HAPPY NEW YEAR!
I hope you all have a good one. 2003 was really kind of sucky for me; I hope 2004 is much better. Anyway, have a rockin' Cajun New Year's Eve by listening to Louisiana's KBON via the web. Click here for a media player stream.
Wednesday, December 31, 2003
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Posted by Ron at 10:09 PM
BUSH FAMILY FINANCIAL SUCCESS!
From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:
Cashing in stock options before the market crashed, presidential brother Neil Bush made at least $171,370 in a single day by buying and selling shares in a small U.S. high-tech firm where he had previously been a consultant, according to tax returns that give a glimpse into his business dealings.
The July 19, 1999 purchase and quick sale of stock from Kopin Corp. of Taunton, Mass., came on a day that the company received good news about a new Asian client that sent its stock value soaring.
"My timing on this transaction was very fortunate," Bush told The Associated Press.
Click here for more.
Fortunate, indeed. That's waaaay better than Hillary Clinton's wacky gains in the futures market. Of course, apart from the fact that such gains are one-in-a-million out-of-the-ballpark home runs, there's nothing strange about these well connected indivuals doing so well...nothing at all...nothing...(by the way, I'm being sarcastic, here).
Posted by Ron at 10:03 PM
MORE PENTAGON LIES AND SPIN
Along the same lines as the Jessica Lynch show, the DoD just can't seem to be satisfied with the truth; they want to make it sound better:
Saddam Hussein was captured by US troops only after he had been taken prisoner by Kurdish forces, drugged and abandoned ready for American soldiers to recover him, a British Sunday newspaper said.
Click here for more.
Thanks to my buddy, Chris, for the link.
Posted by Ron at 9:55 PM
FINALLY! SPECIAL PROSECUTOR NAMED
FOR "TRAITORGATE" INVESTIGATION
From the Houston Chronicle:
Attorney General John Ashcroft on Tuesday stepped aside from a potentially volatile investigation into whether government officials leaked the identity of a CIA agent, and a tough Chicago prosecutor was put in charge of the probe.
The decision to appoint a special prosecutor, pushed by congressional Democrats in recent weeks, could accelerate a politically sensitive inquiry into whether Bush aides breached CIA security and possibly endangered an agent to retaliate against a critic of the war in Iraq.
Patrick J. Fitzgerald, an appointee of President Bush to head the Chicago federal prosecutor's office, was picked to head the investigation by Deputy Attorney General James Comey.
Click here for more.
And click here for CNN's coverage of the story (with a few different details).
I have a few thoughts on this, of course. The first is that there is still a big conflict of interest here. That is, Fitzgerald is a Republican. Remember the days of White Water? Remember that Kenneth Starr was not only a major Clinton-hater and hard core conservative, but also the second independent counsel to oversee the investigation of the failed Arkansas real estate deal? The point is that a special federal judicial panel replaced Robert Fiske because he was seen by the GOP as not being partisan enough, even though he was a Republican: only a venom spewing believer in Clinton's Satanism would suffice. By that standard, this new guy sucks; one can easily imagine that, as a Republican and presumably a Bush supporter, Fitzgerald has good reason to pursue the kind of soft touch investigation that Starr steered away from. Furthermore, Fitzgerald is a Bush appointee who, as pointed out by Senator John Kerry, carries the "same baggage as John Ashcroft." To top all that off, Fitzgerald was tapped as special prosecutor by, you guessed it, another Bush appointee, Deputy AG James Comey. Comey's assurances that Fitzgerald is "apolitical" strike me as total bullshit.
Secondly, the Chronicle article cites "experts" who contend that finding leakers is extraordinarily difficult to do. That's crazy: Robert Novak, the pompous talking head who revealed Valerie Plame's name to the world, knows exactly who the leakers are. Subpoena the fucker. In my non-professional opinion, this is not a violation of the freedom of press. Novak is a pundit, not a journalist--he spouts his bullshit opinions for a living; he doesn't report news. Take him down. If Starr was running the investigation, he'd have Novak over a barrel. It is a felony offense to reveal a CIA agent's name; time for some heavy plea-bargaining. Atrios over at Eschaton even goes so far as to say that that the DoJ already knows who leaked the info:
Anyway, there's no way the investigators in this case, if they've been trying, don't know who the culprit(s) is/are. If they've questioned all top administration officials then whoever told the press would've told them. Whether they have enough evidence to prove it is another question.
Finally, I have to ask why is Ashcroft deciding to pull out now? The conflict of interest has been written on the wall from day one, but he only acknowledges it now. Why? I'm willing to bet that something has happened behind the scene that has not yet been divulged. Maybe Ashcroft is trying to distance himself while he still can.
If we're all lucky, this could explode. Here's hoping.
Posted by Ron at 3:16 AM
Monday, December 29, 2003
Schools accused of criminalizing disability
The Houston Chronicle reports on another one of those exceptions in public education that prove the rule that I wrote about a few weeks ago:
Ordover said many school districts are unwilling to treat disabled children's behavior differently from that of normal children.
After 1997, she said, "You saw schools starting to invoke the power of the justice system as a way of getting kids out of their school."
Karen Snead, director of education for the ARC of Houston, a group that advocates for the disabled, said school officials sometimes find it easier to call police than to follow specialized and sometimes expensive programs required by federal and state law for each disabled student.
Even though school districts try to portray such instances as isolated and rare, the reality is that they reveal the awful truth about public schools. That is, embedded in the institutional structure of education is the supreme imperative to enforce conformity and obedience: the individual education plans (or IEPs in education-speak) that schools are required by law to implement for disabled students often strain that supreme imperative. Behavior-oriented disabilities, by their very nature, defy any sense of orderliness or compliance. Thus, "educators" are caught in a philosophical paradox--the institution demands uniform discipline, but oftentimes disabled students in the classroom challenge that uniformity in unpredictable ways; the one-size-fits-all approach drilled into teachers' heads is inadequate for the situation. Even teachers who manage to follow each and every IEP for their disabled students have a tough time pulling it off--in addition to the potential for classroom chaos, it's a lot of extra work; I don't think I personally do a good job of it myself.
At least I haven't called the cops on any of my screwed up kids. Yet.
The point is that all kids, disabled and fully abled, have special educational needs: the public schools are ill equipped, by design, to meet such needs. It only becomes obvious with these "isolated" instances: clearly, the schools are far more about order and discipline than they are about learning.
For more, click here.
Posted by Ron at 4:31 AM
Prison Reform Talking Points
The Nation provides some very good reasons why I was so hesitant to serve on a jury last September, even though the case was against a woman who killed her own child:
The US prison system is exacting an increasingly heavy toll, both financial and human. Surging numbers of prisons hold more than 2 million inmates, giving the United States the highest rate of incarceration in the world.
Over the past few decades, the dominant criminal justice philosophy dropped rehabilitation in favor of sequestration and retribution. Opportunities for education, job training and drug treatment have fallen out of fashion. "Three strikes" and minimum sentencing laws have led to excessive punishments for millions of nonviolent offenders, especially in the misguided "war on drugs."
Any assessment of the US prison system is incomplete without considering the prison-industrial complex, a network of private corporations with a direct interest in increasing the number of prisoners. Dovetailing with these interests are politicians exploiting tough-on-crime rhetoric that plays well at election time. The reality is that crime has fallen dramatically over the past decade, and evidence shows that this decline is largely despite, not because of, the prison expansion.
For more, click here.
Posted by Ron at 4:00 AM
Sunday, December 28, 2003
TWO FROM ESCHATON
New Krugman essay:
New Year's Resolutions
For the press, that is...
During the 2000 election, many journalists deluded themselves and their audience into believing that there weren't many policy differences between the major candidates, and focused on personalities (or, rather, perceptions of personalities) instead. This time there can be no illusions: President Bush has turned this country sharply to the right, and this election will determine whether the right's takeover is complete.
But will the coverage of the election reflect its seriousness? Toward that end, I hereby propose some rules for 2004 political reporting.
And news media critic Eric Alterman in the Nation:
Washington Goes to War (with Howard Dean)
addam Hussein may be out of his spider hole, but Washington's real enemy is still at large. His name: "Howard Dean"--and nobody in America poses a bigger threat to the city's sense of its own importance. New Republic writer Michelle Cottle returned from maternity leave to find Washington fit for a "Tarantino-style blood bath," with the Democratic front-runner cast as a "paleoliberal...a heartless conservative...too naïve to beat Bush...too politically cynical to trust...a Stalinist...[and] a neofascist [who] kills babies and drinks their blood."
Alterman just can't help bashing Ralph Nader toward the end of the essay: apart from that bit of snobbery, it's a pretty good read.
