Thought for Today

When that song [Willie's 2003 protest song, "Whatever Happened to Peace on Earth?"] was getting all that flak, some guy called me in San Antonio where I was doing a call-in radio show. I was talking about "Thou Shalt Not Kill." He said, "That really doesn't mean that. That means under certain conditions, it's ok." I said, "Well, you know, I think way back then, God knew how to spell. So if He says, 'Thou Shalt Not Kill,' that's what he meant.
--Willie Nelson, interviewed in No Depression Magazine

Does Bernard Kerik Make You Feel Safer?

Bernard Kerik was Commissioner of Police in New York City on 9/11. Last year, he did a five-month tour in Iraq as adviser to the nascent Interior Ministry. He is a partner in Rudolph Giuliani's consulting firm. Here he is, speaking at the Republican Convention, last night:

Today in Afghanistan, the Taliban has been unseated from power and the Al Queda leadership is on the run.

And here is yesterday's news from Afghanistan:

American officials warned all U.S. citizens Monday to avoid high-profile locations and government facilities in the Afghan capital after Sunday's car bombing outside the office of an U.S. security firm here. Officials said the blast killed at least six people, including three Americans.

Spokesmen for the Taliban militia, the armed Islamic extremist group that claimed responsibility for the attack, vowed Monday to step up violence in Kabul and other cities where U.S. military forces and civilian projects are operating.

"We have started our attacks from Kabul under new planning and preparation," Mullah Dadullah, a Taliban leader, told news agencies here via telephone. "We will carry out more attacks and bombings in Kabul, and our [fighters] are present in cities where the occupation forces and infidels are present." "Unseated" and "on the run?" Swami wonders: What would "totally defeated" look like to Bernard Kerik?

Vietnam: A Bush Question That Lacks An Answer

Swami has looked high. Swami has looked low. Nowhere can he find the answer to this question:

Has George W. Bush, at any time in his life, visited the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.?

Can you help? A nod of the virtual turban to Swami's Information Benefactor.

Another Sad Gay Man in a Straight Man's Role

U.S. Rep. Edward L. Schrock (R, Virginia) just dropped his bid for a third term. They're definitely not thanking him for devoted service at the Republican Convention, even though Schrock, 63, is a retired career Navy officer and Vietnam veteran, the second most conservative person in all of Congress in 2003 (behind only Dennis Hastert) and co-sponsor of the Federal Marriage Amendment.

Here's the sad (but sort of predictable) irony. Schrock--a husband and father who opposes any possible rights for gay people, including non-discrimination in employment--seems to be gay.

Seems that a website devoted to exposing closeted gays in Congress learned that Schrock left messages--audiotaped sex requests--on a gay dating service. Pathetic, isn't it? Here's a guy who's been told to believe that homosexuals choose to be gay and that their choice is evil, and, in what looks like a textbook case of a self-hating gay man, he not only can't control his urges but creates evidence that wrecks his career.

How many other men in blazers and button-down shirts and striped ties are in New York this week, wondering if they dare make a call that they could never make back home?

Meet "Mr. Compassionate Conservative"

In a recent column about the biggest controversy of this election campaign-- that's right: Vietnam--a columnist named Marvin Olasky wrote:

The other thing both of us [Olasky and Bush] can and do say is that we did not save ourselves: God alone saves sinners (and I can surely add, of whom I was the worst). Being born again, we don't have to justify ourselves. Being saved, we don't have to be saviors.

John Kerry, once-born, has no such spiritual support, nor do most of his top admirers in the heavily secularized Democratic Party. For spiritually-inclined readers, Olasky seemed to be saying that Bush's "born again" status renders him superior to Kerry who, as a Catholic, is "once-born." And he seemed to be saying that this was true of all Christian adults who have not fallen to their knees, accepted Jesus and entered into the roster of the "born again" Elect.

If Marvin Olasky were just another syndicated columnist, his views would be compelling only to those who agree with him. But Marvin Olasky--though probably unknown to most of you--turns out to be one of the most important thinkers in America.

For George Bush, he may be the most important, for it was Olasky, a decade ago, who coined the phrase "Compassionate Conservativism"--a phrase sure to be heard often at the Republican Convention today, when the day's theme is "Compassion." (How much does Bush admire Olasky? As Governor, Bush wrote the introduction to Olasky's book, "Compassionate Conservatism." "Marvin is compassionate conservatism's leading thinker," Bush writes. He shows us how "we can make the world more welcoming.")

Beliefnet Editor-in-Chief Steve Waldman, clearly recognizing the blockbuster implications of Olasky's column, recently had an email chat with Olasky. There wasn't time for a full conversation, and Olasky's answers were oblique-- he likes to direct questioners to the Bible and deal in linguistic distinctions, like, say, the difference between "justify" and "justification"-- so Waldman wasn't able to get the kind of blunt answers that would really illuminate these issues.

No surprise there. Olasky is a professor of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. And he's smart enough to know, on the eve of the Republican Convention, not to draw attention from the President.

But that doesn't mean he's secretive about his views and goals. The web is rich in Olaskyisms that would thrill many of the President's supporters--and terrify many other Americans.

Here, from October of 2002, is Olasky's vision of what America would be like "if liberal Democrats had controlled all branches of government over the past two decades."

Over 3 million abortions per year. Euthanasia rampant. Gay "marriage" legal everywhere. Home schooling illegal. Christian schools facing severe restrictions. Propaganda in public schools more virulent. Tax rates higher. Nationalized and inferior health care our only choice.
Here's Olasky on journalists critical of Bush:

Now Mr. Olasky [has written a piece] for the Austin American-Statesman implying that journalists who are critical of Mr. Bush have "holes in their souls," practice "the religion of Zeus" and are therefore hostile to the Texas governor's Christianity.
Here are Olasky's views on homosexuals:

Homosexuality is a "problem" which can be healed, he says. "There are many ex-homosexuals."
Here's Olasky on women who have careers:

Women joining the workforce have had "dire consequences for society," he told a Christian magazine in 1998. Can women be leaders? "God does not forbid women to be leaders in society... but there's a certain shame attached to it," he said.
Here's why Olasky believes Americans who fear a Christian theocracy are wrong:

It's sad that Christianity (in terms of more than nominal identification) is a minority religion in America, but that's the situation in which God has placed us....The understanding that Christians are a minority should free non-Christians from fear of religious domination....
Just as compelling as Olasky's views is Olasky's biography, which shoots like an arrow from the far left to the Christian right. His father was a Hebrew teacher. He was, as he says, "bar-mitzvahed at 13 and an atheist at 14." He went to Yale (Class of 1971), where he discovered Marxism and joined the Communist Party USA.

In 1973, he was reading a Lenin essay when--suddenly--Marxism no longer made sense:

"At that point God changed my worldview by means of a small whisper that became a repeated, resounding question in my brain: 'What if Lenin is wrong? What if there is a God?'"
He resigned from the Communist Party. "We asked ourselves which denomination represented the extreme opposite of the hard left," his wife recalls. "Then we looked in the phone book and found the Conservative Baptist Church. By the end of that summer of '76, we had come to Christ."

A few years later, dressed as a beggar, Olasky made the rounds of homeless shelters in Washington. People fed him. But not with spiritual nourishment.

"People would put food in front of me. But they did not ask why I was there. It was like feeding time for dogs and cats."

So he wrote a book: "The Tragedy of American Compassion." William Bennett, Reagan's Secretary of Education, called it "the most important book on welfare and social policy in a decade." He gave a copy to Newt Gingrich. And Gingrich recommended it to every Republican.

Jump-cut to 1993. Someone--Swami's guess: Karl Rove--got the book to George W. Bush, then running for Governor of Texas. From a piece on Olasky's website:

It was 1993 when Olasky was first called to meet with Bush, who was at the time shopping for issues to defeat the incumbent governor of Texas, Ann Richards. Olasky and Bush, along with Bush adviser Karl Rove, talked for an hour...

Olasky has never been a full-time Bush adviser, yet his involvement would seem to have been something more than "maybe they met once or twice," the version preferred by those Bush aides made nervous by the enthusiasm with which Olasky airs his less marketable positions, on the role of women, say, or on the necessity of conversion. No word of whether Olasky is at the Convention. But he doesn't need to be. His ideas are its intellectual underpinning. Alas, the announcement last week that 1.3 million Americans fell into poverty last year occurred too recently for him to comment in his columns or World, the Christian-based news magazine he edits. Should a journalist run into him, however, would he/she kindly ask just one question:

Professor Olasky, in 1996, you wrote, "Today's poor in the United States are not suffering thirst, hunger, or nakedness, except by choice, insanity, or parental abuse." Now come those newly-poor Americans--do you believe they chose poverty?

Thought for Today

And all these years later--the name-calling and nitpicking about wounds suffered and medals earned and honorable service aside--the important matter is that, when push came to shove, Lieutenant Kerry turned his boat around and drove back into a firefight to fetch an Army Green Beret out of the river. I know that if it had been me in the water, I would surely remember the man's name, the look on his face, and the reach of his arm for the rest of my life; I would be sure to tell my grandchildren about him.
--Larry Heinemann, in The New York Times. Heinemann wrote "Paco's Story," which received the National Book Award, and a forthcoming memoir about his Vietnam experiences.

Weekend Report

The Uptowns flew to Minneapolis for the weekend, a trip that began so badly for Little Uptown, who is mired in the terrible-twos, that we contemplated renaming her "Jihad" because it felt like she was waging a holy war on us. But her mood, as moods of Only Children will, considerably brightened when we took her along to the kid-studded ceremony-and-party that marked the 25th anniversary and renewal of vows of our friends Mary Kay and George. Deep emotion, lots of laughs and a congregation of warm-hearted Midwesterners (including a flurry of nuns who opened a homeless shelter on their porch and have been often arrested in anti-war demonstrations). When you break it down to individuals, this is a great country.

The next morning, we zoomed off to the Minnesota State Fair, stopping only to buy the new Steve Earle CD, "The Revolution Starts Now." (Don't be put off by the title. Some of the music sounds exactly like what the Beatles would have done after "Paperback Writer" and "Rain"). With Little Uptown bobbing to the music, we rolled into one of the most enduring and popular (100,000 people a day, for 10 days) get-togethers in the nation. The visit was poignant and nostalgic for Mrs. Uptown, who grew up on a farm in this state and, back in the day, won a drawerful of ribbons for Best Pig. Again, deep emotion, lots of laughs, and a warm and lively lunch with a WWII Marine. When you break it down to individuals, this is a great country.

We are back at the beach, though not by choice. Mrs. U and the junior member crave New York ("Noooo--city home," Little U begged when we turned into the driveway). But Mrs. U cannot be within ten miles of Tom DeLay. Even out here, she has declared the TV a "No Republican" zone. Swami may be the only guy in America who has to go to a bar to watch politics. Because once individuals form into groups....

The Swami Book Club: The Real Vietnam

On Friday, Swami announced he was sick of debating Vietnam with people who lacked both Facts about the politics and Understanding about our troops. To talk to me, Swami said, you have to read Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried." And then you have to explicate two sentences from that book: "I was a coward. I went to the war."

Over the weekend, Swami received two letters.

Letter #1:

I didn't do as you said. I didn't read the book.

I don't need to read the book to understand the last two sentences.

Like the author, I thought about Canada.

Unlike the author, I thought I wanted to make the military my life.

When I was 17, I applied for the Air Force Academy but didn't get the appointment. I was offered Kings Point, but being 17 and having no clue I turned it down. Stupid.

Anyway, after deferments and outrunning three draft boards, they gave me a report to duty notice with only 72 hours to prepare. So in Dec '67, I became a US Army boot. After basic and Infantry AIT, I was on leave before shipping out to 'Nam. Orders got changed...I now go to Ft Jackson SC and spend 18 months training others to go to 'Nam. At 24 and not wanting to go, I thought it was great.

Here's the hook: For 30 years since then I have lived with shame, guilt, heartache--you pick the term--not because I didn't go, but because I sent to many others in my place. And the worse pain of all is because I didn't stand up and say, "Bulls---, none of us should be going."

I have only been to The Wall once and was overcome with grief. As I write this on a sunny afternoon in my home with my children all around me, I am crying--the silent cry that can only be heard inside and that no one would notice except for the tears on my face.

Some of us don't need to read the book to understand the last two sentences. We can't even retype them.

Letter #2:

This is what I know of war.

I know of a man who was so sweet that he couldn't pass me by without a kiss, a gentle look or telling me how beautiful he thought I was. I know of a man who sat and watched me as I slept on his couch, pulling the afghan up over me in case I got cold; who made me cups of tea while I relaxed. I know of a man who cried when he read the words that my daughters wrote on my birthday card because he was so touched. I know of a man who was with my daughter in her darkest hour and fought for them both when he thought they were being abused by an employer.

I know of this same man who cried out in anguish every July 4th, because of unspeakable acts that he committed in the name of his country. I know of the times he woke from nightmares yelling a fallen buddy's name, and how I held him and loved him until he was quiet. I know of the terrible destruction of this man who medicated his self repulsion with vodka, until he only vaguely resembled the strong, funny, affectionate man I fell in love with. In all the world, he was the only man I ever truly loved but he never felt he deserved to be loved because of the overwhelming guilt he suffered as a result of what he had done.

He never could reconcile what he did. He died because he wanted to die, he drank himself to death. I know he loved me but his shame was far greater. He could not get past it. My shame is that I left him because I couldn't bear to see him destroying himself. It almost killed me. He tried so hard to kick the booze and I saw it all, the DTs, the tremors, the shaking hands, and the eventual return of health, only to be sabotaged by the gaping wound that was exposed when the alcohol dried up. Where was he to go with that? Back to the booze. He is gone now and I have to carry on, but the world is a barren place without the man who was my heart's home.

He did the best he could, just like many of the Vietnam Veterans who protested the war. I wish he had taken that route so that there could be some meaning to his suffering. What I know is that John Kerry had the courage to stand up and make himself heard. He was there and he knows firsthand the toll that war extracts from the men, and now women, who serve their country in the trust that what they are fighting for is in the best interests of their fellow citizens. Who do we want in office? A man who knows the horrors of war directly, or one who took the easier way out and whose very attendance is in question. I trust that John Kerry would have done everything possible to avoid putting his fellow military members in harm's way. He knows the personal cost of war and how it impacts the people around the veteran of a senseless debacle.

We live with them and the pain of them everyday.

Swami will talk with these people as long as they wish.

The Jerry Falwell Convention Prayer

In the end, the Repubs didn't choose Jerry to offer the opening prayer. But let's all bow our heads and murmur along with the winning entry in Swami's "What Should Jerry Pray?" contest. (First prize: cleansed karma.) Here you go:

I come to y'all here today, not to speak for our dear brother George, but to pray for him. I offer this prayer fo' his leadership, pray fo' the intelligence to move this country out of the light of so-called modern times and back, dear Lawd, back to the dark ages, where ya knew where a man stood. A man stood at the right side of God, or he stood tied to a stake. Yes, Lawd, bring us back to the good ol' days.

Bring us back to the days where men were men, who punched each other in the arm--or face--and whose only intimate contact was on a football field after a good play.

Bring us back, dear Lawd, to the days when our fear was our strength, when we feared God, and feared anythin' different and used the strength of our fear to subdue those who were different, from injuns, to Negros and homos, to Catholics and Jews. All heathens were at our heels in those days and it was good--fo' us anyways.

Bring us back to that fictitious Christian nation, one where all our forefathers bent on knee to one narrow idea of God, and let my idea of God be the one that everyone bows to. An' God help those who don't get wit' the program.

Our President George knows the program--he don't know much else, but he sho' knows the program. God, one version of God inna schools, one version of God in all the social programs, one version, my version--and George's--in the courthouses, from Montgomery to Monterey.

My version of God--and George's--in fo'rayne policy. Stomp them heathens, like inna good ol' days when we could do it here at home. Take it to wherever there's the potential that these heathens'll get uppity. Do it befo' hand, pre-emptive, they call it, coz we know what God's gonna want us to do--our version o' God. That's what bein' a prophet is all about.

So, Lawd, we know you support us, coz we know you, like we know our own egos -- I mean, hands. You have written your laws on the inside of our eyelids, so that when we close our eyes to the sufferin' in the world, we can still see what you want us to do.

We know you support us, God, coz all the right friends with all the right kinda money flows to us. We know you support us, just as you support Ken Lay, even in his hour of darkness. We know you support us, coz we got the cash inna bank.

We know you support George, Lawd, just like you did in 2000, by separating out those who did not vote for him in Florida. The hand o' God was in that election, even if we had to use our own hands (and fingers) to count on.

Amen. And thanks to the winner, whose name we'll protect to the grave.

Laura and George: The Odd Couple?

So TIME Magazine sat down with Laura Bush last week:

TIME: Do you think these swift-boat ads are unfair to John Kerry?

LAURA BUSH: Do I think they're unfair? Not really.

This was really interesting, because just a few days later, on the Saturday morning "Today" show, the President talked with Matt Lauer about the accusations of the Swift Boats gang:

Asked if he believed that he and Kerry "served on the same level of heroism," Bush replied, "No, I don't. I think him going to Vietnam was more heroic than my flying fighter jets. He was in harm's way and I wasn't."

This discrepancy may strike you as odd, particularly because Mrs. Bush has recently said: "This job has made our relationship even closer because we have each other to comfort each other.

So did she not get the memo? Did Karl Rove give her the wrong talking points? No and no, saieth Swami. Mrs. Bush--who would later say in the TIME interview that she doesn't smoke cigarettes, although insiders say she lights up all day along--did exactly what she was supposed to. And then her husband, on the slowest media day of the week, directly contradicted her. Only it wasn't a contradiction. This is just how they do it.

Your Moment of Zen: The Last Word On the Bush Campaign

""Get Your War On" (rated NC-17 for language and attitude) has been must-reading since October 2001. The new comics (Issue 39) may use clip art for the images. No matter. They're classics. Sample:

Panel 1: When is the real campaign? How do I get to see the real campaign?
Panel 2: This IS the real campaign.
Panel 3: Wait a minute. This IS the real campaign--even for the grown ups?

The Beauty Part

What if you knew you had at most a year to live? Would you write a poem like this?

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on this earth.

Head Butler has more about the poet Raymond Carver, and his last book, "A New Path to the Waterfall."

Thought for Today

We were born before the wind
Also younger than the sun
Ere the bonnie boat was won as we sailed into the mystic
Hark, now hear the sailors cry
Smell the sea and feel the sky
Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic
--Van Morrison, from Moondance

Things That Make You Go Hmmmmmm

As Swami flew from New York to Minneapolis this morning, he alternated between reading the paper and looking out the window. It always amazes him: how empty this huge land really is, how much nature there is we haven't ruined.

And then this New York Times article in which George Bush belatedly said he believes John Kerry has accurately described his Vietnam experiences--"I think Senator Kerry should be proud of his record. No, I don't think he lied"--and revealed that he's out of the loop on his Aministration's shift in policy on global warming ("Ah, we did? I don't think so."). But here was the strangest paragraph:

Mr. Bush conducted the interview in an unusual setting: A cinderblock dressing room, outfitted with a conference table and leather reclining chairs, accessible only by walking through a men's room underneath a small stadium here, where he appeared for a campaign rally. The president was joined by one of his closest advisers, Karen P. Hughes, who is now traveling with him; the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice; former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York, who was introducing him at rallies across the state; and his press secretary, Scott McClellan.
Does this strike anyone as ...odd? Does this not sound like...a bunker? Why such a hidden, protected place? (It wasn't like he had a girlfriend stashed in his hotel suite.) And why Karen and Condi and Rudy?

What was John Kerry doing yesterday? Dropping in unannounced at the Minnesota State Fair. No banners, no security guys the size of NFL tackles. And, yes, he ate a corndog. With ketchup and mayo. Make of that what you will....

The Swami Book Club

Swami lists an email address, and you take him up on it. Good. Often to disagree. Good. But some of the disagreement comes down to factual issues--like, you listen to Hannity and don't know he's not telling the truth. (We're not talking about his Views here, but about his Facts.)

Specifically, many of you don't know much about Vietnam. And you know what? Even if Swami told you, you wouldn't believe him.

So here's the solution: You want to talk about Vietnam, first you have to read a book. It's an easy read, even if you're a slow reader--it's a collection of short stories. Title: "The Things They Carried." Author: Vietnam vet Tom O'Brien.

As Head Butler, Swami has written about this book. And, especially, about one story:

In "On the Rainy River," O'Brien tries to figure out whether to flee to Canada or face his fate in Vietnam. He has a summer job in his home town in Minnesota; abruptly, he flees and drives north, north toward the border. He gets as far as a lodge before he runs out of courage. No one is there but the aged proprietor, who instinctively knows that this young man is in the throes of crisis.

The old man doesn't invite O'Brien to talk about his problem, in that new-fangled Oprah way. He just takes him out fishing, and pretends not to notice that O'Brien is sitting there weeping. But his silence means everything: O'Brien makes his decision, and, even more, knows why he made it.

The story ends with O'Brien driving home: "The day was cloudy. I passed through towns with familiar names, through the pine forests and down to the prairie, and then to Vietnam, where I was a soldier. I survived, but it's not a happy ending. I was a coward. I went to the war."

