Friday, December 26, 2008

The Grinch that Stole America

Welcome to the season of celebrating the United States' true religion: Materialism

By CATHERINE O'SULLIVAN email the Weekly

First of all, happy Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, Dying of the Corn Festival or whatever it is you celebrate.

Also, a particularly happy time for people gutsy enough not to celebrate anything. It has long been accepted by anthropologists, herpetologists, phlebotomists and other experts that the reason nearly all cultures have some kind of festival this time of year is that, in general, it's terribly depressing. Intervention with lights, gifts and big meals helps some individuals put off suicide for another year.

However, that all is not working so well these days, particularly for those who celebrate Christmas. We can't afford all of the shit our kids want. Many of us can't even afford the mortgage payment. Alas, gone are the days when little kids were happy with an orange and a couple of walnuts stuffed in their stockings--oh, those wonderful smidgeons of vitamin C and digestible protein during this cold, barren season. Make no mistake: Kids would suck on those trifles until they'd worn a hole through the peel. It was the one chance they'd have during the entire year to avert scurvy.

Of course, these days, if kids don't get the newest version of Guitar Hero, they're going to hate you forever. This is not their fault, but our own. The official religion of some countries may be Islam, Hindu, goat-worshipping or whatever, but ours is Materialism, and it may be more dangerous than any religion in the world. People scratch their heads wondering how a load of boneheaded shoppers actually could have trampled a guy to death at Wal-Mart. It's a no-brainer, really--the same principle as pilgrims getting crushed in the rush to Mecca. The only thing those zealous tramplers wanted was to touch the hem of The Messiah's garment. And that day, it was marked down to $8.99.

Old Fat Naked Women for Peace

What Happened to Kwanzaa?


Long before the giant mall usurped the American urban landscape, Hallmark was cheapening our age-old religious traditions and turning nuanced theological messages into platitudinous feel-goodisms to be bought and sold in the marketplace. Out of a singular, sinister force, Hallmark conspired to transform a suffering servant into a jolly present-giver and a fundamentalist victory into a celebration of assimilation. Hallmark was late capitalism's ubiquitous signifier before Starbucks was in operation in Seattle and Disney was in operation in Times Square. "Hallmark moments" elicited mild forms of queasiness, a mix of nostalgia and sentimentality under the guise of the universal.

Perhaps, then, it's a good thing that Kwanzaa has all but vanished from the local greeting card store. But what led to its disappearance? And where did it go? As recently as 1993, Kwanzaa was America's fastest-growing holiday. I recall a chilly December evening of that year when on the campus of Brown University my girlfriend and I took a study break and paid a visit to the campus' Third World Center. We used to go there a lot--mostly when we detected the distinct aroma of free ethnic food. We waded through a throng of students of color to the buffet table, gathered some fried plantains and okra on a tiny paper plate and found some room in the corner to take in the scene. We knew that Kwanzaa honored African heritage, and soon learned that it meant "first fruits" in Swahili. The place was packed and the music was booming--A Tribe Called Quest (of course)--while red, black and green-clad bodies bobbed their heads in sync. That year Ben & Jerry's began making sweet potato ice cream, J.C.Penny offered Kwanzaa products in stores nationwide, local news stations wished their viewers a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy Kwanzaa, and Hallmark printed 12 different varieties of Kwanzaa-themed cards.

Fifteen years later, I publish an irreverent Jewish culture magazine called Heeb and immediate circles supply me with more anecdotal information about lower back pain than they do about Kwanzaa observance, but I still can't help but notice not noticing Kwanzaa at the greeting cards store. Certainly people are still celebrating the holiday, but clearly corporate America no longer seeks to capitalize on Kwanzaa the way it once did. At a time when a black man can be elected President, the powers-that-be seem to be saying African-Americans are much more ready embrace the de facto American civic religion, Christianity.

Multiculturalism was supposed to highlight our differences in radical ways, not transform them into different flavors of ice cream. But I worry about how Kwanzaa's disappearance will get understood. In a few years (if not already), Americans will probably remember it the way they remember parachute pants or the Rubik's cube--the irony, that removing Kwanzaa from the aisles of greeting card stores might end up forever enshrining it as a pop cultural relic. Meanwhile, the meanings of Christmas and Hanukkah continue to be contested and questioned as they reside in the marketplace, Whether it's gone because nobody knew how to sell it, or because nobody wanted to buy it, Kwanzaa is now nowhere to be found.



No Reason for the Season

The joy of celebrating a godless Christmas.

Bemoaning the bastardization of the Christmas season is becoming a holiday tradition. In newspaper letters to the editor and in the blogosphere, purists offer chiding reminders that Jesus is "the reason for the season" and that Christmas is supposed to be his birthday party—not a random excuse for shopping and very special sitcom episodes. Adding his voice to the choir this year is megachurch leader and inauguration invocationer Rick Warren, who pleaded in his new book The Purpose of Christmas, "If you'll slow down for a few minutes … and pause to consider the purpose of Christmas, you can receive and enjoy the best Christmas gift you'll ever be given." For Christians, I have no doubt that that's some sound advice. But I don't want to slow down and consider the purpose of Christmas. What I love about the holidays are what Warren and his ilk surely consider distractions: the trees, the lights, Santa, and Muppet specials.