Posted by Ron at 3:51 AM
Saturday, December 27, 2003
Selective Memory and False Doctrine
New Noam Chomsky essay from ZNet:
Last December, Jack Straw, Britain's foreign secretary, released a dossier of Saddam's crimes drawn almost entirely from the period of firm U.S.-British support of Saddam.
With the usual display of moral integrity, Straw's report and Washington's reaction overlooked that support.
Such practices reflect a trap deeply rooted in the intellectual culture generally - a trap sometimes called the doctrine of change of course, invoked in the United States every two or three years. The content of the doctrine is: "Yes, in the past we did some wrong things because of innocence or inadvertence. But now that's all over, so let's not waste any more time on this boring, stale stuff."
The doctrine is dishonest and cowardly, but it does have advantages: It protects us from the danger of understanding what is happening before our eyes.
Click here for the rest.
Posted by Ron at 2:33 AM
Was Jesus Gay?
Okay, take this with a grain of salt; it comes from a gay news source (via J. Orlin Grabbe), but it is pretty damned interesting reading:
As Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus few of them will be told in their churches and Cathedrals anything about the sexuality of Jesus, yet a growing group of Biblical scholars believe that Christ may have had at least one sexual relationship with another male.
Noted Methodist theologian Rev. Theodore Jennings Jr. and Dr Morton Smith a world renowned Bible scholar at Columbia University say there is irrefutable evidence that Jesus was at least bisexual. Dr Rollan McCleary of the University of Queensland, in Australia, says he has discovered through his research that three of the disciples were gay.
I think I'd laugh if it was true. Click here for more.
Posted by Ron at 2:28 AM
Thursday, December 25, 2003
PEACE ON EARTH
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
How many Americans will actually be thinking about this verse today? I don't mean simply hearing it or mouthing it for the millionth time: rather, I mean who in America will be truly meditating on peace and goodwill? I, for one, will no doubt be too damned busy to think about anything but dealing with what has become, for me, more of a series of tasks and obligations to be performed before I can go home and relax. Talking about peace, really talking about peace, would probably ruin everybody's festivities, anyway. I used to love Christmas; now it's just a big hassle.
I get together with my family, then later with my wife's family, and all day long I have to watch my mouth, avoid controversy, pretend to be cheerful while I wait to see if the gifts I give are pleasing to their recipients. I don't even really care about the gifts I get, anymore. Okay, I do like the food and music. And football, can't forget that. And I do like seeing loved ones I haven't seen in a while. I'm not a total Grinch. Yet.
It's just that Christmas has been so tense for me these last few years. I don't really feel like I'm truly a part of my family anymore: it's probably just me, but sometimes I feel like I've moved so far away from them ideologically that I might as well be hanging out with strangers. Their religious fundamentalism, their political conservatism, their maddening support of our evil president and his murderous wars...being reunited with my family, on Christmas of all days, makes me feel like I'm visiting some alternate reality.
Here's an example from last Thanksgiving. Some years ago, my older brother instituted a new family tradition: after we eat, while we are still seated at the dining table, each of us proclaims something for which we are thankful--even though my brother is a conservative, it was a great idea; this is a good tradition. This time around, when it was my turn, I said something to the effect that I was thankful that I had a roof over my head, clothing, and some money to spend, that I wasn't out on the street. Everyone laughed their heads off. I told them that I was serious, but no one seemed to get it. This actually took me by surprise; aren't food, clothing, and shelter the most basic of things for which we should be thankful? Aren't we, as Americans, extraordinarily lucky to be so wealthy? Their reaction still perplexes me, but it does illustrate just how far away I am from my family's conventional wisdom: in my reality, the harshness of neo-liberal economic philosophy means that I (or just about anybody for that matter) could be out on the street at any moment, fending for myself; in their reality, this could never happen--America, to them, is the land of opportunity.
Same planet, different universe.
So in a few hours I will go hang out with my family, and then later with my in-laws (not quite as conservative, but still pretty mainstream and white), on a day that is supposedly about peace on Earth and goodwill, and I won't be able to say what's on my mind without being annoying or inadvertantly amusing.
And don't get me started on my family's own unique manifestation of Christmas consumerism and materialism...or how American materialism ultimately drives America's war lust. SHOP FOR VICTORY! VICTORY FOR SHOPPING! HELLO, MR. MUSLIM, MERRY FUCKING CHRISTMAS!
I think I finally understand Charlie Brown's Christmas angst. What I need this year is a little piece-of-crap tree that justs needs some love, or its emotional and psychic equivalent. Crank up the Vince Guaraldi; it's time for the Festivus feats of strength.
Oh yeah, here are a few fun links:
A reading of Luke, Chapter Two.
BK Christmas (courtesy of my buddy, Chris).
Holiday Snowglobe (with Esquivel music) (courtesy of my younger brother, Steve).
Hockey Santas turn bad (courtesy of Eschaton).
MERRY CHRISTMAS, CHARLIE BROWN!
Posted by Ron at 2:30 AM
Wednesday, December 24, 2003
TAKE OVER U.S. PARK SYSTEM
I'm not joking, either. From 365Gay.com via Eschaton:
All images of gay gatherings at national sites, including the Millennium March on the Washington Mall have been ordered removed from videotapes that have been shown at the Lincoln Memorial since 1995 according to a civil service group.
Also ordered cut from the tape were scenes of abortion rights demonstrations at the memorial, and anti-Vietnam War demonstrations "because it implies that Lincoln would have supported homosexual and abortion rights as well as feminism."
In their place, the Park Service is inserting scenes of the Christian group Promise Keepers and pro-Gulf War demonstrators though these events did not take place at the Memorial in what Murphy calls a "more balanced" version.
Click here for more.
Posted by Ron at 3:10 AM
CASE STUDY IN BRAZEN MEDIA BIAS
Conservative media bias, that is. New Krugman via Eschaton:
Last August, in a moment of supreme synergy, Mr. Perle, wearing his defense-insider hat, co-wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed praising the Pentagon's controversial Boeing tanker deal. He didn't disclose Boeing's $2.5 million investment in Trireme.
Sure enough, Hollinger also invested $2.5 million in Trireme, which is advised by Lord Black. In addition, Mr. Perle was paid more than $300,000 a year and received $2 million in bonuses as head of a Hollinger subsidiary. It's good to have friends.
The real surprise, though, is that two prominent journalists, William Buckley and George Will, were also regular paid advisors to Hollinger. Now, I thought there were rules here. First, if you're a full-time journalist, you shouldn't be in that kind of relationship. Second, whoever you are, if you write a favorable article about someone with whom you have a personal or financial connection — like Mr. Perle's piece on the tanker deal or Mr. Will's March column praising Lord Black's wisdom — you disclose that connection. But I guess the old rules no longer apply.
Click here for more.
Posted by Ron at 3:05 AM
Tuesday, December 23, 2003
ONCE AGAIN, PRESIDENT ACCUSED OF LYING:
US Comptroller Differs With Bush On Causes Of Deficit
From Quicken.com via J. Orlin Grabbe:
The current federal budget deficit isn't the result of the war with Iraq and the recession, as maintained by President George W. Bush, U.S. Comptroller General David M. Walker said Tuesday.
Walker said the deficit is a result of a structural imbalance between federal revenues and federal liabilities and a harbinger of deeper troubles to come. Walker is head of the General Accounting Office and is the federal government's highest-ranking auditor.
"Structural" means it's built in and permanent: Bush's idiotic tax cuts caused this. So much for the famed fiscal responsibility of Republicans. Click here.
Posted by Ron at 3:45 AM
Limbaugh lawyer: Radio host
blackmailed by ex-housekeeper
From CNN via Eschaton:
During a hearing over whether prosecutors should have access to Limbaugh's medical records, attorney Roy Black said Limbaugh paid "extreme amounts of money" to Wilma Cline, his former housekeeper, and her husband, first for pills and then for extortion. Black alleged that the Clines had threatened to go public with information about Limbaugh's drug use unless they received $4 million.
Black said Limbaugh wanted to contact the FBI, but was told by an unidentified friend that if he went to the authorities, they would target him, and his political enemies would use the information against him.
Man, that's as good as, no wait, better than O. J. Simpson's lame search for the "real killer." Hahaha! Rush "wanted to contact the FBI," but was afraid that "they would target him." You can't write jokes as funny as that. God, I love it!
Click here for the rest of the story.
Posted by Ron at 3:32 AM
Monday, December 22, 2003
The latest Paul Krugman essay:
Important to tell this part of history correctly
But even if all that happens, we should be deeply disturbed by the history of this war. For its message seems to be that as long as you wave the flag convincingly enough, it doesn't matter whether you tell the truth.
