Friday, April 18, 2008

Find My New Blogs here:

Katiehalper dot com is where it's at

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Could the seeds of peace lie in our brains?

I expected the Global Creative Leadership Summit, whose delegates included five presidents, a prime minister, the Secretary General of NATO, and the president of European Commission, to be informative and enlightening. But I was surprised that the conference, held from Sunday to Tuesday at New York's Metropolitan Club, was so, well, full of surprises: the group was not a monochromatic gang of stodgy old, albeit coup-crafting, white men (after all, Henry Kissinger was there last year), but an array of truly inspiring women and men from around the globe. The Honorable Phoebe Asiyo was a member of Kenya's parliament for 15 years, and now fights for women's rights as chair of The Kenya Women's Political Caucus and Goodwill Ambassador for the UN development fund for Women. As we sat down to lunch, Asiyo took the hand of fellow speaker--and Kenyan--Salim Amin and exclaimed, "You have to do this for Africa. Do it for your father." What Amin is doing is starting Africa 's first ever independent 24-hour news channel. Amin's father is the late Mohamed Amin, a Kenyan photojournalist whose pictures and videos of the famine in Ethiopia raised consciousness around the world and whose life was cut short by a plane hijakcing. During a coffee break, just hours after Asiyo had praised the Amins, Asiyo was karmically praised back. Olara Otunnu who was Uganda's Ambassador and Minister of Foreign Affairs, and is now the president of the LBL Foundation for Children explained to me, " Asiyo "is our inspiration. She is like a mother to us."

Another surprise was that though the discussions were serious, tackling issues from poverty to terrorism, they included comic relief. When, during a panel called "Globalizing the Mind," Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales' microphone ran into interference, panel moderator and International Herald Tribune editor Mike Oreskes figured out the problem. Reaching across Wales, Oreskes grabbed Wales' vibrating cell phone, looked at the screen and announced, "It's your wife." Unlike Giuliani, Wales had the self-restraint to ignore the call. But the cell phone malfunction did leave fellow panelist, Nobel-Laureate Eric Kandel in stitches. In the panel "The Click of a Mouse and the Check in the Box," Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, lauded interactive presidential debates like the Yahoo Huffington Post/ Slate Mashup for engaging ordinary people in politics, but this is merely a first step: "What we really need is something that will call people to task for not answering questions, something like an automated Helen Thomas."

While I imagined I would learn much from the Summit, I never would have predicted that one of the most compelling and powerful political lessons would be delivered not by a statesman or businessman, but by MIT neuroscientist Nancy Kanwisher. This third surprise occurred during a panel called Foreign Policy is a Foreign Concept, which opened with an address by Croatian president, Stjepan Mesić, whose speech on Yugoslavia--its formation, civil war, and dissolution--presented eerie parallels to Iraq. Our very own Arianna Huffington brilliantly explored the power of technology, specifically the net roots, to counter disinformation: disingenuous claims of victory and success in Iraq provoke an immediate online response--including blogging from Baghdad and uploading photographs and videos--that actually reflects reality. Yet, explained Arianna, the Internet is "not the short cut that we might hope for world peace....the seeds of war are deep in nature."

Responding with IM-like speed, Dr. Kanwisher agreed, adding only, "There are also seeds of peace that run deep." As evidence, Kanwisher pointed not to to historical theses or poly sci journals, but to lab reports. Kanwisher explained that empathy, our ability share the emotions and pains of others, is a natural human default mode. Brain imagery demonstrates that when we experience our own pain, certain parts of the brain are activated. When we observe someone else's pain, the area that is activated overlaps with the same area activated by our own pain. Kanwisher cited research conducted by Tania Singer, which illuminates what it is that blocks empathy: when we perceive that someone is acting unfairly, we are less empathetic towards the person. In an experiment, individuals were paired with partners with whom they played games. Some of the partners played fairly, while other partners broke the rules. After playing, the individuals would observe their partners experiencing pain. Brain scans revealed that the person felt more empathy for the partner if the partner had played fair, and less empathy if the partner had cheated.

But what do brain scans have to do with Foreign Policy? According to Kanwisher, these empathy experiments can shed light on the sources of animosity towards the United States. "We have not played fair, we have not been respecting rule of law. So no wonder they don't feel our pain."

