Friday, December 31, 2004

The Creation of A Gamma Class

In a December 23, 2004 NYTimes article,"Students to Bear More of the Cost of College" Greg Winter notes that, thanks to George Bush's compassionate conservatism, at least 1.3 million recipients of Pell Grants, the fed's main low-income college scholarship, will be getting less money next year, and almost 90,000 will get nothing at all. Now, this is a grant of about $4000 a year, max, and is often given in lesser amounts. Given the average cost of college, ($12,841 for public and $27,677 for private facilities,) even the maximum Pell isn't going to go too far. And this at a time when education costs have become so overwhelming that current graduates will be living with a crushing and almost life-long debt, a problem that The Village Voice examined in a series of articles last week.
The "domino effect", Winter predicts, will render grants and loans from states and institutions even more difficult to obtain. This means there is a greater ikelihood of personal loans being taken out for college, and we all know what has happened to the banking and loan industries in the tender years since Reagan released the sharks to do their worst on the poor of America.

What happens when education is no longer within reach of the poor, or even the middle-class? Why, you get Coolie America, a ready-made serving class without recourse or hope, glad to get what ill-paid, benefitless work it can, dulled by exhaustion and lack of opportunity, and clueless as to what the world may offer beyond one's day-to-day experiences. How perfect for the growing retail/service economy that relies increasingly on the availability of employees who will accept the bare minimum of workplace amenities, and will place no burdens on their management, no inconvenient unions, no fair labor demands! How else to compete with the sweatshops of the world but to create sweatshops of our own, and an uneducated gamma class to toil in them?

But you don't have to go as far as denying higher education to people in order to soften them up for cooliehood. We've got the American education system for that, and it's had scores of decades to dumb down the children it absorbs. We've seen the result coming to full fruition the last 30 years, and nowhere in the developed world do you find the hatred and fear of intellect and learning that you do in the United States. Book-bannings and -burnings, accusations of "elitism" hurled against political candidates who make the mistake of speaking a foreign language or having a liberal education, knowledge held in suspicion by people who are proud of their benightedness both in the countryside, where it becomes painted as "city liberal", and in the inner city, where it is labeled "acting white".

Into all this comes John Taylor Gatto, a firebrand trouble-making radical, whose writings on education are informed with years of teaching experience, and inspired by a great anger at the results of a system he believes has been created specifically to dumb down and pacify its millions of participants. His "AGAINST SCHOOL: How Public Education Cripples Our Kids, and Why", was published in Harper's in 2001, and he makes the point that historically, dating as far back as the beginning of the 20th century, public education was conceived as a way to induce in students conformity and an acceptance of a pre-disposed role in society, and to isolate and nurture those few identified as the elite, whose education would be higher, and who would become the future "caretakers" of the rest of their poor befuddled contemporaries. In fact, the author he cites as one of the architects of the American education philosophy, Alexander Inglis, could have been the very inspiration for Huxley's Brave New World:
"Inglis breaks down the purpose - the actual purpose - of modem schooling into six basic functions, any one of which is enough to curl the hair of those innocent enough to believe the three traditional goals listed earlier:
1) The adjustive or adaptive function. Schools are to establish fixed habits of reaction to authority. This, of course, precludes critical judgment completely. It also pretty much destroys the idea that useful or interesting material should be taught, because you can't test for reflexive obedience until you know whether you can make kids learn, and do, foolish and boring things.
2) The integrating function. This might well be called "the conformity function," because its intention is to make children as alike as possible. People who conform are predictable, and this is of great use to those who wish to harness and manipulate a large labor force.
3) The diagnostic and directive function. School is meant to determine each student's proper social role. This is done by logging evidence mathematically and anecdotally on cumulative records. As in "your permanent record." Yes, you do have one.
4) The differentiating function. Once their social role has been "diagnosed," children are to be sorted by role and trained only so far as their destination in the social machine merits - and not one step further. So much for making kids their personal best.
5) The selective function. This refers not to human choice at all but to Darwin's theory of natural selection as applied to what he called "the favored races." In short, the idea is to help things along by consciously attempting to improve the breeding stock. Schools are meant to tag the unfit - with poor grades, remedial placement, and other punishments - clearly enough that their peers will accept them as inferior and effectively bar them from the reproductive sweepstakes. That's what all those little humiliations from first grade onward were intended to do: wash the dirt down the drain.
6) The propaedeutic function. The societal system implied by these rules will require an elite group of caretakers. To that end, a small fraction of the kids will quietly be taught how to manage this continuing project, how to watch over and control a population deliberately dumbed down and declawed in order that government might proceed unchallenged and corporations might never want for obedient labor."
Elimination of meaningful education, elimination of the means to get one, and remove the books and other human communications that could enable one to get an education on one's own. Demonize the mere idea of being educated, and the people themselves will do the rest. The fat cats can sit back and lett the money roll in, while the endless supply of coolies keep coming down the pipeline.

And so it goes, as Vonnegut used to say.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

A Little Perspective

So I'm piecing together what happened while I was away, and here is how it looks like it went down:

1.) Sunday, Dec. 26, an earthquake with a magnitude of 9.0--the biggest in 4 decades--hits SE Asia and sets off a tsunami of incredible devastation.

2.) The first offer from the US was 15 million, with Colin Powell on the case, and USAID Director Ed Fox promising, oh, at least another $10m:
"Powell said $100,000 had already been given to each of India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, and the United States was in talks to contribute $4 million to the International Red Cross.
"It's anticipated that we'll add -- at least immediately -- another probably $10 million for a total of about $15 million in our initial response to this tragedy," Fox said. "
3.) Now it's up to 35 million with a vague promise of more in the future.

4.) Bush, eager to make excuses for the appearance of cheapness, and undeterred by the prospect of flaunting the extent of his ignorance, pipes up with this:
"I felt like the person who made that statement was very misguided and ill-informed,' Bush said.
He noted that in 2004, the United States spent $2.4 billion on humanitarian relief to cover disasters, adding, `That's 40 percent of all the relief aid given in the world last year."
And playing the "good dog" soldier to the last, Colin Powell chimes in with the same note:
"Powell said the United States "has given more aid in the last four years than any other nation or combination of nations in the world."
But a look at the stats, broken down relatively by % of GNP shows that the US has been consistently and always at the bottom for years, behind such tiny countries as Luxembourg, Austria, and Finland, and trailing powerhouses like Japan and the UK. The freepers are all over this "insult" to the US, babbling the usual "if the UN doesn't like it we can just pull our big bucks outta there" line. But if you want to know the truth, there's more info on the US and other countries' aid histories, Global Issues' website is a treasure trove of good data and comparative stats, as well as information to put it all into context.

Snuffing Out the Light of Reason, the Lamp of Art

Well, it was a pleasant (if hectic) few days away. I avoided the news as much as possible, and the only things that filtered through were the horrible growing death toll from the tsunami, and Jerry Orbach's death, requiem en pace.
For many of us, this period between Christmas and New Year's Day has the feel of a suspended moment in time. Even if you must work during that week, as I have usually done, the work day seems slower, less crowded. There is a sense that one is caught in a pause, and reflection comes a little easier. During this time, as it usually does when I'm on a camping trip, the world passes by unheard and unseen, and listening to my insides becomes a relief and sometimes a surprise.

I haven't done much catching up, either with the mainstream news or with the blogs, but during my early morning skim of The Guardian, I found this nugget on Alabama's war on literature, and Bush's interest in it as a template for a federal approach to his own War On Literacy:

"What should we do with US classics like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof or The Color Purple? "Dig a hole," Gerald Allen recommends, "and dump them in it." Don't laugh. Gerald Allen's book-burying opinions are not a joke.
Earlier this week, Allen got a call from Washington. He will be (having his 5th) meeting with President Bush on Monday...
Bush is interested in Allen's opinions because Allen is an elected Republican representative in the Alabama state legislature. He is Bush's base. Last week, Bush's base introduced a bill that would ban the use of state funds to purchase any books or other materials that "promote homosexuality". Allen does not want taxpayers' money to support "positive depictions of homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle."

