line -->
  • Monday, February 28, 2005


    The Dogs of War Come Home

    I feel profoundly ambivalent about returning veterans from Iraq. On one hand, I recognize that many of them joined the military as a result of the "poverty draft" and very aggressive recruitment tactics. They may have joined the military for any number of reasons: patriotism, educational opportunity, poverty, spiffy dress uniforms, recruiter's lies, etc. As individuals, I feel they need support, aid and comfort upon returning to the US. However, as agents actively carrying out the foreign policies of the Bush Administration, they played a considerable role in an unprovoked war of aggression. The Nuremburg Principles don't absolve them of responsibility and neither do I. No, I don't want to put all our soldiers on trial. I don't think it should have to be a soldier's responsibility to second-guess the government's policies and whether they are committing an international crime. Supposedly the checks and balances of our government should keep such massive mistakes from happening. But it certainly didn't in this case.

    Can anything good come out of this? To me, part of the answer lies in how we treat returning veterans. I do not like the military but I also recognize that we, as a country, owe something to those who put their lives on the line. It is not a light obligation. Here's a small quote from "The Bonus Army" Lesson. It's definitely worth reading the whole piece.

    How are troops supported? For an excellent historical reminder that soldiers are supported by organized action outside of the political process, get yourself a copy of The Bonus Army: An American Epic authored by Paul Dickson and Thomas B. Allen.

    By the cutoff date of July 25, 1956, 2,232,000 vets had enrolled in college using the GI Bill. "The education produced 450,000 engineers, 238,000 teachers, 91,000 scientists, 67,000 doctors, 22,000 dentists, and more than a million other college trained men and women."

    Nearly 8 million vets benefited from the GI Bill with 11 million homes being built in the 1950s, financed by GI Bill loans. Amazing how neocons completely ignore such things when chastising "liberals" about free-market panaceas and how government programs only make things worse.

    "The enduring legacy of the Bonus Army," write Dickson and Allen, "goes well beyond the GI Bill...(They) taught an American lesson to those who fretted over revolution: If you have a grievance, take it to Washington, and if you want to be heard, bring a lot of people with you."

    As you read these words, there are veterans in VA hospitals paying for their meals while the president's budget, among other things, would more than double co-payment charged to many veterans for prescription drugs, and would require some to pay new fee of $250 a year to use government health care.

    BTW, the title of this post refers to the following quote:
    Blood and destruction shall be so in use
    And dreadful objects so familiar
    That mothers shall but smile when they behold
    Their infants quarter'd with the hands of war;
    All pity choked with custom of fell deeds:
    And Caesar's spirit, ranging for revenge,
    With Ate by his side come hot from hell,
    Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice
    Cry 'Havoc,' and let slip the dogs of war;
    That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
    With carrion men, groaning for burial.
    Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene I
    "Havoc derives from Old French, and probably derives from a now lost Germanic word (perhaps Walter will show up with the best derivation). It means to plunder, and entered English through Anglo-Norman, crier havoc, meaning to cry (shout) plunder. To cry havoc is to release one's troops to plunder the enemy camp or town." This explanation is from this discussion.



    Show Me Your Identity Papers

    I don't travel much these days. I have actually only taken one trip by plane since 9/11/2001. (Well, a round trip.) I think it's important to ask "How much security is too much security?" There comes a point where I start to feel ornery about the whole issue. I'm not really joking when I say I'm expecting soon to be required to have your identity number tattooed on your hand or forehead to facilitate "security". Yeah, yeah, all those "mark of the beast" people are starting to sound not as nutty as they once did. The following is from an interesting article on John Gilmore and his reasons for not showing ID anymore.
    SAN FRANCISCO -- John Gilmore's splendid isolation began July 4, 2002, when, with defiance aforethought, he strolled to the Southwest Airlines counter at Oakland Airport and presented his ticket.

    The gate agent asked for his ID.

    Gilmore asked her why.

    It is the law, she said.

    Gilmore asked to see the law.

    Nobody could produce a copy. To date, nobody has. The regulation that mandates ID at airports is "Sensitive Security Information." The law, as it turns out, is unavailable for inspection.

    What started out as a weekend trip to Washington became a crawl through the courts in search of an answer to Gilmore's question: Why?

    In post 9/11 America, asking "Why?" when someone from an airline asks for identification can start some interesting arguments. Gilmore, who learned to argue on the debate team in his hometown of Bradford, McKean County, has started an argument that, should it reach its intended target, the U.S. Supreme Court, would turn the rules of national security on end, reach deep into the tug-of-war between private rights and public safety, and play havoc with the Department of Homeland Security.

    At the heart of Gilmore's stubbornness is the worry about the thin line between safety and tyranny.

    "Are they just basically saying we just can't travel without identity papers? If that's true, then I'd rather see us go through a real debate that says we want to introduce required identity papers in our society rather than trying to legislate it through the back door through regulations that say there's not any other way to get around," Gilmore said. "Basically what they want is a show of obedience."

    As happens to the disobedient, Gilmore is grounded. He is rich -- he estimates his net worth at $30 million -- and cannot fly inside the United States. Nor can he ride Amtrak, rent a room at most major hotels, or easily clear security in the courthouses where his case, Gilmore v. Ashcroft, is to be heard. In a time when more and more people and places demand some form of government-issued identification, John Gilmore offers only his 49-year-old face: a study in stringy hair, high forehead, wire-rimmed glasses, Ho Chi Minh beard and the contrariness for which the culture is renowned.

    Friday, February 25, 2005


    Wave Goodbye to the Nice Ice Cap

    But I really think this whole "global warming" thing is blown out of proportion. Probably needs LOTS more study, right? Besides, what have the polar bears done for me lately? I don't see them leaving fresh fish on my doorstep. From The Age of Icelessness:

    Ice is melting everywhere – and at an accelerating rate. Rising global temperatures are lengthening melting seasons, thawing frozen ground, and thinning ice caps and glaciers that in some cases have existed for millennia. These changes are raising sea level faster than earlier projected by scientists, and threatening both human and wildlife populations.

    Since the industrial revolution, human activity has released ever-increasing amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouses gases into the atmosphere, leading to gradual but unmistakable changes in climate throughout the world – especially at the higher latitudes.

    Average surface temperatures in the Arctic Circle have risen by more than half a degree Celsius (0.9 degrees Fahrenheit) per decade since 1981. The extent of Arctic sea ice cover has decreased by 7-9 percent per decade. And the three smallest extents of summer ice ever seen there have all occurred since 2002. According to the latest forecasts, the Arctic could be ice-free in the summer by the end of this century.

    The Arctic melt season has lengthened by 10-17 days, shrinking the amount of ice buildup that remains from year to year. As sea ice thins and recedes from coastlines, indigenous hunters and fishers are finding themselves cut off from traditional hunting grounds. Coastal communities face more violent and less predictable weather, rising sea levels, and diminishing access to food sources. Polar bears, unable to cross thin or nonexistent ice to hunt seals, will soon face a severely reduced food source.

    Scientists fear that with continued melting, the bears may become extinct by the end of the century. Seals, walruses, and seabirds will also lose key feeding and breeding grounds along the ice edge.


    Surprise! Americans Politically Confused

    To communicate, you first need to make sure you agree on the definitions of the words you're using with other people. The following item shows a such a basic misunderstanding of the terms used to describe political positions and parties that its no wonder many Americans can't follow politics. This is from Right Wing, Left Wing, Chicken Wing by Matt Taibbi. Read the whole thing; it's worth it.

    The Harris polling agency last week released the results of an interesting study. In a survey of 2209 adults, they discovered that most Americans only have the vaguest idea of the meaning of two important pairs of words that play crucial roles in the national political discourse: conservative and liberal, and left and right.

    Some of the numbers are surprising. According to the survey, 37 percent of Americans think liberals oppose gun control, or else they are not sure if liberals oppose gun control. Likewise, 27 percent of respondents thought a right-winger was someone who supported affirmative action. Furthermore, the survey showed that respondents generally viewed the paired concepts liberals and left-wingers and conservatives and right-wingers as possessing, respectively, generally similar political beliefs – with one caveat. In both cases, respondents were roughly 10 percent more clueless about left-wingers and right-wingers than they were about liberals and conservatives.

    "The label left-winger is broadly perceived to be similar to liberal," the agency concluded, "except that more people are not sure what it means."

