Clancy Sigal

Are the Brits Crazy or Just Pissed Off and Unheard Till Now?

“If you’ve got money, you vote in. If you haven’t got money, you vote out.” —Manchester working-class woman

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When Hollywood Calls, Who Can Resist?

The White House is sore that actor Sean Penn got to one of the world’s most notorious killers and torturers, El Chapo Guzman, boss of the mushrooming Sinaloa drug cartel, before the corrupt Mexican government got around to it. Obama’s spokesman calls it “maddening” that entrepeneurial Sean Penn got to Guzman before the federales. The government shouldn’t have sent marines and soldiers after Guzman, which took months after his last pre-arranged “escape” from a Mexican prison; Obama simply should have waved a movie contract at the drug lord which would have flushed him out in seconds.

Guzman’s downfall is pure Hollywood. Sean Penn, accompanied by a beautiful Mexican TV soap actress, goes south of the border for a Rolling Stone seven-hour interview with the fugitive involving “talks to produce a movie about his life.” Law enforcement “were able to zero in on his whereabouts through his contacts with lawyers and producers.” Penn writes that after Guzman’s recent tunnel escape from prison, “the drug lord’s attorneys were overwhelmed by overtures from Hollywood studios to produce a movie based on his life.” No showbiz dummy, Guzman “decided to produce his own.”

In other words, Mexican marines, shooting it out with Guzman’s bodyguards, interrupted a classic pitch meeting. Poor El Chapo. Didn’t he learn anything from the fates of John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, and Carlos the Jackal, all brought down by their thirst for personal publicity?

As far as I can tell, Guzman, the second most powerful Mexican next to trillionaire Carlos Slim, was the straight goods speaking to Penn about his global reach. Bragging, but probably truthful. “I supply more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than anybody else in the world [with] a fleet of submarines, airplanes, trucks and boats.” Rival cartels like Los Zetas must go crazy with envy—as they begin setting up their own pitch meetings.

Special pleading, factual accuracy and limitless ego are all mixed up in Guzman’s interview. “Where I grew up [as a poor peasant boy] there was no other way, and there still isn’t a way to survive,” except by the drug trade: "The only way to have money to buy food, to survive, is to grow poppy.” 

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Why #‎YouAintNoMuslimBruv Has Gone Worldwide

You ain't no Muslim, bruv!”

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Terrorism and Paris: Why Hemingway Matters So Much to Parisians and All of Us

Who says that an aging man’s misty memory of the best time in his life isn’t as bona fide as the “facts”?

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The Really Really Rich Fund Presidential Campaigns...Except for Bernie's

Due to the excellent legwork of three New York Times reporters (Confessore, Cohen and Yourish), and Federal Election Commission reports, on which I rely, the meaningless phrase “campaign finance reform” takes on flesh and blood. We now have a clearer idea of something we more or less knew; that our real rulers are overwhelmingly white, rich, right-wing, older and male, and live in guarded mansion-fortresses in places like Indian Creek Road and River Oaks, Texas, and Bel-Air, up the hill from me in Los Angeles. 

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In Praise of the Brave People Who Do Good Acts That They Risk Being Demonized for

This Sunday is an anniversary of the execution by beheading of young Sophie Scholl, her brother Hans and their school friend Christopher Probst who formed the shortlived anti-Nazi “White Rose conspiracy” in Munich, Germany in WW2.  Medical students in their early 20s, they were religiously-inclined skiing and hiking pals caught handing out leaflets asking for passive resistance to the Hitler regime.  A school janitor turned them in for tossing leaflets down a stairwell.  Although there are streets, schools and plaques to their memory in Germany, none of the White Roses survived to tell their story. In court, before the notoriously sadistic Judge Freisler, Sophie said:  “Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don't dare express themselves as we did.”  As if to prove her words, at the time most Germans kept away from this deeply Lutheran family.

