Tuesday, December 30, 2008

And the Fighting Continues in the Middle East

War Over Gaza

Published: December 30, 2008

Israel must defend itself. And Hamas must bear responsibility for ending a six-month cease-fire this month with a barrage of rocket attacks into Israeli territory. Still we fear that Israel’s response — devastating airstrikes that represent the largest military operation in Gaza since 1967 — is unlikely to weaken the militant Palestinian group substantially or move things any closer to what all Israelis and all Palestinians need: a durable peace agreement and a two-state solution.

Israel must make every effort to limit civilian casualties. Hamas’s leaders, especially those safely ensconced in Damascus, are unconcerned about their people’s suffering — and masters at capitalizing on it.

Before the conflict spins out of control, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries will have to find ways to cajole or more likely threaten Hamas (or its patrons in Syria and Iran) to accept a new cease-fire.

President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice should be pressing Cairo and Riyadh to use all of their influence with Hamas, and they should be pressing Israel to exercise restraint.

By Monday, some 350 Palestinians — mostly Hamas security forces — were reported killed. A Hamas security compound was among dozens of structures pummeled in the attacks, and the group’s leaders were supposedly driven into hiding. The Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, promised a “war to the bitter end.”

We hope he does not mean a ground war. That, or any prolonged military action, would be disastrous for Israel and lead to wider regional instability. Mr. Barak and Israel’s foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, both candidates to succeed Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in elections set for February, must not be drawn any further into a competition with the front-runner, Benjamin Netanyahu, over who is the biggest hawk.

There can be no justification for Hamas’s attacks or its virulent rejectionism. But others must also take responsibility for the current mess. Hamas never fully observed the cease-fire that went into effect on June 19 and Israel never really lived up to its commitment to ease its punishing embargo on Gaza. When the cease-fire ran out, no one, including the Bush administration, made a serious effort to get it extended.

Meanwhile, the peace process Mr. Bush launched with such fanfare in Annapolis last year is moribund. There is plenty of blame to go around for that, too. Mr. Olmert’s government failed to halt settlements and give the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas — Hamas’s sworn enemy — the support he needed. Mr. Bush refused to press Mr. Olmert to do what was needed but politically unpalatable. Arab leaders never did enough to boost Mr. Abbas, or to persuade or pressure Hamas to cut its ties with Iran and join peace efforts.

Ms. Rice once hoped to make a Middle East peace her legacy. It is too late for that. But she should do her job. That means getting on a plane for Cairo and Riyadh — now — to enlist their help in brokering a new cease-fire. Then it will be up to President-elect Barack Obama to quickly pick up the pieces and fashion a Middle East peace strategy that may actually bring peace.

Love your way... you are Brilliant!

Alan Davidson is the author of the Free report

"Body Breakthroughs for Life Breakthroughs: How to Peak Your Physical, Emotional, Mental, Moral, and Spiritual IQs for a Sensational Life"

available at www.throughyourbody.com

Alan is also the author of Body Brilliance:
Mastering Your Five Vital Intelligences (IQs)


Monday, December 29, 2008

The Only Thing to Fear is Fear Itself

In Desperate Times, the Rise to Take the Reins and Take On Fear Itself

HYDE PARK, N.Y. — As winds howl through the empty rooms of failed financial institutions and foreclosed homes, as unemployment statistics spike and stocks plunge, as an era of high hopes stutters with fear, and seeming shelters shake on fraudulent foundations, who would not hope that new leadership might stave off further catastrophe?

And a new leader, coming to power with his “brain trust” of advisers and his “new deal” for the nation, has but a short time to make his case before inertia and fear become dominant once again.

Does the analogy need to be spelled out? In his campaign, as the financial world was convulsing a few months ago, Barack Obama invoked Franklin Delano Roosevelt and cited his most famous line from the First Inaugural — “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” — words delivered in 1933 during the worst days of the Depression. Four thousand banks had collapsed in two months, and one of every four workers was unemployed. Nearly half the country’s $20 billion in home mortgages were in default.

Since Mr. Obama’s election, references to Roosevelt have become even more plentiful. Caricatures of the president-elect with a cigarette holder and an insouciant Roosevelt grin have appeared in major publications. Mr. Obama has implicitly invoked Roosevelt’s approach to what was the worst financial crisis of the 20th century, saying he would enact the largest public-works program since the building of the federal highway system in the 1950s. And he has made clear (conceptually echoing Roosevelt) that his attention to the welfare of the citizenry would be inseparable from his attention to the health of the economy.

So it is fortunate that the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum here, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the start of the New Deal, mounted an exhibition, “Action and Action Now: FDR’s First 100 Days,” referring to the brief period that Roosevelt treated as a self-imposed challenge to begin having an effect. During that time he oversaw the passage of 15 major pieces of legislation that transformed the country’s view of itself and redefined the character of American government.

After Mr. Obama was elected, the New-York Historical Society in Manhattan borrowed rare items and documents from the Roosevelt library to present a miniature version of the exhibition — really an expanded display case and a capsule view of those tumultuous days — called “A New President Takes Command.” There are political cartoons, drafts of speeches and a few objects like a set of braces Roosevelt had worn on his paralyzed legs. A timeline provides, in compressed space, some sense of the urgency and haste with which problems were addressed.

In facing the crisis, Roosevelt had argued that he would need the equivalent of emergency wartime powers. Many were prepared to go further. On the day of his inauguration, March 4, 1933, The New York Herald-Tribune said it was “for dictatorship if necessary.” But a dictator could not have done more. Within five days of Roosevelt’s taking office, Congress passed the Emergency Banking Act, establishing procedures for reopening sound banks; that was just the beginning.

The Public Works Administration was created to provide jobs building highways, dams and public structures. The powers of the Federal Trade Commission were increased to regulate stock trading. The gold standard was abandoned. A Civilian Conservation Corps was established, putting a quarter-million young men to work in park development and outdoor projects. Farm and home mortgages were refinanced by the government to prevent foreclosures. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation was created to protect bank deposits. And the National Recovery Administration was established to regulate the practices of American business.

Nearly everything we now take for granted about the federal government’s role in dealing with unemployment, poverty and economic protection can be traced to programs started during this period. “In three months,” the show notes, “F.D.R. created the basic toolbox of modern American liberalism.”

But ultimately, the Manhattan display, while informatively sounding every crucial theme, only whets the appetite for deeper understanding. The Hyde Park exhibition is far more thorough and absorbing.

It begins in a darkened gallery in which film clips and photographs of the Depression are projected onto a mock tree stump and clapboard house, showing images of poverty on a wide scale. This material makes clear just how dire the circumstances were, and why there was so much clamor for action beyond Herbert Hoover’s hesitant and constrained approach. An attempted assassination of the president-elect in February 1933 nearly dashed all hopes.

But the inauguration brought promises of relief. The psychological effect was as important as any policy — which, in any case, Roosevelt never outlined in advance. We can also hear the newly elected leader here in excerpts from the first of his many radio broadcasts: for the first time, ordinary citizens could hear a president’s voice in an intimate setting.

Roosevelt expertly modulated his delivery. During the Hoover administration, we are told, 5,000 pieces of mail came to the president in a week; during the Roosevelt administration, 50,000 arrived. The week after Roosevelt’s first address, so hungry were listeners for contact and reassurance, that nearly half a million came in. Copies of many of those letters wallpaper a gallery.

It becomes clear, too, that before 1933, the United States was a largely rural nation — half the populace lived outside urban areas, and one in five workers was on a farm. The transformation wrought by the New Deal, a devastating drought and the growth of industry didn’t just mean that a new form of federalism was being shaped, but that a new national culture was evolving, as if pieces were being fit together to create a new image. One display here notes that in 1933 10 million jigsaw puzzles were sold every week, some celebrating Roosevelt.