Explaining why he was prompted to shield the children of the Republic from literature, he admits that:

"It was election day," he explains. Last month, "14 states passed referendums defining marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman"...
"Traditional family values are under attack," Allen informs me. They've been under attack "for the last 40 years". The enemy, this time, is not al-Qaida. The axis of evil is "Hollywood, the music industry". We have an obligation to "save society from moral destruction". We have to prevent liberal librarians and trendy teachers from "re-engineering society's fabric in the minds of our children". We have to "protect Alabamians".
Although asked to give some examples of this impending disaster, Allen comes up with zilch. But why should that deter him from imposing a cultural straitjacket on his constituents. Like Richard Viguerie on NPR's "Fresh Air", who made wild allegations of gays pillaging churches across the country but was unable to provide any evidence when asked, Allen and his ilk are not interested in reality, but only in creating a fantasy for an audience willing to suspend belief in their own senses for the sake of maintaining a mythos that excuses their ignorance and hatred:

"Since Allen couldn't give me a single example of the homosexual equivalent of 9/11, I gave him some. This autumn the University of Alabama theatre department put on an energetic revival of A Chorus Line, which includes, besides "tits and ass", a prominent gay solo number. Would Allen's bill prevent university students from performing A Chorus Line? It isn't that he's against the theatre, Allen explains. "But why can't you do something else?" (They have done other things, of course. But I didn't think it would be a good idea to mention their sold-out productions of Angels in America and The Rocky Horror Show.)
Cutting off funds to theatre departments that put on A Chorus Line or Cat on a Hot Tin Roof may look like censorship, and smell like censorship, but "it's not censorship", Allen hastens to explain. "For instance, there's a reason for stop lights. You're driving a vehicle, you see that stop light, and I hope you stop." Who can argue with something as reasonable as stop lights? Of course, if you're gay, this particular traffic light never changes to green."
Ah, what better way to celebrate the progress of mankind into a new century and the latest birthday of the Prince of Peace than by codifying yet another incarnation of human hate. We have, after all, so many, and thank God we have the American educational system to put them into play.

More on the prepping of American kids to swallow these stupidities up next.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

A Christmas Message

(I won't be on for a few days due to travel, so this is a long one. Go read the articles the quotes are linked to--some thoughtful stuff there for the holidays.)

Rev. Dr. Giles Fraser, in an essay called "Empires Prefer a Baby and the Cross to the Adult Jesus" in the December 24, 2004 Guardian, contemplates the difference between Nicene Christianity, which concentrates on a Jesus muzzled by infancy or death throes, and a Christianity that focuses on the adult Christ with his message of revolutionary concern for the poor and weak:
"The adult Jesus described his mission as being to "preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and to set at liberty those who are oppressed". He insisted that the social outcast be loved and cared for, and that the rich have less chance of getting into heaven than a camel has of getting through the eye of a needle. Jesus set out to destroy the imprisoning obligations of debt, speaking instead of forgiveness and the redistribution of wealth. He was accused of blasphemy for attacking the religious authorities as self-serving and hypocritical.
In contrast, the Nicene religion of the baby and the cross gives us Christianity without the politics. The Posh and Becks nativity scene is the perfect tableau into which to place this Nicene baby, for like the much-lauded celebrity, this Christ is there to be gazed upon and adored - but not to be heard or heeded. In a similar vein, modern evangelical choruses offer wave upon wave of praise to the name of Jesus, but offer little political or economic content to trouble his adoring fans.
Yet despite the silence of the baby, it should be perfectly obvious to anyone who has actually read the Christmas stories that the gospel regards the incarnation as challenging the existing order. The pregnant Mary anticipates Christ's birth with some fiery political theology: God "has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly, he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty", she blazes. Born among farm laborers, yet worshipped by kings, Christ announces an astonishing reversal of political authority. The local imperial stooge, King Herod, is so threatened by rumors of his birth that he sends troops to Bethlehem to find the child and kill him. Herod recognized that to claim Jesus is lord and king is to say that Caesar isn't. Christ's birth is not a silent night - it's the beginning of a revolution that threatened to undermine the whole basis of Roman power."
He finshes up with a consideration of how George Bush and his supporters have made Nicene Christianity a centerpiece of their excuses for war and dominion:
"Like Constantine, George Bush has borrowed the language of Christianity to support and justify his military ambition. And just like that of Constantine, the Christianity of this new Rome offers another carefully edited version of the Bible. Once again, the religion that speaks of forgiving enemies and turning the other cheek is pressed into military service.
The story of Christmas, properly understood, asserts that God is not best imagined as an all-powerful despot but as a vulnerable and pathetic child. It's a statement about the nature of divine power. But in the hands of conservative theologians, the Nicene religion of the baby and the cross is a way of distracting attention away from the teachings of Christ. It's a form of religion that concentrates on things like belief in the virgin birth while ignoring the fact that the gospels are much more concerned about the treatment of the poor and the forgiveness of enemies.
Bush may have claimed that "Jesus Christ changed my life", but Jesus doesn't seem to have changed his politics. As the carol reminds us: "And man at war with man hears not the love song that they bring, O hush the noise ye men of strife and hear the angels sing."
In his article, Fraser quotes from a piece called "Dangerous Religion" written in Sept/Oct 2003 by Jim Wallis, founder of the liberal evangelical group Sojourners. After noting that 9/11 brought Bush out of his humble, service-driven Methodism to a egomaniacal belief (supported by his evangelical sycophants) that he is a God-ordained ruler with a spiritual carte blanche, Wallis suggests that
"The Bush theology deserves to be examined on biblical grounds. Is it really Christian, or merely American? Does it take a global view of God's world or just assert American nationalism in the latest update of "manifest destiny"? How does the rest of the world—and, more important, the rest of the church worldwide—view America's imperial ambitions?"
The answer, he feels, is no:
"President Bush uses religious language more than any president in U.S. history, and some of his key speechwriters come right out of the evangelical community. Sometimes he draws on biblical language, other times old gospel hymns that cause deep resonance among the faithful in his own electoral base. The problem is that the quotes from the Bible and hymnals are too often either taken out of context or, worse yet, employed in ways quite different from their original meaning...
"Bush seems to make this mistake over and over again—confusing nation, church, and God. The resulting theology is more American civil religion than Christian faith...
"...Bush is convinced that we are engaged in a moral battle between good and evil, and that those who are not with us are on the wrong side in that divine confrontation.
But who is "we," and does no evil reside with "us"? The problem of evil is a classic one in Christian theology. Indeed, anyone who cannot see the real face of evil in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, is suffering from a bad case of postmodern relativism. To fail to speak of evil in the world today is to engage in bad theology. But to speak of "they" being evil and "we" being good, to say that evil is all out there and that in the warfare between good and evil others are either with us or against us—that is also bad theology. Unfortunately, it has become the Bush theology.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, the White House carefully scripted the religious service in which the president declared war on terrorism from the pulpit of the National Cathedral. The president declared to the nation, "Our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil." With most every member of the Cabinet and the Congress present, along with the nation's religious leaders, it became a televised national liturgy affirming the divine character of the nation's new war against terrorism, ending triumphantly with the "Battle Hymn of the Republic." War against evil would confer moral legitimacy on the nation's foreign policy and even on a contested presidency.
In Christian theology, it is not nations that rid the world of evil—they are too often caught up in complicated webs of political power, economic interests, cultural clashes, and nationalist dreams. The confrontation with evil is a role reserved for God, and for the people of God when they faithfully exercise moral conscience. But God has not given the responsibility for overcoming evil to a nation-state, much less to a superpower with enormous wealth and particular national interests. To confuse the role of God with that of the American nation, as George Bush seems to do, is a serious theological error that some might say borders on idolatry or blasphemy.
It's easy to demonize the enemy and claim that we are on the side of God and good. But repentance is better. As the Christian Science Monitor put it, paraphrasing Alexander Solzhenitzyn. "The gospel, some evangelicals are quick to point out, teaches that the line separating good and evil runs not between nations, but inside every human heart.
"The much-touted Religious Right is now a declining political factor in American life. The New York Times' Bill Keller recently observed, "Bombastic evangelical power brokers like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson have aged into irrelevance, and now exist mainly as ludicrous foils." The real theological problem in America today is no longer the Religious Right but the nationalist religion of the Bush administration—one that confuses the identity of the nation with the church, and God's purposes with the mission of American empire.
America's foreign policy is more than pre-emptive, it is theologically presumptuous; not only unilateral, but dangerously messianic; not just arrogant, but bordering on the idolatrous and blasphemous. George Bush's personal faith has prompted a profound self-confidence in his "mission" to fight the "axis of evil," his "call" to be commander-in-chief in the war against terrorism, and his definition of America's "responsibility" to "defend the…hopes of all mankind." This is a dangerous mix of bad foreign policy and bad theology.
But the answer to bad theology is not secularism; it is, rather, good theology. It is not always wrong to invoke the name of God and the claims of religion in the public life of a nation, as some secularists say. Where would we be without the prophetic moral leadership of Martin Luther King Jr., Desmond Tutu, and Oscar Romero?
Wallis ends with a call to reflection for all Christians:
"In the meantime, American Christians will have to make some difficult choices. Will we stand in solidarity with the worldwide church, the international body of Christ—or with our own American government? It's not a surprise to note that the global church does not generally support the foreign policy goals of the Bush administration—whether in Iraq, the Middle East, or the wider "war on terrorism." Only from inside some of our U.S. churches does one find religious voices consonant with the visions of American empire.
Once there was Rome; now there is a new Rome. Once there were barbarians; now there are many barbarians who are the Saddams of this world. And then there were the Christians who were loyal not to Rome, but to the kingdom of God. To whom will the Christians be loyal today?"
Merry Christmas, all.

