TWO FROM ALTERNET
First, yet another installment in the "Wal-Mart Sucks" series:
A new report released from Good Jobs First this week shows that Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, has received more than $1 billion in economic development subsidies from states for its stores and distribution centers. The subsidies have come as many states are forced by White House tax cuts and reductions in federal grants to make tough budget decisions. A report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows states are cutting subsidies for publicly funded health insurance, child care, federal employment, both higher and lower education, and programs aimed at public safety and people with disabilities – all this while ponying up taxpayer dollars to subsidize a retailer that took in more than $200 billion in revenue and netted nearly $9 billion in profits last year, even as it paid workers near-poverty wages, drove out local businesses and violated environmental regulations.
A key justification for corporate subsidies is the idea that a large project will expand overall business in an area; Wal-Mart executives tout their stores as a positive economic force in the community. But the Good Jobs First report argues that, unlike factories which add jobs and export products outside the region, big chain retailers like Wal-Mart "do little more than take revenues away from existing merchants and may put them out of business and leave their workers unemployed. It's quite possible that a new Wal-Mart will destroy as many (or more) jobs than it creates." And "since many Wal-Mart [jobs] are lower-paying and part-time, they will do less to stimulate the economy." Philip Mattera, research director of Good Jobs First, says Wal-Mart's "negative effect on small businesses in the communities where it locates and its contribution to urban sprawl and traffic raise serious questions about the value of giving it sizable financial incentives to expand."
Click here for the rest.
Next, a strategy essay for progressives:
Building the Countermovement
"The ability to defeat the enemy," writes Sun Tzu in The Art of War, "means taking the offensive." For far too long, progressives have been on the defensive against the surging conservative movement. In order to stem the conservative tide and to win the hearts and minds of Americans, progressives need to go on the offensive and develop a commonsense countermovement with a quick ramp-up, long-term resolve, and sufficient resources reaching far beyond the 2004 election.
To accomplish this goal, progressives should look to the architecture of the conservative movement, which according to the founder of the Heritage Foundation, Paul Weyrich, was built on "the four M's: mission, money, management and marketing." While each of these factors has played a critical role in the ascendancy of the conservative movement, perhaps the most important is marketing.
To understand the role of marketing, think of policies as the products in "a marketplace of ideas" and public opinion polls as indicators of consumer preference. Polls consistently show that the majority of Americans are more closely aligned with the Democratic Party on the issues than they are with the Republican Party. Yet today twice as many Americans identify themselves as conservatives than as progressives.
How to explain this seeming paradox? Usually the preferred, or superior, product wins out in the marketplace, but not always. An inferior product can dominate with superior marketing. And this is precisely what has happened in American politics: Conservatives offer less desirable, inferior policies, but dominate through superior marketing.
And that's why the conservatives are the "kewl kids." Or the "grownups." I forget which one.
Click here for the rest.
Monday, May 31, 2004
TWO FROM ALTERNET
Posted by Ron at 3:08 AM
Sunday, May 30, 2004
Workers' futures captive to employers
From the Houston Chronicle editorial pages:
I have several friends who should be at the peak of their earning lives, looking forward to a retirement they have saved for in 10 or 15 years. Instead, they are caught in a web of uncertainty as their companies are sold and sold again and the retirement "plans" they thought they had are overturned.
Their new companies had plans of their own. When those plans took effect, my friends were astonished to learn how little they would now receive at the end of their work lives. As the husband of one of them said, his wife's future is "captive to an employer to whom she never applied for a job. She just suddenly got 'sold' like a slave."
We know we need to provide for our own latter years — which may extend 25 years or more, after we stop working.
Recently, one friend, whose company had been sold, was presented with four "new" 401(k) options. She had a month to choose. Two plans were not even subject to SEC regulations. With a degree in math, she was able to figure out the lesser of two evils.
Click here for the rest.
As I've said before, everybody knows that it sucks to be unemployed: in neo-liberal America, it increasingly sucks to be employed, too.
Posted by Ron at 2:33 AM
No Politician Left Behind
The Nation on the absurd nature of the politics of education:
(No Child Left Behind) proposes to accomplish a statistical impossibility (that all children score in the top twenty-fifth percentile); it raises false expectations; it's built on an illusion that tests alone can--and should--measure worthwhile standards; that schools can do it all; that progress comes in steady increments; that penalties will motivate children and teachers; that lack of money is a mere excuse; that a single nationwide system is part of the American dream; and, finally, that schools can do it all. The law literally dictates the books we are allowed to use on a national basis, not to mention the pedagogy for teaching literacy and, coming soon, math. Before long, until eighth grade, little else will get taught at all.
Yet virtually no high-powered public figures, nor any important leaders of either party (including John Kerry), have done more than demur from this or that aspect of this preposterous bill. Meanwhile, those closest to the action (teachers, principals and superintendents organizations, as well as local school boards) are in almost unanimous opposition--but quietly, as they are fearful of being seen as whiners, a defensive coalition of self-interests.
Click here for the rest.
Whether it is intentional, or simply due to political expediency, stories like this make it absolutely clear that, in America, learning is not the true goal of education--if it was, "No Child Left Behind" would have never been implemented in the first place. Indeed, learning is simply the justification used to make possible public education's true goal, the indoctrination of children into the culture of authority and obedience.
If you've been reading Real Art regularly, you already know what I mean...
Posted by Ron at 2:06 AM
Saturday, May 29, 2004
$132K of Grant to Combat Goth Returned
From the AP via Yahoo, courtesy of Eschaton:
Almost half of a $273,000 grant awarded in 2002 to fight the Goth culture in Blue Springs has been returned because of a lack of interest — and the absence of a real problem.
Blue Springs received the grant two years ago from the Youth Outreach Unit, money the city and U.S. Rep. Sam Graves trumpeted proudly as a way to fight a perceived Goth problem.
But $132,000 of the grant was returned because officials never found much of a problem with the Goth culture, which some students called a fad that most people eventually outgrow.
Fight the Goths? They're a bunch of wussies! Snotty, yes, but dangerous? Gimme a break. Talk about pork barrel politics...
Click here for the rest.
Posted by Ron at 3:53 AM
"KEEPING IT REAL" AT REAL ART
My old friend and classmate from both high school and college, Matt, writes this in Real Art comments in response to my announcement (see below) about my being accepted into the LSU graduate acting program:
However, remember something. You are a Texas Longhorn. You do not cheer for crawfish-sucking, swamp-dwelling, Ricky-Williams trading, Gold-and-Purple clad foreigners!
Where's your head, man?!?
Matt is, of course, absolutely right. I'll go watch the Tigers play some good football next fall, but my blood is burnt orange, and that's the way it'll always be. I am, indeed, a Texas Longhorn, and I promise to not let weird, LSU mania go to my head during my tenure in the swamps.
Images such as this will always be in my heart:
And memories like this will always be in my mind:
The Huskers' defense had one last chance to redeem itself, backing the Longhorns up to their own 3 with under four minutes to go. Brown, though, wasn't finished.
On fourth-and-1 from the 28, he found Derek Lewis on a 61-yard pass play to the Huskers' 11. On the next play, Priest Holmes scored and the Longhorns became the first champions of the Big 12 Conference.
"That was a tremendous call. It was a big gamble, but it worked," Osborne said. "Had we been able to hold them there, we would have been in pretty good shape."
Click here for the rest of my favorite Longhorn football memory.
Hook 'em Horns!
Posted by Ron at 3:27 AM
Friday, May 28, 2004
REAL ART GOES TO GRAD SCHOOL
Coming this fall: Ron at LSU!
It's late. I still have some script memorizing to do before bedtime, and I am tired. However, I just wanted to make this brief announcement:
Today I learned that I have been accepted into Louisiana State University's Master of Fine Arts program in acting. When I'm done there in three years, not only will I have an MFA and some good acting training under my belt, but I'll also be a member of Actor's Equity, the stage actor's union--membership will allow me to auditon for good-paying, professional shows. (That, and I'll be rooting for the defending college football national champion next season.)
I'm pretty damned stoked! Geaux Tigers!
More on this, and the promised tale of my audition excursion to Baton Rouge last March, in a later post.
Posted by Ron at 12:08 AM
Thursday, May 27, 2004
Gore slams Bush's foreign policy
From the Washington Post via the Houston Chronicle:
Former vice president Al Gore accused President Bush's war Cabinet of reckless incompetence Wednesday, and called for the resignations of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and CIA Director George Tenet.
"George W. Bush promised us a foreign policy with humility. Instead, he has brought us humiliation in the eyes of the world," Gore said at a speech in New York sponsored by the liberal MoveOn PAC. "We simply cannot afford to further increase the risk to our country with more blunders by this team."
