Monday, January 31, 2005


One reporter's story about how Bush keeps his people in line. From the Washington Post courtesy of This Modern World:

Consider that the escorts weren't there to provide security; all of us had already been through two checkpoints and one metal detector. They weren't there to keep me away from, Heaven forbid, a Democrat or a protester; those folks were kept safely behind rings of fences and concrete barriers. Nor were the escorts there to admonish me for asking a rude question of the partying faithful, or to protect the paying customers from the prying media.

Their real purpose only occurred to me after I had gone home for the night, when I remembered a brief conversation with a woman I was interviewing. During the middle of our otherwise innocuous encounter, she suddenly noticed the presence of my minder. She stopped for a moment, glanced past me, then resumed talking.

No, the minders weren't there to monitor me. They were there to let the guests, my sources on inaugural night, know that any complaint, any unguarded statement, any off-the-reservation political observation, might be noted. But maybe someday they'll be monitoring something more important than an inaugural ball, and the source could be you.

Click here for the rest.



Yet another Paul Krugman essay. From the New York Times courtesy of Eschaton:

Schemes for Social Security privatization, like the one described in the 2004 Economic Report of the President, invariably assume that investing in stocks will yield a high annual rate of return, 6.5 or 7 percent after inflation, for at least the next 75 years. Without that assumption, these schemes can't deliver on their promises. Yet a rate of return that high is mathematically impossible unless the economy grows much faster than anyone is now expecting.


Which brings us to the privatizers' Catch-22.

They can rescue their happy vision for stock returns by claiming that the Social Security actuaries are vastly underestimating future economic growth. But in that case, we don't need to worry about Social Security's future: if the economy grows fast enough to generate a rate of return that makes privatization work, it will also yield a bonanza of payroll tax revenue that will keep the current system sound for generations to come.

Alternatively, privatizers can unhappily admit that future stock returns will be much lower than they have been claiming. But without those high returns, the arithmetic of their schemes collapses.

It really is that stark: any growth projection that would permit the stock returns the privatizers need to make their schemes work would put Social Security solidly in the black.

Click here for the rest.


Sunday, January 30, 2005


A BuzzFlash interview via WorkingForChange:

History tells us that when corporate power is unrestrained, and corporations grow so large that the largest among them come to control and then stifle the marketplace, the result is the corruption of democracy followed by economic collapse. We saw it in the serial tax-cuts and deregulation of the Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover administrations, which led directly to the Great Depression. And we're seeing it writ large today, with the same consequences. Democracy is under assault and America is becoming impoverished.

The breakup of AT&T was the last significant enforcement of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, pushed back in the late 1970s. The result was an explosion of innovation as both the research division of AT&T and the "Baby Bells" became relatively autonomous. It paved the way for competition in the industry, dramatically lowered prices for consumers, and, interestingly, over a relatively short period of time actually increased shareholder value for former AT&T stockholders.

There are only a handful -- probably fewer than five hundred -- corporations that abuse or assert corporate personhood in the United States. Yet the harm they do to our economy and our republic is enormous. If they were denied personhood, we could root corruption out of government, get corporations out of politics, and make America safe and hospitable for entrepreneurs and small- and medium-sized businesses again, leading to an explosion in economic activity. And both the stockholders and the employees of these mega-corporations would benefit -- along with the rest of us -- if they were broken back down in size to where they were before the merger mania that Reagan allowed.

Click here for the rest.

Longtime Real Art readers know that I strongly believe that this sense of corporate "citizenship" is what's turned our fragile democracy into a plutocracy: corporate cash rules America now; voting is nearly useless when all the major candidates have vetted by the corporate powers in what some call a wealth primary--lobbying and campaign contributions are absolutely out of hand, which totally subverts democracy at the policy and implementation level. Both Democrats and Republicans are at the mercy of the corporate overlords. That's why I'm Green now; their bylaws prohibit taking any corporate money, and their overall mission is to return political power to average people.

Read this interview. It does quite a good job of showing how we got into this fine mess.


Guest Blogger Miles

Abortion rights expected to be reduced

NEW YORK - The abortion bill most likely to become federal law this year would affect a relatively small number of pregnant teens, yet its impact on them could be dramatic — sharply reducing the options for girls in many states who dread telling their parents of their plight.

Supporters and opponents each offer vivid worst-case scenarios in debating the bill, which was included this week in the Senate Republicans' priority list. It would outlaw transporting a minor across state lines to obtain an abortion in order to evade parental consent or notification laws in the girl's home state.

The bill's advocates evoke the image of a girl being impregnated by an abusive older man who then drives her to an out-of-state abortion clinic so the girl's parents and the authorities won't find out about a relationship that might have been illegal because of age differences.

Opponents of the bill say it would criminalize the well-meaning acts of an aunt, older sister or other confidante who assist a girl terrified of being beaten or evicted from home if her parents learned of the pregnancy.

Every pro-choice American who voted for Bush because "at least they know where he stands" can pat themselves on the back.


Revisiting the Porn Debate

From AlterNet:

It is typical that liberal-minded people, when facing censorship, would rush to defend pornographers' right to produce whatever they want, even if the products objectify, humiliate and violate women. But shouldn't we ponder what we are defending and what kind of value system supports that defense?

One of the most popular booths at the expo was for the BangBus, which consistently drew large crowds of almost entirely male fans. What's the BangBus concept? One of the producers explained that the videos show men in a large van, picking up what appear to be women on the streets, talking them into having sex, and then degrading them in some way – dropping them off in desolate places, not giving them money promised, or throwing their belongings out the door.

BangBus was hardly the most shocking, cruel or brutal pornography being offered on the exhibition floor in Las Vegas. Much of it can't be described for a general audience. There are few boundaries that haven't been pushed, as pornographers race to the shocking, ridiculous and humiliating, connecting visceral reactions to sexual pleasure. As an Asian woman, I found the racist stereotypes used in certain genres of pornography particularly oppressive.

Pornography encourages people to disregard others' pain for one's own pleasure. Many people I interviewed acknowledged that, based on their own experience and knowledge of the human body, certain sex acts they've watched in films likely would have been painful for the female performers. However, they argued that since the performers were paid, it was not the viewers' concern, and they acknowledged that they get aroused watching it. That mentality helps create a world in which a producer can brag about having originated a popular video series that shows women gagging during forceful oral sex

Click here for the rest.

