Monday, February 28, 2005

Suicide bomber kills over 100 in Iraq

If you follow the news at all you've probably already heard about this, but it's worth a mention here, I think. From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

HILLAH, Iraq — A suicide car bomber blasted a crowd of police and national guard recruits today as they gathered for physicals outside a medical clinic south of Baghdad, killing at least 115 people and wounding 132 — the single deadliest attack in the two-year insurgency.

Torn limbs and other body parts littered the street outside the clinic in Hillah, a predominantly Shiite area about 60 miles south of Baghdad.

Today's blast outside the clinic was so powerful it nearly vaporized the suicide bomber's car, leaving only its engine partially intact. The injured were piled into pickup trucks and ambulances and taken to nearby hospitals.

Click here for the rest.

As Atrios noted a few days ago, things haven't exactly been going well over there since the election that was supposed to bring "democracy" to Iraq. It's clear that the insurgency sees the new government as being collaborators, and my bet is that they will never, ever, ever give up until Iraq is no longer an occupied nation. So we should leave. Right now.

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Debtor Nation

From AlterNet:

As the president and his corporate patrons seek to turn the management of Americans' retirements – a.k.a., our "golden years" – over to those highly trustworthy, humanitarian types on Wall Street, we should look at another model of how corporate America helps people manage their finances – the credit card companies – to get a glimpse of where we are headed.

Here are some of my recent favorite credit card gambits: The amount of time my credit card company gives me to turn around and pay the bill has shrunk to about two and a half weeks – otherwise, I'm late. The late fee I pay even if the check arrives one day late has, within two years, gone from about $20 to about $40. They have begun posting a payment due date that is a Sunday – when, of course, they don't do business – and if the check arrives Monday, you are docked the late fee plus all the interest. The interest rates, given what the rest of us get paid on our savings accounts and CDs, would make Shylock blush and certainly revive the word "usurious." Dare to miss a payment, and the company may raise your interest rate up to an outrageous 25 percent. And let's not forget that the financial institutions that issue credit cards are major Washington lobbyists and, thus, virtually unregulated.


Click here for the rest.

I started figuring out the whole credit card scam back in the 80s when the credit industry, in its wisdom, gave my then 18 year old younger brother some plastic, which he then used to run up tens of thousands of dollars in debt. On a bunch of crap. Obviously, being so young, he was a major credit risk, but that's what the industry wants, I realized. They want irresponsible card holders, so they can gouge them with hardcore debt and outrageous interest rates. Like the article says, these are the same bloodsucking bastards that Bush wants to hand Social Security over to. Clearly, that's a bad idea.

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Sunday, February 27, 2005

ON KNOWLEDGE OF POLITICS
OR
HOW DO WE KNOW WHAT WE KNOW?

Last week I was reading some of Atrios' posts over at Eschaton on
international banks selling off dollars, the potential for sleazy Democratic congressmen to cut a deal with Bush on Social Security privatization, and the significance of the upcoming Social Security Trustees' report. It's good, informative stuff. Indeed, I am sometimes very impressed with Atrios' command of cool economic analysis mixed with what seems to be a thorough understanding of both the political process and the key players involved.

I must admit that I am just not able to pull off that kind of day to day, report by report coverage of such issues the way that Atrios does--I don't have the time, and I don't have the educational background, which forces my writing here to focus more on the big picture. Actually, I'm not even really interested in going the way of the wonk because I fear that, for what I want to accomplish, the forest will be lost for the trees. Don't get me wrong, details, facts, data are extraordinarily important, especially because our current leaders don't seem to really care about these things. It's just that I'm much more concerned about what these details mean in the overall context of human life in the United States.

So I try to have an awareness of the ins and outs of politics and economics, which informs my attempts to find human meaning among the big events of our era. This brings up an important question: if I don't have a full understanding of economics and American politics, how do I know that what Atrios says is true?

The point is that I don't know. But I trust Atrios--he seems to be flat out wrong rarely--and I feel like I understand his biases (he's a liberal economist, more center than I am, and anti-Green). So I generally accept his line on things that I don't know much about if what he's advocating seems reasonable. Occasionally, he seems unreasonable, like when he held on to defending Dan Rather's smoking gun memo for about a week after it was clear that CBS couldn't authenticate it. Most often, however, Atrios doesn't set off my bullshit detector. So I ususally believe his assertions.

That's the point: I believe what Atrios has to say; I don't really know that what he's saying is true. I realize that this is a dangerous game to play intellectually, but the thing is that this is how most of us "know" what we "know." We believe it. Hell, if I really wanted to get
Descartes about this I don't even really know that the Earth is round, or that it revolves around the sun. I believe these things because I trust the people who say that they know, that is, scientists. And that's reasonable: I understand the scientific method; I understand the nature of the scientific community and how they approach the creation of knowledge; I know that scandal erupts when this process breaks down. I can't possibly verify every single fact that science tells me is true, because I would have to devote my life to that, and I still wouldn't be able to pull it off. So I must develop a personal system of deciding who I want to trust and who I don't want to trust if I am to "know" anything about the universe at all.

This brings me back to political and economic knowledge. I trust Atrios because I know enough about him to know how he approaches the gathering of ideas. He has earned my trust because his process seems sound and I feel aware of any problems with that process. As far as I can tell, this is how most rank-and-file Americans put together their own personal body of political knowledge: they "know" because they trust, for whatever reasons.

It is the "whatever reasons" part that presents huge problems. Not everybody is so concerned with the knowledge gathering process: many Americans trust opinion makers because of personality or charisma, looks, race or ethnicity, and cultural similarity. Indeed, many people trust what President Bush has to say because he proclaims himself to be a "born again" Christian. Lots of young anarchists trust Noam Chomsky, even if they don't really understand how he arrives at his conclusions, because of his huge reputation as an anarchist intellectual. My big fear is that most people trust a given political advocate because of some kind of subconscious self-identification with that individual. Just imagine your typical Fox News viewer.

Of course, that's what I'm leading to: even though liberals are just as subject to the belief/knowledge problem, I'm pretty much of the opinion that the conservative side shamelessly rolls around in their beliefs, their "knowledge," like pigs in mud. In other words, not only are conservatives as prone to confusing belief with knowledge, they seem to be proud of it, dissing scientists and intellectuals, taking every word drooling out of Bill O'Reilly's mouth as gospel. There are, of course, principled, intellectual conservatives out there, just as there are moronic bandwagon liberals, but careful rational conservatives seem to be fewer and fewer in number as each year goes by.