By now, we've become accustomed to the fact that the absence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction -- the principal public rationale for the war -- hasn't become a big political liability for the administration. That's bad enough. Even more startling is the news from one of this past week's polls: Despite the complete absence of evidence, 53 percent of Americans believe that Saddam had something to do with 9/11, up from 43 percent before his capture. The administration's long campaign of guilt by innuendo, it seems, is still working.
The war's more idealistic supporters do, I think, feel queasy about all this. That's why they lay so much stress on their hopes for democracy in Iraq. They're not just looking for a happy ending; they're looking for moral redemption for a war fought on false pretenses.
As a practical matter, I suspect that they'll be disappointed.
Click here for the rest.
Thanks to my buddy, Kevin, for the link.
Posted by Ron at 3:35 AM
TOM DELAY FLAPS HIS GUMS
From the Houston Chronicle:
DeLay and other Republican leaders lashed out against Clark and Dean last week after the Democratic contenders criticized the way President Bush has handled the war in Iraq and the economy at home.
Dean, a former Vermont governor who is considered the front-runner in a field of nine Democrats vying for their party's nomination, said Americans are not safer as a result of the Dec. 14 capture of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Clark said that rather than going after Saddam, Bush should have concentrated on tracking down Osama bin Laden, who has claimed responsibility for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
DeLay said Sunday those comments were "outrageous" and "cuckoo."
Such rhetoric is standard political fare, and shows that DeLay seems to think that Clark and Dean's criticisms are serious enough to warrant a response. Of course, "cuckoo" is not much of a response, but it is nice to hear DeLay make a sound that is appropriate for a man with a damaged brain such as his own. (Texas progressive activist Jim Hightower has speculated that DeLay's breathing of pesticides during his years as a bug exterminator has caused irreversible brain damage--I think Hightower's probably right about this.) Of course, the really interesting thing about this article is DeLay's bald faced lies:
DeLay said it is "big-spending Democrats who want to take everybody's money and dampen this economy that is starting to show signs of booming."
That assessment is in direct conflict with predictions of the Congressional Budget Office, however. On Saturday, that office warned that the country is facing a "major economic crisis."
"Dramatic tax increases or dramatic spending cuts across the board" will be needed to turn it around, the budget office said.
As Paul Krugman has stated, in the 80s Republicans seemed to honestly believe that neo-liberalism would improve the economy; now they just lie about it.
For the rest of the article, click here.
Posted by Ron at 3:27 AM
Sunday, December 21, 2003
GAY MARRIAGE: LOVE AMERICAN STYLE?
Apparently not according to this New York Times article via the Houston Chronicle:
The latest New York Times/CBS News poll has found widespread support for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to ban gay marriage. It also found unease about homosexual relations in general, making the issue a potentially divisive one for the Democrats and an opportunity for the Republicans in the 2004 election.
And we can expect this poll to lessen the shame of gay-bashers:
President Bush had been noncommittal about a constitutional amendment immediately after the Massachusetts ruling, with the administration worried that support for a ban on gay marriage would alienate moderate voters. But last week Bush for the first time voiced his support, saying, "I will support a constitutional amendment which would honor marriage between a man and a woman, codify that."
The statement signals the White House's increasing confidence that it can exploit the matter in the presidential campaign, both to energize its evangelical supporters and to discredit the eventual Democratic nominee.
Click here for more.
Great. Get ready for some intense anti-gay rhetoric. I guess those fireworks I told you about are beginning.
Here's a more sensible point of view on gay marriage from Katha Pollit writing for the Nation:
Adam and Steve--Together at Last
At bottom, the objections to gay marriage are based on religious prejudice: The marriage of man and woman is "sacred" and opening it to same-sexers violates its sacral nature. That is why so many people can live with civil unions but draw the line at marriage--spiritual union. In fact, polls show a striking correlation of religiosity, especially evangelical Protestantism, with opposition to gay marriage and with belief in homosexuality as a choice, the famous "gay lifestyle." For these people gay marriage is wrong because it lets gays and lesbians avoid turning themselves into the straights God wants them to be. As a matter of law, however, marriage is not about Adam and Eve versus Adam and Steve. It's not about what God blesses, it's about what the government permits. People may think "marriage" is a word wholly owned by religion, but actually it's wholly owned by the state.
At least somebody hasn't been driven insane by homophobia. Click here for the rest.
Posted by Ron at 3:19 AM
LOST ROBERT HEINLEIN BOOK TO BE PUBLISHED
From CBC News via J. Orlin Grabbe:
The American science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein is known for such classic novels as Stranger in a Strange Land, Starship Troopers and The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress.
A new book reveals that Heinlein, at least early in his life, was a Socred, a believer in the Social Credit movement that came to power in Alberta in 1935.
Heinlein's long-lost first novel, For Us, the Living: A Comedy of Customs, is scheduled for publication in January. It imagines a future America patterned on 1930s Alberta.
Heinlein wrote the novel in the late 1930s. It tells the story of a U.S. Navy officer named Perry Nelson who is killed in a traffic accident and is somehow transported, alive, to the California of 2086.
The book was rejected by a number of publishers, probably because much of the story is actually a series of lectures on how Heinlein felt the future should look. In later works, Heinlein would use fictional characters for the same purpose.
Click here for the rest of the review.
Hmmm. It probably won't be as good as Stranger in a Strange Land or Time Enough for Love, but seeing as how I've long ago read just about every Heinlein book I could get my hands on, I'll probably read this one, too. Here's some information on Social Credit economic philosophy. I'd never heard of it before--it's kind of interesting, albeit supposititious...much like neo-liberalism.
Posted by Ron at 2:56 AM
Saturday, December 20, 2003
TWO FROM THE NATION
The Death of Horatio Alger
New York Times good guy columnist and Princeton economist Paul Krugman on the growing gap between rich and poor in our "classless" society:
Let's talk first about the facts on income distribution. Thirty years ago we were a relatively middle-class nation. It had not always been thus: Gilded Age America was a highly unequal society, and it stayed that way through the 1920s. During the 1930s and '40s, however, America experienced what the economic historians Claudia Goldin and Robert Margo have dubbed the Great Compression: a drastic narrowing of income gaps, probably as a result of New Deal policies. And the new economic order persisted for more than a generation: Strong unions; taxes on inherited wealth, corporate profits and high incomes; close public scrutiny of corporate management--all helped to keep income gaps relatively small. The economy was hardly egalitarian, but a generation ago the gross inequalities of the 1920s seemed very distant.
Now they're back. According to estimates by the economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez--confirmed by data from the Congressional Budget Office--between 1973 and 2000 the average real income of the bottom 90 percent of American taxpayers actually fell by 7 percent. Meanwhile, the income of the top 1 percent rose by 148 percent, the income of the top 0.1 percent rose by 343 percent and the income of the top 0.01 percent rose 599 percent. (Those numbers exclude capital gains, so they're not an artifact of the stock-market bubble.) The distribution of income in the United States has gone right back to Gilded Age levels of inequality.
Click here for more.
Dean Takes on Big Media
Yet another reason for me to like Democratic presidential contender Howard Dean:
Matthews: Are you going to break up the giant media enterprises in this country?
Dean: Yes, we're going to break up giant media enterprises. That doesn't mean we're going to break up all of GE. What we're going to say is that media enterprises can't be as big as they are today...To the extent of even having two or three or four outlets in a single community, that kind of information control is not compatible with democracy.
Ain't that the truth. Jeez, if that was the only position of Dean's that appealed to me, I would still have to strongly consider voting for him: this media issue is actually quite huge--media conglomeration really does tend to erode democracy; the lead up to the Iraq war, with its utterly pro-Bush themes, is but a single example.
Posted by Ron at 1:48 AM
HALLIBURTON KNEW IT WAS OVERCHARGING
From the Houston Chronicle:
Halliburton Co.'s own auditors warned company executives the firm was overcharging taxpayers to import fuel into Iraq, Sen. Joseph Lieberman said late Thursday.
Presidential candidate Lieberman pointed to an internal Halliburton document he said warned that the fuel prices were excessive and in violation of federal contracting regulations -- a document the senator said supported a preliminary Pentagon assessment that the Houston company overcharged the government by as much as $61 million to truck in fuel from Kuwait.
Well, whaddaya know? Lieberman's good for something, after all.
Posted by Ron at 1:39 AM
Thursday, December 18, 2003
Let Them Eat War
In an AlterNet essay, UC Berkeley Sociologist Arlie Hochschild speculates about why so many blue collar white males support Bush against their own best interests:
Whether strutting across a flight deck or mocking the enemy, Bush with his seemingly fearless bravado--ironically born of class entitlement--offers an aura of confidence. And this confidence dampens, even if temporarily, the feelings of insecurity and fear exacerbated by virtually every major domestic and foreign policy initiative of the Bush administration. Maybe it comes down to this: George W. Bush is deregulating American global capitalism with one hand while regulating the feelings it produces with the other. Or, to put it another way, he is doing nothing to change the causes of fear and everything to channel the feeling and expression of it. He speaks to a working man's lost pride and his fear of the future by offering an image of fearlessness. He poses here in his union jacket, there in his pilot's jumpsuit, taunting the Iraqis to "bring 'em on"--all of it meant to feed something in the heart of a frightened man. In this light, even Bush's "bad boy" past is a plus. He steals a wreath off a Macy's door for his Yale fraternity and careens around drunk in Daddy's car. But in the politics of anger and fear, the Republican politics of feelings, this is a plus.