Okay, I love pornography and pretty much always have. However, some years after getting my RTF degree, it became clear to me that if I was going to rail away against the way that advertising promotes the morally bankrupt philosophy of consumerism, if I was going to trash the mindless violence, macho stereotypes, and blatant sexism of Hollywood movies, I also had to use the same sort of analysis on my beloved porn.

What I came up with was disturbing. Porn, as an industry, really does present a wildly distorted picture of sexuality and women. Because porn is business, big business in fact, it generally aims at the lowest common denominator, just as mainstream television and film do. Consequently, we see the basest portrayals of gender: men are almost always the agressors, always in charge; women are submissive and willing.

This would not be such a big deal if it were only a few isolated instances. However, these gender roles are evident in almost all consumer pornography, and, as I'm sure you realize, porn has become amazingly pervasive due to the internet. Couple that with the continual devolution of sex education in the public schools which makes porn a de facto form of education for millions of children and teens, and suddenly it becomes clear: porn isn't just about harmless fantasy; it is now a major cultural influence, for better or worse.

Personally, I envision a kind of pornography that is respectful to both men and women, but the business doesn't seem to be interested in that. Understand, my problem with porn is not with portraying sex and sexuality in images. Rather, porn, as an industry, is highly exploitative and influences our culture in negative ways, all so a bunch of sleazy capitalists can get all the more wealthy. Ultimately, I see no difference between capitalist pornographers and capitalist oil men. Both industries are trying to profit at the expense of everyone else, and they simply don't give a shit about it.



A nice little interview/bio piece on Noam Chomsky that gives a good overview of where he's at these days on Iraq and the "war on terrorism." From the London Independent via ZNet:

Still, he says, he is amazed at how the invasion of Iraq has turned out in what he believes "should have been one of the easier military occupations in history". He says: "I thought the war itself would be over in two days and that the occupation would immediately succeed. It was known to be the weakest country in the region. The US never would have invaded otherwise. The sanctions had killed hundreds of thousands and compelled the people to rely on Saddam for survival, otherwise they probably would have overthrown him.

"The country is obviously going to fall apart as soon as you push it. And any resistance is going to have no outside support, a trickle but nothing significant. But, in fact, it is proving harder than the German occupation of Europe in the Second World War. The Nazis didn't have this much trouble in Europe. But somehow the US has managed to turn it into an unbelievable catastrophe. And it is partly because of the way they are treating people. They have been treating people in such a way that engenders resistance and hatred and fear."

The long-awaited Iraqi elections are to be held next Sunday but Chomsky calls talk about a sovereign, independent, democratic Iraq a "poor joke". He says: "I don't see any possibility of Britain and the US allowing a sovereign independent Iraq; that's almost inconceivable. It will have a Shia majority.

Click here for the rest.

The thing I like most about Chomsky is his ability to see a spade for what it actually is. He's declared again and again that there is no real intellectual connection between his linguistics work and his political work, but it seems that the majority of his political analyis deals with looking at the official line and then illustrating how words and deeds simply do not match. In other words, his non-linguistics writing looks at language and meaning where it counts most, in the political realm, where millions of lives are affected every day. In this case, the US is calling this theatrical event in Iraq an election. Indeed, votes will be cast and leaders will be appointed: however, this "election" will no doubt be less fair than the electoral travesty in Florida during the 2000 Presidential election. That is, it's not an election at all. It is simply an event designed to give legitimacy to American control of Iraq.


Saturday, January 29, 2005

Iraq's Non-Election

From CounterPunch courtesy of J. Orlin Grabbe:

Predictably, the U.S. news media are full of discussion and debate about this weekend's election in Iraq. Unfortunately, virtually all the commentary misses a simple point: There will be no "election" on Jan. 30 in Iraq, if that term is meant to suggest an even remotely democratic process.

Many Iraqis casting votes will be understandably grateful for the opportunity. But the conditions under which those votes will be cast -- as well as the larger context -- bear more similarity to a slowly unfolding hostage tragedy than an exercise in democracy. We refer not to the hostages taken by various armed factions in Iraq, but the way in which U.S. policymakers are holding the entire Iraqi population hostage to U.S. designs for domination of the region.

This is an election that U.S. policymakers were forced to accept and now hope can entrench their power, not displace it. They seek not an election that will lead to a U.S. withdrawal, but one that will bolster their ability to make a case for staying indefinitely.

Click here for the rest.


Little Black Lies

Princeton economist Paul Krugman continues to clear up the White House's conscious confusion mongering on Social Security privatization. From the New York Times courtesy of This Modern World:

First, Mr. Bush's remarks on African-Americans perpetuate a crude misunderstanding about what life expectancy means. It's true that the current life expectancy for black males at birth is only 68.8 years - but that doesn't mean that a black man who has worked all his life can expect to die after collecting only a few years' worth of Social Security benefits. Blacks' low life expectancy is largely due to high death rates in childhood and young adulthood. African-American men who make it to age 65 can expect to live, and collect benefits, for an additional 14.6 years - not that far short of the 16.6-year figure for white men.

Second, the formula determining Social Security benefits is progressive: it provides more benefits, as a percentage of earnings, to low-income workers than to high-income workers. Since African-Americans are paid much less, on average, than whites, this works to their advantage.

Finally, Social Security isn't just a retirement program; it's also a disability insurance program. And blacks are much more likely than whites to receive disability benefits.

Put it all together, and the deal African-Americans get from Social Security turns out, according to various calculations, to be either about the same as that for whites or somewhat better. Hispanics, by the way, clearly do better than either.

Click here for the rest.


Thursday, January 27, 2005


First off, it appears that this entire comedy was born of a misunderstanding. From AlterNet:

As it turns out, the whackos who originally led the attack on the We Are Family Foundation had logged onto the wrong web site in their search for ammunition. Rather than boot up the Foundation's site,, they'd mistakenly gone to the home page of the similarly named We Are Family organization (, which is, indeed, a gay and lesbian resource site. But instead of fessing up to messing up – especially now that the media was running with (and laughing at) the story – the resourceful Christians doubled back onto the Foundation's site, found the tolerance pledge, and had the smoking sponge they needed.

