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Welcome to the (old) Opinion Page

This is sort of an archived, spillover page from current Jim Terr Opinion page

STEVE ALLEN essay is about 1/3 way down this page...


of www.BlueCanyonProductions.com
(Addtional editorial topics are on the Letters page)

Okay, maybe it's not "Dewey Beats Truman," but this very impolite headline demonstrates the sorry state and liberal bias of American journalism. Should the Constitutional protections of freedom of the press be reconsidered? Read the pros and cons in the article below.

Jim Terr sneak-previews Stephen Soderbergh's latest film, featuring an unbelievable all-star cast: Susan Sarandon, Russell Crowe, Julia Roberts, Annette Bening, Martin Sheen, LeeLee Sobieski, and Haley Joel Osment

(From the Eldorado Sun, monthly column "Don't Get Me Started", February 2001)

I Saw This Great Movie....I Wish!  By Jim Terr ©

"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins..." -H.L. Mencken

An Internet search finds 13,500 entries under "demagoguery" and almost 16,000 for "demagogue", yet most people are not familiar with the term. Webster's definition of a demagogue is "one who seeks to gain personal or partisan advantage by specious or extravagant claims, promises or charges."

Steven Soderbergh's new star-studded but low-budget film, "Young Demagogues' School," employs a broader meaning of the word, encompassing advertising, corporate and political public relations and propaganda, euphemism, calculated rectitude and good-old-boyism and deceitful punditry of all sorts. I'll go along with this more inclusive definition, since it covers the whole range of media manipulation and spin control which assaults and attempts to mislead us on a daily basis.

The premise of this new Miramax release is best described by a 1998 cartoon that appeared in The New Yorker: A small child in a suit and tie is declaiming self-righteously at a tiny lectern, his right hand raised in oath-taking position, while his mother, watching from the next room, says to a friend, "With the Suzuki method, they start them campaigning as early as three or four."

In "Young Demagogue's School," an exclusive prep school evidently located somewhere in upstate New York prepares young people to practice the skills of deceit which seek to dominate our political, commercial, cultural and even emotional lives, and which prop up the "culture war" which has replaced the external enemies of the Cold War.

In the "Rush Limbaugh Master Class," young demagogues-in-training are guided in the fine art of demonizing their opponents. In this disturbing sequence, Haley Joel Osment (the wonderful young co-star of "The Sixth Sense") draws a classmate's name from a hat, silently peruses a questionnaire listing her views on such mundane things as sports, fast food and music, and then cheerfully turns everything he knows about her into a withering attack on her character, intelligence and intentions -- almost as skillfully as the "master" himself.

Osment's mentor in this scene, Susan Sarandon (playing very much against type, or at least against her own real-life progressive political stance), combines a seemingly motherly instinct with a scary understanding of the manipulative techniques of advertising and P.R., and a ruthless determination to instill it in her young subjects.

Another frightening but funny sequence has Sarandon and her ditzy co-instructor, Annette Bening, leading the rowdy class through an exercise in framing a series of heinous political and corporate acts as good things we can't possibly live without, using the warm, fuzzy, soft-focus, saccharine-piano, "Morning in America" TV ad approach that seems to work so well for everything from ketchup to candidates -- and in giving them euphemistic, saleable titles.

The flip side, portraying good acts and initiatives as the greatest threats to democracy since Adolph Hitler, is practiced by our young demagogues using the growling, threatening, rumbling commercial style heard so often in political "issue ad" campaigns. Watching the students master these techniques and voices is at once fascinating and disquieting.

What emerges throughout the film is a bleak, sardonic view of a world controlled by spin doctors and their manipulative ads, phony news stories and industry-sponsored "astroturf" (as opposed to real "grassroots") citizen group campaigns. This is the Kafkaesque universe parodied weekly in Tom Tomorrow's comic strip, This Modern World, and by such cartoons as one that appeared in Time Magazine after Hillary Clinton's health care plan bit the dust in an industry-orchestrated orgy of recrimination: "Then came the TV scare ads: 'The Government wants to tear down our health care system and force us to have surgery performed by Motor Vehicle Bureau clerks!!'"

As owner and headmaster of the Young Demagogues' School, Martin Sheen (in a sharp departure from his usual television role as a liberal US President) does a chilling turn as a Machiavellian proponent of mastering demagoguery both as a career skill and as a defense against other demagogues. His simultaneous pursuit of both Bening and seductive student LeeLee Sobieski (Joan of Arc), effortlessly conducted behind the back of his hapless wife, Julia Roberts, represents an Oscar®-worthy performance for both Sheen and Bening.