Thursday, December 23, 2004


I went surfing over to Michael Berube's weblog and was surprised and pleased to see that he included me in his list of folks he thanked as being "the very best on the web." I don't know if I deserve it--there are some damned fine folks out there--but i thank him in return. Love your style, Michael. The medicine is so much easier to take when one has one's mouth open in laughter.

And thanks, too, to corrente, Tom, tresy, lambert, Xan, RDF, eloquent Leah, and the irrepressible farmer for putting me on your blogroll and putting up with my link-imbedded comments. Your community is tight. And right.

Thanks, also to those few brave souls, granny, Rob, poputonian and Walter Sobchak, who encouraged me with their comments, and to those who visited and just read.

I'm really enjoying this blogging thing. I hope I'll be at it for awhile, and be able to introduce graphics eventually (I was a graphic artist for 15 years), and for the sake of those who stop by, getting better and wiser.

Press Corpse

Knight-Ridder has a jolly take on the sitch in Iraq as the elections grow nearer:
"Nearly three-quarters of Iraqis say they "strongly intend" to vote in next month's pivotal elections, and a small majority believe the country is headed in the right direction, according to a major new poll of Iraqi attitudes.
"The poll of nearly 2,200 people across most of Iraq found a resilient citizenry modestly hopeful that the Jan. 30 elections will improve life. Iraqis said pocketbook issues such as unemployment and health care are more pressing than the bloody insurgency that claims Iraqi and U.S. lives virtually every day."
Yes. And the 3rd paragraph down reveals the source of this happytalk poll: The International Republican Institute, a mouthpiece for the Republican party that has John McCain at the helm of its Board of Directors, and which has been involved in "sowing" democracy around the world, including money-laundering for "regime changes", and a campaign to destabilize Haiti.

It's one thing to accept "news releases" from propaganda machines.
It's another thing altogether to publish them whole cloth without even a background lede or a disclaimer. Is it any wonder Americans are the most ignorantly benighted developed country in the world?

As Bob Somerby would say, "There's your 'press corps'"!

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Bush vs the Old People, Cont'd.

Our story so far...

The Bush administration is horrified at the prospect of legalizing drug imports that could help the elderly buy groceries AND afford their meds. First it was unsafe! Only the U.S., with its powerful yet kindly pharmaceutical industry, backed by the noble and incorruptible FDA, could ensure safe drugs for its citizens. Even if it hurts them more than it hurts us, said the government, old people must be stopped before they buy again! Then when the embarrassment of rounding up chartered buses of dangerous elders wore off, it was all about the terrorists, getting into the drugs! And sometimes it was all those things and whatever else someone in the White House boiler room could think up, all at once!

And now the most recent incarnation of the Bush "twist-in-the-wind" policy is invoking the specter of government regulation---by its own hand! In a multi-pronged attack of revisionist excuse-making, Bushco now insists that it would cost too much to let drug imports in and would hurt American drug development and the US drug industry. So to prevent such harm from coming to our poor widdle Big Pharma, and protect the health and safety of our nation, this virulently anti-regulation administration suggests the only way to let imports in would be in small, very heavily regulated quantities via commercial middlemen rather than by individual purchase. Of course, they note that such a deliberatly byzantine arrangement, with all its hoops and ladders, would slow down the process and make it so expensive that the savings to consumers would end up being only 1-2%...a boon for Big Pharma, that wants to continue milking the US cash cow and would be miffed at any whiff of real competition. All this salt in the wound of a rash of failed and faulty drugs and devices approved by the FDA, here, here, and here, followed up by the FDA's attempts to block liability lawsuits against maufacturers by injured parties.

Tell me you could make this stuff up. Well, God bless Robert Reich. Today on NPR's Morning Edition he did a piece on just this subject, and with more brevity and eloquence than I can. Luckily, The American Prospect ran it today on their website and you can see it for yourself. He is particularly acute on this "tort reform" obssession of Bush's that promises to remove the only other avenue consumers have to protect themselves and to correct industry negligence and greed---negligence and greed, I would add, that your government has no intention of checking.

27,000 dead. And that's just one drug (Vioxx), one company (Merck). What they won't be able to accomplish if they just all work together.

...Plus C'est La Meme Chose...

From an old comment I made some time ago, with minor updates. Depressingly, things haven't changed much:

The meme that went round the weblog posts months and months ago was "outrage fatigue". It could just as easily have been context fatigue, or high-tech fatigue, or intellect fatigue, or authority fatigue. Some succumb to it sooner than others, some hang on longer, but the next thing you know, you're retreating into fantasyland, which takes different forms depending on your philosophical bent.

I come home some days so bereft of will and so tired of trying to make sense of all this senselessness that I head straight for the liquor cabinet. When you give up trying to make sense of things, you give up trying to make people accountable for their words and actions, and thus the Bushes of the world get their way.

Susan Neiman, in her book "Evil in Modern Thought", talks about how evil is a problem about the intelligibility of the world as a whole. She says,
"To call an action evil is to suggest that it cannot (be ordered into the rest of our experience)- and that it thereby threatens the trust in the world that we need to orient ourselves within it."
Trust in the world, just trust that it can make some logical sense, is absolutely required for people to behave rationally. As the world gets weirder and less comprehensible, people seek refuge in magical thinking, and leave the doing to others. The current problem is, how to rouse people from their apathetic despair, and move events toward a more humane course?

I don't know.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

FDA Update

Now the NYTimes reports that a study by the National Institutes of Health has found that people taking Aleve had a 50% greater rate of heart problems, and by extension, ALL Nsaids, including Advil and pharmaceutical-strength Naprosyn, seem likely to cause similar problems.
For some odd reason the article goes onto speculate that this news could benefit Pfizer, for whom the Celebrex mess looks less damning by comparison because "...similar pills may be just as hurtful to the heart..."
The FDA's response?
"'This illustrates the fundamental dynamic that all drugs have risks," said Dr. Steven Galson, acting director of the Food and Drug Administration's center for drug evaluation and research. "All should be taken carefully.'"
For instance, avoided if the FDA gives them the green light?

Monday, December 20, 2004

Social Security Solution---Die!

George is pushing that fabulous "compassionate conservatism" again. Can the country survive it? Or is it just a clever scheme to take the load off Social Security?

First, let's get rid of those freeloaders on Medicaid, like 16-year old boys with spina bifida.

Next, keep the FDA on the case, 'cause they're doing a "spectacular job"! You may recall Phen-Fen, Baycol, early birth control pills, or Crestor? Never mind that now Pfizer has suspended sales of Celebrex. Never mind that Knight Ridder has compiled a rather frightening list of deaths and injuries resulting from the FDA's solicitous work on behalf of the American public's safety.

With a determined effort and that patented Bush bold leadership, we should be able to knock off thousands of our own every year, and eventually the Social Security "problem" will be solved!

Then we can turn to dealing with the problem of those renegade environmentalists, whom Bush's F.B.I. was eager to blame for the Maryland McMansion arsons. Only...gee, it seems to have been motivated, not by eco-terror, but racism.