Gore, jabbing his fingers and raising his voice, called the horrors of Abu Ghraib prison "the predictable consequence of policy choices that flowed directly from this administration's contempt for the rule of law." His critique of that policy ranged from its aims to its vocabulary, and he complained about Bush aides' "frequent use of the word `dominance' to describe their strategic goal."
Click here for the rest.
I hope you all realize that Gore really should have won the 2000 election--unfortunately for America, unfortunately for Iraq, unfortunately for the world, the President's brother, Jeb, quite literally stole the election for George W. Bush in a disenfranchisement scam that kept tens of thousands of African-American voters in Florida outside the voting booths. I'll believe in justice again when Jeb and George are behind bars.
Posted by Ron at 11:55 PM
To Tell the Truth
From the New York Times courtesy of Eschaton, Princeton economist and good guy journalist Paul Krugman opines on his own paper's apology (see post below) for it's awful coverage of the Bush administration and the Iraq war:
The truth is that the character flaws that currently have even conservative pundits fuming have been visible all along. Mr. Bush's problems with the truth have long been apparent to anyone willing to check his budget arithmetic. His inability to admit mistakes has also been obvious for a long time. I first wrote about Mr. Bush's "infallibility complex" more than two years ago, and I wasn't being original.
So why did the press credit Mr. Bush with virtues that reporters knew he didn't possess? One answer is misplaced patriotism. After 9/11 much of the press seemed to reach a collective decision that it was necessary, in the interests of national unity, to suppress criticism of the commander in chief.
Another answer is the tyranny of evenhandedness. Moderate and liberal journalists, both reporters and commentators, often bend over backward to say nice things about conservatives. Not long ago, many commentators who are now caustic Bush critics seemed desperate to differentiate themselves from "irrational Bush haters" who were neither haters nor irrational — and whose critiques look pretty mild in the light of recent revelations.
And some journalists just couldn't bring themselves to believe that the president of the United States was being dishonest about such grave matters.
Finally, let's not overlook the role of intimidation. After 9/11, if you were thinking of saying anything negative about the president, you had to be prepared for an avalanche of hate mail. You had to expect right-wing pundits and publications to do all they could to ruin your reputation, and you had to worry about being denied access to the sort of insider information that is the basis of many journalistic careers.
Click here for the rest (alas, the Times requires a brief registration procedure for new readers; it's really no big deal).
Posted by Ron at 11:49 PM
Wednesday, May 26, 2004
"NEWSPAPER OF RECORD" COMES CLEAN
The Times and Iraq
From the New York Times courtesy of Tom Tomorrow:
Over the last year this newspaper has shone the bright light of hindsight on decisions that led the United States into Iraq. We have examined the failings of American and allied intelligence, especially on the issue of Iraq's weapons and possible Iraqi connections to international terrorists. We have studied the allegations of official gullibility and hype. It is past time we turned the same light on ourselves.
In doing so — reviewing hundreds of articles written during the prelude to war and into the early stages of the occupation — we found an enormous amount of journalism that we are proud of. In most cases, what we reported was an accurate reflection of the state of our knowledge at the time, much of it painstakingly extracted from intelligence agencies that were themselves dependent on sketchy information. And where those articles included incomplete information or pointed in a wrong direction, they were later overtaken by more and stronger information. That is how news coverage normally unfolds.
But we have found a number of instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been. In some cases, information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged. Looking back, we wish we had been more aggressive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged — or failed to emerge.
The problematic articles varied in authorship and subject matter, but many shared a common feature. They depended at least in part on information from a circle of Iraqi informants, defectors and exiles bent on "regime change" in Iraq, people whose credibility has come under increasing public debate in recent weeks.
And here's a pretty good analysis of how bias and distortion tend to work in the corporate media:
On Sept. 8, 2002, the lead article of the paper was headlined "U.S. Says Hussein Intensified Quest for A-Bomb Parts." That report concerned the aluminum tubes that the administration advertised insistently as components for the manufacture of nuclear weapons fuel. The claim came not from defectors but from the best American intelligence sources available at the time. Still, it should have been presented more cautiously. There were hints that the usefulness of the tubes in making nuclear fuel was not a sure thing, but the hints were buried deep, 1,700 words into a 3,600-word article. Administration officials were allowed to hold forth at length on why this evidence of Iraq's nuclear intentions demanded that Saddam Hussein be dislodged from power: "The first sign of a `smoking gun,' they argue, may be a mushroom cloud."
Five days later, The Times reporters learned that the tubes were in fact a subject of debate among intelligence agencies. The misgivings appeared deep in an article on Page A13, under a headline that gave no inkling that we were revising our earlier view ("White House Lists Iraq Steps to Build Banned Weapons"). The Times gave voice to skeptics of the tubes on Jan. 9, when the key piece of evidence was challenged by the International Atomic Energy Agency. That challenge was reported on Page A10; it might well have belonged on Page A1.
Click here for the rest (and be prepared to register with the Times if you haven't already--it's only a slight hassle).
This is actually pretty amazing. The only thing I can think of that would make America's "newspaper of record" reverse itself like this is that the Bush lies from the runup to the invasion are now utterly exposed for what they are. That, and the President's approval numbers are way down...nothing likes rats abandoning a sinking ship, eh?
Does this mean that reporters are now going to be allowed to do their jobs? Probably not; this looks like a bunch of damage control if you ask me.
Oh well. Better late than never, I guess. But then, there's still the matter of the responsibility the Times bears for hundreds of dead US soldiers, and thousands of dead Iraqis. As Tom Tomorrow says:
I can't really express the disgust I'm feeling this morning. I can't tell you how many times those New York Times articles were thrown in my face by supporters of the war. Don't you UNDERSTAND? Saddam is training TERRORISTS! We KNOW he has secret WMD facilities! Blah blah fucking blah. It's the Wen Ho Lee fiasco on a larger scale. It's what a lot of us wacko lefties have been saying since way before anyone ever heard the word "blog": in order to preserve their precious access to power, the Times, and papers like it, too often serve as stenographers to said power. Doing so this time has left them with serious blood on their hands, and I hope they are deeply ashamed.
Posted by Ron at 10:50 PM
Tom Clancy wrestles with Iraq war
From CNN.com courtesy of my old pal, Matt:
A brand name author with many admirers in the military criticized the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, citing it as proof that "good men make mistakes."
That same writer said he almost "came to blows" with a leading war supporter, former Pentagon adviser Richard Perle.
The author is Tom Clancy.
The hawkish master of such million-selling thrillers as "Patriot Games" and "The Hunt for Red October" now finds himself adding to the criticism of the Iraq war, and not only through his own comments.
In discussing the Iraq war, both Clancy and Zinni singled out the Department of Defense for criticism. Clancy recalled a prewar encounter in Washington during which he "almost came to blows" with Richard Perle, a Pentagon adviser at the time and a longtime advocate of the invasion.
"He was saying how (Secretary of State) Colin Powell was being a wuss because he was overly concerned with the lives of the troops," Clancy said. "And I said, 'Look ..., he's supposed to think that way!' And Perle didn't agree with me on that. People like that worry me."
Just another right-winger against the insanity.
Click here for the rest.
Posted by Ron at 10:18 PM
Tuesday, May 25, 2004
US journalists face credibility gap
From the London Guardian courtesy of J. Orlin Grabbe:
According to the Pew report, more than half of national news journalists and 46% of local news reporters "believe that journalism is going in the wrong direction" and the growing feeling of unease among American journalists stems largely from a belief that commercial pressures are damaging the ability of news organisations to deliver a quality service.
It shows the number of national reporters who think "bottom-line pressure" is "seriously hurting" the quality of US news reports has grown from 41% 10 years ago to 66% now. Among local news reporters this belief has grown from 33% to 57% over the same period.
The vast majority of reporters - 86% - now believe commercial pressures have meant the US news media avoid complex issues, 50% feel that the growth of 24-hour news services has weakened journalism, 56% believe the country's press is too timid and 52% believe reporting is "increasingly sloppy".
The report echoes serious concerns raised about bias in US TV news reports during the conflict in Iraq, with 55% of national journalists saying the media has not been critical enough of the Bush administration, compared with 24% of the general public.
Click here for the rest.
Of course, it makes complete sense that one has to read about this study in a foreign newspaper. The consolidation of the media business long ago made such grumblings among journalists inevitable; in fact, reporters have been chafing privately against bottom-line corporate policies for some years--the fact that they're talking about it more openly can only mean that things have gotten worse. As if the runup to the Iraq war didn't make that achingly obvious.
For more on the effects of corporate ownership of the news business, click here.