I'm not sure why we are at this point of willful ignorance in American history--my own bias blames our authoritarian school system and the corporate media--but the point is that this is the game board on which progressives and liberals must now play. How the hell are we supposed to even communicate with people who "know" that up is down? I don't know.

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Saturday, February 26, 2005

A REAL SOCIAL SECURITY FIX

Unlike Bush's destroy-the-village-to-save-it fix. From Talking Points Memo courtesy of Eschaton:

It says that whereas the Trust Fund is scheduled to be exhausted in 2042 under current law, this change would keep the system solvent through 2079 (ed.note: under SSA scoring procedures they don't go past 75 years, thus the date 2079).

In 2079, the Trust Fund would be shrinking. But measured as a percentage of the annual budget of Social Security it would be slightly larger than it is now. Now, I don't know about you but that sounds like it extends solvency considerably past 37 years, not 7 years.

Another way of putting this is to say that simply making this one change, getting rid of the cap, would extend the solvency of Social Security well beyond the lifetimes of almost anyone living today.

Click here for the rest.

The cap that Josh Marshall is speaking about refers to the fact that once an individual reaches a particular level of wage income (I believe it's currently $75 or 80 k per year), all income above that level, for Social Security purposes, is untaxed. So someone bringing home, say, $150 grand pays the same SS tax as somebody bringing home $75 grand. Eliminate this upward limit, and the Social Security "crisis" has ended.

It's pretty obvious that any problems that SS has are not so major that we need to institute Bush's private accounts which will drain the trust fund of much needed revenue to the tune of trillions of dollars--that's why it's also obvious that the White House really has no interest in saving Social Security. No, they just want to destroy it because it's "socialism" and "socialism" is bad, very bad. But because most Americans believe that Social Security is quite good, they have to lie about it.

Fuckers.

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Suicides in Marine Corps Rise by 29%

From the Washington Post courtesy of Shattered Soapbox:

The Marine Corps suffered a 29 percent spike in suicides last year, reaching the highest number in at least a decade, with the demanding pace of military operations likely contributing to the deaths, the top-ranking U.S. Marine said yesterday.

Thirty-one Marines committed suicide in 2004, all of them enlisted men, not commissioned officers. The majority were younger than 25 and took their lives with gunshot wounds, according to Marine statistics. Another 83 Marines attempted suicide. There were 24 suicides in 2003, and there have not been more than 29 in any year in the last 10.


And

Marine commanders say the rise in suicides continues a worrisome three-year trend that is likely linked to stress from the sharply increased pace of war-zone rotations. At the same time, they said the increase in suicides is not directly related to service in Iraq or Afghanistan; since 2001 24 percent of the suicides have been committed by Marines who have been deployed there, the statistics show.

Click here for the rest.

Whether or not this has anything to do with combat stress, it is agonizingly clear that we're asking the military to do too much, and they're cracking under the strain. From National Guardsmen refusing to run convoys without enough armor, to soldiers shooting wounded unarmed Iraqi insurgents on the ground, to the stealth draft of the "ready reserve," to an upswing in military suicides, our boys are obviously at the breaking point. It's long past time to bring them all home.

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Friday, February 25, 2005

Pat Metheny: An Idealist Reconnects With His Mentors

My older brother turned me on to Pat Metheny when I was in high school. His weird and mellow but technically amazing guitar playing still blows me away. For a while there, I was pretty obsessed with him, buying six or seven of his records over a three year period back in the 80s. Of course, after taking a jazz appreciation course at UT, I eventually moved on to Ellington, Coltrane, and others, but Metheny still has a special place in my personal musical aesthetic. He was also the first jazz artist who I saw perform live--it was my freshman year in college, with my old pal Matt, who sometimes comments here at Real Art; what we experienced was one of the better performances I've seen, ranking up there with Frank Zappa and the Grateful Dead.

Anyway, all this reminiscing is because that same older brother, out of the clear blue sky, sent me a link to a New York Times Metheny interview focused on some of his musical influences and how he has responded to them:

Mr. Metheny took a deep breath. "Yeah. You know, that word swing is almost a political buzzword. To me, in the language I'm using here, that's the glue I'm talking about. The connection of ideas.

"But there's another way that music connects: with who the person is, the time he's living in, how he's able to manifest a sound that represents all that. To me, that's swing, and it doesn't have anything to do with jazz." (His accent renders the word "jee-azz.")

"Swing is kind of this quality? It exists in human interaction. In the way somebody talks and moves. I find its resonance in architecture, and literature."

Acting?

"Yeah, acting. And refrigerator repair."

And

"Yeah," Mr. Metheny agrees. "It's like when you first wake up in the morning and you don't really think about what you're doing, and maybe you write your best stuff. You're not in the way. When talking about writing, I often use the analogy of archaeology. There are these great tunes all around. Your skill as a musician allows you to pick them out without breaking them."

Click here for the rest.

I'm not sure if that refrigerator remark was a slam at the huge crop of bad actors currently populating television and the movies, or at actors in general, but what hit me while reading this is how much jazz and acting seem to have in common as art forms. Actually, I've been making this comparison for years. For instance, both jazz and acting have a set form. For jazz it's sheet music; for acting it's a script. However, within the restrictions of that form, each artist seeks freedom and spontaneity: ideally, no single performance of a given work, for both jazz musicians and actors, is ever quite the same. Furthermore, jazz artists and actors are at their best when they have attained a very high level of non-verbal communication with one another during performance: this kind of almost animalistic interpersonal connection distinguishes jazz and acting from all other varieties of art. Indeed, Metheny's comment about not "really think(ing) about what you're doing" is one of the key factors when pursuing this kind of artistic connection--it's also something I'm working hard on in my MFA studies as an actor.

Really, this interview is not about my own art form, but it's nice to hear some echoes of my ideas about the theoretical links between jazz and acting. My point here is that Metheny's thoughts have value for anybody who is interested in art at all--this article isn't just for his many fans. So check it out, even if you've never heard of him or don't know who the hell he's talking about. You'll get some keen insight into how one of America's great artists approaches the act of creation.

