Saturday, April 30, 2005

MAY FIRST IS MAY DAY
The real Labor Day

From Wikipedia:

May Day

The holiday is most often associated with the commemoration of the social and economic achievements of the labor movement. The May 1st date is used because in 1884 the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions demanded an eight-hour workday in the United States, to come in effect as of May 1, 1886. This resulted in the general strike and the U.S. Haymarket Riot of 1886, but eventually also in the official sanction of the eight-hour workday.

May Day is designated International Workers Day. It is indeed a thoroughly international holiday; and the United States is one of the few countries in the world where pressure from local working classes has not led to an official holiday. In the 20th century, the holiday received the official endorsement of the Soviet Union; celebrations in communist countries during the Cold War era often consisted of large military parades and shows of common people in support of the government.

There is some suggestion that Labor Day in the United States was created specifically to avoid commemoration of May Day. The adoption of May Day by communists and socialists as their primary holiday cements official resistance to Labor Day and similar non-May Day celebrations, which they view as being controlled by the ruling class. (See Loyalty Day.)

Click here for the rest.

Yes, everywhere else in the world, May 1st is the day for thinking about issues affecting workers, but in America, it's "Loyalty Day." Figures.

From WorkingForChange:

Bring back May Day!

It took another entire generation of struggle, but by 1912, federal workers were granted the eight-hour day; and in 1917, while America was desperate for the cooperation of unions in the war effort, the Eight Hour Act became law. And there, one would think, the matter was settled.

Okay, quick: Do you actually work only eight hours in a day? Only 40 hours in a week? Five days?

Not very many of us, any longer.

And

Ultimately, though, the eight-hour day was never about money. It was about having time for the rest of our lives. I can't begin to count the number of people I've talked with over the years who, when laid up or laid off or otherwise taken out of their daily grind, blurt out some statement along the lines of "I can't believe how much my job interferes with my life!" That's both because a lot of us don't like our work, and, even more importantly, but increasingly, that's all we have time for. No time for family, for friends, for relationships, for travel, for study, for hobbies, for our community, for the stuff that makes life fun. And worthwhile.

Click here for the rest.

It strikes me that this last statement is self-evident, but I am continually confounded by the fact that so many Americans just don't get it. We don't work simply to survive: we work so that we may have enjoyable, meaningful lives. The best statement I've ever heard about this comes from my favorite education film, Dead Poets Society:

Keating: We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, "O me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless--of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life? Answer. That you are here - that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse." That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?

How can you contribute your verse if your existence is nothing but an endless cycle of work and rest? We all must work, as Karl Marx observed long ago, but work cannot be our only reason to live. We cannot be human beings if our purpose is to be nothing but cogs in gigantic corporate machines. I think that, more than anything else, this concept has become the most important of issues to me: how are we going to live our lives?

Here's what I had to say about May Day a couple of years ago.

¡Vive la revolución!

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Toads keep exploding in German pond

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

More than 1,000 toads have puffed up and exploded in a Hamburg pond in recent weeks, and German scientists have no explanation for what's causing the combustion.

Both the pond's water and body parts of the toads have been tested, but scientists have been unable to find a bacteria or virus that would cause the toads to swell up and pop, said Janne Kloepper, of the Hamburg-based Institute for Hygiene and the Environment.

"It's absolutely strange," she said Wednesday.

Click here for the rest.

Toads, like other amphibians, are generally considered to be the coal mine canaries of the environment. That is, because amphibians have such thin skins, they are extraordinarily susceptible to pollution and toxins--when frogs and toads start dying off or mutating weirdly, it's a pretty good indicator that their surrounding environment is in trouble. But exploding? This is damned bizarre. I have no idea what to make of it, but it seems worth noting.

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Friday, April 29, 2005

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING

Frankie



Paz



Phil



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Thursday, April 28, 2005

DeLay Must Go

From the Nation:

Tom DeLay should resign as leader of the House Republican majority. If he doesn't, Republicans should have the decency to remove him. He's been rebuked unanimously four times by the bipartisan House Ethics Committee--which he then proceeded to purge and disembowel. Three of his political associates are under indictment in Texas for raising illegal corporate campaign contributions. He's luxuriated in lavish junkets on the tab of crooked lobbyists and foreign agents. He's given "family values" a new meaning by paying his wife and daughter $500,000 from his PACs for part-time work. And one of his cronies, "Casino Jack" Abramoff, who is under investigation for bilking Indian tribes and pressing them to donate to the GOP, says DeLay "knew everything" about what was going on.

Click here for the rest.

Obviously, I really despise DeLay and the crooked, cash infected politics for which he stands. But stepping away from that for a moment, it occurs to me that simply removing one man won't change the way the people's business is done in Washington. Liberals thought they had achieved victory when Nixon resigned the Presidency over thirty years ago, but they were wrong to celebrate. Taking down Tricky Dick was just what the corrupt system needed to convince people that things had changed when, in fact, they had not. So, of course, the corruption has only gotten worse. Nailing DeLay is the right thing to do. But if we really want to end forever the feeding trough on the Potomac, the whole campaign finance system must be completely revamped: corporate cash has no place in a democracy. Until that goal has been achieved, we should expect many more Tom DeLays in the years to come.

In fact, there are many more Tom DeLays in office right now, both Republican and Democrat.

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Alabama Bill Targets 'Gay' Books

And this isn't simply referring to Blue Boy magazine, either. From KUTV.com courtesy of Orcinus:

Republican Alabama lawmaker Gerald Allen says homosexuality is an unacceptable lifestyle. As CBS News Correspondent Mark Strassmann reports, under his bill, public school libraries could no longer buy new copies of plays or books by gay authors, or about gay characters.

"I don't look at it as censorship," says State Representative Gerald Allen. "I look at it as protecting the hearts and souls and minds of our children."

Books by any gay author would have to go: Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote and Gore Vidal. Alice Walker's novel "The Color Purple" has lesbian characters.

Click here for the rest.

