Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Obama says he's outraged by ex-pastor's comments

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

"I am outraged by the comments that were made and saddened by the spectacle that we saw yesterday," Obama told reporters at a news conference.

After weeks of staying out of the public eye while critics lambasted his sermons, Wright made three public appearances in four days to defend himself. The former pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago has been combative, providing colorful commentary and feeding the story Obama had hoped was dying down.

On Monday, Wright criticized the U.S. government as imperialist and stood by his suggestion that the United States invented the HIV virus as a means of genocide against minorities. "Based on this Tuskegee experiment and based on what has happened to Africans in this country, I believe our government is capable of doing anything," he said.

And perhaps even worse for Obama, Wright suggested that the church congregant secretly concurs.

"If Senator Obama did not say what he said, he would never get elected," Wright said. "Politicians say what they say and do what they do based on electability, based on sound bites, based on polls."

Obama stated flatly that he doesn't share the views of the man who officiated at his wedding, baptized his two daughters and been his pastor for 20 years. The title of Obama's second book,
The Audacity of Hope, came from a Wright sermon.

Click here for more.

Oh for cryin' out loud!

Obama's clearly in some deep trouble at the moment. Running scared, in fact. His rhetoric is now about denial, insisting that he's not in any way like his preacher of twenty years. You can't win with an argument of denial. As Noam Chomsky once said in frustration back in the 1980s when liberal French Zealots branded him a Nazi for supporting the free speech rights of a French academic who had denied the Holocaust, "What am I supposed to say, 'I am not a Nazi'?"

What I'd like to know is when Obama quit beating his wife.

The point is that this ongoing Scary-Black-Preacher-Gate scandal has exposed the cracks in the Senator from Illinois's soaring unity rhetoric. That is, Obama, as well as his supporters, seem to believe that, if he avoids actually talking about the deeply divisive issues facing our country, we can all come together as a post-racial, post-ideological, forward-moving nation. This was bunk from the beginning. I mean, as a campaign strategy, it's worked well. So far. But, to borrow a very apt and very recycled phrase, the chickens are coming home to roost.

There are just too many issues about which Americans disagree intensely. Reverend Wright may be jump starting the process, but this day was bound to come. Obama was always going to have to start talking about actual issues, always going to have to take sides. In this most recent attempt to continue sitting on the unity fence, to convince Americans that the scary Black preacher doesn't represent his views, Obama has already taken sides: he's alienated tens of thousands of African-Americans, white progressives, and others who essentially agree with Reverend Wright. And just like that, Obama's fallen of the fence.

I mean, I don't agree with everything Wright's said. The government creating AIDS assertion is flat out wrong. But the Reagan administration did sit on its hands while countless gay men died in the early 80s, and every administration since has ignored the soaring HIV infection rates in Africa. So Wright's wrong, but he's only a stone's throw away from the truth.

The only way for Obama to survive this crap-scandal is to take charge of the narrative. He's got to get out of the rhetoric of denial, which is now doing nothing but digging a bigger hole, and start talking about real issues, the ones that piss people off. He's got to take sides. He's got to declare enemies. He's got to tell Americans that, even though he would never phrase it as "God damn America," we have some horrific sins on our national conscience, with which we have never dealt.

The time for uplifting good vibes is over. Obama's got to roll up his sleeves and ball up his fists. Time to fight. 'Cause right now, he's getting his ass kicked.

Anyway, John Stewart gets the last word. As usual, his commentary makes more sense than anybody else's:


Monday, April 28, 2008


From the Los Angeles Times courtesy of AlterNet:

SYRIA: More questions about alleged nuclear site

The note raises more questions about the evidence shown last week by U.S. intelligence officials to lawmakers in the House and Senate.

The author of the note pinpoints irregularities about the photographs. Beeman's source alleges that the CIA "enhanced" some of the images.


The author points to more questions about the photographs of the Syrian site.

1. Satellite photos of the alleged reactor building show no air defenses or anti-aircraft batteries such as the ones found around the Natanz nuclear site in central Iran.
2. The satellite images do not show any military checkpoints on roads near the building.
3. Where are the power lines? The photos show neither electricity lines or substations.

More here, including the photos in question.

Okay, it's pretty safe to say at this point that we know for sure that the current administration, at least, has absolutely no problem with lying to the American public to get us into a war--Iraq's non-existent weapons of mass destruction serve as the smoking gun here, which was clearly not in the shape of a mushroom cloud, not in the shape of anything, really, because there weren't any WMD in Iraq when we invaded. We also know that the agencies under Bush's control are willing to keep on lying, or at least willing to covertly alter news coverage, in order to keep us at war.

And now we're seeing some saber-rattling about Syria's supposed nuclear weapons capability.

Why the fuck should we believe a damned thing these people have to say about anything at all? At this point, the American people are total suckers if they buy this business about Syria without any independent corroboration. But then, there's a big difference between the American people and the political/media establishment. They're already suckers, and if they get behind this dubious nuclear Syria story, and keep pounding away at it like Goebbels, there just might be enough gumption among the elite to open yet another front in the endless War on Terror.

For some reason, Nancy Pelosi continues to keep impeachment off the table, faux liberal that she is. She's just as bad as Bush.


Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sharpton vows to 'close this city' after officer acquittals

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

NEW YORK — Hundreds of angry people marched through Harlem on Saturday after the Rev. Al Sharpton promised to "close this city down" to protest the acquittals of three police detectives in the 50-shot barrage that killed a groom on his wedding day and wounded two friends.

"We strategically know how to stop the city so people stand still and realize that you do not have the right to shoot down unarmed, innocent civilians," Sharpton told an overflow crowd of several hundred people at his National Action Network office in the historically black Manhattan neighborhood. "This city is going to deal with the blood of Sean Bell."

Sharpton was joined by the family of 23-year-old Sean Bell — a black man — and a friend of Bell who was wounded in the 2006 shooting outside a Queens strip club. Two of the three officers charged were also black.

The rally at Sharpton's office was followed by a 20-block march down Malcolm X Boulevard and then across 125th Street, Harlem's main business thoroughfare, where some bystanders yelled out "Kill the police!"

Click here for the rest.

Let's assume, for a moment, that there was no racism in this case. And, no, I'm not saying that because two of the cops involved were Black--there are studies suggesting that all cops, black and white alike, tend to internalize traditional police attitudes towards minorities. I'm just going into hypothetical mode. Let's also assume that these three NYPD officers did everything by the book, that, according to the law and rules of police procedure, they did everything perfectly.

Don't we still have an enormous problem?