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In the Midst of Awards Season, Why the 'Money Scene' Is What I Look For in a Movie

My son and I argue movies all the time.  He thinks that the Academy and other film industry prizes are well deserved while I can’t recall a Golden Globe or Oscar for a movie I truly enjoyed.   He says I’m “biased”.  Of course, I am.  Prejudiced, blind, narrowminded, nostalgic and inconsistent like most movie lovers.

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Trying to Untangle the Darren Wilson Decision at the Breakfast Table

Darren Wilson was an uninvited guest at my breakfast table a day or so ago  in our family’s version of the “national conversation about race” that practically ruined my pancakes. 

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Staying Silent About Violence Against Women Is Despicable

Some years ago I was in a Los Angeles bar when a guy began beating up on his girlfriend or wife, knocking her off her stool while they exchanged insults and fists.  I, Action Hero, intervened and pulled the guy off her.  Furious, she slammed me with her handbag and told me to mind my own effing business.  Both he and she chased me out of the bar onto the sunlit street.  Never again, I swore, do I play referee in a domestic dispute which in this case was assault.
Due to over-coverage, even somebody living on Mars knows each tiny graphic detail of a CCTV camera of Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Rice slugging unconscious his then fiancé now wife Janay Palmer in an Atlantic City casino elevator last February.  And we know all about tin-eared National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell’s blunders and lies in covering up what easily could have been a murder case. 
And, most sadly, Janay’s blaming the media not Ray for their predicament.  “To take something away from the man I love that he has worked his ass off for all his life just to gain ratings is horrific.”  Janay, who has a child with Ray to protect, must be under incredible pressure to unblame her husband and try to salvage their income.  We’ll probably never know her real feelings until and unless she divorces to tell her story unvarnished.
Granted, she has a point.  “No one knows the pain that the media and unwanted [opinions] from the public has cause my family. To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret every day is a horrible thing.”  Aside from voyeurism, what possible good comes from replaying over and over again her humiliation?  Oh yes, it contributes to that cliché, a “national conversation” about domestic violence.  In plainer words talking about how guys beat the shit out of women.
It’s amazing how easily the victim gets trod underfoot in the noise of powerful figures – including Obama and TV anchors – pointing the finger at Top People most like themselves.  Who cares if Roger Goodell keeps his $40 million a year job? 
Until the Ray Rice incident I was following what appears on the surface to be an unrelated sexual atrocity.  It happens in one of my favorite pit stops, the old coal-and-steel town of Rotherham, south Yorkshire, England.  The town of 250,000 sits in the heart of what used to be the industrial north.  Think Youngstown, Ohio, with its ruined quarries, factories and mills.
Briefly, 1400 (and probably many more) girl children – some as young as 11 - were over a 17 year period until very recently gang raped, tortured, trafficked and had their lives permanently damaged by “multiple perpetrators” usually second-generation Pakistani origin taxi drivers, takeout delivery men and other mobile predators with easy access to mainly troubled white kids from chaotic families. 
"One young person told us that 'gang rape' was a usual part of growing up in the area of Rotherham in which she lived," said the blistering report by Prof. Alexis Jay, former chief inspector of social work in Scotland, who almost burst into tears delivering it.
Officially commissioned reports of sexual exploitation were ignored or disbelieved.   Those charged with protecting the kids – social care agencies, the police from regional crime commissioner Shaun Wright down to foot constable, and almost all the local Labour politicians – enabled the rapists by, in Prof. Jay’s words, 'sweeping it under the carpet', 'turning a blind eye' and 'keeping a lid on it'.
Why?  One reason is that, in an atmosphere of “multiculturalism”, the cops and social workers and elected poobahs didn’t want to “give oxygen” to the far right by drawing attention to the criminals’ ethnicity.  (Most rapists were from rural Kashimir.) 
It took a 2010 court case and some prison sentences for anyone to sit up and take notice.  Not quite true, since it also was the years of hard, at first ignored and often mocked journalism by Rupert Murdoch’s UK London Times’ reporter Andrew Norfolk to finally expose the full story.
Britain has had lots of recent pedophilia scandals mainly implicating Top People (comic Jimmy Savile, children’s entertainer Rolf Harris, high ranking politicians and the so-called ‘BBC ring’).  But Rotherham is different because its crimes against children strike at the very heart not of the Establishment but the socialist-Labour ideal.  (The city has voted Labour since 1933.)  
Men who hate women won’t go down without a fight.  (Poor choice of words.)  Roger Goodell like south Yorkshire’s police boss Shaun Wright refuse to resign because, after all, what did they do wrong? 