This is no surprise, seeing as how it's happening in Alabama. Still, it's quite disturbing. It's one thing to simply target gay themes, which is also wrong, but quite another to target gay authors, writing about subjects that have nothing to do with homosexuality. It takes a step beyond the usual content based censorship and moves into new and frightening territory: this bill is proclaiming that people shouldn't read what people have to say simply because of who they are. It is also very ironic that under this proposed law libraries couldn't offer, say, The Glass Menagerie, but would still presumably be able to stock copies of Adolph Hitler's Mein Kampf.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2005

TV DAY AT REAL ART

A couple of articles about television, most definitely not like the kind you'll find in Entertainment Weekly.

First from the Nation, news on the right-wing assault against PBS:

Republican Broadcasting Corporation

For the first time in its 38-year history, the CPB ordered a comprehensive review of public TV and radio programming for "evidence of bias." All new PBS funding agreements are conditioned upon the network following "objectivity and balance" requirements for each of its programs.

Last January, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings denounced the cartoon rabbit Buster, of "Postcards from Buster" fame, for visiting a lesbian family in Vermont. The decision to slash in half the popular investigative show NOW after Bill Moyers' departure, and the addition of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Tucker Carlson (who has since left for MSNBC) to the programming line-up proves just how far right PBS has moved in an attempt to appear fair and balanced. "This is the first time in my thirty-two years in public broadcasting that CPB has ordered up programs for ideological instead of journalistic reasons," Moyers told The New Yorker last year.


A majority of the CPB's eight-member board--chaired by Ken Tomlinson, a good friend of Karl Rove--are now Republican appointees.

Click here for the rest.

I guess PBS is now headed toward a sort of Fox News for the intellectually inclined. That's almost funny. Almost. Ha.

Next, from AlterNet, an meditation on the meaning of all those inspirational stories brought to us by Oprah:

The Oprah Society

It's inspiring to watch someone beat the odds. If you see the deck is stacked, their triumph is especially sweet. Day after day, in our made-for-TV society, that's what we're shown: inspiring exceptions--women and men who, by some miracle, overcome insurmountable barriers. They often weep as we do when we hear their tales of woe. Indeed, whether it's addiction or affliction, layoffs or payoffs, their stories are meant to convince us "Hey, they made it, why can't we?"

From yesterday's daytime gabfests to today's reality shows, somehow in America, the insurmountable became the inevitable. We went from counting on a family-sustaining job to expecting a pink slip. We've seen whole towns rust and millions lose decent jobs. We've seen still others trapped in jobs that fail to provide the basics of a decent life. Meanwhile, there aren't enough reality show makeovers to transform whole blocks--let alone entire towns--or get us all college diplomas or decent jobs.

Click here for the rest.

Really, despite her eternal cuteness, what Oprah often brings us are Horatio Alger stories for our neo-gilded age. Of course, it's quite true that some individuals do, indeed, embody the rags-to-riches American dream. But that's only a very few people when compared to the millions who deal with the Wal-Mart economy every day of their lives, with no real hope of doing better. The net effect of these inspiring TV stories is essentially to blame the unsuccessful for being unsuccessful: "if they can do it, you can, too; so, if you don't, it's because you didn't try hard enough." It's all a bunch of crap. Cute crap, where Oprah is concerned, but crap nonetheless.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

In today's Washington, drug of choice is money

From the Houston Chronicle, former Democratic Speaker of the House Jim Wright on how cash is destroying democracy:

The root of all evil, Scripture warns, is the love of money. It is addictive. The narcotic, supplied gladly by those who want something from presidents and lawmakers, feeds a habit that demands more and more massive fixes.

Fifty years ago, in my own first race for Congress, I raised and spent less than $35,000. Last year, in an adjoining district, the expenditures of two competing candidates amounted to more than $4 million each.

When Nelson Rockefeller spent an estimated $12 million running for the GOP presidential nomination in the 1960s, that sum was considered scandalously high. Candidates last year made it look pitifully small. In 2000, George W. Bush reportedly raised and spent in excess of $200 million.

Congress members of both parties tell me that nowadays they are forced to engage in continuous, year-round fund raising. One confessed to me last year that he spent approximately three hours of every working day on the telephone, begging donations from wealthy contributors.

Who lost? The public, that's who. Those who thought their taxes were buying the wisdom, experience, energies and full-time service of legislators.

Click here for the rest.

Stolen elections aside, this is, in a nutshell, why I believe that we no longer live in a democracy.

(Technically, we've never lived in a democracy; we have always been a republic: nonetheless, our republic no longer represents the will of the people.)

The Democrats are just as guilty as the Republicans--this has been going on for a long, long time. Money has trumped the ballot box, and we're all suffering because of it. Who says crime doesn't pay?

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Bush people are optimistic because they are oblivious

From the New York Times via the Houston Chronicle, Princeton economist Paul Krugman on White House delusions:

Since November's election, the victors have managed to be on the wrong side of public opinion on one issue after another: the economy, Social Security privatization, Terri Schiavo, Tom DeLay. By large margins, Americans say that the country is headed in the wrong direction, and Bush is the least popular second-term president on record.

What's going on? Actually, it's quite simple: Bush and his party talk only to their base — corporate interests and the religious right — and are oblivious to everyone else's concerns.

The administration's upbeat view of the economy is a case in point. Corporate interests are doing very well. As a recent report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out, over the last three years profits grew at an annual rate of 14.5 percent after inflation, the fastest growth since World War II.

The story is very different for the great majority of Americans, who live off their wages, not dividends or capital gains, and aren't doing well at all. Over the past three years, wage and salary income grew less than in any other postwar recovery — less than a tenth as fast as profits. But wage-earning Americans aren't part of the base.

Click here for the rest.

From Merriam-Webster Online:

obliv·i·ous
Function: adjective
1 : lacking remembrance, memory, or mindful attention
2 : lacking active conscious knowledge or awareness -- usually used with of or to

Personally, instead of "oblivious," I'd say "just don't care." Either way the effect is the same.

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Monday, April 25, 2005

Remember the Raise?

From the Washington Post courtesy of This is not a compliment:

Time was when wage increases tracked gains in productivity and profitability -- but that time is long gone. Since 2001 yearly productivity growth has averaged 4.1 percent, while wages and benefits have grown on average by just 1.5 percent. No longer does a rising tide, as John Kennedy famously pronounced, lift all boats. We are now in the 11th quarter of the current recovery.

