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Editor, The Konformist
Jim Webb's barnburner
By Mike Whitney
Online Journal Contributing Writer
Jan 26, 2007
We are now as a nation held hostage to the predictable -- and
predicted -- disarray that has followed the invasion of Iraq." --
Senator Jim Webb (D-VA)
"A star is born." --Mark Shields, political pundit on Jim Lehrer
News Hour assessing Jim Webb's Democratic response to the Bush's
State of the Union address.
Nothing scares the "powers that be" more than a straight-shooting
populist who can rally people against government policy. And, yet,
that's exactly what happened on Tuesday night in the Democratic
response to the State of the Union Speech (SOTU).
In just 9 minutes, freshman Senator Jim Webb took a sledgehammer to
George W. Bush's policy in Iraq and left 45 million Americans
cheering for more. It was a tour de force the likes of which we
haven't seen since Harold Pinter gave his Noble acceptance speech
two years ago.
Webb was brilliant. He not only erased 40 minutes of Bush-blather
and demagoguery; he lifted the country out of the squalor of
pessimism by pointing the way out of Iraq and towards greater
Hoorah! Isn't that what leadership is all about?
It's ironic that it took a former Reagan Republican to lower the
boom on Bush; especially when the burgeoning crop of Democratic
presidential hopefuls are stumbling over themselves to appear more
antiwar than the other.
Webb made them all look wishy-washy in comparison. He now joins that
select group of Democratic vertebrates who speak from the heart and
have the cajones to back it up.
The senator's speech was lucid and statesmanlike invoking numerous
examples from American history to blast the administration's
fanatical strategy in Iraq. His no-nonsense style and sense of
conviction only added to an already powerful statement.
Oh yeah, and he's a decorated combat veteran, too. He served his
time in Vietnam while Bush was sucking down truckloads of Lone Star
beer in the Texas National Guard "champagne unit." (When he wasn't
When Webb held up the photo of his father (who served in WW2) and
spoke of his son (now serving in Iraq), he cut through all the
rhetorical-horseshit about "democracy" and "liberation" and gave us
a clear picture of who really makes the sacrifices in war. Too bad,
he didn't have photos of the 650,000 Iraqis who have died in Bush's
Folly; that would have given his audience a chance to appreciate the
magnitude of this tragic blunder.
Webb also wrote his own speech. It wasn't a compilation of poll-
tested thoughts and feelings extracted from a White House focus
group and flashed on a teleprompter for a fake president. It was the
heartfelt expression of a guy who still believes in the American
"I still keep my father's picture to remind me of the sacrifices
that my mother and others had to make, over and over again, as my
father gladly served his country. I was proud to follow in his
footsteps, serving as a Marine in Vietnam. My brother did as well,
serving as a helicopter pilot. My son has joined in the tradition,
now serving as an infantry Marine in Iraq.
"Like so many other Americans, today and throughout our history, we
serve and have served, not for political reasons, but because we
love our country. On the political issues -- those matters of war
and peace, and in some cases of life and death -- we trusted the
judgment of our national leaders. We hoped they would be right, that
they would measure with accuracy the value of our lives against the
enormity of the national interest that might call upon us to go into
harm's way. We owe them our loyalty, as Americans, and we gave it.
But they owed us sound judgment, clear thinking, concern for our
welfare, a guarantee that the threat to our country was equal to the
price we might be called upon to pay in defending it."
Webb speaks with the quiet rage of someone who has performed his
duty and been betrayed. But then, we were all betrayed. There were
no weapons, no terrorist connections, and no threat to national
security. It was all fiction.
Webb's son and the others like him are now stuck in Iraq fighting an
invisible and lethal enemy in a brutal colonial occupation. That's
not what they bargained for. They were grossly misled by their
commander in chief and, now, the anger is beginning to come to the
"The majority of the nation no longer supports the way this war is
being fought; nor does the majority of the military," Webb said. "We
need an immediate shift toward strong, regionally-based diplomacy, a
policy that takes our soldiers off the streets of Iraq's cities, and
a formula that will in short order allow our combat forces to leave
This isn't the plan for "immediate withdrawal" that many of us now
seek, but it is a step in the right direction. The coalition of
antiwar Americans is now reaching deep into the conservative base.