Special mention is due to the ubiquitous Russell Crowe, who, in an amusing but unsettling sequence as the school's only male instructor (oddly, involved in none of the romantic or murderous sub-plots swirling around the other characters), tutors young Rory Culkin (late of You Can Count on Me) and Sobieski in the use of biting but innocuous-sounding "code words," in pretending to attentively listen to and advise a clueless President while in fact telling him what to think, and in subtly re-stating an opponent's position in terms that make him seem heartless and ignorant.

In fact, virtually all the tools of the advertising and PR trades are starkly exposed in this funny and touching yet disturbing film, which will premiere nationally later this month.

Actually, this movie will appear about the same time they make a film about America's most interesting character, Ben Franklin -- which is to say, probably never. But I can dream, can't I?


Oliver North has emerged as yet another hero on the political scene who skillfully employs references to his family and his moral virtue to divert attention from the magnitude of his immoral actions. His performance has been masterful.

North is touching deep emotional chords in the American public with his ramrod manner, his love of country and family and his insistence that all his actions have been undertaken in the service of his government. He possesses the defiant, arrogant style of the righteous, at once subservient to those above him who agree with his vision and contemptuous of all those who refuse to believe.

(North) is self confident and assured; he speaks from a deep reservoir of certainty that may be related to a strong religious conviction...he has mastered the dramatic pause and indignant tone needed to present himself as the faithful servant of his leaders.

(This chilling example of "calculated rectitude and good-old-boyism" courtesy of James M. Wall in The Christian Century, July 15, 1987)


Santa Fean Jim Terr is a song satirist, actor and video producer who lives at www.bluecanyonproductions.com.


As published in the Eldorado Sun, Santa Fe, NM, January 2001 issue, Jim Terr's monthly column, "Don't Get Me Started." (http://www.eldoradosun.com)

Open Letter to Dr. Laura Schlessinger, December 11, 2000

Dear Dr. Laura,

I believe you truly outdid yourself today. If I understood you correctly, you were complaining that because you have been misrepresented and misquoted so often in the press, you are living proof that journalists have lost all credibility, and that the press therefore does not deserve and will not have for long the particular freedoms guaranteed to it by the Constitution.

Having disparaged (contrary to your oft-repeated admonitions to your listeners not to be disparaging, hateful or impolite) librarians, psychiatrists, school teachers, etc., now you're starting in on journalists.

I doubt that you know any journalists personally, other than the right-wing sources you referred to today, and you certainly never would have made it as a journalist (or a school teacher, librarian, etc.). How about a little appreciation and understanding for people who have hard, generally thankless jobs, often much more difficult and less ego-gratifying than yours?

If you knew any working journalists, or ever hung around a newsroom for even a few hours, you would find out how hard most journalists work to confirm facts. Not every report and allegation is open to the three confirmations you demand (at least for any stories involving you), but shouldn't we hold you to the same standards that you demand of journalists?

Compare the level of accuracy and objectivity of the press to the slander and generalizations about large groups of people that you spew daily (your latest favorite: Democrats!). You have no room to criticize a profession which by training and habit, makes a tremendous effort to be accurate and objective.

Your statement, "There is no serious journalism; it's getting so bad that there soon may not be any constitutional protection for journalists" certainly must make you feel good, but it's a self-fulfilling prophecy for people like you, who can't handle the existence of news and views that you don't agree with.

You said today, "I can't support the press having special privileges". Oh really? How about talk show hosts? They aren't even mentioned specifically in the Constitution, as the press is.

I hate to be anywhere near paranoid, but is it any coincidence that just as a Bush presidency emerged, right-wing pundits like yourself began floating more and more openly the idea that the press could use a few restrictions? You quote the statistic that 32 percent of Americans support some restrictions on the press, as though there is some objective "truth" that a Big Brother government can guarantee. You, of all people, should be horrified at this prospect.

If another Democratic administration were in power, with the kind of authoritarian control over the press that you and other right-wingers dream of, you would be damn thankful that the press is guaranteed its freedom, even given their all-too-human margin of error and bias that we all must put up with. If somebody has reported inaccurately or unfavorably on you, why don't you just shrug it off as everybody in the public eye has to do from time to time, instead of palpitating at the prospect of a muzzled press?