    Respondents were asked to define the labels according to what their positions were on seven "political issues": abortion rights, gun control, cutting taxes, gay rights, same-sex marriage, affirmative action and moral values. This list of issues is preposterous in itself as a symbolic reflection of the political landscape, but that's a discussion for another time. To me the most instructive category was "moral values." According to the survey, 78 percent of respondents believe conservatives support moral values, while only 40 percent said the same about left-wingers. In fact, 29 percent said they believed left-wingers actually opposed moral values.

    I'm glad the Harris people never called me for this survey, because I would have had to answer "not sure" to every question. Even after working as a political reporter for many years, I still have absolutely no idea what the American versions of left and right mean – what they mean in an ideological sense, that is. It's hard not to be confused when we call a saber-rattling free trader like John Kerry far left, while a man who keeps a portrait of Lenin on his wall, like Grover Norquist, is considered the very definition of a right-winger.

    Thursday, February 24, 2005


    The Pentagon Channel

    Well, don't that just beat all! I swear I couldn't tell whether this was a joke or not when I read about it in a recent column by Arianna Huffington called Rummy TV. I couldn't help myself: I went looking for the Pentagon Channel.

    Yup, there it is, and apparently available on Time Warner and soon to be on the Dish satellite network. I'm speechless and boggled. Our tax dollars at work. But when will it start turning a profit?


    Are Frozen Embryos People?

    This is one of those philosophical arguments that routinely stuns me. Like the stem cell arguments that certainly go hand-in-hand with it. Amid all the debate about stem cell research, I only recently found out that the "embryo" these cells are taken from consist of only about 150 cells. That's right. It's a blastula, a little sphere of cells. No arms, no legs, no head. The fertilized egg has only divided about 8 times. But once you posit a soul from the moment of conception, anything done to the little darling is torture and murder. The following is from Frozen Embryo = Person? and is plenty scary for the future.

    Earlier this month, Illinois judge Jeffrey Lawrence refused to dismiss a wrongful death suit against a fertility clinic in Chicago. The plaintiffs are a couple, Alison Miller and Todd Parrish. They allege that the defendant, the Center for Human Reproduction in Chicago, discarded their nine embryos and thereby ended the embryos' lives.

    In Illinois, the judge explained, a fetus qualifies as a deceased person for purposes of the Wrongful Death Act. Furthermore, said the judge, "a pre-embryo is a 'human being' ... whether or not it is implanted in its mother's womb." For this conclusion, the judge cited another Illinois law that specifically finds that an "unborn child is a human being from the time of conception and is, therefore, a legal person."

    Critics of the decision worry about its potential implications for the right to abortion, for stem cell research and for fertility medicine. These worries may or may not turn out to be warranted.

    But the decision deeming a fertilized egg a person has moral and legal implications for other issues. It also asks whether, prior to a baby's birth, property law takes sufficient account of the various interests at stake in abortion and fertility medicine (the latter of which includes stem-cell research).

    One argument for the right to abortion is that until viability (or birth, quickening, or whatever the chosen line may be), there is no "person" and therefore no one whose life is entitled to legal protection. If Jane Doe destroys a living entity that does not qualify as a person, then Ms. Doe need not worry about the criminal or civil sanctions that would accompany the destruction of a person. If, on the other hand, a fetus (or even an embryo) is a person, then Jane (and the medical personnel who assist her) might need to worry about homicide liability following an abortion.

    Similarly, fertility medicine – like the law of abortion, as currently developed – proceeds on the assumption that embryos are not persons. For that reason, women may undergo ovarian hyper-stimulation to produce many eggs which will be fertilized to produce many more embryos than she would be willing or able to carry to term as pregnancies. A large number of these embryos will eventually be destroyed. If embryos qualify as persons under the law, then such destruction constitutes murder. Moreover, the deliberate creation of persons with the knowledge of their future destruction would make any participant an accomplice.


    Hunter Again

    This is from Hunter S. Thompson, R.I.P. and is closer to the spirit of Mr. Thompson than some of the other memorial bits written.

    "The only way I can lose this election is if I'm caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy." - Edwin W. Edwards

    In the same month the planet gets to know the 'journalist' James/Jeff Guckert/Gannon, Hunter S. Thompson decides to make The Big Bit-Spit and eject from the planet. This could be sacrilege, and I hope his family will forgive me, but there is something wretchedly fitting in the confluence. Thompson, the acerbic counterculture writer who popularized a new form of journalism in books like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, fatally shot himself Sunday, Feb. 20, 2005, at his Aspen-area home, his son said. He was 67.

    Hunter was a drunk and a drug-sucker. He would go to cover an event and slather himself with LSD. He went to the '72 GOP convention as a wild-eyed liberal and elbowed his way into the activist bullpen, grabbing a sign reading 'Garbage Men Demand Equal Pay' before charging the floor with the Nixon-shouters to howl "Four More Years!" at John Chancellor. He wanted to write about motorcycle gangs, so he went out and joined the worst of them, and got his ass stomped in. And wrote about it.

    Hunter Thompson is the reason I write politics. Period. He was the most honest man in the business. Everyone else had and has an angle, a reputation, or a source to protect. Hunter stripped it down to the raw throbbing nerve and let it fly. How is this for prose:

    "How many more of these goddam elections are we going to have to write off as lame but 'regrettably necessary' holding actions? And how many more of these stinking double-downer sideshows will we have to go through before we can get ourselves straight enough to put together some kind of national election that will give me and the at least 20 million people I tend to agree with a chance to vote for something, instead of always being faced with that old familiar choice between the lesser of two evils? I understand, along with a lot of other people, that the big thing, this year, is Beating Nixon. But that was also the big thing, as I recall, twelve years ago in 1960 - and as far as I can tell, we've gone from bad to worse to rotten since then, and the outlook is for more of the same."

    Wednesday, February 23, 2005


    Minimum Wage is Hell

    The ever shrinking minimum wage is horrific. If you worked 40 hours a week at $5.15, you would gross $206 a week before taxes. Work 50 weeks a year (although at this wage I doubt you get vacation time off) and your gross annual take home pay is $8,240 or about $686 a month. Do you get health insurance with your job? Doubtful. Poverty levels for a household of one person in 2003 according to the Health and Human Services government site is $8,980 or for a two person household $12,120. The following is from A Livable Minimum Wage.

    If George W. Bush finishes a second term and avoids adjusting the federal minimum wage, we will have completed an 11-year record stretch without any adjustment. The previous record of nine years was brought to us by Ronald Reagan. The current federal minimum wage of $5.15 per hour is over 40 percent below the 1968 level adjusted for inflation. A full-time worker taking no vacation or holidays and earning the federal minimum wage earns 55 percent of the federal poverty line for a family of four and a much smaller percentage of what it takes to actually pay the rent and basic living expenses in most parts of the country. Such a worker qualifies for much of what remains of public support and assistance, placing the burden on taxpayers to pick up where employers fail to pay a living wage.

    Grassroots organizations have responded to the static minimum wage by focusing on the state level. After winning living wage laws in 123 cities and counties (laws that mandate higher minimums for certain categories of workers) and city-wide minimum wage hikes covering all workers in four cities (D.C., Santa Fe, San Francisco and Madison), the campaign for decent wage standards has shifted the battleground to the state level.

    Tuesday, February 22, 2005


    Advertising Lies

    First in an occasional series of rants on how all advertising is false advertising.

    Corporate catchphrases. I'm sure you've seen them. Cheery and pithy phrases, supposedly summing up the chewy goodness of the company or the product. Disposable words carefully crafted to leave a positive impression in your mind. Of course, the moment you actually look hard at them, really read them, really grasp the meaning of them, they transform into empty and surreal expressions.

    A huge industry is devoted to finding and propagating these bits of fantasy, these deepcore taps into the subconscious.

    Let me pull an example up almost at random. Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) is a company selling agricultural products, seed and much more. They are also heavily into gene modification and patents on such modified plants. Their tag on the link above is "Resourceful by nature." Note that this phrase is trademarked. I'm not going to dissect the meanings ADM would like you to draw from this tag but look just at the phrase itself. It might be applied to an individual or a species of animal but to a company?

    Try this test: look at an ad on TV or in a magazine. Pick out the slogan and try to understand what it really means, particularly in association with the company attached to it. What does "Just do it" have to do with Nike, the footwear manufacturer? What does "Think different" have to do with Apple Computer? Do you want the operating system to "think different"?

    I hope to write more on the lies of advertising in the future.


