Saturday, June 18, 2005

John Conyers, a Real Patriot

John Conyers' Letter to the Washington Post
June 17, 2005

Mr. Michael Abramowitz, National Editor;
Mr. Michael Getler, Ombudsman;
Mr. Dana Milbank;
The Washington Post,
1150 15th Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20071

Dear Sirs:

I write to express my profound disappointment with Dana Milbank's June 17 report, "Democrats Play House to Rally Against the War," which purports to describe a Democratic hearing I chaired in the Capitol yesterday. In sum, the piece cherry-picks some facts, manufactures others out of whole cloth, and does a disservice to some 30 members of Congress who persevered under difficult circumstances, not of our own making, to examine a very serious subject: whether the American people were deliberately misled in the lead up to war. The fact that this was the Post's only coverage of this event makes the journalistic shortcomings in this piece even more egregious.

In an inaccurate piece of reporting that typifies the article, Milbank implies that one of the obstacles the Members in the meeting have is that "only one" member has mentioned the Downing Street Minutes on the floor of either the House or Senate. This is not only incorrect but misleading. In fact, just yesterday, the Senate Democratic Leader, Harry Reid, mentioned it on the Senate floor. Senator Boxer talked at some length about it at the recent confirmation hearing for the Ambassador to Iraq. The House Democratic Leader, Nancy Pelosi, recently signed on to my letter, along with 121 other Democrats asking for answers about the memo. This information is not difficult to find either. For example, the Reid speech was the subject of an AP wire service report posted on the Washington Post website with the headline "Democrats Cite Downing Street Memo in Bolton Fight". Other similar mistakes, mischaracterizations and cheap shots are littered throughout the article.

The article begins with an especially mean and nasty tone, claiming that House Democrats "pretended" a small conference was the Judiciary Committee hearing room and deriding the decor of the room. Milbank fails to share with his readers one essential fact: the reason the hearing was held in that room, an important piece of context. Despite the fact that a number of other suitable rooms were available in the Capitol and House office buildings, Republicans declined my request for each and every one of them. Milbank could have written about the perseverance of many of my colleagues in the face of such adverse circumstances, but declined to do so. Milbank also ignores the critical fact picked up by the AP, CNN and other newsletters that at the very moment the hearing was scheduled to begin, the Republican Leadership scheduled an almost unprecedented number of 11 consecutive floor votes, making it next to impossible for most Members to participate in the first hour and one half of the hearing.

In what can only be described as a deliberate effort to discredit the entire hearing, Milbank quotes one of the witnesses as making an anti-semitic assertion and further describes anti-semitic literature that was being handed out in the overflow room for the event. First, let me be clear: I consider myself to be friend and supporter of Israel and there were a number of other staunchly pro-Israel members who were in attendance at the hearing. I do not agree with, support, or condone any comments asserting Israeli control over U.S. policy, and I find any allegation that Israel is trying to dominate the world or had anything to do with the September 11 tragedy disgusting and offensive.

That said, to give such emphasis to 100 seconds of a 3 hour and five minute hearing that included the powerful and sad testimony (hardly mentioned by Milbank) of a woman who lost her son in the Iraq war and now feels lied to as a result of the Downing Street Minutes, is incredibly misleading. Many, many different pamphlets were being passed out at the overflow room, including pamphlets about getting out of the Iraq war and anti-Central American Free Trade Agreement, and it is puzzling why Milbank saw fit to only mention the one he did.

In a typically derisive and uninformed passage, Milbank makes much of other lawmakers calling me "Mr. Chairman" and says I liked it so much that I used "chairmanly phrases." Milbank may not know that I was the Chairman of the House Government Operations Committee from 1988 to 1994. By protocol and tradition in the House, once you have been a Chairman you are always referred to as such. Thus, there was nothing unusual about my being referred to as Mr. Chairman.

To administer his coup-de-grace, Milbank literally makes up another cheap shot that I "was having so much fun that [I] ignored aides' entreaties to end the session." This did not occur. None of my aides offered entreaties to end the session and I have no idea where Milbank gets that information. The hearing certainly ran longer than expected, but that was because so many Members of Congress persevered under very difficult circumstances to attend, and I thought - given that - the least I could do was allow them to say their piece. That is called courtesy, not "fun."