Buy the book. Read it. Write me and tell me what those last two sentences--"I was a coward. I went to the war"--mean to you. Then we'll talk.

Who to Marry: George Bush or Bill Clinton?

A woman asked: If you were a woman, and you had only two choices to be your lawfully wedded husband (and you HAD to choose one)...would it be George W. Bush or Bill Clinton?

Many responses. Some...R-rated. (Children, avert your eyes.) Let's start with Swami's virtual shrink, Dr. Frann:

This woman IS really perverse. However...George W. Bush. Why? Do I want a man who cheats and lies or a man who lies and is grammatically challenged? Well, character is more than suspect, to say the least, with both suitors. But the question is where could I do the most good? The bigger impact could be made with the current powers that be. A President in the oval office hand is better than one with a cigar in the.... With the current President, I could create programs and make a difference. And the divorce package, when it would come to that, would be hefty. Pre-nup not withstanding. And think of the all the contacts! All the interesting people! The visiblity would be exceptional. And I could get George into a good recovery program to boot.
And some more:

--I would marry W. but keep Willie on the side. Willie is a fling... not marriage material.
--A woman choosing to marry Bush or Bill? Well, people have been lookin' for the root cause of lesbianism. Could this be it?
--Bill Clinton. Flaws, warts, and all!
--Clinton, though his cheating would be awful. But he has sex appeal, intelligence, and isn't usually boring. The thought of even one 24 hour period alone with Bush is enough to send me up the wall. And the idea of listening to ideas which "come from God" would be more crazy-making than any lies Clinton tells.
Bill Clinton, because I already know not to believe anything he says and already know that he isn't afraid of assertive women.
Polls close this weekend. Cast your vote today...

Dick Cheney is Human (Hurrah! Hurrah!)

Dick Cheney wandered off the reservation this week, when he said, about gay marriage:

People ought to be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to. The question that comes up with the issue of marriage is what kind of official sanction or approval is going to be granted by government? Historically, that's been a relationship that has been handled by the states. The states have made that fundamental decision of what constitutes a marriage.
Why did he veer from the message the Religious Right installed in his chip? Because he has a gay daughter.

Many have attacked Cheney for being a hyprocrite. (And that he is, and more.) Swami comes to praise him. First, who knew this heartless bastard was human? Second, who knew he had love for anything in his heart?

A parent's love--it knows no limits. That is why we must, ironically, hope that misfortune does not overlook the Compassionate Conservatives. Their kids get sick? They'll be begging scientists to work deep into the night with stem cells. Their pregnant wives deliver babies sickened by mercury poisoning? They'll suddenly care about the environment.

None of this, of course, is about us. It's all about them and their exceptional needs. But it's a start. Dick Cheney, this Bud's for you, man.

Thought for Today

I hear all the people of the world
In one bird's lonely cry
See them trying every way they know how
To make their spirit fly
--Rickie Lee Jones, "The Horses," from Flying Cowboys

The Swami Poll

A bright and perverse female has sent Swami a question. A koan, really, for Swami is having a hard time unlocking it. You try--and do let Swami know how you'd vote:

If you were a woman, and you had only two choices to be your lawfully wedded husband (and you HAD to choose one)...would it be George W. Bush or Bill Clinton?

No, It Can't Be! They Believe in... Science?

Mind-blowing news on Global Warming in The New York Times:

In a striking shift in the way the Bush administration has portrayed the science of climate change, a new report to Congress focuses on federal research indicating that emisions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases are the only likely explanation for global warming over the last three decades.

In delivering the report to Congress yesterday, an administration official, Dr. James R. Mahoney, said it reflected "the best possible scientific information" on climate change. Previously, President Bush and other officials had emphasized uncertainties in understanding the causes and consequences of warming as a reason for rejecting binding restrictions on heat-trapping gases. "God is not a Republican, or a Democrat"

Well, it's about time. A Christian group stands up to the Religious Right to remind us "that Jesus taught us to be peacemakers, advocates for the poor, and defenders of justice." (How did they ever scrape together the money for this campaign?)

It's a pleasure to give thanks to Sojourners and to share their message:

We believe that poverty--caring for the poor and vulnerable--is a religious issue. Do the candidates' budget and tax policies reward the rich or show compassion for poor families? Do their foreign policies include fair trade and debt cancellation for the poorest countries? (Matthew 25:35-40, Isaiah 10:1-2)

We believe that the environment--caring for God's earth--is a religious issue. Do the candidates' policies protect the creation or serve corporate interests that damage it? (Genesis 2:15, Psalm 24:1)

We believe that war--and our call to be peacemakers--is a religious issue. Do the candidates' policies pursue "wars of choice" or respect international law and cooperation in responding to real global threats? (Matthew 5:9)

We believe that truth-telling is a religious issue. Do the candidates tell the truth in justifying war and in other foreign and domestic policies? (John 8:32)

We believe that human rights--respecting the image of God in every person --- is a religious issue. How do the candidates propose to change the attitudes and policies that led to the abuse and torture of Iraqi prisoners? (Genesis 1:27)

We believe that our response to terrorism is a religious issue. Do the candidates adopt the dangerous language of righteous empire in the war on terrorism and confuse the roles of God, church, and nation? Do the candidates see evil only in our enemies but never in our own policies? (Matthew 6:33, Proverbs 8:12-13)

We believe that a consistent ethic of human life is a religious issue. Do the candidates' positions on abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, weapons of mass destruction, HIV/AIDS and other pandemics, and genocide around the world obey the biblical injunction to choose life? (Deuteronomy 30:19)

We also admonish both parties and candidates to avoid the exploitation of religion or our congregations for partisan political purposes.

By signing this statement, we call Christians and other people of faith to a more thoughtful involvement in this election, rather than claiming God's endorsement of any candidate.

This is the meaning of responsible Christian citizenship.

"Manners Maketh Man"

So said William of Wykeham (1324-1404), founder of Winchester College and of New College, Oxford, and the "builder of the noblest part of Winchester Cathedral." That motto was inscribed on the dinner bell at the Master's Table in the Forbes House dining room at Milton Academy, the boarding school Swami attended during the very same years that George W. Bush attended Phillips Academy (Andover). As Swami recalls, they had cafeteria dining at Andover. The future President may well have graduated without nightly meditation on that bell's message.

"Manners maketh man" came to mind yesterday afternoon as Swami watched Max Cleland attempt to deliver a letter to George Bush. [For the background on Max Cleland--and how the Bush gang did to him what they're now trying to do to Kerry--go to August 11th in the Swami archives and read "The Sliming of Max Cleland."] As you know, the President was Otherwise Engaged yesterday. So, depending on your affection for theatrical stunts, the image of Cleland rolling around Crawford, Texas in his wheelchair is either appalling or potent.

Swami's interest is not, however, in Max Cleland, but in the President. What should the leader of the Free World have done about the crippled Vietnam veteran and his letter?

Steve Gilliard (cited in the daily must-read blog Eschaton) seems right on the money:

Yes, this was a campaign stunt, and yes, Cleland has his own grudges against these people, but a real man would have invited Cleland and Rassman up to the ranch house, gave them some sweet tea, taken the letter and let them go....

Now, let's be real. Cleland probably owes Kerry a $20 because one of them had to have bet Bush would live down to character, and the other bet that he couldn't be so stupid as to turn away a triple amputee from his home. But make no mistake, they knew what Bush would do, and they bet on him doing it.

Yet, once again, the Bush campaign walks into a trap set by Kerry. Two decorated veterans show up to your door and you hide from them? That's just stupid. It's bad politics if nothing else. Well, maybe not sweet tea. But something inside the house, away from the cameras. Maybe Bush could have even uttered the deathless line Swami saw on a message board, clearly penned by someone who had seen "Fahrenheit 9/11"--or maybe just the previews: "Thanks for the letter, Max.....now watch this drive."

The Republicans and Hermann Hesse

Those of you who are not now teenagers--and a big shout-out to any kids here; you ARE the future!--and can still remember their School Daze may recall reading a novel or three by Hermann Hesse. "Steppenwolf," "The Glass Bead Game," "Siddhartha"--Swami still recalls the high he got from this heady blend of mysticism, Nietzsche, Spengler and Lord knows what else.

Okay. Follow this: The guy Bush sent out to accept the Max Cleland letter is Jerry Patterson. As The New York Times reports:

A Texas state official and Vietnam veteran, Jerry Patterson, said someone from the Bush campaign contacted him Wednesday morning and asked him if he would travel to the ranch, welcome Cleland to Texas and accept the former senator's letter to Bush.

"I tried to accept that letter and he would not give it to me," said Patterson. "He would not face me. He kept rolling away from me. He's quite mobile."

Patterson, who spoke with the president on the phone, said the campaign asked him to give Cleland a letter for Kerry written by the Bush campaign and signed by Patterson and seven other veterans. Forget, for the moment, that off-the wall, quote-of-the-week ("He's quite mobile"). Focus on the Hermann Hesse connection: The inimitable Josh Marshall--a prince of bloggers, all praise to Him--notes in Talking Points Memo that "Patterson, the guy who got the 911 call from the president, has received $150,000 in campaign contributions from the funder of the Swift Boat ads." (Sourcing: The Dallas News).

This made Swami think of the immortal line from Hesse: "Nothing ever happens by chance. Here, only the right guests meet. This is the Hermetic Circle...."

Swami can't speak for others, but in the Commie Pinko Liberal Hippie gulag he inhabits, this sort of stuff rarely happens. Oh, while walking with Mrs. Uptown, he will occasionally run into an old girlfriend. But Swami never crosses the path of a long-lost college classmate who wants to pay back an old debt--with 40 years interest.

These Republicans, though, live in a magic universe. It can't be coincidence that people who must--for public consumption--pretend not to know one another all turn out (like the President's campaign lawyer and the Swift Boat Vets) to know one another. It's destiny, man! Destiny! I mean, it HAS to be destiny, because otherwise it's the kind of corruption we haven't seen since the Harding Administration (or, to be fair, the rule of Mayor Daley the First in Chicago).

Forget Seymour Hirsch and Jon Stewart. Read Hesse. It's all there. The dude knew.

The Beauty Part

Swami's pledge to himself and you--don't feed the trolls, look up--has triumphed over provocation for four days now. But there really ought to be meetings for this kind of problem. Like Alcoholics Anonymous: "I'm Swami Uptown, and I can't handle liars." Alas, there isn't. But there is poetry.

Swami is traveling this weekend--can you believe: exhibits of hogs at the Minnesota State Fair?--but he's toting one book everywhere: the poems of Rumi (1207-1273). He's written about this Sufi poet on HeadButler.com, and that little primer isn't the worst place to start.

To lure you in, contemplate this:

No matter how fast you run,
your shadow more than keeps up.
Sometimes, it's in front.

Only full, overhead sun
diminishes your shadow.

But that shadow has been serving you!
What hurts you, blesses you.
Darkness is your candle.
Your boundaries are your quest.

Thought for Today

If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.
--- Mark Twain


Casualties in Iraq: American casualties holding steady at 54 dead this month, 966 total

Domestic Violence

So John O'Neill --- co-author of "Unfit for Command" and Swift Boat patriot --- says John Kerry's lies include his account of crossing the Cambodia border around Christmas of 1968. How does he know? Because, he says, "I was on the same river. I was there two months after him." And because you couldn't cross the border by river: "There isn't any watery border... There were gunboats stationed right up there to stop people from coming..... So it was a made up story." But memory plays tricks, and after 35 years, you can hardly blame O'Neill for not recalling that he said exactly the opposite to President Richard Nixon --- in an audiotape retrieved from 1971 [scroll down to "Ooops"]:

O'NEILL: I was in Cambodia, sir. I worked along the border on the water.

NIXON: In a swift boat?

O'NEILL: Yes, sir.

Does the White House really hate the press? You make the call. The Washington Post [bottom item] reports:

The White House travel office signed a contract last week with an airline called Primaris to fly the press corps to Bush events. The two-month-old company has only one airplane. True, media representatives gave their blessing to the deal. But that was before they learned that the company's president twice had his pilot's license revoked related to his flying of an "unairworthy" aircraft, that the chief executive flopped in his last attempt to start an airline and that the 15-year-old plane itself was damaged in a hailstorm a decade ago and spent most of the past two years mothballed in France.

Lisa Whelchel, who played Blair on the TV series Facts of Life, and now advocates putting a dab of hot sauce on a child's tongue when he/she lies, shows disrespect, etc, defends this kind of discipline:

"I prefer my child receive a small amount of pain from my hand of love than to encounter a lot more pain in life. It's a logical consequence. If you cause somebody pain, either by the words you say by lying and not being a trustworthy person or by biting, this is a logical consequence. It's your mouth that's the offender."

One Toke Over the Line, Sweet Jesus

Before you bogart your next joint, consider a piece of legislation that could be coming your way: the Vital Interdiction of Criminal Terrorist Organizations Act of 2003, spawned in the office of Sen. Orrin Hatch.

As the legal blog Talk Left explains it:

In a nutshell, the bill reinvents drug offenses as terrorism crimes. The ho-hum label of "controlled substance offense" will get a glossy makeover as many routine drug crimes become elevated into crimes of "Narcoterrorism."

A Democratic aide for the House Judiciary Committee said the linking of drug-related crime and terrorism raises questions about the draft.

"This bill would treat drug possession as a 'terrorist offense' and drug dealers as 'narco-terrorist kingpins,' " the aide argued. "To say that terrorist groups use a small percentage of the drug trafficking in the United States to finance terrorism may be a fair point, but this bill would allow the government to prosecute most drug cases as terrorism cases."

Concluded the aide: "It really seems to be more about a political agenda to jail drug users than a serious attempt to stop terrorists."

American Civil Liberties Union staff attorney Jameel Jaffer added: "Absolutely nothing would prevent the attorney general from using these subpoenas to obtain the records of people who have no connection to terrorism, drug trafficking or crime of any sort."

And you thought the jails are overcrowded now? Pass this bill, and we can create millions of new "lifers." And the best part? They'll be young. White. Your kids. Maybe even you.

Suggestion box: Cut, paste, send to every kid you know who says it's pointless to register to vote.

A Beautiful Story (If Only It were True)

Swami received this e-mail recently. Maybe you did too....

A sobbing little girl stood near a small church from which she had been turned away because it 'was too crowded.' "I can't go to Sunday School," she sobbed to the pastor as he walked by. Seeing her shabby, unkempt appearance, the pastor guessed the reason and, taking her by the hand, took her inside and found a place for her in the Sunday School class. The child was so touched that she went to bed that night thinking of the children who have no place to worship Jesus.

Some two years later, this child lay dead in one of the poor tenement buildings and the parents called for the kindhearted pastor, who had befriended their daughter, to handle the final arrangements. As her poor little body was being moved, a worn and crumpled purse was found which seemed to have been rummaged from some trash dump. Inside was found 57 cents and a note scribble in childish handwriting which read, "This is to help build the little church bigger so more children can go to Sunday school."

For two years she had saved for this offering of love. When the pastor tearfully read that note, he knew instantly what he would do.

Carrying this note and the cracked, red pocketbook to the pulpit, he told the story of her unselfish love and devotion. He challenged his deacons to get busy and raise enough money for the larger building. But the story does not end there!

A newspaper learned of the story and published it. It was read by a Realtor who offered them a parcel of land worth many thousands. When told that the church could not pay so much, he offered it for a 57 cent payment.

Church members made large subscriptions. Checks came from far and wide. Within five years the little girl's gift had increased to $250,000 -- a huge sum for that time (near the turn of the century). Her unselfish love had paid large dividends.

When you are in the city of Philadelphia, look up Temple Baptist Church, with a seating capacity of 3,300, and Temple University, where hundreds of students are trained. Have a look, too, at the Good Samaritan Hospital and at a Sunday School building which houses hundreds of Sunday scholars, so that no child in the area will ever need to be left outside at Sunday school time.

In one of the rooms of this building may be seen the picture of the sweet face of the little girl whose 57 cents, so sacrificially saved, made such remarkable history. Alongside of it is a portrait of her kind pastor, Dr. Russell H. Conwell, author of the book, "Acres of Diamonds" - a true story.

Nice. And, says UrbanLegends.com, only minimally true. The girl did die. She had saved 57 cents. It did go to the church. But that wasn't the price of the land....

[Conwell] talked the matter over with the owner of the property, and told him of the beginning of the fund, the story of the little girl. The man was not one of our church, nor, in fact, was he a church-goer at all, but he listened attentively to the tale of the fifty-seven cents and simply said he was quite ready to go ahead and sell us that piece of land for ten thousand dollars, taking -- and the unexpectedness of this deeply touched me -- taking a first payment of just fifty-seven cents and letting the entire balance stand on a five-per-cent mortgage!

Which just goes to show: Always check e-mails out on a site like Urban Legends.com before you forward it to a hundred of your closest virtual friends.

The Beauty Part

We all have met at least one young woman like Maura O'Halloran. She's frighteningly bright (Maura, from Boston, won Ireland's highest academic award in 1973 and graduated from Trinity College, Dublin, in 1977 with a joint degree in economics and sociology). She's passionate about helping people (during college, Maura worked with Irish drug addicts and the poor). She doesn't care at all about "female" issues (Maura wore shabby clothes and doubted she'd ever marry). And then, just when everyone else is getting sane and making some accommodation with the Real World, she goes off on a great adventure.

For Maura O'Halloran, that adventure was Zen training in Japan . She went to the Toshoji Temple in Tokyo in 1979 for training under its distinguished teacher, Go Roshi. It's an impossible discipline: 20 hours of sitting at a time, begging in freezing weather, endless chores . She loved it. By 1982, she was enlightened. Maura was the last person on earth to brag about her accomplishments, but it's quite clear --- she reached a level of feeling and thinking that a great many of us would give a lot to have.

Maura's diaries and letters grew up to be an extraordinary book. If you're interested at all in the process of enlightenment, you'll want to go to the Head Butler review of "Pure Heart Enlightened Mind."

Thought for Today

Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, it's unlikely that you will step up and take responsibility for making it so. If you assume that there's no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct for freedom, there are opportunities to change things, there's a chance you may contribute to making a better world. The choice is yours.

--Noam Chomsky

Iraq: Important News, Worth Considering

Casualties in Iraq: 54 Americans dead this month, 966 total

Semper Fi (but not, perhaps, Semper Paratus): Under growing pressure to ship Marines to Iraq, the Marine Corps is cutting in half the rigorous field combat training it gives units preparing to deploy.

Jimmy Breslin has been counting the war dead since the beginning. (By his count, which includes Afghanistan, the United States has more than 1,000 casualties.) Periodically, he profiles our casualties. Here's just one from his most recent column in Newsday:

Pfc. Raymond J. Faulstich Jr., 89th Transportation Company, 6th Transportation Battalion, 7th Transportation Group, Fort Eustis, Va. Died Aug. 5 in Najaf when enemy using small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades attacked his convoy. Home, Leonardtown, Md.

"He had a problem with drugs and alcohol and went one place to the other," his mother, Linda, was saying last night. "Then he met a girl he loved. Her family said she couldn't see him unless he straightened out. He did. For her love. He joined the Army, and they married.

"When the two Army men came to the house to tell us, I was inside cleaning. I started to scream. 'Oh, my God! My son is dead!' He had his rosary beads in his pocket when he was killed. His wife, Crystal, had been out, and when she came over and saw the crowd in the yard she thought he was home on his two-week leave that he was supposed to be on. She's 19. She was going to go to college but she just can't do it now.

"My son was a beautiful young man. Everybody speaks about his smile. He had such a beautiful smile. My husband's smile. I say to my husband, 'Could you please smile so I can see my son's face?'" Swift Boat Vets: You Mean, You Can Get in Trouble for Lying?

Out in Oregon City, Oregon, veterans want the assistant district attorney who appeared in the SBV television ads to resign. Seems that in the ad--and an affidavit--Al French says he served with Kerry and that Kerry lied to get his Purple Heart medals. Now French says he didn't see what happened in those Swift Boat encounters.

Veteran Don Stewart says he believes it was outrageous that French would try to smear Kerry's military record.

"Mr. French signed an affidavit defaming John Kerry's military service and then he admitted that he had no first-hand knowledge of what he swore to," Stewart said on Monday. "Someone who the community trusts to carry out the law cannot be lying in sworn, legal affidavits."

The Oregon State Bar says they have received enough complaints to look into the matter, with the main question being whether French violated ethics. Najaf: The Shrine of Imam Ali

It's always good to see what you're fighting over. (And if you have a cable TV provider who offers EuroNews, you have a much better chance of looking at Iraq war footage than you do on any American network.) Here, for your inspection, is the Shrine of Imam Ali--built in 977 in Najaf, a city regarded by Shiite Muslims as the faith's third holiest in the world (after Mecca and Medina)--that our troops and Iraqi forces have surrounded. For an even more amazing look at the interior, click here.

Bush to the Olympics: Not Going for the Gold

President Bush is so enthused about the Iraqi soccer team--"Fantastic, isn't it? It wouldn't have been free if the United States had not acted"--that he may go to the Olympics for the soccer finals. Clearly, he's not reading Sports Illustrated. There, Iraqi soccer stars mouth off:

Salih Sadir: "Iraq as a team does not want Mr. Bush to use us for the presidential campaign. He can find another way to advertise himself."