Someone who freely admits that she gets her news and views from Rush Limbaugh (as you did on November 21) is in no position to criticize people who generally do make a serious, professional effort to be accurate and balanced. On that same day I heard you say about Rush, after quoting his crackpot view on something or other: "He's been in the business long enough to know what he's talking about."

You do realize what business he's in, don't you? He's in the business of demonizing "liberals" and glorifying "conservatives," regardless of any fact or view which might run contrary to that thesis, for the gratification of people who like a simple, black-and-white political and social analysis.

In fact, Rush has done something brilliant, if evil: As you know, many adults as well as children and adolescents live with the natural ongoing questions, "Where do I fit in?" What's right? How should I act? Who am I? What distinguishes me from others?

Rush brilliantly answers those questions with a comprehensive, well-constructed mythology and value system, which you seem to have adopted from him: Conservatives/Republicans are good, generous, moderate, fair-minded, sensible, hard-working, family-oriented, God-fearing, self-reliant, temperate and reasonable - - as opposed to liberals/Democrats. (Lately you have even taken to using Al Gore as your metaphor for everything evil, amoral and duplicitous!)

Liberals, on the other hand, have no comparable mythology, and no spokesman as clever and popular as Rush to spew it, with no bevy of clones such as yourself to repeat it and expand upon it.

You might want to consider whether the corporate interests who typically support the Republican Party and their supposed agenda of self-reliance, responsibility, "family," "community," and the future, are really committed to those things. If they were, they would not be the same people who do whatever they can to plunder the earth and its people, based on unrealistic, unsustainable assumptions about population and consumer growth, to meet the immediate demands of the bottom line at all costs.

The best instincts and aspirations of good-hearted Christians, Republicans and other "middle Americans" have been successfully co-opted by conservative Republicans and corporate operatives and ideologues, often by creating phony "grassroots" citizen groups in order to appear legitimate.

Every time you talk about one of your favorite nemeses--gay or environmental activists, librarians, psychiatrists, liberals, etc.--and say "what they really want...", "what they're really doing..." or "what their real agenda is...", you should know that you're generally wrong, and that you're slandering and demeaning people. But you do it anyway, since you have the platform and enough yes-sayers to make you feel good about it in spite of whatever conscience you may have.

Many years ago I underwent a process called "rebirthing," essentially a rapid-breathing process which tends to bring up whatever buried sources of sadness or conflict are nearest the surface. What unexpectedly overwhelmed me was a feeling of great sadness for having bought in to the anti-"Establishment" rhetoric of my college days, which had caused me to dismiss and demean an entire segment of the population, many of them perfectly honorable and sincere. It had evidently made me feel good to demonize them, but I now regret this profoundly, and endeavor to avoid making the same mistake again.

In the spirit of Lee Atwater, the conservative attack dog who found himself on his deathbed tearfully asking forgiveness for all the havoc he'd wrought, I'd recommend you consider doing the same.

Jim Terr is the author of "Letters to Doctor Laura, and other struggles against demagoguery and fundamentalism" (http://www.bluecanyonproductions.com/letters.html)




STEVE ALLEN KEPT ME ALIVE

By Jim Terr
(c)
(as printed in the Albuquerque Tribune, November 18, 2000)

In 1957 I was eight years old, a third grader in the tiny tourist town of Charlevoix, Michigan. It was a sunny childhood, full of warmth, closeness and gay laughter.

Actually, it wasn't. In addition to being in a small, chilly community in the post-McCarthy 1950s, I had my own precocious sense of ennui, a well-developed melancholy and alienation far beyond my years.

We didn't have a television until I was about six or seven, and not much on TV really amused me. Children's shows bored or scared me, and although I loved Dinah Shore and Perry Como for their warm personalities, the songs that they and their guests crooned left me cold.



Into this emotional vacuum stepped Steve Allen, with his weekly variety show on NBC-TV. (Mr. Allen died October 30, peacefully in his sleep, thank God.) Like the Beatles years later, Steve Allen's zaniness and intelligence was a lifeline of hope for me in a barren, mostly humorless world.

The fact that Mr. Allen was also well on his way to writing the 8,500 songs and 53 books he eventually authored, the fact that he was a serious crusader who was always aware of the social and political context in which he lived, were things I wasn't aware of at the time. Or perhaps I just assumed they were normal for public figures, which of course they are not.

