Philip Barron

What Should John Edwards Do Next?

As Alice Bonner explained so eloquently at The Root, I was looking forward to voting for John Edwards. The reason, in a one word: class.The manifestations and disparities of class give rise, Hydralike, to aspects of American society as varied as race, health care, education, taxation, housing, even environmental issues. The reality of class, the prevalence of poverty, is something that few in this country care to contemplate. Poverty is decidedly unglamorous, after all, so much so that people avoid even acknowledging it, as if doing so meant risking contamination. It is, for many, evidence of moral failing - thus the emphasis in some quarters on helping the "deserving" poor. In a culture where the virtues of wealth, attainment, and upward striving are extolled from cradle to grave, the notion of two disparate Americas separated by wealth is, well, a political clunker. To say nothing of being - in the age of The Apprentice, Paris Hilton, ad nauseum - a real media downer.

A presidential candidate with the courage to push class front and center, given the culture's hostility to the concept, was an easy pick for me.

Of course, Edwards' campaign was doomed from the start for that very reasons. Other circumstances (like being a plain old white-guy-running who lacks the compelling historical/rockstar interest of a Clinton or Obama) seem incidental in comparison. The sad fact is that forty-four years after the declaration of the War on Poverty - and incredibly, two years after Hurricane Katrina - this society simply isn't ready for the core message Edwards brought in his two White House campaigns: that policy, not charity, is the path to helping the poor.

Edwards' chief role in the 2008 presidential race had been that of progressive conscience/gadfly to the two frontrunners. His presence in the race served to prompt Clinton and Obama into making, at the very least, supportive noises on poverty issues. As it turned out, that was the best Edwards could hope for - and that alone would have justified voting for him. What interests me, though, is what happens now that the lights have gone dark and Edwards has retired his campaign.

The Dirty Little Secret About Matt Drudge

You may have noted the recent LA Times piece on how news organizations scramble for notice by über-gossipmeister Matt Drudge.

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A Bitter Anniversary For the Family of a Murdered Soldier

Today, July 27th, marks what should have been a joyous celebration, perhaps including a party filled with family and friends. Today would have been LaVena Lynn Johnson’s 22nd birthday.

The month of July also marks another solemn milestone.

Two years ago this month the body of PFC Johnson was returned to her family and laid to rest, but there can be no rest for her her family and friends. The military continues to claim that LaVena took her own life while serving in Iraq, despite several indications to the contrary.

Two Women Left to Die by Authorities

Two dead women, half a country apart. One of them dying in a failing hospital in Los Angeles, the other while being held in a St. Louis jail. Both of them failed by systems and authorities charged with watching over them. The Los Angeles case is making national news, while the St. Louis matter remains a local story...for the moment.

In Los Angeles:

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Chancellor Merkel Gets the Bush Treatment on Global Warming

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, one of George Bush's celebrated new best buddies on the world scene, is now finding out what Tony Blair took years to learn: Partnership with Bush is a one-way street.

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Remember This

What do you say to the war dead on Memorial Day?

Private First Class LaVena Johnson


You tell them, perhaps, that you are sorry you never got the chance to know them. Who they were, what they loved and feared, what they hoped for. That opportunity is gone, replaced by mute stone and silent earth.

Private First Class LaVena Johnson


You tell them that you honor the choice they made in serving, even though that sacrifice goes unhonored by an army unwilling to answer families who want only to know how their loved ones died so far from home.

Private First Class LaVena Johnson


You vow to keep the unfulfilled promise of the dead in your heart. What they would have valued. What they might have accomplished. Who they would have been, if only.

On Memorial Day, you tell the war dead - you swear to them - that you will not forget.