Averaging all the recoveries from 1947 through 1982, at this point -- the 11th quarter -- private-sector wages and salaries had risen by 18.2 percent, according to a study by the Economic Policy Institute. By the 11th quarter of the Clinton recovery of the early '90s, however, wages and salaries had grown by just 7.4 percent. And in the current Bush recovery, they've increased by an anemic 4.5 percent. In the new American economy, rising tides don't raise boats; they swamp them.

Click here for the rest.

Rising tides being good for boats is the central premise on which virtually all moderate and conservative economic arguments are based. If that's no longer the case, and I'm pretty sure it's not, then, to riff on another cutesy economic slogan, what's good for Wall Street is most definitely not good for Main Street. "Free trade" is killing us. The only question is how bad it's going to get before the peasants take up their pitchforks and storm the Bastille. Hopefully, it won't get so bad before America comes to its senses. Hopefully.

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THE PRESIDENT'S BALD MAN FETISH

I can't say whether there's any political angle to this, but it is pretty weird, so it's worth a mention, at least. Apparently, the President has a thing for bald men's heads.

Look:






And this is just one of many photos of our Great Leader copping a feel off some shaved man-scalp. Go check out the collection at JuliusBlog, courtesy of Eschaton. Like I said, I don't know if this means anything at all--it's simply weird. However, as Atrios of the above mentioned Eschaton blog has speculated, there is a certain bald-headed male prostitute named Jeff Gannon, a.k.a. James Guckert, who has seemingly had free access to the White House over the past couple of years. One wonders...



Mmmm. Jeff Gannon's hot man-scalp. Is this what turns on George? I truly hope so.

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Sunday, April 24, 2005

CHRISTIAN "FUNDAMENTALISTS,"
FREE MARKET "FUNDAMENTALISTS,"
JUST ANOTHER WORD FOR HYPOCRISY

From Noam Chomsky's Blog:

"Doctrinal Fictions" of Free Trade, Debt, and Deficits

…The US multinational establishment never favored free-trade. The economy relies very heavily on a dynamic state sector to socialize cost and risk, a radical violation of market principles. The Uruguay Round (WTO) rules crucially include extreme protectionist elements designed to guarantee monopoly-pricing power to multinationals, in radical violation of free trade theory (the excuses that are given, in terms of R&D, quickly collapse under analysis). The Reagan administration virtually doubled import restrictions, violating free-trade mechanisms far more than Europe, according the analysis of the GATT secretariat. And on, and on.

Click here for the rest.

Since nobody with any real power actually believes in "free market fundamentalism," or more simply "neoliberalism," one wonders how such a concept is used so often to justify the most Draconian of economic policy decisions. The answer is simple. Most people's eyes glaze over whenever they start hearing about economic theory; neoliberalism, on its face, sounds pretty feasible to people who don't feel like digging deeply enough to see its contradictions. Ultimately, "free market fundamentalism" ends up serving as a pseudo-intellectual justification for stealing from the poor and giving to the rich, and in this case, "poor" means everybody who isn't independently wealthy--it's pretty wild how so many people not only accept it, but love it, because "free trade" is simply "the way things are." Sheesh!

From WorkingForChange:

The moral bankruptcy of fundamentalism

But to honor conservative Christians with the title of being "Bible believing" is off the mark. They're fundamentalists all right -- market (not Christian) fundamentalists, obsessed with sexual ethics.

Given "Bible-believers'" deafening silence over a bankruptcy bill that subjects the working-poor to market discipline while doing nothing to hold unethical lending institutions accountable, and their low-key support for the permanent repeal of the estate tax, is blasphemy against the spirit embodied in the very Bible they claim as their guide.

And

So while these passages are anti-Communist insofar as private property is acknowledged by the God of the Bible, the scripture advocates for periodic, massive redistribution of wealth to even out the playing field, recognizing the human propensity to use the power wealth affords to exploit the poor, as the book of Proverbs discusses in scripture after scripture.

Click here for the rest.

Christian fundamentalists' embracing of "free market fundamentalism" is an amazing phenomenon for which I have no glib explanations. Jesus was pretty far to the left in many ways, and that's pretty clear when you read the Bible. How is it, then, that so many Christians, often covered in "What Would Jesus Do?" paraphernalia, believe exactly the opposite of what their Lord preached? This is Orwellian double-think at its most bizarre, and it's pretty creepy because, for so many people, it turns love into hate: "suffer the little children" becomes simply "make the children suffer."

Jesus!

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CLINTON IMPEACHMENT: REVENGE FOR NIXON

From an ABC7Chicago interview with Illinois Congressman Henry Hyde courtesy of Eschaton:

The veteran republican is also admitting for the first time that the impeachment of Clinton may have been in part political revenge against the democrats for the impeachment proceedings against GOP President Richard Nixon 25 years earlier.

"Was this pay back?" asked Andy Shaw.

"I can't say it wasn't. But I also thought that the Republican Party should stand for something, and if we walked away from this, no matter how difficult, we could be accused of shirking our duty," said Hyde.

Click here for the rest.

I always knew that the Republican drive to impeach Clinton was crazy, but revenge for Nixon? That's just totally nuts. For God's sake, I had a major argument with my older brother about this; he was totally convinced that getting rid of old Bill was the right thing to do--the whole thing really dragged the country through the sewers. And now we find out it was revenge for Tricky Dick? I'm truly amazed.

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Saturday, April 23, 2005

Economy would not be hurt by emission limits, study says

From the AP via Climate Ark:

Mandatory limits on all U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide and other "greenhouse" gases would not significantly affect average economic growth rates across the country through 2025, the government says.

That finding by the Energy Information Administration, an independent arm of the Energy Department, runs counter to President Bush's repeated pronouncements that limits on carbon dioxide and other gases would seriously harm the U.S. economy.

Bush has proposed ways of slowing the growth rate in U.S.-produced greenhouse gases and methods to reduce emissions of methane internationally.

But he rejected U.S. participation in the Kyoto international treaty negotiated by the Clinton administration — a pact that is intended to mandate reductions in emissions.

Click here for the rest.

I had suspected that this was true, and even if it was not, the long term economic costs of global warming would certainly outweigh any short term costs incurred by reducing emissions. Yet another non-surprise: the Bush administration was lying about the Kyoto treaty--after all, without their own legitimate studies, how could they know? But then, we already know that that the current White House is pretty much built on lies. About everything. What's surprising is that the White House allowed one of its own agencies to perform this study in the first place.

