FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING
Be sure to check out Modulator's Friday Ark for more cat blogging!
Friday, August 31, 2007
FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING
Posted by Ron at 5:09 PM
DEMOCRACY NOW BROADCASTS FROM NEW ORLEANS
So Democracy Now was in the Big Easy Thursday morning, broadcasting their news show from here. As usual, they cover stuff that never gets covered in the corporate press.
New Orleans Hit By Another "Hurricane of Racism,
Greed and Corruption" - Community Activist Malik Rahim
Most of the houses that wasn't destroyed during Katrina was demolished under our city’s Good Neighbors Program. So what you have is -- is just a series of empty lots. And it's a testimony of the lack of recovery. This is a testimony of a lack of, truly, support by our federal, state and local government for the upliftment of this community. You find other areas of the Lower Ninth Ward that have a large population of whites, the Holy Cross area, and it’s doing well. But over here you only have -- I know of only one house that has been totally rebuilt.
Click here to read, watch, or listen to the rest.
Rahim's the real deal, an old school, former Black Panther who brings real 60s political values to the struggle here in NOLA, and whose rhetoric is as fiery as my own, but he actually does stuff, instead of simply blogging like me.
But wait, there's more:
"The Red Cross Has Basically Stolen Money from Victims in New
Orleans" - People's Hurricane Relief Fund Blasts Katrina Aid Program
And so, we have just been challenging their veracity on this whole program, and witness to that is every time we've confronted them they’ve changed the figures. When we first started this campaign, they said they had $80 million left. A week later, they said they had $40 million left. And then the national president came down here, and he said they had $171 million left. So you don’t know what the story really is, so they haven't gotten their story together.
And, of course, they've been attacking the People's Hurricane Relief Fund, saying that we are spreading lies and stuff against them. But we confronted them directly, and we took our -- their application to the local news media. And they were forced to admit that the program existed, because when people first called about the program, the Red Cross would say, “What are you talking about? We’ve never heard of a Means to Recovery program.” So we want to know why such secrecy, and why did you decide that it was up to you, the Red Cross, to decide what to do?
The other important factor is they got $50 million from Kuwait, and instead of giving that money to people, they built new office buildings in New York City.
Click here to watch, read, or listen to the rest.
I said a couple of days ago that Democracy Now was probably going to be one of only a very few media outlets to cover the Tribunal on Hurricanes Katrina and Rita taking place here in NOLA this weekend. Turns out I was right, at least so far: the guy making this accusation is from the Tribunal.
And yeah, this Red Cross malfeasance is definitely flying below the mainstream press' radar. How the hell could they miss out on diverting millions of dollars in donations away from hurricane victims? Oh yeah, I know, they're too busy concentrating Senator Craig's bathroom dalliances. I guess that's more important.
Okay, those last two sentences were sarcasm.
Anyway, still more:
The Privatization of Education: How New Orleans Went
from a Public School System to a Charter-School City
While many in New Orleans have waited two years for recovery, the restructuring of its schools seemed to happen overnight.
Not long after Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans two years ago, the Louisiana legislature cleared the way for the state to assume control of 107 out of 128 schools in the Orleans district. Immediately, the state began converting many of its newly acquired schools to charter schools - publicly funded schools run by for-profit or nonprofit groups that operate by a "charter," or contract. One result is that the number of unionized teachers dropped from about 4700 to 500.
Click here to watch, read, or listen to the rest.
Not only is this whole charter school thing about getting rid of collective bargaining rights for teachers, it signals that Orleans Parish and the state of Louisiana have essentially given up on NOLA' commitment to public education. Charter schools have been the flavor of the month in national education circles for about a decade now, probably because they sometimes get results. Most of the time, however, they have nothing to show for their "efforts." Charter schools are essentially educational laboratories. They're freed from all regulation so they can "experiment" without hassle. But like I said, those experiments generally fail--I have no idea why they continue to be so popular. Anyway, the net result is that African-American kids in New Orleans - most white kids go to private schools, anyway - are being screwed. I mean, Orleans Parish public education was shitty before, but now it's the Wild West.
Anyway, check this stuff out. It's good.
Posted by Ron at 12:00 AM
Thursday, August 30, 2007
FROM THE REAL ART SPORTS DESK
LSU begins with 45-0 rout of Miss. St.
From the AP via the Houston Chronicle (which, out of the four online news sources I checked, including ESPN, the Baton Rouge Advocate, and the New Orleans Times-Picayune, seems to be the only one running the story right now, from all the way over in Houston; go figure):
Craig Steltz had three of LSU's six interceptions of Mississippi State quarterback Michael Henig and the second-ranked Tigers manhandled the Bulldogs again in a 45-0 victory Thursday night.
LSU's new starting quarterback Matt Flynn and new offensive coordinator Gary Crowton struggled to find a rhythm early, but they received plenty of help from Henig, who tied a school record by throwing six picks.
It was LSU's eighth straight win overall and eighth straight in the series with the Bulldogs. Since Mississippi State's last win in 1999, LSU has outscored the Bulldogs 340-81, including three shutouts by 42 or more points.
LSU had four sacks and a fumble recovery in addition to the interceptions.
Click here for the rest.
You know, the only way I'm able to enjoy watching a blowout like this is if one of my teams is in it. Otherwise, it's just boring. Who cares if, say, Ohio State wipes the floor with Bowling Green? No fun. Fortunately, tonight's romp featured the LSU Tigers, so I loved it. And they did exactly what they needed to do: beat the living shit out of their greatly over matched opponent, something they've got to do if they're actually serious about getting another national championship. Oh sure, the Tigers were offensively sloppy in the first half, but they pulled it together exceedingly well after halftime, making me much more confident that they've got a shot.
I mean, Flynn may not be able to outplay JaMarcus Russell when he's on and all that, but the Raider quarterback's replacement can easily kick his predecessor's ass when he's off. That is, Flynn is waaay more consistent than Russell, which is what the Tigers are going to need in order to win out.
And, man, six fucking interceptions. The defense is definitely playing better this season.
Louisiana State running back Jacob Hester (18) tries to break free from Mississippi State defenders for a four yard gain during the first quarter of a college football game in Starkville, Miss., Thursday, Aug. 30, 2007. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)(via ESPN)
Posted by Ron at 11:27 PM
ATHEIST HITCHENS ON TERESA'S CRISIS OF FAITH
From Newsweek courtesy of AlterNet:
Moreover, this was no mere temporary visitation of doubt. Here are some of the things that she told her various advisers. “For me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see,—Listen and do not hear—the tongue moves but does not speak.” “Such deep longing for God—and … repulsed—empty—no faith—no love—no zeal.—[The saving of] Souls holds no attraction—Heaven means nothing.” “What do I labor for? If there be no God—there can be no soul—if there is no Soul then Jesus—You also are not true.” Like an old-fashioned Morse signal, the cryptic and dot-dash punctuation somehow serves to emphasize and amplify the distress.
Now, it might seem glib of me to say that this is all rather unsurprising, and that it is the inevitable result of a dogma that asks people to believe impossible things and then makes them feel abject and guilty when their innate reason rebels. The case of Mother Teresa, who could not force herself into accepting the facile cure-all of “faith,” is that of a fairly simple woman struggling to be honest with herself, while also—this is important—striving to be an example to others.
