Monday, June 28, 2004


The wife and I are headed over to Baton Rouge for three or four days to find a place to live, so my blogging might slow down a wee bit for the next few days. However, I did get a laptop for my birthday a while back, and I've been aching to try it out on the road. I'll probably make at least one or two posts, but I'm looking at this house-hunting trip as the last real vacation I'll have for some years to come, so I'm not going to be writing any treatises or anything.

But, who knows? Maybe something wild will happen that just calls out for some therapeutic blogging on my part. Aaaah, I'll probably just talk about crawfish and gumbo...


Cobb, Not Nader, is Green Pick

From the Nation:

After twice seeking the presidency as the nominee of the Green Party, and playing a critical role in building it into a force capable of delivering almost two-dozen state ballot lines and a nationwide infrastructure of volunteers, Ralph Nader turned his back on the party and announced earlier this year that he would mount an independent campaign for the nation's top job. As that campaign struggled to gain ballot lines and volunteer support, however, it began to look as if Nader could use the help of the Greens. Thus, with party delegates gathering here for Saturday's national convention vote on who to back for the presidency, Nader and his backers made what at times looked like a frantic attempt to secure the endorsement of the Greens.

On the eve of the convention, Nader selected a prominent Green, two-time California gubernatorial candidate Peter Camejo, as his vice presidential running mate. Though he did not make a formal bid for the party's nomination, he signaled that he wanted its endorsement. He expressed sympathy with the party platform. His backers flooded the convention hotel and hall with green-and-yellow "Nader/Camejo 2004" posters and, on the night before the presidential vote, Nader spoke by phone to a rally where the crowd chanted "Run Ralph Run."

It was too little, too late.

Click here for more.

I think that the Greens made a good move here. A political party needs to be about much more than a strong personality--just ask Ross Perot's rudderless Reform Party about that. While Nader did a great deal to bring the national spotlight down on the Green Party during his run in 2000, his weird, almost arrogant behavior as of late has shown that he is not as interested in building a viable party in the long term as he is in running for president, and more power to him--his issues are still, by and large, my issues, too, but I've pretty much come to the conclusion that one man cannot change the political system that exists now. Actually, I'm beginning to think that Nader is trying to shape the debate, rather than gain political power, and he may very well be having some success with that, at least within the Democratic Party.

This David Cobb guy sounds pretty cool. Of course, he won't win, but that's not really the point, either. His nomination shows that the Greens are going on without Nader's powerful personality, that they're getting out from under the temporary shadow that he cast: to me, the meaning of this is that the Greens are in it for the long haul. A few years from now when global warming has gotten so bad that even NASCAR fans are outraged with the corporate power establishment, and both the Democrats and the GOP are stuttering like idiots, the Green Party will be ready to sweep into power.

I hope.

Of course, I'm taking an Ambien, holding my nose, and voting for Kerry come November. I'll be living in Louisiana by then, and I think that state may very well be up for grabs; I'd never forgive myself if Bush won there by a small margin. If all goes well, I'll have plenty of vitriol here at Real Art to spew at conservative Kerry early in 2005. Really, his only plus is that he's not a talking chimp like Bush: he's going to screw up for sure, just not as badly W.


U.S. transfers sovereignty to
Iraqi government ahead of schedule

From Reuters via the Houston Chronicle:

The U.S.-led coalition transferred sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government today, speeding up the move by two days in an apparent bid to surprise insurgents who may have tried to sabotage the step toward self rule.

Legal documents handing over sovereignty were handed over by U.S. governor L. Paul Bremer to interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi in a ceremony in the heavily guarded Green Zone.

"This is a historical day," Allawi said during the ceremony. "We feel we are capable of controlling the security situation."

Click here for the rest.

And how do I know it's a puppet regime, you may ask? Two reasons. First, the US military is still in Iraq to provide "security," which is rather ironic because the only things that need to be secured, as far as I can tell, are the security-providing US military along with the White House's Iraqi puppets. In other words, this new government is a joke because Iraq is still occupied by its invaders. What the hell kind of sovreignty is it when it's at the end of a gun barrel?

Second, Bush has chosen a seasoned puppeteer to be America's new ambassador to this joke regime: John Negroponte long ago proved his worth as a stealth proconsul while he was ambassador to Honduras during President Reagan's bloodthirsty games in Central America during the first half of the 1980s. Negroponte was instrumental in training and directing the sadistic and far right-wing Contras in their US sponsored terrorist campaign against Nicaragua. He also was a big part of major human rights abuses in Honduras itself.

So long, Saddam: Iraqis, meet your new Saddam, John Negroponte! Get ready for a new round of torture that's going to make Abu Ghraib look like a cakewalk. Homosexual humiliation? That's kid stuff. Try cattle prods, razor blades, mutilation, and plain, old-fashioned murder on a massive scale.

Iraq's New Saddam: John Negroponte


Sunday, June 27, 2004


First, an essay on the overall failure of conservatism as a philosophy (like we needed an essay to tell us that):

The Elephant in the Room

Americans have been ignoring the elephant in the room. It's that huge thing that's in front of everyone, but that no one mentions by name. Most people can't see it, while others intentionally disregard it, but many people just have a hard time articulating what it is.

Even its opponents direct little attention to the elephant itself; at best they tend to describe its various parts. Its ears are deregulation, its trunk trickle-down economics, its mouth media consolidation, its tail a pre-emptive war in Iraq, its legs record deficits, and its feet cutbacks in education, social security, America's safety net, even veterans' benefits.

Yet, by only describing its individual parts, Americans fail to grasp the massive weight and dimension of the elephant. The big picture is obscured. We can't see that what's in front of us is all part of the same beast: failed conservative policies.

Click here.

Next, an essay on the Bush administration's continuing attack on America's sexual health:

The Condom Wars

Lethal new regulations from President Bush's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, quietly issued with no fanfare last week, complete the right-wing Republicans' goal of gutting HIV-prevention education in the United States. In place of effective, disease-preventing safe-sex education, little will soon remain except failed programs that denounce condom use, while teaching abstinence as the only way to prevent the spread of AIDS. And those abstinence-only programs, researchers say, actually increase the risk of contracting AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Published on June 16 in the Federal Register, the censorious new CDC guidelines will be mandatory for any organization that does HIV-prevention work and also receives federal funds -- whether or not any federal money is directly spent on their programs designed to fight the spread of the epidemic. (The CDC is the principal federal funder of prevention education about HIV and AIDS, and its head is a Bush appointee).

It's all couched in arcane bureaucratese, but this is the Bush administration's Big Stick -- do exactly as we say, or lose your federal funding. And nearly all of the some 3,800 AIDS service organizations (ASOs) that do the bulk of HIV-prevention education receive at least part of their budget from federal dollars. Without that money, they'd have to slash programs or even close their doors.

Click here.


Saturday, June 26, 2004


First, an essay on the Bush administration's word-game response to the recent 9/11 Commission conclusion that there was no collaborative connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda:

The Lexicographers

Ever since the September 11 commission stated authoritatively what everyone knew already, namely that there is no evidence that Al Qaeda was in business with Saddam Hussein, a debate of a most peculiar character has unfolded.

Almost no facts -- and none of importance -- are under dispute. No one now claims that Iraq had anything to do with September 11, or any other attack on the United States, or even that Saddam's regime had any joint undertaking whatsoever with Al Qaeda. Rather, the debate revolves around the definition of words. The highest officials of the executive branch of the government, as if re-baptizing it as an academic department of a university, have turned themselves into so many linguists. What is a "tie," a "relationship," a "link," a "contact," "cooperation"? On questions like these, the White House abounds in opinions.

Click here for the rest.

Next, an essay on the Wal-Mart wars:

Taking on Wal-Mart

"MY NAME is Rosetta Brown, and I’ve been an employee for the Wal-Mart company for six years. As an employee, I have seen first hand that Wal-Mart associates are often placed under harmful working conditions--everything from racial discrimination, to intimidation by management, to misinformation, to violations of workers’ rights and the law.

I was injured on the job October 6, 1999, while locked in the store overnight doing inventory. Currently, I live with the pain and suffering of a herniated disk in my neck that happened that night. The actions of Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club have delayed my workers’ compensation. As a result, I have accumulated tens of thousands of dollars in debt from medical bills, lost my apartment and depended on public aid.

My credit is ruined, and I live in pain every day. My doctor has recommended surgery in the future to alleviate my suffering, but because Wal-Mart continues to deny my claim, I can’t afford to pay for it. My greatest pain is that all of this could have been prevented from the beginning if they had only done what was right."