Oh, well, that we can live with.
Or some of us can.
Those of us who avoid the FDA's approved drugs.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Begging Off

Light posting next few days (unless I'm drunk) due to holiday obligations. No doubt a rant or two may come up if I let myself read too much.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Social Security Digest

The great debate on Social Security is raging back and forth, and now Bush has fired his loudest shot over the heads of the bleeding hearts who want to see a safety net left in place. Below is a selection of some of the best and most concise readings on the problem from a liberal standpoint that I have seen so far.

First, an omnibus source of info in itself, check out The Social Security Networkwebsite, sponsored by The Century Foundation.

Krugman, with a general overview of why the arguments for change are false

Josh Marshall who warns us away from being sucked into making the financial risk/Wall Street argument and reminds us what S.S. was for in the first place: a safety net for old age that could not be touched by hard luck or hard times:
“This isn't about financing. It's about whether Americans get to keep Social Security, a program of guaranteed retirement insurance, which unlike the other key elements of a good retirement plan -- investments and pensions -- cannot be taken away.”
Michael Kinsley, on the contradictions inherent in the argument for change

Quiddity with graphics

The Center for Economic and Policy Research, with a clear, simple, scientific analysis, with charts for clarification. CEPR's report makes these points:
1. Social Security is Financially Sound
2. President Bush's Social Security Cuts Would Be Large
3. Imaginary Stock Returns Don't Offset Real Benefit Cuts
4. Social Security is Extremely Efficient, Private Accounts Are Wasteful
5. Social Security Pays the Most to Those Who Need it Most
6. The Projected Shortfall is No Larger Than What We Have Seen In Past Decades
7. Young Workers Will Still See Much Higher Wages If Taxes Are Increased
8. The Bush Proposal Phases Out Social Security as We Know It

Update: Krugman checks in with a nod to The Century Foundation, referenced in the post above


Ho hum. After ensuring a fat giveaway to Big Pharma via his work on the byzantine Medicare "prescription drug benefit", retiring Good Ol' Boy Billy Tauzin (R-Loozianna) gets his just reward: the presidency of the main lobbying arm of the industry, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. Sez Billy Bob:
"This industry understands that it's got a problem. It has to earn the trust and confidence of consumers again."
Yep, this'll do it.

And remember all that breath-holding over John Snow's imminent departure. which consequently dissolved into so much gas? The Financial Times reports that he stayed where is because Alan Greenspan didn't want the job. Interesting, since it would have put Greenspan, who is currently (at least nominally) independent of politics, under Bush's thumb. I don't know why Bush bothered though...Greenspan's been plenty partisan on his behalf right where he is.

And it turns out Bernard Kerik also used a flat set aside as a place for exhausted Ground Zero workers to rest, as his own personal love nest. The guy has quite a sex drive.

Ah, The Human Comedy.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

A Suggestion For Re-Framing

Enough with the "values"! The word is meaningless. The right has so worn out this word that it has become almost synonymous with hypocrisy, and we, the left, should not be scrambling to latch onto it in some misguided effort to convince the world that we have them, too. Live your morals, don't waste your breath preaching about them. The real word we should be using, and using at every opportunity, is "honor". It goes beyond just implying that one has ethics. It means one lives by them.


A Global Test

My take on choice and anti-choice begins with a scenario---
A woman is going to die if she carries her pregnancy to term.

You would:
  1. Let her die
  2. Let her terminate the pregnancy if she chooses to
Understand, you don't get to add qualifiers. She will die if she can't end the pregnancy.

If you picked 1, you chose the pro-choice side. It's that simple. If you believe that at any point during a pregnancy the woman's life should take precedence, you are making the decision that her life is worth more and should therefore be saved. If you can make that distinction, the arguments of the anti-choice side must fail.

If you believe an embryo is a human life invested with full personhood from the moment of conception, then to maintain that position you must concede that its life is not less valuable than that of the woman carrying it.

At any time. Under any circumstances.

The logical conclusion of this line of thought is that a choice between lives cannot be made, and God or nature must make the decision as to whether one, or both, will live or die. If you truly line up with this camp, you, or I, or she, cannot make that decision because it would mean playing God.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Department of Ironic Mycterismus

What is the Medal of Freedom? A history of the honor notes that:
“In 1945, President Harry Truman, searching for a way to honor the contributions of American civilians in World War II, created the Medal of Freedom as the nation's highest civilian honor to be the equivalent of the military Medal of Honor. The honorific went dormant after the war ended.
The revival occurred in 1962 following a Gallup poll indicating that Americans favored the establishment of some sort of National Honors List to recognize individuals who made outstanding contributions to United States life in such endeavors as the arts, science, literature, education, religion, or community service. Within three months of the release of the poll results, President John F. Kennedy issued an Executive Order creating the Presidential Medal of Freedom.”
And that medal is going to Bremer, Tenet and Franks. Arts? Science? Literature? Community service? Where do they fit in? Let us examine the evidence:

Paul Bremer? Mr. "Things are getting better all the time”? Paul Bremer whose decision to shut down the newspaper in Baghdad was probably the moment when we really lost hearts and minds, and the shit hit the fan. That Paul Bremer?!?!?

And George Tenet, whose piss-poor job as CIA Director was surely capped by his refusal to stand up for his analysts when they were scapegoated by the 9/11 Commission for the stovepiped, cherry-picked information that the neo-cons forced out of them in order to create an onion-skinned layer of lies with which to push the nation into an illegal invasion.

And finally Tommy Franks!! Who was visiting Bush to talk about military “options” while the clusterfuck at Tora Bora went down; who is probably single-handedly more responsible for the decision-making that allowed bin Laden to get away than any other person; and in whose defense Bush later so facilely dismissed bin Laden as a main target, or even a “concern”.

Are you liking this? Does this make you proud to be an American? Is this a desperate attempt to cover up the glaringly obvious incompetence of every single blessed thing this administration has done, or just a massive-fuck-you-if-you-can’t-take-a-joke to the American people?

Guinea Pig Kids Redux--More and Worse

The American Progress Report arrives regularly in my e-mail box, and this afternoon it was a doozy.

First I see this, under the story "Administration Pushes Dangerous Drug":
"The U.S. government hid research that showed a drug it planned to use to treat AIDS was severely flawed. In 2002, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) received warnings about a drug called nevirapine which "were serious enough to suspend testing for more than a year, let Uganda's government know of the dangers and prompt the drug's maker to pull its request for permission to use the medicine to protect U.S. newborns." The NIH ignored warnings that research on nevirapine was flawed and "underreported severe reactions including deaths." In the meantime, President Bush decided to spend $500 million to send the drug to Africa. Today, the White House "still remains confident in Bush's $500 million plan to send nevirapine to Africa."
Of course there were the usual threats to fire an NIH employee, Jonathan Fishbein,who was hired by them to handle the scandal and refused help cover over the improprieties. The AIDS Info BBS Database has a piece on the drug with the interesting note that on Jan 5, 2000:
"The New York Times summed up on the same day: “Federal health officials advised doctors yesterday not to prescribe a standard H.I.V. prevention drug to healthy health care workers stuck by needles. The drug, nevirapine, can produce liver damage severe enough to require liver transplants, and has caused death in such use, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in its weekly report. But nevirapine should still be used for two other groups, the centers said. One is in treating people infected with H.I.V., the AIDS virus. The second is to prevent transmission of H.I.V. from mothers to their infants during childbirth. … The agency said it and the federal Food and Drug Administration had identified 22 cases of severe liver, skin and muscle damage related to nevirapine taken after possible exposure to H.I.V. from March 1997 through September 2000.”"
But then the light bulb went off...could there be any connection to the experimenting that New York has been doing on orphans and foster kids with HIV?