Ahmed Manajid: "How will he meet his god having slaughtered so many men and women? He has committed so many crimes." ...In fact, Manajid says, if he were not playing soccer he would "for sure" be fighting as part of the resistance. "I want to defend my home. If a stranger invades America and the people resist, does that mean they are terrorists?"

Iraqi soccer coach Adnan Hamad: "My problems are not with the American people. They are with what America has done in Iraq: destroy everything. The American army has killed so many people in Iraq. What is freedom when I go to the [national] stadium and there are shootings on the road?" The Washington Post reports that a recent Bush commercial showcasing Iraq--"At this Olympics there will be two more free nations and two fewer terrorist regimes"--seems to be a big part of the problem:

Coach Hamad: "You cannot speak about a team that represents freedom. We do not have freedom in Iraq, we have an occupying force...Freedom is just a word for the media. We are living in hard times, under occupation. To be honest with you, even our happiness at winning is not happiness because we are worried about the problems in Iraq, all the daily problems that our people face back home."
The AOL/Cable News "Equal Time" Problem, Revisited

You may recall that Swami was upset by an AOL News screen that offered members a chance to view the Swift Boat Vets commercial and the Kerry response--as if they merited equal time. Jon Stewart [scroll down], of the fake news "Daily Show," skewered that phony objectivity (or, to put a nice face on it, just-in-from-the-farm-naivete) last night, when he interviewed one of his fake correspondents, Rob Corddry:

STEWART: Here's what puzzles me most, Rob. John Kerry's record in Vietnam is pretty much right there in the official records of the US military, and haven't been disputed for 35 years.

CORDDRY: That's right, Jon, and that's certainly the spin you'll be hearing coming from the Kerry campaign over the next few days.

STEWART: Th-that's not a spin thing, that's a fact. That's established.

CORDDRY: Exactly, Jon, and that established, incontravertible fact is one side of the story.

STEWART: But that should be--isn't that the end of the story? I mean, you've seen the records, haven't you? What's your opinion?

CORDDRY: I'm sorry, my *opinion*? No, I don't have 'o-pin-i-ons'. I'm a reporter, Jon, and my job is to spend half the time repeating what one side says, and half the time repeating the other. Little thing called 'objectivity'--might wanna look it up some day.

STEWART: Doesn't objectivity mean objectively weighing the evidence, and calling out what's credible and what isn't?

CORDDRY: Whoa-ho! Well, well, well--sounds like someone wants the media to act as a filter! [high-pitched, effeminate] 'Ooh, this allegation is spurious! Upon investigation this claim lacks any basis in reality! Mmm, mmm, mmm.' Listen buddy: not my job to stand between the people talking to me and the people listening to me.

STEWART: So, basically, you're saying that this back-and-forth is never going to end.

CORDDRY: No, Jon--in fact a new group has emerged, this one composed of former Bush colleagues, challenging the president's activities during the Vietnam era. That group: Drunken Stateside Sons of Privilege for Plausible Deniability. They've apparently got some things to say about a certain Halloween party in '71 that involved trashcan punch and a sodomized piñata. Jon--they just want to set the record straight. That's all they're out for.

The Beauty Part

Swami zoomed into the city last night to see some people about a nifty project he'd love to write (and, therefore, probably won't get). His spirits, having bottomed out over the past few days, rose considerably when he saw a big ad for "The Daily Show" at the entrance to the Midtown Tunnel: "Welcome to New York. What's that smell? It's called 'Freedom.'"

Swami awoke determined to stay on the path described here yesterday (avoid mud-wrestling with Wingnuts, focus on the Good and Noble, love friends and allies). Returned to much mail. Decided to share some (with permission). Realized that, more often than not, you are The Beauty Part. In this, Swami is blessed.

From a California reader:

The other day I followed the same car for miles on the freeway. I shouldn't have noticed this vehicle at all. But after several miles it became apparent that in the very midst of lurching lane changes, angry horns and shuddering metal, this car alone remained true to its course. It did not move except forward, dead even between the lines, mile after mile at a constant rate. I wondered about the driver's nature. I accelerated, hoping to glean the wisdom on this roadway seer's bumper sticker. At last I closed the gap and saw the driver--a woman in her late 50s, rigid and upright in her seat, eyes locked forward, hair disheveled--and her bumper sticker: I DO NOT BELIEVE THE LIBERAL MEDIA.

From a Regular Reader:

I too have moments where I wonder if compassion isn't just another sucker bet in a long line of losing propositions. E. L. Doctorow says that writing a novel is like driving a car on a dark country road. You can only see as far as the headlights, but you can make the whole journey that way. As we write the story of our lives, is it not the same?

And from Seamus Ennis:

I feel the despair in your recent posts. Been there, got the cub scout badges, so I had to share what I see.

Ya know, we coulda seen it coming, but I never believed that it would take this level of poison politics and rotting religion to see it.

These are the death throes of 2nd millennium thinking, the 20th century becoming a destructive culmination of the last 1679 years (since Constantine and the Council of Nicea made Christianity into a political force.)

Coulda seen it coming.... Politics creating fear. Fear becoming terror. Terror becoming politics. And 'round and `round and 'round we go, where we stop, nobody knows.

But the pressure behind this death throes politics, the religions of exclusion, the ugliness of being inhuman, is bubbling up like a boil. The skin is stretched tight, the painful poison under the skin causing us to shift to try to get comfortable again, but it's not happening.

We chafe at our own internal pressures, our immune response to our self-inflicted poison is causing a fundamental shift in our humanity; the DNA of consciousness is transforming because of it. And yes, even this discomfort, this grand human pain is necessary for our evolution.

What to do? Be aware. Begin to see the Essence of Humanity as designed: for peace, for wholeness and holiness, for each other and for God (however we describe It). Calling forth that Essence in every interaction, calling forth the beauty of one single smile, calling forth the greatness and God-ness in every heart.

This is what we're here for, why we're here now. This is what's been lying dormant and trying to rise up in us for centuries. The boil may pop, but under that, healing. Under that is wholeness. Under that is everything we were ever meant to be.

Thought for Today

For the millions in a prison,
That wealth has set apart ---
For the Christ who has not risen,
From the caverns of the heart ---

For the innermost decision,
That we cannot but obey ---
For what's left of our religion,
I lift my voice and pray:
May the lights in The Land of Plenty
Shine on the truth some day.
-- Leonard Cohen, from Ten New Songs

Every Picture Tells a Story

And, sometimes, it's the same story.

1) Here's George Bush at Yale.

2) And here, 35 years later, is a flyer that was passed out last week at a Bush-Cheney campaign office in Gainesville, Fla. (You know, don't you, that the White House has no connection to the Swift Boat Vets?)

Beats a thousand words? Oops, here come those thousand...

From a Hero to a Zero

This is crazy, right? Guy A signs up for a war and, according to his records, serves with honor, courage and distinction. Guy B decides "I was not prepared to shoot my eardrum out with a shotgun in order to get a deferment" and leapfrogs his way into a reserve unit so lax no one can account for his whereabouts for much of his "service."

College classroom exercise. Put Guy A and Guy B side-by-side on a level playing field. Consider one question: Using traditional standards of patriotism (to serve is noble, to slack is not), who is the Better American? Inevitable Result: One guy is covered in glory --- the guy who served.

But thanks to the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth," it hasn't played out like that, has it? Oh, every pundit who values Intelligence insists that, when the dust settles, Bush will be revealed as the "Coward-in-Chief" who, in the long tradition of his family, allows surrogates like the Swift Boat Lunkheads to do his dirty work for him. And although those pundits wish Kerry had fought back harder and earlier, they still have faith in the Intelligence of the American People.

Swami's not so sure.

Oh, he was plenty sure when we left off on Friday afternoon --- scroll down to "'The Swift Boats Vets for Truth' and Our President" and you'll see Swami concluding "The Vets' ship is sinking" --- but the weekend changed all that.

For one thing, Swami stepped back and looked at the general craziness out there --- and the unwillingness of those who are exposed to it to speak out against it. Look at the conservative female writers who, like Mafia initiates, "make their bones" by reviving causes that even their colleagues must consider long-lost: Ann Coulter's stirring defense of demagogue Joseph McCarthy, Michelle Malkin's love song to World War II internment camps, and even, just last week, Beliefnet's own Loose Canon finding nobility in The Crusades --- estimated casualties: nine million. (And did the Beliefnet message boards go wild? Not at all.)

And then Swami considered the astonishing dose of lies and illogic you have to swallow to take this stuff seriously.

For example: These Swift Boat Vets are liars. It's not even debatable. Either they lied when they praised Kerry all those years ago or they're lying now when they attack him --- but that disconnect hasn't made a dent on all those who want to believe they're truth-tellers.

For example: If the Swift Boat Vets are correct, then all medals awarded to vets are suspect. Because Kerry can't have been the only soldier who was honored for stuff he didn't do. "The Greatest Generation" --- hey, maybe Dad and Uncle Jim weren't so great.

For example: The financing of the SBV campaign turns out to be....but if you've been Paying Attention and are still capable of Critical Thought, you get the drift.

The point: Swami shouldn't have been surprised that attacks on John Kerry's heroism will, as pundits are now saying, soon be followed by attacks on Kerry's patriotism.

Swami shouldn't have been surprised that the Republicans will claim the demonstrations at their Convention are "Democrat-inspired."

Swami shouldn't have been surprised that some suddenly-redefined concept of "fairness" means otherwise smart media professionals are now giving equal time and space to the SBV boys.

But Swami WAS surprised. And that's the story of...

How AOL News, Struggling to be "Objective," Innocently Pimps for Liars

Background: Swami spent five years as Editorial Director of AOL. He was, as you may expect, a controversial figure, beloved by some (the worker bees, mostly), reviled by others (management, mostly). To the distress of Mrs. Uptown and his closest friends, Swami has trouble cutting the cord (though AOL had no qualms about cutting Swami loose) --- despite massive evidence to the contrary, he still believes AOL wants to do better, it just doesn't know how. So Swami lobs the occasional e-mail over the transom.

That is what happened on Friday night, when Swami logged on, saw the Swift Boat controversy on the Welcome Screen, and clicked to see what AOL News had wrought. In fact, there was an impressive package. But it was sullied by a link to the almost-universally-discredited SBV TV commercial alongside a link to the Kerry response commercial --- as if they had even the remotest possibility of an equal claim to "truth." And then there was a poll which asked, "Who do you believe in the debate over John Kerry's Vietnam record?"

The ideal AOL member would have read the articles, perused the commercials, then taken the poll. Had that happened, you'd expect a vote that was lopsided --- in favor of Kerry. In fact, of 307,000 votes, 53% believed the Swift Boaters, 39% believed Kerry. (The poll's second question asked who had "more to gain" in a debate about Vietnam. An astonishing 55% said....George Bush.)

To his e-mail went Swami, writing everyone from the CEO to the News Director. Heated but civil discourse followed. Swami's conclusion: From now until election day, AOL is going to take every smear that gets any traction, treat it as legitimate discourse and ask its members who it believes --- a kind of "objective" and Solomonic approach that, at the same time, provides free ad space for the lowest element in the campaign.

Because AOL will conduct this oh-so-innocent pimping without much, if any, media scrutiny, what should Swami do The Next Time?

A poster on a message board suggested that news organizations accompany all unproven accusations, from either side, with the following:

"This is either a bunch of falsehoods propagated by the opponent or may have some truth to it. As a responsible news organization in a tight and important election, we will not repeat or report on this until we have investigated it on our own. In the meantime, it is our editorial policy, determined because of past incidences of unproven politically motivated allegations, to regard these claims as false. In other words, innocent til proven guilty. This is the American way, and this is our way of serving the best interests of the United States of America and its citizens, especially in a time of war."

Swami commends that approach to AOL. And encourages AOL members among you to post that on AOL News Message boards. But the issue is larger: Indeed, it's...

What Can We Do That Is Useful?

It's tiresome calling liars liars and enablers enablers. If it generated change, Swami would accept the weary-making chore as worthwhile in the end. But Friday night's mail did nothing but drive AOLers deeper into their wrong-headed certitude.

This has led Swami to conclude that debating the Wingnuts who seem to have taken over the Republican Party is a bad idea. For several reasons:

l) It distracts from Real Issues: Iraq, the economy, the environment, our spiritual growth.

2) It reduces Us to Their level. (They like to say "we" are as dirty or dirtier than they are, but Swami can't think of a single political ally of his who believes, as these guys seem to, in "victory at any cost.")

3) If Kerry wins, we'll have done nothing to bridge the divide that They created.

4) If Kerry loses, we'll have done none of the spiritual/personal muscle-building we're going to need to survive a Bush second term.

In days to come, Swami will start to explain this point of view. Thanks in advance to those of you who have pushed his thinking in this direction.

Commercial for Important Topic #1: Iraq

Casualties in Iraq: 52 Americans dead this month, 963 total

Commercial for Important Topic #2: Tony Blair

How close to George Bush is Tony Blair?

So close he has no intention of coming to America before the election to help his good pal out!

The London Sunday Mirror reports:

Tony Blair has snubbed George Bush's pleas to fly to the US and pick up his "war medal" ahead of the Presidential elections.

The U.S. President knows the PM, who is massively popular in the States, would provide his flagging re-election campaign with a much-needed boost.

And he is putting huge pressure on Mr. Blair to pick up the Congressional Medal of Honor, awarded by America for his unswerving support in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But Mr. Blair's closest aides have warned him to resist the plan, insisting that a meeting with President Bush would torpedo Democrat rival John Kerry's bid for the White House.

The Beauty Part

Apologies for what looks like advertising for myself. But Swami thinks you should know about Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, featured today on Head Butler.

Thought for Today

I'm back on the corner again
Where I've always been
Never been away
From the healing game
here the choirboys sing

Where I've always been
Sing the song with soul
Baby don't you know
We can let it roll
On the saxophone
Back street Jelly Roll
In the healing game

Where the homeboys sing
Sing their songs of praise
'Bout their golden days
In the healing game
Sing it out loud
Sing it in your name
Sing it like you're proud
Sing the healing game
--Van Morrison, "The Healing Game"

"The Swift Boats Vets for Truth" and Our President

When last we left off, Swami was telling you that this slander against Kerry wasn't the work of some freelance wingnuts, it was--and is--an essential part of the President's campaign. And Loose Canon, for her part, was either innocently asking an excellent 19th century question--"Wouldn't it be easier on the coronary arteries just to read the book and make up your mind?"--or, less innocently, shilling for Regnery, the publisher of this dreadful tome, in the hope that she'll be rewarded with her very own book contract.

Well, now we know that Swami was--in this instance--a pretty accurate early warning system. You can read the whole story in a New York Times piece called Friendly Fire: The Birth of an Anti-Kerry Ad. Summary:

A series of interviews and a review of documents show a web of connections to the Bush family, high-profile Texas political figures and President Bush's chief political aide, Karl Rove.

Records show that the group received the bulk of its initial financing from two men with ties to the president and his family--one a longtime political associate of Mr. Rove's, the other a trustee of the foundation for Mr. Bush's father's presidential library. A Texas publicist who once helped prepare Mr. Bush's father for his debate when he was running for vice president provided them with strategic advice. And the group's television commercial was produced by the same team that made the devastating ad mocking Michael S. Dukakis in an oversized tank helmet when he and Mr. Bush's father faced off in the 1988 presidential election. As for the methods of this patriotic group, the Times reports:

Patrick Runyon, who served on a mission with Mr. Kerry, said he initially thought the caller was from a pro-Kerry group, and happily gave a statement about the night Mr. Kerry won his first Purple Heart. The investigator said he would send it to him by e-mail for his signature. Mr. Runyon said the edited version was stripped of all references to enemy combat, making it look like just another night in the Mekong Delta.

"It made it sound like I didn't believe we got any returned fire," he said. "He made it sound like it was a normal operation. It was the scariest night of my life." Think the Times is a Commie rag? Try the Austin [Texas] American-Statesman [registration required]:

The [Swift Boat] group was organized last spring with the assistance of Merrie Spaeth, a Republican public relations executive from Houston, who also was a public relations consultant to independent counsel Kenneth Starr during his investigation of former Democratic President Bill Clinton. Her late husband, Tex Lezar, ran for lieutenant governor of Texas on George W. Bush's GOP ticket in 1994.
But here comes the fun part--now that the game's up, nobody's home. Here's The Washington Post's Michael Dobbs on one of the leading Vets:

The Bronze Star recommendations for both Kerry and Thurlow were signed by Lt. Cmdr. George M. Elliott, who received reports on the incident from his base in the Gulf of Thailand. Elliott is a supporter of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and has questioned Kerry's actions in Vietnam. But he has refused repeated requests for an interview after issuing conflicting statements to the Boston Globe about whether Kerry deserved a Silver Star. He was unreachable last night.
The President? Not touching this one. Here's his double-talking spokesman, Scott McClellan, at yesterday's daily joust with the press:

QUESTION: This advertisement raises questions about his service, and in fact concludes that he served dishonorably. So the President thinks this ad is false, right?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the issue here is these unregulated soft money groups that exist. The campaign finance reforms were passed in order to get rid of this kind of activity. Yet there is a loophole in the law, and the FEC has refused to address it. We think that all of this activity should be stopped. Helpful, huh? Tough-talking, straight-shooting, you-know-where-I-stand George Bush-surrogate really stood up to that question. But the laws of nature--and the Web--hate equivocation secrecy. There is, in fact, a "gotcha" moment: a Bush rally last week in Oregon. From The White House transcript:

QUESTION: On behalf of Vietnam veterans--and I served six tours over there--we do support the President. I only have one concern, and that's on the Purple Heart, and that is, is that there are over 200,000 Vietnam vets that died from Agent Orange and were never--no Purple Heart has ever been awarded to a Vietnam veteran because of Agent Orange because it's never been changed in the regulations. Yet, we've got a candidate for President out here with two self-inflicted scratches, and I take that as an insult. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I appreciate that. Thank you. Thank you for your service. Six tours? Whew. That's a lot of tours. Two self-inflicted scratches, Mr. President? Clearly, the only "journalist" you've been reading--or getting briefed on--is the Coulteresque Michelle Malkin, who actually seems to believe John Kerry blew up a grenade to injure himself! Here she is on "Hardball," with Chris Matthews:

MALKIN: Some of the soldiers have made allegations that these were self-inflicted wounds.

MATTHEWS: No one has ever accused him of shooting himself on purpose.

MALKIN: That these were self-inflicted wounds.

MATTHEWS: You're saying there are--he shot himself on purpose, that's a criminal act!

MALKIN: I'm saying that I've read the book and some of the...

MATTHEWS: I want an answer yes or no, Michelle.

MALKIN: Some of the veterans say...

MATTHEWS: No. No one has ever accused him of shooting himself on purpose. Let's hear it for Chris Matthews, who has, in the last week or so, started to ask Republicans some tough questions. And let's go slackjawed again over Fox, which never lets a fact get in the way of its faith. From Rude Pundit [as ever, hold your hands over your kids' eyes]:

This morning [Friday], Fox "News" spent an hour on the Swift Boat Vets' ad, interviewing their leader, John O'Neill, about Kerry's criticism and the Times article, and asking him such fair and balanced questions as, "What's the truth?" Because, you know, the way to get at the truth is simple: you just ask the person being accused of lying what the truth is. During the "interview," the ad itself played repeatedly on the screen...
A smart political friend has penned some lines he think John Kerry ouught to ask every single day until the President HAS to respond:

Mr. Bush, if you refuse to stand up and condemn attacks on my character that you know to be lies, how can you be trusted to tell the American people the truth about issues like weapons of mass destruction? As President, you are paid by the tax dollars of hardworking men and women--you owe it to your employers to denounce these false and ugly charges. Refusing to condemn a lie is not the same as telling the truth.
Great idea. Hope Kerry does it. Won't hold breath waiting for Straight Shooter's response.

But no matter, really: The Vets' ship is sinking. The question is: Who's willing to go down with it? The President? Cheney? Loose Canon? You?

Swami's going to leave it here for now. Next week, we'll return to the query that has bugged Swami for too long: These Republicans wrap themselves in the flag and many consider themselves Christians. But how do they square their lies and evasions with the teachings of Jesus?

Thanks to those who have already offered explanations to Swami. Love to hear from more of you. In fact, let's go to the mailbag for Inspiration....

Reader Mail: How Christian are Bush Republicans?

As you may recall, Swami recently wrote:

Swami is confused. Do white, privileged Republicans take some sort of secret vow that rewards them with some great gift in exchange for unthinking loyalty? Do they have compassion that extends beyond their children and their pets? Do they even think much about Jesus, for that matter, and wonder What He'd Do?
A reader responds:

They believe they have taken exactly such a vow. Surely you've seen the "Christian" prosperity movement (or whatever it's called), which totally ignores exactly what Jesus DID do!
Another takes--very movingly--the opposite view:

Our compassion is very present from being loyal supporters of St Labre Indian School; to fair value purchasing of coffee from Ecuador; to taking the teenage daughters to work at homeless shelters; to helping my neighbors and an old lady I don't even know that had a tree fall in her yard during the recent hurricane. Or having a teenage daughter who does 200+ community service hours per year. Hell, even my long distance phone service is with a charity-oriented organization that Ben & Jerry support. BUT no one knows about it. My religion, my "charity," my caring about and for others is not a badge to be worn--in reality, it is not even a sacrifice.