    Goodnight, Mr. Thompson

    I don't know how much the death of Hunter S. Thompson will reverberate across the culture but his influence certainly looms large in our household. I read much of his early writing for Rolling Stone at the time it appeared, back when Rolling Stone was printed on cheap folded newsprint. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, and his early volume of collected writings The Great Shark Hunt were all devoured by my peer group. The concept of a personal journalism, of the author being part of the story, of freely editorializing along with the facts seemed the embodiment of the "personal is political" view.

    I miss him.

    Update: A friend of mine wrote a nice personal piece called "Mistah Gonzo, He dead."

    Sunday, February 20, 2005


    FCC and Media Control

    I'm seeing an interesting trend in the FCC tactics over the last year, most particularly since the whole Justin/Janet/Superbowl brouhaha last year. One aspect is the increase of fines for indecency. I picked this definition up from the FCC web site:
    The Commission has defined broadcast indecency as language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities. In applying the "community standards for the broadcast medium" criterion, the Commission has stated, "The determination as to whether certain programming is patently offensive is not a local one and does not encompass any particular geographic area. Rather, the standard is that of an average broadcast viewer or listener and not the sensibilities of any individual complainant." Indecent programming contains sexual or excretory references that do not rise to the level of obscenity. As such, the courts have held that indecent material is protected by the First Amendment and cannot be banned entirely. It may, however, be restricted in order to avoid its broadcast during times of day when there is a reasonable risk that children may be in the audience.
    The increase in fines for these violations has the most effect on the independent broadcasters and stations. If ABC, as a network, is fined $500,000 because someone said "fuck" they can absorb that fine without too much trouble. If a public access station is fined that amount, they might have to close completely. So the fines are extremely daunting to smaller operators. Do you think they will take a chance on it? The following is from a CJR post. I might be wrong but I think that the FCC used to use revoking of the broadcast license as the main threat for these sort of violations.

    Two different incidents this week speak volumes about the legacy of outgoing FCC chairman Michael Powell. The first, which will undoubtedly have far-reaching consequences for free speech in the broadcast media, was the House of Representatives passing the "Broadcast Decency Act" -- a bill calling for an increase of the basic FCC fine for "indecent" content from $32,500 to $500,000. The Senate is currently working on its own version of the bill, which calls for a minimum fine of $325,000.

    Since assuming the chairmanship of the FCC in 2001, Powell has embarked on a policy of fining broadcasters for alleged indecent content that is unparalleled in the history of American media. Under his stewardship, FCC fines for material deemed offensive soared to nearly $8 million in 2004 -- up from a mere $48,000 in the year before he took the commission's reigns.

    Like a true politician, Powell claims he was responding to public demand. In late 2004, he informed a Congressional committee that there has been a "dramatic rise in public concern and outrage about what is being broadcast into their homes." But that's not quite true. Although he FCC has indeed seen an explosion in complaints over supposed broadcast indecency -- reaching more than a million in 2004, up from 14,000 in 2002 and less than 400 a year prior to that -- as Mediaweek pointed out, over 99 percent of those complaints came from one group, the conservative Parents Television Council.

    As a direct result of that group hijacking the compliant Powell's agenda, broadcasters have grown fearful of airing anything that might be construed as indecent. Adding to the confusion is Powell's lack of any discernable standard in handing out fines. In March 2004, the agency reversed itself on Bono's use of the f-word in his Grammy acceptance speech, originally allowing it, and then changing course and calling it a violation. It also, of course, slapped a $500,000 fine on CBS for the Janet Jackson "nipplegate" fiasco, and a whopping $1.2 million fine Fox for the reality series "Married By America." On the other hand, last month the FCC dismissed a series of complaints against "Friends," "The Simpsons" and "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me."

    Saturday, February 19, 2005


    America Uber Alles

    The Project for the New American Century (PNAC) is a group that is very up-front about what they want: the United States as undisputed and dominant leader of all the countries of the world. The end of the cold war and the collapse of the Soviet Union simply means there is currently no effective force to counterbalance the military and economic might of the US. Thus, PNAC asserts the need for a new iteration of manifest destiny for the US.

    The PNAC Statement of Principles from June, 1997 has a number of interesting signatories. How many of the following names can you identify?

    Elliott Abrams, Gary Bauer, William J. Bennett, Jeb Bush, Dick Cheney, Eliot A. Cohen, Midge Decter, Paula Dobriansky, Steve Forbes, Aaron Friedberg, Francis Fukuyama, Frank Gaffney, Fred C. Ikle, Donald Kagan, Zalmay Khalilzad, I. Lewis Libby, Norman Podhoretz, Dan Quayle, Peter W. Rodman, Stephen P. Rosen, Henry S. Rowen, Donald Rumsfeld, Vin Weber, George Weigel, Paul Wolfowitz. (I'm showing my ignorance and knowledge by highlighting the names I'm familiar with on some level. I may know a few more but am not making the connections offhand.)

    I often think the word "imperialist" is overused but PNAC quite clearly desires a consolidation of power and the continuation of US domination of the international stage. From the PNAC Statement of Purpose:

    As the 20th century draws to a close, the United States stands as the world's preeminent power. Having led the West to victory in the Cold War, America faces an opportunity and a challenge: Does the United States have the vision to build upon the achievements of past decades? Does the United States have the resolve to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests?

    We are in danger of squandering the opportunity and failing the challenge. We are living off the capital -- both the military investments and the foreign policy achievements -- built up by past administrations. Cuts in foreign affairs and defense spending, inattention to the tools of statecraft, and inconstant leadership are making it increasingly difficult to sustain American influence around the world. And the promise of short-term commercial benefits threatens to override strategic considerations. As a consequence, we are jeopardizing the nation's ability to meet present threats and to deal with potentially greater challenges that lie ahead.

    We seem to have forgotten the essential elements of the Reagan Administration's success: a military that is strong and ready to meet both present and future challenges; a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad; and national leadership that accepts the United States' global responsibilities.

    Of course, the United States must be prudent in how it exercises its power. But we cannot safely avoid the responsibilities of global leadership or the costs that are associated with its exercise. America has a vital role in maintaining peace and security in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. If we shirk our responsibilities, we invite challenges to our fundamental interests. The history of the 20th century should have taught us that it is important to shape circumstances before crises emerge, and to meet threats before they become dire. The history of this century should have taught us to embrace the cause of American leadership.

    Notice how much of this is couched in terms of "responsibilities" as if the world's nations were children in need of parental discipline. This harks back to the British Empire bringing "civilization" to the countries they conquered regardless of whether the countries wanted it. Many of these countries were doing just fine, thank you.

    The point? Just that the PNAC, for all it's high sounding rhetoric, seems basically intent on extending US influence even further than its already pervasive extent.

    More information on PNAC:

    PNAC.Info - Exposing the The Project for the New American Century doesn't appear to have been updated for over eight months but it also seems to have links to other sites.

    Wikipedia has an entry with more basic information on PNAC.


    Friday, February 18, 2005


    MSNBC is the New FOX

    This is a trend I've noticed over the last 6 months or so. MSNBC is becoming more conservatively biased than FOX News. I mean, massively more conservative. This is from Media Matters for America:
    But Media Matters for America has documented evidence of a conservative trend on MSNBC. In less than a year, Media Matters has identified well over 100 instances (as of this posting) in which MSNBC has provided an outlet for conservative misinformation. Recently, Republican officials and conservative pundits far outnumbered Democrats and progressives in MSNBC's coverage both before and after President Bush's February 2 State of the Union address. MSNBC also featured far more Republicans and conservatives than Democrats and progressives in its presidential inauguration and debate coverage.

    And while Matthews, Scarborough Country host and former U.S. Representative Joe Scarborough (R-FL), and former presidential candidate, MSNBC analyst and regular Scarborough Country guest host Pat Buchanan often distort, mislead, and play host to skewed panels, MSNBC has recently added frequent misinformers Carlson and Monica Crowley to its programming lineup.

