Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Greed & Incompetence Up, Scientific Discovery Down, Torture Steady

Good old Merck. In Japan, disgraced executives commit harakiri. In the US, they get hugs and kisses, and big piles of other people's money:
"Yesterday, Merck said in a federal securities filing that its board had decided to give its top 230 managers the opportunity for a one-time payment of up to three years of salary and bonus if another company bought Merck - or merely bought over 20 percent of its shares. Any executive who was fired or resigned for good cause would receive the payment.
Merck has structured the compensation plan so that executives can receive the payments as soon as another company buys 20 percent of Merck's stock, even if it does not complete a takeover. That provision creates the possibility that executives could receive a windfall by leaving even if Merck remained independent, said Nell Minow, editor of the Corporate Library, an independent research firm specializing in corporate governance.
Under the plan, the 230 senior executives will have the chance to receive a cash payment from 1.5 to 3 times their annual salary and expected annual bonus if Merck is taken over and they quit or are fired within two years of a takeover. In many cases, the executives could fully exercise their stock options and restricted stock grants, without waiting to become fully vested."

Meanwhile, science itself (as opposed to the business of science), received a blow from the recently-passed appropriations bill, that saw fit to fund the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, but took $105 million away from the National Science Foundation, which supports research into cancer, as well as

"...research on an artificial retina, to restore sight to blind people, and on silicon chips that could be implanted in the brain to replace neurons damaged by disease or injury."

After Bush made typically lying promises to increase funding.

Finally, as you knew it would, our good deeds at Guantanamo have come back to haunt us. We do the Red Cross the favor of finally letting them in down there, and what do they do? Turn around and release a report that we've been torturing prisoners! Why those...

"The finding that the handling of prisoners detained and interrogated at Guantánamo amounted to torture came after a visit by a Red Cross inspection team that spent most of last June in Guantánamo.
The team of humanitarian workers, which included experienced medical personnel, also asserted that some doctors and other medical workers at Guantánamo were participating in planning for interrogations, in what the report called "a flagrant violation of medical ethics."
Doctors and medical personnel conveyed information about prisoners' mental health and vulnerabilities to interrogators, the report said, sometimes directly, but usually through a group called the Behavioral Science Consultation Team, or B.S.C.T. The team, known informally as Biscuit, is composed of psychologists and psychological workers who advise the interrogators, the report said. "

Well, at least our scientists can find work doing the Mengele thing for the government after their NSF grants run out.

Monday, November 29, 2004

What He Said

In the seasonal spirit of reconciliation and peace, I reach out to Andrew Sullivan, and embrace his posture of aghastness:
"Watching images of people bursting through department door stores and trampling each other for a cheap DVD player at 5.30 am makes me wonder if I belong to the same species. Yes, I know there are bargains. But please. The sheer frenzy, the entire mania of consumerism, the notion that meaning is to be found in buying things and giving these things to other people or to yourself - it all leaves me cold. That's one reason I'm such a Christmas-phobe. Each year, we have a communal campaign to persuade ourselves that we never have enough, the new things will assuage our real needs, that buying is the same as living. "

I promised myself not to blog this, but I really don't understand the need or desire to drag oneself through 9 circles of shopping hell the day after the mental and physical stress of Thanksgiving. Take it from me...the best way to spend Black Friday is at home, listening to holiday music, decorating the house with the festive festoonery, and hoisting any number of eggnogs, hot buttered rums, or other holiday spirits. Don't go anywhere you can't get to on foot. Order in at dinnertime. Put a log on the fire if you have one. Spend the time with someone you love.

Aah, fuck this capitalistic orgy. Life is too short.

Internet Access Is A Public Trust

Before I get any further into this post, let me throw my hand on the table: internet access is essential communication that is becoming ever more integral to daily life, not only in the US, but around the world. In some of the most remote areas of the planet people have come to depend on such access to free them from the experiential prisons that trapped their parents and grandparents, and have kept them captive and hopeless under tyrannical regimes. Through internet access kids in Iran grew up hungry to know Western culture and freedoms, families in China can gauge the progress of economic development in their own backyards, and the world shrinks to the size of big city.

The concept of public utility regulation arose from the recognition that certain services---water, electricity, communication, broadcasting---were so essential to the public health and safety that the government (that is, the people) had a compelling interest in ensuring that they were made available and at reasonable cost to everyone, and that the public interest was served by them. But in the current free-for-all-market, much of this philosophy has been discarded or neutered. When faced with a choice between guarding public rights and letting loose the dogs of commerce, our current leaders never met a corporation they could say "no" to. See, for instance, the F"Fairness Doctrine? We don't need no stinkin' Fairness Doctrine!"CC.

In an effort to counter the lack of broadband internet access for underserved groups, and to try to make itself competitive and attractive to business, Philadelphia has been looking into ways to offer Wi-Fi across the city at low rates (between $15-25 mo.), starting next June. Already you can hook up at the Terminal Market or the Borders at Broad St, and access is spreading.

But now in Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell is faced with a decision: whether or not to sign into law a bill which has been flogged persistently by that crusader for consumers' rights, Verizon. House Bill 30 was passed by both legislative houses, and would prevent governments from providing broadband for a fee to their communities. Verizon has dragged its feet for years in supplying broadband to rural areas and in cooperating with other companies, most notably DSL carriers like now-defunct Phoenix, which it helped kill. Now, faced with the competition of a non-profit (local government), Verizon's tack is to simply eliminate it, as well.

I honestly don't know what Rendell intends to do now. But whatever decision he makes will determine the direction PA goes in the next decade: either into a future inclusive of everyone whether rural or urban, rich or poor, or a future of business as usual for the plutocracy.

Crude, But Effective

Friday night a Greek oil tanker ripped itself open in the Delaware River in South Philly. By yesterday over 30,000 gallons of Venezuelan crude had leaked into a relatively tiny area of the river near the mouths of some small creeks, and hundreds of birds and other wildlife had already died. The spill occurred right next to the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in Tinicum, and only a torrential downpour of rains saved the refuge from inundation by the oil. In a revealing paragraph, the NYT story goes on to say that:
"The Heinz refuge contains Pennsylvania's largest freshwater tidal marsh - a delicate type of ecosystem - although the threat of fossil fuel contamination is nothing new here. In February 2000, a pipeline that runs through the refuge burst, unleashing more than 190,000 gallons of oil, Dr. Stolz said."

Something to bear in mind when the development-minded begin pushing for a pipeline through ANWR.

BTW, animals are being brought to the Tinicum refuge and washed with dish detergent in attempts to save their life. It's worth knowing that Dawn Dishwashing Liquid donates tons of gallons to refuges and other rescue organizations to save the animals victimized by oil spills, and has been doing so for years. For that alone, they deserve your dollars when you next go to the store. In the meantime, people have been asked to report any problems they see:

"The public is asked to report any effect on fish, wildlife or the environment to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Commission at 215-365-1558."

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Off Your Backs, Into Your Bedrooms, and All Through Your Bodies

Conservatives like to hold themselves up as the party of small government and less governmental intrusion. For decades they have trumpeted the growing weight of the government's heavy hand on the neck of the electorate, and cast accusatory fingers at Democrats as the party behind this tyranny.

But that hasn't stopped them from howling like banshees when the Supreme Court ruled against government surveillance of bedroom activities in Texas, and struck down the law that the state used to punish such activities as it found there when it suited them.

Now, in a piece from The Independent, we find that GlaxoSmithKline, among other un-named BIg Pharma companies, has been colluding with New York's child "welfare" system to force children to take its experimental anti-HIV drugs:
"The trials have been taking place in New York under the auspices of the Administration for Children's Services, the body that looks after the welfare of children in New York City.

The ACS has an agreement with the Pediatric Aids Clinical Trials Group, supported by GSK and other drug companies, to test treatments on HIV-positive children. No tests can take place on children without parental consent and drug companies have had great difficulty in the past obtaining such consent for Aids drug trials.