Click here for the rest.
Yeah, so this hits on where I'm at with the concept of faith right now. I'll follow suit with Hitchens' glibness: Teresa's crisis was likely caused by a realization that God probably does not exist. I lost faith long ago, myself, but I went through an extended intellectual buffer stage before I decided to call myself an agnostic. For years I saw myself as a deist, believing in God, who created the universe, but who also doesn't really do anything anymore, either. This buffer stage allowed me to continue believing in God, which was very important to my own sense of identity, while acknowledging the fact that there is absolutely no evidence, anywhere, of his existence.
Unlike Mother Teresa, however, this was never a crisis for me. I mean, it was difficult at times knowing that I was intentionally separating myself from a part of our culture that I loved, that I identified with the concept of morality, and of being a good American. But it wasn't a crisis. It was growth or evolution, life's journey, whatever you want to call it, but not a crisis. Unlike Mother Teresa, I never had devoted my life, my own personal "meaning of life," to Christianity. Of course, all Christians make some sort of public declaration of their devotion to God at some point in their lives, but most people don't ever really have to live up to that declaration, either--they just go about their existences, working, sleeping, all that, and never really have to actually do anything for their God outside of going to church, or making the occasional charitable donation, or tithing, that sort of thing. Teresa was the real deal, a fucking zealot. Losing faith when you've bet the farm on it is definitely a crisis.
When she was alive, I never really knew much about her, just that she was supposed to be some kind of selfless, super-charitable, perfect Christian woman, working her ass off with the poor in India. When she died, I was heavily swayed by Christopher Hitchens' opinions of her: her seemingly charitable actions served to glorify poverty as some sort of state of Jesus-like Zen, contributing, however inadvertently, to the wealthy establishment that perpetually keeps the poor in poverty; her anti-sex and anti-abortion rhetoric was also deplorable. Now, I just feel sorry for her. She did everything her culture told her was good and right, but it wasn't enough. She knew there was a very good chance that her entire life's motivation was a sham, but by the time she figured it out, it was too late; she was in too deep to go back.
At least she had a conscience. I wonder if all these recently fallen right-wing neo-puritan leaders here in the US have had the same struggle. Probably not. If there's one thing we Americans have become very good at doing, it's denial.
Posted by Ron at 12:35 AM
NICE GUY RIGHT-WING PUNDIT CARLSON BOASTS OF BEATING UP GAY GUY
From Media Matters courtesy of AlterNet:
On the August 28 edition of MSBNC Live, hosted by MSNBC general manager Dan Abrams, Tucker Carlson, host of MSNBC's Tucker, asserted, "Having sex in a public men's room is outrageous. It's also really common. I've been bothered in men's rooms." Carlson continued, "I've been bothered in Georgetown Park," in Washington, D.C., "when I was in high school." When Abrams asked how Carlson responded to being "bothered," Carlson asserted, "I went back with someone I knew and grabbed the guy by the -- you know, and grabbed him, and ... hit him against the stall with his head, actually."
And Carlson's response, from an update of the same article:
Let me be clear about an incident I referred to on MSNBC last night: In the mid-1980s, while I was a high school student, a man physically grabbed me in a men's room in Washington, DC. I yelled, pulled away from him and ran out of the room. Twenty-five minutes later, a friend of mine and I returned to the men's room. The man was still there, presumably waiting to do to someone else what he had done to me. My friend and I seized the man and held him until a security guard arrived.
Several bloggers have characterized this is a sort of gay bashing. That's absurd, and an insult to anybody who has fought back against an unsolicited sexual attack. I wasn't angry with the man because he was gay. I was angry because he assaulted me.
Transcript and video here.
So "bothered" became "grabbed" less than twenty four hours after he told the story, and "hit him against the stall with his head" apparently actually meant "held him until a security guard arrived." Tucker's second story rings more true to me, but it is still disturbing that the smiling and dapper conservative mouthpiece felt compelled to characterize the incident as a gay bashing. Needless to say, he was also characterizing gay bashing itself rather favorably. I assume that this fancy flight of rhetoric was intended to firmly establish his own masculine sense of heterosexuality--perhaps Tucker was surprised when the other two men on screen with him claimed to have never been "bothered" in men's rooms; maybe he felt he needed to prove his attraction to women by signaling a casual willingness to beat the shit out of men who try to pick him up. Who knows? It is certain, however, that Carlson was presenting anti-gay hate violence to his television audience as something justifiable under certain circumstances. And, you know, that's extraordinarily irresponsible because anti-gay hate violence is a really big deal: stupid rhetoric definitely eggs on people who are inclined to act rather than speak. That is, whether he meant to or not, Carlson just contributed to an overall cultural climate that makes being gay dangerous.
But really, Carlson's just an idiot. I don't think he's evil.
Posted by Ron at 12:02 AM
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Peoples’ Justice: the International Tribunal on Hurricanes Katrina and Rita
From the International Tribunal on Hurricanes Katrina and Rita courtesy of the New Orleans Independent Media Center:
Why a Tribunal is necessary
On August 29th, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast leaving death and unparalleled devastation in its wake. The poor Black communities of New Orleans, Mississippi, and Alabama bore the full weight of the storms and floods. Local, state and federal governments had at least four days advance notice that the levees did not have the capacity to contain mass flooding expected from a category three hurricane. Yet, despite these warnings, the US government had neither prepared for evacuation, nor mobilized to evacuate thousands of people displaced from their homes and left to die on their roofs and in the rubble of the devastation.
In the face of this abandonment, the population of New Orleans took their survival into their own hands and neighbor-to-neighbor attempted to save lives and reach secure ground. In the chaos of their own incompetence and racist rumors, local, state and federal governments sent military and mercenary personnel to New Orleans. They launched a military invasion aimed at removing the Black population and containing a potential rebellion, rather than sending a relief effort. New Orleans became a battle zone between government and mercenary forces seeking to ‘protect’ the white neighborhoods of the city and the surrounding suburbs from the Black mass fleeing the floods and seeking refuge from the disaster and race induced neglect. Dozens were murdered and arrested by various government forces and mercenaries as the media fuelled and justified human rights abuses by their unfounded, and later to be found completely untrue, reports of mass looting and rape.
To this day, the government has produced no accurate count of the number of people killed. What is known is that some one million, mainly poor Black people, were forcibly dispersed to over 44 states across the US. They herded people onto buses and trains at gunpoint, separating mothers, children, grandmothers and cousins. They uprooted and separated families, friends, neighbors, support networks and violently ripped apart the social fabric of peoples lives in order to transform the ethnic and racial make up of New Orleans and the region forever.
Over the past two years the US government has fundamentally ignored the plight of the more than one million people directly impacted and displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. When the government has been pressed to answer for its actions, it has ducked and dodged and basically washed its hands of any responsibility or liability. When the Army Corp of Engineers acknowledged its responsibility for the faulty and racially discriminatory design and maintenance of the New Orleans levee system, the government has not corrected its errors, nor provided restitution or recourse for its fatal policies. The net result of the systematic policies of intentional neglect and depraved indifference being executed in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast is ethnic cleansing of the historic and politically strategic Black communities in the region.
