King Mob When 58 experts on the presidency were asked which of the 41 occupants of the White House held the greatest moral authority, Bill Clinton finished next to last. My friend Richard Nixon brought up the rear, which in a way is ironic. Nixon resigned under pressure from a media elite that had smelled blood, but to my dying day I will insist he did it for the good of the country. (Last place in the overall ratings went to James Buchanan, Lincoln's ineffectual predecessor, because many hold him responsible for the Civil War.)
The cover story in the April 17 National Review, written by Noemie Emery, is bound to boost admirers of both Nixon and Buchanan. The title is "Worse than Clinton," and it's one hell of a read?all about the nightmare that will be Al Gore as president. Emery is a veteran writer on presidents, and handles the scenario of Al Gore as numero uno in a very intelligent manner. She compares him to Clinton on five levels, and each time Clinton comes out the winner. For example, on race-mongering: "...Clinton wants non-whites to think they are menaced by right-wing white racists and therefore need him to protect them. But where Clinton is sly, and may not believe it, Gore is outspoken and does... Gore has made a number of frightening statements, guaranteed to assure Americans will view one another with suspicion... He is at home with the kind of talk that compares conservatives to Klan members, and quota opponents to James Earl Ray..."
Wow! Where Clinton's specialties are smear and slander ("You know what they say about Kathleen Willey in Richmond...") the Bore calls those who differ with him on race bigots or sympathizers with murderers. Emery is even better where lying is concerned. She writes that Clinton's lies are ingenious and leave room for maneuver. Gore lies to no purpose at all: he was a war hero; a crusading journalist; the model for Love Story; he invented the Internet; he discovered Love Canal; he had no idea he was fundraising from the White House.
Which brings me to the point I wish to make: When Clinton recently visited Pakistan, he urged that dirt-poor, extremely troubled country to embrace democracy. It was good as far as a soundbite is concerned, but it was real baloney. The last thing Pakistan needs is anarchy, which is what would surely ensue if a Western type of democracy was forced upon the country. Call me cynical, but democracy to me doesn't necessarily mean universal morality or common humanity. More often than not it means Bill and Hillary types winning the first prize despite believing in little beyond self-interest. The ancient Greeks, in their infinite wisdom, knew all about people like the Clintons and Al Gore. They invented a word for them: demagogues. Ergo, the wise Hellenes practiced selective democracy.
In today's context, selective democracy is a real no-no, a pipe dream, but?just between you and me?I've been known to be high at times, and also to dream (mostly of Betty Grable). The definition of democracy?rule of the many?is by nature wrong. It is mob rule, and a perfect breeding ground for demagoguery. To be all things to all men is what democratically elected officials strive for, and it is this that makes politicians so dishonest. Most of the problems facing countries today require minimum 20-year solutions, yet when was the last time a politician thought of such a time span? No democratic government is interested in anything farther off than the next election. (Well, with the exception of Margaret Thatcher, who declared the day after being elected that she would need 10 years, possibly more, to enact her programs.)
In fact, I doubt if democracy can exist in any state that celebrates diversity, as in America. The successful democracies so far have either been national states, growing out of smaller city-states or cantons, or new states, as the U.S. was some 200 years ago, where all arrivals had the same rights after an initiatory experience?and upon the condition that old national and ethnic allegiances were discarded. Nation-states were able to choose democracy when they wished, but often chose to discard it in favor of autocracy, as in the case of Italy and Germany. These were expressions of democratic will, and were made when the nation-state was under stress to the point of extinction.
But what really makes democracy impossible, and a biological contradiction in my view, is the new idea of nationality, in which old citizenship is discarded because it was exclusionary, and new virtues are invented, especially diversity. If there is no central community to which one can owe allegiance, but rather a cluster of subcommunities manipulated by bureaucrats and petty officialdom, then democracy is bound to be replaced by a kind of corporate fascismo, as the Clinton-Gores are trying to do as I write. If there is no such thing as states' rights, then all power will pass from self-governing communities to Big Brother in DC.
This is the way democracy destroys itself?by ceding powers not to men and women, but to ideas that seem clever for a time. The 20th century was one long nightmare of such clever ideas. Look what democracy has done to the ex-communist states. I do not expect to see it in my lifetime, but one day soon we will revert to the selective democracy practiced by my ancestors.
Oh yes, I almost forgot. Who decides who among us is selected to vote? Easy. The useful ones. Drug dealers, rabblerousers, deadbeats and Hollywood types need not apply. Nor professional politicians like Clinton and Gore. They've had their chance and blew it. Just make sure, dear readers, that we won't blow it and elect Gore as our next president. Clinton was a disaster. Gore will be a catastrophe.