However, the ACS is deemed to be the legal guardian for many HIV-positive children. According to a BBC2 documentary, Guinea Pig Kids, to be shown on Tuesday, the ACS has forced children to be involved in these trials, removing them from foster homes if the foster parent did not comply and even physically making the children take the drugs."
GSK admits that it knew the state was using force to make the kids take the drugs, but excused itself by stating that it had no direct involvement in the coercion---it only supplied the drugs. But lest you think this was only a state-level issue, there's this:

"It added that the US regulator, the Food and Drug Administration, encouraged the studies. "Clinical trials involving children and orphans are therefore legal and not unusual," GSK said in a statement."
I don't think I can add anything more to this that hasn't already occurred to someone reading this post, except to say that this is being done on your watch, Republicans, and by the government that the Bush supporters voted in, under the aegis of the FDA that Bush vetted and that has allowed Merck to kill 27,000 people.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Good Evening Mr. and Mrs. North and South America and All The Ships At Sea!

Stop the presses---news alert from the New York "Nobody Gets One Past Us" Times:

Today, people went shopping.

Weather Report

"They call this war a cloud over the land. But they made the weather and then they stand in the rain and say 'Shit, it's raining!'"

Ruby Thewes--Cold Mountain

The Pilgrims, Marriage, and Separation of Church & State

In a moment of rumination over Thanksgiving, I was doing some reading on the differences between the Pilgrims and Puritans, which led me to the website of The Pilgrim Hall Museum, and an essay by Richard Howland Maxwell, titled "Pilgrim And Puritan: A Delicate Distinction". It's a well-reasoned piece with some interesting points that I've been sadly ignorant of or had long forgotten.

The people whom we celebrate as survivors of that first devastating winter in N. America were reformers and secessionists who sought to re-connect with the divine ground of their theology by removing themselves from a corrupt government that was bound inextricably into the Anglican church and had tainted that church:
"The Protestant Reformation that had taken place in the sixteenth century in Germany, Switzerland, and elsewhere on the European continent had not really touched England nearly a century later. By the Act of Supremacy in 1534, King Henry VIII had taken control of the Church in his country away from the Pope, but little else had changed. The Church of England was the official and only church in England. Everybody belonged to it, whether they wanted to or not. Every resident of a given community was automatically a member of the parish in that community. Worship services were read from a Prayer Book. There was little or no teaching or preaching that went on in worship; therefore, there was little need for a trained clergy or for the clergy to make any effort at preparation for worship.
Because it was an extension of the government, the English church was as subject to political abuse and favoritism as any other governmental agency. One result was that the office of the parish priest became a sinecure given as an expression of the favor of the hierarchy; many of the clergy were assigned to parishes but never went near them! The church members had nothing to say about all of this; they were expected to quietly accept whatever the hierarchy of the church thrust upon them. In his biography of John Robinson entitled The Pilgrim Way, Robert Merrill Bartlett summarized the problems which led to the rise of Puritanism in England as being "the tyranny of the hierarchy, the indolence of the clergy, and the lethargy of the laity." "
And the purpose of the Puritan movement was to focus on a kind of back-to-basics religion, much as Martin Luther had done with the Reformation:

"Puritanism in England was essentially a movement within the established church for the purifying of that church - for ministers godly and able to teach, for a simplifying of ritual, for a return to the virtues of primitive Christianity. There was nothing revolutionary about the main body of its doctrine. . Its innovating principle was in the idea that the Bible, rather than any established religious hierarchy, was the final authority."
But the most interesting part for me, in light of the gay-marriage tempest currently distracting our devout citizenry, was this comment on how the Pilgrims of the Plymouth Colony regarded marriage:

"At Plymouth, church and state were even more markedly separated. Like all Puritans, both groups held that the Bible - as opposed to church leaders or their pronouncements - is the final authority. In Plymouth, they interpreted that to include the idea that what Scripture does not specifically claim as a religious function remains a civil one. The best-known result of this thinking was the belief in Plymouth that marriage was a civil rite, not a religious one. Governor Bradford himself explained that marriage is "a civill thing, upon which many questions aboute inheritances doe depende, with other things most proper to their cognizans… and no wher found in the gospell to be layed on the ministers as a part of their office." "
A civil function. Not part of a minister's function.
That should wow them at the next Alliance Defense Fund meeting.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Shamed by The Ukraine?

Congressional Magazine "The Hill" reports that the Government Accountability Office is about to begin investigating voting irregularities in the 2004 election:
"The Government Accountability Office (GAO) announced yesterday that it plans to investigate alleged voter irregularities during the 2004 election, a response to two separate letters written by a group of Democratic lawmakers, including Reps. John Conyers (Mich.), Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), Robert Wexler (Fla.), Robert Scott (Va.) and Rush Holt (N.J.).
The lawmakers released a statement yesterday: “On its own authority, the GAO will examine the security and accuracy of voting technologies, distribution and allocation of voting machines, and counting of provisional ballots.”
But control yourself. This isn't a seditious attempt to upset the apple cart:

"A spokesperson for Conyers said the intent of requesting the investigation was not to overturn election results but to improve the overall mechanics of the voting process. "
Better than nothing, though.

Elsewhere in the same mag, I found this nugget, thanks to Josh Marshall:
"Deep in the transportation section of this year’s omnibus spending bill, Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.) dispensed a little appropriator’s justice, punishing 21 Republicans who wrote him a letter in support of $1.8 billion for Amtrak.

Istook, chairman of the Subcommittee on Transportation, Treasury and Independent Agencies, drastically reduced, or entirely excised, the transportation earmarks that those lawmakers were expecting to receive, making good on a little-noticed threat he issued in a letter last February."
The four PA lawmakers identified as being on the receiving end of this snotty little vendetta, whic promises only to hurt the people and businesses who need Amtrak, are Mainliner Curt Weldon, Jim Gerlach, Melissa Hart, and Phil English.

A nest of squirming, gutless wonders. all of them.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Send In The Clowns

Isn't it rich? We, who couldn't be bothered to get behind the numerous investigations of obvious election-rigging, and other monkey business here in our own country getting all hot and bothered over---wait for it---overvotes in the Ukraine!!! And who more perfect to convey the full weight of our national concern than that paragon of credibility, Colin "Aluminum Tubes" Powell?

Aren't We a Pair (or A Trio, Or A Quintet--of Species?)

Meanwhile, over at the always droll Pentagon DARPA, insects and plant life are next in line to be drafted.

"Backed by the Pentagon, scientists are recruiting insects, shellfish, bacteria and even weeds to act as "bio-sentinels," which give early warning of biological and chemical attacks, detect explosives or monitor the spread of contamination."
You knew Bush was running out of widows, but who could have guessed the personnel shortage had gotten so severe?

"June Medford, a plant biologist at Colorado State University, said the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America were a wake up call for her and many other scientists who had not previously thought of researching how nature can help domestic defense."
Oh, I don't know...remember those Dolphins for Peace?

Have a good holiday.

Holiday Turkeys

Just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday, hundreds of toll collectors went on strike this morning in PA. I find it interesting that the state offered them fully-paid health care benefits and annual raises, which their union refused---the same benefits the state successfully fought when its AFSCME and SEIU workers were negotiating their contracts.

I also find it interesting that, after locking the latter workers into a 4-year contract without even COLA increases, the state's legislators, the same ones who walked out on efforts to fund mass transit (leaving millions of people and businesses potentially stranded), those legislators are now standing at the trough with their hands out, waiting for a 20% raise on top of their COLA increases. How long are PA's people going to keep voting these clowns back in office?

Monday, November 22, 2004

Compassionate Conservative Disinterest

Bob Herbert of the NYTimes has a good piece on poverty and hunger in America. Who talks about that? Poor people? The downtrodden? The dispossessed? How boring. No one's poor any more. Except see my recent post from 11/20 about the same thing, and try to imagine how it feels to have to weigh whether you eat or pay the electric bill this month. And if that isn't enough, see this website on the injustices and cruelty faced by immigrant farm labor, including hunger and slavery. Remember that next time you visit Taco Bell.

All the while as the Democratic party wrings its hands over what kinds of issues we should embrace and jesttison.

Pitiful. Really pitiful.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Calling Clarence Darrow

South of Harrisburg, Pennsylvanians in the Dover Area School District have adopted a familiar tack: bringing religion into the classroom.
“The rural, 3,600-student school district, 20 miles south of Harrisburg, is the first in the nation to require the teaching of "intelligent design," a theory that holds that the complexity of the natural world offers overwhelming evidence of a supernatural force at work.”
Not Christianity, per se, but the concept that a deity, not random chance or evolution as understood by scientists, is responsible for the progression of life as it exists. But there is no question that the people who pushed this agenda are Christian fundamentalists who believe in creationism and see this as a way to begin the introduction of that more blatant concept into the school.