    Thursday, February 17, 2005


    Your Identity

    I'm sure plenty of people will write about this little event but I thought I should note it. The security of credit information is remarkably lax. I think I figured out about 7 or eight years ago that setting up a false business would be a great scam to glean credit records and other info. It's one reason I've been very leery of giving out accurate information about myself to companies. This is from CJR Daily:
    Thanks to a credit reporting company called ChoicePoint, you'll be happy to learn that you might be at high risk for identity theft. ChoicePoint said Tuesday that hackers had broken into its database and stolen personal information about customers. More than 100,000 people are at risk, but ChoicePoint won't say who they are in states other than California, since the laws in those other states don't require them to. "Remember this the next time some corporate lobbying group whines about excessive regulation," writes Kevin Drum. But wait, there's more: As Jason Levine (a.k.a. Queso) points out, it wasn't hackers at all who were responsible for the information getting out, but ChoicePoint itself. Criminals created fake businesses and set up accounts with ChoicePoint, which handed the information over to them.

    "Notice the difference?" writes Levine. "If it's reported that nefarious hackers broke into ChoicePoint and stole the data, then ChoicePoint comes out looking like a victim. On the other hand, if it's reported that the failure was in ChoicePoint's internal mechanisms for verifying the validity of an account application, the existence of the company behind that application, and the right of that company to obtain credit information, then ChoicePoint is revealed as a remarkably large part of the problem." Thus far, he says, only MSNBC is reporting the story correctly.


    Freethinkers and Susan Jacoby

    I found this interview with Susan Jacoby, author of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism. Very interesting stuff.
    One of the questions today – and I'm asked this a lot – is if fundamentalists are a much larger group of people in America than in any other developed country. By most standards, you define a fundamentalist as someone, whether Christian or Jewish or Muslim, who believes the literal interpretation of what their sacred scripture is – that the world was created in seven days, or that you get to have sex with a whole lot of virgins if you die for Allah, for instance. The fundamentalist is someone who believes in the absolute sacredness and unalterability of his text. Probably that minority in America is between about one-fifth and one-third, which leaves two-thirds of people who aren't fundamentalists.

    So why do fundamentalists have such influence? Well, one answer for that is that, by very virtue of the intensity of their religious beliefs, they care more about their issues than a lot of more secular people, and they do more to see that their influence is felt.

    Most people who are freethinkers or secularists or liberal religious thinkers don't spend their whole day thinking about God and how every decision in government accords with their religion. But fundamentalists do. That makes them much better organized, much better disciplined and goal-oriented in both a specific and a general way than more secular people tend to be. And I think that has to change.

    I think the reluctance of Democrats to come out and defend the separation of church and state strongly is lamentable. I don't agree with those people who say the Democrats have to make themselves more like Republicans, and talk about God more. No, that doesn't do any good. I think, by the way, one of the reasons George Bush appealed to people, whether they agree with him or not, is that he is perfectly honest about what he is in terms of his religious and political beliefs. The Democrats, by contrast – many of them tend to soft-pedal what they really think about things like the separation of church and state. And it doesn't work to pretend to be something you're not.


    Generational History

    I'm not quite sure how to approach this subject. There are some swirling concepts whacking around in my skull but I don't have a grasp of how to lay them out. Here we go.

    "Living History" isn't just the title of Hilary Clinton's book. In a very real sense, history that is still within the memory of living people is still alive and breathing, changing as time passes, changing as the mores change. The collective judgement on an event can change depending on the age of the people experiencing the event. A person who was 20 years old when the US invaded Iraq in 2003 will have a different perspective on the event than someone who was 40. I think the generational perspective matters more than the usual liberal or conservative labels.

    Another example might be the possibility of reinstitution of the military draft. Someone who might be drafted will certainly have a different opinion than someone older than draft age.

    I'm still not getting to the heart of what I'm trying to convey: The cyclical nature of historical events around the lifespan of a single human being. The Fourth Turning by William Strauss and Neil Howe goes into some of this but I think I'm talking about a slightly different take on this subject. But I'm lacking the proper framework for explaining what I mean. Darn my inarticulate brain!


    Jeff Gannon/James Guckert Brouhaha

    In the grand scheme of things I don't really think the affair of the so-called reporter named Jeff Gannon (real name: James Guckert) who asked softball questions at White House press briefings is very important. However, since AmericaBlog (which I read regularly) was instrumental in bringing the, um, discrepancies of Gannon's past to light, I thought I'd provide a link to a fairly good overview here. Warning: This is not entirely work-safe. There are screenshots from male "escort" websites and links to some of them. The images have been edited to remove genitalia but some of the details still contain slightly explicit language.

    One of the issues of importance in this matter is the question of security passes to the White House. This is from one of John Aravosis' recent posts on AmericaBlog pointing this out.
    As for Court TV. I found out 20 seconds before we started that I was apparently debating someone else. That was a bit of a surprise. Catherine Crier was amazing, as you've probably already seen. She gets it. As for that other guy. I'm not sure if he knew what side he was arguing. This case raises serious issues, he tells us, but also shows how bad the word of the liberal bloggers is. Why? He never tells us.

    He does inform us, rather pedantically at that, that Gannon's day-pass security clearance was different from the security clearance he and I had to get for our top secret clearances. No shit Sherlock. That's my point. To get daily access to the White House for 2 years you HAVE to get a hard pass. To get the hard pass you have to get an FBI background check that takes 3-4 months, and involves filling out scary as shit paperwork about your life for the past 10+ years. When I got my security clearance while working on the Hill, they talked to my relatives in Greece. They grilled me about my student loans, even though I was paying them just fine. Gannon, on the other hand, didn't have to get the kind of background check we got, simply because he skirted the system. He operated under a daily pass while having a de facto hard pass. And had he gotten the FBI background check he should have had for such regular access, there is no chance in a million years a hooker $20,000 in debt to the state, and in default, would get that clearance. So anyone who tries to say these facts aren't relevant, when it's these very facts that, had they been known, would have excluded Gannon from the White House, is smoking something.

    Of course, there's an easy way to resolve if everything the blogosphere has discovered is much-ado-about-nothing. Simply ask the White House if, knowing what they know now, they would extend Gannon another daily pass. Then tell me with a straight face that what we've uncovered is irrelevant.

    Wednesday, February 16, 2005


    Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

    I saw this fellow John Perkins interviewed on Democracy Now! and was fascinated by his account of the work he did arranging disadvantagous loans and aid to devoloping countries. He has a book out named Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. Rarely have I seen such explicit details about just how the US gets the economic upper hand over these countries. I don't really know exactly how truthful his account is but it certainly has the ring of truth. The full interview with Amy Goodman is well worth reading but here is part of it from Alternet under the title A Game As Old As Empire:

    AMY GOODMAN: Now, already people are going to be wondering, what is he talking about, "economic hit man"?

    JOHN PERKINS: Well, really, over the past 30 to 40 years, we economic hit men have created the largest global empire in the history of the world. And we do this, typically – well, there are many ways to do it, but a typical one is that we identify a third-world country that has resources that we covet. And often these days that's oil, or might be the canal in the case of Panama.

    In any case, we go to that third-world country and we arrange a huge loan from the international lending community; usually the World Bank leads that process. So, let's say we give this third-world country a loan of $1 billion. One of the conditions of that loan is that the majority of it, roughly 90 percent, comes back to the United States to one of our big corporations, the Bechtels, the Halliburtons. And those corporations build in this third-world country large power plants, highways, ports, or industrial parks – big infrastructure projects that basically serve the very rich. The poor people in those countries and the middle class suffer; they don't benefit from these loans, they don't benefit from the projects. In fact, often their social services have to be severely curtailed in the process of paying off the debt.

    Now what also happens is that this third-world country then is saddled with a huge debt that it can't possibly repay. For example, today, Ecuador. Ecuador's foreign debt, as a result of the economic hit men, is equal to roughly 50 percent of its national budget. It cannot possibly repay this debt, as is the case with so many third-world countries.

    So, now we go back to those countries and say, look, you borrowed all this money from us, and you owe us this money, you can't repay your debts, so give our oil companies your oil at very cheap costs. And in the case of many of these countries, Ecuador is a good example here, that means destroying their rain forests and destroying their indigenous cultures. That's what we're doing today around the world, and we've been doing it since the end of World War II. It has been building up over time until today where it's really reached mammoth proportions where we control most of the resources of the world.


    Those Darn RFID Chips!

    I tend to like Annalee Newitz' column, syndicated over on Alternet. She has something of interest to me over 50% of the time. She writes about computers, tech, free speech, etc. I couldn't let this bit pass by without quoting it. It's just too precious. From a column titled Pig-Based Technologies:
    This shitty-ass RFID company called InCom, located near Sacramento, decided to do a little test run of its tot-tracking technology in a local school. So it gave some "donations" to an elementary school in Sutter County and persuaded the administration to stick RFID chips in these ID tags all the kids wear around their necks.