George Szamuely The Bunker
What Threat? Year after year Bill Clinton curtails civil liberties and squanders billions fighting a supposed "terrorist" threat to the United States. The media cheers in delight; Congress forks over the money with barely a murmur of dissent. Even by his dishonest standards the nonsense he spouts about "cyberattacks" on our infrastructure or Osama bin Laden types armed with biological weapons is shameless opportunism. The goal as always is to increase the powers of government and enrich the corporations that are in the forefront of the fight against "terrorism."
In May 1998, Clinton signed two Presidential Decision Directives to defend America from computer hackers and terrorists armed with weapons of mass destruction. The directives set up a variety of boards and agencies, including the office of National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counter-terrorism, headed by Richard Clarke.
According to a story put out by Clinton?almost certainly untrue then?he was stunned into action by reading Richard Preston's The Cobra Event about a bioterrorism attack on New York. He immediately convened a White House roundtable discussion on genetic engineering and biological weapons. On April 10, 1998, seven experts briefed him on breakthroughs in biotechnology and genetic engineering. Also attending the meeting were top officials from the departments of Justice, Defense, State, and Health and Human Services, and from the CIA, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the NSC. The experts allegedly advised Clinton that "terrorists" could soon have the capability to produce lethal organisms that would evade existing vaccines and antibiotics.
In May 1998, Clinton announced the redirection of nearly $300 million of appropriations to defense against chemical and biological weapons; proposed the creation of a stockpile of specialized medicines; ordered the federal government to develop a national plan for dealing with a biological attack on the United States. Washington would train doctors, police and firemen, equipping them with chemical suits and with chemical and biological weapons detectors. Clinton has even spoken of establishing a commander-in-chief for the defense of the continental United States.
In January, 2000, Clinton launched the National Plan for Information Systems Protection. According to the plan, "America is vulnerable?because it has quickly become dependent upon computer networks for many essential services... Water, electricity, gas, communications?and other critical functions are directed by computer controls over vast information systems networks. The threat is that in a future crisis a criminal cartel, terrorist group, or hostile nation will seek to inflict economic damage, disruption and death, and degradation of our defense response by attacking those critical networks." Note how easily the United States, by far the most powerful nation on Earth, takes to describing itself as "vulnerable."
The plan is little more than a proposal that government takes over business. "Systems owned and operated by private companies provide 90 plus percent of the telecommunications and electrical power required by the Defense Dept. and other agencies of government," explains the somewhat demented Richard Clarke. "If you take down the privately owned and operated telecoms and electricity and banking and transportation networks, you have destroyed this country. So we need not only to protect the government but more importantly we need to protect the private sector systems." No wonder that businesses that are to be "saved" from these dastardly "cyberattackers" are not exactly jumping with joy at the administration's proposals.
Clinton has continued to increase funding on infrastructure "protection." During the State of the Union he departed from the prepared text to predict that terrorists and organized criminals "with increasing access to ever more sophisticated chemical and biological weapons" will soon pose "the major security threat" to the United States. Infrastructure protection is up 16 percent to $2.03 billion in the FY2001 budget proposal. In March, the administration submitted an $11.1 billion request to Congress to strengthen "domestic preparedness" against a terrorist attack?almost twice what it was in 1995 ($5.7 billion). This sum includes $1.5 billion for defense against weapons of mass destruction and almost $2 billion for protection of computer networks.
The amazing thing about this wanton squandering of precious resources is that there is no threat whatsoever to this country from terrorists or "rogue states." What is striking is not how much terrorism there is but how little. Why waste time with biological weapons? Nothing could be easier for a "terrorist" than to make an old-fashioned bomb and leave it in Times Square subway during rush hour. Yet no one has done it. Why? Perhaps because the "terrorists" are not quite as insane as Clinton and Hollywood would have us believe. Biological weapons are extremely difficult to make. "I am a trained biochemist and have written on biological warfare for 30 years, but I would have no idea how to build a biological weapon," Milton Leitenberg of the University of Maryland said recently in The Washington Post.
According to Richard Clarke, several nations "have developed offensive information warfare units, organizations, tactics, doctrine and capability? And in a crisis, historically, nations have attacked each other's infrastructure... So it's not inconceivable to have a scenario in the future in which a future opponent might think that they could attack our civilian, privately-owned infrastructure through computer attack."
Note the vagueness, the pretentious jargon. Nations generally know who their adversaries are and whether they pose a threat or not. Clinton's artificially generated hysteria has little to do with national interest or national security.