"‘The only thing we want to do is provide a balanced playing field for the students, as opposed to just hearing about the theory of evolution,’ said school board member William Buckingham, a self-described creationist.”
Of course, since the Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that teaching creationism was unconstitutional, the fundies have been not only fighting that decision, but coming up with something a little slicker to slip in, in its stead. In the meantime, that leaves the teachers, who of course would be the last people anyone would consult, confused and worried about what the outcome may be:

“The high school's three biology teachers, meanwhile, are wondering just what they are supposed to teach. They say they had no input into the new curriculum and worry that they could be sued.”
For those not familiar with it, “Intelligent Design” ostensibly stands alone as simply an idea that a god or supernatural being has set the forces of the universe into motion. But there is no question that it puts theology into the classroom, not as an idea to be studied critically, but as an alternate view of how the world was formed. Writings of Fellows from The Discovery Institute, which underwrites ID research, reveal a politically conservative agenda focused on supporting right-wing Republicans and their policies, and a careful monitoring of creationism legal fights across the nation. Millionaire Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson, deeply involved with the
Christian Reconstructionists, poured millions of dollars into supporting the Institute in his attempts to discredit evolution theory. Concerned Women for America gleefully cites the Institute as an ally in its fight to eliminate evolutionary teaching on a webpage dripping with fundamentalist bile.
I don’t have the expertise nor the desire to get into an argument defending evolution here. I’ll leave that to the incomparable Stephen Jay Gould, God rest his soul, who tried endlessly to make people understand that just because evolution was a”theory” did not mean it was untrue or based on error. As he said in Hens’ Teeth and Horses’ Toes, Further Reflections in Natural History:

“Well, evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world's data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein's theory of gravitation replaced Newton's, but apples did not suspend themselves in mid-air, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from apelike ancestors whether they did so by Darwin's proposed mechanism or by some other yet to be discovered.”
Funny, though, I’ve never heard anyone adequately explain how accepting the ideas of evolution renders belief in a purposeful creator untenable. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. In the meantime, for a good read on the anti-ID arguments, The Skeptic’s Dictionary has a worthwhile page.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

The Malignant Blind Lead the Clueless Blind

More than 12 million U.S. families went hungry or had to utilize food aid agencies of some kind to avoid starving last year. That’s about 13 million children. I realize that the Bush admin may consider it a sign of slackerism on the part of the Republican-controlled Congress that the number of hungry in the country only rose by .1% between 2002 and 2003, which probably explains why Bush has proposed reduction of $122 million for the WIC program.

It's hard work, making up a budget that hangs on to the big giveaways for your buddies while cleverly masking cruelty and slashing programs for the needy, but Bush and his junta told you they were up to it. Now Congress is poised to pass a budget that enshrines Bush’s attack on overtime for workers, cracks the federal worker’s union by privatizing some federal jobs, pulls Iraq reconstruction funds away from that country to send to Sudan, and drops milk subsidies for small dairy farmers because the states with Big Dairy agribusiness objected to them. This should help reduce the deficit and America’s dependence on government handouts, right? Even better, Bush’s 2006 budget proposes further cuts, like $1.5 billion from education, $900 million from veterans’ health care, and $170 million from child care and Head Start.

Speaking of the deficit, stocks fell because Greenspan told the truth to some foreign financial leaders. Interest rates will rise and foreign investment will drop because our budget deficit is too big, and maybe a nice recession will be in order to slow it down. Hmmm. Who knew? Certainly not the magnificent Bush economic team. Maybe not even Greenspan himself when he was so blithely encouraging Bush’s irresponsible fantasy-ridden fiscal adventures (like the Iraq war) of the last 4 years, here, here, and here, and here.

Weekend Funnies

Oliphant, with a take on the likely progress of the next 4 years.
Rees has an IQ test.
That's it. I'm having a hard time maintaining my sense of humor today.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Drunken Irrational Exuberance

Christmas is coming!!!
Holidays! Solstice! Hannukah! Thanksgiving! Friends! Family!
Dearest ones, I know I don't show it much, but I love you and cherish you in my life.
Think of me and lift a rum punch or eggnog. Let's get into the Saturnalia of the moment! Enough of all this mourning and black crepe.

Coolie America

This is your future:
"Workers at hair salons, supermarkets, restaurants, discount stores, call centers, car washes and other businesses who have murmured only to one another about off-the-clock work are now speaking up and documenting the illegal practice.
In interviews and in affidavits supporting employee lawsuits, Ms. LeBlue and more than 50 workers from a dozen companies said they were required to do such unpaid work despite federal and state laws that prohibit it and despite recent lawsuits against Wal-Mart and other companies that have highlighted the problem.
"It is prevalent," said Alfred Robinson, director of the wage and hour division of the Labor Department. "It is one of the more common violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act."
Though there have been no formal studies of the practice or of its overall cost to employees, the workers interviewed said off-the-clock work took place at a variety of companies: A&P, J. P. Morgan Chase, Pep Boys, Ryan's Family Steakhouses, TGF Precision HairCutters and Ms. LeBlue's company, SmartStyle, which is part of the Regis Corporation, the nation's largest chain of hairstylists. SmartStyle and many of the other companies say they bar off-the-clock work, and they are fighting the lawsuits.
Over the last year, the Labor Department has brought enforcement actions against several companies that required off-the-clock work, seeking back pay and demanding compliance. The agency has grown more aggressive after plaintiffs' lawyers filed scores of off-the-clock lawsuits, some resulting in multimillion-dollar settlements with prominent companies, including Radio Shack and Starbucks.
In April, the Pleasantview Healthcare Center of Bolivar, Tenn., paid $44,887 in back wages after the Labor Department found off-the-clock violations involving 41 employees - many of them clocked out while finishing their daily tasks. In February, the department recovered $180,000 from the Hanna Steel Corporation after finding that 522 employees had been forced for months to begin work five minutes before their regular shifts started.
Off-the-clock work can take many forms. Employees are sometimes told that it is the way people advance in a company, and other times they are forced to show up early or stay late under threat of losing their jobs.
Although many employees fear retribution, a number of workers said they were now willing to talk because they were angry and involved in lawsuits seeking back pay.
Waylon Pastorius, a TeleTech call-center worker in Niagara Falls, N.Y., said he was required to arrive 15 minutes before each shift began, but was not paid for that time. Sharon Djafaripour said she was instructed to record only eight hours of work a day even though she regularly worked nine and a half making crowns, bridges and other dental devices at MicroDental laboratory in Dublin, Calif. Vicky Atchley, who worked for eight years as a waitress at Ryan's Family Steakhouses in Chattanooga, Tenn., said managers often clocked her out during her lunch breaks even when she had to work through them because the restaurant was so busy. They have all sued their companies for back pay."
Those damned tort lawyers! Raising costs by representing wage slaves and victims of corporate negligence. Aren't you glad the Republicans have got a man in office to get rid of them and make America safe again for corporate hooliganism?With luck, Bush will get his way and eliminate this threat to "economic growth" strangling the nation's businesses. He may even be able to get rid of the Fair Labor Standards Act!

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Them That's Got Shall Get

From the Washington Post, via Atrios:
“Pamela F. Olson, a former Bush Treasury official in close contact with administration tax planners, said the president will pursue a tax system where all income -- whether from wages, dividends, capital gains or interest -- is taxed only once. That would mean eliminating taxes on dividends and capital gains paid out of fully taxed corporate profits. Most investment gains are currently taxed at 15 percent.
“The administration will also push hard for large savings accounts that could shelter thousands of dollars of deposits each year from taxation on investment gains, according to White House economic advisers who have been involved with the planning. And any tax reform, according to Treasury Department officials, would likely eliminate the alternative minimum tax, a parallel income tax designed to ensure that the rich pay income taxes but one that increasingly ensnares the middle class.
“To pay for those large tax cuts, the administration is looking at eliminating both the deduction for state and local taxes, and the business tax deduction for employer-sponsored health insurance. That would raise nearly $926 billion over five years, according to White House and congressional documents.
“Eliminating the state and local tax deduction, for example, would allow the administration to scuttle the alternative minimum tax and raise an extra $400 billion over 10 years, said Leonard E. Burman, a tax policy expert at the Urban Institute. That would be twice what the White House needs to fund the planned tax-free savings accounts, expanded retirement savings accounts and tax-free health savings accounts.”
That’s your brave new Bushworld. The tax burden will further shift to the working class, as they lose their deductions (but not the taxes) for state and local taxes. Employers, already squirming under health insurance costs for employees, will be even more motivated to unload the whole mess on their workers, who will have only the cold comfort of Bush’s hare-brained health savings accounts in recompense. What this administration has been unable to digest is that people who don’t have money to spare in the first place aren’t going to set any aside for health savings accounts. When faced with an economic crunch, folks always put going to the doctor last. And when you are only making enough to just pay your bills from week to week, you aren’t going to put any of those precious funds somewhere you can’t get at them, like a personal retirement account, because you just may be facing a crisis sometime soon.