Posted by Ron at 11:02 PM
Bush Speech Widens the Reality Gap
From the Center for American Progress via AlterNet:
Facing polls which show Americans have lost confidence in his ability to manage the crisis in Iraq, President Bush delivered the first in a series of speeches to respond to growing criticism. He offered not one new policy proposal. One administration official acknowledged the growing credibility gap on Iraq, saying the president's speech was needed to dispel "this idea that we don't know what we're doing." But the post-speech headlines reflected just how far the president was from laying out a clear vision: Newsday headlined, "Bush: More of the Same," the Boston Globe pointed out "Bush's Reality Gap" and the Houston Chronicle noted "Iraqi Leaders Say They're Dissatisfied With Post-Occupation Plan." Bush "did not provide the midcourse correction that even some Republicans had called for in the face of increasingly macabre violence." He also did not "try to answer some of the looming questions that have triggered growing skepticism and anxiety at home and abroad about the final U.S. costs, the final length of stay for U.S. troops, or what the terms will be for a final U.S. exit from Iraq." Instead, he "basically repackaged stalled U.S. policy as a five-step plan."
I didn't watch the speech myself; I was at rehearsal. However, I'm glad I missed it: it sounds like it was pretty annoying, and from what I can tell, it appears that Bush is still stuck in the repeat-it-until-it's-truth mode that has served him so well only until lately. The Chimp-in-Chief better watch it, or come November he's going to be replaced by a kinder, gentler corporatist hawk from that kinder, gentler Republican Party otherwise known as the Democrats.
Click here for the rest of the essay.
Posted by Ron at 10:19 PM
For some, minimum wage brings maximum misery
From the Albany Times Union via the Houston Chronicle:
The issue is becoming even more pivotal because job growth in this country — home health aides, food preparation workers, security guards, cashiers, teachers' assistants and nursing aides — are some of the lowest-paying, according to a February article in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Monthly Labor Review, which projected job growth from 2002 to 2012.
Author Shulman describes this as a "hollowing out of the middle," where companies such as Wal-Mart Stores pay the minimum while expecting taxpayers to take up the slack in the form of food stamps, Medicaid and other programs for impoverished Americans.
"Corporations used to look at themselves as part of a community," she said.
"I think the ethic has changed."
Click here for the rest.
The traditional neo-liberal stance on the minimum wage is that it interferes with the "laws" of supply and demand in the "labor market" (the market for the buying and selling of human beings by businesses). That is, a minimum wage forces companies to hire fewer workers--there's only so much money that a company can allocate to the paying of wages; if it is forced to pay only above a certain amount, then it can only hire a limited number of workers. Get it? Lower wages means more workers, while higher wages means fewer workers.
This may very well be true; I'm no economist. However, one can take this logic to it's extreme: if I pay my workers only one cent a day, I can have buttloads of workers, which lowers the unemployment rate. Then, everybody's doing fine. Right? Wrong, because everybody's making only one cent a day. The unemployment rate may go down, but it doesn't matter because low wages make everybody's lives suck.
This is a good metaphor for where America is now. As the quote notes above, most of the nation's new employment growth is (and has been for a long time) in the McJob sector--these are crappy minimum wage service jobs. As I once said to a dumbass Republican frat boy when I was in college, "you can't raise a family by working at McDonald's."
The minimum wage is increasingly the only way to make self-sufficient life possible for an ever increasing number of Americans: not raising the minimum wage, allowing it to stagnate, has real and painful consequences for millions of people. Economic theory be damned: this appears to be the only thing standing between us and a dreary third world existence.
Posted by Ron at 2:54 AM
Monday, May 24, 2004
WAL-MART SUCKS IN VERMONT
From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:
Famous for its fall foliage, quaint towns and covered bridges, the state of Vermont -- and its charm -- is threatened by a corporate behemoth, a nonprofit preservation group warned today.
The alleged culprit: Wal-Mart.
Because of plans for several new Wal-Mart Supercenters across the state, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has placed the entire state of Vermont on its 2004 list of the most endangered historic places in the United States.
I hope you know the drill by now: Wal-Mart moves into a community, driving away smaller, family owned businesses, and rehires their former workers at a much lower rate of pay, all the while plasticizing and corporatizing that community's traditional way of life. This is no neo-hippie WTO protester fantasy, either. Sam Walton's Borg-like assimilation of America has already engulfed all the South, and it's movement into other parts of the country are causing political controversy--the supermarket strike in California is but one example.
Indeed, Wal-Mart sucks.
Click here for the rest.
Posted by Ron at 11:46 PM
Sunday, May 23, 2004
A new BBC interview with Noam Chomsky courtesy of ZNet:
What was the United States supposed to do after 9/11? It had been the victim of a grotesque, intentional attack, what was it supposed to do but try...?
Why pick 9/11? Why not pick 1993. Actually the fact that the terrorist act succeeded in September 11th did not alter the risk analysis. In 1993, similar groups, US trained Jihadi's came very close to blowing up the World Trade Center, with better planning, they probably would have killed tens of thousands of people. Since then it was known that this is very likely. In fact right through the 90's there was technical literature predicting it, and we know what to do. What you do is police work. Police work is the way to stop terrorist acts and it succeeded.
But you are suggesting the United States in that sense is the author of Its own Nemesis.
Well, first of all this is not my opinion. It's the opinion of just about every specialist on terrorism. Take a look, say at Jason Burke's recent book on Al-Qaeda which is just the best book there is. He runs through the record of how each act of violence has increased recruitment financing mobilisation, what he says is, I'm quoting him, that each act of violence is a small victory for Bin Laden.
But why do you imagine George Bush behaves like this?
Because I don't think they care that much about terror, in fact we know that.
Posted by Ron at 11:16 PM
Organic food industry says program's
integrity threatened by USDA changes
From Knight Ridder via the Houston Chronicle:
A showdown is taking shape over the nation's organic food standards, triggered by a spate of recent rule changes that some producers and activists say are setting a pattern that could eventually render the organic label meaningless.
The changes in the National Organic Program standards, made in April, expand the use of antibiotics and hormones in organic dairy cows, allow more pesticides in the organic arsenal and for the first time let organic livestock eat potentially contaminated fishmeal.
Program administrators also reversed themselves and said seafood, pet food and body care products can use "organic" on their labels without meeting any standards at all.
And in what the $11 billion organic food industry, consumer and farm groups call a dangerous precedent, program administrators made last month's changes in three "guidances" and one "directive" without seeking public comment or consulting with their own advisers on the National Organics Standards Board.
This is, of course, business as usual for the Bush administration.
Posted by Ron at 11:09 PM
Berg beheading: No way, say medical experts
From the Asia Times courtesy of J. Orlin Grabbe:
While the circumstances surrounding both the video and Nick Berg's last days have been the source of substantive speculation, both Simpson and Nordby perceived it as highly probable that Berg had died some time prior to his decapitation. A factor in this was an apparent lack of the "massive" arterial bleeding such an act initiates.
"I would have thought that all the people in the vicinity would have been covered in blood, in a matter of seconds ... if it was genuine," said Simpson. Notably, the act's perpetrators appeared far from so. And separately Nordby observed: "I think that by the time they're ... on his head, he's already dead."
Providing another basis for their findings, in the course of such an assault, an individual's autonomic nervous system would react, typically doing so strongly, with the body shaking and jerking accordingly. And while Nordby noted that "they rotated and moved the head", shifting vertebrae that should have initiated such actions, Simpson said he "certainly didn't perceive any movements at all" in response to such efforts.
During the period when Berg's captors filmed the decapitation sequence, circumstances indicate that he had already been dead "a quite uncertain length of time, but more than ... however long the beheading took", Simpson stated. Both Simpson and Nordby also noted the difficulty in providing analysis based on the video, the inherent limitations presented by this. But both also felt that Berg had seemed drugged.
A particularly significant point in the video sequence occurred as Berg's captors attacked him, bringing the supposedly fatal knife to bear. "The way that they pulled him over, they could have used a dummy at that point," reflected Simpson regarding what the video portrayed.
Well, I'm withholding judgment on this one. I think that everybody agrees that Nick Berg is dead, but there are some weird questions about this whole thing--I've already read a couple of reports that his beheading was faked, but they were from some Mexican newspaper that I'd never heard of; this source seems more reputable, but I could be wrong. Who knows? One thing's for sure, I don't think the Bush administration is above such a stunt. Of course, that doesn't mean it was a fake, just that it's possible, given the known ethics of the Oval Office. I'm waiting to hear more.
Click here for the rest.
Posted by Ron at 2:18 AM
Moore's anti-Bush film wins top Cannes award
From the Houston Chronicle:
Fahrenheit 9/11 proved the festival's biggest attraction but had been considered a longshot for the top award.
While Fahrenheit 9/11 was well-received by Cannes audiences, many critics felt it was inferior to Moore's Academy Award-winning documentary Bowling for Columbine.
Some critics speculated that if Fahrenheit 9/11 won the top prize, it would be more for the film's politics than its cinematic value.
With Moore's customary blend of humor and horror, Fahrenheit 9/11 accuses the Bush camp of stealing the 2000 election, overlooking terrorism warnings before Sept. 11 and fanning fears of more attacks to secure Americans' support for the Iraq war.
