the liberal western - more precisely, the American - model.

The end of perestroika precipitated Russia into a space void of any real policy, except the unrestricted free market recommendations of western economists who were even more ignorant of how the Soviet economy functioned than their Russian followers were of how western capitalism operated. On neither side was there serious consideration of the necessarily lengthy and complex problems of transition. Nor, when the collapse came, given its speed, could there have been.

I do not want to blame perestroika for this. Almost certainly the Soviet economy was unreformable by the 1980s. If there were real chances of reforming it in the 1960s they were sabotaged by the self-interests of a nomenklatura that was by this time firmly entrenched and uncontrollable. Possibly the last real chance of reform was in the years after Stalin's death.

On the other hand, the sudden collapse of the USSR was neither probable nor expected before the late 1980s. A prominent CIA figure interviewed by Professor Fred Halliday of the LSE thought that, supposing Andropov had survived in good health, there would still have been a USSR in the 1990s - clumsy, inefficient, in slow and perhaps accelerating economic decline, but still in being. The international situation would have been, and remained, very different. International disorder followed the collapse of the single Russian state that had been a great world power since the 18th century - as it had the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires after the first world war. For a few years even the existence of Russia itself as an effective state was in question. It is so no longer, but the necessary restoration of state power in Russia in recent years has been at heavy risk to the political and juridical liberalisation which was the major - I am tempted to say the only real - achievement of perestroika.

Did perestroika herald "the end of history"? The collapse of the experiment initiated by the October Revolution is certainly the end of a history. That experiment will not be repeated, although the hope it represented, at least initially, will remain a permanent part of human aspirations. And the enormous social injustice which gave communism its historic force in the last century is not diminishing in this one. But was it "the end of history" as Francis Fukuyama proclaimed in 1989, in a phrase that he no doubt regrets?

He was doubly wrong. In the literal sense of history as something that makes headlines in newspapers and TV news bulletins, history has continued since 1989, if anything in a more dramatic mode than before. The cold war has been followed neither by a new world order, nor by a period of peace, nor by the prospect of a predictable global progress in civilisation such as intelligent western observers had in the mid-19th century, the last period when liberal capitalism - under British auspices in those days - had no doubts about the future of the world.

What we have today is a superpower unrealistically aspiring to a permanent world supremacy for which there is no historical precedent, nor probability, given the limitation of its own resources - especially as today all state power is weakened by the impact of non-state economic agents in a global economy beyond the control of any state, and given the visible tendency of the global centre of gravity to shift from the North Atlantic to the zone of south and east Asia.

Even more questionable is the wider - almost quasi-Hegelian - sense of Fukuyama's phrase. It implies that history has an end, namely a world capitalist economy developing without limits, married to societies ruled by liberal-democratic institutions. There is no historic justification for teleology, whether non-Marxist or Marxist, and certainly none for believing in unilinear and uniform worldwide development.

Both evolutionary science and the experiences of the 20th century have taught us that evolution has no direction that allows us concrete predictions about its future social, cultural and political consequences.

The belief that the US or the European Union, in their various forms, have achieved a mode of government which, however desirable, is destined to conquer the world, and is not subject to historic transformation and impermanence, is the last of the utopian projects so characteristic of the last century. What the 21st needs is both social hope and historical realism.

Eric Hobsbawm is author of The Age of Extremes: The Short 20th Century 1914-1991; this is an edited version of an address to the world political forum on perestroika 20 years on, held last weekend in Turin by the Gorbachev Foundation

Remembering Cait Collins

08 March 2005 |

I was in tears today - and I wept like a little kid. Caity will always remain to be a special person to me.

Way back in 1999 November, I met Caity in VP (excite poetry cafe), she used to be a regular there as MS_allthat.

Caity also was the Editor of - an ezine which was filled with Cait's energy.

When I was struggling with my life as a Travel Consultant - Caity taught me the basic HTML stuff - and how to build websites. She urged me to take up writing as a career. Whatever a writer or a journalist I am today - it is all because of what Caity saw in me. I'll never let her down.