Unfortunately, this neuro-science model is all too applicable to the Bush administration, which refuses to play fair, time and time again. From violating Habeas Corpus, to torturing prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, to sending contractors with no accountability into Iraq, the latest and most astonishing example of which is the Blackwater assassination of 11 Iraqi civilians, the U.S. is making it harder for Iraqis--and the larger world community--to empathize with us. As Arianna explained, far from acting as a peace-keeping presence in Iraq, the U.S. occupation only serves to exacerbate the hatred and instability within the country. Expanding on the political implications of empathy, Summit organizer Louise Blouin MacBain reflected on the importance of empathy not just for, but from, the U.S: "It seems like empathy is an overarching theme. I don't believe we should not speak to some countries. Dialog is essential. It's much easier to kill someone you don't know than someone you know."

As the occupation of Iraq appears increasingly intractable and the drum roll for war against Iran grows louder and louder, we would be wise to heed the findings of the empathy experiment. If only Louise MacBain could organize the next G8 summit.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Director's Cut: New Video Shows the Truth in Anbar That Petraeus Does Not Want Us to See

When Bush was in Iraq two weeks ago, he posed for photographs with Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, the leader of the Anbar Awakening, an alliance of Sunni tribes who has vowed to back the U.S. and fight al-Qaeda. 2007-09-19-risha.JPG Last Monday, General Petraeus testified to Congress that "a year ago" Anbar Province "was assessed 'lost' politically....Today, it is a model of what happens when local leaders and citizens decide to oppose al-Qaeda and reject its Taliban-like ideology." Three days later, the assassination of Abu Risha in Ramadi dramatically undercut Bush and Petraeus' claims of peacekeeping.

But what else is the administration keeping from us about Anbar? Rick Rowley, a journalist and independent filmmaker of Big Noise Films, was one of the last people to videotape and interview the Sunni sheikh and his video report, Uncovering the Truth Behind the Anbar Success Story, presents a very different picture of the Anbar Awakening. Rowley, and co-producers David Enders and Hiba Dawood, are the only Western journalists to bring a camera into the refugee camp where the displaced Shiites recount being attacked, bombed, and driven out by the very tribes Petraeus and Bush hail as heroes. Rowley's report, which includes interviews with candid U.S. soldiers and footage of a military commander handing a Sunni leader a wad of cash, highlights the role of bribery and coercion in building alliances that serve short-term goals in Anbar province, but in the long-run deepen a multi-sided civil war. I talked to Rick Rowley about his report and what it indicates about Iraq's future.

What brought you to Iraq and what were you hoping to capture?

We knew that one of the major stories the Army was going to use to justify keeping troops there was the supposed success in Anbar. The first investigation we did was into the Anbar reconciliation program. We spent six weeks crisscrossing Iraq, embedding with different militias to try to get a picture of the state of Iraq during the surge.

You were the last Western journalists to videotape an interview with Abu Risha. What was he like?

He seemed stiff and scripted. He told us some incredible lies during the interview. Three times he said he was the leader of all the Arab tribes of Iraq -- both Shiia and Sunni. And like a bad poker player's tell, every time he told a lie, he sniffed loudly.

He was a figurehead for a movement, the face they put on this story. Operationally, militarily, he wasn't particularly important. In his interview with us he said there was 100 percent security in Ramadi, that he was head of all of the tribes in Iraq. That has proven, in a horrifying way, to not be true. His assassination has blown a hole in the American story about security in Anbar. it's going to have a chilling effect on other tribes in other parts of the country who were thinking it might be safe to work with the Americans.

Bush and Petraeus are hailing our alliance with Sunni tribes in Anbar. Can you tell us about these "freedom fighters" the U.S. is now allied with?

There have been a lot of reports about the fact that the people who the U.S. is working with, the supposed "freedom fighters," the "counter-insurgents" are former insurgents. They were Iraqi al-Qaeda before they started working with the Americans. That is troubling because if they were fighting the Americans once they'll fight Americans again. And more troubling for the future of Iraq is the fact that many of the tribes that the U.S. is working with are war criminals who are directly responsible for ethnic cleansing and who are using American support to prepare for sectarian civil war. The U.S. is funding Sunni militias. They already funded the Shia militias. They're now funding all sides of this sectarian war.

How did you discover that the Sunni militias with whom the U.S. is working are engaged in sectarian violence?

We embedded with the Americans for a week and we found that in the town Fallahat, where there used to a lot of Shia, there are now no Shia. So we tracked down the displaced Shia families and found them living on the outskirts of Baghdad in a refugee camp that no western media and certainly no camera crews have ever filmed. There are no services, no doctors, no hospitals, no schools, no running water, no work, no sanitation. People have to walk, in some cases, for miles to just get polluted tap water out of hoses. People who have tried to return home to pick up their rations have been killed on the highway. So no one can leave.