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EDUCATION: CHICKEN OR EGG?

Okay, I’m back. Sorry for the delay. I probably could have kept posting here and there, but it’s been quite nice to take a break. Anyway, our show is open, and every single report I’ve heard is that it’s pretty great. More on that later, once I’m able to link to a review or two. For now, I am going to once again defend my radical views about public education.

My last post of any substance was commenting on a Z Magazine article about education that pretty much echoes a lot of my own personal views on the subject. That is, public education does more harm to our country than good. I pretty much expected my buddy Kevin, who is now a high school teacher himself, to post a reply on the Real Art comment board—this is a debate we’ve been having for a couple of years now. But he really went to town this time, and posted four comments in a row, and I feel like he raised some really good points. Furthermore, I got a couple of other comments that are also thought provoking enough to warrant a response. So here goes.

First off, a friend from the Theatre Department at LSU, Desiree, opens up the comment thread with this statement:

On the whole, yes, you're probably right. But there are exceptions. I have had more than one grade school teacher that encouraged her students to challenge her and each other. These teachers inspired and spurred me on to my greatest passions and pursuits.


I guess it goes to show you what education could be.

Quite right. There are literally thousands of individual exceptions to my notion that education, as an institution, is fatally flawed. Indeed, most people in the field tend to be idealists and truly believe that they are doing good work. Some of them are. Sadly, they are few and far between. It is my belief that such idealism ultimately takes a back seat to bureaucratic and institutional concerns. That is, day to day and moment to moment pressures coming down on teachers from administrators and parents, along with hierarchical organizational structures and large class sizes tend to overwhelm true educational concerns: for the vast majority of teachers, discipline and order become the primary concern. Learning, by default, becomes a secondary concern. Some teachers are able to withstand these pressures, by whatever means, and are able to get their students to actually think about themselves and the world. How these educators avoid insanity is beyond me. I tried for six years to swim upstream and nearly drowned. By the time I was in my final year, it had become completely clear to me that the institution was far more interested in paperwork and an orderly classroom than it was interested in expanding teenagers’ horizons. I hope my former students remember me in the way that Desiree remembers her teachers, but who can really know?

Well, there’s this comment left by my former student, Steve:

Hey Reeder,

I just wondered how your life is treating you. I hope everything is going well for you, and I agree with your ideas on school.

Your Friendly Newswriter,
Steven $$$$$.

PS. Just in case, I was in your intro to drama class at sterling a long time ago.

I am remembered, at least.

Anyway, on to Kevin’s comments:

So basically school shows students what the working world is like. You are either willing to do what you are told (in which case you will make a comfortable living without much thinking about...anything), you go against what is expected without thinking about the consequences (in which case you will not be able to accomplish anything that you want to), or, you pay attention to the system and figure out how to adhere to your beliefs without living an impoverished life.

Are you still proposing that it would be better if schools hid the reality of the work-place from the students so that the first time they experience it is after graduation?

I agree that school shows students what the working world is like. The problem is that, increasingly, the working world no longer provides the “comfortable living” to which Kevin refers. Perhaps thirty years ago, most Americans could expect some kind of real economic payoff for becoming the kind of drone that schools prefer, but not today. Of course, there are always exceptions, always true-to-life Horatio Alger stories. I’m talking about most people, however, and what most people should now expect is living paycheck to paycheck, without health insurance or retirement benefits, always one bad stroke of luck away from financial disaster. Schools are preparing children for lifelong struggle and servitude, and poverty in old age if they’re lucky enough to get there. Furthermore, the schools are laughingly ill prepared to equip students with the skills needed to make any real money in the free market economy: entrepreneurialism and investment are not required subjects.

If society trains its students to become drones and slaves, then that’s what society gets. I don’t so much suggest that schools hide the reality of the work-place, so much as train students to truly see reality. That is, to think for themselves. The contemporary American work-place clearly does not value individual thought.

More from Kevin:

Or are you an idealist that believes that the world will quickly change once these "reforms" are put in place? I see public school as a place where you learn how the world works. Yes, you get slapped down for going against the grain, but this is the same thing that happens to adults. School is where you decide that you would rather go with the flow and avoid conflict, but is also where you learn how to get your point across REGARDLESS of society's slapping down process.

I am an idealist, which I must admit, but I’m not so foolish as to believe that the status quo would “quickly” change simply because of reforming only one sector of society. Indeed, the wealthy elites who control society would not give up power without a major fight. Of course, such a fight is unlikely if most people have been conditioned to do as they are told and to let others think for them.

I understand Kevin’s point here, that all the emphasis on discipline and order trains people to deal with a working world that thrives on such ideas. It simply seems to me that the working world has become so bleak, so utterly without hope, that there is no longer any substance to such an argument. I’m reminded of cattle being force-fed until they are slaughtered and eaten by people rich enough to afford steak.

Still more from Kevin:

Public schools mirror the communities that they exist in, due to the fact that they are controlled by extremely localized districts. Therefore there is no overall mandate stating how ALL students will be socialized by schooling. This evil socialization that you speak of exists in the communities that control each school and actually starts at the dinner table, church, and jobsite; not in the classroom. The classroom is perhaps the first place that young people have the chance to see a varying viewpoint (as mentioned by Desiree above).

Ah, but Kevin forgets the central point of my argument: the indoctrinating of children into the culture of obedience and authority comes not from any conscious decision on the part of individual administrators or school board members, but from an overall national consensus that schools should be organized in the way that they are. That is, the problem is with the institution itself. I’ve written about this at length previously (see link above), but I’ll try to summarize. The school hierarchy – principal, assistant principals, department chairmen, teachers, students – was, quite literally, borrowed from the 19th century Prussian public school model, which was consciously militaristic in nature—this model strongly emulates military structure. That’s all been forgotten now, but the structure remains and it has a huge impact on how schools function; discipline and order are embedded as major priorities within that structure. Everybody simply accepts it because they cannot or don’t want to consider alternatives. Other factors outside of local control compound the problem. For instance, funding limitations tend to make class sizes large, which magnifies the effect of class disruptions and ups the amount of paperwork and bureaucracy with which teachers must contend. Learning, as an end, must necessarily become a secondary concern. Order triumphs. This pattern is repeated in varying degrees throughout the entire country.