Seems so. Nevirapine has been used on these kids, and the drug is particularly associated with a nasty skin disorder called Stevens-Johnson syndrome, (warning: graphic photos) which can cause horrific effects and lead to death. In fact, the New York State Dept. of Health's Clinical Guidlines for caring for children with AIDS states:
"Among ARV drugs, the nevirapine-associated rash usually occurs within the first 18 weeks of therapy and often within the first 2 weeks. The rash consists of a truncal, maculopapular, erythematous eruption. In some instances, it can progress into mucosal surfaces and evolve into Stevens-Johnson syndrome, often with accompanying fever and severe hepatitis. Serum liver enzymes should be obtained in patients who develop a rash during nevirapine therapy, particularly during the first 18 weeks of therapy. Deaths associated with these reactions have been reported. Patients who develop mild rashes without systemic toxicity may be managed with antihistamines and close monitoring. However, those with severe cutaneous toxicity or with suspected hepatic toxicity should discontinue nevirapine promptly and should not be re-challenged with this drug."
So the government has been well aware, for some time, of the problems with this drug, but who cares? They're basically just wards of the state.

Civil Rights, Human Rights...What's the Difference Once the Head's Blowed off?

And by the way, in the grand tradition of Clarence Thomas and Alan Keyes, Bushco has appointed another self-hating black man to be in charge of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Gerald A. Reynolds, an attorney, said:
""I just assume somewhere in my life some knucklehead has looked at me and my brown self and said that they have given me less or denied me an opportunity...But the bottom line is, and my wife will attest to this, I am so insensitive that I probably didn't notice."
Har-de-har-har. I know that's killing them in N. Philly. Reynolds brings his Bush-friendly anemic approach to eradicating discrimination from the Education Dept.'s Office of Civil Rights.

Meantime, remember Afghanistan? Seems a few more people have died inU.S. custody there than were heretofor reported. My, my. What a surprise.
And that damned Human Rights Watch just won't stop smearing our good name about it..

Giving Till It Doesn't Hurt-III

You know you’ve got it. Get your ass out of the mall, the Target, or that snarky little boutique head shop long enough to count your blessings, then send some of them where they will really make a difference.

Pt. 3--Man-On-Dog-(& Cat)-Love

(Being the third and last part of a multi-part gift guide for spreading joy and love.)

One of the more under-reported problems the U.S faces related to animal abuse has to do with the growing popularity of keeping exotic cats like tigers and lions as pets. It has become shockingly easy to buy a pet tiger cub bred in the U.S. They can be bought for as little as $200 in places, and there has been very little legislation put in place to address the problem. Although the Captive Wildlife Safety Act was passed this year to prohibit the pet trade commerce of exotic animals for, there is no outright ban on keeping them, and it is estimated that as many as 10-15,000 tigers are now kept as pets or by roadside zoos, compared to only about 5000 still left alive in the wild. As a result, the animals are raised in wholly inappropriate, abusive, and neglectful environments by people who, even when they mean well, doom them to lives of mental and physical stress, and they are often discarded like trash when the full weight of the responsiblity becomes apparent. Zoos, who guard the gene pools of their specimens like Tiffany jewelry, see no usefullness in these throw-away pets for breeding purposes, nor will they take on the burden of caring for these animals when they are already so strapped for funds and space to care for those they do have. And of course, the option of release into the wild is non-existent. The end for these cats is often euthanasia--if they're lucky--or a nightmare spiral down into successive abusive owners until they end up in some roadside zoo crouched into a tiny cage, maddened and malnourished until death frees them.

There can be no good reason for keeping an exotic animal if you aren't a professional with a good scientific reason, with access to knowledge and resources to ensure the animal is maintained in a healthy, psychologically enriched environment. First, these animals often have territories in the wild of several hundred square miles, and travel scores of miles in the course of a typical day. normal day's actvities. Second, there are so many homeless and needy dogs and cats in our own backyards that it is unconscionable to neglect them while buying and keeping wild animals. Third, there are some truly wonderful wild sanctuaries that have dedicated themselves to the enormously expensive and intensive task of taking in and caring for big cats and other animals who have been abused and mistreated, and if you truly love animals, there is a sanctuary out there for you to support, and these are some of the very best:

Sanctuaries for cats that have been kept by individuals, in roadside zoos, or circuses:
Big Cat Rescue--Firefox/Mozilla browsers may have trouble with this script.
International Exotic Feline Sanctuary--The animal behaviorists par excellence.
Oakhill Ctr For Rare & Endangered Species
--A genetic bank and breeding program, as well as a home, for rare animals. Did you know that the clouded leopard is the closest living relative to the extinct sabertoothed tiger?
Shambala Preserve--Founded by Tippi Hedren, who screamed so well thoughout Hitchcock's "The Birds". Tireless in rescuing and maintaining the health and dignity of big cats.
Tiger Haven--My personal favorite. My adoptee lion there is Kalahari, who as a youngster was so abused he almost died, but these folks saved him. As one of them said. "He's a sweet boy."

Sanctuary Watchdogs and Standardbearers
TAOS (The Association Of Sanctuaries)--Their motto is simple: "No Wild Pets!" They establish standards, and provide accreditation and support to sanctuaries that meet those standards. See their slide show on the site. It's incredibly moving.
American Sanctuary Association
--Their mission statement:"Organized to provide a more efficient means in which to find and identify quality facilities in which to place homeless, abused or abandoned animals, facilitate the exchange of information among animal caregivers, and to create public awareness of this national tragedy, ...(ASA) was formed."
Animal Centers of Excellence--ACE is an international accreditation program designed to guide and assist animal sanctuaries in reaching the highest standards of animal care possible.

Finding a pet
Petfinder--Locate pet shelters near you, find breed rescue info, see adoptable animals on-line, and place lost and found info about strays. A motherlode of information.
Pet Store Puppies and Puppy Mills--Yes, there are kitten mills, too. Learn about the abuses inherent in breeding and selling living beings as though they were durable goods, and why you shouldn't buy them that way, either.

Helping the unwanted
Alley Cay Allies--Provides education and supports the non-lethal reduction of the tens of millions of feral cats in the U.S. through a program of trap-neuter-return, the adoption of kittens young enough to be tamd, and the care of those in the wild by volunteers.

Monday, December 13, 2004

The Road to the Presidency

The emminent Mr. Fish with insights on what the American public looks for in a leader.

Just A Quick Check-In

Things have been so busy that I haven't had much chance to put down the things that I've wanted to comment on, and I still have the rest of the gift guide to finish. So light entries till then.

But I pay attention, and I'm sick to death of reading Dems like Beinart pointing fingers and suggesting the party give the old heave-ho to some of its most loyal supporters. What kind of self-hating dynamic infests our people that they insist on tossing people out of the lifeboat instead of plugging the holes in the hull? Why do Dems so gladly air their dirty laundry and fractionalize at the drop of a hat, while Repubs circle the wagons? Their moderates allow themselves to be trotted out like so much eye candy when their party tells them to, and fatalistically ignore their own marginalization the rest of the time. I'm not suggesting that such destructive self-effeacement is what Dems should aim for, but we could learn a few things about loyalty from our opposite numbers.

The problem is that no one is focusing on the commonalities that we all agree on, and that separate us from the Republican platform. Until that happens, we will continue to atomize what's left of our cohesion, and the power we began to discover during the grassroots organizing of the election will dwindle to nothing.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Giving Till It Doesn't Hurt-II

You know you’ve got it. Get your ass out of the mall, the Target, or that snarky little boutique head shop long enough to count your blessings, then send some of them where they will really make a difference.

Pt. 2--Children Matter Even After They're Born

(Being the second part of a multi-part gift guide for spreading joy and love.)

In a previous post, What You Do To The Least Of These, I touched on some of the cruelties human beings inflict on their children in other parts of the world, but you don't have to go that far to find kids living horrific lives. In Texas, that bastion of Bush's conservative compassion, the state is reaping some of the ghastly results of their aversion to taxes where, when faced with a choice between shoring up funding for child protection and increasing revenue, the good gentlemen of the legislature cut funding to the bone. It has taken a series of Grand Guignol horrors paraded in the media to shame these pitiful excuses for human beings into re-visiting the problem. No doubt that callousness does not attend their bottomless war on abortion, but then, these are real kids we're talking about, not legal persons like fetuses or 10-celled blastocysts.
In the meantime, children go hungry, and homeless, and without medical care here in the richest nation on earth. Here and abroad they are pimped out to pedophilic businessmen. They are enslaved on cocoa plantations and oriental rug-making sweatshops, and suffer unheard miseries in refugee camps and NAFTA hovels in the shadow of wealthy American factories. The problems are so great that it is estimated that a billion chidren suffer extreme deprivation across the world. UNICEF's most recent report lays out statistics that are heart-breaking.

