• Written by Robert Jensen

Saying goodbye to my “Fargo” accent

by Robert Jensen

Ever since the movie “Fargo” came out a decade ago, my ability to mimic the Scandinavian-inflected accent of my hometown and home state of North Dakota has been a guaranteed way to elicit laughter during my public speaking.

That joking ended earlier this month, when I realized -- in a painfully public manner -- that my use of that North Dakota accent was in a small but undeniable way supportive of a white-supremacist account of the history of this country. The story of that episode illustrates not just the depth of the pathology of white America but also a way we white folks can -- with self-reflection and help from others -- start to transform ourselves.

For those who have never seen the 1996 movie or heard a white person from the Dakotas or Minnesota (despite the title “Fargo,” which is the largest city in North Dakota, the film is set in Minnesota), the accent has an amusing sing-songy quality and trademark phrases such as, “Ah, geez” and “Yah, you betcha!” In print it may not sound particularly funny, but with the right delivery it can be a crowd-pleaser.

That is, it’s a crowd pleaser in certain crowds -- such as an audience at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where I was speaking, and where few are likely to think much about real Dakota history.

I was at the university to participate in a panel on racism and white privilege, a subject about which I’ve written a book, making me an alleged expert. In my introductory remarks I made reference to my upbringing in North Dakota and the accent made famous by the movie, using it for a bit of comic relief in a discussion of a difficult subject.

On that panel with me was D. Anthony Tyeeme Clark, a professor of American Indian Studies at that university and a citizen of the Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa. Although I didn’t poll the audience, I’m pretty sure Clark was one of the few indigenous people there. (Clark told me later that of the 100-plus students and faculty who have self-identified as American Indian on campus in recent years, about 15 to 20 are citizens of Indian nations or tribal members, and even fewer are tribally connected.) Add a comment

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  • Written by Will Durst

Reading Isn't Fundamental

by Will Durst

Right about now is when it could come in real handy to have a President who reads. A book learning wonk. A guy not allergic to the printed word. George W Bush even admitted it himself. I think his exact quote was: “I don’t read.” And you know what, I believe him. Then this summer, something happened. I think it was part of that midterm campaign thing, when the President claimed his beach reading list included Camus’ “The Stranger” and what he referred to as “3 Shakespeares.” 3 Shakespeares? Sounds like a customer at Baskin- Robbins ordering up a triple scoop of smart. And very suspicious coming from a man famous for struggling through the same page of “My Pet Goat” for 10 minutes.

The whole reading deal is important here because he should have been tempted to give the Iraq Study Group Report a brief scan before repeating “The Study Group agrees with me.” Unh. No. They don’t. He said this during a joint press conference with Tony Blair that could have been a Tivo of any of his previous eighty gazilliion press conferences with Tony Blair. Tony looks and sounds like a statesman and George like an eighth grader trying to fake his way through a book report on a classic he didn’t bother to skim. Does the term “Cliff Notes” have any meaning here?

At the risk of switching milieus, we’re stuck in “Groundhog Day.” Doesn’t matter what happens, we wake up the next morning and instead of hearing Sonny & Cher singing “I Got You Babe” we get the President playing the same lame game he has for three years: “Its a tough time. Going to take some hard work. We’re working hard.” His supporters say he’s resolute. You know what, resolute isn’t always a good thing. Butt cancer is resolute. Add a comment

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  • Written by Winter Patriot

More on Derrick Shareef, the "Air Grenadist" of Rockford, Illinois

by Winter Patriot

Derrick Shareef, about whom I wrote last Friday, wanted to be a "terrorist" so badly he couldn't see any of the signs that he was being set up, and he may spend the rest of his life in prison for his lack of ... what? ... awareness? discretion? common sense? ... or all of the above?!

Big Dan, who makes frequent and very funny comments at my blog, has taken to calling Derrick Shareef the "Air Grenadist", following a suggestion from Bluebear2, another regular and very funny commentor. It's a variation on the term "Air Guitarist", which of course refers to a person pretending to play a guitar that isn't there.


Shareef is charged with a crime which, had it taken place, would have involved weapons which -- according to some of the early news reports -- he never managed to obtain. However, according to an affadavit filed in the case, Shareef did obtain "weapons" (just before he was arrested), but they wouldn't have worked for him! So either he was playing an air guitar or else his guitar had no strings on it!

How do I know this? It's a long story, but I'll tell it as quickly as I can.

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  • Written by Mel Seesholtz

Homo Hunters: Portraits in Pathology

By Mel Seesholtz, Ph.D.
Ed Vitagliano is the “news” editor of the American Family Association Journal. He’s also the AFA “researcher” who started the gay SpongeBob fiasco, and he’s still hunting gays and suggesting new ways to demean them. His tactics focus on thwarting understanding and encouraging ignorance.