Indeed, Wal-Mart sucks.

Click here for the rest.


Friday, June 25, 2004

Pollution study finds Houston refineries
emit 3 times as much as reported

From the Houston Chronicle:

Refineries and petrochemical plants in the Houston area release three times more toxic air pollution than they report to the federal government, according to a study released Tuesday.

The report by the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Integrity Project and a local air pollution advocacy group, used calculations developed by the state's environmental agency to estimate that 102 refineries in the Houston area released 116 million pounds of pollution in 2001, 79 million pounds more than they reported.

Applying that same formula throughout Texas, and to refineries and chemical plants nationwide, the groups found that the state would rank first in releases of 10 toxic air pollutants, rather than third, as was reported in the last year's Toxics Release Inventory, a federal database compiled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Nationally, 330 million pounds of toxic air pollution went unreported in 2001, the report said.

Here's a punchline appropriate for this Republican-dominated era in which we are living:

Fisher said that it's the EPA that tells industry how to report its pollution. The law requires industries to submit the "best available information," which in many cases does not entail actual monitoring.

Click here for the rest.

Not only are chemical plants wide open to terrorists who want to kill us, but these plants, themselves, are also doing their damnedest to help the terrorists out by killing us slowly with unreported toxic emisions. Man, I live right smack dab in the middle of this shit, and I know that if I end up with some weird cancer ten years or so down the road, the government is going to tell me that's just too bad, socialized health care is evil. None of this is surprising to me. Of course, the EPA doesn't actually require massive industrial polluters to monitor their pollution: the federal agency is run by Republican shills recruited directly from the industries that pollute the most. Meanwhile, Texas is sticking it to its citizens in a vain and cosmetic attempt to make up the difference. I suppose it would be too much to ask for me to be able to simply report an estimate of my car's emission levels for my state auto inspection--I just had to get the fucking engine replaced on the damned thing because it wouldn't pass the state's new stringent standards for exhaust emissions in Harris County. I know fully well that cars do cause pollution, but certainly not on the scale that the petrochemical industry does. This is really fucked. If the state had its shit together in any sane way at all, we'd have a good public transportation system, and the car thing would be a moot point. But, then, I suppose that public transportation is socialist, and therefore evil.


Coordinated attacks in Iraq cities kill 100

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

Insurgents set off car bombs and seized police stations Thursday in an offensive aimed at creating chaos ahead of next week's handover of power to a new Iraqi government. U.S. and Iraqi forces regained control in heavy fighting, but the day's violence killed more than 100 people, including three U.S. soldiers.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's terror network claimed responsibility for the attacks. Most of the casualties were Iraqi civilians. Many were killed in simultaneous car bombings in the northern city of Mosul, and some died as U.S. troops battled the guerrillas. At least 320 people were wounded, including 12 Americans.

The broad offensive -- with violence in at least six cities -- was the most extensive since attacks in early April. It showed a strength to the insurgency that appeared to surprise even U.S. officials who have been warning that guerrillas would try to sabotage the transfer of power.

The U.S. military responded with heavy firepower, dropping eleven 500-pound bombs and a 2,000-pound bomb.

And here's the not-so-funny punchline from one of the towns that saw some heavy fighting:

Harried doctors struggled to cope with a stream of wounded brought to Baqouba's hospital in civilian cars and pickups. Corridors in the emergency room were spattered with blood. The Health Ministry said 13 people were killed and 15 wounded.

The wounded screamed in agony, and many of their friends and relatives directed their anger at the Americans, whom they blamed for destroying the order imposed by Saddam Hussein.

"May God destroy America and all those who cooperate with it!" one man screamed in the corridor. Another carried the body of a young man shot in the back of the head. "Oh God! Abbas is dead!" he cried.

Click here for the rest.

Okay, so all this bloodshed was for eradicating Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, right? Wrong. There were no weapons of mass destruction. So it was for ending the dangerous relationship between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, right? Wrong. There was no relationship between Saddam and bin Laden. Then why the hell are all these people dead?


And the United States is responsible.


Al Qaeda Link To Iraq May Be Confusion Over Names

A follow up on this earlier Real Art post, from the Washington Post courtesy of Eschaton:

Lehman introduced the information on NBC's "Meet the Press" to counter a commission staff report that said there were contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda but no "collaborative relationship."

Yesterday, the senior administration official said Lehman had probably confused two people who have similar-sounding names.

One of them is Ahmad Hikmat Shakir Azzawi, identified as an al Qaeda "fixer" in Malaysia. Officials say he served as an airport greeter for al Qaeda in January 2000 in Kuala Lumpur, at a gathering for members who were to be involved in the attacks on the USS Cole, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Iraqi military documents, found last year, listed a similar name, Lt. Col. Hikmat Shakir Ahmad, on a roster of Hussein's militia, Saddam's Fedayeen.

"By most reckoning that would be someone else" other than the airport greeter, said the administration official, who would speak only anonymously because of the matter's sensitivity. He added that the identification issue is still being studied but "it doesn't look like a match to most analysts."

Click here for the rest.

Well, so much for this mysterious connection between the Fedayeen and al-Qaeda. This was really a non-story from the get-go. Commissioner Lehman, clearly a partisan Republican, was obviously trying to string together some kind of "argument" to weaken the 9/11 Commission's conclusion that there was no link between Saddam and bin Laden. What an asshole. This is the same kind of bullshit rhetoric that got us into this stupid war in the first place: innuendo, rumor, and suggestion substitute for facts and careful analysis. Does the truth even matter to these guys anymore?


Thursday, June 24, 2004

The politics of power

Seattle journalist David Neiwert meditates on the meaning of the recently released audio tapes of Enron energy traders laughing about F'ing California in the A during the state's multiple blackouts a while back:

I'm sure everyone's been following the brouhaha over the Enron Tapes and what they reveal about the tactics of the now-mostly-defunct-but-still-thrashing-about energy giant. And make no mistake, what the tapes confirm is what was perhaps already clear: a corporate culture so reptilian, so deeply devoid of ethics and so far outside the law, that it now has its own special wing reserved in the depths of Business Hell.

What's especially worth observing about the tapes, though, is what they say about the bigger picture. Thomas Leavitt at Seeing the Forest explains:

"The Enron Tapes and the Snohomish vs. Enron hearing aren't just about a few potty mouthed "bad apples" at Enron engaging in opportunistic exploitation of regulatory loopholes (as Enron's PR people would like you to believe). They highlight a fundamental problem of our system of governance: the balance of power between corporations and the average human citizen is way out of whack. This is a point that those of us on our side of the issue would be well served to bring to the fore.

Enron lobbied our legislators and regulatory agencies with the conscious and deliberate intent of creating a non-transparent marketplace full of inefficiencies that they could then exploit (see Dr. Carl Pechman's testimony, quoted in previous posts). AND OUR LEGISLATORS AND REGULATORS LET THEM GET AWAY WITH IT... or rather, they did not intervene, because they saw nothing unusual in the process as it happened."

Click here for more.


Here corporate piggy, piggy, piggy ...

The Houston Chronicle's Cragg Hines on the anatomy of Congress' latest pork barrel giveaway to corporations:

IF you like to sit on the porch at your tobacco farm, while a ceiling fan from Shanghai circles lazily and you sip a frosty punch concocted from Puerto Rican rum, then the ugly porker of a corporate tax bill passed by the U.S. House is just for you. At least it is for the folks who own the tobacco allotment, import the fan and distill the rum.

Those were only a few of the special interests whose long-standing pleas for extraordinary treatment in the federal tax code were fulfilled last week as House Republican leaders kept loading on goodies to get the corporate tax cut bill to market, er, passage. As the final vote was 251-178, it appears they could have stopped handing out giveaways a few billion dollars before they did. But what's a load of pork among friends?

If President Bush were interested in fighting the persistent public impression that he is more interested in helping big business than average families, he would issue a veto threat. In a late March national survey (1,616 sample of adults), the Los Angeles Times Poll found that by a spread of 63-21 percent, respondents believe Bush "cares more about" protecting the interest of large corporations than ordinary people. That finding was largely unchanged from when the poll asked the question in 2002.

But the White House already has said that Bush backs the concept of a corporate tax cut and urges the House and Senate to quickly work out differences in their two versions of the legislation, which, thankfully, may be easier said than done.

For more disgust, click here.