It's Open Season on Journalists Working in the World's Danger Zones

Almost everybody, it seems, likes to murder prying reporters or just any man or woman with a plastic press pass hanging around their necks.

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Our Next Enemy: Our Constant Search For American Haters

I was born into enemies.  My psyche is tuned into lifelong evil “beyond anything that we’ve seen,” as Chuck Hagel the Secy of Defense said about Isis or "Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant", the wildly triumphant Sunni caliphates who control large swathes Iraq and Syria with their oil wells – a territory larger than Britain.
“The face of evil,” John Kerry calls it.
For me the very first villain was Hitler the worst madman beyond anything, and then the barbaric Japanese emperor Hirohito whose soldiers systematically mutilated ours, followed by Stalin whose gulag-empire was a “cancer” that “no just God” could invent as Obama describes Isis, later flowing into Uncle Ho Chi Minh and his no-human-life-is-sacred Vietcong, and at a lower scale the rulers of the Dominican Republic and Grenada we just HAD to invade…then of course the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden and…now this Isis breakaway from the formerly ultra-diabolical Al-queda.
Even though the evil cancer changes form it’s not too hard to track all our many enemies once you realize we’re in what the Pentagon calls a “Long War” against America-haters who are a daily, continuous, this-moment-or-very-soon threat…as indeed some jihadis may be given how many (we’re told) Brits and Yanks are dying to sign up. 
Already the Pentagon is sending out “advisories” to local police warning about the raging Sunnis in our midst. What next, those absurd Homeland Security advisories, Severe, High, Elevated, Guarded and Low in fetching colors?
 We need enemies the way a thirsty man needs water.   Without a constant supply of them our defense contractors like Honeywell and Dyncorp would have to lay off workers and American “resolve” would remain untested.
No government official has the guts to come right out and say, “Hey, our spies fucked up or we didn’t listen to them and couldn’t see what’s on the tip of our nose and now we’re playing catchup by outshouting the bad guys with steamed up rhetoric.”  One big reason we screwed up is that we can’t publicly admit that the jihadis are funded by our dearest allies, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates as well as Turkey.  (Just as we’ve always been too embarrassed to confess that 15 of the 19 World Trade Center assassins were Saudis.)
I’m a big Maria Callas fan.  But even the great Callas screeched like a loon when singing above two octaves above middle C.  You begin on too high a note and there’s nowhere to go but killing more people and tripping over a failed policy like the War On Terror now in tatters.
The antiwar progressive Randolph Bourne coined the immortal epitaph: “War is the health of the state.”  Sometimes it seems as if  our system itself demands an incredibly high state of fearful tension in order to function.   The worst part of it may be that our leaders listen only to themselves and are thus guided by their own hysteria.
Lower the rhetoric, fellas.  Get off the weed.  Simmer down. You can still bomb the crap out of the enemy without invoking God, cancer and the Devil.  ‘Cause there’s nowhere to go after you hit that two octaves above middle C.