In other words, white American men secretly fear that they're just a bunch of big wussies: supporting the Grand Old Badass Party makes them feel like hot shit. Insane, isn't it? That's the USA in 2003.
For more, click here.
Thanks to BuzzFlash for the link.
Posted by Ron at 10:39 PM
BUSH'S ENVIRONMENTAL LEGACY IN TEXAS
"Voluntary Compliance" Equals Pollute-O-Rama
From the Houston Chronicle:
Delays in enforcing pollution laws could be harming the environment and costing the state money, according to an audit of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
The report by the State Auditor's Office released Wednesday concluded the enforcement process does not consistently ensure violators of the state's pollution laws are held accountable.
The inmates are in charge of the asylum. Click here.
Posted by Ron at 10:30 PM
NEW BUSH DOLL
Toypresidents has been founded upon the principles of education and discovery of the American political system with the introduction of a collectible series of political talking action figures. Our products are not endorsing specific public figures; rather our products endorse the democratic system of government itself. Toypresidents seeks to promote a better understanding of the democracy we cherish and the individuals who have devoted their lives to serving the American people, both past and present.
Well...whatever. But the picture of the Bush doll on their site says different things when you click on different parts of its body. It's funny.
Posted by Ron at 10:24 PM
Wednesday, December 17, 2003
TWO FROM ESCHATON
First, from CBS's site:
9/11 Chair: Attack Was Preventable
For the first time, the chairman of the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks is saying publicly that 9/11 could have and should have been prevented, reports CBS News Correspondent Randall Pinkston.
For more, click here.
Of course, I already had a strong suspicion that Bush actually knew it was coming. But, then, that would make me a conspiracy nut, wouldn't it?
Next, from Knight Ridder:
Fewer polluters punished under Bush administration
Civil enforcement of pollution laws peaked when the president's father, George H.W. Bush, was in office from 1989-93 and has fallen ever since, but it's plummeted since George W. Bush took office three years ago. That's according to records of 17 different categories of enforcement activity obtained by Knight Ridder through the Freedom of Information Act.
And here's the punchline:
Bush administration officials said the EPA is enforcing anti-pollution laws, just in a more effective way.
"The agency has what we refer to as `smart enforcement,'" EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt said in an interview with Knight Ridder. "Our focus is on enforcement that changes behavior in a positive way."
Click here for more of the awful truth about Bush and the environment.
"Smart enforcement" reminds me of the voluntary pollution elimination program that Bush instituted when he was governor of Texas that thrust Houston past Los Angeles into the revered most-polluted-in-America position. Hey, that reminds me of a funny This Modern World strip; check it out.
Posted by Ron at 11:45 PM
AMERICA BY WAY OF FRENCH EXISTENTIALISM
Americans and Their Myths
Forget Alexis de Tocqueville. I prefer John-Paul Sartre's understanding of America. A flashback from the Nation, 1947:
The system is a great external apparatus, an implacable machine which one might call the objective spirit of the United States and which over there they call Americanism-a huge complex of myths, values, recipes, slogans, figures, and rites. But one must not think that it has been deposited in the head of each American just as the God of Descartes deposited the first notions in the mind of man; one must not think that it is "refracted" into brains and hearts and at each instant determines affections or thoughts that exactly express it. Actually, it is something outside of the people, something presented to them; the most adroit propaganda does nothing else but present it to &cm continuously. It is not in them, they are in it; they struggle against it or they accept it, they stifle in it or go beyond it, they submit to it or reinvent it, they give themselves up to it or make furious efforts to escape from it; in any case it remains outside them, transcendent, because they are men and it is a thing.
What's interesting is that, if anything, Sartre's analysis is even more accurate for 2003.
For more, click here.
Posted by Ron at 11:26 PM
Tuesday, December 16, 2003
TWO FROM J. ORLIN GRABBE
First from the London Independent:
Meanwhile, in Iraq the slaughter goes on
Many had hoped the capture of Saddam Hussein would put an end to the insurgency that has been carrying out deadly attacks against US troops and Iraqi targets. But any such wishfulness was swiftly crushed when suicide bombers killed eight Iraqi policemen and injured at least 30 civilians in two suicide bomb attacks in Baghdad.
For the rest of the list of yesterday's attacks, click here.
Next, a piece from Counterpunch:
Saddam on Parade
For years the US had built up Saddam as the big bogeyman in the Middle-East. Now that he has gone what possible excuse is there for the Western soldiers to remain in Iraq? Why not an immediate general election to elect a Constituent Assembly? Is it because an elected Assembly would demand an immediate end to the Occupation, Iraqi control of Iraqi oil and Iraqi firms to reconstruct their country? These demands will unite the bulk of Iraqis regardless of their religious or ethnic origin.
Click here for more.
Posted by Ron at 11:21 PM
Monday, December 15, 2003
Study: Most tax breaks go to wealthy, add to federal deficit
Measures do not increase rate of savings as intended
From Cox via the Houston Chronicle:
Gale also disputes the basic assumption that the tax breaks encourage savings. Real savings, he said, come when people decide to temporarily reduce their standard of living to put money away for the future. Instead, tax-advantaged savings accounts simply encourage affluent people to move cash into tax shelters, he said.
The accounts "reward people for placing assets in certain investments, but do they serve to raise the level of savings? No, largely they don't," he said. "The money just gets shifted."
Indeed, despite the proliferation of tax-advantaged accounts, Americans have been saving less. In 1982, when Congress created individual retirement accounts, or IRAs, which allowed wage-earners to shelter up to $2,000 annually, the personal savings rate was 10.9 percent. By 2002, the rate was down to 2.3 percent, according to the Commerce Department.
In a review of the subject, the Congressional Budget Office concluded that "empirical studies have not been able to resolve the uncertainty about how IRAs affect saving."
(Emphasis added by Real Art)
1982 was just around the time that President Reagan started ramming neo-liberal "reforms" down America's throat. It's been all uphill for the supply-siders ever since: clearly, neo-liberalism has been an abject failure; it's a clever philosophy, but, like Marxism, it just doesn't work in the real world. The rich, in fact, do not reinvest their tax cut benefits in large enough numbers to boost the economy in any lasting way. There is no "trickle down;" a rising tide does not raise all the boats.
It's time to end this love fest for the rich and start trying to stimulate demand again...just like they did back in the 1950s when we had a kickass economy.
Click here for more.
Posted by Ron at 11:37 PM
With Endorsement of Dean, Gore Steers
Democrats Away From Clintonism
An op-ed piece from the LA Times:
Clinton's overriding political assumption was that Democrats could not win solely by mobilizing their hard-core partisans. Instead, Clinton argued that Democrats had to craft policies that attracted swing voters while maintaining the allegiance of traditional Democrats.
In the central line of his 1991 speech, Clinton memorably declared that Democrats had to redesign their agenda to recapture middle-class voters who had abandoned the party since the 1960s. "Too many of the people who used to vote for us," he said, "the very burdened middle class we are talking about, have not trusted us in national elections to defend our national interests abroad, to put their values into social policy at home, or to take their tax money and spend it with discipline."
Dean starts from precisely the opposite perspective.
Throughout his campaign, he has disparaged the idea of targeting the Democratic message toward swing voters. Instead, he argues that Democrats must focus on mobilizing their base, and inspiring nonvoters, with language and an agenda that energizes traditional party constituencies such as labor, feminists and gay civil rights activists.
"We are going to take back the Democratic Party from the idea that the way to win elections is to neglect our base," Dean recently said.
In other words, Clinton's message was something like "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em," while Dean's message simply seems to be "beat 'em." I'm liking the former governor of Vermont more and more.
Click here for more (and brave the LA Times annoying registration procedure).
Thanks to my old friend, Matt, for the link.
Posted by Ron at 11:24 PM
Sunday, December 14, 2003
TWO GOOD CHOMSKY INTERVIEWS
First an interview with the Guerrilla News Network courtesy of J. Orlin Grabbe:
GNN: What is it about the paradigm of the media that makes it so afraid to deconstruct them as you do?
Chomsky: For the most part educated intellectuals are subservient to power, and there is nothing new to that. You can go back to classical Greece and the Bible and you find the same story.