But the wealthy will get richer, and that vaunted “trickle down effect” we heard so much about in the 80’s, and saw so little of, will once again be trotted out under the new mask of “encouraging economic growth”. Yeah. We’ve got some great results happening with those last couple of tax cuts that went down, don’t we?

Help End Nuclear Hypocrisy

The Friends Committee on National Legislation is a worthwhile group taking action and organizing grassroots change on vital issues like the war, human rights, poverty, and many other important problems both domstically and internationally. Now they have targeted the Bush admin's push to fund so-called "bunker buster" nuclear weapons, which promise to be extremely effective against cities. FCNL's site states:
"If detonated in an urban setting, tens of thousands of people could receive a fatal dose of radiation within the first 24 hours. More would be killed or injured by the extreme pressures of the blast and thermal injuries arising from the heat of the explosion. Still more casualties would result from the resulting fires and the collapse of buildings from the seismic shock that the explosion would produce. According to Sen. Jack Reed (RI), Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrators, 'are really city breakers, not bunker busters.'"
This, at a time when we are pressuring other nations and starting wars against them because they are believed to be developing their own nuclear stockpiles.

Not only do we not need to waste the $27.6 million that would go toward funding this disgrace, we also need to find some kind of moral high ground from which we can credibly preach to others about the need to disarm. You can do something about this by writing to your representatives. Go here, and find out who they are. Then give them an earful.

Everybody's a Comedian

For instance, in response to a post about the House's proposed rollback of financial disclosure requirements for lawmakers by The Medium Lobster over at Fafblog, I wrote:
"Hidden is no good. Hidden is for cowardly girlypols who don't have the strong moral values to stand up and sin publicly and rub the electorate's face in it and then wheeze with evil laughter for days afterward.
No, we need to not only parade our ill-gotten gains for all the world to see, we need to change the rules so that serial rapists and smarmy bukkake pimps can continue to hold onto their congressional leadership positions, even while serving time, so that the immoral Democrats shall never wield power again."
There's "moral values" for you...play around with the law and the rules of lawmaking so that half of the people remain permanently disenfranchised. Perhaps next year they'll repeal voting rights for blacks and women. Then they'll be well on their way to eliminating that whole inconvenient representational government thing entirely.

But the Senate is not without its jokers, either. Patrick Leahy, ranking Dem on the Judiciary Committee, said of the impending confirmation of torture fan Alberto Gonzales that he would win "substantial votes on both sides of the aisle", and that:
"The president could have picked a polarizing figure...He did not. I applaud him for that."
Well, hell, no, how could an opposition party incapable of outrage, with no guts or convictions, faced with the installation of a consigliere who comfortingly gave Bush the go-ahead to engage in any war crimes he likes, who never saw an execution he didn't like, who will never trouble the White House with icky morality questions, how could the Dems possibly find this man polarizing? Joe Conason has more on this paragon here.

Thank God his hard line on execution of the retarded and mentally ill doesn't extend to poultry.

Finally, for all you war fans out there, Colin gives us a parting gift---his valued insight into the likelihood that Iran is revving up nuclear weapons. This is from the same person who so convincingly made a case before the UN for something similar in Iraq, remember? The pictures of trucks next to buildings? The fine intelligence on those aluminum tubes? Yes, he'll have them rolling in the aisles with this new material, I'm sure.

Four more years of this comedy. I don't know if the country's funny bone can take much more. Sydney Blumenthal has some interesting reflections on it, but I don't think he's laughing.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

What Did We Lose?

The miners.
The steelworkers.
The meatpacking workers.
The grocery cashiers.
The butchers.
The auto workers.
The small farmers.
The migrant workers.
The railroad workers.
The factory workers.
The garment workers.
The textile workers.
The nurses.
The anti-trust laws.
The protection of employees from health hazards in the workplace, and the right to decent health care when injured.
The protection of employee rights to decent working conditions and fair wages.
The protection of consumers from unsafe drugs and foods.
The protection of citizens from dangerous pollution by corporate farming and powerful industries.
The protection of small business from corporate predation.
A voice for the weak, the sick, the unlucky, and the hard-pressed.
A voice for the hard-working, the humble, the believers in America.
The bus drivers.
The shop workers.
The sales clerks.
The waitresses.
The teachers.
The domestic workers.
The rural poor.
The urban immigrants.

These are the things we have lost, as Democrats, as people fumbling around after 11/2/04 without a clue, without a sense of who we were or where we came from or what once made us great. We babble and swear and gnash our teeth and posit all sorts of crazy ideas that involve giving up ideals that are part of our heart and soul, and think getting back the support we lost is about running a better marketing campaign. We quail when the right raises the flag of "values", as if we had none at all, as if we hadn't fought for over a hundred years for justice, equality, and the rights of all human beings, as if that was nothing more than an outworn old advertising slogan that's run its course, as if we hadn't stood before the bosses and the government and the military and held our ground when we knew there was no choice except to speak out, against the enslavement of miners, the oppression of blacks, the vileness of a wrongful war, and held that line even when some of us were beaten, or jailed, or killed. Because we had values.

We have stood by now for decades as the free market and the MBAs infecting our govenment have turned our nation's free and brave into coolie America, good for nothing but low-paid fodder for their industrial conquests, war machinery, and to service the sprawling fluorescent prisons of the super discount stores that have paved over almost every goddamned cow field left unprotected in the hinterland. We have traded away our heritage of fighting for a decent life for our people, in exchange for a walk-on part in a bad comedy where we play slow-witted sidekick to the ubermenschen of the Republican party. We cringe with self-doubt when they accuse of "elitism", "immorality". or "treasonous" behavior.

Fuck that shit. Get up off your knees,stop whining and self-flagellating. Go out there and stand up for the people who need you, for what you know is right, and if they call you names, use it on them. Tell the world what you see, and don't be afraid to be heard. Stand up for something again.

This is from Eric Schlosser, from his book "Reefer Madness". Take it to heart:

"Driving back to my motel that night, I thought about the people of Orange County, one of the richest counties in the nation--big on family values, yet bankrupt from financial speculation, unwilling to raise taxes to pay for their own children's education, unwilling to pay off their debts, whining about the injustice of it, and blaming it all on illegal immigrants. And I thought about Francisco, their bogeyman, their scapegoat, working ten hours a day at one of the hardest jobs imaginable, and sleeping on the ground every night, for months, so that he could save money and send it home to his parents.
We have been told for years to bow down before "the market". We have placed our faith in the laws of supply and demand. What has been forgotten, or ignored, is that the market rewards only efficiency. Every other human value gets in its way. The market will drive wages down like water, until they reach the lowest possible level. Today that level is being set not in Washington or New York or Sacramento but in the fields of Baja California and the mountains of Oaxaca. That level is about 5 dollars a day. No deity that men have ever worshipped is more ruthless and more hollow than the free market unchecked; there is no reason why shantytowns should not appear on the outskirts of every American city. All those who now consider themselves devotees of the market should take a good look at what is happening in California. Left to its own devices, the free market always seeks a work force that is hungry, desperate, and cheap--a work force that is anything but free."


Lest there be any ideas out there that the current atrocity under the microscope is a sign of a foulness somehow inherent only to the US, we have Margaret Hassan's murder to further demonstrate the brutality of the animals terrorizing Iraq.

Sometimes the horrors you see just choke off every possible response.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004


More on the curious "moral values" guiding Bush's FDA at TomPaine.com, where Stephen Rizzo has been wondering the same thing I did a couple posts back.

27,000 deaths.


Republicans: Promoting the Moral Values of Hate and Ignorance

This is what those highly moral folks in the Red World gave the nation after the election:
an unhinged nutcase masquerading as a physician who performed illegal surgery on a minor, advocates against the use of condoms, and objected to the TV broadcast of "Schindler's List"because he thought it would cause promiscuity;
and a hatemongering cult member whose determination to lay an oppressive sales tax on the poor is amusing when juxtaposed against his own record of failing to pay his taxes on time---for years.