The refugees we talked to knew the names of the people who had kicked them out and bombed their houses. And they are exactly the same tribes the Americans are working with. So the people the Americans are working with are responsible for sectarian ethnic cleansing. Malaki's head of negotiations with Sunni groups told us the groups the Americans are working with include some of the country's worst war criminals, responsible for beheadings and mass executions.

Even if these militias are responsible for this violence, how do we know that the U.S. military knows this? Is it possible they don't?

We have proof that the Americans should know it. The American soldiers set their core operating base in a house they knew used to be inhabited by Shia. And all the Shia were gone. So it's just whether they decided to ask the obvious question or not.

How does what Petraeus and Bush are saying contrast with what you saw and filmed on the ground?

The story that Petraeus and Bush are saying is fantastic -- a Lawrence of Arabia figure named Abu Risha rose out of the desert and behind him the noble tribes of Anbar rose up and they kicked out al Qaeda. Well, it's safer for American soldiers there but it's not safer for the Shia citizens there. The U.S. is funding sectarian militias fighting in a civil war in order to momentarily decrease attacks on Americans.

And how, exactly, is the U.S. supporting the militias?

The soldiers on the ground aren't hiding anything. They were amazingly open and honest about the whole process with us. Through a combination of threats, and enticements, like money, releasing their kids from prison, the U.S. military has gotten groups to join a coalition. They're paid money for small construction projects and they're eventually incorporated into the Iraqi police force where they're armed and paid, given a gun, a badge and the power to arrest.

There have been reports that some Americans army units are directly giving them weapons. I didn't see anyone give an M16 to anyone. But I did see a U.S. captain hand wads of cash to militiamen who were guarding checkpoints. Petraeus says they're not supplying guns. That might be true. But saying the U.S. military is just applauding from the sidelines and not providing material support to these militias is a lie.

Why would the U.S. want to support these militias?

It's an easy way to produce immediate statistical successes on the ground, a decrease in attacks on American soldiers. And this is a long-term strategy. Petraeus came in with Negroponte with the so-called "Salvador Option" for Iraq, arming death squads to kill insurgents as the Reagan administration did in the 1980s in El Salvador. In 2004 he incorporated all of the Shia militias into the Iraqi security forces and basically created Shia death squads and secret torture prisons we've all heard stories of. Now they're funding Sunni militias and Sunni death squads.

To be fair and balanced?

Because the Shia don't control Anbar. And because they're worried about some of the elements of the Shia militias too. In the last couple of years there's been another bifurcation. It's not just Sunni vs. Shiite anymore. It's truly staggering that there are so many different civil wars being fought simultaneously. There's a Sunni on Sunni civil war, a Shia on Shia war, a Shia Sunni civil war, an inter-Kurdish struggle and a struggle between the Kurds and the Arabs.

Are we letting them kill each other so they don't kill American soldiers over there?

I don't know. Ascribing motive to people is always difficult. I think it's a systemic thing. When counterinsurgency fails, civil war is the next option. Another way of saying it is divide and conquer. In 2004 when Americans were defeated on the ground, when they had to fight a two-front war against a Shia insurgency in Najaf and a Sunni insurgency in Falluja, from that point on the Americans took a strategy of trying to divide the insurgents against each other. They incorporated the Shia militias and turned all their energy against the Sunni. Now they're incorporating another chunk of the Sunni militias.

Given that your films and journalism are critical of the war in Iraq, why did the U.S. Army let you embed?

Anbar is their big success story. They don't think that anyone who comes up there is going to go to the refugee camps and see the other side of it, or going to speak enough Arabic, which David Enders and Hiba Dawood do, to figure out what's going on. I think they were desperate to get people up there. It was all good news to them. And it was truly amazing. We were able to walk in the street and take our flack jackets off in a neighborhood, which just six months ago, had been one of the most dangerous places in the country, where tanks couldn't even go. And that image is the image they wanted to circulate. Of course that's only possible because the people who were shooting at them six months ago are now on the payroll.

How has the media been picking up your story?

It's on Al Jazeera English which 65 million households see. And internationally, reports have picked up on the story from there. But in the States, it's only been picked up by outlets like Democracy Now! and the Pacifica stations. There's a lot of noise now, everyone's talking. There are so many lies in Petraeus' report that it's hard to focus on just one.

When they do discuss Iraq, the U.S. media, politicians, Americans in general are more focused on what's going to have a direct impact on U.S. soldiers than on Iraqis. Do you think they see this as their issue, their problem? Something that is irrelevant, or eclipsed by the fact that fewer American soldiers are shot?