    Eventually, these kids were going around at school with RFID chips that were pinging RFID readers at the entrance to each classroom (and bathroom!), which then transmitted the kids' locations to a central computer. Needless to say, the parents – who had not given consent for this little test – were extremely unamused. Currently, they're lobbying the school to stop tracking their kids. But remember that RFID-tracking creepiness isn't just for little kids in farm towns – Berkeley Public Library tracks your movements by putting RFIDs in every book that's checked out.

    Tuesday, February 15, 2005


    Killing Journalists in War Zones

    There is a steady stream of reports of journalists being deliberately targeted by Coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. At least one of these instances was partially documented in Control Room, a documentary about Al-Jazeera. Without investigation it's difficult to sort out the truth for all the instances of deaths of journalists in these areas. The reporters are, after all, in a war zone. But some of the cases are quite damning on the face of them. This is from They Shoot Journalists, Don't They?:

    News executives like Jordan, Sambrook, and senior figures from Reuters have spoken about their concerns for some time, and leading British journalists, like Robert Fisk of The Independent and Janine di Giovanni of The Times, have written of the pattern of violence against journalists which they’ve witnessed. While news executives may know of incidents which are not part of the public record, they also tend to cautiously cite only those which are well documented by the press freedom groups, and this may ignore other incidents which those groups have avoided discussing.

    For example, the killing of two journalists by a U.S. tank crew as they took pictures from their Baghdad hotel in 2003 was thoroughly described by veteran journalists — dozens of whom were present — and was the subject of a public battle waged by Reuters to hold the military to account. As with every other incident involving journalists, the U.S. military exonerated itself. But the presence of the world’s media in the hotel was well known to military commanders, leading to the suspicion that the killing wasn’t accidental.

    But another possible murder of journalists was reported in the British press, though it — perhaps for lack of corroboration — has inspired less outrage. At the outset of the invasion, journalists were warned by the U.S. military not to operate independently in Iraq, and one British TV reporter, with his crew, died attempting to do so. The Mirror newspaper in the U.K. reported that witnesses watched a U.S. military helicopter kill the journalists. Other journalists attempting to operate independently in Iraq were detained by U.S. troops, and, in the early days of the invasion, U.S. forces threatened — according to a senior British reporter — to launch missiles against media organizations transmitting pictures out of Baghdad. U.S. missiles had already killed more than a dozen reporters in Afghanistan (where Al-Jazeera, Radio Kabul, and the BBC were attacked in 2001) and Serbia (where Serbian TV, along with CNN facilities, were attacked in 1999).

    Both the Arab television media and the international news agencies have borne the brunt of the violence. CPJ and the other journalists’ organizations record a large number of lethal and non-lethal attacks by U.S. troops on Arab journalists. A senior Al-Jazeera correspondent was arrested, released, and re-arrested in Spain without clear charges, and an Al-Jazeera cameraman has been detained in Guantanamo Bay for four years. In Iraq, two Iranian journalists were detained for four months without charge. Two Al-Jazeera employees reported that they were tortured by U.S. troops last year, and the Associated Press reported that an Arab cameraman working for a European broadcaster said, after being attacked by U.S. troops, “They checked our identity badges and then let us go, saying they thought we were with Al-Jazeera. ...” Several Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya journalists have been killed by U.S. forces in well-documented incidents. Robert Fisk wrote with alarm about an attack by U.S. troops which he witnessed on a clearly marked press vehicle, again, driven by Arab journalists.


    Frivolous Asbestos Claims

    It's not like the dangers of asbestos haven't been known for, like, DECADES. And I just boo-hoo for that poor company that had no knowledge of the dangers. From Molly Ivins on Tort Deform:
    ...the word that the U.S. Senate voted for tort deform last week came just a few days after the news that seven executives of W.R. Grace and Co. were indicted on criminal charges for knowingly exposing their workers and the public to asbestos ore.

    Hundreds of miners, their family members and townsfolk in Libby, Mont., have died, and at least 1,200 more are sick from breathing the air polluted by the mine. Since the ore was shipped all over the country and was used as insulation in millions of homes, the total health effects are incalculable. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer deserves credit for bringing Grace to public attention with a series back in 1999.

    The executives and the company were indicted on 10 counts of conspiracy, knowing endangerment, obstruction of justice and wire fraud.

    W.R. Grace & Co. "categorically denies any criminal wrongdoing," said a spokesman.

    The indictments and the P-I's series were based on tens of thousands of internal communications among the top health, marketing and legal managers at Grace about how to conceal the danger of asbestos in both the ore from the Libby mine and the products that were made from it. Their memos include discussion of how to keep investigators from studying the health of the miners, how to keep safety warnings off their products and how to hide the hazards of working with asbestos ore.

    A lawyer with a Montana firm that has been trying to help families of the dead and dying for years said: "The prosecution cannot eliminate the death and disease in Libby. But there is comfort in the hope that criminal convictions will say to corporate America: Managers will be held criminally accountable if they lie and watch workers die."

    According to an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, W.R. Grace filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2001 because of a "sharply increasing number of asbestos claims." However, in 2002, the Justice Department intervened in a bankruptcy proceeding for the first time ever, alleging that before Grace asked for Chapter 11, it concealed money in new companies it bought. The Justice Department said it was a "fraudulent transfer" of money to protect itself from civil suits.

    Just before the bankruptcy trial was to begin, Grace returned almost $1 billion to the bankruptcy court. The company currently has annual sales of about $2 billion, more than 6,000 employees and operations in nearly 40 companies.


    Your Government Money at Work

    Oh, for the simple days of Pres. Eisenhower's "military-industrial complex"! The money and personnel flow between government and business with ease and with little oversight it seems. Almost like the Orwellian slogans from 1984 altered just slightly: War is Prosperity. The quote below comes from A Culture of Secrecy by Charles Lewis of the Center for Public Integrity.

    Public apathy, though, is another matter. Take our 2003 Center report in which we posted and tallied up all of the major U.S. government contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan - a project which won the George Polk Award for online journalism. Center investigators found that nearly every one of the 10 largest contracts awarded for work in Iraq and Afghanistan went to companies employing former high-ranking government officials, and all 10 top contractors are established donors in American politics, contributing nearly $11 million to national political parties, candidates, and political action committees since 1990. And on the eve of the Iraq war, at least nine of the 30 mebers of the Defense Policy Board, the government-appointed group that advises the Pentagon, had ties to companies that had won more than $76 billion in defense contracts in 2001 and 2002.

    The personal financial disclosure forms of those advisers are secret, and much about the entire contracting process is deliberately hidden, and therefore unknown to the public. For example, it took 20 researchers, writers, and editors at the Center for Public Integrity six months and 73 Freedom of Information Act requests, including successful litigation in federal court against the Army and State Department, to begin to discern who was getting the Iraq and Afghanistan contracts, and for how much. Why? What has happened to the principles of accessible information and transparency in the decision-making process in our democracy?

    True, there is nothing illegal about such cozy, convenient confluences in the mercenary culture of Washington, D.C. But what does it say about the state of our democracy that, beyond some spot news coverage of the Center's findings around the world, there was almost no reaction or interest by Congressional oversight committees, which are controlled by Republicans loath to criticize the Bush administration? Of course, no official reaction means no second day story, no "hook" for the cautious and sometimes deferential national news media, no mounting public awareness or concern, and no political problem. Welcome to business-as-usual Washington.

    Undeterred by what we had found, we plunged even deeper, producing a report entitled Outsourcing the Pentagon, in which a team of 23 researchers, writers and editors examined more than 2.2 million Pentagon contract actions totaling $900 billion spent over six years. This massive nine-month investigative report profiled the 737 largest Defense Department contractors who, including their subsidiaries and affiliates, have received at least $100 million in contracts. Once again, the Center found, the largest contractors are among the most lavish spenders on political influence. And, most notably, we found that no-bid contracts like the infamous one Halliburton received to do business in Iraq have accounted for more than 40 percent of Pentagon contracting since 1998. That's at least $362 billion in taxpayer money given to companies without competitive bidding.