Wednesday, June 23, 2004

House ethics panel decides to
proceed with DeLay inquiry

From the Houston Chronicle:

The House ethics committee decided Tuesday to proceed with its own investigation into allegations filed against House Majority Leader Tom DeLay by Rep. Chris Bell, D-Houston.

In a ruling that does not address the substance of Bell's charges that DeLay engaged in extortion, bribery and abuse of power, the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct said the complaint was filed properly and warrants a look.

But that doesn't mean that DeLay's worm-like Congressional supplicants are done with their squirmy attempts to shut down the investigation:

However some Republicans, including Rep. John Culberson of Houston, will press ahead today with an effort to disqualify Bell's complaint, arguing that he should not have the right to file ethics charges because he is a lame-duck congressman and has no stake in the House's future.

Click here for the rest.

DeLay is a criminal; there's no doubt about that. What remains to be seen, however, is if this mobster is revealed for what he actually is. I fully expect these proceedings to be drawn out for eternity: the GOP loves their Lizard King, and is not likely to let him fall without a major fight. My cynicism says DeLay will come out of this unscathed, but this is the first real opportunity to nail him that I know of. Here's hoping that justice triumphs for once.

For more on this story click here, here, and here.


Judge certifies huge Wal-Mart class action

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

In addition, the judge said, the plaintiffs presented sufficient anecdotal evidence to warrant a class-action trial.

Jenkins decided that the "plaintiffs present largely uncontested descriptive statistics which show that women working at Wal-Mart stores are paid less than men in every region, that pay disparities exist in most job categories, that the salary gap widens over time, that women take longer to enter management positions, and that the higher one looks in the organization the lower the percentage of women."

Wal-Mart contends the suit ignores the thousands of women who earn more than their male counterparts and doesn't consider factors that may make one job worth more pay than another.

The case already has generated 1.25 million pages of evidence and 200 sworn depositions.

Click here for the rest.

Wal-Mart sucks for many, many reasons--just check out the Real Art archives for the numerous and various posts I've made about the mega-store's suckiness. It is nice to see a new font opening up against their Borg-like assimilation of America.


Tuesday, June 22, 2004

U.S. Plants: Open To Terrorists

From CBS's 60 Minutes:

At one facility in a suburb of Los Angeles, there was an impressive-looking front gate, but if there were security guards out back, we didn't see them. We did find a school, and a day care center less than a mile away.

And in the center of Houston, where a terrorist attack might affect three million people, it looked as if an intruder could simply walk right in.

The person who may know the most about the lack of security is Carl Prine, an investigative reporter at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, who began probing security at chemical plants six months after Sept. 11 -- after companies had been warned by the government that they were potential targets.

“I found almost non-existent security in a lot of places,” says Prine, who visited 60 plants all over the country, including the Chicago, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh and Houston area. “I walked right up to the tanks. There was one plant in Chicago, I simply sat on top of the tank and waved ‘Hello, I'm on your tank.’"

And he did it in broad daylight, wearing his press badge and carrying a camera. He says no one tried to stop him.

“I began to wonder, I mean, what would it take for me to get arrested at one of these plants? Would I have to come in carrying an AK-47? What would it take for someone to say, ‘Why is this guy walking around taking pictures of our tanks,’” says Prine, who told the chemical plants that he had been inside. “That was our policy. We took pictures so that the plants could identify their own weaknesses. And we also took our information to EPA; we took it to the American Chemistry Council.”

But even after his expose ran in the newspaper, Prine was convinced that he could still get back into the same plants again. 60 Minutes asked him if we could tag along one rainy afternoon to see just how close they could get to the most dangerous chemicals at the Neville Chemical Plant outside downtown Pittsburgh.

There was an open gate right in front of the most dangerous chemicals at the plant. We made it in, with plenty of time to find what they were looking for.

“This is anhydrous ammonia. It searches out wet parts of the body. It goes right down your throat, rips out your lungs and also blinds you. It goes right for your eyeballs,” says Prine. “If you were to blow this thing you would probably take out the plant.”

But the most dangerous chemical at this plant was boron triflouride, a deadly, colorless gas with a suffocating odor that attacks mucous membranes and can kill at concentrations as low as 50 PPM.

Thank god I'm getting the hell out of Houston.

Click here for the rest.



From the New York Times, Paul Krugman on Attorney General John Ashcroft:

First, there's the absence of any major successful prosecutions. The one set of convictions that seemed fairly significant — that of the "Detroit 3" — appears to be collapsing over accusations of prosecutorial misconduct. (The lead prosecutor has filed a whistle-blower suit against Mr. Ashcroft, accusing him of botching the case. The Justice Department, in turn, has opened investigations against the prosecutor. Payback? I report; you decide.)

Then there is the lack of any major captures. Somewhere, the anthrax terrorist is laughing. But the Justice Department, you'll be happy to know, is trying to determine whether it can file bioterrorism charges against a Buffalo art professor whose work includes harmless bacteria in petri dishes.

Perhaps most telling is the way Mr. Ashcroft responds to criticism of his performance. His first move is always to withhold the evidence. Then he tries to change the subject by making a dramatic announcement of a terrorist threat.

For an example of how Mr. Ashcroft shuts down public examination, consider the case of Sibel Edmonds, a former F.B.I. translator who says that the agency's language division is riddled with incompetence and corruption, and that the bureau missed critical terrorist warnings. In 2002 she gave closed-door Congressional testimony; Senator Charles Grassley described her as "very credible . . . because people within the F.B.I. have corroborated a lot of her story."

But the Justice Department has invoked the rarely used "state secrets privilege" to prevent Ms. Edmonds from providing evidence.

Click here for the rest.


Monday, June 21, 2004


I ran across a headline on the Houston Chronicle's site on Sunday that raised my eyebrows. From Reuters:

9/11 panel links Iraqi officer to al-Qaida

Republican commissioner John Lehman told NBC's "Meet the Press" program that the new intelligence, if proven true, buttresses claims by the Bush administration of ties between Iraq and the militant network believed responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America.

Lehman said the information, contained in "captured documents," was obtained after the commission report was written that stated there was no evidence of a "collaborative relationship" between Iraq and al-Qaida.

"Some of these documents indicate that (there was) at least one officer of Saddam's Fedayeen, a lieutenant colonel, who was a very prominent member of al-Qaida," Lehman said.

"That still has to be confirmed, but the vice president (Dick Cheney) was right when he said that he may have things that we don't yet have," said Lehman, a former Navy secretary.

The article concludes with this brief characterization of a response from the Democratic commissioner who appeared on "Meet the Press" with Lehman:

Democratic commission member Richard Ben-Veniste told the NBC program he hoped Cheney would provide "on a current basis" information "with respect to the individual that John Lehman has talked about."

Ben-Veniste also claimed there was no political motivation behind the commission's conclusions.

"This was not an effort to discredit or modify someone else's statements," he said.

Click here for the rest.

Obviously, given my last two posts, this troubled me a bit, so I started surfing around trying to find out what I could about this seemingly big story. My first stop was, of course, over at Eschaton. Atrios had nothing to say about this; it was almost as though it hadn't even happened. I checked a couple of other sites and still found nothing (maybe I should have checked Drudge, but I really kind of hate him for the role that he played in enabling the press' feeding frenzy during the Monica Lewinsky thing, so I rarely go there). I widened my search: the New York Times, the Google news page, the Washington Post, a few others, I came up with nothing. So I let it rest for a while and went back to Eschaton. Sure enough, a few people made reference to the story in his comments section: I learned that the Reuters article had completely misrepresented Ben-Veniste's actual statement as heard on "Meet the Press." I headed over to the MSNBC site hoping for a video clip, or some quotes or something. What I found, to my delight, was a rush transcript of the entire show. Here is what Ben-Veniste actually said:

MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Lehman said that it's quite possible that Vice President Cheney does know things that the commission doesn't know. You agree with that?

MR. BEN-VENISTE: Yes, I hope he does on a current basis. With respect to the individual that John Lehman has talked about, who is supposedly a member of the Fedayeen, the storm troopers of Saddam Hussein's former army, we don't know whether that's the same individual as an individual who had some contact with al-Qaeda operatives. There were a lot of Iraqis, expatriates, opponents of Saddam Hussein, who joined up with al-Qaeda. But in terms of collaborative relationship in operations targeting the United States, we have come to the conclusion that there is no evidence that we have seen to support that. If there is additional information, we're happy to look at it, and we think we should get it.

Click here for the whole transcript.

Two points here.