As for the last sentence of your statement: I don't have to think about Jesus, for He is an active part of my life and walks with me. I simply try to keep in step with Him and follow where He leads. And you?

Iraq: Did You Think It Ended?

We completed the "handover," and now, with minor exceptions, Iraq's out of the news.

So it falls to the blogosphere to remind you that the killing continues. Swami can find no credible accounts of the Iraqi dead--but US casualties in Iraq are closely counted: 43 so far this month.

You can say: They volunteered. Or: They died for freedom. Or.....well, those who support this war can fill in whatever reason they need. But there's one way to look at the war we can all understand: money. Ready for this?

At least $8.8 billion in Iraqi funds that was given to Iraqi ministries by the former U.S.-led authority there cannot be accounted for...

Among the draft audit's findings were that payrolls in Iraqi ministries under Coalition Provisional Authority control were padded with thousands of ghost employees.

In one example, the audit said the CPA paid for 74,000 guards even though the actual number could not be validated. In another, 8,206 guards were listed on a payroll but only 603 people doing the work could be counted. "At least $8.8 billion"--that's almost enough money to notice. You may ask: How did this money go missing? Well, many of the American staffers on the CPA were young kids who had applied for jobs at conservative think tanks--but who found themselves being offered jobs of considerable importance in Iraq. Were they competent? Didn't matter. They believed in the conservative cause.

That belief can sure run up a tab, can't it?

The Beauty Part

Swami's still high from that Emmylou Harris concert in Central Park on Wednesday night. And, yesterday, lunch with his blindingly terrific, off-to-college stepson. And an IM exchange with his blindingly nice stepdaughter that utterly illuminated her gift for friendship. And a brisk drive back to the beach last night, with the radio playing songs like "Visions of Johanna" as Baby Uptown slept in her car seat and Mrs. Uptown, an Empath, just... let...go.

In this peace, however brief, Swami looked into the future and saw some Things We Can Do. He'll be sharing them here in days to come--testing them, really--and, with your help, refining them into Ideas That Work. For now, Swami is smiling at the imminent arrival of some of the Uptowns' smartest friends, and his fifth visit to the beach in three months, and a meal under the stars.

That Van Morrison song up top captures Swami's mood today: cranked, defiant, hopeful. Resolution: build on that this weekend. If you're looking for culture that supports Good Feeling, may Swami offer two recommendations from his alter-ego, Head Butler--the videos/DVDs of Local Hero and The Castle. Both very funny. Both family-friendly.

Thought for Today

No man is a hypocrite in his pleasures.

--Samuuel Johnson

Could the Swift Boat Vets' Publisher Be Slightly...Racist?

The Southern Poverty Law Center has done some homework on William Regnery II, an heir to the Regnery publishing fortune. Guess what Bill is up to next? A dating service for "heterosexual whites of Christian cultural heritage." The SPLC reports:

In an appeal to potential investors titled "Population is Destiny," the famously reclusive Regnery wrote this March that the Caucasian dating service would be no ordinary money-making opportunity, but a chance to ensure "the survival of our race," which "depends upon our people marrying, reproducing and parenting."

Regnery, who says he's long been concerned with a "tendency to bachelorhood" among white men, told the potential investors that his latest effort to save the white race would not stop with match-making.

The dating service, he says, will be only the "first arrow in a business quiver" providing "services and products to whites."

Promoting white nationalism is nothing new for Regnery--or his family. His grandfather, William I, signed incorporation papers for the America First Committee, an organization that opposed fighting Nazi Germany in World War II. His father, Henry, created Regnery Publishing.
Happy thought: Maybe this dating service can find someone to love Ann Coulter.

What's So Funny 'Bout Love, Peace and Understanding? (Swami's Dilemma, Discussed)

The story thus far: A friend told Swami that his concerns--in this case, Republicans violating church/state laws--were tiresome. Swami went into a funk. He wondered if he and his freaky friends are the only people who care about this Time of Testing.

Yesterday, one reader weighed in. Today, another reaches out to Swami ("Sounds like Swami needs a hug. C'mere, ya big lug...") and opines:

Of course, you're down in the dumps. Most of the people in America are right there with you. Oh, they're not counted in the polls, be sure of that. You won't see them on television or read about them in the papers, outside the occasional "Opinion" pages. They're the ones who have no voice--and there are many of them still.

But, Swami, what you're doing in your blog is what I would call God's work, doing something on the side of the angels. How do I know this? It's clear as day. You don't scream hatred. You rationally encourage hope. You are concerned about the disenfranchised and the forgotten. And I am speaking of both people and our very planet. What you are doing is prophesying, and that is very dangerous.

I have lived through the Cold War, Vietnam, and the Reagan administration when not caring for anything but one's self began to be acceptable. I learned to duck under my grade-school desk in case of a nuclear attack, because my government told me I would be safe this way. Later I wept over the waste of Kent State. I cannot speak words of the Vietnam Wall. Today I live in a gloriously historical city full of illiteracy, unemployment, homelessness, and overarching political and corporate hypocrisy.

I wake up nearly every morning around three with cold sweats from forgotten nightmares, dreading the new day before me. Then eventually I make it to the Internet and pull up the different news sites I visit daily in order to print out my personal newspaper to take with me to work. I've noticed lately that I'm beginning to hesitate to pull up Salon or Buzzflash or Common Dreams or Alternet. I think to myself, I don't want to deal with this today. It will only rile me, make me angry. But then, of course, I do it. Because I have to be riled. I have to remain angry. As long as there are powerful Godless (yes, Godless) people doing devastating harm, I cannot let it be.

Look, doing God's work is a thankless job. The pay is lousy, and there's no retirement. You don't make many friends. You wear yourself out fighting for a cause that's almost certain to be a losing one. And somebody's going to end up nailing you to a tree before you're done.

But, hell, you won't be the first. You won't even be the last. There's a long lineage behind you, sir, and new sprouts springing up all over creation to pick up your staff when you're gone. So wallow in your frustration for a little while (I'm a great believer in occasional self-pity--it allows us to rest now and then). But don't despair. Maybe your friend [of your August 17th entry] was just tired himself and needed a breather, too.

Keep the faith. First, of course, one must find--or, in this case, regain--the faith. Which Swami did last night....

The Angel Band

The Gold Standard for Swami and Mrs. Uptown is Emmylou Harris. The Uptowns have been living a hundred miles from our home in New York this summer, the better for Baby Uptown to breathe clean sea air and build her first sand castles. But once we learned that Emmylou was playing in an open-air theater in Central Park--and that Patty Griffin, Buddy Miller, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings were playing with her--we beat the sand out of our shoes and rushed in to the city.

What's the big deal about Emmylou?

First, the talent. If you're wavering on the question of a divine presence in American roots music, listen to Emmylou. Never in country music--or, for that matter, pop--have we heard a voice this pure. But a single flavor of anything gets old fast; what keeps Swami on the edge of his seat is the way her voice shifts, with no transition, to a hoarse, brokenhearted whisper. Suddenly we are in the realm of the tragic. No small art in that.

And then there's her integrity. In thirty years, she's never reached for the cheap hit, never posed for the suggestive picture, never betrayed her allegiance to the unfashionable music she loves. When her fame came, she was grace incarnate, using her name to sell tickets for concerts that raise money to ban landmines. And in live performance, she's still low-key, no-nonsense--she's the messenger, not the message.

So it was last night. Although she was the biggest star in this Angel Band, she came on first, backed by Buddy Miller on guitar. She sang "To Know Him Is To Love Him"--and did you know Phil Spector took the title of that song from his father's grave?--and "Red Dirt Girl." She sang "O, Sister," a Dylan song from 1976," and "My Antonia" and more. Swami blinked away tears of joy and noticed that an hour had passed. It was dark. And silent. As the crowd sat on their blankets, they might as well have been in church.

Buddy Miller came next. For those who are not familiar with him--and it's easy not to be; he wears a baseball cap pulled down low and has never made a fuss about himself--he is, very simply, the best guitarist in Nashville (and, maybe, parts West and North). His voice could be the best Swami knows. It's certainly the most versatile. Otis Redding, Bob Dylan, Levon Helm, John Fogerrty--they all flow through him.

Buddy played swamp rock guitar licks. He sang gospel and high lonesome heartbreak. He tore off a guitar solo that would have worked for Led Zeppelin. And closed with Willie Dixon's "You Can't Judge a Book (By Looking At Its Cover)."

Gillian Welch and David Rawlings are Authentic. To hear them is to go back to radio broadcasts from the 1930s and skinny women in knee-length dresses and men in cowboy suits and straw hats who start sentences with "ma'am." Does anyone play a better mandolin than David Rawlings? Is anyone's voice more translucent than Gillian Welch's?

Patty Griffin is all heart. Put a great band behind her, and she--dare Swami say it?--rocks. Proof that "alternative country," or whatever this music is called, can make you feel and tap you toe at the same time.

All evening long, Swami had been thinking about The Band, and the eternal power of that music: astonishing writing, brilliant musicianship and long hours of practice until every note, every word, was inevitable and right and (a word Swami rarely uses) perfect. The Band was about the Civil War and the Frontier and the days of the Traveling Carnival. And The Band was, equally, how that history and those myths play out in our lives.

Two hours after they began, Emmylou and Buddy and Gillian and Patty and David stood onstage together and sang "The Weight." Swami and Mrs U crumbled. To hear voices raised, in harmony, in praise of all that is good and decent--"Put the load right on me!"--hey, it doesn't happen often, does it? But when it does, wow, it feels great. Washed in the blood of the lamb, lifted up, annointed--fill in your own description. "Blessed" will do for Swami.

The tour is halfway through its 14-city journey across America. If you must travel hundreds of miles to see it, you'll still thank Swami for the prod.

August 20, 2004 - Boston, MA (Harborlights)
August 21, 2004 - Gilford, NH (Meadowbrook)
August 22, 2004 - Burlington, VT (Green at Shelbourne Museum)
August 24, 2004 - Philadelphia, PA (Mann Center)
August 25, 2004 - Cleveland, OH (Tower City Amphitheater)
August 26, 2004 - Rochester, MI (Meadowbrook Music Festival)
August 28, 2004 - Denver, CO (Fillmore Auditorium)
August 29, 2004 - Salt Lake City, UT (Red Butte Gardens)

Thought for Today

Did you hear 'em talkin' 'bout it on the radio
Did you try to read the writing on the wall
Did that voice inside you say I've heard it all before
It's like Deja Vu all over again

Day by day I hear the voices rising
Started with a whisper like it did before
Day by day we count the dead and dying
Ship the bodies home while the networks all keep score

Did you hear 'em talkin' 'bout it on the radio
Could your eyes believe the writing on the wall
Did that voice inside you say I've heard it all before
It's like Deja Vu all over again

One by one I see the old ghosts rising
Stumblin' 'cross Big Muddy
Where the light gets dim
Day after day another Momma's crying
She's lost her precious child
To a war that has no end

Did you hear 'em talkin' 'bout it on the radio
Did you stop to read the writing at The Wall
Did that voice inside you say
I've seen this all before
It's like Deja Vu all over again
It's like Deja Vu all over again
--John Fogerty, "Deja Vu All Over Again," from his new CD, "Premonition" (out August 30)

From the Mail Bag: Swami's Dilemma

Swami ranted yesterday about a friend who was "weary" of hearing Swami bang on about issues of no great concern--like Republicans inviting churches to break the law. In his rant, Swami printed an account of Florida police subjecting black voters to "vehicle inspections" on Election Day in 2000--and then sending them home without voting. That made Swami's blood boil. But Swami feared others just don't react so strongly. Or at all. Swami wondered what it was that makes him care so much and others not at all.

A friend wrote back:

Yeah, my blood boils, too. I can literally feel my blood pressure rise knowing that people were--and are going to be--prevented from voting.

But what feels worse is to get gaslighted over it--getting a "What's the big deal?" kind of response or an outright "It isn't true."

I was having a chat with a brilliant young man. Topic: the fact that humankind right now has the solution to every major problem. But why aren't these solutions implemented? He maintains that too many people just don't mean well. That they do not have the greater good in mind when they are in positions of power. And I had to concede that this is true.

I think two things are fueling Republicans who ought to know better:

1) They are in power and it feels good, corruptingly good. And Bush isn't really a bad guy, right? And they can ignore what's going on because at least he's a Republican, right, so how bad can he be?

2) The ones who hated Clinton and everything he stood for--and I think it's a lot of people--will do anything not to have an administration that is anything like his. As a result, they are not really looking at the cost of what is happening and what has been and will continue to be put into motion.

It's hard to keep at all the nasty balls in the air--they're so heavy and ugly. But the price of not doing so is that they'll come slamming down on our heads.

Your thoughts?

How Cool Is This? Discipline Your Kid With Hot Sauce

A new use for hot sauce: to discipline your pooty-mouthed kid. Says who? According to the Washington Post, a popular book, a magazine for Christian women, and Internet sites:

The hot pepper technique's current popularity is due in part to Lisa Whelchel, a former Mickey Mouse Club Mouseketeer and actress who played the character Blair on the television series "The Facts of Life" in the 1980s.

In her book, "Creative Correction," now in its fifth printing, the mother of three provides parents with a variety of tips. For example, she suggests hiding something a child has failed to put away, to teach the lesson that things left out may disappear. She suggests telling a child who refuses to hold your hand while crossing a street, "I can either hold your hand or hold your hair."

In addition, Whelchel offers the following: "For lying or other offenses of the tongue, I 'spank' my kids' tongues. I put a tiny drop of hot sauce on the end of my finger and dab it onto my child's tongue. It stings for a while, but it abates. (It's the memory that lingers!)" All praise to the first Christian minister who writes Swami to condemn this insanity.

If You're Smart, You Won't Let Bush Praise Your Cause

Here's President Bush, in a speech last Wednesday, praising an American Indian housing program:

Doesn't it make sense to have public policy aimed at helping people own their own home? I can't think of a better use of resources."
Wrong! He could:

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development plans to cut the budget of an American Indian housing program praised by President Bush during a campaign stop.

The chairman of the National American Indian Housing Council, an Indian housing advocacy group, said that the cuts would stall the program just as it was gaining momentum. And this isn't the first time Bush has posed and grinned, then cut budgets. Right, Boys and Girls Clubs?

How Much Do They Hate Us Abroad? (Chapter: Whatever)

There are endless stories about the Bush Administration's desire for anyone but Hugo Chavez to be President of oil-rich Venezuela. Sample: Two years ago, a coup forced Chavez from office. The US quickly backed the new government.

How did Chavez defeat a recent referendum to remove him from office? He campaigned against George Bush, arguing that the vote was not about "whether Chavez stays or Chavez goes. [It] is whether Venezuela continues to be a sovereign state or turns into a Latin American colony." The result:

Chavez defeated the vote 58 percent to 42 percent, based on 94.5 percent of the ballots counted...The ballot....drew more than 60 percent of the nation's 14 million voters.
Shades of the Spanish election. Let's hope news doesn't travel fast.

The Beauty Part

My father cinched the rope,
a noose around my waist,
and lowered me into
the darkness. I could taste

my fear. It tasted first
of dark, then earth, then rot.
I swung and struck my head
and at that moment got

another then: then blood,
which spiked my mouth with iron.
Hand over hand, my father
dropped me from then to then:

then water. Then wet fur,
which I hugged to my chest.
I shouted. Daddy hauled
the wet rope. I gagged, and pressed

my neighbor's missing dog
against me. I held its death
and rose up to my father.
Then light. Then hands. Then breath.

--Andrew Hudgins, "In The Well"

Thought for Today

Tell me why it is we don1t lift our voices these days
And cry over what is happening. Have you noticed
The plans are made for Iraq and the ice cap is melting?

I say to myself: "Go on, cry. What1s the sense
Of being an adult and having no voice? Cry out!
See who will answer! This is Call and Answer!"

We will have to call especially loud to reach
Our angels, who are hard of hearing; they are hiding
In the jugs of silence filled during our wars.

Have we agreed to so many wars that we can1t
Escape from silence? If we don1t lift our voices, we allow
Others (who are ourselves) to rob the house.

How come we1ve listened to the great criers -- Neruda,
Akhmatova, Thoreau, Frederick Douglass--and now
We1re silent as sparrows in the little bushes?

Some masters say our life lasts only seven days.
Where are we in the week? Is it Thursday yet?
Hurry, cry now! Soon Sunday night will come.
--"Call and Answer," by Robert Bly

Swami's Dilemma

Swami saw a preview of a movie called "Bright Young Things" the other night. Set in England in the '20s and '30s, it features kids who are white and privileged. And, oh boy, do they know it. "I've never been so bored in my life," a jaded young woman says at the height of a riotous party.

What became of the Bright Young Things? World War II. And, oh boy, did they grow up fast! Or so the story goes. But Swami suspects otherwise. Just because they came home from the war and kissed normalcy on the mouth didn't mean they'd really changed. No, they didn't throw riotous parties anymore. But they knew the value of money and privilege, and they retreated into it, and they held themselves aloof from the vulgar stream of humanity just as they'd stayed aloof from any unattractive reality in the Jazz Age.

Which got Swami to thinking of American privilege. For those of us who are not self-made, our good fortune is largely dumb luck, an accident of geography abetted by a system that rewards personable, educable people. But of course we don't see it that way--our success, we like to think, is a measure of our talent and hard work. And so we have a little trouble understanding--or maybe even caring--about people and problems far removed from our reality.

Yesterday, for example, a friend dropped in via e-mail to ask Swami what he was up to.

At that moment, Swami was editing the item about the Republicans' pretty clear violation of the laws governing religious organizations in elections. He mentioned this.

"Oh my God," Swami's friend wrote. "You make me so weary sometimes..."


Swami's friend is a Christian, and, Swami suspects, a devout one. Swami's friend is a person of considerable accomplishment. But Swami's friend--white, privileged, able to afford any book or track down an answer to any question--has a closed mind on any subject in the general vicinity of politics. Very doubtful that Swami's friend bothered to read that item yesterday.

Swami is confused. Do white, privileged Republicans take some sort of secret vow that rewards them with some great gift in exchange for unthinking loyalty? Do they have compassion that extends beyond their children and their pets? Do they even think much about Jesus, for that matter, and wonder What He'd Do?

Consider this account of the challenges blacks faced in Florida on the day of the Presidential election in 2000:

Less than 30 miles from my home, in a rather poor area, state police set up roadblocks between areas where blacks live and where their voting polls were. They were inspecting tail lights, headlamps, etc., and were turning anyone back on the road that had any infractions. Several of my co-workers live in that area and told me about it.
Swami reads that and his blood boils. Your reaction--and the reaction of Swami's friend--may be to yawn. Which leaves Swami puzzled. Are Swami and his kind the only Americans who believe that compassion and empathy are Standard Equipment for humans? Are Swami and his pals the only Americans who think we can't exploit the world--and one another--endlessly and without consequence? Are Swami and freaks like him the only ones who worry that we have had a long, giddy, free ride--and that the bill is coming due?

Speaking of compassion....

What's Wrong with Laura Bush?

In a recent interview, the First Lady talked about stem cell research. She said "it really isn't fair to people who are watching a loved one suffer" to hold out hope for dramastic results from this research: "We don't know that stem cell research will provide cures for anything."

Michael Kinsley nailed her:

As someone with a loved one (myself, as it happens) who has the disease (Parkinson's) for which stem cells hold the most promise, please allow me to say: Thank you so much, Mrs. Bush, for trying to make sure that I don't get too hopeful. While your husband and Sen. John Kerry make a major issue out of who is more optimistic, it is inspiring to have a first lady with the courage to say: Let's be pessimistic! Optimism is unfair!
Meanwhile, George is Honest Abe

The producer of "George W. Bush: Faith in the White House," says his documentary "reveals that this is the most faith-based presidency since Abraham Lincoln."

Really? Some fictional Lincoln, or the one who, in the Second Inaugural Address, spoke of religion thusly:

It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

"The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes." Yep. Just what Bush would say about the Iraq war.

If We Are Safer Now, What Is This?

From USA Today:

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said that the government is moving quickly to create a computerized screening system that will check airline passengers against lists of suspected terrorists.

Ridge's comments come as security officials refocus their efforts to build a system that uses computers to identify suspicious fliers--a critical part of U.S. efforts to protect airline flights. "Moving quickly'? Bet you thought that system was already in place. Nope. USA Today notes, "it is unclear when the new system will be put in place."

9/11 was three years ago. What big projects have you undertaken--and completed--in three years? More than this smallish task, Swami bets.

The Beauty Part

Everything is in your mind. And yet, there is still room.
--A koan created by Dong Resin

Thought for Today

Faith is in you whenever you look
At a dewdrop or a floating leaf
And know that they are because they have to be.
Even if you close your eyes and dream up things
The world will remain as it has always been
And the leaf will be carried by the waters of the river.
--Czeslaw Milosz, as quoted in his New York Times obituary

Keeping New York Safe from Domestic Terrorists

Republicans coming to New York for their Convention will sleep safer, knowing the government is discouraging protesters from making the trip:

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been questioning political demonstrators across the country, and in rare cases even subpoenaing them, in an aggressive effort to forestall what officials say could be violent and disruptive protests at the Republican National Convention in New York.