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FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING

Three more cats.

Phil



Paz



Frankie and Phil



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Guest Blogger Miles

Friday Catblogging


Blue, 3 years old, 20 lbs

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Thursday, February 24, 2005

PRIVATE CHARITY IS NOT ENOUGH
OR
GOP RULE IS STARTING TO REALLY HURT

Two from AlterNet:

Where the Working Poor Eat

After all, most of us have seen the hungry, the shuffling homeless under the interstate bridges. There didn't seem to be all that many of them, and they didn't look as if they would eat all that much.

But the people who had been doing the actual work of collecting and distributing food to the poor for years in this town were quick to inform us that stereotypes are simply wrong.

It has become increasingly difficult to work at small-town food banks because often one knows the client not as a beggar from beneath the bridge, but as a neighbor or colleague. Food banks today cater increasingly – and a sociologist's survey of our town bore this out – to people who are employed, the class we now call the working poor. These people earn so little they barely get by. Catastrophic medical bills or Missoula's escalating housing costs can chew up their inadequate paychecks so that by the end of the month there is no money left for food.

If we are to really do anything about the shameful matter of hunger in our town, we must address these larger issues. What at first looked like a little hole to plug now appears to be a bottomless chasm, ever widening.

Click here for more.

Communities in Crisis: A New Student Study

According to the survey, roughly 39 percent of food providers and 43 percent of emergency shelters that had to turn people away for lack of resources also reported cuts in funding.

As Pamela Bachilla puts it, “It's going in the wrong direction in both ways." The 23-year-old student helped distribute the survey forms and collect results as a volunteer with CalPIRG at UC Berkeley. All of the agencies she spoke to said they had to turn people away. "I expected that to be a high number, but I was devastated to hear that all the agencies had had to turn people away," Bachilla says.

And

“I used to think it was an individual problem, but it’s not. It’s institutional.”

Since working on the survey, Gibert has found that there are several misconceptions about poverty, including the idea that people choose to be homeless, or that they can get out of it by themselves. “People say, ‘Why don’t they just get a job? This is America, there are opportunities,’” she says. “But there are so many social forces working against them. They can’t do it on their own. They need contacts and a support structure.”


At other times, Gibert says she's talked to people who think that that the government is already spending too much on programs for the hungry or homeless.


Click here for more.

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TWO EULOGIES FOR HUNTER S. THOMPSON

First, a Clarence Page essay syndicated in the Houston Chronicle:

Dr. Gonzo's high-wire trip comes to a crashing finish

Even in his 1971 drug-crazed classic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, originally serialized in Rolling Stone, he reaches with some profoundly unflattering conclusions about the biggest scam of the 1960s, the notion that hallucinogenic drugs would fling open our doors of perception.

In a sober and prophetic sermon-rant in his book's final chapters, he writes: "We are all wired into a survival trip now. No more of the speed that fueled the '60s. That was the fatal flaw in (LSD guru) Tim Leary's trip. He crashed around America selling 'consciousness expansion' without ever giving a thought to the grim meat-hook realities that were lying in wait for all the people who took him seriously. ... All those pathetically eager acid freaks who thought they could buy Peace and Understanding for three bucks a hit. But their loss and failure is ours too. What Leary took down with him was the central illusion of a whole lifestyle that he helped to create ... a generation of permanent cripples, failed seekers, who never understood the essential old-mystic fallacy of the Acid Culture: the desperate assumption that somebody ... or at least some force — is tending the Light at the end of the tunnel."

Click here for more.

And from AlterNet:

Hunter S. Thompson, R.I.P.

Hunter was a drunk and a drug-sucker. He would go to cover an event and slather himself with LSD. He went to the '72 GOP convention as a wild-eyed liberal and elbowed his way into the activist bullpen, grabbing a sign reading 'Garbage Men Demand Equal Pay' before charging the floor with the Nixon-shouters to howl "Four More Years!" at John Chancellor. He wanted to write about motorcycle gangs, so he went out and joined the worst of them, and got his ass stomped in. And wrote about it.

Hunter Thompson is the reason I write politics. Period. He was the most honest man in the business. Everyone else had and has an angle, a reputation, or a source to protect. Hunter stripped it down to the raw throbbing nerve and let it fly.

Click here for the rest.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2005

FAREWELL HUNTER S. THOMPSON

I don't have many heroes, and most of them are dead. Now, one more of them is gone. Thompson's death got to me more than I imagined it would--I actually cried a bit when I first heard the news. I think the fact that it was a suicide is what hurt the most. I mean, if he had been hit by a truck or something, I think I would have been bummed, but not really sad like I was.

Generally, I'm of the opinion that when someone from western culture kills himself, it's because he's suffering from massive, chronic depression. That's why it's generally not my nature to ask why someone commits suicide: the answer is self-evident. Indeed, Thompson, an alcoholic by all accounts, and self-proclaimed substance abuser, probably was suffering from chronic, massive depression. As my buddy Shane put it in Real Art comments:

why? let's not mistake hunter for someone who was well adjusted and happy. for that matter, nor was spaulding gray.

Still, I find myself desperate to know if there was some sort of suicide note or something--that was actually my first thought when I found out about it. I realize this is irrational. But Hunter S. Thompson was one of my heroes. His life took on great significance to me. So, too, does his death. Rob Salkowitz over at Emphasis Added puts it well:

As of now, we have no clue as to why Thompson picked this moment for his exit. Even many of his fans have little idea about his real personality, as he was a fiercely private individual. Perhaps details will emerge in the days ahead. Personally, I hope it was for his own reasons (dying of cancer, drunk and depressed, about to be busted for kiddie porn, etc.). The idea that someone who was such a close and canny observer of the political scene would decide at this moment that they were better off dead than to see what happens next is too depressing to contemplate.

Click here for the rest.

Thompson, along with others, taught me to despise the cabal of criminals who run the country. What made Thompson unique among these influences is that he also taught me to have a grand time while sticking it to the man--he taught me that having a grand time is sticking it to the man. My fear is that, in this backward, right-wing, anal-retentive era in which we currently live, he no longer found that philosophy to be satisfying. It's like John Lennon deciding that music is pointless.