First, even though both Democrats and Republicans on the commission are saying that none of their statements are politically motivated, it is clear that they're coming to slightly different conclusions that seemingly fall along party lines. That is, if you read the whole "Meet the Press" interview, it appears that Lehman is really grasping at straws to help out the Bush administration--he mentions traces of Iraqi chemicals found in Sudan, along with this reference to a guy who may or may not have been part of al-Qaeda; in fact, he kind of seems to be coming from the "aluminum tubes" and "yellowcake from Niger" school of argumentation. Of course, that's just my opinion, but it is quite clear that, on the 9/11 Commission, Republicans are trying to help out their own, and Democrats likewise. However, it is very interesting to note that Lehman does not seem to object to Ben-Veniste's assertion that "in terms of collaborative relationship in operations targeting the United States, we have come to the conclusion that there is no evidence that we have seen to support that."

Second, how the hell did this Reuters story get it so wildly wrong? As regular Real Art readers know, I'm pretty much of the opinion that the the mainstream news media are biased in a conservative direction--actually my view is much more nuanced than that, but, by and large, I think that the media are conservative. So, it's very tempting to simply conclude that this is some sort of right-wing reporter working under a right-wing editor; on the other hand, I don't really know what this guy's political views are, or why his editor decided to post the story, or why the Chronicle chose to run it. This article, though, is clearly biased toward the right. So what's the deal?

Here's my bet: sloppy journalism. I speculate that this Reuters reporter, Peter Kaplan, thought he had some sort of scoop. Of course, it's no real scoop when the interview was conducted by another news organization, but I bet Kaplan thought he had noticed something that nobody else had and convinced his boss to go with it. Editors at the Chronicle were probably like "wow, check this out," and also ran it without really checking it out.

I'm really starting to think that most reporters are kind of stupid, but that's no excuse for such inept journalistic laziness that I, a hayseed idiot down in Texas (okay, okay, I've actually been to college and all, but I'm no Washington insider, either), was able to discredit the story in under thirty minutes. Journalism is serious, serious business. When this kind of crap is so easily allowed, everybody has the potential to be screwed.

Just ask the Iraqis.

For more on news media bias, click here.


Sunday, June 20, 2004

Links? Ties? Contacts? What's It All Mean?

Bush joins Condi Rice's definition oriented argument in response to the damning statement from the 9/11 Commission about the lack of ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda. From the Washington Post:

Bush Defends Assertions of Iraq-Al Qaeda Relationship

The panel's staff reported on Wednesday that there were contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda, "but they do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship."

In challenging the commission's finding, Bush and his aides argued that their previous assertions about the ties between Iraq and the terrorist organization were justified by the contacts that occurred.

"This administration never said that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated between Saddam and al Qaeda," Bush said. "We did say there were numerous contacts between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda."

Officials with the Sept. 11 commission yesterday tried to soften the impact of the staff's finding, noting that the panel, formally known as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, agrees with the administration on key points. "Were there contacts between al Qaeda and Iraq? Yes," Thomas H. Kean (R), the panel's chairman, said at a news conference. "What our staff statement found is there is no credible evidence that we can discover, after a long investigation, that Iraq and Saddam Hussein in any way were part of the attack on the United States."

The panel's executive director, Philip D. Zelikow, said the finding referred to a lack of evidence of "operational" ties between Iraq and al Qaeda.

Click here for the rest.

And if I understand the Commission's statements correctly, this last thought isn't simply about 9/11: they found no evidence of any collaborative relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Obviously, this hasn't taught the White House any lessons about 'fessing up. Their whole when-we-said-ties-we-actually-meant-contacts argument may very well succeed in confusing enough of the population to give them some breathing room on the biggest fuck-up in US history. Don't be fooled. When they said "ties," they really meant "ties," and not "contacts." (If you follow the vocab links, I think that the #2 definitions, for both words, are what we're considering here, and, hell, you could even interpret the definition of "contacts" as meaning a close relationship,, definitional arguments are some tough shit.)

From the Center for American Progress, Eric Alterman tries to clear up some of the potential confusion:

Think Again: No Link? Who Knew?

In the period leading up to the war, President Bush frequently couched his remarks to be deliberately misleading on this topic without actually crossing over the line into what all would recognize as a lie. For instance, in his 2003 State of the Union, Bush claimed, ''Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of al Qaeda,…Secretly, and without fingerprints, he could provide one of his hidden weapons to terrorists, or help them develop their own." The theme of Saddam's training and funding of "al Qaeda–type organizations before, al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations" was a constant feature of the president's speeches. Following a terrorist attack in Bali that left over 180 people dead, Bush insisted that Saddam planned to employ al-Qaida as his own "forward army" against the West. In a speech to the United Nations on Sept. 12, 2002, Bush charged, "Iraq continues to shelter and support terrorist organizations that direct violence against Iran, Israel, and Western governments. Iraqi dissidents abroad are targeted for murder.... And al Qaeda terrorists escaped from Afghanistan and are known to be in Iraq." To Americans he used simple scare tactics that had no basis in recent reality. Borrowing a tactic from the late John Lennon, Bush asked, "Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans, this time armed by Saddam Hussein," in his 2003 State of the Union Address. "It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known. "

Though he never came up with any evidence at all, Bush never gave up this particular line of argument. Just before the war began, he cried in similarly misleading terms, "The Battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September 11, 2001, and still goes on."

Emphasis mine.

Click here for the rest.

So, once again, the bottom line is that, whether the White House literally asserted a collaborative relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda or not, it is absolutely, positively certain that the Oval Office mounted a huge effort to get that idea across to Americans one way or the other in order to justify the invasion.

However you look at it, Bush's response to this new info is horseshit, nothing but high school debate class word games given social legitimacy by the prestige of the Presidency. Game over, man. They are fucked.


Saturday, June 19, 2004

No Iraqi 'Control' of Qaeda

This has got to be the absolute, worst argument I have ever heard in my entire life. Worse than "separate but equal." Worse than "ketchup is a vegetable." Worse than the definition of "is." Worse, even, than the infamous high school debate "beef disadvantage" brief. And the woman who made it holds a doctorate, Condoleeza Rice, Bush's National Security Advisor. From Reuters via Eschaton:

"What I believe the 9-11 commission was opining on was operational control, an operational relationship between al Qaeda and Iraq which we never alleged," Rice said in an interview with National Public Radio.

"The president simply outlined what we knew about what al Qaeda and Iraq had done together. Operational control to me would mean that he (Saddam) was, perhaps, directing what al Qaeda would do."

Intelligence reports of links between Saddam and the group blamed for the 2001 attacks formed a cornerstone of Bush's rationale for the invasion and occupation of the turbulent Arab country, where 833 U.S. soldiers have died after 14 months of violence.

The chairman and vice chairman of the Sept. 11 commission differed with Rice's characterization of their panel's findings in separate interviews with Reuters.

"We don't think there was any relationship whatsoever having to do with 9/11. Whether al Qaeda and Saddam were cooperating on other things against the United States, we don't know," Commission Chairman Thomas Kean said.

Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton said he was unaware of anyone ever claiming that Saddam had directed al Qaeda.

"The word 'control' is new," Hamilton said.

Click here for the rest.

So, according to Rice, the 9/11 Commission was speaking in...what? Poetic metaphor? What kind of crazy, F'ed up theory is that? I'd almost be insulted if it weren't so damned funny. "What I believe the 9-11 commission was opining on was operational control..." That's great. That's just too rich.


GOP moves could silence complaint against DeLay

Remember a few days ago when I predicted that House Republicans would be squirming like worms to protect Lizard King and Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay? Well, the slithery squirming has begun. From the Houston Chronicle:

House Republicans are trying to block U.S. Rep. Chris Bell's ethics complaint against House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, with Democrats saying the GOP is trying to silence any criticism of its chief.

Republicans denied they were trying to muzzle allegations against DeLay. But in the escalating partisan warfare touched off by investigations into DeLay's political dealings, Republicans' maneuvers may prevent Bell's complaint from being examined by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.

U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., took steps Thursday to throw out the complaint by Bell, a Democrat whose Houston-area district borders DeLay's.

LaHood said that because Bell is a lame-duck congressman, after losing the Democratic primary this year in his freshman term, he "has no stake in the institution" and should be disqualified from filing the charges. Bell's term expires at the end of the year.

For that matter, why even allow him to vote on legislation? Or sit on any committees? Use the Congressional parking lot? Play basketball in the Congressional gym? Why not just throw that lazy, good-for-nothing lame duck out on his can!

