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  • Sunday, October 31, 2004


    Bush Seeks Limit to Suits Over Voting Rights

    Perhaps the current crop of vote suppression tactics aren't deliberate. Perhaps our political system rests on the basic right to vote. Perhaps I could sell you a machine to spin gold from straw. Perhaps there's always a happy ending. Perhaps. Bush Seeks Limit to Suits Over Voting Rights:

    Bush administration lawyers argued in three closely contested states last week that only the Justice Department, and not voters themselves, may sue to enforce the voting rights set out in the Help America Vote Act, which was passed in the aftermath of the disputed 2000 election.

    Veteran voting-rights lawyers expressed surprise at the government's action, saying that closing the courthouse door to aspiring voters would reverse decades of precedent.

    Since the civil rights era of the 1960s, individuals have gone to federal court to enforce their right to vote, often with the support of groups such as the NAACP, the AFL-CIO, the League of Women Voters or the state parties. And until now, the Justice Department and the Supreme Court had taken the view that individual voters could sue to enforce federal election law.

    But in legal briefs filed in connection with cases in Ohio, Michigan and Florida, the administration's lawyers argue that the new law gives Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft the exclusive power to bring lawsuits to enforce its provisions. These include a requirement that states provide 'uniform and nondiscriminatory' voting systems, and give provisional ballots to those who say they have registered but whose names do not appear on the rolls.


    More on the Number of Iraqis Killed

    Some more charming details about the recent Lancet study on the numbers of Iraqis killed in the last 18 months. This is excerpted from U.N. Chief's Remarks Irritate White House:

    Of nearly 1,000 households visited by investigators, 808, representing nearly 8,000 people, took part. Each household was asked how many people lived in the home and how many deaths had occurred since January 2002, 15 months before the invasion. In most cases, death certificates were made available to the researchers.

    Although the sample appears small in a country of roughly 25 million people, its size and the way it was carried out are considered standard for household surveys by social scientists working in developing countries. Moreover, because Fallujah, which was the site of major battles last April and has since been the target of numerous U.S. air strikes, was among the neighbourhoods surveyed, it was excluded from the final estimates because the death toll there was so high.

    The investigation found that the most common causes of death before the invasion were heart attacks, strokes and chronic diseases. But after the invasion, violence had become the primary cause of death in Iraq, 58 times more likely than in the 15 months before the U.S.-led attack.

    Of violent deaths, about 95 percent were attributed to bombing or fire from helicopter gunships. Most of the victims, according to the study, were women and children.

    The estimated number killed is far beyond the 10,000 to 30,000 people suggested by independent groups, such as the Iraq Body Count project or the Brookings Institution, evoking incredulity by Brookings analyst Michael O'Hanlon, who called the findings ''preposterous and politically driven''.


    Looking Backwards

    Now that I've been keeping this blog for a few months I'm moved to look back over my entries and try to find what are the common themes.

    I really didn't have any idea what I would write about or focus on in this blog. I was initially moved by reading an entry in the Lying Media Bastards blog. I hadn't read any blogs to speak of at the time but I was impressed by the use of links to illustrate and provide additional information to the entry. The idea of using the web as an annotation tool appeals to me. Of course, finding fairly accurate sources for information is sometimes difficult. As the updated saying goes, you can't believe everything you read on the web.

    After discovering the joys of RSS feeds, I found myself checking several sites every day. When a story struck me as particularly interesting, I'd blog it and comment on it. I'm certainly not unique; many other people are doing the same thing. I do it for my own satisfaction. I don't have any inside information so I don't think my blog offers much beyond my opinion and pointers to stories that interest me. The emerging themes have been: politics and the US presidential elections, civil liberties issues, censorship, and alternative media sources to huge corporate media conglomerates. I don't know whether my political interest will continue as strongly after the elections are over. I do see my coverage of the alternative media and civil liberties continuing.

    So, no big statement, just a review of stuff to date. Below are the sites I check every day at the moment. Enjoy.

    Friday, October 29, 2004


    But we only used a little torture...

    From The New York Times > Washington > U.N. Condemns Harsh Methods in Campaign Against Terror:

    "The report seemed to be aimed squarely at the Bush administration's attempts to justify its practices, and was presented just days after disclosures in news reports that administration lawyers had permitted the C.I.A. to move some prisoners from Iraq to other places, circumventing provisions of the Geneva Conventions.

    'The absolute nature of the prohibition of torture and other forms of ill treatment means that no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for torture,' the report said.

    'No executive, legislative, administrative or judicial measure authorizing recourse to torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment can be considered as lawful under international law.' "


    Slight update on Florida felon purge 2000

    I think I got some of my figures wrong in the previous post on Greg Palast. Florida is one of six (seven?) states that bar convicted felons from voting. Since this group of potential voters is overwhelmingly Democratic, disenfranchising them can have a significant effect on elections.

    From - CNN asks Florida court for ineligible voters list - May 28, 2004:

    "In the 2000 election, state officials purged voter rolls of the names of more than 173,000 people identified as felons or otherwise ineligible to vote, but civil rights activists as well as some Florida county elections supervisors have charged that those lists contained numerous errors, and that thousands of eligible voters were prevented from casting ballots in the election.

    After the Supreme Court closed the door to recounts, President Bush edged then-Vice President Al Gore in Florida by a margin of 537 votes, enough to win the state and, with it, the White House.

    'Florida's 2000 felon purge program resulted in over 50,000 legal voters being disenfranchised,' said Leon County elections supervisor Ion Sancho in a written statement. 'When asked for assurances that the [2004 felon list] was 90 percent accurate -- the minimum level local supervisors of elections requested for such a list -- we were told that it was better than the 2000 list, with no data to support its accuracy.'"


    Greg Palast Interview on Democracy Now!