Cait always had very kind and inspiring words for me. She used to tell me, "kid, get a raft, and row away to freedom." That was Caity - one who really believed in being positive.

Towards the end of 2004, Caity got in touch with Aunt Kath (in Australia) and conveyed the message that she wants to get in touch with me.

I was so moved.

Caity always asked me about Tanya and her twin children. She knew it too well how much Tanya and two little kids meant to my life. She loved the little girl - Lada - a lot. And when Tanya told me Lada maybe having some congenital health problem, Caity was there for me, asking me to believe in the real miracles of life - love and care!

Caity is always a special person :-)

I could write on and on and on about the thoughts we have shared over the last five years.

When one of our fellow-poet, a young girl of 21, was brutally raped by three men (of course in America), I just couldn't deal with the pain. Caity then told me, "Sans, she will never get over it. Trust me, she will get through it."

And this is what Caity wrote to me on 02 January 2005 - her final message to this kid she liked muchos.

----- Original Message -----
From: caitcollins@
To: Santhosh
Sent: 02 January, 2005 08:37
Subject: Re: Hi caity!

hey hey! hapPy holeeedays.. if ya celebrate over that side of the globe...please use this email addy if ya wanna.. the other i haven't been able to access months on end so i ain't gonna use that anymore.. damn hotmail asswipes hehe...twat ya been doin man!???.. as for me i'm fine and dandy..guess ya heard /read (somewhat) bout the horrible breast cancer ordeal i went through all durin last year butttt my docs are magicians and they got me this far and everything seems to be alright ..doc appt's are spannin further apart etc.. never been to so many different doc appt's and testings in my entire life.. never been sickO in my entire life.. guess we all end up with something the trick is to get rid of it.. lol... anyways lemme know what's goin down with ya man... got my spunk back.. so look out lalalalalala xxoxoxox cc.c.c.c.c


I couldn't hold back the tears. I still cannot believe Caity is not with us anymore to share her love and energy with us.

Once I asked Caity for a poem to publish in my poetry website. She sent me one - a masterpiece!

**give it up**

give it up, baby, it's
been a long
while, I said.

I have no desire, he

have no desire
for what?


the matter with


then what
to you?

it's a fact: when
you get old
you don't

you are only
47 years old, man
who told
you you

it's the way
it goes

you act like
you're ready for
a permanent

I feel

the matter

I have
the gout.

what the hell is
the gout?


well, is there

I am on

is that why
you don't want
to fuck

it's a
side-affect, you
I still

what if I
your balls
all the way into my mouth and
lick them
like you
like them

I don't
want you

you ARE sick!
now what?

give it

WE give it up?

a whore! go

like what
am I
to do
out of commission sign dangles
from your

don't you

o, that

I gave

©cait collins 2000

This is one of Caity's recent poems...

the crumbcake lady

she’s there with
her sister in the
waiting room waiting
for radiation treatment
her sister both
look mid 60ish…

her sister tells
me about how
she herself had lung cancer
a few years back
radiation made her
terribly sick and
she had no
appetite for food whatsoever
and she said her sister had
the same as me -
breast cancer…
the sister made it through
the lung cancer ordeal

i felt lucky
radiation didn’t bother
me and my desire for food

the sister receiving
treatment don’t say
a word
sits there
sadness and
despair hovering like
a black raincloud ready
to burst

i saw you looking at
that coffee cake
in the little café
in the lobby
do you want
me to get you one…
sis asks sis
she declines with
a flick of her hand
...take it home for later... sis added
she nods her head no

this waiting room
nobody talks to one another
the faces of
these people
apparently lost
all optimism hope and
the lust for life gone
ahead of time as
they sit there despairingly
waiting for the gust
of death

they call my name
i pop outta the chair
flop my backpack over
my shoulder & say..
dammit i hate
that name…
but that’s the one
i had to
give them

a few chuckled and
i walk back
take my turn

i found out
the crumbcake lady’s
name was ms lolly
ms lolly wasn’t there
the next day but
the following day she
hobbled out
of the changing room with
the blue gown everybody
changes into

i said to her…
hey! you ever get that
crumb cake…?