Of course, this is a stupid argument (but not the stupidest, for that see the post above), which is no surprise coming from a Republican, but it's also really unfair. House rules, I believe, generally make no distinction between lame duck members and congressmen who aren't.

Christ, Republicans just make up rules as they go, and always to their benefit. Sleazy bastards.

Click here for the rest.


Friday, June 18, 2004


Just in case you hadn't noticed the flurry of news over the past few days, here are four damning articles, not from some weirdo leftist rag, but from the local daily right smack dab in the middle of Bush country, the Houston Chronicle.

'No credible evidence' Saddam
helped al-Qaida, 9/11 panel says

From the Associated Press:

Bin Laden made overtures to Saddam for assistance, the commission said, as he did with leaders in Sudan, Iran, Afghanistan and elsewhere in his drive to build an Islamic army.

While Saddam dispatched a senior Iraqi intelligence official to Sudan to meet with bin Laden in 1994, the commission said it had not turned up evidence of a "collaborative relationship."

The Bush administration has long claimed links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida, and cited them as one reason for last year's invasion of Iraq.

On Monday, Vice President Dick Cheney said in a speech that the Iraqi dictator "had long established ties with al-Qaida."

President Bush has said there is no evidence that Saddam was involved in the Sept. 11 attacks.

But critics have alleged the administration has left a contrary impression with the public. Last fall, Cheney referred to what he called a credible but unconfirmed intelligence report that Mohamed Atta, one of the Sept. 11 hijackers, had met at least once in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official a few months before the attacks.

The panel report said that meeting never happened.

Click here.

So there you have it. No ties. But will facts deter our "faith based" President? Hell, no!

Bush stands by claims on Saddam

From the Knight Ridder news service:

President Bush on Thursday defended his claims that Saddam Hussein had ties to al-Qaida, but he denied that his administration accused the deposed Iraqi dictator of collaborating in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Statements by Bush and his top aides and U.S. documents show that the administration systematically sought to justify an invasion of Iraq by connecting Saddam with the perpetrators of the bloodiest terrorist strikes in U.S. history.

The administration went to extraordinary lengths to associate the secular Iraqi ruler with the terrorist network of Muslim radical Osama bin Laden. They included publicizing claims by Iraqi defectors that Iraq was training Islamic extremists in the same hijacking techniques used by the Sept. 11 terrorists.

Click here for more.

Even though the White House still insists that it's fantasies and delusions are actually reality, it looks like the press is is now brave enought to insist on the real reality. A news analysis from the AP:

Commission deals blow to
president's justification for war

The latest findings, less than five months before the U.S. presidential election, raised fresh questions about Bush's decision to invade Iraq and gave Democrats an opportunity to exploit an issue already a political liability for the White House.

At times, the administration has seemed to suggest that Saddam was involved in the Sept. 11 attacks against America. Democrats have accused the White House -- particularly Vice President Dick Cheney -- of trying to create that impression even though the administration has acknowledged there is no evidence to support the idea.

More than two-thirds of Americans expressed a belief last year that Iraq was behind the attacks, and Cheney said at the time, "It's not surprising people make that connection."

Bush worked to fuel the connection, talking about the Sept. 11 terrorists and Saddam in the same breath. "Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans -- this time armed by Saddam," Bush said in his State of the Union message last year, before the war. "It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known."

Click here.

Meanwhile, as the American people come to their senses, the Iraqi people just want to get on with their lives:

Poll: Most Iraqis wish U.S. would just leave

Again from the AP:

The poll was conducted by Iraqis in face-to-face interviews in six cities with people representative of the country's various factions. Its results conflict with the generally upbeat assessments the administration continues to give Americans. Just last week, Bush predicted future generations of Iraqis "will come to America and say, thank goodness America stood the line and was strong and did not falter in the face of the violence of a few."

The current generation seems eager for Americans to leave, the poll found.

The coalition's confidence rating in May stood at 11 percent, down from 47 percent in November, while coalition forces had just 10 percent support. Ninety-two percent of the Iraqis said they considered coalition troops occupiers, while just 2 percent called them liberators.

Click here.

So to sum it all up in one clear statement, we were right, and they were WRONG. Dead wrong. About everything, except that Saddam was an evil tyrant. Some 80 or 85% of the US population bought the lies, even though, as they say, the truth was out there. The other 15-20% of the country knew better; I knew better, but it was like talking to an angry brick wall when trying to convince my hawk acquaintances. Facts didn't matter. Emotional appeals didn't matter. Nothing mattered, just the burning war-lust of the American people. This is probably the biggest fuck-up in American history--nearly a thousand US soldiers are dead, and thousands of Iraqis, as well, because...well, I'm not really sure why this all happened the way it did. I have some theories: mostly I blame the corporatization of the news business and our public schools' conditioning Americans to accept authority, but that just doesn't seem to get at the vast scale of how our country has screwed up so badly.

I fear that the only conclusion I can walk away from this with is that people, deep down, really are sheep. Damn. I'm so sad.


Thursday, June 17, 2004


Clowns are funny. Homer Simpson

Mood music.

Roll up! Roll up! Roll up! The Southern Baptist Convention is now in session! See: fundamentalist weirdos withdraw from an organization that they themselves created because it is nooooow toooo liberaaaalll! See: Bible thumping freaks worship a talking chimpanzee on teeveeeee! Watch in morbid fascination as pasty face bozos hold clown court on the issue of the Godless public schoooooollls!

Yes, it's that time of year again. Time for the annual Southern Baptist Convention!

Change of mood music.

Southern Baptists vote to quit World Alliance

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

The SBC pullout means the loss of a third of its income base.

"Our concern is not financial," said the Rev. Denton Lotz, general secretary of the world alliance. "Our concern is schism and division. Christians need to be a united voice."

The December report complained that some in the alliance had questioned "the truthfulness of Holy Scripture," refused to affirm the necessity of conscious faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, promoted women preachers, criticized the SBC and its foreign mission board and adopted an "anti-American" tone.

The last straw came in 2003, when the alliance accepted as a member the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a rival group to the SBC formed by moderates who oppose denominational leaders' conservative policies.

Prior to today's vote, Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, said the SBC should not give money or endorsement to an organization that includes liberals.

He also complained that the American Baptist Churches, a U.S. denomination, includes "gay-friendly congregations," and that other members of the world alliance call the inerrancy of Scripture into question.

Click here for the rest.

Jesus save me! Save me from the women preachers! They are wicked, Lord! They are wicked and make me think sinful thoughts! Save me Jesus! Save me from the gay-friendly congregations! Lord, they are wicked! They are wicked and make me think sinful thoughts! Save me Jesus!

Baptists praise Bush message to right

From the Houston Chronicle:

President Bush brought thousands to their feet Tuesday in a brief broadcast to cheering Southern Baptists that promoted his politically conservative stances on gay marriages, abortion and human cloning.

"My administration is defending the sanctity of marriage against activist courts and local officials who want to redefine marriage forever," Bush told wildly applauding Southern Baptists assembled for the opening of their annual two-day meeting.

The 16.3 million-member denomination is nationally known for its staunch conservative positions that mirror many of the president's right-of-center Republican stances. Moreover, the denomination's Southern base, including Texas, is crucial to Bush's re-election bid.

Click here for more.

Our Father, we praise thee, our Father! You have, in your infinite wisdom, our Father, placed such a wise man in such an important position! We are all as apes when compared to you, our Father, and our President is the alpha male, although this statement is not in any way to be construed as an endorsement of evolution! Our Father, our Father, how we praise thee!

Baptists reject public school pullout

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

The Southern Baptist Convention voted down a controversial proposal today that would have asked parents to pull their children from public schools in favor of religious education.

On the final day of the denomination's annual meeting, some 8,500 church representatives also approved a call to amend the U.S. Constitution to bar gay marriage. The 16.3 million-member SBC is the nation's largest Protestant body.

Earlier this year, a statement denouncing "government schools" as "officially Godless" had been proposed by retired Air Force General T.C. Pinckney of Alexdandria, Va., and attorney Bruce Shortt of Spring, Texas.

The meeting's resolutions committee rejected that in favor of a broader and less pointed warning against "the cultural drift in our nation toward secularism."

Click here for the rest.

Sinners repent! Sinners repent, or face eternity in Hell! For Hell is an evil place with demonic d-hall slips, and Satanic punishment in the assistant principal's office! Hell hath wrought the blazing report card, and the insufferable permanent file! Hell is for Hell! Hell is for children!