I know, I know: the philosophy and the man are not one and the same; like I said, it's irrational. Nonetheless, Thompson was a guide, blazing a trail, and if we want to go down that path, we must now find our own way. It is a blow to think that he no longer believed the journey is worth it.

Man, my wife bought me for Christmas a collection of his recent ESPN essays, which I've been slowly working my way through. It's like I was reacquainting myself with an old friend. And then he goes and fucking kills himself.

Here's what I had to say about Thompson, appropriately enough, last Halloween. Here's a piece from the Nation. Here's a great Thompson pic and quote from Dr. Menlo.

"We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a saltshaker half-full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of uppers, downers, laughers, screamers... Also, a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of beer, a pint of raw ether, and two dozen amyls. Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get into a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can. The only thing that really worried me was the ether. There is nothing in the world more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than a man in the depths of an ether binge, and I knew we'd get into that rotten stuff pretty soon." HST

(Thanks to my friend and former student Cameron for remembering the quote.)

UPDATE My wife Becky told me that she heard some news about this today. From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

Thompson's suicide blamed on failing health

Douglas Brinkley, a historian and author who has edited some of Thompson's work, said the founder of "gonzo" journalism shot himself Sunday night after weeks of pain from a host of physical problems that included a broken leg and a hip replacement.

"I think he made a conscious decision that he had an incredible run of 67 years, lived the way he wanted to, and wasn't going to suffer the indignities of old age," Brinkley said in a telephone interview from Aspen. "He was not going to let anybody dictate how he was going to die."

Click here for the rest.

Well...I guess that changes everything.

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Space probe finds giant frozen sea on Mars

From Reuters via the Houston Chronicle:

A European space probe scanning the surface of Mars has discovered what scientists say appears to be a giant frozen sea near the planet's equator.

The discovery was the first of a body of what may be water that has been found away from the polar ice caps and was revealed by the Mars Express spacecraft that has been orbiting and photographing the planet for a year.

Although the high resolution images only cover an area a few tens of kilometres across, they are in what appears to be a flood plain measuring a massive 800 kilometres long by 900 kilometres wide.

Click here for the rest.

Am I crazy to think it's a bit weird that this story isn't getting more press? I mean, I'm no expert, but this strikes me as something that could potentially affect the way the human race understands it's place in the universe. The presence of this much water dramatically ups the chances that life once existed on Mars--even if it's just life at the cellular level, it would be, as Zaphod Beeblebrox once said, "amazingly amazing." We would no longer be alone. Even if it turns out that there never was any life on the red planet, this frozen sea almost certainly means that life will be there one day. That is, we'll be there. An enormous supply of Martian water greatly increases our ability to create a sustainable colony there, which seems probable given that the fourth stone from the Sun is essentially an entirely new planet for exploitation by capitalists. We will become a spacefaring race; we will never be the same again.

Now, that's news!

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Tuesday, February 22, 2005

TWO FROM WORKING FOR CHANGE

First, an overview of the Republican dominated Congress' war on the non-rich:

Of, by, and for Big Business

Watching the 109th Congress, one would be forgiven for thinking our Constitution was the blueprint for a government of Big Business, by Big Business and for Big Business. Forget the people -- this is Robin Hood in reverse.

Here's the agenda, as laid out by the president and the Republicans who control Congress: First, limit people's power to right wrongs done to them by corporations. Next, force people to repay usurious loans to credit card companies that make gazillions off the fine print. Then, for the coup de grace, hand over history's most successful public safety net to Wall Street.

Of course, the GOP and the White House use slightly different language for this corporate-lobbyist trifecta: "Tort reform," "eliminating abuse of bankruptcy" and "keeping Social Security solvent" are the preferred Beltway phrasings for messing with the little guy.


Click
here for the rest.

Next, some good political analysis from my favorite economist, Paul Krugman. From the New York Times (courtesy of WorkingForChange):

Wag-the-Dog Protection

The campaign against Social Security is going so badly that longtime critics of President Bush, accustomed to seeing their efforts to point out flaws in administration initiatives brushed aside, are pinching themselves. But they shouldn't relax: if the past is any guide, the Bush administration will soon change the subject back to national security.

The political landscape today reminds me of the spring of 2002, after the big revelations of corporate fraud. Then, as now, the administration was on the defensive, and Democrats expected to do well in midterm elections.

Then, suddenly, it was all Iraq, all the time, and Harken Energy and Halliburton vanished from the headlines.

I don't know which foreign threat the administration will start playing up this time, but Bush critics should be prepared for the shift.

Click
here for the rest.

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Monday, February 21, 2005

SOLDIERS ON X

From the London Guardian courtesy of This is not a compliment:

American soldiers traumatised by fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are to be offered the drug ecstasy to help free them of flashbacks and recurring nightmares.

The US food and drug administration has given the go-ahead for the soldiers to be included in an experiment to see if MDMA, the active ingredient in ecstasy, can treat post-traumatic stress disorder.

Scientists behind the trial in South Carolina think the feelings of emotional closeness reported by those taking the drug could help the soldiers talk about their experiences to therapists.

Click here for the rest.

Man, the President smoking pot, Popeye smoking spinach, soldiers wigging on x. This is not the world I once knew.

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Screw the Children

Uber-Texan Molly Ivins on Bush's new federal budget proposal. From
WorkingForChange:

In fact, that's something I've long noticed about George W. Bush: He really doesn't see any connection between government programs and helping people. Promoting the general welfare, one of the six reasons the Constitution gives for having a government in the first place, is not high on his list. I refer you back to his immortal statement while governor: "No children are going to go hungry in this state. You'd think the governor would have heard if there are pockets of hunger in Texas." He'd been governor for five years at the time.

What this budget means, quite literally, is that more kids will be hungry and malnourished. More kids who get sick will be unable to see a doctor, more kids with diseases will go undiagnosed until they get so sick they have to be carried to the emergency room. More kids who need glasses or hearing aids won't get them, causing them to fall behind in school. More kids will show up to start school without being in the least prepared, and they will remain behind for the rest of their days. Less money for childcare means more kids left alone or in unsafe places with irresponsible or incapable people while their parents work. More kids who are being severely abused will go unnoticed, and fewer of them will find safe foster homes.

Click
here for the rest.

