Saturday, February 18, 2006


Last week, Russ Feingold said in a speech from the Senate Floor:
"The President issued a call to spread freedom throughout the world, and then admitted that he has deprived Americans of one of their most basic freedoms under the Fourth Amendment--to be free from unjustified government intrusion"...

"How is that worthy of applause? Since when do we celebrate our commander in chief for violating our most basic freedoms, and misleading the American people in the process? When did we start to stand up and cheer for breaking the law? In that moment at the State of the Union, I felt ashamed."
However, only last month, we saw an example of what makes America great at Georgetown University Law School. In a quiet, but powerful protest, law students stood up in their seats and showed their backs to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, during a speech he gave at the university facility.

This is a story that is worth revisiting; and it did get some coverage from CNN and ABC news. Until very recently, dissent has been all but invisible in America, beginning with the street protest at Bush's first inaugural in 2001. There was a news blackout of the police riot in November 2003, at the Miami FTAA protest. And journalist Greg Palast has described the screening-out of news that gains great currency in Europe, as a kind of "electronic Berlin Wall", that oftentimes prevents Americans from knowing what the rest of the world knows. People with internet access have alone had the opportunity to break through America's media pack ice. Only Cindy Sheehan and the Gold Star Mothers have had prolonged success in getting past the gatekeepers and breaking through institutional complacency.

ABC News this week had a piece about whether cereal companies were erroneously labeling their breakfast foods as being sources of "whole grains", bringing you the lowdown on that fascinating subject. As the world around us crumbles, the Networks find it all too easy to press the comforting Fluff Button.

Rosa Parks would not relinquish her seat on the bus to satisfy the whim of a white man; and there simply comes a time to say no to what we know is wrong. But as a country, we have seen injustice under the color of law, and have done one worse than that; today we see the law shrugged off by high officials who are entrusted to enforce it, by the Attorney General who has sworn to defend the Constitution.

A few days from now, our elders in the Senate may renew the ghastly Patriot Act, and praise themselves; but we can still take away some confidence and hope, from a single act of courage by the Georgetown law students.

(Tip of hat to Grayson for steering me to this story.) Photos: Charles Dharapak

Sunday, February 12, 2006



by Jack Rafter.

Well, Vincent and I have suffered through some cold nights lately. We spent several nights in the tent in the strip of woods by the railroad, our usual campsite. But then it got so cold, we decided to break camp and trekked over to our fall-back camp in the basement of the downtown YMCA. (More on that later.)

We call the strip of woods by the railroad Sherwood Forest. We have a little homeless committee that meets once a week down there to discuss various issues, one of which is the ongoing problem of new people wanting to make camp or live in our woods. We get new ones coming in almost every day. Most are local, but a few strays are showing up from out of town. Believe it or not, there are some riders on the freight trains even in the most bitter cold weather. Personally, the only times I ever hopped a train was in the summer months, which is hard enough. Several years ago, I caught a train up in Roseville, California and rode it across the mountains into Utah and Nevada. This was in the month of August, so I really wasn't thinking how cold it might get once I got up in the mountains above the deserts. Well, I was on that train all night and the temperature dropped down in the thirties. All I had was a little second-hand windbreaker and a thin army blanket. I thought I was going to die.

So I can't fathom actually getting on and riding in the winter. But there are some, I guess, who are desperate enough to get somewhere.

Anyway, in Sherwood, we are trying to limit the number of new applicants for space in our woods. Space is limited and we are not anxious to draw heat from either the railroad people or the cops. Whenever the cops start seeing too many homeless bunched up in one place, they tend to think they have to do something about it. And what they usually do is start throwing people in jail. Now, if the weather becomes a real problem, then ending up in jail may not be a bad thing. Yes, there are some homeless who actually try to get arrested for vag so they can get out of the cold, but in my own experience, most of them would do almost anything to avoid getting in jail. Some have said they would even prefer sleeping on the cold ground to dealing with cops.

As I was saying, Vincent and I moved our camp to the Y a few nights ago. If you will recall, in a previous entry, I revealed how I discovered a way into the basement of the downtown Y (and it really isn't the Y, by the way, that's just what I'm calling it.) If I'm not in Sherwood on any particular nights, I leave my campsite and tent with someone I can trust, usually someone on the committee. Also, according to the rules we have established, no one loses his residency in Sherwood unless it can be shown they've been gone more than a week. So all you have to do is keep checking in from time to time. The homeless committee is pretty good at keeping track of people.