What I was aware of was his irrepressible wit and spontaneity. Even today he is credited not only with having invented the late-night talk show (he originated the Tonight Show), but he's acknowledged as being the greatest ad-libber of all time. Irreverent, totally non-linear, he refused to take anything seriously.

Here's his delivery of an ad for Coldene Stick Chest Rub, whose teleprompter script was a straight pitch for avoiding the "greasy, gooey mess" of "ordinary greasy rubs."

Allen: "Say, do you smear your youngsters like this when they have a cold? Do they smear you right back? Gets pretty gooey, doesn't it? Well, friends, stick by those gooey kids of yours. They're the best friend your car ever had. But finally somebody has taken the grease and messiness out, and put grit and grime back in.
     
Here's what I mean, and I wish I knew. It's called Coldene Stick Chest Rub, and you just stick it in your old rubbery chest.Watch how to avoid the messiness and discomfort of eating fried chicken with your bare hands. Your fingers never even touch it. That's right. The whole operation is handled by your toes...."

Allen sent me an autographed copy of his book, "How to be Funny; discovering the comic you," in which this and many other such items appear, a few years ago, after I had sent him a note letting him know how much he meant to me and millions of others of my generation. He also put me on his list to receive his frequent mailings of clippings on the many issues he felt were important -- underlined and asterisked.

Several months later I invited him to attend a film-and-video networking event here in Santa Fe called "Schmoozarama '96." He sent his regrets and best wishes in an open letter which began as follows:

"Having devoted a good part of my life to schmoozing and a not insignificant portion of my energies to ramming I am naturally not loathe - whatever that means - to participate in the general encouragement of whatever it is that you people are up to. On the general understanding that nothing you are doing is either illegal or immoral you may count me among your supporters..."

In the outpouring of articles and testimonials that followed Mr. Allen's death, many of his colleagues and friends spoke not only about his incredible wit and his extraordinary output as a Renaissance Man, but about his kindness and decency, his warmth and gentlemanliness.

As for his social concerns (his latest one being the rise of vulgarity in entertainment and media) he never stopped, and he was crusading in crisp, clear, erudite sentences right up to his last week.

A friend of his wrote that the two seminal experiences of Allen's life were the gratitude he felt at being treated to a cup of coffee and a hot dog when he was cold and homeless one night at age 16, and the tearful gratitude he felt when he found out that his wife, Jayne, did not have cancer after all. Allen, an agnostic, speculated that the earliest prayers of primitive man were probably prayers of gratitude.

With that deep sense of gratitude for a life well-lived and for a true role model and inspiration, I say thank you and goodbye, Steve. You'll never know what a difference you made.

Jim Terr is a singer-songwriter and humorist who lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico at www.JimTerr.com. Hear a nice interview with Steve here.




A GREAT NEW IDEA: ME!
By Jim Terr
(As published in the Eldorado Sun, Santa Fe, NM, November 2000 issue, monthly column "Don't Get Me Started")

Not to disappoint any of my fans, but I've decided to give up my moralistic, self-righteous, idealistic tone and take a new approach to making a difference in this weary world. I've decided to stop sitting at the sidelines, sniping at the politicians and pundits who pollute the airwaves, press and public arena. I've decided to get down into the mudpit myself.

Yes, you heard it here first: I'm going to run for office! And I'm going to be pragmatic about it.

Having examined the platforms of two major candidates who demonstrated almost mathematically impossible, amazingly identical levels of appeal, I have decided to adopt those elements which I think endeared each of them to almost 50 per cent of the voting public. Yes, I, too, want to be that well-loved, and I want to serve you, the People, my friends, the working families that inhabit the Breadbasket, the Rust Belt, the Silicon Valleys, the Great Desert, and the Right and Left Coasts of this great nation.

Now, I'm not talking about plundering their official "platforms" and policy papers formulated for the twenty or thirty policy wonks and reporters who bothered to examine them. I doubt that these detailed tomes were even familiar to the candidates themselves (one of them in particular.)

No, I'm talking about what they projected, what they conveyed, those subtly-coded messages, ably-telegraphed qualities and often-repeated themes that really drew in the voters.

From Al Gore I've learned above all that you must be knowledgeable (a quality that's not easy to fake, but if George W. Bush can do it I can do it). No matter how much you project a good-old-boy, I'll-take-care-of-you-like-your-favorite-uncle image, the American people still have a sneaking suspicion that the presidency is a high-powered executive position where some brain power might be useful. And I certainly have that; you can take my word for it.