So the fundamentalists really thought they had something. When it turned out that they didn't, they went after what they could, the notion of tolerance itself:

Quicker than you can say, I can't believe they're going after a cartoon sponge, Dobson's cronies in the holier-than-thou contingent weighed in on the underwater turbulence.

"Tolerance" and "diversity" are part of a "coded language that is regularly used by the homosexual community," said a spokesman from the reliably over-caffeinated Family Research Council; while Donald Wildmon, chairman of the American Family Association and reigning Chicken Little of moral depravity, warned parents everywhere to be on the lookout for the sinful video making its way into their kids' classrooms.

Click here for the rest.

During the summer of 1985, I went to a Southern Baptist youth camp up in the mountains near Glorieta, New Mexico. I was surprised by one of the memes that the adults were circulating around the camp. The anti-starvation charity song "We Are the World" was still on the charts. I had already become bored with it (except for, maybe, the Ray Charles verse), because the radio was playing it constantly and MTV had the video in heavy rotation. But the grandiose pop symphony really seemed to light the passions of our counselors at camp.

They hated it, which is understandable, but not because the song was kind of sucky. No, these guys had weird theological problems with the lyrics. They objected first and foremost to the notion that "we are the world." They quoted a few New Testament verses to the effect that Christians are somehow distinct among humanity; "be in the world, but not of it," says the Bible. "We are not the world," they told me repeatedly. To a lesser degree they had a problem with the line "we're saving our own lives," because, of course, only Jesus can save.

Screwy, right? Not to them, and the proponents of these ideas did a pretty good job of pulling lots of teenagers over to their side. Fortunately (I guess), I was unconvinced. Even though I was still a believer at the time, their reasoning on this seemed absurd: clearly, they had taken the lyrics wildly out of context, applying a strange sort of Biblical interpretation to these bland, near-meaningless, feel-good words. It was for me an omen of my future disgust with fundamentalism's lunacy.

The moral to this tale is that fundamentalists seem to be incapable of supporting any charitable effort that hasn't been generated by them. The problem is their unwillingness to join with any organization or institution that doesn't embrace fundamentalist philosophy as its core value--tolerance is okay, as long as it's a Christian tolerance. Consequently, SpongeBob is gay, and "diversity" means promoting homosexuality. For fundamentalists, it's clearly their way or the highway.

Of course, bashing tolerance is rhetorically quite a dangerous thing, as this post from David Neiwert over at Orcinus shows.


Support Our Troops: Bring Them Home

From ZNet:

It is a strange logic to declare, as so many in Washington do, that it was wrong for us to invade Iraq but right for us to remain. A recent New York Times editorial sums up the situation accurately: "Some 21 months after the American invasion, United States military forces remain essentially alone in battling what seems to be a growing insurgency, with no clear prospect of decisive success any time in the foreseeable future."

And then, in an extraordinary non sequitur: "Given the lack of other countries willing to put up their hands as volunteers, the only answer seems to be more American troops, and not just through the spring, as currently planned. . . . Forces need to be expanded through stepped-up recruitment."

Here is the flawed logic: We are alone in the world in this invasion. The insurgency is growing. There is no visible prospect of success. Therefore, let's send more troops? The definition of fanaticism is that when you discover that you are going in the wrong direction, you redouble your speed.

Click here for the rest.

But then, it is important to observe that when one looks up that definition of fanaticism in the dictionary, one will also find a picture of the United States. That is, it seems that since 9/11 the US ruling elite and their apologists have been fanatical. This whole thing has been spurred on by flawed logic from the get-go. Saddam had no WMDs, and this was known before the invasion. Saddam had no connections with Al-Qaeda, and this, too, was known before the invasion. No Iraqis were involved in the attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon, which was also known before the war. Public debate and discussion about the war, before during and after, have been disingenuous at best, focusing on some details but never the big picture. I'm still amazed at how crazy the whole thing's been.

Zinn is absolutely right, of course. This is pure insanity, and the only rational course is to get out, right now. As usual, however, I'm not very hopeful.


Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Deadliest Day in Iraq Yet part II

Miles, below, didn't link to any article about the 37 US soldiers killed in Iraq earlier today so I figured I'd post one myself. From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

A U.S. helicopter crashed in a desert sandstorm in the early morning darkness today, killing the 30 Marines and one Navy sailor aboard. Six other troops died in insurgent ambushes in the deadliest day for Americans since the Iraq war began nearly two years ago.

Only days before Iraq's crucial elections Sunday, militants set off at least eight car bombings that killed 13 people and injured 40 others, including 11 Americans. The guerrillas also carried out a string of attacks nationwide against schools that will serve as polling centers.

In Washington, President Bush called on Iraqis to defy terrorism and go to the polls despite relentless insurgent attacks. He said it was a "very discouraging" day when the U.S. death toll for the war rose above 1,400.

Click here for the rest.

I'm sure that when our fearless leader says "very discouraging," he doesn't actually mean that he's getting discouraged. Stay the course and all that. There are absolutely no signs of an imminent US pullout despite the ever increasing gore over there.

If you follow the above link and read the story, it starts talking about the overall general level of violence in Iraq: there are car bombs and suicide bombers all over the place. As longtime British Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk has observed, it's already over; the US just hasn't admitted it yet. The longer the White House waits to admit the obvious, however, the more people will die.

How can such criminals be our leaders?


Guest Blogger Miles

Condoleezza Rice sworn in

WASHINGTON - Condoleezza Rice won easy confirmation Wednesday to be President Bush's new secretary of state, despite strong dissent from a small group of Democrats who said she shares blame for mistakes and war deaths in Iraq.

The Senate voted 85 to 13 to confirm Rice, who succeeds Colin Powell as America's top diplomat and becomes the first black woman to hold the job.

The Senate vote showed some of the partisanship that delayed Rice's confirmation vote by several days. Twelve Democrats and independent James Jeffords of Vermont voted against Rice. The Democrats included some of the Senate's best-known members such as Massachusetts Democratic Sens. Edward M. Kennedy and John Kerry, who was the party's presidential candidate in last year's election. Thirty Democrats voted for her.