Really, when you get right down to it, conservatives only love children when they're called "fetuses."

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Legendary writer Thompson dead

Oh, man.

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

Hunter S. Thompson, the acerbic counterculture writer who popularized a new form of fictional journalism in books like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, fatally shot himself Sunday night at his Aspen-area home, his son said. He was 67.

Click here for the rest. And go read the mourning at Eschaton.

So...why?

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Sunday, February 20, 2005

Poll: War support shrinking in Texas

From the Houston Chronicle:

A shrinking majority of Texans believe the war in Iraq was justified even though the United States has uncovered no weapons of mass destruction it claimed Saddam Hussein had.

Support of the war has dropped from 74 percent in the spring to 56 percent now, according to a quarterly Scripps Research Center poll released today.

Forty percent said the war was not justified and and 4 percent had no opinion, the study found.

"What we're seeing in these questions is that certainly this is not a very ringing endorsement of the war," said Ty Meighan, the poll's director. "Texans are still very concerned about how things are going in Iraq."

Click here for the rest.

As Michael Moore once said, "And any time you got the Pope and the Dixie Chicks against you, your time is up." I think that losing support for the war from the state of Texas, arguably the most bloodthirsty state in the union, is perhaps an even better indicator. This is a good sign: my fellow Texans aren't completely insane.

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Report: U.S. in secret talks with Iraq insurgents

From Reuters via the Houston Chronicle:

U.S. diplomats and intelligence officers are conducting secret talks with Iraq's Sunni insurgents on ways to end fighting there, Time magazine reported today, citing Pentagon and other sources.

The Bush administration has said it would not negotiate with Iraqi fighters and there is no authorized dialogue but the U.S. is having "back-channel" communications with certain insurgents, unidentified Washington and Iraqi sources told the magazine.

Click here for the rest.

My bet is that the White House will try to spin this as something along the lines of "Iraq's new democracy has scared the insurgents into cooperating." However, these negotiations were predicted over six weeks ago by British journalist Robert Fisk during a Democracy Now interview: Fisk's point of view is that the utter chaos wreaked by insurgents would scare the US into cooperating; it is now clear that the Pentagon knows we cannot win this war. If Fisk's run of successful prognostication continues, the US will soon pull out, leaving the insurgents in power. What this might mean for Iraq's newly elected government, I really can't say.

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SOME GOOD POINTS ABOUT "RATHERGATE"

From Democracy Now:

AMY GOODMAN: They didn't conclude they were -- that they could guarantee their -- that they were real. But everyone thinks that they -- it was proven that they were not authentic.

JOE HAGAN: That is one of the -- that's a huge issue. This report comes out, it’s supposed to be the most exhaustive report ever, and it doesn't actually conclude whether the documents are false or not, which -- I mean, that's -- if that question mark lies out there, then how can you draw any conclusions from any of this? I just find it really unbelievable and, you know, basically, there's just this huge assumption in the mainstream media, that it's like a left-wing partisan thing, which is kind of ridiculous when you consider that four or five years ago The Boston Globe actually already reported all of this information, just without the documents. I mean, about Bush's National Guard service. We already kind of know that there are gaps in his National Guard record, and that he didn't fulfill his duty. This is just already on the record and reported. So, here they just had a document that was supposed to be the smoking gun that, you know, finally makes it 100% provable, and -- you know -- it's just [trails off...]


AMY GOODMAN: So why hasn't the White House called for an investigation –

JOE HAGAN: That is a –

AMY GOODMAN: -- into the falsification of government documents?

JOE HAGAN: -- incredible question. And, if, you know, if you were to -- I have spoken with really highly respected, top TV industry people who spin very elaborate conspiracy theories to me about what they think is going on here: If CBS doesn't want to know, the Thornburgh report doesn't want to know, and the White House doesn't want to know, well, what's going on here? Is it just one crazy guy who typed this up in his place? But I don't know about that.

Click here to read a transcript of, listen to, or watch the interview.

Just to make sure that these couple of points are understood, I'll repeat them simply.

First, the memo about Bush's National Guard service that's caused CBS a buttload of problems, has not been proven to be a forgery!!!! What we know is that it has not been proven to be authentic, either. CBS should certainly be faulted for going to press with unverified information, but that is quite different from going on the air with a forged document. Bottom line: the facts of the CBS story, that Bush was AWOL from Guard duty, are not in dispute, and this smoking gun memo which may or may not be authentic really has no bearing on that. It's simply a diversionary sideshow to make the public forget about the fact that our President is a deserter. Yes, that's right, a deserter.

Second, it is wildly bizarre that the White House seems to have no interest in finding out who tried to stick it to the President by forging a government memo, which is a felony. This only fuels speculation, for which there is no evidence, that the documents came from the White House to begin with. It seems reasonable that a Democrat might want to embarrass Bush by faking these papers, but seeing as how there was already a great deal of evidence out there of Bush's desertion, that makes little sense. On the other hand, only the White House has seen any benefit from the existence of this memo, and it was a big benefit--the "Rathergate" story succeeded in drowing out the AWOL story altogether.

This whole thing is fishy, if you ask me.

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FAMOUS STONERS IN HISTORY II
Bush Admits to Smoking Marijuana
(and maybe to snorting cocaine, too)

From the New York Times, courtesy of a post on Eschaton comments, originally culled from Kos:

Mr. Bush, who has acknowledged a drinking problem years ago, told Mr. Wead on the tapes that he could withstand scrutiny of his past. He said it involved nothing more than "just, you know, wild behavior." He worried, though, that allegations of cocaine use would surface in the campaign, and he blamed his opponents for stirring rumors. "If nobody shows up, there's no story," he told Mr. Wead, "and if somebody shows up, it is going to be made up." But when Mr. Wead said that Mr. Bush had in the past publicly denied using cocaine, Mr. Bush replied, "I haven't denied anything."

He refused to answer reporters' questions about his past behavior, he said, even though it might cost him the election. Defending his approach, Mr. Bush said: "I wouldn't answer the marijuana questions. You know why? Because I don't want some little kid doing what I tried."

Click here for the rest.