Good lord...what am I saying? I actually agree with this last thought. Not for the same reasons, of course: I hate the schools because they're so authority and obedience oriented that they effectively serve to diminish national intelligence; that's probably the one thing about the schools that the Baptists actually like. Intelligence, you see, enables people to understand and consider philosophical essays like this one. Fundamentalists are scared shitless of that.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed your time under the Baptist big top. Now, let's go see the bearded lady and the dog boy! Or maybe even the Portly Preacher!

Thanks to my old buddy Matt for the circus tickets, and thanks to his departed father for the phrase "damned Baptists;" hardly a day goes by that I don't think it at least once.


Wednesday, June 16, 2004


From the Houston Chronicle:

U.S. Rep. Chris Bell, D-Houston, accused House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Sugar Land on Tuesday of accepting a $20,000 contribution to one of his political action committees from Bacardi USA in exchange for pushing a bill that would benefit the liquor company.

The allegation is part of a wide-ranging ethics complaint that Bell, whose congressional district borders DeLay's, filed Tuesday. As first reported in Monday's Houston Chronicle, Bell is asking the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct to investigate claims that DeLay, a Republican, engaged in extortion, bribery and abuse of power in separate incidents during the last two years.

Bell's decision to proceed against DeLay pushed a simmering Texas political feud onto center stage this week on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers for seven years have observed an unofficial truce in filing such complaints against each other.

Click here for the rest.

I'm all for Bell's attack at the Republican Party's own Lizard King (who thinks he can do anything), but I can't help but be a bit creeped out by this in your face reminder of how the Texas GOP has become so utterly influential throughout the rest of the country. Texas really sucks (okay, Texas is pretty great, too, but that's another story), and the people in charge here are only out for themselves and their buddies. Tom DeLay is simply one example of how evil Texas Republicans are.

This state is an inferno for liberals: good for Congressman Bell; "from Hell's heart, I stab at thee."



As reviewed by Tom Tomorrow of This Modern World who managed to get into the New York premiere:

As for the movie itself--I think a lot of people will be surprised by this one. Michael himself is actually not in the film very much at all. There are only two set pieces featuring his usual gonzo wackiness (driving around the Capitol in an ice cream truck reading the Patriot Act over the loudspeaker, for one). There's narration throughout, particularly toward the beginning, but mostly he lets the material speak for itself--and it's strong enough material to shoulder the weight. It's a big film, which tries to cover a lot of ground, but then again, there's a lot of ground to be covered, from the 2000 election to the Bush family's close ties to the Saudis, from footage of U.S. soldiers glibly discussing civilian casualties to extended sequences with a Michigan mother whose son was killed in Iraq (in one scene, some braindead dittohead type in front of the White House tells her she should "blame al Qaeda" for the loss of her son). And there's some gruesome footage of the real cost of war--the image I'm having trouble shaking is that of an Iraqi man holding the corpse of a child accusingly toward the camera. No matter your ideological leanings, any parent--or anyone whose friends have kids, or frankly, any human being with an ounce of decency--has to shudder and feel a little sick about that.

Click here for the rest.

So, does anybody know when and where this film is going to be showing in Houston? I think I want to see this one on the big screen.


Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Atheist dad can't sue over Pledge

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

The Supreme Court today at least temporarily preserved the phrase "one nation, under God," in the Pledge of Allegiance, ruling that a California atheist could not challenge the patriotic oath while sidestepping the broader question of separation of church and state.

The decision leaves untouched the practice in which millions of schoolchildren around the country begin the day by reciting the pledge.

The court said the atheist could not sue to ban the pledge from his daughter's school and others because he did not have legal authority to speak for her.

The father, Michael Newdow, is in a protracted custody fight with the girl's mother. He does not have sufficient custody of the child to qualify as her legal representative, eight members of the court said.

Click here for the rest.

As much as I wanted a ruling on this, I think that the Supreme Court was right not to hear the case: Newdow is simply not an interested party inasmuch as that he apparently doesn't have full custody of his daughter; therefore, he can't sue. I can almost hear a collective sigh of relief coming from the Court on this--I'm sure they're scared as hell of doing the right thing.

From my non-lawyer point of view, it seems completely clear that compelling students to verbally verify the existence of a supreme being is a rank violation of the First Amendment's establishment clause. Hell, I believe in God, myself, but it really pissed me off to have to lead my students in a pledge to God every goddamn day. This sort of thing goes way beyond any trivial "in God we trust" statements found on money and whatnot. Enforced recitation of the pledge amounts to coerced belief in God, and that's just plain unAmerican.


Retired Officials Say Bush Must Go

From the LA Times via Yahoo, courtesy of J. Orlin Grabbe:

A group of 26 former senior diplomats and military officials, several appointed to key positions by Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, plans to issue a joint statement this week arguing that President George W. Bush has damaged America's national security and should be defeated in November.

The group, which calls itself Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change, will explicitly condemn Bush's foreign policy, according to several of those who signed the document.

"It is clear that the statement calls for the defeat of the administration," said William C. Harrop, the ambassador to Israel under President Bush's father and one of the group's principal organizers.

Those signing the document, which will be released in Washington on Wednesday, include 20 former U.S. ambassadors, appointed by presidents of both parties, to countries including Israel, the former Soviet Union and Saudi Arabia.

Others are senior State Department officials from the Carter, Reagan and Clinton administrations and former military leaders, including retired Marine Gen. Joseph P. Hoar, the former commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East under President Bush's father. Hoar is a prominent critic of the war in Iraq.

Click here for the rest.

You know, I'm beginning to think that if Bush actually ends up winning the election, it will be because he once again stole it. This isn't "tinfoil hat" stuff either: they've done it before, and, with the all new electronic voting machines, which leave no paper or digital trail for evidence, it will be much easier to do it again, on a much bigger stage. Can we all say "landslide?" How about "totalitarian evil?"


Monday, June 14, 2004

Many retirees find empty insurance promises

From Knight Ridder via the Houston Chronicle:

That left Stish in the same predicament as countless retirees caught in an unaffordable health insurance trap they never expected. Company-paid health insurance for retirees is becoming extinct as companies try to slash costs and increase profits.

While federal law requires companies to deliver the pensions they promised workers, no such legal obligation exists for health insurance.

Eleven years ago, 46 percent of large U.S. companies helped retirees with health insurance, but now just 28 percent continue to do so, says researcher Paul Fronstin of the Employee Benefits Research Institute. Among all U.S. companies, 11 percent provide retirees with health insurance.

Fronstin says current workers of any age should not expect the benefit when they retire unless they work in some government jobs or are protected by a union contract that guarantee coverage. His warning allows people who still have jobs to plan for their future, but retirees don't have the luxury of time or a paycheck.

In the past few years, retirees like Stish were taken by surprise when an employer went broke or was acquired by another company that didn't want to continue their health benefits.

Others have lost insurance because former employers wanted to avoid spiraling health insurance costs, or they could bolster corporate profit quickly through an accounting maneuver that can turn disbanded insurance liabilities into instant income.

Click here for more on how the American health care crisis continues.

I posted a link to a story a few days ago about a similar problem facing people with health insurance who haven't yet retired. My statement about the story suggested that the Feds should just buy out the health insurance industry and establish a single-payer plan.

That idea elicited this exchange on the Real Art comment boards, which is worth repeating here:

What would they buy them out with? The money they got from the lobbyists for the greedy, immoral insurance companies?

I swear, you commies just don't know how this stuff works.


My response:

Hmmm. Screw the lobbyists. That's not a bad idea at all.

You do realize, I hope, that no self-respecting communist would ever suggest that the government buy out any business. Commies simply take what they want, and too bad for the capitalist pigs who lose their capital. Actually, I don't think that money's really a problem here. As our current simian chief executive has shown, the US has billions to burn on foreign military adventures: I think we could easily do the same with this, except this time it would be to save countless lives, rather than to end them. But you've got me convinced. Screw the capitalists. Let's not buy out anything at all. Just shut the mothers down.

It would be really nice to hear all the capitalist pigs squeal like...well, pigs.


Then I got to thinking, and added this follow-up:

Further thought:

It seems fair to think that the macroeconomic gain that would come from businesses and corporations no longer having to dole out for their employees countless dollars to various health care plans, and a probable boost in consumer spending thanks to a windfall of newly found discretionary income which had previously been used to pay for insurance premiums and deductibles, or out of pocket expenses for the what was my point again? Oh yeah, the economic benefits that would come from buying out the health insurance industry would more than offset any economic disruption caused by the feds taking on new debt to pay for it. In other words, the health care racket as it exists now is a drag on the economy. Changing to a single-payer plan would remove that drag. It pays for itself.