    I've been trying to keep up on all the shenanigans recently about voter registration problems, possible intimidation of black voters, loss of absentee ballots, etc. It's hard. There's so much going on with this issue. Still, I was blown away by a BBC news report shown on Democracy Now! and an interview with Greg Palast. Palast is often credited with breaking the 2000 Florida felon purge list story detailing the purge of 93,000 purported felons from the voter rolls in Florida. It turned out the majority of them were not felons. Here's a bit from the interview but you should check the whole thing out. From Democracy Now! Secret Document Suggests GOP Preparing to Challenge Black Vote in Florida:

    GREG PALAST: As for registrations, what happened was that students, mostly Democrats, students filled out petition forms for medical use of marijuana, and it turns out they were signing the back of registration forms without knowing it, reregistering themselves as republicans. This was definitely tied to a republican-paid operation, and at least 4,000 of the forged registrations, which is a felony to forge registration, have been found, and Jeb Bush's department of law enforcement says that they don't have time for the next few weeks to get around to arresting the forgers. It's just -- this is just the beginning of the game.

    AMY GOODMAN: What does it mean that they have now registered as Republicans? Can they still vote?

    GREG PALAST: No, they cannot. They have now double- registered. They only got caught because the Election Supervisor's daughter was caught in the scam. If she had put in an absentee ballot, if this wasn't caught in her case, her ballot would be thrown out.

    JUAN GONZALEZ: He also said they were being reregistered in another county, therefore, creating problems?

    GREG PALAST: Yes. In other words, basically setting up the voter to have their vote voided because they're double registered. And again, this is just one of the several games we are finding, for example, the felon purge, which our press here has said is over with believe me, it ain't. Most of the people of the 93,000 people tagged in the first round as felons, who are legal voters, mostly Democrats, 4 to 1 Democrats, just so you know, 4 to 1 Democrat registered. Most of those are still purged. They're still playing games with these people. Then you've also got games with absentee ballots. One thing that's not come out in the story about Broward County, and the ballots missing, you have to understand that Jeb Bush fired a black female Democrat who was elections supervisor, who was elected, replaced her with his own appointee, who is suddenly now not sending out absentee ballots in a heavily Democratic area.

    JUAN GONZALEZ: This is Broward?

    GREG PALAST: Broward. You have Jeb Bush appointing Republicans to replace Democrats, who are then impeding the vote, as in Jacksonville where a Republican was just appointed to take over, and he's making it almost impossible for black people to vote. Jacksonville, by the way, is the largest physical city in the United States with one polling place for early voting, again to stop the churches and Jesse Jackson and his group from bringing in thousands of voters to vote.

    AMY GOODMAN: So again, this top news, as many as 58,000 absentee ballots have gone missing in Broward County, ballots said to have been mailed two weeks ago, but somehow, they have disappeared. Now there's a lot of finger pointing, the county is blaming the postal service. The post office said, No, we didn’t get them.


    Iraqi Death Toll

    UPDATE: Here is a story addressing some of the criticisms of the Lancet study and results. It also stresses the point that the 100,000 Iraqi casualty figure is a conservative estimate.

    Many people have no idea how many Iraqis have died since March 2003. One reason is that, unlike Vietnam where body counts of the enemy killed were de rigueur (and often inflated), these figures in Iraq are very inconvenient and troubling. The US forces have said it's not their responsibility to keep track of the Iraqi casualties. Here's a quote from a new estimate from a story in The Independent:
    "The first scientific study of the human cost of the Iraq war suggests that at least 100,000 Iraqis have lost their lives since their country was invaded in March 2003.

    More than half of those who died were women and children killed in air strikes, researchers say. Previous estimates have put the Iraqi death toll at around 10,000 - ten times the 1,000 members of the British, American and multi-national forces who have died so far. But the study, published in The Lancet, suggested that Iraqi casualties could be as much as 100 times the coalition losses. It was also savagely critical of the failure by coalition forces to count Iraqi casualties."

    Thursday, October 28, 2004


    Please Vote

    From Political Wire: Please Vote:

    "What if you show up to vote next Tuesday and election workers say you are not registered?

    1. Make sure you are at the correct voting precinct. You can check at My Polling Place or call 1-866-OUR-VOTE for assistance.

    2. If you are at the correct polling place and officials claim you are not registered, request a provisional ballot. It's your right under the law.

    Please pass this on to as many people as you can."


    Good and Evil of the Imperial God

    God On Their Side examines the effect of Evangelical Christianity on the election of 2004. I have conflicting impulses about the evangelical movement. On one hand, I believe spirituality can and should inform one's political actions. On the other hand, I find an unmistakable parallel between fascism and some politically active religious groups. These politically active Evangelicals have the certainty of the "true believer." Their system seems to have little or no tolerance of ambiguity and of differing religious beliefs. Great for them, not so great for those who aren't part of their movement. When everyone can be divided into groups of good and evil, godly and satanic, the value of those in the "other" group declines precipitously.

    Fundamentalist religions of any sort, if they are active in the wider world of society, often attempt to suppress other views and eliminate them. The strange thing I find about Evangelicals is, while their basis comes from the individual spiritual experience of being "born again", their collective action is often authoritarian in nature. They have very strict ideas about how everyone should live their lives. Politically, this means supporting and enacting laws dictating these views.

    The Bible, as a blueprint of an ideal society, is very scary. I'm not a Bible student. I know some of the new testament. I couldn't go into detail about much in the old testament beyond the book of Genesis. But I do know something about the contradictions in the Bible. And I do know something about some of the penalties in the Bible for transgressing against the "law of God" set out in the Bible. And a large society based strictly on these laws and penalties would be horrific I think.