It's the death knell for Bush's plans for "perpetual war."
The war at home -- the class war
Webb was equally persuasive in his condemnation of Bush's economic
policies. Deregulation, privatization, and outsourcing are savaging
the middle class and creating divisions that threaten our democracy.
"Wages and salaries for workers are at all-time lows as a percentage
of national wealth, even though the productivity of the American
workers is the highest in the world. Medical costs have skyrocketed.
College tuition rates are off the charts. Our manufacturing base is
being dismantled and sent overseas. Good American jobs are being
sent along with them . . . In short, the middle class of this
country, our historic backbone for a strong society in the future,
is losing its place at the table. Our workers know this, through
painful experience. Our white-collar professionals are beginning to
understand it, as their jobs are starting to disappear also. And,
they expect, rightly, that in this age of globalization, their
government has a duty to insist that their concerns be dealt with
fairly in the international marketplace."
Webb's speech revives the spirit of American populism and frames the
war in Iraq within the larger context of class struggle. He cited
former presidents who served the public interest by using their
power to fight big business:
"Regarding the economic imbalance in this country, I am reminded of
the situation President Theodore Roosevelt faced in the early days
of the 20th Century. America was then as it is now drifting apart
along class lines. The so-called robber barons were unapologetically
raking in a huge percentage of the national wealth. The dispossessed
workers at the bottom were threatening revolt. Roosevelt spoke
strongly against these divisions. He told his fellow Republicans
that they must set themselves `as resolutely against improper
corporate influence on the one hand as against demagogy and mob rule
on the other.' And he did something about it."
"We must ensure that the benefits of our economy are properly shared
among all Americans," Webb added.
"Redistribution" from a Reagan Republican? What Democrat would be
bold enough to say that?
The Democrats are nearly as guilty of ignoring class warfare and the
unjust distribution of wealth as the Republicans. It takes a
catastrophe like Katrina to rouse politicians from their slumber and
see how the poor are brushed aside like garbage.
Webb's speech hit the jackpot on a number of levels. It was another
withering blow to Bush's crumbling credibility and it put
the "widening income gap" back on the political docket. Both of
these are positive developments.
If Webb's speech is any indication, the Democrats are off to a good
start. With ex-Marines Webb and Murtha leading the charge, we might
be able to end this monstrous bloodbath after all.
Mike Whitney lives in Washington state. He can be reached at:
Sources say case workers for wounded laid off
By Karen Jowers - Staff writer
Saturday Jan 20, 2007
Defense Department officials have laid off most of their case
workers who help severely injured service members, sources said.
The case workers for the Military Severely Injured Center serve as
advocates for wounded service members who have questions or issues
related to benefits, financial resources and their successful return
to duty or reintegration into civilian life all forms of support
other than medical care.
The center officially opened in February 2005, with its primary
offices in Arlington, Va., but also hired advocates at hospitals
around the country.
Four sources said the decision was made to cut back the personnel
because officials with the Army's Wounded Warrior program felt the
Defense Department program was a duplication of efforts.
Defense officials did not comment on the actions as of Jan. 19.
Wounded Warrior officials also could not be reached.
Reports indicate that Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Lewis, Wash.; and Fort
Campbell, Ky., were among the locations that had case workers cut.
It is not clear what will happen to case workers at the Arlington
The only case workers that have not been laid off are at three
hospitals: Brooke Army Medical Center, Texas; Tripler Army Medical
Center, Hawaii; and Naval Medical Center San Diego, sources said.
But those case workers will not be allowed to work with soldiers and
must refer them to the Army Wounded Warrior program.