What the Media Isn't Telling You About Lauren Bacall and Bogart

The Lauren Bacall obits I’ve seen take only a fleeting glance at her politics. She had the guts and stamina of a classic New York-born Jewish left-liberal. She was not only Bogie’s sultry siren in To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep, but a kickass fighter, the only child of a divorced, dirt-poor, single immigrant mother. During the 1950s blacklist purges, aimed more at Jews and liberals than at “reds,” when so many in Hollywood ran for cover, Betty Joan Perske Weinstein-Bacal pushed her new husband Humphrey Bogart into establishing the Committee for the First Amendment to damn the blacklist and protect its victims. CFA was a cross-section of the plucky, upstanding Hollywood left: Danny Kaye, John Huston, Bette Davis, Frank Sinatra, Katharine Hepburn, etc.
Bacall, a mere ingénue just starting out, risked her virgin career to stick her neck out, as did Bogart who wanted to vote Republican until his new Jewish wife corralled him otherwise. Anyone who has seen Bacall in her non-sultry roles, as the rich, destructive lesbian in Young Man With A Horn or the disabled young dowager in Harper or the demanding psychiatrist in Shock Treatment can understand just how fiercely imperious Bacall could be on screen, and in real life, too, if my all-too-brief meeting with her is any evidence.
I was one of her husband Bogie’s agents during the worst of the Hollywood blacklist. The pressure on him and Bacall to recant and retreat was overwhelming, from the government, Warner Brothers studio, his agents and an atmosphere of compromise and informing. (“What’s the point. It’ll blow over.”) You never knew when your best friend might turn and rat on you. Or your union brother—Bogart and Bacall’s Screen Actors Guild president Ronald Reagan was FBI informant “T-10.”
The just-married Bogart, tied hand and foot to a studio bossed by a fanatic blacklister Jack Warner (trying to live down his few “liberal” movies), wasn’t a youngster anymore. He was nearly 50 when he took his brave stand in Washington D.C. In the end, faced by waves of spy mania and a cowardly Truman White House bent on out-witch-hunting the hunters, most of the CFA members resigned. The Hollywood 10's off-putting harangues to HUAC gave the weaker spirits a perfect excuse.
But except for a single article in a national magazine denying he was a Communist (all the big stars like Edward G. Robinson and John Garfield had to write the same “I was a dupe” piece to get J. Edgar Hoover off their backs), Bogart never betrayed his blacklisted or “tainted” friends. In real life, aside from hard drinking, tough-guy Bogie was a rather gentle soul, so I suspect his New York Jewish liberal wife had a lot to do with his political backbone.
The Gestapo wasn’t putting a gun to our heads. (I’d been blacklisted by Columbia Pictures.) But Hollywood is such a small village that bad news travels fast, and it didn’t take more than a word here or there, an unsourced rumor, a hesitation to make the mandatory box-office-dud anti-communist film, before your phone stopped ringing. Many otherwise good people couldn’t stand the idea of being exiled from what they felt to be the only game in town, if not the universe. Not to work in Hollywood was to be condemned to a lonely lower circle of hell. 
Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist then, but electrified gossip could kill you. The chief targets were communists (that is, you signed a petition years ago), interracial romances (Sammy Davis Jr. and Kim Novak, shock horror) and homosexuality. It’s no accident that the Rupurt Murdoch of his day, the spreader of career-killing gossip in the magazine Confidential, had been a pornographer and his chief editor a former reporter for the communist Daily Worker. What a crew!
All her life Lauren Bacall stayed a true-blue, New York, left-of-center, liberal Democrat lobbying for Adlai Stevenson and Bobby Kennedy.  Or as she proudly boasted in a late interview, “I’m anti-Republican. A liberal. The L-word!”

The Unbearable Psychic Burden Soldiers Carry

I’ll call him “Jack” because that’s his name. He’s my oldest boyhood pal from the wrong part of Chicago. We were corner rats as the local grandmothers called us, hard-case adolescents. He was the smart one, I was academically dismal, and in our own eyes, if not the opinion of cops and school principals, averagely playful. We pilfered, shoplifted and, I can’t quite remember the circumstances, accidentally set fire to a local synagogue.  (We’re both Jewish.)

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Memorial Day: Remembering 70 U.S. Wars, Big and Small

Except for mourning family members and Boy Scouts loyally placing tiny flags on veterans’ gravestones, hardly anyone knows anything about Memorial Day except that it’s a day off. It’s the saddest of the military holidays, invented after the Civil War, supposed to help us honor, or at least pause to remember, all the American dead from all  our wars. That’s a lot of men and some women to remember going back, well, how far?