Moore appears on-screen far less in Fahrenheit 9/11 than in Bowling for Columbine or his other documentaries. The film relies largely on interviews, footage of U.S. soldiers and war victims in Iraq, and archival footage of Bush.
Fahrenheit 9/11 is the first documentary to win Cannes' prestigious Palme d'Or since Jacques Cousteau's The Silent World in 1956.
Well...good job Mr. Moore. The Golden Palm. Cool.
Click here for more Cannes results.
Posted by Ron at 2:07 AM
Saturday, May 22, 2004
THREE FROM ESCHATON
First, from the Nation, What Liberal Media? writer Eric Alterman opines on the ever-growing horde of conservatives who are now willing to criticize Bush:
Hawks Eating Crow
These are the men not just the neocons but self-described progressives and human-rights advocates believed capable of carrying out the delicate and difficult mission of bringing democracy and modernism to the Arab world, while safeguarding the security and good name of the United States. Excuse me, but just what was so hard to understand about this bunch? We knew they were dishonest. We knew they were fanatical. We knew they were purposely ignorant and bragged about not reading newspapers. We knew they were vindictive. We knew they were lawless. We knew they were obsessively secretive. We knew they had no time or patience for those who raised difficult questions. We knew they were driven by fantasies of religious warfare, personal vengeance and ideological triumph. We knew they had no respect for civil liberties. And we knew they took no responsibility for the consequences of their incompetence. Just what is surprising about the manner in which they've conducted the war?
The obvious answer is that conservatives believe their own bullshit. In the artifically constructed world of politics, truth is often irrelevant; in the real world, however, the truth has this uncanny knack of knocking you on the head. Here's hoping that these guys get knocked hard a few more times.
Click here for the rest.
Next, a rather shocking revelation from Newsday:
Agency: Chalabi group was front for Iran
The Defense Intelligence Agency has concluded that a U.S.-funded arm of Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress has been used for years by Iranian intelligence to pass disinformation to the United States and to collect highly sensitive American secrets, according to intelligence sources.
"Iranian intelligence has been manipulating the United States through Chalabi by furnishing through his Information Collection Program information to provoke the United States into getting rid of Saddam Hussein," said an intelligence source Friday who was briefed on the Defense Intelligence Agency's conclusions, which were based on a review of thousands of internal documents.
The Information Collection Program also "kept the Iranians informed about what we were doing" by passing classified U.S. documents and other sensitive information, he said. The program has received millions of dollars from the U.S. government over several years.
If you don't already know, Chalabi's INC, a sort of anti-Baath Iraq government in exile, provided Rumsfeld and company with "intelligence" that supported the White House's claims that Saddam had WMDs and links to al-Qaeda. Now it appears that Iran was playing the US like a fiddle: they certainly got what they wanted; their enemy, Iraq, has been defeated, and they didn't have to fire a single shot.
So...now it is quite evident that not only is the Bush administration stupid, they're also a bunch of chumps. God, this country!
Click here for the rest.
Finally, from Pythonline:
I happily present to you a new Eric Idle tune, "FCC Song." As Idle says:
"Here’s a little song I wrote the other day while I was out duck hunting with a judge… It’s a new song, it’s dedicated to the FCC and if they broadcast it, it will cost a quarter of a million dollars."
It's smashingly funny. And all that other bloody British stuff.
Posted by Ron at 2:21 AM
Thursday, May 20, 2004
A Norm of Intellectual Dishonesty
On Republican hypocrisy regarding filbustering in the US Senate, from FindLaw courtesy of Eschaton:
(George) Will, a historian of sorts, frequently opines on legal and constitutional issues. He generally holds himself out, as most commentators do, as an honest broker of ideas, albeit a broker with a distinct perspective. In that role, Will has twice addressed the issue of Rule XXII.
The first time was in 1993. At the time, Democratic stalwarts, such as Cutler, were challenging Rule XXII. They feared that, despite Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate, Republicans would use the filibuster to frustrate the agenda of the new Democratic president, Bill Clinton.
Wait a second. So Will now agrees with Cutler? And not only that, he reads both the Constitution's text and "two centuries of practice" relating to filibusters entirely differently than he once did? What's prompted his change of mind? And doesn't he owe Cutler an apology?
Obviously, conscientious commentators do change their views when they re-examine them and find them in error. I am no fan of a "foolish consistency" in such matters. But this kind of change of mind - without explanation or apology - is quite troubling.
Also troubling is the fact that Will's close analysis of the Constitution and the First Congress's proceedings, so important to him in 1993, is entirely missing here.
Intellectual dishonesty is pure poison to the enterprise of the law. Yet countless examples show intellectual dishonesty has now become a routine, expected part of American discourse. The most obvious half-truths and hypocrisies are greeted with shrugged shoulders and a grunt of "what did you expect?"
These dishonesties that we have come to accept too easily range from the non-reasoning of Bush v. Gore, to the logic-defying economic rationale for more tax cuts, to the ever-shifting justification of war in Iraq. And they extend to just about every other significant issue of law and policy that affects American life.
Click here for the rest.
This is what really drives me crazy about conservatives. I think it would be much easier to deal with honest, simple disagreements with the right wing if that's what we actually had. Alas, conservatives seem to argue for the sake of winning, rather than as a way to discover the truth. I hit on this a bit last summer in my massive meditation on Justice Antonin Scalia's dissent in the Supreme Court sodomy case--the last few years of the Court's history have made it achingly clear that when conservatives decry "judicial activism" they actually only mean it when liberal justices are doing the activism.
I remember when such intellectual dishonesty on the right became evident to me some years back. As a brief bit of background, I actually consider myself to be more of a principled pragmatist than a leftist or progressive or whatever--it just so happens that my principles are pretty left wing, but I'm no utopian by anyone's standard. For years, I've heard conservatives talk about finding "market solutions" to social problems--crime, poverty, disease, all these things have been presented by neo-liberals as opportunities to make money. And of course, these social ills are opportunities for business. The thing is, no one ever seemed to present an example of the market actually doing a good job of dealing with social issues--lots of money, yes; ending misery and suffering, no: just take a look at how well HMOs have done with health care.
Pragmatist that I am, trying to be open minded, for some years I thought, "What the hell. If the market can help people who are hurting, what does it matter whether it's capitalist or socialist or whatever. Just do it." Of course, there weren't ever any "market solutions" to any social problems. It became clear that the voices calling for this kind of crap didn't really care about society: "market solutions" is simply a cooked up non-idea for justifying savage capitalist exploitation of the suffering and miserable. "Market solutions" simply makes exploitation appear to be friendly.
When I figured this out, I learned what total snakes these guys are: they don't fight fair, and cannot be trusted to say what they mean. There are, of course, reasonable, principled conservatives out there, and they often make good points that liberals ought to consider. However, in this age of illusion, the honest conservatives aren't nearly as loud as the dishonest ones, and it is increasingly difficult to tell the difference between the two. Democracy depends on rigorous and fair debate; all of America loses when the debate is rigged.
Posted by Ron at 10:50 PM
Kerry states he's open to anti-abortion judges
From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:
Democrat John Kerry said Wednesday that he's open to nominating anti-abortion judges as long as that doesn't lead to the Supreme Court overturning the landmark 1973 ruling that made abortion legal.
He grudgingly gave Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress credit for the creation of 900,000 jobs this year, echoed the administration's views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and seconded Bush's decision to nominate Alan Greenspan for a fifth term as chairman of the Federal Reserve.
Uh, he supports the war and won't have US soldiers out of Iraq for FOUR YEARS, doesn't mind anti-abortion judges, likes the 900,000 McJobs offered by neo-liberal policy, is hawkish against the Palestinians, and loves the conservative money-shaman Greenspan...
Now, how is he different from Bush, again? I forget.
Posted by Ron at 10:39 PM
Wednesday, May 19, 2004
Unitarian group denied tax status
From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram courtesy of Off the Kuff channeled through Eschaton:
Unitarian Universalists have for decades presided over births, marriages and memorials. The church operates in every state, with more than 5,000 members in Texas alone.
But according to the office of Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, a Denison Unitarian church isn't really a religious organization -- at least for tax purposes. Its reasoning: the organization "does not have one system of belief."
Never before -- not in this state or any other -- has a government agency denied Unitarians tax-exempt status because of the group's religious philosophy, church officials say. Strayhorn's ruling clearly infringes upon religious liberties, said Dan Althoff, board president for the Denison congregation that was rejected for tax exemption by the comptroller's office.
"I was surprised -- surprised and shocked -- because the Unitarian church in the United States has a very long history," said Althoff, who notes that father-and-son presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams were both Unitarians.
Click here (and register, it's annoying, but takes only a moment).
