Sunday, October 29, 2006

Master DeFoe

OK, so I'm not ready to leave entirely yet. I'll use this space for items in which the Free Press would have no interest.

I'm 169 pages into Daniel DeFoe's 600-page "A General History of the Pyrates," (the modern book with soft covers, not the original letterpress edition with all the f's), and finding it very uneven. DeFoe wrote quickly and prodigiously, and apparently never proofread or revised anything.

He wrote novels, topical journalism, partisan journalistic propaganda, histories, historical fiction, and some indifferent poems. DeFoe made his living churning out words, although his recurring dream was to become a rich and respected businessman. Unfortunately, his wine and tile manufacturing businesses brought him nothing but debts and bankruptcies.

What I'm learning from "The Pyrates" is that these desperate men, colorful and romantic according to our modern perception of them, were sleazy, illiterate, mostly sadistic, violent gangsters who were generally eased into their way of life by first following the occupation of privateers, an arrangement by which tough gunsuls obtained government licenses to engage in legalized piracy, as long as they didn't attack their own monarch's vessels, and as long as said monarch got his cut of the action.

When the license was eventually withdrawn, as it invariably was, these professional robbers and cutters of throats as often as not simply continued their chosen profession without benefit of license, or the habit of restraining themselves from attacks on their own country's ships.

The worst pyrate was Blackbeard. He was such a villain that when the brave Leftenant Bobby Maynard went after him with nary cannon nor shot nor shell, just pistols and cutlasses, and did a David-and-Goliath turn by cutting off the criminal's head and hanging it on his bowsprit, I found myself cheering inwardly.

DeFoe's "Pyrates" was a commercial success, as was his most famous book, the historical novel "Robinson Crusoe." However his masterpiece, a work Virginia Woolf described as "one of the few works in English that is indisputably great," was his account of the foundling who became a borderline prostitute and petty thief, Moll Flanders.

Although it was written as quickly as any of his other productions, "Moll" sustains an intensity from beginning to end that's singularly beautiful, and the writing throughout is a virtuoso flight. DeFoe was, I think, wrestling mightily within himself over the thorny question of who was to blame for Moll's criminal and predatory way of life.

Was the culprit she herself, a morally weak and spiritually bankrupt voluptuary who never, after her first youthful infatuation, gave a thought to anyone except (as we say today) old number one? Or was her turning toward crime and the seamy London underworld of part-time sex workers and full-time pickpockets forced upon her by a callous, stratified, male-dominated, hypocritical society in which a poor woman with no family connections, no dowry with which to snag a financially viable husband, and no friends in high places was forced to live by her wits?

My reading of the novel is that DeFoe was never able to answer his own question.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

New Destinations, New Horizons

It's time to shut down the blog shop here at Omnem Movere Lapidem and move on.

Actually, I won't be ceasing operations, but just transferring the franchise to the Los Angeles Free Press blog. I hope to see all four or five of my regular readers there, where I post under the name "Catboxer."

Happy trails.

Sunday, October 22, 2006


According to this Reuters article the Democrats have a good chance of taking control of Congress next year.

Their imminent control of the House has been a foregone conclusion for some time, but now it looks like they have a good chance of taking the Senate as well.

There's been a lot of criticism of the Democrats coming from the left side of the blogosphere for the past few weeks, and I've been one of the harshest critics. But I still think the Democrats taking Congress will be a positive development.

They probably won't muster the necessary backbone to derail the administration's worst policies, the war and tax breaks for the rich, but they will question them, and more importantly a changing of the guard will break the stranglehold the neocon regime has had in all departments of government the past six years.

It would be too much to expect of the Democrats that they should seriously attack the hostile takeover of U.S. government by big money -- the corporations and special-interest-funded PAC's.

However, once the wheel of change finally starts moving, who knows where it might take us? Once political change gathers momentum, it might develop a mind of its own, and take us to places the Democrats can't imagine at the moment.

But one thing's for sure: the neocon mafia has been cresting the top of the roller coaster for a long time, and now they're looking down that first steep drop.

(Photo credit: Reuters via

Thursday, October 19, 2006

RIP Constitutional Republic, 1787-2006

The 219-year-old constitutional republic known as the United States of America died this past Wednesday when its newly-designated monarch signed the Military Commissions Act of 2006.

Among other things, this new law terminates the right of habeus corpus in the United States and enables the monarch or his appointed deputies to indefinitely detain anyone they deem an "unlawful enemy combatant," defined as "a person who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States."