Okay, so this event starts Friday, here in New Orleans, and runs through the weekend. I won't be attending because I'm unemployed and have no money, but I expect that it will probably get some left wing press coverage, maybe at Democracy Now! or over on ZNet. I fully expect the mainstream press to ignore it entirely, which renders problematic the organization's goal of furthering the Gulf Coast reconstruction movement--if the media ignore them, the politicians will too. However, I think this event's real value will be contextualizing Katrina within the overall global human rights movement, right alongside Israel's brutalizing of Palestinians, genocide in Darfur, Indonesian oppression of East Timor, and Iraqi refugees.
Really, what's going on here, especially with the African-American community, is that big of a deal.
"Ethnic cleansing" is a pretty good term to use. It's not quite genocide, but it's been looking all along like a concerted effort to break up concentrated black populations in the hurricane zone. I don't think it's a conspiracy or anything along those lines--after all, this is such a big undertaking that such info would have leaked. However, just because there's no conspiracy doesn't mean it isn't happening. The ethnic cleansing is a result of a confluence of interests, from real estate developers to chamber of commerce members. In New Orleans, for instance, the massive poverty-stricken black community was perceived as a problem by many in the white power establishment. Crime levels associated with poverty hurt business and lowered property values. And many money-spending white tourists are just afraid of black people. When Katrina came along, an irresistible opportunity to rid the city of its "problem" revealed itself to various groups at the same time. Each group has acted independently, but together. And, unfortunately, it's currently looking like they're going to succeed. As far as I can tell, virtually nothing is being done by anyone in power to help NOLA's poor black displaced citizens.
Go check out the Tribunal's site, lots of cool links to articles and other info.
Posted by Ron at 11:01 PM
Men's room arrest reopens questions about Sen. Larry Craig
From the Idaho Statesman courtesy of Eschaton:
Sen. Larry Craig, who in May told the Idaho Statesman he had never engaged in homosexual acts, was arrested less than a month later by an undercover police officer who said Craig made a sexual advance toward him in an airport men's room.
The arrest at a Minnesota airport prompted Craig to plead guilty to disorderly conduct earlier this month. His June 11 encounter with the officer was similar to an incident in a men's room in a Washington, D.C., rail station described by a Washington-area man to the Idaho Statesman. In that case, the man said he and Craig had sexual contact.
The Minnesota arrest was first reported Monday by Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper.
In an interview on May 14, Craig told the Idaho Statesman he'd never engaged in sex with a man or solicited sex with a man. The Craig interview was the culmination of a Statesman investigation that began after a blogger accused Craig of homosexual sex in October. Over five months, the Statesman examined rumors about Craig dating to his college days and his 1982 pre-emptive denial that he had sex with underage congressional pages.
The most serious finding by the Statesman was the report by a professional man with close ties to Republican officials. The 40-year-old man reported having oral sex with Craig at Washington's Union Station, probably in 2004. The Statesman also spoke with a man who said Craig made a sexual advance toward him at the University of Idaho in 1967 and a man who said Craig "cruised" him for sex in 1994 at the REI store in Boise. The Statesman also explored dozens of allegations that proved untrue, unclear or unverifiable.
Click here for much more.
Jesus Christ! What the hell is it with these people? Just when I think I can take a breather from writing about all these self-righteous, neo-puritan, right-wing hypocrites, another one of them starts waving his penis around an airport in Minnesota. Like I keep saying, it's not really the sexual behavior of these people that troubles me, as long as all this hot sex is consensual and everything; rather, it's the fact that these down-low diggity dunkers have based much of their careers on an insistence that all Americans adhere to old-fashioned anti-sex fundamentalist Christian values--what's good for me, but not for thee.
It's now very clear that a sizable fraction of these moralists simply pay lip service to "family values." It reminds me of history professor Eugen Weber's assertion that early Christianity only functioned well before it became Rome's state religion. That is, austere and chaste Christian morality is really only attainable, socially speaking, when individuals choose such a path for themselves as an alternative to the mainstream. Once Christianity became mainstream in Rome, countless cultural, political, and economic incentives having nothing to do with spirituality or God came into play, bringing into the fold countless individuals who used the religion for their own personal agendas, twisting and warping the practice of Jesus worship into something only barely resembling what it had been while in the minority.
In short, the fundamentalist drive to Christianize America is ultimately self-defeating, and every instance of a "family values" leader publicly falling into the sin hole serves as evidence of this. Really, if the fundamentalists are serious about what they say they believe, they'd do much better to separate from society entirely, creating a sort of parallel culture, and try to attract converts who really want that way of life, rather than trying to forcibly reshape all of society into a sort of New Jerusalem.
Anyway, it's interesting to note, as did Atrios over at Eschaton, that the right wing was fairly forgiving of heterosexual, "family values," prostitute customer, David Vitter, but is already calling for Craig, homosexual men's room cruiser, to resign. For conservatives, gay infidelity always trumps straight infidelity. I guess that's really just a manifestation of the old "dead girl/live boy" political problem. Vitter's hookers were all alive so he survives; Craig's boy, however, was also alive, which means political death.
I guess some things will never change.
Posted by Ron at 10:32 PM
From McClatchy courtesy of AlterNet:
Bush's herd of loyal Texas advisers continues to thin
They were fiercely loyal, unfailingly disciplined and, as a unit, offered the president a comforting touchstone from his home state.
Now, Team Texas is moving ever closer to extinction. The already thinning cadre of advisers who followed George W. Bush from Austin to Washington is unraveling even further, with Alberto Gonzales and Karl Rove heading toward the door.
Although Texans are still dotted throughout the administration, most of the influential Lone Star transplants who've worked at Bush's side since his days as Texas governor either have left town or removed themselves from day-to-day influence at the White House.
Gonzales, a steadfast loyalist who served as Bush's counsel in the governor's office, announced his resignation as attorney general Monday after enduring a months-long uproar over his stewardship of the Justice Department. Rove, the architect of Bush's victorious presidential campaigns, will leave at the end of the week.
The only thing surprising about Gonzales' resignation is that it was so long in coming. That is, anybody in his position with half a brain would have quit sometime last spring. That's the thing. Gonzales is an idiot, more like FEMA's "Heckuva Job Brownie" than, say, Karl Rove, whose intelligence I'm kind of beginning to doubt myself.* Gonzales has been credited with being the legal mastermind behind Bush's bullshit rationales justifying various kinds of torture; however, the Washington Post recently reported that all that came out of Cheney's office--Gonzales is totally unfamiliar with the law in that area. So if he didn't mastermind the torture presidency, what's he actually done? To the best of my knowledge, he harassed his predecessor, Ashcroft, while he was laid out in a hospital bed, and lied to Congress, in a fairly blatant way, about the politically motivated firings of several US prosecutors. That is, he's never been anything more than a political operative. Bottom line: Gonzales is a mediocre lawyer who hitched his fortunes to a piss-poor businessman turned mediocre politician and rode the gravy train all the way to Washington, where he spread his worm-slime down every hallway he walked.
I really hope Congress continues to investigate him. He, like so many other Bush loyalists, needs to be behind bars.