But there are many, many decent organizations working to alleviate and eliminate these problems, both close to home and world-wide. Here, as with other human rights issues, a little research will put you into a position to choose the group you feel most sympatico with, and there are a couple good websites that make it easy to find out. The coalition Children's Charities offers a broad range of orgs, with a handy digest of basic info on each of its many members; the Just Give Guide, besides offering many links to children's orgs, also has a huge variety of other charitable categories to choose from, and lots of ideas on how to be of service over and above just giving money. And don't forget to check out the needs in your own community. Local churches, food banks, and domestic violence centers are all good sources of info.

Next: Part 3--Man-on-Dog Love

Friday, December 10, 2004

Giving Till It Doesn’t Hurt-I

You know you’ve got it. Get your ass out of the mall, the Target, or that snarky little boutique head shop long enough to count your blessings, then send some of them where they will really make a difference.

Pt. 1---Support the Warriors, Not the War

(Being the first part of a multi-part gift guide for spreading joy and love.)

My previous post, Facing the Face of War, referenced the report of the recent New England Journal of Medicine, which explored the advances in medical care that have saved the lives of so many more soldier casualties in this war than in wars past, and gave a glimpse into the horrors of their injuries. (This morning NPR ran a piece inspired by the article, examining the problems vets face when they leave behind the quality treatment offered by Walter Reed Hospital and often find the medical care in their hometowns wanting. These were lucky enough to be able to afford additional treatment over and above that provided by the VA. When questioned about the inadequacies of the medical care system, a spokesman for the VA, in finest Rumsfeldian fashion, asserted that though the budget was limited, it was not a problem.)
The inspiration for my previous post, a letter from Douglas O'Heir printed at Altercation, led to another letter on that blog from Mark McKee, which spoke eloquently of the problems faced by vets whose prognoses are not so media-friendly:
”An addition to Douglas O'Heir's wonderful letter yesterday, I'd just like to point out that Walter Reed's major function is PR for all those "inspiring" media stories of courage, so that the likes of Brian Williams can come out an interview these heroes, usually amputees which are better fodder for those "I shall overcome" stories than paras or quads." Then they return a few weeks later to interview a new crop of newly injured who haven't even glimpsed what their lives are really going to be like once the camera lights are shut down. No one ever seems interested in interviewing someone who has been living with that kind of injury for over 7 years because you just don't get those touchy-feely "Jesus will make me walk again" moments of compelling video that drives the ratings and inspires us to, I don't know, get another yellow ribbon. After they leave world class Walter Reed, and enter the real world, the VA system, many, most in fact, will plunge into poverty and homelessness, where they will be magically transformed from heroes to homeless bums who are ruining our downtown revitalization efforts, and the only people fighting for them once the war ends, will be those anti-American, France-loving, tree-hugging commie liberals. A sick irony of our hypocrisy, I mean democracy.”
If you want to know what you can do to help, there are plenty of worthy places to put your money, your mouth, and your energy. The Wounded Warrior Project is a good start. Or the Holiday Support for the Troops page put up by Soldiers for The Truth, which is a veritable laundry list of good causes with links, vetted for effectiveness and even approved by the DoD. (Thanks to Warblogging for the link to SFFT.)

What you do not need to do is spend one more wasted piaster on those ridiculous magnetic yellow ribbons clogging up the check-out aisles in every craft store and truck stop from Tuscan to Tucumcareh. Put on the Ramsey Lewis Trio doing “Snowbound”, get cracking on that keyboard, and find out what you can spend your money on that will really make a difference.

Next: Part 2—Children Matter Even After They’re Born

Thursday, December 09, 2004

What You Do To The Least Of These...

While the spoiled, fussy, "no-one-else-in-the-world-was-ever-a-parent" Mommies and Daddies of our fair land work themselves into a lather over the exposure of their little darlings to traumas like Janet Jackson's breast and gay marriage, children in less-blessed parts of the world are exposed to real traumas: seeing their families and neighbors hacked to death or raped in front of them; being raped or murdered themselves; being kidnapped into forced servitude, sexual slavery, or conscripted into mercenary conflicts; or losing limbs to war machinery.

Philly's WHYY radio website has a page of drawings by Sudanese children displaced by the genocide that speaks eloquently to the horrors these kids have experienced and the essential universality of childhood perspectives everywhere, including their ability to embrace hope and the beauty of mundane life.

But I guess worrying about moral values only matters when it's the children of your own tribe.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Facing the Face of War

While skimming Altercation, I came across a post from Douglas O'Heir, in which he wrote a moving description of a report in the latest New England Journal of Medicine on U.S. soldiers wounded in Iraq.

If you, like me, would like to know more, you can read the piece here, and see the photo essay here. As he said, it's not for the squeamish, but it brings home the cost of our government's high talk all too clearly. And as long as your money is going to make it possible, you, and I, need to face what we are doing and own it.

All Enigmas Resolved Here

Sweet Mystery of Life At Last You’ve Found Me

If you’re like me, you daily rise up with naive hope for the race, only to have it dashed time and again by a cursory glance at the news, or worse, a step outside your door. You wail and beat your breast over the mysterious stupidities of the world, not the least of which is how Robert Novak, hack and lowly worm of media renown, continues to pull a paycheck for crawling on his belly like a reptile. Most recently you may be considering the plight of Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper, and trying to find some explanation for why Novak continues to ply his worthless trade with impunity while those whose shoes he is not fit to lick are facing jail time. Well, wonder no more!
Amy Sullivan wraps it up for us quite nicely over at The Washington Monthly:

"His set-up is nearly perfect—as a syndicated opinion columnist and executive producer of his own show, Novak can say what he wants without fear of punitive consequences, and he can ignore what he wants, safe in the knowledge that no one of significance will ever press him. He is hardly alone in being used by sources or having dicey conflicts of interest. But unlike journalists Dan Rather and Howell Raines, who provided full explanations and apologies once their errors were revealed—and who faced well-organized mau-mauing campaigns waged by critics on the right—Novak is an island, untouched by criticism. His privileged position would count for nothing if his peers and colleagues held him accountable."
That's right. His own kind let him get away with it. When I was in school they taught ethics with journalism. Now this morals-happy culture can't be bothered.

Oh, Whither Janet Jackson’s Breast?

Behind all those FCC indecency complaints everyone has been moaning about—one source. And what a surprise:

“The number of indecency complaints had soared dramatically to more than 240,000 in the previous year, Powell said. The figure was up from roughly 14,000 in 2002, and from fewer than 350 in each of the two previous years. There was, Powell said, “a dramatic rise in public concern and outrage about what is being broadcast into their homes. What Powell did not reveal—apparently because he was unaware—was the source of the complaints. According to a new FCC estimate obtained by Mediaweek, nearly all indecency complaints in 2003—99.8 percent—were filed by the Parents Television Council, an activist group.
This year, the trend has continued, and perhaps intensified.
Through early October, 99.9 percent of indecency complaints—aside from those concerning the Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction” during the Super Bowl halftime show broadcast on CBS— were brought by the PTC, according to the FCC analysis dated Oct. 1. (The agency last week estimated it had received 1,068,767 complaints about broadcast indecency so far this year; the Super Bowl broadcast accounted for over 540,000, according to commissioners’ statements.)”
Another tempest in a fundamentalist teapot.

Rumsfeld to Troops: Tough Shit.

And finally, more of that sensitive Pentagonian empathy we’ve been learning about:

"Army Spc. Thomas Wilson, for example, of the 278th Regimental Combat Team that is comprised mainly of citizen soldiers of the Tennessee Army National Guard, asked Rumsfeld in a question-and-answer session why vehicle armor is still in short supply, nearly two years after the start of the war that ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
“Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to uparmor our vehicles?” Wilson asked. A big cheer arose from the approximately 2,300 soldiers in the cavernous hangar who assembled to see and hear the secretary of defense.
Rumsfeld replied that troops should make the best of the conditions they face...“You can have all the armor in the world on a tank and it can (still) be blown up.”
And what do you know! They had to put on a nice face for "our elfin Secretary of Defense", as Gore Vidal called him, but not everyone was amused:

"Colonel Zimmerman said he appreciated the efforts by Army supply officials here, but he and his troops said they could not help but fume at the sight of the fully "up-armored" Humvees and heavy trucks set out on display here for Mr. Rumsfeld's visit.
"What you see out here isn't what we've got going north with us," he said."
Now we know where they get it in Fallujah.