The New Deal legislation itself is dealt with in a kind of quick summary. Some achievements are clear, even in minor programs. The Civilian Conservation Corps, for example, ultimately hired three million young people for outdoor work and conservation, ultimately strengthening the national parks movement.

Others, conceived in an emergency, have a constricted character that might have caused as many problems as they solved. Did the Agricultural Adjustment Act, which tried to stabilize food prices by paying farmers not to produce crops, succeed in stopping the deflationary collapse of prices, or was the persistent drought responsible, amplified by other scarcities? This subsidy program even remains active today, though now it has the faint aura of a racket.

One reason there has been a conservative reaction against the New Deal in recent years is that so much writing about it has been so unabashedly celebratory, missing the movement’s shadows. The National Industrial Recovery Act, for example, outlawed child labor and helped in the formation of unions, but it also led to arbitrary price- and wage-fixing and was ultimately declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Some examples of its overreach, outlined in Amity Shlaes’s recent book, “The Forgotten Man,” are chilling.

Yet like Jonathan Alter’s biography of Roosevelt, “The Defining Moment,” the exhibition suggests that the New Deal’s main doctrine was experimentation. “Certainly the record of the First 100 Days is mixed,” the show concludes. “Some of Roosevelt’s initiatives succeeded. Others failed. Some programs were contradictory. Still, to suffering Americans, what mattered was that someone was taking bold action.”

In this way Herman R. Eberhardt, the show’s curator, avoids engaging in the knotty, passionate debates about New Deal policies and Keynesian economics that are hinted at in excerpts from recent writings about the period. He makes the case that even though the Depression was to drag on for years, Roosevelt quickly succeeded in establishing the foundations for a new kind of social consciousness. The W.P.A. and relief programs asserted that there really was a larger public worth thinking about, transcending individual need and desire. The democratic trick then, as now, was to avoid turning the public into an absolute master demanding deference — or vice versa.

There was a kind of moral psychology at work in the New Deal that should not be underestimated. The projection of ethical authority, genteelly applied, was one of Roosevelt’s great political gifts. And it could hide the New Deal’s flaws as well as display virtues. One of the show’s most fascinating panels is an array of political cartoons published during those first 100 days, showing Roosevelt walking a tightrope over a chasm, or taming a caged lion, or pulling an injured Uncle Sam up the edge of a cliff, or comforting a disabled veteran — all images of extraordinary physical courage and ability.

Of course Roosevelt was paralyzed from polio, and next to the cartoon display is a case with his leg braces, along with a rare photograph showing Roosevelt trying to walk in them — an image that the press, for reasons of tact, and the president, for reasons of strategy and pride, never drew attention to.

This kind of dissembling would never work today, but with it Roosevelt was able to project fully the kind of power and stance he wanted. That image was part of the economic policy.

Contemporary analogies are strained: our economy is not yet close to the one Roosevelt faced. But at least so far, Mr. Obama has shown a comparable skill with image; the substance is yet to come.

“Action and Action Now: FDR’s First 100 Days” continues at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, Hyde Park, N.Y.; (845) 486-7770, fdrlibrary.marist.edu. “A New President Takes Command: FDR’s First Hundred Days” runs through May 3 at the New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, at 77th Street; (212) 873-3400, nyhistory.org.

Love your way... you are Brilliant!

Alan Davidson is the author of the Free report

"Body Breakthroughs for Life Breakthroughs: How to Peak Your

Physical, Emotional, Mental, Moral, and Spiritual IQs for a

Sensational Life"

available at www.throughyourbody.com

Alan is also the author of Body Brilliance:

Mastering Your Five Vital Intelligences (IQs)


Watch the Body Brilliance Movie


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Angry Youths Become a Force in Darfur

HAMIDIYA CAMP, Sudan — The sheik was in a panic.

The agitated youth in this West Darfur refugee camp, young men and adolescents who traditionally would have deferred to his authority, had gotten wind of his presence at a ceremony also attended by an official with the Sudanese government, their longtime antagonists.

Terrified that the youths would accuse him of treason, the sheik begged United Nations officials to rush to his aid and vouch that he had not even broached the topic of compromise involving his people’s cause.

The youths are known collectively as the “shabab,” the Arabic word for young men. And they have become a vehemently pro-rebel political force in the camps for the 2.7 million people displaced by years of war between the Arab-dominated Sudanese government and rebels in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Increasingly angry and outspoken about their uncertain fate, the generation that came of age in the camps is challenging the traditional sheiks, upending the age-old authority structure of their tribal society and complicating efforts to achieve peace.

“They are much more extreme than the sheiks,” said the United Nations official who related the episode of the frightened sheik, speaking anonymously to avoid jeopardizing his own acceptance among the shabab. “And they are hotheaded.”

Eleven tribal sheiks around Zalingei — where Hamadiya is one of five refugee camps housing 120,000 people — have been killed since the beginning of 2007. One sheik was found with a nail hammered into his forehead. Another was shot at point-blank range. The cases remain unsolved, but some suspicion falls on the shabab.

“The sheiks and the traditional leaders have been influenced by the government, so the young people don’t believe that the sheiks are still loyal to both the cause and the people of Darfur,” said Abdallah Adam Khater, a Khartoum-based publisher and political writer from Darfur. The word influenced is a local euphemism for bribed.

In the short run, the emergence of the shabab makes any peace negotiations even more tangled, as rebel leaders will have to keep one eye focused on their most combustible constituents, who are opposed to any compromise with the government. In Kalma camp in South Darfur last year, the Fur ethnic group rose to evict all members of the Zaghawa clan to punish their leaders for signing the first Darfur peace agreement with the government. The protests, led by the shabab, helped drive more than 10,000 people from the camp. They also resulted in the killing of several shabab activists. Although shabab is the name used to describe the young Darfurians, they are not connected with the Shabab insurgent group in Somalia.

In the long run, outsiders also worry that a cohesive militant group will organize across Darfur’s many camps, just as they emerged in the Palestinian territories and among Afghan refugees.

The shabab, strident in their politics, watch warily for any sign of compromise with the government of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who is being sought by an international prosecutor on charges of genocide and war crimes against the people of Darfur. Humanitarian officials suspect there are jails that the shabab help run in the camps, and that they mete out punishment like whippings to transgressors.

At Zalingei, United Nations officials have learned to give traditional sheiks 24 hours’ notice before any gathering outside the camps so that the sheiks can seek approval from elected shabab representatives.

The Zalingei police chief, a member of the Fur clan that dominates the camp, actually has relatives inside. But when he attends a wedding or other family gathering he has to drive his own car because the sight of his official vehicle might spark a riot, the United Nations official said.

During a recent tour of Hamidiya camp by top United Nations officials, Shafiq Abdullah, 33, a shabab leader, lambasted a Sudanese reporter from Khartoum as a government stooge and became so vehement that the United Nations deployed security forces around them.

Mr. Abdullah reeled off four prerequisites before the shabab in any camp would agree to negotiations between Darfur rebels and the government: disarming the government militias; prosecuting those responsible for war crimes, starting with Mr. Bashir; expelling anyone who settled on land stolen from the displaced farmers; and carrying out all United Nations Security Council resolutions on Darfur.

“We organize protest marches against anyone who says we should negotiate with the government for the sake of Darfur,” Mr. Abdullah said in an interview. “I speak out for the sake of our case, even if I have to die.” Sheiks can no longer guarantee that they can win over men like Mr. Abdullah.

“The traditional structure of authority is beginning to break down,” said a Western diplomat in Khartoum, the capital, with wide experience in the camps. “The rebel leaders can no longer control the population through the sheiks.”

With about 80,000 residents, Kalma is among the largest and most volatile of the camps. When a group of high-ranking United Nations officials were inspecting a water pumping station there in late November, Mohamed Ahmed Ismael, a gangly 20-year-old, waded in among them.