F.B.I. officials are urging agents to canvass their communities for information about planned disruptions aimed at the convention and other coming political events, and they say they have developed a list of people who they think may have information about possible violence. They say the inquiries, which began last month before the Democratic convention in Boston, are focused solely on possible crimes, not on dissent, at major political events.
Get that? Crimes, not dissent. But isn't the whole point to turn dissent into a crime? As a pal wrote, after reading this article, "Will the last American in Washington please grab the flag on the way out?"

Keeping Florida Safe from Black Voters

On the same day that the Times alerts us to the government's pro-active campaign against violent protest at the Republican Convention, Bob Herbert write about Florida's campaign to intimidate black voters:

State police officers have gone into the homes of elderly black voters in Orlando and interrogated them as part of an odd "investigation" that has frightened many voters, intimidated elderly volunteers and thrown a chill over efforts to get out the black vote in November.

The officers, from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which reports to Gov. Jeb Bush, say they are investigating allegations of voter fraud that came up during the Orlando mayoral election in March.

Officials refused to discuss details of the investigation, other than to say that absentee ballots are involved. They said they had no idea when the investigation might end, and acknowledged that it may continue right through the presidential election. Good to know that our ports are secure, our airports battened down, and our computer files on international terrorists are in such good order that we can now devote ourselves to deadly offenders like elderly blacks.

What's the Big Deal about Najaf?

Imagine a foreign army attacking Arlington National Cemetery. And our troops taking defensive positions behind the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Kennedy's grave. Think that would make your blood boil?

Now consider the "holy city." Bitter fighting there made the weekend peace talks all but impossible. You ask: Why? Hey, we haven't bombed the shrine!

But did you know about the cemetery that the insurgents use as a base--a cemetery we have decided is a suitable battleground? The cemetery where two more American soldiers died today?

Look at the image. Compare the side of that cemetery (1,500 acres, biggest on the planet) with its world-record number of graves (FIVE MILLION!) and the size of the holy city/shrine (tiny).

If Allah exists, He's plenty pissed. As, already, are the Muslim Faithful.

What Would Jesus Say (About Churches Breaking the Law)?

It's becoming clear that the intersection of Faith and Politics is in a zone called Crime--at least in IRS terms. Here's Melissa Rogers (registration required), former director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, and now a visiting professor of religion and public policy at Wake Forest University Divinity School on those Bush efforts to make churches politically useful.

As has been widely reported, the campaign to re-elect President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney has produced materials informing "coalition coordinators" that one of their "duties" is: "Send your Church Directory to your State Bush-Cheney 04 Headquarters or give to a BC04 Field Rep."

The Associated Press recently reported that "the Republican National Committee confirmed it had asked Catholics who back Bush to give parish directories to the RNC as a way to identify and mobilize new voters."

There are some legitimate ways for political campaigns to try to reach religious people. Soliciting directories isn't one of them.

Churches and other organizations that are tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code are prohibited from participating in any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.

Among other things, this means that a church cannot selectively provide its mailing list to a candidate or political party. To do so would jeopardize a church's tax-exempt status....

The Bush-Cheney campaign and the RNC have doggedly defended these tactics. They say they are not asking churches to turn their church directories over to the campaign--they are asking only individual church members to do so.

Even so, they are asking these individuals either to act unethically or to act in a way that could endanger their church's tax-exempt status. Beyond the illegality is the moral issue:

The most important reason for refusing to give our church directories to political campaigns is found in the Bible. Jesus said: "Render . unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's."

The church is a not a creature of the state or of any earthly power -- it is a creature of God. Before and beyond November 2004, may people of faith reject every entreaty that asks us to give to Caesar that which belongs to God. But, hey, if you know What's Good for You, who you gonna listen to--the Bible or Dick Cheney?

Would You Die to Help Our Economy? You Might, You Know

Strange things happen when you're not looking (or when you're looking at More Important Things, like Kerry's flip-flops, the Swift Boat accusations, etc)-- the government changes regulations that might interest you:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published a regulation that would forbid the public release of some data relating to unsafe motor vehicles, saying that publicizing the information would cause "substantial competitive harm" to manufacturers....

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published the new rule on the public release of auto-safety information on July 28, 2003, but outside the industry hardly anyone took notice. In the following months, allies of tire manufacturers and automakers flooded the agency with comments, and all of them "contended that the release of early warning data is likely to cause substantial competitive harm," the agency said. At the same time, consumer groups argued that the data "should be released because it is important to the identification of potential defects," the agency added.

When the agency published a revised final rule on April 21, 2004, it exempted from public release warranty-claim information, industry reports on safety issues and consumer complaints, among other data, saying that releasing that information would cause "substantial competitive harm." Translation: Corporate profits are more important than your rights as a consumer to know what car is safest. If you knew, Swami guesses, you might buy a foreign car. Knowing about this change in regulation, Swami is now convinced: Swami won't be buying an American car any time soon. Nice work, guys!

Then there's safety in the workplace. Savor the memory, folks. It's under attack as well. The Washington Post reports:

In the past 3 1/2 years, OSHA, the branch of the Labor Department in charge of workers' well-being, has eliminated nearly five times as many pending standards as it has completed. It has not started any major new health or safety rules, setting Bush apart from the previous three presidents, including Ronald Reagan.

The new administration began by trying to cut staff and money at OSHA. In his first year in office, Bush wanted to eliminate nearly 100 of the agency's 2,400 jobs. His budget also would have reduced funding for the standards-setting part of the agency by $1.2 million, or 8 percent. Lawmakers restored the money and the positions.

...With its current staff, OSHA can visit about 2 percent of the nation's workplaces each year. Given those limits, he said, it has made sense to strengthen the agency's relationships with businesses, encouraging voluntary compliance.

To do so, OSHA has created a new kind of voluntary program, intended to foster "trusting, cooperative relationships" between the government and groups of industries and professional societies, according to an agency fact sheet. These new alliances, as they are known, depart from a central tradition throughout the agency's history: They are allowed to exclude labor unions. Of the 57 national alliances OSHA has formed, with groups ranging from air conditioning contractors to shipyard owners, just one--intended to promote safe work habits in road construction zones--includes a union representative. "Trusting, cooperative relationships" between the government and industry. Let's see. Anyone missing. Oh.....Labor! Labor, on Labor, where are you? Oops...not invited.

The Beauty Part

God has pity on kindergarten children,
He pities school children--less.
But adults he pities not at all.

He abandons them,
And sometimes they have to crawl on all fours
In the scorching sand
To reach the dressing station,
Streaming with blood.

But perhaps
He will have pity on those who love truly
And take care of them
And shade them
Like a tree over the sleeper on the public bench.

Perhaps even we will spend on them
Our last pennies of kindness
Inherited from mother,

So that their own happiness will protect us
Now and on other days.

--Yehuda Amichai

Thought for Today

Living in today's world, it is easy to become the victim of despair. You must protect yourself. The best way is to be in touch with bodhisattvas that are active in compassion and love.
We should be in touch with Buddhas and bodhisattvas here today, in the present moment, and not just light incense and pray to them. When we are truly in touch with them, we have much energy by seeing that they are in us and that we are their continuation, not only in time but also in space. We are one of the arms of these bodhisattvas. Our arm can stretch very far, over thousands of miles. Our arms can reach the darkest places on Earth.
--Thich Nhat Hanh, in "No Death, No Fear"

Those Pesky Swift Boat Boys

Lucky you. God willing, the last day of the Swift Boat debate with Loose Canon.

Swami will examine her points, gather up a few more, and then explain why he has put so much time and energy into this exchange.

First, to LC's points. She writes:

Swami's e-mailer simply states as fact that he would have been killed in Vietnam instead of growing up to be a Hatha Yoga instructor. Many people returned from that conflict. Tragically, many didn't. But it is only by positing the claim of the ineluctable death can this man can claim that Kerry saved his life.
My, my, we're literal. A man considers the road not taken and LC wonders why he can't see to the end of both roads. Did other readers think that Kerry saved James Morrison's life in the same way he saved (or didn't) the lives of his shipmates? Or is Morrison using something called rhetoric--just as President Bush does what he tells us the creation of three jobs is a "boom" or tax cuts that only go to the rich are a way of giving money back to the working stiff or the biggest trade deficit in history is a non-event? Reading Morrison's first sentence--"John Kerry saved my life"--Swami thought: "Got it: John Kerry changed the direction of Morrison's life as surely as if he'd reached down and dragged him by the scruff of his neck." Bet you did too.

LC writes:

The fall of Saigon in 1975, occasioned in part by the protests of Kerry and his ilk, was an unmitigated disaster, costing the lives of thousands of Vietnamese and creating the phenomenon of the boat people fleeing that hell. Conservative columnist Mona Charen notes in her useful book 'Useful Idiots' that by 1980 as many as 800,000 had taken to their boats to escape Communist Vietnam.
If Loose Canon really believes this, she should rush right over to Regnery Press, publisher of "Unfit for Command." Note to the not-so-media-savvy reader: As David Remnick points out in The New Yorker, Regnery "had a best-seller not long ago with a volume alleging that the Clintons hung prophylactics from the branches of the White House Christmas tree."

LC's argument is, in essence, "Protest gives aid-and-comfort to the enemy." (Ann Coulter says it better. She calls it "treason.") By this argument, Americans waged a just war against an inferior enemy, and would probably have won if hippies hadn't taken to the streets back at home. A military strategy built around the carpet-bombing of civilians: genius! Constant government lies about imminent victory: harmless! Refusing to make a deal with the Vietcong so the war raged for five more years and as many as 20,000 more American died: strategic!

If you want to know why America "lost" the Vietnam war, kids, start right here, in 1968, when Walter Cronkite, the most respected newsman in our country, turned against this immoral, unwinnable adventure:

In a dramatic departure from the traditions of "objective" journalism, Cronkite concluded his reports with a personal commentary in which he voiced his strong belief that the war would end in stalemate. Cronkite's editorial would later be regarded as a critical indice of public opinion of the Vietnam War.
John Kerry was heard by few when he testified against the war. Walter Cronkite was watched by millions. If anyone gave aid-and-comfort to the Vietcong, it was Cronkite.

Walter Cronkite, traitor--good luck selling that proposition!

LC writes:

Moral arguments can be made for (1) going to Vietnam to fight, (2) not going to Vietnam for reasons of conscience, and even (3) going to Vietnam and returning to fight against the war. What is harder is making a case protesting by way of participation in the star-studded Winter Soldier Investigation, of which Kerry was a luminary.
Let's see. Unlike Swami, who did not go to the war and opposed it because he read seven newspapers a day and talked to guys who'd served, John Kerry opposed the war because he'd Been There and Had Expertise. But then he polluted the validity of his testimony by participating in the Winter Soldier project. What? They told him to lie? And he did? To Regnery with ye, LC!

LC writes:

There is a difference in being in the Swift boat directly behind John Kerry's Swift boat, as one of the vets claims he was, or on a nearby Swift boat, as others were, and being at, say, Elaine's, the trendy New York watering hole, while George Bush is addressing the United Nations.
What can Swami say? Here are guys who never met Kerry, didn't see what happened, can't agree on any scenario of events, change their stories when confronted and swear they have no political reason to lie in what is an overtly Republican-funded enterprise. But let's not go there. Let's move to 30,000 feet. Let's talk about "spirituality."

What Does "Spirituality" Mean?

Some people have a high value on faith. They may do terrible things, but they have faith--and their faith sustains them.

Swami has a lesser value on faith. Yes, he thinks it's a good idea to have a belief system. He just doesn't think you can get away with acting like a jerk just because you have "faith."

Swami's great love--yes, he was one of those kids who adored school--is the Search for God through Deeds. For him that means a balancing of belief and action. He wants to be useful to others. to help them (and himself) on our shared search for truth. At worst, he hopes he's amusing, harmless, God's own clown.

Labels are unhelpful in this search. Loves big government, spends like crazy, doesn't mind deficits--that's a liberal, right? Maybe. But those are also descriptions of the Bush Administration. Bush a liberal? Not that Swami recalls.

There are folks who write to Swami who don't get that Swami's objection to the Bushies isn't their politics--it's their lies. Because a lie is a form of disrespect. It diminishes all involved--speaker and audience.

Of the many e-mails Swami received this week, this was the most depressing:

Turnabout is fair play. We who love Bush had to put up with day after day of the lies about him from Michael Moore's dreadful movie. So why is it too awful that you Kerry lovers should have to hear lies about your candidate?
Well, because that's a really stupid way to live--how's that?

Let Swami say it once, and say it so everyone gets it. When Bush lies, shame on him. When Kerry lies, shame on him. There's no excuse for lying on the path we're sharing, not if we hope to get to anything approximating peace and understanding. Calling out the lies, pointing out the spiritual disrespect, and, when possible, cheering on the Good--that's Swami's mission here.

One More Piece of Old Business: Felons

LC has written:

I have one more bone that I must pick with Swami, who yesterday indicated to my horror that he wants felons to vote.

Oh, Swami, felons have, by their actions, forfeited their right to vote. People who have ended up behind bars should not, even when they are out, be helping us elect a president. There's a price to pay for crime, and the loss of voting privileges is one. Swami does not "want" felons to vote. He wants felons who are eligible to vote to be able to vote. The facts:

Four states (Maine, Massachusetts, Utah, Vermont) do not disenfranchise convicted felons. Forty-six states and the District of Columbia have disenfranchisement laws that deprive convicted offenders of the right to vote while they are in prison. In thirty-two states, convicted offenders may not vote while they are on parole, and twenty-nine of these states disenfranchise offenders on probation.

State voting laws...govern eligibility to vote in federal elections. Exercise of the right to vote for national representatives is thus subject to the arbitrary accidents of geography. In Massachusetts, a convicted burglar may vote in national elections while he is in prison, while in Indiana he cannot. A person convicted of theft in New Jersey automatically regains the right to vote after release from prison, while in New Mexico such an offender is denied the vote for the rest of her life unless she can secure a pardon from the governor. In some states an offender who commits a felony and receives probation can vote, while in other states an offender guilty of the same crime who receives probation cannot. Swami was writing about Ohio, a state that allows certain ex-felons to vote. They were being denied the vote. Swami wants everyone who is eligible to vote to be able to do so--no matter who they vote for. Even in a swing state. End of story.

Letter to the Editor

From The Des Moines Register:

I am a registered Democrat voting for John Kerry, but I thought it would be educational for my daughters and me to go see President Bush speak at the Davenport riverfront Aug. 4.

I wanted them to see that the president was supposed to be working for all Americans. Even if I didn't agree with his policies, I could still show my children how elections and politics work.

I waited in line, picked up my Bush tickets and waited in line to enter the park to hear the president. When I got up to the front of the line, I was grabbed by security, pushed to the side (in front of my children and Republican friends) and my ticket was ripped. They said, "We don't like your pin, so get out of here."

I was wearing a small pin that said, "John Kerry 2004." The worst part is the security team did this in front of my children. I want my daughters to understand that in America we have the right to free speech. We have the First Amendment, but that was blatantly violated.

I wasn't making a scene. I didn't even say anything. My daughters don't understand why this happened. They thought in America people could express themselves without repression.

Someone owes my friends, daughters and me an apology, and that someone needs to reinforce my rights as an American.

--Glen Wooldridge, Davenport

Granny, Get Your Gun!

From The Minneapolis Star Tribune (registration required):

U.S. customs officials in Miami have seized a prescription drug shipment from a Canadian pharmacy with about 350 orders, half intended for members of the Minnesota Senior Federation.

The drugs were shipped about two weeks ago by CanadaRx, based in Toronto, the primary pharmacy used by the Senior Federation.

Even more remarkable than the seizure itself--reportedly the largest U.S. interception of low-cost drugs from a Canadian mail-order pharmacy, valued at $250,000--were the sources.

The drugs came from England, Germany, Switzerland, France, New Zealand and Australia, as well as Canada. That's the first public indication that Canadian mail-order pharmacies are grasping beyond England to find drugs made scarce by manufacturers trying to shut down the lucrative cross-border trade. But maybe there's Good Reason to intercept these drugs:

Lester Crawford, the FDA's acting commissioner, this week said tampering with prescription drugs imported from Canada could be a way for terrorists to launch an attack on Americans.

Crawford said possible action by terrorists is the most serious of his concerns about the increasing efforts of states and cities to import drugs from Canada to save money. Wait a minute! This just in: There's not a good reason to worry about terrorists poisoning these drugs. According to Homeland Security:

While we must assume that such a threat exists generally, we have no specific information now about any al-Qaida threats to our food or drug supply," said Brian Roehrkasse, spokesman for the Homeland Security Department.
But, hey, wasn't it great to feel scared...again?

The Beauty Part

If you want to read the best book ever writ about how a small event--for Morrison, hearing Kerry's testimony; for the characters of this book, a snowball with a rock inside--can change the entire universe, check out "Fifth Business," by Robertson Davies.

Thought for Today

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
--Wendell Berry, "The Peace of Wild Things"

Sliming Kerry

You know the song "The First Cut is the Deepest"? So it is with murder--ooops, slander. After you've taken the first one down, the next ones come easier.

Robert Novak is the guy who wrote the column that told the world that Valerie Plame was an undercover agent for the CIA. He did this because--sorry, Swami can't finish that sentence. Was it because Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, was giving the White House such a hard time about the hunt for weapons of mass destruction that the word came down to screw the Wilsons? Was it, as Jon Stewart mockingly suggests, to tell the world: "Hey, if we can do this to one of our spies, imagine what we can do to yours"? Was it...oh, whatever, no one cares but the Special Prosecutor. Just call it an assassination and move on to Novak's latest effort: Deconstructing Kerry's War Record.

Looks look at this vintage Novak punditry--and try to balance it with logic and facts. Here's Novak:

I have read the book ["Unfit for Command"] and found it is neither the political propaganda nor the urban legend that its detractors claim. It is a passionate but meticulously researched account of how Kerry went to war, what he did in the war and how he conducted himself after the war. The very serious charges by former comrades deserve answers but so far have produced only ad hominem counterattacks.
Really? Has Novak wandered over to Kerry's website? Though "Unfit to Command" has just been released, the denials look fairly detailed on first pass:

Was [Commander George] Elliott Honest in 1996 When He Said This of Kerry?
"The fact that he chased an armed enemy down is not something not to be looked down upon but it was an act of courage. And the whole outfit served with honor..." [T]here was no question that it was above and beyond anything that we had seen down there in that case at that time frame...It just so happened that this one was so outstanding that the Silver Star was eventually awarded." [Kerry Press Conference, 10/27/96]

In 1969, Elliott Wrote This to Describe John Kerry's Fitness as a SWIFT Boat Commander.
"In a combat environment often requiring independent, decisive action, LTJG Kerry was unsurpassed. He constantly reviewed tactics and lessons learned in river operations and applied his experience at every opportunity. On one occasion, while in tactical command of a three boat operation his units were taken under fire from ambush. LTJG Kerry rapidly assessed the situation and ordered his units to turn directly into the ambush. This decision resulted in routing the attackers with several KIA. LTJG Kerry emerges as the acknowledged leader in his peer group. His bearing and appearance are above reproach. He has of his own volition learned the Vietnamese language and is instrumental in the successful Vietnamese training program. During the period of this report LTJG Kerry has been awarded the Silver Star medal, the Bronze Star medal, the Purple Heart medal (2nd and 3rd awards)."[U.S. Navy, Officer Fitness Report signed by George Elliott; 18, Dec 1969]

Elliott on Presenting Kerry the Silver Star: He Went "Above & Beyond the Call of Duty."
"The [Silver Star] ceremony [for John Kerry] was meant to be a morale booster,' Commander George Elliot recalled. 'We were trying to pay tribute to Kerry and the others for going above and beyond the call of duty. The Silver Star is always a big deal." ["Tour of Duty," Brinkley, 2004, p. 294]

Here's Novak again:

O'Neill told me that these former sailors served with Kerry no more than five weeks. Jim Rassman, now part of the Kerry presidential campaign, was a Special Forces lieutenant spending a few days with Kerry when he fell or was knocked off the swift boat while under fire and was fished out of the Mekong River by the future candidate.
Jon Stewart polished this one off on "The Daily Show" Tuesday night. "You mean Kerry risked his life for a guy who'd only been around for five days? A guy he didn't really know at all? What an idiot!" And one last Novak:

Unfit for Command sends a devastating message, unless effectively refuted. Perhaps most disturbing are allegations that Kerry's combat decorations are unjustified.
Well, we could compare John Kerry's military records and the President's military records--but that gets some people crazy, and we don't want that. So let's look to the "devastating" message.

It is: John Kerry didn't nominate himself for those medals. The military doesn't work that way. And medals don't--or so we were told--get passed out like Lucky Charms. But maybe we were wrong. Maybe a clever kid who can scheme 30 years down the line can manipulate the system. Maybe he doesn't have to be so clever. In which case: Those awards your dad wears on Veterans Day? The medal that was buried with your cousin? Tin. Ribbon. Meaningless. Forget that spit-and-polish and by-the-numbers Hollywood stuff--the system can be played. Easily. So the next time you see a vet....feel free to spit on his medals.

Bob Novak thinks he's dumping on Kerry. He's really dissing every vet who ever got a medal.