No matter how you size this up, the cops fired fifty shots at a group of unarmed African-American men. Whether the individual cops had racist motives is irrelevant: when seen against the backdrop of our nation's racist history, police killing innocent and unarmed Black men is racist oppression, plain and simple--as if cops killing any innocent and unarmed human being wasn't bad enough. I, for one, am not at all satisfied to say "unfortunate accident, bound to happen from time to time" and then forget about it. Because this kind of thing has happened many times before, and it's definitely going to happen many more times in the future, maybe tomorrow, maybe right now.

Why must cops use lethal force at all?

We've put men on the moon. We can communicate in real time with people on the other side of the planet. It seems to me that guns are insanely old-fashioned. And if good technology actually doesn't exist right now, if Tasers really are as problematic as reports suggest, then it's insane that we're not pouring billions into research to find workable alternatives. It makes no sense to me that cops have to kill anybody at all, except in the most dire of circumstances.

Why do people of color, especially African-American men, bear the brunt of most police violence, whether it's legal or not?

It is no secret that Blacks are disproportionately represented in our criminal justice system. It seems as though it's all geared toward keeping African-Americans down. If Blacks simply commit more crimes, which I doubt, then we, as a society, need to deal with the social situations that breed such crime, which would hopefully translate into a positive shift in above mentioned traditional police attitudes toward minorities. If Blacks are simply targeted more than whites, which I think is entirely possible, then we're in big fucking trouble: police departments throughout the nation are totally and straight-up racist. I don't even know how to begin unraveling that one.

I've called Al Sharpton a Bozo before, for his grandstanding and narcissistic grabs at media coverage, which I believe tend to alienate would-be white supporters. But that doesn't mean he doesn't do some good work, and he's totally in his element here, doing the old school civil rights agitation on which he cut his teeth. Nobody else seems to be asking these kinds of questions. The political and media establishments appear to be silent on this. If Sharpton wasn't out there leading this protest, the murder of Sean Bell would be, in the eyes of the white power structure and its propaganda, just another "unfortunate accident" to be forgotten about, and Black Americans, all Americans really, at least those who give a shit, would be once again left to just fume about it.

I really do hope they shut the city down. This kind of violence is completely unnecessary and must end. Now.


Saturday, April 26, 2008


From the latest episode of PBS's Bill Moyers Journal, an interview with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright:

REVEREND WRIGHT: In Genesis:2 it says God breathes into the nostrils of what God had formed from the dust. God donated some divinity to some dirt and we became living souls. That's God breath you have in you, that's God's breath that you just breathed. God is the giver of life. Let me tell you what that means. That means we have no right to take a life whether as a gang banger living the thug life, or as a President lying about leading a nation into war. We have no right to take a life! Whether through the immorality of a slave trade, or the immorality of refusing HIV/AIDS money to countries or agencies who do not tow your political line! We have no right to take a life! Turn to your neighbors and say we have no right to take a life!


BILL MOYERS: Are you saying that the members of Trinity leave the world of unemployment, leave the world of discrimination, leave the world of that daily struggle and come to church for-

REVEREND WRIGHT: For encouragement, to go back out and make a difference in their world. To go back out and change that world, to not just talk about heaven by and by, but to get equipped and to get to know that we are not alone in this struggle, and that the struggle can make a difference. Not to leave that world and pretend that we are now in some sort of fantasy land, as Martin Marty called it, but that we serve a God who comes into history on the side of the oppressed. That we serve a God who cares about the poor. That we serve a God who says that as much as you've done unto the least of these, my little ones, you've done unto me, so that we are not alone. Because that same God says I'm with you, and I'm with you in the struggle. Our United Church of Christ says courage and the struggle for justice and peace that is an ongoing struggle.

Click here to watch the interview or read the transcript.

Okay, I already knew that I like this guy, but I had no idea that I would walk away from this interview so intensely admiring him. That is, if God exists, and there is some truth to the Bible, Reverend Wright is much closer to what I hope and imagine the Divine to be than most any other holy man I've encountered. Sure, Wright's rhetoric can be fiery and offensive to those who prefer American mythology over American history, but his condemnations, replayed so often on cable news channels, come from a deep sense of compassion and love for the human race--Wright rhetorically tears down America's facade in order to build up its people. And it is very important to note that, as far as I can tell from this interview, Wright is much more about the positive message of God's love, and how that love brings strength and hope, than he is about examining what's wrong with our country.

This guy fucking rocks.

Watching this, I found myself deeply moved by what he had to say, especially the first part of the transcript excerpt above: "We have no right to take a life." To extend his line of thinking, if all humans possess a spark of the divine, then killing somebody, anybody, is tantamount to killing God, to personally crucifying Jesus. And America has killed millions throughout its bloody history.

God damn America, indeed.

Here's another thought. Yesterday I watched CNN for a few minutes and saw a couple of the usual idiot pundits asserting that Obama, after attending Wright's church in Chicago for twenty years, simply must have been influenced by his rhetoric. The point was to make Obama look like a wild-eyed leftist, dangerous to the country, and most decidedly not to be elected President. Although I totally disagree with their conclusion, I have to admit that I'm inclined to agree with the initial assertion: Barack Obama must have been influenced by his preacher after all these years. But what the pro-war, pro-exploitation, pro-establishment CNN pundits see as dangerous, I see as wonderful.

Obama probably is a bigtime lefty. And it drives me nuts that he thinks he's got to hide it.


Friday, April 25, 2008


Phil and Reine

Be sure to check out Modulator's Friday Ark for more cat blogging pics!


Means "Who Polices the Police?"
Local Edition

From the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

NOPD officer arrested for pandering, resigns job

A veteran New Orleans police officer resigned his position with the department after Kenner police arrested him during an undercover prostitution sting on Thursday afternoon.

Raynard Lyons, a 17-year veteran of the department, was booked with pandering after officers watched him drop off a prostitute at an undisclosed Kenner apartment building, Kenner Police Chief Steve Caraway said.

Caraway said Lyons had driven the woman to the spot after undercover detectives agreed to exchange sex for money. The connection was made through, a popular advertising Web site.

More here.

Also from the Picayune:

2 deputies fired after woman says she had to expose herself

Two Jefferson Parish sheriff's deputies have been fired and one faces criminal charges after authorities say one of them forced a female motorist to expose herself and the other deputy did not report it.

Clyde A. Clarke, 45, of 438 Holy Cross Place, Kenner, was booked with malfeasance in office after authorities claimed he forced an unidentified 26-year-old woman to expose herself to avoid arrest on two occasions. Demond T. Ferguson, 24, 1740 Hampton Drive, Harvey, was fired by the Sheriff's Office but was not arrested.