“We are not free in Kalma!” Mr. Ismael shouted, pronouncing his words syllable by syllable in English learned in the camp school and gesticulating like the lawyer he aspires to become. “Look at our sheiks; they are not free! The security can come into Kalma at any time!”

Education in the camps, which often stops at the eighth grade, has to a degree expanded the horizons of men like Mr. Ismael. English was not taught in their now-razed villages, for instance. But their heightened awareness has also stoked their outrage about the wrongs committed against them and about their lack of opportunity.

“You cannot call them a unified group with one political ideology, but they are all angry,” said Mr. Khater, the writer. “That is the factor unifying them.”

Leaving the shabab feeling isolated, without hope for the future, would be dangerous, he added, since the youth may “support any kind of violent acts.”

The expense of maintaining the camps is phenomenal. Of the $7 billion in donations the United Nations is seeking for emergency relief worldwide in 2009, $1 billion is for Darfur.

Kalma, though a squalid shantytown built mostly of straw and mud brick and standard United Nations-issue plastic sheeting, exudes a certain air of permanence. An extended market dominates the main drag. Shiny metal storage tanks that supply much of the camp’s water sit on solid concrete bases. The camp stretches about 10 miles, along railroad tracks and has some 10 mosques and 8 cemeteries. Residents say they fear leaving its confines lest they fall prey to the janjaweed — a word they now use to describe any enemy, not just the government-allied militias that have wreaked so much havoc in Darfur.

The civilians who fled to Kalma when it opened in early 2004 are about to start their sixth year here. The shabab complain that life is monotonous, the hutches that they live in miserable and the camp battered constantly by a hot, dusty wind.

“Before, our desires were simple when it came to education, to culture — all we really thought about was farming,” said Adam Haroun Ahmed, 20, who arrived in the camp at 15. “The colonization, the oppression, all the brutal things done to us by the janjaweed caused us to change our views.”

When asked to describe his old village, his school friends jostling around him shouted down the idea. “It is something in the past, almost imaginary,” one yelled. Another chimed in, “It is so far from our reality that we don’t want to be there.”

In an effort to help manage the young men’s anger, some shabab, including Mr. Ismael, have been employed as community police volunteers by the United Nations peacekeeping force, to help fight camp crime.

The camps have become de facto no-go zones for the Sudanese government, which it finds galling and which prompts regular announcements that it will clear them out — in contravention of all humanitarian standards. The government paints the camps as havens for rebels and criminal gangs who steal cars and cultivate marijuana.

Government forces tried a weapons raid in Kalma last August, deploying scores of troops in some 60 vehicles. The camp’s word-of-mouth early warning system, something the shabab helped mobilize, soon had thousands of residents pouring into the streets to block their entrance.

The troops opened fire in the ensuing melee, killing 33 residents and wounding at least 70, according to the United Nations. The government troops retreated, but vowed to try again.

The Darfur camps present a challenge for the government, not least because they form a collar around several major cities. Ali Mahmoud, the governor of South Darfur and the man United Nations officials believe ordered the raid, professed himself unconcerned that young, highly politicized camp residents might resettle in Nyala or other cities.

“I don’t think it is going to be a problem in the future,” he said. “Some people return to where they lived before and some don’t return, maybe 20-25 percent don’t return. We can absorb all of them into the city.”

Others are less sanguine. “The government has created a powder keg that it doesn’t know how to defuse,” said a Western diplomat in Khartoum with wide experience in the camps.

Love your way... you are Brilliant!

Alan Davidson is the author of the Free report

"Body Breakthroughs for Life Breakthroughs: How to Peak Your
Physical, Emotional, Mental, Moral, and Spiritual IQs for a
Sensational Life"

available at www.throughyourbody.com

Alan is also the author of Body Brilliance:
Mastering Your Five Vital Intelligences (IQs)


Monday, December 22, 2008

Obama's choice for U.N. Strong Advocate for Action Against Mass Killings

CHICAGO — President-elect Barack Obama has chosen his foreign policy adviser, Susan E. Rice, to be ambassador to the United Nations, picking an advocate of “dramatic action” against genocide as he rounds out his national security team, Democrats close to the transition said Sunday.

Mr. Obama intends to announce Ms. Rice’s selection at a news conference here Monday along with his previously reported decisions to nominate Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton for secretary of state, keep Robert M. Gates as defense secretary and appoint Gen. James L. Jones, a retired Marine commandant, his national security adviser, the Democrats said.

The choice of Ms. Rice to represent the United States before the United Nations will make her one of the most visible faces of the Obama administration to the outside world aside from Mrs. Clinton. It will also send to the world organization a prominent and forceful advocate of stronger action, including military force if necessary, to stop mass killings like those in the Darfur region of Sudan in recent years.

To reinforce his intention to work more closely with the United Nations after the tensions of President Bush’s tenure, Mr. Obama plans to restore the ambassador’s post to cabinet rank, as it was under President Bill Clinton, according to Democrats close to the transition.

While the cabinet consists of 15 department heads, a president can give other positions the same rank for the duration of his administration.

“She’s obviously one of Obama’s closest advisers, so it underscores how much of a priority he’s making the position,” said Nancy Soderberg, a senior United States diplomat at the United Nations under Mr. Clinton. “If you look at the last eight years, we obviously need to be more engaged at the U.N. and realistic about what the U.N. can do.”

At Monday’s announcement, the president-elect will also formally unveil his nominations of Eric H. Holder Jr. to be attorney general and Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona to be secretary of homeland security, the Democrats said. He will not announce any of the top intelligence appointments on Monday, but the Democrats said they expected him soon to name Adm. Dennis C. Blair, a retired Pacific Fleet commander, as director of national intelligence.

If confirmed, Ms. Rice at 44 would be the second-youngest ambassador to the United Nations. A Rhodes scholar who earned a doctorate in international relations at Oxford University, she joined Mr. Clinton’s National Security Council staff in 1993 before rising to assistant secretary of state for African affairs at age 32. When Mr. Obama decided to run for president, she signed up as one of his top advisers, much to the consternation of the Clinton camp, which resented what it saw as a defection.

As the ambassador at the United Nations, Ms. Rice will have to coordinate with Mrs. Clinton, but will not be in the White House or at State Department headquarters on a daily basis as major policies are formulated. One person close to Mrs. Clinton said the senator did not object to Ms. Rice serving at the United Nations.

Some colleagues from her Clinton and Obama days said Ms. Rice can be blunt and unafraid to “mix it up,” as one put it, on behalf of issues she cares about. Ms. Rice herself acknowledges a certain impatience at times.

Admirers said she is a good listener and able to stand up to strong personalities, including foreign autocrats and militants in volatile regions of the world.

“Susan certainly is tough, and she’s tough in exactly the right way,” said Strobe Talbott, a former deputy secretary of state and now president of the Brookings Institution, where Ms. Rice has worked in recent years. “She’s intellectually tough, she’s tough in her approach to how the policymaking process should work and she will be very effective as a diplomat.”

John R. Bolton, who was one of Mr. Bush’s ambassadors at the United Nations, would not discuss Ms. Rice’s selection, but said it was unwise to elevate the position to the cabinet again.

“One, it overstates the role and importance the U.N. should have in U.S. foreign policy,” Mr. Bolton said. “Second, you shouldn’t have two secretaries in the same department.”

During her first run at the State Department, Ms. Rice was a point person in responding to Al Qaeda’s 1998 bombing of United States Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. But her most searing experience was visiting Rwanda after the 1994 genocide when she was still on the N.S.C. staff.

As she later described the scene, the hundreds, if not thousands, of decomposing, hacked up bodies that she saw haunted her and fueled a desire to never let it happen again.