What's good about the Y is it's in this old-timey building that dates back to the twenties. It has steam heat, and the boilers are in the basement, so it gives Vincent and me a chance to really get warm all the way to the bone. This, I believe, to be an essential component to surviving the winter—is being able to get really warm from time to time. Also, there's a shower down there, which the janitor can use if he's been doing some dirty work, or if he just wants to clean up before he goes home for the evening.

Now, that's another nice thing, too, is just being able to get into a real hot steamy shower and let that hot water run on you for awhile and let it seep into your marrow. It's amazing how rejuvenating that can be after spending a lot of freezing nights out of doors. Most people in this country, the ones who still live in their houses, really have no idea how lucky they are to have roofs over their heads and a place where they can take a hot bath or a good steamy shower. The fact that most people in the world actually do not have these things is just totally beyond the comprehension of most Americans. It just doesn't touch them in any way.

But for many, I believe, all that is going to change, as the price of natural gas and electricity continues to soar, while jobs and income continue to decline. For old people and others on fixed incomes, and for all those many many thousands who are making poverty level wages or below, and who have families to support, the cold water bath is already getting to be a well-known and established feature of their daily existence. And having heat in their homes is either a luxury or a fading memory.

Up until last night, I hadn't met the janitor of the Y. But I knew what he looked like from a discarded i.d. photograph in his desk drawer. I knew he was black, I knew his name was Gilbert Chistian Gooch. I saw pictures of his wife and kids on his desk and on the walls. His office was real neat. He even had a little four by five foot carpet on the floor. Sometimes I slept on the couch in his office. Other times, I pulled my sleeping bag into an adjoining room.

Last night, I was sacked out on the couch, using my sleeping bag for a cover. Vincent was asleep on the carpet. We heard the outside door slam. Vincent jumped up. I sat up groggily and looked around. Suddenly, the office door opened, the light came on, and there was Gilbert C. Gooch standing there in his khaki janitor's uniform. He looked a little older than the i.d. photograph. His mustache and hair were whiter. Also he was bigger than I had envisioned him, strong and muscular, even for an older man.

He looked kind of stunned for a minute. I guess we both did. Luckily, Vincent had enough sense not to bark at him. Maybe he was already used to Gilbert's scent, which must have been present all along.

“What you doin' here?” said Gilbert Gooch.

“I—I'm--sorry,” I stammered, trying to sit up. “I don't mean to trespass or anything. I just needed a place to sleep. I live most of the time down by the train yard, the big one. You know where I'm talking about?”

“I don't care where you live. You're not s'posed to be in here. You and that dog gonna have to get outta here.”

“Yes, sir, you're right,” I said, getting on my feet. “I'm going right now.” I picked up my shoes and my unrolled sleeping bag, and started for the door. Vincent fell in behind me. He never made a sound. Not a whimper. Sometimes, I just have to hand it to him. His head may be down and his tail tucked, but he has a way of taking bad news stoically.

(More to follow.)

Sunday, February 05, 2006


"For great wrongs great also are the penalties which come from the gods." --Herodotus
An honest or honorable assessment of the past year would be an inventory of damages. President Bush's State of the Union speech urged another view on the nation: that we must go past the unmentionable failures and remember that "hindsight is not wisdom".

But Julian Borger's recent report in the Guardian doesn't rely on hindsight. US appropriations for war in Iraq are shown to be massive. Factoring for the latest spending supplement of $120 billion, the combined cost for Afghanistan and Iraq has reached $440 billion.
"The spending on the Iraq conflict alone is now approaching the cost of the Korean war"..."Meanwhile the cost of the overall "war on terror"--[relabeled] the Long War in the Pentagon--is already close to half a trillion dollars, and will soon equal that of the 13-year Vietnam war."
And we are more often aware of the cost in blood, suffering, and disability.

Critics of Bush's war heard the President tell them that their attitude is completely defeatist, that they emphasize only the downside, and that the important thing is to defeat evil.

In his first inaugural address, in 1933, Franklin Roosevelt said:
"Recognition of the falsity of material wealth as the standard of success goes hand in hand with the abandonment of the false belief that public office and high political position are to be valued only by the standards of pride of place and personal profit; and there must be an end to a conduct in banking and business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing. Small wonder that confidence languishes, for it thrives only on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection, on unselfish performance; without them it cannot live."
On the other hand, to turn from greatness to such a president as ours, who lives in a fantasy world, and who craves an ever more grandiose status; being president does not seem good enough for him.