Click here for the rest.

Yeah yeah, corrupt New Orleans, yadda yadda.

The point is that dismissing police misdeeds because of a popular perception of overall corruption is just about as short-sighted as dismissing cop misdeeds as "isolated incidents" or "a few bad apples." That is, cop corruption isn't limited to places like the Big Easy; indeed, it's all over the place, systemic, chronic, always in the newspapers, and the stuff we hear about is only when cops actually get caught--one must assume that the problem is far worse than the constant stream of reporting would suggest.

And these two cases from the New Orleans area are utterly typical. The first story shows a cop who was either so stupid, or so possessed of typical police self-righteousness, that he used frickin' Craigslist to solicit his hooker. Either way, stupid or perceiving himself as above the law, this is some lame shit. Like I keep saying, I'm on the fence as to the morality of prostitution, but it is illegal, and cops, above all other Americans, ought to obey the laws they've sworn to enforce.

The second story is also classic cop corruption. Yet another cop sees himself as an elite, above the law, able to do whatever he wants, just because he's a cop. His partner isn't really such a bad guy, but cop loyalty, the "code of silence," motivates him to look the other way.

This bullshit happens throughout the nation, again and again, every day of the year. Why the fuck don't people see that we have a big fucking problem?


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Remark about 'race card' was misinterpreted, ex-president says

From the New York Times courtesy of the Houston Chronicle:

Clinton confronted the issue of race again on Monday when he was asked by an interviewer for WHYY radio in Philadelphia about his remarks earlier this year on the results of the South Carolina Democratic primary. At the time, he likened the victory of Sen. Barack Obama to that of the Rev. Jesse Jackson in 1998; Clinton's comparison was denounced widely by black officials who believed he was marginalizing Obama's victory with a racially tinged allusion to Jackson's failed presidential bids.

His comments became a turning point for many black officials and black voters, who cited them over and over in the weeks afterward as reasons they had coalesced behind Obama.

Susan Phillips, the WHYY reporter who interviewed Clinton on Monday, asked him whether he would still make that comparison or whether it had been a mistake, prompting Clinton to reply: "No, I think that they played the race card on me. We now know, from memos from the campaign and everything, that they planned to do it all along."

More here.

(Correction to the article: Jackson won S.C. in 1988, not 1998. Stupid New York Times.)

What memos? What the hell is he talking about? There aren't any memos. Old Bill should just throw in the towel and apologize.

When people get pissed off about negative racial remarks, it's not playing "the race card." It's righteous indignation. That is, President Clinton is the one who played the race card, or rather, the racist card, when he compared his wife's competition to Jackson: the whole point was to connect Obama, in the minds of whites, to old school civil rights agitators, making him, to the many fucktards out there who are receptive to such a racist idea, just another angry black man mouthing off.

That's definitely racist. Not to mention insulting to pretty much everybody's intelligence.

I'll rejoice when Obama finally gets the nomination, if only because the Clintons will be shoved back into the 90s where they belong.



Yeah, that's right.

In an immortal and glorious moment back in 1971, John Lennon and Yoko Ono joined Frank Zappa and the Mothers on stage at the Filmore East in New York City. I've never really heard any of the music from that concert, even though it's been available for years so maybe I should pick it up sometime soon, but if the Youtube clip below is any indication, glorious is something of an understatement. That is, Zappa clearly had an understanding of what John and Yoko's weird rock/avant-garde fusion was all about, and managed to seamlessly incorporate the hippie duo into his overall aesthetic.

This particular song is an old standard, Walter Ward's "Well (Baby Please Don't Go)," that Lennon claims to have not played since he was with the Beatles before they were famous. He, with the Mothers improvisationally backing him up, gives it the standard Lennon sound from the period, bluesy, with some cool and classic primal screaming a la Plastic Ono Band, aided and abetted by Yoko's unfathomable banshee wails. Things really get going, however, during the last couple of minutes, when FZ and John trade conducting duties back and forth, while members of the Mothers begin to wail along with Yoko. Sure, it's for hardcore fans only, but it's fucking brilliant.

Unfortunately, the whole meeting-of-gods thing ended up being a bit tarnished. From a Wikipedia talk page:

Lennon released an album of a "live concert" entitled "Sometime in New York City" which apparently featured a guest performance by Zappa on a tune called "Scumbag".

However - this was not the true case, it was Lennon who was the guest - he performed with Zappa at the Fillmore East in June 1971, the tune being played was "King Kong" (by Zappa) and the band was the Mothers. Zappa simply gave Lennon a copy of the tape of the concert. The entire performance is available on the Zappa CD "Playground Psychotics" (track 25-26) and the band line-up is given, verifying whose concert it actually was. Zappa was furious at Lennon for releasing the recording under a different name, and also for giving himself a "writer" credit on a song that Zappa had written and released on an album in 1967.
This is absolutely true: I've listened to an FZ interview from '72 or '73 where he essentially tells the same story, that John and Yoko ripped him off. I guess you can blame it on the drugs or dumbfuck hippie attitudes about property and art--along those lines, it is interesting to note that Zappa never did drugs and often lampooned and otherwise rhetorically blasted hippies on a regular basis back in those days. The whole thing kind of makes me think that maybe Paul McCartney had a good point when he sued the other three Beatles over ownership and business issues in 1970.

But whatever. John and FZ have both passed on, and the dispute, I hope, is now meaningless, which is cool because this fucking rocks:

Did you catch that kickass Zappa guitar solo about a third of the way through? This is, to me, like finding an authentic lost book of the Bible.


Monday, April 21, 2008


From Science After Sunclipse courtesy of Crooks and Liars:

Creation, Power and Violence

Open your mouth about evolution around the wrong people, though, and you can find yourself harassed, ejected from your job and even beaten in the street.

Just ask these people.

Steve Bitterman was an instructor who taught the Western Civilization course at Southwestern Community College in Red Oak, Iowa. In 2007, at the age of sixty, he was fired because he did not teach the story of Adam and Eve as literal truth.


Likewise, Richard Colling graduated from Olivet Nazarene University and taught there for twenty-seven years. A man of strong religious convictions, he argued that one could believe in the Christian God and still accept the scientific truth of evolution. In 2004, he published a book about this belief, and for his pains, he was barred from teaching general biology or having his book used in the school.