Take the Bible, we're all supposed to be very Bible worshipping. There were people in the Bible who we would call intellectuals, then they called them a word that is translated as "prophets," but they weren't prophesizing anything. They were basically intellectuals, they were giving geo-political analysis, they were calling for moral behavior, treating orphans and women properly and so on. They were public intellectuals criticizing power and calling for moral behavior and they also predicting that the efforts of the kings trying to extend their power would led to destruction - all the things that critical intellectuals are supposed to do. How were they treated? Where they praised? No, they were imprisoned, driven into the desert, despised.
Hundreds of years later they were honored. Not then.
The ones that were honored were the flatterers who courted the king, and praised those in power.
Those intellectuals are now called false prophets.
Click here for the rest.
Next, an interview with David Barsamian of Z Magazine courtesy of ZNet:
So you go to, say, the 1930s, perhaps the founder of a good bit of modern political science. A liberal Wilsonian, Harold Lasswell, in 1933 wrote an article called “Propaganda” in the Encyclopedia of Social Sciences, a major publication, in which the message was, “We should not [all of these are quotes, incidentally] succumb to democratic dogmatisms about men being the best judges of their own interests.” They’re not, we are. And since people are too stupid and ignorant to understand their best interests, for their own benefit—because we’re great humanitarians—we must marginalize and control them. The best means is propaganda. There is nothing negative about propaganda, he said. It’s as neutral as a pump handle. You can use it for good or for evil. And since we’re noble, wonderful people, we’ll use it for good, to ensure that the stupid, ignorant masses remain marginalized and separated from any decision-making capacity.
Click here for more.
Posted by Ron at 10:51 PM
US TROOPS CAPTURE EVIL TYRANT
WHO HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH 9/11
Just in case you hadn't noticed the wall-to-wall coverage, this is from the AP via the Houston Chronicle:
"He was just caught like a rat," said Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander of 4th Infantry Division, which led the hunt in the area for one of the world's most wanted men and conducted the raid that caught him. "When you're in the bottom of a hole, you can't fight back."
"He was subservient and broken," council member Mouwafak al-Rabii said. "He was speaking as if he did not know what was going on around him."
Hmmm. He doesn't really sound like an underground insurgency mastermind, if you ask me.
Posted by Ron at 10:44 PM
MORE GREEN BASHING
I think I've done a pretty good job of not airing any petty personal grievances here at Real Art over the past year. True, I've written about some personal experiences and how they relate to politics or culture, and some of those experiences have left me pretty angry, but I've always tried to focus more on the implications for the country or the world, rather than on myself.
Today, I'm going to focus on what some might call an argument I had Friday in the Eschaton comment section. Friday was the three year anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that installed a chimpanzee in the Oval Office. Here's what Atrios posted:
The Day the Music Died
3 years ago today Scalia and the gang took a dump on democracy. To remember that, go give some money to your favorite Dem candidate (pres, congress, whatever...)
Good advice. After reading Atrios' blurb, I clicked on the comment section link to read some good ranting and raving. And it was good. I was surprised, however, to find none of the Nader-bashing that I had encountered there last summer--only a few short months ago, many of Eschaton's regular commenters were positively frothing at the mouth in outrage about their belief that Nader had thrown the election in Florida to Bush. I guess we're all entitled to our opinions, but that one opinion was conspicuously missing from a discussion where it seemed to belong, at least in the context of Eschaton comments. Hoping to provide some insight, I left this comment:
I, too, am still angry about the day the embers of our democracy were finally stamped out by the GOP. However, reading this thread makes me remember another Eschaton comment thread (that seemingly no longer exists) for this post last summer. I remember lots and lots of commenters blaming Ralph Nader and the Greens for Gore's "loss" in Florida. Where are all those self-righteous Democrats now? Are we finally all united in blaming the true bad guys? Or do the snotty Green-bashers blame Nader one day and the GOP the next?
That's when I got a pie in the face, and, boy, did it hurt. A regular Eschaton commenter named "pie" immediately smacked me hard:
Ron, with all due respect...SHUT UP!
Please? We have determined many times that the Florida debacle and the Supremes are ultimately responsible for the outcome of the 2000 election. Shrubery was selected, not elected. Let's move on.
Ouch. Needless, to say, her response seemed, to me, unreasonable. Sometimes I just can't keep my mouth shut:
Gee, Pie, it was an honest question. I guess I missed it when all the Green-bashers changed their minds, but treating me like I'm a guest on O'Reilly doesn't really do much more to enlighten me. How can you offer "all due respect" and then tell me to "SHUT UP!" in the same breath?
That kinda hurt my feelings...
Given the intensity of her response, I was trying to soften my tone a bit, but I thought I had good reason to press the issue. I mean, she was pretty damned rude, after all. Here's what "pie" wrote back:
ALL the Green-bashers? I've seen a few. And we've been over this. Enough.
Choose your words carefully. Remember: those who live by the sword, die by the sword.
Huh? This was getting a bit weird. I wrote back:
Hey, Pie, what's the deal? Why so harsh? Like I said, I missed the arguments where this was decided. And what the hell do you mean by saying "those who live by the sword, die by the sword," anyway? Geez, it was an honest question, and you're treating me like I was some freeper or something. Why are you so offended?
For those not in the know, "freeper" is a term used to refer to right-wingers who comment at the ultra-conservative Free Republic website. Freepers often show up at Eschaton comments to stir things up, usually making absurd, unfounded statements. I bet most of them are high school debaters.
Anyway, at this point, somebody else, a commenter named Alex, piped up on the issue:
Okay, look, Nader didn't help the situation in Fla, but that is hardly the topic of this thread! So please take your gripe elsewhere.
In other words, I was seemingly forbidden to talk about it at all. Well, not wanting to offend people who's side I'm supposedly on, but still wanting to defend myself, I said:
Wait a minute, people get off topic all the time here, and, given the proclivity here to argue about Nader's effect on the Florida vote count, I don't think that my observation is unreasonable. I didn't even really want to start up big Nader debate, anyway; I just wanted to make the observation. However, now that I'm getting such flack about it, I've just gotta respond...jeez, people are pretty damned passionate about this topic, I see. I guess I missed out on some pretty fiery threads. Still, that's no reason to be so mean about it. I mean...it was just a thought, after all.
I was trying to be civil, but see where that got me with Ms. "pie" (if that's her real name):
Ron, it appeared to me that you were trying to start something. If you weren't, I apologize. I'm tired of hearing posters argue about this. I've not noticed anyone changing anyone else's mind either, so it's a waste of space or bandwidth. People should just agree to disagree and look ahead to the next election. There's way much at stake here. Way too much. Doesn't everyone understand that?
I guess I don't understand that. Personally, I believe that, if an argument is reasonable, it's reasonable to make it. "Pie's" last statement finally made me think that she's full of shit: she was essentially telling me that I was not allowed to make a particular argument whether it was reasonable or not. This is the kind of liberal censorship that I encountered when I was in college, ridicule instead of reason. I tried to point this out, in a soft-touch way:
Okay, Pie. Thanks. So, if I understand correctly, it's now considered common etiquette here, for the common goal of defeating Bush, to sidestep the Nader thing altogether? Just to keep from stepping on any toes...
She didn't get it:
Yeah, Ron. I think that would be best (not saying it'll happen, but let's try, okay?)
Now, back to the today's topic...
Aaugh! Not fair! Not fair! But, I left it alone. I wasn't in the mood for a rousing defense of my presidential choices, especially with someone who didn't even think I had a right to talk about it there--I think I would have been the bigger idiot for continuing under those circumstances, anyway. One thing this exchange made clear to me is that, even though there are fair arguments to be made about liberal electoral strategies, there are a lot of Nader-hating Democrats who are so utterly outraged by the Greens that the issue makes them lose their sense of logic, makes them ride on their heated passion, makes them downright crazy. Kind of reminds me of a lot of conservatives I know. I guess human nature is beyond politics.
Way later, one commenter, a guy named "Michael (in DC)," came to my defense:
I gotta stick up for Ron as a fellow eeeevuhl 2000 Naderite: In fact there has been quite a lot of gratuitous Greenie-bashing here and elsewhere in Left-Blogtopia right up to the present day, and even if Pie's intention is to say "please can we not have this pointless flamefest again can't we all just get along!!!", then pulling an O'Reilly is hardly the way to go about it.
Oh, and complaining about Ron's comment as "off-topic" is kinda weak given the freewheeling randomness of this and other recent Atrios threads...
...Look: you can say Gore won Florida (you'd be right), or you can say Nader made Gore lose Florida (you'd be wrong). You can't say both.
That was nice.