The laid-off workers were told Wednesday to finish up their case
work with severely injured troops, and that Friday would be their
"I'm just livid about this," said Janice Buckley, Washington state
chapter president for Operation Homefront.
She was notified that the two case workers at Fort Lewis were given
short notice that their jobs were ending, but she has no further
"They did a fabulous job for these families," Buckley said. "The
kind of work they do for these families who are hanging by a
thread ... no other organization helped service members and their
families like they did."
The MSIC case workers provided the wounded service members with
contacts and referrals to other organizations and agencies, ranging
from the Department of Veterans Affairs to the Social Security
Administration, depending on their individual needs. Operation
Homefront often helps with the families' emergency financial needs.
January 22, 2007
In Raw World of Sex Movies, High Definition Could Be a View Too Real
By MATT RICHTEL
SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 21 The XXX industry has gotten too graphic,
even for its own tastes.
Pornography has long helped drive the adoption of new technology,
from the printing press to the videocassette. Now pornographic movie
studios are staying ahead of the curve by releasing high-definition
They have discovered that the technology is sometimes not so sexy.
The high-definition format is accentuating imperfections in the
actors from a little extra cellulite on a leg to wrinkles around
Hollywood is dealing with similar problems, but they are more
pronounced for pornographers, who rely on close-ups and who, because
of their quick adoption of the new format, are facing the issue more
immediately than mainstream entertainment companies.
Producers are taking steps to hide the imperfections. Some shots are
lit differently, while some actors simply are not shot at certain
angles, or are getting cosmetic surgery, or seeking expert grooming.
"The biggest problem is razor burn," said Stormy Daniels, an
actress, writer and director.
Ms. Daniels is also a skeptic. "I'm not 100 percent sure why anyone
would want to see their porn in HD," she said.
The technology's advocates counter that high definition, by making
things clearer and crisper, lets viewers feel as close to the action
"It puts you in the room," said the director known as Robby D.,
whose films include "Sexual Freak."
The pornographers' progress with HD may also be somewhat slowed by
Sony, one of the main backers of the Blu-ray high-definition disc
format. Sony said last week that, in keeping with a longstanding
policy, it would not mass-produce pornographic videos on behalf of
the movie makers.
The decision has forced pornographers to use the competing HD-DVD
format or, in some cases, to find companies other than Sony that can
manufacture copies of Blu-ray movies.
The movie makers assert that it is shortsighted of Sony to snub
them, given how pornography helps technologies spread.
"When you're introducing a new format, it would seem like the adult
guys can help," said Steven Hirsch, co-chief executive officer of
Vivid Entertainment Group, a big player in the industry. Mr. Hirsch
added that high definition, regardless of format, "is the future."
Despite the challenges, pornographers who distributed some 7,000
new movies on DVD last year and sold discs worth $3.6 billion in the
United States are rapidly moving to high-definition.
One major company, Digital Playground, plans to release its first
four HD-DVD titles this month, and plans four new ones each month.
In March, Vivid plans to release "Debbie Does Dallas ... Again," its
first feature for both HD-DVD and Blu-ray.
Vivid, like Digital Playground, has been shooting with high-
definition cameras for two years to build up a catalog of high-
definition movies. Both studios have released the movies in standard
definition but plan to make the high-definition versions available
as compatible disc players and televisions become more popular.
The studios said their experience using the technology gives them an
advantage in understanding how to cope with the mixed blessing of
hypercrisp images. Their techniques include using postproduction
tools that let them digitally soften the actors' skin tone.
"It takes away the blemishes and the pits and harshness and makes it
look like they have baby skin," said the director known as Joone,
who made "Pirates," one of the industry's top-selling videos. It
will be available this month in high-definition.
Joone does not use a last name, but he does use a number of
techniques to keep his films blemish-free. They include giving out
"I tell the girls to work out more, cut down on the carbs, hit the
treadmill," he said.