“I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required,” she told The Atlantic Monthly in 2001. She eventually became a sharp critic of the Bush administration’s handling of the Darfur killings and last year testified before Congress on behalf of an American-led bombing campaign or naval blockade to force a recalcitrant Sudanese government to stop the slaughter.

Jerry Fowler, president of the Save Darfur Coalition, praised the pending Rice nomination on Sunday, calling it a powerful sign of the new president’s interest in the issue. The coalition is urging Mr. Obama to begin a “peace surge” of sustained diplomacy to address the continuing problems in Sudan.

“It sends a very strong signal about his approach to the issue of Sudan and Africa in general,” Mr. Fowler said. Ms. Rice will be joining a high-powered team on stage with Mr. Obama on Monday, most notably Mrs. Clinton.

The two rivals from the polarizing battle for the Democratic presidential nomination will seal their reconciliation with Mrs. Clinton’s nomination to head the State Department.

At a time when the country remains engaged in two wars and still faces the threat of international terrorism, Mrs. Clinton will anchor a national security team with more of a centrist character than some of Mr. Obama’s liberal supporters once hoped to see.

Some critics have pointed out that the team represents experience rather than the change Mr. Obama promised. But it also drew praise from across the aisle.

“The triumvirate of Gates, Clinton and Jones to lead Obama’s national security team instills great confidence at home and abroad and further strengthens the growing respect for the president-elect’s courage and ability to exercise sound judgment in selecting the best and the brightest to implement our nation’s security policies,” said Senator John W. Warner of Virginia, a former chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

Friday, December 19, 2008

W. Mark Felt, Watergate Deep Throat, Dies at 95


W. Mark Felt, who was the No. 2 official at the F.B.I. when he helped bring down President Richard M. Nixon by resisting the Watergate cover-up and becoming Deep Throat, the most famous anonymous source in American history, died Thursday. He was 95 and lived in Santa Rosa, Calif.

His death was confirmed by Rob Jones, his grandson.

In 2005, Mr. Felt revealed that he was the one who had secretly supplied Bob Woodward of The Washington Post with crucial leads in the Watergate affair in the early 1970s. His decision to unmask himself, in an article in Vanity Fair, ended a guessing game that had gone on for more than 30 years.

The disclosure even surprised Mr. Woodward and his partner on the Watergate story, Carl Bernstein. They had kept their promise not to reveal his identity until after his death. Indeed, Mr. Woodward was so scrupulous about shielding Mr. Felt that he did not introduce him to Mr. Bernstein until this year, 36 years after they cracked the scandal. The three met for two hours one afternoon last month in Santa Rosa, where Mr. Felt had retired. The reporters likened it to a family reunion.

Mr. Felt played a dual role in the fall of Nixon. As a secret informant, he kept the story alive in the press. As associate director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, he fought the president’s efforts to obstruct the F.B.I.’s investigation of the Watergate break-in.

Without Mr. Felt, there might not have been a Watergate — shorthand for the revealed abuses of presidential powers in the Nixon White House, including illegal wiretapping, burglaries and money laundering. Americans might never have seen a president as a criminal conspirator, or reporters as cultural heroes, or anonymous sources like Mr. Felt as a necessary if undesired tool in the pursuit of truth.

Like Nixon, Mr. Felt authorized illegal break-ins in the name of national security and then received the absolution of a presidential pardon. Their lives were intertwined in ways only they and a few others knew.

Nixon cursed his name when he learned early on that Mr. Felt was providing aid to the enemy in the wars of Watergate. The conversation was recorded in the Oval Office and later made public.

“We know what’s leaked, and we know who leaked it,” Nixon’s chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, told the president on Oct. 19, 1972, four months after a team of washed-up Central Intelligence Agency personnel hired by the White House was caught trying to wiretap the Democratic Party’s national offices at the Watergate complex.

“Somebody in the F.B.I.?” Nixon asked.

“Yes, sir,” Mr. Haldeman replied. Who? the president asked. “Mark Felt,” Mr. Haldeman said. “Now why the hell would he do that?” the president asked in a wounded tone.

No one, including Mr. Felt, ever answered that question in full. Mr. Felt later said he believed that the president had been misusing the F.B.I. for political advantage. He knew that Nixon wanted the Watergate affair to vanish. He knew that the White House had ordered the C.I.A. to tell the bureau, on grounds of national security, to stand down in its felony investigation of the June 1972 break-in. He saw that order as an effort to obstruct justice, and he rejected it. That resistance led indirectly to Nixon’s resignation.

Mr. Felt had expected to be named to succeed J. Edgar Hoover, who had run the bureau for 48 years and died in May 1972. The president instead chose a politically loyal Justice Department official, L. Patrick Gray III, who later followed orders from the White House to destroy documents in the case.

The choice infuriated Mr. Felt. He later wrote that the president “wanted a politician in J. Edgar Hoover’s position who would convert the bureau into an adjunct of the White House machine.”

Hoover had sworn off break-ins without warrants — “black bag jobs,” he called them — in 1966, after carrying them out at the F.B.I. for four decades. The Nixon White House hired its own operatives to steal information, plant eavesdropping equipment and hunt down the sources of leaks. The Watergate break-in took place six weeks after Hoover died.

While Watergate was seething, Mr. Felt authorized nine illegal break-ins at the homes of friends and relatives of members of the Weather Underground, a violent left-wing splinter group. The people he chose as targets had committed no crimes. The F.B.I. had no search warrants. He later said he ordered the break-ins because national security required it.

In a criminal trial, Mr. Felt was convicted in November 1980 of conspiring to violate the constitutional rights of Americans. Nixon, who had denounced him in private for leaking Watergate secrets, testified on his behalf. Called by the prosecution, he told the jury that presidents and by extension their officers had an inherent right to conduct illegal searches in the name of national security.

“As Deep Throat, Felt helped establish the principle that our highest government officials are subject to the Constitution and the laws of the land,” the prosecutor, John W. Nields, wrote in The Washington Post in 2005. “Yet when it came to the Weather Underground bag jobs, he seems not to have been aware that this same principle applied to him.”

Seven months after the conviction, President Ronald Reagan pardoned Mr. Felt. Then 67, Mr. Felt celebrated the decision as one of great symbolic value. “This is going to be the biggest shot in the arm for the intelligence community for a long time,” he said. After the pardon, Nixon sent him a congratulatory bottle of Champagne.

Mr. Felt then disappeared from public view for a quarter of a century, denying unequivocally, time and again, that he had been Deep Throat. It was a lie he told to serve what he believed to be a higher truth.

William Mark Felt was born in Twin Falls, Idaho, on Aug. 17, 1913. After graduating from the University of Idaho, he was drawn to public service in Washington and went to work for Senator James P. Pope, a Democrat.

In 1938, he married his college sweetheart, Audrey Robinson, in Washington. They were wed by the chaplain of the House of Representatives. She died in 1984. The couple had a daughter, Joan, and a son, Mark. They and four grandsons survive Mr. Felt.

Days before Pearl Harbor, after earning a law degree in night classes at George Washington University, Mr. Felt applied to the F.B.I. and joined it in January 1942. He spent most of World War II hunting German spies.

After stints in Seattle, New Orleans and Los Angeles, Hoover named him special agent in charge of the Salt Lake City and Kansas City offices in the late 1950s. Rising to high positions at the headquarters in the 1960s, he oversaw the training of F.B.I. agents and conducted internal investigations as chief of the inspection division.

In early 1970, while waiting in an anteroom of the West Wing of the White House, Mr. Felt chanced to meet a Navy lieutenant delivering classified messages to the National Security Council staff. The young man in dress blues was Bob Woodward. By his own description fiercely ambitious and in need of adult guidance, Mr. Woodward tried to wring career counseling from his elder. He left the White House with the number to Mr. Felt’s direct line at the F.B.I.