Paul Mirecki was professor of religious studies and department chair at the University of Kansas. He planned to teach a class called “Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies,” but canceled those plans after two men beat him in the street one December morning. He had displayed an acerbic tongue in online discussion forums, and he later apologized for his less temperate remarks; neither that apology nor sympathy for a physically assaulted human being stayed the KU administration, who forced him to step down as department chair.

Much, much more here.

I suppose McCarthyism isn't quite the right metaphor to use here: that was all about intimidating people into shucking one bogus ideology, communism, in favor of another bogus ideology, capitalism and the "American Way," whatever that means. What the above excerpted blog post is talking about is embracing a bogus ideology over objective, verifiable, scientific truth. And I had no idea that things had gotten so bad, as if the existence of such a bullshit "controversy" in the first place wasn't bad enough.

That is, evolution is a scientific fact. As Carl Sagan once said in his badass PBS science show Cosmos, "it really happened." Any "controversy" about evolution must necessarily exist only within the minds of religious believers who are unable to find a way to make their supernatural cosmology compatible with natural, that is, real, cosmology. And that's it. End of story.

There is no public "controversy" over evolution. Only a bunch of weirdo fundamentalists insisting that everybody else buy their religious views without any evidence at all, in spite of, at this point, literal mountains of scientific evidence to the contrary. Nonetheless, it appears these weirdos have amassed enough power to put the squeeze on the individuals stuck on the front lines in this horrid culture war, teachers, who are a relatively easy target for various reasons.

This is some pretty sick shit. It forces teachers into choosing to either do their jobs honestly, or lying in order to feed their families. That's shitty. And the people making these bogus ideological attacks don't have to deal with the same real world issues as the people they victimize. That is, they can say any kind of crazy shit they want, and continue to get their paychecks because they're not teachers. Fucked, fucked, fucked.

At any rate, I had hoped the forces of fundamentalism were on the way out these days, given how badly fundamentalists have been feeling lately about how the GOP has been treating them. Guess I was wrong. Seems they've got a bunch of hot air left in their lungs.


The Politics of Distraction in an Age of Gotcha Capitalism

New Ralph Nader essay via CounterPunch:

In this year's presidential campaign, the major media want you to focus on the candidates' gaffes, their tactics toward one another's gaffes, the flows of political gossip and four second sound bytes.

Over and over again this is the humdrum pattern. Is Obama an elitist because of what he said about small towns in Pennsylvania? Why do Hillary and Bill exaggerate? Will Bill's mouth drag Hillary down? Will Barack's pastor drag him down? What about the gender factor? The race factor? Will they figure?

Who has more experience on Day One? What is McCain's wizardry over the reporters on the campaign trail? Can McCain project any human warmth? Which state must Hillary win and by what margin to continue in the race?


Corporate criminals laugh all the way to the bank and back. Eighty percent of the workers have been falling behind while the growth of the economy, until last October, made the rich richer and the hyper-rich go off the charts.

One of three workers lives on Wal-Mart wage levels. Nearly fifty million Americans are without health insurance. Eighteen thousand of these Americans die each year because they cannot afford health care, according to the Institute of Medicine. The recession deepens.

The corporate giants are abandoning millions of American workers as they move whole industries to dictatorial regimes abroad where political elites dictate wages, ban independent trade unions, and given sufficient grease, reduce other costs for these companies. Only American CEOs are not outsourced in this mad dash for greed and profits.


Now turn on the television and radio coverage of the presidential campaign. How much of the above is reflected in the incessant distractions about tactics, gaffes and the fervid money-raising race?

More here.

Any one of the three surviving candidates could at any moment put a stop to all this campaign trail bullshit. But McCain won't because, as a Republican, he's all for corporate rule totally replacing democracy. Ditto for Hillary. Obama, who I want to believe is much more liberal than he's letting on, won't either, no doubt because he's afraid that actually talking about issues will leave him wide open to a slew of relentless attacks in terms of these trivial news media narratives listed by Nader.

But wouldn't it be wonderful if the next time some dumbass TV journalist goes after Obama on "Bitter-Gate" or "Scary-Black-Preacher-Gate" or "Flag-Pin-Gate," the young Senator from Illinois responded with something like "That's bullshit; none of that matters; what matters is..."? It could conceivably change everything. Staying on message with issues. Using all the media attention, using the bully pulpit power freely given to bigtime candidates, to directly change the course of the conversation. Obama really could do that.

Yeah yeah, I know. Ain't gonna happen. He's too much of an establishment player to change the rules in such a dramatic way.

So I'm still planning on voting for Nader come November. At least he knows what needs to be talked about.


Saturday, April 19, 2008

UT Signee Strikes Out 18 in Baytown Sterling Win

From the Houston Chronicle:

Hunter Cervenka picked the perfect night to have his best night.

The Baytown Sterling senior lefthander and Texas signee put together a magnificent pitching performance against the No. 2 team in the state, Atascocita, striking out 18 batters and allowing just three hits to lead the Rangers to a 4-1 win.

For the Rangers (22-3, 11-1 District 21-5A), it was their first win in four tries against the Eagles (25-3, 11-1) a second-year varsity squad which has quickly become one of the top programs in the area and the state. It also put them in a tie for first place in the district.

“I was in a zone,” Cervenka said. “And nothing could get me out of it.”

Click here for the rest.

Cool, very cool.

Sterling High School was where I spent six of the most miserable years of my life back when I was a theater arts teacher. Much of my thinking about public education coalesced there--that is, Ross S. Sterling is a shit hole, perfectly exemplifying virtually everything that's wrong with American schools. And it seemed to me that the kids knew it: RSS competitive teams usually lost during my tenure there, almost as though the hopeless absurdity of daily life at Sterling made underachieving the most rational choice a student could make.

And Baytown is a pretty fucked and crazy place, too, also hopelessly absurd, in a dangerous and malevolent way, with bizarre prevailing values, and petty, vindictive attitudes among those in power.

But how can one live in Purgatory without finding a few friends? Despite the overall oppressive culture of both school and city, there are many wonderful people in Baytown. A lot of cool kids I'll never forget, small pockets of sanity among the petrochemical smokestacks.

So I'm really fucking happy when my second high school does well--my first was, of course, the one I attended in the first half of the 1980s, Kingwood High School, which I always want RSS to beat, in all competitive activities; screw them snotty rich kids. I'm also happy that this badass pitcher, Cervenka, is going to be a Longhorn. Fuck, man, Sterling's actually got a shot at winning the state baseball championship. That's fucking wild!

Go Rangers!

Baytown Sterling's Hunter Cervenka shakes the hand
of head coach Paul Tadlock after hitting a solo home
run in the fourth inning against Atascocita on Friday.
(Thomas Shea: For The Chronicle)


Friday, April 18, 2008




Be sure to check out Modulator's Friday Ark for more cat blogging pics!