Given Strayhorn's Republican affiliation, it's pretty difficult not to think that this is less of a stupid move and more of a pandering to Texas' massive hordes of religious right-wingers. Okay, it's also really stupid. And offensive. Since when is the government in charge of essentially annulling a well established, 200 year old religion? Answer: when the religious right gets both uppity and an increasing amount of political power.
These guys are dangerous. There's more of this to come.
Posted by Ron at 11:41 PM
Helicopter attack kills at least 40, including children
From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:
A U.S. aircraft fired on a house in the desert near the Syrian border today, and Iraqi officials said more than 40 people were killed, including children. The U.S. military said the target was a suspected safehouse for foreign fighters from Syria, but Iraqis said a helicopter had attacked a wedding party.
Associated Press Television News footage showed a truck containing bloodied bodies, many wrapped in blankets, piled one atop the other. Several were children, one of whom was decapitated. The body of a girl who appeared to be less than 5 years of age lay in a white sheet, her legs riddled with wounds and her dress soaked in blood.
The attack happened about 2:45 a.m. in a desert region near the border with Syria and Jordan, according to Lt. Col. Ziyad al-Jbouri, deputy police chief of Ramadi, the provincial capital about 250 miles to the east. He said 42 to 45 people died, including 15 children and 10 women. Dr. Salah al-Ani, who works at a hospital in Ramadi, put the death toll at 45.
What a great idea! Kill lots of civilians while putting down the Fallujah uprising, torture and sexually humiliate lots of POWs at Abu Ghraib, and then massacre forty more civilians at a wedding party! We'll win their hearts and minds yet!
Posted by Ron at 10:25 PM
Tuesday, May 18, 2004
THE NATION ON THE IRAQ WAR
First, a statement that really ought to go without saying, but seeing as how much of the US population doesn't seem to get it, I guess it just has to be said:
The Moral Case Against the Iraq War
"Each age and place has its own style of evil," Time essayist Lance Morrow observes in his book "Evil: An Investigation." The history of radical evil up to now has been primarily a story of world-class criminals, each with his own method of mass killing, internment, expulsion and terror. What is unique about the kind of evil the Bush Administration has brought into the world is that a global law-enforcement campaign to bring a world-class criminal to justice has itself become a vast criminal enterprise. It is one of the bedrock principles of the rule of law that a law-enforcement officer cannot break the law as a means of enforcing the law. "For my part, I think it is a less evil that some criminals should escape than that the government should play an ignoble part," Holmes wrote in a famous dissent that announced a constitutional principle of "lesser evils" that would eventually become prevailing law. The principle was most eloquently articulated by Justice Louis Brandeis: "Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy."
The capture of Saddam Hussein, who may have killed as many as 300,000 people, ends a twenty-four-year reign of terror and might finally bring a measure of justice to the Iraqi people. But what would we think of a police chief whose war against crime resulted in killing thousands of innocent bystanders in the course of apprehending a criminal suspect, even a criminal as despicable as Saddam? The officer who breaks the law, who becomes a law unto himself, like the out-of-control cop played by Michael Chiklis in the Fox cable drama The Shield--"Al Capone with a badge," to borrow a line from the script--is more dangerous than the criminal and, like the American guards who committed the horrific abuses at Abu Ghraib prison, becomes a criminal himself. The false charge that Saddam was reaching for his weapons of mass destruction when US troops attacked bears an uncanny resemblance to the pretexts for the use of deadly force that document a long and shameful history of incidents of police misconduct in cities across America. The evil of this President, once acclaimed for his "moral clarity," is the evil of police violence on a global scale--the evil of the law-enforcement officer who regards himself as above the law and thereby undermines the very foundation of law and morality.
Click here for more.
Next, the Nation's Washington editor David Corn on our Secretary of State's surprise bombshell last Sunday:
Powell Admits False WMD Claim
It would be a foolish endeavor to call for this Republican Congress to mount a thorough investigation of this Republican administration. But what else is there to do in response to the comments made by Secretary of State Colin Powell this past weekend?
Appearing on Meet the Press, Powell acknowledged--finally!--that he and the Bush administration misled the nation about the WMD threat posed by Iraq before the war. Specifically, he said that he was wrong when he appeared before the UN Security Council on February 5, 2003, and alleged that Iraq had developed mobile laboratories to produce biological weapons. That was one of the more dramatic claims he and the administration used to justify the invasion of Iraq. (Remember the drawings he displayed.) Yet Powell said on MTP, "it turned our that the sourcing was inaccurate and wrong and in some cases, deliberately misleading." Powell did not spell it out, but the main source for this claim was an engineer linked to the Iraqi National Congress, the exile group led by Ahmed Chalabi, who is now part of the Iraqi Governing Council.
Powell noted that he was "comfortable at the time that I made the presentation it reflected the collective judgment, the sound judgment of the intelligence community." In other words, the CIA was scammed by Chalabi's outfit, and it never caught on. So who's been fired over this? After all, the nation supposedly went to war partly due to this intelligence. And partly because of this bad information over 700 Americans and countless Iraqis have lost their lives. Shouldn't someone be held accountable?
Click here for more.
So what will history think of Mr. Powell's tenure at the State Department? Ah, who cares? As President Bush says, in the future, "we'll all be dead."
Posted by Ron at 11:57 PM
Monday, May 17, 2004
IRAQ IN CHAOS
From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:
Car bomb kills president of Iraqi Council
A suicide bombing killed the head of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council as his car waited at a checkpoint near coalition headquarters today, a major setback to American efforts to stabilize Iraq just six weeks before the handover of sovereignty.
Saleem, a Shiite Muslim in his 60s, held the rotating presidency of the 25-member Governing Council for May. He was the second council member slain since their appointment last July; Aquila al-Hashimi was mortally wounded by gunmen in September.
Insurgents also have targeted police and army recruitment centers and other Iraqis perceived as owing their positions to the Americans.
The U.S. military said the car bombing was a suicide attack and Kimmitt said it had the "classic hallmarks" of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born militant with links to al-Qaida.
However, a previously unknown group, the Arab Resistance Movement, claimed responsibility, saying in a Web site posting that two of its fighters carried out the attack on "the traitor and mercenary" Saleem.
Also, on the WMD front:
A roadside bomb containing deadly sarin nerve agent also exploded "a couple of days ago" near a U.S. military convoy in Baghdad, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said today, adding two explosives experts were treated for "minor exposure."
But don't get your hopes up, hawks and warmongers, because:
Two former U.N. weapons inspectors, Hans Blix and David Kay, said the shell was likely scavenged from a dump and did not signify Iraq had stockpiles of such weapons.
Click here for the rest.
And from the New York Times courtesy of Eschaton:
Military Police Got Instructions at Iraqi Prison
Several military police officers and their commanders at Abu Ghraib have said that military intelligence officers directed them to "set the conditions" to enhance the questioning. When General Taguba asked what safeguards existed to ensure that guards "understand the instructions or limits of instructions, or whether the instructions were legal," Colonel Pappas acknowledged that there were no assurances.
"There would be no way for us to actually monitor whether that happened," Colonel Pappas told General Taguba. "We had no formal system in place to do that."
Colonel Pappas continued, "To my knowledge, instructions given to the M.P.'s, other than what I have mentioned, such as shackling, making detainees strip down or other measures used on detainees before interrogations, are not typically made unless there is some good reason."
Individual interrogation plans were drafted for each detainee, and were approved by Colonel Pappas or his deputy, he said. In every case, he said, the plans followed the guidance in the rules of interrogation that Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the top ground commander in Iraq, approved on Oct. 12.
In his report, General Taguba concluded that Colonel Pappas was "either directly or indirectly responsible" for the actions of those who mistreated and humiliated Iraqi prisoners.
Click here for the rest.
So, just to sum things up a bit, in March of 2003, the United States illegally invaded Iraq under false pretenses. The "major combat operations" went well, routing the Iraqi army as expected, with few American casualties. That's when things started going to hell. Looting and violent crime became widespread for a time. The weapons of mass destruction that supposedly justified the unprovoked American attack turned out to not exist. Not long after the period of looting, the Iraqi insurgency became organized, and US deaths began to rise--meanwhile, the Bush administration denied, for a time, that there was an insurgency. Around this time it became apparent that a quick transition to democracy in Iraq was not going to be happening in the few short months that had been promised. Bush's approval rating started to fall. American approval of the occupation began to fall, but quite a large portion of the country still supports both Bush and the war.
Then the Abu Ghraib scandal broke. Then it became clear that this was not an isolated incident--prisoners were being tortured in other locations around Iraq, in Afghanistan, and at Guantanamo. Now it is starting to look like these abuses were ordered by commanding officers; it remains to be seen just how far up the chain of command this goes.
Iraq is in chaos. And for some reason that I simply do not comprehend, the occupation continues. It's time to cut and run. It's time to bring the boys back home.