Makes no difference if you're an American citizen. If you're "a person" and you've "materially supported hostilities" against what used to be the United States, by, say, giving money to a group deemed "terrorist," you may be tossed into jail without having the right, formerly guaranteed under the provisions of habeus corpus, to appear in court and ask why you have been so tossed. You may languish there forever, without being charged with a crime. You may be tried before a military tribunal without having the opportunity to examine the evidence against you, since such evidence as there is may, under the terms of this act, remain secret.

The Military Commissions Act repeals the Bill of Rights. Free speech and freedom of the press are fatally compromised by it, since the monarch has specifically stated that "...for people to leak that program, and for a newspaper to publish it does great harm to the United States of America." (The program he was speaking of was his own electronic surveillance of his subjects, or formerly, citizens.)

So what are the chances that any day now, the publisher of the New York Times might be fingered by Alberto Gonzales as "a person who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities" against the monarchy?

The fourth-amendment right to privacy is no longer guaranteed, since law enforcement agencies connected with these tribunals can secretly gather, then later refuse to divulge whatever evidence they choose.

The right to avoid self-incrimination is rendered moot by this law's allowing of confessions obtained by types of torture (such as waterboarding) that are less odious (as determined by the monarch and his staff) than "grave breaches" of the Geneva Convention's Common Article Three.

As for Amendments six, seven, and eight (the right to a speedy trial, trial by jury, and prohibition of "cruel and unusual" punishments), see paragraph number three above, and the paragraph preceding this one.

The centrality of Habeus corpus to an understanding and practice of law based on citizens' rights is much older than the U.S. Constitution. It's enshrined in English common law and goes back to the 13th-century Magna Carta and beyond.

As MSNBC's Keith Olbermann pointed out on his commentary program "Countdown," "(E)ven without habeas corpus, at least one tenth of the Bill of Rights, I guess that's the Bill of 'Right' now, remains virtually intact. And we can rest easy knowing we will never, ever have to quarter soldiers in our homes… as long as the Third Amendment still stands strong.

"The President can take care of that with a Signing Statement."

Olbermann also adds, "Countdown has obtained a partially redacted copy of a colonial 'declaration' indicating that back then, 'depriving us of Trial by Jury' was actually considered sufficient cause to start a War of Independence, based on the then-fashionable idea that 'liberty' was an unalienable right.

"Today, thanks to modern, post-9/11 thinking, those rights are now fully alienable."

Olbermann broaches a pertinent topic by citing the 1776 Declaration of Independence, in which aroused subjects served notice that they would no longer tolerate the excesses of an arbitrary monarch, and said of him that "A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people."

If that was true of George III of England, a king whose rule was legitimized by law and tradition, how much more true is it of King George II of America, who is self-appointed, self-anointed, and the self-declared "decider?"

People of the former Republic of the United States, what will it take for you to realize just how much power you have? When will you discover the tremendous persuasiveness of a mass movement based on non-cooperation? When will you realize that he's only the decider until we decide otherwise?

Humming Along

It's time to fire up that pimped-out faux combat vehicle you've been keeping parked in the backyard. The price of crude oil fell to $57.65 a barrel yesterday.

Crude oil and gasoline prices are now sliding to a level equal to the lowest point we've seen in the past year -- about $52, on 12/02/05. This in spite of a threat from OPEC to cut production by a million barrels a day.

So all us "consumers" had better take advantage of the situation while we can. Let's plan a road trip! Just be sure you're home by election day.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Candidate Redux

In 1972 Robert Redford starred in a movie about a liberal urban storefront lawyer doing advocacy work for the poor who was talked into running for governor. It didn't hurt that the Redford character, McKay, was the son of a former governor of the state in which he was to run, and the guy who talked him into running was a well-known power broker with extensive media connections.

McKay starts off as a leftist idealist, but by the time his consultants and handlers get through crafting his image, he finds that he discarded his principles one by one as he naively sauntered down the primrose path to power, and that in the end his commitment to social justice has somehow been transformed into "caring."

Jeremy Larner, a former speechwriter for the 1968 presidential hopeful Eugene McCarthy, wrote the script and won an oscar for "The Candidate," whose theme is as pertinent to politics today as it was in '72. Bill McKay was not the first and certainly not the last progressive politician who has sadly discovered that getting ahead politically entails at least a partial sacrifice of one's principles.

Enter Barack Obama.

Obama burst onto the national scene like a fireworks exhibition when his keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention made him the overnight political equivalent of a rock star. Prior to that he was an obscure and virtually unknown state senator toiling in the Illinois legislature.