For starters, I have to observe that this is quite different from Clinton's situation--old Bill only toked up in England, and, therefore, broke no American laws. Bush, on the other hand, got high, apparently, right here in the good old US of A. So this is a unique situation in our history: a sitting President, with the power to pardon any criminal he wants to pardon, is currently allowing tens of thousands of citizens, who did exactly what he did, to rot in prison. If George had any moral character at all, he would immediately release all pot prisoners right now, and immediately begin to reform drug laws such that they actually deal with the very real problems of addiction, instead of bloating our prisons with people who, in all probability, ought not to be there losing large chunks of their lives.

Of course, the President, as far as I can tell, has very little moral character to speak of. I doubt he's going to come clean on this.

Go check out this article; these tapes have way more than just info on Bush's past drug use: there's a lot on Bush's attitudes toward the religious right, which makes extraordinarily clear the power these evangelical Bozos wield within the GOP, and, consequently, US politics. Creepy, really.

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Friday, February 18, 2005

IS THE NEW INTELLIGENCE CZAR AN AGENT OF SATAN?

Why, yes, he is. But don't just take my word that John Negroponte is evil personified. Read these essays.

From CounterPunch:

Negroponte: a Resume of Death
Squads, Deceptions and Bribery

Negroponte's stint in Honduras was filled with chicanery and deception. As a result of the immensely compromised record he compiled there, rather than being rewarded with this new and elevated position, he should be facing proceedings concerning the role he played in the numerous human rights violations that occurred during his Honduran watch ­ nearly 300 dissidents "disappeared." Affidavits and testimony by Honduran survivors have reported on his involvement in sanctioning, protecting or covering up these death squads. Also, during the time Negroponte spent at the Tegucigalpa embassy, millions of dollars in bribes were paid to corrupt Honduran officials to allow room for the U.S.-backed contras to stage attacks on the Sandinistas in neighboring Nicaragua.

Click here for the rest.

Also from CounterPunch:

Scum Also Rises

Negroponte, currently the U.S. ambassador to Iraq and, unofficially, the head of the U.S. occupation of that country, is a career foreign service officer on paper, but in fact a veteran CIA operative responsible for some of the blackest crimes of murder and torture in Central America during that region's dark days of civil war, revolution and counter-revolution in the late 20th Century.

As U.S. ambassador to Honduras from 1981-85, Negroponte played a key role in organizing the military repression in that poorest of Latin American countries, and in creating and running the so-called Contra's, the U.S-organized military operation to undermine and overthrow the elected Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

Click here for more.

There's a really nice scene in Oliver Stone's 1995 film Nixon where the soon to resign President, played by Anthony Hopkins, meets with CIA Director Richard Helms, played by Sam Waterston, to discuss whether he will stay on as spook-in-chief. I don't really remember the specifics of the conversation--there was clearly some sort of power play going on--but one shot from the scene resonates strongly in my memory.

For a very brief instant, while Nixon is speaking, the camera cuts away to a reaction shot of Helms: for this quick shot only, Helms' eyes are pitch black, no white, no color at all, just deep dark black. The throwaway ideological point Stone makes here is that Helms is evil. Not evil as an adjective, but evil as a noun. Satanically evil.

Indeed, it's really not overreaching at all to say that Helms, who died in 2002, was evil. Helms got the ball rolling on the overthrow and murder of Salvador Allende, the democratically elected leader of Chile, which means that, even though he was no longer in charge at the time of the coup, the former CIA Director bore no small responsibility for the bloodbath unleashed by the man who replaced Allende, ruthless military dictator Augusto Pinochet--most of the left-leaning political opposition, thousands of innocent human beings, were viciously murdered by Pinochet's CIA supported troops. And that's just one of Helms' crimes against humanity, among many.

The point here is that Negroponte is in the same category as Helms. So is Bush, for that matter, but his appointment of the veteran spook from America's black wars of the 80s sheds quite a bit of light on what the White House has in mind for US "intelligence" activities in the new millenium.

God, this crap makes me sick.

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FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING

Atrios over at Eschaton does this, so how can it be wrong? Besides, I got a digital camera for Christmas, and it's so easy to snap a few shots and then dump them on my hard drive. How could I not do this? Furthermore, we adopted a kitten, Frankie, last August, and I'm dying to show him off. What with Becky's two elder kitties, Paz and Phil, we've got quite a pride going.

So here goes. Real Art joins in on the Friday cat blogging phenomenon.

Paz



Phil



Frankie



Miles, don't you dare say a word.

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Thursday, February 17, 2005

THE LOWDOWN ON THE (LATEST)
WHITE HOUSE PRESS SCANDAL
James Guckert, a k a Jeff Gannon


I’ve held off from posting about that strange, hot, studboy ringer who was allowed into White House press briefings for the purposes of tossing Bush’s press secretary Scott McClellan conservatively skewed softball questions because I wasn’t quite sure what the whole thing was adding up to. I’m still not sure where this is headed, but Maureen Dowd seems to have a pretty good handle on what’s going on here. Seeing as how my young sidekick Miles has already hit on the really big news of the day (see post below), it’s probably time to make mention at Real Art of this weird, sexually charged, goofy and outrageous story.

From the New York Times courtesy of
Eschaton:

At first when I tried to complain about not getting my pass renewed, even though I'd been covering presidents and first ladies since 1986, no one called me back. Finally, when Mr. McClellan replaced Ari Fleischer, he said he'd renew the pass - after a new Secret Service background check that would last several months.

In an era when security concerns are paramount, what kind of Secret Service background check did James Guckert get so he could saunter into the West Wing every day under an assumed name while he was doing full-frontal advertising for stud services for $1,200 a weekend? He used a driver's license that said James Guckert to get into the White House, then, once inside, switched to his alter ego, asking questions as Jeff Gannon.

Mr. McClellan shrugged this off to Editor & Publisher magazine, oddly noting, "People use aliases all the time in life, from journalists to actors."


And

With the Bushies, if you're their friend, anything goes. If you're their critic, nothing goes. They're waging a jihad against journalists - buying them off so they'll promote administration programs, trying to put them in jail for doing their jobs and replacing them with ringers.

Click
here for the rest.

UPDATE: Tom Tomorrow comments on this Dowd column here.