    Wednesday, October 27, 2004


    Welcome Home, Heroes

    I'm not a big fan of the military in principle. Particularly odious to me is the use of the military for imperial and/or capitalistic goals. However I am in favor of treating people well, especially if they are doing dangerous work. The treatment of the military and soldiers by this administration epitimizes to me the problem a monetary bottomline mentality. On paper, I'm sure these cuts and budget adjustments make sense. But in terms of the people who are injured and die in the service of the state, I think it's appalling. As opposed as I am to the current military actions, I still think the individual soldiers and their families are not who should suffer for it.
    From Bush's War Against the Military:

    "By April this year, one in six veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan had filed benefits claims with the Veterans Administration for service-related disabilities. These figures do not include those troops still serving and are twice the number the DOD Web site says suffered 'Non-Mortal Wounds' in those conflicts. Today, one-third of those claims, almost 10,000, have yet to be processed. Further, Bush's 2005 budget will cut 540 staff members of the Veterans Benefit Administration, which is the office that handles the claims. The outreach department that lets vets know of available services also was instructed in a 2002 memo by a deputy undersecretary in the Veterans Health Administration to run in silent mode to flush out people who had not made claims out of ignorance.

    Even if the war wounded succeed in getting disability pay, in 2003 Bush threatened to veto a bill that allowed veterans to collect disability pay and pensions simultaneously.

    In 2003, his administration also tried to cut combat pay from $225 to $150 a month and the family separation allowance from $250 to $100. And most callously of all, the frat brat who ducked a war that killed 48,000 American troops threatened to veto a proposal to double the $6,000 payment to relatives of soldiers killed in action."

    Tuesday, October 26, 2004


    Code of Ethics for Journalists

    Does the news seem unbalanced? Not always presenting different sides of a subject? Do journalists seem a little too willing to accept at face value the spin given to them? A recent mention of a code of ethics made me go searching and, lo, I found one. I don't know exactly who belongs to this society but it sure looks good to me. Of course, I doubt this applies to "opinion" programs on TV. Still, it reminds me of how the press should act but does so rarely. Excerpts from the Society of Professional Journalists - Code of Ethics:

    Under the heading of "Act Independently" are these nuggets:

    Looking at this Code, I would be very surprised if many of the "superstar" news people on cable and broadcast are members of the Society. I would guess journalists' allegiance would be first to their paycheck and then to this Society.

    Some other journalistic ethics pages: - the Independent Press Council

    Monday, October 25, 2004


    The Cold Comfort View

    Taegan Goddard's Political Wire: Electoral College Could Go Either Way:
    "We enjoy looking at the various electoral college tallies as much as anyone -- see here for our latest -- but the Minneapolis Star Tribune's Eric Black has given up: 'There are too many moving parts in the Electoral College to make a reliable projection of the electoral votes.'

    'That means there are more than enough tossup states to turn the final outcome into a rout for either side or a nail-biter that won't be decided until weeks after Election Day. There also are quite plausible scenarios in which there would be an Electoral College tie, throwing the final decision into the House of Representatives.' "


    Supreme Court is always a Campaign Issue

    No comment (really):
    Taegan Goddard's Political Wire: Rehnquist Hospitalized: " 'Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, 80 and the second-oldest man to preside over the nation's highest court, is undergoing treatment for thyroid cancer,' the New York Times reports.

    The news 'gave new prominence to a campaign issue that has been overshadowed by the war on terrorism. The next president is likely to name several justices to a court that has been deeply divided in recent years on issues as varied as abortion and the 2000 election itself.' "


    Voter, voter, where's the voter?

    Deliberately trying to make it difficult for voters to vote seems to me one of th most despicable of acts of any election. And changing a polling location weeks before the election has to rank with such tricks. From Here Come the Dirty Tricks:
    Then there's Pennsylvania, where Republicans are trying to relocate 63 Philadelphia polling places, 59 in largely minority neighborhoods. Republicans claim those polling places are not adequate for voters, but didn't file their complaint until Friday. Since voters who go to the wrong polling place will not be able to vote, the last-minute nature of the complaint (which is expected to fail) sure makes it look like an attempt to suppress minority voting...

    Sunday, October 24, 2004


    Faint Praise for the Reluctant Voter

    From a DesMoines Register Editorial:
    Yes, Kerry is liberal. But what's to fear from a liberal president? That he would run big deficits? That he would increase federal spending? That he would expand the power of the federal government over individuals' lives? Nothing Kerry could do could top what President Bush has already done in those realms.


    Wolf Packs for Truth

    I guess one of the recent Bush-Cheney '04 ads features a pack of wolves. The equation is that if Kerry wins, the wolves (terrorists) will overrun America. Now, the wolves speak out at The Real Story on George Bush's "Wolves" Commercial. Funny.

    Friday, October 22, 2004


    Absentee and Early Voting 2004

    According to this article as many as a quarter of the votes this election cycle may be absentee votes. The concerns about the validity of these votes are specific and legitimate. Take a look at AlterNet: Election 2004: Early Voting Could Be Perilous:

    "Some states actually allow political parties to collect and turn in the applications. In seven states, parties can even collect and return the signed ballots.

    You can't police absentee voting as you can voting at the polls, where the rule is the secret ballot, that mainstay of democratic elections. Electioneering and any other attempts to sway or intimidate voters are prohibited at the polls.

    With absentee voting, the possibilities for the intimidation of voters and other electoral mischief are many. Certainly, forgery is always possible. Even if the signatures on absentee ballots are legitimate, there's no guarantee that someone else didn't do the actual voting or didn't unduly pressure the signers - or perhaps bribe them."