Big and small, we’ve “done” about 70 wars starting with the mid-18th century so-called French and Indian wars where George Washington was blooded and when we got our first taste of industrially massacring Native Americans, mainly Ojibwas and Algonquins who sided with the French against our British masters.

Before penicillin, it’s hard to get an accurate sum total figure of all those combat deaths because so many men died of disease and what was later called shell shock.  

In our thirteen major and 60 or so “minor” wars, let’s call a round figure of one and a half million dead.  Compared to the mass war slaughter in, say, Russia or China, that’s small potatoes, but big potatoes for us.  Our dead include wars you never heard, such the “Quasi War” with the French, the First Sumatran Expedition and Sheepeater Indian War plus, of course, both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan.  A large number of U.S. wars were fought against our own Native Americans  (Modocs, Nez Perce, serial Seminole wars etc.) and other “colored” peoples in China, the Philippines, Haiti, central America, Mexico etc.

This doesn’t and shouldn’t take away from the genuine valor of so many American soldiers who fought, died, massacred others and were scalped in return.

Sadly or inspiringly, the truth is men and now women sometimes like to go to war.  To do one’s patriotic duty can be exciting as well as deadly. You get a sense of purpose and usefulness, possibly your own worth by being in uniform.  Personally, I liked being in the military including its chickenshit.

It’s also thrilling to watch war movies.  To “celebrate” Memorial Day, Turner Classics on TV is throwing shot and shell at us for a solid four-day, 72-hour marathon starting Saturday.  The lineup includes 34 “classics” from the Civil War on.  Unless my eyes deceive me Turner is not showing, or avoiding, some fine anti-pro-war films, Renoir’s Grand Illusion and Kubrick’s Paths of Glory as well as All Quiet On The Western Front and Howard Hawks's The Road To Glory (co-written by William Faulkner). Turner’s bias is toward blood-and-guts “combat” stories, comedies and “touching stories of the families who wait at home”.

In the midst of all the testosterone-laden, gut-wrenching 'kill, kill, kill' is some real quality that fails in the mission of sending men off to war.  If you can make your way past The Dirty Dozen and Kelly’s Heroes, there’s The Best Years of Our Lives, the Quaker-friendly Friendly Persuasion, Sidney Lumet’s brilliant exposure of military sadism in The Hill, the German-made Westfront 19l8, and John Huston’s butchered but decent The Red Badge of Courage.

Missing, thank heaven, are Ronald Reagan’s favorite Patton and Katherine Bigelow’s “ballsy” recruiting poster The Hurt Locker.   But I’m sorry we won’t see Clint Eastwood’s Letters From Iwo Jima, a surprise masterpiece telling the battle from a Japanese point of view.

What’s not to love about war movies?  Vivid images of men shooting the crap out of each other heats my blood.  The gore of “this is how it is” is ultimately romantic and seductive.  Most war movies can’t help but call us to arms.  Rat tat tat to Black Watch bagpipe music.

Some movies, like Catch-22, M*A*S*H* and Tony Richardson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade, which also are not on Turner’s list, make an attempt to lower the testosterone level with some humor and cynicism.  But in the end it’s almost impossible to outshout Objective, Burma, The Dawn Patrol, Where Eagles Dare and Twelve O’Clock High.

It’s a dilemma.  How to pay tribute to the war dead while giving pause to young men and women who may be thinking about stepping into the dead soldiers’ combat boots?

The Contemptible Heroes of the Irish Republican Army

Martin McGuinness, the “Butcher of Bogside,” a murderer and bomb-making terrorist, just attended a state banquet with the British queen in Windsor Castle. McGuinness shooks hands with Her Majesty—even though, as an Irish Republican Army commander, he helped to assassinate the Queen’s cousin, Lord Mountbatten, by blowing up his boat, also killing his grandson and another teenager.

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The Afterlife of Activist Mario Savio, Free Speech Movement's Best-Known Leader

Veterans of the 1964 Free Speech Movement in Berkeley, Calif., an event that electrified young men and women the world over, will return to campus for the 50th anniversary reunion this October. FSM’s most famous leader, Mario Savio, won’t be there because he died in 1996.