On July 1, 1971, Hoover promoted Mr. Felt to deputy associate director, the third in command at the headquarters, beneath Hoover’s right-hand man and longtime companion, Clyde A. Tolson. With both of his superiors in poor health, Mr. Felt increasingly took effective command of the daily work of the F.B.I. When Mr. Hoover died and Mr. Tolson retired, he saw his path to power cleared.

But Nixon denied him, and he seethed with frustrated ambition in the summer of 1972.

One evening that summer, a few weeks after the Watergate break-in, Mr. Woodward, then a neophyte newspaperman, knocked on Mr. Felt’s door in pursuit of the story. Mr. Felt decided to co-operate with him and set up an elaborate system of espionage techniques for clandestine meetings with Mr. Woodward.

If Mr. Woodward needed to talk, he would move a flowerpot planted with a red flag on the balcony of his apartment on P Street in Washington. If Mr. Felt had a message, Mr. Woodward’s home-delivered New York Times would arrive with an inked circle on Page 20. Mr. Woodward would leave his apartment by the back alley that night and take one taxi to a downtown hotel, then a second to an underground parking garage in the Rosslyn section of Arlington, Va.

Within weeks, Mr. Felt steered The Post to a story establishing that the Watergate break-in was part of “a massive campaign of political spying and sabotage” directed by the White House. For the next eight months, he did his best to keep the newspaper on the trail, largely by providing, on “deep background,” anonymous confirmation of facts reporters had gathered from others. The Post’s managing editor, Howard Simons, gave him his famous pseudonym, taken from the pornographic movie then in vogue.

By June 1973, Mr. Felt was forced out of the F.B.I. Soon he came under investigation by some of the same agents he had supervised, suspected of leaking information not to The Post but to The New York Times. He spent much of the mid-1970s testifying in secret to Congress about abuses of power at the F.B.I. Millions of Americans knew him only as a shadowy figure in the 1976 movie made from the Watergate saga, “All the President’s Men,” which made “Woodward and Bernstein” legends of American journalism. In the movie, Deep Throat (Hal Holbrook) gives Mr. Woodward (Robert Redford) probably the most famous bit of free advice in the history of investigative journalism. It was a three-word road map to the heart of the matter: “Follow the money.”

Mr. Felt never said it. It was part of the myth that surrounded Deep Throat.

Love your way... you are Brilliant!

Alan Davidson is the author of the Free report

"Body Breakthroughs for Life Breakthroughs: How to Peak Your

Physical, Emotional, Mental, Moral, and Spiritual IQs for a

Sensational Life"

available at www.throughyourbody.com

Alan is also the author of Body Brilliance:

Mastering Your Five Vital Intelligences (IQs)


Watch the Body Brilliance Movie


Thursday, December 18, 2008

A humerous look at the Change of White House Décor when Obama Enters Office?

EVER since Mary Todd Lincoln overshot the White House decorating budget by $6,700 (a third of her $20,000 appropriation), infuriating her husband and delighting a press corps that had already turned against her, the redecoration of the president’s house has been a public relations minefield. Some new administrations tiptoe through it unscathed; others are less nimble, and bombs explode.

“It’s an old maxim that you can build a billion-dollar highway that’s the biggest pork barrel in the world and no one will say anything,” said William Seale, a White House historian, “but if you’re in public office and you try and change your desk, you’re going to end up on the front page. In presidential décor, one must remember the public eye is fixed on everything you do.”

Barack Obama’s transition team has not responded to inquiries about his interior design plans, so one can only speculate about how the Obamas will make their stylistic mark on the White House. Perhaps they will choose Nate Berkus, the engaging puppy dog of a decorator beloved by Oprah and other Chicagoans, to assist them.

Or perhaps, as the comedian Andy Borowitz suggested on the phone last week, they will follow the template the president-elect has laid out for his cabinet appointments. “That whole team-of-rivals approach,” Mr. Borowitz said, “so instead of one decorator there will be eight: four Republicans and four Democrats, none of whom can stand each other, and he’ll make them each do a room.”

However the Obamas decide to proceed, they’ll have to follow a few basic rules. For starters, they will have to pay for their own movers. And while Congress budgets $100,000 in household transition costs for every new administration, if the Obamas spend more than that — and most first families do — they will have to cover the expense of decorating their private quarters with private donations. In addition, they can’t change the public rooms without the approval of a committee of preservationists.

They would also be wise to remember that appearances do matter: Jimmy Carter’s earth-toned Oval Office read as both homespun and dreary (never mind that his predecessor, Gerald Ford, had chosen the décor and Mr. Carter was saving money by not redecorating), and the cost of Nancy Reagan’s china ($210,399) was seen as wildly extravagant (though the china was a private donation and considered a necessity — before then, state dinners were served on a mishmash of patterns because there wasn’t enough of any one set to go around). The Kennedy White House was too French; the Clintons’, too Arkansas. In recent history, only the Waspy Bushes (both 41 and 43) have escaped decorating derision.

Some stories about decorating missteps are apocryphal, like that of Nancy Reagan’s plan to tear down a wall in the Lincoln bedroom or that of the Clintons’ decorating costs running over budget (mentioned by the former deputy White House counsel, Vincent W. Foster, in a note shortly before he died in an apparent suicide). The bad press in both cases accrued to the president’s wife.

Attacking the first lady, said Carl Sferrazza Anthony, the author of a dozen books on first wives and their families and the historian of the National First Ladies Library, “is a way of not directly attacking a popular president.” Mr. Anthony ticked off a few of Nancy Reagan’s perceived sins, including that she asked the Carters to move out early so she could start redecorating and that she was decorating the private quarters in an inappropriately lavish way in a time of recession.

“Conscious of that, she used private funds” to shore up the house, Mr. Anthony said, “fixing floors, redoing hardware. The place was falling apart. Much of the money went to this, rather than the red decorating everybody remembers, because that’s what got reported. There’s a saying that in Washington, no good deed goes unpunished.”

The Clintons were savaged for packing up rugs, furniture and lamps given to them during their White House tenancy, and for soliciting donations of household objects for their post-White House residences (a house for her in Washington, and one for him in Chappaqua, N.Y.). They had always lived in public housing, Mr. Anthony said, and “in an effort to get up to speed, they put the word out that people could make donations.”

Money has historically been tight for White House families. Mr. Seale noted that James Monroe had a kind of pawn-shop arrangement, whereby he would finance diplomatic tours by selling pieces of the Directoire furniture he had collected in France to the United States government. “When he’d finished touring, he’d buy it back,” Mr. Seale said. “Then, of course, there was Mrs. Lincoln, who bought that famous Lincoln bed.”

When her husband was presented with the bill, Mr. Seale said, “He blew up.

“Let me see if I can get his quote right: ‘It would stink in the nostrils of the American people to have it said that the president of the United States had approved a bill over-running an appropriation of $20,000 for flub dubs for this damned old house, when the soldiers cannot have blankets.’ ”

“Flub dubs,” Mr. Seale repeated, savoring the words. “Isn’t that a great phrase?” (Mr. Seale included it in his two-volume history, “The President’s House,” which was just published by the White House Historical Association.)

DECORATING the White House is the first lady’s job; she presides over the Committee for the Preservation of the White House, a board of appointees that includes her decorator and the White House curator, as well as art historians, furniture and decorative art experts and other advisers on historic preservation. (Laura Bush’s decorator, Kenneth Blasingame, a Fort Worth designer, has been steadily reworking rooms like the Lincoln Bedroom, which were revealed, to not much comment, in Architectural Digest last March.)

Renovations of the public rooms, additions to the formidable collections of art and furniture, and any restoration work is overseen by the committee and financed by the White House Endowment fund, which now has assets of about $27 million.