And Kevin’s final comment:

Schools are definitely used as a means of passing on and enforcing norms, but it is naive to think that you can somehow change education before changing the culture that runs the schools. If the schools were changed first, they would turn out students that had no idea of how to move about in the world, much less how to undermine or change it.

That first sentence is actually a really good point. It is very unlikely that the schools will change unless society changes as well. Of course, one could say much the same thing about the environment or wealth disparity: does that mean I shouldn’t criticize the schools yet? Should I wait until we approach utopia before I start to vent to the few people who read my blog? Well, no. I see injustice and have to speak out, even if nobody hears or cares. Perhaps these ideas, which are by no means unique to me, might catch on, might become a new meme, which could serve as a catalyst for the social change of which Kevin speaks.

On the other hand, Kevin’s statement makes me wonder what came first: authoritarian society or authoritarian schools. This isn’t a silly question. Turn of the century education reformer Horace Mann sold the Prussian school model to the captains of industry as exactly what they needed for the creation of a large docile workforce for their factories. Once upon a time in this nation, people didn’t value doing what they were told—see Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States for an exhaustive list of examples. It is only under corporate capitalism that Americans are expected not to think too much about their own interests, to trust that their superiors know what’s best. Agrarian America was quite different. There’s certainly a strong argument one could make that the schools played a key role in making society the way it is now. Maybe changing the schools would change society.

As for the second sentence of Kevin’s last comment, I offer that it is naïve to think that the schools do anything at all to equip students to undermine or change society. Indeed, Kevin’s “[moving] about in the world” is really all about working at Wal-Mart for seven bucks an hour without benefits. What kind of life is that?

I give the last word to my buddy Matt, who commented:

I think what Kevin's trying to say is "Schools don't indoctrinate People. People indoctrinate People."

But, because this is my blog, I’ll change Matt’s last word to the second to last word, and give myself the last-word privilege:

...well, for that matter, guns don't kill people, either...

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Friday, April 22, 2005

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING

Frankie



Phil



Paz



I'll be back tonight, hopefully, after the show opens.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Guest Blogger Miles

Ex-Hitler Youth Joseph Ratzinger elected pope




AFP - Two key US Jewish lobby groups cautiously welcomed the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as pope, despite his membership of the Hitler Youth movement during World War II.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center congratulated German-born Ratzinger on becoming Pope Benedict XVI, saying it hoped the conservative cleric would pursue the late Pope John Paul II's outreach to the Jewish community.

"I am cautiously optimistic that because he was a close confidant of John Paul II that he will continue pursuing his achievements," the Los Angeles-based center's founder and head Rabbi Marvin Hier told AFP.

"Even if he would want to reverse what John Paul II did, I don't think he could," Hier said pointing out that he still had differences with aspects of the new pontiff's conservative theology.

John Paul II had "reached out across the abyss of 2,000 years to launch dialogue and reconciliation with other great religions, including Judaism," he said.

But the rabbi also pointed out that the 78-year-old Ratzinger was conscripted into Adolf Hitler's Nazi youth movement.

"As a child, he grew up in an anti-Nazi family. Nonetheless he was forced to join the Hitler Youth movement during the Second World War," Hier said.

"There's been no evidence to show that he committed any crimes or has been implicated in crimes, but clearly joining the Hitler Youth is not something you want to boast about on your CV.

"It is ironic that you have two popes who were on opposite sides of that world conflict: John Paul II, who worked as a Nazi slave labourer; and the new pope, who was conscripted into the Hitler Youth and wore the other uniform," Hier said.

I've heard a lot worse than "ex-Hitler Youth" to describe this guy, so I'll update as I get more info on his background and ideologies.

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Friday, April 15, 2005

TECH WEEK BEGINS
Real Art Goes Dark
(for a few days)

I don't recall if I've mentioned it here, but I'm in my first Equity show. That is, I'm in a union play. It's a pretty big deal to me if only for that. The cherry on top this fabulous dessert, however, is that one of the actors in the show is Clayton Corzatte, a professional actor with a kickass resume going back decades. He's won an Obie (like the Oscars, but for off-Broadway stuff), and he was nominated for a Tony (also like the Oscars, but for Broadway stuff) back in the 60s. He's also worked with Katharine Hepburn, Burt Lahr, Uta Hagen, and Helen Hays. Did I mention that he's great? And well known? Just check out this Google search.

So, anyway, I'm all a-twitter about this. It's a huge show with a huge cast and lots of technical aspects, so I'm expecting these tech rehearsals to pretty much go on for hours on end. I suppose I should mention that the play we're doing is You Can't Take It with You, by Moss Hart and George Kaufman, written in the late 1930s--it's a fabulously funny script, with a wonderful anti-materialism message. I've only got a small part - I'm onstage for all of four minutes - but I get to play the scene I'm in directly opposite of Corzatte, and it's a kickass scene. I'm an IRS agent (which is appropriate given what day this is) trying to find out why a weird, free-thinking family refuses to pay taxes.

Okay, I'm gushing now, but like I said, this is a big deal to me. The real reason for this post is that I don't know if I'm going to have any blogging time for the next few days, so I'm tentatively announcing no new posts until the show is up and running.

You hear that, Miles? Maybe you can fill in until Tuesday or Wednesday. But who knows? Maybe I'll have some time to sneak away and post a little something--my pal Kevin made some good points on the comment board for my education post from yesterday. I'd like to post his comments on the main page, and give a little response if I have time. I'm sure I'll get to it eventually.

Anyway, because it's bad luck in the theater to say "good luck," tell me to "break a leg," instead.

(Fade lights. Exit Ron. Roll the Real Art theme song.)

(Blackout.)

UPDATE: Okay, I spoke too soon. I'm not even called tomorrow--I guess they're just working Acts II and III; my little scene is in Act I. I've still got some scene work for class to keep me busy, however, but maybe I can get to Kevin's comments on Saturday. But I know I'll be wildly busy Sunday.