she looked at me
and glumly said
no and i couldn’t care less
and never said another word
to anybody

i was in and out
i crossed the waiting room
to the changing room
stretched my arms to the ceiling
& exclaimed:
ahhhh now that was a bestest
zap session yet-how i feel
like a new woman!
i go into
the changing room
replace the
blue gown with
my inside out
sweat shirt
when i come out
ms lolly says to me
you sure have a good
outlook on life i
really admire you

i sat next to her
told her i take after
dada then i asked her
how many weeks of
radiation ?

i don’t know after this i go
upstairs and they do something
to my head.. ya know i have it
.. then they called her
name and she got up and went back…

the following week i
brought a slice of crumbcake
for ms lolly but
i never saw her

a few weeks later i overheard
the doctor on the phone at
the nurses receptionists desk
callin for hospice…

--- for ms lolly

Left, Right, & Wrong

06 March 2005 |

What’s missing from the debate over values in America

By Garret Keizer

SOME TIME AFTER ELECTION DAY and the equivocal Thanksgiving that follows, I receive a call from a woman in my community, the kind of troubled, searching- for-some-answer call I used to get when I worked as a minister, though I am not doing that work now, and the woman never came to my church when I was.

The woman is not dismayed over Blue States and Red States. The woman is dismayed that yet another local kid has died in an alcohol-related car crash. By my count, this makes five in seven years, an alarmingly high number for one rural county in northeastern Vermont. The woman is dismayed by people who want the surviving driver, a young single mother who’s “come a long way” since the accident, to serve a stiffer jail sentence than the one she received. The woman is also dismayed by neighbors who neither know nor seem to care about what their children do on the weekends. Finally, she is dismayed because this annual blood sacrifice has come to seem like a basic fact of life, another form of the “shit” that “happens.”

I share all of the woman’s concerns -- in addition to one of my own: the way the current Republican rhetoric of “traditional values” speaks to tragedies of this kind, to that gut need we all have for a palpable catharsis and a culpable face. Not least of all, to the need we feel for order when our world starts falling apart. I try my liberal best to speak to the larger picture, the corporate policies that have decimated agricultural communities like our own, the connection between the low price of raw milk and the high sales of cheap beer. But I am speaking a language of things unseen. The woman is speaking of what she sees with her own two eyes on her own dirt road. Most of all, she is speaking of her struggle to protect what she values, which is partly her community and partly its youth and absolutely her teenage son.

If there is anything the left fails to appreciate, and that politicians on the right exploit with unerring tact, it is the nature of that woman’s struggle. I mean the class nature no less than the moral nature. You may call it universal if you wish, because it is common to parents everywhere and, in fact, to anyone who loves anything at all, but the struggle to preserve what you cherish becomes especially acute when you live in poverty, or close to poverty, when your well-kept prefab sits on its half-acre lot a quarter mile up the road from the shack with all the dogs. Or, tougher still, when you live in the shack with all the dogs and try to teach your kids not to treat animals like the little sadists up in the prefab house. Sophisticated people of independent means can afford to be disdainful of lower-class attempts at “respectability,” chalking it up to religious prejudice or provincial narrowness, but when their own kids come anywhere within the smell of social dysfunction, they have the private-school applications in the mail. To be sure, the private school they choose will be very “diverse,” which is to say, diverse according to every criterion but class. There will be that very nice boy from the Philippines, but there won’t be any rough boys from Podunk.