(*I'm beginning to wonder if the ability to lie and smear on a grand scale is really evidence of intelligence. I've known plenty of morons over the years who are able to slander and malign pretty effectively, even when their lies are obvious. Is Karl Rove really a smart guy? More like a second-tier high school debate nerd.)
Posted by Ron at 12:30 AM
Monday, August 27, 2007
Joe Lieberman Betrays Hurricane Katrina Victims
And once Lieberman was re-elected with no small amount of help from the GOP?
Bush's Best Democratic Buddy Joe LiebermanClick here for the rest.
gives the president a pass on Katrina.
Jan. 11, 2007 - Sen. Joe Lieberman, the only Democrat to endorse President Bush's new plan for Iraq, has quietly backed away from his pre-election demands that the White House turn over potentially embarrassing documents relating to its handling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans.
Lieberman's reversal underscores the new role that he is seeking to play in the Senate as the leading apostle of bipartisanship, especially on national-security issues. On Wednesday night, Bush conspicuously cited Lieberman's advice as being the inspiration for creating a new "bipartisan working group" on Capitol Hill that he said will "help us come together across party lines to win the war on terror."
So the info is a little old but well worth repeating as the anniversary of Katrina nears. It's also worth repeating because it cements the fact that Joseph Lieberman is a sanctimonious prick, as if we weren't pretty sure about that already. There are many reasons for the continuing federal failures in dealing with the aftermath of the hurricane that hit east of New Orleans on August 29, 2005; I've been trying to document some of them here: corruption, misguided conservative ideology, and incompetence. But this one, sacrificing White House accountability on Lieberman's imaginary altar of bend-over bipartisanship pisses me off perhaps the most.
I've really hated the guy since his self-righteous support for the Clinton impeachment movement back in the late 90s. By not understanding that the whole thing was a GOP hatchet job without any merit whatsoever, Lieberman made a total fool of himself. Then Gore asked him to be his running mate in 2000, trying to distance the ticket from all those naughty shenanigans with interns, which is one of the reasons I voted for Nader. Then Lieberman supported the war. He still supports the war. The guy has been dragging the Democrats in a psychotic and suicidal direction for nearly a decade. But he's still in office, narrowly avoiding defeat by leaving his party.
I'm really beginning to wonder if he actually believes all this bipartisan bullshit. When I consider what I've just written above, he strikes me as being much more of a cold and calculating operator than somebody who's really worried about all our strife and division. You know, one of those politicians who changes party and ideology when the political winds change direction.
That makes him even worse. The retreat on his vow to make Bush answer for his Katrina failures isn't about bipartisanship. It's about Lieberman's own political power. Fucking scumbag.
Posted by Ron at 11:06 PM
Sunday, August 26, 2007
THE CONTINUING IRAQ DEBACLE
Whistleblowers on Fraud Facing Penalties
From Forbes courtesy of Crooks and Liars:
Bunnatine "Bunny" Greenhouse knows this only too well. As the highest-ranking civilian contracting officer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, she testified before a congressional committee in 2005 that she found widespread fraud in multibillion-dollar rebuilding contracts awarded to former Halliburton subsidiary KBR.
Soon after, Greenhouse was demoted. She now sits in a tiny cubicle in a different department with very little to do and no decision-making authority, at the end of an otherwise exemplary 20-year career.
People she has known for years no longer speak to her.
"It's just amazing how we say we want to remove fraud from our government, then we gag people who are just trying to stand up and do the right thing," she says.
In her demotion, her supervisors said she was performing poorly. "They just wanted to get rid of me," she says softly. The Army Corps of Engineers denies her claims.
Julie McBride testified last year that as a "morale, welfare and recreation coordinator" at Camp Fallujah, she saw KBR exaggerate costs by double- and triple-counting the number of soldiers who used recreational facilities.
She also said the company took supplies destined for a Super Bowl party for U.S. troops and instead used them to stage a celebration for themselves.
"After I voiced my concerns about what I believed to be accounting fraud, Halliburton placed me under guard and kept me in seclusion," she told the committee. "My property was searched, and I was specifically told that I was not allowed to speak to any member of the U.S. military. I remained under guard until I was flown out of the country."
Halliburton and KBR denied her testimony.
Click here for the rest.
Outrageous but totally unsurprising. And these two above excerpted tales are relatively easy going: the article relates the story of another whistleblower who was thrown into a military prison for 97 days and given the Guantanamo treatment. All of this comes down from the White House, for sure, which is why it's so unsurprising. This is not to say that everytime a whistleblower in Iraq gets fucked over that it was ordered by Bush or a senior staffer, but this has been their attitude about inconvenient truths for years. Such attitudes have clearly filtered down the chain of command; it's just how the feds do business now. We've all heard the stories about NASA scientists given gag orders on global warming, and the same thing with all kinds of information developed by federal sources that is perceived by the White House as running counter to their agenda.
And Bush is the guy who promised back in 2000 to restore integrity to the Oval Office. For some reason, that's not even funny anymore.
Posted by Ron at 9:31 PM
Queen guitarist Brian May awarded astrophysics
doctorate he abandoned 3 decades ago
From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:
The rocker was awarded his qualification Thursday by London's Imperial College and said submitting his thesis, Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud, to supervisors was as nerve-racking as any stadium gig.
"I'm feeling rather joyful. I cannot tell you how much of a weight off the mind it is," May said late Thursday.
May was an astrophysics student at Imperial College when he joined Freddie Mercury and Roger Taylor to form Queen in 1970, but dropped his doctorate as the glam rock band became successful. Queen became one of Britain's biggest music groups in the 1970s, with hits including Bohemian Rhapsody and We Will Rock You.
Click here for the rest.
Right, well, of course I approve of this. As many Real Art readers know, I went back to school three years ago to get the master's degree that I didn't get when I was in my early twenties, which was over fifteen years ago--even if I don't become some big superstar, which probably won't happen, it was worth it for its own sake; I'm sure May, who actually published an astronomy book recently, would agree with me. You know, this science-braininess is apparently something of a rock and roll tradition: guitarist and creative heart of the band Boston, Tom Scholz, has a master's degree in engineering from MIT. And isn't guitarist Jeff "Skunk" Baxter of Steely Dan and the Doobies something of an amateur expert on missiles?
Anyway, congrats to Brian May. Here's the song with my favorite May guitar solo; I'm sure you're familiar with it:
Posted by Ron at 9:15 PM
Saturday, August 25, 2007
NBC's "To Catch a Predator" Faces Lawsuits, Mounting Criticism
Dateline's "To Catch a Predator" series has become a target itself for criticism -- by 20/20, Esquire, and an online magazine, as well a former producer, a Georgia judge, a local news reporter, and the relatives of two of the show's targets.
In the news segments, online decoys lure men to a house to meet underaged sex partners -- where instead the men are videotaped and arrested. Last year the Washington Post reported that the decoying group received more than $100,000 from NBC after they "hired an agent to negotiate." The show's former producer now says Dateline violated "numerous journalistic ethical standards," and challenges Dateline's argument that the police are performing a separate, parallel investigation, calling it "a ruse".