If Americans ever want their soldiers to leave then they have to deal with this civil war that we are stoking. Short-term gains for the American army are obvious; there will be fewer attacks on Americans in the short-run. But the Shia refugees are not able to return to their homes and as long as you have these misery belts with millions of people living in cinder block houses with no services, no water, you're going to have a continual engine that drives violence and you're just making the problem more intractable in the long run. This is a huge problem nationwide, there are four-six million refugees in Iraq who have been forced to flee their homes because of sectarian violence. It's making the problem infinitely more intractable. It's making it impossible to leave. We're arming both sides of the civil war. The longer we're there the worse the civil war will become. And the worse it will be when we leave. And the more cataclysmic the civil war will be once the U.S. leaves.

What do you see as the solution?

The U.S. has to leave immediately. Overwhelmingly, that's what Iraqis want, what Americans want. And if you look at the most reliable opinion poles, a recent ABC/ BBC pole shows a massive drop in support for American presence. Iraqis are saying the situation has worsened since the surge. And more want the Americans to leave immediately.

Here is more from Uncovering the Truth Behind the Anbar Success Story:

Labels: , , , , , ,

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Could Ted Haggard be Larry Craig's Knight in Shining, but "Completely heterosexual," Armor?

Dear Senator Craig,

Congratulations! Yesterday, a Minnesota court granted your request to withdraw your guilty plea! But I'm still worried about you. At first I was sure you were straight as an arrow, framed by those determined to silence the Singing Senators, the quartet that sings truth to power whose reunion concert curiously took place a night after the sex sting. But then as the Republicans turned on you, doubt started to creep into my faith in your heterosexuality. And your recent behavior, pleading guilty and then withdrawing your plea, resigning and then reconsidering, suggests a strong bi-curious tendency that worries me.

But it's not too late to get your life back on track! You can't do it alone, though, and I think I know just the person to help you.

You may know Pastor Ted already, but if not, you should reach out to him ASAP. You two have so much in common. You are a family values-defending, homosexual agenda-fighting, god-fearing, married-with-children, conservative Republican who sometimes plays footsie with men in public bathrooms. He is a family values-defending, homosexual agenda-fighting, god-fearing, married-with-children conservative Republican who sometimes pays for massages and crystal meth (which he throws away before using) from male escorts. As a senator, you vote against protecting gays from hate crimes and for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. As a pastor, he preaches against homosexuality and same-sex marriage. You are both close to George Bush. Ted used to talk to the President once a week!

So you can trust his advice and follow his example. After Mike Jones came forward and announced he’d had a three-year long, sex and drug-filled relationship with Pastor Ted, Haggard confessed to being "guilty of sexual immorality." After being fired from the New Life Church, Ted attended a 12 step "spiritual restoration" program and emerged, a mere three weeks later, "completely heterosexual." And you can too, Senator Craig! Who knows how to deal with your particular dilemma— trying to save America from the sinning gays, but kind of sinning yourself—better than Ted? He's been there, done that! And, Ted, along with his wife, is going back to college for a degree in counseling, which will make him even more equipped to save others, starting with you!

Before Ted can help you, though, you need to help Ted. You see, as he explained in a recent letter, "It looks as though it will take two years for us to have adequate earning power again, so we are looking for people who will help us monthly for two years." He cannot survive on the $115,000 plus a $85,000 bonus he made last year, the $138,000 in severance pay through 2007, and the royalties from his literary ouvre, which includes which The Jerusalem Diet:The "One Day" Approach to Reach Your Ideal Weight--and Stay There
and From This Day Forward: Making Your Vows Last a Lifetime, which he co-wrote with his wife Gayle. What is Ted supposed to do? Sell his $715,000 Colorado Springs home? I don't think so.

According to Ted, any financial help be will "rewarded in Heaven." You can make a tax deductible donation to Pastor Ted through the organization Families With A Mission. They'll receive 10% of the donation, but that's OK because they are a worthy cause too, directed by Paul Huberty, an upstanding patriotic military man who was married with three children when his career was cut short by multiple sex crimes convictions, including sexually assaulting a minor and "dishonorably fondling his genitals." It's clear Huberty has spiritually recovered because the outgoing message on his answering machine says "God Bless You." So what are you waiting for Senator Craig? Donate today! In turn, heaven aside, you will have the best earthly guide to get your life back on the straight and narrow.