Considering the dark hour into which the country is passing, the members of Congress seemed to be having too good a time; it was an unreal spectacle. Ordinarily, the State of the Union is that rare occasion when Americans can examine the competing factions of the ruling class; but after excluding all the elements of presidential make believe, they were confronted after all, with brazen, unchecked power. The whole spirit of fun, the genial handshakes, the bobbleheads, were for the most part, a circus in the midst of impending tragedy.

The domestic spying, which earned President Nixon an article of impeachment during the Watergate scandal, is the unmistakable career path which President Bush seems to follow. And Bush announced these intentions clearly, during his State of the Union. Not that he expects to be impeached.

Bush's unconstitutional, warrantless eavesdropping and wholesale collection of Americans' personal information will continue, just as the unpopular war in Iraq will continue. Congress has said all it has to say in the original war resolution, according to him. In so many words, the President said he didn't really need the assembled legislators, those sitting right in front of him. The law against domestic spying need not be tailored to accommodate him; lawyers at the Justice Department have advised him that he already has Commander-in-Chief authority, and that's all he needs.

And the President's dishonest comments in his first term, regarding intelligence gathering were intentional deceptions. He has been breaking the law since 2002, and perhaps earlier than that. James Risen, the Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, writes in his latest book, State of War
"It is now clear that the White House went through the motions of the public debate over the Patriot Act, all the while knowing that the intelligence community was secretly conducting a far more aggressive domestic surveillance program."
Bush's comments, past and present, about being mindful of civil liberties are worthless.

When the State of the Union was over, the Democrats gave their official response.

Governor Tim Kaine of Virginia was less than useful in presenting any real rebuttal to the odious President. Governor Kaine, while a nice enough man, came across as comfortably pious, as he mentioned again and again how incompetent the republicans are. Democrats needed to muster the necessary outrage for the administration's crimes, its insult to the rule of law, and the hidden and not-so-hidden agendas that violate human rights. For instance, the string of secret prisons overseas, lacking oversight, and the administration's permissiveness for torture. And for another example, John Yoo, Justice Department legal advisor, who said regarding our captives at Guantanamo, "it doesn't matter if they are innocent or guilty"

It happens that where a US detainee is demonstrably innocent, or has even been declared innocent, he is still held in captivity, so long as he remains in military custody, which has judged that he is a terrorist or might be a terrorist. And there the captive sits, with decreasing likelihood that he will ever obtain a writ of habeas corpus.

In Greek myth, there lived the most fearsome of the gorgons, Medusa. Any person who so much as looked her in the face, was turned to stone. Gazing only at her reflection, using a polished shield, was the one way to approach and give combat, which Perseus managed, with the help of a goddess. Athena secured from the hero the last two drops of blood from Medusa's severed head. These the goddess presented, in separate vials, to the healer Asklepius. In the two vials, each drop appeared identical to the eye, Asklepius learned that one was a deadly poison, while the last was capable of healing and redemptive power.

If we Americans vanquish our Medusa, that head full of vipers, it may continue to bleed out its poison on the land. But when the last two drops remain, we must hope to understand the Medusa Effect. One drop, we understand, is a deadly poison, and the other, the beginning of wisdom.

Thursday, February 02, 2006


Our previous series of interviews with Jubal Durfee, whom we met at the local gun show a few weeks back, made such an impression on our readers that we have decided to revisit Mr. Durfee and get his view of recent events. We at Tholos are often assailed with letters from folks (of the foaming at the mouth variety) whose views are, frankly, somewhat to the right of our own. Chief among the complaints we hear, is that we tend to be a tad one-sided. “Too liberal,” blah, blah, blah. It was with that in mind, that we sought out someone who might furnish a decidedly different perspective from our own. You see, we really are struggling to be as even-handed as possible, though, admittedly, it is hard on us. Hence, the visit to the gun-show. You can pull it up in the archives, if you've nothing better to do with your time. God-almighty, what an experience.

We called up Mr. Durfee on a Sunday afternoon at his home in Beekeeper, Arkansas. He and his family, consisting of his wife, Arleen, and son, Billy, had just come in from church (First Baptist). They have an older son in Iraq. Billy's father recently gave him an assault rifle—an AK-47, in celebration of his twelfth birthday.

THOLOS: Hello, Mr. Durfee.

JUBAL: Howdy, padnah.

THOLOS: A lot has happened since we last spoke. Let's get right to it, shall we?

JUBAL: Fine with me. My boy wants to get in some target shootin' this afternoon.