Posted by Ron at 10:38 PM
Sunday, May 16, 2004
TWO FROM ALTERNET
First, an essay on how late night comedeians may or may not affect US political discourse:
No Laughing Matter
Research I conducted using survey data from the 2000 election suggests that late-night viewers who don't know much about politics may be most influenced by the programs' content. For instance, people who did not know a lot about politics saw Al Gore as less inspiring over time with increased late-night exposure. Meanwhile, viewers who knew a lot about politics remained fairly constant in their judgments of Gore, regardless of how much Leno and Letterman they watched. So, for uninformed viewers, late-night programs might just help shape impressions of candidates.
Another special audience that may be affected by late-night (though they would be unlikely to admit it) is the news media themselves. Journalists are constantly testifying to the power of late-night. Why? Perhaps because the late-night hosts construct their caricatures of the candidates based on what is in mainstream news content. Leno and Letterman didn't discover on their own that Theresa Heinz is especially wealthy and Jon Stewart didn't just decide that the lack of WMD found in Iraq posed a problem for Bush. These are issues that journalists had already brought to our attention. So when late-night hosts package these caricatures into funny little nuggets, journalists hear their own reporting repackaged as entertainment.
Each time journalists include a Leno or Letterman joke to illustrate popular public opinion of a candidate, they're embracing a reality that they helped construct in the first place. Remember "Al Gore: serial exaggerator" and "George Bush: dummy?" Late-night's constant hammering on these two caricatures helped construct and reinforce journalists' impressions of how the public saw Gore and Bush.
Next, a report on how file-sharing affects record sales:
Filesharing Is Not the Enemy
But a new study by Harvard Business School and University of North Carolina is going against the popular beliefs surrounding filesharing. After tracking 1.75 million downloads over a 17-week period in 2002 and then comparing those observations to the sales of 680 popular albums, the study found that filesharing has no negative effect on CD sales.
In fact, for the most popular 25 percent of CDs, the study found that downloading boosts sales. For every 150 songs downloaded, sales of that album jumped one copy.
"Initially, we were surprised by our results, given the consistent claim that P2P hurts sales," says Koleman Strumpf, co-author with Felix Oberholzer-Gee. "But on deeper reflection, not so much. Filesharing can potentially boost sales through the user learning about new music, and this could offset the substitution for buying, as is often claimed."
Posted by Ron at 9:02 PM
What Do We Do Now?
From the Progressive, radical historian and author of A People's History of the United States, Howard Zinn, weighs American options in Iraq:
To those who worry about what will happen in Iraq after our troops leave, they should consider the effect of having foreign troops: continued, escalating bloodshed, continued insecurity, increased hatred for the United States in the entire Muslim world of over a billion people, and increased hostility everywhere.
The effect of that will be the exact opposite of what our political leaders--of both parties--claim they intend to achieve, a "victory" over terrorism. When you inflame the anger of an entire population, you have enlarged the breeding ground for terrorism.
What of the other long-term effects of continued occupation? I'm thinking of the poisoning of the moral fiber of our soldiers--being forced to kill, maim, imprison innocent people, becoming the pawns of an imperial power after they were deceived into believing they were fighting for freedom, democracy, against tyranny.
I'm thinking of the irony that those very things we said our soldiers were dying for--giving their eyes, their limbs for--are being lost at home by this brutal war. Our freedom of speech is diminished, our electoral system corrupted, Congressional and judicial checks on executive power nonexistent.
Click here for more.
Zinn makes something clear that I haven't really been considering: both Bush and Kerry are in favor of continuing the occupation. There is no peace candidate, unless you count Nader. So...would someone remind me exactly why I'm voting for the Democrat come November? I don't really remember...
Posted by Ron at 1:46 AM
TORTUREGATE APPEARS TO WIDEN
From the NY Times via the Houston Chronicle:
2nd prisoner abuse site comes to light
After several visits to Camp Cropper, where they interviewed Iraqi prisoners, officials of the ICRC in early July 2003 cited at least 50 incidents of abuse reported to have taken place in a part of the prison under the control of military interrogators.
In one example cited to U.S. officers in Baghdad that month by the committee officials, a prisoner said he had been beaten during interrogation, as part of an ordeal in which he was hooded, cuffed, threatened with torture and death, urinated on, kicked in the head, lower back and groin, "force-fed a baseball which was tied into the mouth using a scarf and deprived of sleep for four consecutive days."
A medical examination of the prisoner by the committee's doctors "revealed hematoma in the lower back, blood in urine, sensory loss in the right hand due to tight handcuffing with flexi-cuffs, and a broken rib," said a final report by the Red Cross panel, which was presented to U.S. officials in February 2004.
Click here for the rest.
And from the AP via the Houston Chronicle:
U.S. investigating Afghan prisoner abuse
The U.S. military has launched a second probe into alleged prisoner abuse in Afghanistan in a week, a spokesman said today.
On Monday, the U.S. military opened a criminal investigation into complaints of mistreatment from a former Afghan police officer who claimed he was beaten and sexually assaulted during 40 days in custody last summer.
U.S. military spokesman Tucker Mansager said leaders of the U.S.-led coalition had been notified on Thursday of "another allegation of detainee abuse" and had begun an "immediate investigation."
Click here for the rest.
It's becoming pretty clear that this has been going on all over the place: this can no longer be seen as an isolated incident; when abuses are this widespread, the ultimate blame must be laid at the feet of military commanders. It's time for Rumsfeld to go.
Actually, it's time for Bush to go.
Posted by Ron at 1:22 AM
Saturday, May 15, 2004
EGAD! 175 HITS ON FRIDAY!
The Murder of Nick Berg Fuels
Real Art's Surge in Traffic
Yet another record. And I got 90 some odd hits on Thursday. What the hell is it with these people? Oh well, thanks for dropping by my blog.
Sorry, no beheadings here.
Click here for more explanation of this weird phenomenon.
Posted by Ron at 1:55 AM
A Crude Shock
A new Paul Krugman essay from the NY Times:
So oil prices will stay high, and may go higher even in the absence of more bad news from the Middle East. And with more bad news, we'll be looking at a real crisis — one that could do a lot of economic damage. Each $10 per barrel increase in crude prices is like a $70 billion tax increase on American consumers, levied through inflation. The spurt in producer prices last month was a taste of what will happen if prices stay high. By the way, after the 1979 Iranian revolution world prices went to about $60 per barrel in today's prices.
Could an oil shock actually lead to 1970's-style stagflation — a combination of inflation and rising unemployment? Well, there are several comfort factors, reasons we're less vulnerable now than a generation ago. Despite the rise of the S.U.V., the U.S. consumes only about half as much oil per dollar of real G.D.P. as it did in 1973. Also, in the 1970's the economy was already primed for inflation: given the prevalence of cost-of-living adjustments in labor contracts and the experience of past inflation, oil price increases rapidly fed into a wage-price spiral. That's less likely to happen today.
Still, if there is a major supply disruption, the world will have to get by with less oil, and the only way that can happen in the short run is if there is a world economic slowdown. An oil-driven recession does not look at all far-fetched.
It just keeps getting better, doesn't it?
Click here for more.
Posted by Ron at 1:48 AM
Ecstasy Relieved from Agony
An interesting report from AlterNet on the blurry line between science and politics in the never ending War on Drugs:
"The press release deliberately misrepresented the data," says Colin Blakemore. "There was no evidence of the 60 to 80 percent cell-death claim." There were other red flags: 20 percent of the monkeys had died; another 20 percent had gotten so sick they had to be withdrawn. Yet, there simply aren't thousands of people dying from Ecstasy every weekend. Then there was the problem that the drugs were injected Â? not administered orally as suggested in the paper's introduction.
"The more I looked at it, the more I felt there was an agenda," says Blakemore, who immediately fired off a letter to Science editor in chief Donald Kennedy, complaining of "flaws so radical, so deep, they would have been picked up by any referee." But Science maintains it did everything right. "This study was peer-reviewed according to the same rigorous system used in all articles published in Science," says Ginger Pinholster, spokesperson for the Association for the Advancement of Science, which publishes the journal. According to Pinholster, the prompt retraction proved that "science is self-correcting."
Rick Doblin, on the eve of his own study, says the payoffs for such shoddy science have been immense. "Leshner was willing to exaggerate findings to pander to politicians for money," he says. Leshner did help NIDA bring home the bacon: NIDA's budget for Ecstasy research has more than quadrupled over the past five years, from $3.4 million to $15.8 million; the agency funds 85 percent of the world's drug-abuse research. In 2001, Leshner testified before a Senate subcommittee on "Ecstasy Abuse and Control"; critics say Leshner manipulated brain scans from a 2000 study by Dr. Linda Chang showing no difference between Ecstasy users and control subjects. But NIDA insists it's independent from political pressures. "We don't set policy; we don't create laws," says Beverly Jackson, the agency's spokesperson.