Religious Conversion Is All That's Left

Over at, George Paine has an important point to make about the evolution of Iraq into America's Spanish-New-World-colony, complete with forced labor. I would only add that a blindered, willful failure to see the situation in the Mideast as it is, and to understand the motives of the people who we call terrorists (not all of whom have similar reasons for their actions) has been the biggest reason for why we only continue to dig this grave deeper.

The piece that set him off, an article in the Boston Globe, had this revealing bit:

""You have to say, 'Here are the rules,' and you are firm and fair. That radiates stability," said Lieutenant Colonel Dave Bellon, intelligence officer for the First Regimental Combat Team, the Marine regiment that took the western half of Fallujah during the US assault and expects to be based downtown for some time.
Bellon asserted that previous attempts to win trust from Iraqis suspicious of US intentions had telegraphed weakness by asking, " 'What are your needs? What are your emotional needs?' All this Oprah [stuff]," he said. "They want to figure out who the dominant tribe is and say, 'I'm with you.' We need to be the benevolent, dominant tribe."
Is it any wonder we are having such stunning success in the Tigris Valley, with keen minds like Bellon at the helm? Perhaps if the Lt. Colonel's loved ones could have the same experience of American liberation as the people of Iraq, he might be more insightful as to why they act as they do.

And I must add that this "benevolent, dominant" bushwa reminds me all too much of the rationale of religions that like their women in their place: that is, giving obeisance to males in exchange for protection and kindly treatment. Does this mean we want Iraq to be our bitch? I guess that kind of marriage will require religious conversion, too...for the sake of the children.

Where The Heart Is

Neal Pierce of The Seattle Times has a trenchant piece on the lack of affordable housing in the nation, and how its broad effects on the business climate may get it the attention that concerns about poor people never could. I've written about housing here before, in less hopeful terms.

Naturally, the White House could care less. Their motto is "Get out of that improvable investment and down to the faith-based shelter."

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Now I Can Dare To Hope

Here we go...what I've been waiting for. Eliot Spitzer announces he will run for governor of New York in 2006!

I never understood why everyone on both sides of the political fence yakked so much about Hilary. She never even dropped a hint that she was interested in the presidency, and I agree she is not the horse to race. Eliot, on the other hand, is a knight in shining armor. Crime-fighter. Consumer advocate. Working man's (and woman's) friend. Upholder of the Code of Hammurabi. Ready to stand up to the plutocrats. And smart as a damned whip.
(Update: yes, yes, I know, he's not going to be ready to run for president in '08 if he gets elected in '06. I'm looking ahead. And I still doubt Hilary cares a whit about it.)

Trust me. This is the guy. And this is the first step.

Red-Blather Babies

Is there anyone who paints things with a broader brush than David "I've Got A Clueless Stereotype" Brooks? Or who has less compunction about spreading his ill-informed mythos around as conventional wisdom?

This morning I pull up the NYTimes, and make the mistake of looking at his column, sucked in by a title promising yet more divisive red v. blue idiocy. What do I find? Now the red people are having babies in a fecund fit of selfless back-to-the-50s ardor, while the blue people are withered and sere and deformed by ill-gotten gains and deviant pleasures:
"They are having three, four or more kids. Their personal identity is defined by parenthood. They are more spiritually, emotionally and physically invested in their homes than in any other sphere of life, having concluded that parenthood is the most enriching and elevating thing they can do. Very often they have sacrificed pleasures like sophisticated movies, restaurant dining and foreign travel, let alone competitive careers and disposable income, for the sake of their parental calling."
Kinda makes you ashamed that you may have wasted your life in any other endeavor other than reproduction doesn't it? Of course, those of us in cities could make the point that we look around and see plenty of kids, but a little further down, you see what he's getting at:
" You can see surprising political correlations. As Steve Sailer pointed out in The American Conservative, George Bush carried the 19 states with the highest white fertility rates, and 25 of the top 26. John Kerry won the 16 states with the lowest rates.
In The New Republic Online, Joel Kotkin and William Frey observe, "Democrats swept the largely childless cities - true blue locales like San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Boston and Manhattan have the lowest percentages of children in the nation - but generally had poor showings in those places where families are settling down, notably the Sun Belt cities, exurbs and outer suburbs of older metropolitan areas."

White people in the suburbs is what we're talking about. So, ok, maybe the Latinos and Asians and blacks don't count...everyone knows they have kids, but who cares? It's white people we're talking about! Those blue bastards that have let the race down, their pitiful gonads dwindling from underuse, letting those ghastly, unknowable Others get the upper hand. And God knows what may happen if they take over.

Never mind that, where I live, I see plenty of white people, and Democrats, and well-to-do people, having kids, and lots of them. Christ, the better off they are the more they seem to have! After 2 or 3 spouses, the families can get kind of---big. One of the most annoying trends of recent years has been the appearance of those damned two-, three-, and four-child strollers, veritable stroller SUVs, with wheels bigger than your head that take up so much room you have to get out into the street to pass one coming at you on the sidewalk, and God help you if you need to get to something down a store aisle where one is lurking. These contraptions aren't made for couples with only children. And the ones I have to dodge are full.

So Brooks finishes off with this:

"Like most Americans, and maybe more so because they tend to marry earlier, they find themselves confronting the consequences of divorce. Like most Americans, they wonder how we can be tolerant of diverse lifestyles while still preserving the family institutions that are under threat."
How? How, David? Well, I'd guess the same way people have been figuring it out for years, under all kinds of less-than-ideal circumstances, in ghettoes and on reservations and on farms and in trailer parks and in all the places people have always raised kids. People moving to your red suburbs aren't any fucking different. You belie your own argument about the tragedy of all this divisiveness by singing one long paean to divisiveness, and then sitting back with that smug smile and waiting for the sparks to fly.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Imperial Dumb Ass

On Sunday the Scottish paper The Sunday Herald ran a story on The Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Strategic Communication, released September 2004 by the DSB arm of the Dept. of Defense, whose purpose is to "...provide independent advice to the Secretary of State." The report focuses on the abysmal job the U.S. has done in winning world opinion to its side, including the good will of Muslim countries:

“American direct intervention in the Muslim world has paradoxically elevated the stature of, and support for, radical Islamists, while diminishing support for the United States to single digits in some Arab societies.”
Referring to the repeated mantra from the White House that those who oppose the US in the Middle East “hate our freedoms”, the report says: “Muslims do not ‘hate our freedoms’, but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favour of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the long-standing, even increasing support, for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan and the Gulf states.
“Thus when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypo crisy. Moreover, saying that ‘freedom is the future of the Middle East’ is seen as patronising … in the eyes of Muslims, the American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering. US actions appear in contrast to be motivated by ulterior motives, and deliberately controlled in order to best serve American national interests at the expense of truly Muslim self-determination.”
The way America has handled itself since September 11 has played straight into the hands of al-Qaeda, the report adds. “American actions have elevated the authority of the jihadi insurgents and tended to ratify their legitimacy among Muslims.” The result is that al-Qaeda has gone from being a marginal movement to having support across the entire Muslim world.
“Muslims see Americans as strangely narcissistic,” the report goes on, adding that to the Arab world the war is “no more than an extension of American domestic politics”. The US has zero credibility among Muslims which means that “whatever Americans do and say only serves … the enemy”."
This is not some leftie think tank, mind you, but rumblings from the bowels of Rumsfeld's own ailimentary canal:

"America’s “image problem”, the report authors suggest, is “linked to perceptions of the US as arrogant, hypocritical and self-indulgent”. The White House “has paid little attention” to the problems.
"Rather than supporting tyranny, most Muslims want to overthrow tyrannical regimes like Saudi Arabia. “The US finds itself in the strategically awkward – and potentially dangerous – situation of being the long-standing prop and alliance partner of these authoritarian regimes. Without the US, these regimes could not survive,” the report says.
“Thus the US has strongly taken sides in a desperate struggle … US policies and actions are increasingly seen by the overwhelming majority of Muslims as a threat to the survival of Islam itself … Americans have inserted themselves into this intra-Islamic struggle in ways that have made us an enemy to most Muslims.
“Americans are convinced that the US is a benevolent ‘superpower’ that elevates values emphasising freedom … deep down we assume that everyone should naturally support our policies. Yet the world of Islam – by overwhelming majorities at this time – sees things differently. Muslims see American policies as inimical to their values, American rhetoric about freedom and democracy as hypocritical and American actions as deeply threatening.
“In two years the jihadi message – that strongly attacks American values – is being accepted by more moderate and non-violent Muslims. This in turn implies that negative opinion of the US has not yet bottomed out."
Short version: We went in like a bunch of ham-handed neanderthals, ruined what little we had going for us, and managed to make a dangerous situation damn near inflammable. If you read Imperial Hubris, you'll be amazed at how much of this report mirrors the contentions of that book. It does give one a frisson of the bizarre to read it coming out of the DoD. I can't help wondering if it might be Colin Powell's parting shot, distanced from its source by enough layers to provide plausible deniability. It certainly doesn't sound like the usual neo-con blather.