    Sunday, February 13, 2005


    Alan Keyes and Family Values

    I heard hints that Alan Keyes' daughter Maya was a lesbian back when she was working on her father's 2004 Senate campaign. Outing her to to embarass her father didn't seem to be a very ethical tactic but considering that she had a public blog at the time, I don't really know how much she was "in the closet." I'm very much in favor of outing politicians who publicly support extremely homophobic legislation while being gay in their private lives. That's hypocrisy of a fairly high order. I guess Maya Keyes is coming out though. The following is from a Washington Post article:

    Maya Keyes loves her father and mother. She put off college and moved from the family home in Darnestown to Chicago to be with her dad on a grand adventure. Even though she disagrees with him on "almost everything" political, she worked hard for his quixotic and losing campaign for the U.S. Senate.

    Now Maya Keyes -- liberal, lesbian and a little lost -- finds herself out on her own. She says her parents -- conservative commentator and perennial candidate Alan Keyes and his wife, Jocelyn -- threw her out of their house, refused to pay her college tuition and stopped speaking to her.

    Maya, 19, says her parents cut her off because of who she is -- "a liberal queer." Tomorrow, she will take her private dispute with her dad into the open. She is scheduled to make her debut as a political animal, speaking at a rally in Annapolis sponsored by Equality Maryland, the state's gay rights lobby.

    During his failed campaign last fall against Barack Obama (D) for the Illinois Senate seat, Alan Keyes lashed out at Mary Cheney, the lesbian daughter of Vice President Cheney. Keyes told a radio interviewer that Mary Cheney was a "selfish hedonist." Then, without having been asked anything about his own family, he volunteered that "if my daughter were a lesbian, I'd look at her and say, 'That is a relationship that is based on selfish hedonism.' I would also tell my daughter that it's a sin and she needs to pray to the Lord God to help her deal with that sin."

    Maya heard the comments and recoiled. "It was kind of strange that he said it like a hypothetical," she says. "It was really kind of unpleasant."


    Language and Republicans

    It should be obvious that I have a deep interest in language and the uses of language to communicate (or deliberately miscommunicate) ideas and concepts. After all, the nom de plume I use here is wordlackey which I flatteringly translate (in my mind) to "servant of language" rather than the more obvious literal definition.

    So here is an excerpt from The Republican Dictionary:

    In Bush's State of the Union address, he mentioned personal accounts seven times but private accounts zero times, which is interesting because only a few months ago he was using both terms interchangeably. But fear not, this was no mistake. The Republicans tested the phrase private accounts and found public support was much lower than when the same, exact, identical concept was called personal accounts. (Personally, I like caring accounts, but they didn't ask me.)

    So the White House and its paid spin doctors, many of whom play journalists on TV, have taken to the airwaves to push the phrase personal accounts and chastise anyone in the media who employs the banished words to characterize ther Administration's Social Security agenda. Proof, if more was needed, that language is power and debates are won or lost based on definitions.

    But here is the really funny thing about the personal/private accounts debate. Not only are they not personal accounts, they're not private accounts either. They are in fact US government loans. (Bear with me now, because this will only hurt for a moment.) You see, your payroll taxes will still be used to cover the benefits of current retirees, but under Bush's scheme the government will place a certain "diverted" amount into an account in your name. It sounds like a personal retirement account, but it's not. It's a loan. Because if your account does really well (above 3 percent), when you retire the government will deduct the money it lent you (plus 3 percent interest) from your monthly Social Security check leaving you with almost the same amount you would have received under the current system. If your account does really poorly (below 3 percent), you are out of luck. According to Congressional Budget Office, the expected average return will be 3.3 percent, so the net gain will be zero.

    But wait, it gets better. These personal accounts aren't exactly US government loans either, because our government under the fiscal stewardship of George W. Bush no longer is running a surplus and therefore does not have the $4 trillion or so needed to cover the transition costs, and Bush refuses to raise taxes on his base (BUSH'S BASE, n. the wealthy).

    So our government will have to borrow that cash. And if the last three years are any guide, our largest single loan officer will likely be the Central Bank of China. And who runs China's Central Bank, China, and the Chinese people with an iron fist? Why, it's our old friends, the democracy-loving, freedom-marching Chinese Communist Party. So Bush's personal retirement accounts=private retirement accounts=US government loans=US government borrowing=Chinese government lending=Chinese Communist Party loans.

    Or as we like to say in Republican Dictionary land:

    PERSONAL RETIREMENT ACCOUNTS, n. Chinese Communist Party loans.

    Thursday, February 10, 2005


    Bankruptcy and Health Care

    This story surfaced recently but I think it deserves wide circulation. It's a very real sign of the times. From Your Money or Your Life:
    Since 2000, Harvard associate medical professors Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein, along with Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren and Ohio University sociology and anthropology professor Deborah Thorne, have been compiling data on bankruptcies in the United States. Their study, published on Feb. 2 by the medical policy journal Health Affairs, found that between 1981 and 2001, medical-related bankruptcies increased by 2,200 percent, an astonishing explosion in a relatively short period of time. This spike far outpaced the 360 percent growth in all personal bankruptcies during roughly the same period.

    In addition, the study uncovered surprising information about the affected population. While poor, uninsured Americans have long been the most obvious victims of a defective healthcare system, it's the middle class that suffers most in this case, accounting for about 90 percent of all medical bankruptcies, says Warren.

    "The people we found to be profoundly affected are not some distant underclass. They're the very heart of the middle class," Warren says. "These are educated Americans with decent jobs, homes and families. But one stumble, and they end up in complete financial collapse, wiped out by medical bills."

    With so many middle-class American households potentially vulnerable, you might think politicians would seek a solution sensitive to their interests. Yet the momentum in Washington is in the opposite direction – toward bankruptcy "reform" that would make things worse for people who have been financially ruined by illness.

    Until 25 years ago, filing for bankruptcy because of debts from a medical problem was virtually unheard of. In 1981, University of Texas law professors conducting bankruptcy research noticed that a handful of the debtors they were studying could never quite pay off their medical bills, but while these bills certainly didn't help, they weren't forcing people into bankruptcy.

    Today, by contrast, medical-related debt is the second leading cause of personal bankruptcies, topped only by job loss. Edward Janger, a professor at Brooklyn Law School, gives two reasons for the change: First, there's been a dramatic rise in healthcare costs. In 2002 Americans paid an average of $5,440 in medical expenditures, up $419 from the previous year. A September 2004 study by Families USA found that 14.3 million Americans now hemorrhage more than a quarter of their earnings into healthcare costs.

    Tuesday, February 08, 2005


    Stories from Fallujah

    This, unfortunately, speaks for itself. From Stories from Fallujah:

    “The disaster caused by this siege is so much worse than the first one, which I witnessed first hand,” [the doctor] says, and then tells me he’ll use one story as an example.

    “One story is of a young girl who is 16 years old,” he says of one of the testimonies he video taped recently, “She stayed for three days with the bodies of her family who were killed in their home. When the soldiers entered she was in her home with her father, mother, 12 year-old brother and two sisters. She watched the soldiers enter and shoot her mother and father directly, without saying anything.”

    The girl managed to hide behind the refrigerator with her brother and witnessed the war crimes first-hand.

    “They beat her two sisters, then shot them in the head,” he said. After this her brother was enraged and ran at the soldiers while shouting at them, so they shot him dead.

    “She continued hiding after the soldiers left and stayed with her sisters because they were bleeding, but still alive. She was too afraid to call for help because she feared the soldiers would come back and kill her as well. She stayed for three days, with no water and no food. Eventually one of the American snipers saw her and took her to the hospital,” he added before reminding me again that he had all of her testimony documented on film.


    Why Conservatives Talk So Loud

    An interesting and very depressing sort of article on the right-wing media machine. Ever wonder why so many of the talking heads on TV are conservatives? The Right-Wing Express answers this with more detail than you probably want to know.

    Starting with just a handful or groups, including the Heritage Foundation, in the early '70s, the conservatives built a new generation of organizations – think tanks, media monitors, legal groups, networking organizations, all driven by the same over-arching values of free enterprise, individual freedoms and limited government.

    Stein describes how the message machine works. If Rush Limbaugh wants something on vouchers – it's immediately in his hands; if Fox News' Bill O'Reilly needs a guest to talk about the "death tax," he's got him from one of the think tanks. Stein estimates that 36,000 conservatives have been trained on values, issues, leadership, use of media and agenda development. These are not the elected officials, but rather the cadre of the conservative network. Stein figures that the core leaders of the Big 80 groups he studied are about 2,000 people who make between $75,000 and $200,000 and have all been trained in the Leadership Institute.