Those without the privilege of mobility must learn instead the rigid disciplines of standing still, that is, of making a stand. There are things we do in this house and things we don’t do, things the rednecks do or the gringos do that are not for us. Often those engaged in this kind of struggle will turn to religion. Though I served a small and not very moralistic (Episcopal) church, I saw this more than once. People go to church for all kinds of reasons, but the main reason that people of a certain age will start going to church is that their kids are starting to overdose on the dominant culture. They go to church hoping to find solid ground. Sometimes they go to the polls hoping for the same thing.

“You know where I stand,” George W. Bush said any number of times before his 2004 electoral victory, and I certainly did: on the wrong side of every issue. But did voters know where the Democratic Party stood or, more to the point, on what it stood? Did it stand on anything? If the question offends you, permit me to ask another. Had Howard Dean been an evangelical Christian with an evangelical Christian base, would his followers have deserted him because his Iowa holler made him “unelectable”? Or would they have closed ranks behind him because his stand on the Iraq war made him right?

© MoJo

The Road to Riches

04 March 2005 |

What's it like to be a New Russian? According to the first book by "one of them," it's all about contract killings, cheating husbands and dyed poodles.

By Anna Malpas

If one husband gets mown down by a contract killer, and the next runs off with a blonde, what's a girl to do? For socialite and entrepreneur Oksana Robski, the answer was to write a novel about life and death on Moscow's elite Rublyovskoye Shosse.

The book's chic white cover promises the "first novel written by 'one of them,'" and Robski, a resident of the Moscow region's most prestigious residential area, says that her novel "Casual" is based on personal experience. "I put in some authorial embellishments, and of course there were some things I didn't mention. But it's autobiographical," she said, sipping juice at a pizzeria last Friday.

The buzz around "Casual" started before the novel came out last month. Sergei Chliyants, producer of the 2003 hit film "Boomer," bought the movie rights before the book was printed, and shooting is due to start in several months. Meanwhile, the book -- which has benefited from a heavy marketing campaign that includes advertising in the Moscow metro -- has sold out its initial print run of 30,000, Robski said.

"I honestly didn't try to achieve anything. I did it absolutely for myself, and the fact that the book has had such success is very pleasant and unexpected for me," she added.

The novel tells the story of a wealthy woman who finds out that her husband has been unfaithful, only to be further surprised when he is shot by a hired killer. She then sets up a business, helps her husband's pregnant mistress and finds new love. While the identities of people in the novel differ somewhat from their real-life counterparts, the disclaimer at the beginning of the book -- which states that all the book's characters and events are purely fictional -- seems to be stretching the truth.

Robski's second husband, a businessman, was shot dead in the entranceway of his house, she said calmly. The only difference is that the novel is set in 2004, while the real-life events happened in the late 1990s. The author later remarried, but she came across her third husband "in a restaurant with a blonde" -- an episode that also appears in the book.

The book's title reflects the fact that it describes the everyday, or "casual," Robski said. "Even murder in those days was 'casual.' Everything that happens isn't out of the ordinary. It's just life, that's all."

It took only a month to polish off the novel, Robski admitted. The writing came easily to her, although she had previously worked in some very different spheres. These included running a chain of Oriental furniture stores, managing a female bodyguard agency and even launching a store that sold uniforms for domestic staff. These experiences are also reflected in the novel.

The book is aimed at female readers, and the title recalls one-word-title blockbusters like Jackie Collins' "Lucky." But readers looking for love and passion will be disappointed. "It's an autobiographical book," Robski said. "What do you expect, that a person's husband gets killed and she's going to have sex from morning to evening?"

Social climbers, however, will have a field day. The author lists the places to be seen in Moscow, ranging from the Cabaret nightclub to the Veranda U Dachi restaurant in the elite residential district of Zhukovka. "If I write that [the heroine] goes to a restaurant, why not write which one, if the book is autobiographical?" Robski asked. She compared her style to that of "American Psycho" author Bret Easton Ellis, who also uses "brands, brands, brands."