Building the Platform

A change in the way the people of St. Louis get their news may be on the horizon, as Chad Garrison relates in the May 9 issue of the Riverfront Times:

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Anheuser-Busch gets Spyked

About a month ago I wrote about Spykes, the controversial line of alcopop beverages from brewing monolith Anheuser-Busch. The colorful, two-ounce buzz-bombs - sweet, flavored, and twelve percent alcohol by volume, were officially marketed towards "adults looking for innovative alcoholic beverages," but everything about the content and packaging suggested a product designed to attract considerably younger (and specifically female) users. A-B found itself confronted with harsh criticism from such watchdogs as the Center for Science in the Public Interest, who slammed Spykes as "a shameful ploy to market malt liquor to the Lunchables set." Though A-B may have continued to brazen out such attacks, the brewer soon found itself faced with more opposition in the form of twenty-nine state attorneys general. This from the office of Connecticut AG Richard Blumenthal:

Center for Media and Democracy on Tillman/Lynch hearings and LaVena Johnson story

Diane Farsetta, senior researcher for the Center for Media and Democracy, examines the subtexts of the April 24 House Oversight Committee hearing. In today's CMD Report titled "War vs. Democracy: Untold Stories from the Lynch / Tillman Hearing," Farsetta looks beyond the cases of Cpl. Pat Tillman and Pfc. Jessica Lynch to explore the rights and responsibilities of citizens during wartime when faced with military misinformation, embellishment, and deception.

Dropping off baby

The concept of a drop-off facility for unwanted infants may be new to Japan, but not elsewhere. "Baby-Klappe" hatches at hospitals are being pushed in ad campaigns in Germany in response to several documented infanticides. Here in the US, the emphasis has been on more general safe haven legislation, sparked in large part by a query made in 1998 by WPMI reporter Jodi Brooks to county District Attorney John M. Tyson, Jr. in Mobile, Alabama. A Stateline.org article by John Nagy relates this exchange between the two following the trial of a mother and daughter convicted of drowning the daughter's unwanted infant son:

You go to war with the newspaper you have

When the subject is an Army lieutenant colonel who is publicly accusing generals of intellectual and moral failure in prosecuting the war in Iraq, you might expect probing analysis or historical framework from newspaper military affairs columnists. Unless you're a reader of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, that is, in which case you'd probably expect gossipy speculation on the accuser's career future.

When will Congress stand up for LaVena Johnson?

From today's Associated Press article on a U.S. House committee's quest for honest answers for two military families:

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Our soldiers are not meat

It is increasingly difficult to consider the Army's refusal to reopen the investigation of the suspicious death of Pfc. Lavena Johnson in Iraq - a death whose circumstances belie official claims of suicide - without considering a wider range of insulting treatment toward the nation's soldiers and their families. I'm not talking solely about facts behind fatalities brought reluctantly to light, as in the infamous case of Cpl. Pat Tillman, but a broader pattern of dishonor and dismissal toward those who serve and sacrifice.

The Next Pat Tillman-Style Cover-Up?

There once was a young woman from a St. Louis suburb. She was an honor roll student, she played the violin, she donated blood and volunteered for American Heart Association walks. She elected to put off college for a while and joined the Army once out of school. At Fort Campbell, KY, she was assigned as a weapons supply manager to the 129th Corps Support Battalion.

She was LaVena Johnson, private first class, and she died near Balad, Iraq, on July 19, 2005, just eight days shy of her twentieth birthday. She was the first woman soldier from Missouri to die while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The tragedy of her story begins there.

Army Resorts to Criminals

Well, that's one way to meet military recruiting goals: admit more felons! Or serious misdemeanor-ers, at least. The Army is spending so-called "moral waivers" the way sailors spend money on shore leave. The number of waivers granted to recruits with criminal backgrounds is up a whopping 65 percent over the last three years. Catch the money graf at the end of the quote:

Real Debate about Obama Ignores His Race

Enough is enough.

I have tried mightily to get through the gray winter landscape (if not farther) without commenting on the political wankery surrounding the skin color of Barack Obama - for the love of God, Montressor, the election is nearly two years away! - but the smug mindlessness of Mickey Kaus is just a bridge too far.

Chinese anti-weather satellite aggression

Meteorologists in the United States, Japan, and other nations protested the destruction of an aging weather satellite by the People's Republic of China. This demonstration of anti-weather satellite technology - involving a ballistic missile which rammed a Feng Yun 1C polar orbit weather satellite - represented a clear and present danger to the ability of local weathermen and women to make vague yet tantalizing five-day forecasts, according to Jim Ravenel, chairman of the National Weather Association.