    The wealthy conservative families that have been the early bread and butter of the movement and continue their support are relatively well known at this point, including Scaife from Pittsburgh, Lynde and Harry Bradley from Milwaukee, Joseph Coors from Colorado; and Smith Richardson from North Carolina. Important networking goes on at the Philanthropy Roundtable, where groups are showcased.

    But the key today to keeping the message machine fed is what Stein calls the "investment banking matrix," which includes key conservatives like Grover Norquist, Paul Weyerich, and Irving Kristol, who raise, direct, and motivate. Stein estimates there are about 200 key people who invest an average of $250,000 a year and about 135 of them also serve on the boards of the Big 80 groups

    "Each of these groups are 'mission critical,' and they are strategic, coordinated, motivated and disciplined," says Stein, adding that the investment bankers monitor them closely.

    And contrary to popular belief among progressives, the conservatives who are part of that machine are of various stripes – far right, neo-conservative, libertarian, evangelical, etc. – but what makes them so successful is they form strategic alliances around common issues they support.



    Yet another little experiment for the blog. I was turned on to this service at BlogRolling which is essentially a place that keeps track of a list of sites I designate and then presents them on my site. Currently it's in the sidebar under the heading of "of interest".

    I tend to be very lazy when it comes to updating my lists of sites in my sidebar so this may be a good way of keeping at least one list current. It also has a few formatting options. We'll see. Notice that I eventually took down the Google AdSense because it just annoyed me.

    Saturday, February 05, 2005


    Iraqi Voter Numbers Questioned

    Amidst the celebration about the election in Iraq comes some doubt about the oft quoted figure of 8 million voters casting votes. Note that the media were only allowed to observe and film at 5 polling locations. There was only one internationally recognized election observer and I believe he was confined to the Green Zone. The following comes from Media Mangles Iraq Vote:

    For days, the press repeated, as gospel, assertions offered by an election official that 8 million Iraqis went to the polls on Sunday, an impressive 57% turnout rate. I questioned those figures as early as last Sunday, and offered the detailed analysis below on Wednesday. Finally, on Thursday night, John F. Burns and Dexter Filkins of The New York Times reported that Iraqi election officials have quietly "backtracked, saying that the 8 million estimate had been reached hastily on the basis of telephone reports from polling stations across the country and that the figure could change."

    Then, in Friday's paper, Burns and Filkins noted that one election commision official was "evasive about the turnout, implying it might end up significantly lower than the initial estimate." They quoted this official, Safwat Radhid, exclaiming: "Only God Almighty knows the final turnout now." They revealed that the announcement of a turnout number, expected to be released this weekend, has been put off for a week, due to the "complex" tabulation system.

    In a rare reference to an actual vote tabulation, The New York Times on Thursday reports that in the "diverse" city of Mosul, with 60% of the count completed, the overall turnout seems slightly above 10%, or "somewhat more than 50,000 of Mosul's 500,000 estimated eligible voters."

    Friday, February 04, 2005


    Environmental Activists Are Killers!

    I have noticed a film mini-genre recently: the environmentalist killer/terrorist. In these films, people who are anti-war and/or environmentalist turn to violence to publicize or achieve their goals. One was The Final Option with Judy Davis. I didn't catch the name of another which had a Ted Kaczynski type bomber character and starred Daniel(?) Baldwin. There are a couple of others but I'm not remembering the details at the moment.

    I find this interesting because of the odd dynamic of such plots. Peace loving people kill to make their point! Environmentalists are worse than the people they fight! I don't have a point, just how ludicrous the premise seems to me.

    Thursday, February 03, 2005


    The Inquisition Strikes Back

    The tactics employed during the current US "War on Terror" should make Americans' hair stand on end. The sheer brutality and horror of some of them rival Nazi Germany. Yet rarely are these issues aired in a public forum. Note that the incident described below of locking prisoners in metal cargo cannisters in Afganistan was allegedly overseen by US military personnel. [UPDATE: See this article for details from the documentary film “Afghan Massacre: The Convoy of Death”.] The following quote is from The Inquisition Strikes Back:
    We have by now all seen much of this material before, but reading it all in one piece, told by human voices in this book-length interview, is not easy to take. "Guantánamo: What the World Should Know" (Chelsea Green) – by Michael Ratner and Ellen Ray – becomes a heart-stopper once you cross the line and realize that you could be any of these victims.

    It's hard to say which is more disgusting, the descriptions of the torture or the bone-chilling analyses of how the president of the United States gave himself the powers of an absolute military dictator. Under Military Order No. 1, which the president issued without congressional authority on November 13, 2001, George W. Bush has ordered people captured or detained from all over the world, flown to Guantánamo and tortured in a lawless zone where, the White House asserts, prisoners have no rights of any kind at all and can be kept forever at his pleasure. Despite the at-best marginal intervention of the American courts so far, there is no civilian judicial review, no due process of any kind.

    While any military force will routinely violate the civil rights of anyone who gets in its way, Ratner's descriptions of how victims wound up in Guantánamo reveal wanton cruelty and callousness that will nauseate any sane human being.

    Ratner writes: "A lot of the people picked up by warlords of the Northern Alliance were kept in metal shipping containers, so tightly packed that they had to ball themselves up, and the heat was unbearable. According to some detainees who were held in the containers and eventually released from Guantánamo, only a small number, thirty to fifty people in a container filled with three to four hundred people survived. And some of those released said that the Americans were in on this, that the Americans were shining lights on the containers. The people inside were suffocating, so the Northern Alliance soldiers shot holes into the containers, killing some of the prisoners inside."

    Some prisoners were captured in battle; many others were picked up in random sweeps for no reason at all except being in the wrong place at the wrong time. As usual in these kinds of operations, some were turned in as a result of petty revenge or as an excuse to steal their property. When asked in court to explain the criteria for detention, the government had no answer. There were no criteria, it appears. "The government even made the ridiculous argument before the Supreme Court that the prisoners get to tell their side of the story, by being interrogated," Ratner reports.

    Ratner notes that 134 of the 147 prisoners later released from Guantánamo were guilty of absolutely nothing. Only thirteen were sent on to jail. He believes it is possible that a substantial majority of the Guantánamo prisoners had nothing to do with any kind of terrorism. One prisoner released after a year claimed he was somewhere between ninety and one hundred years old, according to Ratner. Old, frail and incontinent, he wept constantly, shackled to a walker.


    Krugman on Social Security Privatization

    I try not to fawn over Paul Krugman, Op-Ed columnist at the New York Times; many other people do that for me. I don't read him regularly but I did read his book The Great Unraveling and enjoyed it. His obvious strength is that he is a working economist and an economics Professor. So when questions about the budget or government fiscal policy comes up, he is perfectly suited to cut through the spin and clutter and get down to the financial brass tacks, so to speak.

    I guess some people see him as a "liberal" but most of what I've seen him write has more to do with reality checking any budget claims by the Bush administration. He seems very able at finding the flaws and holes in proposals. If the numbers don't add up or there are assumptions that are unrealistic, he finds them and points them out. I'm glad he does it. I haven't a clue about such things and he still makes it understandable to me.

    All this is preface to suggesting that you read his current column Many Unhappy Returns. It points out huge flaws in the current drive to create private/personal accounts alongside Social Security. I don't feel right quoting it because I would have to quote the whole thing. The link is to the NYT website which requires registration and even then it stops being accessible after 30 days or so. If you understand that 70 is greater than 20, you can probably understand the article. It's not too math intensive.


    Symbolic Politics

    One of the hallmarks of modern life in the US is lack of time. Most people don't have time to engage in full political life. By full political life I mean gaining knowledge of issues, discussing them in their community, becoming aware of the range of options and solutions available, etc. This leads to what I call symbolic politics. I'm sure other names have been given to the same phenomenon. I define symbolic politics as the process whereby people draw their political views from a symbolic range rather than specific details of groups or issues. This is a form of shorthand in thought and identity. (Note this is different from identity politics.)

    An example would be if I spoke of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Many people who have heard of the ACLU will have an immediate response to the name itself, pro or con. The attitude of some conservative commentators toward the ACLU will affect their listeners' opinions. Often that immediate negative response means it will be difficult for the person to hear any information about the ACLU. So what happens is "Rush Limbaugh hates the ACLU therefore I hate the ACLU." The actual details of what the ACLU stands for are immaterial to this opinion.