There are also some intriguing details about the world of Russia's wealthy. The heroine has a live-in masseuse from Donetsk, Ukraine, and one of the heroine's friends dyes her dog to match her dresses. "Well, we dyed a poodle once ourselves," Robski said. "Isn't it beautiful if a poodle suddenly becomes pink?"

Russian readers will enjoy the book in different ways, she admitted. People in "Yekaterinburg or somewhere else" may read the novel as if it were "about aliens," she said. But she hopes that the less-privileged will learn to be more tolerant of the wealthy.

"I'd like it if the people who don't know how the characters in my book live saw them in a more humane and better way," she said. Also, Robski doesn't feel that such readers will envy the jet-setting lifestyle of her book's characters. "Maybe they don't live on Rublyovskoye Shosse because they don't need that," she said. "They really don't want that very much."

The author has already finished a second novel. Her next book will not be autobiographical, she said, and it will have "some sex and lots of romance." Robski has also written the script for the movie version of "Casual" -- she originally studied to be a screenwriter and director -- and will possibly star as herself in the film.

"Casual," by Oksana Robski, is published by Rosmen.

Global Eye - March 4, 2005


What on God's earth could possibly constitute a bona fide "legislative" use of the "vibrators, dildos, anal beads" and other stimulators covered by the Alabama law?

By Chris Floyd

Sex, sex, sex -- how it haunts the damp and fervid dreams of the Bushist Party faithful. And nowhere more so than in the depths of Dixie, where stout Christian soldiers were singing hosannas last week after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld their righteous warfare against the foulest form of evil in the modern world:

Genital stimulators.

After prayerful consideration, the Supremes refused to hear challenges to an Alabama law that forbids the sale or distribution of "any device designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs," Reuters reports. The law was aimed not only at public vendors of sexual enhancement but also at the growing number of private "Tupperware-style parties," where suburbanites gather to peruse the latest marriage-goosing gadgets.

But let's be fair. In their compassionate conservatism, the Bama Bushists did provide some exceptions to their iron grip on the state's genitals. For example, the law generously allows the sale of sexual devices "for a bona fide ... legislative, judicial or law enforcement purpose." Here the mind reels (and the stomach turns): What on God's earth could possibly constitute, say, a bona fide "legislative" use of the "vibrators, dildos, anal beads" and other stimulators covered by the law?

On second thought, don't ask. Instead, let's just rejoice in the knowledge that, thanks to the Supreme Court, Alabama politicians, judges and sheriffs can diddle themselves to their heart's content with all manner of manipulators, while your ordinary desperate housewife will have to do without them.

Yet as we all know -- and as the state of Alabama itself acknowledged when confronted with statistics from the law's challengers -- the vast majority of the now-banned Bama buzzers were sold to good ol' gals, most of them in down-home, red-meat, church-blessed heterosexual marriages. The salt of the earth, in other words -- the only kind of people worthy of full citizenship in Bushist philosophy. So why were these exemplary matrons targeted by the mullahs in Montgomery? That question leads us to another curious lacuna in the law -- a gap mirrored in similar sex-toy restrictions in Georgia and George W. Bush's home state of Texas.

As the challengers pointed out -- and the Supremes ignored -- the state's crusade against artificial exciters somehow failed to include Viagra, Levitra and other chemical erector sets designed to address male shortcomings in the pleasure department. Now, it would be uncharitable to conclude from this that the Bushists have, shall we say, special needs in this regard. Although it's true they exhibit a strange fascination for big missiles, military uniforms and naked Arab men in chains, we don't mean to suggest that they need outside help to achieve a more normative sexual response to a woman.

No, the real reason why girl toys are banned while boy boosters get greenlighted is simple: The laws in Bush's Texas and like-minded states aren't actually designed to restrict sexual aids as such. They are meant to clamp down on the sexual pleasure of women in particular. They are part of Bush's worldwide war against women, which we have often detailed here -- a war in which the Bushists are allied with their putative enemies, the radical Islamists. These two groups share an overwhelming fear of the freedom and inviolability of a woman's body, her ability to control her own sexuality and fertility. This freedom threatens social, cultural, political, economic and even psychological structures that in some cases go back thousands of years. It is this idea, that of woman's autonomy, which is the true crux of modernity; it is the real dividing line -- not technology, ideology or the much-vaunted "clash of civilizations."