I'm having a harder and harder time figuring out how this whole "morals" thing works.

We Have All Been Here Before

Much has been made of the recent video of a Marine killing a wounded Iraqi prisoner in a mosque in Fallujah. But what is unusual about this is not that it happened, but that an American media outlet made it public. As a result, the Pentagon is all over this now, ordering an immediate investigation into what will prove to be yet another coup of bad press for us in the eyes of the world.

This is nothing new. It has happened before, and more than once.

Meanwhile, the FDA and the anti-abortionists have been jumping at the chance to conclude that mifepristone, or RU-486, is causing the deaths of women who take it, although the "evidence", as cited by the front page piece in the NYTimes, is questionable. This is a country whose regulatory agency blinked and yawned as Merck oversaw the deaths of thousands due to its popular pain-killer Vioxx.
I'm neither impressed nor convinced about something that so conveniently furthers BushCo's anti-choice agenda.

Monday, November 15, 2004

We Always Know Just What To Say

Can there ever be any reason for declaring victory over an area, and then refusing to allow an aid agency to enter? I mean, I don't know the fine points of international law and the conventions on treatment of a defeated civilian population, but can there ever be a justification for this?:
"US military chiefs said yesterday that they saw no need for the Iraqi Red Crescent to deliver aid inside Falluja because they did not think any Iraqi civilians were trapped there.
"There is no need to bring [Red Crescent] supplies in because we have supplies of our own for the people," said Colonel Mike Shupp of the marines.
A convoy of food and medicine brought by the group on Saturday was not allowed into the city"
One moment they say there's no need for aid, and the next they say they have aid for them and that's enough. Further into The Guardian article there's this:

" The Red Crescent believes at least 150 families are trapped, with many people in desperate need of food, blankets, water and medicine.
Some residents still inside the city, contacted by Reuters yesterday, said their children were suffering from diarrhoea and had not eaten for days.
Asked what he would do about the families and other non-combatants in the city, Col Shupp said: "I haven't heard that myself and the Iraqi soldiers didn't tell me about that. We want to help them as much as we can. We are on the radio telling them how to come out and how to come up to coalition forces.(snip)
Red Crescent trucks and ambulances stopped at Falluja's main hospital, outside the city.
There is almost no one at the hospital for doctors to treat because most residents were too scared to leave their homes amid the fighting. The Red Crescent has said the only way it can help is to go into the city."
The article goes on to cite even more resentment and anger at US forces building within and without the city among the Sunnis. Altogether, this has been a (predictably) very bad effort. No one doubted we could mow down the city with our weaponry. But as anyone who had experience of Vietnam could tell, this war will not be won with weapons alone.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

The Gates of Fallujah (w/Apologies to Kurasawa)

Interesting how the angle of the story changes depending on who's observing it. The unfolding of the Fallujah attack has been almost beside the point to many Americans. It's not as if we have been glued to the TV or eating up the papers following it, or that the import and ramifications of it have been on everyone's tongue. It almost seems as if the use of a few crude words in the telecast of "Saving Private Ryan"got more hype, as if our lives go on without even the slightest pause or inconvenience, except for those who kill and die in our name, and whose loved ones do likewise. But for those who pay attention, the story gets a bit hard to pin down.

Reports at The Chicago Tribune and the NYTimes are upbeat, told exclusively from the standpoint of American forces, and have nothing to say on civilian casualties. The Tribune even states that nothing is known of the number, and hints that foreign sentiment is on our side this time, stating,
"Even the worldwide outcry was muted this time, by revulsion at an insurgency blamed for grisly beheadings of hostages."
On the other hand, The Guardian and The Independent each spend an entire article on civilian impact, and what comes through is the growing realization of just how enormous the devastation to civilians is turning out to be.

Rahul Mahajan at Empire Notes lays it all out with some nasty quotes from the AP, USA Today, and the Daily Telegraph, but read his previous post, too, where he cites Allawi's threats to the media to refrain making negative reports on the action.

And here's the perceptive Riverbend, whom I've never heard use the word "genocide", before, with a plea for the world to pay attention.

And this is how our government plans to keep us safe from terrorism. By earning the undying hatred, fear, and disdain of peoples all over the world.

Didn't Bush say he didn't have to explain himself to anyone? This is one of the comforts of religion; that one can meditate on the likelihood that such a foul excuse for a human being may some day get his reward from a force greater than we ourselves can summon.

A Voice From Within the Flock

This, in an e-mail from a real Christian who has heard the voices of the right-wing extremists and not recognized the teachings of her own faith in them:
"I am not eloquent, so for what it is worth, I agree with all that you say. What I have a difficult time with is having something that doesn't sound rabid to say to the Bush lovers who are standing on their moral ground. What are they (Bush voters) really thinking about, responding to, wanting from the gov't.? Can't they see the Rep platform as the propaganda that it is? Why can't we Dems present a winning argument about large deficit/large gov't/increased taxes (records of former Rep presidents) that they can hear? What "moral values" are they talking about? Have they been defined?
Did you watch Nightline last night(about) tThe Viet Nam Vets that are homeless--is it 1 in 3 of homeless Vets have no shelter? Is it their fault that they cannot function in a material world after seeing death and murder? Can't people see the faith-based programs are over-burdened with paperwork, mission, people in need, and low resources? Where is the solution? I guess we already have some homeless Iraq War Vets. Can't we see the cost of war? How can anyone support it? Especially followers of Jesus Christ! He was tempted like us in every way but did not sin. They equal themselves to Jesus, but forget that he was tempted by satan in the same way we are everyday, and He did not go for the power, riches and fame---He went for humility.
So, my point is, there is plenty of fodder for the destruction of the propaganda machine, but why can't we seem to get a stick in the wheel to trip them up?
I think we need our leaders to debate more in prime time and not just 4 debates at election time every 4 years. Now there's some reality TV."

It seemed plenty eloquent to me. And why aren't more voices like that above being heard? In part of my response, I sent this:

"One of the dialogues (or in some cases rants) that the liberals and Dems at the sites I visit have been embroiled in since the end of the election is how the right has hijacked the concept of "moral values" (as opposed, I guess, to immoral values?) like they did love of country, and have been posing as though their greed, intolerance, selfishness and hate were all part of their Christ's plan. What's really frightening is that when people think they have God on their side, they become capable of so many atrocities with a clear conscience, as history has well shown.Liberal and mainstream Christians, despite the fact that they make up the mass of Christian thought in the country, have not been very good at getting the message out that what is being done by these fanatics in the name of their religion is actually anathema to their theology. There are a number of really oustanding Christian weblogs like Slacktivist, Bad Christian, Real Live Preacher , Killing the Buddha, and Obsidian Wings, and some good websites like Sojourners , and beliefnet, where the right is being challenged on these things. There are even organizations of mainstream Chrsitian churches that have taken out ads in papers and magazines to try to get the message across, but none of this can equal the power the right has gotten from setting its people into places of power, from the courts to the Congress to the White House.
E.G., Last year, during an election in Mississipi, there was a referendum to cut welfare payments from the pittance it already was, something like $400+ a month for a family of 4, to less than $300. Now, even in a poor state like this, no one can be expected to find a place to live, buy groceries for 4, pay utility bills, and afford transportation to look for work, on that kind of money. It's a joke. Well, the people who opposed the cut thought that if they tried to frame it as a Christian issue, and had someone well-known from the evangelical right to be a spokesperson, they could convince the voters not to go along with this. Charity, mercy, compassion, duty to be your brother's keeper, all that. So they fought it, and what happened? All those ostensible Christians conveniently failed to hear that call, and the cut became so much history faster than you could say "moneychangers".
The problem is that people like me, who really can't claim to be Christians in the theological sense, we may understand the dynamics what is happening here because of our exposure to it as kids and young adults, but we really have no standing with the flock. I can speak on it from the standpoint of a human being pleading for humanitarian behavior, but if I start spouting scripture, it comes off like Jerry Falwell trying to quote the Koran. That's why it's so important for people who really are in the church to speak out, and confront these people on the scriptural issues they so horribly contort."
Not much else to say after that.