Means "Who Polices the Police?"

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

Oklahoma sheriff charged with using inmates as sex slaves

Authorities have charged a western Oklahoma sheriff with coercing and bribing female inmates so he could use them in a sex-slave operation run out of his jail.

Custer County Sheriff Mike Burgess resigned Wednesday just as state prosecutors filed 35 felony charges against him, including 14 counts of second-degree rape, seven counts of forcible oral sodomy and five counts of bribery by a public official.

Burgess, the top officer in the county of 26,000 since 1994, appeared in court Wednesday was released after posting $50,000 bail.

"We are stunned," Undersheriff Kenneth Tidwell said Thursday.

Click here for the rest.

Well, I'm not stunned.

As usual, I make these cop corruption posts not to assert that cops are bad guys or anything along those lines, but rather to show that police culture, and perhaps the overall American cultural understanding of policing, makes an ongoing situation such that crimes like the one described above, and many others, are likely to happen again and again. The hypermasculinity, the us-versus-them attitude, the self-righteousness, the willingness to look the other way when fellow officers break the law, all these aspects of cop culture make "bad apples" or "isolated incidents" a certainty. That is, as long as the organizational culture of police departments across the land remains in this gun-toting 19th century mindset, we're going to continue to see headline after headline like the one above.

And the headlines only represent the cops who get caught. It's a safe bet that many more cop misdeeds never see the light of day.

Don't get me wrong. I acknowledge that cops are human beings and just as prone to criminal behavior as anybody else, but I think the high number of such instances we endure now could be greatly reduced, if only we started looking as police in terms of institutional culture, rather than on the case-by-case basis we use now.

But first, society has to admit we have a problem.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Lieberman: It’s ‘a good question’ to ask if Obama is ‘a Marxist.’

From Think Progress courtesy of Eschaton:

In his New York Times column today, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol claimed that Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-IL) now-infamous “bitter” remarks sound like Karl Marx’s “famous statement about religion.” On the Brian and the Judge radio show today, Fox News’ senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano asked Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) if Obama is “a Marxist as Bill Kristol says might be the case?”

“I must say that’s a good question,” replied Lieberman, before stepping back to say that he would “hesitate to say he’s a Marxist”

Listen to the exchange here.

Anybody who knows anything about Marxism at all wouldn't hesitate to categorically and absolutely deny that Obama is a Marxist. I mean, the term essentially has no meaning these days in American political discourse, except as a kind of pejorative meaning "liberal." So, if "liberal" means "Marxist," which it doesn't, then Obama's a Marxist. But then, so would millions and millions of Americans be Marxists, too, in which case the whole fucking country would have a big fucking problem: we'd be on the verge of a very real and major revolution--obviously, that's not the case, either.

But just to be sure, this is from the Wikipedia entry on Marxism:

While there are many theoretical and practical differences among the various forms of Marxism, most forms of Marxism share:

* a belief that capitalism is based on the exploitation of workers by the owners of capital

* a belief that people's consciousness of the conditions of their lives reflects material conditions and relations

* an understanding of class in terms of differing relations of production, and as a particular position within such relations

* an understanding of material conditions and social relations as historically malleable

* a view of history according to which class struggle, the evolving conflict between classes with opposing interests, structures each historical period and drives historical change

The main points of contention among Marxists are the degree to which they are committed to a workers' revolution as the means of achieving human emancipation and enlightenment, and the actual mechanism through which such a revolution might occur and succeed.
While one might be able to play fast and loose with some of these already fast and loose tenets of Marxism in order to find some similarities with Obama's rhetoric, it would be a big stretch. Obama would probably never describe the relationship between capital and labor as exploitative. Obama is religious and clearly believes that an individual's self-consciousness is about much more than material reality. Obama is clearly anti-poverty, but I have yet to see any rhetoric, either spoken or on his website, which would indicate that he believes that social or economic class is a function of "differing relations of production." Obama probably believes that "material conditions and social relations" are "historically malleable," but then, who the fuck doesn't think that? To the best of my knowledge, Obama has never said anything to the effect of history being driven by class struggle.

And finally, Obama has absolutely no intention of fomenting a workers' revolution: he wants to run the government, not destroy it.

He's just not a Marxist--indeed, I'd probably be voting for him if he was.

Actually, very few Americans are Marxists. I mean, one might be able to fairly categorize
me as a Marxist, and one would be wrong, but it would be about a billion times more fair to brand me that way than to do so with Obama.

Anyway, this is bullshit. Lieberman's a fucking moron. The best thing the Democrats have done in a decade was to drive that bastard out of the party. Motherfucking red baiter. Aren't we over this shit yet?


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

George Bush Global Warming Speech To Be Delivered Wednesday

From the AP via the Huffington Post courtesy of AlterNet:

President Bush, stepping into the debate over global warming, plans to announce on Wednesday a national goal for stopping the growth of greenhouse gas emissions over the next few decades.

In a speech in the Rose Garden, Bush will lay out a strategy rather than a specific proposal for curbing emissions, White House press secretary Dana Perino said Tuesday. She did not disclose details of his announcement and would not say whether the president would propose any kind of mandatory cap on greenhouse gas emissions.


The Environmental Protection Agency has been told by the Supreme Court that carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas, is a pollutant and must be regulated if the EPA determines it is a danger to health and welfare.

At the same time, the Interior Department is under pressure to give polar bears special protection under the Endangered Species Act because of disappearing Arctic sea ice. A lawsuit has been filed under the same law for more protection for arctic seals.

Together these cases would pull the enforcement of the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act into the debate over climate change.

"Recent court decisions hold the very real prospect that the federal government will regulate greenhouse gas emissions with or without a new law being passed," Perino said. "To us, having unelected bureaucrats regulating greenhouse gases, at the direction of unelected judges, is not the proper way to address the issue."

Click here for the rest.

Okay. Bush is an oil man. One of his first acts as President was to walk away from the Kyoto Protocol--one of his more dubious actions as governor of Texas was to introduce sweeping pollution controls for industry, which were, get this, voluntary; obviously, his plan didn't end up amounting to much as far as reducing pollution goes. As a free market fundamentalist, Bush is, quite simplistically, very opposed to pretty much any government regulation which would hurt business in any way. I think it's safe to say that this speech isn't going to reveal any sort of major change of heart for our Chimp-in-Chief, even though I'm sure it will be presented as such.

So what's going on here?