    Thursday, October 21, 2004


    How to Talk Like a Conservative (If You Must) (updated)

    UPDATED: This is an interview with my current favorite political person and cognitive linguist, George Lakoff. Here's a bit from the intro to the interview How to Talk Like a Conservative (If You Must):

    According to Lakoff, the red state-blue state split is deeper than most Americans realize. He described its dimensions in his earlier book Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, which combined postmodern discourse theory with what might be called the “Who’s Your Daddy?” theory of American politics. The essence of Lakoff’s analysis is this: liberals and conservatives inhabit two opposing moral universes defined by competing visions of the ideal family. Conservatives subscribe to a “strict father” model that emphasizes discipline, self-interest, and competition. This is what makes George W. Bush tick. (That’s Bush the politician, not Bush the dad. Lakoff is careful to point out that these are political models, not descriptions of how people actually run their families). On the other side, liberals believe in a “nurturant parent” model with an emphasis on empathy, community, and fairness.
    The title of the interview is obviously a play on the title Ann Coulter's new book, How to Talk Like a Liberal (If You Must). I haven't read any of Coulter's books but from the excerpts I've read she certainly seems to specialize in, um, overstatement is the polite way of phrasing it. I don't really like saying bad things about women but she seems a little...buggy. You know what I mean? I'm not a medical professional but she may also have a slight overproduction of bile. Here are some quotes from the link to her book above because she speaks quite explicitly for herself:

    Her 9/11 comments: “I am often asked if I still think we should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity. The answer is: Now more than ever!”

    The state of the Democratic Party: “Teddy Kennedy crawls out of Boston Harbor with a quart of Scotch in one pocket and a pair of pantyhose in the other, and Democrats hail him as their party’s spiritual leader.”

    The “Treason Lobby”: “Want to make liberals angry? Defend the United States.”

    I think you get the picture. She seems to have a scathing and vicious verbal wit (qualities dear to my heart) but it also seems relatively shallow in focus and designed to evoke kneejerk responses rather than debate. This pithy exchange comes from Media Matters for America:

    LINDA VESTER (host): You say you'd rather not talk to liberals at all?
    COULTER: I think a baseball bat is the most effective way these days. [FOX News Channel, DaySide with Linda Vester, 10/6]

    As Monty Python might put it: Not a phil-o-so-pher. Nietzsche was a phil-o-so-pher. I haven't read or watched much of this strain of right-wing pseudo-populism but my impression is this is a common approach. It's a form of oratory monologue, a kind of stand-up comedy. I'm reminded of Jeff "You might be a redneck if..." Foxworthy. "You might be a liberal if you hate America. You might be a liberal if you use a Bible to scratch between your legs! Hyuck-hyuck!"

    Wednesday, October 20, 2004


    Bush's 2000 Victory Speech

    In These Times recently ran a copy of George W. Bush's victory speech on December 13, 2000. What I found interesting was, well, what he said. Technically he wasn't in office and I guess these kinds of speeches are probably considered more a continuation of campaign rhetoric (i.e., not real promises) but I still find it educational to read it. Also a little nauseous. Here is a bit of it.

    I know America wants reconciliation and unity. I know Americans want progress. And we must seize this moment and deliver.

    Together, guided by a spirit of common sense, common courtesy and common goals, we can unite and inspire the American citizens.

    Together, we will work to make all our public schools excellent, teaching every student of every background and every accent, so that no child is left behind.

    Together, we will save Social Security and renew its promise of a secure retirement for generations to come.

    Together, we will strengthen Medicare and offer prescription drug coverage to all of our seniors.

    Together, we will give Americans the broad, fair and fiscally responsible tax relief they deserve.

    Together, we will have a bipartisan foreign policy true to our values and true to our friends. And we will have a military equal to every challenge, and superior to every

    Together, we will address some of society’s deepest problems one person at a time, by encouraging and empowering the good hearts and good works of the American people. This is the essence of compassionate conservatism, and it will be a foundation of my administration.

    These priorities are not merely Republican concerns or Democratic concerns, these are American responsibilities.

    During the fall campaign, we differed about details of these proposals - but there was remarkable consensus about the important issues before us: excellent schools, retirement and health security, tax relief, a strong military and a more civil society.


    Bush and Kerry related?

    I don't know if this is true but here's the family tree to prove it. Of course, since you have to go back over ten generations to get the connection, it's not a close relationship. I don't even know if there's a easy name for such a relationship.

    Tuesday, October 19, 2004


    What's a Margin of Error in Poll results?

    Update: A good resource is the Mystery Pollster blog and their FAQ on Sampling error.

    I'm not a math person. I can work out fairly simple things. But statistics and polling methodology are a bit of a mystery to me. Perhaps that's why I'm trying to learn more about these things.

    I was surprised to find out that the margin of error in a poll applies to BOTH candidates when people are asked who they will vote for. If a poll says 47% of voters are favoring Bush and 44% are favoring Kerry with a 4% margin of error, this means (assuming the poll is valid in all other ways) the actual count for Bush could be anywhere from 43% to 51% and for Kerry from 40% to 48%. Notice that BIG overlap area.

    Find out more with this Google Search: define:margin of error:
    Definitions of margin of error on the Web: A measurement of the accuracy of the results of a survey. Example: A margin of error of plus or minus 3.5% means that there is a 95% chance that the responses of the target population as a whole would fall somewhere between 3.5% more or 3.5% less than the
    responses of the sample (a 7% spread)

    Update: Slightly related to this is a small book I've been slowly working my way through. It's not difficult to read but I seem to need a little time to digest it. More Damned Lies and Statistics: How Numbers Confuse Public Issues by Joel Best. It is helping me clear up some of the fog surrounding statistics and especially helping me to evaluate the validity of statistics and charts whenever they are used in the news.

    Monday, October 18, 2004


    Fact Checking the Bush Administration

    From CJR Campaign Desk Archives:

    The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz today brings us this tidbit: Stunned by the efforts of fact-check teams and 'truth squads' in the press who are belatedly holding the claims and counterclaims of the candidates up to scrutiny, the Bush campaign has struck back.