If pressed, I'll even promise, like Gore, to do something about campaign finance reform. I think that the current system of corporate financing, of not getting the needs of you, The People, American Families, taken care of, just because you don't have the big bucks to contribute a in order to get the attention you deserve -- I think that's rotten, don't you? Just watch me do something about it!

And Mr. Bush, what a master! Dumb like a fox! If you're ever lucky enough to meet me in person you'll quickly appreciate that I, too, am just a regular guy. Just like you, in fact, except that I have exceptional skills at bringing people together and I'm extraordinarily honest -- honest!

Not a brainiac like that smarty Al Gore, but gifted with natural wisdom, common sense and penetrating vision into the failings of the political system: I'll take power from the Ivy League intellectuals and social schemers who run Washington, and give it back to you, The People. You know what to do with your money, you know how to build roads and control air traffic and protect our vital oil interests in the Mideast far better than those pointy-headed beancounters.

You know better than the Washington Establishment how to direct research at the National Institutes of Health, and how to turn those expensive findings over to private pharmaceutical companies so they can patent them and make huge profits while gouging you for all you're worth. I have faith in you, The People.

Like Mr. Bush, I believe in accountability and responsibility, except perhaps in the case of corporate polluters and insolvent corporations and lenders, who sometimes need a helping hand for the good of all of us.

And from both of these fine men I've learned that you don't want to hear about a single-payer health care system, or to even discuss how well it may or may not have worked in Marxist countries such as Canada. The American Experience is unique, and we shall blaze our own path. Some day we may even have a health care and retirement plan as fine and generous as that of the Congress, who wouldn't be caught dead with the Social Security or health care systems that they're fine-tuning for you.

And I've learned a few things from the crashing failure of Ralph Nader's campaign, as well. Unliveable wages, world starvation and disease, the giveaway of the public's airwaves, corporate domination of government, media and culture, having the world's largest prison population -- BORRING!!

So tell those professional politicians in Washington you've had enough, that you're ready for a fresh face and a bold new approach. Tell them to step aside cuz Jim is in the house! Start organizing, start a dialogue with your neighbors, at your church and in your synagogue (everybody goes to either a church or a synagogue, don't they?).

Write to George and Al and tell them not to even bother in 2004! Because together, friends, you and I can do it!

Jim Terr is a Santa Fe singer-songwriter, well-known for his letters to local papers. Jim has produced two nationally-acclaimed video documentaries, one of New Mexico veterans of World War Two, and one of New Mexico Holocaust survivors. (http://www.BlueCanyonProductions.com )

Thanks!

 

WHAT I'D ASK THE CANDIDATES
By Jim Terr
(as printed in the Santa Fe Reporter, May 31, 2000)

There is only so much I can absorb about crime, education, Social Security, guns, abortion and school vouchers, especially when the candidates' positions often seem to reflect polling and focus group data more than personal passion and original thinking. And how much of what's said on the campaign trail will really be translated into policy, anyway? I've often toyed with what questions I would ask candidates for national office if I could sit down with them and really get them to answer. (And in fact I do have a rather risky and expensive scheme to actually address some jarring questions to the candidates.)

Some of the following questions are intended to help me probe the candidates' values, priorities, introspectiveness and candor, some to bring attention to issues not being addressed, and some just to see if they know what I'm talking about:

Are you concerned that the average American CEO now makes 475 times what the average worker makes (10 times the 1980 figure), while doing all he can to minimize wages and benefits and send jobs overseas if possible? Is there any behavior or level of personal wealth that you would define as greed? Do you believe most Americans are better off economically than they were 20 years ago?

What do you think about the strictures on social behavior and public policy necessitated by our litigious society? What are your thoughts on the bureaucratic and corporate mindset that seems to negate employees' creative, spontaneous, intuitive and generous instincts? How do you feel about "instant" Internet voting?

How many people starve to death in the world each day? When was the last time you addressed this in a speech or interview? How much death, illness, oppression and other misery is caused worldwide by US government and corporate policy, in your estimation?

Do you feel that Americans care about and depend upon the welfare of others in the world? Do you think the American people would appreciate your leaving a legacy of environmental, economic and social justice, world peace, democracy, and a worldwide living wage? Do you think that such a focus would provide maximum security for Americans as well?