According to a May lawsuit which appears on The Smoking Gun site, former producer Marsha Bartel objects to NBC also purchasing the surveillance systems used by the police, and notes that the network even pays or "indirectly reimburses" law enforcement officials for the stings. Saying this blurs lines between television and law enforcement, she also spills details about the show's other apparent lapses in journalism. (For example, Dateline's failing to report the police officers "waving rubber chickens in the faces of sting targets while forcing them to the ground and handcuffing them.")
I think I've written before about how much I hate this show. It is presented as news but is obviously of the "reality television" genre, staging almost everything, and is consciously titillating, making numerous references to online chat logs which go into often surprisingly lengthy detail about the anal and oral sex fantasies of the would-be child molesters who are entrapped in the "sting." Speaking of being entrapped, this whole thing reeks of entrapment. That is, even though these guys' sexual desires are definitely harmful if acted upon, one wonders if they ever would have even left their computer screens in the first place if they hadn't been egged on by NBC. The self-righteous tone taken by pretty much the entire program is also disturbing, kind of like with the show's close cousin, Cheaters.
I especially hate how it's so goddamned difficult to change the channel once it's on. It's like watching a fucking car crash, horrible but hypnotizing.
It's good to hear they're in trouble. The sooner this trash is off the air, the better.
Posted by Ron at 11:28 PM
RIGHT WING DELUSIONS
Romney proposes letting free market fix health care
From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:
"A one-size-fits-all national health care system is bound to fail. It ignores the sharp difference between states and it relies on Washington bureaucracy to manage," Romney said. "I don't want the people who ran the Katrina cleanup to manage our health care system."
The government's role is to facilitate changes, not mandate them, Romney said during a speech before the Florida Medical Association.
Health insurance costs can be reduced by deregulating the insurance market, capping malpractice damages and making sure everyone is insured, Romney said.
"The problem of the uninsured is a problem for all Americans," he said, because those who can pay for health insurance help foot the bill for those who cannot.
Instead of using federal money to reimburse hospitals for treating people without insurance, that money should be used to help low-income people buy insurance at a lower cost, Romney said.
Click here for the rest.
One of the philosophical tipping points for my shift from conservative to liberal years ago was a realization at some point in the late 80s or early 90s that all this talk about "market solutions" to social problems is a bunch of bullshit. I'm quite dubious that a for-profit approach has any chance at all of dealing with complex problems like poverty or crime, but what really pushed me to the other side was the growing sense that these conservatives touting the magic wonders of the market don't really care about curing social ills. Over the years, I've seen weird Heritage Foundation ideas in this area come and go, usually with no effect on the problem they were supposed to solve, sometimes making the problem worse.
Romney's bullshit about health care is a textbook example. Note how he puts what is obviously a national problem, dealing with national insurance and health care providers, in terms of the states--it's been a while since we've heard the right wing going on about "state's rights," which is clearly because they've controlled the federal government these past seven years, and didn't really need to bother with the rhetoric, which they never really believed in the first place; I guess they're expecting Democratic rule to continue for some time, and are hauling out a dependable old warhorse. It's also interesting to note that he uses Republican government failure, Katrina, to indict the federal government's ability to deal with problems--nice try, Mitt, but I think FEMA fucked up because Republicans go to Washington to destroy government, not run it.
But I digress.
In short, capping malpractice suit awards was done in Texas a few years back. Insurance rates went up, not down. This is not a good idea. And as far as deregulation goes, well, the health insurance market doesn't behave like other markets. Not at all. All deregulation will do is backfire; it will allow these vampires in business suits to suck all the more blood, which they're quite good at doing right now with what few regulations already exist.
The bottom line here is that Romney and other Republicans are simply spouting conservative ideological slogans. They have no idea what they're talking about on this issue, but then, they don't really care: they've all got good coverage; they're just looking for ways to get more campaign money from the extraordinarily wealthy insurance industry.
Single payer, like the system they have in Canada, is our only hope.
Posted by Ron at 11:06 PM
UTAH GOVERNOR: MINE OWNER'S BEHAVIOR "UNCONSCIONABLE"
From the Salt Lake Tribune courtesy of AlterNet:
Earlier Thursday at his monthly news conference on KUED-TV, Huntsman lashed out at Murray for what he called callous treatment of the mine victims' families leading up to his announcement that the men were likely dead and would have to be entombed in the mountain.
"There ought to be some modicum of respect for their human dignity and what [victims' families] are experiencing," Huntsman said.
Although he avoided using Murray's name, Huntsman made it clear his criticism was aimed at the outspoken chief executive of Murray Energy. "I'm not going to get into the mine owner other than to say I thought the way the families were treated was unconscionable and they deserved better."
Murray has said Huntsman's push for an independent state investigation of the tragedy was a political ploy.
"No one is playing politics with this situation," Huntsman responded. His appointment of Matheson, his Democratic opponent in the 2004 election, shows mine safety transcends politics, he said.
Click here for the rest.
From the moment I saw that motherfucker get in front of the television cameras the day after the cave-in and launch an unprovoked attack on the miners union, even though workers at Crandall Canyon aren't unionized, and then assert that the disaster was caused by an earthquake, despite the fact that every seismologist in the country was asserting the opposite, I knew that Robert Murray is one sleazy son of a bitch. "Playing politics," indeed. Murray's been playing politics from the beginning. The anti-union blast is in anticipation of the political fallout that's bound to come from this and other recent mining disasters, and all this "earthquake" nonsense is simply rhetorical cover from the inevitable lawsuits by grieving family members who will have a very good chance of winning. While the Crandall Canyon operation hasn't been cited with any safety violations recently, several of Murray's other operations have. One mine in Illinois had "at least 2,787 violations and more than $2.4 million in proposed fines from the Mine Safety and Health Administration over a two-year span." All the safety record at Crandall Canyon means is that Murray was getting away with it there.
Well now that it's looking like those six miners are dead, there are going to be investigations out the ass, and I'm quite sure that Murray knows he's in deep shit. I hope they fry the motherfucker.
Posted by Ron at 12:24 AM
Friday, August 24, 2007
Two Years After Katrina, Billions in Relief Funds Are Missing
* Washington set aside $16.7 billion for Community Development Block Grants, one of the two biggest sources of rebuilding funds, especially for housing. But as of March 2007, only $1 billion -- just 6 percent -- had been spent, almost all of it in Mississippi. Following bad publicity, HUD spent another $3.8 billion on the program between March and July, leaving 70 percent of the funds still unused.
* The other major source of rebuilding help was supposed to be FEMA's Public Assistance Program. But of the $8.2 billion earmarked, only $3.4 billion was meant for nonemergency projects like fixing up schools and hospitals.
* Louisiana officials recently testified that FEMA has also "low-balled" project costs, underestimating the true expenses by a factor of four or five. For example, for 11 Louisiana rebuilding projects, the lowest bids came to $5.5 million -- but FEMA approved only $1.9 million.
* After the failure of federal levees flooded 80 percent of New Orleans, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers received $8.4 billion to restore storm defenses. But as of July 2007, less than 20 percent of the funds have been spent, even as the Corps admits that levee repair won't be completed until as late as 2011.
Many in Washington claim that state and local governments are to blame: The money's there, they say, but the locals just aren't using it. And it's true that there have been problems below the federal level. For example, Louisiana's "Road Home" program -- created by Congress but run by the state -- has been so poorly managed that 18 months after the storms only 630 homeowners had received checks. Closings have sped up since then, but administrators admit many won't see money until 2008, if at all -- the program is facing a projected $3 billion shortfall.