When it comes to the private quarters, on the second and third floors, and the Oval Office, though, the décor is the “personal decision of the first family,” said Tom Savage, director of museum affairs at Winterthur in Delaware and a member of the Committee for the Preservation of the White House during the Clinton administration. “But there are so many safeguards. The misconception of the public is that a first family can make very dramatic changes, and that’s just not so.”

There is drama on moving day, however. Gary Walters, who retired last year after 21 years of overseeing the 132-room mansion as chief White House usher, explained that on Inauguration Day it was his job to help the first families move, in the scant and hectic period between the time the exiting president departed for good (about 10:45 a.m., after greeting the president-elect under the North Portico and having a cup of coffee with him in the Blue Room) and the new president and his family left the inaugural parade in the late afternoon.

That leaves about five hours for the usher and 93 assistants, including household staff, painters, carpenters, florists and even calligraphers, Mr. Walters said, along with the new decorator and his or her staff, to unpack the family’s things and put everything away. “The goal is no unopened boxes,” said Mr. Walters, who used to move into the White House for a week before Inauguration Day, sleeping on a cot in the basement.

“It can be extremely difficult,” he added. “When Bush 41 was elected, for example, we expected to have the normal amount of time, until after the parade, but there were grandchildren and they got cold and came in about two hours early.”

Moving day is highly choreographed, the culmination of exhaustive prep work. After the ceremonial, post-election tour given to the president-elect and his family by the outgoing president and his wife, the chief usher meets with the new family. He presents them with floor plans and a book detailing the furniture and art owned by the White House and stored at a facility in Maryland.

“I asked questions like ‘What rooms do you want to use, and what beds? What would you like and where would you like us to put it? Do you have favorite foods?’ For the president, it’s ‘Which desk would you like?’ The questions are to elicit dialogue about things they might not have thought of,” Mr. Walters said.

Linens and mattresses are replaced, or “put out of service,” as he put it. “The new president will not have the linens of the previous president.”

This wasn’t always the case. Mamie Eisenhower complained that the linens were all mended, said Claire Whitcomb, co-author of “Real Life at the White House: Two Hundred Years of Daily Life at America’s Most Famous Residence” (Routledge, 2002). “And Eisenhower hated Truman so much, he didn’t bother to go on the tour. So when he woke up on his first day in office, he didn’t know where his office was.” Also, Ms. Whitcomb continued, the movers lost his suitcase.

Every family leaves something behind, intentionally or not. When the Fords moved in, Betty Ford found one of the Nixons’ boxes. “It was marked, ‘Tapes, Do Not Touch,’ ” Ms. Whitcomb said. Turns out, it was filled with the former president’s Mantovani recordings. And Ronald Reagan left a note in his desk drawer for George H. W. Bush, she added, that said, “Don’t let the turkeys get you down.”

Washington observers like Arianna Huffington predict no decorating pitfalls for the president-elect and his family, just another “teachable moment” for the rest of us.

“There have been a lot of these with the Obamas,” Ms. Huffington said, “like learning to get along with your mother-in-law and not holding grudges.” She imagines organic cotton curtains and nontoxic cleaning supplies.

For his part, Mr. Borowitz wondered if Michelle Obama might take “that victory dress and upholster a couch with it.”

“By repurposing it,” he said, “she could show how thrifty she was.”

“Money is important,” he continued. “Whatever furniture the Clintons didn’t take, the Obamas could auction off to pay down the costs of the auto industry bailout. Then they could get some modest things from Ikea or Craigslist. I’m sure there are some other people who have lost their presidents’ jobs in other countries who are putting their things on Craigslist. If Hugo Chávez gets defeated, maybe they could have his stuff.”

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Iowa Justices Hear Same-Sex Marriage Case

In a case that could make Iowa the first Midwestern state to legalize same-sex marriage, the Iowa Supreme Court on Tuesday pressed lawyers for both sides with sharp questions on topics like the 4,000-year-old history of marriage and whether a ruling favoring gay couples would open the door to polygamy.

The legal core of the case, Varnum v. Brien, is whether the state’s 10-year-old law defining a “valid” marriage as only “between a male and female” violates the Iowa Constitution’s guarantees of equal treatment and due process.

A trial court judge ruled last year that the law was unconstitutional and that a dozen gay men and lesbians had been wrongly denied marriage licenses in Polk County, which includes the state capital, Des Moines. The state appealed the ruling, leading to Tuesday’s oral arguments.

But the technical details of the law and the Constitution were only part of a free-wheeling discussion lasting nearly two hours in which the seven justices repeatedly interrupted the lawyers, demanding that they parse and defend their positions.

Where was the line, they asked, between religious and governmental interests in definitions of marriage? How did the state’s defense of the law defining marriage differ from the way it might have once defended now-defunct laws barring interracial marriage? Would allowing same-sex marriage encourage more gay couples to adopt, and was there anything wrong with that?

An assistant attorney for Polk County, Roger J. Kuhle, said the core of marriage, historically, was about children and creating stable systems for procreation.

“The essential factor of marriage, which is procreation, which is raising children, which is replenishing society, has never changed,” Mr. Kuhle told the court.

Justice David S. Wiggins then pointed out that society’s notion of what was acceptable in marriage had evolved over time.

“Thirty years ago you couldn’t have interracial marriage — I mean things are just changing,” Justice Wiggins said. “Is marriage, as you call it, a static relationship?”

But the panel was equally tough in pressing Dennis W. Johnson, the lawyer for the gay couples, led by Katherine and Patricia Varnum of Cedar Rapids. At one point several justices asked Mr. Johnson whether opening the door to same-sex marriage by striking down the state’s law defining marriage might allow marriages of more than two people.

It would not, he responded, because the body of law that has evolved around the institution of marriage is premised on two consenting adults. Gender, he said, is irrelevant to that institutional framework.

When asked whether recognizing same-sex marriage would not in fact change the institution itself, Mr. Johnson responded: “We’re not suggesting a new institution. We’re suggesting that everyone be able to participate equally.”

In his lower-court ruling, which found for the gay plaintiffs, Judge Robert B. Hanson of the Fifth Judicial District was sweeping in his dismissal of the state’s claims that heterosexual marriage was bolstered by an exclusionary definition.

“The law is extremely over-inclusive in its attempt to strengthen heterosexual marriage and procreation by preventing an entire distinct group of individuals — homosexuals — from marrying,” Judge Hanson wrote.

Judge Hanson said that Iowa law already allowed gay couples to adopt children, and that of the more than 5,800 same-sex couples in the state, 37 percent were raising children under age 18.

Laws barring same-sex marriage have been struck down by state courts in Massachusetts, in 2004, and in Connecticut and California this year. But public attitudes have not entirely kept pace with those legal shifts. Voters in three states approved same-sex marriage bans in last month’s elections, including in California, where they essentially nullified the State Supreme Court’s ruling by passing an amendment to the State Constitution that recognizes marriage only between a man and a woman.

Love your way... you are Brilliant!

Alan Davidson is the author of the Free report

"Body Breakthroughs for Life Breakthroughs: How to Peak Your

Physical, Emotional, Mental, Moral, and Spiritual IQs for a

Sensational Life"

available at www.throughyourbody.com

Alan is also the author of Body Brilliance:

Mastering Your Five Vital Intelligences (IQs)


Watch the Body Brilliance Movie


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Freedom Fighter in Life Becomes Potent Symbol in Death

One of the first scenes in “Milk” is of a pick-up in a New York subway station. It’s 1970, and an insurance executive in a suit and tie catches sight of a beautiful, scruffy younger man — the phrase “angel-headed hipster” comes to mind — and banters with him on the stairs. The mood of the moment, which ends up with the two men eating birthday cake in bed, is casual and sexy, and its flirtatious playfulness is somewhat disarming, given our expectation of a serious and important movie grounded in historical events. “Milk,” directed by Gus Van Sant from a script by Dustin Lance Black, is certainly such a film, but it manages to evade many of the traps and compromises of the period biopic with a grace and tenacity worthy of its title character.