In a recent article Mr. Vitagliano took aim at public education:

The influence of homosexual activists within the nation’s educational system continues to grow, altering the attitudes of children and teens toward the acceptance of a destructive and depraved lifestyle.

Often without parental knowledge, local schools are instituting policy changes that not only promote respect for homosexuality, but often even celebrate it. … [italics added]

What could be more “destructive and depraved” than a man dedicated to demeaning young gay people and encouraging prejudice against them? Add a comment

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  • Written by Norman Solomon

Is the USA the Center of the World?

By Norman Solomon

Some things don’t seem to change. Five years after I wrote this column in the form of a news dispatch, it seems more relevant than ever:

WASHINGTON -- There were unconfirmed reports yesterday that the United States is not the center of the world.

The White House had no immediate comment on the reports, which set off a firestorm of controversy in the nation’s capital.

Speaking on background, a high-ranking official at the State Department discounted the possibility that the reports would turn out to be true. “If that were the case,” he said, “don’t you think we would have known about it a long time ago?”

On Capitol Hill, leaders of both parties were quick to rebut the assertion. “That certain news organizations would run with such a poorly sourced and obviously slanted story tells us that the liberal media are still up to their old tricks, despite the current crisis,” a GOP lawmaker fumed. A prominent Democrat, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said that classified briefings to congressional intelligence panels had disproved such claims long ago.
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  • Written by Stephen Soldz

650,000 dead given voice in Congress

by Stephen Soldz

I just watched the Congressional briefing on the Lancet Iraqi casualty study: "650,000 excess deaths in Iraq". Speaking were Gilbert Burnham, Les Roberts, and Juan Cole. The briefing was organized by Rep, Kucinich, with the support of rep. Ron Paul.

The briefing was to discuss the October 2006 study Mortality after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: a cross-sectional cluster sample survey,which appeared in the British medical journal The Lancet. This study estimated that 655,000 more Iraqis had died ("excess deaths") since the invasion than would have died if the prewar rate of death (mortality) had continued. It further estimated that about 600,000 of these had died from violence.

I have great respect for Rep. Kucinich, who kept the entire briefing focused on the effects of the fighting on the Iraqi people and on Iraqi society. It is the first time I've seen anyone from the U.S. government focus on Iraqis and what they have experienced and what they are suffering. For example, he asked about the effects on Iraqi society of the loss of so many young men. He also asked about the creation of Iraqi orphans. Unfortunately, none of the three scholars had any real information on these topics, a sign of how little we really know about what is going on in that unfortunate country. Add a comment

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  • Written by Dave Lindorff

Torture, Impeachment and a Vietnam Veteran's Tears

by Dave Lindorff

The true horror of what President Bush--and the Republican-led 109th Congress--have done to all of us American citizens by authorizing torture in our names came clear during a talk I was giving on impeachment to a group organized by the New Jersey chapter of Progressive Democrats of America.

I had been reciting the growing list of Bush crimes against the Constitution and the laws of the land and had gotten to the issue of torture. At that point a large guy in the back of the room, a marine veteran of the Vietnam War who was proudly wearing a baseball hat emblazoned with the words "Third Marine Division" and "Vietnam Veterans Against the War," offered up the comment that he had witnessed torture in Vietnam. Add a comment

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  • Written by Joel S. Hirschhorn

Economic Apartheid Kills

by Joel S. Hirschhorn

To be successful in overturning our elitist plutocratic system we should add economic apartheid to our semantic arsenal. Better than economic inequality, economic injustice and class warfare, because apartheid is loaded with richly deserved negative emotions. Sadly, in South Africa , economic apartheid has taken over from racial apartheid.

How ironic that the Bush administration successfully talked up the global threat from terrorism while it pursued domestic and foreign policies promoting economic apartheid, a far greater and more pervasive threat to national and global stability.

The human race on planet Earth, taken as an aggregate mass abstraction, may be getting richer. But a new report from the World Institute for Development Economics Research of the United Nations University shows that wealth creation is remarkably - one might say criminally - unequal. Follow this hierarchy at the top of the wealth pyramid: The richest 1 percent of adults alone owned 40 percent of global assets in the year 2000; the richest 2 percent owned more than half of global household wealth; and the richest 10 percent of adults accounted for 85% of the world total. That leaves very little for the remaining 90 percent of the global population. Could it be any worse? Yes, the rich are still getting richer, more millionaires are becoming billionaires.

As to the world's lower class: the bottom half of the world adult population owned barely 1 percent of global wealth, defined as net worth: the value of physical and financial assets less debts. Over a billion poor people subsist on less than one dollar a day. Every day, according to UNICEF, 30,000 children die due to poverty – that's over 10 million children killed by poverty every year! Global economic apartheid is killing people.
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  • Written by Andrew Bard Schmookler

The Pro-Life Position on Climate Change

by Andrew Bard Schmookler

The sacred, it would seem, is deeply and inextricably connected with that miraculous quality we call Life.