But the White House and Congress have done little to exercise oversight of these federally backed programs, much less step in to remove red tape and make sure taxpayer money gets to its intended destination.
This story, about how badly the feds are handling their reconstruction responsibilities, is in its own way just as devastating as the story about how FEMA royally screwed up rescue and relief operations back in 2005. Unfortunately, because its slowly unfolding nature this one's getting less coverage. I really wonder how much Americans know about this massive fuckover going on down here.
And make no mistake about it: this is a massive fuckover. I included that second excerpt because I'm so fucking sick of hearing people argue over whose fault it all is. Republicans want it to be Louisiana's fault because the state is still run by Democrats; Democrats want the reverse for obvious reasons, although we've got a Donkey Butt Congress now, so I don't see how they can escape blame entirely. Nonetheless, President Bush, as head of the executive branch, is most responsible for executing the laws Congress has passed, and he's doing his usual horrible job. Look, there is indeed mismanagement and corruption here Louisiana. It's traditional, which is what gives the right wing their "in" for muddying the overall debate--"well, you know those people down there probably just pocketed all those billions." But Louisiana corruption is usually chump change compared to the amount of money we're talking about here--I don't think power brokers down here are competent enough to steal such vast sums of cash. And it's Federal cash that's being mismanaged. It's their goddamned job to make sure that doesn't happen.
America just ain't what it used to be.
Posted by Ron at 12:41 AM
FROM THE REAL ART SPORTS DESK
RANGERS SCORE THIRTY RUNS IN ONE GAME
From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:
BALTIMORE — Five runs in the fourth inning.
Nine runs in the sixth.
Ten in the eighth.
Six more in the ninth.
The Texas Rangers rounded the bases at a dizzying pace and became the first team in 110 years to score 30 runs in a game, setting an American League record Wednesday in a 30-3 rout of the Baltimore Orioles.
"This is something freaky. You won't see anything like this again for a long, long time. I am glad I was on this end of it," said Marlon Byrd, who hit one of two Texas grand slams.
Trailing 3-0 in the opener of a doubleheader, Texas couldn't be stopped. At last, the last-place Rangers did something right.
"We set a record for something on the good side of baseball," manager Ron Washington said.
Click here for the rest.
You know, in the grand scheme of things this isn't all that weird. They play so many freakin' games in pro baseball that thirty runs in one game is likely to happen at some point. It's just that it took 110 years since the last time it happened. Okay, I guess it's pretty weird. Still, the Rangers are in last place in their division and this one game isn't going to do much to change that.
Nonetheless, it's pretty impressive.
The article goes on to point out some associated statistical weirdness, which is entirely appropriate due to baseball's obsession with statistics. For instance, Jarrod Saltalamacchia raised his batting average, in this one game, from a shitty .179 to not so bad .262. The Rangers raised their batting team average five points, while the O's team ERA dropped from 4.39 to 4.60.
I wonder if hardcore baseball fans, you know, the guys who are as obsessed with statistics as the league is, will love this or hate it. Hard to say because I don't really give that much of a shit about stats myself and have no way of guessing. I've sworn off of sports talk radio because of the idiots in Baton Rouge trashing Les Miles, so I'm probably never going to know what the stat-boys think.
But who cares?
Posted by Ron at 12:17 AM
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Ammunition Shortage Squeezes Police
From the AP via the Huffington Post courtesy of AlterNet:
Troops training for and fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are firing more than 1 billion bullets a year, contributing to ammunition shortages hitting police departments nationwide and preventing some officers from training with the weapons they carry on patrol.
An Associated Press review of dozens of police and sheriff's departments found that many are struggling with delays of as long as a year for both handgun and rifle ammunition. And the shortages are resulting in prices as much as double what departments were paying just a year ago.
"There were warehouses full of it. Now, that isn't the case," said Al Aden, police chief in Pierre, S.D.
Click here for the rest.
See, it's okay because we're fighting them over there so that we don't have to fight them here, which means fewer bullets for cops isn't that big of a deal. Right?
But seriously, this is pretty disturbing. Crime has increased nationwide these last few years, most likely due to Draconian Republican economic policies which have fucked the poor hardest--sociologists have long known that there is a definite correlation between poverty and crime. All those people who voted for Bush in '04 naively believing that he made them "safer" were obviously dead wrong. Not only has the President single handedly created conditions which make crime much more likely, but he has also handicapped the police who protect us by fighting a pointless war in Iraq.
And I'm living in the Big Easy, where violent crime is very stylish these days. The really sad thing is that Bush is too fucking stupid to know how awful he is.
Posted by Ron at 2:42 AM
Commerce, Treasury funds helped boost GOP campaigns
From McClatchy via the Arizona Republic courtesy of AlterNet:
Top Commerce and Treasury department officials appeared with Republican candidates and doled out millions in federal money in battleground congressional districts and states after receiving White House political briefings detailing GOP election strategy.
Political appointees in the Treasury Department received at least 10 political briefings from July 2001 to August 2006, officials familiar with the meetings said. Their counterparts at the Commerce Department received at least four briefings - all in the election years of 2002, 2004 and 2006.
The House Oversight Committee is investigating whether the White House's political briefings to at least 15 agencies, including to the Justice Department, the General Services Administration and the State Department, violated a ban on the use of government resources for campaign activities.
Under the Hatch Act, Cabinet members are permitted to attend political briefings and appear with members of Congress. But Cabinet members and other political appointees aren't permitted to spend taxpayer money with the aim of benefiting candidates.
The briefings are part of the legacy of White House political adviser Karl Rove, who announced this week that he is stepping down at the end of the month to spend more time with his family.
So maybe this is why Rove got the hell out of Dodge.
This just has to be illegal. I mean, come on. The motherfuckers were using tax dollars for Republican campaigns. That's fucking outrageous. It's all so true to form, too. This is the kind of bullshit that took down GOP Lizard King Tom DeLay: play as close to the edge of the legal line as possible, and then cross over when you think nobody's looking. I'm sure that the White House will soon issue some kind of bullshit statement of rationale, some stupid-ass "explanation" of why it's all okay. The FOX guys will go into hysterics supporting the statement, and the idiots on Capitol Hill and the rest of the corporate media, while not necessarily agreeing with the rationale, will take it seriously.
I'm really sick of this shit. Bush and his people break law after law and nothing happens, no accountability, zip, zilch, never. This is so goddamned pathetic. The Democrats in Congress just sit there doing nothing, allowing Cheney to have his "unitary executive" branch, handing over king-like powers to whoever succeeds him--that is, if they don't declare martial law, rendering succession moot.
I don't know who I hate more, Democrats or Republicans. They're both destroying the republic.
Posted by Ron at 2:27 AM
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
FUCK BOBBY JINDAL
Bobby Jindal, three years younger than me, is currently the front runner for the governor's mansion here in Louisiana. Since I've moved to Metairie, he is also now my Congressional Representative. Even though his public persona suggests he's a really nice guy, he's also a typical hard-hearted Republican son of a bitch. Indeed, last time he was running for governor against the pro-life Democrat who beat him, he managed to distinguish his position on the issue by ruling out abortions when they are needed to save the life of the mother!!! The NRA loves him. He's a strong supporter of the illegal, immoral, and stupid Iraq occupation. I mean, this guy's a GOP kool-aid clone for christ's sake.