Or we could just raise taxes. On the rich. How about that?

And Madmartigan says I don't know how this stuff works.



Dem says Cheney's staff involved
from start in Halliburton contract

From the Houston Chronicle:

I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's chief of staff, was briefed in October 2002 on a proposal to assign Halliburton the task of drawing up a secret plan for putting out oil-well fires and rebuilding Iraq infrastructure in the event of war in Iraq, said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., whose staff was briefed last week by Pentagon officials.

The following March, Halliburton -- without facing competition from any other bidders -- was awarded the contract to implement that plan.

At other critical junctures in the decision-making chain, political appointees insisted on hiring Halliburton, despite the objections of career employees at the Pentagon, Waxman said.

"For months, Vice President Cheney has been saying that his office was not consulted before the award of the Halliburton contracts, but that does not appear to be true," Waxman, the ranking Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee, said in a statement released Sunday.

Waxman, insisting lawmakers are not "getting straight answers from the White House," called for an independent congressional investigation.

Click here for the rest.


Ethics probe of DeLay sought

From the Houston Chronicle:

Under House rules, only a member can file an ethics complaint against another member. In seven years, there has been little activity in House ethics investigations, said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

"I think this filing will really push the ethics committee to take a hard look at this," said Sloan, a federal prosecutor who worked with Bell in drafting the complaint. "When no one has been willing to do this for seven years, it is not an easy thing to suddenly go and file a complaint against DeLay, who is known to be one of the most vindictive people in government."


Burns declined to provide the document until it is filed and would only confirm that the complaint is in the works. However, two people who have seen the complaint say it will allege, among other things, that DeLay:

· Improperly accepted campaign contributions from Kansas-based Westar Energy Corp. in exchange for help securing a special exemption from federal regulation.

· Funneled illegal corporate contributions, including from Westar and others, through the Texans for a Republican Majority political action committee to GOP candidates for the Texas House.

· Solicited the assistance of the Federal Aviation Administration to track more than 50 Texas Democratic lawmakers who fled from Austin to Ardmore, Okla., in 2003. Their exodus denied the state House a quorum and temporarily stalled work on the DeLay-backed redistricting program.

Click here for more.

Heh, heh, heh...nothing would please me more than to see Tom DeLay disgraced and out of power. This ethics charge is really a long time in the making. The whole Westar/Texas redistricting thing has been known about for at least a year. DeLay, if his ruthless career is any indicator, will probably manage to slither his way out of this, but it'll be nice to watch the Republican dominated House ethics committe squirming like worms while trying to protect their lizard king. Pass the popcorn; this is going to be fun.


Sunday, June 13, 2004

Poll: Majority say Iraq situation didn't merit war

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

A majority of American registered voters now say conditions in Iraq did not merit war, but most are reluctant to abandon efforts there, according to a new Los Angeles Times poll.

Voters are increasingly concerned that Iraq is a quagmire America cannot escape, and they are doubtful that a democratic government will be established there, according to the poll published in today's editions of the Times.

Fifty-three percent of respondents said the situation in Iraq did not merit war, while 43 percent said war was justified. When the same question was asked for Times polls in March and November, the numbers were precisely reversed.

Click here for the rest.

Hmmm. It's interesting that so many people now regret the invasion, but still think we need to stay the course. I guess I can kind of understand that logic: after all, the US is the strongest military power in the world; if we can't pull it off, who can?

What's wrong with this line of thinking is that it assumes that the problem facing Iraq right now is military in nature. Despite the continued fighting, the problem is actually political: how will Iraq become, once again, a sovereign, stable nation? Regardless of all our firepower, or, perhaps, because of it, America is ill-suited to provide the answer to this question. The fighting in Iraq continues because our military is an occupying force; it seems reasonable to assume that if we pulled out, a lot of the shooting would end.

Really, it ought to be a coalition of Muslim nations dealing with the reconstruction, managed by the UN. It would still be a rough ride, but it would have a much better chance of succeeding if the aggressor nation wasn't involved.

But then, if the US pulled out, America wouldn't be able to control the Persian Gulf oil spigot. And, oh my Christian God, some kind of anti-American Muslim dominated government might eventually assume control, and our fundamentalist White House will have none of that. So I guess that means we're in it for the long haul, and it may be a very long haul, indeed.

Actually, what I'm really waiting for is an apology from some of those people who have changed their minds about the invasion for how the American anti-war left was so thoroughly demonized last year. I'm not holding my breath, though.


TORTURE IN IRAQ: Sanchez let guards
freely use interrogation methods

From the Washington Post via the Houston Chronicle:

Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the senior U.S. military officer in Iraq, borrowed heavily from a list of high-pressure interrogation tactics used at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and approved letting senior officials at a Baghdad jail use military dogs, temperature extremes, reversed sleep patterns, sensory deprivation, and diets of bread and water on detainees whenever they wished, according to newly obtained documents.

Click here for the rest.

Since the infamous White House torture memo, which proves that the Abu Ghraib scandal was most certainly not "a few bad apples," came to light, this revelation is no surprise. Of course General Sanchez gave his underlings orders to allow torture: the President essentially gave him permission to do it.


SEC formally investigating
Halliburton subsidiary

From the Houston Chronicle:

Federal securities regulators have opened a formal investigation into payments related to Nigeria gas plant built by a Halliburton joint-venture.

Halliburton said this morning that the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating payments related to the construction of a liquefied natural gas plant in Nigeria. TSKJ, a company registered in Portugal in which Halliburton's KBR has a 25 percent stake, built and expanded the plant.

Halliburton previously disclosed that the Justice Department is investigating the matter and previously said the SEC had met with the company. In a formal investigation, the SEC has subpoena power.

Investigators are looking into whether there were violations of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Click here for the rest.

If I understand correctly, this natural gas deal was brokered when Cheney was in charge of the company during the 90s: that makes it his problem, but you wouldn't know that from reading this story. Actually, as far as I can tell, pretty much anybody dealing with the Nigerian government is engaging in corruption.


Saturday, June 12, 2004

Dispelling the Mountain of Myths

Getting a bit dazed by television's non-stop praise of our fortieth President? Here are some smelling salts to bring you back to your senses.

First, from the Washington Post via the Houston Chronicle, political analyst Jim Hoagland on how Reagan "won the Cold War":

Let's not airbrush the Reagan portrait

Perhaps this is how contemporary history is made or, in the electronic era, mismade and distorted. Reagan's growing reputation as the great victor in the Cold War who made Mikhail Gorbachev tear down the Berlin Wall depends on looking at Reagan and his times through the light cast by subsequent events.

The craving by Americans for uncluttered heroism — for what is seen in retrospect as the order and clarity of the Cold War — also powers this yearning for a near-mythical transformation of Reagan's death into a moment to sweep aside the dread and anguish of the wars in Iraq and against al-Qaida.

Yes, winners always write the history. But it is dangerously easy today to make the leap from that news footage of Reagan speaking at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin to concluding that he came to office with a master plan to make victory in the Cold War inevitable. As one television executive said to me not long ago, "Today, history is what we say it is."

To one who covered many of the key international events of that day, Reagan seemed in fact to come late to a realistic view of the Soviet Union and the world, and — like most presidents — to have improvised furiously and not always successfully in foreign affairs.

Click here for the rest.

And President Reagan does, indeed, deserve credit for eventually figuring out that diplomacy is much less about black and white sloganeering and much more about hard nosed pragmatism. Unlike our current President.

Moral clarity, my ass.

And from the New York Times courtesy of Eschaton, economist Paul Krugman blasts the "Reaganomics" that have become the conventional economic wisdom of today:

An Economic Legend

Here's a sample version of the legend: according to a recent article in The Washington Times, Ronald Reagan "crushed inflation along with left-wing Keynesian economics and launched the longest economic expansion in U.S. history." Actually, the 1982-90 economic expansion ranks third, after 1991-2001 and 1961-69 — but even that comparison overstates the degree of real economic success.

The secret of the long climb after 1982 was the economic plunge that preceded it. By the end of 1982 the U.S. economy was deeply depressed, with the worst unemployment rate since the Great Depression. So there was plenty of room to grow before the economy returned to anything like full employment.