THOLOS: Oh, yes. How's he enjoying the new rifle?

JUBAL: Oh, man, he just loves it. His face lights up when we go shootin' together, about once a week. It's funny. He used to be kinda shy. Kind of a sissy. He was drawin' pictures and he wanted to learn how to play the flute—if you can imagine! We was worried about him for awhile, there, me and Arleen. But since I got him the AK-47, he's almost a different kid. Really come out of himself. Startin' to blossom, you know? His Mom's so proud. I just thank God for puttin' him on the right track.

THOLOS: You think every kid could benefit from having his own urban assault rifle?

JUBAL: Well, I don't think it's for everybody. Some kids just don't have what it takes to handle one. But it's certainly done wonders for my Billy.

THOLOS: All right. Well, let's look at the news, shall we?

JUBAL: Sure thing.

THOLOS: What do you think about the recent revelation that the President has been spying on American citizens for the last four years?

JUBAL: Well, I'm glad he come clean about it. That's what I like. I find it so refreshing.

THOLOS: What do you mean?

JUBAL: Well, he's tellin' us exactly what he's doin', ain't he? No pussy-footin' around. No skull- duggery. See, I like that. He's just right out in the open with what he's doing, now. I think that takes a lot of guts.

THOLOS: But what he's doing is a violation of the law, isn't it?

JUBAL: I dunno. Maybe. But I tend to agree with Vice President Cheney on that. I think the President oughta be beyond the law. At least somewhat. I mean you can't expect to regulate everything he does. You can't fight terrorism that way.

THOLOS: So, no rule of law for the President?

JUBAL: Well, Bush is a hands-on kinda guy, you know what I mean? He's not gonna stand still for a bunch of Congressmen breathin' down his neck, tellin' him what he can do and what he can't do. That's not his style. He takes his orders from higher up, see what I mean? He's sort of like Dirty Harry. Remember those movies?--with Clint Eastwood? Dirty Harry was always breakin' the rules, always operating just outside the law. But he got the job done, didn't he? He always got the asshole by the end of the movie.

THOLOS: So, the President is Dirty Harry?

JUBAL: Yeah. Well, no, not exactly. But kinda. But at least we know what he's doin', don't we?

THOLOS: We do?

JUBAL: Yeah. He's comin' clean, comin' straight out, now. We ain't seen that before. See, with Nixon, you got all this double-talk and equivocation, and what have you. The guy couldn't come straight out and say he was spying on Americans or he was bombing the shit out of Cambodia or whatever he was doin', because, let's face it: he was too chickenshit to level with the American people. See, that's just what got him in trouble. It wasn't what he was doing. Nobody gave a shit about that. I mean, let's be honest. There couldn't have been a dime's worth of difference between bombing Vietnam and bombing Cambodia, could there? But soon as it came out that ol' Nixon was secretly bombing Cambodia, everybody suddenly flipped out. So it wasn't the bombing part that irked 'em, it was the lying part. See what I mean?

THOLOS: So you're saying it's okay to violate the Constitution and the laws of the land, so long as you don't lie about it. Is that what you're saying?

JUBAL: Right! Now, you're catching on! It's just like what I said the last time we talked, you know, about Clinton, when he lied about gettin' his horn tooted by Monica? See, that's where he got tripped up. He should never have lied about that. He should have just told 'em it was none of their goddamn business. “Fuck you.” Everybody would have cheered, then! The whole country would have been behind him. They would have said, “Yeah, right on! You go, man!” The whole thing would have blown over like so much thistle dust. But Clinton didn't have the gumption to say, “Fuck you.” So, of course everybody smelled blood and they got on him. Shit. Nobody gave a rat's ass if he got a blowjob, or if he got ten blowjobs, or fifty! They just didn't want him lyin' about it, that's all.

THOLOS: So you're saying that Clinton would have been better off to just admit what was going on--

JUBAL: Yeah, or tell 'em to go jump off a cliff, like I said. But yeah, even admitting he was getting it sucked would have been better than what he did, in my opinion. “I never had sex with that woman.” “It depends on what 'it' means." Nobody wants to hear that crap. Nobody's buying any of that. So simpering, you know? So spineless. I mean it was like, there he was again basically saying he didn't “inhale” when he answered the dope smoking question. Remember that? It was practically the same performance. I half expected him to say, "Yeah, okay, she tooted me, but it didn't count 'cause she didn't swallow." You see what I mean? Now that would have been pure Clinton. But he couldn't do it. Couldn't answer 'em straight. Why? 'Cause he's a coward, that's why. But it ain't only him. Clinton's just a symptom, you know, the perfect symbol, really, for the whole Democratic Party. They're all cowards. You can't find more than a handful that'll stand up for anything. Shit, the Democrats are better for Republicans right now than Republicans.