I hate Bobby Jindal. That's why I'm totally loving this alligator mouth he's stuck his head in.
From the Daily Kos courtesy of Eschaton:
LA-Gov: Jindal (R) accused of being anti-Protestant
"Most Americans believe we should respect one another's religion. But not Bobby Jindal," the ad says, according to a script from the Democratic Party. "He wrote articles that insulted thousands of Louisiana Protestants. He has referred to Protestant religions as scandalous, depraved, selfish and heretical."
The ad references articles Jindal wrote for New Oxford Review, a Roman Catholic magazine, during the 1990s before he was a congressman. Vezinot, the Democratic Party spokeswoman, said the religion ad is running in the Alexandria, Monroe and Shreveport TV markets — areas of the state that are more heavily Protestant than south Louisiana.
Jindal asserts that his writings are being mischaracterized, but as Kos observes, he might as well just take ownership of his statements because he actually wrote them. On the other hand, I have absolutely no problem with slamming Protestants, especially the fundamentalists who speak as though they've all had frontal lobotomies; I think Protestants are just about as misguided as Catholics. Or as Muslims or Jews for that matter. However, this shit could conceivably stop Jindal's campaign dead in the water: while Louisiana has a large Catholic population, it's concentrated mostly in the Southern part of the state; Protestants, especially Baptists, are strong in the North. Jindal desperately needs those Baptists to win--most of them are Republican.
I'm really loving this.
But in the grand scheme, this a primary example of why religion should just be kept out of politics. Of course Catholics look down on Protestants as practicing a sort of ghetto-Christianity. I mean, Catholicism is the one true religion, right? On the other hand, many Protestants, especially the Southern Baptists, think the same thing about Catholics. Well, okay, fine. People have the right to religious freedom and can believe whatever foolish bullshit they want; it's all very important culturally. But none of it has anything to do with what kind of official a person would be once elected to office. Ideally, anyway. That is, I think Jindal's right-wing scum, but not because he's a Catholic. There are countless Catholics who are pretty far to the left, plenty who tell the Pope to fuck himself on the issue of abortion. Jimmy Carter and Al Gore are Southern Baptists, although I heard recently that Carter had pulled out because of that denomination's ever rightward loony march.
Mitt Romney, a loony Mormon, is facing the same kind of crap as he tries to get the GOP nomination. Hate Romney for his lies, flip-flops, and politics, but not because he's a loony Mormon.
I suppose that overall I should be happy for this kind of right-wing division on religion. It makes the "traditional values" crowd less effective as a political force. But it pisses me off. People's personal views about the universe and man's place in it are their own goddamned business, even if they write about it in religious journals. It's meaningless, really, which is why these politicians who wear god on their t-shirts should just shut the fuck up. Same thing.
Posted by Ron at 12:42 AM
THE STATE OF MINNESOTA WAS WELL
AWARE THEIR BRIDGE WAS UNSAFE
From the Daily Kos:
Internal MnDOT documents reviewed by the Star Tribune reveal that last year bridge officials talked openly about the possibility of the bridge collapsing -- and worried that it might have to be condemned.
The documents provide the first look inside MnDOT's decision-making process as engineers weighed benefits and risks, wrestling with options to prevent what they believed was a remote but real possibility of the eight-lane freeway bridge failing.
Back at the beginning of the month I jumped on the bandwagon, took a leap of faith, whatever, and strongly asserted that the disaster was ultimately the result of twelve years of conservative rule. That is, the right-wing maxim "government is the problem" almost always manifests itself in terms of dismantling important government agencies and programs. You know, like the ones that rebuild interstate bridges and stuff. As Kos observes, lack of money is the most likely reason that Minnesota officials sat on this damning info.
But isn't there federal money granted to the states specifically for maintaining the interstate system? Well, yeah, but there's a whole lot less since the Republicans have been running the country. Know what I'm saying?
Posted by Ron at 12:24 AM
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Income Fell For Most Americans In First Five Years Under Bush
From the New York Times courtesy of AlterNet:
Americans earned a smaller average income in 2005 than in 2000, the fifth consecutive year that they had to make ends meet with less money than at the peak of the last economic expansion, new government data shows.
The growth in total incomes was concentrated among those making more than $1 million. The number of such taxpayers grew by more than 26 percent, to 303,817 in 2005, from 239,685 in 2000.
These individuals, who constitute less than a quarter of 1 percent of all taxpayers, reaped almost 47 percent of the total income gains in 2005, compared with 2000.
People with incomes of more than a million dollars also received 62 percent of the savings from the reduced tax rates on long-term capital gains and dividends that President Bush signed into law in 2003, according to a separate analysis by Citizens for Tax Justice, a group that points out policies that it says favor the rich.
Nearly half of Americans reported incomes of less than $30,000, and two-thirds make less than $50,000.
Click here for the rest.
A fairly obvious conclusion to make here is that Republican policies hurt most Americans. Indeed, the GOP has been successfully bullshitting voters for a long time. The notion that tax cuts are always good is bullshit. The notion that growing the economy is all we need to do to help most people's pocketbooks is also bullshit.
To be sure, some tax cuts are indeed good, and growing the economy, in and of itself, is also good. However, Republican tax cuts are usually about paying off wealthy campaign donors; they're not really for you and me, and don't forget that when we cut spending to pay for those tax cuts (hey, that's a novel idea!), it almost always hurts that two thirds of the country making under $50k, and usually never hurts that million-dollar salary club. And even though economic growth is generally something we need, the aforementioned million-dollar club has apparently perfected the art of pocketing the bounty of such growth; that is, growth, by itself, can no longer be used to gauge the economic health of the nation.
We've really got to develop a new vocabulary for talking about all this stuff--"tax cuts" and "growth" just don't do it anymore.
Posted by Ron at 12:15 AM
POLL: TRADERS WILL COMMIT FELONY FOR PROFIT
From the New York Post courtesy of AlterNet:
Wall Street traders don't mind committing the crime - it's doing the time that gives them the willies.
More than half of traders questioned in a recent survey said they would trade on illegal insider information if the deal allowed them to pocket a $10 million profit - provided there was zero chance they would be caught.
Ty Wenger, the editor of the magazine, attributed the high number of traders willing to commit a felony to the huge premium placed on their hav ing an edge. "That edge is the difference between being highly successful or going belly up; there is no guaranteed money," Wenger said. "Morality can't be a big part of the job."
And there you have a textbook example of why business must be regulated. In short, business cannot be trusted to do the right thing. Indeed, business is pretty much guaranteed to do the wrong thing, if it can get away with it. Of course, there is such thing as too much regulation or bad regulation, but you can count on business to almost always complain that all regulation falls into the "too much" or "bad" categories because, you know, business can't be trusted. That's why regulatory agencies need to be staffed by people from outside business, an idea that runs utterly counter to the Bush point of view, which essentially adheres to a "fox guarding the hen house" philosophy.
Really, this is all pretty obvious. Why on earth isn't it considered to be common sense?