NIDA wasn't the only benefactor of Ricaurte and wife Una McCann's research. "George and Una are cash cows for Johns Hopkins," says Doblin, who points out that every time a scientist receives a grant, money indirectly goes to the affiliated institution. While both NIDA and The New York Times have clocked Ricaurte's NIDA grant money at around $10 million, Doblin believes that's a low-ball figure. "Just this one study was $1.3 million, and he has done loads and loads of them." Johns Hopkins spokesperson Gary Stevenson declined comment beyond the official statement.
Don't get me wrong here. In no way am I advocating recreational usage of ecstasy. Indeed, people on X are among the most annoying of drug users--actually, anybody taking speedy drugs, coke for instance, or meth in particular, is usually pretty annoying, not to mention too damned enamored with his or her own drug-induced verbosity (ah, the time I've wasted in conversations with addled tweakers).
Rather, drug policy should be formulated using strong science: drug addiction is a public health problem, not a criminal problem. It appears, however, that politics and government dollars are providing strong incentives for scientists and doctors to decide on study outcomes before the studies are even commissioned. This is bad for a host of reasons, the most important being an undermining of trust in science--this makes those who do decide to use illegal drugs far less likely to make informed decisions about how to approach their drug use: in the age of "just say no," pot=crack=heroin.
Clearly, pot is not crack, but you wouldn't know that if you relied on politicians and their surrogates (teachers, cops) for your info--this makes it much easier for the teenager who has had a relatively benign experience with marijuana to determine that harder drugs must not be so bad: "they were wrong about pot--it's all just propaganda."
Now, those same politicians are seemingly using their power to infiltrate the scientific community in order to facilitate their own social agendas. The American people stand to pay the price for that.
Click here for the rest.
Posted by Ron at 1:06 AM
Friday, May 14, 2004
Interrogation techniques called
violation of Geneva Conventions
From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:
The No. 2 general and civilian at the Pentagon indicated today that interrogation techniques ordered in Iraq violated the Geneva Conventions and said they did not know who approved them.
Marine Gen. Peter Pace and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said they were unaware of any U.S. military rules for interrogating prisoners that would allow them to be put in stressful positions, deprived of sleep for up to 72 hours, threatened with dogs or kept in isolation for more than 30 days.
Their statements came on the same day that a campaigning President Bush told an audience in West Virginia that "I have been disgraced" by scenes of American soldiers brutalizing Iraqi prisoners.
Of course, that's not the only thing that's disgraced Bush over the last few years, but I suppose this is a start. Guess who's still asserting that torture is a-okay?
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Wednesday had defended the techniques, rejecting complaints that they violate international rules. Rumsfeld said Pentagon lawyers had approved the methods and said they required that prisoners be treated humanely at all times.
Even though Wolfowitz and General Pace claim not to know who approved these "military rules for interrogating prisoners," Rumsfeld seems to think that the Pentagon itself gave the go-ahead. Clearly, these guys are in CYA mode, bigtime.
Click here for more.
Posted by Ron at 12:37 AM
AMERICAN TORTURE: WORSE AND
MORE WIDESPREAD THAN REALIZED
From the NY Times courtesy of Eschaton:
The Central Intelligence Agency has used coercive interrogation methods against a select group of high-level leaders and operatives of Al Qaeda that have produced growing concerns inside the agency about abuses, according to current and former counterterrorism officials.
At least one agency employee has been disciplined for threatening a detainee with a gun during questioning, they said.
In the case of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a high-level detainee who is believed to have helped plan the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, C.I.A. interrogators used graduated levels of force, including a technique known as "water boarding," in which a prisoner is strapped down, forcibly pushed under water and made to believe he might drown.
These techniques were authorized by a set of secret rules for the interrogation of high-level Qaeda prisoners, none known to be housed in Iraq, that were endorsed by the Justice Department and the C.I.A. The rules were among the first adopted by the Bush administration after the Sept. 11 attacks for handling detainees and may have helped establish a new understanding throughout the government that officials would have greater freedom to deal harshly with detainees.
Defenders of the operation said the methods stopped short of torture, did not violate American anti-torture statutes, and were necessary to fight a war against a nebulous enemy whose strength and intentions could only be gleaned by extracting information from often uncooperative detainees. Interrogators were trying to find out whether there might be another attack planned against the United States.
The methods employed by the C.I.A. are so severe that senior officials of the Federal Bureau of Investigation have directed its agents to stay out of many of the interviews of the high-level detainees, counterterrorism officials said. The F.B.I. officials have advised the bureau's director, Robert S. Mueller III, that the interrogation techniques, which would be prohibited in criminal cases, could compromise their agents in future criminal cases, the counterterrorism officials said.
Click here to learn more about what they're doing in your name.
Posted by Ron at 12:22 AM
Thursday, May 13, 2004
SELF-REFERENTIAL REAL ART NEWS
My Blog Nearly Triples
It's One Day Record
Today, Real Art got 110 hits. Check out this cool statistic from Site Meter:
Now this is pretty weird, because this blog usually averages anywhere between ten and twenty hits per day. I've been doing a bit better lately but, as the picture below shows, today's total is quite the spike:
My previous one day record was forty hits or so sometime last summer. When I checked out how it was doing earlier this afternoon, I was pretty blown away to see that that I had eighty-something, and there were still hours to go before midnight.
What could be causing this weird upturn in Real Hits?
Of course, most of the hits were Google searches, and the vast, vast majority of those searches were looking for this phrase: "So we tell you that the dignity of the Muslim men and women in Abu Ghraib and others is not redeemed except by blood and souls." This is what al-Qaeda terrorists proclaimed on camera before they beheaded 26 year old Nick Berg, an American worker kidnapped in Iraq. Pretty creepy stuff. So creepy, in fact, that I didn't even really feel like saying anything about it here at Real Art, especially after seeing a portion of the video, which is cut, thankfully, before the decapitation. In its own way, it's much more depressing than the American abuses of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib. But I did see an opportunity to link to the story, so I did. Little did I know that my little link would provide the motivation for a veritable cyber-dogpile on Real Art.
I think people were trying to find the full, uncut video, although I really don't know why the hell anybody wants to see that sort of thing. Go figure. The cut video I saw is quite painful to watch by itself. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy for the upsurge in hits, and Site Meter shows that some of those people actually stayed and read for a while. Cool.
But what the hell is it that has made so many people want to see something so horrible?
Posted by Ron at 12:04 AM
Wednesday, May 12, 2004
THE HOUSTON PRESS REVIEWS INFERNAL
BRIDEGROOM'S PRODUCTION OF THE HOTEL PLAY
Houston's liberal (or what passes for liberal here in Bush country) alternative weekly reviews the play in which I am currently playing a small part:
The disturbing moments that make up this script take place over the course of one day in a hotel somewhere in the tropics. More than 50 characters meander through this world. But we learn almost nothing about most of them. One man complains that he's gotten a room with four bathrooms when he's staying at the hotel alone. Another is a doctor who's on vacation because he takes on his patients' symptoms when he examines them, even to the point of becoming impotent. We watch a wife made miserable by her wretched husband, who says to her as they sit in the cafe, "You have made yourself so hateful to me that I do not fear in the slightest the sight of your dead body." Few of these characters have names. In the program they're identified only by the weird things they do and say: Among them are Woman in Suggestive Clothes (Tek Wilson), The Couple Who Gets Bad Coffee (Elisabeth Jackson and Ron Reeder) and Man Who Tells Fish Story (Noel Bowers).
The anonymity of these characters is unsettling, and at first these chaotic snatches of dialogue are interesting only in their strangeness. But after a while it begins to feel like Shawn is up to something heady. The audience is put in the strange position of having to create the connections between the moments themselves. The hateful husband simply gets up to leave after reducing his wife to tears; the man with all the bathrooms disappears once he knows that they aren't going to cost him any more than three bathrooms would. Shawn's refusal to make any connections between the characters or to provide any familiar narrative structure that will tie these vignettes together starts to look like a sort of tone poem on the very nature of making meaning. The audience must make all these individual moments meaningful, much like a dreamer would after waking up from a nightmare full of seemingly unrelated images.
Yes, that's more like it. I like this review much better than the Houston Chronicle's. The Press critic seems to have more of a grasp of what Shawn is trying to do with the script. The point is not to follow some story; rather, the audience should simply let the play wash over them, allowing any meaning the play might have to become manifest later, in memory. The Hotel Play is theater as music: any critic who doesn't get that or finds only frustration and discomfort while seeing it really has no business reviewing plays.
Of course, I could simply be biased here: out of some sixty-odd actors, this review only names five, and I'm one of them! Ha! In yer face, Chronicle!
Click here for the rest of the review.