THOLOS: On that, I think we agree.

JUBAL: No, no, don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining! Y'all just keep right on doin' what you're doin'. (Laughter.) Watchin' the Democrats these days is like standing on a riverbank and watching somebody take a long time to drown. Meanwhile, I'm pretty confident our party will come out on the other side of all these scandals and things even stronger than we were before.

THOLOS: Okay, let's go back to when Bush lied to Congress about weapons of mass destruction hat didn't exist--

JUBAL: Well, now, I don't necessarily agree that he lied about that. I still think we're gonna find those weapons. They're stowed away in some cave somewhere, and the marines are gonna find 'em.

THOLOS: Okay, but let's just say, for the sake of argument, that there were no weapons to be found, insomuch as just about the entire civilized world is in agreement that Bush lied about that, and since he's now starting to get quite a lot of heat for lying about it, do you think he should have just told the truth about what his true motives were?

JUBAL: Well, yeah, why not?

THOLOS: Even if the administration's true motive was to get control of the oil fields?

JUBAL: Well, I don't know if that's their true motive. I don't necessarily hold with that. I mean, I think Bush really wants to get democracy goin' on over there, you know, and he just truly wants to overthrow evil tyrants and kill all the terrorists in the world. That's what I think he wants, 'cause I believe him when he says that's what God wants him to do. I believe that's what God wants. Hell, we just talked about that at church today, had a big conversation over it, how God wants and needs America to prevail in the world. Because without America spreading the gospel of Jesus and the word of God, the whole shebang will be lost to the devil. And probably should be, if you wanta know the truth. But shit, man! Once we're in there, in my opinion, we'd be crazy not to want to get our hands on the oil. I mean, by God! Of course we should get the oil. We're not fools, here, are we? We're not a bunch of innocent little lambs. Nobody was born yesterday. I mean, if it ain't us, it'll by God be somebody, won't it? And it's liable to be Iran. Or France. Or Germany. Or somebody. I mean, it's just layin' there, and I believe God intends for us to have it, pure and simple, or we wouldn't be there now.

THOLOS: That sounds kind of like Manifest Destiny.

JUBAL: Come again?

THOLOS: Manifest Destiny. It's an old term, meaning that basically everything we have was ours for the taking, sort of, by “devine right.” Like when we took the land from the Indians. Or when we defeated Mexico and acquired so much territory. Back then, just as we did with Iraq, we initiated the Mexican War by saying we had to overthrow an evil tyrant. But what we ended up with was a vast empire.

JUBAL: Yeah, I guess I see what you mean. But, basically, you know, I just think all of that is defeatist ideology. I mean, look, man, you're sittin' where you are and I'm sittin' where I am because our foredaddys had the gumption and the balls to kick a bunch of assholes out of here and annihilate the rest or round 'em up and stick 'em off in the desert somewhere. Okay? So that's a fact, right? So, what is all this complaining about kickin' some more assholes and getting our hands on the oil, before some other goons get hold of it? Huh? I mean, are we gonna get all moral all of a sudden and quit puttin' gas in our tanks? And if you and I had been around back when we raided the Indians sacred burial grounds and hauled out the gold from the Black Hills, and if somebody had handed you a big sack of that shiny shit, would you have turned it down? I doubt it.

THOLOS: So what are you saying?

JUBAL: I'm saying this is who we are, man! This is who we've always been! We've never been anything else! So, we might as well get with the program, and quit deluding ourselves. And I think that's why Bush has chosen to come straight out and level with us. No more lies, no secrets, no bullshit. See, I think he's figured somethin' out here, and that's why this is so unusual and so exciting. Because we've never had a President actually stand up, flat-footed, and say, “Fuck you. Yes, I'm spying on Americans. Yes, I'm detaining people without lawyers and trials. Yes, I'm torturing people. And yes, I'll do whatever in the sam-hell I have to do to overthrow evil and fulfill God's will. I'll break any law, I'll step on anybody that gets in my way to get the job done.”

THOLOS: Just like Dirty Harry?

JUBAL: You betcha.

copeland morris ENTWINED SONNET

Her shaded eyes, her necklace black velvet, onyx. Anguish she spoke; and he carried on, obsessed As only a young man could. An odd harm...