Can you spot the Iraq analogy?

President Bush discharged one of his many obligatory ceremonial duties yesterday in welcoming to the White House the reigning World Series champs, the St. Louis Cardinals. While it's no surprise that all presidential addresses are political in nature, the the somewhat strained analogy to the war in Iraq - or rather, to the "character" of the Ball Fan in Chief - makes you shake your head in disbelief:

More to Rehnquist than met the eye

Regarding the recently released FBI file on former Chief Justice William Rehnquist: We should be gravely concerned about the possibility that a federal law enforcement entity was used for such blatantly political ends as the investigation and possible intimidation of witness opposed to the nomination of a Supreme Court justice...just as we hardly surprised that once-UN ambassador and political hatchet man John Bolton may have played a willing role.

As if that wasn't enough, the file also conjures the startling image of a thoroughly unbalanced Rehnquist withdrawing from painkillers, trying to escape a hospital, running around in pajamas and ranting wildly of being a target of the CIA. It sounds like an excerpt from the work of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson (whom Rehnquist somewhat resembled, come to think of it).

Is your local paper listening to soldiers dissent?

It's rather likely that no matter how you-the-individual feel about the American occupation of Iraq or George Bush's leadership as a self-described "war president," you'd assume that most active-duty soldiers largely support the president and his Iraq policy. According to a recently-released poll of service members, however, you'd be dead wrong.

Guest-posting at the Washington Monthly, Steve Benen of The Carpetbagger Report notes that a poll of 6,000 active-duty personnel conducted by the newspapers of the Military Times (Army Times, Navy Times, Air Force Times and Marine Times) reaches conclusions that fly in the face of common conceptions on Iraq - conclusions that have so far gone largely unremarked in the press:

An eclipse in the season of light

Last night found my wife and me at the house of a friend, a minister, along with another couple who were long-time friends of the hostess. It was a warm and congenial evening in a comfortable room with a wood fire, a brightly decorated Christmas tree, a sleepy cat, good company.

At one point, the husband in the other couple paused to answer his cell phone. He listened for a bit, then spoke briefly before hanging up. He looked up at us.

"They hung Saddam," he said.

The Sistani supremacy

There was once a time - seems a lifetime ago - when Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's foremost Shiite cleric, seemed the most indispensable man in all of that tortured land. He forced the United States to accept one-person, one-vote elections in Iraq, making his case by bringing thousands of protestors to the street; he compelled wildcard Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to agree to a peace plan that would force armed fighters and foreign forces from the cities of Najaf and Kuba.

Sistani was the most revered figure in the Shia sphere and the closest thing to a national figure to be found in Iraq - but his rather deliberate style and non-violent approach did not sway the embittered young and poor among the Shia who desired vengeance against their Sunni rivals and the American occupier. The star of the firebrand Sadr was bound to rise in such an environment, favored as he became by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. In comparison, Sistani receded from view, his comparative influence waning - until now.

Worse than Al Qaeda?

The most thoroughly damning aspect of the Bush administration's approach to Iraq - that is, if you discount the fraudulent rationale for launching the invasion, the incompetent handling of the occupation, and the total lack of an exit strategy - has been the wholesale politicization and manipulation of facts and events, all in the name of generating and retaining public support for the war. This litany of deception ranges from the spinning of heroic mythologies from whole cloth (as in the "rescue" of Pfc. Jessica Lynch and the false original accounts of the death of Spec. Pat Tillman) to the cover-up of prisoner abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison to the refusal to acknowledge the brute reality of a civil war in Iraq. There are reasons, of course; barring pure pathology, there are always rational objectives behind lies and obfuscations, always rewards to be gained from deception. In this case, the reward was much-needed public backing for a military adventure whose fortunes have turned so dramatically and inevitably downward. This much was to be expected; what comes as a surprise is the sheer expediency of the deception, the disposability of the lie. Our collective memory is not strong, and this has not escaped the notice of those in charge of telling us the story of the war. Lies need linger only so long in order to serve their purpose. Who remembers Jessica Lynch now?

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