That would be Harvey Milk (played by Sean Penn), a neighborhood activist elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977 and murdered, along with the city’s mayor, George Moscone (Victor Garber), by a former supervisor named Dan White (Josh Brolin) the next year. Notwithstanding the modesty of his office and the tragic foreshortening of his tenure, Milk, among the first openly gay elected officials in the country, had a profound impact on national politics, and his rich afterlife in American culture has affirmed his status as pioneer and martyr. His brief career has inspired an opera by Stewart Wallace, an excellent documentary film (“The Times of Harvey Milk,” by Rob Epstein, from 1984) and now “Milk,” which is the best live-action mainstream American movie that I have seen this year. This is not faint praise, by the way, even though 2008 has been a middling year for Hollywood. “Milk” is accessible and instructive, an astute chronicle of big-city politics and the portrait of a warrior whose passion was equaled by his generosity and good humor. Mr. Penn, an actor of unmatched emotional intensity and physical discipline, outdoes himself here, playing a character different from any he has portrayed before.

This is less a matter of sexuality — there is no longer much novelty in a straight actor’s “playing gay” — than of temperament. Unlike, say, Jimmy Markum, Mr. Penn’s brooding ex-convict in Clint Eastwood’s “Mystic River,” Harvey Milk is an extrovert and an ironist, a man whose expansive, sometimes sloppy self-presentation camouflages an incisive mind and a ferociously stubborn will. All of this Mr. Penn captures effortlessly through voice and gesture, but what is most arresting is the sense he conveys of Milk’s fundamental kindness, a personal virtue that also functions as a political principle.

Which is not to say that “Milk” is an easy, sunny, feel-good movie, or that its hero is a shiny liberal saint. There is righteous anger in this movie, and also an arresting, moody lyricism. Mr. Van Sant has frequently practiced a kind of detached romanticism, letting his stories unfold matter-of-factly while infusing them with touches of melancholy beauty. (He is helped here by Danny Elfman’s elegant score and by the expressive cinematography of Harris Savides, whose touch when it comes to framing and focus could more aptly be called a caress.)

In the years since the earnest and commercial “Finding Forrester” (2000), Mr. Van Sant has devoted himself to smaller-scale projects, some of them (like the Palme d’Or-winning provocation “Elephant”) employing nonprofessional actors, and none of them much concerned with soliciting the approval of the mass audience. “Gerry,” “Elephant,” “Last Days” and “Paranoid Park” are linked by a spirit of formal exploration — elements of Mr. Van Sant’s experimental style include long tracking shots; oblique, fractured narratives; and a way of composing scenes that emphasizes visual and aural texture over conventional dramatic exposition — and also by a preoccupation with death.

Like “Elephant” (suggested by the Columbine High shootings) and “Last Days” (by the suicide of Kurt Cobain), “Milk” is the chronicle of a death foretold. Before that subway station encounter, we have already seen real-life news video of the aftermath of Milk’s assassination, as well as grainy photographs of gay men being rounded up by the police. These images don’t spoil the intimacy between Harvey the buttoned-up businessman and Scott Smith (James Franco), the hippie who becomes his live-in lover and first campaign manager. Rather, the constant risk of harassment, humiliation and violence is the defining context of that intimacy.

And his refusal to accept this as a fact of life, his insistence on being who he is without secrecy or shame, is what turns Milk from a bohemian camera store owner (after his flight from New York and the insurance business) into a political leader.

“My name is Harvey Milk, and I want to recruit you.” That was an opening line that the real Milk often used in his speeches to break the tension with straight audiences, but the film shows him deploying it with mostly gay crowds as well, with a slightly different inflection. He wants to recruit them into the politics of democracy, to persuade them that the stigma and discrimination they are used to enduring quietly and even guiltily can be addressed by voting, by demonstrating, by claiming the share of power that is every citizen’s birthright and responsibility.

The strength of Mr. Black’s script is that it grasps both the radicalism of Milk’s political ambition and the pragmatism of his methods. “Milk” understands that modern politics thrive at the messy, sometimes glorious intersection of grubby interests and noble ideals. Shortly after moving with Scott from New York to the Castro section of San Francisco, Milk begins organizing the gay residents of that neighborhood, seeking out allies among businessmen, labor unions and other groups.

The city’s gay elite, discomfited by his confrontational tactics, keeps Milk at a distance, leaving him to build a movement from the ground up with the help of a young rabble-rouser and ex-hustler named Cleve Jones (Emile Hirsch).

For more than two lively, eventful hours, “Milk” conforms to many of the conventions of biographical filmmaking, if not always to the precise details of the hero’s biography. Milk’s inexhaustible political commitment takes its toll on his relationships, first with Scott and then with Jack Lira, an impulsive, unstable young man played by Diego Luna with an operatic verve that stops just short of camp.

Meanwhile, local San Francisco issues are overshadowed by a statewide anti-gay-rights referendum and the national crusade, led by the orange-juice spokesmodel Anita Bryant, to repeal municipal antidiscrimination laws. The culture war is unfolding, and Milk is in the middle of it. (And so, 30 years later, in the wake of Proposition 8, is “Milk.”)

“Milk” is a fascinating, multi-layered history lesson. In its scale and visual variety it feels almost like a calmed-down Oliver Stone movie, stripped of hyperbole and Oedipal melodrama. But it is also a film that like Mr. Van Sant’s other recent work — and also, curiously, like David Fincher’s “Zodiac,” another San Francisco-based tale of the 1970s — respects the limits of psychological and sociological explanation.

Dan White, Milk’s erstwhile colleague and eventual assassin, haunts the edges of the movie, representing both the banality and the enigma of evil. Mr. Brolin makes him seem at once pitiable and scary without making him look like a monster or a clown. Motives for White’s crime are suggested in the film, but too neat an accounting of them would distort the awful truth of the story and undermine the power of the movie.

That power lies in its uncanny balancing of nuance and scale, its ability to be about nearly everything — love, death, politics, sex, modernity — without losing sight of the intimate particulars of its story. Harvey Milk was an intriguing, inspiring figure. “Milk” is a marvel.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Barred From Zimbabwe, but Not Silent

JOHANNESBURG — Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, 84, managed to keep three members of the Elders, founded by Nelson Mandela to tackle intractable problems, out of Zimbabwe over the weekend. But the members gave Mr. Mugabe and leaders from across southern Africa an earful on Monday about Zimbabwe’s grave humanitarian crisis and their responsibility to act more assertively to resolve it.

Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general, bluntly told the heads of state in the 15-nation regional bloc, the Southern African Development Community, which is often accused of coddling Mr. Mugabe, “It’s obvious that S.A.D.C. could have and should have done more.”

Graça Machel, a women’s rights advocate who is married to Mr. Mandela, said after three days of listening to stories of heartbreak from Zimbabwe in conversations here with refugees and others, “Either the leadership doesn’t have a clear picture of the suffering of their own people, or they don’t care.”

Former President Jimmy Carter suggested that heads of state in the region had no clue about the extreme hardships in Zimbabwe, while Zimbabwe’s leaders were callous. He said the African Union and the United Nations should send teams to document the situation inside the country. “We all have the feeling leaders of S.A.D.C. do not know what is going on in Zimbabwe,” he said.

Their remarks are likely to sting Mr. Mugabe, in power for 28 years. Ms. Machel’s and Mr. Carter’s connections to him go back decades.

Ms. Machel’s first marriage was to Samora Machel, the Mozambican leader who fought Portuguese rule and led his newly independent nation until he died in a plane crash in 1986. She said in an interview that she had been close with Mr. Mugabe and his wife, Sally, until Mrs. Mugabe died in 1992.