Now Larry (may I call you, Larry?) the liberals, as usual, have it all backwards. They think you and Pastor Ted are hypocrites. They don't mind that you're gay, they mind that while you preach homophobia on the one hand you practice homosexuality on the other. Well, I don't think you two are hypocrites. I think that when you're carrying the moral weight of the world on your Atlas-like shoulders, shielding America and our values with one hand, and spearing the homosexual agenda with another, it's easy to slip up with your other body parts. So, whatever you do Larry, don't come out of the closet or abandon your committed stance against the gays. Straighten yourself, and America, out one anti-gay bill at a time.

P.S. Remember you don't want to end up a "bad, dirty, nasty boy."

Monday, September 10, 2007

Lessons from Bush's Bio

Reading Bush's biography Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush is a truly enlightening experience.

Now we have known that the President has a penchant for nicknames.

Nickname for Alberto Gonzalez: "Fredo"
I think because Bush thought his name was Alfredo.

Nickname for Karl Rove: "Turd Blossom"
Because of his Turd Blossom hip-hop move

Nickname for Vladimir Putin: "Pootie-Poot" Because after you say this about someone: "I looked the man in the eye. I was able to get a sense of his soul," not using a nickname just makes no sense.

And now, thanks to Dead Certain, we know that Bush has a nickname for Dick Cheney. Referring to the decision to "mission accomplish" Iraq, Bush says: "This group-think of 'we all sat around and decided' -- there's only one person that can decide, and that's the president."

So, now we can add Bush's nickname for Dick Cheney: "the president."

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

You Don’t Have to be a Miner to be a Mine Hero

I was sure that the Liberal, Jewish, Gay, Vegan media would spend Labor Day podcasting renditions of the Internationale and running old footage of the Crandall Canyon accident in their ongoing attack on American and corporate values. I was wrong on both counts, the holiday passing with little media attention to workers and their “grievances” old and new. This leaves us free to celebrate true heroes, not your union-made Joe Hills and Mother Joneses, but unsung modern heroes of the mines, who eschew martyrdom yet sacrifice so much. I speak of Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, and MSHA president Richard Stickler, and, of course, CEO Robert Murray. To them I present the Awards for Non-Miner Mine Heroes. Because you don’t have to be a miner to be a mine hero.

I announce these awards just hours before the Senate holds what it calls an "investigatory hearing" -- and what I call a witch hunt-- on "The Utah Mine Disaster and Preventing Future Tragedies." Ironically, and undoubtedly, the heroes praised on these pages will be the scapegoats slandered on the hill."

Bronze Non-Miner Mine Hero Award goes to Elaine Chao. Hers is the typical American story of reward for hard work. The daughter of a shipping magnate, Chao left China for the United States in 1961 . She has labored as a banker, sweated as Bank of America vice-president, and worked herself to the bone at the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation. She toiled tirelessly to raise $100,000 for George Bush, which earned her the honor of being a “Bush Pioneer.” Chao generously shared the keys to the kingdom of job security in an interview this summer: “American employees must be punctual, dress appropriately and have good personal hygiene…. They need anger-management and conflict-resolution skills, and they have to be able to accept direction.” Chao has already moved to organize an “independent” probe into the mine collapse, which, the indefatigable Chao will personally oversee, even if it cuts into time with her husband, Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, who received $100,000 in campaign contributions from CEO Murray. Like so many great non-miner mine heroes, Chao is now being persecuted by OCD senators like Ted Kennedy, who is demanding that Chao hand over a ridiculous number of documents related to the Crandall Canyon accident.

Silver Non-Miner Mine Hero Award goes to Richard Stickler. The head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration isn’t named Stickler for nothing. Stickler has dedicated many years to the mines as a high-level executive, and it is this, no doubt, that allows him to creatively interpret the MINER safety act passed after the Sago mine tragedy. For instance, Stickler allows mine operators to meet deadlines by ordering safety equipment (like additional breathing devices), and not having it be on hand. Stickler’s qualifications outweigh the fact that a mine under his supervision had injury rates three times the national average and racked up 3,000 safety violations. Stickler is so bipartisanly respected in Washington that Bush appointed him during a recess after congress had twice rejected Stickler’s nomination. In true stickler character, Stickler is aggressively investigating the collapse: “We want to see if we can get an inkling if there may have been an indication there was a problem before this event.” I’m sure the Stickler means a sign that is more substantial than the cave-in that occurred in Crandall Canyon in March, which he knew about, but did not report, violating federal law. It’s no surprise that Stickler is being slandered by bleeding heart liberals like Arlen Spector, who say Stickler is not “the right man for the job” and cry baby Ted Kennedy, who is
particularly troubled by reports that roof failures, similar in kind to the August 6 collapse, previously occurred in sections of the mine where retreat mining was being conducted, and that this roof failure may not have been reported to MSHA regulators as required by law.
Of course, rather than being allowed to continue his already scrupulous investigation, Stickler will be dragged off to today's hearing and bombarded with endless rounds of questions.