White House spokesman Dana Perino essentially blurts out the answer: the machinery of government bureaucracy is closing in on them. That is, even though Perino asserts that it is somehow "improper" for the courts and regulatory agencies to do their damned jobs, that's what they're doing anyway. And it appears there are no "signing statements" or other bizarre kinds of legalese left for the White House to employ in defense of their arcane and self-destructive economic philosophy. They have to do something.

So they're doing some damage control, trying to get ahead of the issue before it drowns them. I'm betting that Bush's "strategy rather than a specific proposal" is going to be a lot of business friendly smoke and mirrors, with targets and good old voluntary compliance, amounting to nothing when it's all said and done.

But will the political establishment buy the bullshit this time?


Monday, April 14, 2008


...McCoy, Sulu, and Spock!!!


The Fading American Economy

From CounterPunch, a essay from former Reagan economist Paul Craig Roberts:

This is the portrait of the US economy according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It is an economy in which government is the largest employer. Manufacturing employment comprises just under 10% of total employment and about 12% of private sector employment. Everything else is services, and not particularly high level services.


If the US cannot close its trade deficit, it is unlikely that the US dollar can remain the world reserve currency. If the dollar were to lose the reserve currency role, the US government would not be able to finance its annual red ink budget by borrowing from foreigners, as the US saving rate is about zero, and the US would not be able to pay its import bill in its own currency. The rest of the world continues to hold depreciating US currency, because the dollar is the world reserve currency. The dollar is certainly not a good investment having declined dramatically against other traded currencies.


The US unemployment rate is creeping up, and according to John Williams, the official unemployment rate greatly understates the real rate of unemployment. Williams has followed the changes that government has made to the official indices over the years in order to spin a more politically palatable picture. Williams uses the original methodology prior to the decades of spin. The original way of measuring unemployment indicates the current rate of unemployment in the US to be 13%, much higher than the 5.1% official number.

Williams also calculates the CPI according to the same way it was officially calculated prior to the recent decades of spin. Williams estimates the current CPI at 12%, three times higher than the official 4% figure.

Click here for the rest.

Roberts is no lunatic or conspiracy theorist: he's a bona fide economist with quite a good reputation, and a conservative at that. And his latest essay has put together several economic trends that have increasingly worried me in recent years.

But then, this is where I always get into trouble with people who have studied economics more formally than I have.

I mean, I had a really good high school economics course, followed up by a decent college macroeconomics class, taught by a Friedmanite. So I feel like I've got a decent layman's grounding in the discipline. On the other hand, virtually all of my economics study beyond that has been informal and self-taught, usually by reading dissidents within the field, and critical intellectuals outside the field. I mean, I read Krugman, too, but mostly I'm swayed by Chomsky, Hermann, and others way out to the left. So, even though there are bound to be some honest disagreements that I have with people who understand economics in a more mainstream way, I can't help but wonder if there's something I just don't understand because I haven't studied enough.

Case in point: it seems to me that capitalism, as currently constructed in the US, is a big house of cards just waiting to cave in. I don't understand how we can send almost all of our manufacturing abroad and continue to have a strong economy at home. I don't understand how business can keep squeezing consumers and workers and expect to have strong domestic markets in the future. I don't understand how a negative savings rate isn't such a bad thing. I don't understand how maxing out credit cards just to survive, how running massive federal deficits, is going to work out in the long run. It just seems to me that the chickens must come home to roost some day.

But friends of mine, smart well educated friends whose opinions I trust, tell me I'm overreacting. To be honest, the whole monetary issue, reserve currencies, T-bills and whatnot, credit and savings, just gives me a headache when I try to really get my arms around it all from a mainstream point of view. I do understand, and agree with, the point about outsourcing, that cheaper labor overseas creates more wealth overall, but I don't understand how that wealth makes it back to average American citizens.

Anyway, I continue to be deeply worried about our house of cards economy: my take on the current recession is that it is resulting from longstanding structural flaws in how the overall economy is managed, rather than resulting from the usual business cycle. That is, all this bad shit is here to stay unless the wealthy elites completely revisit many of their base assumptions about how economics work, and change accordingly, which I don't expect to happen because they're doing pretty well, all things considered.

Can anybody out there set me straight? Matt? What have you got on all this? I would really prefer to not worry so much.


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Obama regrets remark about 'bitter' working class

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

Democrat Barack Obama concedes that comments he made about bitter working-class voters who cling to guns or religion were ill chosen.

The senator's comments drew immediate criticism, including a response from Hillary Rodham Clinton, his rival for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Obama scrambled Saturday to quell the furor. Clinton's response to his remarks is one of her lengthiest and most pointed criticisms to date. Obama made the remarks at a fundraiser in San Francisco on April 6.

Sens. Clinton and John McCain sharply criticized Obama on Friday for saying at a private fundraiser in San Francisco that small-town voters in economically distressed areas of Pennsylvania are "bitter."

"Well, that's not my experience," Clinton told a crowd at Drexel University. "As I travel around Pennsylvania, I meet people who are resilient, who are optimistic, who are positive. ... They're working hard every day for a better future for themselves and their children. Pennsylvanians don't need a president who looks down on them. They need a president who stands up for them, who fights for them."

In remarks first reported on the Huffington Post Web site, Obama said, "You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them.

"And they fell through the Clinton administration and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are going to regenerate and they have not," he went on. "And it's not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

Click here for the rest.


More truthful but "controversial" statements getting Obama into trouble: the correlation between economic hardship and fundamentalism or other extremist beliefs has been well established for some years now. For instance, the major recession in the US after World War I provided literally millions of recruits for the Klu Klux Klan revival of the 1920s; hyperinflation combined with the massive and unreasonable reparation debt imposed after the same war provided a fertile bed of social disaffection upon which Hitler's Nazi Party based its rapid and dramatic rise to power in Germany. This ain't rocket science.

Working people in this country really are hurting, and have been for many years.
Given that the mainstream press continues to remain mostly silent about what's actually ailing the working class, that capitalists are squeezing them for all the blood they can get, it's no surprise at all that the downtrodden find solace in the stark, black and white views of fundamentalist Christianity, or seek scapegoats for the venting of their wrath, or purchase guns to keep them safe from their invisible enemy.

Republicans are actually well aware of this dynamic, and have been taking great advantage of it since the Reagan era. It's just that nobody's actually supposed to talk about it.

Fucking Christ. Can you believe Hillary's response? That people in these old Pennsylvania factory towns are optimistic?!? What bullshit. It's been so bad there for so long. Remember Billy Joel's 1982 song "Allentown"? That's Allentown, Pennsylvania. Things were fucking awful then, and it's only gotten worse.