The depressed economy in 1982 also explains "Morning in America," the economic boom of 1983 and 1984. You see, rapid growth is normal when an economy is bouncing back from a deep slump. (Last year, Argentina's economy grew more than 8 percent.)

And the economic expansion under President Reagan did not validate his economic doctrine. His supply-side advisers didn't promise a one-time growth spurt as the economy emerged from recession; they promised, but failed to deliver, a sustained acceleration in economic growth.

Inflation did come down sharply on Mr. Reagan's watch: it was running at 12 percent when he took office, but was only 4.5 percent when he left. But this victory came at a heavy price. For much of the Reagan era, the economy suffered from very high unemployment. Despite the rapid growth of 1983 and 1984, over the whole of the Reagan administration the unemployment rate averaged a very uncomfortable 7.5 percent.

In other words, it all played out just as "left-wing Keynesian economics" predicted.

Click here for more.

Just for the record, my own economic views tend toward "left-wing Keynesian economics" or, more simply, demand-side economics. It is important to note that the great US economic expansion from the late 1940s through the 1960s was shepherded by Keynsian economists. Alas, most economists today are completely caught up in neo-liberal economics, which was known back in the 80s as "Reaganomics." Unfortunately, neo-liberalism is a bunch of bullshit, which, by and large, simply serves as a justification to screw the poor while making love to the rich.

Rich people supporting neo-liberalism I can understand. What still perplexes me to no end is the way that so many middle and working class people support neo-liberal views as well. Go figure.


Friday, June 11, 2004

Ron's Onstage
Adventures Continue

Another show I'm in opens tonight. I have a much bigger part than the last one I was in, and I'm a bit nervous: it's been a couple of years since I've done anything this big, so tell me to break a leg. It's quite a good script, an original, written by a member of the company's advisory board. It's very much a feminist play, but not one of those kind--there's lots of sex and violence, and it's very funny at points.

Here's a scan of the mail-out:

And here's a publicity photo:

And here's some info on the play courtesy of the Houston Press. And here is a link to dos chicas theater commune's site. Try to come see it if you can. I think it's going to be quite good.



Mood (You may need an Ogg Vorbis plug-in to play this; I strongly suggest it).

From the Houston Chronicle:

James Brown may be "the Godfather of Soul" and Aretha Franklin its queen, but Charles was a co-founder of the R&B-and-gospel mix that topped the charts in the '60s and '70s. He, along with singers such as Sam Cooke and Smokey Robinson, combined 1950s R&B with the musicianship of big jazz bands and the spiritual lift of hymns to create a new form of popular music.

Maybe it's enough to remember Charles, a man who could convey emotion like a preacher from behind his dark Ray-Ban glasses, by the nickname bestowed on him during his early years of recording: "The Genius."

Click here for the rest.

What can I say about Ray Charles that hasn't been said a billion times? Indeed, he was a genius. I've been hearing his music for as long as I can remember, part of the soundtrack of my life, as they say. His death is one big drag.


Thursday, June 10, 2004


From the Houston Chronicle, local radical historian, Bob Buzzanco of the U of H, offers some facts about the Gipper's economic record:

WITH the passing of Ronald Reagan we will read tributes to his legacy as the "great communicator," his political skills, his patriotic fervor. What will probably go unsaid, however, is that Reagan's policies, particular his economic views — dubbed "voodoo economics" by candidate George H.W. Bush during the 1980 election — contributed to the greatest disparity between wealth and poverty since the Depression, caused huge reductions in real wages and income for most Americans, accumulated the greatest budget deficits in U.S. history, and, in "reverse Robin Hood" fashion, redistributed wealth from working people to the rich. A critical aspect of Reagan's legacy, which has become a persistent social problem for the past generation, was class war from the top down.

Click here for the rest.

Just because I liked old "Dutch", it doesn't mean that I liked his politics. In fact, his politics were pretty awful: Americans need to remember that before the stinky wave of aggrandizing and eulogizing conservative drool-mouths have him chopping down cherry trees with George Washington. Atrios over at Eschaton has been all over this, in fact. Indeed, one of the new and false myths that have very quickly appeared is that Reagan was the most popular president in US history. This is just plain wrong. The Gipper was quite popular. However, and those very same drool-mouths that I mentioned above will cry foul on this one even though they're totally full of poo-poo, our last chief executive, Bill "get me an intern" Clinton was the most popular president in US history.

Strange, but true.


As out-of-pocket health costs rise,
workers sticking hospitals with bills

From the Houston Chronicle:

Those are the people whose health insurance used to cover their bills, but because employers are passing along a greater share of the financial responsibility, they don't have enough to pay their bills, said a spokeswoman for Methodist, which has also seen a rise in bad debt.

In 1998, employees nationwide paid an out-of-pocket average of $385 a year, according to Hewitt Associates, the human resources consulting firm that surveys health care expenses. This year, it's averaging $1,030.

And that's not the only extra expense employees are shouldering. Employees are also paying more to buy the insurance in the first place. In 1998, those premiums cost $630, but this year employees are paying an average of $1,565.

While employers are certainly paying more to provide coverage, their percentage share has actually shrunk. In 1998, employers covered 75 percent of the cost, according to Hewitt Associates. This year, that's down to 68 percent.

At the same time, the employees' burden has risen from 25 percent to 32 percent, according to Hewitt Associates.

Click here for the rest.

The health care crisis in this country isn't simply one of an ever increasing percentage of the population not having health insurance (it's currently up to 30% in Texas). Now, people with access to health care are starting to suffer. It is long past time for the federal government to buy out the greedy, immoral insurance companies and replace them with a single payer plan. Health care is a human right, not a privilege.


Wednesday, June 09, 2004


I've been meaning to link to Matt Impelluso's fantastic site for some months now, but I just never seemed to get around to it. Matt, a recent graduate, is a former student of mine. Well, actually I never had him in a class, but I did direct him in a play or two, and his presence in the drama department at the school where I formerly taught was a strong one. And, what the hell, now that I'm no longer teaching, and have no plans to slum around like that ever again, I'll throw caution to the wind and out myself: I have spent the last six years teaching at Ross S. Sterling High School of the Goose Creek Consolidated Independent School District in what may very well be the butthole of Texas, Baytown. Everything I've written about public education here at Real Art was heavily influenced by my tenure at Sterling.

Man, am I glad to be out of there. My nightmare has ended.

But enough of that. Back to Matt and the Warzone 5000. Matt is from New York City, and, consequently, is like a fish out of water in Baytown: instead of crying about it, however, as I often did about my own existence there, Matt made the best of it, and essentially sold lemonade to the denizens of Hell. He's been keeping his site, which is, as far as I can tell, about the strange and oddball actuality of high school life, for the entire four years of his stay at Sterling. With a talented and weird staff of peer volunteers, Matt created an alternative understanding of life at our school. I haven't always agreed with every position he's taken, but his version of reality has always been much more on the mark than the official reality proscribed by school authorities.

It's also usually pretty damned funny:


I CAN SAY WHATEVER THE FUCK I WANT NOW! FUCK IT! FUCK IT ALL!!! LOL! Man, I should really start back up raunchy Warzone where we used to talk about our teacher's pussy juices, but that might be a little bit TOOOOO much, LOL! Just kidding, we werent' ever like that, but here are some of the things I couldn't put on The Warzone in the past four years: (Or personal things about relationships, LOL)

And here it is, the 101 most memorable bad (and sometimes good) moments of high school...

Hee, hee. He said "fuck." Hee, hee, hee.

To read those memorable moments, and to check out the rest of the site, click here.

Anyway, the reason I'm gushing about the Warzone so much is that Matt put me on his above mentioned list (and linked me, too):

83) Remember when Ron Reeder became the first teacher in TW history to join The Warzone in a fuckfest? His pictures werent' on the internet, but we'll put them up soon. Reeder maintains his own weblog that's extremely liberal, but I fucking love it since that's what I am. He told me after graduation I could make it famous. Well, here's your wish Reeder: REAL ART (and politics and culture)

Given that Matt's site numbers daily hits in the thousands, and Real Art only numbers hits in the tens, his charitable link may very well make me famous. In charming Baytown, anyway. Also, I have no idea what a "fuckfest" is, but I'm sure I'll find out when he posts the pictures. God, was I drunk that day? What the hell is a "fuckfest?" It sounds much more fun than it probably was...

Thanks to the Warzone for the link; I've already gotten a couple of hits originating from there. I hope I get more. Also thanks to Matt for placing me on his list of favorite teachers. I may have hated the job, but such ego affirming praise may soften my harsh memories.

In time.