By the way, the "Downing Street Memo" is actually the minutes of a British cabinet meeting. In the meeting, British officials - having just met with their American counterparts - describe their discussions with such counterparts. I mention this because that basic piece of context, a simple description of the memo, is found nowhere in Milbank's article.

The fact that I and my fellow Democrats had to stuff a hearing into a room the size of a large closet to hold a hearing on an important issue shouldn't make us the object of ridicule. In my opinion, the ridicule should be placed in two places: first, at the feet of Republicans who are so afraid to discuss ideas and facts that they try to sabotage our efforts to do so; and second, on Dana Milbank and the Washington Post, who do not feel the need to give serious coverage on a serious hearing about a serious matter-whether more than 1700 Americans have died because of a deliberate lie. Milbank may disagree, but the Post certainly owed its readers some coverage of that viewpoint.

John Conyers, Jr.

Common Dreams

John Conyers

Wednesday, June 01, 2005


note- I originally intended to post this on my other blog (The Synthetic Universe. If you haven't checked it out yet, feel free to follow the link and be prepared for the controversial).

I have finished a book entitled FOOD OF THE GODS by Terence McKenna and I feel compelled to write about it. If you're not familiar with the book, I encourage you to hunt it down and pick it up for a shocking read. What this man has to say needs to be heard by all humans.

In our world, we are bombarded by altered states of consciousness. We get high on love, sex, television, movies, music, sports, religion, and every other facet of cultural experience. In essence, we spend our lives chasing experiences which provide coping mechanisms against the hardships of life on earth. Every human habitually seeks altered states of consciousness through a practically endless supply of social "drugs". Much can be said about chemical dependence through narcotic consumption (i.e. alcohol, coffee, tobacco, cannabis, heroine, cocaine, sugar), but our society consistently ignores the REAL plague of "drug" abuse as it functions through the facets of television addiction, consumer addiction, power and control addiction, material addiction, etc. It needs to be understood that these addictions represent a greater threat to the well-being of society than the stigmatized habits of traditional chemical dependence. Traditionally understood "drugs" can be dangerous on an individual level when users become abusers out of ignorance. Yet, our society consistently fails to acknowledge the greater dangers of functional addiction made manifest by media programming, technological dependence, and consumerism. These trends ultimately threaten the stability and security of society to a much greater extent than the indiviual consumption of chemical "drugs".

Humans are fundamentally creatures of habit. Our brains learn through imitation, and our behavior is determined through habit. Our brains transform experience into habit when we encouter something that provides a sense of "relief" or "pleasure" (i.e. comfort or security). In this way, we develope a dependence on our favorite foods, television programs, ideological beliefs, and daily routines. However, because our environment represents one "trip" after another, we shouldn't abstain from the various experiences of life. This is impossible, and by doing so we essentially become dead to life, and we fail to realize the raw potential of the human experience. What good is a life on hold? Such a life is dead to itself and the world.

Instead, we should realize the very nature of experience and make the highest effort to learn from our experiences and communicate what we learn to those around us. Of course, we should exercise caution in everything we do, but life and risk go hand in hand, and the ultimate safeguard against danger is knowledge. I am a firm believer in moderation, not prohibition. This means we should occassionally turn the television off. This means we should occassionally fast and purify our bodies from the toxins of "modernity". This means we should expand our minds through the process of learning and creativity, and we should avoid the pitfalls of dogmatic thinking.

Everything in our world can be a "drug" to the mind. Abstinence can cause stagnation, but experience guided by knowledge can revolutionize the way we understand our world. We need to expand our awareness of the world around us, and by doing so, enhance the quality of our lives. We should avoid the mistakes of our ancestors who commited atrocious acts of inhumanity, not as the result of chemical dependence, but as the consquence of malignant ideology. The world is what we make it, and knowledge is the greatest defense against the forces of maladaption. The revolutions of progress begin with the exercise of wisedom, and this can only be realized through the moderation, analysis, and communication of experience.