    This leads to clusters of opinion depending on which groups a person percieves themselves to be a part. Instead of a thought out series of opinions on subjects or groups, there is a kind of circular domino effect depending on a few primary group identifications. One matrix might be liking NASCAR, Rush Limbaugh, and the National Rifle Association (NRA) . These are the primary interests and groups. There is then an associative secondary level of likes and dislikes stemming from opinions or information gained from the primary groups.

    This is a greatly simplified way of looking at this concept and there are plenty of exceptions. I just thought this was worth fleshing out.

    Wednesday, February 02, 2005


    Not So Smart Bombs

    I have a persistent idea that the Iraq War has shown some of the failings of so-called smart technology used by the US military. Central to the Bush military doctrine is this whole "Better technology means we can use fewer soldiers on the ground more effectively" thing. While we can dispute the exact figures, it seems obvious that the number of civilian casualties as "collateral damage" is very high. Is this a failure of intelligence information? I tend to think of it more in terms of the Vietnam era quote: "We had to destroy the village in order to save it." From Life Under the Bombs by Dahr Jamail:

    One of the least reported aspects of the U.S. occupation of Iraq is the oftentimes indiscriminate use of air power by the American military. The Western mainstream media has generally failed to attend to the F-16 warplanes dropping their payloads of 500, 1,000, and 2,000-pound bombs on Iraqi cities -– or to the results of these attacks. While some of the bombs and missiles fall on resistance fighters, the majority of the casualties are civilian –- mothers, children, the elderly, and other unarmed civilians.

    "Coalition troops and Iraqi security forces may be responsible for up to 60% of conflict-related civilian deaths in Iraq -- far more than are killed by insurgents, confidential records obtained by the BBC's Panorama programme reveal." As the BBC reported recently, these numbers were compiled by Iraq's Ministry of Health, in part because of the refusal of the Bush and Blair administrations to do so. In the case of Fallujah, where the U.S. military estimated 2,000 people were killed during the recent assault on the city, at least 1,200 of the dead are believed to have been non-combatant civilians.

    "Some of my friends in Fallujah, their homes were attacked by airplanes so they left, and nobody s found them since," said Mehdi Abdulla in a refugee camp in Baghdad. His own home was bombed to rubble by American warplanes during the assault on Fallujah in November -- and in Iraq today, his experience is far from unique.

    All any reporter has to do is cock an ear or look up to catch the planes roaring over Baghdad en route to bombing missions over Mosul, Fallujah and other trouble spots on a weekly – sometimes even a daily basis. It is simply impossible to travel the streets of Baghdad without seeing several Apache or Blackhawk helicopters buzzing the rooftops. Their rumbling blades are so close to the ground and so powerful that they leave wailing car alarms in their wake as they pass over any neighborhood.

    With its ground troops stretched thin and growing haggard -- 30% of them, after all, are already on their second tour of duty in the brutal occupation of Iraq – U.S. military commanders appear to be relying more than ever on airpower to give themselves an edge. The November assault on Fallujah did not even begin until warplanes had, on a near-daily basis, dropped 500-1000 pound bombs on suspected resistance targets in the besieged city. During that period, fighter jets ripped through the air over Baghdad for nights on end, heading out on mission after mission to drop their payloads on Fallujah.


    Teaching the Basics?

    I was a student once. I didn't much like it. I did work on my high school paper though. Those wacky students! From Yahoo! News:

    It turns out the First Amendment is a second-rate issue to many of those nearing their own adult independence, according to a study of high school attitudes released Monday.

    The original amendment to the Constitution is the cornerstone of the way of life in the United States, promising citizens the freedoms of religion, speech, press and assembly.

    Yet, when told of the exact text of the First Amendment, more than one in three high school students said it goes "too far" in the rights it guarantees. Only half of the students said newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of stories.

    "These results are not only disturbing; they are dangerous," said Hodding Carter III, president of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which sponsored the $1 million study. "Ignorance about the basics of this free society is a danger to our nation's future."

    The students are even more restrictive in their views than their elders, the study says.

    When asked whether people should be allowed to express unpopular views, 97 percent of teachers and 99 percent of school principals said yes. Only 83 percent of students did.


    Evolution Kills

    Wow. You can look at the original press release at AgapePress, but I didn't see any explanation of this figure. Perhaps that adjective "communistic" is code for "Stalinist-era Soviet deaths" or some such thing.
    It is Kennedy's opinion that Christians who embrace evolution are compromising their faith. He describes evolution as the most destructive idea ever to enter the mind of man, and a concept that has killed more people than all religions that ever existed.

    "Communistic evolution, according to the Senate committee that examined it, is responsible for 135 million deaths in peacetime," he said. "There's no religion that has a tiny fraction of that many deaths on it conscience." And it is amazing, he added, that evolution -- despite its widespread acceptance -- has no scientific basis. "There are scientists who will admit that there's not one iota of scientific evidence to support it."


    A Soldier's Salary

    I don't know whether the following is true. It wouldn't surprise me but I reserve judgement. This goes along with the current debate to raise the death benefits for soldiers' families if the soldier dies overseas. That benefit is $12,500.00 at the moment. This seems like such a small amount for someone who dies in the line of duty. This is from Nickle-and-Diming the Troops:

    Maybe you better sit down and pop a Xanax before reading any further, because what I'm about to tell you should seriously short you out: not only is the average soldier's salary barely life-sustaining, the combat pay of the average grunt in Afghanistan and Iraq is only $7.50 a day or a measly $225 a month. And to make matters worse, the folks bringing up the rear – hundreds of miles from the horror show – are pulling down the same combat pay as our heroes who daily lay their lives on the line.

    America was far more generous to her soldiers during World War II, when combat pay on the battle fields of Europe and Asia was 30 cents a day or about ten bucks a month. Taking the rate of inflation into account, our draftee Army that whacked the Japanese and Germans received three times the hazardous duty pay we're currently paying our professional Army.


    Parallel Torturers

    As is pointed out in this story, it's hard to avoid the parallels between the Nazis and some US actions. The scale is vastly different but the justifications seem shared. I'd like to politely point out the repeated use of the word "patriot" in this selection. Acting out of patriotism does not suddenly put such actions onto a higher ethical level. From Torturer's Tales:

    "This fight has nothing to do with soldierly gallantry or principles of the Geneva Convention. If the fight against the partisans is not waged with the most brutal means, we will shortly reach the point where the available forces are insufficient to control the area. It is therefore not only justified, but it is the duty of the troops to use all means without restriction, even against women and children, so long as it ensures success." -Wilhelm Keitel, chief of staff of the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces of Germany, Dec. 16, 1942.

    Coincidental with America's tortuous debates over the issue of prisoner abuse in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay is the appearance of an extraordinary new book containing in-depth conversations with defendants at Nuremberg in 1945-46. Compiled from transcripts by American psychiatrist Leon Goldensohn, who was assigned to monitor the mental health of the defendants during their war crimes trials, The Nuremberg Interviews: An American Psychiatrist's Conversations with the Defendants and Witnesses (Knopf) is a mesmerizing book about war, remembrance, and the distressingly bland face of evil. It also casts a haunting shadow across our country from a regime we once thought was moral light years away.

    Leon Goldensohn's conversations with jailed leaders of the Third Reich elicit astonishing denials and rationales for atrocities. While some members of the military, most notably Generals Kesselring and Ewald von Kleist, honorably shouldered responsibility for their wartime actions, others were less than forthcoming.

    "Everything is now blamed on Hitler, Himmler and Borman," Goldensohn wrote bemusedly at one point, noting that Reich leaders Adolph Hitler, Heinrich Himmler and Martin Borman were dead. Julius Streiche, founder of the anti-Semite journal Der Sturmer, claimed to know nothing about even the existence of Auschwitz, "until this trial." Oswald Pohl, administrator of all Nazi concentration camps, provided this astonishing disclaimer: "Although I am responsible for the camps, and the extermination program took place within these camps, I am not responsible for the extermination program itself." Said Hanz Frietzsche, senior minister in Joseph Goebbels's Ministry of Propaganda: "I can defend myself in one sentence, 'I did it as a German patriot.'"

    Others tried to appeal to common sense and sportsmanship. "The Allies should take the attitude, now that the war is over, that mistakes have been made on both sides, that those of us here on trial are German patriots, and that though we may have gone too far with Hitler, we did it in good faith and as German citizens," said Joachim von Ribbentrop, German foreign minister from 1938-45. Von Ribbentrop nevertheless was hanged on Oct. 16, 1946 along with nine Nuremberg co-defendants.

    This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?