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FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING

Frankie and Phil in Slumberland



Paz Stands Alone



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Thursday, April 14, 2005

Why School Sucks

From Z Magazine via ZNet:

And this is why school sucks. Rather than do what it pretends to—educate, foster curiosity, expand our intellects, and promote diversity—compulsory schooling segregates people on the basis of how well they’re willing to do what they’re told. Licensed professionals who have successfully learned what they were supposed to are placed in charge of safeguarding the status quo by passing on screened knowledge that doesn’t require examination as much as acceptance. The majority of what we’ve been led to accept as education is little more than a social engineering exercise designed to replace our inherent curiosities with information that’s been sanitized for our own protection. Or the protection of our future employers.

Compulsory schooling is at its best when diluting intellects in preparation for lifetimes of subservience to corporate masters. Especially in low-wage service sectors, employers aren’t looking for a workforce of individuals who can readily recognize when they’re being screwed over through things like stagnant wages and increasingly crappy health insurance. The easiest people to control are the ones who haven’t been taught which questions are the most important ones to ask in the first place.


Compulsory schooling defines good citizens as those who play by the rules, stay in line, and do as they’re told. Learning is defined by how well we memorize and regurgitate what someone else has deemed we need to know. Creativity is permitted within the parameters of the guidance of licensed professionals whose duty it is to make sure we don’t get too wacky with our ideas or stray very far from the boundaries of normalcy. Rather than trust people to pursue their own innate curiosities, compulsory education replaces self-exploration with the type of structure designed to reward subservience while cultivating fear.

Click here for the rest.

Hey, that's what I've been saying for some time now. It's nice to get a little validation of my wacky ideas. School really does suck, and we're all quite doomed until people get over their cherished myths about how wonderful and important "education" is. What really sucks is that my ideological brethren, liberals, tend to buy into the public school myths even more than conservatives. I'll die a happy man if I never see another "education" glorifying film like Teachers or Mr. Holland's Opus or even an episode of Boston Public ever again--Dead Poet's Society, on the other hand, is okay because the only teacher actually interested in learning gets sacked at the end; that's pretty real if you ask me. Public schools must be recreated from the ground up, not simply "fixed." But as long as virtually everybody gets tears in their eyes whenever they talk about how important the schools are, nothing's going to happen.

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A GOOD LEFT-WING ARGUMENT FOR TAX REBELLION

From WorkingForChange:

People laugh off collection agency bills simply because they don't want to (or can't) pay, but quake in terror of the IRS when the money isn't just going to a private business -- it's going, in large quantities, to an institution now dedicated at the highest levels to enriching its patrons even if it means killing you. We are volunteering to buy the bullets for our own firing squads.

Why does virtually everybody volunteer?


This isn't a Freemen or Posse Comitatus-type question of the legitimacy of taxation. Quite the opposite; it's specifically because portions of everyone's labor should contribute to the collective well-being of the community (rather than, say, Warren Buffett's net worth) that our current tax system is ethically bankrupt. The issue here is where the money is going, how it's being spent, and how the spending decisions are made. People struggling to pay the rent, who can't afford health care, have no job security or retirement prospects, can't find affordable daycare, college, or anything in between for their kids, and so on, are tithing 30 percent or more of our income to people who often pay little or nothing, reap a disproportionate share of public benefits, and already have enough yachts and private luxury jets to get by.

There are a few folks saying no.


Click here for the rest.

Even though conservative anti-tax arguments tend to sound populist ("get the government off the people's backs" and all that crap), generally, a true populist position is that paying taxes is good: taxes are what we owe for the social benefits provided by the government, such as roads, the courts, police and military protection, Social Security, etc. Of course, that's in an ideal world. The above linked essay makes a pretty compelling argument that pretty much turns that view on its head. There are, indeed, many benefits that average Americans receive from the government, but it appears these days that those benefits are paid for by only a fraction of our tax dollars, and those benefits are shrinking. So where is the lion's share of our tax money going? Why, to the rich, of course, whether they're down-home oil men from Texas, usurious bankers from New York, or low-key defense contractors from California. And that kind of pisses me off. I don't know if I'm ready to become a tax resister myself, but this is certainly an idea to chew on.

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Guest Blogger Miles

Real Art signs up for the draft!

Dear student,

Per Federal Regulations, regardless of citizenship, males must have registered for Selective Service between ages 18-25 to receive Federal Student Aid. Your registration or exempt status could not be confirmed when your FAFSA was processed. Therefore, provide a copy of your Selective Service Registration Card or documentation of your exempt status. To contact Selective Service call 847-688-6888 or visit their website; www.sss.gov.

Ten minutes and a hundred curses against my own government later:

Congratulations, Mr. Pequeno. You are now registered with Selective Service.

I'm not sure what to make of all this. I knew it was coming, but that doesn't make it any easier to take when I have to submit my application. It feels like I'm dedicating myself to a government that dedicates little to me. True, this is for my application for financial aid, but submitting my name to the draft board is a pretty heavy price to pay. If I were actually asked (or told) to secure another Fallujah, I'd gladly take a seat in Huntsville.

Oil > educated work force > citizens' rights

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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

TWO FROM EMPHASIS ADDED

If Emphasis Added isn't on your daily short list for internet surfing, you're missing out: Rob Salkowitz is quite the armchair philosopher, and, even when I disagree with him, I'm often delighted by simply following his train of thought to conclusions that certainly haven't occurred to me, and usually haven't occurred to anyone else, either. These two posts I'm linking to are no exception. Take a gander:

Bright Lines, Dim Bulbs

Schwartz makes a convincing case that the number and complexity of choices we face in all aspects of our lives is diminishing rather than enhancing our sense of satisfaction. If this is true in relatively trivial areas like buying jeans or selecting wireless phone service, where the issues are compartmentalized, straightforward and low-stakes, it’s a thousandfold times more true in public policy issues that demand our attention as citizens in a democracy.

As communication and media technology draw us all closer into the workings of government, many people feel obliged to have opinions on a wide range of subjects, including many that are far outside our personal expertise or experience. Having informed opinions (or opinions that can pass as informed) on large, complicated subjects is a full-time job: take it from me (and not on the scanty evidence provided here on EA; forming perspectives on social trends actually is part of my job). For those who can’t spare the cycles but wish to remain engaged, having a fairly rigid and general ideological framework is a practical option. The fact that the framework occasionally produces some absurd opinions is a relatively small price to pay.