Gold Non-Miner Mine Hero Award goes, of course, to Robert Murray. Like so many activists before him, Murray has many enemies, including several senators who, I'm sure, will attempt to crucify the CEO during today's hearings. Having gulped the liberal media’s poisonous Kool-Aid, Robert’s own workers have turned against him and “Lil Bob” piñatas are selling like hotcakes in both the U.S. and Mexico. An understandably outraged Murray responded to the Utah Republican Governor, who had called his behavior “unconscionable” and demanded inspections of all of Murray’s mines, by sending the Governor a “personal and confidential” letter threatening to cut Utah mine jobs if the governor continued to treat him like his “whipping boy.” And sure enough, four days later, Murray laid off 270 workers from his other Utah mine, explaining to the workers that the noisy governor, the “unfair” Salt Lake Tribune, and the vicious Ted Kennedy were responsible for the Tower Mine closing.

Murray insists the collapse was “totally unforeseen by anyone” and brought on by an earthquake and not retreat mining.

Yet there is evidence to the contrary: A similar incident in March caused a delay in mining – which was never reported to the MSHA, though required by federal law. Murray Co. repeatedly (and successfully) petitioned the MSHA for permission to do retreat mining in areas the previous company had left alone because it deemed that mining in the area would be too dangerous for “personnel and the environment.”

Before making the awards decision, I had to reconcile the words of this compassionate CEO with the facts that have surfaced. Liberal conspiracy theorists claim Robert Murray is a liar who puts profits over people, whose greed, unchecked by a complicit Bush administration, has resulted in the death of hard-working miners. And yet the truth, as always, is far more complicated and nuanced. Far from killing and injuring his workers through his ruthless avarice, Robert Murray is, himself, an injured worker, the victim of an occupational hazard, an on the job injury: early onset dementia. It is because Murray so identifies with his workers that, while his body is healthy, his soul is with his six missing employees suffocated and crushed in the depths of the Crandall Canyon mine. Murray is not lying about the retreat mining and the change in mining plans. He forgot about them. He did not invent an earthquake. He experienced it in his demented state.

Of course, my heart goes out to the six missing miners and the three miners who died while trying to rescue them. But these miners are gone. And besides, they have received more than enough attention and sympathy from the media, the church, and the self- serving unions, which are attempting to exploit this tragedy in order to organize miners so that tragedies like this do not happen again. After the accident, in fact, the family members asked the union to represent them. Luckily, the always impartial MSHA has said that only the miners themselves can ask to be represented. I guess the miners should have thought about that before they entered the mine for the last time on August 6th. While we must honor their memory, we must heal the victim who is still alive: Robert Murray. I hope the Non-Minor Mine Hero Gold Award helps to heal his battered soul and brain.

UPDATE: I have just learned that Robert Murray will not be testifying at Wednesday's Senate hearing on mine safety. As usual, Murray is thinking not of himself, but of his workers, explaining he would not be able to “give the situation in Utah the proper attention it needs if I have to travel to Washington to testify.” I like to think that receiving the GNMH (Gold Non-Miner Mine Hero) award emboldened the principled CEO to defy the Senate's Big Brother meddling. Even though we won’t be able to see Murray testify today, we can always see him testify here.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Friday, August 31, 2007

My Durst Time: Talking with Comic Will Durst about the All-American Sport of Bipartisan Bashing

Will Durst is a San Francisco-based comic, pundit, and “Quite possibly the best political satirist working in the country today.” He and I first met when we performed at a Laughing Liberally show in LA.

A year later, we got a chance to reconnect in New York, where Will is making everybody laugh with his new one-man show Will Durst: The All-American Sport of Bipartisan Bashing. From left to right and everywhere in between, from the New York Times to the New York Post, the critics are raving.

When we met on Manhattan's Upper West Side, Durst was reading the sports section over a cup of black coffee. No doubt he had finished reading the latest issue of the Nation magazine and drunk his chai-organic-double-vegan-latte before I got there. But he wasn't fooling me. And soon we were talking about getting flipped off by Olympia Dukakis, helping the terrorists win, necrophilia and other things liberals enjoy.