Within the industry, the issue seems to have created a difference in
perspective that cuts roughly along gender lines. Some male actors
have begun using makeup to mitigate wrinkles or facial flaws, but
generally they, and the male directors, are less worried about high-
definition's glare and more enamored of the technology.
Ms. Daniels said that attitude was just so typical of men.
"Men are all about outdoing each other, being up with the times,
being cool, having the latest technology," she said. "They're
willing to sacrifice our vanity and imperfections to beat each
other" to high-definition, she said.
Other female actors say they generally like working with high-
definition except for the cosmetic-surgery part.
Jesse Jane, one of the industry's biggest stars, plans to go under
the knife next month to deal with one side effect of high-
definition. The images are so clear that Ms. Jane's breast implants,
from an operation six years ago, can be seen bulging oddly on
"I'm having my breasts redone because of HD," she said.
The stretch marks on Ms. Jane from seven years ago when she gave
birth to her son are also more apparent. But she deals with those
blemishes in a simpler way: by liberal use of tanning spray.
Still, Ms. Jane likes the technology, as does her close friend
Kirsten Price, 25, who appeared in "Manhunters" and "Just Like That."
"HD is great because people want to see how people really look," Ms.
Price said. "People just want to see what's real."
Ms. Price is allowing them to do so, mostly. She had laser
treatments to diminish tiny purple veins on her thighs that weren't
visible to viewers before.
"You can see things you cannot see with the naked eye. You see skin
blemishes; you see cottage cheese," said Robbie D. "But some
cellulite is not necessarily a bad thing. It's kind of sexy."
The technology makes the experience more intimate, he said. "People
look to adult movies for personal contact, and yet they're still not
getting it. HD lets them see a little bit more of the girl."
That's not necessarily good, said Savanna Samson, an actress who
last December directed her first movie, "Any Way You Want Me."
During a scene in which she played a desperate housewife, she ran
into a problem: the high-definition camera revealed she had a tiny
"We kept stopping and trying to hide it. We put on makeup and
powder, but there was no way," Ms. Samson said. Finally, they tried
another approach: "We just changed positions," she said.
Kerry won't run for president in '08
By Rick Klein, Globe Staff
January 24, 2007
WASHINGTON --An emotional Senator John F. Kerry today said he will
not run in the 2008 presidential race and vowed to use his Senate
perch to hasten an end to the war in Iraq, saying he would work with
lawmakers from both parties to reverse President Bush's
troop "surge" and force him to withdraw virtually all troops from
Iraq by early next year.
Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, used the unusual forum of the
Senate floor to announce his political ambitions. Choking up as he
harkened back to his service in Vietnam, Kerry said he would work to
make sure the next president doesn't have to cope with the
consequences of a "wider war" sparked by the failed policy in Iraq.
"Two years ago I sought the presidency to lead us on a different
course. I'm proud of the campaign that we ran," Kerry said.
"We came close, Mr. President, certainly close enough to be tempted
to try again," he continued. "There are powerful reasons to want to
continue that fight now. But I've concluded that this isn't the time
for me to mount a presidential campaign. It is the time to put my
energy to work as part of the majority in the Senate, to do all I
can to end this war and strengthen our security.
"The people of Massachusetts have given me an incredible privilege
to serve, and I intend to work here to change a policy in Iraq that
threatens all that I have cared about and fought for since I came
home from Vietnam," he said.
Kerry's decision to stay out of the presidential race reflects a
realization that he would have had an uphill climb in capturing the
Democratic nomination, given the other party heavyweights who are
already in the race, according to Kerry associates.
Kerry, the party's 2004 presidential nominee, has been acting like a
2008 candidate virtually since he lost to President Bush --
traveling the country, spreading money to other Democratic
candidates, and keeping in place a campaign infrastructure that was
ready for another presidential bid.
But according to Kerry associates, the senator's plans changed
dramatically in the fallout of his election-eve "botched joke" about
the education levels of US troops. The harsh reaction to that
incident -- from many Democrats as well as Republicans -- displayed
to Kerry the extreme skepticism within his own party about whether
he should mount another run.