Our New Leader in the Fight Against AIDS

Tom Cobun is the Republican Senate candidate from Oklahoma--a veritable Okie from Muskogee. He is also George Bush's choice to head the presidential AIDS commission. His views on his clients:

The gay community has infiltrated the very centers of power in every area across this country, and they wield extreme power. ...That agenda is the greatest threat to our freedom that we face today. Why do you think we see the rationalization for abortion and multiple sexual partners? That's a gay agenda.
The connection between "abortion" and "gays" eludes Swami. Perhaps Swami was dozing the day they explained the Facts Of Life in Bio. Perhaps Mr. Cobun could send Swami some stick-figure drawings?

Breaking News about AIDS Prevention: Condoms Don't Work!

Some thrilling scientific news from the LA Weekly:

Lethal new regulations from President Bush's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, quietly issued with no fanfare last week, complete the right-wing Republicans' goal of gutting HIV-prevention education in the United States. In place of effective, disease-preventing safe-sex education, little will soon remain except failed programs that denounce condom use, while teaching abstinence as the only way to prevent the spread of AIDS. And those abstinence-only programs, researchers say, actually increase the risk of contracting AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Published on June 16 in the Federal Register, the censorious new CDC guidelines will be mandatory for any organization that does HIV-prevention work and also receives federal funds--whether or not any federal money is directly spent on their programs designed to fight the spread of the epidemic. (The CDC is the principal federal funder of prevention education about HIV and AIDS, and its head a Bush appointee). It's all couched in arcane bureaucratese, but this is the Bush administration's Big Stick--do exactly as we say, or lose your federal funding. And nearly all of the some 3,800 AIDS service organizations (ASOs) that do the bulk of HIV-prevention education receive at least part of their budget from federal dollars. Without that money, they'd have to slash programs or even close their doors.

These new regs require the censoring of any "content"--including "pamphlets, brochures, fliers, curricula," "audiovisual materials" and "pictorials (for example, posters and similar educational materials using photographs, slides, drawings or paintings)," as well as "advertising" and Web-based info. They require all such "content" to eliminate anything even vaguely "sexually suggestive" or "obscene"--like teaching how to use a condom correctly by putting it on a dildo, or even a cucumber. And they demand that all such materials include information on the "lack of effectiveness of condom use" in preventing the spread of HIV and other STDs--in other words, the Bush administration wants AIDS fighters to tell people: Condoms don't work. This demented exigency flies in the face of every competent medical body's judgment that, in the absence of an HIV-preventing vaccine, the condom is the single most effective tool available to protect someone from getting or spreading the AIDS virus. Anybody out there got a teen-aged daughter who just might be sexually active? Feel free to share this religious--oops, medical--breakthrough with her.

Sidebar: How Dumb Is Planned Parenthood?

Swami would like to see PP scream about the government's "condoms don't work" policy. But to do that, it would be good for PP to act like a responsible organization.

What, though, is one to make of rulers sold on PP's teen site that ask "Does Size Matter?" It's one thing for adults to speak the lingo of kids, although it usually sounds ridiculous. It's another to suck up to a young audience so blatantly you lose all moral standing. PP, wake up! (Thanks to AG for the tip.)

A Soldier Who Reads Lives to Fight Another Day

Swami has seen a lot of mail recently that solicits food for our soldiers in Iraq. A worthy idea. Here's another: Books for Soldiers--"a soldier support site that ships books, DVDs and supplies to deployed soliders and soldiers in VA hospitals, via our large volunteer network. If you have old, but usuable paperback books sitting around, collecting dust, why not send them to a solider for a big morale boost?"

Thought for Today

The ball wasn't even near him. If I had meant it, he would know it.
--Roger Clemens, then a pitcher for the New York Yankees, on a ball he threw behind the head of Boston batsman Manny Ramirez, in Game 3 of last year's American League championship series

Do Your Civic Duty: Call John Williams

Everyone Swami knows is upset about electronic voting machines (as is Swami; expect a report soon). But as long as you're getting agitated, start earlier in the process--with voter registration.

The Cincinnati Enquirer reports: Hamilton County elections officials are providing "misleading and erroneous" voting information to ex-felons, a Cincinnati-area prisoner advocacy group said.

The Prison Reform Advocacy Center surveyed 140 former state prison inmates and talked to all 88 county boards of elections. The group found that one in five ex-felons don't realize they can re-register to vote, and some election boards were unaware of the law.

"This is absolutely unacceptable that boards of elections that are supposed to know Ohio law ... are giving misleading, inconsistent and flat-out wrong information to ex-offenders," said David Singleton, executive director of the center.

Ohio is one of 12 states, plus the District of Columbia, that allows ex-felons to regain voting rights once released from prison.

About 22,000 inmates are released from Ohio prisons each year. Prison Reform Advocacy Center officials called county election boards three times, posing as ex-felons. You can too. In Hamilton County, Timothy Burke is the Chairman of the Board of Elections, John Williams is the Director of Elections. Phone: 513-632-7000. Feel free to report back to Swami what your experience was....

The None-Too-Swift Swift Boat Vets

Two days ago, Swami posted a dispatch from a gent who claimed that "John Kerry saved my life." He was, he explained, a 17 year-old who was about to enlist when Kerry, a much-decorated Navy hero, loudly and eloquently condemned the Vietnam war. Kerry's testimony stopped him from signing up, he says. And now, looking back, he says that Kerry probably saved more lives as a protester than he did as a soldier.

He's not the only one looking back. A bunch of Navy vets--most of whom never met John Kerry--have come forward to declare that his "heroism" is bogus. He didn't do what he said he did. He faked his injuries. He's unfit to lead. You name it, he's guilty of it.

Many responsible citizens have responded. Among them:

  • Retired U.S. Army General Tommy Franks, who led our forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, says Democratic presidential challenger John Kerry is "absolutely" qualified to be president.
  • Senator John McCain repudiated a new advertisement accusing Senator John Kerry of lying about his Vietnam War record and called on President Bush to do the same. "I think the Bush campaign should specifically condemn the ad," he said.
  • And the White House?

    The New York Times reports: Asked in a briefing if the Bush campaign would repudiate the advertisement, the White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, said, "The president deplores all the unregulated soft money activity."

    Translation: "Are you crazy? This is working great for us--though of course we had no idea any of this was happening."

    Loose Canon: Too Good for This World

    Now comes Loose Canon, dutifully defending men who had 30 years to condemn Kerry but just got around to talking to a Republican operative and a "scholar" with views so toxic there's no danger he'll be sharing a pew with LC.

    Swami has gleaned four points in LC's attack on Kerry's war record.

    l) The Letter Writer's Language: LC writes that "Swami's emailer simply states as fact that he would have been killed in Vietnam instead of growing up to be a Hatha Yoga instructor. Many people returned from that conflict. Tragically, many didn't. But it is only by positing the claim of the ineluctable death can this man can claim that Kerry saved his life."

    2) Protest Costs Lives: LC writes that "the fall of Saigon in 1975, occasioned in part by the protests of Kerry and his ilk, was an unmitigated disaster, costing the lives of thousands of Vietnamese and creating the phenomenon of the boat people fleeing that hell. Conservative columnist Mona Charen notes in her useful book 'Useful Idiots' that by 1980 as many as 800,000 had taken to their boats to escape Communist Vietnam."

    3) Real-Life Experience Is Meaningless: LC writes that "moral arguments can be made for (1) going to Vietnam to fight, (2) not going to Vietnam for reasons of conscience, and even (3) going to Vietnam and returning to fight against the war. What is harder is making a case protesting by way of participation in the star-studded Winter Soldier Investigation, of which Kerry was a luminary."

    4) Kerry Lied; These Guys Are Telling the Truth: LC writes that "there is a difference in being in the Swift boat directly behind John Kerry's Swift boat, as one of the vets claims he was, or on a nearby Swift boat, as others were, and being at, say, Elaine's, the trendy New York watering hole, while George Bush is addressing the United Nations."

    Swami will dissect these arguments. But not today. First, Swami feels, we must establish context--and in this case, context is everything.

    Swami's argument: This Swift boat campaign isn't some right-wing tea party that got out of hand. This IS the Republican campaign. [Swami will return to this, but just consider the source of the funding for the Veterans for Truth group that's behind the TV ads about Kerry and the Swift Boats: "Tax documents show that from April to June, the group collected $158,750 from 11 people, $100,000 of it from Bob J. Perry, a Houston developer who is a major contributor to Republican campaigns."

    Swami apologizes in advance for writing long--in the old days, this would be called "being thorough"--and for boring those of you who either know these events or have no interest in anything older than yesterday. So you know what's coming:

    Today: The big lie as punditry. How a small group of Republicans found victory by sliming John McCain and Max Cleland.

    Tomorrow: How irresponsible charges get legitimized by the likes of Bob Novak.

    Friday: Refuting Loose Canon. What you can do.

    Then, please God, let's hope we can move on.

    The Successful Pundit: Throwing for the Head

    LC is an extremely nice person. (Swami knew her in our previous incarnations.) She's a great choice for blogging on a spiritually-minded site like Beliefnet. But there's little danger she's going to get a call from FOX.

    Look at the Roger Clemens quote above. That's the Big Leagues--performers so talented that they can throw a ball 90 feet at 95 miles an hour and know as they release it exactly where it's going to go. And the metaphor of throwing at the head works just as well in politics. Because politics isn't a debate over issues. It's about controlling insane sums of money. Politics is war by other means. Like war, it's played to win--and the way you win is to kill. Maiming won't do. Nicking a guy repeatedly is to no point. The object is annilihation.

    LC commends Swami for "your honesty in admitting that you have not seen GWB drinking a Red Bull and vodka in a gay bar. No doubt, however, some of your pals in the Democratic Party are now contemplating similar charges." Really? There are Democrats so tough and dirty they're willing to challenge Karl Rove, Senior Adviser to the President? And when, in past elections, have we seen such low campaigning?

    Can LC name one instance in a major election since, oh, 1984--just one--when a Democrat slimed a Republican?

    In the 2000 South Carolina primary, when it was whispered that McCain had fathered a black child, was that a Democrat-inspired smear?

    When Max Cleland was accused of supporting terrorists, were Democrats behind that?

    And these Swift Boat guys--one of whom says he would happily have supported Edwards--are they Democrats disgusted by Kerry?

    Max Cleland. Let's talk about him for a moment, so Swami can show you--and LC-- how the pros operate.

    The Sliming of Max Cleland

    Here's how Max Cleland recalls his last day as an upright biped:

    I remember standing on the edge of the bomb crater that had been my home for five days and five nights, stretching my six-foot, two-inch frame, and becoming caught up in excitement. The battle for Khe Sanh was over, and I had come out of it unhurt and alive! Five terrible days and nights were behind us. In spite of dire predictions, we had held Khe Sanh. I had scored a personal victory over myself and my fears. ... My tour of duty in Vietnam was almost over. In another month I'd be going home. I smiled, thinking of the good times waiting stateside.

    On April 8, 1968, I volunteered for one last mission. The helicopter moved in low. The troops jumped out with M16 rifles in hand as we crouched low to the ground to avoid the helicopter blades. Then I saw the grenade. It was where the chopper had lifted off. It must be mine, I thought. Grenades had fallen off my web gear before. Shifting the M16 to my left hand and holding it behind me, I bent down to pick up the grenade. A blinding explosion threw me backwards. Got that? Cleland bent down to pick up a grenade he thought he'd dropped--in fact, another soldier had dropped it--and woke up minus three limbs.

    This February, when it started to look as though Kerry had a chance at the nomination, Saint Ann Coulter took the first shot at something the Republicans had every right to fear--Kerry's war record. But Ann was clever. She didn't write about Kerry. She wrote about phony Democratic war heroes. She wrote about Max Cleland:

    Maybe Max Cleland should stop allowing Democrats to portray him as a war hero who lost his limbs taking enemy fire on the battlefields of Vietnam.

    Cleland lost three limbs in an accident during a routine noncombat mission where he was about to drink beer with friends. He saw a grenade on the ground and picked it up. He could have done that at Fort Dix. In fact, Cleland could have dropped a grenade on his foot as a National Guardsman--or what Cleland sneeringly calls "weekend warriors." Luckily for Cleland's political career and current pomposity about Bush, he happened to do it while in Vietnam.

    There is more than a whiff of dishonesty in how Cleland is presented to the American people. Terry McAuliffe goes around saying, "Max Cleland, a triple amputee who left three limbs on the battlefield of Vietnam," was thrown out of office because Republicans "had the audacity to call Max Cleland unpatriotic." Mr. Cleland, a word of advice: When a slimy weasel like Terry McAuliffe is vouching for your combat record, it's time to sound "retreat" on that subject. See how a master does it, LC? The siege of Khe Sanh had ended, thus Cleland was not in a combat zone when he went there. [What a difference five months makes! The guys who "served with Kerry" even though they weren't in his boat were, however, in a combat zone at all times. Its name? Vietnam.] Cleland was about to drink beer, thus he was a goof-off. [Unlike George Bush, who was, one guesses, a "serious" drinker during those years.] He wasn't really a hero. [Just like Kerry.]

    Point of fact: Four days before he lost his limbs at Khe Sanh, Cleland did something--at Khe Sanh, as it happens--that won him a Silver Star "for gallantry in action." According to the citation:

    He distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous action. ...When the battalion command post came under a heavy enemy rocket and mortar attack, Capt. Cleland, disregarding his own safety, exposed himself to the rocket barrage as he left his covered position to administer first aid to his wounded comrades. He then assisted in moving the injured personnel to covered positions. Continuing to expose himself, Capt. Cleland organized his men into a work party to repair the battalion communications equipment which had been damaged by enemy fire. His gallant action is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service, and reflects great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.
    Never one to let the facts get in the way of her projectile bile, Coulter slimes Cleland one final time:

    ...Needless to say, no one ever challenged Cleland's "patriotism." His performance in the Senate was the issue, which should not have come as a bolt out of the blue inasmuch as he was running for re-election to the Senate. Sen. Cleland had refused to vote for the Homeland Security bill unless it was chock-full of pro-union perks that would have jeopardized national security. ("Oh my God! A hijacked plane is headed for the White House!" "Sorry, I'm on my break. Please call back in two hours.")
    Fact: In his Senate race against Republican Rep. Saxby Chambliss, Cleland was criticized for voting against ONE version of the Homeland Security bill. So his opponent ran an ad that attacked--are you ready for this?--Cleland's patriotism:

    With images of Bin Laden and Saddam flashing onscreen, a narrator declared that, "As America faces terrorists and extremist dictators, Max Cleland runs television ads claiming he has the courage to lead." The ad then listed Cleland's votes against the Homeland Security Department and said he was stalling "the president's vital homeland security efforts." It concluded: "Max Cleland says he has the courage to lead, but the record proves Max Cleland is just misleading."
    Did Bush know? Well, the President visited Georgia six times during that campaign. But no one probably gave him the briefing. Coulter, however, was trained as a lawyer. She can read. She knows what she's doing. She knows what she is.

    The Beauty Part

    Swami feels a bit like Holly Hunter in "Broadcast News." Get up. Have a little cry. Go to work. And Swami's not alone- many of his friends also have the shakes. And not because Kerry might lose and we're terrified of Karl Rove's plan for a second term.

    No, the fear is what happens to a nation that eats a sustained diet of swill. No matter what side you're on, how can you possibly forgive the men who have shoved us into this gutter? This is what they're willing to do to win? This is how they frame the issues? This wanton splashing of mud, this mindless black-and-white-sloganeering--when this election is over, how are we going to get clean?

    Swami hopes for enlightenment in the coming weeks. For now, he's reminded that LeRochefecauld said, "No man can look long at the sun or death." Okay, then. Buck up. We've made it this far, we deserve milk-and-cookies. A hug. Or one beautiful thing a day.

    Here's today's suggestion for self-healing: Annie Lennox's "Bare". Lyrics are less than half of its greatness, but words are all we have here. And here are the words to the first song:

    Every day I write the list
    Of reasons why I still believe they do exist
    (a thousand beautiful things)
    And even though it's hard to see
    The glass is full and not half empty
    (a thousand beautiful things)
    So... light me up like the sun
    To cool down with your rain
    I never want to close my eyes again

    I thank you for the air to breathe
    The heart to beat
    The eyes to see again
    (a thousand beautiful things)
    And all the things that's been and done
    The battles won
    The good and bad in everyone
    (this is mine to remember)
    So ...Here I go again
    Singin' by your window
    Pickin' up the pieces of what's left to find

    The world was meant for you and me
    To figure out our destiny
    (a thousand beautiful things)
    To live
    To die
    To breathe
    To sleep
    To try to make your life complete

    So ...Light me up like the sun
    To cool down with your rain
    I never want to close my eyes again
    Never close my eyes
    never close my eyes ...
    That is everything I have to say

    Thought for Today

    The Earth is just two redwoods old,
    we are by certain preachers told.
    So fossils and mutation rates
    are simply Satan's sucker-bait.
    Others say that Earth's been here
    for something like four billion years;
    and some are given doctorates
    to study man's descent from ape.
    But the world is round or it is flat--
    one view's foolish and one is fact.
    Truth lies not in some golden mean,
    a temperate zone between extremes.
    Truth, like gold, is where it's found,
    despite what cowardice propounds.
    In truth, truth is no moderate,
    it is instead cause and effect
    linked in autotelic law--
    its point is made with fang and claw.
    Fools come to grief upon the facts
    much like the priests who killed the cats
    because they're minions of the devil,
    unlike us and therefore evil.
    How did they divine this truth,
    how arrive at holy proof?
    By throwing felines from church steeples;
    the cats survived, unlike good people.
    So priests then slaughtered all the cats
    and reaped a rising tide of rats.
    Soon the rats begat a plague,
    which ushered in a long Dark Age.
    The President is brave and wise,
    or else a windbag stuffed with lies.
    Nice people will propound the view
    that Truth lies right between the two.
    But truth is hard and cold, not nice;
    it lies in wait, Titanic's ice.

    --David Essex, on the message boards of Eschaton, on a weekend evening when visitors were invited to discuss...poetry

    Did Kerry Save More Lives as a Protester Than As a Warrior?

    God bless the "forward" button. From a friend of a friend, Swami received a fascinating e-mail late last week, tracked down the author, and got permission to publish this...

    John Kerry saved my life.

    In 1971, as a lost 17-year-old with no future, I was about to enlist in the Navy. I had no illusions about saving the world from the "domino theory" or the Red menace. Like countless others, then and now, I saw military service as a way out, a free education and a shot at the G.I. bill.

    Then I heard about Kerry's congressional testimony as a Vietnam Veteran Against the War. Not only did his passionate and eloquent testimony profoundly influence the course of our involvement in that misbegotten and mismanaged war, it changed the course of my life in a way I couldn't truly appreciate or understand for years.

    For a man to go before Congress and declare, with chilling documentation, that the country he loves and nearly gave his life to defend is on the wrong course and must change--as he is rightfully doing now--is the height of patriotism.

    Contrary to the partisan attacks of his detractors--the veteran "brothers" who claim to have served with him but didn't, and who insist his valor is a lie--John Kerry's anti-war activism took more courage than anything that happened on his swift boat.

    In effect, he pulled me and possibly thousands of others like me from the water, saving us from being the last ones to "die for a mistake."

    --James Morrison
    And what, you may ask, did James Morrison do instead of going to Vietnam?


    My father, though firm about my "duty to serve if called," wasn't sure he wanted to sign for me to enlist. My mother pleaded with me to reconsider and finish high school (which I did). They'd already had one son, my older brother, serve a tour in Vietnam. He came home safely, but it wasn't a hell either of them wanted to revisit if they could help it.

    We were living in Anchorage then. Whenever the subject of the draft came up, my mother volunteered to pack me a really big lunch and drive me to the Canadian border if my number was called. When the Veterans Against the War started protesting in earnest, most of my friends were relieved--to put it mildly--as the draft loomed in the next year or so for all of us.

    In the year following Kerry's testimony, I decided to become an actor and couldn't see how being in any branch of the armed forces could further that career path in any practical sense. The draft ended when I was 19, and that, thank God, was that.

    I've since become one of the rarest actors: one who makes a living at it. I'm also a Hatha yoga instructor, teaching and learning peace, and, in the last five years, a father. If they ever come for my son, they'll have to pry him from my cold, dead hands.

    If interested, here's more on me: James Morrison
    Lies, Damn Lies & Slander

    You know things are going badly for the Bushies when they start sounding like Bill Clinton.

    The other day, Swami posed a blunt question to Loose Canon: Those Viet vets who say Kerry faked injuries, didn't deserve his medals and was unfit to lead a boat, much less a country--they also say they were his shipmates. Were they?

    LC's response: "While the vets' claim to have served with John Kerry is technically correct (they are Vietnam vets of his era), they were not on his Swift boat."

    Translation: It depends what your definition of "is" is.

    Let's try LC's logic: Swami was in New York City when the President came to town. A few months later, Swami gets headlines by claiming that he saw Bush drinking Red Bull-and-vodka in a gay bar. Obviously, this is a lie. But say Swami writes in the next day's blog, "Hey, Swami and Bush were on the same island at the same time." Then he's framed the line as something less than the total fib it is. You could--if you were a Republican apologist--almost say he's presented a rejoinder. And he has, if you assume his readers are morons--or capable of being stunned into abject stupefaction.