The appeal of "The Audacity of Hope" wasn't just in its articulate, intelligent, and gracefully crafted message; Obama, the messenger, was immediately recognizable as the politically-correct progressives' wet dream. Young, handsome, black, the son of an African immigrant and a native Kansan, and with his impeccable progressive credentials intact and a matter of public record thanks to his work in the Illinois legislature, Barack Obama appeared as nothing less than the young Moses, destined to lead his long-suffering people out the nightmare of supply-side Egyptian bondage.

Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate that fall in a walk after his Republican opponent, Jack Ryan, dropped out of the race due to a sex scandal. Since then he has become one of the major disappointments of the 109th Congress, his formerly progressive approach to most major issues having dissolved in a blurry miasma of timid, delicate, anemic and vapid stands on the Iraq War, the impoverishment of the middle class, and the long-term consequences of petroleum dependency.

In the past year Obama has been criticized harshly by author/bloggers such as Alexander Cockburn and David Sirota, and this month is scrutinized in a major magazine piece, "Barack Obama Inc.," by Ken Silverstein in the November Harper's.

Silverstein documents Obama's changes of position, comparing his pre-Senate stands on issues such as the war with his current pronouncements, including his rejection of John Murtha's withdrawal plan with the comment that the U.S. needs to exit Iraq "in a responsible way -- with the hope of leaving a stable foundation for the future," which substitutes platitudes for his earlier opposition to "a dumb war."

Obama helped defeat a measure that would have capped credit-card interest rates at 30 percent, reversing his long-standing opposition to predatory financial practices aimed at the poor and middle classes, and his favorite solution to the energy quandry is ethanol, a certifiable hoax which costs more petroleum energy to produce than it saves and primarily benefits gigantic agribusiness firms like Archer, Daniels, Midland, whose production centers are in midwestern states such as Obama's Illinois.

Silverstein concisely synopsizes the reasons behind Obama's transformation: "After a quarter century when the Democratic Party to which he belongs has moved steadily to the right, and the political system in general has become thoroughly dominated by the corporate perspective, the first requirement of electoral success is now the ability to raise staggering sums of money. For Barack Obama, this means that mounting a successful career, especially one that may a include a run for the presidency, cannot even be attempted without the kind of compromising and horse trading that may, in fact, render him impotent."

That Obama has become a major player in national politics so quickly is phenomenal, but not surprising, considering the way he's played his cards. And in the final analysis, it's not the candidate, but the system in which all candidates are trapped that's at fault for having leeched the courage of his convictions from the young senator's agenda.

"(I)t is startling to see how quickly Obama's senatorship has been woven into the web of institutionalized influence-trading that afflicts official Washington," Silverstein says. "He quickly established a political machine funded and run by a standard Beltaway group of lobbyists, P.R. consultants, and hangers-on...Obama's top contributors are corporate law and lobbying firms."

It's as if we can hear Obama asking his consultants and contributors the same question Robert Redford's movie character Bill McKay asked his handlers at the successful conclusion of his first campaign, "What do we do now?"

And here I thought it was the leaders who were leading us.

Silverstein's story is not online yet. It's available in the November issue of Harper's magazine, now on newsstands, and should be posted on the publication's updated website within the next few days.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Enemy Within

Our executive branch's Secret Service, on the job twenty-four/seven, has defused another glowering threat to our national security.

Fourteen-year-old freshman Julia Wilson was pulled out of her biology class at Sacramento's McClatchy High School on Wednesday and grilled by two SS agents. According to the AP's account, Julia had used her web page at to post "a picture of the president, scrawled 'Kill Bush' across the top and drew a dagger stabbing his outstretched hand. She later replaced her page on the social-networking site after learning in her eighth-grade history class that such threats are a federal offense."

She told the Secret Service guys she'd made a mistake with the original post, but they weren't having any mea culpa.

According to the Sacramento Bee, Julia said the agents "threatened her by saying she could be sent to juvenile hall for making the threat. 'They yelled at me a lot,' she said. 'They were unnecessarily mean.'"

The girl's parents were upset about not being present when she was grilled. But an assistant principal at the school said he usually does not notify parents when law enforcement comes to the school to interview students because "parents usually interfere with an investigation."

A regional ACLU lawyer, Ann Brick, believes Julia Wilson's Myspace post did not sound like a "true threat" to the president, and said the offending page was political speech that is protected by the First Amendment.