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Guest Blogger Miles

John Negroponte appointed Director of National Intel



CBS - President Bush on Thursday announced U.S. Ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte as his choice for the powerful new post of director of national intelligence. Negroponte will hold a preeminent role in U.S. national security affairs and coordinate the work of all 15 U.S. intelligence agencies.

"John will make sure that those whose duty it is to defend America have the information they need to make the right decisions," the president said at a White House ceremony.

Mr. Bush added that in order to "stop terrorists before they strike," the nation's intelligence agencies have to work as a "single unified enterprise." Negroponte will be Mr. Bush's main adviser on intelligence and likely brief him every morning on intelligence matters. Negroponte called the new job "the most challenging assignment I have undertaken in more than 40 years of government service."


...

Negroponte, 65, has also served as ambassador to the Philippines, Mexico and Honduras.

Negroponte's confirmation to the United Nations post was delayed a half-year mostly because of criticism of his record as the U.S. ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985. In Honduras, he played a prominent role in assisting the Contras in Nicaragua in their war with the left-wing Sandinista government.

Human rights groups alleged that Negroponte acquiesced in human rights abuses by Honduran death squads funded and partly trained by the CIA. Negroponte testified during the hearings for the U.N. post that he did not believe death squads were operating in Honduras.


His rap sheet is a mile long.

Ron's past comments on Negroponte

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Wednesday, February 16, 2005

What We Don't Know About 9/11 Hurts Us

Following up on last Friday's post from my sidekick Miles, this essay from AlterNet:

Even worse, what we do know calls into question our government's explanation that a diabolical international terrorist conspiracy exploited our liberal, naive society. What has emerged, instead, is a portrait of an often bumbling terrorist gang allowed to wreak havoc because the top tiers of the administration were so indifferent to the alarms, which former CIA Director George Tenet described so graphically: "The system was blinking red."

Had the business-friendly administration put safety first and ordered a full complement of air marshals into the air, over the obscene objections of airlines loath to give up paid seats, nearly 3,000 people might not have died that day. And had the president of the United States taken some time from his epic ranch vacation that August to order a nationwide airport alert, two bloody wars abroad, as well as an all-out assault on civil liberties in this country, probably would not have happened.

Instead, an administration that resisted spending the tens of millions required to fortify airline security before 9/11 is nearing the $300-billion mark on Afghanistan and Iraq. And declassified documents have unmistakably said the latter had nothing to do with 9/11. Meanwhile, those countries that at least indirectly did, most notably "allies" Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, have been let off the hook.

Indeed, the 9/11 commission was not allowed to get near that story…


Click here for the rest.

Miles' post last Friday was about a single memo warning Bush that Al-Qaeda was a major threat. It turns out that there were many, many more unheeded warnings. Indeed, the above linked essay speaks of "an astonishing 52 of the 105 daily intelligence briefings received by the FAA – and available to Rice – before the Sept. 11 attacks" that "made specific reference to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden."

Even though I have strong suspicions that Bush knew about the attacks beforehand, I really can't say for sure. However, given the all the pre 9/11 warnings that have come to light, I think it's reasonable to speculate about what was happening inside the White House in the days leading up to the attacks. There are, in my mind, three possibilities here. First, Bush knew about the impending attacks, but did nothing in order to justify implementing a huge wish-list for conservatives that ordinarily would be politically impossible. Second, Bush didn't know about the impending attacks, but knew there were risks: he ignored these risks because his wealthy donors, his buddies, his "base," whatever you want to call them, stood to lose money if anything was done. Third, Bush not only didn't know about the impending attacks, but also completely ignored numerous warnings because he and his staff are totally incompetent.

Any way you go, Bush has blood on his hands--it's either murder, negligent homicide, or manslaughter. On an enormous scale. It's pretty darned clear, the President should be, at the very least, behind bars.

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FORGET GAY SPONGEBOB, LOONEY TUNES
CARTOON CHARACTERS ARE REALLY F’ED UP!

From
WorkingForChange:

Had American Family Association or some facsimile been around when I was growing up, I would have known better than to simply laugh each time that cross-dressing rabbit Bugs Bunny kissed Elmer Fudd.

Clearly, Yosemite Sam had anger management issues. My generation could have benefited greatly from an expose/documentary highlighting the pattern that led to Sam's violence.

What about Pepe Le Peu? What were the people at Warner Brothers thinking; a skunk that sexually harasses cats? He is French, no less.

And to think that I am a self-identified Francophile!

With the possible exception of the war in Iraq and privatizing Social Security, what values do we gain from the peevish, neurotic, self-absorbed, greedy, megalomaniac Daffy Duck?

Perhaps the worst offender of values and morality was the overbearing rooster Foghorn Leghorn. His primary goal was to find a way to live with the widow hen so that he would not have to sleep outside. So much for working hard and playing by the rules.

Click
here for the rest.

Hmmm. This is thought provoking. Let’s see. Porky Pig wears no pants. Petunia Pig is into a guy who wears no pants. Tweety is clearly gay. Elmer Fudd desperately wants to kill a sentient, talking being. Wile E. Coyote also wants to slay a sentient being. The Tasmanian Devil lays waste to the environment. Marvin the Martian wants to destroy the entire planet. What am I forgetting? I wonder about those two hillbillies, snowed into their cabin, who want to eat Bugs Bunny. Just what, exactly, is the nature of their relationship?

Anyway, click
here for an exhaustive documentation of censored moments in Warner Brothers cartoons.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2005

"'TO SERVE MAN'...IT'S A COOKBOOK!!!"

This Modern World enters "The Republican Zone" (in black and white, and with Rod Serling for effect). Check it out. It's particularly funny if you're a fan.

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RADICAL HISTORIAN HOWARD ZINN:
Changing Minds, One at a Time

From the Progressive:

That question leads me to a larger one, which I suspect most of us have pondered: What does it take to bring a turnaround in social consciousness--from being a racist to being in favor of racial equality, from being in favor of Bush's tax program to being against it, from being in favor of the war in Iraq to being against it? We desperately want an answer, because we know that the future of the human race depends on a radical change in social consciousness.

It seems to me that we need not engage in some fancy psychological experiment to learn the answer, but rather to look at ourselves and to talk to our friends. We then see, though it is unsettling, that we were not born critical of existing society. There was a moment in our lives (or a month, or a year) when certain facts appeared before us, startled us, and then caused us to question beliefs that were strongly fixed in our consciousness--embedded there by years of family prejudices, orthodox schooling, imbibing of newspapers, radio, and television.