Obama speaks the truth and gets pounded for it. Thank god he's saying that his words were only "ill chosen," not that he was wrong. Because he wasn't wrong. Thank god he's taking the opportunity, as he did with Scary-Black-Preacher-Gate, to get into some real issues that usually go undiscussed. Because he's right.

Unfortunately, I've got a really bad feeling that the bullshit mudslinging hasn't even really started yet.


Friday, April 11, 2008




Be sure to check out Modulator's Friday Ark for more cat blogging pics!



From Crooks and Liars:

DONAHUE: So you are arguing that we are safer that we attacked Iraq?

HANNITY: You’re darn right. Absolutely.

DONAHUE: We are safer?

HANNITY: Yes. And it was the right thing to do.

DONAHUE: And we’ll be even safer when we bomb Iran, hmmm?

HANNITY: Well it all depends.

Click here for the video.

I used to spend a bit more time blogging about right-wing TV pundits, not much really, but a bit more than now. Ultimately, I just started ignoring them because, you know, their arguments are really pretty awful, more annoying and frustrating than anything else, self-evidently wrong, and just not worth the time. Every now and then, however, something happens on one of these shows that isn't scripted. Like with this one. Really, it's surprising that Hannity would even allow Donahue on the show: he understands the television medium as well as anybody in the business, and is easily one of the most articulate liberals in the country, totally willing to mix it up with the biggest conservative idiots in the field. This clip is worth watching, if only for the satisfaction of seeing square-jawed squinty-eyed Hannity floundering like the buffoon he is--Alan Colmes was chosen by Hannity to be his sparring partner precisely because Colmes is not Donahue; that is, he's a big fucking pussy.

Anyway, go check it out. The best part is Donahue's response to Hannity telling him that he's trying to "blame America." It really is a lot of fun.


Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Sources: Top Bush Advisors Approved 'Enhanced Interrogation'

From ABC News courtesy of Eschaton:

In dozens of top-secret talks and meetings in the White House, the most senior Bush administration officials discussed and approved specific details of how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency, sources tell ABC News.

The so-called Principals who participated in the meetings also approved the use of "combined" interrogation techniques -- using different techniques during interrogations, instead of using one method at a time -- on terrorist suspects who proved difficult to break, sources said.

Highly placed sources said a handful of top advisers signed off on how the CIA would interrogate top al Qaeda suspects -- whether they would be slapped, pushed, deprived of sleep or subjected to simulated drowning, called waterboarding.

The high-level discussions about these "enhanced interrogation techniques" were so detailed, these sources said, some of the interrogation sessions were almost choreographed -- down to the number of times CIA agents could use a specific tactic.

The advisers were members of the National Security Council's Principals Committee, a select group of senior officials who met frequently to advise President Bush on issues of national security policy.

At the time, the Principals Committee included Vice President Cheney, former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General John Ashcroft.


Then-Attorney General Ashcroft was troubled by the discussions. He agreed with the general policy decision to allow aggressive tactics and had repeatedly advised that they were legal. But he argued that senior White House advisers should not be involved in the grim details of interrogations, sources said.

According to a top official, Ashcroft asked aloud after one meeting: "Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly."

Click here for the rest.

All the way to the top.

I mean, I and countless other left-wing writers have been asserting since the Abu Graib pictures broke that the torture decisions had to come down from the highest levels of the Bush administration, but the political establishment simply yawned and ignored all the evidence. Maybe, just maybe, they'll start paying attention now. This ABC report comes hot on the heels of the revelation of a Rumsfeld torture authorization memo and a different White House torture authorization memo. Something appears to be going on behind the scenes, and I really hope that's the case.

This is some serious Nazi shit. Despite all the atrocities committed in the name of the United States throughout its history, there has always been a very broadly based cultural and political consensus that Americans don't torture. It was one thing that differentiated us from some of the most heinous and evil regimes around the world. But not anymore. This approval of torture, more than anything else probably, has made me despair for my country, has made me wonder from time to time if it's really even my country anymore. Because torture is straight up evil. Some Americans might torture, but it's not an American thing, just not a part of our values. This whole goddamned War on Terror, however, has made people crazy, willing to accept actions that essentially erase the America I love.

I really have a difficult time understanding why there isn't a whole lot more outrage about this. I don't understand why the Democrats haven't gone for Bush's jugular on this--I mean, I hate the Democrats and all, but, my god, where has all our human decency gone? Just what the fuck are our soldiers supposed to be fighting for? Why should I even salute the flag?

We really have moved into smoking gun territory on the torture issue now. These people should all be tried as war criminals.

How can justice get fucked in the ass like this?


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Federal Credit Cards Misused

From the Washington Post courtesy of AlterNet:

In the fraudulent category, a longtime employee of the U.S. Forest Service in Oregon, Debra K. Durfey, wrote convenience checks worth more than $640,000 from 2000 to 2006 to a live-in boyfriend, who used the money for gambling, car expenses and mortgage payments, according to the GAO and the Justice Department.

The fraud went undetected until a whistleblower forwarded a tip to the Agriculture Department's inspector general. Durfey, who headed her unit's purchasing office, pleaded guilty last year and was sentenced to 21 months in prison and restitution.

Another fraud case involved the U.S. Postal Service, where an unidentified postmaster used his card to charge $1,100 over a 15-month period for "various online dating services" while he was under investigation for viewing pornography on a government computer. The employee worked out an agreement to remain on sick leave until he retired in 2007 and paid back the money spent on the dating services, according to the GAO report and a Postal Service spokesman.

In a case the GAO deemed "abusive," the Postal Service spent $13,500 in 2006 on a dinner at a Ruth's Chris Steak House in Orlando, including "over 200 appetizers and over $3,000 of alcohol, including more than 40 bottles of wine costing more than $50 each and brand-name liquor such as Courvoisier, Belvedere and Johnny Walker Gold." The tab came to more than $160 a head for the 81 guests, the report said.

Postal Service spokesman Gerry McKiernan said the dinner was held to entertain large postal customers who were already in Florida for another conference, and actually saved money because it combined four events into one. He also defended the payments for alcohol.

"When you're having dinner with customers, it's normal to have a drink," McKiernan said.

In another case at the State Department, a cardholder spent $360 at the Seduccion Boutique in Ecuador to buy "women's underwear/lingerie for use during jungle training by trainees of a drug enforcement program." The report does not include further details but says a State Department official "agreed that the charge was questionable."

Click here for the rest.