On the other hand, if you were in the market for a good rumble to fill the conflict void after the Soviet Union took its ball and went home, what better way to get things started than to play the drunken cowboy, walk into the nearest saloon, and shoot the place up.

Pre-emptive, indeed.

You can read the report itself--all 111 pages--word for word here. It's worth your time.

"What Else Can I Fuck Up?" pined Georgie

Even with a record-setting number of vacation days under its belt, this is obviously an Excutive Branch with too much time on its hands.

At least Reagan would just go to sleep when the burdens of office became too much. This joker looks around for some nonsensical red herring issue that is none of his business to take his mind of all that hard work. It's hard work sending people to their deaths. It's hard work ruining the environment and flushing your children's children's inheritance down the toilet. It's hard work playing musical chairs with a cabinet that never manages to get any better.
It's hard work shoving a Christian Reconstructionist agenda down the throat of America's school curricula and into constitutional law, but a guy's gotta rest sometime, if he's gonna be ready for the Good Fight.

Thank God he's got good doggy John McCain running his errand for him. And I'm sure Bud Selig must be breathing a sigh of relief now that Our Leader is on the case.

Dissension in the Ranks

Remember those Army Reserve soldiers who refused to drive broken-down trucks with unusable fuel on a fool's mission down one of the most dangerous corridors in the coutry, just because they didn't want to die? The Army has dropped its plans to court-martial them, though it does intend to punish them in less severe ways:

"The soldiers from the 343rd Quartermaster Company, based in Rockhill, N.C., may be assigned extra duties or face reductions in rank, military spokesman Lt. Col. Steve Boylan said...
They felt they didn't have the proper equipment to do the mission they were ordered to do and are being disciplined for failing to follow orders,'' Boylan said."
It's hard not to conclude that some very strange twists are being taken here, given that this is the armed services, wherein one is often little more than a cog whose only usefulness is how well and fast one takes orders, and given the combat situation, in which refusal to carry out orders can result in a firing squad. Then I see this at the NYTimes:

"The eight soldiers come from places scattered across the country, from this small town an hour northwest of Little Rock to cities in Arizona, New Jersey and New York. In Iraq and Kuwait, where they all work now, most of them hold different jobs in different units, miles apart. Most have never met.
But the eight share a bond of anger: each says he has been prevented from coming home for good by an Army policy that has barred thousands of soldiers from leaving Iraq this year even though the terms of enlistment they signed up for have run out. And each of these eight soldiers has separately taken the extraordinary step of seeking legal help, through late-night Internet searches and e-mail inquiries from their camps in the conflict zone, or through rounds of phone calls by an equally frustrated wife or mother back home.
With legal support from the Center for Constitutional Rights, a liberal-leaning public interest group, lawyers for the eight men say they will file a lawsuit on Monday in federal court in Washington challenging the Army policy known as stop-loss."
I don't give much for their chances on this, given that the army reserves the right to do just about anything it damned well pleases, and given this administration's intolerance for dissent and contempt for life, but it sure is fascinating to see these long simmering frustrations finally playing out.

But don't worry, warhogs---Ben Nelson of the Senate Armed Services Committee has assurances from the Army coalition commander General George Casey that more bodies are on the way! He and those other war heroes Saxby Chambliss and Jon Kyl put a bug in Casey's ear that they were fearful maybe there might not be enough cannon fodder to absorb the continuing attacks in Iraq. But luckily, Casey assured them:

"“It’s not my prerogative, but I think you can expect an announcement in the near future that more troops will be going there,” Nelson said in a telephone interview from Omaha, one day after returning from a six-day visit to five nations in the Persian Gulf region."
Not only that, but a quick meal with a few suitably intimidated young soldiers has assured them that morale is good!
" The senators were encouraged by signs of improved troop morale after sharing Thanksgiving dinner with soldiers from their respective states. "
Well, thank Christ for that! I was beginning to fear there might be a little concern amongst our troops that maybe the government didn't have their best interests at heart.

I'm sure Mr. Nelson and Mr. Chambliss will be the first to volunteer should we need a draft.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Weekend Funnies

Mr. Fish not only has a great bunch of cartoons, but also some fun items for sale at cafepress, like a bumpersticker with a flag background that says, "United We Suck," or for those with simple tastes, "My President Is A Jackass." You can also see his cartoons at Harper's, which has begun running them. Click on the cartoon to enlarge it.

In the only-amusing-in-a-sick-tragicially-true-way category,
The Onion
has revealed Iraq's handy new color-coded terror alert system. At the current "Elevated" threat level:
"Citizens living in towns with populations of 1,500 or more should prepare for the smoke of burning vehicles to obscure the sun and expect hostages to be tortured for several days before being killed."
Here's Tom Tomorrow on the Ground Hog Day experience that Iran is fast becoming.

And because the pickings are getting so slim for contemporary humor (is it that bad, that we don't even want to laugh anymore?) there's this archived piece by the emminently commonsensical Joe Bob Briggs on our barbaric behavior last year before the war towards France and Germany.

Friday, December 03, 2004

They're Not Chicken In Kiev

In fact, they actually seem to have a real,live Supreme Court, with unbiased, independent judicial reviews and everything!

Dreams do come true.

This Script Sucks--Can I Get A New Writer?

With elections imminent in Iraq next month, attacks are becoming bolder and more deadly. In Baghdad this morning BBC reported one suicide bombing outside a Shia mosque as people were leaving prayers that killed 13 and injured 19 (so far), and further in, an attack on a police station just outside the Green Zone that killed 10. The insurgents shot up the place, the cops ran away, and the insurgents then looted the station armory and freed prisoners. But wait...wasn't it supposed to Bruce Willis who overran the bad guys and freed the helpless? Where's the deus ex machina that's going to make this all turn out right? We need Re-Write!

Interesting thing is that this attack took place right next to the airport road, one of the most heavily traveled roads in the country, just outside what should be the safest area of the city (or country, for that matter). But the US embassy has forbidden its employees from using the road. Meantime, Juan Cole mentions the latest kidnappings of several governing council members, one of which is a woman. (The insurgents seem to like to target women in governing positions especially. They have been attacked in far greater numbers, relatively, than men.)

Update: The death toll has climbed to 25.

Meanwhile, Riverbend's report on Fallujah (remember Fallujah?) and the situation in Baghdad should bring a thrill of pride to those warmongers among us who insisted this unprovoked, illegal invasion was going to be a moral coup:
"The situation in Falloojeh is worse than anyone can possibly describe. It has turned into one of those cities you see in your darkest nightmares- broken streets strewn with corpses, crumbling houses and fallen mosques... The worst part is that for the last couple of weeks we've been hearing about the use of chemical weapons inside Falloojeh by the Americans. Today we heard that the delegation from the Iraqi Ministry of Health isn't being allowed into the city, for some reason...
The situation is really bad in Baghdad. Many areas have turned into mini-warzones. A'miriyah, A'adhamiyah, Ghazaliyah and Haifa to name a few. The rest of us just get our usual dose of daily explosions and gun fire...
Allawi, in spite of all his posturing and posing, has turned himself into a hateful figure after what happened in Falloojeh. As long as he is in a position of power, America will be occupying Iraq. People realize that now. He's Bush's boy. He has proved that time and again and people are tired of waiting for something insightful or original to come from his government."
Bodes well for the elections, don't you think? Bring 'em on!