Charles Glass The London Desk
Chicago Style Vescovado di Murlo, Tuscany ?I've been meaning to write a column about how bad modern journalism has become. I read through the old books of Studs Terkel, I.F. Stone's weeklies and Phillip Knightley's history of war correspondents, The First Casualty. I went to a lecture at the Royal Society of Arts by Anthony Sampson that lamented journalism's abdication of its role as the first draft of history. Sampson, a veteran journalist who made his reputation with books like Anatomy of Britain and The Sovereign State of ITT, said historians would have a hard time in the future if they relied on today's press. A restaurant historian would have no difficulty learning when Marco Pierre White or some other chef opened and closed an eatery, who ate there, what was on the menu and whether any starlet threw a tantrum at a waiter. Modern newspapers, however, won't help anyone who wonders how and why Britain became a slavish satellite of the American Dept. of Defense.
"Reading old newspapers still gives a powerful sense of historical continuity and contact with major events and speeches abroad as well as at home," Sampson told us. "An historian using The Times [of London] of the 19th century as his only source might not find much material about the conditions of the poor, the workers or the provinces. But he could produce quite a credible narrative of British political life and its relationship to the rest of the world."
I was going to gripe about change, the one thing that even radicals like myself detest as we grow old. Then something happened. A journalist died, and I went to his funeral in Chicago. Standing at his graveside, while his children and his wife eulogized him in words and tears, I was reminded of the best of this ridiculous profession. There was Nick Shuman, now in his 80s, who was foreign editor of the Chicago Daily News when I used to string for the paper in the early 1970s. There were Rob Warden and Larry Green, great reporters who exposed the details of the assassination by the FBI and Illinois police of the Black Panther leadership. Rob and Larry gave the late mayor of Chicago, Richard J. Daley, more ulcers than any state prosecutor. (Lawyers could be bought with promotions and seats on the bench. All Daley could offer the hacks was a public relations job in City Hall, and, in those days, journalists spat on p.r. flacks.) The Chicago Daily News prompted one of Daley's best-remembered press conference outbursts: "They have vilified me. They have crucified me. They have even criticized me!"
When Shuman was foreign editor, Ray Coffey exposed the American bombing of Laos?a vicious campaign that went on for years and still kills Laotian children who step on the unexploded cluster bombs. The New York Times, like most of the respectable national press, chose to ignore Laos. The Chicago Daily News didn't much care whether its reporters would be invited to dinner by Henry Kissinger. It is not surprising that the more conservative, conventional Chicago Tribune made enough money to buy the Los Angeles Times, while the Daily News had to close in the late 1970s.
So, I was going to write how pointless journalism has become until someone called at 2 a.m. to say Bob Tamarkin had died. Bob was a hero of Chicago journalism. He did not wait for reader surveys and advertising departments to tell him what was news. He knew. We met in Lebanon in 1976. He'd left on the last helicopter at Saigon's fall in time to catch Beirut's descent. He produced story after story about the people in Lebanon whom the war was most hurting. When we were at useless PLO press conferences or Phalange Party briefings, wasting our time listening to an American ambassador or a prime minister, Bob was talking to the friends and family of a nurse who had died in that day's artillery shelling. An historian who wanted to know what happened in Beirut in 1976 could turn to the Chicago Daily News and find out from Bob Tamarkin.
I was 25, learning my way in the profession as a stringer for his paper and others. Whenever I had an idea?and his response was the same a few weeks ago?he'd say, "That's a great idea, kid. Why don't you do it?" And he meant do it, not talk about it. Bob Tamarkin knew that you could do anything. Someone would publish your story, no matter which government, corporation or advertiser it denounced. If not The New York Times or Vanity Fair, there would be CounterPunch, Z Magazine, The Spectator, New York Press. When the Daily News went down, he wrote books. I think he liked exposing the machinations of the high financiers, whose every word spells death in factories and farms south of the equator, as much as he did what the warriors did to innocents in Vietnam and Lebanon. He also wrote freelance pieces with his wife, Civia, who would sit at her laptop at the opposite end of the dining room table and shout, "Quick, I need a word."
Civia talked about him at the cemetery as a "Chicago writer." Not a bad pedigree: James T. Farrell, Ben Hecht, Mike Royko, Warden and Green. Bob and Civia took their combative Chicago style to Atlanta, where Civia became executive producer of CNN & Time, CNN's answer to 60 Minutes. (She just confessed that she hired me to do occasional pieces for her show so Bob could have an old friend over for dinner.) She's keeping that old Chicago style alive in Atlanta, against all modern trends.
I cannot be too hard on the trade today. It seems unfair to those guys, Goys and Jews alike in their kippas, at our colleague's grave. He was only 62. And no one will ever again call me kid.
(P.S. ENDIT is the title of the novel about hacks that Bob was writing when he died.)
Melik Kaylan The Spy
Big Up Ali G Today's column could be called a public service. Americans now in the full bloom of consciousness can record this moment in the manner of Henry V and say, "Today we have come to such a pass." It has fallen to me to tell you about the funniest comic act to come out of England since Python and John Cleese. I'm telling you because no one else will. Such is the blanket filter of political correctness operating in our media that you've probably not heard of him. Yet he's a smash hit in the UK. His syllogisms and spoonerisms have entered the language, and Brits repeat his jokes like autistic parrots. They're allowed to and we're not.