There's your Sunday sermon.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Weekend Funnies (Dept. of You Can't Make This Stuff Up)

Over at whitehouse.org, which is fast becoming The Memory Hole of satire, we find a golden oldie from now ex-Cheka head John Ashcroft, a recorded duet of gospel sounds amusingly titled "Truth". Check out the convenient MP3 downloads, kids!

At Comedy Central's The Daily Show site, Lewis Black tries to satirze the recent election of that St George of homosexual-slayers, Jim DeMint, and Dr. Mengele protege Tom Coburn to Congress, but even he can't improve on reality.

The Onion has a front page piece on how America, inspired by Tom Franks' "What's the Matter With Kansas?", stepped to the election plate and proved him right.

More later. Shopping to be done.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Friday No-Cat Blogging

That's right, no cats. And there won't be any, either, until and unless I figure out how to post pix. Getting the hang of HTML is challenging enough.

Information Abhors A Vacuum

Love or hate it, the book "Imperial Hubris"by "Anonymous", a CIA agent who was chief of the CIA Counterterrorist Center's bi Laden unit from 1996 to 1999, was a thought-provoking piece of work. Michael Scheuer, the analyst who wrote it, finally resigned yesterday after 22 years with the agency, saying:
"...I have concluded that there has not been adequate national debate over the nature of the threat posed by Osama bin Laden and the forces he leads and inspires, and the nature and dimensions of intelligence reform needed to address that threat."
Basically he is leaving so he can continue to prod the country into talking about subjects the Bush administration has been muzzling with charges of treason since it began revving up its war engines in 2001. His book is well worth reading, whether one agrees with everything he says, and hopefully he'll be getting a wider forum now.

AARP Gets A Clue?

Meanwhile, over at AARP there appears to be an ideological rift developing between those who want to call Bush's Social Security plan what it is--privatization and a drain-off of the funds that currently support it--and those who want to further the Bush propaganda that it's not ("doesn't poll well"). Remember it was AARP who helped position the last social net debacle, the new and improved Medicare, by flakking it to their members for Bushco. After the dementia wore off and they woke up to what all the critics had been warning about, they did a one-eighty and publicly wrung their collective hands, as if the information on how elders would be screwed by Big Pharma hadn't been out there for all to see months before it happened. Now I guess some in the organization are a little wiser.

But isn't that what getting older is supposed to be about?

Encephalitis Up 33 Points, Rabies Down 1, Plague Holds Steady

And finally, over at one of my favorite websites, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly,you can read all about the progression of scientific victory over the many little organisms that get us down, as charted over the years.

Now if we could only figure out how to extend that progress to the diseases eating away at the body politic.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Housing vs. Humanity

This, from The Guardian, indicates the astronomical housing prices in Britain are falling:
Meanwhile, in a news conference following the Bank of England's quarterly inflation report yesterday, governor Mervyn King said that the Bank believed the ratio of house prices to average earnings was "unsustainable" and would adjust over the next two to three years.
This is meaningful to me because Britain has been experiencing an even worse housing market inflation than the US, and prices have been skyrocketing all out of proportion to the average wage there. It's been my personal feeling that the similar growth we've seen here in the States, fueled by low interest rates and ridiculous debt accrual, must inevitably crash. This report from the UK, combined with Greenspan's hike in interest rates here, plus the fact that he's painted himself into a corner with nowhere to go but interest hikes, tells me that in about 5 years (providing you've been able to hang onto a job and not lose real wages--uncertain with The Thing That Wouldn't Leave remaining in office), you might have a shot at buying a more realistically priced house.

People have been buying houses at such inflated prices that when the market eventually deflates, I can't see how they will ever get their money back if they try to sell. It's what salespeople call being "upside down": owing more than the thing you bought is worth.

Meantime, bankruptcies and foreclosures are through the roof. People have been borrowing heavily against their homes' equity in a drunken blur, and are either driving themselves toward the inevitable bankruptcy or putting the final payoff completely out of reach. In the latter case that they will either be paying their mortgages till death, or be left with such a pittance on resell that they'll be hard-pressed to afford another one.

Yet, look around you. Everywhere you turn, green space is being devoured for cloned McMansion developments, prices starting at a cool quarter mil. New homes at this price level have never been so cheaply built, so charmless and anonymous, so absurdly and obnoxiously vast. Who lives in these things? How can they afford them? What kind of work do they do? And have they no shame, rattling around in these jumped-up boxes the size of public buildings, mowing down needed habitat, eating up public space, cutting off access to wild places, unable to use even half the space they take up, and spending hardly any time there anyway? This, at a time when homelessness and poverty are greater than ever and growing, and the differences between those in the gated communities and those in the slums promises to become positively Dickensian.

Remember the old small-is-better movement, when people were encouraged to leave a light footprint, and a sustainable lifestyle was thought to be a good thing? Those folks were marginalized a long time ago. Disposability is the order of the day, and be sure to amass plenty of crap to dispose of. People used to make things and do things as hobbies, and the fruits of those hobbies were the identifiers of their makers. Now people buy things. They create almost nothing anymore, and they identify themselves by using and wearing things made by others and marketed cynically to them with the same bald greed with which they are bought. Houses are bigger and stupider because we are, too. We wear our houses, we wear our oversized cars, we even wear our children and their good schools and sports trophies. The fact that Lincoln-Mercury could use Peter Gabriel's "Big Time" to sell their bulgemobiles without even a hint of irony says it all. We've become hulking, huge, and stupid, even as we get the vapors over the number of carbs on our plates. The bigger the shells we accrue around us, the smaller the tiny spark of humanity inside them becomes.

One day, that spark may just disappear altogether, but no one will notice. Our houses will be so big no one will be able to find us in there, anyway.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

OK, You Can Get Those Electrodes and German Shepherds Out Again

It made good on Its promise to reach out to those that share Its nasty little values, precious. Alberto Gonzales, torture memo writer extraordinare, and a bottomless fount of information on how to flout the Geneva Convention, has just been put in charge of the camps at home. I guess it's better than the Supreme Court, as some speculation had posited, but we'll be living with Al's idea of a secure state (i.e., whatever he can get away with) until his master can be tossed into Mount Doom.

And on the Eloquent Outrage front, the Village Voice has an extraordinary issue full of wonderful pieces by Sydney Schanberg, Wayne Barrett, Michael Feingold, James Ridgway, and many others, that is essential reading to pull you out of the dumps and make you feel:
  • Not so alone, and
  • Ready to get back up and get your war on.

Myself, I'm heading for the liquor cabinet and some early holiday music by the fire.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Everybody Back In The Pool

It's all better now. Soon-to-be-Ex-Securitate head John Ashcroft lets us know his work here is done.

You can remove that duct tape now.

If You Can't Join 'Em...

And we're off. Falluja is rocked by Marines full of that old-time religion. After a "surgical" strike on one of the city's hospitals, which effectively humiliated an array of doctors there and rendered the place unlikely to receive anymore wounded, the US moved in and began pacifying the town yesterday.
"Sami al-Jumaili, a doctor at the main Falluja hospital who escaped arrest when it was taken, said the city was running out of medical supplies and only a few clinics remained open.

"There is not a single surgeon in Falluja. We had one ambulance hit by US fire and a doctor wounded. There are scores of injured civilians in their homes whom we can't move. "A 13-year-old child just died in my hands," he told Reuters by telephone from a house where he had gone to help the wounded."

Last night , known war criminal and stand-up comedian Donald Rumsfeld remarked that

""Innocent civilians in that city have all the guidance they need as to how they can avoid getting into trouble," Rumsfeld told a Pentagon news conference Monday. He referred to a round-the-clock curfew and other emergency measures announced by interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.

"There aren't going to be large numbers of civilians killed and certainly not by U.S. forces," Rumsfeld said."

Oh, how we laughed!

Meanwhile, over at the increasingly irrelevant NYTimes op-ed page, Ken "The Coming Storm" Pollack, that kidder, suggests that we should "beware the siren song of easy regime change"in Iran. Because you know how, in Iraq, it was so like falling off a log that the temptation is almost too great to go rushing in and fucking up yet another mideast powderkeg.

If people like this can keep getting a public forum and tons of baksheesh, why can't I, who am nearly as clueless?