Life is inseparable from the whole domain of value. If the universe were lifeless, how could anything really matter? It is life –and the needs of living creatures—that makes one course of events better or worse than another.

Life also is the epitome of the Wholeness that is the essence of the Good and the Beautiful—Wholeness being defined as the ordering of things in an ideal way. Whether one believes that life on earth is the result of an undirected evolutionary process, or that it shows the handiwork of some kind of intelligent Designer, one can hardly behold the fabric of life without a feeling of awe for the incredible intricacy of how life has ordered the matter and energy of which it is composed.

One can surely judge the godliness –or lack of it—of any political leadership by the attitude it brings to the needs of life.
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  • Written by Mickey Z

"Defending our interests and our people" (lessons from Panama)

by Mickey Z.

Close your eyes. Try to visualize a nation whose people are ruled by a despot, a tyrant allied with none other than the U.S. government. Keep your eyes closed and now imagine that same autocrat falling out of favor with his American patrons. Picture him demonized in the press. Envision his country invaded. In your mind's eye, you can see him arrested and forced to stand trial. Finally, conjure up an image of the man behind all this... a man named Bush.

Open your eyes. If you thought you were dreaming of Saddam and Iraq and Dubya, think again because we're coming up on the seventeenth anniversary of another American intervention in a little place David Lee Roth likes to call Panama.

On December 20, 1989 - just two weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall - President George H.W. Bush ushered in the post-Cold War era by sending 25,000 troops into Noriega's Panama. Called Operation Just Cause (sic), the foray would have been deemed a "surprise attack" if any other nation had initiated it.

"That invasion, less than eight months before Iraq invaded Kuwait, was condemned by the UN General Assembly," explains former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark. "No action was taken, although the United States violated all the international laws later violated by Iraq when it invaded Kuwait, plus a number of Western Hemisphere conventions and the Panama Canal Treaties."

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America's Shame: Brought Low By a Gang of Cretins

by Chris Floyd

Only Six Fluent in Arabic at U.S. Embassy in Iraq (Reuters)
Among the 1,000 people who work in the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, only 33 are Arabic speakers and only six speak the language fluently, according to the Iraq Study Group report released on Wednesday.
This tells you pretty much all you need to know about the American debacle in Iraq. Imagine the arrogance and stupidity of conquering, occupying and trying to run a country without being able to speak its language. A nation of 26 million people – and your embassy has only six people who can actually understand what is being said, written, and broadcast there. This is a folly that amounts to a monstrous crime in itself, aside from the inherent evil of launching an unprovoked war of aggression.

Evil is the only word to describe the wilful ignorance at work throughout the entire process of the Iraq War, from its inception to its execution to the catastrophic endgame now unfolding before our eyes. The reality of the situation is almost unimaginable, almost unend urable: that the most powerful nation in the history of the world has thrown itself, deliberately, for no compelling reason whatsoever beyond the selfish interests of a few elitist cliques, into a cauldron of mass murder and moral ruin, whose financial, political and spiritual costs will be felt, with deep suffering, for generations. Add a comment

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  • Written by Tom Engelhardt

Tomgram: Jamail, Emails from the Front Lines of Iraqi Daily Life

by Tom Engelhardt

[Note to Readers: For those of you who want a provocative and fascinating background overview of the ever-roiling crisis in the Middle East at this perilous moment, here's a Tomdispatch.com recommendation. Don't miss the just published book-length conversation between Noam Chomsky and Lebanese scholar Gilbert Achcar, Perilous Power: The Middle East and U.S. Foreign Policy.]

Right now, we have on the table a "possible exit strategy" from Iraq -- James A. Baker's Iraq Study Group report -- that, once you do the figures, doesn't get the U.S. even close to halfway out the door by sometime in 2008; and that report is already being rejected by the Republican and neocon hard right; by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, who continues to plug for some form of "victory" ("The enemy must be defeated...") on his last lap in Iraq, while still flaying the media for only reporting the "bad news"; by a President who is still on the IED-pitted road to success ("Not only do I know how important it is to prevail, I believe we will prevail..."), has called for three other reviews of Iraq policy (by the Pentagon, National Security Council, and White House) in an attempt to flood Washington with competing recommendations, and is probably on the verge of "surging" 15,000-20,000 more U.S. troops into Baghdad.

All sides in this strange struggle in Washington would add up to so much political low comedy if the consequences in Iraq and the Middle East, the oil heartlands of our increasingly energy-hungry planet, weren't so horrific. As Andrew Bacevich, historian, former military man, and author of The New American Militarism, wrote recently in the Boston Globe, Iraq's many contradictions "render laughably inadequate the proposals currently on offer to save Iraq and salvage American honor. Dispatch a few thousand additional US troops into Baghdad? Take another stab at creating a viable Iraqi army? Lean on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to make ‘hard decisions?' One might as well spit on a bonfire."

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