Katie Halper: Why do you hate America?

Will Durst:
I'm not an America-hater, I'm an America-lover. Dissent is the ultimate patriotic act. Just like every liberal commie pinko weenie says.

When did you start hating America?

I started loving America right away. Free water. Water fountains everywhere. Refrigerated, cold, refreshing water. You try getting that anywhere else. Try getting that in France, not gonna happen. Go head, I dare you. It's $5.

Funny, I was going ask you why you don't move to France. But I guess it's the whole water thing. Anyway, you have moments of redemption when you praise Bush, calling him a father figure.

He has been like a father to me. Just in terms of providing.

So he's a good provider?

Yes, not just a decider and a commuter; he's also a provider. Not just for me, but for editorial cartoonists, columnists, anyone with a speck of consciousness. He is very fecund and fertile.

He is very virile.

He's like a rising tide. The rising tide of Bush lifts all boats. It's a wonderful rain, it's a hard rain.

Halper: I saw Olympia Dukakis sitting right in front of me in the theater [at your show] and I knew I was in a scary place: a theater in New York, a woman who represents the unholy alliance between the Hollywood elite and liberals. But I was impressed when you got into a hissing match with her. Because anyone who hisses at a Dukakis is a friend of mine.

Yeah, I told a tough joke about Hillary, which I thought was fair, and then she hissed at me. I got her back on my side by doing the second part of the joke. I didn't know it was Olympia Dukakis at the time. But then when she came backstage, I recognized her. "Oh, my living god. I got heckled by an Oscar winner."

Halper: I think you got flipped the bird too.

Durst: Oh really? She flipped me off?

Yeah. How does it feel being flipped off by a Democrat?

Durst: Well somebody's gotta do it. I feel like Dennis Miller.

Halper: You make fun of Arnold Schwarzenegger for signing a law outlawing having sex with corpses. Why do you want to legalize necrophilia?

It's a freedom issue. Like the sanctity of life. It fits into the whole pro-life thing. It's actually part of the pro-life movement.

Halper: Right, the right-to-lifers for necrophilia. And then you're not wasting the seed either.

Durst: Right. Although I'm not sure exactly how that fits in, so to speak.

In your show you provide immigrants and terrorists with a plan for getting across the border. Why do you help the terrorists win?

I am of two minds about putting that portion in the show. I understand it could be considered aiding and abetting the enemy to let them know they could go around the 700-mile-long, 16-foot-high wall that covers a 1,952 mile-long border. Or they could bring a ladder. But since they have already started building tunnels, they probably already thought of it. But I really hope that you don't make a big deal of it. Maybe you shouldn't even print this.

What do you think that political comics can achieve?

Durst: I think we can distill what seem to be incredibly complex questions into something any audience member can understand. They don't have to be a poly-sci major. You can empower them to know that their opinion is important. There's no way that people are going to become enlightened. You're usually preaching to the choir. But it's nice to get the choir to sing. Especially after we've been used as human dart boards for the last six and a half years.

It's funny because there was a time when you couldn't do jokes about Bush. Even though we were, starting on Jan. 21st, 2001. Then Sept. 11th happened, and you couldn't touch him. It was seen as unpatriotic; we were involved in a war. Then Katrina happened. And taking on Bush became fashionable, and now it's considered old hat. We had a window of 18 months for Christ's sake when it was OK. And then it was, "Oh no, Bush is low-hanging fruit," or, "Everybody bashes Bush." Fuck you! We haven't hit him hard enough, and we're gonna hit him until ... until he dies, OK, until he dies, and we'll keep hitting, and then that still won't be enough.

And then you'll have sex with him?

Exactly, goes back to the Schwarzenegger law.

Halper: We've really come full circle. Speaking of dead people and perverts, let's go back to the Democrats. My favorite part of the show, obviously, is when you focus on your Clintons, your Kerries, your Dukaki. More of your thoughts on them?

The Democrats seem more interested in getting re-elected than they are in changing anything for the better. When Gore ducked the Kansas Board of Education teaching intelligent design along with evolution and said, "Children should be exposed to varying theories," I just wanted to dick-slap him, I really did. And he would have had to have been very close, and I understand that. Not that I don't believe in Giselle the Mountain Sprite. She's from where all things flow. She's my goddess.

Halper: Do you renew the show every day with new news stories and headlines?

I try to. There was a quote from yesterday about dog fighting, and I'm chomping at the bit, so to speak, to put it in the show tonight.

And how do you actually get your news?

First I wake up at noon. Then I have to clear all the potato chip bags and beer cans that are covering the floor.