I plan on adding to the growing cacophony of perspective on this whole red-state v. blue state argument in the next couple days, but till then, here's some serious historical perspective to chew on from historian Stephen Z. Starr, written in 1965. I am much beholden to the eloquent Digby at Hullabaloo for the link to this fascinating overview of the long-term effects of Civil War motive dynamics on the social evolution of our country.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Yes, THAT Gary Hart

Gary Hary has an opinion piece at the NYTimes worth reading, for all churchgoing Christians who were left smarting after the right-wing hijacked their God on election day. Yes, that Gary Hart, who in his own anticipated defense against the witch dunkers, says this:
"...I will seek to pre-empt the ad hominem disqualifiers. I am a sinner. I only ask for the same degree of forgiveness from my many critics that they were willing to grant George W. Bush for his transgressions."

And most tellingly:
"If we are to insert "faith" into the public dialogue more directly and assertively, let's not be selective. Let's go all the way. Let's not just define "faith" in terms of the law and judgment; let's define it also in terms of love, caring, forgiveness. Compassionate conservatives can believe social ills should be addressed by charity and the private sector; liberals can believe that the government has a role to play in correcting social injustice. But both can agree that human need, poverty, homelessness, illiteracy and sickness must be addressed. Liberals are not against religion. They are against hypocrisy, exclusion and judgmentalism. They resist the notion that one side or the other possesses "the truth" to the exclusion of others. There is a great difference between Cotton Mather and John Wesley."

Go read, and feel better.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Why Can't I Just Watch a Damned Football Game?

...without Chris Collingsworth (FAUX Sports) giving me the benefit of his take on the social unrest of the Vietnam era? One moment I'm already upset enough that my beloved ex-team, the Steelers, is beating the pants off my beloved current team, the Eagles (have they no shame???). The next, I'm hearing Collinsworth spouting off on how the treatment of the returning Iraqi war vets will surely be better than that of the shameful reception of the Vietnam vets.

Of course we all remember those evil days when anti-war protesters spit on the veterans when they came back. "Baby-killers", they yelled. Right?


The only people I remember really giving the vets a rash of shit were the old dinosaurs of the VFW and the American Legion, who called them "pussies', and "drug addicts", and scoffed that they didn't know what a "real war" was like. That's right. They were turned down for membership in some of these local groups, because the old heads thought they were all drug-addled hippies.

This bushwa about how anti-war protesters hated the vets is selective memory on the part of the current war machine cheerleaders, and that's all it is. And if I wanted to hear Chris Collingsworth's political insights and personal opinions, I sure as hell wouldn't be trying to watch a freaking football game!

Get over yourself, you mutt. Stick to something you're being paid to talk about.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

David Brooks: Self-Deluded Mouthpiece or Literate Yahoo?

Brooks' newest column at the NYTimes is full of condescending stereotypes about how liberals stereotype and condescend to conservatives.

Every election year, we in the commentariat come up with a story line to explain the result, and the story line has to have two features. First, it has to be completely wrong. Second, it has to reassure liberals that they are morally superior to the people who just defeated them.

Excuse me? It has to reassure liberals? How much reassuring are we getting from the likes of William Safire, William Kristol, David Broder, George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Robert Novak, Emmett Tyrell, Jonah Goldberg, Frank Gaffney, not to mention those cartoons Ann Coulter and Peggy Noonan? He goes on to say:

He won because 53 percent of voters approved of his performance as president.
It's ridiculous to say, as some liberals have this week, that we are perpetually refighting the Scopes trial, with the metro forces of enlightenment and reason arrayed against the retro forces of dogma and reaction. (snip)
I've spent the past four years traveling to 36 states and writing millions of words trying to understand this values divide, and I can tell you there is no one explanation. But the same insularity that caused many liberals to lose touch with the rest of the country now causes them to simplify, misunderstand and condescend to the people who voted for Bush. If you want to understand why Democrats keep losing elections, just listen to some coastal and university town liberals talk about how conformist and intolerant people in Red America are. It makes you wonder: why is it that people who are completely closed-minded talk endlessly about how open-minded they are? (snip)
Some of the liberal reaction reminds me of a phrase I came across recently: The rage of the drowning man.

After simplifying and misunderstanding the liberal viewpoint on cultural issues and their fellow electorate, he goes on to accuse them of his own failing. He spends 4 long years traveling to try and figure out the "values divide", and he comes to the conclusion that it had nothing to do with the election outcome, and not only that, the people he left behind in Sodom are problem: liberals on the coasts and in academic enclaves. Does that mean that the liberals in the heartland are different, or that they simply don't exist?

Well, surprise! They do exist, and when they live as a minority in conservative communities, they get the same condescending, intolerant, and clueless response from their neighbors that Brooks projects onto liberals in big cities. He spent 4 years flitting around, sampling those salt-of-the-earth conservatives, while I grew up with them and lived with and amidst them for 40 years, and I can assure you that they can suffocate the breath out of anyone even slightly different from themselves. Insularity, clannishness, intolerance, violence? You haven't experienced anything till you try to fit in in a tiny rural town in the Appalachian foothills where half the population is still looking for revenge on the Yankees.

This is not to say that good people aren't living there, too; they are. But these ridiculous stereotypes bandied about by literary masturbators on both sides are harmful and stifling. Stop babbling about things of which you have no real experience. You'll wake up one day and wonder how we all ended up hating each other, and for the answer, you'll need look no further than your mirror.

The Next Mideast Flashpoint

So you want to have a war, Mr. Bush? Well, let's see. There's Fallujah, of course, where the majority of the civilians support the insurgency, and the major attack planned is sure to kill hundreds of them (you can't do a surgical strike on a residential neighborhood, especially when the very people you're targeting make up most of the populace), and create thousands of new insurgents with revenge on their minds.
But while you're revving up for that video game, there's the little matter of Arafat's resting place that Sharon is inflating into a point of honor so absurd that it threatens to become a rallying point for all Muslims in the region. Here's what The Guardian is reporting today:

But, yesterday, the top Muslim cleric in Jerusalem, the Grand Mufti, Ekrima Sa'eed Sadri, said Mr Arafat's wish should be granted.

"President Arafat has a will and in that will he wants to be buried in Jerusalem. Under Sharia law, the righteous thing is to obey the will of Arafat. We must abide in full," he said.

The Grand Mufti said he would not seek Israeli permission to bury Mr Arafat in the old city. "We are expecting the refusal of it. They have already said so. I am not willing to ask Sharon's permission to bury our dead. If I ask Sharon's permission it is as if I give legitimacy to his control over our land," he said.

This threatens to become the ill-reported issue that blindsides us with a punch so hard it could pull us into a worldwide conflict. You think you're worried about terrorism now? Bush will hold his nose and stay away from the fray, as he has done all along, and Israel will read into it, rightly, that they can do as they please. Before you know it we will be painted as the facilitators of this fresh outrage, and we will have lost any ragged remnants of political credibility with any Muslim countries anywhere.

Get off your ass and do something presidential, Bush. I know it sounds like hard work, but just pretend you're clearing brush.

Weekend Funnies, or, You'll Laugh Till You Cry

In case you haven't been depressed enough, or missed PBS' NOW, you can go here, and learn more about Grover Norquist's planned Norman Conquest of America's poor and middle class.

After that, now that you're sufficiently in need of a good, bitter laugh, head over to The Onion, which has gotten all political again, to see what kind of artifacts our grandchildren will be able to find in the Smithsonian after the last middle class voter has become extinct (won't be long if Norquist has his way).

David Rees has finally let loose his primal howl to inspire progressives over at Get Your War On, and Pat Oliphant, the Thomas Nast of our era, has gotten a few good zingers here and here in the last few days.

John Wooden tears into the Codpiece-in-Chief with a rousing acceptance speech at whitehouse.org.

And finally, Enjoy the Draft has a moving piece on the President's concern over a growing lack of widows for the war effort.

Update: How could I forget dear Molly Ivins, who suggests an old farmer's trick for teaching the American voting public some hard lessons.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Grover Norquist Is A Twat

What else is there to say? He's on Bill Moyers right now, displaying his ignorance and lizardlike inhumanity with the pride of a new father. Moyers is a quiet lion, tearing the rags off his smug platitudes like flesh off a zebra carcass.
Similes and metaphors are flowing here like lava.

The Bush Mandate

The only Bush mandate he's likely to get, that is.

P.S. Thanks to Lambert at corrente. Not work-friendly.