The conservative movement has been far more canny about recognizing this cognitive revolt against complexity than progressives. Conservative media obliges its consumers with a ready-made stream of opinions and fake facts to back them up, as well as reinforcement for the general idea of having a “moral sense of right and wrong” (e.g., rigid ideological framework and low tolerance for ambiguity). Since conservatives control most aspects of society and government these days, this satisfying degree of intellectual simplicity is now reinforced by an increasingly fervent sense of group identity, and in some cases rewarded by the blandishments of power.


Click here for the rest.

Despite the old conservative slogan, "Vote Democrat; it's easier than thinking," the reverse is actully true for many Americans. Let's face it: conservatism's stark black and white representation of reality (you're either for America or against it) is extraordinarily appealing to rank-and-file citizens as actual reality grows ever more complex. Indeed, I recall how seductive such thinking was to me for about a week after 9/11. I was so completely blown away, so awe-struck, that my initial reaction was to support what ultimately became our pointless invasion of Afghanistan--I simply couldn't see any other way than violence. It took an anarchist student of mine to remind me of what was actually going on, that imperialistic US foreign policy had gotten us into this situation in the first place, and more of the same would only make the situation worse. Of course, I was already liberal, already knew how the media and politicians routinely warp the truth for their own ends. It was easy for me to come to my senses. The real problem is figuring out how to get human beings who desperately want a simple world to embrace the opposite.

Drugstore Cowboys

One small symptom of the outbreak of collective insanity in Bush’s America that recently caught my eye is a small number of pharmacists who are refusing to fill prescriptions for birth control pills on “moral grounds.”

And

The whole idea that women should be able to have sex and not get pregnant (that is, face no practical consequences for their sinnin’) threatens to completely derail the undercurrent of sexual anxiety that provides the emotional charge to social conservatism.

Really, it’s hard to say what’s gone wrong in their wiring, but there are some folks who just can’t abide the idea of other people having wild sex unless it’s encumbered with the dour baggage of guilt, sin, shame and the obligation to procreate within the confines of marriage. Maybe they don’t like to consider the possibilities. Maybe they’re more comfortable with the anxieties they know (e.g., guilt) than the anxieties that await in a world of broader sexual choices. Perhaps they understand, even better than liberals, that the collapse of sexual repression portends changes to many other institutions of traditional authority, which threatens their entire conception of life and the world.

Whatever it is, when you scratch the surface of any cultural issue of importance to the far right, it doesn’t take long to tap into this vein of hysteria. Abortion, homosexuality, teaching of sex ed in schools, feminism, preoccupation with sexual material in media, and objectionable aspects of the modern urban-cosmopolitan lifestyle – each a complex issue with its own cluster of ancillary concerns – are all bound together in the mind of the far right in a unified field of prudery and disapproval.

Because of the tendency of the right to link these together and label them, rather perversely, “morals” and “family values” issues, it’s been difficult to formulate a response to the entire movement without sounding like an advocate for dope, guns and f*cking in the streets.


Click here for the rest.

Of course, Salkowitz is right to label this "hysteria." I recall a couple of Southern Baptist mothers years ago talking about what films they were allowing their elementary aged children to see. I remember one line in particular, "Oh, that's just rated 'R' for violence, not sex." To which the other mother replied, "Well, violence is okay." Pretty wild, huh? Obvioulsy, the gratuitous glorification of violence is not okay, but when compared to the evils of sexuality, violence looked pretty good to these women. Of course, that makes no sense at all.

Well, it does make a kind of sense when one factors in the notion that sex is powerful on a deep, elemental, psychological level; it's easy to fear power, and fundamentalist Christianity stokes that fear into a roaring blaze. And since straight people realized that HIV isn't just for homosexuals anymore, such thinking has entered the public consciousness in weird ways. As Dr. Cindy Kistenberg, a cultural rhetoric professor who once taught me, wrote in her book AIDS, Social Change, and Theater, the 1990's gave rise to a new unspoken paradigm for modern American sexuality: sex=sin=death. Because of our country's Christian dominated history, everybody "knows" that sex is sinful, and the Bible tells us that "the wages of sin is death." AIDS, which can, indeed, kill people who have had sex, came along and seemingly proved the equation, albeit in the backs of people's minds.

So people simply don't think clearly about sexuality; their minds are clouded by religious banter, weird fears, and psycho-emotional artifacts of childhood. Most people wouldn't agree with the statement, sex=sin=death, but most people probably feel that way deep in their hearts, or at least fear that it's true. That's why we have one majorly fucked up public discourse on sexuality.

Therefore, as a public service, I will unashamedly say what needs to be said. Sex is good. We should all have sex if we want to. We should be respectful to others, and we should be safe and intelligent about it, but we are human beings and sex is what either random evolution or the Lord God Almighty intended for us to do. So, go have sex! And, taking care not to harass anybody, talk shamelessly and often about it. This is the only way to combat America's strange sexual hysteria. It's therapy for the masses. Really, glorifying human sexuality is not only fun, but downright subversive in a good way.

We had learned that back in the 60s, but somehow it's all been forgotten.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2005

AMERICAN HEALTH CARE SHAFT

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

Drug costs rising twice as fast as inflation

"We are disappointed that brand name manufacturers have failed to keep their price increases in line with inflation despite consumer appeals for them to hold the line," AARP chief Bill Novelli said in a statement. "Much more needs to be done to slow down spiraling drug pricing."

The 7.1 percent hike, slightly higher than 2003's 7.0 percent jump, continues a trend of increasing drug prices. Since the end of 1999, prices of more than 150 popular name-brand drugs have risen an average 35.1 percent, nearly three times the 13.5 percent inflation rate over that period, the report said. In 2004, inflation was 2.7 percent in 2004.

Click here for the rest.