Shame on every Democrat who didn't speak up and chose to vote for her. Rice has what I call "Alan Keyes" syndrome. She allows herself to be manipulated by hardline conservatives because she knows the value of her ethnicity and gender in terms of P.R. I don't care who she is; she knowingly lied, and continues to lie, which has cost thousands of American lives and tens of thousands of Iraqi lives.


Guest Blogger Miles

Democrats call Condoleezza Rice a liar, Bush apologist

WASHINGTON — One Senate Democrat called Condoleezza Rice a liar Tuesday and others said she was an apologist for Bush administration failures in Iraq, but she remained on track for confirmation as secretary of state.

Rice, who has been President Bush's White House national security adviser for four years, was one of the loudest voices urging war, Democrats said. She repeatedly deceived members of Congress and Americans at large about justifications for the war, said Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn.

"I don't like impugning anyone's integrity, but I really don't like being lied to," Dayton said. "Repeatedly, flagrantly, intentionally."

Rice is expected to win confirmation on Wednesday. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., predicted that Rice would have "an overwhelming majority" of votes.

If nothing else, it's at least consolation for Ron for voting Democratic. I've read over transcripts of Senate debates, and I've seen terms like "fabrication" and "misleading". To flatly call Rice a "liar" on the Senate floor is a great step toward change and a faint pulse from the Democratic party.


Guest Blogger Miles

Deadliest Day in Iraq Yet (and it's 3 p.m.)

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Thirty Marines and a Navy corpsman were killed in a helicopter crash near Iraq's border with Jordan, bringing the number of U.S. troops killed Wednesday to 37 -- the deadliest day for U.S. forces since the start of the war in Iraq.

Four U.S. Marines were killed during combat in Iraq's Anbar province, and two U.S. soldiers were killed in attacks in the Baghdad area, according to the U.S. military.

The cause of the chopper crash is still under investigation, although it appears to be weather-related, according to Gen. John Abizaid, chief of U.S. Central Command.

Certainly not a good day, but a typical one. Hopefully it really was weather-related, as the general stated, and not caused by insurgents.


Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Dollar at mercy of central banks

From the London Financial Times courtesy of J. Orlin Grabbe:

In 2003, the most recent year with full international statistics, central banks financed 83 per cent of the US current account deficit, with Asian central banks accounting for 86 per cent of flows.

A similar picture is emerging for 2004. Despite a good start to the year, when the private sector was a large net purchaser of dollar assets, central banks came to the rescue again. The People's Bank of China has let it be known that China increased dollar reserves by $207bn (€159bn) in 2004, financing nearly a third of the US current account deficit, estimated at $650bn.

Self-interest has supported much of this flow of cash. The US has lapped up cheap finance to fund its unquenchable appetite to spend. Asian governments have until now been keen to oblige, in order to keep their currencies from appreciating. But all investors have their limits and they may start worrying about their degree of exposure.

If new official flows to the US were to be curtailed, the dollar would plunge, creating a huge hole in the accounts of central banks holding dollars.


Until recently there had been little evidence to back up these fears but this has begun to change.

Click here for more.

The US dollar has value only becaue it is perceived as representing a strong American economy and financially sound US government. It appears as though that perception is (rightly) about to change for the worse. The conventional wisdom is that cheaper dollars equal more US exports--a less expensive dollar makes American goods less expensive relative to other currencies, and therefore more appealing to buyers in overseas markets. The catch here is that for the last twenty years, multi-national corporations have been madly outsourcing US manufacturing to other countries! We don't really export that much any more. So there is no benefit at all to a cheaper dollar; there's only downside: inflation the likes of which we haven't seen since the 1970s, worse perhaps.

Okay, maybe there's one benefit. Wal-Mart as we know it will cease to exist.


Billboards tout a Christian alternative to homosexuality

From the Houston Chronicle:

The advertisements, which depict either a smiling man or woman, bear the message, "I questioned homosexuality. Change is Possible. Discover how."

The billboards are in promotion of the evangelical Christian group Focus on the Family's "Love Won Out" conference scheduled for Feb. 19.

"The conference is meant to help people understand what causes homosexuality and how to prevent it," said B. Joe Cline, a Galveston resident who organized advertising effort that uses 15 billboards.


Cline said he got involved with ministry for homosexuals, because his son, who is now heterosexual, once was gay.

"People who are in homosexuality are there because of a disconnect or a gender identification that has not matured," said Cline, 73, a recently retired financial planner and 28-year Galveston resident.

Click here for the rest.

Wow. A fundamentalist scientific breakthrough. Who whould have thought that?

Of course, that's heavy sarcasm. The truth is that medical doctors and psychologists really have no idea what makes gay people gay, or straight people straight, for that matter, which makes it particularly frustrating to hear such psycho-babble coming out of the mouths of people who couldn't possibly know what they're talking about. Increasing the consternation are the studies showing that these gay to straight conversions don't usually take too well. In other words, as Frank Zappa once sang, "you are what you is." It's clear that this ad campaign is much more about ideology than anything else. That, and playing with people's heads.


Monday, January 24, 2005


Rob Salkowitz has popped out another couple of thought provoking essays recently, and I'm too busy with my studies to do any thought provoking of my own (I've got to re-read Uncle Vanya tonight--I get to play the title character for some scene work in class, which is pretty darned cool), so I'm channelling Emphasis Added here at Real Art this evening.

First off, Rob takes a few pot shots at Bush's "Ownership Society" nonsense, as I did a couple of days ago, but from a somewhat less macroeconomic point of view:

The On-your-Ownership Society

Why would anyone want to work for someone else when they could get these great advantages by being self-employed? Because it’s cold out here, that’s why.

No one pays for my health care, no one guarantees my salary every month. If I don’t get work on my own, I don’t get paid. If I don’t collect from recalcitrant clients, I don’t get paid. If someone decides to screw me over because I’m small and powerless, I don’t get paid. Fortunately, I’m fairly good at what I do and this hasn’t been a problem lately, but in the early part of my career (and still, for many smart and well-qualified colleagues), being the master and commander of one’s own craft more often resembles sailing on the crest of a tsunami than being the cruise director of the Love Boat.