    But we're not morons, are we? Despite the best efforts of Faux News, we can still think, yes? So let's not leave it there. Let's wonder why LC--and she's not alone in this--can't say the following sentence: "These guys are liars on this fact."

    To her considerable credit, LC does say: "Some of their charges are outrageous and seem implausible."

    But she's not exactly eager to spend 30 seconds on Google and the blogs to discover WHY they're so implausible.

    No worries: Swami will do the heavy lifting.

    Curious. Although "Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry" has fallen from #1 on Amazon to #3, it isn't even listed on the website of its publisher, Regnery Publishing.

    It can't be that Regnery is ashamed of this book--it was Ann Coulter's first publisher, and now is home to Laura Ingraham, Oliver North and Charlie Daniels.

    On Amazon, we see, courtesy of the publisher, a truncated bio of its co-authors:

    John O'Neill served in Coastal Division 11 in Vietnam and took command of PCF 94, John Kerry's swift boat, after Kerry's departure. Outraged by Kerry's anti-war slanders against his fellow veterans, O'Neill faced Kerry in a famous debate on the Dick Cavett Show in 1971 refuting Kerry's accusations of rampant American war crimes in Vietnam. A graduate of the Naval Academy, and from a Navy family, O'Neill is a lawyer in private practice in Houston.

    Jerome Corsi received his Ph.D. from Harvard University and is an expert on political violence and the anti-war movement in the United States. The author of many articles and books, he lives in [here, the publisher was too lazy to fill in the blank --- or maybe Corsi doesn't wish to disclose his place of residence]. But there's more to say about these guys. Like: they're nasty pieces of work-- even by Coulteresque standards.

    Here's a bit more about John O'Neill:

    Former Nixon special counsel Chuck Colson: "We found a vet named John O'Neill and formed a group called Vietnam Veterans for a Just Peace. We had O'Neill meet the President, and we did everything we could do to boost his group..."

    Beyond his role in the Nixon administration's strategy to undermine Kerry in the 1970s, O'Neill is also connected to Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist (a Nixon appointee) and to former President George H.W. Bush...the former President Bush considered O'Neill for a federal judgeship vacancy. As for Jerome R. Corsi, here are some views he surely didn't learn at Harvard:

    Corsi on Islam: "a worthless, dangerous Satanic religion"

    Corsi on Catholicism: "Boy buggering in both Islam and Catholicism is okay with the Pope as long as it isn't reported by the liberal press"

    Corsi on Muslims: "RAGHEADS are Boy-Bumpers as clearly as they are Women-Haters--it all goes together"

    Corsi on "John F*ing Commie Kerry": "After he married TerRAHsa, didn't John Kerry begin practicing Judiasm? He also has paternal grandparents that were Jewish. What religion is John Kerry?"

    Corsi on Senator "FAT HOG" Clinton: "Anybody ask why HELLary couldn't keep BJ Bill satisfied? Not lesbo or anything, is she?" Nasty guys. For Swami, about as credible as Ann Coulter.

    And speaking of Ann Coulter...

    Loose Canon will never be as effective for her team as her pal Ann Coulter--perhaps because LC can't bring herself to cast the truth aside like a worn Gap t-shirt. Here's a Coulter whopper from the August 4 edition of Fox's Hannity & Colmes:

    Teresa Heinz Kerry is funding Senator John Kerry's presidential campaign...."[t]here's no one who can tell her to stop. She's funding that campaign."
    Even Zany Ann has to know that such financing would be illegal. And if Teresa were breaking the law, the screams from the White House would drown out the lies from the Swift Boat gang. But you haven't heard that accusation, have you? Hmmmm.

    On that same show, Coulter showed she can talk out of both sides of her ass--oops, mouth--at once.

    In response to substitute host Pat Halpin's observation that "57 percent of Americans, even people who are supporting [President] George [W.] Bush, say Bush is not doing a good job in Iraq," Coulter decided that polls are good when they produce results she approves of and polls are bad when they don't.

    Coulter Statement #1: "Looking at polls is phenomenally stupid. And I don't think that is how Americans vote. So I don't know why, you're just rambling off numbers."

    Okay, polls are stupid. But maybe not....

    Coulter Statement #2: I did watch the Democratic National Convention and that's why [FOX News Channel host] Sean [Hannity] and I are very confident and taking bets on the next election. And apparently a lot of Americans watched the Democratic National Convention as much as Kerry didn't get any bump from that. I mean, he's supposed to be getting like a 17-point bump. He got nothing. That's because people saw him and reacted the way people are wont to do.

    Ann's not bothered by the disconnect. Are you? Yes. Maybe that's because--spiritual-minded reader of Beliefnet that you are--the idea of "truth" still has some force in your life.

    Today's Best Message Board Post

    From the Eschaton boards:

    President Bush asked: "Who in the heck wants to be a war president?"

    The poster's response:

    I dunno...a guy who starts a war for no good reason, maybe? And who pumps his fist in the air before announcing it to the public? A guy who says "F---k Saddam, we're talking him out"?

    What I want to know is--and if anyone's heard this speech, maybe you can tell me--does the "now" in that sentence mean "Now, look...I don't want to be a war president"? Or does it mean "I don't want to be a war president anymore"? Department of Dirty Tricks: George Bush and Ralph Nader

    Bushies promoting Nader? So the once and former hero can siphon off votes from Kerry? Repubs swear: no way.

    But Foster's Online connects the dots:

    Visitors walking to President Bush's campaign picnic Friday were asked to help his re-election chances by signing nomination forms to place Ralph Nader on the ballot in New Hampshire as a presidential candidate.

    A spokeswoman for the Bush campaign said later on Friday it had no knowledge of the signature drive. New definition of "spokeswoman"--a woman at the far end of a hub, so far she knows nothing.

    Thought for Today

    We can create a neo-medieval society that will profoundly affect our economy, our politics and society itself. But we are bordering on creating an atmosphere of terror without the benefit of terrorists.
    --Brian Jenkins, terrorism expert and senior adviser at the Rand Corporation

    Bruce Springsteen: "Nobody complains that Marty Scorcese isn't actually in the Mafia"

    There's an exclusive interview with Bruce Springsteen on Backstreets.com.

    Backstreets: You've focused a whole lot more on issues than labels or parties over the years--whether that's Democrat, Republican, Independent, Reform, Green, or anything else. That has appeared to be a very conscious decision, so in this case was it just that things reached a tipping point?

    Springsteen: Yeah, I would say. I mean, I grew up in a Democratic house. The only political discussion I ever remember in my house was when I came home from school when I was little--I think someone asked me at school what we were, it must have been during an election season at some point, and I was probably around my son's age, eight or nine. And I came home and said, "Mom, what are we?" And she said, "Oh, we're Democrats. We're Democrats because they're for the working people." And that was it--that was the political discussion that went on in my house over about 18 years. So I've always held progressive beliefs, or liberal beliefs. I think that when I went to write--you're shaped by your background, fundamentally, there's no getting around it. I lived in a household that was caught in the squeeze, endlessly trying to make ends meet. My mother running down to the finance company, borrowing money to have a Christmas, and then paying it back all year until the next Christmas and borrowing some more. So I know what that's like. This time out, there just wasn't really any way I could sit on the sidelines.

    Backstreets: That makes me think about that "criticism" you always seem to get: how can a millionaire still write about blue collar concerns? Something similar gets leveled at Edwards: he's the son of a mill worker, and yet he turned into a millionaire lawyer, as if one negates the other. But clearly those formative experiences help shape how you see the world.

    Springsteen: That criticism is also a tremendously muddled idea of how writers write. First of all, have you ever been to Mark Twain's house?

    Backstreets: No, I never have.

    Springsteen: It's really nice [laughs]. The room he wrote in is beautiful.

    Backstreets: It wasn't a whitewashed shack with a bunch of frogs hopping around outside?

    Springsteen: No, it's a really beautiful Victorian home. So it's been done before! [laughs]... It seems to me that particular criticism gets aimed at musicians rather than, say, filmmakers. Nobody complains that Marty Scorcese isn't actually in the Mafia. It always comes up--I've settled into the fact that I'll be answering that question for the rest of my working life. But it's a muddled understanding of the way that things get written.

    It's Just Soooo Unfair How Liberals Keep Ganging Up on Dick Cheney

    According to a front-page page piece in the Business section of The New York Times:

    Four former finance employees at the Halliburton Company contend that a high-level and systemic accounting fraud occurred at the company from 1998 to 2001, according to a new filing in a class-action lawsuit on behalf of investors who bought the company's shares.

    The filing accuses the company of accounting improprieties that go far beyond those outlined by the Securities and Exchange Commission in its civil suit against Halliburton, which the company settled on Tuesday, paying $7.5 million.

    The charges in the complaint and in the S.E.C.'s action cover the two years when Vice President Dick Cheney was Halliburton's chief executive. But he was not named as a defendant in the new filing nor in the regulatory proceeding... Swami is wild with anger about this. Not in the way you expect, though. He's upset for Dick Cheney. And, for that matter, Kenneth Lay and all the other CEOs blindsided by their most trusted advisers.

    Imagine you're a CEO. You spend your days kissing government ass, making sure your company gets those no-bid contracts so crucial to your profits. It's a time-consuming, exhausting process--long boozy lunch on Monday, round of golf on Tuesday, strategy session with lobbyists on Wednesday. You come back to the office on Thursday, ask how it's going, they say "dandy"--and they give you a ream of financial statements to sign. You're so busy with Big Issues you don't notice that a loss (which would have busted your bonus) has, without your knowledge, become a hefty gain (which gives your bonus a nice goose).

    And then, years later, the government shows up and tells you that your books were cooked. Did you have anything to do with it? Of course not! So they don't indict you. But on the Internet, where guys whose only talent is for inventing conspiracies hold sway, they try you in absentia and find you guilty. They besmirch your reputation. Not fair! I mean, everybody knows: One thing no CEO worth his salt cares about is short-term gain. Not when our nation's future hangs in the balance.

    A Question for Loose Canon

    Swami hasn't started watching Fox News yet--one more bottle of single malt and he'll surely be ready--but others have.

    According to Media Matters:

    FOX News Channel's Hannity & Colmes and MSNBC's Scarborough Country both gave free airtime on August 4 to a new, misleading ad sponsored by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a recently formed group dedicated to attacking Senator John Kerry's record during and after his service in Vietnam. Both programs devoted segments to the ad, airing it the day before its scheduled release, but left out key facts that discredit Swift Boat Veterans for Truth....

    In the new ad, members of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth claim that they "served with John Kerry." Hannity & Colmes co-host Sean Hannity echoed the false claim, saying that the veterans in the ad are "the people that know him best," and referred to them as "some of his fellow crewmates." Even Pat Halpin, who was filling in for co-host Alan Colmes, called them "some of John Kerry's crewmates." Scarborough echoed Swift Boat Veterans' misleading claim that they "served with John Kerry in Vietnam." Swami's question for LC: These Viet Vets who "served with Kerry" and now attack his record--were they on the same boat with him?

    Just that: Shipmates? Or not? [The answer's not a trick. And certainly not a secret. If any readers Out There want to help LC out, feel free to post.]

    Extra-point question: If it turns out they weren't shipmates, when do you think Fox will correct Hannity's error?

    Bush or Kerry: Who Said It?

    "Committing troops into harm's way is the most difficult decision a president can make. That decision must always be last resort. That decision must be done when our vital interests are at stake, but after we've tried everything else. There must be a compelling national need to put our troops into harm's way....."

    Because Nothing Is More Important Than a Safer America

    This is so strange that Swami feels compelled to print the entire Washington Post article:

    In a shift of U.S. policy, the Bush aministration announced this week that it will oppose provisions for inspections and verification as part of an international treaty that would ban production of nuclear-weapons materials.

    For several years the United States and other nations have been pursuing the treaty, which would ban new production by any state of highly enriched uranium and plutonium for weapons. At U.N.-sponsored Conference on Disarmament in Geneva this week, the Bush administration told other nations it still supported a treaty, but not verification.

    The planned treaty wouldn't affect existing stockpiles or production for non-weapons purposes, such as energy or medical research. Mainly, it was designed to impose restraints on India, Pakistan and Israel, whose nuclear programs operate outside the reach of Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty inspectors.

    Administration officials said they made the decision after concluding such a system would cost too much, require overly intrusive inspections and wouldn't guarantee compliance with the treaty.

    Administration officials declined to explain in detail how they believed U.S. security would be harmed by creating a plan to monitor the treaty.

    Arms-control specialists reacted negatively, saying the change in U.S. position will dramatically weaken any treaty and make it harder to prevent nuclear materials from falling into the hands of terrorists. This craziness is the subject of today's lead editorial in The New York Times. The editorial notes:

    After raising the alarm on this terrifying problem, the White House now says Americans and the rest of the world are better off trusting empty, unverified promises.
    Hey, wasn't this the President who said, "Fool me once," etc? Oh, right, that was a while ago. You've forgotten. And if you haven't, look into my eyes as we count down from 10. Are you looking? Ok, your eyelids are feeling heavy...like you're going into a deep deep sleep...

    Do You Live in Los Angeles?

    Some months back, Swami wrote:

    I'm a big fan of holy music of Middle Eastern and Asiatic cultures precisely because I don't understand a word of those languages. But I knew nothing of Krishna Das until I read Amy Cunningham's riveting interview with him on Beliefnet, bought some of his CDs and got hooked.

    The story in brief: Long Island Jewish man meets Ram Das, learns about a guru in India. Goes there, gets knocked upside the head by the power of the guru's love, starts chanting. He has a modestly pleasant voice, but man, does he have conviction to burn. The combination makes him a kind of star on the chanting circuit.

    That is how, at the low point of our week, Swami and Mrs. Uptown found themselves trying to sit cross-legged on the floor of a recycled church on New York's Lower East Side...

    "Welcome to Bombay Weight Loss and Kirtan," Krishna Das began. "Here you can sing and lose weight at the same time."

    He began to play the harmonium. "Shree Raam Jaya Raam Jaya Jaya Raam," he sang, then we sang with him, and Swami wishes he could build some drama here, but the thing of it was: Liftoff was immediate. That's partly because the music is in a lower register, so it works as directly on the spine as a great bass guitar riff. It's also because the music forms an instantaneous community--500 people singing together, in praise of God and the god in themselves. And, as Krishna Das pointed out, "The repetition of the holy names reveals a presence hidden within the heart. Something begins to happen that's very disturbing--we get happy."

    ...You don't want to miss Krishna Das if he comes to your town. Well, he'll be in Los Angeles Monday August 9 & Tuesday August 10. The Vital Stats:

    Kirtan with Krishna Das
    Center for Yoga
    230 1/2 N. Larchmont Blvd.
    Ticket Price: $20 in advance / $25 at door
    Tel: (323) 464-1276
    Web: Information

    International Music

    While we're on the topic, a shameless plug for Head Butler, Swami's other web project, which showcased World Music this week. If Khaled....Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.....Ali Farka Toure...and Cesaria Evora are unknown to you, you could do worse than check them out.

    Thought for Today

    It's Hard to Kiss the Lips at Night That Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long
    --Title of a song on The Nororious Cherry Bombs, a new CD featuring Rodney Crowell and Vince Gill

    All the News That's Printed to Fit

    Loose Canon has offered what she calls "sage advice to get you through the next three months." It is: "Don't believe what you read in the newspapers. It will be biased. (Of course, it's okay to partake of Fox News Channel and a few other acceptable outlets that give it to you straight.)"

    Media Bias? She's onto something there. Start with the New York Times. Its reporters are biased against Kerry (proof: the continuing confusion between Bush propaganda on terrorism and actual news, the lack of curiosity about Cheney's role in Halliburton's misstated earnings, etc.). The TV networks are just as biased against Kerry--as The Daily Howler has reported for weeks, the Brokaws, Russerts, Blitzers, and Woodruffs are only too happy to buy the nonsense that Kerry is the Senate's "number one liberal" and Edwards is "number four."

    So let's turn to Rupert Murdoch's New York Post, the local Bible for LC. It's so damn "fair and balanced" that last Friday's front page was about Rudy Giuliani just happening to be in Boston and quipping that he didn't need Michael Moore to tell him about 9/11--a much newsier headline, doncha think, than, say, John Kerry's nomination and acceptance speech, which was only the most important speech of his career.

    And in today's Post--Swami had to take the link from a Chicago paper, as this column was, oddly, not included on the Post's site--Robert Novak, nobody's idea of a leftist, gives us a preview of the Republican convention:

    Convention's platform committee convening in New York less than three weeks from now, no draft platform exists, no subcommittees have been named, and no special lodging for committee members has been assigned. Rather than signifying sudden collapse of accustomed Republican efficiency, all this looks more like a coolly calculated plan.

    The suspicion has grown that President Bush's re-election strategists--Karl Rove and Karen Hughes--do not want the open debate over principles and policy that has characterized Republican platform-making for a generation. The carefully guarded Bush campaign game plan is to present delegates on the platform committee with an unpleasant surprise when they arrive in New York: a trimmed down document with virtually no time to debate it. LC and her ilk found the Democratic Convention a big ole bore because it was so scripted, so we may assume she's disappointed in advance that the Bushies also plan a smooth-as-silk convention. Although, as Swami thinks about it, a news-free Republican Convention fits rather nicely with Loose Canon's general proposition: Go to sleep, wake up November 2, vote for Bush. And then, presumably, go back to sleep again, knowing that your future is in good hands.

    Oh, but Swami forgets. The war. It generates Real News. Which we--well, some of us--actually want/need to know. But as LC points out: "Thanks to news media biases, most of us haven't the foggiest what's really going on there."

    Well, here's some help for LC and others:

    Iraqi Coalition Casualties (tellingly, it does not list Iraqi casualties, but Swami has seen a number of sources that say about 100 Iraqis die each day).

    Military.com, surprisingly objective coverage and sensible commentary from "the trusted home of America's military"

    Today in Iraq, a daily chronicle of violence.

    Juan Cole, though hardly "conservative," is a thorough documentarian of the war.

    Baghdad Burning is a blog written by a young Iraqi woman. She posts less frequently than Swami would like, but she's very strong on what it's like to Be There. Sample:

    The electricity has been quite bad. On some days, we're lucky to get 12 hours--3 hours of electricity for three hours of no electricity--but more often than not, it's four hours of no electricity and two hours of electricity. A couple of weeks ago, there was a day when our area had only one hour of electricity out of 23 hours with no power. The hellish weather had everyone out in their gardens by sunset, trying to find a way to stay cool.
    Read this stuff--and, what the hell, watch FOX--and you'll do fine. LC? She's pretty much told you she's checked out. Swami? "Reporting for duty."

    The Bushwomen and the Terror Alerts

    Is Jimmy Breslin hitting them out of the park, or what? Today, he retells "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" and then moves on to The Bushwomen's sudden need to visit New York:

    Every time something like that [Kerry doing the least bit better in the polls] happens, Bush stumbles or a 9/11 report comes out to make him look bad, he cries "terrorist." He has done this for over two years now.

    This time, a great bin Laden target in New York was the Citigroup Center on Lexington Avenue. You could be incinerated if Osama gets at this building!

    Right away in the morning, George Bush's wife and daughters rushed up from Washington to stand bravely in the front of all those cameras. It was not for the election. They truly wanted to stand with New Yorkers and be incinerated, the same as anybody else. Bruce Springsteen

    This is the big one, but Swami's put it off to the end, because it's so emotional for him.

    Swami was among the 25,000 people who bought "Greetings from Asbury Park" in l973. He hired a limo when he was broke so he could bring friends to the "Darkness at the End of Town" concert in style, because he knew "Badlands" and "Promised Land" and the others were just that major. He was there on Election Night, when Bruce introduced Clarence Clemons as "your next President." He sat 30 feet from the stage at the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame dinner the year Bruce gave the induction speech for Roy Orbison: "I used to play 'Only the Lonely' night after night in my room when I was young and alone and thought I would never be loved." He spent a fortune for Bruce tickets on ebay so his stepkids could know that you can get big and successful and not turn into a corporate stooge. In his AOL days, Swami built a special feature that asked members to share their Bruce stories, and boy, did he get them--Bruce leaning over the stage to give his harmonica to a guy in a wheelchair, Bruce quietly sending checks to food banks, mothers buried with concert programs in their coffins.

    So Swami was pretty much a mess all day yesterday. Not because Bruce's some kind of savior--he's not. But because Swami suddenly felt much less...alone. For months now, Swami has felt that daily life has turned into a low-grade Orwellian nightmare, with the government telling so many lies and the media going along with it and only the blogosphere and the foreign press standing between us and some looney tunes version of "Christian" feudalism. In a fight that unfair, you pray for allies. And then you get...Bruce.

    The airwaves were filled yesterday with media heavies--starting with Matt Lauer--wondering why we should care about the political views of musicians. A poster on a blogger's message board nailed that sucker: "If Larry Gatlin can introduce Bush to crowds on his campaign stops, then Bruce can speak out against Bush. You can't have it both ways, Repubs--either no celeb speaks out on politics (no matter who they support) or everyone can."