    In an extraordinary response to these recent stories, Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt spoke thusly: 'The Bush campaign should be able to make an argument without having it reflexively dismissed as distorted or inaccurate by the biggest newspapers in the country.'

    Got that?

    The Bush campaign evidently grew so accustomed to a campaign press that seldom fact-checked much of anything between March and September that it is downright indignant anyone would have the temerity to muse, 'Gee, I wonder if that's right?' and then have the industry to actually ascertain the veracity of the claims and assertions contained in stump speeches and debate transcripts.

    Sunday, October 17, 2004


    Free Elections

    I was in my local video store the other day and was chatting with the clerk. This being Massachusetts and a big college town, the general tone was of an accepted state win for Kerry in the election. Talk turned to voting machines and problems with the 2000 election.

    "When the problems happened with the vote counting in Florida," he said, "I thought, well, it's too bad but at least they'll do something to correct the problems for future elections. I can't believe they're still having problems this year."

    We will undoubtedly be hearing more about this problem. Very likely, on and after election day. Some are predicting a repeat of the 2000 election. Here is a BBC story on voter intimidation in Florida. There are other stories as well, from the felon scrub list to the delay in adding new voters to the rolls. And a nice national map of election irregularities.

    Saturday, October 16, 2004


    A little help from my friends...

    "A little help from my friends..."
    This is a test to see if I can include images in this blog. I'm also trying to get the credits in properly. This is from Posted by Hello

    Friday, October 15, 2004


    The Brownshirting of America

    Sometimes I think I'm just an innocent, lilywhite liberal, and not in a good sense. Sure I talk about progressive politics and anarchism (on occasion) but I'm still stunned every once in a while by political writing further left or more radical than my usual reading. Thus I was woken up by a brisk slap to the face when I came across the Counterpunch site. The excerpt below isn't very radical but other perspectives on the site really startled me, mostly because I was startled. I like the following quote mostly for the poll figures. I keep reminding myself of these facts because I cannot believe that so many people in the US still believe these ideas. From Paul Craig Roberts: The Brownshirting of America:

    Nevertheless, [David] Brock makes a credible case that today's conservatives are driven by ideology, not by fact. He argues that their stock in trade is denunciation, not debate. Conservatives don't assess opponents' arguments, they demonize opponents. Truth and falsity are out of the picture; the criteria are: who's good, who's evil, who's patriotic, who's unpatriotic.

    These are the traits of brownshirts. Brownshirts know they are right. They know their opponents are wrong and regard them as enemies who must be silenced if not exterminated.

    Some of Brock's quotes from prominent conservative commentators will curl your toes. His description of the rightwing's destruction of an independent media and the 'Fairness Doctrine' explain why a recent CNN/Gallup poll found that 42% of Americans still believe that Saddam Hussein was involved in the September 11 terrorist attack on the US and 32% believe that Saddam Hussein personally planned the attack.

    UPDATE: Also of interest is the links page at Counterpunch. Not my usual web fare but I like getting a swift kick in my beliefs in erratic doses. Some of these sites are, mmm, challenging. These are Counterpunch's "favorite websites. We've picked sites that we've found useful, amusing and, occasionally, outrageous. Not all of them mirror our politics, of course. But most display a certain energy and zest that make them worth a serious look." A few of the links seem to be outdated or dead.


    Circular Dialogue on the Campaign Trail

    This is a pretty wicked and funny contest. Called Wimblehack: Round II by Matt Taibbi, New York Press, it will eventually crown the worst campaign journalist hack. The tone is irreverent and sardonically witty. And who could have predicted that Robert Novak would be bumped? Here's a sample insight:

    In fact, if you look at it closely, the campaign is mainly a conversation with itself. And if you look at the campaign as it exists in the media, it is entirely a conversation with itself. Virtually everyone who is allowed to tell us what to think of the candidates, their positions and the state of our politics in general is an insider of some kind. In this movie, only the guild members - candidates, spokespeople, talking heads, pundits and pollsters - get the speaking lines. The rest of the country is represented by crowd shots and poll numbers.

    In order to understand why this is, you have to grasp an essential truth about our political journalism. What our political reporters do for a living is sell the campaign to the population, not speak for the people to the campaign. This is most vividly demonstrated in who actually gets to talk in campaign coverage.


    Utah Phillips, Anarchist, Voting for the First Time

    I know the folk singer Utah Phillips by name but know little else about him. I was surprised to find out he identifies as an anarchist. Surprised and pleased. Anarchy as a political philosophy gets a consistantly bad rep in the press (I include even many left of center publications). It is usually grossly misrepresented and identified mainly with violence and destruction of property. Phillips seems to be the kind of anarchist I like, thoughtful and heartfelt. Here's a quote from this interview at AlterNet: Election 2004: Voting for the First Time:

    You've said that your choice to not vote, to not participate in the system in that way, is one of the most sacred promises you've made. I know what it means to you to make this decision. It's sobering, because I think: Are things really that bad?

    Yeah, it is that bad. Now, I am not putting myself forth as an example. I'm not putting myself forth as a role model. Anarchists don't make rules for other people. You make rules for yourself and then people have got to learn how to trust you. And if you blow it you have the courage to change, and you do change and an anarchist is always something you're becoming. I don't need any congratulations for what I'm doing at all. I feel lousy about it. I don't feel good about it all. I'm simply going to do it. And if there are consequences of my act, then I harvest those consequences. That too, is anarchy. (emphasis added)

    Here are some links to interesting Anarchy sites:
    Anarchist Politics & Direct Action by Rob Sparrow outlines some of the basic philosophical points of Anarchy and the value of direct action.
    The Wikipedia entry on Anarchism looks fairly comprehensive and a good place to start.