And, with polls giving front-runner status to Senator Hillary Rodham
Clinton of New York and Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, Kerry
realized that he would face formidable adversaries in the quest for
the Democratic nomination. Clinton, Obama, and a host of other
candidates have been busily hiring campaign operatives and signing
up key fund-raisers in recent weeks.
On Iraq, Kerry has emerged as a fierce war critic after initially
supporting the invasion of Iraq. He has spoken of his war opposition
in a similar vein to his efforts to bring the Vietnam War to a
conclusion in the early 1970s.
Kerry's announcement freezes in place the various Democratic
aspirants to his Senate seat. Massachusetts hasn't had a vacant
Senate seat since 1984 -- when Kerry himself won his first six-year-
term -- and several members of the state's all-Democratic
congressional delegation have expressed interest in running for the
Senate if Kerry retired.
Rome's Palatine Hill shows new treasures
By ARIEL DAVID, Associated Press Writer
Tue Jan 23, 2007
Work on Rome's Palatine Hill has turned up a trove of discoveries,
including what might be the underground grotto where ancient Romans
believed a wolf nursed the city's legendary founders Romulus and
Archaeologists gathered Tuesday at a conference to save crumbling
monuments on the Palatine discussed findings of studies on the
luxurious imperial homes threatened by collapse and poor maintenance
that have forced the closure of much of the hill to the public.
While funds are still scarce, authorities plan to reopen some key
areas of the honeycombed hill to tourists by the end of the year,
including frescoed halls in the palaces of the emperor Augustus and
of his wife, Livia.
After being closed for decades, parts of the palaces will be opened
for guided tours while restoration continues, officials said.
It was during the restoration of the palace of Rome's first emperor
that workers taking core samples from the hill found what could be a
long-lost place of worship believed by ancient Romans to be the cave
where a she-wolf suckled Romulus and Remus, the abandoned twin sons
of the god of war Mars.
Irene Iacopi, the archaeologist in charge of the Palatine and the
nearby Roman Forum, said experts used a probe to peer into the 52-
foot-deep cavity and found a vaulted space decorated with frescoes,
niches and seashells. It is too early to say for sure whether the
worship place known as "lupercale"_ from "lupa," Latin for wolf
has been found, but Roman texts say that it was close to Augustus'
palace and that the emperor had restored it, Iacopi said.
"It was a very important symbolic place and we believe that it was
well preserved," said Giovanna Tedone, an architect leading the work
at the palace. Archaeologists are now looking for the grotto's
entrance, she said.
Other finds to have emerged recently from the Palatine's largely
unexplored palaces and temples include an ancient Roman sewer,
insignia believed to have belonged to the emperor Maxentius, terra-
cotta statues and an alabaster tiger striped with gray marble.
Officials said the resurfaced treasures highlight the importance of
a hill so favored by the rich and powerful that its name is at the
origin of the words "palace" in English, "palais" in French
and "palazzo" in Italian.
Today rainwater seeps through stones, roots bore through bricks and
retaining walls crack under layer after layer of construction, from
the eighth-century B.C. remains of Rome's first fledgling huts to a
medieval fortress and Renaissance villas.
Only a quarter of the Palatine's nearly 500 buildings are above the
ground and just 40 percent of the hill's 67 acres can be visited.
The latest closure came in November 2005, when a 16th-century wall
collapsed one night in a well-visited area near the emperor
Tiberius' palace. No one was hurt, but the collapse prompted
authorities to study the stability of the hill and its monuments.
Experts said Tuesday they are considering restoring the ancient
Roman sewage system to help drain rainwater.
Each year, 4 million people buy a ticket granting access to the
Palatine and the nearby Colosseum, but 90 percent of them just go to
the ancient arena, said Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli. The
minister said that $9 million will be available in 2007 for more
restoration on collapse-prone areas such as Tiberius' palace.