It’s a fact of human nature that, if fed a steady stream of Horatio Alger stories about hard work and entrepreneurship, most people will eventually look in the mirror and see the next Donald Trump. It’s also a fact of human nature – and a fortunate one – that there’s only one Donald Trump and precious few like him. Like roulette, freedom and ownership in the capitalist sense produce a few big winners and lots and lots of frustrated losers.

In the business world, this is tolerable since it has many other benefits for economic growth and innovation. Business also has mechanisms for spreading risk and replacing unproductive parts. At the individual level, people don’t have that option. If you make a bad economic decision, you can’t take a “one-time charge against earnings” and absorb a stock-price hit. If age, disease or circumstance reduce your ability to compete in the workforce, you can’t outsource the unprofitable unit.

Click here for the more on why it's a bad idea for everybody to try to be a capitalist.

This next essay isn't really extending on anything I've posted here recently, but it's good reading that chills me to the bone if I think about it too much:

Vergiss Nicht

…is the inscription posted on the gates to Dachau, the former Nazi concentration camp (now historical site) outside of Munich. It means “Never Forget,” and since the world today is commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, it’s a good time to remember a few things about the Holocaust and the circumstances that brought it about.


Because the majority of the Nazis’ victims were Jews, it is natural to view Nazism as fundamentally anti-Semitic. This is true, of course, but it also confuses the issue. Unlike, say, the Russian Cossacks or the perpetrators of anti-Jewish pogroms throughout Europe during the Middle Ages, the Nazis’ problem with Jews was not primarily religious. It was partly racist, based on now-discredited theories of eugenics and biological explanations for cultural differences between human populations. Hitler clearly thought he was “purifying the herd” and pulling out the weeds so flowers could grow. But, critically, Hitler’s hatred of Jews was also specifically ideological.

And what was it he didn’t like? Hitler, the Austrian immigrant who became a zealous German patriot and acutely felt the humiliation of Germany’s defeat in World War I, rooted himself in nationalism. The aggrandizement of the German state and the German
was the center of his political program. Nothing gets nationalists more pissed off than cosmopolitans – those educated, mostly urban elites who perceive greater commonality with others similarly situated elsewhere in the world than they do with the people and traditions of their own country.

Following World War I, cosmopolitanism was all the rage in Germany, and it was, often for good reason, intimately associated with avant gard art, left-wing politics, and transgressive sexual behavior. Then as now, this enraged conservatives, who saw the ideas and traditions at the root of their social and economic power threatened by “corrupt and decadent” tendencies emanating from the cities. Then as now, a disproportionate number of the writers, political agitators, “outrageous” entertainers, policy wonks and know-it-alls were Jews: assimilated Jews who felt comfortable enough in German society to flamboyantly step over lines held sacred by the God-fearing folks out in the hinterlands.

Click here for the rest.

Does any of this seem familiar? I won't be coy: conservatives in 21st century America are toying with Pandora's box. Fanning the fires of hyper-patriotism while blaming liberal cultured urbanites for national weakness is exactly what the Nazis were doing in order to solidify their political power in 1930s Germany. So, too, with American conservatives today. People believe our country could never go the way of Nazi Germany, but Germans then were human beings just like we are, no better, no worse. Things might not end up that way here. But, then, they might.


Sunday, January 23, 2005


Two from WorkingForChange:

Another fake crisis from Bush's minions

At a staged event to promote his privatization scheme, Mr. Bush recently said that Social Security is going "bankrupt." Yet the government's own projections indicate that the Social Security Trust Fund can pay full benefits until sometime between 2042 and 2052, or roughly half a century from now. Why does he claim to be so worried about a minor financial problem that won't arise for decades, if ever, while he remains unfazed by the threat of global warming?

Permitting private accounts won't resolve those potential funding shortfalls in any case, according to the federal government's own analysts, including the U.S. Comptroller General. The only realistic solution, according to the Wehner memo, is to change the method used to calculate benefits -- and cutting them sharply. Why then would Mr. Bush insist on borrowing $2 trillion or more to finance privatization, thus creating additional debt for the young people whose future checks will also be slashed?

According to Mr. Bush, Social Security will someday break the national budget with unsupportable demands unless his proposals are enacted. Last year, however, he triumphantly signed a Medicare prescription drug plan that -- by the government's own reckoning -- will cost trillions of dollars more than Social Security. Why does he consider that election-year spending program prudent?

Click here for the rest.

The Free Lunch Bunch

If people are rightly skeptical about claims that Social Security faces an imminent crisis, just wait until they start looking closely at the supposed solution.

President Bush is like a financial adviser who tells you that at the rate you're going, you won't be able to afford retirement - but that you shouldn't do anything mundane like trying to save more. Instead, you should take out a huge loan, put the money in a mutual fund run by his friends (with management fees to be determined later) and place your faith in capital gains.

That, once you cut through all the fine phrases about an "ownership society," is how the Bush privatization plan works. Payroll taxes would be diverted into private accounts, forcing the government to borrow to replace the lost revenue. The government would make up for this borrowing by reducing future benefits; yet workers would supposedly end up better off, in spite of reduced benefits, through the returns on their accounts.

The whole scheme ignores the most basic principle of economics: there is no free lunch.

Click here for the rest.


Saturday, January 22, 2005

"Corporate Americans"

From AlterNet:

The Ownership Society represents a new form of distinctly right-wing economic populism. It turns the notion on its head; while liberals offer a populism that promises underserved groups that "We will stand with you against the heartless and powerful," the central theme of the Ownership Society is that we're all big capitalists just waiting to blossom — even the lowliest among us. If only we could get the yoke of taxes, asbestos litigation and regulations off our backs we would all be in a position to worry about losing a piece of our multi-million dollar estate to the "death tax." Forget about a semblance of economic justice, it's about giving you, the individual, the tools you need to beat your neighbor. And if you can't beat him, he'll beat you. It's a populism born in the Hobbesian belief that we all struggle alone in a world where life is nasty, brutish and short.

Click here for the rest.