Posted by Ron at 11:39 PM
Tuesday, May 11, 2004
Red Cross report: Prisoner abuse was routine
From the New York Times via the Houston Chronicle:
The report also said military intelligence officers confirmed the inspector's impression that these "methods of physical and psychological coercion used by the interrogators appeared to be part of the standard operating procedures by military intelligence personnel to obtain confessions and extract information."
The 24-page report, completed in February, appears to contradict several statements by senior Pentagon officials in recent days as to how and when the military learned of potential abuses in Iraq, how they reacted to reports of abuses, and how widespread the practices might have been.
A spokesman for the Red Cross in Geneva said on Monday the organization's president, Jakob Kellenberger, complained about the prison abuses directly to top administration officials during a two-day visit to Washington in mid-January when he met with Secretary of State Colin Powell, the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.
So they knew at the highest levels, which is no surprise at all.
Posted by Ron at 11:51 PM
General blames abuse on faulty leadership
From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:
The Army general who first investigated abuse in an Iraqi prison told Congress today the mistreatment resulted from faulty leadership, a "lack of discipline, no training whatsoever and no supervision" of the troops.
Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba also left open the possibility that members of the Central Intelligence Agency as well as armed forces personnel and civilian contractors were culpable in the abusive treatment of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison.
"A few soldiers and civilians conspired to abuse and conduct egregious acts of violence against detainees and other civilians outside the bounds of international laws and the Geneva Convention," Taguba told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The hearing unfolded as a video posted on an Islamic militant Web site showed the apparent beheading of an American civilian in Iraq. "So we tell you that the dignity of the Muslim men and women in Abu Ghraib and others is not redeemed except by blood and souls," said one of the executioners.
Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas mentioned the video at the committee's afternoon session, adding that he did so "only to show that this is a very difficult situation."
Posted by Ron at 11:44 PM
Monday, May 10, 2004
From CounterPunch courtesy of J. Orlin Grabbe:
Racism & Torture as Entertainment
The present-day equivalent of Tom Graham VC is Hollywood, with its poisonous, racist portrayal of Arabs and Muslims. True to form, our enemies turned out, on 11 September 2001, to be as terrible as our movies made them out to be. One day, some serious research might be conducted into how far the pilot killers modelled themselves on Hollywood's version of their ruthlessness.
But it's not difficult to see how the American thugs at the Abu Ghraib prison acquired their cruelty. Born-again Christians who no doubt publicly wished to be seen upholding a "pure, clean and upright life" treated the Iraqis as if they were "fiends in human form", as "fanatics", as "flies". Hadn't the US proconsul in Iraq, Paul Bremer, described America's enemies as "dead-enders", "die-hards", "terrorists"? When the young woman involved in this torture expressed her surprise at all the fuss, I immediately understood why. Not because what she did was routine--though it clearly was--but because that is how she was told to treat these Iraqi prisoners. Hadn't they been killing American soldiers, setting off car bombs, murdering schoolchildren? Hollywood turned into reality.
And from WorkingForChange:
Our beacon of freedom
From the conservative Islamic eye, at one level, the torture at Abu Ghraib -- let's call it what it was intended to be, Mr. Rumsfeld, torture -- is further evidence of the morals of the libertine West run amok, a combination of unlimited power and the dehumanization of others for one's own fulfillment (also a key element of most pornography, incidentally). But at another, it's a perfect capsule shot of what the U.S. is trying to do to Iraq, and the West to Islam -- impose our own morality, using power and humiliation to bend others to our will and our entirely recent notion of what is right and good. That's the entire Arab world down there, hooded and being forced to produce for the pleasure of the West. Produce oil, produce markets, produce their souls on a platter. And they hate it. They're supposed to.
And that scratching sound you hear is thousands upon more thousands of outraged people signing up for the jihad against America.
And finally, the Houston Chronicle runs the pictures that sparked the world's outrage. If you haven't seen them yet, I must warn you that they are quite unsettling.
Posted by Ron at 11:42 PM
Sunday, May 09, 2004
AMERICAN ABU GHRAIB ATROCITIES IN CONTEXT
From the New York Times courtesy of Eschaton:
Mistreatment of Prisoners Is Called Routine in U.S.
Physical and sexual abuse of prisoners, similar to what has been uncovered in Iraq, takes place in American prisons with little public knowledge or concern, according to corrections officials, inmates and human rights advocates.
In Pennsylvania and some other states, inmates are routinely stripped in front of other inmates before being moved to a new prison or a new unit within their prison. In Arizona, male inmates at the Maricopa County jail in Phoenix are made to wear women's pink underwear as a form of humiliation.
At Virginia's Wallens Ridge maximum security prison, new inmates have reported being forced to wear black hoods, in theory to keep them from spitting on guards, and said they were often beaten and cursed at by guards and made to crawl.
The corrections experts say that some of the worst abuses have occurred in Texas, whose prisons were under a federal consent decree during much of the time President Bush was governor because of crowding and violence by guards against inmates. Judge William Wayne Justice of Federal District Court imposed the decree after finding that guards were allowing inmate gang leaders to buy and sell other inmates as slaves for sex.
The experts also point out that the man who directed the reopening of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq last year and trained the guards there resigned under pressure as director of the Utah Department of Corrections in 1997 after an inmate died while shackled to a restraining chair for 16 hours. The inmate, who suffered from schizophrenia, was kept naked the whole time.
Click here for the rest.
Our prisons are so terrible that I am deeply troubled by the prospect of serving on a jury for a criminal case: I essentially refuse to do it; I will not take any personal responsibility for sending even the guilty into such hellholes. When one considers how awfully we treat our own citizens in American prisons, how can anybody be surprised by the abuses at Abu Ghraib?
From the Houston Chronicle’s political writer, Cragg Hines:
Ghastly evil, but not all that unexpected
Professionals in anthropology, psychology and sociology have spent the last few days thinking about confirmation of patterns of known behavior, not wondering at the unfolding of increasingly grisly developments. Some have been amazed at the denial manifest in U.S. public reaction.
"What's wonderful is the naiveté," said Philip G. Zimbardo, a Stanford University psychologist. "But there's a point at which you have to lift the veil."
In 1971, Zimbardo ran a classic experiment designed to simulate prison life. Student volunteers were divided into "prisoners" and "guards." So quickly did the "guards" become sadistic and the "prisoners" dangerously depressed that the two-week project was ended after only six days.
Lorna Rhodes, an anthropologist at the University of Washington, said Zimbardo's work showed how quickly an incarceration situation can deteriorate, how easily guards, without proper training or supervision or, worse, with instigation from superiors, can become "a dog on a chain."
Click here for the rest.
There is nothing about Americans, our culture, our national character, that makes us immune to basic psychology: master/slave relationships are fraught with danger, and our authoritarian schools and “get tough on crime” attitudes simply make us more accepting of the unacceptable. One might even go so far as to say that American culture makes such atrocities more likely, not less.
One of my favorite science fiction writers, David Gerrold, drives this point home in a recent prophetic essay from early April, well before the Abu Ghraib scandal broke:
What has happened is the elevation of Hitler and the Nazis. We have inadvertently appointed them as examples of extreme evil, so monstrous and so inhumane that they are forever alienated from the experience of the rest of the species. And by doing that, we deny ourselves the much more useful opportunity to recognize the much more horrific truth -- that there is a little Nazi in each and every one of us; it's that reptilian core of being that exists with dispassionate selfishness inside every creature that has climbed up the evolutionary ladder.
By denying that the Nazis were human, by setting them outside the definition of humanity, we deny ourselves the opportunity to recognize that the natural human tendency to define others as enemies, as vermin, as untermenschen, as kikes and niggers and ragheads and homos -- that's the root of evil, the alienization, the distinguishing of others as outsiders. Once we make the distinction that they are not us, it is okay for us to do things to them. As Solomon Short once said, "Those who divide us into us and them, automatically become them." When we classify the Nazis as demonic, we become Nazis ourselves. Why? Because when we deny the humanity of those who became Nazis, we blind ourselves to our own potential ability to commit evil acts, and thereby make such acts inevitable.
But of course, you say, the Nazi comparison is inappropriate, because after all, after all is said and done, we know we're not evil. We're the good guys. Why are we the good guys? Because we say we're the good guys. Because God is on our side. Because we're Christians. Because Christ died for us, so we're redeemed. Blah blah blah. We pile the bullshit higher and higher. And that's how we justify the acts we commit that we would call evil if the bad guys did them.
Click here for the rest (and scroll down about a third of the way to find the essay).
Dare I invoke the corollary to Godwin’s Law (described by Gerrold as "He who mentions Hitler first loses the argument.")? Sure, what the hell: the more info that comes out about Abu Ghraib, the more I’m reminded of pre “final solution” treatment of Jews by the Nazis—Jews were beaten, humiliated, and murdered in the streets by brownshirt thugs. Is the behavior of American soldiers any better than this? The obvious answer is no.
Posted by Ron at 7:42 PM