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The Oscars' Dirty Secret: Corruption, Bribery, Mafia-style Hit Jobs and Labor Struggles

“Big ‘stupido’…running up to get an Oscar dying with excitement only to crawl back dying with shame (because a different director wins).  Those crummy Academy voters; to hell with their lousy awards.   If ever they did vote me one, I would never, never, NEVER show up to accept it.”

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How the Foremost Weapons Expert on the Syrian Civil War Scoops Major News Organizations from the Comfort of His Easy Chair

Fans of All The President’s Men, The Front Page, His Girl Friday or TV’s Lou Grant get an embroidered and comic taste of what working journalism was like before the Internet. In legend and fact, scruffy, underpaid, rowdy, competitive, ego-driven, alcoholic reporters knock on strange doors at midnight.

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Hello Baseball, Goodbye Brain: Wouldn't It Be Great If We Could Channel Our Sports Passion Toward the Theft Going on in Washington?

The opening day of the major league baseball season is when I start to live again until October when pro basketball and NFL football take over and the fan in me goes into a long winter sleep.  I’m not a full-time fan of anything I haven’t tried to play.  (Hence no ice hockey or lacrosse.)  Traumatically, when it dawned on me as a kid that I wasn’t going to be the next Chicago Cubs pitching whiz – yes, the all-time loser Cubs! – I beamed myself down to being a mere avid spectator, first at live games at Wrigley, Ebbets and Chavez Ravine’s Dodger field, now couch-potatoing on TV.

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How Come Nobody Cares About the Fate of Los Angeles?

For the first time in my life, like 84% of Los Angeles registered voters, I failed to cast a ballot in last week’s election. It was a primary to select front-running mayoral candidates and city council members, a city attorney, controller, community college trustees and a tax proposition: stuff that should really matter. The four men and a woman who really run LA -- the Board of Supes -- were not on the ballot. Supervisors who used to rule in perpetuity now are term-limited to “only” three consecutive four-year terms.

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Are Democrats Bent on Political Suicide?

Jerry Brown, my California state’s Democratic governor, is a crushing disappointment.  

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War in Afghanistan Is Mutiny by a Different Name

 “Any person who…with intent to usurp or override lawful military authority, refuses, in concert with any other person, to obey orders or otherwise do his duty or creates any violence or disturbance is guilty of mutiny.”  --Article 94, Uniform Code of Military Justice

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The Brave Soldiers Who Show True Honor

 Even though the Occupy Wall Street movement, especially in the United States, is winter-hibernating – Oakland, California’s dorky vandals notwithstanding – I can’t forget an image from last October’s Zuccotti Park events. If you recall, down in Times Square, when frightened, out-of-control New York cops, on their rampaging motorbikes and panicky horses, batoned and pepper-sprayed Occupy Wall Streeters, a former Marine Corps sergeant, Shamar Thomas, in his camo gear with three rows of ribbons, suddenly appeared on the sidewalk to furiously confront the police.

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Can We Win Over Ron Paul Supporters?

Digging into the rubble of bombed-out Frankfurt-am-Main after thesecond world war, I stumbled on two human skeletons who were among the last living survivors of the Hitler regime's anti-Nazi political parties. They were old, semi-starving men, working deliberately apart from each other in the corpse-smelling basement of a ruined apartment house, each of them kept alive by a fierce will to revive what had been, respectively, the Weimar Republic's mass socialist (SPD) and communist (KPD) movements. Catastrophically, their parties had refused to unite against Hitler, and both men had spent the Nazi years in Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

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Why Is the Media Giving Charlie Sheen So Much Attention?

"I'm untouchable! I'm Charlie Sheen! I'm more famous than Obama!" -- Charlie Sheen, to his wife

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The Many Burdens a GI Faces in Afghanistan

"I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe that this war, upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation, has now become a war of aggression and conquest." Lt Siegfried Sassoon, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, 1917

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