For me, Christmas has always been a secular occasion. I grew up in an unaffiliated household. My mother is Catholic, though she didn't practice for most of my childhood. My father was raised in a devoutly Jewish home, but he always adored Christmas. My grandmother tells, half-fondly and half-sadly, of when he was 6 and asked whether he could become Christian so that Santa Claus would pay him a visit. He eventually stopped practicing Judaism, but his love of Christmas never went away.

When I was a girl, my father would spend hours decorating the tree, the house, and the yard in a manner a bit like that of Christmas Vacation—lots of swearing, lots of tangled lights, and (eventually) lots of genuine pride in the accomplishment. Each year, one of my brothers or I would accompany him to pick out a new nutcracker to add to our family's collection; the jester, Drosselmeyer, and Civil War soldiers might not have been part of the Nativity story, but they meant Christmas to me. We never celebrated Hanukkah, because it never appealed to him: Christmas was the only winter holiday worth the effort, as far as he was concerned. My father passed away when I was young, but my family's holidays remained much the same. We focused on the togetherness and celebrating my father's memory on his favorite holiday. The miracle of Jesus' birth was far from our minds.

Nice Puppy

Survey: Americans prefer Web over papers to read news

The Internet has surpassed newspapers as the main source for national and international news for Americans, according to a new survey.

Television, however, remains the preferred medium for Americans, according to the survey by the Washington-based Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

Seventy percent of the 1,489 people surveyed by Pew said television is their primary source for national and international news.

Forty percent said they get most of their news from the Internet, up from 24 percent in September 2007, and more than the 35 percent who cited newspapers as their main news source.

Only 59 percent of people younger than 30 years old prefer television, Pew said, down from 68 percent in the September 2007 survey.

Mandate for Israel


By Ted Belman

Over three years ago I came across a new demographic study by AIDRG which argues that for the foreseeable future Jews would outnumber Arabs in Israel, Judea and Samaria by a ratio of 2:1. This fact gave rise to the suggestion that Israel should favour a Jewish One-State Plan. I became an immediate convert and wrote Israel, From the Mediterranean to the Jordan. I made the acquaintance of Mike Wise, Yoram Ettinger and Bennett Zimmerman who were the driving forces behind it.

Over the years the study has been strengthened and the plans for the Jewish state developed. HaTikva was formed with this goal in mind.

Of late I have argued that Gaza shouldn't be conquered until the peace process was aborted and Israel took matters into its own hands. Now is the time.

Mandate for Israel

    Israel must now affirm in its entirety the Mandate for Palestine (Land of Israel) as approved unanimously by the League of Nations on July 24, 1922 and by the United States on December 3, 1924. The Mandate for Palestine established the area west of the Jordan River as the national home of the Jewish people. The Mandate guaranteed civil and religious rights to all inhabitants of the land and political rights were granted to preserve the national home of the Jewish people in perpetuity. Israel can now extend its sovereignty and democracy to the entire Judea and Samaria region.

    Highlights of the MANDATE for ISRAEL

    * Israel affirms the Mandate for Palestine.
    * Israel's democracy and law will be extended to the entire Judea and Samaria region.
    * Full civil and religious rights will be granted to all inhabitants of Israel.
    * All residents of Judea and Samaria will become permanent residents and elect local municipalities.
    * All Israeli political parties and elected and appointed officials must affirm Israel as the national home of the Jewish people.
    * Citizenship standards will be created including a pledge of allegiance to Israel as the national home of the Jewish people.
    * Electoral reform will divide Israel into districts to insure local representation.


We must rededicate ourselves to national survival, freedom and independence. For too long have we depended on the West to protect us and to advance the peace process, to no avail. We must strike out the Hellenists among us, the doubters and the weak of heart. We must become masters in our own house and advance a peace plan, made in Israel.

The Mandate for Israel is simply a renaming of the Mandate for Palestine and takes its legitimacy from it.

I'm a war criminal and proud of it

CIA's creativity limitless in Afghanistan

While the CIA has a long history buying information with cash, the growing Taliban insurgency has prompted the use of novel incentives and creative bargaining to gain support in some of the country's roughest neighborhoods, according to officials directly involved in such operations.

WASHINGTON — The Afghan chieftain looked older than his 60-odd years, and his bearded face bore the creases of a man burdened with duties as tribal patriarch and husband to four younger women. His visitor, a CIA officer, saw an opportunity, and reached in his bag for a small gift.

Four blue pills. Viagra.

"Take one of these. You'll love it," the officer said. Compliments of Uncle Sam.

The enticement worked. The officer who described the encounter returned four days later to an enthusiastic reception. The grinning chief offered up a bonanza of information about Taliban movements and supply routes — followed by a request for more pills.

For U.S. intelligence officials, this is how some crucial battles in Afghanistan are fought and won. While the CIA has a long history buying information with cash, the growing Taliban insurgency has prompted the use of novel incentives and creative bargaining to gain support in some of the country's roughest neighborhoods, according to officials directly involved in such operations.