Do you think that the interests of "Wall Street" are inherently different from those of "Main Street", and that the current system of campaign finance and "soft money" tilts the balance of influence to corporate interests at the expense of citizens?

Are you concerned about the fear-and-misinformation industry, phony corporate and advocacy front groups, and the politicization of health, nutrition and consumer information? Do you think of federal lands as being owned by the government or by the public?

How do you feel about radar detectors? Taxing Internet sales? Universal health care? Have you ever been attracted to someone of the same sex, even momentarily or mistakenly? Do you think marijuana causes more havoc than alcohol? Do you think global warming is a fiction? Do you feel that most gun control advocates are really bent on elimination of private gun ownership?

When did you last listen to "Prairie Home Companion?" How about "Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers"? Are you concerned about the growing proportion of business and financial news on PBS-TV and National Public Radio, relative to the truly alternative political, economic and environmental content that characterized their founding?

Are you aware of the rapid reduction and pollution of water supplies and water tables, including in the US? When was the last time you expressed concern about this in a speech or interview? Does your family have a private source of water that does not depend on the same water supplies as the rest of us?

How do you feel about Tacitus' statement that "The more numerous the laws, the more corrupt the state"? Do you have any ideas on reducing the body of law to a level such that the average citizen can get through life on her best civic and social instincts, without retaining an attorney? How do you feel about Mark Twain's statement that "It's getting harder and harder to assemble a jury, because it's getting so hard to find 12 people who don't know anything and can't read"? How about Thomas Jefferson's warning that corporations should be strictly limited in their size, power and duration, and should never be accorded the rights of citizens?

Do you feel that TV and movie violence encourages violent behavior? Do you think that excessive TV and video games are reducing children's ability to think, read and socialize? If so, when was the last time you addressed this in a speech or interview?

In matters such as honesty, trust, civility, Constitutional and historical knowledge, littering, voting, debate, handicapped parking and running stop signs, do you think the average person is getting more--or less--civic-minded?

Would you desire a different punishment for someone who robbed your mother of her life savings, depending on whether they stole it physically or "with a fountain pen?"

What do you think of the idea of having the prosecution and defense decide and declare before a verdict is delivered, whether the trial was fair and proper, rather than automatically requesting an appeal or mistrial if the verdict doesn't go their way?

Well, now that that's over, let's go to Starbucks to discuss the decline of local businesses at the expense of national and multi-national chains. I'll buy!

   


Defense Bidding War
by Rep. Peter DeFazio
(reprinted by permission)

Think the days of thousand-dollar hammers and screwdrivers and bolts are gone? Wrong. The Pentagon loses ships: they do not know where they are.... The Pentagon cannot even have their books audited to figure out how they are spending their money, yet we are giving them more money. (Republican Budget Committee chairman, John Kasich, on the House floor, March 23, 2000)

We recently saw Congress's response to the growing crisis in waste and inefficiency at the Pentagon. The House overwhelmingly authorized a record $309.9 billion for the Defense Department, $4.5 billion over the President's request and an increase of $21.1 billion from last year. Pathetically, an amendment to put some pressure on the Pentagon brass to reign in waste with a 1percent reduction in procurement and research and development was rejected 331 to 88.

President Clinton bears much of the responsibility for the run up in Pentagon spending. He has recommended increases in Pentagon spending in 6of his 8 budget proposals. However, in an effort not to be outdone by thePresident they call a "draft dodger," the Republican majority, since taking over Congress in 1994, has trumped his requests with another $41.8 billion in unrequested increases.

Kasich justifies the increases despite his devastating criticism of waste at the Pentagon by saying: "We do not want our people in uniform to pay the price for sloppy management inside the Pentagon."

Unfortunately, it is the men and women in the ranks who are suffering along with millions of average Americans who have seen vital programs and benefits cut to finance Pentagon waste. More than 16,000 enlisted families still qualify for food stamps. I met the father of a Marine shopping for a waterproof bag for his son's fancy digital field radio--the Pentagon could only afford a garbage bag. Officers during the Gulf War called home to ask their families to buy hand-held Global Positioning Satellite units the Pentagon couldn't provide.

It is the same old "Iron Triangle" President Eisenhower warned us about, back with a vengeance forty years later. Newt Gingrich forced the purchase of unneeded C-130s to benefit his District. Trent Lott has forced the building of an unrequested air craft carrier to benefit a shipyard in his home state. Despite $50 billion spent without a single successful honest test, Ronald Reagan's Star Wars fantasy is being pushed toward deployment, jeopardizing the ABM and START treaties.