    And then, in a New York Times op-ed piece as thoughtfully composed as the best of his music, Bruce shared some thoughts that should make all decent Americans--regardless of their politics--stand a little taller:

    It is through the truthful exercising of the best of human qualities--respect for others, honesty about ourselves, faith in our ideals--that we come to life in God's eyes. It is how our soul, as a nation and as individuals, is revealed. Our American government has strayed too far from American values. It is time to move forward. The country we carry in our hearts is waiting.
    Yeah, it's that important: "how we come to life in God's eyes." Because if we don't, if we sit this one out or argue, as some do, that this election is really no more important than any other....

    Now those memories come back to haunt me,
    they haunt me like a curse
    Is a dream a lie if it don't come true
    Or is it something worse?

    If you live in one of the nine contested states where these concerts will be held and want to be part of history, here's some ticket/concert information: Vote for Change.

    Thought for Today

    "Why is God making me suffer so much?" he asked (in the final weeks of his life). "Just because I don't believe in him?"
    --From the hugely entertaining New York Times obituary of Sidney Morganbesser, a philosopher with a penchant for kibbitzing

    Which Is It: Bored? In Shock? Never Cared? Cat Got Your Tongue? None of the Above?

    Swami looks over the message boards: the usual suspects, the usual topics. Swami checks his mail: no surge. Swami reads Loose Canon: another valiant effort to count the number of angels (no, none of them are Democrats) dancing on a pinhead (no, not the President).

    Swami is confused.

    Did the government not tell you a whopper over the weekend? A whopper so big that "officials"--that's code for "government employees not directly under White House control"--promptly discredited its news value? A whopper so big that other "officials"--that's code for White House spokesmen--had to rush out a follow-up to the effect that the old stuff wasn't all there was to the terror warning, that new stuff came in just last week?

    And your reaction was....

    Let's try this another way. Let's make it personal: Swami lives down the block from you. One day Swami's car breaks down. You drive by, and, Good Samaritan that you are, you stop and find out what's wrong. Swami serves up a tale of woe: credit cards maxed out, bank account empty. Ten minutes later, you write Swami a check for $500 to pay for towing and repairs. Three weeks later, you get your monthly statement from your bank, along with your cancelled checks. And you see, in the MEMO line, someone--surely, Swami--has written: REPAYMENT OF LOAN. Like Swami loaned you the $500, and now you're paying him back!!!!

    Would you be mad?

    Swami bets you'd be livid! So what's the disconnect with the terror alert? (You think this stuff doesn't cost you money? If so, you're really not paying attention.) You say: you're not used to a lie from Swami, so you're pissed off, but you expect your government to lie, so you're not. You say: I don't care about the facts, I believe in George Bush. You say....

    No, the point is: Swami doesn't know what you say. Swami doesn't know why you're silent. But Swami would very much like to know if you're alive out there. Maybe you could prove it by sending Swami a $500 check, c/o Beliefnet. No need to write REPAYMENT OF LOAN. Swami is happy to do that for you.....

    If that doesn't get you agitated, maybe we could have an Army unit roll through your neighborhood and shoot every 1,000th kid they see on the street, leaving behind some empty explanation and a flag personally blessed by the President.

    Then let's talk about your emotional state, ok?

    So Much for the New Kid

    The Washington Monthly dispenses with Bush's proposed "intelligence" reforms (scroll down):

    Bottom line: the new [national intelligence] director heads no agency, doesn't have cabinet rank, doesn't work in the White House, has no budget authority, and apparently has no reporting authority. In other words, he's just a figurehead.

    This is a sham. If Bush doesn't like the 9/11 Commission's recommendations he should have the guts to say so. Instead, he and Rumsfeld have cooked up a transparent con: to the public at large it looks like he's acting decisively to take up the commission's recommendations, but anyone who knows how Washington works understands that he's really just giving them the finger.

    This is a complete victory for the Pentagon. They'll be able to brush off this new director like a fly. 1,000

    Jimmy Breslin has the story that no one else feels like writing:

    A rocket-propelled grenade came out of the hot afternoon in Iraq on July 7 and made Pfc. Samuel Bowen of Cleveland the 1,000th member of the U.S. military to die in battle since the World Trade Center attack.

    The number of dead is carefully compiled by the Army Times newspaper, which carries the most news about the war. The others who know he is the 1,000th are those who fought where he died.

    Bowen died at 38 in the afternoon of July 7 when his Ohio National Guard engineer convoy stopped because one of the trucks broke down. Bowen and a dozen Guardsmen protected the convoy while a mechanic tried to repair the truck. Iraqis fired a rocket-propelled grenade that killed Bowen and wounded two others....

    Some anecdotes about the man who became the 1,000th victim:

    Bowen....was coming out of a PX in Camp Anaconda in Iraq on June 16 with a friend, Ronald Eaton. They had bought soda. Suddenly, a rocket landed to Eaton's right. Shrapnel ripped his side. There was a second rocket. Shrapnel hit Bowen. Then Bowen was on his feet. He dragged Eaton out of the area. "He helped some others before he helped himself," Eaton was saying yesterday. "Then he drove two and a half hours to our base at Tikrit. He was a true hero."

    Bowen was in the 112th Engineer Battalion of the Ohio National Guard. When he arrived in Iraq, they had him in the morale, welfare and recreation office. He got out of there in as hurry. He became a driver for a sergeant, Paul Brondhaver. "He drove me 2,000 miles of combat patrols," Brondhaver recalls.

    On July 7, Bowen was driving Brondhaver in an unarmored humvee. They were last in the convoy that stopped. They got out to guard the others and the rocket took care of Bowen. Swami thought of Bowen last night when he went to see "The Manchurian Candidate," which features a version of Creedence Clearwater's "Fortunate Son" adapted by Wyclef Jean. For those who don't remember:

    Yeh, some folks inherit star-spangled eyes,
    Ooh, they send you down to war, Lord,
    And when you ask them, how much should we give,
    Oh, they only answer, more, more, more...
    Meet James L. Hart, Republican Congressional Candidate in Tennessee

    The AP profiles Republican congressional candidate James L. Hart, who acknowledges that he is an "intellectual outlaw."

    He is an unapologetic supporter of eugenics, the phony science that resulted in thousands of sterilizations in an attempt to purify the white race. He believes the country will look "like one big Detroit" if it doesn't eliminate welfare and immigration. He believes that if blacks were integrated centuries ago, the automobile never would have been invented.

    He shows up at voters' homes wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying a gun, and tells them that "white children deserve the same rights as everyone else." Hart's website offers some thoughts that would be funny (if you were totally wasted): Preserving Intellectual Capacity.

    Michelle Malkin

    The conservative commentator has a new book out. Its title: In Defense of Internment: The Case for Racial Profiling in World War II and the War on Terror.

    Profiling! Just what we need more of! (Let's not stop with Arabs, let's go right on to African-Americans. And Jews. And Liberals--you can identify them by their wire-rim glasses.)

    [For a riveting account of responsible citizens seeing terror threats in their own hometown, don't miss this: Iraqis visiting on a civil rights tour were barred from Memphis city hall after the city council chairman said it was too dangerous to let them in.]

    On the blogs, some folks with PhotoShop have .....well, you decide if they've "improved" Ms. Malkin's cover or not: alternative covers for Malkin's book.

    Thought for Today

    "No one can terrorize a whole nation, unless we are all his accomplices."

    --Edward R. Murrow

    Banana Republic (No, Not the Store)

    Well, the stock market nailed it. The new terror alert? A non-event.

    The traders didn't have to wait to hear that some of the information we got from the Al-Qaeda terrorists--captured, as the New Republic predicted a month ago, just in time for an announcement that would make some of us forget that John Kerry's running for President--pre-dates Our Savior's presidency.

    The traders didn't need to hear Tom Ridge say, "The kind of information available to us today is the result of the president's leadership in the war against terror" to understand that this exercise was yet another attempt by our inept leaders to scare us into loving Big Brother. (Of course, Big Brother had so much trouble reading his lines yesterday you had to wonder: Is he scared? Does he dimly suspect he can't even protect his dog? Does he--too late--think that saying "Bring it on" was not quite the right approach to the terrorist threat?)

    The traders didn't need to see Laura and the Twins pay a surprise visit to the Citicorp building to know that we'd be looking at lots of photo ops as staged as Stalinist "show trials."

    But you're not a trader. You watched your TV. And no one except Howard Dean said you were being spooked just for political advantage. [How much did your favorite network give to the Republicans these last few years? Here are those stats.] Or you listened to a radio station owned by a giant network.

    And you got spooked.

    Well, you're gonna get spooked again and again until you learn that these guys have no idea how to protect you or don't even much care. As The Progress Report--along with the New York Times and others--concludes:

    The 9/11 Commission proposed a bold restructuring of the nation's intelligence apparatus to prevent future terrorist attacks, but President Bush made clear yesterday he was prepared to support only cosmetic changes. One of the key recommendations of the 9/11 Commission is to create a new intelligence chief who would oversee the nation's sprawling intelligence infrastructure. Yesterday, Bush proposed creating the position, but refused to empower the post with the authority necessary for it to be effective. Similarly, Bush accepted the commission's recommendation to create a new counterterrorism center, but refused to empower the body with the authority it needs. According to The New York Times, "White House and Bush campaign officials have long said that the details matter far less than the pictures and sounds of Mr. Bush talking in any way about his campaign against terrorism."
    Still, there's a Big Question out there: Will there be a terror attack? An Al-Qaeda informant says yes, in early September. Credible? Well, the source is British intelligence, which, unlike ours, is not yet an oxymoron.

    The second big question: Will these Halloween tactics produce votes for the incumbent? Gee, Swami hopes people aren't that stupid. For Swami, these tactics are turning the contest into a fairly simple choice between garden-variety liars on one side and world-class, sky's-the-limit, ain't-no-whopper-we-won't-tell liars. But then, Swami came of age during Vietnam--he's seen this movie before.

    P.S. Here's a riveting account of the origins of the phrase "banana republic." See if doesn't make you proud all over again to be an American.

    Do You Like Money?

    Michael Kinsley wondered:

    Is there a difference between the parties that transcends the differences between the candidates? Is one of the parties, for example, a better steward of the economy? One year won't tell you much, or even one administration. But surely differences will emerge over half a century or so, if they exist. With that thought, I headed for the Web. Specifically, I went to the charts attached to the President's Economic Report, released in February. There I downloaded like a madman and then distilled the mess into a few key stats.
    Kinsley then crunched numbers starting in 1960. His findings? Oh, but you don't care about money, just about issues. So don't click.

    Democrats for Jesus (and Kerry)

    Yesterday, Loose Canon wrote: "The Democratic Party is going through its Religious Until November (RUN) phase."

    Her argument: Americans value Religion. The Democratic Party doesn't. But the Dems will do anything for votes--so they'll pretend to care about Religion until November 3rd.

    Something must have been in the air yesterday, for both Loose Canon and The Rude Pundit--two people who must never meet--were finding a rare convergence in their columns.

    RP's was inspired by a New Mexico rally last week, where getting a ticket to see Dick Cheney required residents to kiss the Republican Ring. As the Associated Press reported:

    Some Democrats who signed up to hear Vice President Dick Cheney speak here Saturday were refused tickets unless they signed a pledge to endorse President Bush.

    The measure was a security step designed to avoid a disruption, which Bush campaign spokesman Dan Foley alleged Democrats were planning. Democratic Party officials denied it.

    Several Democrats, at least, encountered the screening measures Thursday after calling from a line that self-identified as ACT, America Coming Together, an activist group that supports Kerry, Foley said. Others attempted to give false names and were denied tickets, he said.

    Two men who had sought tickets reported they were required to give name, address, phone number, e-mail address and driver's license number, then were presented the pledge of endorsement when they arrived to pick up the tickets Thursday. Incredible! You don't agree with us, you can't stand here! Swami was enraged. But Rude Pundt sees a Silver Lining. Swami has cleaned up the language--forgive me, RP, but this is a fun-for-the-whole-family blog:

    The Rude Pundit was once hired for a job where he was required to sign an oath of loyalty to the Constitution. A friend hired with him refused to sign and declined the job. The friend was principled, but wrong: if you are truly subversive, you sign the f---n' oath. You can only be subversive from the inside.

    You wanna f---- with a Bush/Cheney rally? Sign the goddamn oath. Just f----in' lie.[...]

    Check out this dialogue: Republican "volunteer" dog: "Are you pro-life?"

    The Rude Pundit: "Yeah, sure, why the f--- not?"

    See? It's easy.... The lightbulb went off for Swami right there: This how the Democratic Party should treat religion--whatever their real feelings, Democratic candidates should loudly proclaim their complete fealty to Jesus.

    "But that's a lie!" Loose Canon will howl.

    Yes, my darling. So it is. Just as it is when your boys wrap yourselves in Bible rhetoric--the flags have been otherwise deployed, covering coffins from Iraq--and declare themselves "Christians."

    And Today's Good News

    The Truth is always a Good Thing, no matter how harsh. And a thoughtful reader has alerted Swami to Military.com, a site that even Loose Canon would call "patriotic." David Hackworth reports from Iraq:

    "The company has a satellite phone, and each soldier is suppose to get 10 minutes per month to call home," says Soldier No. 3. "But it sits there in the first sergeant's office, and he and the company commander are the only ones who get to use it. The same is true with the company TV that's set up in the supply sergeant's living area for his personal use. He won't let anyone else watch it."

    "Our leaders ask us to tell them what our problems are, and when we do, they get mad at us," says Soldier No. 4. "They also repeatedly say they're working on getting things fixed, but nothing happens. They also need to stop sugarcoating what they tell our families back home. The CO and first sergeant e-mail letters to the family support coordinator saying how great things are here. Why should they con our families? Our folks know everything's not wonderful here even though they're not told about the incoming shells and the many nights we get no more than three hours of sleep. And how we patrol and operate 18 hours a day and sometimes get only one meal a day." Another shameless bit of self-promotion for Swami's sister site. Quick, name a Pakistani who delivered a message of peace, devotion and love to an audience so huge he was more beloved than Elvis. Stumped? Click here.

    And finally, good news from Bush's base:

    Thirty-five Evangelical Christian leaders have signed a letter urging President Bush to provide large-scale humanitarian aid and consider sending U.S. troops to stop what they called the "genocide" in the Darfur region of Sudan.

    The Aug. 1 letter marks a shift in focus for the Evangelical movement. The victims in Darfur are mostly Muslim.

    "We view this as an opportunity to reach out to Muslims in the name of Jesus," Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, said Monday. "Christian people are appalled by this kind of genocide, and we don't want it taking place in our generation." Thought for Today

    I was getting my makeup done, and it just hit me: I love Nick, but I need time alone. I called my psychic, and I asked her opinion... I went straight to the Kabbalah Centre and got a new bracelet.
    --Paris Hilton, on breaking up with ex-Backstreet Boy Nick Carter

    Full Moon Weekend

    Swami was in a foul mood all last week.

    His Monday morning relief that USA Today would dare to edit Ann Coulter--the Paris Hilton of the Right--was dashed by the knee-jerk support for this hate-spewer from Loose Canon and others.

    The sweet, inclusive moments of the Democratic Convention were spoiled by TV reporters who were just too bored to report.

    The President held back bum economic numbers, and the country didn't even bother to pop its gum.

    A British House of Commons Report concluded "American and British military attacks are making the world more dangerous" and and suggested that our pre-emptive war had turned Iraq into a "battleground for al-Qaeda with appalling consequences for the Iraqi people."

    There's more. The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that the Justice Department investigation of Clinton National Security Adviser Sandy Berger revealed that "no original materials are missing and nothing Mr. Berger reviewed was withheld from the commission"--in other words, he did nothing wrong--but despite the insistence of some message board posters that there is a "liberal" media climate in this country, Swami will bet this is the first you've heard of Berger's exoneration.

    Then came the full moon. Swami and Mrs. Uptown drove the mile to the beach on Friday night and watched light travel 250,000 miles to dance on the waves. There were beach parties, and the smell of wood fires. Behind wall-to-wall glass, we watched the members of a private club enjoy their privileged dinners. We drove home, sun-roof open and the radio (progressive rock, of course) transitioning smartly from "Beds Are Burning" to "The Rising." It was the first time we'd noticed the female choir in the background of Bruce's song, the first time we'd heard the song without "seeing" our personal 9/11 movie--we were teary by the time we got home.

    Saturday, Swami dogged it. Read most of Thich Nhat Hanh's "No Death, No Fear," an immensely comforting book that offers, among other wisdom, this soul-grounding prayer:

    I have arrived, I am home
    In the here, In the now
    I am solid, I am free
    In the ultimate, I dwell
    In the evening, surrounded by family, the Uptowns grilled lobsters and rubbed lime butter on steamed corn.

    It was, in short, one of those all-American weekends that play out like Ralph Lauren ads--one of those weekends Swami reads about but rarely experiences.

    And then, Sunday. The terror alert. The cold clamp of fear. Fear that erases thought. Fear that makes people want to cling tighter to Dad, even though Dad is a big reason why this is happening.

    "If we are afraid all the time," Thich Nhat Hanh writes, "we cannot appreciate that we are alive and can be happy now."

    Fear makes very few people smart. But isn't the mission of Beliefnet to cultivate intelligence.... generate more aliveness... encourage more spiritual spaciousness... produce more happiness? If so, Swami thinks people like Loose Canon and yours sort-of-truly have a responsibility to help you through these scary times--to offer a path to a clearing, with a laugh along the way and maybe even a guided tour of the terrain we must traverse.

    Swami sees a two-level travel route. First is to know all the bad stuff and deal with as much of it as you can. The second is to remember we are Citizens of the Planet first and Americans second--that is, to exult.

    This is a continuing conversation. For today, let's deal with some of the bad stuff first....

    The Terror Warning

    What was the point of announcing the targets? So that Al Qaeda could know we arrested their computer wizard, thus encouraging them to turn the page and move on to Plan B?

    [Have you ever driven down New York's Lexington Avenue or up Third Avenue in the 50s? Then you know your suicide bomber will be cruising toward Citicorp at, oh, 10 miles an hour--15, if lucky. Not a very good run-up for a suicide bomber.]

    As for targets, the ones announced were obvious. One might ask: Why weren't they beefed up before? (For the same reason our seaports are still unguarded-- nobody's in charge.)

    And what about other targets in New York? Without much cogitation, Swami can think of [REDACTED], [REDACTED] and [REDACTED]--are they going unprotected because we have massive protection of the targets everyone in the world knows about?

    Here's a good reason not to feel safe: everything you've heard from the government in the last 24 hours.

    But there is something the Administration--or, rather, its corporate friends--might be good at......

    How to Steal an Election

    In the new issue of The Nation, Ronnie Dugger shows how easily it can be done.

    On November 2 millions of Americans will cast their votes for President in computerized voting systems that can be rigged by corporate or local-election insiders. Some 98 million citizens, five out of every six of the roughly 115 million who will go to the polls, will consign their votes into computers that unidentified computer programmers, working in the main for four private corporations and the officials of 10,500 election jurisdictions, could program to invisibly falsify the outcomes.... The potential for fraud and error is daunting. About 61 million of the votes in November, more than half the total, will be counted in the computers of one company, the privately held Election Systems and Software (ES&S) of Omaha, Nebraska. Altogether, nearly 100 million votes will be counted in computers provided and programmed by ES&S and three other private corporations: British-owned Sequoia Voting Systems of Oakland, California, whose touch-screen voting equipment was rejected as insecure against fraud by New York City in the 1990s; the Republican-identified company Diebold Election Systems of McKinney, Texas, whose machines malfunctioned this year in a California election; and Hart InterCivic of Austin, one of whose principal investors is Tom Hicks, who helped make George W. Bush a millionaire.
    Surely the Democratic Party is all over this. But there are things that civilians can do. Some ideas:

    1) A reader tells me: "In Germany, people stand outside the voting area and ask everybody who they voted for. Usually the result is pretty close to the actual outcome. You just ask in some districts, and then you make a calculation about the predicted outcome."

    2) Request an absentee ballot. As The Miami Herald reports:

    A week ago Adrian Siegel became part of what may become a fast-growing trend this election year in Florida.

    Bothered by ongoing reports of problems with touch-screen machines, the southwestern Miami-Dade County resident mailed in an application to request an absentee ballot. Even though she works with computers for a living, Siegel says she wants a paper ballot this year.

    "How can we get a paper trail?" said Siegel, a Democrat. "We can't get it any other way. If there's a problem with the machines, we want our vote to be counted. That is the most important thing." Look Up (And Then There is Good News)

    1) Leonard Cohen's new 13-song CD, Dear Heather, will be released on September 28.

    2) Shameless plug for my sister site: Head Butler is, this week, showcasing World Music.

    "Culture breaks down walls--it's one reason we love it so," says Swami, wearing his Butler disguise. "Russian kids coming to love American rock more than they ever loved Stalin. Just this weekend, 600,000 Italians cheering for Simon & Garfunkel at a free concert in Rome. The way your walk changes when you hear music leaking out of someone's headphones."

    "This week, Butler will consciously kick down some walls. Call it International Week. And the focus is on music. Why? Because, as Marshall McLuhan said, 'You can't see around corners, but you can hear around them.'"

    "So here is what they're listening to over there. And where better to start than in the Arab states...."

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