Note that the rate of price increase over inflation is cumulative in nature. That is, drugs are not only becoming more expensive than everything else, year by year they're becoming waaay more expensive than everything else. This has very real consequences in people's lives--indeed, my failed experiment of becoming a high school teacher was all about getting good prescription insurance; alas, the cure was worse than the disease, and now I pay out of pocket for my daily meds. Good thing my folks are helping me out with expenses while I'm back in school. Of course, most Americans don't have well-to-do bourgeois parents to mooch from, and they're essentially shit out of luck. Obviously, that's unjust. Unfortunately, there is no help on the horizon, as this new Paul Krugman essay from the New York Times via the Houston Chronicle illustrates:

Health care crisis is real, also politically inconvenient

Those of us who accuse the administration of inventing a Social Security crisis are often accused, in return, of do-nothingism, of refusing to face up to the nation's problems. I plead not guilty: America does face a real crisis — but it's in health care, not Social Security.

Well-informed business executives agree. A recent survey of chief financial officers at major corporations found that 65 percent regard immediate action on health care costs as "very important." Only 31 percent said the same about Social Security reform.

But serious health care reform isn't on the table, and in the current political climate it probably can't be. You see, the health care crisis is ideologically inconvenient.

Click here for the rest.

And, as the essay later shows, it's ideologically inconvenient because the only solutions that actually have any chance of working defy the fundamentalism of the free market. That is, government must take over the health care system, but Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, simply cannot stomach the thought. All they can offer are half-baked bullshit plans about "medical savings accounts," or "managed competition." It's all bullshit, but our leaders are neck deep in it: they don't even understand reality anymore. Meanwhile, people you know are sick or injured or in debt because of medical bills.

"Promote the general welfare," my ass.

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Monday, April 11, 2005

NO WMD'S, NO REASON FOR INVASION: We Told You So

From AlterNet:

Last week, the "Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction" issued what may be the last in a series of in-depth reports by U.S. government on the "intelligence failures" surrounding the invasion of Iraq.

Wade through the close to 3,000 pages of these reports and one conclusion is inescapable: those of us who opposed the invasion of Iraq were right on every count.

We knew that the Bush administration's case of war was no more than a mish-mash of evasion, misdirection, and outright lies -- and we didn't need the vast resources of these investigative commissions to figure it out. The evidence – be it in the form of intelligence leaks, news reporting (though less often in the U.S. and rarely on the front page), or congressional testimony -- was out in the open for all to see.

Click here for the rest.

It all became clear to me, well before the invasion, when I compared US foreign policy towards North Korea to how the White House was dealing with Iraq. The Koreans straight-up admitted that they had nuclear weapons, and we treated them to more diplomacy. Iraq, on the other hand, insisted that they didn't have any weapons of mass destruction at all, so we rattled the hell out of our sabers. This was weird. Clearly, North Korea was the same kind of threat that Bush said Iraq was: their non-fiction nukes could easily be given to terrorists who might then use them on America. Why were we treating them so differently? Obviously, the answer is that the US simply doesn't invade countries with weapons of mass destruction; the risks are too great. Consequently, Iraq must not have had WMDs.

Of course, there were also numerous reports in the foreign and left-wing press during the run up to the invasion that strongly questioned the credibility of Bush's "intelligence" about Iraq's supposed WMDs. There was no "intelligence failure." The White House lied, lied, lied. And millions of people throughout the world, demonized by no-neck, redneck, inbred, idiot warmongers, knew it at the time. It's now pretty much an established fact that Iraq had no WMDs when we invaded, that there was no justifying reason to go to war. What kills me is that most Americans don't seem to give a shit.

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DeLay's Backers Launch Offense

From the Washington Post:

Allies and friends of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (Tex.) have concluded that public attention to his ethics is unlikely to abate for months to come, and they plan to try to preserve his power by launching an aggressive media strategy and calling in favors from prominent conservative leaders, according to Republicans participating in the strategy sessions.

The Republicans said the strategy combines leaks from DeLay allies about questionable Democratic trips and financial matters; denunciations of unfavorable news stories as biased, orchestrated rehashes; and swift, organized responses to journalists' inquiries.

And

Officials working with DeLay said he is trying to lock in support by sowing the message that an attack on him is an attack on the conservative movement, and that taking him out would be the Democrats' first step toward regaining control of the House and Senate. These officials said they believe the attacks are part of a strategy by Democrats, aided by watchdog groups funded by liberals, to use the ethics process to try to regain power.

Click here for the rest.

So. It's going to be a fight. Well, bring it on, you heartless scumbag! Fighting this is only going to keep the whole thing on the front pages for months to come. Right now the biggest threat to the Conservative Movement isn't the panty-waisted Democrats; it's the arrogance of Tom DeLay. The big question about all this is if Donkey Party is able to overcome their traditional hesitancy and political incompetence enough such that it really is a fight. This is a massive blunder on the part of DeLay and his GOP loyalists, a gift dropped in the laps of Capitol Hill Democrats. But will they do anything with it?

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Sunday, April 10, 2005

DeLay called on to step down as majority leader

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

Private GOP tensions over Tom DeLay's ethics controversy spilled into public today, as a Senate leader called on DeLay to explain his actions and one House Republican demanded the majority leader's resignation.

"Tom's conduct is hurting the Republican Party, is hurting this Republican majority and it is hurting any Republican who is up for re-election," Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn., told The Associated Press in an interview, calling for DeLay to step down as majority leader.

DeLay, R-Texas, who was admonished by the House ethics committee last year, has been dogged in recent months by new reports about his overseas travel funded by special interests, campaign payments to family members and connections to a lobbyist who is under criminal investigation.

Click here for the rest.

Well, this gives credence to my buddy Kevin's view that the GOP is going to give DeLay the Trent Lott treatment for the good of the party. But DeLay, always the arrogant bastard, may try to put up a fight. He's certainly got the balls, money, power, and political allies to do so, and I wouldn't be surprised if he did. Of course, if he puts up a fight we can expect this whole mess to be continuing to bubble over well into the Congressional election season next year. That'll make the Republicans look pretty bad.

How's this for a fantasy scenario? The DeLay scandals, and his battle to retain his position give the Democrats just enough of a boost to take back both houses of Congress in November of '06. Drunk on their success and newfound power, desperately wanting payback for what the Republicans did to Clinton, Democrats in the House impeach Bush for war crimes, and the Senate convicts him. Suddenly, Dick Cheney is the President. Then they impeach him.

Heh, heh, heh.

Yeah, I know. It could never happen.

Or could it?

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