    Thursday, October 14, 2004


    Democracy in a Trash Can

    I've heard several stories concerning the difficulty in registering to vote. This one is one of the more blatant scams: AlterNet: Election 2004: Democracy in a Trash Can:
    On Tuesday, Nov. 2, when hundreds and perhaps thousands of registered Democrats enter their polling places in Nevada, they will be in for a rude surprise: They won't be allowed to vote. Even though they filled out their registration forms properly and they did it way ahead of the deadline, there will be no record of their being registered to vote. That's because, according to an investigation by Las Vegas television station KLAS, a private voter registration company called Voters Outreach of America - an outfit largely funded by the Republican National Committee - has trashed hundreds of registration forms of registered Democrats."
    I've also heard a number of anecdotal stories about the difficulty in getting absentee ballots overseas. One person repeatedly requested, in writing and by phone, an absentee ballot for himself and his wife. Eventually, the ballots were FedExed to him at his own expense to ensure delivery. Cost in phone calls and registered mail to get the ballots? Something over $30. Democracy ain't cheap, y'know.


    A Bridge between Dems and Republicans

    This article may be outdated come election day but I still think it's worth reading. It's easy for progressives to think that those who vote for Bush are stupid and/or crazy. That's part of the problem with the chasm separating the right and left these days. Not everyone is able to engage in civil dialogue but many people can be changed by it. Calling someone stupid or insane is an easy way of dismissing them, writing them off and resorting to shouted slogans rather than exchanging views and information.

    This is from near the end of the article:

    Perhaps if we are willing to step outside of our comfort zones, progressives may find that not all Bush supporters want to control women's bodies or prescribe to the "survival of the fittest" philosophy. More importantly, Republicans would learn that there is no such thing as a "wild-eyed liberal" eager to tell them how to live.

    As for undecided voters, I assumed they were out of touch with reality. I was wrong. Based on the conversations I had, they either don't have access to substantial information or are being misled by the news they read – like most of the women I reached who truly believed that Afghan and Iraqi women are being liberated.

    Wednesday, October 13, 2004


    The Law and Time

    I've always found the line between precedent in law and the passage of time a strangely conflicted place. Legal foundations are often built on precedents or what has been decided by the courts in the past. Sometimes this can change dramatically, breaking from the past with a new interpretation such as Brown v. Board of Education which nullifies some previous precedents (Brown v. Board decided that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal." The decision effectively denied the legal basis for segregation in Kansas and 20 other states with segregated classrooms and would forever change race relations in the United States.) This story reminded me of the gaps in such decisions: Alabama to Vote on Segregation Language.

    Outmoded laws often remain on the books because once enacted, it takes special effort to get rid of them. While some of these laws are funny, they are still in effect. I wonder about the possibility of long "sunset" clauses on laws, say 75 or a hundred years. It seems like an attic that's never cleaned out, the accumulated detrious of the system. Or have someone sifting through these outmoded or unenforcable laws and make recommendations on what to keep and what to discard. How the hell does a law die anyway? Just through disuse? Curious.

    Tuesday, October 12, 2004


    Democracy? Not on Our Watch!

    It was while reading this article on registering the poor and working class in LA to vote that I got my usual ho-hum epiphany of cynicism. Democacy in the US is not about collectively making decisions on who to put into office and what propositions to support or turn down. It's about the opposite. Follow me on this one.

    First, running for any office above your local town council is too expensive for most people. Get the support of one of the two main parties? Get financial backing? Suppose your views don't fit under either of the "big tents" of the major parties? (Yes, Virginia, there is political thought outside of them.) What happens to financial support if you run as an independent? You face a massive spending gap if you are running against any major party candidate. Sure, get grassroots support and those $5 to $100 donations, run your campaign on a shoestring budget and the ISSUES. Hmm. How far will that get you? Ok, it isn't impossible but it's still damn difficult. This is the winnowing process for those seeking representative office. It's also the conforming process.

    The complexities of modern law making and legislature (state and national) are vast and often unpredictable. There are many ways in which proposed laws passing through the process can be sidelined, smothered or killed outright. In some ways it's a miracle anything gets through the process. Who most affects the passage of laws? Besides the Congress members themselves? Lobbyists and people with money. Sometimes the public is moved to write or call and express their opinion but only when a particular item is brought to attention. Who brings it to their attention? Their friends or neighbors? Unlikely. It will probably be... Bingo! A special interest group. And who has time to follow everything the Congress is doing? Isn't that why we elected someone in the first place, to be our representative?

    Surely the press is looking out for our best interests and monitoring our fine elected officials... Except that 80% of the TV and news media are owned by just five companies. And mainstream journalism has devolved into a kind of huge bulletin board all the reporters are looking at and copying their own version before tacking it back up. "Official" statements and public relations press releases are processed almost without question. Reporters who question the "official" version of events risk losing access to official sources. Our expectations of the press are lowered so far we don't even realize what is missing. Take the local evening TV news. It's a half hour long. Only it's really only 22 minutes because of commercials. Take away, oh, five minutes for sports. It might be important to you but is it news? Subtract another 3 minutes for weather (important but unless there's a weather emergency, not news). We now have about 14 minutes for news. Look closely at those 14 minutes. How many stories do you see during this time? Probably about 4 with several more covered with only one or two sentences. At least one of those will be an entertainment segment. The nature of news is to cover exciting, breaking stories with great visuals. Why waste time telling people what a proposed tax cut really means when you can show pictures of the hurricane or that three alarm fire?

    I've reached a point where I can barely watch TV news. As I watch all I think of is what they're NOT saying, of the number of times quotes from official sources busy spinning their version of the event appear. Ah, I think the election is making me way more cynical than usual. Carry on.