Posted by Ron at 12:03 AM
Monday, August 20, 2007
The War as We Saw It
A New York Times op-ed, courtesy of AlterNet, written by seven soldiers currently serving in Iraq as part of the 82nd Airborne:
VIEWED from Iraq at the tail end of a 15-month deployment, the political debate in Washington is indeed surreal. Counterinsurgency is, by definition, a competition between insurgents and counterinsurgents for the control and support of a population. To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched. As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day. (Obviously, these are our personal views and should not be seen as official within our chain of command.)
Reports that a majority of Iraqi Army commanders are now reliable partners can be considered only misleading rhetoric. The truth is that battalion commanders, even if well meaning, have little to no influence over the thousands of obstinate men under them, in an incoherent chain of command, who are really loyal only to their militias.
In short, we operate in a bewildering context of determined enemies and questionable allies, one where the balance of forces on the ground remains entirely unclear. (In the course of writing this article, this fact became all too clear: one of us, Staff Sergeant Murphy, an Army Ranger and reconnaissance team leader, was shot in the head during a “time-sensitive target acquisition mission” on Aug. 12; he is expected to survive and is being flown to a military hospital in the United States.) While we have the will and the resources to fight in this context, we are effectively hamstrung because realities on the ground require measures we will always refuse — namely, the widespread use of lethal and brutal force.
Political reconciliation in Iraq will occur, but not at our insistence or in ways that meet our benchmarks. It will happen on Iraqi terms when the reality on the battlefield is congruent with that in the political sphere. There will be no magnanimous solutions that please every party the way we expect, and there will be winners and losers. The choice we have left is to decide which side we will take. Trying to please every party in the conflict — as we do now — will only ensure we are hated by all in the long run.
At the same time, the most important front in the counterinsurgency, improving basic social and economic conditions, is the one on which we have failed most miserably.
Click here for more.
So the reason I think this essay is so great is not because it's written by soldiers on the ground over there, although such a fact lends their analysis a strong level of emotional credibility, but because it so well articulates my own take on the situation. That is, the occupation isn't really facing a military problem: it's facing a supremely fucked up political problem, so fucked up in fact, that it has manifested itself in terms of mass violence. There is no military solution in Iraq, at least, none short of genocide that can be implemented by the United States. While we waste time, money, and American life pretending that we can somehow make it work against all odds, we're artificially preventing the political scenario from playing itself out. Yeah, the violence will most likely intensify in the short run after we pull out, but it's really doing that anyway. Soon there will be very little difference, in terms of violence, between US forces being there and not being there.
There's a good argument out there that says something along the lines of "whether the invasion was right or wrong, we owe it to Iraq now to make things better." Well that's persuasive to an extent, but you can't pay what you don't have. That is, the only way we can make things better over there is to get the hell out.
Posted by Ron at 1:34 AM
FROM THE REAL ART SPORTS DESK
MY TWO OLD SCHOOLS TO START SEASON RANKED IN AP TOP FIVE
It's that time again!
From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:
Chase is on: USC starts season No. 1 in AP Top 25
Southern California received 62 of 65 first-place votes and 1,622 points from a panel of media members. USC easily outdistanced No. 2 LSU in the poll released Saturday. The Tigers received two first-place votes and 1,511 points. They haven't started a season ranked this high since 1959, when they were preseason No. 1.
No. 3 West Virginia received the other first-place vote. The Mountaineers have never been ranked higher in the preseason. No. 4 Texas and Michigan round out the top five, and defending champion Florida is sixth.
The Southeastern Conference has six ranked teams, most of any league. The Big Ten and Big 12 are next with four and the Pac-10 and Big East have three each.
Click here for the rest.
Well, after three years at LSU, the whole "SEC is toughest" meme has kind of made me a believer. That is, if you can make it out of the SEC undefeated, there's a very good chance that the BCS title game will simply be a formality. Consequently, it's been easier for USC to stay in the title hunt over these last few years than it has been for the Tigers.
Hey, don't yell at me; I'm simply echoing Les Miles' wisdom from last week.
But really, as usual, my real money's on the Longhorns. Their quarterback, "The Doctor," a.k.a. Colt McCoy, is the real deal, and only freshman inexperience, as well as a cheap shot from a Kansas State Wildcat late last year, kept them from finishing better than they did. Damn! This is soooooo nice to have my two schools, Texas and LSU, start the season in the top five!
So fuck off OU! Go to hell Auburn! Eat me, Aggies! Fuck your sisters, Arkansas! It's football season again, and glory is right around the corner!
Posted by Ron at 12:59 AM
Sunday, August 19, 2007
A rush to pull out cash
From the Los Angeles Times courtesy of Eschaton:
The rush to withdraw money -- by depositors that included a former Los Angeles Kings star hockey player and an executive of a rival home-loan company -- came a day after fears arose that Countrywide Financial could file for bankruptcy protection because of a worsening credit crunch stemming from the sub-prime mortgage meltdown.
The parent firm borrowed $11.5 billion Thursday by using up an existing line of credit from 40 banks, saying the money would help the lender meet its funding needs and continue to grow. But stock investors, apparently alarmed that the company felt compelled to use the credit line, sent Countrywide's already battered stock down an additional 11%.
At Countrywide Bank offices, in a scene rare since the U.S. savings-and-loan crisis ended in the early '90s, so many people showed up to take out some or all of their money that in some cases they had to leave their names. And In recent months, sales of high-end houses have been stronger than those for cheaper homes. Now, with a pullback in larger loans by Countrywide and other major lenders, the weakness at the low end is likely to spread upward, said Esmael Adibi, director of Chapman University's Anderson Center for Economic Research.
"The implication will be declining home prices, higher foreclosures, a significant slowdown in spending by consumers," he said. As home sales fall further, "ultimately job growth will slowly deteriorate."
Click here for the rest.
One of capitalism's fatal flaws is that money often flows in incredibly stupid directions. The standard thinking about this is that it's all okay in the long run; the market will discipline the stupid and recalibrate itself eventually. Of course, the same could be said of nuclear holocaust: everything will be destroyed, but life will return. Eventually. In the form of cockroaches and radioactive resistant fungus. Eventually.
It's really frustrating to be watching the "discipline" of "the market" in action. Once upon a time, in the wake of the Great Depression and for decades after, American leaders understood just how stupid investors and financial institutions can be, and enacted laws to prevent their economic suicide competition from getting out of hand. Then they forgot their lessons; the hateful, self-destructive philosophy of "market discipline" took over; deregulation ensued, and the savings and loan crisis of the 80s came as an inevitable consequence. You'd think that more recent multi-billion dollar brush with economic disaster would have served as a handy re-education tool. But no. Here we are again, and this time both the nation's and its citizens' credit cards are maxed out.
That's why this mad dash to withdraw funds, which is frighteningly reminiscent of depositor behavior in the early 1930s, is so disturbing. Right now, this is happening, as far as I know, with just this one bank, and people are putting their money into other banks, instead of, say, their mattresses, but it remains to be seen if Federal and EU economic actions, in stark philosophical defiance of "the market's wisdom," will go far enough to thaw the credit freeze.
This all could have been easily avoided.
Posted by Ron at 1:36 AM