Just in case you haven't heard, "The Ownership Society" is the umbrella moniker for Bush's collection of economic shivs-through-the-ribs disguised as reform. The basic underlying philosophy, if you want to call something so retarded a "philosophy," is that everybody can be successful as a capitalist, everybody can acheive the "American Dream" if they only decide to play the game. What's amazing is that a lot of people actually buy into this crap: the great irony of "The Ownership Society" is that capitalism absolutely depends on enormous segments of the population not succeeding as businessmen. Without a vast pool of cheap labor, millions and millions of people who are desperate enough to rent themselves out on a daily basis as literal wage slaves, capitalism crashes and burns. "The Ownership Society" stands in absolute contradiction to the most rudimentary principles of "free market" economics; it simply cannot exist in the "free market" economy that Bush loves so greatly. Therefore, he's lying, and he knows it. In reality, "The Ownership Society" is a ruse intended to ram Draconian, 19th century styled social Darwinism down the throats of Joe Sixpack and Soccer Mom. Average Americans who believe this lie thinking that their lot in life is going to improve are sadly deluded. "The Ownership Society" is about owning a whole lot less.


honey baked ham

My old pal Bronze Johnson has returned to blogging:

well after a long hiatus, i am back. bolder. brighter. and dressed in leather.

let me tell you up front though, i am not a robot. although i almost became one. the reason that i was away in the first place was because these delinquent nuns on sabbatical decided that they would live on the edge for a few weeks, and kidnapped me and took me to their mountain hideaway. i can't mention everything that happened to me there (a girl's gotta have her secrets) but let me just tell you this: it wasn't as bad as you might think.

well, everything was going swimmingly, me and the nuns, and before we all knew it, weeks had turned into months. i realized that i forgot to tell my mother where i was going, and knowing how she felt about nuns, i started to panic.

Click here for the rambling rest.

Bronze and I went to high school togther. We also kind of went to college together in that we were both living in Austin when I was at UT, late 80s through mid 90s. In fact, Bronze has been a part of my life on and off for close to a couple of decades now. It's quite cool that he's sharing over the internet his madcap adventures and observations that have amused me for so many years. He's really not as weird as he sounds. Actually, he is as weird as he sounds. I think coming from Kingwood made him that way. Of course, those of you who know me also know that I, too, am from Kingwood. So, what's that say about me? I'm not sure, but, man, I just looove that Bronze Johnson!


Friday, January 21, 2005


It's oh so appropriate that as I sit here typing this, Frank Zappa's "Dumb All Over" is streaming out through my computer's speakers courtesy of the "Zappa Radio" feature on his website. While I'm not nearly as anti-religious as Zappa was, stories like the ones below seem to continually push me in that direction. On the one hand, I can understand a principled stance on, say, abstinence, or even the power of prayer--I disagree with those points of view, but I can see why some people find them to be reasonable. On the other hand, however, I've really gotten to be quite perplexed by the absolute absurdity that so many Americans seem to be gravitating toward these days.

Read on.

Church plans burial of fetuses from abortion clinic

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

The Roman Catholic church plans to bury the ashes of up to 1,000 aborted fetuses Sunday to mark the 32nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, prompting scathing criticism from family planning groups.

Boulder Abortion Clinic director Dr. Warren Hern, who had no idea the mortuary working with his clinic had been sending ashes to Sacred Heart of Mary Church, said the decision was "a cynical exploitation of private grief for political purposes."


Kate Horle, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said most of Hern's patients have fetuses with fatal anomalies. His clinic specializes in "late abortion for fetal disorders," according to its Web site.

"These women are devastated," Horle said. "To discover that an entity is essentially taking it upon themselves to create a religious service that may not be acceptable to the family is probably really painful."

Click here.

I wonder if the same church is also planning to bury the thousands of unused embryos discarded by fertility clinics every year. Probably not.

Video with SpongeBob alarms Christian group

From Reuters via the Houston Chronicle:

Christian Conservative groups have issued a gay alert warning over a children's video starring SpongeBob SquarePants, Barney and a host of other cartoon favorites.

The wacky square yellow SpongeBob is one of the stars of a music video due to be sent to 61,000 U.S. schools in March. The makers -- the nonprofit We Are Family Foundation -- say the video is designed to encourage tolerance and diversity.

But at least two Christian activist groups say the innocent cartoon characters are being exploited to promote the acceptance of homosexuality.

"A short step beneath the surface reveals that one of the differences being celebrated is homosexuality," wrote Ed Vitagliano in an article for the American Family Association.

Click here for the rest.

Yes, that's right: SpongeBob joins Barney, Ernie, and Tinki Winki, his children's TV brethren, in embracing "the love that dare not speak its name." To be honest, gayness makes all these characters much more interesting, but that's just my opinion. I also like to think that Davey and Goliath are gay, too. I'm pretty certain that Rod and Tod Flanders are also pretty swishy, for that matter.

Newspaper shouldn't print Liberal voices

A letter to the editor of California's Ridgecrest Independent, courtesy of Eschaton:

I can't believe the vicious slander of some people who have the nerve to portray or suggest Jesus behaved as a Liberal.

Jesus makes his position very clear. The wisdom of an "eye for an eye" would never occur to a Liberal.

Liberals are always talking about peace at any price, when Jesus said: Do not think I have come to bring peace, but a sword.

Click here to read the rest--it's quite a hoot.

So much for the "prince of peace." What would Jesus do? Why, Jesus would KICK SOME ASS!!! That's the kind of Lord we worship. An ass-kickin' Lord: our God is an awsome God!

Lunacy. All lunacy. I know for a fact there are some rational Christians out there; why do the morons get all the press? Dumb all over, indeed:

It says in the book:
"Burn 'n destroy . . .
'N repent, 'n redeem
'N revenge, 'n deploy
'N rumble thee forth
To the land of the unbelieving scum on the other side
'Cause they don't go for what's in the book
'N that makes 'em BAD
So verily we must choppeth them up
And stompeth them down
Or rent a nice French bomb
To poof them out of existence
While leaving their real estate just where we need it
To use again
For temples in which to praise


Thursday, January 20, 2005

World fears new Bush era

From the London Guardian courtesy of J. Orlin Grabbe:

A poll of 21 countries published yesterday - reflecting opinion in Africa, Latin America, North America, Asia and Europe - showed that a clear majority have grave fears about the next four years.

Fifty-eight per cent of the 22,000 who took part in the poll, commissioned by the BBC World Service, said they expected Mr Bush to have a negative impact on peace and security, compared with only 26% who considered him a positive force.