The relationship “became even more aloof” after Ms. Machel married Mr. Mandela, she said. “Mugabe was the star of this region before South Africa became free,” Ms. Machel said. “By the time South Africa became free, the whole attention of the world turns to South Africa. That was an issue.”

Mr. Carter, 84, said in an interview that as president, he supported the end of white minority rule in Zimbabwe, called Rhodesia at the time. He recalled a White House event celebrating Mr. Mugabe’s rise to power before Mr. Carter left office in 1981.

Mr. Mugabe “held my hand up in front of the whole crowd and said, ‘This is the only man that might beat me in an election in Zimbabwe,’ ” Mr. Carter recalled.

Mr. Mugabe is sensitive to criticism, and these comments are likely to gall him. The Herald, his state-owned mouthpiece, quoted an anonymous source last week as saying that Mr. Annan had been openly critical of Mr. Mugabe. A Herald editorial on Monday accused Mr. Annan, as it has other African leaders who differed with Mr. Mugabe, of “putting himself at the beck and call of the white West.”

The three in the Elders contingent on Zimbabwe sounded an alarm on Monday about the rapidly deteriorating living conditions there. They spent the past few days meeting with Zimbabwe’s opposition leaders and South Africa’s president, Kgalema Motlanthe, as well as aid workers, Western diplomats, United Nations representatives and Zimbabweans who had fled their homeland.

At the start of their visit on Saturday, the three leaders said they were on a humanitarian mission. They ended the trip on Monday by saying that Zimbabwe’s collapsing public services — health, education, sanitation, water — could not be fixed until a power-sharing deal between Mr. Mugabe and the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, took effect and the country had a functioning government again.

Negotiators for Mr. Mugabe and Mr. Tsvangirai are expected to meet again on Tuesday as South Africa’s former president, Thabo Mbeki, the mediator in the Zimbabwe crisis, seeks to persuade them to form a collaborative government more than two months after they signed an agreement to do so.

“S.A.D.C. must bring its full weight to bear to ensure the agreement is fully implemented,” Mr. Annan said.

Under the deal, Mr. Mugabe would remain president, while Mr. Tsvangirai would become prime minister. But they have been feuding over how to divide the most powerful ministries, and particularly over control of the police force, an engine of Mr. Mugabe’s repressive rule. The Southern African Development Community has directed them to share management of the ministry that oversees the police.

Mr. Tsvangirai won the March presidential election, but not by enough to avert a runoff, which he quit because of state-sponsored attacks on the opposition.

Mr. Mbeki has for years been criticized for his quiet diplomacy on Zimbabwe. South Africa’s new leaders were somewhat noisier on Monday. Jacob Zuma, Mr. Mbeki’s archrival and successor as president of the African National Congress, was evenhanded in his comments on the power-sharing negotiations, but after meeting Mr. Annan, Mr. Carter and Ms. Machel, he said the decision by Zimbabwean authorities not to grant them visas “does give an unfortunate picture.”

President Motlanthe of South Africa, chairman of the regional development group, said his government had tried to speak to Mr. Mugabe about letting the three visit Zimbabwe, and was told that Mr. Mugabe was out of town and would get back to them on his return. “He didn’t come back to us,” Mr. Motlanthe said.

After meeting Mr. Annan, Mr. Carter and Ms. Machel, Mr. Motlanthe agreed that without a political settlement and the formation of a legitimate government, the situation in Zimbabwe “may implode or collapse altogether.”

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Gay Marriage and a Moral Minority

Published: November 29, 2008

We now know that blacks probably didn’t tip the balance for Proposition 8. Myth busted. However, the fact remains that a strikingly high percentage of blacks said they voted to ban same-sex marriage in California. Why?

There was one very telling (and virtually ignored) statistic in CNN’s exit poll data that may shed some light: There were far more black women than black men, and a higher percentage of them said that they voted for the measure than the men. How wide was the gap? According to the exit poll, 70 percent of all blacks said that they voted for the proposition. But 75 percent of black women did. There weren’t enough black men in the survey to provide a reliable percentage for them. However, one can mathematically deduce that of the raw number of survey respondents, nearly twice as many black women said that they voted for it than black men.

Why? Here are my theories:

(1) Blacks are much more likely than whites to attend church, according to a Gallup report, and black women are much more likely to attend church than black men. Anyone who has ever been to a black church can attest to the disparity in the pews. And black women’s church attendance may be increasing.

According to a report issued this spring by Child Trends, a nonprofit research center, weekly church attendance among black 12th graders rose 26 percent from 1993 to 2006, while weekly church attendance for white 12th graders remained virtually flat. In 2006, those black teenagers were nearly 50 percent more likely to attend church once a week than their white counterparts. And it is probably safe to assume that many of them were going to church with their mothers since Child Trends reported that around the time that they were born, nearly 70 percent of all black children were born to single mothers.

(2) This high rate of church attendance by blacks informs a very conservative moral view. While blacks vote overwhelmingly Democratic, an analysis of three years of national data from Gallup polls reveals that their views on moral issues are virtually indistinguishable from those of Republicans. Let’s just call them Afropublicrats.

(3) Marriage can be a sore subject for black women in general. According to 2007 Census Bureau data, black women are the least likely of all women to be married and the most likely to be divorced. Women who can’t find a man to marry might not be thrilled about the idea of men marrying each other.

Proponents of gay marriage would do well to focus on these women if they want to win black votes. A major reason is that black women vote at a higher rate than black men. In the CNN national exit poll, there were 40 percent more black women than black men, and in California there were 50 percent more. But gay marriage advocates need to hone their strategy to reach them.

First, comparing the struggles of legalizing interracial marriage with those to legalize gay marriage is a bad idea. Many black women do not seem to be big fans of interracial marriage either. They’re the least likely of all groups to intermarry, and many don’t look kindly on the black men who intermarry at nearly three times the rate that they do, according to a 2005 study of black intermarriage rates in the Wisconsin Law Review. Wrong reference. Don’t even go there.

Second, don’t debate the Bible. You can’t win. Religious faith is not defined by logic, it defies it. Instead, decouple the legal right from the religious rite, and emphasize the idea of acceptance without endorsement.

Then, make it part of a broader discussion about the perils of rigidly applying yesterday’s sexual morality to today’s sexual mores. Show black women that it backfires. The stigma doesn’t erase the behavior, it pushes it into the shadows where, devoid of information and acceptance, it become more risky.

For instance, most blacks find premarital sex unacceptable, according to the Gallup data. But, according to data from a study by the Guttmacher Institute, blacks are 26 percent more likely than any other race to have had premarital sex by age 18, and the pregnancy rate for black teens is twice that of white teens. They still have premarital sex, but they do so uninformed and unprotected.

That leads to a bigger problem. According to a 2004 report by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black women have an abortion rate that is three times that of white women.

More specifically, blacks overwhelmingly say that homosexuality isn’t morally acceptable. So many black men hide their sexual orientations and engage in risky behavior. This has resulted in large part in black women’s becoming the fastest-growing group of people with H.I.V. In a 2003 study of H.I.V.-infected people, 34 percent of infected black men said they had sex with both men and women, while only 6 percent of infected black women thought their partners were bisexual. Tragic. (In contrast, only 13 percent of the white men in the study said they had sex with both men and women, while 14 percent of the white women said that they knew their partners were bisexual.)

So pitch it as a health issue. The more open blacks are to the idea of homosexuality, the more likely black men would be to discuss their sexual orientations and sexual histories. The more open they are, the less likely black women would be to put themselves at risk unwittingly. And, the more open blacks are to homosexuality over all, the more open they are likely to be to gay marriage. This way, everyone wins.