Bad People Are Buddhas, Too

Across the continuum of progressive dialogues today, too much rending of garments, too much self-hate, too many suggestions for attacks on moderate Republicans and for shifting the Democratic platform to the right. Too much fear and trembling when the rubes shook the codewords "moral values" at us like voodoo dust, shivering our liberal bleeding hearts.

Fuck that.

When you give up your values to get a shot at the power to implement them, what do you have when you get that power? Not the values you gave up---they're gone. Keep telling yourself that all you need is to get your hands on the power and then everything will be all right, then you'll be able to do things the way you wanted. But in abandoning the things you once stood for you work such a change on yourself that, by the time you get into the catbird seat, you won't even recognize what you used to be.

You want immoral? It's immoral to grind people into the ground till their health breaks to feed the fat cats on Wall Street.

It's immoral to wrest control of people's bodies away from them when it's convenient and let them have deadly weaponry to unleash other others when it's not.

It's immoral to let people freeze on the streets because "personal responsibility" excuses greed and callousness, and it's immoral to pull the plug on poor neighborhoods and struggling farms while funneling subsidies and pork to rich developers and agribusiness.

It's immoral to support a lying piece of manipulative shit who gets his biggest hard-ons humiliating those weaker than he is, and dropping munitions far, far away on 40,000 children too dark to matter.

If that's your moving to the right, no thanks. If I want to belong to the Republican party with their "moral values", I can re-register.

Watch Your Right To Representation Go Bye-Bye

Josh Marshall at TalkingPointsMemo links to a Faux News article on the irrepressibly submissive Arlen Specter. Seems Arlen, having made an attempt at looking independent with his assurances that only judges respectful of the Constitution would get past him, has now tucked his tail between his legs and backtracked publicly, under the raise whip of the White House.

Oh, please, people. This is the man who twisted himself into pretzels trying to sound more-Bushie-than-thou in the Republican primary, bragging about how frequently he sided with Bush on his votes. Yet Democrats got out the vote for him on the basis of his "clout" and ability to bring home the pork for PA. Nice work, black clergy of Philadelphia!!! Get a clue! Who cares how much clout he has, if he doesn't use it for you?

So now that you got him, how does it feel to know that on top of this recent embarassment, Dumbya's dad's ex-lawyer is telling the world he has the plans and political will to change the 60-vote requirement to overcome a filibuster, thus taking away any chance the Dems have of blocking further reactionary judicial appointments?

"As it stands today [Democrats] can block [a nominee]," said C. Boyden Gray, former legal counsel to President George H.W. Bush. But I also believe that the president and majority leader may well decide to change the rules given the elections ... The president has a very strong political support, potential
support, for asking for and getting this change."

That would mean your reps will be reduced to the status of yappy little lapdogs, while the real business of the country gets advanced by political neanderthals.

Say goodbye.

Meanwhile, Back In The Real World...

Over at Juan Cole's Informed Consent, guest writer Mark LeVine of UC Irvine writes that "We're All Israelis Now".

People are dying in lots of horrible ways all over the Mid East. Thank God we have a President who can put this into the perspective it deserves, right below gay marriage and evolution. He'll get the "foreign" out of "foreign policy"!

Roll Over and Die

Over at The Poor Man, The Editors have been throwing out desperate options for rescuing the Democratic Party. The latest is to abandon the pro-choice platform, on the assumption that the Republicans will never really be able to outlaw abortion completely.

...but this would never work, right? We'd just be Republicans lite, and why would anybody want that when they can have the real thing? Well, that's just the thing - the Republicans have no real interest in outlawing abortion. Republicans have an interest in making an incremental approach to a total ban one which
never reaches conclusion, because once abortion is outlawed, where is the need to vote Republican? (snip)

If this is such a key issue for Democrats, why did we stay home on Tuesday and lose the Presidency to a guy who has all but announced his intent to ban it? (snip)

But we need to make tactical maneuver here. The Democratic coalition - women, minorities, labor, environmental, etc. - has been losing ground nationally for decades. The world is changing, and we need to adapt, or die out.

My response in his comments sections was this:

"Editors, I love your work, but fuck that shit.I'm not dying out and nobody I know is, either. Sitting around writing miserable screeds about how something that can fatally affect half the population is jettisonable from our concerns isn't going to do a damned thing except give more despair to the despairing. We have 40 years of catching up to do, to make the kinds of inroads the Republican right has made, 40 years of publishing books and establishing think tanks and setting up college auxiliaries and learning how to pull the bristly, fractionated elements of the Dems together. What made you think it would happen this year, after only the first time in memory that progressives fought the way Republicans have fought for decades? After Goldwater lost, his people didn't say, "Oh, gosh, I guess we'll never get the country to accept our crazy-assed ideas, might as well get behind civil rights and separation of church and state." They stuck to their ideals and fought, and they didn't give up because it didn't happen in the next 5 years. It's only now that their initial visions are beginning to be realized, and they still have a long way to go.We need to learn to build coalitions, and influence public thought. What we DON'T need is to eat our own."

We need to know where that bright line is, and defend it. That has been one of our greatest weaknesses.

Back to Business As Usual

Over at the NYTimes today, Paul Krugman has some words of encouragement for the dark days ahead:

Rather than catering to voters who will never support them, the Democrats - who are doing pretty well at getting the votes of moderates and independents - need to become equally effective at mobilizing their own base.

Democrats shouldn't cave in to Mr. Bush when he tries to appoint highly partisan judges - even when the effort to block a bad appointment fails, it will show supporters that the party stands for something. They should gear up for a bid to retake the Senate or at least make a major dent in the Republican lead. They should keep the pressure on Mr. Bush when he makes terrible policy decisions, which he will.

It's all right to take a few weeks to think it over. (Heads up to readers: I'll be starting a long-planned break next week, to work on a economics textbook. I'll be back in January.) But Democrats mustn't give up the fight. What's at stake isn't just the fate of their party, but the fate of America as we know it.

But Krugman isn't taking a complete break...he'll be speaking in Philly on the fallout of the election at the National Constitution Center on November 18, and we'll be there to see him.

And speaking of Philadelphia, over at The New York Observer, Phillip Weiss has an interesting piece on local reaction to the election. Yes, it was all that.

And say a prayer for Elizabeth Edwards, who's fighting breast cancer. It won't change things for her, but might make her feel better, if Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island follows through on his consideration to switch parties, and give the Dems back the seat they lost in the Senate. Maybe the rag-rag remanders of the once-proud moderate Republican wing can be convinced to finally see the light.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

And So It Begins

Yesterday was the first time in my life I shed tears because of an election. And the old Tonio K. song, "Say Goodbye", from his album "Amerika", ran through my head all day, with its mournful melody and achingly sweet harmonies.

"Back up against the ocean; Back up against the wall; Back up against the edge of America, desperate, and heading for some kind of fall..."

Now I vacillate between anger and sadness, and a kind of Zenlike fatality. People all over the internet are angry at Kerry for conceding too soon, or they feel foolish and betrayed for having invested so much time, money, and love into a campaign that failed. There is something else, though, that I don't remember from the last election: a kind of seditious alienation from fellow citizens, and a wall of disdain and helpless fury between the incomprehensible "other" and "us".
We try so hard to understand each other by labeling and categorizing. My categories are not so simple to parse out.

I grew up in middle-class comfort, then fell into poverty before my 12th birthday, went from a modern suburban ranch house to an urban slum. Tom Petty and Pete Townshend sing songs I relate to my life. I've bussed tables and stocked shelves, lost a job for not being sexually available, picked strawberries till my back screamed, drove a cab, stood in a line in a warehouse with co-workers while Immigration checked me out to see if I was dark enough to need a green card. Started out as an artist, worked in the battered women's movement, went on to become a bureaucrat fighting discrimination. Spent time on the streets as a kid, panhandling, went without food for a week once, have been on welfare, and now live pretty fortunately. I've lived in poor rural areas and wealthy urban ones, have wrestled with spiritual issues and been pegged as a Satan-worshipper. I've been refused education because of my gender, and been given a pass because of my race. I love humanity and hate people. Animals are usually a better bet.

Right now I hate them pretty good, these my fellow Americans. I hate their hypocrisy, their yahooism, their self-righteousness, the way they comfort themselves with the nasty cult of their religion so they don't have to face the ugly truth of their own hatred for others, and how they convince themselves that their hatred is actually love and the divine inspiration of their bloody god.

And I'm not even going to deal with Bush yet, because I'm too tired to go on.

We wait and see.