This would seem to lead to a simple conclusion: that we all have an enormous responsibility to bring to the attention of others information they do not have, which has the potential of causing them to rethink long-held ideas. It is so simple a thought that it is easily overlooked as we search, desperate in the face of war and apparently immovable power in ruthless hands, for some magical formula, some secret strategy to bring peace and justice to the land and to the world.

And

But there is still a large pool of Americans, beyond the hard-core minority who will not be dissuaded by any facts (and it would be a waste of energy to make them the object of our attention), who are open to change. For them, it would be important to measure Bush's grandiose inaugural talk about the "spread of liberty" against the historical record of American expansion.

Click here for the rest.

That's really one of the major missions for Real Art. When I first started blogging, I posted a couple of essays here and there that were trying to take apart conservative arguments, as articulated by conservative writers--in the back of my mind, these posts were aimed at any conservative readers who might wander into my little corner of cyberspace. That got boring fast, however, because posts like this always had to be argued in the terms set up by the conservative writer. In other words, I felt really constrained by the fact that I was essentially arguing on their turf. I couldn't really go anywhere, I felt, with these kind of posts, and I really didn't think I was going to be changing any minds with this approach. So, I've decided to aim, for the most part, at liberals and moderates, who are probably much more willing to listen to what I have to say. I don't know that I've actually managed to write anything that's caused anybody to rethink his point of view, but the hope of doing that is one of the things that keeps me hitting the keyboard day after day.

At the very least, it's ego-affirming.

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WHY ARE THE CONSERVATIVES ON TOP?

From AlterNet:

The story of the conservative rise that Stein portrays begins back in the early 1970s, when there was panic among conservatives, especially in corporate boardrooms, that capitalism was under serious attack, and something drastic had to be done about it. The National Chamber of Commerce asked Lewis Powell, a former head of the American Bar Association and member of 11 corporate boards, to write a blueprint of what had to be done. The result, says Stein, is one the most prescient documents of our time. The memo lays out the framework, the goals and the ingredients for the conservative revolution that has gained momentum and power ever since. Two months after penning the memo, then-President Richard M. Nixon appointed Powell, a Democrat, to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Powell told the conservatives that they needed to confront liberalism everywhere and needed a "scale of financing only available through a joint effort" focused on an array of principles including less government, lower taxes, deregulation and challenging the left agenda everywhere. The conservative right, starting with seed money from the Coors Brewing family and Richard Mellon Scaife's publishing enterprise, moved forward to implement virtually every element of the Powell memo. It is a story of how the conservatives – in spite of political differences, ego, and competing priorities – were able to cooperate and develop a methodology that drives their issues and values relentlessly.

Click here for the rest.

Hillary Clinton's "vast right-wing conspiracy" really does exist, except for the fact that it's not truly a conspiracy because the whole thing has been doen openly. Nonetheless, the mainstream media has ignored completely this massive, thirty year, conservative effort to change the way America thinks. So, for most Americans, the conservative rise to power may as well be a conspiracy. When liberals talk about the vast right-wing conspiracy, then, conservatives can beat their chests and act as though their accusers are nuts, and the media generally airs such faux indignation without critique, reinforcing the invisibility of conservative propaganda power. Meanwhile, liberals whine and bitch at each other as the house burns down.

Go check out this article; it offers some interesting suggestions about how to get the country out of this wicked little knot.

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Monday, February 14, 2005

REAL ART: Christo art project opens in Central Park

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

With flowing fabric the color of a sunrise, "The Gates" -- a massive public art installation -- was unfurled today for the start of a 16-day stay transforming miles of footpaths in Central Park.

The project opened with Mayor Michael Bloomberg dropping the first piece of saffron-colored fabric to the cheers of a huge crowd. He was joined by exhibit creators Christo and Jeanne-Claude.

The crowd counted down the seconds before Bloomberg, a longtime backer of the project, opened the exhibition at 8:30 a.m.

The weather was windy and cold as the first fabric dropped from one of the 7,500 16-foot-high gates, creating what the artists billed as "a visual golden river" along 23 miles of the park's footpaths. More than 1 million square feet of fabric was used by the artists.

Its official title -- "The Gates, Central Park, New York, 1979-2005" -- refers to the artists' conception of the idea 26 years ago. It was expected to take about two hours to drop the fabric from all the gates.


And

Although Christo and Jeanne-Claude's have invested so much time and effort in the project, they were reticent to discuss "The Gates."

"It's very difficult," explained Christo. "You ask us to talk. This project is not involving talk. It's a real, physical space. It's not necessary to talk. You spend time, you experience the project."


"The Gates" is the pair's first major project in New York City. In their most recent project, "Wrapped Reichstag" (Berlin, 1995), they used a silvery fabric to wrap the building, creating a flow of vertical folds.

The city has said tens of thousands of visitors may come to "The Gates," over 16 days. Some of them have seen other works by the artists, who have created temporary art projects around the world.

Sibyl Rubottom, who saw the artists' "The Umbrellas," in which 3,100 umbrellas were opened in California and Japan in 1991, said she started planning her trip to New York from San Diego last spring.

Click here for the rest.



For more info about Christo, click here.

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MORE KRUGMAN ON SOCIAL SECURITY
"Why expose workers to that much risk? Ideology."

From the New York Times via the Houston Chronicle:

Jason Furman of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that the guaranteed benefits left to an average worker born in 1990, after the clawback and the additional cuts, would be only 8 percent of that worker's prior earnings, compared with 35 percent today. This means that under Bush's plan, workers with private accounts that fared poorly would find themselves destitute.

Why expose workers to that much risk? Ideology.

"Social Security is the soft underbelly of the welfare state," declares Stephen Moore of the Club for Growth and the Cato Institute. "If you can jab your spear through that, you can undermine the whole welfare state."

By the welfare state, Moore means Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — social insurance programs whose purpose, above all, is to protect Americans against the extreme economic insecurity that prevailed before the New Deal. The hard right has never forgiven FDR (and later LBJ) for his efforts to reduce that insecurity, and now that the right is running Washington, it's trying to turn the clock back to 1932.

Click here for the rest.

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