Because the Eschaton comment threads usually die down after a day or so (that is, people stop commenting), I poked my nose back in and managed to get in the last word:
Thanks for the defense, Michael (in DC). At the risk of getting another a Pie in the face, I'd say that the rude response I got does nothing but illustrate my remarks about self-righteous Democrats and snotty Green-bashers.
Who says liberals don't believe in censorship?
Indeed. Personally, I'd much rather argue with a sincere, reasonable conservative any old day, than a crazed, fire-breathing liberal.
Okay, no more airing of personal grievances for a while. I promise.
Posted by Ron at 2:45 AM
Saturday, December 13, 2003
Audit: Halliburton overbilled millions
From the Houston Chronicle:
Houston-based Halliburton Co. may have overbilled taxpayers by as much as $61 million for trucking gasoline into Iraq, Pentagon auditors said Thursday.
The Pentagon's Defense Contract Audit Agency said Halliburton also may have tried to charge the government $67 million more to manage cafeterias for U.S. troops than the company had agreed to pay the subcontractors hired to actually do the work.
In the military's first public criticism of Halliburton subsidiary KBR since the company went to work in Iraq, Pentagon officials said Thursday that they had discovered "serious problems" with the company's costs and demanded a detailed response.
Here's the kicker:
The Defense Department, however, has not become so concerned that it has stopped handing Halliburton work. On Thursday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers revealed it had assigned Halliburton another $222 million project to repair oil pipelines and a water treatment facility in Iraq.
Click here for more.
Of course, the DoD is the outfit that was paying hundreds of dollars for toilet seats and common hardware a few years back--old habits die hard, I guess. But don't worry about it, because:
Bush says Halliburton must pay up
Again from the Houston Chronicle:
Bush applauded the Pentagon's efforts to try to ensure U.S. tax dollars are used appropriately in Iraq.
"They felt like there was an overcharge issue," he said. "They put the issue right out there on the table for everybody to see, and they're doing good work."
Plain and simple, that's our President. Our evil Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, was even more to the point:
"There was no overpayment to any company," Rumsfeld said. "And, in fact, there is a fairly normal process going on.
How typical. How the hell can he be so sure? I guess he goes over all the billing records himself...kinda like he did with pre-war intelligence. Here's the kicker for this article:
Halliburton shares rose 77 cents or more than 3 percent Friday to close at $25.46.
Jesus. It never ends.
Posted by Ron at 1:34 AM
The longer our boys are in the middle of the insanity set loose by the crazed, bloodthirsty Neo-Cons who illegally occupy the White House, the more we'll see atrocities like this. I've been making comparisons to Vietnam for some months now. It seems that every day the occupation continues, the more appropriate that comparison becomes. Man, I'm disgusted. They shot him when he was down and wounded. Then they gloated. What the hell's happening over there?
This comment from the bottom half of the page cheers me up a bit (but only a bit):
I too, am recently returned from seven months in Iraq, with a Division Cavalry unit. I see nothing to defend in that video and am glad that you have archived it so that others can see it. As a scout with over twenty years in the Army, mostly in combat units, I would say that what is captured on the video appears to be murder and in violation of the Law
of Land Warfare.
This is not how warriors behave but how thugs operate. If the Iraqi man was indeed laying in ambush or setting an IED, then it is entirely appropriate to shoot him and to shoot him until he is no longer a threat. Once he ceased combat operations however, it became the soldiers' job to treat him and give him the same aid they would have one of our wounded soldiers receive.
That's how the Law of Land Warfare works.
To use him as a target and appear so joyful about it demonstrates that murder occurred and not combat operations. That is not a reflection of how callous all the soldiers are or what is encouraged or allowed in units. That unit has a problem. Any commander that glosses over that incident is neglecting his duty.
In the opening days of the war, our medics treated many Iraqi casualties, sometimes heroically. That's what you do. Its the law. I have no love lost for Iraqis, especially after watching the ones so happy to get a handout dance so gleefully in soldier's blood.
Our troops killed plenty, engaging in combat actions. My instructions to soldiers on missions almost always included the words - "if at anytime you feel threatened, shoot, shoot first and shoot center mass." But at no time were any of our soldiers instructed, allowed or countenanced to murder an injured person, be he combatant or not. I took pride that my commander insisted we "keep our mean faces on. We are not here to make
friends" but also insisted on the humane treatment, even recommending our PA for an award solely for working heroically on an Iraqi casualty.
This man had attempted to engage our forces, was shot and shot bad and eventually died. No one was happy that a human died. We understood that if we are to expect to be treated a certain way upon injury or capture, then we must treat the enemy the same way. That's what warriors do.
1SG Perry D. Jefferies
Copperas Cove, TX
Most American soldiers are, no doubt, more like this guy. But war is insane, and this misguided occupation is really insane. How many more murders will there be?
Link lifted from Eschaton comments.
Posted by Ron at 1:10 AM
Thursday, December 11, 2003
Pentagon Punishes Iraqi Civilians Israeli Style
Underlying the "new" Anglo-American strategy, which replicates Israeli methods in occupied Palestine, is a deeply racist ideology typified by Capt. Todd Brown's remarks about Arabs: "You have to understand the Arab mind. The only thing they understand is force---force, pride and saving face." There is little doubt that the Anglo-American occupiers are not only adopting Israeli methods but are in the process of internalizing a racist ideology necessary to oppress Iraqis. This is not untypical in colonial occupation. The occupier and the racist who loses his own humanity regards the occupied people as ants and claims that they do not did not value human life.
Click here for more.
Posted by Ron at 11:20 PM
THE CLINTONS ON GORE AND DEAN
My buddy, Matt, writes in Real Art comments:
It looks like you and I are going through a similar process. I've been reading up on Dean as well and noticing some of the same trends. A few of his views strike me as a bit Libertarian, which I don't mind at all.
Check out the reaction from the Clinton camp for more reasons I like him.
And here's a sample of the New York Daily News article he sent me to:
Hil puts chill on Al's party plans
Once upon a time, the Clintons and the Gores shared everything, from political tickets to intimate White House dinners.
But those days seemed long gone yesterday after the former vice president charged that the Democratic Party - the party of Bill and Hillary Clinton - needed to be "remade" as "a force for justice and progress and good in America."
The usually loquacious Sen. Hillary Clinton offered a stony, one-word answer when asked whether she agreed with her husband's once-loyal veep.
"No," said Clinton.
Well, well, well. So the Clintons are opposed to Gore backing Dean, eh? That bodes well for Dean in my estimation...and it doesn't have a damned thing to do with blowjobs, either. More like it calms my anti-corporate radar warning system a bit.
Click here for more.
Posted by Ron at 11:17 PM
Wednesday, December 10, 2003
THE NATION ON HOWARD DEAN
Nation editor David Corn from last March:
Meet The Nation: Howard Dean
During an interview, Dean acknowledges that he battled fiercely with the Progressive Party of Vermont. In fact, he's even boasted, "The Progressives hate me because they're all big liberals and I'm not, and I've stopped them on many occasions." What has Dean stopped them from doing? "Raising taxes, mainly," he says. "We believe that balanced budgets are important.... 'Progressive' in Vermont means something different than it does nationally. We are a pretty liberal state. It's not entirely out of keeping that I'm one of the more progressive people in the [presidential] race while still being a moderate at home, because if you believe in a balanced budget, that automatically disqualifies you from being a progressive [in Vermont]. And I think at the national level, that's not true." (Progressives in Vermont have criticized Dean for not pushing for a universal state-run healthcare program, for not providing sufficient financial support to state colleges, for underfunding the Agency of Natural Resources and for too often compromising with developers. In 2000 the Progressives ran a candidate against Dean, and their nominee attracted 9.5 percent of the vote--almost enough to cost Dean the election.)
Okay, so Dean makes a good point about the relativity of liberalism given national geography. He's positively a communist by Texas standards, but, still, he does not think of himself as a liberal, and that's something to consider. For instance, note his flaky views on Iraq:
On the stump, Dean has received the most notice for left-of-center stances: his antiwar position and his call for healthcare coverage for all. But on Iraq, Dean has issued what appear to be contradictory remarks. In a February speech he denounced Bush for "focusing...on the wrong war at the wrong time," claimed that he (Dean) was "not ready to abandon a search for better answers" and called for continuing inspections "as long as there is progress toward disclosure and disarmament." But previously, Dean proclaimed that Washington should issue Iraq a sixty-day deadline to comply with the UN resolutions and if it does not, then "we will reserve our right as Americans to defend ourselves and we will go into Iraq." Then, at a Democratic National Committee meeting on February 21, he attacked the Democratic Party leadership for "supporting the President's unilateral attack on Iraq." Aren't these various lines inconsistent?
Hmmm...not quite the flower-in-the-national-guardsman's-rifle type, I'd say. Nonetheless, I must admit to liking some of his positions (in the grand scheme of things, that is) especially on health insurance. He's no Kucinich, but then most Democrats aren't. So should I vote for Dean in the primary? Hmmm...