In their efforts to win over notoriously fickle warlords and chieftains, the officials say, the agency's operatives have used a variety of incentives.

These include pocket knives and tools, medicine or surgeries for ailing family members, toys and school equipment, tooth extractions, travel visas and, occasionally, pharmaceutical enhancements for aging patriarchs with slumping libidos, the officials said.

Eartha Kitt sings Santa Baby

SECer: Under Cox, Subpoena Power For Probes Harder To Obtain

By Zachary Roth

In his statement released last week in response to the SEC's failure to catch Bernard Madoff's alleged "$50 billion ponzi scheme", commission chair Chris Cox lamented his staff's failure, during previous investigations, to seek subpoenas to compel Madoff to provide information. But according to a veteran agency source, under Cox's leadership the commission has made it increasingly difficult for investigators to obtain subpoenas, with the inevitable result that they have become less likely to ask for them.

In the statement, Cox wrote:

I am gravely concerned by the apparent multiple failures over at least a decade to thoroughly investigate these allegations or at any point to seek formal authority to pursue them. Moreover, a consequence of the failure to seek a formal order of investigation from the Commission is that subpoena power was not used to obtain information, but rather the staff relied upon information voluntarily produced by Mr. Madoff and his firm.

That passage appears to refer most directly to a 2006-2007 SEC probe in which investigators relied only on documents handed over voluntarily by Madoff, and which has emerged as the most glaring example of SEC failure on Madoff. But according to a longtime enforcement staffer, the failure to seek subpoena power in this case was in large part a natural result of the chairman's own policy.

"Under Cox, increasingly burdensome standards were applied to obtain subpoena power," the source told TPMmuckraker in an interview. For investigators to obtain subpoena power, they're required to write a memo to the SEC's commissioners. Previous commissioners were more willing to respond by granting subpoena requests. "But under Cox," the source continued, "when you bring your memo down there, they pepper you with questions. It dies a thousand-cuts death."


by Andrew Tobias

Huh?  He admits to a $50 billion Ponzi scheme that, among other things, is forcing charities to close their doors and leave poor children bereft . . . and he's confined to his home at night and the greater New York area by day?  I don't mean to be a hard-ass, but he should be held in Riker's Island while the legal process unfolds.  Bail: $50 billion.  Seriously.


What Were Those 1960s Terrorists Thinking, Anyway?

Looking Back at CAPBOMB


We are forces of chaos and anarchy
Everything they say we are, we are
And we are very
Proud of ourselves.

--Jefferson Airplane, We Can Be Together

This is the inside story of how my late husband Stew Albert and I became prime suspects in CAPBOM, which is the FBI codename for the 1971 Weather Underground bombing of the United States Capitol Building in Washington D.C. Sarah Palin and her cohort of extreme right-wing really, really scary people used the Capitol bombing to link President-elect Obama with the not nearly as scary 1960s Weatherman and 1997 Chicago Citizen of the Year Bill Ayres.   At the time, my widely quoted take on the Capitol bombing was: "We didn't do it, but we dug it."

As a former 60's protestor, celebrating with everyone else the results of this historic election, I'd like to give my personal point of view about the attacks on the 1960s that were made during the campaign – specifically "guilt by association" and "domestic terrorism." And also to reflect a bit on how I feel about those issues today.

Wrong Place, Right Time

In the spring of 1971, on the day the Capitol bombing takes place, I'm living in our nation's capital organizing an anti-war demonstration. Along with Stew, Abbie and Anita Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, his girlfriend Nancy Kurshan and satiric journalist Paul Krassner, I'm an original Yippie. Yippies believe in the politics of theatre. We call ourselves Groucho Marxists and use comedy to turn serious issues on their head.  We're cultural revolutionaries who raise political awareness by having as much fun and getting as much media attention as we can. We're a youth movement who doesn't believe in hierarchy: every Yippie is her or his own leader. Our favorite Bob Dylan mantra is: Don't follow leaders, watch the parking meters.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and FederalReserve Chairman Ben Bernanke are not the first to throw money at Wall Street.  In the spring of 1968, Abbie, Jerry and the rest of us stopped trading on the New York Stock exchange when we threw $1 and $5 bills at greedy stockbrokers who grabbed at the money floating down from a balcony.  Yippies brought the New York Stock Exchange to a halt for a mere $250.

By the summer of 1968, at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, we're running a pig named Pigasus for president as a send-up to protest the election and an unjust and illegal Vietnam War. In what is to become an iconic American moment, 15,000 of us -- Yippies, mainstream anti-war demonstrators, the media and even a member of the British Parliament -- are severely gassed and beaten by the Chicago police.

But three years later, by the time of the Capitol bombing, it's becoming more and more difficult to find the fun in protest.  All of us in the anti-war movement are frustrated by the seemingly endless parade of atrocities being committed in Vietnam, which we see in living color at home on TV every night, and a recent campaign of deadly, intense carpet-bombing in Laos.

New portrait