The survey also indicated for the first time that dislike of Mr Bush is translating into a dislike of Americans in general.


"Our research makes very clear that the re-election of President Bush has further isolated America from the world," he said. "It also supports the view of some Americans that unless his administration changes its approach to world affairs in its second term, it will continue to erode America's good name, and hence its ability to effectively influence world affairs."

Click here for the rest.

Fortunately, I've not yet had to deal with angry foreigners. However, if such a thing ever happens, I'll know who to blame. This is really no joking matter. As the dollar erodes and US economic influence becomes a thing of the past, what will be left is diplomatic influence and military intervention. I think that our current adventure in Iraq makes clear that armed intervention can only get a nation so far before the money and men start to run out. That leaves us with diplomacy only. By then, however, Bush will have left office, and somebody else will be left holding the bag. One wonders what the next President, Republican or Democrat, will be able to do in order to repair the damage.

Putting Bush in prison would be a good start...


Will Bush Quit Iraq?

From CounterPunch courtesy of J. Orlin Grabbe:

After nearly two years eight US divisions can barely guard their own internal lines of communication or the road to Baghdad airport. There's talk of organizing death squads on the old Salvadoran model run by the CIA, but it's way too late for that option.

The casualty list swells with each day that passes; over 10,000 dead and maimed American troops.The torture scandals have been as devastating to America's international reputation as was the My Lai massacre in Vietnam. No one expects the situation to improve militarily and the prospect of civil war in Iraq looms. The war is politically unpopular here, as local newspapers and tv news stations carry weekly news of local boys killed or maimed.


If somehow the White House can claim that Iraq has now been led towards the "democratic" path then decorous retreat is conceivable. If the resistance makes further strides, if the Shia turn on the US, then retreat will be inevitable, with the only other option to the US being a draft here and a US force four times its present size. The war would become the all-consuming theme of Bush's second term.

It would be rational for the United States to start withdrawal in a month or two. But we are not dealing with rationality.

Click here for the rest.

I, for one, am already pretty much of the opinion that withdrawal is inevitable, and by that, I don't mean that we'll be pulling out because we've finally liberated the Iraqis. No. We'll be pulling out because the US cannot win this one. So, at this point, the only real question is not if, but rather, when the withdrawal begins: people are dying--billions of dollars that should be used for the rebuilding of Iraq and the poor here in America are being pissed away on a pointless pursuit. This is, indeed, quite irrational.


Wednesday, January 19, 2005


First, an essay from Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting on the fallout from "Rathergate:"

Selective punishment shows media's true bias

The hours of coverage of the Rather episode managed to ignore what should have been the central question: Did George W. Bush, in reality, properly fulfill his National Guard requirements? On September 14, FAIR noted that CBS was only one of several media outlets to release important reports about documented discrepancies in Bush's service record. Because of the focus on the CBS documents and the accompanying right-wing accusations of media bias on the issue, those stories-- and the important questions they raised-- were quickly dropped by a cowed press corps.

The claims that this controversy proves that CBS, or the media as a whole, have a liberal or anti-Bush bias, are ludicrous. When CBS staffers got caught taking shortcuts on a story critical of Bush, it cost them their careers. By contrast, other reporters have received much less scrutiny and punishment for offenses of far greater magnitude-- and with much more significant consequences to society.


The lesson of "Memogate," then, is that journalists may be punished for bad reporting-- if they have offended the wrong people. If they have merely helped steer the country into war under false pretenses, their careers can continue unimpeded.

Click here for the rest.

Next, an essay from a life long conservative on how political philosophy has been ruined by fundamentalists and neo-cons:

The End of Conservatives

The Iraqi War is serving as a great catharsis for multiple conservative frustrations: job loss, drugs, crime, homosexuals, pornography, female promiscuity, abortion, restrictions on prayer in public places, Darwinism and attacks on religion. Liberals are the cause. Liberals are against America. Anyone against the war is against America and is a liberal. "You are with us or against us."

This is the mindset of delusion, and delusion permits no facts or analysis. Blind emotion rules. Americans are right and everyone else is wrong. End of the debate.


The conservative movement that I grew up in did not share the liberals' abiding faith in government. "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

Today it is liberals, not conservatives, who endeavor to defend civil liberties from the state. Conservatives have been won around to the old liberal view that as long as government power is in their hands, there is no reason to fear it or to limit it. Thus, the Patriot Act, which permits government to suspend a person's civil liberty by calling him a terrorist with or without proof. Thus, preemptive war, which permits the President to invade other countries based on unverified assertions.

There is nothing conservative about these positions. To label them conservative is to make the same error as labeling the 1930s German Brownshirts conservative.

Click here for the rest.


Tuesday, January 18, 2005

britney spears wants to have sex with you

Ah! "Backward tape masking!" Boy, that phrase sure brings back memories. Back when I was in high school during the early and mid 1980s, it seemed like an endless number of travelling evangelists were making a killing touring the Bible Belt and preaching against the evils they had supposedly found embedded in famous rock songs. But "what is 'backward tape masking?'" you may ask.

From Wikipedia:

A backward message (otherwise, but incorrectly, known as Backmasking) is a supposed message hidden in an audio recording that is revealed by playing it backwards. Thus it requires audio equipment with this facility, either built-in, or in the case of a gramophone record, by turning it backward by hand.

Critics of rock and roll songs have occasionally claimed that rock musicians have recorded backward messages about sex, drugs, death, and blasphemy into their songs, in order to disseminate a message to dedicated fans that might not otherwise be transmittable. It is further occasionally claimed that these messages can be perceived subconsciously, simply by listening to the audio played normally. From this speculation, it is further suggested that audio can contain subliminal commands that incite their listeners to commit acts of violence, or simply drive them to irrational behavior. The general population (especially among fans of rock-and-roll music) usually scoffs at the idea that hidden commands are recorded in rock music, and this idea has become an urban legend.


It is worth noting that, given a randomly generated series of syllables spoken in a variety of accents, a two-syllable pair that can be liberally interpreted as "Satan" is very easy to generate. Therefore, any individual with a small amount of creative interpretation skills could play virtually any song with vocals backwards and uncover "Satanic messages". This fact has been exploited by defense attorneys in "backwards messaging" court cases, who often disprove allegations by "uncovering Satanic messages" in songs by Christian artists, most famously Amy Grant.