This profound upheaval has provoked fierce, panicky and often violent resistance. To his shame, Bush has aligned America time and again with misogynist bastions like Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Libya in opposing international efforts to guarantee the rights of women. Even as we speak, Bush operatives are trying to blow up the landmark 1995 international agreement on the status of women, when the nations of the world pledged themselves to establishing women's equality in all areas of life, including health, education, employment and political participation. It also declared that women should be able to "decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality ... free of coercion, discrimination and violence."

But the Bushists clearly don't want women's sexuality to be free of coercion, discrimination and violence. That's why they are sandbagging the 10-year review of the 1995 declaration, now underway at an international conference in Beijing, The Associated Press reports. Bush is refusing to reaffirm the declaration unless draconian language is added to ensure that the agreement "does not create any new international human rights," as the Bushists put it. In other words, a little fancy talk about equality is fine -- as long as it doesn't actually change anything, as long as the coercion and violence can go on.

This is all of a piece with Bush's savage elimination of U.S. funding for women's health clinics in the poorest regions on earth. For want of this indispensable American aid -- mere pittances that wouldn't fund a single hour of Bush's rape of Iraq -- clinic after clinic has been forced to close, destroying the only source of medical treatment and reproductive health care for the most vulnerable women in the world. It has been a literal death sentence for thousands of women -- and their infants -- in the past four years: a silent holocaust created at the stroke of Bush's pen.

The bedroom farce in Alabama -- sweaty-palmed pols in a tizzy over vibrators -- may be an amusing bit of provincial comedy. But it masks a sinister tragedy of global proportions.

The pink revolution?


- Onnesha Roychoudhuri

While commentators cheer the spread of democracy throughout the Middle East, South America has just ushered in another leftist leader. Following the elections of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, Ecuador's Lucio Gutierrez, Brazil's Luiz Inacio da Silva, and Argentina's Nestor Kirchner, Uruguay's first leftist president, Dr. Tabare Vazquez, has taken office.

Most of these leaders are far from the radical leftists of the days of yore. As New York Times' Larry Rohter puts it, "they are not so much a red tide as a pink one." Chavez is the one big exception here: nationalizing Venezeula's big businesses, building up his armed forces, stockpiling Russian-made weapons, and, more recently, accusing the Bush administration of trying to oust his government. But even though South America's other leftist leaders don't share Chavez's strident tone, they too are trying to move away from the open-market policies heavily influenced by Washington, and toward their own models of social democracy. Part of that shift has involved strengthening ties with other leftist governments in the region—including Cuba.

In Uruguay, Dr. Vazquez's second order of business—after proposing a dramatic increase in social spending—was to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba and announce that he "will tolerate no outside interference in our internal affairs." This may have just been a rhetorical move to appeal to Uruguay's public, which has yet to reap the benefits of foreign investment and freer trade. But Vazquez has also put himself in a position in which it would be hard not to deliver on his promises. Meanwhile, he has appointed former leftist guerrilla leaders, rebels, and other opponents of the former military governments, to important political posts.

It's too soon to tell whether these leftist governments will try to forge a unified Latin American movement. But the regimes are now looking toward alliances with Russia and China rather than with the United States. Similarly, countries like Brazil and Venezuela have been working toward a continental alliance modeled on the European Union. Thus far, they've produced nothing more than joint ventures and military cooperation. But it's worth keeping an eye on the upcoming presidential elections in countries like Bolivia, Chile, and Mexico, countries in which "pink" leaders are firmly in the running. And it will be interesting to see who takes the lead voice in this growing ideological shift (and whether or not they are smoking Cuban cigars).

© MoJo