Halper: And the copies of the Nation?

Durst: Of course. Then I find a phrase that I love, and I try to come up with a punch line. I'm all one-liners. They're strung on top of each other so that hopefully the previous punch line is a set up for the next joke. It's piggybacking, which is a timing that I learned works because if you wanna do political comedy in Stockton, Calif., at Uncle Chuckles Fun Hut, then you have to learn how to get them to shut up.

There are about four places where we can work and people really know what we're talking about. N.Y., San Francisco, D.C., Boston. And I don't blame people because it's such a morass, it's so ugly, it's hard to keep up. The names are constantly changing. The circus remains the same, but the clowns are different. So I don't blame people if they don't know what I'm talking about. They have families, jobs, they have a life. It's our job to keep up on this shit and try to put it in terms they understand.

Was your comedy always political?

Durst: When I started doing standup in 1974, there was the Vietnam War and everything was, "We're gonna fight the man, man." Now, we are the man, man. But everything was political then. High school arithmetic was political. Of course in Wisconsin we didn't get the '60s until about 1974 anyway.

Was there one thing in particular that politicized you?

There were some riots in Milwaukee. I actually got run over by a horse. I was there for the chicks. That's what everyone went to rallies for no matter what they say. That was about as political as I got. I was never a big Weatherman kinda guy. I thought blowing shit up to protest blowing shit up was kinda oxymoronic.

Halper: Why a show and not just standup?

Durst: Bigger canvas, more paint, and with writing you can plant a seed in the first paragraph and follow it until it blooms in the last paragraph. That's something I can do with the show. I can take my time between laughs. I always thought I was more literary than most comics. Which doesn't mean they're not smart. Comics are smart. They have a lot going on in their minds. Most are ADHD.

Are you?

Durst: I dunno. When I was a kid, I was hyper. They started feeding me coffee at the age of 10. That was a popular therapy at the time, over-amping the kid to short-circuit him.

Halper: What's the worst thing that ever happened to you at a show?

A guy threw his prosthetic leg at me. He was trying to be funny. I held it up. Then I had a glass ash tray shatter behind me on the wall. The woman said she threw it because she was laughing so hard. Then I had a guy taken out on a stretcher because he had a heart attack right before I went on stage. I had a corporate gig the week after 9/11 for a law firm in Palo Alto, and they had an office in the World Trade Center and had just lost 16 people. So they had a moment of silence, and then they brought me on stage. I swear to fucking god.

Another time, this guy started yelling at me, and I couldn't hear him. And someone was taping the show, so he rushed at the camera and tried to grab it and had to be escorted out. It turns out he was an out-of-work right-wing talk show host. So he's calling all the radio stations in Sacramento and saying he was molested by the club staff, saying his freedom of speech was violated. Nobody would return his calls. Another time someone was going to beat me up in a club, but he got into a fight with someone who liked me, and they beat each other up. Good times.

Halper: Are you going to be sad at the end of Bush's term?

Durst: No. Because we're gonna get to know so much about the next person. Some people predicted the demise of political humor after Bill Clinton. Everything was below the belt. Every two-bit hack in America took his dick jokes and made them presidential dick jokes. Corporate gigs loved it when I would take on Clinton. I lost a lot of corporate gigs after Clinton. It's not so funny when you take on the boy king.

Halper: Who was your biggest influence?

Lenny Bruce. I used to listen to him before I went on stage. I read his autobiography, How to Talk Dirty. And there are great political comics out there. You were hysterical the other night. And there's Lee Camp, Costaki, David Feldman, Johnny Steel, Barry Weintraub. Marga Gomez is my hero. I worked with Mort Sahl a few months ago. He's great. He's 80 years old and his opening line was, "If Paris Hilton goes to jail, will that rob her life of meaning?"

What are you hoping your show will accomplish?

Driving a nail through capitalism.


Will Durst: The All-American Sport of Bipartisan Bashing
is now playing at New World Stages, 340 W. 50th St., Manhattan, (212) 239-6200. It is presented by Hanging Chad Productions, Jennifer Sachs and Allen Spivak; and directed by Eric Krebs; and it features a production design by Peter Feuchtwanger. For tickets go to or call 212-239-6200.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Breaking News! Perry Caves in to anti-Death Penalty Nuts

UPDATE: Yesterday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted six-to-one to commute Kenneth Foster's death sentence and Governor Rick Perry commuted the sentence to life in jail. Guess the governor didn't get my letter on time. Oh well, Texas still has 23 more executions before the year is over.