Click here for more.

In other words, backward tape masking is, by and large, a bunch of bullshit. I remember one particular anti-rock evangelist who spoke to our Southern Baptist youth group back in the day really had his sideshow routine down to a T. He told us that he was going to play Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" backward, but he first wanted us to know what we were looking for, so he wrote down the Satanic backward lyrics for us to peruse on a chalk board. He spoke them aloud and told us to listen carefully, then he played the tape. "Did you catch that?" he asked. "Here, I'll play it again." And so it went a few more times. After the third time or so, several of my youth group buddies were convinced that the gibberish we heard was, in fact, a resoundingly clear ode to Satan.

Obviously, the anti-rock evangelist had managed to fool my fellow teenagers by leading them to a pretty absurd conclusion--presenting the Satanic message before playing the tape essentially prejudiced most of the group toward believing his outrageous assertion. To this day, "Stairway to Heaven" played backward sounds to me like a bunch of nonsense syllables.

Listen for yourself (click on "Stairway to Heaven" at the top of the page).

Anyway, having said all that, I must admit that I'm quite impressed with this latest backward lyric scandal. This sample is much more clear than the above mentioned Led Zeppelin example. It may very well be the real thing. But how did she pull it off? I mean, it's Britney Spears, for god's sake! It's not like she's Roger Waters or John Lennon or anything coming even close to a pop music intellectual. What's going on?

From BadMouth:

The combination of baby-toned voice, little-girl innocence and fetish-inducing Catholic schoolgirl outfits was guaranteed to make her a huge star among middle-aged Japanese businessmen--but suprisingly it made her a star among horny tone-deaf men in America, as well.

But the bigger suprise was that prepubecent girls found a new, talent-free role model to emulate. The popularity of low-rise jeans, low-cut tops and low-quality pop music can all be traced back to Spears--as well as any number of eating disorders.

But when asked about her pubescent sexuality, Britney's message was always straightforward: no sex until marraige. But what was the queen of the prick-tease really saying to her fans? You're about to find out.

Let's listen to a three-second clip from her first hit, "Hit Me Baby One More Time" two different ways.

Apparently, the lyric "...with you I lose my mind, give me a si-" when played backward becomes "...sleep with me I'm not too young." It sounds pretty real to me.

Listen for yourself.

Weird, huh? God, I hope it doesn't subconsciously force me to change my behavior somehow. I'm already feeling an urge to bare my midriff.


Annals of Outrage

Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel's "list of the Bush Administration's Ten Most Outrageous Scandals thus far uncovered by government investigators:"

1. Halliburton's Corruption...
2. Iraq's Decline...
3. Abu Ghraib Prison Torture...
4. The CIA's Pre-9/11 Intelligence Failures...
5. HHS's Deceptive Ad Campaign...
6. HHS's Scully Scandal...
7. Government-wide Accounting Problems...
8. Sex Education Misinformation...
9. CAPPS II's Failures...
10. The Real Costs of War...

Click here to have this list explained.


Monday, January 17, 2005

WMD Hunt Ends; Bush's Spin Goes On

From the Nation:

And then McClellan doled out the usual 9/11 boilerplate: "Remember, September 11th changed the equation about how we confront the threats that we face, and the president recognizes what his most important responsibility is, and that is to do everything in his power to protect the American people. And nothing has changed in terms of his views when it comes to Iraq, what he has previously stated and what you have previously heard. The president knows that by advancing freedom in a dangerous region, we are making the world a safer place."

But if Hussein had no WMDs, how much of a threat was he? Bush and McClellan--for obvious reasons--refuse to concede Bush hyped the threat to win popular support for the war. If Bush had argued before the war only that the United States needed to invade and occupy Iraq in order to promote freedom in the region because that would protect Americans at home, wouldn't the prewar debate have taken on a much different tone? And the war would have been a much tougher sell for Bush and his crew.

Click here for the rest.

I often wonder why so many Americans just don't seem to understand what's going on with this: Bush lied about Iraq's WMDs to get the US into an illegal quagmire of a war; therefore, he's a criminal of the highest order, a war criminal, even. My best guess is that Americans didn't really understand what was going on in the first place. Secular totalitarian Muslims, radical Islamo-fascists, Sunni, Shiite, Al-Qaeda,'s all the same. Us and them, our team versus their team, however, is something that Americans have drilled into them from the earliest ages. In the end, it seems to me, most Americans see war as some kind of global football game. Like the Oklahoma Sooner and Texas Aggie fans of the 1980s, it doesn't matter if our team broke the law; what matters is getting a National Championship, by any means necessary.

Of course, in this game, people die, and it will probably be some years before most Americans realize exactly what it is they've been supporting. It's pretty frustrating that headline after headline proclaims that Iraq had no WMDs and it's all greeted with a collective yawn.



From Democracy Now:

Well, it would mean trillions of dollars in terms of management fees that would erode small accounts that would be set up under this plan. So, yes, Wall Street has a motivation, but I think that really, it's broader than that. The Bush administration and the people around them really are out on an ideological mission to dismantle affirmative government. And therefore, they know that if they can get away with dismantling the Social Security system, the very, very popular retirement social insurance system that Americans have supported for decades, if they can dismantle that and privatize it as part of their “ownership society,” the slogan of which ought to be: “You're on your own, buddy,” that means that they can get away with practically anything. They can dismantle regulation. They can really go about the -- their whole agenda of dismantling government. It's an ideological fixation with them, and it's going to be an epic test with the very wealthy corporate America and Bush supporters on one side, and on the other side, the organizations that represent the American people. Labor, women's organizations, retiree groups around the country, AARP has just gotten into this battle.

Click here to hear, watch, or read the rest.

Vice President Cheney reportedly said a few years ago that Republican attempts to open up Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling really aren't about the oil--indeed, it is well understood that the region really doesn't have enough oil to make a major impact on overall US consumption. Instead, Cheney asserted that the whole thing is about making it okay to drill in environmentally sensitive areas, about setting a precedent and rolling back decades of environmental progress. So, too, with Social Security reform: if they can kill this biggest of liberal prizes, they can kill anything.

In reality, Republicans couldn't give less of a shit about your retirement money.