Click here for more.
And posted earlier today from the Nation's Washington correspondent John Nichols:
Gore's a Dean Man Now
And Gore, openly critical of advisers who counseled ideological and stylistic caution in 2000, is now closer to Dean on the issues than the talking heads recognize. The former Veep's public criticisms of the war on Iraq, the Patriot Act and the Bush Administration's economic policies match the tone and content of Dean's campaign far more than they do those of Lieberman or Gephardt.
But isn't Gore just a blast from the party's best-forgotten past, a sour SoreLoserman for Bill O'Reilly to kick around? That may be how Washington sees it, but Dean has been around the country enough to know that Gore is still greeted with rock concert roars at state Democratic conventions and Jefferson-Jackson Day dinners.
Wait, is Nichols suggesting that Gore is shifting to the left somewhat? That may cancel out some of the pro-corporate influence that worried me in my post on Monday. I also must again admit that I, too, am still pretty pissed off about the 2000 election theft, and I'd probably whoop it up for Gore, too, if given the chance...this is all very interesting.
Click here for more.
Posted by Ron at 11:22 PM
Tuesday, December 09, 2003
SPYING CHARGES DOWNGRADED
TO PORNOGRAPHY POSESSION
From CNN via J. Orlin Grabbe:
Army prosecutors begin laying out their case Monday against a Muslim chaplain once charged with espionage but now facing lesser allegations.
Capt. James Yee, who had been stationed at the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is accused of mishandling classified documents, making a false statement and conduct unbecoming an officer, charges that investigators said were related to pornography allegedly found on his computer and alleged adultery with a female officer.
What the hell?!? Something weird's going on here. Suddenly, Yee is no longer a spy and he's a pervert instead! I have no idea what this means, but I feel like it can't be any good. I'm telling you, these Pentagon guys can't be trusted.
Click here for more.
Posted by Ron at 10:46 PM
President's Business Partner Slices Up Iraq
Good guy muckraker Greg Palast on James Baker's Iraqi debt restructuring:
We are talking about something called "sovereign debt." And unless George Bush has finally 'fessed up and named himself Pasha of Iraq, he is not their sovereign. Mr. Bush has no authority to seize control of that nation's assets nor its debts.
But our President is not going to let something as trivial as international law stand in the way of a quick buck for Mr. Baker. To get around the wee issue that Bush has no legal authority to mess with Iraq's debt, the White House has crafted a neat little subterfuge. The official press release says the President has not appointed Mr. Baker. Rather Mr. Bush is "responding to a request from the Iraqi Governing Council." That is, Bush is acting on the authority of the puppet government he imposed on Iraqis at gunpoint.
I will grant the Iraqi "government" has some knowledge of international finance; its key member, Ahmed Chalabi, is a convicted bank swindler.
The looting continues. Click here.
Posted by Ron at 10:36 PM
Monday, December 08, 2003
GORE BACKS DEAN
From the AP via My Way News courtesy of Eschaton:
Former Vice President Al Gore will endorse Howard Dean for the Democratic presidential nomination Tuesday, a breakthrough on the eve of the primary season that could tighten Dean's grip on the front-runner's position and usher more support from wary party elite.
Gore, who won the popular vote but lost the electoral vote in the disputed 2000 election, has agreed to appear with Dean in New York City's Harlem neighborhood and then travel with the former Vermont governor to Iowa for a formal endorsement, several Democratic officials, including one close to Gore, said Monday.
I'm not 100% sure of what, exactly, this means. Analysts say that it makes Dean all but unbeatable now in the Democratic primaries:
Five weeks before Iowa's kickoff caucuses, the coveted endorsement is a breathtaking victory for a candidate whose anti-war, anti-establishment candidacy has given pause to party leaders and key constituencies, several Democratic strategists said.
"What this says is that all these Washington insiders who have been gnashing their teeth, wringing their hands and clinging to their cocktail cups can relax now. Dean's been knighted by the ultimate insider," said Democratic consultant Dean Strother of Washington. "It's game, set and match. It's over."
Good for Dean. I guess.
However, I do have to point out that Dean is not nearly as liberal as he has been portrayed. The fact that Gore, a member of the self-appointed Democratic Leadership Committee (that's pro-corporate Democrats in plain English), has given his stamp of approval simply reinforces that Dean may be only wearing a liberal mask. In fact, Democratic strategist Steve Jarding calls Gore "the ultimate insider." That kind of talk doesn't do much to dispell my concerns about Dean.
However, one thing is certain: Dean has a much better chance of dethroning Bush than does Ralph Nader.
Oh, well. Click here.
Posted by Ron at 10:35 PM
WAL-MART SUCKS SOUTH OF THE BORDER
From the New York Times via the Houston Chronicle:
But one profit-driving fact remains different in Mexico.
Wal-Mart officials say they treat their Mexican employees so well that the workers want no union, and that they pay their workers better than do their Mexican competitors.
However, in the United States, a unionized supermarket worker makes, on average, about $19 an hour. At Wal-Mart, where there are no unions, that worker makes about $9 an hour.
In Mexico, for a newly hired Wal-Mart cashier, the pay stub reads about $1.50 a hour.
Of course, Wal-Mart also claims that their American workers want no union. Here's the real question: does Wal-Mart's success south of the border mean that Mexico is becoming more like the US, or is it actually the other way around? Hard to say, if you ask me.
Posted by Ron at 10:07 PM
PUBLIC SCHOOL ATROCITIES
From the Sydney Morning Herald:
An American school with a "zero-tolerance" policy on drugs has suspended a pupil for a year for having headache tablets.
Year 10 high school pupil Amanda Stiles, from Louisiana, was suspended after over-the-counter Ibuprofen pills were found in her purse.
Head teacher Ken Kruithof said the decision was in line with Parkway High School's tough anti-drugs rules, even though the tablets are legal.
Meanwhile, Rush Limbaugh roams free...
Click here for more.
Thanks to J. Orlin Grabbe for the link.
Posted by Ron at 9:59 PM
Sunday, December 07, 2003
Iraq and the US Global Agenda
The new National Security Strategy promises to ignite "a new era of global economic growth through free markets and free trade," and to use American preeminence to promote an "efficient allocation of resources, and regional integration." In other words, the U.S. seeks to use its military power to secure favored access to markets, raw materials, and human labor across the planet.
Joseph Nye, dean of the Kennedy School at Harvard, compares the Bush II strategy to a three-dimensional chessboard: "The top board is the military and we can do pretty much what we want. The middle board is economics, and is not a world America controls." Cheney and Rumsfeld are focusing on the "top board," he argues, in order to parlay U.S. military power into greater economic and political power. Nye's "bottom level" consists of factors beyond Washington's control -- anti-U.S. movements, weapons proliferation, the spread of infectious disease, etc. He warns, "The Cheney-Rumsfeld focus on the top board may win in the short run, but will cause lots of problems in the long run."
This is where oil ties in: global capitalism remains dependent on a steady flow of low-priced petroleum, making oil both vital to the health of the world economy and key to the competitive position of rival nations. "The single best cyclical indicator for the world economy is the price of oil," one economist told The New York Times, "Nothing moves in the world economy without oil in there somewhere."
Of course it's about the oil...
Posted by Ron at 11:08 PM
Where Are the Jobs?
From the Progressive:
Though the unemployment rate dipped by one-tenth of a percentage point to 5.9 percent, the figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday were anything but encouraging. After two years of so-called recovery, the economy in November added only 57,000 jobs, far fewer than what is necessary to make up for the number of new people entering the job market, much less to make a serious dent in the unemployment figures.
Unique in the annals of U.S. capitalism over the past six decades, the Bush recovery has not regained jobs.
Click here for more on the gilded recovery.
Posted by Ron at 11:05 PM
The true story of the battle of Samarra
From the London Independent via J. Orlin Grabbe:
Nearly a week has elapsed since the American military issued the startling claim - puzzling even some within its own ranks - that its troops killed 54 guerrillas during running gunfights in the Sunni town of Samarra.
Official versions described how dozens of Fedayeen guerrillas wearing red or black chequered headscarves and dark shirts and trousers attacked troops in the bloodiest engagement since the US-led occupation of Iraq last April - and lost.
Repeated visits to the scene, interviews with Iraqi civilians and US soldiers, and close inspection of the battle damage by scores of correspondents have failed to eliminate several troubling and crucial questions. Where are the bodies? Did they exist? Or was this death toll - as some suspect - a fabrication which was intended to generate positive headlines for the US, after a disastrous weekend in which guerrilla attacks killed 14 foreigners, including seven Spanish intelligence officers?
Click here for more.