It is very important to note that these Federal agencies are under control of the White House. That is, the buck stops with Bush. Or at least it should. My assumption is that the spending spree has been going on the entire time Bush has been in office; it is only recently that the now Democratic Congress has decided to exercise its usual oversight function--the previous Republican Congresses since 2001 seemed quite content to let these people run wild.

That's what you get when you put Republican political appointees, cronies essentially, in charge of various government apparatuses: if your philosophical belief is that government can do nothing for the country, that government "is the problem," and should be "shrunk," then all that taxpayer cash becomes problematic. What do you do with it? Why spend it, of course, on fun and pointless bullshit. As always, Republicans deal with the people's money as though they were pigs at a feeding trough. Whether it's giving massive tax cuts to the rich, or granting highly inflated no-bid contracts to campaign donors, or just buying booze and hookers, the GOP always comes to Washington to rip us off.

Bunch of fucking pigs.


Monday, April 07, 2008

There's Nothing Funny About Prison Rape

From the American Prospect:

As our jokes and cultural products show, we can claim no ignorance. We know of the abuses, and we know of the rapes. Research by the University of South Dakota's Cindy Struckman-Johnson found that 20% of prisoners reported being coerced or pressured into sex, and 10% said they were violently raped. In a 2007 survey by the U.S. Department of Justice, more than 60,000 inmates claimed to have been sexually victimized by other inmates during the previous 12 months. Given the stigma around admitting such harms, the true numbers are probably substantially higher.

But by and large, we seem to find more humor than outrage in these crimes. In part, this simply reflects the nature of our criminal justice system, which has become decreasingly rehabilitative and increasingly retributive.


Morally, our tacit acceptance of violence within prisons is grotesque. But it's also counterproductive. Research by economists Jesse Shapiro and Keith Chen suggests that violent prisons make prisoners more violent after they leave. When your choice is between the trauma of hardening yourself so no one will touch you or the trauma of prostituting yourself so you're protected from attack, either path leads away from rehabilitation and psychological adjustment.

And we, as a society, endure the consequences -- both because it leads ex-cons to commit more crime on the streets and because more of them end up back to jail. A recent report released by the Pew Center on the States revealed that more than one in 100 Americans is now behind bars. California alone spends $8.8 billion a year on its imprisoned population -- a 216% increase over what it paid 20 years ago, even after adjusting for inflation.

Click here for the rest.

Right. I laugh, too. But I think the humor comes more from society's current state of gay anxiety than from actually thinking that the socially imposed violence of rape upon the incarcerated is funny. Really, as the essay observes, I think most people, including myself, simply don't think about how horrible it all is, about how we are all responsible by not insisting these horrors end.

I mean, I do think about how horrible it all is. But I'm also able to do some doublethink when laughing at these rape jokes. The point is that the jokes help to perpetuate the situation, making it all seem to be not so bad because it's funny. Like the title says, however, when you get right down to it, it's not funny. It's terrifying.

It also shows how we've hardly advanced beyond barbarity, how contemporary American society is still just as violent and hateful as our bloody past has been. It is no surprise at all that we now torture prisoners of war. It's the same social strain: we think it's just fine to sentence offenders to be raped; we think it's just fine to torture Muslims. This is about much more than a decade of Republican rule. The problem is deeply ingrained in American culture itself.

What's Obama going to do to change this? Can Obama change this?


Legendary actor Heston dies at 84

From the Houston Chronicle:

Charlton Heston, a towering star of the 1950s and 1960s who continued to command the stage in recent years as the face and defiant voice of the National Rifle Association, has died. He was 84.

Family spokesman Bill Powers said the actor died Saturday night at his home in Beverly Hills with his wife, Lydia, at his side.

Powers declined to comment on the cause of death or provide further details.

Heston revealed in 2002 that he had symptoms consistent with Alzheimer's disease, saying, "I must reconcile courage and surrender in equal measure."

With his powerful bass voice and rugged athleticism, Heston was a natural to play larger-than-life figures in historic epics, and he played a slew of them in a career that spanned a half-century and included 80 films.

Click here for the rest.

I could go into a bunch of words about his lame right-wing turn in later years, or how his acting sucked by the standards I've learned in school, and then into a long diatribe about how none of that matters. But screw that. His work should speak for itself.

Here are three Charlton Heston moments that continue to blow me away after some thirty five years:

Farewell, Charlton Heston. I don't care what people say: you've affected my life in profound ways.


Saturday, April 05, 2008

Voodoo Health Economics

New Krugman:

For one thing, even if you buy the premise that competition would reduce health care costs, the idea that it could cut costs enough to make insurance affordable for Americans with a history of cancer or other major diseases is sheer fantasy.

Beyond that, there’s no reason to believe in these alleged cost reductions. Insurance companies do try to hold down “medical losses” — the industry’s term for what happens when an insurer actually ends up having to honor its promises by paying a client’s medical bills. But they don’t do this by promoting cost-effective medical care.

Instead, they hold down costs by only covering healthy people, screening out those who need coverage the most — which was exactly the point Mrs. Edwards was making. They also deny as many claims as possible, forcing doctors and hospitals to spend large sums fighting to get paid.

And the international evidence on health care costs is overwhelming: the United States has the most privatized system, with the most market competition — and it also has by far the highest health care costs in the world.

Yet the McCain health plan — actually a set of bullet points on the campaign’s Web site — is entirely based on blind faith that competition among private insurers will solve all problems.

Click here for the rest.

As a rule of thumb, of course, competition in most markets does indeed result in better products and services at lower prices, generally benefiting the consumer. But that’s just a rule of thumb, not an economic “law.” The reality is that there are many markets that are just too weird, for various reasons, to conform to such rules of thumb. Not being an economist, it’s difficult for me to articulate exactly why the health insurance market falls into the weird category, but much of the reason is that the service here is all about pooling financial risk: the incentive for insurance businesses to minimize or eliminate such risk, that is, sick people, almost always overwhelms other factors, rendering the concept of free market health insurance problematic at best. That is, as Krugman observes, the whole idea of pooling risk is subverted by the profit motive, which skews coverage toward those who need it least, the young and the healthy. Given that this issue is an inherent aspect of the entire health insurance market, it is highly unlikely that more competition would do much, if anything, to lower rates for the sick and the old, the people who need it most.

If that made no sense at all, which is probable, go read this, which was written by an actual economist, Duncan Black, a.k.a. Atrios, who writes my favorite blog Eschaton.

It continues to horrify me how Republicans successfully employ an inaccurate and dumbed-down version of economics to benefit their base, the wealthy elite.