Published: October 10, 2004
Lies and the Lying C.E.O.'s Who Tell Them
How in the world does corporate America expect to regain investors' trust when it makes boneheaded moves like this?
CAMPAIGN 2004: THE BIG ISSUES </nyt_kicker>
How to Rescue Education Reform
Americans are generally stunned to learn that their schools perform poorly and have been losing ground when compared to those of industrialized nations abroad. This country once led the world in high school graduation rates, but it has dropped to 14th, well behind nations like France, Germany and Japan. We have tumbled even further when it comes to student achievement in reading, math and science. At a time when a college degree is the price of admission to the new economy, the college-going rate has flattened over all and appears to be dropping among the poor.
Most of the nations that are passing us by educationally have a national commitment to strong curriculums and intensive oversight of teacher training and educational progress. The United States employs a radically decentralized system under which the states do as they choose. The result is a wildly uneven system littered with educational dead zones.
Despite its difficulties, the No Child Left Behind Act is potentially the most important education reform since the nation embraced mandatory schooling. The Bush administration nearly capsized the law when it gave the cash-short states new educational burdens without providing the money it had promised. But the recent revelations about the Department of Education offered by the G.A.O. and other, nongovernment critics reveal an equally serious problem: The government agency in charge of the most important education reform in 100 years lacks the capacity, courage and leadership to do its job.
Congress can stand idly by and wait for the reform effort to collapse, or it can provide the states with the money it promised and build the capacity and authority that the Education Department needs to further reform. The clock is ticking and time is short.
OP-ED COLUMNIST </nyt_kicker>
George Bush is not giving an inch on Iraq. He's toughing out the cascade of confirmation and criticism from his own people about the hyperpower hyperbole that led to an unnecessary war and an unruly occupation. His advisers say it's better for the president to appear out of touch than apologetic. He'd rather seem delusional than deluded.
He can't admit what the Duelfer report says, that Saddam was no threat to the U.S. or any other country. The mushroom cloud was a Fig Newton of Dick Cheney's feverish imagination. That would mean W. didn't fix his father's screw-up, but he screwed up his father's fix. A big Oedipal oops.
OP-ED COLUMNIST </nyt_kicker>
The Other Intelligence Failure
Let's start with a simple observation: There have been some 125 suicide bomb attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq in the last 16 months, carried out most likely by Sunni Muslims. We need to think about this. There is some kind of suicide-supply chain working in the Muslim world and in Iraq that is able to draw recruits, connect them with bomb makers and deploy them tactically against U.S. and Iraqi targets on an almost daily basis. What is even more unnerving about these suicide bombers is that, unlike the Hamas crew in Israel, who produce videos of themselves, explain their rationale and say goodbye to families, virtually all the bombers in Iraq have blown themselves up without even telling us their names.
We don't really know how they are chosen, trained, indoctrinated, armed and launched. What we know is that the suicide bombers have killed and maimed hundreds of Iraqis, many of them waiting to join the police or army, and in doing so have done more to block U.S. efforts to reconstruct Iraq than any other factor. To put it bluntly: We are up against an enemy we do not know and cannot see - but who is undermining the whole U.S. mission. In fairness, this sort of network is very hard to crack, especially when it has the support of many Sunnis, but our ignorance about it is part of a broader lack of understanding of changes within Iraqi society.
The Promise of the First Amendment
Why does all of this matter? The possibility of being forced to leave one's family and sent to jail simply for doing your job is an appalling prospect for any journalist - indeed, any citizen. But as concerned as we are with our colleague's loss of liberty, there are even bigger issues at stake for us all.
The press simply cannot perform its intended role if its sources of information - particularly information about the government - are cut off. Yes, the press is far from perfect. We are human and make mistakes. But, the authors of our Constitution and its First Amendment understood all of that and for good reason prescribed that journalists should function as a "fourth estate." As Justice Potter Stewart put it, the primary purpose of the constitutional guarantee of a free press was "to create a fourth institution outside the government as an additional check on the three official branches."
For Israeli artist Emilio Mogilner, this experience offers a powerful, if unflinchingly direct, metaphor: we, as a people and as a planet, are on our last gasp. We’re facing suffocation--environmentally, socially, politically, even spiritually--and how we live our final breath is the essential question. Mogilner’s artistic practice centers on a process he calls “1 Breath Time”: holding his breath, he lunges desperately with paint brushes, frantically filling large canvases with expressionistic gestures and multicolored representational images. When the air runs out, sometimes resulting in a loss of consciousness, the painting is finished. His message is literal (the body’s overdose of carbon dioxide parallels the processes of the greenhouse effect) as well as symbolic, but the method circumvents logic, he says. As oxygen dwindles and the body kicks into survival mode, the art becomes primal, driven by something that transcends knowledge of technique or expectations about how art should look.
While he likens his artmaking to the survival instincts of a West Bank protester dodging a teargas canister or a New Yorker avoiding the poison dust of the shattered World Trade Center, Mogilner’s inspiration for 1 Breath Time arises from more personal sources. In 2001, a masked gunman entered his studio in Rehovot and shot him with an M16 at point-blank range, ripping his right arm off at the shoulder. He grabbed his severed limb—his dominant painting arm—jumped out the window, and took refuge under a tree. There, groggily drifting toward death, an image of his one-year old daughter entered his mind. Motivated to stay alive, he grabbed his arm and in a surprising burst of strength ran to the hospital, where it was reattached (but never regained full function). He learned to paint with his left hand, but within a year of the attack, gave it up, finding painting an impotent act in such troubled times. But a few words spoken by his brother changed all that: Breath is time. “And when he told me those words—boom—like from the sky, the same as when I saw the face of my little girl, I received a message: 1 Breath Time. This is the only breath that I have for survival,” says Mogilner. “This is the only breath that can lead the human race to social and environmental revolution.”
Now Mogilner and a team of 1 Breath Time artists lead workshops with children and adults—Arab and Israeli alike—to help them connect with their “survival momentum,” the visual depiction of their essential final mission. When the breath is gone, says Mogilner, the painting is finished. But watching him create his work, it’s easy to ponder a hopeful beginning: the human race’s last gasp has a striking resemblance to a newborn’s fierce struggle for its first breath.
- Paul Schmelzer
To read the 1 Breath Time Manifesto or see video of Mogilner’s work, visit www.1breathtime.com.