After the Jessica Lynch show, it seems obvious that Rumsfeld's goons would tell just about any lies they feel they need to tell, including the inflating of body counts (which also happened in Vietnam, I might add). Jeez, do these guys ever tell the truth?
Posted by Ron at 2:05 AM
Heh. Check out this Google joke that bashes our Chief Chimp. Pretty damned funny, huh? And "it's funny because it's true," because President Bush is, indeed, a miserable failure.
Here's an excerpt from a New York Newsday article via Eschaton that gives some mainstream coverage of this internet jest called a "Google bomb:"
Search engines work much like an index in the back of a book, allowing people to look up words and directing them to the page in which the words appear. The search engines scour Web pages to create the index. In this case, computer users wrote links labeled "miserable failure." When users click on the link, it brings them to the official Bush bio.
When Google software creates its index, it notices the association between the phrase "miserable failure" and the Bush bio. So a search for the phrase brings up the bio.
Click here for the rest of the article.
Thanks to my buddy, Matt, for tipping me off about the Miserable Failure meme.
Posted by Ron at 1:38 AM
A COOL CAMPAIGN AD
For Dennis Kucinich...not that I'm endorsing him, although I would venture to say that he's the most progressive candidate running for the Democratic nomination. Heck, maybe I am endorsing him. I don't know; I still pretty much hate the Dems and their cowardly, pro-corporate ways, but Kucinich says a lot of good things.
He probably won't get the nomination, anyway.
Here's the ad, courtesy of Eschaton.
Posted by Ron at 1:31 AM
Saturday, December 06, 2003
PUBLIC EDUCATION DECONSTRUCTED
My old friend, biggest reader of Real Art, and part-time devil's advocate, Kevin, comments on yesterday's post:
Disbanded, that's a good one. It was a good thing you were able to go to a private school. Otherwise, I guess you woudn't have learned anything. What was the name of that private school where you learned debate, acting, government, history, mathematics, english lit, english composition (at least I've heard that some schools teach ritin and reedin although I've never seen it in the publik skuls). Or was it actually a public school that taught you all all that stuff that's so worthless they might as well be disbanded?
There are very few schools where history is taught in the manner described in that article (just look at the major textbooks, they include the material that the most districts will be willing to buy, and those books include information on many religions, just like the social studies books used in most schools)You have focused narrowly on anomolies and used them to make sweeping generalizations (kind of like fox news does :)
I think I'm not really getting my views on public education across as well as I'd like. This is a huge issue for me and it's important that my criticisms of US schools are understood, so it's time for a revisitation of the subject if only to give some of my more radical statements some kind of context that makes them seem less insane. So here goes.
For starters, I don't really believe that I learned debate, acting, government, history, english lit, and english composition in high school--I do agree that what little mathematics I now retain, I got in high school (although, my level of mastery of that subject is quite low by my estimation). Rather, I don't think that I really knew what I was doing with those above-mentioned content areas until I was in college. That is, I learned interscholastic rules for competitive debate in high school, but I didn't learn to think in an argumentative way until much later. Acting was very much a self-taught subject until I had actual acting teachers at the University of Texas. I couldn't analyze literature in any way but the most shallow until college, and I sure as hell couldn't write coherent essays until college. For some reason, however, I graduated from high school with a 3.8 gpa! I believe that my high grades were the result of doing well what I was told to do, not because I was really acheiving any sort of intellectual mastery of those subjects. In short, I date the beginning of my true education to the fall of 1986, when I moved to Austin to start my long career as a university student.
I had a very strong sense by the time I was a senior in high school that I was really only mastering a system of behavior: that same year, I got myself blackballed from the National Honor Society by penning an essay about our school's unworthiness to be recognized as one of the best in the nation. The essay was called "The Masters of B. S." I pissed off a lot of teachers with that one; the principal even threatened to give me some extra schoolwork to compensate for my feelings of being ill educated. The essay concentrated on how easy it was to avoid assignments if one knew how to do so. My conclusion was that the main lesson I had learned from school was how to sling bullshit, and that I had not been truly educated.
Eighteen years later, after teaching high school for five years, and after reading and thinking about public education for nearly as long, I stand beside my first foray into educational criticism. Of course, I don't agree with everything I said back then. For instance, it is absurd to suggest that I learned nothing in high school--in fact, I learned a lot. However, I believe that I could easily have learned just as much (if not more) on my own, at home and elsewhere, if I had been inclined to do so. Indeed, learning, if one defines the term as meaning "to gain knowledge or understanding," is an almost unavoidable process. That is, it's rather difficult not to learn some things unless one is deaf, dumb, and blind (in which case, I hope I'd play a mean pinball...). The point here is that what I learned in high school, I learned because I wanted to. In other words, for the most part, I educated myself while my "teachers" made sure that my shirt was tucked in, that I came to class on time, that I didn't cuss, and that I performed the tasks that were required of me. I was rewarded with good grades, status, and praise--the boost to my self-esteem encouraged me all the more to please my "teachers." Occasionally, I was punished with bad grades, disparagement, and disciplinary action--the blow to my self-esteem encouraged me all the more to please my "teachers."
Of course, the entirety of my "educational" experience was far more complicated than I'm saying, but this is a good, simplified, overall picture of my days in high school--I did, in fact, have one or two great teachers who defied the norm; however, most of my "teachers" were simply bored managers, making a living, lifelessly working through the curriculum (and after five and a half years as a teacher, myself, I'm far more forgiving of them now than I was back in the day). My overall point here is that there is a big difference between true education and the institution that we call public education.
In order to understand why I so devalue American public education, one must look at what actually happens in public schools. That is, one must consider what is emphasized, what students and teachers do on a moment to moment and day to day basis, and what the actual outcomes of those emphases and routines are. I have written quite a bit about such things here at Real Art over the past year. My first major post on education, back in February, was a rambling collection of comments that I had made over at Eschaton about the lack of free thought in the classroom: even though there is a lot of discussion in school, it rarely strays outside of rather narrowly proscribed bounds; that is, thought is free in school only to a particular point--going beyond that point generally ends up with someone (usually the student) facing some kind of punishment. Later that month, I extended my discussion of education and thinking in a post about an argument I had with other theater teachers when I advocated treating theater as a hard, academic subject rather than as a blow-off elective. This, in retrospect, is an interesting post if only because it shows how the people who run the system seem to be troubled by it, but have no understanding that business as usual will create the same frustrating results. The bottom line is that these two posts illustrate how the educational institution seems to unknowingly resist it's own holy grail, "critical thinking," because it is unwilling to abandon time honored methods of schooling.
By June, I was starting to get more specific with my criticisms of educational routines. In my "REPORT CARD BECKY" post, I show how large class sizes tend to handicap a teacher's ability to teach, tying up his hands with disciplinary, procedural, and bureaucratic issues--I also begin to discuss issues of economic class and diversity, and how the schools are quite backward in dealing with them. By July, my mood had become even more bitter and hopeless: my "SMASH THE SCHOOLS" essay about the overwhelming authoritarian emphasis in public education (that easily outweighs any lip-service paid to freedom), education's militaristic structure, and the public's unwillingness to consider such issues, ends with my vowing to leave teaching at the end of the coming school year (a vow I intend to keep, I might add)--this essay also hits on class and diversity issues. By October, I was addressing class issues in education head-on: in "THE FUTILITY OF PUBLIC 'EDUCATION'," I try to show how kids from wealthy families get "better" educations than kids from poverty--the reality is that kids from wealthy families learn more because they are better motivated to learn more; that is, they teach themselves better because they have to.
I have now concluded that American schools are so terribly screwed up, so utterly at odds with their stated mission, that they cannot be fixed. The only way to have any kind of public education system that does what everybody says they want it to is to start all over: the people running the system cannot collectively conceptualize or implement the reforms necessary to truly educate American children. Furthermore, my criticisms aren't just something I came up with because my personal experience as a teacher has been so bad. Read John Gatto, Theodore Sizer, James Lowen, or Jonathan Mooney, all respected education critics, to get even more insight into these issues. As Mooney points out, there is, indeed, a difference between "schooling" and learning--our society loves "schooling" but barely understands education.
My buddy Kevin condemns my recent posts on education: "You have focused narrowly on anomolies and used them to make sweeping generalizations." This is simply not the case. When taking my recent posts on such "anomolies" in the context of everything I have written about education, my hope is that such exceptions prove the rule. That is, the overall structure and emphases of American schools tend to make such "anomolies" likely--I make these posts to show what happens when our society's understanding of education is taken to its logical extreme, to show that these are not isolated incidents; there is a pattern to such seeming insanity. I do not make sweeping generalizations about education. Quite the reverse, I have provided an alternative and more honest understanding of "schooling," and then shown examples as evidence.
Posted by Ron at 2:34 AM