Picture a tall youth in dark ski cap, wraparound shades and baggy ghetto garb. He's got that Puerto Rican chin-frame of mustache looping into a thin "W" beard on a menacingly swarthy face, and he calls himself Ali G?the very model of the anonymous hiphop hooligan. In reality, he's a white Jewish Brit, graduate of Cambridge, named Sacha Baron-Cohen. But for the role he affects the English version of a black accent: equal parts Cockney, Indian and Jamaican. Channel 4, which specializes in "alternative" programming, discovered him and gave him the cover of "youth correspondent." They call up important, opinionated characters like the female professor of gender studies or the Welsh Nationalist Party spokesman or the Sinn Fein spokeswoman in Northern Ireland or the Chief Censor of the British Film Board. No doubt they tell them, "Look, he talks a bit funny, but that's how it is with inner-city youfs these days so bear with him because we're trying to reach that demographic." (Can you imagine an American channel planning such an elaborately dicey hoax on racial lines?) What the victims get is a slouching wannabe rapper with whirling hand-gestures spouting densely ignorant questions at them in opaque ghetto English. Because he's so patently "minority" they don't dare laugh out loud or take offense. So they try to answer, and the result is always sublimely preposterous.
Most interviews begin with Ali G's loud exclamation of "Boyakasha" at the camera with a hand flick, followed by the intro, "Wid me in da house is none udder dan...!" Interviews end with, "Big up yoursel'," and the touching of his fist to the fist of the startled interviewee, who has no idea what any of these words or gestures portend. When Ali does a lateral V-sign across his eyes and utters, "Check eeeeeet," or "Resspecct," their deliberately blank but utterly appalled expressions are a joy to behold. In one episode, Ali visits Wales (which he insists on calling "de Wales") where he goes down a coal-mine. Until recently, coal-mining was the primary employment in large parts of Wales. Under Margaret Thatcher the industry was desubsidized and dwindled, and a nostalgic glow now hangs over the lost way of life. Ali G crouches down to look at the coal face and says something like, "Wid all respec', me be tinkin' dat dis look like a crap job." "No, no," says the guide, "it's not at all what you er...as you said er...crap, not at all." Later, viewing the mine's photo gallery and seeing the coal-dusted faces, Ali wonders, "Why is it mainly brovvers workin' down here? Why is it mainly de black man?iss a bit racialist, innit?" The guide says no, it's just sweat and dirt. "So why is he blackenin' up de faces and pretendin' to be like a brovver?"
On one occasion at an eco-demonstration, the police prevent him from breaching a barricade. "It's racialist," he shouts, "is it because me's black?" "No, no," says the flustered policeman, "it's not because you're black." The ironies jangle on so many levels that you go on laughing days later. In general, though the jokes are seldom so explicitly race-based, the humor still derives from the portrayal of a Brit homeboy as so culturally insular that he's magnificently un-p.c. While interviewing a female professor of gender studies, Ali asks, "Women, dey is important, an't dey?" and later, "Would you feel comfortable if you know dat a woman is flyin' yo plane?" Finally he says, "A lot of boys me know is tryin' to get their girls into feminism. Do you think all girls should try feminism at least once? I mean if they get drunk at a party and start practicin' feminism on each other, an' go back to their boys de next day, is dat okay?"
Ali interviews a judge and asks how he can tell if any man is truly guilty. "What if," he asks, "he's a 19-year-old drivin' a top-of-de-line Saab wid all de lights an' everytin', leather seats, sittin' on de woofer-speakers, gold tooth, UV lights underneath, bitches in de front, bitches in de back, big drum and bass comin' out?de guy never done a day of work in his life, so is he a rapper or a dealer? You gotta send him dooowwwwwn?" Or Ali's with the Chief Censor: "Do you not think," he asks, "the category 18 [movie rating] is too vague?shouldn't there be a category that guarantees you muff? You been watchin' diss stuff for 25 years?wid all due reespec'. Nobody can keep it hard dat long." With the Sinn Fein spokeswoman, to her utter befuddlement, he asks, "Why you killin' all de Muslims?"
Ali's compilation tape, available everywhere in the UK, is mostly copied and spread among friends over here. The only place I know to get it in New York is at Tea and Sympathy on Greenwich Ave., which specializes in British products. And there's the rub: though neither Ali G nor his production company in the UK will comment, the word is that no American tv channel dares to broadcast him over here. So we have the equivalent of a samizdat system in the land of the First Amendment. Underground culture is back, thanks to the p.c. prigs. Go and buy the tape. Chekkk eeeet!