    Sunday, October 10, 2004


    Bush On the Couch

    Bush On the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President by Justin A. Frank, M.D. From the description, this might either be an excellent look at the evolution of George W. Bush's personality or it might be speculative hogwash. I think there is plenty of info in the public sphere to do this sort of analysis fairly well for a person with the right skill set. Whether the author has done so, I don't know.

    A phrase that the leftish blogs have come up with for Bush after the second debate is "furious George" which I find very droll. It combines the children's book character, a monkey named "Curious George" (also referencing Bush's vaguely simian face and ears,) and the somewhat manic anger he showed in the "town meeting" debate. Of course, this appellation is a highly ad hominem reference. It certainly behooves us to rise above this vile namecalling. But I still think it's funny. I am a very bad person.

    I picked up on "Bush on the Couch" from AMERICAblog where John had this personal comment:
    I know one person who visited the White House because he was on the team that reached the summit of Everest in 2001 with the first blind climber. After pumping up his own ego to the visitors and telling them how important the office was and he was, he monologued for the entire visit, not once asking about the Everest climb. Sitting across from Furious George was the first blind person to climb Everest and there was no congratulations, no acknowledgement, nothing. Only ego and stories about himself. Does that sound like a normal person or someone who can not stand the fact that someone with a disability was able to achieve something impressive without mommy and daddy and family friends? Clear the couch, this guy needs help.

    Saturday, October 09, 2004


    Depleted Uranium Weapons are not Your Friend

    Sometimes silence isn't enough to quiet me. Day by day, I shift in what I think is the most important story to tell, the most important bit of information to pass along in this blog of web ramblings. Today, it's depleted uranium weapons used by the US in military actions over the last fifteen years or more. An excellent and depressing starting point is at the Project Censored site where High Uranium Levels Found in Troops and Civilians was their #4 story this year. Read it and learn of horrors we are inflicting on civilians (at home and abroad) and US soldiers.

    Most American weapons (missiles, smart bombs, dumb bombs, bullets, tank shells, cruise missiles, etc.) contain high amounts of radioactive uranium. Depleted or non-depleted, these types of weapons, on detonation, release a radioactive dust which, when inhaled, goes into the body and stays there. It has a half-life of 4.5 billion years. Basically, it’s a permanently available contaminant, distributed in the environment, where dust storms or any water nearby can disperse it. Once ingested, it releases subatomic particles that slice through DNA.


    Professor Katsuma Yagasaki, a scientist at the Ryukyus University, Okinawa calculated that the 800 tons of DU used in Afghanistan is the radioactive equivalent of 83,000 Nagasaki bombs. The amount of DU used in Iraq is equivalent to 250,000 Nagasaki bombs.


    At a meeting of the International Criminal Tribunal for Afghanistan held December 2003 in Tokyo, the U.S. was indicted for multiple war crimes in Afghanistan, among them the use of DU. Leuren Moret, President of Scientists for Indigenous People and Environmental Commissioner for the City of Berkeley, testified that because radioactive contaminants from uranium weapons travel through air, water, and food sources, the effects of U.S. deployment in Afghanistan will be felt in Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China and India. Countries affected by the use of uranium weapons in Iraq include Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, Turkey, and Iran.


    Leuren Moret reports, "In my research on depleted uranium during the past 5 years, the most disturbing information concerns the impact on the unborn children and future generations for both soldiers serving in the depleted uranium wars, and for the civilians who must live in the permanently radioactive contaminated regions. Today, more than 240,000 Gulf War veterans are on permanent medical disability and more than 11,000 are dead. They have been denied testing, medical care, and compensation for depleted uranium exposure and related illnesses since 1991."

    Moret continues "Even worse, they brought it home in their bodies. In some families, the children born before the Gulf War are the only healthy members. Wives and female partners of Gulf War veterans have reported a condition known as burning semen syndrome, and are now internally contaminated from depleted uranium carried in the semen of exposed veterans. Many are reporting reproductive illnesses such as endometriosis. In a U.S. government study, conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs on post-Gulf War babies, 67% were found to have serious birth defects or serious illnesses. They were born without eyes (anophthalmos), ears, had missing organs, missing legs and arms, fused fingers, thyroid or other organ malformations."

    What I find astonishing is the high rate of contamination among US veterans from the first Gulf War. I mean, "240,000 Gulf War veterans...on permanent medical disability" is a staggering amount if true. I'm only personally aware of one person who was over in Gulf War I. She was only there for one day. She is currently disabled and is living with cancer. Is there a causal connection? I don't know. It has always been an article of belief in my little mind of the dangers of this kind of radiation. Another site that has a good overview of the issues and consequences of using DU is at the Malaysian Institute for Nuclear Technology Research (MINT). This has plenty of links to explore.

    When you hear of the wonders of so-called "bunker-buster" bombs, know that it's depleted uranium that is the spearhead for them. These are the results we feared during the long Cold War. But there's no large bomb, no mushroom cloud, just the haze of blowing and settling radioactive dust becoming part of out bodies and the food chain. We're such clever apes. Too clever by half.

    UPDATE: This page also has a very broad selection of links on nuclear stuff.

    Friday, October 08, 2004


    White House Guide to Terror Alerts

    This is a funny little graphic from the brilliant mind of Betty Bowers. White House Guide to Terror Alerts

    Thursday, October 07, 2004


    AIDS in America

    I wasn't watching when a question about AIDS in the US came up during the VP debate. I wish I had been watching to see Cheney at a loss for an answer. The following is from AlterNet: EnviroHealth: Could You Repeat the Question, Please? but it's not from Cheney.
    In fact, African Americans, who make up 12 percent of the U.S. population, now represent 42 percent of all people living with AIDS and more than half of all new infections. That's hardly news; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been sounding this alarm for many years. AIDS is already the leading cause of death among 24- to 44-year-old African Americans. Nearly two-thirds of new HIV cases among the 25-and-under demographic are occurring among young African Americans.