Apparently the Sacramento area is a hotbed of insurrection, and little Julia Wilson is not the only area resident to have posed a threat against the person and dignity of the president recently. According to the Bee, "Earlier this month, federal officials arrested two Sacramento-area men for allegedly threatening the president. Elk Grove resident Michael Lee Braun has been charged with sending two threatening letters to the El Dorado Hills country club where Bush recently made an appearance. Rocklin resident Howard J. Kinsey is accused of threatening the president through a text message."

At this time the Secret Service has not investigated any of my friends yet, although several of them have been known to sit in their living rooms sending out hostile thought beams in the direction of the White House.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Playing for the Gallery

Seems Kim Jung Il finally got himself a little nukie, or if you want that in Spanish, a nukito. The practical consequences of this developmentette don't amount to much unless Kim has misread the hazardous debris field that is the mind of the most important member of his audience -- Mr. G.W. Bush.

On this score one of my favorite bloggers, Dennis Perrin at Red State Son, has a few choice words.

"The hysteria over North Korea's nuclear testing is no surprise: countries not under our thumb nor on our payroll aren't allowed to have deterrent capability. How are we supposed to bomb and/or invade them when they can hit back and hit hard? At bottom, this is what the present 'crisis' is really all about. Of course, an isolated regime run by a man exhibiting questionable emotional stability is not something the sane wish to see wielding genocidal weaponry. But enough about Bush. What of Kim Jung Il?"

The whole thing is eminently worth reading.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The World Still Waits

A small but enthusiastic crowd of antiwar demonstrators marched through the streets of Seattle and rallied for several hours in front of the Federal Building October 5 after police-instigated violence at one of the crowd's gathering places threatened to disrupt the day's events.

When uniformed Seattle police forcibly confiscated flags from several demonstrators at Cal Anderson Park on Capitol Hill at about one p.m., just as a contingent of student marchers arrived from the University of Washington, at least one protester began wrestling with officers in an attempt to recover his banner. He was shoved to the ground and arrested as a small and short-lived melee erupted which resulted in two other arrests.

Dian Hassel, a Seattle resident who witnessed the incident, said "One of the flags had a metal piece on top of the pole -- an eagle with spread wings -- and the police were saying it could be used as a weapon."

Following the arrests a dozen or so uniformed officers and at least one undercover cop formed a line on the sidewalk skirting the park while half a dozen police cruisers with lights flashing stood by in the street. The disturbance quickly subsided and speakers began addressing the crowd of several hundred. After that the rest of the day's events were peaceful.

Many of those present had never participated in any sort of public demonstration before. One such was Shawna, a 53-year-old former flight attendant who showed up carrying a large sign reading "Drive Out the Bush Regime," and said "I've never been this upset about things before. Something's got to change."

"I can go to Washington, D.C. for $20 and do more of this kind of thing," she added, referring to her discount priveleges as a former airline employee, "and I'm planning to."

Another first time demonstrator was Susanne Romaine, who marched in costume as a beauty pageant winner, "I Miss America" and said, "I miss the sense of democracry."

Shortly after two p.m. the demonstrators began winding down the west flank of Capitol Hill and proceeded downtown, where they marched down the middle of Second Avenue bringing traffic there to a halt. It was at this point that the protest reached its maximum size, containing at the most 500 participants. People began gradually drifting away when the march terminated at the Federal Building, where the most committed and dedicated protestors settled in for more speeches until darkness fell.

The Seattle demonstration was just one of approximately 200 such events taking place on October 5 in large and small cities nationwide, in Canada, and overseas, organized and sponsored by the World Can't Wait (to drive out the Bush Regime). The organization took out full-page ads in big-city newspapers to promote the event, during which the largest turnout occurred, as usual, in New York and San Francisco.

Approximately 5000 protesters gathered in Dag Hammerskjold Plaza across the street from the U.N. in New York City according to event organizers, where the demonstration began with modest numbers but swelled throughout the day.

In San Francisco rain did not deter approximately 3000 demonstrators from marching and rallying at Justin Herman Plaza, where their permit for a mass demonstration inexplicably did not include a permit to operate a sound system. Speakers including Daniel Ellsberg and Miguel Molina used bullhorns to address the crowd.

While demonstrations were individually covered by local newspapers and broadcasting outlets in the cities where they occurred, the national media took no notice of the events of October 5, and its impact on the national debate over the war was consequently minimal.

Undeterred, World Can't Wait spokespersons have already announced plans to begin organizing another nationwide round of protests and demonstrations later this week.