Recently, a report leaked from a special panel of defense-contractor executives established by the Pentagon to study problems with their industry. "Industry management and government share responsibility for the problem. Fixing these problems is critical to our future national security." Unfortunately, this is not an enlightened report about the waste and inefficiency in procurement. It is a report bemoaning the low stock prices and lack of profitability for defense contractors. Among the solutions: Pay contractors to merge, downsize and lay off workers and reward executives, boards of directors and stockholders for these efforts; cut "barriers" to sophisticated arms exports; rein in whistle blowers, and raise profit levels.

George W. Bush is alarmed about our "hollow military," promising large increases in spending for the Pentagon, and Al Gore is following in Clinton's footsteps on this issue. Congress has given up any pretense of wanting any restraint at the Pentagon.

During budget deliberations earlier this year, as Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), I offered an alternative federal budget proposal that made prudent reductions in military spending totalling $30 billion in order to more adequately fund education, health care, housing, infrastructure repair and veterans' and seniors' programs, among other priorities. Many of the reductions were based on the work of Larry Korb, Assistant Secretary of Defense under Ronald Reagan, who has calculated a strong national defense should only cost around $225 billion a year. The CPC budget won only 61 votes.

Looks like we'll be waiting a few more years for the post-cold war "peace dividend."

(Peter DeFazio represents Oregon's 4th Congressional District). We are honored to have distributed this essay to 113 "alternative weekly" newspapers for consideration for publication, June 17, 2000.

 




MY FAITH

by Jim Terr

(continued from Home page)

I am not gauging this by my own microscopic understanding of physics, biology, organic chemistry, etc., but rather by the comprehension exhibited by the wisest people in all such fields. To the best of my knowledge, most of them profess progressively greater wonder at the mystery and Grand Design of life, the deeper they dig and the more they understand.

The example that always comes to mind is the struggle of scientists to create in the laboratory simple proteins, the simplest building blocks of all organisms.

Forget about skin, circulatory systems, digestive systems, nervous systems thousands of times more complex and subtle than the most sophisticated computer. Forget about the ability to think, to grow, reproduce, fight disease, sleep and heal. Just creating a basic unit of protein has proven almost impossible to the most skilled and well-equipped scientists.

And I have no problem accepting the existence of a higher being, a higher intelligence, a vaster design. Why should I? Does accepting this diminish my own experience of joy, of power, of opportunity? Am I, as a person, any less wondrous than an ocean, a river, a cloudy sky or the infinite heavens? I certainly donít feel so; in fact, I feel in awe of all of them, not to mention my own body.

Fortunately, I wasnít raised with any exaggerated notion of human grandeur, independence or supremacy, of Manís dominion over nature. I think that the conscious or unconscious assumption of my parents, and of the immediate culture in which I was raised, was that people are a wondrous cog in a wondrous system called Life and Nature, here to enjoy that system while we can. So the idea of God or of a higher intelligence behind that system is perfectly acceptable, and in no way demeans my own feelings of self-esteem.

Neither do I feel that my belief in God or a higher intelligence is simply a wishful adult projection of the childlike state of dependency on a father figure. It simply seems obvious and natural, or at least convenient, to posit and believe in a higher power.

As I am more powerful and comprehending than a baby, and a baby presumably more powerful and complex than a twig, so do I think it likely that there is a much more complex system and a more powerful consciousness of which I am a part, and it feels quite natural to think so. And if there is a higher consciousness, why can I not tap into it--and sometimes even get a response to a request--by prayer and mediation? In fact, I often do. Somehow Iíve never had the impression of the lines of communication being jammed or clogged at any given moment.

As a final note, I was raised a Jew in small Christian communities, in the 1950s and 1960s, before the concept of the separation of church and state was extended to mean no religious expression for anyone in the public sphere. I loved singing Christmas carols, I loved exchanging gifts at Christmas (of course), and my later appreciation of my own religious heritage was in no way stunted or diluted. I thank God that no one was watching out for my right to avoid all religions at that time.

(c) 2000 Jim Terr†† All Rights Reserved


"A day without an update or recommendation from Jim Terr is like a day without sunshine, a night without stars, a party without guests, a pond without frogs, a dog without fleas, a deer without ticks."

-Gershon Siegel, publisher, Eldorado Sun (Santa Fe)


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