    Tuesday, October 05, 2004


    VP Debate? Bored now

    Strange. I kind of enjoyed the first prez debate but this Vice-prez debate between Cheney and Edwards is boring me to tears. I go in, listen for a couple of minutes and then leave. I'm just not engaged with either of these guys. My impression is a fairly even match, score a couple of points for Edwards and a couple others for Cheney. Ping pong. My revulsion with Cheney seems muted tonight even though I've already caught him LYING several times. He's like a predator devouring his kill, it's just what he does, it's just his nature. Blah.


    Robert W. McChesney Interview

    Robert W. McChesney has cropped up for me several times over the last few months as a media critic. I find his views on media to be much more resonant with my experience. The following is from the Mother Jones website story The Problem of the Media:

    " Can you give some examples of how the candidates are treated differently?

    RM: One need only look at the case of George W. Bush. Look at his business record prior to becoming president. Compare how Bill Clinton's business record is treated in the news media. Bill Clinton's Whitewater episode, which was a minor, small-time deal, generated countless articles and a special prosecutor that almost led to his impeachment. And they couldn't find a thing.

    George W. Bush's business career, on the other hand, was almost exceptionally dubious. It was a succession of failures, basically, where he gets bankrolled and supported by people who want access to his father, and then later to him. It barely raised any notice in our media, whereas Bill Clinton almost got impeached.

    One need only look at the Vietnam War coverage. George W. Bush compared to Al Gore or Bill Clinton, in terms of how they got out of the draft, there's like a 100 to 1 difference in the number of stories. Clinton was raked over the coals. Even now, here's this absurd situation where Kerry's getting raked over the coals by this Swift Boat stuff. It is utter nonsense, there's no factual basis for it, but it gets constant attention. And Bush's own military record, far more dubious, still gets far less attention. "

    Saturday, October 02, 2004


    Vote Counting in Florida

    I've read so much about the recount in 2000 that I was surprised that the following quote struck me significant suddenly. It's not new or news but (perhaps it's because I'm reading Lakoff's "Don't Think of an Elephant") the acknowledged truth from both Repubs and Dems was that recount would favor Gore. This is such a given and something I've known all along that I'm suddenly shocked by my surprise at it.

    AlterNet: Election 2004: Something Rotten in the State of Florida: "The Republicans did all they could to avoid manual re-counts in 2000 because they assumed that the more votes were re-counted in south Florida, the more they would favour Al Gore."

    I've read Greg Palast on the "felon" purges. I've read about the balloting bias of optical scanning (Repub. majority districts) vs older voting machines and punch cards (Dem. majority districts). None of this is new to me. But I'm still suddenly appalled anew at the 2000 Florida recount.

    Friday, October 01, 2004


    Bush Debate Bingo!

    This was so funny I have to pass it on. I can't believe the Dems actually put this together. Just go see it at DNC Bush Debate Bingo. Kathryn and I played for the first debate but neither of us won because of the focus on foreign policy for the debate.


    Another 1st Prez Debate Story

    This quote sums up for me what the likely problem was for Bush in this first debate. From the Mother Jones site, Presidential Fiction: The Story Behind the Debate:
    "Normally surrounded by blanketing 'security,' the President's campaign road events -- with their carefully reserved tickets, their choreographed chants and softball questions, their air of private theatrical performances only open to invited (or paying) guests -- have all the easy, repetitive smoothness of a Little Mermaid-like stage show at Disneyland. Far more than in any other campaign of our lifetime, the Bush campaign, until tonight, has really been a fabulously successful cartoon version of politics, buffered from any reality whatsoever. Unscripted realities have generally been kept well out of sight in blocked off protest zones and when anyone has crashed the campaign's space -- anyone, that is, wearing the wrong t-shirt or protesting in any way -- that person has almost instantly been airbrushed away. Who else has ever created such a self-enclosed political universe, so -- as everyone likes to say -- 'on message'? (And imagine that, at any given moment, there are not one but two performances taking place -- the second being a carefully coded set of signs and signals for the President's fundamentalist Christian audience.) "
    I think because of the nature of his recent campaign experience, it was inevitable that any challenge to his "authority" would irritate and annoy him. I certainly caught that frustrated "Don't question me!" vibe from Bush throughout the debate.


    Short Takes on the Debate

    Sick of the first debate? Yeah, but I liked this little piece because it was a roundup of several generally progressive commentators on it. AlterNet: Election 2004: Short Takes on the Debate


    Presidential Debates and George Lakoff

    The first debate was interesting and this link is to the first analysis I've read this morning. What I find intreguing is this quote from the article:
    "The candidates' mutual praise for each others' daughters was perhaps the most unscripted and revealing moment of the debate. Like his unwavering policy on Iraq, Bush revealed his inclinations to keep his daughters on a tight 'leash.' Kerry replied that he had learned 'not to' rein them in, suggesting that a more flexible and understanding approach had brought about better results as a father. It was a microcosm of Bush's 'Let's stay the course' vs. Kerry's 'Let's learn what experience teaches us' approaches to leading the free world."

    This is remarkably like George Lakoff's model of liberal/conservative politics as embodying two forms of parenting: The "strict father" model (basically conservatives) and the "nurturing parent" model (basically liberals). It wouldn't surprise me to find Kerry's advisors have been paying attention to Lakoff recently. Lakoff's new book Don't Think of an Elephant is recently out and, last I heard, was at #13 on the Amazon list. I may put an excerpt from Lakoff's writing here in a later post since I find his theories very good models for organizing political events and proposals.

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